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.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Reflections from my Meditation Facilitator Training Course

In this week back from India, going through so many delays with traveling back home, weather conditions, and jet lag, I've be surprised how I've been able to stay relatively more calm and even.  The past few weeks in India at the meditation course have been helpful in opening my eyes to a deeper level of yoga and the role meditation (and going inward) plays in steadying the mind. Here are three general reflections for myself from the time with my guru, Prasad Rangnekar:

1) The amount of value placed on thinking and ideas keeps the mind unsteady.

Our western culture places a lot of value on thoughts and ideas.  On one hand, this is what fuels the entrepreneurial spirit and has led the way to amazing innovations. On the other hand, it also has led to our avoidance of being able to be with emotions which keeps us stuck, devaluing intuition and being judgmental about experiences outside the world of thought.

For me, I am amazed at all the wonderful ideas that come from my much of the time, so quickly, and it can be very distracting.  When I sit down to be still and quiet, practice meditation, my mind takes this as, "Sweet!  We've got space and she's going to hear us!" It's off to the races.  Over the years I have gone from getting swept up with these story lines and before I know it I've lived months in my mind within 10-15 minutes to slowly accepting what my mind comes up with when my intention is to meditate isn't important. At all.

My practice at this point is having a zero tolerance to thoughts and ideas when I sit down to meditate, when I'm driving or doing activities that don't require specific thoughts, or when I'm focused on something specific.  Yep, that really is the majority of the time.  It's the practice of vairagya or detachment.

My mind's reaction to this is, "what if you miss something big!  An idea that could change the world?!"  Well, at this point, I firmly believe that it's not going to be a thought that changes my world, it will be the absence of thought.  My work towards self-transformation isn't external, so I'm not looking to make a ton of money or get rich quick or retire early.  It's internal and it's about finding peace within.  So, those thoughts really aren't going to do much for me.

Don't get me wrong, I still need to think to be in the world, do my work, enjoy life, it's just I'm working towards not placing value on them as they aren't permanent, so not worth getting attached to.  I've got my work cut out for me because I've spent a lot of time attaching to thoughts (many of them worries) and it's a hard habit to break.  But, I'm committed and looking forward to seeing what results from this zero tolerance practice.

2) I'm already safe and secure.

In the grand scheme of things, I've had it pretty good in this life.  I was born into a household that was financially secure with parents who loved me and wanted me.  My parents divorcing when I was in college was the first big loss in my life.  I didn't have an severe physical, emotional, or sexual trauma.

The thing is, I still struggle with feeling safe and secure.  My mind's tendency is towards worrying and trying to control life. These thought habits, over time, have taken their toll on my body.  The magnitude of the mind/ body system's specific role in keeping us safe is amazing to me.  There's really not a whole lot that separates us from other animals...unless we learn how to override the survival part of the brain.  The majority of the time I'm doing okay and I'm safe.  Yet, the mind keeps focusing on lack and looking for where I may not be safe rather than relaxing in the abundance of safety that I have.

I really was hoping I was "advanced" and had no muladhara (root) chakra issues, but the reality is otherwise.  And accepting this is also getting rid of a belief I've had that my 'success' as a yogi depends on where I'm at in rising up the chakras. Really, being a true yogi is accepting where I'm at right now and doing practices that meet me there.  It's so much more empowering and is actually less stressful!!  (I paused right then and noticed I was clenching my jaw...and now it's relaxed.  My thoughts for this blog post were coming to quickly and wanting to get it 'just right.' Ha)!

One of my new mantras is "I'm safe and secure" whenever I start to feel tension happening in my body along with some long exhalations. It relaxes me immediately.

3) Any negativity in my life is completely my doing.

I've been working with the phrase, "I'm 100% responsible for my life" since my first yoga teacher training in 2012.  It has helped me significantly in reducing blame towards others and situations so I can take responsibility and work on my own part in things.

There has been deepening in this from course.  I started to talk with my guru about some of the same things that have caused me stressed for years, which he's patiently listened to, and his response this time was, "why do you always complain about these things?"  He said a few more things after that I don't remember.  That word, 'complain,' really hit me hard.  My first response was, "I don't complain! That's not me!  You've got it all wrong!"  I knew my reaction to it meant there was definitely something there.

