Taking time to notice nature is good for your health, and the health of the planet.
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Taking time to notice nature is good for your health, and the health of the planet.
Why We Need Play
This is Chester. He is an exuberant, curious, loving dynamo of a dog. I’ve never seen him deny a being of his affection — with the exception of my sister’s free-range chicken, but I think that was more an expression of his curious nature.
What I love most about Chester is that he is the embodiment of play. He cannot be his best dog self without daily doses of play and exercise. In fact, he’s been known to get into trouble when he’s denied either of these. Maybe that’s why I like him so much — I know I can’t be my best human self if I don’t get enough play and exercise. Too many days without it, and I’m cranky and irritable. I suspect that’s true for most of us humans.
Research points to the importance of play for not only improving human levels of happiness, but also productivity in the workplace. Innovation is born from a place of creative, imaginative wonder and experimentation. Innovation happens when the benefit of discovering something new, or doing something for the sake of continuously learning outweighs the fear of “getting it wrong.” Play unleashes both creativity and imagination, and leads to innovation. I’ve seen Chester apply immense creativity in his attempts to outwit our black lab Tazi in a game of tag.
Chester’s a smart dog. He is much more interested in collaborative, and not competitive, play. Running across the lawn isn’t about which dog gets there first, but rather what the interaction between them is in the process. In humans, when play is defined strictly as competition, our self-concept gets caught up in a negative, downward spiral of measuring our worth against others. “Compare and despair,” the saying goes. Being more like Chester is a good thing: his self-concept remains intact!
Play is also essential in forming what research calls the “collective mind” in groups. Group identity in organizations is strengthened from shared playful experiences, not from reading and memorizing company mission statements. Chester gets this, and so do kids.
Children naturally approach life from the lens of play. Think about the level of wonder, awe and fascination a child brings to new experiences. Even when we’re faced with life’s challenging moments, adopting a playful mindset helps us get through. Instead of projecting an image of how we’ll never get through this, we can lean into wonder, and be curious about the multitude of approaches we can take to face what’s in front of us.
The expression of play in adult humans is unique to each of us. Be intentional about making space for experiences that make you smile, express your creativity and bring you closer to other humans. Allow your inner Chester to guide you into spontaneous moments of wonder, awe and laughter.
Have fun — and enjoy!
The leap in consciousness that Einstein speaks of is about accessing the fullest sense of ourselves. In the whole person wellbeing model I use in teaching and coaching, we refer to this as the “transcending dimension of wellness.” Transcending is about going beyond ourselves, surpassing our darkest moments, and moving beyond the pre-conceived limits we have of our innate capacity to live vibrantly.
There are three accessible pathways to transcending and moving into our fullest selves: overcoming, flow, and connection.
Overcoming relates to the experiences we all have in life that challenge the very core of our being. Once we’re on the other side of these life-altering experiences (e.g., divorce, serious illness, trauma, addiction, loss of a loved one, job or home) we have the opportunity to see life from a new lens. If we’ve survived what we thought wasn’t possible, we’re left with a stronger understanding of our inner strength. This new perspective of our own resilience helps us realize that we’re stronger than we knew.
Too often, we measure success from where we are in the present moment compared with where we want to be in the future. If we instead measured from where we are in the present to where we’ve come from in the past, we’d see growth indicative of an inner strength and toolkit we could confidently apply to future challenges — big or small.
Flow describes being fully engaged with an activity to the point of losing track of time and being completely absorbed without effort. Flow is in part dependent on mastery, so each of us experiences it in different types of activities or situations. Some might experience flow when absorbed in meaningful work, others while playing music or writing, and others while cooking, knitting or running. The possibilities are endless, but the more often we’re in a flow state of being, the more likely we are to feel happy and satisfied with life.
Connection is an essential ingredient for human health and wellbeing. Researcher Dan Siegal says that human beings are neurologically hardwired to connect with other humans. His term for this is “mindsight,” and it refers to mutuality, insight, and empathy. Essentially, when we feel completely seen and understood by another person, we feel connected. Connection can also come from the expansive sense of self experienced in the splendor and awe of nature, or from spiritual practices that create connection to something much bigger than yourself.
Regardless of the pathway that most resonates with you, I hope you’re eager to take a leap into transcending and to move into your fullest self — and into happiness and satisfaction. If you need a nudge, I would love to support your efforts with coaching, yoga, and retreats. Feel free to reach out to me at any time.
Recently, a client challenged me with the question, “Is it really possible to live in joy – at least most of the time?” He happened to ask me this on the same day I was teaching about the balance between working and playing for the international health and wellness coaching certification course that I’m a trainer for, so this topic was fresh in my mind.
After reflecting on the conversations we had in class, along with what I’ve seen clients struggle with and what I’ve struggled with in my own life, I believe the answer to that question is a resounding YES! Not only is living in joy doable, but I believe it’s what we are meant to do. I am certain that when we prioritize joy (which, to me, is equatable with love), not only are we happier, but a ripple of positivity is extended to the world around us.
Prioritizing joy might feel a bit odd, even counter-cultural, because it is not something we are trained to do. For many of us, the message to “work hard” was so strong in our upbringing, that work has become the measure of our worth. To help you shift towards bringing more joy into your work and life, I’ve come up with these 5 P’s for finding joy.
· Presence – Savor the micro-moments! I can’t say enough about cultivating the habit of present-moment awareness. Too often, we let our minds pull us into ruminations of past events or worry about future ones. With our minds chattering about what’s next on the to-do list, we miss the taste of the food we eat, the sounds of the birds just outside the car window, or the twinkle in the eye of the barista serving our coffee. Savoring brings us into what’s right in front of us, and typically there’s so much more than we first notice.
· People – As human beings, we are hard wired to connect with others. In the last decade, there have been major breakthroughs in the scientific knowledge about the brain, mind, and relationships. Daniel Siegel, PhD, says that the little part of our brain called the insula helps us perceive emotional states in other people and create resonance with them. He calls this “mindsight” and describes it as the joining of minds, or mutuality, that helps people feel “felt.” This connection happens when we pause briefly enough to prioritize the people we’re with. Recognizing our shared humanness, accepting and connecting with others helps everyone feel better.
· Purpose – Ancient yoga philosophy teaches that each of us has a unique purpose in life – an idea that’s consistent with all spiritual teachings I’ve encountered. This purpose is something that we’re meant to do, in a way that no one else can. And when we don’t align our lives with whatever that is for us, we suffer. We’re meant to be happy, and to feel good about what we’re bringing into the world. If you’re not clear on what that is for you, getting clear on your values is a great place to start.
· Passion – Bringing your full self into whatever you’re doing makes it more fun. It doesn’t matter if it’s a chore or an activity you don’t like very much. Doing anything with resistance is like dragging around a ball and chain and drains your energy. Choose what you commit to mindfully. Ask yourself: “Does this bring me joy?” or “Can I bring joy into this?” Minimize your involvement in things where you can’t find a way to bring joy.
· PLAY!!! – This is a fundamental experience for health that’s often overlooked by “responsible adults.” We see the value of play in helping kids learn, create, explore, and express themselves. But somewhere along the way, we adults traded in play for work and tamped down our yearning for playful experiences. Play frees up our creativity, enhances our ability to live in flow, and naturally brings us joy. Finding small ways to bring a sense of playfulness into work and home life helps sustain us until we get time for play breaks. Scheduling play breaks on a regular basis is key to staying connected to joy in your life.
I’ve just returned from a women’s wellbeing retreat that I led in Canaan Valley, and once again I am struck by the power of community and environment on personal wellbeing.
My role on this retreat was to facilitate experiences and create an environment where participants could uncover their own innate wellbeing. I led yoga, meditation, and hikes, made sure we had healthy food, and guided group interactions. Every woman there chose to participate in these experiences, and each contributed to the vibrant and wholesome culture created over the weekend.
Seeing the impact of this retreat on myself and the participants reaffirmed my belief that we should be intentional about valuing health in our society. In 1948, the World Health Organization defined healthas “a state of complete physical, mental and social WELLBEING, and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity.” But 1948 was a long time ago.
Why then don’t our cities, schools, and workplaces create environments that encourage physical and mental wellness? Why does our society spend so much money treating of disease and so little on creating spaces and places where human beings can flourish?
The answers to these questions are complex. Perhaps a better question is:
Whose role is it to create a culture of health in our homes, workplaces, and communities?
I believe that each of us can foster cultures of health. As human beings, we continually look "out there" for answers. Looking within, and assuming responsibility for what we find there, is a necessary starting point for prioritizing wellbeing. To take charge of your own life and health means taking calculated risks. It means recognizing that you have choices and are willing to brave the consequences of those choices.
Being the first in your family, workplace, or community to take responsibility and actively advocate for healthier environments, interactions, and experiences can feel scary. Doing so from the space of compassionate care—knowing that you can better love your loved ones, do a better job at work, and be of greater service in your community—is an empowered approach that’s bound to have a ripple effect on others.
If you’re ready to take a step towards prioritizing health, I’d love to support you. In addition to the classes and events below, more options to help you create a culture of health where you live, work, and play:
With love and gratitude,
I’ve just finished teaching my class series, which centered on the first facet of the eight-faceted yoga path, the Yamas. The Yamas are reflections of our true nature as humans. Knowing that these ancient teachings are as relevant in my class today as they were when first taught 5,000 years ago emphasizes this practice’s inherent wisdom and power.
The Yamas show us that the essence of our humanity binds us together, inextricably. All of us. All 7 billion of us. The Yamas sum up the truths of who we are with five qualities:
यम Ahimsa – compassion and reverence for all
यम Asteya – generosity
यम Satya – truth and integrity
यम Brahmacharya – the desire to live in balance
यम Aparigraha – acknowledgement of abundance
In her book The Secret Power of Yoga, Nischala Joy Devi wrote,
When we revere all as ourselves through ahimsa,
the other four qualities … are naturally present.
Remembering this message – that in our truest form we’re all the same and share these qualities – leaves me filled with peace and hope. When other messages impinge, I know I’m simply identifying with mind muck…mine or someone else’s, which are neither the real me nor the real them. When we see the ‘shadow’ side of humanity, it’s evident that we’re out of alignment with our true nature. This gives me hope, because recognizing it means I have a choice to align with the truth: our essence, our common humanity.
If we all extend toward and look for compassion, pause long enough to listen to our truth, generously give someone (and ourselves) the benefit of the doubt when they, or we, are mired in mind muck that sometimes trips us up, step back when we need to rest, and express gratitude for all the blessings in our lives, we’ll align and be elevated by this truth.
This seems simple: focus on our truest essence and common qualities as humans, and life will flow effortlessly. I suspect that the ancient yogis knew that what appears simple, isn’t; that forgetfulness is also embedded into our humanness. Hence, the value of continued practice of yoga, the choice to remember.
Funkdom happens to the best of us. You know what I mean. It’s Monday morning; you’ve overslept and really don’t want to go to work; it’s raining and traffic is not moving. Stress heightens as you ruminate about all you have to do this week, and before you even get to work, it’s official–you’re in a FUNK!
Simple Steps to Bringing More Joy to Your Life
“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.
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!
Self-Care how-tos for busy people
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:
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.
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.
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.