What I did on my summer vacation.
As the children return back to school and write the summer essay, What I did on my Summer Vacation, it kind of reminds me of the well meaning questions directed to children and teens that go like this: ‘What did you do today’? ‘Nothing’. ‘What did you do all summer’? ‘Stuff’.
I’d love to say I did nothing on my summer vacation. My single goal was to experience the dog days of summer past when it was so lazy that you actually groaned with boredom. I always hated those days! Now just like everything that sounds better back when, I longed for them. As adults, doing nothing is actually one of the most difficult things you can do. Being, without doing, is a struggle for most people. Over the years I taught a lot of yoga that required a modest amount of stillness, breath awareness and learning to let go and let be. So how did I do with two months of doing nothing? Eh, not bad for a beginner.
It’s not easy to spend two months with the goal of doing nothing. My mind would play tricks and tell me it was important to get something done with all this free time. It was like someone sitting on my shoulder whispering to my devilish self , “Go ahead, no one will know”. Doing work has been my drug of choice. “Psst, go ahead and revise that website now, you’ll be so much more ahead when you get back”. “When you finish that, set up the scheduling software you’ve been thinking about using and while you’re at it write those emails too”. Ooh, how I resisted and failed and tried again.
Eventually I realized it was the scolding, guilty mind that was filled with shoulds that needed a reset. So I sat quietly until I could hear only my breath. Sometimes that took a while to find that sound. My days began slowly with meditation, journaling and yoga. It was a sacred time to connect and set up the day. Every morning I took a walk to the beach to feel the sand and see the blue water and sky. It was a beautiful gift to have the space and time to be in nature and watch children playing and digging in the sand at the Cape Cod beach. Finding the pace of slowing down, sensing, feeling has added to my being. Getting out of my thought filled head gave me freedom to feel what I actually wanted to do at this moment- not what I should.
And I played! Just like a kid. I made choices of how I was feeling at the moment. If my body said move, I went on a hike or bike ride. If it said read a book on the beach, I sunk into my chair with the wind in my hair. If it said you need an adventure, we headed out on a boat to a place we haven’t seen. Everyday I stepped into the cold, shark infested ocean waters (I’ve seen Jaws) for a truly breath taking plunge; the water temps averaged around 58 degrees all summer, so breathtaking is literal.
Sometimes when you haven’t done this in a while your body reacts to this freedom with at first a bit of recoiled tension. It slaps you back like an overstretched rubber band, so you become a bit tentative and the only course is to slow down even more. It is like a crab reaching a claw from under its shell to check if its ok to move across space. I too reached out to test these emotions that have not been felt in a while. I longed to move quickly, get the to-do list done, because that was easier than coping with my mind telling me I was lazy. Those fears of not being enough tucked tight into my hips and shoulders and slowly began to release with some groans. With courage to feel and a gentleness to let it be, I began to transform. I reminded myself often my summer mantra ‘just be, not do’. I encouraged myself to be gentle after all I was a beginner at all of this. And so I did ‘stuff’ and ‘nothing happened’ but my summer of doing nothing will be an experience I will always remember.
Actual photo from a drone off the beach in Orleans, MA this summer. What lies beneath...
Recently I traveled with a small group to some very remote areas of the Andes Mountains in Peru to altitudes of greater than 15,000 feet. As we hiked for 7 days and camped in tents at night, we passed only 5 people moving along the trails too. These men and women were carrying heavy burdens on their backs of long logs or bushels. There was no easy means to get things to the villages and certainly no way to order it to arrive. The contrast of our life styles was as extreme as the environment. The paths were dirt and rocks with little vegetation. At times, I found them to be difficult to get solid footing while moving up or down precipitous inclines. When my feet landed on green soft turf, I cried out in joy, not because of any reason other than it represented familiarity and comfort and ease. Coming from a metropolitan area of NYC, the sparseness and yet vastness of this existence was overwhelming at times. The small villages we visited to deliver health care held only 4 to 27 Q’ero families. My eyes took in the details but my heart took in much more. Tears flowed easier in these settings, not from sadness but more from engagement and feeling connected. Crying is much easier when we feel loved and safe and every minute I felt this. Safe doesn’t mean comfortable and there were times and many of these when it was cold, wet and just plain wearisome; times when I didn’t know what was happening in the next minute or next day and all I could do is move forward step by step; times when my next breath was labored and I gasped for air, but all in all I felt safe, a feeling that surprised me as there was much I could fear in this land of hard edges and great heights.
It is a great thing to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Before the trip, I had fears of not having enough such as food or comfort or ease; the things we think we need so we gather them and store them close by. I realized these particular fears never arose on the trip and I realize now how irrational they really were. I also learned that it was ok to ask for help when I needed it and that the group was only as strong as its weakest member, so for the sake of all, it was ok to lean on others. I also learned I didn’t need to be busy every moment of the day and sometimes just being was enough.
As we build our lives, we pay attention to what makes us uncomfortable and what our fears are and then we need to spend time in these uncomfortable zones. When we do this, the boundaries of our lives grow. We fill our beautiful lives with more than the day to day tasks or of material possessions and the canvas of our life becomes painted in colors and visions of more than we can imagine.
Notice your joy, not just your irritability.
Notice your flexibility, not just your rigidity.
Notice your ease, not just your tension.
Notice your flow, not just your resistance.
Create the life you want, bring attention and intention to the traits that most benefit you.
When you find that you slip into a habit that is unappealing, notice.
Change the breath, take a walk in nature, find something you are grateful for, smile.
Practicing yoga guides us to know ourselves better. When our energy is low, find a class or a group to share your practice. The sharing of the space magnifies the practice, you feel grateful you showed up.
Sometimes the practice brings us into a different reality and one that is not pleasant. We can experience uncomfortable even icky feelings. We feel vulnerable and sad, don’t dismiss this, but also don’t dwell and darken here either. Fully focus instead on a positive grateful experience and make the path more accessible each and every time you travel here.
As Thich Naht Hanh says, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
So smile, find your joy.
What is Yin? What is Yin Yoga?
Yin is a complementary term to yang and you need both to embody existence. It’s peanut butter to jelly. Well not exactly, but yin is cold to yang hot; yin is slow to yang fast; yin is moon to yang sun, in other words it would be hard to recognize the existence of cold if we did not have hot or the existence of light without knowing dark. The terms are seen in relation to each other with neither presenting more superior, but instead as dynamic and unifying towards harmony and balance. Yin represents the deeper, inner layers of our body as well as the deeper inner focused yoga practice. There is a little yin within yang and little yang within yin.
In the symbol of yin/yang you can notice this with the dot of the opposite color within the swirls. Yin becomes yang, yang becomes yin and sometimes it is not easy to separate the transformation. From the harmony, there is birth. The season of winter is considered yin, but the spring is yang. While the calendar marks this shift, nature may shift swiftly or slowly transition and either shower us in winter storm or present calmness like the eye of a hurricane or something in between.
The practice of yin yoga is about this integration and restoration of balance. The asana poses challenge and stress a different set of structural tissues than a yang pose and therefore is integral to stressing of the fascia, tendons, ligaments and bones. The tugging and pressure on these tissues in long held stillness helps the tissue to reorganize, flood with sensation and move chi. The effect is to bring flexibility and movement that may be blocking us on an emotional, physical or spiritual level. A second benefit of the practice is the attention to breath and mindfulness. When we quiet the mind, we are able to find more space in our bodies and minds from the busyness of daily life.
What is chi?
Chi is a universal energy that is in every molecule of our body, is found in all things and is the creation of movement. It is our life force. When chi is flowing freely in our bodies, our organs are nourished, our functional systems like digestion and respiration work easily and our bodies feel strong and healthy. Chi gives us the feeling of robustness and vibrancy, whereas, unbalanced or stagnant chi can cause us to feel sluggish, moody or pain. Chi circulates through pathways called meridians in Traditional Chinese Medicine and nadis in Indian medicine. There are twelve main meridians that correlate with ten organs. There are 72,000 nadis with three main channels including the central channel called the Sushumna in which the flow of consciousness begins with Kundalini energy.
Being in a Yin yoga pose or sitting in meditation allows the mind to become still. As we anchor or hold a focus with our breath we notice our bodies, our emotions and our thoughts. Sometimes just as we recognize a feeling or sensation it changes and morphs into another and with this we realize we are changing beings. From moment to moment we fluctuate uncovering the awareness of understanding, flexibility and resiliency.
The busyness of our lives renders the slowing down as necessary to finding balance and discovery. In the Yin yoga practice the attainment of the pose is secondary. Being present within the pose allows one to feel the uncomfortable sensations, the emotions of joy or irritability and the distractions of the mind. We learn as we live in the moments that even the moments have a beginning, a middle and an end.
Find your way into the quieting of the mind by find the breath.
As we run from our day to day activities, it’s hard to keep up the necessary energy to be successful in everything we hope to accomplish. For many, fatigue means a morning cup of coffee (or two) is essential to get them through the day. The truth is that fatigue is often a symptom of other more serious issues. In the long run, masking tiredness with a few cups of coffee isn’t the best choice for our health. So what can we do?
Really, we have to look towards the root cause of our fatigue. Obviously it is natural to feel exhausted at the end of a long day and sleeping is a very essential part of our day. But low energy and exhaustion is not something to ignore. Check out some of these tips for natural ways to increase your energy:
Yoga and meditation
Have you ever realized just how energized you feel after a great yoga class? There are a few reasons why you feel ready to conquer your day once your yoga practice ends. First, deep breathing enhances the supply of oxygen giving your brain a shot of the oxygen it needs to perform. Second, your body is moving and your blood is pumping; making the exchange of oxygen within the body easier. In addition, Yoga releases stuck energies that have built up along the spine. It’s a great way to fully awaken your whole nervous system and bring energy into your body.
Add a yoga class to your morning routine if time allows; especially on weekends when you have the rest of the day to be productive. Schedule a private yoga class at a time that aligns with your schedule. Morning yoga sessions will get you prepared to fully embrace the day ahead. If it is hard to find the time in the morning, ending your day with yoga with perhaps some meditation is a great way to lead into restful sleep.
Eliminate Coffee and Increase Water
Does it sound counter-intuitive? It might be scary to eliminate the very thing that is giving you the energy to begin with, but coffee or caffeinated tea has the potential to cause more harm than good. When consumed in excess, caffeine is dehydrating and those energy surges are often followed by crashes. Increasing your water intake helps the cells in your body to perform at high capacity. Dehydrated cells are tired cells. If you MUST consume caffeine, drink it with lots of water and stick with straight black. Sugared lattes or cappuccinos will only make your crash worse. Which brings us to another point…
Eliminate Processed Foods and Sugar
It is definitely something that is easier said than done; however processed foods and sugars can wreak havoc on your energy levels, leaving you lethargic and sleepy. Cutting out the empty calories in sugar is good for a multitude of reasons. Frequent sugar consumption results in spikes of energy followed by inevitable crashes in blood sugar. Chances are you are experiencing anxiety, poor concentration, irritability, and emotional fluctuation. Switching to whole foods and keeping sugar intake in check will allow your body to consume more nutrient dense foods – which are better for long lasting energy.