Creativity

How many times have you said “I’m just not creative?” If you’re like me, it’s been a ton. And you know what? I don’t buy it. We are creative every single day. You don’t have to be a writer, artist, or musician in order to claim that. The clothes you wear, the words you choose to say, the route you walk to your car. All day long, your brain is making patterns, designs, and decisions that leave a creative mark on this world. I think each of us has a deep passion for something. It could be sailboats or pineapples or palm tress (can you tell it’s winter here?). But the point is, it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you. It can be as simple as deciding to read a book that really interests you, trying a food that you’ve never tasted but are curious about, or talking to a neighbor who you pass every day, but don’t know. These are all inherently human acts that feed our curiosity, which ultimately, is an expression of creativity. Looking to jumpstart that feeling? Try the below practice, which should take about 15 minutes.

(1) MOVE (about 3 minutes)

Standing tall, take a few breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Once you feel grounded, start shaking your hands, as if you are trying to shake water off them. Lift and lower them as you shake them. Allow the rest of your body to move as well. Sway side to side. Jump up and down. Twist forward and back. Do whatever movement feels good to you for the next 2-3 minutes that allows you to release any excess energy or stress that you have.

(2) MEDITATE (about 7 minutes)

Sit on the edge of a cushion or in a chair and lengthen your spine. Reground yourself by closing your eyes and breathing deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. Once your breath and heart rate have returned to a normal level, begin alternate nostril breathing. It sounds scary, but it is really simple and great for balancing the left brain (controls planning and organizing) and right brain (controls creativity).

Make a fist with your right hand, and then raise just the thumb and pinky finger. Use your right thumb to gently close off the right side of your nose by pressing on the outside of it. Inhale deeply through the left nostril, and once your belly has fully expanded, plug the left side of the nose with your pinky finger, release the hold on the right nostril and exhale out through the right side. Inhale into the right nostril, plug it and release your grip on the left, exhaling to the left side. Repeat this cycle 5-10 times (inhale on left, exhale on right, inhale on right, exhale on left), ending on the exhale to the left side.

For the remaining 5 minutes or so, resume normal breathing, but continue to keep your eyes closed. Imagine a deep blue color between your eyebrows. Watch it grow larger on your inhales, and then smaller on the exhales. This helps awaken your third eye, which controls creativity, wisdom, and intuition. Gently open your eyes when you are finished.

(3) MEDIATE (about 5 minutes)

Grab a pen and some paper. Free write in response to any of the following questions: What do I experience that makes me emotional? How does my passion meet my story? What have I witnessed that others should see?

Hatteras Island, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Hatteras Island, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Exploration

“Explore” is my word for 2019. I did plenty of exploring in 2018, traveling to parts of the U.S. like Joshua Tree National Park; Grand Junction, Colorado; and the Outer Banks in North Carolina. My rationale for choosing “explore” is that even if there are new places I have discovered, there’s always more left to see. True growth happens when we get to the edge of our comfort zone. Travel always sounds like a good idea to me, but the truth is, it can be deeply uncomfortable. Maybe I am just a grandma in a thirty-year-old’s body, but air lines, new routines, and new faces always give me a sense of wanting to run away, (but I’m already headed to a new place, so I am sort of stuck).

Do you know this about yourself too? Not that you are a grandma (or grandpa), but what are the parts of you that make you feel stuck? Is that holding you back from exploring something that you don’t know? I realized on many of my trips that I actually like not drinking coffee some mornings. That’s a pretty silly example, but imagine that! I could’ve gone my whole life not knowing I liked NOT being amped up on caffeine. Maybe there’s something about you that’s waiting to unfold too. Try the practice below to kickstart the process.

(1) MOVE (about 3 minutes)

Grab a yoga mat or find a carpeted surface that will be soft on your knees. Then, come to your hands and knees in a table-top position with your wrists stacked under your shoulders and your hips stacked over your knees. Begin crawling forward by moving your right hand forward a few inches and moving your left knee forward a few inches. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg. Keep your crawling movements slow and controlled moving on either the inhale or exhale of the breath. When you reach the end of the mat or carpet, either turn around or try reversing the direction of your crawl. Continue this movement for 2-3 minutes. This may seem like a silly exercise (and I hope you do laugh at yourself a little), but crawling is really beneficial for connecting the left and right brain.

(2) MEDITATE (about 5 minutes)

Find a comfortable seat. Inhale through your nose and exhale out through your mouth. Repeat 3 times. Take in the landscape picture below. Imagine you are about to climb this mountain. What sensations do you notice in your body? What does the earth feel like beneath your feet? What does the air feel like on your fingertips? Continue to scan your body and around you.

When you’re ready to continue click here. Then close your eyes to visualizing climbing the mountain for the next four minutes. If thoughts come up, just label them "thinking" and return back to your exploration.

(3) MEDIATE (about 7 minutes)

Grab a writing instrument and paper and free write for about 5 minutes in response to the following questions: What parts of you have you recently discovered? What’s there to explore?

Flatiorns, Boulder, Colorado

Flatiorns, Boulder, Colorado

Empathy

This practice will focus entirely on movement by taking an action for about 15 minutes. The below post relates to writing love letters for those in need (find more info here), but do whatever practice resonates with you, as long as it is dedicated to holding and creating space for others. This can include volunteering at a local organization or something as small as holding the door open for someone, calling a few loved ones and listening to how they are doing, or donating to a charitable organization that you care about. Whatever you do, make sure your action is motivated from a place of desiring well-being for yourself and others.

MOVE - Do something for someone else (about 15 minutes)

We often don’t realize the kindness that strangers are capable of until we experience it for ourselves. Recently, I went on a yoga retreat where I didn’t know a soul. I was sick, tired, and nervous about spending a week in the middle of a desert, a far cry from my usual 9-5 city life. But I was shocked how quickly the people I met on this retreat became dear friends. They supported me through the strenuous hikes we went on, brought me medicine and tea to keep my cold at bay, and were honest and vulnerable about what brought them to a retreat. I left with not only friends, but a renewed sense of hope that, as humans, we are more alike than different. I recently received the postcard that I wrote to myself while I was there, which said: “I hope you remember the kindness of strangers who became friends.”

December is a month that I love, not only for the holiday season, but also as a time to reflect on the year that has passed. This month, as I am wrapping up my yoga teacher training, much of my journaling and reflection has focused on how I can serve others, especially those who may be suffering in some way. As a result, I was delighted to see that The World Needs More Love Letters was doing its 12 Days of Love Letter Campaign from December 3 to 14.

More Love Letters (MLL) was founded by Hannah Brencher in 2011. Impressively, Hannah has gone from writing letters on her own to having a team and being a published author and TED speaker. Each month, the MLL team emails out letter requests received from friends and family members of those who have been nominated to receive the hand-delivered letters. The request includes a brief story of the recipient and details a trial or tribulation that they are currently experiencing. The stories are honest and heart-breaking, but are often very relatable at the same time. I find sending the letters to be such a reminder of the power in my own experience and the collective power we share when we support one another. Today’s story featured Chris who was nominated by her granddaughter to receive the letters.

If you are interested in participating, there’s still time! I encourage you to sign up for the emails and start writing. It takes about five minutes to put pen to page and seal the envelope, but it means the world to someone to know that souls capable of empathy are out there.

Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Optimism

Feeling like things are suddenly hopeless? Despair doesn’t ask to be invited in. It creeps in through the cracks in the window and envelops you with its weighty heft. Things go from OK to unbearable in one fell-swoop. Getting out can take effort that’s irritating and angsty. But lifting the cloak is worth the toil. Start by recognizing the reason hopelessness has arrived. It is likely trying to protect you from other emotions like pain or fear. Use the following practice to simply be with it, and though the feeling might not go away, gently let yourself move past the control it has on your emotions:

(1) MOVE (about 3 minutes)

Begin in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart. Take a breath in through your nose and out through your mouth with an audible exhale (say: “HA”). Repeat two more times. With your hands by your sides, start to move your arms forward and back, making a circular motion around your body and keeping your lower body mostly still. The circles can be as fast or as slow as you want, and your hands may lightly tap the side of your opposite hip as you do this, but don’t worry about what it looks like. Do this for the next 2-3 minutes. When you are are finished, come to stillness and return back to your deep inhales and exhales until you are ready to open your eyes.

(2) MEDITATE (about 5 minutes)

Read this poem on optimism. After you are finished, close your eyes and reflect internally on the following question: What fascinates me about life?

(3) MEDIATE (about 7 minutes and beyond)

Write a thank you note to any feeling of doubt or hopelessness you are experiencing. Use the inside of an envelope or a journal page. Then begin to peel it away. Turn the page or seal the envelope. Write the kindest thing you can say about yourself in this moment. Do the same thing for someone you are angry toward or hurt by. Do the same for a situation in the world you are scared of or angered by.

