Archive for the ‘Wellbeing’ Category

Fresh Start: 3 Ways to Embrace Change

06/12/2013

Guilty. I have not made this blog a priority for awhile. Although, I think I have a few pretty good reasons for my ten month absence. You see, I’ve been busy with some pretty big changes. With a new year upon us, I find myself reflecting on all of the transitioning of the past year, and there are two words that repeatedly spring to mind.  Fresh start. Leaving my job, undertaking yoga teacher training, moving (across an ocean), redefining my professional path, bringing home a new mini dachshund puppy named Doug and really, starting over in so many ways. Making a fresh start.

I’ll be candid though. While it has been an exciting year of possibilities and adventure,  I’m also going to hypothesize that I would be slightly super human if I handled all of these changes with complete grace and ease. I cried. I moaned how much I missed my friends. I got frustrated when Doug made a mess. I doubted my choice to forge a new path. I doubted myself.

When we react adversely to a plot twist in life, we aren’t exactly fretting the change itself. We fear the unknown. When we feel groundless and uncertain we experience a disconnection to our true selves. So how can we shift our perspective and bring ourselves back? One way to do this is to remember that not all change is scary and it can provide you with a fresh start. Here are three tips for embracing change and seeing it as a clean slate:

Remember it is a START. When working toward a goal or through a transition, you may find yourself feeling stressed or overwhelmed when things don’t progress as quickly as you’d like. Some change comes slowly. Be patient. And be kind to yourself too. When faced with a new city, job or situation, it can be tempting to think about how good you had it in your old routine. You might forget why change is necessary for living. Look forward and remember that the changes you’re facing are only a start. Big changes like moving or starting a new job take time to settle into. Everything will fall into place. I read a funny yet wise fiction this year called ‘The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window” and I’ll always remember this line which I believe captures my point.: “Things are what they are, and whatever will be, will be.”

Every moment is an opportunity for a fresh start. Try this next time you’re feeling anxious about your circumstance. Close your eyes for a full breath. At the bottom of your exhale, open your eyes. Welcome to your fresh start. Repeat as many times as needed. (I also recommend this great little video on how to meditate in a moment)

I get by with a little help from my friends. If you begin to feel overtaken by life, remember that we’re part of a larger community. If you’ve been dealt with a change too enormous to face on your own then ask for help. Maybe you need to pay for help in the form of a life coach, removalist, financial planner or other professional. But sometimes all it takes is a call to an old friend who understands you and can help put life back into perspective.

The bottom line is change is really only scary because sometimes we’re not quite sure what lies beyond that door we’ve decided to enter. But it can also be exactly what we need. I love this quote by Joseph Campbell. ‘The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.’ And that treasure could be your fresh start.

Moon Salutations: Quiet contemplation

26/02/2013

I remember such frigid Wisconsin winter nights when I was growing up. Crisp air that bit at the nose, ice blanketing the driveway and fresh snow hills built up alongside of  the shed. Night arrived early during the winter and by the time our family finished with farm chores for the day, blackness awaited us. While this sounds utterly depressing – and let’s be honest, it was at times – there was also magic in that blackness. Blessed with no light pollution, we could witness millions of twinkling stars in the sky. Stopped in my tracks, I stood on that frozen path between the house and the barn in stillness (maybe slightly frozen) with my head dropped back – completely mesmerized. I still think about those nights in the dead of winter and how for even just a minute, staring at the stars and moon was an invitation to quiet contemplation. To this day no matter where I am in the world, I still find myself captivated by a sky full of bright stars, always leaving me to contemplate my tiny pocket of the vast universe.

For this reason, I felt an immediate connection to Moon Salutations (Chandra Namaskara) when I first came across this slower, inner focused set of yoga poses.  Moon salutations counter the dynamic energy of Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara), a staple of many hatha yoga classes today. Lunar energy encourages cooling and inward reflection, while solar energy promotes heated and outward focused energy. Classes emphasising moon or lunar energy may be called yin or restorative yoga on your class schedule, which are generally conducted at a slower pace while focusing on longer holds in each pose. If you’re practising yoga in places like Australia or America, chances are most classes offered at your studio emphasize solar energy – which of course is not a bad thing but in the spirit of balance, try incorporating some lunar energy into your practice. Practising Moon Salutations in the evening can be a particularly soothing end to the day especially if you can align your practice with dusk, when day becomes night.

To provide a starting point in exploring Moon Salutations, I recommend this sequence by Shiva Rea that was featured in Australian Yoga Journal. Enjoy the quiet space and contemplation.

Life lessons in the Art of Assisting

19/02/2013

When we open our minds and leave our comfort zone, we can be led down an unexpected and wonderful path. Such was the case last year when I enrolled in a four day course at my yoga studio called ‘Art of Assisting’ which is designed as a yoga teacher training course but also open to regular practitioners. I normally wouldn’t find myself in such a course because  surely there was some reason I didn’t belong there. I’m not a qualified yoga teacher nor can I do handstand – simply not advanced enough. But I turned up with excitement (and slight nervousness) only to meet others who were just like me and were there to deepen their own practice. A few teachers were in the midst but I realized after the first few hours we were there to support each other and learn together.

After relaxing into the course, I quickly found myself interested in more than how I could learn to adjust my own poses. Helping students through assists allows them to chart unexplored territory, physically and mentally, which can be incredibly rewarding for all parties involved. Once the course finished, I decided to continue onto the optional next step of assisting in public classes at the studio, which has been a journey of lessons – applicable to life off the mat too – and isn’t that what yoga is all about really?

Have faith in yourself: When I practised assists on my peers and mentor, the main feedback was always along the lines of “I liked what you did and it felt great. But you just need to be more confident.” Oh how this one piece of feedback has always followed me – at school, jobs and now in the yoga studio! I once read that yoga is a practice of faith and observation – to have faith that you know what to do and how to do it while observing your thoughts without judgement. I tend to keep this in mind while I assist, and do anything for that matter.

Nothing is permanent: During one of my practice assisting sessions, I was not in a good head space and I knew it as I walked into the studio. While I assisted to the best of my ability, I felt attacked and tearful when the girl I assisted confirmed that “I didn’t do very well.” OK – that’s not actually what she said or even meant (I can only assume anyway) but my sensitive mind interpreted it in such a way. My reaction to her feedback rattled me for a good day or two after. I was frustrated with the tears and just simply would not let it go. Those spells of bad luck or stressful days can sometimes feel like they will never end. But the simple thought that none of it is permanent can be a relief. That one average assisting session was temporary and a lesson to learn from. We will always have those days when we are not on top of our game. Which brings me to the next point…

Have compassion: After beating myself up for days after that practice assist I reminded myself of compassion. How we can find compassion for others so easily but then when it comes to ourselves, we have the least amount of patience. Being compassionate to yourself is not selfish. It just makes sense. Think about how you treat others in your daily life. Would you give someone at work such a hard time, for days, if they made a mistake? Probably not. So why would you do that to yourself? We are only human living complex, busy lives – why make it more challenging than it needs to be?

The yoga journey is constant, filled with depths and heights. On and off the mat. What are some of the lessons you have experienced in yoga practice, as student or teacher, and taken into the world?

Performing goal maintenance

30/05/2012

Here we are. Standing on June’s doorstep. The midpoint of the year when we all start (or continue) to wonder where the year has escaped to. Recently I’ve been reflecting on the goals I had set for myself at the beginning of the year. While I’m going well with some of these intentions, like maintaining a steady yoga and meditation practice, and carving out more time for journal writing, there are other goals that I have not progressed as far with. This is due in part to external factors but it is fair to say that the drive and fired up attitude I possessed in January has slowly faded.

I don’t think this is an uncommon issue for many people. However, how many of us actually take the time to reflect on and evaluate the progress we have made on goals? For some, it might be easy enough to resign to the lost motivation. But if you’re like me, you have a hard time throwing in the towel, especially when deep down you know that you have not yet used all of your effort or resources. Now is the perfect opportunity to perform a little maintenance. Whilst I am certainly not a self-help guru I have put together a few ways that can help reignite the passion and drive:

1) Reading past journal entries: Returning to the pages that were penned during a time when you felt particularly inspired and motivated can be a great boost in reminding yourself that you indeed possess drive and are well capable of getting back on track. Don’t write in a journal? Start one! If anything, just use it to jot down your key goals and actions. Record your progress.

2) Enlisting your partner / friends / significant people in your life to do the same: I firmly believe we feed on the attitudes and actions of those that surround us. If you notice that your spouse or friend has lost a bit of passion in working toward their goals, have a chat with them and see if you can get back on track together.

3) Celebrate your achievements, big or small: This is important. On the road to success, you need to celebrate any achievements made along the way. Each one of these milestones are a stepping stone to the bigger vision, so celebrate.

4) Be compassionate: Just because you have set yourself a goal, actions and a time frame doesn’t mean it will happen exactly the way you had imagined. Sometimes life happens. Sometimes goals needs to be adjusted to become attainable. No matter what happens, it is the journey and if you fall a little short, show yourself a bit of compassion.

As stated before, I am not any kind of specialist in this area. I’m a regular person who is striving for a fulfilling life, doing what I love. For further reading, there are resources abound on this topic. One book I recommend is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Not so much about goal setting but is a very easy, practical read that will help you think about how you approach life, which I believe is the foundation for anybody who is chasing their dreams. The second book, a bit more applicable to this topic, is The Nerdist Way by Chris Hardwick. In this book Hardwick describes his own experiences when he lost direction and how he managed to turn it around by redirecting the focus he once devoted to beating video game villains into something much more meaningful. The redirected focus turned into an empire including a highly rated comedy podcast, YouTube channel, blog and television show on BBC.

All of us have experienced feeling unsure, lost and uninspired. It is also quite likely this uncertainty will resurface several times throughout our lives. This is only natural but the key is to ensure those feelings don’t end up trumping your dreams.

40 Day Revolution or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Downward Dog

16/03/2012

Today is the day. The final day of the 40 Day Revolution and I come away from the experience with a greater understanding of myself as well as an even more profound love for yoga!

Since the beginning, I have asked myself what I hoped to gain from the Revolution and the initial answers were to find more balance in my life and take the next step in committing to a more steady and consistent practice. I think I achieved both of these objectives but there actually has been one major theme that stayed with me for most of the 40 days though I couldn’t quite explain it until I had an a-ha moment during class this week. It was an unusually small class so the instructor jumped on the opportunity to ‘play’ a bit more (easier to do when there are less people in the room) and helped us discover more space in a few poses including Downward Facing Dog, a staple in any Vinyasa class.

Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog

For awhile, I didn’t quite ‘get’ this pose. Like I said, it is a staple and a go-to for finding a bit of respite during practice but I have always struggled a little bit. My hands never felt like a solid base, or my legs felt too tight – just found it more stressful than restorative. Then something happened. Over the last 40 days I found myself easing into my down dog with less worry and reached the point of… enjoying it! During this class, the instructor asked us to pair up with one of our fellow yogis for a partner assist exercise, then I really got it! Gently but firmly, our partners were asked to raise our hips toward the sky while in our down dog, allowing more space than what we could achieve on our own. Then they were asked to push against our shoulders, again bringing us deeper into the asana than what we might be do on our own accord. Not only was it a great stretch but also served as an example to show that there is always more space to move into. And this lesson can be applied to our mental space too. A-ha!

The 40 Day Revolution has showed me how to be more aware of my space and also the importance of creating more space in our lives. A pose seems really difficult? Just breathe and somehow, like magic, you can find just a little extra space to move and stretch into. Your mind is overrun with worry and stress at work? As hard as it can be (at least for me it can be!) then that is the perfect opportunity to step back, breathe and put your rampant thoughts into order, thus creating more space and awareness of where your head space is at in that moment. Watching how you feel in a moment can make a profound difference in how you proceed with your next task, day or whatever is coming up.

At times squeezing two meditations into a day plus a 90 minute practice at the studio could be challenging – and there were certainly days when it just wasn’t possible. But the revolution wasn’t about perfection or ticking all of the boxes. For me, it was a journey towards more self-awareness, paying attention to my space and inviting personal growth. I’m so grateful I finally went for the challenge. It has been an excellent experience that has moved me into another level of my yoga practice, beyond the physical postures into something much deeper. And of course, I learned to stop worrying and love the downward facing dog!

If you’re in Sydney, I suggest checking out BodyMindLife. They have beautiful studios in Surry Hills and Rozelle. And perhaps you will feel inspired to join their next 40 Day Revolution!

Let the revolution begin!

07/02/2012

So the revolution begins. A couple of months ago I had written about the incredible transformation that happens when you learn to take yoga off the mat and do it regularly. I also declared I would finally sign up for the 40 Day Revolution, a program and personal challenge to commit to yoga (five days at the studio, one day at home and one day of rest) and meditation twice a day.  I was pretty gung ho but as the first day, 6th February, drew closer and closer I started to question my capacity to undertake such a committment. However, I reminded myself that there is no punishment if something happens along the way and I can’t get to yoga one day or miss a meditation. The reward is in the journey.

Last night was the first night which kicked off with a meeting and I loved listening to my co-revolutionaries share each of their motivations for signing up, ranging from desire for physical benefits and learning to cultivate more focus and balance in life, in particular the ladies who work in advertising and another who runs her own business. A man from the Netherlands, who has only arrived in Sydney five months ago, explained his desire to connect with the yoga community in his new home. And a very honest reason from another guy: “Now that I have paid $300 for this I hope that will motivate me to go more.” We all have our reasons. No judgements here.

Now I feel inspired by the possibilities. Rather than feeling daunted, I am taking advantage of this time to really reflect through yoga and meditation, supplemented by daily journal writing. This allows me to think about and define my intentions during the revolution and observe how I’m feeling mentally and physically. This journey has great potential but only if I don’t allow my own excuses to persuade me that I can’t complete it. For now though, two days in and enjoying the experience so far.

Learn more about the program and the studio BodyMindLife here.

Year Long Thanksgiving

07/01/2012

Giving thanks. How often do you take a moment to express appreciation for a person, place or something as joyful as that first cup of coffee in the morning? Around the holidays, especially Thanksgiving (for North Americans), Christmas and New Years, we all dig deep to find and share our gratitude with one another which contributes to the very spirit of these holidays. But what about the rest of the year? How often do you find yourself expressing gratitude for any single aspect of your day, week or year?

My awareness for the act of daily thanksgiving changed last year after I read a column in MindFood magazine that pointed out the positive benefits of starting the day with thanksgiving. This made sense to me but between work, household duties, social events, personal development and everything in between, who has time and can remember to do this?

Well, I have come to realize the answer to my question is that everybody has time to take a moment to give thanks for what makes them happy. It doesn’t need to be glamorous, huge or newsworthy. Think about some of the small delights of the day like a delicious glass of wine or it could be the bus driver who made a joke and brought a smile to your face. And as far as having the time goes, I’m finding there are pockets of time throughout the day that can be dedicated to such reflection. In the car while stuck in traffic, the walk to work, while stirring the sauce on the stove top – we all have these slots of time so capitalise on the moment and give thought to what brought joy to your day or something that is constant variable in your life but is taken for granted

The lovely part of thanksgiving is that you can approach it however best suits you whether it is through prayer, reflecting in a quiet space or sharing your thanks with someone. My good friend, Sara Gille, has an inspiring and interesting approach to recognising what she’s thankful for. She has built a visual Thankful collection on Tumblr which you can take a look at here. Such a simple but very profound approach to daily gratitude practice. In fact, Sara is the one who has re-ignited the gratitude spark for me – so I am very thankful for her positive outlook and for reminding me of this very important daily act so now I take pen to journal everyday. No matter how tired or busy I am, I always manage to take a few moments to reflect on life’s delights, big and small.

Do you take a moment from your day to reflect on what brings you joy? Is it a mental list, prayer or do you have a special ritual for capturing the things you are thankful for?

Yoga saves

04/12/2011

When yoga practice becomes more of a way of life rather than an exercise routine done once or twice a week, an interesting transformation begins.Though I have been doing yoga on and off with spurts of consistency for the last 10 years, this year I have made a pact with myself to strive for commitment to yoga and meditation practice. As the days pass, I find myself enjoying life simply by being in the present, approaching the day with more humour and above all, loving. I know that must really sound like ramblings of a hippie but it’s simple really. Love, laugh and be present. In many ways yoga has saved me. Not only am I realizing how to find happiness within but I am also equipped with a stronger confidence and self-awareness.

Frankly, I’m still a beginner. My journey began when I was 17 years old and followed the MTV Yoga video (on VHS!) hosted by Kristin McGee several nights a week. After graduating high school and started university in Minnesota, I was restricted by space and time, so these years my practice suffered as I only practiced once a month at most. There was a turning point when I thought back to how I felt when I did do yoga and wondered why I didn’t do it more. From then I steadily increased my sessions but still never hit the ‘sweet spot,’ so to speak. Now after living in Australia for four years, ten years since I first discovered yoga through MTV, I have unearthed the mental and physical well-being I am capable of achieving.

I am looking forward to 2012 and really allowing yoga to be part of my daily life. For a few years I have been making excuses for not doing the 40 day revolution, at BodyMindLife, a yoga studio in Sydney. The 40 day revolution is a journey and personal challenge, inviting a life changing transformation. The challenges requires five days of studio practice, one day of at-home Vinayasa practice, one day of active rest, and morning and evening meditation over forty days. All of this always sounded appealing to me but also very daunting so have found excuses as to why I couldn’t possibly sign up for such an event. I’ve realized now that it isn’t necessarily about ‘winning’ the challenge but rather about trying and encouraging personal growth.

Everybody who does yoga has a story as to why they first stepped to the mat, whether it was to lose weight, learn to become more focused or to find a bit of tranquillity in a busy life. Yoga is a wonderful way to achieve all of these and being open to it, you can gain some results that you would have never imagined. I for one am loving the journey and learning how to live with more presence, focus and energy.