So what is “LET YOUR YOGA DANCE”??
As I embark on becoming a “Let your Yoga Dance” instructor, I thought it might be helpful to share more about this joyful, fun and sacred movement experience. As you read this and are thinking, “sure, it works for some, but not for me”, I ask that you keep an open mind. Any of us can dance. Just watch young children as they follow the natural beat to the music. Movement is a natural rhythm that lives within us. Perhaps early conditioning squelched our ability to connect to our deeper place of grooving to the music. This LYYD experience can help unleash the younger child in each of us. It combines easy, user-friendly dance movements coupled with moving yoga movements to music from around the world. In addition, it includes the 7 chakras, the energy centers running from the base of the spine to the crown of the head.
Sometimes LYYD is described as a movement experience where joy and fun meet deep and sacred. Having been practicing my “dance teach playlist” for over six weeks now, I can attest to the benefits of this dance/movement form. I feel more joyful, more energetic and overall more open to the present moment. I have released the old place of perfection and performance and instead have embodied a more grounded sense of being free to be me. Sounds corny, but it is true.
To provide an idea of what happens in the hour class, here is a brief overview. We start in a seated circle. I explain briefly what LYYD is and create a safe space to explore movement in the way each and every one can enjoy. There is good reason it is called, “Let your yoga dance” because everyone needs to honor his/her unique body and ability in the moment. Then we warm up our bodies to music and move in an arc through the 7 chakras (energy systems) in our body. Music and movement get more rambunctious as we move up through our chakras. The energy quiets down toward the end of class as we find our way to the floor to release our bodies in a deep relaxation. Class completes with a seated short meditation.
I have also witnessed the power of this LYYD in action. As part of my LYYD training experience, I have been receiving mentoring from Andrea Cashman, a LYYD teacher in the Milford area. Last Friday, I attended a special population LYYD class. It was offered at a Senior Center on the CT shoreline. As I arrived with Andrea, there were a few seniors sitting around the perimeter of the dance room. One in particular seemed rather hesitant if he would stay for the class. This gentleman was challenged with his Parkinson’s disease and the limitations it had on his body. I introduced myself and encouraged him to stay. The transformations among the group members from beginning of class to end were remarkable. Many felt hesitant like this fellow, but all stayed. Andrea’s skillful instructions coupled with many bluesy tunes brought life to each person in the circle. At first some seemed resistant to bring their own way of moving into the mix, but as it got to be their turn, smiles were wide and movement was spontaneous and expressive. Let Your Yoga Dance also creates a sense of community among participants. Some songs might involve a playful dance with someone else or moving in a line up and down the dance floor. It is this magical combination of many things that leaves participants feeling a new sense of connection, joy and ,dare I say, hope. After class completed, I went back to this man with the Parkinson’s and celebrated with him that he did it! His smile was infectious. To my surprise he gathered me in to this big hug and thanked me for encouraging him to stay. What a transformation indeed.
In the fall, LYYD will be launched in the Hartford area.
Hope you give it a try!
MINDFUL SELF-COMPASSION AND KEYS TO FREEDOM
Could you imagine a life where your voice inside your head does not rule your life? You know that part of you that says, “I’ll never get to where I want to be, or “I can’t believe how stupid I am.” You can probably fill in the blanks with your own spin on these words. Unfortunately, our inner critic has a way of creeping inside our internal landscape and taking such a strong foothold that as time moves along, we are not even aware of how this voice is the first voice to lead the way in most situations. The critic’s judging demeanor coincides with a cascade of other inner experiences. Our entire physiology goes into a default mode with the oldest part of our brain, the reptilian brain, rears up and takes us into a survival mode of living. You know the drill when you feel like fighting off the injustice of the world or feel like running away from the pain of your present life. Guess what, your primitive brain is in charge of those moments of wanting to flee, fight or freeze. Not too pleasant, huh?
The good news is that there is another more effective way to choose to be in the world. We now turn our attention towards Mindful Self Compassion practice and the keys to freedom. The first key component of Mindful Self Compassion practice is mindfulness which is being present moment to moment without judgement. Want to experiment with this concept right now as you read this article? A good way to begin to practice mindfulness is through our five senses. What do you hear right now, what do your eyes take in? Are there certain smells around you? Can you feel the contact points between your body and the chair or couch you are sitting on? This simple process of paying attention is mindfulness. It doesn’t involve anything difficult or dramatic but for many it can feel daunting. We who inhabit the United States have been conditioned to be productive, to move forward in our days without noticing sometimes how we have gotten from point A to point B. Everyone can probably relate to the times they have been on the highway and as they arrive to their destination point, aren’t sure how they got there so soon. The mind has a way of moving away from present moment awareness into two directions; the past or future.
Combining the “wandering mind” with our inner critic and no wonder so many people are suffering in their day to day experience.
This is where Mindful Self Compassion practice kicks in. It incorporates mindful awareness with kind hearted attention to whatever suffering arises inside. This is the second key to freedom; being kind towards whatever arises inside moment to moment.
We have three parts of our brain that process information. The highest functioning part of the brain is related to the thinking mind, the mid brain is seat of the emotions and the reptilian brain is survival mode. When we bring mindful self compassion to our experience moment to moment, we may be bringing kind attention to a difficult emotion or perhaps to a chronic pain in the body. It can also include bringing compassion to the how difficult thoughts show up in our minds. In any case, this new way of being present helps replace the inner critic with a softer, gentler voice and at the same time helps replace the “survival mode” of living to one of feeling connected with ourselves and others in deep and meaningful ways.
Since the inception of Mindfulness Stress Reduction groups back in 1979 by John Kabat- Zinn, there has been anincreased interest in the mindfulness movement. Research has shown that having a mindful meditation practice can help lessen depression, anxiety, rumination, fear of failure and a host of other conditions.
It increases a feeling of gratitude, optimism, creativity and overall life satisfaction. A pretty wonderful return for daily paying attention and pausing from the habits of life, don’t you think?
Let’s explore Mindful Self Compassion a bit more. One of the formal/informal practices of MSC which was created by Chris Germer and Kristin Neff is the self compassion break. It involves a three step process that goes like this:
The first component is being mindful of what is happening inside of you. Let’s say you notice some sadness at the center of your heart. The next step would be to remember that suffering is a part of being human. This is the third key to freedom, to realize we are all part of the human experience. We all feel sadness at times. You are not alone in this experience. When we can tap into being part of the wider collective of humanity, it helps to cut through the sense that we are alone in our emotional, physical or mental pain. Finally, the last step in the self compassion break is to bring kind hearted attention to whatever is difficult to bear. It is important to find the right words to offer that resonant inside of you. Perhaps something like, “May I learn to accept myself as I am” or “May I be kind to myself”. Offering a hand over your heart can deepen the spirit of gentle, warm attention to you, the experiencer, and to the experience itself.
Hopefully this has piqued your interest in learning more about Mindful Self Compassion.
How can mindful self-compassion transform your life?
Well, this is surely a great question, one that we may all search for in various ways. The self -help section in area bookstores stocks a steady supply of the latest “how to” books. Mindful Self-Compassion practice steers clear of the quick fixes and instead brings warm-hearted presence to each moment. So you may ask, how does one become mindfully self-compassionate? As in any lasting change, it takes practice. The turtle really had it right all along in the race for life. Slow and steady practice gets us to where we want to be in our lives. This concept bumps up against the bombardment of messages that push us, prod us and want us to hurry up.
Our reptilian brain wants to keep us in overdrive as well. As far as we have evolved since the caveman era, this oldest part of our brain is still scanning the environment for danger. Unfortunately, instead of being on the watch for the saber tooth tiger, our brain now attacks our self concept at every chance it can get. The litany goes something like this, “why did I say such a stupid thing right now”, “what is wrong with me, I am so inept”, “I will never have friends, there must be something wrong with me”. You get the drill, right? It is such a brutal, painful enterprise and often occurs without our conscious awareness.
