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.

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!





















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.

Let The Summer Begin

Rose of Estelle May Scarborough
Rt. 2 Rose

Summer Tool Kit

Here are some tried and true practices to help you move forward, pause, refresh, learn. Some things are kind of old-fashioned too, just like this very old rose of my grandmother’s, dug up at least twice and moved from a beloved mountain paddock to a new Central Virginia home.

  • Check In. What’s your internal weather report?  Notice and practice your breathing. Notice how your body feels during day, where you hold stress. Breathe into those areas. What are your heart and gut saying? We make healthier, more informed choices when we are aware of our thoughts, feelings, and body signals. Use this as a centering practice during calm. Your body will remember because you strengthen these neural pathways just like muscle.
  • Walk. Move the body. Get outside early in the morning. Listen to the sounds, observe the breath. Commit to giving yourself 5 minutes. Read about walking meditation.
  • Do a 180. Seek a compassionate view of yourself. Notice internal dialogue. What you say to yourself about what you can and cannot do, who you are or are not– matters. Challenge those beliefs. Focus on meaning, not the story. Learn a new, fun skill that has nothing directly to do with an area of challenge. Laugh. Dance in your room with your headphones on.
  • Write. Focus on areas of life you feel competent inIdentify your strengths, your gifts. Write them down. Be specific. Ask someone you trust and care about to name 3 strengths they see in you. Experiment with journaling in new enviroments, such as a coffee shop or outdoors. Find a journal buddy to write with, kind of like parallel play young children engage in—no need to share, just be beside someone.



Friends and Health


Relationships are the fabric of our lives. Some would say a mirror of our lives. Today I’m inspired by my college friends. What do you see in the mirror? How would you like to be a better friend? What does this mean to you?

Who provides joy and support in your life? Who do you give joy and support to? How might you build this?


Some thoughts from others:


We take care of our health, we lay up money, we make our roof tight and our clothing sufficient, but who provides wisely that he shall not be wanting in the best property of all–friends.–Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is no physician like a true friend.–Anon

The support of one’s personality is friends. A part of one’s self and a real foundation and existence.–Katherine Butler Hathaway

My friends have made the story of my life. In a thousand ways they have turned my limitations into beautiful privleges, and enabled me to walk serene and happy in the shadow cast by my deprivation.–Helen Keller

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.–Jane Howard

Resiliency, Patience, and Gratitude

Winter to Spring Greens
Winter to Spring Greens

These greens remain in our garden, despite all the freezing cold! What qualities does this particular plant hold that helps it thrive during winter months? I honestly can’t say the variety, as this time of year we tend to blend recollections of plantings, in spite of best efforts to mark the rows and keep a garden journal! We do find them delicious, however, and delight in their ability to come back, cutting after cutting.

I’ve been feeling like this vegetable a bit, in that some things have been strong and active, and other aspects, like creativity, have felt somewhat latent– this is my first blog since October. One thing I continue to learn is that when we are invited to participate in something in our lives that feels really BIG, extra energy is summoned to that one thing and that’s often really ok. Patience with self can be cultivated, over and over, just like the seasons in the garden. Some crops are more successful than others, from year to year. All farmers know that.

One thing I know is that I am grateful for so much. Here’s a wonderful article that caught my eye a while back from Harvard Health Publications on why gratitude is important to our health, and some practical ways to generate more.

Being Alive




Consider this expressive writing prompt: What makes you soar?

Write For Health

Strong Canopy
Strong Canopy

The expression, “words are powerful’, tells many stories. What science continues to demonstrate is just how this power can translate into health. In 1986, James Pennebaker, University of Texas psychologist, conducted a landmark study of expressive writing with 46 college students. What he found surprised him; that  after 3 months, a health indicator such as number of physician visits for illness decreased 43 percent in the expressive writing group. Today, several hundred articles exist in the scientific literature on the benefits of expressive writing. Diverse populations ranging from those surviving breast cancer, to pre-exam college students, to at-risk youth, trauma survivors, spouses of veterans, to arthritis patients have been studied and shown to benefit from expressive writing.

The common thread appears to be writing about emotional content and significant experiences, both positive and negative. Writing for health usually involves unedited, private material. Whether or not one keeps the journal is up to the writer, and merely a matter of preference. Some like to review and see evidence of personal growth (the “Wow, I got through that!” phenomenon), others like to destroy their writing. The simple act of putting words down is the change agent, whether it’s making meaning of events, gaining perspective, letting go of what continues to bother us or keep us up at night.

If you want to get started, check out Dr. Pennebaker’s page. The suggestions are clear and additional resources are provided. Why not start today?

Alpha Poems

Summer’s Crop Mathews County, Virginia

I enjoy driving by this roadside farm, noticing how the view of the building and field completely changes throughout the year. This time I stopped and snapped a picture, and it seems to connect with some of my recent reflections.

My mother’s words came to mind recently— “Estelle, there’s nothing constant but change“. I used to feel irritated when she spoke this phrase; now, I hear wisdom. My mother is pretty darn healthy, coming up on 90 years of age. She’s weathered some big tides. I wrote an Alpha Poem in response to my memory.

Change comes, sometimes creaking, or crashing
Ownership generally
Together we can continue
Allowing ourselves to
Nestle in

I share the concept of Alpha Poems with friends and clients on a regular basis. I first learned about them when our son’s early elementary teacher gave each student a poem at year’s end. Using the students’ first names, she wrote a poem describing positive attributes of each child. I appreciated this gift, keeping it on the refrigerator for quite a while. I started writing my own Alpha Poems after learning about the practice of journal writing for health, through the work of Kathleen Adams.

To write your own Alpha Poem,  start by choosing a word, and use each letter of the word to form the first letter of each line. Play with using your name, someone else’s name, letters of the alphabet, emotions, concepts, relationships, sounds…anything.  Allow yourself the freedom to write your own poetry, for yourself, unedited. Be curious about images, ideas, words that you see, hear or experience.

Alpha poems are great for stress relief.  They capture themes quickly and get them down on the page with only a few words. Of course, you can write long alpha poems too. Go for it!