Reflections

Planting Happiness

 

seeds of life

When I noticed this seed packet in the hardware store, I was reminded of Rick Hanson’s Hardwiring Happiness in which he discusses the “negativity bias” of the brain, meaning that we humans are built to remember difficult emotions and experiences as a safety mechanism, since we’ve needed that quite a bit to survive throughout time. He suggests, however, that we practice taking in the good, even in small doses, in order to balance this negativity bias. We can choose to savor the moments that are meaningful, pleasurable, or when we notice ease. We can practice in even 30 seconds, by visualizing, saying to ourselves what we are specifically most grateful for in this moment.

 

Relationships for the Good

Pupsters

 

What if we noticed the good more often in others at home and work, rather than punishing the bad? It’s a radical notion to some, I know. My husband and I are raising two puppies, sisters in fact. If there’s any evidence of our patience, or lack thereof, in the world it’s been manifested in recent weeks. On the other hand, it’s provided an incredible opportunity to reflect on what’s working really well with each, and both of us, what’s not working so well, and loving each other in the midst.

Veterinarian and dog behaviorist Ian Dunbar has a lot of information on the web. It’s all relevant to our lives with dogs, and each other. I found this one particularly compelling because of the human relationship message at the end. Watch this 11-minute video and contemplate how you might bring more of this noticing the good into your life.

 

Awareness in the Saddle: A Fall Ride

me and Duke
me and Duke

In September, I rode an amazing horse named Duke. It was a birthday gift from my husband. A wonderful one. I was surprised at how the ride began for me. When I sat in the saddle, I felt fear. This was new…all my younger life I rode horses and ponies. Never afraid. So I was perplexed by this new emotion in the saddle.

We rode for 3 hours on rocky, muddy, pine-strewn wooded trails in Nelson County, Virginia. I realized early on that my breath was going to be my friend, and so was this horse. After I settled in, kept noticing my physical sensations, breathing, while keeping heels down and hands relaxed, I realized this was a trust experience. Trusting both myself and Duke. Later, when slipping down a muddy embankment, I asked our guide Kenton what the best way to approach this. Kenton said, “Trust your horse, let him go, he knows what to do”. Sure enough, Duke did. His feet were steady, breath deep and constant.

I took away visceral memories from this day…the smell of horses so familiar to me, what I learned from watching their breath, how I brought my mindfulness, yoga, and body awareness into a joyful, challenging experience. The thoughtful gift from Jim.

That’s what coaching does. Helps you trust who you are, what you value, what health–your whole health— means to you. Coaching is like having someone else in a tandem kayak, or riding along beside you as you gather the reins and move toward mindful awareness of goals.

Six Ideas On New Spaces With Familiar Places

Yoga in the Park
Yoga in the Park

When you want to shift a familiar practice or discipline into a deeper or somehow refreshed experience, simplicity can be a friend. For example, if you like yoga, have you taken your mat outside? Mats are adaptable just like choices. We can wipe them off, wash them, spritz them, learn from them.

Our regular habits may serve us well and be of great value to overall well-being. Even in the midst of established habits, we may begin to notice that enlivening the practice or discipline feels important.

Here are some simple ways I’ve found helpful in this rejuvenation process that may provide an element of jaw-dropping effectiveness.

  1. Consider your established habit. What is that one foundational thing that you might be a little bored with or seems a bit stale? What do you know about you and this habit? Write this down.
  2. What would it be like to take your practice to a new location? If journaling or writing is important to you, go to a public place, sit down and write. Seasoned author Natalie Goldman of Writing Down The Bones suggests this and other strategies for combining accessible, mindful ways to write.
  3. Ask a friend or someone you’d like to know better to practice this established habit with you. Perhaps a walk in the park, neighborhood, during lunch? Inside your office building for 15 minutes? Would you enjoy writing or journaling with another? How about asking a friend to a public yoga event? Give yourself permission to get creative. Being in community with others is life sustaining. Be bold! Just ask.
  4. What if you practiced the same habit a different time of day? If you meditate, what would the benefit be of practicing before bed instead of morning? Or, at lunchtime to pause and refresh? What if you made yourself more comfortable while meditating, such as sitting on a pillow?
  5. What do you notice about the season of year and this habit? Each season brings new opportunities, schedules, people, and themes. Some of us may feel more energized in autumn, for example, and want to surge into new areas, while others want to more firmly establish roots in an area they have wandered away from in the summer months. Cultivate ways to pause and notice your emotional and physical landscape.
  6. What are your needs in the areas of rest and rejuvenation? If restoration seems what the body needs that day, how about reclining on your back for 5 minutes while putting your legs up the wall rather than a more vigorous yoga practice? Often, the only thing that keeps us from being flexible with our established habits is beliefs about “what counts”. In other words, why wouldn’t it “count” as yoga to lie down with feet up the wall? Who is evaluating this, anyway?

It’s amazing sometimes how we can get out of the rut back into a new groove by staying with the familiar in a new way. So mix things up, get curious, experiment, invite others. See what tiny shifts build memories and motivation, create community, positive emotions, inspire you to learn, and develop new structures that support you.

 

 

Going on Faith

Tree Pose

My husband and I recently traveled to Belize with a team of youth and adults from our church. Our primary mission for the week was to run the fifth season of a summer camp for approximately 125 local children, ages 5-12. Our community relationships there are established and deep. I knew we would be leading sports, music, arts and yoga. My particular “job” was teaching yoga to the children for several hours a day. I knew the yoga team members, one well, others a bit. Initially, my heart wasn’t clear on what the mission was. I went on faith, with a love of yoga, my church family, anticipation of being with the children there in Belize. I returned home with a bounty of appreciation for our Belizian community, a love of teaching yoga to children, and much more.  Days later, the children’s faces, smiles, hugs, and playful yoga postures float in my consciousness. I can’t wait to go back next year.

Faith doesn’t necessarily mean religious faith. According to a preliminary Google search, the word describes trust, optimism, belief, conviction. Faith provides a compass throughout life, a thread of understanding and knowing who we are. Faith illuminates the values that guide us, the principles, passions, and interests that are often non-negotiable. Faith anchors us to hope, hope propels us to action, small steps give us more hope and faith.

Listening to our truth promotes faith in ourselves and what we offer the world, how we are of service. When you are off course in life, ask yourself, what or who am I being true to? What step will allow me to pivot towards my course?

Who might you reach out to this summer to renew faith in yourself? What are you involved in when faith is most alive in your life?

Sometimes, we can take who we are with what we know and go ahead anyway

 

Making Friends With Props

FRIENDS WHO PROP YOU UP
Friends Who Prop You Up

How do you view yoga props? Do you see them as yoga studio objects used only by those who need them? Let’s challenge our opinions, and subsequent use of props, in the spirit of building a fuller, supported, yes, even dare I say, more robust yoga practice!

What would be different if you could move from “prop judgement” to “prop embrace”? At times, blocks, bolsters, and blankets may seem like materials that hinder rather than help your yoga class experience. Unhealthily challenging oneself by trying to force a position often trumps finding ease, stillness, and breath in the midst of a pose. Embracing props may allow the mind to rest or body to extend in a pose. Props can promote better alignment, use of body’s anatomical wisdom, and actually experience ease more fully. Let’s illustrate this concept of support and ease a bit closer.

Sukasana, or Easy Pose, provides a perfect example. It’s the familiar cross-legged position we often start or end class with, or use for seated meditation. In spite of the pose name, for many, finding comfort in the hips and knees is challenging here. So, why not sit on a block, blanket, or even bolster in order to elevate the hips? This simple method allows the calves, knees, and ankles to move naturally toward the earth through the benefit of gravity. Perhaps the greatest benefit of prop use here is for belly movement. That is, the abdomen can now relax more, therefore helping the breath to move down the torso and fully expand. Try this yourself: sit first in Easy Pose on the carpeted floor or a mat, drop the shoulders, straighten the spine, and notice the breath for 8-9 cycles of inhalation and exhalation. Now, sit on the prop of your choice. Practice the same breath exercise. What do you notice?

Like a theatre prop, a yoga prop can be seen through the lens of helping to create an experience. Even though we are not in a play production or performance in a yoga class, we are, indeed, intentionally building a compassionate atmosphere of body and mind restoration. So, the next time you come to class, invite yourself to pick up a prop you’ve never used, or ask the teacher to help you use it in a particular pose. Demonstrate your courageous self and move towards flow and discovery in a familiar pose, in a new, perhaps more open way. Namaste.

Growing Wings

Altitude Attitude
Altitude Attitude

 

How do your thoughts limit your life? What if you acted “as if” you really could accomplish a dream?

In A Year Of Living Your Yoga, author and teacher Judith Hanson Lasater suggests we take time to listen to ourselves in order to move closer to what matters most to us. She provides the self-reflection prompt “What would I do if I believed I could?”

Practice and Plan

  1. One way to move closer to making dreams actionable is committment to time, even 5 minutes, and practice a form of meditation that you like. Then, write down the answer to Lasater’s question. Record your thoughts in a voice memo if this feels more like your style.
  2. Next, write down or speak one small, measurable step that you can accomplish today that will bring you closer to what you want. This could be as simple as sharing your dream with someone who you know will be supportive. Or, it may be putting your words somewhere you can see them everyday. Be creative, make this yours.

We all experience limiting thoughts and beliefs. We can choose to pay attention to them and move closer to who we really are, which is, according to yogic philosophy, the true goal of yoga.

Two Ways to Rest The Mind

valley of the mind
valley of the mind

 

Way #1:

When’s the last time you got outside for a hike around your every day habitat? Even if you walk for 5-10 minutes, you reap benefits and create space for yourself. Especially when overwhelmed with to dos, or thinking through a problem. Here are some measurements behind that. In fact, research suggests that shorter, more frequent walks bring more benefits than long treks. Walking provides healthy habit building, exercise, stress reduction, lowers blood pressure, creates a state of flow and ease to the day. There’s only so much we can ponder things. Our minds need a break, a rest, the natural world to gaze upon. So what if you can’t go on a 5 mile hike in the mountains today? Why not just go out your door, or to a nearby park? How about taking 10 minutes during lunch to get outside? Even if it’s in your work parking lot, you will benefit.

savasana
savasana

Way #2

When you return from a 5 or 10 minute walk, lie down on the carpet or a mat for 2-5 minutes. Or, you can lie down outside. If you have an office chair, sit comfortably there with the spine straight and belly relaxed. Get comfortable. If you really need to rest, just do it without the walk. If you lie down, try resting on the back, with a rolled blanket under the knees to support the lower back. Bring breath into the belly, soften the muscles of the face, jaw, and tongue. Place your palms up. Close your eyes. Endeavor to stay awake and focus on the movement of breath. Count the breath if you like. This helps give the mind a focus. Breathe in for 2, out for 4. This is 2:1 breath, and deeply relaxing for the parasympathetic nervous system, the calming system of the body.

So, 10-15 minutes later, how do you feel? What do you notice about the body and breath? What do you notice about the problem you faced? What’s changed? What new perspective seems available?

Coming to the Senses

digital roots

The human body receives constant sensory input that provides up to the second information about the world around us. This is great news! And thankfully, we are created to modulate these responses. So, how can we use this amazing instrument, the human body, and play healthier music within? Intentionally noticing the five hard-wired senses gives us opportunities to do just this.

Whether or not you believe in behavioral resolutions this time of year, bringing awareness into our lives is a powerful practice. Why? Because when we go through the motions of the day without noticing how we feel physically or emotionally, stress, body pain, and inflammation occur. Instead, when we tune in and witness what our sensations and reactions are, we can use this information to calm, center, and choose a different response. 

Use this simple exercise to practice sensory self-care. Please be patient and compassionate with yourself. Noticing the world around you, your reactions, is a process of change by itself. It takes practice, for all of us, every day, moment by moment. 

What sight, sound, touch, smell or taste reminds you of relaxation, comfort, joy… or any other positive emotion or experience that’s linked to your health?

Take a few moments to be still and visualize easy, accessible things you can do to bring pleasant awareness to the senses. Is it listening to a favorite song on the way to work? Enjoying a cup of tea with a friend? Using essential oils? Feeling the feet on the ground as you sit at your desk? Wiggling the toes? Looking up from the laptop and allowing eyes to rest? Taking time to really taste food while chewing? Taking a deep breath? Hugging someone you care about, love? (Remember, to get a hug you’ve got to give one).

Be as specific as you can and write down three things that bring you relaxation for each sense. Before you begin, take a few deep breaths. As you hold your pen, or write on your laptop, drop shoulders away from ears. You may want to write about or focus on one sense each week, or each day. Do what “makes sense” to you!

 Sight

1.

2.

3.

Sound

1.

2.

3.

Touch

1.

2.

3.

Smell

1.

2.

3.

Taste

1.

2.

3.

After you complete the exercise, even if you haven’t actually done any of these things yet, check in with yourself and notice your mood. What do you notice? How’s your body feel, compared to when you began this writing or visualization exercise?

Incorporate with any meditation practice and en-joy coming to your senses.

Befriending the Vagus Nerve

extending branches
extending branches

 

How do you connect with the wisdom of the body? How do you tune into stress and turn the dial to another station of the mind? Learning centering and grounding practices will open doors for you to go inside and help you live more fully outside in everyday life and relationships. We all need regulation in our lives, and there are accessible tools that our body provides us if we tap into them. Often this only takes a breath or two, so read on…

Basic knowledge of our anatomy and physiology grows understanding of ways to access increased well-being and calm—specifically, the wisdom of our good friend the vagus nerve, a powerful regulatory highway from the central nervous system to the heart and abdominal organs. The article The Neurobiology of Grace Under Pressure by athlete Christopher Bergland provides rich, translatable information. Read it, digest the information, and practice one technique both during quiet times (even brief ones–often the most valuable) and a situation you find challenging. Observe how you can learn to befriend the body under stress and modulate responses.

I love this short video! I even felt my body relax just watching Sara Lee of vaguspower demonstrate how to stimulate the vagus nerve with deep abdominal breathing.