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.

Going Out to Go In: Nature’s Healing Power

Windswept

 

Our son gave me a journal earlier this year, for Mother’s Day. In it, he had copied a quote from a book I brought him back from Portland’s Hoyt Arboretum.

 

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out til sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in”—-John Muir

 

Where do you go when you want to refresh? How does this reset, recharge impact your day?

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.

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.

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?

 

 

Writing & Befriending Brain’s Reticular Activating System

writing it down
writing it down

 

Search for books on keeping a journal, and you’ll find many. I own at least fourteen and can think of several more I’d like to read. One can find themes of writing for health, goal oriented writing, and expressive writing, for example. I believe writing is for EVERYONE. Really. Writing is not necessarily therapy, however writing is therapeutic. Writing is also an active process which can be used to move from hopes to action. Regardless of your assumptions about the quality of your writing, or what messages you’ve heard along the way, you can gain benefits from putting pen to page. Let’s call this process Journal Writing. We’re talking about writing for yourself, for your eyes only. Why is this important? When you write without filters, as if no one else is listening besides yourself, you will learn to write from the heart. Themes come alive, what you pay attention to, what you’ve learned, been through, who you are, what you stand for. Your Journal can be your good friend. To that end, let’s call it Journal for now, because it’s a relationship, and a loving one.

Journal can be written on a computer or paper, your choice. I prefer paper, since I can seem to bring more awareness to the whole process, such as breath, pen moving on page, sounds around me. I started keeping a journal ten years ago, after some apprehension. I knew I wanted to do it, and didn’t know how to start. I went to a conference, read a bunch of books by Kathleen Adams, a journal therapist from Colorado. Since then, I’ve read quite a few others and used a journal frequently as a personal tool and with coaching clients as well. There’s no question that I’m an advocate of this tool! Journal lives by my bed for final thoughts, gratitude or prayers, one on my desk for business ideas and projects, one for meditation, one for my Hatha Yoga Teacher Training journey. I’ve kept some pages over the years, shredded some, burned some.

One book I like quite a bit that I keep returning to (I read it on a plane several years ago and still have my original notes, which I have cut and pasted with a glue stick in my other journals) is Write It Down, Make It Happen by Henriette Anne Klauser. One of the many things that captured my attention in her book was the description of the human reticular activating system. Here’s a 4-minute video that describes this concept, not by Dr. Klauser, yet I liked the white board approach. It’s a reminder that what we pay attention to is what we create.

 “It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power”—Alan Cohen

Flowing Into Seasons

 

September is a powerful month of change. Beginnings, endings, comings and goings. Before you find yourself in Ocotober, why not write down some memories of the summer?

Here are some ideas:

What surprised me this summer was…

What I’d like to carry with me this fall is…

The book title of my summer would be…

The song of the summer, for me, was…

This summer, I laughed about…

This fall, I want to let go of…

This fall, I want to bring in…

This summer, I celebrated….

That was important to me because…

I’d like to do _____again, next summer.

I will remember most this one thing…

This summer, I learned that I want to practice more of…

This fall, I will…

 

 

 

Every Day an Empathy Opportunity

Awakening
Awakening

Each day presents us with avenues to practice relationships.

In this video, Dr. Helen Reiss of Harvard Medical School uses both the concept and acronym of empathy to bring attention to specific behaviors we can develop. She uses compelling stories and research to illustrate why this emotion is vitally important to our species. As humans, we are lovingly dependent on one another to provide social bonds. Our lives are constructed around relationships. Our companies, businesses, schools, and houses of worship are built on relationships. We certainly know what causes our greatest stress on the planet….relationships! On the other hand, when we choose to really meet another, we may receive them as if for the first time.

Here is a breakdown of how Dr. Reiss views the behavioral and intentional practices we can foster.

E is for eye contact
M is for the muscles of the face, which display our emotional state
P is for posture. What’s our body saying? Are we open or closed?
A is for affect, another word for the emotional “weather” we are showing
T is for our tone of voice
H is for hearing, really tuning into the person in front of you, without judgement
Y is for your response

My addition to “E” in empathy is the word energy. When you speak with someone in person, or even over the phone, or a video conferencing platform, what energy do you convey?

What’s important to you, about empathy, this summer?

Mornin’ Rituals

MORNING MIST copy

 

When one wakes up, rituals can establish a rhythm to the day. Some are early morning risers, others may rise much later, as I well remember when working night shifts in the hospital a good while back. (I must admit I had a challenging time figuring out what and when to eat.) The important consideration here is consciousness of what you bring into waking up. What are you waking up to?

I’m not suggesting there’s a right or wrong way to awaken, rather, to become aware of what is present. For example, do you watch the morning news, check your social media status, or do you allow yourself a minute of noticing your feet as they carry you to the bathroom? I remember when our children were wee ones that it seemed I bounded out of bed and was somehow carried miraculously to their crib, in spite of being incredibly sleep deprived. I realize that there are times in life when a minute of conscious breathing or noticing seems like an eternity.

What do you drink in the morning? A cup of water? Tea or coffee? Smoothie? How does that refresh you, bring you into the day? What mug or cup do you drink in?

What chair do you sit in? What do you see out your window? What do you read? Who do you greet upon awakening? How do you greet them?

You probably notice flux during the year in your morning routine. In the wintertime, I get up and sit in a favorite worn chair and watch the daylight come. I tend to write more in my journal then. In the summer, I keep my eyes open and may sit on the porch and watch the birds and insects, listening to the outdoor sounds.

What’s your spiritual or prayer life? How do you incorporate that into your day?

Some of you get up really early and walk, run, or practice yoga, perhaps with a buddy or at the gym. Does this change with the seasons? When is it important for you to connect with others, and when is it time to be more solitary? When do you yearn for quiet? Some may have jobs that provide conversation all day, so the morning is a time to drink in the quiet. It’s taken me many years to give my husband ample space in the morning. He needs time to wake up and I appreciate that now—finally!

If quiet is important to you as a morning ritual and doesn’t seem to be created at home, can you gravitate to quiet within, perhaps in your car before you get out to go to work, or on the subway, or on the bus?

Since life is by nature in constant flux and we are adaptive beings, I invite you to look for moments in your day that create rituals that mean something to you. One of the first great conversations I remember having with my coach was about rituals and the rejuvenation provided. So have fun with rituals. They don’t need to be so serious or complex, rather simply of benefit for you and in turn, perhaps for those you love or care about.

Here’s a robust post from Gilbert Ross on morning rituals.