Yoga for Stress: Ten Tips for Managing Your Stress

Thank you to all who attended the “Yoga for Stress” workshop. As promised, here are the “Cole’s Notes” from our session together!

Tip #1: You are not your stress
We cannot control the things that happen to us, but we can manage our reactions to those situations, people, events. Instead of living in a constant state of an aroused sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), complete with increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol that result in irritability, tension, inflammation, decreased immune responses, build up of fat around the belly, insomnia, high blood pressure, we can find ways to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) and lower cortisol levels, lower blood pressure, ease tension and inflammation, enhance the immune system
and encourage deep, nourishing sleep.

Tip #2: You are not your thoughts, or your emotions
When stressful things occur, we spend a lot of time thinking about them. Our minds spin around and around, often going over the problems over and over again. For every thought we think, an emotion is generated.

But, we are not our thoughts, or our emotions. There is something in us that is greater than that, and if we move our attention away from our endlessly chattering minds, we can re-connect with a deep inner peace.

The experiment we tried – of observing, labelling (not judging) and then releasing our thoughts and or emotions showed us three very important things:

1. Thoughts generate emotion – positive and negative – and your body can’t tell the difference between a thought and what is actually occurring right now. For your body, it is exactly the same thing.

2. You can control your thoughts, and therefore you can control your emotions.

3. If you can control your thoughts, who is doing the controlling? The answer is the self-aware consciousness that lies deep within us; that part of us that is always peaceful, calm and joyful.

How do we tap into that inner calm?

Tip #3: Lose your mind by grounding your body
How to stop the “monkey mind”? Use our bodies and our breath to focus our awareness on the present moment. If we can, through regular practice, learn to pull our awareness away from the endless brain chatter and focus it on our bodies, we discover that the chatter begins to quiet.

Tip #4. The Breath of Life
• Dirga Breathing
• Ujaiyii breath
• Linking breath and movement exercise (Inhale love; Exhale fear. Inhale compassion; Exhale judgement)

Tip #5: Live in the present moment and love what it is
By practicing regularly, we develop our ability to be mindful of what we are thinking, feeling and doing and more importantly, we develop tolerance and compassion for the experiences we are having. We also learn to be “with” discomfort and not identify with the unpleasant sensations; we can be feeling them, acknowledge them and not react to them. We love where ever we are in our practice; we are perfect just the way we are. No comparisons, no competition, no striving. Just breathe and be.

Top #6: Use asanas to ground and centre us
These asanas promote the calming effects of the parasympathetic nervous system, and help to centre us. Do whatever your body tells you is right, and don’t push yourself- accept yourself:
• Tadasana (Mountain pose)
• Warm up with half Sun Salutations
• Warm up with beginning of Moon Salutation
• Uttanasana (Hanging Standing Forward Fold)
• Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Legged Forward Fold)
• Trikoasana (Triangle)
• Virabhadrasana II (Warrior 2)
• Vrksasana (Tree pose)
• Chandra Namaskara (Moon Salutation)
• Dandasana (Seated Staff)
• Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold)
• Janu Sirasana (One-legged Forward Fold)
• Baddha Konasana (Cobbler’s Pose)
• Jathara Parivartanasana (Reclined Twist)
• Pindasana (Embryo Pose)

Tip #7: Stop Perseverating; Start Appreciating
Research into neurophysiology has shown that “What fires together, wires together!” To put it another way, the synapses (the places where thought impulses are transmitted) in the prefrontal cortex – actually show increased activity, and more importantly, more of them, when people meditated regularly, the areas of the brain involved in emotional balance or regulation, showed increased activity – or firing.

But what is really interesting, is that after a period of regular meditation (just eight weeks), the number of synapses and the grey matter in these areas actually increased. In other words, you can physically change the geography of your brain in a positive or a negative way.

So watch your thoughts – they are not only generating emotions, they are changing the geography of your brain, making it harder, or easier, to experience love or suffering and to influence the way we feel about the things that are happening in our lives.

