ERP 380: How To Deepen Contact With Self To Improve All Aspects Of One’s Life… Including Relationship — An Interview With Madhur-Nain Webster

By Posted in - Podcast July 11th, 2023 0 Comments

Do you often find yourself struggling to navigate the complexities of life and relationships? Perhaps you feel disconnected from your own thoughts, emotions, and desires, and it’s affecting your overall well-being.

In a world filled with stress, anxiety, and constant distractions, it’s easy to lose touch with our true selves. But what if there was a way to deepen your contact with yourself and transform every aspect of your life, including your relationships?

In this episode, we delved into the powerful practice of meditation and mindfulness, exploring how they can help you develop self-awareness, regulate emotions, and build healthier connections.

Join us as we uncover practical steps, insights, and valuable resources to guide you on this transformative journey of self-discovery and personal growth. Get ready to unlock the potential within you and experience profound positive changes in your life and relationships.

Madhur-Nain Webster is a licensed marriage and family therapist, specializing in the integration of eastern and western philosophies for mental health for individuals and couples. Her first book, The Stressless Brain (2018), makes a scientific argument for the positive influence meditation has on the psyche; she is currently working on her second book. In addition to releasing over 60 meditation singles, Madhur-Nain maintains international outreach by appearing on podcasts and holding meditation workshops.

In this Episode

5:57 Madhur-Nain Webster and her work in integrating Eastern and Western philosophies.

15:25 Finding what works: Exploring different forms of meditation.

20:39 Changing relationship dynamics and prioritizing needs.

26:25 The importance of practicing meditation even when it feels challenging or uncomfortable.

31:53 The influence of early upbringing and trauma on meditation practice.

36:16 The influence of meditation on the endocrine system and well-being.

39:54 Amplifying the benefits: Togetherness and community in meditation.

43:11 Couples meditation: Connecting through synchronized breath.

48:28 Self-reflection and emotional recognition: Navigating feedback and challenging toxic shame

52:03 Understanding the difference between anxiety and stress.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Practice daily mindfulness or meditation to cultivate self-awareness and deepen your connection with yourself.
  • Set aside regular alone time for self-reflection and introspection to gain insights into your thoughts, emotions, and needs.
  • Engage in activities that nourish your mind, body, and spirit, such as exercising, journaling, or engaging in creative pursuits.
  • Explore your values, beliefs, and personal goals to gain clarity on who you are and what you want from life and relationships.
  • Develop self-compassion and treat yourself with kindness, understanding that self-care is crucial for overall well-being.
  • Prioritize self-care activities that nurture your physical, emotional, and mental health, ensuring you have the energy and capacity to show up fully in relationships.
  • Set boundaries and learn to say “no” when needed, honoring your own needs and limits.
  • Seek professional support through therapy or coaching to deepen your self-awareness, process past experiences, and gain valuable insights and tools for personal growth.

Mentioned

The Stressless Brain: Reducing Stress and Anxiety through the Power of Meditation and Psychology (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

The Feeling Good Handbook (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

Relationship Map To Happy, Lasting Love

Connect with Madhur-Nain Webste

Websites: madhurnain.com

Facebook: facebook.com/madhurnainwebster

YouTube: youtube.com/channel/UCOof1-ACJXP9SufPBHbQeQw

Instagram: instagram.com/madhurnain

Spotify: spotify.com/artist/5wvZFb0E0Ybc4oSdlDSn0h

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Madhur-Nain, thank you for being here.

Thank you for having me. It’s great to be back.

I know we were just chatting, and I really enjoyed what you had to share. I’ll make sure to put that first episode where you appeared on the Empowered Relationship Podcast on today’s show notes. Today, we’re going to be talking about meditation, and you have a book that’s coming out. Or is already done, and it’s already on Amazon. Is that what I’m hearing?

Yes, that’s right. I just finished the second edition of my first book, which is out there to share with the world, and I’m really excited about that. Because for me, I love creating things, and I love sharing it with people, and I love giving people tools. So it’s a little bit of all of that.

I remember when we had our conversation before, you have even directed people towards video and audio meditations that you offer as a guide. So I appreciate that you are able to offer that as a tool. Many people are looking for practices, so it’s great to have that. 

Where would you like to start as it relates to meditation and where you’re coming from, and the benefits or how it’s helpful for mental health. I’d love to also talk about relationship and how it helps relationship, but I’m sure it all interweaves.

Yes. First things first, is I always tell people meditation has been around since the beginning of time. Yes, it’s probably been more popular in the last 20 years, like really popular. I think there’s not a single person on the planet that hasn’t heard the word meditation. Often it comes out of the yogic world and Eastern philosophy. But I often say that meditation has been around since the beginning of all religions, and even probably before then. Because meditation is just different forms. It’s basically some kind of form that allows us to connect to a sense of self. Sometimes it can even be like, in a strange way, when a child is being held by their parent or a parent figure, and they’re feeling and hearing the heartbeat. That’s a form of meditation, it calms us; it calms the baby. So humans like to take things, and we like to evolve them, and we like to change them and package them, especially in the modern world. Meditation is a tool. I often tell people, it’s not magic. It’s not like you do meditation, all of a sudden, all your problems go away, or you have a perfect relationship, or your depression is instantly gone. No, it’s a tool that we bring into our life, to build a relationship within ourselves, with ourselves, so that we can then show up in our life and our relationships in the way that we want.

