Stop crashing and change your mental diet

If you’ve ever gone on a ‘diet’ you know that it’s typically about removing something. Something a doctor or society has deemed ‘bad.’  And those diets inevitably fail because they aren’t sustainable. But, when you decide to make a lifestyle change that involves replacing or ‘adding’ good foods instead of just removing the bad ones, you shift your perspective about food and it becomes a gradual path to success. It’s the same thing when it comes to our thinking.

When you start to notice your thought patterns and what drives your suffering i.e. fear, guilt, worry, shame; you can then begin to find ways to replace those patterns.

In the past three days, I’ve read several passages, social media posts, and had conversations about this very topic. So, it seemed like something I should write about.

I can say from personal experience that when I decided I wanted to find peace and freedom from fear, I tried my hardest to ‘let it go’.  But, that didn’t seem to be enough, and I found myself somehow lacking.  It’s because I’d lived with the fear for so long, just like someone struggling to give up sugar lives with donuts as part of their diet.

Then I read a passage from a teacher about shifting perception by replacing unhealthy or unhelpful thoughts with their opposites.  For example, if you’re feeling angry at someone, try to find something positive about them to be grateful for.  If you’re worried about something, replace that thought with something that you trust or are certain about. Like when I’m nervous about going to a doctor’s appointment, I try to replace that worry with trust. Trust that the doctor has my health in mind.  And acceptance that my body is going to do what it is going to do. Replace that self-judgement by celebrating you.

When I feel lost in a thicket of thoughts, I try to step out of the trees and see the whole forest. For me, the serenity prayer often helps, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The process is slow, just like a successful dietary change.  So, I try to celebrate and acknowledge even the smallest progress.  Crash diets never work.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Pinterest/Merchant Mechanics)

Related post: Have yourself a thought-b-cue

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Go ahead and ‘What if?’

What i

Most of us spend the majority of our time living in either the past or the future.  Neither of these states actually exist, nor can we control them.  This lack of control of something we CAN’T leads to a cycle of suffering marked by anxiety, guilt, fear, or self-judgement.

Phrases like ‘I should have’ or ‘I shouldn’t have’ indicate we’re reliving something that has passed and yet, we can’t let go. If you let the mind keep up this pace, you’ll end up shoulding all over yourself.

And, the ‘What ifs?’ can quite literally paralyze us from moving forward in life for fear that something bad will happen.

So, what happens when we answer ourselves with the opposite or confirm that the decision we have made is already done?  We find a little peace.

The next time you find yourself feeling guilty about something, find the ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ statement at the heart of the suffering, and simply answer ‘Oh well, I didn’t’ or ‘Oh well, I did,’ and sit with it.  No need for self-flagellation, just acknowledgement and taking responsibility.  Then let it go.

If you find yourself feeling worry or fear, find the ‘what if’ and throw in the opposite just for kicks.  ‘What if I ask her and she rejects me?’

‘What if she doesn’t?’

‘What if I fail?’

‘What if you succeed?’

‘What if I die alone?’

‘What if you don’t?’

I’m not suggesting that you get caught up in another future state wormhole in which you pontificate scenarios that don’t yet exist, but rather, offer up your ego both sides of the argument it’s making when it tries to take you down.

Living in the present takes effort and discipline.  Don’t let your mind run over you like a spoiled child.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: MrWallpaper)

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Emotions are like blood sugar

emotional sugar cubes

Since I was a kid, I’ve had to ‘watch’ my blood sugar. If I don’t eat regularly or try to maintain a healthy level, I can get quite cranky. In fact, an ex of mine used to joke that if I didn’t get fed when I was hungry, our whole relationship was on the rocks.

It’s well known that the key to maintaining a healthy weight and eating regimen is keeping blood sugar even.  If you don’t, it can drop.  If you eat the wrong foods, it can peak and send you crashing later. It’s the same thing with our emotions.

Emotions can peak and valley superficially depending on the story we attach to our feelings, and our ability to recognize when they’re ruling us.

