Yoga and you

Proprioception is knowing where your body is in space.  It is one of the tests police use to test for drunkenness.  Close your eyes and touch your nose.  Walk a straight line.  Stand on one foot.  It is one of the things we lose when intoxicated.  It is also one of the things we lose when we have trauma.  Studies are starting to show that yoga, along with therapy and medication can help people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder heal more quickly.  So what in the heck does yoga do?

Yoga itself is a meditation.  Each position is called an “asana”, or focus.  Meditation changes us on a cellular level.  When used correctly, it helps the body know that it is OK and allows regular body processes, including basics such as digestion, to keep going.  When in a state of stress these process are put off in preference of dealing with the stress and what the body perceives as a threat.  When used for anger it continues the process of stress and anxiety.   When you focus on letting your body experience each pose (as imperfect as it may be), and use your breath to move between poses,  your body is allowed to begin to remove the cortisol and adrenalin that has been coursing through it to manage stress.

Yoga is also a test in accepting failure.  When first starting a yoga practice, no matter how athletic you are, you are going to fail time and time again.  Your balance will be off, you will fall out of poses, you won’t be able to transition smoothly in to poses, and you won’t be able to hold poses.  If you are attending a class you will look at the people around you and think “they can do this, I should be able to as well!”.  When you can let go of that expectation, and be OK with your body and what it is capable of, you have stepped up to the next level.  When you can be OK when you can’t hit the inversion you did yesterday, or hold the pose, or lose your balance, you’ve gone even further.  The final step is implementing this acceptance in the rest of your life.  In life we will fall.  We won’t be able to do today what we did yesterday.  We will struggle and struggle.  Failure builds muscle and helps us find solutions that success wouldn’t have let us see.

Yoga also helps us see successes.  As you continue your yoga practice you will find that all of a sudden you can do the pose that has frustrated you for years.  You will feel more confident in your balance not only psychically, but emotionally as well.  You will find that because you don’t let the little things bother you as much.

Yoga isn’t wonderful for everyone.  If it doesn’t work for you, find the thing that will do these things.  The things that let you be OK with failure, that test your body and mind in different ways and encourage your to fall and fail.  People tell me that they have running or swimming routines, and unfortunately that just doesn’t do it.  It doesn’t test where your body is in time or space, and with both swimming and running you probably already know what you are doing.  There are fewer chances for growth.  If yoga isn’t for you, that isn’t a problem.  But do find the thing that will do the above for you.

Yoga helps teach you where your body is in time and in space, and reminds you that you do have control over you.  It reconnects your mind and your body, often after life situations that make you feel helpless with both.

There’s No Crying in Baseball!

For those of you that don’t watch a lot of movies, that is a line from A League of Their Own that Tom Hank’s character yells as on of his female ball-players starts to cry.  It is the common sign of a man that doesn’t know how to handle the very outward display of emotion in that moment.

Why do men have such a hard time with women crying?  There’s actually a pretty good reason for that.  Think of what men are taught about crying from the time they are very young.  They are taught that crying is weak.  They are told very often to “be a man” when they are hurting, which implies they need to take all of their emotions and push them down deep.  They aren’t allowed to move through, to hold space for themselves when they are hurting.  Instead of feeling the pain, learning that it is OK to hurt, be sad, or feel guilty they are required to withhold and ignore the feelings.  Push them down, push them away, and most of all don’t cry.

So when a woman, who hasn’t been told to shove them down and has been allowed to cry is present with her feelings it makes them uncomfortable.  They don’t know how to hold space for their own discomfort, let alone for the person next to them that is struggling.  They have also been told their entire lives, by family and culture, that a blatant display of emotion is a sign of weakness.

We as women also struggle to hold space for men when they are experiencing strong emotion (other than anger), and showing it.  We also have received the message from society that a man showing emotion is a sign of weakness.  It makes us almost as uncomfortable as men are when we cry.

Holding space for an emotion means experiencing the emotion.  It means feeling it in the moment, without shoving it away. It means acknowledging that whatever is happening is unpleasant and it is OK for it to be unpleasant.  Women are allowed some grace in this as we are allowed to cry and give outward demonstrations of our feelings. Men are taught to shut that down, and then that is reinforced on a daily basis through family, media, and partners. It isn’t surprising that when women cry they struggle with the display.

It is difficult for both men and women to allow someone else that they are close to be present with painful emotions. In general women say they want a man that is more in touch with his emotions, and yet there is discomfort when he does so. If we want men to be comfortable with women crying, we have to encourage everyone to be OK being present with their emotions. It is OK to let someone cry and not need to fix it. Crying releases endorphins that are often needed in tense and difficult moments. It is part of why women are so prone to tears during angry and tense moments, as well as sad difficult moments. It gives a release and helps move through the difficult time. As a society, we all need to become better at not only holding space for someone that is struggling, but tolerating our own discomfort when someone cries.

Crying is natural and healthy. Tears mean that a person cares about what is going on in that moment. We all need to work on holding space for difficult experiences, and being OK when the water-works are turned on.  Maybe there should be crying in baseball.


Compassion, Forgiveness, and Gratitude

Last week I wrote about being able to understand the difference about what we can and can’t change in the world around is.  What we really can change is how we think, act, and react to the world around us.  The best way to do this is through compassion, forgiveness and gratitude. These are not to be confused with complacency.  Complacency is ignoring the fact that there are things that we can and should change, including ourselves.

Compassion is being able to see that everyone has their own story that they are trying to work through.  We all just want to live and be happy.  We all just want to find peace and happiness.  No matter what people, what religion, or what country, we all just want to find a life with love and happiness.  The way some of us go about this isn’t healthy or done in a way to accomplish our goals, and yet we still all have the same goals.  When people struggle they are moving through their own demons, hurts, and lessons.  When we find compassion for them we are often softer toward them, less harsh.  Greeting hurt and anger with harshness just breeds harshness and more anger.  Greeting hurt and anger with compassion can soften the harsh edges, soften the hurt and the anger.  This can change the way people act toward us, lessening out own frustrations and resentments.

Forgiveness is being able to let go of the hurt and anger in our own heart.  It is not about condoning or accepting the behavior that is happening around you.  It is saying that you won’t hold anger in your own heart to poison you.  Anger and resentment toward others do nothing to the other person.  We often keep them as protections against getting hurt in the future, but then harden us from finding the things we truly want; love and happiness.  We cannot hold both peace and anger at the same time.  When we find compassion for someone, work to understand life from their perspective even when we don’t condone their actions, it is easier to forgive them and keep from poisoning ourselves with hate.

Gratitude is being thankful for the good things in life that we do have.  We spend a lot of time thinking about the things that we want without remembering that we do have things out there that do bring us happiness.  These can be the little things like a sunset or a child’s laughter, or the big things like a stable place to live and a safe family, or even the fact that you were able to buy that new car.  Each day, start to find a ritual of gratitude.  At the end of every day, find one thing you have to be grateful for.  To help your family you can work to make it a part of a family practice (like praying at dinner or bedtime).  Gratitude helps us recognize that our life isn’t all bad.  It helps with finding compassion and forgiveness.

Compassion and forgiveness must always start with ourselves.  While we don’t want to always condone our own actions, as we all make mistakes and can do better, we do need to have compassion for ourselves instead of condemnation.  We do need to forgive our own trespasses, while working to learn from them.  Holding anger in your heart toward yourself does not help you be a better person.  It helps resentment and anger build up toward others, in a metaphorical downward spiral that only leads to more hurt, anger and resentment.  We cannot find peace or happiness along this path.  We are fertile ground in which we can grow compassion, kindness and gratitude leading to peace, or we can grow anger, resentment and hurt, which leads to more of the same.

We all want to find comfort and happiness.  We all want to find a living that brings us comfort and peace.  I have yet to find anyone, of any religion that wants something different.  Many of this try to find these things by trying to change things we can’t change, or trying to change people, whom we definitely can’t change.  Finding a practice of compassion, forgiveness and gratitude takes time.  In general humanity has turned toward blame, defensiveness and anger and it is visible in not only our daily interactions but in our national politics, and in international incidents.  We as individuals don’t have power over these things.  We do have power over how we see the world, how we see ourselves, and how we react to the world.  This is more power than you think.

What we can control

Are you familiar with the Serenity Prayer?  God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.  This prayer has been a strong part of my therapeutic approach over the years.  It has a good deal of meaning behind it, reminding us that there are things that we cannot change in this world, as well as that the things that can be changed can take a good deal of strength.  It reminds us that we don’t always see the difference between the things we can change and those we can’t. We all want to feel as though we are in control.  We want control not only of ourselves (which anyone that has ever had a cold knows isn’t always the case), but our environment (and anyone with allergies knows that isn’t realistic either).

When control is lost, we compensate often with anger toward ourselves or others.  When we don’t have the recognition that the situation cannot be controlled, we often try to create control.  These attempts to try to create control often create more misery than control.  The feelings of powerlessness we are struggling with just get stronger and stronger the more we try to manage the things that are outside of our control, and we become more irritable, anxious, and angry.  There are some things in this life we will have no control over.  We will never have control over how others think or act.  We will never have control over the weather, Facebook trolls,  or traffic.  These things are out of our control.  We easily accept our lack of control over the weather.   We have no problem changing our behavior for the weather.  We have more difficulty accepting how other people see us, our hair, Facebook trolls, or traffic.

We spend a good deal of energy working to control the things that are outside of our control.  And then we are miserable.  God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.  This means that I will accept it like I accept the weather, and change how I respond in ways that work for me.  With the weather we add or take off layers, add or take away heat, we control the things we can control.  In general, what we have control over is how we respond.  We have the choice to feed in to the Facebook trolls.  We have the choice to try to force others to change their opinions.  Accepting the things we cannot change means tolerating the distress of the things we wish we could, but can’t.  It is painful when others actions, choices or beliefs go directly against out own.  It is difficult when the world seems to conspire against us and there is little we can do.  Our choice is to tolerate the distress or to engage in a futile struggle that will only cause us more pain.

The next step, believe it or not, can be even more difficult.  The next step is to change the things we can.  The thing we can change is ourselves, the things we take on, the things we do, and how we think.  When you start to think that is the easier task, look at the change you need to make to do the above.  You have control over what you attempt to control.  Letting go of the things that we have no control over is difficult, and requires great effort on your part.  If I want to lose weight I may not have control over my genetics.  I do have control over how much I exercise and the food I put in my body.   If I want to change how someone sees me, I can’t argue them in to a different view point but I can behave in the way I want to be viewed as.

The final step is understanding the difference.  What can I control, and what can’t I?  This is the part where we are asking for help to find the difference.  I don’t have a magic trick to help you know the difference.  Sometimes I struggle as well.  I hold on to the prayer.  I look to see what I can do, what I have control over, and then I decide if I am going to do it.  For example, I have no control over Syria, or people’s beliefs about the refugees.  I do have control over whether or not I donate to agencies that help refugees, or even volunteer to help refugees coming to the country. I could even volunteer my home to help.  These are three things that take varying amounts of effort.  These are things over which I have control, in a situation that I find heartbreaking, and over which I have none.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Though the situation can be distressing, admitting that there is no control over a situation can be releasing.  You only have the pressure of controlling you, the one thing you know you have control over.

Live life at your pace

We move through life in lock-step through about the age of 18. Sometimes even 22.  We are born, we roll over, walk, talk, skip, move through school, all pretty much at the same pace.  For younger kids, if they aren’t moving through the milestones at about the right age, then there are problems.  Because so much of our life is moving through in lock-step, we start to think that is how life should be as adults as well.  We need to get married, have kids, have the right job, buy a house, etc.  The concept that if we haven’t met the adult “milestones” by a certain age creates anxiety and shame in so many people.
At some point we stop needing to do the same things about the same time. One person may have to leave high school because life got in the way, and finishes later in their own time.  The other may not get married until their 50’s because they didn’t find the right person. We each have a path that we need to walk.  For a while it may be similar to someone else’s, but ultimately we don’t have to keep pace with anyone.

There is a path in Austin called the Hill of Life.  It is ½ a mile, with 200 meters of elevation change.  It is the very first entrance to the Barton Creek Trail system that runs through Austin, about 8 miles long. It is rocky, uneven terrain.  It is a phenomenal work-out to walk up it.  And it is exhausting.  I have found, that even with all the exercise I do, I have to take the hill slow.  On a bad day I need to take breaks and can’t finish the hill in one go.  While I am huffing and puffing there are often people running up the hill, or even college students walking from the river-bed in flip-flops.  And I’m not in a race with them.  I don’t need to keep up, go the fastest, or even need to march up it without breaks.  I need to go at my pace.  I will get to the top of the hill, I will just take longer than the others.  And I will be faster than some. It isn’t a race.  We will all end up at the same place.
The ego tells us “You should be going faster”.  The ego has a very strong belief in how the world should work.  It believes that if you aren’t moving at the same pace as everyone else you aren’t good enough. You aren’t worthy enough to live amongst the decent people that are doing “better” than you are.  With the hill example, if I work to keep up with those that are doing “better” than I am, I will in all likelihood hurt myself.  I will exceed what my heart and lungs are capable of, or I will twist an ankle, or have some other sort of problem.  When I take the hill at the pace that works for me, I generally tend to make better time than when I try to keep up with someone else.

We all have the same finish-line.  No matter how quickly, gracefully, or easily move through life, we all end up at the same place.  If we try to live life at the pace we think we are “supposed” to often we feel inadequate, frustrated, and sometimes worthless.  We each get to find what works for us, the pace that is best for us, and find our own groove.  Push yourself, and at the same time make sure you aren’t just trying to keep up with the “shoulds”.  This isn’t a race, and if you treat it that way you may just end up at the finish line faster than you wanted to.

I was wrong

I was wrong. These are three of the most difficult words to string together in one sentence. Living in a blame filled society where being wrong is seen as being weak, or at times leaves us vulnerable to attack from the wronged makes it difficult to admit to our mistakes. It is also one of the best ways to resolve conflict.

We all make mistakes. We make mistakes in the way we act and the way we treat each other. Sometimes the mistakes we make dig deep holes. In order to dig out way out of these holes, most people want to hear one thing: “I was wrong. I shouldn’t have done that, and it wasn’t OK.” It takes a good deal of strength to say those words. It also begins a healing process.

Most of us want to hear the other person say that they were wrong when they have done something they shouldn’t have. It allows the forgiveness process to start, both with the wronged, and the person that committed the act. I know personally when I screw up I go through a guilt / shame cycle in which I work to forgive myself for behavior I did. The simple admission of being wrong lets me shift from shame (I am wrong) to guilt (I did wrong and am capable of doing better). It lets me shift from what a f$%k up I am to how I can do better next time.

The ego is the part of the self that regards itself as real. It is the part of the self that says “I can’t show weakness”. It is the part of the self that says “You suck, and always will”. Strangely enough, the ego is trying to help us fit in and make us be better people, but what it does is encourage us to either tear ourselves down, or tear others down to feel better. In reality, we all make mistakes. We all have the ability to change and the ability to do better next time. In order to do better next time though, we have to admit that we made a mistake.

Our ego will yell at us when we go to admit to our mistakes, especially out-loud to others. It is also the best way to start the healing process. It has been found that a Doctors or clinicians that apologize and admit when they have made mistakes are less likely to get sued. That is clear, definitive proof that we just want someone that has wronged us to admit that they were wrong. It starts a healing process, both within ourselves and with others. Three little words that can help so much, but are amazingly scary. “I was wrong”.

The path to destruction

We all have beliefs, values, ethics, and morals. Because we are all individuals with out own unique perspectives and experiences these beliefs, values, ethics and morals are going to vary significantly from person to person. We think we know and accept this fact. We know we live in a country with people from all walks of life and the people from different walks than ours will have different beliefs and opinions. We seem to forget this in 2 places. 1: Relationships, and 2: Politics.

It is perfectly acceptable to have a belief that is different from another person’s. What is not acceptable is to use aggression, either verbal, emotional or physical to force that opinion upon someone else. This is where fights come in. In a relationship, when one partner has a different belief, want, wish, or would like from the other partner we move in to an attack and defend state of being. I’m going to take your stance as an attack upon mine, and I’m going to staunchly defend my opinion while attacking yours, and possibly even attacking you. In politics we see the same thing. I didn’t watch the Republican debate last night, but up until now no matter your politics, we can mostly pretty much agree that the debates have in general been a sh*t show of insults and contempt with little substance. They have been dominance fights of attack and defend, trying to see who can get in the best attack. We have all seen the exact same thing in our own living rooms as well.

This is a sure path to destruction. In a relationship, if we can’t have civil discussions when we disagree or are frustrated it will increase resentment and start destrying the relationship from the inside. Each partner will feel unsupported, not listened to, not validated, not understood, and unloved. If there are children involved the children will do two things: first they will feel unsafe, feel the need to pick sides, and start acting out emotionally, and second they will start to see the weak spots to manipulate the parents to get what they want. Within our country we start to appear weak and divided. We start to appear easy pickings for groups that are already seeking to undermine us as a nation.

There are entire seminars on how to have an argument without killing each other. Here I’m going to give the beginning on how to start. First: Recognize that as your own person, your beliefs, values, ethics and morals are yours and yours alone. Your partner or other members of your community and even Country may share many of them, but because of your unique experiences no one will share all of them all the time. You are allowed to have them The other people are allowed to have theirs as well. The minute we recognize that other people are allowed their opinion; no matter how much it differs from ours, no matter how repugnant or offensive it may seem to us, they are allowed to have it.   The key is, no matter how offensive, repugnant, or different the other person’s beliefs, values, ethics and morals are, you aren’t allowed to use violence to force them to change. Neither are they!

The next step, and this is the difficult one: work to avoid Criticism, Contempt and Defensiveness when debating wants, wishes and would likes. We have become a country of criticism. I have found myself that I want to march over to my neighbor, that blatantly has different values that I do about recycling, and tell them what assholes they are for never recycling, when we have a large trash can that is meant specifically for recycling and is, in my opinion, so amazingly easy to recycle. I want to remind them that this world will be theirs long after I am gone from this planet (they are college students) and beat them over the head with the stuff I see sticking out of their trash can on trash day that could to in the recycle bin. And at the same time, I’m pretty sure that would at the very least get me the middle finger in my face, or maybe a punch in the nose. I need to find a place where I am calm enough to have a conversation about my beliefs, and ask politely for them to change their behavior. And then when they don’t, I get to self soothe my frustrations, and continue to do my best to save the plane one can at a time by recycling myself.

We have become a country (maybe even a world) where telling people how wrong and stupid they are is meant to change something, when all it does is polarize people. Criticizing people for what they believe and do tends to make people defensive, not want to change. Showing contempt for their beliefs and actions leads to the same reaction. When all we are doing is attacking and defending without hearing the other person’s point of view and recognizing that they may have some valid points in there, just as we do, we create anger and frustration, not resolution.

For this week I want you to do your best to find a place in every argument where the other person has a good point. Even if you don’t like that point, or want to like that point, find that place where the other person isn’t as stupid as you feel they are. For a moment play devils advocate for your own perspective to see where they are coming from. Imagine if each side of a disagreement did this, what would happen. Then work to make sure if you are hitting a point of frustration where you want to show criticism or contempt, you take a break. Work to keep things civil. Take small steps to keep from eating your relationship, or even our country as a whole away from the inside with anger, hate, and polarization. It will also do the same for you, and keep you from being eaten alive from the inside by the above. Anger is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill the other person. We are on a path to destruction, and as individuals we are the key to stopping it.

Kindness – Naomi Shahib Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must loose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened both.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side if the road
you must see how this could be you,
hoe he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes any sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shahib Nye



Asking for what you want

We all hit that point in a relationship where we want something that we aren’t sure our partner wants to give us.  Many of us have one of two difficulties.  The first one is the belief that if our partner loved us enough  they would know what we want and they would give it to us.  The second is not feeling comfortable asking for what we want because we aren’t good at expressing ourselves, or because we are afraid we aren’t going to get it.  Either way is a recipe for either silence or passive aggression.

For those that aren’t quite sure what passive aggression is, it is being subtle about saying insults, requests or wants.  Saying them in a way that can be played off.  If I am making requests in a way that can be ignored or played off, then they probably will.

Firstly, make sure you know what you want, and if it is possible for the other person to help.  If you have no idea what you want, then the person you are asking isn’t going to be able to give it to you.  If the want is something that the other person can’t help with, then they are going to be set up for failure.  If the desire is to feel love or losing the emptiness, asking someone to do it for us is destined for failure.  If someone loves us and we are unable to connect with that love, all of their love won’t help that.  If you feel empty, there is nothing anyone can do to fill you.  A partner can support and sponsor us while we work to let the love in, or to feel filled.

Do you want your partner to go on a walk with you today, or do you want them to spend more time with you overall?  Do you want them to do the dishes tonight?  Or o you want them to take more of an active roll in taking care of the household?  Are you asking for what you really want?

This goes for work and friendships as well.  If you are not articulating what you want, it is unlikely you will get it. No one can read your mind.

Once you know what you want find the words to clearly articulate it without criticism, contempt or blaming.  These three will get the person you are speaking to defensive, and unlikely to want to help you.  Stick to “I want”, “I would like”, or “I need”.  Avoid telling the other person what they need to do, as that also leads to defensiveness.  State what you want or need clearly and assertively.  Make eye contact, head up and shoulders back.  Speak in a clear voice working to avoid “ummmm” and “ahhhhh” as they steal the vision of confidence.
Finally, let the other person know how their help will be beneficial.  We are all more likely to help someone else if we are going to get something positive out of it.  How will their life be able to move more smoothly.

If you noticed, the majority of this blog was about you discovering what you truly want.  What do I want to have happen?  What is my goal, and what do I need?  Once you have these questions answered, you are better able to find the confidence to walk in and ask for what you want in a clear and concise way.  You aren’t always going to get what you want, but if you are able to be clear and calm in your approach, it increases the odds significantly.