What’s the difference between what’s in your life now, and what you want to grow? How does setting intentions factor in? As I review a blog I wrote in 2015, “Planting For Now“, my attention immediately turns to the photo of that particular fig tree, which battled ice storms and heat, was replaced by another tree which now consists of long brown twigs. There are, however, new green leaves sprouting vigorously from the bottom of the plant!
Sometimes our goals are not attained, or not attained in the way we desired. I like the word intention, because it has an action quality and yet has less pressure for some. Many people do not actually like the word goals, and definitely not the term SMART (specific, measurable, attainable/actionable, realistic, timed) goals, which we coaches, educators, and the like use often.
The bottom line for me is that when we are guided by our core values, what really matters to us in our lives, our intentions and goals will fall into line and become clearer. Even if we are super successful in what we intended, or feel like we belly-flopped completely, when we live according to what makes us live our purpose, we can say we planted what was important to us, no matter what the weather. We can also ask ourselves one of the best and most frequently used coaching questions: “What am I learning?”. Isn’t that what growth is all about?
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:
Before beginning this exercise, listen to your body, know your body, love your body. Don’t do anything that causes pain.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Notice now how your body feels. Imagine your breath moving from toes to head, head to toes.
Sit down for 5 minutes. Breathe in and out.
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?
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?
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!
When I noticed this seed packet in the hardware store, I was reminded of Rick Hanson’s Hardwiring Happiness in which hediscusses 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
How many times do we enter a situation and realize we are holding onto an attitude that limits us in some way? These kind of judgements stir about when we’re looking to change a behavior that seems immovable, or are feeling stretched beyond what we feel capable of. One useful way to shift away from this line of thinking is to access body wisdom which can change perspectives and build new habits. I’ve been surprised several times recently in yoga class when a simple adjustment to a familiar pose brought a welcome change. In that moment, my body settled into the pose, experienced it more comfortably, as if I were in an entirely new stance. My negative judgement about the pose was transfomed. A simple example, perhaps, yet it is moments such as these that form our daily lives.
Science now tells us what noted physician William James posited a century ago–that body postures can inform—and yes, transform how we feel. Have you seen the video yet of Amy Cuddy, Harvard business professor? Her research suggests that when we assume power poses to experience situations differently we can achieve positive outcomes. Rather than fake it until you make it, it’s fake it until you become the change you want to be. Consider when you are lacking confidence; perhaps your shoulders are hunched, chest a bit collapsed. When you put your arms on hips and stand like a superhero, how does that feel?
When we want to summon change, we can choose surprisingly accessible tools that bring forth results. Tiny yet powerful adaptations provide doors to other ways of being. May you be open and curious!
After receiving acupuncture recently, I sat up on the table and took time to admire the vintage silk scarf my practitioner had lovingly placed on my knees and legs to keep me warm while I rested during treatment.
This curly-haired woman drawn within the fan image peered out from the scarf–hair not unlike mine, or my acupuncturist. After considering several messages of meaning, one of many that brought gratitude was the choice to notice the scarf on my legs! I’m endeavoring more to notice what’s present, as a part of an awareness practice, which brings centering, a brief pause, and whatever teachings become present. What fullness a simple observation of the visual field can bring. The noticing itself provides the meditation.
We often take for granted the beauty in such simplicity of our environments, and those around us. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking, particularly about the future and be swept away by agendas and plans. Every season of the year, of life brings newness, a fresh perspective. Even things and people we see every day can be noticed and appreciated…if we take a moment. Just a moment.