What do you most want to learn?

It is said that we teach what we most want to learn. Research is “me search.”

One of the exercises I have tried while crafting my “offer” to my ideal clients is to consider the topics I most enjoy exploring through writing. By looking at my “tag cloud” or my category list, well-being and consciousness are big on my list. I also love thinking about and experimenting with how to increase employee engagement and career satisfaction.

Regarding my well-being focus for the past few years: in 2015-2016 I realized I had gained more weight and life felt stressful. More travel and meetings were required of my position as a manager for an international division. I knew something had to change. I did not like the feeling of my clothes getting tighter, or my need to take the “edge off” with a glass of wine as soon as I got home each day.

I decided to take a 10-day pause from my nightly glass (or 3) of wine when I came home each night. Whew, lots of emotional stuff came up. Then I realized I’d started taking the “edge” off by over-eating more often, or justifying extra chocolate or dessert because my day had been stressful and “I deserved it” I told myself.

But what if I could live a life where I did not feel a need to buffer my emotions with alcohol or food? What if I could learn to feel my difficult and uncomfortable feelings, without needing to dull them? 

As someone slightly on the introvert side of the introversion/extroversion spectrum, being with people for the majority of my day is taxing. Susan Cain advises introverts to find “restorative niches” of quiet or tranquility in our day, in order not to be overwhelmed by the social interaction required.

As a nexus point for 5 different departments and many different countries and regional units, it felt like constantly being “under fire” from far too many bosses or project managers, to whom I was accountable, even though I technically reported to just one director.

Restorative niche? Only if I could work at home (and I did now and then). I craved “deep work” assignments when I could have uninterrupted time to work on a project or develop a tool or workload model, for example. But the number of conference calls and meetings grew exponentially with the number of different initiatives we were called upon to execute.

I got really good at saying “no” toward the end, and also much better at delegating to fellow team members while developing their skills. Not always a popular choice for the entities which funded our small team. But a necessity nonetheless, since we were not able to deliver high quality results when spread too thin.

Fall inlove with taking care of yourself. (1)

So what do I want to teach and learn?

  • We must make conscious choices in our lives. We cannot do it all, nor should we. We must decide on what is essential and strategic, and do only that.
  • Wellness is non-negotiable. Our employer may think our mid-day run or yoga class is optional, but for many of us, it is the restoration we need to be most productive.
  • Working harder is not an option. Most of us are already maxed out. Working smarter is an alternative. Turning down calendar appointments is an option. Setting boundaries and expectations and communicating those is critical.
  • Being willing to receive tough feedback as a leader is essential. When people know you trust them, and are willing to listen and make changes, or help influence the process based on feedback, they trust you. Trust is essential to getting the work done efficiently.

These are some of the hardest lessons I had to learn in my time as an operational manager in a very large medical device company.

What do you most want to learn? Do you spend time writing about this topic as well? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

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Dance as rhythmic sunshine

On Wednesday morning it was rainy and gloomy for a fourth straight day in the Twin Cities. It can be get cold here, but usually we do not have days and days of rain on end. Winter may be icy, but there is usually sunshine intermittently. “Clear and cold” is often the forecast in January, February and March, when it is not snowing.

Even snow is more preferable to me than days and days of rain. Okay, yes. A couple of cloudy days doesn’t usually spoil my mood but 3-4+? Oy. I treated myself to some extra light box this morning. Though I had not slept very well and suffered some insomnia, I was truly NOT going to miss my Zumba class with Ruth at Tula Yoga and Wellness!

Zumba
Photo credit link

I have begun attending Zumba twice a week since I returned from vacation in September (there’s a Monday night class) and I find that I am learning faster in practicing more often. I make no claims at being “good” at dancing. But we dance to upbeat Latin, Reggaeton and Pop music that is super fun and energizing.

I told Ruth this morning that her class is like rhythmic sunshine to brighten up our day! Indeed, after the class, I felt happy and energized. Every class, as I am learning how to dance, beginning to feel the rhythms and getting the footwork down, I am building some “muscle memory” on the routines.

My determination to learn to dance this year is going very nicely since I started out with the foundations class back in June.

Dance is teaching me many new things:

It reminds me how much I love good music, and moving my body is a natural extension of that.

It does not matter if I do it perfectly. I am a beginner, and I am in it to have fun, get exercise and feel more comfortable in my body. Yoga was a big part to starting that process, but dance is a great extension to that.

Putting all the things together at once is not always possible for me, and that’s okay. Sometimes I have to master the footwork before I can add the arms. Sometimes I miss a “shimmy” or my hips are slower to catch on to a particular move, and I need to ask for a demo of a more challenging step. No matter, it’s all part of learning.

Dance is about expressing joy physically. When I was too self-conscious to let myself dance, I missed out on that. But now I am just making up for lost time. At 44, I feel really good about that!

Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

 

Wellness Wednesday – healthy boundaries

It is Wellness Wednesday! The question for the day is this:

Do you consciously set healthy boundaries in your life and work?

I only recently started understanding what good boundaries are for me, and how to say a courteous “no” to certain requests when appropriate. We are wired for connection, and this means we often strive to please other people, not out of any weakness on our part. This is part of the human condition, and how we survived as a species, through relationships and connections.

