Soul Nourishment

As an independent parent, there is limited time for self-care. Much of my day is spent cooking, cleaning, working or driving; but as I have discovered over the years, if I do not make time for the things that nourish me, I cannot fully show up for my child, or anyone else for that matter.

I recently decided to start waking up a few hours earlier each morning, before my day gets started. This time is dedicated to reflection and self-care. I have a rule that I cannot do chores, email or social media. It is solely for activities that fill my heart with joy.

For me, this often includes meditation, reading, writing and movement (yoga or strength-based exercise). After a few weeks of practice, I have noticed a significant improvement in my overall sense of happiness and well-being.

The activities themselves are personal preferences, not the solution. When I show up every morning, it sends a signal to my body and soul that I value them; they deserve love and care. This is the magic. Every day, as I fill my tank before I get started, it not only helps me to sustain myself throughout the day; it prevents me from simply putting one foot in front of the other, and instead, it empowers me to gaze with hope towards the horizon.

Strong not Skinny

For most of my youth and early adulthood, I struggled with body image issues. I consumed a lot of popular culture; and I wanted to emulate the women that I saw idealized in television, movies and magazines. I held myself to an impossible standard and I believed the lie that being skinny guaranteed access to happiness, love and success.

Over the years, I have learned that this is far from the truth. If you do not hold peace and acceptance inside, it does not matter what you look like on the outside. No one else can make you feel worthy and valuable. This belief needs to come from yourself.

As a forty-three year old woman, my focus is now on cultivating strength and joy within, rather than trying to fit into any external ideal of perfection. I aspire to be of service to my family, friends and community; and my aim is to age with grace and dignity. I can only do this if my body and mind are strong, fit and healthy.

Living in this stressful and busy world, it is extremely helpful to have daily practices that anchor and ground you. In order to do this, I follow a low inflammation diet and I practice a range of strength practices every week. Here are some of the ones that I enjoy the most:

Meditation: Meditation is a practice that spans across cultures and it takes many different forms. It is scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and depression, and improve attention, concentration, and overall psychological well-being. The basic premise is that you create the space for your feelings and thoughts, allowing them to come and go: observing them with curiosity and not hanging on to any one thing. The timing varies on what works for you. You can do it in as little as five minutes a day and in almost any place: while sitting, walking or washing the dishes. The key is to use your breath. To explore how to meditate, there are great free tools available, such as Headspace app.

Walking: I love to go for long walks. I walk for an hour or more, a few times a week, to get my heart rate up and to build muscle. I love being outside, breathing in the fresh air and spending time in nature. Even in an urban setting, there are often trees and greenery to enjoy. This is the time that I most enjoy listening to podcasts. Some of my favourites at the moment are: Rich Roll; Marie Forleo; The Tim Ferris Show; and Coffee Break French.

Yoga: Yoga is not only good for the body, it is also nourishing for the mind. It is an amazingly versatile practice, which offers everything from restorative to power-based options. You can do it in as little as ten to fifteen minutes a day. I love the idea of growing into a ninety year old woman who can bend over and touch her toes. Yoga is my anchor and I highly recommend that you explore it. The great thing is you no longer need to find a studio to try it out. There are some fantastic free resources online that you can now access at home. A few that I like are: Do Yoga With Me and Yoga with Adrienne.

Bootcamp / High Intensity Training (HIT): Muscle density is important for healthy aging. After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade. Age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia is one of the most important causes of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults. Less muscle means greater weakness and less mobility, both of which may increase the risk of falls and fractures. Building muscle does not mean bulking up; it is about creating an overall lean body structure and maintaining a healthy, stable body weight. I really enjoy taking a bootcamp class in my local community. The trainers are fantastic, kind and encouraging; and there are participants of all different ages and abilities. I am in and out of there in forty-five minutes; and the class is different and varied every day. If you do not want to go to the gym, there are also some great free resources online that you can follow at home, with a mat and some hand weights. I enjoy Christine Salus’ HIT workouts.

How you you like to stay strong? Tell me in the comments below.

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Finding My Centre

Woman Sitting On The Rock And Meditating In Yoga Pose. Back View

“The centre of the energetic body is recognized in various healing sciences and traditions. In the Chinese Qigong it is known as Dantian, the Japanese name is Hara, and in the Sufi tradition, the Kath.

The location of the Dantian is in the lower belly, just below the navel, sitting a few centimetres below the skin’s surface as an orb of organized energy. In modern society, so many of us are constantly flooded with expectations and emotions. We have lost the ancient wisdom of living from our true centre: where peace and calm exist, rooted in our inner wisdom and knowingness. When we operate from this place, we are grounded, patient and free of anxiety.

Next time you meditate or find yourself in a highly emotional or anxious state, close your eyes and focus on your Dantian. Breathe into it. Hold it in your mind. Feel to coming home to your true nature. You are here. You are enough.”

~ Zach Bush, M.D.

I have recently started to notice a deeply ingrained pattern. When I am faced with a challenging situation, I lose my grounding and I look outwards for the answers. What resource can I consult? What expert or trusted friend can give me advice? How can I confirm that my actions are the right ones? There is a lack of trust and deep feelings of fear that arise within me.

The other day, as I struggled with some difficult issues, I sought advice from a friend. Rather than offering me a solution to my problem, however, she counselled me to stop looking outwards and to start turning inwards. She wisely reminded no one can direct me on path except myself. Her guidance was to re-connect with my inner knowing. To seek the guidance of the quiet, steady core of myself that represents the integrated whole: the Dantian. She assured me that if you are still and you listen, it will show you the way.

Our society encourages action. We are told, from an early age, to be productive and efficient. The idea of sitting in stillness to seek answers from within is counter intuitive to this social conditioning. My instinct is always to “do something” but it is this frenetic doing that feeds into a feeling of groundlessness. Often, the most important thing to “do” is to stop and reflect: to create space for the solution to present itself. As I have been testing out this approach, I have been surprised at the answers that naturally arise from within. It is empowering to discover that I often know what to do in my body before I do in my mind.

Here is an exercise that I have been testing out recently to connect with my Dantian:

First, find a quiet space. Sit and close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Feel your hips on the chair. Settle them in. Imagine strong roots running down from your spine and hips into the ground: creating a solid, flowing connection with the earth.

Allow for any negative or fearful emotions to run from your body down into the rich, dark soil. Release all tension and anxiety. Feel it being received and absorbed. Breathe and sit quietly.

Now imagine the nourishing energy of the earth running back up these roots and into your body. Feel the loving, positive energy fill your whole being. Feel it centre and radiate in the space beneath your navel. Hold it there lightly. Breathe and sit quietly.

When it feels right, ask your inner wisdom the answer to your question. Listen and be still. Be patient and wait for the answer to present itself to you.

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Learning to Parent Myself

Woman Makes Heart With Hands In Sunset. Healthy People  Lifestyl

Ninety percent of the time, I consider myself to be a pretty decent parent. I care deeply about my child and I enjoy her company. I help her with homework and participate in school field trips. We talk about the world and make each other laugh. We go on adventures and enjoy each other’s company.

The other ten percent of the time, I feel like a failure. I raise my voice and lose my temper. I am short with her when I should be patient. I say things that I should not. I am the worst version of myself. It is not that I think I should be a perfect parent but I do want to be kind one; and ten percent of bad behaviour feels like it cancels out the ninety percent of good.

When I am calm and centered, I encourage my daughter to take deep breaths when she is angry. I remind her that just because she is mad, she is not allowed to be mean. I bring her in close and hug her when she is misbehaving. Why is it so hard to follow my own good advice, in the heat of the moment?

It is amazing to me how easy it is to be an unfiltered version of yourself with those that you love most. To explode when you are angry or to say all of the things that come to mind with wild abandon. We feel safe together, so we let it all hang out; rather than showing the restraint we do with those who are not in our inner circle.

In paying attention to these moments, I notice that it most often occurs when I am tired, stressed or overloaded. There is no opportunity for me to stop and pause when I am running dry; as there is nothing left in my reserve tank. I am realizing that in order to be a better parent to my daughter, I need to start being a better parent to myself: offering up attention, love and care, rather than judgment and frustration.

As an independent parent, it can be difficult to find time to rest and decompress. Life is busy and there are many moving parts. It is hard to slow down. If I do not make space for myself on a daily basis, however, the fragile balance tips. Over the last little while, I have been testing out some strategies for better managing the stresses of daily life:

  1. Movement:The first thing that helps is a commitment to regular exercise. I need to move my body every day. It can be as simple as taking a walk at lunch or a free online yoga class at home (doyogawithme.com). Movement in any form is medicine: for the mind and body.
  2. Meditation:A regular practice of meditation is a good tool. Sitting still and paying attention to my breath for ten minutes a day, first thing in the morning, gives me an anchor in the moments when I later feel ungrounded. Deep, belly breaths really help to take the edge off of a difficult situation.
  3. Rest: My daughter and I spend a lot of time together and I cherish it; I am also realizing it is essential that I have time to rest and to be alone. I aim to get her into bed early each evening; both so she can rest after a long day and I am left with a pocket of time to myself. After she is asleep, I can take a hot bath, watch a show or read a book. I also like to go to bed early myself, as it is essential for my energy levels and overall well-being.
  4. Reflection: When I am not at my best, I often regret the things that come out of my mouth. In the moments of frustration or anger that arise, I am working to create a small space between the emotion and myself: to pull back and reflect. Who do I want to be in this moment? How do I want my child to remember it? Does this behaviour feed connection or separation? Although it is difficult, it really helps to shift the dynamic.

I feel fortunate that there is an opportunity, each and every day, to start new and recommit to being a better parent, partner and friend. Love is amazingly resilient, forgiving and patient; but is also needs to be fed a steady diet of kindness, tenderness and joy.

An important first step is to start by acting as a parent to myself: to make sure that I am fed, cared for and rested. To give myself time for things that fill me up and build my capacity to pause in those difficult and challenging moments. If I do not, and I allow myself to run on empty, I am guaranteed to tip over into the dreaded ten percent.

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This article was written for the June 2019 edition of Island Parent Magazine.

Head vs. Heart

Rear View Woman And Split Blackboard With Heart And Brain Symbol

I am a sensitive empath with a strong internal fight or flight instinct. I feel and sense the world around me deeply; this can be challenging when you live in a busy, aggressive and loud world.

In order to better navigate this reality, I am working to build upon my inner strength. To create a place of stillness and grounding that I can turn to when things are chaotic: to cultivate more equanimity and peace within. This starts by learning how to shift from living in my head to living from my heart.

Throughout my adult life, I have gained success and praise through building up my analytical skills. The task-orientated, linear part of my brain is highly developed and it is hard for me to switch it off. It writes lists and organizes things. It reflects on what has happened and plans into the future. It is pragmatic and efficient: seeking security and safety through establishing structure.

There are many benefits to possessing these skills, especially in a world that values productivity and efficiency; but the logical part of myself lacks warmth, spontaneity and joy. It is rigid and uncompromising. This part of myself reminds me of a grouchy old lady. She complains and she is dissatisfied; she is always looking for improvement. She points out what is not going right and what she does not like; she worries about things incessantly. She does not live in the moment or start from a place of gratitude. She suffocates creative, playful impulses: considering them to be “silly” and “unpredictable.”

I have been thinking a lot lately about how I can learn to reconnect with my body: to reclaim the intuitive, emotional part of myself that lives and breathes in the present moment. To do this, I have been investigating embodiment practices. A few of them include:

Internalizing the Positive: In his book, Buddha’s Brain, Rick Hanson speaks to the negative bias of the brain. The brain preferentially scans for, registers and recalls unpleasant experiences. In order to change this, he suggests actively looking for good news, particularly the little stuff of daily life: the smiling face of your child; the smell of fresh coffee; a pleasant conversation with a friend; a small victory at work.

More importantly, Rick suggests savouring the experience. Be in that moment and really take it in. Do not let you attention move to something else: hold it for up to 20 seconds. The longer something is held in awareness, and the more emotionally stimulating it is, the more neurons fire and write together: creating a stronger trace memory. He also suggests focussing on the feelings of your emotions and body sensations since they are the essence of implicit memory. Let the experience fill the body and be as intense as possible. This helps to teach the brain to focus on and remember the positive in any given situation.

Cold Immersion: Throughout history and across cultures, cold bathing has been used to promote multiple beneficial effects for health such as improving the immune system, cardiovascular circulation and lowering inflammation; it is also shown to boost mood and alleviate symptoms of depression. It is counterintuitive but it is actually a really effective way to start the day. As I stand in that cold blast of water each morning, I am forced to be in my physical self. I am aware of how this amazing body has kept me alive over the last twenty-four hours: breathing each breath; pumping my heart; repairing muscles; creating new skin; moving me through the world. There is no where else to be in that moment. The cold does not allow your attention to wander. I am filled with awareness and gratitude. Before I know it, it is over. I turn on the hot water and start the day with fresh slate. The recommended timing of cold immersion varies from minutes to hours. I can only manage thirty seconds but it is enough.

Movement and Sound: When I was little, I loved to express myself through singing, dancing and making music. As I grew older, I became increasingly self-consciousness and they played a smaller and smaller role in my life. Now that I am in mid-life, I am learning to re-embrace these forms of self-expression to foster a stronger connection with my heart. The wonderful thing is there is no one right way to do it. You just find what works for you and go for it. I have personally been enjoying two mindfulness practices: kirtan and 5Rhythms. With roots in the Vedic anukirtana tradition, a kirtan is a call-and-response style song or chant, set to music. There is little distinction between the performers and the audience.  The wallah (leader) sings the mantra, and the audience sings it back.  A single chant can go on for up to forty minutes.  As you sing with each other you experience a deep connection with the musicians, the other audience members and yourself.  All voices merge together to become one voice. And when the music stops, your mind is quiet. 5Rhythms is a movement meditation practice devised by Gabrielle Roth in the late 1970s. It puts the body in motion in order to still the mind. Fundamental to the practice is the idea that everything is energy, and moves in waves, patterns and rhythms. The five rhythms (in order) are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. When danced in sequence, are known as a “Wave.” A typical Wave takes about an hour to dance.

Finding ways to shift from living in my mind to living in my body is an ongoing practice. There is no set destination or mode of arrival; it is simply a process of constant effort and cultivation.  The techniques listed above are just a few of the ways that I am exploring this concept; but they are not all of them. I also enjoy the benefits of meditation, yoga and walking in nature, amongst others. It is less about the form and more about the intention. How can I move into living more in the present moment? How can I come home to my physical self? How can I learn to feel as much as I think?

I am curious to learn how you are learning to live more from your heart. Please share your thoughts and suggestions below.

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