Hand-washing as Meditation

It’s getting more and more disconcerting out there – dystopian even. As schools and businesses close to slow the spread of COVID-19, panic-buying depletes grocery store shelves, and we all double up on our hygiene practices, how can our meditation practice support us? This is part of what we were practicing for, right? Greater stability, clarity, and strength?

Our formal practice trains us to be more mindful in our daily activities, and we can even practice some of those activities as meditation. Most, if not all, of us have become far more conscious of our hand-washing in recent weeks. What if we transformed the act of hand-washing from a reminder of the current crises – from a stressor – into a mindful sensory experience to ground us periodically as we go about our days?

Try this. Imagine yourself standing in front of the bathroom sink. Set an intention to give the act of hand-washing your full attention and presence. See the colors and textures of the sink, the faucet, the wall. Feel the cool resistance of the faucet as you turn on the water and let it run all over your hands. Notice the pressure and temperature of the running water against your skin, its force as it strikes your hand, and the sensation as it rolls off and into the sink.

Turn off the faucet and apply soap to your hands. Notice the sensations you experience as you operate the dispenser, or manipulate the bar of soap, and begin to lather your hands. Notice how the soap and bubbles feel as you mindfully scrub your palms, the backs of your hands, your fingers, and under your nails, taking time to fully experience each sensation.* Notice the scent of the soap.

Turn the water back on and thoroughly rinse your hands, again noticing all the sensations of the water as it interacts with the soap against your skin. Notice if it feels different than when you first wet your hands. Is it warmer, cooler? Does it feel different sliding off your soapy skin than it did when you first wet your hands? Hear the sounds of the water, and how the movement of your hands under the stream of water affects those sounds. Imagine your stress and anxiety washing away with the soapy water.

Turn off the faucet and carry your mindful practice into the act of drying your hands. Feel the texture of the towel as it rubs against your hands, transforming them from wet to dry.

When you’re finished, pause for a moment and take a few deep breaths. Notice how you feel. Are you surprised at how mentally and emotionally purifying the experience is when you offer it your full attention?

Try using this practice each time you wash your hands, taking a few moments to step away from busyness to rest your mind and nervous system as you ground yourself in the full experience of your senses.

Be safe out there, and take care of each other!

*This step should take at least the CDC-recommended twenty seconds.

Image credit: Matthew Tkocz on Unsplash

#fullymyself #handwashingmeditation #covid19

Brahmacharya and Balanced Manipuras in 2020

In yoga teacher training, we’re currently focusing on the manipura chakra (third or solar plexus chakra) and brahmacharya (one of the five yama). The manipura chakra is associated with our sense of self, our sense of power, our relationships with others, our ability to be in harmony with the flow of the Universe, and our digestive system, among other things. Brahmacharya refers to acting with fidelity, responsibility, mastery of the senses, and moderation. As I look back on the past year, it seems I’ve been working on both of these areas without knowing the context of the yama or chakras I was working within.

This New Year marked the second in which I made no resolutions, only set an intention. In reflecting on 2019, it was clear the theme of last year for me was living more intuitively – of being more accepting of things as they are, and choosing the response that felt right, rather than the response I thought was right. That’s not to say I intentionally made choices I knew were illogical, rather that I let my heart do the leading.

Not surprisingly, this has made for some substantial changes in my day-to-day awareness of my inner self – the intuiter. I thought this shift would lead toward better alignment of work, life, and values, and it did. I took a meditation teacher training course and now teach a weekly class where I work. I committed to yoga teacher training and will be a yoga teacher by the end of this year! My personal practice is deeper, more open to possibility, and more consistent. What I didn’t expect; though, was both the manner in which, and how substantially and quickly it would impact my day to day interactions with others. I feel more creative in my work, and find that the projects that feel right seem to fall into place relatively easily. On multiple occasions I’ve been mulling over a new idea and planning to contact someone to discuss it, only to run into them in person at just the right time. And being more in touch with what feels like the right thing has given me more confidence to set boundaries around work that doesn’t feel right – or right for right now. I’ve also come a long way this year in terms of more fully letting go of diet culture mentality and eating more intuitively, and I feel the difference in my body. I know when I’m hungry and when I’m not (an awareness I’d completely lost as a result of my two decade long series of diets), and most of the time, I eat what I want when I want (even when I’m not hungry) without guilt. And my digestive system is healthier now that it’s no longer trying to accommodate a constant diet/binge cycle.