Yes. If I’m hearing you, you’re saying there’s an acknowledgement of the lineage of different disciplines of meditation, and it comes from different sources, whether or not it’s Buddhist, Zen, yogic. 

Even Christian, Jewish, Muslim; agnostic even probably do it in their own way. People connect through hiking, and you’re out and you’re walking, and walking creates a rhythm. Each of us have our own walking rhythm. If we’re fast or slow, or we have a little bit of limp on one leg, believe it or not, that is a form of connecting to the self. The thing is that it’s a tool that helps us connect to the sense of our own awareness, and when we’re more aware, we show up in our life differently; we show up in our relationships differently. We often hear, like, when you get triggered, stop, count to 10, and reflect and think about what you want to say. But if we’re not connected to ourselves, that’s I would say, I’m going to say it, impossible. You’re going to stumble. But if we do have that regular practice of mindfulness, meditation, connecting to the self, we are able to remember those tools my therapist taught me, or remember the tool I read in that one book. Or I tried this once and it worked, and how do I try and use it again?

Yes. So your point about being perhaps dysregulated, or triggered, activated, I’ve even heard, Madhur-Nain, that it’s difficult to even drop into a sense of meditative state because it doesn’t feel safe enough. That sense of like, okay, close your eyes, that’s a big leap from being activated. So to your point, it feels almost impossible at times. So there might be many forms of bringing attention and awareness to the present moment, and also directing attention into the inner world. I think when I was saying, just the origins of meditation and the different disciplines that that has evolved from, sometimes it’s trying to clear the mind and having one focus, and other times it’s trying to be aware of many aspects and sensations. So I think there can be different focuses, but it sounds like we’re saying more generally.

Yeah, in general. I mean, that’s what we can get specific with; there’s chanting meditations, there’s prayer meditation, there’s walking meditation, there’s breath meditation, there’s tapping meditation, there’s writing. I think even for some people, that journaling that some people will commit to every day is a form of meditation. So I studied with Dr. David Burns, who wrote Feeling Good, Feeling Great. He says, and I believe this, that when you find what works for you, it will work each time. The thing is, you’ve got to just do it. So if you know that journaling every day for 10 to 20 minutes really creates a connection to yourself, helps you slow down, gives you a filter to be able to work through things, then that’s where you have to self-initiate to do it. If it’s sitting and chanting, or singing prayer or hymns, then doing it. 

That’s the piece is that in our culture often, one is we want a quick fix. That’s incredibly often current, I see that all the time. They don’t necessarily say give me a quick fix, but everything that a person is articulating or asking for has to do with, well, how can you fix this, or can you help me do this? I was working with a couple earlier today, and I was telling the gentleman, look, regardless of which path you take, it’s going to be really rough. Your partner is asking you to change, and there’s huge resistance for you, and that’s going to be a hard path. Or you not doing what your partner is asking and your partner saying that they’re done, then that creates another discomfort, and that’s pain. So regardless of how you look at it, you’ve got to decide which it is. Meditation allows us to sit in that discomfort. 

I often tell people, you don’t need to be all zen and relaxed and meditate. I sometimes tell, the best time to meditate is when you’re triggered, when you’re upset. That’s when I find it’s doing both. It’s having a little bit of a practice every day, or at least a few times a week, really having that consistent practice. It doesn’t have to be super long. Studies have found that three minutes of meditation lowers your blood pressure. I have had somebody challenge that on one of my courses many years ago, who had high blood pressure and was taking my class to help calm her. She did it at home. Then she was sitting there meditating, her dogs were distracting her, and then she just checked her blood pressure was just like: Oh my God, it is lower. So three minutes is all it takes. Then when you’re going throughout your life, and you do have an upsetness with a partner or a colleague or your boss, like when you’re driving home, instead of sitting in the car ruminating about what happened, chant the whole way home. Because amazingly, our minds are so incredibly powerful. You’ll probably do both simultaneously, you’ll be chanting while you’re ruminating. But here’s the thing I was saying. 

Free Man Hugging Another Man from Behind Stock Photo

“Meditation is a washing machine for the brain, chanting is spot remover. So when you’re upset and you’re chanting, it’s like a cheesecloth. Your upsetting thoughts are going through the cheesecloth, and then the garbage we dispose off, and then we come out with wisdom.”

I often say, part of change is having that epiphany of: Oh, this is what it means to me, or this is what I want. But when we have it all mixed up together, we don’t really know. Oh my God, I don’t know what I want, or this person is so upsetting. But when we do the meditation, we’re like: Oh okay, this is what I can let go of, and this is what I want. So it’s practice.

