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

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Build Resilience

“Every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind.  The goal is to find it.” ― Buddha

We all experience challenges in our life that cause us pain, whether physical, emotional, mental, and/or spiritual. Adversity is a fact of life and part of the common human condition.  So accepting this fact might be the first step towards improving our health and well-being and reducing the suffering that accompanies the inevitable painful experiences of this life.

Research on resilience has shown that increasing our levels of resiliency correlates with improved overall health. Resilience can be defined as the ability to adapt well to change or bounce back after adversity.  Life can be hard at times, but I won’t buy into the mantra that life is hard.  If we can learn to go with the flow of life more quickly and stop banging our heads on the same wall thinking we will get a different result, we might just realize that life is full of beauty in any given moment or circumstance.

The human spirit  is quite adaptive and resilient naturally and the road to such resiliency is loaded with potholes.  It is the ongoing process of learning how to navigate the potholes of life that actually builds resiliency.    That’s the good news – we all can continue to learn new ways to build our resiliency, and thus our health, and I offer 5 practices below for your reflection and consideration:
  1. Seek the Silver Lining!.  Yoga, commonly understood to mean union, provides an alternative view of life than our culture, where independence – or being separate from others – is the goal if you want to be happy.  When you view life through the lens of being separate, it guides you to pick a side, such as I am either happy or sad. However, when you view life through a yogic lens, or take a non-dual approach, then you realize you can’t experience happiness without sadness.  And this applies to all emotions, thoughts, circumstances and experiences.  So, the next time you hit a pothole in life, let it stop you for a moment of reflection and search for the goodness – the benefit – of the situation.  If you search long and hard enough, you will always find the silver lining – and it might just be more valuable than the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!!
  2. Move Toward the Pain.  You will never be able to escape the pain, no matter how fast you run or how many things you add to your “To Do” list to distract yourself.  The only way to get to the other side of pain, is through it. If you can’t feel it, you can’t heal it.  So, once again, when you realize that you have hit a pothole in life, take a moment to get curious about the pain.  Ask yourself, what is this pain telling me or what can I learn from this pain?  Pain, and the accompanying mixed emotions, have great wisdom to offer and will revisit us often if we don’t learn to appreciate our natural emotional intelligence!
  3. Give Your Heart a Workout.  The art of giving to, and receiving from, others has been shown to build empathy, compassion and gratitude, which have been shown to reduce harmful chemicals in our bodies while increasing positive hormones and neurotransmitters, such as oxytocin and serotonin.  Giving to others does not need to be something tangible, like money or food.  You might simply set an intention to give each person you interact with during one day a silent blessing, such as “may you too find happiness” or “may you live life with joy and ease”. Then reflect at the end of the day on how your heart feels.  What may be harder for many of us is to gracefully accept the help of others when offered – receiving support is counter to our culture of independence.  But just remember how you felt after your day of offering silent blessings to everyone you met and remind yourself that you make others feel good about themselves when you accept their generosity, whether it is their time or compassionate ear.
  4. Vibe with Your Tribe.  Connect with friends and family that you know will understand what you are going through. Good relationships have been shown to increase resiliency during times of change.  If you have a tendency to isolate yourself when you experience a painful situation, know that just being in the presence of other caring and compassionate people will be the balm to soothe the soul.  If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s ok. Instead you might join a community event or find yourself in a yoga class with your favorite teacher!
  5. Perform Daily Acts of Self-care.  Being kind to yourself does not mean you are selfish or lazy.  It means you are committed to your health!  And when you are healthy, you are in a better position to bring your gifts to the world. One of the most effective daily self-care practices is to take regular mental breaks throughout the day, even if it is only a minute or two each hour.  Stopping what you are doing, closing your eyes, and taking 10 slow deep breaths allows the body and mind to process and integrate information taken in through our five senses.  If you have more time, find yourself out in nature, maybe for a short walk or a longer hike, paying attention to your surroundings and what your five senses are experiencing in the moment.  Laughter has also been shown to reduce tension, so watching a funny video or show might just be what the doctor orders!  Just set an intention to do at least one activity a day that you enjoy or that you find relaxing for one week and then reflect on how you experienced your week overall.  Let me know what you discover!

