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Posted : admin On 8/23/2021

Changing a habit is hard. Anyone who has tried to change their eating habits, quit smoking, start an exercise program, or stop drinking or using drugs can tell you how difficult it can be at times to change old habits. Citrix receiver for mac mojave. In my last post I discussed how slipping (i.e., falling back into an old habit) can sometimes set us up for a relapse (i.e., continuing a habit beyond the initial slip) due to a phenomenon known as the Abstinence Violation Effect. In this post, I’d like to talk about a technique that can help you before you slip, a technique called “urge surfing.”

What is Urge Surfing?

Urge surfing is a mindfulness technique can be used to help with any addictive behaviour such as gambling, overeating, inappropriate sex or any other destructive impulses. Urges for substance use rarely last for very long if there is no opportunity to indulge them. Urge Surfing is the act of riding that wave, like you would if you were a surfer riding a wave into shore. Alan Marlatt, a pioneer in the field of substance use treatment and the developer of the concept of Urge Surfing, points out that we can’t get rid of cravings. Like waves, they come back again and again, forever crashing into and washing. Are you a mental health professional seeking to implement a DBT program and learn the core principles and strategies of DBT? The goal of the DBT Comprehensive Online program is to enable you to establish an effective DBT practice so you are prepared to treat patients with challenging and difficult-to-treat behaviors.

Mar 26, 2015 - Urge Surf! DBT Emotion Regulation skill. Emotions are like waves. They come in strong and then calm down - if you can sit with an urge without acting on it, it will go away. You have to 'ride it out'. Fidgeting or moving is a reaction to our desire to find a more comfortable position. Letting our mind flee to some nicer thoughts is a reaction to aversion. With mindfulness we can begin to change our relationship to the urge: we can observe our sensations and surf our urges. This has three steps. The 3 Steps of Urge Surfing.

Urge surfing is a technique attributed to the late psychologist Alan Marlatt, Ph.D., a pioneer in the field of addictions treatment. We can think of an urge as an impulse to engage in an old habit, such as drinking or using, and they are often experienced as physical sensations in the body. Urges are like waves in that they rise in intensity, peak, and eventually crash.

Here’s a brief exercise you can do to explore this technique: Stop for a moment and think about an urge that you recently experienced. As you think about this urge, see if you can notice all the sensations that come up as you think about it; see if you notice how these sensations shift across time. Use your breath to help you ride out the waves (i.e., the urge); like a surfboard, you can simply observe your breath as you ride out each wave that arises. Congratulations! You just successfully surfed your first urge!

Urges usually peak between 20 – 30 minutes, if we let them. What I mean by this last phrase is this: if we adopt an open and curious attitude about the urge and watch it without doing battle with it, then the urge will subside. However, if we go to battle with our urges (e.g., “I can’t stand this urge! I have to get rid of it right now!”), they will subside more slowly. Worse, by giving into urges we can actually strengthen them and we can lose confidence in our abilities to change our old habits.

How to Surf an Urge

There are slight variations of the urge surfing technique, but most include the following steps:

  1. Take a few moments to notice where you experience urges in your body. You can do this by taking some time to sit in a quiet place, and if you are comfortable doing so, closing your eyes, and just allowing your attention to go to the place(s) in your body where you tend to feel urges. For some people they notice that urges are most connected to sensations in their abdomens; for others, they notice urges in their mouth (e.g., their mouths water when experiencing an urge to drink). There is no right or wrong place for an urge to be located. What is most important is that you notice where in your body you most notice urges when they show up. If you are having trouble noticing urges, think back to a time when you experienced an urge to engage in an old habit. If you are concerned that thinking about a particular instance when you had an urge will lead to doing the habit, pick a situation where the urge was less strong or you successfully prevented yourself from acting on the urge. Picture the situation as clearly as you can in your imagination. Once the situation is clear in your mind notice where in your body you are experiencing the urge.
  2. Once you have noticed what part of your body is most connected to the urge, focus your attention on it (if you notice that more than 1 area of your body is connected to an urge, start with the place that you most intensely notice the urge). Take note of the sensations you are having in this body part. What do the sensations feel like? Does it feel like pressure, tingling, warmth, or coolness? How much space do these sensations take up in this place in your body? Try to draw an outline around the place where the sensations are felt. See if the sensations have any movement. Some people tend to associate sensations with colors or temperatures. Check to see if you notice any colors or temperature associated with these sensations. For some people it can be helpful to silently describe the sensations in an objective and non-judgmental manner (e.g., I notice warmth and tingling in my belly). If more than one part of your body is associated with an urge, go through this exercise with each body part.
  3. Bring your attention to your breath. You do not need to change your breathing at all. Notice your breath for the next 1-2 minutes. Some people find it helpful to bring their attention to a particular place in their body where they notice their breath (e.g., the abdomen); some find it helpful to say phrases like “breathe in,” “breathe out” as they inhale and exhale.
  4. Gently shift your attention back to the part(s) of your body where you notice the urge. Allow yourself to notice whatever sensations come up in these places. If it becomes overwhelming to notice the sensations, gently return your attention back to breath for a few moments and then go back to noticing the sensations connected to the urge. You may find it helpful to imagine sending your breath to the parts of your body that are associated with the urge (e.g., you can breathe into your shoulders and let your breath fill up that part of your body). Notice if and how the sensations change as you watch them. Be sure to practice this step for at least 1 minute, but longer is probably better.
  5. This next step is optional, but I have found it to be helpful in my own life and in working with people with addictions. Imagine that the sensations connected with your urge are a wave. Watch the wave rise and fall over and over again as the intensity of your sensations peak and subside. Your job is to use your breath as a surfboard to ride these waves. No matter how big the wave gets, no matter how much you feel as if the wave will consume you, you are a skilled surfer and you will use your breath to ride each wave as it comes. Practice this for at least 1 minute, but again, longer is probably better, particularly the first few times you practice this.
  6. As you’re riding the wave (or just noticing the sensations), you may find it helpful to silently describe the sensations in an objective and non-judgmental way (e.g., I notice warmth in my belly that is increasing…the warmth in my belly is decreasing and my belly feels cooler).
  7. When you are done surfing the urge, take a moment to thank yourself for taking the time and being willing to do something different with your urges. You can also use this time to set your intention for the next few minutes, hour, or day.

