23 Aug

Grief and Suicide Loss

If your desire is to support a fellow human in grief, you must create a “safe place” for people to embrace their feelings of profound loss… It is the open heart that allows you to be truly present to another human being’s intimate pain.

-Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., Companioning the Bereaved: A Soulful Guide for Caregivers

Because of my work with Survivors of Suicide here in Kalamazoo, I was recently asked to contribute to a report on teen suicide. I was surprised and grateful for the opportunity – we tend to hear a lot about suicide awareness and prevention in the media, but the aspect of grief and loss following a suicide death is often overlooked. How can we – as friends, family, and community members – offer support to people who are grieving this type of loss?

The support that most survivors need is not really so different from what any grieving person needs – in short: non-judgmental listening and respect for their individual experience of grief. What sets suicide death apart is the stigma that we often attach to it.

Boulder Grief by Jared Hansen

Boulder Grief by Jared Hansen

My work as a grief counselor is necessary because we live in a grief avoidant society. We will all encounter death in our lives – our friends will die, our family members will die, and we, ourselves, will die. Notice how that statement sits with you. If you’re like most people, you want to get as far away from it as possible. Likewise, when one of our loved ones is suffering in grief, we want them to get as far away from it as possible. We don’t want them to hurt, and so we say things like, “he’s in a better place now”, “time heals all wounds”, “it’s time to move on”. Or worse, we avoid the topic altogether, working to distract our loved one from their pain.

With suicide loss, this avoidance is amplified. While we are slowly making progress in awareness and understanding of mental health issues, unfortunately, our society still places a stigma on mental illness and suicide. Our collective shame around this topic keeps us from talking about it – when talking about it is often what is most helpful.

The kindest gift we can give survivors is to listen without judgment. Don’t give advice. Don’t interject with your own history of loss. Don’t distract with platitudes. Listen. Let the mourner teach you about what grief is like for her. Allow her to cry, get angry, express feelings of guilt – don’t take those away from her. Bear witness. Hold space.

In order to heal and integrate loss, we must turn toward our grief.

Feelings of sadness, fear, anxiety, anger, guilt, shame, and relief are all normal reactions to losing a loved one to suicide. We hurt because we love – and sometimes we hurt for a long time. Again, trust the mourner’s innate ways of moving through grief. We each have our own timelines. Experiencing grief is part of our life’s journey. Tears and rage are part of that process of reconciling the loss of someone we hold dear.

Beyond listening and holding non-judgmental space for the mourner’s experience, we can also support healthy coping behaviors and encourage remembrance of the person who has died. Bereavement affects us mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Helping to provide healthy meals and encouraging extra rest are ways that we can nourish those who are hurting. Remembering the deceased is also important, especially at this time. Say their name. Express your own sorrow for the loss. “I really miss John, too. I remember the camping trips we used to take when we were kids,” or, “Mary was such a good storyteller. Do you remember when she had us laughing so hard about…?” Sharing memories and talking about the person who has died are the ways that we establish our relationships with them in death – no longer a physical relationship, but one of memory.

If you, yourself, are grieving a loss, turn toward the people in your life who can support your mourning process – and allow yourself some space from those who can’t. While people are generally well-meaning, encouraging you to move on or minimizing your feelings of grief are ways that they are coping, not ways of helping you. Find friends or family who can hold space, or seek out a counselor or support group where your process is honored.

 

If you are a Survivor of Suicide and are seeking support, there are resources available. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) has a wealth of information online. In the Kalamazoo area, Gryphon Place hosts both open drop-in and closed session support groups. You may also consider contacting a grief counselor for individual support.

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741. In Kalamazoo, Allegan, Van Buren, Berrien and Cass counties, you can also call 269-381-HELP (381-4357) to reach a local volunteer.

15 May

Summer Solstice Workshop in Kalamazoo

 

The solstice is a time of transition – from spring into summer, the season of flowering, growth, playfulness, and wonder. Join us for a Kundalini Yoga workshop designed to open your awareness to this new, fruitful season.

