The module to help me cope with

The
term “yoga” means “union of individual consciousness with the supreme
consciousness” (Taneja, 2014). From my research, I learned to successfully
achieve this state of the desired self, there are eight limbs of yoga that should
act as guiding principles in my life (Taneja, 2014). Although there are eight
limbs, throughout this course we only focused in depth on three. The first limb
we focused on was Asana, which is commonly associated with yoga because it’s
the physical practice of postures (Taneja, 2014). The second limb we practiced was
Dhyana, which is meditation (Taneja, 2014). And the third limb was Pranayama,
which focuses on breathing (Taneja, 2014). By practicing these limbs, studies show
that individuals can experience not only physical improvements, but changes in
their mental health as well (Taneja, 2014). This connection to improving mental
health is part of the reason I selected this module.

Prior
to this module, I integrated yoga and meditation into my life to assist with
relieving anxiety and stabilizing my mental health.  When I was ten, I was diagnosed with
generalized anxiety disorder which prevented me from being able to do the
things I wanted to and function normally in daily life. I was consistently on
edge and suffered from chronic and debilitating panic attacks. As a coping
strategy, I began yoga and followed along to several 21-day meditation
challenges produced by Oprah and Deepak. Utilizing yoga and meditation to
connect my mind and body in a relaxed state allowed me to improve my well-being
and lifestyle. Because of this, I selected this module to help me cope with any
stress or anxiety I experienced while fulfilling my dream of studying abroad.

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 At the beginning of this module, I evaluated
my mindful attention awareness scale (MAAS) score and completed a SWOB analysis.
My initial MAAS score was a 3.28 out of the possible 6. My MAAS score was
calculated from my responses to fifteen statements pertaining to mindfulness
(Brown and Ryan, 2003). Mindfulness is defined as knowing or understanding what
is going on in your surroundings in the moment without judgement (Davis and
Hayes, 2011). Therefore, my moderately low score indicated my low level of
dispositional mindfulness.  In my
completed SWOB analysis, I noted my previous yoga experience as one of my
strengths along with my physical strength, and my openness to new experiences. My
weaknesses were my limited flexibility and my wandering mind. My barriers to
success were my generalized anxiety disorder and my lack of time management.
With these weaknesses and barriers, I listed my opportunities as learning to use
yoga and meditation to increase my flexibility, further soothe my anxiety, and
focus my wandering mind. After calculating my MAAS score and completing this
SWOB analysis, I crafted the following learning goal: “By the end of the
semester, in December of 2017, I will have decreased my anxiety by reducing the
number of panic attacks I experience and increase my self-awareness score from
a 3.28 to at least a 4.2 by researching yoga and engaging in yoga and
meditation practices at least twice per week.” I used this goal to shape how I
progressed through this module.

          The first step to achieving my
learning goal was to begin improving my dispositional awareness. To understand
my starting point better, I reviewed my answers to the MAAS statements to see
where I could improve the most. When looking at the statements, I noticed that
I answered lowest to “I get so focused on the goal I want to achieve that I
lose touch with what I’m doing right now to get there” and “I tend to walk
quickly to get where I’m going without paying attention to what I experience
along the way” (Brown and Ryan, 2003). From these results, it became evident to
me that I lose the most awareness when I have an endpoint, whether that is a
goal or a destination.

Not
only does this mean that I am so focused on my goal that I am unaware of what
could be going on around me, but this low level of mindfulness could be a
contributing factor to my higher anxiety levels and ultimately a lower level of
happiness (Brown and Ryan, 2003).  To modify
this behavior, we learned a variety of mindfulness techniques in class that I
was able to practice outside of the classroom as well.

          Nadi Shodhana, also known as the
Alternate-Nostril breath, is one of my favorite breathing strategies we learned
that I feel has significantly helped with the improvement of my mindfulness and
overall well-being. For Alternate-Nostril breath, I would sit on my bed
cross-legged with my back straight right before I would go to sleep. To do this,
I would plug my right nostril, breathe in through the left, then plug the left
nostril, and exhale through the right. Then I would reverse the process. Two
breaths (one on each side) is considered one full round.  I would complete between eight and ten rounds
before going to sleep. “Nadi Shodhana helps balance the nervous system, evening
out differences in sympathetic and parasympathetic tone (i.e., it evens out the
fight-or-flight system with the rest-and-digest system)” (Wilson, no date). By
doing this exercise right before bed, I was able to quiet my mind, release
stress, and calm my anxiety.

