Practical Tips For Staying Positive & Optimistic

It’s mid-March now and this is the time of year in the northern hemisphere when, even if it’s still cold or snowy, we begin emerging from winter. Sometimes it’s just a mental emergence, and other times we can see it happening around us in nature. As life begins to rumble beneath the ground, making its way upward and outward again, and as buds begin to appear on otherwise bare branches, we see reflected back to us our own chance to be in a gently wakeful state as we live a happy, balanced life.

Winter months can make us sleepier, down, or more sluggish. If we’ve been powering through this natural time of rest, we will likely begin to feel the effects at this point in the year. Effects like the beginnings of burnout, overwhelm, confusion, discontentment. Before we succumb to any of that, this is a great time of year to check in with the state of our minds and make any necessary mindset shifts that could help us emerge in spring with more energy and clarity.

In an effort to help you function from a place of santosa (contentment) and experience fuller happiness, today I’m offering these practical tips for getting—and staying—positive and optimistic.

As you read on, you’ll learn about 3 tried and true practices to help
shift your mindset for the better:

Breath of Joy (what it is, and how to do it)
Mindfulness For Practical Life (by way of breath / by way of body)
Trusting (prompts for practice)



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BREATH OF JOY…


Getting out of our heads and into our bodies is one of the quickest, most effective ways of shifting our mindset and priming ourselves for being positive and optimistic. My favorite yoga practice that always brings me the instant gratification of heightened energy, clarity and happiness is Breath of Joy! It’s a simple practice you can do any time you need a pick-me-up. Breath of Joy is especially helpful to me when I hit an afternoon slump, when I’ve been sitting still in my body but working my brain for a long period of time and I need to shake off the stagnation, or any time I feel my emotions or thoughts waning toward anger, resentment, confusion, judgment, negative self-talk, or sadness.

If you’re new to Breath of Joy, watch my video here to learn the basic moves. You can follow along with it for the first few passes and then do it any time you need to. It’s a little whacky looking at first, but you’ll get it quickly! It’s sure to give you a clearer, more joyful mindset. Once you get the hang of it, I suggest practicing 10 rounds at a time.

MINDFULNESS FOR PRACTICAL LIFE…

One of the greatest tools derived from yoga and meditation is present moment awareness, otherwise known as, practicing mindfulness. Want to change your mindset? Give yourself the gift of present moment awareness!

When you’re stressed, you’re likely future tripping or dwelling on the past. You are not present. You may find yourself mentally spinning, as if in an eddy, wanting that which is impermanent to be permanent. You’re caught up in your thoughts, not your present reality.

STEP 1— ATTENTIVE BREATHING

If you’re feeling particularly anxious and like you “can’t breathe”, skip this step and go straight to step 2 below. Then return to this. Typically we start with the breath to calm us down, but having had panic attacks before, I know sometimes we need to go through the gross body and thinking mind before we can truly slow, and pay attention to our breath.


Usually the first, very accessible way to get present is to utilize the breath. Try taking a deep breath through your nose and, if only for the moment it takes to breathe one breath in and out, BE HERE NOW. Be fully present with your breath. For this moment, pay attention only to your breath. Let everything else besides your breath fall away. Be sure to breathe through your nose and not your mouth. Nasal breathing centers the nervous system.

Bring yourself to full present moment breath-awareness by asking these questions:

  • What does the breath feel like?

  • What does it sound like?

  • What muscles activate in my body as I breathe in and out?

  • Where am I holding tension in my body?

  • How does it feel when I slow the breath and consciously release that tension?

  • Do I feel completely full when I inhale, or could I take in more breath?

  • Do I feel completely empty when I exhale, or could I send out more breath?

  • You have time to do this. You deserve this. I mean really, it’s just one breath!

I have the sneaking suspicion however, that once you get truly present with one breath, you will continue to breathe this way for several more… and your mindset will change to a more calm, optimistic one.

STEP 2— JOURNEY AROUND THE BODY


The quickest path I’ve found to become presently aware, is though the body: Notice your body in this moment. I’m talking about noticing your body position, where and how you are holding yourself in space—not what you look like. Name what you notice in nonjudgmental terms. There is no right or wrong, good or bad. There just is, what is. How are you feeling physically? What sensations are you aware of? Where are they?

Take some deep, slow breaths, close your eyes and, with no judgment whatsoever, just awareness, take yourself on a journey around your whole body. Relax each part of your physical self as you bring your attention to them. Don’t skip any part of your body. Be sure to relax the muscles of all the little forgotten parts—like your earlobes, the back of your neck, the back of your knees—just as much as the parts you're usually more aware of like your arms and legs

Let go of every distraction around you and stay focused on the state of your body and your ability to relax it in this moment.

Once you’ve brought awareness and relaxation to each part of your body, land on your mind. Notice any thoughts or busy chatter in your mind. Notice the mind’s general focus (or lack thereof). What are you thinking about? What are you paying attention to? What’s your general demeanor? Are you thinking positively, negatively, or indifferently in this moment? Again, there is no right or wrong, good or bad. There just is, what is. What’s the energy level and emotional state of your mind in this moment? Try to relax your mind just as you relaxed your muscles. Let go of any and all thoughts from before and choose your next thought with wisdom and consciousness.

You get to choose what your mind focuses on!

You get to choose how you’re going to respond (feel) in any given moment!

Working with our minds is challenging work, but it is worth the time and effort. It’s the stuff of magic on earth because it’s so transformative!

A TRUST PRACTICE…


When all seems glum or overwhelming, seek first to trust that all is well. To remain hopeful is to remain in a mindset of trust.

I find positive words to be a big part of my healthy, happy mindset practices. You can use the prompts below as actions to take, affirmation statements, or journaling prompts.

It takes effort for a while, and can feel awkward or clunky at first. It will eventually become second nature to the practiced mind to skip right to a place where you trust yourself to get through things that have gone awry and be better for them, and where you trust that you are always being guided. To get there, try these prompts when you’re called to:

  • Trust that you are loved and supported. You might repeat to yourself, “I am loved and supported!”

  • Trust that good things are coming and good things are happening now. You might say to yourself, “I may not know what they are, I may not see them in this moment, AND, good things are available to me. Good things are in the works! Good things are happening!” As if magically, when I do this I become aware of good things in the world around me, and in my life. Once that awareness comes in, possibility comes back and I become capable once again of solving my problems (or at least seeking out useful help). You might also try listing out the good things you become aware of through this practice and reading them often, adding to your list as you notice more.

  • Trust in your amazingness — you are such brilliant design, capable of shifting your thoughts from negative ones to positive ones. “I am capable! I am human and that inherently means that I am an amazing being!”

  • Trust that the world is always healing, always in good hands. Even when we don’t see or grasp the healing, or when we fear for the greater good, there is healing happening now. There are good people everywhere who want what’s best for everyone. When we look from that lens, we either find or we create healing, so trust in your ability to look for the healing opportunity in every situation.

  • Trust the people in your life who always have your back, who always speak the truth to you. When you’re unsure, go to them and listen with your whole heart.

  • Trust the sweet, little signs coming to you. The pages you automatically open to in a book, the object that falls at your feet, the bits of nature that catch your eye as if for the first time ever. Listen for the messages that rise up through you and trust your intuition.


All of these tips are practical applications of ancient teachings that hold true to this day. All of them take some practice, and not one of us is perfect at them every single time. We will all find our positive mindset dwindle at some point. Humans are beautiful, perfectly imperfect beings in that way. We are all also capable of reining our thoughts in and directing them toward a more positive, optimistic view… it just sometimes takes some know-how, practice and reminding.

Try these methods and let me know how they work for you. I hope every word here serves you well and leads you back to your inherent happiness. May you live a life of positive optimism! Namaste!

November 2018 Gratitude Prompt #4

Hollie Holden recently posed this pondering on her blog: “What if the detour is the path?”

Hmmmm…

Yes, Hollie. Good question. What if?!

In my life the detours — those unexpected happenings that took me somewhere I was never planning to go that were sometimes met with kicking, screaming, resisting, being unaware (because if I chose to be aware there was the possibility that I might actually let go of control, be okay with where life was leading me, or learn something along the way), and me just being pretty dang anxious, overwhelmed, grumpy or forlorn — have often been the biggest blessings.

