Outdoor Discoveries and Getting Grounded

TOMAH CREEK TRAIL, WISCONSIN

 

One of my favorite delights is finding an unexpected green space. Since I often travel throughout the country, teaching and mentoring health coaches with the Veterans Health Administration, I keep ears and eyes open for places to walk nearby. Last year, my colleagues and I heard about this trail from one of our Tomah coaching course participants. It was a big win for us! Every day after work we’d head out to the trail, only a few miles from our hotel, and walk or run. Most of the winding trail was amid fields of grain, grasses, a few small farms, a creek, and a lake. The insects were magnificent hovering over the fields, birds soaring, the magic of a nature’s sounds. It’s one of the most memorable walking paths I’ve been on during my travels the past two years.

What new outdoor space might you research? The space could be in your hometown, perhaps during a “staycation”, or on a vacation somewhere else. What’s the value of getting outside? How do you “get grounded” and centered in your daily life, recharge?

Another way to get outside and “get grounded” is to go barefoot. Here’s an excellent article from the Washington Post my sister Summer sent me, since she knows how much I go without shoes as does she (we grew up in the country and most of the time, truly, in the summertime, did not wear shoes).

One of the ways I’ve practiced grounding this summer is to walk in the yard after longer periods at the laptop. During the last two months, I’ve completed over 37 hours of continuing education for certifications and licensure. As much as I love learning from different modes online, I noticed my fatigue after listening to even the best of presentations and most interesting material for me. Without speaking to all the reasons why decreased energy may be the case with prolonged proximity to electronics, I simply knew to get outside. So, I’d simply walk around the yard, noticing my feet as they touched the grass, observing any wind, the sun, clouds, garden. What do you notice when you pay attention to the senses?

Managing, sustaining our energetic bodies is crucial to the fullness of life, as well as performance. How do you sustain your energetic body?

Appreciating Opposite Perspectives: Loving Kindness Part Two

Paddle Board or Snow Board?

Recently I experienced some conflict with someone in my community and I was surprised. Surprised at the extent of their suffering, and surprised they had not contacted me to resolve the problem. One of the tools that helps me greatly, especially when I experience all sorts of confusing emotions, is to practice Loving Kindness meditation.

When we are able to wish someone well, in spite of having a different perspective or viewpoint, seeds of empathy are more likely to be planted and grow. Even if the conflict isn’t resolved in a way we would like, we can cultivate a quieter mind, therefore increasing the likelihood we will choose healthier responses. That’s the bottom line for any meditation practice; being in relationship with others, with self.  How are we supposed to live in community when we are are knotted up in a wad of tangled emotions? As a coach with an wholistic approach, one of the things I do best is help clients identify emotions in order that they more easily create goals, make plans, and take action. One of the definers of a healthy life is healthy relationships, along with social support and a sense of belonging and purpose. Therefore any practice we can cultivate that sows ease of mind and body is worthwhile. Check out this article about science behind Loving Kindness. Finally, an article by renowned author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg. I hope you enjoy, and make sure to give yourself a big dose of loving kindness. Self-compassion is an essential element of this practice.

 

4 Ways To Build Optimism

Lake Erie, January

1. Moving the body.
When you feel “stuck”, then it’s time to embody something different. By this, I mean things like taking a walk, simply standing up, or lifting your arms overhead to stretch. We are built to move, and our bodies need to remain fluid and flexible. Consider small, very small steps to take in this direction and notice the impact on your emotions, outlook. What seems doable, enjoyable, in this moment?
2. Meditation. What if you trusted yourself to know how to do this? It takes practice, yes, and yields great benefits. Even for 5 minutes, consider sitting down and noticing your breath in and out. Or take a walk, and notice your surroundings. Centering prayer, mindfulness, or other traditions provide ways to focus attention, quiet the mind, and cultivate new choices. Ann Cushman says in Moving into Meditation, “But a mindfulness practice is not primarily about getting somewhere else. It’s about opening to where you actually are–to what’s true for your real body, your real life. It’s about entering into the realm of your senses: hearing the rain on the roof and the swish of car tires in the puddles, smelling the soured milk and lemon peel in the garbage disposal.”
3. Go outside. Even if you venture outdoors for 5 minutes to clear your head, you have opened a window of possibility. If it’s raining, why not put on a raincoat, or take an umbrella?
4. Write down your experience. Take 5 minutes and write down what you are experiencing in the moment. Allow yourself to write freely, without concern about punctuation, grammar. Write for your own eyes. Then, if you like, tear it up or keep it. Your choice! Sometimes using the written word to gain clarity is remarkable.

