Focus on the Good

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I was talking with a friend the other day and she was lamenting how every time she seems to set a new habit for herself, or tried to begin to find better balance in her life, she either falls back into an old habit after some time or gives herself permission to take a break because of some other circumstance (like it being summer). Sound familiar? It sure did to me! It can really make you feel defeated sometimes. But here’s another way of thinking about this common problem.

You may have heard the old myth (or even given it a test run for yourself) that you can form a new habit in 21 days. If you’ve ever tried it you may also have noticed that it might not have really stuck after that time. While our brains are amazing in their ability to adapt, it may not be that simple.

Our brains also have a negativity bias. This basically means that are brains have evolved to be extra vigilant for negative interactions, thoughts, experiences and situations. They evolved this way because it was a skill that allowed us to not only survive as a species, but to pass on our genes. So we are much more likely to remember the things that we “failed” at, rather than what we actually accomplished. (See the wonderful book Buddha’s Brain for more on this phenomenon.)

So what’s a girl to do?!?

Focus on the good and just start over.

We have to train our minds to notice the good things. How good you feel at the end of a yoga class versus the fact that you didn’t make it to class last week. The habit that you did start and managed to maintain for several weeks before life got crazy and threw you off. If we can recognize what is possible and what we have accomplished it will be much easier to let go of whatever negative thoughts or stories we’ve told ourselves and just start again.

So if you’ve found that the busyness of summer has thrown you off some good habit or way of being, or you’ve simply let it go because it is a time of year to take a break, remember it’s all about balance. Remember that you are capable, you can be successful and just like in a meditation practice, you can just start again.

Aparigraha and Technology

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One of my recent favorite podcasts is a show called Wild Ideas Worth Living. The show has evolved over time but the interviews with people who are living outside of the box that most of us might think of, are so inspiring to me. On a recent episode the topic of discussion was about unplugging from our internet crazed world to be full present for our lives. It made me think about our class theme this month, Aparigraha.

Do you find yourself spending a lot of time on social media and other online tools? Do you find yourself not doing the things you really love because of all that time you spend with technology? It’s happening more and more to so many of us. We know what we need to do to be healthy and even happy, but the possibility of that next “like” coming in to give us that little lift seems ever so much more important. 

There’s science that even backs this up. Each time we get a response to our social media postings we get a little bit of a hit of the feel good chemicals that our brain naturally makes. And while that’s a nice thing, we can get those some good vibe chemicals from much more healthy pursuits such as walking, interacting with people in person and, dare I say it, yoga! 

Don’t get me wrong, It’s not a big deal if you use social media. I certainly do all the time. I have many friends in far flung places and it makes staying in touch with them a lot easier. But when these tools of connection keep us from connecting (when’s the last time you saw two people out to dinner together, not talking to each other at all, just looking at their phones? For me it was just the other day. ;-/) to each other or more importantly, to the things that truly make us healthier and happier, we have a problem.

Aparigraha asks us to find ways to start to loosen our grip on things that impede flow. If we’re constantly grasping at that next like or that next post, we loose a lot of what’s meant to come to us because we can’t even see it (around our phone or computer screen even). So how do we break the cycle? Here are a couple of ideas:

  1. Don’t have your phone in your bedroom or at least don’t reach for it as soon as you wake up. - This can be tough, especially if you have people in your life that may need to get a hold of you at any hour for whatever reason. But if you can at least not start your day by checking your email or social media accounts first, you set yourself up for success for the day.

  2. Turn off your notifications. - Another one that may be really hard for some of us. But, if you turn off your notifications just for certain things like Instagram or Facebook or maybe even your email you are given yourself a CHOICE. YOU get to choose when you check in on these things. Having a choice and not being ruled by that infernal *ding* is a big way to take back control of your time. I did this with email years ago and it had the single biggest effect on my time and attention of anything I had done to that point to control my technology time.

  3. Make a no technology rule with friends/family for a certain time of day. - You’ll have to negotiate this one in advance but talk to your friends and family about this. Maybe you have a party and everyone puts their phone in a basket (this is mentioned in the podcast), maybe you decide that for the hour after you and your spouse arrive home you both don’t use your phones. Again, prior negotiation is key here (you don’t want to spring this one on the equally tech attached in your life) but if you can come together to create boundaries around your technology you’ll actually get to be with each other in a more meaningful way.

