Calm Amidst the Chaos

Even when I don’t have a lot of free time in my day, I always make time for my yoga and meditation. Some days that’s a half an hour, others it’s only 5 minutes. I try not to let myself get caught up in an all or nothing mentality. Just because I can’t find the time to do my normal routine, doesn’t mean that those five minutes I do have won’t make a difference.

Today I noticed myself getting caught up in a totally different problem, though. I was exceptionally pressed for time. I had to squeeze my meditation into the 15 minute span before a new client was coming in for an appointment. As I tried to drop into my breath and let the world around me fall away, I couldn’t help but become preoccupied with what was going on in the rest of my office. I was fixating on every little noise, anxiously anticipating the client to show up early and force me to jump up and greet them. I was worried my coworkers were irritated at me for still being closed away in my office so close to our appointment. I considered giving up on my meditation all together. I wondered if it was just a waste of time, if I was too on edge to meditate.

I’ve found myself in this situation many times before. Sometimes I can’t find a quite place or I keep being interrupted or whatever other kind of inconveniences the world likes to throw at us from time to time. Occasionally, I will actually decide to forget about meditating all together. I tell myself that it’s not the right environment or I’m just too distracted or uneasy.

For some reason, the ridiculousness of that reasoning really struck me today. How silly it sounds to say: I’m too anxious to meditate. I can’t meditate because I feel rushed or it’s too loud. These are all perfect times to meditate! Meditation and yoga aren’t things that we need ideal conditions to practice. One of the most beneficial and important parts of these practices is to learn how to use them to cope with hectic times in our lives. Through these practices we can learn how to sit with these moments of discomfort. We can use them to step back from our own drama and distress and simply observe ourselves from a calm neutral perspective.

If you are just beginning to incorporate mindfulness into your routine, it may seem impossible to meditate unless you are in the right atmosphere or headspace. Developing a designated area where you can feel calm and relaxed is an excellent way to help you stick with it in the beginning. However, if you have been practicing for a long time like I have, it may be time to challenge yourself a bit more. You’ve laid the foundation, now it’s time to test it. I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Give yourself a chance to notice what it feels like to be rushed, or irritated, or interrupted. Get curious about this experience. Ask yourself questions. What is happening in your body? In your mind? What is your internal dialogue telling you in these difficult moments? How is that self-talk exacerbating the already tense situation? What might be a kinder or more gentle form of self-talk you can implement instead? This is the perfect time to start changing patterns of thought that are not serving you.

Meditation isn’t always supposed to be easy and effortless. No matter how long you have been practicing, you are going to find yourself struggling from time to time. Going through phases of discomfort internally, externally, or both is all part of the human experience. The incredible experience that we are all here to witness. Meditation is about learning to be present through it all, not just the calm, clear moments, but the rough and tumultuous ones as well.

Words I Need to Hear

I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart: I am. I am. I am.

Sylvia Plath

My silly, silly star child. Breathe deeply and let go. You have nothing to fear in this amazing world of yours. You doubt yourself at every turn. You move forward with constant backward glances, wondering if you still have time to turn around. Perfectionism at its most painful. You don’t need to be perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes. Stop asking yourself whether or not you’re making the right decision. Sit in silence and let your heart guide you. And in those moments your heart remains silent, be patient. Keep listening. Don’t take life so seriously. This is all just one big mystery after all. Just enjoy.

You’ve got everything you need, always. You are everything that you need. You can trust in yourself. You can love yourself. You aren’t going to get caught up in and weighted down by the little things today. Can you feel that rhythm inside your chest? Feel the warmth in your veins. You are a miracle made of stardust and loving energies. Your only purpose here is to be alive and to share what you are with the world. You were made for this and you will never fail. So keep smiling, keep moving. Do whatever it is that brings you joy in each moment. And if you don’t always know what that is, that’s okay too.

You don’t always have to know the right answer. Some questions have no answer. You can learn to live alongside the questions. What ever made you believe that happiness is found in finding all the answers anyway? Ignorance is bliss after all. Be grateful that there are still so many mysteries our there in the universe around you. What a beautiful, fascinating, massive world we’ve found ourselves in. What a blessing to be a small part of such majesty. Keep this humble gratitude close to your heart always and you will never go astray.

You don’t have to be afraid to speak from your heart, to speak your truth. It’s what you were brought here to do. Don’t be afraid of the words you find to express yourself. Honest, difficult words are more beautiful than all the flowery lies. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. That is how you grow. What wonderful things you may not have learned were it not for the mistakes of your past. Life is a delicate balancing act. Wobbling and falling is all part of the show. Trust the net that lingers below to catch you. You are the performer, but you are also the net. There is nothing to fear.

Today is going to be a lovely day. Make sure you are present for it. Give it your full attention. This day is all that you have to focus on. When you feel your mind drifting off into the future, gently guide it back to you. Keep asking questions to ground yourself. What does my body feel like? What can I see, hear, smell, touch, taste? What is this? Stay curious, even when the answer keeps changing. Even when there is no real answer to be found. Practice withholding judgement. Exercise your loving kindness.

Life is a lot like a game. Games can be fun. But they can also be stressful and aggravating when we become too serious about them. Today you will remember that it’s just a game. You will shake off all of that old stagnant energy from your soul. You heart will feel light. You will give love freely to yourself and others. You will smile and you will laugh, because you are so lucky to be who you are. So lucky to be here experiencing this moment. To love and be loved. Everything is as it should be. It’s just a game, so have fun.

Meditation girls | Yoga drawing, Yoga illustration, Yoga cartoon

Hyping Yourself Up

The other day I was texting a friend of mine, and we began to playfully tell one another about how good the following day was about to be. We were saying things like, “tomorrow is going to be incredible” and “we are going to have such an amazing day.” At the time I didn’t really think much of it. We were just messing around. It was almost bordering on sarcasm. However, I noticed something about that “incredible” day that came after. It truly did end up to be one of the nicest days I’ve had in a while. I felt calm, happy, energetic, light-hearted. My anxiety didn’t seem to be bothering me as much as it normally does. I thoroughly enjoyed my day at work and the company of my coworkers. There was so much laughter, so many smiles.

I genuinely think this day was a direct result of that conversation my friend and I had the night before. Even the words alone, without much belief or intention behind them, were able to have an effect of my reality the next day. To me, this was a shining example of the power of mere words. How often my inner voice has the opposite effect on my reality. Without even noticing it I have been ensuring my own discomfort in many experiences. I look towards the future with apprehension and fear. I tell myself that everything that lies before me is going to be so unpleasant, so difficult, so unwanted. Then I end up unconsciously affirming my own expectations.

Since that talk with my friend, I’ve been trying to intentionally get myself excited about my life. I’ve been trying to wake up early and exercise before work the way I used to instead of wasting my whole evening with workouts. Even though I dreaded the idea at first, as I was falling asleep the night before work, I visualized my alarm going off the next morning. I didn’t just imagine the motions that I would go through. I pictured myself waking up feeling well-rested and excited for my renewed morning routine. I tried to feel exactly how wonderful and happy I was going to feel when I woke up. I was somewhat surprised to find that it actually worked. I have been doing this thought exercise as I’m drifting off to sleep each night and this week I have easily been able to accomplish my goal of waking up earlier. And I have thoroughly enjoyed it every day.

I would like to start utilizing this newfound mental tool for the other events throughout my day as well. Rather than dreading the boring, tedious things I do each day like driving to and from work, making coffee, feeding my pets, doing my makeup, I am going to start using visualization to make each of those normally humdrum experiences enjoyable and meaningful. I figure that if I am unable to stop myself from thinking about the details of the future, I might as well start at least changing the way I think about them. I’m working on shifting my internal dialogue from “oh, god I have so much to do, I don’t want to do this” to “I am so excited about being able to do all the things I have going on today.” Even during the times that I really don’t believe it.

I used to view this type of thing as useless self-denial, as a form of lying to myself. And some days it does still feel like a lie. Some days are much harder than others. But that’s okay. I am going to keep trying anyway. Because I’ve realized that emotions are not something that are true or false. They are not solid, immovable facts. They are things that I get to create and interpret any way that I please. The ability to interpret our own reality is one of the most miraculously powerful things we have in this life. I want to train myself to make the most of it.

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Lessons from Childhood

I find it very interesting to see the way the children I work with interact with the world around them. Although their problems and emotions are often less complex than those that come with adulthood, they can be surprisingly similar in other ways. I find myself specifically fascinated with those common toddler tantrums. It may sound ridiculous coming from an adult, but I identify with their unmanageable emotional states more than you’d think.

It used to make me panic when a little one would start freaking out, but now I see it as an important opportunity. I’m so used to seeing parents only responding with more threats and yelling. Which obviously only makes the child freak out even more. I have no idea what they hope to accomplish with that. Perhaps it’s just an example of the parents having little to no control over their own emotional state while dealing with the child’s.

For me these moments relate back to my dilemma about helping people when they seem stuck in thinking and seeing things a certain way. One of the many wonderful things about children is how malleable their minds are. When a toddler is pouting, I see it as a great opportunity to test out different methods of helping them escape that unpleasant mindset. What works? You really have nothing to lose because even if nothing works, they tend to come out of it on their own quite quickly.

I still haven’t been able to make any super significant progress. But yesterday I did think of something that I’ll definitely try again. A little four-year-old girl was pouting because we took away a box of things she was ripping up. As she stood their, arms crossed, teary-eyed, I tried to come up with a way to show her that it was a waste of time to be angry and upset. Their time at our center was almost over and I wanted her to see that her time would be better spent further enjoying all the toys we have instead of pouting. One question, did seem to make her pause.

I eventually thought to ask her if she liked feeling upset. After a stunned moment of silent thought, she stubbornly answered yes. While it didn’t go exactly as I’d planned, she did seem to see a glimmer of humor in this blatant lie. What I was actually getting at though, and what I hope to be able to show more kids, is that it’s our choice whether to be upset or happy. It seems like I didn’t learn that until a few years ago myself.

When these strong emotions come up inside of us, especially when we are young, it feels like they must be right. That we must be supposed to feel this way, because of whatever has happened. It seems impossible to feel any other way. Then we become indignant, latching on to these negative feelings, insisting on the truth of them. Little ones luckily don’t have the willpower or attention span to hold onto them for very long. But as we grow older, rather than learning how to let go of these feelings quicker, we seem to learn how to hold onto them for far longer instead.

It’s funny how we all agree the things children throw fits about are ridiculous, but as adults we feel our inner tantrums are fully justified. Yet in the grand scheme of things, they are all just as silly. And even if they aren’t, it never helps to harbor negative feelings and sour even more moments in response to things not going our way. Maybe part of the reason I am so interested to figure out ways to help kids with these feelings, is so that maybe I can gain some insight into how to better help myself with them as well.

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Breath

Before yoga, I never really paid much attention to my breathing. It was just something my body did, like blinking or swallowing, nothing very interesting or worth my attention. I think most people live their entire lives without really thinking about their breath. Even a lot of people that do yoga still don’t have a strong connection with their breathing. I certainly still have a LONG way to go myself with that aspect of my practice.

When I first began doing yoga, I was only concerned with “doing it right.” Certain poses were paired with inhales, others were paired with exhales. That much I knew. However, it was still difficult to keep this in mind when bending my body into, at that time, strange and unfamiliar positions. I didn’t know the significance of breathing in a certain way as I practiced. I was just trying to follow along. As my practice grew though, so did my connection with my breath and my understanding of its importance.

The breath is possibly the most important aspect of yoga. Not only that, but it is one of the easiest parts of practice to take with you into your daily life. You don’t need to do a 90 minute class to destress. Just a few deep, conscious breaths can work wonders. I used to think it was magical how, for some reason, doing yoga always managed to calm me down. Now I finally realize that it isn’t necessarily because of the movements and postures, it is because when I practice yoga, I am breathing differently.

It seems hard to believe at first, but the way we breathe can completely change how we experience life. There is a feedback loop between our mental state and our breath. When we are feeling anxious or upset, our breath naturally becomes quick and shallow. Our bodies are trying to prepare us to fight or flee. I’m sure this was once far more useful to us than it is in modern times. The good thing is, while our mental state effects our breath, the reverse is also true. We can use our breath to change our state of mind.

The next time you are feeling less than ideal, take a step back and notice your breathing. Is it quick and mainly staying up in your chest? If it is, try taking at least 5 mindful, full breaths. Consciously directing each inhale down into the belly, using the diaphragm. Try making the exhale twice as long as the inhale, pushing out every bit of air. Breathing in this way naturally calms down our nervous system. We are using our breath to show the mind that we are okay.

The most incredible thing is, this always works. Always. Even when I have moments where it feels like it’s not working, I realize it isn’t that it isn’t working, it’s that I am just having a hard time controlling my breath. I let my mind carry me away too quickly. I am not able to stay with my breath long enough to utilize it. But with practice it becomes easier to do no matter what state our minds are in. We are able to use our breath to help us wherever we are, whatever we are doing.

I used to roll my eyes at the constant obsession with the breath in yoga. I didn’t see what the big deal was. Now I understand the emphasis. It can be frustrating not being able to express to someone what immense power we all have that we are not tapping into. However much you preach about breath work though, it is up to each individual to find out its importance for themselves.

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