IS MEDITATION DANGEROUS FOR MANIC DEPRESSIVES?

Following an experience that took her to the edge, Lisa Luxx asks is meditation dangerous for the more sensitive minds among us?

Some of us are so highly connected to the rhythms of the Moon, that much like the tide we are dragged by some greater force into depth and darkness. One would have thought the way back toward the surface would be through meditation; the New Age answer to everything. I certainly thought so—surely it will balance me back out and return me to my moorings. Until one prolonged Samantha mediation class led me to the lip of suicide.

Silence is best taken in tiny sips when the mind has a tendency for self-destruction. I know this after I glugged on a big cup of the stuff and wound up choking. What happened was, the class leader was taking us through a guided meditation; only at a certain point, I was instructed to stop following their guidance and continue with my own practice for the remainder of the class.

So now there’s me, free-falling. Surrounded by all these people in woven clothes, with clear eyes and a softness about their jaw. And me, whimpering in pain, crying abundantly, unable to make eye contact or speak, playing out my own death forwards and backwards in my head until I now how to execute it perfectly.

I survived thanks to a very sensitive friend who was in the class too and saw it all happen. Once I’d come ’round I spoke to another friend, also bestowed the gift of ‘manic depression’—and she told me that her teacher at the East London Buddhist Centre advised she only take half hour classes because of the uncertainty that lay in opening up. My quasi-spiritual therapist wasn’t surprised either; “you have to be so careful with meditation,” she told me, explaining how dangerous it can be to create space for unwelcome thoughts to take hold.

My experience was overwhelming. Depression has been sucking on me ever since I remember, but I’ve never felt such a sudden rush of pain as I did that day. It was a tidal wave. A brute force. The most certain and determined I’ve ever felt about wanting to pass through to the other side of living. During the time it took for the episode to play out, I existed within the visions of death, rather than the visions of death existing within me.

Ever since the experience I’ve been wary about meditating again. I’ve got myself in a really good, balanced place now but I daren’t allow space for that darkness to re-enter and consume me again. My pal won’t always be on hand to pull me back in from the ledge. I see now that this resistance is my psyche trying to protect me. But when I speak to Sumaya Fenton, my friend who is a practitioner of Rinzai Zen, she tells me: “The psyche trying to protect you is based on fear and ego. Any emotion you had was only temporary.”

She goes on to explain that sometimes these knock backs happen before a great break through. But I haven’t felt safe blindly continuing with the same practices I felt had almost killed me. However, each person walks their own path to enlightenment (in as many life times as it takes), and perhaps my pathway is going to start to look a little different.

A walking meditation. Photo by Olivia Sykes

“Wherever you’re at you’re still on a path. In Zen they talk about the ten stages of insight—the road map to enlightenment—and around stage four people have this experience of a big fear, or something that really knocks them back, but you carry on and focus less on the significance and meaning of that experience and more on the physicality of meditation,” says Sumaya.

For me, meditation right now cannot be about sitting in silence—but it can be about movement, like walking meditation, or other physical manifestations. Paying attention to each part of my foot in turn as it makes contact with the earth. Focusing on my breath and other practices that put the awareness in my body: “[in these practices] your mind is still opening up and expanding but you’re not watching your mind so consciously and fearfully.”

I also sit across from the Yorkshire moors, where my house is nestled, and interpret the patterns of the Sun/Moon-light across the hills mirroring my emotions. Finding synchronicity between my internal process and the greater external process. Which also works to remind me that my ups and downs are simply localized versions of the master rhythms of this universe.

Yoga helps. And I’ve also taken up life-drawing. You learn something about yourself from the way you depict another body. These have become my ways of getting mindful and finding peace within the almighty Oneness. Though I still often feel like I’m free-falling.

Sumaya says that the pressure in the West to do everything ourselves is what’s making for unsafe meditation practices. “Having a teacher is paramount. Pretty much as important as daily practice. The problem is systemic, Western capitalism only provides this culture of sticking plasters rather than giving the proper context of how and why to tread this path—which often comes from a long-term relationship with a teacher.”

It feels to me like in our society, this ‘one size fits all’ take on meditation is proving to sit a little baggy or tight on many of us. For the more sensitive minds among us, giving time to developing a relationship with a trusted teacher would also mean rooting ourselves in connectivity, by allowing our journey to be directed by the wisdom of another.

East London Buddhist Centre run Breathing Space, a course developed for people with depression, anxiety or other imbalances (‘gifts,’ as I like to call them). The course involves more personal attention from the teacher, more support. But even within their standard classes they aim to relate to people on a personal basis.

