Tag Archives: mindfulness

The Circus in my Head

A few years ago, I was asking each of my yoga students how they were feeling before I started class. Most people told me something about their body: “my neck is stiff”, “my hips are tight”, “I hurt my knee but I don’t know how (or I know exactly how)”!

This is quite useful, because as a teacher it helped me decide which movements or poses to incorporate, which modifications to offer and to whom, etc.

But I’ll never forget the first time a woman decked out in colorful yoga leggings answered the question in a different way: “I have a circus in my head,” she said in her fabulous Italian accent. So true, my friend, so true.

To me, the goal of yoga isn’t really standing on your head or achieving ultimate pretzel state. Although it’s nice, it’s not even getting stronger or increasing flexibility or balance. The ultimate goal of yoga is to take all the activities my mind is capable of: perceiving, imagining, remembering, etc., directing this mind to a place of my CHOOSING, and holding my attention there as long as I want.

The circus often has other ideas about where attention should be placed.

I recently relocated back to the Boston area from Austin. Talk about chaos, and the need to multi-task. Three days prior to this writing, I was playing “mover delivery bingo”, crossing 188 numbers (in random order) off a sheet while 3 different guys brought things into my apartment, calling out numbers. All while trying to instruct them on which room to put things in, and where. Needless to say, this was all my mind was being instructed to do.

I’ve only been gone 3 years, and some things have changed. I can *sort of* drive on autopilot, but when I do, I often realize that no, this wasn’t the best way to go. I have to be a little more active in my attention when I want to get from point A to point B.

In the new Market Basket the other day, I had a pretty surreal experience. I was unfamiliar with the store — and quite frankly the layout is pretty hokey — but as I was walking through I would “tune in” to a single thing. For example, I was first captured by the woman hollering into her cell phone: “I don’t understand how they found out! They must have overheard me talking or something!!” The irony of that made me smile. An aisle later: listening to the cadence of some produce workers speaking Spanish.

It was as if I had a laser beam of attention that I focused on one particular situation, and everything else got a little hazy. I was feeling a little weird about it until a friend reminded me of what it really was: mindful attention. We’re so not used to it!

Even though I’m no longer in the corporate world, I consider myself a go-go-go kind of person. I’ll always be busy. So I know that sometimes health recommendations are just too.freaking.hard. I don’t sit in meditation — in fact health issues prevent me from being physically able to. My mindfulness, my meditation, my practices have had to be more IN the world than removed from it. And that’s taught me a lot.

In fact, all these upheavals in my life helped me rediscover a practical, easy-to-remember technique I learned years ago in a different context. When practicing it, I’ve greatly increased my ability to be present, especially when the circus wants to play. What’s even better is that each step in the 5-step technique is also independently do-able and useful in and of itself.

I want to share this with more people; while it’s not new, it’s likely a different combination and a new “take” on something that may just change your life.

So my hope is that, regardless of where you are located (and where your mind is) right now, I hope you’ll join me Wednesday evenings starting June 14. Learn more here.


How to fall out of the self-improvement trap

I love words that seem to sing what they’re about. I often find these words in other languages, including Sanskrit, the language of yoga. One of my favorite Sanskrit words is svādhyāya. Svādhyāya is translated into “self-study”, or “self-inquiry”.

Perhaps I like this word because I ROCK at self-improvement.

One of my former company’s core values was “continuous self-improvement” and boy, did I get it. I eagerly attended training and participated in programs, with a pure intention to hear people’s ideas about how I could improve myself. I was told—especially at performance review time—where I wasn’t up to snuff, where I could grow (hopefully as kindly as possible). As a manager, I delivered this feedback (hopefully as kindly as possible) too.

It shouldn’t be surprising that I’ve been a self-help book fanatic.

That’s not to say that I took what I read lock, stock, and barrel: certain ideas made me cringe, or didn’t seem to apply to me. I chose a few things that resonated with me, and let the rest go. This, I believed, was a healthy way to create my own system of self-improvement: one that fit my particular goals, strengths and weaknesses, and limitations like, say, the number of hours in the day I had left to do this work!

I’ve also seen a few therapists, and have even participated in a therapy group about Self.

I joined the group because I connected with the therapist’s initial presentation: I felt like he accurately described some of my struggles. I learned a lot from others in the group too; by the time I left, I had a well-organized, tab-delimited and labeled blue binder filled with tools and techniques to use in various challenging mental and emotional circumstances.

If there was a technique I could use to improve myself, it was at my fingertips.

If something I tried helped me, I’d continue to use it (sometimes after an ample trial period, but not always). If I’m honest, I’d often get overwhelmed with all the possibilities–which would leave me scrapping it all, because choosing added more stress and I had other shit to get done. Even if you take away ONE thing per book, training, or appointment, if you’re addicted to such things like I was, you’ll quickly develop quite a repertoire.

Years later, I put some of these tools and techniques to work helping others.

I left my corporate job and became a Mind-body Wellness Consultant. I started using the tools I’d amassed for myself to help my clients with many conditions. The conditions I most I love working with are ones I’d had some personal experience with, such as: stress, poor sleep, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and body image. I also found that like me, many of my clients have access to too many tools, or too many similar tools, which either don’t work for them, or which they fail to use. Then I noticed something else that was true both me and my clients:

Our best-intentioned health pursuits can actually be unhealthy.

If someone has lots of tools they like, the inclination I’ve seen is to try and throw all of them at “the problem.” Thus, people become more stressed out because of all the health-related activities they have to do every day.

  • “I have to get myself through rush hour to squeak into my yoga class with a minute to spare!”
  • “I need to find time to make these recipes for the week, so I can eat healthy!”
  • “I should fit in X days of cardio, X days of strength-training, and I have to meditate for 30 minutes too.”
  • “I’m tracking every ounce of food I ingest, regardless of where I am.”

The truth is, I used to be that person driving like a madwoman to get to the 6:30 pm power yoga class, because I left work later than I wanted to and traffic sucked. Nothing like rushing around, cursing other drivers and then…. “OMMMMMMM…!”

It just doesn’t happen like this, folks.

In fact this is the very kind of behavior that increases stress, anxiety, insomnia and tension in all of the hours that you’re not “doing” your health & wellness routine (and let’s face it, that’s a lot of time). And if you haven’t noticed by now, health-related “self-improvement” techniques like these don’t tend to become sustainable routines, either!

That’s because even though the mind thinks it is, the body knows that this kind of behavior isn’t healthy. No matter how smart you are, your body is smarter than your mind.

This is also the reason you can skip breakfast, eat a great salad for lunch, followed by a healthy dinner, and then binge your whole pantry empty in the evening. Your body knows deep down that it wanted that breakfast, and that the tasteless salad you multi-tasked while working at your desk at 2 pm isn’t really nourishing you because truthfully, you find salad 90% disgusting (the 10% dressing of course, is another matter!). You didn’t take any breaks through your day. Heck, you barely took full breath, and you didn’t notice that the posture you assumed at your desk was garbage; so now add a chiropractor to your list of “to do’s” to help your aching back.

As I saw more clients and studied myself more, I realized I’d made a crucial error:

Svādhyāya and “self-study” does NOT mean automatically leaping on the “self-improvement” train.

Of course you have to recognize areas for improvement before you can make any changes. But I certainly got waylaid by our culture’s ideas about GETTING.BETTER.FASTER. It’s no wonder, since these ideas are reinforced not only in workplaces but also in typical routes to improve health. These were two environments I lived and breathed, and dare I say, thrived in. Living in the question isn’t a place of comfort; not like DOING something is.

Svādhyāya isn’t about adding anything, per se. It’s about NOTICING what’s happening in your mind-body system, so that you can discover who you are. How you get triggered. How you behave when under stress. What you do, what you don’t do. How you think. How you feel. Only when you spend some time here, in this realm of curiosity, can you learn to start making timely decisions that are more aligned with your best interest. It’s mindfulness of the Self.

Although I had been exposed in my initial yoga teacher training, I’d forgotten the most important component of true svādhyāya, which is CURIOSITY. Curiosity is no easy task. It’s what remains when we temporarily let go of that addiction called JUDGMENT. That’s where the real challenge is. But when we can put judgement aside, when we can say things like “huh, I didn’t realize that!”, or “isn’t that interesting?” about what comes up in our thoughts, about how we feel, or how we behave, it can be quite educational.

Svādhyāya itself IS the best technique for living. No fixing required.


How My Own 7-day Self-Care Challenge Helped Me Redefine Self-Care

If you read my last post, you know that the week of Valentine’s Day I facilitated a 7-day Self-Care Challenge on Facebook.  Each day, participants were challenged to do a particular self-care activity, or one of their choosing that aligned with the day’s theme.  We finished on Saturday, February 18th.

As a teacher / guide and eternal student, I straddle two worlds: the world where sometimes clients think I do everything perfectly, and the world of reality–which is one where I struggle with some of the same things my clients do.  So I decided that I would not just be a facilitator: I’d also be a participant!

Here’s just one thing I learned from my participation in the supportive group we had this year:

The best self-care is not just small…

I often tell clients that their self-care activity can be very small so that it’s practical, do-able, and can fit into a potentially busy day. And since I’m planner by practice, I had plans for what I thought was a small self-care activity on the day we connected with nature.

I planned to take a brief walk at a park on the way home from teaching one of my afternoon classes. But I was so hungry that I went straight home instead.

After lunch–while I was posting an article about plants–I ended up really looking at the aloe plant a dear friend gave me for Christmas. I observed how it has changed and grown in the few months I’ve had it. And because it’s on my desk within eye view, I realized it’s available to me to look at as a break from my computer screen every day.

Creative self-care requires mindfulness!

Because I was thinking about the day’s challenge all day, reading and commenting on participants’ creative posts, I became more mindful of all the little ways I could connect with nature throughout my day. Here was one of my favorite posts from someone who lives in a part of the country where going for a walk in February isn’t quite practical:

“It is a beautiful day, but the wind is brutal. I was going to go for a walk, but I’ll be honest… I didn’t make it far. I’m now back home watching the squirrels chase each other around the trees, which is actually really relaxing.” (Renee M., MN, also photo)

Later, I planned to spend some time gazing at the moon in meditation after my evening class. But alas, the moon wasn’t visible through the clouds in my planned moon-gazing spot. Arrgh, both my plans had been foiled! However, just as I pulled into my driveway, I was taken aback by a very bright Venus through some parting clouds; I paused to take it in. To be curious about what I was seeing To notice how it  made me feel. However brief, this experience turned out to be an extremely peaceful and expansive moment at the end of my very busy day.

So thank you participants, and to nature, for not cooperating with my plans! You’ve taught me to redefine self-care as:

a small, spontaneous moment of self-attention that arises from mindfulness and creates a positive feeling within oneself.

What do you think of this definition?

Future Self-Care Challenges

I hope to run this self-care challenge again next year–as much for me to practice and learn as for my clients! Here are what some folks said about participating:

  • Thank you so much for a great week! I have enjoyed the sharing and exchanging of information.
  • I did it all! I enjoyed the experience and I learned a lot, thank you!
  • Thank you so much for the week of wonders.
  • I did it all…with varying degrees of success. Thanks for all the great resources!
  • I wanted to do it all but got sideswiped by illness in the middle. But I’ve learned some great things, and will keep trying to incorporate them into my days.
  • I was able to do 7 out of 7!!!! Thank you so much for hosting The Self-Care Challenge. It was super fun sharing my results as well as reading everyone else’s!!
  • It was a good challenge. I needed those reminders. Good to remember it’s a practice!
  • “…it does feel good to focus on myself.
  • “Best wishes to everyone who participated in this challenge. And thank you, especially, Kali, for guiding us through the challenge.”
  • “When I first read today’s challenge I thought “Now how am I going to fit that in…” as today was a very full day. But as the day went by and I read all of my Self-Care friends’ post I became inspired!” (Photo courtesy Denisse M.)
  • “Pooh, I didn’t get yesterday’s challenge done. Busyness happened and I forgot to take care of myself that way. Oh, well. Today is a new day!”
  • “Nope, didn’t empty my water bottle like I should have. Why is it so hard to remember, I don’t forget to eat!”
  • “I wish I invited more people to this challenge. You have to do this again so others can benefit!!!!!”

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