Monday, November 10, 2014

Schedule Mindfulness

We are bombarded with stressors on almost a constant basis. Both external and internal, these stressors have a profound affect on us - physically, psychologically, cognitively, and emotionally. We often think of stressors as major issues - illness, financial problems, family problems. However, those stressors awaken more natural, proper responses in our bodies. We take appropriate steps to act upon those situations. Even major illnesses demand that we re-think our lives, what we do, and how we can best augment our own healing.

But, what about the tiny stressors? The ones that we don't even consider? E-Mail, phone, text, online, calendars, appointments, everyday tasks. Our time, our energies, our focus are regularly being sidetracked. We receive a text and a stress is created in our bodies. Our natural tendency is to want to respond, to take action, to get the job done.

Think back just five years. Were demands placed on your time, bit by bit, at all times of the day, the way that they are not? Probably not. We text while we eat, in the movies, and, horribly, in the car.

We need to take care of ourselves on a daily basis, maintaining our centers despite the continuous disturbances. There are simple, meaningful ways to do this.

Read more about stress at Dr. Weil.

We have very little control over what happens externally, but DO have a great deal of control over what happens inside. The interplay among our bodies, minds, and emotions is always present, and we often do not pay attention to that interplay. Refocusing, becoming more aware, and cultivating that awareness helps us recognize the stressors and what they are doing to us.

Our energy is easily depleted, but it can also be easily replenished. The first step is awareness, or mindfulness. Scheduling mindfulness into our already full days starts out as a seemingly unimportant chore, and morphs into a necessity that we cannot do without.

Start simply. Set a timer for every 30 minutes. 
  • First Ring of Timer:
    Stop whatever you're doing (unless you're driving) and just SIT. Close your eyes and breathe, feeling each inhale and each exhale. Notice where the tightness resides in your body. Use each exhalation to focus on one tight spot, and consciously relax that spot. Keep doing that until you feel your entire body in a more relaxed state. When our bodies are tight, our energy cannot flow smoothly. Getting rid of the tightness not only allows our chi to flow more smoothly and openly, but also gives us an immediate feeling of peace, calm, and focus. We find that we work more efficiently, and the ups and downs of our days do not rock our boats in the way that they used to.

    Practice breathing with Dr. Weil.

    Take about 5 minutes to do this.
  • Second Ring of Timer:
    STAND UP. Notice your posture and bring your head, neck, spine, and hips into alignment. Raise your arms above your head, interlock your fingers, and turn your palms to face the ceiling. Breathe in.

    Breathe out and stretch your whole body and your arms, pressing your palms more towards the ceiling. Breathe in and relax the stretch.

    Breathe out
    again. Gently stretch your body over to one side. Breathe in and come back up. Breathe out, and stretch toward the other side. Breathe in and come back up.

    Breathe out
    and twist to one side, then breathe in and untwist. Breathe out and twist to the other side, then breathe in and untwist. Breathe out and relax your arms down, back to your sides.

    That's just 5 in/out pairs. You have the time!
  • Third Ring of Timer:
    . Check your posture again.

    Stretch your arms out in front of you and focus on a spot ahead of you, but a bit below eye level. Breathe in. Breathe out, keep your spine straight and bend your knees. How far? As far as you can without raising your heels and without feeling pain in your knees.

    Breathe in. Raise your body by pushing into the floor with your legs rather than by lifting up from your back. Breathe out and release your arms. Do this three times.
  • Fourth Ring of Timer: Do the same thing that you did on the First Ring
This is 4 half-hour-interval mindfulness practices, coupled with some good stretching for your body. Two hours of your day have passed, and you've taken great steps towards calming yourself, focusing your mind, and keeping your body strong and supple. None of the steps takes longer than 6 or 7 minutes. The stretches take less than that, but you'll find that the breathing practice is the greatest challenge.

Take this time for yourself. Gauge how you feel as the days go by. Congratulate yourself for these simple steps toward changing your life.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Art Of Healing

"The most divine art is that of healing.
If the healing art is most divine,
It must occupy itself with the spirit
As well as with the body -
For no creature can be so sound
So long as the higher part is sickly."

Appolonius of Tyana

What does it mean to heal? For most of us, healing is an external process - visiting someone who is an expert in the particular area in which we feel pain or discomfort. We put our bodies and hearts into trusting these experts, hoping that their knowledge and experience will relieve our problems.

We know that something in our bodies is amiss, and with the experts'  guidance, follow a regimen which takes us from illness to health. An operation, procedure, and medication are our weapons against the challenge that we face.

But, we miss something important in this externalization. We forget, or perhaps never knew, our our own innate healing abilities.

There is an interplay in each of us - a balance - hot/cold, hard/soft, tense/relaxed. A thought in the mind affects a muscle in the body. A pain in the body creates fear in the heart. The fear in the heart sends the mind racing. It is a challenge to remain calm while we are feeling pain, a challenge to relax our bodies when our minds are shuffling through the myriad of possibilities - is it this, or that, or what?

Back and forth, brains strain bodies, bodies respond, emotions bound all over the place. We look around and see a variety of diseases and conditions, and wonder, "What's going on? Why are so many people getting sick?"

Even when "healing" is taking place, it comes from an external source, a drug, a procedure, a "fix." We have forgotten our own power and perhaps never even thought about it. Western culture spends precious little time nurturing and training us in personal power. Sure, we use the term, but it is associated with running a marathon or enduring a Tough Mudder.

We are all cells in one gigantic organism
In which you can’t draw an artificial boundary any more.
Between inside and outside, visible and invisible,
Between psychology, emotion, intent and even words and actions,
Because we affect each other, responsibilities follow.
Larry Dossey, MD

The REAL cultivation is both deep and subtle. As we practice, we barely notice. We ask, "What are we doing this for? How can this possibly make a difference? How will this help my heart/kidney/lung?"

Each of us is a universe. We are comprised of trillions of cells. Each cell is comprised of molecules, which are all comprised of atoms. Each atom is comprised of atomic particles.

So, how does your practice affect your heart/kidney/lung? What do you think they are made of? Are the electrons in your knee different from the ones in your stomach? Are the protons in your liver behaving differently than the ones in your esophagus?

I've moved from talking about the gross physical body to the subtle physical body. From muscle, to cell, to molecule, to particle. One thing is certain - Everything is Energy.

Let's heal at the energetic level. Each particle vibrates, and as they vibrate in unison, blood, nerves, hearts, brains, and all the rest, develop and evolve.Our healing must begin at the deepest level - energy transforms our bodies in their entirety - far more potent than just giving a pill to thin the blood.
This energy is called Chi, Ki, Lifeforce, Pneuma, Prana. Many cultures throughout history have recognized this energy, and based their healing practices on it. If we think of atomic particles, we realize that all energy, at its core, is the same. It is the arrangement that creates variety. It is our INTENT that brings purpose and creates action.

"If the art of shipbuilding were in the wood, then we would have ships by nature."

Healing begins with Intention, moves through Process, and manifests in Transformation and Restoration.When we are ill, our Chi is in a state of disarray. Practice that cultivates and balances Chi is the foundation for restoring improving overall health.

Don't discount those minutes of deep, mindful breathing. Don't scoff at the slow, graceful movements of your arms. Don't skip the weight-shifting practices, slow knee bends, and spine stretches.
  • Each time you engage in a practice, set a Healing Intention before you begin. Make the intention very clear and specific. If you are in good health, set an intention to be grateful for that health, and commit to doing everything to maintain it. If you are not feeling well, or are facing a a major health challenge, set a healing intention that is Specific, Concrete, and Observable.
"My knees are pain-free and supple."
"Arthritis is easing out of my body."
"Cancer cells are being released from my body each time I exhale."
  • Keep the Intention current - not "I will" but rather "It Is."
  • Breath move Chi - Chi moves the body. KNOW that each inhalation is an act of healing. KNOW that each exhalation is an act of cleansing.
  • Bring the inner Chi into alignment with Universal Chi. Begin to experience the easy flow of breath, and then go deeper. Concentrate on one organ at a time. Take 3 breaths for each organ, moving from one to another throughout the body. Then, concentrate on each system: nervous, circulatory, digestive, reproductive, excretory.
  • Experience your skin. Feel the air and your clothes touching it. Be fully aware of your face, the tension in the muscles, and begin to relax them.
  • Put yourself into a state of Already Healed. Bring a look of peace, contentment, and joy to your face. Feel strength, courage, and certainty in your heart.
This is vitally important, healing work. Don't skirt it. It is as necessary and valuable as any other obligation that you have.

Set aside 15 minutes twice each day for this. After one week, start to increase the duration by a few minutes, every few days, until you reach 30 minutes of sitting in Mindful Healing.

Click here for a simple, heart-centered meditation.

You think that you don't have 30 minutes?
We all drop minutes all over the place. E-Mail, Facebook, text messaging, family, job, chores...

Set Aside The Time
Turn Off The Phone
Be Away From The Computer

Mindful Healing. Every day.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Why You Should Start Chanting - And Keep on Doing It

MahamritunjayaMany Westerners are uncomfortable or embarrassed with the idea of chanting. I certainly was. I don't quite know what was troubling me; I could never actually name anything in particular. I could say that the reason that I didn't want to chant was that my singing voice is terrible. Of course, that really has very little to do with chanting. Chanting IS NOT singing in any way. It is breathing, holding a note, and experiencing the vibrations moving throughout your body and the changes in your chi.

I first chanted at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. From the first moment, sitting in the circle with my fellow Yoga teacher students, I felt something deep and powerful. The chant truly resonated.

You can change the way you feel, you can improve your mood and outlook, you can calm your mind and relax your body. Just give this some time every day.

Is it praying? Many of the mantras in the chants appear as prayer. They are beyond prayer. They connect your energy to universal energy. They inwardly attune your Qi (chi), or Prana, as it is called in Sanscrit.

Why should you chant? The most basic and perhaps the least important reason is the deep calm that the chant creates. You actually feel your physical body relaxing; meanwhile, you discover that you are sitting up straighter, extending your spine, and breathing better. The act of chanting encourages this superb posture. It is very difficult to hold long notes when your body is slouched.

Another reason is that it helps you meditate. So many people say that they are not able to focus their thoughts, or empty their minds, or think of nothing. Meditation is challenging. Chanting brings us into focus; chanting helps our minds empty and our awareness expand.

The first chant that most people practice is the single syllable Om or Aum. Om is the Universal Sound. It is the vibration of the Universe.

Here are a couple of chanting sites:

Your Daily Chanting Practice:
  • Sit. Don't lie down. Don't stand. The floor is better, but if you are uncomfortable, use a straight-backed chair. 
  • Close your eyes. Think of looking at the backs of your eyelids. Notice the colors or blotches of light that you see there. 
  • Bring your attention to your breathing. Start with simple awareness, then switch to Post-Birth Breathing
  • Start with 10 minutes each day. This might seem like a very long time, but you'll discover that you are sitting for longer and longer periods of time.
  • Listen first. Don't try to chant right away.
  • Feel the sounds; don't just hear them.
  • If you do have the words in front of you, look at them without staring. It's easier to learn the Sanscrit words when you are simply reading without trying to chant. Read for a few rounds, then close your eyes again and just listen. 
  • Start with humming. Then, open your mouth and breathe the sound of Aum (Om).
Keep Your Practice Going:

Set aside a regular time of day to mediate and chant. Pick a clean and quiet spot. This is your time. Allocate only as much time as you truly can afford. If you do otherwise, you'll find your mind wandering to what other things you must do. So, if you have 15 spare minutes, allocate 10.

Make this work for you. You'll find many subtle but very real and profound changes.

All steps to Balancing.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Yin and Yang Every Day

Everything was happening at once! Just climbing the steps out of the Long Island Railroad Station to 7th Avenue. Now that's an energizing experience! Sounds everywhere, different volumes and pitches, calling to me, repelling me, hammering, caressing.Walking west on 34th and up 8th Avenue brings more, more of everything. There are so many people! Traveling up- and downstairs, the people themselves are more varied than the sounds. Some are in business garb, dark jackets and slacks or skirts, light shirts, business shoes. Other are wearing jeans that were bought WITH the tears and holes in them. Still others have put what looks to me like random clothing - nothing matches anything. I love it all!

Everyone, everyone, has a cell phone. They are CONNECTED - to a person in another location, doing something very different from what these people are doing. That distant voice or text is attached to a being who is not experiencing New York City's 8th Avenue at 7am.

What about our connections to the world immediately around us? Are those connections still strong? Do we actually SEE the people around us, SMELL the aromas from the carts and out through the the open doors of the delis and bakeries, do we FEEL the pulse of New York City so much that our pulse aligns with it?

Attached here. Apart there. I love my Facebook connections and LinkedIn colleagues. I love talking to high school friends who live across the country, and I feel as if no time or distance is between us. We have been given the opportunity to connect and be close again. We've taken the challenge.

How many souls touch our each day on the streets of New York City? What lives are momentarily connect? What if one of those lives would have enriched ours, touched us, or made us feel safe in our own bodies again? Better still, whose life might We have touched, given a blessing, helped to heal, fill with laughter?

The Port Authority Bus Terminal is hopping. I love the excitement of people traveling! I like to watch them, guess where they're going, imagine why. My bus is ready to board. The ride to Lenox is smooth, unharried, and very pretty. I am blessed to be on a bus with considerate souls - nobody is screaming into a cell phone; nobody is blasting music; nobody is eating a noxious-smelling breakfast. At Lenox, we leave the bus and hop on the shuttle for the 3-minute trip to Kripalu.

The Berkshires are as dense with trees as NYC was with people. There is an absence of sound that is as powerful as the cacophony that I left four hours ago on 8th Avenue. The quiet has a sweetness to it. The whole invironment invite me to slow down, REALLY do nothing. The vast countryside surrounds me and the lake below is shimmering and very, very still.

New York City and the Berkshires - Yang and Yin for sure. I'm blown away by sensation in NYC and drowned in quiet a few hundred miles north, here on the steps of Kripalu. I couldn't or wouldn't want to be in either of these places exclusively - too much and too little. The notion and realization that my home is Long Island and THAT is balance.

Standing on my front stoop or sitting on my back patio I am completely comfortable. It feels right. The quiet of the morning is interrupted by a lawn mower, weed whacker, or (UGH!) leaf blower. That's fine with me.

It's nearly summer, and I've just endured a long winter. I loved that too. I need cold and hot, cool and warm.
We spend our time in a state of flux, from yang to yin and back. Embrace everything around you!
As the Taoist tell us, this too will change.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Rituals - Practices that we engage in regularly. The regularity can be daily or yearly. The distances between them don't matter. What DOES matter is that they are our rituals. They might be work-related, self or family, spirit or body, mind or consciousness.

My childhood had rituals. Sundays were days for church and Sunday School, then a drive to Yiayia and Papou's house in Jamaica. The delicious smells - their fabulous, gigantic, glass-topped dining room table. Talking in Greek. The drive home. The Wonderful World of Disney. Bonanza. A perfect Sunday.

At the risk of alienating practically everyone, I'll admit that life seemed to have more sanity, more clarity, more groundedness, more calm, and yes, more joy, when moms were home. Something that could always be counted on. It's important for children for children to know that they can always count on something. And, I'm finding more and more, it's important for adults as well.

All of us kids, no matter our religion, had similar rituals. We all came home from school, had snacks, and then all went out to play. We all knew that the street lights coming on were our signal that we'd hear our mothers start to call.Whether it was matzo ball soup, avgolemono, or borscht, we loved our ethnic food, and especially loved going to friends' houses to try theirs. None of my friends had pasticcio at home, and I didn't have minestrone at mine.

We all had rituals. Our lives flowed in a certain, easy, way. Sure, we got into trouble, and the repercussions weren't easy. But even the trouble was part of the ritual. We knew our boundaries, and as kids, we overstepped them. We knew what would happen on Sunday, or after school, or Passover. As children, we needed that. Of course, we didn't know it at the time.

Life is different now. That stability has given way. We don't do the same thing every Sunday. We have no idea what our friends do. Most of us work far more hours than did our parents and we have far less leisure time. We do more, but somehow enjoy less. Parents make play dates for their children so that they can be sure that the kids actually PLAY.

What might happen if we set and intention to bring some ritual back into our lives? How might we benefit? What about our children? Would they be happier? Would they fare better in school? Might they engage in less violence? I tend to think so.

Consider getting up just 1/2 hour earlier, just for the purpose of ritual. Before rising, take 3 long breaths. Jumping out of bed and starting to take care of responsibilities is fine, but the responsibilities can wait 1/2 hour. If you were still asleep, they wouldn't be getting done anyway.

Stand. Stretch - upward, back, side to side, forward. Hang your head toward the floor. Let your head rest below your heart at least once per day. Preferably more.Take a few minutes to focus your attention on yourself. We rise from sleep and start thinking about what we have to do. Instead, in that 1/2, think about yourself. What your body feels like. How your emotions are flowing. Are you worried about something? Is there a pressing issue? If you were still asleep, you wouldn't be thinking about it anyway. Use your breath to help you regulate and balance your emotions. Find a mantra that feels comfortable and brings you joy. "This day is perfect." Just a few simple words. Don't just say them, FEEL THEM. Pick whatever resonates with you.

What about your thoughts? Should you check your email or get the newspaper? Neither. Remember, you'd normally be asleep now anyway. Just breathe. Feel it. Think about it.

Your children. Wake them 15 minutes earlier. Talk with them after breakfast before they leave. Make this a ritual. Use positive and happy language. Be excited for your day and for theirs. One thing is certain - in 24 hours, this day will be a thing of the past.

Take an extra 15 minutes with them at night. I have a simple practice that I do with my granddaughter, who is now 3 years old.

  • Bath
  • Teeth-brushing
  • Read
  • Lie on our backs with our hands on our bellies
  • Take 3 long, deep breaths
  • Think of 3 things that made us happy that day - talk about gratitude and thankfulness
  • Say "Thank-you" for all the people that love us

Surprise - they don't only make a difference for your children. You'll notice a difference in yourself. Once you start, whatever it is that you decide to start, you'll discover that you want to add more. Do it! Maybe, every Saturday afternoon, go to a park. Half hour. Don't make the times unreasonable. We are all busy, but amazingly, we get more done when we take time.

Days, months, and years will pass. You'll forget the overdue oil bill, the fight with your spouse, the hassle at work. You'll remember the rituals. They'll invigorate and inspire you. Be the master of your life.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


A Stream of Consciousness - Mine is more like a flood spilling over in every direction. What to do when you are frazzled? Do ONE THING. Then do the next. It is the simple act of DOING that begins to settle and organize my mind. The simpler the act, the better. Wipe off the counter, open a few windows. Make a small change in my environment. That always helps me. Just a simple task that requires no thought, only the satisfaction of having done it. Those small changes are not just external - they have an inward effect. Soothing. Organizing. Settling. Calming.

We can put our attention anywhere, but so often we chose the negative, painful, troublesome aspects of our lives. Is this the action of our earliest reptilian brains? Are we always in a state of self-preservation, attuned to any possible threat? The sabretooth tigers are gone, but our need to self-protect remains. We conjure up enemies where there are none to be found. Simply to insure our safety. When external threats are absent, we create internal threats. We magnify everything, creating an inner need to react and survive

The consequences are serious though. We BELIEVE that we are protecting ourselves, but we've in fact create armies of enemies much more threatening than the lone predator lurking in the grasses, or the mammoth bounding across the plain.

Knowing that we do this is the first step in changing our behaviors. We must change our thoughts and shift our focus. Think of one good thing. Just one. I am breathing. No big deal, you say? Well, try NOT BREATHING for more than two minutes. Suddenly you realize that NOTHING is as important as your breath. Simple. Not easy. Simple.

Take your breath with you. Of course! You say. Wherever I go, I'm breathing. Yes, but do you take your awareness of breathing with you as well? make that a part of your life - breath awareness. I mean REAL awareness. As you go through your day, notice when your breath feels tight or stuck. Notice when it flows. How deep does it go? Do you feel it all the way down deep into your torso, into Tan Tien, or is it stuck in your chest?

Notice your thoughts and emotions as well. See if they change as you pay attention to your breathing.

I have found amazing shifts. As a person whole likes things "just so," I am constantly noticing what is not "just so." A dish in the sink, a bulging hamper, crumbs on the counter, papers dropped on to my immaculate desk, a spot on the kitchen floor.

First, I stop. Stand still. Remind myself to exhale first. ALWAYS EXHALE FIRST. It takes the tension out of your body. Then, I look at the thing that is troubling me. I take care of it.

In the past, my mind would start ranting, "Why can't they clean their own dishes? Why can't he leave papers in my Inbox instead of all over my desk? Look at the floor - didn't they see that they spilled something?"

What good did those thoughts do me? Nothing at all. They certainly didn't wash the dish or the floor, or magically move my papers where I want them to be. What the thoughts DID do were to unsettle me far more than the things themselves did. It was my mind that went crazy. And that affected my emotions, and that affected my body. My outlook. Poor me! I'm the only one who care about anything around here. I'm Cinderella. All I do is pick up after people.

Breath is long forgotten now. That smooth, even flow has transformed into a torrent, a mess, unsettled, frustrated, constricted. Such power can a dish have!

Happily, those days are gone. The dish is clean of course, and the papers are where I keep them. The floor shines. I am my own master. I put on my dress and go to the ball.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Hot Tea and Chicken Soup Remedies for Work Stress

Neither A Creator Nor An Acceptor Be

What exactly do I mean by this title? Exactly what it says—don’t create problems, but don’t accept others’ problems as your own. First know yourself—be aware and mindful of your behavior and its possible effect on others. Second, when a situation begins to escalate and stress is imminent because of someone else’s behavior, immediately remove yourself from the offending situation.

Let's Take The First One First.

BE AWARE OF YOURSELF. Are you friendly, polite, respectful, willing to help? When you are busy, do you snap at questions or requests? When asked a question, do you explain in such a way as to make others comfortable and knowledgeable? Or do you TALK DOWN to others? Do you volunteer information, or do you wait to be asked? We know, from countless studies, the effects of psychological abuse as well as the effects of physical abuse. Why, then, do we not take measures to speak and behave in ways that are productive as well as nurturing? It can be done. The key is to pay attention to yourself.
  • BODY LANGUAGE. How many studies have been conducted on that? Do you look at the other person? Do you ask if he or she has understood what you have said—better yet, do you repeat, in your own words, what you think the other person means in order to eliminate confusion, duplication of efforts, and error? Are your arms crossed? Uncross them now. Lean slightly forward, listen intently, treat the other person as if the information is important and carries weight. Let the other person finish. Stop fiddling with pencils and paper clips, leave your e-mail alone, and give the other person your attention. Don’t grit your teeth. It’s something that we do without thinking, as are many of the things that we do; it instantly causes stress and tension, and certainly doesn’t emit anything even close to a good feeling.
  • FACIAL EXPRESSIONS. Do you smirk, look sarcastic, roll your eyes, sigh, Tsk, Tsk? Forget it. It’s not what you want so good chance that it’s not what they want either. Never mind if you’re the boss or the project manager or whatever. Your responsibility is even greater under those circumstances. You must set the pace and tone of the situation. The business may rest in your hands. Try smiling. It works wonders. It is nearly impossible to feel stressed when you are smiling. It is known that the body produces chemicals during the act of smiling which directly affect mood in a positive way.
  • WORDS WORDS WORDS. What exactly do you say? “He should be happy that he even has a job” doesn’t cut it. If you truly feel that way, dismiss the person and hire someone whom you feel is valuable. That statement will smash morale into the ground, directly affect performance and production, and create incredible stress. Please and Thank-you really work. Poor language is out. Do you make fun of people, bad-mouth about them behind their backs? Here’s what will eventually happen—at some point, everyone will know you as a bad-mouther. Be trustworthy and honest. If someone says “Please don’t let this go any further”—DON’T. Watch what you say. Perhaps a simple rule to follow would go something like this - if it doesn't benefit the situation, keep it to yourself.
  • BE A GENTLEMAN (EVEN IF YOU’RE FEMALE). If someone is carrying something heavy through a doorway, hold the door. Hold open the elevator door when you see someone coming and the door is closing. Help out. Period.

Sound difficult? It’s precisely what all of our grandmothers told us. It still works.

Now Time To Take The Second One Second

What about the other person? He or she is upset, going nuts, overworked, under pressure and is taking everything out on you. Try this—simply remove yourself from that person’s presence and wait until he/she cools down. My Very Favorite Sentence - “I can see that this is not a good time for you right now - I’ll come back when you’re feeling better”. This gently lets the other person know that you are “onto” them, but at the same time, you are empathetic. You are not asking for more of them than they can handle right now.

One of the most common problems I encounter in the workplace centers around the response to a question. It very often is accompanied by anger for my even having asked it. Things like “How do you expect me to know” or “When do you think I had a chance to do that” or “Are you kidding” will almost always will provoke some kind of negative reaction. We feel embarrassed, stupid, imposing, intrusive, unwelcome. Our alternatives are many and varied—but they rarely provide us with the answers that we need or reduce the stress which we feel. It is important to remember that we have nothing to do with the response. It is the other person's problem and up to you not to make it your own. Simply repeat the question—and this time, don’t smile. In fact, if you can, don’t show and body language or expression whatsoever. For really abusive people, try My Very Favorite Sentence.

We can rarely control the behavior of another person but we certainly try to control our own. Our reactions should serve us and the situation well, and not add fuel to an already smoldering fire. There are many methods which we can employ to practice developing our own calm, serenity and focus. Then, when we can, we apply them in our work situations. Try some of these:

Be Aware of Yourself - Your Body Language - Your Facial Expressions

Begin by just sitting. No kidding. Go back to your desk and just sit. Place your hands in your lap, one on top of the other, palms up or down, whichever is comfortable for you. Place both feet flat on the floor with your legs uncrossed. Keep your spine straight without being held rigidly. Visualize yourself from the side; your spine should not jut forward at your neck; this distorts your spine and causes tension in your jaw. Allow your chin to drop ever so slightly to reduce stress and tension in your neck.

Consciously relax your body. Begin with your forehead and eyebrows. Un-frown - Even if you think that you aren't frowning, un-frown anyway. Soften your gaze and don’t stare or look at anything in particular. Un-grit your teeth - Even if you think that you aren't gritting them, un-grit anyway. Smile. If you are too upset, angry (or, unhappily, embarrassed), smile inwardly at yourself. Lift your shoulders as high as possible, then lower them slowly, feeling the relaxation in your neck and across your shoulder blades. Allow thoughts to come into your mind and then leave your mind, don’t pause to think or judge or decide.

Continue your conscious relaxation. Release the muscles of your chest and abdomen. Allow your rib cage to move with your breath; do not retain the tension in your chest. Tighten your leg muscles, and then loosen them slowly as you did your neck. Do not press your feet into the floor, but do keep them flat and focus your attention on the fact that they are on the floor. Be aware of the floor beneath them.

Be aware of your breathing without trying to control or force it. If you are upset or angry, try to focus more on your breath; it will help reduce your stress and anger. Use the exhalation to release stress and tension—consciously know, with each breath outward, that your body rids itself not only of carbon dioxide, but of cellular impurities, mental and emotional stress, and muscular tension.

Try to sit for Just Ten Minutes! It may seem forever, considering all that needs to be done and the hectic environment in your office. Make an attempt anyway. Ten minutes isn’t really that long and the effects of the conscious relaxation, rather than simply “getting back to work,” are far more beneficial than you might imagine. Getting back to work is fine once you have cleared your mind and calmed your body; the work that is performed after this relaxation and concentration will be far superior to the work which you would have done had you simply returned to your tasks. Your mental outlook, disposition, and outward manner will soon return to a state in which you and your co-workers can resume a more productive, friendlier, more cooperative process than if you had not taken the time to focus and relax.

As an instructor of Tai Chi, QiGong, Yoga, and Meditation, as well as an instructor of personal computer systems, I have the wonderful opportunity to learn new methods, impart those methods to others, and to apply them in tense and stressful situations. They have benefited me tremendously. Try some of them. I think that they will benefit you too.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Welcome 2014

So much has been said about New Year's resolutions that it seems redundant and wasteful to do so here. Yet, it IS a new year, and each of us takes a bit of time to consider the year that just passed, and to anticipate the new one ahead. 

For many, including myself, 2013 brought many challenges and considerable sorrow. My life events, like yours, put me in a position where I either took action or succumbed to the sorrow. The actions might not have been the right ones, but they were decidedly better than succumbing. 

For me, succumbing is stasis. I do nothing. Events happen and I am the PRODUCT of those events. As a result, I REACT. If they are negative, my body and spirit, knowingly or not, energetically shift to negative. It's worse if I am unaware. The degradation might be small, and might happen over time, yet it is still there. The negative energy might be extreme or severe, and if I am fortunate to feel its effects immediately, I can, at least, take ACTION. 

Ultimately, taking action seems to be the answer. This certainly doesn't dismiss the power of stillness, of quiet meditation, and, of course, of breath awareness. Those, in themselves, are ACTIONS that I consciously take. Complacency and acceptance of negative energy is dangerous and damaging. Taking action, however quiet, increases the body's energy level while keeping Yin and Yang in balance.

It works every time. It's so funny how my mind actually changes my feelings, the sensations in my body, and my outlook on the situations I am in and events that happen. I catastrophize, anticipating future disasters, and they have not even occurred yet. To make matters worse, my mind reminds me of every negative moment and depressing memory of the past. 

This minute becomes heavy and painful. Down on myself, I see nothing in a positive light. I cannot do anything right. Everything that I did in the past was a mistake, every decision was the wrong one. 

My mind keeps on going. Why is it that it focuses on what hurts me? Why does it naturally go to that horrible place? My reptilian brain perhaps. Always there to protect me from harm, REAL or IMAGINED

My mind says that there is nothing I can do about my situation. Then, in the midst of this mental mess, I remember what I teach. I remember my breath. Forcing myself, I change my physical posture. No matter the lunacy that is going on in my mind, I begin to pay attention to the fact that I'm breathing. 

My posture changes. I sit up straighter. I think of the chakras, and consciously align them. I put the Bubbling Wells, the balls of my feet firmly on the floor and connect to Yin and security of Mother Earth. I reach my head upward, and the Bai Hui point, the crown of my head. Mechanical, the awareness begins this way. Feet, head, breath, lungs.  Like anything else, practice starts with the basic and lowest level. 

Of course, those ridiculous thoughts keep coming into my mind. But, I realize that they are coming less frequently, that the SPACES BETWEEN THE THOUGHTS are getting wider and wider. Meanwhile, my breathing is deepening, my muscles are relaxing more, my sense of self-comfort slowly increases. I am CHANGING MYSELF. I am HEALING MYSELF. Actually. Really.

THIS is the balance of breath and body. It is the beginning of health and the start of the road to contentment. From there, the road to happiness is not too long. 

A good plan for 2014. Breathe. Smile. Live.