yoga practice

Strength in Letting Go

Since the day after Christmas, I have been a yoga fiend. Recently I finished a 21-day challenge with 17 days of yoga. Yea me!  Not only has my practice helped with my body, but as in true yoga, it is improving my mind, actions and outlook. The concept is that the things we learn on the yoga mat are what we bring into our daily lives to make it better.

One big aha I had the other day is about strength and release. When I first returned to my yoga practice, I was out. of. shape. It had been years since I did yoga and months since I did any exercise. My body forgot what it was like to be used. At the first few classes, we would be put into one of the poses and told to hold the pose for a few breaths. As I tried to hold the pose, my legs would shake. Three breaths seemed like an eternity. I believed that I was not strong enough to do the pose. But I was wrong.

yoga practiceI wasn’t relaxed enough.

Last week I was working with my favorite instructor who likes to push me further and further into my practice. I got into a deep pose and was told to hold it. My leg began to shake like it did during the first few classes I took. I told the instructor that I was not strong enough yet to do the pose. He corrected me. It was not strength I was missing, but flexibility. My leg was shaking because my leg was too tight. What I needed to do was to release in order to find the strength to hold the pose smoothly.

This blew my mind.

Up until then my practice on the mat – and in life – was to push through the pain. I am a penguin ever marching to and from sea to survive. I have persistence and drive. I power through. In yoga, and in much of my life, trying to be too strong is actually a weakness. In my toughness, I was hardened and inflexible. I would exhaust myself, and sometimes those around me. As I released my Type A, much of this toughness dissipated.  But drive, strength, and hardened toughness are still my unconscious go-to behaviors when I am faced with a challenge.

Taking my lesson from the mat to my life, I learned that it helps to learn to let go. When things are tough, I need to release my fear, my doggedness, my rigidity. Instead of putting up a shield and preparing to fight, I am better served by relaxing into the conflict. When I notice myself toughening up, I intend to release the tension in my body and the walls in my mind. Instead of falling into my go-to drive, I will now ease into the strength that comes in stillness.

Spend this week noticing when you are tense. What triggered you? What are you trying to push yourself through? Then gently release the tension – in your body and mind. Maintain the core of your strength but let your muscles and attitude relax. See if in this state of ease that things are not resolved easily and efficiently – and more enjoyable way.

practicing yoga

A Bit of Self Care

I almost didn’t write a blog post this week, but then thought I would share what I am experiencing.

practicing yogaAfter a two-year hiatus, I started practicing yoga again. I love it. I enjoy it. It strengthens me. It helps be more flexible and centered. And, for those of you who do yoga, it can also be cleansing. After two months of dedicated practice, I am now experiencing a healing crisis. Basically, the yoga is doing such a great job helping me detox, that my body can’t keep up. My body can not release the toxins as quickly as needed. The result is a sort of a cold. Aches, pains, sneezing, and a host of other trying-to-detox symptoms.

At first, I thought I had a new food or environmental allergy. I tried to power through it. Then, with a friend’s help, I realized it was a healing crisis. Isn’t it wonderful to be able to label something so we can then deal with it? The first step to fixing issues is to step outside of the pain and look at things objectively. Once we can really understand what is happening and why, then we can address the problem and fix it.

The next step is to change our beliefs. At first, I resisted slowing down. Things are busy right now and I felt compelled to get everything done. But then I took the time to evaluate the responsibilities to which I committed myself. I looked at my to-do list and determined that no one was going to die if I didn’t take a day off. I changed my belief about what had to be done now and by me.

Finally, I granted myself permission to take care of myself in the way I was called. Friday was an afternoon writing for me, not for work. Saturday was my latest binge show (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries), a nap, and the treat of a massage. Giving myself time and permission to heal has, you guessed it, helped me heal. The result is a clearer mindset and a healthier body.

We Type A’s, caregivers, and overachievers have a hard time with the concept of self-care. Taking care of ourselves is an afterthought, if a thought at all. We look at our to-do list and try to power through it. We feel obligated to perform at a certain level no matter how we feel. We are weighed down and allow ourselves to be defined and controlled by our assumed responsibilities.

What is overwhelming you right now? Take a moment to determine if it needs to be done, if it needs to be done now, and if it needs to be done by you. Release unnecessary obligations for now, or assign someone else to complete them, or release them all together. Then grant yourself a bit of self-care, whatever that means for you. To serve others we need to be at our best. Therefore, we have to ensure that we are the first person on our to-do list. Once you are consciously choosing your responsibilities and ensuring proper care for yourself, see if you aren’t happier, more productive, and healthier.

are you late

Time is How You Look at It

On a recent visit to Chicago, friends were asking about living in Mexico. One topic that came up was time. I explained that if a contractor said they would come at 9am Monday, it may actually mean sometime Monday, but not necessarily 9am. It could also mean 9am Tuesday. Or it could be some time Wednesday or Thursday. My very Type-A friend gasped. She could not imagine someone not showing up on time, let alone my being ok with it. But things are different down here.

The BBC had a great article about how the way Mexicans speak Spanish shows their, dare I say, disregard for timeliness. Unlike Americans who believe time is money, Mexicans aren’t bound by time. I arrived on time for a baby shower a few weeks ago where the mother-to-be arrived a fashionable hour or so later. She was not being rude. In fact, most of the attendees showed up at that time or even later. That is just their flow. And I am getting used to it. In fact, now I praise one of the home services we have for punctuality because they are usually no more than 30 minutes late. They are dependable by local standards.

are you lateDoes this release of time make your head spin? Imagine for a moment that your schedule is not rigid. Does it sent you into a panic or release you? To me it is really about acceptance. As you know I am still a recovering Type A, but I have learned to accept the local culture. I may still arrive on time, but maybe I won’t. I don’t chastise others for being a tad – or more – late. Accepting a different way of living, adjusting my expectations for myself and others, has helped me reduce my stress.

Back in the 80’s I loved the band the Talking Heads. Their lyric, “Time is not holding us, time is not after us,” comes to mind. How often do we feel held accountable to time? Remember that we all agreed to what units of time are and what those units mean. Time itself is a construct. So why be held by it? How much is time holding you? Are you anxious about being late? Are you angry when someone else is tardy? Do you begin to panic when things are not exactly when they are planned to be? Do you find any joy in adhering to time or does it just cause you stress?

Look to your day and your schedule. Does it feel tight and rigid or free and flowing? Does being stuck in traffic cause you stress? What if you relaxed a bit? I am not saying you need to be an hour late for a board meeting, but what if you cut yourself and others some slack? What if you approached time a little more leniently? What if you relaxed your expectations? What if you accepted that others aren’t as punctual as you? What would really be the end result?

On most occasions, we are rigid with our time because we are afraid of loss. We are afraid of losing time. We are afraid of losing money. We are afraid of losing the respect of others. We are afraid the world will end if we are 15 minutes late. Yet more times than not, none of those negatives result. So why not try to let go? Start with a weekend day so it is not as scary and release yourself from time-bound expectations. See if you can’t find a little relief in releasing yourself from the prison of time.

awareness

What is Mindfulness?

If you are part of the Living Type Me Facebook Group, you will have seen a lot of posts over the past few months about the benefits of mindfulness. Many people have asked me what mindfulness is. I will attempt to answer their question here.

Merriam-Webster defines mindfulness as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” Basically, mindfulness means being aware of and controlling your experience. You are in the moment acting, not reacting, to life.

When we are not mindful, we speak without thinking. We allow our emotions to get out of control. We are worrying about the future or regretting the past. We feel the victim of circumstances, events, and others. Without mindfulness, we are a two-year-old child. We cry when our needs are not met. We don’t understand cause and effect. We expect others to take care of us. We can’t see past obstacles. We are powerless and overly emotional.

awarenessMindfulness is being aware in each and every moment. How often do you go about your day without really being present? Have you ever driven to work and not realized how you got there? Have you found words coming out of your mouth without realizing it? When you are mindful each action, word, and thought are conscious. Being mindful means taking responsibility for what we are thinking, saying, and doing – and if it is not the experience we want, we change it.

One parable to help with mindfulness is about a young monk at a monastery.  He sees a wise old monk and asks him for the key to enlightenment. The old monk says, “Wash your bowl from breakfast.” The young monk races to the kitchen with his bowl, washes it quickly, and then returns to the old monk waiting for his words on enlightenment. The old monk again says, “Wash your bowl.” Or as Yoda would say, “Be one with the bowl.” The message is that enlightenment is achieved through mindfulness. It is not until the young monk can be in 100% in the moment while he is doing something as simple as washing a bowl that he is fully mindful, and being mindful is the foundation for enlightenment.

I first learned about mindfulness by reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Two quotes from him which give insight into mindfulness are:

“In my walks, I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods if I am thinking of something out of the woods?” Thoreau is helping us be in the present moment. Be at work when you are work. Be with your family when you are with your family. Make sure your mind is where your body is.

“Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails. Let us rise early and fast, or break fast, gently and without perturbation; let company come and let company go, let the bells ring and the children cry – determine to make a day of it.” Nature is a great teacher of mindfulness. A tree in summer does not spend its day worrying of the winter. Forest creatures do not panic if the path is not clear; they adapt and flow with all that is brought to them. Nature teaches us to be present, be aware, don’t judge, and simply experience.

Is mindfulness clearer to you now? What questions do you have about mindfulness? How can you begin to become more mindful throughout your day?

Next week we will explore how to become more mindful.

mobile phone payment

When Responsibility Doesn’t Pay

After a year in Mexico, we have a much better read on the culture. When you make eye contact with anyone, say “hola” and wait for a warm greeting in reply. If a repairman says he will be there tomorrow, he will probably show up three to five days later. The most important law for driving is just don’t slow up the flow for the other drives. If you need something done, just ask around, “there’s a guy for that.” Relationships and being cordial are much more important than getting things done. Some of these items were easier than others to get used to. And now I learned of a new one.

mobile phone paymentMy husband and I have Mexican mobile phones on monthly plans. When we received the phone, we were told that we could pay at the TelCel store or any OXXO convenience store. So after one month, I went to the OXXO and paid for the next month. Or so I thought. I had paid the bill one day early so I was not “late” and would not lose service. But paying early does not put the payment toward the monthly plan. Instead the money I paid added minutes to my phone. (Which I don’t understand at all because we have unlimited talk so why would we need minutes, but that is a mystery for another time.) The result of being responsible and paying early was that I ran out of minutes and did not have phone service when I needed it. After laughing hysterically, this incident made me think. Where else in my life is being overly responsible and pre-planning hurting, not helping, me?

One way is when I jump into caretaker mode. When there are a group of people around me who I feel responsible for, I stop interacting with them person to person, and instead dissolve to into “mom” mode. I premeditate their needs. I worry about them taking a wrong step. I get caught up in the doing, and doing for them, and doing for them when it is not my responsibility. I become a servant instead of a friend. I give and give and give, even if they don’t want it, and I don’t allow myself to receive. The result is that I am no longer with them. I am no longer engaged. And I am no longer happy.

Taking this a level deeper, what it is really about is using control to dispel fear. I was afraid of losing my phone so I tried to control it by paying early. I was afraid of my friends being hurt or unhappy and tried to control it my being a helicopter mom. A better way to combat fear is to lean into trust and acceptance. I trust that I will have my phone available. I trust my friends to take care of themselves. I accept that things are not always perfect. I accept that everything will turn out well.

Where is your fear making you a control freak? How is your desire to control actually harming not helping? What would it look like to embrace trust and go with the flow?

spire

The Simplest Behavior that Matters

Buzzzz. What really? I am tense again?? Breath. Focus. Ah, back in the groove.

One of the things I work with my clients on is awareness, especially awareness around stress. The problem with stress is we often don’t notice it until it causes issues. By becoming aware of our stress early on, before it becomes too much, we can diminish stress and its negative effects.

In session, I play Monday morning quarterback with the client about their past week’s stress. When was she stressed? What triggered it? What could she have done to reduce the stress? After enough of these check-ins, the client begins to see her patterns and she gets closer and closer to catching herself in the act so she can choose differently. And now there is a tool that may be able to help.

spireFor a few months I tried out the new Spire and had a chance to talk with Spire’s co-founder Ph.D. Neema Moraveji. I love the premise of this tool as it helps people to catch themselves in the act. Worn close to the torso, the Spire monitors breathing. It registers as Focused when breathing is constant and steady, Calm when breathing is slower than normal, and Tense when breathing is faster than normal. Breathing is also tracked by time of day and location. At the end of the day, Spire can play Monday morning quarterback helping the user to see when and where they were triggered by stress, e.g., Tense. A nice feature is that it also vibrates in the moment when one is Tense or Calm alerting the user immediately so they can either make changes to their breathing or celebrate their chill status.

When I asked Neema how he came up with the idea of this tool, he mentioned something his mentor had said, “to change behavior, look at the simplest behavior that matters.” So many stress-reduction programs, diets, and other behavior shifters are complex with rules, procedures, regulations, and systems. But if it is hard to remember, follow, or execute it won’t be followed and no changes can be made. Instead, when you want to change your behavior, just look at the simplest behavior you can change to make a difference in your experience. In this case, Spire looks at breathing.

Be aware of your breathing. When it is fast and shallow, stop. Consciously slow down your breathing. Then watch how the tension in your body also reduces. Our breathing is something we can easily notice with our own awareness. And, powerfully, when we consciously shift our breathing, we can affect our experience with stress. A simple tool, breathing. Not only can it help alert us to stress, but it is also the means to reduce our stress. Easy. A simple behavior with a very big impact.

What is something you would like to change in your life? Your stress level? Your weight or energy level? Instead of starting a complex program to help you change, find that one simple behavior that can begin to have a positive impact. What can you easily notice and shift that will help you begin making a change? Think of it as a baby-step. Instead of committing to a long-term complicated program, choose one little thing to try. Then try it. Do it. Notice the impact.

What is your one simple behavior to shift?

 

 

**Full disclosure: I was given a free Spire to try before writing this post.