The ancient yogis knew this without the benefit of MRI’s and PET scans – that what we regularly focus on becomes the reality. So, if we allow our thoughts to “peat and repeat” unpleasant thoughts, we begin to have more of them. If we dwell on the things that generate the stress response in us, we actually encourage the stress response to continue.

Tip #8: Moon Breathing
Chandra Bedhana breathing with 4/6 count: 10 times

Tip #9: Turn Your World Upside Down To Help Your Life Turn Right Side Up
• Legs up wall with mantra Om Santi

Tip #10: Surrender to the flow of life
Guided meditation from Deepak Chopra “21 Day Loving Heart” Meditation Challenge”. The link to purchase this and the other meditations is: http://www.chopracentermeditation.com/bestsellers/LandingPage.aspx?bookid=170

Note that there will soon be a new, FREE 21 Day Meditation Challenge by Deepak Chopra, starting on November 5. Here is the link: https://www.chopracentermeditation.com/Bestsellers/LandingPage.aspx?BookId=172

Bonus Tip #11: Detach from your outcomes
Let go of the attachment to the results of your actions. Pursue with passion those things that ignite the fire in you, but release your attachments to the results of those actions because they are out of our control. The self-delusion of control causes us great stress and suffering as we attempt to wrestle our lives into the results we want. Let go and be at peace with what is; not what we want it to be.

Choose one or two of the techniques and practice them every day, even if it is only for five minutes or a few breaths. It will make a difference in your life – and your stress. Many thanks again to all of you who attended the workshop; I truly hope that some of these tips  resonated with you and help bring you closer to the consciousness within you that is peaceful, calm and joyous.

Our November 18th workshop is, “Searching for Happiness.” Please join us from 1:00 to 2:30 at the Radiant Joy Yoga studio as we explore ways in which yoga can enhance your joy, bring more contentment into your life, and attract abundance with every breath you take. I hope you can join us.

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It All Comes Down To Paper Clips

Our barn caught on fire ; a lot of the content was destroyed. Now we are heaving out piles of things that are melted, charred or torched. If they were just material items, this would be so very simple.

But many of these items are more than just “things”. The toy box held our son’s laughter as a child; the pine table was the place we joined everyone together over dinner; the golf clubs were the promise of a future hobby; the Christmas tree and lights were all the holidays we have shared together as a family; saddles, bridle and tack were remnants of summer days spent riding dusty back roads.

But fire is not sentimental and it ravaged all those memories and promises. Heaving everything into a huge pile, we now toss out all the debris that linked us to the past and hinders us from moving on.

Then, like a fever, this urge to cleanse has permeated all the physical and psychological corners of our lives. Suddenly, closets and shelves are divested of clutter that has piled up over the last 30 years. Even books, my particular sacred cow, are no longer safe from scrutiny. Clothes, shoes, knicknacks, items gifted and re-gifted, ancient decorations,  souvenirs of distant places  – all once treasured and now relegated to dark, dusty recesses – are headed for the dumpster.

In fact, it’s getting to the point that if my husband stops moving for very long, I might decide he is scrap and heave him onto the pile.

Reports, background references, articles, research – my filing cabinets have been filled to capacity with paper that has not been touched in years. But today most of their hanging folders swing empty, because three bins of documents went out, along with all of the hours and hours of work that went into their preparation or review. Those projects, that work  – is Done. Gone. Finished. Letting go of that paper was like letting go of the the past.

Somehow, subconsciously it seemed that if I held onto the material things of the past, I could hold onto all of the good memories and emotions that went along with them. Perhaps even retain my youth, my son as a wee child, my dreams for the future.

But it wasn’t true. My memories are an intrinsic part of who I am today. I am not the clutter, junk and files that clog up my house; I am the result of my experiences. I can throw out the material representations of my past; but I will forever retain the accumulated essence of all that I have become.

