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

Increasing stress and anxiety in children – can yoga help?

Although my adolescent days are several decades behind me, I still clearly remember the stress I experienced during those years, not only from the academic pressures but from the social pressure to “fit in”, while trying to manage potentially conflicting expectations from family and friends.  Unfortunately, I was not taught ways to manage that stress, although I had to take PE classes and voluntarily participated in sports regularly after school.  So, when I moved through my early adult years and began to work full-time, I attempted to continue to participate in those sports to help relieve the chronic stress I felt, only to discover that it wasn’t working.  The only relief I discovered at that time was planning and taking vacations, where I found I didn’t want “to do” anything but relax.  And there was simply not enough vacation time to effectively create the required balance in my life to reduce the growing anxiety I was experiencing.

It wasn’t until I found yoga – in mid-life – that I experienced an immediate sense of release of tension, stress, and anxiety.  I still tell people that ask me about yoga “I wish I found yoga at 4, instead of 40!”, although I am eternally grateful for finding it at all, as it truly has been a life saver.  So when I read the recent research on how yoga can help children cope with stress and manage their anxiety symptoms, my heart’s sense of gratitude grew even more.

Eight published studies were reviewed together and found that school children who regularly practice yoga show an improved ability to cope with stress and anxiety.  And with the majority of children reporting growing academic pressures to achieve, along with more challenging family life with both parents needing to work outside of the home, it’s about time we offer our children a life-time tool to create more balance in their bodies and minds.  What makes yoga different than the typical physical education classes currently offered in schools is that it is a meditative movement practice and it does not have a competitive focus.  There are no winners or losers.  There is no forming of teams, leaving some children feeling inadequate in some way when they are picked last (or not at all) to join a team.  It is most often practiced in a group setting, yet the practice encourages and welcomes individualized, unique experiences.  It is a practice that can be done by everyone, regardless of size, shape, strength or flexibility level, and/or any other physical limitation, such as chronic health conditions, including asthma or diabetes.

The review article looked at the interventions, which incorporated postures, breath, concentration, and meditation that are different paths or parts of a full yogic practice, and came to the conclusion that these combined features of yoga, when practiced regularly by children, provide an accessible tool to reduce stress and anxiety.  The author also recommended that yoga should be integrated into schools.  It is my personal belief that by offering yoga to children – even before they enter school – sets them up not only for success in life but happiness too.  And don’t our children deserve that balance!

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Support Our Sense of Smell

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”― William Shakespeare


I found myself noticing the scent of the orange blossoms in the air this week.  It is one of my most favorite scents and I make sure to stop and smell the small, delicate white flowers on my neighbors’ trees as often as I can.  It is a reminder of why our county was named “Orange” and how grateful I am to be living in Southern California.

However, as we march (pun intended) in the direction of Spring, many of us still remember the direct experience of coming down with the flu or that nasty head cold or at least, being around someone that was sick and doing what we could to stay healthy.  Then, with Spring, comes the experience of seasonal allergies, when many of us are challenged to take in full, deep breaths without sneezing and are unable to enjoy the Neroli oil in the air.  It is not a pleasant time when our nose is inflammed and we are cut off from our natural breath, restricting our connection to our life force energy, and from experiencing all of the wonderful aromas that are blossoming at this time of year.

The connection between our nose as our scent sense organ and the brain is different than our other sense organs.  Our senses of sight, hearing, touch, and taste all pass information through the thalmus to the cerebral cortex, allowing thoughts to be a part of our response to the external stimuli.  On the other hand, scent data is sent to the olfactory bulbs in our brain, which then relays information to the limbic system, including the amygdala, which is our emotional memory center.  And, as we age, our sense of smell, along with our sense of taste, begins to fade as does our memories.  And when our sense of smell fades, like when we experience a head cold, life is not as pleasant.

