Friday, June 25, 2010

How do You Grow Your Mind?

There has been talk over the last few years about challenging or "exercising" the mind in order to aid in avoiding Alzheimer's disease, among other things. You may have also heard of those individuals living to great age explaining that they have "kept their mind young" as a secret to living to that age. Any way you look at it, using and challenging your mind is just as crucial as exercising your body.
The terms or concepts of Mind and Body or Mind/Body/Spirit are also being used a lot. The concept is a useful one, but now it seems to have just become a marketing term and everyone has jumped on the bandwagon. What does it really mean? It's stems from an age old questions and one in which philosophers and psychologists have wrestled with for centuries. Is the brain separate from the body? Is the body just a machine run by the brain? Are they connected? The answer is most definitely. The mind and the body - and the spirit - are inextricably linked. What you do to one affects what happens to the other. So when I say exercising your mind is just as crucial as exercising your body, it's more than just point of reference.
It's necessary to grow all parts of your self. When you grow your mind, chances are you'll make improvements to your body (or they may even happen with little effort). Work on improving your body and find your mindset improving as well. Now your spirit. Ever notice that when you exercise your body regularly that you feel better, your thoughts are clearer, your mood improves, you are kinder to others or more tolerant, and you have more patience? There are all kinds of physiological processes that can be described to explain all of this, but do you need to know that in order to know it's just better? All you need to know is that everything in your life seems to improve. That's all that's important. Then use that to keep doing what you're doing.
It can work the other way as well. Grow your mind and chances are you'll find junk food no longer appealing or you may find giving up soda much easier. You may stumble on a class or be motivated to go for more walks or develop a meditation practice. The question is, how do we grow our minds? We all know what it takes to exercise the body, but do we really know what exercises our minds?

Write something. The act of having to articulate your thoughts and put them together in a coherent fashion can really cause you to think.

Take up a class in something new. Knitting, acting, dancing, book clubs or language classes are good ways to make you think.

Read a non-fiction book. Fiction books are great, but truly are more entertaining. Better yet, get a how-to book and learn something new.

Avoid the news. We think news educates us, yet it's really just depressing information that adds no particular value to our lives. Does knowing who got murdered really help you? Does hearing about the latest politician test your brain skills or just your patience? Can you live without it? Probably.

Help someone else. Volunteer somewhere, anywhere. Go to your kids school, the local shelter, build a house for someone or visit an invalid or someone elderly. You may be surprised by the skills you learn but more importantly the perspective you gain. That could be the most important learning of all.

Do you have examples of how you grow your mind? Please share!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mind Games

I often say that I sometimes consider meditation to be a mind game. It's a game of getting your mind to do what you want, or in some cases, to do nothing at all. It's about controlling and about letting go. I am also not above trickery, especially when it comes to my own mind and the rampant thoughts therein.

Your mind has somewhere up to 60,000 thoughts a day. Many of those are mundane, repetitive and, let's face it, annoying. "Where did I leave my keys?" "Why hasn't he called yet." "Wow those are ugly pants." Did I mention repetitive? I think I thought, "it sure is hot today" about 40 times today. Meditation is a game of eliminating some of that repetition and focusing some of those other straying thoughts.

Have you ever been stuck in what I call the "spiral of negativity"? Those thoughts that feed off of one negative thought or bad event and the next thing you know the world is coming to an end (at least in your mind)? Meditation is a game of catching that first thought and turning it over. It's redirecting and finding something positive to focus on instead. It's pulling you out of the spiral.

Our thoughts are a melange of dwelling on feelings, revisiting the past, fear of forgetting, worrying about the future and anger over everything and nothing. Our thoughts are everything and for most of us, they're out of control. The problem is that we don't always realize how out of control they are and the possibilities that exist for gaining control. Meditation is control. It is a practice in which you slowly take back your thoughts and choose consciously what you want to think, and how you want to feel. Control is not always a pulling in process, sometimes control means letting go too.

Many people tell me they can't meditate because they "can't stop my mind". My response is that you probably don't want to stop your mind, you just want to get it under control a little bit (or maybe a lot). Meditation is for everyone and everyone has the capacity and capability to do it. Just start somewhere. Sit quietly. Hear your thoughts for even just a moment. Awareness is the first step.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Hidden Good in All

Many people believe these to be tough times. Many are experiencing challenges like they've never experienced before. Small challenges, such as your children getting in to trouble a lot or appliances breaking down, and big challenges, such as job loss or life disturbances caused by the earth (can anyone say volcano?). How do we handle these challenges? What do we do in the face of seemingly insurmountable circumstances?

We need to let go. We need to focus in. We need to go with the flow. We need to surrender to love.

In times of challenge we're usually pushed into fear and fear brings panic. I can't think of anyone who hasn't done something regrettable when in fear and under pressure. Lose your job? PANIC - I need to make money NOW and take the first job I can get! Kids have bad grades? PANIC - They need to be grounded to show them how serious this is. Family member have a health crisis? PANIC - we need to fix it NOW!

Most actions taken when in fear and panic are not what your heart truly desires. These actions are of the ego and not from the authentic self. The authentic self, your soul, knows no bounds and only has your best interest as it's goal. In every challenge there is a lesson to learn. In seemingly bad situations there is often a path of even better options. It's a path we sometimes miss when we're caught up in the panic.

How do you know that your job loss isn't really a path towards an even better job? How do you know that the illness you experience won't set you on the path towards true and lasting health? How do you know that your kids failing grades won't bring you to the path that really brings your family together? You don't. So stop trying so hard to do things your way and trust that there are reasons and better ways, if only you stop long enough to pay attention.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Marya's Class Schedule


River Valley YMCA, Prior Lake, MN (membership or day pass required, click here for website)

Tuesdays 9:30 - 10:30 a.m. (rm 162B, church)
Tuesdays 5:30 - 6:30 p.m. (rm A)
Thursdays 10:30 - 11:30 a.m. (rm 162B, church)

Lifetime Fitness, Savage, MN (membership or day pass required, click here for website)

Sundays 10:00 - 11:00 a.m. (Studio 2)

Note: Bring your own mat. Suggested props include blanket. Blocks and straps provided.


Yoga Bella, Chanhassen, MN (click here for their website)

Tuesdays 7:15 - 8:15 p.m.

Note: Showing your belly is NOT required! Wear clothing appropriate for yoga, bring a scarf to tie around your waist if you have one. Scarves will be available for your use.


Yoga Bella, Chanhassen, MN (click here for their website)

Sunday, June 27 7:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, July 25 7:00 - 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, August 29 7:00 - 8:00 p.m.

Note: Bring something comfortable to sit on such as a blanket or cushion.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Newbies and Seasoned

This past weekend I had the pleasure and privelage to attend a dance training with a variety of teachers, both local and national. I always enjoy events of this type, not only for the chance immerse myself in an experience, but also to see how others teach and pick up some inspiration for my own teaching. I also tend to learn a lot about what makes a good teacher, a not-so-good teacher and what makes a GREAT teacher. But more on that later.

One of the nuggets I picked up from this weekend was the Newbies vs. the Seasoned. I love this because I think it really applies to many things. It was stated in the context of dance, but I think it applies to Yoga as well. I can see it happening with many artistic endeavors - music, theatre, and even job skills and parenting. It's also something to ponder for yourself, as you practice any kind of sport or art or skill. Use this information to help you practice like you are Seasoned. Use it to create more depth in what you are practicing and in utilizing your energy differently.

Newbies are beginners. Maybe you've just learned some substantial pieces of music or just finished acting lessons. Maybe you are just getting acclimated to a new work climate and want to show off what you "bring to the table". Maybe you've just had a baby. Maybe you are up on stage for the first time. Maybe you've taken a few yoga classes and know a few poses. Newbies are fresh and full of energy. Some of that energy is excitement and some of that energy comes from being nervous. As a Newbie at anything we get excited about showing off. "Look what I can do!" We gladly show or tell anyone that will watch or listen. We get in class and want to push ourselves just so everyone can see how flexible or strong we are. We get up on stage and overact. We talk loudly and often about the great things we do for our kids. We put every move we've got into the dance. Everything a Newbie does is energy out. There is so much energy it only has one way to go! We overwhelm others sometimes with all the things we ask of them. I love this energy and enthusiasm. Sometimes, though, it can be like a 3-year-old constantly asking, "Look at me! Look at me!" Seasoned people, on the other hand, are all about internal. If I'm seasoned, everything I do is for ME. My actions come from deep internally. I take my time and experience for myself everything that I do. I move slowly, yet confidently. I do things for my own love of it and the expression of the art. If you are a seasoned actor, you really get into a role and feel what it's like to be that character. If you are a seasoned musician or dancer, you really feel the music and play or dance for the sheer joy of it. If you are a seasoned professional (in any field), you quietly incorporate new learning and experiences into your craft, fine tuning to make it just the way you want it. It's as if everything you do is for you, and the rest of us are just lucky enough to be there to witness it.

