Self Regulation: The Key to a Happy Life?

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Life is messy. But if you’re reading this, you’ve probably been around long enough to know that. 

In the yoga and spiritual community there’s often a notion that if you just think positively and align your chakras just so and make your full moon intentions, while drinking your green juice at the stroke of 6am after three hours of meditation everything will be just fine.

And that’s all good stuff, but the universe can also from time to time look at all that, laugh and say,

“Oh yeah? How about THIS!”

What do you do in that moment?

You probably already know.

  • Scream.

  • Cry.

  • Throw a fit or an object.

  • Give up.

  • Curse a blue streak to the point where you don’t call your Mom for a week because you’re pretty sure she’ll know about your behavior even if you live several states apart.

  • Become a giant ball of stress that moves through the world like hurricane, demolishing everything in its path.

Don’t worry. Me too.

I think a lot of people are attracted to yoga because they think they will learn how to NOT be that person in those moments. I’m here to tell you, after a reasonable amount of time and practice, that notion is false.

I’m still that person. Ask my husband about the last time the printer didn’t work while I was working on a deadline to get something done.

But here’s what IS different:

  • Those moments are farther apart. 

  • The little things that used to set me off all the time have lost their ability to do so. 

  • And in the times when I do turn into that hurricane that I mentioned above, my recovery time is a little better.

All of that is due to my yoga practice and the tools of self-regulation that are inherent to the practice. 

Self regulation is hard to define on its own, so we might define it by the feelings it generates. When we are self-regulated we feel grounded, centered, and present in the moment. On the flip side, when one is dis-regulated there is a general lack of control over one’s emotional state and/or behavior.  We are reactive rather than responsive, impulsive rather than thought out. 

Hence that streak of blue language referenced above. * ahem *

So what are the tools of yoga that help us achieve self regulation? Here are a couple of my favorites:

Notice your surroundings - what do you see around you? What colors, textures or patterns do you see? If you’re in a familiar place, can you find some detail that you may have missed before?

Grounding - feel your connection to the earth. Whatever is touching the ground is your foundation and your connection to stable, calm energy. Feel the quality of that connection.

Breath - learning to slow and control your breathing activates the rest and digest response. A single deep breath can start to turn down the flood gates of all those chemicals and hormones that have you feeling like you’re ready to fight a grizzly bear (Pro tip: you are really no match for an actual grizzly bear. Take a deep breath and know what to do should you be the type of person that might be out in grizzly country. Just saying.).

These are wonderful ways to help you self regulate. But here is the main key:

You must practice them when it/life/things are EASY so you remember them when it/life/things are HARD.

Without practice, you can know the best tools, but you won’t be able to use them when you need them most.

We’ll be working with these tools all this month in my public classes. I hope you’ll join me for practice.

Just begin again

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Why is it that when we become adults and the older we get, we seem to think that we can’t start over or start something new? It’s as if we think when we get to {insert the milestone of your choice here} that we’re done! Cooked! Finito!

How ridiculous!

What we don’t realize is that there are new beginnings every day. When we start to recognize those new beginnings, we can start to see that the power to just begin lies within and that power is so very important in all aspects of our lives.

One of my favorite meditation teachers, Sharon Salzberg, shares great wisdom in the quote below that I shared in class and in your newsletter recently:

The critical element in meditation practice is beginning again. Everyone loses focus at times, everyone loses interest at times, and everyone gets distracted over and over again. What is essential, and also incredibly transforming, is realizing that we have the ability to begin again, without blaming or judging ourselves, without thinking we have failed, without losing heart, we can, and need to, constantly be beginning again.

Sharon Salzberg

This is so key in meditation, in yoga practice and in life. If you’ve ever started a meditation practice and thought you “failed” because you couldn’t get your mind to be quiet or empty, you’ve just discovered the importance of beginning again. (Stay tuned for more about this idea in a future workshop.) You also probably did a fair amount of beating yourself up in the process. I know I have!

“I suck at this.”

“I’m a freaking yoga teacher and I still can’t do this.”

“Why do I even bother.”

“Look at everyone else! They look so peaceful! Why is this so hard for me?!”

Sharon really changed my relationship with meditation the first time I took a workshop with her by bringing the wisdom of the quote above to my attention. Not only could I just start over, I could understand that I wasn’t alone in needing to do so. After over 40 years of meditation practice she does it too! That gave me great hope and a great deal more understanding.

That’s all well and good, but what does this have to do with your life you might ask.

When’s the last time you started trying to do something and gave up because you “failed”, or got busy with the daily requirements of your life or because your family needed you or {insert whatever it was here}?

  • A new eating habit

  • A new exercise program

  • A new business

  • A new educational pursuit

  • Finding a new job

  • A new way of being in an important relationship

  • A new self care habit

  • Etcetera …

We all do these things. But our practice of yoga and meditation can show us that we do have that ability to start over. We do it every time we get on our yoga mat. Every time you step on your mat is a new beginning. The body is different. The mind is different. The experiences of your life, no matter how small, have changed you. You really have no idea what you might find on your mat today. But you step on and you practice and you start again, and again and again.

Each breath is a new beginning. With great faith we take an inhale in and trust that it will nourish us. We let go of the exhalation with great trust that the next inhale will be waiting. Beginning again happens with every breath we take.

So we can start over. We can begin again. We do it multiple times each day.

What we might need even more practice with is the being kind to ourselves part. The not loosing heart part. The not judging or blaming ourselves part. And so we can get on our mat or our meditation cushion and practice that too. Notice when it happens. Know it happens to all of us. Then just let it go and start over. It’s just another thought.

Just begin again.

Do Nourishing

Do Nourishing

Part of the true practice of yoga is being with the present moment exactly as it is. That's all well and good until the present moment isn't exactly what we'd like it to be!

Read More

💖 New Holiday Tradition?💖

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Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of visiting the Wilton Town Hall Theatre for their annual showing of "It's A Wonderful Life". I had never experienced this Wilton tradition myself and thanks to a good friend going along with me (my husband was working) I decided to make the trip. When I pulled into town, the street was lined with luminaries being lit and there wasn't a single parking space on Main Street! After parking at the police station I carried my box of canned goods, the price of admission, to the theater, met my friend and we both exclaimed we had no idea how much of a *thing* this was! When we entered the theater the line for the concession was down the stairs and more chairs were being brought in to the theater to accommodate everyone. After grabbing my popcorn and lemonade and finding my way to my seat the experience began.

I've watched this movie many times, but never on a BIG screen and never with such a crowd filled with enthusiasm. People were laughing at every joke and just generally having a great time. And the thing I thought was most amazing, people brought bells to ring when Clarence got his wings! Had I only known I would have brought the bell from the studio!

So why am I telling you all of this? Two reasons really - the first is that it reminded me of how much mindfulness can change your experience. I think every other time I've ever "watched" this movie I was also doing something else. Wrapping presents, on the phone, talking to someone in the room... whatever. This was the first time I ever really put all those iconic pieces that we see about this movie all the time together. And what a story! A man who has done nothing but serve others finds himself in a bind and his kindness is remembered and then some.

I was really struck by the part in the opening dialogue when Clarence is asking about his assignment.

Clarence: Is he sick?

Joseph: No worse, he's discouraged.

Discouraged is worse than sick? Wow!

Which leads me to my second point - while this time of year is a joyful time for many, it can be much less than that for many as well. I say this from personal experience. Many of you know my grandfather passed away on Christmas Day 2011. He had lived to a ripe old age, and while that was some comfort, it was still a loss for me and my family. This year is the first year in a long time (my holiday spirit was less than high before that for a variety of reasons) that I've felt even the slightest inkling of holiday spirit. In many ways, I didn't think that would be possible for me again given my associations with Christmas. But somehow that spark is letting itself be known again.

So how did it happen? I'm not really sure. But I think something that is helping cultivate that spark is finding the joy in the small things. If you're struggling this holiday season, can you find one small thing that means joy to you? Whether that's as simple as a hot cup of coffee or the purr of your cat or the smile of a stranger on the street? If you find you're full of Christmas cheer but you know that someone else you care for doesn't have that in them right now, can you just give them a hug and tell them you understand? Can you take a moment to listen to them instead of dismissing them? Your open ear may be all they need to find some small piece of joy.

When I got home last night I told my husband that next year he simply MUST take the afternoon off work to go with me. And he agreed while wondering what alien had kidnapped his wife. ;-) We're starting a new holiday tradition that I hope we might share with others. What about you?