Resolutions, Returns and Exchanges

I’m not much for making lists. I do try to make a grocery list each week but inevitably I forget it on the counter or forget to add the important things like cheese or cereal. Most of the time I go by memory and it works pretty well and if I end up with extra lemons, why not make lemon tarts?

As I settle into this new year, it has never crossed my mind to make any resolutions. Why set myself up for failure by creating a list of unrealistic expectations? I will most likely forget my list on the counter and end up doing  extra sets of crunches and mountain climbers when I was supposed to go swimming. Oi!

Instead of resolutions, which are dictatorial and so not fun, why not enact a series of returns and exchanges? If you receive a sweater that doesn’t fit, you take it back and exchange it. If you buy a toaster and it doesn’t work, you return it.

If we can return and exchange the material things in our lives that we don’t like or don’t serve us, why not return and exchange the less tangible things aren’t working for us?

Perhaps you find yourself getting annoyed that you have to take your dog for a walk everyday. There are too many things you feel are more important and this is just another interruption. All you want is to get the walk over with as soon as possible but your dog wants to stop every few minutes and smell each individual blade of grass and pee on every other bush. By the time you return home, you are short tempered and cranky and yet your dog seems as happy as ever. Why not exchange the feelings of frustration for those of happiness? Happiness that the only demand on your time is a walk with your dog. Leave your phone at home or in your pocket and be present. Granted you probably won’t find every blade of grass and every other bush intensely interesting but there are likely other things that will. Notice each foot as it hits the pavement. Watch the sky change colours as the sun rises or sets. Enjoy the hockey game from the sidewalk because the guy down the street has a 90 inch TV and doesn’t close his curtains. Why be frustrated when you can be happy? It takes no effort to be calm but many demands of your body and mind to maintain levels of frustration. You might also find that your body feels lighter and there is more space between your thoughts.

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Returns work the same way as exchanges. Maybe once upon a time you spent Sunday afternoons sketching and it gave you great joy but over the months or years the habit fell away. You keep thinking that you’d like to get back to it but something else always seems to get in the way and besides you lost your pencil sharpener and the dog ate the red and yellow pencils and the paper ended up in the bottom of the bird’s cage. Phooey. Those colours were so last season anyway. Go to your local art supply store and buy new pencils and a sharpener. Or maybe it’s charcoals or pastels. You probably need a sketchbook too. While you’re at the store, sign up for a weekly art class. If it’s scheduled and paid for, you are more likely to do it and by the time the session is over, an old love is returned and a new habit is formed. You may not be sketching every Sunday afternoon but you might be surprised at just how often you can find time here and there to return to your pencils.

Why start the new year stressing over making a list of things that you think need to be fixed? The world constantly changes so why limit yourself. As you notice something that you would like to reshape, be kind and patient with yourself. Exchange a negative feeling for one that is more positive. If an action is no longer serving you, let it go and return to an activity that fulfills you.

Of course there will be times when you will feel frustrated or angry or sad or just meh. That’s okay; it’s part of life. But sometimes we forget that we don’t have to settle for a particular feeling; we are in control. When you’re ready, make a return or exchange. You don’t even need a bill of sale.

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Sing, Sing a Song

Do you ever get a song stuck in your head? Maybe a jingle from a commercial or just part of a song you caught while flipping through radio stations? I’ve had a song stuck in my head for the past couple of weeks. It isn’t on constant rotation but it keeps popping up again and again. Usually this is a very annoying thing but I am quite enjoying my song.

It’s a healing meditation I learned in a Kundalini yoga class. The words are very simple and, to me, very powerful. We chanted along with Snatum Kaur’s recording, which I find  beautiful.

The intention of this mantra is to  brings health and positivity to yourself or other people (depending on your intention). If you practice Reiki or other energy work, you may feel heat in your hands – I certainly do. When I chant it, I am overcome with a great sense of peace and love.

If you are interested in this meditation, I’ve posted the guidelines below. If this mantra doesn’t resonate with you, that’s totally fine. Is there another song or mantra or other words that sit well with you? If there is, try taking them out of your head and sing or chant them out loud. It doesn’t matter if you can sing or not. Remember Ahimsa or the non-violence aspect of yoga. Be kind to yourself, don’t judge your voice or abilities. Just sing your song!

To do the healing meditation, sit tall in Easy pose. Bend the arms and snug the elbows against the sides of the rib cage. Palms of the hands face up. This position is quite effortless as it allows the shoulders to sink down. If it becomes too much, rest the arms down, palms up in your lap. Softly close the eyes and focus on your third eye. Inhale deeply and sing all the words on the exhale. When you get to the last word – hung -suck the belly button in towards the spine.

Ra Ma Da Sa, Sa Say So Hung

You can repeat the words on your own or you can chant along with music. Snatum Kaur and Aykanna both have lovely versions. Repeat the mantra for 11 minutes. If you like, you can increase the time to 31 minutes. A full explanation of the mantra can be found on the Kundalini web site 3HO.

As you are chanting, visualize the person or persons you would like to send healing energy. Imagine they are surrounded by a green healing light. It’s perfectly fine to send this energy to yourself. And you don’t have to have a specific someone in mind; send healing to anyone or anything in the world.

My profound thanks to my Kundalini teacher Satwinder for sharing this powerful mantra.

Sat Nam

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Attitude of Gratitude

i am gratefulHappy Thanksgiving!

It is said that gratitude is the music of the heart – a kind and soft music that brings a smile to the face and warmth to the soul. Being that today is Thanksgiving and full of pumpkin pie and turkey, friends and family, let’s cultivate an attitude of gratitude that we can carry with us not just today, but everyday. Often in our hectic lives we focus more on the things that go wrong or the really big stuff that brings us joy or sorrow. Below is a meditation about finding three things you are grateful for – the small events that often get lost in the busyness of daily life.

The happiness of life…is made up of minute factions of the little, soon forgotten charities of a kiss, a smile, a kind look, a heartfelt compliment. – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Don’t worry about how long you meditate. The important thing is that you try, even if it is only for a few moments. It’s not about emptying your mind of all thoughts, it’s about focusing on one thought at a time. Feel free to play music and you may want to use a timer so you’re not worried about time (make sure the tone is soft for your ears and low in volume).

Find a quiet place  and come into a comfortable seated position. You may want to sit on a bolster with your legs crossed or with your back against the wall. It is important to maintain a straight spine so the hips can sink down and breath can flow smoothly. Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly.

Take a nice big inhale and a long letting go exhale. Repeat a few times until you feel your breathing even out. Close your eyes. Notice the beat of your heart.

As your breathing settles in to an easy and comfortable rhythm, think of something you are grateful for. Remember to focus on a small event; it could be a smile from a friend or the opportunity to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee uninterrupted. Let that thought gently roll around in your mind. Notice any feelings that arise. Maybe it brings a smile to your face and allows your shoulders to relax just a little. Allow these sensations to wash over you.

While that thought is floating around in your mind, bring another thing forward you are grateful for. Again, it softly meanders around in your mind and you may feel your jaw release.

Repeat the process one more time.

When you are finished with the meditation, release your hands to your lap and allow your chin to fall towards your chest. You may want to bring gentle movement into your neck by tracing the chin along one collarbone toward the shoulder then down across centre to the other side a few times.

As you are ready, gently blink your eyes open and bring your arms down by your sides. Inhaling, lift your arms overhead, gathering up all the positive energy you created. Exhaling, join palms together, lowering the hands down and bringing all that energy into your heart centre. As you carry on with your day, radiate that gratitude back out into the world.

Namaste!

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Yin Yoga Workshop

Join me on Saturday, September 27 as we explore Yin Yoga and the Liver & Gall Bladder meridians. The workshop will be from 12:30 to 2:30pm at Yoga Within and is $25+gst.

Meridians are passages within the body through which energy flows to nourish the organs. When this energy flows freely, our organs work in harmony and we feel healthy, both physically and mentally.

Sometimes these energy channels become clogged or blocked, through stress or an injury, and we don’t feel so healthy.

This workshop will focus on opening up the liver and gall bladder meridians. The liver governs kindness, compassion and generosity. The gall bladder governs decision-making, judgement and provides courage and initiative.

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Chairga

Recently there was an article in the Huffington Post that proved you can do yoga anywhere. I expected to see photos of people doing postures on the beach, on the street corner, or on the bus.  Turns out the photos were of five Huffington Post staffers, each in a posture at the office. Call me a stickler for details but one office is not exactly ‘anywhere’. Regardless, yoga is definitely portable and can be done just about anywhere, including while sitting in your chair at your desk. So if you have been sitting in front of a computer for a while with your shoulders slowly becoming best friends with your ears and your entire spine doing a great impression of the letter ‘C’, scooch up the front of your chair and try some of my favourite chairga poses below.

Seated Cat/Cow

Sit towards the front of your chair with your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart, hands resting on your knees. As you inhale, lift your chest, bringing your shoulder blades towards each other. Lift the chin as high as you like as the heart centre opens and the lower back arches in to a ‘C’. When you exhale, reverse the movement: round the spine, tucking the chin towards the chest, bellybutton towards the spine, shoulders rolling slightly forward.

Repeat as many times as you like, moving with the breath. This movement is not only great for the spine, it also calms the mind and focuses the breath.

Seated Twist

Twists are great for wringing out stress and tension. They create space in the torso and along the vertebrae.

Sit towards the front of your chair with your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart. Place your left hand on the outside of your right knee and your right hand on the outside of the right hip with the elbow close to the body (or the hand can rest on the right arm of your chair). As you inhale, feel the torso fill with air and spine become long and tall. When you exhale, root the feet into the floor, keeping the knees hip-width apart. Gently push the hands down as you twist the body a few inches to the right. Inhale – fill up and root down, exhale – release the breath and twist a little more. The deeper you move into the twist, the tighter the right elbow will hug into the body. The neck and head will follow along with the spine. Remember that twists start from the waist and move up the body with the head being the last part that moves. Don’t start with the head and neck, it will create problems down the road.

Shoulder Shrugs

The relationship between shoulders and ears is like that of Romeo and Juliet – they really want to be together but in the end, it’s a really bad relationship.

Again, sit towards the front of your chair with your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart. If possible, arms hang straight down from the shoulders. The hands can also rest lightly in your knees. As you inhale long and deep, bring your shoulders up to meet your ear lobes. Hold the breath for a few seconds, then release the shoulders down quickly with a sharp exhale through the mouth, making a HA! sound. Repeat as many times as you like. You can also do this with one shoulder at a time.

Eye of the Needle

A great hip opener but beware of putting too much pressure on the knee. This also might be difficult to do if you are wearing a pencil skirt.

Sit towards the front of your chair with your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart. Keeping your left foot on the floor, bend your right knee and put the ankle just above the left knee. Your hands can rest on your leg. If you need a little more of a stretch in the hips or hamstring, gently use your right hand to push your knee away from your torso. Hold for 5 breaths and repeat with the left leg.

Wrist Stretches

There are 27 bones in the hand, eight of which are in the wrist. Which means there are a lot of joints (each small bone in the wrist forms a joint to the bone next to it) that can become stiff.

Sit towards the front of your chair with your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart. Lift your right arm in front of you so that it is parallel with the floor. Bend the wrist and point the fingers towards the floor; grasp the right hand with the left (left thumb is in the right palm). Make sure you keep your shoulders down, away from the ears. You can increase the stretch in the top of the wrist by using the left hand to softly bend the right wrist more. hold for 5 to 10 breaths then bend the wrist the other way with the fingers pointing towards the ceiling. Again you can increase the stretch in the bottom of the wrist by using the left hand to softly bend the right wrist more. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths. Release, roll the wrist a few times in each direction then repeat with the left wrist.

Smileasana

Easily the easiest posture in yoga but one we often forget to do. This posture triggers the brain to release endorphins when you do this posture which will make you feel happier and less stressed.

Sit towards the front of your chair with your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart. Hands can rest gently in your lap. As you inhale, gently lift the corners of your mouth curl up into a big, beautiful U-shape. You may even feel you lips parting slightly, exposing your teeth when you do this. As you exhale, keep the lips curled up as you move the smile up to your eyes.

This posture is best experienced when shared with others, so get up and go for a walk. Smile at the next 5 people you encounter and watch your smile spread around your world.

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Eye sore

About a month ago my husband WJ went fishing with a friend. When he asked what my plans were, I said that I was going to kick back on the patio and relax with a book and a cold beverage and basically take it easy for the weekend.

I lied. I had other plans.

I know, lying really isn’t very yogic. So let’s say I creatively hide the truth. I wanted to surprise WJ with one less thing on the ‘honey do’ list.

There was an area in the backyard that had become more and more of an eye sore the past couple of years. The grass was struggling to grow but just wouldn’t. We talked about what do about it – shrubbery, paving stones, ignoring it and hoping it would take care of itself – but couldn’t decide, so I took matters into my own hands.

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Ugh! What an eye sore.

Shortly after he left, I headed out to Salisbury Greenhouse for some supplies. A few hours and a smoking credit card later, it was time to get to work.

I find gardening to be very meditative. When I’m mucking around pulling weeds, dead-heading or transplanting, my mind is completely focused on the task at hand. I don’t worry about the other chores that need doing or about work or even about the time. It’s an opportunity to let my mind be still and for my system to relax. Now when I was digging up that patch of dead grass, I won’t say that I felt very relaxed but it was mindful. And rewarding. After a day and half of digging, hoeing, leveling and planting, I now have a beautiful little shade garden that is a sight for sore eyes and brings a sense of serenity to the backyard. And WJ has a slightly shorter list.

Ahh! A sight for sore eyes.

Ahh! A sight for sore eyes.

 

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The outbreath…..

The outbreath…releases what is superfluous and removes what would otherwise become blocks to the free flow of prana within. ~ BKS Iyengar

I love this quote. It uses the great but underused word ‘superfluous’. Iyengar could have said ‘unnecessary’ or ‘not needed’ instead, but frankly, those words are boring. What I think is really interesting is how superfluous rolls out of the mouth. It’s a word we’re not use to reading and it makes us slow down and pay attention, maybe trying it on a few times to get the taste of it. Try saying the quote above out loud using the word ‘unnecessary’ instead of ‘superfluous’. How did it sound? Did you feel your jaw move up and down with the word, almost like a robot? Did your mouth rush over the words and did you say the sentence in one quick breath?

Now try saying it again as originally written. How did it sound this time? How many different ways did your jaw move with the word? Did you notice how the brain slowed down? Did you notice any changes in the way you were breathing? Did you take more than one breath to read the sentence?

It’s curious that something as simple as an uncommon word can make us slow down and think about our breath. Think back over your day and how many times you were paying attention to your breathing. For the most part, breathing is an involuntary action  – it just happens – which is a very good thing and you may not recall anything specific about your breath at all today. If the day was busy and stressful, you might have been very aware of the breath coming into the body, either in short intakes when things were really crazy or deeper inhales when you were trying to take a moment to slow down and focus. Did you notice your exhales?

Most often we don’t pay attention to letting the air out of our lungs. Obviously we do exhale, but was it same length as the inhale? Breath gives us life: we inhale and oxygen fills the body, giving it energy. We exhale and release stale air and toxins. But if you aren’t releasing the same amount as you are taking in, there is a lot of stale, flat air circulating through your body. This makes the mind cloudy and the body feel sluggish. Instead of reaching for another cup of coffee to give your system a jolt, try this breathing exercise.

Sitting with the spine comfortably straight and the shoulders relaxed, breath in and out three times. Without judging, notice how the breath feels. Is it fast and ragged, high up in the chest? Is it deep in the belly? Is it somewhere in between? On the fourth inhale, breathe in to the slow count of three, and breathe out to the same count. Repeat this five or six times, making sure to keep the back tall and shoulders down. You many find that you need to count to five or six, or you may find that you get a little dizzy and need to use a smaller count; use whatever number works for you. The important thing is to make the inhales and the exhales the same length. Feel the breath fill your torso when you inhale and feel it empty completely when you exhale. Don’t force the breath, just let it settle into a natural rhythm. Release any tension that may be creeping into your jaw. Continue the counted breath for as long as you like. When you finish, allow the breath to return to a natural pace and spend a few moments observing how you feel.

When we focus the mind on the breath by counting, it helps to calm our entire system and brings balance. It also gives the mind a job to do and the whirling thoughts slow down and begin to gently drift in and out. The prana or energy moves freely within. And everything that is superfluous is released.

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