Finding Quiet = Finding Mindful

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Noise: A beautiful word to describe so many sounds … air pollution, background music during tv shows, ambiance at restaurants and other public spaces, phones ringing and binging and keyboards clacking in offices. Then there is the noise of our internal lives. You know, our internal dialogue, the nagging thoughts, the aching muscles and tired minds.

Noise, suddenly doesn’t seem like such a beautiful word. In this context, it sounds like just another word for stress to me.

So, how do we find quiet in the noise of the day? It’s not aways easy or possible. But, here are some of my favorite tips:

  • Turn off the tv, radio, electronic devices for the time it takes to prepare a meal. Draw your awareness to the sounds of boiling water, sizzling meats (if you eat meat), and the sound of crisp veggies being chopped. Notice the sensations of the work such as the feel of water running over the veggies as you clean them, the feel of heat coming from the stove/oven. Then, you can’t help but notice the smells of the meal you are preparing. Inhale deeply and don’t be surprised if the act of cooking becomes a labor of joy and a new taste of love.
  • Drive without the radio on and depending on the weather roll the car windows down. List to all of the street sounds, cars, trucks, motor cycles, horns, people hailing taxis. Then notice how those sounds disappear into the sound of the wind as you pull away from traffic and to the open road. If someone were to ask you to describe the wind, what words would you use? How would you describe the feel of the wind in your hair?
  • Try taking a part of your daily run or walk without earbuds in and on. Move in silence as you become aware of the tempo of the feet, the beat of the heart, the rhythm of the breath. Can you feel these things coming into tune with the natural world around you?
  • At the office try listening to coworkers in the halls, by the coffee maker, waiting for meetings, nod wisely, laugh appropriately and use words sparingly, succinctly. Set your phone to vibrate and take notes, if at all possible, with pen and paper during meetings. Notice how your quiet softens the noise and chatter. How do you feel in this space of quiet?

Advance practitioner challenge: Try journaling about the sensations and thoughts that come to you in these spaces of quiet. Notice what repeats. Pay close attention to the things that repeat. These things that repeat are the things that quiet is trying to reveal to you.

 

 

Taking care of you

Check out our new blog copyWe only have so much time in the day to accomplish all we need to do. And, on those days when things are too piled up we often take the time we would like or need for ourselves off that list in favor of completing other tasks or meeting our responsibilities. Before we know it we have fallen into a pattern of self-neglect and eventually, we loose touch with our greatest resource … ourselves. I am often asked how to reconnect or manage and juggle priorities to reverse or avoid this pattern without putting additional demands on our schedules. Though the list below is not an all-inclusive list or guide on how to get back in touch with you, it does include some of the general thoughts I share with clients:

Your body is your home: Your body is where you reside. It is where you live your life and it is always with you. Your outward appearance is a reflection of your inner state. Looking in the mirror can so often be a good way to gauge the state of your home. Do you look tired, sallow, broken out, gaunt, swollen? If you do, it is time to take a breath and check in. You will be happy you did.

Watch your thoughts, Part 1: Take a moment to listen to your self talk. If there is something negative that comes up in your thoughts, for example, “I’m stretched so thin I’m not doing anything well”? If so pause and take a moment to think of something you did do well. Eventually you’ll see some consistency in what you are doing well and that becomes a positive to build upon. Combating each thought that says you are not good enough with a thought that states something you are good at will create a space of accomplishment where there was once a void.

Watch your thoughts, Part 2: In yoga and meditation classes I often share the philosophy that we are not all one thing or the other. The body is capable of being tight and relaxed at the same time. It is just that we often pay attention to the tension and not the part of us that is soft, relaxed. When you feel overwhelmed, take a moment to recall a  favorite memory, smell, moment. Notice how this shifts things in your mind, relaxes you a bit and allows you to refocus from a place of calm. Things won’t seem as overwhelming once you are refocused.

Don’t punish your body for your choices: We only have one body and the way we treat it will affect it’s ability to take care of us, move with us through our day and support us. So, if you feel tired, sore, anxious, don’t punish the body with stimulants, quick-fix pain relief ointments or pills (unless needed and prescribed by a doctor). Instead, listen to the body and it’s intuitive wisdom. Slow down. Breath. Adapt as needed. Drink a glass of water, have some herbal tea, eat a healthy snack, and/or go for a walk. Don’t neglect to see a doctor, get a massage or take other appropriate self care measures when you need them. Trust me, everything else can wait. And, if you are sick or otherwise unable to do what you do, things won’t just be put on pause for an hour, they will be delayed or halted all together.

Follow these simple, no time commitment steps and see what changes come about for you. Feel free to share your observations, questions, comments with me at rjlisander@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!