I sat with this for the rest of the course and then in coming home, I watched my reactions more closely to the people and situations I just struggle to let go of.  Guess what, it's all me.  It's all my perception, expectations, mood, and habits.  Here's one example:

I worked late one night, so in the morning I talked with my husband about making dinner, even pulled out a recipe and some ingredients for him.  I got home at 8pm and the oven was just finishing heating up to cook.  The side was made, but we didn't eat for another 30 minutes.  I felt anger and resentment boil up.  "He doesn't have good time management!  Doesn't he realize what a long day I had while he went skiing?  Why can't he think about me!"

Luckily, I've had enough practice to know to keep my mouth shut and question my reactions.  The expectations I uncovered was that dinner would be ready to eat right when I got home, he would feel sympathy for me that I worked while he had the day off to ski, and since I gave some directions, all would be done exactly how I would do it.  Ha!!!  Wow, those are some high expectations for perfection.

Instead, after calming down and getting to a more neutral mind state, I thanked him for making dinner, let go of getting to bed before 9pm, slowed down myself and took time to do the dishes without anger, but focusing on what I was grateful for with my husband, with the good dinner, and with my job.  I went to bed in a more peaceful place and I can now write about this with humor.

Yep, the negativity is all mine.  And I'!  Again, a no tolerance policy with negativity is how I plan to keep facing these moments to let go of them and so they keep happening less and less.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Meditation as a way of life

Many years ago, when I heard the word 'meditation' I would think of being able to sit still for hours with an empty mind in a state of bliss.  With this expectation I was doomed to come to the conclusion "I can't do this" and "there must be something wrong with me."  Working with my teacher, Prasad Rangnekar, I have changed this perception and with my practice have come to realize that meditation isn't just sitting still, it's a practice to use throughout my day.

In both Patajali's Yoga Sutras (YS) and the Bhagavad Gita (BG), understanding the practices described have helped me be more compassionate towards myself in my own meditation practice and let go of the 'shoulds' and expectations.  I enjoy going inward, being in silence, and becoming more still. Meditation is a process, not an end point, and it takes time.

In the Yoga Sutras (III-1), meditation is part of an eight-fold practice to rid limitations of the mind in order to self-transform and connect with the true Self.  The 'doing' part of meditation is called Dharana or single-minded focus/ concentration.  The purpose of the mind is to think, so the first task is to teach the mind how to stay focused on one thing for a period of time instead of the mind jumping around from past to future, from topic to topic.  This is the practice.  Doing this practice regularly (daily), slowly helps to focus the mind and other meditative states happen.  A good analogy is sleep.  We don't 'do' sleep, sleep happens.  The 'doing' of sleep are the tasks of preparation like cleaning the body, getting into sleep clothing, getting comfortable in bed, maybe doing some calming things...then we wake up as sleep eventually happened.

There are many ways to practice dharana, which both the YS (I-35 to I-40 and II-45) and BG state, with no emphasis on what is the 'best.'  It is more about doing the practice (sadhana) daily and sticking with one focus of concentration that works best for you.  Practice, practice, practice.

Chapter 6 of the BG is dedicated to the meditation practice which shows just how important for self-transformation meditation is and that it does work (and has for thousands of years).  I have been studying this chapter during my times of silence over the past few years, each time gaining something new and inspirational.  The discovery that every day life is the field for practice was an insight I had from one of these study and reflective periods.  I was aware that when I wasn't focused on something specific, like listening to one of my clients, focused on a task, involved in exercise, that my mind constantly bounced around.  One of my main practices for concentration has been japa or repetition of a mantra.  I use it constantly through out my day.  When I first wake up, when I'm in the shower, when I'm doing my sadhana, when I'm driving, when I'm bored, when I'm goes on and on.  Doing this has helped to calm and focus my mind throughout the day.

