This category contains the intention-setting ideas from the monthly newsletter.

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Support the Manifestation of Your Dreams for 2019 and Beyond!

New Year resolutions have all been set and rung in for two weeks now and, as some of the motivational energy behind those resolutions might be fading a bit, I thought I would dedicate this newsletter to the number one tool for manifesting our desires, intentions and dreams – visualizaton!

As the quote above by Henry David Thoreau suggested so many years ago, holding a picture in our mind is quite powerful.  Visualization helps clarify our heart’s desires, supports maintaining focus on our dreams, and expands awareness of how to co-create our manifestations as the Universe now knows what to send our way.

Visualization is the fuel that is needed to keep the fire of motivation burning brightly.  Visualization trains the mind to see and recognize the support being provided to us by the Universe.  Visualization can reduce our worry about the future, aligning our minds and hearts and plugging us into the web of life.  We gain trust – in ourselves and the world – and feel more confident when making decisions, knowing that we are making our choices from a space of clarity and intention.

Below I offer ideas you might want to try to begin visualizing for this year and beyond:

  1. Daily affirmation(s).  Last year I started a daily practice of saying to myself “How does it get better than this?” each morning upon awaking as I snuggled with my two furbabies in bed, allowing the universe to provide me with what would serve my highest self and I was not disappointed!  The key here is to repeat your affirmation at least once a day, possibly several times a day.  The more we repeat it, the more our mind starts to believe it is true.  I like to say “Believe it until you receive it” instead of “Fake it until you make it”.  Write it down, maybe on an index card and place it somewhere where you will see it each day.  Make sure it is stated in a positive way as the universe gets confused by words that carry negative energy.  For example, if I think “I want to be pain free”, the universe gets confused by the word pain.  Instead you might consider “I am healthy, strong and move with grace and ease.”  Which reminds me, use the present tense as if it is already here and true.  Consider taking a moment, right now, to find a piece of paper and write down one of your new year’s resolutions as a positive, present moment affirmation!
  2. Vision Board.  Creating a vision board is a way to identify physical representations of what inspires and motivates you, bringing more clarity to the tangible manifestations of your dreams. Once created, it reinforces your daily affirmation when placed in a location that you can see on a daily basis.  Consider joining me this weekend (Sunday, January 20th at 6 pm) to create your vision board for 2019.  If you are not able to join me, there are many resources online to explore this creative and inexpensive way to support manifesting your dreams.
  3. Meditate.  Now that you have created a daily affirmation and vision board to support your dreams, consider spending some time each day meditating on your affirmation and vision board.  It might simply be a minute each morning and a minute each evening before bed.  This time is in addition to repeating your daily affirmation and looking at your vision board throughout the day.  Simply allow yourself this opportunity to sit quietly and immerse yourself a bit longer and deeper into the experience of your dreams as already manifested.  After you do so, notice the impact this experience might have on your body and mind.
  4. Follow your intuition.  When presented with a decision, especially a big one, consider sitting a moment in the presence of your daily affirmation and vision board and ask your higher self for guidance.  Weigh your choices and sense into which one might feel lighter in the body.  If the mind is full of thoughts, again see if you can sense into the weight of those thoughts.  You might also remember the spiritual law of success that suggests when the decision feels effortless, or pieces of the puzzle fall into place with ease, it is the universe’s way of letting you know you are on the right path.  Start noticing life’s little synchronicities and allow them to be a reminder that the Universe is validating your intuition that is guiding you in the manifestation of your dreams!
  5. Take action with Gratitude.  Visualization, whether simply holding a picture in your mind or creating a daily affirmation or vision board, requires your active participation.  The reinforcement to your motivation provided by daily affirmations and vision boards supports you in taking steps forward to manifest your dreams with clarity and focus.  Even starting out with very little baby steps starts the Universal ball rolling, so to speak.  Two baby steps I suggest trying are creating a routine (thus strengthening the connection to your dreams by ensuring the use of the tools above) and creating a daily “To Do” list with ONLY 3 items on it, ensuring those 3 items are written in a way that supports your visualization of your future.  For example, to support my daily affirmation of “I am strong, healthy and move with grace and ease”, my To Do list might contain an action item to schedule my annual doctor visits.  Then at the end of the day, when you review your list and create a new one for tomorrow, plan to express gratitude to the Universe (and yourself!) for whatever steps you took toward the future you are actively visualizing for yourself!

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Expand Our Capacity for Self-Compassion

Although the holidays bring visions of family coming together, these images may not always bring the joy presumed by the presentations.  Many of us struggle to create an accepting and caring environment when we ourselves did not receive such acceptance and caring as we grew up.  Add the stress of trying to plan “the perfect” meal and buy “the perfect” gifts for everyone and we are setting ourselves up for frustration, failure, and ultimately suffering.

How can we stop this vicious cycle?  We can learn to give ourselves that acceptance and caring during the holidays and all year long!  Cultivating self-compassion has been shown to be the answer for such suffering.  And, although the concept of compassion might be foreign, it is possible to develop it no matter how old we are.

