Summer, gorgeous summer. It’s the time of year filled with vibrant energy, long days and sunshine. (And a good dose of rain this year!) It’s the perfect time to match Mother Nature with renewed activity, growth, expansion and creativity. Healthy eating for summer joy turns frantic to fantastic by fueling you with all the energy you need to grab those chances to explore and grow.
I sometimes think of standing in my childrens’ shoes as they head off for university. What would excite me enough to devote years of study to?
It would be neuroscience.
I am fascinated by the workings of the mind and the brain and how they affect so much of our experience of life. More often than not the books stacking up in my reading pile are about the wild reaches in the mind-body connection.
Dr. Ellen Langer is a delightfully rebellious lateral thinker. A prodigiously productive expressive soul. She has studied everyday mindfulness for decades. Not in the Buddhist way. With her own singular vision of what a mindful life looks like.
What becomes possible when you learn how to “just breathe”?
My first understanding that my breath wasn’t an automatic, mindless action came when I was just 12. I was a pretty typical kid but I was always asking to do lessons in activities that were, shall we say, unusual. Bagpipes, anyone? My mother saw things like ballet and music as more natural choices. But she let me do my thing graciously. It started me on the road to learning how to “just breathe”.
Meeting Mr. Yogi
A friend was doing a meditation class with her mother and they invited me along. I thought it sounded interesting. This was in the early-ish 1970s and the Beatles had introduced the world to transcendental meditation. Our teacher looked very much like the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, but of course it wouldn’t have been. The Maharishi had started working on some big plans and surely wasn’t teaching a small group of students in small town Ontario.
We gathered in a grade two classroom at a small elementary school. We sat in those school desks with the plastic seats and the curved arms. They were small for my friend and I and they were tiny for the adults. All of us oversized students, shifting uncomfortably, waiting for Mr. Yogi to share his secrets.
When All Else Fails, Just Breathe
He told us to focus on our breath, to breathe in and out quietly and listen to the sounds it made. He showed us how focusing on a sound, even the sound of our breath, could shift the busyness of our minds. How it would open a space for peace and calm. It was cool. For a couple of days and then I forgot all about it.
Flash forward 20 years to early yoga classes. Early-ish 1990s — yoga was only a little weird and was full of some really interesting characters. Our yoga teacher was Gita. She was, and always will be, the best. She taught Kriya yoga and we did a lot of poses, but we also did some chanting and breathwork. That part was weird. Weird, but peaceful.
Thankfully, breathwork isn’t weird anymore. Well, at least not that weird. Many people have discovered the spaciousness and peace that come from following your breath and letting your mind settle into the comfortable rhythm.
Waiting to Inhale
One of my favorite ways to connect with my breath is during that tiny little pause that comes when you’ve finished your exhale. It’s a tiny little place to rest for a fraction of a moment. When I’m sitting in waiting rooms or in muzik hold or waiting for inspiration I’ll start to slow my breath down and just hang out in that little space for as long as I can. It’s a micro-vacation for me.
There are many, many ways to do breathwork. It’s a practice that portable and mutable. It’s perfect for the lifelong students among us because there is always something to learn. For instance, most of us use the muscles of the upper part of our chest to breathe. We either were taught to breathe that way or it happened over time. This signals to our brains that we are stressed because that’s how we breathe when we feel we’re in danger. It adds an invisible layer of stress on top of the stuff you can see coming at you.
Here are some good resources I recommend for learning how to breathe. Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple has a very straight-forward way of explaining things, but he breaks down the correct and incorrect patterns very well. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits describes beautifully the meanderings your mind will take you on when you start to focus on your breath. Jon Kabat-Zinn has a guided meditation here if you want company as you breathe.
Once you have a good handle on how to breathe, I offer you a wonderful practice from Christopher Germer on how to use your breath to soothe pain or difficult emotions. This is where you can begin to unlock all the genius that your breath holds. Happy breathing!
Soften, Allow, Love by Christopher Germer
Take three relaxing breaths.
Bring awareness to your body and the sensations or emotions occurring there in the present moment. Then find your breath in the heart region and begin to track each breath with mindful awareness. Just breathe for a few moments.
After a few minutes, release your attention to your breath and let your attention be drawn to the place in your body where your difficult emotion can be felt most strongly.
Soften into that location in your body. Let the muscles be soft without a requirement that they be soft, like applying heat to sore muscles. You can say “soft . . .soft . . . soft” quietly to yourself if it enhances the process. Just breathe softness.
Allow the discomfort to be there. Abandon the wish for the feeling to disappear. Let the discomfort come and go as it pleases, like a guest in your home. You can repeat “allow . . . allow . . . allow” if you wish. Just breathe allowing.
Now bring some love to yourself for discomfort in this way. Put your hand over your heart and breathe. You can also direct love to the part of your body that is under stress. It may help to think of your body as if it were the body of a beloved pet or child. You can repeat ”love . . . love . . . love”. Just breathe love.
“Soften, allow, and love”. “Soften, allow, and love”. Use these three words like a mantra, reminding yourself to incline with tenderness toward your discomfort. If you experience too much discomfort with an emotion, stay with your breath until you feel better.
Slowly open your eyes when you’re ready.
Posted by Deirdre Walsh
Photo: Breathe_Mae Chevrette_CC2.0
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What if you follow what makes your heart leap?
Have you noticed that many New Years’ resolutions have a scolding tone of voice? No more desserts for you until you’ve cleaned up your exercise routine, young lady. I told you not to spend so much over the holidays, young man. Now go clean that mess up!