2017 Theme: Vibrate the Cosmos ~ The Cosmos Shall Clear The Path

Each year, the international Kundalini community focuses together on a theme for the summer solstice celebration. This year, we’ll work with Yogi Bhajan’s 5th Sutra for the Aquarian Age. “To vibrate with the Universe is to vibrate the higher frequencies of love, compassion, and kindness. One of the best ways to be in the flow of the Cosmos is through yoga, meditation, and chanting mantra—sacred sounds that attune you to the Universe.”

When: Saturday, June 17, 1:00pm-3:00pm

Where: Upaya Yoga Studio on the 2nd floor at Michigan Holistic Health, 500 West Crosstown Pkwy, Kalamazoo, MI 49008.

Cost: $25 general, $20 students with valid ID

Space is limited! PRE-REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED; please use the contact form to sign up.

This workshop is appropriate for all levels – more experienced practitioners may enjoy the chance to reconnect with the fundamentals of this transformative practice.*

Sat Nam, and Happy Solstice!

* Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. General information found on this website is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.

16 Feb

Trying Something New: Kundalini Yoga and The Four-Fold Way

The Four-Fold Way

The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary, by Angeles Arrien, Ph.D.

Kundalini for Women: Friday evenings at 5:30pm, February 17, 2017 – March 24, 2017

Classes run in 6-week series, $60 for the complete series or $15 drop-in. Classes are held on the 2nd floor at Michigan Holistic Health, 500 West Crosstown Pkwy, Kalamazoo, MI 49008.

Like many of you, I typically do some written reflection and intention setting around the new year. I scaled back on my typical practice this past December in favor of more rest and meditation, but one piece that made it through the cuts was selecting a word of the year. In 2017, mine is authenticity.

Universal Laws for Communication

My own therapist introduced me to the work of Angeles Arrien a few months back, and in particular, the universal laws for communication that are explored in her book The Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary.  This text encompasses a larger vision than communication alone, exploring four archetypes that shamanic traditions have drawn on ‘in order to live in harmony and balance with our environment and with our own inner nature’ (p. 7). Arrien reminds us that the indigenous peoples have long worked with the natural rhythms of the earth to move through life processes and transitions, and that these tools remain available (and necessary) to us in our own industrialized society. For each archetype, she identifies key attributes and practices that we can use to more fully embody each role, finding balance in both our inner and outer lives.

The Warrior: Showing up and choosing to be present

The Healer: Pay attention to what has heart and meaning

The Visionary: Tell the truth without blame or judgment

The Teacher: Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome

As I worked with this little card of reminders, what arose for me was this theme of authenticity and being true to my own nature – which is actually something that connects really nicely with the practice of Kundalini Yoga.  Kundalini is the yoga of awareness – it is a practice that is designed to give you an experience of your soul. Yoga literally means union, connecting our finite selves with the infinite creative consciousness. I see that same thread in Arrien’s writing, connecting with these universal archetypes that reside within us all.

So it’s a little unorthodox to structure a Kundalini Yoga class series around an outside text like this, but I’m going with it. As those of you who practice Kundalini know, classes are always structured around a theme, which connects to the kriya and meditation. Kriya means action – it’s the postures, breath, and sound that are organized together to manifest a particular state. Typically, I’ll choose a larger theme from within the yogic lifestyle to select kriyas and meditations (the chakra system or the 10 bodies, for example) – but in this series for women, let’s try something new! Are you with me?

Kundalini for Women starts up again on February 17. Drop-ins are always welcome – though series passes give you the full 6-week experience, and save you a little cash. I hope you can join us!

15 Dec

A Simple Winter Practice

Misty Morning by Markus Trienke

I have written and reflected on the winter solstice and end-of-year rituals before, but this is the first time in many years that I have felt the true weight of this longest night. Outside my window, the snow is piled high, my back and hands sore from so many driveway shovelings already this season. At 4:30 in the afternoon, it’s time to close the blinds and turn on the Christmas lights, and there are gifts of handmade scarves and rice pouches that go in the microwave to keep me warm as I sit at the computer. Today, there were a few hours of glorious sunshine, the whole landscape glittering – but for the most part, it is cold and dark.

I’m grateful for these tangible reminders of the changing seasons – I have missed this. Some of us have an easier time of tuning in with the passage of time and the subtle shifts in the natural world; perhaps because I am, after all, a Midwestern girl, I need these louder announcements from the weather to truly feel connected.

While this time of year is often characterized by the high energy and festive pace of the holidays, it can be helpful to recognize the disconnect with the slow and quiet rhythm of the season. If you’re feeling out of sync, it may be more than just the eggnog. Though the chill has been in the air for many weeks now, winter is just beginning. This season of cold and darkness is made for rest, reflection, solitude. Can you allow that for yourself?

I have a script I follow for my end-of-year reflection, but even that feels daunting this December. I’m looking at simplifying. The moon was full on Tuesday night, and one of my favorite sources for lunar wisdom had this to say (among other things), something that spoke to me as a complete practice:

“… If we value peace, how do we embody that peace in our daily lives? Or if we value truth, or harmony, or any other higher-vibrational ideal – how do we become that quality as we decide how to proceed from here?…”

Perhaps this is all I need this year. Maybe I will scale back the writing practice, sleep in, do some meditating… contemplate the values that I seek to embody in 2017. Maybe that will be the simple meditation that works for you, as well.

01 Aug

Mourning: The Expression of Grief

This post is part of a series on grief and loss, following my work as a grief counselor at Hospice of the Valley.

The words grief and mourning are often used interchangeably, but there is an important distinction between the two. Grief refers to the internal experience of loss – the thoughts and feelings that one has after someone has died, for example. Mourning, on the other hand, is external – it is the expression of those thoughts and feelings. Grief happens only on the inside, in your head or in your heart. Mourning is the way that we process and “let it out”.

Sadness, by Natalia Rivera

Sadness, by Natalia Rivera

Why does this distinction matter? The words themselves are not as important as recognizing these two aspects of human nature in the wake of a loss: both internal and external processes must be acknowledged and experienced in order to move forward. Most people will experience grief following loss, but many will struggle with mourning. Mourners need to feel safe and supported in their outward expressions of grief; family, social, and cultural expectations have a significant impact on this sense of safety.

Does this mean we need to push someone into mourning if we sense that they are hurting?

It’s not uncommon for me to work with clients who express concern for someone in their family who doesn’t seem to be expressing their feelings. “I keep telling my dad he should come in for counseling, but he just doesn’t want to.” “I’m worried about my son. I ask him how he’s feeling, but he pushes me away.” “I wish my husband would open up to me; I know he’s hurting.” Sometimes I sense that my clients are looking to me for backup on actions that they’re already taking at home (“See? Even my counselor says you should talk more!”). What these well-meaning concerns fail to recognize is that the process of grief and mourning is individual to the mourner – your working through doesn’t necessarily look the same as someone else’s.

You may have noticed that all of the quotes above are directed at men, and that’s pretty consistent with the way these concerns show up in my office. Even so, this isn’t so much a gender divide as it is a difference of grief and mourning patterns. In their study of gender differences as they relate to grief and mourning, psychologists Martin & Doka identified three patterns of grief: intuitive, instrumental, and dissonant. While their research began by comparing men’s and women’s responses to loss, what they found is that these different styles reach across a broader continuum.

In brief, the intuitive pattern is one in which grief is experienced primarily as feelings, and expressions of mourning are emotion-based: crying, shouting, etc. People with an intuitive pattern of grief are best supported with activities that help to vent these emotions. On the other hand, the instrumental pattern is one in which grief shows up in more active and thought-based ways. People with an instrumental pattern of grief are best supported by activities that connect with thoughts and actions: reading self-help books, working with one’s hands, or exercising, for example. Finally, the dissonant pattern shows up when mourners identify with one style, but are pushed (by family expectations or social constraints) to express in the opposite style.

These patterns lie on a continuum: an individual mourner may identify fully with the intuitive pattern or the instrumental pattern – or they may lie somewhere in between. This continuum may align with gender roles, as well – or it may not. In Western culture, women tend toward the intuitive end of the spectrum, whereas men tend toward the instrumental end – but again, this varies according to the individual.

