Tag Archives: mindfulness

Soma + yin

On Sunday I was getting ready for another work trip, this time to Mexico City and Guadalajara for the week. I had signed up for 2-hour soma and yin workshop at Tula Yoga in St. Paul and I am grateful that I made time for this.

Last November I had attended a similar workshop at Tula. I remember being surprised at the small movements making such a difference in how I was feeling in my body, particularly in my shoulders and lower back. We are so accustomed to “large” movements in our exercise classes. Sometimes we throw our bodies around a bit recklessly trying to keep up with our classmates.

Soma yoga has a therapeutic effect that is powerful, especially for those of us who have habitually “trained” our bodies to hold stress and tension. We may not even realize it, this type of tightness and tension that gets held in our muscles, and affects our fascia, that connective tissue that supports all parts of our body. I first noticed it when I began getting regular massages a few years ago. There is a knot in my upper back, near the shoulders that tends to grow and tighten up over time.

It feels awesome when it is “worked out” or today, as I was doing some shoulder movements I realized it released again. Goodness knows, we all have times when our bodies “hold” our tension, in an attempt to protect us from harm. But as we navigate our lives, which may contain stress and busy-ness, we may forget how to relax these muscles. The tension becomes what we think is normal, and as my favorite teacher, Ruth often says, it may not be that simple to relax.

We have every intention to relax, but if we have spent months or years holding tension for much of the time, it just may not come naturally anymore. I have become much more mindful through breath and through yoga practice when I am holding tension, or even holding my breath! Now that I now how to focus on the breath and observe it, even that can help me relax my body when I am in a “thought spin out” which I am learning to recognize.

After about an hour of soma practice, we finished with a yin portion, long holds of a few poses that were much easier to release after soma. Ahhhh, wow. Felt SO good. I typically take a yin class once a week, but with the soma preparation, I got so much more out of these long holds, and was able to release my body more easily.

I will have three travel days in the upcoming week before I return home next Saturday. I am grateful I had time to nurture myself this weekend with yoga. It is one of the best things I do to take care of myself, especially with these gentle and mindful practices. I am now ready to face the week’s challenges. Namaste.

 

 

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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.

Do you have a few minutes?

Happy February! To those of you who live in northern climates, we are three fifths through the winter, mas o menos.

Somehow when we get to February I always feel a surge of optimism. Spring is not so far away now, and those of us who get a little “cabin fever” this time of the year start noticing more light in the evenings.

Last February I started a habit of daily meditation. I had been meditating before that, and developing some consistency. But last year, I fully committed to a minimum of 5 minutes per day. It was a do-able goal, and I count my yoga sessions as part of my practice, so with 3 classes a week, that made the goal easier as well. This weekend I will celebrate an entire year consecutive days of meditation.

It has changed my life, particularly since I have struggled in the past with a.d.d. Meditation has helped me calm my mind and become less reactive to the “bouncing” thoughts. I can observe them and not follow them. I notice when I am caught in a story that I am spinning, and start to question whether that is even true. I hold less judgment about my mind, and more curiosity.

To those who have been thinking about starting a practice, I encourage you to start small. Literally commit to only 2 minutes the first time, focus on your breathing. It may not be easy at first! But then add a minute a day, and see how this changes the quality of your days overall. It may take a few weeks before you really start to notice benefits, so give it at least 30 days.

People used to tell me I needed to have at least 15 minutes for it. That was a big barrier. I simply could not imagine how I would fit that in every day. Now I average a lot more than that. But if I only fit in 5 minutes in the morning, and then get 10 minutes on a lunch hour, I still do it. It is not always easy, and sometimes I feel “too restless” to want to do it. But those are the times I am most likely to benefit, I now realize.

Last fall I read Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body (Goleman and Davidson). For a clinical researcher like me, I loved learning about experiments, past and present to demonstrate the value of meditation. The authors actually critique some of their early studies, the bias and the lack of proper controls. They review the field and conclude that yes, even with some flawed studies in the beginning, reliable science is beginning to emerge on the benefits of meditation.

