Not So Grand Illusions

So many of us are afraid of thinking too highly of ourselves or appearing prideful, but what about always assuming the worst. When we lack self-compassion and continually judge ourselves it becomes easier to do the same to others. It is almost impossible to judge only yourself harshly. Unfortunately judgement and negativity becomes a viscous cycle that can be hard to break. So how do we let go of negative self perceptions without swinging to the other side of the spectrum? Tuning into the truth as it is right now in the present moment………..Ok, easier said than done. Personally I have found that cultivating the skill of acceptance has been extremely helpful. When I first starting learning about 3rd Wave CBT (Mindfulness and Acceptance based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) I was really turned off by the concept of acceptance. It sounded too much like resignation or just plain giving up. Luckily I investigated further and discovered something more subtle and gentle. Acceptance is about being honest with ourselves and acknowledging our truthful feelings, possible biases, and basic desires. Acceptance is the opposite of resistance. When practiced with awareness and an open mind, acceptance can teach us a lot about ourselves and the world around us.

For example, I was recently speaking with some friends about the conclusions we jump to when we don’t get an expected response from a person we know well. It is easy to assume that someone didn’t laugh at our joke because they are mad at us or we just aren’t funny. Usually the reason has less to do with us. A usually jovial friend who doesn’t laugh is probably distracted by a task, received somber news or just is not having a good day. When we engage in acceptance we keep our mind open to current information and not succumb to making assumptions. There are assumptions that seem to be common to many of us. These are often referred to as cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are basic PSYC 101, but I never quit finding value in revisiting them.

The below list of cognitive distortions was retrieved from

  1. All-or-nothing thinking: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
  1. Overgeneralization: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
  1. Mental filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors the entire beaker of water.
  1. Disqualifying the positive: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. You maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
  1. Jumping to conclusions: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
    • Mind reading: You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you and don’t bother to check it out.
    • The Fortune Teller Error: You anticipate that things will turn out badly and feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.
  1. Magnification (catastrophizing) or minimization: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”
  1. Emotional reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
  1. Should statements: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
  1. Labeling and mislabeling: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him, “He’s a damn louse.” Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded.
  1. Personalization: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which, in fact, you were not primarily responsible.

From: Burns, David D., MD. 1989. The Feeling Good Handbook. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.


Therapeutic Yoga Class

Tomorrow is the first class of Yoga for Life’s new Therapeutic Yoga class.  I look forward to seeing the class grow and would love to see you there.  This restorative yoga class will include supported postures, breath awareness exercises and guided meditation.  The sequencing, pace and tone of the class is specifically designed for those who are in the process of healing or have ongoing health challenges. This class is perfect for those with Fibromyalgia, Multiple sclerosis (MS), Arthritis, Asthma, other autoimmune diseases or in recovery from illness or surgery.  It is recommended that you consult your physician previous to starting and during class always listen to and respect your body.

Location: Yoga for Life

Time: 5:30-6:30pm Fridays

Cost: Punch Card: 10 classes for $75.00,  Unlimited Yoga classes for $60.00/Month, Walk-ins: $10.00 per class

Hala’s DVD!

I have tried many yoga videos.  Most really bugged me and I found it hard to ‘drop into’ a yoga state of mind. My students and friends often ask for video recommendations, but this dislike of most yoga videos has made it almost impossible.  I recognize that yoga videos do provide guidance when someone can’t afford classes or live in an isolated location without access to a yoga instructor.  Therefore I have always stuck to recommending the basic Yoga Journal series.  They are professional, clear, and safe, but a new president has been set.  Hala Khouri has just released a yoga video that I am addicted to.  Her presentation is authentic and heartfelt, without being cheesy.  The video includes: a warm up, standing sequence, flowing sequence, cool down and two guided meditations.  I have found that I can easily pick and choose the sections that best suit my needs at that very moment.  As a yoga teacher I love the opportunity to be the student and trust in Hala’s guidance. I would recommend this video to anyone looking to manage stress, tap into their body or just get a workout.

The video can be purchased from amazon:

Published in: on April 2, 2011 at 6:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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Esalan here I Come!