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Celebrate Earth Day

And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything. — William Shakespeare

The scientific research on climate change indicates that humans need to step up and start making changes to support Mother Earth.  We might think to ourselves “But what can I do, I’m only one person?”  Remember even small steps, taken by many, add up and the choices we make can have a significant impact on slowing climate change when viewed from a broader, more global lens. And when we take time to honor Mother Earth’s abundance, we too reap the rewards knowing we are connected to such abundance and beauty!

Earth Day has been honored each year on April 22nd since 1970 in the US.  In 1990, Earth Day went global.   According to Earth Day Network (www.earthday.org), “More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world.”  So know that you are not alone even if you decide to honor this special day in your own way, on your own!

Below are just a few ideas that you might consider trying:

  1. Community Cleanup.  This idea can be as simple as grabbing a large garbage bag, going to your favorite outdoor spot, and picking up as much garbage as you can carry or it can be as elaborate as organizing a community cleanup of a local park or beach.  Or maybe it is something in between, like inviting a few a your neighbors to join you to clean up an area that has been neglected and then celebrate together afterwards with a pot luck lunch or dinner.  Or you could join a community cleanup that has already been organized for your favorite park or beach.  Remember, no effort is too small when it comes to expressing our gratitude for Mother Earth’s support and nurturing!
  2. Grow Food.  Again, this idea might be to simply start with your favorite herb or it might be to plant an entire garden of your favorite vegetables.  Or if you have always wanted to have a fruit tree in your yard, consider adding one this year!  If you don’t have a yard where you can start a garden or plant a tree, no worries, start with your favorite herb and put it on a windowsill.  Growing just one thing that can be enjoyed by your entire family is a great way to connect with and honor Mother Earth.
  3. Unplug.  You can interpret this intention in one of two ways and both are wonderful!  One way is to consciously unplug appliances when not in use. Your efforts will not only reduce your electric bill but also reduce overall electricity consumption.  Another way to unplug is to leave your smart phone, computer, or any other electronic device at home while spending time outside listening to the music nature makes for our listening pleasure. Try this for a whole day and check in at the end of the day to sense what might have shifted inside.  You might discover that the body asks you to unplug more!
  4. Go Paperless.  Have you thought about switching from receiving your bills in the mail to e-bills?  Well, Earth Day is a great day to set the intention to do so and help save our trees.  Remember we breathe in the oxygen trees produce, so by saving trees, we are saving ourselves!
  5. Replace Light Bulbs.  If you haven’t already, maybe consider replacing any traditional incandescent light bulbs with more energy-efficient ones to save yourself time and money, while once again relieving some of the pressure on Mother Earth.  According to Energy.gov, replacing the five most used light bulbs in your home with ENERGY STAR versions can save you $75 a year.  After changing over my light bulbs several years ago, I actually can’t remember the last time I changed a bulb.  Energy.gov’s comparison of a 60W traditional bulb’s life of 1000 hours to an equivalent 12W LED bulb’s life of 25,000 hours allows me to stop worrying about having to stock up on light bulbs!

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Embrace the Shakti Energy Within

“Forget conventionalisms; forget what the world thinks of you stepping out of your place; think your best thoughts, speak your best words, work your best works, looking to your own conscience for approval.” – Susan B. Anthony

Since 1995, March has been designated as Women’s History Month in the United States and International Women’s Day has been celebrated around the world on March 8th since 1914.  I can’t think of a better time to embrace and celebrate the Shakti within regardless of your gender identify!

The word Shakti in Sanskrit might be translated in several ways yet it is most frequently applied to the divine feminine. The word “Shakti” comes from the root “shak” meaning “to be able to” or “the potential to produce”.  Sometimes Shakti is spelled “Shakthi” which means “power” or “empowerment”, so the term has been utilized to represent the power, force, and feminine energy within all.  In Hinduism, Shakti represents the underlying creative force of all divinity, providing the energy to everything without which the world would not exist.

