Everyday life can be stressful.
Job demands, relationships, life events, and social media drama are daily occurrences. These things can often have you feeling like you are traveling down a never-ending, bumpy road called LIFE. It’s easy to see how stress can suck you in and not let you go.
While stress can help some people perform under pressure, too much bad stress can negatively impact a person’s mental and physical health. It’s common for most people to focus on the negative side of stress, but sometimes stress can actually be a good thing. Good stress can motivate a person and help them achieve more goals. BUT how can a person tell the difference between good stress and bad stress?
Good Stress vs. Bad Stress
Good stress, often called eustress, is stress that pushes a person to accomplish more. It helps a person achieve those hard-to-reach goals. Good stress also helps a person learn new things, adapt to change and engage in creative thinking. In a situation where a person is experiencing good stress, they always have control over the outcome of the issue.
Bad stress, often referred to chronic stress, can slow a person down and prevent them from doing the things that they need to do. It can often lead us down a winding road of helplessness and despair. Bad stress can be things like staying in an unhealthy relationship long-term, living with a difficult person, continual high paced (stressful) workplace, taking on too many things and continuously unable to complete them. That continual saying “yes”, when you should be saying “no”. When the body feels like it is under too much bad stress, symptoms such as excessive sweating, anxiety, headaches and rapid breathing begin to appear.
As a yoga teacher, I encourage others to live a life where they can stay grounded, focused, balanced and content. However, sometimes I fail to implement these strategies into my own life. I take on too many things, try to please everyone else, and neglect my own personal health and self-care. It’s a downward spiral and before I know it, my daily life is fueled by bad stress. Can you relate?
Unfortunately, the bad news is that stress is inevitable. It’s just a part of daily life. The good news is that stress IS manageable. In order to manage the stress in your life, you must relax your body and mind.
Here are 3 ways to manage stress so that you can live a healthier, stress-managed life.
1. Take a Break
When I say take a break, I don’t mean a break where you are scrolling through social media or watching videos on your phone. I’m talking about unplugging and walking away from all the distractions in your life. Do something for five to fifteen minutes that requires very little of you other than for you to just be yourself and to be present. Sit outside, take a quick five or ten-minute walk, play a quick game of “Go Fish” with the kids, or engage in meditation. Counting Breath for Stress Relief & Relaxation is a guided meditation that helps focus the mind and relax the body.
2. Put Away Your Electronic Devices
If you think about it, we live in a world where we have immediate access to almost anything we need. Instant information is available to us with the simple touch of an app on our phones or tablets. But at what expense? Being over connected has created a huge epidemic in our world today. An epidemic that has produced anxious, stressed, and technology-addicted teens and young adults that are not ok with doing nothing or being alone. The only way to break that cycle and bring more Zen into your life is to put the electronic devices down and slowly back away. Have a no-phone rule at the dinner table, limit screen time, keep your device in your pocket or bag when you are out with friends–whatever you need to do to stop looking at your device–do it. You’ll be glad you did.
3. Be Positive
Is your glass half-empty or half-full? If it’s half-empty, it’s time to change your thinking. Keeping a positive attitude, shifting your negative thoughts to positive ones, and keeping your self-talk encouraging are great ways to reduce stress. For example, instead of thinking “I can’t believe I made the same mistake AGAIN” think “Everybody makes mistakes. It’s ok. It is something that I can fix.” Developing an attitude of gratitude toward the people, things, and events in your life is also a good way to reduce stress. Write it down or just take time to tell the people in your life that you appreciate them–trust me, it goes a long way! Finally, smiling and laughing also helps to reduce stress. I guess laughter really is the best medicine.
AND if you are ready to get crystal clear on your life priorities, health needs, and how to achieve your goals, my Practices for a Positive and Productive Life Masterclass is for you! In this sixteen-week program, we cover three key areas: Breath, Body and Belief. All three of which are necessary for sustainable success!
Hopefully, these three tips will help you begin to walk down the path of life a little less stressed and with a bit more positivity.
Much of my life has been as an addict. And many of us on some level are all addicts. But for others, their addiction becomes who they are: their identity, their only lifeline.
It may be slowly killing them, but it is also what is keeping them alive.
For me, there is no question that yoga saved my life. Yoga found me when I couldn’t pretend to save myself any longer. Ever been to a high-security prison? That is what a full-blown addiction feels like-24/7, except you are trying to live a normal life at the same time. You are usually trying to hide it or pretend it doesn’t exist. My life was much to this drum, a ten-year battle with a wide variety of eating disorders, depression, drugs, and anxiety. Ten years ago I would be asking for your pity, now I am hoping to help.
Yoga Showed Me Addiction is Not a Choice
Imagine having an evil twin that never leaves your side. Imagine that every move you make, every bite you take, every breath you take is being ripped apart constantly by someone else.
Addiction is not a choice, you don’t wake up one day and decide, “Hey I am going to start bingeing and purging all my food from now on,” or “Maybe today I will starve myself to get attention.” Addiction doesn’t work that way. As an addict forever in recovery, I get this.
I did not choose to starve myself, to drop 32 pounds in 60 days at the age of 15. I didn’t choose to relapse and binge and purge up to eight times a day, as I put stress on my heart, rot my gums and teeth, kill my stomach lining, messed with every system in my body. I, like many struggling with addiction, spent many hours, days and months in this horror. I was trying with all I had to be normal, to fit in, to hide the only thing at that time in my life I could control.
As an addict, you realize that the numbed feeling or “high” you get from your drug of choice (food, alcohol, medications, exercise, restriction of food, smoking) is what you have been searching for. Nearly half my life I spent in addiction, where I cycled anorexia and bulimia. I dabbled with drugs, found myself binge drinking (under age of course), made several attempts at suicide, experimental cutting, and was obsessed with calorie counting, exercise, my weight, my size, every pimple on my face, every imperfection possible… I was obsessed with it.
And at one of my lowest points, this craziness wound me up in the hospital with gastric obstruction surgery after I swallowed a toothbrush, desperate to purge just one more time. To many, you may not understand, but for some, this rundown seems like a horrible mirror.
Yoga Was My Path to Recovery
If you are struggling with addiction and are at a place that you know you want to move forward, you probably already know that it’s one tough uphill battle. Yoga was what kept me holding on to that tiny microscopic string. My Wednesday night yoga class kept me hoping and praying I could do this. I could survive. In my first few classes, while still struggling with an eating disorder, my mom and I attended yoga together. That one class each week was a new chance. I remember many nights walking out praying to God, “Please help me to go home and not binge and purge, praying with all my might that tomorrow I’d wake up and be normal.” I probably wouldn’t have gone each week if my mom wasn’t going. Not knowing, she kept me accountable and kept giving me my string of hope each week.
You can’t think straight as an addict. The Yoga Sutra talks about eliminating the dualistic mind – you ask any addict, and they totally understand the double mind. You have your “eating disorder mind” saying one thing and your “sane mind” saying the other. For many years, I couldn’t even hear my sane mind.
Yoga has saved my life. Yoga has given me a second chance, and has taught me to live in the most in-touch, real way possible. Yoga has taught me how to breathe again, feel again, and somehow someway it has helped me loosen the grips on life a little and trust a little more.
For a long time I didn’t believe that there was anything from my past that could have triggered this experience in my life, but yoga has helped me to realize that some of this was learned behavior. Some of this was the reaction to cruel kids in school, and some was simply fear of not being enough in my life. At some level, we have all been there. We have all cried tears of fear, control, sadness, imperfection. And to all of you out there still walking up hill – it’s way easier with a yoga practice.
Yoga teaches you to want to live again. It teaches you what it really means to be in the moment. Those struggling with addiction know better than anyone what a moment is. Because on the same note, you are trying to stay alive or sober for just a moment.
Yoga lets you know it’s not your fault; even when you feel alone you are feeling, and that is a start. Don’t stop feeling, let the feeling pass, and they will.
Yoga gives you a second chance a million and one times. It reminds you that your life is just as valuable as everyone else’s, in your own unique way.
Today is a call to action.
If you struggle with addiction, I beg you to try yoga.
Be careful – us addicts gravitate to that which can feed the need. So mix it up, most recovery programs that incorporate yoga use styles like Yin, Hatha, or Restorative. These styles are great to really help you learn how to be present, be still and be in the feeling. Don’t throw in the towel and don’t hate your first class because it asked you to step out of your comfort zone. Keep at it. If you want to live, if you want to come out on the other side… for me it wasn’t a choice anymore, it was a matter of life and death. And I chose life, and I continue to choose life each day.
If you are an outsider to a person with addiction, most likely they know there is a problem. Don’t shove food in their face, point out their appearance, or tell them they are killing themselves. Ask yourself this: “Am I helping or hurting?”
Addiction hurts loved ones too, but be a forklift as a friend, bring your friends up with you.
Take them to a yoga class and keep taking them.
In Savasana, hold hands with them.
Say “I love you” with no strings attached.
Be there for them instead of telling them where to be.
Most importantly, don’t give up.
This content was originally published in the June 2012 edition of MindBodyGreen.
Yogic philosophy and the Yamas and niyamas (the first and second limbs of yoga) offer us a roadmap on how to treat ourselves and others, and as a result, connect more fully with our inner truth. The eight limbs of yoga offer anyone who is willing to partake a wonderful guide to more mindful living, and they teach us the ethical practices of yoga. This pathway to absolute truth is one combining inner and outer work, physical practice, our breath, mindfulness, concentration, and meditation. Yoga is not a religion, but it is an opportunity to live a better quality of life, and a more purposeful one at that.
1. Yamas: Restraints for One’s External Tendencies or Behavior.
- Ahimsa – non-violence. Are you a bulldozer or a forklift to those around you through your thoughts, words, and actions? Ask yourself if this is lifting people up or crushing people down.
- Satya – truthfulness, honesty. Ahimsa helps us to not use truth as a weapon. Satya questions us being nice vs. being real.
- Asteya – non-stealing. We steal others time, attention, power, and confidence. ADHIKARI: the right to know or the right to have; you are a visitor in life, not an owner. Take note of all that you take that is in fact not yours. Reflecting on the first two yamas, we may steal more than just someone’s property.
- Brahmacharya – nonexcess. “Acting in Brahman (Holy Spirit)” means entering each day with a sense of holiness rather than indulgence, remembering that everything is sacred.
- Aparigraha – unselfishness, non-possessiveness. Non-attachment and being able to “let go.” We are like a monkey in a cage with a banana; we choose our attachments rather than our freedom. Why?
2. Niyamas: Self-Control Over One’s Internal Tendencies.
- Saucha – internal and external purity. What is your process of purity? Think about what used to be our “Sunday best” purity in each moment? Focus on consistent purity rather than selective purity.
- Santosh – contentment. Gratitude will keep us out of our own pettiness and allow us to receive our own abundance from the Universe. We tend to “play things up” when we don’t feel content with what is; here we must take responsibility for ourselves and our actions.
- Tapas – austerity or self-discipline. You are not rocked by the external world. Here we are offering the next higher version of ourselves. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste …
- Swadhyaya – scriptural study or self-study. Knowing our true identity as divine. The world reflects what we are seeing, not what is actually there; it is a mirror. Self-study breaks the ego (Ahamkara). Take some time each day to read and study that which invokes the greatest good in you.
- Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender to God or universal consciousness. Life is not meant to be a battle. We are not here to have to “prove,” but rather to become one. Here we no longer need the moment to be our way; we see a higher purpose for us.
3. Asana: Physical Exercises.
We can use asana to help train the physical body and teach discipline and all that is reflected in the Yamas and niyamas. We treat ourselves as an aspect of the divine.
Our breath is everything; without it, we do not exist here on this earthly plane. Our breath is the gateway to the many dimensions and layers of the self and higher consciousness. (Note that Ayama means a dimension, not control.)
5. Pratyahara: Withdrawing the Mind.
Understanding that this is not just our senses but the mind as well. Iyengar says pratyahara means “to draw toward the opposite.” The normal movement of the senses is to flow outward and this limb is concerned with going against that grain; a difficult reaction. Our minds are flooded with negativity; we must work to move towards the opposite.
6. Dharana: Concentration.
We are a society of quick and CliffsNotes. Unfortunately, we can miss out on valuable knowledge and relationships by skimming over everything. The value of pointed thought, self-analysis and introspection cannot be understated. Time spent on self-observation of inner thoughts, desires, and conduct helps guide us toward Dharana.
“Dhyani,” which means “to think of.” In the process of meditation, we calm the mind, which leads to the realignment of our inner self to the right path. Meditation is everything we engage in; initially, we sit to meditate and eventually, we live to meditate.
8. Samadhi: Enlightenment.
There are different stages of Samadhi and one can experience it at any moment: a blip, a moment, that takes you towards your bliss. We all experience these blips. The goal of the above practices is to attain Samadhi infinitely.
This post was originally written for Nature’s Pathways.
5 Ways to Live a More Authentic Life NOW:
1. Be Honest with Yourself and Others.
We often think that the little white lies we tell ourselves and others will make things easier. We think we are doing a favor to others by saving them the time or emotion of the truth. But the reality is, it makes things much more complicated and incredibly dishonest. These lies snowball until you can’t remember who you’ve told the truth to. Find your authentic truth.
2. Stop Saying “I Can’t.”
We look out at life and say that we can’t do this or that, and what we say becomes our truth. What we tell the Universe is what we get back from the Universe.
Erase “I can’t” from your vocabulary and replace it with “I can, I have, I know, or I am.” Take life and start living in the moment.
3. Take Risks.
I’m not saying jump off a cliff, but rather, live boldly. I would rather fall a million times than never fall once and have never tried. We learn through hardships and risks, and the only bad risk is the one not taken. Sometimes you need a little clarity to feel more confident to take that risk…
So are you willing to take that risk if you know it will bring you clarity? What if there was something you could do to aid that clarity creation and feel more confident in that next step?
4. Speak up.
I often speak what is on my mind and what I desire. And yoga has taught me how to channel that in a positive, more helpful, loving way (better than I could years ago). I often hear people say: if only, or I didn’t know, or I wish someone would have told me, but the truth is, unless you speak up, why should anyone come running to your aide? Don’t blame others for your unspoken wish list. Don’t say, “I should have” when you know you could have. We all have a voice and the right to speak up. So when you don’t, it’s no one’s fault but your own.
5. Be a Leader.
We need not be trendsetters or inventors, but rather leaders in our own lives. You may not be famous, but when you live 100 percent each day with no regrets — truthfully and positively — and speak up in a kind manner, you become the authentic leader for others to follow in living their lives that way too.
Each and every day we must work to be more mindful and work to be the best version of ourselves in all that we do. When we step outside our comfort zones and work just a bit harder than the day before, things get easier and we start to enjoy life more. Seek to live an authentic life and reap the rewards.
Being stressed appears to be the new norm. Tasks just keep piling up and finding time to de-stress seems to never fit into the day’s schedule. And when it comes to work, it may not be realistic to drop everything and hit up a yoga class or take a day at the beach. We can use mantras and affirmations to keep our mind calm and focused without detracting from our productivity.
As a yoga and mindfulness expert of more than seventeen years, I firmly believe in making small little changes to our lives. And at the end of the day, those small little changes all add up to big results.
And that is why incorporating the use of mantras into your life and workday can be a very effective way to curb stress, help you become more productive, and keep a “zen” state even in the most stressful of times.
The use of mantras can benefit anyone who incorporates them into their lives.
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Soothes stresses from technology hangover
- Assists in shedding neurotic habits
- Boosts immunity
- They are FREE
What is a Mantra?
A mantra is a word or syllable repeated to help curb the mind and keep focus. It acts as a form of meditation. One would often use a mantra in yoga and meditation to help keep “the mind on the mat.” They are often also used in everyday life and given from teacher to student to help overcome obstacles, challenges, and transitions.
Incorporating mantras into ones’ workday can be a wonderful way to combat stress, keep better focus, improve confidence, and keep negative, self-sabotaging thoughts at bay.
How Do I use a Mantra?
If you are a yogi working with a teacher, one would often recommend you recite your given mantra for 108 times, X amount of times per day for so many days. (108 is a special number in the yogic world.)
Anyone can begin to use mantras and instantly benefit. And that means you can start today.
You may already have used a mantra and don’t even know it.
Affirmations are forms of mantras in the English form. Mantras can be more powerful as the vibrational tone. The sound of a mantra when spoken correctly aids the brain and our inner state more deeply than its English sister.
No matter where you start, a refocusing on the mind will surely follow, with commitment and regular repetition.
Where do I Start?
One of my favorite mantras that I was given during my stay at an ashram during one of my yoga teacher trainings is a mantra to Ganesha.
Ganesha is seen as the remover of obstacles. When chanted to, it can help you overcome, move through, or see more clearly that which is in front of you and needs to be dealt with.
Mantra for the Workplace
“Om Vakratundaaya Hum” (Ohm Vah-krah-TOON-die-yah Hoom)
When chanting this, you would either chant using a mala or even just chant this frequently during the day to help keep the mind focused and aid in working through difficulties.
If you would rather not use a Sanskrit mantra, then using affirmations (which many of us do already) is a great place to start.
I think of mantras as a way to change the internal voice we have. For many, that internal voice is negative and downgrading.
Affirmation for the Workplace
“Peace is within my reach” or “I am calm and focused”, or “Obstacles are opportunities”.
No matter what mantra or affirmation you choose, they don’t work and cannot help you if you don’t use them. Check out this blog post to learn how to craft your own personal, positive affirmations.
Please comment and share with me what mantras you have chosen for yourself!
This post was originally published in the March 2018 edition of Inspiyr.
My yoga mat has been my place of refuge, my place of contemplation, my place of self-discovery. My mirror for the good, the bad and the ugly. Time and time again I step into the unknown, only to find that everything I need, everything I am wondering about, lies on my yoga mat.
I look back at myself five, even ten years ago, and find that I am still the same person. Even memories as a child are laced into who I am today. But the difference is that how I see the world, how I see myself, and how I chose to live – is drastically different.
For some yoga is a savior for their physical bodies: to be saved from inflexibility, headaches, cramped feet, or to regain the body they have been long searching for. But for me, my yoga practice has taught me how to actually be able to look at my body and befriend it. I can look at my life and no longer see myself as the victim. Rather, I see myself as the person at the wheel, in control.
I tear up thinking about what I have been through and what I have put myself through. Only to come out bright-eyed and ready to move on with no regrets. And I never thought I’d say that. The tears that come are only tears of joy and amazement that my mat brought this to me.
Our Yoga Practice is a Promise to Ourselves That we Want More and Deserve More.
Yoga is so powerful and unique in that it is an experience and a practice. If you are not ready to step onto the mat, then the change will not happen. I have not only seen this in myself, but also my students over the last decade of teaching.
To me, Yoga is the most real that someone can get with themselves. The lies will eventually rise to the surface, the false hopes will eventually go sour and the work will time and time again be put back in our court. What I’m trying to say is that life becomes a lot sweeter when we start to trust that the universe and our Creator has our best interest at heart. That we might not know it all, and that no matter how “good, smart, elite, or savvy” we think we are, there must still be a humbleness to remind us that there is always something to learn.
Interestingly, My Journey was the Opposite.
For much of my life, I felt lesser. I felt that I was the one always lacking, or missing the bar. For me, my yoga mat became a constant reminder that I am great today, just as I am… even during my stages of recovery. I began to stop seeing myself as “messing up” day after day. Now I am thanking life and God for the opportunity to be aware of what I need to learn and how I can change.
I post a Facebook quote of the day, a Daily Dose of Hope. It is usually something from my heart. I had posted a few months ago a quote stating:
You know you are ready for change when you come to realize that what you see in other people and don’t like is a mirror for what you need to see in yourself and begin to change.”
For me, this simple thought was such an eye-opener. This awareness not only helped me to grow and realize what I needed to change in myself, but to also realize what I didn’t and did want to take into my life. Without awareness, you will never grow. There will never be change, and that box you feel stuck in… It will still be that box and you will still be in it.
Stepping out Means Taking a Chance.
It means trusting without immediate proof. Sometimes you have to go with your gut, trusting that you are being guided. Trust that what you are doing is right. If you don’t like your life, where you are, or what you are doing – ask yourself…
What am I doing to move beyond this?
What am I doing to make a change?
Are you tired in the morning? Well then stop going to bed at 12am. Sick of all the mess? Well then go clean it up. Who are we all waiting for? What formula do I not know about that fixes all problems, all people, all situations? The only formula I know is the one where I start to take care of me, work on me, and change me. Because that is the only way I know to get to where I want to be.
If you pray and ask for guidance, once you get the guidance it’s your job to take it and act on it. When you meditate for peace, it’s your job to work to keep the peace. If you ask for help and suggestions to regain your health, well then you have to follow through to see the results.
So how does this all tie back to a yoga practice? On our yoga mat we see ourselves as we truly are, raw and willing to do the work necessary to move forward or make change. Even if we are not ready, at least now we are aware and it becomes our choice what to do with that awareness.
The sweetness in me bows to the sweetness in you…
This post was originally written for MindBodyGreen, and updated on Oct 7, 2019.