2019 is on the Horizon – Can you SEE it?

As each year closes, we face the urge to toss out undesired habits, start fresh and to move in new directions.  Maybe you look forward to this “turning point” or maybe you are a bit hesitant after many years of  watching January’s enthusiasm fizzle out as you fall back into the trenches of old habits by February.  In fact, research has shown that about fifty percent of us make resolutions, however fewer than 10% of these keep them for more a few months.   Whether you call it “resolution”, a  “goal” or the more yogic term of “intention”, the process of follow-through and sustained change is very difficult for all.  Scientific research suggests that one tool, Visualization, may provide the key to success.

Psychological research teaches us that in order for a resolution to be successful, it must be specific, measureable and attainable.  Add the elements of relevance and time and you have created a SMART goal.  But, as you may have experienced, even these well-crafted goals fail.  One of the reasons for this is that our goals are often related to changes in lifestyle and personality which are entrenched in what yoga calls “samskaras“.  In Indian and Yogic philosophy,  “samskaras are the mental impressions left by all thoughts, actions and intents that an individual has ever experienced”(yogapedia).   Do you ever have circular thoughts or an old story that is preventing you from realizing your dream?  This is samskara in action.  Meditation and other yogic tools work because they seek to dip beneath the conscious mind and get us in touch with our hidden expectations and unconscious ideas.

Meditation, especially practices such as Yoga Nidra, rely on the individuals ability to focus on and cultivate body sensations rather than thoughts.  One is asked to focus on how the body feels when our goals, or sankalpa, are fully manifested.   These techniques seek to convert the brain waves into a more relaxed and suggestible state similar to that of hypnosis.  Visualization techniques go a few steps further.  Several studies have shown that the brain does not differentiate between a real and an visualized memory.  We can, therefore, lesson the anxiety of a new challenge by creating a memory of that experience through visualization.  In addition, research  shows that visualizing a physical activity stimulates the brain in much the same way as actually performing the activity.  This may be especially true if the activity is an unfamiliar or if fear and anxiety are associated with it.

Proponents of Visualization put much faith in the concept of the philosophical Law of Attraction.  Many have questioned this principle which states that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, people can bring positive or negative experiences into their life (wikipedia).  However, knowledge of how the brain processes visual information may provide some scientific evidence to support how visualization helps one to attract what they want into their life.  Our brain relies on a network of neurons called the reticular activating system (RAS) to filter out what IS, and IS NOT important visually.  Since 90% of the information processed by the brain is visual, the RAS is critical.  Without it, we could  become desensitized and confused by the vast amount of information we receive every day.  Visualization techniques help “program” the RAS much the way Facebook feeds us information based on our search history and demonstrated interests.  Visualization is the lens through which we begin to see and describe our world.

With 2019 on the horizon, can you really SEE yourself acting in a way which cultivates the changes you wish to manifest in your life?  Close your eyes, relax and try to see and imagine how it looks and feels for you to live the life that you long for.  The more often you repeat this process, the stronger the path you are forging.  Good luck and I hope to see you on the mat in the coming year!

Need a little guidance?  Join us January 13th 2-5 for Creating a Vision for 2019:  Vision Board and Yoga Workshop with Melissa & Jules from Julesguide.

 

A Full Moon Ritual: Making Room for the Freedom to Choose Something Different

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This Saturday a full moon will rise in a (very likely) clear North Carolina sky.  Lately, I have been working with how to “let go” of habits which no longer serve me and working with the intention “In this moment, I choose health”.  I have learned a lot about my so-called “triggers” and I can spot the moment of choice almost without fail.  Unfortunately, I have not yet found my way to consistently choosing something different.  Honestly, I usually choose the bad habit time and time again (In fact, as I write this blog I am finishing my glass of wine).  Many people believe that the arrival of the full moon brings a power and an opportunity to “let go” of anything which does not serve your intention.  So, I am choosing to invoke that power to explore and share with you what I have learned.

We can recognize a habit as bad and even forecast a situation that will almost always lead to exhibiting an unwanted behavior but still not feel free to choose something different.  This is what it means to be “hooked” and it happens to the best of us.  This week I learned that much of the problem lies in the dialogue we have with ourselves after the trigger.  You know the one – “I know….but, in this case…” or, “if it weren’t for this person (or this situation) I could definitely have made the right choice” or, worse yet, “I cannot believe I am going to do this again – what kind of awful person must I be…when will I ever learn?”  This dialogue, whether it is with yourself or with others, is the fuel for the fire of habit.  What would happen if we just decided to let go of the “I know but” and the self-loathing, to just stop and feel the desire creep up and accept that it is uncomfortable and difficult.  We could just quietly listen to the other person slander us or something we care about and not react but, instead, feel the tension build, notice the physical location and the intensity of this stress and then recognize that it is all temporary and irrelevant.  Pema Chodron says that when we do this we open ourselves to a “positive groundlessness” – a state of uncomfortable and ungrounded freedom where we can then make a different choice.  As we repeat this process day after day, we create new, positive, intentional habits.  This appears to me to be the missing link in all the self-help lessons I have learned and practiced before.  If this is true,  recognizing what habits are not serving you is not nearly enough. Nor is it much more productive to focus on your intended, or more positive choices and habits. We need to “let go” of the need to justify, to blame, to rationalize, to equalize, to control or, engage with even the thought of the behavior and, then experience what that detachment feels like.  Too often we feel the need to take a firm hold in something we believe in thinking that this will provide the footing we need to take the leap into what we truly want to happen.  Chodron’s theory is quite different.  I believe she is saying that if we grasp too strongly to any belief (positive or negative), we may be a little too comfortable there to make a solid leap for change.  But if we allow ourselves to just experience what it feels like to be a “hooked” human being with an overactive brain and conflicting desires we will be free to move, change and evolve without constraint and without the holds that bring us back time and time again.

So, as you look up into the sky, and see the full moon rising this weekend, acknowledge what no longer serves you and, then, label all the reasons you feel it it isn’t right for you and all the reasons it is still comfortable for you and all the barriers you have to changing your behavior.  Finally, choose to let go of all of these thoughts and prepare yourself to be drawn in by the moon’s gradual waning into a positive state of groundlessness and, subsequently, a gradual return to the power of fullness.

A Good Retreat

A good retreat is better than a bad stand”        ~Irish proverb

As I was preparing to leave for my Yoga Retreat at Aldermarsh in the Pacific Northwest, my 8-year-old daughter asked “What does retreat mean?”  Admittedly, I wasn’t exactly sure how to reply.  The answer on the top of my head was “it means Mommy gets to go away to a place where no there are no kids and nobody she needs to take care of but herself – it is awesome!”  Luckily, my 10-year old son chimed in first.  “It means to turn back in a battle…strange that they call it that!”

Continue reading A Good Retreat

Restorative Retreat

In need of a mini-retreat but no vacation in sight?  Take 40 minutes out of your day to try the following restorative sequence for a guided practice of intention, acceptance and gratitude. You will emerge refreshed and battle-ready.  Continue reading Restorative Retreat

Putting “Therapy” into Your Yoga

Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.  ~BKS Iyengar

I am often asked “What is Yoga Therapy?” and “How is Therapeutic Yoga different from regular yoga and from Physical Therapy or other forms of traditional therapy?”.  First of all, let me say that not all Yoga is “therapeutic” and not all “yoga therapy” is therapeutic for every person.

At the core, Therapeutic Yoga begins with Awareness.  In this, it is very personal and, often, different for different people.  Whether taught privately or in a group, Therapeutic Yoga offers the individual student or client a series of tools to look at themselves and identify what it is he or she desires or needs less/more of.  These tools are usually taken from Yoga, from Ayurveda, from Physical Medicine, and contemporary Psychology.

In a regular class, the student takes positive actions (asana) towards “feeling good”.  In traditional therapy, a patient is relatively passive and the goal is to diagnose (“You are sick”), reduce symptoms and cure disease.  On the contrary, in Therapeutic Yoga, the client is “empowered” with physical, mental and emotional tools and the goal is to adapt and improve.  In some cases, the student will learn that it is not possible to improve the physical state (“The body is sick”) but that adaptations can be made to allow the mental or emotional state to  drastically improve.

“It is less helpful to know the cause of one’s stress than the state of mind when one is stressed”

While starting in the physical body, therapeutic yoga allows insight into the layers of the body, or the Koshas.  These layers are the Physical, the Emotional, the Energetic, the Social, the Intellectual and the Spiritual. The student begins to see how these layers overlap and intersect – how that “trapped” feeling in your neck, shoulders and upper back can be eased with the intention of “freedom” or “surrender” or maybe by becoming more physically grounded and aware of the alignment of the feet and the lower extremities or looking into our social / emotional and noting where he or she may feel stuck.

Once the student has the tools, he or she can put “therapy” into any yoga session.  What is more, the student is ready to put Yoga into his or her life and learn to adapt and improve “off the mat”.

Finding Your Yoga Off the Mat

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Go from a human being doing yoga to a human being yoga” ~ Baron Baptiste

When your yoga teacher goes on vacation – what do you do?  Do you take a day off from exercising?  Run out to find an available spot in the nearest fitness class?   Try a few poses on your own when you feel the urge to “get your yoga on”?

Why not take advantage of the time off the mat to practice bringing yoga into your life wherever you find yourself.   Continue reading Finding Your Yoga Off the Mat

Good Intentions

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Setting an Intention is like drawing an arrow from the quiver of your heart.   ~ Bruce Black

If you have ever been to my class, you know that I begin each class by asking you to ponder “Why did I come here today?” or  “What was I hoping to receive?”  Easy enough, you answer. “I came to stretch” or “I came to get rid of my neck (or back or hip) pain”, etc. But then it gets hard because I ask you to place a word or thought phrase on that desire. Now I may have lost you. Continue reading Good Intentions