Wellness Wednesday – finding your center

Today I want to focus on a practice that has been immensely helpful to me, especially in the midst of the chaos that surrounds us these days.

This is the process of centering in my body, feeling my whole self grounded on the earth physically. I experience this practice of centering through yoga and meditation. I start by closing my eyes and focusing for a minute or two on the breath. I just observe and notice the breath for a bit, the length of the inhales and exhales. I begin to feel it as it travels into the abdomen and chest and as it flows out of the nostrils.

My mind calms down a bit, and then I focus on my feet to begin. I notice what my feet are connected to: the floor, my legs, possibly clothing or a blanket. I move up to the calves, noticing everything they are in contact with, and then move up to the knees, thighs.

I notice the torso, the center of the body, work my way through my chest, down each of my arms, my hands. I move upward through the shoulders and neck and finally through the center of the head, the space behind the eyes and the crown of the head.

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Photo credit link – zenful spirit

The process can take as little as 6-7 minutes, or I can prolong it a bit and focus for longer in each area. While sitting in yin yoga I am able to do this while in a long hold for a pose, noticing some slight discomfort if there is some fascia that is tight. I am able to “zoom in” on a sensation and then possibly “zoom out” to the whole body.  I might do this zoom in and zoom out a couple of times during a hold.

All the while I take note of what is happening in my mind. It’s not as though the mind stays quiet during this process. People sometimes think meditation is about clearing the mind. Really it can be about noticing what is going on there. Thoughts arise, and with them, feelings vibrate through the body. There is no shame or judgment toward these thoughts, just a mild curiosity.

By repeatedly coming back to the body, feeling where we are, centering our awareness on what is within, we gain stability and wisdom. It can be a miraculous sort of discovery, this centering practice. I find that, now that I have practiced in silence and stillness, I can also find my center when the environment is a bit more chaotic.

I have learned to find my center in airports, during stressful meetings, and in conversations when I notice that I am holding my breath rather than breathing fully. I bring my awareness into my center and might notice I am holding tightness in my shoulders or in my gut. I breathe more deeply a couple of times, and try to relax those tight areas, becoming conscious of what thoughts are running through my head.

By centering my body, I access wisdom that typically used to be “walled off” from my mind. I bring my heart in line with my brain, and with my gut. I access intuitive abilities that once were more elusive to me.  I make decisions from a place of greater ease. I know to ask certain questions in conversations.

People sometimes look at me with surprise, wondering how I have “guessed” their intentions, even though they may be different from the words they use. Truly it feels like a super-power, when used with love and compassion. When I stay aligned with my center, everything flows better. I am able to pay close attention to what my body needs, and adjust accordingly.

While I am no expert, I encourage you to try this out, whether through a guided meditation on Insight Timer, or in a hatha or yin yoga class. If you have experience with this, I would love to hear more about it as well.

cristy@meximinnesota.com

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday: Noticing

This Thursday I am re-posting an edited piece from January 2018 and is dedicated to Ruth Silva, a favorite yoga teacher who helped me practice the principle of noticing.

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I learned about a beautiful approach to the skill of mindfulness that does not involve meditation through an On Being conversation with Ellen Langer. She is a social psychologist who defines mindfulness as “the simple act of actively noticing things.”

I really like this concept of mindfulness because it does not require any special training or meditation practice. It is something that is accessible to all of us. It also helps us understand what it means to “be in the moment” when so many of us have practiced being in our heads rather than truly noticing.

Last March I was on a trip for work in which I accidentally packed my phone in my carry-on luggage. Leaving from the airport at MSP, I had my coat on, but once I was in airport, I packed the coat in order to keep my hands more free. Immediately through security I realized I was missing a phone, and I searched frantically for it, fearing the disconnection of not having it with me for a trip to Mexico.

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I typically use my phone to consume podcasts, read emails and occupy myself. One of my fears has always been getting bored. On long car trips with my family I used to pack a bag full of books, confident that would get me through the hours of travel.

This time though, I had no distractions to take with me on the trip. It seemed like the universe’s way to show me what I typically miss while I travel: interactions with actual people, and the many things I can learn when I notice, when I pay attention.

What I first noticed was that so few people make eye contact with one another while they are rushing through the airport. So many are looking down at the phones rather than engaging with people around them. I get this. I am an introvert, and contact with all these people can be a little overwhelming.

I sat myself down for a little people-watching, something I always enjoyed when young.  It is a wonderful practice of noticing. One flight had just arrived, people were departing the gate, looking determined and hurrying along. An older gentleman in an old-fashioned cap was moving a little more slowly than some of the passengers. He looked around, feeling a bit lost perhaps, overwhelmed at the number of people all gathered around the terminal, the passengers rushing to their next destination.

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As I noticed his bright blue eyes we made eye contact. I allowed my eyes to stay with his for a couple of moments, instead of averting them as we Minnesotans are taught to do. Of course I could not resist a smile for him, as I felt empathy for his search for connection, for people to simply notice he was there. I was rewarded by a smile from him. Other people looking down at their phones or preoccupied by other things on their travel had not noticed him, but I did, and he returned the acknowledgement.

During that flight I ended up having a marvelous conversation with a woman who was an author, just returning from a speaking tour. She told me she rarely talks with people on a plane. But she decided not to put her headphones on (as usual) but to have a conversation instead. As it turns out, I found out she had been a speaker for an event attended by my massage therapist. Small world.

After that incident, where I ended up feeling so peaceful and present without my phone, I resolved to spend more time like this. Instead of looking down and disengaging with the people around me, I take time to make eye contact, to smile, to be present. Many people  find it startling when I make sustained eye contact. I notice many of them look away at first, and then look back. When they realize I am still looking at them and give them a smile, they often return the smile.

It is a small gesture, to notice the people around us. But we have a deep hunger for connection as humans. We may think we get this by staying connected, by having our phone in hand and instant communication at the push of a button. What is sacrificed by disconnecting with the people around us and directly in front of us? 

I encourage you to do little experiments in noticing at home, in the halls at work, in the airports when you travel. See what you discover. I promise you, it will be fascinating.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Cutting back

It is not easy for me to cut back on this blog. I tried it before: taking Tuesdays and Thursdays off so I can focus on some other projects. But I enjoy writing my daily post, and it can give me an energy boost to spend 30 minutes writing in the morning before I move on to the other business of the day.

Now I am setting my sights toward working on a new professional endeavor, so I will have to honor this commitment to myself. How strange that it is a commitment NOT to post a couple of days a week rather than the opposite.

When I started this blog back in September, I had no intention of posting daily. In October I challenged myself to see what I could do, if a daily post were possible for a month. It turned out to be 6 months of daily posts before I first tried to cut back. Now I have a long list of topics I want to write about. It has been hard to limit myself to daily. I will be up to 300 posts by the end of July. I find no shortage of topics on which I want to write.

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As someone who is mastering her struggle with attention, I have many interests that cross fields. I am in a constant thirst for new information, new ways to think about problems, ways to feed my creativity. I believe focus can and is important at certain times. But I can also pair myself with others who have this focus, and allow my associative, creative mind out to play more often.

I used to wish I had more focus, wish my mind were easier to “discipline” and could be more concrete, sequential. At times this is useful. But I have many people around me who are really good at concrete, sequential tasks. Might it be better for me to partner with their great gifts and strengths while fully exploring my own? 

True, I am cultivating my focus through meditation daily, and this helps greatly in my ability to single-task more work-wise. I turn off social media, and minimize the distractions. Thus I am able to finish things more quickly. But most of that advice is directed toward more “neuro-typical” people, and my brain is not wired that way.

Sometimes in total silence it is difficult for me to work. I actually have MORE internal thought distractions when it is too quiet. Music playing in the background can help, or even going to a coffee shop with a little quiet conversation around me can help. I often get quality work done on airplanes despite the distraction of food service every two hours.

A.D.D. is more about variable focus, which is why it is a misnomer. When something fascinates me I can literally spend hours focused, forgetting to eat meals, get dressed for work, etc. I have all kinds of little alarms and reminders to help me get to work on time, get to yoga class, and generally do what life requires.

So I will try gradually cutting back on this blog, taking Thursdays off. Maybe I’ll do a “throwback Thursday” and revise some earlier posts. I want to submit more writing to magazines and journals. So maybe I’ll take my “B minus” versions and polish them up a bit for fun.

I write this blog to discover: What do I love? What do I most care about? How can I share and connect with others during the process?

Happy weekend, amigas/amigos!

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

Wanted: women’s voices

I had a blast on the 4th of July holiday catching up on my personal development “input sources” and reading more materials that fascinate me.

