Mental and Emotional Ease

Tame the Anxiety & Worry Monkeys

Mental and emotional ease are states of being that we can all appreciate.  We put our best selves forward when we are peaceful, calm and focused.  We need fast, easy and accessible tools to bring us back to order and calm when fear, anxiety, stress or worry monkeys knock on our door and enter our inner sanctum, wreaking havoc.  The ancient practice of yoga therapy has tools that can be tailored for working with the monkeys.

The journey of life brings difficult changes, losses and transitions that create disturbances of thought and emotion.  It’s like an entire jungle of monkeys vacationing in our home.  We may also be “hardwired” genetically or through family or other conditioning to be more anxious, worried and fearful.  In other words, you bought the house with monkeys included.  Ultimately we have to accept innate tendencies, process life experiences and learn tools for cultivating awareness and changing the inner sanctum when the monkeys take over and create a mess of our minds, emotions and physiology.

Yoga can work in the short term by soothing the stress response, quieting the mind and balancing emotions.  Over time, regular practice that is tailored to your needs can help to reduce or prevent stress and anxiety symptoms, panic attacks and side effects of stress and anxiety such as distraction, insomnia, digestive distress, shortness of breath, heart palpitations and high blood pressure.

My teacher, Gary Kraftsow, a master level Yoga Therapist and trainer, says that “one of yoga’s most important gifts is an inner connection to the reality that you are not your diagnosis” or your monkeys.   Working with the monkeys of anxiety, stress, worry or fear requires cutting through the physiological stress response to connect to something deeper within ourselves, that inner aspect of ourselves that is unchanging, even in the face of our genetics, family conditioning or external life changes.

5 Steps to Soothing Anxiety, Worry and Fear

Step 1:  Move your body.  Engage in some exercise.

Step 2:  Breath in coordination with movement in a yoga posture, adapting the breath in a unique way to soothe the stress response.

Step 3:  Do at least 12 – 18 breaths of a specialized anti-anxiety breathing technique.

Step 4:  Use a mantra (word or phrase) with awareness of your inhale and exhale whenever you feel that inner quickening feeling that arises before worry, fear, anxiety or stress kicks in.  We can prevent the monkeys from getting in the house.  A simple mantra might be Inhale – “Peace, Peace”, Exhale – “Peace, Peace, Peace”.

Step 5:  Connect to a source of inspiration or faith that gives you courage and strength for all that is ahead in the journey of life.   This shortened version of the Serenity Prayer is an example.  “Help me accept the things I cannot change, courage to change those that I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The nature of our mind is that tendency toward monkeys repeatedly showing up and taking over.  By doing regular yoga practice we place the bananas outside on the lawn for the monkeys, keeping our peaceful inner sanctum.   If the monkeys do get in, we can use our emergency tools of movement, breath, mantra and sources of inspiration and strength to calm the monkeys and gently evict them.

 

Free

“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into treesThe winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

-John Muir

Free yourself from winter hibernation +

Free yourself from cold weather tension and stagnancy +

Free time to be outside, breathe, move and participate +

Free outdoor yoga classes in the best ‘green spaces’ of Central Wisconsin =

Better physical and mental health!

Your outdoor ‘green space’ yoga practice invites you to reconnect with the earth, stretch to the sky, inhale fresh oxygen and exhale the doldrums of winter.

Sip in the sweet benefits of outdoor yoga:

  • Be a Kid Again – stretch on the ground and look up at the sky
  • Practice Concentration – foster one-point-concentration as life happens around you
  • Hone Your Proprioception – that advanced sense of your body in space that helps you with stability, balance and movement
  • Plug in to the Totality of the Experience – be one with the beauty as well as the bugs
  • Engage Your 5 Senses and Be Inspired

For a personal practice, rolling out your mat on your patio, in the grass or beside your favorite water provides a familiar space to take 10-15 minutes to breathe and stretch into your favorite postures.

Group classes in ‘green space’ invites you to find balance with/between your heightened five senses and the ease of tranquility and calm.

The grass that tickles your hand, the birdsong that makes you look into the trees and the bug that wants to join you on your mat also provide you the opportunity to stop, breathe, observe and be present.

Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, author of ‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind’ shares, “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything.  In the beginners mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Be free, be curious, be open to your beginners mind this summer.

Learn about all the Outdoor Yoga Classes 5 Koshas will be sharing this summer HERE, pre-register for classes: HERE.

