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Experience Life Magazine

You Know You Really Need It When You Don’t Have Time for It

Recently one of my online students wrote a post explaining why she was signing up for my course again. She wrote:

I need this right now. Because I don’t have time. Because I’m too tired to make the effort on my own. Because I feel weak and I know it’ll hurt. These aren’t excuses not to take care of myself, these are reasons I need to.

Which is exactly how I felt about going to yoga class recently. I was in San Francisco at the time, spending a couple of days in a city I think of as my second home on my way back to New Zealand from New York.

colorful clocks

This particular afternoon for various reasons (including a lot of travel in the previous week, an unrealistic work plan for the morning, sleep deprivation and forgetting to eat breakfast) I felt overwhelmed. Despite a rising sense of panic at my lack of progress on the to-do list, I rushed into the city for a meeting.  As I left the meeting, I noticed there was a yoga class about to start right at the bottom of the building.

And because I felt sure I didn’t have time for the class, I decided to stay. I borrowed a mat and slipped into the back of the class just a few moments before the opening OM.

I knew I needed it because I didn’t have time for it.

A sure sign that I really need a walk is when I feel way too busy to go for a walk. And when I’m too busy to do yoga, well – that’s when I need it the most.

So for the next hour I forgot about my to-do list. And when I left I felt renewed, reminded why I do yoga – and why I teach it. I was also reminded that the times when we are convinced we are too busy to take care of ourselves are the times we need it the most.

I know that sometimes you really don’t have the time (or the money) to go to a yoga class.

But even then, I know you can learn to do your own simple, short but powerful yoga practices at home. Ten minutes of energizing poses in the morning. Five minutes of grounding practice in the middle of a crazy day. Fifteen minutes of relaxing yoga before bed.

My own experience has taught me, and now research is emerging to confirm that experience, that a small amount of yoga done daily will have more positive impact on your physical and mental health than a longer class or practice once a week. One UCLA study found that 12 minutes of yoga meditation per day decreased depression in participants. And I’m convinced that anyone can find 12 minutes a day for a little bit of yoga, even if it means waking up 12 minutes earlier than usual.

Since so many people don’t have time for yoga, I’ve made it my mission find an approach to yoga that would fit into their busy life. I created a course just for people who are “Too Busy To Do Yoga,” with yoga practices you can do anywhere, even practices you can do at your computer (although I do encourage leaving the computer if possible).

So here are four ways to fit in some yoga when you really need it but don’t have any time for it:

1. Lie down and do nothing for five minutes
In yoga this is called savasana, or corpse pose and for a lot of people it’s the hardest pose of all. One of my students told me that first time she tried a five minute savasana she caught herself getting up to send an email in the middle of the pose three times in a row, and each time had to talk herself into lying back down by promising herself she’d write the email as soon as she was done. It’s not easy, but it is powerful. Give your body a five minute rest and see how much more energy you have in your day. My tip: set an alarm for five minutes so that you don’t have to check your phone every minute to see how much longer you have to go!

2. Breathe deeply
It’s the oldest stress-beating advice in the book, and it still works. Take five minutes to slow and deepen your breath. The best way to get a deeper, fuller breath is by extending your breath beyond the chest into the full diaphragm – so that you feel the breath filling your belly, and then your ribcage (back and sides as well as the front) and then your chest. Important tip: don’t force this, you don’t want to feel any strain or constriction in the breath. Deepen your breath as much as you can while still feeling soft.

3. Sun salutes
This one requires a little bit more yoga knowledge, but most people who have been to a few yoga classes will have learned this basic series of poses. The beauty of the sun salute is that it uses your whole body, strengthening, opening and releasing tension in your arms, shoulders, back and legs. Three to six sun salutes every day will make a difference to your body and your mood, guaranteed.

4. Yoga at the computer
You can do a few simple poses to relax your shoulders, wrist and neck at the computer. Add in some deep breathing and you’ll be calming your mind as well. I put together a simple ten minute yoga routine for people who spend most of their day at the computer.

When you are most convinced you don’t have time for yoga, try one of these ultra-quick yoga fixes and notice the difference it makes to your day!

Marianne Elliott  is an acclaimed author, human rights advocate and yoga teacher who writes and teaches on creating, developing and sustaining real change in personal life, work and the world. She is the creator of the popular “30 Days of Yoga“ courses and author of Zen Under Fire, a memoir about doing good and being well in war-torn Afghanistan.

Experience Life Magazine

Feeding the Right Wolf: 4 Ways to Stay Positive In a Negative World

Do you ever get the feeling things are going horribly wrong in the world? Between climate change, poverty, war, recession and crime it’s easy to feel drawn into helplessness. It can be hard to stay upbeat when all your friends are feeling defeated by life or scared about the future.

Last week a friend asked me: “How do you stay optimistic when things around you seem to be going so badly?” It’s a question I’ve asked myself many times. How can I continue to believe in goodness, when there is so much evil in the world? How can I be happy when my friends are suffering?

Hope:Despair

Last year I went back to Afghanistan, where I had worked for two years, to visit a former colleague. Together we investigated human rights violations, and saw the worst of human behavior and suffering. I asked him if things had improved since I was last there.