Let’s try a different approach, shall we? Let’s go carrot instead of stick.*
Something New for 2015
I am entering 2015 from a different angle and I invite you to come along for the ride. I’m going to frame out the year through a series of 25 questions that ponder some of life’s intriguing questions. With that 25 questions I’m going to create 100 things – blog posts, webinars, courses, doodles, photos, etc. Anything that helps me express my ideas and experiences about that question. A different question every two weeks. I’ll be diving into the questions with clients, posting on Facebook, tweeting, journalling, Instagramming, creating and checking in with people around me.
Where did this idea come from? Almost out of the blue. I casually joined a group called Quest2015 in early December. I thought it was a group business planning exercise, and it was. What caught my eye initially was a 10% discount for an erasable calendar. I thought it would be great for planning the year out. This makes me laugh now.
My whole sense of what is possible in life was cracked open in December. I know, I know. That’s a pretty big statement. And we hear phrases like that all the time for some pretty mundane events. But it was a real game-changer, to quote the biz types.
Through small doors come life-changing experiences. Jeffrey Davis, of Tracking Wonder, put out the invitation to business artists to use 12 prompts from a group of innovative thinkers to dive deeper into the why of our businesses. I knew, and had an intellectual crush, on quite a few of them. How could I say no?
One of the early prompts was from Pam Houston. She is the author of four books, including novel Contents May Have Shifted and short stories Cowboys Are My Weakness. I haven’t read her work (soon to be fixed) but others call her beloved and insanely talented. She is Professor of English at UC Davis, directs the literary nonprofit Writing by Writers, and teaches in the Pacific University low residency MFA program.
She asked us to sit quietly and ask yourself, what in the last day or week or month has made your heart leap up? Not what should, or might or always had, but what did. Make that list. Be honest, even if it surprises you. Keep the list with you this month. Add to it when it happens. Train yourself to notice. Then ask your self today, how can I arrange my life to get more of those heart leaps in it?
This thing made my heart leap when my husband hung it before Christmas.
And it made my heart leap every time I stepped out the door and I’d forgotten that was there. Why?
Well, it’s shiny and pretty — and I love shiny things. I used to make things like this all the time but I stopped. Life got kind of serious and difficult and I forgot about making things. Then it got busy and making shiny things was frivolous. And often I was too tired to make things. More spiritually than physically.
And I finished it! I started with a hula hoop, some pool noodles, duct tape and a crapload of ornaments. Now it’s a circle of shininess. Sometimes there were balls on the ground and I knew that the squirrels had taken it for a spin. That makes my heart happy. I’d just put them back on for their next spin.
My heart leaps because I have a sense of getting a ‘next time’ to spin on the shiny circle again myself. Making that shiny circle of Christmas sparkliness seemed to herald a return to energy and possibility. Here’s what’s on my list . . .
January is a tricky time of year. There’s a natural settling in that comes from the lead of winter. Many of our animal brethren are hibernating and the song of cozy sings. For those who are internal and introspective there can be too much burrowing in and losing contact with the pleasures and joys of nature and connection. To much disconnection from the beauty that life offers if we can see it.
I find my body gets so out of synch over Christmas that a sense of depression falls on it by the end of the month. And with my body goes my mind. Adopting the “New Year’s resolutions” of healthy eating and exercise is more about restoring mental and physical balance than losing weight or changing a size. I want to restore the connection to my nourishing inner life.
Sometimes I have trouble recognizing the things that make my heart leap, even with the return of healthy kindness to my body. Then I turn to another two of my intellectual crushes — Rick Hanson and Barbara Fredericton. I’ve been very lucky to meet both of them and was dweeby when I did.
Rick Hanson wrote Hardwiring Happiness, which is filled with practical mindfulness practices that help your brain balance it’s tendency to see the negative. Barbara Frederickson is a researcher and professor of psychology at UNC at Chapel Hill. Her research reveals how positive emotions, fleeting as they are, can tip the scales toward a life of flourishing. Her Positivity website is a good place to start and has a handy app that helps you see where your emotions are at.
This is a perfect time for journalling and visiting with yourself. Ask — where does your heart leap? Pull out your pictures from last year. As you leaf or page through, remember the moments that your heart leapt. As you have a few moments of quiet let your mind wander to the times of pleasure, happiness and joy. Make a list of the important people in your life and write down those heart leaping experiences with them. Then do the same for those times you shared with strangers. Anything that brings you back to the joys of 2014. Let your mind and heart take you from there.
I divide my experiences into pleasure, happiness, and joy. For me, pleasure is a personal experience. Some delicious chocolate, a good meal, a nice glass of wine. Happiness is a harmony thing. The moments with family and friends of warmth, successes, connection, brightness and order make me happy. Joy comes from a larger place, a place where I can witness the unfolding of what is beautiful and right in the world.
Your mission for the next two weeks
Where does your heart leap? Do more of it this year.
This new direction was amped-up inspired by the courageous and amazing people who I am running with during Live The Quest. All of their writing about heart leaps will touch your heart. You’ll find this community on social media using #LivetheQuest. Look for it on Facebook here if you want to join the Quest yourself.
*Not to say that stick doesn’t have it’s place. Sometimes the stick of a deadline or a promise is just what will keep you chugging along. But it’s a heavy-handed tool and you’re much more treasured than that.
Posted by Deirdre Walsh
Photo: Love joy_ Dave Parker CC 2.0
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