Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Things to Do in Life December 16, 2013

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 11:30 am
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I was, just a few moments ago in the ladies room and as I often do, pondering the Things I Want to Teach My Daughter. You know, the things that if somehow she grows up without ever learning them properly I’ll feel like I completely failed at being her mom no matter how awesome she otherwise is; the things that, if she grows up knowing them, I hope will enable her to get a head start on doing a better job of life than her mom has after spending 30+ years figuring them out. So I thought I’d share. I hereby present you with a brief list of The Things I Consider Important to Do in Life (Some of Which May Overlap):

  • Love wholeheartedly and unashamedly. (This goes for loving humans, other creatures, events [like parties or Christmas], and activities [like painting or dancing or using your EZ Pass to go through the tollbooth or wearing your yellow raincoat on rainy days]. It even goes for things [like your yellow raincoat or your favorite shirt or the art bought on your honeymoon], although loving living things should always come first.) Be full of love.
  • Be kind and compassionate to all creatures, including yourself.
  • Find the work that’s yours to do in the world, and do it the very best you can.
  • Leave the world a better place than you found it.
  • Understand that you are whole and complete and wonderful just as you are right now; never stop striving to educate yourself and become a better person.
  • Have a sense of humor, particularly about all of the above.
  • The world is beautiful; be present in it and enjoy the hell out of it.

I’m probably missing some obvious things here – it’s only seven bullet points as compared to all of life, after all, and I already realize I left out gratitude but seven bullet points seems much stronger than eight, and if you’re loving and compassionate and present in the world then hopefully you are also grateful – but I feel like this covers most of the bases pretty well.

My further thought is that, while all of these points can be applied on a lifetime scale, which may be the obvious way to use them, they perhaps would be most useful when applied on a daily basis. Did you leave the world a better place than you found it today? Yes, I put up my holiday decorations and cleaned out the sink. Did you work hard, did you try to improve yourself? Yes, but I was tired and skipped my yoga practice, so maybe I can do more there tomorrow. Did you love wholeheartedly today? Were you kind and compassionate today? Well, maybe I yelled at someone this morning, so I will try to make it up to him or to pay it forward with extra love tomorrow. Did you taste your good food, appreciate the feeling of the child in your arms, and notice how blue the sky was? Yes. Yes I did. 

What are your top things to do in life?

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Body Image, Body Love, Part 2 October 22, 2013

Filed under: wellness,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 5:06 pm
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I recently saw some articles responding to this photo by Maria Kang. If you google “Maria Kang What’s Your Excuse” you’ll see quite a few articles on the subject, but here are the two I read:

I really like the first article by Jule Ann because she doesn’t lecture Maria Kang and finds a way to turn off blaming and really think about how she views her body, and she comes to some positive conclusions. And I like the second article because the writer looks at the issue from several different angles. I like her application of the “no excuses” concept to other things like tuba playing and her analysis of how the body image issue is different, is internalized, is something we are made to feel guilty about. And I like her recognition that Kang’s photo was posted for a specific community and has been taken out of context and applied to a wider audience.

Overall, I think the dust-up over this photo points to a lot of different issues, but here’s what I want to highlight: Maria Kang is a mom and is beautiful and she makes fitness a priority in her life, and that’s fine. Jule Ann is a mom and is beautiful and doesn’t make fitness a priority right now, and that’s also fine. Different things work for different people, and no one way is applicable to every person.

 

Link Round-up: Body Image, Body Love September 12, 2013

Filed under: wellness,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:59 pm
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I’ve read some really excellent articles this week, all somehow revolving around the concept of body image, and the recognition that there’s a human person living in that body you’re looking at:

  • What People Really Look Like: A look at bodies from the perspective of a massage therapist. I love this because I don’t get to see what my body looks like on a massage table. I love this writer’s sense of reverence and joy in his work.
  • These Are the Lines of a Story: This piece about a woman’s body after giving birth brought me close to tears twice (the part with the hair, and then the story she tells to her son). For the first time, instead of feeling thankful and proud that I have no stretch marks, I feel a little sad that I have no visible marks to share with my daughter when she’s older.
  • To Me, Mean Pictures Aren’t Funny (Even the Really Funny Ones): A nice reflection on kindness and compassion to reflect on the next time you get one of those email forwards with photos of people at Walmart in horrible outfits.

Here’s another one  that I didn’t read this week, but that I’ve been thinking about all week as the other articles above came across my screen:

  • When Your Mother Says She’s Fat: I love, love, love this piece and I think about it often. I remember how beautiful my mom was when I was little – I mean to say, she’s still beautiful, but I remember sitting on her bed and watching her and just knowing with little-kid certainty that she was the most beautiful mom there ever was. My heart breaks for the little girl this writer was, seeing her beautiful mom in that suddenly  harsh light; my heart breaks to think about YB having a realization like this. I am consciously trying, even now while YB is so little, to be careful about what I say to her about my appearance. If I practice now, it will come more naturally later on when she starts to understand more. When I’m feeling particularly down, I tell her, “Doesn’t Mama look so pretty today?” It makes me feel better, because it reminds me that to her, I am what beautiful is.
 

Meditation: It’s Good for Your Brain February 7, 2013

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 8:23 pm
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A while back (okay, a LONG while back) my husband F sent me a link to this article on ScienceDaily: Is Meditation the Push-Up for the Brain? The article discusses the work of researchers at UCLA, who found that the brains of long-term meditators had stronger connections between brain regions than non-meditators, and their brains showed less age-related atrophy. Stronger connections means that the brain can more quickly and efficiently relay signals from one region to another. Our brains shrink and become less efficient as we age, so meditation could help people to stay sharper longer.

But if you’re not a long-term meditator yet, take heart: another study shows positive effects on brain function for beginning meditators too. This article, Meditation’s Positive Residual Effects, reports research showing that after completing an eight-week meditation class, study participants demonstrated improved emotional regulation, even when not actively meditating. Tested before and after the class, the partcipants’ brains showed a reduction in response to emotional stimuli – perhaps this could translate to an increased ability to stay calm in frustrating situations?

The study also had another finding: participants who studied compassion meditation, as opposed to mindfulness meditation, and who practiced frequently outside of class, showed the decreased response to emotional stimuli overall, but they also showed an increased response to images depicting human suffering. By meditating, these people increased their own capacity to feel compassion for others. And the study showed that those who demonstrated increased compassion also had lower depression scores. It’s scientific evidence supporting what many meditation teachers and spiritual leaders have said all along: that compassion for others makes you happier too.

 

Veg Link: Five Religious Approaches to Thinking about Meat Eating August 23, 2012

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 5:12 pm
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Ever since that terrific radio program with Matthew Sanford a few months ago, I’ve been following NPR’s On Being series on Facebook. Earlier this week they posted this piece on the ethics of eating meat: Five Religious Approaches to Thinking About Meat Eating.

Because I became a vegetarian for ethical reasons, and because I do a lot of thinking about the intersections of Christianity and Eastern religious practice, I found the five approaches described here very interesting. I hadn’t realized that most religious traditions begin with a vegan worldview. I also found the discussion of compassion to be compelling, since ahimsa, or nonviolence, was at the heart of my conversion to a vegetarian diet. However, all of the approaches given here may come in handy in future conversations about why being a vegetarian is right for me.

 

Yoga and Emotions: Guilt/Shame November 8, 2011

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:44 pm
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Guilt and shame are such strong negative emotions, and it can be so easy and natural to internalize them. I’m surprised I didn’t think to write about them sooner. Guilt and shame can have a major impact on our self-confidence and sense of self-worth. Let’s do some thinking today about how we can lessen the negative effects of these strong emotions in our lives.

First, what’s the difference between “guilt” and “shame”? I tend to think of guilt as being related to my actions – I feel guilty as a result of something I did or didn’t do. Dictionary.com agrees with me, listing one definition of “guilt” as “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined”. The “real or imagined” part, there, I think is pretty crucial. How often do we guilt ourselves over something that didn’t matter, wasn’t that bad, or otherwise isn’t worth suffering over? We imagine that our action is worse than it really is, and cause ourselves unnecessary pain. Even when we’ve actually done something wrong, we often take our guilt too far – it’s good to acknowledge our mistakes, make amends, and learn from our errors, but for some of us, guilt follows us around, continuing to hurt us long after the actual event is over.

Shame, on the other hand, seems to be less about your own actions and more about who you are. Shame carries a judgment with it – we feel ashamed when we perceive ourselves as being dirty, bad, or wrong. The dictionary mostly agrees with my made-up definition, describing “shame” as “the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another”. The words “dishonorable”, “improper”, and “ridiculous” all imply an external judgment: the person didn’t have the “painful feeling” until becoming conscious that something will decrease their social standing. Shame is all about accepting those external judgments and applying them to ourselves, punishing ourselves for being different or wrong. Guilt can have a purpose, in making us feel remorse for something genuinely bad, but shame is much less purposeful, inflicting more suffering. Shame worms its way inside you and gnaws at you, sometimes for years.

Shame and guilt often go hand in hand. A child might feel guilty about not studying for a test as well as ashamed that others will think he is stupid when he fails the test. Someone who feels ashamed of being overweight would be more likely to feel guilty over having a slice of cake. In both of these examples, the person feels guilty over their actions, a perceived offense/crime/failure (not studying, eating cake), and ashamed about who they are (“stupid” or “fat”), judging themselves the way they think others will judge them.

So, shame and guilt work together and prey on our insecurities. To fight them in a yogic way, we should strive to cultivate the opposites of guilt and shame: compassion, forgiveness, and self-love. We know rationally that everyone makes mistakes, but we find it difficult to be kind to ourselves when we make mistakes. Being compassionate means forgiving ourselves when we mess up – we still have to examine our choices and learn from our mistakes, but we don’t need to dwell on them. We can let go and forgive, the way that we forgive the people we love when they mess up, and the way we hope they forgive us.

And we know that no one is perfect, that every person on this planet is flawed and has weaknesses, but we don’t want to accept this truth about ourselves. Further, we don’t want to accept that we’re worthy of being loved, flaws and all. Loving ourselves means that we love all the parts of ourselves – not just the smart, strong, pretty parts, but the parts that are weak and sad and small. We can’t grow, learn, or become better people if we don’t recognize and acknowledge our flaws. Someone who dwells in shame, trying to hide the bad things about herself, is suffering more and is less able to grow than someone who accepts her flaws without judgment and loves herself anyway. If we don’t love ourselves, it becomes so much harder for others to love us. Our shame becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: when someone leaves us, we say “See? He couldn’t stand to be with someone like me!” And we miss the point that whatever it is that we’re ashamed of in ourselves – weight, looks, family history, past actions, whatever it is – probably would have been okay with the other person if it had been okay with us.

Pay attention to your inner monologue for a day or two, and notice when you’re feeling guilty or feeling ashamed. Maybe you just feel the feeling abstractly, without any specific event attached to it – this happens to me all the time and it can be really subtle. So notice when you’re feeling this way, and say to yourself, “Hey! What am I feeling guilty about?” Actually examine the feeling and see where it comes from. Maybe you said something silly at a meeting at work or forgot to pack your child’s lunch; maybe someone made a comment that pinged on something you feel sensitive about (for example, a colleague’s thoughtless remark about fat people). When you find yourself dwelling on something like this, take a moment to forgive yourself and to love yourself. Actually say those words to yourself, out loud if you can: “I forgive myself for that. I love me anyway.” Taking a moment to diffuse the negative feelings with positive ones will have an impact on your mood, your day, and your interactions with other people.

 

Yoga for Great Sex, Part 2 October 27, 2011

Filed under: yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:30 pm
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Last time, we talked about yoga’s physical benefits for your sex life. Today we’ll talk about the mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits of yoga and how they can help improve your connection with both your partner and with yourself.

First, yoga opens the heart. Practicing yoga increases our capacity for love and compassion. Having a more open heart allows you to connect more deeply with your partner. It also allows you to be more compassionate with yourself. Many people, especially women, are overly critical of themselves in sexual situations, constantly thinking about their bodies in a negative way, worrying about whether they’re doing it “right”, but developing more compassion can help such people to let go of that negativity and worry and just enjoy themselves.

For many people, yoga leads to increased confidence. You have a healthier, stronger, fitter body, so you feel more confident and more attractive. Yoga also helps us become emotionally stronger and more in touch with our true Selves, leading to an inner confidence that shines forth. And confident people are sexy!

Yoga and meditation teach us about awareness and mindfulness, and help us develop the ability to be present right now. This is a really important skill in the bedroom, too. For the person who has a tendency to worry about how she looks or what she’s doing during sex, focusing on being present right now can help her to set those worries aside and just enjoy the moment. And for the person who is easily distracted (who finds her mind wandering off, thinking about what she needs to get at the store tomorrow), cultivating that mindful awareness can bring her attention back to the present moment where it belongs.

Yoga also reduces stress by helping us to truly relax. Stress is one of the major factors that keeps us from wanting to have sex in the first place, and from fully enjoying it when we do have it. But in yoga, we consciously relax the body and release tension. When we’re able to do this in the bedroom, that enables us to have more fun and build a better connection with our partner.

Later on, I’ll post about some specific yoga poses that have hidden power to benefit our sex lives (I’ve already covered Cobbler Pose), as well as a sample sequence you can do to get warmed up for a fantastic romantic evening. For now, here’s a quick sampling of some common types of yoga poses and what they can do for us:

  • Heart-opening poses, like cobra, camel, or bridge, help us to develop compassionate hearts
  • Standing poses, like the warriors or triangle, contribute to the overall health of the body and help to build strength, heat, and energy
  • Balance poses help us learn to focus on mindfulness and being present
  • Poses that involve squatting strengthen the pelvic floor
  • Relaxing poses like child’s pose or legs-up-the-wall help us learn to calm our minds and relax
  • Savasana, of course, is the most important pose in yoga as well as for improving your sex life, because savasana teaches us how to relax, how to be in the present moment, and how to be comfortable with the stillness within yourself, which is what will allow us to connect deeply with another person

In yoga, we learn that true happiness comes from within. When you’re practicing yoga, you’re in touch with your spirit and able to open your heart and share yourself with another person. Sex then becomes much more than an experience of momentary physical enjoyment, when two people are able to share not just their bodies but their true Selves.