5 Intention-setting Ideas for Creating Healthy Boundaries

What I have experienced since learning about and setting healthy boundaries is much more freedom and less stress in my life!

However, before a healthy boundary can be created, we need to understand what a boundary is and is not.  Boundaries are anything that limits something.  For example, time is a boundary, because there are only 24 hours in a day.  No matter how much we might want to negotiate for more, Mother Nature is not going to budge!

On the other hand, boundaries are not selfish.  In fact, boundaries can be quite empowering.  I was once offered a way of looking at setting boundaries as a gift that I can give another person, to help them reconnect with their own autonomy and competence, building their self-confidence.  This way of looking at boundaries does not mean that we stop helping others out when they are in need; however, it does ask us to deploy our skills in discerning what the best choice is in each moment.

When we can embrace the idea that setting boundaries is self-care (not selfish), then we can begin to take steps toward identifying the boundaries we want to create that will benefit both ourselves and others.  A mantra I was offered to assist me in shifting from the belief that it is selfish to prioritize my needs over the needs of others is “Say no, so others can grow”.  Take a moment right now and write this mantra down on a piece of paper or index card and place it somewhere that is accessible to you on a daily basis.  Now, think about it for a moment longer.

If you are still not buying it, here is an example that I think most people will be able to connect to.  Imagine a child is ready to learn how to tie their shoes.  You begin to teach the child how to do it.  Each day you teach the child, you watch them trying it on their own, showing progress and excitement as their fingers start to cooperate.  Now comes the hard part – the day you have to tell them “No, I’m not going to do it for you anymore, because I know you can do it by yourself”.  It hurts you to hear their protests and see their tears, but you stand your ground.  Now envision their face when they come back into the room and want to show you how they were able to tie their shoes by themselves.  Can you feel their joy!

Think of this example when you begin to explore setting healthy boundaries, remembering that when you say no, you are creating space for another person to figure something out for themselves because you BELIEVE in them, that they are capable of doing it without you doing it for them.  I know first hand that this sounds easier said than done, so below are some intention setting ideas to support your efforts in establishing, clarifying, expressing and reinforcing healthy boundaries:

  1. Identify Boundaries.  Many of us may have grown up in families that did not explain or demonstrate healthy boundaries, so we might need to take a moment and think about any boundaries we might have established or are aware of in our lives.  For example, the walls, windows, and doors of our houses create a boundary that we call home.  Our bodily reactions might have not allowed pets or certain foods in the house due to allergies.  Our spiritual roots might have offered rules of conduct that limit our behaviors, such as no public display of affection.  Creating time to identify some boundaries that exist in your life, starts to grease the wheels of the healthy boundary making machine because the growing awareness invites in choice.  For example, just because you might be allergic to cats, doesn’t preclude you from having a dog!
  2. Explore Emotions.  When you sense you are having an emotional response – whether positive or negative – stop and explore!  Emotions are the part of our intelligence that informs us about what is working and what is not working in our lives.  Emotions are the best guide to knowing when a healthy boundary is needed.  When an emotion arises, ask yourself ‘What is this emotion I am experiencing in this moment?’, ‘What is it telling me?’, and ‘Do I want more or less of it in my life?’.  When the powerful emotions such as anger (and all of its variations), pain and fear arise, the universal message is that your needs are not being satisfied.  Consider taking a moment to identify some recent situations where you felt one or more of these powerful emotions arise and write them down in the context of what brought them up.
  3. Clarify Your Needs/Values.   Now comes the hard part.  When we realize our emotions arise in response to our needs, whether they are being satisfied or not, it means we now need to own the fact that we have needs (AND WE ALL DO) and we have a responsibility to identify exactly what those needs are if we want to deepen the connections we have with ourselves and others.  Another way to view our needs is to consider them our core life values – what is it that we value enough to fight for in our lives.  To help you get started in this area, there are some universal human needs:  autonomy, connection, physical well-being including safety, honesty, peace, play and purpose.  If you would like to take a look at a longer list of such needs/values, Marshall Rosenberg has a Needs Inventory that I would recommend.  Reflect on this list along side of your emotional responses to help you narrow down the list to your top 4 values that will help guide your healthy boundary creations.
  4. Communicate a Healthy Boundary.  Now that you are armed with the knowledge of your needs/values and what happens when those needs are not being met or worse, being ignored or disrespected by another, the next step is to plan for an appropriate confrontation in order to express your healthy boundary.  Keep in mind that confrontation does not equal conflict and that you have a right and responsibility to ask for what it is you need.  Also keep in mind the other person might not be able to give you what it is you need; however, that must not stop you from at least asking and trying to negotiate a healthier space.  To help you craft your healthy boundary, consider using the 4-step process developed by Marshall Rosenberg which was designed to diffuse emotionally-charged situations by reducing blame and shame.
  5. Make a request.  It is not enough to tell someone that your needs are not being met and expect them to know how to respond to such a communication.  It is important to clearly ask for what it is you would like from them in order to have your need be met.  For example, if you determine that you value beauty as reflected by a neat and clean home and become distressed when when your need for beauty in your home is not being honored, the request might be “Will you help me clean our home or keep our home clean?”.  Such a request might lead you into a negotiation about the specifics (e.g., frequency, specific tasks, etc.), so consider making requests as concrete as possible (inviting a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response) such as “Will you help me keep our home clean by washing your dishes in the sink?”.  One last thought – when you start to clarify and express your healthy boundaries, it may seem awkward for both you and the other person because it might be a new way of interacting.  Some suggestions to support success include:  start with setting a healthy boundary around something that feels relatively minor on your emotional scale, write out the process (including your feelings, needs/values and request) and have it in front of you when speaking to the person, and know in advance that you will most likely have to communicate your boundary more than once (often several and sometimes many times) before the person fully integrates and consistently implements the request agreed to initially!

As always, if you try any of these intention-setting ideas for holistic health, I would love to hear about the impact they might have had for you.  Please send me an email at linda@sanctuary4compassion.com to share!

Tame Your Dragon with Compassion-focused Therapy (CFT)!

Do you sense that you are your own worst enemy?  Is your inner critic’s voice loud and obnoxious on most days?  Are you challenged to accept your flaws as a human being?  Do you find yourself berating yourself when you make a mistake?  Is most of your energy and time spent on trying to be perfect in order to avoid making such mistakes?  Well, you are not alone and Compassion-focused Therapy (CFT) might be the prescription that the doctor orders!

Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, can take many forms, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Emotionally-focused Therapy (EFT), and Narrative Therapy, and Compassion-focused Therapy (CFT) is one of the newer kids on the block.  However, the research is very promising and CFT is making a name for itself within the field of psychotherapy!  It evolved as an approach to healing for people experiencing high shame and self-criticism that creates mental health challenges, such as anxiety, depression, and addictive, impulsive behaviors.  And, having been a perfectionist in the past that suffered from anxiety growing up in an environment born from chaos, I can personally attest to the peace that comes from quieting the inner critic and accepting my imperfections as a normal, natural state as a spiritual being having a human experience.

So if you are tired of trying to be perfect (whatever that is?!?) and feeling like a failure when you make mistakes, all hope is not lost.  If you are thinking that you might need some help in challenging the shame that your inner critic brings up, then you might seek out support from someone that will work with you to expand your ability to experience compassion through CFT.  As a psychotherapist that looks through such a compassionate lens, it has been my experience that it will feel awkward at first because it is something new and different.  Yet, it is exactly that feeling that indicates there is much room for growth and healing through compassion.

Although I have not done any research of my own, I can personally attest to the shift I have experienced as well as the shifts I have seen in my clients when our hearts began to open to the idea of our common humanity through compassion.  For those of you that need a little more evidence, click on the link below to read a review that summarizes the findings of research where CFT has improved the mental health in clinical populations:

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Spread Kindness

Valentine’s Day is a reminder to share the love!

This “Hallmark Holiday” doesn’t have to have the market corned on romantic love.  We can challenge the world to broaden the view of February 14th as a reminder to share the love and kindness with ourselves and others.

