In my blog, “The Happiness Advantage”, we saw how meditation grows the part of our brain responsible for feeling happy and when practiced regularly can actually rewire our brains.
Studies about meditation and our brain seem to be everywhere these days. Neuroplasticity is the science of how the brain changes its structure and function in response to training. It identifies meditation as a primary tool for building a more agile brain, even as we age.
How does this rewiring happen?
It is the focusing of our attention on one object that makes meditation so powerful. It changes the brain’s structure and function allowing it to process information more efficiently.
It also allows us to feel more in control of our lives. Feeling in control is one of the strongest determiners of our overall sense of well being. Interestingly, it’s about how much control we think we have rather than how much control we actually have. As a former boss of mine used to say, “…perception is reality.”
Locus of Control
Do you believe your actions have a direct impact on the daily outcomes in your life?
Or, do you believe external events have a greater impact on how things turn out?
Psychologists describe people who answered “yes” to the first question as having an internal locus of control and those who answered “yes” to the second question as having an external locus of control.
The “internal” locus of control folks think they have more control. For example, if things don’t go according to their plans, they look inside themselves to examine how they can change their approach for a more positive outcome. Those with an external locus of control tend to believe they are helpless to influence the outcomes.
There are scientifically proven health benefits with an internal focus because these people tend to have less stress, less disease and greater happiness.
Create a Meditation Practice
Perceptions of control are all about one’s attitude and the relatively young fields of Neuroplasticity and Positive Psychology believe that attitudes can be changed by rewiring our brains. In other words, if you answered “yes” to the second question, it’s possible to change and develop the healthier internal locus of control.
Which brings us back to meditation and it’s proven ability to rewire our brains.
Each of us has control over our decision to meditate. Yes, it can seem daunting at first. There’s this feeling of how do I get started and am I doing it “right”.
My advice is to start small and keep your meditation to two or three minutes in the beginning. Then, as your schedule permits, you can extend the time. Consistent, regular practice is much more important than length of time. You’ll experience meditation’s benefits more quickly.
Here’s the meditation slide again in case your missed it last week.
Enjoy and Breathe Easy!
Happiness is a very individual thing. What makes one person happy doesn’t work at all for the next person. But, our beliefs about how we achieve happiness are surprisingly similar and for most of us, are based on external events. If we get “x”… then we will be happy. It’s the way many of us have been conditioned since childhood.
Those names are just a few of the seemingly endless “styles” of yoga on the market today. It can get really confusing really fast when you’re trying to pick a class.
It didn’t used to be so complicated. In 1990, when I first took a yoga class there were just a handful of “styles” (called traditions back then) and they were based on over 5,000 years of yoga tradition originating in India.
Also, there was only 1 studio in the City of Atlanta where I lived. Lucky for me I found the yoga I love and still practice today at that studio. I will be forever grateful to Martin and Margaret Pierce for launching me on my yoga journey.
Now yoga is mainstream. There are dozens and dozens of styles of yoga. Yoga studios are everywhere and range from the neighborhood studio to the national chain. There are huge events like yoga rocks the park, Friday night yoga and chant fests that attract large crowds. Overall, I view this growth as positive because it gets people moving and engaged.
With all these styles, it’s obvious that not all yoga is alike and it’s really important to find a style that resonates with you. A friend recently had a very uncomfortable experience in a class and it took her several days to recover. She was telling me the story and suggested I blog about the different styles of yoga, which I’ll plan to do.
No matter which class you attend, following are four tips to always keep in mind for your self-protection:
- Bring your attention inward and listen to your body. No one knows what’s going on inside you better than you do.
- If a posture is painful, stop immediately even if everyone else in the room is doing it. You need to feel safe and comfortable and stay injury free.
- If this class really isn’t working for you, it’s okay to rest in child’s pose and/or sit in meditation. The teacher will probably approach you, depending on the class size, but that’s okay. Just say you’re taking a little time out. She’ll understand and if she doesn’t that’s okay.
- Never, ever let a teacher adjust you while you are in a posture. Yoga teachers aren’t licensed to do that and it’s been the cause of many injuries. They should ask permission, which doesn’t always happen, even if it’s just to place a hand on your back.
How to Pick a Style
Out of all the types of yoga how do you pick the one for you? Google, of course, is a great tool, but the generic description doesn’t always match the in-class experience because each teacher has his/her own unique style.
Following are some questions and suggestions to use for narrowing the field:
- What are your goals (your “intention” in yogi speak) for practicing yoga?
- Do you want a vigorous workout that could replace your gym workout?
- Do you want something gentle, nurturing and restorative?
- Are you looking for a therapeutic practice that focuses on specific areas of your body?
- Are you looking for something more traditional that combines asana, breathing techniques and meditation?
- What is your experience level? Most class descriptions tell you if it’s designed for Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced or All Levels. It’s okay to ratchet down but be careful about getting into a class above your skill level. That’s an easy way to get injured.
- Are you willing to experiment? It could take a little time to find the right fit, so keep an open mind and refer to the self-protection tips.
Feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org if there is a particular style you’d like to know more about. I’ll be sure to blog about it.
We talked last week about a breathing practice to reduce holiday stress that is easy and effective. One of the reasons stress builds up during the holidays is because we get thrown off of our regular schedule. Sleep patterns get disrupted, our diet frequently suffers and regular exercise becomes hit or miss. No wonder we feel stress at this time of the year.
The Holiday, a/k/a Stress, Season is officially underway. (I’m old fashioned and really like giving Halloween and Thanksgiving the celebration time they deserve.)
For just about all of us, there is a bad habit or two or three that we would like to break. If we could just break this (fill in the blank) habit, life would be better. For example, we know that we need regular exercise; that we need to cut down on sugar, eat more fresh fruits and veggies; and that we need to keep stress levels manageable. The messages to live a healthy lifestyle are everywhere.
It’s easy to know what to do. The hard part is making it actually happen. Why is it that even when we really, really want to make a change, it can be so difficult to stick with it? As Iyengar says in the above quote, the mind is hard to adjust, i.e. old habits die hard.
When I first started practicing yoga about 25 years ago, it was on the fringe and certainly not mainstream in this country. Since then things have changed a lot. Today, it is a 10-plus billion dollar industry with over 20 million people in the United States practicing some form of yoga.
This week we will finish with the final three “must have” products for practicing yoga. These three center around your state of mind and, again, you already have exactly what you need.
Last week, I was checking in with my banker and a comment he made about his yoga experience really caught my attention. He said he couldn’t practice yoga because he wasn’t very flexible and it made him feel awkward and uncomfortable in classes. If you’re a yoga teacher, you’ve probably heard that comment a zillion times like I have.
Denver has an annual event called the Colfax Marathon and yesterday was the big day. Thousands participate and have a great time.
For the out-of-town readers, Colfax has the distinction of being the longest continuous street in America. The marathon travels down part of Colfax and several other streets in downtown Denver. This means that many of the streets are fully or partially blocked on marathon day so the runners can participate without being run down by cars.
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