Tag Archives: body wisdom

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.

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.

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!

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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.

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!

 

Un-buffering your life

We are often taught that going “outside our comfort zone” is where the most growth happens. I believe this is true, to a large extent. Our human species evolved to seek comfort or pleasure and avoid pain. These impulses largely kept us alive, along with developing communities which could provide protection and safety in a wild world.

bird rising watercolor

But as humans evolved to go beyond our basic necessities, we must also evolve in our consciousness. We must make different choices beyond survival day-to-day in order to respect the long-term sustainability of ourselves and of our planet. I write this knowing that many people around the world lack clean water, or sufficient food to eat, and I am aware of my privilege in writing these words.

The practice of creativity and if making things purely for own pleasure is one magnificent part of our existence. Whether composing songs, decorating one’s home, writing a story, or playing with color on canvas, we are a species that delights in using our imagination and creating something from nothing.

Liz Gilbert writes and speaks so elegantly of this in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and in her podcast Magic Lessons. I am grateful to have re-discovered her work, along with uncovering the Joy Diet book I have by Martha Beck last fall. Also around that time I found the work of Brené Brown on vulnerability and courage, Daring Greatly among them, but I recommend any of her books.

As I confronted my habits of “buffering” my emotions through alcohol, food, over-working, etc, I realized that I needed to slow everything down. Right before I reached for that drink, or chocolate, or “buy” button to get myself out of my feeling of discomfort, I needed to pay attention to what was going on in my body.

tissue healing watercolor

Typically what I discovered was that an uncomfortable emotion was present. It might be loneliness or fear. It might be a response to avoidance I had about doing certain tasks at work, or anticipating a difficult conversation and not knowing how I wanted to speak my truth, while respecting another person.

Mostly what I found is that I used my buffers to avoid or resist the truth that I was feeling in my own body. When I learned some tools like meditation and yin yoga to help me get “comfortable with discomfort” I realized that I could sit with a feeling and just experience it all the way through, without resisting it and without attaching to it.

Once I acknowledge the emotion, named it and thoroughly sense where it resided in my body, I can move on, and not let it hijack me or my behavior. But that process of slowing down, feeling an emotion all the way through, without reaching for my phone, something in the fridge, or some other distraction, has radical implications.

Paying attention and becoming fully aware of what is happening not just around me but within me feels like a “magic” tool. I accept things as they are, embrace the suck, or just note when I feel fear, uncertainty, doubt, rage or discomfort. That allows me to examine what thoughts and stories feed these feelings.

variable infinities

When I back up and understand that emotional and physical cascade that resulted from certain thoughts, I can question whether those thoughts are even true. Sometimes I can do this from a “thought download” or a hand-written journal I use daily to get out all the junk that piles up in my curious monkey mind. Other times, it is locked in there pretty deeply, so I use some other medium, like pastels or watercolors to tease it out.

I joke with my husband that these always turn out like 2nd grade art projects (I posted some examples today). They are not really for anyone but me, but at the same time, they sometimes give me clues to what is really going on in my psyche. Words can do this for me, but sometimes they fail me. That logical, rational, ego-driven part of my mind can protect me mightily from my inner truth.

The ego knows some truths may be painful, and require me to make certain changes in my life, definitely stepping outside the comfortable world I know. Since my brain is trying its best to take care of me, to keep me ensconced in safety, it does what it knows best, seek pleasure and avoid pain.

after the rain watercolor

And yet, this is not the path where personal and spiritual growth happens. Often it takes a painful life event to get us to a place where we MUST make some change. Sometimes there is a powerful realization within us that we have become too comfortable. In my past, I find that I tend to “make trouble” for myself when things are a little too comfortable.

Looking back, I see how many times I was running from something, rather than facing up to it. Or how many times I tried to avoid my discomfort and fear, by keeping myself from know some truth that was billowing up within me. I feared as soon as I acknowledged it, I would need to change MY WHOLE LIFE and would disrupt my loved ones’ lives around me. I did not realize I could take action steps toward what was next, at a pace that worked for me.

Sometimes we must leap into the fire and destroy the previous life (or lie) we have lived, if it was not authentic to the essence of our being, who we really are. And I believe sometimes this fire burns from within, and allows us to rise from the ashes of our prior belief systems which no longer work for us.

As we un-buffer, and become comfortable with discomfort, we develop courage and determination to rise up and do what our soul calls us to do. May you, dear reader, slow down and know when your buffers are getting in the way of your highest purpose.

 

 

Weight and body awareness as a path to inner wisdom (part 2)

“How can I be expansive and free and still be loved? Am I going to be a lady or am I going to be fully human? Do I trust the unfolding and continue to grow, or do I shut all of this down so I fit?”

-Glennon Doyle Melton (Love Warrior)

I have always been pretty good at learning things from books, or so I think. I have always valued my smarts, my cognitive abilities, my academic pursuits. I suppose that makes sense, given that I come from a family of teachers. My Dad, Mom, Grandma, aunts, uncles and many in my family were formally trained as teachers, and many of them taught until they retired. Today I view every person as a teacher. Every person I meet may have some bit of wisdom or some lesson to teach, if I stay open to hearing it. But I digress. Some readers may want me to return to the next chapter of my story, and get on with distilling some of those lessons I have learned about body awareness.

