Vol. 20, No. 2 • May 2016

Helping Yourself IS Helping Others

by Deena M. Murphy

As people who care, so much of our time and energy is focused outwardly. How can I be of service? What more can I do? Can I help in some way?

This drive is what motivates us to be foster parents, to be social workers, to make a difference to those around us. But what about when this drive causes burn out, causes illness, and causes feelings of being overwhelmed or even resenting those who need our help?

We have all been on the airplane when the announcement says: "Please put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others."

Why? Shouldn't we be taking care of the children, the elderly, or others who are helpless in ways we are not?

The short answer is no; if you have no oxygen, if you literally cannot breathe, you cannot be of use to others. Similarly, if you are burnt out, sick, and feeling overwhelmed, are you really able to take care of others in the way that a healthy, relaxed, and energized version of you would?

Limited Resources
In an ideal world, we would have two clones, 36 hours in a day, and all the resources at hand to flourish. However, the reality is we are an army of one, have 24 hours, and finite resources to make magic happen in our world.

Most of us are not going to slow down until life or health concerns make us, so self-care needs to be something we can integrate into our lives of service. We need some tools and tricks to help us flourish, to keep us healthy, and to ensure we can continue to make a difference to those around us.

A Tool to Help You Flourish
One tool that is akin to my "magic wand" is meditation. Not the kind of meditation that takes you to a mountain away from the world, but a way of coping with all that the world throws at you.

In essence, meditation helps you find inner peace regardless of what is going on around you. It helps you to find a way to connect, to feel at ease, to know that you can cope with anything that life throws your way.

Meditation may not change your environment, but I promise, it will change you. Meditation will help you reconnect with you. It will teach you to listen to yourself, to your body.

It will improve your health and life in ways you cannot imagine.

Finding the Time and Other Myths
Aha, you say, but meditation is not for me. I already have zero time to myself.

Well, this is where the magic actually happens. In the time it takes you to read this article, you could have spent 5 minutes in meditation.

Five minutes?

Yes. One myth about meditation is that you must spend a lot of time doing it. The reality is that any time you set aside will work.

The magical part is that setting aside just five minutes to breathe, connect, and give your nervous system a break will improve your health and well-being.

If you can do more, great. But don't let time be another excuse for not taking care of you.

But won't meditation conflict with my religious beliefs?

The short answer is no. Meditation is for everyone, regardless of religious beliefs. You may even find it allows your faith to deepen. Many people have been life-long meditators and life-long Christians (or Jews, Muslims, atheists, and so on). Meditation is simply awareness.

Getting Started
So, where do you start? Start wherever you are! Below are three introductory meditations that you can do at your desk, in your living room, first thing when you wake up, or last thing at night. Just set a timer if you only have a few minutes. In short, make meditation work for your lifestyle and you will soon reap the benefits.

Make this a daily practice!

Deena M. Murphy, Ph.D. is a foster parent, a professor at N.C. State University, and runs a research and consulting business. Contact her at: [email protected]

Three Basic Meditations

Breathing Meditation

  1. Choose a position where you feel most comfortable, with your spine as erect as possible. Close your eyes.
  2. Take your focus to your breathing; breathe in and out through the nose. Feel the cool of your breath on your nostrils as you inhale; feel the slight heat as you exhale.
  3. Imagine every exhalation taking tensions and toxins out of your body, feel the inhalation restoring every cell in your body. Let the breaths lengthen and become deeper without force of will or body. There is nothing for you to do, except be aware of your breath.
  4. OPTIONAL. As you inhale, count 1, as you exhale, 2. All the way up to 10. If you lose track of the count, go back to 1 again. This can be helpful if your mind is very active.

Gratitude Meditation

  1. Choose a position where you feel most comfortable, with your spine as erect as possible. Close your eyes.
  2. Imagine the space around your heart; breathe slowly and deeply. Breathe into the belly, allowing the belly to soften. Invite your body to relax with each breath.
  3. With every inhale, visualize something you could be grateful for right now. Start to bring to mind all the people that have evoked loving or happy feelings in you; people you love who may no longer be in your life, people who love you and whom you love; think about experiences, things you have seen, times you have laughed. Think of all the things in your life you could be grateful for right now (at least five), in this moment. Keep bringing them into your mind's eye, repeatedly. With each exhale, say thank you (internally).

Health Meditation

  1. Choose a position where you feel most comfortable, with your spine as erect as possible. Close your eyes.
  2. Bring your awareness to your breathing. Breathe slowly and deeply, allowing the belly to soften, inviting the body to relax with each exhale. Just allow the breaths to lengthen and become deeper.
  3. With every inhale, imagine a healing light entering your body, relaxing you more deeply, restoring your radiant health; with each exhale, imagine any tensions, toxins, or stress leaving your body as you release and let go. Feel each inhalation restoring every cell in your body; allow each exhalation to release anything from your body that is not serving you.
  4. Breathe in through the nose and out from the mouth three times before you open your eyes.

~ Family and Children's Resource Program, UNC-CH School of Social Work ~