three leg stool

Three-Legged Stool

Yoga is part of my current daily practice. I have been learning many new lessons through the practice which I am bringing into my daily life. Today I would like to share with you three elements of yoga which can be the foundation of how you approach your challenges – on and off the mat.

A decade or so ago, I went briefly to a weekend workshop focused on finding your “one thing.” After the opening two-hour introduction, it felt like a cult and I high-tailed it out of there. The basics of the book and workshop were that if you found your “one thing” then you built your life around it. What I found funny was that some of the participants had been attending these workshops for years and either could not find their one thing or had changed it many times.

I think one of ththree leg stoole issues of the program was the focus on results and the physical world. The idea was to find a singular purpose, something tangible and achievable, and then create your life around that making it happen. Instead, what I have found in yoga and in my own life, is that a focus on ways of being allows a purpose to be revealed, evolve, and lead us on an amazing journey.

The three ways of being I am learning through yoga are: strength, balance, and flexibility.

Strength

For me, this one is easy. My Type-A personality is all about strength, perseverance, and making things happen. What I have had to come to accept about strength, is that I am not strong in all areas and that leading with strength is not always the best choice. I am learning my limits; where can and should I be strong, and what is not in my ability. As I flow more into Type Me, I also am releasing strength as my go-to tool and am learning to find other ways to approach life.

Balance

I write a lot about work-life balance, but balance is more than juggling the things in our lives. It is also about being centered. I am learning to be physically centered in my body on the yoga mat and out moving in the world. I am also returning to being centered in my mind and thinking. Balance is an inner strength and confidence no matter what is happening outside. It is calming the mind.  It is remaining still in the center of a storm.

Flexibility

When I think about flexibility, it is not giving in and bending over backwards for others. Flexibility is about remaining open; it is being a young branch swaying in the wind not an old brittle hardened stubborn branch susceptible to damage because of its rigidity. To be flexible is to be open to what we know and what we don’t know; being open to new opinions, personalities, and ways of living.

Strength, balance, and flexibility work together to create a powerful way of being. If we are only strong, we may become exhausted or rigid. If we only focus on balance, we may never move forward. If we only choose flexibility, we may be swayed too much by the wants and needs of others. When we use all three legs of the stool, strength, balance and flexibility, we create a strong foundation for living.

walking in anothers shoes

Walking in Another’s Shoes

I watched a terrific TED talk the other day by an individual who has a unique view on gender issues and authenticity. Paula Williams started life as a man and is now a woman. Due to her experiences, Paula has a very unique view of both genders and has experienced firsthand that they are equal, but there is not equity for both. She shares funny and sad examples of bias and favoritism. She said she lived life from both sides and the “differences are massive.”

I’ll let Paula’s message focus on the gender issue. What I want to focus on is our assumptions and unconscious bias, and the power we give away to others.

Releasing Assumptions

walking in anothers shoesPaula has a unique opportunity to really learn what it really means to be and experience life as a woman, and a man.  For most of us, we only know what we know as our gender. We can have an idea of the injustices and differences but can’t know firsthand how both genders experience life. This is true for almost everyone we meet. We all have unique journeys. We are born into different bodies and different environments. We learn and experience different things growing up. It becomes all too easy to dislike or attack another because of one aspect we see. Yet, we don’t know the full picture. Unless you can truly walk in another’s shoes, you will never know what they experience, think, and believe. We can assume, but our assumptions are clouded by our own experiences and beliefs.

Next time you have a disagreement or negative reaction to another, stop. Step back. Try to look at the big picture of who this individual is, where they came from, and if other issues they may be experiencing may be coloring their actions. So much of the online and offline rage and arguments we see are based on assumptions and “the other.” When we can release our own bias, it allows us the space to see the full picture of the other person – and start an intelligent dialogue.

Empowerment

For those of you who are struggling with self-esteem and your voice, Paula has some great words of encouragement. I have experienced people throughout my life, and even recently, who sought to put me down and belittle me in one form or another. If we hear – and take in – this negativity for too long, we can start to believe it and take it on as our own. No matter what others say about you, remember that you are intelligent and worthy. Stay true to yourself. Stay true to what you know. Don’t question yourself just because others do. The key to strength and power is to believe it inherently. When we look to others for approval and confirmation, we have already given away our power. Reclaim your strength by owning it.

As you go about this week, notice the assumptions you have about others. How much do you really know about them? Can you identify and, hopefully, release your bias? Who are people who make you doubt yourself? Why are you triggered by them? What do you need to own about yourself? This week, follow Paula’s lead and honor the journey and the differences of others, and yourself.

I, Tonya

You Have a Choice

One of the films I saw at the Cabo San Lucas International Film Festival was I, Tonya. After the Golden Globes where Allison Janney rightfully deserved an award for her portrayal of Tonya’s mother, a lot of people were upset that a movie “promoted” someone who did something bad. Interesting how this did not happen for the Wolf of Wall Street, Good Fellas, Gangs of New York, Blow, and a host of other movies with real life portrayals of male bad guys. But I digress.

I, TonyaWhat I noticed watching the movie was the effect of what we learn and experience as children, and adults, has on how we look at life and how we make choices in our lives. Just the other day I spoke to someone in job transition. Many years ago, one of his co-workers sabotaged his career. For the years following, he had a string of short-term jobs where he walked through the door looking for the person who was going to do that to him again. He was looking for the fight. He was defensive and scared. Can you imagine how his bosses and co-workers would react to him? The result was he replayed the event again and again in job after job.

After seeing the I, Tonya, I was telling a friend how it was a brilliant telling of not only the Tonya Harding / Nancy Kerrigan memorable event, but also the back story of why Tonya is who she is. Regularly beaten and unloved by her mother, abandoned by her father, and abused by her husband, the undereducated Tonya was not positioned to be the best person. It does not excuse her actions, but it can explain how her experiences led her down the wrong path. She expected others to hate and attack her, so sometimes she even created situations to provoke them.

My friend replied that his father beat him too. He said it lead him to become tough and fight when he was young too. But then he realized he was no better than his father and made a change. Now he is a very kind, hardworking, intelligent multi-lingual man (Portuguese, Spanish, French, English) who has a lovely wife and terrific plans for the future. He started on a similar path as Tonya, but made different, healthier choices.

Sometimes the trials of our lives do not play out in how we interact with others, but how we treat ourselves. The other day I saw an interview with Roxane Gay the author of Hunger. At 12 years old, she was gang raped. Her response was to gain weight to defend herself and make herself unattractive and therefore not a target. This led to a major weight problem. Which then led to the telling of her story which in turn provides the tools for many others to heal. She turned her protective personal choice into a tool to help others in similar situations.

We are all given challenges in our lives, some more intense than others. Our goal is not to stay in the role of victim continually recreating our pain, but to learn from it and change the course of our lives. I have been given some challenges in my life, nothing as intense as the others in this post, yet experiences which initially had me mirroring those that hurt me. Part of my personal growth was in noticing how I was continuing the cycle and consciously choosing to stop it.

What challenges have you been given in your life? What incidents changed the way you approach life, others, and yourself? Have you moved past the incident or are you doing things to create it again and again?

top stress events

Stress Levels

A few months ago, I wrote a post about handling life’s top stressors which included a link to determine one’s personal stress level. To date, this unscientific survey has uncovered that almost 20% of respondents are experiencing high levels of stressful events. The remaining respondents are fairly split between medium and low amounts of stressors. Changes in living situation, health, and working or financial conditions are some of the most widely experienced stressors, as are vacations and major holidays.

For you lucky ones who have a low amount of stress due to life events, congratulations!  You are free to stop reading and go back to enjoying your life.

top stress events
Top Stress Events

For those experiencing medium to high stress based on life event stressors, it is time to look at your stress coping tools to ensure you have them, are using them, and that they are helping you through this time. We may not be able to control the stressful events that come into our lives, but we can control how we handle these stressors. The key is to recognize your stress triggers, how you personally respond to stress, and then use your tools to minimize the effects of stress.

When we are in the midst of stressful situations, we may feel like we do not have bandwidth to learn how to react any differently. But that is not true.  Three simple tools to take back your life from stress no matter what you are experiencing are outlined in this free online course. Even in the most challenging situations, these tools can help you center, clear your mind, and stop being a victim to the stressful event. You have the power to reduce the effects of stress and it does not take much time or effort to get started.

Many of the respondents to the survey noted that changes in work conditions, work hours, and work responsibilities are current stressors in their lives. We often spend more time at work than home, so learning how to reduce and manage stress in the workplace is very important. Improving our stress levels at work improves our health and well-being while also improving productivity for our businesses. Plus, when colleagues all understand how to identify and manage stress they can become coaches for each other to help prevent and minimize the effects of stress in the workplace creating a more peaceful collaborative atmosphere. Because of the immense need and the amazing benefits, I now help bring some stress relief to small businesses, Fortune 500 companies, and association members through customized virtual workshops, online self-study courses, and check-in group meetings.

If you have not taken the stress inventory survey yet, check it out to grow the awareness of how current life events are affecting the amount of stress you are experiencing. Become aware of how you react to stress. Without awareness you can not make any changes. At one time or another, we are all affected by stressful situations. They are unavoidable. What is avoidable is adding unnecessary stress to our experience because we are not prepared to handle the event. Whether personally or through your business, is it time to take learn how to better manage your stress?

Marlboro Man

New Masculinity

While waiting for the next viewing at the Los Cabos International Film Festival, I overheard a couple talking. He said, “I’m sorry if I am not a real man. I don’t like sports. I respect women. And I don’t want to fight to prove myself.” I wanted to give him a hug. He is a real man. At least the type of real man I want to be around. Unfortunately, there was sadness in his words. Even though I would say he is more man than most, I could tell he felt like a failure, like the odd ball, as if he was not as worthy because he did not fit the stereotype of masculinity.

All of the recent sexual misconduct accusations are bringing to light what is expected in order to be a real man. A real man is supposed to objectify women. He is supposed to forcefully take what he wants. He is supposed to domineer and oppress. Throughout boardrooms and backrooms, men brag of their conquests to prove their virility through the abusing and minimizing women. In order for them to feel worthy, they need control and suppress women.

Marlboro ManThe stereotype we have created for men is not only the need to be misogynistic, but that they also need to be amazingly strong, resilient, and without feeling. Our films, media and society still promote and honor the tough silent man, that man without emotions and whose sole purpose and worth is to protect and provide. It is a lot to ask of someone; to be the savior who has to brush off any compassion and support. How many times are boys told “real men don’t cry” or to “toughen up”? When I look at the men involved in mass shootings, it is usually a man who has a history of violence against women. We did not teach him how to use words, so he uses guns. Talking about his emotions is weak, so he kills to stop the pain. This is not an excuse but an explanation. We as a society boxed men into a role and way of being that does not serve them or others.

In light of the accusations and mass shootings*, it is becoming more and more apparent that previous expectations of what a man is are changing. But to what? I read a terrific article by a gender specialist who explores the power struggle between men and women and how female empowerment is often seen as a loss for men. But it doesn’t have to be. The empowerment of women is also the freeing of men. Allowing them to define who they are and how they act; to release them from feeling the need to objectify and rule women to be strong; and to allow them to have feelings, express emotions, and be heard, not ostracized.

I’d like to applaud the man in the theatre the other night. He is a real man, and the man I hope many men will allow themselves to become. To help the men in your life redefine and embrace a new role for men, check out the Good Men Project.

*Note: Many factors are involved in the recent shootings. What I express here is only one to be addressed.

sisyphus

A Break From Routine

Monotony. Dealing with the same challenges, the same tasks, the same routine day after day, week after week, can increase our stress levels.  We are Sisyphus trapped, more likely doomed, to experience the same thing again and again and again without finding success or relief. Redundancy without resolution in our daily work can dull our minds sending us into depression.

Can you relate?

I can.

sisyphusI had been in a bit of that negative groove this past August. Days were the same. The side work I do became monotonous and not challenging. Some personal situations were trying. Every day seemed like the last day. I was in a funk. Lidia helped me out of it.

Lidia is, of course, Tropical Storm Lidia who blew in to wake me up. After moving past the anxiety of the storm, what I noticed is that Lidia forced me out of my routine. Work stopped due to lack of internet. The personal squabbles that seemed important fell to the wayside. And most importantly I learned that doing physical labor, taking care of necessities, and helping others is, was, and ever will be what life is really about. In returning to the basics of survival – ensuring food, keeping clean, and repairing shelter – I returned to myself and who I truly am. Breaking out of routine, turning off the computer, and doing some honest physical labor switched off the negativity and brought me back to life.

You don’t need an extreme weather situation to get you out of your funk. Adding these few things to your week can help you break from routine and break free from the negativity of monotony.

Change It Up: Much of our life we are on autopilot. Do things a bit differently to break up the monotony. Take a different route home. Try a new food. Change the order of your daily tasks. See how the change of pace releases you.

Get Physical: So much of our current lifestyle is sedentary and cerebral. Get out of your head and away from the computer. Put your hands in the dirt. Take a walk. Cook. Create. In doing physical actions with your whole body, find relief from the negativity in your head.

Make It About Others: When we spend our days replaying our own challenges, we create a groove of negativity which is hard to break. By supporting others, we stop playing our sad story, breaking us free from its hold. Compassion towards others minimizes our own challenges.

Back to Basics: Much of our days are filled with worries we have created. – Why aren’t people “liking” my Facebook post? I can’t believe it has taken more than 48 hours for Amazon to deliver my iPhone. Why has Starbucks stopped service pumpkin lattes? – Stop. Take a moment to look at the core things that are really important in life. You have family and friends, a roof over your head, and nourishment. Being grateful for the small things can make a big difference.

Laugh and Love: When it comes down to it, laughing and loving are the most important aspects of life. Be sure you are getting – and giving – daily doses.

When your days feel heavy, boring, and redundant, try out these tips. By returning to what is real about life, you will find that the old boring routine holding you down has been reinvigorated.