Cultivating Joy

Simple Steps to Bringing More Joy to Your Life

What Makes us Healthy?

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The infographic above from a 2012 Bipartisan Policy Commission report acknowledges the paradigm shift needed to create health in America and the challenges to changing deep rooted behaviors in how we live, work and play.  The report calls on leaders in municipalities, businesses and key institutions to lead the charge to change.

While we each have personal responsibility for the choices that we make around health behaviors, we don’t all have the same access to environments and resources that support and promote health.  In West Virginia, we are at the top of the worst health list for nearly all lifestyle related disease and last in the Gallup Wellbeing at Work Index.  The beginning of our collective shift in improving health in our state, is simply prioritizing it. Health, as defined by the World Health Organization in 1948, is the state of complete physical, social and mental wellbeing that allows people to live into their fullest potential.  We’ll never get to optimal health by focusing solely on the treatment of disease. 

It’s up to US.

We’ll also never get to a vibrant economy in West Virginia with our existing rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and addiction.  Trends in the workforce show that employees, especially millennials, are expecting more from their employers.  Top organizations are responding with the recognition that humans are most valuable when they are physically, mentally and emotionally healthy, have autonomy over their work and can align their work with intrinsic motivations and personal values.  Companies that show up as caring matter to employees, and have a positive impact for employers.  A recent study showed that companies recognized by the C. Everett Koop National Health Awards for nurturing a culture of health, by specifically focusing on the wellbeing and safety of their workers, outperformed the stock market by a factor of 3:1. (Goetzl et al, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Jan 2016)

Given the percentage of waking hours that employees spend at work, it’s advantageous for everyone to care about the quality of the work environment. When wellness is demonstrated from the leadership team, by lived example, by policies and built environments that support worker health, and by how supervisors exhibit caring behaviors, the message filters to all levels of the organization and influences culture. When employees who are increasingly recognizing the high cost of burnout, yet value the relationships and social networks they have at work, take responsibility for caring for themselves and co-workers a culture of health is further strengthened.

The good news is that creating a culture of health in any organization is doable, affordable ,and need not include high ticket items like gyms and incentives.  To learn more about what you can do to enhance health and wellbeing in your organization, contact Colleen Harshbarger at Wellbeing Solutions:  colleen@wellbeingwv.com 304-508-2398.

Embracing Courage with Compassion

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Embracing Courage with Compassion

“To live a life of ordinary courage requires a great deal of compassion and empathy, beginning with ourselves.”  Brené Brown

Brené Brown is one of my favorite authors on women and empowerment, and this quote has become my mainstay in the work that I do as a yogini, and coach and entrepreneur.  The very idea of ordinary living as a courageous act is profound.  It gets at the root of how challenging it is to be human. The combination of self-love and compassion isn’t something that’s woven into the fabric of our American culture, but it is something that we can learn and embrace.  

It’s easy to forget that fear, shame, vulnerability, and doubt are all normal human emotions. They can be so powerful that they knock us off our game and leave us feeling isolated because no one embraces them conversationally.  Nevertheless, they’re part of our shared experience as humans.  When we experience the discomfort of these feelings, our first instinct might be to think that there’s something wrong with us. We might run from them – literally keeping ourselves so busy we don’t have time to feel anything. Or we may hide by drawing inward or presenting a façade that protects us from being seen.  We might come up with a plan to “get it together” and try to beat ourselves into submission to align with some pre-conceived formula for who and how we ought to be.  None of these strategies help us feel better in the long run, nor do they serve anyone.  No one benefits when we aren’t bringing the best of who we are, out into the world.  We’re left feeling crappy and our work is subpar if it gets done at all.

So how do we find the courage to show up as ourselves?  One way is to take inspiration from examples of courageous humanity. I find everyday people like Emma González, the high school student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida who’s become the face of the movement challenging gun laws and the NRA incredibly inspiring.  The many women who’ve come forward in the #Metoo movement remind me that I too can face my challenges.  Another way is to remember the times you have taken courageous action. For me, leaving a job that was secure but no longer good for me took incredible inner courage, especially not knowing what was next.  Putting myself out in the world as a business owner is a completely new world for me, one where I often feel inept. Sometimes just showing up when we feel vulnerable is courageous.

Compassion and empathy are the fuel we need to keep us going when we struggle.  They help us see a bigger view and tap into the courage of the heart instead of giving into the gremlins of the head.  When the little voices in my mind that represent fear and vulnerability chime in (I can usually recognize them because they start with “I can’t .  . .” or “I’m not enough…”), I quiet them with Abhayamudrã.  This practice helps me stay in my courage and live with compassion.  Instructions for Abhayamudrã are below. I hope they help you open to the beauty of who you are.  The world needs you just as you are.