Below, please find five intention-setting ideas to start you on the journey of self-compassion:

  1. Picture yourself as a child.  In fact, if it is available to you, find a picture of yourself when you were little and place it near your computer or somewhere else where you will see it every day.  If you don’t have any pictures, close your eyes and try to remember a time when you were young, maybe at school.  Visualize what it might look like to provide care and demonstrate acceptance to that version of yourself.  What did you long to hear from the adults around you at that time?  Maybe you could offer some words such as “You are perfect just the way you are.” or “I love you no matter what” or “You are so smart” or “You are so good”.  Make time each day to offer this care to yourself, perhaps when you look at your picture or when you see yourself in the mirror.
  2. Forgive yourself.  The next time you catch yourself beating yourself up for making a mistake, stop for a moment, take a breath, and imagine what it would be like to forgive yourself for being human.  Perhaps place a hand on your heart and say something like “I’m sure I’m not the first and/or only person to make this mistake”.  You might consider trying this practice with what you might consider a “small” mistake, where no one got hurt and notice the effect it might have on your body and mind.  Keep practicing it on those small mistakes for a month and see if the practice gets easier.
  3. Stop making assumptions!  When we lack information, it is a natural tendency to fill in the information based upon our past knowledge and experience.  Unfortunately, when we do this we limit ourselves, paving the road toward judgment.  If we can catch ourselves making an assumption or judgment about ourselves, we open ourselves up to the unlimited possibilities inherent in choice!  Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that the only constant in life is change and we too can learn to choose to release our attachment to assumptions and judgment.  Instead, we might spend some time identifying what matters to us – our values in life – and allow them to lead us forward and guide us in our decisions.
  4. Listen to self-compassion meditations.  Our thought patterns can be deep and sometimes we need a little help in rewiring our brains.  Consider creating space for yourself (both time and room) to close your eyes and listen to a guided meditation to support the blossoming of the seed of compassion that already exists in your heart.  In fact, maybe take a compassion break right now and click this link to a free Loving Kindness meditation offered by UCLA.  If not now, set a reminder to listen to it tonight as you climb into bed!
  5. Try your hand at writing.  Dr. Kristen Neff has several writing exercises on her website self-compassion.org that utilize writing as a tool to support our efforts to invite more compassion towards ourselves.  Sometimes just writing down the critical, judgmental thoughts about ourselves that occupy our minds helps us get some perspective.  Then we can invite curiosity to the table to review what we have written down, creating space to challenge those judgments.  We can even write a response to our thoughts as if they were expressed to us by a friend and notice how we might respond differently.  Might you consider trying one of these exercises this week?!

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Open Your Heart

November is National Gratitude Month!

The ‘attitude of gratitude’ is finally having its day . . . or an entire month!  Research focused on the benefits of cultivating more gratitude in your life is showing many measurable psychological, physical and interpersonal benefits, such as lower blood pressure, less feelings of isolation and loneliness, and higher levels of positive emotions, including compassion.  If you are interested, you can read my personal experience below (Heart and Soul Healing Reflections) to learn how the practice of writing down what we are grateful for significantly impacted my own journey of healing, inspired by a recent research study validating this anecdotal experience.

Also, below I have offered some simple practices you might explore to celebrate this month and kick start your own gratitude practices.  I encourage you to set a global intention as you try out some of these practices of focusing on your heart center and lean into the sensation of creating space for expanding the sense of appreciation, for what we have in our lives, for others and for ourselves.

  1. Say Thank You!  As we grew up, somewhere along the line, we were told to say “Please” and “Thank You” to others that do something kind for us to be polite.  Maybe our ancestors instinctively sensed that the act of saying “Thank You” had a more profound purpose.  My suggestion for consideration is to delve a bit deeper into the act of expressing this form of appreciation to another by bringing more awareness to this expression, being more conscious in our choice of when, how and to whom we express it.  For example, instead of simply saying “Thank You’ to someone that holds the door open for you as you enter a store, you might slow down and say “Thank you for being so kind and considerate to take the time to hold the door for me today.  I truly appreciate it”.  And then watch, listen and sense into the response!  And, if you are feeling even more adventurous, you might try it with a dear friend or family member.  Set an intention in the morning to catch a loved one “doing something good” and when you do observe them in the act, stop and thank them for what they did.
  2. Focus on the Positive.  Even when things in our life don’t go as planned, if you take some time to sit with the experience, you will be able to discover a unexpected benefit of the change in plans.  By doing so does not necessarily diminish the immediate impact of the sadness or disappointment; however, searching and finding the silver lining and appreciating the benefit has the amazing power of shifting us into an experience of more positive energy, creating space for a more balanced, equilibrated perspective and sense of being.  Consider trying it out today!
  3. Create kindness.  Here’s a fun idea you can do as a craft with friends and family and then share with anyone and everyone.  Collect a bunch of rocks and write something kind on each one.  Then go around your neighborhood or office park and place them where they can be easily found. To read more about this movement started by Megan Murphy, check out this website:  https://www.thekindnessrocksproject.com.  Trust that your message will find the right person at just the right time to change their life!  After you have placed your rock messages around, take some time to sit with yourself and reflect on how the experience in your heart has expressed itself.
  4. Honor our Service Members.  Feeling like you might want to stretch yourself a bit this month and go beyond our borders?  Perhaps consider writing a ‘thank you’ note or letter to a Service member.  Our Active Duty Service members are dedicated to making a difference in our lives without even knowing us.  And, although they may not admit it to many, combat is a scary place, even more so without the comforts of home for some solace.  Receiving an unexpected thank you from a stranger, acknowledging their contributions and sacrifice, might just fan their internal flame of dedication and validate their motivation to serve and protect our freedoms.  Check out Operation Gratitude to learn more about sharing your appreciation with the troops and cracking your own heart wide open!
  5. Write a letter to yourself!  Or maybe this month you are feeling a bit more reflective and sensing your heart needs a more intimate approach to cultivating gratitude.  Then may I recommend writing a ‘thank you’ letter to yourself.  The ultimate practice of kindness might be to express kindness to yourself.  See if you can identify at least 10 aspects that you love about yourself.  Maybe ask someone you care about deeply to do this practice with you and consider sharing what you come up with by saying them out loud to each other.  Again, sit a few moments afterwards to sense into the experience, especially noting the sensations around the heart.  I would love to hear about your observations!