In fact, studies have shown that losing your sense of smell can actually be dangerous, such as when you are unable to detect a gas leak or lose interest in eating.  Therefore, below I offer some intention-setting ideas to help maintain the healthy function of your nose and support a full five-sense experience of life:

  1. Eat more nuts, seeds and dark chocolate!.  What do these three food items have in common you might ask – ZINC!  If you diet does not include enough daily zinc, it will impact your sense of smell.  With meat being a big source of zinc, many of us who are vegetarians or vegans just might be experiencing a zinc deficiency and not know it.  Consider adding flax and/or sesame seeds to your morning cereal or shake, eating a handful of dark chocolate covered peanuts and cashews as a mid-day snack and adding pumpkins seeds as a bed time snack (they help you to sleep better at night!) to make sure you are getting enough zinc in your diet.
  2. Eat only when you’re hungry!  Our sense of smell and taste are heightened when we are hungry.  Research has shown that olfactory function improved when fasting and demonstrated reduced activity during satiation.  All of our body systems are impacted by the nutritional balance and chemical state of the body, including our olfactory system.  It serves as an internal sensor, so when we are hungry, our ability to perceive odors is enhanced.
  3. Invest in an essential oil diffuser or humidifier.  Science has begun to focus on experiences that up to this point where mostly anecdotal, like how our sense of smell seems to be sharper when it rains in the spring.  Well, the research is now able to confirm that humidity acts as a transporter of smells in the air, bringing the odor molecules to our nose.  So the higher the humidity, the more odor molecules in the air, the more intense the scent perceivable to our noses.
  4. Try using a Neti pot for a week.  In Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga, this daily nasal cleansing practice is encouraged, similar to and along with teeth brushing and tongue scraping.  The warm, saline water washes away any irritants (think air born environmental allergens), reducing inflammation, and moisturizing the sinus passages, once again improving the sensitivity of the olfactory nerves.  I recommend this practice if you tend to suffer from allergies or are prone to sinus infections as well.
  5. Stop and smell the roses.  Don’t take your sense of smell for granted.  It is a major source of information and pleasure.  Since our sense of smell is tied so closely to our emotional experiences, when we lose our sense of smell we may begin to experience more sadness, increasing the risk of depression.  Give your sense of smell as much attention as you would your senses of sight and hearing.  And, if you are experiencing a decline in your sense of smell, possibly consider exploring more structured retraining of this sense by working with the four scent groupings:  flowery (i.e., rose), fruity (i.e., lemon), spicy (i.e., clove), and resinous (i.e., eucalyptus).

What is my purpose and why does seeking it matter?

As a young woman working in the predominately male corporate culture, I struggled to find purpose, or meaning, in the work that I did to reduce the frustration, among many other mixed emotions, that I felt on a daily basis.  In fact, I still have a framed print hanging on a wall in my home from a previous employer reflecting a vision that resonated with me on a deep soul level:  Discovery & Hope.  It was also at this same employer that I experienced what has come to be referred to as ‘sexual misconduct’ today.

When I reflect back on that time of my life, one of the things that stands out for me is how I still managed to get up every morning and feel motivated to go to work.  I really enjoyed what I was doing and was able to remind myself that what I was doing was closely tied to improving the health and well-being of others, which was a personal value of mine.  So, although my work conditions were not mentally and emotionally healthy, creating meaning out of the actual work I was doing seemed to propel me forward in life.

Now, flash forward many years later, including a mid-life career change to better align my personal values and gifts with how I engage in the workforce, what weighs on my mind is the rise in the incidence of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.  I know, through my studies on the normal, natural developmental stages of life that memory loss is to be expected and is a normal part of the aging process.  However, what may not be so well understood is the underlying causes of dementia.  What is coming to light is that chronic stress is associated with damage to a critical part of the brain, specifically the hippocampus, and memory loss and may predict progression from mild cognitive impairment to dementia.

So, when I became aware of recent research suggesting that cultivating a sense of purpose, or meaning in our lives demonstrated a 30% reduction in the risk of developing dementia, it caught my attention!  I don’t believe there is any corresponding research showing such a significant reduction in risk by using any currently available prescription medications when it comes to this age-related disease.  Even more encouraging is that this research suggests that the results are independent of psychological distress, in other words, even if you find yourself in a mentally and emotionally stressful environment, if you are leading a meaningful and goal-driven life, this sense of purpose may be protecting your brain against the risk of developing dementia.

With this new discovery comes hope.  If you feel lost or sense your purpose in life is not so clear, therapy can be a resource.  I know it personally helped me to get in touch with my needs and values, identify false or limiting beliefs I had collected along the way, and gain clarity on aligning my personal priorities and professional goals.  Sometimes we just need to create a sacred place for the exploration to reconnect with our own inner wisdom and ask a fellow journey(wo)men to assist in fine tuning our sense of purpose and meaning to serve as a guide on the journey toward lasting body, mind, and spirit well-being.

If you would like to read more about this emerging research, click on the link below:

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Make Yoga a Daily Home Practice

“Tension is who you think you should be.  Relaxation is who you are.”― Ancient Chinese Proverb

As Chinese Astrology follows the lunar calendar, we recently celebrated the Chinese New Year and entered into the year of the Yang (Brown) Earth Dog at the time of the second new moon of the calendar year.  As an expression of unconditional love with an innate sense of intuition and resiliency, a dog’s energy is a reflection of the best parts of ourselves.  The element of earth reminds us that we must remain connected to the earth through our roots as it is the earth that provides the nutrients for our growth.  The masculine yang – or doing – energy of the year will support us in laying our new foundations to elevate our sense of security and balance this year and into the future.

So as you explore reconnecting with the unconditional love and acceptance that resides in your own heart on your journey this year of building a new, more secure foundation for the future, I thought you might need a little assistance in maintaining the balance between “doing” and “being” that will be required to sustain your forward moving energy this year.  Therefore, below I have offered some intention-setting ideas to consider to support a daily yoga practice no matter where you are in the moment:

  1. Breathe.  As we create space for ourselves on our mat for our yoga asana practice, what many of us quickly realize is that our breath contains the power – both the strength and flexibility we desire.  The connection to the power of our breath is often the first practice we take off of our mat and out into the world.  Our breath becomes our best internal guide on how to move in the external experience with the most ease and grace.  So when you begin to sense an experience of overwhelm from all of “the doing”, let it be a reminder to you to simply invite your breath into the moment, breathing deeply, expansively, and with great attention for several minutes, to bring back perspective and balance.  You can do this anywhere – even in traffic!
  2. Mudra.  Many of us might have been “doing” yoga for many years on our mat and still not have learned about mudras.  Mudras are yoga poses, often practiced with a focus on the hands and fingers, with the intention of supporting your body’s energy flow.  The Sanskrit word mudra is translated as “seal” or “gesture” and they are powerful tools to facilitate the flow of energy in our subtle bodies.  One I would recommend to practice when feeling ungrounded, scattered, and/or overwhelmed from “the doing” and to reconnect us to the earth, is Adhi mudra.  Simply curl your thumbs into your palms, wrap you fingers around your thumbs, turn your knuckles down towards the earth and rest your hands on your lap.  Again, you can do this practically anywhere, anytime – but maybe not in traffic!
  3. Mantra.  Mantra is the practice of repeating a sacred sound, word or phrase, often in Sanskrit, in order to support an increase in our ability to focus or concentrate or create a shift in consciousness.  Research has shown that chanting the Sanskrit sound “OM” (pronounced AUM) can change the structure of the human brain.  A more modern understanding of mantra has been offered through the use of affirmations.  Although different in the origin and purpose, identifying an affirmation that resonates with you and repeating it several times in a row, several times a day for several weeks might create the desired shift in perspective!
  4. Meditate.  An often heard response to this idea is “I don’t have any time”, which is the truest indicator that such a practice might have the greatest impact.  When starting a meditation practice, it does not require you to find a quiet place to sit with your legs crossed in silence for 20 minutes trying to stop your thoughts.  Today there are many free applications that you can access on your mobile device and follow along with the guidance provided.  Some of these meditation practices are for as little as one minute.  Can you set aside just one minute each day for yourself?  What you might discover over time is that you experience the world differently – with more joy or ease – after meditating, so you tend to practice longer, maybe for 20 or 30 minutes a day!
  5. Practice present-moment awareness.  I have found that the ultimate body-mind-spirit balancing practice is the experience of presence.  When we are fully present in our interactions – when we are “doing” – you can experience a resounding sense of peace and clarity.  To begin to sharpen this tool of presence, stop everything you are doing for just a minute.  Focus on your immediate environment, taking mental notes of the objects around you, including the colors, shapes, smells, movement, and sounds that the mind becomes aware of, possibly even engaging the sense of touch by running your fingers or hand across one of the objects.  Pretend you are taking a mini video with your mind, capturing as many details as possible with the intention of describing what you see, hear, smell, and feel to someone else who missed the opportunity to experience what you are experiencing.  At the end of the day, allow yourself to close your eyes for another minute to reflect on this experience to see how many details you can remember and, more importantly, sense what it feels like in the body-mind connection to have been so present in that moment.  The more you keep this tool sharp, the stronger your presence grows along with a sense of connection to all!

