Writing

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.

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.

Two Ways to Rest The Mind

valley of the mind
valley of the mind

 

Way #1:

When’s the last time you got outside for a hike around your every day habitat? Even if you walk for 5-10 minutes, you reap benefits and create space for yourself. Especially when overwhelmed with to dos, or thinking through a problem. Here are some measurements behind that. In fact, research suggests that shorter, more frequent walks bring more benefits than long treks. Walking provides healthy habit building, exercise, stress reduction, lowers blood pressure, creates a state of flow and ease to the day. There’s only so much we can ponder things. Our minds need a break, a rest, the natural world to gaze upon. So what if you can’t go on a 5 mile hike in the mountains today? Why not just go out your door, or to a nearby park? How about taking 10 minutes during lunch to get outside? Even if it’s in your work parking lot, you will benefit.

savasana
savasana

Way #2

When you return from a 5 or 10 minute walk, lie down on the carpet or a mat for 2-5 minutes. Or, you can lie down outside. If you have an office chair, sit comfortably there with the spine straight and belly relaxed. Get comfortable. If you really need to rest, just do it without the walk. If you lie down, try resting on the back, with a rolled blanket under the knees to support the lower back. Bring breath into the belly, soften the muscles of the face, jaw, and tongue. Place your palms up. Close your eyes. Endeavor to stay awake and focus on the movement of breath. Count the breath if you like. This helps give the mind a focus. Breathe in for 2, out for 4. This is 2:1 breath, and deeply relaxing for the parasympathetic nervous system, the calming system of the body.

So, 10-15 minutes later, how do you feel? What do you notice about the body and breath? What do you notice about the problem you faced? What’s changed? What new perspective seems available?

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.

Befriending the Vagus Nerve

extending branches
extending branches

 

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.

 

Finding Your Frog

adapting
adapting

Yesterday in yoga class our teacher taught us how to practice frog pose. The class theme was around water, so it felt like a natural fit! Frogs are remarkable, really, because they are adaptable, jump exceedingly long distances, swim easily, sing at the top of their lungs, in perfect rhythm with each other. And like this loud guy in the photo I found on our drain pipe, they live in exquisite verdant green skins. Last, but not least, frogs know how to breathe.

Frogs also assume a facial expression of content, and are often depicted as smiling. What can we learn from frogs? Flexibility? Strength? Optimism? Pausing? If we practiced more of these things, would we feel happier?

Here’s a humorous, research driven perspective on happiness and success, from Shawn Anchor.

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…

 

 

 

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!