Monday, June 16, 2014

how habit change can give you a calmer inbox

for those who spend any time with me these days, you know that i'm a bit obsessed with the science of habits.  as i create my own health coaching business, i need to look very honestly at why people know what is good for themselves and still choose to do other things.  i'm finding that it all comes down to our ingrained harmful habits and creating easeful ways to shift them into new, helpful habits. to practice, i'm getting to work with an amazing and frustrating subject--myself! 

over the past year, i've shifted some habits quite beautifully. now i get up before the sun rises each morning and eat dinner before it goes down.  i've cut way down on sugar, meat, dairy, and grain and love eating a mostly plant-based diet.  i start my mornings with meditation or journaling, which is everything to me.  

other habits have been harder to implement but they are starting to take hold. after struggling for months with the fear of being old spinster lady,  i'm in bed by 930/10pm most nights of the week and have to admit that the results are awesome. i have way more energy during the day to interact with the world and still feel like my vital 32 year-old self. 

and alas, there are some habits that i will work with for a while longer.  every time i drink a cup of coffee and feel the jitteriness take hold in my nervous system, i swear it's the last time.  but the problem is that i love everything else about it, even though i know it's not good for me.  i write this having just finished a cup of coffee and feel ok to dance with that one a bit longer. 

a habit that i've also struggled with is how i maintain my email inbox. for a long time, every time i was sent something to read that looked awesome, i would star it to read later. the problem was that later time never came.  i would let those emails pile up and eventually have to delete them all without reading them. i hopes of avoiding dooming these emails to stardom, i would often try to read something quickly on my iphone--sometimes at stoplights.  but i obviously this was not effective for enjoying the process and learning from the words.  

so the new habit i'm working on is giving myself 1-2 hours during the weekend to just read from my inbox.  my sunday morning schedule has been to go jogging with poncho, shower, eat a solid breakfast, and make a warm drink (yeah sometimes coffee). then i sit in a comfy spot with no pressures on my time. 

it's a win-win new habit.  during my week, every time i'm sent an big email, i just star it and feel totally relaxed that i'll get to it.  plus now, during my reading time, it feels totally decadent and educational.  during yesterday's reading session, i pulled out a few quotes from the brilliance that gets sent directly to my inbox so you can share in the fruits of this new habit too. 


"Look around. Outside of the natural world, everything you see has been thought of by a human, designed by a human, or made by a human. Spectacular, no? We never meet the majority of people who touch our lives, but knowing that almost every part of our day is possible because of what another human being dreamt up is totally breathtaking." -- Dr. Danielle Dowling


"When you look at someone who has achieved something you aspire to, it is easy to assume they have always been there or were destined to get there eventually. But this is almost never true. Instead, it typically means that they started before you, and are therefore further along on the journey. I gave up dieting in 2007 and have been slowly but steadily optimizing my healthstyle ever since. I don’t have any magical abilities, I’ve just been working at it for a long time and continue to improve every year." -- Darya Rose


"The greatest thing about love, I believe, is that it’s the most democratic of human experiences. Anybody can do it, and just about everybody does it (with the exception of sociopaths). What some of us forget to value or recognize is that even if we aren’t doing it in a romantic way, we’re doing it in other ways—and doing it well." -- Leigh Newman


"The truth is, you're free. You're free to work hard or slack off. You're free to abandon your children or take tender care of them. You're free to buy a weapon and do something terrible, or tell the truth and do something brave.

The truth is, you can do whatever the hell you want.

The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can make choices that really line up with what you want and what you value.

What's interesting is that when you switch your language, suddenly some of the things that you used to tell yourself you 'had' to do won't seem as onerous. You'll realize that you're freely choosing to do them because you like the result you get, even if you don't enjoy the process very much. " -- Anna Kunnecke


"Try to imagine what it would be like to live without any conditioning at all. You might feel the way an alien creature, raised in another universe, might feel if he was suddenly dropped onto Earth. Everything would be a wonder. A mouse running out from the bedroom would be a wonder. And if I’m honest, I did experience excitement and joy, along with nervousness, when I saw the mouse this morning. Had I been conditioned differently, I might have believed that a mouse in one’s room indicates good luck for the next year, or that I will come into a lot of money. Who knows!

