Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Setting an intention for the new year

The new year is fast approaching and the time to set a New Year's Resolution is here.  I propose something a little different, more in line with a yoga mindset of compassion...setting an intention.

A resolution, at least the way it seems to be done, is to say, "I'm going to workout 3 times a week."  Then you buy your gym membership, do it for two weeks, start to slip and by February the mindset is, "screw it."  It seems to be a more black and white thinking, either you 'do it or you don't' mentality, which I have found for myself to be unsuccessful. Because changing habits takes time and you will falter, and that's okay.  Just get back up and try again and you will slowly move towards changing habits.

I encourage setting an intention that is more about the internal instead of external because the external is not something we have control over.  For example, instead of "I will exercise three times a week," creating an intention of "I will live a more healthy lifestyle."  This not only includes exercise, but also what you eat and how you treat yourself and others.  That way when you have a day that is difficult to get to the gym, you can still focus on eating healthy and being kind to yourself, as well as just going for a walk around the neighborhood.  When you have an urge to skip the workout, eat five cookies, or lash out at someone, the intention of living a healthy lifestyle can help guide you to make a more conscious choice.  "I'm tired, so instead of the to gym workout, I'm going to go for a walk."  "One cookie is enough and I'm going to savor it...or maybe I'm just going to eat and apple instead."  "I'm really upset what that person did!  I'm going to go for a walk and let it settle and decide how to address it."  An intention can help to slow our impulses down and more consciously decide about what action we want to take.

An intention fits better in working towards something using a more compassionate mindset. A compassionate mind set is one that includes kindness to self and others, remembering common humanity and mindfulness.  These are three traits that Kristin Neff of has found to be key in creating self-compassion.  With an intention, if there is a day of struggle, instead of feeling like a failure and giving up, a compassionate mindset allows for exploration.  Use mindfulness to get curious.  Why do I feel unmotivated today?  What do I need to do to take care of myself so that I can come back to my intention? I am a human being and that means I will have ups and downs, I will make mistakes and that is okay.  How can I learn from the ups and downs and mistakes to move forward?

I've used setting intentions for the past few years and at the end of the year, it's been amazing to look back on the journey and see how far I've come to that intention.  It's been uplifting and empowering.  The first intention I started with was a sentence from my first yoga teacher training with my teacher, Prasad Rangnekar.  "I'm 100% responsible for my life."  I kept saying this to myself, had it posted up to read every day and remind myself of it. When I had to face a challenging situation or felt emotion rise up in my body or noticed a thought of judgement, I came back to this sentence and it helped me to go inward and learn more about my own patterns, rather than just blame others and get bogged down in anger and resentment.  It's still one of my main practices and has served me well.  I know that I have control over how I meet every situation and it has been empowering.  Since it was an intention rather than a resolution, I've stuck with it and I keep coming back to it because it is a practice not a perfect.

May you enjoy setting an intention for the new year!

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Abundance versus Fear

The theme of abundance versus fear has been an area of focus this past year in my life through my study of the Yamas and Niyamas.  The Yama of Brahmacharya or Nonexcess speaks to this.  We live in a culture where most things are done in excess in order to strive to be number one, whether it be a big house, the best car, the most fit, or consuming to find that 'thing' that will fill your heart's desire so that you can finally be at peace.  I am in awe at living in an area that many people have at least a one car garage, yet the vehicle is parked outside because the garage is too full of stuff.  We seem to be unable to let go of things "we might need later" as a way to feel safe and secure. 

When I lived in India, the realization that most people live in 1-3 room homes with 4 plus people and function quite well made me realize the excess and waste I live in.  I was curious to why this is.  One of my conclusions comes back to I come from a nation that lives in fear.  No other nation on this planet has the litigation system we have.  No other nation has such a complex tax system.  No other nation has such a massive military.  No other nation consumes as much stuff per capita. I believe this is due to fear.  All you have to do is turn on the TV to see in advertisements the things that you are missing to make your life complete or the doomsday drama of 24 hour news.  All of this leads to a focus on lack which creates insecurity and fear. We struggle to slow down and enjoy life by just relaxing because of this too.  We struggle to feel good enough or worthy enough because we are constantly being told we aren't.

The only way to change this is to take responsibility and start to practice abundance.  What I mean by this is to be aware, daily, of all that you do have, all that is going well, and that you are okay right now.  Here are some specific practices that have helped me to focus on abundance:

1. Limit media/ screen time.  Take a moment to really average how much TV and social media time you spend a day and then commit to cutting it down.  I've really come to see the news like a soap opera.  You can tune in once or twice a week and you really haven't missed a whole lot.  We live in a time that information is at our fingertips, 24 hours a day.  It can become addicting and overwhelming.  It feel like the world is the worst it's ever been in the history of mankind.  The truth is that the world has always had wars, greed, and corruption.  The difference is that we have access to all of it all the time. The problem is that we end up tuning out to our own lives and the relationships around us that help us to feel connected and loved.  Instead, use some of this time to read a book, play a game with your family, start a hobby.  Be active in your life rather than just a bystander.

2. SLOW DOWN.  I can not emphasize the importance of this.  Our go, go, go lifestyle puts our blinders on and we forget to just pause and enjoy this amazing earth we live on.  How to do this?  Set an alarm on your phone or watch that reminds to to stop and take 5-10 deep breaths.  Go for a walk and be aware of nature around you, breathe the fresh air.  Have a morning routine that allows you to move slow and relax into your day.  Stop planning every moment.  Schedule in a relaxing family or friend night.  Meditate!  There are a number of great apps out there now with wonderful guided meditations like Insight Timer, Headspace and Stop, Think, Breathe.  This is the most important way to practice slowing down. Take time to breathe!

3. Gratitude. Each day, take a moment to write or say what you are grateful for.  Here's a good template for this: I am grateful for _______, because ________.  The area of Positive Psychology reports that being grateful every day is part of what helps people to feel happy and content consistently. 

4.  When buying things, stop and ask yourself, "do I really need this?"  Our culture thrives on impulsive consuming as a way to feel good about ourselves or show our love.  I have found more peace in not buying something because it's a conscious choice, I'm reminded what I already have and don't need more of, I don't feel regretful after spending money on something frivolous, and it's helped to remind me that peace comes from within, not from the outside.

5.  Practice being in the present moment.  The easiest way to start this practice is pausing during the day to take deep breaths, feeling and being aware of each one.  Also, taking time to check-in to different body parts and notice sensations that might be happening there.  Guided ways to do this are yoga nidra and progressive muscle relaxation.  Click here for my yoga nidra audio recording on YouTube.

These are just some of the ways to practice abundance.  Try something each day and notice how it affects your attitude and outlook on the world.  We need to commit to going to abundance and not living from a place of fear we've been conditioned to do. Begin Within!