The old adage ‘this too shall pass’ is something we often bring to mind when something terrible has happened. But, an astute teacher once told me that we should exercise the same recognition of fleeting feelings of happiness.  Not in a doom in gloom kind of way, but rather noticing that feelings are transient.  It’s when we attach our story to those feelings that the out of control ’emotional blood sugar’ takes over.

Our minds have a fascinating way of taking us on a roller coaster ride, if we let them. The key is training your mind not to indulge in every pleasingly sugary experience or ride the hill of fear at the detriment of your peace.

Know what you feel, and that you feel, and that feelings are finite.  Know that you are bigger than your emotions and there is peace in riding them to the shore.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Pinterest)

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Follow those thoughts, and step on it!

In yoga, we often talk about non-attachment, particularly when it comes to our thoughts. But, sometimes it’s great to do some investigative reporting.

As is customary, I am reading several books at once.  One of them is Buddhist Bootcamp, by Timber Hawkeye.  As is also customary, I often highlight or capture in a journal those statements or quotes that I find compelling and transformative.

I find it refreshing that he suggests we f0llow our thoughts out of curiosity.

“Habitually contemplate whether your thoughts stem from love or from fear. If your thoughts originate in love, then follow them. If they originate from a place of fear, then dig deep to find the root of your fear.  Only then will you be able to finally let go, so fear no longer limits your possibilities.”

It’s quite fascinating when you follow your thoughts, judgements and emotional responses like a curious cat.  You may find that what you think may be a root cause for a preconception or fear, isn’t at all.

I’ve been trying to take Timber’s challenge a step further, and I pass that onto you.  Rather than stopping at finding out the source of your fear, continue your journey and see if you can find the source below the source.  See if you can illuminate the darkness with compassion.

For example, if you find yourself glowering at someone who’s annoying you, dig deep to find out what that feeling is really about.  Have the courage to look into how you may possess those qualities, accept them and find a wellspring of compassion.

It’s there.  I promise.

(Photo: Flickr / Dominique LaTour)

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

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Worry about your Self

Know thyself bhagavad gita

When I was little and I was too invested in what someone thought of me, or what someone else did in comparison to myself, my mother would say “Just worry about you.”

Often, this was said when I was concerned that my brother had an extra Oreo or was able to get away with something I previously hadn’t, but the saying still plays out in my mind — often.

If I catch myself pontificating about why someone isn’t meeting an expectation, I parrot her words to myself, “Just worry about yourself.”  We are the only ones we can control after all, and even that is questionable. We can control our own actions and how we respond to situations, but not the situation itself (unless directly caused by our actions).  As Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.”

It might initially sound very ‘un-yoga’ to suggest that you worry about yourself, but I’m not talking about becoming self-centered, without regard for others.  But, rather focus on knowing your Self by acting with love for others, and not allowing your mind or ego dictate your worth.

The Bhagavad Gita talks, in length, about the “Self,” particularly about getting to know the infinite self — the self that is beyond thought, beyond change.  Through meditation and living a sattvic life (a life of goodness and purity), we will know the self that transcends manifestation and destruction.

Sounds ethereal and unattainable, but I like to break it down into individual moments.  How can I know myself?  I can become aware of my emotions, actions and reactions.  I can attempt to observe these actions as a witness.  I can do my best to act with purity of heart.

We can also become aware of when we experience ‘want’ and compare ourselves to others.  On the yoga mat, for example, worry about yourself — really.  Don’t worry about what your neighbor is doing or what you think your practice should be.  Just focus on your breath, your SELF.

I came upon a YouTube video recently that reminded me how much I use this method of quelling desire.  It’s of a little girl named August who’s trying to get her seat belt buckled all by herself. It’s hilarious.  You’ll watch it over and over like I did.

When we truly know our own ‘Self’, we transcend reaction and suffering.  And, we become infinite.

Namaste.

Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Uplifted Vibrations)

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Yoga for lower crossed syndrome

yoga for lower cross syndrome

Got low back pain?  It might not be your back. It might be your glutes – or lack thereof.

If you work in an office, chances are you sit a lot, maybe even all day.  Chronic sitting can lead to muscle imbalances and even cause some muscles to go completely dormant.  If you’d noticed that you suffer from chronic lower back pain, but haven’t been able to pinpoint the cause, your lower back pain may be due to lower cross  or lower crossed syndrome.  The good news is, you CAN recover with some exercises throughout the day, and a yoga sequence designed to fire the muscles that have gone night-night.  Continue reading

When you’re lost, find home in your own heart

heart

At some point in our lives we’ve all felt that sense of  ‘Where do I belong?’  There may be a catalyst like the loss of a parent, a move, a divorce or no catalyst at all.  Chances are, you’ve had that feeling of being lost or untethered and wondered where you’re supposed to be. And the answer is, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Sometimes we feel lost because of decisions we’ve made, and other times we feel lost because life has made decisions for us.  There’s a quote by Henry David Thoreau that helps me when I’m feeling out of place, “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”

Feeling lost can manifest itself in a number of ways from skipping time on your mat to feeling anxious, sad or alone.  But, if you can see the positives during this time, you will see that it’s during these times that we learn the most about ourselves.

Think about a time that you got lost in your car only to discover a fascinating new place that you didn’t even know existed.  We can find the same gems within ourselves; places in our hearts that we didn’t know were there all along.

Are you feeling lost?  The only GPS you need is your own heart.

Try writing a letter or a journal entry about the sensations and emotions you’re feeling, and examine what part of you may be looking for your attention or acceptance.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

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Photo: Etsy/IScreenYouScreen 

When you can’t make everyone happy

I often joke about being like a Golden Retriever.  I’ve always been the person that tries to make others happy, and if I make someone unhappy, it makes my heart hurt.  And of course there’s the flood of obsessive thoughts on how I can rectify the situation.

At work, if you pat me on my head, I run off with my tail wagging looking to produce more biscuit-worthy results. When I’m teaching, I get immense satisfaction when I send students home feeling relaxed and accomplished. Even at the holidays, I’m happier giving gifts.  I love to watch people light up.

But we all know the age old saying, “You can’t make everyone happy all of the time.”

In fact, chances are if you made an enemy or pissed someone off it means that you stood up for something you believe in, or for yourself.

So how do us ‘people pleasers’ cope? First, recognize that it is exhausting to live for someone else’s happiness and begin to witness when you’re putting someone else first unnecessarily. Sure, you may have to put your child’s need for dinner above your own need for downtime, but I’m talking about the constant ‘back seat taking’ we do with our own energy.

We must bear witness when we find ourselves constantly deeming others’ happiness as more important than our own.  We have to do some soul-searching to understand why we feel the need to find ‘validation’ outside of our own being. And, we have to give ourselves the same amount of energy we give others, or we find ourselves depleted.

Does this mean that we should no longer try to help people or have compassion? No it doesn’t. It simply means, that we should stop trying to make others happy as a means to find satisfaction. It’s a short-lived attachment. Rather, allow your authentic self to shine through.  If people like it, great.  If some don’t, who cares.   You WILL rub some people the wrong way, and quite frankly, that’s their issue.

But, you will have unearthed a truer you, and there’s no greater peace than sitting in the seat of your authentic ‘self.’

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Pinterest)

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How to let go so you can sleep

woman looking at the clock with sleep problems

If you are human, chances are you have, at some point in your life, had trouble sleeping. But, if you regularly have trouble sleeping, you may want to look into what’s causing it and chances are you can do something about it. Without getting too much into the physical, medical causes of insomnia, there are some things you can do to improve your quality of sleep.

According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 30% of adults suffer from some form of insomnia (difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, waking up too early, and in some cases, non-restorative or poor quality of sleep.)

Here are some common causes for insomnia:

  1. Stress
  2. Anxiety
  3. Depression
  4. Certain medications
  5. Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol
  6. Medical conditions
  7. Change in your environment or schedule
  8. Poor pre-sleep habits
  9. ‘Learned’ insomnia i.e. worry about not being able to sleep
  10. Eating too late

Barring any physical or medical causes for insomnia, there are a few controllable factors that may contribute to your inability to fall or stay asleep, and there are some ways you can give give your brain the night off.

Here are some things to do to help improve your ability to sleep:

  1. Recognize your need for sleep.  If you need to cut corners at night, give up that last activity rather than short yourself on sleep.
  2. Cut out chocolate, and caffeine they overstimulate the adrenal glands which causes an overproduction of hormones which leads to adrenal fatigue or exhaustion
  3. Maintain a regular sleep schedule and stay in sync with your circadian rhythm
  4. Exercise.  An overabundance of energy can lead to anxiety and sleeplessness, which leaves you feeling sleepy and depleted. While it might seem like you’re too tired to exercise, give it a try.
  5. Have a healthy pre-sleep routine comprised of hygiene and winding down
  6. Write down your worries. If you capture your list of worries (early in the day), your mind will consider it accounted for and can help you to let go.
  7. Only use your bed for sleeping (and intimacy). You’ve heard this before, but it’s true.  Don’t use your bed for television watching or gaming as they stimulate your brain and make associations with the bed for NOT relaxing.
  8. Make your bedroom a sleep haven. Keep it cool, and dark.  Any amount of light or fluctuation in temperature can interrupt your sleep.
  9. Pre-sleep yoga.  Poses like forward folds and child’s pose relax the nervous system.
  10. Meditate. If you find your mind wandering during meditation, try a guided meditation that’s timed to go off automatically so you can drift off into sleep.
  11. Breathing. Often, we breathe only in the chest in ‘fight or flight’ mode making it impossible to relax. Exercises like alternate nostril breathing or taking slow deep belly breaths with controlled exhale can help calm the mind.
  12. Give your mind something else to do.  When all else fails, and your mind is still racing when you hit the pillow, focus your brain on something else like a good memory or thinking of fruits with a certain letter.

If none of these things work, you may want to consult a sleep specialist to find out if there’s more going on.  Here are a couple of videos that you might find helpful in your quest for sound slumber.

Yoga for Bed Time with Tara Stiles

Guided meditation to sleep


Give your brain permission to stop working so you can get some sleep.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: My Healthy News Daily)

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Take your mind off the gas pedal

namaste license plate

As is often the case, today’s blog post was inspired by a conversation with a friend.  Ironically, we were discussing the topic of yesterday’s post, Refilling your patience carafe.’  We were talking about keeping our cool when despite our best efforts to maintain a peaceful attitude, life still comes at you.

He told me about a recent incident he had when he was in the car with his kids, and found himself to be the object of someone’s road rage.  At first he was able to rise above, but the other driver had long gone ’round the bend’ (pun intended), and soon he found himself feeling taken over by the same frustration. He was able to stay out of the chaos, because he was concerned most with his children’s safety, but was still seething long after he’d gotten of the road.

How often do we relinquish control of our happiness or unhappiness to someone else?  When we allow someone else to control us, we’re really just giving ourselves over to ego, to the monkey mind.  “How dare he do that to me?”  “Who does she think she is?”  “I’m never going to pass that test.” “Where am I going to find the money for that?”

When we replay conversations or situations that didn’t sit right with us over and over, it’s like we’re stepping on a thought accelerator.  And once you find yourself in this obsessive ’round about’ it’s hard to see the exit. How often are we really just mind racing ourselves?

I found myself in a sort of ‘thought loop’ the other day, and decided to take an online class with Marc Holzman targeted at grounding yourself after a hectic day.

The poses were delicious, of course, but it was a quote he kept repeating that really helped me to let go.  The saying had been passed to his teacher from the Maharashi, and then passed down to him

“Oh my mind, be kind to me.”

Sometimes something as simple as an inspiring quote can unlock a new door.  I love this quote, and will definitely incorporate it often into my practice and my teaching.

How else can we find our way out of the roundabout?  Be aware of your physical and emotional reaction without trying to change it.  Awareness is distance from attachment. And give your mind something to do like focus on your breath.

The breath tells us a lot about the mind.  If your breath is wobbly, labored or short, so goes your mental state. You can begin to let your mind off of the gas pedal and cruise by witnessing your own breath.

May your mind be kind to you, and your breath help you shift into neutral.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

(Photo: Recycledartco / Etsy)

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