Mindful
eating was another one of the techniques that I practiced frequently. “Applied
to eating, mindfulness includes noticing the colors, smells, flavors, and
textures of your food; chewing slowly; and getting rid of distractions like TV
or reading” (Harvard Health, 2011). Although this was a challenge for me
because of my wandering mind, after a couple of weeks of practicing during one
meal a day, I wrote in my learning journal, “Over the past two weeks, I have
been engaging in mindful eating. During this practice, I have noticed that breakfast
is easier for me to remain mindful throughout the entire meal than lunch or
dinner is. I think this is because it is a significantly smaller meal, so I
have less time that I must remain actively engaged. Furthermore, I am not as
rushed to get to doing something, therefore, I can take my time and concentrate
on my food and how fast I am eating.” Throughout this practice, I was able to
notice that I had previously been eating my meals in a matter of minutes
instead of taking my time. In an article published by the Harvard Medical
School, it is stated that it takes the brain about twenty minutes to
acknowledge that the stomach is full (Harvard Health, 2011). Since I was eating
at a much quicker pace than 20 minutes, I learned I had been consistently over-eating.
After doing this practice for a few weeks and consciously working to slow down
my pace, I observed that my portion size at meals began to decrease as I was
becoming more aware of how much food I was consuming and was noticing when I
was full.

The
third practice to gain mindfulness and reduce anxiety that I learned during the
course and employed into my personal routine was called Mountain Meditation.
Meditation has always been a challenging task for me because my mind often
wanders to other thoughts such as what I have on my to do list. However, I was
able to successfully use Mountain Mediation because this practice provides detailed
descriptions of what you should be feeling in your body, thinking of, and visualizing.
In this mediation practice, I would sit in a chair so that my back was
supported. This was an important part to my success because when I would sit
cross-legged on the floor, my back would be in pain and thus my mind would
concentrate on that rather than the meditation itself. From this experience, I
learned that using a mediation practice that engaged my mind in this way and
having something specific to concentrate on allowed me to stay focused for a
longer period. Throughout my time practicing various meditations, I discovered multiple
techniques that allowed me to concentrate my brain, such as focusing on my
breathing. For example, after our third class on October 12th, I
wrote in my journal, “The meditation was more difficult for me today because we
were in a sitting position rather than laying down. Throughout the practice, I
found my mind constantly wandering to how my body was slouching, and my lower back
was aching. However, I was determined to stay on task, so to regain my focus I
placed my hand on my stomach to feel my breathing and I counted each breath as
the air went in and out.” Since learning to utilize my brain this way, I was
able to remain engaged in the meditation process and therefore I was able to
see improvement over time.

 One major improvement that I noticed from my
consistent meditation and yoga practice was that my anxiety was beginning to
decrease. At the start of the semester, I was very anxious about being so far
away from my family and not being able to go back to the safety of my home when
my anxiety became too much for me. Because of this I was experiencing mild
panic attacks a couple times a week. As a method of coping with this stress and
preventing myself from suffering from any further panic attacks, I would practice
asana, the physical positions of yoga, three days a week in the morning hours.
To assist with this practice, I bought the online book #letsstartyoga by
Jessica Olie. I found this book to be very useful because it outlined different
yoga flows for me to practice and gave me modifications for poses I struggled
with as well as poses that I would need to work up to. When I practiced, I
would put on relaxing music and focus only on how my body was feeling in each
position. My practice would typically last an hour and I found that starting
my day off this way gave me a clear head, alleviated my anxiety, and increased my
level of energy. The results I experienced were not unexpected and are supported
by the American Journal of Psychiatry’s published journal article that analyzed
the link between anxiety reduction and mediation. In this study, there were
twenty-two participants that underwent a meditation-based stress reduction and
relaxation program. After this program concluded, the data was analyzed and
indicated that over the course of the program and the following three months
that the participants were evaluated, there was “significant reductions in
anxiety and depression scores after treatment for 20 of the subjects–changes
that were maintained at follow-up. The number of subjects experiencing panic
symptoms was also substantially reduced” (American Journal of Psychiatry,
1992). As supported by this study, my urgent feelings of panic that typically come
with my anxiety, were dissipating as I continued my practice.  By the end of the semester, while I was still
anxious at times, I was not experiencing panic attacks or the flight-or-fight
feelings I had been at the start.

Throughout this
course, I have learned many valuable techniques that helped me cope with and
alleviate my high anxiety. For me, the idea of studying abroad was always a
dream, but one that came along with a great sense of uneasiness and anxiety.
Due to my history with a generalized anxiety disorder, it is a significant
accomplishment for me that I was able to go abroad and utilize yoga and
meditation to the point where I was no longer experiencing panic attacks. While
I did still experience some anxiety, my flight-or-fight response was controlled.  Furthermore, through my consistent practice,
I was able to increase my MAAS score from the initial 3.28 to a 3.87.  Although I did not reach my learning goal of
4.2 for my MAAS score, I am satisfied with the improvement that I made and
believe that by continuing the skills that I have learned this semester I will further
increase my mindfulness over time.