Friday’s Focus—Warning: You May be Hazardous to Your Health

Did you ever put your hand in a cookie jar, and while you’re in there, think maybe you’ll take one or two more (since you’re there already, of course!) only to find you can’t fit your fist back out of the opening? Holding on to things that are bigger than us can be like that. It will keep us stuck in a place and unable to move forward unless we loosen our grip and let go. Even by one cookie.

There aren’t many of us who haven’t been touched by the increasing stresses and demands of family, job, and basic day to day living. These increases seemed incremental at first but lately feel like giant leaps forward, making things feel harder to manage. Our first normal reaction is to hold on to what we have and what we know, not just for a sense of security but for a feeling of normalcy, while we try and understand what’s happening. But working to maintain that control over time can do more harm than good. It’s hard to let go, yes, I’ll admit. Even for people who are seasoned in surrendering to what is, can be caught off-guard by news or events and they, too, can reactively close their mental fist as a reaction to hold on.

We can’t always control our surroundings and our circumstances, but we can control our actions and reactions. One of the ways to do this is to listen to our body. While our mind is busy keeping track and being in control, our body’s are locked into a response of flight or fight. You may think you are in control, but your body is probably telling you a completely different story.

Neither one can win alone. That sore throat may not be the beginnings of a cold or that sneezing fit may be more of a stress reaction than an increase in the pollen count.  Our bodies will give us clues to the level of stress we’re experiencing even if we feel that we are in control and handling everything well. The physical signs of stress can be very subtle and easy to brush off as symptoms of other things: catching a cold; getting older; something eaten or drank that’s not sitting well; a bad night’s sleep; not enough sleep; and explaining eczema and skin rashes away as  reactions to a new laundry detergent are just a few examples.

While these signs could be genuine indications of deeper underlying physical problems, if you experience any of these longer than you think you should, it may be time to do an honest mental and emotional check-in to see if there is something you may be blocking or burying but your body won’t let you. It’s also a good idea to also consider the words we use in our thinking. When we tell ourselves “I’m so sick of my job” or “I’m so tired of so-and-so’s drama”, it can have a physical impact. Sick and tired. Those are the words your body intuits, understands, and listens to.

Studies have shown that by paying attention to our breath we can “check in” where we are and use it as a means of re-connecting body and mind. I’ve used this countless times on myself. It’s an ideal gauge of where we think we are versus where are bodies are telling us we really are. For example, shallow breathing is an indication of fear, however conscious or unconscious that feeling is. Long-term shallow breathing reduces the amount of oxygen to your organs, resulting in a myriad of problems including cloudy thinking.

Pay attention to your breath. Pranayama is one of the most important self-cares you can do in times of stress. Without breath we have nothing. Our bodies can survive without some organs, limbs, loss of senses, but it cannot survive without breath. Conscious breathing will not only feed the body with oxygen but it pulls the attention away from the mind, away from the stress, away from the worry at least even for a moment. Practicing pranayama brings the mind and body together and reconnects any disconnects.

It’s absolutely natural to hold on and try and retain some sort of status quo especially these days in the midst of so much tension. Living in our modern society and current levels and outpouring of demands can be hazardous to our health if not approached well. Attempting to control situations and outcomes may seem to work in the short run but no good can come out of it in the long term.

Those that do, miss out on a lot more than the amount of control they gain. So take a moment, and catch your breath!

#takingitdeeper #healingourselvesfromtheinsideoutIMG_0613

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Friday’s Focus—True North

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about intention and surrendering and have been making a more concerted effort to be conscious in my intentions of what I do and say. These two words seemed to be in front of me in enough books and articles I’ve been reading that I started to wonder if it may be more than just a coincidence.

A few weeks ago, we decided to take a much-needed vacation to the Catskills for some down time and just to get away. It took me a couple of days to completely unwind from the harried pace I’ve been existing in, and so early one morning, I decided to just grab a chair and sit on the front porch of the B&B we were staying at. I was trying to release any last residual pre-vacation angst and just let go. As I watched the sunrise and marveled at the beauty of the coming day, I grabbed a journal I brought with me. I wanted to get back to journaling on a regular basis and thought what better time to start again than a vacation?

With all sorts of thoughts in my head and not sure where to begin or what I really wanted to say, I started to write about what was literally in front of me—the two squirrels running around the tree, the sunlight rising over the brook, and the different bird songs I was hearing. I let my pen take me wherever it wanted and soon enough I noticed that two words kept circling the page—“surrender” and “intention”. I felt a tickle of intuition that I was on the cusp of something, and it was but a moment later that I found myself writing the sentence—“Surrender to your intention.” Something deep within me released as I read the sentence over and over. I was stunned by the simplicity. It never occurred to me to connect the two! Once again, I was reminded of the humor and the ways messages can come to us when we need to heed something. No wonder I kept running across these words! I suspected that this was something I needed to pay attention to but it wasn’t until I really stopped and thought about it, that I finally got the message.

Setting an intention and surrendering means being conscious in your thoughts and your speech and in the way you act and react. It’s being mindful in the moment. Discovering your true intention and acting in accordance with it is only a part of it though. To really be in full alignment with yourself, I’ve learned that it needs to be inline with surrendering as well.

When you only surrender, you go with the flow of things and accept the movements and hiccoughs as life’s general “I guess that’s the way things are.” But this can only carry you so far.

By the same token, just working with intention, it, too, will only get you so far. It can certainly help set your sights on where you really want to be and do, but if you still fight those intentions especially unconsciously, and do them grudgingly, the intention is really just surface-based and won’t last long. Being on a diet is a perfect example. Which intention will last longer—dropping those 10 pounds so you’ll look better in your jeans or dropping those 10 pounds to lower your risk of Diabetes?

Each of these things are important enough in their own ways but by putting them together, they become a powerhouse. To honestly live in accordance with the right alignment of your energies and your purpose, you must discover your true intentions in everything you do and surrender to them. Surrendering here does not mean giving in or giving up. You’re surrendering to the story that you’ve been living that may not have been serving you very well or gotten you as far as you want to go. It now becomes about creating a new story—one specific to your vision and your purpose and not anyone else’s. 

When you’re in alignment with the right intention, the shift in personal energy is palpable enough that it would be hard to deny or ignore. In my personal practice, since that morning of journaling discovery,  I’ve found myself almost automatically distanced from my attachments and fears that I had before and the clarity of my perspective on what I thought was important had changed. 

If you’re not moving and living in the direction you deeply and  sincerely desire, finding true intention for your actions and thoughts and finally being able to live them by surrendering to them enables you to create a story that will no longer trap you but will empower you instead. It will help keep you from being caught in your own web.

So how do you start? It’s actually pretty simple. Begin by asking yourself some of the following questions:

What is my intention today?
What is my intention for eating this? For drinking this?
What is my intention when I pray?
What is my intention when I meditate?
What is my intention when I respond to that email?
What is my intention for buying this?

Answering these kinds of questions can be tough and you need to be really honest with yourself. Don’t be afraid to keep digging for the answers—don’t stop at the first answer that pops into your head. Question it again; take it deeper. Once you gain an understanding of what the intention is behind a motivation, surrender to the absolute truth of it and consciously apply it to your actions and thoughts.

Use meditation or simple reflection to help you answer these questions.. Experiment and find what works best for you. Keeping a journal is also a great tool. Let your thoughts come as a stream of consciousness and just write—keeping the pen moving in a doodle or in words. Most of all, don’t edit yourself. It’s there, in that hollow, that you’ll discover your deepest intentions and revelations.

In surrendering to your intentions, you’ll find that there comes a natural realignment of your energies. One that is finally working with your soul’s compass in finding your True North and where you can find your way to where you really want to be and need to be.

#takingitdeeper

Friday’s Focus—Just…

Breathe. You took a breath just reading the word “breathe”, didn’t you? Good.

Now do it again, but sit up a little straighter.

That’s right, lower your shoulders from your ears and let your shoulder blades come together slightly as you lift your chin.

On your next inhale, pay attention to the sound the air makes coming in through your nose. Notice the coolness of the air and observe where that air goes. Does it stop at the top of your lungs? At the middle? Bottom? Does it make your belly rise and your chest expand up and out?

Keep inhaling deep until you think you can’t take in anymore.

Then take in one more.
Yes, you can.

And now, part your lips slightly and purse them as if you were ready to whistle or blow out a candle
and exhale

S

L

O

W

L

Y.

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Friday’s Focus—Muting the Volume

Recently, while watching TV in the evenings, my husband would hit the mute button whenever commercials rolled around. He said he had been feeling bombarded in listening and watching them; almost like an assault on the senses. Commercials seem to have become a larger part of any given TV program, sometimes more so than the TV program itself and unless you’re watching the Superbowl specifically for the commercials and looking to be purposely entertained, the amount of ads on TV have increased.

We are being bombarded with not so subtle messages of “Buy this now,” which ultimately translates into “You’re not one of us and won’t be happy until you buy/wear/smell like/look like/eat like this”. The latest trend is actually products selling experiences, so adding on to “You’re not one of us until…”, is the message “You won’t experience this adventure/joy/family closeness/intimacy…” until you buy this.

Commercials never really bothered me and so I went along with my husband, gently reminding him to unmute when the program came back on because we would usually end up in conversation during the break.

Now, let’s roll forward to a few days later when I was watching TV by myself.  I left the commercials on and I found myself really paying attention to the volume, the colors, and the messages, and I began to understand where my husband was coming from. Out of curiosity and as a personal experiment, I voluntarily started to mute the volume during commercials.

What surprised me the most, was how much I recognized the constant chatter of the commercials as being very much like that constant chatter in my head. My monkey mind was on TV! With the volume off, I felt my body relax and my shoulders drop. With the volume on again, even if for a favorite show, I became acutely aware of  how “tight” my body felt and how my energy shifted into a higher gear.

In no time, I became more aware and conscious of my personal energy and the energy in a room when the TV was on and when it was off. The difference was palpable enough for me to start thinking about the connection on muting the TV volume and muting the chatter of my monkey mind. If only it were so easy to still that voice in our heads and put the busy mind on mute. Of course, it can be done but it’s a constant effort and conscious work in meditation, going inward, and being fully present within ourselves. A lifetime’s work for sure.

Muting the chatter on TV has led to an awareness of my own inner chatter. I have become much more present to the energies and sounds of silence.

So if you’re a TV watcher, I’d like to offer you this experiment. The next time you find yourself in front of the TV, hit the mute button during the commercials and see if you notice any difference in how you feel, physically and emotionally. It may take a few days, but note any energetic changes to your body and the difference in input with the volume on and off, and eventually with the TV on or off.

I know many people who say that they can’t meditate—mainly because they can’t sit still, but I believe a large part is also because of how difficult it can be to turn down our own inner volume, to the point of muting the chatter. If you don’t know what you’re supposed to feel you might not know what to look for, so I think by doing this exercise with the TV is a great way to start to become aware of the subtle energies around us and inside us and get us on our way to putting that monkey mind chatter into cancellation with no new series premier this fall.

Taking it deeper….

Have a great weekend!

Friday’s Focus—Being Mindful of Your Words

Language is one of the most powerful forces humans posses and words can bring people together or tear them apart. They are equal in their power whether they are spoken or written or just thoughts.

Through our words, we each have the power to make or break a situation or even a person, and that can include ourselves by being critical and judgmental of the way we look or feel.

Being mindful of right speech is something we can practice by being aware of our spoken and unspoken words. It only takes a small amount of effort for something that can have such a huge impact.

What we don’t say can sometimes be more important than what we do say, so keep that in mind today dear reader, not just for Friday’s Focus but for a focus every day!

Have a great weekend Have a great weekend!
Keeping it light and singing LiLoLa [Live, Love, Laugh] all the way…

 

From Where I Sit

I’ve been feeling very restless the last few weeks. Most likely because the intensity of my day job has substantially increased recently and I have been tethered to the computer daily, mired in the learning curve of java, html, and creating Web pages in a deeper level than I ever knew, or care to, for that matter.

I sit in my home office, surrounded by monitors and keyboards, and after hours of intense focus of staring at the computer screen, sometimes I need to look at something more 3D, so I’ll look out of the one window that is in the room. From where I sit, I can just see the top of the garage roof and an audience of trees behind it. The view is especially lovely when it snows or rains.

My eyes follow the raindrops or the snowflakes as they cascade from the sky and turn the tree tops into white-laced forests or drooping branches, saturated with moisture. If it’s a clear day then I watch the clouds parade by. And if I tilt my head just right (or slink down in my chair, just so), the roof disappears and all I see are the trees and it’s then that I imagine myself  in a place far, far away.

When I feel particularly antsy, I get up and walk to my living room window where, now in the winter, I can see the lake across the way through the bare branches. Sometimes I can’t resist the lure of leaning on crossed arms against the sill, with my forehead pressed against the glass and just watch the play of the sun on the water, letting it mesmerize me and lull me into a quiet space of prayer and meditation.

As a yoga teacher, I learned that yoga lives just as much off the mat as it does on. Some say more so—doing asanas doesn’t make the world go around but following the wisdom of the teachings of Yoga does. As a Shamanic practitioner, I learned the importance, and yes, I’m going to say necessity, of reaching out and connecting to the energies of nature and the Universe; our ancestors, guides and teachers is essential if we are to grow individually and collectively as a human race and maintain and sustain a thread of creativity, abundance, and positivity. Some days, I’ll admit, it is an effort—yogically and shamanically but it’s an effort that is worth making.

I can’t let my days be completely ruled by fear and obligations of unknown and yet to be learned work skills. Yes, I need the work—I have bills to pay like everyone one else. But I see clearly now, more than ever, that when we allow one thing, one aspect of our lives to overrule and push out everything else that is a part of who we are, a disconnect happens and we get into trouble and the restlessness, feelings of unworthiness, insecurity, and general unhappiness kick in. I can’t keep going like that. I won’t. It’s time to get reacquainted with balance again.

I will still do what is asked of me and fulfill my obligations but on new terms.  I am actively rededicating myself to my practices and bringing them off the mat and into the world and I am birthing it with drumming, and rattling and dancing with the ancestors.

There is always so much to do, places to go, people to see—an abundance of distractions and with only so many hours and energy to do it all, I will let my window gazing—arms folded on the sill and forehead against the glass if need be, to lead me into the prayers and meditations and practices that will get me there. Back to balance, back to home.

An Afternoon Pause

I wish that I could record the rain that is falling right now. I look up and watch a sheet of water falling inches from my face and yet I am protected. I feel only the gentlest of kisses from the raindrops that ricochet off of the windowsill and jump through the patterned mesh in the screen. The cool breeze caresses my brow and entices a wayward hair from my temple to sway into a slow dance making me shake my head to get rid of its tickle.

I close my eyes and inhale the scent of the dirt and grass. The basil and rosemary wave from the garden, swaying in time to the base boom of the thunderclaps and the winds that carry its echo. The air is alive with the heartbeat of this welcome storm that has tempered the heat of the last few days. It is not just the Fahrenheit of this July day that has cooled but also my own restlessness that has pervaded even my sleep.

The release of my own energy is palpable. I take another deep breath in and exhale through slightly parted lips, creating my own soft breeze back out into the rain.

I open my eyes slowly and look at the curtain of water and pray for it to wash away thoughts and memories of recent conversations I’m sick and tired of carrying. Almost as though I am looking to physically shirk off these energies, my body begins to move of its own accord into a yoga pose that begs internal focus for balance. This spontaneous movement and alignment of my hands into a mudra feels surreal as I did nothing to intentionally move into this pose. My body has found peace in this one-legged balance, which further rests my inner mind and quiets the monkey. Another thunderclap splits the afternoon as if Thor and his thunder beings give their approval and blessing.

Life is Like a Shoe Store

Teaching a yoga class and demonstrating the Dancer pose, I was explaining another way to grab the foot of the raised leg, and I told the class to reach back and grab the inside of their sole. One of the students chuckled and when I asked her what was funny, she said it wasn’t funny, but poignant—to grab the inside of our soles, and she emphasized the last word, “You know, souls?” I loved her take on it!

I was thinking about this the other day and it occurred to me how life is like a shoe store. Really! Stay with me here: Take any shoe store and you’ll see racks upon racks of shoes—various sizes, styles, and materials. When we go shopping, we look for footwear that fits us well and can also be an expression of us. I would even go so far as to say that we express our souls through our soles!

Taking that idea further, as we grow from children and adolescents to teenagers and finally adults, one way we learn about our selves is by trying on the “shoes” of those around us thinking this is who we should be. Honestly, haven’t we all tried to fit in someone else’s shoes? I know I have.

When someone leaves or passes away, you’ve heard the comment—“Those will be tough shoes to fill”, and then there’s the adage, “You shouldn’t judge someone unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”.

Some of us are still wearing shoes that really aren’t ours and we’re in serious need of shoe shopping. Look down at your feet right now and using your imagination, whose shoes are you wearing? Are they really yours or are your shoes those of your Mom? Your Dad? Cousin? Teacher? Boss? What the social media says you should be?

In time, we may realize that the shoes we wear don’t really fit, so we try on another pair and see how that goes for a while. We try on the shoes of those around us, but some of those shoes are too big, too small, too fancy, or not bold enough for us.

After trying on many different shoes in our lifetimes, if we’re lucky, we find a pair that fits us just right. It feels like we stepped into home as we slide our feet in and don’t think twice about walking that mile! Finding the perfect pair of shoes to walk in is more than just about the soles of your feet. It’s about walking in your own shoes and in the soles of your soul.