Yoga - Connecting to Inner and Outer Nature

 

We often think of yoga as a way to connect more deeply to what we're experiencing inside - our inner nature. Yoga practice does this so well but I think it's only half the equation. To feel whole, we also need to find ways to understand and connect better to outer nature -- to the the world around us. We had such a great opportunity in yoga class today to do just that (see caption below) 🙂 .

 
 
This little one had somehow found his/her way inside the Brooke Valley yoga studio this morning! Calmly discovered by one of our nature-loving yoga students we pressed the pause button on the yoga practice and dove into the field guides. We think it is a northern ring neck snake - probably only a couple of months old. Nature-based yoga at its best 😊.

This little one had somehow found his/her way inside the Brooke Valley yoga studio this morning! Calmly discovered by one of our nature-loving yoga students we pressed the pause button on the yoga practice and dove into the field guides. We think it is a northern ring neck snake - probably only a couple of months old. Nature-based yoga at its best 😊.

 

How to Listen....I mean REALLY Listen

 
 

We know we’re in the presence of a good listener when we get that sweet, affirming feeling of really being heard. But sadly it occurs all too rarely. We can’t force others to listen, but we can improve our own listening, and perhaps inspire others by doing so.

Good listening means mindful listening. Like mindfulness itself, listening takes a combination of intention and attention. The intention part is having a genuine interest in the other person—their experiences, views, feelings, and needs. The attention part is being able to stay present, open, and unbiased as we receive the other’s words—even when they don’t line up with our own ideas or desires.

Paradoxically, being good at listening to others requires the ability to listen to yourself. If you can’t recognize your own beliefs and opinions, needs and fears, you won’t have enough inner space to really hear anyone else. So the foundation for mindful listening is self-awareness.

Here are some tips to be a good listener.

1. Take a few centering breaths.  Check inside: “How am I feeling just now? Is there any blocks to listening getting in the way of being present for the other person?” If something is in the way, decide if it needs to be addressed first or can wait till later.

2. Feeling your own sense of presence, extend it to the other person with the intention to listen fully and openly, with interest, empathy, compassion and mindfulness. Know the difference between empathy and compassion.  Empathy is our natural resonance with the emotions of others, where we sense the difficulty someone might be feeling. Compassion is one of the many responses to empathy. Compassion also implies a wisdom and intelligence to know it’s not up to you to fix the world for others.  You can’t function if you’re just taking in other’s pain all the time.  There’s a balance that’s crucial:  You can acknowledge the pain, you can want to help, but you have to recognize you can’t change other people’s experience of the world.  That’s the acceptance and letting go part. “I am with you, and concerned for your well-being, but I’m not you.”

3. How to Listen:
Listen with your whole body – face the speaker, open body language, lean in a little.
Soft eye contact. Focus on the triangle created by a person’s eyes and mouth. This allows you to take in the speaker’s full facial expressions.
Connecting gestures – smiles, head nodding, without interrupting.

4. Silently note your own reactions as they arise—thoughts, feelings, judgments, memories. Then return your full attention to the speaker.

5. Pay attention to your partner’s words, body language and facial expressions. Reflect back what you are hearing, using the speaker’s own words when possible, paraphrasing or summarizing the main point. Help the other person feel heard.

6. Use friendly, open-ended questions to clarify your understanding and probe for more. Affirm what the speaker is saying before you differ. Acknowledge the other person’s point of view—acknowledging is not agreeing!—before introducing your own ideas, feelings, or requests.

For more information on the upcoming mindfulness program at Perth Physio Oct -Nov 2019 click on: https://www.yoga-therapy.ca/what-is-mbsr-program-info-1

Mindfulness and the Natural World

A key element of mindfulness practice is becoming aware of where we choose to place our attention.

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Most of us spend a lot of our day thinking which includes analyzing, judging, labeling, setting goals, planning, remembering, comparing and reflecting.  There is nothing wrong with thinking itself, but we can tend to over-think or ruminate which can sometimes lead to worry and anxiety.

With mindfulness, we are practicing shifting our attention from our stressed out ‘monkey-mind’ into our physical ‘embodied’ experience we call the sensing mode.  Try this.  FEEL what is happening right now in your body…..Pause and take a few seconds here…. Perhaps you are aware of the sensations of breathing in your belly or the touch of the feet on the floor.  Switching into this mode for periods of time can be really nourishing.

Hands down, my favourite mindfulness meditations are experienced in the natural world, where we are effortlessly drawn into our bodily senses.

Listen…to the calls of the songbirds.
Feel…the touch of the breeze on the skin.
Look….at the clouds in the clear blue sky.
Smell…the damp earth after it rains.
Taste….the sweetness of a warm, sun-ripened strawberry.

So give your busy mind a break and slip into the sensing mode.  Here’s a simple practice you can do.  Try strolling through your neighbourhood enjoying your own company, or sharing it with a pet, friend or family member.

1.       Notice one thing you’ve never seen before.

2.       Spend part of your walk completely silent paying attention to all the sounds you can hear (birds, cars, lawn mowers, the wind in the trees).

3.       When you are home, share what you experienced with a trusted friend or family member so they ‘catch’ your story.

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Catch you on the flip side -- outside! For more information on the upcoming 8 week Tues evening program Oct-Nov at Perth Phsyiotherapy in Perth, Ontario go to my MBSR information page.

 

Hurry Up and Slow Down

 
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Time.  There’s never enough of it.  So we try to rush through the day’s never-ending to-do lists.  We get hooked on the rush of adrenaline. And we look up to the Type A’s in our society as the ones who “succeed”. 

But the more we rush, or try to accomplish in a day, the more susceptible we are to making mistakes.  And mistakes can be costly.  I ought to know.  Six weeks ago I was “rushing” to get to a friend’s for lunch.  Yet I thought I could get “one more thing done” before heading out.  I was fixing a flat tire on a wheelbarrow and going too fast.  I wasn’t paying close attention to what I was doing.  I ended up injuring my right thumb so severely that I had to have surgery to repair a torn ligament.

Woah.  I had to really face how far I had strayed from practicing what I preached. And to recognize the impact not only on my ability to function, but my colleagues who now had to sub my classes, and my husband who now had to do ALL the spring chores indoors and out. 

Life can be the best teacher of all.  Here’s what I’ve learned (and re-learned):

1.       Remember To Slow Down:  Sometimes we get so caught up in the whirlwind of our crazy lives we literally forget to slow down.  The first step is noticing when you are rushing.  Perhaps there are clues – feeling wired, chaotic thoughts, heart racing, fidgeting. Be friendly and curious about what you notice.

2.       Give Yourself More Time: Most of us are pretty deluded about how long it will take for us to complete a task.  Try doubling it and if you don’t have the time, cross something else off the list.

3.       Slow Down: I have become aware of how fast I walk.  Today, I walked across the grocery parking lot much more slowly, feeling my feet, sensing the temperature, looking around at the people and cars.  I was actually “present” in my body rather than lost in my head.  It felt wonderful!

4.       Activate The Relaxation Response:  There are many ways to do this and experimentation will help you to choose which way works best for you.  One way is to take 3…slow….deep…breaths and simply notice… what you are thinking, what emotions are present, and what sensations you are feeling in your body.  Then congratulate yourself for taking a pause and notice how you feel.

5.       Give Your Full Attention To The Task: I always know I’m rushing when I’m not paying attention.  My husband, bless his heart, patiently closes the cupboard doors and turns off lights behind me. Another opportunity to recognize when I’m going too fast. 

6.       Mindful Listening: Deliberately pausing and being genuinely interested in listening to another person radically shifts the dynamic of the conversation in positive ways. After all, how many of us ever feel really listened to?  And I’ve also noticed that dogs come to me like “bees to honey” when I slow down and give them kind, gentle and loving attention.

Jill Dunkley is a yoga therapist and mindfulness teacher who lives in Lanark County and is continually reminding herself to stop and smell the roses.  For more information click on Jill’s therapeutic yoga classes/privates or mindfulness courses.

Tilt Toward the Positive

Most of the time our attention is lost in thought. So today, with the freezing rain, thunder and lightening, and high winds -- my mind whispers "climate change"! I can hardly blame my brain which has evolved to survive and is constantly scanning the environment for threats. This is how our ancestors survived . So our brains are "Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for the positive ones". As a result, our "tilt" towards this negativity bias makes us stressed out, unhappy and can adversely impact our health. But there is a way to build a more resilient outlook in the face of life's challenges. Yes, Polyanna, focus on the positive. In fact, the simple practice of placing attention on the good things that happen throughout throughout the day and staying with those positive experiences for at least 30 seconds each time will change your brain to see things more positively. Literally. As Thich Nhat Hanh says “What is most important is not to allow your anxiety about what happens in the world fill your heart. If your heart is filled with anxiety, you will get sick, and you will not be able to help.” So, I'm going to stop writing now and sit down and enjoy a warm cup of tea on this grey, wintery day -- and feel good about it. Ready to deal with whatever is ahead with clarity and an open heart. I got this. So do you.

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Mindfulness and Art

Since practicing mindfulness I've started to paint. This is my first attempt at painting outdoors. I completed it in the studio. I struggled a lot with this painting and when I finished I felt disappointed with it and "put it away". After a wonderful loving-kindness meditation tonight I pulled it out and looked at it less critically. I like the shadows on the barn and reflection in the pond. The lens through which we choose to see the world is so powerful. Tonight I choose to see it with love and self-acceptance and it feels great!

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Directing Attention

Mindfulness strengthens our ability to choose where we direct our attention.  This can be really helpful when writing an exam, cooking a meal, or listening to a friend.  Often, we use the breath as the object of our attention because it is always happening in the present moment and is available 24-7.  I have  a mind that is easily distracted and when I started to practice breath meditations I noticed that my mind slipped away on a thought after as little as one or two breaths.  Upon closer investigation, I noticed that if was in the pauses between the breaths where my mind left the present moment.  So here’s a simple way to stay with the breath!

Meditation Makes You Kinder

Many of us have heard about the benefits of meditation.  You may have even tried it, but found it hard, and gave up – saying “this isn’t for me”. 

Wait!  Did you know the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program offers many different types of meditations including breath meditations, walking meditations, visualization meditations, open focus meditations and many more.  You just have to find the meditations that resonate for you.

An easy one to start with and works well for me is the loving kindness meditation.

If you find yourself becoming critical of yourself or others when stressed you may also find the loving kindness meditation helpful.

I’ve attached a link on my website to a guided 10 minute loving kindness meditation:

https://www.yoga-therapy.ca/audio-of-meditation/  (scroll down to the bottom of the page for the loving kindness meditation)

The important thing to remember is that if you try this, you may be following the guided meditation but can’t experience any feelings of kindness, warmth and compassion!  Even though it might feel dry and mechanical, this is where you just need to do it – daily.  And trust the process.  Sharon Salzberg, a well-known meditation teacher says: “Our job is to just say the phrases, knowing what they mean, but without trying to fabricate a feeling.”  Below the level of our awareness, the brain is hardwired to learn to love better.  Let it happen.  It will happen.  It happened to me.

So now I’m motivated to do this practice regularly because it has helped me become kinder and more loving to myself and others.   And isn’t that what a meaningful life is ultimately about?  For more info on the upcoming program in October at Perth Physio:

https://www.yoga-therapy.ca/what-is-mbsr-program-info/

 

What is Mindfulness?

I recently came across this short 3 minute animated short on You Tube.  It is a good summary of the mindfulness approach taught in the MBSR program.  Students learn to become more accepting of themselves and others as well as more responsive to the stresses encountered in daily life (like being cut off in traffic!). 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6T02g5hnT4

For more information on the upcoming MBSR program at Perth Physio here's the link:

https://www.yoga-therapy.ca/what-is-mbsr-program-info/

 

 

Gratitude

 

Many studies over the past decade have shown that people who regularly practice gratitude tend to be happier and less depressed. And it’s so easy to do! For the past few years, my husband and I have made it a habit to pause before we begin eating a meal and reflect on one thing we are grateful for in that moment. The trick is to remember to do it. You’ll be glad you did. Among many other benefits, our digestion has improved since we started this practice. Now we wouldn’t miss it.

For more information on the next mindfulness course at Perth Physio check out : www.yoga-therapy.ca/mbsr/

Why I Tried Mindfulness and How It Has Changed My Life

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It seems like the word mindfulness is everywhere you look.  If you type ‘mindfulness’ into Google Search,  up pops 157,000,000 hits.  We all have a vague sense that if we learned how to be mindful it would make our lives better somehow.

But what is mindfulness?  It means paying attention to what is happening in your life NOW - not in the past or the future, but in the here and now.  Mindfulness begins when we recognize the tendency to be ‘lost in our thoughts’ and make a commitment to be fully present for our lives.  We do this through a moment-to-moment awareness of bodily sensations, thoughts and emotions with a friendly, non-judging attitude.

But what really got me to commit to the practice of mindfulness was its touted effectiveness in reducing stress.  I was going through a rough patch a couple of years ago and felt it couldn’t hurt to give it a try.   I am so grateful I did.  Here’s  4 reasons why it worked for me.  Maybe some of them may resonate for you too.

1.       This Life Is Precious – We Can’t Waste It

In the space of three short years I lost my mother to dementia, my brother to lung cancer and a friend to pancreatic cancer.  The reality hit home that tomorrow isn’t a guarantee and we need to make the most of today.  Yet, despite my best intentions, I realized I was still missing so much in my life, mindlessly showering,  eating,  driving,  working, and even interacting with others.  Mindfulness has helped me to practice being fully engaged with life – even the difficult parts. 

2.       Accepting My Monkey Mind

Ever since I was a kid, I have been pre-disposed to anxiety.  To keep that anxiety in check my brain is constantly trying to solve a problem or improve a situation through creative ideas and solutions.   I thought my ‘monkey mind’ was a problem until my mindfulness practice helped me see that ‘the mind has a mind of its own’.  Our brain has between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts per day!  Now when my mind wanders away I notice where it’s gone and then return to the anchor of my breathing – over and over!  Practicing this patiently and with a light touch helps calm and ground me.

3.       Life Doesn’t Have To Be Perfect To Be Okay

Mindfulness helps me to notice how my mind likes to judge both myself and others. When I want more of what she has or less of what he has, I notice the sensation of my heart constricting.  Practicing open-hearted acceptance of life as it is in this moment isn’t easy, but it is at the heart of the ‘being mode’. 

4.       Feeling Connected

Mindfulness has helped me become aware of how my social interactions account for the majority of my stressors.  Mindful listening has helped me to continually tune into my own body sensations and thoughts during communication as I learn to listen deeply and really connect and receive the message of the other person.  You don’t necessarily have to agree with the other’s point of view but it is important to acknowledge it.    When both sides in a relationship feel truly heard then extraordinary new possibilities emerge. 

This past year, I have made life changes I didn’t have the courage to make before.  Life isn’t perfect, but I am happier than I’ve ever been.  And every day I practice mindfulness meditation– not because I have to, but because I want to.

Mindfulness is a game-changer, no doubt about it. 

For more information on the next Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction 8 week program:

https://www.yoga-therapy.ca/what-is-mbsr-program-info/