Intention- What’s Most Important To You?

Every New Year’s day I am lucky enough to teach a special yoga class on starting the year off with intention and compassion. I specifically teach on formulating intentions over resolutions for many reasons. The most important one is the relationship intention has to purpose.

Resolutions are goal and attainment-focused and are often created out of the wish or need to change something in our lives, hence the reason they are set in the New Year as a way to begin again in a new way.The problem is, for something to change we have to set a new way first. The new way needs to begin with releasing the goal. Intentions can be looked at more as an ongoing wish. They are born from what is most important to us and from looking and searching within not outside of ourselves. They are born from trust and compassion as well. Trusting that if you find what is most important to you, your purpose, that you will move forward in following it. That does not mean you won’t fall at times, or slip back to old habits, rather, we come to understand them in a different way now. When our intentions are held with a compassionate heart we can embrace the understanding that things won’t always go as planned. Nothing is a straight line. We can get back up and start again. Intentions, just like self-compassion hold us in a new and different way.

In my book, Befriending Your Body, I discuss starting in chapter one going forward, the importance of setting intention day in and day out around your body’s health and strength and ask you to consider this as your daily guide. Each and every day is guided by the intention toward recovering strength and well-being in body and mind. It is an intention guided by the heart, through compassion which says, the best I can do is try.

Use the following reflective questions from chapter one of my book as your daily guide to set intentions around your strength, health and well-being moving into the new year:
1) What makes you feel strong in your body? What makes you feel strong in your emotions?
2) What makes you feel healthy in your body? What makes you feel healthy in your emotions?

The answers to these questions are the things that are most important to you and your body going forward each day.

Holiday Detox

A holiday detox may not be what you believe it to be. This is a tough time of the year for anyone that may be struggling with body image issues and/or any disordered eating as food is abundant and that means so are self-critical thoughts. The important thing to understand is food and your body are not the issue. Rather what you believe about yourself and what you tell yourself internally is.

It is very easy during a challenging emotional time to focus on your surface body and food as the enemy. After all, this has been a challenging relationship for a long time. A time like this is when old thoughts and habits of detoxes and cleanses and diet mentality come flooding back. It is pervasive in our culture to believe that the body somehow is not okay and balanced as it is and that it somehow cannot take care of itself internally but that we have to manipulate it in some way to have it fit into what others want it to be or believe it should be. This is where the idea of food as an enemy and detaching from your body gets reinforced. What would happen with your relationship with food if you could trust your body from the inside out? If you could trust that if you normalized this relationship, balanced it in some way, that your body would also find it’s natural balance? I understand trust in your body is a very scary idea. Fear and mistrust have been there for so long it has become a habit. I tell all my clients that just like any new relationship, it takes time to build this trust. You have to meet your body and food for the first time again. You have to meet it through a door of curiosity and understanding for what it has been through so far. Food and especially your body never meant to cause you any harm. As a matter of fact, your body is trying to call you back home if you listen within. What is needed is developing a real relationship not one based on your surface appearance but rather your internal self-connection.

To move away from toxic thoughts, you need to re-connect with your body in a new way through a new self-understanding about it. I offer a self-reflection practice in my book called Developing a Real Relationship with My Body, it is a self-compassionate practice that explores the history and understanding of your body to keep you moving forward. Answer the questions honestly, not based on weight or look, but rather on freedom and strength. A couple of the questions are below:

1) When was the last time I felt free and easy in my body? Do I ever feel that way now?

2) At what point in my life can I remember feeling most strong and healthy in my body? Where was I? How old? What was I doing? Who was I with?

These are a couple of the questions from the practice. To read more see the information below on my book, Befriending Your Body: A Self-Compassionate Approach to Freeing Yourself From Disordered Eating

And, check out the special Shambhala Publications has for 30% off! Use the code BEFRIEND at checkout

Finding The Simple In The Complex

I sometimes wonder does life ever get simple? I asked myself this question a few times this month as this month has been a particularly complex one. Multiple relationships in my life required a great deal of attention and care, one of them being my aging Mom. Relationships are so complex to begin with. They become even more complex as we age. It became clear to me why researchers call my middle-age group the “sandwich generation.” It is called this as we are aging ourselves yet caught between still raising teens and young adults as well as caring for aging parents. Not the most appetizing sandwich, but rather, real life. There was a lot of juggling and schedule changing but it wasn’t until I stilled that I noticed the emotions underneath it all.

Grief hit me hard. I could feel it throughout my whole body. I felt heavy and sluggish and my mind was full. It is during heavy and complicated emotional times that we need to recognize the mind/body connection the most because if not it becomes complicated. All emotions have a bodily correlate. Every emotion we feel lands in the mind and the body in some way. As a somatic psychotherapist I work with my clients in this way. I want them to understand how heavy emotions truly leave your body feeling heavy as well. Grief is one of those for me. It may be different for you. It is important to discover what lies in the emotional body and physical body at the same time to keep an integrated awareness and not get carried away by either feeling or sensation, as both can create much deeper complications if you do. Rather, come back to your breath and answer the questions below taken from the practice Feeling Emotions In The Body in my book:

1) Take a comfortable seat, eyes softly closed. After a few breaths, notice what feelings are with you in this very moment? Not yesterday, not earlier, but right now.

2) See if you can now locate where you can feel this feeling in your body in this very moment. Once located, simply label it as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.

3) What does my body know about this feeling?

When we turn toward a feeling and a bodily sensation and simply label it simply, we disengage from all the other noise surrounding it. Try it out next time life gets complex.

These are a few of the questions from the practice. To read more see the information below on my book, Befriending Your Body: A Self-Compassionate Approach to Freeing Yourself From Disordered Eating

The Choice of the Difficult

Is increasing awareness such a good thing? This was a question I had many years ago during my yoga therapy and mindfulness training programs while learning to heighten awareness to the present moment as mindfulness training instructs. At first, I was astonished at how many things in the present moment I had been missing out on. This newfound awareness was enlivening. I then recall starting to feel not so alive and rather, quite agitated and at times overwhelmed. I noticed, along with the new things that brought delight, came the awareness of all the things I had so conveniently hid from my awareness. All the truths that I did not want to face were now right in my face! Now what? Now what happens once we start to become aware of all the stuff we were trying so hard to hide from? How do we begin to face them?

In chapter three of my book, Befriending Your Body, I discuss the sense of power and freedom that comes along with embracing and facing the truth. But, the real truth is, before that sense of power and independence develops, we have to go through a period of struggle and wrestling with denial and non-acceptance and often regret. After all, it is very hard to face feelings and thoughts and behaviors that we would rather not face, and/or that we wish we had never done. Things we would rather keep hidden. The more we awaken to the truth, the more all truths are seen, both the pleasant and really unpleasant ones.

This happens in eating disorder recovery, or any recovery of something hard. Many of my clients start to face the first level of truth, such as, something is wrong, and start to make some changes based on that. Then comes the next level. The level that says, “okay, I got this now and leave me alone!” I hear statements such as, “I don’t want to talk about this all the time,” “I want to focus on other things,” “how much longer do I have to do this?” Basically, this next layer of truth says, I know just enough to get by do I have to know more? I get it and yes, you do, as for you to embrace your internal power, independence, and true freedom, you must continue to face the tough stuff to the next level. The difference is in the how!

The only way to take it to the next level is to face it with kindness and compassion. Close your eyes and take a few release breaths. Place one hand on your heart, feel the warmth it radiates there. Hold the intention to be truthful and kind. Open your eyes. These are 2 out of 5 of the reflective questions I offer in chapter three to begin to face the truth with self-compassion. It is called: Facing Hurts and Regrets:

1) What am I most regretful about right now?
2) If I could change one thing, what would that be?

Start with facing your current truths with kindness.

To read more see the information below on my book, Befriending Your Body: A Self-Compassionate Approach to Freeing Yourself From Disordered Eating

The Compassionate Response to Anxiety

As September rolled around so did a fair amount of anxiety. I should start by saying, YES, I too, experience anxiety. I affirm this because often when it comes to being in the role of therapist, educator, trainer, teacher, and now author, it can leave my students and clients wondering, does she go through this too? The answer is a big yes. And it is a yes that goes way back.

I fully respect that we each have a certain constitutional make-up based on many factors, including genetics and biology that determine the way we enter into the world. Respecting this, I know I was born with an easily revved-up, reactive nervous system. As far as gene expression, we now know that our environment can either increase or decrease the expression of all of this. But what it also means, is that we have to go way back and understand the nature of who we are, not just what happened to us. What makes you feel calm? What throws you off? If you are like me, then you know that you do not like transitions and lots of change. You also probably do not like a lot of unknowns in your life. The unknown creates more of that unstable feeling inside. I have come to recognize and understand these things about my system throughout the years.

September is filled with many unknowns for me. First off, my book is well out there now and it now has a life of its own. Who knows what it is doing? Who knows who is reading it? Who knows if it is helpful or not? Yes, these are some questions that arise from an anxious mind. Ones that wonder about the unanswerable. Then comes the speaking engagements. I have a few of those this month (you will see them listed below). Another thing that the anxious system does not like. What will I say? Will people know what I am talking about? Will I know what I am talking about? Whew! You get my drift. I have just stopped typing now and have taken a deep breath. Because the anxious system forgets when and how to do that when revved-up as well. Come back to your breath. Ground into your seat. Feel the earth support your body. From there notice how your body feels when under the weight of the unknowns and the heightened system. For me it lives in my stomach and chest and shoulders. Where does it live for you?

After discovering where you hold it all, stand up and take a few release breaths. In through your nose, out through your mouth. The next one as you exhale comes the words, THIS IS HARD! This is hard. Now let your arms drape across the front of your body. Hold onto opposite elbows and swing your arms. Soften your stance; soften your whole body. Notice how saying the words, this is hard, over and over, allows a release to take place. You’ve taken a moment of self-compassion by simply acknowledging exactly where you are at. No pretending. No running away from it. But simply acknowledging it as it is.

Because THIS is hard. This may be one thing today and something else tomorrow. The truth is we all have a “this.” So after you practice your self-compassionate acknowledgement, begin to acknowledge it for someone else. Start to see each person you meet as having her own “this” that is hard. See what happens inside of you. Each time you acknowledge it for yourself and then another you are beginning your practice of self-compassion.

The difference between surviving and thriving and BOOK RELEASE!

This month I was asked to record a podcast on self-compassion for the online magazine, Recovery Warriors. They are a great, uplifting support for those struggling with disordered eating and body image issues. At the end of the podcast, the host, Jessica Flint, asked me what was one of my favorite quotes? I have many, but the one I chose was actually one of my own that I tell my clients quite often. There is a difference between just surviving in your life and through recovery and thriving. It all comes down to the approach you take toward it all.

This concept doesn’t just apply to recovery but to any suffering. There is a difference between getting by, getting through, or in other words just surviving a challenging time, or learning how to thrive and grow, not just after it is over but during it as well. The key question that makes the difference is, how do you hold the moments of challenge and suffering? Are you gentle? Or do you push and harshly drive your way through? We are enculturated to believe that we must suffer through suffering! It is the typical mind-set of, “no pain, no gain,” and the striving mind that says, being harsh on yourself is the only way out. When we approach suffering in this way we actually add on more! However, there is another way. Being self-compassionate actually creates intense effort, momentum, and change, only it uses kindness rather than criticism to motivate!

This was the key finding in my doctoral research on self-compassion and the primary message throughout my book. It is not that suffering will disappear, rather, what we know both from my own research and so many others, is that when we approach and hold our suffering in a self-compassionate way we actually transform it and learn so many new things during the process, not just when it is done. Self-compassion allows you to hold the suffering in a new way that teaches you about the moment, helps you to grow, heightens your awareness, and builds resiliency along the way. All without creating more suffering. My clients who have fully recovered know that because they held recovery in this self-compassionate way, it ended up being the gift that taught them the most about living a full, joyous life.

Here are some self-compassionate phrases from my book Befriending Your Body: A Self-Compassionate Approach to Freeing Yourself from Disordered Eating that can help you to reset difficult moments of suffering and instead turn them into moments of growth. Where they are geared toward eating disorder recovery, you may apply these phrases throughout any difficult moment:

I recognize that something is wrong. This is all I have to know right now.

I will begin to listen to my inner knowing, including the messages from my body that are concerning to me. I intend to continue to move toward the truth, even though it is painful.

It is okay to admit to these very real, scary, and dark thoughts and feelings I have right now.

I will not criticize my current pain and in turn create even more pain. What I am dealing with now is enough.

I understand that there is light beyond this pain, even if I do not feel it right now.

Transforming Disease and Disorder

I recently attended the International Yoga Therapy (IAYT) conference and was reminded that one of the most important aspects of healing comes from our mind set about what it means to be healed. Healing takes place when we begin to look at disease and disorders through a new lens.

We are now beginning to understand that health and healing are just as much about balance, ease, and finding peace in one’s body, as it is in one’s mind. Knowing this, two difficult questions arise from this understanding. 1) Can we feel peace in the mind if we are not at peace in our body? This is a hard one as most of us have experienced how limitations, discomfort, and vulnerability in the body directly relate to changes in our mood and over-all emotional and mental well-being. 2) Can we ever transcend or rise above suffering in the body and mind to possibly find a different state of ease and peace despite disorder and/or disease? Meaning, does ease in the body and mind always mean the absence of disease and disorder?

These are the questions I ask in my book and as I sit with clients, especially those in eating disorder recovery or chronic pain/illness. These questions open the door to how we view disorders and diseases. Our Western view holds the belief that to feel well one must rid oneself of disease, or get well first. The Eastern view looks at a disorder as a dis-order and disease as dis-ease. When framed in this way, something different is seen. What is seen is that when something is out of order or in unease, there are many things to look at, not just the one area or the one thing wrong. Rather, it means we can focus on healing other areas, especially the mind, while the rest of the body heals and comes back into balance. It also means we can find states of ease in the body, even if temporarily, that can build great relief over time. It is the little moments of ease, when we can temporarily transcend our current state of suffering, that teach the mind a whole new way to be. I tell my clients recovery also happens in between ridding yourself of behavior. It also happens during the suffering if we allow it to.

When we are in dis-ease the mind becomes programmed to believe that there is nothing in the body that feels okay. This locked view in the mind creates even more suffering. Your body can be a great resource for discovering moments of ease, even if just temporarily. Let’s try an embodied practice to feel this shift. The following is a simple restorative yoga pose that I offer in my book to help you bring balance to the body first and then the mind.

Chair Pose
You will need a mat, chair, a firm blanket and a soft pillow.
Roll out your mat and fold a blanket so it is about 2 inches thick. Lie down and place this underneath your low back so that it covers your whole low back. Your pelvis and low back should be gently tipped down from the blanket underneath you. Place your legs over the chair so that your legs are in an “L shape” with the chair right under your knees. Place the pillow underneath your head and neck for support. Close your eyes and lie here for 15 minutes. Sense the ease that begins to come over areas of your body and perhaps even your mind.

All it takes is beginning to feel something different from what you have felt all along to help create a new story and a new version of “Self” separate from suffering. This is the start of moving from dis-ease to ease and dis-order back to order.

The Meaning of Self-Care

What is the meaning of self-care and how do we learn it? I found myself contemplating this question a few weeks ago after, believe it or not, undergoing my first colonoscopy. Dare I write this but it is true. The question arose after receiving the good news from my doctor that “everything was okay.” I was happy and relieved and connected to the feeling of gratitude for my body’s health and well-being. I was also connected to the vulnerable truth that health is not a given, it is a gift. There are things we can do to care and help to influence our health and well-being and other times we come to understand that much of health is a sacred gift. Contemplating the sacredness of health I do believe we have to consider how do we help our body along this path of life? How do we learn the self-care that is necessary to assist our body in its health, well-being and stabilization?

One of the first things I teach in the understanding of embodiment is that we are all born in touch with our bodies, even if it is just on a primal level. We unfortunately lose this along the way. As our brains are developing in childhood, rarely are we taught to still, reflect, sense and tune into bodily sensations and a deep understanding and knowledge about our body and what it needs. Instead we are directed outward to search for what feels good and for what can make us happy. Therefore, self-care becomes associated with something we get from the outside, not the inside. We lose a communication with our body. We no longer know how it works and what it needs to stay in balance and stable. As an embodied psychotherapist and yoga therapist, I am a huge fan of anatomy. I love to learn how my body functions and moves and operates from the inside as this has helped me to build mindful awareness with my body and a very sensitive attunement toward it on a daily basis. Developing awareness like this helps you to understand what it is like to feel well, not just what it”s like to feel ill or unbalanced. We all know what not feeling well feels like, but do you know what feeling well and balanced feels like? And how often do you attend to and highlight that in your mind? Self-care starts with knowing and focusing on what you are doing right, not on focusing on what you are doing wrong. Start with the following questions to build self-care from the inside:

1) What makes me feel healthy and strong?

2) How often do I give my body the things that make me feel most healthy and strong?

3) If my body could speak what would it tell me on the days I feel most alive?

4) How often do I stop to attend, notice and pay attention to my body on the days I feel well? Do I highlight the good or do I just focus and listen when I feel bad?

5) How often do I stop and hold gratitude for the hard work my body does for me day in and day out?

These are some of the embodied questions from my book that help you on your path of developing self-care from the inside so that self-care takes on a deeper, more connected meaning than what you can receive from the outside. It is only when we develop constant mindful awareness that we truly open the door to long-lasting self-care.

I’ll leave you to contemplate what happens when we practice mindful self-care on an ongoing basis. These are the beautiful words of the Buddha from the  Sedaka Sutta which point out that self-care over time turns into care of others. Self-care is other-care.

Looking after oneself, one looks after others. Looking after others, one looks after oneself.”

Shameless Self-Promotion

I had a meeting with the marketing team at Shambhala Publishers a couple of weeks ago. I sat on the screen with them as they reviewed the marketing strategies for my upcoming book. I could see my face on the screen look a little blank as it was surreal for me to take it all in on many levels. One, I have been waiting for this, meaning the publication of my first book, for a long time. I spent many years studying, researching, and writing the manuscript, along with the work involved to secure a publisher. But this was only one reason for my blank, frozen face. The other was the sheer fear I felt when the publicist asked the question, “how are you with self-promotion?”

The question left a pit in my stomach. I quickly answered, “well, in the past year I’ve gotten better at it!” And  that is the truth. I have gotten better at it as I learned a publisher will not even look at your manuscript unless you have some sort of platform built. That’s how this newsletter was born. However, the truth is, there is still something that feels scary and downright very wrong, even shameful about self-promotion.

The shame in being seen goes deep and is related to a dark place that says to hide away and not show your talent, gifts, or shine too much. Yet we all know that really, deep down inside we all need and wish for these exact things to be seen. Shame also says, don’t shine too much; don’t stand out too much; don’t succeed too much, be small. It’s an old feeling and it felt like an old place from childhood; one that used to make me close down, shut down, and hide away and stay small. That’s what shame does. It says there is something not okay with you; something not okay with what you are doing. The more I reflected on this the more I understood that shame has no place here.

I wrote this book, “Befriending Your Body: A Self-Compassionate Approach to Freeing Yourself from Disordered Eating” to share not only my own journey, but my research, my work with clients, and because I wish to help thousands free themselves from shame! How can I now allow shame to be any part of the promoting of this work?

I quickly understood that my intention behind “self-promotion” was really “heart-promotion.” It’s about the 21 brave women who participated in my research on self-compassion and how their stories helped me to understand the journey to freedom. It’s also about the following:

1) Understanding the difference between ego desires and heart desires

2) Letting yourself be guided by intention rather than goal

3) Letting go of hiding away and pretending to be small when you feel you have something large to share

4) Letting your gifts shine from the heart

5) Lastly, being a model of what can happen when we release shame and old stories that hold us back from our gifts

After all, nothing good happens toward yourself or anyone else when you allow shame to hold you back, down and away. Release shame to allow your gifts shine from the heart and share them with the world!

Seeking Refuge

A month has passed since I returned home from India. I’ve been telling my clients and my students that there were so many wonderful things I learned there that it is hard to focus on any one lesson in particular. However, I think a couple of weeks ago one came to life for me.

I was teaching my restorative yoga therapeutics training and the last day of the training I dropped off one of my sons at the Albany airport for his trip back to the University of Tulsa (quite a distance from NY). I was on my way to teach my last day when I received a call from him saying his flight was Saturday, not Sunday and that there are no flights out to be found. I had a flood of guilt (how could I have not known this?), blame (how did he not know this? How come my husband didn’t take care of this?) and criticism (what kind of mother am I?) all flooding in at once. Panicked, I pulled over on the highway and began to search Expedia for flights. My husband, working at the time, stopped seeing patients and we all, from separate locations, attempted to search for a way to get him back to campus on time for classes the next day. Again nothing found. I had a room full of teachers excited to finish-up their training and I had to re-group and concentrate but I didn’t know how.

It was in that moment that I remembered the words our guide Shantum told us about practice. In Buddhism we call the teachings of the Dharma and meditation practice a refuge. The definition of refuge is, a safety, security, and stability when things feel unsafe and unstable. He reminded us of an old rickety bridge we crossed that was open on one side while on the other was a fence. He said remember when you walked over the bridge you walked a little closer to the fence? Well the practice is like that fence. It is there to turn to for support. It is there to lean into when you need to cross to the other side.

In that moment I remembered what my refuge is and I turned to my practice. I closed my eyes and felt my breath, and took a few minutes of silence. I surrendered to the moment and witnessed how dropping in allowed me to let go of my guilt, blame, and critical thoughts. I was able to replace them with compassion and gratitude instead. They sounded like this:

I did not check his flight because I have been very busy since I’ve returned from my trip and I was allowing him the responsibility of this.

He didn’t check because he is a 20-year-old off on spring break and let go of responsibilities for the week.

And my husband, (who by the way left work as soon as possible and drove him back to Oklahoma through the night so he could make it to class on time and then drove home!) was also exhausted from working.

I know I am a great mom and maybe I unconsciously wanted to keep him home with me just one more day. 🙂

This 5 minute meditation was a moment of refuge and gave me the space needed to replace the critical thoughts with thoughts of compassion and allowed me to step back into the room with my students (even if an hour late), be present, and show up for them the rest of the day.

Life will happen. Stress will happen. Learning to lean into the safety is what is most important. Ask yourself the following questions to build your refuge:

1) When do I feel most safe and secure?

2) What do I turn to when I am stressed?

4) What helps me to ground and regroup?

3) How do I find refuge?