With mindful eyes, I can see that a small beige creature moving along the floor is just a small beige creature moving along the floor. In that moment, she has the potential to be anything or do anything because she is not limited by my mind’s labels and categories. Maybe she will stop, turn around, and tell me about her most recent trip to the moon. Just because it hasn’t happened before, doesn’t mean it can’t happen, just that it hasn’t happened yet." -- Annie Mahon


"Because I write both poetry and fiction, and have never built a wall between the two, my desire has always been to blur the line between the more established forms. Writers who do this well tend to fascinate me. But they’re rare, I think, in part because of the way poetry gets overlooked in American culture. Poetry is basic to human beings, our love for it is deeply embedded in us, but there’s the sense at this moment that most people get it from other genres—popular song, hip-hop, rap. People argue about this—someone once told Paul Simon that he wrote poetic lyrics, and he said, “No, poetry is Wallace Stevens”—and yet songwriters like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and some hip-hop artists doclearly channel elements of poetry. In fiction, though, the poetic impulse is usually relegated to the end of the story, in the epiphanic moment we’ve come to expect since Joyce. At the end of a typical epiphany story, you do sense this sudden gearshift from the narrative to the lyrical; you start to feel that poetry is suddenly at work within the prose. But it’s usually because something big has happened that generates and justifies the gear change—poetry is warranted in these moments of extreme emotion, but otherwise its regulated to the sidelines of much of American fiction." -- Stuart Dybek


"I don’t make up marvelous tales. I only try to express — as clearly as possible — the thoughts and feelings many people have. Often my subjects are the simplest things in the world: joy, family, the weather, houses, streets. Nothing fancy. And when I sit down with these subjects my aim is clarity. I’m really trying to clear some of the muddle from my own brain — my brain being a very muddled place indeed. Sometimes I think my whole professional life has been based on this hunch I had, early on, that many people feel just as muddled as I do, and might be happy to tag along with me on this search for clarity, for precision." -- Zadie Smith, please read her whole speech on storytelling, so wonderful. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

the pain behind the pose

one of my favorite surprises of adult life has been making new friends that feel just like old friends. i'd heard about katie randall before we actually met because she is an RPCV and a yoga instructor (i've found there aren't too many of us out there).  then she asked me to join a ladies discussion group to dive into a great big text of female empowerment called "Women Who Run with Wolves." we choose one chapter a month, which is rich like a slice of quality chocolate cake, and meet on sunday evenings. our talks have been winding, juicy excavations into the nature of female.  we ask more questions than find answers and share what is really going on and how we really feeling about it.  in sanskrit there is a word called "spanda" which means a divine pulsation of energy and i feel it in our midst when we are sharing who we really are and who we really think we could be.

due to some inspiration from another amazing teacher of mine, i've been thinking a lot lately about the quality of conversations in my life and how my finest work could be to get myself into the best conversations possible.  i want to be part of a conversation that leaves both people feeling touched by the hands of brighter and more.  while leading a recent yoga retreat, it was too wet from spring rain to make the campfires we had planned.  instead, both nights of the weekend our small group of women retreated to a circle of puffed armchairs. we drank tea and shared with honesty about our own rambling quests and the ways we had learned to give our lives meaning.  during the closing circle, most people listed our impromptu circles as one of their favorite parts of the weekend.

i'm finding that kind of conversation takes a lot of vulnerability and deep listening and i'm not always capable of it.  i can't remember where, but recently i heard physical asana practice described as the practice of intimacy with yourself.  god that feels so true to me.  despite many intentions to just be present with my body + breath while i practice, my active mind can be so resistant to just really being there with myself.  the spaciousness of feeling into my tight left hip and the power of deep diaphragmatic breathing can be a scary place when it stirs up some stored emotional energy.  my ego mind makes it clear that it would rather think about other things and will run away very quickly when threatened if i'm not focused.

of course, i see this reflected off the mat, when i'm resistant to just listening to another person without agenda.  i find this is particularly hard when they are sharing tough emotions, as a few of my friends have been experiencing this week.  my instinct is to tell them what needs to be done or compare it to my own life, but i truly know there is power in just listening with compassion.  fully experiencing that power requires a lot of intimacy.  just like in my yoga practice, when i find myself getting distracted with what needs to be said or heard, i breathe and surrender into the wisdom of the present moment.  this practice reminds me that i don't always need to be in control or have the answers.  when i can do that--oooh, everything changes and the most transformational conversations arise.

so katie--who is studying yoga therapy and will change the world with it--asked me to be part of her project called "The Pain Behind the Pose" and of course i wanted to be part of this conversation.

here's an excerpt from her project description:

The Pain Behind The Pose is all that lies behind the physical expression of yoga.  We know when we step onto our mat that what happens in our physical bodies is a small feat compared to what happens within. Sensations are felt, emotions lit, stories told, thoughts flood, no matter how long you’ve practiced, no matter how strong your physical form.  We as individuals experience being in asana differently due to differences in body structure, past experience, stressors, injury, muscle strength, and so on.  This collective project is a culmination of yogis and yoginis that share their story behind the pose. I envision for us to expose the realness that so often is tucked away, or kept to ourselves, perhaps rejecting in the embrace of the pose.  This experience can be so powerful to each of us on an individual level, and my belief is its power being strengthened that much more by sharing our stories. 

here is my submission:

I choose the pose Warrior II because you can't get through a beginners yoga class without doing it and because it's simple and really hard at the same time.  My main challenge in this pose is really finding the true width of my feet so that my knee can bend right over my ankle while I experience the powerful sensations of a warrior pose. The temptation is always to shorten my stance so my knee can go over my ankle and I don't have to really go into all of that feeling in my hips and front quadricep. When I do find my true stance and am asked to hold it for a while, I tremble all over the place and sweat like a mad lady.  My brain goes into panic and all I can do to stay present is a deep ugayi breath.  When I come out of the pose, I feel a deep sense of release on every level of my being. 

In the archetypical mythology of the warrior poses, there is a order.  Warrior I represents the looking ahead and evaluation of what needs to be done.  Isn't it amazingly strong to just observe before taking action?  Warrior II opens up into the pose where appropriate action is planned and prepared.  Planning for action is so important and something I've always struggled with so it's no surprise this one is the hardest for me.  Warrior III balance is the moment of leaping into that action with the support of the universe behind you.  I was wobbly at this pose for years, but now that I've worked through the other warrior poses I am much more stable.

How can I not equate this to my own life?  For many years, my perfectionist tendency has been to look like I have it all figured out to any outside observer.  Things did look good, but inside I knew I holding myself back from my true power.  I've held myself back by skipping important practices, with negative patterns of thought and by numbing myself with a number of delicious yet destructive substances. As I walk deeper into my path and find a discipline I wasn't sure I had, I feel my warrior power.  I've observed the world and myself for 32 years and I have some ideas. My desire for my life to have impact--to experience my dharma here--is so big within me that I have no choice but to keep up.  It's also amazingly messy, trembling process that brings up fear like I've never experienced.  Reminding myself that the warrior path is the most efficient way to break through blocks really helps.  Also, knowing that nothing about should be easy really helps too. 

When I first began practicing yoga, I was confused how the warrior poses fit into the non-violent philosophy.  Now I see that it takes a true warrior spirit to be a positive force in this world and that the stages of these warrior poses are a true model of how to live a life a of grounded strength.  I'm still not quite sure what my Warrior III leap will be, but I am quite satisfied to work on the preparation and deep integrity of my Warrior II until that stage comes.