I began the day giving a ride to downtown Minneapolis for my hubby and his friend, who were running the Red, White & Boom 5k. They rocked it, despite hot and soupy weather. After that, while hubby was taking a well-deserved nap, I used time to listen to the Gallup “Called to Coach” podcast and a few others.

It was interesting to hear more in depth about the Gallup Strengths profiles. I have done many exercises with my team using this tool, to figure out how we can merge our strengths together to be a more effective team. My own brand of strengths includes Intellection, Input, Relator, Developer and Empathy. Those terms may seem a little strange if you are not familiar with their tool, but I highly recommend the assessment if you have not yet taken it.

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Photo credit link – Metal female voices fest XI – 2013

The downside of this particular listen-fest was the fact that I noticed that ALL the voices I heard on the podcast were men. ALL of them. 100% of them… I mean, after listening to the 5 themes and interviews, I would have thought at least ONE of them would feature a woman. Maybe just 20%. I realize there are less women in positions of leadership than there are men. Even the U.S. Congress has roughly 20% women in its ranks.

I realize it was content from 2014-2015. Perhaps their more recent content is more balanced, and I should give them the benefit of the doubt? Is it THAT hard to make an effort to find a few women to speak on their show? I find myself disappointed but at the same time more committed to working on helping to increase the voices of women in leadership.

I respect many of the mentors I have had that are men throughout my career and my life. But I crave more women’s voices and wisdom to be included in resources for personal development. What happens when you ignore half of your potential demographics? They may disengage and tune out.

Biases and stereotypes can get in the way of people making good decisions. When I am making important choices, I want a team of people with different life experiences to weigh in, since my customers are diverse as well. I have seen how creativity is generated from diverse teams committed to a common vision.

Maybe it starts with me… I should consider that. Wisdom comes from many cultures, genders and experiences. Today I am giving thanks to WordPress for allowing more of us to have a platform, to my husband and to Chris Guillebeau for encouraging me to start writing.

Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

 

Wellness Wednesday – on attitude

On Monday night, hubby and I opted out of a wet, windy camping experience and booked a B&B in De Smet, South Dakota. Sunday night we’d spent the night in an AirBnB basement that was basically a retirement community (9 units) on the main floor. It was better than a wet camp site, for sure. The hosts treated us so kindly, they even washed and dried our clothing while we were at dinner. I had asked if we could borrow a clothes dryer, but their hospitality went beyond that.

The actual B&B was a different experience. One of the owners arrived an hour after our scheduled check in time and began telling us how difficult her life is, and how hard it is to have a B&B and another rental property. Her sad story implied we were a burden rather than welcome guests.

In the morning, the kitchen area was locked, so I went across the street to buy coffee. Two other sets of guests were present at breakfast, but she barely interacted with any of us. It was odd, and I believe she must be going through a difficult time in her life. My husband suggested she probably needs anti-depressants.

That might be true. I kept trying to maintain my attitude of kindness and compassion, but I have to admit, it was hard. When people receive money for you to stay with them, while I don’t expect excessive gratitude, I do expect not to be treated as a burden. We had found 3-4 AirBnB options the night before that were cheaper and would probably have worked fine for us.

I had opted to “splurge” on a real B&B because I figured we would at least get a decent breakfast. Well, it was a passable breakfast. At least the room was cozy and clean. The bathroom was also clean. I will say that.

The moral of the story: whatever attitude you project out into the world is likely to be reflected back at you. It’s not to say that every interaction is a reflection of your own behavior. But when your interactions imply that others are a burden, they will not want to return. It’s certainly no way to run a hospitality business. A bit of gratitude goes a LONG way.

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Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Travel mantras

Today I will head home from my work visit to Mexico City.

It is good time to write out some of my travel mantras, as reminders to myself to enjoy the journey.

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Photo credit link

That’s the first one, actually: Enjoy the journey.

Here’s another one I like: Remember, everyone is fighting their own battles. There are struggles we may not see, that may affect others’ behavior.

The best one, when stress or anxiety come up is: Breathe, just breathe. It is all okay.

When I am practicing mindful awareness of my surroundings, I also like to remind myself of all that I am grateful for: the opportunity to travel, a kind word or smile I may receive as a gift from a stranger, and a life in which I am privileged to see into the window of other cultures as part of my work.

What’s your favorite travel mantra? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com