Carry these emotions of kindness with you throughout the rest of the day. Smile to the passerby, make conversation with the janitor, silently wish love and grace to those you see out and about. Plant tiny seeds of great optimism.

Machiasport, Maine

Machiasport, Maine

Love

When things are difficult or weighing on us heavily, it is hard to believe that love is an abundant resource. There is a river of truth that runs through each of us. Sometimes it seems like just a trickling stream, but if we are vulnerable and trust its power, we can feel it expanding within us and realize its true depths are limitless. It costs nothing to be kind—especially if we expect nothing in return. Instead of expecting something in return, we can rely upon this source of truth within us. We already have all of the love we need. There is nothing left to obtain or prove to be at home in ourselves. The below practice will take about 15 minutes:

(1) MOVE (about 3 minutes)

Stand up with your feet hip width apart. Grow tall from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet, feeling them firmly planted on the ground. On an inhale gently open your arms up to a “T” and lift your chin slightly. On the exhale draw your arms toward you, rounding your upper back, until you wrap your arms around yourself, as if you are giving yourself a hug. Repeat this by inhaling to open your arms, and exhaling to stack the opposite arm on top in the hug. Continue this at whatever rate is comfortable to you for the next 2-3 minutes.

(2) MEDITATE (about 5 minutes)

Come to a seated position and close your eyes. Visualize your younger self. It can be at any age, but perhaps try choosing an age in your life when you felt especially vulnerable or unloved. Begin slowly inhaling and exhaling out through your nose. With each inhale feel your chest expand and fill with power, and on each exhale, send love to this younger self. You can add a mantra on the exhale as well if it feels right to you. Some examples are: “You are safe and cared for,” “You are loved and protected,” or “You are strong and wise.” Continue to do this for the next 4-5 minutes. Stop whenever feels right by gently fluttering your eyes open.

(3) MEDIATE (about 7 minutes)

Grab a pen and paper. Having tapped into this inner source of love, respond to the following question: Where in my life can I be more loving? Continue writing for 6-7 minutes or however long you’d like.

Hatteras Island, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Hatteras Island, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Confidence

Many times lack of confidence comes from disconnection. We perceive something to be unattainable. We think we are not ready, and we will certainly fail, or worse, we think that others will judge us if we fail.  Often confidence manifests in disconnection between the brain and the body. For example, I cannot lift that weight because I am not strong enough, even though I have trained for that weight. I cannot give that presentation because I am not articulate enough, even though I am an expert in that subject matter.  

In reality, we often possess exactly what skills we need and only fear moving forward because of self-doubt. The idea of “faking it until you make it” sounds trite, but it can be immensely helpful if we use it to connect the body to the mind. As Amy Cuddy notes in her excellent TED Talk, tense sensations in the body signal the brain to avoid the thing we fear. But if we create a sense of openness, what emerges might surprise us. The following practice should take about 15 minutes:

(1) MOVE (about 3 minutes)

Think about something you are afraid to do. With that thought in mind, hold a modified yoga pose, called five-pointed star pose, for 2 to 3 minutes. It is what Amy Cuddy coined as a “power pose.” Standing tall, take your stance as wide or narrow as is comfortable for you. Place your hands on your hips. Close your eyes (if that’s comfortable for you) and breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. You can play with how you position your hands—fists, fingers spread, or fingers together—but try to not to create too much tension anywhere in the body.  If you get tired at any point, simply lower your hands to your sides.

(2) MEDITATE (about 5 minutes)

Lower your arms to your sides if they were raised, and narrow your stance back to a neutral position. Close your eyes, and focus on taking deep breaths. Try to make your exhales longer than your inhales (e.g., inhale for a count of three, exhale for a count of five). If negative thoughts come up, allow them to pass through, but return your focus to your breath. If you need help focusing further, imagine a bright yellow glow emanating from your core on your inhale, and drawing back into your body on the exhale.

(3) MEDIATE (about 7 minutes)

Come to a seat. Grab a writing instrument and some paper or a journal page. Free write a response to following: I embody….Continue for 5-7 minutes, or stop whenever feels right for you.   

View from West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, Lubec, Maine

View from West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, Lubec, Maine

Resistance

We spend most of our lives resisting, longing for things to change to fit a life we convince ourselves will be the better, more perfect version.  This resistance prevents us from seeing the joy in the everyday things; the things that are simply in the space of now.  

