Archive for category Yoga/Meditation

the LOVE Sangha

I hope this piece finds you enjoying the beautiful summer.  A new month is upon us and with that, I also have a few new things in the works.  One being, I will be moving my current blog over to another service.  Over the next few postings, I will provide information as to where you can continue to follow me on this journey.

For today’s particular post, I would like to share about my latest project.  The LOVE Sangha.

I wear the LOVE tattoo as a means of creating awareness and providing support for friends and family affected by addiction, depression, self-harm and suicide.  With several people in my life that battle mental health issues, it is one way I can help bring light to their world.

Statistics tell us:

  • That for every alcoholic, 16 people are directly affected.  This includes spouses or partners, kids, friends and co-workers, just to name a few.
  • In 2012, an estimated 16 million adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.  This represented 6.9 percent of all U.S. adults.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death; homicide ranks 16th.
home meditation

As someone who attends al-anon and has loved ones whom have experienced major depression, which led to suicide or attempted suicide, I have also found great refuge with meditation.  That is why I have created the LOVE Sangha.  I chose the word LOVE, as an acronym: Let Others Voluntarily Evolve.  One of the most difficult things for those in al-anon to do is let go.  We can’t change someone who isn’t willing to do it for themselves.  And it is just as important to work on yourself.  The LOVE Sangha is not a replacement for a traditional 12-step meeting.  Rather, it is a safe space to help you explore a deeper sense of self, as a community.  One does not need to be part of any 12-step program or have any experience with meditation in order to participate.

This is a free online forum, which provides anyone from around the world to participate.  Using a video conferencing system, it will allow you to participate from any computer, tablet or phone.  Having a support system is equally important for those who are effected by mental health.

Please reach out to me directly if you or anyone you know may be interested.

be well-

 

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Silence and Solitude

I have been on the fence over the last few days as to whether or not to write a piece about my experience from last week.  After much back and forth, I think it is important to share my experience, even if it’s for my own benefit as a way to document my first silent retreat.  My hope is that maybe it will inspire others to go on retreat someday.

Having built a strong foundation of a daily meditation practice and after the encouragement of a dear friend and feeling like I was ready, I set forth for my first seven-day silent retreat.  “No tv’s? Could you do puzzles or board games like cribbage?”  These were a few questions asked by my friend when talking about my time away last week.  My reply, “Nope. Complete silence.”

The act of Noble Silence…not just limiting, but disconnecting from speech, reading, writing, anything with an on/off button.  Seven days of sitting and walking meditation from 5:45am-10pm every day.  My hope for this retreat was to deepen my meditation practice.  It has done so much more than that.

In one sense, it’s difficult to really explain what I mean by that.  For those of you who have seen the movie “City Slickers” with Billy Crystal, it’s like him finding that one thing that changes his life/makes him happy.  An intangible for most and it’s going to be different for each person.

In another sense, I have already seen how this experience has changed my life.  Here are just a few:

  • learning to create space between stimulus and reaction/response
  • having a strong anchor to help come back to center
  • the importance of metta for myself

When I first arrived at the retreat center, it was like being back home where there are rolling hills, farm land and forests.  Being in an environment like this always brings a sense of peace to me.  Because I arrived before registration began, I was shown my room and invited to take a walk through the woods.  There were several well-marked trails to choose from.

At 3pm I looked at one last picture on my cell phone and turned it off until silence was broken seven days later.  During the registration process I was assigned my yogi job, breakfast put-away.  This meant each morning after breakfast I put away all food leftover and helped clean the dining hall.  I also signed up to be a bell-ringer.  I was to ring the bell around campus before our last sit each night.

During the opening remarks, the teachers explained the schedule for the week, what emotions may arise, the five precepts, and talked about the importance of Noble Silence.  The idea of silence throughout the whole week was so we could dig deep within ourselves to notice.  Notice thoughts, mindfulness, awareness, hindrances, attachments.

Each day brought on a whole range of experiences from how my physical body felt to thoughts that would float in and out, and emotions that would stir and then bubble and come to a full on boil.

One of the most vivid memories I have from last week was on May 7th.  This was an emotional day to begin with because it was the anniversary of my grandmother’s death.  Around 8:20pm, I stepped outside to watch the sun set.  A few other were out there and then more and more gathered.  It was the most beautiful red and orange combination with slivers of low-lying clouds.  I was perched on the stone wall and watched the sun set through the silhouette of tree branches.  As I sat there, I kept imagining what the sunset looked like in Portsmouth, Iowa with the cemetery overlooking the rolling hills.  If it were the same as I had, Grandma would surely be smiling down on us.  When I went back into the meditation hall for our last sit of the evening, that was the most serene 45 minutes I had all week.

Each day we had a metta practice; loving, kindness and compassion.  And everyday was geared toward different people in our lives; a loved one, a neutral person, a difficult person, the world as a whole, and one day for ourself.  Showing others how much they mean to me is very important, whether it’s a hug, a text message or just a friendly thought I put out to them.  When we had to show metta toward ourselves, this was much more difficult.  And that was a big take-away for me, learning to show more compassion to myself.  The teachers offered mantras or phrases to put out for each of these people as suggestions.  Most of them worked but I definitely found a few others that resonate more so with me.

By the time Sunday morning came around and we were ready to break silence, I felt so at peace.  I’m not sure what I was expecting by attending the retreat, but I certainly received what I needed.  “That one thing is what you need to figure out.”

When asked if I’d go back, yes, most certainly I will be back.

be well-

 

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Even a weed turns into a Flower

Last night I came across a video portraying scenes around Baltimore and all that has been happening this week. Unlike most of the violent acts taking place, this was something different. Several clergy from all denominations were linked arm in arm, marching down the street. A true sign of peace and compassion. Ahimsa is a Sanskrit term for “non-violence,” and that is exactly what these men and women were practicing.

The following is taken from an article written by Dorna Djenab called Ahimsa: The Yoga Practice of Non-Violence-

The essence of ahimsa is non-violence of our own heart. The violence we inflict on each other is only the outward manifestation of the war raging inside ourselves and it is only by stopping the war within that we can stop the war without.

Violence is manifested in actions, in words and in thoughts. We may consider ourselves non-violent people but violence can work on very subtle levels. It has many disguises.

Thoughts of guilt, shame, resentment, disappointment all have a seed of violence within them. Words like *should* and* must* are the same. When we are unable to forgive ourselves or someone else, when we carry resentment; when we expect far too much of ourselves and put the responsibility of the whole world on our shoulders; when we expect the whole world to run according to our liking we are being violent towards ourselves and the rest of the world. When we don’t act according to our truth, but out of our fears, we are being violent to ourselves… Truth and nonviolence are inseparable. As Ghandi said: When I look for Ahimsa, Truth says, ”Find it through me.” When I look for Truth, Ahimsa says, ”Find it out through me.”

Non-violence is unconditional love, it is true compassion. We achieve that non-violence by learning to love and be loved; but how is it possible to love and be loved if we choose to escape or ignore some aspects of ourselves?

Yoga encourages us to meet our inner darkness impartially and compassionately, so that it can be transformed without being acted out in the world. We practice how to meet our inner violence nonviolently and how to express our negativity without hurting anyone, including ourselves. When we learn to discharge our negative energies with the positive intention to transcend these aspects of ourselves, we contribute to spreading peace in the world.

On the mat, intend to practice non violence in action and perform the poses gracefully without force. Intend to respect and love your body’s limitations. Have the intention to practice non violence in your mind. Watch and become aware of your thoughts and see if there are any that contain seeds of violence towards you or another. Once you’ve become aware, you won’t need to push it away, just recognize it, watch it come to your awareness and watch it leave. Thoughts come and go. It is by holding onto them and repeating them over and over that they become the source of our violent actions, or violent words. If you just observe them, without reacting to them, you’ll see that they will leave your awareness as easily as they came.

When we allow ourselves to fully experience the hate and pain within us without cringing, violence, hatred and pain will disappear and open doors to new understandings and liveliness. Just as a flower begins its journey from a seed beneath the earth, non-violence begins out of self acceptance and love of the true Self, deep within the human heart. Yoga leads us to a peaceful reconciliation with our own true nature.

be well-

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21 Miles, all Smiles

Signs of spring are popping up all over the place.  The snow is melting, a few flower buds are sprouting and many of the runners preparing for the Boston marathon likely had their “last long run,” before Marathon Monday.  Today’s weather conditions were much like what I ran through last year at this time for my last long run prepping for Boston, with my dear friend, Alex.  A few layers needed but the sun was shining.  Here is a before and after picture at the beginning of our 21 mile run.

With running season ramping up, I asked my running expert friends and family members for some race day tips, whether you are training for a 5k, marathon, ultramarathon, or an event like Ragnar.  Here’s what they had to say.

  • Trust in your training.  If you have followed your training plan, trust that you are able to finish the race.
  • Come race day, DO NOT CHANGE anything!  This includes nutrition, pace and clothing.  Do not buy any special shorts, pants or tops to wear race day.  If you have not trained in it, do not wear it – you don’t know if any discomfort or chaffing will result in new clothing and you don’t want to deal with pain caused from new hot spots.
  • Don’t get caught up in the hype…ie, don’t let the atmosphere and other runners alter your pace.  You have trained to run a certain pace, don’t end up bonking because you went out too fast.  You want to have a negative split, meaning your second half of the race is faster than your first half.
  • If you have friends/family attending the race, have them spread out throughout the course.  If they are able to get to desolate/isolated parts of the course, even better.  It’s great to see familiar faces in lonely parts of the course.
  • Many races have a camp to hang out at before the race.  Bring toilet paper, you don’t want to get stranded.
  • Even though you may not feel thirsty, it’s usually a pretty good idea grab a drink at the rest stops.  Alternate between water and sports drinks.
  • Have fun and enjoy the experience.

be well-

 

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Lulu’s, Tattoos, Beads and more….

Self admittedly, when I came onto the yoga scene first as a practitioner and then a teacher, I wanted to look and feel the part.  Often times, a large chunk of my paycheck went to pay for things such as designer yoga gear and mala beads.  Tattoo ideas such as the OM symbol, prayer hands or something in Sanskrit passed through my mind.  The idea of attending Burning Man could be fun.

It was as if there was a checklist of things I had to mark off, one by one.  And then there was a shift.  I had the confidence in who I was and what I stood for.

The cost of clothing, class passes, workshops, retreats, magazines, singing bowls, mala beads, tattoos, all in the name of yoga, is a multi-billion dollar business.  There is no doubt I have helped to contribute to that number.

Last week I went into one of my favorite shops in town.  It happens to be full of handpicked items the owner brings back from Nepal.  He always takes the time to give me some sort of lesson while I am there and I am eager to learn what he has to share.  On this day, he explained the symbolism of the Green Tara’s posture and mudra (hand position) and what she stood for.  And then he talked about the significance of 108, the mala beads, by drawing out diagrams.  Having someone take the time to teach me a bit of history behind a 5,000 year old practice is impactful.

For me, the brand name of a clothing line is no longer important.  I am just as comfortable wearing sweat pants and a tee-shirt while teaching.  Beads I wear around my wrist are there to help remind me that meditation can be done anywhere, anytime.  Singing bowls offer a beginning and an end to my practice.  As for that tattoo…..

Everyone is going to have their own path, their own way of living.  Find what is important and meaningful to you.

be well-

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Sending Love Letters

The following excerpt is from Melody Beattie’s Journey to the Heart

Sending love letters to people we care about is a rewarding experience, both for us and for them. Making the time to take pen in hand and express our thoughts is valuable. But there’s another way to send love letters, too. This way takes as much time and attention as writing a loving note does, but it doesn’t require a pen and paper. It requires concentrated thought.

There’s an invisible thread of energy winding through the universe, one that connects us all. Have you ever noticed that sometimes you can tell if someone’s angry or upset with you, even if you haven’t talked to or seen this person? You can feel his or her anger, even if you haven’t been physically present to experience it. Thoughts have power, particularly those charged with intense emotional energy. When we think mean, bitter thoughts, it can be like sending hate mail along our connecting wires. It can almost be a sensory attack.

Why not send loving thoughts charged with positive emotional energy? We can consciously choose to use jour connections to others to send love. Send positive thoughts. Blessings. Peace. Assistance in time of crisis. We can send our thoughts in the form of a prayer; or we can simply think a blessing or positive thought, charge it with energy, and send it along the wires with love.

When someone you know or loves comes to mind, or even someone you don’t- perhaps someone in another part of the country or the world, perhaps someone going through a particular crisis- and you’re not certain what to do, send a love letter. Your loving thoughts will touch them and your blessings will all come back to you.

There are endless ways to show love for others. Below are a few examples-

This particular weekend always has a special place in my heart. Six months post Hurricane Katrina I spent some time in the lower 9th ward of St.Bernard Parish in New Orleans. I lived in a tent city and volunteered for an organization in their Made with Love Cafe. We prepared and served over 1,000 meals per day to residents of New Orleans. To this day, it marks one of the most fulfilling and greatest learning experiences I have ever been through.

MC Yogi spreads love through music and yoga. He took to Kickstarter to help finish a project years in the making. With the help of generous donors, he was able to complete his latest album, Only Love is Real. The world needs more spiritually uplifting music, art and yoga! Take a listen

Boston has received record-breaking amounts of snow in the last several weeks. And while cabin fever is setting in for many, the transportation system shut down and roofs caving in, I have also seen acts of kindness. I have witness people helping to shovel out their neighbors, residents adopting fire hydrants to be sure they are clear and snow mountains with the following message-

 

Sending love letters with pen and paper, text messages or through music, prayer and meditation is very powerful and a great way to connect with our friends, family and community.

With love and light, be well-

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Practicing what we Preach

Ambitions have started to fade for many people as we head into the lull of new years resolutions.  Motivation, or lack of, affects every one of us at some point- including fitness professionals.  I thought it might be a great idea to reach out to some friends and family in the health and wellness industry to get their strategies for keeping motivation and practicing what we preach.  Here’s what a few of them had to say-

Kelly- Director of Healthy Living, Minnesota
I always have a water bottle with me, I get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, I lift weights regularly, and enjoy hiking and biking outdoors (particularly at state park trails) any chance I get with my husband and 1-year-old son.
It’s important to me that I lead by example so that I can influence others daily so that they can live their lives to the fullest! Many times I share my passion and excitement for outdoor adventures my family has recently done and others want to do the same which is great!

Kelly hiking at Grand Portage State Park on the MN North Shore/Canadian border.

Kelly hiking at Grand Portage State Park on the MN North Shore/Canadian border.

Lynda- Trainer and Group Exercise Instructor, Virginia

Every day is a struggle for me and I know that there are many worse off than me. I used to be able to jump out of bed, go for a run, work out, look after my job hold down a full-time job. But now I force myself to do something. It bothers me a lot that I do not have the energy or enthusiasm I once had. In fact it depresses me.Today was a bad day. I felt so tired. I went to the gym…walked in…looked at the treadmill…and walked out. I felt so hungry, so tired and I went to bed. Tomorrow is a new day.

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Lynda looking great after teaching a spin class.

 

Courtney- Professional Wellness Coach & Personal Trainer, Virginia

First, some clarification on “wellness coaching.” Where personal trainers and nutrition counselors (who are sometimes now referring to themselves as “health coaches”) address the physical aspects of their client, a coach addresses the behavioral aspects. Wellness coaching is much like life coaching with a more specific focus, i.e., incorporating exercise, changing eating patterns, stress management, weight loss, work-life balance or any lifestyle factors that will increase a client’s health and wellbeing. Most clients know what to do and how to do it. They just can’t seem to figure out why they can’t do it on a regular basis. Coaching helps the client uncover behavioral patterns, self-talk, beliefs and perceptions that are keeping them stuck. It helps them shift their paradigm from the lifestyle they are living to the lifestyle they desire.

How I practice what I preach: I understand that living a healthy life is a choice. It’s not always an easy choice and there are many things that can get in the way. However, it is still a choice as is everything we think, say, and do. I practice what I preach by:

  • Working out most days of the week on a regular basis. I don’t love working out, but I love how I feel because of it. I do some sort of cardio (run, power walk, elliptical, or bike) for 30-40 minutes and an integrated weight-training circuit for 10-30 minutes. The time depends on my schedule and how I feel. The key is to “Just Do It!” even if it’s for only a few minutes. You’d be amazed how much you can get in just 10 minutes.
  • I keep up with the LATEST research on food and nutrition. As a result, I eat mostly vegetables, fruits and lean meats, fish, eggs, and poultry. I limit grains (white flour especially) and processed foods.
  • I meditate most days of the week for 20-60 minutes. I mostly use guided meditations.
  • I try to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. I say “try” because my body doesn’t always cooperate.

Why is it important to practice what I preach?  It’s important to practice what I preach because the only one that can affect my level of health is ME. I am 59 years old and I don’t believe aging has to mean physical decline. I believe I can be as healthy at 80 as I am today if I continue to keep up with the latest breakthroughs in neuroscience, diet, and exercise and practice what I preach.

Courtney,

Courtney, Professional Wellness Coach and Personal Trainer

The last few weeks have been difficult for many people because of grey skies, cold weather and record-breaking snowfalls.  Reignite the flame, find what motivates you to keep moving forward.

be well-

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