Among the things I love most about teaching yoga is that I live in a constant dance between the roles of student and teacher. This path has given me an incredible appreciation for human strength and frailty - and the importance of compassion for life in all its forms. In any given week my clients include toddlers, high-powered professionals, retirees, full time mamas, and everyone in between. I teach in homes, offices, studios, churches, and shelters. We meet early in the morning, in the middle of the day, and late at night. Through these disparate settings and populations, one thing is clear: we are not really so different from one another. We all have good days and bad days. We all suffer injury and need rest and recovery. We all come to places in which we need to be challenged. Our yoga practice (and our lives) need to be flexible if we are to survive - let alone thrive.
When an elderly client becomes frustrated about forgetting a basic pose, I can remind him to be kind to himself and make a mental note to do the same when faced with my own episodes of forgetfulness. When I witness a student whose practice is compromised by injury, I can counsel ahimsa and remind myself to be equally compassionate when my husband complains of a sore back. When the little ones in my tots class are bursting with uncontainable energy, I can encourage them to take a deep breath and exhibit the same patience when my own toddler is acting out.
We all encounter highs and lows in our interactions. How can we learn from these experiences and apply the lessons to better care for our loved ones and ourselves?
If you have taken a cooking class, watched Julia Child, or read a classic cookbook, you are likely familiar with the idea of mise en place. Before the magic of mixing, sauteeing, or baking, comes the mise en place. Open your pantry and your spice drawer and select the ingredients you need. Pull out your mixing bowls, measuring cups, and pots and pans. Account for every item your recipe calls for. Chop and measure. Only then can the magic begin.
In my early cooking days, I was a faithful observer of this time-honored organizational tool and efficiency enhancer. But over the years, as I became less reliant on recipes and better able to ballpark a measurement, regimented preparation gave way to a more laid-back approach. I learned to substitute or improvise based on what I picked up at the farmer's market or what was tucked away in my pantry. And that spontaneity became half the fun.
But lately, when putting something (read: anything) fresh and interesting on the table for the babe seems a victory, elaborate recipes and formal technique have been tucked away for special occasions. So when a generous friend and neighbor recently sent us a delivery from one of the many meal prep services available in our area, I was intrigued.
As I opened the box and unpacked the ingredients, I immediately smiled: mise en place! The various spices and sauces were already measured, the produce and proteins were accounted for, needing only to be rinsed and chopped. With much of the busy work out the way, dinner came together effortlessly, and perhaps most importantly, I was able to be more focused and present with my daughter throughout the process. She poured little bottles of pre-measured liquids into bowls, tore herbs and leaves and tossed them into the salad, and stirred with delight, announcing with a smile as we sat down at the table, "Mama I made this!"
Whether you undertake the effort yourself or enlist outside assistance, putting things in order can save you time and enable you to be a more present as you move through the process. Whether cooking a meal, undertaking a home improvement project, or engaging in a creative endeavor, a little mise en place can go a long way.
How can a little order and organization help you be more present today?
When Lori Mihalich-Levin was preparing to return to work after the birth of her second child, she couldn't find any resources to help her make a smooth transition, so she created one! Proving once again that necessity is the mother of invention, her successful Mindful Return blog and e-course have helped hundreds of women navigate the transition back into the workforce after maternity leave. Whether or not you are a working parent, you will be inspired by her passion, practicality, and heart for helping others. Read on for great advice about following your heart - without losing your head!
One of the themes I try to impress upon the students in my prenatal and fertility workshops is the importance of community. While we all are ultimately responsible for our own well being, we need not (and should not) go through life alone. Whether a partner, friend, or family member, we all have access to someone who can help us navigate unfamiliar and challenging territory and share the joys we encounter along the way.
While preparing a class on this very topic over the past week, I have had three serendipitous opportunities to connect with dear friends who have provided incredible support as my own path has taken numerous twists and turns. As I navigated the journey to becoming a mother, leaving my career, and leaping into the unknown, my formerly orderly, meticulously planned existence was rendered nearly unrecognizable. At times during this transition, I pulled inward - stepping back from book club commitments, Bible study groups, and countless social engagements. I cancelled plans on more than one occasion and made last-minute requests to change venues or times based on the babe's rhythms (or lack thereof) and my own exhaustion.
If I had been on the receiving end of such behavior, I may have given up on the friendship, but these ladies never let go of my hand. They continued to reach out with invitations no matter how many times I said no and were ultimately successful in motivating me to sign up for races, lectures, volunteer opportunities, and family road trips. They showed up at my workshops, asked how they could pray for me, and followed through - even as they weathered their own challenges. By meeting me where I was, these women inspired me to be a better friend and equipped me to reach out my own hand to others in need of support. And for that I am grateful.
We all have times when we need support - and times when we can be an encouragement. Where are you right now? Whose hand do you need to reach out for today?
Welcoming a child into the world is an overwhelming experience. The early weeks of getting to know your little one - and learning how to be a parent - are a special time, filled with wonder and excitement. But they are also full of questions, concerns, and doubts. How do I know if I am getting it right? Why can't I figure out how to soothe the baby? Should we use a pacifier? Shouldn't she be sleeping for more than an hour at a time?
For those parents who have decided to return to the workforce, anxiety about the transition back to the office adds another layer of uncertainty. Can I really walk out the door and leave my baby in someone else's hands (no matter how qualified and experienced they may be)? How on earth can I possibly work a full day; take care of the never-ending laundry, dishes, and mess this tiny creature creates; and be a present parent and spouse - on little or no sleep?!? Will I be able to catch up (and keep up) with colleagues who aren't facing the same challenges?
Despite the universality of this experience, resources to help new parents navigate the transition mindfully are sorely lacking. That is why I am so excited to share information about the upcoming Mindful Return e-course, which begins August 10. During this four week online offering, participants will learn how to strategically plan their return to the workplace, meet a community of other parents sharing the same experience and brainstorm practical solutions to common logistical challenges. Participants will graduate from the course empowered to make calm, thoughtful choices that enable them to focus on what matters most: their precious little ones!
Registration and additional information is available here. Special thanks to Lori Mihalich-Levin for creating this wonderful resource!
Some of us need to hear and embrace this simple truth today. We spend so much time questioning whether we are realizing our life's purpose. We worry we are wasting precious moments in the lives of our growing children while at the office. Or we fear we are losing out on the opportunity to advance careers we love by staying home. We wonder whether our jobs are sufficiently meaningful. We question when we lost our fierce desire to save the world or reach the lost.
When we find ourselves in the midst of such inner turmoil, it can be helpful to take a deep breath and remind ourselves this moment is not forever. You may very well need to make a change, but you are where you are right now for a reason. Perhaps you need to learn a certain lesson before you can move forward. Maybe you need to acquire a certain skill that will serve you well in the future. You might need to meet a particular person before the next chapter of your life can unfold.
Take a moment today to sit where you are and consider the present. What more you can gain right here, right now?
Given the option, who wouldn't prefer to move through the humdrum administrative tasks of our daily lives (buying groceries, commuting to and from work, putting gas in the car/air in our tires) as quickly as possible? Don't we all desire to move past the mundane and on to other, more enjoyable pursuits? After all, waiting is not only inconvenient, it can even cost money and hinder our health. But if we are committed to living mindfully, we must acknowledge these activities are as much a part of our lives as spending time with friends and loved ones or pursuing our passions.
To help us integrate this understanding, we can flex our mindfulness muscles through simple exercises as we go through our day. Among the most commonly prescribed practices to help us move past our reflexive impatience and experience the present moment fully is simple: choose to stand in the longest, slowest line. Whether buying groceries, checking out at a retail store, purchasing movie tickets, or waiting at the car wash, there are no shortage of opportunities to wait in line.
Next time you find yourself faced with a decision among lines, instead of calculating which option would enable the most expedient exit, choose to experience a delay. Then simply observe what feelings come up. Rather than fuming about how much time is being wasted, or agitating about where else you could or should be, or furiously scanning your phone for some activity that would redeem the time you are losing, try taking a deep breath and notice the people in line in front of you. You might be surprised to notice a familiar face, or find empathy for the customer counting out her payment in pennies, or simply appreciate the opportunity to stand still, knowing the pressure is off you to take any action to alter the outcome.
Give this time-honored mindfulness practice a try and see how it changes your perspective...
Over the weekend I sat down with a fellow teacher who is questioning whether the time is right to step away from her career in finance to pursue more fulfilling work as a midwife. She has been taking steps toward this end for some time - completing her teaching and doula studies and working on her prerequisite science classes, but it took the threat of losing her full time job to propel her toward making a meaningful step in a new direction.
No one wants to lose their job - or be threatened with such a possibility. No one wants to be in a position in which they NEED to scramble for another opportunity. But sometimes we need to experience significant discomfort before we can summon the strength to trust ourselves and take bold steps toward our dreams.
Are you in an uncomfortable position in a job or relationship? Consider whether the discomfort is something you need to endure or the stimulus you need to choose a new direction...
Over time, city living tends to foster a certain degree of disregard for rules and regulations. I am not saying all urban dwellers are lawbreakers, but over the past 15 years of living in DC, I have noticed we tend to take our chances when it comes to things like no parking zones (I'll just be a minute...), or waiting for crosswalk signals (I can see for myself no cars are coming thankyouverymuch!).
But when trying to impart traffic safety lessons to a two year old, things are pretty black and white - and consistency is key. So... when walking with the babe, her father and I follow the rules quite carefully. The learning process has its charming moments: my heart melts when her tiny hand reaches up as we approach an intersection, or when she explains to fellow walkers, "When the pesky red light turns green we can go, go, go."
But it also has its downsides. First there is the actual waiting: Do we really need to wait 64 seconds to cross an empty street?! And the impracticality: who knew how many signals in our neighborhood don't actually work? And, of course, the busy multitaskers (probably me in a former life) who keep walking as they type furiously into their smartphones, often tripping over the pint sized rule follower and glaring at her mama.
Over time, however, I have come to recognize these forced pauses as opportunities to practice mindfulness. When waiting for the signal, I take a deep breath and notice my surroundings and encourage the babe to do the same. Sometimes we count the cars that pass by. Other times we talk about the colors of the flowers and trees in the yards that line the street. Occasionally, we sing (for which I offer sincere apologies to anyone who has shared a street corner with us...). Staying in the moment rather than agitating for what comes next has been a welcome touch-point in my day, and I have found myself waiting for the signal even when traveling alone.
What daily inconvenience can you turn into a mindfulness practice?
No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with uplifting, supportive, encouraging people, we cannot escape the fact that we live in the real world, full of real people, with real flaws. From the surly DMV attendant to the friend who betrays your confidence to the boss who continually belittles your best efforts, you cannot go through a day without encountering someone who seems not to have your best interest at heart.
But what if instead of allowing these experiences to hurt or anger us, we took a step back and asked, "What can I learn from this encounter?" We might be surprised to discover these individuals have actually given us a gift. Over time we can learn to to meet frustration with patience, ignorance with wisdom, and cruelty with compassion. By changing our response we may even make an impression on the agent of our angst and help him find a better way forward.
What negative encounter can you turn into a learning opportunity today?