That’s it! With practice urge surfing gets easier and you may discover that you are an excellent surfer. You can practice this technique in two ways:

  1. You can start urge surfing whenever you notice yourself having an urge. This can be a particularly useful technique when you notice urges to go back to old habit that you are trying to break.
  2. You can practice this on a regular basis by setting aside time to practice using the technique. Many people find that listening to an audio recording of the technique is useful at first. Through this kind of formal practice, you can get better at urge surfing so that you’re better at it when you need it.

You’ll find that, with practice, urges will become easier to ride out. You may even start to feel a sense of pride or accomplishment as you successfully surf urges and act according to your values, instead of according to your urges.

If you would like to learn more about how to use techniques like urge surfing to cope with urges, the book below is a good option:

Author: Portland Psychotherapy Team

Urges are okay. We all have urges. We wouldn’t be here if our parents did have urges. But just because we have an urge doesn’t mean we have to do something about it. Some urges are harmless, but other urges, when acted upon, lead to unskillful living. Our yoga practice can help us to realize that urges do not have to lead automatically to unskillful or addictive behavior. Our Yin Yoga practice can help us develop a level of mindfulness that can create a new relationship to the urges that arise in life.

We all have little addictions, little behaviors that don’t serve us very well. Some of us have significant addictive behaviors that create havoc in our lives, but all these addictions, large and small, have three things in common, according to Ronald Siegel a professor of mindfulness at Harvard medical school and a psychotherapist [1]. First is the trigger, also called the cue. Next is the urge to do something: to run away from or to run towards some activity. That leads to the final component; the behavior. Cue, urge and behavior are the three components of addiction.

Urge Surfing Image1dialectical Behavioral Training

Urge Surfing Dbt

Traditional therapies for people suffering addiction generally deal with either the first or the last component: the cue or the behavior. Many therapies teach us to avoid the triggers that create the urge. If you have an addiction to alcohol or shopping, you would be taught how to avoid pubs and malls. For a minor addiction, like checking your emails constantly, it might involve leaving your smart phone at home while you are out, or keeping your email program turned off most of the time. Other therapies address the behavior component and offer substitute actions when the urge arises. If you feel the urge to go to a bar, you would call a friend instead, or eat a carrot stick instead of the cheesecake you have in your fridge.

There is a third strategy that we could employ to reduce unskillful living. There are gaps that exist between the cue, the raw sensation or emotion that arises in the mind or body, and the urge to do something about the cue, and between the urge and the resulting behavior. Through mindfulness honed in our yoga practice we can learn to live in the gaps and disrupt the automatic flow from cue to behavior. We can practice a different way to deal with addictive or unskillful behaviors by creating a new relationship to the urge itself.

We learn to be addicts through predictable mechanisms of positive and negative reinforcement. We repeat things that make us feel good, that reduce our anxiety or depression; and we avoid things that make us feel bad, that can make psychological distress worse. Once we do these behaviors a few times, they get associated with a trigger – and when that cue reappears, so does the behavior. It becomes automatic. These cues can be a sight or a feeling or a sound or a social environment, etc. Since we want to be free from our distress and free to gain pleasure, we act in ways we believe will lead us to our desires.

Freedom, as defined and taught in the East is not what we think of as freedom in the West. In the West, we search for freedom to do what we want and not have to do what we don’t want. This kind of freedom encourages our desires and aversions. It is hardwired into our species and helped us survive, but survival does not necessarily lead to happiness, joy and contentment. In the East, freedom is freedom from desire and aversion: freedom from wanting, not freedom to do what we want. This Eastern view of freedom is what we can develop during our Yin Yoga practice.