How much yoga would I recommend?

As a yoga teacher, I get a lot of questions about how much yoga I recommend.  The question might be posed as “How many times a week should I take a class?” or “If I practice 3 times a week, how long will it take for me to see results?” or “The length of classes vary from 50 minutes to 90 minutes, what is the best class length?”.  As I tend to answer many questions that may require a more personalized response, I typically say “It depends.”  Yoga is not a one-size-fits-all exercise program designed just for the physical body.  It is a broader practice that has benefits to the brain/mind, body, and energy we experience and can be crafted to address various unique outcomes depending upon our perceived human limitations.  And, if we consider ourselves human, we all have some limitation, whether we are open to acknowledging it or not!

There are yoga practices designed to strengthen the body and others that focus on increasing the flexibility in the body.  Certain yoga practices have the goal of mood management.  Classes can be designed for people challenged with physical conditions, such as cancer or multiple sclerosis.  Some classes may not include any movement or very little movement, focusing more on the breath and mind.  Each of us has unique needs and that is why I recommend yoga to everyone, because there is a class and teacher out there that is offering what you need.  It just might take a trial and error approach to finding a good match.

Now, as far as the frequency of the practice, again it will depend upon a person’s intention for integrating yoga into their life.  My intention in my teaching of yoga is to offer a class where first-timers leave the class feeling as though the practice is attainable and not feeling intimidated by the poses, keeping the door open to further exploration of all that yoga has to offer.  So my first recommendation as far as frequency is simply to take a class once to determine if it is a good fit.  From there, you might try another class once and another and another, until you become aware of a shift, whether it is in your body, mind, or energy.  My experience of teaching has told me this can occur with just one class!

From that point, I offer that your view of yoga will expand as you continue on the journey of exploration through the practice.  I might suggest that you consider beginning to integrate some of your favorite practices into your daily routine at home, whether first thing in the morning upon awakening or as the last thing before bed, to improve your sleep.  Over time, what will begin to emerge is a growing sense of acceptance and compassion for yourself and others, supporting the connection between all of your parts that make up your authentic and highest self.

So, my response to the original question might just become a question in return:  “How quickly do you want to experience a shift in consciousness, that aligns you with your truth?”.  There is no prescription for change, as change happens whether we want it or are ready for it or not.  We do have a choice though to work with our circle of influence around change and yoga can be our ‘go to’ support as we ride the waves of change.  We just need to be ready and open to the change we desire and then yoga will simply become a way of life, instead of specific practices we make time for in our lives.

If you might be skeptical that just one yoga class can make such a difference, click on the link below to read the recent research on the effects of one yoga session for service recipients in a behavioral health intensive outpatient program:

5 Intention-setting Ideas to Increase Your Sense of Lightness of Being

“Our sorrows and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion. – Buddha

Last week, on a day when southern California experienced a rare, heavy winter rainfall, a dear friend and colleague and I were scheduled to gather to collaborate on our co-creations for the new year when she came across a beautiful butterfly in her path that was unable to fly due to wet wings.  She stopped to help it relocate somewhere dry and it welcomed her support.  It stayed with her, almost not wanting to leave the warm jacket upon which it found itself and I was able to capture the image – see below!

I think we both immediately knew it was a blessing being delivered to us in support of our efforts to help empower, elevate, and enlighten others in light of the fact that these butterflies typically don’t fly on cloudy days, none-the-less on rainy days!

Butterflies symbolize the soul in many world cultures.  This animal totem is most often associated with transformation and rebirth, while other associations include endurance, hope, renewal, life, and lightness of being.  It is this last association that shifted something for me in that moment and encouraged me to share the following intention-setting ideas to help you shake free from whatever it is that might be weighing your wings down, keeping you from taking flight and sensing into your lightness of being:

  1. Ask for Help.  When we begin to sense a heaviness in our energy, it is a signal that we might be carrying too big of a load for just one person.  This signal suggests that it is time to consider asking for some assistance, whether to delegate some of the tasks on our “to do” lists or to simply reaffirm that we are not alone and we have people around us that are ready, willing and able to help and support us.  Remembering how it feels when we help others can be just the motivation to allow others to help us – why would we ever want to rob others of feeling that joy of connection!
  2. Share your Stories.  We cannot experience the lightness of being when our minds are full of thoughts that make us doubt ourselves.  Finding someone you can trust to simply listen as we put words to the stories in our heads helps to put own experiences into context and perspective, without which invites separation and loneliness.  When our stories only live in our heads, they get distorted, blown out of proportion, and become ripe for self-judgment and criticism.  When we share them with just one other person, it creates a space for a new outlook and opens a door wide for a sense of connection to our authentic being to enter.
  3. Act of Kindness.  Which brings me to . . . performing an act of kindness towards yourself.  Society promotes and supports doing for others, which does feed our souls.  However, it is mission critical to our well-being to offer that same empathy towards ourselves if we want to find lasting ease in our bodies and peace in our minds and hearts.  Might I offer the first act of kindness to consider:  challenging your inner critic that is the voice of judgment that says you need to do more to be worthy.
  4. Write down your Mantra.  Which leads me to . . . documenting a mantra that challenges your inner critic’s judgment.  Maybe it’s “I am enough” or “I am perfect just the way I am” or “I am worth it” – take the time to find one that makes your heart sing, write it down using a writing tool with a color that appeals to your eyes, and place it somewhere where you will see it at least once a day, if not more.  The act of committing something to paper creates energy around it and reflecting on it each day, even if only for a few moments, begins to align the energy between our minds and hearts, rewiring our neural pathways for health.
  5. Shine a Light on Shame.  Shame lives in the darkness.  When we invite it into the light, getting curious about it and challenging it, it cannot survive.  Shame silences us or worse, cuts us off from experiencing connection, isolating us from the world around us.  Shame is the intensely painful belief that we are flawed and, therefore, unworthy of love and belonging.  We are all human beings, which implies we all experience limitations of one kind or another, making each one of us uniquely and perfectly imperfect.  So we need to stand up to the belief that our imperfection is something to be ashamed of or that if we speak up for ourselves, no one will listen because we are not worthy of care and concern.  There is a flame that burns within each one of us that others might have tried to snuff out in the past through the weapon of shame.  Our inner flame might have gone dim in the darkness of shame, but as long as we breathe, it has not gone out.  To truly experience lightness of being, we need to do whatever we have to in order to cast out shame from our minds and bodies.  The first step in doing so just might be to invite it out of the darkness and into the light for a long overdue conversation!

My New Year’s Intention – The Time’s Up for Shame!

As I have written about in the past, I am not a big fan of making resolutions for the New Year.  I find that such resolutions often bring with them failure, self-judgment and self-criticism, and ultimately shame when I might step away from such rigid demands on myself.  Sounds more like a recipe for depression than self-improvement if you ask me!  Which made me wonder if that is why many of us don’t bother with setting resolutions and, if we are brave enough to attempt them, why so many of us don’t succeed in such undertakings.  Could it be more about being hard on ourselves versus the unrealistic goals that we tend to set for ourselves at this time of year?  Or is it the shame that holds us back?  Or might it be a combination of both?

So, when I sat in reflection of my self-improvement efforts in 2017 in order to create a vision for myself in 2018 that is more intentional, motivating, and empowering, I found myself drawn so strongly to the #MeToo Movement that is now evolving into the “Time’s Up” campaign!  What felt so powerfully moving to me was the act of shining a light on the shame, that is transferred to someone who experiences one of the most natural, normal, adaptive, human responses to a body-mind breaking situation, so that shame can be given back to the rightful owner, the transgressor.  When we find ourselves in a situation that appears threatening, whether to our physical bodies or to our physical circumstances like our livelihoods, our bodies/brains know what to do to survive without much thought.  The first automatic survival response is to flee and when the mind realizes that might not be possible, it considers fighting for its life.  When the mind suspects it might not survive the fight, it freezes, even sometimes fainting, as a defense mechanism to try and trick the predator into thinking they are dead and leave (them alone).  And, of course, when we freeze – or faint – our voices go silent.

It is only when the “after” (survival) thoughts arrive that we begin the real battle, because we unknowingly took on the trangressor’s shame as our own.  The thoughts get really loud while our voices remain silent, for fear that we won’t be heard and supported and, instead blamed and rejected.  Anxiety and depression present themselves and become the unwelcome visitors in our daily lives and homes.  When we can experience the acceptance and support of others, we can then begin the journey of healing, bringing more acceptance and compassion towards ourselves.  When we can see the shame as not ours and give it back to the one who transferred it to us, we can begin to accept that we are human and we did what we had to do to survive at that time.  And now we can move forward and thrive, by embracing – maybe even expressing gratitude towards – our vulnerability as one of the strongest parts of ourselves, the part that helped us survive to live another day and become a part of a movement and campaign that has the energy to transform the world.

So, my intention is 2018 is be a compassionate support for those brave souls that are able to honor their vulnerable parts by speaking up, identifying and talking about shameful words and behaviors.  I intend to stay connected to the well of compassion for myself as the perfectly flawed human that I am, leading by example, showing others that self-compassion is the first, last, and every step in between on the path of healing.  Connecting to our ability to experience self-compassion while, at the same time, holding shame in the light is the true recipe for individual self-improvement and inner peace as well as contributing to the elevation of the collective consciousness of the world.

If you are interested in reading the recent research showing that self-compassion is more effective than the more established strategies of acceptance and reappraisal in decreasing depression, click on the link below:

5 Intention-setting Ideas for finding Comfort and Peace during the Holiday Season

“Grief never ends . . . but it changes.  It’s a passage, not a place to stay.  Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith . . .It is the price of love.” – Elizabeth I

With the holiday season upon us, many of us might not be feeling the joy of the season.  The holidays tend to bring visions of gatherings of friends and family, with the intention of spending time with loved ones and creating heart-warming memories to carry with us throughout the year.  However, this time of year may also bring back painful memories of the loved ones we may have lost this year or around this time of year in the past.

I recently lost both of my beloved furbabies, Eclipse and Mocha, who brought me so much comfort, love and light over the past thirteen years.  I miss their tangible presence in my life.  I know they are forever with me in my heart memories and yet visiting those memories brings both joy and sadness.  Grief is a tricky emotion, as Elizabeth I so eloquently describes in the quote above.  It is the price we humans pay for experiencing love and I believe that the experience of love, no matter the source, is priceless!

Therefore, remembering that as long as we are alive, we will experience loss, so create space for yourself to experience the grief knowing you have been blessed by the presence of love that came before it.  Below are some intention-setting ideas to bring you some comfort and peace as you may find yourself traveling through the passage of grief:

  1. Create a ritual.  When we find ourselves in the throes of grief, we may feel vulnerable, uncertain and even anxious.  Research has shown that engaging in a ritual can reduce those feelings.  Consider setting aside a day and time to maybe write about the love that you felt or to look at photos that reflect the joy you felt.  You might light a candle and listen to your (or their) favorite music.  Give yourself permission to allow all emotions to be expressed.
  2. Watch your favorite movie.  If you are concerned that once you open the flood gates the tears won’t stop, plan to have your favorite movie cued up and set a timer.  When the timer goes off and you have to get up to shut it off, take that moment to begin to watch your favorite movie.  Movies, no matter what genre, have a way of helping us to transcend time and space, soothing our minds and hearts in the moment, even if only for a short time.  Experiencing only a moment of transcendence reminds us that our emotions, like life, flow and change constantly.
  3. Go to bed early.  At this time of year, when the sun sets so early in the day, we may find ourselves thinking about heading home from work and climbing in bed, while thinking that there is something wrong with us for having such a thought.  We might even try pushing past what our bodies are asking for, finding ourselves making plans that prevent us from going right home after work.  If we stop for a moment and observe nature at this time of year, the cycles of life reflect how much goes dormant or hibernates.  My beloved furbabies were a constant reminder that when it got dark, it was time to go to bed, no matter what the clock said!  So, if the comfort of your bed calls, heed the call!
  4. Take a walk.  Go to your most favorite local outdoor place, whether it’s a mall, park, beach or garden store.  Plan to walk around for a half hour, maybe setting an intention to notice something new that you hadn’t noticed before that makes you smile.  Watch what happens when you surround yourself with the comfort of the familiar while opening yourself up to something new that might bring you joy in the moment!
  5. Reach out.  Undoubtedly, we will all need time to ourselves to navigate through the passage.  And, just as undoubtedly, we will all need the comfort of others to stay on course through the passage.  Therefore, identify one person that you have felt comforted by in the past, that you trust will understand, and pencil it in your calendar to reach out to that person to share with them what you are experiencing.  Let them also know what you might need, from them or others, such as just someone to listen (and not fix), a hug, or a visit to your favorite coffee and tea shop.

Has the fountain of youth been found?

I think many people might agree with me when I say that the best holiday gift we could receive would be a way to slow down time and the aging process.  Well, what if I were to tell you that researchers may have identified a way to slow down one of these – would you be willing to do whatever it takes?  What if “whatever it takes” is a pretty simple change in lifestyle choice that may hold the key to delaying the aging process?  Are you with me??

When I first discovered yoga, I was simply trying to find some sort of exercise that I could do by myself since work began to interfere with my first passion, tennis.  In addition, the stress of work and lack of exercise contributed to a painful herniated lumbar disk in my back, further limiting my movement options.  Little did I know that “doing yoga” would not only help heal my back pain, but would also support reframing the painful thoughts that I experienced in my mind as well.  As I experienced these significant shifts in my life, I found myself longing for more time on my mat.  My mind and body began to crave it as my sleep improved, my blood pressure lowered, and my ability to respond (instead of react) improved.  So, as you can imagine, I was hooked!

Now, years later, in my mid-50s, I find myself in the minority of the American population that does not require a prescription medication to maintain my health.  I feel blessed that I found yoga when I did and recommend yoga and meditation to anyone that might be interested in trying a different approach to improving their body-mind-spirit health.  Now with this new research, I might take a different approach to “selling” yoga, because yoga and meditation now have been shown to demonstrate improvement in biomarkers of cellular aging and longevity!

After just 12 weeks of a yoga and meditation based lifestyle intervention, there was a positive change in almost 10 different biologically-based indicators of physical aging.  Participants’ ages ranged from 30 to 65 years of age and the intervention included a 90-minute practice (including yoga poses, pranayama or breath practices, and meditation techniques) derived from a mix of Hatha and Raja yoga that was performed 5 days per week.  The results reflect that although we may not be able to change our biology or chronological age, if we commit to such a lifestyle we can certainly reverse or slow down the pace at which we age, prolonging a youthful, healthy life!  Are you in?

And let me challenge any thoughts that might arise as you read this reflection that might suggest to you that you are not flexible or strong enough to “do yoga” or that it’s too late, I’m too old, or I’m not in a physical shape that would allow me to participate in a yoga class.  There are yoga classes available to “every” body and mind, including gentle, breath-centered, trauma-informed, restorative, chair, mood management, and sound healing to name just a few.  There are also yoga classes designed for beginners, ones geared toward athletes, and others intended for people living/recovering from chronic diseases, such as cancer and multiple sclerosis.   It might take a little research to find the right class/teacher for you to take the first step towards integrating a yoga and meditation practice into your life, but I promise you it will be work the time and effort!

If you would like to read more details on this latest research, click on the button below: