26 February 2012

Life can be easier...

...unfortunately, we often choose to make it more difficult.

Take for example, a few things I thought (or found myself saying out loud) this past week:
  • I wish I had a long and lean body
  • I don't want to be sick with this cold/flu anymore
  • I need to have new sweaters for next winter
  • I don't want my cat to die

Now, I am short and curvy no matter what exercise or nutrition program I follow. I finally did catch the cold/flu everyone at work had, and still feel a bit under the weather. I don't really need sweaters to replace the perfectly good ones I already own. My cat is likely on the last of his nine lives and like all creatures, will inevitably die. These are the REALITIES of life, and they actually have little to do with what I want or don't want. In yogic philosophy, such ways of thinking are referred to as attachments (raga) and aversions (dvesha).

Yoga also teaches us the truth of life, which is that it just happens: around us, within us, and in spite of us. Being attached or averse to something means we're working against life's natural current. If an event is truly unpleasant and we try to push it away--or conversely, try to hold onto the way things used to be--we're likely causing ourselves more suffering than if we just allowed ourselves to feel and deal with the actual situation fully. When we desire something, getting what we want doesn't usually make us happy for very long. True happiness and freedom lies in the acceptance of life AS IT ACTUALLY IS.

That's tough! It's easy to say that you should or can just deal with whatever life throws at you, but acceptance is a lot easier said than done. To me, the answer doesn't lie in being indifferent or in any quick fix, but rather in continuous and self-compassionate practice. Just as we exercise and train our bodies to maintain our physical health, we need our minds and hearts to learn how to be more accepting so that we can maintain an optimal level of mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Techniques like breathing meditation and mindfulness (i.e. conscious self-awareness), are useful for everyone--regardless of whether you can twist yourself into some wacky yoga pretzel. And like nutrition and exercise, techniques for developing acceptance require us to prioritize and make time for them on a regular basis.

We could all benefit from exploring techniques to help us learn how to be more accepting, and now is the perfect time to start. As a quick look through Facebook's news feed or my examples above show, every single day provides us with new opportunities to practice letting go of our tendencies toward attachment and aversion. The more we practice surrendering to life's inevitable ups and downs, the less we will label situations in our lives as "good" or "bad"--they will just be. Sure we'll still feel our experiences (and of course we want to), but we'll not be adding our own layers of angst on top, making things seem better or worse than they really are. And when the really painful or bad situations do hit us, we'll be much more prepared to handle them with grace and equanimity.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. In it, Del (played by the late John Candy) describes how he goes with the flow "like a twig on the shoulders of a mighty stream". Would you like to be more like Del, and surrender to life more completely? Do you think it would make life easier if you were able to? What do you find yourself being attached or averse to? What have you tried to dispel this way of thinking?

I'd love to know what you think....

18 February 2012

A practical path to forgiveness

Countless articles and books tell us that forgiving others who have hurt or otherwise wronged us is beneficial to our health. While not necessarily condoning or forgetting the poor behavior of others, ideally we want to free ourselves from the weight and stress imposed on our bodies, minds, and hearts by holding grudges large or small. That makes sense in theory, but I'm a pretty practical person. I like knowing how to approach intangible and challenging tasks like forgiveness!

Last October I was feeling somewhat despondent and ended up speaking with a fabulous psychic named Tina Michelle. She really seemed to know what I was going through, and also saw my longstanding non-relationship with my parents. She introduced me to the Hoʻoponopono practice of forgiveness, which is a repetition of the mantra "I love you. I'm sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you."

Tina instructed me to repeat this mantra to myself 3 times a day for 30 days. This meant I was saying it  once for myself, once for my father, and once for my mother. She warned me about how it might feel, describing it initially as "being pulled through gravel", then sticks, and then grass. Eventually it would feel smooth--an indication that the last hooks in me were gone.

Armed with a plan and my Google calendar reminders, I dutifully took my Ho'oponopono prescription. I repeated the mantra in my head during both my morning and evening meditations, as well as mid-day when I was in the restroom and happened to think of it (or after dinner if I forgot in the midst of work day busyness).

Initially, it was pretty challenging. My first thought was, "Why am I asking for forgiveness from you, when you're the one who hurt me and who I'm supposed to be trying to forgive?" It felt backwards, and a part of me was angry and puzzled at why I had to say things I clearly didn't mean. Another part of me considered that I may have had some contribution to the negative situation, but since I was only a child at the time, I did this by being open to Louise Hay's theory that as souls, we choose our parents and life challenges well before we're born. This helped me get over some early resistance. Over time, I started picturing each person as I recited the mantra as best I could. Sometimes--even though it was difficult--I envisioned hugging each person (including myself as a child).

Now, I'd never been one for corny-sounding things like psychics or the "loving your inner child" stuff, but I will say the practice did get easier with time. In fact, before the month was up I considered stopping but didn't (because I'm a pretty diligent rule-follower by nature). I found it got easier still, to a point where I wondered whether I was still doing it right. In retrospect, I suppose that was the transition from glass to smoothness Tina mentioned.


Some time ago I felt inspired to draft an email to my mom, who I intentionally hadn't spoken to in several years. I figured I could always write it and not send it. However, I did send it and released the outcome to the Universe. Perhaps not coincidentally I sent the email on December 1, after having done the Ho'oponopono practice during November 2011. I hadn't realized this until just now--at the time, it just felt like the thing to do.

In the interest of helping someone else let go of angst they don't need, I pass along this story and the Hoʻoponopono practice. May you all find increased health and wellness through forgiveness.

12 February 2012

Ayurveda and weight loss: my latest excursion to Kripalu

Last weekend I attended a program called "Ayurveda and Weight Loss" at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. It was taught by Dr. John Douillard, author of The 3-Season Diet: Eat the Way Nature Intended: Lose Weight, Beat Food Cravings, and Get Fit. It was a fascinating program, one of the best I've been to at Kripalu since I started going there in the late 1990s. There's lots to share, but I'll try to focus on the weekend's highlights. 

Program Overview
First off, Dr. Douillard was a great presenter: engaging, funny, and informative. He shared both sides of an argument and its research before offering his recommendation. He also took a lot of time to answer questions from the audience. Everything he said resonated with me and at the same time kind of blew my mind--I guess that's what happens when in hindsight, real solutions seem so simple and obvious.

Dr. Douillard defined Ayurveda, on which his book is based, as "the science of living life in harmony with nature". Our lifestyles often work against nature, resulting in experiences of physical and mental highs and lows. As these accumulate over time, we become exhausted and the body breaks down. Working with nature makes life a heck of a lot easier, so at a high level, it's what all we want to do!

Program Takeaways
At a high level, Dr. Douillard's message is that:
  • We've trained ourselves to stop being good fat burners, and need to restore that capability. Rather than avoiding foods, the majority of us should be able to digest anything as if we were 18 years old. Better digestion means we feel sustained with less food, which ultimately leads to a healthy and maintainable weight.
  • We should eat three meals, making lunch the largest and longest meal so that it aligns with the circadian rhythm of the day. Snacking conditions your body to crave food every 2-3 hours, to burn the snack rather than fat from the previous meal, and negatively impacts sleep because you're suddenly asking your body to fast for 8 hours.
  • There are no bad foods. Some are just better than others, based on your individual body constitution and the seasons. Look to the harvests of each season, because they are designed to balance and maintain the health of your body. (Use this quiz on Dr. Douillard's web site to find your body type, and check out which foods are best for Winter.)
  • Stress has a significant impact on how well the body's organs function, and when digestion is affected, weight is too.  It's important to engage the parasympathetic nervous system throughout the day by eating meals mindfully, really taking time to relax, and by leveraging close-mouthed, deep breathing techniques even during exercise.
  • Staying hydrated throughout the day is vital. Drinking 1-2 full glasses of water all at once, before you eat or whenever you have a craving can work wonders. 
Throughout the weekend, Dr. Douillard complimented information like this with highly accessible explanations of the physiological and emotional workings of the human body. Understanding the deeper rationale behind these recommendations is what really sold it for me. If you want to learn more, check out his web site.

Some Personal Experiences
This past week I've been going with nature, and I can tell you that personally, I have experienced it to be easier. I initially felt defensive and fearful about giving up my snacks, since I've managed my hypoglycemia that way for years. But after eating mostly the "best" foods off Dr. John's Winter grocery list, I've started to learn just how much is in my mind versus truly in my body. I've re-tried and liked foods I thought I didn't, and I love having a little dessert with lunch because that means no 3-4 pm chocolate or carb cravings. I'm starting to feel less hungry for breakfast and dinner, and my mind feels more calm and peaceful. What's more, I'm having to grocery shop less, and what I buy is always the best quality because it's naturally in season.

I'm going to continue exploring all of this, since it just makes sense to me. I welcome techniques into my life that make living simpler, enabling me to just be.