In terms of supporting people who are experiencing grief, then, one of the most important things we can do is to allow for their individual responses to the loss. The healing that comes from mourning shows up in many forms: talking, crying, shouting, dancing, reading, writing, running, building, singing, laughing, painting, drumming, hugging, … the list goes on and on. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the work of mourning, and in our fix-it American culture, that can be frustrating. Allowing space for – and even inviting – talking and crying over one’s loss is great. We must remember, though, to also allow space to decline that invitation, and adapt to the individual mourner’s needs.

22 Jul

What Should I Say?

This post is part of a series on grief and loss, following my work as a grief counselor at Hospice of the Valley.

Sympathy Card by EverydaySummit

Sympathy Card by EverydaySummit

I had in mind an order to the topics I wanted to cover in this series – a sort of logical layout of a curriculum, if you will. There was a structure to it, something that made sense. But grief doesn’t always make sense. It’s messy.

The sudden and tragic death of a coworker’s family member earlier this week brought into focus the piece that probably needs talking about most. When someone we know and care about is grieving, how can we help?

When someone they love has died, what should I say?

One of the most important pieces of advice I can offer is to allow people to express their feelings of grief – to invite it, even. We live in a grief avoidant society. Funerals are quick to be arranged, and mourners are often back at work after a three-day bereavement leave. We ask, “how are you?”, but there is an expectation for the “right” response. So often, I’ve heard from mourners who have resigned themselves to saying, “I’m fine,” knowing that’s what people want to hear. They’re not fine. But after a few days, they sense that’s all that’s allowed with most of their friends and acquaintances.

Many of us are uncomfortable with painful emotions. Naturally, we want our loved ones to feel good, so we do what we can to cheer them up. But feeling pain is part of what is supposed to happen when someone we love has died. Expressing that pain is necessary for the healing work of mourning. When we admire a mourner for her “strength” or encourage her to “keep your chin up”, we send the message that sadness and despair are not okay. We take away the means for healing.

The paradox of entering into the pain lies in the truth that as you affirm someone’s feelings of suffering, you are also affirming his eventual capacity to move beyond those feelings.

-Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., Companioning the Bereaved: A Soulful Guide for Caregivers

So how can we help when people are grieving? Ask them how they are doing – and listen to their response. Don’t try to minimize or take away their pain. Don’t “help” them look on the bright side. Listen to their sadness. Let them cry. Allow them to talk about their loved one. Tell them you’re sorry for their loss. Say the name of the person who died. Tell them how special you thought that person was. Send them a card, letting them know you’re thinking of them.

Do this right after the death. And do this again in the weeks and months that follow. Know that there may be lots of support right away – and that, after a month or so, a lot of that support falls away. Grief is not something that we “get over” – it is a lived process of change, and its effects last far longer than many people expect. Clients often tell me when they feel they’ve reached their “time limit” with friends and family. After a certain number of weeks or months, they notice that the calls and questions and offers of help have gone away, and they wonder, is there something wrong with me? Should I be over this? Know that months and years after the death, the person who has died still lives on in their loved one’s memory. Again, ask them how they are doing – and listen to their response.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some common, well intentioned statements that usually do more harm than good. Try to avoid saying:

  • I know just how you feel.*
  • She’s in a better place now.
  • It was God’s will.
  • You should… or, You shouldn’t…
  • It’s time to move on.
  • You have to get on with your life.

However well meaning these statements are, assumptions and advice are not what mourners need to feel supported. Remember, you can’t take away their pain, and they don’t expect you to. Your loving presence and open acceptance of where they are in their grief right now is the best gift you can give.

*When I talk with clients about what they wish people would stop saying, this is almost always the number one response. We have been conditioned to use phrases that express empathy, but the fact is – you don’t know how they feel. Grief is, in large part, an individual experience, unique to the mourner and their relationship with the person who has died. You may have had experiences of loss that help you to connect with their pain – use those experiences to remember those feelings, and then open your heart to what the mourner needs in this moment.

 

 

20 Jul

On Grief and Loss

In the end, as we as human beings mourn, we must discover meaning to go on living our tomorrows without the physical presence of someone we have loved. Death and grief are spiritual journeys of the heart and soul.

– Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., Companioning the Bereaved: A Soulful Guide for Caregivers

My work at Hospice of the Valley is coming to an end. For almost a year now, I have sat with clients who are moving through some of the most painful times of their lives. I have listened to stories of love, laughter, pain, illness, joy, trauma, hope… life. Throughout our time together, I have done my best to provide comfort for my clients, and to hold hope for the times that are yet to come in their lives. This has been a powerful experience for me, and I am so grateful for my clients’ willingness to share their journeys with me.

My position as an MFT Trainee ends with my graduation, so I am making space for new trainees to begin their work – and saying goodbye to clients. This is part of my own transition, and I have been a bit surprised by the depth of emotions that accompany this change. I am excited about the work that lies before me, the move that is in my near future, the end of my schooling at the university. And at the same time, I am sad to leave these people with whom I have developed deep relationships. I know that many of my clients are ready to move forward, and I am happy to launch them “out of the nest”. And for those clients who are still in deep grief, I know I am leaving them in capable, supportive hands. Still, it is tough to let go. A couple of weeks ago, a client said to me – with a lightness that let me know he would be just fine – “I think I may need a counselor, to support me through losing my counselor”. It broke my heart in the best way.

My clients’ individual stories belong to them – they are not mine to share. Here at the end of my time in this position, though, I do feel a need to catalog and share some of what I have learned about grief and loss. From the beginning, my supervisor has instilled in me the belief that our work as grief counselors is not only in helping the individuals that sit in our therapy rooms, but also in educating the community, moving our culture toward more acceptance of the experience of grief. We are a grief avoidant society, despite the fact that every one of us will experience loss in our lifetimes – and that avoidance keeps us woefully unprepared for the work of grief.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be using this space to share lessons I’ve learned about the journey of grief. My hope is that these words will provide comfort to those experiencing loss, as well as resources for the caregivers (friends, family, coworkers, community members) surrounding them.

Topics in this series (I am adding to this list as articles are posted):

20 Jun

Sun and Moon

As I focus my professional work more fully on life transitions, I find myself being more intentional about the natural and regularly occurring transitions in our world. There is a rhythm to our days, weeks, months, and seasons, and I find that if I take just a little time to acknowledge these changes, I feel more settled – more “in the flow”, if you will.

Sun & Moon Suncatcher by CreativeSpiritGlass

Sun & Moon Suncatcher by CreativeSpiritGlass

Today we have a double hitter of transitions – for the first time since 1948, the summer solstice and full moon fall on the same day. While both of these events have a quality of bright light and illumination, their energies are somewhat opposing. The full moon is typically associated with release. For many women, the menstrual cycle is tied to this moon phase – a literal experience of letting go. This is a time of honoring what has come before, and leaving behind what no longer serves us. Some words associated with release that might resonate for you at this time are liberation, relinquish, surrender, forgiveness, freedom. As you examine your life in this moment, today, is there something you can consciously loosen your grip on? Something that you need to set free or leave behind?

The summer solstice, like the sun itself, is all about expansion and extroversion – shining bright. This solstice ushers in the summer season, the time when everything is growing and flowering. Summer is also associated with the inner child – playful, spontaneous, and full of wonder. How can you engage with this energy? Is there a creative project you’ve been working on that’s ready to be launched into the world? What is coming into fruition for you? Can you bring a sense of play or beginner’s mind to your experience this season?

Whether or not you buy into the woo-woo of sun and moon energy, these events present us with quarterly and monthly opportunities to reexamine the way we are engaging with the world. Is there any *magic* to the first-of-the-month checks of the smoke alarms or changing of the furnace filters? No. But that regular date is a helpful reminder to check in on things that need doing. I find that, especially in a geographical location where changes between seasons are subtle, actively engaging with the sun and moon phases reminds me that I am part of the natural world, and gives me a chance to reset for the coming weeks or months.

Celebration of these shifts can be big or small – don’t let perfection of form keep you from the importance of function! Five minutes of meditation can go a long way, if that’s all you have. If there’s more time, this can also be a great opportunity for a community gathering. Yoga studios, meditation centers, and breathwork circles often have special events for the solstice – one more way for us to come together. Search your local scene for these communal celebrations.