Throughout the BG, Krishna (the divine and teacher) shares over and over that the steadfast mind, the mind that remains equal in whatever happens or to whomever, and the mind that is under control creates peace and tranquility.  After reading this over and over, it finally dawned on me that what I had been doing with my japa practice was not only working on letting go of negative, untrue statements, but it was also a practice of dharana or concentration.  I was practicing meditation through the day.  It still makes me giddy to think that every time I bring my concentration back to a focus point, I'm helping my mind prepare for other stages of meditation.

One of my favorite practices of this comes when I'm feeling tired and don't want to complete a task.  Whenever this happens, it's a sign that I need to focus back on the task so it's done and them I'm free of it.  No need to remember to finish it later, one less thing to THINK about.  It's also a great practice for self-discipline.

The true transformational aspect of practicing meditation goes beyond the 30 minutes or so of sitting in silence. It's when practicing single-minded focus throughout the day to help settle the mind, where the power of meditation starts to unfold.  Make meditation a lifestyle habit!

Friday, 1 February 2019

The Importance of Commitment on the Spiritual Path

Man, is life full of distractions.  I'm reminded of this constantly with my cell phone.  There's something that pops up in my mind and I get on my phone to Google the question, when I notice I have some new emails. I stop to look at those and there's an interesting article I start to read.  A text message pops up and I jump over to it and start chatting.  When I'm done, I put down my phone and it dawns on me I never did look up the question which was the reason I picked up my phone in the first place.  This is just one example of the many distractions in our world and technology, at least for me, has exponentially increased the distraction rate.

Distractions are the obstacles for being able to go inward, sit still, and connect with what is truth.  This is exactly why meditation is a challenge and why practice and commitment to practice is essential. 

Sadhana is the Sanskrit work for daily spiritual practice.  It takes commitment and re-commitment when you do get distracted, which is definitely going to happen.  Commitment is a practice of intention that has to happen daily, even multiple times a day.

When I think of 12-Step programs like AA, NA, Al-anon, the phrases they use over and over are all about helping to commit, re-commit, re-commit, and re-commit.  "Take it one day at a time" means focusing on a lifelong goal can be so overwhelming and hard to grasp, leaving the door open for the mind to distract and go elsewhere, namely relapse back into old patterns that aren't helping us. Many people I have worked with who are overcoming addictions have daily practices to help them recommit to sobriety for that day.  It's much easier to commit to doing something different for a day than for a lifetime.

I like the word 'intention' for the purpose of commitment because, at least for me, it allows the reality that I'm not going to be perfect and that's okay.  I can learn when I falter through distraction and come back to an intention. For example, I used the saying, "I'm 100% responsible for my life" for one year as my intention.  I was not perfect in this at all, but each day I came back to it and I could learn from the times I did blame instead of take responsibility. Then I'd recommit to this intention.  Eventually, it's helped me pause and recognize more and more what is going on inside me when the urge to blame comes up so I can meet it and consciously choose a different path.  This practice alone has helped me immensely on a life intention of living a more peaceful and content life.  It's a practice I continue to use and commit to daily.

From the Yamas and Niyamas, the ethical practices of yoga, one Niyama is focused on the importance of commitment and intentions: Tapas or Self-Discipline.  Tapas literally means "heat." In relation to a spiritual path, it is the self-discipline of staying in the present with life challenges or 'the heat of life,' to burn away our limitations and impurities in order to become closer to the Divine, to Truth.  Deborah Adele, in her book, "The Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice," she writes, "Tapas is the day to day choice to burn non-supportive habits of the body and mind,
choosing to forsake momentary pleasures for future rewards."  This takes commitment and re-commitment.

One other obstacle to keeping commitments comes back to perfectionist thinking, all or nothing thinking, or black and white thinking.  Either we are good or bad, successful or unsuccessful.  This thinking keeps us stuck in old patterns because when we make mistakes, which I guarantee you will do as you are human, we think, "That's it, it's over."  When really this is an opportunity to learn, dust yourself off, recommit and get back on the path of your intention.  Think about learning to walk.  If a child quit after one try, where would it be?  A child tries again and again, starting from just learning to roll over, then to crawl, then to pulling itself up and finally working on taking steps.  It takes, on average, 11 months to do this, with constant, daily practice.

Remind yourself of this when you are trying to change habits. Especially since you not only have to learn a new habit but unlearn an old one.  Be compassionate to yourself!