 

Abhayamudrã – Sit comfortably and raise your right hand in front of your right shoulder, palm facing out, fingers extending upward and left hand relaxing on your lap, palm up.  Stay relaxed and still.  Imagine soft light extending outward from your right palm, connected to and coming from a radiant light in the center of your chest (your energetic heart center).  Feel a growing warmth in your heart center and extend that warmth into your palm.   Imagine that whatever is causing you to feel vulnerability, shame, or fear is looking into the center of your palm. See it subdued by the emanating light. Feel your courage, love and openness. Know them to be unwavering. Hold for 5 – 15 minutes.  Practice daily and you’ll find your way to transcend fear and live from the guidance of your inner knowing.

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Finding Strength in Vulnerability

Finding Strength in Vulnerability

I love helping clients find their inner strength, especially because I know that it's something we all have even though we aren't always aware of it.  Six months ago, I was in a car accident that left me with minor injuries, whiplash, and a concussion for which I am still receiving treatment.  I was grateful that the damage wasn’t worse and that I have access to talented healing professionals; however, the time needed to devote to healing challenged my patience.  I was scheduled to sit for the first ever National Board of Medical Examiners’ Health and Wellness Coaching exam a few months after the accident and was signed up for a business plan competition.  How I was going to pull this off with my head in a fog?  I had no clue.
 
I’m reminded of what I love about being a health coach and a yoga teacher.  -  Self-Responsibility & Self-Love, two pillars of wellbeing that I help clients tap into, served as guideposts and reminded me that I had what I needed to heal. I felt vulnerable not being able to work or think clearly, and being vulnerable isn’t a place I’m comfortable with. I found that some of my usual strategies for dealing with emotional discomfort didn’t work, like running or riding my bike, and that I can’t always outrun vulnerability.  I learned that embracing, not turning away from, the feeling of vulnerability is key to helping me not only heal, but to succeed in living life in full authenticity.

When I feel vulnerable, healing practices like aromatherapy, gentle yoga, nourishing and mindful meals and grounding in nature nurture me back to health.  Asking for and accepting help even when I can’t reciprocate is hugely vulnerable for me, and well worth doing.  Dedicated daily time in meditation practice, planting seeds of intention and deeply listening to my heart helps me embrace the start of the day. Reflecting on Pema Chodron’s teachings about the fundamental uncertainty of life, I realized that the uneasiness that was floating to the surface of my being was a sign of health and wholeness.  Life is unpredictable, sometimes painful and always changing. Chodron refers to the constant state of flux and feeling of uneasiness as groundlessness.

In her book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, Chodron says: “By fully touching this relative moment of time . . . by being fully present to your experience, you contact the unlimited openness of your being.” She sums up her advice for embracing groundlessness as:

Be Fully Present

Feel Your Heart

And Engage the Next Moment Without an Agenda

 
I’m practicing this way of living.  Instead of trying to push away vulnerability, I’m acknowledging it and giving it space. While there’s much I don’t know about the future, I do know that I’m okay with that. I did pass the Board Exam and submitted the business plan and won third place.  But my biggest accomplishment was the realization that regardless of how vulnerable I might feel in any given moment, if there’s one thing that’s certain – it will change. And that’s OK. I’ve got my tools. I’m ready.  Bring it on!

Simple Steps to Self Care

Simple Steps to Self Care

Self-Care how-tos for busy people

The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside. 
— Dag Hammarsjköld

What comes to mind when you think of self-care?  Perhaps a mental list of ‘shoulds’ that you’ve picked up along the way but haven’t gotten around to doing.  The problem with should statements is that they typically start from a source outside of ourselves, or are framed in a way that we aren’t buying.  When we think about self-care from the place of compassion and empathy, not only for our own sake, but for the ripple effect of caring that it has on all we encounter, then it becomes something that we long for.  When we pay attention to it, notice how we feel and how it affects our ability to show up in the world, we’re more inclined to use practices that support ourselves than to turn away from them.

Practicing self-care is a way of acknowledging personal responsibility for your own wellbeing.  Sometimes, the belief that we don’t have time to care for ourselves, or that prioritizing self-care is selfish, gets in the way of our doing it.  A simple shift in perspective might help you adopt a more compassionate view.  Instead of thinking of self-care as selfish, try considering it as a self-full practice.  When we feel balanced, energetic and grounded in love, we are much more likely to live wholeheartedly and contribute to the world fully and creatively.

