Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Although I love the season of summer with warmer days, nature in the full swing of life, watching my flowers grow (the hollyhocks out front are about 9 feet tall this year!), and long days, I find myself wearing down from going all the time, trying to fit it all in. This year, more than ever, my meditation practice has helped me start the day off in a more grounded state of mind. It's helped me to keep in perspective the to dos and work on letting go of outcomes more readily to just go with the flow.  When I've had moments of overwhelm, taking time to just practice single-minded focus, reminds my mind to be in a more simple state, focusing on one thing and letting the rest go.

My sadhana (spiritual daily practice) has helped me to go from just practicing in the morning to bringing in that practice throughout the day and this is where the really magic happens.  I've had days in a row where I have to keep focus on where I'm at and then going to the next thing and do the same.  My mind has moments of 'freak outs' where it's overwhelmed by all the details. With coming back to single-minded focus, I get my mind to come back to what is going on now and letting go of the rest until it's time to transition.  It's helped to keep the anxiety at bay more and allowed me to enjoy and be present with what I am doing.  It's starts with being on the mat/cushion and then radiates out to daily living.

I must admit that my meditation practice of single-minded focus has been a process and will continue to be.  It's been a process of committing and re-committing.  Those excuses of why it's not going to
happen today like being too tried and "it'll happen later," or being on vacation and things getting in the way, or "too sick, it's okay if I skip a day," etc. In the end I let those excuses win out.  I'm a person that will follow through if I commit to someone else, so when I committed to my practice daily to my teacher it was amazing how all those excuses just lost their power.  I've practiced Dharana, or single-minded focus daily since.  What is your ultimate motivator?

I haven't regretted at all.  It has helped me ground back during the chaos of life and summer.  A big tip is this: Find your minimum practice.  I know it's easy to get attached to the idea of what a practice is, which can keep us from doing it every day.  Ultimately, my practice is about two hours, which includes asana (poses), pranayama (breathing techniques) and dharana (single-minded focus).  Life does get in the way sometimes and it's better to do a minimum practice rather than no practice at all because it does add up.  My minimum practice at this point is 20 minutes of meditation or dharana.  There are no excuses not to find 20 minutes for me in my day.  Sometimes it turns into, more time than I 'thought' I had.

It then translates to my daily life of being aware of the excuses and putting them in their place, one at a time.

Find that minimum practice...YOU DESERVE IT!  Yes, you ARE that important.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Grateful for Awareness

If you have worked with me as a client, group member, or co-worker, you will know that 'awareness' is at the forefront of my mind. It is the first step in conscious change. It can be a mind-blowing explosion and quick, it can be a subtle process like cleaning a really dirty mirror, or it can be a 'huh, interesting.'  However awareness manifests, it is the beginning of empowerment to do something different.  I say beginning with emphasis because our mind can get confused with labeling it as an end.

When we identify awareness as an end, when change doesn't just happen right away, the mind may start to beat it's self up.  "I should know better.  Why do I keep doing this?"  When we become aware of a pattern, it's the beginning of the process to start changing it.

I've had several of those BIG 'ah ha' moments over my life.  One happened when we lived in India, about eight years ago and was the catalyst to deepening my yoga practice.  I have had seasonal depression for quite some time in the winter.  I would feel low, self-doubt and low motivation.  My worst bout of it was in graduate school and I did seek professional help for the first time, which was helpful in taking steps with assertive communication rather than holding things in.

Fast forward five years to India.  My mother and her partner were visiting us and I had put together all of our travel plans, going to some places that were on my bucket list to see.  We were in Hampi, which is in Southern India and a fascinating place both visually and historically.  I had been wanting to go there for a number of years after seeing Chris Sharma's climbing video documenting his time rock climbing there. 

