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Monday, August 29, 2011

Gratitude and glasses

Lately I have been feeling a little down in the dumps.  Everyone goes through a funk every now and then, some more than others.  I tend to be an eternal optimist but even I can suffer from a bout of the blues once in a while, sometimes the glass is only half full. 

When I was younger, I went through some turbulent times as I am sure most of you have too.  It builds character, gives us gumption, right?  I hope so.  The experiences we have shape our lives and the people we are now.  I wouldn't trade 'em because I really believe that all things, good and bad, give us an opportunity to learn, to grow. 

So today, I thought that instead of focusing on the ugly, I would make a list of things I am grateful for. 

I am grateful for the sound of my Pug's snoring downstairs, because I know that means she's content and full.

I am grateful for my ears because I can hear the soulful sweet music playing downstairs, "Into the Mystic," now that's good stuff.

I am grateful for my eyes because I can see the green leaves on the trees outside my kitchen window, because I know that Autumn is coming, the colors will change and the leaves will fall reminding me that I am also going through the seasons of my life and that each one is precious and a gift.

I am grateful for my fingers because they are my most creative appendages, they allow me to put the words in my head down in print to share with others.

I am grateful for my cat who is sitting nearby, grooming her soft fur, and that reminds me of comfort and love from my childhood.

I am grateful for the unmade beds in my house because I have a warm place to sleep at night.

I am grateful for my mother who gave me life and who is always there for me, who gets me and all my crazy and loves me even more.

I am grateful for my father who I know is watching over me now and who I will miss forever until we meet again, and also because he taught me how to work a vice and a screwdriver.

I am grateful for my children because they are truly the funniest people I know and without laughter, what's it all about anyway?

I am grateful for patience because my husband has a lot of it and without him, I would not be the woman I am today.

I am grateful for my friends and family and their love and ongoing support.  Making dreams come true all by yourself is no fun.

I am grateful for so many things, this list could go on and on and on. 

What a lucky girl I am.

So today, think about what you are grateful for and maybe make a little list. 

My dear friend Amber always reminds me to count your blessings because someone always has it worse than you, and you know she's right.   

We tend to pick and point out the worst parts of ourselves, our days, our friends...maybe just today you see the glass is half full.

My cup runneth over...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Focus, or at least I am trying to.

Good morning and happy Saturday!

If you are like me, you might suffer from a little ADD or OCD, which can be bothersome at times but I prefer to remove the negative connotation and re-frame it in a more positive about "Effective Multi-tasker?"

Let me explain. 

Take cleaning the house for example.  One would assume that it might be best to start in one room, finish that task and then move on to the next.  My logical brain tells me that's the ideal plan, however my scatterbrain suggests otherwise. Perhaps I start out with this plan in mind and although the execution is off to a great start, the phone rings and I have to answer it. 

If the phone is next to the computer, I might check my email.  Then the email might mean that I need to answer a pressing question from a friend or colleague.  Then I remember that I need to pay the bills so the drawer opens up and out they come.  Then I realize that the drawer needs to be cleaned out and as all the paperwork is spread out on the carpet, I spot a picture of an old friend.  Ahhhh memories.

Then I open the cupboards and begin to search for those photos that I need to gather for my upcoming reunion.  Piles of albums build up on the counter and then I remember...Ah, those photos are downstairs.  I run down to the closet like the Tasmanian Devil and take out the vacuum and wrapping paper.  They must be in here somewhere.  Nope, they must be in the garage in the file cabinet.  I take out all the files and no, not there either.  Oh yeah, just remembered.  In the box under the bed.  Back upstairs I go, only I've left a trail of crap like Hansel and Gretal left breadcrumbs, at least I found my way back to my room where it all started.

I gather up all the laundry and put it in the hamper.  I then straighten the books,  make the bed and remember what I need to focus on:  Cleaning the house. Instead, what I have done is created an even bigger mess.  So it's back to the computer room to organize the bills, put the albums away, run downstairs to close the drawers, shove the wrapping paper and vacuum back in the closet, and finally back to the garage to jam the file folders into the cabinet.

What was I doing again?

Now it's probably been about two hours of this nonsense and what have I accomplished?  Hmmmm.

I suddenly have a great idea for a blog. 

Now that my friends is "Effective Multi-tasking."

I sure hope the phone doesn't ring.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"The Help," A film review...

I went to see "The Help" yesterday. 

I was prepared for a movie that would make me laugh...that's pretty much all I had heard about it other than that the book was amazing.  I was NOT prepared for the lump that would remain steadfast in my throat nearly the entire film.

I can't speak for the book because I haven't read it, but I intend to.  I can say that this movie was one of the best I have seen in a long time.  The last two pieces of cinema magic I saw before it were "Horrible Bosses" and "The Change-up."  What can I say, I'm an easy audience and I do like to laugh.

But, this kind of movie is the kind that sticks with you.  After we left the theater and sat down at a table outside, my mother-in-law, sister-in-law and I talked about it over a late lunch.  We all agreed that was the kind of story that needs to be told and that the acting was superb.

There were so many messages conveyed through the film, from the deep bonds of sisterhood, to the ongoing and tumultuous segregation and racist issues during that time, to the notion of hope and love crossing over the boundaries of skin color and cultural oppression. 

The truth is, watching how these some of these characters portrayed by white women and they way that they treated their black maids with utter disgust and disdain, as though they were not human, made me feel absolutely sick to my stomach.  Knowing that was really only 60 years ago, well that's even more frightening.

The book may have been a work of fiction, but the stories were certainly founded on reality and the lives that African American people led in the South back in the 1950's.

But there was also the message of both hope and redemption and that the gap between black and white would slowly begin to close.  

I can never imagine what it would have been like to live like that, to not have every opportunity to become whoever I wanted and to not have basic rights that every person, every woman, deserves just because my skin was dark.  To have my hopes and dreams shattered by the ignorant minds of those that controlled the government and the people, well as I said, it's unimaginable. 

I am hoping that this movie will lend itself as a vehicle to the masses, some of which may still harbor hate and prejudice in their hearts, and expose the raw emotions and condition of the human spirit. 

Perhaps it will help remind us and create some awareness of our history, history that is in the not so distant past. 

Perhaps it will show that beneath the color of our skin, lie the same feelings of joy and sorrow, and that compassion is an emotion that is equal to us all. 

Perhaps is will allow us to take a minute to practice gratitude for how far we have come and give us the strength to support one another, to continue to live our lives with light and love and remember that every single one of us has a story to be told.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Power Yoga and the POWER of Yoga....

You may or may not know that yoga is one of my passions.  I started practicing, and I use that term loosely here, about 19 years ago when I was first introduced to the Hatha style in a holistic health class at Orange Coast College.

Over the years, I'd taken a few classes here and there but the intensity I needed in my workouts just seemed to be lacking in the relaxed paced atmosphere of the classes I'd attended. 

Every now and again I would drop in on a class or do some poses at home but it wasn't until about five years ago that I really started to incorporate yoga practice and its teachings into my life.

Fast forward to now and I can't go a few days without at least one class but I am at my best when I practice three or for times in a week, a healthy addiction I suppose.

Yoga, by definition, means the union of the mind, soul and body.  Teachers of Ayurveda, the ancient Indian art of medicine and life, suggest that one should be immersed in the daily rituals of Ayurveda before even beginning a yoga practice.  But let's face it, we are Westerners with limited knowledge about yoga, let alone the intricate nature of Ayurveda. 

Ideally, incorporating the two into our lives will help to sustain a long and healthy journey into old age, at least we hope. 

There is an abundance of texts and information available on the topics of Ayurveda and yoga and two of my favorites are "Perfect Health," by Deepak Chopra and "Light on Yoga," by B.K.S. Iyengar.  These books offer a wealth of information but "Perfect Health" is a great introduction to both that is easy to read, follow and understand.

I could go on and on about these subjects but my own knowledge amounts to about the same as a grain of sand on the beach...I have so much more to learn and study but that is the beauty of it.  I am in no hurry and I am content to be exactly where I am at, present in this moment.

Let me tell you, it wasn't always this way.  Yoga has taught me to be mindful, patient and more compassionate for others.  It has allowed me to free myself of the inner demons that have haunted me.  Yoga, coupled with cognitive therapy, helped to guide me to the place I am today.  I am more centered and focused about my future and at the same time, I am able to recognize that this very moment is truly the only thing we have for sure.

During one of the most difficult times in my life about two years ago when my father and best friend passed away nearly simultaneously, yoga helped me channel my feelings through my body and allowed me to connect with my core.  I was able to purge the stress and anxiety I was experiencing through the mindful meditation of my yoga practice and I was able to let go of the anger and sadness that would, at times, consume my soul.

Today, while in class and deeply emerged into "sleeping pigeon" pose, I was once again reminded of the power yoga had over me.  Sara Mclachlan's song "I Will Remember You" began to play through the speakers, echoing through the room.  I started to think of my Dad and as I lay there, tears streaming down my cheeks silently, I thought about how much I love and miss him. 

My body and breath allowed me the awareness to release the physical tension I felt in my muscles and although at that moment I experienced profound sadness, I gained a sense of relief and comfort as I lingered in the pose (asana) a few minutes longer. I connected to the memories I have of him and our life as father and daughter and felt gratitude for the time we did have together. 

These experiences are deeply personal but I feel compelled to share them because it is through sharing our feelings that we can begin or continue to heal.  The energy I feel at the studio or gym is both exhilarating and positive at once.  When people can join together in close quarters, moving in unison and using our pranayama (breath=life), we begin to co-exist peacefully with love in our open hearts.  That is the power of yoga.

So I can say this much to you, your yoga practice is your own and it can start with something as simple as the breath.  Connecting your mind to your body and becoming aware of the consciousness that lies in your heart can be the beginning of peace within your soul.

There are so many different styles of yoga from Kundalini (creating a deeper awareness within your practice) to Vinyasa (flow) to Restorative, yoga is available to all who seek it.  And for those who challenge the notion that yoga is not an intense workout, check out Jennifer Aniston or Madonna and tell me those ladies are not two of our more fit celebrities.  They both credit yoga as one of the reasons for their ultra-toned bodies.

Yoga gives us permission to accept ourselves exactly as we are.  It allows us the opportunity for growth and change while remaining a constant source of inspiration in our daily lives.  There is no pressure to push, the focus is on acceptance and love of who you are right this very minute.

For those of you who are already practicing, may you continue to deepen your awareness through the love and light in your soul.

And for those of you who aren't, you may not be ready to start your practice just yet but know that when you are, yoga will be there waiting and ready for you.

Until then,

(The teacher within me honors the teacher in you.)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Goooooaaaaalllll! And I'm not talking soccer...

So they say in order to reach your goals, you should take baby steps...

Who are "they" anyway?  Well I suspect "they" are experts.  How do "they" become experts, one might ask...

Through research, study, polls, surveys, statistical analysis and sometimes self proclamation. 

So in my non-expert opinion, I think goals are essential.  They give us something to work toward and taking baby steps might be the best way to get there.

But, if your goal is a rather simple one, maybe like taking a swim in an unheated pool, perhaps it's best to suck it up and, quite literally jump in, forgetting about baby steps entirely...Yet as we attempt to ease ourselves into the cold water we often move at a snail's pace submerging ourselves inch by inch as the tepid fluid surrounds our shivering flesh.  C'mon, we all know that once the water hits the stomach, we scrunch our shoulders up and cringe until we finally say screw it and dunk ourselves!

Some might argue that easing into the water is the only way to go, while others would insist that jumping in with a running start is the better option.

With all goals, it takes a little time to determine the best method to achieve them.  We have to think about our approach, and whether we take baby steps or giant leaps, we still must have a plan in order to reach our target.

That's where the experts weigh in...

When I googled "goal setting," something around 22 million sites came up so it seems that there are plenty of expert opinions, options and offerings on the ways in which we can set and accomplish our intentions.  Frankly I don't have the time to sift through millions of Web sites to take their free quizzes or read their detailed instructions, therefore I will throw out my very own strategy for accomplishing your objective...Take it or leave it, no pressure here.

1) Define your goal
i.e. Write a book.

2) Come up with a plan to accomplish said goal
i.e. Develop an idea

3) Outline your strategy
i.e. Make a list of steps of what you need to do

4) Begin with step one...(remember, baby steps)
i.e. Write 5 pages today (or maybe a sentence)

5) Give yourself a manageable deadline
i.e. Finish by age 40

6) Cut yourself some slack
i.e. There's still 9 months left...hey, you grew a life in 9 months, you can certainly create a book.

7) Reward yourself when you have reached your goal!
i.e. Throw a kick-ass birthday/book launch party!

Ok, so maybe I have outlined my personal goal for the next year but I thought it would be a good idea to give a real life example, plus now that I have put it out there, I have to hold myself to it, right? 

I am the kind of person who needs to collect a lot of information and then sort through it and figure out my approach.  What I have learned is that often I spend too much time researching and worrying about the outcome that I find myself procrastinating instead of just digging in. 

My dear friend Dale (also a blogger and talented all around gal) has written many inspiring pieces about seizing the day and creating from within.  I am taking all of that to heart and as I've said it before, we don't have a whole lot of time on this planet.  It's not worth it to sit around second-guessing and questioning every little aspect, thought and idea we have because it might not be perfect, who has time for that junk? 

So kids, set your goals for today, be them large or small, and make a genuine effort to accomplish them.  In the end, you will be happy and satisfied that you tried and that is a reward in and of itself.  

Carpe Diem as they say!  Here's my Friday to do list:

Practice (at least) one random act of kindness-

That's it, not too heavy and I don't need baby steps in order to accomplish them.

The water might be chilly but today I am diving right in!