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..

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.

What I’ve Leaned As a Yogi Who Eats Meat

I’m not a very good cook.  I watch cooking shows with the same sense of amazement I have watching aerial artists.  I can’t go into the kitchen and make something fabulous with whatever is there.  I need to work from a recipe. I have some yellowed cookbooks that have served me well since college, and there are some great websites available for any style or odd ingredients that I’m trying to use.

I tend to cook vegetarian and definitely buy organic ingredients. I think eating organic, and locally grown, grown food is a responsible way to be kind to our environment. However, I am not a vegetarian.  I eat meat about twice  week.  When I eat meat, I am careful about the amount and where it comes from. I like to keep my diet as clean as possible, and as free from processed foods and chemicals as possible.  My diet mirrors my general philosophies which do not tend toward extremes, absolutes, or imposing my way as the only way.  

I was vegetarian for a long time but I found that, especially with the amount of teaching I do in hot yoga rooms, I was getting very tired, and I felt weak. My body and muscles were never fully recovering from the physical activity.  On the other hand, the quality of the meat I eat can also have a negative impact. For example, if I eat fried or fatty meat like a hamburger, I don’t digest it well.  I work with a preventive health and wellness doctor, especially since I am entering menopause, to determine what is the healthiest foods and supplements for my body and lifestyle.  In general, I feel better with higher amounts of protein, including small amounts of meat, than other people might need.  Ultimately, I think deciding how to feed and fuel your body should be based on your personal requirements, a knowledge of your body, and not what someone else tells you is right.

Within the yoga community the concept of ahimsa is often tied to vegetarianism.  Ahimsa, the practice of non-harming must start with not harming yourself.  Treating yourself well and fueling a healthy body are important pieces of ahimsa.  Any choices about how to feed your body, should be mindful and well considered, but ultimately they need to reflect compassion and care for yourself.

The practice of ahimsa is a good deal broader than not eating a hamburger.  I’ve given a lot of thought to this quote from  Autobiography of a Yogi“This world is inconveniently arranged for a literal practice of ahimsa. Man may be compelled to exterminate harmful creatures. He is not under compulsion to feel anger or animosity.”

Violence shows up in our lives from the fear that causes humans to go to war, to physically and verbally attack each other.  Violence shows up because we are out of balance from our over scheduled lives in which we mistreat ourselves, and end up erupting at others. We feel powerless in our own lives and we cause violence to others by trying to “fix” their lives and make ourselves feel better.

If we each work to conquer our fears, create balance, and reconnect to our personal power,  we would be making greater strides toward the practice of ahimsa than eating tofu.

Practice Makes Perfect

The universe doesn’t know the difference between what we want and what we don’t want. The universe only knows what we focus on and invest our energy in. It assumes we want more of that. Therefore, whatever we decide to practice is what we will become good at.

What are you practicing today? If the answer is anxiety, worrying, or negativity you’re going to get good at it. Would you rather practice empowerment and abundance instead? If you believe in judging and beating yourself up, you are practicing the art of hurting yourself and you will become a master at it. It reminds me of the unattributed quote, “If our strengths are not determined to be valuable, we spend our lives shoring up our weaknesses.”

Notice what you’re focusing your energy on and choose what you want to become good at.

Here's The Question That Changes Your Life…..

We all want to be happy, healthy and strong.  Taking this train of thought a step further, you could probably add the desire to be more at peace, less reactive, and more balanced to the list.  Creating these qualities in ourselves can seem like a daunting task.  You know what you’d like to have and who you’d like to be, but how do you get there?

In the new movie “The Avengers”, Thor is one of the superheroes who have pledged their lives to fight the bad guys.  (There’s no need for a spoiler alert here, I’m not giving anything away.) Unfortunately, the biggest bad guy is Thor’s brother, a circumstance that causes Thor some conflict.  At one point in the movie Thor is confronted with the question, “What are you prepared to do?”

As a yoga teacher, I often see students experimenting with yoga as a way to achieve some very admirable goals.  They come to the mat, and go through the physical motions of a practice.  Then they wait to feel their bodies and lives improve.  What these students often don’t realize is that they can make a choice to take a more active role in achieving their goals.  You have a say in how you view yourself and your experiences.  You can choose your level of conviction and commitment.  You can decide how you act, and how you react, to the circumstances in your life.  You can make the choice to be a bystander or an active participant.  But, “What are you prepared to do?”  What are you willing to step up on, to have your feet held to the fire on?

Transforming yourself and your health isn’t about becoming someone new.  It’s a process of revealing who you really are when you’re not playing it safe, or pretending, or trying to please other people.  On the mat, when you put yourself into a new pose and you stick with it, even though it’s uncomfortable and foreign to you, you learn how to change your body.  Once you learn that you can transform your body, you realize that you can do the same thing with the way you think, your habits, and your perspectives.

The happiness, balance, peace and health that you want are available to you.   Sit down, find the time and space to be truly honest with yourself, and to listen.  When you’re ready to be honest, radically honest, ask yourself “What are you prepared to do?”

Do You Lift Weights? No, I Do Yoga.

At least once a week, I’m asked how often I lift weights. “I’m a yoga teacher, I don’t lift”, is generally met with polite skepticism. The truth is, my practice is the reason behind my physique, and also my ability to maintain my sense of humor because strangers rarely believe me.
I teach my style of power yoga once a week in a bare bones, no kidding around, “muscle gym”. The first time a member takes my class they are shocked at how difficult it is to access the strength required to do foundational poses, like Plank, Chatturanga and Upward Facing Dog (yoga variations of a push-up). Weight lifting isolates each muscle, but rarely asks their body to use its entire self in a single movement. The opposite is true of yoga. Each posture tones and strengthens muscles throughout your whole body. Although you will not build the bulk of a serious lifter, yoga stretches your muscles while simultaneously contracting them, resulting in increased flexibility, definition and a chiseled, leaner, longer physique.
A power yoga class can burn about 300 calories. Put that class in a hot studio and you’re burning 600 calories. The successive movement from one pose to the next will increase your heart rate, your respiration, and the amount you sweat.
If you’re going to work out for more than an hour each day, it should be with something you look forward to. If you drag yourself to the gym simply because you want to stay in shape, it’s time to reconsider. Most yogis truly enjoy their workout time, and you can retain the metabolic and strength benefits of your old regime, while adding flexibility, detoxification,  mental clarity, balance and a greater sense of well being.
Ultimately, the proof is in the practice. Take a class and notice how your muscles feel the next day. They’re sore for good reason – and your body never lies to you.

*originally posted on MindBodyGreen

7 Ways to Become Age Proof With Yoga

Kim Shand - Founder of Rethink YogaGrowing old, in the way we have come to understand it, complete with memory loss; Alzheimer’s; or dementia is not inevitable. Research is offering scientific evidence that these common, age related conditions are within our control to suspend or avoid, regardless of family history. The latest longevity research offers suggestions on how we can maintain our cognitive functioning as we grow older. The practice of yoga has many known physical benefits to keep us healthy as we age.  Here are 7 ways that a yoga practice meets science’s recommendations for age proofing our minds.

Exercise fattens your brain
The hippocampus is the portion of the brain that’s responsible for memory. As you age, the hippocampus shrinks and so does your memory. Physical activity triggers growth of new cells in the hippocampus which can reverse the shrinking process. In an article in “AARP The Magazine”, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Illinois, explains that physically active people maintain cognition and memory, reducing their risk of dementia by 30%-40%.

However, the amount and type of physical activity you choose is a factor in the success of your anti-aging efforts. Doctors have long recommended that as little as 15 minutes of exercise, three times a week helps maintain your brain’s capabilities. It’s not unusual for yogis to take 2-3 classes per week equating to 120-225 minutes of physical activity. At those levels, the Group Health Research Institute has shown that you can not only maintain your current abilities, but also restore lost competencies. According to a study by the University of British Columbia at Vancouver, physically challenging exercise increases levels of growth factors in the brain such as IGFI, which nourish and protect nerve cells. Power Yoga offers muscle building resistance training, which the study showed could gain them a 13% advantage on cognitive tests over those who practice gentler forms of exercise.

Yogic philosophy grows new brain cells
Learning new skills and information that challenge your brain increases your number of brain cells and their connections. After only a week of learning new skills, MRI scans done by UCLA researchers, showed that adults can stimulate the brain centers that control decision making and complex reasoning. The study of yogic philosophy is rich and broad. Learning its history, contradictions, modern applications and reinterpretations offers endless ways to challenge your thinking machine. In addition, to the intellectual challenge of confronting each new pose on the mat, understanding how the anatomy works and, of course, the Sanskrit offers your brain a fattening diet of information.

Ommm to the gray matter
Your memory is negatively impacted when you are under stress in large part because your brain is being flooded with cortisol. During a yoga practice you are guided to focus your attention on the sensations within your body, and the activity within your mind. Improving your ability to focus, and practicing this type of mindfulness, reduces harmful stress hormones like cortisol. An 8 week Harvard study on the effects of a mindfulness practice showed the density of gray matter in the hippocampus increased significantly over that of the control group.

Yoga is low fat and sugar free
Yoga can control and reduce your risk of having diabetes, hypertension and other chronic illnesses that are connected to the onset of dementia. A study from Japan demonstrates that Diabetes and obesity almost double our risk for Alzheimer’s. Therefore, controlling these risks is an important factor in age-proofing your mind. Power yoga in particular, but yoga in general, is helpful in weight lose and the

Yogis on a mission
A study of older adults conducted by Rush University Medical Center, indicates that feeling you have a purpose in life keeps you sharp. While yoga does not have a doctrine and it’s not a religion, it has a spiritual component that strengthens practitioners’ sense of purpose and connection. The Rush University study was conducted over a seven year period. People who started the study with a clear sense of life purpose, intention and goals were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

Remember your friends
Yogis belong to a community of people who share concerns and interests on a variety of levels including physical, mental and spiritual. Examinations of older people in Sweden confirm you can reduce your risk of dementia by having a full social life. Social interaction stimulates you emotionally and mentally. After just 10 minutes of conversation, participants in a University of Michigan study showed improvement on short term memory tests,

Better sex, bigger brains
Yoga increases your over all confidence and comfort level with your body. It provides a stronger awareness of physical sensations, increased relaxation, and better muscle control in your pelvis. All of which can lead to increased sexual vitality and satisfaction. While there’s no direct link between an active sex life and improved mental faculties; research, books and articles abound indicating that sex will keep you looking and feeling younger. At a bare minimum, we can assume that a happy sex life can put you in a better frame of mind to cope with the effects of aging.

You Don't Need Permission!

At the end of a long day and a longer week in which I worked hard and accomplished a lot, I came home and poured myself a glass of champagne. The reaction from my houseguest was curiosity as to what I was celebrating. My answer, “nothing in particular, everything in general”, gleaned more suspicious looks.

Why should the champagne stay in the fridge? I don’t wait for special occasions to give myself what I like. I don’t keep my silk PJs in the back of my closet, and I wear my favorite high heels whenever the mood strikes me – even if I’m just going to the drugstore. I’d rather wear them out from overuse than never get to enjoy them because they’re being “saved” inside bubble wrap.

If you don’t treat yourself like you are worth it, who will? You don’t need permission! What are you waiting for? Here are some suggestions in honor of the fact that you are totally worth it. Think up some to add and share with me.

– Use your best crystal glasses to drink your water everyday
– Break out the china, especially when you’re eating alone
– Wear perfume just to hang around the house
– Use your best jewelry
– Forget the sweat shirt, grab the cashmere sweater
– Light that fabulous scented candle
– Light the fireplace
– Never take a bath without bubbles
– Give really big hugs
– Say “I love you” as often as possible. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.