Below are some intention setting ideas to spread kindness and, by doing so, bring more peace and joy into our hearts and into the world:

  1. Write a note.  When was the last time you received a hand-written note expressing sentiments from the heart?  Can you remember what it felt like?  Take a moment now and bring to mind someone in your life (past or present) that meant a lot to you, perhaps because they took care of you in a time of need or maybe because they had your back during a difficult time in your life.  Consider writing them a note expressing what their kindness and thoughtfulness meant to you.  It is never too late to share the impact people have had on our lives, even if they have transitioned from this life.  Once the note is written, if possible mail it.  If not, light a candle, sit with the light of the candle visualizing the person (maybe you have a picture you can look at) and read them your note.  Trust the energy and love behind your words will reach them.  Take a moment to tune into your heart, noting any sensations present.  Often, the sensations are the human experience of love and kindness being shared!
  2. Say ‘thank you’ more.   These two simple words have a powerful effect!  Practice saying ‘thank you’ to yourself, when you make a decision that serves you well or when you remember to use one of your self-care tools in your tool box.  As you practice, again tune into your heart center and sense the response.  If you find this practice a little challenging, try saying ‘thank you’ to another, maybe your mail delivery person, the cashier at the supermarket, a co-worker or your child.  Like anything else, the more you practice, the easier it gets.  Don’t forget to come back around and thank yourself!
  3. HUG more!  Research suggests giving and receiving hugs has a positive impact on your body and mind health.  If this gesture of care, kindness and appreciation is not currently one of the tools in your self-care tool kit, no worries.  You can simply start by hugging aspects of Mother Nature, such as trees (yes, trees!) and animals.  Children also love to receive – and give – hugs.  You can also give yourself a hug, especially when life throws you a curve ball.  As you begin to embrace (pun intended!) this practice, if you are inspired to hug someone, make sure to ask permission first no matter their age, especially if it someone that you are just getting to know better!
  4. Take a walk & pick up litter.  Speaking of Mother Nature, it is important to share our kindness and love with her as well.  The next time you plan to take a walk, whether around the block or a 10-mile hike, bring a trash bag with you and pick up any litter you might come across in your travels.  As you do so, thank Mother Earth for all that she provides us, including the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.  She also provides for the materials utilized to build our shelters, so she has a significant and vital part in our lives.
  5. Write a kind story about yourself.  Start by listing 3-5 aspects of yourself that you like or appreciate.  It might be good qualities that you sometimes display, such as patience or generosity, or values that are important to you, such as beauty or connection.  Now, write a story with you as the central figure, including these good qualities (and any more that might rise into awareness as you are writing).  The story can be drawn from past memories of times when you allowed these good qualities to be seen by the world or the story might be written about how you might let these qualities come forward more in the future.  Remember, if any uncomfortable feelings arise as you are writing, you can step into the role of a compassionate friend and let them finish writing it for you.

As always, if you try any of these intention-setting ideas for holistic health, I would love to hear about the impact they might have had for you.  Please send me an email at linda@sanctuary4compassion.com to share!

Can 8 weeks of listening to a 13-minute daily guided meditation change your life?

The second most frequent question I get asked – after how many times a week should I do yoga (Click here to read my reflection on this question) – is how long should I meditate each day in order to reap the benefits?  Well, it appears that brief daily meditations can have a positive effect and it can be as simple as picking your favorite meditation to listen to each day for just 8 weeks!

When I was first introduced to the idea of meditation on my yoga mat, I was still struggling with giving myself permission to include taking care of myself on my “To Do” list and was in the process of embracing the idea of that in order to take care of another, I must take care of myself first.  So, the idea of creating time to sit still and empty my mind of my thoughts did not seem realistic.  And, at the time, we didn’t have “smart” phones we carried around with us all day!

As I continued my yoga practice on my mat, I learned that meditation can take many forms, not just one.  In fact, the very last pose of all yoga practices – savasana – is a very powerful meditation opportunity.  When I initially found myself in savasana, I used the time to organize my “To Do” list for the following day, leaving my mat feeling uplifted by the clarity this time created for me to get even more organized.  It took me awhile to release my attachment to the need to be productive even in the quiet, still moments of life and fully appreciate those moments to simply BE.

As I slowly began to embrace the concept of less is more and challenge society’s demand for multi-tasking, I opened up to the idea that creating more opportunities for “being” brought balance to all of the “doing”, which, I personally discovered reduced my anxiety and allowed space for a response instead of a reaction.  I found myself in yoga classes 5, 6, 7 times a week as my body was motivating my mind to get through the “doing” to settle into the “being” that savasana supported.  The challenge then became how to learn how to meditate off of my mat, without a teacher guiding me in a group class.