I'm saying all of this to come back to why committing to a daily Sadhana is so important.  Figure out what this looks like for you and the dive in!  Be prepared to falter, to be distracted and have to recommit.  This is all the normal process of changing and growing. Eventually you will be doing it without much effort because being in this practice is to enjoyable and will be living it!

Friday, 25 January 2019

Applying Ground Hog Day to How You Treat Yourself

I was thinking about February and Groundhogs Day popped into my head as it's February 1st...then I remembered Bill Murray's Movie, "Groundhog Day," I started to think about the patterns that I have worked on over the years.  To me, the concept of the movie is in line with Eisenstein's definition of insanity: "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."  We have all fallen into this behavior.  One area I find the most people do this is in self-talk, especially when we make mistakes.


Most of us, when we are supporting our loved ones, friends, even co-workers or just acquaintances,  would never meet their sufferings with phrases like, "Are you kidding me?! You are so stupid! What the hell. You can't do anything right!"  Yet, we say these things and many more like them to ourselves often, sometimes on a daily basis.  Part of it is the mind's way protecting us from potential pain and suffering externally, even though it creates internal pain and suffering.  Part of it is cultural upbringing that states if we work hard enough we are guaranteed safety and security, so if we fail or make a mistake we are just not good enough. Another is for those of us who have grown up with the Disney Fairy Tale ending that again, blames ourselves if we can't just find that one person who will make us complete and worthy.  All of it is complete BS and not true!

Think to yourself why you would not say these things to others who are in pain or suffering. Seriously.  Take a moment and write down 3-5 reasons.

Now, coming back to yourself, why is okay for you to say these things to yourself?  Why are you different than the 7 billion other people on this planet who experience pain and suffering? It isn't okay to treat ourselves this way.  And, you aren't alone in this.  We all do this and yet it is harmful to us physically, emotionally, and energetically. 

Masuro Emoto has done studies on this with water molecules, looking at the effects of different words on the water molecules. We are made up of 60-70% water, it's something to pause and consider. Check out this video summarizing some of his research.

The words that we say to ourselves actually change the structure of water in our bodies.  They also affect our physical strength.  They affect how we interact with the world around us.  If we believe we aren't worthy or good enough, our actions will be much different than if we believe we deserve love and compassion and are good enough as we are.

The GOOD NEWS is that words and beliefs change.  They aren't the truth.  They aren't facts.  Which means with practice and effort we CAN CHANGE the negative self-talk and beliefs.  There are many ways of doing this. Here are a few to start with:

  • Start a Gratitude Journal and each day write 5 things you are grateful for and why.
  • Cultivate self-awareness, after all if we aren't aware of the negative self-talk we can't change it.  Here is a practice to start awareness of breath and body sensations.  Any practice of meditation or breathing practice helps with cultivating self-awareness. Insight Timer is an amazing app and it's free.
  • Do a self-compassion meditation! has a number of them available under the "practice" tab.  Here's one I like.
  • Develop a firm policy for yourself that you will no longer tolerate negative self-talk.  Then any time you catch this happening, you will stop and challenge that thought and come up with a more realistic statement.  For example, if you catch the thought, "You are so stupid!"  Ask is this 100% true? (No). How are you feeling right now and what happened?  What are the facts? (Maybe the situation is that you gave someone a second chance and then, again, they flaked out on you.  One fact is you value giving people a second chance.  Unfortunately, this person did the same behavior.  The behavior isn't about you, it's on them.  Recognize it's okay to give people second chances and to let them know your expectations and what message their behavior sends.  Then you get to choose if you try it again or decide not to). What is a more realistic statement?  Maybe, "I don't have control over others.  Their behavior is a reflection of them, not of me.  I want to give people second chances and it doesn't mean they will change. This has nothing to do with my intelligence."

The sky is the limit with this.  The key is to do something different!  Don't get stuck in Groundhogs Day, doing the same thing over and over and over.  Negative self-talk doesn't work!  It just makes things worse. So do it differently!  It takes time, effort and practice. I guarantee if you keep at it, it will change.  

Send YOURSELF love this February!