Neutral Buoyancy: Mindful Weightlessness

images (2)

I have experienced one of the most incredible feelings imaginable to a human being: total weightlessness. I did this during a recent challenge I took on to learn scuba diving. Me, a few friends, and my two teenagers all went through a PADI Open Water Scuba class over the last 4 weeks. It was one of the scariest things I have tried to do and it taught me a lot about myself and true mindfulness. This is a class where to panic is to really put yourself into what could potentially be a catastrophic situation, has the potential to even be life threatening (not to mention the fact that both of my teenagers were watching my every move and I had my “cool mom” image to uphold).

For those of you who have done Scuba diving, you know how amazing it is. I have not had the opportunity to find a new hobby in many years, and am happy to report that this is no longer true. Scuba diving opens up an entirely new world of discovery that is not often available to the human eye in real time, up close and personal. I absolutely LOVE it. Going through certification was no piece of cake and in fact I had to really fight through a lot of my mental fears to pull it off.

To get certified in Monterey, CA (where our ocean dive location was) means you need to be covered from head to toe in two layers of 7 mil neoprene. Just to squeeze your body into what feels like a sausage casing is a calorie burning triumph in and of itself. This is especially fun when you are doing your in pool training (over 16 hours) in an indoor pool that feels like a steam room. Sweat is running down your exposed circle of a face as you do “buddy” checks with your classmates to check on all of your gear. Putting on the scuba gear (BCD, Gloves, Boots, Fins, Masks, Hoods, Weight Belts, etc.) is brutal. By the time you are totally geared up you weigh about 70 pounds more than you did before you got to class. Walking around, into the pool, down to the ocean shore, across the lawn, etc. is probably the hardest part of doing scuba at all. But don’t fret. If my daughter at 100 pounds can do it, so can you.

One of first skills you practice in the pool is achieving neutral buoyancy. This feeling is like having the ability to hover above the ground/ocean floor with absolutely no effort by being totally weightless. This feels like nothing else I have experienced. This is like space man walking on the moon kind of cool. You practice this in the pool with nothing to look at but your fellow classmates, but when you have the chance to get in the ocean, you feel like you have just achieved enlightenment. You hover above the ocean floor and are surrounded by the most beautiful sights you can imagine. Your mind clears and it is all you can do to hover, maintain constant breathing and totally relax. It is the epitome of mindful awareness.

The entire experience took about 50 hours of preparation before you even get to the ocean in classroom time, test taking, at home studying, video review, and in pool skills practice. You really have to be dedicated to want to go through the program to finish. The skills can be really hard and terrifying and at times cause you to want to go into a full blown panic. I found myself looking for the calming eyes of my instructors (thanks Ray and Bob!) many times and forcibly calming myself down with breathing that I teach my clients who are feeling a panic attack. It is unnatural to be breathing under water and the class forces you to go through every possible emergency experience that is a potentiality to prepare you in the unlikely event that one occurs.

The hardest skill that I had to master was fully removing my mask at the ocean floor at 25 feet below the surface. I had no problem doing this in the 10 foot swimming pool bottom, but at the 52 degree ocean floor, it was unnerving. The very idea that you cannot shoot to the surface if you panic, to get clear of the water, causes your heart rate to increase and your mind to yell at you to breathe in through your nose with your mask removed (which would of course cause you to drown). You have to pull it off, flood your face with freezing water (eyes closed), then replace your mask and snorkel and completely clear your mask before opening your eyes. Trying to get a mask on your face without catching your wetsuit hood on the edges and twisting up the straps with these giant bulky neoprene gloves on is ridiculously nerve racking…and of course then you need to override your brain and keep yourself from breathing in. Oh yeah, then clear out the water from your mask.

I blog a lot about how to pursue your own best authentic life. I write about following your passions and if you don’t know what those are, finding them by trying new things. What it’s like to challenge your body, mind and thoughts occupies my work in the therapy office and in my writing. I must admit that I feel like an entirely new door has opened up for me in a way I could not have even imagined by finding this brand new hobby. What a gift to have given myself and I had no idea it would be this good.

I did not want to learn how to scuba dive. I was perfectly fine snorkeling at the surface. I did it for my partner who was always asking around for a diving buddy and having no luck finding a reliable person to go with. I was terrified about clearing my ears as I descended, panicking at the bottom of the ocean, not being able to clear my mask, set up my equipment, or embarrass my 45 year old self by failing miserably and breaking down with the stress of it all.

I pushed through over the first few weeks not finding enjoyment at all to be honest. Then I was able to finally achieve neutral buoyancy at the bottom of the pool for the first time, and I realized what it felt like to feel none of the everyday weight we experience walking around as human beings on our earth, and I began to see the potential. I still had no idea what it would be like to get on to the ocean floor, and I must report it was beyond expectation. Taking a risk and trying something new can be overwhelming, but when it turns into a newly discovered passion, the resulting feeling is infectious. I want everyone I care about and know to go out and discover what I have learned. I’m probably going to get irritating to my friends by talking of nothing else. I want to share the joy of taking a risk and having it pay off so handsomely. This may not be your thing. Find something else and give it a shot. No regrets. It may not work out, but at least you have opened up your mind to new experiences. My only regret is that I waited this long to get going. I want to scuba the world!