“Faith in humankind is what we need the most” says Sumaya. And if our practice begins with trusting another human being then we starting off in the arms of safety, which is ultimately what saved me. And why I’m ready to continue on my path.

If you’re concerned about whether meditation is right for you, then please consult with a medical professional.

SENSITIVE SOUL: WORK WITH A CANCER MOON SIGN

Tips and practices to help understand and work with your Cancer Moon sign from Ash Bonelli. Artwork: Prince Lauder via Behance.net

The Moon represents the inner subconscious world that we usually only share with those we love and trust. It can show us our needs and how we care for others—and as such, our Moon sign (where the Moon falls in our birth chart) shows the style in which we express this softer side.

Work out your Moon sign, when you do you chart for free here.

The inner world of the Cancer Moon sign is a gentle, vulnerable and emotional landscape. The Moon rules the sign of Cancer so she feels quite at home in this sign making it easy to fully express her archetypal nature. When we think of the crab itself (the symbol for Cancer), we see the hard protective shell on the outside but know there is nothing but softness on the inside. A small being that carries its sanctuary on its back so it can feel at home wherever it goes.

These themes symbolize the Cancer Moon sign. You can put on a brave face, but deep down you feel EVERYTHING. You usually cry easily and really experience the emotions of any particular situation or environment you happen to be in. This Moon is very in tune with its intuition, thoughts and feelings—so much so you sometimes forget that not everything is always about you. Being sensitive is great, until it isn’t and you become resentful and hide away in your shell. There is a fine balance to be found with the Cancer Moon sign.

Taking care of others usually makes you quite happy, but when it goes unappreciated or the care isn’t returned you can get quite hurt. And so Cancer Moons are often working on expressing their needs. Working on being vocal about this is really important, as you can get so lost in taking care of others that you end up with the short end of the stick.

Fear of getting hurt is very real for you for you, mainly since being hurt in love, for example, you may feel it more deeply than others. Honestly, unless you live under a rock, you will be familiar with this pain and what it can do to you. So this is a genuine fear, but not one that should stop you from receiving love.

Often times the Cancer Moon sign is associated with the mother, and rightfully so—since both Cancer and the Moon represent this energy. But not every Cancer Moon sign wants to be a parent. The mother archetype is actually about nurturing and caring for others, offering tender love and support, and this can be applied to anything in life. Your career, your pets, your friends, your home or your hobbies. You can channel this inner need to love into anything and it will be fulfilling, just as long as you let others love you back so there is a sense of balance in your life.

Below are some suggestion to connect more to your sweet Cancer Moon sign, and make the most of its intuitive expression…

:: ACTIVE LISTENING ::
The Cancer Moon sign has a tendency to feel first when engaging with others. This can go badly if you what you intuitively pick up about someone is incorrect, which can shape the relationship in the wrong direction. You can get your feelings hurt because you feel you know what they “really meant.” But assumption is really dangerous, since it can lead to un-founded resentment which can turn into distance.

This can be easily avoided if you work on listening to what they are actually saying, rather than simply feeling into their energy. If assumption-based feelings occur take the time to ask questions to gain further insight. Use your nurturing nature to engage in a more open conversation. This way you aren’t incorrectly just reading (or rather feeling) between the lines.

:: SANCTUARY ::
All Cancer Moon signs need a place to retreat. They need a space to feel safe and secure where they can let all of their emotions out without judgement. This doesn’t need to be an entire home or apartment either. It could be one room, or even a space within a room. Maybe a meditation pillow with a small altar if this practice speaks to you.

It could also be a certain location, such as your favorite park or beach. For some it could be a place from your childhood. The Cancer Moon sign can be very nostalgic so places that awaken happy memories really warm your heart.

:: NURTURE ::
Find something to nurture in your life that isn’t another person. The need to express care is innate, but you can get burned out if this means attracting energy vampires. Needy people love the sweet lunar crab, for you will always try to help solve the problems they should be dealing with on their own. And so learn to be selective.

Finding a hobby that will reward your nurturing with feelings of worth and accomplishment is such a good idea. Think gardening, or cooking, working with animals, or becoming a beekeeper. What do you want to be good at that requires time, nurturance and patience? Find something that makes your heart feel good and you will bring some emotional balance back into your life.

:: INTUITIVE PROTECTION ::
Being that you are such an intuitive, maybe even psychically gifted person, you need to work on protecting your energy. Otherwise it’s likely people will energetically take from you until you are totally drained. This can make you feel vulnerable in an unhealthy way.

