It is the last week of my regular classes and it feels rather weird, as I am wrapping things up a little earlier than in years past. Naturally I want to wish people a “happy summer.” But what does that really mean?
Last week we explored what a meaningful season ahead looked like, honoring the natural pause that is offered soon by the summer solstice. Taking advantage of the inward reflection to applaud our achievements, redress our imbalances, and look forward to supporting those in our circles of friends and family.
This weekend I was really struck by the definition of happiness offered by psychologist Shawn Achor on an older podcast of “10 Percent Happier.” He suggested that the definition of happiness was the joy you feel as you are moving toward your potential. The positive psychology research, he said, points to the need to have what he called “happiness hygiene habits” to help us retrain our ancient brain that is always scanning the inner and outer landscapes for disasters or the negative, toward the positive in order to achieve long-term happiness. That way we can move more fluidly toward our potential.
So much is dependent upon a regular gratitude practice, which creates something akin to an app running in the background of your brain always scanning for the positive. The key to holding gratitude isn’t just naming the “what” it is also the “why,” providing meaning. The three happiness hygiene practices mentioned are meditation, gratitude, and social connection (the greatest predictor for long-term happiness)
So as we part for the summer, I wish everyone the time to slow down, reflect & meditate, and to fill the summer with meaning and with those you love. “Happy” Summer.
Last week we travelled to California for parents weekend where our son is in college. It was wonderful to see him and experience a slice of his life there. We walked for miles, caught up, grabbed a few dining hall lunches, and dinners out, and enjoyed the programming for the parents. The school put on classes for us old folks and we were able to sit in and think about some really interesting topics. One of the classes we attended was called “Flourishing: The Art & Science of Creating a Life Well Lived.”
The focus was on our fast-paced digital culture. The professor called our phones and tablets “weapons of mass distraction.” He said what we need is more social integration; to experience deep meaning and purpose by plugging into JOY & AWE in our lives; having a tribe of like-minded friends–like a “microcommunity;” physical well-being; and very important was MEDITATION. Meditation can counter the effects and retrain the brain structures that are affected by the inundation of fast-moving information.
As a society we need to shift out of “fight or flight” mode. Our Stone Age brain cannot decipher the difference in threat from a lion versus a “ping” from a text. We desperately need to change that and meditation can do the job, thanks to the neuroplasticity of the brain. With practice a regular meditation practice–gets you into that STATE and eventually you can turn it into a TRAIT. The brain can be retrained in this way. Powerful, right?
The class reminded me how important it is to live more intentionally, more proactively, and more mindfully. To refuel with star gazing, sunsets, friends, and laughter. To stay mindful as much as possible throughout the day–to break free of the reactive and habitual and live with greater intention. THAT is flourishing.
And isn’t that what your yoga practice can do? It creates the groundwork for greater mindfulness. By focusing on breath and movement, turning down the chatter from the brain, the practice is a meditation in motion, bringing you closer and closer to flourishing.
I like to teach with a nod to current events and happenings. Last week we lost a poet named Mary Oliver. And while I do not confess to knowing the breadth and depth of her work, the few poems of hers that I have read are so beautiful, comforting. Like being read to by a dear friend, but one who really asks you the hard questions and reminds you what living is truly supposed to be like. One of her poems in particular, though, is a bit of a wake up call, called The Summer Day. It draws you in with the scene of a grasshopper in a field, and then startles you with this question at the end, “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one, wild and precious life?” And then, just like that, the world stops, sort of in the way when you experience a loss or a tragedy. Suddenly there is time for introspection and reflection. Am I living my life in alignment with my passions? And if not, what can I do to correct course? Thank you, Mary Oliver, for giving us the gift of your prose and for holding the mirror up to our lives, to allow us to see them more clearly and to dive inward to reflect.
It is January. You did it. You got through December and the holidays with their endless demands and now it is time to focus on yourself. You may have started the year with bold resolutions or meekly tip-toed into the new year without wanting to commit to anything dramatic. No matter the way you welcomed 2019, it is important to approach this new year filled with self compassion so that you can support yourself as you would a friend. Allowing yourself to shine, grow, evolve and perhaps even transform. The question is, can you offer the compassion that you so freely offer outwardly, inwards? Can you push aside the internal critic, laugh and embrace your imperfections, and create some ease within? Like yoga, this is a practice. Like rolling out your mat to dive deeper into body, mind, spirit, can you incorporate self compassion this year?
Life is funny. We get mired in the details of things. We get swept into drama. We have to work hard to keep things in perspective at times. And then there are other times when you are forced into perspective–a little variation of Clarence showing you what a wonderful life you really do have. So whatever it is that you might be experiencing, I hope you’ll take a little time to step back and appreciate the blessings, the abundance, the goodness that exists right now. I had the dramatic variation of this yesterday, when a loved one had a successful surgery that we’d been dreading for months. And when I arrived at the hospital room, don’t you know the room number was my birthday. What a gift, indeed. I hope you’ll look for the gifts the universe is serving you up this season (and I truly hope they won’t be hospital rooms!). With a lot of recovery time ahead in this house, we just might have to snuggle up to the classic movie with Jimmy Stewart and wait for that line…..”you see, George, you really DO have a wonderful life.”
Many happy blessings to you this holiday season.
Maybe it’s why I like high tide so much. Walking through Boston or any other harbor, seeing the water level super high just makes me smile. It’s a fullness close to bursting, there is no room for any more–the abundance of it never ceases to astound me. If only we could feel that high tide on the inside. Often we feel the opposite, like something is missing, not quite right, that we are lacking, or not enough. With Thanksgiving just a stone’s throw away, it’s certainly time to give thanks. And incorporating a gratitude practice in your life on a regular basis can have profound effects on your outlook & mood; coming into that mental position of “I am enough, I have enough” can float you up like a good high tide, creating a sense that there is nothing missing. This week in my classes we focused on holding gratitude, not only because it is a mental game changer, but also because it feels right to acknowledge the abundance, that high tide, in our lives. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.
It started with some crazy ideas and one flip. And mercury being in retrograde was also in play (still is!).
We invited some folks to stay with us for the summer. Yep, the whole summer, and the family felt the squeeze. Suddenly finding ourselves together and alone in the house was a luxury, and we started to cherish the surprise family time like we had found a hidden jewel.
In July another reminder of how precious our family unit was came when a flip off a dock nearly ended in a variety of nasty ways, but magically somehow didn’t. It was Christmas in July. And again, we found ourselves holding onto what was most dear.
With so much in the air (flips, and mercury, remember?) I also flipped–my business that is–into a new space, just a mile down the road to a fantastic studio. It is a beautiful, airy place and I know it is going to be an exciting new chapter.
Change is really the only thing we can truly count on.
It feels pretty outrageous to have a space of time ahead of me this summer to craft my offerings for the fall. I am so grateful to the Tribe–those dedicated and loving individuals who showed up on their mat, week after week, to dive deeper into their practice and the teachings and meaning of yoga.
Today was the last week of my classes and I was desperately seeking parting words. It felt akin to seeking the right words when parting from my kids who are now young adults…desperately seeking for some brilliant wisdom…and something like “make good choices” is all that I can blurt out. After all, they have probably learned all they are going to from me–at least the big stuff.
So in searching about for something more profound than “make good choices,” I landed on Ahimsa, the first of the Yamas in the ancient yoga text by Pantanjali, called the Yoga Sutras. It’s a text that offers a path of right living, and is over 2,500 years old. The Sanskrit word Ahimsa translates into “nonviolence,” which I admit sounds pretty assumptive–so to clear the air here, I am not presuming that anyone is outwardly violent. Ahimsa suggests just the opposite: a loving compassion for all beings, all people, including oneself (self compassion).
Focusing at the heart, the center of compassion and love, we paused or a Loving Kindness Meditation to really sink into it a bit deeper. So rather than “make good choices,” I’ll leave you with this: lead and choose from this place of compassion. If we all did that, imagine what a beautiful world it would be.
This Sunday is Mother’s Day. Every year I am faced with the task of teaching to a diverse group of people for whom the word “mother” means something entirely different. For some their mothers are not with them now, for others they may simply not want to think of their mother, and others may never have had a mother…..so the word is loaded….so I avoid it altogether and instead, I ask people when they come to their mats to consider the word “mother” as a verb, as in “to mother.”
Most people mother, or support, others. The majority of people who walk through the door into my classes are in the “sandwich generation” so they are mothering up AND down, caring for their ageing parents, relatives, or friends and also for their children. But what we ALL have in common is the support structure: the rich network that is built through friendship and family–even if it is adopted family–to lift us through the challenging times.
Perhaps it is a phone call to check in, a little gift that magically shows up when you are down, or even just a smile. There is compassion, empathy and a consistency that is there. And you play your part in creating that support for others. It’s our “sanga” or community that we are a part of, that connects us to others in a meaningful way.
Take some time this week– a week that crescendos on Mothers Day–to appreciate all the caring and mothering that has been shown to you. Wrap yourself in a blanket of that love and compassion; recharge with it so you can send it out to others.
And in a nod to mothering everywhere, here is a photo of my most recent creation this week, a vegan and gluten free banana bread! Thanks to Minimalist Baker’s recipe, found here. I just added giant volumes of walnuts because my husband loves them!
In a yoga practice we often find ourselves in downward facing dog during a sun salutation. The instructor might say “walk, step, or hop to the top of the mat.” So what is all that hopping all about? Well, it is the jumping, or springing forward, of yoga. It takes a lot of core strength (I refer to it as the engine or the “gas”) and it takes something else: you must shift your gaze to see where you are going.
In my life at the moment I’m kind of treading water. I haven’t committed or made progress in a few areas because I am waiting for puzzle pieces to fall into place, or I might not have exactly scoped out what I want the next step to look like. It’s pretty common, I’m sure you can relate. But the elements of a jump forward on the mat also applies to our lives. Most importantly, the internal gaze forward. We are so very busy and otherwise consumed that we often don’t give ourselves permission to look up, look forward, and see what it is that we’d like to pounce upon. It’s a very important step because we want to be poised for the jump and need to ask ourselves some hard questions.
Once you fully engage the core and commit, the jump isn’t hard to do….also not unlike the moving forward and onward in your everyday life. They say luck is at the intersection of preparedness and opportunity. Finding the internal gaze, your next step, sets you up for the opportunity when it arises.