As I contemplated the year to come, it became clear that my intention for this year would be greater awareness – greater mindfulness. While I’ve come a very long way in my awareness over the last several years, there are often long periods of time in my day in which I either get hyper-focused on work to the detriment of self-care, or periods of free time when I zone out on mindless internet window shopping or games, wasting time that would be more nourishing if spent on creative work or taking care of our home. Knowing how much my mindfulness practice and increased reliance on intuition impacted me in 2019, I know cultivating even more consistent awareness in 2020 will bring even greater opportunities to do good and fulfilling work, and greater happiness.

I am here. Now.

Happy New Year!

#fullymyself #brahmacharya #manipurachakra #antidiet

The Wisdom of a Snow Day

Last week I had a snow day – not the kind of snow day in which I decide it’s too risky to drive to work and take a personal day, but a storm so significant that the Governor ordered us not to report to work. In my memory, there have been a few snowy days on which we were permitted to leave an hour or two early, but a true snow day? This was a first for me. When I found out, my first reaction was that it was a hoax. (I think all this fake news has left me jaded.) When I realized it was true, I remembered that sense of childhood joy a snow day brought.

Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,   

its white flag waving over everything,

the landscape vanished,

not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,   

and beyond these windows

the government buildings smothered,

schools and libraries buried, the post office lost   

under the noiseless drift,

the paths of trains softly blocked,

the world fallen under this falling…

Excerpt from Snow Day, by Billy Collins

Of course the first couple hours of the day involved snowblowing (Jeff) and shoveling (me), followed by repeatedly falling backward into the deep fluffy snow because it was getting Rio so excited. She enjoys the snow when it’s not too deep, but this was a bit much for her. She mostly kept to the deck and the “bathroom” I’d shoveled for her, but seeing me almost disappear into the snow brought her bounding out to me to make sure I was okay.

Jeff lit a fire. I made a pot of tea and read and played piano and worked on holiday gifts. The found time was a beautiful gift, and an opportunity to be creative. We cooked with what we had on hand. What we had was enough. Home seemed even cozier than usual. A little later when the roads were relatively clear, Rio and I went for a walk.

In a while, I will put on some boots

and step out like someone walking in water,   

and the dog will porpoise through the drifts,   

and I will shake a laden branch

sending a cold shower down on us both.

But for now I am a willing prisoner in this house,   

a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow.   

I will make a pot of tea

and listen to the plastic radio on the counter,   

as glad as anyone to hear the news

Excerpt from Snow Day, by Billy Collins

I spoke with colleagues and friends about their reactions to and experiences during the snow day, and most had similar responses.

“Oh, it was amazing!”

“I wrapped Christmas presents, which I love!”

“I baked.”

“I knitted.”

Had I needed to take a personal day, I would’ve felt guilty. I would’ve felt compelled to check email. I wouldn’t have been so fully able to relax into what felt like nature simply pressing pause on everything. We spend so much time trying to control our lives – the snowstorm was a reminder that ultimately, we’re not in charge at all. It was a welcome reprieve from normal responsibilities, routines, and busyness – a reminder to stop, be present, and go slow.

I’m grateful for this experience – not just for the added time, but for the reprieve from everything it offered – the ability to fully experience the day without the weight of responsibility. It’s led me to consider why that weight even exists, and how I can shift my thinking to lessen it even when it’s not a snow day.

How can we invite the magic of a snow day into our lives more often?

Image credit: Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

#fullymyself #snowday #billycollins #mindfulness

Meditations from an Arctic Blast

For twenty days, my Yoga Teacher Training assignment has been to complete a daily twenty-minute walking meditation, outdoors, rain or shine… or as the case actually was for a couple of days, arctic blast. Last Thursday it was 15°F when I went out for my walk. Rio was even willing to wear her fancy down doggy-jacket without complaint.

I occasionally practiced walking meditation before this, but my experience was a little different than the guidelines for this current assignment. My previous experience was more formal and structured, and I’d only practiced in physical spaces that were a bit removed from the busy-ness of daily life. I also love practicing in labyrinths. It’s a goal of mine to build a labyrinth on the property of our forever house, once we find it.

This assignment permitted us to practice wherever we could, including in the context of our neighborhoods, and even with our dogs. I’ve struggled a bit with that freedom. I know that I’m prone to sensory overload in busy situations – whether the busy-ness is movement, visual clutter, loud or competing noises, etc., and this proved challenging for me. It asked us to bring our full awareness to our sensory experience in the environments we practiced in.

