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Stress Solutions

Looking Beyond What You See

Looking Beyond What You See

Reading Kay's words taught me that each soul in that room has depth, grace, and beauty well beyond what can be visualized with eyes.

Kindness - Old Fashioned, Yet Timeless

When I was young and I asked my father what he wanted for his birthday, he would say "a kind word."  What a strange request, my young mind thought.

Now that I have many years and life experiences behind me, I realize this was and is a completely rational and wonderful request.  Think about it; look on your Facebook page, on the news feed, on Twitter...how much is kind and how much is nasty.  The world is filled with haters, AND the world is filled with promise as well.  We cannot choose what others post, but we can choose what we take in and what we ignore.  

One friend has chosen to fill her Facebook page with "A Month of Bunnies."  Another has chosen to ask friends and family to fill their pages with music. Still more choose to post affirmations of all sorts.  All of this in response to the negativity that floats around cyberspace. It gives me hope. Thirty two years since my dad's passing; his request was not so strange, after all.

Let's encourage each other to uplift one another, to strive to bring joy into the world, whether as an antidote to negative postings, or just for its own sake.  And guess what; you can even dismiss the idea of doing this through social media.  Try smiling at a stranger, listening to a friend, or even sharing a kind word.  And feel free to leave these thoughts and actions on my comment page so they can be shared with others.  Dad would be so happy.

The Best Seat on the Plane

Flying back from Florida where I celebrated my mom's 93rd birthday, I felt grateful for many reasons.  Having Mom here on this earth is one, being able to take the time to visit often, having a good relationship with my family, all add up to a great visit.  And the trip is enhanced when it starts with a good seat on the plane.

This trip and airline experience did not start out that well.  I was originally seated at the very rear of the plane (not good for me) in an aisle seat (good for me).  A man whose family was sitting next to me approached and asked if I'd like to trade seats with him; he was seated on the aisle in row 8.  Fantastic!  It was a win for everyone; he gets to sit with his family and I get to sit just behind first class.  Fabulous.  Or so I thought.

Our plane had arrived at the gate with only 30 minutes til departure, so staff was stressed to get the plane cleaned, get us seated and off the gate.  If the airline is late off the gate they pay a penalty.  With just 15 minutes to go it appeared to me that everyone was boarded and seated.  As I approached the front of the plane to seat my self in aisle seat 8, I see more passengers (probably stand by) boarding, and the seat I thought I had is now occupied. A flight attendant firmly states that we need to take our seats as soon as possible for an on time gate departure. I explain my situation and she sends me back to my original seat, which is now occupied by the kind man who wanted to sit with his family.  Now I don't have a seat at all.  In the meantime, there seems to be some confusion over a number of people's seats and the flight attendant is barking orders to be seated.  I explain my situation and she says now there is a seat in row 8, but its a middle seat.  Being quite mindful that I don't want to be a pain, I explain that I need the aisle seat.  In her stress to get going, she finds me an aisle again in the back of the plane.  I resign myself to not make eye contact with this flight attendant as I feel she has been unprofessional and kind of rude.  We take off and all is well.

Soon after take off and at our max altitude, the same flight attendant approaches me and explains that an airline employee (non-rev passenger) took the 8 aisle seat, and she will ask him to move to the rear so I can have that seat.  She is apologetic, as am I, as I might have been short with words earlier on as well.  She says she's been flying for 30 years and nothing bothers her anymore, she just wanted to make my trip a pleasant one.  We continue to chat (I decided to remain in my rear of the plane seat instead of moving around) and have some good laughs over being stressed.  It all turns out well.  My seat was fine.

Looking through my bag for reading materials I discover that I have a 'laughter pill,' a plush toy, purple and orange colored, that when squeezed emits a 3 year old child's laughter.  It is the great diffuser for problem situations, fear, annoyance, etc.  I decide to gift this to the flight attendant when deplaning.  When I approach her, we both smile and I say thank you very much for coming back and talking with me, and that I am grateful for this kindness.  In return I give her the laughter pill and suggest that she use it when she has unruly passengers or just for fun with the staff.  She is clearly moved by the gesture and hugs and kisses me.  I am moved my her response.  A great ending to a flight that didn't start off so well, and a great beginning of a weekend of celebration.  Not to mention a fun story to share.

So what can start off as a stressful situation, when tempered by honest, vulnerable communication, can be turned around to be a great experience, a kind exchange and a memorable moment.  There is always room for joy.

ADVENTURES IN MINDFULNESS

ADVENTURES IN MINDFULNESS

June 22, 2016

 

My eight week journey to mindfulness, meditation and yoga via the Insight Center of Chicago, with facilitator Chris Chroniak and the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course, came to an end as my last class convened this week.  Gratitude is in abundance for this learning experience. 

My journey of yoga, meditation and mindfulness will continue on, for as long as my life time gifts me.  It is fluid and ever changing.  Having travelled the yogic path on and off for decades, it is interesting to observe my relationship with the path over time.  In sharing this story, I hope you see the possibilities, the simplicity AND feel the depth of contentment of travel on the winding road of mindfulness.

In my twenties, I discovered yoga at a studio in a three story walk up in Queens, NY.  At that time my concern was doing it ‘right,’ being able to keep up with my classmates and learning a new skill.  Sun Salutation was ‘it.’  Even then, my thin, lithe body was not able to bend in ways required to be proficient at this yoga flow.  But I persevered, enjoyed and grew from the experience.  And then, I went away for a while.

We moved across the country, became parents and began the every day experience of raising children.  Through that I learned that life, as John Lennon said, “is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”  The unexpected often appeared when I was least prepared.  In these younger years, I wish I knew more of the meditative experience of yoga, both to calm myself as an exhausted parent, and to teach my children how to calm themselves down when life got overwhelming. For much of their early years, formal practice was not part of my life.  Nor did I yet understand the connection of the asanas of yoga to meditation and the breath.

 

Soon I learned that doing the asanas, or specific yoga movements, was only one arm of an eight limbed philosophy of yoga.  The breath, too, was a significant portion of the experience. But still, I was relatively young, now in my late 30’s and ready to incorporate specific breathing into my poses.  Now my challenging pose was triangle, and the teacher at the time felt the right way was to get one arm completely down to the ankle in the pose while the other arm was raised above to the sky.  She also was not aware of props or doing what your body permits.  Even teachers need to learn. <smile>.

Feeling like a failure from that class, I left yoga and travelled on other paths, the path of health club exercise, the path of my own faith, and joined an interfaith group to learn about others.  Time passed, children grew, jobs came and went.  Yoga was not at the top of my to-do list, for a very long time.

I rediscovered yoga and the serenity it offers in my 50’s.  I had an outstanding, unique teacher named Wendy.  She had small classes, so there was lots of personal attention. When we stretched out in savassanah at the end of our class, it was more than the corpse pose, it was as important as the vinyasa flow we stretched and worked in.  With Wendy, I also learned about ahimsa, honoring my body.  So the idea of not being able to do a pose went away, as there were blocks and straps and cushions and bolsters and blankets to support me in my efforts.  What an eye opening experience!  I also learned about restorative yoga (a personal favorite), chair yoga and gentle yoga.  And meditation.  LOTS of meditation, combining breathing with ‘letting go.’  Not letting go in the sense of emptying your mind; I am not sure there is anyone who is breathing that can honestly say they can do that.  But to see your thoughts as just that, things that come and things that go, like the clouds in the sky on a warm summer day.  I learned to not be attached to my thoughts, and to be more of an observer of them.  THIS is yoga, THIS is mediation and the use of the breath.  It is interconnected and one and many things.  Yes, all of those.

I also discovered at this time in my life that yoga can be any stretch, when it is done with intention, kindness and alignment.  We can create our own vinyasa flow, our own series of movements that serve our individual bodies.  It is good, it is necessary and it is something I encourage others to do, too.  And breathing; a very good thing to do if you want to remain alive.  ALL of this is yoga.  All of this is meditation.  All of this is part of being mindful.

So I came and went on my yogic path; sometimes stayed for a long time, other times left for a decade.  The most important part is not that I went away for a while; it was that I returned.  The most wonderful part of practicing yoga, is just that, practice.  Try and try again.  Come to each session with what yogis’ call ‘beginner’s mind,’ as if it was fresh and new for the very first time.  Begin again.  What a gift that is.

And now, as my journey with my new friends at The Insight Center comes to an end, and our MBSR class is over. I create my own road to continued contentment, with my own meditations, mindful practices and yogic stretches.  Most mornings I do “bird meditation.”   I sit in my zen room - yes, I created one in my new home; it has African dundun drums, a tea table from Thailand, lots of Buddha incarnations, a southwest ladder to nowhere draped with mala beads; it’s a place that is truly sacred.  I sit in my zen room and pull up the window shades to expose my bird feeders and all the happy feathered beings that enjoy the bounty.  Watching them I feel peace, I feel all is right in the world, as they move forward and do what they have to do to survive.  While I watch them come and go, I do what I now know I need to do to survive the waves of my life; I breathe deeply, often saying a prayer of being thankful for reaching this moment.  And once again I am on the path.  I enjoy the moment that I am in, as it is the only one I have.  Namaste.

Change Your Posture, Change Your Attitude

The simple task of how we stand, how we present ourselves, can not only change how others perceive us;  it can also change how we perceive ourselves.  Just as in laughter yoga, we can 'fake it to make it' when it comes to public speaking, job interviews, or other challenging situations. This is not at all about being phony.  It is about convincing our own minds through the movement of our bodies. Copy and paste the link below to enjoy this outstanding TED talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy.  As Tim Curry said in "The Rocky Horror Show,"  "Don't dream it, be it."

https://youtu.be/Ks-_Mh1QhMc

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Great Family, Great Visit - Why Am I Stressed?

I am coming down from three weeks of mega activity that consisted of presenting “Laughter – Keeping You Young At Heart” at the Alabama Gerontological Society, then spending a few days with my daughter and grandson at a water park, then hosting my 93-year-old mother, my brother from California and 87-year-old mother in law from Florida for both holiday celebrations and our grandson’s third birthday.

Each of these individually were joyous opportunities that I cherish dearly. So why did I feel stressed?  Speaking to almost 200 people about the benefits of a daily laughter practice is my passion, and sharing it was such a receptive crowd of social workers and others that care for seniors and others in need is the icing on the cake of my work life.

After flying home from that great event, I got to spend three days splashing and going down water slides with my grandson, and enjoying quiet evening time with my daughter, watching my boy take his first pony ride and indulge in syrupy pancakes every day for breakfast.  Precious moments, indeed.

The fact that Mom and my mother in law could fly independently from Florida to Chicago is incredible and wonderful, and I count my blessings that four generations could be together to celebrate my grandson’s birthday (by the way, my grandson has FOUR great grandmothers – pretty awesome!).  This incredible scenario is not lost on me.

Having my brother travel from California to Chicago was also a great opportunity, as he doesn’t get this way often. 

All great stuff, right?  Agreed.  However, together in succession they provided both great happiness AND great stress.  What????  Yes, even happy situations can cause us stress and difficulty, and it’s up to us to find the balance in it all.  Not always an easy task.

Now that everyone is back in their respective homes, I can relish in the memories of these past weeks.  What I come to realize is that I CREATE THE STRESS – in that I worry about pleasing everyone; mother, mother in law, brother, grandchild, daughter, and of course, my own husband.  The mere fact that he was not mentioned in the above gives me stress, too, as we both worked so hard at making everything wonderful for our guests that we forgot about being wonderful for ourselves. 

It is only in retrospect that I realized we each need to nurture ourselves amidst the joy and chaos of a houseful of visiting family.  When we do that, we can create contentment within and watch it shine on to those around us.  We have the innate ability to balance the self-created stress, with self-created love.  And we don’t have to wait until everyone goes home.  We can do this every day.

The simplest activity is to BREATHE.  Yes, we do that unconsciously, but when we are bustling about making sure everyone else is happy, our breath may be shallow.  By taking deliberately deep breaths, that fill our lungs, enrich our blood that courses throughout our bodies, up to our brains, we stimulate the parasympathetic nerve system, which according to GoodTherapy.org “plays a vital role in maintaining both mental and physical health by helping the body to calm down from stress reactions that elevate blood pressure, dilate the pupils and divert energy from other processes to fighting or fleeing.”  

Aaaaahhhhh.  So simple.  No pills or gym equipment needed to destress; just our own bodies.  Just our ability to breathe in and breathe out.  How awesome each of us is; we don’t always appreciate our abilities that are right before us.  Makes me think of Shakespeare (and to those of us of a certain age, the music from “Hair”).  “What a piece of work is a man. How noble in reason.  How infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable…”

So next time you are feeling stressed, in whatever situation comes before you, good or bad, know you have the ability to reconnect with your essence.  Take five minutes; a bathroom break even, and just breathe deep.  Your heart and soul will experience happiness and joy. And those around you will benefit from your calm energy.  Namaste.