Wellness Wednesday – cooling the brain

Happy Wednesday! It is time to focus on wellness and I shall return to a topic near and dear to my heart – sleep!

I started listening to a course recently on Insight Timer by Jennifer Piercy called “Your Guide to Deeper Sleep.” I really like how she describes sleep as a “cooling” of the inflammation in our body and brain. Getting good sleep is fundamental to healing and vitality in our lives. More research is being published all the time showing lack of sleep is connected to conditions such as diabetes.

I have struggled with insomnia in the past periodically. I am getting better in that regard but every now and then, typically in response to stress, I do struggle to get my zz’s. When that happens I know I need to cut back on my caffeine and/or cut back on my media consumption, which tends to churn the brain. I also find that I need to avoid any “weighty” topics of discussion just before bed.

Sleep amounts can vary naturally based on the season, and we typically expect to get slightly less during months where we have more sunlight. I have embraced the idea of early sleep on winter nights, snuggling with a book before bedtime and making sure my devices are powered down at least an hour before lights out. I actually have an alarm that goes off before bedtime to remind me to wind down, in case I am too absorbed in an activity to realize it is time.

sleeping puppies
Photo credit link

Yoga nidra is a practice I have recently discovered which can help me drop off into deeper sleep. I have used some guided meditations in order to let go of tension in the body and allow for mindful relaxation.

On the days after I sleep a nice, juicy 8-9 hours I notice that I have more consistent energy all day. I make decisions faster and with less agonizing. It also has an added benefit of allowing for greater weight loss as it reduces cortisol levels int he body. Who knew you could rest more AND take off extra weight?!?

The most important factor in getting restful sleep seems to be a good wind-down routine at night. Ariana Huffington explains her book The Sleep Revolution that she has a ritual of taking a bath or shower, escorting her devices outside the bedroom, and perhaps using lavender to create an atmosphere of relaxation.

Jennifer Piercy challenges the notion that when we nap, we compromise the quality of our sleep at night. Sleep has been domesticated in the service of “industrial life” and policed with an alarm clock (summary of quote). Dr. Sarah Mednick’s book Take a Nap! Change Your Life helps us understand that our state of being overtired can make us to wired to fall asleep effectively. So napping can be almost a “dress rehearsal” for sleep.

So, if you have the flexibility in your schedule to take a rest in the afternoon, consider a nap rather than fighting your post-lunch sleepiness. This multi-phasic sleep is actually quite natural, so embrace your body’s call to rest when you feel tired, especially between 1-3 p.m, when it could be especially nourishing.

When we treat sleep as a treasured event rather than a drag, we are more likely to enjoy the process and settle in a little deeper. We dream more when we sleep deeply, as it happens, and that can be an adventure as well.

What are your favorite sleep rituals? Do you make sure to get adequate rest every night? How often do you nap?

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

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.

find center.JPG
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

 

 

 

Enchanted by an idea

I have been possessed by an idea I had while at yoga class on Saturday. It reminds me of the notion Liz Gilbert describes in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. It is one of those ideas that came to me with a visceral sense of excitement and fascination.

It is an idea that caused me to reach out to my favorite yoga teacher to collaborate, since it involves yoga as a tool for mindful leadership. Y’all know that I practice meditation and yoga regularly. Meditation is a daily practice and yoga is typically 3-4 times a week. I consider yoga one form of my meditation practice because it is about body awareness and has helped “ground” me in my life and truth more firmly.

As I contemplated this idea, I met some women after class who are also attendees of the class. We reflected in this women-only gym on how this hatha/soma yoga practice has enhanced our lives. I started to explore my idea with them, explaining how radically my world has changed since beginning to re-embody myself through this practice. They shared their own stories, and we sat for an hour in mutual exchange of some big life realizations.

enchanted dancing
Photo credit link

I carried that spark to my yoga teacher, asking if she would meet with me to discuss the idea, to figure out if we could co-create a workshop around this notion. I seemed to have confirmed there would be interest, but of course had not figured out the venue, the exact audience, the marketing, etc. That will come later. We will meet on Wednesday to discuss.

Who knows where it might go, but the idea has taken hold of me. Last night I woke up from sleep around 1:30 a.m. and the idea was with me in vivid color. It didn’t give me insomnia like some ideas do. But it did very firmly take hold of me, and it seemed to ask if I wanted to dance with it.

Indeed, I do want to dance. There is pleasure and excitement in the idea, and it is starting to blossom into more creative ideas within me. This is truly enchantment. It is allowing rather than pushing and striving. But it is also being ready for what emerges, even if a fluttery nervousness is also present. That is part of the process, and I accept it as well.

When did you last dance with an idea that would not leave you? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

Throwback Thursday – Integration

This week’s Throwback Thursday is an edited piece from November 2017. It sent a chill down my spine thinking about how far I have come in that time, in writing through these changes in my life. So grateful that this blog has allowed an exploration toward the next part of my path.

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As I was sitting in savasana today at my morning yoga class, a concept kept arising into consciousness. It was Integration.

I wonder if my search for balance and equilibrium is actually a search for integration. Bringing together my personal and professional lives, uniting my body, mind and spirit, accepting the positives and the negatives. It is all part of one rich and fulfilling life, after all.

Why do I find it challenging? Perhaps my scientific training works against me here. I strive to isolate variables, to design proper controls, to decrease “confounding factors.” It is a noble pursuit, when we want to understand a mechanism for a system.

I then consider another concept from a similar root: Integrity. These concepts both relate to a state of being whole. Stemming from a similar Latin root, these words express what I seek.

Yin Yang Wikipedia image

It is not so much about work/life balance, which always reminds me of a seesaw. It is more about bringing it all together, not having to isolate parts of myself in certain  contexts, but rather bringing my whole self to every situation. I like the yin/yang concept, and the idea that we have complementary parts within us. I have written about this before.  Perhaps that is what this blog is about, to integrate the “mexi” and the “minnesotana” parts more meaningfully, in every part of my life.

What if we viewed the entire natural sphere as an integrated whole, all part of some vast and intricate web? Everything, everyone and all of the in between is connected. We are not binary – one against another, us against them. We are all part of this vast universal story, ever changing, ever growing, ever recycling the parts that need to evolve to something new.

This brings so much peace to me, embracing both my darkness and my light. It means acceptance of what I am, where I am today in my journey, not chiding myself that I am not further along. Change unfolds gradually and when I “push” instead of allowing, it often sets me back. I am eager to know what is next, to see around the next corner. But I need not worry.

My soul works and plays at integrating. It seems to do this better without the fretting of my ego or mind. When I pay attention to the ease and the grace that comes from sitting still or small movements, I can feel integration physically. At the same time, I notice myself acting with greater integrity in the world. This feels like a true definition of success for me.

***

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Throwback Thursday: Owning our bodies

This post is a re-blog of an original I wrote in December, 2017, with some editing. On Thursdays I aim to review and edit some previously shared content to give myself more practice on the editing side. Thanks for your patience as I build my skills and allow myself to re-examine some favorite themes.

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After my peaceful and grateful post yesterday, I dove into a few blogs based on some recommendations by WordPress. I read about women as superheroes, and encountered some powerful writing about racism and privilege in America. It hit me pretty hard, but the point landed, this idea that white people of this country built their foundation on treating black people as sub-human.

It is difficult to talk about this, to acknowledge it and to understand what it is like to be cast as the “other” when we are part of the dominant culture. As a pale Latina, I pass as white every day. And yet, part of me strongly identifies with this Otherness. When Philando Castile was killed in Falcon Heights, Minnesota in July 2016, I was in shock. This is not supposed to happen here, I thought.

But it happens everywhere. People are mistreated merely because of their darker skin or for their gender. Assumptions are made, and are reinforced. Political campaigns barely veil their “dog whistles” that appeal to the base, racist beliefs of their base.

There is a powerful dialogue from On Being with Krista Tippet, with Junot Diaz that keeps coming back to me on Radical Hope. One passage that keeps coming back to me as an empowering framework for re-considering how we view the body.

owning bodies - on being
Photo from On Being website link

“I would remind us that, coming from a reality where our oppression was ineluctably linked to our bodies — that we had, for centuries, no rights to our bodies and that all of the traditional pleasures and all of the traditional freedoms of human agency were forbidden to those of us of African descent in the New World, for a long period of time — the body, in such a murderous regime, under such nightmarish conditions, becomes chapel, cathedral, dogma. It becomes nearly everything…

…for people like us, for people who come out of the African Diaspora in the New World, simply to fall in love, when you have historically been denied love, the right to just connect to the body which you have chosen and that has chosen you, means that an act of love is not only revolutionary, it’s not only transcendent, but it is the deific. It is Godlike. It is a taste of the omnipotent.”

I see parallels here in how slave ownership reflects a framework in which ownership of the body is central. It is a means of control and it is a means of denying basic humanity to people based on color.

I also see the ownership of body as a tool from a woman’s perspective and a feminist one. From our cultural lens, we have transcended a period when it was legal to own the bodies of African Americans. I also recently learned that early in our history, the practice of enslaving Native Americans occurred though was not explicitly legalized in the same way. (Listen to Hidden Brain’s “An American Secret” to learn more.)

Conceptually, I believe our patriarchy claims “ownership” of women’s bodies in a similar but more subtle way. Through creating laws to regulate women’s health, and their choices and ownership over their decisions about their bodies, we legalize yet another form of slavery. By judging appearance and “scoring” women on a scales of beauty or attractiveness, our media participate in this denigration of women’s bodies.