However, there may be unhealthy actions, by you or others, that are occurring in your life.  For this, there is an appropriate way to respond, and it is not necessarily resistance (even if society tells us otherwise).  Resistance in this scenario might actually be condoning, joining, or allowing the hurtful activities.  It could be driven by fear or denial.  You must watch and listen for when your boundaries have been crossed.  You must know that peace is possible.  But only if you take action mindfully. 

(1) MOVE (about 3 minutes)

While standing up, roll a tennis ball or lacrosse ball underneath each of your feet, one at a time. Move it slowly to get into the fascia, or connective tissue. It may be a bit uncomfortable, but our feet are our primary contact point with the ground, and releasing any tightness there can impact pain we may be experiencing in other areas of the body, especially in the ankles or calves.

(2) MEDITATE (about 7 minutes)

After moving, come to a seated position in a chair. Take out a sheet of paper or a blank journal page. Divide the paper into two columns separated by a vertical line: on the one side write down words that represent things you feel resistant toward.  The words could represent people, past events, or ideas.  In the other column, write down the verb or adjective you will use to move past the resistance.  Use a different color for each word if you would like.  

When you are done put your writing instrument down, and sit in your chair with your palms on your knees, and feet firmly planted on the ground. Close your eyes, and using deep, slow breathing, visualize yourself floating with one of the words you wrote. Visualize its color and the bend and arc of the text underneath you. Imagine it is a life raft supporting you through the sea of resistance. Open your eyes when you are ready to release from this space. If you prefer not to do this visualization, simply skip this part of the exercise.

(3) MEDIATE (about 5 minutes)

Turn the page or flip the page over. Free write in response to the question: What am I running from? Do not judge the answers that come up; just write whatever comes up for about five minutes or until you feel comfortable stopping.

Pickett's Charge by Mark Bradford; on exhibit at Hirshorn Museum Nov. 8, 2017 - Nov. 12, 2018, Washington, D.C.

Pickett's Charge by Mark Bradford; on exhibit at Hirshorn Museum Nov. 8, 2017 - Nov. 12, 2018, Washington, D.C.

Clarity

Sometimes we know that the path we are on is not a good one. The thoughts we have are spiraling us downward, and it feels impossible to stop. But it is possible. Each moment, including this moment, offers an opportunity to begin again and get closer to clarity. This does not mean we will have everything figured out. We won't. But rather, we can just trust that when we let go of the unhelpful thoughts, what's left when we release them is enough. The following practice will take around 15 minutes:

(1) MOVE (about 3 minutes)

Set a timer for 3 minutes. During those three minutes, try marching slowly in place with control. Begin by standing tall, relaxing your shoulders from your ears, and activating your core by drawing your navel toward your spine. Lift the opposite arm and leg in synchrony on the inhale and come back to a neutral stand on the exhale. Repeat with the opposing arm and leg. Try to do the same number on each side. If you tire at any point before 3 minutes is up, simply stop and stand tall, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.

(2) MEDITATE (about 7 minutes)

Sit on a chair or on the floor and set a timer for 7 minutes. Close your eyes and begin to deepen and slow your breath. As you inhale think of thoughts that are keeping you from a clear mind, and as you exhale out your mouth, send them out with your breath and let them go. Repeat this slowly for ten additional times. Then sit with the space that you have just created for 6-7 more minutes and the sensations that it brought to your body. Don’t judge these sensations; just take note of them. 

(3) MEDIATE (about 5 minutes)

Get out your journal, and write what it feels like to have let go. If you are still feeling those thoughts creep back, start again, and then write down the mantra of your choice (e.g., I let go, I am weightless, I am clear) ten times. 

United States Botanic Garden, Washington, D.C.

United States Botanic Garden, Washington, D.C.

Forgiveness

As uncomfortable as it may be, we ultimately need to confront past hurts in order to move on and grow. These pains were perhaps inflicted upon us by others or even ourselves. Sometimes these things are so deeply rooted in pain that we have blocked them out almost completely, and we don’t realize this until we begin the work to address them. Be gentle and kind with yourself in completing the following practice. If it feels like too much, you can always come back to closing your eyes and deep breathing, no matter what. If you are not sure where to start, think of how you’d respond to the following question: What in my past do I need to let go of? The following should take about 15 minutes:

(1) MOVE (about 3 minutes)

Find a comfortable seat on a chair or on the floor, sitting on the edge of a cushion. Sit tall, and bring your hands to your chest over your heart and begin inhaling and exhaling out your nose. As you inhale, notice how your chest rises beneath your hands, and as you exhale, notice how it gently falls. After doing that a few rounds, on the next inhale, take your hands off your chest and open your arms to a cactus shape or a “T.” You can tilt the chin back slightly as you begin to open your chest and heart. On the exhale bring the hands back to the chest, and dip your chin toward your heart. Repeat this for a few rounds, for the next 2-3 minutes, or however long feels good to you.