Unfortunately, he told me, many things were worse. And yet he continued to work to promote women’s rights and justice for all – for a better Afghanistan. I asked how he was able keep believing things would improve, when the signs seemed so bad.

“What other choice do we have?” he replied. “There’s no way to know what the future holds. So why not believe it will get better? It motivates me to keep working and it makes my life bearable.”

We don’t know if things will get better. But we can choose to believe in the possibility of a fairer, safer and kinder world. Will our belief make it so? Not necessarily. But at least we’ll know that we are adding our effort to the forces for good. We will be feeding the right wolf.

In November 2007 I arrived back from a short holiday in the United States to my work as a UN human rights officer in Afghanistan. Days later a suicide bomb killed 40 adults and three children and maimed many more. I felt myself sink into a despairing sadness.

Around the same time, I heard a story of a young boy asking his Native American grandfather what would happen to the world in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The grandfather said it was like there were two wolves fighting inside his heart. One was vengeful and full of anger, seeking revenge and ready to strike out against the ‘enemy’. The other wolf was filled with love and belief in the basic goodness of all, ready to try and understand and to seek peace. The grandson asked, “Which wolf will win the fight?” His grandfather answered, “The wolf that will win is the one that I choose to feed.”

In the wake of the bombing I was very aware of the two wolves in my heart. One was the wolf of defeat, angry about endless suffering and violence, ready to give up, to stop caring. I didn’t want that wolf to win. So in the midst of my sadness, anger, and despair I knew I had to feed the other wolf— the wolf of love and hope. But how do we feed the right wolf? Here are four ways to stay positive in a negative world.

1. Choose where you place your attention

One of the first things many of us do when we feel overwhelmed by bad news is to turn off the news, and there is wisdom in this impulse. Modern news media is not designed to inform you or equip you to take wise action. Instead it is designed to frighten you into shopping more. So choose carefully what you watch and listen to, but don’t switch off completely. Find a news source you trust, and stay aware. The world needs you to be aware.

2. Cultivate a compassionate heart

Allowing ourselves to be aware of suffering in the world, our community and ourselves is essential for cultivating compassion. Buddhist teachers call this ‘tenderising’ and, as it sounds, it can be painful. But by feeling the pain of others, and making a connection between their suffering and our own, we grow in compassion and increase our capacity to feed the right wolf. There are many meditation practices designed specifically to help open our hearts, but the simplest is to practice wishing ourselves well, and then extend that wish to others around us.

3. Train a steady mind

An open heart can leave us feeling like a leaf in the wind – blown about by the suffering and joy around us. We balance this openness by cultivating a steady mind and a grounded centre. Meditation is a proven method for training our mind to hold steady under the onslaught of disturbing images, thoughts and feelings, helping us maintain a sense of ground or centre when the world around us spins out of control. Seated meditation has increased my capacity to keep my attention on what is happening now – a powerful tool when fears about the future threaten to overwhelm us.

4. Take action

Before I discovered meditation, the only way I knew to respond to suffering in the world was to do what I could to ease it. These days I understand that sometimes the work of feeding the right wolf in my own heart is the only – or the wisest – response I can make. But taking action to promote peace, justice, safety and fairness for all is still one of the best ways we can respond to a world full of pain. If you don’t know what action to take, find someone already working on this issue and ask how you can help. And remember: cultivating a culture of compassion, peace and faith within our own hearts and minds is also an action.

Marianne Elliott is an acclaimed author, human rights advocate and yoga teacher who writes and teaches on creating, developing and sustaining real change in personal life, work and the world. She is the creator of the popular 30 Days of Yoga courses and author of  Zen Under Fire, a memoir about doing good and being well in war-torn Afghanistan.

Experience Life Magazine

Your Thanksgiving and Christmas Morning Ritual

Many of you have been emailing me for tips on how to get through the holidays without binging, feeling guilty, and sabotaging yourself with all of the super tempting food (and drinks) that you’ll be hanging around.

Sure, I could give you the usual list of how to “combat” the temptation and keep yourself from eating and drinking too much, but you know as well as I do… you already know all of that.

I tell my clients all the time, trying to stop yourself while you are in the middle of a craving is like jumping out of an airplane and THEN wondering where your parachute is.

What you need is a game plan, or what I like to call a morning ritual, to start your day on the right foot.

So I’ve put together a 6 step plan that you can use to get yourself into the right frame of mind from the get-go. This way you will be able to not just “get through” the holidays… not just “survive” them, but to really feel free to enjoy yourself and have lots of fun too.

1. Set Your Alarm

Yeah, I know, waking up to an alarm is never fun but trust me it will be worth it.

Side note: Set the harp alarm on your iPhone if you have one. Somehow, this alarm seems less irritating than most.

Set your alarm for an hour and fifteen minutes before you actually have to get up for the day. Doing this is going to give you the time and space you need in order to clear your mind and get into the right perspective for a day of fun and freedom.

2. Lay In Gratitude

Lay in bed for a minute or two to let yourself wake up. Take a few minutes to appreciate the day, the people you are going to get to see and spend time with. Really picture them in your mind and be thankful for them. Imagine them laughing, smiling, and being happy.