Despite this, I noticed I was being grumpy and irritated with my husband though there was nothing specific to warrant feeling this way.  I was mad at myself for being so mean to him. It thought, "What is this?! I'm in India, halfway across the world from 'home' and it's here again?! It's not even dark and cold out!"  It was that moment and really looking at it a couple months later at my first yoga teacher training with my guru, that a light switch went on.  "This depression is ME.  It's how I'm viewing things.  My expectations, the 'shoulds,' and my perceptions." 

This newfound awareness was a big step in my process of gaining more control over my mind, emotions and reactions.  I'm am definitely still on the path of self-transformation with this awareness and a long way to go...though I've come a long way. The practices of yoga, more so Pranayama (breath work), Dharana and Dhyana (meditation), questioning and being curious about my thoughts and beliefs, have done so much to land me where I am today.

I've gone from someone who is an addicted planner with every moment planned out months in advanced and a chronic mover having moved 20 times in my adult life before the age of 40! (The thought of living in one place for longer than a year terrified me until I lived in India, the same flat for two years...Wow!) To now having more weekends that aren't plan than are, actually buying a house that I've lived in for four years with no plan to move, and in all of it just feeling soooo much more content.  Don't get me wrong, some of these patterns show up in other places, more subtly but because I'm aware, I can meet them and make more conscious choices.

This would not have happened, I'm pretty sure, without my yoga practice, the yoga teachers I've had along the way, my guru, and my personal commitment to holding myself accountable for my actions, thoughts and emotions.

Thank you Awareness!!

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Even hummingbirds take time to pause

I looked out of my back window where we put up a hummingbird feeder this year and I saw a hummingbird sitting on the feeder.  It was the first time I had ever seen a hummingbird at rest!  Even hummingbirds take time to rest and pause!

There are so many examples of pausing all around us.  The thing is, we need to pause in order to notice them.  Now that it's summer, the heat of the day is the time when so many insects, birds, animals take pause and rest.  My husband and I were reminded this past weekend why we like to get outside in the morning and then relax in the afternoon in the summer as we sweated buckets in the heat of the day while hiking a favorite trail.

The more subtle practices of yoga like pranayama and meditation are a perfect way to give time to pause and just notice what is going on with ourselves.  There is a natural pause at the top of the inhale, then again at the bottom of the exhale that can only be noticed when we are sitting still. 

Taking time to pause, whether a few minutes during the day or for multiple days of silence...or even
just turning off the phone for a few hours, does wonders to calm our nervous system, slow down, and enjoy the present moment. It helps to help us discern what really is important and what can be let go. It is in the pause where true learning and reflection happen.

Work in pause breaks each day to take care of your body, mind, and spirit. You deserve it!  Whatever is on the 'To Do' list can wait.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

We all deserve healthy boundaries

One of the topics I come back to for myself and I work on often with people is boundary setting.  Most of us grew up in families where healthy boundaries weren't taught, not because our parents did it consciously but because they were also never taught healthy boundaries.  It's hard to teach something we aren't aware of and don't have knowledge of.  So, now as adults, it is up for us to unlearn what hasn't been working well and relearn boundaries that feel better.

Setting boundaries is about learning to say "no" and learning to say "yes" when appropriate.  When thinking about boundaries, it's going to be individual preference, they may change over time, and all of us may be a little different, so an important part is taking time to go inward and check-in where you are at.  My favorite analogy here is thinking about the safety talk on airplanes.  What is said to do if the oxygen masks are released?  "Put your mask on first and then help children and others."  Why?  Because if you are helping others before, you may run out of oxygen yourself.  When checking in with ourselves, we need to make sure we are in a space to help others...if not, we need to say "no."

There are so many different types of boundaries in this world from what we do with our day, how we interact with others, our bodies, our values...

Here are some general tips that can be applied to most situations:

1. Saying "no" is an area that many of us struggle with. If you feel overwhelmed, taken advantage of, feel like you're the only one doing things, constantly tired from doing too much, you most likely need to say "no" more.