We humans tend to want to line things up neatly. We like point A to point B with no bumps in the road. But life doesn’t happen in a straight line. Everything on earth happens in cycles and swirls. We live on a round planet (at least according to most) that sits a bit wonky on its axis and spins. We orbit the sun in a solar system that rotates. Rather than shine on us with the exact same brightness every single day, our moon waxes and wanes. Our seasons shift and surprise. In an ironic twist of fate, it’s often the winding paths that lead us to the most adventure and beauty.

Fear can keep us from seeing that all is well along an unexpected path, and ego can keep us in a state of stuck-ness and resistance. (I hear yoga is really good for helping with this…just saying.) No “make wrong” for having fear or ego; they’re part of being human, which is a brilliant and worthy adventure! Plus, usually we wake up somewhere along the path and get perspective. Or, once we step off at the end we can see more clearly where it all led. Hindsight gives us deep learning and appreciation. It’s that whole ‘we can’t see the forrest through the trees’ thing.

This week is all about thinking back along the paths we’ve taken so far and feeling deep, deep gratitude for the blessings we’ve gotten from the unexpected twist and turns.

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Maybe you’ve stepped on every path consciously. I bet there were still some unexpected, choose-your-own-adventure moments.

Maybe direction has been forced upon you through no choice of your own.

Maybe you’re on one of those unexpected paths right now and you can’t experience the learning and the blessings just yet. That’s okay. Can you trust that at some point in time there will be a moment when you will be able to?

Sometimes just stating even the most simple thing you’re grateful for along the path can help clear it.

So, this week I ask you to compile a little list of the paths you’ve been gifted with. Joyful and otherwise, there are gifts to them all. Then, make a list of what about them you are grateful for.

Have you grown or learned something? Have you met someone interesting or influential along the way? Have you helped someone?


I’m getting inspired by these prompts right along with you…

The obvious unexpected path along my lifetime so far that has led me to gratitude is
the scoliosis-induced one that led me to yoga and natural living.
This ultimately led me to teach yoga and be in your inbox today.
I’m so grateful for all I’ve learned and continue to learn from this path.
I’m so grateful it has led to me being able to share with others, touch lives, meet people
and have some amazing experiences.
I veered off a professional path I expected to continue on forever and onto this one
when I was forced by my physical body to do so.
I’ve had so much confusion and resistance about that at various points in time because
I’ve worried that maybe I took a wrong turn.
But there’s no way a “wrong” turn led me to a happier, healthier life I love!

I hope every path you step on has blessings.

May there be more apparent blessings, and less blessings in disguise, but when they’re not so apparent, may you always remember to keep your eyes, mind and heart wide open to see the hidden goodness, the almost-missed opportunities, the unexpected growth and newness and joy!

Can’t wait to hear about your amazing life’s paths! And how this whole month of more mindful gratitude practices has gone for you. Thank you for sharing and playing along with me. We’ll do it again next November. In the meantime, as always, feel free to email me or share this blog post with people who might like a little grateful pick-me-up and use #mpgratitudeprompt2018 when you share your grateful musings about this prompt on social media.

It’s been a real pleasure doing this with you!

Be well, happy, and always grateful!

November 2018 Gratitude Prompt #3

HAPPY GRATITUDE MONTH!!!

We have arrived at week 3 of Thanksgiving Gratitude Prompts, and the week of the Thanksgiving holiday in the US — hooray!

This week is all about noticing:
Notice just how many things you really have to be grateful for.

Nothing is too small! When I get quiet and tune into all I have to be grateful for, the amount of seemingly teensy weensy things that I think of surprises me. These teensy weensy things that could so easily be overlooked add up to a whole heap of a wonderful life.

Every day this week, list 3 things you are grateful for. But… Just 3.

Then, notice how many more things come to mind that you are grateful for. Also notice how, as if though magic, you stay in a noticing mindset all day long.

Gratitude grows!

(If I were a twitter-er, I’d ask you to retweet that statement! If you are a twitter-er, feel free — add #mpgratitudeprompt2018. I’m about to grab a fabric marker and write this on a t-shirt for myself. Old school tweeting!)