The problem comes in when we do not see how the multiplying complexity of our social platforms and our networks creates an ever larger amount of choices and opportunities. That can be a blessing. But it can also have a cost, in terms of our overall productivity and focus on the things are the most relevant to us. Do less, but better (as Greg McKeown would say).

Wellness Wednesday

My need for regular solitude and time to think and reflect sometimes comes into conflict with my desire for input and learning, for example. Often I must put some constraints around the input, whether through books, podcasts or audio books.

I have learned that adding some constraints to my schedule, such as when I will meet with people or how many calendar items I will schedule in a given week, helps me be more productive with my time. In my previous position, when I was working in a corporate environment, it helped to block off some time for planning and thinking. Otherwise, I was at the mercy of others dictating my calendar.

It was harder in the days when I was traveling to put constraints on my hours because I often wanted to take advantage of the time to meet with people locally. But at the same time, I learned that running myself ragged did not increase my productivity at all. In fact, it usually led to consequences such as less quality sleep and less creativity about problem-solving.

It can be a tricky balance. Some people have an easier time with boundaries at work but home is the place where the requests can feel mandatory. I am interested in your experience with this idea, and where you find it most challenging.

What can you do to set healthy boundaries to fulfill your needs for rest, creativity and play outside of work and family obligations?

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Light a candle – my tidying festival has begun

On Monday my appointment for the morning had to reschedule, so I found myself with an unexpected chunk of time without something specific planned.

I have been putting off the task of tidying my office/spare room, mostly because dislike tasks like this. But also because it seems so tedious and annoying. But lately I have been suffering from a lack of ability to find things quickly that I need. So I know I was overdue for another “KonMari” festival.

Marie Kondo describes in her book “the life changing magic of tidying up” how the act of tidying must first begun with thorough discarding, all at once. She approaches the act of tidying as a special event that can take up 3-6 months depending on how much stuff we have and need to discard. I believe it.

About a year and a half ago in the Spring, I really worked at this, clearing out my entire closet and working my way through most of my wardrobe. It felt great, and I got rid of so many things I never wore, or seldom wore. Her criteria for keeping things: if it sparks joy, keep it. If not, discard it. 

Clothes on floor

I began in the “correct” order as she describes, and put all of my shirts and blouses on the floor of the room. Clearly she does not have cats at home… that has a hazard for certain types of clothing when you do not want cat fur on everything. But I am including a picture so you can get an idea of how bad it was to start.

A lot of things had to go, but I only started with the “tops” category today, and I am planning to work through her list all week, spending at least 2 hours a day tidying. Today I spent about 4 hours, but I must say once I made all of those choices and then put things away, I was feeling really exhausted.

So many decisions! Oy!

Candles

You minimalists have the right idea! More stuff equals more stress. By having less stuff, and minimizing my decision fatigue, and lessen the time I spend looking for stuff I cannot find. I hope this helps to optimize my focus at home, something we “work at home” folks truly need.

But I like the idea of approaching this project as a one-time special event, and treating it with the sacred process that it is. I decided to light some candles when I started to make it more of a ceremony. It definitely helped. Let’s see if I can sustain the mood and keep this going tomorrow. Wish me luck!

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

How NOT to do yoga

Hi Friends,

It is Friday! I wish you an excellent weekend ahead!

I was thinking about my yoga “evangelism” and some subtle things I have not explored on this blog about the differences in types of yoga. Based on some questions/comments that readers have contributed, and my recent bad experience with a hot vinyasa class which actually triggered my fight/flight/freeze response, I thought it would be valuable to comment further.

On Monday I was working in the morning and missed the hatha yoga class I planned o attend. I had a hankering for a class so I searched the available ones at the different branches of my gym and found a noon class not too far away. It was vinyasa (or flow) yoga, a class in which there tends to be continuous motion throughout the class.

This particular gym tends to pair upbeat rock music with the flow sequences, at least after the teacher walks through the sequence once or twice. Then we flow on our own, and sometimes the music is turned up. In this particular class the music was turned up so loud I actually got triggered, and immediately considered leaving the room, it felt so loud and uncomfortable.

relaxing kitty
Photo credit link

I nearly left the room but first I searched for the teacher and asked if she could turn it down slightly. She did. The class was “energetic” but I took breaks as necessary during the flow and did not get caught up with what everyone else was doing. I made the practice my own and adapted to what my body needed, as I have been taught by several wise teachers. 

After the class I explained what had happened to the teacher. She told me not all teachers at the gym would be as willing to accommodate but that they could supply earplugs if they were needed. I was so shocked by this, given what I have come to value about yoga, and its value on soothing my nervous system and coming back to the body.

The practice I am most fond of can be described as hatha yoga. At this gym, the most similar practice is called “root” and at other venues it may be described as mindful yoga.  I also enjoy soma yoga, which is a process of teaching the body to let go of involuntary patterns of holding that we sometimes develop subconsciously over time.

The point of this comment today is that not all yoga classes are the same. It is important to give yourself the opportunity to try different classes and different teachers to see what works best for you. While there may be classes that are challenging in terms of developing your strength, all good teachers understand that some students may need to adapt their practice.

YOU are the only one who knows what is right for your body. No teacher should ever push you beyond your limits. They simply cannot know if you have injuries or vulnerabilities that affect your practice. Even if you spend an entire hour laying on the mat in savasana (corpse pose) and focus on your breathing, you have done your yoga.

Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Wellness Wednesday – What do you do when triggered?

I was not proud of my angry response to an inflammatory post from someone in my WordPress feed over the weekend. I was temporarily unable to step away and I got side-tracked from the intention I had for that morning. It made me want to fight, defend and debate.

In reflecting on this phenomenon later, I realized that I had been “triggered” but that I had a choice about how to respond. Eventually, when I realized I was not going to get anything productive out of the interaction, I stepped away and disengaged. I re-directed my attention and moved on to more fulfilling and satisfying endeavors.

In truth, someone who has been through trauma has a much more difficult time dealing with a situation that triggers them. I cannot recall any specific trauma that led to this response, so I was able to bring my frontal cortex back online relatively quickly from that amygdala “hijack” by telling myself there was no need to add fuel to the flames. There was clearly high emotion on both sides, and we were not able to “hear” one another arguments.

triggers graphic
Photo credit link

I also realized in hearing the testimony of Dr. Blasey Ford, and the humiliation she endured after her assault, I deeply empathized with her story. I could feel viscerally that shame she must have felt, even though I am one of the fortunate few who has not suffered assault.

It occurred to me that so many women who have similar stories are likely feeling a little more vulnerable and emotionally rocked by the testimony. And it is good for those of us with empathy to be there to reassure our friends that their reactions are valid, and that we are willing to sit with them during their process.

Some time ago I became intrigued by some research on trauma and PTSD by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, who was featured in the On Being podcast episode. He explains that trauma leaves an imprint on the body, not just the brain, in sensory and hormonal systems. Of the treatment options, body-centered practices like Yoga help develop a body that is strong and feels comfortable.

In an article published at the Trauma Center, explains that “Yoga offers a way to reprogram automatic physical responses.”

“Yoga helps regulate emotional and physiological states. It allows the body to regain its natural movement and teaches the use of breath for self-regulation. What is beautiful about Yoga is that it teaches use – and this is a critical point for those who feel trapped in their memory sensations – that things come to an end…

The process of being in a safe space and staying with whatever sensations emerge and seeing how they come to and end is a positive imprinting process. Yoga helps them befriend their bodies that have betrayed them by failing to guarantee safety.”

Yoga also teaches us to use the breath. Western culture tends to solve our issues through means from the outside, rather than teaching us how we can master our own physiology. This is where the intersection of these practices can and should be used in conjunction with “modern” medicine in the treatment of trauma and its effects.

Perhaps this is why I am such a big “evangelist” of yoga and why I am developing a course on “yoga and mindful leadership.” Based on my own consistent practice of yoga and meditation, I have seen the effects in my own life. I am always grateful when I also come across strong research to back this up.

So, what to do when we are triggered? The first thing is to breathe deeply a few times and slow down. We can realize that our physiological response is real, but that it does not reflect present danger. We honor that part of our primitive brain that is trying to keep us safe, and recognize that we need timely self-care to calm our nervous system. Over time, with practice, it is possible to heal with the right support.

Be well,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

What if you sat down for 5 minutes?

What would happen if you sat down to breathe for 5 minutes?

Nothing else, just focus on the breath. For only 5 minutes, or even 3.

Even though the groceries are not yet put away.

Even though you feel like it’s a waste of time.

Even though your brain feels like you are driven like a motor.

Even though you have a list a mile long and you are a very busy and important person.

Even though your parents may have told you that idle time was wasted time. 

Even though there is disaster in the world. Even if you really want to check your facebook feed.

Even though you have a conference call in half an hour and you really *should* prepare for that.

Even though your boss may think you are inefficient because you did not respond to his email within 10 minutes.

Watch your breath for 5 min

***

Would the world fall apart? If you paused?

Or would you listen to yourself, hear your thoughts, hear your breathing, feel your body?

Would you be able to start grounding yourself?

Would you access the wisdom that you already have inside you?

***

Don’t take my word for it.

If you stop, breathe for 3-5 minutes, give yourself a pause, and notice, and it does not make you feel any better, no need to repeat.

But if you are finding that you stay busy to shut out those voices in your head, or to deny the wisdom in your body, I believe you are missing the point of life.

Cheers,

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

600 days

Hi Friends,

This post will be short and sweet. I just want to acknowledge and celebrate my 600th consecutive day of meditation and/or yoga according to my Insight Timer app. Yay! I guess I can count that habit as a consistent one, the practice of being mindful of thoughts, emotions, my body and sometimes the space around me as well.

There is probably a Buddhist admonition not to take pride in one’s meditation. Something about ego and all of that. But I am proud of establishing the habit and I am not Buddhist. So I am going to own it and celebrate! Cheers!

What daily or weekly habits serve you best in your life? 

cristy@meximinnesota.com

600 days