Finding Peace within through Yoga

I’ve talked before on other blogs about my quest for finding peace in this busy society that we all currently experience. Every event and every person appears to be rushed and I want to slow things down for myself. I find that I can find that moment of peace through yoga and meditation.

My physical body is riddled with dance injuries from when I was younger. I hurt many joints starting from my waist down including a hip, both knees and one foot. But, I kept dancing because I loved the way it made me feel. The movement from dance gave me an outlet from my worries and it also helped make me feel whole as a person and gave me purpose. I learned quickly that movement allowed me to find strength within me that I never knew I had.

As I have mentioned before in other blogs, yoga outside in nature for me is like bliss. It takes me outside of my head and reminds me that I am alive and well. It reminds me that I can rely on my body, even if there is pain. It also reminds me that there is much more to this life than just work and the normal hustle and bustle of a busy life.

While taking a moment for yourself today, find a comfortable seated position that is right for you. Maybe it is outside or in a quiet room. Place a small cushion or folded blanket under your hips to stabilize them and lift through the crown of your head to elongate your spine. Now, begin to breathe slowly while at the same time relaxing your jaw and releasing your shoulders.

Place your right hand on your heart and your left hand on the earth. Connect with Mother Earth for a moment and allow her to connect with you. Imagine that you can send her negative energy from your feet. Next, imagine that Mother Earth can recycle that negative energy into positive and send it back up your spine from your feet to your head. Imagine a surge of happy and peaceful energy flowing freely throughout your body. Continuing to breathe softly and slowly for the next several minutes.

Begin each day with this practice or a similar practice that promotes peace. It only takes a few minutes. Setting your intention during this moment may help relax you as well. Try this for 30 days and see if you don’t notice a difference for yourself in this busy world.



Views from a Yoga Mat

Changing your perspective

As I look up from my mat and open my eyes, the bright blue sky of the early morning envelopes my view. With the birds singing and the locust croaking, my hearing is completely engulfed as well. This moment takes me back to a more simple time as I slowly draw in a deep breath through my nose and exhale slowly through my mouth. I have begun taking my yoga practice outside on purpose.  That purpose, total relaxation.

My mind’s eye craves moments of silence, just like my body craves rest and stillness.  We all live in a fast paced, busy society, but I also work in job that requires my full attention and awareness; mental health counseling. If I don’t learn to take care of myself first, I am no good to anyone else that walks into my office. This moment of stillness and silence leads me to my mat where I feel most calm and secure. I recognize when I have not been spending enough time on my mat by the way my body aches and my mind races.

Throughout the years, I have learned to spend more time on my mat each day not as a way to be selfish, in fact, quite the opposite. It is a way for me to remain healthy and mindful. Many times I have utilized my yoga practice as a way to gain a different perspective on an issue I am having. I have even found it useful to practice some yoga during stressful times or times when I am angry to assist myself in releasing those negative emotions and changing my view on my situation. I may not be able to change what is going on around me, but I can change the way I think and feel about the situation through my yoga practice.

My yoga practice includes starting with a mindful breathing exercise to calm my nervous system and then slowly transitioning to larger and deeper yoga postures, or Asanas. Then I close with a restful pose to once again slow down my breathing and nervous system. Maybe that pose is Legs up the Wall, or Childs Pose.  Take a moment for yourself! You deserve it!

Yoga For Empty Nesting

Filling Empty Spaces

December 10th and May 2nd will be dates that will forever remain burned in my memory.  December 10th was the date my son was born and then 19 years later on May 2nd he moved out of my house and into his own apartment. Those two dates are huge due to the enormous impact my son made on my life. He bounced into this world with tons of energy and love. He immediately taught me things as a mother such as being compassionate, patient, loving and caring. He also kept me on my toes and reminded me I had someone else to always fight for besides just myself.

May 2nd was emotional as he utilized that assertiveness once again and moved himself into his first apartment with some friends. He had saved up money and had a good job. He remained steadfast to his word that he would remain in college and pursue a career for himself. (Today he is entering his sophomore year.)

Suddenly the house was empty and quiet! What was I do to? The dogs moped around and sighed heavy sighs when no one came by to rub their bellies. My stepchildren had moved out years earlier but my son was still around to fill the space with sounds of laughter. He was in Band for many years so many times my living room was full of other band kids laughing and playing their instruments. There was never a dull moment.

So, I set out on a journey to fill that empty space. Yoga seemed most appropriate for me. I shifted and changed the back bedroom so that I could provide private yoga sessions in my home and have my own space for a yoga practice. I decided during the early morning hours, which usually meant hustling around getting ready for early morning band practice, now was my Yoga time. Me time!

I began by setting my morning routine with a cup of coffee and then a 30 minute yoga practice followed by a 10 minute meditation. Sometimes I would take my mat outside and listen to the birds while I grounded myself in meditation. Other times, I would light my candles, turn on my diffuser and music and find a beautiful yoga flow in my yoga space while the dogs looked on in wonder. Either way Yoga allows me to fill gaps that are missing because Yoga is about expanding, joining, nurturing, and learning. Maybe I am learning more about myself in this moment without my child physically here in my home. Certainly I am learning more about nurturing myself in this very moment.

Finding something positive to fill that void was most important to me. What will you do for yourself in time of need?

Similarities between Yoga and Counseling

As I continue on my path of researching Yoga both personally and professionally, I have realized how closely related the two fields are. There are so many similarities in fact that we really should be combining both worlds at the same time.  When we are emotionally well, not only do we connect with others better, but we also become more creative, motivated, focused and attentive to our bodies.

Many people come to yoga or counseling initially because of some health issue whether it be physical, spiritual or mental. Most individuals are looking for outside help because he/she has exhausted each of his/her own coping strategies.

Clients learn in Yoga as well as in Counseling, that there is a fine line in finding balance between “letting go” and “gaining control”. In both forms of treatment, we look to let go of what no longer serves us, and in turn strive to gain control of a healthier lifestyle. For example, letting go of negative thought patterns in counseling, so as to gain healthier more positive thought patterns.

According to Judith Hanson Lasater, PhD, PT, and Yoga Therapist, “with yoga we want to relax the mind and body so that tension can be released and healing can begin.”  By letting go or relaxing certain muscle groups in Yoga we can begin to gain control in a different muscle group such as our breath or reducing our thoughts. For example, in Tree Pose we want to ground down through our feet while at the same time lifting through the crown of our head. Therefore, two different actions simultaneously acting together to create one goal.

Yoga and Counseling could complement each other beautifully if practiced together. Many clients find while in counseling that they aren’t even connected to their physical body because they are so wrapped up in what is going on in their head. Same thing can happen in Yoga and then injuries could occur because we are not practicing awareness. Being aware of where our body is currently placed is just as important as understanding where our thoughts are driving our moods and behaviors. Deep Breathing relaxes the physical body by lowering blood pressure and heart rate, which then in turn continues to relax the mind. 

So, take a moment and stop what you are doing and just take notice of where your body is currently. Is it sitting in a chair, or standing in line? What do you feel? What do you notice? Without judgement, just try and slow down the breath, by breathing in through your nose to the count of three, and out through your mouth to the count of four. Do this 3-5 times until you can begin to notice a warmer more relaxed state in the body and mind. Continue to this until you feel better and more relaxed. Then you can move on with your task and focus.  This moment of relaxation might even change your mind!


Setting your Intention

With the beginning of every yoga class I like to remind my students to set their intention for class. Maybe it’s a desire to release something that no longer serves, or it is a desire to gain something.  Maybe the intention becomes a way to honor someone or something. It can also be an alignment towards our higher power.

When I perform an intake session with my counseling clients, I will ask the same questions. What is your intention or hope for this session? What do you want to let go of, or gain with this session? How do you want to feel once completed with this session? Or how will you know you have made some progress with this session?

Setting intentions are like setting a goal, or aim, or attitude. It gives us a purpose or a reason for us to pay attention to this exact moment. I would like to believe most of us have goals and goals tend to keep us motivated in life.   Intentions also tend to help keep us focused. Our brains are extremely powerful and tend to overwhelm us at times with thoughts, memories, desires, etc. With intentions we can narrow all of this and become more focused on the here and now, in the present moment.

Deepak Chopra, MD, defines Intentions as being “a starting point and creative power.” Everything begins to happen when we set an intention. He goes on to further explain that an intention “is a directed impulse of consciousness or seed”.  Intentions should come from the heart and should align with your personal values. Intentions are a way to align the heart with the mind by connecting what matters most to you.

The best time to set an intention is during meditation or stillness. Take a deep breath in, let it go with a big sigh. Do this several times while at the same time relaxing your body. Set an intention and then give it to the universe and let go of any anticipation or desired outcome. Let the universe do with it as it will.

Intentions are a wonderful way to begin your day and help keep you grounded.  What is your intention today?

Yoga as Self-Care for the Counselor

                Counselor fatigue is often overlooked in our field. Sometimes even completely ignored. We try to balance work and life by carrying heavy caseloads, maintaining copious amounts of paperwork that professors never tell you about in graduate school, all the while still taking care of ourselves, our health, households, etc.  We counselors have learn to care for ourselves just as well as we care for our clients.  If not even more, perhaps!

                Therapists are taught to be “containers” of others thoughts, feelings and beliefs. We are taught to hold things and keep them confidential. These thoughts, feelings and beliefs of our clients are often a result of traumatic life events and they may simply not align with our own thoughts, feelings and beliefs. 

The energy transferred from our clients to us in a session can leave us feeling exhausted or even depleted emotionally. Therapists are encouraged to educate our clients about healthy lifestyles, self-awareness, and emotion regulation. But what about our own stuff that we carry with us each day? Sometimes Counselors feel that we should have all of the answers and therefore don’t reach out for help at times when we may need it the most.

                Yoga cultivates a welcoming attitude for all that arises in the mind, whether it be positive or negative. Yoga not only brings the mind and body together but relieves stress, increases moods, and assists in work-life balance.  Yoga helps increase our awareness of our physical bodies and souls if we just take the time out to listen. The best thing about Yoga is that you can take it with you and do it anywhere! At your desk, in the airport, or even standing in the grocery store check-out line.

                Next time you have a few moments alone and in a quiet space, make sure your feet are firmly placed on the ground. Now, place your right hand on your belly and your left hand on your heart and just pay attention to your breath. What do you notice? How does it feel? Does it come in through your nose rough or soft? Is it cool or warm? Try not to change the breath, but just notice it and see if you can’t slow things down for yourself for a moment.

                Take this moment to recharge!

Taking Time out for myself utilizing Yoga

In today’s society there is a liquor store, dry cleaners, and nail salon on just about every corner. Everyone is constantly in a hurry. Everyone wanted “it” yesterday.  “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Like the lady said. But in fact, that’s the very thing we need. Time. More time! But also more relaxation.

Every day in my private practice I hear people tell me they don’t have time for self-care and relaxation. Sometimes I hear that response even after I tell them I am only asking for 15 minutes a day! Break it up into 5 in the morning, 5 in the afternoon, and 5 in the evening. Surely, you have that kind of time to do something nice for yourself that encourages healing and relaxation.

Two years ago I was diagnosed with a heart issue. I couldn’t believe it! I was just 44 years old at the time. What? High blood pressure and a leaky valve! You can imagine the shock that set in my body. That diagnosis totally changed my line of thinking. That very moment made me rethink my line of work and my self-care. What was I doing to relax and how could I do more? Not to mention, how am I modeling self-care for my clients?

Since that time, I have made yoga a main priority for myself. Every morning for 30 minutes I practice yoga in my house or my back yard if the weather is nice. It brings my mind into focus and sets the tone for my day. Yoga is my self-care. If I don’t practice yoga every day, I feel “off”.

Yoga is more than the poses, or Asanas, that everyone thinks it is. It’s about living in your body and breathing. It’s about bringing more awareness into my body and making my body, mind and soul unite as one. It’s also about slowing things down essentially. Without it I wouldn’t be able to complete tasks and concentrate, slow down, breathe and unwind.

Watch a sunset, read a book, take a walk, or listen to music. Make it your time to do whatever it is that’s healthy and brings you joy.  Take just 15 minutes for yourself. You deserve it!

I do have time for this. Do you?

Yoga as a Coping Skill

Yoga in Sanskrit means “union” of the mind, body and spirit.  So it makes sense that I myself being a licensed mental health counselor, also practice yoga. With my yoga practice I feel I am joining my mind, body and soul to becoming a whole and complete being. I feel there is so much more to healing than talk therapy although it is useful. The body stores energy whether positive or negative and stress, a form of energy, can be held in the body causing pain and illnesses.

I was probably first introduced to yoga as a small child as I watched my mother stretching down in the floor in front of the TV in the evenings after supper. As a child I was full of energy and probably was difficult to keep still. My mother could tell you stories about me dancing in the pews at church. Dance became my first love. I found I could escape any negative thought or feelings through dance and release excess energy. I also felt whole and complete when I danced, as if nothing could tear me down. It became a source of resilience for me.

Then once I became older and a dance injury kept me out of dance, I began to try other things. I found yoga again after my divorce. On Tuesday nights I would take my very young son to spend time with his dad while I would attend a very crowded yoga class. I immediately reconnected my mind with my body and spirit again. If you have ever been through a divorce you understand how emotionally draining it can be and how overwhelmed with feelings you can become. Yoga gave me a peace of mind through not only the poses, called Asanas, but also through the breath, or Pranayama.

Three years ago I decided to become a certified yoga Instructor with the intentions of combining it with my private practice therapy. Today in my private practice, I teach my clients how to breathe and reclaim their Yoga which we are all born with, but must find.  How do you relax?