Stacey Neil is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer in private practice in Los Gatos, California. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

Advertisements

All The Pointless Killing: Looking For Light In Darkness

images (1)

Our world feels heavy and dark to me lately. I have been reading and watching the news with a burdened heart as we continue to kill each other in mass quantities and destroy the beautiful lands of our world in a systematic, destructive, and pointless fashion. I was speaking to a friend this morning and trying to understand if the increase in overwhelming violence feels more prevalent due to our ability to share information as it happens, or if we are just becoming more monstrous as a people. Based on what my son was sharing with me about a documentary he watched on “The Dark Ages” the other day, we humans have always been the most destructive animal ever to live on our planet. Maybe our ages have always been dark as we have been conquering lands, resources, and each other’s property, since the beginning of time. We don’t always do this with intelligent conversations, agreements, or thoughtful compromises; more often than not, we do this in horrific and torturous ways. Murderous ways.

These thoughts have been causing me to wonder how to help others hold hope during such despairing times. When we are bombarded with mass killings, and populations of people who kill each other in the name of many things such as: biblical lands, sexual orientation, adultery, God, or not fitting in with our classmates; holding on to any kind of light can feel impossible in so much darkness.

Hearing about the plane being shot down over the Ukraine-Russian border yesterday is just one more example of the senseless nature of murder. There were 298 fatalities that occurred in a split second. It was originally reported that there were 295 people killed because the airline had not accounted for the 3 infants that had been on board. They missed the three infants who never had a chance to have a life in our world. Who knows what a loss to society those three brand new people were when they will not be given the chance to grow up. We will never know what we have even lost in just those three alone, not to mention the 100 people on board who were working in the fight against AIDS on their way to a conference, or the remaining 195 people from all over the world. All 298 people have families, loved ones, and friends, who are grieving alongside a world of fellow human beings that are also devastated. Any one of us could have been on that plane.

When did it become of statistical relevance that how many people get killed on each side of a battle is what determines who can be deemed “right”? You kill 100 of our people, we retaliate and kill 150 of yours; therefore, we are winning. How can killing someone be in alignment with any form of victory? Isn’t everyone losing? The whole of the world has lost if this how we calculate victory. How much land is worth the blood of one human being? Is there a ratio? Maybe a square foot per body? It feels so senseless and yet the conflicts continue.

We are historically a people who seek power and control over others. We are also a people who are loving, kind beyond measure, and filled with compassion. How to hold both the dark and light aspects of our human nature is a struggle even on an individual basis for many people who cannot accept the dark aspects of their selves. Therefore, it would make sense for this same conflict to also extend on a much larger scale to us as a people, who have an unimaginable burden to bear, as an awareness of what we are capable of as human animals is more and more apparent in our actions.

It can be a challenge to maintain kindness and generosity in a world that does not always return the favor. Do it anyway. Believe in the potentiality of us as human animals to heal and love one another in spite of our differences. Choose to live in a world of which this is the common goal of yourself and those you come in contact with. I chose a career in which I can support others in their own individual journeys of growth, self acceptance, and empowerment so I am gifted in that my work can reflect my hope.

I know that I am lucky to not have to fight another to feed my children, or find myself desperate to provide warmth to my family when the weather is hostile. I am mature enough to realize that within my own stance is ignorance. I have never had to live in a place where I do not feel like I have the opportunity to provide the resources needed to care for my own. With this lack of experience, I cannot rightfully judge; however, I propose that our fundamental belief systems should stem from a moral base of caring for each other, treating each other with respect, and being kind. Maybe this too is idealistic and unattainable. I choose to hope not.

In spite of the darkness, I will continue to fight for our positive potential as humans. I have been witness to the remarkable will of the human spirit to heal and find its authentic self. Whether an individual’s struggle is through human weakness, mental illness, a traumatic history, or personal loss – the human spirit is undeniable and powerful beyond measure. I see this in my therapy office every day. As we all go through our daily choices, thoughts, and decisions, I hope that all of the acts of kindness, generosity, and patience for each other’s differences helps to better our world one action at a time. Believe in the power of these little tiny acts to gently create a luminescent glow in the darkness. Hold on to your ability to care for those around you as you join me in fighting towards light one small victory at a time. Never give up in this quest. It is too important for us, our children, and our children’s children.

Stacey Neil is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer in private practice in Los Gatos, California. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

How Running is the Ultimate Battle of Me vs. Me

100-reasons-to-run-from-lectures

I am constantly reminded of the fact that I am my own worst enemy. I constantly question, reflect upon, and challenge my actions, progress and daily choices. We are a result of the choices we make, and I focus on making mine count. I believe that there can be a balance between challenging myself to always do my best while allowing for days when my best is a pathetic effort to roll out of bed. In an ideal world, I would do this without judgement. In my real world I do this as a daily battle of my beliefs, thoughts and actions battling with the thoughts of how things should be in my head. This is a work in progress as many of you probably can relate. For me, running has become the epitome of this battle of Me vs. Me.

I absolutely abhor the act of running; however, I am equally passionate about how I feel when I finish a run. There is no stronger euphoria for me that I have been able to duplicate with any other form of exercise. This is no small statement as I participate in a variety of programs, classes, and latest trends in fitness to challenge myself. As a trainer I need to keep up on what is current in my industry and have found myself just lately in classes such as Barre, CrossFit, and P90X…but nothing beats the pounding last step of my run and the resulting accomplishment I feel.

Running is simple to learn as we figure it out as babies. Lean forward, catch your self falling, repeat. I have dreams of being a gazelle like runner with legs like Lolo Jones and a body that can wear little tiny black shorts that are not concerned in the slightest about being long enough to protect my soft upper thighs from friction based chub rub. However, this is not meant to be, as I feel like a giant, leaden, heavy footed rhinoceros when I run. Don’t get me wrong, a mature rhino weighing 1500 pounds, can run up to 25 mph and frankly holds a kind of grace when moving that much mass…but for me it doesn’t quite feel as impressive. This is not actually meant as a put down on my size, shape, or form – it’s truly just a descriptive statement on how I actually feel as I am running through space. As a side note, in the battle of gazelle vs. rhino, gazelles can run twice as fast, clocking in at a graceful 50 mph. A wonderful example of how I feel in a race..but I digress.

For those of you who run and are able to enjoy the process of running, the clarity of mind you receive, or the meditative thump of your feet as they turn over in perfect rhythm – I envy you. I am nothing like you, as I need to fight my own self minute by minute (even second by second) at times just to keep going. I have found it to become my own ultimate fighting challenge: The Battle of Me vs. Me.

One would imagine that I win either way if I am only battling myself. Clearly there can be only one winner, right? However, I do not always feel like I come out on top. My head screams at me throughout the run telling me a plethora of negative statements: “You will NEVER make it”, “You’re feet are burning”, “Your hip is aching”, “Your sports bra is chafing your underarm”, “You suck”, “This hurts”, “Stop already”, etc. My abdominals like to add into the chant and begin to threaten me with risky temporary feelings that are best described as a form of “loosening of the bowels”. The person who finishes the race with diarrhea running down their legs? That happens…trust me. I decide I need to pee immediately, but cannot stop anywhere. It goes on and on. Mindless chatter to accompany me as I go…my own twisted form of voices in my head.

Running has become my lesson in self battle. A challenge I fight with 3-4 times per week at the crack of dawn. I do this because I am never prouder of my body or mind when I complete a run. Never. The battle that I overcome in my head throughout my mileage, as I continue to go step by step, leads me to an unmatched sense of accomplishment. It is more than worth the pain, sweat, and fear of failure, because in spite of all the chatter, I can beat it.

What is your internal battle? Do you ever sit with yourself and really check in about what you are not doing in your life because you are afraid? Maybe you don’t try because you think you need to be perfect, you are too old, or you may fail. Push through. We are nothing more than a compilation of our actions and choices in this world. What do your choices say about you?

Decide that you are willing to take a risk. Know that it will be hard, you will fall down, look less than graceful, or be a beginner. A beginner!!! What a terrifying concept -such a dreaded word. Trust me when I share with you that as an ex smoker who couldn’t run a mile at 38, I know what it feels like to begin something later in life. It is NEVER too late. What would you do? What would it take for you to make a commitment to yourself to try it? You will fall down. You will look like a newbie, you will not do very well to start – so what! Do it anyway. You do not need to compete with the Lolo’s or Gazelles out there…you simply need to compete with yourself. You vs. You. Your goal is to try to do a little better than you did the day before, and most importantly, just keep going. Decide you will NOT give up on you.

As I prepare to run my fifth 1/2 marathon I tell you that it is possible and worth it to push yourself beyond your imagination. I cried after finishing my first half marathon from a combination of triumph and pain (my body felt like it got hit by a mack truck), but that medal was heavy against my swelling chest and the weight of it was immense. I may never run a full marathon or ultra; however, in the battle that I need to fight just to push myself through, I come out a winner. Hold yourself accountable and just go forward. Move one step at a time towards your own fears by making them the goals you pursue. Sometimes you need to do this in spite of yourself.

Stacey Neil is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer who founded TotalFit Solutions. Her private practice is in Los Gatos, California and she can be reached at 408.827.5139.