By MARIA BOWERS
Finally, it is January. The year is new. The hectic holiday excitement is behind us. We make resolutions and quickly forget them. Here are six changes you can use to increase your health, energy and positive attitude to help you stay the course and keep those promises that you’ve made to yourself.
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude
It is a tiny shift in perception, but seeing what you do have, as opposed to what you do not have, shifts your awareness from seeing yourself as a victim of your sad circumstances to feeling appreciative and blessed. Feeling that you are missing out, instead of realizing that you have enough, is a trap. Feeling gratitude is exhilarating. Being in the present moment is being fully alive. Often we are stuck in a circling worrying, regretting past events and fearing the future. These obsessive thoughts are like thick smog that eclipses what is happening right now. It is as if you crawled under the covers and emerged years later — you realize that you missed mostly everything. Feeling gratitude does not come naturally because people are human and tend to yearn for what they do not have, but gratefulness can be nurtured by acknowledging like this: whisper to yourself, “I am so thankful to have (insert here) in my life.” Notice that you are surrounded by wonderful things, such as being able to walk, talk, taste, smell and feel; having people that love you and a roof over your head. This awareness brings a shift in consciousness that is as profound as it is transformative. You will reflect a positive attitude that will give you more energy and contentment. Challenge yourself to appreciate every moment of your day and night. Be a positive and happy force in your own life and the people surrounding you. You do this by seeing and appreciating beauty, truth and wonder in all the ordinary things around you.
Walk outside and immerse yourself in silence
Take a brisk walk in the fresh air. Turn your phone off. Stop talking. Listen to the sounds of nature and the environment. We create too much noise and chatter in our lives. Electronic noise bombards the nervous system. Silence is sacred and so necessary. Plan to enjoy a walk outside. Sit under a tree. Breathe deeply. Observe the colors around you. Breathe the richness of the outdoors. Feel the wind on your skin and the ground beneath your feet. Be grounded and connected. It is here, in this attitude that it is possible to feel stable and joyful.
Have no expectations, but do the best you can anyway
This is a confusing yoga principle. It is being in the present moment, doing your work, whatever it is, with great enthusiasm, without attachment to the outcome. This does not mean that we do not care about the ending or the fruit of our labor. What it does mean is that the quality of the journey is as important as the destination. Outcomes are not in our control, but the quality of our efforts is what we can control. In some ways, the attachment to outcome is more about our egos. This leads to a cycle of emotional highs and lows based on someone else’s opinion, whimsy or chance. Concentration, cheerfulness and competence are a measure of our happiness. The result will take care of itself.
Breathe deeply and fully
We would die without breathing in a very short time but, weirdly, we never really think about it with our conscious awareness. Our emotions are directly triggered by how we breathe. The nervous systems that excite us and calm us down are activated by the pace and depth of our breathing. Shallow and superficial breaths support quick responses like fighting or fleeing.
Deep breathing initiates rest and recovery. Deep breathing supports digestion. Deep breathing wakes up the brain and every cell in our body. So, as a practical practice try this: exhale as you pull in your belly button, a complete exhale invites a full inhale. Then, breathe in as if you were smelling the sweetest fragrance. A few deep and slow breaths can reignite energy and motivation. Yogis do not measure a life spans in years, but rather, in the number of breathes we take.
Stretch, stretch and then stretch some more
Stretching increases flexibility and invites relaxation. Stretching is a natural reflex. It is strange that we do not stretch more often, but the sad truth is that we barely stretch at all. So take some time to lengthen your body, extend your arms and move to your full range of movement. Flex and extend your joints. A familiar and easy way to stretch is a short sequence called cat-cow. While on all fours, arch your back like a cat as you exhale and inhale as you reverse the movement and let your spine drop. This movement is grounding and calming. It both extends and contracts your spine and it creates deep breathing. Repeat five times counting each inhale, exhale to the count of four, and then extend to six. This will help with spine stiffness and back pain. Plan to take a few minutes, during the day and night, to stretch. You will release tension and feel extravagantly luxurious.
Reduce and eliminate judgment from your observations and thinking
We tend to get into what I think of as a rut in our thinking. That is, we are always judging. We see someone and we immediately form an opinion, we think that this person is lazy, that politician is stupid, that boss is crazy and our relatives are hopeless. We think of ourselves as smart, efficient and responsible for the survival of our household and workplace, when in fact, we are not the prime mover. The earth will revolve and the sun will rise without our input and judgment. In our world of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we are bombarded with so many disturbing images. We do not need to comment on everything. We can reserve our judgment and our nervous systems will thank us.
The sympathetic nervous system has short neurons that make possible quick responses to perceived threats. The body becomes mobilized to fight or take flight. Breathing rate increases, the heart pounds, adrenaline increases, cortical is released and vigilance intensifies. Yoga methods re-establish homeostasis and return the body to a rest and restore mode by triggering the parasympathetic nervous system. Slower breathing lowers the heart rate and blood pressure. Balance and calm counterbalances the stress response.
Yoga is a process that helps because when the relaxation response is activated; neuro-chemicals are released that quiet the mind. The brain is hardwired to concentrate on one thing at a time. Concentrating on deep breathing or doing a pose resolve episodes in a shorter time. While, yoga is not an instant fix, the benefits are enormous. Yoga practice is not psychoanalysis or counseling, but it is a caring and non-judging environment.
Maria Bowers is a certified yoga and tai chi teacher. Two classes are available on Saturday morning at the Art Center in Troy; Power Yoga at 9:15 to 10:30 a.m. and Gentle Yoga at 10:45 a.m. to noon. For questions, email Bowers at [email protected]