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Emotional Wellness

I believe we are all feeling the heaviness of the divisive energy that we are experiencing in the world, whether we want to acknowledge it or try to pretend it doesn’t exist.  So many of us can’t wrap our minds around what is happening!  I keep reminding myself we must have destruction before construction.  The heavy, destructive energy is bringing the darkness into the light, so we can more clearly see what needs to change in order to elevate the collective consciousness.

It will require serious perseverance and energy to take back our power from whatever it is that we believe is keeping us powerless.  And, yet we don’t have to do this alone.  The past couple of years brought even more clarity to the people in my life, helping me to better discern those that I can turn to and trust to have my back, no matter what, while, at the same time, helping me to release those who I refer to as “energy vampires” that were vibrating at a different wave length.

As we experience the October new moon today (10/08/18), let it be a reminder that we are presented with another opportunity to start a new cycle, a chance to build upon what we already know.   When we experience a new moon, it is not visible from Earth as the moon steps directly between the Sun and Earth.  However, with each following day, the moon slowly begins to reveal itself again, thanks to the Sun’s reflective light.  Let this monthly lunar cycle inspire our sense of hope that there is light after the dark and that the Universe is at play here, bringing the world into a new state of balance as it continues to work toward homeostasis.

It is our growing awareness and understanding of the cycles of life and how connected we are that helps us acknowledge the impact of not only the energy of others on a more intimate level but also on a more global level.  Therefore, in honor of Emotional Wellness Month, I offer the following intention setting ideas to fan the flame of your internal light that will support your emotional wellness and help you navigate these trying times:
  1. Get more sleep.  I think most of us experience a change in how we move through the world when we have a bad night’s sleep.  One of the most important – if not the MOST important – way to support our emotional health is to ensure we get an sufficient amount of sleep each night. And when we are feeling more stress, we need even more sleep.  Lack of adequate sleep affects the brain, turning up the pressure in the parts of the brain that support the ‘flight or flght’ response and short-circuiting the connection to the parts of the brain that support awareness, compassion and gratitude, all of which are necessary for our emotional well-being.  Therefore, consider setting an intention to create space for yourself to add more time to your regular sleep schedule, following the cycle of the shorter days/longer nights that this month presents us.
  2. Gather together for meals.  When we experience overwhelming situations, we can feel alone in our pain and suffering and tend to want to withdraw from the world.  Set an intention to share as many meals this month with someone that “gets you” instead of eating alone.  Maybe include a new restaurant that you have been wanting to try one week with your best friend.  It has been shown that spending time together during meals supports overall physical, mental and emotional well-being.
  3. SLOW DOWN.  Don’t buy into the belief that we must multi-task and do more than others to be appreciated, accepted and/or worthy.  In fact, this belief supports the divisive energy that is so prevalent right now.  Set an intention to give something – better yet, someone – you care about your undivided attention for one hour and then step back to assess the impact, both on your sense of well-being as well as on the outcome of your undivided attention.  I think you will be pleasantly surprised  to discover that being fully present (AKA one-pointed focus) in your interactions with the world creates space that welcomes in peace and a sense of connection to the flow of life, that calms the mind and opens the heart.   
  4. Ground yourself through breathing.  When the world begins to push our buttons, we become more reactive, instead of responsive.  Consider setting an intention this month to make a plan to breath more consciously when you notice one of your buttons has been pushed and has turned on your internal alarm system.  One simple practice I learned and use often includes closing my eyes, visualizing my inhale coming up through the soles of my feet and traveling all the way to the crown of my head as I say to myself “I am” and then releasing a long, slow exhale (from my crown back down through the soles of my feet) as I say to myself “here grounded”.  I do that two more times, saying to myself “I am, here present” and “I am, here ready” before allowing my breath to return to a natural rhythm and open my eyes.
  5. Commit to your own self-care.  Our social culture has twisted this practice into a belief that doing self-care is selfish.  And, if it is the current state of our social culture that is supporting divisiveness, then now is the perfect time to challenge this belief!  It is mission critical to our own individual emotional health as well as that of the world to ensure we prioritize our own self-care. Otherwise, we won’t be able to provide kind and nurturing care of others, thus contributing to the vicious cycle of neglect and abuse that the light is in the process of bringing out of the darkness.  Reflect on what keeps your inner light burning brightly and consider setting an intention to embrace that self-care practice this month!

