Advanced Training in the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music, Seminar I, Music as Guide August 3-9, 2019 at the Benedict Inn, Indianapolis, IN. The Therapeutic Arts Institute. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, 773-426-3142 or email@example.com, 415-225-6260.
Introduction to The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music, November 24, 2019 American Music Therapy Association National Conference, Hyatt Regency Minneapolis, MN. Concurrent Session, 8am. For Registration, contact: www.musictherapy.org.
Are you feeling spun up by the news lately? Does it make you angry? Fearful? Irritated? Disgusted? Or perhaps you feel the weight of it pulling you down into a deep hole. It’s hard to avoid what’s on every screen and wondering if the world as we know it has gone mad. How do you keep an even keel?
The truth is that the news is produced to stimulate, activate and keep us glued to the screen. That’s why If it bleeds, it leads is the unspoken rule for high ratings. We get sucked into alarming footage framed in 3D animated backgrounds with a separate newsfeed scrolling across the bottom. This visual hyperactivity alerts our brain’s negativity bias like a fear bath; we may end up in fight, flight or freeze mode without realizing it.
Here are some simple tips to keep your equilibrium:
1. Take a news break. Integrated medicine specialist Dr. Andrew Weill suggests skipping news for a week; no radio or social media. This gives you the priceless gift of quiet time – Imagine that! Or get the news just once a day and not before going to bed – it is not a sleep aid. Really, how many times a day do you need to see the bad news? Take control of your emotional environment; be disciplined about where you put your attention.
2. Look for good news. People are committing acts of compassion daily everywhere. They donate to causes, help children, the elderly, or put others at ease. Shine your light on the good stuff and spend time taking it in! Commit some radical acts of kindness on your own. Good news is all over; they just don’t report it on TV.
3. Be the Change. If you’re inspired, get out there and get involved. Figure out your beliefs, have discussions with others; practice respect and develop tolerance for other viewpoints. Try to prioritize one cause and connect with others who share your passion. As anthropologist Margaret Meade said, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
4. Practice gratitude. It’s hard to be negative while you’re being thankful! This will change your day and perhaps open your heart. What do you bless or honor in yourself? In others? Remind yourself how lucky you are every day, even if it’s just the small stuff. A smile from someone; a sunset, people you love, that great cup of coffee…endless possibilities here!
5. Own Your Power. Point your focus in a direction where you feel powerful, not powerless. Where can you feel your strength and stand up to the politics of fear that are all over the media? Where can you feel calm, safe, and quiet? Try deep breathing or meditation; activate your spiritual self. Walk in nature, notice the clouds, listen to inspiring music, go to a museum. Be awed. Unplug. Spending a little “me” time can ground you, steady your brain and reboot your spirit.
Finally, decide what gives you life and feeds your energy. Go with that. Be the boss of you!
Louise Dimiceli-Mitran is a counselor and music psychotherapist in Chicago. Sign up to receive her blog by visiting www.rhythmswithin.com.
How long do you spend rehearsing a difficult conversation in your head before you actually say the hard thing you need to say? If you feel upset, angry or devalued, about what was said or done to you, does it take your mind over, over and over, for hours and perhaps days? You might be thinking of how to say, “You’re a jerk,” “You’re wrong,” “You never think of anyone but yourself,” “You #*%&!” You, you, you…. And so it goes.
The fact is, the minute you use the word you as an accusation, the person is put on the defensive and can’t hear anything else you say. The mind’s fight or flight capacities get activated and there you are in the middle of a power struggle, showdown or worse. If your goal is to be heard, understood, and to have your opinion considered, there’s a better way. Whatever the relationship you’re in, communication experts tell us that the best way to say the hard thing is to use another approach: an “I statement.”
So what is an I statement anyway? An I statement describes how you feel. Your feelings aren’t right or wrong, they’re simply your feelings. To make an I statement, you have to first figure out what your feelings are and own them. This takes the focus off of what the person did and onto your reaction; you take responsibility for what you’re feeling. This is a lot harder than blaming it on the other person.
“You statements” include: “You’re stupid,” You’re wrong,” “You should be ashamed,” “You didn’t do what you were supposed to do.” These types of statements are emotionally intense and set you both up for a power struggle. It’s important to remember that the person you’re relating to is another adult and there’s no reason to shrink your vocabulary or hand your power over to them even if they try to treat you like you’re inferior somehow.
I Statements include, “I was hurt,” “I’m afraid,” “I feel sad,” “I was angry,” “I felt upset when you said….” Say it this way and you take responsibility for your feelings, you’re being personal and expressing yourself with honesty. You’re also heading toward a more successful conversation. And “I feel like you’re a jerk” is not the kind of I statement we’re talking about here!
In her book Rising Strong, researcher Brene Brown says that we’re happier if we believe that others are doing the best they can all the time. Can you imagine that this person who upset you actually was doing their best at the time? It may be a new perspective, but worth trying out. Being vulnerable enough to let someone honestly know how you feel can not only help you tap into your own power, but also to send the message that you care enough to make your communication more powerful, and thus more effective as well. Brown would say you’re being openhearted. I would say you’re just being smart.
While there are the rare people in the world who would say, “I don’t care what you think,” most of the time using I statements is a recipe for success. And who doesn’t want that? The “I’s” have it!
The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery & Music; Level I Training, November 18-21, 2019, at the American Music Therapy Association National Conference, Hyatt Regency Minneapolis. Primary Trainer: Louise Dimiceli-Mitran. Contact: www.musictherapy.org. For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chances are you’ve used music to wake up, raise your energy and even lift your spirits. Maybe you play drums on the steering wheel or find yourself surprisingly energized out on the dancefloor. Music is not only an energy revitalizer but can also calm you down, lower your blood pressure, focus your energy and reduce your stress levels. How does it work?
It turns out that we synchronize, or entrain, to what’s around us. Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens identified the phenomenon of entrainment back in 1665 when he discovered that the pendulums in a room full of clocks would swing together when left alone. Today we know that auditory stimuli (music) can adjust and synchronize the neurons in your brain as they oscillate to the frequencies nearby. Your body actually vibrates and entrains to what’s around you, whether it’s cacophonous or soothing. Loud traffic, construction machinery, a crying baby, or continuous complaining in an office setting can be a constant stressor; listening to music can literally change your environment. Cornell mathematician Steven Strogatz uses entrainment to explain why crickets sing together and also how the pulse of music synchronizes the brain to its beat. On the dairy farm where I grew up, it was common practice to play music at milking time (classical, if you must know!) because a relaxed cow gives more milk. Women who work or live together end up on the same monthly cycle – ladies, you know this is true. Music therapists in hospitals use entrainment with calming music to help reduce patient stress, lower heart rate, anxiety and perception of pain. And no bad side effects!
One helpful hint: bring headphones to your next medical test, surgical procedure or dental appointment. This simple strategy changes the whole experience as you entrain to the soothing, friendly music in your ears. Stress levels go down as you gain some control over your environment. Just remove one earbud or turn down the volume if you need to communicate.
What kind of music works for you? Your personal preference is the key. That said, The Journal of the American Music Therapy Association is rich with research supporting the concept that instrumental music with long phrases, repetition, no drum beat and no surprises (NOT the 1812 Overture with the cannons!) works best for most people. What’s in your playlist? What music do you have an ahhhh reaction to? You can audition a piece by listening with eyes closed and a focus on your breathing. You’ll know right away if it works for you. Listening to music is like tasting food or wine; you know the minute you experience it. Trust your reaction – you alone are the expert on what you like. And what you like, works. Need suggestions? Google Secret Garden, Daniel Kobialka, Al Jewer and Andy Mitran, or Consciously Creating Wellness. Combining guided imagery with music can also be powerful. For more on this, click here.
How? Once you’ve picked a piece, a collection or made a play list, spend some time breathing with this music each day or whenever you need it; daily practice gets the best results. You have to give yourself permission to take this time for yourself and your health. Nobody else is going to do it for you! The music sends a message to your parasympathetic nervous system: relax, digest your food, you’re safe right now. Give yourself enough time to entrain; research will say 20 minutes but it can happen faster than that. Just 5 minutes can change your day.
Go forth and listen! Own music as your own personal power tool for relaxation.
Louise Dimiceli-Mitran is a counselor and music psychotherapist in Chicago. Take a breath and visit her at www.rhythmswithin.com.
You walk down the street every day and fall into a hole. This happens day after day; you fall in, climb out, and continue on down the street. This goes on for a long time, until one day as you’re climbing out of the hole you think, I have a problem. Still, you keep falling into the hole. Once, just before you fall in, it occurs to you that you might do this another way. You keep falling in. One day as you approach the hole you focus, stop, make a decision, then simply walk around the hole. This feels good! As the weeks go by, sometimes you fall in but mostly you go around, especially when you remember to remember to think about it. Until one day, you go down another street.
Change does happen! But why is it so hard?
Neuropsychologists have likened habits, thinking patterns and default behaviors to ruts in our brains. If you’ve ever driven down a snow-packed Chicago alley you know how hard it is to get your wheels out of those deep ruts! It’s much easier to take your hands off the wheel and let the car steer itself, right? The ruts in your brain are no different; pulling out of them to create a new track takes a LOT of energy. Your defaults, repeated over and over, are wired into your brain and reinforced each time you practice them. No wonder it’s so hard to make a change!
When you set an intention to climb out of your default, whatever it is, it’s useful to know that you’re planning to do nothing short of rewiring your brain. Neuroscientist pioneer Donald Hebb first theorized that neurons that fire together, wire together. Once you begin a new behavior or pattern of thinking, you are actually growing new synapses which are the connectors between nerve endings in your brain. Frequent and regular repetition creates steady neural firing and accelerates the rewiring. The more you repeat that new way of behaving or thinking, the stronger the new neural connections will get; building a sufficient network to make it become your new default. In effect, you’re turning a neural goat path into a freeway!
Years ago it was thought that you were stuck with the brain you have for life. Here’s the good news: Recent research supports the idea that not only can the brain change (this is called neuroplasticity) but you can use your mind to bring it about. It takes a hard focus on making the new behavior or way of thinking stick. Keep your eye on the road and hang on to that wheel! With a laser focus you can steer out of the ruts.
It’s easier said than done so be patient with yourself; two steps forward, one step back is still progress. Remember you’re pulling out of ruts that have been there a long time, perhaps for years or most of your life. As Nike postulates, just do it. The more you do, the easier it will get until it seems like you always did it this way.
Know that as your own CEO, you are the boss of you. If your body wants that ice cream before bed, if your mind wants to stay with the negative stories you’ve been telling yourself, make an executive decision, focus on where you’re going and what you want. At this point, it’s truly mind over matter.
Another piece of good news: developing new behaviors or patterns of thinking is great for your brain! In her book Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being, neuroscience expert Linda Graham states learning and trying new things can keep your brain younger. You got this!
Louise Dimiceli-Mitran is a counselor and music psychotherapist in Chicago. Start a new habit and visit her at www.rhythmswithin.com
The Tao of Relaxing when your Stress is a Runaway Train and Why Is That, Anyway?
You’re exhausted but can’t sleep, the to-do list keeps flashing before your eyes and there’s a worry about something that happened today nipping at the edges. Overwhelm is on the horizon (or it’s
already here). Why can’t you slow down when you actually want to? You try to relax with a TV
show, Facebook or a movie but it just revs you up more. And when you put your head on the pillow your brain keeps going and going and going… What is going on?
Your system is on overdrive. Here’s why: Way back when on the Serengeti, the humans that
were hanging out relaxing in the sun didn’t see the lion approaching and got eaten, while those who were vigilantly watching for danger saw it coming; their bodies produced the adrenaline to fight the predator or run away to survive another day. Natural selection handed down our ancestors who were wired to be on the lookout for danger – their very survival depended on it.
Fast forward to today and we are still wired to scan for signs of danger but the stress we deal with is very different. Most likely you’re not in danger of being eaten (call 9-1-1 if you are!) – You are relatively safe most of the time. Much of the stress we deal with can’t be solved with a fight or flight response, which is what our old systems are set for. We are evolutionarily wired to deal with shorter-term problems so long-term stressors like dealing with a difficult boss, medical issues, keeping (or getting) a job, deadlines or relationship difficulties don’t respond to a quick fix.
In short, we have the wrong program running! We end up with our adrenalized fight or flight systems stuck in overdrive, never being able to relax as they were designed to do. Safe in our beds we lie awake, our worries overriding sleep. Our neural programming will keep us working on the problem until it gets solved when in truth it’s the worry itself that plagues us.
In his book Hardwiring Happiness, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson calls this the negativity bias, which means we’re wired to scan for danger. He likens good experiences to Teflon; they slide right off us while negative (read: dangerous) thoughts hold our attention and stick in our memories like Velcro. It’s our old hypervigilant survival mechanism. Besides long exhalations to slow the body/mind down, Hanson’s research has shown that diverting our minds to soothe the brain is a win-win. The first thing is to actually realize we’re on the runaway train of negativity -not so easy since for many of us it’s become a default. The good news is that “thinking about your thinking” can be practiced. It turns out you can make the choice to change a negative thought and not be victimized by it; this is a liberating concept for many. Once you decide to make a shift, find something you’re grateful for or a good thing that happened today and stay with it for 20 seconds. Take it in. Enjoy it. Let it stick like Velcro. You’re not only practicing a form of mindfulness but over time it can rewire those old evolutionary tendencies and actually change your brain. The old default of negativity bias can be shifted with your awareness.
Listening to relaxing music can help you make the shift; so can repeating a comforting phrase until that old unwanted thought is long gone. Then take a deep breath and take as long as you can to exhale – this sends a message to activate your parasympathetic nervous system that says relax, it’s safe, digest your food and rest. No more runaway train.
And by the way, screen activity (TV, computers, phones, pads) will stimulate your brain with all the moving pixels. Your system sees the light moving and goes on hypervigilant mode; not a good way to encourage your system to relax and sleep. Try turning off all screens at least an hour before bed. You got this!
Louise Dimiceli-Mitran is a counselor and music psychotherapist in Chicago. Take a breath and visit her at www.rhythmswithin.com.
There is one thing that molds the shape of our thoughts; something we can’t build buildings or plan days without. It gets us out of bed in the morning, helps us whip up a meal, make a to-do list, write an email or fall in love. Movie directors, engineers, artists and construction workers – surgeons, musicians, MBA’s and chefs all use it to create a plan and follow through with their intentions. Without it, downtown Chicago wouldn’t have been built; your shirt wouldn’t have been designed or the screen you’re reading this on wouldn’t have been conjured up.
Imagery. We can’t think without it! We have creative, stream of consciousness, 24-hour images moving through our heads, inspired by a seemingly endless array of sights, sounds, smells and kinesthetic stimulation from our environment. When we sleep, images take the form of dreams delivered in symbols and metaphor blended by our life experiences and shaken into a cocktail of uniquely surreal and perhaps fearful scenarios. We are the products of an incredibly busy brain – a virtual imagery machine. More about this below, but first: What are images, anyway?
Imagery may be synonymous with pictures or visions to many, but according to the Association for Music and Imagery (AMI) they can also include memories, feelings, and all the senses: what you can hear, smell, touch, taste or see. Images may be fantastic, involving myths or the awareness of flying like an eagle, winning big or falling hard.
Your Inner Landscape
What does this have to do with you? The images you have of yourself and of others have a deep influence on your mental and physical health. Researcher Dr. Candace Pert, in her seminal book The Molecules of Emotion, wrote about her discovery of neuropeptides, the molecules that result from our feelings and flow into our immune, neurological and other systems in our bodies. Our thinking changes our chemicals! Think about that. If you constantly beat yourself up with not being enough – smart enough, thin enough, good enough, etc. your body, mind and spirit are flowing with chemicals that correspond with negative feelings. On the other hand, if you give yourself a break and live with compassion for yourself and others it will be those more positive, healthy chemicals that are swimming through your immune system.
But how do you make a shift when your feelings always feel like a runaway train?
Try this: Stop. Close your eyes if you can. Take a minute for a slow, deep breath (with the longest exhale you can muster), and check in with what you’re feeling at the moment. If it’s good, take a moment to enjoy it; savor and take in those chemicals! If you realize you’re thinking something that you’d like to change, take another deep breath. Allow yourself to bring up an image of a place you’d like to be (the beach? Or with someone who loves you unconditionally?). Let yourself be there for a minute. Make a decision to spend a little time with it. Notice the colors, scents, temperature and sounds of being there. Feel the temperature. Notice where the light is coming from. Feel the air on your skin. Bring in the images that come to you and savor that. Breathe it in. You are now in a new place and your body/mind/spirit will be responding, as well as your neuropeptides. The challenge is allowing it for yourself and knowing you have the power to change your mind!
Louise Dimiceli-Mitran is a counselor and music psychotherapist in Chicago. Take a breath and visit her at www.louisedmitran.com.