Killing off cravings doesn’t work: that is the path of the ascetic – the Buddha famously tried this approach. He adopted a fierce asceticism and reduced his food intake to one grain of rice a day. He did not end his desires or cravings, but he did almost die from trying. In desperation, he finally developed a middle path between desire and aversion. He developed mindfulness training. In mindfulness training, we learn to accept the flow of experience just as it is, instead of chasing compulsively after pleasure or running away from pain.

In Yin Yoga, while we are marinating in our poses for nice long periods of time, there is a lot of sensations we can pay attention to. At some point, the sensations become stronger and stronger until finally an urge to move will arise. If we are not mindful, we will fidget, shift our position, or let our mind wander away so that we aren’t noticing the uncomfortable sensations anymore. Fidgeting or moving is a reaction to our desire to find a more comfortable position. Letting our mind flee to some nicer thoughts is a reaction to aversion. With mindfulness we can begin to change our relationship to the urge: we can observe our sensations and surf our urges. This has three steps.

The 3 Steps of Urge Surfing

  1. Begin by noticing whatever sensation or emotion that is happening right now in the mind and in the body.
  2. Notice the impulse, the urge to do something to change the situation or to mentally run away from it.
  3. Notice how both the sensations change and the urges come and go! Become conscious of their changing nature. Urges ebb and flow, wax and wane, come and go. They are never solid or permanent.

By following this approach, we discover that we can tolerate what is happening in this moment. Often the reason we want to react to an urge is a mistaken belief that we won’t be able to stand the urge in a few moments. It is the fear of the future, not of the present that compels us. By surfing our urges in the present moment, we realize that we don’t have to act right away. We don’t have to act at all! The beliefs that we can’t bear it, that the sensations will last forever and we must take some sort of action are not true.

What Is Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Ronald Siegel offers an analogy that we have all experienced at one time or another: the urgent urge to pee.[2] Can you remember a time you really had to go, but conditions just weren’t right? Perhaps you were on an airplane and the fasten seatbelt sign was lit, just when you needed to go to the bathroom. While turbulences bounced the plane around, your thoughts bounced you far worse. “I really have to go! I don’t think I can hold this much longer.” Finally, you got to relieve yourself and you sighed, thinking, “I definitely could not have held that any longer.” But that was not true: you could have held on longer if you really watched what was happening in your body. The urge to pee came and went, was strong for a little while, then reduced. Your thoughts made the situation seem more dire than it actually was.

Here is what we can do when we are deeply, and slowly marinating in a juicy Yin Yoga posture: we watch the rise and fall, the ebb and flow of sensation and the coming and going of the urge to change the situation. We become aware of a strong sensation, and the strong urge to move and stop the sensation, but we also become aware that we don’t have to move, we don’t have to take any action right now, and the sensation will continue to ebb and flow, morph and change. Eventually, the urge will either cease, or at least it will reduce.[3]

Each time we await the end of the posture and then come out of the pose, we learn that we didn’t have to move just because the urge to move arose. We waited, we watched, the world didn’t end. When it was time, we went on with our life.

Being with an urge is like paddling a surfboard over a wave: we watch the strength of the compulsion rise and then it falls away again. We don’t have to stop it (you can’t stop an ocean wave), and we don’t have to run away from it. We just bob up and down on the crest of each wave and let it pass. Try this next time you are in a juicy yoga posture: surf the urges as they come and go. Apply this experience the next time you have any urge: to check your cell phone, eat junk food, or take that extra drink. Instead of acting on it, surf the urge and see what happens to it. Chances are – it too will ebb and flow, come and go, and you don’t need to do anything at all. Just notice it and go on with your life.

Finally, even once we have learned that we do not have to react to our urges, we can also realize that occasionally we will react unskillfully. We will lapse in our effort to be non-reactive. There will be times in your Yin Yoga practice where you will give in to an urge, and move. And in life there will be times when you will give in to other unskillful urges. That’s life! No need to take these lapses personally. We all lapse from time to time. But we can notice the lapse, say to ourselves, “Oh well!” and start over. Lapsing is no big deal, as long as you put it in context, note it, and remember your intention to live skillfully. After an occasional lapse, return to urge surfing.

Urge Surfing Dbt Pdf



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  1. — See The Science of Mindfulness: A Research-Based path to Well-Being by Ronald Siegel, published by The Great Courses, 2014
  2. — Ibid.
  3. — Please note: in the context of a yoga practice, if the sensation is actually painful, then the urge to move is a positive signal. Do not ignore this urge. Pain is a signal that you are on the verge of hurting yourself. Honor that urge and move. However, just because something places you outside your normal comfort zone does not necessarily make it dangerous for you. If pain is absent, try lingering longer. If pain is present, adjust your posture or come out of the pose.