Fourteen years ago I spent a week in a Boston classroom learning from the dedicated staff of the Benson Henry Institute. Peg Baim, shown here, has continued to inspire me through her foundational audio recordings of meditation practices. Her presence, wisdom, and knowledge provided me grounding and affirmation. Although we briefly met, I have gone back through the years and listened to her recordings over and over. I’ve also shared her work with many clients.
In this video, Ms. Baim demonstrates a twelve-word practice developed by the renowned Buddhist monk, scholar and author Thich Nhat Hanh. The steps are the following:
Each pair of words is practiced with breath, for several rounds each.
Begin the sequence by the following
Breathe in the word “In”, breathe out the word “Out”.
Breathe in the word “Deep”, breathe out the word “Slow”
Breathe in the word “Calm”, breathe out the word “Ease”
Breathe in the word “Smile”, breathe out the word “Release”
Breathe in the word “Present”, breathe out the word “Moment”
Breathe in the word “Wonderful”, breathe out the word “Moment”
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!
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?
How does kindness shown to you by another change your perspective? One of the biggest gifts we can give is simply offering our presence. In The Sun My Heart, Thich Nhat Hanh writes “Even if you spend a lot of money on gifts for everyone in your family, nothing you could buy them can give us as much true happiness as your gift of awareness, breathing, and smiling, and these precious gifts cost nothing.”
Here are ten simple ways to bring awareness into the day.
Notice the breath in belly and ribs, in and out
Scan your body from head to toe
Look up at the sky
Make eye contact with the person speaking to you
Notice your emotions with a light touch
While doing simple repetitive tasks, breathe
Eat a meal and invite the nourishment in all your cells
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.
What if we noticed the good more often in others at home and work, rather than punishing the bad? It’s a radical notion to some, I know. My husband and I are raising two puppies, sisters in fact. If there’s any evidence of our patience, or lack thereof, in the world it’s been manifested in recent weeks. On the other hand, it’s provided an incredible opportunity to reflect on what’s working really well with each, and both of us, what’s not working so well, and loving each other in the midst.
Veterinarian and dog behaviorist Ian Dunbar has a lot of information on the web. It’s all relevant to our lives with dogs, and each other. I found this one particularly compelling because of the human relationship message at the end. Watch this 11-minute video and contemplate how you might bring more of this noticing the good into your life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
My husband and I recently traveled to Belize with a team of youth and adults from our church. Our primary mission for the week was to run the fifth season of a summer camp for approximately 125 local children, ages 5-12. Our community relationships there are established and deep. I knew we would be leading sports, music, arts and yoga. My particular “job” was teaching yoga to the children for several hours a day. I knew the yoga team members, one well, others a bit. Initially, my heart wasn’t clear on what the mission was. I went on faith, with a love of yoga, my church family, anticipation of being with the children there in Belize. I returned home with a bounty of appreciation for our Belizian community, a love of teaching yoga to children, and much more. Days later, the children’s faces, smiles, hugs, and playful yoga postures float in my consciousness. I can’t wait to go back next year.
Faith doesn’t necessarily mean religious faith. According to a preliminary Google search, the word describes trust, optimism, belief, conviction. Faith provides a compass throughout life, a thread of understanding and knowing who we are. Faith illuminates the values that guide us, the principles, passions, and interests that are often non-negotiable. Faith anchors us to hope, hope propels us to action, small steps give us more hope and faith.
Listening to our truth promotes faith in ourselves and what we offer the world, how we are of service. When you are off course in life, ask yourself, what or who am I being true to? What step will allow me to pivot towards my course?
Who might you reach out to this summer to renew faith in yourself? What are you involved in when faith is most alive in your life?
Sometimes, we can take who we are with what we know and go ahead anyway