Sunday, April 5, 2015

May We Rise: A Yogic Perspective on Easter


It's Easter Sunday and I'm pondering rebirth and Satya, or Truth. Rebirth as THAT is what the Easter story is. Rising up from the ashes. Tragedy transformed into miracles. A period of chaos and darkness followed by a reorganization to a higher self - a higher awareness.

This is not unlike Dr. Barry Brazelton's Touchpoints theory, where babies and children have a period of chaos (not eating/sleeping like normal) as they are working on milestones in their development. Once they have achieved those milestones (mastered walking or saying more words), they are able to sleep and eat normally once again at a higher level of functioning in their world. I think this is true for not only children, but for adults as well.

I have seen suffering, death, darkness, and rebirth several times in my own life. A dying off of old patterns of thinking or ways of being to make way for living closer to my authentic, Divine self. Metaphorically, the Easter story is an inspiring story. Everyone turns on Jesus. He suffers without any conscious fault of his own. He puts complete trust in all of it happening for a reason. There's a period of darkness. Then, he rises again as illuminated in his Divine nature.

And the wonderful thing I believe is that we have the opportunity to do this, too. This story serves as an example of what good can come out of struggle and hardship. It doesn't take your best friend betraying you or your government falsely accusing and punishing you...although that does still happen today. The persecution can happen within your own mind. Your own self-talk and self-sabotaging ways can lead you to suffer tremendously. To feel like there's no hope. I know my inner voice at times has raked me over the coals and I've beat myself up a time or twenty.

However, your higher self is there listening. "Forgive my ego...for it knows not what it's done." And the higher self will step in once Ishvara Pranadhana - surrendering to the Divine - happens. That Divine self that is always there will shine for the world to see...a transformation from limited ego into limitless True Nature...illuminating the path for others' journey.

Will we be open enough to recognize when we are suffering due to the ego? Will we stick with our convictions and trust in the higher order of things? Can we surrender all to the higher consciousness? Are we ready to see the True Nature within?

I have a feeling for most people, myself included, we do not have just one occurrence of the Easter story in our lives. I think that this suffering/death/rebirth story happens again and again along our path. Each time, more of our True Nature is revealed to us and we are brought farther out from the darkness into the light. Touchpoints. Periods of chaos before reorganizing into a higher state of being, thinking, or functioning in our lives.

And within this realization of the truth, we can find HOPE. FAITH. TRUST. and INSPIRATION.

Happy Easter. May we all rise...transformed closer to the light and truth of who we are.
With love,
Santosha

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Are You Up for the Simplicity Challenge?


This morning icy road conditions found me at home with coffee and a pen in hand, rather than headed to teach yoga for the morning. Although I love sharing yoga with moms and their children, it's also nice to slow time down a bit and savor the warmth of being at home.

Yesterday we stayed home all day, baking cookies, watching documentaries, and playing games. It was a much needed re-connection after a busy week. And today we have the opportunity to do it again! We need this guarded time as much as we need time for social interaction, exercise, and sleep.

I watched an episode of a documentary yesterday called "Brain Games" which basically proved that humans are not designed to multitask. Ninety percent (or more) of the population cannot successfully focus on more than one thing at a time, regardless of what our iPhones can do. In a time where there is so much pulling for our attention at a really fast pace, it's easy to feel distracted, scattered, frazzled, and overwhelmed.

It's true that as a mother, wife, homemaker, teacher, admin assistant, sister, daughter, friend...in all the roles I play there will be times when I will have to divide my attention in two or more places at the same time. Talking on the phone while preparing lunch. Planning an activity or lesson plan while sweeping the floor. Helping my child find their gloves while gathering my things before walking out the door.

But, what if I purposefully tried to simplify my life to where I could focus on one thing at a time more often than not?

One of my teachers who has two young children says she practices mindfulness throughout her days by repeatedly asking herself this question: "How can I simplify this?" When driving the car, she turns off the radio and just drives. When playing with her children, she puts away her tablet or phone and just plays. I would imagine that as a skilled teacher and yogi scholar, when preparing for a training or reading or practicing yoga, her intention is that she is focused on doing just that.

It sounds so liberating, doesn't it? And perhaps a bit scary... If I don't do 2-3 things all at once, how will I get everything done?!? I wonder... does it all really have to get done? Or, if we cut out distractions and focus on the task at hand, will we be able to get it done more thoroughly and efficiently? What do we have to lose by giving it a try?

Today my challenge to myself, and to you if you are willing to try, is to focus on simplicity. "How can I simplify this?" What can I let go of in order to create space for more presence, more mindfulness, more connection, and more peace? If this speaks to you, I'd love for you to join me. Let me know what comes up in the process. It might be pleasant and a big relief. It might also bring up feelings of inadequacy, fear, or restlessness that has been lying below the surface. All are okay and valid. Take time to explore any of these feelings and approach them with curiosity and loving care.

By releasing the hold of "busy" and "distracted", we have the potential to heal and tap into our Divine Wholeness.

Much love to you on your journey towards simplicity,
Santosha


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Yogi's View of Lent


During this Lent season, I choose to give up those things which do not serve me or those around me in the moment. Doubt. Blame. Fear. Negativity. Toxic Thinking.

Traditionally, Lent is a time to give up something that you enjoy as a gesture of self-sacrificing, representing the sacrifices that Christ made for us according to the Catholic faith. How can giving up doubt, fear, and blame be self-sacrificing? We can't possibly enjoy those things, can we?

Although I can't say I particularly love experiencing those things, I will say it takes effort to let those habits go. It is hard work to break free from years of programming that tell us that we aren't good enough, it's all our fault (or someone else's fault), or that we shouldn't branch out into our greatness because it isn't safe. It takes discipline not to give these reoccurring thoughts power. It takes courage to see beyond the thoughts and know deeply that they are not our truth.

I believe that Jesus was a Holy Man who walked on this earth. I'm sure he felt afraid, he doubted from time to time, he got angry, and all other human emotions at some point throughout his life. However, by releasing these holds, he was able to transcend and see the Divine Nature in everyone, including himself. He could have let fear of what others thought of him prevent him from sharing his teaching with others and remained a carpenter. End of story. He could have blamed those in power for persecuting him and been engulfed in an endless cycle of anger. But, he was able to let go and let his Divine Nature shine out - the Source was channeled through him to reach others, teaching them ways to freedom, love, and happiness.

A similar story is found with the Buddha and other Holy Men and Women. If we look closely, a similar story can be found within ourselves. Because WE are Holy. We are Divine Beings. We are Love and we can be a conduit for the Source if we are willing to let go and step into the flow. Releasing doubt, fear, blame and other limiting thoughts along the way will clear a path to let love flow in and through us.

When we think of "self-sacrificing", perhaps it is that we are sacrificing the ego's small self in order to make room for the Higher Self. What would it take for you to do that? What would you let go of, not just for the few weeks of Lent, but forever? Can you kneel in humble gratitude and gentle forgiveness to rise and shine in open-hearted, all-powerful love towards yourself and all those around you?

All love to you and your journey,
Santosha


*Image from http://www.acethehimalaya.com/blog/what-does-namaste-mean/

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

20 Ways to Practice Self Care as Self Maintenance


These last few days have found me broken down on the side of the road, with smoke billowing out from under the hood. I had noticed a funny sound coming from somewhere, but I figured I would get it checked out later. The check engine light came on, but I was too busy to pay attention to it. It wasn't until I stopped going and ended up stranded that I took notice.

It wasn't my car that broke down, but myself. As women often do, I had been running non-stop taking care of others for the past several weeks and had forgotten to take care of myself. As a society, it's a typical story. The archetypal martyr mother. The self-sacrificing wife. The "I wish I could see you, but I'm so busy" friend. The messages that tell us that we should smile and say we are doing fine, even when we are not. The guilt that sometimes comes along with putting ourselves first, even for a few moments a day.

The reality is that without that maintenance, when we ignore the warning signs and check engine light, we do break down. We yell at our children. We snap at our significant others. We let in negative self talk or feel overwhelmed by the tasks of our daily life. We lose our creative energy and our spark for being alive. We run on empty until we can't run anymore.

Making regular self-care is a discipline and it takes work at first. It's often easier to say that we are too busy, we don't have enough money or time, the dishes or laundry or paying bills needs to be done first, or we will get to it 'some day'. It can be easier to find ourselves zoning out online or in front of the TV, rather than providing ourselves with nourishing ways to rejuvenate our spirit. But, it's worth it. In fact, WE are worth it. We need this. Taking care of ourselves not only benefits us, but everyone around us.

Below are 20 ways to incorporate self care into your days for regular self maintenance. Let me know which ones benefit you or if you would add any others to the list. Print them out and put them on your fridge as a reminder. Write them in your journal. Above all else. know that your well being is a priority and worth the investment.

All love,
Santosha

20 Ways to Incorporate Self Care Into Your Days

  1. Spend 5 minutes sitting in silence, focusing on your breath.
  2. Drink a cup of your favorite tea out of your favorite mug, fixed at the perfect temperature and sweetness. 
  3. Take a warm bath. Include essential oils, baking soda and/or Epsom salt, and light some candles. Good book is optional.
  4. Take a walk or run in nature. If you can't make it to a trail, going around the block while noticing the trees or sky will do. 
  5. Do some yoga. A few cat/cow poses, a downward facing dog, and a couple sun salutations can make a world of difference. 
  6. Take time to pick out exactly what you want to wear. Pay attention to the  right texture and the right color for how you are feeling that moment. 
  7. Set a timer on your phone for every 30 minutes. When the timer goes off, drink some water and take three conscious breaths in and out slowly before resuming what you were doing. 
  8. Give yourself a self massage using lotion or oil. Coconut or sesame oil are good grounding oils to use, but some baby lotion will do in a pinch. Spend extra time on your feet or on any muscles that are tender. 
  9. Buy yourself some flowers (or pick wild ones if you can) to add to your kitchen table. 
  10. Apply essential oils to your wrist, feet, chest, or back of your neck. Carefully select which oil your body and mind needs in that moment. 
  11. Spend time with a friend. If physically getting together isn't possible, schedule a phone or Skype date. Even 10 minutes of conversation can be a recharge. 
  12.  Pay attention to your sensual self. Make time alone or with a partner to explore what feels good to your body.
  13. Write in a journal. Make a daily list of things you are grateful for, hindrances or things that are holding you back, and goals that you have for yourself. 
  14. Give yourself nourishing foods to eat. Soups and warm savory foods in the winter and fresh, raw foods in the summer. Let go of judgement surrounding food and listen to what your body needs.
  15. Read a good book. Even 15 minutes of reading before bed can allow you to leave your role of mother, partner, or worker behind and be immersed in learning something new or in another world. 
  16. Count your blessings. Make a gratitude list either by writing it down or sharing it verbally with others. Focus on the small and large things you have to be thankful for. 
  17. Find a body of water and sit by it. Dip your toes in or jump in if that sounds fun! A creek, lake, river, or ocean can give us tremendous healing.
  18. Pull out the art supplies and play. Freestyle paint or doodle without worry if it is "good" or not. This is just for you and your creative self. 
  19. Put on some loud music and dance like no one's watching. Perhaps go into a room alone so no one is watching...or dance with your children or partner. The sillier or sexier or sweatier the better! 
  20. Give yourself permission to take a nap or go to bed early or sleep in from time to time. Sleep is good!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Releasing Doubt and Inviting Devotion

This morning I had the opportunity to take an online yoga class with the beautiful Elena Brower. As she one of my favorite yoga teachers, it is so helpful to be able to access her wisdom through the comfort of my own home in the Midwest. The class I chose for today focused on "Releasing Doubt and Inviting Devotion". Just what I was needing... Elena skillfully posed the question, "How can you transform your uncomfort - your doubts or thoughts that block you - into loving questions to learn more about yourself?"

That is just what I'd like to do with these doubts of my own worthiness... To bring devotion into the process of sitting through the questions, releasing the doubts, and learning to love myself, my partner, my children, my friends and family, my students, and the world from a place of devotion to the Divine within us all. A place of wholeness. A place of enough. Perhaps your heart whispers similar words to mine...

Eugène Carrière’s “The Sick Child” 1885.

We have dreams and we have energy to manifest and allow these dreams to rise out of the shadows and into the light, as long as doubt doesn't hold them in darkness. As long as our resistance doesn't restrict the flow of our life force...our prana...our creative energy. And that is where the devotion, fused with discipline, steps in and helps us step up to the challenge. To do the work. To live in the mystery of it all.

Marianne Williamson says, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure." What would it take for us to realize this? To honor this? To feel this deep within our bones? Can we release the voices that whisper, that nag, that scream at us otherwise...that remind us of our inadequacies day after day? Can we turn them around and say, "You are not needed here anymore. You have shown the way towards the source of my suffering and now I know where to heal. Now I know where to pour in my love, to mother myself, to bathe my wounds with forgiveness and compassion. Your job here is done and now loving-kindness can take over."

Can we then live in a state of loving devotion to our most tender spots? Can we take on the roll of a mother tending to her sick child, gently and lovingly sitting by the bedside with a warm washcloth and a tender touch? Are we willing to sit up, cradling and rocking our unsteady self throughout the long, dark night? Can we remain by our tender heart's side until it is strong enough to sleep peacefully and stand on it's own in the morning's light?

Then, and only then, is all doubt released. We are healed. We are whole. We see ourselves for who we truly are... Worthy. Divine. MORE than enough. Powerful beyond measure.

Much love to you,
Santosha

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Ping Pong Book


"Mom, how do you spell 'like'?" my youngest one called from his room last night. "L-I-K-E," I responded. "Hmmm...well, I almost got it right," he replied. I assured him that Mom's know how to read their kids spelling if they sound it out and try their best. And if they can't for some reason, they can just ask for help when they read what has been written. Satisfied with the answer, he put his notebook in our special spot and went to bed.

This morning I awoke and eagerly opened up the notebook we share and discovered this sweet note written to me. What a precious way to start my day!

This week I introduced the concept of a "Ping Pong Book" to the boys in response to one of our Advent questions, "How can we be even closer as a family?" (For a list of the questions that we discuss each evening, visit Playful Learning. It's been a wonderful addition to our holiday season!) I had read a description of the Ping Pong Book from one of the Mamas in a homeschooling group I belong to online. The idea is to get a notebook that you and your child will share. You each take turns writing a message (or drawing a picture for younger children) to one another each night. You place the notebook in a special spot so that the next morning the other person can read their message and respond that night. The boys loved the idea and were excited to get started right away!

There are many reasons why I'm so excited about this new ritual:
1. It is another method for us to connect as a family. The most important thing in my opinion!
2. It provides the children with a model of how to write in a non-direct way. They see how I write letters to them and pick up on how a letter is composed, how sentences and questions are formed, and how words are spelled without it being a 'teacher-directed' activity.
3. They can practice writing in a non-threatening method. It's not an assignment. I am equally okay if they draw a picture, write a word, or write a whole page full. Writing by hand has been something that my oldest has detested so far, so I'm grateful for this opportunity for him to go at his own pace and develop skills without pressure of failing.
4. If continued into their pre-teen and adolescent years, the Ping Pong Book gives them another way to communicate with us those things that they might not feel comfortable discussing aloud. Disagreements, pressures outside the home, questions about puberty or relationships... My intention is that by that time the book provides a safe space in that we can express ourselves without fear of dragging it out into the light if it feels better to leave it on the page for the time being.
5. When they are adults, my hope is that these Ping Pong books will be a sacred keepsake that will show them of the love, support, and care that was given to them throughout their childhood. They will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were loved unconditionally. Their opinions were valued. Their ideas mattered...they mattered. Isn't that what we all want for our children and want to feel ourselves?

I'm curious and hopeful to see where the Ping Pong Book will take us...how it will evolve over the next couple months and years. Do you have a ritual that is similar? If so, please tell us about it in the comments. Together we can parent more thoughtfully, intentionally, and lovingly by sharing our successes, our struggles, our hopes and our dreams for our families.

All love for you and all you do~
Santosha


Monday, December 8, 2014

Crying in the Closet and Finding My Way Home

For the last several months, I've been telling the groups of mothers I teach and my friends that I see the "light at the end of the early childhood tunnel". I loved, absolutely cherished my sons baby, toddler, and preschool years. However those past eight years were taxing in ways I couldn't have imagined when first embarking on this parenting journey. The 24/7 caretaking, the sleepless nights, the struggle to find time to read a book or heaven forbid use the bathroom by myself. Now that they are "almost six" and eight, there is less of the hands on caretaking. They can make their own breakfast. I kiss them good night and they fall asleep in their own rooms (most nights). I can shower and know that the house won't burn down if I take the time to put on lotion afterwards. I find myself with time to practice my guitar, read several books, and still have time to devote to playing games, reading aloud with them, and exploring alongside them. I was confident I was in the "smooth-sailing" stage of parenting.

Cue giggling and knowing "mmm...hmmm..." looks from more seasoned parents...

As everything in life, nothing is forever. As I was asserting my parenting ease, my youngest son was beginning to become more defiant. More resistant to whatever I asked him to do. His behavior showed his anger, his frustration, and his struggle for more control. Shouting, hitting and kicking, and downright refusal ensued that would make any toddler's tantrum look like a warm up. What was going on here? Where was my agreeable, mature "almost six" year old?

Dr. Barry Brazelton describes this as a "Touchpoint". A period of disorganization and chaos in the life of a baby or child before are organization into a higher level of thinking or mastery of a skill. This is why babies all of a sudden throw their sleep schedule out of the window right before or during the period of mastering crawling. Or why toddlers refuse to eat much while they work out walking or talking. My logical mind knew this period was probably a result of a growth spurt (he might not feel well overall) or the fact he was showing signs of beginning to understand how to read more and more words at a rapid pace lately. My emotional mind, however, was feeling the effects of being shouted at, hit, kicked, and negativity and resistance thrown in my face repeatedly all.day.long for weeks on end. I felt like I did when he only slept for an hour and a half at a time for the first ten months of his life. Overwhelmed.  At a loss for what to do. Done.

 
Those feelings lead me to a point one night last week where I found myself in my closet with tears streaming out of my eyes, asking for divine guidance on what to do. A simple request was met with resistance yet again and I said to my sweet, conflicted child, "I do not want to yell at you. I am frustrated, so I'm going to my room." I could have put him in his room. I could have yelled. I could have punished. However, I knew that wouldn't help anything. The problem wasn't him in this situation. He was responding to my request not to make me mad, but because he was going through what he was going through. THAT had nothing to do with me, but my response had EVERYTHING to do with me. THAT is what I owned by putting myself in "time out".

My bedroom closet is the most interior room in my house. It occurred to me that I had put myself in the very center of my home. And what better place to be? I physically acted out what needed to happen within myself. I needed to return to the center of my own self...my home-base...and remember my grounded, centered true nature.

How do we return to our home, our place of centered-ness, when the storms of parenting come our way? As I pondered this question, I began to see parenting (and life) as an ocean. There are periods where the waters are calm. We are smoothly sailing in our boat and calmly observing all around us with ease. Then there are the highs of excitement. These are moments when we see our little ones making huge discoveries or when we accomplish great feats. The birthdays or holidays or "highlights" we typically hold onto. We are riding our surf board and overjoyed with the thrill of living. There are also the storms of the ocean. The waves grow bigger and bigger and hit us over and over again. Sometimes we get dragged under and we struggle to catch a breath. It sounds dramatic, but when you are in it...when you haven't slept a solid four hours in weeks or taken a shower in four days...it can feel just as intense.

How can we find a grounded place in all of that water? The only place there is to look is within ourselves. By finding our own internal home, we can find the touchpoint to come home to when we feel tossed about. We can find a place of home that allows us to weather any weather.

You might be saying, "Yes...all of those metaphors sound nice, but what do I DO the next time I find myself crying uncontrollably in my closet?!?"

First, acknowledge that you are crying in your closet. Don't try to fight it. Cry! Let it out! There are no awards given for holding it in. You will feel better immediately, I promise.

Then, take a deep breath. Then another. By taking long, slow, intentional breaths you are sending a message to your brain that you are safe and you can handle this. If there is anger or tension there, try breathing out with an open mouth, releasing an audible sigh or forceful bellow. (A much better release than yelling, which is why I think those of us with yelling tendencies do it...for the release.)

Once you have caught your breath, then begin to notice where in your body you feel your breath. Can you sense your place of home physically? Perhaps it is in the space right next to your heart. Or in your gut, where your intuition originates. Once you've sensed it, focus your breath on filling up that space on the inhale and releasing stress on the exhale. This whole exchange of moving from our 'fight or flight' brain into our 'problem solving' brain can take a few seconds or several minutes, but it is worth the time to reclaim our breath and return home to our true selves.

Then, we can add in a mantra that helps reprogram our internal self talk from negative into positive. A few mantras or affirmations that have helped me in the past are,
"You are safe. You can handle this."
"The moment is as it is."
"Breathing in, I receive love. Breathing out, I give love."
"He is not giving me a hard time. He is having a hard time." 
I have been known to post these quotes around my house to remind myself throughout the day.

When overwhelm starts sneaking in (or rushes in and pushes us over), we can remember to go to the center of our home using our breath and reassuring words. Then we are ready to respond to our children with the loving, grounded presence that they so desperately need in that moment.

With love,
Santosha