You’ve Been Chicked

I’m both a yoga teacher and a corporate business person. In a recent meeting, I acknowledged my two top sales people: one’s a female, and the other is a male. Since the salesperson with the highest revenue wins a bonus, this meeting can become spirited. This month, the bonus went to the woman.

After I made the official announcement, I heard a team member taunt the second-place finisher: “You were chicked!”

I’ve heard this line of insult between men in sports, but this was the first time I’d encountered it in business. While I was pretty sure I understood the term, I looked it up after the meeting to be sure I was interpreting correctly. I found what I was looking for in the Urban Dictionary:

ChickedWhen a woman outperforms a man in a physical activity, such as biking, hiking, or skiing, where normally a man should outperform the woman.”

Yikes!

Apparently, Urban Dictionary hasn’t stayed current on the term’s expansion across society and into my boardroom.

But the word’s usage in any venue seems behind the times to me. To imply that a man has been chicked requires a belief system with the assumption that the man should outperform the woman. As if any other outcome goes against the natural order of the world.

I thought we’d progressed beyond this concept, even in the athletic venues in which the term originated. Yes, there are some sports in which some men have a physical advantage. However telling a guy he’s been “chicked” is insulting because it infers that the man hasn’t lived up to his natural superiority.

This strikes me as not only a skewed point of view, but also obsolete. Are we assuming that the typical male foursome of weekend golfers should defeat the top ranks of the LPGA just because they’re male?

Rather than diminishing within a society that values equality and promotes the eradication of sexism, the notion of being chicked is apparently expanding through a widening array of situations from baseball to business. The common thread seems to be competition and a battle of egos. This opens many new possibilities for men to feel like failures if a woman bests them, and for women to question their abilities.

Which brings me to yoga….

In addition to running a technology company, I also spend quite a lot of time in yoga studios as a student and a teacher. While teaching yoga, where men and women line their mats up side by side, I’ve never heard the phrase “you’ve been chicked” when a male student struggles with an arm balance and the yogini next to him is floating above her mat.

However, it’s unrealistic to assume yoga is completely free from competition or egos. Both are a part of the human experience.The difference between a yoga studio, a football field, and a sales meeting isn’t whether or not the humans involved experience ego and competitiveness. The difference is that yogis practice separating their reactions from their triggers. In that moment of separation, we can realize our power of choice. We can choose to engage in the competition or cultivate a different approach to challenges.

However, even with this philosophy, the yoga industry isn’t immune to being contest-oriented, and we may be heading more toward that direction. In recent years, competition has gained some presence in the practice not only in venues such as the National Yoga Asana Championship, but also in local studios.

The drive to do better is separated from the drive to best everyone else by a fairly thin line. This can be felt clearly in classes that become pose-offs and by the abundance of Facebook yoga selfies. An emphasis on conquering poses and performing is yoga’s kryptonite. It dims the power of yogis and leaves us vulnerable to the same attitudes, insecurities and biases that foster the fear of being chicked.

 

This post was originally shared on MindBodyGreen.

What I’ve Learned About Weight Loss From Decades In The Fitness Industry

A few decades in the fitness industry has given me a lot of time to focus on health and physiques, my own in particular.

I’ve tried a wide variety of workouts and diets. I’ve been a dancer, an aerobics instructor, a dedicated gym rat and a yoga instructor. I’ve gone vegan, vegetarian, macrobiotic, spent time in the Zone, and thrown it all out to eat whatever I felt like eating.
Along the way, I’ve had periods when I felt strong and healthy and others when I’ve felt worn-out, lacked joy, and been above my ideal weight.One thing I know to be true is that to achieve the health and wellness you want, you only need to learn one lesson:

Nothing outside stops you. You stop you.

This is a challenging perspective to live with. If we blame the cookie for our weight gain, our jobs for preventing us from exercising, or our relationships for our unhappiness—we don’t need to look too deeply into ourselves and our choices.

When we find ourselves feeling depleted, catching colds easily, or gaining unwanted weight, it’s often because we’re making lifestyle choices that are not aligned with our best interests.

Our bodies are a reflection of what’s happening in our heads.

Shopping for fresh food, cooking healthy meals, and exercising all require substantial time and thought. However, tearing open a bag of processed carbs, or sitting on the couch doesn’t take much effort at all.

When our thoughts and feelings have tanked our sense of self value, we’re no longer inclined to put forth the effort required to maintain our health.

The obstacle is not that we don’t have the knowledge, access, or ability to take care of ourselves, it’s that we don’t feel worthy of the effort.

This mindset also shows up in our approach toward self medicating. At the end of a particularly challenging day, do you tell yourself you deserve to take a yoga class? Or do you “deserve” a cocktail?

Of course, we deserve to feel better when we’re under stress. We deserve to give ourselves what’s best for us. We don’t deserve a toxic shortcut.

We know this. But choices get tricky if our self esteem is in the gutter. In these times, making a commitment to our health can take a gargantuan effort that’s almost impossible to sustain long-term.

When we feel good about ourselves and believe we’re worth our own effort, leading a healthy lifestyle becomes much easier.

It’s not the junk food, challenging circumstances, or difficult people in our world that prevent us from obtaining our wellness goals. It’s our inside world that steers our choices, our actions, and our reactions. Accepting this truth is like pulling a band-aid off in one jerk. It’s startling and it feels a bit raw, but healing what’s underneath is where the progress is.

 

This post was originally shared on MindBodyGreen.

Strong Is The New Skinny, And That’s Not Necessarily A Good Thing

A new student approached me after her first yoga class and asked me to write down my complete teaching schedule so that she could attend my class every day. My ego was honored, but my mind was surprised. This newbie had a grand total of 75 minutes of yoga experience, and we were talking about a huge commitment. Maybe she’d tasted the peace of being deeply connected, in the perfect place at the perfect time? Perhaps she’d sensed the possibilities to be discovered in a yoga practice? This is why every teacher works hard: to open the gate for a student to realize she can create the life and the health that she wants. How wonderful that, in this case, it had clicked so quickly. As I wrote out my schedule, I asked, “What’s your goal for your yoga practice?” I expected to hear about a deep revelation, which is why I was speechless when she said, “I want the definition in your arms.” Oh. Of course.

I’d forgotten, “Strong is the new skinny.” This catchphrase seems to be popping up in my world a lot lately. It’s on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and the window of a local yoga studio. The first time I heard “strong is the new skinny,” I was enthusiastic. In theory, I’m all for strong men and women! However, I’ve come to see an insidious side of this concept in the way it’s being adopted. What could have been an empowering approach to body confidence has become another way to prioritize unrealistic body image; we’ve just replaced one cultural standard (thin) with another (ripped muscles). Sure, strength is important. We need strength in order to live our lives, to care for our self and the people who mater most. Ultimately, when we get strong in our bodies, we can apply this strength to the actions we take, the degree to which we become masters of our minds, and our approach to living our lives fully. When I think of “strong,” I think of my students who approach radiation treatments with optimism and courage. I think of my mom supporting two kids on her own. I think of my friend who felt unfulfilled in his secure career, so he left to pursue a job that ignited his passion. True strength can’t be measured by how many pounds you lift on a barbell, but it can be measured by how many spirits you lift. Unfortunately, “strong is the new skinny” isn’t necessarily being adopted to encourage this type of strength. Turning the slogan into a focus on an ideal outward appearance can trigger a negative internal battle that diminishes, rather than builds, strength. I have experienced how this can happen. In my teens and twenties, I used to model. During that time, I went on some bizarre diets. (Tip: if you eat nothing but string beans and hard boiled eggs for a week, fainting is a foregone conclusion.)

I turned to extreme measures in an effort to achieve an idealized version of what I was supposed to look like. Because thin was in, if the scale read two pounds over my goal, I’d put myself down. Eventually, I realized that my body wasn’t built to sustain a waif-like figure, and holding myself accountable to an unrealistic goal often made me feel like a failure. Similarly, by making “strong is the new skinny” all about striving for a visible six-pack and shredded triceps, it’s not a step forward on the path to true strength. We’re not trying to actually get stronger, healthier, or raise our levels of self-esteem. We’ve just traded one potentially unrealistic and unhealthy external goal for another. Both paths lead to the same end point: self-criticism. I like the definition in my arms. They aren’t huge, but they are strong enough to hold some really fun arm balances. I especially like my arms because they stuck with me while I developed the patience, focus and self-acceptance to learn those same arm balances. My arms represent the strength of commitment and perseverance without self-sabotage. If a new student tells me this is her goal, my arms have a really big hug for her.

 

This post was originally shared on MindBodyGreen

How To Create Space & Avoid Hurting Others

Have you ever been stuck in traffic and noticed that the car behind you is so close that the other driver could change your radio station? If the traffic changed in the slightest, the other car would have no time to adjust and prevent a crash.

An inappropriate reaction in traffic can create damage and cost time and money. An inappropriate response to a person causes human damage, and the costs can be much higher.

Have you ever had a stressful week and tried to squeeze in just one more thing, like lunch with a friend? You’re already feeling the pressure of your day, and your hostess seats you in what seems like the noisiest section of the restaurant.

You’re irritated and, to make matters worse, your friend is running late. By the time she arrives, instead of being happy to see her, you start speaking from frustration, criticizing her lack of respect and consideration. Once it’s out, you regret it. Your friend is hurt and you’re responsible for human wreckage.

Whether you want to avoid a car collision or emotional damage, the solution is the same: Create space. 

There was a long period in my past where I didn’t know this and I functioned with no space between a triggering event and my reaction. I was known for being a fast thinker, a rapid-fire talker, and my quick temper.

In a corporate environment, these characteristics are often applauded, and it was easy to think of them as being positive qualities as I continued to succeed. But no matter how you try to frame it, being reactive does not allow time to think about the potential impact of words and the damage they might cause.

Responding this way didn’t create success, it created wreckage.

Creating distance between a trigger and your response can dramatically change your relationship with others, as well as your relationship with yourself. It’s in that space that you can choose your reaction to avoid hurting yourself and others.

Tips to create space

1. Take off your sunglasses. 

We all see the world through our own tinted perceptions, like sunglasses. After you wear sunglasses long enough, you forget that they’re on and start to think that your view is unfiltered.

2. Take a breath. 

The fraction of time it takes to create one full cycle of breath can provide you with the opportunity to make a choice. That breath can be enough to allow you to soften your approach and avoid turning the other person into a victim.

3. Find the fear. 

At the root of a quick, harsh response, you can often find fear. That surge of adrenaline you feel right before you respond is your fight or flight response. Many of us are wired to respond to fear with fight rather than flight. It’s this type of auto-response that can wound the people around you and leave them totally unaware of what caused your reaction. If you can find your fear, you can learn to manage it.

4. Watch your energy levels.  

We’re taught that we need to care for others, work hard, and provide for our families. We’re not typically taught how to do everything we’re “supposed” to do while maintaining a healthy balance of energy. When we overextend ourselves, we create an internally toxic environment. We can only give what we’ve got, so our reactions become the same toxins we’re building within ourselves.

Creating space in your mind, your emotions, and in your reactions will minimize the wreckage in your life. If you’re creating chaos, it will follow you.

 

This post was originally shared on MindBodyGreen

Is Yoga Marketing Hurting Older Women?

Most days when I look around the room at the yoga students I’m teaching, I wonder: Why don’t more of my students look like me? Most of the faces looking back at me are younger than 30 years old. This same demographic dominates the local studios I teach in as well as studios I’ve traveled to throughout the United States.
I’m female and 51 years old. I’ve raised a family, had multiple careers, built an amazing marriage and, generally speaking, lived a life. Yoga has transformed my health, the way I age, the way I think of myself, and the way I interact with the world. Thanks to my practice, and my teaching, my body is strong and I have a deep sense of personal power and confidence. Women transitioning from their 40s into their 50s could make good use of these benefits, so why aren’t they streaming, en masse, into yoga studios?
Bringing yoga into the mainstream of American culture necessitated shifting its public face away from the one we became familiar with from the 1960s through the 1980s — that of an older, Eastern man with leathered skin and shining eyes. Most product marketing in the U.S. likes to focus its lens on whatever is young and pretty. It sells.
Not surprisingly, the mass marketing of yoga has fallen in step with this approach. The result has been a great boon for yoga. Studios in most downtown areas have made yoga accessible. There is a depth and breadth of styles, information and training easily available to anyone interested. “Spirituality and Yoga” is a common Google search string. Western medicine has put a scientific stamp of approval onto the practice and the lifestyle. The net result is that we’ve all benefited from the creation of a profitable, and therefore sustainable, industry that’s also healthy and life enhancing.
Unfortunately for the American woman, the new face of yoga — which tends toward young, slender, lycra-clad (or under-clad) gymnasts — may be as un-relatable as the old face of yoga. However, the advertisers, magazines and social networks are not at fault. It’s not the commercialization or mainstreaming of yoga that prevents my contemporaries from enjoying the benefits inherent in a yogic lifestyle. It’s the mindset of the typical 40-year-old woman that keeps her from opening the door to the yoga studio.
We’ve created a culture in which women over 40 don’t know where they fit. They don’t know who they are, or what they’re supposed to be. Often when these women come to me, they’ve stopped believing they can build muscle, so they stop trying. They think having constant pain is to be expected at their age. They’ve developed a fear of failure that prevents them from pursuing risks or adventure. As their lives and bodies changed, they became so used to feeling helpless that they gave up their sense of power along with their skinny jeans.
I believe there’s a light that exists inside every woman over 40 years old, but it must be reignited so they don’t spend the rest of their lives on the sidelines. Promoters and brand builders can’t give them that spark, and they shouldn’t be accused of taking it away. It’s my hope, and actually my anticipation that as yoga becomes more commonplace through the promotion of yoga-lebrities, pretty pictures, creative products and increased profits, more people will become curious enough to step up to the threshold of significant life change through yoga.
This post was originally featured on MindBodyGreen..

What Yogis Can Learn from Prize-Winning Pumpkin Farmers

Recently, while internet surfing for a weekend activity, I came across a list of Giant Pumpkin Festivals. Giant pumpkins are a vegetable phenomenon that can weigh over 1,000 pounds.
One farmer grew a pumpkin, on a single vine, which matured to a weight over 2,700 pounds. That’s more than a ton of gourd! However, size is not the only factor taken into consideration when awarding a ribbon to a giant pumpkin. Color, shape and overall health are all considerations in determining prize winners.
Giant pumpkin farmers work hard at their craft and have developed best practices for gaining the most return on their efforts. Looking at the process that these farmers use to develop massively successful vegetables, it occurred to me that yogis can benefit from the recommendations of prize winning pumpkin farmer’s as we seek to grow our practice.
The Pumpkin Plan for Yoga:
1. Prepare your soil. 
Smart pumpkin growers begin composting, tilling and fertilizing their soil during the spring before planting season. Yoga takes root in your heart and mind and then grows out into your physical practice. Even if your first experiment with yoga is on the mat, you will come back because of something that resonated with you at a deeper level than your biceps.
Looking at what, in the practice, struck you – the peace and calm; the opportunity to care for you; the “Ah-Ha” moment; the flash of self realization. Identifying what struck you early in your yoga practice, will help you see where you need the most fertilizer and consideration in your life.
2. Grow the pumpkin you’re passionate about. 
There’s a wide variety of breeds to choose from. You might as well grow the pumpkin you love. There is a yoga teacher and style that is right for everyone. However, as you change, what calls to you may change.
I started my practice with diligent alignment and focus in the Iyengar tradition. In my 20s, I found freedom in power yoga. In my 30s, I fell in love with the flow of vinyasa. In my 40s, I started combining everything I was passionate about into the style I teach today. Every style of yoga has value, benefits and purpose. When you find the one that lights your fire, your growth will be self sustaining.
3. Develop your root system. 
Pumpkin vines grow a long way, so enriching your whole garden will help secondary vines grow strong. As your practice develops you will start to see its roots infiltrating your daily life. Your yoga quickly becomes more than the hour you spend on the mat.
You will find its influence in the other 23 hours as well. Through your mat practice, you learn to study, and increase yourawareness of, thoughts and reactions in your mind-body. As you apply techniques to manipulate your breath and observe your whole self, you gain control over your ability to generate focus, calm or strength as you need it. These skills intertwine and expand into your family and work life. Once it’s thriving, your root system of tools and skills will support you in your challenging moments and amplify your joyful moments.
 
4. Prune and weed. 
Giant pumpkin farmers are ruthless when they find something that doesn’t belong in their garden. Weeds and disease spread quickly. To keep the patch healthy, farmers must be diligent at detection and removal of potential problems.
Thoroughly weeding out bad habits, and harmful thought patterns, prevents disease in your body, your mind and your yoga practice. You will naturally bring negative auto responses, such as judgments and criticisms, with you onto your mat. Systematically weeding out what you don’t need (before it takes root) creates new space for your practice to flourish.
5. Mindful, steady growth yields better results than fast growth. 
Pumpkin damage is often caused by the plant’s own rapid growth, which causes splits and cracks that can lead to rot. If you rush through any part of your yoga practice, you steal the benefits of the process from yourself.
Rewiring your mind, growing mentally and physically, takes time and attention. For example, imitating a pose to achieve an immediate result without developing the understanding that comes inherently through practice, proper alignment and steady progress doesn’t build power. Fast growth only looks good for a brief moment before the damage becomes apparent.
The Pumpkin Plan for Yoga will yield the type of unique and inspiring success that wining giant pumpkin farmers achieve. When you practice the yoga you are passionate about, and cultivate its growth from a strong foundation with care and control, your achievements will be massive – if not 2,700 pounds.

 

4 Reasons to Give Up Hope

“Will you be able to follow through?”
“I hope so.”
 
“Will I get the shipment on time?”
“Here’s hoping!”
 
“Are you going to get that job?”
“That’s what I’m hoping for.”
So often, we are stuck counting on someone else to put their best foot forward, and we are left hoping they can accomplish the goal. If you look at the questions above, each answer tells you nothing about the likelihood of achieving any particular outcome. When you tell someone you’re hoping, you’re not offering a plan, an expectation, or even your personal conviction. What you’re doing is giving yourself the message that it’s out of your hands, and you have to accept whatever comes your way.
Here’s why you can do better without hope:
1. Hope is the big neutral. 
 
Even with a big dream that seems daunting for a single individual to impact (like peace on earth), you can do more than just hope. Don’t hope; set an intention. When I teach a yoga class, I start each practice by guiding students to set an intention. The idea is that we are dedicating the energy and effort of the practice toward a particular outcome. Big or small, it takes you one full actionable step beyond hope.
2. When you stop hoping, you can start doing. 
A friend of mine from the South has a saying that always makes me smile. When she’s ready to go but waiting on someone else, she says, “I’m sittin’ on green and ready to go!” Hope is like sitting on green and… just waiting. When you’re only hoping for an outcome, you are not moving any closer to the goal. You’re telling yourself that what you want is out of your control, and that there’s nothing you can do about it. You have to decide if your goal is worth some exertion. Even if the answer is “no,” you can take action by dropping it. If the answer is “yes,” you can take an action toward making it real.
3. Hoping stunts your growth.
We grow through challenge, pressure, making mistakes and starting again. Hope is a comfort zone that doesn’t include any of these. Each time we take action, even if it turns out to be in the wrong direction, we grow beyond who we were yesterday. Nature doesn’t let anything stand still. If it’s not moving, atrophy and degeneration sets in. Swap out hope for responsibility, and you continue to progress as an individual.
4. Eliminating hope from your verbiage will boost your self esteem.  
You cannot build confidence without achievement. Nothing feels better physically, emotionally or spiritually than making a commitment, having conviction and taking charge of your destiny. Telling yourself you are going to do whatever it takes feeds you a totally different energy than telling yourself you’re hoping. When you take control of attaining what you want, even if you fall short of the final objective, you amplify your sense of personal power.
What is one hope that you can turn into an intention today?
Originally posted on MindBodyGreen

Drink, Eat and Do Not Diet on Thanksgiving

And other helpful hints to de-stress the holidays

Thanksgiving is all about family. Without the distraction of religious ceremonies, shiny presents or scavenger hunts for decorated eggs, Thanksgiving offers no other incentive to celebrate except being with each other. I’ve heard of those families that do healthy things like play football before Thanksgiving dinner. My family is not among them. In my world Thanksgiving is the holiday where family members eat and drink until they fall asleep in front of the TV, others work continuously like field hands, many gesture so wildly when they talk that they drop food on the carpet, and others stand outside smoking smelly cigars while pretending not to notice the nieces and nephews are chasing the dog. While sometimes it feels like we may be the remnants of a genetic experiment gone awry, Thanksgiving is the holiday that celebrates the mysterious ties that bind us as a family. And I love it. However, this is also the holiday of unpredictable weather, cleaning, shopping, entertaining, and increased traffic. On top of all that, every time someone posts another article to Facebook about creating a low fat Thanksgiving and prioritizing getting to the gym, a wave of guilt swells over my budding sense of holiday magic. No wonder holidays are stressful.

I spend my days teaching yoga and helping people reduce their stress, find their joy, and bring more balance into their lives. The holidays can present a great opportunity to accomplish all of these goals, but you need to start by releasing some of the pressure you put on yourself. Instead of wasting your holidays trying to channel the ideal combination of Martha Stewart and Giada De Laurentis, here are some more practical (and more yogic) tips on how to bring joy back into your holiday:

1. Hit delete. Immediately. Whether it’s a growing file you keep buried in your side drawer or an icon on your computer desktop, get rid of the collection of well intentioned advice columns you’ve been saving for that perfect Sunday when you have nothing else to do. If you didn’t find time to make over your garage or turn Aunt Milly’s favorite placements into a bedspread ensemble in June, it’s not going to happen during the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years. Chances are you’re never actually going to get around to alphabetizing and laminating Grandma’s old recipes, let alone finding low fat substitutes for the ingredients. And now is a good time to let go of the fantasy that this year you’re going green by painting your own wrapping paper. Just by letting go of these self imposed expectations you drop 5 pounds of stress.

2. Stop beating yourself up. If your workout schedule gets a little lax as you prepare for your holiday gathering, don’t worry about it. Shopping is a great calorie burn. Every hour you spend taking laps around the mall burns 160 calories. Make that extra trip (or three) back and forth between stores. You’re not being overindulgent, indecisive or forgetful; you’re trimming your waistline. Just make sure you power walk straight past the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte. It would require a very large budget to shop off that 390 calories.

3. Do not diet on Thanksgiving. You are about to embark on the Tinsel Marathon. Now is not the time to sit at a table filled with people and food you love while you snuggle up to a carrot. Most people do not gain 7-10 pounds during the holidays. It’s a myth perpetuated by the creators of trendy diet books, pills and pastel colored supplement drinks. The average weight gain is actually 1-2 pounds, and that’s not just from your one Thanksgiving meal. Holiday weight gain accumulates in the weeks of mingling between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. You can eliminate the worry of gaining that pound by reducing your daily intake by about 100 calories. If you just replace your morning bagel with a bowl of oatmeal every day for the month after Thanksgiving, you’re gold.

4. Finally, drink. Yes, liquor. No, I’m not kidding. Having a holiday cocktail can help relax your nerves and reduce some tension. This is your time to laugh (which is incredibly healthy) and enjoy the moment (which is very yogic). That being said, this is not a great time to get trashed and try to teach Uncle George how to line dance. The results of having more than one holiday cocktail can dramatically increase morning after stress, so hold to a one is enough limit.

The messages you tell yourself about how you’re not doing it well enough, you’re not accomplishing everything you should, and you’re somehow falling short of expectations have a much more toxic and long lasting effect on you than the sugar content in Aunt Doris’ apple pie ever will. If you’re blessed to have people around you whose only reason to get together is some mysterious, intangible, extraordinary bind of wanting to be together, it’s pretty fabulous that cousin Mario laughs so hard he spills coffee on the couch.

4 Easy Shortcuts to Happiness

“Happiness is on the rise. Not only has the average amount of happiness risen over the last 30 years but, due to rising longevity, the number of happy life years has increased spectacularly.” ~World Database of Happiness

I’m not a trendy type, but this seems a trend worth jumping on. I’ve been happy and I’ve been unhappy. Happy is better and it’s often a few quick choices away from the alternative.

1. Choose your facts.
“I’m freezing, the weather is awful today,” he said.
“It’s not raining or snowing it’s nice out today,” I replied.
“It’s so windy, I hate this weather,” he confirmed.
“The sun feels wonderful,” I said as I walked away.
This was a conversation I had this morning. We were both standing on the same corner, at the same time, experiencing the same weather. Neither of us was delusional, or lying to the other. There are always hundreds of facts in front of you. You get to choose which ones you focus on.

2. Re-evaluate you’re network.
Remember the excitement of a play date? As children we intuitively understand that we’re happier when we interact with other people every day. For most of us, even with the advent of digital social networking, this remains true throughout life. However, your happiness quotient can also be significantly impacted by who you choose to interact with. When I was in high school and learning to navigate a diverse group of friends, my grandmother warned me, “You are only as good as the people you hang with.” My grandmother’s motivation was to keep me out of trouble, but the same theory of networking applies to how you feel about life. Every grouch that latches onto you will drain your happiness, and every joyful person you hang with will boost it.

3. Purge some angst.
To unearth your bliss, remove some of the guilt and anxiety that’s piled on top of it. At the time you chose to dive into the chocolate chip cookies, treat yourself to a second Marguerita, or buy that Mercedes it seemed like you were taking a shortcut to happiness. Regrettably, the next day when these choices result in more things to worry about, your joy is being pushed farther out of reach. When we worry about things like our finances, our job, or our health, we are not equipped to simultaneously tap into our happiness. Going on a budget, a diet, or making a career change may seem like undesirable transitions, but that’s not always the way it works. Paying off the credit cards, and making healthy lifestyle choices, makes you happier by eliminating some of the problems that keep you weighed down.

4. Go natural.
I was talking with a man who came to the US from his native country Columbia. He told me the people in Columbia are the happiest of any people in the world. When I asked why, he gave me two very logical reasons. First, he told me the weather is like spring every day so the people are always outside. Second, home grown, natural fruits and vegetables are easily accessible and make up the majority of the Columbian diet. This is a transferable recipe for creating joy anywhere in the world. In any weather, a walk outside is an instant mood booster, and there’s good reason that a big juicy bite of a delicious orange makes you smile. A regular dose of sunshine, fresh oxygen, and fresh food yields a deep sense of well-being that’s generated from being connected to the earth and the universe around you.

Your outside circumstances will never align perfectly to create bliss. Therefore, creating your happiness needs to start with a choice.

 

 

 

Kim Shand is a nationally-renowned yoga expert, on-air personality, and founder of Rethink Yoga. She travels nationally on a mission to inspire people to take control of their health, how they think, and how they age, through yoga. She motivates her students to find their power, their joy and to be “All In. All the Time.”  Follow Kim on Facebook, on Twitter, and on YouTube.

 

 

5 Tips to Finish Your Year Strong

This article was originally posted on MindBodyGreen, I hope you enjoy it!
In football, the two-minute drill can be the most exciting part of the game. It’s in these last two minutes of the game that losing teams tap their steel and passion; and winning teams devise their best strategies to maintain their momentum. As we head toward the time of year when the kids go back to school and the seasons make another change, you have time to finish the year strong. Here’s your strategy to make the most of 2012’s two-minute drill.
1. Acknowledge. You’re not the same person you were in January and you are not yet the person you are going to be in December. Take a look at the goals, resolutions, or intentions you had in January. Make sure they are still a good fit for where your life is now, and where you are headed. Eliminate anything that you adopted to please someone else, or because you thought you should. The hardest goals to achieve are the one’s that were never really yours to begin with. Don’t hesitate to change course! I totally do not understand the social stigma associated with saying “I changed my mind”. To me, that statement means you’re thinking rather than blindly, numbingly staying the course.
2. Forgive yourself. In a two minute drill there’s no time for self- recrimination, or beating yourself up. Once you acknowledge where you are and what’s not working, you’re all about moving on. If your best friend approached you honestly and said, “I screwed up, can I get another chance?” more often than not you’d forgive and move on. If you haven’t made the progress you intended so far in 2012, admit to yourself that you screwed up, and then give yourself another shot.  No drama.
3. Stop sitting on green and get going. At this point in the year, stay fully cognizant of Isaac Newton’s wisdom: “An object at rest tends to stay at rest, an object in motion tends to stay in motion.” As you reassess your year’s goals, do not get frozen into a state of analysis paralysis. It’s often more productive to make a move, in any direction, even a wrong one. Once you’re moving, you can decide it’s not the right path for you, and then change accordingly. However, the longer you sit on green without moving in any direction, the harder it is to get going. With your list paired down to the objectives that really mean something to you, and having dropped the unneeded bag of guilt over what hasn’t worked, you can start to move forward with renewed conviction.
4. Make a promise – to yourself. You make promises to other people and bend over backward to stay true to your word. Unfortunately, you probably don’t give yourself the same consideration. When you make a promise to yourself that you will work on something, you are making a commitment. Your promise is a vow you won’t break. Your word to yourself needs to be as meaningful a binder as giving your commitment to someone else. You have things you want to change/accomplish/achieve this year. The clock is ticking. It’s time to make yourself a priority and put a laser focus on what you need.
5. Create boundaries around your health and well being that no one is allowed to cross. We don’t always have an instinct to stand up for ourselves and, when we do, we often feel bad about it. Creating personal boundaries can be the single most transformational action you take this year. Implementing this strategy often means making difficult choices and saying “no.” It’s important to be clear with yourself and others as to where your boundaries are, and to resist the temptation to defend or apologize for enforcing these guidelines. “I’d help you fix your PC for the fifth time this month, but I’m not taking on extra projects right now.”  “I agreed to organize that conference for you, but I realize I can’t give it the time it deserves, so I’ll find you someone else.” If you start to feel the guilt creep in, call it out for what it is. You’re feeling guilty about prioritizing your own well being! That’s not a good reason to change your strategy. Drop the guilt baggage on the side of the road. You are moving on to finish your year strong.
In Super Bowl XLII, the New York Giants executed a two-minute drill that resulted in the game winning touchdown against the New England Patriots. In 2 minutes and 7 seconds the Giants ran 12 plays, covered more than 80 yards (twice the norm), and finished strong securing the win. The steps in your 2012 two-minute drill may make you uneasy at first but as you begin to take care of yourself (for yourself), you will find a new sense of confidence in your ability to meet your challenges, and accomplish your objectives. You’ve got the playbook, it’s your year to finish strong.

Why Sometimes It’s Good to Burn Bridges

This post was originally featured on MindBodyGreen
Before man learned how to engineer and construct bridges, our movement was restricted. Bridges allow us the freedom to explore territory farther away from home base and grow our knowledge of the world around us. The same holds true in our spiritual and emotional growth. If we don’t effectively build a bridge from where we are to a new place, we will pretty much stay the same.
It's OK to Burn Your Bridges
Through my life I have constructed bridges to new places of great value.  I’ve also traversed a bridge or two only to find myself in a destructive pit stop. For example, I crossed a bridge to a successful corporate career and then I built another bridge from that career to one of service and health. On my way to middle age I walked across a bridge that seemed to be traveled by all of my contemporaries only to find myself on a new shore where I was told I was becoming useless, tired, old. On that shore I found a place where people over 45 yrs of age gave up and shut down. I hightailed it on to the next bridge out of there and found a very different land where I currently reside in vitality and strength.
As we cross these many bridges to new locations, we tend to hang on to the structure that got us here. You’ve heard the advice “Don’t burn any bridges.” It usually refers to keeping a safety net, maintaining an option, or having a back door retreat strategy in the event you don’t like where you’ve landed. That’s an old tactic that’s useful when you’re in your 20s and 30s because at those ages your toolbox is still sparse. As we age, we accumulate quite a few bridges. If you don’t somehow let go of them, they will begin to weigh you down. Each one of those old bridges requires attention, upkeep and maintenance to keep around, which uses your energy with no return on investment.
I have a different suggestion for those of you who have joined me on the shoreline of middle age. Start blowing up your bridges. Let them go. They were useful, sturdy supporters, but they are of no use to you anymore. Your future is in front of you. If you find yourself on land that’s not a good fit, build a new bridge and get out.  However, you don’t need to go back.  You don’t need to be 20 again. That location’s value had walls you couldn’t see beyond and strictly enforced limitations. You don’t need to trade your wisdom for smoother skin. You don’t need to leave this place of knowing who you are in order to find adventure and limitless possibility, its available right here. Honor the many bridges that got you where you are, fix your sights on the path ahead of you, set the dynamite, light the fuse and let it blow.

How I Lost My Mind… And Found It Again

The first time I became truly aware that I’d misplaced my mind was about 6 years ago.
Misplaced Mind
Running two businesses, my calendar was insane. As a yoga instructor I teach, travel, write and produce yoga videos. I’m also the CEO for a high tech consulting company that I founded 18 years ago. The impact of my lifestyle on my mental faculties started so gradually that I didn’t notice for a while. My To-Do was getting longer instead of shorter. Between the appointments and nonstop emails, I even started taking my laptop into the bathroom with me to get a head start! As I struggled to keep pace, my goals shifted. My priority became just keeping my head above water.
I began to feel very uncomfortable if I wasn’t connected through my phone or one of many computers. For down time, I watched TV…with my laptop open and my phone at my side. During travel time I listened to podcasts, surfed the internet or pulled out the file of articles I habitually stockpiled. I lived the adage the more you teach yoga, the less you practice yoga. My days were jammed trying to absorb as much information as possible while striving for success in as many places as I could cover, who had time to practice?
The net result was that I was hardly absorbing anything, and I wasn’t getting to the end of that ominous To-Do list. That’s when I realized, somewhere in the craziness, I’d misplaced my mind. As I tried to do more, I was unable to concentrate, I couldn’t focus, and I became very reactionary, which made it difficult to solve problems in real time. My imagination had almost completely disappeared, and it was taking me two and three times longer to write anything because my ideas flowed like sludge. What I was doing, wasn’t working.
Finally, it dawned on me that the insanity had to stop. So I went on a controlled digital diet. I shut down everything that plugged in or ran on a battery before and after a strictly enforced 10 hour work day. It was really hard. One of the first things I noticed was that there were other humans living in my house! Two of those people were my almost-adult children who were watching the scary example I was setting for how to live a life. Next, I started cooking again. Cooking necessitates slowing down and caring for yourself, something that had become extinct in my panic button lifestyle. The cell phone no longer had a prominent place on the table, which afforded the opportunity for human conversation. Finally, I rededicated myself to my own yoga and meditation practice, which gifted me with time during which no one could reach me, and no additional information was coming at me from the outside world.
Within the first two weeks. I experienced a shift. Information started coming to me from my inside world.  I could remember what I’d been told 24 hours ago. Inspiration appeared in everything – driving, talking, visiting, noticing. New thoughts started bubbling to the surface. Not only was I able to write a few pieces, I started getting ideas for new projects and approaches to issues that had been locked and stuck. Apparently my mind hadn’t gone missing, but had retreated in fear of everything I was throwing at it. When I stopped bombarding my brain with the continuous, anxious laden flow of data, my mind hesitantly, but determinedly, came of the darkened corner.
I still have relapses when I start keeping Facebook running in the background, afraid I’ll miss a critical post. I begin checking email before I get out of bed, and I start texting while talking to others. It doesn’t take long before these behaviors result in creative blocks. When I notice, I remember to breathe in and create space in my days and my life. It’s in that space that I find my mind.
This article was originally published on MindBodyGreen.

Release the Old & Welcome the New

 

This blog was originally posted on MindBodyGreen: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-4609/Release-the-Old-Welcome-the-New.html
Kim Shand - Rethink Yoga
Spring has officially arrived in the Northeast. In this part of the country spring is the season of new color and new growth, but I think spring is welcomed everywhere as a time of renewal. It seems Mother Nature knows that what is old needs to be released in order to make room for what is new. All living things have a natural instinct for this same releasing/renewing process. Our bodies automatically know to exhale in order to make room for new oxygen.

 

Like the promise of a new season, there is endless potential available to you. As you read this article, there is a movie being made that is going to rock your world. Something is being invented that will make your life easier. There is someone, you may not know yet, who will bring great joy into your life.  here are opportunities waiting for you that you can’t see yet because they are around the corner, or in your next week, or in your next encounter. Unfortunately, if you are functioning within old thought patterns and behaviors you won’t have the space available to accept those new possibilities.

 

My cousin is a loving father to his 16-year-old son, but his job demands that he spend weeks at a time out of state and he misses many evenings and weekends with his family. Over the Easter holiday father and son spent an entire afternoon on the golf course together. Afterward, his son told my cousin that he wished they could spend time together more often. My cousin, whose habitual thinking includes a great deal of self-recrimination, heard his son’s comment as a criticism that he isn’t available enough.

 

By the time he came home for the holiday dinner my cousin felt angry with his son for what he perceived to be a lack of gratitude. He was disappointed in himself and felt he’d been a bad father. On top of these reactions he piled some old, well-worn guilt and frustration that he was unable to live up to the expectations of the people he loves. The family dinner was tense. Afterward, the teen quickly retreated to his room feeling the weight of his father’s upset, but having no idea what he had done. My cousin, unable to let go of his insecurities and limited perceptions, lost the opportunity and potential that had presented themselves in that golf outing.

 

We humans may not be able to recall where we left our keys, but when it comes to holding grudges, old behaviors, and thought patterns our minds are very efficient. Our minds wrap around habitual thoughts like a clenched fist. However, if you want to shake the hand of that fabulous someone new (or a fabulous someone old), you have to open your fist and let go of what you’re gripping.

When Your Give & Their Take Leaves You Drained

Have you ever been in a relationship where there’s little or no return on the amount you give and the amount they take? When relationships get out of balance it can be very draining, diminishing, and damaging. Eventually, in an effort to find stability, you have to either cut all of the users out of your life or set hard boundaries that will keep you from injury. The way we balance (or do not balance) giving our energy out to others with replenishing energy into our lives, impacts our emotional well-being and our physical health.

We get used to being out of balance, and we bring this habit with us onto our yoga mats. Many people believe that yoga is strictly about increasing flexibility. The theory is that the more flexible you are, the less likely you will become injured. Unfortunately that theory is only a partial truth, and pursuing a yoga practice with that single strategy can create imbalance. The broader truth is that being too flexible can also increase your chances of becoming injured.

During yoga class I often see students taking an imbalanced approach to stretching in Tadasana, Parsvottanasana, and Trikonasana. In an effort to lengthen their hamstrings to maximum capacity, students (especially those who are double jointed) lock their knees. As they hold in these poses with their knees hyper-extended, the tendons and ligaments behind their knees are being stretched to the point of being weakened. Contracting and strengthening the front of your thighs, creating a very slight bend in your knees, is the healthy balance your knees will thank you for later.

Over reaching, pushing too far out, without hugging into your strength in Plank pose, Parsvakanasana, Ardha Chandrasana, and Downward Facing Dog weakens and destabilizes your asanas. Instead, find and build your strength in these poses. Hug your arm bones into their sockets. Draw your shoulder blades together and use the strength of your upper back.

If your muscles are too tight, your joints are at risk of being damaged.  If tendons, ligaments or muscles become over stretched, they can no longer provide boundaries to keep joints in place, which also puts your joints at risk. The lack of balance between length and strength in your body creates a similar result to an imbalance between what you give and what you get. You are primed to be hurt. Let your yoga practice be the place where you experiment with reacting to life’s challenges with equanimity. Don’t just stretch, pull into your strength. Create the balance that keeps you stable mentally, emotionally and physically.

As A Parent, Child's Pose Is Always An Option

I’ve been a mother for 23 years.  In that period my husband and I have raised two children to the point to adulthood (if not complete independence).  We navigated pee-wee soccer, teen acne, and way too many Prom nights.  We survived the transition when they left for college.  We endured the roller coaster ride toward degrees.  We are now waist deep in the ”kids are back at home adventure.

I knew when I became a parent that it was going to be for the rest of my life. 23 years ago (which feels like 5 years ago) I could not have foreseen the variety of challenges inherent in having two grown children leave for college and, just as I successfully adjusted to their absence, four years blinked by and they are back under my roof.   Today  I watch my two young professionals coming and going from the house, eating enormous quantities of food, and going to bed at hours that would render me a zombie.  When your children are babies you feel the excitement and the trepidation of not knowing what’s ahead of you.  Having conquered the unknown, I had adopted a perception of myself as an effective parent.  Now, with two twenty-somethings in the house full time, I am once again facing down the ravine of unknown territory.  As I embark on the journey of redefining the role a of motherhood in this new phase, I find myself once again leaning heavily on the lessons of my yoga practice to find the calm within the storm that is parenting.

Childs pose is always an option: It used to be that time outs were a useful tool for the children, giving them time to calm down, and choose a better course of action.  Now they are an appropriate tool for me. On the mat taking child’s pose is an opportunity to pull back from the intensity of the practice and check in.  Off the mat, a mental child’s pose steps you back, and allows for a few deep breaths. My husband and I had taken a long weekend away to reconnect and recharge, leaving our house in the hands of our children who needed to remain on their work schedules.  Although I love to travel, I always have a sense of joy in returning home to my own kitchen, my own bed and everything familiar.  Walking through the door of our home on a Tuesday afternoon, I fully expected the comfort of the familiar.  I was greeted with something I’d never seen before.  The kitchen sink was piled with dirty dishes.  The smell of rotting food pervaded.  The family room had piles of laundry.  For some reason I couldn’t possibly fathom, a soaking wet towel was lying on the wood floor of the kitchen.   It was time for child’s pose.

Maintain a beginners mind: No matter how long you’ve been practicing, your body is different every time you step onto the mat, and what you need is different.  Approaching each yoga pose as though it is your first allows you to stay open to new possibilities without predetermined ideas of what works and what your limits are. My child’s pose allowed me to call my son at his office and, and resist the temptation to launch an assault.  I asked what had happened in the house.  He explained that there had been a power outage leaving them without electricity for 3 days.  They couldn’t run the dishwasher.  The ice in the freezer had started to melt, so each morning they put a towel in front of it before leaving for work.  They were showering at friends’ houses at night and then changing into work clothes in the Family room because it had the most windows and natural light at dawn.

Release your attachment to the outcome: Each time you try a yoga pose you get stronger. Mentally and physically, you create change by putting out effort without your ego demanding a specific outcome.  It makes no difference if you stick the pose perfectly or struggle and fall.  The benefits are always there. Could they have emptied the ice from the freezer to avoid the flood?  Maybe used a bigger towel (or several)?  Would I have washed the dishes by hand in the same situation? Was it feasible to neatly fold the clothes they walked out of before putting clean clothes on? It’s all possible.  On the other hand, their effort created a benefit.  My vision of an outcome was not their vision.  My kids have very distinct personalities all their own, and (hard to believe) not everything about them is a reflection, or indictment, of me.  The dishes got washed.  The clothes found the laundry room.  The wooden floor dried out.  Two young adults didn’t end up feeling like they came up short.

Relax with what is: Simultaneously the most difficult, and the most useful, single lesson a yoga practice can offer.