On the first day, I realized how much I tune out on my regular morning walks with Rio. I’m usually aware of the sky – sometimes the sunrise – of the trees and flowers – of neighbors and neighbor-dogs, and of course, of Rio. It’s a selective awareness – one or two things at a time. During these practices over the past three weeks I became hyper-aware of the roar of the Northway, louder now that the trees are now mostly bare, competing with the traffic on Route 9 a block away. The neighborhood fire alarm went off. Dogs barked. The air smelled of bacon and decomposing leaves. Rio tugged at the leash to stop and sniff again and again. The texture of the road was uneven, then even again. The repetitive patterns of lines of lawn refuse bags was never ending. Birds were singing, smoke was curling from chimneys, cars rolled by, neighbors waved. Aaaaaahhh!!!! It was mental cacophony! I take this walk almost daily, but never had it been quite so overwhelming!

But meditation – at least mindfulness meditation – does not aspire to calmness. It aspires to presence with whatever is. But still, I felt a resentment of the practice – of taking my regularly peaceful walk with Rio from me. And I missed my sitting practice.

On a relatively warm early day of the assignment, I had to be at an event away from my office very early in the morning, so I planned to stop somewhere to complete my walk before I returned to my office at lunchtime. I checked Google Maps for a convenient green space on my route back to my office, and discovered the Rensselaer Rural Cemetery. Of all the walking meditations I practiced over these three weeks, this felt the most natural. My mind was focused. I was alone in the quiet, and as I walked through the cemetery, I saw that many of the plots were unkempt. Flags and figurines were toppled, and many of the flush stones were matted with wet and rotting leaves. My meditation that day was a quiet practice of tidying graves. Uprighting the flags and figurines, and uncovering stones. As much as I hate to say it, I think not having Rio with me contributed to my capacity to be fully present in that experience. I was also able to take a few walks on the Mohawk-Hudson Bike Path during this assignment, and those walks were easier than the neighborhood, but still not quite as immersive as that day in the cemetery.

A weekend spent in Long Island brought new challenges. There were no nearby green spaces that allowed dogs, so I practiced on walks with Rio in my mother-in-law’s neighborhood of tightly packed homes and postage stamp yards. It was no more overwhelming than practicing in my own neighborhood, but on my first practice there on a Saturday afternoon, I noticed (and began to fixate on) the smell of dryer sheets. It seemed like I couldn’t escape it. There must’ve been someone doing laundry at every third house! And I caught myself judging the inhabitants for the toxic chemicals they were spewing into the neighborhood. I kept trying to bring my mind back to my feet, but I struggled with that judgment, and my guilt for being judgmental, throughout that walk.

Within a week I’d started trying to squeeze in a sitting practice in addition to the walking meditation. I was missing the sense of equanimity it brought me, and the walking meditations were bringing up anxiety. While getting back to my sitting practice helped me to feel more grounded, I also felt some resentment of the additional time it required.

And then came the arctic blast. I’d been dreaded going out on that first unseasonably cold morning for days – since I’d first seen the weather report. It was the last thing I wanted to do. I bundled up in lots of layers, and dressed Rio in her warmest winter coat, and we stepped outside. By the time we got to the end of the driveway, it was pretty apparent that it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the situation I’d been imagining. (Thoughts are just thoughts – they are not real.) I’d been creating a situation in my mind that simply wasn’t reality. To be fair, by the time we finished our neighborhood lap that morning, I was walking with a mittened hand over my nose because it really was pretty darn cold – but it wasn’t awful.

Today was the final day of the walking meditation assignment, and in truth, I’m looking forward to getting back to my sitting practice. While I was able to double up on quite a few days, there were more when I struggled to find the time amidst other responsibilities.

I’m grateful for the way this assignment challenged me, though – making me step outside of my comfort zone to practice in public – to have the opportunity to consciously practice the lessons of the sitting practice in the external world.

#fullymyself #walkingmeditation #ytt #bepresent

Mammogram Anxiety

I have “extremely dense breasts.” About 10% of people with breasts fall into this category, and for me, this means that I now have a mammogram and an ultrasound every year, instead of just the obligatory mammogram. When I first started getting mammograms, they’d always call me back for an ultrasound, and eventually, they agreed to just do both in the same appointment to save us all the trouble. Having higher breast density increases the risk of cancer because it’s difficult to spot abnormalities, but I have no family history of breast cancer, so I don’t worry about this too much. I’m accustomed to the routine now. In the first few years, they always stressed me out, and I can only imagine how having family history would increase that anxiety.

