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Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony this life

While practicing balance poses with a client this week in a private yoga session, she said, “It is so difficult to find that place of feeling really balanced, but once I do, I just want to stay there and stay there.”  This statement couldn’t be more true of life across the board.

Finding balance takes constant effort in our lives, but once we get there, it’s so rewarding.  The bad news is that once we reach balance, we must savor it, because nothing lasts forever.  Our thinking about balance is often that if that one thing’ changes, we will magically become balanced, but that’s not really how it works.  We have a simplistic ‘either-or’ view of balance, but really, balance comes from a symphony of parts working together.

In a balance pose in yoga, like Tree (or Vrksasana in Sanskrit), there are many things going on internally to be able to maintain the posture successfully.  It is necessary to root down into the standing foot to have a stable base and larger surface area to balance on.  We must grow tall through the trunk of the tree, lifting the ribs up away from the hip bones to lengthen through the spine.  We must relax the shoulders away from the ears and release the tension in the neck and face to breathe easily and allow ourselves to “sway in the breeze”.  Finding a focal point to concentrate on will decrease the instability overall.  There are more components involved in this pose, but without all of these things working together, it is much more difficult maintain the posture and to find balance on one foot.  We must also remember that the next time we practice the pose, all factors must again be revisited.

To find balance in our lives, we must also recognize the multitude of factors that must happen simultaneously rather than focusing on just one thing to be the key.  We often view finding balance as hinging on one specific and looming obstacle, but truly, it is about a great number of smaller things working together.  We must also recognize that we will be working toward moments of balance and they will add up to a lifetime of balance, but that it is constantly in flux and flow.

Our body is always working toward homeostasis, but this concept is not as simple as ‘rest or work’, ‘on or off’.  It is a collaborative interaction of multiple parts working in some capacity at the same time to bring us closer to balance.  The whole needs all of the parts to come together as a team in order to reach a point of peace and to take the load off of any one individual teammate as being solely responsible.

If we think of balance in this way, we can work toward it with more ease.  Often when we think that to ever reach a state of feeling more balanced, we must change the one biggest, hardest thing completely and this can make it so overwhelming that we give up before we ever really had a chance.  However, when we recognize that coming into balance is really about many little parts working and coming together, we can take baby steps and experience a shift closer to the peace we are looking for every day.

In teaching habits to find better balance in our bodies, Cate Stillman refers to the concept of kaizen to make change doable.  “Kaizen means good change and refers to the philosophy of applying continuous, daily, small improvements.” (Stillman 2015)  She asks us to look at the “smallest, most incremental improvements” that we can make on a daily basis on our journey toward balance and points out that even these baby steps will make a difference.

little by little

It doesn’t have to be something dramatic to be effective.  In Tree pose, if we simply find a focal point and concentrate there, we can find more stability and ease.  Over time, as we make these small shifts, we will find that we pull ourselves toward balance without even feeling like we are having to work too hard to do so.

The breath can bring the body and mind back into balance.  What we eat can bring our digestion and assimilation back into balance.  Who we are spending time with can bring our relationships back into balance.  What we say yes or no to can bring our calendars back into balance.  There are so many simple ways to start working toward balance today.

What is one thing that you can change this week, today, this hour, or even this moment that will bring you closer to feeling in balance?  Maybe you go to bed 10 minutes earlier, read 5 pages of a book, or walk outside and breathe for a few minutes.  Whatever it is, try it.  Try it and recognize that this one small step is working to bring you closer to balance.  It’s ok if no one even notices it but you and each small step you take is working as part of the whole.  What you do will make a difference.

So, give it a try.  Just a small one. It will be so worth it.

I will be trying right along side of you.

Talk again soon,

k

I can see all obstacles in my way…

In a recent discussion, a teacher of mine asked, “How simple can this be?” in response to our tendency to make things harder for ourselves than they need to be.  This question really struck me. I honestly don’t know that I have ever considered this.  I think of myself as the challenge over-comer.  The task master.  Simplify?  Make it easier for myself?  Wait, what??

While speaking with another yoga teacher recently, we discussed this in the context of teaching.  We acknowledged how overwhelming yoga can be for brand new students and how, as an instructor, we must revisit the beginner’s mind to put together a class that will reach them.  We discussed the old K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) method and having to remember that after years of yoga study, we must start at the beginning and not where we currently are in our journey.  We also acknowledged how simple practices can be the most effective and profound for beginners and non-beginners alike.

But let’s broaden the view.  How are we making things in our lives more difficult for ourselves than they need to be?  Are we taking on too much?  Are we tolerating things that are uncomfortable or unnecessary? Are we stuck in old habits or beliefs? Are we focusing on things that are unimportant?  Are we allowing others to dictate our happiness?

First, we must get clear on what is truly important in our lives, where we want to go, and then we must release the rest.  Last weekend, I co-led a weekend workshop teaching the concepts of letting go of what may be holding us back.  A life cleanse, if you will.  This could be a few extra pounds, it could be clutter in our home, it could be people who are not adding joy to our lives, it could be too many commitments on the calendar…

Really looking at our lives and what is in the way of our mental clarity, lightness, and happiness is paramount. As I say in yoga and counseling frequently- once we are aware, we can make changes.  Recognizing what is not moving us forward toward who we want to be is the first step.

As I am teaching and practicing this concept of cleaning out and clearing space, I can see how easily we become overwhelmed and stressed out about things that are not important because they are in the way, blocking the view.  The beauty and potential that we are all hoping for is already inside, but it may be covered up by a lot of unimportant, mistakenly urgent crap.  And that crap is taking up the space that greatness could be in.

simplify

Today in leading a Yoga Teacher Training, we were discussing the misguidance of listening to the brain at times.  We get so caught up in the brain and believing everything we think instead of simply slowing down, breathing, and listening to the deeper wisdom.  The brain frequently functions from a place of fear and does its best to keep us stuck where we are because it knows what to expect here.  But that’s not where growth happens.

Open yourself to new possibilities.  I have long believed that success only comes out of extreme challenge, difficulty, and complication.  But is that really true?  I am learning that it doesn’t have to be that hard.  I have been making things way harder on myself than they needed to be.  And it’s exhausting.

So consider these questions.  How simple can this be?  How simple can you make things?  How will simplifying unweight you?  How are you making things harder than they should be?

Less truly is more.  But, this takes trust.  Trust that letting things go will make room for greatness to come in.  Trust that the brain isn’t the only one to listen to.  Trust that the wisdom is within us, albeit maybe under some crap…  Trust that once the crap is cleaned out, greatness will show up.

It will.

Uncover the potential that is hiding within you.  See if you can try on a new perspective of finding the most simple version this week.

Of course, I will be trying right beside you.

Talk again soon,

k

Signs, Signs, everywhere there’s signs…

It’s hard for me to relax.  I’m competitive, focused, and task oriented.  If I say I am going to take the day off to do “nothing”, that means I will actually be at home doing things from my To Do list.  I feel good when I mark things off of my list.  And I seem to struggle with doing things that I enjoy without feeling guilty, shameful even, and feeling that I should be doing something “more productive”.  Oh, to make matters worse, I also have a tendency to over-commit myself, causing me to feel the pressing need to be as efficient as I can with my time.  And giving me the excuse of not being ‘able’ to chill out and do nothing.

I really do recognize the importance of rest and relaxation for health and the more I study Ayurveda and feeling healthy in my own body, the more I recognize that sometimes a recommendation to relax is a very serious prescription.  And sometimes, the Universe is the treating physician.

In the Ayurvedic tradition of spring cleaning, I have recently completed a cleanse to clear out the heaviness of winter and to prepare my body for the heat that summer will bring.  (Don’t roll your eyes, it was a simple cleanse- mainly veggies, smoothies, salads, and soups.)  Anyway, during the cleanse, I was coached (urged even, and more than once) to cut back on commitments, responsibilities, activities.  Cleansing can take a lot of energy as the body is doing its spring cleaning tasks and as we are typically reducing the energy intake with the changes of the diet.  As the cleansing practice progresses, it is easy to find both the body and the mind tired as the entire system is processing out old junk that is no longer needed, such as excess weight, negative thoughts, or past issues that haven’t been dealt with.

After being strongly advised to reduce commitments, I responded in my usual way.  I thought, “yeah, yeah, I know, cut back, ok…”, and then I went right on with everything on my schedule as it would normally appear.  Because I can do everything ever all of the time, right? And if I slow down or cut back, I will be wasting time when I could be more productive…

This brings me to my point.  The Universe has a plan and it uses many different signs to let us know what direction we need to be heading on our path.  When the Universe tells me something and I don’t listen, it tends to take control and make it happen regardless of my silly little headstrong opinion.  And when the Universe steps in to make things happen, it’s typically not as smooth and painless as it might have been if the instructions were followed the first time around.