Re-solve-lutions

Resolve – settle or find a solution; decide firmly on a new course of action

Revolution – to overthrow a social order in favor of a new system  (Google.com)

Could ‘New Year Resolutions’ be overthrown?  What if they were erased from our culture? How would we react? What would we talk about? Would we still have a purpose? We seem to want to solve and re-solve things for ourselves, equating a new year with an amped up willpower to change. Making resolutions has become an important ritual.

Many scholars and sages have written and discussed the importance of having a purpose, committing to something that creates positivity in life every day, beyond fleeting ideas only at the beginning of the year.

With many scientific and soulful studies of ‘self,’ there is momentum of a ‘revolution of the resolution,’ helping us dig deeper to support our health journey.

Here are some healthy perspectives to support you in your purpose – all year:

Gratitude. Take 5- 10 minutes to write down what you are grateful for. Research has proven that a simple ‘Gratitude List’ has high impact on our ability to be kind and realistic with ourselves and others.  We are hardwired to change ourselves and be better.  Your ‘Gratitude List’ can keep you grounded in what is positive and what is purposeful in your life.  For more on the science of gratitude, read this article. And because we live life through our mobile apps, try this Gratitude Journal 365

If/Then. Write down your ideas, intentions, goals, plan of action for the year (yes, more documentation). Take the time to sit down with no other agenda except to grab a pen, paper or iPad and document what you are interested in for better health and wellbeing in your life.

Then dig deeper and document when and where you are going to carry out these intentions with an If/Then statement. For example, ‘If my alarm wakes me 30 minutes earlier three days a week, then I will take 20 minutes to participate in my home yoga practice.’

To help you problem-solve when challenges arise, take your documentation one step further, anticipating the barriers keeping you from implementing your intentions.  For example, ‘If I feel too tired when my alarm goes off, then I will get up and take 10 minutes for my home yoga practice, fixing my favorite cup of coffee soon afterwards.’

According to psychologist Peter M. Gollwitzer, this ‘implementation intention’ of creating an ‘If/Then’ statement will help you implement your goals.  “The forming of the plan is conscious,” Gollwitzer explains. “The execution is unconscious.”

For more details on this research, visit the article on Forbes.com.

Silence. One of the most powerful tools you have within yourself is the ability to be quiet, inhale and exhale and observe the present moment as you breathe.  Your yoga practice, a winter walk or sitting for 5 minutes with your phone and computer silenced will offer you time to center yourself.

In his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra describes it as the ability to, ‘Slip into the gap…that silent space between thoughts.’

Even with a plan of action for health intentions and predicting barriers that may arise, Chopra reminds us to set intentions yet, ‘Relinquish attachment to the outcome, giving up rigid attachment to a specific result and living in the wisdom of uncertainty….Enjoy every moment in the journey of life….’

Your quiet time will give you respite from the static of life so you can practice focusing your attention in the present moment and trusting the development of your intentions.

Everything takes practice.  Donna Farhi reminds us in her book, ‘Bringing Yoga to Life’ that your yoga practice is a parallel to life, ‘When we begin Yoga Practice, we are signing up for a lifelong apprenticeship with our Self and to the Self.  And as in any apprenticeship, many skills can be learned only over a long period of time.  There are no shortcuts and no crash courses, and there is no replacement for the satisfaction and richness that follow in the wake of such wholehearted commitment.’

In the spirit of the new year, may you offer yourself the opportunities for health and wellbeing: with gratitude, a written plan, openness to all possibilities and a commitment to a life-long apprenticeship of learning.

Let your new year resolutions be revolutionized.

Yoga Stress Busters for the Holidays

3 Quick and Easy Yoga Tips for Energy, Calm and Clarity for the Holiday Season

Tis the season to get really stressed out!  We tend to compress a year’s worth of entertaining, professional networking, cooking, baking, connecting with family and friends, extra school activities for kids, family traditions, shopping, and decorating all in one month.  It’s a lot of activity and mental clutter akin to snow on the windshield.

All of this activity happens at a time of year when the lack of light in northern latitudes creates a loss of physical energy and mental clarity for many people.  Yoga can be individualized and adapted to meet your needs whether it is energy, mental clarity, or calming influences.

Here are 3 quick yoga tools to help you moderate your energy and stress during the holidays:

  1. Breathe – Take 5 minutes to breathe deeply. As you inhale, try to feel your chest and belly expanding.  As you exhale, pull the belly inward.  Deep, smooth breathing is one of the quickest ways to shift distraction, fatigue, anxiety, stress, and the tendency to overindulge.  It’s the invisible game changer and it can be adapted to what you need at any given moment.  You can do it in bed before you get up, at your desk, standing in line, at a Christmas concert, or in bed at night.

