Awareness is not Weakness

Let me start by saying I think I have become one of those people I used to make fun of. Comedian Ron White has a set where he talks about a friend of his who moved from Texas to California and went vegetarian. After a meal his friend was complaining that there must have been beef broth in his vegetarian soup because he felt ill. Ron’s reply was to question his friend’s manhood because his friend was “brought down” by broth.Beef broth and vegetables

 

 

 

 

 

About three years ago I gave up dairy. I’m not allergic and it has nothing to do with production methods, No Dairytreatment of any animal in the processing or any other philosophical belief. It’s about how I feel after consuming dairy. While at a restaurant, I ordered a meal and asked to have the cheese left out. Someone at the table asked how long I had been dairy intolerant. I replied I wasn’t and got a very confused look in response.

 

Now how do those two things get tied together you may be asking. It’s because there is a perception that because our bodies reject something, we are somehow weak or it must be due to some allergy or disease. And for some, that may be true. But for others, it isn’t a weakness, it is awareness.

 

Awareness of what our body needs. Awareness of what builds our body and what harms it. These things are not a weakness, but a strength. Yes, I do see how it can appear to be a weakness in that the effects of these choices are felt at a conscious level instead of being just part of the “normal” malaise of daily life. These effects that I’m talking about are warning signs and not debilitating illnesses. At least not usually.

 

The impact and the resulting choices are conscious, and that is what is key here. A good friend of mine and devoted beer drinker recently gave up beer and switched to wine as the drink of choice. This was prompted by a visit to the doctor for chronic stomach aches and a constant bloated feeling. After giving up the beer, they lost about 25 pounds, they stopped feeling bloated and the stomach aches ceased.

 

One evening out, they switched back to beer, just to see what would happen. They felt bloated, stuffed and sluggish for the entire next day. This was after just a couple of beers, not a drunken binge. They related to me how they realized that this was what they felt like all the time before, but it was just “normal.” As much as they missed the beer, they didn’t miss the aching body. This was a conscious choice prompted by increased awareness of what the beer was doing to their body, not them being weak in some way.

 

This got me thinking about all the other foods that I’ve given up or added over the years. I went through my inventory and made a mental connection between how I felt before and how I felt after adding or removing the food. Each time I felt better. Whether it was feeling more energetic, less blah, more calm or whatever, I always felt better.

 

Realizing this in my own body, I’ve come to deeply appreciate the intuitive knowledge of the human body. It has healthyfoods1an amazing facility to understand when the food we feed it isn’t good for it and to send signals back to us to knock it off, followed by signals for what it needs. It also allowed me to realize that it isn’t always about giving something up. I’m in the process of moving to a seasonal diet; eating primarily foods that are in season (no peaches in December unfortunately). The changes so far are pretty profound for me.

 

What I’ve also discovered is that with all the distractions, being busy and over scheduled, those signals get missed until the body just can’t cope and starts to send stronger signals or break down. So is it possible that

Image courtesy of garryknight.

Image courtesy of garryknight.

someone can be brought to their knees by broth alone? Not typically (allergies excluded), but being aware of the body’s signals telling us that whatever that was, isn’t what is needed or isn’t good for us can be mistaken as a weakness.

 

I believe it’s actually a strength. Cultivating the dialogue with our bodies allows us to take the best care of it and properly maintain it to keep it healthy and active. I’ve known people who can tell just by listening to a car idle that something is off. I encourage you to develop that same connection with your own body. It can help keep you healthier and happier, even if you have to give up beef broth.

Patience, Perseverance and the New Year

The ‘P’ words are the hardest, especially patience and perseverance. What makes them so difficult is how easy it is to put them down when facing a challenging situation. It’s easy to get angry or frustrated when things aren’t going well and walk away. And it’s easy to stop or give up when facing large challenges.

 

When feeling pressed, I like to remind myself of this quote:

 

“Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”

~ John Quincy Adams

 

As we move into a new year, I thought it would be a good time to look at what makes these words such powerful tools in helping us achieve our New Year’s goals.