When we try to deny or ignore some aspect or part of ourselves, we begin to feel disconnected from our authentic self and our other tribe members. So, if you are looking to feel more comfortable in your own skin and embrace life more fully, it is important to acknowledge all parts, accept them, and welcome them to the table to celebrate your wholeness and well-being.  When some aspect of ourselves feels stifled, ignored, oppressed, or dismissed, it tends to get loud and protest.  Sound familiar?  Just what the women in the world continue to protest against to this day.  So, if you want them to quiet down, you MUST create equal time for their expression, treat them with honor and respect, and demonstrate their value!

So, how can we all honor and embrace that Shakti part of ourselves?  Below are 5 suggestions for your consideration. And, if you should be so bold to support change in the world, I would love to hear about your experience!

  1. Reflect.  In our multi-tasking culture, we rarely find time to take a moment and reflect. Yet, it is through reflection that we become more aware of what it is we need – body, mind, spirit – to grow and transform.  When we create time and space to reflect, we go deeper within ourselves and begin to commune with our true essence, our Source, our inner truth and strength, realizing the authority of our lives does not come from the outside. Exploring our inner landscape through reflection opens the door to the deep inner stillness and peace within.  From this deep inner point, we touch the power and wisdom of the feminine that originates from simply “being” and not “doing”.  Don’t be afraid – dive deep into the reflective pool of Shakti energy and emerge refreshed from connecting to your soul’s yearnings.
  2. Listen to Your Gut.  More and more research is revealing how intelligent our guts are, even beginning to refer to our bellies as our second brain. It is no surprise when you understand that both the brain and the gut develop from the same embryonic tissue. So if you are interested in expanding your ability to make wise decisions for yourself, begin to pay more attention to your belly.  As you set an intention to listen more deeply to your gut, not only will you notice it guiding your food choices (based upon how your body processes different foods), but you may also notice it guiding your activity choices, helping you to say “No” when asked to do something that doesn’t make your heart and soul sing.
  3. Go into Nature.  As we approach the Vernal Equinox, where Mother Earth experiences equal amounts of light and dark, and begin to see the natural world coming out of hibernation, it is a great reminder of the natural flow, and cycles of life. When we are able to observe and connect with the rhythms of nature, feel the flow of the tides, and understand the interconnectivity of it all, we plug into an eternal energy source that fuels our own natural tendency towards creativity and joy. Go outside, tune into the sounds of the birds singing or the waves of the ocean and give yourself permission to lose yourself for a few moments while you join the river of life flowing through you!
  4. Create Connections. In addition to reconnecting to Mother Nature, maybe consider expanding your connections with others, yet taking a page from Mother Nature’s book in your approach.  Our current culture directly and indirectly encourages and supports competition, which creates winners and losers, which emanates more from the masculine energy.  Therefore, to ensure balance, approach your relationships with an attitude of collaboration instead of competition.  I was once asked, would you prefer being right and risk being alone or would you prefer being connected and risk being happy?  When we release our need to be right and perfect, our energy becomes available to work together to elevate the collective consciousness of the world, transforming ourselves and others!
  5. Smile More.  Smiling is contagious! A genuine smile can diffuse a tense situation and infuse some light into dark, heavy energy.  So when you smile, your energy can bring about positive change, facilitate movement, and open a door for dialogue which may not have been possible otherwise. So remember to smile and remind yourself through your smile you are inviting joy into your own life while also naturally bringing joy into the world!

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Improve Your Heart’s Health

“If light is in your heart, you will find your way home.” ― Rumi

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hearing the same old suggestions of eat healthier, exercise more, and stop smoking if I want to keep my heart strong.  Not that these suggestions are bad ones, it’s just that when they stand alone without a broader view of what impacts our hearts, they can be almost impossible to do.  Easier said than done, I say!

Living in a culture that values independence, extroversion, and multi-tasking, we can find ourselves alone, seeking the company of others for inspiration and energy while trying to do more with less.  What I have found is that this can be a recipe that feeds an underlying monster gnawing at our self-worth, supporting a compulsion to compare ourselves to others in an attempt to measure our value, and fueling behaviors that reflect our efforts to try to be “super” human or risk being perceived as “less than” when we fail to accomplish the unrealistic or impossible.  If we don’t recognize all of the factors that create chronic stress in our lives and work to reduce that stress, we will continue to crave “comfort foods” and be less likely to seek out, none-the-less implement other heart health-supporting activities or behaviors.

I was directly and indirectly taught as I grew up that it was “selfish” if I focused on myself in any way.  What I have since learned through much trial and error, anxiety, and exhaustion, is that i MUST focus on myself or risk becoming someone no one wants to be around.  If we don’t practice some sort of “self-care” each day where we honor our own needs, we create an internal environment of increasing, chronic pressure that builds to a boiling point, jeopardizing our own well-being and the well-being of the lives we touch.

Therefore, below (and in my blog this month) I am honoring American Hearth Health month by offering 5 intention-setting ideas supported by new research that can reduce cortisol, our stress hormone and improve your heart health by creating opportunities to slow down and giving ourselves permission to focus on one task at a time in order to honor our humanness and our universal value by simply BEING:

  1. Shorten Your Daily “To Do” List.  A belief that has crept into many of our hearts and minds is that we must do more than others in order to be valued in this world.  The fear that underlies this belief is that if we don’t outperform others and be recognized for our “super” human feats, we will be pushed aside, left out of our tribe leading to the loss of our basic human survival need of connection. This unhealthy belief may have some roots in Darwin’s theory of natural selection, yet this theory simply suggests that we adapt to our environment not expect humans to have super hero qualities. Therefore, I challenge you to try limiting your “to do” list to just 3 important tasks per day, with at least one of them being a self-care item, for one week. After a couple of days, reflect on what it is like to set and maintain more realistic expectations of yourself.  And don’t forget to reflect on the responses you get from others.  To support yourself in this challenge, a mantra that I repeat often is “less is more” so maybe write this mantra down first before crafting your new shorter daily “to do” list.  I look forward to hearing about the results!
  2. Remember to Breathe.  The human body is amazing in so many ways and one of the most magnificent is the fact that our breath has both an involuntary and voluntary component to it!  We all recognize that we don’t have to consciously think about moving the body systems that support our ability to breathe in order to breathe.  If it was required then the only thing we would need on our daily “to do” list is a reminder to constantly focus on our breath! However, if we don’t take time to sit with our breath more consciously, it will become short and constricted, depriving our bodies of what it needs most to live fully, exacerbating the stress our bodies are already under.  On the other hand, stopping several times throughout our day to engage more actively with our breath has been shown to reduce stress hormones in the body and mind. When you focus on your breath, you more deeply appreciate the fact that it is the only part of your autonomic nervous system that you can control.  And it doesn’t take too long for the breath to reduce the increased levels of cortisol created from stress.  Simply inviting a longer, deeper inhale and exhale into your day for 3 to 5 breaths maybe 3 times a day for a week is a great place to start. With this practice you may begin to notice that it only takes about 90 seconds to feel a difference!
  3. Aromatherapy.  Engaging our sense of smell with essential oils has also been shown to affect the levels of stress hormones in the mind and body. Specifically, bergamot has been shown to increase the hormone responsible for calming the adrenal glands so they are less likely to secrete cortisol and lavender has been shown to reduce cortisol levels.  One simple way to incorporate the heart-healthy benefits of aromatherapy is to use a diffuser.  Another option is to put about 5 drops of oil on a wet wash cloth and place the cloth on the shower floor as you shower each morning.  If you prefer taking a bath, no problem just add the oil right into the bath water and maybe consider adding some Epsom salts for a two-pronged approach to reducing inflammation in the body and mind.
  4. Listen to Music.  Research is starting to show that listening to a specific genre of classical music can reduce blood pressure.  The classical music compositions that had the greatest impact were ones that matched the rhythm of the body, ones that had a slower, repeating 10-second rhythm.  Not a big fan of classical music, maybe try finding a mix that includes the sounds of nature, such as rain, thunder, ocean waves, waterfalls, or even crickets.  Double the relaxation by having the music playing while you bathe!   .
  5. Strive for Satya.  Satya is one of yoga’s guiding principles and is the Sanskrit term for truthfulness.  However, it has a broader meaning than simply speaking the truth.  It challenges us to consider the intentions behind our actions and our actions themselves. So not only do we consider the truthfulness of our words, we consider if our words, intentions and actions are in harmony and integrity with the greater truths with which we value and by which we live.  When we stray from our truths and thus venture into deceit, we betray ourselves and others, bringing unnecessary stress and pain into our bodies and minds. And one of the most common experience of straying from our truths is buying into the story that self-care is selfish!  In fact, spending time with ourselves, by ourselves, in self-reflection for self-discovery is another one of yoga’s guiding principle, but that is a topic for another day.  Suffice it to say here and now that by taking the time to identify and own your personal values and being guided by those values in your daily interactions will go a long way towards reducing stress in your life and the lives of others.

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Expand Our Human Capacity for Empathy

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” ― Henry David Thoreau

There is a growing body of research evidence to support the benefits of empathy, including a reduction in bullying in schools, better health outcomes and fewer medical errors in health care, and improved quality of intimate, family, and work relationships.  So exactly what is empathy and how might we go about expanding this critical core component of emotional intelligence if it can change the world in such profound ways?

Empathy is our ability to sense the emotional experience of another person, our wish to understand another person’s perspective, which may be difficult when it is different from our own, and be open to allowing the understanding to guide our actions.  Thanks to the discovery of mirror neurons in our brains, neuroscientists have opened the door to viewing the human capacity for empathy as an attribute that can be exercised and strengthened just like our muscles in our body.

And with much of the efforts in the world focused on creating revolutionary change at this time, it’s not surprising that the experience may be felt as polarizing, asking each of us to deeply sense and feel our own emotions, possibly beyond our own emotionally intelligent skill set.  So setting an intention to try one of the five ideas (listed below) to expand our individual capacity for empathy for our fellow human beings around the globe may just be the spark that lights the flame that draws others to the light, where we can see more clearly that we all simply desire to be accepted as we are, appreciated for our unique gifts, and loved unconditionally as we grow:

  1. Make (and maintain) eye contact and smile.  We are social beings, yet in this ‘social media’ era, we find ourselves more connected to an electronic device than to other living, breathing beings.  It feels good to be seen and greeted with a warm smile.  Simply smiling can calm fear and anxiety not only in you, but within the people you share your smile with.  Might I suggest a simply practice that takes less than a minute and let me know what the experience is like:  Close your eyes.  Inhale deeply.  As you exhale, drop your chin to your chest.  Curl the corners of your lips into a smile, inhale your head back up and then exhale.  Before opening your eyes, check in with yourself.  Do you feel a bit lighter?
  2. Listen deeply to another without interrupting.  Everyone has a story. As I read a long time ago in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covery, “Seek to understand before seeking to be understood.” Challenge yourself the next time you are having a conversation with someone to notice how many times you are formulating a response before the person has finished speaking, which means you are not really listening at all.  Then, consider trying to briefly summarize what you think you heard the person say before offering your response. Recently, I asked a friend if she would be willing to answer a question that might be politically charged if I promised to not respond with my opinion at all – I just wanted to hear and understand her perspective.  She agreed and I learned a lot!
  3. Identify and challenge your own prejudices. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all harbor prejudices, even if they are not our own.  We most likely inherited them from our family or the larger societal culture we grew up in. But until we can own them and then begin to reflect on the roots of such assumptions, we block our own growth and the potential growth of the collective consciousness.  Once we own them, we can begin to challenge them by looking for what all humans have in common instead of focusing on what makes us different.
  4. Be curious. When judgment comes up, take a breath and invite in curiosity.  The more curious we are, the more we open the door to our own happiness (as research is starting to show).  Curiosity about others, particularly people we don’t know well or maybe not at all, creates a tremendous learning opportunity, one in which we might just learn something new that makes our own lives easier.  Curiosity also expands understanding and understanding expands our empathy and connection to others.
  5. Practice Ahimsa. Ahimsa is a Sanskrit term that is typically translated to ‘non-violence’.  During my journey to becoming a yoga teacher, I was challenged to step back and observe my self-talk and notice how violent it could get.  If we were to record our thoughts about ourselves and play it out loud, you would probably be a bit shocked at how harsh we can be towards ourselves – and certainly would think we would never speak to another person that way.  So practicing Ahimsa starts with each one of us individually, checking our own unkind self-talk and actively showing ourselves more loving kindness and understanding that we too are simply a human being doing what we can to survive.  When we can demonstrate to ourselves that we are worth such kindness, hostility disappears, both within ourselves and towards others!

5 Reasons to Set Intentions Instead of New Year’s Resolutions

“Live less out of habit and more out of intent.” ― Author Unknown

Happy Winter Solstice!  Yes, it is the official start of winter, the shortest day of light, and a turning point with each day bringing more light as we move through the season.  It is a good reminder that this is the darkest point of the year, where seeds of intention lay dormant, until we bring light to the ones we want to manifest in the New Year.  So why set intentions instead of resolutions as we ring in 2017?

Research out of the University of Scranton suggests that just 8% of the people who set New Year’s resolutions actually succeed in achieving those goals, thus leaving the majority of us feeling like failures.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t like feeling like a failure!

Some of the top resolutions people make include starting a new diet, losing weight, and saving money.  All of these goals imply a need for more self-discipline, which brings with it an implication that we are currently not doing good enough.  Coming from a place where we focus on giving up something to achieve an end result has the goal founded in avoidance, even in the name of self-improvement.  These behavior changes are rooted in fear, whether from our conditioned pasts or the unknown future.  Not fertile ground for real and lasting growth to occur!

Setting intentions, Sankalpa in Sanskrit, are made from the heart, not the mind, and focus on the growth of our souls. So, if the reason we set resolutions at this time of year is to improve our lives in the new year, I offer you the following ideas on why setting an intention might serve you, and the world, better:

  1. To Bring More Meaning.  I’d be willing to wager a bet that most of us would feel better if we knew what we did impacted someone in a positive way.  Our human existence depends on our deepening understanding of our interconnectedness, which is why we feel good when we are able to help others.  Therefore, setting an intention is more of a call out to the universe for assistance in manifesting something you desire or dream that will bring more purpose or meaning to our lives and the lives of others.
  2. To Change Attitudes.  My work helping others find more inner peace in their hearts and minds has reinforced a universal human need for acceptance, of self and others.  Yet, peace will be elusive if we don’t start with accepting ourselves first.  Just sit for a moment and imagine what you would feel like if you accepted yourself fully, without conditions such as “I’ll be happy if I just lose 10 lbs” or “I’ll be happy if I get that new job”.  Truly connecting to that place inside that KNOWS we are enough just as we are, a perfectly imperfect human wanting to be acknowledged for our intrinsic value simply by being present on this earth, brings a felt sense of inclusion, that we all are part of the larger human experience.
  3. To Broaden Instead of Limit.  I find resolutions to be restrictive, limiting the definition of, and thus the opportunity for success.  Maybe the need for S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-based) goals has permeated our culture so much that our ability to trust that there might be an even better outcome, one that our minds are not even able to comprehend, is available and in ‘divine’ time, not in a forced, linear timeline. If you might need a little inspiration in this area, to spark your creativity and break loose from the grips of this culture, I highly recommend going to see the new movie Arrival, based on the 1998 short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted. Chiang.
  4. To Accept Change.  A common statement I hear is “I don’t like change” yet I think most of us would agree with the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus that “the only constant in life is change”, putting us in a bit of a dilemma. And when we set resolutions using the S.M.A.R.T. goal approach, it introduces the space for judgment around our success or failure of following through, forever attaching us to the outcome or result, and not creating room for change.  No wonder we hate change as it comes with judgment! Intention-setting instead recognizes that you are on a journey of practice, honoring that life is not a destination but an ever-renewing process.
  5. To Expand Opportunities for Change.  Yes, the new year coming does bring with it sense of starting fresh, thus supporting the tradition of setting New Year resolutions.  However, intentions don’t happen just once a year – they can be set monthly, weekly, and even daily! For some of my more lofty intentions like “Love myself unconditionally”, I like to plant the seeds of my intentions at the new moon and then check back in at the full moon for any growth, just like the Farmer’s Almanac suggests when gardening.  For a more daily Sankalpa, such as “Self-compassion flows through me now”, I like to check in at the end of the day when I might feel a bit overwhelmed by my growing “to do” list to remind me that there is always tomorrow.

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Self-Care Through This Holiday Season

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” ― Buddha

With one of the most contentious presidential elections in recent memory still resonating throughout the world and the ‘season of giving’ fast approaching, I don’t believe I am alone in my felt experience of unease and restlessness.

Therefore, I spent some time in reflection around the questions of “What are the ways I take care of myself” and “What do I do to create a sacred, safe container for myself” in order to calm the uneasy and restless parts of myself.  I recognize that if I don’t honor my own inner states of unrest, then I am unable to maintain my connection to that still point within where my authentic self exists, where my essence of love and light dwell, and, thus, will not be able to continue to walk a heart-led life, being the light not only for myself but for those that are struggling to find their way out of the darkness.

I thought I would share the outcome of my reflections with you below, so that you might try one of the techniques for yourself, when you may begin feeling like you have given all that you have to give to others and are in need of a recharge or reboot:

  1. Breathe.  When we sense the weight of the world on our shoulders, feel unappreciated for all that we do, and experience our needs not being met or our voices being silenced, our bodies and minds subconsciously respond.  And one of the most noticeable ways in which to observe this response is through the breath.  We may begin to hold our breath or breathe very shallowly, which revs up our sympathetic nervous system, creating even more agitation in the body and mind.  Therefore, simply stopping to take a few deep breaths in and out through the nose several times a day, consciously noticing the belly expanding on the inhale and softening on the exhale, will help keep the parasympathetic nervous system engaged, supporting the ‘relax and digest’ response in the mind and body. If you also want to try a breath practice that has a way of clearing out the mind, especially of those unwanted thoughts, you might try Brahmari breath, also known as “Bee’s breath”.  There are several ways to practice this, but I find the most simple one being where you bring your pointer fingers to the external part of the ear that when you press into it, closes off the entrance to the ear canal, thus shutting out the ability to hear external sounds.  You may also want to close your eyes.  Then inhale normally through the nose and, as you close your eyes and ears, also close your lips and, as you breath out, make the sound of bees, like you are humming and maybe play with pulling your tongue back towards the back of your throat.  Do this three times.  You really can’t do it wrong, so have fun! Afterwards, sit for a moment and sense the results.
  2. Listen to your body.  Our bodies have much innate wisdom to offer the mind, yet our culture informs us to THINK instead of FEEL, creating a wall between the body and mind. You may not be aware of it, but our bodies will naturally burp when our stomachs are full, informing the mind that we have eaten all that the body needs to remain vibrant and healthy.  Unfortunately, most of us ‘eat on the run’ these days, so we don’t create space for the wisdom of our bodies. Maybe set an intention the next time you find yourself sitting down for a meal with your family (think Thanksgiving) to become aware of when the body first burps.  At first it might not happen or we might forget to listen – don’t give up.  Try again next time. Listen.  We have been schooled that burping is rude, so it might take a couple of times. Eventually, when you tune in, you will thank your body for its natural ‘full gas tank’ sound going off!
  3. Practice aparigraha.  Aparigraha, Sanskrit for non-attachment, suggests that our suffering comes from the disappointment that we feel when we are attached to an expectation, or outcome, and something else happens instead.  For this practice, I would start with something small, to test it out for yourself.  The holiday season can bring with it a recipe for unmet expectations, with the sparkling lights and songs on the radio filling our hearts with anticipation as we make plans to gather with friends and family, while, at the same time, our schedules get overloaded and our budgets get stretched thin.  So, in order to reduce a bit of the stress during this time of year, maybe begin by simply thinking about level-setting your expectations of how others ‘should’ act during this time of year, and that may include you.  If we create space in our minds and hearts to allow others to do what they need to do without wanting them to do what we want them to do, it makes room for us to do more of what we need to do to make ourselves more peaceful.
  4. Express gratitude.  Research has shown that when we consciously focus our minds on the abundance in our lives, versus focusing on the lack, we experience more peace and joy in our lives.  This holiday season is one of the best times to start a regular gratitude practice.  I recommend writing down those things that you are grateful for in a journal, although it can be even more powerful if you have someone to share the practice with each day.  Either first thing in the morning or right before you go to bed, you can share one (or more!) experiences in your life or day that you felt grateful for in the moment.  It doesn’t have to be something big and, in fact, it is the small things that seem to bring the greatest warmth to the heart.  For example, every morning I am grateful for having hot water for my shower and every night I am grateful for having a warm bed to rest my head.  Try it and I promise you won’t be sorry you did!
  5. Try SELF-compassion.  As the Buddha quote above suggests, the experience of compassion must be expressed to both others and to ourselves if we truly want optimal health. Our culture informs us to have compassion for others, especially those that are less fortunate than ourselves. Unfortunately, it is this same culture that drives us hard to be successful, where multi-tasking is glorified, and competition is the name of the game. So when we falter, and drop a ball or two that we have been juggling, we tend to be very critical of ourselves, maybe even thinking to ourselves that we are a failure or punishing ourselves in some way.  This inner critic can be very harsh, creating limiting beliefs and holding us back from real joy in our lives.  Instead, if we can practice offering ourselves the same loving kindness we offer to a good friend when they are suffering in some way, our bodies, minds, and hearts soften, opening to the lesson of accepting imperfection as the shared human experience. Ahhhh, feel the relief when we let go of the expectation of perfection (do I hear an opportunity to practice aparigraha?)!

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Support Our Basic Human Need for Connection

“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.” ― William James

There is more and more research today supporting what I think most of us already knew – whether consciously or subconsciously – that humans are wired for connection. What I have witnessed and experienced is when we find ourselves in healthy, reciprocal relationships, we grow and when we experience disconnection from our tribe, we wilt.

And yet our social culture tells us that we should value independence, not need anyone or fear being labeled ‘co-dependent’, and that we should be able to solve our problems on our own and, if we can’t, there is something wrong with us.

Well, with the research behind me, I’m here to challenge that culture that values independence more than interdependence, because as humans we are designed to be connected with others in relationships!

I understand it can be a bit scary to admit to our need for connection, so below are 5 intention-setting ideas to consider trying to support your well-being through expanding and deepening your connection with others:

  1. Volunteer.  In the language of yoga, “seva” is the Sanskrit term meaning “selfless service” and engaging in seva is believed to assist in someone’s spiritual growth while also improving the community.  Although this implies releasing any expectations of receiving anything personally in return for our efforts, my experience and research suggests that the reward is a felt experience, one of working with others that care about the same things you do . . . in other words, vibing with your tribe.
  2. Join a group.  With the advent of social media, it is not hard to find a group that has the same interests as you do.  Whether you enjoy indoor or outdoor activities, Meetup has a group for everyone and if you don’t find a group that is exactly what you are looking for, you can create your own and invite your tribe to join.  Whether you are looking for someone to hike, read, meditate, or socialize your dog with, there are others looking for the same thing.
  3. Share your care.  Have you noticed how good it feels to help someone else out that might be struggling with something, whether it is a stranger that needs a little help with opening a door or a friend that might be sick? Research is discovering that empathy is part of the hard-wiring connection between humans.  So when we see someone suffering, our empathy kicks in and encourages us to express compassion to others, because it makes us feel good to help relieve the suffering of others.
  4. Ask for help.  I know this one can be tricky, but think about it for a moment.  If you feel good when you help others, then why would you not want to create an opportunity for someone else to feel good, by helping you?  I always say “Any job is easy, if you have the right tools”, so, in this case, the “right tools” might just be the members of your tribe.
  5. Commit time.  Our social culture expects that we “do more with less”, leaving us chronically multi-tasking and wishing for more than 24 hours in a day.  With so many demands on our time, we can inadvertently find ourselves spending more and more time alone, even if we tell ourselves that it is because we just need to sleep.  What the research is leading us to understand, though, is that spending time with people who make us feel supported, valued, and accepted may contribute more to our overall health than other typical suggestions such as exercise and not smoking.  So, we need to make our connections a priority on our ‘to do’ list, knowing that by doing so we are contributing not only to our own well-being, but to the well-being of our tribe!