(2) MEDITATE (about 4 minutes)

Stay in your seat and continue breathing in and out through your nose. On the inhale, say to yourself in your mind the mantra: “May I forgive myself for the past.” On the exhale say: “May I forgive all others for the past.” You can call to mind a specific person on each exhale—don’t judge what or who comes up. Just focus on the mantra. Repeat this for the next 3 to 4 minutes, or until you’d like to stop.

(3) MEDIATE (about 8 minutes)

Grab a pen and paper. Visualize yourself forward in time, in a light-filled space, several years in the future, when you have allowed emotions from the past hurts to quiet down. You acknowledge these hurtful events or unkind feelings, but have moved on and let go of their stranglehold on your day-to-day life.  

Imagine that day in the future is today and you embody that person who has let go. Put your pen to the page and write a letter from that open place to your stuck self who is struggling with forgiveness

Hatteras Island, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Hatteras Island, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Strength

If you are feeling ungrounded, lost, or defeated, try the below 15-20 minute practice to get grounded quickly and tap into your inner strength in a loving and kind way:

(1) MOVE (about 5-10 minutes)

Go for a 5-10 minute walk (or longer if you’d like). Walk outside in nature or in quiet neighborhood, if possible. If it’s not possible to walk outside, walk by pacing in your home or apartment. Wherever you are walking, try not to distract yourself by music, podcasts, or any devices. Walk at a leisurely pace and focus on your inhales and exhales, taking note of anything you see, hear, or feel.

(2) MEDITATE (about 5 minutes)

After completing your walk, continue to center yourself with a short meditation. Traditional meditation is performed seated, but you can do so standing if that’s more comfortable to you. Wherever you are, lengthen from the crown of your head down your spine to your tailbone (if you are sitting) or to the bottoms of your feet (if you are standing). As you inhale and your belly expands, feel strength being pulled from your roots up your spine to the crown of your head. As you exhale and your belly contracts, imagine a white light emanating down from your head along your spine to the floor. Continue breathing this way for several rounds, making the exhale slightly longer than the inhale as you watch this light travel up and down your spine.

If you prefer not to do this visualization, just sit or stand in silence for a few minutes. Try to slow your breathing so your inhales and exhales are the same length. If thoughts come up to distract you, imagine that they are floating in front of you, and acknowledge them for a moment. But then let them float out of your purview, like a cloud.

(3) MEDIATE (about 5 minutes)

After your meditation, write out five things you are grateful for that give you strength. These can be things about you or any one or any thing in your life.

IMG_1227 3.JPG

Acadia National Park, Maine

Courage

The below practice will take about 15 minutes. Notice how you feel. If you are feeling anxious and wired, try to do all three practices. If you are feeling exhausted, take slow movement for the first practice (like walking) and focus on meditating and mediating the extremes you are feeling.

(1) MOVE (about 5 minutes)

Set your timer for 1-5 minutes. During that timeframe, move however feels comfortable and safe for you. This can be jumping jacks, running in place, yoga, or just pacing back and forth. The goal is just to release any anxious feelings you are having. Follow this movement with a few deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth.

(2) MEDITATE (about 5 minutes)

Find a comfortable seat, and either follow this five-minute guided mediation, or mediate on your own. If any fearful thoughts arise, acknowledge them, but let them pass. If you prefer not to mediate, color, doodle, or continue to just deep breathe with your eyes open or closed.

(3) MEDIATE (about 5 minutes)

Find the middle way between being controlled by your fears and ignoring these fears. Write down the things that scare you most and for which you need courage.  Some of these things shrink when the text hits the page.  For each one that still creates anxiety for you, write down the likelihood that it will happen. Often times, we fear things that are not likely to happen. If it is likely to happen, write a mantra on how you will address it. For example, “I will accept this challenge with gratitude and grace” or “I cannot control my circumstances, but I can control my reaction to them.”

Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park, Maine

Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park, Maine