Tomorrow I leave for a yoga training intensive. I will be taking a break from my computer for a whole week! I promise to return with tons of pictures to post. Below I have included information about the training. Talk with you in a week.

Urban Yogi: Contemporary Teacher Training in Mind-Body Yoga

Hala KhouriJulian Walker

“Bringing together asana, energetics, anatomy, and somatic psychology, Hala Khouri and Julian Walker place modern yoga in a truly East-meets-West context. During this weeklong intensive for yoga teachers, bodyworkers, helping professionals, and interested students, you will explore yoga as both an ancient shamanic ritual practice and as a contemporary mind-body process. This engaging and multi-faceted workshop incorporates transformational flow, deep stretch, ecstatic dance, as well as group process and practical healing and teaching tools.

Yoga teachers find themselves in a unique role as contemporary spiritual guides. Hala and Julian use their experience creating and facilitating support groups for yoga teachers to address common roadblocks and misconceptions about what it means to be a teacher today. Their post-New-Age philosophy challenges some current beliefs about spirituality and invites you to think critically about what spiritual and psychological growth means.”

Published in: on November 26, 2010 at 4:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Emotional Yoga Graduates!

Yesterday was the last class for our first NAMI-Yoga program, a seven week Emotional Yoga workshop series. The program has been a dream of mine for years. I am so excited to say that the first series went wonderfully. We had a great time and learned a ton. The next series will be even better!

I could not have seen this dream come to fruition without a huge support team and I want to thank everyone involved. In particular I want to recognize:

  • Ann Kirkwood – for introducing me to NAMI in the first place.
  • Paula Campbell – for being inspired by the  idea and mentoring the process.
  • Debbie Murphy – for teaching me the power of yoga and always providing rock solid support.
  • Hala Khouri – for inspiring me with her work in yoga, psychology & activism. No matter how busy her schedule, she was always willing to provide advice and direction.
  • Ann and Cynthia – for being the women behind the NAMI machine. They are the ones who always made sure we had what we needed for each workshop.
  • Stu Bryson – my husband, who put up with my obsessively single focused mind for the last year!
  • Jennifer Schlechte – my right hand yogi and partner in crime. Jen donated more than 50 hours of her time to teaching, compiling music and anything else I needed help with. She has been the best partner I could have asked for and I am so excited to have the privilege to continue to work with her.
  • Dan, Joel, Rea, Julia, Yang and (not pictured) Lorraine and Val – the 2010 graduates, for being open minded, supportive, giving and committed. You all made this possible. Best Wishes.

Emotional Yoga Graduates 2010

If you would like to know more about:

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Simplified Progressive Muscle Relaxation

1.    Breathe comfortably throughout the Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercise.

2.    Lying on the floor or sitting comfortably, begin by closing your eyes and listening to your breath.

3.    One by one we will be flexing and then relaxing different muscle groups.

4.    Start with your hands and feet, flex and release.

5.    Flex your lower arms and lower legs, then release.

6.    Flex your upper arms and upper legs, then release.

7.    Scrunch up your face muscles and then release.

8.    Tighten all the muscles in your bottom and torso, then release.

9.    Lastly, flex all your muscles at once, hold for a couple of seconds.

10.  Release and relax your whole body. Listen quietly to your body and feel where your body is being supported.   Feel supported and relaxed.

Published in: on October 12, 2010 at 5:25 am  Comments (2)  
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Belly Breathing

Belly Breathing – Diaphragmatic Breathing

First of all what is the diaphragm? The diaphragm is a large muscle that runs horizontally across the base of the ribcage. Through contraction and relaxation the diaphragm controls our lungs, either allowing air in or pushing air out. Just like other muscles, by working them in intentional ways they grow stronger. As we become more used to engaging and working our diaphragm we can increase the quality of our breath. Increasing the strength and stamina of the diaphragm is the first step to not only increasing breath quality, but also to easing our introduction to other breathing exercises. The following steps will guide you through a simple diaphragmatic breathing exercise.