So, because I did not begin to simplify my schedule myself, the Universe decided that when I went to meet with my counseling clients in private practice, they would just not show up.  Over and over. (And you know it’s never the last client that doesn’t show.  It’s one in the middle of the schedule.)  And when I went to teach yoga in a therapeutic setting, the second of three groups would have conflicts and not be able to make it for their slot.  (These people are forcing me to be still and do nothing.  How dare they!)  And finally, when I still wasn’t really getting the picture, (the real whammy) I got sick and I was forced to stop and do a whole lot of nothing.

Ok, maybe I am a little hard-headed.  (I can hear them now- my mom and my husband just said “A LITTLE?!”)  And the learning curve is sharp when you don’t pay attention to the signs.

But, let’s take a look at why this is a pattern for me.  The guilt and shame that bubbles up when I am being ‘non-productive’.

Brene-Brown-rest-and-play

One of my favorite people and an amazing researcher on shame and its effects on us, Brene’ Brown, presents a wonderful intervention in her work as she describes the idea of using permission slips to allow ourselves to let go of our expectations and limitations in a situation. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she also outlines the idea of “letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth”.  (She is one of my favorites for a reason.)

For someone like me, the idea of a permission slip is brilliant idea as it would be for ‘just this once‘ and would not carry the gravity of the idea of slowing down forever.  It’s a way to ease in and train myself into allowing times of play, fun, and enjoyment.  I have to remember that “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”  It may make Jack dull, but it makes Kelly stressed out, frustrated, tired, and irritable.  And the more time I take for rest and play, the better I feel.  (What a shock, I know!!)

Brene’ talks about work by Dr. Stuart Brown on play and she reports that his work shows how play “shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups, and is at the core of creativity and innovation”.  (Brown 2010)  She also talks about how play and rest are both crucial to our happiness and ultimately our productivity levels.  She reports on how our society trains some of us into anxiety when we feel we are not being productive and how this is turning us into “a nation of exhausted and overstressed adults raising overscheduled children” and “we think accomplishments and acquisitions will bring joy and meaning”.  (Brown 2010)

The yogic teaching of Aparigraha (non-grasping), we are directed to try to let go of expecting things outside of us to bring joy.  This can be seen in the accumulation of things or the expectations we place on others and situations to fulfill us.  And the yogic teaching of Svadhyaya (self-study) reminds us that we are not our accomplishments or our past.  We are the amazing spirit that lives inside of our bodies on this journey.

I do not believe that we are here to be stressed out, tired, irritable, and to have no fun.  I just forget that sometimes.  I am learning to give myself permission to do less.  And as I do so, I am also learning to think of it as productive and healing.  Doing less isn’t always lazy.  Sometimes, it is exactly what the body needs so that internal work can be done.  I am also learning to recognize that I don’t always know best and I don’t have to always be the one in control doing the work.  I am learning that if I don’t listen to my body and see the signs of what I really need, I will be even less in control of how things go.  My permission slips are my own little signs to myself to slow down, listen, relax, and have a little down time.

Give yourself a break this week.  Take a few deep breaths, do something you enjoy, spend time with someone close to you.  You will feel better.

I am going to be practicing right along side you.

Talk again soon,

k

There is a season, turn, turn, turn…

Yoga and Ayurveda are referred to as the ‘sister sciences’ for body and mind.  Both come to us from India and have been used together for many years as they benefit each other.  Both philosophies are all-encompassing, taking the body, mind, and soul into account as they focus on finding balance and inner peace.

David Frawley’s book Yoga & Ayurveda tells us how both of these philosophies work together to enable us to be the happiest and healthiest that we can be.  Ayurveda “shows us how…we can live in harmony with the greater universe, not evolving only for ourselves but bringing benefit to all creatures”. (Frawley 1999)  This sounds exactly like what we all need right now.  Yoga is used in Ayurveda to help with the balancing process.

