Thursday, 24 May 2018

Moving from Reacting towards Responding to the external world

Moving from a reactive mind state to a responsive mind state has been one of the most powerful shifts in my life.

When living mainly in a reactive mind state, my tendency was to hold things in that bothered me in order to avoid conflict. Holding emotions in would build and eventually I would blow up over something small and a lot of times not at the person I was really struggling with.  Then I'd feel horrible, vow never to do it again, and hold things in again.  This reactive state would then manifest
in feeling depressed, irritable, and wanting someone else to give me what I needed...only I had no clue what that was.  My other behavior from this reactive mind state was constantly moving to find the "right place" where I'd feel at peace and content.  Since leaving college, I moved 17 times, though the last three were about settling in and growing some roots, thanks to my yoga practice.

It wasn't until I moved half way across the world to India, that it finally hit me, "Wait a minute...maybe I'm the problem here!"  As soon as I started to realize this, my teacher, Prasad Rangnekar, asked if I'd like to do a yoga teacher training and self-development course.  It was the later part of the course title that made me confidently state, "Yes!" 

The tradition of yoga is a path of self-realization and body movement is only a small part (and not a part of some yoga lineages) of the lifestyle practices.  The commitment to these practices and the realization that I'm the only one that can create peace and contentment for myself has moved me towards a more RESPONSIVE mind state.

It starts with AWARENESS.  Anyone who's worked with me knows this is something I keep coming back to again and again.  We can not change what we are not aware of...period.  The practice of awareness is vital for being responsive to the external world.  It's a practice of getting curious about your own reactions (behavior, emotions, thoughts/beliefs) in order to understand, learn and consciously choose your response...or maybe to not respond. 

I'll give a recent experience I had with my brother. (If you're reading this, "Hi, Ryan)!"  He recently graduated with a PhD in Nursing after years of hard work and juggling life that deeply respect him for.  I was unable to go to his graduation. I was texting him to be reminded of the date of his graduation and he asked me if I was coming.  I let him know I was not.  Then, he wrote, "I was just thinking you would since I made sure I was at all of yours." 

Guilt ripped through my body (oh, the patterns of siblings).  I sat and breathed.  In the past I would have responded with all my reasons.  Some would have been blaming and sarcastic to protect the guilt.  I kept breathing.  I shared my reaction with my partner. Then sent a reply of a thumbs up sign and put out some humor to him.  Even as I write this I can feel some of the tightness in my throat and chest, so I'm taking some deep breaths and reminding myself I'm still okay.

Responding takes not only awareness, but also pausing to take time and take care of ourselves.  It may take awhile to respond and that's okay.  With practice, it becomes easier, the little things roll off, the big things become more manageable.  What's important is being willing to meet initial reactions with curiosity and self-compassion, to learn and consciously decide 'what will I do next?'  Since it's about taking responsibility for our own stuff, reactions, like taking something personally, saying things you'll regret later, and blaming, start to be things of the past.  Drama fades away.  There's so much more time to just to enjoy life!

A Practice of Awareness: Take some time to sit and notice different sensations in your body.  Start with your feet and feel them connecting with the floor.  Notice the parts of the body connected to the chair.  Notice the tops of your thighs, the palms of your hands, the inside of your elbows, the shoulders, the crown of the head.  No judgment, just curiosity and exploration as there is no right or wrong.  Breathe into the abdomen and notice how that feels in the body. Do this for 5 breaths. Practice this throughout your day and notice what happens to your awareness of yourself.

Check out the Samya Yoga Healing YouTube page that has a number of different breathing videos and guided meditation.  Start with Three Part Breath!

Remember that moving from a reactive mind state to a responsive mind state is a practice and takes time.  The more you practice, the more amazed you will be at the changes in yourself...I know I was and still am!

Thursday, 10 May 2018

3 tips I've been reminded of for taking better care of myself

Taking time for myself - whether to doing something I enjoy, sitting and enjoying a cup of tea and looking out the window, taking time to make a delicious meal, or making time to go to appointments for my physical health - has become more and more of a priority for me.  As I've mentioned in a previous blog post, I've struggled with some significant hearing and balance loss, as well as tinnitus for 8 months now.  I've seen it as my body signaling to me, "Twyla, you've got to stop pushing yourself, taking so much on, and thinking too much!"  It's been my body's way of shouting loud and clear to "STOP!"

One lesson I've been learning and becoming more confident in has been trusting myself.  Listening to my inner knowing of how to take care of myself and stop doing things that are "supposed to help" but really aren't helping me.  I've noticed that fear of disappointing others, even my doctors, has kept me fro
m doing what I feel is right for me at times.  As I'm writing this, I'm getting ready to be compassionately honest with one of my doctors and working on not being responsible for their reaction to what I've discovered I need.  I'm a natural caretaker, as I'm sure many of you can relate, and the "shadow side" of it seems to be one of my biggest limitations at times.  I've found the "shadow side" of care taking overly focuses on others, thus getting further and further at what I need come back to myself and go inward, be still.  It's a balance I've been working on most of my life and slowly, slowly, I've been able to spend more of my time focusing on the "light side" of care taking as I turn it towards myself.

3 tips I've come to accept and practice more and more the past eight months are:

1.  SLOW DOWN, slow down, slow down!  I can not emphasize this enough and remind myself daily of it.  This means not over booking my day, taking time between appointments for myself, doing activities that are slower as well as active exercise - like sitting and enjoying the sun, going for a relaxing stroll, playing my ukulele or other creative outlets, reading a book, a regular breathing and meditation practice, and just noticing details, especially when I'm in nature.  We should be spending 7 minutes in our parasympathetic nervous system (part of our nervous system the helps us feel calm and relaxed) to every minute we spend in our sympathetic nervous system (part of our nervous system that helps our get up and go energy).  From what I've observed, most of us are completely flipped.  Slowing down helps us mentally to be more present and calm to meet daily challenges and it helps our body functioning, allowing our body to restore and heal as it needs to.

2. LISTEN TO YOUR "GUT."  Take time to listen what your body and heart are saying that you need.  It's so easy to put the activities of self-care off 'until tomorrow' so we can push through other things...only tomorrow doesn't seem to come.  If a "professional" or "authority" wants you to do something that doesn't feel right, remind yourself you are truly your best expert, as long as you are taking time to self-understand.  This takes being able to slow down enough to start becoming aware of your mind and body reactions to things, as well as taking responsibility that it's up to you to create the change you want.  Sometimes it's helpful to have someone you trust as a sounding board who can reflect patterns that they might see when we don't or are in denial about.  Meditation and self-inquiry have been to two most helpful tools in this for me.

3. SELF-COMPASSION.  Being kind to myself when I'm having days that are more "rough" emotionally or when my body is feeling depleted.  Again, slowing down to be aware where my mind and body are at...knowing when "pushing through" is going to be detrimental to my well being.  Reminding myself that I'm human, I make mistakes and that the body changing and aging is NORMAL.  Treat myself like I do my good friends.  And as my teacher, Prasad Rangekar says, "If it's stressful, don't do it."  Practice that for a bit and see what happens.

Taking good care of our selves is as necessary as brushing our teeth, showering, cleaning the house, eating and staying hydrated.  Commit to one kind act towards yourself each day for the next week and notice how it impacts your well being. Be your own best friend.