Focus Pocus

It’s still Blog-toberfest! And while I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks, I’m still excited to have written quite a few blog posts this month. I’ll aim for once a week going forward. It’s now on my calendar, which will help me follow through. Planning is key, especially when there’s a lot going on.

Speaking of which, I have felt like things are extra busy these days. I’ve also been sick. It is tempting for people — myself included — to think of such situations as plain old fact. Yes, they often do have some basis in truth. But I’ve come to learn there’s more to it.

The bigger picture is the way we construct stories relating to the facts and circumstances we experience… and the way those stories can unconsciously drive us, our lives, and our outcomes. Circumstances can become excuses, and plans can get derailed. Week after week, if we let them.

The truth is, I can prioritize things that are important to me, no matter what is going on in my life. What’s more, I always am prioritizing things, as evidenced by the things I actually do. Every day, we prioritize actions by giving them our time, attention, and energy. The question is, are we prioritizing the things we say we want to focus on? Are we putting our precious time and energy into the things we claim to matter most?

In recent weeks, I’ve been challenged by a few different coaches and mentors to call BS on my own negative thoughts and blame games. Today, I called BS on feeling irked by my headache and stuffy nose (and on blaming the weather for not feeling my best). Life is good, I am beyond fortunate, and I can focus on that and find gratitude, instead of dwelling on what’s not 100% perfect right now. Perfection doesn’t exist, and getting stuck in those trains of thought inevitably derails our aspirations and takes us out of the present moment.

When we focus, we feed and encourage the objects of our attention. In shifting focus, I can improve my perspective and make progress on the things that really matter to me. Writing more, for example!

Easy Does It

“Life is hard.”

“Why me?”

“This sucks.”

Sound familiar? For many of us, these are daily mantras. We rant and rail against traffic, the weather, and a thousand other circumstances that we can’t control. Other people often top the list. Not only do things never seem to go our way, but why is everyone out to get us?

The truth is, most of these sentiments and statements and outlooks boil down to one thing: perspective. We can choose another way to look at almost anything… but we have to acknowledge that. And then we have to choose to choose differently.

If we think life is hard, then everything we experience will be framed by that belief. But we can decide that it doesn’t have to be that way. We can acknowledge that, sure, stuff happens… and a lot of it is pretty amazing! We can begin to see life’s little bumps in the road as opportunities to grow. Minor inconveniences are not insurmountable obstacles; they’re more like unexpected rain. We can put up an umbrella, or even get wet. Either way, it’s not the end of the world.

As for other people, most of the time they’re just lost in their own thoughts and lives. One of the Four Agreements (as explained in the book by that title by Don Miguel Ruiz) is “don’t take anything personally.” Other people’s actions, words, and behaviors are about them, not us.

While this principle certainly doesn’t excuse crime or abuse, it can offer us a path to forgiveness and peace for a thousand perceived transgressions, once we recognize that they are not personal. Rather, they are driven by the other person’s own fears and insecurities and efforts to survive this life (which they likely think is hard). If we recognize this, our capacity for empathy, even forgiveness, grows immeasurably. Forgiveness — and eventually acceptance — of other people in all their fallible, human glory is such a gift to ourselves.

I loved this post by Kara at Zen Barbell about one of her favorite phrases: “Just like me.” She writes:

As you are walking through a store (airport, busy area) you see some one just standing in the middle of the walkway, seemingly oblivious, blocking every one’s way.  You start thinking “UGH! I can’t believe they are blocking every one’s way! How can they be standing there not aware that they are completely blocking traffic! How rude!”.

Now you add the “magical phrase” ‘just like me’.   It now becomes “”UGH! I can’t believe they are blocking every one’s way! How can they be standing there not aware that they are completely blocking traffic! How rude!…Just like me!

Not so funny but VERY eye opening. [Check out Kara’s other two magical phrases, This moment and Is it true? It’s a great series of posts, and her source material is well worth reading, too.]

We are all human, and we can all use more compassion, toward ourselves and toward others. Sometimes it’s easier to start within, and sometimes without. But starting is key. Compassion can help us shift toward a mindset of possibility and wonder.

Another way to start shifting our perspective is by practicing gratitude every day. Perhaps before bed, or first thing in the morning, find three things for which you’re thankful. Write them down if you really want to build up a gratitude collection. Flipping through a week’s or a month’s worth of entries is a great boost when we need one.

It might seem silly or even elusive at first. But if we let it, writing these down can take on a momentum of its own and help us trade in a mindset of scarcity for one of abundance.