Ayurveda is the science of life:  Ayur=Life    Veda=knowledge or study of

Ayurveda observes the seasons in nature and recognizes that our bodies follow these same rhythms.  In response to this, Ayurveda takes into account each individual’s makeup of elements and then prescribes things such as diet (food and herbs), yoga, daily routine, and rest to help the body find balance and optimal functioning.  (One’s personal makeup or constitution is called a dosha.)  It is a science based on the belief that if we provide the body with all of the nutrients it needs, in all areas of life, then it will function at its optimal level.  In many ways, Ayurveda focuses on prevention of issues through self-care.

Ayurveda

Ayurveda teaches that if we can get into sync with the rhythm of nature, we can live more peacefully.  Recognizing the change in qualities throughout the change of the seasons, Ayurveda follows its own ‘calendar’, breaking the year into 3 distinct parts.

Spring is the season of renewal when things are wet, cool, dense, and soft- think about the ground and the plants the morning after a spring rain.  It is the season of rebirth as everything is coming back to life; the season of growth.  It is also the season of cleansing in preparation for that rebirth period.

Summer is the season of transformation when things are hot, sharp, and light- think of the afternoon of a humid summer day with the bright sun shining.  It is the season of full-on life, burning hot and moving from rebirth into death; the season of doing.

Fall into early Winter is the season of flexibility and mobility as things become even lighter, drier, rough, and begin to cool- think of the leaves on a tree turning brown and falling to the ground to crunch beneath your feet.  It is the season where the work that has been done in the summer is coming to fruition to be shown as forward movement.  It is the season of reaping the benefits of the work, but also preparing for what is to come.

The Ayurvedic calendar also shows itself throughout the lifespan.  As babies and children, we are in the Spring of our lives- growing, assimilating, learning.  We are soft, the body is more moist and smooth.  As we move into adulthood, we enter Summer.  We are working, parenting, paying bills, making a home- a lot of doing.  And as we move into the later years of our lives, we enter Fall/Winter.  We become drier, lighter, and more reflective as we have less doing to do.

Finally, the Ayurvedic calendar is even displayed throughout the hours of the day, affecting our energy levels, our digestion, our concentration, and our assimilation.

Why am I telling you all of this?  Because if you can begin to recognize these patterns in your day, your life, your environment, and your own body, you can begin to get more in sync with the natural rhythm that your body is set up to follow and feel better within yourself.

Ayurvedic practices can help us to find the diet, schedule, and exercise routine that will match our personal makeup, enabling us to thrive.  Just as many people learn that yoga can help to calm the mind and allow the body to move more freely, it is also important to learn Ayurvedic principles that can end the feeling of fighting against our own bodies.  When we begin to eat a diet that is supported by what is in season, when we create a schedule for ourselves that soothes rather than stresses, and when we learn to listen to what our wise bodies are asking for, we can flourish in our lives and feel healthier and happier.

This week, begin to notice if your appetite has receded with the arrival of spring.  Notice if there are things that you need to let go of in your schedule, your physical environment, your body.  Notice if your habits are supporting you in becoming the best version of yourself or if it’s time to make some changes.

Do not stress yourself out by trying to change everything at once; for now, just notice.  You are right where you are supposed to be in this moment on your journey.  But, with knowledge comes responsibility, so once you know better, you can do better.

For more information on your personal makeup of elements, you can take a dosha quiz here: https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/prakriti-quiz?avad=178942_fe416031

And for more information on Ayurvedic habits you can begin to implement in your own life, visit this site: http://yogahealer.com/habits-from-ayurveda/

Feeling better in your own body doesn’t have to be dramatic or complicated.  And it is something that you can do for yourself.  I am right here on the journey next to you.

Talk again soon,

k

 

 

UnComfortably Numb

As a Licensed Professional Counselor trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a type of talk therapy focusing on changing one’s thoughts in order to change emotions and behaviors, I am always shocked at the number of people I speak to who are under the impression that they have no control over their thoughts.

In CBT, the relationship among thoughts, feelings, and behaviors is displayed as the Cognitive Triangle to show the interconnectedness of all three:

Cognitive Triangle

If we can change one of the three factors, the others will have to change due to the nature of the relationship.  Working with the thoughts is usually the most logical place to start to affect change in the other two.

Canadian Neuropsychologist Donald Hebb coined the phrase “Neurons that fire together wire together” meaning that repeated thoughts or experiences form short cuts or well-paved highways in the brain.  This is how thoughts or behaviors become habits- the cognitive, rational part of the brain is no longer involved as the electrical impulses can just run the highway without a thinking driver.