What keeps us from saying "no?"  It could come from growing up and what we were taught.  Like 'being nice.' Like helping others is an important value.  Possibly there's the belief of 'not good enough' so doing a lot is a way to prove your worth.  Sometimes feeling's what you 'should do.'

The most important part is learning to set a boundary with ourselves first.  We have to start practicing putting ourselves and our well being as a priority.  Think of all the things you may already do to take care of yourself like exercise, eating well, getting good sleep, taking vacation.  If you find yourself throwing these things out of the window first to accommodate others, it's time to say 'No, I'm not compromising these things anymore' to yourself.  These are the things that keep us able to help out and fulfill our roles effectively.  If we let them go, usually we suffer, and that is not okay.

PRACTICE: Choose one area of self-care that you will not compromise for the next week.  I guarantee there will be some difficult emotions like guilt that come up, but do it despite that feeling and notice how you feel and are functioning by the end of the week.

If another person is reactive when you say, 'no,' let them know you have to do your own self-care and not doing it will put you in a place that's not healthy.  If they still protest, let them.  You aren't responsible for another person's reaction and making them feel better...especially if it makes you worse off.

2. Saying 'yes' is necessary when we are becoming too rigid with our 'nos.'  Are you feeling isolated, not enjoying life or activities you once did, are you feeling overwhelmed with the 'have tos' and not doing enough of the 'want tos?'  Then you may need to practice saying 'yes' to social, fun activities. 
Saying 'yes' to self-care and relaxation time.

PRACTICE: Say 'yes' to a fun activity this week to just enjoy and be around others in a fun setting.

(Note: usually saying 'no' and saying 'yes' happen at the same time.  Saying 'no' to working past 5:00pm so you can say 'yes' to that free summer concert).

3. Sometimes it's not about setting boundaries, it's about letting go of them.  Sometimes our own boundaries create stress that's unnecessary. Food can be a good example of this.  Eating healthy at home is much easier than eating out or at another person's home.  If part of eating healthy is not eating any processed foods and sticking to this religiously may cause you to miss out on some events because you're stressed about the food. Take a break!!  Every once in a while, go out to eat or enjoy
social time at a friend's house and allow yourself to let go of this intention for that meal.  It will be okay and the benefits of being social may far out weigh one meal where you may have processed food.  Remember, if we are too rigid and causing stress reactions in our bodies, whatever "healthy" thing we are doing is no longer healthy.

PRACTICE: Notice an area where you have a tendency to be rigid and striving to obtain perfection. Allow yourself to let go of it and enjoy a moment.  (Example: Certain rules at home for your children and letting some of these rules go if you are on vacation).

4. Communication is a big part of setting boundaries.  There are four basic ways we communicate: Aggressive, Passive, Passive-aggressive, and Assertive.  The first three tend to have flavors of control, manipulation, and a lot of times don't feel good afterwards. Practicing more assertive communication can be more effective, help feel better because you've been respectful to yourself and to others, and a lot of times end up with less 'side-effects' like resentment and guilt.  Being assertive means you are directly responding (not reacting) to a challenge/ conflict, working on understanding the other person while also stating how you feel, and working towards a compromise that takes both people's needs into account.

An example to understand different types of communication: Going out to eat, you order a burger and ask that they withhold a sauce on that burger.  The burger is brought with the sauce on it. 

- Aggressive: (yelling) "What the hell!  I said no sauce.  You are so incompetent!  I want to see your manager!"
- Passive: Looks at the burger, doesn't say anything and doesn't enjoy the meal.  Another person encourages this person to let the server know and this person says, "No, I don't want to be a bother. It's not that important."
- Passive-Aggressive: Same as passive and then bad mouths the restaurant to all their friends.
- Assertive: Getting the attention of the server states, "Excuse me.  I ordered the burger without sauce and it came with it.  I'd like a burger without the sauce."

PRACTICE: "I" statements can be a great tool in assertive communication.  Here's a template to try:

"I feel __________, when _________.  I hope (or need) ___________. "

The first 'blank' is an emotion (not 'like' or 'that').  The second 'blank' is a being specific and concise about the situation the may have created the emotions.  The third 'blank' is letting the other person know what could be done differently or what you will do differently in the future.

Example: "I felt annoyed after I asked you to put the dishes away, you agreed, and then a hour later it was not done.  I hope that when you agree to something you'll follow through and if you don't agree, let's talk about it."

My encouragement is to choose one of these areas to practice and go with it, notice what happens!  Remember, it takes time and practice to learn how to set healthy boundaries and it will get easier!

Friday, 3 May 2019

Two month reflection

I've been back from my Meditation course in India for two months and wanted to take some time to reflect on my process these past two months.  The first week back, I had a clear intention of not taking on anything extra, allowing my time to recoup from travel and jet lag.  My mind was calm and relaxed. It was wonderful!!

After that first week, I dove into the to do list of planning for upcoming workshops, networking, and taking on additional tasks at my part-time job.  It has felt like a whirlwind with a buzzing mind.  I've stayed focus on my daily Sadhana (spiritual practice), which I do in the morning, and practiced meeting charges of emotions and negative self-talk head on.  I think I had expectations that doing these things would create calm and peace immediately. Instead, the reality of how busy my mind truly is has exploded into awareness. In reflection, the question of 'what is my definition of calm and peace' comes up for me.

When I pause to reflect on this questions, the word 'control' comes up.  This word is something I've been noticing more and more and the levels it influences my life.  I've notice in little ways, throughout the day, how I work on trying to control the external world to feel more safe and secure...only it actually brings me more stress and exhaustion.  For example, expectations I have when I plan schedule for how a day is going to go or scheduling to meet with people individually.  Inevitably, I'd say well over half the time, my plan of a schedule changes.  When this happens, I can be thrown into a whirlwind of mind racing madness because my expectations of the plan have changed.  At times I'm aware of it happening in the moment, at other times I'm not aware of it until afterwards. Either way, finding time to be with the emotions and thoughts the changes bring up is essential for me to move from trying to control to having peace with it.  More and more I can do this process in the moment.  I guess that's one piece of it...time.  Some of the time there's space to be with it, to move through it.  Some times there's not because I have to be involved in other tasks.  The positive is I've learned to compartmentalize the emotional and thought reactions so they don't consume me and I come back to them as soon as there is space to really be with them and allow them to move through.

My definition of calm and peace has changed from an external focus to an internal focus. The external world is going to happen. It's how I meet the external situations I have no control over that creates calm and peace.  Calm and peace are a state of mind, not a state of my environment.  The old belief that things outside of me create calm and peace, like a schedule running smoothly, plans panning out how I want them to, or others feeling calm, I've come to realize creates more stress and worry. But, man, does that old belief like to try to keep hanging on...keep itself relevant despite its untruth, try to stay in control.  I'm laughing because this is the third time TODAY, I've had an image of a wrestling match going on inside of me the past six weeks with this old belief system trying to stay in control.

Calm and peace would look more like accepting this resistance as normal and a normal part of the process of becoming more calm and peaceful.   It's accepting the process of change within myself, allowing it, knowing it's to be expected that there will be a struggle at times, and that it is important to keep up the practice of pausing and grounding back to what is present, more in reality, and expand to see the whole rather then just a part.  This change takes time and requires patience!

Taking moments, like this one, to pause and reflect helps to clear out the whirlwind and find a calm. More than ever, I am reminded of the vital importance of slowing down, taking time to go inward and be present within.  My process is definitely focused on finding the balance of being in the external world to function in my roles and enjoy life, while also coming back to the internal world to just be.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Part Two: The Exhale

And moving to the next part of the breath...the Exhale.

For me, this has been where my practice with the breath has focused.  I'm a great inhaler: on the go, full of ideas, and ready to jump in.  I have struggled in balancing it with the exhale, which is the releasing, the discernment of what I want to let in and what I don't, just being and receiving, no need to do.  With my yoga practice, using pranayama that emphasizes a longer exhale has done wonders for my mind state and my ability to be more present.  When I'm aware that I'm holding in the inhale, I focus on long exhales and it grounds me and brings me back to the now.  I make better choices for myself and take much better care of how I spend my time.  It's a work in progress and I get reminders all the time to come back to the exhale, which I'm forever grateful.

What about you?  Do you let yourself be in the exhale?

Here are two breath practices that help with being in the exhale:

1. The first I mentioned above. Just simply start practicing lengthening your exhalation.  Start by breathing in and out of the nose (this activates the parasympathetic nervous system to calm us), do a few normal breaths and then start to inhale for 3 or 4 counts and exhale for 5 to 6.  Use abdominal breathing so you are using your whole respiratory system.  Over time, move towards a 1:2 ratio for the inhale and exhale.  For example, if I inhale for three, I would exhale for six.  In only a few breaths, you'll feel everything slowing down.  Here's a YouTube Video on this practice.

2. The other breath technique that is helpful in slowing down the breath is called Ujjayi Breath or Ocean-Sounding Breath. Think Darth Vader breathing.  Think about fogging up a mirror with your breath.  Hold your hand up, palm facing you.  Pretending your palm is a mirror, breath as you would to fog it up, a slight constriction in the throat.   Then closing the mouth do the same thing with that slight constriction in the throat while breathing.  You should be able to hear your breath, almost like the sound of the ocean.  It helps to control and slow down the breath, especially the exhale. Notice how you feel after doing five breaths like this.

The wonderful thing about the exhale is that you can focus on it at any moment!  No one has to know that you are even doing it. Yogis have known for a long time that the breath is the other side of the coin with the mind.  If the mind is fluctuation, controlling the breath helps to settle the mind.  If the mind is unsettled, you can bet the breath is also unsettled.  Control the breath, control the mind.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Part One: The Inhale

The breath is the bridge between the mind and body. If our mind is racing, our breath is usually short and shallow.  If our mind is relaxed, our breath is usually slow and more into the belly.  By working with the breath, we can change the mind state.

I want to focus on looking at the meaning of the inhale in our lives and in another blog I will focus on the exhale.

When I think of the inhale, I think of the SO HUM mantra and meditation.  SO is said in the
 mind when inhaling and means 'That.' So when we inhale, we are inviting our attention to fully by on all that is permanent, which is divine, love, God, the infinite.  This mantra is the essence of the goal on the path of yoga, to realize 'I am the infinite'. The inhale invites us to go inward.

There are so many ways of using this amazing world around us, though impermanent, to help us find meanings for the inhalation. Looking at the sun, the inhalation might represent the sunrise, the beginning of moving from dark to light, moving into seeing with awareness, inviting the new day which is there for us to learn from, an experience giver.  

The changes of season.  In moving from the hibernation and pause of winter, spring is that 'breath of fresh air,' drawing in the changes that are bringing new life and renewal, movement.  This just made me think of one of the last scenes in the movie, "Gravity," when Sandra Bullock's character has reentered earth's gravity, plunging into the water and then after escaping her pod she surges up, breaking out of the water's surface with a full breath of renewal, desire to live, reborn.

The inhalation, when thinking of movement or activity, is the drawing in before the release of energy out.  In that moment, one can visualize the outcome desired with the movement to prep the body to move towards a goal.  I think of being out rock climbing.  When I'm about to move through a more challenging section, I breath in to create focus of where I want to go, then I exhale (usually more forcefully) with the action.  

So, inhalation can also be synonymous with focus and concentration (though for this to fully be realized, the exhale must also come).  The breath in draws us inward towards clarity before the action happens to realize the clarity. 

In this spring season, take a moment to fully be in the inhalation, drawing life inwards.  Notice what is going on when you draw the breath in more fully or forcefully and what analogy comes to you in the first half of the breath? Enjoy this gift of the inhalation.