Okay, so I just want to make sure that I’m with you. You’re saying bigger picture, it’s important to find something that works. I have a dear friend, she loves the art and just crafting, or even just the color books; there are adult coloring book, and they have a meditative quality to them. Then I have like an uncle, who I’ve referenced on the show before, who hands down, when he’s riding his motorcycle, he’s like, that’s the best meditation. Because I can’t focus on anything else, I need to be laser focused on where he is going. It brings this quality of, to your point, this relaxation, this clearing of the mind. Am I my hearing? Just finding something that works, that brings the connection to self, and there are many ways of doing that. 

Then also, just a follow-up question. I’m wondering, for me, breath is so incredibly helpful. Even as you’re talking about the chanting, I’m aware of just all the stuff that comes out of the polyvagal theory of just calming the vagus nerve through humming and chanting. There’s an added bonus perhaps of accessing the voice or even the breath, and the parasympathetic nervous system. Would you say that these added components can help with the process?

You mean the chanting and the breathwork with stimulating the vagus nerve? Absolutely. So studies have found that when you stimulate the vagus nerve, it actually lowers the depression in your body, and it lowers inflammation. I mean, we all have inflammation from what I understand. The way that that vagus nerve is stimulated is through rhythm and patterns. So that’s why singing and humming, it creates like a sensation. The vagus nerve is in the center of your chest, which is where your lungs are. So when you’re chanting, or singing hymns, or humming, even whistling, you’re creating a vibration in your body that stimulates the vagus nerve. Now, that’s free and easy to do. You actually can also purchase a device that you attach to your body. There’s even people, I’ve read one study where these doctors in New York implanted a device that you push a button and it stimulates the vagus nerve. I’m like, but you can do it through singing and chanting and breathwork and humming and all those things. So part of it might be like, well, I don’t have depression, I don’t have inflammation. Well, the thing is, is that as we grow up, and we’re older and older, things do stockpile. So even if you’re a young person listening to the podcast, bringing this into your life benefits your whole life. By stimulating the vagus nerve, it calms us. 

I remember, often when my children were both little, and I’d be driving, whenever they were having tantrums in the car, or when they were crying, like when they were really babies, small babies, and I’m in the car, they are in the back maybe backwards facing because that’s safer, and they can’t see you and they’re anxious. There’s only so many times that I can, it’s not that safe to drive with one arm in the back, and I’m going to tweak out my shoulder. I would sing to them. I would sing, and I would sing the same songs, like the Ralphie songs. I don’t know if you remember Ralphie from when you were little. Down by the bay, where the watermelons grow. But part of it is, for children, here the same thing, again, it soothes them. It’s the same for us as adults. I think that’s why young people love music so much. Now, I say this very gingerly. Like, what we’re chanting and what we’re singing, I think, does make a difference. If you’re singing songs that have that kind of angry or a lot of cursing or bad words. I mean, I was a heavy metal girl when I was in the 90s, believe it or not, I’ve seen them all. I was in the mosh pit, I did stage dive. I did all those kinds of crazy things, and I loved it. And it is that piece of, well, what is it though that calms me? I think that some of the other music, it’s not bad, but it has a different effect. It’s more of moving the energy and the frustration out. But then also, you have to do both. How do you come back within? 

So meditation, stimulating the vagus nerve, breathwork, journaling, it is that connection to the self. So much in our culture right now, with stimulation, with social media and computers and online and all of that, it’s all external. Then, because I know that you work with couples a lot as I do, is how do we then connect with somebody? 

Free Man and Woman Facing Each Other Stock Photo

“If we’re always stimulated on the outside of us, and I say this very gently, but real true connection has to do with we’ve got to also have that connection to ourselves, and so does our partner.”

Yes, there’s a relating. Two people, if we’re talking about monogamy, relating, and if one isn’t connected to self, then what are they relating from?

Right. That’s that piece of sometimes, I hear people say, I just don’t feel close to you. What do you mean, I’m here! I’m here. But it’s like, I don’t feel close to him. Part of that is, how are we connected on a deeper level, which then connects us on a deeper level. I often tell people, intimacy is not just sex. It’s friendship. It’s physical touch, spiritual, intellectual, friendship, financial, there’s all these different ways that we connect. And we can’t always have one partner fulfill all of them. Yet, it’s important, what kind of conversations are we having that allow us to deepen these different kinds of intimacy. 

It’s interesting, I saw this post on social media recently, where this person wrote their frustration around: “I’m tired of married people telling single people, you have to love yourself first before someone loves you.” I found that fascinating. First, I was like, well, what’s wrong with loving yourself? No disrespect on that person. Yet, there is something there. If you think about science and neuroscience, there’s mirroring neurons. You and I are talking here, and if I were to touch my nose multiple, multiple times, eventually you would touch your nose. It just is science, it’s mirroring neurons. Part of that is, is that when we do our work to be the kind of person we want to be, keep working at it, be willing to be uncomfortable, be willing to make a commitment to ourselves to do our own work of meditation or exercise, eating healthy, healthy habits, and being willing to do hard work, hopefully we attract someone who’s the same.