 

Patience, the ability to accept delays, set-backs or trouble without getting upset is the one that for me takes the most

Image courtesy of  ruminatrix.

Image courtesy of ruminatrix.

work. Maintaining my patience allows me to keep a clear head and choose my reactions to situations. As my patience slips away, I notice that my reactions to things become more habitual and not necessarily what I would choose to do under normal conditions.

 

The challenge with patience is that it’s not really something that can be stored up. I can’t do a few hundred extra patience sit ups and bank that for when I’m feeling stressed. That said there are tools that I use when I feel my patience begin to slip; my breathing and space.

 

When I feel my patience begin to slip, it helps me to stop what I’m doing, take a step back and take a few breaths.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

This has the benefits of giving me time to calm myself with my breathing and add space between myself and the situation. The combination of those is what allows me to center myself and approach the current situation with a clearer, calmer head.

 

Perseverance, the ability to continue on a course of action no matter the difficulties faced, is the one that allows me to keep trying no matter how many times I’ve failed. Unlike patience, perseverance comes a little easier for me. My mom would say I’m just stubborn, but I prefer to think that I’m just very good at persevering. Semantics aside, the ability to continue working towards a goal no matter what obstacles are thrown in your way has served me well over the years.

 

When a situation or goal proves to be challenging, exercising perseverance in the face of those obstacles, keeping a cool and optimistic mindset, allows me to stay focused and confident as I pursue the goal. Not being rushed or feeling defensive allows me to stay present and evaluate where I am and make better decisions as I move forward.

 

Of course when I’m at my best, it’s when I can combine these tools. Applying patience to give myself space to be present so I’m able to better focus on my goal and the steps I need to take to achieve it coupled with perseverance to keep moving towards that goal is indeed a “magical” combination. With enough patience and perseverance, I’m pretty sure anything is possible.

 

As the new year rolls around I encourage you to find or set a goal that feels daunting. As you set that goal, don’t just livelifehappyset the goal, but set the intention to approach the goal with both patience and perseverance. Do this and track how you feel about the goal and how you feel about your progress towards the goal when you face obstacles. Using these tools in achieving your goals might just make them easier to accomplish, and hopefully less stressful.

 

Set your goals and set your intentions for some Happy Goal Achieving in the New Year.

I Eat Healthy and I Don’t Apologize….

What does eating healthy have to do with meditation? Many strange things have happened to me since I started meditating on regular basis. I crave exercise. I am less angry and judgmental. I actively look for ways to help others. I like eating healthy food.

 

That’s right. I eat (moderately) healthy foods and take the time and extra effort to plan and prepare meals and snacks that are relatively healthy and tasty besides. And I don’t apologize for it. chickenpotclipart

 

What I am finding interesting, is that people; both friends and random people I meet, make semi-apologetic excuses for not eating better themselves. I don’t know if anyone else is experiencing this phenomenon, but I find it a little unsettling.

 

I like to socialize over lunches and dinners as a way to strengthen or help to forge the bonds of friendship and camaraderie. However, my diet has been changing over the years to a healthier diet, giving up cheese, soda, eating more vegetables and so on.

 

I never paid much attention to what others were eating (unless it looked better than what I ordered) and was never concerned about what my companions thought of my meal. Having said that, I have been on the receiving end of near militant ‘ians who had no lack of opinion and were more than happy to “share.”scaredchickenclipart

 

And perhaps that mentality is what my friends now anticipate from me; although I hope not. I make my choices and choose what I will and won’t eat. I choose to go into restaurants and order off menu if there aren’t choices that I find palatable. What I don’t do is expect others to make the same choices.

 

 

And yet my friends, family and even complete strangers give me the impression that they feel bad or ashamed about what they are eating, and end up basically apologizing to me for their diet; or making excuses to me about why they are not eating better. It’s creepy to be honest.

 

I don’t know the real reason they act the way they do around me. I am very careful not to push my own choices, and I generally don’t even mention them unless contextually appropriate. I’m not the food police and I certainly don’t critique everyone else’s meals.