There are lots of other ways to shift perspective, and I will write more about it in future posts. For now, try letting this practice work its magic. When we are filled with gratitude, there is less room for grievances. Life might start to seem a little easier, a little lighter… even with the traffic and bills and cranky co-workers.

Speaking of making things easy, I used that approach today when I exercised before my morning shower. In the interest of spending more time upside down, and knowing my own tendency sometimes to push too far, too fast, I could have tried diving right in to handstands against the wall. Instead, I decided to ease in and play with some more gentle versions of, well, inversions: downward facing dog and standing forward bend.

In a lovely bit of timing, shortly thereafter I received an email with this link: 5 Yoga Inversions for Beginners. It confirmed what I had applied in my morning practice; downward facing dog definitely counts as an inversion. It also gave me some more places to play as I rebuild my strength and comfort in upside-down positions. (I probably won’t practice number 5, supported shoulderstand. I have found that pose to be contraindicated for me as a migraine patient. As with any physical endeavor, it’s important to know our bodies and consult with experts when needed, especially when trying new activities.)

In fact, I was reminded this morning that I’ve been doing these poses relatively often all along, so my inversion game isn’t quite as rusty as I originally may have thought. Now I can build from here and benefit from turning my world upside down more and more each week.

Practicing gratitude and otherwise trying to shift our perspective might also feel a bit like turning our worlds upside down at first. But I truly believe the benefits — across the board — will be more than worth it.

Upside Down

I wrote last week about moving — and playing — more. One way I would like to do more of that is by making more time to be upside down. Handstands are fun and it’s never too late to get better at them. When I was going to the yoga studio, one of my instructors helped me incorporate a bit of handstand play in Ashtanga class. I’ve been wanting to revive my handstand adventures, and there is no time like the present to dig in and start working on playing with them again!

Luckily, there are a lot of great posts and resources available online for mastering handstands and other inversions. Here are a few that I will be referring to in the coming months:

  • The Beginner’s Guide to Handstands. Not only does Nerd Fitness’s guide have Star Wars figures (of course; yay nerds!), it also addresses the fear factor. Many of us grown-ups are out of the habit of spending time upside down, and it can be disconcerting!
  • The Adult Handstand. Garage Gym Girl focuses on a couple of other things that might trip us non-kiddos up: wrist weakness and dizziness. The post helps with those elements and helps break down the handstand mastery process over time.
  • Charlize Theron, Imperator Furiosa, Inversions and Arm-balances. This post from the great trainer and fat loss coach Josh Hillis is laden with links and videos, plus it references the fantastic movie Mad Max: Fury Road!

I love it when play time can make us stronger and provide a lovely metaphor for shifting our perspective.

Ouch Potato

I ended up with a pretty bad migraine attack this week, so my walking adventures were put on hold for a few days. I try not to be too sedentary when I’m coping with pain. Still, I often opt for rest, especially during the worst of an attack.

I’ve had migraine headaches all my life. Often, just when I think I have a handle on them, something changes and I have to regroup and figure out a new pattern. Fortunately, they’ve been fairly light for the past couple of years. But that doesn’t mean I’m out of the woods, as this week’s pain and nausea can attest.

I’ve learned that my mindset has a big impact on how I am able to manage migraine headaches and other pain. I’m not saying that I can think or wish my pain away. It’s more that a shift in my perspective can help me accept my pain as a part of my life, not as something to fight and rail against. Because I don’t want to be at war with my body. For one thing, having an embattled perspective can be a slippery slope to feelings of resentment, comparison, and bitterness. Plus, I strive to embrace the yin/yang and recognize that both are perfectly natural parts of life. We don’t always get the balance we want — in fact, sometimes life may not feel very balanced at all — but we also can’t assume we know what a perfect balance would really be.

So acceptance, then, is such an important component. It’s a concept I have come back to again and again throughout my life. I remember reading Michael J. Fox’s Lucky Man when I was in the midst of a minor but irksome bout of depression in my early 30s, and his perspective — his capacity for acceptance — showed me a new way to live my life. He wrote:

If you were to rush into this room right now and announce that you had struck a deal — with God, Allah, Buddha, Christ, Krishna, Bill Gates, whomever — in which the ten years since my diagnosis could be magically taken away, traded in for ten more years as the person I was before — I would, without a moment’s hesitation, tell you to take a hike.

For every loss we might think Parkinson’s would incur, Fox chooses to focus instead on the gifts it gave him. Insights, people he met, new appreciation for his relationships. And perspective. Because it always, always comes back to perspective. And we get to choose that perspective, as hard as that might be for us to grasp sometimes. In fact, our perspective, along with our words and actions, are often the only things we can choose when faced with many of life’s little — and not so little — challenges.

That’s why it’s so important for me to continue studying mindset, and to try and share what I’ve learned. Earlier this year I passed the Level 1: Certified Mindset Specialist course from the Mindset Performance Institute, and I’m currently taking Level 2: Certified Mindset Coach. Through MPI’s outstanding programs, I’m learning even more about acceptance and other components of a healthy, successful mindset.

One thing I love most about MPI is the way it incorporates science into the curriculum. Dr. Mike T. Nelson is one of the instructors, and his knowledge on the brain, neuroplasticity, and other scientific factors in mindset and success is as informative as it is broad. He recently shared this lecture on pain by Dr. Lorimer Moseley, which is so enlightening about the biology of pain and some of the implications of those mechanisms. It’s worth a watch for anyone who experiences, or even has loved ones who experience, pain.

Years ago I came across this article, “Suffering Is Optional,” in Yoga Journal, and it was so useful that I try to re-read it every so often. This section also echoes some of my MPI studies, and it has been instrumental in helping me understand and cope with my migraine attacks:

Within all pain and distress we discover there are two levels of experience. One is the simple actuality of the sensation, feeling, or pain, and the other is our story of fear that surrounds it. Letting go of the story, we are increasingly able to connect with the simple truth of the pain. We discover that it may be possible to find calm and peace even in the midst of distress.

Buoyed by knowledge and tools, I aim, as much as possible, to breathe through the worst of my pain. In addition to the benefits of meditation, breathing plays a big part in my pain management. I read once that people often hold their breath in the face of stress, pain, and the like. If I recall correctly, this was related to the fight-or-flight response, though I don’t remember all the details of what I read, and I am by no means an expert on fight-or-flight psychological theories.

Nevertheless, after reading that, I started noticing that I did, indeed, tend to hold my breath when hurting. I still do, in fact. But at least now I have awareness. I am usually able, during painful interludes, to bring my attention to my breath and return to a steady, deep breath pattern when I find I’m breathing shallowly or hardly at all.

I also practice gratitude for my pain-free days (there is a lot to be thankful for, as unfortunately there are many people who suffer much more frequently and/or severely than I do) and try not to take them for granted. And, despite the headline of this post and my acknowledgement that I have been resting quite a lot recently, I also know that moving can be beneficial, both for avoiding pain and for diminishing it when it does come to visit. The key, as always, is to be in tune with the body and the effects of the activity. For me, rhythmic, relaxing movement, such as slow walks and gentle yoga, serve best at those sensitive times.

Meanwhile, I’m starting to feel better, which reminds me that distraction can also be my friend when it comes to pain. At its worst, I need to avoid certain activities, but once I get to the “lurking” phase, as I call the aftermath of a migraine episode, it often behooves me to read, or write, or have a lovely conversation. Sometimes we can expedite pain’s departure by depriving it of our attention.

Field Day

I recently had the opportunity to take a tour of Ford Field. It was pretty cool to go behind the scenes — and on the sidelines:
  The stadium stands on the site of the old Hudson’s flagship building and incorporates some of its original structure, such as this brickwork:

These quotes are on the walls at the mouth of the Lions’ tunnel: 

The view from the press box: 

Words of wisdom in the locker room:


We learned that the stadium opened in 2002 (I don’t pay much attention to such things and was surprised to learn it had been that long). Everything is so pristine, it seems much newer.

All in all, an interesting outing and a fun way to log some activity while learning a bit about the inner workings of one of Detroit’s premier venues.

Get a Move On

I took a walk outside today with two of my co-workers. We weren’t out for long, but it felt great to take a 20- or 30-minute cruise through the neighborhood adjacent to the office during our lunch hour. It reminded me that I haven’t done it in a while, and also that it’s better than caffeine as an antidote to afternoon sluggishness.

While it’s certainly not a mind-blowing revelation that many of us could stand to move more, it’s still something I need to remind myself from time to time. My husband and I got new Fitbit Surge activity monitors last month. I had a Fitbit Ultra but lost it over a year ago, and I was on the fence about whether to get a new one. I don’t like to be beholden to a device, and I have certainly fallen prey to the admittedly strange thought pattern about “uncredited” steps taken when I forgot to wear my Fitbit… despite the fact that my body obviously “counted” them!

Seeing friends’ step counts, or even participating in challenges with them, can be fun, as long as they aren’t taken too seriously. The comparison trap is always a risk, and I generally try to encourage myself (and others) to compete and compare less, not more. Still, I’m happy I have a Fitbit again. I’m even doing a “weekday hustle” challenge with my aforementioned co-workers, and so far it’s not driving me into a frenzy of competitiveness.

It turns out that I simply like to be able to track how much (or little) I’m moving during the day. My new Fitbit has reminded me what I knew all too well when I had my previous one: If I don’t deliberately incorporate extra steps and walks into my life, my general activity levels are pretty low. I work a desk job, and while I try to get up and walk around the office, it doesn’t always amount to much. I also have a standing desk for certain tasks, but I sometimes forget to use it.

Use it or lose it. We’ve all heard that old adage. While it may not apply to my standing desk (it’s still there in my office), it’s pretty spot-on when it comes to our bodies. I happen to think staying active — in smart, healthy ways — is akin to a fountain of youth. For me, it’s important to weight train and do mobility exercises to preserve and even build strength and flexibility. I’ve seen enough proof that it’s possible, not just at 47 but well beyond, to improve ourselves, inside and out.

Beyond weight lifting, yoga, and other designated strength/mobility training, I know it’s a good idea to just plain move around more. Increasing my step count and upping my general activity will help me burn more calories and get my waistline back in check. I also find that it can boost energy, alertness, and creativity. I’m sure walking with my husband, friends, family, and co-workers could improve my relationships, as well. Dare I say that taking a walk is just as good as going out to eat when it comes to catching up and sharing some laughs?

Winter is on the way, and I’m not a big fan of being cold. But with the right shoes and outerwear, it’s possible to walk safely outside for most of the year. And there’s always the mall, which does the trick in a pinch!

I’ve recently been reading about Original Strength (OS) and similar programs, which teach about “resetting” our bodies and restoring some of our inherent, but neglected, movement patterns. Things like crawling, rolling, squatting, and, yes, walking. These are simple, free activities that we have known how to do for quite a while… though, in fact, some of us probably stopped most of them a long time ago. Even walking, which is hard to avoid entirely, seems to decline more with every passing year thanks to technology and suburban sprawl.

When was the last time you got on the floor and just played around? It’s worth making time for. Rolling on the ground feels like a massage. Squatting is great for increasing range of motion and getting out of overused chair- or couch-shaped postures. Crawling helps with balance, strength, and may even enhance brain function. Plus it’s honestly just fun to be down there. It is reminiscent of simpler days, and it gives a different perspective of the world (and perhaps the dust bunnies under the couch). If you have pets, they might find it strange at first, but soon they’ll join in and play right along with you!

As I mentioned, plain ol’ walking is another reset, according to OS. Whether or not you subscribe to their terminology, it’s evident that walking works heart, lungs, and muscles. Most medical and fitness experts agree that it’s extraordinarily good for the brain and the body alike. Sadly, I think many of us take it for granted. Unfortunately, if we avoid it at all costs, we may find ourselves missing it some day, perhaps far sooner than we’d expect.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Crawl, stretch, dance, roll, skip — and walk more than the bare minimum — as often as you can. Moving regularly is one of the best ways to ensure that we can continue to do so in the days and years to come. Most importantly, it’s a fantastic way to spend time now… and now is where our lives transpire. Show your body some loving kindness, today and every day. You deserve it!

Yoga Nightcap

In addition to lifting and metabolic workouts, which I generally do three to five mornings a week, I try to add at least a few minutes of stretching, mobility, and/or yoga most evenings while we watch TV, to get off the couch for a bit and increase my activity.

Today I had a pretty low-key, lazy day (sometimes those are needed!) but by evening, I was feeling rather stagnant. To change things up a bit, I popped in my Candlelight Yoga DVD. I haven’t done this one in ages, so it felt nice to revisit and unwind with a formal yoga session.

I really like Sarah Ivanhoe’s instructional style. I have another Crunch yoga DVD of hers (also need to dig that one out), which I think may have been my first real experience with yoga.

I later practiced at a studio for a while and really gravitated toward hot Ashtanga. I haven’t been to a studio in a couple of years, but I do yoga almost every day in some shape or form, even if it’s just a few stretches at my desk. That said, I realized after tonight’s practice that my body’s mobility deserves a bit more attention, so I’ll be making more time for yoga DVDs and may even get back to a studio class or two soon.

A dear friend of mine was a yoga instructor and she helped me so much, in my practice and also in life. She died in March and I miss her more than I can say. Her beautiful light, her love legacy, are with me always, but especially when I’m doing yoga.

Love you always, chica. Namaste and cheers. ❤