I hope this helps you find a way to start being more mindful about the technology in your life. Do you have other strategies you use? Leave a comment and share them with others! I think we can all use some ideas around this topic these days.

Don't Quit on a Bad Day!

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As many of you know, I’ve gotten a bit more into hiking in the last couple of years. With an amazing state to live in like NH, it’s not hard to see why! I’ve been fascinated by the Appalachian Trail for years, which just happens to run through our beautiful state. In the context of our focus on Patience this month, I’ve been really struck by one bit of advice often given to people that are attempting to hike the whole trail.

If you aren’t familiar with it at all, the Appalachian trail begins in Georgia and runs up the east coast all the way to Maine. The part that runs through NH starts in Hanover and makes its way through the White Mountains, giving it a well deserved reputation for being some of the hardest miles on the trail. Just the idea of thru hiking this 2000+ mile footpath is daunting. Most people who attempt it start in February or March and end their journey in Maine sometime in September or October, hoping that the weather cooperates enough to allow a safe and snowless passage to the northern terminus on Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park.

For those keeping score, that’s about six months of walking through all kinds of weather with somewhere in the neighborhood of (for most people) 30-50 pounds of gear on your back. No small undertaking!

Needless to say, there are a lot of people that don’t make it the whole way. In fact, 1 in 4 that start don’t make it to the end. There are many reasons people pack it in and go home. I can only imagine when it’s raining, cold, you’re sore all over, you’ve got very little food left in your pack and you have to climb one more hill before you can finish for the day, every cell of your being must scream, “Why the *(#$&# am I doing this?!” Nevermind, having some kind of injury.

But the advice I keep seeing offered to the people that are thinking they can’t make it over and over again is, “Don’t quit on a bad day!” Interesting, right? Don’t most of us quit when things are at their worst? When we just can’t go one more (proverbial or otherwise) mile? When things look so bleak we just can’t fathom continuing or muster the energy to do so?

But consider the idea of waiting for a “good day”. In the case of the trail, you wait until the weather is beautiful, you’ve got a belly full of food, maybe a beautiful view, some nice people surrounding you and your body feels pretty good. You’re making progress, you’re dry and comfortable and then and only then, if you still want to go home and end your epic undertaking, you go home.

In my mind, that really speaks to patience and trust.

The patience to see yourself through until that good day comes is paired with the trust of knowing that the sun will shine again. If you didn’t trust the clouds would part, you would never be able to wait long enough to see it happen.

In our yoga practice, when we focus on the breath, we let go of our exhales only because we know that the next breath is right there waiting for us. If we didn’t have that trust how could we release our breath? We trust that some day we might make it into that difficult pose we’re trying to master. Through that trust we are able to bring ourselves back to the mat over and over and over again.

So maybe the next time you’re ready to throw in the proverbial towel, you think about all those people out there who are walking from Georgia to Maine and remember this great wisdom. Maybe you cultivate the patience and trust to remember that when the sun shines again, that might be the best time to make that big decision. The view from on top of that sunny hill will be far more clear and help you make the best decision possible.

[Incidentally, someone in our own back yard is going to attempt a thru hike in 2019! Best wishes to Sara Hikes! I’ll definitely be cheering you on!]

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.

Reframing the flu

Reframing the flu

No one wants the flu. That would just be crazy. I got it (again) this year and it knocked me out of work for a week! I had all the classic symptoms and it took my fever 5 days to break even with early treatment. So why on earth would I tell you that it has actually been a bit of a blessing??!

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A simple writing technique to relieve stress

A simple writing technique to relieve stress

Just like your desk at work can get cluttered with all those papers and sticky notes and to do lists, your mind can get cluttered up too. That's why the "brain dump" can be so effective at relieving stress!

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Disclaimer: Not all yoga poses are suitable for all persons. Please consult with your health care provider and obtain full medical clearance before practicing yoga or any other exercise program. The information provided in this blog is strictly for reference only and is not in any manner a substitute for medical advice or direct guidance of a qualified yoga instructor.

💖 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?