Energy Flows Where Attention Goes

Is your mind running your life without your input? Mine has been for at least twenty years!

Last summer in Madison, Michael and Illana ran Breathe for Change workshops every day focused on a segment of their original program. Sometimes it felt hokey to me, for sure, but I committed on the front end to just go along and see what happens. Those of you who know me know how much of a struggle that was sometimes, and I had to wrangle my mind and muscles to submit. More than once. Every day. For 16 days. Straight. And it was an incredibly powerful skill to build.

One day we were discussing intention setting, how our mind is what propels us in life, and getting those two things into sync. Sounds good, right?

Well, then they said we were going to do a little activity. They asked us all to raise our hands. We did. Then they explained we would all say out loud, “It will feel good when I raise my hand,” before raising our hands. This is definitely one of those times my brain was a running things because I thought, “Seriously? You think it’s going to make a difference if I say something out loud before raising my hand?”

I reigned my mind in — it felt like teaching the first day of kindergarten, you know like herding cats — and did it. I was strangely surprised that it did feel different the second time. Always a skeptic, I surmised it might’ve been my internal dialogue that made the difference. And, I committed to trying it outside of the workshop. Expecting to prove them wrong.

When I found myself not wanting to do something, I’d think out loud, “This is going to feel good.” And, to my surprise, it worked. Okay, not like total magic where I now love cleaning my kitchen, but it does work to keep my focus more positive.

Energy Flows Where Attention Goes (1)

Later I realized I’ve been using this strategy for years in my classroom. You know that kid that is having a hard time staying focused and on task while you’re teaching and keeps interrupting everybody else? I often pull that kid aside before intense learning activities and ask her what her goal is for the lesson. I’ve used non-verbal cues for kids that we are striving for greatness so that even in the hallways when students make bad choices I can remind them of their goals without embarrassment or singling them out for misbehavior. (People outside of our class have thought I was crazy for randomly extending my hand from below the waist into the air with extended fingers with mu) It has worked for years with students, how did I miss that it would work for me, too!

In the morning when I first wake up, before getting out of bed, I go through a brief time of meditation. Purposely not picking up my phone. Not listening to music. Lying in the silence mindful of the feel of the sheets on my skin, breathing deeply and consciously expelling the stagnant energy from sleep while visualizing breathing in vitality and light. I spend this time expressing gratitude, and I set an intention for the day. As I slowly, lazily open my eyes observing the way the light sneaks in around the edge of the curtain and hearing the dogs waking up, I feel good about starting my day.

Since that training, I’ve paid more attention to intention setting. And, it has popped up in so many of the things I’m reading and listening to.

Have you tried setting intentions? Has it worked for you? If you haven’t, what have you got to lose?

Thoughts, Feelings, Actions

Lately I have spent a lot of time figuring out (even journaling!) what I want to do….yoga asana practice daily, increased vegetable intake, increased time meditating, creating a series of asana classes for educators…. honestly, the list is quite long.

And, so far, I’ve attained none of it.

So, I’ve been spending some time thinking about why I can’t get myself to do the things I know are good for me. I did as so many of us do. I googled. One thing that came up that spoke to me was a Life Coach, Brooke Castillo’s podcast. She has quite an extensive library, but I started with episode #1.

She covered many of the same concepts as were presented in my YTT last summer in Madison. Somehow I seemed more open to them this time. Here’s the concept that resonated with me in a nutshell: Reactions/actions/inactions are triggered by feelings which are controlled by our thoughts.

Put another way: When you explore and guide your thoughts, feelings and actions will follow. The power to create the life you want is yours.

Getting to the thoughts that are creating the feelings takes some digging. You have to get an observer view of how you brain is working to do it.

What tapes has your brain been running with all of these years? 

In episode #2, Brooke walked me through an exercise to identify my most common feelings. She then walked me back to what thoughts are causing those feelings? My favorite part, though, is when she led me through the exercise of identifying the feelings we WANT to have and linking them to thoughts that will create those feelings!

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I took exercise of hers and turned it into a mantra for myself so that when I’m having a hard time remembering that I’m in control of my thoughts, I can simply redirect myself to the thoughts that will trigger the feelings I want.

                                          I am empowered, connected, and secure. 

What would your personal mantra be?

How We Tell Our Stories Matters (maybe as much as what we say)

At the Breathe for Change training this summer in Madison, WI I was honored to spend 160 hours with over 100 people working on getting it right. For themselves. For their families. For their students. For their schools. For their cities. For our nation.

We laughed a whole lot.

We danced.

We dared to step out of our comfort zones.

We challenged ourselves and supported others who were challenging themselves.

We cried from sheer joy, compassion, and pain.

We spent hours upon hours during those 16 days talking about who we are and who we have been and who we see ourselves becoming.

And at one point I realized, we don’t all tell our stories in the same way. I spent a couple of days with that thought really listening to others as they shared about life experiences, and I realized some of us tell our stories as though we are victims. Others choose a position of empowerment.

Then we started to learn about neuroplasticity. I kept hearing the phrase, “What you think becomes actions becomes reality.” I immediately applied it to my thinking about the telling of our stories.

I listened some more. I analyzed the people speaking from positions of empowerment and quickly realized they approach life in a healthier way.

So, I committed myself to consciously telling my life stories from a place of empowerment. Consciously removing all traces of victimhood from my story.

Right then and there I began to listen to myself as I talked about experiences being married or growing up.

I started to tell my life stories in a journal one of my Omies gifted me. Sometimes it has been hard. I’m breaking habits of how I have allowed myself to see my past. With some of my stories I’ve had to spend a good bit of time thinking through my story and rethinking which parts I allow myself to be victim. Those are harder ones to tell. They’re the more important ones to practice with.

Once I record a story, I reflect back on it and think about what life lesson I want to draw from my truth. Through this process some of what I have discovered:

  • “Someone being well-intentioned doesn’t equate to my needs being met.”
  • “I need the people around me to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.”
  • “I am a person who works hard to make it work. I am also willing and able to make hard choices for myself and those I love.”

I’ve experienced many challenges in my life: growing up youngest of four in a working class family, single parenthood, two marriages ending in divorce, a long career as a public school teacher.

I’m not looking to change the story, just to be sure that I’m recognizing and honoring my strength in the way I share my stories moving forward.

Have you thought about how you tell your life stories? Is it from a point of empowerment?

Tackling Anxiety

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As we get back into the routine of school, as an educator and a mom, anxiety naturally rises. This year I have a couple of extra things raising my anxiety in addition to the normal stresses of a new year.

Yesterday I noticed that my shoulders and neck were getting tight, and I know that is caused by stress tension for me. I tried to ignore it, though I knew it wouldn’t go away.

That’s when I decided to throw on my Omies tank and get on my yoga mat. I put on a yin yoga sequence and moved through the hour long practice with the intention of being present. It worked. My mind wandered and chased down thoughts until I paused it and came back to focus on my breathing.

I spent an hour alternating between being elated about starting a new position with work, accepting there will be a learning curve, and being concerned for family members and their current struggles.

And, I spent a lot of time bringing my focus back to my breath and the sensations in my body. When I’m stressed, my mind tends to ramp up quickly and race after thoughts that are, in fact, self defeating. Mindfulness is the best way I have found to combat it.

After that hour, as I laid in supported shavasana, I realized my shoulders were no longer tense, and my neck was relaxed. I was reminded that allowing myself to feel all of the feels helps me recover from stress more quickly. None of the situations had changed, but my ability to interact with them was greatly improved.

What do you do to take control of your anxiety? How can you plan to manage stress this school year? 

Shame and Connection

In the Gifts of Imperfection Brene’ Brown discusses the influence of shame in the way we see ourselves and tell our stories.

Some of us withdraw and hide from others thereby silencing our own stories. (That’s usually what I do.) Others lash out against others and use their own shame as a weapon trying to gain power over other people. In this book, Ms. Brown outlines the healthier way of dealing with shame which involves sharing your story with others. She describes situations where she has shared her own shame publicly at times and with just one other person she trusted at others. She speaks to how she found peace with the situation by no longer allowing fear and shame to tell the story. Through sharing with others and owning our own story, we embrace our imperfections and find courage, compassion, and connection with others.

This summer at our Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) with Breathe for Change in Madison, our group was preparing to teach our first full length yoga class. We were taking baby steps as the team was teaching a 50 minute class; we were each only responsible for one part, about 5 minutes.

I thought it’d be cool for us to have matching shirts, and I love making tie dyes so I took on the project. The idea continued to expand to include our group name and one word to capture our intention moving forward. I chose “connected.”

See, I’m an introvert. Really, a super introvert. I LOVE spending time with myself with little distraction. Floating in the pool watching clouds, laying in a hammock reading, sun salutations on the patio, driving for hours, coloring in my bedroom. I love the time and space to myself. I don’t need music or noise to occupy myself, in fact I find it annoying a lot of the time.

At YTT I realized I sometimes use my super introvert status to avoid connection with others and started “getting curious about it” as our mentor would suggest. (I’ve been known to say, “I don’t like people very much.) Basically it comes down to my collection of data.

I’ve had some challenging situations in my life: My father was an alcoholic. My parents lived pay check to pay check. My father died when I was 17, just out of high school. I became an unwed mother of a biracial and bicultural child. I married into a Japanese family. I divorced. Several people close to me have suffered from untreated depression. My second husband is an alcoholic. We divorced. I’ve spent more years as a single mom of two than married with two incomes.

And, starting with early events and continuing throughout my life, I’ve gathered data that proved people can’t be trusted.

Over the years, I hadn’t noticed that there is at least equal amounts of data supporting the opposite because my momentum was leading me to pay attention to information that supported my belief.

That belief led me to disconnect and revel in my introversion.

I am truly at the most basic level, an introvert. However, I am also courageous, compassionate, and deeply connected to my people.

This summer I vowed to collect data to support new beliefs. In my journal I wrote, “People will step up when I give them the space and opportunity.” “People will break trust; it makes them human, not unworthy of trust.” And, “I am connected.”

What beliefs do you hold that are based on shame or keep you from reaching your potential?

What we practice grows stronger

If you had it within your power to transform your life into what you wish it would be, would you have the courage to do it?

One sermon my pastor delivered begged the question, "What would you do differently if fear was no factor?" I wanted to believe I live my life without fear controlling it; yet when she posed that question, I realized that I do operate in a world of fear – of failing, succeeding, being perceived as aggressive or selfish, of living into my best self or not being my best self. I fear wanting something badly and being disappointed when it doesn't come to fruition. I didn't want to believe it, but being honest with myself, it was true.

This summer during yoga teacher training, I spent a lot of time learning how neuroplasticity works and how I can leverage that knowledge to change my reality. (The Athlete's Way by Christopher Bergland delves into this topic more deeply. You can read an excerpt here.) It's actually pretty simple. If you consciously change your thoughts, you can actually retire your brain!

Mindfulness is about how we pay attention with kindness towards ourselves and others. It allows us to view the parts of ourselves that bring about shame and dissatisfaction that seem to be unforgivable and to forgive those parts of ourselves. To accept ourselves as we are even as we are evolving into better people through our work.

Through mindfulness we can teach our brain to be kinder to ourselves. On top of that, there's a pretty large body of research that validates the idea that mindfulness strengthens immune system, helps with sleep, decreases stress, and literally rewires the brain.

The trick: whatever you practice is what grows stronger. So, if while you are meditating you are being harsh with yourself – worrying you "aren't doing it right" or frustrated that your mind is wandering (it will) – you are actually getting better at being judgemental and irritable. I prefer to get better at being kind to myself, so I work really hard to disrupt the narrative that has become my brain's habit. Several times a day I pause to focus on the sensations of the bristles on my face as I exfoliate or the feel of the water on my hands as I wash dishes. I'll sit with the uncomfortable stress of a living room paint job requiring many more hours than I anticipated. Mindfulness sounds easy, right?

I want kindness to grow stronger in me – towards myself and towards others. One way I can easily cultivate that is to have the courage to notice my sensations throughout the day. I've found that if I stop for just a minute and breathe in stressful or frustrating situations, really sit with the uncomfortableness, just like I easily relish joy, it passes much faster than when I resist. And, when I allow my observer self to relish and focus on the positive aspects of life, that's what my brain sees in the world.

What do you want to grow stronger in yourself? How will you practice it every day? Your answer is your path to mindfulness!

 

Healthier Teachers, Better Schools

What’s Core to Schools?

The core of our school buildings is the teachers who interact with children on a daily basis. When we teachers feel good about ourselves and what we’re accomplishing with our students, school is a better place to be and students are more successful socially and academically. Mindfulness is one of the proven strategies for effecting teacher stress levels that is within out control.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the simple, but not so easy process of paying attention and then letting go of our present thoughts and emotions without judgements. Living in the moment happily, if you will.

Andy Puddicombe describes mindfulness in this TED Talk. “We can’t change every little thing that happens to us in life, but we can change the way that we experience it.”

Here are some ways you can start being more mindful:

  • Download a mindfulness app on your phone and listen during a break or before bed. Here are several that are also applicable to students in a classroom setting.
  • Be aware of your breath for one minute. This is especially helpful if you find yourself upset by something in your environment. (Maybe a student conflict or the tenth time you’re repeating a procedure during the first week.)
  • Learn to meditate. Spend 10 minutes sitting cross legged visualizing your breath as you breath in and out through your nose. (Finding time at lunch for this is a great energizer for the afternoon classes. I like to climb up on the round table in my room to do meditate in my classroom.)
  • Take a free online course to learn meditation techniques. Palouse Mindfulness offers one here.
  • Attend a weekend retreat for meditation and mindfulness. I went to an open house at Magnolia Grove Monastery in Batesville, MS yesterday and they host weekend as well as 5 day retreats for visitors. Magnolia Grove Meditation Hall

I’d love to hear how mindfulness has helped you slow down and appreciate the space between life’s events and your reactions to them.

Give Me My Power Back!

Let’s walk through a little exercise to examine our closest relationships and see what kind of impact they are having on our health and well-being. Work through each step recording your answers in a journal before moving on to the next step for the most effective results.

Make a list of the twenty people you spend the most time with. Include work and home connections, and focus on who you are ACTUALLY around, not who you wish to be around. Think about a typical day, typical week and write down the names of the people you run across on a regular basis.

Circle the top five according to the amount of time spent with these individuals. Who do you spend the most time with? This list is the people who have the most influence on you.

Now, take a minute to analyze each of these relationships – whether it is a work relationship or a personal one. Consider whether or not you feel like you can be yourself around each of these people or if you feel like you are holding back. Use a scale of one to ten with ten being highly empowered relationships and one being deeply disempowering relationships. When talking about a person ranked ten it might sound like, “I never have to hide my true self from this individual,” and a one maybe, “I am never allowed to be myself with this person.”

Empowering relationships, where you are encouraged to be yourself, are life giving. Empowering relationships make you feel better about yourself and the world. So how can we address those relationships that are disempowering? One way is to choose to spend less time with those particular people and increase the amount of time/number of people who are empowering in our circles of friends.

If a close relationship is disempowering and it is one you want to or need to keep close, consider using the Non-Violent Communication method to deepen understanding between the two of you. It basically works like this: the two people in conflict agree to discuss this issue. One is a listener….really LISTENING to the one sharing his/her concerns. One is expressing…. honestly, openly, using all four of the steps. Discuss the listener’s responsibility before beginning so they aren’t surprised by your expectation!

First the one expressing the conflict goes through all four steps. 1) Make observations without judgements/opinions/feelings. 2) State two or three feelings evoked by the situation in step one. 3) State two or three needs you have that weren’t being met in the situation. 4) Make a specific request of the listener. What could that person feasibly do that would make life more wonderful for you? Here’s an example: “When you asked me to meet you for lunch and you were ten minutes late and didn’t let me know, it made me feel self-conscious, mistrustful, and insecure because of my need for connection, support, and respect. Next time you are running late would you be willing to call or text and let me know?” Note: there are no generalizations allowed. No exaggerations. Just observations, feelings, needs, and a request.

After the one expressing completes all FOUR steps, the listener replies not using a word for word replay, but capturing the essence of the communication, also including all four parts. It might sound like this: “When I was ten minutes late to lunch it made you feel insecure and disconnected because of your needs to be respected, connected, and supported by me. I will absolutely call or text the next time I am running late.”

The idea is that once you get in the habit of communicating this way with your closest circle, you won’t have to be so lock step in the method, and it will be more organic.

Try it and let me know what you think/how it works for you.

Transformation of Self

Four days ago when I arrived at a hotel in Madison, WI – a place I’ve never visited before, I had no idea what I was in for. I unpacked my stuff and laid out clothes in nervous anticipation. 

Now I’ve moved through conscious setting of intentions, meditation routines, gratitude circles – AKA crying circles, mentorship groups, morning yoga practice, asana teach backs, philosophy and anatomy lessons, and so much community building that I feel like I’ve known these 115 people forever.

And, I do feel like there has been a transformation of self. I feel like I’ve been supported in ways that I have been able to identify personal challenges and develop strategies to dissipate them soon. I’m learning tools and ways to approach life and concerns with an open heart and sense of gratefulness. I feel my body and mind growing stronger and developing new pathways for interacting with the world. 

Ten Minute Morning Movement Routine

Why’s It Good for Me?

When we first wake up, we have a brief period of time before our brains become flooded with ideas about what we have to get done today and who needs what. When we spend just ten minutes focusing on our bodies and minds, the whole day gets off to a better start.

Instead of lying in bed hesitating to get up, hitting the snooze button again, and again. Try this.

Get out of bed the first time the alarm sounds. Move through a Sun Salutation routine for four cycles. Do it for one week. Seven days. Let me know what you think.

What Should It Look Like?

Sun salutation is a basic yoga sequence that you find most any time you attend a public yoga class. This series of 12 movements increases your blood flow, boosts your metabolism, and strengthens your muscles and joints.

This image from Ibiza Yoga Retreat is a great illustration of the sequencing involved in Sun Salutation A.

On her You Tube channel, Adrienne also has a video that walks you through how to do it.

If you are new to the practice…

If you need a  specific description of each pose to feel comfortable with the sequence, watch this video on YouTube by Yoga by Candace. She does a great job of explaining the correct positioning and explains how to get the full benefit of poses.

One way to modify the chataraunga dandasana pose is to drop your knees to the floor from plank pose, engage your core (envision your navel pulling towards your spine), roll your shoulder blades down your back, and slowly lower yourself down. Ashtanga Yogi Bali has a brief video that illustrates this well.

Let Me Know What You Think

After seven days of practicing, I’d love to hear what you think of this process. Have you noticed any changes in your mood throughout the day?