When you’re not feelin’ it

yaki

It’s beautiful weather here in N.C. this Christmas. Global warming concerns aside, for the moment, many of us are enjoying these balmy winter temps. The recent memory of bone chillingly cold weather has made me especially grateful to feel the sun’s heat on my bare feet.

It is not uncommon for us humans to appreciate something more after having experienced it’s less desirable opposite.

Take illness and wellness, for example. How often have you, right after being sick, felt especially grateful for just getting around? Challenging times can be a great motivator to live differently. I see this often in committed Yoga students who I know have suffered major medical issues. Their being able to get up and down on the floor and move their bodies in different ways feels extraordinarily good and is their driving impulse to show up, having a recent memory of disability etched upon their psyches.

But what happens when an injury/illness is no longer on the forefront of the pre-frontal cortex, and/or motivation otherwise wanes?

Periodically I begin Yoga class asking students to come up with an intention for class. A reminder for why they are here. As a matter of living more consciously (and healthily), reminding ourselves of why we’re taking good care of ourselves is helpful – why we’ve come to the studio, why we’re eating healthier, why we’ve started walking, meditating, or why we’ve adopted any healthy habit.

This is especially important when we’re not feelin’ it.

On days when I’m feeling run down and still have two Yoga classes to go, I often start by asking myself why I teach and my intention for the next class. Frequently what comes to me is to be of service, to help alleviate suffering, and to listen and respond to students’ needs. Reminding myself of why I teach Yoga and setting an intention gives me the inspiration needed to be fully present and listen when I’m worn out.

Someone asked me recently for advice about how to live a healthy life. After thinking about it awhile, I came back to the importance of once again first asking and reminding ourselves of why we want to live healthier. Maybe it’s to feel better, to have more energy, to better care for others, to make better decisions, and/or to be happier.

Once we remind ourselves of why we’ve chosen to live healthier, then we can cultivate a sense of curiosity and begin our journey from there. Intention and curiosity is the fuel to keep ourselves on track. Without it, adopting a healthy lifestyle can become, for some, a chore.

And so I ask you as you’re reading this blog … why have you chosen to live a healthier life?

Make this question a regular mantra and with a sense of curiosity it will serve you, and those with whom you share your life, well.

To your health,

Jessica

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Jon Kabat-Zinn @ Duke, Dec. 2

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I recently heard Jon Kabat-Zinn speak at Duke University on December 2. The subject was the intersection of mindfulness with science and medicine. Here are my brief notes from his talk.

Meditative traditions come from the East. Mindfulness is essentially wakefulness. Can we be present for ourselves in the only moment we have? Drop all agendas. Bring your awareness to your intention of why you’re here.

Mindfulness is the deep interconnectedness of body and mind. We are continually losing touch with where we are. It’s so hard to be mindful. Mindfulness is not about getting to the next moment. It’s about getting to know yourself. You are Walden Pond. You are your own gift to yourself.

Essentially, we don’t know who we are. All the stories we tell about ourselves are not big enough to encompass the totality of our being.

On the nature of suffering. We have given the planet a fever. Mindfulness is about seeing beauty in humanity. Mindfulness is a way of waking up. Not about Buddhism. It’s a way of being. It links us to the great mystery. It’s about coming to terms with things as they are and living life with a certain amount of integrity.

Where does suffering come from? Grasping. Attachments. The 8-Fold Noble Path transforms suffering. Learn to differentiate pain from suffering.

With mindfulness, life is the teacher, the practice, the curriculum. You can’t possibly know where you’re going. Learn how to live inside.

The mind is not smart enough to know how interesting the breath is. The mind cannot even be trusted to continually regulate the breath.

Listen to who you are. This is what the world needs now.

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The seductive wave of Speed vs Now

What does it mean to slow down? Why do we undermine this expansive state with repetitive thinking, fast moving, erratic breathing?

To remember the freshness of this moment,

and this moment,

we bring the mind to where the body rests. Step into the now. Slow down reverberations of busyness and calm the breath, still the body.

A seductive wave of speed reappears in hasty movements and thoughts, anticipating the next.

What pulled you away from this miracle of now?

To slow down and become present is a radical act of loving kindness. We attend to ourselves much the way we would attend to a young child, a pet, with a recognition of our own innocence.

We deserve (dare I say need?) this same friendly attention directed inwards, each day.

And why not?

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will power, 1874, from will (n.) + power (n.)

freefeetmountainAfter class, a student informed me that she’d recently been experiencing foot pain and had made an appointment with a Podiatrist. We Yoga Therapists are careful not to diagnose, but I suggested that if it was a bunion, there is a possible correlation to how we stand, walk, and the shoes that we wear. That people who tend to carry their weight on the inside balls of the feet may be contributing to this condition. That switching to flat shoes, and changing how we walk and stand might offer relief and stop the progression of the bone growing on the inside base of the big toe. (see Ancestral Movement and the Gokhale Method) Though there is no consensus about what causes bunions, the body is amazingly resilient and builds support where needed – hence the hypothesis that the bone growth on the inside ball of the foot may be caused by distributing weight excessively in that area.

As I have been working on changing how I walk/stand based on Ancestral Movement patterns (Gokhale), I briefly felt the fatigue that constant awareness of my form can entail. Every time I walk to the bathroom, to the fridge, out to the car, while making meals, picking up the cat, and standing in line at the grocery.

Changing bad and ingrained old habits is work. Whether you’re trying to eat better or exercise more, altering your way of thinking and moving requires a special kind of motivation to befriend yourself in order to feel better.

As a teacher, I’m curious about people who are committed to taking care of their bodies. What motivates them? What keeps them from throwing in the towel and slouching on the couch eating bon-bons instead of sitting upright, eating a salad, or coming to class?

Researcher Kelly McGonigal reveals in her book The Willpower Instinct that to stay motivated it’s important to keep our eyes on the prize. When we suffer from doubt or lethargy, remind ourselves of why we’ve chosen a healthier path and how we feel when we take care of our body/mind. Shaming or blaming ourselves is useless, but staying aware of why we’ve chosen to live healthier and imagining the good that will come creates the incentive.

With ‘carrot’ in hand, I re-lengthen a little though the back of my neck. When walking, I shift my hips back and move my weight a bit more on the outsides of my feet. When standing, I shift my weight towards the heels and evenly between my two feet. I am reminded that befriending this loving body of mine feels good from my fingers to my toes.

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The Life of Bees

I’ve recently become a beekeeper. I had no idea of all that this would entail and how intrigued I would become about the mysterious lives of bees.

Every morning I get up and check what’s going on around the hive. Then I revisit numerous times a day. The hive is in our front yard pretty close to the street (because that’s the best location for ample sun). I wonder as neighbors drive by if they think I’m insane for spending so much time looking at my bees….

Recently there’s been a new problem that I’ve had to tackle. Beehive robbing. This involves a group of bees from another hive entering your hive and stealing all the honey, maybe even killing the queen. You can tell this is happening because you literally see bees fighting outside the hive and numerous dead bee bodies. There are a number of techniques that can be used to help the bees defend their hive, which I quickly learned and instituted immediately. This thankfully stopped the robbing.

One of the things I read concerning beehive robbing (and the reason I’m writing about this in my Yoga blog), is that robbing occurs when a hive is weak.

For bees, weakness within a hive can be caused by a number of circumstances including – new environment, lack of necessary nutrition, and a lack of fortitude (low numbers and age of queen).

Like bees, we can also be robbed of our vitality when we are weak. This is usually why people get sick – because their immune systems are compromised.

Thankfully Yoga has good common sense wisdom for thriving. Sivananda condenses the essence of yoga teachings into 5 principles for optimal physical and mental health as well as spiritual growth. They are:

*Proper exercise – strengthen weak areas, stretch tight spaces, create balance

*Proper breathing – deep, slow, rhythmical

*Proper relaxation – thoroughly rejuvenate the nervous system

*Proper diet – more veggies/fruits, preferably grown using organic methods

*Positive thinking and meditation – we are what we think

These simple and profound teachings of Yoga are the recipe for cultivating the optimal environment to thrive. If you feel that your health has been robbed, take a look at these areas and decide which ones need attention. Start small with daily, routine gifts of nourishment to yourself. Overtime you will build the fortitude of your hive, so to speak, protecting the most important gift you have – your health and well-being.

Let’s get Beee-zy :-)

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Forgetting and Remembering

A few weeks ago I had lunch with a friend who told me about an event that surprised her. She had been suffering with blood sugar issues and was proactively limiting her sugar intake. Doing her best, she avoided restaurants and environments that would tempt her sugar tooth.

One day while she was talking to a friend about her lunch plans, her friend reminded her that the restaurant she was going to served her favorite deserts. Immediately she realized that she had completely forgotten that she had high blood sugar. Her amnesia, of sorts, greatly concerned her. How could her brain so easily forget this vital piece of information?

I thought about some of the times I had forgotten something that I didn’t necessarily want to remember, like the fact that my iron levels tend to run low, which of course is quickly remembered when a massive headache ensues.

Or when I’ve become slack in setting aside quiet time for my personal practices of meditating, writing, etc. Each time this happens, like clockwork, I slowly start to feel off-kilter. As I remember what was forgotten and begin again, I am reminded how good these practices make me feel.

I hear this frequently from students who return to class after a sabbatical – that they had forgotten how good it felt to have a regular practice. And that their practice poured over into everything else they did, making life a little easier.

Why do we do this… forgetting and remembering?

There are lots of reasons, I suppose. But for the scenarios above, perhaps as we begin feeling better through our healthy choices, we forget how we’d felt before, and slowly abandon our practices until things come crashing on our heads – like fatigue, depression, anxiety, general malaise, etc.

Historians say we must remember our past so that we don’t repeat it. I also like this analogy for our personal histories. If you aren’t feeling well, what are you no longer doing, that you have done in the past? What lifts your spirits? How do you feel when you are regularly nurturing your physical and mental well-being? (And why don’t you feel like your mental well-being is equally important to your physical health…? but that is a blog post for another day!)

It is essential to remind ourselves of the reasons we practice, especially when we’re feeling good. A regular personal practice is a cheap form of health insurance. And doesn’t that make a lot of cents!

And should we fall off the wagon, as we all do, let’s just dust ourselves off, and begin again.

Posted in brain, diet, discipline, mental health, practice, svadhyaya (self-study) | Leave a comment

Freedom and Pancakes

I have great respect for professionals who in a desire to stay abreast of the latest information will readily admit that whatever they know today may be found untrue tomorrow. The author of one of my anatomy books, and an anatomy professor, always tells his students at the beginning of each semester that 50% of what is known about anatomy today may in the next 5 years become false. This kind of openness requires a real commitment to truth.

But it is also essential. It is a real obstacle to our own evolution if what we know about food, exercise, the human body, medication, science, spirituality, WHATEVER – is not allowed to be challenged and changed. Without constantly allowing our beliefs to be altered by new revelations, we are choosing to be static. And what is more essential to the existence of life than adaptation and evolution?

headinsandThen why is it so hard for us to budge from our beliefs?

Usually it’s because we have become invested in believing a particular way about the world, have likely adopted habits and routines around these beliefs, and are even enjoying some benefits from this way of thinking.

This happens to me quite frequently around information on how to live a healthy life. Especially around food, but also concerning healthy movement patterns. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changed the way I eat based on the most recent scientific information about diet. Of course, I think I’ve found the right solution for now, but who knows?

And functional movement patterns to maintain a healthy body, this information is constantly evolving. I always know when I leave a Yoga training that my mind will again have to be stretched to let go of some old well-established ways of thinking about the body and accept new, proven truths.

I find refuge in the teachings of Yoga when it comes to adapting to change. Yoga says true freedom is freedom from one’s likes and dislikes.

From a practical perspective, we do this through mindfulness of our thoughts, seeing thoughts arise in our awareness and allowing them to pass through, without aversion or grasping. Mindfulness and meditation allow us to see the habits of the mind more objectively, acknowledging them as they are a part of the present moment, and consciously deciding what to do with those thoughts (instead of letting them hijack us as usual).

Mindfulness and meditation help us to see our belief systems and practice not getting too caught up in them. Constantly acknowledging them and letting them go.

They’re just thoughts, after all.

For example, take the thought that “It’s just not a Sunday morning with pancakes”. I know. Blasphemy that one should attempt to topple this mainstay. It’s a tough one. But essentially, it’s also just a thought. And can be altered should we decide this is the best course for ourselves. (p.s., I’m not shaming pancakes, it’s just a teachable example!)

A deeper understanding of Yoga teaches us that we are not our thoughts. In our truest essence, we are simply presence and awareness. Everything else is a part of the journey of experiencing our human selves.

But all of this is better understood in practice than theory.

Hope to see you on the mat soon!

Namaste,

Jessica

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