life is not messy

Life is straightforward; a continuous cycle of beginnings and endings.

That’s it.   It’s not messy.  It’s not neat.  It’s not complicated or controllable.  It just is.

We’re fond of saying “life is messy” when we forget that.

We show that we have forgotten it when we concretely label the ups and downs of life as good and bad, when we react to situations with disbelief that something like this could happen to us, when we are frequently overcome by heavy emotions that are weighted down with distorted thoughts or even when we are running high on ecstatic thoughts at finding “it”, the answer to our problem.

porch solitude

In any moment when life seems particularly messy, pause, breathe and dig deep to find out what your underlying expectation or unspoken belief is for that particular moment. Then challenge it, exhale it and remember that the cycle is beyond good and bad.

It is just what it is.

If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick every day.

Leonard Cohen

breaking good

The calendar, the empty hallways and the locked school doors all tell me its time to rest and to take a much-needed, week-long break from teaching, supporting student learning and administrating all sorts of never-ending administrivia.

Even though I’m not rushing through a regular work week, I’m becoming more aware of how deep rest is not the mere absence of work and imminent deadlines. And how its not that easy to cultivate simply because there is more time for it.

Whether you find yourself catching warm rays on a beach this week, travelling with friends and family or hibernating at home against the devious return of the biting winds of winter, it seems that deep rest and nourishing restoration is a minute-by-minute choice.

nature resting deeply

nature resting deeply

For me, its a choice this week to:

1. Transform my allegiance to the clock as lord and master to instead choosing to listen deeply to the needs of my body

 
2. Wholeheartedly do whatever I’m doing whether its sleeping, eating, sitting, stretching, walking, cooking, reading or writing

 
3. Take intentional, extended breaks from electronics, screens and pseudo-connectors and choose to listen deeply to those around me

 
4. Hydrate often, mindfully nourish my body with goodness and to choose to pause frequently to engage in deep, mindful breathing

 
5. Resist the urge to allow the word “should” into my mind or my mouth

 
6. Be grateful for time to pause and to rest deeply.

 

Here’s to learning how to break ‘good’ this week and for the days to come.

 

 

a mindful student’s guide to stress relief

 

Mid-term mania is sweeping through high school hallways like a mid-autumn tropical storm.

Research shows that the adolescent brain is not quite done ‘baking’ yet and is very much still in the developmental stage, so teens cope with stress much differently than adults.  Add an over-commitment to activities in and out of the classroom, teacher and parental expectations for consistently self-regulated behaviour and the increasing pressure on teens to figure out their future plans and you’ve got the makings of the perfect storm.

Fear not, oh overwhelmed adolescent!   Not only does it get better as you get older, there are strategies that can help you weather the high winds and choppy seas of high school life.

 

student_in_tilburg_centrum_mei_2008_cc

 

NAME IT

Name what is actually happening.  Don’t rationalize, blame or give the power to change your situation over to anyone else.  Stand up.  It’s your choice.

Right now, I choose to procrastinate. Instead of taking even a tiny step forward, I am distracting myself from the discomfort of having too much to do with other things like friends, electronics, music or just zoning out to temporarily help me create the illusion that I have nothing to do.  I choose a temporary fix over a long-term solution.

My expectations are much higher than is reasonable and is rooted in my need to please everyone, to be accepted and to prove my worth to those around me. I choose to keep thinking in this concrete way even though I know, at some level, my value is not connected to how well I perform.

I am attached to this heightened level of panic because it is what I know and I am only  comfortable when there is some drama and chaos.  Plus, it also gives me an excuse as to why my performance and achievement is well below my capability.   

Naming it may not be pretty.  But it is potent and is always your choice.  By taking responsibility for what is really happening and not blaming others, you will become free and more empowered.  Since you are responsible then you can not be a victim to an external source.  Taking responsibility give you all the power to change things and make a difference.

 


NUMBER IT

On a scale of 1-10, rate your current stress level.  We all know a little stress is okay and, for the most part, manageable. But how much is too much?

Level 10 would be the hyperventilating, off-the-charts panic mode when the sound of your heart beating wildly in your ears drowns out all other noises.  Overwhelming anxiety, irrational fears and phobias showing up, and being mentally frozen or unable to act could be possible signs of this level of stress.  Save Level 10 when your life is danger.  In my experience, no one has died writing or even failing a math test.

Level 7 is not a bad place to be during times of evaluation like tests, exams or a performance of some kind but it is definitely not a desirable place to live, work and play every day.  Staying at this level consistently could easily lead to emotional, mental and physical dis-ease.  You need to go lower.

Level 4 is quite comfortable, bordering on relaxing, but with just enough energy to get things done.  This is more like it.

Level 1 is like a quiet, restful slumber that seems to only come when you are on summer holidays and you know you have no tests or assignments due the next day so can sleep in as long as you want.

Notice your stress level throughout the day and become aware when it begins to crawl ever-upwards.  Once you know where you tend to live, you can intentionally level out to a healthier, more functional place.

 

Student in Starbucks, Fremont Seattle

 

LEVEL IT

The best strategy to help you to quickly bring down your stress level to a healthier number is deep, belly breathing.  You can also try other relaxation techniques that work well for you, exercise, yoga, meditation or calming music. The benefit of focused, deep breathing is that is accessible wherever and whenever you need it.  It so simple to do and the results are powerful, predictable and grounding.

Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Take deep, smooth, belly breaths.  Evenly inhale and exhale allowing your lower belly to expand like a balloon and contract with each breath.  Do this slowly 3-5 times.  Check in with your level.  If you are still floating up to any number beyond 5, then repeat.  Practicing this type of calming breathing regularly in non-stressful times will make it more automatic and have a greater impact during times of stress.

 

RE-FRAME IT

Visualize yourself stress-free and living large at a Level 4.  What does it look like?  How do you feel?

What is working in your life right now and already fits with that picture of what you want your life to look like?

Are the thoughts that you are having true and useful?  Is your thinking distorted with over-generalizations, blaming or catastrophizing?  And which thoughts are cleverly distorted to match the story you keep telling yourself where doom is the only outcome.

What steps have you tried already to change the situation from stressed and striving to calm and thriving?  Did they work?  Why or why not?

Where else could you go for support?

How can you break down your tasks to their smaller, bite-sized portions? Checking things off your to-do list is energizing and smaller tasks mean more chances to check!  And how does doing this impact your level of stress?

What itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny tiny step could I do RIGHT NOW to start?  Take three deep breaths?  Make a list?  Ask for help?  Be grateful for what is going well?  Name the situation courageously where you are responsible?  Notice your level as you take one step.

 

GROUND IT

Now that you can visualize what a stress-free ‘you’ looks like, recall a time when it was true.  When was the last time you felt amazingly at ease, comfortable, relaxed and in charge of your own life?  It could be as recent as the beginning of the school year when you vowed to stay on top of things.  Or maybe you have to go back a few years when life seemed simpler.

After you have a mental picture of the way your life looked and how you felt back then, find some token to reflect that important memory. It could be a picture, an object, an action, some music or whatever else will remind you of the experience of being at peace. When you find your stress level inching higher, remember your grounding token. Hold it, look at it, listen to it do the action that reminds you to settle and breathe deeply.

 

Student

 

Stress is unavoidable but managing it is a life-long skill that takes practice and is worth every moment you commit to doing just that.

Start now. Take a deep breath and choose to take that first step to managing your own mania!

 

 

stop, drop and breathe!

 

Have you ever noticed that there seems to be a common reaction to moments of sudden increased tension, unexpected news, or times when we’re nervous, frightened or otherwise overwhelmed?  We hold our breath.

 

Marianne, Norway

 

You might recognize that you tend to hold your breath in the following situations:

~ a car stops suddenly in front of yours and you must break hard to avoid a collision
~ you hear that someone close to you has experienced a devastating loss
~ as a joke, someone jumps out at your from around a corner to “scare” you
~ you’re performing a physically challenging task
~ you have a zillion things to do so you plow through without break or breath!

It doesn’t even need to be an extreme situation of tension or loss.  I’ve witnessed this in a yoga class when I asked a group of beginner students to extend more deeply into a simple pose or to hold it longer.  Suddenly, the entire room was not breathing.  En masse, the class was holding its breath and the energy change in the room because of it was palpable.  It seems odd that something we do without thinking and that is proof that we are alive, we unconsciously choose not to do it in a reaction to stress.

I could write a book on all the reasons we hold our breathe but suffice it to say that it is not in the best interest of our body, minds or souls to hold our breath in times of stress.  Stress, especially chronic stress, creates a toxic environment in our body and breathing is the Mighty De-toxifier who releases 70% of all toxins when we breathe deeply.

When things get tough and your nerves are jangling like a set of car keys, you can stop, drop and breathe.  Nothing I’ve ever experiences puts out the fire of panic and chaotic thinking like breathing.  Here are three key steps to get your started making this a daily habit.

1.  STOP

I mean this literally.   In the face of whatever is happening in the moment of tension, stress, panic or unexpectedness, just stop.   Take a moment.  The world will not end if you take a moment of awareness instead of reacting immediately and unconsciously.

2.  DROP  (NOTICE)

Notice when you tend to hold your breath most often.  What types of situations find you most often reacting this way?  Physical?  Emotional?  Relational? How often in a day do you find yourself not breathing regularly?  Where does it happen?  Work?  Home?  Social Situations?  What part of your body tenses when your breath is not flowing?  How do you feel after the tense moment subsides and you begin breathing again?  Where does your mind (and at what speed) go when your breath stops?

3.  BREATHE

Then when you’ve stopped, noticed that you’re in a situation where you’d most often hold your breath, allow the breath to flow.  Without force or attempting to deepen your breath in any way, simply let it flow naturally in and out.  It knows what to do!  While your respiratory system is doing its job, just notice.  What is the quality of your breath?  Where do you notice it showing up in your body?  Your nostrils?  Chest?  Belly?  Again, without directing it, just be aware that it is  happening.

With practice, you will eventually more aware of your tendency to keep your breath from naturally doing its job.  Begin to notice how you feel once you’ve chosen to maintain a steady, even breath even during tense moments.  Notice any differences in the tightness in your body, the stories in your mind and your recovery time from the stressful situation.

Look for future posts on more amazing benefits of breathing and simple methods of incorporating deep, rejuvenating breathing into each and every day.  Happy breathing!