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