This highway or groove for the impulses to run on can easily become a rut, however, and makes it more difficult to change the thought or behavior later on.  This is where I come in to coach a client through cognitive restructuring and behavior modification.  The most important first step, however, is awareness.  We must be aware of the thought or behavior before we can change it.

When something is a habit and it runs the route without a driver, we become oblivious to it- we don’t even think about it, it “just happens”.  The body also begins to set itself up to keep this cycle going.  When we experience different emotions, the body releases hormones related to that emotion.  Some researchers are now reporting that the body then creates more receptor sites for those hormones and we become almost addicted to the cycle with the ‘need’ to fill those receptor sites.  When this is done over and over with great frequency, the body actually responds with impulses to have those receptor sites filled in order to calm the nervous system and find what is now “normal” in the system.

Change at this point is no easy task.  So, first we must examine the thoughts and behaviors that are taking us off track or keeping us stuck.  In yoga, we refer to this as becoming “the witness”.  We are observing what is happening in our brains or bodies, without judgment, in order to become aware.  We cannot do anything to change what we are not aware of, so this step is imperative.

As an example, maybe we begin to notice that we have a habit of becoming angry and snapping at a co-worker every time he or she offers to help and later we feel bad about it and think, “Why do I do that?”.  Once we notice that this is how we are reacting in that situation, we can begin to work on understanding it and then changing it.

However, it does take the hard work of introspection and repeated practice.  Not only do people give up because of the repeated practice needed to break the habit, but many times, people give up before they even get there simply because it can be uncomfortable to look at ourselves and recognize that we don’t necessarily like what we see.

Do I expect you to read this blog post, become introspective, notice everything you want to change about yourself, and then change it all at once?  Of course not.  But, if you can practice becoming aware of your own reactions to life around you, you can work to become more of the person you want to be.  Will it be easy? NO. Will your brain fight you in the process of change? YES.  Is it worth the effort to be happier and feel better about yourself? ABSOLUTELY.

Spring is the time of cleansing as we are moving into the season of rebirth.  Perhaps looking at your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and simply taking inventory is a step toward cleaning out the old and making room for the new.

Awareness is the first step toward taking control of your own life, turning off the Autopilot, and moving toward your own version of greatness.  Remember to be kind to yourself in this process and that you are not alone.  I will be right there going through the same process in myself.

Talk again soon,

k

I get knocked down, but I get up again

In her book Grit, Angela Duckworth talks about the concept of deliberate practice and how people who are really great and successful at what they do spend a good deal of time in deliberate practice.  She also points out that this type of practice is not necessarily enjoyable, but is focused and has the purpose of increasing skill level.  She points out that when we see someone doing really well, we automatically assume that they are “a natural”.  This is an excuse for us to not feel inadequate or ‘not as good’ when we compare ourselves to them (which we will do because we are human).  We don’t see the hours and hours of practice that go into being great, we simply see the end result of success.

She also speaks to the decision to continue to practice even when it isn’t fun and to not give up.  It is not always fun and games- many people will consider giving up along the way, but the great ones keep pushing, keep practicing, keep making the choice to stick with it.  This deliberate choice builds resilience- the ability to more easily bounce back after a stumble or fall.

The idea of continuing to try, even in the face of adversity and challenge, made me think of the concept from Marriage and Family Therapist Robert Jameson of “Continuously Consciously Choosing”.  He uses this concept in reference to relationships and staying in love with one’s mate, but it is, at its core, the perfect description of grit.  The decision to stick with it, to be mindfully in it, and to choose to continue can be helpful in any situation in which we want to succeed at some level.

None of this means that there will not be failure along the way or loads of difficulty and hurdles to maneuver around.  This is where Tal Ben Shahar’s concept of Perfectionist vs Optimalist comes in to view.  Ben Shahar reports that there are two camps of people- those who fear failure and become crippled to the point of not even trying and those who use failure to learn and to change their approach.  The Perfectionist sees difficulty and possible failure as unacceptable and can miss out on opportunities as they limit themselves out of what they see as protection.  In his view, Perfectionists struggle to see the lesson and the opportunity to try again in a new way.  Optimalists, on the other hand, see difficulty and failure as chance for growth.  They choose to keep going, to try again, and to learn from what they have experienced.

