Blog

REST

“Come to me, all who are weary and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Anxiety is no joke! Symptoms and experiences range but I imagine most people will agree that anxiety is NOT something they desire for themselves or others. Yet it is so prevalent. According to Mayo Clinic there are over 3 million cases in the US each year. I was a pretty anxious kid. I missed over 30 days of school in 2nd grade for upset stomachs and in 5th grade was diagnosed with an ulcer. Although I was never diagnosed with anxiety and did not receive professional help, I can now look back and easily proclaim that I had major anxiety. I was fortunate to be symptom free from my early teens to my late twenties. But life events in 2009-2010 rekindled childhood experiences of extreme worry, feeling nervous, tightness in my chest and increased heart rate. I would obsess about certain things and catastrophize others. I was fortunate to have so many tools available to me, to reach out and get support. I started therapy. I discovered yoga. And I had a supportive husband and friends to confide in and to support me. I also had a spiritual director who encouraged me to rethink my prayer life. I began to pray the verse above, especially at night, when my anxiety was most intense. I just wanted to sleep. I just wanted my mind to slow down, to be still.

rest

Rest is an interesting thing. At this peculiar time in life, I’ve been thinking a lot about rest. As our world began to change in March, I found myself energized. My daily life really wasn’t changing too much. I’m not navigating working from home or homeschooling children. Although I have missed teaching and practicing yoga in the community, our family is not reliant on that income to survive. I’m used to spending lots of time at home. So for a couple of weeks I made lists, lots of lists….all the grand plans of things I would do while the world was shutdown. And I did some of them. And then something shifted. I slowed down. I was tired and moody and unmotivated. I was watching a lot more Netflix and endlessly scrolling through social media. I blamed it on an unusual week of rain in SoCal. But then the sun came back and I was still lethargic. So I started listening to my body and began to rest. Sometimes I just sat in the backyard listening to the birds. Other times I took a bath or read a book. Many times I just crawled back into bed to sleep.

At times I’ve resisted rest. I’ve equated it with quitting or being lazy. My perfectionism and fear of failure made it difficult to choose rest. There was a need to keep going, to strive, to produce and to accomplish. Rest meant I’d have to work harder later. Won’t I get rest when I sleep? “But even sleeping isn’t restful for the person who can’t rest when they’re awake,” says licensed psychotherapist, Sarah McLaughlin. “If the brain is in a constant stress-state during awake hours then, in many cases, it is losing or has lost connective pathways that tell it to decrease or stop the stress response.” This may result in the stress hormone cortisol being released during sleep.

McLaughlin defines rest as ceasing work and worry, as “being, rather than doing.” Rest is possible when we shift from the external to the internal, making time and space for our inner selves, our minds and our creativity. It requires our whole being–mind and body–to be engaged in a restful state and to be present to the experience of rest. Here are just a few ideas on how you can truly rest.

Get curious. Begin asking yourself why you’re not resting, about the thoughts and feelings that drive your need to stay busy. Maybe explore one of these questions: If I weren’t so busy, would I feel like a failure? Would I fear losing the approval of others? Would I fear becoming stuck?

Understand and value rest. The majority of people are in a constant state of stress. McLaughlin notes that 70% of visits to the doctor are due to stress-related health issues. Rest is the only way to engage the part of our nervous system that allows for relaxation. It helps us show up for others and ourselves.

Practice Mindfulness.Take 5 minutes to sit outside. Engage all your senses. Feel the sun on your skin. Notice the colors that surround you and the sounds you hear. Allow yourself to be completely present in the here and now. Or, say to yourself, “I’m going to rest now.” Be intentional. Take several long, deep, slow breaths. Really focus on your breathing and connect with your mind and body in the present moment.

Focus on yourself. Take the time to discover how you’d like to rest. Focus on what grounds you, helps you feel alive and connects you to your true self. This will be different for everyone. Some find cooking meditative, others absolutely dread it. Maybe you like to journal or draw. Maybe sipping coffee in the quiet is your thing. For others it might be practicing yoga or watching the sunrise. Whatever helps you shift from absorbing external stimuli to tuning into your own body, thoughts and feelings…..DO THAT!

unnamed
Many of us have forgotten how to truly rest. Our negative narratives have caused us to replace true rest with superficial, stimulating activities like scrolling through social media and playing games on our smartphones. The good news is, we can rediscover how to rest fully and wholeheartedly.

 

It’s not surprising to hear that during this pandemic prescriptions for anxiety are up 34%. People are sad, lonely and scared. These are unique and challenging times. There is help out there. You are not alone.

If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others

I’d love to hear how you are dealing with the stress of life these days. What does rest look like for you?

Home Practice

completion

Studios have closed and group classes are cancelled. Now is the time to develop your home yoga practice. Don’t stop practicing yoga because life has thrown us a curve ball. Now more than ever we need the benefits of yoga. Follow these basic steps to set yourself up for success.

 
1. WHY– Answer this question with something positive. And write it down. This will help motivate you on the days you don’t want to practice. Do you want to improve your physical health? Maybe you need a daily sense of peace and calm. Or is it a way to practice self care in the midst of a difficult time?

2. WHERE– Once you know why you want to develop a home practice, next, decide where you will practice. Don’t allow your space to be an excuse for not following through. Whether you roll your mat out on the kitchen floor or choose to practice in your bed….it doesn’t matter. Just define the space you will use. If you are lucky enough to have a spare corner or room, great. Light a candle, use a houseplant, decorate and make it personal and meditative. But if your space is full and you share with others, no matter, simply decide where you can practice each day and commit to it.

3. WHEN– Some of us are more schedule oriented than others. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. But let’s all acknowledge that we are more likely to follow through with a home yoga practice if we commit to a certain time each day. This is why we join studios and community classes. The accountability helps get us to our mats. Whether it’s morning, mid-day or evening, pick a time and get going.

4. HOW– If you’ve been practicing yoga for some time and/or have a bit of initiative you might feel comfortable coming up with your own sequences. Great, get moving. Most of us would prefer some guidance and lucky for us in this age of technology, there are many resources readily accessible to us. Whether it’s DVDs or YouTube videos, Apps or online studio classes, try different things until you find something you like. If you’d like specific suggestions, please email me and I’d be happy to point you to some of my favorites.

5. GET STARTED– Once you’ve taken the time to answer the Why, Where, When and How, it’s time to get going. Share your plan with a friend or family member, accountability really does help us all. And set an alarm, and make it recurring for each day.

I am here to support your journey. If you have any questions regarding a home yoga practice or want suggestions or tips along the way, please reach out.

SLOWING DOWN

The idea of slowing down has intrigued me for some time. For years, life felt too busy and internally I often felt restless and discontent.I had the privilege of choosing to work part time instead of full time, which allowed me time and space to think about my priorities, a luxury most are never afforded. Ideas about time, money, relationships, consumerism, food, justice, opportunity, community, health and wellness began to converge. Opportunities to read, listen, learn and engage with others all influenced some
lifestyle changes.

I can’t necessarily make life slow down but I can choose to rebel against societal norms of always being busy and instead enjoy life. Many of us find ourselves at a unique time and place in history with the current global pandemic. Much of life has slowed down….against our will. This forced slowing down may be causing some anxiety, fear, frustration, sadness, disappointment, etc. Not only are you navigating your own emotions, you are likely dealing with the emotions of family and friends as well. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Let go of pressure and expectations.

Although this time of slowing down has been thrust upon us against our will, I believe there are some things we can do, some positive choices we can make in the midst. Maybe one or two of these ideas will resonate with you.

1. DO LESS– Clearly for many this is already happening. However, it’s likely that if you’ve been stuck at home for a few days, you may have already created a new routine, a daily schedule, trying to keep yourself occupied and productive during quarantine. What would it feel like to make the conscious choice to do less? Focus on what’s really important, what really must be done, and let the rest go. Create space between your appointments/tasks so you can move through your day with more ease and leisure.

2. BE PRESENT– It’s not just enough to slow down and do less, you need to be mindful of whatever you’re doing at the present moment. This is much easier said than done…..but when you find yourself thinking about something that happened in the past or something you’re going to be doing later on, gently bring yourself back to the present. Focus on what’s happening in the present, what you are doing, observe the environment around you, or others you are interacting with. This can be challenging and takes practice.

3. APPRECIATE NATURE– Most of our lives are spent in offices, at jobs and in our homes. This is ever more true right now as many of our cities/states/countries have us staying home to help stop the spread of COVID-19. But there are still ways we can connect with nature. I live in a very urban part of San Diego. I’m fortunate enough to have a beautiful backyard that backs up to a canyon and have always enjoyed sitting outside watching and listening to the birds. But for the last week, it’s a whole new experience. There are no longer construction crews causing noise pollution. I rarely hear sirens or cars of any kind. Various birdsongs fill the air and I hear distant crows from roosters at City Farmers Nursery. Regardless of your surroundings, we can all step outside to feel the warmth of sunshine or the coolness of the breeze. And if all else fails, watch a nature video. Try doing something at least once a day to connect with nature and notice the impact this has.

Canyonlands-CityHeightsTrail-1-1094x494
4. DISCONNECT– How many of us always have our phone on and accessible? Don’t get me wrong, I’m so grateful for technology, especially at this unique time. It’s a wonderful tool to help us stay connected to those we love. However, there is also the risk of constantly being interrupted by a call/text, the onslaught of information we can access anytime/anywhere and the tendency to be available to everyone all the time. It’s hard to slow down when we’re constantly checking messages, scrolling through Facebook/Instagram and reading news updates. It’s also been proven to increase stress and depression. So why not choose to unplug? Maybe that means turning off your phone for a couple hours each day. Maybe it means only checking the news once a day. Find what works for you. And if this is a subject that interests you, I highly recommend the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. And if you’re wanting to support a local bookshop, buy it from Bluestocking Books (they can ship anywhere).

5. BREATHE– Our breath is our greatest asset when it comes to slowing down. When you find yourself stressed out or speeding up, stop, pause and take a deep breath. Take a few. Really be present to your body and feel it filling up with fresh air. Inhale peace and serenity. Exhale all stress and tension. Inhale light and love. Exhale your fears and worries. By paying attention to your breath, you come back to the present moment .

What helps you to slow down? What are some positive things you are noticing or experiencing during this unique time in life? Leave a comment below, your experience may be the encouragement someone needs to hear today.

BODIES

I grew up in a small midwestern town where almost everyone I knew believed in God and most of them went to church. Sunday was the Lord’s Day and if the church doors were open, you were there. That meant twice on Sundays and Wednesday nights too. Potlucks were a monthly ritual that included a lot of casseroles and if you went to the hospital the prayer chain kept everyone informed. Somehow in the midst of these very bodily experiences (gathering for worship, sharing meals and caring for the sick) I acquired a belief system that not only disregarded the body but often viewed it as a liability.

freeport

I am on a journey of reclaiming my understanding, appreciation and celebration of what it means to live in a  human body. My faith continues to inform me and I’m grateful for a tradition that believes and teaches that our bodies are made of dust (the earth) and that we are both body and spirit; equally embodied souls and ensouled bodies, not emphasizing one over the other. We have the unique ability to know upward communion with God, mutual relationship with other  bodies, and a sacramental stewardship with the rest of creation. This gives a unique dignity and worth to the human body. The body is not merely a shell that contains the ‘real’ person; rather, the real person is embodied.

Yoga continues to play a significant part of this reclamation of my body. It invites me to a deeper awareness and appreciation for my body’s many components; my breath, the strength and flexibility of my bones and muscles, the quietness of my mind, the desires and passions of my heart. Yoga helps me to embrace my body and to acknowledge it’s vast capacity as well and its limitations.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, a Christian Holy Day marking the advent of Lent. Although the service is often characterized as somber, I generally look forward to it. What is more bodily than acknowledging one’s mortality? Rising from one’s seat, walking forward and standing before the priest, one waits. And as ashes make the sign of the cross on my forehead, I hear the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”Ash-Wednesday+1

ASHES

It was 98˚F when we landed in Sydney at 8:30 PM on January 4th, the hottest day to date since the bushfires started months ago. Most of us have seen the images by now, 10 million hectares of land burning (about 17% of the total land mass), animals injured, homes destroyed. It’s overwhelming, devastating really.

We spent two weeks in the land we call our second home. We did not see any wildfires (which were about 50 miles away), though we did see a burnt park in the city (apparently started by fireworks). Some days we could smell smoke and the city was often veiled by a grey haze, impacting air quality.

It is feared that some habitats may never recover. However, in recent days, in some of the worst-affected areas, there are signs of new life. Trees are literally sprouting out of layers of ash. This is good news.

Before arriving in Sydney, we spent 6 days in New Zealand. Since seeing our photo of Te Werahi Beach in 2012, my dad always said that was where he wished to go upon his death.IMG_7766

He continued to make this clear in 2018 when doctors gave him a couple of weeks to live. Although he never said so, I’ve come to believe that his wish was really a gift to me, a way of ensuring that Gary and I would go back to that magical place, that we would continue to travel and experience the world in ways that are meaningful to us but weren’t necessarily to him. And so we did. And for a few hours, I carried that box of ashes on my back. And as I walked, I reflected. I remembered what it was like for seven days to fully take care of my dying dad, to lift him in and out of a wheelchair, to feed him small bites of his favorite ice cream, to wake in the middle of the night to give him his medicine and after his last breath, to clean and dress him for the last time. And as we silently made our way down to the beach, something inside me began to shift. My sorrow and grief were now joined with a deep sense of gratitude.  I’m grateful for the gift of my dad and the privilege of being the one to care for him, to honor his wishes of dying with dignity in his own home.

And as we continued to walk my memories were no longer limited to those long and difficult final days but were instead about the positive qualities and characteristics my dad possessed that I hope to emulate: generosity, perseverance, humility, patience and faithfulness. Gary and I enjoyed a picnic lunch on the beach, told funny stories about my dad as we enjoyed the warm sun and gentle waves. Just before making our way back up the hillside, I took one last walk with my dad out into the water. For the past 17 months my dad’s ashes had been nothing but a reminder of his death. But at Te Werahi Beach they also became a symbol of hope, hope that death does not have the final say, that out of ashes, there will be signs of new life.

IMG_0275