Probably on the other side of this is, one version would be someone that is in relationship, and one or both people are doing coping strategies, maybe a little resistant or stuffing, repressing, ignoring, and don’t want to turn towards some of their connecting with self or even the self. That can be incredibly restricting on the relationship. There’s not a lot of real things to offer. I mean, when you’re saying, I want to feel closer to you, I want to feel closer to you, in that example, I can appreciate that if one is dissociating. Not in the clinical sense, but drinking, watching TV, whatever substance, whatever things that we do, that’s an attempt to alleviate or numb. If we’re disconnecting from self, then how do you engage in relating in a real, genuine, accessible way? So it makes sense.

Yeah. With that topic, I often do this with clients, I get my pen and I hold it up in front of my individual client whose spouse won’t come to therapy, and they’re like, my partner won’t come, or whatever reason. So I say, this pen here, and I hold it horizontal, I say this pen is your relationship, and there’s you and there’s your partner. So you’re connected, this is your relationship, and you’re both connected by energy, string, whatever you want to imagine. When one of you changes, the dynamic of the relationship changes, and I move the pen to the side. Because one person changes, the dynamics in the relationship change. It could be very subtle, or it could be really intense. 

For example, I’ll tell a personal story. So when the family and I moved into our home, it was a two-bedroom, one bath little home, and we had two small boys. Two and four, fine. Well, the boys are now, I think they’re like seven and nine. One of my son snores, and my other son just could not sleep at night. I mean, to the point, I woke up in the middle of the night, and I heard, I hate you. I was like, oh my God! I got out of my bed, I’m walking around in the little hallway, and I hear it again. I’m like, oh my God, it’s one of my kids. I call him out, I’m like, what’s going on? He’s like, “Mom, I can’t sleep, my brother’s snoring.” You could just hear his frustration. I’m sure with couples’ therapy and snoring, that’s a topic that comes up. I said to my husband, I’m like, we have to add another room. He was like, we’ll get to it, we get to it. I kept asking, probably had a little couple arguments about it, because it’s timing. Finally, I was just like, I cannot have my kids be in this disharmony, and children need their sleep.

Every person needs their sleep, and children especially.

So what I did is, one day I was home, and I moved our whole bedroom into the living room, and I split the kids. I was like, you know what, it’s fine. It’s just going to be some time, we can be in the living room, it’s just us. It’s okay, we’ll have friends outside. It was probably not even a month before I heard banging, and then the construction started. So that decision, I just made the decision. I had asked him, I had asked him, and I could make a whole story about you’re not listening to me. We do that as humans, couples. We have this whole litany of what you’re not and should be doing. I was just like, nope, I’m just going to change it. I’m just going to say, our sons need this, and I changed it; they have their own rooms, we’re in the living room. Then he built another room. 

Yes, you really prioritized your son having his sleep and made a point to do that, and I love that. Well, I want to ask, I want to back up a moment. I thought I heard you say it’s difficult to access the meditation when we’re triggered. But I also heard you say that when we’re triggered, it can be a really good thing to turn to. Can you help us with that?

What I mean by that, I don’t think it’s hard to access it. I think what happens is that I hear people say to me, like, “Well, I just can’t get in the right space to meditate. I don’t know when to do it, or how to do it, or I’m just too upset to do it.” That’s when I tell people, that is why you do it. So even if you’re doing it, excuse my language, half-assed, it’s okay, do it. Even if it’s three minutes, do it. Even if you’re bawling your eyes out, and you’re sitting there doing a breath, and you have tears flowing out, that’s okay. Because it allows you to sift through, shift through, and grow. 

There is something called relaxation-induced anxiety, and I’ve heard this before, which is, I’ve heard this very often, when I sit down to meditate and they do the silent meditation, they’re just like: “Oh my God, Madhur-Nain, I feel worse, or I feel anxious, or I can’t relax, or I get angry, or I get agitated, or I just keep looking at my phone.” So that’s relaxation-induced anxiety, which means that when we slow down, we have this whoosh of all this stuff that we’ve been suppressing, suppressing, suppressing. It starts bubbling up, it can be uncomfortable. For some of us who’ve had maybe severe or intense trauma, closing their eyes is just like: “No, thank you, I’m not going to do that.” So that’s when you can have your eyes open. That’s why chanting, movement. 

I love movement meditations. You can just do hands at the heart coming out and around, even standing and doing one hand at a time; one hand on the heart, and you swing the other arm out, and back and forth, and breathing long and deep. Or chanting, singing hymn, singing a prayer, reciting a prayer. Those active meditations, chanting, prayer, singing, breath, it allows us to actually start transforming that relaxation into a space, and we learn over time to regulate ourselves. So it’s like you mentioned earlier, I’m paraphrasing, but going from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system. 

I actually have recommended before, there are clients who have texted or called me when they’re in a full-blown panic attack. I say, look, this is strange and weird, but go hop in a really cold shower and rub your body with your hands, so you prickle the skin, which causes the blood flow to move throughout your whole body, so you’re getting circulation. When the cold water hits your body, what do you do? You gulp, which is a big breath. Then you rub your body, and then you turn the water off, and then you towel off, put your clothes on, and you’ll find that your body will go to a parasympathetic nervous system state. Because your sympathetic nervous system is going because of your anxiousness, your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions. You bring in the cold water, now your body is going to like a double sympathetic nervous system. Oh, I’ve got to warm up the body, it’s cold, and we start going into that. Then when you turn the water off, you put your clothes on, and you have that warmth and you’re relaxing. You’ll find like, “Oh okay, I can calm.” Of course, you need to self-initiate and choose that’s what you want to do. It’s not like you have to do it, and you wouldn’t do this to somebody. But you would do that for yourself.

Well, I’m appreciating that there’s the attention to the body and the nervous system, also utilizing the breath and the normal functioning, through cold shower or cold plunge. Likely, that’s going to give the brain the focus on present experience, sensation, the body, and that tends to help bring that awareness and that presencing, and then again, that focus with the brain. That helps tremendously.

I often tell people, and this is a yogic philosophy, the mind wants to serve and follow something. So when we’re first born, we follow who? Our parents, our caretakers. So depending on how our caretakers treat us, relate to us in our life, and set up around us, that influences how we look at life. Now, as we are teenagers, I often say around seven or eight, peers start influencing you. So the mind is really focusing on like, what’s cool, what’s not? Am I in the crowd, am I out of the crowd? Do I click, do I not? It’s all of that. You’re trying to differentiate, but you want to so badly belong. Then you get to your late teens where you’re like, I know it all! That’s that age. Then we realize in our late 20s, oh my God, I know nothing. So the mind is trying to figure out who to follow. Tying this into families, part of teaching our children about meditation is that you’re teaching them a tool for how to connect to themselves through all the stages of life, which are normal and natural and happen to everyone. Now, we all have different stories, and some are really hard, and some are easier; they’re just different. 

Free Couple Smiling While Holding Yoga Mats Stock Photo

“This meditation practice, and connecting to breath, connecting to sound, connecting to our bodies, all of these things is a navigation through, as I say, the ups and downs of life.”

I know that you also bring attention to what we experienced in our early upbringing or our childhood, and how that might influence us as far as stress and anxiety. Even as you’re talking right here, if we didn’t get the modeling of either a parent doing their own practice of connecting to self, or even created an environment where we have quiet time, or we journal, or we walk in nature and we observe. Or let’s just use our senses, and what do you hear, what do you smell, what do you see, these types of things. That it might be a little foreign, to your point around sitting down. Or even there could be, like you said, hardships and maybe traumas that it’s kind of scary. Not only have we been suppressing and not turning towards it, but also maybe bad things happened when things were calm. Or it’s just completely new and foreign, and that’s uncomfortable, and the brain often, in modern living, is kind of monkey mind, as you had said, looking for stimulus. So there’s so much at play here. 

Well, I feel like this is a basic question, but I think it could be helpful, and I’m backing up a bit again. Well, first of all, do you want to respond to that? 

No, I think it makes a lot of sense. I agree.

Okay, perfect. I just didn’t want to roll over that. So you mentioned the benefits of being able to calm anxiety and also reduce inflammation. Is there anything else that you want to say about the benefits of meditation? 

Oh, for sure. There’s so many benefits of meditation. The list, I mean, we could talk for hours about it. So one thing is, is that it lowers our anxiety, it lowers our stress level. Because what happens? It helps our amygdala. Our amygdala does not know the difference between I’m late for work, and I’m being chased by a saber-toothed tiger. So meditation allows us to regulate those hormones that are released, and helps us to also be able to put in perspective: what am I really feeling, is it appropriate for the situation? It helps with depression. It helps building healthy self-esteem, which means moving away from unhealthy self-esteem and self-worth. Because we’re building that relationship with ourselves. It helps to stimulate the vagus nerve, as we mentioned. It can help with anger. It can help also with grandiosity and narcissism. It can help with a lot of things. 

Science has found, in one research study that was done in Scandinavia a handful of years ago, that when you chant or you sing in hymns or even talk in tongues, they’ve done it with multiple people, that they found that chanting actually increases the white matter of the upper partial part of the brain, which is what we need to help process emotional trauma drama. It helps us. So by going to do this practice, you’re increasing the white matter. Also, with chanting, another science research has shown that when you chant, your own sound comes out of your mouth, and it goes into your eardrum. It goes in and bounces on the eardrum, it hits the hypothalamus, and it actually calms the mind. So there is actual physical sensations and experiences that happen in the brain from meditation. Meditation also produces gray matter in GABA, which is the frontal lobe, which you can go by in the store and take. I’m an amino acid therapist, and you can take GABA to calm you. Well, meditation releases that as well. So it really is a tool. 

Does it fix everything? No, and that’s one thing I really like to emphasize. Because with spirituality and all these different yoga movements, and all these different modalities, like Reiki, meditation, and yoga, and bodywork, and all these things. 

Free Women Lying on Bed Together Stock Photo

“Sometimes the message can be like, if you do this, it will fix your life. Well, no. If you do these things, it gives YOU the ability to fix your life. It’s not just like magic. Same with therapy. Therapy doesn’t necessarily fix your life, but we teach the tools to help you look at things so that you then have the capacity to make the changes or adjust your thinking, or learn what you want and then request for what you need.”

It’s so interconnected. I know you said, and I really agree with you, that we could be here for hours and hours talking about the benefits. I just wanted to add, the endocrine system, and just how stress impacts the GI tract and the endocrine system, which affects hormones, which affects libido, which affects our ability to feel available, even physiologically, to intimacy, sexual intimacy. Then also, you had mentioned the mirror neurons, which is, we’re having almost a vicarious experience when we’re witnessing someone else. Also the neuroception. So there’s times where if my husband is incredibly anxious, or if I’m incredibly anxious, it’s quite uncomfortable to see the person you love being out of sorts. And whether or not we’re feeling uncomfortable with our partner’s level of anxiety, and we need to be calming or doing something to regulate. Or even noticing, I’m affecting, or my current state, I didn’t realize maybe how anxious I was, and how in partnership, we’re constantly co-regulating in what we call neuroception, picking up on the nervous system of the other. So this is quite extensive, as far as the benefits. To even be in touch with, whether or not you have a daily sitting meditation practice, but just the awareness of it. Like you’re saying, being in the practice and having tools that you can turn towards.

Yeah. It is that piece, coming back to the beginning of our talk, where I do believe meditation has been around for a very long time. I understand that religion has created a lot of pain and suffering for a lot of people, and even whole communities and so forth. And there really are some really positive benefits of religious practice. One of that is being in a group setting and chanting or singing hymns or reading the scriptures out loud as a group. Science has actually found that that actually does actually help us feel calmer and more relaxed. Now, that’s the thing is, anytime you throw in dogma or organized religion, that’s when you’re getting another fold of other stuff, and that’s not my point of focus. It’s really that there is something about being in a yoga class and chanting Om together, or being in a yoga class and everyone breathing with a certain pattern that everyone’s on the same breath. Just the currency of energy in that room does impact us. 

Another way to think about that, when you think of the 1 Million Man March, versus seven people on the road standing on the side having signs up, you can just feel the energy of a million people versus seven people on a corner. So that is that piece of like, meditation helps to connect us to the bigger questions of life. Like, who am I? Am I connected to Source, whether you believe in a higher power, or the sun and the moon and energy? Those kinds of things give us a sense of security, and then help us to have the ability to self-reflect on what is really going on in my life. I’m having this conflict with my partner or with my children or with my parent. Then we can look at like, what is important? Is this real? Is this imaginary? What do I want out of this? 

Free Two Women Being Affectionate Stock Photo

“Meditation and mindfulness is creating this inner awareness that allows us to be able to look at all of these multifaceted states of being human.”

Well, I’m really touched by what you’re bringing in here around the sense of togetherness and community that can be almost synergistic or multiply the feeling, and that can be incredibly helpful. Also, that it’s not a pattern interrupt. It could be a pattern interrupt. But it also can give perspective. If we can enter into a different state, and have some meta-awareness, if you will, thinking about thinking, or being able to observe the different aspects, we’re likely going to get new insight, and even having a deeper sense of where we lie in it. Rather than what our fears are, or running all the scenarios to try to, I don’t know, get to the right answer, so to speak. 

But on the community, this actually is really helpful for me to say out loud. Not personally, but I don’t think I actually knew what was happening. So my husband periodically, and I will go to a nondenominational church, like a Unity Church or Centre for Spiritual Living, it depends on where we are. I’m not even really that into the music, to be honest. But I feel a little bit clamped when we’re singing, and I’m like, yeah! Or he likes drumming, and we’ll go to a drumming circle at some more organizations. But there’s this thing that you’re describing qualitatively, it’s hard to put language on. But I’m like: Oh, I’m responding to it, and it’s so healing, and moving and touching. So thank you for acknowledging that.

Yeah. I remember the first time I did the Million Man March, I think, for African-Americans, I think it was. I felt like a sense of like, I wanted to cry. Because I just felt the energy of wanting change. When John Paul passed away, the Pope, and they were playing the Gregorian chants all the time, I remember listening to the chants and being like: Oh my God, that sounds so amazing. I remember when I was in college, I used to go to a Black Baptist Church in Oregon, in Eugene, and I would just sit there and cry. I’m not even Christian, I would just be sitting there. But the singing and just that gospel music, I can feel it in my bones. So there is that peace of connecting to the community. But also other people’s passion and other people’s drive, you can feel it, the intention. 

Even coming back to couples’ work, in relationships, we go back and forth. Like, sometimes one of us is doing more work than the other. That’s not bad, it just means that sometimes that happens. It’s how do you have that inclusivity of like: “Hey, honey, I know you’re having a hard time, but I’m going to do the work, and I trust we’ll get through this.” It’s like, whoever can be the functioning adult, that’s a good thing. We can’t always both be.

Yes. To the collective experience, I’m curious, do you ever encourage couples to meditate together if they’re both willing or interested?

I have. Yeah, I’ve had them sit back to back on the ground, so their buttocks or butts, whatever you want to say, are touched, and then they go their spine all the way up to their head, and you interlace your fingers next to each other. So you’re sitting like this. You can have your legs stretched out if it’s uncomfortable to sit cross-legged. Then you breathe together. So you’re sitting there and your eyes are closed, and you inhale, because you’re going to feel. Breath is not just the chest, it’s also your back. So this creates a real intimacy. You can practice this just every day, once a week, and you could just set the little timer for three minutes or seven or whatever minutes, and you can just practice breathing long and deep. I have a beginner’s meditation on my website called Beginner’s Meditation, which is just inhaling Sat, exhaling Nam. So you have me chanting, and you just follow along with your breath, and you’re just sitting quietly. Then I do invite, although people like the music, it is important to sometimes do it just silent, just the two of you, and you can hear your own breaths. That’s really lovely. So that’s a nice couples’ meditation.