I can’t see the mammography images as they’re taken, and I no longer ask to, but I always watch the monitor throughout the ultrasound. I’m used to technicians stopping repeatedly to measure lots and lots of cysts – and this year’s screening was the first time I can remember that there were none – not a single one. I left feeling pretty excited that I must be doing something right to see such a drastically positive result. Maybe it was because I quit dieting. Maybe it was because I quit coffee (though I didn’t give up caffeine – just switched from coffee to tea). Maybe it was the result of a consistent yoga practice. Maybe it was all of those things. Awesome, right?

Like I said, I don’t worry much about these annual screenings anymore… until about a week and a half ago, when I got a call back for second round of images. When they called to schedule the follow-up, I asked why, and the scheduling representative seemed surprised at my question. They could only tell me that it was “probably” an unclear or blurry image, and that this was common.

Um, not so common for me… and that “probably” wasn’t totally reassuring.

My mindfulness meditation practice has made a huge impact on my ability to manage unproductive thinking – to catch my worried thoughts and redirect them. It kept me from going down a rabbit-hole of catastrophic thoughts as the follow-up appointment approached – up until this morning.

The entire reason I have that ultrasound every year is because they can’t really tell what’s going on in the mammogram. So if they called me back, they must’ve seen something specific. But maybe I just shifted or breathed at the wrong time and it was nothing more than a blurry image – but the technician probably would’ve seen that at the time, so it must be a thing.

Stop. Just stop.

Your thoughts are just thoughts. Just because you think something does not make it real. Nothing bad is actually happening to you in this moment.

In hindsight, I think I hadn’t wanted to give voice to the possibility that this could be cancer. I knew that was highly unlikely. I didn’t tell anyone I was concerned about it. I hadn’t really thought about why I kept it to myself until today, but in the same way I didn’t want to empower the possibility in my own mind, I didn’t want to empower it in anyone else’s, either. I didn’t want to be supported and comforted – I wanted to operate like there wasn’t a problem, because there wasn’t one. If there was going to be a problem, it was in the future, and I there was nothing I could do to control that in the present.

I questioned myself about that rationale after my follow-up this morning. Had I been overly stoic, refusing to reach out for support when I needed it? I do that sometimes.

I don’t think that was the case this time, though. This time I needed to not be dragged back into worry by others’ support or sympathy. I didn’t want to be reminded that this was likely nothing, because that would only remind me of the possibility it might also be something.

But this morning I couldn’t keep that mental catastrophizing entirely under control. What if this actually turned out to be cancer? I thought about the people I’ve known that have had breast cancer – how strong they’ve been – how they got through it. Even if I got bad news, it would be okay, I thought. I thought about the commitments I’d probably need to give up over the coming months. I thought about whether there was any possibility I’d be able to finish yoga teacher training. I wondered how sick I’d be and how much work I’d miss. I thought about how many people had been in this same place – physically, mentally, and emotionally – before me.

Stop. Just stop.

Your thoughts are just thoughts. Just because you think something does not make it real. Nothing bad is actually happening to you in this moment.

It was harder to manage those thoughts today, but at least I’d know more by mid-morning. When they brought me into the room for my follow-up mammogram this morning, they showed me a small spot deep in my left breast – a place you’d never catch in a self-exam.

I thought, “this is bad.”

Stop. Just stop. Your thoughts are not real.

Two more pictures, then back to the waiting room to wait for a second ultrasound. A few minutes more, and the technician came back to get me, and brought me back to the same room. More mammography images? What does that mean? Why not the expected ultrasound? This must be bad.

Stop. Just stop.

The technician closed the door and told me the second mammogram looked fine, and the spot in the original image was just, “overlapping tissue.”

Mental silence – ok – thank you – walk back to car – burst into tears of relief. How had I not realized until today that I was that worried? Worried enough to be that relieved? Had I been that worried? Maybe I just got this worried today, when I wasn’t able to manage my thinking as well as I had in the preceding days. I think that’s exactly what happened. Maybe it was actually mindfulness success that I was able to remain relatively unconcerned until today.

A few years ago I probably would’ve kept this story to myself. I would have been ashamed of my own anxiety – of appearing “weak.” I would’ve believed it was selfish and indulgent, since I’d walked away with good news. There was nothing to tell. My half day of anxiety hardly compares to the experience of someone who’s gotten bad news, then navigated treatments and family and work and life. This was tiny, comparatively.

But part of the reason for this blog is being more open and vulnerable in the world, and if I had this experience today, I can only imagine how many people have had similar experiences before me, and many of them probably kept it to themselves, too. So, in the interest of satya (truthfulness) and ahimsa (non-harming) I’m sharing it with the world. I think the truthfulness aspect of is clear, but the non-harming aspect perhaps less so. In this case, I mean that silence sometimes does harm. When we’re closed and invulnerable with the people around us, we don’t encourage openness and vulnerability in them. When we open ourselves, and allow for our own vulnerability, we create spaces for others to do the same in our presence, and that’s very much the kind of human I want to be.

Featured image by Michael Drummond from Pixabay

#fullymyself #mammogramssavelives

Equity, Interbeing, and Ahimsa

What’s your why?

Why do you do the things you’re passionate about? What change do you hope to make in the world? What lofty goals inform the small steps of your labor?

For me that answer is usually rooted in equity – a world where each person has access to the things they need to thrive. This is different than equality. We don’t all need the same things.

If equity is a concept discussed frequently in your circles, you’ve almost certainly seen some iteration of this graphic.

There are some obvious issues with it. It might be interpreted to mean our various needs are solely biological, since the boxes address differences in height, and wouldn’t it make more sense to remove the barrier to create greater equity than to make people stand on boxes? That said, it does help clarify the concept.

My work this week led me to be thinking about the connections between equity and mindfulness, how mindfulness practice supports social emotional learning (and vice-versa), how both support increased equity, and how that all connects to ahimsa (nonviolence or non-harming).

Consider this in terms of the five social emotional core competencies outlined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Self-awareness promotes deeper understanding of the myriad implicit biases we all carry. Implicit biases* are the deep ones we may not consciously think we have, but that exist in our subconscious. It’s virtually impossible not to have them. (If you’re wondering about yours, try Harvard’s Implicit Association Tests.)

Self-management encourages thoughtful responses rather than unconscious reactions when those biases surface. Social awareness prompts us to consider different perspectives, to understand our own cultural norms may be different from others, and to value and celebrate these differences rather than hold expectations based on our own experience. Relationship skills help us to develop meaningful connections with people of diverse backgrounds. And responsible decision-making draws on all of these competencies to help us make more thoughtful and equitable decisions.

Mindfulness, that is training ourselves to be more aware of and able to manage our thinking, can enhance all of those competencies, and they in turn promote greater mindfulness.

This week I listened to a talk by Meena Srinivasan on the online Mindful Education Summit in which she talked a bit about interbeing and said, “how, if I know that I am in you and you are in me, could I practice anything other than nonviolence.”

How, if we know that we inter-are, could we practice anything other than seeking to ensure each person has what they need to thrive? How, if we know that inequity causes violence, could we practice anything other than seeking equity?

Where ahimsa intersects with interbeing, it becomes clear that harm to the other is harm to self, and harm to self is harm to the other. As a middle-aged, white, cis woman, I hesitate to say that inequity to others is inequity to self, because I know I don’t feel the inequity experienced by, for example, people of color, differently abled people, and LGBTQ folx. That said, inequity does a different kind of harm to dominant populations, though many are not aware of that harm, and many consciously or unconsciously welcome the privilege that comes with that inequity. But privilege encourages ignorance. Without self-awareness and social awareness and mindfulness, it is easy for the privileged to move through the word ignorant of others’ experiences. Privilege impairs the ability to see other realities, and that harms both parties because benefiting at the expense of others harms the very core of our selves and our inter-being. Practicing ahimsa requires us to understand and address our bias and privilege, and to take action to improve equity in our relationships, communities, and beyond.

In writing this I acknowledge that my privilege impacts my ability to fully understand the experiences of others. If you disagree with something I’ve written, please challenge me.

*Note: I use the term “implicit bias” to refer to biases against a number of groups, not to avoid the term racism. Implicit bias based on race is racism. Ignorance does not excuse it.

Featured image by johnhain on Pixabay

#fullymyself #equity #interbeing #ahimsa

Ahimsa, Outrage, and Self-Care

Sunday was the first day of Yoga Teacher Training, and as expected, much of our time was spent getting to know one another and establishing our sense of community.

We went over some of the basics – the central beliefs of Integral Yoga, the six paths, the eight limbs, and started to talk about yama and niyama (the ten don’ts and dos). Our homework included thinking and journaling about the first yama, ahimsa.

Ahimsa means nonviolence, or nonharming. It seems like such a simple concept at first, but in practice it’s deeply nuanced. We know we shouldn’t be violent. We shouldn’t hurt others. But what about ourselves? Animals? The environment? We cannot avoid all harm, so how do we find a balance that honors the practice? How do we respond in a situation where harm is inevitable, or where speaking truth is necessary, but also causes harm? And what exactly constitutes harm?

Since we are the only people we’ll ever have control over, let’s start with how we treat ourselves. Are we harming ourselves through our thoughts are behaviors? What are your first thoughts when you look in the mirror each morning? Are you telling yourself how beautiful, smart, and amazing you are, or are you critiquing your body… your hair… your skin? If you’re like most of us, it’s probably more of the latter than the former, and that’s causing us harm. Are you harsh with yourself, setting unrealistic expectations, then feeling bad about yourself when you don’t meet them? Or are you gentle with yourself, recognizing that your value is not determined by the number of check marks on your to do list at the end of the day?

What about your diet? And let’s be clear here that I’m talking about you eating the the best foods for your balanced physical and mental health. I am 100% anti-diet in the weight loss context, and that includes the “it’s a lifestyle not a diet (but I hope I lose weight as a result)” diets. I spent two decades dieting, and like 95% or more of the population, it didn’t make me lose weight in the long term, and it caused serious emotional harm. We’re meant to come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and we deserve to be comfortable with our bodies as they are, and to not live in fear of calories or carbs. The decisions in this context, as I see them, are whether you’re eating foods that make you feel good overall (mind, body, spirit), considering the ethics of your decisions about where your food comes from (knowing it’s almost impossible to do this perfectly), and whether your diet aligns with your values (while being gentle with yourself). In the early days of learning intuitive eating, when I was learning how to be around the foods I’d restricted for so long, I ate a lot of Little Debbie Zebra Cakes – a LOT. I needed to give myself complete permission to eat them in order to work through my disordered eating behaviors. At the time, it seemed impossible that I’d ever be able to stop. But eventually I wanted them less frequently, and now I can usually act like a “normal” eater around them. When you consider your diet, don’t forget that supporting your own mental health and self-care are factors in practicing ahimsa.

Are you doing physical harm to your body through too much or too little movement, or are you mindful of what your body is telling you, resting often enough to let your body recover? If you’re engaging in any form of self-injury or substance abuse, please reach out to a professional as well as a friend or family member. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: 1-800-662-HELP (4357))

When we are hurting ourselves, it’s likely we’re hurting others around us as well. When we’re experiencing pain, we often reflect it outward through hostility or indifference. It’s easy to be short with others, ostensibly because we’re too busy, when in truth we’re frustrated with ourselves for not having a better handle on our own to do list, or for not having said no to some of those to do list items. Or perhaps we’re short because we’ve been surrounded by stressed-out coworkers all day, and just need ten (or thirty) minutes of quiet to regroup and recharge. Sometimes that truly isn’t an option, but be honest with yourself about whether it really isn’t possible, or whether you’re resisting the vulnerability necessary for you to ask your partner or child(ren) to support you.

We can harm the people around us in many of the same ways we harm ourselves – being overly critical, demanding, and by not showing compassion. Once we can find that compassion toward ourselves, reflecting that outwardly becomes much easier.

But what happens when we find ourselves in a seemingly fundamental disagreement – like the political discord abundant on social media? How does outrage factor into ahimsa? Is fighting for what we believe to be right a sufficient justification for publicly expressing vitriolic statements? This is an area I’m struggling with a bit. I don’t see the usefulness of posting vicious things, even if there is truth behind them, because the only people that will agree with you are the ones that already do, and the ones who don’t will feel validated in their belief that the “other side” is hateful and unfair.

Outrage is very effective at spreading a message – within an echo chamber… when was the last time you changed your mind because someone screamed at you?

Shankar Vedantam, Hidden Brain, NPR

This is not to say that I think posting factual information, even from organizations with clear bias, is wrong. But the hatefulness and condescension behind a lot of the political rhetoric is counterproductive and does all of us more harm.

The issue of outrage and politics was addressed in this week’s Hidden Brain podcast, Screaming into the Void: How Outrage is Hijacking our Culture, and our Minds. Since I had ahimsa on the brain, I spent most of the episode thinking about the connection.

My struggle is not with checking my vitriol online, though. In fact it’s quite the opposite. I’m so uncomfortable with the hatefulness that I fail to speak up sometimes, even when I really should. My personal ahimsa challenge is to find ways to support what’s right – what questions and challenges the harm of others – without causing myself harm when an angry response, or even the anticipation of one, triggers my anxiety. I’m jumping a bit into the second yama here, satya, or truthfulness, but ahimsa and satya are inextricable. When we see others being harmed, whether it’s across the world, the country, or the room, our voice – our truthfulness – is necessary in order not to contribute to that harm.

I ultimately don’t think there’s much value in publicly arguing on Facebook, but I think I could do a better job of sharing news articles about critical issues, even if those posts are not as popular as the snarky memes. And more importantly, I can make a point to contact my representatives more frequently than I currently do.

That’s my thinking on week one of Yoga Teacher Training. Leave a note in the comments if you agree, disagree, or have a completely different idea about ahimsa to share.

Featured image by James Chan from Pixabay

#fullymyself #ahimsa #ytt #outrage #selfcare

My Last Glass of Wine (for a year)

Content warning: This post discusses my psychological reaction to being asked to temporarily abstain from alcohol. I write from the perspective of a person with the privilege of never having had to personally address a substance abuse problem. This content could be triggering to some readers.

Yoga teacher training starts tomorrow and I feel like it’s the first day of school – only a first day of school that’s more intentional and authentic than I’ve experienced before. I feel like I’m doing exactly what I should be doing.

I never really understood the concept of manifesting. I felt like it was silly, or even lazy – “Oh, if I just think about it, it’ll happen.” But then I started meditating, and I started connecting more directly with my thinking, and my life started to shift toward something that felt more authentic, and opportunities started to present themselves more easily – like this yoga teacher training. I’ve semi-seriously said for years that I was going to be a yoga teacher when I retired, then meditation led me back to yoga, which led me to a studio and teacher that felt right and that I felt connected in, and then that teacher and studio were offering a training that worked with my full-time work schedule. And while all that was happening my work responsibilities were shifting to more social emotional learning, and that was something I was passionate about and made me feel more like my work self and non-work self were less fragmented. My values are reflected in my life are reflected in my work – so maybe there’s something to manifesting after all. Maybe when you start to connect with yourself you inevitably begin to connect with the universe and things start to fall into a natural and appropriate place.

But there’s this one part that I’ve been struggling with – the training requires that we abstain from alcohol for the duration of the training, which is a year! I get it. I respect it. We should be fully present in this experience, not numbing our minds.

And I’m not even much of a drinker, but I’ve become accustomed to a glass of wine with dinner, and on infrequent occasions, a second glass. It seems like it wouldn’t be that difficult to forgo, right? I didn’t think so either. But it is. I’ve known about this since late April, and knowing that I wouldn’t be able to drink for a year, I’ve been drinking more than usual. Knowing that the wine would be taken away made me want it more. As a former chronic dieter turned (mostly) intuitive (but occasionally faltering) eater, I saw exactly what was happening. Last supper syndrome. The way you eat that night before you start a new diet, or the day you fall off the diet wagon and figure since you’ve blown it for today, you may as well blow it good and start fresh tomorrow? I know at least 75% of you know what I’m talking about – I’ve read the depressing statistics.

(Check out NPR’s Hidden Brain Podcast Episode “You 2.0: Tunnel Vision,” which discussed how scarcity impacts our thinking and decision-making.)

So here I am, mindfully and introspectively enjoying my last glass of wine for a year, wondering if the hiatus will be ultimately positive or negative. Will I leave the experience not wanting to go back to my nightly glass of wine, or will the psychology of scarcity lead me to over-drink when it’s over? Did my history of dieting create or contribute to my reactions, or would I have felt the same without that history (because I am stubborn and sometimes resent being told what to do)?

I’ll revisit these questions next year.

#fullymyself #psychologyofscarcity #lastsuppersyndrome #ytt

Three Steps to Mindfulness Meditation – Step 3: Re-placing Your Mind

The practice of meditation is simple.

  1. Find your seat;
  2. Place your mind on your object of focus; and
  3. When your mind strays, gently re-place it back on that object of focus.

It’s simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In the previous two posts, I focused on Step 1: Finding Your Seat, and Step 2: Placing Your Mind. In this post I’ll talk about re-placing your mind.

Our minds are constantly active. They’re even working in our sleep! Most of our thoughts are repetitive and unproductive. Our brains are busy ruminating, planning, wasting the day fretting about the awkward conversation we had yesterday or the big meeting we have to present at tomorrow, fantasizing about the best case scenario or getting anxious about the worst. Sometimes our busy-brains are even undermining our confidence with negative self-talk.

When we place our mind on our breath in meditation, we begin to more consciously notice these thought patterns as they repeatedly challenge the breath for our attention. When we become aware of thoughts, we experience a “pause,” or “gap,” that allows us to gently re-place our mind back on the breath. Easier said than done, I know! Sometimes in practice you’ll notice a thought, and almost simultaneously notice that it’s actually had you off track for a while. It’s okay. It’s part of the practice.

Think of your thoughts like a litter of puppies that you’re trying to corral on a blanket in the middle of a room. They’re just doing what puppies do, wandering off, exploring, and your mind is just doing what minds do. It’s thinking. Sometimes you can redirect a puppy before it gets too far away from the blanket, and other times you realize a puppy snuck off a while ago and you missed it. It’s okay. Just gently re-place the puppy back where it belongs, and be equally kind to your mind and yourself.

Over time, and with consistent practice, you’ll start to have greater awareness of your thoughts, both in your practice, and in the rest of your life. You’ll have increased capacity to notice when your thoughts are not serving your best interests, and to re-place your mind on more productive thinking.

Last week I had to facilitate a workshop, and the facilitator of the session on the day before my mine was great. I started to question myself, and felt the panic rising, but there were a couple of things that happened differently than they would have just a few years ago. For one, I was very aware in the moment of my physiological response, and was able to mitigate it through conscious breathing. I was also able to catch my fear thinking – “What if my session gets a horrible evaluation?!” “What if I forget my own name?!” – and recognize my thoughts as just thoughts. What if I did get a horrible evaluation? What would actually happen? I’d feel bad for a little while, sure, because I care about my work, but I’d get over it. That’s what would happen. It wouldn’t be the earth-shattering event my panic would like me to have believed. In the end, everything was fine, of course. My evaluation wasn’t as amazing as the person before me, but it was still pretty great.

Benefits of a consistent mindfulness meditation practice include stability, clarity, and strength. Stability helps you to maintain your seat when when something threatens to unbalance you. Clarity helps you to see things as they are – to not be led down the paths of minimizing or catastrophizing. Strength helps you to maintain your seat, even amidst challenges, and to attend to your own self-care first so that you can be fully present for yourself and others. Seems like a pretty great return on investment to me!

#fullymyself #meditate #replacingyourmind

Three Steps to Mindfulness Meditation – Step 2: Placing Your Mind

The practice of meditation is simple.

  1. Find your seat;
  2. Place your mind on your object of focus; and
  3. When your mind strays, gently re-place it back on that object of focus.

It’s simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In the previous post, I focused on Step 1: Finding Your Seat. In this post I’ll talk about placing your mind.

We meditate to train our brains, much like we work out to train our bodies. If you’re new to meditation, you may be surprised at how busy your mind is, now that you’ve started mindfully noticing it. Placing your mind on your breath in mindfulness meditation offers an intentional rest to that constant chatter, and invites us to become more aware and mindful of it.

Have you ever had a really busy day, and when you finally have a moment to rest, you realize you’re thirsty, you’re hungry, you have to pee, and your neck and shoulders are stiff? We often live in our minds, not fully connected to or aware of our present body – not embodied – until our bodies finally scream for attention. The less embodied we are, the more difficult it can be to connect with our breath. Breathing exercises, or pranayama in yogic terms, can help us to make that connection.

First, try to notice your breathing as it is. What do you notice? Is it fast or slow? Deep or shallow? Where do you feel it the strongest? In your nostrils? The back of your throat? Your chest? Try placing one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Feel how they move as you take several natural breaths. Try moving one hand to the outside of your rib cage for a few breaths. Notice if you’re holding your belly and let it be soft. Many of us have learned from a lifetime of diet culture to “suck it in,” which makes our breath more shallow, and that shallow breathing can make us feel more anxious. Let that go.

Keeping your hands on your chest, belly, and/or rib cage, inhale slowly and deeply into your belly, rib cage, then upper chest. Exhale slowly and fully from your upper chest, rib cage, then belly. Keep breathing like this for as long as you’d like. This three-part breath helps oxygenate the body and prepares you for meditation. You can leave your hands where they are, or let them rest gently on your thighs.

After a few minutes, let your breath return to its natural state. Place your mind on the sensation of the breath as it passes through your nostrils – the coolness of the exhale, the warmth of the inhale.

Sometimes it’s hard to notice the breath at the nostrils. If you don’t sense it there, place your mind where you feel the breath the strongest. Try the nostrils another day.

When we practice placing our minds on our breath, we prepare for placing our minds on the present moment in our lives. We build capacity for focus, and we open up space to fully experience the only moment we have any control over – the present. This means sitting, both in practice and in life, with whatever is, fully experiencing – mentally, emotionally, physically – our joys as well as our pains. We place our mind on our breath, but it’s not our goal to empty our mind. It’s our goal to focus our awareness, to notice the distractions that challenge it.

I’ll focus on Step 3: Re-placing Your Mind, in the next post.

#fullymyself #meditate #breathe