Yoga for over-thinkers Week 1 – Ahimsa

Hello Friends!

This week I will start teaching my 5-week class on Thursday mornings. I have a good number of sign ups, and a couple of yoga teaching friends that may drop by, and I am excited to start.

Since I am preparing for that, I will be writing a weekly series on Wednesdays in October focusing on the 5 Yamas, Sanskrit for “restraints” which are part of the gems of wisdom making up yogic philosophy. These are: nonviolence, truthfulness, nonstealing, nonexcess and nonpossessiveness.

Yamas and Niyamas
This is the book we studied in YTT-200 teacher training, highly recommended if you want to learn more.

The first week we start with Ahimsa, or nonviolence, literally to “do no harm.” This is so fundamental to the practice of yoga. Yet it is not always respected in our desire to “get things right” or to imitate our teachers.

We do violence to ourselves when we strive for perfection rather than balance, when we overdo rather than just do. The hardest part for me in this lesson was realizing how hard I was being on myself. My inner critic became apparent when I started listening to the thoughts in my mind more often.

Learning to bring some compassion to those “sub-personalities” that were driving some of my behavior, I have embraced a new pattern of nonviolence by becoming curious about that critical voice. Rather than believing it, I realize it often comes from that protective part of ourselves that is driven by fear and by the conditioning of our families of origin, and society as a whole.

By directing our attention to the breath and the body, getting “out of our heads” for a moment, we can step back from that inner dialogue. The mind’s stories create a cacophony of noise that is not the REAL self. Developing compassion for that inner voice, rather than criticizing ourselves for having it, allows us to move forward with greater ease.

This is in line with Kristen Neff’s work on Self-Compassion which I explored in an earlier post. There is a way in which treating ourselves with kindness flows out to our relationships with others as well. As Deb Adele’s book on The Yamas and Niyamas points out: “If you are a taskmaster with yourself, others will feel your whip.”

What I have noticed in practicing self-compassion with my flaws and short-comings is that I have so much more compassion for others as well. In this way, ahimsa becomes a powerful foundation for living well.

May you, my lovely reader, practice ahimsa by noticing where you are not being as kind to yourself or others as you could be. In what ways can you more easily accept yourself as you are without judgment or criticism? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Wellness Wednesday – Travel mantras

This post is edited from the original one posted in May of 2018. It seems appropriate for the season of summer and holiday travel. 

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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.

travel mantras
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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

 

On the freedom of breaking streaks

Much of the literature on happiness and habits refers to building routines that work for us and support us every day toward achieving our goals. I like to have a daily routine, especially in the morning.

The grounding and centering I achieve through regular routines of meditation and journal writing in the morning seems to have a lasting effect on my mood and overall happiness. My weekly “writing days” when I will post to WordPress have built up trust in my ability to create pieces on a consistent basis.

Every Sunday since October 2017 I have posted a haiku. This past weekend, I was at a 3-day yoga teacher training weekend Friday through Sunday. For 9-10 hours a day, we did yoga practices, learned new things, and explored many facets of yoga. It was amazing, and it was also physically and emotionally taxing.

Yogi tea IG photo
Another favorite routine is my late morning or post-lunch tea break.

On Saturday evening, I was pretty wiped out. The longest of the 3 days, it began at 8 and ended at 6. With 20 other students, a lot of dyad work, and a couple of teachers working with us, it was a LOT of people interaction. It pushed my capacity to the limit, and rather than writing haiku when I came home, I was wrung out to the point of exhaustion.

After I got home for the day, a tiny part of me said: “You still have not written your Sunday haiku yet; you can’t go to bed yet.” But the wiser higher mind said: “Turning on the computer and risking your quality of sleep is not a good idea. Get some rest.”

And thus, a streak which had continued for ~75 weeks was broken. While I felt a little sad about it, I also felt freed by it at the same time. It was a habit I had built up that gave me joy and practice at the art of haiku. It served me well for that time period. And now I am moving to a new phase of my life that requires a focus on different things, at least through my certification in September.

While I actually did think of a haiku on Sunday morning, during my savasana meditation at the end of yoga practice, I had no access to a computer. So it lived only in my mind. I was grateful to generate it for myself, even if it was not shared that time around.

Long live your streaks! And when they no longer serve you, let them go gracefully and with compassion for any inner compulsion you may have. This is freedom.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

What gets in the way?

What gets in the way of telling people that you love them?

Not just partners, spouses and friends, but people all around you.

Last year, I kept having an urge to send Valentine cards to my coworkers and employees. But I knew that most people would find that corny.

Why would an operational manager at a large corporation send cards to her employees? Don’t people grow out of that in the 4th grade?

Yup.

What gets in the way of showing loveThat’s what held me back. I was afraid to be perceived as corny, even though I truly grew to love those that worked with me (in an “agape” sense, not a romantic one).

It’s probably very uncool to love your employees.

That is me, totally uncool.

The more I think about it, the more I am proud of that fact. I believe in a model of “servant leadership” in which the person who leads is actually in service to the people they lead.

Very uncool.

And yet, I think it is the most effective way to lead people. To love them, to witness them grow, to help them attain their career goals… that was what made me effective in my previous role.

The clients I serve now? I love them too. Not in a creepy way. But in a way that shows how much I value them as capable individuals, striving toward growth and excellence. We often have similar insecurities. We are all in this together.

Never again will I let the fear of being “corny” get in the way of my ability to show love for people I value. A resolution for today and for the future. Life is too short to hold back.

Happy Valentine’s Day, beloved readers.

cristy@meximinnesota.com

TBT – There is no “better” you

**This is an edited post from January 2018. It is a relevant reminder for the workshop I have coming up on the 27th.**

I have noticed a lot of flyers in fitness centers and around bulletin boards that invite people to “become a better you.” I really dislike this slogan.

You are just fine the way you are. Right now. No exceptions. You are worthy of love, compassion and forgiveness. Just because you are human. In this moment, and always.

Are you perfect? No. Are you human? Yes. You are an imperfect human being in the process of growing and becoming, as are we all. And that is a beautiful thing.

Are there some things you wish to change about yourself? Probably. Most of us want to lose weight, make more money, become more patient, perhaps become better partners or spouses. And this is fine. But this does not mean we become “better” as people. If we cannot accept that we are fine, and worthy of love and compassion, in this moment and always, it will be much harder to grow and change.

What bothers me about this “better” you is that it implies the you RIGHT NOW is not enough. But that is never true. You are enough. You are doing your best and that is always enough. You are worthy. Always.

You will not become “better” if you lose weight. Perhaps your health will be better, and you will have less discomfort in your body and more vitality if you lose weight. Those are all worthy goals, and by all means strive for those goals if they are important to you. But you must accept yourself and who you are in this very moment to allow transformation to occur.

journey
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Does that sound paradoxical? I thought so at first when I encountered this idea. If I’m not striving and trying and working toward it, how can I be “better” at it? Certainly skills take practice, and many of us learned that working hard is the answer, or the way to riches, or even the way to God.

When you have goals that are important to you, absolutely you should work for them. Put the time in every day if you can. But realize that there is no “better” version of you that awaits. You may feel better about your skills, and you may accomplish great things. Wonderful! Congratulations!

But the YOU remains the same, lovable and worthy. Flawed and imperfect. And marvelously human, adaptable and growing all the time. If you accept all parts of yourself, the good and the bad, you begin to feel such compassion for yourself and others as well. 

No person is better than another. We are all just doing our best, even if it seems like not everyone is trying. We actually are doing the best that we know. Try this belief on for a bit. When I really came to know this as true, it gave me so much peace. And ironically, my thinking and emotions evolved as I embraced this acceptance.

You are the BEST YOU right now. And that is enough. Let go of the struggle to become better. Accept who you are. Love and cherish your essence.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

TBT – Go easy on yourself

Throwback Thursday – an edited post from December 2017 that feels timely. 

This time of year can be difficult, especially for anyone dealing with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that may originate from the lack of light and lack of fresh air.

Symptoms I experience can include anxiety, the blues, and changes in my mood or appetite. Many of us have increased cravings for carbohydrates, and we may feel sluggish or have difficulty concentrating.

For several years, I have used exercise, dietary strategies such as a vitamin D supplement in the morning and magnesium at night. I try to get enough vegetables for their anti-oxidant properties and fiber, but in Minnesota nothing is fresh this time of year, so it can be difficult.

Getting enough healthy fats in my diet more recently has been a wonderful benefit to my health overall. I have learned more and more on how balancing our brain chemistry with healthy fats is really important.  “The Chemistry of Calm” by Dr. Henry Emmons, contains some wonderful advice there on how to overcome anxiety. He presents the information from both Western and Eastern traditions. I strongly encourage you to check it out if you want more scientific background on drug-free ways to overcome anxiety.

I still struggle with insomnia periodically, usually when the seasons change and/or when I am under stress. I know how important sleep can be for good healthy, so I try valiantly to get more, and sometimes it still eludes me.

compassion
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Over the years, I have learned some strategies which help. It is a learning process, and I have to accept that it takes some time to change old habits. I am undoing a pattern that was established (and possibly reinforced) for 25-30 years. I may not unlearn it overnight. But due to the remarkable neuro-plasticity of our brains, we are capable of training ourselves out of old patterns.

The biggest factor to remember is to have compassion for ourselves, and not to label ourselves as “anxious” or to consider ourselves flawed in any way. Instead of saying, “I am an anxious person” try instead: “right now I am struggling with anxiety and I am learning how to manage it.” Thus, the condition is temporary and not a part of our identity.

It is important not to identify too strongly with any label, as this may convince us we a permanent, unalterable condition. The truth is that we have far more capacity for change than any of us realize. And this learning how to manage our struggles is where wisdom is born. Nothing is wrong with us. This is the human condition.

About half of our life may be happy or joyful (or maybe slightly more). But about half of or life will be negative emotions. This contrast is what makes life so rich and interesting. If we can go easy on ourselves, realize that sadness and feeling down sometimes are a part of life, then we can truly appreciate the joyful moments.

Compassion for ourselves and for other people is really the engine that helps us live a good life. We sometimes have that inner critic that resists compassion, questioning if we deserve it, speculating that we do not. If we come from religious backgrounds where original sin was a big part of the emphasis, this may be harder for us.

It may take some time and practice to cultivate compassion for ourselves. But it is possible. And with this self-compassion comes the ability to have compassion for others as well. In this time of dark, cold, weather, that can go a very long way.

If you are struggling with SAD, anxiety or depression, please get help from a trained mental health professional, and/or seek support. It is not a time to “go it alone” when you are dealing with this stuff. Sometimes families are not as understanding, so try to find someone who can help you get the support you need.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com