Why Feelings are Smarter than Thoughts & 3 Tips to Translate Them

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Have you ever had a feeling about something but couldn’t explain why you knew it was right? A gut instinct? A hunch?

And have you ever chosen not to listen to that gut instinct simply because you couldn’t give a logical explanation for it, but then regretted ignoring it later?

I know I have! Too many times have I looked back on a situation and thought, “Man, I knew I shouldn’t have done that.” But in the moment mentally convinced myself otherwise.

Why do we ignore our intuition?

I believe it’s because we’ve lost sight of recognising our feelings and sensations as highly intelligent rapid messages coming from our body and greater awareness, and instead emphasised thoughts and mind as the ultimate intelligence.

But really, what’s faster our thoughts or our feelings?

Imagine someone you’re very attracted to has just walked into the room and flashed a big smile and sexy wink at you. What happens first:
a) Your heart rate goes up, you blush, you feel little butterflies etc.
b) You think, ‘He/She is so hot/awesome/amazing/sexy, wow, what does that smile and wink mean? That made me feel good.’

I don’t need a scientific study to tell me that most of us will pick a) . We FEEL the stimulus from our environment first and then our thoughts catch up to categorise, analyse and compartmentalise the experience.

To be fair, the mind does this generally quite rapidly, but the truth is that our sensations are always the first responders to our experience, sending us information about how that environmental stimulus does and will effect us.

How about with our health?

If you’ve ever had any kind of illness what was the first thing that led you to know something wasn’t right? I’d wager quite a big bet that is was a feeling. Maybe simply a physical feeling like pain or fatigue, or sometimes a feeling that’s harder to pin point.

If you think about any of your health issues, how long did you feel that feeling before checking it out further? How often have you ignored it or written it off until it was unbearable to ignore?

And have you ever wished you’d explored that pain or feeling earlier because then it would have been easier to heal, or at least you would have healed sooner and not suffered as long?

I hear people tell me stories like this all the time. And I know that I have regretted ignoring the signs of my body calling out for help far too often. And when I’ve done that they never go quiet they just start yelling louder.

Our feelings are messages from the body.

Sensations and feelings are not arbitrary or mystical, they are simply the way our body communicates to us how environmental influences are impacting us.

The environmental influences could be something we eat or drink, breath, touch, listen to or even see. And bazaar enough, biologically our own thoughts are considered environmental influences.

The science of epigenetic research shows that even our genes respond to environmental stimuli, and the type of thoughts we continually think create a physiological response that actually impacts how genes express.

Not to mentions our state of mind also influence our nervous system, how we digest, breath, our heart rate and so much more.

Feelings are a language and we need to learn how to read them.

Our physical sensations or feelings are the language of the body giving us feedback about how the environment is influencing us as well as how our thoughts our influencing us, and we’d be wise to pay attention and start learning this language.

Doing breath body mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation are one of the greatest ways to become more fluent in the language of feelings and sensations.

Emotions are defined as “strong feelings deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.” So our emotions too are messages conveying the intelligence of the body that we can listen to and be guided by.

[infobox]3 Tips to Translate Your Feelings

1. Moving and scan your body every morning.

Approach each morning with movement and use it as a question to the self, checking in and seeing how you feel. Once you’ve noticed the dominant sensations arising simply ask, “What is this telling me about my health, life or mind set? What do I need today, right now to feel balanced?”

2. Use Feelings as a GPS Sat Nav System.

I like to think of my sensations in this way, as if they are constantly giving me directions. When I get a bad feeling I take it as a little warning sign saying, “Wrong direction! Wrong direction! Please proceed in the in the other direction.”

Then I simply ask myself, “What is the right direction?” I know it’s the right direction because when I imagine it or start going in that direction is feels good. That simple.

3. Voice Dialogue with Parts of Your Body. 

Voice dialogue is a technique that came from Dr. Hal and Dr. Sidra Stone, psychologists who developed a method of speaking to the different aspects of yourself. Traditionally it is used to speak to the different aspect of your psyche by giving each a voice, but you can also give a voice to various parts of your body.

I’ve work with people who’ve given a voice to their eyes, injured knee that wouldn’t heal, colon and immune system that was having an autoimmune response.

The basic idea is simple to have a conversation with this part of your self. You can do this in your head, while meditating or through journaling.

Begin by asking questions to it. For example, if you’re having digestive issues you could ask your stomach and intestines, “How are you feeling today? What makes you feel that way? What makes you feel good? What makes you feel bad? What would you like to tell me?

Simply allow the response to be natural and as if the stomach were speaking. For example, “I’m feeling a bit bloated today. I couldn’t really process all those almonds. I’d like to tell you just to relax, no need to rush around so much.” Just have a conversations as if it were a friend…after all, we want to befriend our bodies, care for them and love, not put demands on them as if they were lifeless machines. Every single cell in your body carries your soul and inner light, we are far from machine like![/infobox]

Trust your feelings and yourself!

Sadly, most of us weren’t taught these basic skills so we have a lot of doubt or numbness around our feelings and sensations.

Remember this is how we are designed to be and there is so much evolutionary and biological intelligence and validity to our feelings — even if we can’t logically explain them.

Just like learning any language it can be quite overwhelming at first and hard to understand, but the more you practice the easier it becomes until one day you realise you’re fluent and having a fantastic conversation without second guessing.

What are you’re favourite ways to understand the language of feelings and sensations?

Resources:

http://www.sci-news.com/othersciences/psychology/science-positive-psychology-gene-expression-humans-01305.html

http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/epigenetic-influences-and-disease-895

http://www.voicedialogueinternational.com/index-intro.htm

Letting Go Made Easy, 3 Simple Tips 

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There is nothing more frustrating to me at times than being told to “let it go.” I get that crazy punch-them-in-the-face mental flash, then have to remind myself I’m a yogi and repeat ahimsa, non-violence, until I chill out.

This phrase can trigger me so much because it’s in exactly those moments that I’d love more than anything to “let it go,” but some part of me keeps holding on…to something that’s happened, or might happen…and I feel like screaming, “can’t you see I’m trying!”

The great irony is that I’ve built a life and career around telling/helping people to “let it go.”

As frustrating as it can be I’m passionate about “letting it go” because I know it’s in the letting go that I find my peace, my healing, my wisdom, inner light, purpose and guidance.

It’s pure bliss once I’ve broken the threshold of resistance, either physically or mentally/emotionally with an issue.

Each time I “let go” I promise myself I won’t hold onto grudges or worry or fear or my tight shoulders or hips ever again. Ha! And then life happens and inevitably I’ll cycle back to holding onto something that blocks my energy and brings me down…until I re-remember the path of letting go.

Thankfully I remember a lot more quickly these days and hold on a lot less frequently…and I attribute that shift to a regular practice of yoga, mediation and EFT — three tools that have changed my life and made finding the path of least resistance much easier.

The key is to PRACTICE REGULARLY. I find doing even 5 minutes of meditation, yoga or tapping a day is much much more impactful overall than doing massive sessions rarely.

To me these practises are like short cuts to let go of blockages and BE present.

I was inspired to write this post after listening to an interview for Mindful in May with meditation teacher Mark Coleman yesterday, who said, rather than focus on letting go, focus on letting be. 

He explained that letting go was not something we do but rather a result of letting be. Letting be means observation and acceptance. When we practice these two things, the natural result is a letting go.

I really resonated with that and it made me understand why yoga, meditation and EFT work so well — they are all practices of observation and acceptance.

I want to share with you how to make letting go easier by using these tools in a simple, day to day way.

Breath Body Practice 

To me ANY mindful breath body practice is yoga. Yoga is not just about contorting our bodies into funny poses, it’s really about the mindfulness required to contort our bodies or balance on our hands. That said, doing really simple movements can generate just as much mindfulness.

The point is, when we move our body and connect to our breath, our attention is called to the present moment and our brain chemistry changes — our senses heighten, we feel more, and it causes us to forget about future or past worries (even if just momentarily).

The body can only ever BE IN THE NOW, so any mindful breath body practice creates a state of “being” that leads to letting go.

That’s part of why we feel so damn good after yoga, or come up with solutions that previously evaded us.

