Tag Archives: yoga

For Your Eyes Only

Many moons ago I was a somewhat serious student of Yoga.  I recall one particular class I was taking from a familiar teacher but in a new environment, thus, I didn’t know any of the other participants.  As we began to get into our poses, I recall looking around at others to see how I was doing in comparison.  My teacher, Lynn who knew me well, came over to adjust my posture and said with a kind but stern tone, “Keep your eyes on you own posture”.  She added for the rest of the group a few lines about the importance of inward focus and that it was not helpful to let our eyes wander and compare out posture to the performance of others.

Yoga is the practice of holding poses to increase self-awareness.  Its rewards include insights about how we trap energy rendering it helpless in facilitating own healing.  Yoga teaches us how to become aware of those blocks and to apply release in very specific ways.  It requires our attention.

 Yoga is also a metaphor of the rest of what we do in life.  How often I could use a “Lynn” around to remind me when I get dressed in the morning to not look around in my mind’s eye to see what I think other people will say about my clothing or my hair.  I could benefit from someone who would refocus me when I start to think about how my writing may impact this person or that.  She might say “Write what your heart tells you to write and don’t look around”.

I often notice that when I find myself discovering some juicy piece of information about another person and I go into judgment mode without thinking, a couple of things routinely result.  First, I don’t feel very good about myself and second, I usually lose track of the information pretty quickly because in reality, it serves me no purpose.  This doesn’t happen because I’m particularly enlightened, but the simple truth of the matter is that, when another person has done or not done something or anything, it really doesn’t have an impact on my life.  If Susan gets an awful haircut, Susan has to look at it every day until it grows out; not me.  If Pete wins the lottery, it’s unlikely he is going to share it with me so why should I spend time contemplating his advantages.

Even though we know this in our rational minds, more often than not we waste energy trying to anticipate how others are going to react to some aspect of us.  Sadly, we allow those anticipatory thoughts to become rules that dictate our behavior.  How unfortunate to make a decision to not allow ourselves an experience of joy because we feel someone else might have a reaction that, they will in all likelihood, either fail to notice or forget about moments after they do.  How sad to expend enormous amounts of energy only to gain the same pointless outcome.  How silly are we to make decisions of what to buy, eat, where, spend time based on others decisions, or worse still, our perception of their decisions.

Wayne Dyer said “If your voice was the only one you ever heard sing, you would think it was beautiful singing”.  How unfortunate that it becomes less than beautiful because you hear someone else begin to carry a tune.  Why must theirs be better instead of merely “not yours”?

For today consider practicing keeping your eye on only your own pose.  See how much enjoyment you can get from looking at your own actions as the only ones on the stage with no one else to judge or compare them against.

 

A Beautiful Monkey Mind

If you’ve been reading for a while you might wonder why I have been referencing old movies.  We’ve been trying to introduce our kids to them over time.  We want them to know the origin of some of the catch phrases and slangs that still linger, and we want them to enjoy some of the old stuff.  Not long ago we watched A Beautiful Mind, which still remains one of my favorites.

One of the parts which sticks out for me in that movie, is when John Nash realizes that the little girl never gets any older.  One of his recurring hallucinations involves his former roommate at college and the roommate’s young niece.  Although neither the roommate nor the child ever actually existed, they frequently appeared to Nash.  After treatment and medication Nash begins to realize that no matter how much time passes, the little girl never gets any older.  This epiphany helps him to realize that she isn’t real, despite his feeling her real in those moments.  In delusions, fantasy and imagination they can remain the same, but in real life, children age.

It made me think about a variety of things that we as humans cling to in an attempt to bring order to chaos, and comfort to our aches.  Feelings come and we develop stories out of our imaginations to cope with those feelings.  But those actions often require more details to make the story more real and sustainable for us.  Let’s say I’m having a party today.   I notice a feeling of discomfort.  Perhaps I’m merely tired.  But the chatter begins.  “I don’t feel optimistic that many people will come.  I can look outside and see some clouds.  I tell myself that it will probably rain.  Remember that other time you planned a party and it rained and the guests all got wet coming and going and it made everyone crabby?  And some of them left early because they didn’t want to get caught driving home in the rain.  It’s still early enough, I can just cancel the party now.  But then people might be mad at me because it spoils their plans.  And then….

This is brain chatter.  Buddhists call this “Monkey Mind”.  It’s the constant babble that plays incessantly in our brain.   We talk to it, and it talks back to us.  None of it has to be particularly “real”, but it can certainly occupy a lot of our time and energy and influence our actions and feelings.  One of the biggest dilemma’s I see with Monkey Mind is that just like Nash’s child never getting any older, our stories never progress.  While the subjects may vary, the process of the continuous loop stays the same and never really matures into anything useful. It can’t grow up because it is not informed by the present moment.  It lives in the past and the future, but not in the present.

To be in the present is to, as Carolyn Myss says, “Call your spirit home”.  It means to consciously choose not to give the Monkey Mind power to ramble on as much as it likes.  Being in the present is to notice where you are and what you are doing at any given moment.  This isn’t a permanent state to achieve, but rather an ongoing effort to keep bringing yourself back at the point you become aware you’ve left.  Like breathing, you don’t simply do it once and then you’re done.  You do it over and over, day after day. While breathing is automatic, you can also consciously alter your breathing if you choose.  You can speed it up, slow it down and break the automatic cycle.  The same is true of your thoughts.  They are yours, not the other way around.

Meditation is of course, the best way to practice developing this skill.  But its lack of appeal and difficulty turn people away from trying to practice.  So instead of saying, “Oh I can’t or don’t want to meditate for two hours a day so I won’t do this”, let’s consider another approach.  How about trying mini meditations in whatever it is you are doing.  So if you are washing dishes, stay present with washing dishes.  Don’t allow your mind to drift back into how dinner was, or shift forward to what you need to do when the dishes are done.  Instead, notice the water, how it feels on your skin.  Notice the movements you employ one step at a time to wash the dish and to hand it off. Engage your other senses, sight, touch, sound.    And since you probably do many tasks over the day, you probably have many places where you can practice this skill building even in short spurts.

I’d love to hear how this works for you.  Pay attention as to whether or not you start to see a reduction in your Monkey Mind, and if so what that is like for you.  You may notice an overwhelming sense of relief, fear, sadness, or any other emotion or combination.  Whatever comes up, ask yourself if Monkey Brain as the alternative ever makes those feelings any better in the long run.

 

Time to learn

 

 

For an audio version of this post, click on the link below:

A young but earnest Zen student approached his teacher, and asked the Zen Master: “If I work very hard and diligent how long will it take for me to find Zen.” The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years.” The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast — How long then ?” Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.” “But, if I really, really work at it. How long then ?” asked the student. “Thirty years,” replied the Master. “But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that ?” Replied the Master,” When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.” — Author Unknown

 

I often think of this story when people tell me that they are working really hard at something and it doesn’t seem to be happening quickly enough for them.

A young woman wants to find a mate and none seems available.

Another is eating well and exercising but is unable to lose weight.

A man is trying for a promotion that is taking too long while others in the organization seem to be moving ahead.

I recall how badly I wanted to have a second child and found it hard to get pregnant, yet every female under 17 seemed to be turning up with child whether she wanted to be or not.

It seems so unfair when we are working so hard for something that seems logical and possible and yet, it still doesn’t happen.

Or at least it doesn’t happen in the time frame that we have deemed reasonable. The dilemma in most cases is that, it is not our unilateral decision to deem what the right time or right amount of work parameters are actually supposed to be. There is a universe around us that has to also consider the needs, wants and expectations of a gazillion other people as well. What if that perfect mate is saying he is looking for someone exactly like us, but not for another 6 months because he has some other things to finish working on first? What if the conditions for us to have the promotion and succeed are not yet all in place?

The thought process of the western mind is cultivated in an environment in which 1+1=2. There is a specific sequence to follow and you get the prize. But eastern cultures cultivate a different mind-set. For them it is 1+1=3. I’m not talking about common core here. But the Easterners acknowledge that when you put two things together something additional happens by virtue of that union. The sum is greater than the whole of its parts. When you put a match and paper together, you don’t get paper and a match- you get fire.

I think there is great value to both eastern and western thinking and that wise people use some of both.   In the examples I mentioned, western thinking teaches us the value of hard work. But eastern thinking helps us to accept that there is more to consider than only our own definition of the way things should work. And that sometimes we need to let go of working so hard and allow time to follow its own course. Some things can’t be accomplished faster, just because it’s what we want.

 

Something worth laughing about

 

 

 

 

For an audio version of this post click on the link below or scroll to the end of the message on a smartphone and click on the sound icon-

 

A bear walks into a bar and says to the bartender, “I’ll have a whisky and …… soda”. The bartender says, “Why the big pause?”. “Dunno,” says the bear. “I’ve always had them.”

I wanted to help you burn a few calories.

Maciej Buchowski, a researcher from Vanderbilt University, conducted a small study in which he measured the amount of calories expended in laughing. It turned out that 10-15 minutes of laughter burned 50 calories.

Did you know that laughter triggers the release of endorphins which are our bodies “feel good” chemicals? Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.

Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood and increases good cholesterol. Laughter protects the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

The act of laughing Stimulates many organs. It enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles.

 

Some studies have shown that the ability to use humor may raise the level of infection-fighting antibodies in the body and boost the levels of immune cells, as well.

One study of 19 people with diabetes looked at the effects of laughter on blood sugar levels. After eating, the group attended a tedious lecture. On the next day, the group ate the same meal and then watched a comedy. After the comedy, the group had lower blood sugar levels than they did after the lecture

 

Laughter, along with an active sense of humor, may help protect you against a heart attack, according to a recent study by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. The study, which is the first to indicate that laughter may help prevent heart disease, found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease.

 

One of the most powerful “fat-burning” hormones is HGH (Human Growth Hormone).  There is also evidence that HGH aids muscle growth somewhat as well. Laughter, according to one older study, strongly increases (by 80%) HGH levels. That means that “laughing your ass off” may be quite literally true.

So this is actually a serious laughing matter. But please don’t rely on my jokes.

Instead you might

Read a funny book by authors like David Sedaris,

Watch funny TV- Big Bang Theory

Watch Funny movies: I love stupid humor like Christmas Vacation, Airplane, Police Academy. The other night I re-watched the Pink Panther movies with Steve Martin.

Hang out with funny people

Look at pictures of yourself as a kid with big teeth and even bigger hair

Play silly games- the kind that take you outside your comfort zone

Try Laughter Yoga- I am not making this one up- it really does exist.

And if you just can’t find anything funny to laugh at…. Then just laugh for no reason.

Instead of finishing this off with another corny joke, I’ll offer you one of my favorite quotes instead by Marjorie Pay Hinckley:

The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it

You either have to laugh or cry

I prefer to laugh -Crying gives me a headache

 

Ain’t Misbehavin- Or are they?

Aint Misbehavin- Or are they?

 

 

 

 

To listen click the link below.  On a smartphone, you may need to scroll to the end of the message and look for the sound icon.

Do you have days, (weeks or years) when it feels like someone or everyone is just not behaving “right”? Of course, right as defined by you.

The reality is we all have to sometimes experience relationships where the other person’s choices and behaviors can make us pretty darn unhappy. Sometimes we simply choose to walk away. But what about when that person is our spouse… or our boss? Yikes.

One of my favorite stories comes from Psychiatrist Harriet Lerner formerly of the Menninger Clinic in Topeka. It’s a personal story she told at a lecture many years ago about an encounter she had with her then 4 year old son Matthew. Lerner walked in her kitchen to find Matthew cutting an apple with a very sharp knife. Here is her account:

 

Lerner: Matthew, put down that knife. You’re going to hurt yourself.

Matthew: no I won’t

Lerner: Yes you will

Matthew: No I won’t

Lerner, pauses to think and comes back with: “Put down the knife because mommy is afraid you will hurt yourself”.

Matthew: “That’s your problem”.

Pausing again, realizing her son has once again outsmarted her strategy to change his behavior.

“You’re right. And I’m going to take care of my problem by taking the knife away from you.”

 

I probably think of Lerner’s story about once a week. It helps me to pause and think about “who has the problem?”

I’ll give you two recent examples.

The other night my son Alex and I went to dinner at a family friendly Mexican restaurant. The hostess seated us in a section where we were the only two people. About halfway through our meal two couples entered with small children. The waiters began setting the table up for a larger group. Within minutes blood curdling screams began to flood out of various children while they ran around the table as if someone had ignited a flame to their hair. Perhaps they were only looking for a way to put out the potential flames, but the parents responded quickly by ordering larger Margarita’s.

First thought- Those are awful people with big problems.

Second thought- I have a problem in that I am not enjoying the atmosphere where I’m eating.

I had a couple of choices. I could have yelled at them, or even asked them nicely to muzzle their children with duct tape. I could have asked that they buy a round of Margaritas for Alex and me, but he is underage and I had to drive home.   I could have asked to be moved to another section of the restaurant. But in reality we were fairly near completion of our dinner. So we finished up and left. We solved our problem. But it also turned into a great discussion with Alex, about how he and his brother behaved in restaurants when they were small. He asked how we had handled things in the past and we had an enjoyable ride home talking about stories.

 

Next scenario: My husband has a gift for calling me at the most inopportune time. Seriously, it’s like he divines the perfect moment when I’m in the car, about to go through the drive through or the news anchor is finally going to tell the story he has been teeing up through 5 commercial breaks. If you’ve ever been around me when my phone rings, I have a very dramatic ring tone to signal my husband is calling. A man with a deep dramatic voice says “Oh no, it’s Ben calling, what does he want… what   does     he   want? While dramatic music plays. (Yes, if you’re counting, that IS a lot of drama).

I mean this guy has a real problem right? Wrong. He’s just calling at the moment he either wants to tell or ask me something. The problem is mine. It’s that I obviously forget the phone has a silent option, or better still that to date, no laws have been passed mandating the picking up of a call when it comes in.   The problem has to do with why I feel compelled to answer it and interrupt MYSELF. (But I’ll figure that out on my own time)

I get it, these are small examples and when it’s your boss grinding on your last nerve more days than not it is harder. Or how about when you have a mother-in law that can rival Mrs. Wollowitz from The Big Bang Theory. I’m not suggesting a simplistic solution here. Only that you begin to look at what parts of tough situations you can have an impact on versus exhausting yourself with trying to manipulate those you cannot. And when you can’t take an action, you can still employ some of the techniques discussed in the last couple of posts, regarding the relieving of tension through philosophies of meditation and yoga.   At very least, when you feel you can’t DO a behavior to change your frustration in the moment; you can at least NOT DO something. With a clear head and reduced tension you can at least pause and use the pre-frontal cortex of your brain. This is where logic and reason are stored, rather than the Amygdala’s fight or flight response. The latter can prompt you into ordering larger Margarita’s or throwing your cell phone out the window. And remember, although Silence is Golden and Duct tape is Silver… it should still never be used on children.

 

I hope you enjoyed todays post And if you did, that you’ll forward the blog on to someone else. As always I appreciate your feedback, comments and challenges!

 

not all who wander are lost- but some of us do need directions

For an audio version of this post click here. On smart phones, you may need to scroll to the end of your email message and look for the little sound icon and click on that. I would also appreciate any comments about how well (or not) the audio option is working.

 

 

I used to be a somewhat serious student of yoga. I realize that some of you who know me may find this hard to believe, but it’s actually true. One of the things I most appreciated about yoga was a lesson I learned not about a particular posture, but about the philosophy of yoga. Rather, that yoga IS in and of itself a philosophy.

When you put your body into some contorted posture, you are purposefully (with intention) causing your body to have stress or tension. You hold that tension to increase your awareness of the tension and notice the nuances of your muscles under that stress. (which if you’re out of shape like I am these days, doesn’t take long for that awareness to become front and center in your brain).

Once you have established that the only thing you can now think about is that your are experiencing that tension, the next step is to round up all of your internal resources to try and calm the tension. THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE RELEASING THE POSTURE. At least not yet.

It means you use your focus and your breath in harmony to try and ease the tension. For example, you might try and inhale the image of a soothing light into the tension, and exhale away pain. Use whatever imagery or thoughts work for you keeping the goal of making your breath the power or the tool of your brain to ease your discomfort. Stay in the moment of what is happening in your body right now and deal with only that.

When either you’ve gone as far as you can, or you’ve had some success, release the posture. If you didn’t achieve your goal, try it again later, but try to go a little longer than you did before.

So that is what you do in Yoga on the mat.

But as a philosophy, you have to take the yoga off the mat and it works something like this:

I’m standing in a long line at the grocery store. Or let’s up the stakes a bit. I’m standing in a long line at Hobby Lobby. The tension is mounting. I’m thinking I need to get home, I have stuff to do. I fold my arms across my chest and jut my hip out to one side to indicate to all around me that I am not happy to be sitting in this line once again. My face shows frustration.

Time for yoga.

No it does not mean to drop my packages and go into a tree pose or a downward dog.

But what is happening in that moment is that I’ve left the line. I’m thinking about where I want to be next rather than where I am right now and what is happening as a result of where I am right now.

So to start yoga (philosophy) at this point, I first need to relax my body a little. Uncross the arms, stand up straight.

And then, just like above, I start using my breath to go in and heal any remaining tension. I focus on where I am right here right now.

The magic of focusing on your breath is this: You cannot think of two things simultaneously. When you are focused on the breath, you can’t think about tonight’s dinner or the clothes you left in the washer or how bad traffic is going to be. Those are “not here”. The breath is “here”.

Why is it important to be “here” over being “not here”. Because regardless of where your brain wanders, your body remains “here”. And if you don’t attend to it with the presence of your brain, you leave yourself at risk. It’s kind of like a headless man running around trying to find his way around a crowded room.

When you stay present with your mind, you keep your “head on” making it much easier to navigate which direction you are trying to go towards. You can address the obstacles that come into view in real time, rather than having to deal with the after effects caused by bumping into stuff you didn’t plan on. Think of it like this, You are walking in a room with awareness and you notice the rug is crumpled. Because of the awareness, you notice the crumple, and walk around it or bend down and straighten it out before passing. Without the awareness (because you are instead thinking about where you are ultimately going), you trip over the rug, fall and hit your head. Now you have to stop, prolonging your journey and attend to the bump on your head.

In the next blog I’ll extend this to meditation. And let me tease you by saying that I have always thought probably far worse and boring things about meditation than you might conjure up at its very mention. So try and keep an open mind and check back for Sunday’s post. I promise no caffeine will be necessary to keep you awake through it and you won’t be asked to sit on a small cushion for 3 hours chanting “om”