Simple Diaphragmatic breathing technique:

Breathing exercises can be practiced lying down, sitting in a chair or seated on the floor. The important part is that you are comfortable and able to maintain good posture.

1.     Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.

2.     Keep your shoulders, head and neck relaxed.

3.     Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand.

4.     As you exhale let your stomach muscles fall inward and upward.

5.     Repeat for three breaths then return to your accustomed breathing for several cycles of breath. When you are ready draw your attention again to your hands and your breath.

Published in: on September 14, 2010 at 3:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Making Time To Listen

I have been thinking a lot about making time to listen. With my recent return to college I have been feeling rushed all the time. I find the biggest challenge is knowing when to say no. It is a constant balancing act between responsibilities and self-care. Where do I find the answers to my daily dilemmas? Often times I don’t find the answers, but through practice I am working to strengthen my connection to my ‘gut instinct’.  Our bodies tell us the truth.  When I stay in connection with not only my mind, but also my body, finding the answers to daily questions becomes second nature.

Take a few moments to remember the last decision you made.  Do you remember what you were feeling in your body during this time?  Did you have a stomach ache, headache, neck or back pain, shortened breath, restless legs, itchy skin, tightening in the chest, change in breath…..there are a million ways our bodies communicate with us (and they are not always negative or uncomfortable).  Our modern world moves so fast and uses so much technology that it encourages us to stay in our minds.  The longer we stay in our minds without consideration for our bodies the harder it gets to reconnect.  This is why yoga can be so emotional.  Emotions are the way our body attempts to communicate with us. Through yoga asanas we bring the mind and body back into connection and practice using our whole selves in sync.  This synchronicity is what will lead us to balance and toward greater wisdom.

“There is guidance for each of us, and by only listening, we shall hear the right word.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am working on sitting still long enough to hear who I really am, to hold asanas long enough to join more securely the mind and body. Through practice I will know myself better and the answers I seek will materialize more organically. There will always be times in life when things are more rushed than we would like, but creating quiet moments not to think, but instead just to be, will lead us toward happiness and contentment.

“Today let me take some time to listen.”

Finding balance is hard work!

Importance of Breath

Pranayama (breath control/exercises) is focused on in most hatha yoga classes, but attentions on breathing exercises alone are rare. The more I study about yoga and Vedic techniques for emotional health, the more evident it has become that Pranayama is crucial. As stated by Swami Ajaya, in Healing the Whole Person-Applications of Yoga Psychotherapy, “Breath is the vehicle that links all facets of one’s functioning; breathing, posture, and thinking are interrelated, and they influence one another. In yoga psychology, the breath is a tool for regulating all of one’s emotional and mental states, and even the way in which one behaves.”

Elementary studies of the breath can have dramatic effects.  Begin to notice your natural ‘style’ of breathing. Is your breath shallow/deep, smooth/catchy, constant/intermittent? Any subtleties that you can make note of will help you deepen your awareness. As you become more familiar with your personalized breath you can begin to observe how your breath changes throughout the day and in response to varying activities and different emotional states.

What do you do with all the above information?  Well, the great news is that once you are more aware of the interaction between your consciousness and your breath, you can begin to have more control over your experience of life. In the next couple of blogs I plan to discuss the specific ways that breath can play a powerful role in your level of happiness.

Published in: on July 29, 2010 at 8:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Yoga Therapy

What is yoga therapy?

Many people think of yoga therapy and picture something similiar to physical therapy, which it can be, but is not always.  There are many forms of yoga therapy.  Like other forms of therapy it is often labeled according to the injury or disorder it is working to improve.  An approach I prefer is labeling according to the positive effects the client hopes to achieve.  For example yoga therapy for mental health verses yoga therapy for depression.  I just like the positive shift. Due to the fact that we are culturally acustomed to identifying with the problem rather than the solution I realize this can seem confusing for some.  There are many labels, practices and applications for yoga therapy.  OK, now you are probably wondering if I am going to provide any clarity to this question.  Well, I believe the best way is to provide you with some resources and see what your opinion is on the topic….what is yoga therapy?  Let me know what you think.

Published in: on July 12, 2010 at 4:45 pm  Leave a Comment