TIP: What ever your yoga is (surfing, running, walking, dancing, asana…any mindful movement), do it EVERY DAY as a practice even if just for five minutes, knowing it’s a practice of BEING PRESENT, which creates space to let go.

Meditation

Letting be is a combination of observation and acceptance, and meditation is the mighty act of self observation. 

Through meditation we cultivate an ability to sustain our focus on ourselves without reacting to what we see.

This non-reaction piece is huge. Some days I sit down and my mind is running with so many thoughts I feel leagues away from the ideal vision of peaceful meditation. But I sit anyway and I practice watching all those thoughts.

I can’t stop the thoughts but I can feel separate from them. I can remember I am not my thoughts or sensations, I am just experiencing them. 

This act of not identifying with the thoughts or sensations is so powerful because it leads to letting be and letting go.

We have to practice this mindset, like building muscular strength, and that’s why even when my mediation practice feels far from peaceful I know it’s worth doing.

TIP: Even if you think you don’t know how to meditate and you’re head is full of a thousand and eight thoughts, just pause, close your eyes, sit or stand still, observe those thoughts and remind yourself you are more than your thoughts or sensations. Even one minute a day makes a difference!

E.F.T. — Stands for Emotional Freedom Technique, commonly known as “tapping,” and has been one of the biggest positive influences in my life over the past few years.

It’s so simple that it almost feel ridiculous, but man it’s powerful. (The older I get the more I realise the simple things are often the most powerful).

In the E.F.T. technique we tap on a series of easy to remember points on the body that correlate to the meridian system. Much like acupuncturists needling points to stimulate and move energy (especially stuck energy) tapping stimulates all of the meridian lines, moves energy, and increases somatic awareness.

As you tap these specific points you also state what’s bothering you, where you feel it in your body and then say, “and I love and accept myself anyway.” That’s the basic and anybody can do it

ACCEPTING is the second part of letting be. Sometimes it’s hard to say those simple words “I love and accept.” It feels lame or makes you realise how much you haven’t been accepting. But this may be one of the most potent phrases in the English language!

I’ve found in my own experience and when facilitating a session (I loved this practice so much I recently became a qualified EFT practitioner), is that these simple words coupled with stimulating energy can catalyse an embodiment of acceptance that is both cathartic and profoundly transformational.

TIP: Practice tapping regularly at home (see youtube link). If you can’t remember the pattern juts tap the sternum (breast bone), name out loud the issue, how it feels in your body starting with “Even though xxx…” followed by “I love and accept myself anyway.” End with placing your hands on your heart centre and taking three deep breaths.

I’d love to hear what tools you’ve found in your life help you let be and let go, share with the community below!

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Why We Don’t Meditate and How to Get Over It 

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The international Mindful in May campaign has inspired me to dedicate May to meditation and to sharing with you the useful tips and information I’ve learned over the years that have helped me develop a meditation practice.

Mediation has improved my life in so many ways and has become one of my most valued personal tools for health and self care. That said I still find myself missing meditations, hitting obstacles to my practice and understand the struggle with consistency.

We can talk about meditation all day long, but results come from actually doing it. So before I launch into the benefits of meditation and dork out on neuroscience details I thought it more valuable to discuss what gets in the way of meditation and how to move past that.

Most Common Reasons for Not Meditating 

  1. I don’t have the time to mediate. 

I get it, we all lead full lives and time is the most precious asset we have, so who has time to just sit there with there eyes closed doing nothing, right?!

First of all, before you puff your chest up and say “yay!”, take a moment to think about all the times in your day spent unfocused and therefore unproductive and wasting time? Or getting sucked into an internet time warp (thanks Facebook and Youtube). Or obsessing on something you really wish you weren’t wasting your time thinking about?

I’ve found that even taking 5 minutes to meditate makes me so much more focused on what really matters and efficient that I magically seem to have more time on my hands AND get just as much done.

You don’t have to mediate for 20 minutes or sit in silence for 10 days to feel the effects, you just have to do it.

I believe you can make a huge impact with even one minute of meditation. Just close your eyes, take a deep breath, count to 60 and let yourself slow down for a minute. Do this multiple times through the day in moments when you’d otherwise be wasting your time and you’ll start to find more time than you ever realised you had.