Also take a few minutes to be thankful for your body. This sounds a little silly, but really feel yourself IN your body right now. Wiggle your toes and stretch your arms and give gratitude for the simple things about your body, like the fact that your heart was beating for you all through the night without you even having to think about it.

3. Stretch Like A Dog

Next, roll out of bed and onto the floor and do a few stretches to get the blood moving.

You’ve seen cats and dogs do this when they wake up, right? That’s why the yoga pose, downward dog is called downward dog.

Take a page from their book and stretch in whatever ways feel good to you.

4. Break A Sweat

Head to the bathroom now and do your thing — brush you teeth, etc and get yourself dressed and ready for an at-home workout. You don’t even have to leave the house to get your body moving and break a good sweat, there are plenty of workouts online (bodyweight, yoga, etc) that you can use.

I want you to get a good 20-30 minute workout in. Choose whatever style workout you like best.

The point of this workout is not to get “calories in the bank” or burn off a portion of what you plan to eat during the day, which is what I’m sure you are used to hearing. The point of this is to set you up for a feeling of success.

When you work out first thing in the morning, you just mentally feel better. Your body feels better. And when you feel good and healthy, you make decisions that align with that. You also “sweat the small stuff” a lot less and that’s a practice I wholeheartedly teach.

5. Go Inward

After your workout, shower up. Then, find a quiet spot to spend the last fifteen minutes alone with yourself.

Set a timer and spend about 5 minutes in meditation. Sit on the floor with your legs crossed and your back straight so your weight is on your sit bones. Rest your hands on your knees.

Clear your mind and focus on breathing deeply. As thoughts pop into your mind (and they will) just release them and refocus back on your breath.

Use this time again, to practice being in your body, in this moment and feeling gratitude for it.

6. Set Your Intentions

Spend the last 10 minutes journaling. Journal about what this day means to you.

Visualize and write the story of how you see the day playing out for you in the most positive scenario. See yourself laughing and having fun.

What are you doing during the day in this best case scenario?

Who are you spending time with?

What emotions best describe how you are feeling?

How does it feel to enjoy foods that you love eating in portions that allow you to feel your best?

When you are finished, close your journal and feel proud for taking this time for yourself today.

I’ll tell you a little secret that we sometimes forget in all the hustle and bustle. The holidays are meant to be enjoyed and food can be enjoyed during the holidays without guilt and self-sabotage.

But in order to enjoy food in a physically and mentally healthy way, you’ve got to set yourself up for success by getting into the right mindset first thing when you start your day.

If you take the time to follow these 6 steps, your day is going to go much more smoothly and will be much more fun. You’ll feel free, and open, and at peace. You’ll see.

Once you’ve completed these steps, leave me a comment below and let you know how you feel. I bet you’ll feel on top of the world and ready to have a ROCKIN’ holiday with your family and friends!

Sheila Viers is an Emotional Eating Expert, Holistic Life Coach and co-founder of Live Well 360.

Experience Life Magazine

3 Tips for Yoga Newbies

by Jason Wachob
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Whether you read about Shiva Rea’s inspirational yoga journey on the cover of Experience Life’s Jan/Feb 2011 issue, or you saw Jennifer Aniston credit yoga for her “Decade of Hotness” award that Spike TV awarded her (yes, this is true), there’s no denying that more and more people are embracing yoga.

Yoga’s great for toning your body, healing injuries, winding down, and overcoming stress. If you’re thinking about walking into your first yoga class, here’s what you need to know.

1. Anyone can do yoga. If you can breathe, you can do yoga. It doesn’t matter if you’re nine years old or 90-years old (my grandmother started when she was 90!), as long as you can move and you can breathe, then you can practice yoga. This is one of the great things about yoga — you can start wherever you are, and go at whatever pace you want, and there’s no one-size fits all practice. As yogi Seane Corn says, “Yoga is about becoming together and becoming whole” — and this all starts with the breath! So if you can breathe, you qualify!

2. Check out the poses. If you decide that you want to go to your first class, it’s a good idea to check out a yoga poses for beginners library so you can become somewhat familiar with the many different poses. This way you won’t find yourself continually looking at the person in front of you or next to you as you move through class. You might find yourself doing this anyway (which is more than fine), but becoming more familiar with the poses will make you feel more comfortable.

3. Find what styles and teachers are a fit for you. There are many different styles of yoga — in some you’ll move more and in others you’ll hold poses for a longer period of time. It’s pretty safe to say, though, that there’s a style (and a teacher) that will be just right for you. It may mean taking a number of classes from different instructors at different studios, but sooner or later you’ll find the right teacher and the right style. When you find it, you’ll know. When you’re researching studios in your area makes sure to ask which teachers and classes are beginner-friendly.

So if you’re sitting on the yoga “fence,” realize that anyone can do yoga – all you need to do is be able to breath and move. Once you’ve made the decision to give yoga a try get familiar with the poses, shop around for styles and teachers, and take your practice wherever you want to go!

Jason Wachob is one of the founders of MindBodyGreen.