When life starts feeling hard…

When life starts feeling hard…

The past year has held many ups and downs in my personal life – as I’m sure many of you have experienced too.  I recently had a moment of clarity regarding what has worked very well for me during times of challenge.  It was exactly what I needed to hear at the time and it graciously came flowing out of my pen this morning.  I love a good free writing practice!  I am sharing this because when I practice viewing my life through this lens, it can keep me from sinking into a dark downward spiral and it may be helpful for someone else too. winter-320940_1280

When life feels hard and crushing (because in this human life, if we are honest, we can all feel that way sometimes) – practice noticing bits of joy and beauty – sparkles of love and connection.

Embrace those moments, no matter how small they seem.  This will help you ride the waves of hardship and keep you connection to the light alive.  Gather all of the goodness that is present in your life.  Don’t let it slip by you unnoticed.

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It is there – in a kind smile from a stranger – the loving brush of your hand over your own face in the morning – catching your favorite scent in the air – snuggling under a blanket with a warm cup of tea/coffee/hot chocolate – listening and feeling listened to – holding someones hand.

Practice noticing these moments, even in the midst of hard and sad.  Do not be discouraged.  Everything gets easier with practice.

I wish you many moments of love, connection and joy this holiday season!

Martha

Why I am awesome (and you are too!)

Why I am awesome (and you are too!)

I recently tried a written exercise from the lovely Molly Mahar at Stratejoy to write in 250 words or less why I am awesome.  I highly recommend that everyone give this a try.  I can hear some of the critical thoughts popping up – Why spend time to do this?  It sounds simple or frivolous or narcissistic.  I would suggest that it is quite the opposite of those things.

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Being able to honestly think about and put into words what is awesome about myself was not simple.  It required some very real introspection and evaluation of who I am and what I value… and then checking in with whether I am actually living my values most of the time.  I have learned a lot from the experience already and I have a feeling I am just beginning to unpack a portion of the lessons available from this practice.  I will tell you more about all the goodness I have been learning shortly.

The idea that me recognizing my own awesomeness (or you recognizing yours) is narcissistic is just not true.  When people are deeply self-focused in ways that are not helpful to themselves or the larger community it is not out of an abundance of self love and recognition of awesomeness.  Most times it is a lack of true self love and acceptance.  It is an external seeking of validation that can only come from within.  When I am aware of how awesome I am, I feel it deep down inside every little cell like sunshine is radiating out of me.  It is easy to see that when I feel that good, it is much easier for me to notice and appreciate what is awesome about other people – and that when I feel like a pile of $h!t it is much harder to see anything good about myself, others or anything… because I’m stuck in my own $h!t wearing $h!t colored glasses.

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So why sit in $h!t when you can get on the train to Awesometown in 250 words or less?  That length was the original stipulation for the assigned submission I was writing for, though you could go shorter or longer if you like.  I will share my process with you to help get you started on your own list or essay on why you are awesome!  I began by sitting in a quiet space and breathing (if you do better with music, more power to you!  I’m a quiet or I get distracted kinda gal) to get centered.  On paper with a pen (I feel like this part of actually writing it out is important, especially at the beginning), I began to write words – single words and groups of words – that express why I am awesome.  I intentionally omitted words about roles (who I am in relation to family members, by chosen profession, etc) and went more with qualities.  I wanted to look more at who I am underneath all the roles.

After a while, I started to think about how I would like to hear from other people about why they think I am awesome in order to get an outside perspective… so I asked my friends on Facebook to tell me why they think I’m awesome.  The idea of hitting “post” to that particular question made me a bit nervous, I have to admit.  It felt bold, daring and vulnerable to ask for feedback on why I am awesome.  I intentionally made my own list first so that whatever responses I got would not color my self-perception too strongly.  I was really interested to see if any common themes emerged, or if what I think is awesome about myself would be the same types of things that others find awesome about me.  The feedback was so kind and overwhelming!

As I watched my friends generously compliment me and shower me with love it felt good.  Like really good!  It’s that thing where even when you know people like you it still always feels good to hear it?  I got that same feeling when I refined my own written reasons of why I’m awesome.  Whether in our relationship with self or others, no one likes to feel invisible and taken for granted.  I know I love myself and think I’m awesome – and it’s still productive and good to remind myself that I do love me and precisely why.

I decided before I posted my ask, that anyone who took the time out of their day to help me out with this question would get a short letter or post from me telling them why I think they are awesome.  Then another remarkable thing happened.  I began posting what I think is awesome about many of my friends and family members.  Immediately, other friends jumped right in and continued listing things that they find awesome about that person.  There was a beautiful outpouring of love for that person.  It happened so easily and without any direct prompting that I began wondering what makes us hold all of this love and admiration inside?   Why did it require someone taking a chance to express it and then recognizing all we have to say it all comes tumbling out?  What if I made it a practice to tell myself that I love me and why?  What if I made it a practice to tell people around me that I love them and why?

This experience of giving and receiving gratitude and love made me remember a tradition that I participated in (and still happens) at my high school, Villa Maria Academy.  My high school experience was not perfect or idyllic (as I imagine many people may be able to relate), and yet it was still beautiful and marked with gorgeous ritual and tradition like Mary’s Day.  Mary’s Day began with breakfast, a mass with a coronation of Mary, and after mass when you returned to your homeroom, receiving letters from your friends about how much they love you and why you are special to them.  Mary’s day took a lot of preparation.  We would begin writing letters, often weeks in advance, and stay up late to try to get as many as possible completed before that morning.  I’m sure there was a whole crew responsible for sorting and distributing all of those letters, although I never gave that much thought at the time.  If you were a part of that crew, thank you so very much!

When we all came back from the Mary’s Day mass to our homeroom, there were piles of letters on everyone’s desk to read while we ate breakfast (and generally had a love-fest with all the people in our homeroom).  These letters were from friends, acquaintances, faculty and staff.  It was an opportunity to really share with people what you love and appreciate about them – and to receive that love from the people around you.  As a learning experience about connection, gratitude and how to both give and receive love – it was both fascinating and fabulous.

I invite you to try out whatever part of this reflection feels meaningful and accessible to you right now.  If you are game for some self-reflection about why you are awesome, please dive in!  I would love to hear about what you come up with.  Feel free to post words, phrases or your whole dang experience in the comments… be brave!  I double dog dare you to brag on yourself!

If exploring your awesomeness brings up resistance or negative self-talk, please let yourself feel the feelings, detach from those stories and then actually look at them… perhaps also look at where they come from and what feeds them.  Also, as with any thought, question if they are true.  If you aren’t familiar with The Work of Byron Katie, this can be a great place to start examining identification with thoughts and limiting beliefs.  In the event that everything isn’t all sparkles and unicorns right away that doesn’t mean that the exercise isn’t “working for you” or isn’t worthwhile.  It can be very helpful to identify ways that you are blocking yourself from owning how amazing you are – and then finding ways to shift those patterns.

The other half of this invitation is that after you have started with yourself (always start with you – you can’t serve from an empty cup, always put your own oxygen mask on first, yada yada yada – you get the picture), take this expression of love and gratitude to other people in your life.  When was the last time you wrote a love letter to your partner/parent/child/sibling/friend?  When was the last time you told the people you work with that you appreciate them and why you think they are fabulous?  The next time you think warmly about someone in your life, let them know.  Even better, let them know in specific detail about all of the ways they are amazing and how grateful you are to know them.  If we all engaged in these practices of giving and receiving love and gratitude more often, how would our lives and our world be different?

As always, please let me know if you give this experiment a try and how it goes in the comments.  I am excited to hear about how you are awesome and to see your bravery and radical self-love.

Love,

Martha

 

 

 

Meditation is like a box of chocolates…

P1016645Meditation is like a box of chocolates…

There are lots of different kinds – and depending on your preference, some are amazing and some are downright nasty!  You might love the chocolate covered nuts and be totally grossed out by the fruit flavored crèmes like I am. That doesn’t mean the fruit crèmes are inherently gross – they can be totally gross to my palate while they are the favorite of someone else.  Just like a candy or chocolate sampler – not every person will like every kind of meditation.  Some kinds might just feel icky to you while you easily fall in love with a different approach.  That’s one of the best things about the diversity that life has to offer… different strokes for different folks as they say.  If you don’t love your first several exposures to meditation, please stay open to trying different styles with different teachers.  Meditation has so much great stuff to offer.

Have you thought about trying meditation before and just didn’t know where to start? Have you tried to meditate only to give up within a day or two of starting the practice because it was too hard or you felt like you couldn’t do it right? Have you heard that meditation is hard and you feel too intimidated to give it a try?

Here is the trick about meditation – and most other experiences in life. Coming to any experience with expectations of how it “should” be is setting your self up for feelings of conflict and disappointment. Expectations also limit what you will be open to experiencing.

Go in with no expectation for what the experience should be like.

The whole “clear your mind” idea about meditation is a common obstacle to many people starting their own practice.  The good news it that it isn’t a real thing.

The idea that to meditate you simply sit down and “clear your mind” by sheer will is a common misconception.  Expecting no thoughts isn’t realistic.  Minds are made to think and they are good at it.  The fact that thoughts occur in the mind is not inherently problematic.  The problem occurs when we are so deeply into the stream of thoughts that we get washed away from the banks of our steady, grounded presence.  This is when our thoughts are controlling us and we feel constantly bombarded by the onslaught of rapid-fire thoughts on our mental conveyor belt.  Meditation is about training our minds to be a beautiful tool in our service rather than the mental equivalent of some crazed chattering monkey jumping from tree to tree and throwing poo.

What is the goal of meditation?  I believe meditation is about beginning to learn how to observe our human experience.  To create distance between us and our thoughts.  This comparison arose for me in a recent meditation session.  All of a sudden my nose felt itchy.  I sat with the feeling for a moment, waiting to see if it would pass.  It did not.  I still had an itchy nose.  I was contemplating the choice of continuing to sit with the itchy nose and see if it would pass or choosing to scratch that itch.  Ultimately I scratched my nose and carried on with observing my thoughts.  It struck me that this whole itch scenario helps to illustrate the benefits of meditation.  It is common to feel an itch and then automatically scratch it.  I have definitely had this experience.  Reflexively scratching an itch can be compared to any reactive behavior where we respond automatically without taking the time or space to see and feel what is really going on before deciding if we want to act and how.  This process of noticing an “itch” or a trigger of any kind, acknowledging that you feel “itchy,” considering many possible actions (including inaction), then consciously choosing the response that really feels like what you want to do is exactly what gaining space around your thoughts is all about.  Without the space and perspective it’s automatically itch/scratch or thought/reaction.

Observation is my personal favorite style of meditation.  I am someone who appreciates making more space between my thoughts and finding out what’s actually rolling around up there in the ol’ noggin.  Another way to think about this approach is to think of it as watching your thoughts.  Meditation in its most simple and direct form is this – Avoid distractions. Get grounded.  Watch what happens.

Avoid distractions.

This means find a spot to practice.  Move any electronics/projects/etc away from you.  Turn off the tv/radio.  If complete silence makes your skin crawl at first, play some soothing music without words in the background.  Find a comfortable position that works for you.  Settle in.

Get grounded.

Notice your breath.  Where do you feel your breath moving in your body?  Feel your body.  What sensations are you aware of?

Watch what happens.

Wait for any thoughts that show up.  I know some of you just heard that needle scratch right off the record. Thoughts? When you meditate aren’t you supposed to not have those? This is a common critical misstep that can derail a meditation practice.

Meditation is not about the cessation of thoughts. When we practice meditation we are learning how to make space between and around our thoughts. We are gaining perspective.  We are trying to decrease knee jerk reactivity based on the assumption that our thoughts are true. With more space around our thoughts, we can begin to ask questions like – Is this thought true? Just because I think a thought, it is not automatically true.  It can be surprising how often our thoughts reveal our unconscious fears and can teach us what “programmed script” we are running in the background.  In order to learn from our thoughts we have to learn how to observe them without being strongly identified with the story they tell.P1017028

What if, upon inspection, we decide that a thought is true?  Even if a thought is true, we always have a choice about whether we want to entertain it.  Just because a thought crosses your mind does not mean you have to become involved in it’s story.  Ask yourself “Do I want to engage it now?” and if the answer is no, allow it to move along.  It is liberating to realize that just because a thought has crossed your mind, it does not mean that you have to become involved with the story surrounding that thought.  Thoughts are just like our encounters with other people. Have you ever wanted to have a particular conversation with someone and then decided that now was just not the time for that particular conversation? Our thoughts are just that… a conversation with our self. There is nothing that says that a particular conversation can’t be tabled until a later time.

A friend of mine was recently telling me about how she took a meditation class.  I asked her how her practice has been going since the class ended and she told me about how she has been trying to meditate, but that she just can’t do it. When I asked what she meant she described several instances of sitting down and her dog coming to join her, trying to shoo her dog away and find a quiet, still, picture perfect zen experience.  She told me she keeps trying but that she doesn’t feel like those attempts count.

The truth is that the stillness and the zen experience may come.  There is no guarantee that it will ever come, though it likely will begin to flit in and out for the person who develops a regular practice.  For every transcendent experience, there are countless distracted ones.  Even when we are crabby, easily distracted and accompanied by furry companions our practice still “counts”.  Any time we are showing up, observing and learning more about ourselves, we are practicing meditation.

There are many other kinds of meditation besides simply watching your thoughts.  Some other forms include Metta, Mantra, Visual focus (on a candle/mandala/nature/distance gazing), and Movement based (yoga/tai chi/walking/labyrinth/running/dance).  Prayer is also a form of meditation too.  I think of prayer and meditation as two halves of the same conversation.  Prayer is when you talk and meditation is when you listen.  I’ll write more about some of these approaches in the future.

For now, if you would like to play with watching your thoughts, I would recommend setting a timer (that doesn’t sound harsh or jarring to you) for a short amount of time and starting there.  3-5 minutes may feel like a good amount of time, or you may want to try longer or shorter intervals.  If you bring a spirit of light hearted curiosity to your practice, it will serve you well.  Keep in mind that you can’t do it wrong.  Remember to be kind and gentle with yourself while learning this or any skill.  When your mind wanders, because it will and that is what minds do, very gently direct your attention back to your breath and watch for your next thought.  Simply by showing up and watching what happens, you will be very successful in your meditation practice.

 

My challenge for you:

If you already have a meditation practice, please share what you appreciate the most about your practice in the comments below.  If you had the opportunity to share some advice with a person who is new to meditation, what would you tell them?

If you are new to meditation and decide to give this whole “watching your thoughts” experiment a try, please share about your experience in the comments if you feel up to sharing.  Your comment might inspire someone else to feel bold and give it a try.

 

Thanks for reading!  As always, if you love this article, please share it with your peeps.  I appreciate your feedback and shares very much!

xoxo,

Martha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 8 Yoga Tips for Beginners

Top 8 Yoga Tips for Beginners

 

As a yoga teacher, a question I get a lot is “what should I know before going to my first yoga class”?  Sometimes I get a variation like “what should I know about yoga as a beginner”?  After answering this question many times, I now have a list to share with you.  It’s not really a specific list of things to do, rather it is an approach to consider.  This list can be helpful for experienced practitioners working on cultivating “beginner mind,” too.

 

Here are my top 8 “new to yoga” tips

 

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1.  Breathing is the most important thing.  If you are breathing well, you are doing it right.  Seriously.

2.  If something doesn’t feel right or you don’t understand what the person teaching the class is talking about, ask for clarification.  You are paying them for their help and knowledge.  If you don’t know what they are talking about, that is their problem to solve by explaining things differently… not your problem.  The only way for a teacher to know for certain that a student doesn’t understand the material is if the student lets them know.  If something doesn’t feel right, ask for clarification or modification options.  A good teacher will be happy to help with this and it is amazing how much a tiny change to how you are set up can make a huge difference in how something feels.

10346513664_df3336d4d0_o3.  Not every version of every pose will be for you.  They aren’t all for me either.  There are seriously thousands of asanas (physical postures) and variations.  We all have our own unique body with its own unique history and experiences that is put together slightly different from all the other bodies in the world.  Our physical practice should respect and reflect that.

4.  You totally might fart during class.  There is a posture called wind relieving pose.  It’s all about farting.  If you do, don’t sweat it.  Welcome to being a human in a human body.  😉

5.  Learn to listen to your body.  Just because a “harder” version is offered in class does not mean that it is better to practice that version.  I know an advanced practitioner when I see a person who consistently makes choices to respect their body.  Respecting your body means learning where you actually are with your practice and lovingly making choices from that place of understanding.  Sometimes if you want more challenge in an area that you already have mastery it can feel like a lot of fun to take that more challenging variation.  Sometimes it makes sense to choose a more simple version of a posture because it feels like good self care to respect where you are with that particular type of movement on that particular day.  Make your choices based on what feels good (and safe) in your body rather than how it might look on the outside.  Yoga is not about what physical postures look like so much as it is about what you learn through the process of consistently showing up for your practice.  Trying to skip steps and throw yourself ahead of where you actually are ready to be working will only lead to injury.  Where you are right now is a great place to be and the best starting place for wherever you want to go.    

6.  I wish someone would have told me when I started practicing that it is practice after all and that perfection isn’t real and that it is a trap that keeps people from having fun and enjoying life.  Try not to take any of it too seriously.  Be kind to yourself.  If you are wiggly in a balancing pose, let yourself smile or laugh about it rather than beating yourself up… I’ve been there and laughing/smiling is way more fun.

SAM_09937.  Have lots of fun!  Over time you will be able to watch what comes up in your thoughts and feelings.  The first few times out, all of your focus may be on “what the hell am I doing with my body?!?”.  Once you are more familiar with the physical alignment details of postures, other more subtle stuff will start to surface.  Allow yourself to be open to receiving the insights that your practice will offer.  

8. There is more to yoga than physical asana practice.  Other forms of yoga can include meditation, breathing, study/reading of texts, singing/chanting, and service/volunteer work – to name a few.  Some classes blend many of these elements, while others are devoted to a particular focus.  Try out any options that sound interesting.  You may be surprised by what you like!

I am a firm believer that there is a style of yoga and an instruction style that is a good fit for everyone.  Sometimes the challenge lies in finding the right style/instructor for you.  Explore lots of styles.  Take restorative classes when you are tired and more vigorous classes when you want to move and get more of a physical challenge.  If forms of yoga that aren’t centered around physical asana practice appeal to you, please explore these options as well.  Don’t let any one experience turn you off from yoga as a whole, cause it is a big awesomely vast thing and has tons of goodness to offer!

Did you find this list helpful or interesting?  If so, please share it!  If you have any yoga related questions, please leave them in the comment section and I will get to answering them as I am able.

Take care,

Dr. Martha DeSante

Belly Love – Letting it all hang out!

Belly Love – Letting it all hang out!

Its time for some belly love!

Embracing our bellies can help us to breathe better.  I know that might sound weird, because what do our bellies have to do with breathing.  Stick with me here.  Have you ever heard of belly breathing?  How about diaphragmatic breathing?  There are tons of health and relaxation benefits associated with this type of breathing, from improved mood and energy to enhanced relaxation…and who doesn’t like feeling good?

If you want to try a short belly – or – diaphragmatic breathing exercise with me right now, keep on reading!

The reason that the belly moves as we inhale and exhale has to do with a very important muscle for breathing… our diaphragm! The diaphragm is a large sheet of muscle that is located just beneath the ribcage. It’s not only at the front side of the body, but runs all the way through the body from front to back and from side to side. The diaphragm separates the torso into the chest above and the abdomen below. It is also the main muscle used in a full healthy breathing pattern!

As we inhale, our diaphragm pulls downward, changing the pressure in the ribcage so that air is drawn into the lungs. As we exhale, the diaphragm draws back up to assist in pressing air out of the ribcage. When the diaphragm draws down as we breathe in, our abdominal organs have to go somewhere to let the diaphragm move fully… that is why the belly relaxes outward as we breathe in. As we exhale, the diaphragm draws back upward and our belly can draw in and up back toward the spine.

When we’re thinking about contracting the abdominal muscles to pull the belly back toward the spine, the action is a flattening and broadening of the belly on the exhale as it draws gently in and up. We are using the deep abdominal muscles (particularly the transversus abdominis) to help us perform a full and active exhale. When we exhale fully, we are clearing out as much stale air from the lungs as possible, making room for fresh oxygen rich air.

Sometimes, people develop a reverse breathing pattern, where they are “sucking it in” on the inhale and letting the belly drop on the exhale. Sometimes there really isn’t much movement happening in the belly at all and the abs are constantly kept in a guarded state of contraction. Neither of these options are natural or particularly effective breath patterns. They are developed through cultural influence and the idea of “sucking in the gut”.

This is where it becomes important to get comfortable with the idea of letting our belly soften. Many of us hold our belly in all the time to appear more slender and fit. While it is important to be able to contract our abdominal muscles quickly, strongly and effectively for many different activities, it is just as important to learn how to relax them.

Any patterns of chronic holding, contraction and shortening don’t serve our bodies well. This contributes to maladaptive energetic holding patterns as well as to physical tightness and imbalances. A strong muscle isn’t one that is always tightly clenched… A strong muscle is one that can alternate between relaxed and contracted in a coordinated way.

If you think about this same sort of chronic holding pattern with a muscle like your bicep, keeping the bicep constantly in a state of contraction really doesn’t allow for any functional use of that muscle. You need to be able to have that full range from contracted to relaxed in order for that muscle to be functionally useful and effective.

Breathing fully and allowing the belly and the diaphragm to go through their full ranges of motion will gently massage the abdominal organs, allowing them to release waste products and draw in fresh oxygen from the blood. A supple belly, responsive, soft and strong, is what will serve us the best in our breath practice and in life.

Let’s try this diaphragmatic or belly breathing now. Allow your eyes to close if that helps you focus on your breath… well maybe let them close after you read what you will be doing 😉

Place your hands on your belly and as you inhale, feel your breath moving in and down to fill your hands.

INHALE

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As you breathe out, feel your belly draw in and up, toward your spine and away from your hands.

EXHALE

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Allow yourself to take five more full breaths like that.

When you feel ready, gently blink your eyes open. Think about where you were feeling the breath moving in your body that time.

If you are someone who is used to holding the belly in and tight, this may feel really challenging.  With practice it gets easier to draw the breath deeper and deeper into your body and the movement of your belly in and out will become more smooth, free and easy.  Practice connecting with deep breathing and allowing your belly to move.  Start with three breath check-ins per day of at least 10 breaths each.  Be open to noticing any changes or feelings that arise as part of this experience.

If you live in Minnesota, and would like to get more in depth with learning about your breath, I will be offering a workshop about mindful breathing at the Mississippi Market Co-op on West 7th St. in St. Paul next Thursday, April 23 from 6-8pm.  For more information, or to buy tickets, please click here :)

Riding the Wave

I give my best every day.  I consistently perform at the top level of my abilities at all times.  How is that possible, you ask?  Some days I feel like I can do anything and everything… I am a dreamer, a creator… I feel my own power and express myself freely.  I do ALL THE THINGS!  Other days, if I have showered, dried my hair and am wearing pants with a waistband before noon that feels like a major win.  Can you relate?  If so, congratulations on being a human.

As much as our cult of productivity would like us to believe that we ought to have the same work capacity as robots, we are not in fact machines.  To expect standardized levels of energy in the physical, mental, spiritual and emotional realms is not realistic and works in opposition to honoring our natural cycles and rhythms that correspond with the seasons of the year and the seasons of our lives.

Acknowledging my humanness, I still give my best every day.  I consistently perform at the top level of my abilities at all times.  The key to not running ourselves ragged or beating ourselves up over any items left unchecked on our “to do list” at the end of the day is to have an honest check in with where we are each day and gauge what our “best” might look like on that given day.  If we are depleted, we need to make time to refill the well within ourselves.  Continuing to push when we don’t have anything left in the tank wins no medals or gold stars and only causes deep fatigue, depression and burnout.  I know this because I am a chronic doer of this.

I am learning to work against this tendency to push forward, assuming that I should always be able to handle everything every day and am learning how to more honestly check in with myself and determine what my “best” realistically is for that day without depleting myself.  I hope you find the following exercise helpful.  I know it has been really useful in learning how to be more honest with myself about where I really am on any given day – and then structuring my day to fit where I’m at to the best of my ability.  It is also useful if done over time to identify any patterns that may emerge.

 

Judy Tills of Peaceful Transitions recommends each morning before getting out of bed taking a few deep breaths to get centered and honestly answering the following questions and recording them in a journal…

On a scale of 0-10 with 0 being none at all and 10 being the largest amount you can imagine…

How much energy do you have (physical)?
How much happiness and joy do you feel right now (emotional)?
How would you grade your level of self talk – with more positivity at the higher end of the number scale (mental)?
How would you grade your level of feeling connected to something larger than/outside of yourself (spiritual)?
She also recommends noting any pain you feel and assigning a number value to that as well (0 being no pain and 10 being the worst)

 

This daily check in practice can help you and I begin to be more honest with ourselves and to learn how to take better care of ourselves.  Some days call for naps and long walks.  Other days, working on inspiring projects might feel joyful.  And some days call for celebrating being showered and in pants with a waistband before noon 😉

 

Peace, love and naps,

Martha

Getting Friendly With Your Breath

I am so jazzed that so many people really loved the Breath Check-in Basics printable gift!  In the spirit of that enthusiasm, I thought I would share a sneak peek at some of the content from my upcoming e-book about mindful breathing for beginners.

I am so excited to offer you this short taste of my introduction to mindful breathing! The following information is a combination of knowledge and techniques drawn from my experience singing in professional choirs, my training in yoga and Pilates instruction and my education and practice as a Doctor of Chiropractic. This e-book combines diverse techniques and ideas to create the foundation for your own intentional breathing practice.

CONGRATULATIONS!

I want to congratulate you for choosing loving self-care in the form of this intentional breathing practice.  For best results, I recommend that you PRACTICE EVERY DAY.  You can devote as much or as little time as you feel is appropriate… just remember that this is one of those opportunities where you get out of the practice what you put into it.
 
Intentional breathing is great because you can practice anywhere, and you don’t need any fancy or expensive equipment.  You can practice intentional breathing at any age or fitness level to improve your well being right now.

Your breath practice will enhance and support you in whatever other activities you’re already doing.  Intentional breathing is also a simple tool with profound effects that can help us get out of the swift current of thoughts flowing through our head and into a grounded experience of life in our body.

All it takes to begin is your loving dedication and shining the brilliant light of your awareness on something that we all take for granted on a daily basis… Our breath!

 

WHAT DOES BREATHING DO FOR ME?

 
With every activity that requires time and dedication, most people have one question… What’s in it for me?  We’ll touch on the basics of what breathing does for our bodies now and get into more detail at in person private sessions, workshops or in the e-book, once it is released.

Breathing brings fresh oxygen into the body and gets carbon dioxide out of the body. When we breathe in, oxygen comes into our lungs as we inhale and it is transferred to our blood, which carries the oxygen to all our cells and tissues. The blood then picks up carbon dioxide and other waste products from our cells and carries it back to our lungs, where it is released as we exhale.

In this way, efficient breathing keeps our cells and tissues fresh and energized.  Breathing well also helps to keep our thinking clear because the brain, even more than other organs, really needs a steady supply of oxygen to do its job well.

We could even think of our breath as the most important element in maintaining our health. If we think about the things that we typically associate with a healthy lifestyle, like food, water, and sleep for example… and we compare these things to the breath… the breath always comes out on top for vital importance in maintaining our health and even sustaining our life.  Another way to think about this is that we can go for quite a while without food and still survive (maybe a few weeks)… we can go slightly less long without sleep and water (maybe a few days) and still recover… but we can’t survive more than a few minutes without breathing.

 

LEARNING HOW TO TUNE IN TO YOUR BREATH – AN AWARENESS BASED EXERCISE

 
You can make the choice to either be sitting or standing for these exercises.  In whatever position you have chosen, feel your feet flat on the floor, a comfortable distance apart. 

If you are sitting, feel your sitting bones –the bony points at the base of your butt- press downward gently into your chair.  Sit with your back upright and away from the back of your chair if you can.

If you are standing, maintain that grounded connection with your feet and allow your knees to stay soft, keeping a little microbend in your knees at all times.
 
Allow your spine and the crown of your head to lengthen upward toward the sky from this firm foundation.  If it helps you to focus on your breathing, allow your eyes to gently close.  Take a moment to feel your breath right now without changing anything.

Simply by bringing your awareness to your breath you may notice that it is already beginning to change… if your breath becomes more full and deep, make a mental note that this is what your body is naturally calling for when you make the time and space to listen to it.

Now we are going to try an experiment… there is no right or wrong here and no judgment.  This is all about just noticing what is.  In this experiment, you are a scientist objectively observing your breath.

 

Become aware of the rate of your breath, whether it feels fast or slow. 

Notice the depth of your breath, whether it feels shallow or deep. 

Check in with the quality of your breath, noticing whether it is flowing smoothly or has rough edges.

Notice if there is any sound associated with your breath.

Are there are any emotions or feelings associated with this experience of your breath.

Allow yourself to suspend any judgment about whether the way you are breathing is “good” or “bad” and let your self be fully present with what is.

Notice where you feel your breath moving in your body.

 

 

Take 3 more breaths like this.

Maintain this connection to your breath and when you feel ready, gently blink your eyes open if you have closed them.

Notice how you feel after taking this moment to connect with your breath.

 

More Breathing Resources for You!

If you would like more practical, down to earth resources to help you learn more about how to breathe better to improve your health and life, I will be releasing an e-book called Breathe Easy through Amazon.  This will likely happen in April 2015, although I am being flexible with myself about the release and am trusting that it will be ready when its ready.  I’ll keep you posted.  If you are living in Minnesota and will be in the Twin Cities this April, I will be offering the Breathe workshop that started it all at various locations around the metro. Information about the first scheduled workshop is listed below.  I will add more information about workshop opportunities in the near future.

 Breathe: A Beginners Guide to Mindful Breathing

Thursday, April 23 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Mississippi Market- West 7th

Non-Member: $20.00
Co-op Member-Owner: $15.00

Click here to purchase tickets now!

Just in case you did not get the chance to print out the gorgeous Breath Check-In Basics printable, here is another opportunity for you to enjoy it!  Click Back In Body Breath Check-in Basics to access the printable pdf version.

Breath Check-in Basics Art 2015

 

How to be Your Own Valentine, Every Day

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 How to be Your Own Valentine, Every Day

Since it’s February now, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on one of my favorite holidays.  Valentine’s Day is a holiday that many people feel strongly about for a multitude of reasons.  Here is the reason why Valentine’s Day is important to me and why I try to be my own valentine every day.

Valentine’s Day is a day devoted to reminding us all about LOVE in our life.  Before anyone gets too excited about it being a Hallmark holiday, an excuse to spend lots of money or a silly redundant waste of time because we should show people that we love them every day, let me clarify.  Should we show people that we love them?  Probably.  I am reluctant to use the “should” word here (or ever), because as Admiral Ackbar says in Star Wars, “it’s a trap”.  I do think that we would all feel much better if choosing to show love to those around us was a daily intention and practice.  I also think we would all feel much better if we allowed ourselves to rest in the embrace of our own love.

Valentine’s Day is like every other holiday.  You can celebrate it in whatever fashion you choose that fits your own life, budget and values.  You can choose to not celebrate at all.  You don’t have to buy anything if you don’t want to.  You can BUY ALL THE THINGS if you want to.  You can focus your awareness and celebration on romantic love, self love, familial love, the love between friends or that fact that we are all love incarnate.

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If you do choose to celebrate, here are some simple ways that you can show love to yourself on Valentine’s Day or any day…

 

Take a relaxing and romantic bath!

Light some candles, add some bath salts and botanicals or essential oils.  Get the water temperature just right.  Turn on any music or soothing sounds that feel good.  Relax and enjoy!

 

Body work/Energy work!

Touch can be sensual (as in a sensory experience), sexual or both and there are healthy and appropriate times for both in a person’s life.  This is something you can do for yourself (as in self foot massage), do with a partner, or invest in hiring a professional body worker to do for you.  Touch is so therapeutic, whether it is intentional loving self touch or touch from another.  Think about what is already in your self-care toolbox as well as considering different modalities that you may not have tried before.  Some of my favorites include massage, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and healing touch.

 

Feed yourself!

Prepare an excellent delicious and healthy meal for yourself or take yourself out for a meal!  Nourish your body through your food choices.

 

Move your body with love!

Find an activity that lights you up inside.  You will know what it is for you.  More important than what the movement looks like on the outside is how it feels to you on the inside and why you are doing it.  This may be dance, martial arts, yoga, Pilates, running, lifting heavy things… really anything that makes you feel alive and connected to your own brilliant physical presence.  Experience the joy that comes from moving your body with love in ways that feel good to you!

 

Take yourself on a date!

Is there a movie you want to see?  An art class you want to take?  A beautiful hike you want to enjoy?  Do it!  You don’t have to wait around for anyone else to start living the life you have imagined.  As an added side benefit, you may also meet interesting people who share your interests and passions by being bold enough to follow your own.

Share the love!

If you are looking to spread love to others and feel love in return, a suggestion would be to visit a nursing care facility and visit with some of the residents.  This is a great way to feel connected to others and to share your love as a gift!

 

Do you have any favorite ways that you like to show yourself love?  Share your ideas and helpful tips in the comment section below.

 

Take care and much love,

Martha

 

 

Qi Breathing

Hey there!  Today I am excited to share a great guest post from Deanna Reiter and Troy Stende about some common misconceptions about breathing.  Deanna and Troy are the developers of a breathing and movement technique called Qi Breathing.  To connect with Deanna and Troy or for more information about Qi Breathing, visit www.ExperienceQiBreathing.com or call 651-400-0665.

 

The Top Eight Breathing Myths

By Deanna Reiter and Troy Stende

 

Breathing is one of the most fundamental things we do in a day. We take it for granted that we do it right, yet something so obviously simple has many myths on what is right and wrong.

 

1. I don’t need to think about how I breathe because it’s automatic.

 

Just because breathing is an involuntary process doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. The reality is that over ninety percent of us are using less than fifty percent of our breathing capacity. We are inhaling shallowly, which does not fuel our blood and bodies with sufficient oxygen and energy. On the flip side, our exhalations release only a small amount of carbon dioxide, keeping toxins and wastes in our blood streams and organs. Shallow breathing has been linked with degenerative disease, poor quality of life and an early onset of death.

 

2. Breathing can’t improve how I feel.

 

Irregular, rapid breathing can intensify stress, anxiety, emotional distress, tension, and poor posture. Due to higher levels of carbon dioxide in the body, fatigue and depression can also become chronic issues.

 

3. I would know if something was wrong with my breathing.

 

Most people don’t notice their breathing is compromised until seventy percent of the functioning capacity of their lungs is gone. Unless you do regular testing to see how long you can hold your breath or do regular breathing exercises that require you to inhale or exhale for a certain length of time, you may not realize any change in your breathing until it becomes a severe issue.

 

4. There are other health concerns I need to focus on before I should think about breathing.

 

Of all the self-help techniques available, breathing properly is one of the best ways you can improve emotional and physical health, decrease stress and minimize aging. Shortness of breath is the beginning spiral downward to aging, ill health, weakness and depression. Learning how to breathe better and actively remembering to do it is a great foundation to help with any other health concerns you may have.

 

5. Animals in the wild don’t need to learn how to breathe better and neither do I.

 

Animals in the wild do not maintain the same chronic stress levels that we do. They may have small bursts of “stress” when they are in a predator-prey situation, but for the most part, they are relaxed and aware of their surroundings.

 

In today’s society, the majority of people have restricted breathing patterns and carry chronic muscular, emotional and physical tension. Poor breathing patterns increase our already elevated stress levels and we need to retrain ourselves to breathe more fully and deeply.

 

6. Breathing primarily into my chest is better than breathing through my belly.

 

Chest breathing does not shift the diaphragm, so your lungs will not have as much room to fill. Chest breathing also does not engage the lower part of the lungs, which has a much greater volume than the upper part of the lungs. Chest breathing also tends to increase the respiration rate because it involves a quicker and shallower breath. This means that oxygen levels (tidal volume) will be lower and there will be less time for carbon dioxide to leave the body.

 

Chest breathing is associated with light-headedness, heart palpitations, weakness, numbness, tingling, agitation and overall shortness of breath. People with issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders or phobias will have many of their symptoms exacerbated if they are chest breathers.

 

7. Breathing through my mouth is better than breathing through my nose.

 

Long-term, chronic mouth breathing can be adverse to your health. It can lead to higher levels of inflammation and mucus, which can lead to asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses. Mouth breathing can lead to snoring and sleep apnea, which deprive the body of oxygen at night resulting in low energy levels and can possibly lead to cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and cancer. Damage to the heart muscle, inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, psoriasis, eczema and many other problems may occur because of mouth breathing at night. Breathing through the mouth during the day will further exacerbate health problems.

It is recommended to breathe through the nose to warm and filter the air. Breathing through the nose also makes the lungs work harder and more effectively as compared to breathing through the mouth. Breathing through the nose promotes effective Nitric Oxide utilization, which can help to kill microorganisms in the lungs and dilate (open) blood vessels and internal organs to allow more oxygen to enter. Overall, breathing through the nose can improve blood oxygenation by two times compared to mouth breathers. This can result in energizing the body. Nasal breathing can also reduce stress and calm the mind.

 

Of course, if you are suffering from allergies or sinuses or any restriction of the nasal passages, breathing through the mouth is a perfectly acceptable alternative. But the benefits of nasal breathing and disadvantages of mouth breathing cannot be understated.

 

8. If I don’t breathe “right,” there’s nothing I can do to change that.

There are many different types of breathing exercises you can do to draw awareness to your breath and to begin breathing more deeply and fully. One of the breathing exercises we developed is called Qi Breathing, which will attune you to your natural breathing depth and internal energy and help you to increase both over time. It is designed to give you more energy, clarity and peace.

To begin Qi Breathing, state an intention for your breathing practice, such as to get energized or motivated, to be calmer or to be more focused. Inhale and exhale deeply, yet quickly through the nose, so that your inhalations and exhalations are the same length of time, approximately one second each. Visualize the breath moving in a circle, up the back of the spine and down the front of the spine. This circular rhythm will help your Qi, or internal energy to circulate and increase rather than to remain stagnant in your body. Incorporate a rocking movement with your breathing. On the exhalation, rock forward (toward your knees). On the inhalation, rock backward (upright). Make sure that your focus is on the inhalation and drawing in energy rather than on the exhalation. Bring your awareness fully to the breath and maintain your focus there to allow your mind to quiet. This can bring you into a deeply peaceful and blissful state. Continue reading below for a total of three minutes for a shortened version of Qi Breathing.

 

Deanna Reiter, MA, and Troy Stende are the developers of Qi Breathing. They will be teaching an amazing 30-minute version of Qi Breathing at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Bloomington, MN. Come experience it with them live March 7-8, 2015. For more information on Qi Breathing, visit: www.ExperienceQiBreathing.com or call 651-400-0665.

 

 

Here’s a quick 3-minute Qi Breathing exercise that can leave you feeling energized AND peaceful at the same time.

 

Step 1

While sitting upright, spine straight, head level, take a few moments to slow your breathing and relax your body and mind. Let go of your mental to-do list and give yourself permission to take three minutes out of your day.

 

Step 2

Focus on an intention you’d like to create, such as peace, happiness or abundance.

 

Step 3

Begin to inhale and exhale deeply, yet quickly through the nose, so that your inhalations and exhalations are the same length of time, approximately one second each. Visualize the breath moving in a circle, up the back of the spine and down the front of the spine. This circular rhythm will help your Qi, or internal energy, to circulate and increase rather than to remain stagnant in your body. Incorporate a rocking movement with your breathing. On the exhalation, rock forward (toward your knees). On the inhalation, rock backward (upright). Make sure that your focus is on the inhalation and drawing in energy rather than on the exhalation. While keeping your body relaxed, bring your awareness fully to the breath and maintain your focus there to allow your mind to quiet.This can bring you into a deeply peaceful and blissful state while also feeling incredibly energized.

(Breathe about 2 mins.)

 

Step 4

Slow your breathing to a relaxed rhythm. Take a moment to enjoy the increased energy, Qi, flowing through your body. Ideally, reflect with gratitude upon your intention.

 

Qi Breathing will attune you to your natural breathing depth and internal energy and help you to increase both over time. It is designed to give you more energy, clarity and helps you to focus and learn. We recommend doing this at least once a day.

 

 

Balancing the 3T’s of Wellness

Balancing the 3 T’s of Wellness

I’ve briefly talked about what a subluxation is in a previous post (Motion is Life – Move It or Lose It) and I now want to tackle a question that I get asked pretty frequently… how do misalignments and maladaptive patterns happen in a body?  Where do subluxations come from?

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How’s that for balancing different elements!

In one word, the answer is STRESS.  Stress of one kind of another is responsible for all deviations from health.  Any disturbance in health and vitality can result from the influence of three broad categories of stressors -or a unique combination of stressors from each of those categories… Physical, Chemical and/or Energetic – also called the 3T’s… Traumas, Toxins and/or Thoughts.  In my practice, I deal largely with the physical realm (although I do work with elements of both the chemical and energetic through lifestyle counseling involving food and supplement choices, breath coaching and yoga/meditation/mindfulness practices) and make referrals to other awesome people who do lots more focused work in the later two categories… so I’ll spend most of my time writing about that physical realm here.  Finding balance in these three categories in your life will go a long way in reducing the impact of stress and promoting your health.  Establishing a supportive wellness care team for yourself and your family and establishing nurturing self-care rituals are important steps that you can take to beat stress and balance those 3t’s!

Physical –aka Trauma

Physical stressors and trauma can come in two forms… macro – like slipping and falling on an icy sidewalk, and micro – such as the resulting wear/tear and pain resulting from a job where you work in a chronically stationary position (usually seated) or are performing repetitive motions.  Usually people quickly grasp how the macro traumas can cause pain and problems and why seeing a chiropractor after such an event “makes sense.”  It can be a little more challenging to notice the contribution of micro traumas as symptoms usually arise from cumulative and compounding occurrences that are more challenging to identify.  Micro traumas are so sneaky because they happen every day, and for a long time your body will adapt and cover for what’s happening… until it won’t anymore.

If we look at the physical side of subluxation from a human lifespan perspective, the first subluxations that are commonly found in really young babies are in the upper neck and are likely related to the birth process.  Whether a baby is delivered vaginally or by c-section, there usually is some amount of hands on (or vacuum, or forceps) assistance as the baby makes his or her way out into the wider world.  When babies begin learning to roll over (also through the diapering process and hanging out in car seats a lot) sometimes subluxations will occur in the mid back area and where the mid back transitions to the low back.   Low back and pelvic misalignments typically start showing up around the time that young children are learning how to stand, cruise the furniture in the home and walk.  Think about how much kids fall on their bum in the process of learning how to stand and walk… now imagine yourself falling onto your butt from a standing height and rep that out about a hundred times per day.  Are you starting to get the picture? 😉  After these developmental milestones, there are all of the playground spills, sports related incidents, bike accidents and the list or possible contributors to subluxation in a body goes on.   These occurrences happen frequently and unless there is a lot of blood or something broken, we often shrug off the trauma and mentally categorize our self or our child as being okay.

I encourage parents to bring newborns in for a well baby check and then at the developmental milestones mentioned above.  After that then at least 2x per year for check-ups (similar to the dentist… although you can get dentures if your teeth are in really bad shape… I haven’t found that equivalent for the spine yet).  Other recommended times to bring your child in to be checked would include during an illness (or after) as that is another sort of trauma, after any falls that seemed significant (the child does not get up and return to play right away, the child is difficult to console, the child continues to tell the parent that something hurts or feels weird) or if the parent notices changes in behavior, sleep, diet, bathroom habits or attitude (particularly in very young children and non-verbal children and/or adults).

On to the next one.

Chemical –aka Toxins

Chemical stressors include both things that we are exposed to that we shouldn’t be (alcohol, sugar, cigarettes, drugs, environmental pollutants, foods that we are sensitive to, too much stress hormones too often) as well as a lack of things that we should be getting (fresh fruits and vegetables, healthful fats, lots of water, fresh air/enough oxygen)

Energetic (psycho-social, emotional, spiritual component) –aka Thoughts

This category can include past emotional traumas that haven’t fully been integrated and are stored in tissue (the body remembers) as well as feelings of isolation, disconnection, being unworthy/unloveable, grief, fear and lack.  It also includes when we don’t get enough sleep and intentional rest and relaxation and are running entirely on stress hormones.  Issues involving feeling stifled creatively or spiritually fit neatly in the energetic category, too.

I hope this helps you to understand the importance of integrating all parts of our selves for our most robust expression of life and health!  If you would like my assistance in creating a more balanced state in your life, please contact me by checking out the options listed under the CONTACT menu bar.

Take Care,

Martha

Martha DeSante DC, CYT