Interested in learning more? Here are some of the resources I turn to for inspiration around these natural transitions:

 

 

 

20 May

Creating a Clearing

Spring has certainly sprung here in Northern California: my morning walk is fragrant with jasmine and peonies, the windows are open, and we’ve even had a few days warm enough to lament the absence of an air conditioner (already!). I live in a pretty small space, so my “summer clothes” get stashed away in the winter and vice versa, and I’ve been overdue for making the switch. It’s time to put the wool tights away.

Many of us have grown up with some kind of spring cleaning ritual in our homes, where we spend a weekend getting rid of the junk that has accumulated in the house or the garage. My space issue highlights another element of that process – I pack away the heavy sweaters and flannel pjs (along with the dreary days made for snuggling and hot soup), and pull out shorts and summer dresses (plus the excitement of vacation and ice cream cones at the beach). Inevitably during this process, there are clothes from both seasons that I realize I no longer wear, and they are packed up to grace someone else’s closet for a while and lighten the load in my own home.

Goodwill

Sometimes, creating a clearing looks like this.

I’m talking about clearing out physical stuff here, but there’s a deeper level to this spring cleaning. Before I get too far into that, though, I’d like to invite you to try a short visualization exercise…

Take a moment to imagine your kitchen in its messiest state (if you’re like me, you don’t need a lot of imagination for this part). Dishes are piled up at the sink, waiting to be washed… a stack of mail and flyers sits on the table, needing to be sorted… an empty cereal box and wine bottle sit on the counter, because you keep forgetting to empty the recycling bin… Ugh, I know. Still with me? Before we move on, I want you to notice what you’re feeling in your body. Pay attention to things like breath, muscle tension, heart rate, body temperature… and then move out to more general “feeling states”, like heavy or light, energized or sluggish, closed or open. Try to bring awareness to these feelings without judgment, just noticing.

Messy Kitchen

#thestruggleisreal

Okay, now, take a deep breath, erase that image, shake that Etch-a-Sketch… and call to mind a new picture of your kitchen. This time, it’s on one of its best days: the counters are sparkling, the dishes are put away, even the floor is freshly mopped (and already dry!). Take some time here, to really bring the picture into sharp focus – maybe there’s sunlight streaming through the windows, or a lemon scent in the air. Let yourself really take this in. Come back to your felt sense as you did before, and notice the cues that your body is giving you, both specific physical sensations and your general state of being. What does this kitchen scene feel like?

Galley Kitchen, by Nancy Hugo, CKD

Not my kitchen, obvs. (Galley Kitchen, by Nancy Hugo, CKD)

At this point, some (or all) of you may be wondering, what is this nonsense about a messy kitchen doing on a blog about wellness? 

The answer is: it’s not about a messy kitchen.

Go back to those feeling states from the visualizations. Let’s say there’s a creative project you’ve been wanting to get started on, or a big talk you’ve been wanting to have with someone you love. Which kitchen makes you feel ready to take action? Which kitchen holds you back, and which one pushes you forward?

The “kitchen” is a stand-in. Not exactly a metaphor, because for some people, doing the dishes and wiping the counters will be the action that shifts energy. For others, it may be selling a car, canceling a meeting, saying no to a request, cleaning out the inbox. These are all examples of clearings.

Years ago, I took a class that was mainly about dreaming big and manifesting wishes (at $99, it’s still a steal for this life-changer); one of the practices that I learned there that I’ve returned to time and again is creating a clearing. Here’s how Andrea and Jen described this notion:

“A clearing is a wide open empty space in your life that is ready for something new or amazing to emerge.”

– Andrea Scher & Jen Lemen, Mondo Beyondo

The basic idea is this: when we let go of what no longer serves us, we create a space for something different to move in.  Sometimes “what no longer serves us” is as simple as the mess in the kitchen. Sometimes it’s a pile of stuff in the garage. Sometimes it’s a job that fails to motivate or inspire . Sometimes it’s a relationship that’s run its course. And sometimes… the space that we create in one part of our lives allows another part to change. A simple step like washing the dishes can be surprisingly powerful.

Stashing the winter clothes away made a literal space for my spring clothes – but it also helped me to welcome in a different season, with different activities, emotions, and energies. This year, that ritual also carried my intention for a big next step – as I sorted through clothes and other things to donate, I recognized that every item given away was one less item I would need to carry on a cross-country move later this year. The decision to make that move is something I’ve been working through for many months. Practicing my spring cleaning with an attitude of creating a clearing was part of putting two feet in, declaring that I was ready to move forward, ready to let go so that something new could find its way in.

Have you been feeling stuck? Are you longing to make a shift, but not exactly sure how to start? Experiment with a clearing. What could you let go of, in order to make space for something new?

09 Mar

Morning Practice

Last week, I wrote about my words for the year: practice and discipline. Today, I’d like to share some of the practices that have felt really grounding for me these past couple of months. Perhaps some of these actions will resonate for you, and if so, I’d invite you to give them a try! In a broader sense, though, I’d love for this to inspire creativity in your own life – to play around with your daily routine, and experiment with activities that support your own spiritual center. Let us know in the comments how this is working for you!

Home Altar

Most days, I start my practice at 5 AM. You don’t need to start that early. The yogic tradition that guides a lot of my spiritual practice prescribes a morning sadhana, ideally performed during the Amrit Vela, or ambrosial hours, between 4 AM and 7 AM. I’m not strict about this timing, but I do find the quiet of the early morning is more supportive for my meditation, and sets the tone for the rest of my day.

Many yogis and yoginis practice for 2.5 hours each morning – that’s not realistic for my lifestyle right now. Still, I try to incorporate breathwork, physical activity, and meditation into a set that’s doable for every day. Here’s what my routine looks like:

  1. Light a candle. This is a new habit I’ve acquired through my work at Hospice. Before working with clients in grief, I didn’t understand the meaning behind lighting candles as ritual. In this setting, I see this act as a way of honoring the space, marking out time for a specific purpose, and inviting light into the world.
  2. Tune in. As with any Kundalini yoga practice, I start with the Adi Mantra, Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo, chanted three times.
  3.  Complete a (very) short yoga set. I use breath of fire for each 1-minute exercise, with a 45-second rest in between: stretch pose, nose-to-knees (while lying on my back), ego eradicator.
  4. Recite the Seven Whispers. I’ll be honest – this is where I start to get a little shy about the hippie-woo-woo of my routine. That’s okay! Creativity, people! I picked up this little book by Christina Baldwin a few months ago, and was surprised at how much power it held for me. I decided to try it out in my daily practice, and right now, I feel like this is the most important part of my morning. The words capture what I want to focus on and reinforce in my life, and reciting them in the affirmative each morning is a continual reminder of what’s meaningful to me. I sit in a cross-legged position, close my eyes, place my hands over my heart, and speak softly: I am maintaining peace of mind. I am moving at the pace of guidance. I am practicing certainty of purpose. I am surrendering to surprise. I am asking for what I need, and offering what I can. I am loving the folks in front of me. I am returning to the world.
  5. Meditate. I tend to be the queen of monkey mind, even at 5 in the morning, so I gravitate toward meditations with mantra. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been chanting the triple mantra recording from this album, a practice that helps me to feel like I’m aligning with the flow of the universe. At the end, I whisper a “sat nam” to close this part of the practice.
  6. Consult the oracle. Had you told me at the start of the year that I would be using oracle cards on a daily basis, I think I would have laughed in your face. But! I’m working through an amazing course on self-care for healing professionals right now, and it is opening me up to new ideas. So… I’m having fun with this one. If there’s time, I shuffle the deck, ask my inner wisdom to guide me to what I need for the day, and pick a card. I’m finding this to be a fun way to connect with aspects of my consciousness that aren’t always right there at the surface.

After that, I’m up, dressed, and out the door to get some fresh air with my dog. In total, the routine above probably takes me about 20 minutes – totally doable on a daily basis. And that’s key! Start small and manageable, and see what works for your day. I’d love to hear what’s working for you.