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Help Save Lives

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Suicide is not an easy topic to talk about and yet that is exactly what is needed in order to reduce the growing rate of this tragedy.  Conversations can make a difference when someone is thinking about suicide.

Did you know that suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, that, according to the CDC, suicide rates have increased by more than 30% in half of the states since 1999, and that the youngest person to kill themselves was only 6 years old?

Many of us will notice changes in people around us and get the feeling that “something is not right”. You may not want to say anything for fear you won’t know what to say if they confirm your concerns. While these conversations can be very difficult and confronting, just one conversation can save someone’s life by preventing suicide.

You may not be sure what to do to help, whether you should take talk of suicide seriously, or if your intervention might make the situation worse. Taking action is always the best choice. Here’s what you need to know to start saving lives today:

  1. Know – and look – for the warning signs.  There are several warning signs of suicidal thoughts that you may hear or see, such as:  1)  Seemingly harmless comments such as “I wish I was never born”, “I wish I wasn’t here” and/or “I wish I was dead”; 2) Withdrawing from friends and family and/or wanting to be left alone; 3) Having dramatic mood swings; 4) Impulsive, aggressive and/or reckless behavior; 5) Obsessed with death, dying or violence; and 6) Increasing use of drugs or alcohol.  Additional warning signs that the person’s thoughts may be moving toward putting a plan into action include:  1) Giving away their possessions or getting their affairs in order when there is no other explanation for doing this; 2) Saying goodbye to friends and family as if they are not going to see them again; 3) Their mood shifts from a sense of despair to calm; and 4) Taking action to secure the tools needed to complete suicide, such as buying a gun or stockpiling prescription medications.  Take any and all signs of suicide seriously.  If someone tells you they are thinking of harming themselves or behaves in a way that suggests they may be thinking of suicide, don’t dismiss or ignore the situation as many people who have killed themselves had expressed the intention at some point.
  2. Know the risk factors.  According to NAMI, the following are risk factors for suicide:  1) Previous suicide in the family; 2) Personal history of trauma or abuse; 3) Prolonged stress; 4) Agitation and reduced sleep; 5) A recent loss or tragedy; 6) Isolation; 7) Substance use and intoxication; 8) A serious or chronic mental illness; 9) Access to firearms; 10) Gender (men are 4 times more likely to die from their attempt) and 11) Age (under 24 and over 65 are at a higher risk).
  3. Ask questions!  If you sense something is not right and you have noticed some of the warning signs, connect with the person by asking them some questions.  Be sensitive and direct and ask some of the following:  1) How are you managing with what is going on in your life?; 2) Do you ever feel like just giving up?; 3) Are you thinking about hurting yourself?; 4) Have you ever thought about suicide, or tried to harm yourself, before?.  If they tell you that they have or are currently having suicidal thoughts, continue to ask the following questions: 1) Have you thought about how and when you would do it? and 2) Do you currently have access to the weapons or things that can be used as weapons to harm yourself?  Please know that asking someone if they are experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings won’t push that person into doing something self-destructive. In fact, connecting with someone by starting the conversation and creating space for them to talk about their feelings may reduce the risk of acting on suicidal feelings.
  4. Know what to do.  If you become concerned that your friend or loved one may attempt suicide:  1) Stay calm (don’t fidget or pace) and don’t leave the person alone; 2) Ask what you can do to help, including “Can I help you call your therapist or psychiatrist?”; 3) If they ask for something, give it to them as long as the request is safe and reasonable; 4)  Don’t argue, threaten, or raise your voice, especially if they are experiencing hallucinations or delusions, instead be gentle and compassionate; 5) Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong; 6) Seek support by telling another family member or friend what is going on, by getting help from a trained professional, and/or encouraging them to call a suicide hotline number (i.e., in the U.S., National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)).  Even if your friend or loved one may not be in crisis, it is important to still offer and provide support.  Let them know you are open to talking about what is on their mind.  When listening, demonstrate you are actively engaged in the conversation by providing positive reinforcement, reflecting their feelings and summarizing their thoughts.  Actively listening can help your loved one feel heard and validated.  Reassure your friend or loved one that you care and are concerned for their well-being and that they can lean on you for support.  If your friend or loved one has attempted suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately or take them to nearest emergency room if you believe you can do so safely.  Try to determine if they have taken drugs or alcohol, whether they are under the influence or may have taken an overdose.  As soon as possible, tell a family member or a friend what is going on for additional support as you don’t need to try to handle the situation alone.
  5. Do more.  Start a dialogue now.  Consider watching “13 Reasons Why” and ask others if they have seen it, what they thought about it, and when (i.e., at what age) they might consider it appropriate to have a proactive conversation with their own children on the subject.  Consider helping out at a crisis center or volunteer with an organization that makes house calls to isolated individuals, such as single, house-bound seniors, such a Meals on Wheels.  Share images and graphics on social media to promote awareness and reduce stigma.  Remember that your engagement might just might help prevent suicide by letting others know that there are people that care and that there are other options available!

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Navigating This Eclipse and Retrograde Season

On Tuesday, August 7th, with the planet Uranus going retrograde, we will now be under the influence of six planets in retrograde for the next two weeks, until the 19th when Mercury returns direct and Mars returns direct on the 27th.  In addition, we have the last eclipse of the year, a solar eclipse occurring on the 11th.  What is the Universe trying to say to us with all of this heavenly activity this month?  It is encouraging us to stop pushing forward right now and take some time to reflect on our past.  There is much opportunity this month for healing our hearts and souls and elevating the collective consciousness of our planet if we do so!

Below are some ideas to consider that will help you navigate this month, until the energy starts flowing again next month:

  1. Take a vacation.  Vacations do not have to be a week long event that requires a great deal of planning and money.  Consider planning a day retreat or a weekend away.  Simply finding yourself in a different place for a short period of time can shift your perspective. Have you always wanted to visit a particular local city to immerse yourself in a different culture? Or has a certain spiritual center or temple been calling your soul? Or have you been planning to try a new hiking trail that someone recommended to you?  Now’s the time to just do it!
  2. Spend time in nature.  With the heat of the summer, we might be finding ourselves spending more time inside in the air-conditioning.  While, in the short term, being inside where it might be cooler can be beneficial, especially at the peak of the heat during the day, avoiding the outdoors for any length of time can wreak havoc on our body, mind and spiritual health. Try to plan a early morning or late evening walk near a body of water, like a lake or the ocean, or taking a hike where there are canopies of trees.  Create an opportunity to sit down at some point and set an intention to notice the smallest form of life, maybe through your eyes, ears or skin.  Watch that life move for a short time and sense your connection to it.  Reflect on how you might impact that life and how that life might impact you.
  3. Review and renew commitments.  With Mercury retrograde at this time, we are reminded that now is not a good time to start anything new, especially when a legal contract is required. So, instead, we can take this time to review previously made commitments and determine if any adjustments might need to be made.  We might reflect on those that seem effortless and those that require more effort.  And for those that require more effort, we might ask ourselves is the amount of effort we are expending outweighing the return in soul nourishment?  From our reflections, it might become very clear where we need to focus our energy and renew our commitment to it.  And, in doing so, other commitments might need to be transferred or released from our lives.
  4. Practice gratitude.  When our lives might begin to feel a little stagnant or stuck, having ‘an attitude of gratitude’ has been shown to be the wind beneath our wings that can lift us out of a rut. So, as the universal energy is supporting this time in reflection, keep the handy tool of gratitude with you at all times.  Schedule a gratitude break each day.  Express your gratitude to another, whether it is simply to share something you are grateful for with them or to share your gratitude for them.  Dig out your gratitude journal or start a new one.  Merely reading a past gratitude journal can remind our hearts and souls of the abundance that already exists in our lives without having to push forward and grasp for more!
  5. Read.  Speaking of reading, now is a great time to pick up that book you have been meaning to read. When we allow our minds to be engrossed by a good book, it is like a vacation from our thoughts!  When we spend time in reflection of our past, gaining awareness of how our experiences in life impacted our beliefs, thoughts and emotions, we open ourselves up for a deeper understanding of how connected we really are in the human form.  And often, in this space, when we read, we discover new things about ourselves that might have been hidden (or forbidden) from revealing themselves before.

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Beat the Heat

Although we are technically still in the first third of the summer, we are in the middle of the dog days of summer as children start to plan to return to school next month!  And not only are we busy down here on earth moving through the changes that come with summer vacation, but the skies are busy too, with two Eclipses this month and a total of five planets in retrograde.  The stop and go type of energy surrounding us this month is encouraging us to slow down.  The Universe is conspiring right now to support internal reflection and a focus on what is already right in front of us.  At the end of next month, forward moving action will be supported, just in time for the kids to return to school!

And, at this time of year, we begin to experience the heat.  Continuing research on climate change has focused on the impact on worker productivity and ultimately, on the effect on the economic status of entire countries.  I know I don’t need to tell you that when you feel the heat, your level of motivation to do anything – even fun things – goes way down.  So, in addition to continuing to do what you can to reduce your personal impact on Mother Earth, I offer the following intention setting ideas to keep your cool during the dog days of summer:

  1. Breathe and visualize yourself cool.  If you find yourself overheated in the moment (whether body or mind of both!), consider trying a yogic breath practice (i.e. pranayama) such as Śītalī/Śītkarī (Cooling Breaths – pronounced SHEE-tahl-lee, SHEET-kar-ee), which have been shown to cool the body and calm the agitated (AKA angry) mind. To practice Śītalī, open the mouth and form the lips into an “O,” curl your tongue and stick it out of the mouth slightly, inhale through your curled tongue making a (ssssss) sound to fill your lungs. Fill your lungs completely, while focusing your attention on the cooling sensation of the breath, using your tongue like a straw. Withdraw the tongue, lower your chin to your chest, and hold the breath for 5 seconds, while visualizing yourself in an environment that makes you feel cold, like skiing or ice skating. Exhale through the nose slowly and completely, lift the head, and repeat the cycle for five minutes. If you cannot curl your tongue, practice Śītkarī: mouth open, tongue tip at the roof of your mouth. Inhale through the side of your mouth along your cheeks and jaw, following the other steps as described for Śītalī.
  2. Do Less.  When our “To Do” lists are constantly long, the natural, adaptive human response of “flight or fight” turns on in the body and mind, and with this response, your blood vessels tense up, which is called vasoconstriction, causing the body to heat up very quickly.  So, consider reducing the number of items your have on your daily list or at least give yourself permission to not complete as many on those days where the thermometer is on the rise!
  3. Spend more time in savasana.  I think we all learned in science that heat rises.  And for those of us that have ever been brave enough to enter into a sweat lodge know this personally to be true!  So, when you find your temperature rising, let this be a reminder to practice savasana.  Savasana, also known as corpse pose, is the Sanskrit name for the final resting pose in most yoga classes.  We rest on our backs on the floor, supporting the body in any way needed to find comfort in the body, and we give ourselves permission to stay in the comfort and stillness while it permeates our bodies and minds.  Consider placing an ice pack, frozen hot water bottle, frozen bag of peas or frozen wash cloth in a towel and putting it on a strategic body part, such as underneath the back of your neck, on top of the belly or on the wrists, to get an extra dose of “cool down” in this pose.
  4. Eat more fresh food.  If you have been considering a change in diet, the summer months might be a really good time to embark on such an endeavor.  Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, whether whole or juiced, reduce the need to use the oven or stove, two huge culprits for heating up our homes.  In addition, there are certain foods that have a cooling effect on the body, such as cucumbers, watermelons, and leafy greens.  Considering the mantra for beating the heat of summer is hydration, hydration, hydration, fresh summer fruits and vegetables bring along additional water content to boot!
  5. Peppermint tea mist.  When we find ourselves outside in the heat, with no opportunity to duck inside an air conditioned building, consider carrying a spray bottle to mist yourself with.  Even better, add some peppermint tea for a enhanced cooling effect.  It’s pretty easy to do.  Brew a pot of peppermint tea (before bed when the peak heat of the day is subsiding) and then stick it in the refrigerator.  In the morning, pour some into your spray bottle.  The menthol in the tea gives you a tingly, cooling sensation on the skin. If you forget to brew the tea the evening before, no worries, just put it in the freezer until it is cool enough!

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Shining Light on the Human Need for Acceptance

The Summer Solstice is upon us as we are celebrating Pride Month and making plans to mark International Yoga Day on Thursday, June 21st!  As I reflected on the intersection of these events and celebrations, I came upon a thread that runs deep, connecting the acknowledgement of the light on the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, dignity, equal rights and self-affirmation, and discovering the sense of oneness – ACCEPTANCE.  Rejection is the darkness, so tapping into the light of acceptance opens the door wide to better mind, body, and spiritual health.   

As humans, we have a fundamental emotional need or desire for validation that we are intrinsically valuable and worthy of belonging.  We can try to ignore or discount – or dare I say reject – this basic human need in our culture that puts a very high value on independence, yet when we do so we are simply rejecting a part of ourselves, making us even more vulnerable to the rejection of others.  When we are a part of a group, we tend to feel protected and safe.  When we are rejected or excluded, it can contribute to a sense of isolation and feelings of embarrassment and loneliness.  Research has supported that the experience of rejection leads to poor health – both physically and mentally – and increases the tendency toward violence, both towards oneself as well as towards others.

So, below I have offered intention-setting ideas to allow the external light of the sun be a reminder to keep our own internal flame burning brightly, so it can bring light to those dark corners of our minds and hearts that have us holding the false belief that because we are housed in different earthly human vessels with unique expressions of being in the world, we aren’t valuable and don’t deserve to be here unless we conform to what others say is acceptable.

  1. Embrace your intelligence.  Alfred Binet’s research from the early 20th century on what is intelligence is ‘so yesterday’ if I might say so!  How many of us felt stupid if we didn’t excel at math or science or language.  I know I did!  I hated English until a teacher gave me permission to be creative in my expression.  As I allowed myself to be more creative in my writing, I discovered a whole different part of myself.  Howard Gardner, a developmental psychologist, theorized in his 1983 book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, that there are nine categories of intelligence.  If what he suggests moves us in the direction of recognizing and valuing the diversity of human expression, it definitely supports our basic human need for acceptance.  And I am all for not limiting the definition to just logical intelligence, where dare I say most of us would count ourselves short, which feels detrimental to the experience of being human. So consider setting aside some time to read more about Gardner’s theory of nine intelligences to see where your natural gifts might reside within your brain!
  2. Acknowledge your accomplishments.  At the end of each day, think about taking a few minutes to focus on what you accomplished that day.  Most of us have VERY LONG “to do” lists and are not able to cross everything off each day, which tends to invite self-defeating thoughts.  To cut off the stress that accompanies those self-defeating thoughts, close your eyes for a few minutes and reflect on what you did do that day.  What you may realize is that you accomplished way more than what was on your list, including some less tangible tasks, like making someone smile or listening to a friend in need, which are invaluable.
  3. Express appreciation towards yourself.  Most of us are taught to thank others when they do something kind for us, yet I bet most of us were not taught the practice of thanking ourselves for making ourselves a priority.  In fact, I suspect most of us were taught the exact opposite, that putting any attention on ourselves would be considered selfish and thus not acceptable.  Therefore, I challenge you to identify something that you did to take care of yourself recently and formally thank yourself for doing so.  And if you can’t identify anything, might I offer that it’s been way too long and that you plan to do something for yourself this week.  And don’t forget to thank yourself for taking care of yourself, remembering that self-care does not mean selfish!
  4. Say something kind to yourself.  How radical would it be for you to stop right now and say something like “You are intelligent” or “You are lovable” or “You are worthy”?  Remember how our mothers would tell us “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”?  Well, I personally wish my own mother would have empowered me to apply that to myself!  If we were able to record our thoughts and then listen back to the recording, I suspect most of us would experience more negative, critical judgments of ourselves than we would hear expressions of loving kindness.  And if you are like most people and experience “out of sight, out of mind”, then consider identifying something kind you would like to say to yourself and write it down on an index card and place it by the bathroom mirror, where you can see it each morning and night as you brush your teeth.
  5. Get in touch with our common humanity.  When we make mistakes, there is a tendency to beat ourselves up mentally and emotionally, and sometimes physically. Yet the expression ‘it’s only human’ exists as a reminder that to be human is to be perfectly imperfect and that it is by design that we are all fallible and will make mistakes.  So why are we so harsh on ourselves?  Why are we able to comfort a friend when they are being down on themselves, yet find it difficult to offer comfort to ourselves when we are suffering?  When we can consciously open ourselves up to and explore the concept of common humanity, we are more able to remind ourselves that feelings of inadequacy and disappointment are universal, a shared human experience.  We all experience the same pain even though the mistakes we make may be different.  Remembering we are not alone in our pain and suffering brings comfort, acceptance and peace.  Try it out soon!!

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Navigating Times of Transition and Transformation

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” ― Socrates

Change can happen all of a sudden or it can creep up on us without truly recognizing it as such!  Either way, change often brings fear into our hearts.  Humans are creatures of habit and comfort so we naturally tend to resist anything that might impact the familiar flows we have created in our lives, sometimes even when those habits are uncomfortable.

And I think most of us will agree that sometimes our habits can begin to feel stale, dare I say boring!  It is when we consciously become aware of those habits that have us feeling a little stuck in life, that we begin to open ourselves up to change, even welcoming it.

So how might we work with something that might both strike fear in our hearts and invoke feelings of excitement at the same time?  A good starting place might be to acknowledge that fear and excitement feel very similar physiologically in our bodies.  Consider a moment where you felt fear and excitement, maybe while waiting in line for a roller coaster ride or a scary movie, or your first day of school – whether it was kindergarten or college, or the day you and your significant other learned that you were expecting your first child.  Can you sense your heart rate increasing, your breath getting more shallow, the butterflies moving around in the belly, and the pent-up energy needing expression as you consider those moments?

So, to help tilt the scales away from fear and more towards excitement during such times of change and growth, below I offer intention-setting ideas that might help you navigate such transitions in your life with more ease and excitement:

  1. Embrace impermanence.  Evolution and transformation require change.  That’s both the good – and bad – news:  change is inevitable.  It is truly the one thing that we can count on.  So when our bodies signal that it is moving into the grip of fear, a helpful Mantra that you might keep handy is “This too shall pass”, reminding us that change in the moment is neither bad nor good, yet is moving the collective consciousness towards transformation where it is most needed for our ultimate evolution.
  2. Ground through asana.  Sensing the pent-up energy that needs expression when we feel fear and excitement, offer the body some specific yoga poses (asanas) to give direction to that energy.  Consider Mountain (Tadasana), Warrior (Virabhadrasana), or Goddess (Utkata Koneasana) pose as a way to ground our energy into the earth and tune into the natural rhythms of life reflected through nature.
  3. Calm through pranayama.  Pranayama is the practice of bringing control to your breath, ensuring that your life force energy – prana – is able to flow into the body.  When change comes upon us suddenly, it can often times feel overwhelming to the mind and body, narrowing our attention and shutting down the connection to the parts of our brain that assist with decision-making as well as tightening the muscles in the body, including the diaphragm, the primary skeletal muscle responsible for the process of respiration.  Therefore, if we can consciously turn our attention to our breath during times of transition, it will help to relieve the tension in the muscles, including turning the connections back on in the brain, opening the windows to the unlimited possibilities change can bring.  Try simply closing your eyes and bringing your next breath in through the nose on a slow count of four and release the breath through the nose on that same slow count of four.  Repeat that breath pattern two more times, feeling how the in-breath creates a sense of expansion in the torso and the out-breath creates a sense of release.  Adding this conscious lengthening of the breath to the above Mantra (This too will pass) supports the body-mind connection while riding the waves of change.
  4. Turn to the guru inside.  The Sanskrit term Svadhyaya translates to ‘self-study’ and it is one of the basic tenets of a yoga practice as well as talk therapy.  Through this practice, we learn what it is we believe, think, and need and why.  Without such awareness, we position ourselves to be at the mercy of the changes we experience. Perhaps adding this practice through journaling to those moments after pranayama and mantra, so you can gain more clarity around the changes that you want to make in your life, thus becoming a co-creator of your heart’s desire.  You will be wonderfully surprised how cooperative the Universe is!
  5. Meditate through uncertainty.  When we are sensing we want to make a change yet we are feeling indecisive around the new direction we might want to take, I encourage you to lean into the uncertainty by inviting it to sit with you for awhile.  Instead of trying to distract yourself or seeking advice from others, perhaps find a place where you can sit quietly for 5-10 minutes, allowing the body to find some comfort, and let the mind focus on the uncertainty.  You might spend the first few minutes practicing your pranayama to release some of the tightness in the body and mind.  Then simply notice what comes up in the mind, without judging, dismissing or discounting, allowing all possibilities to float into your awareness.  What you may begin to notice is how the body responds to some of the possibilities.  Certain options might create a sense of restriction somewhere and others might create a sense of relaxation.  You may not gain immediate clarity with all of the details, yet perhaps what you will sense is an inclination towards one of the possibilities.  Taking any small step toward that inclination will bring even more light to the direction of change, with course-correction opportunities too!