Begin by taking time each morning to visualize yourself being cleansed by white healing light. Just a simple shower before (or even during!) your regular shower. Then imagine a bubble of light surrounding you, which people can only enter into when invited by you. It can be any color that you love.

These are your mental and energetic guards for the day ahead. You could also burn some sage in your space before your start your day or make a healing spray with essential oils to mist yourself with. Anything that  creates an energetic boundary between you and the world will help.

Also, be present to when you feel depleted. What was going on? Who were you around? Sometimes the best defense is creating literal space between you and the people or situations that take advantage of you.

Above all, may you find comfort in your innate ability to be vulnerable—and use it to show others the strength in letting down our guard in a world that needs it more than ever before.

CURIOUS COMMUNICATOR: WORK WITH A GEMINI MOON SIGN

Tips and practices to help understand and work with your Gemini Moon sign from Ash Bonelli. Artwork: Prince Lauder via Behance.net

The Moon represents what we need in life to feel safe, secure, and how we need to be nurtured, and understanding your Moon’s requirements can help you connect deeper to your more private self. When you have a bad day or are just feeling “off” you want to tap into your Moon. She is the cosmic mother and learning more about the sign where she sits in your birth chart, can reveal so much about your internal landscape.

Work out your Moon sign, when you do you chart for free here.

The Gemini Moon sign is forever curious. She wants to learn about anything and everything. This Moon loves to engage and communicate, since Gemini is a mutable air sign that needs mental stimulation and variety. When things become stagnant the restless demons set in—and so keeping things moving in life is key.

Depending on the rest of your chart, these behaviors/tendencies may express in a need to always have light and breezy conversations. You enjoy gathering data, processing it and then moving on to the next interesting person, subject or experience. This flitting about keeps things upbeat and interesting yet can have a downside.

The Gemini Moon sign is learning to also go deep. It’s about finding some balance between superficial experiences and really getting to know yourself and others on a more intimate level. Because of this Moon’s voracious appetite for new information, you can come across fickle or insincere if this expression is out of balance.

This analytical moon usually symbolizes a gifted speaker, writer or teacher. Since you are always gathering information you put it to good use by sharing it with others, and this exchange of thoughts, ideas and insights can be quite soothing for you. The give and take is the thrill that propels you forward to find more.

This is a delightful quality that makes you fun to chat with, as well as being able to turn a negative emotional situation into a happier one. The Gemini Moon sign is clever and witty, so having an innate emotional tie to these abilities can bring true fulfillment through expression.

Just make sure to keep the input and output in check or you will never be able to get to your deeper self. There can be an avoidance of darker undercurrents if you don’t allow yourself time to really feel your feelings, which may mean missing out on the beauty of vulnerability.

Below are some suggestions to bring some balance back to your energetic moon as well as ways to emphasize it. These are meant to empower and bolster your emotional wellbeing to be at your best!

:: FOCUS ::
Zero in on a project that you have to stay committed to—anything that will require you to stick to it long enough to actually become proficient at it. Since Gemini is placed in the linguistic camp you could learn a new language. Mercury being Gemini’s ruler is associated with dexterity so you could learn to play an instrument. The other benefit of this for you emotionally, is that once you’ve mastered this new interest you then get to share it, creates a beautiful cyclical effect for your heart, and your Gemini Moon sign.

:: BREATHWORK ::
Learning to control your responses in more hectic situations could be very healing—and one way is with the simple art of breathing. Try practicing the 2:1 ratio breath, in which increasing the length of your exhalation helps to relax your parasympathetic nervous system. Start by breathing through the nose in your natural way without counting. Then after a few rounds begin to breath in for a count of two, and exhaling for four. Work your way up to deeper breaths from there, and try doing 10 rounds the next time you begin feeling the frazzled.

:: MINDFULNESS ::
In the simplest terms, this simply means being aware and in the present moment without judgement—actually quite hard, since the Gemini Moon sign is often stuck between wondering what the future holds and dwelling on the past. Finding a meditation practice that works for you is key, and if sitting still is just too much for you try doing a walking meditation, which will burn up any restlessness through mindful movement. You could also try Qi Gong—which covers practices from the gentle Tai Chi to the more fierce option, Kung Fu. Potentially a healing double whammy, helping you to focus and be more in the moment while still satisfying the need to learn and grow.

EAT, PRAY, DANCE: THE ONLY FOOD RULES YOU NEED

Certified health coach Robyn Youkilis is the creator free video training series The Rockstar Roadmap, which she designed to prove it’s possible to love food and still lose weight and get the body you want. If, that is, you follow The Rules (and say a prayer or two).

Image: Mathilde Francois Girbaud ad campaign SS 05

1. If you’re dining alone you must eat with ZERO distractions. Turn away from your computer, close the magazine. You may look out the window and listen to music, but do whatever you have to do to enjoy your breakfast, lunch, dinner or even just a snack in peace. I know, it’s boring. You want to cry. It just feels so lonely! But it also feels great to learn when you’re full and to be able to end your meal at exactly that time, which will never happen if you’re not 100% in your body while it’s eating. How about you get a Buddha and eat with him? I have a large black stone Buddha that sits on the corner of my desk with a few other trinkets, and every day I dine with him. Of all the food rules, this is one is the hardest (that’s why I got it out of the way first!), but it’s also EVERYTHING. But please don’t stress if you’re not able to do this for all your meals.

2. Tea is your new best friend. “But I thought YOU were my new best friend Robyn!” Well I am, but so is tea. Herbal tea, that is. Ginger will help with digestion, nettle is good for digestion, mate gives you energy and run will clear your mind.But mainly, as you try to become your healthiest you it can takes a while to calm the cravings, which are usually based in the need for a calming moment. That’s why I call a tea a hug in a mug.

3. Breathe, God dammit. Half the time this is the answer to stopping cravings and getting back in the moment. There, you’re cured! Just kidding. But seriously breathe DEEPLY. None of us do it enough.

Breathing will help:

  • energize you
  • lift your spirits
  • keep you from making less than stellar decisions (in food and life)
  • help you feel connected to something bigger than you
  • calm you the f*** down
  • calm the situation around you the f*** down
  • make you a happier, shinier and more likable person (promise)

4. Eat greens until they’re coming out of your ears and mix them up (okay, that’s two rules). I can already hear you…but I have a salad for lunch and a green with dinner most days (and if you do, that’s already awesome)! Well, I want you to have more. Find a way to get them in your breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I’m not just talking kale smoothies. I mean mustard greens, dandelion, sprouts, purslane, bok choi EVERYTHING GREEN. Don’t know what to do with them? Shred them and have them raw with a simple dressing massaged in or steam or sauté them with olive oil, garlic and lemon.

5. Healthy fats are your friend. Avocados, nuts and seeds (small amounts, like way smaller than you think), coconuts, oily cold water fish should be welcomed onto your plate on a daily basis. As the former Snackwells queen, I’m still getting over my fear of fat too. Personally, I was never heavier than when I was eating fat free. When I began eating all the yummy, healthy and satisfying fats listed above (in moderation), I lost not just the 20 lbs I put on, but another 10. Oh, and your new glowing skin will thank you too. Remember, fat is not a four-letter word (it’s not, it’s three).

NB: these girls are not following The Rules

6. Chew your food until it’s liquid. I know this sounds like pure insanity but trust me, contrary to popular belief, your stomach does not have teeth. Half the time pesky digestive issues (bloating, less than frequent pooping, etc) can be solved by chewing more. And you don’t have to sit there counting. Until liquid is good/great enough.

7. Start your day with a prayer or blessing and end your day with a prayer or blessing. Not into the spiritual thing? Tough. It’s been proven that individuals with a spiritual practice of any kind (concentrating on your breathing is already a spiritual practice by the way) are happier, healthier and most likely to be living in the body they desire. It can be something as simple as; “Thank you for today.”

8. Smaller plates, smaller forks, smaller everything. I know, I know. The idea of eating my lunch or dinner off of a salad plate used to feel pretty lame too. Eventually I got used to it, and you will too (promise). I found a smaller plate that I loved (these can vary a lot so shop around, look for 6-8 inches with a border – we tend to want to stay within the lines). Now, a regular dinner plate (and the amount of food that typically accompanies it) looks enormous to me. This switch can sometimes be the easiest rule to follow because all you need to do for this one is swap out a physical item.

9. This is your life and it’s not meant to be painful, restrictive, unpleasant or unfun (I made that word up), but it’s also important to remember that as human beings, we do better with accountability, support, love and goals. So keep it real, girl. I am here for you, yes, but most importantly, you are here for you.

10. With that being said,  here’s a song to dance to! If you’re somewhere you can’t actually dance, then just close your eyes and dance in your mind. If you’re in bed reading this, use the song to sit up and meditate too and if you happen to be working out right after this GO FOR IT. Dancing is FREE. It relieves stress, lifts the pressure and gets us moving and back in our groove.

The Rockstar Roadmap with Robyn Youkilis is a free video series about getting healthy and losing a few pounds while NOT giving up your life to make that happen. It all kicks off on May 14, and you can sign up here.