This is where a Mindful Self-Compassion can make a tremendous difference. Let’s take another look at our brain and notice that we also have this mammalian caregiving system at the ready. Unlike other mammals, we come into the world less able to survive on our own. Being upright on two feet as opposed to on all fours has its downside! Not to worry, if all goes well, our primary caregiver provides us with the safety of the warm embrace, as their soothing touch and soft vocalizations provide the template for our little brains to prune themselves into greater functionality. Fast forward to being all grown up and realizing that we have had less than perfect childhoods. Perhaps our caregivers themselves were riddled with fear and uncertainty. Perhaps their reptilian brains were firing constantly and our little, helpless selves absorbed the energetic vibrations of mistrust in the world. Not to worry, this moment here is a new moment to claim the practice of activating our mammalian caregiving system for our benefit. How wonderful is that, right?
Let me share an example from my experience. This is a general picture of what can be typical for me in my life. Being the field of Social Work, it is no surprise that my empathic skills are high tuned. That is both a blessing and can be a curse. There are more times than I can count on that my heart feels extremely heavy with the suffering around me. Perhaps it is a friend having a hard time or family member experiencing emotional pain. So, when I find my heart full with pain, it is a wonderful time to practice MSC. The self-compassion break is an easy one to apply practice. It goes like this; first we need to be aware (mindful) that we are having a hard time. Second with remind ourselves that this being human can be tough. We are not alone in our challenges. Lastly, instead of the “inner critic” getting all over us, we bring a measure of kindness and compassion to ourselves for what is occurring for us right in this moment. I often offer a hand to my heart to benefit from the warmth and tender touch my hand provides.
The self compassion break along with the other numerous informal and formal MSC meditations helps activate our mammalian caregiving system. This is huge news since on a physiological level we are helping shift out of “alarm mode” into “tend and befriend” mode. This practice helps quiet and calm our entire system making it easier for our prefrontal cortex (our highest functioning part of our brain) to remain engaged and ready to reason and make good decisions to create the life we want and need.
MSC can be life changing. It has been for me. Please join us for one of the upcoming MSC offerings at Copper Beech. Both half-day workshops and 9 week groups are offered.
Theresa Nygren is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has a private practice in Farmington. She has been trained as an MBSR instructor at UMass, Worcester and received training for MSC by co-founders, Kristin Neff and Chris Germer. She sustains a mindfulness practice and incorporates this into her private practice wherever possible. For more information, please check out website she and her colleague, Angela Mazur have designed; www.mindfulselfcompassionateway.com
MINDFUL EATING MEETS MINDFUL SELF-COMPASSION
A revolutionary approach to heal struggles with food and body image
Another new year dawns and with it comes the barrage of weight loss plans some balanced, others not and most promising a ‘quick fix”. The diet industries’ profit margins soar each January with the well intentioned New Year resolutions. Millions of Americans make these vows yearly. It is a vicious cycle though; diet leads to slower metabolism and ultimately a higher weight after the last piece of celery is sworn off. Can you imagine a way off this merry go round? We can. Drum roll please--Mindful Eating coupled with a Mindful Self-Compassion practice is the antidote for lasting change. So your interest may be piqued. Could it actually be possible to stop the self-loathing, the endless struggle with trying to control your input and output? So much wasted energy and effort.
The good news is YES there is another way. It involves becoming aware of your present reality, bringing curiosity to your ongoing thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. Instead of overriding your true bodily needs, mindful eating teaches how to tune in to your true hunger signals and choose foods that nourish and sustain. It involves a process of relearning what our body truly hungers for instead of trying to feed it what we think will get us the body we long for. Mindful Self-Compassion is essential in this process. Everyone who has struggled with diet and weight probably can easily identify with their self-loathing thoughts that are constantly battering away inside their heads. You know that voice that says, “I can’t believe how fat I am, I look like a cow in this outfit”, or “I can’t go to that party, everyone will see how heavy I got”. There are more scripts out there but you get the general picture. Mindful Self-Compassion, an evidence based program developed by Kristin Neff PhD. and Chris Germer, PhD., helps establish a kinder, gentler inner voice that validates the reality of the present moment and with it interrupts that vicious cycle of feeling bad about oneself and then diving back into the food. It also reminds us that we are not alone in our struggles.
Instead of that old diet mentality of starting again on Monday morning after eating your way through the weekend, can you imagine starting at your very next meal after reading this article and seeing food for what it is which is nourishment for your body. If you were to actually drop into the hunger signals in your body and get a sense of what it really craves for, you might be surprised how it really can be trusted. For sure this will be a process of relearning to honor our bodies’ inner wisdom. The bombardment of messages from our culture has taken a toll. We have tried to force ourselves into the “ideal image” often overriding what is best for our health and sanity.
Learning a Mindful Self-Compassion practice to bring to your eating and body image struggles is just one example of how this program can be helpful. Mindful Self-Compassion can also be very beneficial to those dealing with stress, anxiety and depression. Did you know that research shows that 70% of people are kinder to their friends than to themselves? No wonder so many people are struggling emotionally. The good news is that any time the negative inner dialogue that perpetuates struggling is identified and replaced with mindfulness and self-compassion is an opportunity for personal growth and happiness. You can develop the Mindful Self-Compassion habit and feel more happiness and peace in your life.
We invite you to come join us at one of our upcoming workshops and/or groups. The best way to make a change is to join a group of like minded people who are also looking for a new way to claim their life. There is the comforting sense that we are all humans after all and more connected to this being human than we often realize. May this New Year be one where you can unleash the inner gremlins and step out into the goodness of your precious life.
Link to "Bite by Bite" article in Life Magazine about Mindful Eating featuring Theresa Nygren.
MINDFUL EATING AND RESTORING OUR TRUE HUNGER
Think about it: when food is introduced to infants around the age of 6 months, they intuitively know when they have had enough to eat. They will naturally push the food away, maybe even fling it to the floor as a clear statement that they are finished eating. As this infant develops and becomes a child more connected to the world, there is often an accompanying disconnect with true hunger and fullness. How many times after dinner while watching TV do you find yourself at a commercial break opening the refrigerator as you consider the options to snack on? Hunger isn’t driving this pursuit of food. Instead it is food manufacturers/advertisers that know how to get you salivating and wanting more. We have moved far away from our “internal knowing” of when and what to eat. Many of us are probably unaware of the constant bombardment of external stimuli that prompt us to reach for another bite, lick, taste, or hunk of something.
There has been a frightening increase in obesity and weight- related diseases over the course of the past thirty or more years. With one out of three children overweight in our country, it is time to wake up and become aware of our relationship to food and begin to pay attention to what we feed ourselves and our loved ones. Yes, we live in a fast paced culture. Forty to fifty years ago, there was not a convenience store at every street corner. We had gas stations back then but without the lure of prepackaged, unhealthy carb/fat/sugar -loaded snacks at the ready.
Huge shifts need to occur for all of us. A return to simple, nourishing, life-sustaining food plans are desperately needed. Instead of grabbing the “diet magazine” of the month, it is time to step off the fast track and turn within. This is where Mindful Eating shines bright. House lights up please-- Yes, there is another way of sustaining your body/mind. It doesn’t have to be following every new blessed diet or quick fix out there. Let’s take the lead from our younger six- month selves and relearn how to push away the plate when we have had enough.
This may sound simple, but it is a process of untangling all of the misinformed beliefs about food and about how we should look. For decades, advertisers have sought to influence cultural aspirations for what we should eat and how we should look, often the the detriment of us. What happened to learning how to honor who we are with our individual body types and needs and learn to accept this fact while creating the life we want and need? Think about how much money and effort is wasted as people try to force themselves to become something their genetics will never allow.
So, back to Mindful Eating. Imagine at your next meal, you quiet yourself and notice what you are truly hungry for. This takes some practice but is so worth it in the long run. The knowing what you need nutritionally rests inside of you. Then imagine taking the time to prepare the food. Not making calls or watching TV or some other multitasking operation, but simply gathering in the ingredients and preparing the meal step by step as you enjoy the tactile and sensory experience of creating a nourishing meal.