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Reduce Stress

“We can never attain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.”― Dalai Lama

The month of April, among other things, has been designated Stress Awareness Month.  The first step to making any change in our life is awareness.  Without awareness, we tend to  continue on our journeys doing the same old things, repeating old patterns, all while hoping the results will be different.

With awareness comes understanding, which leads to compassion and choice.  One of the best habits we can develop for our body/mind/spirit health is learning our personal triggers and noticing when and where we feel stress.  To this end, below are some ideas to consider to support this healthy habit:

  1. Understand common sources of stress.  Change – good or bad – tends to create stress.  Therefore, recognizing the amount of change we are experiencing in the moment can help the mind to understand why we might not feel ourselves.  With this awareness and understanding, we might be more willing to offer ourselves some compassion, letting that compassion support our next choice.  We all might recognize that the loss of a partner or other loved one as being stressful, yet we might not be as aware that marriage, pregnancy, retirement from work, quitting smoking, vacation, and/or moving to a new home are stress producing life events.  Consider taking a moment to complete the Life Change Index Scale (The Stress Test) to deepen your understanding of what life events are considered stressful and determine your current level of stress from those events.
  2. Know the symptoms of PTSD.  The source of our stress might not be coming from our current experience of change but may be emanating from a past experience of trauma.  Most of us are aware that war Veterans may experience Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); however, many (I dare say most) of us are not aware that PTSD can be a result of early adverse childhood experiences such as divorce, having a parent with a mental health challenge and/or addiction, and/or witnessing domestic violence, non-the-less more overt abuse and neglect. Consider taking a moment to complete the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Questionnaire to determine your ACE score and how your childhood experiences may be impacting your current body/mind/spirit health.
  3. Identify where you experience stress in the body.  Once you have gained a greater awareness of what life events (past and present) cause change and stress, consider taking a moment to sit in reflection, welcoming your stress to be present in your awareness, and sense into your body.  We all experience stress in our bodies differently.  Some of us might experience headaches/migraines.  Others might experience digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).  And others may experience frequent, diffuse muscular and nerve pain.  Our bodies hold great wisdom, so taking the time to welcome the sensations and notice where the mind’s awareness is drawn into the body, contributes to the foundation of the healthy habit of acknowledging when and where we are experiencing stress.
  4. Give yourself permission to learn to relax.  Many of us were not taught to value fun and relaxation as a basic human need.  In fact, I think the message most of us sensed was that we must work hard to be successful (whatever the definition of success might be for each of us) which does not leave time and space for anything else.  So know that it is up to you to challenge that message by embracing a new message, one that allows you to prioritize you.  Prioritizing your self-care is not selfish!  It is absolutely necessary to find balance and peace and health!!  Therefore, consider finding what works for you, whether it is movement, writing, connecting with others, anything that is a way to release stress from the body and mind and give yourself permission to just do it.
  5. Set limits.  I discovered a mantra many years ago that I found very freeing:  Say no so others can grow.  And yes, it can be easier to say than do!  However, with a little practice and a change in perspective, you will find it gets easier.  The change in perspective is seeing “saying no” as a gift you are giving the other person (and also to yourself!).  For example, when teaching a little one to tie their shoes, at some point you must say to them, “No, I’m not going to do it for you today as I know you know how to do it yourself.”  And, although they might get mad and cry (and even scream), if you stick it out, the joy they experience once they have done it themselves is the gift.  When you can really embrace this new perspective, you will begin to think “Who am I to think I have to do everything myself and rob others of opportunities for growth?”  If one of your personal values is growth then saying no to others can be seen as the necessary rain for the growth of others (and, oh, by the way, for yourself).  Setting limits in this way results in growth while reducing stress by reducing the probability that we will overcommit ourselves