Planting Intentions: New Thoughts on Planting For Now

Tilling

 

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?

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!

 

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.

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.

2 Minutes of Laughter Exercises To Practice Alone

 

Laughter Connections
Laughter Connections

Try Laughter Yoga, a healthy mood booster shot

Laughter Yoga is based on the philosophy of “acting happiness” – tell your body what to do and your mind will follow. It is a physically-oriented exercise routine, not a mental process, allowing anyone to laugh without using jokes, humor or comedy. There are no traditional yoga postures in Laughter Yoga. It’s laughter through simple, playful exercises, deep breathing, and stretching. Laughter is a powerful way to exhale what you don’t need anymore. You can actually choose to laugh, for health, regardless of your mood or what life is bringing you. Listen to this interview from Japan with a professional yoga instructor and laughter yoga teacher, a testimony to the transformative power of laughter.

Try these exercises:

  1. First, take three deep breaths. Notice your “internal weather report” and define your mood and how your body feels in this moment. Assign this weather report a number, from 1-10, 1 being pretty stormy and 10 sunny and breezy, for example.
  2. Now, notice your breath. Is your breath shallow, in your upper chest? Or, is it in your diaphram, rib area, or in your belly? Just notice it.
  3. Lift your shoulders to your ears, hold your breath a second or two, tense your shoulders, then drop your shoulders while letting out a big HA. You may do this silently if you are somewhere that a loud HA may be disruptive to others! Repeat 2 more times.
  4. Open your mouth wide. Inhale, laugh loudly for 8-10 seconds. Or again, practice this silently, as if you are in a library. Inhale, repeat 2 more times.
  5. Get in a comfortable seated postion, or stand tall like an oak tree with your feet planted firmly on the ground, rooted. Now notice your breath and your internal weather report. What’s your number now? What do you notice?

 

 

Move the Body, Change the Mind

desert dusk
desert dusk

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!

Savoring

CLEAR SKIES, GOOD BREATH

 

During a yoga class recently, I drank in two ways our teacher encouraged us to use our breath. One was “allow your shoulders to rest on the breath”. Wow! I love that, mostly because a lot of us carry tension in our shoulders. During coaching sessions, I ask clients how they’d like to begin. If they’d like to begin with some form of relaxation exercise, such as imagery or mindfulness, or any simple breath awareness, I usually include an invitation to drop the shoulders away from the ears. That’s one of the first things I learned in yoga 16 years ago.

The second prompt our teacher, Kat gave us was to imagine our breath expanding our ribs and diaphragm out from the sides of our body. I liked that as well because it helps me visualize the breath and make it 3D.

When you see a body of water this season, stop and breathe. Water is a fundamental element of life; it’s a wonder in itself.

Here’s a video link to water lapping on the Cheasapeake SAVORING

Perennial

Color Burst
Color Burst

Since making and tending personal change is more than often both difficult and important, I seem to come back to the garden. What better metaphors are there than plants and seasons? (Well, maybe roads.) Perhaps it’s because growing things mirrors the natural ebb and flow of the natural world. When chives bloom, the buds are hard and tight. They look like they’re about to bust open. When we practice new health behaviors, feeling like one is making progress, and seeing results is often challenging, at best. However, if we can make incremental steps, be as patient with ourselves as possible, celebrate each discovery, and watch things unfold, we may learn that change is indeed possible. Especially if we really, really want it, believe it’s possible, and know why it’s important to us. Most of us realize something different along the weeding and watering process than what we originally planted. We make adjustments along the way, amend the soil, put in a little more compost, add companion plants. We may even notice that what we have is a harvest after all. So little is linear and fixed in this world!

 

Being Alive

Limitless
Limitless

 

 

Consider this expressive writing prompt: What makes you soar?