If the idea of silent meditation is not your cup of tea, there are many guided meditations available at the Insight Timer app that I use. Jon Kabat Zinn has a book called Mindfulness for Beginners with some guided meditations that I really like also. Another resource that was great for me about 2 years ago when I first wanted to commit to practice was Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World.

For those of you who have a regular practice, I would love to hear how you got started. As I like to say about sleep, doing more of it is like a super-power! If only I had known when I was younger. But I know now. So I will continue to encourage people to try it, and see what works for them.

 

 

 

Noticing

I learned about a beautiful approach to the skill of mindfulness that does not involve meditation through an On Being conversation with Ellen Langer. She is a social psychologist who defines mindfulness as “the simple act of actively noticing things.”

I really like this conception of mindfulness because it does not require any special training or meditation practice. It is something that is accessible to all of us. It also helps us understand what it means to “be in the moment” when so many of us have practiced being in our heads and thinking rather than truly noticing.

Last March I was on a trip for work in which I accidentally packed my phone in my carry-on luggage. Leaving from the airport at MSP, I had my coat on, but once I was in airport, I decided to pack the coat in order to keep my hands more free while in the airport. Immediately through security I realized I was missing a phone, and I searched frantically for it, fearing the disconnection of not having it with me for a trip to Mexico.

I typically use my phone to consume podcasts, read emails and occupy myself with other things make the trip pass by faster. One of my fears has always been getting bored. On long car trips with my family I used to pack a bag full of books, confident that would get me through the hours of travel.

This time though, I had no distractions to take with me on the trip. It seemed like the universe’ way to show me what I typically miss while I travel: interactions with actual people, and the many things I can learn when I notice, when I pay attention. What I first noticed was that so few people make eye contact with one another anymore while they are rushing through the airport. So many are looking down at the phones rather than engaging with people around them. I get this. I am an introvert, and contact with all these people can be a little overwhelming.

I sat myself down for a little people-watching, something I always enjoyed when young.  It is a wonderful practice of noticing. One flight had just arrived, people were departing the gate, looking determined and hurrying along. An older gentleman in an old-fashioned cap was moving a little more slowly than some of the passengers. He looked around, feeling a bit lost perhaps, and overwhelmed at the number of people all gathered around the terminal, the passengers rushing to their next destination.

As I noticed his bright blue eyes we made eye contact. I allowed my eyes to stay with his for a couple of moments, instead of averting them as we Minnesotans are politely taught to do. And of course I could not resist a smile for him, as I felt empathy for his search for connection, for people to simply notice he was there. I was rewarded by a smile by him as well. Other people looking down at their phones or preoccupied by other things on their travel had not noticed him, but I did, and he returned the acknowledgement.

During that flight I ended up having a marvelous conversation with a woman who was an author, just returning from a speaking tour. She told me she rarely talks with people on a plane, but she said there was something different about me. She decided not to put her headphones on (as usual) but to instead have a conversation. As it turns out, I found out she had been a speaker for an event attended by my massage therapist. It is a small world.

After that incident, in which I ended up feeling so peaceful and present without my phone, I resolved to spend more time in airports like this. Instead of looking down and disengaging with the people around me, I take time to make eye contact, to smile and to be present. Many people seem to find it startling when I make sustained eye contact. I notice many of them look away at first, and then look back. When they realize I am still looking at them and give them a smile, they often return the smile.

It is a small gesture, to notice the people around us. But I believe we have a deep hunger for connection as humans. We may think we get this by staying connected, by having our phone in hand and instant communication at the push of a button. But what is sacrificed by disconnecting with the people around us and directly in front of us? 

I encourage you to do little experiments in noticing, at home, in the halls at work, in the airports when you travel. See what you discover. I promise you, it will be fascinating.

 

How do you show up?

How do you show up every day?

I was in Mexico this week to interview candidates for an open position on my team. The first candidate showed up a few minutes early, presented well, and I liked him. My colleague was assisting me on the interviews. We conducted the first half of the hour in Spanish and then, as my colleague had to excuse herself for another meeting, we spoke mostly in English. The candidate kept up and was very engaged in the discussion. I liked him right away and could visualize him being successful in the role.

Delusional kitty

The second candidate did not show up. Fifteen minutes after the interview was scheduled to begin, I asked HR if they had confirmed she would attend. When they tried to call her to find out if there was an emergency or she was running late, she did not answer. I found myself annoyed, but since I had some extra time to work, I finished up a few pending items on my laptop.

The third candidate was not due until 3:30 p.m. and since lunches tend to be on the later side here, I walked outside to lunch with 2 colleagues and were away from the office from about 1:15-2:30. I had a chance to visit with my local CRS and the clinical quality person for a while and finished more work.

At 3:25 HR dropped by to tell me the candidate had called to say she was in a meeting that ran over, but she could be at the interview 30 minutes late if I was still open to receive her. I told her yes. I appreciated the courtesy of the call. True, she probably should have scheduled more time between meetings or scheduled a later interview. But I am human, and I sometimes over-schedule my calendar. I appreciated at least her call and the option to reschedule or to meet her same day.

The interview itself started at 4 p.m. I was pretty tired at that point, and since I had not slept so well the night before (early morning insomnia) I was a lot less focused and engaged overall. My colleague who was helping had skipped lunch and was pretty tired, so we did not present or ask questions in an organized way. I liked this candidate. She was conversational and friendly, but I really was much less focused and present at that hour of the day. So I was less attentive to her answers.

Muerte con colores

The next morning, reflecting on the day yesterday, I was disappointed in how I showed up for that second candidate. True, she was late. And I shifted my schedule for her and my colleague had to stay later than she had planned as well. But I wish I had been able to give her the energy I had for the first candidate of the day. In my own mind, when I compare the two he stood out. But I was fresh then, and I was engaged in carefully understanding his answers to questions (especially since the first half was in Spanish so I had to listen closely).

I started considering what it means to truly “show up” for the work we do every day. How do we show up at our best for what we do? I know for me, I am better when I have had adequate rest, some quiet time in the morning for reflection, meditation and perhaps writing in my journal. Sometimes I have had time for a quick 20-30 minute run. Other times sleep beckons more than my need for exercise.

By the the end of the day, typically after about 3 or 4 p.m. my attention wanes. On a typical day, I make my list of tasks I will tackle in the morning when I am fresh and full of energy. I know this about myself, that I have always been a morning person.  From the time I was a baby my Mom told me that I was all smiles in the morning, happy to greet the day. This has carried over into my adulthood. My husband knows after about 8 or 9 p.m. I am “toast” in terms of brain power.

I am trying to make a decision on whether to extend an offer to one of the candidates that actually showed up for the interview yesterday. My own bias is toward the first one, but I am mistrustful of that bias. For one, I showed up fully for his interview in a way that I simply did not have the energy to do for the late-in-the-day appointment. Another: I am not sure he would be a great fit, he was just the best of the short-listed candidates HR had brought forward.

Rey at Target display

Clinical research is demanding and the medical device field requires a substantial amount of training before a CRS can be fully functioning in their role. It takes 12-18 months of focused training due to the contacts and networks you must develop to be effective. So every hiring decision is a serious one, and should not be taken casually.

I was first hired here as a contract employee. I worked for two years without benefits or paid vacation time. But there was value to figuring out whether I was a “fit” for this employer and for my department. It took me at least 3 months to figure that out as I was learning my role. I wish employers could more often have at least a 2-4 month period before making a longer term offer.

Once your employer sees you “showing up” day after day and getting the work done, actively learning and making contacts within the organization, it is easier to evaluate  long term fit. Interviews are typically 1-2 hours when you can put your best foot forward. While they are an important first step, they are an incomplete view at best. I will make a decision after thinking through the needs of the office, and my other employee already in Mexico.

You might consider asking yourself now and then:

How do you show up (at your best) in your interactions with people? Are there ways you can be more fully present in what you do? What difference would that make?

connection

 

 

WellBeing tools

Back in April of 2016 I attended a leadership development conference for Latino/as at my company in which we had a wonderful speaker, Scott Eblin. He spoke with us about the world we now experience, the constantly connected, over-scheduled, somewhat frenzied workplace, to which we all could relate. He spoke about the need to show up at our best every day as leaders, despite all these challenges. His message resonated with me and I eagerly listened to the audio version of his book Overworked and Overwhelmed: the Mindfulness Alternative. Life-changing for me. No exaggeration. During his talk he explained how our inability to breathe deeply, take breaks and re-engage our parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” response) was leading to some big health problems. His own personal story, about a diagnosis of MS, which led him to explore yoga as a way to deal with stress was a huge motivator for me to get more serious about my practice, going from 1-2 times a week up to 3-4 times a week on a regular basis.

Around the same time, I picked up a book by Tom Rath and Jim Harter called WellBeing: The Five Essential Elements. It was a time I did not feel particularly well, even though I was not exactly “sick.” I felt stressed, I felt overwhelmed and I was questioning whether the role I had taken the year before that as the clinical operations manager for an international team, was actually killing me. My weight was going up, and I was suffering from insomnia quite often. I was having a hard time figuring out how to manage it all. So I was doing what I know best: researching and reading all of the information I could get my hands on about how to make it better. I had also going to therapy every other week to get a handle on the stress and anxiety, and to work on other issues which I may write about at a later time.

The WellBeing book cited extensive Gallup data to look at various measures of quality of life that they determined are key to a life well lived and they found five broad categories that are essential to most people around the world. They are: Career WellBeing, Social WellBeing, Financial WellBeing, Physical WellBeing and Community WellBeing. If we are struggling in any one of these domains, as many of us do at some time in our lives, it damages our overall WellBeing and wears on our daily life. Though they do measure it specifically (probably because they are not so simple to measure), spirituality and faith often folds into these all aspects of WellBeing, because meaning and purpose drive aspects of all of these areas, in different ways across cultures and nationalities.

What I liked about the WellBeing book, probably because I am a Questioner, and I love data. I am a clinical researcher, so I collect data and analyze for a living. I loved that there was an assessment I could take to assess WellBeing in each of these areas. The premise of the book is that we can improve each of these areas by focusing on our daily activities and habits in a personalized way to make an impact on all of these aspects. There is also a daily tracker, and a monthly tracker to assess progress over time toward goals over a period of 6 months.

It is a very nice tool, and I decided to commit to raising my baseline WellBeing and paying particular attention to areas rated less than 70. The tool uses a scale for distinguishing degrees within zones of Thriving (70-100), Struggling (40-69) and Suffering (0-39). So tracking in each of these 5 categories over time, and paying attention to the areas that need work, one can actively work on their WellBeing with a reliable set of measures over time. There is a space on the daily tracker to record a “journal” entry, and there is also a reminder function to do the regular check-ins on a monthly cadence and to track daily (or every other day, weekly, etc). The daily tracker takes 2-3 minutes to complete.

Those of you familiar with Gretchen Rubin’s habit strategy of monitoring know that this can be a helpful way to make progress on a goal, and for a questioner like me,  it is important. Someone told me once that you get more of what you focus on – so if you focus on WellBeing, you probably will be able to develop more of it. Conversely, if you focus on what you lack in your life, you may find yourself stuck. But I digress. That is for another post.

Waterfall

What I notice looking back on 12 months of data from April 2016 to April 2017 (you can renew the subscription for tracking beyond the 6 months if you are a data geek like me) I find it fascinating because I notice 2 distinct jumps from the original baseline. Full disclosure: I started in the low to mid 70’s. One might think I was thriving, but I had a couple of areas in the “6” range and that revealed why I felt I was struggling in terms of overall WellBeing. The first jump occurred in August 2017 about three weeks after I decided to take a break from drinking alcohol.

I was not a heavy drinker, and usually had 1-2 glasses of wine in the evenings, but I was not happy that I seemed to desire a drink immediately upon getting home after work. It was becoming a daily occurrence rather than a occasional treat. So I felt it was an indicator that I was buffering some kind of discomfort or stress, rather than dealing with the cause of that stress. I decided I did not need to quit forever, but I definitely wanted to take a break from it. Interestingly, my monthly scores immediately shot up to the high 80’s in terms of overall WellBeing.

The next big break-through happened after going from high 80’s to low 80’s in December 2016 and then shooting up to low 90’s in January of 2017. That may correlate to work stress at year-end and then a vacation I took with my husband (then fiance) to Hawaii which was a lovely, restful and restorative vacation. It also correlated to having established more dedicated practices of meditation, yoga and journal-writing, all which I found contributed to the type of personal awareness and self-reflection that seems a key to my personal WellBeing. A focus on getting adequate rest and sleep daily have also been key, and weight loss has been a side-effect, and perhaps another barometer for my WellBeing. For everyone these factors are different, but these practices have been the most relevant for me, and have led to better eating, sleeping and overall commitment to self-care that allows me to take care of the other people in my life as well.

I stopped tracking in April 2017, not because it was was no longer helpful, but because I felt a year of practice and attention helped me understand and develop the skills to know what specific elements were most critical to my WellBeing. I took the assessment again today out of curiosity because I wanted to see where I am after time away from tracking. I am happy to see I am still in the 90’s although a few points lower than my last mid-90’s assessment. I may try tuning in for another 6 months to monitor and see if I can increase my levels of WellBeing even further, since I am curious and since the winter can be a struggle for those of us who enjoy the light of Spring and Summer.

This may be the first of a series, because I find it helpful to reflect on my own experience, and I am eager to share tools that may be helpful for others. Questions to you, my dear readers: What do you believe contributes most to your own WellBeing? Are there small changes you can make today in order to increase your overall WellBeing? Please comment below if you wish. I really enjoy getting your feedback.

 

Minimalism

I have a growing in interest in the minimalism movement, which probably began when I read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  In that spirit, I will try to make this a minimalist post. Though I suppose if it were haiku, it would be even more artfully minimalist (a goal for a future post).

Empty closet

Brooke Castillo has had a good amount to say about minimalism as well, and her podcast episode on minimalism is one I have enjoyed multiple times because it appeals to me on so many levels. Full disclosure: if you visit me my home, you will see that minimalism is an aspiration but not yet a lifestyle for me. I include my empty closet and my “outside the closet” photos in full disclosure here. Brooke describes a year-long trip that she took with her family in which they sold everything they owned, except what would fit into a foot locker and what they could take in their van. “Excess stuff weighs us down and causes us to have to make too many decisions.” (summarized) I really identify with this, as I think unnecessary clutter creates distractions that make us feel more busy than we actually are. In losing ~16 pounds this past year, I feel that process required me to de-clutter some of the old ideas in my mind.

I spent a lot of time this Spring and Summer going through the initial stages of the KonMari method, primarily working on the clothing portion of that de-cluttering process. I did not follow her exact process but instead started by taking everything out of my closet on April 9th and only putting back what sparks joy. I still have much to do in order to make progress toward this goal. One thing that I noticed was that I suffered much less decision fatigue while trying to get dressed in the morning. Last year I spent time trying to upgrade my wardrobe because I wanted to dress for the “next level” in my corporate job, and I had a lot of presentations to give, so I wanted to look sharp. This year, I find that I am donating many items, because I realize certain items I acquired do not fit my true style or my personality.

Outside the closet.jpg

KonMari describes our need to hang onto things as arising from an attachment to the past or a fear of the future. Amen, sister. I hope to return to this down-sizing and de-cluttering of so many things I no longer need, and are in fact weighing me down in indecision. I live an abundant life and do not need to keep things that no longer serve me. By letting go of my past and realizing I have limited control over my future, I have experienced so much more freedom to live a good life. It is a process, but one that is worth pursuing. I will return to this process again now that the weather is getting brisk again and I am less tempted by the outdoors to neglect the inner spaces.

May you, my faithful reader, minimize what does not work in your life, so you have abundant space for what brings you joy.