To energize:  Make your inhale and exhale equal in length.  Pause after the inhale for 2 to 3 seconds.  Example:  Inhale 6 seconds, pause for 3 seconds, exhale for 6 seconds.

To calm down:  Make your exhale at least 2 – 3 seconds longer than your inhalation.  Example:  Inhale 4 seconds, exhale 6 seconds.

  1. Move – Do a favorite yoga posture, first with 6 repetitions in and out of the posture, then stay in the posture for 6 full deep breaths.

To energize:  Do Mountain Pose (Tadasana).  Stand with your feet hip distance apart.  On inhale, sweep your arms out to the sides and up as you raise your heels.  Pause for 2 – 3 seconds after the inhale. On exhale, lower your arms and heels at the same time.

To calm down:  Do Table to Child Pose (Cakravakasana).  Kneel in a table position, placing hands on the floor below the shoulders.  On exhale, lower forearms to the floor as you lower hips toward heels. On inhale, return to the table position.   Make your exhale 2 – 3 seconds longer than inhale.

  1. Hit the Pause Button and Contemplate – Take a minute every hour or two where you just sit and do nothing. Put the electronics away.  Just observe and feel.  There are often a lot of society- and family-imposed thought patterns and obligations that creep in over the holidays.  Becoming a witness to your own thoughts is helpful.  Ask yourself what is most important for the holidays.  What events, social gatherings, rituals and obligations reflect your most deeply held values and priorities?  As you clarify and prioritize, it’s much easier to say “no” to what isn’t as important to you and your family and to say “yes” to what is deeply nourishing.

If you take time to move and breathe deeply as well as contemplate your highest priorities, it will be easier to stay grounded, be clear and calm, and act in integrity with what’s most important to you and your family.  Turn on the windshield wipers several times daily with these quick and easy yoga practices.

HolidayDe-StressSequence

Creativity

“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” — Pablo Picasso

Most of us are aware when we are stressed: the shortness of breath, tension in areas of the body, stomach twinges and mental meltdowns indicate how much stress we are dealing with.

It also invites us to slow down, breathe and acknowledge what is triggering our stress.

‘Letting go’ of stress is easier said than done, because there is always stress in life.  Practicing living a balanced life within stress instead of becoming the stress is an ongoing practice.

Opportunities fostering creativity are proven to help us stand with a bit more steadiness and balance on the tightrope of life.

In 2010, the American Journal of Public Health published a review titled, The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health.  In that article, researchers analyzed more than 100 studies and found that music, writing, dance and art can improve health and our ability to heal ourselves.

The National Institute of Health encourages us to participate in hobbies that involve color, creating, building, drawing, photography, movement, music and singing.

Did you know? Singing releases substances that serve as the brain’s own natural pain-killers and increases the “bonding hormone” that helps us feel a sense of trust. And when we listen to music, levels of molecules important for fighting infection can rise.

Bebrainfit.com states, “When you get totally immersed in a creative activity, you may find yourself in what’s known as ‘the zone’ or in a state of ‘flow.’

This meditative-like state focuses your mind and temporarily pushes aside all your worries. Creating art trains you to concentrate on details and pay more attention to your environment. In this way, it acts like meditation.”

Many of you have cried out, “But I’m not creative.”

It doesn’t matter.  Take advantage of opportunities that let you engage in art, music, and movement and encourage creativity in others.  You and your health depend on it to thrive.

Here are some easy opportunities in the month of November at 5 Koshas:

  • DANCE – Belly Dancing every Tuesday at 7:00p with Anna
  • MOVE AND MEDITATE – Tai Chi every Thursday at 10:30a with Lee
  • MEDITATE – Offered in a variety of classes, mini-retreats and retreats
  • CONCENTRATE AND LAUGH – Kali Martial Arts every Thursday at 4:15 with Jamie

For more reading:

Violence

Just the word ‘violence’ catches our attention.

We are inundated with violence in movies, media; an overload of destruction and hurt and an ‘underload’ of kindness and compassion.

For many, MMA – Mixed Martial Arts – is synonymous with some type of combat, rough and tumble contact and yes, even violence.

So where does the Filipino Martial Art of Kali fit in at a yoga studio?

Kali, derived from a matriarchal culture, carries a rich history, steeped in a balanced approach of awareness, adaptation and assimilation.  Communicating through the language of movements by individuals imprinted with centuries of survival.

Kali offers the modern day warrior – the desk dweller ‘in the trenches’ at work, the professional mom ‘battling with her toddler,’ the 80 hour a week healthcare professional ‘under attack,’ the individual preparing ‘to invade’ the supermarket to buy groceries – many physical and mental health benefits:

  • Feeling stable in feet and legs
  • Fostering mobility in hips up through shoulders
  • Practicing hand-eye coordination
  • Deepening concentration
  • Activating the whole brain
  • Developing team building skills
  • Increasing confidence

5 Koshas Martial Arts teacher Jamie Sparling states, ‘I have students of all ages with attention deficit challenges who are looking for more focus and calm.  I have students who want to stay mentally sharp because their family has a history of dementia.

These are real challenges and Kali can be a non-violent outlet. The use of the left brain and right brain within rhythmic movement patterns is similar to Yoga, Tai Chi and dancing just to name a few.  All of these practices simply help us ignite our innate ability to adapt.’

With over 20 years experience as a practitioner and teacher, Sparlings most in depth study and practice derives from his time with Guro Dan Inosanto, student of world famous martial artist Bruce Lee.

In a Kali class, Sparling provides students with a tailor made practice that fosters growth in mind, body and spirit.  He also invites students to continue to learn about the parallels of Kali and Yoga, with classes using yoga to prepare the body and mind for the variety of fluid movement patterns experienced within Kali.

Awaken your compassionate warrior and overload on the benefits – you’re invited to Yoga & Kali classes on Thursdays, 4:15p at 5 Koshas Yoga and Wellness.

 

 

 

Meditate for Better Health

So what exactly is meditation?  Meditation can mean different things to different people. To some, it is something weird or eerie that Buddhist monks do. To others, it is something they think they could never do because they don’t have the patience. To others, meditation is a life-changing experience that gives them mental clarity, less stress, and better physical health. Which of these will meditation be to you?

The good news is that meditation can be a life-changing experience for anyone. You don’t need any special skills, mental super powers, or inductions into secret societies. Meditation simply means mastery of the mind. We can all do that to some degree. Imagine a big, sweet, sticky cinnamon bun, dripping with frosting. It’s easy, right?  You were probably able to control your mind and bring that image into your awareness with a simple instruction. Unfortunately, we don’t focus on controlling our minds very much.  Our thoughts tend to run wild, causing chaos, lack of focus, fear, anxiety, and stress.

Imagine your internal dialogue any time during the day.  Our minds tend to fly from one thought to the next, thinking of problems, solutions, fears, things we are looking forward to, memories of the past, etc. The thoughts are like bubbles coming up through water, and as each one hits the surface, it is in our attention until the next one appears. This is a hugely inefficient and stressful way of thinking.

The goal of meditation is to wrestle control of these bubbling thoughts, and replace them with a fixed thought or series of thoughts, which calms the mind and reduces the internal chatter. In many ways this acts as brain rest, which allows the brain time to recharge and collect itself. It is better than sleep, since when we sleep our minds can be just as active, running rampant through our dreams.

Meditation has been scientifically shown to alter brain waves measured by electroencephalogram. It can reduce stress, and in turn, reduce stress-induced disease. In the world of ancient yoga, it was believed that meditation helped you approach a state of complete bliss without care or worry, completely at peace with yourself and the world. Yoga postures were designed to prepare the body for breathing exercises (pranayama), which were in turn designed to prepare the mind for meditation. So the whole premise behind yoga was that of preparation for more efficient meditation.

There are many types and styles of meditation. In one of the simpler methods, we select a pleasing image (such as the cinnamon bun), an object we associate with, or a memory.  We try to fix the mind on this object or place, and keep thinking about it. If the mind wanders off to the thoughts, we bring it back to this image, and keep doing that until the meditation session is over. Meditation sessions can be minutes or hours (even days) in duration, depending on your goal. There are definite health benefits to even a few minutes of meditation every day. Starting with a modest goal is very reasonable.

With a little practice, this process becomes easier and easier. It becomes possible to drop into meditation almost anywhere, even for a few moments, to help clear the mind and rejuvenate, or de-stress. There is nothing mystical about any of this, it is just a clearing of the mental bubbling.  Anyone who is capable of thinking is capable of doing it.

Breathe Your Way to Vitality & Stress Reduction

I’m a skeptic.  I’m not into the latest diet craze, exercise routine, electronic device or trendy clothing designer.  I don’t own a purse that costs more than the monthly home mortgage.  But I am into science and I love what research continues to teach us about our experiences as human beings.  I was skeptical but intrigued when a master level yoga teacher challenged a group of us to take 5 minutes each day to breathe deeply to see if it changed our lives.

Read More