What do we do when Option A is no longer available?

What do we do when Plan A doesn’t work out? Jobs end. Relationships don’t pan out. The path we have smoothly laid out for ourselves becomes bumpy, and sometimes completely changes to a path we don’t recognize. Inevitably, we have all been there, and it can feel devastating, if not paralyzing. It’s hard to know what to do next. We’re left feeling a lot like the shrugging girl or guy emoji, but if he or she was tear stained and curled up in the fetal position on the floor. Hey...we've all been there.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, draws on her experience in the sudden loss of her husband and father to their two young children, in collaboration with psychologist Adam Grant, to write a painfully beautiful and honest book on grief and the process of moving forward. In her book, she talks a lot about building resiliency, especially in regards to grief and transition. What is resiliency exactly? Resiliency is described as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”. Personally, I don’t like the “tough” part of the definition because I think our softness actually gives us more strength, when we let it. The truth is, life usually doesn’t go according to plan, but the good news is that resiliency is like a muscle and we can build it up, even and especially in difficult times. Throughout her book, she and psychologist Adam Grant discuss multiple ways we can build resilience:

1. Personalization, Pervasiveness, and Permanance

There are three P’s that can stunt recovery — personalization, or thinking that we are at fault, pervasiveness, the belief that an event will affect ALL areas of our life, and permanence, and the belief that it will last forever. "Hundreds of studies have shown that children and adults recover more quickly when they realize that hardships aren’t entirely their fault, don’t effect every aspect of their lives, and won’t follow them everywhere forever.” If these three P’s can be addressed by the person grieving or suffering, the better chance to build resiliency to move forward, even on the hard days.

2. Kick the elephant out of the room

When something terrible happens, it can feel hard to address or talk about, either on the person suffering’s end or those we come in contact may not know how to talk about it or are afraid to stir up feelings, so instead, they just don’t acknowledge the event. However, there is a lot of evidence that speaking about traumatic events improves mental and physical health. It can help people understand their own emotions AND feel understood by others. Simply speaking with empathy and honesty is a good place to start. TALK about it.

3. Self-Compassion, Self-Confidence, and Contributing

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when we feel like we have a mountain in front of us full of an uphill climb. Sandberg attributes journaling to helping her process her overwhelming feelings and make sense of the past in order to rebuild her self confidence to navigate her present and future. Part of this was writing down three things she did well that day. As we know, when we are experiencing grief, sometimes those things can simply be that we got dressed and left the house. There is evidence that these lists help by focusing on “small wins”. Counting our contributions can help boost our confidence. While gratitude lists are good and serve a purpose, gratitude lists tend to be passive, while contributions are active, and remind us we can make a difference. We don’t have to aim for perfection, and we shouldn’t. 

4. Pay attention to JOY

Paying attention to joy takes work because as humans we are wired to notice and focus on negative events more than positive ones. She says “accepting that it is okay to push through the guilt and seek joy is a triumph over permanence. Having fun is a form of self-compassion.” One of my favorite lines I took away from this book was in the chapter on taking back joy where happiness is described as “the joy you find on hundreds of forgettable Wednesdays”. When we let joy in, which is typically made up of small moments (think: the way the light hits the trees just right and makes a beautiful beam) rather than big events (graduations, promotions, etc.). When you seize more moments of joy, you find that they give you strength.

Transition, disappointment, and loss can happen at any moment and hit us hard. In fact, we are always in some form of transition. It’s vital to be gentle with yourself through your own process and remind yourself that yours won’t look like the persons next to you. We all experience, grieve and heal differently. It’s not always about how well we execute Option A, but how we handle Option B. If you are interested in further reading on the above mentioned, check out Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s book, “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy”. And like Sheryl reminds us, "Sometimes Option A is not available, so let's just kick the shit out of Option B". Who's with me?

What You Practice Grows Stronger

Have you ever heard one of those nuggets of wisdom from someone you know, or maybe even a stranger that quite literally shocked your brain and almost jolted you back on track in some way? I’ve said it before but a lot of times these nuggets are things we already know deep down, but we needed to be reminded or maybe it needed to be simplified in a unique way where it could finally stick. About a week ago I watched a tedX talk on the power of mindfulness by clinical psychologist and researcher, Dr. Shauna Shapiro, that gave me one of those jolts. If you were in my yoga classes last week, you heard me talk about it. It’s these 5 simple words, “What You Practice Grows Stronger”. Well, essentially, yeah. But maybe we can break this down a little bit.

As a lot of us know, it all starts with the thoughts…that then can affect our feelings…that then can affect our actions and behavior. Thoughts > Feelings > Actions. She goes on to say that mindfulness isn’t about paying attention, but rather HOW we pay attention. Most of us get easily caught in our own feedback loops of shame and self-judgement, whether during day-to-day activities or even during mindfulness meditation practices (“why can’t I stay focused?” “I’m terrible at this” “I’m terrible at everything” etc). We think that by beating ourselves up, we will somehow magically become better, but research has proved that shame DOES NOT and CANNOT work. Why? Because parts of the brain that involve learning and growth shut down when we feel shame. In an effort to naturally avoid the feelings associated with shame, we are ultimately just hiding from those parts of ourselves — parts that still need our attention. Dr. Shapiro suggests that we can use “kind attention” to look at those parts of ourselves we don’t want to see. Kindness triggers a dopamine response that is required for lasting change. Your thoughts and your habits may be what you practice but they do not define you. They can be changed or altered at any time. I'e been going back to "what you practice grows stronger" as a sort of mantra the past week, especially when I notice myself getting caught in patterns of judgment (whether it's self or others) or reactivity. What do you want to grow stronger? Frustration? Kindness? Presence? You're in the driver seat. You get to choose what direction you go in.

Link to ted talk: https://youtu.be/IeblJdB2-Vo

Here is an exercise you can try in an effort to track how you are paying attention:

  1. A) HOW do you pay attention on a day to day basis? How do you talk to yourself? Are you doing one or five things at once? You may notice this during a single activity, such as cooking breakfast. B) How do you talk to yourself during any mindfulness practices you engage in (if you do) whether it’s meditation, yoga, or something else?
  2. How is that affecting your reality, your decision making, your behavior, and those around you? Can you track any of those items?
  3. Where can you start to practice kind attention instead of judgment or shaming? Set a reasonable, measurable goal. 

One answer example:

  1. B) I get fidgety and irritable when I can’t seem to focus during meditation…
  2. Which means sometimes I end up cutting it short instead of sitting with it. Then I start to feel like I’m not good enough at mindfulness practices and find myself getting distracted from the present moment more easily in regular activities.
  3. I can allow myself to sit with it during the entirety of the meditation and try to talk to myself like I would a good friend who was having a difficult time with something in an effort to practice more kind attention. I will start this during my meditation tomorrow of 10 set minutes - sitting with discomfort, redirecting judgment to kind attention. 

Yin Yoga Sequence for the Immune System

It's the most wonderful time of the yeeeear (the holidays are nice, but your girl isn't a fan of the cold)! I'm talking about spring time! BUT with spring, comes pollen. With pollen, comes a whole lot of feeling under the weather, even if the weather outside itself feels nice. The good news is...there's a yoga sequence for that. If you do happen to be feeling under the weather, run down, or low energy, this particular practice is intended to stimulate the lymphatic system. The lymph actually moves from feet to neck, which isn’t how we are naturally oriented, so we will be incorporating shapes where the feet and lower body may be above the upper body. The lymph is a major part of our immune functioning, in fact, its major function is to transport lymph (which is infection fighting white blood cells) through the body. This sequence is intended to improve immune functioning through lymph drainage, along with the other typical benefits of a yin practice. Find a quiet spot near a wall with open space to begin your practice. Feel free to have a blanket, block, bolster, or pillow near you to use throughout your practice. 

 

Legs Up The Wall (4 minutes)   Scoot your hips toward the wall, to gently roll onto the back, extending through each leg. You can always allow a soft bend in the knee if needed. If the feet begin to feel numb or tingly, try bending deeply through both knees to rest the thighs on or near the chest.

Legs Up The Wall (4 minutes)

Scoot your hips toward the wall, to gently roll onto the back, extending through each leg. You can always allow a soft bend in the knee if needed. If the feet begin to feel numb or tingly, try bending deeply through both knees to rest the thighs on or near the chest.

Figure 4 At Wall (3 minutes each side)   Bend deeply through both knees, allowing the ankles to line up with the knees. Scoot back away from the wall as much as you need to (again, placing a blanket under your low back as needed). Hug the right knee in toward the chest, cross the right ankle over the left thigh, making a figure 4 shape. The right knee should be pushing away from you. Your low and middle back may be slightly lifted, but allow the upper back and shoulders to be fully supported. To increase the stretch as your tissues lengthen with time , you can press down through the hips and low back. Repeat on left side, allowing both legs to extend and rest in between.

Figure 4 At Wall (3 minutes each side)

Bend deeply through both knees, allowing the ankles to line up with the knees. Scoot back away from the wall as much as you need to (again, placing a blanket under your low back as needed). Hug the right knee in toward the chest, cross the right ankle over the left thigh, making a figure 4 shape. The right knee should be pushing away from you. Your low and middle back may be slightly lifted, but allow the upper back and shoulders to be fully supported. To increase the stretch as your tissues lengthen with time , you can press down through the hips and low back. Repeat on left side, allowing both legs to extend and rest in between.

Wide-legged/Dragonfly At Wall (5 minutes)   From figure 4, re-extend through legs and scoot up as close to the wall as you can get (option for low back blanket support). Allow the legs to fall heavy away from one another, finding a micro bed in the knees as needed. Back body should be fully supported. You may allow the feet to fall a little further away from one another as time passes. When you are ready to exit this pose, support the outer thighs with the palms, pushing the feet back towards one another. Hug the knees back into the chest, rolling to one side to rest in fetal position for several deep breaths. Slowly help yourself up to a table top position facing the wall. Find 5-8 rounds of cat/cow movements.

Wide-legged/Dragonfly At Wall (5 minutes)

From figure 4, re-extend through legs and scoot up as close to the wall as you can get (option for low back blanket support). Allow the legs to fall heavy away from one another, finding a micro bed in the knees as needed. Back body should be fully supported. You may allow the feet to fall a little further away from one another as time passes. When you are ready to exit this pose, support the outer thighs with the palms, pushing the feet back towards one another. Hug the knees back into the chest, rolling to one side to rest in fetal position for several deep breaths. Slowly help yourself up to a table top position facing the wall. Find 5-8 rounds of cat/cow movements.

Mindful Forward Fold at Wall (3 minutes)   After cat/cow, find stillness in your table top position. Tucking the toes, hips extend towards the sky, finding length in the spine, releasing through the crown of the head, knees bend as much as needed to find a mindful downward facing dog. Pedal through each knee to find micro movements, eventually settling into stillness for three breaths. Slowly begin to walk your feet towards your palms to meet in a forward fold. Grab opposite elbows, swaying side to side, release through cervical spine, shaking head yes and no. Begin to walk a few more steps towards the wall where the back can rest/press up to wall. Allow the knees to bend as deeply as needed, even to where the torso can rest on the thighs and the wall can support you to approach your edge even closer. When you are ready to exit, step back to a downward down for one breath, drop the knees and meet in a table top position, finding a few rounds of cat/cow to flush it out.

Mindful Forward Fold at Wall (3 minutes)

After cat/cow, find stillness in your table top position. Tucking the toes, hips extend towards the sky, finding length in the spine, releasing through the crown of the head, knees bend as much as needed to find a mindful downward facing dog. Pedal through each knee to find micro movements, eventually settling into stillness for three breaths. Slowly begin to walk your feet towards your palms to meet in a forward fold. Grab opposite elbows, swaying side to side, release through cervical spine, shaking head yes and no. Begin to walk a few more steps towards the wall where the back can rest/press up to wall. Allow the knees to bend as deeply as needed, even to where the torso can rest on the thighs and the wall can support you to approach your edge even closer. When you are ready to exit, step back to a downward down for one breath, drop the knees and meet in a table top position, finding a few rounds of cat/cow to flush it out.

Dragon Pose (3 minutes each side)    From table top, extend through the right leg for one breath, begin to pull the right knee toward the nose, rounding the spine. Place the right foot in between the palms, scooting the back knee back another inch or two, if that feels okay. You may prop a blanket underneath the back knee for extra support. Heel toe your right food a few inches to the right to bring the right palm on the inside edge of the right foot. Press right foot firmly into your mat. Option to stay on the palms, or to lower onto the forearms on a prop (block or bolster), or the floor. Repeat on left side. Allow space and patience for difference between sides — reframing any thought of “good” or “bad” to just “different”.

Dragon Pose (3 minutes each side)

 From table top, extend through the right leg for one breath, begin to pull the right knee toward the nose, rounding the spine. Place the right foot in between the palms, scooting the back knee back another inch or two, if that feels okay. You may prop a blanket underneath the back knee for extra support. Heel toe your right food a few inches to the right to bring the right palm on the inside edge of the right foot. Press right foot firmly into your mat. Option to stay on the palms, or to lower onto the forearms on a prop (block or bolster), or the floor. Repeat on left side. Allow space and patience for difference between sides — reframing any thought of “good” or “bad” to just “different”.

Supported Fish Pose (5 minutes)   Place a bolster or block shortways behind you to lower down where the bolster is resting at the mid-back. You may use your elbows to lower down. Hips are heavy, shoulders wrap around the prop to rest at the sides. Shoulders broaden. Allow head to rest on either a block or crown of the head rests on the floor, opening up through the throat and neck more. Knees can stay bent, extend, or find a butterfly shape.

Supported Fish Pose (5 minutes)

Place a bolster or block shortways behind you to lower down where the bolster is resting at the mid-back. You may use your elbows to lower down. Hips are heavy, shoulders wrap around the prop to rest at the sides. Shoulders broaden. Allow head to rest on either a block or crown of the head rests on the floor, opening up through the throat and neck more. Knees can stay bent, extend, or find a butterfly shape.

Supported Twist (4 minutes each side)   Place bolster longways behind you, bringing the base to line up with right hip (knees are bent to the side). Place palms on either side of the bolster as you slowly lower yourself to the rest the torso on the prop. Right or left check can rest on bolster, depending on what is most comfortable on the neck. Allow this to be a more supported and restorative pose. Repeat on opposite side.

Supported Twist (4 minutes each side)

Place bolster longways behind you, bringing the base to line up with right hip (knees are bent to the side). Place palms on either side of the bolster as you slowly lower yourself to the rest the torso on the prop. Right or left check can rest on bolster, depending on what is most comfortable on the neck. Allow this to be a more supported and restorative pose. Repeat on opposite side.

Savasana (7 minutes)    For your final resting pose, find a shape that allows the body and mind as much surrender as possible for you today. You can use props for support, find legs up the wall again, or simply lay resting flat on the back.

Savasana (7 minutes)

 For your final resting pose, find a shape that allows the body and mind as much surrender as possible for you today. You can use props for support, find legs up the wall again, or simply lay resting flat on the back.

An Intention-Setting Guided Meditation To Start Your 2018

Honestly, I don’t do “resolutions”, and New Years is more symbolic to me than anything else, really. I prefer reflection, and intention. I don’t do diets and none of this reflection and intention-setting has anything to do with my physical form, which is why I have come up with a straightforward, simple guided meditation to help you ground, reflect, accept, and envision inspired by Tris Thorp. The only thing needed for this guided meditation is yourself, your breath (I'm pretty sure you can't go anywhere without these two things though, as hard as we may try sometimes), a comfortable, quiet space (silence that cell phone, honey), a piece of scrap paper or journal, and a writing utensil! This should take you anywhere between 10-30 minutes, depending on how much time you want to spend in each section. I recommend spending at least a good 3-5 minutes settling in as you open, and another as you close (before the journal portion). When you feel ready, let's begin...

"Find a comfortable position, whether it’s lying flat on your back, utilizing any props, or finding a comfortable seat. Allow yourself a few moments to settle into the shape your body wants to receive. Once you have found your shape, begin to bring your awareness to the rhythm of your natural breath - no need to manipulate or change it in any way, just noticing the breath, filling up and expanding on the inhales, grounding and contracting on the exhales. Spend a few minutes grounding with the breath, allowing it to soften you. Let this softness enter through the crown of the head as it makes it way down the face, the neck, shoulders, chest, torso and back body, down the legs, and out through the tips of the toes. Notice how the earth or any props feel beneath you, how they support you. Allow this solid support to be felt throughout the body as a physical heaviness. Once you feel as settled as you can be at this moment (I say this because some days may feel easier to “settle in” than others, and this is not good or bad, it just is, for that moment), bring your awareness to an area of your life you would like to invite growth or transformation. 

Begin to envision what this looks like, as if you are currently living it. How does this situation physically appear? What does the environment look like around you? Who is with you, if anyone? Identify any sounds, smells, visually what is happening - take in all sensory aspects. Allow yourself the time to take it all in. Once you feel ready, move beyond the physical realm. How do you feel…how does it feel to be you in this moment living the highest version of what you would like to manifest? Continue to let your inhales fill you up and expand this vision that already exists within you, and let your exhales ground you as you bring that vision to a reality surrounding your space. 

As you continue to soak up this vision, ask yourself to identify tangible goals that can lead you to this place - What action steps can you take each day or week? Begin to picture yourself engaging in these actions - no need to rush, allow yourself to shape this vision as you breathe in and out with the rhythm of your natural breath. Notice how these actions bring you closer and closer to your desired goal or transformation - you may even allow these steps to play out as if you are watching a film of yourself. Take your time. 

Slowly begin to come back to the feeling of your natural breath, drawing inhales from deep in the belly. Allow what you have envisioned to slowly fade as you come back to the sensations of your physical body, maybe even the sound of breath coming from your neighbor, or any other noticeable sounds in the room. Allow time for the journey you just took to process, letting it settle into your bones with each breath.

Once you have arrived back into your space, take out your scrap paper or journal and begin to jot some notes down from your meditation experience - maybe write down the area of your life that came up for you during this meditation that you want to transform or invite growth. What action plans, steps, or goals came up for you? Prioritize them, maybe even set a timeline. Allow this intention-setting meditation carry you into the new year with confidence, hope, and determination."