Recent disclosures of male authority figures using coercion and manipulation of women’s bodies against their will has shown the pervasiveness of this idea: women are routinely denied full access and ownership to their bodies. Women are “owned” and traded, consumed and marketed as commodities, products, objects that can be served up at will. 

empowerment
Photo credit link

As I have come to a better relationship with my own body in my yoga and meditation practices, I now see how “radical” it is to reclaim our bodies. For those women (or men) who have endured assault or other violations of the body, there can be a numbness or a disassociation with parts of ourselves. Even for those of us who have not endured physical violence, the objectification of women’s bodies in so much of our daily media have taken their toll.

We disown parts of ourselves, perhaps our hunger, or our sexuality, as an attempt to distance ourselves from what is portrayed as dirty or distasteful.  This is not a coincidence, nor is it a benign reality. Listening and attending to our bodies is a powerful tool. Disconnecting from the body separates us from our truth. 

Churches that advise us to transcend the “carnal” and embrace the spiritual do us a disservice. For when we separate the body from the spirit or the soul, we disconnect what makes us whole as people. Sadly, this is more of a lived reality for women than for men in our current ethos.

What I would like to suggest is a radical and necessary step is for women to reclaim ownership of our bodies, in both real and symbolic ways. I see this not only as a personal and a wellness imperative, but as a political act. This is certainly not a new idea. Back in the 60’s and 70’s when the women’s liberation movement was at its height, this was certainly one of the goals.

Even my own personal weight struggle has been a process of coming to terms with loving and appreciating my own body. I recognize the ways in which I appropriated the body hatred that was rampant around me. It is a bad habit, this criticism of our body, diminishing the instrument of joy we have been given. But it is a habit that can be changed. Accepting and embracing our bodies and our feelings is a tool for empowerment. It is the place we must begin for full political and personal agency.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

You are not made of sugar

And therefore you will NOT melt if you walk or run in the rain. 

This was what my husband just said to a friend of his, who asked for his help to to get in better shape by walking and possibly running, and taking care of himself. So he agreed to coach this young friend. He has taken a hiatus from running for a few years, and wants to get back to it, and possibly lose some weight as well.

Eight years ago when hubby and I met, we were both avid runners, but I was running 10-milers and half-marathons and he was training for a crazy number of marathons. For a couple years, we had a crazy streak of Half Fanatic and Marathon Maniac madness. I still run, and have done the Twin Cities 10-miler for about 8 out of the last 10 years (due to a connection to the sponsor).

Now that I know that yoga is a better path to body wisdom for me, I run a lot less, and I actually find it easier to maintain my weight. Cortisol and stress-generated hormones are probably the reason for that. Now that I understand how insulin resistance and stress-hormones work, I am able to follow an eating plan that makes it easier to keep weight off.

I used to joke to my husband that running kept me out of prison because it allowed me to deal with the frustrations of working with a boss (at the time) who was clueless and full of herself, without resorting to violence. This is a very tasteless and insensitive joke, I now realize. Workplace and school violence are no joke, and it breaks my heart that children must go through metal detectors to get to their classrooms these days.

melting in the rain.JPG
Photo credit link

Managing our emotions is a key part of emotional adulthood. Since our thoughts drive our emotions, and our emotions drive actions (or lack of action) and therefore our results, we must take the time to develop awareness of our thoughts. Since subconscious thoughts come from long-held beliefs, it can be hard to “tease out” those habitual patterns by ourselves.

I have found that coaching and therapy have been two incredible tools for dealing with anxiety and depression that are hallmarks of those struggling with a.d.d. or any kind of addiction issue. Also, family patterns and learned habits of dealing with stress can be hard to unravel. Knowing how all of those elements work together can help us move forward in our lives.

I realize it reflects a lot of privilege to be able to access therapy, and it is not available to everyone, which I believe is tragic. Yoga, meditation and running are wonderful tools to deal with stress. There is no shame in seeking help, whether through therapy, or a trusted friend or confidante that can compassionately witness our pain and sit with us through it.

No, you are not made of sugar. You will not melt. But there is no shame in getting shelter from the emotional storms that may batter us more than a gentle Spring rain.

Peace, y’all.

 

 

 

Channeling Athena

A few weeks ago in my coaching sessions I uncovered a character trait I call “Mary the Martyr” who is one of the internal “voices” that sometimes interferes with imagining and manifesting my dreams.

My given name is a reference to the ultimate Christian martyr and on this Good Friday, it seems appropriate to acknowledge the role of that cosmic joke in my life, and now to evolve it in a new way. I chose Athena to represent the powerful other influence in my soul, that part of me with courage, compassion, generosity and a sense of social justice.

I like the warrior goddess image because I have always gravitated toward fierce warrior female archetypes. I love imagining this embodiment of my own qualities of standing up for my team, doing what is needed to defend my “people” whomever they happen to be. I love that courage and fierce strength. I love it that she arose as a “headache” in Zeus’ head.

My inner goddess has a disdain for patriarchal authority figures. She questions the value of hierarchy and the wisdom of keeping social structures in place that no longer serve people. She rebels against this notion of being a “good girl” and instead wants to create a bit of mayhem in order to shake up the status quo. She is a goddess of reason, and so happily, she is not completely swept up by emotion but stays even in the face of challenge.

Athena
Photo credit link – Wikipedia

As I consider how she will show up in my work, I imagine her ability to stay focused on the task at hand, defending the “city” (or people) and standing up courageously always. I enjoy her penchant for handicraft, which implies creativity.

Do you find it shocking that I call on a goddess to invoke the kind of wisdom and strength needed in the next phase of my life? Perhaps some might. But having finished Dance of the Dissident Daughter, I now understand the value of embodying the divine feminine in our lives. As someone raised in a Christian tradition, I saw story after story of “Father” and “Son” held up as ideal examples of ways to act, and archetypes to emulate. When it came to women, all I saw was obedience and service.

Women have been infantilized and cut off from their own divine source in this limited view of the divine. As I reclaim parts of my internal wisdom and divine soul, Athena provides an anchoring point for me to courageously battle for what I know is right. Joseph Campbell was right about the role of myth and story to our human species. His limitation was acknowledging the need for women to go beyond simply bearing children as our role in the world.

So I will channel her as I need to fight bravely, and stay centered in the battles that lay ahead.

Happy Friday, fellow warriors.

Surrender

This morning I woke up very early (3 a.m.) , a byproduct of the time change perhaps, or maybe that 2 phase sleep that humans used to undergo in ancient times. Some historic investigations of human patterns in sleep indicate that we did not expect one long sleep prior to the invention of electronic lighting and an industrial economy. Typically there was a “first sleep” at night for about 4 hours and a period of wakefulness for a couple of hours followed by a “second sleep” or morning sleep of another 4 hours.

When I learned about this pattern, and as I have really worked on getting better quality sleep in recent years, it relieved some anxiety about the morning wakefulness I sometimes experience. I am a morning person, and these beautiful, quiet, spacious times are actually welcome for me, when I get to bed early enough. Today I will attend a meeting on behalf of my boss, who opted not to travel here from Miami on Health Economics and Value Based Healthcare from 9-5.

Since my director volunteered me to attend this all-day meeting on his behalf, I was not able to turn down the opportunity. I am trying to get myself psyched up for it, since I will likely see a few of my less favorite colleagues there, one in particular that always seems to challenge my patience.

So instead of trying to get back to sleep this morning, I surrendered to the wakefulness, knowing I love my morning solitude, my writing time, meditation and personal journal time. I am unwilling to sacrifice these when called upon for professional responsibilities, so sleep is sacrificed for a day. I can cope in the short-term, and I will be gentle with myself.

As I consider what my day will involve, I open myself to the possibility of learning something new. I am very interested in value based healthcare conceptually. Though sometimes the economists cause me to grit my teeth in the way reduce human health to cost effectiveness models, I strive to be open to an understanding of how we best can serve patients while creating sustainable health care.

surrender flag
Photo credit link

The concept of surrender came to me again in a recent insight I have had regarding an issue I want to solve with my family. I have been obsessing and tossing and turning it about in my mind, looking for a solution. It has kept me up at nights, and clearly it agitates me. But when I was lying in savasana on Sunday night yin yoga class, I had this strong sense of an inner voice asking me to surrender that problem. Surrender it? To whom? To what? Permanently?

Some inner knowing may be nudging me toward backing off from the problem, and allowing it to unfold. I am not sure, but some of us with a tendency toward worry or anxiety can allow our minds to run rampant with playing out scenarios. I realize I have a tendency to do this, probably a learned tendency from parental figures.

We have to acknowledge sometimes that we are not in control of everything. No matter how much thought and energy we put into some outcome we may want, at some point we need to allow things to unfold. Some people put their trust in God. I am not sure how I feel about that. I do believe there is some higher power, some creative and loving force in the world. I have felt this presence at times, and it is nothing less than miraculous.

Right now, and considering other obligations I will handle today, I will surrender the worrying on that particular issue. I will pay attention to my distractions, and notice when my mind wanders. And I will stay mindful of being in the present moment with the intention of learning today. Now that I have gotten my writing done early and prioritized the daily routines I most treasure, I can move on.

Have a happy Wednesday, peeps. Remember, it’s pi day – 3.14! Treat yo’self! 😉