TBT – Back to yoga!

**This is an edited post from January of 2017, after my recovery from an appendectomy. I enjoyed re-reading it as I was reflecting on the past year. The advice still applies.**

I just got the all-clear from the surgeon post appendectomy to return to yoga. She told me I need to be mindful not to overdo it, of course, but that I was healing quickly and should be fine now. It was the best news I got all week!

Thursday night I went back to yin yoga class. It felt awesome. I was mindful of a few poses where I did not fully extend, knowing that I will slowly work my way back to where I was. After a month away from this, it is wise to go slow, and take breaks.

yoga cat
Photo credit link

Most yoga teachers understand this, but a few of them out there still “push” sometimes. If you  ever consider a class, I recommend one where the teacher tells you that you can always take breaks or make modifications. Feel free to sit in child’s pose, or if your knees are too strained by that, just lay in savasana (corpse pose) if that is needed. Really!

So many people push themselves, perhaps at the goading of a teacher, “come on, I know you are strong enough to hold this pose longer…” Um, no. I call that kind of teaching “yogaerobics” or perhaps the teacher is new to the practice of yoga.

Best advice: listen to your own body. Yes, it’s true that you will become stronger if you practice something like hatha or vinyasa regularly. But it is also that every body is different, and that you must respect your limits. That is wisdom.

It is also true that every DAY your body is different. Some days you may have more energy and other days maybe you did not sleep as well the night before, and you are more tired. It does not matter. The best practice is the one where you did what was right for that day, for each moment of your practice.

The best teacher is the one that encourages you to listen to your body and pace yourself. Teachers are guides, not the authorities. Your own body is the ultimate authority on what is right for you. When you learn that, everything else falls into place. Namaste!

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

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

 

 

 

Pausing, resting and noticing

On Thursday this week I opted to sleep in instead of blogging. Since I’d had some insomnia on Sunday (slept 2 hours) and Tuesday (slept 4 hours) it felt really good to get 10.5 hours of sleep. It was really good, juicy sleep. I know that I dreamed, but I did not write down my dreams right away, so they faded quickly. But the sleep felt cleansing and nourishing, so I know my psyche was working out whatever needed processing.

I was fortunate to be able to work at home so I had some “think time” in between my conference calls. I took a little extra time to meditate, and to work on planning during my quiet time. I wrote in my journal. It is a handwritten, old-fashioned sort of practice for me. It is a way I slow down my brain long enough to process thoughts and feelings, to pay attention to what is going on in my body.

compass
Photo credit link

Our bodies can provide a necessary “compass” for the messages in our soul, but so often we forget to observe our reactions as a visceral process. We are in go-go-go mode, always trying to learn something new, read another book, listen to another podcast or audio book. I certainly love to indulge in all of these “treats” as I think of them. But then I need to allow for it all to settle, and for my personal truths to emerge.

As I tuned into my body’s messages today, I discovered I do not want to go to Boston in May for a trip to a conference that is typically an annual event for managers on my clinical research team. The week after that trip I am scheduled to travel to Belgium for another meeting. Then I am planning a trip the week after that to Mexico, to work with a colleague to help orient and train a new team member.

First off: three trips in 3 weeks is an easy NO for my body. More like a “shit NO!” if you pardon my French…  Is it that Boston trip itself causing the objection, or just the idea of traveling 3 weeks in a row?

I’m not wild about the Belgium trip honestly (even though I have enjoyed past work trips to Europe). But since I am on a “farewell tour” of sorts in my current role, that trip is part of my closure process in orienting a team member who may be taking on some parts of my role after I leave.

ListenToYourBody.JPG
Photo credit link

I am breathing through this decision and validating it by noticing the lightness I feel when I imagine skipping that trip. While I enjoy travel, I have come to appreciate sleep and a certain “life rhythm” in living well throughout my days and weeks. To be my most energetic and authentic self, I must respect that rhythm and notice when my body sends me these signals. When I ignore them, and press on, things tend not to go well.

In all honesty, there is no real reason I need to go to Boston for that conference. I have been to Boston before, and I enjoyed it, but I have no desire to go this time. My boss knows my career path is leading me to a new role. I have been upfront with him about that. He may not understand that my personal deadline of August is regardless of whether I have a job lined up specifically, or if I will simply take a break before my next gig.

I will honor that amazing compass of internal wisdom. It never leads me astray. Time to write the email to let him know my decision on this one…

Cheers & happy weekend, amigos!

