Meditation, Meditation, Meditation…

It’s like a buzz word. But WHAT is it really? Why would you want to meditate?

A decade ago meditation to me felt like a prison in which I HAD to produce some kind of amazing thought, reaction, or peace and solitude in my mind. The idea of sitting and doing nothing except trying not to think about something had me looking for the exit sign.

Since that time I have become appreciative and even a proponent of meditation.

Linda Meditation

Do you meditate? What holds you back? Time? Interest? Let’s discuss some of the benefits.

If you already meditate how many of these reasons hold true for you?

Five Reasons to Meditate…

1)    Meditation brings us to the realization that we are all connected. We are part of a universal energy in which we play a part. Our energy affects the whole. What I think, what I say, and what I do really does matter.

2)    Meditation fosters mindfulness. It brings us into the present moment and creates a basis for us to respond rather than react to our circumstances. Kabat-Zinn said, “While it won’t get your work done for you, it will profoundly change your orientation, so that your doing comes out of your being, and the choices you make come from a deeper knowing of yourself. That approach can have a profound effect on the quality of our work in the world and how we face the stresses in our personal and professional lives.”

3)    Meditation reduces self-destructive thought patterns. In as little as 30 seconds a day we can learn to let go of poisonous self-depreciating thoughts like revenge, anger, jealousy, greed or hate; and instead foster nourishing life giving thoughts of hope, love, understanding, and kindness. In other words we can learn to “let it go” and focus on actions that are life enhancing.

4)    According to Kabat-Zinn,  meditation helps to “cultivate a capacity to see what is here to be seen, hear what is here to be heard, and feel what is here to be felt.” Imagine the world being more vibrant and delightful to your soul!

5)    Meditation has proven to be a helpful treatment in alleviating symptoms of fibromyalgia, chronic pain, sleep disorders, headaches, depression, and high blood pressure. Studies reported in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke and other studies conducted through the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society (CFM) at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center are just a few that support these claims.

Why do you meditate? Where, when and how? I’d like to hear from you.

Goal Setting: Chore or Pleasure?

Goal setting is a favorite past-time of mine. Hold on. Before you go bizerk and check out…stay with me for a paragraph or two. For some folks the word “goal” is a four letter word. Perhaps you – like some members of my family – would rather shovel snow, clean out the junk drawer, or do the dishes than sit down and revel in a good goal setting session. I’m not here to persuade you differently…but to share a perspective that may take the angst out of it.

I believe we are all heading somewhere this year. Knowing what you want will get you there faster. Writing it down on paper and then telling your friends, family, or coach will help hold you accountable to achieving your goal. For me, writing down what I want helps me bring clarification to my dreams and to prioritize them in a way that makes sense in my present circumstance. Then I can move towards them by taking baby step actions every day.

Whether you have or haven’t thought about, worked on, or written down your goals…what I’m going to share with you now are four virtues I think are necessary and worth cultivating in order to reach your dreams. I came up with these after pondering on why I did or didn’t meet my goals for last year. Here they are…(I would love to hear your list in the comments below…)

#1 Enthusiasm – or, being filled with spirit. Enthusiasm means “God within”. When we live with enthusiasm we are excited about life and are open to the wonders of each day. We do things with zeal and eagerness. We enjoy good humor, live in the moment and appreciate what we have. We follow our dreams with true joy. We bring passion to the mundane. Mantra: “I am inspired by simple things.”

#2 Simplicity – K.I.S.S: Keep It Simple for SURE! Be content with the basic gifts of life. Live reflectively and mindfully, aware of what is important and what is not. Enjoy the little things in life. Keep around you only what is useful or beautiful. I recently went through my spice cupboard and found spices that I hadn’t used for 15+ years! What do you have that can be thrown away, given away, refurbished, or given a new use? Keep meaningful things. Mantra: “I know what I care about.”

#3 Purposefulness – We are each here for a reason. Allow yourself to discover the part you are uniquely meant to play in life. Discern your intention and focus on it mindfully. Visualize it happening. Set goals and achieve them step by step, resisting distractions. Give each task single-minded concentration and excellence. Invest your full enthusiasm into even the simplest job. Trust the journey. Mantra: “I enjoy giving excellence to each task.”

#4 Self-Discipline – is having the self-control to do only what we truly choose to do, rather than being blown about in the winds of our desires or other’s expectations. Self-dicipline gives us the will to persevere and meet our goals. To be productive instead of procrastinating. We are able to weed out bad habits and cultivate good ones. Mantra: “I have the self-control to make wise choices.”

What are your thoughts? I’d like to hear what virtues you are cultivating this year! Please leave a comment below.

Restorative Yoga: Why Restore?

In “Yoga for Wellness”, Gary Kraftsow describes Yoga Therapy (Yoga Cikitsa) as:

“a remedial tradition, founded on a recognition that our physical condition, emotional states, attitudes, dietary and behavioral patterns, lifestyle and personal associations, and the environment in which we live and work are all intimately linked to each other and to the state of our health.”

We live in a constant state of fluctuation and change in all these areas of our lives. Year to year, month to month, day to day, minute by minute our body is adjusting to both internal and external forces. The good news is that because nothing is static, our condition will (and has to) change. The question then becomes will it change for better or worse?
One of my yoga mentors Judith Lasater challenges her classes to ask the question this way…

”Is what I’m doing in the present moment healing or harmful to me right now?”

That’s a great question! Sometimes our body doesn’t need another mile on the treadmill or a late night TV show, or beating ourselves into a submissive exhaustion to feel effectively “worked out”. Sometimes the body just needs to be still & quiet. What I’m talking about is true Restorative Yoga.

What is Restorative Yoga?

Restorative Yoga = The Antidote to Stress

Photo: Lululemon Athletica

True Restorative Yoga is the practice of relaxing deeply. It is being propped up, supported, held, and nurtured in a pose for a sustained period of time, typically from 5-30 minutes.

The power of quieting the mind and stilling the body is that it creates a state of rest that is different from sleep, one in which the body can heal and recover from deep states of chronic stress. It is a state where there is no effort, no movement, and the brain is quiet.

I introduce three poses in this restorative practice.

When practiced regularly, these quiet soothing poses allow (and help) our own internal healing processes to work—healing processes that can be overwhelmed by stress and disease. Just as it takes a repetitious lifting of heavy weight to build muscle, so to it takes allowing oneself to deeply relax in order to let the repair and healing process take place.

To experience a practice for yourself, follow the yoga practice in the video above.

Taking time out each day to relax and renew is essential to living well. The postures I share in the video above, when practiced regularly, will help heal the effects of chronic stress. They can be practiced individually in as little as 5 minutes to accommodate busy schedules or grouped together in a sequence simmering 5-30 minutes in each posture for a more complete 60-90 minute practice.

According to Judith Lasater in her book “Relax & Renew”, restorative poses work well for those times when you feel weak, fatigued, or stressed from your daily activities. They are especially beneficial for the times before, during, and after major life events: death of a loved one, change of job or residence, marriage, divorce, major holidays, and vacations. They are also helpful when recovering from an illness or injury.

Are you in a constant state of going from one thing to the next and always trying to “catch up” or “stay on top of it”? You could be on overload. The need to take time to repair and replenish is just as great as the need for us to move and be active. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. A good active practice alternating with a restorative practice at the right times can bring balance into our lives. Stress levels go down and tasks that once seemed difficult are suddenly more doable.

Because I’m a “doer” as in, I like to bike, hike, run, do yoga, and generally be active, I cherish the times I get to practice restoration. My body eats it up. I usually treat it once a week for 15-30 minutes to bring my body back into balance. Twice a year (usually around the holiday season and mid summer) I include a deeper practice of restore that comprises a daily 30-60 minute practice for an entire week. I feel like I’m plugging into a reservoir of energy juice. Like the Energizer Bunny, I’m renewed and feel like I can take on the world.

Yoga Helps Improve Focus and Mental Clarity

Yoga Tip: Use balancing postures to sharpen your focus and mental clarity.

An article I recently read struck a chord with me.

It pointed out how our mind is one of the resources we rely on most to navigate our life and possibly the one we take most for granted.

“If you think about it you’ll realize that it’s true. Your mind is your greatest asset.

We use it for our intelligence, imagination, creativity and reasoning. When it is gets foggy or overwhelmed and unclear it’s hard to make decisions, remember things or have the mental capacity to complete projects.

Do you feel like your head struggles sometimes? That your memory recall is slow or your intuition can’t be found?

I know I do.

It’s important to maintain and improve mental clarity – why?

  • Job performance – our livelihood depends on how we show up and our focus on the job.
  • Information retention – I don’t believe that as we age our minds get less sharp…I believe we lose the ability to retain information because we aren’t focused on our “focus” muscles. Information recall and retention are directly related to how we assimilate information. Mental alertness and clarity is key.
  • Complex problem solving – reasoning and day to day decision making is easier when our minds are sharp, clear, and tuned in.
  • Having direction and purpose in life – ahhh…this is my favorite and often we overlook the value of having direction and purpose in life. Then in our 40’s we look at where we are and say “What am I doing here?”

And the list goes on…

A great way to increase mental clarity is through meditation and exercise. Yoga combines the two to create excellent clarity in the mind. When we are focused completely on holding balance in a pose the mind becomes sharp, all other thoughts are removed giving the mind clear focus.

When I began to practice yoga back in 2000 I noticed within a few weeks that I was experiencing greater focus, clarity and productivity at work. I still use yoga today as a vehicle to keep my mind sharp, focused and vibrant.

A great pose to practice clarity of mind is Virabhadrasana 3 (Warrior 3) pose.

Photo

Five Tips for a Healthy Low Back

This season can be hard on the low back…especially if you don’t have a snow blower. I’ve already shoveled more snow this year than all of last year combined. Utah is having a stellar snow year!

If your low back is irritated and inflamed, here are some timely tips to keep your back feeling strong and healthy.

  1. Maintain equivalency. In other words, if you do an activity using one side of the body, balance it out by doing it on the other. For instance, when snow shoveling, shovel and throw the snow over your right side and then repeat to the left. Balance. Shift which hand you hold the phone in or which leg you put more weight on while standing. Notice how you move in your day to pick up clues as to why the low back is in pain. Often when the motion is countered the low back pain goes away.
  2. Photo: My Yoga Online on Flickr

    Manage repetitive motion. There are some occupations that repeat motion on one side over and over again, like dentists and golfers. If that is a requirement for you at work, it can be difficult to maintain equivalency. Your job depends on repetitive motion to one side (like a right handed golf swing or leaning over a patient in the same direction). To counter this, take periodic breaks while working to counter the movement by stretching in the opposite direction. There are also exercises that you should do at the gym or in yoga that can counter the stress of repetitive motion. See your local yoga instructor for suggestions.

  3. Photo: Lululemon Athletica

    Stretch Tight Muscles. Tight quadriceps, hamstrings, and hips all contribute to low back pain. Sitting for long periods of time can cause stiffness in the hips and hamstrings and pull the low back into over stretch. Take a break from your desk and walk to loosen tight muscles. A regular yoga practice can keep you limber and alleviate stiffness that comes from repetitive motion or inactivity. Bottom line? Keep moving! Here are a couple of asanas to open the hips and stretch the low back: Hip and Low Back Stretches.

  4. Strengthen Postural Muscles. Do you get that sagging sit back, relax and slump in your chair posture towards the end of the day? Maybe sooner? A strong back can help. Try this sequence of postures: Back Strengthening.
  5. Take an office Break! Sit up tall. Here’s a video to help: Yoga Office Break
What keeps your low back healthy?

Inversions and Menstruation – What is Safe?

Photo: fitsugar.com

A simple Google search will tell you that a lot of literature has been written about whether or not women should do inversions in her yoga practice when she is menstruating. There is a widely-held concern that engaging in inversions while menstruating may cause retrograde flow and lead to endometriosis, though there is no concrete evidence that inversions during menstruation are the cause of this. Since the energy flows downward during a woman’s period, inversions can be seen as a disruption to this downward energy flow.

To be smart about your yoga practice and your body, here are a few things to consider about whether to do inversions when you have your period.

  1. Inversions should be light when your flow is heavy. While you may not want to opt out of inversions altogether, don’t hold your inversions as long. In other words, this is not the time for a ten-minute headstand. Rather than engaging in assertive inversions, you may opt for a milder inversion pose such as down dog and receive similar benefits. Continue reading

Top 5 Life-Affirming Practices

I’m here in St. George at the Huntsman Senior Games supporting my man in his quest to be the fastest biker over 50 competing against top cyclists in the state of Utah and from around the country. He’s pretty darn fast! How does he do it?

Single minded focus and great determination. He has what I call self-discipline (see definition of self-discipline in my recent article). Continue reading

Are You Falling For Inversions Yet? Part 1

Part 1: Inversions bring on whole new perspective!

Photo: vgm8383 on Flickr

If you find yourself falling out of inversions more than you are falling IN LOVE with inversions, you’re definitely not alone! I’ve coached hundreds of students through headstands, handstands, and shoulder stands to where I understand some of the common pit “falls” of inversions and am here to help.

Before you get all “I’m just not cut out for upside down balancing” on me, I’ll let you in on a secret…Inversions are simpler than you think. That’s right. You could be reaping the benefits of inversions already and not even realize your good fortune. Let’s break it down…

Continue reading

Spring Detox: De-Junk the Trunk

Just as a closet can collect clutter…our bodies hang on to baggage. They need a cleanse.

Join me in my yoga classes this month as we concentrate on breathing techniques, hip openers and twists to cleanse and rejuvenate.

The results are ENERGIZING!!

In getting rid of the junk we can make room for healthy practices.

Even the smallest change can bring about big results.

Photo: cambiodefractal

Like planting a tiny seed in fertile soil and nourished over time grows into a mature life sustaining plant, we too can plant seeds of nourishing practices that, when fertilized consistently, transform us into our healthiest self yet. Continue reading

Clear the Clutter, Clear Your Mind, Manifest Your Dreams…

Photo: h.koppdelaney on Flickr

Four out of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga are directly related to meditation and the remaining four are supporting elements.

This isn’t by coincidence!

When our minds are constantly cluttered with monkey mind jargon it’s nearly impossible to create focused forward momentum. Instead we get stuck in the “doing” or “having things a certain way”, and “in a certain order” mentality. We can spin our wheels re-living the should’ves, would’ves, and could’ves that leave us feeling resentful, anxious or crazy! My advice… Continue reading