Seeking Harmony

I have officially experienced the post election blues.  It has much more to do with the disconnect that I see and feel from humanity than who won and who lost.  After a lifetime of avoiding expressing and feeling my own emotions, I have to say that sometimes this feeling stuff really sucks.  I am feeling my own sadness and the heaviness of the emotions in those around me.  Last evening I sat with myself, and I cried deeply.  The division I see in our nation is so profound.  This division impacts people of other races, religious beliefs, the LGBTQ community and their families. 

 Sometimes, you really have to feel something before you can move past it.  Luckily, my amazing friends at Create Karma and I have been sharing a path of healing and acceptance during the past year.  They have taught me to open my heart, and hopefully I have led them through some healing as well.  I love them deeply.  I have felt my feelings,  and I am ready to move forward and take action as a leader for the wellness of our community and our nation.   

 This week I taught yoga classes encouraging my students to find a place of refuge in their own breath.  I struggled to take my own advice, so I made a cup of my favorite tea, and found inspiration through reading.  This gem of a quote had the greatest impact, so this is where I start moving forward. 

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.
— Mahatma Gandhi

Now I choose to practice finding this harmony, happiness and balance through the Yamas and Niyamas (10 principles of living) of yoga.  If you have felt the feelings that you need to feel and are ready to move take positive action moving forward, here are the steps that I plan to take. 

  1. Ahimsa: compassion for all living things - I turn to a quote from Charlotte Bell.  "My favorite description of ahimsa is of a dynamic peacefulness prepared to meet all needs with loving openness."  I feel compassion for all beings who are being hurt or oppressed.  This extends to my vegan diet.  I am not apologetic, but maybe in order to be more balanced, I need to find actions that express loving openness rather than dwelling on sad or painful things.

  2. Satya: commitment to the truth - Sometimes I have tended to hide my beliefs when they don't parallel those who I am around.  It may feel easier for me that way, but it is a form of deceit.  So to all those hospital employees who may be reading this, I voted for Clinton this year.  There, I said it.  I don't agree with her entire platform, but my personal beliefs are closer in line with hers than with Trump.  Truthfulness - check.

  3. Asteya: non-stealing - It may seem easy to think, I don't steal.  Can we look a little deeper?  The times that I choose to remain silent and don't stand up when #1 is being violated, I am stealing support from those who may desperately need it.  Am I focusing on the news too much and stealing my attention from work that will be for a greater good?  

  4. Brahmacharya: non-excess - To me, this really has to do with how you use your energy.  I choose to spend my energy in a constructive manner by avoiding too much time dwelling on things I cannot change, yet knowing when to use my voice.  I will practice experiencing the difference.

  5. Aparigraha: non-grasping - I will practice giving things to others as a sign of compassion.    This may be expressed in a note or through baking.  It will definitely be expressed through my financial and active work with Create Karma during this year's Extraordinary Give on November 18!

  6. Saucha: purity - I will choose to keep my mind pure by increasing the time I spend in meditation and physical yoga practice.  This can also be practiced through prayer and/or the study of religious text.  I will take meditation breaks instead of coffee breaks.  I will wear a mala as a sign of this commitment.

  7. Santosha: contentment - I will continue to offer teachings of love, healing and balance.  I understand that others will choose to express their voice in a different way.  We are a free world and they are free to do as they wish.  I am content with the fact that it is not my job to fix anything for others. Everyone has their own path.

  8.  Tapas: right effort - Now is the time to not only seek knowledge and beginning to apply what I have learned.  Break old habits and find a way to make our lives and this world a better place.  Keep zeal and enthusiasm for the things that I really believe in and place my attention there.

  9. Svadhyaya: self study - I have had tremendous success in self study by becoming aware of my habitual patterns and beliefs.  Sometimes that little voice in your head isn't our own voice or even the right thing to listen to (it may just be a little bad habit that you've picked up along the way).  Sometimes my old habits seem like old friends, but they are not.  It is important to find your true nature so that you can begin to break these old habits.  This aspect of the path has given me the gift of the biggest heart opening, and I can't wait to see what else is in store!  Study of religious text would also apply to this category.

  10. Ishvara Pranidhana: dedication to the highest (God) - Yoga does not tell us how to define God.  That is very personal.  Anyone with strong religious convictions should cling to them.  Otherwise, how do you connect with the divine?  You could connect with this through time in nature or by looking for the highest expression of goodness in every situation.  

The funny thing is that just taking the time to write these words and dwell on these steps has me feeling better about everything.  Now is the time to put my yoga practice into action.  I call for you to join me in taking all or some of these steps.  We can make our world a better place.  

