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shining soul fitness

shine from the inside out

Month

November 2016

It’s not so bad, it’s not so bad

As fall has arrived and the candy frenzy of Halloween has passed, we are seeing posts and calendars counting down the days until the big holiday season is officially here.  Stores are already decorated and trees are in lots awaiting their lighting and tinseling in excited homes.  And don’t get me wrong I LOVE, nay I LURVE (even stronger than love) the balsam-scented-package-wrapping-Chex Mix-filled Holiday, but I feel that in many ways, we are skipping over a really important one in all of our excitement.

Our American holiday of Thanksgiving brings with it the expectation that everyone will pause for 1 day and be grateful for all he or she is blessed with.  Just one day.  We are a nation of abundance and privilege, yet we frequently focus on what we don’t have and we are seeing higher numbers than ever of people experiencing anxiety and depression on a daily basis.  There is something we can do to live happier and more fulfilling lives.  And the answer begins with a regular gratitude practice.

According to a great deal of research in the field of Positive Psychology, a regular gratitude practice is one of the quickest routes to retraining the brain into happier states of being.  There are posts, studies, and even books about the benefits of a gratitude practice.  Upon looking up the subject of gratitude on the Greater Good Science Center‘s website, I was presented with 3300 results.

Practicing gratitude costs nothing, is easily accessible, and we can choose how we practice. Using a gratitude journal, a ritual of listing 3 things we are grateful for in our heads, or even reaching out to others to express gratitude for differences they have made in our lives are a few popular examples.  And to top it off, the research shows that gratitude not only works to change our perspective and thinking patterns, but it also boosts immunity and improves cardiovascular health.  Now, that is something to be grateful for.

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Gratitude, in many ways, can be thought of as the foundation for changing thinking patterns and increasing happiness.  In the Yoga and Positive Psychology training that I lead for YogaFit, we discuss gratitude and the trainees have assignments of take-home gratitude practices.

In that same training, we discuss the purpose of yoga as reported in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali- the primary text on yoga.  The second verse of the first chapter states, in a translation that I love by Judith Hansen Lasater, that “yoga is the state in which the agitations of the mind are resolved”.  So, we are practicing yoga to calm the mind, let go of judgment, comparison, attachment, and to become happier in our lives.  We practice gratitude to calm the mind, become happier, and to appreciate what we already have rather than focusing on what we do not have.  Could we not say that yoga itself is a practice in gratitude?

In The Yoga Sutras, pada (or chapter) 2 verse 16 states that pain that has not yet come is avoidable.  In reference to gratitude, I have heard and asked the following question: How can you expect the universe to give you more if you are not grateful for what you already have?  When we are focused on what we do not have, we frequently feel anxious or depressed.  If we can quiet the mind, be present, and practice gratitude for what we have now, we can avoid the pain of worrying about what we do not yet have or what has not yet happened, as well as avoid the sadness of staying in the loss of what we no longer have.

Finally, the Sutras go on to tell us that when we are able to resist stealing from the present moment and what we already have, abundance will be ours.  Truly and mindfully practicing gratitude for all of the good in our lives not only trains our brains to look for the good, but it also leaves no room in that moment to feel unhappy.  We can experience contentment, generosity, and peace.  Um…sign me up!

I feel silly asking this, but wouldn’t you like to live a happier and more fulfilling life?  I thought so.  Try a regular gratitude practice- it can be daily or several times per week- to retrain the brain into appreciating what you already have.  Try a regular practice of quiet observation of yourself and your thoughts in the form of seated meditation or moving in a yoga class. Try to allow yourself to feel all of your emotions without limiting or resisting and try to listen to the cues your body is giving you- focusing on the breath can help to tolerate uncomfortable or overwhelming physical or emotional feelings.

Yoga and Positive Psychology, in my mind, are two different modes of practicing the same thing.  Skills for living happier, more satisfying, more fulfilling lives.  For both, I am grateful every day.

If you try, you will always find something to be grateful for.

Thanks for ready.  I am grateful for you.

Talk again soon,

k

 

We Are One

Nothing divides a country like an election. In the past months, we have been inundated with accusations, hateful comments, competition, and extreme focus on our differences.  Even as I was watching the polling results, the news was informing us all of the racial, educational, and socio-economic differences in voters.

Now, don’t get me wrong- I LOVE a good competition. And competition isn’t all bad. It can motivate us to push ourselves, to grow, to become better than we thought we could be. But competition can also push us beyond that point to a place of severe judgment, bitterness, hate, and division.

In our society of instant gratification, savvy marketing, and trained elitism, it is easy to fall into a mindset of focusing on lack, differences, and what we don’t have rather than what we do.

So, how do we prevent our crossing that line? At the end of the day, no matter who wins or loses, we must remember that we are ultimately all the same. We are all made of the same energy. We are all living in the same world. And for the most part, I believe that we all want to feel safe, happy, healthy, and for our country and our world to be at peace.

Jill Bolte Taylor, who has experience teaching brain anatomy at Harvard Medical School, points out in her outstanding book My Stroke of Insight, how very much alike we all are: “As members of the same human species, you and I share all but 0.01% (1/100th of 1%) of identical genetic sequences.  So, biologically, as a species, you and I are virtually identical to one another at the level of our genes (99.99%).”

If this is true, why is it that we focus on the 0.01% within us that makes us different?  That very narrow focus also does not always tend to be to celebrate our differences and unique contributions. Out of fear, many times, our focus on the differences among us only serves to increase fear, hate, and separation.

In the aftermath of a very emotional campaign and election, I think that in order to move forward in a healthy way, we MUST bring our focus back to the fact that we are all on one team.  We are all in this together.  We all want our country to be great and we all want to live happy, fulfilling lives.  We may disagree on things, but we cannot let the differences we have divide our country and pit us against each other.

Taylor also tells us that “generally, most of us are compassionate with those that we see as our equals. The less attached we are to our ego’s inclination for superiority, the more generous of spirit we can be with others.”  It seems to me that being 99.99% genetically identical to others makes us pretty much equals.  Let’s use that biological fact to help us approach each other with love and compassion.  Let’s work together so that we all succeed.

 

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Let’s be the team that we can be.  We are all the same.  We are all in this together.  We are all love.  This week, try to remember that.  Your actions will lead the way for others to do the same.

I will be right beside you, friend.

Talk again soon,

k

It’s something unpredictable

In teaching yoga, I often cue to notice the expansion and contraction of the body with the inhalation and exhalation.  Each inhalation expands us not only physically, but also mentally in opening our minds with a fresh view and spiritually in growing us into who we have the potential to be, blessed with another moment of life.  Then with the exhalation, our body contracts and draws in.  We literally let go and relax.  The breath is such a great illustration of what our bodies do naturally just to deal with life.  We can’t breathe in all of the air we will ever need at one time; that would be too much for our system.  We have to take in the nourishing life force sips at a time.

When I am working with a client who is attempting to cope with grief, I frequently get asked by the patient at some point if I believe they are “going backward” or if they are “going crazy”.  This comes from our need to deal with overwhelming circumstances a little at a time.

In his book, In An Unspoken Voice, Peter Levine calls this natural tendancy ‘Pendulation’.  He states, “pendulation is about the innate organismic rhythm of contraction and expansion”.  He goes on to tell us that we are gradually opening more and more with every expansion.  It is a “rocking back and forth between these polarities.  It softens the edge of difficult sensations such as fear and pain.”  Our brains naturally flow into and out of what we are attempting to deal with in order to allow us to tolerate it without becoming too overwhelmed.

This is important when we are feeling that we cannot go on any longer.  And it explains the experience of “some days I am ‘fine’ and some days I can’t seem to function”.  Our natural rhythm of flowing into and out of challenge/pain and relief reminds us that NOTHING lasts forever.  We can make it through if we just remember that and take it a few breaths at a time.  This helps us to remain resilient, to steady ourselves, and then to be able to make it through the next wave of whatever feelings, thoughts, experiences are coming at us.

grief-is-like-an-ocean

The experience of grief is unpredictable and weaves into and out of various emotions and thoughts.  Many people will come to a therapy session and say, “I thought I was better, but then I took a U-turn and wasn’t able to deal with anything for a few days”.  At one point, we (meaning the field of psychology) attempted to put grief into a linear order of stages, but in my experience, I have found that this is not how it works.

grief

This illustration works for many of our experiences in life.  We expect them to go one way, and inevitably, we experience a totally different version than we had planned out in our heads.  We may even end up in the same place, but because we did not get there the way we had envisioned, we- usually somewhere along the way- see it as a failure.

We must let go of our expectations of how our experiences and our lives are going to go.  Our bodies know what they are doing.  We should trust them to take us into and out of the levels of challenge and pain that we can tolerate.  We must let our bodies do what they instinctively and wisely know how to do without interfering based on our cognitive assumptions.

Notice your own ebb and flow in dealing with grief or any other overwhelmingly strong or stressful experience.  Trust your body to lead the way. Allow yourself to breathe and notice the expansion and contraction.  Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling and just keep going.  Nothing lasts forever.  Although after dealing with the loss, you may not be who you once were, you will still be you.

Grief comes in many forms and from many causes.  You may be grieving the loss of a loved one, opportunities missed, a relationship, or even dreams that never came true.  Loss is hard and unpleasant, but remember that nothing lasts forever and the more you allow yourself to be where you already are, the more you will grow and heal.

You can do it, my friend.

And as always, I am right here with you.

Talk again soon,

k

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