Awe and beauty

Hello Friends,

This morning I had another intense moment of joy and awe while looking out my front window at the gorgeous sunrise. The photo does not do justice to the reality, but I will share it anyway.

Willy at sunrise
My cat Willy enjoys our morning sunrise contemplation as well.

Yesterday marked my first year of meditating consecutively every day, sometimes as little as 5 minutes, sometimes in silence, sometimes with guided meditation. My Insight Timer app showed 365 days in a row, with 440 days recorded since June of 2016.

I wrote in my personal journal yesterday about some of the shifts that have happened in my life since beginning this commitment. I wanted to add to what I wrote in my blog before, because now that I understand how profound this habit has been for me, I cannot help but want to share the joy of discovery.

The first big shift comes in my ability to recognize my thoughts as thoughts, and not as objective reality. There is something so profound in accessing this “watcher” self that can compassionately witness our inner turmoil. It is that quieter place within us that can tap into wisdom and truth despite the noisy world outside (and sometimes inside) that clamors for attention.

The second big shift has been in my relationships. I am not perfect, of course, but I  practice being mindful and conscious of the other person, versus my thoughts about the person. I believe it has helped me to listen more closely, to pay attention and to notice what the other person is saying, and the emotions behind their words. I am still practicing this, and do not always do it well – my husband can attest to this.

But I feel a tangible change in my “defense system” that is lowered and sometimes dropped. I can more fully BE with another person and empathize with them. I have compassion for myself if my mind wanders, and I have more curiosity about what they are saying rather than considering how I will respond. This process of noticing rather than reacting seems to transform the way I relate to people.

The third shift has been in my body. I consider yoga to be a part of my overall meditation practice and my spirituality. I pay attention to my breath during my yoga practice, and to feelings in my body. By tuning in, rather than tuning out, as I sometimes did when I used to run excessive miles, I access my body’s wisdom.

I was raised with a religious tradition that treats the body as “base” and “less than” our minds. And of course, our culture shames women’s bodies mercilessly, so I now understand how I came to be so disconnected from it. But when I honor my body, have compassion for her, and accept her just as she is, she can relax. I consider how much we attack our “divine feminine” and realize that she will always be with us, but she serves us better when we befriend her.

Mindfulness practice, whether meditation, or just noticing more deliberately the world around us, including the people we love, and maybe people we do NOT love, has the power to change us. Much more often I feel a sense of great awe and reverence for the beauty and blessings around me. Wow! I get to live this amazing life. What a gift.

Have a wonderful week, All.

Back to yoga!

It is Saturday and I’m gonna make this one short and sweet, because I am bundling up and getting ready for a yoga class. It is -10F with a windchill factor of -19F right now, for your reference. But it is totally worth getting a couple of layers of clothing on and warming up the car for a bit to get to one of my favorite hatha yoga classes.

This Wednesday I got the all-clear from the surgeon post appendectomy to return to yoga. She told me I need to be mindful not to overdo it, of course, but that I was healing quickly and should be fine now.

It was the best news I got all week! Thursday night I went back to yin yoga class. It felt awesome. I was mindful of a few poses where I did not fully extend, knowing that I will slowly work my way back to where I was. After a month away from this, it is wise to go slow, and take breaks.

yoga cat
Photo credit link

Most yoga teachers understand this, but a few of them out there still “push” sometimes. If you  ever consider a class, I recommend one where the teacher tells you that you can always take breaks or make modifications. Feel free to sit in child’s pose, or if your knees are too strained by that, just lay in savasana (corpse pose) if that is needed. Really!

So many people push themselves, perhaps at the goading of a teacher, “come on, I know you are strong enough to hold this pose longer…” Um, no. I call that kind of teaching “yogaerobics” or perhaps the teacher is new to the practice of yoga.

Best advice: listen to your own body. Yes, it’s true that you will become stronger if you practice something like hatha or vinyasa regularly. But it is also that every body is different, and that you must respect your limits. That is wisdom.

It is also true that every DAY your body is different. Some days you may have more energy and other days maybe you did not sleep as well the night before, and you are more tired. It does not matter. The best practice is the one where you did what was right for that day, for each moment of your practice.

The best teacher is the one that encourages you to listen to your body and pace yourself. Teachers are guides, not the authorities. Your body is the ultimate authority on what is right. When you learn that, everything else falls into place. Namaste!