Our brain has synapses that are constantly firing, and the more we learn the stronger these connections and firing become
It seems like every new book written about happiness hits the NYTimes bestseller list
Knowing whether or not you’re happy would seem obvious, but that’s not always the case.
A powerful story of how yoga has empowered the journey of an incredible young woman on her path to a life of greatness. And how you can use yoga in your life to advance your body, mind and wellbeing.
On The Power of Yoga
Quieting the mind; opening the heart
Yoga has been a constant in my life since I was 17 years old. When I made the choice to become a high school teacher in 2007 through the New York City Teaching Fellows program, my instinct told me to become a yoga teacher, as well. Because as a teen, yoga truly helped me learn to love myself.
I can clearly recall my first time teaching yoga at Bayard Rustin Educational Complex in 2007. The gym was on the top floor of an art deco building that looked like a castle. The hallways were decorated with murals from the 1930’s Work Projects Administration’s Federal Arts Project. Light shone in through the stone windows, and a group young women who failed gym sat in front of me, unsure what to expect. So I told them my story.
When I was 17 years old, I worked at Double Rainbow, an ice cream shop in San Rafael, California, that had too many delicious flavors. Thank goodness for the gym across the street, where I learned yoga. My original intention for practicing yoga was to get in shape for prom. But what I found was so much more: One hour of yoga cleared my mind, and for the first time, the nagging voice in my head that stopped me from loving myself quieted down.
Giving back to the community
This is what I could offer this group of diverse teens, many who were reluctant to be at an after school gym credit make-up class: The practice that helped me learn to love myself. After a few weeks of doing yoga as a teen, when looking at myself in a mirror, I saw someone different: Beautiful, confident, ambitious. It wasn’t the physical practice of yoga, or asana, that made this change in me. Rather, it was the ability to connect my mind with my body, and see all that I was capable of.
Yes, my body went into poses that may have seemed impossible before. But it was the process of being in my body—not letting my mind drift off in a negative monologue—that helped me get to the point of self love. This was my mission teaching teens at Bayard Rustin yoga, and on the last day of our class, I was blessed with hugs and thank-yous. A few young women confided in me that the yoga class was more than a gym credit make-up for them, and that it had really impacted their sense of self.
This all happened in my past life as a special education and yoga teacher at a high school. Since then, I’ve gone through many changes. I started an office yoga company. I recently went through a life threatening health crisis. And I’m currently going through a life transition where, for the first time in my adult life, I am single. Yoga is a constant that I’ve had throughout all of this, and it has helped me through it all.
Connection and power through change
A wise yoga teacher in Sri Lanka once told me that the only guarantee you have in life is that everything will change. We were sitting in a wooden pagoda in the lush jungle, surrounded by the songs of birds. The only guarantee in life is that everything will change. The only permanent thing you have in your life is the relationship between your mind, breath, and body. No matter what happens around you, as long as you are alive, this relationship is permanent. This is the most important and permanent relationship you have, so nurture it.
For me, yoga was the path to finding mind-breath-body connection. Many things can be considered “yoga” if we look at the translation of the word from Sanskrit as connection, or union. For other people, their path may be running, cycling, dancing. Your relationship with your body is the best tool you have to power through the guaranteed changes we will face in our volatile lives.
When you are powering through a change or transition in your life, any physical practice that brings you more connected to your mind and body will help you come out of it healthy and whole. Try this one minute sequence to start your path on to new beginnings.
And remember that you are whole, and cannot be defined by external sources like possessions, friends, even partners. Take a moment to listen to yourself breathe, and find yourself.
BestMe led an interactive Workplace Wellness session focusing on smart tweaks we can make to our workdays to get more energy and feel healthier and happier.
Feel Better and Get More Done During the Workday
We all know that we get our best work done when we are feeling our best. The workday is usually full of stress, and it's easy to lose sight of taking care of ourselves. But little self-care habits peppered into the workday can make a huge impact on your health and productivity.
Following a workshop on Workplace Wellness with coworking network KettleSpace led by BestMe co-founder Chris Bradicich and personal trainer Aylon Pesso, we've laid out some key takeaways on smart strategies work smart and step up your self-care game below.
Importance of Posture
With our jobs often tethering us to chairs and computers, it is easy to sit for most of the day and lose sight of good posture. But did you know that when you sit or stand tall and your shoulders are back, you get a big spike in oxygen to your brain and a consequent boost in energy? When you need a boost - and really just throughout the day, give yourself a chance to stand tall, lift your shoulders, set them back, take a deep breath, engage your core and use good posture.
And as it turns out, Kettle is set up perfectly with standing desks at the bar area where you can work standing up. Give it a try!
Stretching to Success
The group agreed that it is easy to get tightness throughout the hips and back as a result of sitting a lot. It's part of the 21st century lifestyle! But in addition to sitting tall and standing more often, you can relieve tightness with some smart stretches.
Aylon highlights that doing stretches at your desk is a great quick way to ease tightness in the hips and recommends some favorites, such as (e.g., the Figure 4 Stretch and the Pelvic Forward Tuck) for the hips and several stretches for the neck (Slow Rolls - slowly rolling your neck around in circles, The Chicken - moving your head forward and tucking it back, The Egyptian - moving your head from side to side).
Remember, everything is connected, so a pain in the neck could be a result of an issue in the hips or knees or feet. Stretch, strengthen, and explore all parts of the body. If you have a chronic issue, don't forget to see a professional, whether a doctor, massage therapist, physical therapist, fitness trainer, or a combination.
Squeezing little workouts into your day is a great way to get your blood pumping a bit and increase your energy level. Some great suggestions here included walking during meetings, running when you need to make a decision or overcome stress, and doing push-ups or squats. Doing even just 2 pushups at a steady table, counter, stairs, or anything else is a great way to squeeze in a little bit of a workout and exercise.
And remember to inject fun into your workouts. Because if you're not enjoying fitness, you're not going to do it. Find something you find fun, make it a game, get up, and keep moving! And remember that making fitness social and even getting a trainer can really help your results.
Keep Your Goals in Mind
Setting goals is a powerful way to structure your efforts and energy so that you can accomplish great things. But inevitably in the business of our modern working lives, other things pop up that distract us from our core goals. A smart way to plan ahead for this is to bring reminders of your goals into your environment so that you'll see them every day. Keeping a photo of your goals on your desk, on a whiteboard, on your smartphone background or on a recurring calendar entry provides you with a trigger to keep them at the forefront and inspire you to take action. A great way to make this fun is to use a picture that reminds you of your goal. Try to find one of you doing something you love, or you at your happiest point.
More broadly, surround yourself with a group of people who share your passion and your goal, who can support you in accomplishing it and take some of the work out of reaching it. That old adage that you are a product of the 5 people you spend the most time with? There's a lot of wisdom in there!
Meditate through Challenges
A powerful way to overcome a challenging situation in your business, whether an intimidating conversation or task or an opportunity that is causing you some hesitation is to activate the power of appreciation. Leveraging the latest neuroscience and techniques recommended by Tony Robbins, Chris led an exercise to fix your mind on any problem, then turn your heart to appreciation of something you are grateful for, and a coincidence that brought you joy and good fortune. When you've internalized this, the answer to the question "All I need to do is ________" becomes much clearer, and you will have unexpected power to act boldly and effectively.
More broadly, keep in mind that meditation does not need to be defined by you sitting on a cushion and saying "Om." Meditation is really the ability to get out of your own head by focusing on something (e.g., your breath, running, playing music, etc.) enough that it turns into a concentration state of flow. A key meditation "hack" is that most of the benefit actually comes from slowing your breathing to 6-8 breaths per minute - so if you ever need to reduce stress in the moment, focus on extending your breaths and within 60 seconds your cortisol levels (neurotransmitters for stress) will drop significantly, and your level of calm and focus will spike.
Interested in more? Here's a more full set of some of the ideas that we brainstormed together.
Getting above the clouds of your thoughts and worries and experiencing the benefits of meditation is very doable, no matter your experience level. Here are seven different experiences that I tend to have on a regular basis to give you an idea of what you can expect.
Oh. My. God. Do you meditate?!
The best thing you don't know how to do
At this point, meditation is a thing. It’s arrived, it’s real, people are doing it.
You probably hear about it at work, in your social circles, on TV and the radio. The fact is that meditation carries tremendous mental, physical and emotional benefits that can be delivered in only a few minutes a day.
However, a lot of people who might benefit from meditation are still pretty damn skeptical about it. Besides the very real fear of sitting alone in silence, one of the biggest complaints that people have about meditation is that they don’t know if they’re doing it right. It’s so unclear.
In a culture where we have been raised to expect that there is a clear right and wrong way to do things, learning to meditate can feel a bit unnatural. In stark contrast to the typical efforts we embark on, the deeper you get into meditation, the more you will learn that there is no wrong way to do it.
But there is probably nothing more frustrating for someone trying to get into meditation than asking an experienced meditator if they’re doing it right, and getting a response like:
- “Don’t worry about 'right or wrong,' just sit”
- “Just focus on your breath, and clear your mind."
- "If you have thoughts, don’t get attached, just let them float on by like a cloud."
Hearing these statements over and over again can be confusing at best and infuriating at worst.
Just a little direction would help. Anything. Help us, oh enlightened ones!
The secret is that there is no "right" way to do it
There are many ways to meditate
As someone who has been meditating consistently for four years, I have some ideas that can help you quiet your inner critic and develop your meditation practice.
In an effort to shed some light on what you may experience when you meditate, I’ve given names to 7 different ways one of my meditations might go.
These are not types of meditations, but rather what’s going on in my head while I meditate. Hopefully, some of these assuage your fears that you’re “doing it wrong”.
1. The 100% Distracted Meditation
In this meditation you sit in your preferred position, close your eyes (or keep them open depending on the type of meditation you do, and then immediately begin thinking about random crap: what you had for breakfast, what you’re eating for dinner, all the work you should be doing instead of sitting here doing nothing, if you’ve gotten any matches on tinder while you’re sitting here doing nothing, that crazy thing that happened on Game Of Thrones last week. And then… DING! Your timer goes off and you feel like you haven’t meditated for even a second. Is it meditation? Yes.
2. The Sleepy Meditation
This usually happens when I meditate first thing in the morning. I wake up, shake of the sleep, maybe shower and then hit the cushion. Throughout this session, I’m in a kind of trance state and I’m never sure if I was in a state of complete emptiness like the guru’s talk about, or if I was just asleep. 95% sure I’m asleep. Is it meditation? Yes.
3. The Achy Meditation
This one is common, especially when you first begin meditating on a cushion or on the floor. There’s an aching pain in your back that you’re terrified of having to deal with for the rest of the session. Your body is trembling and you want to quit, but you’re also meditating and you’re not sure if it’s supposed to hurt. The answer is not really. It shouldn’t be excruciating, but you may deal with some discomfort. Learning to deal with it is part of meditation. Learning to deal with pain is not, so if you’re really in pain, switch things up to get more comfortable. But if you’re dealing with an achy back that isn’t killing you, sit on. Is it meditation? Yes.
4. The Calm Meditation
When people think about a meditation session, this is what they typically think about. You sit there, your breathing slows, you feel relaxed, and you get into a feeling of your flow. You have a nice focus on your breath, you become aware of your surroundings, you’re chill. Your mind my float away to random thoughts, but you’re unattached and easily come back to your breath. Is this meditation? Yes
5. The enlightened meditation
This is a step beyond the calm meditation. In an enlightened meditation you feel a loss of self. You feel a deep settling into the world, into the universe in a way that’s hard to describe if you’ve haven’t experienced (if you’ve done psychedelics, you may have an idea). It’s an amazing feeling and one that meditators lust after. The funny thing is that the more you lust after it, the less likely it is to happen. Is this meditation? Yes.
6. The Flip Flop Meditation
Falling between the completely distracted meditation and the calm meditation, in this one you are jumping back and forth between being calm and focused to getting completely lost in random thought. When you get pulled away into your thoughts, you may be in this world for several minutes before you realize that you’ve lost focus and return to your thoughts. You may remain focused on your breath for a while or it might only be a few seconds before you get lost in thought again. This what I most commonly experience when I meditate. Is this meditation? Yes
7. The Nervous Meditation
This one is very common in the beginning. You sit down, set a timer, and then immediately go into panic about the fact that you are now sitting there, for what seems like forever, with nothing to do. You may feel nervous, you may even feel panic. This may set in at the beginning or sometime in the middle, but it almost always it passes. The good news is, nothing bad can happen to you while you’re meditating, so dealing with this anxiety is just another part of the learning to be with yourself. Is this meditation? Yes.
Bringing it home to you
As a meditator, I am always experiencing new forms of meditation, and I’m excited to continue my meditation journey. And what I want you to take away from this is that anxiety about whether or not you’re doing it right is almost never warranted. Just worry about doing your meditation. Doing it “right” shouldn’t be a concern.
The point is that you are setting aside time for you; showing up for yourself in a quiet space to let what is inside of you rise to the surface.
And if you are still concerned about the uncertainty involved in meditation, you may benefit from trying out a device like the Muse, which gives type-A people feedback about how "calm" they are during a meditation.