When I went back to read the first part of what I wrote yesterday while preparing myself for today, I realize that I revealed a bit more than I thought wanted to share out on the world wide web. It reminds me a little of Brene Brown’s Ted Talk, in which she described a “vulnerability hangover” after she confessed her “breakdown -> spiritual awakening” to a group of what she thought was just a few hundred people. If you have not heard Brene Brown’s Ted Talks on the Power of Vulnerability or Listening to Shame, please do so. I am serious. They are about 20 minutes long, and they are gold. After watching the videos, I bought and read every book that Dr. Brown has written, and a few of them are in my little book pile of recent influential books below.

Book pile

Some favorites I have read in the past year.

I have always had this tendency, when I feel like an author is speaking directly to me, I then go and read all the books they have ever written. This is what happened to me about 14 years ago when I discovered Martha Beck. I started with Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live. To this day, when Martha comes out with a new book, I am likely on the pre-order list because I think she is a modern day guru. She basically invented the concept of life-coaching and her wisdom is unmatched when it comes to career exploration and figuring changes you may need to be more aligned with your soul’s purpose.

So I promised more of my story, and I keep trying to deflect and talk about stuff I learned in books rather than stuff I learned through my own experience. Whew, I guess that is because it is so difficult to share one’s personal story when it reveals what we consider something about us that is “weak” or shameful. Brene Brown explains that “shame is an epidemic in our culture” and tells us that empathy is the antidote to shame. When we consider the shame so many of us feel about our bodies, about the things we are supposed to control, about the ways we are supposed to behave but cannot, it is no wonder we are the most addicted, over-medicated, depressed people in the history of the species.

I began realizing that I was using food and alcohol to buffer my emotions, and to not feel the things I needed to feel, in order to point me in the direction of my truths and my my soul’s calling. In my nurse practitioner’s office in July 2016 I realized that, even though my health numbers seemed fine, I was not fine. I knew it. I knew that coming home each night and feeling a strong urge to have a glass of wine was an indicator, and it was a warning sign to me. While I am not an alcoholic, I wondered what I was trying to avoid. Having been through depression before, I realized that I never wanted to go there again. That dark fog has been present in my life probably 3-4 times and it had been years since I had gone there.

So I asked my kind  fiance to help me stop drinking for 10 days, just to see if it would make a difference to my quality of life. The first thing I noticed was: I had some really uncomfortable emotions coming up that I did not want to face. Fortunately a friend at the time shared a similar struggle and desire to give up drinking. She pointed me in the direction of Brooke Castillo’s podcast.

One of the most important things I learned here was that emotions are just vibrations in the body. They pass like waves, and they are fully endurable. Those of us who afraid to feel our emotions sometimes may have learned that emotions are dangerous. We are not “supposed to” feel sad, angry or disappointed. But these human emotions are universal. We may not like them, but we all feel them. When we learn to embrace all of our emotions, knowing that they will not destroy us, we become in tune with the messages of our body, which are delivered through our emotions.

Geneen Roth’s book, Women, Food and God: an Unexpected Path to Almost Anything was recommended to me by a therapist and it spoke to my concerns about the constant weight struggle. Years ago (in college, in fact) I had read Feeding the Hungry Heart, back when I was first learning about how I had used food to numb my emotions. It was my first clue into why I struggled so much with food. But at that time, I learned the lesson academically, not through mindful work with my own experience.

Working with a therapist on some of the issues I had around commitment and vulnerability in relationships, I realized what I really was trying to avoid. I was trying not to be seen for who I was. I was trying not to show up as an angry, hurt or vulnerable, and trying to push down the reality of those feelings.

As I started fully awakening to the possibility that I would not always have to use food to calm my feelings, I began to use my awareness of when I wanted to eat, especially outside of mealtimes, and what that was telling me. When I went to the fridge prior to a uncomfortable 1:1 call I needed to make to a direct report, rather than eat, I took a moment to reflect and ask: what is making me uncomfortable, that I want to escape my emotions and eat instead? I started tuning into that thought stream and doing a “thought download” (handwritten journal entry) every time I felt that urge to eat,  to explore was was really going on in my head. It was no coincidence that I had been studying meditation for about a year before that, and starting to learn how to calm myself and observe my thought-stream without getting caught up in it.

When I read Glennon Doyle Melton’s book Love Warrior in December 2016 I felt as if she was speaking directly to me. I went on a vacation with my sweetie in Hawaii, where I was able to go to a wedding of two close friends from college, marrying each other after 20+ years of being a couple. I had lost about 12 pounds in the 4 months before that, and I brought a couple of books along to read on vacation. Glennon was putting in words things I had not yet even begin to understand, about my relationships, about my struggles with food and my fear of vulnerability. I must quote her because it is too good to paraphrase (from p 113 of her book):

We’ve spent our time together talking about everything but what matters. We’ve never brought each other the heavy things we were meant to help each other carry. We’ve only introduced each other to our representatives, while our real selves tried to live life along. We thought that was safer. We thought that this way our real selves wouldn’t get hurt…At our cores, we are our tender selves peeking out at a world of shiny representatives, so shame has been layered on top of our pain. We’re suffocating beneath all the layers.

Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Preach, my dear.

Dear Reader, it is now time for me to go to work again. I had thought this might be a 2-part series, but now it appears that it may have to extend it one more day. (Who was it who said: I could have made this letter shorter, but I ran out of time…?)  I still have not explored how yoga has helped bring me back into my body (and out of my head, where I tend to live). And this entry is far over a thousand words, which I think may be the limit for a concise and readable blog post. Do you have comments? Do you have feedback for me? Feel free to share anything you would like in the comments section below. Disclaimer: I am not getting paid to promote books. I have an Amazon affiliates account that may pay me something like a penny per book if you do end up clicking through my site to order something. But that is not the point of the links – I really just want to share some of the learning I have done and the teachers that have guided me along the way.