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5 Intention-setting Ideas for Self-care in Chaotic Times

It is so difficult to not be affected by what is happening in the world, especially when we are deeply aware of how interdependent and connected we all are.  We can feel small, scared, overwhelmed and helpless in such times of chaos.  We might think to ourselves “What can I do, I am only one person and this is so much more than I can fix by myself.”  Yet action, even the smallest of steps, is the antidote to such feelings and supports the flow of love and healing back out into the world!

One of the quotes by the Dalai Lama that might support our efforts to take some small action this month is “World peace begins with inner peace”.  September is also National Yoga Month, which might just be an ideal time to consider trying one of the intention-setting ideas for self-care to cultivate inner peace when chaos presents itself:

  1. Try something new.  If you already practice yoga, perhaps take your practice somewhere new, like outside in a park, or by a body of water.  If you typically practice by yourself, maybe consider joining a Yoga or Meditation MeetUp to sense into the powerful collective energy of such a group.  If you typically take a Vinyasa class, consider trying a different style, such as Yin or Restorative.  Maybe you have had your eye on a workshop around the new or full moons – make a step toward getting it on your calendar, whether this month or next.  If you don’t practice yoga, consider attending a Beginner’s or Gentle class, or an introduction to yoga workshop.  Yoga encompasses so much more than the shapes on the mat, so consider a group gathering that peaks your mental or spiritual interests!
  2. Share the gift of yoga.  If someone you care about is also currently struggling to connect with their core center of inner peace within, invite them along with you as you try something new.  You might frame the invite as their presence would be a great support to you to face the fear head on. Knowing you have each others’ backs can in and of itself reduce the level fear that comes with trying something new, even though we know it is good for us.
  3. Mindful minutes.  Throughout your day, consider committing to taking a mindful minute several times a day.  It does not have to be scheduled or occur at the same time each day.  Instead, perhaps having a Post-It note on your mirror or computer screen as a reminder and then, when you sense your body and/or mind tensing up, stop what your are doing for a minute.  In that minute, you can simply acknowledge the tension, place your hands in a gesture of care to yourself (e.g., right hand over your heart, Garuda mudra, Adhi mudra, Hakini mudra, etc.), and draw your awareness to your breath.  Another way to practice mindful minutes is to give what you are doing your full attention for that minute.  For example, if you are washing dishes, encourage your awareness to focus on the details of the object you are washing, such as its size, color, shape, texture and material.  Offer it your appreciation for being a part of your kitchenware and its role in nourishing your body.  Another example might be giving someone your full attention for that minute, such as when you interact with your family at the end of the day.  This one can be more challenging as we often are planning our response after the first few words.  So consider committing to only listen and releasing the attachment to the almost automatic need to comment on what they are sharing.
  4. Practice kindness.  Toward yourself!  When we experience chaos, it rattles us.  Recognizing how this manifests in yourself, whether it creates irritation, fear, anxiety, self-criticism, withdrawal, and/or dissociation, is the first step.  With this awareness, you can begin to discover techniques that help to soothe those responses, such as deep breathing, yoga Nidra, creating, reading, and/or talking with yourself as if you were your best friend.  The kindness is creating space to offer yourself those techniques.  Consider this mind bender:  If we don’t act kindly toward ourselves, how can we expect ourselves to act authentically kind to others!
  5. Plan a gathering.  Surrounding yourself with your tribe, those people that are like-hearted and lift you up, is important to remind you that you are not experiencing this chaos alone and by gathering together, we exponentially impact the collective love, compassion and intention of peace that the world so needs.  Consider a gathering dedicated to exploring the world chaos a little more directly by inviting your tribe members to share how they know the world chaos is impacting them and their ‘go to’ act of kindness to self-soothe.  Perhaps ask some of your members to guide the tribe through one of their acts of kindness or listen to a yoga Nidra practice together and talk about the change it created in the moment.  Make sure to check back in with everyone at the end of the gathering and collectively set the intention to continue to share newly discovered acts of self-kindness, facilitating the flow with love from the inside!

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Embracing the Slow Flow of Summer

What if somehow you could know what days were the best ones to move your intentions and manifestations forward by doing more?  And, in addition, what days were best to simply do less and, instead spend time reflecting and daydreaming (or better known as visualizing what you want more of in your life)?  Would you change how you spend your time and energy to go with the flow more?  Or would you dig your heels in and continue to push ahead without such guidance?

In the past, I came to believe that in order to be successful I had to keep “the pedal to the metal’ so to speak 24/7/365!  With this belief, no matter what was going on, I pushed and I pushed hard.  There were times when I felt like I was banging my head up against a brick wall and/or swimming against the tide it was so exhausting.  I grew to believe that life was hard!  When I was finally able to take a step back from the chaos, I began to notice small coincidences that would occur making my next step forward that much clearer and easier.  When I began to express gratitude for those small coincidences, the size of the coincidences grew as did the frequency.

I started to pay attention to my own natural energy levels and how those levels ebbed and flowed, similar to the ocean tides.  My awareness continued to grow as I realized that the ocean tides are impacted by the cyclic energy of the moon.  I began to think ‘why wouldn’t we be impacted by similar energies?’.  This growing awareness brought the focus of my eyes to the sky and I started to lean into the universal flow of life more.  And when I did, life began to flow with more ease, providing a more balanced appreciation between working hard and taking time to rest.  So, when the planets all align, like they are this month, it is a clear message to me that July is NOT the month to be doing more, but instead, with 7 celestial bodies in retrograde, it is the month to do less, move more intentionally, spend time relaxing and enjoy the slow flow of summer!Below are some intention-setting ideas for embracing this slower moving time frame as we pass through the Eclipse Gateway:

  1. Leave things behind.  What might you consider letting go of if you knew it would take you to a new level of effectiveness, efficiency, ease, confidence and abundance?  What if you learned that in order to gain something, you must leave something behind in order to make room for the new?  During this Eclipse season, we are going to be asked to evaluate what no longer fits, whether it is clothes in our closets, people in our lives, or old beliefs.  The first step is considering what you might want to let go of, raising your awareness to what is holding you back or down.  The second step is simply to express what it is you decide you want to let go of, either writing it down or verbalizing it to the Universe.  The third step might be visualizing what you want instead, to fill the void created by the release, which could be purely more space.  Then all you need to do from this point is to follow the lead of the Universe as the coincidences begin to present themselves to you to assist you in making the change!
  2. Identify what does still fit.  Reflecting on what no longer fits assists us in gaining clarity on what we want to keep in our lives as well.  If we identify people around us that seem to bring us down when we gather and consider moving in a different direction without them in our lives, this effort will shine a light on those people that bring joy and comfort into our lives.  Consider setting an intention during the month of July to spend time with those people, connecting on a deeper level and enjoying the ease of the relationship, sensing how the connection fans the flame within, providing you with more clarity, energy, and motivation once we pass through the Eclipse season.
  3. Trust in the cyclic nature of life.  Remind yourself that this opportunity to move more slowly as you flow through this month will not last forever, so enjoy it while you can!  See the planets that are slowing down their rotation giving you permission to do the same.  View this time as an opportunity to look, listen, pay attention, and recalibrate your instrument (read your body and mind) to align more naturally with your soul’s calling.  If you need a little reminder, consider spending time in nature, whether at the beach, or taking a hike in the forest, or rafting down a river, as Mother Earth demonstrates to us around every corner how letting go creates space for new growth!
  4. Start a new self-care habit.  When the world starts to slow down around us, it seems to be beckoning us to consider taking better care of ourselves.  When things are more on the move, we barely have time to think clearly none-the-less add something new to our plates.  Have you always dreamed of taking piano or guitar lessons?  How about singing or surfing lessons?  Or trying a yoga or meditation class?  Consider looking at your community summer school guide and signing up for a class.  You might just surprise yourself at how much fun you have or at how much more ease you sense when you find a new groove to flow in!
  5. Embrace your spirituality.  Now I’m not talking religion here, although if you participate in a formalized religion, it might be a natural place to start in seeking the meaning of life.  When I think about spirituality, it takes on a more secular perspective in that I view it as a universal human experience that involves seeking our purpose and how fulfilling life feels when we offer our gifts to the world with an open heart and an intention of connection, embracing the meaning we make of our existence.  Consider creating some time during this slow flow Eclipse season to reflect on your gifts, what you might be good at or what might bring you joy.  It might include exploring your core values to ensure they still feel in alignment with how you are experiencing the world today.  You might also revisit some of the significant challenges you have gone through and consider the take-aways from those challenges again, as they might have gathered some dust.  Perhaps you write down your personal vision statement or, if you have written one in the past, you pull it out to review it – or revise it if it no longer resonates at your current vibration.

What type of yoga is best?

As a Hatha yoga trained teacher under the umbrella of the Raja type of yoga, I am often asked if one style of yoga is better than another.  It has always been my belief that all yoga has mind-body-soul benefits and recent research appears to support such a belief.  However, what I think is important to understand is that yoga does not just include the physical poses or shapes that most of us first think of when asked ‘What is yoga all about?’.

Sacred yogic texts offer that there are four types of – or paths to – yoga, which is often defined as the union of body, mind, soul and spirit.  Raja yoga is the type of yoga that includes techniques, such as movement, meditation, and mudras, and is what is most often practiced here in our Western world.  Bhakti yoga is the type of yoga focused on devotion, also referred to as the path of love.  Jnana yoga is the type of yoga focused on the attainment of knowledge or wisdom through study and self-inquiry.  Karma yoga is the type of yoga focused on action without attaching to the outcome of your efforts, also referred to as the path of selfless service.

With this basic understanding of the four types of yoga then, when we think of yoga practices we start to realize it is all yoga.  When we focus on the yoga most practiced here in the US, Raja yoga, then we can begin to broaden our perspective as to what is included in this particular type, beyond the physical movement we do on our mats in a yoga class.  Yoga practices or techniques can include breath (pranayama), intention setting (Sankalpa), visualization (Bhavana), mudra (body/hand positions), mantra (chanting/sound), meditation (all kinds!), and how we interact with others and ourselves.

When we do take a moment to focus on the physical movement on the yoga mat, within the Hatha yoga style of Raja yoga, multiple yoga styles have emerged, which makes this type of yoga available to everyone.  Options run the gamut from Vinyasa flow, which is a faster-paced, sweaty practice to Restorative, where bodies are supported by blankets, bolsters, and other props to find comfort and held for at least 10 minutes.  Other classes might simply focus on breath practices or sound healing through musical instruments or chanting/singing.  Even others might offer guided visualization meditations.  Yoga class descriptions might represent the offering as a Beginner’s class or a Level 1 class.  Newer trainings include Yoga of 12 Step Recovery and Trauma-informed Yoga.

Therefore, my answer to the question is ‘Whatever works for you!”.  Not all yoga is equal.  Yoga is not the vanilla flavor of union and instead has evolved into a more ‘flavor of the month’ approach to broaden its reach and appeal.  And, the more we learn about the roots of the ancient tradition, we come to realize that it was originally taught in a one-on-one format, passing the knowledge of the guru to student, most likely taking into consideration that student’s individual needs.  So, in reality, yoga (with all of its techniques or ingredients) is meant to be a personal practice, customized to what is needed in the moment.  With this understanding then, my answer might include a response such as “You are your best guru, so listen to your body and allow it to join the mind in making the decision as to what feels best in the moment”.

If you still believe just one type or style of yoga is best, I encourage you to click on the link below to read more about the research that concluded that the choice of yoga style can be based on personal preferences and availability:

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:

The Sights and Sounds of Silence

Recently, I was blessed to find myself on a hike on a morning where the sky was the most amazing color blue and the spring flowers were in full bloom.  I was not hiking by myself so I suggested to my hiking partner that we travel back down the trail in silence, practicing a silent, walking meditation, as research studies are showing how beneficial meditation can be to our brains and our bodies.  When we reached the end of the trail, we sat together and shared our experiences.  We both admitted we had experienced some challenges, yet overall felt a surge of inspiration!

We both found it hard not to respond verbally to other fellow hikers or mountain bikers that offered a friendly exchange of “good morning” or “hi” as we passed along the way.  I chose to smile and wave my hand in response to honor my practice of silence while also embracing my intention for my meditation to stay deeply aware of and present to my surroundings.  I’m not sure what they thought about my response and I had to trust that they felt the connection through gesture and not words.

Another challenge I experienced was how I began to notice that some of my fellow beings on the trail that morning were quick to anger or were not connected to the experience of others along the way.  One fellow traveler expressed his frustration when a hiker did not get out of his way as he was biking up an incline.  What the biker did not realize is the young person did not speak English and thus may not have understood his words while sensing his anger.  Another group of hikers included a child that got very excited about seeing the butterflies, repeating himself several times to gain the attention of the adults, yet no one responded to him, missing the opportunity to join in the excitement and joy of such a simply pleasure as only seen through the eyes of a child.

And even though I experienced these challenges, I still felt inspired as I recognized my silence was facilitating a deepening of a present moment awareness that can be elusive if we are engaged in a conversation.  On the way up the trail with my hiking partner, together we enjoyed hearing and seeing a bird kicking up the dry leaves on the ground presumably looking for food to feed the babies keeping warm beneath the leaves and seeing a solo rabbit hop along the trail with us, seemingly unafraid of our presence as we chatted.  However, it wasn’t until the hike down in silence that I began to not only see but hear my own footsteps on the path, to see and feel the sun shining through the leaves of the trees overhead, and to feel the cool breeze on the back of my neck as it played with my hair, sending a shiver down my spine.  I too noticed the many colored butterflies gently floating from one beautiful flower blossom to the next.  I heard Woodpeckers drumming in the trees above seemingly marking their territory and working to attract a mate.

I even found a sense of peace and calm when hearing the sounds of the other hikers and bikers as they communicated with their friends and family or listened to music from their electronic devices, although others may have found those sounds disturbing in their search for silence out in nature.  These sounds actually brought a smile to my face as it reminded me that we all have more in common than we do have differences, and when we take the time to use the two ears we have to listen twice as much as we use the one mouth we have, we might just remember that we are all connected and never alone.

Meditation as a practice to increase body-mind health can be done in a variety of settings and in a variety of manners.  I personally have found that simply spending time in nature, allowing my mind’s awareness to rest on what is physically right in front of me, helps me to sort through the overlapping thoughts and conversations in my head when trying to solve a problem, even inspiring me to approach the solution in a more creative way that might have a broader reach.  I have also experienced a deeper connection to my “inner knowing” of what I need when societal messages tell me something different.  Honoring that connection supports my efforts to remain true to my authentic self, valuing my uniqueness and resisting the urge to conform, while increasing my felt sense of compassion for myself when I make a mistake or fail or judge or criticize as I remember I am a life-long member of this most amazing and wonderful experience of a human BEING!

If my most recent experience with a silent hiking meditation has peaked your curiosity about the benefits of meditation, don’t take my word for it, check out a recent study (by clicking the button below) that demonstrated that meditation activates specific areas of the brain, inducing functional and structural brain changes, supporting the idea that prescribing different meditation techniques could help treat and prevent disease: