The Power of Reframing Negative feelings or behaviors

Fear, anxiety, anger, jealousy, addiction, grief, all have bad reputations. Maybe it's because those feelings don't feel particularly pleasurable. Most often we can't change the stressors, or the feelings, but we can change the way we relate to them, the stories we tell ourselves about the feelings, and the responses we choose. Negative feelings can have positive messages. Fear is validation that you matter, that you're important, that the thing you're worried about matters and holds meaning. Fear and anxiety can be signs of importance. Anger is also often a sign that you matter, that your boundaries have been crossed. It's often your inner self sticking up for yourself. Grief or sadness is often a sign of how much a person or a thing meant to you. It also signifies importance, and love. Discomfort is evidence of personal growth, of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, of opportunity for evolution. Addiction is often the sign of the desire to find some way of living a better life, of finding tools to decrease suffering. Donna Farhi reminds us that addiction often comes from the same desires which spark a spiritual journey. It stems from the underlying belief that there's some better way of living life, or some tools to be discovered to ease the suffering of the untrained human mind. So often we condemn our destructive behaviors or negative feelings before we've had the chance to listen to them. We miss the opportunity to acknowledge the beauty in them, or to redirect the impulses towards something more positive. It's in the listening, the investigating, the responding with curious observation where we gain the power to redirect, or to change, grow and evolve. Taking the time to stop and truly observe yourself with non-judgmental awareness provides the opportunities to grow from these 'negative' emotions or behaviors. If we can respond in this way, we can react from a place of power. Negative emotions no longer have power over us, but are instead transformed into valuable information, into treasure maps that lead to a connection with ourselves. This feels like a more beautiful world to live in. Don't miss these opportunities.

Simple pleasure of the week: lens flare

I live for a good lens flare. When the light is just right, and you manage to capture it with your camera only to be surprised with those little light sparkles that show up. It's beautiful, magic even. Lens flares renew my enthusiasm for photography, and inspire me to make it outside for magic hour time and time again. Happy Weekend!

What your breathing patterns could reveal about you

"When we hold the breath it is an unconscious attempt to refuse or control our experience." "Unless our breathing pattern is caused by a health problem, almost always this holding of the breath represents an unconscious desire for certainty. We hold on to life, and in a sense we hold out on life. And then, of course, life holds out on us. " - Donna Farhi from "Bringing Yoga to Life"

How often do you hold your breath? I'll bet, if you observe your breathing for the next 24 hours, you'll notice that you hold your breath in response to situations, thoughts, and emotions. So often, this holding of the breath is a sign of our resistance towards the present moment. We know that breathing changes according to stress levels and emotions. When we experience unpleasant feelings our breath becomes shallow, more rapid or we simply hold the breath. When we are calm, relaxed, happy, contented, our breath becomes more relaxed, deeper and slower. It's as if we know we have the time to fully inhale and fully exhale, and so there's no rush.

By observing the breath, you can become attuned to your inner thoughts and feelings. When your breath becomes tense or erratic, it's often information that something's not right, or your thoughts have become negative. By practicing deep breathing in these moments, you can re-wire yourself to react calmly in times of stress. You can build your resilience to adversity, pressure, and stress. By gaining control of your breath, you can gain control of your emotions, still acknowledging and honoring what arises without giving it power over you. Below are 3 simple steps towards putting the power of pranayama (the practice of controlling the breath) into practice:

  1. Observe your breath. You can't change what you're not aware of, so for the next week or so, just observe your breathing pattens without even trying to change them. Just be curious about when you hold your breath, when you breath deeply, and when your breath becomes more erratic. 
  2. Take deep breaths. When you notice erratic breath, holding of the breath, shallow breathing, or even just tension in the body, consciously and mindfully take deep slow breaths in and out through the nose. Take the time to fully inhale, and fully exhale.
  3. Develop a breathwork practice. Every time you practice something, you get better at it, so developing a regular breathwork practice can be monumental in helping you to gain control over your breath. This could be as simple as consciously breathing while practicing yoga. You could even formalize your practice by setting aside 3-10 minutes on a regular basis to practice breathing techniques. For more info on specific breathing techniques check out my post on 4 breathing techniques to lower anxiety in under a minute here.

Remember, there's so much information to be gained by observing our breath, and there's so much power to be gained by learning how to control it. Happy breathing everyone. 

Hygge and how you can make it work for you in any season

Oh man, do I love the concept of Hygge. Hygge (pronounced hue-guh) is the Danish word which means coziness, enjoying simple pleasures, or creating intimacy with others or with yourself. It's a difficult word to define because hygge is a feeling, an emotion. It's the closest concept I've found to our simple pleasures posts, and probably why I love hygge so much. Hygge is part of the Danish culture, and a major protective factor against seasonal depression that can so easily happen in the dead of winter. Read more about how to apply hygge in the wintertime here.

Denmark, year after year, takes the honor as the world's happiest country, and part of that happiness is attributed to this cultural concept. Hygge is a feeling, it's an experience, it is not a thing, or related to possessions. It's about cultivating that feeling, and then being present to experience it. Hygge is enjoying a warm cup of coffee in the morning enveloped by a cozy robe or blanket. It's the smell of dinner cooking, or the candlelight that dances over a dinner shared with loved ones. Hygge is about slowing down, and savoring the moment. As my friend put it when she urged me to research the subject more "Ash, it's all the things you love!". 

Every season brings with it it's own hygge. To develop regular hygge practices, think about the best parts of each season and then how you can savor them. For fall, think sweaters, and scarves, pumpkin baked goods, and the changing color of leaves. Winter hygge may include a warm fire, cozy blankets, lots of candlelight, and hot cocoa. Spring hygge could include fresh cut flowers in your home, the smell after it rains, making berry cobbler with farmers market berries and summer hygge may be the smell of sunscreen, backyard barbecues with friends, laying in the sun, or floating in a pool. The point is to think of simple pleasures associated with each season and then add them into your weekly life, taking the time to be truly present when you experience them. 

If you are loving this concept as much as I am check out "The Little Book of Hygge" by Meik Wiking. Also, keep a lookout for a series of Hygge posts!

Simple pleasure of the week: Sparkles

There are so many types of sparkles. There's the in-your-face glitter sparkle, and the more subtle sparkles like the bubbles in your champagne glass at New Year's, or the sparkle presented during a marriage proposal. We've already talked about the loveliness of candlelight, but I've forgotten about how lovely sparkles are when lighting up a room. Sparklers at the 4th of July, in your drink, or twinkling from a string of lights creates a feeling like no other. It's a special light to be sure, a mood, a little glimpse of magic. For this reason, sparkles is this week's simple pleasure. Happy Weekend!

The very simple practice to maintain balance in your life

This practice is seemingly so simple, I almost nixed writing a blog post about it. The thing is, that some solutions are so simple, we often don't even think of them. Are you ready for it? The practice of taking pause and asking yourself what you need can be so powerful. This has been a big topic in my group therapies lately, because it can be such a game-changing, powerful practice. So often, we are caught up in reacting, we forget to take pause and decide how we want to respond to stimuli. When you're feeling overwhelmed, anxious, amped up, angry, lethargic, it's a great time to stop and ask yourself what you're needing. Maybe what you need is a simple 10 minute, conscious break spent with intention and attention to your breath. Maybe you simply need 3 deep breaths. What you're needing may change day to day or situation to situation. Sometimes we need solitude, or a break, or something energizing and sometimes we need to be around others. This can be a wonderful practice when choosing what yoga class to go to as sometimes you need energizing, and other times you may need stress reduction and the type of yoga you choose to practice can bring you back to balance. The thing is, so often we just continue to respond to life without ever giving ourselves what we truly need, without ever taking time to figure out what keeps us in balance. Whenever you're feeling off or funky, stop and ask yourself what you need to regain balance in your life, and then give that to yourself. The more often you practice asking this question, the more effortless the practice will become. Again, this is such a simple concept, but try it next time you're ungrounded and see if it doesn't help.

Happy Weekend!

Maybe Michael Jackson had it right when he sang "I'm starting with the man in the mirror." I've heard it said that you don't attract what you want, you attract what you are. Thus, all things begin internally. Change your internal to change the external. There are too many things we don't have control over, but what we do have control over is changing and improving ourselves. When you change, you see the world differently, everything around you also changes as a result. Be like the flower, blossom and the bee will come. Happy Weekend!

The relationship between effort and surrender

Effort and surrender have an interesting relationship. We can't have true relaxation without true exertion. When I wasn't working I noticed that weekends didn't have as much meaning to me because so much is defined by it's counterpart, by it's opposite. When I'm not exercising, my appetite isn't as great and food isn't as enjoyable. So often when we enjoy something, we want to attach to it, believing more is better when it's really all about balance. We can't truly rest without exertion and thus there's this wonderful balance between the two where each is dependent upon the other. Yoga classes are a perfect example of this concept at play as you tire your body and mind out before taking rest in final savasana. Seek rest, but the right amount. Too much of anything is never good.  At times, when I'm working intensely, or stressed, I remind myself how much sweeter my relaxation will be afterwards because of the intensity by which I've been working. Schedule in time for both exertion and relaxation because each needs the other in order to be effective. Know that your discipline during the week will make your weekends that much sweeter and see if this reminder doesn't make you appreciate work just a little more.