Duckworth also reports the benefits of being open to learning from mistakes and even suggests that we try to do so with a smile as we embrace getting back up and giving it another go.  She refers to a simple Japanese saying that I instantly fell in love with:

Fall 7, Rise 8

And if we are going to talk about failing, we cannot ignore Samuel Beckett’s quote:

samuel-beckett

Deliberate practice, grit, resilience, Optimalism- all of these concepts easily apply to tasks, sports, and goals, but more importantly, they all apply to living our lives from day-to-day.  Life is challenging and there will be failures, twists, and challenges every day.  If we can shift our perspective and see these things as opportunities to grow and to become the next best version of ourselves, then we can find happiness in the journey.

In the next week, notice how you view challenges- big and small- and try on a new view.  One of growth in the face of feeling uncomfortable or inconvenienced.  Every thought and action we have today is shaping who we will be tomorrow.  Let’s Continuously Consciously Choose to become the people we have the potential of being.

You know I will be practicing right along with you.

Keep up the good work and we will talk again soon.

k

Give it away now

One of my most favorite things in the world is finding the perfect gift to give to someone.  I try to make notes to myself or pick up items throughout the year when I find something that I think would be just right.

It’s almost like being an investigator and a personal shopper all in one. I spend time thinking about the person and what might be meaningful or special to them.  The idea of gift giving to me is not about how much or how many things you can give someone, but how well you know them.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to receive gifts, but to me the gift is in the giving.  When I have spent time picking out a meaningful gift, I almost can’t wait to give it.  I am giddy as I watch the receiver open this gift that I have put effort into and then I get to witness the reflection of their feeling seen, understood, and known as they open it.   It’s the connection that grows between us.  This is truly what it means when we say, “It’s the thought that counts”.

However, I feel that people often use that phrase as an excuse when they don’t put time or effort into choosing a gift; when it isn’t well received or their lack of effort is evident when the gift is open.  “Well, it’s the thought that counts anyway…” they say.  Oh, then I see that your thought was that you could just give me whatever and expect that I would act like it’s meaningful to make you feel better and then I have more useless crap hanging around making me crazy because it all just becomes clutter…

What people want and need more than most things is true connection to others.  Personal connection is important to our well-being and our society is becoming more and more isolated with the help of technology.  Being seen, feeling heard, validated, and honored for the unique being that they are is the best gift that you could possibly give someone.  And when you are successful in doing that, you too receive a gift.  You get the gift of glowing from within just because you could provide that experience for someone else.  It’s amazing!

The perfect gift may be time spent together.  It may be a handwritten note or a handmade card.  Maybe the perfect gift is a song or a book recommendation.  It doesn’t have to cost anything.

maya-angelou

Maya was a wise, wise woman.  You can truly change someone’s day with a smile, a kind word, a moment of listening, and validation.  It’s all about how you make them feel.

Let’s talk about validation for a sec.  What exactly is validation?  Validation is the recognition and acceptance of another person’s thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviors as being real for them.  Validation is like saying “I understand your experience is real for you”.  It doesn’t mean that you have felt the same exact way or that you share the same opinion on everything or that you agree with everything they have ever done.  Validation is just about seeing that everyone is trying their hardest to live a fulfilling and meaningful life in the best way that they know how.  Everyone is just trying to make it, man.  And they are trying to make it in their own unique way.  Sometimes we just need someone else to recognize that.

To me, one of the absolute best forms of validation is giving a gift that really means something to someone.  Putting in time, thought, and effort to say, “I see you” by giving something that creates connection.

So, the holiday season is exciting for me.  I know some people feel stressed and pressured to get gifts and to make everything “perfect”.  Oh, pshaw!  Just take some time to think about those you care about and give them something that would show that you know them, you care, and you want them to experience joy.  Think of gift giving as an exercise in growing connection with others.  Research shows that when we spend our money on experiences rather than things, we are happier.  Give yourself and others the experience of real connection.

Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a long time.  Visit a neighbor who lives alone.  Get together with friends or colleagues and just spend time talking in person without electronics involved.  Bake something, create something, or buy something, but pause and think about growing your connection to others.  To me, that is what this season of giving is about.  Enriching our lives through connection.

Try it.  You may just agree with me that the real gifts come from the giving.  May you experience peace, joy, connection, and validation this holiday season.

We will talk again soon.

k

 

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

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