And that is one of the exciting offerings that advances in technology bring to us today – you can access meditations online without ever leaving your own place of comfort!  So, the question then becomes, is this sort of meditation effective, where you are listening to someone guiding you through the practice or is it required that you sit in silence trying to quiet your mind on your own to gain the benefits?  Well, recent research conducted with non-experienced meditators suggests that such a daily practice can enhance attention and memory and improve mood and emotional regulation.  The research had participants listen to a 13-minute recorded, guided meditation for 8 weeks and found that such a short, practical meditation practice affected cognitive functioning in these ways with non-experienced meditators!

So now might be the perfect time to find that guided meditation that you find comforting and soothing to download and start listening.  This research also found that only 4 weeks was not enough time to experience the beneficial impact, so don’t give up!

To read more about this research study, click on the button below:

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!

The Stigma of Stuttering – Can Direct Neurofeedback Improve Speech Fluency?

If you know – or have ever known – someone that struggles or struggled with stuttering, then you most likely are aware of how physically and mentally exhausting it can be for them to communicate as they attempt to control the disruptions in their speech caused by this neurodevelopmental condition.  And when we realize that this condition typically begins before the age of 6 and impacts about 5% of preschool children, then I’m sure that most of us can imagine how children might develop additional mental and emotional challenges, such as anxiety, embarrassment, shame and low self-esteem, that most likely will have a significant impact on how they experience life as they grow up.

The good news is that many children outgrow this condition as their brains continue to develop.  With the help of speech therapy, many others will be able to learn how to slow down their speech enough to manage the disruptions.  However, some (approximately 1%) will continue to stutter for a lifetime.  Research focused on these adults is beginning to show changes in the actual structures of the brain when compared to adults without this neurodevelopmental condition.  This is great news as it allows for exploration of treatments known to impact those brain structures.

Once such treatment, direct neurostimulation is beginning to gain some traction in the realm of research on stuttering.  There may be variations in the neurostimulation technique; however, the treatment is non-invasive and includes the delivery of direct, low-intensity electrical currents to the scalp.  If the intensity of the electrical current is higher, it will work to change the neurons (stimulating or reducing neural firing), while lower intensity currents will work with the brainwaves, specifically disrupting dysfunctional brainwaves patterns and supporting the brain’s innate ability to organize and regulate itself.  Either way, these treatments that gently work to stimulate the brain directly are bringing hope to those who continue to be challenged by this condition into adulthood.

So, if you, a loved one or someone else you know is part of the 1% of the adult population still dealing with this neurodevelopmental condition, consider reading the recent research by clicking on the link below:

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?!

Is self-compassion the answer to happiness?

If we are lucky, our parents actively taught us the concept of compassion towards others.  If we were very lucky, our parents actively taught us self-compassion.  Unfortunately, it is only recently that such concepts have come forward in the research as tools to support our body, mind and spiritual health, so most of us may not feel lucky.  Fortunately, compassion – and self-compassion – can be cultivated and integrated into our experiences, both with others and with ourselves, no matter how old we are currently.

So what is self-compassion?  Many of us might think it includes self-pity, which will tend to keep us from cultivating the belief that we deserve comfort and care when we are experiencing pain and suffering.  Dr. Kristen Neff defines self-compassion as having three elements: 1) self—kindness versus self-judgment; 2) common humanity versus isolation; 3) mindfulness versus over-identification.  The three elements build upon the need to accept that we are human and, as such, are perfectly imperfect.  This means we will all fail at something in our lives, we will all subjected to loss at some point and we will all trip up and make mistakes on our journeys – these are all facts of life.  When we think we can bypass these inevitable experiences or ignore the pain that such experiences cause us, we open ourselves up to a deeper level of suffering.  It is when we encounter such challenges in our lives that we need to offer ourselves the same kindness and care as we would offer to someone we love, instead of offering judgment or criticism.  That’s self-compassion.

There is so much judgment and criticism in the world, which comes from a place of fear and creates darkness, separateness, and negativity.  When we can invite understanding of the shared human condition into our awareness, remembering we are not alone in our pain, then we can open our hearts from a place of love and invite in light, connection, and positivity.  When we experience the pain of failure or loss, we must allow ourselves to acknowledge the pain and not ignore it, yet be mindful at the same time that the powerful emotions that arise with the pain do not define us and, if honored, will move through us.  If we try to ignore the pain, either by stuffing it down or distracting ourselves from it, our body and mind will begin to express the effects through illness. We must embrace that pain, along with such powerful emotions as disappointment, rejection, judgment, fear, anger and sadness, are part of the common human phenomenon.  We are all going to experience these situations and emotions – no one can escape them for long!

