Posts Tagged ‘Creating Change’

By going over your day in imagination before you begin it, you can begin acting successfully at any moment.”

~ Dorthea Brande

Dorothea Brande was a well-known writer and editor in New York in the mid 1930’s.  Her book, BECOMING A WRITER (published 1934) is a staple on the bookshelves of creative writers throughout world. Her second book, Wake Up and Live (1936) sold over 2 million copies, published in 11 languages, and was even turned into a musical the following year. A recent post by Gretchen Rubin on my favorite blog, The Happiness Project, shared one of the teachings from Brande’s book: 12 Mental Exercises to Make Your Mind Keener & More Flexible. Rubin writes, “These exercises are meant to pull you out of your usual habits and to put you in situations that will demand resourcefulness and creative problem-solving. Brande argues that only by testing and stretching yourself can you develop mental strength.”

As I read through the exercises, I found myself thinking of them as a kind of yoga for the mind, mental asana of sorts. (In Becoming a Writer, Brande actually does advise practicing a meditation before a writing session.) I find these intriguing. I’ve acted on #1 from time to time, but usually with passive-aggressive motivations so I guess I need to revisit THAT one!

Summary of Dorothea Brande’s Twelve Mental Exercises

  1. Spend an hour each day without saying anything except in answer to direct questions, in the midst of the usual group, without creating the impression that you’re sulking or ill. Be as ordinary as possible. But do not volunteer remarks or try to draw out information.
  2. Think for 30 minutes a day about one subject exclusively. Start with five minutes.
  3. Write a letter without using the words I, me, mine, my.
  4. Talk for 15 minutes a day without using I, me, my, mine.
  5. Write a letter in a “successful” or placid tone. No misstatements, no lying. Look for aspects or activities that can be honestly reported that way.
  6. Pause on the threshold of any crowded room and size it up.
  7. Keep a new acquaintance talking about himself or herself without allowing him to become conscious of it. Turn back any courteous reciprocal questions in a way that your auditor doesn’t feel rebuffed.
  8. Talk exclusively about yourself and your interests without complaining, boasting, or boring your companions.
  9. Cut “I mean” or “As a matter of fact” or any other verbal mannerism out of your conversation.
  10. Plan two hours of a day and stick to the plan.
  11. Set yourself twelve tasks at random: e.g., go twenty miles from home using ordinary conveyance; go 12 hours without food; go eat a meal in the unlikelist place you can find; say nothing all day except in answer to questions; stay up all night and work.
  12. From time to time, give yourself a day when you answer “yes” to any reasonable request.

Interesting Question: Of these twelve exercises, which ones would be the most challenging for you to undertake? Why?

More Insight: Read Gretchen Rubin’s post on The Happiness Project: “Creativity: 12 Mental Exercises, Zany but Productive”

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What is The Happiness Project?

“I’m working on a book, THE HAPPINESS PROJECT — a memoir about the year I spent test-driving every principle, tip, theory, and scientific study I could find, whether from Aristotle or St. Therese or Martin Seligman or Oprah. THE HAPPINESS PROJECT will gather these rules for living and report on what works and what doesn’t. On this daily blog, I recount some of my adventures and insights as I grapple with the challenge of being happier. THE HAPPINESS PROJECT will hit the shelves in late 2009 (HarperCollins).” ~ by Gretchen Rubin

You can find a direct link to The Happiness Project, along with the daily feed, on my sidebar.

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Noting the Differences

There is no doubt that yoga poses have different energetic effects on the nervous system. While there are some broad generalizations ~ backbends are said to be energizing, forward bends soothing ~ each person has an individual experience. This is a topic I’ve been paying closer attention to recently.

As such, a couple of this month’s 6-word insights have been observations on the effects of various yoga poses on me: “Double Dips, Open Hips, Mood Flips” and “Backbends often agitate my nervous system.” I also wrote on Christina’s blog how balancing poses agitate me just SLIGHTLY less than backbends. This was after a challenging core and balance sequence that she taught on Wednesday night.

I love discussing these energetic effects with my friend Iyengar Anne. She is very tuned into this idea. I’m not sure if this is more of an Iyengar “thing” or just Anne the Insightful Philosophy Professor “thing”, but either way, she’s willing to go there with me. It’s been through my conversations with her that I’ve realized how unique each person’s reactions truly are!  Read Anne’s post on Yoga Energetics!

And Then the Mailman Came

So with all of this mulling around in my head, I ran across the November issue of Yoga Journal in which Kelly McGonigal writes about stress reactions and using yoga to alleviate its effects. She outlines different stress responses noting that one person may get highly agitated, while another goes into an inactive, low-energy funk. Just like our reactions to asana poses, stress reactions are equally individual. In the article, McGonigal describes a stress management technique of yoga therapist Elissa Cobb, and it all started to make sense.

“This practice will help you become aware of what happens in your body and your mind during stress. It can also give you insight into how a yoga practice can help you balance your body’s typical response.”

“Sit on your yoga mat and bring to mind a challenging experience you’ve had, something that triggered a strong stress response in you. As you do this, try to conjure up your reaction in your body and mind. Maybe that means clenching your fists or tensing your neck and shoulders. Whatever it is exaggerate or enhance the response. Don’t try to change it ~ go right into it, and try to amplify it. Notice the thoughts and emotions that go along with the body’s response.”

“After you’ve been with this experience for a few moments, think of a yoga pose that would bring you in to a completely opposite state.  Move into the pose. Notice the difference. Observe your thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Stay for as long as you’d like. After you release the pose, come back to a seated posture and take some time to reflect on your experience. Compare how the real response and the recaptured response felt, and notice the freedom you had to transform the first.”

Because we each have a unique reaction to stress, we will also find different poses soothing in those situations. Some people need the energy and lift that a backbending practice can infuse. Others (like me) find solace and comfort in the deep forward bends that bring us down from an agitated state. When we understand what we need, we can practice our own yoga therapy.

To be successful with this, you have to be cognizant of two things:

  • What is your typical stress reaction and pattern? Do you get worked up by stress or overwhelmingly lethargic?
  • Which poses (for YOU) create the necessary effect to counter your response?

Armed with this information, we can alleviate our own suffering. Hey, this is all sounding kind of Anusara-ish: When we know the SELF, BLISS follows!

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The frustrated woman stammered out her complaint, “After 10 years of marriage, Dr. Laura, I don’t think I love my husband anymore, I just don’t feel it. What should I do?”

The radio call-in host replied with her trademark no-nonsense approach, “You don’t feel like you love him? Well, act as if you do anyway.”


At first pass, this advice may seem ineffective and simplistic. What good is acting as if you love someone when you just don’t feel it? On closer examination though it makes sense. Dr. Laura Schlessinger expounds on this idea in the very first chapter of her book, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands.

“The notion of love as a gift, as a verb, as an attitude, as a commitment, is a revelation to some. Unfortunately, love is usually looked at as a feeling that comes over you and makes you happy; and of course, if you’re happy, then you behave nicely. Somehow, the notion is out there that you’re entitled to behave badly if you don’t feel that lovin’ feeling. More than that, if you don’t feel that lovin’ feeling, you’re entitled to get it somehow, somewhere, with someone else who’s available. This sense of entitlement comes from a culture that has elevated feelings over obligation, responsibility and commitment.” (p. 4)

When faced with the “I’ve lost that lovin’ feeling” scenario, Dr. Laura advocates ACTING as if it’s so regardless. You choose a loving behavior despite your feelings. So you put on your lipstick before he comes home, you greet him with a hug and a kiss when he walks through the front door, you make eye contact and ask him about HIS day. Love is an ACTIVE verb, and you ACT as if it’s so.

And the result? Dr. Laura reports it’s not uncommon for this approach to lead to a change in your feelings too. When you act loving, your partner responds positively, and soon you may actually ignite that ‘lovin’ feeling once again.

Same Coin ~ Different Side

Years before I had ever heard of Dr. Laura, I coined my own phrase for a similar philosophy: “It’s not so much what you FEEL, it’s what you do with your feelings that’s important.” This was how I described it to a friend who told me she was upset that her new husband had commented on the attractiveness of another woman. “He’s not supposed to be attracted to anyone but ME,” she lamented. The fact that he was attracted to someone else simply didn’t matter I told her (and frankly, I thought she was nuts if she believed a wedding ring turned off that radar). What really mattered was what he did with his feelings. What were his actions?

But I’m only human!

Many times we beat up ourselves (and others) for our feelings ~ we judge them as “good” and “bad,” and then we’ll extend that same judgment to the individual. But feelings are neither; they are simply “what is.” Face it, you can’t help what you feel, but you absolutely have a choice in how you are going to act. As humans, we have free choice.

Which brings to me to another favorite Dr. Laura-ism …

Attempting to explain their own bad behavior, callers will sometimes offer up, “But I’m only human!” Dr. Laura is quick to respond. Humans, she’ll argue, are the one “animal” that has the ability to override “natural instincts” and choose a different course of action. Unlike other animals, we CAN refrain from acting on our feelings, we can choose the high road.

THIS is what it means to be “only human.” Just act as if it’s so.

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Dear Diary: The Background

Journals and diaries have been a part of my life almost as long as I can remember. I have old-fashioned key & lock diaries going back to my childhood and spiral notebooks, date books, and ‘blank’ books now chalked full of my musings, reflections, inner struggles, and dream work. I have made notes on everything from what I wore to high school each day to the boyfriends that broke my heart to the yoga teachers whose classes I attended. But more than a daily chronicle of my life, the pen and page offered me an important refuge, the place I go to sort through my thoughts and develop an action plan.

In the early 1990’s, I began to study the process of reflective writing with more of an academic orientation. Specifically, I was interested in the therapeutic and creative benefits of journal writing, and how it could be used as a tool for personal growth. For a general overview, read Uses and Benefits of Journal Writing.

Through my own experience, I knew its power and I wanted to learn more. I devoured books and articles investigating the therapeutic efficacy of journal writing. I completed the Ira Progoff Intensive Journal Program. I participated in one of the first national conferences on journaling in San Diego in 1993, attended panel discussions, and engaged in in-depth writing retreats. I was a voracious consumer of any materials I could find on the subject of reflective writing.

Based on my studies, I created a journaling program to share my passion. I began to teach adult continuing education courses at our local community center, as well as at the continuing ed department for the joint campuses of Indiana University and Purdue University in Indianapolis (IUPUI). I conducted therapeutic trainings for alcohol and drug addiction counselors, gave lectures for the Jungian Society, taught reflective writing for seniors, and spoke at writers’ conferences. I had experienced the transformative effects of journaling in my own life, and I began to witness it in others. It is a magical process.

Get Started Writing

(… and yes, Lisa, I mean YOU too!)

Staring at a blank page can be daunting and just getting started can be a challenge for many people. As with many therapeutic modalities, there are definite techniques you can employ to initiate the writing process and to guide your exploration of an issue. The specific technique you choose to work with often depends on your particular goals, but first, you just have to get started.

One way to establish a regular writing practice is to simply respond to preset reflective questions. In this way, you use the questions as a prompt and you don’t have to think about “what to write.” Further, you can use the repetition of the journaling exercise to analyze patterns and trends in your life. This periodic check-in can then serve as a foundation for deeper exploration.

Your questions can come from all sorts of inspiration ~ from self-help books to scriptural texts ~ but here’s a great place to start. Last spring, I stumbled onto Alex Shalman’s blog, Practical Personal Development. (A link to his blog can be found in my “Worth Noting” sidebar.) This site contains all sorts of gems and wisdom for self-improvement, and I find wonderful inspiration on everything from relationships to time management to health and fitness. Alex Shalman is a great advocate for reflective writing, and one of his suggestions is to conduct a weekly self assessment:

“Self reflection should be more than a minor consideration if you’re serious about personal growth … How else am I supposed to make improvements, if I don’t know where I’ve gone wrong in the past? Many people try to ignore past errors, but then history repeats itself, as we all know.”

Weekly Assessment Questions

1. What will I try to improve on next week?
2. What was I most proud of this week?
3. What was my biggest accomplishment this week?
4. What have I done to get closer to my life goals this week?
5. What was hard for me this week, and why?
6. What was my biggest waste of time this week?
7. What did I do this week that made me ashamed?

To read the full text Alex Shalman’s article, go to Seven Questions That Will Change Your Life. With the regular consideration of these questions ~ Shalman suggests every Sunday night ~ he purports that we will become more conscious to move forward and create the life that we want. If a journal can help you do that, why not pull out a pen and paper and try it?!

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Journal This: Use the seven questions above to begin a self-assessment record. Commit to revisiting the questions again next week and through the month of September. TODAY is Sunday so get going!

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Stay Tuned … I will continue to look at journaling techniques in upcoming posts. Additionally, this fall I plan to offer a journaling workshop in the south Austin area. Please contact me for more information.

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During our Anusara Yoga Teacher Training, we were asked to bring in a poem or inspirational story for an exercise in theme development. I have folders of poems and stories that I’ve collected throughout the years, so my only problem was choosing just ONE. This is the stuff I love! Ultimately, I settled on a piece that came to me in an email about 10 years ago ~ The Butterfly and the Cocoon.

The Butterfly and the Cocoon

A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. The man sat and watched the cocoon for several hours as the butterfly struggled to force its body through the little hole.

Then it seemed to stop making progress. It appeared as if the butterfly had gotten as far as it could, and it could go no further. The man decided to help the butterfly in its struggle. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon.

The butterfly then emerged easily, but it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings.

He continued to watch the butterfly. He expected that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to be able to support the body. He knew that in time the body would contract, and the butterfly would be able to fly.

But neither happened. In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.

What the man, in his kindness and haste, did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were Nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our lives. If God allowed us to go through our lives without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been.

We could never fly.

~ original author unknown (sometimes attributed to the American writer and painter Henry Miller)

There are important lessons in this parable for both the yoga practitioner and the yoga teacher. For the practitioner, this story beautifully illustrates the importance of cultivating our own strength to overcome our obstacles. When things are difficult we may want to give up. We think our efforting is fruitless, and it is easy to get discouraged. Whether on the mat or off, we have to stay the course.

“In our human lives, we sometimes find ourselves in the chrysalis state. During those times we don’t have much to offer the outside world because, whether we realize it or not, much of our energy is consumed with an inner transition.”

Sometimes, we think we are ready to emerge when we are not quite prepared; there is still work to be done. Then, we must have patience with ourselves and faith in the process. We get tired, we rest, we try again. Like the butterfly, when we persist we can experience greater joy and freedom than if we take the path of least resistance.

Holding the Space to Emerge

As yoga teachers, it is easy to slip into the same misguided assumption as the one in the story. Like the man with the scissors, we often give up on our students too soon. We see them struggle and worry that we are being “too hard.” We are quick to offer the easy way out ~ the less challenging form of a pose, the modified version, the prop to support.

Instead of giving them the opportunity to build and drawn on their own resources, we undermine this natural and necessary process. In our efforts to make it easier on them ~ to alleviate their discomfort (or is it, our own?) ~ we often deny our students the chance to experience the fullness (purnam) and richness that their efforts would yield. Our job is to hold the space, to create the environment for our students to work and flourish, and then wait. Their beauty will most certainly emerge.

“Sometimes the greatest supports we can offer others and ourselves are patience and quiet confidence in the process unfolding, along with faith that the result will be extraordinary.”

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I asked for Strength,

And God gave me Difficulties to make me strong.

I asked for Wisdom,

And God gave me Problems to solve.

I asked for Prosperity,

And God gave me Brain & Brawn to work.

I asked for Courage,

And God gave me Danger to overcome.

I asked for Love,

And God gave me Troubled people to help.

I asked for Favors,

And God gave me Opportunities.

I received nothing I wanted

I received everything I needed!

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* This poem is a variation of the Unknown Confederate Soldier’s Prayer.

** Quotations above are taken from the Mystery Of Transformation: The Butterfly Chrysalis** as featured in the DailyOM, an email subscription service of “inspirational thoughts for a happy, healthy and fulfilling day.” It is a great source for theme ideas and uplifting material.

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Pain has been on my brain: Where did it come from? How can I make it go away? Brian & I both embrace an active lifestyle — mine primarily through yoga & (spurts of) jogging, his in triathlon training & cycling. We also love the water — wakeboarding and water skiing occasionally, countered with spring break trips to the mountains that give us an annual opportunity to take on the slopes. As we age, we are forced to confront the realities of our bodies’ less than enthusiastic response to that which we ask of it. We just don’t bounce back like we did. This is an obvious fact borne out by our respective nightstands which house a collection of ace bandages, ice packs & ibuprofen. As if adding insult to injury, my reading glasses herald in that chorus, resting on top of my new favorite reference book: Listen to Your Pain.

In the first sentence of that book, Dr. Ben Benjamin states: “Pain is a signal that something is wrong.” (I paid good money for this.) But seriously, it reminded me of a post I wrote last summer about the importance of distinguishing pain from discomfort and the different response each requires. I thought it was worth revisiting, so here ya go! (It’s my blog, I can repeat if I want to!)

STOP ~ YIELD ~ U-Turn: Reading the Signs in your Life & Practice

During this morning’s class, I talked about listening to your body, the importance of discerning discomfort from pain. When we feel something in our yoga asana practice, we need to take notice and discern if it is discomfort or pain. Pain is a STOP sign. It says, “Stop what you’re doing right now. Do not pass ‘go,’ do not collect $200!”

Discomfort, though, is like a YIELD sign — saying, “Slow down here & pay attention. Consider your next move carefully.” Some of us are too quick to move AWAY from discomfort to a more familiar, less challenging, place (which we unknowingly deem “safe”) AND thereby miss out on an opportunity for growth. Many times if we can just stay in the pose, breathe, & work through the discomfort, we become stronger, more flexible, more steady. We deepen our practice. We strengthen our resolve.

But sometimes, that “Discomfort YIELD” sign IS signaling, “Hey you’re possibly moving in the wrong direction here (read: alignment). Stop sign — PAIN — just around the corner!” When you experience discomfort, YIELD & decide the appropriate course of action. An adjustment in your alignment may be all it takes to continue. But when you experience pain, you must STOP!

The same thing is true in your life off the mat. (Isn’t it always!?) Discomfort in our life (relationships, profession, health) is a sign to YIELD and figure out our next move. If we are too quick to revert to our comfort zone, we miss out on important opportunities for growth.

Consider this idea in the context of a partner relationship. Maybe one’s tendency when things get tough is to turn to other people, popping off to friends & family complaining about your partner. There is comfort in that, perhaps, but not growth. And if that’s what you’ve always done, then it’s so just so easy to take that path every time. It is as if you’ve seen the trusty U-turn sign: “Take me back to my safety zone!”

The alternative, the yield sign approach, is to pause and consider your next course of action. Maybe we just need to endure, hold fast & steady and in that very action we find the deeper meaning. Or maybe we need to adjust our alignment, maybe WE really need to change something, like the way we communicate or address conflict in our lives. Could it be a signal to change our very ATTITUDE!?

Only you can decide what the sign suggests: sometimes the best course is endurance and sometimes — as in your asana practice — you really DO need to “adjust your alignment.”

FINAL THOUGHT … When we don’t acknowledge & address life’s discomfort in some way, it almost always moves from discomfort to PAIN.

The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.~ M. Scott Peck

May the signage in your life be clear & well placed,


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