10 Practices for Stress Management

Ahimsa is the yogic principle of non harming.  According to the American Psychological Association's 2014 stress report, women "consistently report high levels of overall stress and unhealthy behaviors to manage stress".  Gender aside, all stress has a negative impact on the wellbeing of our society.  Our solutions to manage stress (unhealthy food, alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, drugs, etc) are not the best things for our health, and may cause additional harm.

We can look to yogic, mindfulness and wellness practices for healthier (non harming) ways to manage stress, anxiety and insomnia.  Some of them may even change the way you view situations that you used to find stressful.  Here are a few ideas.

  1. Yoga Practice - if you're not already a yogi, now is  a great time to start.  If you're already a regular yoga practicioner, maybe try changing things up by practicing a different style or a new studio.  Practices like Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga, and Yoga Nidra are very relaxing and good for all levels.  For more physical work, Iyengar and alignment oriented class are structurally oriented, while Vinyasa and Prana Flow classes generally offer more movement.  Try a new class, teacher, video or studio to shake things up.
  2. Breathwork - Yogic breathwork  (pranayama) is a great way to manage stress.  Try one of my classes if you're in the area (we practice a bit of breathwork in every class).  Otherwise, you may want to experiment with a practice such as Alternate Nostril Breath or simply lengthen your exhales.  Sit or lay comfortably, close your eyes, and count the length of your inhales.  As a goal, you could try to make your exhale twice as long as your inhale.  When your mind wanders, bring your attention back to the breath.
  3. Essential Oils - Essential oils can change your mood.  Lavender is especially relaxing, and mint or orange scents are uplifting.  You can diffuse them, wear them in a carrier oil such as fractionated coconut oil, or put a few drops in your bath or on your pillow.  I prefer to use 100% pure essential oils.
  4. Eye Pillow - Laying down (on your back or with your legs propped against the wall) with an eye pillow can be one of the best ways to restore a calm, relaxed mood.  Using and eye pillow is said to stimulate the vagus nerve (the body's rest & digest response).  
  5. Hot Tea - There are many delicious types of tea to choose from.  Herbal teas such as camomile tea may be a good choice, but I find that taking the time to sit and relax with a glass of tea melts away my stress.  You may choose to relax with a friend, or enjoy a quiet cup with a view of nature.
  6. Hot Bath - I find a hot bath to be a particularly enjoyable way to relax when I'm feeling anxious.  You can use oils, candles, and/or music to set a spa like atmosphere.  
  7. Time in Nature - Enjoy some peace, quiet, and get some vitamin D!  Being outside (particularly in a quiet place like a park or garden) can do amazing things for your mood.  I like a hike in nature, but a walk in our local park will fit the bill when I'm short on time.  
  8. Journaling - Keeping a journal can be a particularly useful practice.  You may choose to journal about gratitude, your emotions, or focus on positive aspects of each day.  Even this blog has been a way for me to practice a form of journaling.
  9. Mantra Meditation - Reciting a mantra every day can be a great way to focus on the things that matter the most to you.  It can be a personal statement or prayer, or a traditional mantra in sanskrit.  Since my trip to Nepal in 2015, the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum has been special to me.  Here is a link to a video of the mantra.  I like to use mala beads to keep track of my practice, but that is optional.
  10. Music Therapy - You know the music that changes your mood.  It may be a pop song that you like to sing along or it may be quiet background music that you'd find in a spa.  You may perfer to play the music yourself, or listen to someone else's music.  Whatever the case may be, recognize the way different types of music make you feel, and focus on music when your mood needs a boost.  

How do you choose to manage your stress?  Could any of these practices help you find stress relief with a focus on Ahimsa (non harming)?    Stress is not necessary, you have the tools to avoid it!  As you yoga and mindful practices help you find stress relief, maybe you can choose to find a little less stress in your life in general.  If these practices are not helping to manage your stress, anxiety, or insomnia, please consult your physician.

 

Namaste - Beth

 

   

Attentive Practices to Beat Stress

 

A moment of truth as I deal with my own stress.  After writing this entire post on dealing with holiday stress, I accidentally deleted it without saving, and had to start over.  Now I'll be taking some of my own advice, taking a deep breath, and enjoying a cup of hot tea while I rewrite this blog post in an attentive manner.

When our busy holiday schedules get the best of us, sometimes we miss out on all the great little moments.  Much like our yoga practice, there is no such thing as a perfect holiday, although that is often our goal.  Mindful practices can help reduce stress levels and allow us to enjoy our experiences more fully.