When we focus on gratitude, we see that we have SO MUCH to be grateful for and our mind gets reset to think grateful thoughts in the midst of our day to day.

For example, we wash dishes and maybe we notice we are rushing though this task with a mind that’s focused elsewhere, or maybe we are feeling annoyed about having to do the dishes at all. Then we remember we can choose to think a grateful thought in that moment, ‘I am grateful for these dishes. I am grateful for all the food I have to eat on them and all the good times had over many meals during my life. I am grateful for the people who share my life with me and for my life itself. What a wonderful life I get to lead in which I can wash my abundant dishes!’

Okay. Maybe I got a little overexcited with that last example statement but, you get my drift. And, when I really do let myself go to a place of feeling deep gratitude, I really do get that gratefully excited!

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I’m getting inspired by these prompts right along with you. Here are the first three things that came to my mind, which is now rolling through about a zillion things to list...

HERE’S MY ITTY-BITTY LIST OF 3 FOR TODAY:

  • LOVE! The love I experience coming into and flowing out from my heart every single day. The love I receive from my family and friends and the love they inspire me to cultivate and share with them. The teachings that remind me that we are each love and love is all (and all we need, Thanks Beatles!).

  • ORGANIC PUMPKIN PUREE! The fact that I can make all the pumpkin goodness I want on the daily right now even when I haven’t done the work of roasting/steaming and pureeing whole pumpkins all season long really does pumpkin spice up my day.

  • INSPIRATIONAL WORDS! I love writing them. I love hearing them. love reading them. I love their energy, their power, their ability to express and excite and make me contemplate.

This list really could go on and on and on and on. I mean, I didn’t even mention my dishes!

Please share this blog post with loved ones and on social media to keep the gratitude growing this month! We’ve got one more Sunday after today for the 2018 installment of Magareeshi Thanksgiving Gratitude Prompts and next week’s prompt is a very reflective one. Be sure to add your personal responses and #mpgratitudeprompt2018 so we can all follow along and be inspired by each other!

Thank you! I’m grateful for you and all you are sharing through this fun little endeavor of positive energy!

November 2018 Gratitude Prompt #2 -- Gratitude For Nature

HAPPY GRATITUDE MONTH!!!

We have arrived at week 2 of 2018’s Thanksgiving Gratitude Prompts.

I hope last week’s prompt reminded you how amazing your human body is!  I hope you found ways to show your body gratitude, to treat yourself well in health, and to stand for a moment here and there in awe of the incredible systems that make you, you.  YOU are a miracle of nature!

Speaking of nature… This week is all about connecting to nature.  Look around and see what in the natural world you are grateful for.  Make a grateful offering to the earth.

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The air has suddenly become briskly chilly.  Our fireplace is flickering away next to me.  I’ve just mixed up my first batch of Double Chocolate Cinnamon Cocoa Mix for the season with the promise of a cup shared with my sweet wee girl later this afternoon while snuggled up under a fuzzy blanket watching a cozy show and reading some new books.  Autumn is officially upon me and I’m loving every single second I can get in — and in celebration of — nature!  Where I am the sun is shining brightly during the day and setting earlier and earlier each day, reminding me to tune in, rest, get quiet regularly, listen, let go, and just be.

Even in the midst of a super fun, active week of houseguests and festivities celebrating my husband’s birthday, I’ve spent time in awe of nature and, with the help of last week’s gratitude prompt, staying connected to my humanness in the midst of the natural world around me.  I’m excited for this week’s prompt to inspire more conscious time reflecting in nature.

I’m getting inspired by these prompts right along with you ...

HERE’S WHAT FLOATS MY NATURE BOAT:

I am eternally grateful for fresh air to breathe.  I am grateful for season changes that remind me I am part of a cycle and I am never stagnant, always expanding and changing.  

I am grateful for the pull of the moon, the life-giving energy of the sun, the twinkle of the stars, trees, mountains, waterways, and every light breeze I have ever been outside to enjoy. 

I am grateful that I live somewhere where hummingbirds are still buzzing about a bit, where certain flowers are blooming and pomegranates are pickable, where the sky tends toward blue, and where time outside is invigorating.

HERE ARE 3 WAYS I SHOW MOTHER NATURE I AM GRATEFUL:

1) Use natural cleaners in my house.

2) Grow and purchase organic foods.

3) Go on “noticing walks” mindfully looking at the world around me and getting more inspired to treat the earth with respect.


Please share this prompt with anyone else who might be inspired by it.  And, be sure to share your responses!  You can simply email me, or share on social media.  Remember to add the hashtag — #mpgratitudeprompt2018 — so we can all follow along and be inspired by each other!

Thank you for your brilliance and wisdom being shared in this fun little endeavor of positive energy throughout this month.  Mother Nature thanks you for thinking of her lovingly!

November 2018 Gratitude Prompt 1 - LIST 5 WAYS YOU CAN SHOW GRATITUDE FOR YOUR BODY

HAPPY GRATITUDE MONTH!!!


We have arrived at week 1 of Thanksgiving Gratitude Prompts for 2018! I’m really looking forward to doing this with you!

As I embark on an extra busy time of year with homeschool activities, extra family festivities, the start of the holiday season, gearing up through the end of this year and the start of next year in my work — and more, I’ve already experienced what I call pangs of panic.  This is when I feel these sudden electric shock-like sensations right in my solar plexus, from my diaphragm up and out through my chest and then radiating into my arms.  Sometimes I can breathe them away and get calm quickly, other times they dissipate a bit but then become a shuddery shakiness throughout my system.  Most times I have to just allow them to be part of my presence — resistance to these does not work.  “That which we resist, persists!”  These pangs come on when my mind is really busy and wandering away from the present moment and suddenly there’s a massive fear thought that comes through.  The next thing I know, BAM!  Reactive shock and panic in my body.  

One thing I know for sure is my body is amazing.  So is yours!  All bodies are!  My body trying to send a message signaling caution is a miraculous bit of nature.  The fact that I’m panicking over things like whether or not I’ve remembered all the little details for what’s supposed to be a fun event is a fascinating bit of ego monkey mind doing flips in the jungle that is my brain.  See how I didn't judge myself and say that's just silly?!  Yeah.  Judgment doesn't help when you're stressed or panicked.  If you find yourself that way, think about what you would say to your best friend and speak to yourself that compassionately.  Because if we take a step back, it all really is fascinating and miraculous.  Even the stuff of life we don't like so much.

Shifting right into gratitude can be very helpful when your monkey mind goes awry… or anytime, really!  So is taking a quiet moment in the midst of stress to remember the simple fact that our bodies always have our best interests at heart.  The way we work on a biological level is utterly, astoundingly miraculous.

So, this week’s prompt is all about being grateful for your body, aka, the vehicle for your life!  How can you show gratitude for your amazing body?



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I’m getting inspired by these prompts right along with you. Here’s my five ...

5 WAYS TO SHOW MY BODY GRATITUDE:

1.)  Stay hydrated — seriously hydrated!  (This has suddenly become an issue with cooler weather and I’m feeling the effects of not being as thirsty yet still living in the desert and needing lots of water.)

2)  Eat and drink pure goodies!  (Especially when feeling stressed or panic — the tendency is to not eat or to make less healthy choices, but if I’m truly grateful for my body, I will feed it well!)

3)  Get the sleep I need and want!  Do what I need to ensure solid sleep (herbal tea/calming tinctures before bed, relaxing baths and meditation at night, less screen time and lower lights after 8pm…)

4)  Practice Pranayama and Yoga regularly!

5)  Think kind thoughts and speak kind words about my body.  Look at myself lovingly in the mirror!

Practice gratitude for your body every day this week and see what happens. You might want to make your list and post it to your bathroom mirror, fridge, or favorite journal.  Anywhere you’ll see it daily and remind yourself how grateful you are for your body.

I want to know how you’ll show your body gratitude.  I’m sure it’ll be inspiring and I’ll learn from your wisdom!  Please share! 

You can post the image and your responses to social media.  Remember to add  #mpgratitudeprompt2018 if you post online so we can all follow along and be inspired by each other!

Teaching Yoga In Times Of Tragedy

I live in Las Vegas, Nevada. Today is the first anniversary of the fatal, tragic mass shooting that took place on The Vegas Strip and even people who weren’t directly effected by the shooting will be feeling all sorts of emotions throughout this week. When I remember the shooting and the moments of not knowing if my husband was okay because he was performing in a nearby show and was very late coming home, my shoulders tense up, my eyes well up with tears, my breath gets tight. I can still feel it in my body almost as intensely as I did that night.

I was one of the fortunate people whose loved one did come home — the next morning after a whole night of being on lockdown in his theatre with his cast, crew and audience. And I was one of the people who — even though I get emotional and still feel confusion, fear and deep sadness when I think back on October 1, 2017 — ended up deepening her understanding and visceral feeling of gratitude as a response to the shooting. I can honestly say I’ve never felt the same level of gratitude than I did when I heard my husband whisper in my ear, “I’m home” just before 6am. I had spent the night working with my thoughts to choose love over fear while occupying myself, keeping myself from checking media as much as possible, listening to sirens, feeling anxious, scared and sad, and eventually tossing and turning in bed.

Just minutes after my husband came home and crawled into bed, our daughter woke oddly early. I believe she sensed something in our energy field. As my husband slept a few hours, I spent a quiet morning with her and my gratitude grew as I thought about the children, families and friends who'd be learning of loss that morning.

There are so many people who I could direct energetic attention on today in light of this sad memorial. I find myself thinking of all the yoga teachers and other “keepers of light” / “space holders” like therapists and healers. Those of us who have the job of showing up and allowing those suffering to just be and to guide them to a more calm, peaceful, fearless mindset and open heart space.

So, if you are a keeper and sharer of yogic light, this is a little love note especially for you…

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“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”

(I don’t know who originally said that, but it’s one of my all time favorite quotes and puts me at ease in times of panic, sadness or confusion every time!)

I know what it’s like to teach in times of tragedy. I know what it’s like to teach when I’ve been suffering, and to hold space for others who are suffering personally or in the face of catastrophe and scary world events.

In 2004 I had to teach ongoing yoga classes in my newly established studio during the aftermath of being forced by social services to put a child family member who my husband and I had been caring for, for a year and a half up for adoption. I expressed to a friend that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t walk in the room and be the face of calm contentment when I was an emotional wreck. He said these wise words that have stuck with me through numerous ebbs and flows of life and teaching: “Then don’t. Nobody expects you to be un-rocked by this. But nobody, including you, needs you to be a wreck all day, every day. Just show up and teach the stretches. You’re the one who is always saying yoga works regardless, so now’s your chance to let it do the work for you. It’ll all come back in time. Your connection to the deeper meaning of it all. Your ability to convey that. But for now, just stretch with people. Just go there and show up because you can and by just being there, things will change. You’ll be doing enough for your students and you’ll all be healing in some way together. So, just teach the stretches and let the rest be.”

I did, and he was right. It was like, “Do your practice and all is coming.” I set intention not to shower negativity on my students and to trust that there was light in me and in the situation somewhere. Eventually I healed that hurt and the confusion subsided and everything worked out for all of us for the better.

On September 11, 2001, feeling rocked and confused and worried and like everything I knew was now part of a greater “unknown”, I taught my regular Tuesday evening yoga class. I was a new teacher and I had no idea what to do with myself and I figured no one would come, but they did come. They came in droves. To a random little room in a chiropractor’s office where I started teaching. They came because they, too, didn’t know what else to do with themselves. They were so grateful I was there, holding space. Every student said they expected to see a sign on the door saying class was cancelled. I had no real reason to cancel class and I knew my own practice served me well that day, so, even though I didn’t know how I could teach and I figured no one would come, I went. I lit candles, I took deep breaths, I set intention, I cried, I thought I was crazy for showing up. And then the door opened again and again and I simply rolled my shoulders back, lifted my heart, and held space as best as I could for each person who walked in. Everyone hugged everyone else and we all had a deeply connective experience together. When we left, we were still in the unknown, but we were in it together, and together, through the light and union of yoga, we knew we’d find a way and we’d support those who were suffering more than us. 

Reflecting back through those especially challenging times to teach had me wanting to put pen to paper (er, words to blog) and hold space for you guides out there who are holding space for others with your teaching. I know you’re taking on some their sadness so that their load may be a little lighter. I know you may be feeling like you don’t have what it takes to guide others through their suffering or like you may be unworthy of doing so. My grey hairs lead me to realize I’m getting to veteran status as a yoga teacher, and I’m here to tell you that you do have what it takes, and you can guide well, and you are enough… simply because you have made the choice to be the one. Don’t pretend to know what to say. Instead, step into the light of teaching and trust the golden lineage of teachers who stand behind you to guide you. Trust that by you just showing up to teach your classes and maintain a calm, peaceful state, you are demonstrating that it is possible to breathe and flow through life again, no matter how great the suffering.

In my hometown of Las Vegas, we all encounter students, fellow teachers, colleagues, baristas, postal carriers, first responders, doctors and nurses, neighbors, service workers, friends, family, and more who were effected deeply by October 1, 2017. I know it is possible for us to hold each other up in light and love, and I know the light of love often starts shining for people on their yoga mats.

My simple prayer for us teachers is this:

May we all be in peace and presence of mind. 

May we find it within ourselves to create calm connection, to hold space for those suffering, to bring about more gratitude, positive energy and joy. 

May we know we’ve got the light of a teacher — and the golden light of all good teachers before us — in us for everyone who just needs to be in our space of union during hard times. 

May we lift ourselves and those who are down through yogic teachings and high vibrational connections. 

And so it is. And so it shall be.

Namaste!

How To Breathe To Engage The Parasympathetic Nervous System And Calm Down

Did you know that by taking even just a minute to slow your breathing and focus on it enough to deepen your inhale and make your exhale as long as possible, you are actually signaling to your nervous system that all is well and both your mind and body will calm down?  

It’s true!  

To understand how this works, let’s review what our amazing Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is, shall we?  The ANS is responsible for controlling the activities of organs and involuntary muscles like the heart and smooth muscles.  Because the ANS oversees and directs them to do their good work in their world (our bodies), these all function harmoniously without us consciously thinking, “Beat, heart, beat…. Release acid, stomach…. Hey, liver, I think now would be a good time to secrete sugars and enzymes…”  

The ANS is made up of two parts:  Sympathetic and Parasympathetic.  The Sympathetic Nervous System is the part of our physiological stimuli that signals us to respond with increased action.  This is where the ever-famous “fight or flight” response comes from.  The Sympathetic Nervous System tells the heart to speed up and the mind to become increasingly alert.  The Parasympathetic Nervous System activates more tranquil responses in the body like a lower heart rate and releasing saliva when something smells yummy.

Our primitive mind is wired to look for stressors — that’s why it’s so much easier to recall negative thoughts or get caught up in dramatic imaginings than positive ones.  That’s also why when we are stressed we tend to become more scatterbrained or overwhelmed with fearful thoughts of what might be.  What sometimes feels like a fluke (to me, at least) because we seem to become stuck in an uncontrollable loop of negativity, is technically a protective measure of the Sympathetic Nervous System.  The good news is, the human brain has been found to be quite elastic and this pattern is easily shiftable by mindfully engaging our breath.  

Yes, our breath.  

Breathing is a conscious action we can take on the more superficial level to signal to our behind-the-scenes automatic self.  A miracle of being human if you ask me!

 

***My 8 year old daughter walked into my office at this point in this writing as I was reading it aloud from the beginning to make sure it flows sensibly and she listened attentively.  When I was done her eyes widened, her jaw dropped, and she simply said, “Whoooooaaaa.  That’s cool!”  It really is, isn’t it?!  We should all take a moment every now and again to acknowledge the coolness — for lack of a better term — of being human.***

 

I digress…

Doing relaxed breathing exercises on a regular basis when we are not experiencing stressful circumstances is a healthy effort that can help us stay calm more often.  This practice can generally lead us to have calmer responses to stressors.  Think about it, when your best friend is super stressed and freaking out, isn’t your first instinct to tell her to breathe?  

When we practice pranayama* as part of a weekly routine, we learn to automatically slow down our anxiety with the breath.  Over time we become more calmly responsive and trusting in the face of negative tension.  Taking those settling breaths in the midst of angst becomes second nature.  Or at least a little easier.

*Pranayama simply means, “breathing exercises.”  The Sanskrit word translates into life sustaining energy — or breath (prana) being drawn out (ayama).

The reason I prefer a breath-centered, flowing yoga practice is because it includes constant calming pranayama.  The body only moves once and inhalation or exhalation has been activated.  The breath is the trigger that sets off the reaction of movement in the body.  The breath is slow, deep and long so the body moves gently even into the most advanced postures while the mind slows down its chattery thought patterns.  I recommend practicing mindfully flowing yoga with attention on the breath as well as focused breathing exercises as part of a regular routine.

You won’t always have a lot of time to do a full yoga sequence.  I totally get that.  So, below I’m outlining a simple breathing exercise you can do every single day, to generate a more naturally calm state throughout your entire being by conjuring your brilliant Parasympathetic Nervous System.

This exercise is so simple, you can even do it in public without looking like a “weirdo.”  LOL! 

 

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STEP 1:  NASAL BREATHING

One of the most effective yet simple ways to beckon a soothing internal response from the Parasympathetic Nervous System is to slowly breathe through the nose.  When we are stressed we tend to breathe in a panting-like manner, quicker shallow breaths through the mouth.  Nasal breathing is naturally slower.  So, to start a calming breathing practice, simply breathe as deeply and slowly through your nose whenever it occurs for you to do so.

The first step in most mindfulness programs is to simply pay attention.  So by taking little breaks throughout your days to pay full attention to your breath, you are becoming more mindful.  Look at you, all monk-like and stuff!

Before moving onto Step 2, take at least 1-5 minutes engaging in this deep, slow nasal breathing:  

  • Sit up nice and tall with your shoulders in a relaxed position drawn backward and downward to softly open the chest.  Let the natural sway of the lower back remain intact, but don’t over-sway and jut out the lower ribs.  Line up the shoulders over the hips and the chin over the belly button.

 

  • Notice the current rhythm of your breath.  Does it feel stuck or tight anywhere along the way?  Are your inhales and exhales short or long?  Don’t judge, just notice.

 

  • When you feel ready, slow that rhythm down.  Take deep, slow breaths through the nose into the lungs.  Work to fully expand through the ribcage, diaphragm, and mid-back with each inhalation.  See if you can take a teensy pause between your inhales and exhales, holding the breath in or out.  Just be calm and quiet during the little pause.

 

  • Blow your nose if it gets stuffy or runny and begin again.

 

 

STEP 2:  EXHALATION ELONGATION (this would make a good name for a Jazz record)

Now that you’ve centered yourself with nasal breathing, it’s time to do the deeper work that will bring forth a tranquility response from your Parasympathetic Nervous System.

  • Take a deep slow breath in through the nose.

 

  • Softly pause before exhaling.

 

  • Exhale quietly through the mouth for as long as you can.  This exhale will be longer than the inhale was — almost like if you were singing and holding out a note.  The breath should not be forced out in any way.  Let it be released gently, incrementally.  Do feel a small engagement at the top of the diaphragm as you push out the last bit of the exhale, but this is a natural engagement.  You are not to pull the belly back or thrust the chest down at all.  Keep the shoulders relaxed.

 

  • Repeat for 1 minute.  For most people this will be somewhere between 5 and 8 breaths.  Try to calm the thoughts in your mind by only paying attention to your breathing.  It can help by thinking, “I am inhaling.  Inhale.”  / “I am exhaling.  Exhale.”  That way your mind has something to do at the cognitive level and won’t wander so much.

 

  • As you enjoy this practice, increase the time you spend doing it to up to 5 minutes.

 

 

I hope this practice brings you closer to a sense of reverence for being human, for being YOU.  I wish for you to find a calm state more often, especially in stressful times.  There are always going to be stressors in our lives, but our response can be shifted from fight-or-flight to one of trust and calm clarity.