My recent zucchini soup endeavor is a perfect example of putting mindfulness into play. As I selected the right size zucchinis from a large stack gathered from our garden, I first took a moment to appreciate all the efforts involved to bring these vegetables before me. After fully rinsing off the remaining dirt from each one I selected, I lovingly sliced each zucchini into one-quarter inch slabs as I prepped them for the makings of rich, creamy zucchini soup. It was a wonderful process of paying attention to each step; the easy way my knife sliced through each piece, savoring the smell of the garlic and onion sizzling in the oil and butter before the zucchini slices made their way into the skillet, the delight to see all the ingredients boil down into a dense, hearty soup. After the cooking was complete, I next marveled at the transformation that occurred as my hand-held blender purred along while the soup thickened into a creaminess that begged tasting. My taste buds were well prepped for the first amazing sip of this summer soup. Throughout the entire time of creating this soup, my focus continued to be in the moment. I took my time in savoring each spoonful and could more easily track my hunger and fullness.
You may have gotten the gist of this Mindful Eating strategy. The basic component is paying attention on purpose and getting in touch with the deeper place inside us that knows what we need nutritionally. We have the answers if we slow down and trust the wisdom inside. We all have been so conditioned by our world around us. It is time to de-condition the stress/eating patterns that are no longer of service.
Come join us on our “Free yourself from the diet mentality retreat” to be held on March 18th from 1 to 5 pm. You will learn how to break the worn out strategies with food and body image and begin to learn about how to incorporate kinder ways to have a healthier relationship with eating. In addition, when you find it isn’t food that you are truly hungry for, you can better build a base of other nourishing strategies to reach to.
Let Your Yoga Dance Arrives in Farmington Valley!
Are you ready to try something new? Come join me on the dance floor as we move our way up through all seven chakras, the wheels of energy moving up along the spine to the crown of the head. This practice combines user-friendly dance moves coupled with moving yoga. It is where joy and fun meet deep and sacred. Allow your body to release into the rhythms from around the world as you allow yourself to dance like no one is watching.
What might be the benefit of participation in this kind of movement experience? Let’s take a walk through the chakras and uncover what can happen when we are in alignment. Chakra 1 is at the base of the spine. In Let Your Yoga Dance, we also include the legs and feet in this chakra. We want to get rooted into our own present moment when we bring attention to Chakra 1. With purpose, we sense into the earth as we claim groundedness for ourselves. Are you able to hold your ground in your life? Would you like more practice feeling the steadiness of the solid ground under your feet? Moving the energy into the sacrum and through the feet is a powerful way to fire up a more grounded presence.
As we make our way up to Chakra 2, we move into the energy of water. At our hips and pelvis, we open into the pleasure of claiming our body. We begin to own our sensuality as we slowly move into this area. So many people have conflicted feelings about enjoying the pleasures of life. Imagine slowly churning a vat of dark chocolate with a large wooden spoon. Notice the ways your hips move as you turn the spoon around in circles. Draw in the wondrous smell of chocolate as it bubbles up to the surface. This imagery and movement engages your 2nd Chakra.
Moving up to Chakra 3, we find ourselves at the solar plexus. This is the seat of our power and strength. We fire up our power by moving with purpose and intensity. Often in our lives, we can underplay our power. Dancing our 3rd Chakra is a delightful way to charge up our power center and begin to own the goodness of living this way.
Our hearts open at Chakra 4. This Chakra is at the heart space. The music and movements allow for our hearts to break open in a fuller and more life giving way. It is all about love, the love for ourselves, the love for others.
Chakra 5 is the most intense part of LYYD. We let it rip as we move big and bold across the dance floor. Chakra 5 is about expressing ourselves, claiming our voice and our truth. It can be incredibly liberating to own this part of ourselves in a clear and present way.
The energy of the experience begins to quiet down at Chakra 6. We are moving into our place of intuition and with it, to a more internal experience. The music shifts gears from the pulsing beats to slower, deep moving music.
At the end of class, we make our way down onto the floor for rest pose. Laying on our backs, we draw attention to the crown of our heads, Chakra 7, and allow the greater consciousness to filter in. Releasing into the floor, we notice the benefits of what just happened. Breathe moves in deeply from the crown of the head circulating all the way down and out at the soles of the feet. We allow integration of our Chakras, enjoying how our bodies moved with the music and now are letting go.
To complete class, a brief seated meditation takes place and then the gong sounds and it is time to slowly make our way back into our lives. Hopefully this time of dancing through the chakras has helped us reconnect and align to our internal energies and with that we find more ease moving about our busy lives.