Thursday, 21 November 2019

Reflections on Joy

Earlier this week, after a meditation group, I was filled with joy in getting to see and receive hugs from a number of people I haven't seen in a bit that were coming in for the next yoga class.  I felt like I was floating. In thinking about this feeling of joy, I reflect, "what really is this joy?' 

When doing a quick search on joy and religions, joy is used interchangeably with happiness. To me, these two words, happy and joy, feel different. Happy is use used so often in regular, daily language, i.e. to wish one a "happy" holiday, 'happy birthday,' I'm 'happy, not sad or angry.'  It's another word for positive and feels more surface or generic since it's used so much.

Joy, on the other hand, feels like openness, love, connection.  It happens when I connect with people,
animals, nature.  It happens when I'm in the present moment, really enJOYing  what is happening right now.  It happens when I notice the small details of life. It leads to gratitude and abundance.

With each person I saw in that morning a few days ago, I felt I was seeing and feeling each person and their beautiful, divine self.  I did just come out of a 30 minute meditation, so I was already practicing being in the moment, which may have allowed me to connect with each person more fully, rather than thinking of what I was going to do next and rushing.

One of my favorite memories of joy was many years ago when I worked a summer job in college at a Montessori preschool.  It was the end of a day and I was out on the playground with several 4 year olds who were riding around on tricycles. One of them made a joke to me as he rode by and erupted in pure laughter at the joke, throwing his head back.  I can still hear his laughter. Every time I think about this moment, even now, my heart fills and I cannot hold back from smiling and laughing myself. A moment filled with joy!

I believe that a true part of experiencing joy is being present, fully aware of the experience, not distracted with mind either in the past or future.  Joy is bordering on bliss, which to me is connection with the divine, God, Holy Spirit, or whatever word you may choose.  It is an indication that I am right here, right now.

In this month, which many religions practice connecting and celebrating God and Spirit, it's no wonder that JOY is spoken about in song and scripture as this is a time many people consciously spend being in connection with each other, in spiritual practices/rituals, and enJOYing time just to rest and do nothing.

How do you connect with joy? How do you define joy?  How can we all keep connecting with joy throughout the year?

Friday, 18 October 2019

The Gift of Gratitude

Last night I watched a couple of episodes of "Modern Love," a new Amazon Prime series inspired by essays from a New York Times column with the same title.  I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my long-time partner.  I wrote him a text that let him know my gratitude for him.

In relationships, we tend to focus on what another person hasn't done or could change. This cultivates resentment and separateness.  We do this with our jobs, about ourselves and so many other aspects of life.  This is a focus on lack.  And when we focus on lack, we miss all the abundance we have in our lives. 

Gratitude is a practice of abundance.  It doesn't take long and when practiced regularly it has many mental health and physical health benefits. When we can connect with gratitude, it opens us wide to connect in a more compassionate loving way with the world around us and ourselves. 

Since November is upon us and there's one day that we already focus on thanks and gratitude, I propose expanding this for the whole month.  Consciously take a moment to connect with 1-3 things you are grateful for each day...maybe making it about one person, one thing about yourself, and one thing in the world...making sure to connect with why. 

Even feel free to expand it by texting or messaging that person for the day to let them know personally that you are grateful for them. Allow that energy of gratitude to grow!

Need help?  Try this gratitude meditation to get the juices flowing.  You deserve to connect with the abundance in your life!

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Peaceful Mind State Comes From Within

Peaceful is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as "free from disturbance; tranquil" and "not involving war or violence."

I've been on the path of transforming my mind to a more peaceful state through a daily practice of yoga, which for me is at minimum sitting in silence or meditation for 20-30 minutes and up to a two hour practice that includes physical postures (asana), breath work (pranayama) and meditation.  It's been a process to get where I'm at, with many starts and stops and changes in what a daily practice is for me, but ultimately over the past seven years of a more serious dedicated practice, I can see the movement to a more consistent peaceful mind state.

Patanjali Yoga Sutras define yoga as the practice to eliminate fluctuations of the mind (not flexibility and strength of the body which the western world has defined yoga as), which reflects the first definition of peaceful from above.  One thing I've learned on this path is that a peaceful mind state is a reflection of what is going on within myself, not what is going on around me in the external environment.  I can be peaceful when there is chaos outside of me and I can have a racing mind when it's calm outside of me.

Going with the second part of the definition of peaceful from above, the first Yama represents it, which is Ahimsa. Himsa means to kill or violence and A added to the front of a word in Sanskrit means 'opposite' or 'not.'  So Ahimsa means 'not to kill' or 'non-violence.'  So many times we think about non-violence as something we do towards others, but more importantly it is a practice to do with ourselves.  The more non-violent or loving we are to ourselves, the more that will radiate from us in our interactions with others. This Yama is such a great place to start broadening the practice of yoga from a 'class' and 'mat' practice to a lifestyle practice.  Where are you violent towards yourself in daily life in actions, words and thoughts?  Where can you start to be more loving towards yourself and treat yourself like you would a best friend? What are you doing to 'kill' your true spirit or voice?

I have come to realize when I'm having more 'negative' emotions, such as feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, resentful, it's usually a sign that I'm in a more fearful mind state.  It's a red flag for me to stop, go inward and reflect what is going on within me to create this and take action to be more loving and compassionate towards myself. It's amazing how something as simple as changing my perception from what I don't have to what I do have immediately changes my mind state. Try it!

A peaceful mind state is a process, a practice, and requires patience.  Go to for upcoming workshops and courses on how to implement inward practices of yoga into your daily life to move towards a more peaceful mind state.

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!