By Lisa Dumas- Yoga Teacher and Personal Coach specializing in shifting anxiety, shame and perfectionism.
In my part of the world the heavy clouds of winter are dissolving, and the light is returning. The colder, darker months felt more stifling than in previous years. January and February found me sluggish and frustrated as I fought a lingering head cold and the momentum of inertia. I accept that during the season of winter, we can expect to feel more withdrawn and less energetic as we mirror the cycle of nature moving into dormancy, gathering energy and preparing for renewal, but this girl has some goals! Continued inaction had me feeling stuck and uncomfortable.
That’s not to say that rest and rejuvenation aren’t incredibly valuable. It’s essential to rest. In this culture of do more, be more, have more, we must make time to simply “be”. To create space for activities and practices that help us to be present and in a state of healing relaxation that offers our bodies and minds a chance to renew. I’ve gotten good at that. I’ve had to. I know what happens when I’m not taking care of myself. The tempo of my worries speed up like static interrupting the connection I foster with my true nature; the part of me that isn’t afraid.
Some days, if possible, I cried “uncle” and gave in to the call to rest, but I know me- procrastination is a tendency I’ve got to be mindful of. I know the more I give into the craving for the couch, the harder it is for me get up and step into the life I want to live with vitality, creativity and joy.
Over the last decade, I’ve built up an arsenal of tools, rituals and practices that support the state of my inner landscape. I know that upon waking each morning, that pesky negativity bias will speak up and begin to tell me stories of everything that’s going wrong. Our brains are wired to inform us of the negative, and that’s good, that mechanism keeps us safe. It also keeps us worried, fearful and in a constant state of low grade stress.
So, here are some of the techniques I use to meet the day feeling the way I choose to feel, rather than operating from a reactive place from the moment my feet hit the floor to the moment my head hits the pillow.
The evening before, write down a manageable set of intentions for the following day. This can help us override “decision fatigue”. The deeper we get into our day, the harder it is to make decisions that support our best interests. Our reserve of will power drains until we restore it through healthy pursuits and practices. Rather than force yourself to take the actions that serve your desires, build your belief that you are worthy of the outcomes of the actions. Build joy and opportunities for wellness into your list. Offer yourself a bath, a few minutes with a good book, some dark chocolate, a bodywork session, or a phone chat with a friend to thank yourself for staying true to yourself and taking the next best action through your day.
– What’s going right?
If you immediately wake up to the familiar chorus of lack- “I didn’t get enough sleep”, “I don’t have enough time”, or if guilt comes calling- “I shouldn’t have eaten that”, “I shouldn’t have said that”. Consciously shift your attention to what you can appreciate; your comfy bed, the privilege of living a life without hunger, the clothes in your closet, the people you love, etc. Include at least three qualities that you appreciate about yourself. We may want to improve in some ways, but let’s not forget the wonder of ourselves, now.
Shift your focus from the chaotic mind to your breath. Receive a few deep breaths allowing your attention to follow your breath intently. Notice where you feel your inhale and how the exhale softens your experience. Link the inhale to the opportunity to receive a shiny new day bursting with possibility. Link the exhale to releasing yesterday, last week or last year.
-Choose how you want to feel
Despite how hard we try to control our lives, the only thing we can truly choose is what we’re thinking. In any given moment, all thoughts are possible. Thoughts translate into feelings so, how do you want to feel today? Time travel to a moment in your life when you embodied that feeling. Our positive memories are a part of us. Bring your memory back to life in your present moment. Where were you? Who were you with and what were you doing? Picture it completely and breathe in the sensations of how it felt to feel that way.
Forgive yourself for sleeping in and not getting out for that run/walk or a long yoga practice or workout. Some movement is better than none. Specific movements can offer us the energy we need to create momentum toward inspired action. Here are some of my favorites: (more to come in next week’s blog “My Morning Non- Negotiables”)
Full body stretches
Standing side bends. (Stretching the side seam of the body has wonderful benefits for the respiratory, digestive and endocrine systems of the body. As we stretch the muscles connected to the ribs we encourage fuller breathing, a toning of the digestive organs and we promote movement of lymphatic flow supporting the detoxification processes of the body!)
Forward fold, then tap the body with fingertips feet to crown as you roll up to stand to wake up the skin and get circulation going.
Seated spinal movements (arching and rounding the spine, gentle twisting, shoulder and neck rolls)
Move in time with your deepest breath
Play a song you love and dance! Music has the power to shift our state of mind. (This always does the trick for me)
-Mindfulness and Meditation
If you don’t have a meditation practice, there’s no need to add meditating to the long list of your “shoulds”. There are simple ways to become more present every morning that don’t have to include a formal sit. Practicing arriving in the here and now is a key element of becoming aligned with your best self. Often, in the present moment, everything is ok…wonderful even. That’s in stark contrast to the mini melodramas and pressures our minds consistently present us with. Practice noticing. Observe your thoughts, your breath, the temperature in the room, the way warm water feels on your skin, the lyrics in a song, the texture of the fabrics around you. Use your senses to again and again arrive back into what is real. It’s a deep truth that the present moment is all we’ve got. There’s a time and a place for planning, thinking and strategizing. Remember you get to choose that time.
If you do meditate, or are interested in trying, a powerful addition to your seated practice can be the use of a mudra. A mudra is a gesture or shape made with the hands (sometimes the face or whole body) that creates a specific shift and benefit within the physical, mental and energetic aspects of who we are as human beings. Each aspect is intrinsically connected. If we make a change physically, we feel it on a mental and emotional level and vice versa. That’s what this entire list is about, tools that provide positive change from the outside in, or the inside out. My favorite mudra for motivation is called Mushtika Mudra:
I love to pick a book from my shelf of insightful treasures and open to a random page to read the words I may need to hear today. I also listen to inspirational podcasts while I’m getting ready, or I pick a card from a guidance deck. (some of my recent fave podcasts, decks and book are listed in the resource section of this blog)
-Nourish Yourself: Body, Mind and Soul
If your body feels hungry, eat! I’m not a nutritional expert but I do know from my research that adding protein and healthy fats into our morning meal can help us feel fuller longer and keep blood sugar levels stable. This is important for me, because hunger and low mood can be a major distraction in my day. I also hydrate in the morning by slowly drinking a large glass of warm water with lemon and a dash of sea salt to help with detoxification and absorption.
Our food is just one way we nourish ourselves. What else are you taking in each morning? Be mindful of media that may contribute to unnecessary stress or negative emotion. I try not to check my phone until I’ve taken care of my own needs. For me, opening my email or social accounts can steal several minutes away from my supportive morning rituals. Viewing the feeds of other people’s curated lives can cause comparison and resignation and interrupt inspired momentum. Continue to compassionately monitor your thoughts because we all inevitably face the taunting voice of self-doubt.
Remind yourself that you have a responsibility to the world to offer your unique gifts. When you hear the frightened part of you ask, “who are you to do that?” Remind yourself that if you choose to bow out of your innate deservability to create the life you’re meant to have, you’re doing a disservice to the people that need what you’ve got. Your ideas, wisdom, service and love are valuable not because of post likes or paycheques. They are valuable because they are yours.
Each morning when we open our eyes, we tend to forget that we are worthy of everything we desire; love, belonging, health, comfort, time, beauty and the achievement of our dreams. Our responsibility to ourselves is to remember. We may have learned along the way that we have to force ourselves to show up in the “perfect” way, not too much or too little but just right. Trying so hard to be right for anyone other than yourself is a drain of your precious energy. The contents of the minds of others are none of our business. No matter how we might attempt to shape shift into the unreachable, idealized version of who we think we need to be, we can never control how other people see us, so we may as well give up and just be someone we like when we look in the mirror. (That reminds me! Tell yourself “I love you, you’re awesome and just doing so good!” when you look in the mirror!)
It takes a while to create new habits. Some say 21 days, others say 40 or 90 days. None of the suggestions I’ve given require a great deal of time. If you have just a few moments to spare, pick one tool that supports you in how you want to show up to your day. Or, if you have more time, design a longer practice customized to meet you where you are. You may just end up looking forward to dawn’s arrival in anticipation of how good you can feel and how inspired you can get!
THIS WEEK’S BLOG RESOURCES, MENTIONS AND INSPIRATIONS
Books: A Return to Love- Marianne Williamson
Meditation as Medicine- Dharma Singh Khalsa, Cameron Stauth
Oneness with All Life- Eckhart Tolle
The Wisdom of Yoga- Stephen Cope
Daring Greatly- Brene Brown
10 Day Detox Diet- Mark Hyman
Decks: MUDRAS for Awakening the Energy Body- Alison DeNicola/ Sabina Espinet
The Enchanted Map Oracle Cards- Colette Baron-Reid
Inquiry Deck- Sylvia Nibly and Jim Hayes
The Lively Show- Jess Lively
Dear Sugar- Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond
Supersoul Conversations- Oprah Winfrey
The One You Feed- Eric Zimmer