I grew up in a family where one of my parents wore their emotions on their sleeve for everyone to see, while the other one learned to compartmentalize their emotions for no one to see.  So when I experienced powerful emotions, I hadn’t learned how to work with them in a way to bring a balanced state of being, until I learned about self-compassion as an adult with the help of kind and patient psychotherapist.  Prior to that point, I bought into the saying that “We are our own worst critic”, judging myself harshly, feeling very alone in my pain, and doing my best to deny or distract myself from my emotions.  It was until I embraced my humanness and those powerful emotions that humans experience and must express that I was able to create space in my heart for compassion.  From that point, I had to learn how to offer myself kindness and care when disappointment, rejection, or grief greeted me.  With practice and patience, I have come to experience offering compassion to myself in painful times as one of the most powerful tools in my self-care tool kit for health, peace, and well-being.

Now the research is validating that self-compassion is a powerful practice for inner peace and health!  If you are interesting in reading more, click on this link below:

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!

Gratitude Journaling Improves Mental Health!

Growing up in a chaotic home environment, whether as a result of job loss, divorce, mental illness or abuse, challenges the developing brain to grow from its survival parts to the parts that allow us to engage in the world in a way that brings a sense of acceptance, belonging, peace and abundance.  It gets us stuck in a reactive mode that operates from a place of lack and fear, where the lens we view the world through suggests the glass is half empty, not half full and that we will never have everything we need.  I know it did with me and the research tends to support my anecdotal experience, which has become a part of my own personal gratitude journal.

It was through my own personal yoga journey that led me to the idea – and ultimately the regular practice – of a gratitude journal over a decade ago.  I started slowly, simply identifying some very basic items (for me at that time while recognizing they might not be for many), such as writing down that I was grateful for the roof over my head, the bed that I had to sleep in, and the hot running water that provided a hot shower each morning upon awakening.  Some days that was all I could identify as far as what I was grateful for in the moment.  But with the encouragement from others, my list began to expand – and it didn’t take that long either!

I recognized how grateful I was for my sometimes daily yoga practice, my breath, the joy that my fur babies bring me, walking, the thoughtfulness of my friends, my car that allowed a greater sense of freedom in my experience of travel to and from my jobs, music, air conditioning on hot days and heat on cold days, the colors when the leaves change in the fall, sleep, movies, the internet, rain, the sound of a train whistle, the smell of a fire place, Eastern medicine, boredom, reading a good book, setting a healthy boundary, the sound of the ocean, the warmth of the sun on my skin, sitting still in nature and I could go on and on, as I found the practice of gratitude growing exponentially.

Then I decided to challenge myself in this experience, where I got curious about what I might find to be grateful for in those moments when life sucks, such as when we lose someone we love or fail to get something we worked hard for and really wanted.  Each night, I would open my gratitude journal and reflect on my day and delve into the challenging moments I experienced that day, whether it was a conflict I had with someone at work or the traffic accident I got stuck behind on my way home from work.  Through this effort to test the strength of my gratitude I discovered that there is a silver lining or benefit that serves us in all of our life experiences where we can feel gratitude if we are open to the shift in perspective that arises when we exercise those parts of the brain that support our growth and transformation.

So what was the result of my gratitude journaling practice?  Well, it has become a habit of mine!  So now, whenever something that others might perceive as negative happens, I stop, reflect and share a different, more positive perspective of the event or circumstance.  My felt response to this practice includes a greater sense of peace, trust, confidence, and a new, growing belief that all is as it should be which emanates from a deep, growing well of abundance.  I now see the glass as half full and encourage everyone to try it for themselves, reminding them to start small and watch how their list grows.  Then, when we do experience dark days – as we all will and do – we can read through our gratitude journals to remind ourselves that this too shall pass.

If my personal experience of cultivating gratitude isn’t enough to motivate you to start practicing immediately or continuing practicing, click on the link below to read up on the first randomized controlled trial (which is the gold standard in the research world) to test the impact of gratitude writing that demonstrated a positive, lasting impact on mental health: