Holding Your Breath

Pranayama Benefits for Physical and Emotional Health

Stop whatever you are doing and take a moment to just notice your breath. Don’t worry about changing it, just observe how you breath when you aren’t paying attention. What is your breath like? For me, at pretty much any given moment unless I’m doing yoga, my breath is painfully shallow. Often I’ll notice that I’ve actually been holding my breath! I particularly notice this tendency when I’m feeling anxious.

For most of my life, I never thought about breathing at all. Breathing is unconscious, it’s a reflex, our bodies are taking care of that for us. These are the things I remember learning when I was growing up. Without yoga, I never would have learned the power that is held inside of my breath. I had no idea that we had the ability to retrain ourselves to have more beneficial breathing patterns or that the breath had any significance besides keeping us alive.

Society tells us that we need all of these magic fixes for our depression, anxiety, fatigue, etc. We medicate and distract ourselves, doing anything to avoid the signals our bodies are sending us. We are never taught how to value and honor our breath for the miracle that it is. In my opinion, pranayama (breathwork) is one of the most advanced aspects of yoga and also the most important.

Living in a world of excess, it seems impossible that there could be so many life changing benefits from something as simple as breathing. Yet there is a breathwork practice for anything that you may want to achieve. Through the power of our breath we can energize ourselves, we can calm our nervous systems, we can elevate our mood, we can cool ourselves down, warm ourselves up, we can even experience altered states of consciousness! And we can do all of this for free, regardless of where we are, regardless of who we are. If you’re living, you can practice pranayama.

Unfortunately, I am still far away from unlocking the full potential of my own breath. Even after years of yoga and meditation, I am still working on just being able to notice my breath as I move through my day. I’ve particularly been trying to focus on checking in with my breath when I feel anxious. When our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) kicks on, the body naturally makes our breath quick and shallow. It is under the assumption that it needs to prepare to either flee or attack whatever threat may be nearby. However, this is supposed to be a short-lived experience. When we find ourselves perpetually in this heightened state, we start to experience various mental and physical health issues.

Interestingly enough, this feedback loop works in both directions. Our mind is usually the one running the show, telling the body it’s time to act. The body has just as much control over the mind though. If we can learn to recognize our stress response, we can override it with our breath. Now, this is no easy feat, and it definitely takes a lot of practice, but it is worth it. Don’t give up. Keep practicing and eventually we can all cultivate a beautiful symbiotic relationship with our own breath.

There is so much pleasure to be found in the simple act of breathing. One of the most valuable parts of my last acid experience was finding a stronger connection to my breath. As I laid in the grass with my boyfriend, enjoying the sun streaming down through the leaves above us and listening to the hum of locus in the background, I became intoxicated with the feeling of my own inhales and exhales. Each sip of air felt incredible, fresh oxygen, the gentle expansion of my lungs. Each out breath was a gorgeous release, a cleansing. I could have spent the whole evening just savoring my own breathing.

That experience has stayed with me since then. I am still able to tap into that sense of gratitude and wonder as I breathe. My breath alone can be better than any drug or addiction out there. And it’s mine to enjoy whenever I wish without consequence. I’ve even come up with a little visualization that helps me get back in touch with my LSD experience. I think it would work well for anyone who has been or still is a smoker.

As you breath in, just imagine you are taking a nice long, delicious drag off of a cigarette, vape, or joint. I genuinely think one of the reasons humans seem to enjoy smoking things so much is because it allows us to slow down and focus on our breath for a few minutes. You may even find it helpful to visualize the air as smoke moving in and out of your body. This would be an excellent visualization to try the next time you find yourself holding your breath or breathing very shallow.

Wherever you may be in regard to a pranayama practice, for the rest of the day, just try to come back to your breath whenever you notice yourself feeling anxious. Are you holding your breath? Is washing the dishes really that unpleasant or is it because you are unconsciously trying to not breath until you’re finished? No matter what is sparking that anxiety in me, checking in with my breath is always a huge help.

Let me know what your experience has been like regarding breathwork. When did you first realize the significance of the breath? What are some of your favorite pranayama practices? If you decide to try my little visualization, let me know how it went for you.

Pranayama for Anxiety: 4 Breathing Exercises to Try | YogiApproved.com

When Self-Love Turns Toxic

Self Love with Sigrid Tasies — Jodi Plumbley - Bespoke Boudoir + Portrait  Photographer

Ever since I began my “self-improvement journey” I’ve struggled with toxic self-love. I’ve heard this term used to describe a few different things, and it seems counterintuitive at first, so let me just start by defining what I mean. For me, toxic self-love is when my best intentions become new ways for me to criticize and cut myself down.

Here is an example: I’ve been practicing yoga for years now. I started with just seven minutes a day and for a while I was doing 30-60 minutes. However, recently I’ve found myself being too busy to do more than 15 minutes of yoga on my lunch break at work. Yoga is about self care, self love, self exploration, mindfulness. It’s not about a rigorous, unbending routine. Nevertheless, I’ve been super hard on myself about doing less than I once did. It’s ironic, actually. In the end, what’s worse for my mental health, missing 15 minutes of yoga or berating myself for it for the rest of the day?

Often the very routines I cultivated to manage my anxiety become sources of stress instead. I’ve always had a hard time avoiding that “all or nothing” mentality. If I don’t do an hour of yoga and meditation every day, than I might as well have done nothing. If I don’t eat with perfect mindfulness, then I might as well scarf down my food as fast as I can. This kind of black and white thinking has the potential to be more detrimental than if you had never started the practice at all. It seems like when I do manage to find time for a 60 minute yoga flow, I don’t give myself any credit. I think, “Well of course, I don’t get a pat on the back for doing what I’m supposed to do.” However, if I only have time for 5 minutes one day, I agonize over what I failure I am.

This is toxic self-love. It isn’t loving at all. Self-love doesn’t mean I’ll love myself when I’m perfect. Self-love means I’ll love myself where I am right now. I’ll love my flaws and imperfections. I’ll love myself when I don’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning. I’ll love myself when I gain 5 pounds. I’ll love myself when I’ve made a big mistake. Self-love is unconditional. Toxic self-love says: meet these standards first.

This pressure we put on ourselves to perform and keep up with all our positive habits every single day without exception, ends up making us forget why we began these habits in the first place. Was my goal to check a box, to be unwaveringly consistent? Or was my goal to be happy and to take better care of myself? Regularly reminding ourselves of our intention is so important, so that we don’t become sidetracked while going through the motions.

It’s also important for us to pay attention to the way we talk to ourselves. What kind of language are you using inside your own head? One of my worst mental habits is saying “I have to.” This is probably one of my most repeated phrases each day. I have to workout. I have to do yoga. I have to meditate. I have to eat healthy, mindfully. I have to go to work. Honestly this phrase probably comes before most of my thoughts. It’s no wonder I always feel so stressed and exhausted.

My entire life might be completely transformed by gently correcting myself when I notice this phrase coming up. I don’t have to, I get to. It’s even a more accurate and truthful statement. I genuinely don’t have to do any of the things I do. I choose to do them, because I enjoy doing them. It’s only after months and years of repeating to myself that I have to that I lose sight of the fact that I want to. When I give myself permission to not do the thing, that’s when I finally allow my natural desire to bubble to the surface.

Sometimes I even catch myself thinking that I don’t deserve to feel calm and content, because I didn’t do a certain thing. I feel my anxiety welling up and think, “Good. That’s what you get for fucking up today.” How sick is that? I am purposefully withholding happiness from myself as a punishment. It’s wild to realize the “self-love” I practice is so harsh and domineering. Often I’ll even beat myself up for beating myself up! It’s madness!

True self-love is gentle, kind, forgiving. It’s recognizing how far you’ve come. It’s acknowledging the things you’re still struggling with and being okay with that. Even though I still have things to work on, I am proud of myself for all the progress I’ve made. Before I wouldn’t have even had the mental clarity to recognize the ways I’m being too hard on myself. Instead of perpetuating that cycle with more self-criticism, I am excited to use all of the tools I’ve gathered over the years to show myself more loving kindness. When I notice a negative thought arise, instead of seeing it as a cue to become upset with myself, I can see it as a cue to be proud of myself for even noticing it at all. It’s a beautiful opportunity to practice softening, to practice opening my heart even wider. I am so grateful for the chance to keep growing in my journey toward peace, happiness, forgiveness, and love. I sincerely hope you will try to offer yourself that same grace on your own journey.

8 key signs that you are lacking in self-love - Life Coach Directory

Learning to Be Happy (Even When You Don’t Get What You Want)

True Contentment: In Simplicity — SECOND CITY CHURCH

The other day, while listening to a talk given by the American spiritual teacher and guru, Ram Dass, he said something along the lines of: Learn how to be happy even when you don’t get what you want. For some reason, the way he said these words really struck me. There is something about listening to the gentle, slow, thoughtful voice of a spiritual leader that allows simple ideas to penetrate directly to your soul. Since then I have kept that idea close to my heart.

It’s so easy to forget that external circumstances don’t dictate our internal state. Finding contentment where we are now, doesn’t mean that we won’t want things anymore. However, we won’t allow the outcome of these wants to decide how we feel. Certain desires are easier to let go of than others, but it’s important to remind ourselves that we always have the power to let go and reside in happiness.

All of us already know how to do this to a certain extent. We have varying levels of wanting. We may want to have a certain fruit for breakfast only to realize that it has spoiled and we must find something else to eat. Depending on who you are, this usually isn’t enough to ruin your day or mood. We simply think, “oh, rats” and prepare another food. On the other hand, we may be planning to get married only to have our
fiancée leave us at the alter. That’s not going to be as easy to let go of as a rotten mango.

I wonder, though. How much the variation in reaction has to do with our preconceived ideas about the “appropriate” reaction in each scenario. When I used to get upset, it genuinely felt like I had no choice. Then in addition to not getting what I wanted, I felt an added level of suffering due to a feeling of powerlessness. There is a certain freedom in simply knowing we have the ability to choose.

When my ex left me the last time, I remember feeling frustrated that now I’d have to go back to being sad and miserable. The idea of doing that seemed so repulsive to me that I decided I didn’t care if that’s what I was supposed to feel. I decided to discard my ideas of what I thought society expected of me in that scenario. I didn’t want to be sad anymore, and for the first time in such a situation, I realized I had the choice not to be.

Sometimes just remembering that we have that choice is enough. This doesn’t mean that you’ll never experience sadness, anger, frustration, or suffering again. There are some times in life that we actually want to feel sad, and that’s okay. There is a difference between holding space for a genuine emotion and feeling trapped by one.

The next time I find myself not getting what I want, rather than getting upset and ruminating, I’m going to use it as an opportunity. Each time something doesn’t go the way you planned, it’s an opportunity to practice being happy anyway. One of my favorite questions to ask myself is: Can I love myself even though…? Fill in the blank. Now I’d like to add another question: Can I be happy even though….? Sometimes phrasing the issue in this way allows us to see the choice we have. When I’m getting down on myself because of some small flaw, asking the question, “can I still love myself,” brings things back into perspective and reminds me what really matters. If I can still love myself anyway, why bother being upset about whatever it may be? The same goes for “can I be happy anyway.”

Asking these types of questions also helps me be more lighthearted about the problem. Sometimes the answer isn’t clear in that moment. Then I become curious. Can I? Let’s find out. It can be fun to explore our own hearts and minds and find a path back to happiness. And just like paths in the forest, these paths become more worn and easier to follow the more we use them. So don’t worry if your mind seems like particularly dense woodlands right now. You can still make those paths. Even if it’s hard at first, know that it only gets easier.

Ram Dass talks about 'Becoming Nobody,' the documentary on his spiritual  journey | Datebook

Finding the Feeling

For years now, I have practiced yoga, meditation, and gratitude daily. While I’ve definitely noticed improvements in my mental health since implementing these practices, it still feels like the changes I’ve experienced have been underwhelming. I thought that after such diligent effort over so many years, that I would be further along in my spiritual journey by this point. I still struggle daily with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame, anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, etc.

In the beginning, these daily practices were done very intentionally. It was easy to remain mindful because everything was so new to me. However, after solidifying these routines, they became just that, routines. Many days I find myself just going through the motions. That is the reason I haven’t been able to enjoy more of the benefits ever after so many years. I also think this may be a reason some people find themselves giving up on yoga, meditation, and mindfulness all together.

We must always be careful not to allow these things to become just words, just routines. Going through the motions may be better than doing nothing at all, but it isn’t going to result in the profound changes we’re seeking in ourselves. Yoga isn’t about the shapes the body takes, it’s about where the mind goes, learning to watch our own thoughts, learning to let go, to make peace with our perceived flaws or shortcomings, and so much more. In the same way, a daily gratitude practice isn’t about how fast you can list things off, or being able to fill up a whole page. It’s about the energy, the emotion behind the things your listing.

It’s almost funny when I think about it. I don’t know why I would expect writing a list of things I’m grateful for to be any different than writing a grocery list considering the way I normally feel while doing so. I usually don’t feel anything at all. If anything, I feel annoyed. “Ugh, I don’t have time for this. I can’t think of anything to write. Why am I such an ungrateful person? Why is this so hard for me?” That’s usually the kinds of thoughts occupying my mind as I struggle to think of enough bullet points to fill the page in my gratitude journal. Saying the words, “I am grateful,” isn’t enough. You’ve got to feel it too.

Now for some people this may just be something that blossoms naturally from doing the practice. That’s how it is for all of us at the beginning I think. But for an emotionally blunted person like myself, after the initial novelty of the practices begins to wear off, it takes a bit more effort to uncover that emotional energy. Words and actions may help to illicit certain feelings, but we can’t allow ourselves to become to distracted by the words and actions alone. It’s the energy, the emotion, the sensation, that really matters. Having the emotion without the words, will still work wonders. Having the words without the feeling behind it, does nothing.

So the next time you embark on any mindfulness practice, try to focus on the energy behind your intention. What is your goal in doing this practice? What types of feelings and emotions are you trying to invite into your life? Are you trying to train your brain to quickly list things? Or are you trying to train your brain to actually experience a certain kind of energetic state? If you want to be able to more easily experience gratitude, you’ve got to actually practice feeling grateful, not just telling yourself you are.

This may be a lot more difficult of a practice, if you’re like me. I really struggle to get in touch with my emotions. If someone told me to imagine what love feels like, I’d feel confusion and maybe anxiety rather than love. If that sounds like you, try this short exercise:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Take 5 slow, deep breaths in and out.
  3. Now, imagine someone or something that you love. At first, you might still struggle to feel anything. If that’s the case, keep concentrating on more and more details. You might try to remember and recreate in your mind a memory with this person/animal/object.
  4. Once you’ve got a clear image in your head, move back into your body. What types of sensations are you experiencing? What do you feel and where are you feeling it? Maybe you feel an opening in your heart space or a lightness in your stomach.
  5. Whatever you’re feeling, focus on those bodily sensations. That is love. Not the words, not the thoughts, but this, right here, this feeling.
  6. Stay with that feeling for awhile, breathe into it, explore it, try to savor the subtleties of it so that you may more easily call yourself back to this energetic state in the future. Try to memorize every aspect.
  7. When you’re ready, you may release the practice and open your eyes. You can come back to this practice as many times as you need to. Eventually it will become easier and easier to cultivate this feeling whenever you want to.

If you’ve been practicing for a long time like I have and are just now coming to this realization, no worries. Obviously it took me this long to realize too. No need to be harsh on yourself about it or feel like you’ve just been wasting time up until now. The foundation you laid by “going through the motions” has led you to a place where you’re now able to delve more deeply into your practice, to add a new layer to your daily routine. We all move through our spiritual practice at our own pace, with our own unique obstacles along the way. Honor where you are now and keep moving forward.

If you have a daily gratitude practice, maybe today try to list only 1-3 things. Rather than quantity, focus on the quality of emotion behind each listed item. Let me know how it goes! I’d also love to know: What does love feel like in your body? What does gratitude feel like to you?

Gratitude Journal for a positive mindset - The Happi Empire

Find Neutral First

One of the things that I don’t see addressed enough when people talk about affirmations or positive self-talk is where to start. It always sounds so easy. Just say: I love myself, I am perfect just the way I am, good things are coming my way, etc. But what if you simply can’t make yourself believe those things no matter how many times you repeat the words? Not only will repeating these phrases half-heartedly not help, but it can actually be harmful. If saying “I deserve to be happy” is immediately followed by a flood of negative thoughts, you’re doing more harm than good.

This was something I really struggled with in the beginning of my spiritual journey. I am still working my way up, taking baby steps. Sometimes it feels like the self-help gurus out there don’t really understand or remember what it’s like to be lost and depressed. When you’re starting from so far behind, some of the affirmations people offer can seem laughable. The sad part is, I think most people are on the opposite side of this positivity and self-care movement. Feeling so far away from, and misunderstood by, the people in these better head spaces only serves to discourage those that are struggling the most. It feels like they are in a different world all together.

I used to be one of these people. My sister, whom I love dearly, still is. That’s what has inspired me to write this post and speak out about this troubling disconnect between self-love/self-care advocates and the people that need their help the most. We need to establish a middle ground in between these two extremes of perception in order to bridge the gap. Otherwise, even the people that work up the courage to try to step out of their negative mindsets will find the very practices designed to help, discouraging instead.

I’m here today to help the people like me find a foothold. If you are looking to improve you mental health, your self talk, your self image, or all of the above, it’s okay to start small. I mean, really small. Especially when it comes to affirmations, the important part is finding an affirmation that you can actually believe. Start where you are. Try out a couple different, fairly neutral affirmations at first. So take the example I gave earlier: I deserve to be happy. If that stirs up resistance or negative emotions inside of you, try tweaking it a bit. What about saying: everyone deserves to be happy. Sometimes more general phrases like this are more palatable. As you progress and become more comfortable with that phrase, you might try adding on: therefore, I also deserve happiness, or: so do I. Maybe one day you will feel confident saying: I deserve to be happy, but if not, that’s okay too.

Here are a couple other affirmations for you to try if you’re just beginning an affirmation practice:

  1. It’s okay to feel anxious (depressed, angry, sad, etc.)
  2. Whatever I manage to do today is enough, even if it is just existing.
  3. I know I am doing the best I can even if it may not appear that way to others.
  4. Everyone deserves to be loved.
  5. This feeling will pass. Nothing lasts forever.

Feel free to use these or come up with your own affirmations that feel true to you. The final tip I’ll offer is, do what you can. And let yourself be proud of how ever much that is. Sometimes we get so fixated on how much other people are doing that we don’t feel we have any right to be proud of the “small” things we do. But we all have our own struggles. Regardless of how different or “trivial” our struggles might look compared to someone else’s, we know how hard it is. Let yourself celebrate the small victories. Because those small victories add up. If you want to start yoga or meditation, that doesn’t mean you have to pay for a studio membership, buy a bunch of fancy props, or even dedicate an hour of your day to practicing. I started my yoga journey with just 7 minutes a day. Does even 7 minutes sound overwhelming? No big deal. Try 1 minute, 1 deep mindful breath, or even just 1 pose. This is your journey, your life, and you can take it as slow as you need to.

6,733 Girl Looking Out Window Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images  - iStock

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.

This Is It

Waking up. Cool morning air. Start the coffee. Hear the dripping as the hot water saturates and spills past the grounds. Feed the cat. Let the dog out. Brush your teeth. Walking back and forth, daily repetition, absent minded, heavy footed. These are the moments we rush to get through, moments we skim over and ignore. Our attention is focused elsewhere in these moments. Making to-do lists. Ruminations about the day before, the day ahead. Frustrated by monotony. Bored by actions repeated hundreds of times. Angered by the uncertainty of it all, the futility of doing something only to do it over again, and again…

Rushing back and forth between the meal I was preparing and the garbage can at the other side of the kitchen last night, I realized something: This is it. These “worthless” moments, the “wasted” time of washing, eating, using the toilet, cleaning off counters, sweeping the floor, opening and closing doors, these are the moments that make up our lives. How we spend these moments matters. Trying to rush through and gloss over these moments does not serve us. Rather, it trains us. How we perceive and live these moments becomes the way we live and perceive the rest of our lives.

Are these daily tasks obligations or are they opportunities? Are these experiences arbitrary or are they important challenges to be faced with curiosity and attention? Yoga has taught me the importance of repetition. It has taught me how to find nuance in the mundane redundancies of life. Though the different postures we assume with our bodies are limited, our experience of them is unlimited. A sequence of poses performed precisely at dawn each day will never result in the same practice twice. There are always differences, slight subtilties to take notice of if we have the patience to look for them, if we practice truly being there in our bodies from moment to moment.

It’s easy to be present in a new place or performing a new task. The mind is not clouded by expectations. It is unable to fall into auto-pilot. However, we are creatures of routine. The longer we live, the more deeply these grooves of routine become. Of course there is value in routine: efficiency, mastery, and many other wonderful things. Eventually the challenge changes from the task itself to maintaining mindful attention to said task.

We have been conditioned to view some parts of life as pleasant and other parts as meaningless, unpleasant, or simply maintenance. There is nothing enjoyable about waking up early and getting ready for work, doing the laundry, or mowing the lawn. This is the narrative that most of us recite unconsciously each and every day. But when it comes down to it, don’t these activities comprise the majority of our lives?

Enjoying life isn’t just about traveling, partying, playing, or whatever else we may label as “fun” or “meaningful” experiences. Enjoying life is something we practice in each moment. If we pay attention, there is pleasure to be found in even the most insignificant of activities. Pleasure is not derived from the experience itself, rather the attention we afford the experience.

To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur to us only when we are not doing them. Once we are standing in front of the sink with our sleeves rolled up and our hands in warm water, it is really not bad at all. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to go and have dessert, the time will be unpleasant, not worth living. That would be a pity, for every second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and the fact that I am here washing them are miracles!

Thich Nhat Hanh

I’ve found that the easiest way to be present is to get curious, to ask myself questions. The answer to these questions doesn’t really matter. What is more important is the focus my mind experiences while searching for an answer. Use the morning routine I mentioned earlier as an example. As you wake up, ask yourself: What does it feel like to be awake? How does the air feel this morning? Is it humid? Chilly? What do my sheets feel like against my skin? As you prepare your coffee, ask: What does coffee smell like? What is happening in my mind and body as I pour the grounds? Do I feel groggy, excited, calm, impatient? How are the hills and valleys of the piled up grounds different than they were yesterday?

It may be difficult to hold your interest in these kinds of mindfulness practices, especially if you’re in a bad mood. The good thing is, this disposition is also something we can take notice of, be curious about. Sometimes trying to be mindful feels like a poorly veiled attempt to force myself into a more positive headspace. This type of heavy handed energy can defeat the whole purpose, creating anxiety, frustration, and resentment, rather than patient acceptance of what is. It is important to remind ourselves of this and to constantly reconnect with our true intention: simply to notice, to observe. There is no need to judge or change how we are feeling. No need to feel upset or guilty about how we are feeling or what thoughts are coming up. Just notice, examine whatever is there with interest and equanimity. That is enough.

Each thought, each action in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred. In this light, no boundary exists between the sacred and the profane

Thich Nhat Hanh
How To Make Washing Dishes More Fun & Enjoyable

More Than This

Like most people in my area, I was raised Christian, Methodist to be more specific. My family was never super religious or anything, but we did go to church every Sunday when I was little. As soon as I was old enough to question things, I did. When I found that none of the important questions I raised could be answered, I decided to cast aside these religious teachings and become an atheist.

Without really realizing it, I harbored a lot of pain and resentment toward religion after that. I spent a lot of time feeling superior to people that were still religious. I thought they were idiots, brainwashed, or at the very least painfully ignorant. Slowly I began to give up that anger though. While there are plenty of things I disagree with about a lot of religious teachings and organized religions, I don’t feel the need to fight against them or throw them out entirely anymore. I’m content to let others find comfort and meaning in life in whatever way they see fit.

My yoga journey has reawakened my interest in spirituality and the things we still don’t understand about this existence. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts addressing these fascinating subjects. I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge and there is simply nothing better than learning something new that completely changes your perspective. I’ve been lucky enough to learn a lot of those kinds of things in the last few days and I’d love to share a few of them with you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly what we are. For most of my life, it seemed obvious. We are these physical bodies. We are matter moving through the world and when we die we’re dead. Our consciousness disappears. These bodies turn back to dust. A few things I’ve heard have led me to challenge that belief though. Did you know that what we consider to be our body is actually made up more of the empty space between/within atoms than the actual atoms? Not only that, when you only consider the cells our bodies are composed of, we are made up practically equally of germ/bacterial cells as we are human cells. How can that be?! It completely changes my conception of what it means to be me.

With those two things in mind, it seems like we should identify more with our consciousness and the energy inside of us than our physical bodies. But what exactly is that energy and where does it come from? I don’t pretend to know. But I have learned that our thoughts, feelings, words, and emotions are not as immaterial as I once thought. I may not have all the answers that I would like to have, and I may not ever have them, but I believe there is much more to existence than can currently be understood or explained by science. I no longer have the arrogance I once did. There is so much I don’t know. There is so much for me to learn and discover. And that’s okay. I am so excited to keep searching.

Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

Feeling Emotions In Your Body

As I was growing up, I remember crying quite a lot. I guess it’s normal for kids to cry often, especially little girls. Even as a teenager I have many memories of crying myself to sleep at night. It seems sad, but I actually miss those days. Now I go literally years without a single teardrop. That’s a good thing, right? Well, not exactly. Not crying doesn’t necessarily mean you’re happier than if you cry every day. Crying is a release. It’s a release I’ve actually been longing for and unable to find for a long time now.

Until recently I didn’t think too much about it. I figured if I wasn’t crying, I must just not be sad enough. As an adult, I’ve always thought of myself as not a very emotional person. However, as human beings we are all emotional creatures. Unfortunately some of us have just cut ourselves off from those emotions. I don’t necessarily know if it’s a natural defense mechanism in my case, or if it’s because of the SSRI that I’ve been taking for around 6 years now. Perhaps neither, or a combination of both. I suppose the reason doesn’t matter.

It’s only come to my attention lately because I have been working with a few kundalini meditations. For some reason, each time I do one of these practices, I feel this deep pit of emotion open up inside of me afterward. I’ll randomly feel the urge to cry throughout the rest of the day. It feels like there is so much feeling welling up, but still I am unable to fully release that energy. Although I’m sure I need that release, it’s not a pleasant experience. So, true to form, I’ve been shying away from kundalini, despite my interest in it.

With emotion front and center in my mind, I happened to stumble upon a podcast that was talking about just that. The woman being interviewed even described exactly how I’ve been feeling, but haven’t been able to put into words. She said that she never really understood it when people talked about feeling their emotions in their bodies. For her, emotion was always a mental state, not something you necessarily felt physically. She even talked about the way she likes to visualize walking down a staircase from her head into her body in order to find that deeper, primal connection with herself.

After hearing that, it dawned on me that I haven’t been feeling into my body at all for a long time now. I guess part of me even felt powerful and strong for never crying. But courage is sitting with those emotions, not blocking them out. I want to make an effort to really rediscover what it feels like to experience life from my whole being, not simply living in my head all the time. I feel like I’ve been taking this body for granted, not fully embracing it as a part of myself. I’ve somewhat disassociated from my body as I’ve grown older. I’ve lived the last decade or so of my life as if I’m just this floating head, completely disconnected from the physical world.

Even though it feels scary, I’ve been trying to come back to my bodily sensations when I notice myself getting too caught up in my thinking mind. It seems like the only two emotions I feel anymore are anxiety (if that can even be considered an emotion) and anger. So I’m going to start there. I’ve already noticed that allowing yourself to be open to the experience of whatever it is you’re feeling let’s you have the space to really be present with it. It feels much better than trying to avoid or control it.

The next time you feel yourself starting to get overwhelmed, take a few breaths and tap back into your body. Let go of any thoughts you might be having and simply ask yourself, how do I feel right now? What is going on in my body? Maybe your chest feels tight. Maybe your clenching different muscles. There’s no need to try to change what you notice. Just noticing it is enough. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is. Forgive yourself for the way you feel. Offer yourself compassion. Emotions, even painful ones, are just another part of the human experience. They teach us about ourselves. They connect us to others. They are energy moving through us. Trying to avoid these feelings just causes them to become trapped within us rather than flowing in and out of us like the breeze. Let’s relearn how to let go. Become the curious observer of your own human experience.

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

My New July Routines

MY Daily Self-Care Routine | Life Is Now In Session

Happy July everyone! It’s a brand new month full of possibilities and promise. I always love the firsts. First day of the year, first day of the month, first day of the week even. It always feels like a fresh start, a clean slate. July is probably one of my favorite months of the year too, which makes today extra special for me. In just a few more days it’ll be my favorite holiday, Independence Day. There couldn’t possibly be a better time or headspace for me to start cultivating some new self-love routines. Today I wanted to share these new routines with you. Feel free to incorporate them into your day and/or tweak them to better suit your needs.

Morning Goals/Intention Setting:

The first new habit I’ve decided to add into my day starts first thing in the morning. Usually it’s really hard for me to wake up, but this morning I was actually so excited to start my new daily ritual that I woke up feeling great and ready to start a the day. After feeding my fur children, starting a pot of coffee, and brushing my teeth, I went out on my back porch in the warm, morning air. I sat down and listened to the sound of light rain surrounding me. I placed one hand on my heart, one hand on my belly and took five deep, mindful breaths. I wanted to take a moment to check in with my physical body and ground myself, as well as send myself some loving, gentle energy. Then I asked myself these three questions:

  • What do I want to focus on today?
  • What do I want to accomplish today?
  • How can I show myself love today?

I can’t even remember a morning where I took a moment to offer myself this sort of kindness. It took less than five minutes, and it was an absolutely wonderful way to begin the day.

Healthy, Mindful Eating:

Somehow during the pandemic, I acquired some pretty unhealthy eating habits. The main one I’ve still been unable to shake is not eating all day, then eating a day’s worth of food right before I go to bed. Obviously not ideal. Starting today, I am going back to eating regular meals throughout the day. I’ve read a lot of great things about mindful eating so I wanted to sprinkle that into my new eating routine as well. Just like with my new morning ritual, I am going to begin each meal by taking five deep, mindful breaths and really checking in with my body. How am I feeling? What does it feel like to be hungry, for my stomach to be empty? Then unlike what I’ve done practically my entire life, I am not going to watch anything or do anything else at all while I eat. I do put some lofi hip hop on, just to calm my nerves a bit. Then I have my meal while really focusing on the food as I eat it, chewing it slowly and intentionally. Finally, I finish my meals with a cup of my favorite tea (dandelion root). After my tea, once again I close my eyes and take five more mindful breaths.

Even though my lunch ended up getting pushed back quite a bit due to a very hectic and busy workday, I still managed to maintain my new routine. After a full day of eating this way, I already feel a huge difference. It was much easier than I expected to simply focus on my meal and be present instead of zoning out by watching some TV show. It definitely helped me stay connected to my body and feel more satisfied by my food.

Bedtime Routine:

Not only am I going to start my day with mindfulness and intention, but I want to make sure that after a day full of activity, I make time to wind down before bed. This routine will start at 9PM ideally (I usually go to bed by 10) and will consist of:

  • Brushing/flossing my teeth (I have yummy watermelon flavored kids toothpaste for my nighttime brushing.)
  • Washing my face and putting on a moisturizing night cream
  • More tea
  • Gentle self-massage (checking in with body to decide where it’s most needed of course)
  • Evening check-in

Tonight I added some gentle yoga in bed as well since I didn’t have time for my practice earlier in the day. It was such a wonderful end to a peaceful, nearly stress-free day.

Evening Check-In:

I plan to end my bedtime routine and my day with something similar to the way I started it. I want to start and end my days with intentional self love. Lately it’s felt like I’m just this floating mind, full of stress and nervous energy. It’s important to me to make an effort to reconnect with my physical body and make sure I am taking care of myself properly. Just as my morning ritual does, my evening check-in will also begin by taking five deep breaths. Then I’ll ask myself a few more questions:

  • How was your day?
  • What was the overall impression/vibe?
  • What went well?
  • What is something I am proud of/grateful for?
  • How might I use what I learned today to build myself a better day tomorrow?

It was really delightful to sit with myself regularly throughout the day at mealtimes and to start and end my day mindfully. Often times even though I begin a new routine filled with excitement and high hopes, I’ll eventually feel overwhelmed by it. That’s why my goal for these new routines is to treat it more like a little self-experiment. Can I do this for 30 days? How will I feel at the end of the month? How might I be different? What can I learn through this experience? I am so excited to keep the momentum going as long as I can and discover new things about myself along the way. Let me know if you decide to try any of these routines for yourself and what you thought of them.

Writing: A Brief History of Our Love Affair | by Gabrielle Finnen | Ascent  Publication