Life Is NOT an Emergency

 
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Do you feel like you live with a sense of constant urgency, anticipation and fear? Do you find that your mind is constantly in a state of chatter, worry, evaluating the worst-case scenario? If so, you are not even sort of alone. But also--if so, you are placing your body in a state of constant stress. If you are living in this space of thinking, worrying and anticipating the WORST, then you are potentially harming your body, mind, spirit and life.

The truth is, life is not an emergency. It just isn’t. However, we are living at a pace where it feels like making coffee in the morning feels like an emergency! When you add in thoughts about food, what to eat, what not to eat, body image, self-judgment and all the other things that are rolling through your mind, you are set up for serious stress. When you are in this state for an extended period of time you become more prone to big-time health problems.

The remedy is first to know that life is NOT an emergency. Then you have to remind yourself of this constantly—over and over again! You will need to say to yourself when you are rushing to make your coffee: “life is not an emergency”, when you are rushing to where ever you are headed next: “life is not an emergency”, when you are worrying about the right thing to eat or mentally punishing yourself for what you did or didn’t eat: “life is not an emergency.”

When you say this to yourself you begin to relax into the awareness that it is so. When you are stuck in the tension created mentally and physically by all the mental noise that creates the illusion that life is indeed an emergency, the stress response is activated. When you live in that constant state of stress response activation, you suffer. This is why your new mantra needs to be: “life is not an emergency!”

The truth is that stress is a killer. It robs you of the present moment, it robs you of joy, it robs you of your health and wellbeing. I will clarify that when I say stress, I really mean our response to the stress that will inevitably exist in your life. We ultimately have the final say in how we will respond to a particular stressor. We can *freak out* mentally and emotionally, or we can acknowledge that life is not an emergency and find a more useful way to handle the presented stressor.

Begin to evaluate where in your life that you perceive it to be an emergency. Start by bringing in this new mantra: “life is not an emergency.” Notice the impact that this simple awareness has on your life, your mood and your wellbeing. Notice how your muscles relax and the tension in your stomach and chest releases. When you are not in a state of feeling as though your perceived stressors are emergencies your body will respond by relaxing and releasing.

Your body does not know the difference as to whether your stress is actually occurring or if it is only in your mind. This provides good and bad news. The bad news first, if you are living in a state where you feel that your life is an emergency and live in that space in your head, then you are seriously *stressed* and your body is living in a constant state of flooded cortisol and adrenaline. The good news is, if you remind yourself that life is not an emergency, you are able to calm your mind and body and live within what is true right now. When you live in a space of what is true right now you can release the stress of the past and the future and find an ability to relax and just be here now.

If you have been living in a space of anxiety, stress and fear, the good news is that you can clear your mind over and over with this new reminder that life is not an emergency. While this may take time, effort and a determined focus, it is worth it to create the healing your mind, body and spirit crave.

5 Natural Ways to Brighten the Winter Blues

 
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Are you feeling as though this winter will just never end? If so, you are not alone. Here in NYC it’s cold and we’ve had a lot of rainy days. So many of us can identify with the experience of having the winter blues. The winter blues often create low motivation and stagnancy, you just don’t feel like doing much or getting much done. The winter blues can feel as though your energy is zapped, causing you to not engage in many of the elements that tend to actually make you feel good. To me, it’s no surprise that many of us experience times of feeling down in the winter. After the activity and hubbub of the holidays, it’s common to feel more isolated because of the cold, the reduced daylight hours and often more dreary weather.

The good news is that there are some simple, natural strategies that you can incorporate all winter long to help you beat the winter blues. Use these strategies to create your own ray of sunshine on any given day.

1.    On Sunny Days, Expose Your Skin to Light for 10-15 Minutes

2.    Eat Naturally Mood-Lifting Foods

3.    Practice Saying “YES” to Yourself

4.    Move Your Body

5.    Start (or Maintain!) a Mindfulness Practice

1. On Sunny Days, Expose Your Skin to Light for 10-15 Minutes

This first strategy encourages receiving some sun exposure whenever it’s possible. When sunlight is exposed to our eyes and our skin, the brain is alerted to wake up and feel more energized. Exposure to sunlight can help you feel more mentally sharp and positive. Every day that the sun is shining, be sure to get outside and turn your face to the sun for about ten to fifteen minutes. If it’s not too freezing cold, you can certainly hang out in the sun even longer (although don’t overexpose without sunscreen!) If you can’t get outside, take a few moments to at least let the sun hit your eye balls. A full spectrum light box can be another option, although there is a cost associated with this tool, it does offer the full spectrum of light and helps improve mood and mental energy. 

2. Eat Naturally Mood-Lifting Foods

The second strategy has to do with improving your mood through food. The food-mood connection is super strong. Nutrients that support energy and healthy brain function all help to create the best opportunity for your mood to be in a balanced and positive space on a daily basis. When you are eating these healthy, mood supporting nutrient dense foods, factors such as the temperature, weather or time of year can feel as thought they are less of a downer! Some of the nutrients known to improve the functioning of your brain and improve mood are Omega-3 Fatty Acids, B-Vitamins, Vitamin C, Tryptophan, Vitamin K and Protein. Here is a brain power smoothie recipe that incorporates many of these nutrients in one power-packed delicious drink!

Brain Power Smoothie Recipe:

1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries
½ ripe banana
1 heaping teaspoon raw cacao powder
1 tablespoon ground flax seed
1-2 cups loosely packed fresh kale (or spinach/favorite leafy green)
1 cup plain unsweetened coconut or almond milk
1 serving unsweetened protein powder of your choice

Blend all ingredients together until smooth and enjoy!!

 
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3. Practice Saying “YES” to Yourself

During the winter months there are often many things to do, places to go and people to see. One of the most powerful things you can do for yourself is to learn to say YES to yourself, meaning that you may have to say NO to others. If you find you need to preserve your energy, do it. You do not have to do all the things all the time. When you practice saying YES to yourself—to what you want and need—you will build more energy and stamina for the things you actually do want and need to do. When you practice saying YES to YOU, you are caring for yourself. This will build feelings of empowerment to make your own decision and choices for your life. As you continue to practice saying YES to YOU, you will improve your mood state and your energy. Finding the right balance between activity and rest for you will allow you to feel refreshed, motivated and energized.

4. Move Your Body

Movement and exercise have consistently been shown to improve mood. Really, exercise is valuable for a long list of reasons. But the one benefit alone of improving mood is enough to make it happen and to make it happen consistently. The second part of this is the kicker: consistency! When it is gray, dark and cold, you may not feel like going out for a walk or going to the gym. That’s ok because you don’t have to feel like it but you still need to do it. Focusing on how you feel after you exercise can be motivation to help you get your body moving. If you really just don’t want to go to the gym or go outside on a cold or damp day, do something indoors. Try yoga, dancing to your favorite music, light weight training, jumping jacks, plank pose and/or squats. You see, the movement doesn’t need to be anything fancy and it doesn’t even have to be for a really long time, you just need to do it in some form or another nearly every single day.  Try incorporating regular movement into your day and notice the impact it has on your mood, energy, stress and sleep. When you focus on the benefits, the motivation will follow.

5. Start a Mindfulness Practice

Mindfulness has been shown to improve mood as well as your perspective on life’s challenges. Mindfulness is paying attention from moment to moment with a nonjudgmental awareness. When you are being mindful, you are fully engaged in the present moment. When you are being mindful you are fully engaged with what is true right now. When you are in a space of non-judgment and self-awareness, you are able to create a healthy perspective of the present moment. When you are present and engaged, you are able to notice your mood state and have an impact on it in a way that is healthy. Mindfulness allows you to evaluate the veracity of your mood and your thoughts.

Try starting with just one minute of being as mindfully present as possible. Set a timer for one minute, and for that minute attempt to focus on the rhythm of your breath. When you notice that your mind is wandering (and know that it definitely will!), guide your focus back to your breath. This is the practice. You are not trying to silence your mind, but to bring your focus back to your breath when your mind wanders. You can increase the amount of time by a minute every other day until you reach five, ten, fifteen, twenty minutes. The amount of time is not as important as doing it consistently and with effort. There are great apps out there to assist with the process. I personally like Insight Timer, but use any that you like and find to be helpful for you.

Try incorporating these five simple, natural strategies to improve your mood and you may find that the winter is not so blue after all.

Meditation: How & Why

 
Meditation: How & Why
 

This past weekend I taught an eight-hour workshop on meditation to a wonderful group of aspiring yoga teachers. I am always so inspired by this particular training and how, with guidance and support, meditation becomes demystified and so much more accessible. Throughout the past few years of teaching this workshop, I am always struck by how this core element of yoga is so difficult to begin and to consistently stick with—and yet it is such an amazingly simple practice that increases ease, health, comfort and joy in life. Meditation is a practice. It is essential to remain dedicated and consistent to reap the benefits of meditation.

If you are unfamiliar with how meditation fits into yoga, I’ll give you a quick overview. Yoga is an eight-limbed system that can create inner peace and the ability to truly know yourself on the deepest level. It allows you to become the highest expression of yourself. Yoga is not a religion and actually can compliment every religion quite nicely. Often people mistake yoga for exercise or just stretching, which, of course it can be, however, the yoga postures are just one element of the eight limbs. While they are indeed an important element, they are not the “be-all-end-all” of what yoga truly is! You can learn more about eight-limbed path of yoga by reading my blog here.

The purpose of the physical postures within the eight-limbed path of yoga is to create a comfortable and strong physical body to assist in the ability to draw your awareness inward. The physical postures create the ability to concentrate without being distracted by aches and pains in your physical body. The postures also create strength in your body in order to sit comfortably for an extended period of meditation without your body becoming yet another distraction—your mind will be enough of a distraction to contend with!

Now that you know a bit about how meditation fits into the structure of the aspects of yoga that you may be more familiar with, I’ll get to the goods about how to meditate and why bother meditating in the first place. Meditation is the process of bringing your awareness into a single pointed focus. You find ONE thing to focus on and attempt to keep your attention on that ONE thing. Many people tell me “oh I’ve tried meditation and I can’t do it, my mind just won’t be quiet.” I always say, well of course it won’t! Nobody’s mind can go from its typical state of noise-noise-noise to perfect stillness in one minute! The purpose of meditation is not to empty your mind, but to offer a space for it to create less thoughts, more distance from them so you don’t identify yourself as your thoughts and more clarity and awareness of your internal world.

Once you select your single point of focus—which could be your breath, a word or phrase, an image or anything you find to be worthy of your focus—you aim to keep your attention on that ONE thing. As you begin this process, I can guarantee you that your mind will wander and wander and wander. Your mind will tell you things like—this is boring, pointless and stupid—or it will get caught up in your laundry list of to-dos’ or worry about that meeting or wonder what so-and-so meant when they said…blah blah blah… sound familiar? This is where the practice comes in. You have to put forth effort to bring your attention back to your ONE point of focus over and over and over again.

Let’s say your mind wanders one hundred times during your practice, then you aim to bring your attention back to your chosen point of focus one hundred and one times. With practice, you begin to find space between your thoughts and the distractions become less and less. Let’s say in a typical minute your mind has sixty thoughts. If you meditate for one minute and have forty thoughts in that minute, that may still feel like a lot of noise, however, it’s still fewer thoughts invading your mind!

I always encourage those new to meditation to begin with just one minute a day. For one week, commit to one minute per day and the next week increase to two minutes and so on. Over time it will become more and more comfortable and the minutes won’t feel like an eternity. There are many meditation apps out there, I prefer Insight Timer because it is free and has a ton of nice guided meditation options or you can use the timer which rings a bell at the beginning and end of the time you set for your practice. You can find meditation classes to take and of course there are plenty of books to read. However, the most important thing is not to get caught up in the learning about it—it is something that must be experienced consistently to gain the benefits—I recommend that you just get started. Meditation has to be practiced as it can be difficult to talk about as language diminishes the practice. Really we have to talk around what it is like because it is more about the experience.

So you might wonder, WHY meditate? If you haven’t noticed, meditation has gotten a ton of press recently. It is being studied profusely and all of the studies seem to be offering quite promising benefits to our health and well-being. Benefits include stress reduction, improved sleep, delaying the aging process, reducing cognitive decline, improving emotional well-being and self-awareness, increasing attention span, increasing compassion and kindness plus many more. Who doesn’t want all of these? Um, yes please!

Do you have one minute right now? Of course you do! Choose a point of focus, anything from paying attention to the rhythm of your breath or a word or phrase such as “love” or “be still” or an inspirational image. Turn on a timer for one minute. Anytime you notice that your mind has been pulled to a distraction (sounds in the environment, sensation in your body, thought or emotion), release the distraction and return your attention to your chosen point of focus. When you try it, let me know your thoughts and experience. I’d love to hear how adding in just one minute or more of meditation daily impacts your life.