 

I’ve just begun looking for the cause of this odd behavior. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of inspiring others to benobully1 their best and to cheer them as they strive for new goals. But I have no desire to be the self-righteous bully that looks down his nose at the choices and lifestyles of others.

 

For one thing, it isn’t my place. For another, it sounds like a lot of work. I don’t want to have to keep track of everyone all the time. And finally I’m still learning and growing. I have and will likely continue to make missteps and mistakes; have to back track and even apologize at times.

 

 

If there is one thing anyone takes from this, I hope it is to be yourself. If you aren’t happy with where you are in your life, make a change. If you don’t feel you can make that change alone, ask for help. No one can offer a helping hand unless they know you need it.

 

Drop the excuses and take action. If you don’t want to make a change in your life then don’t. Be confident in yourself and your choices. Everyone else can either support and accept you, or not.

 

“You have to meet people where they are, and sometimes you have to leave them there.”

– Iyanla Vanzant

10 Minutes To Get The Body and Mind Moving

Job, family, kid’s activities, dinner, home projects, pets and a million other things compete for our time every day. With all that noise and competition it’s tough to carve out time to take care of ourselves. Sleep deprivation is one option, and I’ve certainly used it in the past. But there are still days where even that isn’t an option.

 

Instead of stressing over missing a day (and for me, the grumpiness that fills my day), I have a quick (and in my opinion fun) way to get a little stretch and strengthen put back into the day. And it’s only 9 moves and 10 minutes. Full disclosure, this is not a super cardio, super stretch, ab ripping or other intensive set. It’s meant as a way to get the body (and energy) moving on days where there just isn’t time for anything else.

 

Empty Coat Sleeves (2 minutes):

Feet shoulder width apart, let the arms hang down at your sides like empty coat sleeves (hence the name). Start by slowly twisting side to side letting the arms flop against the body. Slowly increase the tempo and as you turn, let the opposite side heel come up. Play with the tempo and the slowly add breath to the movement. Inhale as you come to center, exhale as you twist. Start to slow the swings and let the arms come to rest.

 

Hip Circles (5 each leg each direction):

Root one leg into the ground, shift your weight to that leg, engage the abs in and up then inhale to float the opposite leg up, bent at the knee. Keeping the planted leg engaged, draw the largest circle you can with the bent knee. Reverse the circles. Slowly lower the leg, shift your weight to the second leg, and repeat on the second side.

 

Leg Balances – each leg about 15-20 seconds (2-3 sets):

Start as above, feet hip distance. Plant one leg, thigh muscles gripping the bone, engage the abs in and up and inhale to slowly float the other leg up, bent at the knee and hold while continuing to breath. Float the leg down, shift the weight to the other leg, and repeat on the second side.

 

Wall Push, each leg forward (3 sets, 10-15 seconds each):

Stand with palms pressed against the wall. Step one leg back a comfortable distance. Front knee is stacked over the front ankle, the rear leg is long and strongly planted into the ground. Engage the abs in and up, inhale and slowly exhale as you press into the wall (10-15 second) and release. Repeat two more times. Switch feet.

 

Low/High lunges – just a good stretch:

Starting with feet planted, hip width apart, step far back with one leg. Keep the front knee stacked directly over the front ankle. Place your hands either on the floor or a block for balance. Keep the hips square and lengthen though the spine. Keep your rear leg straight and slowly pivot up at the hip, lengthening the tailbone down. This is a great stretch for the hip flexors and thighs. Stay here for a minute or so and enjoy the stretch. Switch sides before moving on.

 

Standing Wide Angle Forward Fold – a good stretch and release the head to relax:

Start with the feet a comfortably wide distance apart, legs straight but the knees aren’t locked. Engage the abs in and up, lengthen through the spine and fold slowly from the hips. Only after folding as far as you can, release the hands to the ground (or blocks) and let your body fold down and release your head and let it just hang loose. Relax here for several breaths and enjoy the mini-inversion. To come out, place hands on ground or blocks and use your arms to push up to a flat back, bend the knees slightly and hinge up to standing. Walk the feet together.

