Everyone has hopes and dreams—goals that we set for ourselves and want to be held accountable for. Starting this blog was a dream of mine, and now that I’ve reached that goal, it’s time to set another. My dream is to write a novel, and I can’t think of a better place to put that dream in writing and publicly hold myself accountable:
She waits with anticipated breath. Waiting for her heart to explode out of her chest with pure inspiration. Inspiration she feels is necessary to write her beloved novel. When will this inspiration come? When will ideas pop into her head and organize themselves all at once? When will she be able to write her first page with wit and spontaneity? How will she know the exact words to write line by line?
When will this happen?
Suddenly, a voice whispers inside her head, “Little by little. Piece by piece. Creativity comes from trial and error. It’s not magical or romantic. It’s a lot of work and a lot of patience and a lot of humility mixed in between.”
And so she begins, terrified, as she enters into the next chapter towards her life goals….
As the warm weather changes into cooler, crisper air and the Fall Equinox has passed, it reminds me that winter will soon be here. At this time of year, I notice that I start to look more inward, connecting with my intuition, or as some say, my “gut feeling.”
I look to my inner soul–my intuition–to remind myself that I need to release anything that isn’t serving me or allowing me to be my best self. I guess if you want to get metaphorical, it’s as if the trees releasing their leaves to the ground remind me to declutter my life. Trees do this to prepare for winter. Trees that don’t drop their leaves are more susceptible to breakage when ice storms come early. I suppose we are more connected with our natural elements than we care to admit. If we are open to it, we can feel the connection to nature and learn from it. After all, our intuition comes from our cavemen ancestors, and those survival skills still remain within us. Our guts can tell us a lot about ourselves, how we are feeling, or what we need to do. We just have to lean into it. Focusing inward during this change of season allows us to observe and declutter.
Decluttering can mean all sorts of things. To me, decluttering my surroundings–my home, my closet, my yard–those are all things that help me declutter what I see. I also try to declutter things I hear or read to allow my mind a break from the chaos that surrounds me every day. It’s easy to get swept away by what I watch on tv, read on social media, or hear what others say.
As I look inward, I attempt to declutter so that I can find peace of mind, settle into my best self, and fill my cup so that I am ready to give to others when they need me most. In order to do that, I need to let go of certain things so that I can store up new energy and prepare myself for what’s to come. After all, there are always challenges that come up in our everyday lives. How we deal with those challenges is what makes us human.
Letting go of outside elements and looking inward goes along with the practice of yoga, which teaches us to focus on breathing deeply from our gut, through our sternum, and out through our nose. This deep breathing technique is called Ujjayi breathing. We use it in the yoga world to assist in warming our bodies from within to protect us from injury. It lubricates our joints and our muscles to prepare us for what’s to come. In the same sense, relying on our inner self to prepare us going forward instead of relying on outside elements to keep us warm, is exactly the point of the Fall Equinox. The way in which we look inward with intention will reflect what we release outward into the world.
Just as the trees let go of their leaves, the Fall Equinox is a reminder to let go of what we don’t need. This release allows us to stock up our energy and use up what we need to stay warm, both inside and out, so that we can prepare for the next season of life.
Is there a place that makes you feel more grounded? A place that you call “your happy place,” where the weight of the world melts away and you can feel a sense of calm and connection?
For me, it’s the ocean. In my daydreams, I can see myself sitting near the shore. As I gaze upon the water, with the sun setting in a pink and orange sherbet sky and salty wind blowing on my lips and through my long brown hair, I feel a sense of grounding. I’ve always been drawn to the ocean–not just because of the grand and majestic size of it or the soft whisper of the waves as they float back and forth onto the shore, putting me in a trance-like state. It’s as if I belong there, as if I never left. It feels so familiar to me. Almost as if I lived by the ocean in a previous life. I feel comfortable in my own skin when I’m close on the beach. Burying my toes in the soft sand, I look up and watch the sea gulls fly over me as they call out to each other, gracefully gliding through the wind. The thin, salt-perfumed air is easy to breathe in and makes my legs feel lighter, taller.
I dream that someday I will be living on the shore in my very own beach house with an inviting beachfront. Tall windows face the ocean on three sides, so it’s the first thing I look at when I wake up and the last thing I look at when I go to bed. I imagine there will be a stone fireplace and lots of comfortable space for lounging around the ocean view with my family and friends. There are lots of sunrises and sunsets to gaze upon over the ocean–waiting for me; calling my name.
This is my perfect dream, connected once again to the ocean. Right where I belong.
We are all doing our best to flow through life’s challenges as we work together during this crazy time in our lives. Yoga helps me stay calm and focused as I navigate through stressful situations all around me. And sometimes it surprises me with important life lessons when I least expect it.
During a recent outdoor Power Yoga session, I was feeling triumphant over the fact that I had found the perfect spot in the park for practice. As I lay out my mat in a spot that wasn’t as lumpy as some other spots in the park, I thought, “Wow! I finally have found the perfect spot for practice! I won’t have to worry about one side being higher than the other during Tree Pose or almost falling downhill in Downward-facing Dog! I can manage my flow and balance much better here!”
I was feeling proud of myself, when all of a sudden, I was thrown a curve ball as my instructor challenged us to incorporate a new pose. There went my proud moment of finding the perfect flat spot in the park! As he explained how to fall into low plank from standing without breaking our wrists (yes, you read that right), I suddenly felt humbled. With a slight lump in my throat and my stomach churning, I started to panic. This was not an easy transitional pose and it would be very easy to hurt myself. I am not the most graceful, but I do know how to fall down!
I began to inhale and exhale deeply to reduce my anxiety. After a few breaths and shaking out my arms and legs, I found myself focusing on what others might think of me. What if I couldn’t do the pose? Or what if I looked awkward doing it? I reasoned with myself–everyone else would look awkward as well and some people might not try it at all.
I decided I would try my best. I started out slow and low to the ground, bending deeply before landing in low plank. I was in shock at how it didn’t seem bad at all, and I did it with control during my first attempt. I decided to try it again standing up a little higher and landing on my hands. I looked down and realized my hands were still attached to my body. It worked! I kept trying–starting out a little higher each time until I was almost at full standing pose before dropping down into low plank. After a few minutes of trying this transitional drop into low plank, we were able to move on through our flow and I finished with my body parts still intact.
This was a huge teaching moment for me. I often won’t attempt to do scary, challenging poses because I’m afraid they will hurt me, or I will look awkward. I fret that it might take me years to accomplish a challenging pose and maybe people will look at me as if I’m not accomplished enough to be a yoga instructor. I worry that I won’t be perfect. But I realized in that moment that perfection was not the goal. Maybe progress was all I was aiming for.
Ironically, I’m reading Real Love by Sharon Salzberg this month. I say it’s ironic, because in it, she explains how the idea of perfection is the opposite of self-love. Yoga teaches us to take risks and to believe in ourselves and to trust our bodies. But perfection is never taught in yoga, nor has it ever been a part of its teachings. Society has taught us to aim for perfection to appear as if we live perfect lives.
As we celebrate National Yoga Month in September, don’t lose sight of the wholistic approach of yoga. We don’t just celebrate yoga for its physical benefits, but for the mindful connections we make along the way—the progress. This is one of the many reasons why yoga has been practiced for thousands of years. Let’s celebrate National Yoga Month together, knowing that everyone is on their own journey, at their own pace, and for their own reasons.
During COVID-19, I have taken time to try to declutter my thoughts and bad feelings and to minimize stress as much as possible with meditation and self-healing. I’ve been focusing on positive thoughts and making room for creativity. However, being stuck in the middle of a pandemic can bring on lots of fear and worry about our future.
Now take this situation and put it in the middle of an election year, and the stress intensifies. I find myself constantly trying to cope with discussions about politics and getting swept into conversations because I’m passionate about the subject. But I also dwell on the consequences of not getting my facts straight and voting for the wrong person. The wrong person in office not only will affect me and my personal decisions but will also affect every single American and what the future holds for us during and after COVID. It’s a tough burden to bear for everyone.
This situation reminds me how deeply rooted politics is in our brain, especially during an election year. How am I supposed to stay positive and away from negative thoughts and still take a political stand when I need to? Where is the line drawn, and how do I stay above it without getting sucked into the controversy? I won’t bury my head in the sand, but I don’t want to draw up any drama that may cause a fight or negative energy. If I am trying to dismantle bad habits and baggage from my upbringing, while at the same time stay away from the drama that politics causes (as my parents and I don’t see eye to eye on the political spectrum), then how do I embrace my parents for who they are and yet still be true to myself?
This is a tough one. I have friends that feel the opposite from me when it comes to politics, but they aren’t nearly as evasive and determined to change my mind as are my parents. With these friends, I can remain calm and positive and not feel defensive. But when I’m around my parents, I always have my guard up as they try to impose on my beliefs and values.
I’m reminded of Deepak Chopra’s Abundance Meditation when he suggests that, “In every situation, we have new opportunities to find creative ways to solve our problems, redefine our priorities and explore other options. We begin to view challenges more positively, when we realize that we possess the power to focus our attention on new opportunities and possibilities for abundance are endless. There are no limits to what we can have. Take the time to look at each situation that challenges you and find those seeds of success that will attract greater abundance into your life.”
So how do I keep my mind decluttered from all the negative spins and attacks on who I want as the next President of the United States while still focusing on the positive and keeping my sanity? I can choose to look at each situation that challenges me, find a way to lighten my load, and remember that I cannot change people’s minds. Instead, I can walk away from the discussions and focus my attention back onto my creativity instead.
My time is precious and my focus is on the creative use of energy. The only way to stay creative is to declutter my mind from anything that isn’t serving me. I will be doing a lot more writing over the next few months and most likely sharing my thoughts without trying to sway political opinion.
I am a truth seeker, and as such, I do realize that not everything I hear on television or everything I read is true. I take it for what it is and sort it out by actions and what my eyes see. As Chopra suggests, I will use challenges as an opportunity for creative growth. My mental health with thank me.
Have you noticed how people are reaching out to others more? Have you noticed how people are sharing their vulnerabilities and how others respond to those who are struggling? Have you noticed how people are checking in daily to see how their loved ones are doing?
Yes, there are always going to be assholes out there twisting and destroying humankind, but for the most part, I see and hear more people than ever asking how I’m doing, and total strangers are offering to help if I ever need it.
Is it that obvious that I need help? I mean, I have gained an extra 20 pounds. Maybe it’s because I celebrate National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day with a cookie in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. Or perhaps it’s just me being overly sensitive to my vulnerabilities, and people just care and truly want to know how I’m doing.
I see humankind evolving despite how unsure we are of the future. We are evolving into more caring individuals. We are showing more vulnerability, and people are learning to step up to ask for help as they never have before. How can we see our lives as so narrow and dark if others are reaching out all the time? It’s very hard when people are looking out for you and rooting you on.
As I begin to study Abundance Meditation, I’ve started to take inventory of all that I have and practice being satisfied with what I have. This is not an easy thing to do, and it takes time to practice, but I will give you an example of all that I am grateful for today:
My and my family’s health
My cuddly kitties always cheering me up with their cuteness
The smell of summer rain
Time and space to practice outdoor yoga
A roof over our head
Healthy food on our table
Good friends I can confide in
The flexibility to work from home
Planning my husband’s birthday celebration Covid-style
National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day!
I don’t have to look very far to find abundance in my life. I just have to be able to open my eyes and choose to find the silver lining. With the help of my family and friends, I can do this, and so can you. After all, I am in the middle of evolving along with the rest of the world.
We can evolve, or find the abundance, the silver lining, or whatever you want to call it, because we are all in this together and no one will let you drink alone.
If you are looking for a good meditation app/podcast, I suggest the following:
Meditative Story Podcast
21 Days of Abundance Meditation with Deepak Chopra
Have you ever felt a powerful sense of loving kindness for someone you’ve never met before? Just from observing this person, you felt an overwhelming sense of compassion and pure love towards them as they went about their business, completely unaware you were watching them with this sense of love vibing from your heart?
Before I even knew what “Metta meditation,” or “loving kindness” was, I can remember a particular instance of it happening to me. Before I begin my story, let me explain what Metta meditation is. It is cultivating compassion towards yourself and others, wishing all beings to be happy and free from suffering, and in that wish, feeling pure joy in imagining all beings being happy. In a sense, your happiness arises as a result of knowing others are happy. Metta meditation as a practice involves thinking about beings you care about (people, animals, etc.), as well as people you don’t know or care about, and visualizing and sending positive thoughts towards yourself and them. But sometimes this practice can happen more “organically”.
My experience with Metta meditation happened during a trip abroad. I was coming home late on a bus from a day full of Christmas shopping in Edinburgh. I was exhausted, yet feeling hopeful that my unique finds from another part of the world would bring pleasure to my family back in the US as they unwrapped the gifts I had purposely picked out for each of them. As I sat and imagined my family’s smiles spread across their faces, I looked over to see an elderly gentleman wearing a tattered wool suit jacket, a plaid wool paperboy hat, and very worn boots. As I looked a little closer, I noticed he had a hole in one of his boots, and I could see his very wet black sock through the hole. He was also wearing earmuffs and gloves with the fingertips cut off. Despite his tattered clothes, he still looked very distinguished, as if he used to live a wealthy life, hosting lots of parties that included intelligent conversations around chimney fires and glasses of scotch.
The elderly gentleman held a Menzies bag in his hand. Menzies is a store with a bit of everything in it. I would compare it to Target or Walmart, only smaller. He kept looking at the bag and a smile drew upon his face. It was as if he was trying to fight the urge to open it up. Finally, he couldn’t wait any longer and opened the bag and pulled out what appeared to be a small plastic box. The gentleman opened the box and pulled out small plastic chess pieces. I soon realized he had a travel-sized plastic chess board. He pulled out each individual chess piece with a curious smile and held it high into the air so that he could steal a glimpse of it when the bus passed by a streetlight. When the streetlight finally shed some light on the chess piece, his smile grew even bigger. I watched as he kept pulling out each piece and counting them as he put them back in the case.
I wondered who he had bought this small plastic chess game for. Was it for his grandchild? His own son or daughter? Or was it a gift for himself?
Though he looked like he had played many chess games in his life, I made the conclusion that the chess game was a gift for a grandchild, and he wanted to pass on his love for chess to his grandson or granddaughter.
I suddenly realized that we were both having the same feelings and imagining how our gifts would bring happiness to our loved ones. I felt an instant connection with this man and hoped that the recipient of his gift would not disappoint this man’s excitement, as I watched him anticipate the joy his gift would bring. Though this plastic chess game may have cost no more than ten pounds, I hoped the memories it brought would be worth so much more. I hoped the recipient would understand how much giving this gift meant to this man.
Though we parted ways without saying a word on that day twenty years ago, the image of this elderly man has stayed with me all these years. I now understand how someone can wish happiness on someone they have never really met and how his happiness made me happy.
As I unloaded my many purchases from all the touristy places onto my bed, I counted out the precious cargo and realized I was just as hopeful as the gentleman on the bus. Picturing my family’s faces as they unwrapped my gifts, I realized it wasn’t so much about the gifts as it was about wishing my family could be in Scotland and get to experience what I was experiencing. I wanted my joy to be my family’s joy.
With the memories of my encounter on the bus fresh in my head, I decided to wish happiness upon myself and to truly enjoy each remaining day abroad in order to make the most of it for myself and my family. And I looked forward to the moment I could share my gifts with my family so that I could experience the joy of their happiness.
I completed my Yoga Alliance 200-hour yoga teacher training program at Yoga Lounge and Barre in Hudson, Ohio, on May 16, 2020. I currently teach Power Vinyasa Flow and Gentle Flow.
I started practicing yoga several years ago at various local gyms and with home videos. However, I began to take my practice seriously when I discovered Yoga Lounge and Barre a few years ago. That’s when I felt the mind-body connection and ultimately, when I fell in love with the practice. Before practicing at a yoga studio, I just thought yoga was something to do to help stretch out my sore muscles after running, power lifting, or taking a high-energy cardio class. I always felt like I needed to develop more strength physically, but never gave much thought to my mental state until I practiced at Yoga Lounge and Barre. Not only do I feel empowered, stronger, and calmer during yoga, but I feel blissful and completely happy and relaxed afterward. I hope my students can feel the same after taking my online yoga classes. I want my students to walk away knowing that “the power lies within.”
As a person who suffers from Scoliosis, I am particularly interested in studying more about how yoga benefits people who suffer from various back problems and improving spine alignment.
I have a day job working at Crate & Barrel in Customer Service and as a Furniture Design and Sales Consultant. In my free time, I like to write. (I have a blog called Coffee with Julz.) I also enjoy biking with my husband, Chris, through the Metroparks system in Northeast Ohio; reading (usually with a glass of wine); traveling; and hanging out with family, friends, and our two cats, Izzy and Belle.
For further information about the yoga classes that I offer or for private lessons, please visit my Facebook page, “Awake Yoga.” You can also message me through Facebook or Twitter.
Recently, I needed to remind myself of the quote by Vienna Pharaon, “Avoiding your triggers isn’t healing. Healing happens when you’re triggered and you’re able to move through the pain, the pattern, and the story and walk your way to a different ending.”
This quote about mindfulness can probably be applied to almost any situation, but it seems most relatable during this unsettling moment in our history. We are fortunate to live in a time where mental healing is emphasized just as much as physical health. However, mindfulness can still be difficult to find—without getting a little help from a glass of wine or pint of ice cream, that is.
Kidding aside, I do find it hard to sit with the triggers and move through the pain, because I try to avoid triggers so that I can remain calm and present for others. There is a constant inner struggle between keeping the mind calm and moving through the pain.
When I’m on the mat and I’m in a difficult bind trying to breathe through the pain, all I can think about is my next breath. In yoga, we purposely put ourselves in a bind or a very strenuous situation so that we can practice getting out of it. Over time, we build enough strength so that we are able to come out of our binds with ease.
A few months ago, I accomplished a half moon pose without the assistance of a block to keep me balanced for the very first time! I have always needed a block prior to that instance. But over time, I learned to face my trigger head on and kept trying to move through the pain to get stronger each time until I was able to accomplish a difficult pose without any assistance.
The point is, I always thought I needed someone or something to keep me balanced and calm when working through my triggers. But I’ve realized that the power lies within and that I’m strong enough to pull myself out of these difficult situations or triggers. By doing so, I can walk my way to a different ending, because I’ve built up enough strength over time to prepare myself for this difficult time in history.
And yes, wine and a pint of ice cream help me along the way. After all, I’m only human.
Today, I sat down to meditate by listening to my favorite podcast, “Meditative Story”. This episode was titled, “There’s No One Way,” by Gretchen Rubin. She discusses how habits create happiness. Of course, it depends on what kind of habits I create, but the bottom line is, if something works for me, it does not always mean that it will work for everyone else. There is no one right way to become happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative. We each have to know ourselves. I can relate to a lot of what Gretchen is saying, when she says, “outer order contributes to inner calm.” For example, I always become instantly happier when I tidy up my house. My favorite thing to do is purge clutter! (Yes, my husband is very annoyed by this habit.)
But why is there still a lot of inner clutter despite the outer order in my house?
It’s obvious to me that habits help make life happier–not perfect, but happier. When I’m busy, I don’t have to think about how our world is suddenly turned upside down. Perhaps that’s why I am constantly sticking to my habits and constantly running around the house to keep it neat and tidy. My husband is the complete opposite. My constant picking up of stuff around the house annoys him, yet seeing a clean house makes me happy.
I can identify with how Gretchen points out that one way we express love to others is by trying to tightly control everything around and inside us. Thus, I try to control my surroundings. I have recently realized that is why accepting what is happening, instead of controlling it, is so hard for me.
Gretchen points out, “A central tension in a happy life is that we want both to accept ourselves and expect more from ourselves. Only we can decide what we can accept from ourselves and what we can expect more of from ourselves. And what that means–no one can decide that for you.”
So how do I calm my monkey mind during these crazy times? How do I relax my struggle, my burnout and find some sort of way to be present? How do I decide what I can accept from myself and what I can expect more of from myself?
Meditation allows my mind to roam free and let it all go. By creating a daily habit to meditate each day, I can invite my body, heart, and mind to relax and be free. I can watch, instead of trying to obtain the impossible goal of controlling what is happening all around us. Noticing why and how my mind is not free will help me to get better at letting go and deciding what I am willing to accept and what I can expect more of from myself.
Can I still improve by letting go, even though I meditate daily? Of course I can!
I will continue the daily habits that help me feel in control, like cleaning up around the house, working out, cooking, and taking care of my plants, while also keeping up with new habits that help me relax and let go, such as my daily meditation, yoga, getting outside more, reading, and maybe a glass of wine or two at night for good measure! We are all in this together, and finding new ways to adapt and survive is vital!
Please share how you are adapting and if you have found any habits that have helped you to be happy during the Coronavirus!
If you would like to listen to Meditative Story, There’s No One Way, by Gretchen Rubin, you can click on the link below: