Regularity: Creating Bliss with Consistent Practice

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The second virtue of the Eighteen ities, is regularity.  Regularity has always scared me.  I pride myself in being free, flexible and able to go with the flow.  I do not want to feel or be seen as rigid.  Sticking with a set schedule not only seems boring, but generates a fear in me of missing out on things.
Fears of being uncool aside, regularity forms the backbone of our yoga practice and creates a strong foundation in our lives.  Finding routines and consistency, rather than pinning us down, creates freedom through stability.
We all have different demands and life gets messy and unpredictable.  Setting up consistent practices can begin to help ground us amidst the chaos.  Rather than trapping us in obligation, regularity in parts of our lives will help us stay connected to our foundation while we rise to meet the challenges of life.
When choosing practices to reinforce, be realistic and find balance.  Begin with rituals which feed your soul or nurture your body.  If your schedule does not allow for a regular bedtime, work to have a regular wake time.  Create consistency around your morning and evening routines and meals.  Meditate or pray and practice pranayama each day.  A few minutes is enough.  Practice asana each day.  Try not to sabotage yourself with the expectation of what your practices should look like or how long they should be.
Some habits will bring you peace and feel natural.  Those practices will be the ones you will be able to savor and stick with easily.  Other efforts will be unsuccessful.  Avoid judgment and negative self-talk.  Keep coming back to them for as long as it takes to establish a positive pattern.
It is a choice to be rigid.  Regularity is not the same thing as rigidity.  This week, choose just one change to make.  Start small.   Invite regularity into your life as a way to ground and strengthen your foundation.  Consistency is a pathway to true peace, freedom, and bliss.

What regular practices support your life?
 #TheItyProject

Express Your Divine Identity!

image“The soul has come to the physical realm to have a direct experience of itself as an ‘individuation of divinity.’ We have taken a physical identity so that we may express our divine identity. And every moment in our life provides us with an opportunity to do that.”

~Neale Donald Walsch

Read more in MANTRA  Are We After The Wrong Stuff? 

 

5 Reasons Your Yoga Teacher Won’t Shut Up About Your Pelvic Floor!

kegel-cartoon
illustration from: womenshealthfoundation.org
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles which create a hammock of sorts connecting to each hip bone, sacrum and coccyx (tail bone).  It serves to support our internal organs and plays a role in the function or dysfunction of our posture, continence, sexual function, fertility and much more.
  1. Improve Your Posture
    Pelvic floor muscles help to stabilize our hips, keeping our pelvis, sacrum and low back in proper alignment.  Learning to both engage and release this important muscle structure as part of a whole body approach can help correct improper alignments and relieve pain.
  2. Reduce Risk of Incontinence or Prolapse
    Many of us have experienced temporary incontinence when we have coughed, sneezed or laughed too hard.  If you have had a baby, you are familiar with an often shocking, although usually temporary loss of pelvic floor control and the resulting incontinence.  Strengthening pelvic floor muscles is often recommended to help prevent or treat incontinence.
    Prolapse, or the dropping of pelvic organs can occur in some women often due to weakened pelvic floor muscles.  While genetic factors can explain some cases, others factors including lack of muscle strength also contribute.
    Should we strengthen or release the pelvic floor?  Kegel exercises are often recommended to strengthen the pelvic muscles can help protect against incontinence and prolapse.  It is worth noting however, having ‘weakness’ in your pelvic muscles can also be the result of too much clenching and tightness.  Learning to lengthen and release these muscles is equally important.
  3. Ground Your Yoga and Meditation Practices
    Practicing Mula Bandha or root lock, the upward lift of the pelvic muscles, when engaged in our yoga practice has the benefit of stabilizing the pelvis and giving us a sense of grounding. Explore Mula Bandha throughout your asana and meditation practices.
  4. Improve Your Sex Life
    Both strengthening and learning to control the pelvic floor has been shown to improve sensation and enjoyment of sexual intercourse for both men and women. In addition, research shows pelvic strengthening can aid in the treatment of ED in men.
  5. Aid Relaxation and Stress Reduction
    When we think of our pelvic floor, we often think about the lack of engagement or strength, however we often unconsciously over-engage and tense our pelvic floor muscles.  This can lead to tension and stress throughout the body and mind, poor posture and even painful intercourse.  In yoga it is believed we hold our stress, tension, emotions, fear and anxiety in the pelvic region or ‘root’ of our body.   Developing an awareness of our pelvic floor muscles through yoga, meditation and exercise can have wonderful benefits in terms of our ability to relax both physically and mentally.

Meditation: What is Going Well?

Lotus @ IU
It is quite easy for us to identify those things which are not going well in our lives.  What we perceive to be bad or negative can often overshadow what is going well.  The vast majority of us have much to be grateful for.  Why then do the things that seem “wrong” always seem to overshadow everything else?   What if our tendency to readily identify the negative (and overlook the positive) was simply a thought pattern to be shifted, a habit to be broken?
What Is Going Well Meditation
Sit wells
Begin by scanning your body in the context of ‘what is going well?’  What feels good?  What feels open?  Safe? Free? Comfortable?
As you come across areas of your body which feel achy, tired, tense, or painful, notice without judging.
Do the same with your breath.  Where in your body does it feel deep, smooth, accessible?  Notice any places the breath seems not to flow – shift the attention of your breath to those spaces.
As you begin to deepen your breath, observe whether the inhale or exhale has more ease.  Which is longer?  Shorten the longer breath to meet the length of the shorter breath.  As your comfort with your breath deepens, work to lengthen both inhales and exhales equally.
Observe the mood of your thoughts.  This becomes a little more tricky.  Doing your best not to judge or change the mood, simply notice.
Begin to call to mind What Is Going Well in your life.  What relationships are going well?  What are you grateful for?  What are your blessings?  During this exercise, sit with the thoughts as they arise.  Simply acknowledge their appearance and allow them to be there without interference.  Cultivate awareness of how often you become distracted by what you perceive to be negative. Practice being with your thoughts without judgement or engagement.
Be patient. Habitual negative thought patterns will diminish with practice.
We can build the patterns we desire. We can shift our perspective.

 

Out of the Blues. . . Into the Light

imageLast week was a struggle for me.  My husband and I call it the “blues”.  It creeps up, in a slow, stealth way, not easily explained by any particular event or life stressor and covers me like a heavy blanket.   Generally, when I slip into this mood, it is marked with lethargy and crushing self-doubt.  I seem utterly unable to accomplish what I desire to, question my abilities and fall into a pattern of self-criticism. I am always surprised when I fall into this state.  I tend to be an optimistic person, seeing the good in most things.  I am able to maintain a sunny outlook towards and for everyone else except myself during this blue mood.  Interestingly,  in the most stressful times of my life, I have been able to muster the strength I’ve needed to survive, pooling resources and support from friends, family, faith and practice.  When the “blues” strike, I am caught off guard, dumbfounded, my reaction is to retreat into myself, which is in those periods, a hostile environment.
Great concern befalls me when this mood arrives, as depression and anxiety run rampant in my family.  I lost a grandparent to suicide and many of my relatives have at some point been treated for depression/anxiety.  In my estimation, I do not suffer from serious anxiety or depression.  Due to my family history however, I tend to take notice when one “off” day turns into several bad days, or perhaps a week marked with feelings of self-doubt, criticism and tears.
Four years ago, when I first sat in one of Tommy Rosen’s workshops at Hanuman Festival, a light bulb went off!  He sat quietly in front of us in all white, calmly glowing with the radiance.  (That may seem like an overstatement, until you’ve been in a room with he and his wife, Kia Miller – they radiate joy and kindness.)  After greeting us, he asked, “What are you addicted to?”  Naturally, I thought, “nothing”.  He then went on to name the usual addictions we are familiar with; drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling. . . still nothing.  Next he mentioned shopping and I thought. . . well, maybe at a point in my life. . . to some degree.  He then said, “What about the Four Aggravations; negative thinking, self-doubt, procrastination and resentment?” BINGO!
It came over me in a wave of recognition.  Not only were these thought patterns I routinly found myself stuck in, they were hallmarks of my family history.  Rosen will say that there is resistance from some in labeling the Four Aggravations as addictive behavior, afterall, these are thoughts and not a chosen elixor to stiffle pain. His response is that an “addiction” is any behavior which produces negative consequences in which we continue to participate.  It is worth noting, many of us may struggle with persistant self-doubt, negative thinking, procrastination or resentment and never fall into abusing drugs and alcohol.  Yet these thought patterns can be destructive all the same.
I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones.  My yoga practice and the self-awareness I have been able to cultivate, I believe has saved my life.  It has helped me recognize and come to terms with negative thought and behavior patterns and given me the space and time to observe them and make better choices.  I remain deeply curious as to the cause of these times of blue-ness, however, my practice has allowed me to let go of the “whys”. Perhaps just the right combination of things created a perfect storm and a dark mood, perhaps it is simply a pattern or habit created by my ego or mind.   My priority remains in developing the skills to deminish these patterns.
Eventually, I feel my blue mood lifts almost as gently and quietly as it arrived without explanation.  What I do know is that through my practice, I have tools to move through these periods.  The following is the toolbox I have created for myself.
1. Communication and connection 
When I can’t shake negative feelings about myself, I tell my husband – who happens to be my best friend and cheerleader.  He also happens to struggle with the same tendencies, so there is no judgment and always lots understanding and hugs, which incidentally can help increase Oxyitocin, our bodies “love hormone”.
Connect with friends and colleagues who may struggle with the same self-doubt around work or personal life.  It always helps to hear that you are not alone in your fears or anxiety.
2. Movement
Often, the first thing I want to do when feeling this way is to melt into my couch, but movement releases important hormones to help counteract depressed mood such as; Seratonin, our bodies natural anti-depressant.  Last week, I had fallen out of my yoga routine and my husband encouraged me to get back on my mat.
If yoga is not your movement of choice – walk, run, cycle or even dance.
3. Eat and sleep well
Returning to healthy eating and sleeping patterns can aid in mood recovery.  Our bodies need  fuel and rest, continually running at a deficit can contribute to negative moods and anxiety.  The more aware I become, I can see the direct connection between good rest and food to my overall well-being and happiness.
4. Just Do It
Nike has a brilliant slogan – because sometimes you just have to do it.  With energy low, it is often hard to accomplish or finish tasks on my long lists and which tends to feed the cycle of self-criticism and doubt.  To-do lists are often a set up for unreasonable expectations in my life.  Taking on a few tasks and pushing through to completion, despite my negative mood often helps reverse my depleted sense of accomplishment.  Simply put, I like to feel useful and as though I am caring for my family.
5.  The silent treatment
Meditation and stillness can be the most challenging part of the yoga practice for those of us who struggle with constant negative mind chatter, the Four Aggravations.  It is not so much that physical stillness does not feel good, I love stillness – ask my couch.  Rather, it is that in stillness,  that the negative chatter gets louder as I am no longer distracted by physical movement.  Sitting in stillness and trying to meditate then seem to be ill-advised if it produces opportunities to further deminish oneself.  However, although not easy in the beginning, mediation provides us with the opportunity to observe our thoughts, identify patterns and then choose a different reaction.   If you struggle with the process, let go of the label and judgement.  When you first begin, it will be a battle with the loud voices constantly interrupting your attempts to be quiet in your mind.  I use the “silent treatment” – you know, that thing you used to do to your siblings when you were young?  Or maybe you do it to your partner when you are in a fight (horrible by the way, just horrible)?  Have a sense of humor and use it when you are meditating.  Ignore the obnoxious thoughts that continually interupt your attempts to find space.  Cross your imaginary arms, turn up your nose and ignore them until they begin to deminish.
If you are struggling, perhaps these tools will help, however they are not the only or even the best answer for every situation.  The “blues” as I identify them, lasting longer than a week or two or behavior patterns resulting in negative outcomes in your work or personal life should be addressed.  Seek help and advice from professionals and support groups if you are concerned about yourself or others. The links below may be helpful.
Support for Anxiety and Depression
Addiction Recovery Groups
Yoga and Recovery
Recovery 2.0
Yoga of 12-step Recovery
 Keep Practicing!