doing a headstand

Embrace the Challenge

Before moving down to Mexico, I would occasionally go to a gentle yoga class or do a few poses suggested by the Wii video game. When I first moved to Cabo, I had a practice of my own, for about a day. Truly for the first two years in Mexico my practice was non-existent. Finally, just after Christmas 2017, I knew it was time to get back into yoga.

Let me tell you, the first month I started back up, I was surprised at how bad I had become at yoga. Ok, so there is supposedly no good or bad to yoga, so let’s say that I had very limited flexibility, balance, and strength. It was a struggle for me. And I was angry at myself for slacking and at my body for not cooperating. I was disappointed at my abilities and was really hard on myself.

The 8am classes I attended are challenging, and I often felt like a floundering walrus doing the moves instead of a graceful swan. Toward the end of this style of class, the focus is on backbends and inversions. I remember the first time I heard, “If headstand is in your practice, go into it now.” I can imagine the incredulous look that passed over my face.  Needless to say, headstands were not in my practice. When I looked around the room however, most of the class had their feet in the air before I realized what had been said.

doing a headstandAs the morning class was the one I attended, my nemesis – the headstand – was ever present. The first few classes, I didn’t even try. I hid in child’s pose or tried to blend into the corner. Eventually I realized that headstands were part of the usual routine and that I could not get away from them, so I started to do the beginner version, the rabbit. I felt stupid with my tush in the air and my head and knees on the ground looking less like a rabbit and more like a discarded wad of gum. But it was more progress than not trying at all.

And, as usual, when I am hard on myself, I push myself to get better. I continued going to classes. I participated in the 30 days of yoga challenge in March. Little by little my strength, flexibility, and balance started growing the more I practiced. I started to learn that yoga was more of a mental journey than a physical challenge. I learned that getting well sometimes means getting sicker first and that there is strength in letting go. I learned the importance of balance on and off the mat and how to let go of self-judgment.

As I started to see my physical ability improve, I gave myself a challenge. My goal was to be able to do a headstand by my 50th birthday. This gave me over a year to reach this goal. My yoga instructor laughed at me. “Headstands are easy. You won’t need that long.” I mocked her. Did she not see my age, strength, and physical inability? I thought this was a Herculean task and she saw it as easy as tying my shoes.  Little did I know at the time that the issue was more mental than physical. The instructor thought fear was holding me back, but it was actually due to disbelief in myself and a tendency to keep myself down (in this case, physically as well as mentally).

It took me from April until June to do my first, albeit assisted, headstand. It was ugly, but I did one. Afterward, I started to do them with more strength and poise. I was no longer flinging myself in the air, but I was controlling my movements as I got into and out of the pose. Yes, I had strengthened my neck and core over the months, but the real reason I was able to do the move is that I took advice from my friend Catherine Johns and spent time outside class visualizing doing it. I overcame my body by first overcoming the limiting beliefs of my mind. The achievement of doing the pose gave me a strength in my body and mind that I don’t think I have ever felt.

What do you think is impossible in your life right now? It is time to take baby-steps toward your challenge?

a wish

A Wish Comes True

Talking with friends the other night, the topic of ayahuasca came up. Ayahuasca is a medicinal cactus used by shaman in South America to aid emotional, spiritual, and physical healing. I was the only one who had a personal experience with ayahuasca, so when I returned home I pulled the passage from my book about my first experience to share with my friends. I don’t know if they gained insight into ayahuasca, but I realized something amazing. I got what I wanted.

Ten years after my amazing trip to Peru, I discovered I have what I asked for. During that trip I wanted to be released by my apparent failures and disappointments. I wanted to create a new definition of what success looked like to me. Not a definition of a new career, an amount of money in my bank account, a new home, or any other tangible thing. But success which took “the form of being true to myself, having a pure heart, being grateful, finding time to be in nature, being positive, calm, and peaceful, and taking care of my body. I wanted to be a joyful Peruvian, not a stressed-out American.” Now, on most days, I have what I requested. Got the country wrong, but the intent is the same.

a wishIt was not an easy path. During the transition, I quit a stable position, was laid off from the next, and struggled with starting my own business. I experienced the exhaustion of caring for the dying, and the pain of losing them. I made good choices, bad choices, and really bad choices. I parted with friends who were not on the same path. I sold almost everything I owned and moved to a new country. I worked through struggles, challenges, and doubts of being in the right place but not quite the right place. I worked and worked and worked on my emotional and physical health.

After a decade of growth, the way I live and approach my life is completely different. I feel successful when I spend the day calm, centered, and compassionate. I have learned, and am still learning, how to be true to myself and take care of my mind and body the way it needs it. And I continue to work through the relationship challenges that appear again and again. Part of this is being an empath who easily takes on others’ energy and emotion without knowing it, and my background which taught me to care for others above myself. As I enter 2018, my goal is to learn to recognize, focus on, and fulfill my own needs and wants; to create strong boundaries against toxic individuals to keep them from infiltrating my actions and experience; and to spend my days focused on gratitude and compassion.

As we reflect on the last year, or even the last ten, take some time to redefine success for you. What would bring you peace, joy, and happiness? How do you need to be to feel complete? What do you need to experience to make you whole? Instead of struggling for things outside of yourself – money, fame – choose the hard road of working on the things inside yourself and see how your life can shift for the better.

from type a to type me: how to stop doing life and start living it

Make Breathing Your Most Considered “To-Do”

Guest blog from Nancy Chadwick Burke. Original can be found here.

“Breathe, just breathe, c’mon now, here we go. Breeeaathe.”

How many times have I told myself this or others have had to tell me? I’m driving in the car, seatbelt fastened, both hands on the wheel, my mind’s dialogue spins fast, my breath is short and shallow. Whether on my way to the next agenda item, feeling anxious or just nerves have plagued my mind and body, I could use some deep breathing.

Maybe you are a Type-A person, competitive, ambitious, impatient, aggressive, running through the day’s busy-ness, all the while unaware of your shallow breathing. The tension alone from these tendencies sends signals for increased shallow breathing. Actually, you were probably unaware of anything internal, just relying on auto-pilot. I find the least considered “to-do” is the most important – breathing.

The typical person only uses around twenty percent of their lung capacity. Diminished lung capacity is an easy thing to achieve, something we don’t even think about. But what would happen if we used our entire capacity for breathing? What if we paid attention to our inhales, making adjustments to breathe more deep? This concerted effort results in more awareness and being more conscious of our bodies.

Healthy breathing affects all our body’s systems: immune, circulatory, respiratory, nervous, digestive – to name a few – calming and improving functionality. The mental and emotional side to healthy breathing cannot be left out, lowering stress levels, enhancing sense of self and awareness.

from type a to type me: how to stop doing life and start living itI find there is a little “Type-A” personality in all of us. According to Melissa Heisler, author of “From Type A to Type Me,” Type A’s hyperawareness is usually focused outside themselves; they are aware of everything external. I believe if you don’t practice healthy breathing, you won’t be aware of your internal system. Your mind and body will lack a connection. If you are disconnected how can you focus on your life path and the experiences you have?

Melissa says a foundational tool to help you become more aware is what she calls the State of Gray. This idea resembles other terms, “being in the now,” “doing nothing,” “refusing to obey the voice of knowledge,” “mindfulness. This State of Gray, a peaceful space between black and white thinking, has three components: turn off, release and surrender.

First, turn off all outside stimulation. Then release, consciously, tension, pain, tightness in your body. Allow yourself to be comfortable. Rest. Release thoughts. Lastly, surrender.

I understand this sounds easier said than done and it is a challenge. But there is one thing lacking here that you must do to get you through the steps, breathe, consciously and deeply. That will get you to what Melissa says plainly, “Just be,” in calm and quiet.

When are we not doing something – talking, thinking, imagining, listening, eating, moving? Meditation, yoga, guided imagery, self-hypnosis, or even prayer are some of the ways we can achieve State of Gray, according to Melissa. I can only suggest what worked for me, an analysis-paralysis over-thinker.

I have always been a shallow breather, an admittance I never realized until I got older and switched my exercise regimen from high aerobic output to more body focused with yoga, strength training, flexibility and core development. My unhealthy breathing was holding me back. Conscious and deep breathing enabled me to achieve the benefits from these practices taking the participation of my entire core capacity, lungs, belly and ribs.

I learned to apply this to many of my tasks throughout the day. As my memoir manuscript, “Under the Birch Tree,” continues construction, conscious breathing has gotten me through many writing sessions. In my quest to break through untimely writer’s block, my 10 minutes consists of stepping away from my computer, breathing deeply and releasing anxiety and the pressure to get it all done. This time-out enables me to refocus, think more clearly and be more productive and efficient at my task at hand.

Effective breathing takes practice, like yoga, where with each repetitive doing gets you that much better at it. So now what? What also can I do with this valuable tool called breathing? Find your State of Gray or allow it to find you. Conscious breathing and State of Gray go hand-in-hand. I couldn’t do one without the other. In a designated secluded, quiet spot, I allow myself to turn off all outside stimulation, focusing on my “to-do.” And then I become aware of my breath. I focus on the breath and relax, slowing down. I get comfortable, calming myself. And then the release, letting go tension, tightness and any pain held within my body. With my release, my breathing automatically turns deeper, filling my belly, expanding my lungs to the sides and back. After several breaths, I can’t help but to surrender and just be. I agree with Melissa. The state IS just like floating. The breathing is conscious and in turn allows me to be supported.

This mind – body connection is the most powerful thing we have. You don’t have to have Type-A tendencies to practice healthy breathing. You just need to practice healthy breathing, consciously.

Now I don’t need to have someone look at me and tell me to breathe, knowing the air surge will quell nerves, soften my anxiety or help me to focus. Anyone can start conscious breathing, even while driving in the car.



judges gavel

Accepting Where You Are

“Now that I am trying to change, I don’t like who I am.”

At some point, many of my clients say this or something similar. When they finally see a new way to be, but are not yet capable of acting that way, they begin to attack themselves.

judges gavel“I am a horrible person.”

“Being this way is bad.”

“It is wrong to act like this.”

These thoughts are natural, but not helpful. There are some very simple ways to begin accepting who you are so you can move into who you want to be.

See the Truth

When I work with individuals who are trying to lose weight, the first step is for them to truly see and accept where they are. Yes, they may have twenty more pounds than they would like, but that is the truth of the situation. If they constantly think they should be different than they really are, no changes can be made. We must first accept where we are before we can make changes.

Stop Labeling

We are often our worst critics. We will tell ourselves how bad, wrong, or horrible we are. This is also not seeing the truth. When we belittle ourselves we are judging ourselves based on our perception of right and wrong.  Judging also makes us stuck. We feel a powerless victim to the label. Instead, reframe your actions as being helpful or unhelpful. This frees you to make changes.

Love Your Shadow

We all have positive and negative aspects. Sometimes a positive, like being a Type A, can become a negative when it is out of control. See yourself as a whole person with shadow and light. One cannot exist without the other. Know your shadow and work to manage it instead of sentencing yourself to unhappiness because you have a shadow.

Celebrate Your Progress

Take a moment and see where you started. Yes, you may not be where you want to be, but how far have you come? Celebrate what you have already accomplished and be grateful for your progress knowing that there is more and better to come.

Is Worry Holding You Down?

My husband and I love the Baja Peninsula visiting it frequently over the past few years. On September 14, 2014, Hurricane Odile hit. With no phone or internet service it was days and in one case a week before we heard from our friends who live there. Without communication, I became obsessed with any reports I could get from the area. I looked at photos of damage. I worried about the lack of food, water, and electricity. I concerned over my friends safety as desperation looting began. That week I was also hit with a massive cold.

Mike and Tori's House after Hurricane Odile
Mike and Tori’s House after Hurricane Odile

You see worry was holding me down. Every time I wondered where they were and if they were safe, it hit my immune system. Every time I looked at a report with the damage, it brought down my positive attitude. The result is my feeling poorly physically and mentally. The entire week I was out of sorts and unproductive. And most importantly, this attitude did nothing for my friends.

A better choice in this situation would have been every time the hurricane and my friends came to mind, to take a moment and surround them with love and protection. Instead of thoughts of what if and worst case scenario, I could have imagined them safe. These thoughts would have kept me centered and in a space to look for ways to support my friends as well as maintaining my normal weekly necessities. The positive energy being sent through the airwaves would have also positively affected all those in the wake of the hurricane.

As you go through your day, where are you experiencing worry? Instead of dragging yourself into the negative, what happens if you stop to take a moment to surround all those involved with love and hope? How does it change your mood? How does it change your outlook? How does it change how you address and handle the difficult situation?

If you would like to help those recovering from the hurricane, here are a few sources.

Cabo Relief Fund

Feeding Los Cabos Kids

Water Filter Distribution

Los Cabos Humane Society