I'll list several practices to try.  Find the ones that appeal to you, and put them into practice when you're letting life's stressors get in your way.  Your nervous system will thank you.

Breathe

  1. The yogic practice of attentive breathing is a proven method to calm the nervous system.  Begin by noticing the length of your inhale, then try to extend your exhale to twice the length of the inhale.  Over time, if the length of your inhale naturally lengthens as you calm down, you can respond by lengthening your exhale even more.  
  2. Aromatherapy is a great way to relax.  Essential oils like lavender can be used in body products, diffused into the air, or added to hot baths.  I have been known to put a drop on a surgical mask when I'm working in a stressful surgical case during my day job in cardiology.

Move

  1. Take a long walk, preferably outdoors.  Put your phone away, and really stay in the moment.  Practice hearing the rhythm of your footsteps and breath, noticing the sights, sounds and smells around you, and put your to do list away.  Take the time to be mindful as you walk.
  2. Yoga is an obvious choice as a way to move mindfully.  You may be able to take a full class at your favorite studo.  If not, consider a home practice.  That may mean a few of your favorite poses, or sun salutations on your own, or you can search You Tube for a free class that meets your needs.
  3. Tai Chi and Chi Gong are great gentle ways to learn mindful movement.  I advise seeking out an instructor or class if this practice interests you.

Stillness

  1. Meditation is a great way to focus inward and reduce stress.  Medical studies have shown changes in the brain structure of meditators with as little as 20 minutes of daily practice.  Some of my favorite people are regular meditators!  Tara Brach has many great meditations that are available for free online, and it's a great place to start.

  2. Mantra is another way to find attentive stillness.  You may choose a phrase that means something to you or try a more traditional mantra.  I'm a fan of Om Mani Padme Hum, in the Tabetan Buddhist tradition.  So Hum (I am) is another common mantra.  Simply think or say so with the inhale, and hum with the exhale. 

  3. Restorative yoga is a great way to relax.  Classes are available in studios and online.  Legs up the Wall is a great restorative pose that can be practiced in just a few minutes.  It is practiced by quite literally laying with your legs resting up against a wall as shown here.

Taste

  1. Enjoy a nice glass of tea.  This has been a favorite method of stress relief my entire life.  While in Nepal, tea was regularly offered when we entered people's homes.  I love this tradition!  Don't multitask or pay bills while enjoying your tea, although a nice conversation with a friend or family member is encouraged.

  2. My 95+ year old grandmother and 13 year old son agree that a very small piece of dark chocolate is something to be savored and enjoyed.  Rather than diving into your child's halloween stash of candy, try allowing yourself to take a moment to really experience a small amount of your favorite treat.  No guilt allowed.

If you already practice mindfulness, be sure to keep it up during the holiday season.  If you don't, or if you're looking for something new, try a few of the practices on this list.  Notice how you feel, and enjoy a stress free life during the holidays and into the New Year.

 

Namaste - Beth

 

 

Yoga in the Workplace

If you work a high paced 9-5, there will be times when you are tired, running too many directions, feeling scattered and stressed.  During these times, many of us find time for a coffee break.  This often contains or is combined with high sugar, which is an energetic recipe for disaster.  This is a roller coaster that can lead to exhaustion.   

As an alternative, try incorporating a yoga or meditation break into your day.  I literally go into the room that houses our computer equipment and take a few poses when I'm feeling out of balance.  Here are a few ideas to try.

1.  Breath meditation for anger

If you have a coworker who is having an angry moment, it can be easy to meet anger with anger.  A quick 5 minute breath centered meditation can be the perfect cure.  Instead of building on someone else's negative energy, finding a grounded center will benefit yourself & those around you.

2.  Inversions for a tired, dragging feeling

Ever notice how a well placed inversion like handstand, headstand, or legs up the wall can change your whole mood?  It works when you're outside of yoga class too!  You may have to be creative to find a space, but I find that a large storage room works perfectly.

 3. Gentle backbends for tight shoulders

If you have a job that involves a computer or driving, chances are that you'll notice rounded shoulders.  Gentle backbends or seated cat/cow pose are a great remedy.  They can open the front of the body, move the shoulders back, and release tension in the spine.

These are just a few ideas that I have used in my personal life.  Do you have a need for an additional yogic cure to workplace imbalance?  Maybe you have a favorite solution that you'd like to share in the comments section.  I'd love to hear from you!  


Namaste,

Beth