Clearing Out With Movement, Breath, and Writing

Beloved Item

 

Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up was one of my favorites a couple of years ago. A client and I read it together, as I coached him on clearing out and bringing more in of what he wanted in life. The loving attention that Ms. Kondo gives each article of clothing, or anything else, as she decides whether to keep it or give it away is a mindfulness exercise in itself. She asks herself “Does this bring me joy?” as she touches each object.

Christopher Keyes of  Outside Magazine also enjoyed Kondo’s writing, taking her directives and creating his own 12 ways to simplify.

One of the ways I work with coaching clients is through movement. This sequence energizes and grounds your intention of clearing and simplifying:

  1. Before beginning this exercise, listen to your body, know your body, love your body. Don’t do anything that causes pain.
  2. Stand in Mountain Pose with your feet on the ground, about hip’s width distance apart. Inhale, bring your shoulders to ears. Open mouth and exhale, release shoulders. Notice how your body feels from toe to head and back down again.
  3. Pretend you are 5 years old and start swinging your arms. Let them flop naturally in front and behind you, as you gently turn your torso and hips.
  4. As your arms are flopping in this wind mill fashion, smile! Let your heels come off the floor and be gentle with the knees. Let them follow the movement of your hips.
  5. Invite your 5 year old self to imagine you are clearing out all that no longer serves you, materially, emotionally, physically. Let your arms and hands pretend that they are physically sweeping those things off of a table or desk top. Let yourself get into it!
  6. Allow your arms to come back by your sides. Take a few deep breaths. Close your eyes if you like, or gaze at the floor a few feet in front of you.
  7. Notice now how your body feels. Imagine your breath moving from toes to head, head to toes.
  8. Sit down for 5 minutes. Breathe in and out.
  9. When you’re ready, write down anything that comes to mind about this movement experience. How will clearing out bring your life more in line with your purpose and values?
  10. Invite yourself to consider the first step toward less clutter, more ease. Keep it simple, now! Perhaps fun, and easy. You may want to write this step down, and commit to when you’d like to start. Who will you tell that this is your intention?

 

 

 

Bringing Whole Health Coaching To Veterans And Those Who Serve Them

Road from Tomah to Madison

Since the spring of 2016, I’m on a team bringing Whole Health Coaching to the Veterans Health Administration. To read more about this compelling initiative click here. In short, I travel throughout the U.S. to train and mentor clinical and non clinical staff of the VHA to become health coaches. Many employees of the VHA are themselves Veterans. I love this work! About ten years ago, I wanted to get involved with a growing movement to serve Veterans, however since I was moving in a new direction professionally, I didn’t know yet how I would do that. I set the intention aside, and as my coaching experiences developed over the decade, life unfolded and I was asked to join this amazing group of dedicated people.

During the coaching process, Veterans are asked envisioning questions such as “What really matters to you?” and “What do you want your health for?”. Here’s a video link that illustrates what great things are happening in the VA.

In general, regardless of the model or setting coaches work from, we ask clients and patients what they want to change, without telling the client/patient what to do. We know from behavior change research that folks change when and what they want, and that when they are really listened to, and begin to see the impact of small changes, that a synergistic effect occurs. For example, if someone says they hate to exercise, and their goal is to increase their sense of community, what if, in the process they discover that a new friend wants a walking buddy? When in your own life have you discovered that a welcomed change comes about when you make movement in what seems like a completely different aspect of your life? Change doesn’t go in a straight line. It’s for most of us, a very curved one!

 

Summer of Learning: Knowing and Not Knowing

Spaciousness

From June through mid-August, I experienced three breast biopsies, including one surgery, two mammograms, and two MRIs. That’s the old story. The new story is that I only envision vibrant cells and glowing health. The precancerous cells were removed.  Emotions of shock, fear, anger, sorrow, relief, glee, trust, gratitude ebbed and flowed. I asked myself questions such as, “How could I, with an LDL of 60, have these precancerous cells in my body?”. I also asked other questions that provided meaning to the summer’s experience. What would you ask yourself, given the same scenario? What questions do you ask yourself when confronted with fear…the unknowingness of life? I ask my clients these kinds of questions to help them illuminate meaning to their stories. I hold myself to the same standards.

One of the meanings and deep appreciations I came away with was the import and impact of asking for support, love, check-ins, and communication from others. This is a loving practice to self. Don’t we all need that? I received much unsolicited, loving care. Thank you family, friends, clients, my coach, coaching group members, and colleagues. Thank you for calling me, your cards, your texts, your visits, your symbols of healing and power, your prayers. The care that I received from nurses, technologists, receptionists, my surgeon, and radiologists was profound. After three decades, now almost four, of being a health professional, I am awed by the expertise of those we entrust our care to when we are most vulnerable.

So there’s the knowing and not knowing of life. What practices and skills do we build along the way to surf these waves? What are your foundational ones?

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.

 

 

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.

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.