  1. I don’t know how to mediate.

Meditation can be as complex or simple as you want to make it. What I’ve found over the years is that simple is often the most effective, not to mention practical.

Meditation unfortunately is sometimes shrouded in cryptic ritual and seems only for the enlightened or initiated. But the truth is, it’s for everyone, it’s right at your finger tips and can be super easy.

The easiest first step is to sit comfortably (you don’t have to sit on the floor in lotus, just find a chair, support your back, lay down, whatever supports your body).

Then close your eyes and pay attention to your breath. You can also repeat one word (called a mantra) like “Aum” or “Love” or “I am.”

Don’t worry too much about getting it right, the word or breath are simply vehicles to focus the mind and in so doing create a sense of stillness.

Yes, thoughts will come up, that’s natural, no problem (more on that next blog). The key is to let them come and then let them go, don’t hold on to the thoughts. Keep gently and quietly coming back to the focus on your breath or mantra.

Sit for 5 to 20 minutes a day and this alone will have a huge impact on your nervous system, mind, body and life.

  1. I can’t sit still and I get anxious.

First of all you don’t have to sit perfectly still.

Try not to fidget and move around too much, that become a distraction, but be easy with yourself. If your foot goes numb just shift until you’re more comfortable and then comeback to your simple focus of breath or mantra.

Stuff comes up a lot in meditation, like anxiety, sadness, frustration, worries and memories. This is actually part of the benefit of meditation. I like to think of it as psychic digestion. We are giving our subconscious an opportunity to process the experiences of life, and that can bring up a whole lot of feelings.

Again, the key is to let them go. Then gently and quietly come back to your breath or mantra. This is called releasing Samskara, and one of the greatest benefits of a meditation practice.

  1. I forget to mediate.

We want to make mediation a habit, and forming a habit doesn’t just happen in some haphazard way.

Habits need to be triggered by something that reminds us to do them. Many of our daily habits are triggered subconsciously, but if we want to form a new habit we can consciously choose something to trigger it.

Think of things you do every day, like put on the kettle, brush your teeth, take your makeup off at the end of the day, go for coffee in the afternoon.

Choose one that make sense to you and make that your trigger for meditation. Write it down. For example, when I put the kettle on in the morning that reminds me to sit down and meditate (even if it’s just for 5 minutes). I even used to have a sticky note on my kettle to remind me.

  1. I don’t see the point. 

What’s the point of anything if it’s not connected to your spirit, heart and purpose? To me, meditation is all about FEELING the connection to your highest self, but it also has an endless list of medical, physical and psychological benefits.

To  name a few:

  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Improves digestion
  • Generates peace, calm and happiness
  • Increases mental clarity and creativity
  • Reduces activity of viruses and emotional distress
  • It lowers oxygen consumption and decreases respiratory rate.
  • Slow aging process

The list goes on, for more motivation check out 100 Beneftis of Meditation or 20 Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today.

I hope this has helps you overcome some of your hurtles to meditation! As part of Mindful in May I’ll be sharing posts all about Meditation, stay tuned for next week’s blog debunking common misunderstandings about how to meditate.

If you want to support my Mindful in May Charity page and help bringing water to impoverished communities in Uganda the world and myself will be grateful for your generosity!

As a thank you to all those who donate to the charity I’ll be sending a series of free meditation recordings that I’ve made. Thanks in advance for your support!

I’ll also be hosting a free group meditation and potent discussion about how to make meditation part of your life at Qi Yoga in Freshwater on the 31st at 7pm. Mark your calendars and see you there!

art in the everyday

Pressing the Annual Pause Button 

Unknown-1 “When we cultivate the discipline to pause, it becomes possible for us to make a choice that is outside our normal habit pattern. And it is in breaking through these entrained patterns that we can begin to experience a more liberated way of being. Gradually we become the freedom that we previously longed for.” Donna Farhi

This week while flipping through one of my favourite yoga books, “Bringing Yoga To Life” by Donna Farhi, I came across this underlined passage and it reminded me of exactly why I do all of the yoga practices I do, but particularly reinforced why I detox.

I see detoxing as pressing the annual pause button. A time to stop the “entrained patterns” as Fahri puts it, look at what they are exactly, and then consciously decide how, what or if any of them need changing so that I may live in a more liberated and happy way.

Fahri says what happens in the pause between longing for a feeling of freedom and how we respond to that longing is worth consideration because it is in the pause that we make a choice.

One of the most simple yet profound skills I’ve learned through practicing yoga is to take a deep breath before acting. We learn to do this in the yoga class room by slowing down, listening to the breath and then making conscious movements…and not only does it generate a beautiful grace, control and strength, but also a peace of mind and steady nervous system that is palpable.

The longer I practice yoga the better I get at taking a deep breath, a pause, in hard or intense moments of life, and then moving through them in a more graceful and conscious way.

But that pause, that moment of non action and just looking at what is, can be really uncomfortable.  In nanoseconds we may experience and feel anxiety, depression, unbound enthusiasm, fear, love, longing, aversion…so many powerful emotions. What ever they are it is their potency that often makes us feel uncomfortable and want to rush into a decision that gets us out of experiencing those strong feelings.

So often we’re launched into reactiveness just to escape the intensity of our feelings. On a day to day basis it may happen when we come home from work at night and feel lonely or overwhelmed and without thinking pour a drink, flip on the T.V., over eat or snap at our partner.

All of these little moments of unconscious reactions end up creating habits that we can become trapped by. Rather than listening the the message of the emotions which guide us to our deepest desires and life purpose we become trapped in patterns of avoiding them.

What would happen if we instead stopped, paused, and asked what would true satisfy us? Well, we might just discover the answer!

In previous detoxes when I’ve slowed down my life, created more me time for just a few weeks, stopped the habits like overstimulation, overeating and overexerting that lead me away from feeling all my deeper feeling — when I just paused normal life and looked within — I found answers and pathways to my hearts desire, to my inner power, my life-force.

Fahri says, “When we contain rather than constantly discharge [avoid] our feeling state, we allow ourselves to feel completely. In feeling completely we re-experience our aliveness and the source of that aliveness.”

This is why I detox. Yes, it is to cleanse my body and clear my mind, but these I do in order to re-experience my aliveness and the source of that aliveness within me.

Each time I detox I feel more and I also see the contrast of what is causing me to feel dull, low energy or foggy in my mind and intentions.

The seeing is uncomfortable at first, but the truth is, the long term experience of living without that life-force energy connection is more uncomfortable.

Fahri also talks about how this practice of pausing reminds us that we are not all the things we experience. When we pause we connect to our observer mind and remember our true identity is the part within us that does not change, the soul or purusa as it’s called in Sanskrit.

The perspective shifts to, “I feel anxious right now, but I am not this anxiety. I have the habit of emotional eating right now, but I am not that habit.”

There is so much freedom generated when we remember this! I always fell like a weight is lifted off my shoulders when I re-identify with my pure essence rather than the momentary life experience. And again, this is a huge part of detoxing. Clearing out the self identity that doesn’t serve us, and reconnecting to our identity as pure, powerful, conscious beings.

My New Years Yoga Detox starts tomorrow and I’m so looking forward to this journey, this reconnection to the source of my aliveness, and to sharing the journey with others. It makes such a  difference to support and be supported by others begin brave enough to pause and look a little deeper.

If you can join we’d love to have you, and if not I’ll be keeping you posted in my blogs about the experience.

From Eating Disorder to Body Love

you are beautiful

Last night I was privileged to speak at a fundraiser for the Butterfly Foundation, an organisation that supports Australian’s experiencing eating disorders, and the topic of the evening was about body image.

I’ve been a professional body worker now for 12 years, and have worked therapeutically with thousands of people through the medium of physical touch, body awareness, movement and connection.

The topic of how we perceive our bodies, our body image, is one that’s been at the heart of my professional exploration for a long time. It’s also been central to my personal growth, struggles and breakthroughs.

What I’ve come to learn over the past decade is that cultivating a positive body relationship is intrinsic to our health.

In fact, let’s leave out the words positive and negative and just say cultivating a relationship with our body is intrinsic to health.

Do you feel connected to your body or disconnected from it? 

When I think about and observe negative body image in myself and others I get a sense of real disconnect from the body.

A lack of seeing the body as something to engage with but instead seeing it as an object that we just happen to be stuck with.

Weight and good looks are always in the forefront of body image issues, but body image is so much bigger than that.

I see negative body image expressed in both women and men in phrases like: too fat, too old, too thin, too stiff, too flexible, too weak, too short ect.

In phrases like, “My shoulder just won’t work.” “My hips always give me problems.” “I”m always getting sick, my body just isn’t that resilient.” “I have terrible skin.” “I’m just too old.”

The comments always are about being too much or not enough or stuck in some pattern.

In this paradigm the value of the body is placed on how it looks and what it can do for us, and our self worth and identity are attached to that.

The yoga system tells us that this approach to our existence leads to suffering, and I can tell you from personal experience that it does.

I grew up doing ballet and dancing since the age of 5 and was very much influenced by the feminine ideal of thin and delicate.

I had the role modelling of older dancers exchanging tips on diet pills, laxatives and it wasn’t uncommon to hear someone purging in the studio toilets.

When I was 16 my body attacked itself. I got an autoimmune disorder that attacked my endocrine system and hormones, I rapidly put on weight, and had to deal with a number of symptoms that left me feeling exhausted and unwell.

I cursed my body for not functioning like it should. I felt ashamed of how my appearance changed and inability to dance like I used to. And I felt lost without my identity as a lithe ballerina.

I spent the next few years trailing hormone therapies that had worse side effects than the actual autoimmune disorder and tried to escape my body, anxiety and misplacement of self worth through eating disorders.

AKA: Suffering! 

When I was 19 I quit Uni and decided to go to massage school in search of something more meaningful. I was on a quest to heal and understand why my body attacked itself and I knew that the high stress environment of achievement was not the path.

This is when I started practicing yoga and I began to learn about a whole new value system.

Identity

I think the greatest lesson Yoga taught me was that that our true identity is the pure light within us. It’s called purusha and can be likened to the word soul. It’s the light in our eyes that connect to the light in other people’s eyes, that knows without saying, that we see illuminated in innocent children.

This is the part of us that does not change. Everything else through life changes, our appearance, our relationships, our work, or health everything else changes, but the light within us stays constant.

The Yoga Sutras tell us that identifying with that which changes leads to suffering. We therefor need to learn to identify with our light, our purusha, that does not change.

The Body Speaks 

Secondly, this system teaches us that our body is not just a machine to do tasks or a mask to live behind, but an expression of a deeper truth and a fascinating and complex sensory organism giving us information about ourselves and the world around us.

It is a microcosm of the macrocosm, a dynamic ecosystem containing the mysteries and laws of the whole universe. The yoga system teaches us that everything we need to know is within us, and we simply need to look inwards and listen.

Rather than just looking at my body, I was slowly learning how to look into my body and listen to it. 

And this is what I mean by developing a relationship with our body.

When we’re connected to our body we learn to dialogue with it, when we’re disconnected from our body we place demands on it.

Breath body practices, especially ones with mindfulness involved, like yoga or chi gong, thai chi teach us how to have a working relationship with our body and then the way we value it begins to change completely.

I see two major disconnects that trigger negative body image:

  1. One is that we think more about how we look than how we feel, and 
  2. Secondly we think more about what our body can do for us rather than what it’s telling us.

Awareness of our body is the gateway into who, what and how we are right now in this present moment. It’s a system full of feedbacks and information telling us exactly what we need.

Look at your body as a book full of information about you and giving you information about the world around you. Your body is not just a car carrying your mind around, but is an expression of a deeper truth, it is a manifestation and expression of our beliefs and ultimately our inner light.

Shift into a more positive body image right now!

  1. Remember your true identity is the light within.
  2. Ask how your body feel, rather than how it looks.
  3. Ask what your body is telling you, rather than what it can do for you. 

What has helped you cultivate a positive relationship with your body? 

How I went from fast food junky to yoga lifestyle freak

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I’ve been hard on myself this week about not eating the way that makes me feel best, which is clean, fresh, non-processed food and in moderation. But I also know that beating myself up about eating is just as unhealthy as any unhealthy food. So, to get out of this headspace I did one of the exercises I do with my students in the Yoga Detoxes and 30 Day Yoga Evolution. This exercise gets us to look at where we’ve been, what’s shifted and appreciate that growth happens on a trajectory, not over night.

And wow, there have been some massive shifts in how I live my life! In the past year alone I’ve refined my lifestyle so much. But I looked further back and watched the unfolding of my journey with health until I came to an image of myself as a teenager, over weight, eating fast food alone in my car, feeling depressed and knowing deep in my bones that the American dream was more like a nightmare.

Take a snap shot back in my life. I am 17, a sophomore in high school, have just been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that is totally screwing with my hormones. I don’t yet realize this is part of why I feel lethargic, anxious, depressed and have suddenly gone from being a lithe ballerina to gaining 20 lbs in less than a year. Emotionally overwhelmed by it all and crushed to see my body out growing my leotards, I quit dancing. Something I’ve been doing since I was five. Something that always made me feel free and light and express whatever I was feeling without having to say it.

So here I am, suddenly not moving my body as I was used to, not expressing my emotions through movement, all the while trying to cope with the typical teenage shit.

At the same time a big shift in public school funding swept the nation. As government spending on public education plummeted and the schools become more desperate, big cooperations like CocaCola and Pepsi saw an opportunity: sponsor entire schools.

My school ended up with a Pepsi sponsorship, which meant they received money in exchange for plastering every notice board, sports complex and school banner with Pepsi logos. It also meant that our school cafeteria was now operated by Pepsi and their affiliates (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut etc.) and school lunch turned into fast food.

We could eat off campus, which most of us did frequently, but where did we go? To any one of the ten fast food joints within three blocks of our high school of course. God bless America.

Not only where Pepsi logo’s strew through our school, but we were lucky enough to have soda dispensers in EVERY corridor. The coins left over from lunch were enough to get an afternoon caffein and sugar kick to pull us out of the greasy fast food lunch stupor. Which of course wore off by the time we got home and were meant to do our homework, so we cracked another can of high fructose corn syrup and buzzed the night away, finishing assignments or watching MTV until 2am and then having a hellish time getting up the next morning.

This was the typical American teenage pattern, and sadly, still is. In the US adolescent obesity has more than quadrupled in the last 30 years and reports of teenage anxiety and depression have doubled. Australian statistics aren’t far behind.

I was slotting in quite well with these statistics, and nobody seemed to say, “Hey, this isn’t normal! You don’t have to wake up every morning anxious or depressed. All that high fructose corn syrup is making you gain weight and have mood swings. Go back to moving your body and eating simple foods that your mom made!”

I consumed enough Good Times Burgers in those few years to last me a lifetime (if not more). We all did, and the sad truth is that many of my peers still do. This is how our schools and culture taught us to nourish ourselves, and many of us have grown from being overly caffeinated poorly nourished teens to overly caffeinated poorly nourished adults. But now, as adults the repercussions are starting to show.

My autoimmune disorder only exacerbated the problem, and in many ways I’m grateful because it made me realize something was indeed wrong and investigate early on in my life what that was. I wanted to know why my body was attacking itself. Was it something I was doing, or thinking or feeling? Was it something I was eating or experiencing? Was it my society? Was it in the water or in the air?

I wanted to understand what was going on, and as I asked these questions I began to see the answer was ‘yes’ to all of them. 

In my first year of Uni I learned more about environmental degradation. My ears perked hearing about the levels of hormones and antibiotics fed to dairy cows and studies linking these  livestock practices to endocrine disorders. I stopped eating meat and fast food, started dancing again and low and behold began feeling a little better. I was still eating too much processed food, drinking too much and way too stressed out trying to over achieve with studies, work and writing for the school paper.

I knew the issue was more than just food and environmental contamination. I couldn’t clearly articulate it then but after my first year of Uni I knew I was simply learning how to perpetuate the cycle of the “rat race.” So I quit and went off to New Mexico to get a diploma in Massage Therapy.

At 19 years old the world of yoga, energy healing and body-mind psychology blew me open into a whole new exploration of what leads to health and disease, and how all aspects of our lives influence our state of health and wellbeing. I learned so much about body, mind, spirit health at that time and it propelled me into a lifelong exploration of this topic.

It’s been 13 years since and I’ve made hug changes in how I live, eat, move and think, but it didn’t happen over night. It’s been a process of small and continuous shifting that’s got me back to feeling like I did before my body attacked itself. Yoga has taught me how to look within, and sit with the injured, ugly or dead side of myself and culture, breath through the discomfort of looking at it and listen to the inner guidance on how to heal. And damn, it’s not always easy, but each time I come out the other end I know it’s worth it.

I can tell you that learning is one thing but actually applying it to life is another. I’ve been through so many highs and lows with personal health, two steps forward and one step back, but when I look at the big picture every year I get healthier and happier. And this is why I love the yoga lifestyle. This is how life should be and I thank my lucky stars for having people in my life who finally did say, “Hey, don’t believe what they say about getting older. You don’t have to wake up feeling like shit and get fat. You can feel happy and at peace. You can improve your health every year, life only get’s better if you simply do the work on yourself.”

 

 

Lifestyles to Die For

HEALTHY-LIFESTYLE-CHOICES

I was recently telling someone about my background getting a degree in Environmental Science and they commented, “Wow, now you’re doing something completely different.” But, I don’t see it that way. The deeper I go down my path as a wellness provider through yoga, bodywork and lifestyle coaching the more I relate to my environmentalist background; rather than working to clean up external ecosystems I’m working to clean up internal ecosystems. And it’s just as socially, culturally and globally revolutionary as other environmentalist work.

According to a landmark global study by The Lancet Group, lifestyle diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer are now the leading cause of death and disability globally. The study shows that since the 1970’s men and women worldwide are living longer but they also spend more years living with injury and illness caused by bad lifestyle choices like drinking, smoking, poor nutrition and too much stress.

In both Australia and America lifestyle disease is the leading cause of death – with heart disease begin the most prevalent, followed by cancer.

So why are we choosing lifestyles that kill us?!? And what motivates us to choose a lifestyle of heath?

I don’t have the answer but I’m on a mission to try and find it. So far on this mission I’m realizing that everything starts from within and from our deepest beliefs about ourselves and the world. My meditation teacher gave a great analogy about the process of calming the mind: you can train a dog to sit next to you, but it will still be full of energy wanting to run around, or you can give the dog a bone and it will happily sit next to you and chew the bone.

Forced external rules on how to live tend to make us feel like a dog trapped on a leash, and while we might be abstaining from unhealthy habits, there’s always a part of us that wants to break the leash and run after those things we’re abstaining from. I don’t consider this healthy, and I’ll go as far as saying it can even create stress…which is one of the leading causes of heart disease and other physical and psychological diseases.

So what’s the bone we can give ourselves to keep us sitting happily next to health? 

I think the bone of satisfaction and motivation is a strong positive self identity. In yoga we do this with the practice of Sankalpas. Yoga teaches us to recognize that we already have and are everything we could need or want, we must simple clear what’s covering up that light within.

A Sankalpa is a positive affirmation like, “I am healthy.” The practice is to repeat this daily. The more you chew on this identity, the more you not only believe it, but also act based on it. You start to live up to that identity effortlessly simply because it feel right.

According to habit change research people stick to identity-based goals far more than to performance-based goals. Habit change expert James Clear says, “The key to building lasting habits is focusing on creating a new identity first. Your current behaviors are simply a reflection of your current identity. What you do now is a mirror image of the type of person you believe that you are (either consciously or subconsciously).”

This Sunday I’ll be leading a 5 week journey with a group of people ready to uncover the light within, reinforce and deeply ingrain a positive self identity of healthy living. I can’t wait! There are still a few spots left so if you’re craving lasting transformation join the yoga r-evolution. Check out the 30 Day Yoga Evolution program at Qi Health and Yoga.

What is your positive self identity statement, your sankalpa?