The key steps to begin the practice of self-care are awareness, intention and action.  It’s helpful to think of these as a continual feedback loop. First, awareness is raised, then we set an intention to address it, then we act on one thing.  Once we’ve successfully integrated that action into our lives, we notice other things calling our attention and repeat the steps.  The practice of self-care is a continual process on the journey to flourishing and thriving.

Key Steps to Self-Care:

Awareness

 If you keep yourself in ‘go mode’ all the time, you might not be aware of how hard you’re pushing yourself.  If coffee and sugar are required to get you through the day, if you feel like you’re constantly rushing, or if you feel disconnected or exhausted by the end of the day, you’ll likely benefit from a self-care practice.  A great place to start noticing what you need is by focusing on your breath.  Begin by simply stopping and noticing your breath.  Feel breath enter your body, feel your body fill with breath.  Next, imagine breath flowing in and out of your heart. Imagine light entering the body through the heart as you inhale, and filling your whole body as you exhale.  Spend just two minutes with heart focused breathing in this way, then ask yourself: “What area is most calling my attention right now?” or “How can I better care for myself right now?” 

Listen and let your heart, your inner knowing, guide you to one area calling your attention right now. Trust what you hear. It might be a call for more sleep, more connection, creative time, movement, healthier food, time spent journaling, meditation or solo time, feeding your senses with time in nature, a relaxing bath or music.  Try to accept the answer without judging it.  Once you’re clear on the answer, get curious with it and consider what life would be like if you allowed yourself this practice.   Consider the impact that self-care will have on all aspects of your wellbeing – your energy level, your emotional stability, your mental clarity, your physical body, and your connection to others and/or something greater than yourself.

Intention

To ensure that your new awareness about self-care isn’t a fleeting idea, write down your intention to practice self-care in this area.  You might find it helpful to expand the writing to include why caring for yourself in this way is important to you.  You might also find it helpful to share your intention with someone who supports you. Articulating intentions is a way of holding ourselves accountable to our deepest needs.  Without articulating, whether in writing or verbally, we give ourselves an out – a way of making excuses that seem rationale at the time we make them to not doing the practice.  Caring for ourselves intentionally is a practice of both compassion and empathy. Compassion is necessary to acknowledge that even small changes aren’t easy and there may even be some benefit from doing things the ‘old way’.  Maybe your ego is fed by knowing that you outwork everyone else, even though you’re depleting yourself to do so.  Acknowledging this is okay and being gentle as you come to new understanding is a key practice of self-care.  Empathy, for yourself, but also for anyone else you know who faces similar challenges is also an important part of the practice of self-care. You might find having an attitude that these practices are for all beings with similar struggles is a motivator for keeping you on the path. Knowing that others in your life will benefit from your self-care practice is also fuel for inspiration. 

Action

The final step towards realizing self-care is action.  Chances are, if self-care practice is new to you, that you’ll be more inclined to start with a giant leap than a baby step.  Instead, consider a Kaizen step, a step on the path to continual improvement. Taking a simple small step instead of a giant leap increases the likelihood that we’ll be successful.  Once we’ve achieved success with one step, we complete the cycle of awareness-intention-action, and make it more likely that we’ll continue on the path of self-care and high level wellbeing.

Examples of Kaizen Self-Care Steps

Sleep – instead of “I am going to get more sleep,” if your sleep schedule is erratic, a Kaizen step of: “I will set my alarm clock for the same time every morning for the next two weeks.”  Once one step is accomplished, you can set steps related to quantity and quality of sleep.

Eating – instead of “I’m going to eat healthy,” a Kaizen step of: “I will eat one more serving of fruits/veg per day than I currently am” (if the ‘what’ of eating is an issue for you),

OR if you’re an on-the-go eater and the ‘how’ of eating is an issue for you, a Kaizen step of: “I will eat one meal a day without any distractions and allow myself the time to taste, feel, and accept the nourishing energy from my food.”

The possibilities of Kaizen steps on the path to self-love and self-care are endless. The important part is to simply start.  One step at a time, bit by bit, embracing the practice of caring for yourself with love, compassion and empathy will surely lead to a higher level of wellbeing for you.  As your awareness continues to expand, you’ll likely start to notice the ripple effect of your practice on those around you.  Once there, you won’t be inclined to forgo self-care practices and will see them in a new light that sustains your commitment to it. 

THRIVE SERIES 3: Thrive and Embody the change you want to be

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THRIVE SERIES 3: Thrive and Embody the change you want to be

Want to start making lasting, consistent choices that enhance your health and wellbeing?  Knowledge alone won’t get you there. If you want to be different, you have to embody a new way of being, at both the physical and energetic level.  That’s why the Thrive to Health programincludes not only group support and coaching, but also yoga, breath work and meditation. We want to help you unlock the layers that keep you from being – YOU – the authentic version of your best self who’s not hiding.  You’ll be supported with a group of others looking to thrive who become your tribe. You’ll learn to make empowered choices to improve whatever you feel is important based on your highest motivations.  We know that if you start on this path, you’ll  learn to take it one step at a time, and discover joy in the process of thriving. 

Get more information and see the 2 times for Thrive to Health on our Facebook events page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/theblissblissbliss/events/?ref=page_internal

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THRIVE SERIES 2: Thrive to Health this Year

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THRIVE SERIES 2: Thrive to Health this Year

New Year’s is a great time for setting intentions, for resolving to make a life change of some sort. Unfortunately, 80% of New Year’s resolution aren’t achieved, perhaps you’re in this camp this year.  Why is that?  Often missed steps are getting clear on your deepest motivations and learning to break down goals into small steps for lasting change. The process we use in Thrive to Healthis designed to spark deep self-exploration so that you understand how your beliefs impact your behavior and your behaviors impact your goals. You’ll explore the deep layers of the psychological, motivational and spiritual realms to discover how they impact your health at the physical, relational and energetic levels. The result is an empowered approach to whole person wellbeing, putting you in the driver’s seat of creating balanced integration of mind, body, and spirit. 

Get more information and see the 2 times for Thrive to Health on our Facebook events page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/theblissblissbliss/events/?ref=page_internal

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THRIVE SERIES 1: Thrive With Your Tribe

THRIVE SERIES 1: Thrive With Your Tribe

Did you know that your state of health and wellbeing is greatly affected by the people you spend time with?  If you’re surrounded by negative people, you’re more likely to be negative. If you’re with people who are stressed out, you’re more likely to be stressed.  Simply put, it makes it harder to create a life of thriving when you’re not with people who value health and wellbeing.  Thrive to Health is an 8-week program that gives you a tribe to thrive with – on purpose.  We know the importance of being in a group of people supporting each other to make lasting change.  We know that each of us is creative, resourceful and whole and has the innate potential to able to creating a life of thriving.  If you’re looking to make a lasting change in your life, don’t go it alone.  Join the next round of our Thrive to Health program beginning March 14th  & 16th and get ready to start thriving!

Get more information and see the 2 times for Thrive to Health on our Facebook events page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/theblissblissbliss/events/?ref=page_internal

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Can Connection and Compassion Heal What Divides Us?

Reflecting on this past Thanksgiving holiday, I recalled being in the unusual situation of driving with my husband Dave, and without my kids to my sister’s house. It was the first Thanksgiving our children were away from us. They were off on a young adult adventure, and while I missed them not being with us, the five-hour car ride gave my husband and I some much needed time for conversation and connection. The drive from Morgantown, WV to Richmond, VA includes rural highways through the Appalachian Mountains, beautiful natural scenery speckled with small towns ranging from depressed towns with roadside shacks and trailers to quaint towns with horse farms and espresso cafes.

As we drove past vast expanses of scenic hilltops and streams approaching PawPaw, West Virginia, we wondered what it would be like to live in a place like this. The quietude and natural beauty appealed to us, but we were curious about the community, wondering if we’d find people ‘like us’ to meet. We’re keen mountain bikers, trail runners, and cross-country skiers and wondered, would we meet people with similar interests?

There’s not much in the heart of PawPaw, a couple of buildings that appear vacant and a gas station with a convenience store. We stopped at the gas station, and I went inside while Dave pumped gas. As I entered, I noticed four to five men, each sitting separately at small tables to my right, sipping coffee out of Styrofoam cups with vacant expressions on their faces. Taking in the whole picture of my surroundings, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness that I couldn’t quite understand. I walked through to the restroom, feeling the pull of my heart and not sure what to do. I came out and struck up a conversation with the cashier, asking her if she planned to celebrate Thanksgiving after her shift was over. “No, I’ll be too tired, I don’t get off until 2 pm”, was her answer. I turned to leave, still feeling stirred up and a man sitting nearest the exit caught my eye. For a brief moment, our eyes locked, so I smiled at him and asked him how he was. “Lonely,” was his response and it stopped me in my tracks.

The man’s name was Lou, he was wearing camouflage, not particularly tidy, and sitting by himself. On my way in, the quick ‘story I made up in my head’ about the people I passed was that they were the faces of Appalachian poverty. They were here on Thanksgiving day because there was nowhere else for them to be. I don’t know what the other real stories were, but I came to know Lou’s. He had moved to PawPaw after retirement, attracted by the same things that my husband and I were noticing on our drive, vast expanses of land and natural beauty. He and his wife bought 7–8 acres and built their dream home. Lou made it himself — a 4,000 plus square foot home with a big porch on a hilltop. Then his wife became ill, struggled with her illness for several years and died. My husband joined our conversation, and we hung out with Lou at the convenience store for a bit. We asked him a question that caused him to turn and ask another man, also sitting by himself, the answer. This man joined the conversation for awhile.

We said our goodbyes and got back in the car. As we drove away, I couldn’t help feeling like something significant just occurred, and I wanted it to be more. I knew that Lou and I had connected, that I’d keep a fond remembrance of him in my heart and that I felt grateful. I wondered if he and the other guy continued to talk after we left, I hoped so. I reflected on how Dave and I had been wondering moments earlier if there would be ‘people like us’ if we lived here. Then, It occurred to me that maybe we don’t need ‘people like us’ for connection. Maybe we just need people.

I’ve been teaching yoga since 1994 and have been increasingly teaching about compassion and connection. It feels as is the world is crying out for this, and so I’ve been responding. But teaching students how to increase positivity resonance or practice loving kindness meditation in a yoga studio is a bit different than stepping into a convenience store gas station with guys in camouflage. What I’ve come to realize is that ‘people like us’ is everybody. That we’re more alike than we are different, and that ‘other than’ or ‘not like me’ is an illusion. When we look people in the eye, we see and acknowledge our shared humanity. When we inquire about their wellbeing and stop long enough to hear the answer, we recognize worthiness. Maybe that’s enough, or at least a step in the right direction to heal the divide that is palpable in our country and world right now. What would happen if we all took more time to see people as they are and weren’t so quick to categorize them as ‘other than,’ ‘not like me’ or ‘too different to bother getting to know’? I wonder if the simplicity of pausing long enough to look people in the eye and to ask how they’re doing, hearing their answer might suffice to start to bring us together.

If you’re reading this article, I hope you give it a try. On a country road, in a busy city, or even with people you encounter everyday. Pause, look them in the eye and see. Genuinely inquire about their wellbeing and stick around long enough to hear their answer. Maybe that’s enough, and if it isn’t, it’s at least something we can do to start to bridge the gap.

 

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INTRO TO THRIVE SERIES: You Can Thrive!

Have you ever caught yourself thinking, “I’ll be happy when I . .

“Get that promotion”

“Lose ten pounds”

“Find my soul mate”

“Finish this project”

“Take a vacation”….

You get the drift. Habitual thinking that we’re not worthy of happiness until some ideal version of ourselves is attained is not uncommon. The problem is, even if that ideal condition is achieved, there’s always a new one on the horizon.

Maybe it’s time to flip that idea. Maybe health and well-being have more to do with embracing what is now and finding happiness in the energy of the present moment. Finding a way to pause and see clearly, using loving kindness to accept what’s true today without giving up on what’s possible tomorrow, can help us tap into our innate power to move forward in the direction that we choose. Often, it’s the lack of belief in this power, or self doubt that gets in the way of our ability to thrive. But we all have it. We all have within us the innate potential to live a life rich with purpose, meaning, connection and vibrant wellbeing.

Thriving in the moment doesn’t mean that life is always as we wish it to be. Rather, we learn to see the bigger picture and stay present to fully experience all that life has to offer. It’s in those present moments that we understand the power of choice in creating a life of thriving. We begin to see the connection between how we think and how we act. We recognize the ability to choose both, and even get curious about our choices. We start to understand the interconnection of all parts of ourselves and our choices, or our life dimensions of wellbeing.

It doesn’t matter what your current situation is. What matters is that you choose to explore and let go of limiting beliefs and doubts, and take one step at a time towards wholehearted living. This requires a willingness to be vulnerable and that can be scary, but the experiences you’ll have as a result of ‘opting-in’ to this life will be much fuller and more real, than those you’ll have by choosing to just ‘get by’.

If you’re ready to Thrive to Health, having a coach can be a powerful asset. Wellbeing Solutions coaches use an online wellbeing management system that the Stanford Research Institute called a “foundational wellness tool.”

The dimensions of wellbeing include Self Love & Self Responsibility, Breathing, Sensing, Eating, Moving, Feeling, Thinking, Communicating, Intimacy, Playing & Working, Finding Meaning, and Transcending. After assessing your behaviors and motivations in each area, you will be guided to transform your life and create a life of health, happiness and high level wellbeing.