Self-Love

I know Valentine’s Day is all about the one you love: your spouse, your significant other. But I want to talk about self-love. Not that creepy self-love, but rather the love and caring you show yourself.

I have been reading about the first yama, or “restraint” in The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele. The very first one is ahimsa or nonviolence. First do no harm. Yet how many of us actually do harm to ourselves? Probably most. I know I struggle with this. Particularly when it comes to negative self-talk.

You know, that voice in your head that says you’re not good enough. You’re not talented enough. Or the one that says your decision to take action is scary and it’s safer to just stay where you are.

All those comments do harm. They are actually violence against yourself.

And it can be worse: how many times I remember how I have said “I don’t like my body” “I don’t like this belly.” Or how often has that voice said to me “I can’t because I’m not [fill in the blank]”? It finally dawned on me one day that I would never, ever say such things to any of my friends, so why was I saying these things to myself? Why was it acceptable to keep pushing myself down this spiral of self-loathing?

And one day I decided it wasn’t.

This attitude was helped along by an experience I had one day that, perhaps, you’ve had too. I was browsing through some photos of myself when I was in my teens and early twenties. I remember vividly how I viewed myself back then: I saw myself as less than. But looking at those photos and seeing my younger self, I thought “Why did I think that? I looked perfectly normal, healthy and happy.”

I made a decision: I will look at myself in the mirror as though seeing myself twenty years from now and remembering how healthy I am, how happy I am and really, truly seeing my Self. That happiness that shines through is the true beauty and I will not be ashamed and angry with myself. Because, as Deborah Adele says,

Only when we find this love for all the parts of ourselves, can we begin to express fully the love that wells up inside of us for others. Finding this love for all the parts of ourselves means we have to forgive ourselves.

On the Mat

To help with maintaining self-love, my yoga practice helps. And when I’m feeling low on self-love and gratitude, I throw in some heart-opening asanas. I find Vribhasana I and II a great place to start. I switch out my Upward Dog with Cobra, perhaps add Sphinx and finally, try my hand at Camel—which I always find challenging.

For gratitude—because essentially, opening one’s heart means offering gratitude—I like to add a wide-legged forward fold.

And to finish, to keep my “high” I always love legs up the wall. I’m not at handstand or headstand ability yet, so this pose is great to just make my endorphins run through my veins and leaves me happy. And who can say mean things if they’re happy?

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Say Yes

In my previous post, I mentioned that my word for 2017 is “Create.” I talked about how I came across the idea of choosing a word for the year. But I realize that my discovery kind of evolved from 2016, when I didn’t choose a word. Instead, I chose and action. Last year, 2016, was my year of saying “Yes.”

I didn’t begin the year with this in mind. Rather, I started the year like I do most years: not making any resolutions because I know I don’t keep them anyway. But somewhere in the first quarter of the year, I decided that I would have to start saying yes to things I would normally say no to. Things like teaching a yoga class someplace unfamiliar. Things like starting a video podcast.

Oh yeah, have I mentioned that in another part of my life I am a knitter? My sister Shelagh and I learned to knit when we were young—she in her early teens, me at around 20. When our sister Irene was in palliative care, we both took up knitting again because it gave us something to do while we sat with her in the hospital. As a side benefit, it is a very calming activity that we both needed in that situation.

One day, Irene asked us what we were going to do with all the scarves and things we were making. We didn’t have a plan for that, but we eventually came up with the idea of selling them online. The three of us talked about so it was going to happen. Shelagh and I researched and read up on selling online and opened a shop on Etsy.

Fast forward 18 months and our knitting evolved into a new world: video podcasting. Turns out there are lots of knitters who podcast and Shelagh wanted to do one too. My initial reaction was, no way! But then I realized that if I didn’t say yes to this, I would be missing out on something potentially fun and special.

I eventually agreed and currently we have posted 15 episodes and have over 500 subscribers to our YouTube channel! Through YouTube and Instagram, we have met virtually some amazing people who knit. And it has given us the opportunity to meet them in person.

This whole experience has really made me understand Jack Canfield’s quote that “everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

So now, when I’m offered an opportunity and my initial reaction is “No, stay in my safe place,” I stop and really examine what I’m feeling. I remind my self of this positive podcasting experience, and then decide if I could actually say yes.

I think coming off a year like that also evolved into my year to create. I’ve begun to recognize that I have been using the excuses of perfectionism, caring what others think, “not having anything worthwhile to say” as blocks. These are all just my fears manifesting in negative self-talk. But focusing on my success in the past will continue to help me say yes and, more importantly, grow and evolve.

On the Mat

Fighting fear means working on my root and solar plexus chakras: chakras 1 and 3. Moving out of that secure place (root) perhaps even away from who I know myself to be now (solar plexus) creates a sense of trepidation, fear. To work on that, I will include Virabhadrasana (Warrior) I and II, Goddess, Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle), Navasana (Boat). I like to include some twists, such as Parivrta Uttkatasana (Revolved Chair) and Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes) to strengthen my solar plexus and sort of “massage” my true, strong self out in front of the fear and negative self talk.

Have you said yes after your initial reaction was to say no? How did it turn out?

My Word for 2017

I’ve been reading a lot of posts lately about choosing a word for the year. If you haven’t heard about this before, let me explain.

As one year closes and you look back on your achievements, you begin to formulate what has been missing, what you could have done better. You boil down those ideas to something simple, something memorable that will help guide you in the coming year. Those who follow this practice swear it helps keep them focused on their goals.

Through December I had been thinking about my own goals for 2017. What did I want my year to look like? More particularly, what did I want to feel like at the end of 2017? By knowing this, I could work backwards and figure out what I needed to focus on. Using my intuition, I started allowing words to “bubble up” to see how they “fit.” A bit like Goldilocks, I was looking for the one that was “just right.” And I did find it.

My word for 2017 is Create.

Although this word seems rather prosaic—rather 2016 even. But it does fit my life right now.

Career

I have several ongoing ventures right now, most of which are limping along but not making me enough money to live on. So I know I need to focus on one to really make a success. I know I want to create a career, a livelihood. But more than that I want to create a successful career. I will have to venture into some unknown territory, definitely outside my comfort zone, but from what I’ve read, that’s where success lives.

So not only do I want to create a new, successful career, I will have to create a business persona in order to achieve it! That will be work.

Relationships

This is perhaps the most important thing for me. This is the piece I am desperately missing in my life and something I promised myself to better as I watched my youngest sister dying of cancer and receiving more than 100 people as she spent her final days in palliative care. She always made friends and enjoying her life a priority. I never have. So I want to create the space in my life for friends.

Again, because this is so far out of my natural tendencies—an introvert who doesn’t like to intrude on others’ time—I will have to create a very different mindset.

Art

Yes, I want to create art, both visual and written. Perhaps the term art is a stretch. What I want is to create just for the love of creating. I’ve got all the tools and plenty of time but, for some reason, the drive to use my time wisely doing something I love just isn’t there. Plus, I’m a procrastinator who really needs external accountability. So, to that end, I have joined a 31-day challenge to write 500 words per day.

And I’ve just completed my first day. I’m concerned about keeping up the momentum, but that’s why this is a challenge.

On the Mat

I do want to create a more consistent asana and meditation practice, but by doing so, I will be able to create in all other areas of my life more easily. I will create the life I want off the mat.

I’ll check in throughout the year as I challenge myself to create. But in the meantime, do you set goals for yourself? Resolutions? Or have you tried coming up with a word for your year? How successful has that been for you?

3 Self-Care Lessons from Yoga I Practised Post-Surgery

“That went well!”

That was the first thought that popped into my head when I awoke in the post-op recovery room.

I felt my awareness grow, particularly of a terrible taste in my mouth. The nurse—seeing me alert—asked how I was and offered a Popsicle to get rid of the taste.

Enjoying the banana-flavoured ice, I did a body scan, searching for how I was feeling. No pain. No discomfort. I was aware of the air filling my lungs and feeding my blood, which I could feel coursing through me. I felt better and better over the next two hours and two recovery rooms. By the time my sister dropped me at home, I felt alert but tired and hungry. And I put into action what I have learned from from my yoga practice.

  1. Listen to my body. From my first body scan in post-op through to my two-week follow-up appointment with the surgeon, I made sure to listen to my body. It is so easy to want to get back into a regular routine and push too hard. That push can lead to pain and potential injury, and actually delay the healing process. So, just as I do on the mat, I paid attention and only went where my body was willing.
  2. Treat myself with kindness. I knew I wanted to heal quickly and well. Prior to surgery I planned what foods I might eat to help the healing process. I had organic fruit and veggies, water, proteins ready for me. The kindest thing I could do for myself was honour my body with a healthy diet, sleep when I was tired, and walk in the sunshine and fresh air.
  3. Turn off the chatter. We all have this when we arrive on the mat. We often have it as soon as we wake up: the To Do list. Although I had deadlines to meet, I gave myself permission to take time off to heal. Let go of the anxiety that comes from deadlines, promises, and “should do” knowing that coming to them fit and healthy will be much better for me and everyone else.

Being on the mat teaches us about ourselves and our potential, what we bring to the world. Yoga practice allows us to become more and more kind to ourselves and that kindness can seep into our lives off the mat. But post-surgery—or after any physical or emotional challenge—is where we can most benefit from our practice. Even if it means we aren’t practising for a while.

 

Be Brave. Be Grateful. Be of Service.

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Copyright Margaret Henderson, 2016.

Earlier this year I discovered an issue with one of my breasts. As a woman who has had both a mother and a sister die of breast cancer, I was filled with terror when I made the discovery. And I did something stupid: I waited several weeks before scheduling a doctor’s appointment.

That was fear making the decision. So I got brave.

When I finally met with my family doctor, he scheduled lots of tests and a meeting with a surgeon, who also scheduled tests. Each test came back with positive news: nothing there. Nothing to worry about. I was feeling incredibly positive. Something just kept telling me: it will be okay. It’s not cancer.

Until the MRI.

That was when they saw “something.” Something that ought to be investigated because of my family history.

So I had a biopsy. The surgeon and his team were amazing. But, but all my positive thoughts left me during the biopsy (you are awake during this process, with only a local anaesthetic used).

From the biopsy until hearing the result I was mostly positive, but still scared.

Of course, I began bargaining and begging and giving reasons why it shouldn’t be me. What an ego!

What did I say? Here’s my top three reasons why this shouldn’t happen to me:

  1. My sister and father can’t go through this again.
  2. I haven’t done enough with my time here.
  3. I haven’t figured out my next steps, my purpose.

The flip side was also typical: making promises. Here’s what I promised if the biopsy proved it to be cancer free:

  1. I will be of service.
  2. I will prepare a series of yoga classes of my own.
  3. I will seriously pursue teaching yoga.
  4. I will evaluate what is important in my life and seriously pursue those things.

On August 11, the diagnosis was that what they found and biopsied was indeed cancer free. It is something that may grow, or may not. It is something that may become cancerous, or may not. Given my family history, I agreed that removing it is the best option. So that surgery is happening on October 4.

I am incredibly grateful for this diagnosis.

I am incredibly grateful for an amazing team of health care professionals.

I am incredibly grateful that my sister travelled with me on this roller coaster.

I am incredibly grateful that my sister and father do not have to take the cancer journey again.

But what have I done for my end of this “bargain”? Turns out the universe was listening to my promises and bargaining!

I was contacted today about volunteer teaching at the Y. Last year I briefly spoke to someone there about that possibility, but an injury prevented me. Then just today I got a message asking if I am still interested.

I think I can be of service.

So What’s Your Purpose?

Buddha&Me.PNG“Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it”

Gautama Buddha

Believe it or not, most of my life I have known exactly what I wanted to do or accomplish and I went about the business of doing and accomplishing what I wanted.

Go to university for a degree in English? Check.

Become an editor? Check.

Find that someone who patiently encourages widening my narrow view of the world? Check.

It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I realized that most people do not start life that way. By the time I was in my early forties I began to consider myself as incredibly fortunate. Yes, it took me a very long time to realize how lucky I was–and am!

In the last few days I have stumbled across articles about knowing your purpose and focusing on only doing activities that align with that purpose. I know this is not a new idea; in fact, I have read articles about this in the past couple of years. But I have also begun to recognize that sometimes the universe sends you signs, hints, nudges—before finally bashing you over the head saying “pay attention!”

I’ll come clean here: I’ve been trying to figure out my purpose—a new purpose—since 2013. During that year, my last year working for a well-known educational publisher, I was beginning to feel like that I was no longer living my purpose. Before the end of that year, the company agreed and let me go (along with a couple of dozen others).

But I was lucky. I was given a fair severance package.

Then, three weeks later, my youngest sister—whose 2010 breast cancer was treated and considered in remission—was given the devastating news that the cancer had metastasized and she was placed into palliative care. I spent almost every single day with her during the last three months of her life. This was where I wanted to be and I got to be there. I consider myself incredibly lucky for that.

At some point in 2013 I knew I wanted to be a yoga teacher. In 2015 I completed the 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher Training session. As of this writing, I have taught only a handful of classes and have begun freelance editing for my former company.

The past couple of years I have struggled like a teenager to figure out my place in the world. What am I good at? What do I love to do? How can I help others? How can I earn a living? Is there some way what I’m good at, what I love, and helping others can converge so I can earn a living?

I think the universe is encouraging me to figure out my purpose. I did well when I knew exactly where I was going before. And although I like little detours—I believe they help one grow—I miss having that sense of purpose that allows me to fall into bed at the end of a day well-spent.