You Can

I signed up for an online writing course in February. It was fun and challenging and it awakened lost possibilities. As part of the course, it was recommended I pick up The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

This book is changing my life in ways I never expected.

The book is a 12 week class with exercises and practices to tap into your creativity. Part of the practice is what she calls Morning Pages. Every morning, write three pages of stream of consciousness writing. Every morning. She advises not reading these pages. Simply write them. Even if all you are writing is “I don’t know what to write” for three pages.

When I read this, I thought – yeah, that’s not gonna happen – I have three kids to get fed and dressed and out the door. I’m not giving up sleep. But, I’ll give it my best go.

Before I knew it, I had filled up a notebook. When I went to buy a new one, this jumped out at me from the shelf at the 99cent store.


Stickers added by my kids.

When I read it, I just thought: no I can’t. I have three kids and a mortgage. I cannot simply do whatever I want. It’s a lovely thought and a good sturdy notebook, but no, I can’t do whatever I want.

I’ve filled more pages every day. I’ve filled it with the mundane thoughts of my daily life. I’ve filled it with my dreams.

I have faithfully written three pages every day for 6 weeks now. Most days it happens first thing in the morning, whether I wake before the kids or not. I pour my first cup and coffee and get to writing at the kitchen table if my kids are still in bed. I go to another room if they are awake.

A couple weeks ago, I went to meet with a new studio owner nearby. She loved what I had to offer and hired me on the spot. I’m planning my first workshop there for June. She asked me what else I envisioned for my work. I told her about my vision for a retreat in the Dominican Republic.

“What’s holding you back?” she asked.

“Fear.” What if no one wants to sign up or invest that kind of money to spend a week with me on retreat? What if I’m not good enough? What if I lose money? What if I spend all this time and energy planning it and it’s a total failure? The what if gremlins were so loud, I couldn’t hear anything else.

“But, what is stopping you?” she asked again.

“Me.”

I really can do whatever I want.

I decided I’m doing it. I’m so thrilled and excited to be offering this retreat. I was in the Dominican Republic this last January and fell in love with the people and place. Sometimes I go on vacation and think, well that was lovely. Other times, I go to a new place and all I can think of is how to get back and bring people I care about. Dominican Republic quickly became that place.

Here’s the thing: this is not just true for me. It is true for you too.

You really can do whatever you want.

Maybe you want to come on retreat with me to the Dominican Republic? (Yes, that is a shameless pitch.) Maybe you want to travel through Europe, Iceland or Asia. Maybe travel is not on your agenda but your lifelong dream has been to be a dancer, a singer, a circus acrobat.

What dreams and ideas come to mind that you immediately poo-poo. Before the thought can even make it to your pen or your lips, you are already dismissing it.

You know the one. It’s dangerous. It’s a little scary.

Write it down. Say it outloud. Whisper it at first if you need to like it’s a big secret. Then, let it get louder. And louder. Shout that dream when you are home alone. Then maybe when your partner or kids are home. Build up. Dream it. There’s no harm in dreaming. Let yourself indulge in the dream.

Then, ask yourself – what’s keeping you from it? What is holding you back?

I suspect it will be fear, yourself and the what if gremlins.

Talk to the gremlins and ask them…

What if I pursued my biggest, craziest dream? What if I took a middle aged ballet class? I picked up the ukulele? What if I traveled the world for fun?

What if I simply wrote my own permission slip?

Who else is going to give you permission to live your life other than you?

Tips and Practices For Poor Air Quality

Right now, the air quality in the Bay Area is terrible.  If you are experiencing respiratory distress, please contact your health care provider.  If you’re like me, a few of these small changes and practices can make a world of difference.

At home:

  • Increase the moisture in your home using humidifiers
  • Take a steam bath or steam shower
  • Use a saline nasal spray to moisturize the sinuses and nasal passages

Breathing:

  • Breath in and out your nose.  This is the body’s best filtering system.  Even when you smell smoke in the air, you might think that breathing through the mouth is a better option.  The cilia in your nose help to filter the air.  When you breath through the mouth, you bypass this system.  Breathing through the nose helps heat and moisturize the air for your body.
  • Break up the gunk in your lungs.  See video below.
  • After the gunk is loosened in your lungs, try to expel it using Lion’s Breath and coughing.

I hope these things are helpful to you.  I’m sending all my love and prayers to those suffering from the fires in California.  Stay safe and stay healthy.

 

Fear

Yesterday, we had a Halloween Themed class focused on fear.  Halloween is the time of year we embrace what is scary, even seek it out in horror movies and spooky decorations.  We explored what the body does when faced with fear, and what systems are involved.  Looking for ideas and inspiration, I poked around various yoga blogs and meditations on fear.  I was struck by the number of articles that encouraged people to either deny or move past their fear in some way.  Most often spoken about was “overcoming fear.”  It felt like denial of fear was missing the mark.

Fear serves a very necessary purpose for the brain and body.  Fear alerts us to a potential danger.  ReEmbody Method Creator, Kevin Moore, said in a recent workshop, “Our brain’s first priority is always safety.” Gavin DeBecker even wrote an entire book entitled, “The Gift of Fear” which discusses how our sense of fear can save our lives in many situations.

When we encounter what our brain perceives as a potential danger or threat, the sympathetic nervous system involuntarily kicks into gear — we begin to sweat, our heart and respiratory rate increases, blood and oxygen is sent to our muscles, and our body is filled with adrenaline to be ready for action: fight, flight or freeze.  On many of these occasions, we must react in order to keep ourselves safe.  We run away.  We duck.  We hit back.  Fractions of a second isn’t time to process when a car is about to hit you.  Reaction is necessary and it is thanks to the sympathetic nervous system that we can protect ourselves as much as possible in dangerous situations.

There are other times that our brain perceives a danger when there is no actual danger.  My son jumps out of bed in reaction to every sound he hears: a house creek, cats fighting outside, a car door closing.  Some part of his brain is constantly on high alert and then we have to wind him down with clear explanations for whatever he heard.  His body has reacted, but there is no actual threat.

Fears also creep into our brains as anxiety.  What if I’m not good enough?  What if I’m rejected?  What if I speak my truth and I’m called a liar?  What if I try that yoga pose and I fall and look stupid?  What if I confront that person and they’re mean to me?  What if… what if… what if…?  These fears also arise to keep us safe. Emotional threat doesn’t feel much different from physical threat.  I can vividly recall reading a mean email and having the same sympathetic nervous system reaction as when I experience a near car accident: sweat, speeding pulse, tense muscles.  The difference is the pause.  When we are facing an emotional threat, we usually don’t have to react to save our lives like we do when we are in a car accident.  We can take a breath.  We can take another breath.  We can feel the fear and get curious about it.  Denying the fear, or pretending the fear isn’t there only teaches the body to ignore the fear when we are faced with a real physical risk.

Just like I talk to my son to calm him when he is scared at night, we can talk to ourselves to understand why we are experiencing fear or anxiety in the face of an emotional threat.  When I received that mean email, I wanted to reply, to REACT,  immediatly.  I had so many pithy, cutting and even meaner remarks to say to this person.  My sypathetic nervous system made a clear choice of FIGHT.  How very unyogic of me.  Thankfully, I didn’t do that.  Instead, I turned off the computer.  I asked myself if this needed to be addressed immediatly.  While I tend to FEEL it’s urgent, when I stop to THINK I see that it almost never is.  I got curious and asked myself — why am I so scared right now?  What am I afraid of?  What is the worst that can happen?  I sat with it all and then went about my day.  I gave space for the parasypathetic nervous system to “rest and digest” rather than handing the wheel over to the sympathetic “fight or flight.”  When I felt calm again, I was able to respond to the email with honesty and integrity rather than defensive anger.

The nervous system is also in play when we practice yoga.  When you first come into a new stretch, the body often has an immediate reaction (sympathetic nervous system) to tense that muscle group in order to protect itself.  When you hold that stretch for 20-30 seconds, or 5-6 breaths, the brain tells the muscles that it’s safe to proceed and it’s just fine to surrender and release (parasympathic nervous system).  Yoga can be a safe time and space to be curious about how the body reacts to percieved threats.  On the mat, it’s possible to have time to make choices.  The choices we make on the mat can help teach us resiliancy in the face of our fears.  For some, it may be the fear of falling over in Vrkshasana (Tree).  For others the fear may be falling on our face in Bakasana (Crow).  For others still, walking into a yoga class when you’ve never heard of Tree pose in the first place can be just as terrifying.  Observe what bubbles up.  Get curious.  Breathe and choose a response.

I invite you to explore your fears in meditation this week.  Start with recalling a time you experinced fear and the corresponding bodily reaction.  If you suffer from any trauma or PTSD, I suggest bringing to mind an experience of mild fear that you feel safe recalling.  Bring your awareness to how your body reacted.  Notice if you are having a similar reaction now just recalling the memory.  Recall to mind how you dealt with the fear — if you had to react or if you had time to honor the pause and respond to the fear.  Try to recall the experience without judgement, but as if you are watching a movie, detached from the events.  What did this experience teach you?  What would you have done the same or differently if you were there again?  How did going through this experince teach you resiliancy?

Now, bring to mind something you are currently afraid of — I’d suggest not starting with a paralyzing fear, but something that is more mild.  It may be a challenge at work that you are anxious about, or a difficult conversation you need to have with someone.  Notice what bubbles up in the mind and body when you think of this fear.  Now take a few moments to get curious about what you are really afraid of in this situation.  Are you afraid of looking stupid in front of collegues?  Are you afraid of speaking in public?  Are you afraid this person will reject you in some way?  Continue to be curious about how this affects your sense of either physical or emotional security.  In your meditation, explore different choices to respond to the situation and continue to be curious about what your response may ilicit.  If the situation is something out of your control, recognize where you may have attachment to a particular outcome and what fears bubble up surrounding it.

Keep your awareness on your breath and notice any subtle changes in the body and breath as you practice meditation.  As you close out your meditation practice, ground yourself and your senses with some movement such as cat/cows or vocalizations of OM.  I also encourage you to journal about what you learn through this practice and how it will inform your response next time you are experiencing fear.

Fear is a necessary human reaction to danger and it should not be cast aside.  Tap into the feeling and experience to make a sound judgement of the fear and what, if any, threat may be lurking in the feeling.  Honor the fear, give voice to it and when you are able, respond to the situation at hand.  With practice, discern where there is a real danger and where there is only percieved danger.  Learn the difference between a physcial threat and an emotional one.  Choose courage over comfort as you build resiliance.  Most importantly, remember that this is a life long practice.  You will miss the mark.  I miss the mark all the time.  For that one email that I was able to respond thoughtfully and appropriatly, there are dozens where I pressed send before thinking.  Learn from these moments so that next time you can push pause, take a breath or two and respond rather than react.  Fear can be a gift when we know how to work with it.