Last time, I started to talk with you about the concept of practice and what it means when you practice something so long it becomes a habit.
If you decided that what you’ve been practicing--whether an unhealthy behavior, an unhelpful way of thinking, or an absence of any healthy behaviors whatsoever--is no longer working for you and you’re ready for change, then you’ll want to read today's post. Because here, I’ll break down for you exactly what steps you need to take in order to give yourself the best possible chance to succeed at starting and then maintaining a new, healthy practice--even if you're totally scared to start or afraid to fail.
What we practice is what we get good at. You likely already know this, but have you really thought about what that means in your life? To your own wellbeing? In your relationships?
Maybe you spend the majority of your time worrying. Or serving others. How much time are you devoting to holding grudges? Is putting your health first (or last) a regular top contender in your daily list of things to do?
You can become habitual and masterful at anything you spend enough time practicing.
Whether an instrument, a sport, or a way of thinking or behaving, everything we practice sets electrical patterns or grooves into our central nervous system. Over time, and with enough practice, any action or reaction to a situation becomes stuck in those grooves, habitual, automatic. And when what you are practicing is anger, hate, fear, prejudice, judgment, or self neglect . . . imagine what happens in your body as you wake up and default to those ways of feeling and being every day.
It’s Valentine’s Day. True, a “Hallmark Holiday” for many, but a good excuse nonetheless to look at Love.
Love is a vast topic, and perhaps the only topic truly worth discussing. Love is, in the end, everything. But love is also incredibly misunderstood.
The concept of love that many of us grow up with is (quite unintentionally, most of the time) conditional: The basic assumption is that “I will love you when/if you do this.” This assumption is not typically stated out loud (although sometimes it is brutally drilled into kids’ bodies-minds), and most parents really would never mean or think such a thing. But whether they are aware of it or not, parents’ actions and seemingly benign statements can sound to a kid like...
I’ve recently started a creative writing group at my house. We eat homemade scones, chat about writing topics, and do some creative exercises to get the words flowing onto the page.
The other day, one member of the group seemed distressed that I would be the only one responsible for organizing our gatherings: “Isn’t it a lot of work for you to plan and host us every time?” I looked at her with what can only be described as shock. And then I realized why she might interpret the planning and hosting of such an event as a relative burden. She has a family, her own service business, and a deeply rooted local community to tend to that she’s built over 20 years. Therefore, she has lots of roles and possible demands on her time and energy. Adding one more ounce to that load might, indeed, feel as though it could break the camel’s back, especially if she weren’t careful to engage in self-care first.
As opposed to my new friend, however, I have no family here. I have been on a long-overdue sabbatical from a draining desk job that I took after we moved, so I have not had students or clients to tend to since last spring. I have had no local community and no friends at all, outside of my wonderful husband, since we moved overseas 4 years ago. (FOUR years!)
As I revealed in this post, I am deeply into trying to stay in recovery from an addiction that covered up some really negative emotions. And wow, has it been a lesson. I mean, I have known and dated addicts my whole adult life, and I have studied and had a deep intellectual understanding of addiction for decades, but never did I actively try to heal my own because I conveniently kept myself unaware of the important/necessary emotions I was covering up. Now that the process of uncovering and healing the emotions has begun, so has the process of sticking to my recovery from addiction.
These are my basic strategies, probably subject to change. I am no expert, just a person dealing with healing and wanting to share what I do.
Those of you who know me personally know that I have made most of my life choices in the last 17 years so that I honor my values: freedom, joy, connection, love.
Since 2015, I've made some truly risky and unexpected decisions, one of which took me to a new continent and a totally new way of living. It seems that that move presented more of a challenge than even I was prepared for. Unforeseen circumstances put me off track, and somehow I forgot how to have fun. Me! The person whose main priority in life is finding and enjoying the fun in it!
This loss has been affecting me every day, and needless to say it’s also affecting my fairly new marriage. In the course of investigating and working through the painful issues that are contributing to my lack of fun of late, I brainstormed a list of things I used to do for fun. It looks something like this:
I’m absolutely terrified to write this post.
This post is about my dreams. It’s about the dreams that I neglected while I pursued what I had convinced myself were “smarter” (i.e., someone else's) goals. In 2009, I walked away from my dreams (a second time!) and into what would become the most difficult period of my life, fighting for things I did not believe in, getting farther and farther away from myself in the process.
In my mind, my dreams would never be attainable. I could not put aside all of the other noise, distraction, and false needs to pursue my authentic dreams. So I didn’t. And I suffered. Wow, have I suffered.
But the suffering ends today.
Sometimes it's nice to take a minute and remind myself of all the many reasons why I love yoga. Because I'm hyper flexible, I often have to forgo extensive asana practice in favor of targeted strength training for my hips, shoulders, back, and core. But yoga is my rock, the calm eye of the hurricane, the lighthouse pointing the way home when seas are rough and skies are menacing, the thing I return to after allowing myself to get scattered in the ego-driven winds circling us all at any given time. And here are some answers to the question, "Why do I love yoga?":
If Jillian Michaels hates her butt, then you should too.
That's the underlying message behind this news from Ms. Michaels [this was an Examiner article and it's no longer live so I removed the link]. It's just one more piece of evidence that
I spent years hating my body. It was never going to be good enough because I was comparing it against some unrealistic ideal (the origins of which I still don't know). I finally got smart, though, and realized that my body was here not to look a certain way but to do certain things, such as...
Looking perfect or feeling good. That struggle has been on my mind a lot lately as I welcome a host of new internal and external conditions that have a direct impact on my identity as a "health and fitness professional":
The items in the above list have undermined the major belief that drove me to exercise obsessively for the first 10 years of my professional fitness career: my body was really messed up from scoliosis and other health issues, and I had to work really hard to make it appear "perfect" or I wouldn't be respected, successful, or loved.
I think perhaps a majority of women are led to believe something very similar, and that is what countless "love your body" campaigns and groups are designed to help defuse.
But as anyone who has made a major shift in her life knows, old beliefs and thought patterns die hard. Really hard. It takes more than a simple ad campaign or a support group to change our core beliefs.
Especially when every bit of advertising and social conditioning in our society says, "Women are their bodies, nothing more, and we demand that those bodies appear PERFECT!" And as a professional in the fitness and wellness industry (and, sadly, also in "Westernized" yoga)? Forget about it: We are ALL supposed to be perfect icons of bodily perfection: no body fat, no cellulite, no structural malformations, no outward appearance of aging, perfect curves in exactly the right places, and energy so abundant we work out hours a day without a care in the world.
Hmph. I don't think anyone can adhere to those expectations without being sick and obsessed.
So here I reveal the strategies that work to ensure that I don't fall into the "trying to appear perfect" trap again. If you recognize yourself struggling with anything I've mentioned so far, maybe one or more of these can help you, too.
When faced with the choice to "look perfect" or "feel good," I'm opting for feeling good from here on out. What about you?
** I had so many wonderful, heartfelt comments to this post on its original Wordpress page. It's too bad I could not preserve them when I moved the site. Perhaps new readers would like to add some helpful comments of their own?
"Why do I teach yoga?"
It's a question I often ask myself, because sometimes I get lost and need to find my way back. I get caught up in the very American view of yoga that promotes yoga practice as a way to lose weight and work on one's body shape and size. I feel pressured to teach a fast, flowing, aerobically stimulating class even when I know that the students asking for such a class are not ready for it physically. I let myself fall into the trap that I have fallen into since I was a youngster: trying to be what people want me to be instead of what I am.
In the last week, during my lovely yoga retreat in Puglia, Italy, I found myself falling into the traps that I just described, and I had to pause and ask myself again, "Why do I teach yoga?" Below are my answers.
I learned long ago, probably during one of my many self-help-book-reading jags, that expressing appreciation to others makes them feel really, really good, and it actually has a profoundly positive effect on relationships.
As I exponentially increased my expressions of appreciation and gratefulness--by consciously choosing to do so--I started to notice just how rarely I had heard such appreciation sent my direction. Such warm-and-fuzzy, heartfelt feelings of gratitude were apparently more rare than I ever imagined them to be, and I never would have noticed if I hadn’t made the concerted effort to increase my own delivery of these simple, yet meaningful, expressions.
In my inbox last week, I received an e-mail from the leader of a women’s chorus that I belonged to in Chapel Hill, NC. Every week, this amazing woman sends out announcements of uplifting, healing, love-focused events, requests, and news items. Amongst the long list that day was a link to ArtofGratitude.com [sadly, the website is now defunct], described as “a free resource designed to help people create a daily practice of expressing gratitude.”
The law of giving and receiving is one of what Deepak Chopra calls The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga. This law tells us that the universe is constantly nourishing us when we are nourishing it. When we give what we would like to receive, we actually get just that. For example, when we put love, gratitude, and joy out into the world by way of positive interactions, a welcoming demeanor, and random acts of kindness, we get all of those good vibes sent right back to us to receive.
I feel particularly connected to this law after having taught a charity yoga class at Namaskar Yoga in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood.
The entire experience exemplified the law of giving and receiving:
What could be more beautiful than that?
We all, in fact, have a simple method for perpetuating this giving-receiving continuum every minute of every day. It’s called breathing, or pranayama. When you think about the act of breathing--how you are taking into your body these particles that had previously been swirling and twirling around outside of you, and then release them a moment later to take in breath anew--you can see how we humans are always giving to and receiving from the atmosphere in which we live. When we add consciousness to this typically automatic action, we deepen the practice of giving and receiving even more. Imagine: consciously breathing in love, joy, and kindness and intentionally breathing the same out into the world! How bright our smiles could be! How connected we could feel to our neighbors and friends! Just by sharing the simple act of breathing, colored with the beautiful qualities of love, joy, and kindness.
We can also use the action of the breath as a metaphor and try to emulate its cycle of giving and receiving in other ways throughout our days. Recall that to experience the law of giving and receiving, you just need to be willing to give to others exactly what you’d like to receive. If your wallet feels light and you’d like to encourage abundance in your life, tip your waiter a little extra the next time you eat out. If you are desperately in need of some cheering up, extend some extra kindness and a smile to the bus driver as you board today. If you’re feeling alone and crave affection, reach out to an old friend and express your gratitude for their presence in your life. You’re telling the universe that everything you need, everything you crave, is already there inside of you--and the universe will respond in kind, giving you even more.
Mr. Chopra gives us an excellent set of affirmations regarding the law of giving and receiving. It’s amazing how something so simple can be so profound.
Ever since I can remember, I have gotten sick when I have been forced to work a solid "8-hour workday." I never drank coffee until I started working in the corporate world, as I tried to force my energy level to adhere to the false notion that a worker at a desk job for 8 hours is a productive one. Nothing could be further from the truth, but only recently have scientists and corporate bigwigs been catching on to that fact.
It's been shown time and again that we humans need rest--and lots of it--to be at our best, cognitively, emotionally, and physically. We start to destroy cells and important muscle tissues as soon as we cross that line from "working optimally" to "being a little fatigued," and it's all down hill from there. The thing is, we humans cross that line after a much shorter time than 8 hours! As Tony Schwartz reveals in his excellent New York Times piece, "Relax! You'll Be More Productive," in as little as 90 minutes after an energetic high, we need a rest.
The bottom line of the article, and what my body seems to have been telling me for years, is: Relaxation improves performance.
And by performance, I'm talking not just about work. I'm talking thinking/reasoning skills, emotional skills, and life skills that are crucial to "performance" in relationships, day-to-day interactions in public, and self-care.
We need vacations and time away from the "grind" sprinkled heavily throughout our days, or we just don't feel and act right. If we don't get that needed time away, addictions are a frequently used crutch to help us push through, and we all know that addictions can have some dire consequences.
I realized after trying to work for other people many times that I just couldn't play by someone else's rules (which required someone else's schedule) without getting dead sick. It happened every time! My body told me loud and clear, "Sara, you need regular relaxation built into your days or you'll die." Or at least, that's what it felt like. So I put a plan in motion to get out of the 9-to-5 (or, more often, 7-to-6) rat race and into a life that better suited my values: healthy life, healthy relationships, healthy body (none of which I had when working the corporate gig).
As we emerge from winter to spring, keep your needs for relaxation in mind. Honor your body's rhythms. And if you think you need some good brainstorming to come up with ideas for how to find that relaxation even during a 9-to-5 (or 7-to-6) gig, let me help. I can't give you answers, but I can ask you all the right questions to help you find what'll work for you.
Now, isn't it nap time?
This brilliant TED talk (posted below) by Dr. Brene Brown of the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work reveals such important truths about our world today. Every single point that her research (and personal experience) reveals leads us to the importance of vulnerability in everyday life.
Vulnerability is not honored in our society. In fact, it is condemned. But, as Dr. Brown so beautifully describes, we can't live authentic lives or have truly loving relationships without being vulnerable.
Yoga is the ultimate means for experiencing vulnerability--just think about how insecure and judgmental we feel when we're in any balance pose! Embracing that vulnerability, that uncertainty, and leaning into it opens up whole new worlds of emotion that a controlled, invulnerable, fearful life doesn't allow: Love, Joy, Gratitude, and Worthiness.
I hope you'll join me on the mat for some ecstatic vulnerability soon! Now, enjoy the video.
This article I wrote for Wellness & Fitness Entrepreneur in October 2006 is timeless.
The content applies not only to helping professionals like fitness trainers, yoga teachers, nurses, doctors, and anyone else who cares for other people’s bodies, minds, and spirits. It applies to all of us who wish to live a full, contented life free from guilt, blame, and emotional exhaustion.
One of the things my coaching clients present most often is issues related to caring for themselves when they feel they “should” be caring for everyone else first. In the article, I explain how our own wellness/priorities must come first, or we eventually suffer the consequences. I hope you find it a valuable read.
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To see a list of all of my blog posts by title, go to this page.