As file after file hit the recycling bin I found myself salvaging large, black, fold-back clips. Out of all the things I kept, from all the hours of research and days of writing final reports – all tedious tomes of recommendations and observations – the only items that seemed worthwhile keeping were the paper clips. 

Research, reports and recommendations stale date very quickly. Paper clips on the other hand, are useful forever.

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Our big BBQ – minus the fun and the food!

Our barn fire is definitely proving to be an experience of no small proportion in terms of financial and philosophical change.

I have posted pictures of the damage on my Facebook page.  Next time we have a BBQ of this size, I will be sure to have the burgers and beer on hand!

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Fire!

“Your barn’s on fire! Your barn’s on fire” yelled the stranger, “Call 911!” she screamed, “It’s bad!!”

My husband and I looked at the woman who had roared into our driveway, her hands waving in the direction of our barn, not believing that this could actually be happening. But the smoke pouring into the sky set Paul running towards the barn.

At first, white smoke poured out of the walls and flames licked out from the soffits on the south side of the barn. The smoke rapidly turned into noxious, black clouds that raked the back of my throat with a biting, acrid taste and tore at my eyes with a stinging blindness.

As we tried to battle the fire with puny garden hoses, it became obvious that we were losing the fight. With an overwhelming sense of helplessness, Paul completely closed the barn doors in an attempt to contain the blaze and prevent oxygen from feeding the fire. But it meant that we could not evacuate any of the things were stored in the barn – tractors, boats, antique car….and our new motorhome, packed and ready to leave for a vacation that was to start the next day. And therefore filled with propane and 300 litres of gas – like a bomb waiting to go off.

All we could do was wait for the Fire Department to arrive. Minutes seemed like hours as I walked in circles, afraid to leave the barn, afraid to stay. Fear set in as I worried that the motorhome would explode and take out the garage and the house.

Panic shattered coherent thought as I debated what to prepare for evacuation from the house if the situation got worse. Our dogs, of course, my purse (for ID, credit cards, birth certificate, OHIP, etc) and my computers….so at least I could continue work after this debacle was all over. Photo albums, videos of our son when he was a baby…..that was all I could think of.

And then, thank god, the Fire Department arrived. It was really only about 20 minutes, but it felt like forever. The men leaped out of their trucks, into their gear and into the barn, plunging into the unknown of the billowing black smoke.

What courage that must take. They knew there was a loaded motorhome just inside the doors; they could see from the outside that the fire was raging in the rafters. Yet in they went.

These are not foolish men; they knew what they were doing and how to handle the crisis – yet I still can’t help but admire the guts it must take to go into a burning barn, where visibility was zero, the toxic smoke was overwhelming and the heat was an inferno that melted everything in its path. From the main floor they climbed the stairs to the hay loft, where the fire roared and hell must be paradise by comparison, intent on chopping a hole into the wall and venting the poisonous air.

As they began to conquer the fire and quell the flames, my husband decided it was time to get the motorhome out. His first attempt – without any breathing equipment – ended in failure and a coughing fit that doubled him over, gasping for air. But a second try with a breathing mask used for spray painting and a flashlight to help him find his way, enabled him to crawl his way into the motorhome, find the ignition and drive it blindly out of the barn. With the Fire Department crew spraying the vehicle down as it exited the doors so it would not ignite once it hit the outside air, Paul drove the motorhome out of the burning building.

Not content with that, he went back in and rescued his motorcycle, gunning the engine with the radio blaring as he blew through the doors, smoke pouring out behind him.

I still don’t know if I should be furious with him for endangering himself, or just plain grateful that he did it and survived. All I can say for sure is that he is alive, and well, and no worse for the wear as a result. Once I get my head together, I may kill him for being so valiantly stupid. The fire may not have finished him off, but it remains to be seen if I will or not.

Two hours after the fire began, the Fire Department succeeded in putting it out. Now there is the long process of insurance adjusters, appraisers, “origin and source” investigators, endless lists of destroyed and damaged items, content evaluators, structural engineers, contractors, demolition and construction.

Most of all however, there is the process of gratitude towards a stranger for pulling into our driveway, for the courageous men of the Fire Department, for my insane husband and the universe for delaying an explosion in the motorhome gas and propane tanks. No one was injured, the barn was not completely destroyed and I have had an opportunity to evaluate what is really essential in my life.

The only things needed if we had to evacuate

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Summer Solstice Magic

As the last few voices chanting “Ommmmm” drifted off in the night breeze, the musical tones of a singing bowl faded with the evening light. It was summer solstice 2011 at Palmer Park in Port Perry – and it was magical. Maria Carr of Flow Yoga, hosted a beautiful evening of drumming, guitar and yoga.

The primal beat of Ron Cross’ African drummers reverberated in the hearts of a large crowd and his offer to allow people to try drumming was enthusiastically answered. In a matter of minutes, everyone was beating a drum or banging a tambourine and I, for one, was exuberantly thumping away with a lot of energy matched only by an abysmal lack of skill.

But who cared?! In reality, no one gave a hoot about their actual musical ability; everyone was having too much fun. It was obvious that the usual  hangups brought on by our own perceptions about musical inability were cast aside as huge grins spread around the crowd. We were like a bunch of kindegarten kids given a drum for the first time and we were going to beat it! Freedom of expression took on a whole new meaning as the beat of African drums filled the night air.

And the yoga! Newly engaged in this ancient philosophy and its benefits, it was pure joy to practice yoga with so many people in such an idyllic setting. The sun was setting behind us; a breeze blew off Lake Scugog and Maria gently led us through a session of yoga that inspired serenity and compassion. I could not have asked for a better way to celebrate the longest day of the year and appreciate the many good things in my life. Could life get any better?

As a matter of fact, it did. Around midnight my husband called me outside to look at the fields surrounding our home. There, in the long grass, flickered hundreds of fireflies. Like twinkling stars, flashes of light glittered as if wee fairies were rejoicing in Midsummer when devils and demons are banished by the long day of light.

As Midsummer’s Eve drew to a close, it was fitting that the magic lingered on. And when I closed my eyes and strained my ears to listen, I’m sure I heard the tinkling laughter of the little people just beyond the hills.

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Killbear Park – Food for the Soul!

After a ten year hiatus, my hubbie and I went back to Killbear Park for a few days of camping. Or, sort of camping, if you count an RV as an oversized tent with running water. With dogs, kayaks, hiking boots, camera and of course, a great deal of liquid refreshment, we spent five great days at Killbear. And because it is so early in the season, we had the beaches and trails all to ourselves. What bliss!

Of course, I had to experiment with my camera – and here are some of the results!

A beautiful sunset over one of the beaches at Killbear

A ribbon of light sparkles on the water. You just have to go for a sunset stroll when it looks like this!

The Boardwalk on Twin Points Trail beckons you to enter the forest

Water lilies reach out and cover the planks of the boardwalk

Intricate fungus blanket fallen trees

Tiny green spears pierce the forest floor everywhere you look - if you look carefully!

These wee trilliums beside an old stump looked like a magical setting

I wish I knew the names of these lovely plants. There weren't many of these along the trail, but their beautiful colour drew the eye of all those who passed by.

Close to the forest floor, you could find cloud bursts of white flowers if you got down on your knees!

Boulders slumber throughout the park, like ancient giants nestled into the ground. For all that they are rocks, they still provide a source of food for lichen and other sturdy plant life.

At the end of the trail, a timid deer peeked out from a hidden glen. What a lovely way to end a beautiful hike.

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The Hindu Holy Trinity

Photojournals of India would be missing an essential dimension, if they did not include glimpses into the Hindu religion. One of the oldest religions in the world, if not the oldest, it is polytheistic and complex.

A glimpse of some of the gods and goddesses at a temple

At this Hindu temple, these roof-top deities have been given a touch-up. Reincarnation of a painted type!

If I understand it correctly (and there is serious doubt about that!), Hindus believe in a holy trinity (hmmmm…sound a little familiar?) of Brahma (the creator), Shiva (the destroyer) and Vishnu (the preserver or protector).

The three incarnations of Shiva

And being a religion of gender-equality, each of these three gods are married to goddesses, who are also worshiped by the faithful. Brahma is married to the goddess Vaak (who represents knowledge); Vishnu to Lakshmi (wealth) and Shiva to Parvati (power).

But that only touches on some of the deities. There are many, many more devas (the guy gods) and devis (their better halves)….not to mention godly incarnations on earth, called avatars. Not the blue alien kind of Avatars that James Cameron made famous, but gods that have taken on human form to give homo sapiens a leg-up on enlightenment.

Cave wall carving of Lord Shiva's tenth incarnation as a boar

Interestingly, some of the avatars of the Supreme Being include Lord Krishna and the Buddha. Like the Christian belief in Jesus, Hindus believe that god came to earth in the form of man. Unlike the Christians, Hindus believe it has happened more than once – in fact they believe ten time so far, with more to come.

Ganesha, son of Shiva, god of success

Regardless of the names, and irrespective of the attribute, Hindu gods and goddesses represent different aspects of the universal being. But, like many other religions there are schisms and differing beliefs in the gods. Some Hindus do not believe in the multi-faceted Supreme Being theory but subscribe to the belief that each god is separate.

Regardless, according to the Vedas (ancient scriptures), Hindus believe that “All truth is one; the wise call it by various names”.

By now, if you have been following my blogs about India, you know that I am confused about the many truths in this country. So this last photojournal – about the Hindu religion – is a fitting way to finish. The religion –  like the country – is complex. It is beautiful and mystical yet it contains elements that resonate with Christian beliefs. The gods of the Hindi are as multi-faceted as the human race; they are neither totally benevolent nor wholly avaricious. Perhaps they are merely spiritual reflections of the human race; or we are the flesh and blood of the gods.

Entering a Hindu temple is like stepping back in time. If you ignore the hanging lights and some of the modern clothing, this could be a scene from two thousand years ago.

Carved stone columns depicting some of the gods

A three thousand year old mango tree. Couples line up to touch the tree, to ask for fertility, prosperity and love.

Within the courtyard of the temple, lies a sacred pond and another shrine.

It is Lakshmi's birthday and we were privileged to be there when the procession occurred. A statue of the goddess is carried on a litter by eight men, into the temple.

After the procession, ritual cleansing occurs for worshipers

Back inside the temple. offerings and prayers are made to the god Nandi. Nandi carries Shiva; he is also the gatekeeper to Shiva's home and the chief of his army. Symbolically, Nandi represents the devoted mind.

At Mammalapuram, we visited a famous archaeological site, where "Kishna's Butterball" is also located. When the British first came to this site, they believed the precariously balanced boulder, resting on a steep slope, was a trick. To prove it, they roped seven elephants to the boulder and tried to pull it down....totally without success. Today,children rest in the shadow, or slide down the rocky slope like kids on a snowy hill.

Our Brahman guide (even monks need to make a living!) described the history around this bas-relief known as "Arjuna's Penance". It is the second largest stone cutting in the world, full of rich detail about battles, losses, penance, meditation and redemption.

A 3000 year old statue; at her feet, sacred cows foraging through garbage. Religion and survival are not separate; they are merely part of life.

The Pancha Rathas are ancient shrines; each one was cut out of a single stone. The Pancha Rathas were built over 2000 years ago during the reign of King Mahendravarman

An elephant, lion and bull guard the shrines

At Mammalapuram, as in many other places, children are scattered everywhere, begging for money. But the sight of this tiny monkey, leashed to this man's wrist and dancing at the end of a rope, seemed like the raw image of utter helplessness and despair. Five rupees from a tourist stops the stick from coming down.

The full moon rising over the Bay of Bengal as we left Mammalapuram

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