 

Seated Forward Fold (legs together) for good stretch; keep back long:

Come to a comfortable seated position with the legs straight out in front. Lengthen through the spine and the heels. Engage the abs in and up and begin to hinge forward at the hips. Hold here for a few breaths. You can then release and fold forward, supported by your hands. Hold here and breathe. Engage the abs, press the palms into the ground to straighten your spine. Hinge up from the hips to finish the release.

 

Seated Twist (each side):

Leave one leg extended and lengthen up through the spine. Bend the other leg at the knee and place the foot to the outside of the extended leg. Keep the spine lengthened and slowly twist towards the lengthened leg. Breathe a few times and slowly release. Switch legs and repeat on the second side.

 

Savasana, focus on belly breathing:

Lie down on the floor on your back. Feet slightly more than hip width apart and let the feet fall open. Hands about 45 degrees from the body, palms up. Release and relax every part of your body. This may take a minute or two, but don’t rush. When you’re ready, focus on the lower belly. As you inhale, let just the lower belly blow up like a balloon filing with air. As you exhale, let the belly sink down towards your spine; repeat. Take as long as you want here, but to keep it short, about 10 breaths or so will do. To come out, turn slowly to the left, pause, then push up to a seated position. Pause again before standing up and moving on with your day.

 

And now you’re done. Short, sweet and just enough to get your body, energy and mind moving and staying sharp for as long as you need. As I said earlier, this isn’t a cardio blast by any means, but it will get you moving.

 

Once you are comfortable with the series, I encourage you to play with different types of breathing to either bring up or level out your energy and mind.

Escaping Mental Quicksand

Shane Falco: You’re playing and you think everything is going fine. Then one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink. Until you can’t move… you can’t breathe… because you’re in over your head. Like quicksand.

 

This is mental quicksand. It sneaks up on us. One little negative thought because one little thing goes wrong or just doesn’t meet our expectations. And that one little negative thought draws our attention. Then all we can do, all we can notice are the negative things. And down into the quicksand we go.Drowning hand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can the quicksand be escaped, or better still, avoided? These are questions everyone asks at some point, from top athletes and performers to anyone who is just having one of those days. I’ll be honest, I haven’t figured out how to completely avoid the quicksand. I still step right in the middle of it some days. What I have done is work to recognize when I put my foot in, when that sinking feeling starts, and find constructive ways to dig myself out before I start feeling overwhelmed and stuck.Office chaos

 

First, some of the signs that tell me I’m heading in that direction:

  • My jaw clenches.
  • My shoulders start drifting up towards my ears.
  • My thinking is starts getting muddled and fuzzy.
  • I hear myself saying things I really didn’t want or mean to say.
  • The normally kind universe is kicking me in the gut, repeatedly.

 

Now that you have some ideas on how to spot the slide down the quicksand trap, the question becomes how to dig out. Depending on how deep you get before starting, it could be simple and relatively easy. But there are times when you are in pretty much over your head before you realize what’s going on, and that takes more effort.

 

Where ever you might find yourself, when you do realize where you’re headed, here are some of my go to tips for digging myself out.

  • Stop and breathe.

    Image courtesy of  { lillith }.

    Image courtesy of { lillith }.

  • If possible, get up and move, be active, go for a workout.
  • If you can’t get a workout in, take a smaller break in Savasana.
  • If you can’t do that either, take a break to go get a cup of tea (or beverage of choice).
  • Let go of everything that has happened up to that point in your day. It doesn’t matter and holding onto it is like grabbing an anchor, you’ll just sink faster.

 

 

 

 

That is a quick list for when I haven’t started sinking too deep yet. And it’s by no means an exhaustive list, just a few idea that work for me. If I do find myself already pretty deep in the mental quicksand, these are my favorite ways to dig out, or at least stop the sinking.

  • Stop and breathe (this works for pretty much any situation).

    Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

    Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

  • Step away, completely away. It’s often difficult to do because of the perceived pressure that can be felt.
  • Put yourself in a mental bubble to shut out all the unnecessary noise around you.
  • Focus on one and only one thing to accomplish. Once that is complete, move on to another one. Keep knocking out the tasks, one at a time, until you feel back on track.
  • Be nice to yourself. Negative thoughts attract more negativity. Positive thoughts attract more positive energy. Give yourself a little encouragement and see how much it can help.

 

The key for me has become less about digging out, but more about figuring out I’m on my way into the quicksand. It is so much easier to make little adjustments to avoid getting sucked in than it is to work to climb back out.

 

This is one of those things that just takes practice. Learning to really tune in to what you are feeling as you feel it is something that as adults we have almost forgotten. Once you do, the warning signs go from being buried in the noise to blaring and nearly impossible to miss. Along the way, just remember to be kind to yourself. Sometimes you’ll be the only one who is.

 

 

 

Non-Judgmental Compassion or Avoidance?

I’ve written a few times about the importance of being kind to ourselves, the use of a non-judgmental compassion. After all, each day is different and some days are just, well, good days to crawl back into bed and hide under the covers.

Image courtesy of seeker9.com

Image courtesy of seeker9.com

 

I’ve been asked how I know when I cross the line from being compassionate with myself and listening to what I need over to being just plain lazy. Unfortunately there isn’t an easy answer to this question. I did an article on how to do nothing and the benefits that can be garnered from doing nothing. But it’s a fine line between doing nothing take care of oneself and doing nothing to avoid doing anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have discovered a few telltale signs that help me distinguish between the two and listed them here:

  • Feeling regret about choosing not to work out or whatever it was that you didn’t do. Not the little “yeah I probably should have” type, but the “I really need to do that tomorrow” type of regret.
  • The activity in question is one that you are choosing to be “compassionate” with yourself on more than others. Say almost every time it comes up, “compassion” is the first thought you have.
  • You choose self-care over anything that happens during a televised game or show. Most of us have a DVR, Netflix or some other on demand service. If all else fails, they still have reruns and highlight reels.
  • The to-do list becomes a matter of life or death as you get closer to having to start what you are being self-compassionate over. When doing your nails suddenly comes to the top of our list, you might be avoiding something.
  • You fidget at the very thought of starting the activity you are being self-compassionate about. The anticipation of it sets your skin on fire and your stomach starts churning. A good sign you are avoiding. But sometimes what we avoid the most we also need the most.
  • You take any reason to help or support others (or just any excuse really) to avoid what you were going to do. See fidgeting above.

 

After running through that list, do any of those sound familiar? If not, great you probably have a nice balance in your life. But if you did, then read on, I have some tips on facing those things that you may be avoiding and maybe even make them less arduous.

 

Image courtesy of  { lillith }.

Image courtesy of { lillith }.

First, find a little time to set aside for yourself. Digging around inside can stir the emotional pot. Having some time to sit and deal with what comes up makes this process smoother and more effective. Once you have the time and a nice quiet spot, settle in and move through these steps.

  • Take a few minutes to just breathe and tune your mind into your body. Some breathing exercises such as Ujjayi, Dirgha or similar are useful here.
  • Take stock of your emotional state. Ideally a calm mind will allow you to dig out the root cause of the resistance in your life.
  • Think about starting the task you’ve been avoiding. Notice, without judging, what emotions, what thoughts and what physical sensations come up for you.
  • Next picture what you might feel once you’ve completed the task. Ask yourself if that feeling is enough to get you started. If it is, then breathe a little longer and get started.
  • If not, ask yourself if this is something that absolutely must be done. If it is, then accept that you must do it and look for ways to make it more pleasant, if not enjoyable. If not, consider dropping it from your to do list.

 

One of the biggest reasons we are resist something because it’s challenging us in some way that is outside our comfort zone. This is a good thing. Growth is challenging. It can also be daunting. The steps above can help you figure out why you’re feeling resistance and give you a little support in moving through it. If this doesn’t work the first time, I encourage you to keep at it. It can take time to deal with resistance and setting an expectation that it may take a few rounds takes pressure off yourself.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of kootenaycommunityyogatherapy.blogspot.com.

 

At the end of the day, when you have a chance to sit and quiet your mind, you will know what you did to be kind to yourself and what you did to avoid something. Everyone has challenges and the key here is that even when you find yourself avoiding something, don’t judge or criticize yourself. Just acknowledge it’s happening and take the conscious steps in the direction you truly want head.

The Beauty of Death – Savasana

A lot has been written about Savasana and its importance to a yoga practice. The time to integrate, absorb and make space for the work done during a practice is crucial to physical/emotional/spiritual growth. That time of rest allows the body and mind to reset and adjust to or find new

Image courtesy of  { lillith }.

Image courtesy of { lillith }.

changes.

 

This integration time is key to yoga. But does it have to be unique to yoga? Think of other activities, sports, forms of exercise that are popular such as Pilates, running, weight lifting, etc. They tend to lack this crucial time at the end.

 

Crucial there is a strong word, but appropriate I believe. I think about the conversations that happen after a long run. Everyone is gathered around their cars saying good bye and there is a number of runners who want to nap because the run was tough. They are tired and sore and their bodies just want to rest.

 

Typically they don’t nap. They rush back to their lives and families and jump right in. As a result, the next day can be physically and mentally tough. Even later that day there is a feeling of being drained and lethargic. Feeling this way myself, I decided to try one of my wholly unscientific experiments.

 

Image courtesy of andreasivarsson  / Flickr.

Image courtesy of andreasivarsson / Flickr.

I did a hard run. Felt tired and knew that I would feel that run the next day and that if left to my normal course of action I would feel drained later. I went home, pulled out my mat and put myself into savasana.

 

I ran for 90 minutes, so I gave myself 15 minutes to incorporate. To be clear, this wasn’t a nap. I was awake and aware and guided myself through savasana just like I would after a yoga class. This includes a little stretch and settle, attention to breath and walking myself through the entire release and allow process.

 

When my time was up, I slowly moved out of savasana and stepped back into the flow of my day. That afternoon, I felt great. Not just great, amazing. That drained, sluggish feeling never showed up. I was amazed and thrilled.

 

Being aware that it just could have been my energy for the day, I repeated this process, not just for running, but for any physically demanding exercise I engaged in. I found a place where I could put myself into savasana quickly after the workout. I kept the same focus on breath, release and allow each time. And each time the typical mental or physical fatigue that would normally follow, never showed up.

 

Intrigued, I wanted to see if the reverse were also true. I took a few yoga classes and (after speaking with the teacher ahead of time to explain) I skipped savasana. Incredibly (but not unexpectedly) I didn’t feel quite as good later that day.

yogaleavepose

I’ve heard many times in many classes that yoga’s real work begins when you leave the mat and that the greatest challenge is to carry what we learn in yoga into real life. I’m not sure it was meant quite this literally, but I appreciate the results of carrying savasana into my other pursuits.

 

I’ve had such great experiences with this that I build time into the end of most of my workouts to find a quiet spot have a little integration time. I’ve found that physically it helps my post workout recovery by minimizing the physical impact of even the most challenging workouts.

 

Emotionally, yoga isn’t the only place where “stuff” can come up. Any intense workout can stir the emotional pot. Without this time, there is a great possibility that we can miss the opportunities to deal with what comes up in these other forms of exercise.

 

And finally mentally. Savasana is transition time. Just as there is typically a centering before yoga to move from the daily life to the mat, savasana is the transition back to life off the mat. Other forms of exercise have warm ups, or we develop our own routines to get our heads focused on the work out. I never really took the time to build a transition routine back. Until I found savasana.

 

Don’t take my word for it. Try it out. Take your next work out or two or three and build in a little savasana time after the work out. See if you find a difference. It’s been said everything is yoga. Yoga ends in savasana, so why can’t a good run?