7-Day Meditation Challenge

Like the Lotus Seed Meditation FaceBook page and join our online community for a week-long meditation challenge designed to help you move from summer fun to fall focus! Accessible to all and designed to be family-friendly, this challenge is the first of many we plan to offer.

Challenge begins Monday, July 30th and ends Sunday, August 5th.

Join at any time!

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Benefits of Mediation

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Previously published in IKAPIA Magazine Volume 40, Number 150, Spring 2018

There is no escaping it.

The fact is, the wellness and mindfulness movements are upon us because, in general, we need them. We hear all the buzz, but aren’t always sure about what it means or that we understand the benefits. And, more often than not the promise of an improved life seems all too much like hype and serves as a deterrent to taking the time to slow down and do nothing.

I get it. I was there once too.

The truth is, there are benefits to meditation and they are profound. But, they require time, patience and practice; things many of us are short on and not always inclined to make space for in our already over-scheduled and packed lives. We have become an instant gratification society. And, why not? So much can happen and unfold in an instant that we don’t always have to be patient to get what we want.

Meditation offers the opposite. In mediation we find stillness, a sense of slowing down, pairing down and many times a sense of awkwardness and some minor discomfort, as sensations we are not accustomed to move through our physical bodies. And, while there isn’t likely going to be a tremendous epiphany or overall sense of wow, now life makes sense and I’m healed of my long list of stress-induced ailments these sensations are the first signs that meditation is starting to become a beneficial practice. But, this is just the beginning, true transformations unfold slowly, subtly and deeply.

While there are numerous lists describing the benefits of meditation, in my practices, personal and professional, I have observed the first benefit comes from slowing down. Even just a 5 minute reset in the middle of the afternoon with a cup of tea and a couple of deep breaths, the phone turned off, your back to your computer, and the time you give yourself to simply stop multi-tasking, talking, doing, allows the mind to rest. The body slows down and a sense of calm generally fills your being. Likely, your mood will improve, as well.

The second benefit of meditation, noticing that you are better able to stay calm and focused throughout your day and during life events, usually starts to unfold after a few days or weeks of consistent 10-15 minute practices. This is because the ongoing practice of meditation increases the grey matter in the brain which effects areas involving perspective, emotional regulation, focus, learning and self-awareness.

The third benefit many start to recognize after a regular practice of mediation is better sleep. You read that right! You don’t necessarilarly need sleep aids to cure your insomnia. Likely the practice of meditation can help you gain a good night’s sleep. Right before bed I turn on a guided meditation through a free phone app called Insight Timer and no matter the state of my world, I am able to drift off to a nice long sleep in minutes. (There are many free meditation apps out there and I recommend giving them a try and find one you like).

The fourth benefit of meditation typically leans toward improved health. Study after study demonstrate as we slow down, improve focus (and what we focus on), increase our length and quality of sleep, our health tends to improve. Regular practices of meditation can lead to overall reduced blood pressure, pain reduction, lowered stress and anxiety levels, better choices in how we nourish ourselves through food, thoughts and actions due to heightened awareness of our needs. All of these things lead to better overall health, prevention of larger, more serious health issues and give us the potential for a longer life. Simply sitting in meditation, particularly a series of guided meditations using visualizations, can truly make all the difference in our lives no matter the age. Free apps and local yoga studios often have guided meditations with visualizations on a variety of themes. Give yourself permission to take a little time to explore and find what works for you.

The mind is a powerful thing and as we take a moment to unplug, unwind, sit and listen to our breath and observe the sensations in our bodies, the innate wisdom of each individual begins to unfold. We learn that a little time spent on ourselves makes us better able to define our needs and inspirations, which, in turn allows us to better serve others. And, this is the true benefit of meditation. Though it is not yet scientifically proven, I think you will agree with me, when we are working from a place of focused calm, true to our instincts and inspirations we simply are better at whatever it is we do. Bringing out our best and the best in others … that is the true gift of meditation.

Perception:  The Good, the Bad, and the Photoshoot 

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I’m in my mid 40’s, closer to 50 than 40, really. I’m active, I eat well, I nurture my mind and sleep sweetly, most nights. I have a lot to feel good about. And, I was happy about this until I received proofs from a photoshoot with mostly 20-somethings. Cringe.

To be clear, the experience, the photographer and participants could not have been more amazing, kind, professional or welcoming. The experience was truly wonderful.

It’s the realization that no matter how healthy I eat, how well groomed … it is impossible to out run, out moisturize, outwit your way to a 20-somethings figure and mindset once you are, in fact, a woman of a certain age.

Yup. The grey hair I choose to let grow in, the rounded hips, the pinches and pulls of clothes cut for bodies half my age were so obvious in the photos, it was clear that no matter how youthful I feel, I could have been the mom of the group.

At first, I thought, why? I am so dedicated to my health and wellbeing, yet comparatively, I looked old, short, fat and tired. I sighed as I sat in my home studio looking over pictures I pulled from a photo album of my younger self. In each picture I was thinner, laughing and smiling and remembered how self-critical I was when they were taken. I also began to remember how much was going on around the event when the picture was taken.

Then it hit me: Perception, just like a picture, is a glimpse to a moment of time that does not tell the whole story. 

When I was in my 20’s I was working to develop myself, just as the beauties at the photoshoot are working on themselves. Then I had energy and curiosity that was voracious; I knew I was going somewhere, I just didn’t know where that path would take me. As I aged, after I was secure in my home and finances, and the path was starting to clear, I learned how take that energy and knowledge and apply it to others. My work became that of service to those older than I, recovering from or managing debilitating injuries and diseases. And in that moment, I found appreciation for the pictures I now consider lovely. I am proud to be the oldest among the 20-somethings of that day because we are all sharing a piece of the same path. It doesn’t mean that I am without worry I will be judged because of the obvious age difference. I just don’t care. The pictures are a snapshot of a moment. They do not tell the story.

When I went through the proofs again, looking to approve a headshot, I saw with a new eye. With a new appreciation for grey hair, rounded hips designed to give birth, the softness that comes to the human form as we walk into a middle age that is secure, where needs and wants are met, the wisdom lines on the forehead, the gentle wrinkles around the eyes indicating the sight that comes only with age, I thought, how lucky am I? At this studio and others I stand among those on the same path as I.

And, in a moment, I realized something I suspect so many of us women-of-a-certain-age forget. We may feel those younger than us in our careers, have the looks we can no longer compete with. But, we have experience and substance. If we look to bridge the gap with mentorship, guidance and shared experiences we can create a story of unification. And, if we do our job right and don’t compare, don’t hide from, exclude or ignore, we can help those who will take on the challenge of helping us as we continue to age gracefully.

All in all, a great story to share.

© 2017-2018 Lotus Seed Meditations and RJ Lisander All Rights Reserved

Borrowing the studio props:  How to stay healthy this cold and flu season 

It’s cold and flu season and everyone is at high alert and paying particular attention to cleanliness. Advice on anti-bacterial ointments/sprays and preventative homeopathic concoctions seem to be at a fever pitch high. But, how much attention are we paying to the potential spread of germs when we borrow studio equipment, yoga mats and props?

Local studios and gyms are places where we exercise and sweat and detox. While this is great for the individual the shedding of sweat means the release of toxins and germs. If equipment is not cleaned regularly and properly this can lead to the unwanted spread of germs to the next person on the mat or piece of gym equipment.

In gym and studio environments the potential for infection if a cut or scrape comes in contact with a build-up of live bacteria, such as staphylococci and streptococci, which live on everyone’s skin, and spread infection, cold or flu is real. Foot fungi can survive on equipment for days. So how do you do your part to stay healthy and prevent the potential spread of germs?

Stay home if you are not feeling well: Many studios and gyms are places of healing as well as exercise and fitness development.  For those with compromised immune systems unclean environments can truly set their health in a tailspin.  Play it safe.  Skip a day at the gym and rest.  You’ll recover much more quickly from any ailment this way.

Protect yourself, with help: If you are really concerned or have a low immunity to illness and germs, take steps to protect yourself. Let your instructors and studio managers/owners know of your condition(s) and ask them for help in maintaining a clean environment. Bring, when possible, your own yoga mat and props and clean them as instructed by your healthcare professional.

Clean your equipment: Most studios will offer some sort of cleaning supplies for member/participant use. Use them. In fact, it can’t harm you to use the cleaning supply (provided it is natural in derivative) before you start your practice and then after you are done using the equipment or mat.

Cover up: If you have cuts, scrapes, skin rashes or infections please treat them as recommended by a doctor and cover them while working out.

Wear clean clothes: There is always the temptation to skip a load of laundry and double up on a lightly used work out shirt, shorts or socks (and even the occasional post-workout towel). Please don’t. Just don’t. Bacteria can build up and not only compromise your health, but that of those who come in contact with you.

Shower up: As soon as you have the chance, shower after your workout. As mentioned before, workouts mean sweat and detox and those things once released will live on the skin for varying amounts of time until they are washed off. Quick clean ups can prevent illness and rash and their spread.

Wash hands before leaving: In addition to cleaning your equipment, mats and props after use, wash your hands. Washing with a mild soap and warm water will wash away any stray germs and help keep you and those within reach healthy.

Stock up: Look at your gym bag contents. Make sure there is a washable bag to stow shoes and post-workout clothes. Keep some anti-bacterial sanitizer handy. Consider also keeping Thieves oil and a wash cloth at the ready for use on borrowed equipment, just in case cleaning supplies provided by the studio are not natural and you suspect equipment has not been freshly cleaned.

Be informed: If you are not sure of the cleaning routine and schedule for your studio/gym, ask. Most instructors will ask for equipment, mats and props to be cleaned after use. Many studios have daily cleaning routines and deeper weekly cleaning schedules as well.

© 2017-2018 Lotus Seed Meditations and RJ Lisander All Rights Reserved

 

Keeping warm with the breath

 

If you are on the East Coast you are likely experiencing unexpected cold and looking for ways to stay warm as you move through your day.  Now just may be the perfect time to start a practice of warming pranayama.

What is pranayama? Prana means breath sustaining the body. Ayama can be translated to extension or drawing out. Together the two are the extension or control of the breath. Most all yoga classes and practices include some sort of breath practice throughout to assist with the physical (asana) postures. Pranayama practices can, however, be a sustained practice on their own with many positive benefits.

What are some of the benefits? Different pranayama breaths and practices can act to warm or cool the body, raise or lower blood pressure and can aid the body and mind to relaxation or can be used to stimulate the body and mind. Additional focus and clearer thinking are also benefits of breath work. Warming breaths, such as those being introduced here, can assist and aid with:

  • Alleviate coughs, sneezes, sniffles, cold symptoms, throat discomfort
  • Remove air (vata) from the joints to lessen joint stiffness and pain
  • Increases gastric juices moving through the stomach
  • Lowers blood pressure and with sustained, long-term practice can be a factor in helping to lower high blood pressure permanently

Who can benefit from pranayama practices? Pretty much everyone can benefit from the practice of pranayama.

  • However, more advanced practices should be practiced with the care of a skilled teacher and under the advisement of a doctor.
  • All practices should be discontinued immediately if lightheadedness, tingling or pain is experienced.

When to practice? Pranayama can be practiced any time of day, though most techniques are best practiced on an empty stomach in the morning or in the evening before bed. Depending on the technique pranayama can be incorporated into physical activities such as yoga, and in times of rest, during meditation, for example.

Warming pranayama can be especially beneficial to the body in cold weather.  Below are three easy techniques to get you started.

Ujjayi Breath: A practice common to yoga classes, this breath helps warm you from the inside out.

  • Begin by sitting in a comfortable position. Relax your body and close your eyes. Let your mouth drop open slightly. Relax your jaw and your tongue.
  • Inhale and exhale deeply through your mouth. Feel the air of your inhalations passing through your windpipe.
  • On your exhalations, slightly contract the back of your throat, as you do when you whisper. Softly whisper the sound, “ahhh,” as you exhale. Imagine your breath fogging up a window.
  • As you become comfortable with your exhalations, maintain the slight constriction of the throat on your inhalations, as well. You will notice your breath making an “ocean” sound, softly moving in and out, like ocean waves.
  • Repeat this 2-5 minutes, building, over time to 15 minutes.

Lion’s Breath: A fun breath that often feels a bit silly to perform, this is a great technique for relieving stress and tension in the face and chest. It improves circulation of blood to the face, can help prevent sore throat, asthma, and other respiratory ailments.

  • Begin by sitting in a comfortable position. Relax your body and close your eyes. Place your fingers, spread wide, on the knees.
  • Take a deep inhalation through the nose. Simultaneously open your mouth wide, stick your tongue out (pointing toward the chin) and open your eyes wide.
  • Contract the muscles on the front of your throat, and exhale the breath slowly out through your mouth with a distinct “ha” sound.
  • Repeat this 3-5 times, noting it is ok to feel silly and to giggle or laugh as you practice this breath.

Nadi Shodina: Nadi Shodina, a balancing breath, is a great breath to support the lungs and respiratory functions. It restores balance in the left and right hemispheres of the brain and rejuvenates the nervous system.

  • Begin by sitting in a comfortable position. Relax your body and close your eyes.
  • Relax your left palm on your lap. Bring your right hand to the face, placing your pointer finger and middle finger to rest between your eyebrows, lightly using them as an anchor.
  • Close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out through your nose.
  • Close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril slowly and steadily.
  • Close the left nostril with your ring finger so both nostrils are held closed; retain your breath at the top of the inhale for a brief pause.
  • Open your right nostril and release the breath slowly through the right side; pause briefly at the bottom of the exhale.
  • Inhale through the right side slowly.
  • Open your left nostril and release breath slowly through the left side. Pause briefly at the bottom.
  • Repeat 5-10 times.

© 2017-2018 Lotus Seed Meditations and RJ Lisander All Rights Reserved