    05 February 2012

    Designing a healthy morning ritual, one step at a time

    Most people who find out that I get up at 5 am every day think I'm crazy. While I've always been a morning person, I read a lot about how a healthy morning ritual would set me up to have a great day, experimented with different things over time, and experienced the benefits firsthand. My goal here is to help you create your own healthy morning ritual--one that fits into the context of your life. 

    Step 1: Look at What You Do Today
    You already have some kind of morning ritual. The trick is to look what you currently do, and consider how well or poorly it serves you. For example, say that when your alarm clock buzzes, you jump up, stumble into the kitchen and grab a cup of coffee. But maybe you realize the buzzing alarm startles you, and you typically feel angry about having to get up. Maybe you notice that your energy is consistently low. Maybe you'd rather not be so reliant on coffee to help you open your eyes. Or maybe you savor that cup of coffee because it makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside and out.

    Take note of what you love and what you might want to change.  

    Step 2a: Pick One Thing to Stop Doing
    Select one thing from your current morning routine that you know deep down isn't good for you, and set an intention to let it go. Now, no one likes giving something up, including me. It's difficult because it's change--and we're such creatures of habit. Sometimes you might even need to give up something you really love, in favor of something you've prioritized higher. Once I got into a rhythm of doing more self-nurturing morning activities, for example, I noticed that I went to work feeling grounded and positive, and I had a good day. But if I went dancing the night before (I used to be an avid West Coast Swing dancer), I wouldn't get to bed until midnight or so. Each night there was a dance, I faced a difficult choice. A few times I tried doing both, burning the candle at both ends because I was so loathe to sacrifice dancing. But ultimately I realized how powerful my morning ritual was, and let most of the dancing go.

    Step 2b: Pick A Better Thing to Start Doing
    When you give something up, it's easier if you simultaneously put something more beneficial in its place. If you stop drinking coffee, for example, but love the ritual of sipping something hot, try a coffee substitute like Ayurvedic Roast, Dandy Blend, or hot water with lemon. If you stay open to new things you may find you actually like something that's better for you. And when that happens, you won't feel like you've sacrificed anything!

    Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out what to start doing to improve your overall health and wellness. After all, there are so many options, and so many things we all think we should be doing. If that's the case carve out 15 minutes of quiet time, and brainstorm all the things you might try, considering these categories:
    • Physical--e.g. get a boost by taking the dog for a 10 minute walk instead of making, drinking, and cleaning up after that coffee.
    • Mental--e.g. read 10 pages of that book you never get to, instead of surfing the web and playing around on Facebook.
    • Emotional--e.g. journal 5 things you're grateful for, instead of dreading your busy day and complaining about it to your significant other.
    • Spiritual--e.g. meditate for 10 minutes using an app like Simply Being, instead of zoning out on more news coverage about the Super Bowl or the elections.
    Now trust yourself, and pick one thing from your list that you feel you would truly benefit from and would enjoy trying. 
      Tip: None of these things need to take a long time. In fact, it's best if you simply re-allocate the time you previously spent on your less-than-healthy activity. That way, you won't have to get up any earlier to fit it in.

      Step 3: Keep Giving it a Go, with Self-Compassion
      Giving up caffeine was also something I chose to stop doing. Even though I only had a cup or two per day, I knew it didn't compliment my naturally high-strung personality during the day, nor help me sleep well at night. But freeing myself of caffeine didn't happen instantly--it took about five real tries over a couple of years! Habits form for a reason, and they're not easy to break. Regardless of whether we label them as "good" or "bad", each of our habits comfort us in some way. So be compassionate with yourself as you try out ways to comfort yourself that are less familiar.

      Whenever you feel you've "failed", acknowledge that you're trying, that it's hard, and start over again. And, consider Step 4.

      Step 4: Evaluate and Adjust as Necessary
      Even if you give it a real go, not everything you try to incorporate into a healthier morning ritual will stick. And that's OK! You'll know when something is right because you'll wake up wanting to do it, and feel weird when you don't. Stay flexible, and be willing to adjust your routine over and over, eliminating what's not suiting you (which might include some things you think are healthy or that you should be doing). Over time, you will replace each piece that wasn't working for you with a healthier thing that does, and have a complete morning ritual that sets you up to take on the world!

      You might create a set of things you can choose from, depending on how you feel when you wake up, what you expect your day to be like, and so on. Like me, you might find there are things you want to add that you can't fit in, and you'll be willing to get up a few minutes earlier to incorporate them. Alternatively, you might get bored someday, or what worked for you for awhile might stop. No worries! Continue to experiment and revise your morning ritual over time.

      Remember that designing a healthy morning ritual is a process, not a destination.