Oh my gosh, I’m so glad you mentioned that. When my husband and I have done that, it just feels so soothing to feel, that’s something we don’t have contact back-to-back very often, and to feel the breath and the synchronizing. You even mentioned this soothing, the breath and sinking, or not even sinking, but being in connection, it can be really powerful. I don’t even know you might have more science around it.

Well, yeah. I mean, when the child is in the mother’s womb, they’re hearing the heartbeat the whole time they’re in there. The child can feel your breath, and as your lungs expand, your diaphragm expands, it’s like a massage on the baby. So part of it is that piece of like, sometimes people do the hand, like you can put one hand on your partner’s center of the chest, and they put their hand on your center, and you put your hand on top, and you do open eyes, gazing at each other, which is very vulnerable. Some people will have a really uncomfortable time. Like, they’ll have sex with you, but to sit there with their eyes open, with lights on, looking at each other in the eyes. They’re like, oh my God, I’m so uncomfortable. But that’s how you’re building that deeper intimacy, and even just doing it for a couple minutes.

Yeah. So as we’re talking, there’s this ability to be in connection with what’s getting created in the space in between, whether or not it’s in a group or a partner. Also you’re saying, really connect with our self, that there’s a level of alignment or awareness and insight and understanding that we may not have if we don’t take that time to be in meditative space. Is that right?

Are you saying in a couple or in general?

I’m saying both are happening. So there’s the benefits of being in a group or with your partner, and then there’s also the real value of being an individual connecting with self. And what you’re saying is often, because I’m linking this to what you had said earlier around there’s so many layers of what we might be experiencing, and if we don’t get into a different state of mind, we might not be able to access deeper insight or understanding or perspective. 

Yes. I mean, it’s like you were mentioning earlier, the ability to watch ourselves, and that’s, I often talk with couples or individuals, the whoosh feelings. You’re going through your life, and you get triggered, you have the whoosh feeling. Many people have a whoosh feeling and they have no idea they’re triggered, they’re just thinking this is me. Versus when you have more self-awareness, which is developed through meditation and mindfulness practice, you’re able to be like: Oh, there’s coming my whoosh, and we can interrupt it. Or we can just say: Hey, I need a timeout, and then we sit with it for a minute. Or we do tools to help shift out of it. But if we don’t have that self-awareness, then we tend to act quite unconsciously. 

Like, road rage is a really good example. Most people who have intense road rage, they’re really just in it. They’re just like, “This is unfair, this is horrible. You did this to me. Why are you doing this?” I often tell people, the person who cut you off is not even thinking about you; they don’t even know the color of your car. So when you feel the whoosh come in, we can’t notice the whoosh come in if we haven’t done mindfulness work, because we’re not able to self-reflect. I tell people, if you can’t see it, you can’t change it. So that’s the piece where it’s like: Oh my God, you’re right, I was overreacting yesterday in that office or in that relationship. Once you have that light bulb moment, then you can go, you might need some support, but you can go: Okay, now I can change that, I don’t need to react that way. If we don’t have it, then we’re going to keep acting unconsciously and keep having stories of you did this to me, or it’s not fair. They can’t even understand, like, what do you mean I have a choice of how I react? That’s ridiculous. It’s like, well, no, you actually do.

One way I’m hearing how you’re describing this is that when we can be more self-reflective, we can recognize different states that we might be in. I know, for myself, I can tell when there’s a real clear, I want to say alignment, or I just have a felt sense of this feels like insight, this feels like a deeper understanding. It feels very different than what it feels like for me to be in fear, or for me to be in insecurity, or for me to be pursuing. Those states are very different, and you’re saying it’s really helpful to be able to recognize that. 

It’s being able to say like: Oh wow, I’m feeling angry right now. Oh wow, I’m feeling afraid. I’m feeling shameful, or I’m feeling insecure, or I’m feeling needy. Like, I’ll go up to my husband and I’ll say sometimes: “We’re totally good. I am just in a really foul mood, you’ve just got to leave me alone. Or just ignore me.” Or I’ll say, “I’m feeling insecure, I just need a hug.” I can see that need, and then he’s giving me a hug. I’m like, thank you, and I walk away. Then I can just sit and reflect on, what is going on, what’s the storyline? Maybe I’m just tired, or maybe I got a bad email, or whatever it is. But self-awareness also connects to self-esteem and self-worth, and these are really super powers to be able to navigate life. Because it’s being able to to hear feedback from our partners, being able to hear feedback from our adult children, or even young children. Like, sometimes my son will say something and I’m like, “Ah, you know what, they’re right. I am being controlling, or I am overreacting. Like, why am I making such a big deal out of about something?” But if we don’t have that self-awareness, we don’t have that self-esteem, then we have the whoosh feeling of: “This is uncomfortable, you’re making me feel a certain way. Why are you doing that?” There we go.