Even if you are a Newbie, you still can have some of the Seasoned experience. Slow down. Pay close attention and experience everything from the inside out. Feel what it's like to do things for you, and not for the attention it garners from others. Practice, play, move, teach, share and work all for the sheer joy and love of what you do. Not for anything, or anyone, else.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Time to sit down

It's time for meditation. For me at least. I don't know about you. Do you meditate in the morning? Do you sit in the middle of the day? Do you meditate at all?

I have wanted for years to meditate. I thought about it but never really did it. At first I did so with guilt. Then I let go of the guilt and spent some time in longing, wishing I could be that dedicated. I've even taught classes in meditation - how to do it, when and where to sit, and of course, why it's important - but I didn't do it regularly myself. It wasn't until almost a year ago that I realized the deep connection I sometimes felt was something I really wanted to tune into on a regular basis. So then I made a concerted effort.

I tried mornings and found my body was just too stiff for it to be tolerable. I was more apt to be interrupted in the morning, once one or all 3 of my children woke up. I tried the middle of the day. The challenge was that the middle of the day was different each day because my schedule varied so much. I like consistency and needed that to create this habit. I settled on the evening. After the children where asleep and the house was dark and quiet I found more places in my home that seemed comfortable for meditating. I like my bedroom on the floor or sitting on my bed. I like the couch, near the corner table. I would practice stillness while lying with my children as the drifted off to sleep. I would spend a few moments in gratitude as I warmed up my own bed.

What I have found is that I couldn't push the matter, I couldn't force myself to do it. I had to want it and want the feeling meditating brought me. I had experienced it enough to know that it felt good. I had learned it and taught it enough to know how to do it comfortably. I even acted as if - I told people that I meditated regularly. Not to create a farce, but in essence, to talk myself into it. What I have found is that I allowed myself to experiment with it to find what worked for me and to know that I am a better person when I meditate. I am calmer, more peaceful and more aware of my self. I want more silence and solitude. I have a 3 year old, I need all the silence and solitude I can get! I can now create this sanctuary of my own release and connection to my breath anytime I choose to. Now I practice this too.

Meditation doesn't need to be complicated. So many have said to me, "I don't know what to do" or "I can't make my mind stop". The most important thing you need to know about meditation is that you don't have to make your mind stop and there really is no thing you "do". You just sit down and be still and silent. Then pay attention to what happens. Eventually your mind will tire of the constant chatter and it will get silent too. Then the magic happens.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

To relax, or not to relax.

"Man is so made that he can only find relaxation from one kind of labor by taking up another."
- Anatole France

Does that sound like you? An example of this would be, taking a break from cleaning the house and "relaxing" by watching TV. Or "relaxing" from your work to check Facebook. Give me just about anything you do to relax and I can tell you why it isn't really relaxing. And now I'll tell you why you should care. Relaxation is the one true thing that will counter stress. Stress being more than just the generalized term used to describe everything annoying, interfering, interrupting and downright disliked that exists in our lives. It is all of that, to be sure, and it is so much more.
Stress is a physiological response of the body to something that is life threatening. Or at least it's theoretically life threatening. It could be a car accident, or near accident. It could be an illness or the illness of someone close to you. In modern times, however, it is usually something slightly less. It's the boss who hovers over your shoulder and never finds anything right in what you do. It's your spouses not so nice comments about your weight. It's the car that breaks down and costs more money than you have. Or the children that forget to do their homework and never seem to clean their room. It could be positive too. Your wedding, childbirth, interviewing for a new job, even winning the lottery. Stress like that is not life threatening but it sets up the same response in the body.
So what happens? When a stressful event occurs. adrenaline and epinephrin are released into the bloodstream and your heart rate goes up and blood pressure increases. Glycogen is released by the liver, your cholesteral increases and blood sugar goes up. Your breathing quickens to increase your metabolic rate. Your muscles tense to prepare for flight and lactic acid increases in the muscles. Cortisol* levels increase and your immune response is suppressed. All of this happens to prepare your body for the good old flight-or-fight. If it's life threatening you either fight it off or your run from it.
(*Cortisol is the hormone that causes you to retain fat around your middle)
Most of our stressors now are not life threatening. There IS nothing to fight or run from. There is no major physical action to burn off all this increased, well, everything. We get stuck in traffic - ZOOM - heart rate goes up. A customer yells at you on the phone - BAM - you start to sweat. Someone makes an inappropriate remark - BOOM - your muscles tense. Now what do you do with it? And this is happening every day. This build up in your body is happening on a regular basis without any real release. Can you see where our major health issues come from? Look at the list above again. Increased blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, cortisol levels and suppressed immune system.
It's time we recognize the importance of relaxation. It's really important. So here's the thing - watching TV, having a drink, reading a book, even sitting in a lawn chair watching the neighbors are NOT relaxing. It may seem that way because at least it's not stressful. What is truly relaxing? Meditation, breathing exercises, relaxation exercises or lying still on the floor. I seriously considered stating "exercises" after each one of those. Like with your cardio, stretching or even weights workout, these are exercise too. Consider it your mental or well-being workout. It's something you need to practice and do regularly in order to engage your relaxation response. Go to a class if you can, because for many people relaxation can be a challenge. Many people think they can't do it or they don't know how. It's crucial to try. Your life will thank you for it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Go with the flow

For months now I have been thinking about, and now finally creating a new website. It is still in progress. I haven't written partly because I felt a shift in my focus and the messages I would share. And partly because I've been waiting for my new site to be completed. It has occurred to me that I do not need to wait. The thoughts and writings I'd like to share can be shared, regardless of the place. And so, today I'm going to let it flow.

"Life isn't meant to be fair, it's meant to be informative."

Flow has been the theme of my life lately. Going with the flow of life, to be specific. So often we fight the tide, and swim against the current. What we should do is float in it.

I imagine myself sitting lazily in an inner tube with my toes dangling in the water, head resting back, soaking up the sun. What better way to move through life?

Life - God, the Universe, Divine Energy - whatever you want to call it, does help us. It's just that we are often so busy fighting, begging, pleading, manipulating or whining to notice! Things don't always go the way we want. What we don't realize is that what we want isn't always the best for us. That means that there are other things out there that are a better fit, a better choice, a better path for our personal journey. It also means that sometimes situations are challenging. That's when we panic and start to paddle back - against the current.

Recently events in my life have proven to me that I don't always know the reason, but there is always a reason. I had planned last year to teach at a retreat that was to take place this last week. Several months ago I had a strong feeling that it wasn't going to happen. People weren't signing up as quickly as they did last year and another teacher canceled. My partner and I made the call and canceled the trip. I was disappointed and yet felt relief too. Then, my partner and I planned to go on a working trip, without our families. We got our dates mixed up. She went this past weekend, I'm going next weekend. During this past week - in which I was supposed to have been gone - I've had a business lunch which created a new partnership and many teaching opportunities and I've been here for my children's conferences and an event at their school. Most importantly, the facility that I teach Yoga at announced on Friday that it is closing. My last class was Saturday. Had I been gone at the retreat I would have missed the last week of classes. Had I gone to work this past weekend I would have missed the last class. New opportunities came up over the weekend as well.

In hindsight, it's clear that I was meant to be here. For myself, for others, for what is coming next. God just had other plans for me. I am grateful that I paid attention. Had I not heeded my own intuition I would have tried to force myself on those trips and missed an amazing week and all of these new things set before me. We all need to listen to our intuition more. Trust that there is a reason. Allow yourself to witness the beauty of flow. See where it takes you.

"At the end of the journey, every decision is seen as helpful
for one reason or another." ~ Betsy Otter Thompson