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Every time I turn on the news there seem to be more riots, shootings, protests, and hatred. More than ever, the media is focused on everything that is dividing us rather than uniting us. We are no longer focused on our common ground and we are determined to see what stands between us. This was most clear in the first Presidential debate.

If what we believe in overshadows our love for each other, our hearts and our health will suffer

Divided, We Suffer

Concentrating on what divides us may feed our anger and righteousness, but it doesn’t feed our hearts and our health. Don’t get me wrong; it’s important to take a stand for what we believe in! But if what we believe in overshadows our love for each other, our hearts and our health will suffer.

Love is really what heals us in the end. It is what brings us together and allows us to live in harmony with one another. If we let ourselves be pulled by the gravity of hatred, we will not only lose faith in each other but also the hope that allows us to carry on.

When we see others as different or separate from ourselves we lose site of the truth, which is that we are all connected. What happens to one of us, happens to all of us. We can’t hurt others without ultimately hurting ourselves. Our lives are woven together and we are interdependent.

How to Increase Our Compassion

When we practice stress management, including daily yoga and meditation, we are increasing our compassion and opening to the experience of unity and love for others and ourselves. We move from an awareness of only me and mine to a greater sense of us and ours.

The stress management techniques we practice in the Ornish Lifestyle Medicine program point us in the direction of what heals our hearts…. compassion and love. When we experience a deep sense of connection we lose the boundaries that divide us. We allow ourselves to be touched and ultimately open to another’s experience. We begin to shift our attention, expand our awareness and deepen our understanding.

The Postures

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The postures are designed to bring us into the experience of our own bodies. Much of our lives are spent in the experiences of the mind such as thinking, judging and analyzing. When we do postures, we are instructed to notice how and what we are feeling. The more we practice listening to our bodies, the more compassion we develop for ourselves and the body we live in. This allows us to relate to others in a more feeling way. We can connect heart to heart and better understand the experiences another person may be having.

Relaxation

 

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Relaxation is a learned and conscious “letting go.” It is a practice that allows the energy in the body to soften and dissipate. Often in deep states of relaxation the body starts to feel light and transparent, and there may be a sense of losing the boundaries of body. It’s in that moment that we begin to experience ourselves as bigger than just our own body. We start to feel a connection to everything living and breathing. This kind of connection to all living beings informs our hearts that we are more than just this body and more than just this mind. We are ultimately part of a universal consciousness.

Meditation

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Meditation teaches us to witness what is arising in the moment without any judgment. As we allow thought, sensation, and feeling to arise without analyzing or judging, the mind starts to unwind and let go of tightly held feelings and beliefs that don’t serve us. We create more space and a longer reaction time. We begin to gain a greater overall perspective or a wider view. This wider view is the foundation to the experience of compassion. If we can step outside of our experience and see a bigger picture, we are cultivating a vision of oneness.

In a research study, Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that meditation can literally change your brain. Using brain scans she was able to measure the changes or thickening in four different regions of the brain of meditators. One area was the temporo parietal junction or TPJ, which is associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion.

She was quoted in the Washington Post:

The yoga teacher made all sorts of claims, that yoga would increase your compassion and open your heart. And I’d think, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m here to stretch.’ But I started noticing that I was calmer. I was better able to handle more difficult situations. I was more compassionate and open hearted, and able to see things from others’ points of view. — Sara Lazar, neuroscientist, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School

These daily practices have a profound effect on our consciousness and awareness. The more we are able to shift our awareness from ourselves to others, the more we are able to empathize. Through our ability to see the hearts of others, we can bridge the gaps that divide us. Our differences become less important than what we share in common. We start to feel ourselves as a part of a collective whole and our actions reflect what is best for all.

How have stress management practices made you feel more connected to others?

Contributed by

Susi Amendola
Stress Management Specialist

What have you done to remind yourself of the things that have meaning for you?

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