It’s almost as if we’re overly identified with the emotion, rather than I’m a person human having this experience, and I can name it. Then when we name it, we get to start to regulate it or even explore it. You’re saying, just the capacity to notice is huge, and it’s a super power.

Huge. Because what happens is, sometimes someone will say something to us, and we’re like, they’re right. Then we have a whoosh feeling and we get defensive. So defensiveness is, I’m uncomfortable with what you’re saying about me, because there may be some truth there. That’s where healthy self-esteem is like: “Oh, I’m a good person who behaved badly. You’re right, I did say that. I’m sorry, let me work on that.” But we can’t do that if we’re not in relationship with ourselves, if we don’t have the awareness, if we don’t have healthy self-worth and self-esteem of that piece. If not, we go what I call, I call it a toxic shame. It’s like whoosh, and it’s like, what do you mean? Then we double-down. Rather than like: Oh wait, is there some truth? I always tell people who are like, well, they’re being mean to me. I’m like, okay, well, maybe they are. But do you love this person? Yeah. Do you want to be with them? Yeah. I go, then do you really think that poorly of them? No. Okay, then maybe listen to what they just said about you. Is there a chance it’s true? Well, yeah, but I don’t like it. Then there’s the feeling, that I don’t like feeling, that vulnerability. Am I not going to be lovable? Am I bad? What if I can’t change? That’s when you start doing the really deep work.

Yes, what this brings up for me. I know that you offer so much in your book, and one of the things that I think you talk about is the difference between anxiety and stress. Is there anything you want to say about that here?

So stress is something that we can’t avoid, it’s part of life. 

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“The big thing with stress is that when you feel it in a certain situation, when the situation is over or starts, then the stress should be gone. That’s appropriate. Anxiety is when you feel anxiety, and then the situation happens or the situation is over, and the anxiety is still there. That’s when it starts becoming a mental health issue, that’s when it becomes a problem.”

The reason it’s a problem is because our amygdala and our brain is constantly in a state of fight, flight, fix, freeze, we’re constantly in reactivity mode because of our anxiety. It can be real or imagined. So meditation helps us to be able to build a relationship with ourselves. Just two things. Meditation can help lower the stress, and help us deal with situation. Meditation with anxiety helps us with self-awareness, building relationship with ourselves, which then we start working on why am I living in this anxious state, what am I afraid of? Is it real? Then we deal with it. If it’s imagined, then we process it. So that’s the difference. 

This possibly ties in with what you were just saying about the self-worth. When we feel confident about our abilities or who we are, even if being fallible and making mistakes, that it often reduces the level of anxiety. If we know we know how to tie or shoes or put our shoes on, we’re not going to worry about it, when we feel like we’re going to be able to meet that quest or challenge or whatever. 

Okay, so helpful. I could chat you up for hours, I know you have clients that you need to get to. So let’s hear a little more about the book. Where can people find it? What’s it called? What’s the title?

So it’s called The Stressless Brain, and it’s on Amazon. The digital, and you can buy the paperback as well. It’s my second edition that was just released, I’m so excited. I took some meditations out and added some new meditations. You get 26 free meditations with the book, it’s a download. So you get the whole book, and there’s tonnes of scientific research and some yogic philosophy about meditation, it all ties in, the difference between stress and anxiety. Then the other half of the book is packed full of 26 meditations instructions, what they’re good for, how to do them, plus all the music for them, so you get to download it. I love to give tools. I also have an audiobook, which is only my first edition. I’ve got to tell you, recording audiobooks is one of the hardest things I ever did, so I don’t think I’ll be doing it with my second edition. But it’s great. If you buy the audiobook and you really love it and you want the digital, just email me from my website and show me your receipt, and I’ll give you the digital for free so that you have the new version.

Okay, let me see if I got that. So one can still get the audio of the first edition, and if you get the audio of the first edition, one can email you to get the updated version of the download. That’s generous.

Yeah, I’ll give that to them. Then I’m on YouTube and on Instagram, and I’ve released over 60 something singles. I actually created this year, my first Christian meditational prayer album. I’m not Christian, but I wanted to create something. There are some Christians that don’t feel comfortable chanting in Sanskrit for their faith belief. So I have worked with my son who has an amazing voice, and so we have four tracks. One is already released, The Amen, and the English and Latin one is coming out July of 2023. So Amazon, YouTube, Spotify, all of those places. So check it out.

Oh my gosh. I love that your son is involved, that’s amazing! Well, and tell us where people can find you and your website as well.

Yeah. So my website is MadhurNain.com, and there’s lots of resources there. I’m on YouTube and on Instagram. If you have any questions, feel free to email me, and I can make a recommendation for meditation for an issue. I’m happy to support anyone who reaches out.

Yay! Well, I’ll make sure to have the link to your second edition, your audio of your first edition, your social media channels, your website, and all the good things. Thank you, Madhur-Nain, for being here and sharing so much with us here today.

Thank you. I really enjoyed my time, as I did last time.

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Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching