Yoga

When Learning Feels Like a Lose-Lose

This weekend I took a yoga class at the Rubin Museum and was reminded of a simple truth: The better you get at things, the harder they become.

Previously, poses like Warrior just meant a lunge with my hands in the air. Suddenly, it’s all “tailbone like this” and “root your feet like that.” I felt frustrated, how could my getting better at something feel like I was getting worse at it? Why did learning feel like a lose-lose?

Because knowledge is power even when it feels like shit.

And, since how we do one thing is how we do everything, this can be extended into all areas of our life:

We often think that as we work on discovering and improving ourselves, things will get easier. We will be happier. But as we dig deeper and evolve, the assignments get harder. And sometimes it hurts even more.

Why?

Growth isn’t linear.

Growth doesn't mean we feel happy all the time.

Our purpose is not to deny pain and live in a constant state of rainbows and unicorns. We aren’t a failure if we feel sad, angry, or depressed. Our goal in self-discovery is to feel the full gamut of human emotion, honoring its range, purpose, and lessons.

Success isn’t defined as spending more time feeling happy. It's the ability to tolerate, learn, and know that things happen for you, not to you. Ultimately, progress doesn't deny pain, it embraces it as necessary for transformation.

Assignment: Rather than deny how you feel and beat yourself up because you “should” be happy, how can you lean into it? What is it trying to teach you?

Share your story in the Comments section below!

5 Ways to Get Quality Sleep Tonight!

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This past weekend was a holiday party-filled snowy mess in New York. Between over-committing to friends and work, I re-learned a valuable lesson: Sleep and self-love come first. This is especially true this season. Fall & Winter are times for us to go inward. Nature gets it: trees shed their leaves & animals hibernate.  But, we humans decide to do just the opposite. We wear sparkly things, go to parties, get home at 2 am, and then do it all again.

Do I expect you to sit at home and hibernate?

Hell no!

But I do think the often-debated topic of sleep deserves revisiting. Today, let’s look at why we really need more sleep and talk about

5 realistic things you can do to get quality sleep tonight!

There are a TON of reasons we need more sleep than we're getting. I’ll leave it to the Bigwigs at Harvard Medical School to give you the details, but here are a few of the ones we often forget:

1. Staying up all night to cram for a test or presentation won’t do you any favors. Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory. In studies, people who slept after learning performed better when tested.

2. Chronic sleep deprivation (under 7-8 hours on a regular basis) alters our hormone levels, telling our bodies to store carbs and slow our metabolism. i.e. Sleep more, weigh less.

3. Take it from me (and anyone who’s ever met me) that sleep loss leads to irritability, impatience, and an inability to focus. So maybe staying up to be productive isn’t so productive after all?!

What to do about it:

1. Shut it down. Put down your cellphone and turn off your computer (after you finish reading this, of course!) White and blue lights disrupt your sleep cycle by tricking your brain into thinking it’s actually daytime. Make a pact with yourself that after 10 pm, you’ll live like the Amish.

2. Cover your windows. Not only will curtains or blinds block artificial street lights, but you’ll save on heating & cooling costs. Or, you can always use a sleep mask!

3. Keep it cool. As much as I hate the cold, I keep my apartment cool at night to lower my body temperature which leads to restful sleep. The ideal temperature? 65-70 degrees Farenheit.

4. Create a ritual. A self-care ritual at bed that you do regularly will signal your brain that it’s time for sleep. Consistency is key as is doing it around the same time each night. So no matter what it looks like (10 minutes of reading, meditation, or a bath) your actions will tell your brain that it’s time for sleep.

5. Slow it down. I empathize with people who suffer from racing thoughts at night. If you expect to go from an active day to restful sleep without a mental transition, you’re in for a sleepless night. And, no, TV time is not downtime. Your mind and body assume you’re a part of whatever show you’re watching. Plus, the light is simply resetting your suprachiasmatic nucleus (big word!) and assuming it’s daytime. Here's my advice: try a few yogic breathing exercises, a gratitude list, meditation, or some simple restorative yoga poses.

Try these tips and get restful sleep tonight. Your brain and body will thank you!

Got sleep woes? Let me know! Try these 5 tips and share your experience in the Comments section below!

How to Meditate: Your Questions Answered

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Meditation is one of the best things you can do for your health, happiness, and productivity.

How could one tool that costs nothing have such an impact?

The magic is in its simplicity.

But, the reason many of us don’t meditate is the complexity of the topic. So let’s break it down:

1. "Why should I meditate?"

Meditation has a tremendous number of well-documented benefits including, but not limited to:

  • increased self-awareness & intuition
  • less stress
  • better sleep
  • improved physical & mental health
  • increased happiness
  • emotional resilience
  • more energy
  • better memory

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program (which is now used in thousands of hospitals, prisons, and leadership development programs) sums up the benefits, “[People typically start meditating] because they’re overwhelmed by stress or pain. But there’s something about paying attention to your own inner states, and seeing what needs to change in your life. People on their own stop smoking or change the way they eat and start losing weight.”

And, if amorphous health improvements aren’t motivating enough:

2. “I tried it before, I couldn’t get my mind to stop wandering, so I gave up.”

Meditation Frustration is a common issue. The belief that you have to be in an ashram or on top of a mountain is ridiculous.  You don’t need to be a monk. You don’t even need silence. We get frustrated because we tend to believe it’s for perfect people with perfect self-control. It’s a common misconception because meditation is not taught in a way that resonates with most people.

Contrary to popular belief, you can’t be good or bad at meditation. Each time you meditate is an opportunity to connect with yourself, so whatever happens in meditation is exactly what is supposed to happen. That being said, I completely sympathize with that feeling of annoyance. So, let's set the record straight: Mindfulness is the ability to draw your focus back, it is not simply the ability to concentrate on one thing forever.  If you feel like you don’t know what to do with your thoughts during meditation I recommend trying the meditation at the end of this blog. For more information on passing thoughts during meditation, check out this post on Psych Central.

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3. “I can’t find time, I’m too busy to meditate.”

Ha! I love this one. I’m tempted to snarkily ask how you find time for Facebook or TV, but I’ll use some self-control and answer this lovingly. If you are too busy to meditate, then you definitely need to do it. Finding time is a 2 part issue:

  1. The belief that there isn’t enough time to meditate. All you need is 5 minutes. No exaggeration, even 5 minutes each day makes a SIGNIFICANT impact on your life. Don’t believe me? Try meditating 5 minutes each day for one week. For the second week, try meditating for 7 minutes. Slowly increase your time. Your mind is a muscle, treat it like one.
  2. Not knowing when to do it. The ideal times to meditate are in the morning when you wake up (after you wash up, but before you caffeinate) and in the evening either before dinner or before you wash up to go to bed. That being said, it’s about your schedule and working it in. The key to making a habit stick is visualizing it as part of a routine. For example, in my mind brushing my teeth, washing my face, and meditating are lumped together as my morning ritual.

Meditating during the day is powerful. During the workday it’s helpful because as we get busy and flustered we lose awareness of our breath. Practicing mindful breathing in and out of your nose allows us to connect to our bodies and our emotions. It calms anxiety, stress, and racing thoughts, while increasing our energy.

You’re probably thinking, that sounds nice, but who has time during the workday for that? 

4. “Do I really need to? I just don’t want to.”

I love the challenge of clients who have a general unnamed aversion to things. News flash! Your fear of meditating isn’t about meditation. It’s about sitting still and having to actually deal with your own thoughts and feelings without a distraction. I’m betting that you’re the person who checks facebook/email as soon as you get out of the subway just in case you missed something. (I know you because I was you!) These are the people who really need meditation. I invite you to watch this delightfully and hilariously inappropriate video by comedian Louie C.K.

And, if you know you should, but you still don’t do it. Check this out. 

5. “Doesn’t meditation go against my religion?”

Someone once told me that I shouldn’t do yoga or meditate because "if you relax, then the devil will snatch you up.” I was speechless.  But, had I had control over my words, I would have pointed out that meditation and mindfulness are not rooted in any religion. It’s silence and it’s science. Yes, cognitive neuroscience says that this practice is like taking my brain to the gym. And the gym is not a house of worship.  

Check out Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s take on the issue. 

6. “So HOW do I meditate? What do I actually do? What do I think about? How do I breathe? How do I sit?”

There are many types of meditation, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter which one you do. It’s like pizza. It all tastes good, we just prefer one topping over another.

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  1. To start: Set an intention for your meditation practice, even if it’s just 5 minutes.  Try “I choose to honor myself today.” Set a timer on your phone or use an app.
  2. How to Sit: Start in a seated position, it doesn’t need to be fancy like those zen yoga photos. All that matters is that you’re sitting straight and tall. You can sit in a chair or on the floor. If you choose to sit on the floor, use a bolster, pillow, or blanket under your hips to reduce the strain on your lower back. If you sit in a chair, be sure your feet are on the floor pointing forward.
  3. Eyes: Close your eyes. How’s that for simple?
  4. Breath & Focus: Take a deep breath and allow your breath to anchor you. The easiest way to start meditating is with a breath-counting mindfulness meditation. It’s as simple as counting to 4. 
  • Inhale through your nose. As you exhale through your nose, count “1” in your mind.
  • Inhale through your nose. As you exhale through your nose, count “2” in your mind.
  • Inhale through your nose. As you exhale through your nose, count “3” in your mind.
  • Inhale through your nose. As you exhale through your nose, count “4” in your mind.

Repeat this for 5 minutes.

As thoughts enter your mind, allow them to pass without judgment. Visualize them as nothing more than passing clouds. Return your focus to your breath.

5. End with gratitude. As the timer goes off. Slowly open your eyes and stay present to how you feel. Honor yourself and your practice by stating, “Thank you for this practice. I am grateful for the opportunity to nurture my mind, body, and spirit.”

 

The Takeaway:

Each meditation session is an opportunity to raise your awareness and your vibration. It only takes one simple tool to improve your heath, your happiness, and your productivity. And now that I’ve busted your excuses, the takeaway is that you have nothing standing in your way except your fear of your limitless life.  So what are you waiting for?

 

Share your meditation story! What works for you? How does it help? Let me know in the Comments section below!