Remember to breathe

BreatheI focused one of my recent yoga classes on breathing. Prana, our life energy, manifests and we observe it as breath. Our breath matches our mind. When we are calm, and engrossed in a subject we might find that we breathe slowly. When we are excited, angry, or frightened, our breath begins to race.

In yoga, I teach students how to observe their breath by counting inhales and exhales. Asking them to come back to their breath when holding poses, to create focus and slow and calm the mind. But, what I find most interesting about teaching the importance of breathing, is that it’s probably not the first time these adults are being taught how to breathe. Rather, it’s a likely a reteaching of a something they learned as children.

Teaching Children to Breathe

We teach children to breathe. I spent 6 months teaching children how to breathe during my social work internship. I planned and ran anger management sessions at a boy’s group home. We teach them how to breathe in order to control their emotions. It’s a tool for calming down when angry. Specifically, on often tell children to count to 10. In counting to ten they are taking 10 breaths.We teach children to breathe to calm down when crying. We tell children to take a deep breath so that they can begin to find the words to explain what has made them upset.

More recently, when asking my nephew about school, he said “I practiced breathing today.” I didn’t get too many details other than, “we sat there and breathed.” Teachers use breathing to help with anxiety in the classroom. I used it as a teacher combined with positive affirmations. Inhale, “I am ready to take this test.” Exhale, “I practiced these problems each day.” Inhale, “I am going to be successful.” Exhale, “I’m going to be successful.”

Breathe to Connect

When I ask students in a yoga class to focus on their breathing, I am not teaching them how to breathe. Rather, I am helping them recall a lost skill that they once had. I’m helping them remember the importance of their breath. How they can use it to connect their mind with their body. To connect to the present moment. To find calmness and slow down their thoughts in a world that always wants them to be on the go.

I’m reminding them that breath is life. And if they can breathe, they can do yoga.

Awaken your Inner Teacher

As a yoga teacher, I put poses together in a series. I think about what flows well and how certain poses may warm up for harder poses. I offer modifications and variations of the poses allowing students to tailor the class to their level and mood. While I guide students through the class it is really up to each individual to decide how they want to practice that day and find their inner teacher.

I used this quote from Yoga Gems the other day:

No one is ever really taught by another; each of us has to teach himself. The external teacher offers only the suggestions, which arouses the internal teacher, who helps us to understand things. -Swami Vivekananda

I think that we can take this lesson from yoga and use it throughout life. Real learning begins on an individual level. It starts with passion and self-motivation. Any type of learning takes time and often money. Anyone can overcome both of these obstacles and awaken their inner teacher.

Overcoming Time: Linking Passion to Education

When I give up my time to learn something related to my professional career or personal interests, it has to ignite my passion to learn more. It made sense for me to put time into a 200 hour yoga teacher training. The subject interested me. I had some previous experience and background knowledge. I knew that investment would be worth the effort.

When we’re passionate about something, time passes quickly. Minutes turn into hours. We find ourselves engrossed in a topic and hyper-focused. Suddenly, learning isn’t a chore. It becomes an interest and an activity that we look forward to. The time involved becomes obsolete when passion and learning are linked because we enjoy everyone minute of the experience.

Overcoming costs: Learn for Free

While reading books is a low-cost or free option for learning, sometimes I like to change how I learn. While I often read books, more recently I also learn from MOOCs.

MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses. They started becoming popular in 2012 and have continued to grow. Many universities have MOOCs (here’s a list of some) and there are platforms, such as Coursera, that partner with universities and organizations to offer courses.

From business, personal development and data science to arts, humanities, and languages the category of courses is comprehensive. Whether you want to learn something new or dive deeper into a topic you already enjoy, the options are available.

Rather than making excuses, awaken your inner teacher. Identify your passion and find options for learning about it.

Running 5Ks and Obstacle Course Races

About two years ago me and my friend Ashley decided to do a free couch to 5K running program. It was hard work, but we stuck with the training and after 8 weeks completed our first 5K. We continued to run together, adding additional 5Ks to our list.

Then I moved.

Without Ashley, running became something that I kept up with inconsistently. Not only was it great to share exercise with a friend for the social aspect, but we motivated and encouraged each other. Now I continue to set goal races as a motivator, but without a friend who runs at the same level as me, it’s not the same.What I have found is that while regular 5Ks are a good goal, I am more motivated and by obstacle course races.

Obstacle Course Race 5Ks

The bottom line is while I may not love running,  I like challenging myself. I like setting a goal and achieving it. I’ve found that obstacle races give me the challenge I’m looking for. I stick to the shorter distances, the ones that are usually around a 5K. I’ve run two Warrior Dash races and am running the Spartan Sprint in a couple of weeks. What I like about them is they have separate heats for the competitors. So most everyone running throughout the day is running with friends and running for fun. No one takes themselves or the course too seriously. People often help each other out with the obstacles.

The course and obstacles challenge my mind and body. It takes endurance and courage. For full disclosure, I usually don’t even run more than about a mile of the course. I’ll come to an obstacle that I’ve done in other races, but still sometimes find I’m intimated by it. But the accomplishment and success I feel after completing the races is worth it.

Lessons Learned

By completing the 5ks and obstacle course races over these last few years it’s taught me a few things.

  1. You can do more than you think you can
    With practice (and for some people without) you can accomplish a lot. When I started running that couch to 5K program, I started by running for 1 minute. I ran for 60 seconds and walked for 90 seconds alternating between each 8 times.  Now I consistently run for 10, 15, 20 minute intervals and longer. I know that I can run a 5K. I know that when I start to get tired that I can do more.
  2. External and internal motivators are equally important
    Having someone to run with and motivate you is really great for both training and races. To have someone next to you say “we got this” is really powerful. At the same time, having the internal motivation to get up and put in practice runs is important. Knowing that I’ve put the time in to training helps me have self-motivation when I am running races.
  3. Attitude matters
    If you’re someone who is motivated by competition, great. Run to compete with others. Run to beat your best time. Set goals and that match your attitude of competition. That’s not me. I am someone who runs to stay in shape and to finish the race. I try to keep running light-hearted. For me running races is about not worrying about everyone else. It’s about giving my best. Having an attitude that is not too serious helps me enjoy running races.


Thank You Notes and Gratitude

People have written thank you notes for hundred of years. They are a traditional way to show appreciation. Hallmark says,

“A handwritten card or note of thanks is one of the most heartfelt and meaningful ways to express gratitude.”

Writing Thank You Notes

I remember having to write thank you notes as a kid. Every holiday or special event, my parents made me sit down and write notes to anyone who gave me a gift. As a child, being thankful and grateful for gifts became a habit. The formula for writing thank you notes became “Thank you for the [insert item]. I really appreciate it and plan to [insert how I will use item]. I really enjoyed seeing you/missed you at [insert event] and look forward to seeing you [insert time frame].”  With the note finished, I addressed the envelope, and had it in the mail with as little effort as possible.

Receiving Thank You Notes

Now that I’m often the receiver of thank you notes, my perspective has changed. As a receiver of a thank you note, the exact words don’t matter as much as the act of the note itself. It’s about not necessarily receiving thanks for a gift, but recognizing the time and thought that went into the note. I experience gratitude for people, relationships, memories, and moments shared together.

Continuing a Tradition

So shgratitudeould we still write thank you notes? If used as a tool to express gratitude, then the art of a thank you note remains important. If we think about the gift giver more than the gift and reflect on our relationship with that person, then the gratitude should flow easily. As we experience gratitude for our life and the lives of those around us, a thank you note becomes not an habitual task, but rather an opportunity to share our thanks with all of those around us.

Take the time to write thank you notes. The meaning is not lost on the receiver, no matter the message written.


5 Observations from Eating a Paleo Diet

Paleo dietWe all have skewed perceptions of ourselves. I see myself and my habits in a certain light. I think I am doing well and living healthy, but then something changes. My husband decided to eat Paleo and my desire for us to not cook two meals every night, led me to join him. 6 weeks into our diet change of following the Paleo diet, here are five observations.

The Paleo diet has flexibility

As with any diet, Paleo diet has a spectrum of rules. One website or cookbook gives one list of in ingredients, while another has a slightly different list. In general all versions of Paleo agree on no grains, dairy products, legumes, processed sugars, and processed foods with additives. Some allow for natural sweeteners, such as honey, agave or pure maple syrup. Others include naturally sourced salt (sea salt or Himalayan salt). Some say no processed meats (bacon and prosciutto) while others allow them.

We initially started with a very traditional Paleo diet. No salt, no sugar of any kind, no processed meat. We have since relaxed a little bit and prefer using small amounts of seas salt, and occasional natural sweeteners. So the lesson learned is try it out, but rather than giving up when meals don’t taste good, make adjustments.

A little salt goes a long way

I never thought I used or ate a lot of salt, but Paleo told me otherwise. Initially, following Paleo with no salt was a little bland. Even with herbs and spices food tasted lackluster. However, I’m glad I started out with no salt. As I added small amounts, I noticed a huge taste difference. Now, when we use salt, we add a pinch.

Sweets taste differently

As with salt, I never thought I ate a lot of sugar either. Yes, I indulged in a dessert here and there, but I never thought my consumption was excessive. I started by switching to fruit and making my own homemade “sorbet” (frozen fruit and a splash of orange juice mixed in a food processor) for dessert. I also started to eat dark chocolate with a high percentage of Cacao.

I’ve found that highly processed sweets, especially ones made with grains that I’ve also eliminated from my diet (such as donuts) don’t taste good. My preference has always been dark chocolate over milk chocolate, but now regular dark chocolate (think Dove dark chocolate squares) tastes like milk chocolate. It’s interesting to observe and notice these changes.

Afternoon energy remains high

My energy levels tend to decrease around 2-3pm. However, with Paleo, I don’t notice a decrease as frequently. Maybe it’s the increase in protein and the decrease in carbs. It also might have to do with the fact that I make lunch my largest meal of the day. Perhaps I wasn’t getting enough fuel or the right type of it to make it through the afternoons.

Cravings change, but cheat meals are nice too

It’s really nice to crave a salad, fruit or nuts over processed food. I know that those foods give me energy and keep me full. But for meals when Paleo isn’t going to happen, there’s the 85:15 rule.

Most people see the benefits of Paleo by following a Paleo diet 85% of the time. You can eat non-Paleo meals 15% of the time. This rule is great with helping with a diet transition, because you don’t have to give up things you love. You can eat cheat meals. So when you’re really craving a non-Paleo meal, use of one of your cheat meals.