Entering into the Silence…

“He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others.”  

Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action

Entering into Silence - Meditation Group

The other day I held a meditation group at the office. In advance of the group meeting, I planned a simple guided meditation to help those (like myself) who can’t stop the busy mind.  I was a bit surprised to find that the majority of people wanted to simply be in silence.  No guided imagery.  No breathing exercises.  No music….silence.

Entering into the silence is likely one of the hardest meditative practices.  It conjures up all kinds of thoughts and questions.  What will the mind bring up if it is allowed to stop for just a moment?  What might I discover by dropping all of my “to-do’s” and thoughts of the busy-ness? Because I was not needed to facilitate the meditation, I was able to join. Did I want to though?

I closed my eyes, relaxed into my chair, took the customary deep breaths and joined the group in silence.  I chased my thoughts — what about my latest deadline?  Did I follow-up with my new client?  Had I called my Dad today?  How would I end this session?

As I gave myself permission to simply be in the moment for only 20 minutes, I began to observe my thoughts as a witness — no longer the manufacturer.  I deepened into the chair and into me.  At some point, it was as if I had melded into the others joining in the silent meditation.  It felt so peaceful.

In the void, there is an opportunity to know yourself without the projections, without the labels, without the busy-ness.  It opens you to an inner world full of opportunities to explore and invites you to tap into a world of creativity.  It’s right there for you.

You have to first though be willing to enter into the silence….

If you are interested in entering into the silence with others, please join us for Mindfulness Mondays, a complimentary meditation on the 2nd and 4th Mondays of the month.  See more by visiting Four Directions Wellness.

 

Creating Quality Time with the Family - Four Directions Wellness

Creating Quality Time with the Family

When you look at most parents’ personal calendars, you see all the children’s activities filling up their personal time. As a parent, it can feel daunting. And, it can give you a false sense that you are providing a great deal of attention toward your children.

Often, the time you are giving is administrative and logistical. You shuttle Jill to a friend’s house for a birthday party, and if she’s young enough that you’re in attendance, then you mingle with the parents throughout the party. Or, you pack up Jack with his soccer gear and whisk him off to soccer practice and cheer him on along the sidelines on a weekend morning. These take time, and they are memories your child will cherish for having had you there. No question there.

But, is that quality time? Children benefit from quality time with the family, when it’s simply you (and your spouse) and the kids. As well, spending time with your children benefits you with overall reduced stress levels.

So, what can you do to create quality time with the family. Here are a few suggestions to get your creative juices flowing!

Game Nights – Quality Time with the Family

One night a week should be the most fun night of every week for the family. Full stop. For those of you who have had game nights with family, or friends, know the value these activities have in creating quality time with the family. And, like most great events, it all comes down to good planning and execution.

First, pick a night that works for the whole family and make sure everyone knows how important this is to you (the parents) to have this time dedicated in each person’s calendar. This can be particularly difficult with teenage children, who start to separate their identity from you and rebel from authority. Don’t let that deter you from creating a stable time and sticking to it. It’s about psychological safety; those children should know that game night is going to happen and they are always welcome to join in the fun.

Next, select the location, games, healthy food, and communicate the purpose of game night. These logistics really make game night valuable to each member of the household. Get each child’s suggestions, recommendations, and feedback–make sure they feel heard and listened to. They will not buy into game night if they feel like a “second class citizen” in their home.

Choose several games that are fun and educational, locations that comfortable to fit the family and matches the type of games, and foods that are enjoyable but also teaches the children to eat healthfully even when snacking.

If you choose to have a meal during game night, and, say, you decide on pizza, perhaps buy the ingredients and teach your children to make pizza so the ingredients are fresh and healthy. There’s no reason why game night can’t be multi-faceted and expose your children to new experiences.

Last, establish boundaries and rules of play. Make playful consequences for cheating so children know that cheating won’t be tolerated, but you keep the game play positive. You can encourage positive, frank discussion and questions; you never know when children will question important ideals and values and you shouldn’t be shy to answer them as a family.

When will you take bathroom breaks? Will the TV be turned off for the night? Is it imperative to finish every game, or is there a hard end time for game night if your teenaged son or daughter has plans with friends? Will phones be allowed during game play? Again, make it fun; stack the phones and the first person to take their phone has to clean the dishes tonight.

Game night can be really quality time with the family, if you plan properly and execute well, consistently.

One-to-One Time With Each Child – Quality Time with the Family

If you have an only child, it’s likely a bit easier to have one-to-one time with that sole child. However, when you have more than one child, then complexity arises intrinsically. That doesn’t mean you can’t find time to have quality time with the family one by one. Whether you make it a “Dad/dy Date” or “Mom/my Date” just like you have date night with your spouse, or you schedule mother-son, mother-daughter, father-son, and/or father-daughter trips with your child or children, it can be a valuable bonding experience. Making one-to-one time with each child builds your “unique relationship,” as Dr. Kyle Pruett notes in his article. These help mend bad interactions and miscommunications, they build greater relationships, and they set up your child to be more resilient and have stronger relationships down the line with their own children (your future grandchildren).

If you need ideas for Mom Dates and Dad Dates, check out websites like KidFriendly DC that provide ample, timely activities for family-friendly fun in your area.

Create Family Traditions Together – Quality Time with the Family

August is Family Fun Month, did you know that? It stands that many of the activities given here for having fun this month can be turned into family traditions. We all look back on our childhood as a mixture of positive and negative memories, and this influences our outlook for the rest of our lives. Family traditions are one way to really bend those memories toward the positive.

Family traditions help strengthen the bonds that matter, such as identity, values, heritage, memories, and a sense of time (urgency or reference) for you and your children. So, how do you create a family tradition? Look no further than activities you and your family enjoy doing. It’s these activities that you should codify in your schedule. Repeat them every week, month, season, or year. Personalize family traditions to the needs and wants of your unique family’s circumstances.

Creating quality time with the family is a challenge. But like most things worth doing, the challenge outweighs missing out on opportunities with your children before it’s too late. In our hectic work and personal lives, it can seem impossible to find time to create these opportunities. You must make the time. And, I promise you, you won’t regret doing so.

How do you create quality time with your family? Let us know in the comments. You never know when your idea will spark a potential fun family activity for someone else, or start another family’s tradition for generations to come.

Finding Your True North

Finding Your True North

Finding Your True North

Seeking Inner Guidance

Finding Your True North

Finding Your True North is connecting to our inner guidance, that part of our selves that possesses all of the wisdom and insights to guide us through life. Think back.  Take a moment to remember when you were growing up.  As a child, what was it that you wanted to do when you grew up?  What were your favorite passions and interests?  Take a moment to list all of those things that you loved as a child.  Then list all of the things that you had dreamed about doing.  Don’t judge them.  Just jot down the thoughts, dreams and aspirations that come into your mind.

As you moved through life, what influences kept you from achieving those dreams?  You might have had parents that did not approve or maybe you did not pursue a passion because it financially did not pay well.  As we move through life we are constantly bombarded by the judgments of society at large, and by family members, coworkers, significant others, and friends.  As these judgments and beliefs pile up, it becomes hard to distinguish between what is ours and what belongs to another person.

In a study by Yale University titled “Self-Esteem in the Hands of Society: An analysis of the main societal factors that influence our self-esteem,” the researchers find that our self-esteem is impacted at a early age – middle school age.  One of the most obvious impacts is on body image but self-esteem overall is impacted and can last a lifetime.  We learn at an early age that to receive love and appreciation, we often must conform to what others think or want. And the researchers found that the societal pressures lead to a greater propensity of depression – the person is following another’s dream and not his or her own!

Conformity in Life is Powerful

In 1935, Solomon Asch performed a conformity experiment.  The study focused on the “extent to which social pressure from a majority group could affect a person to conform.”  In over 12 clinical trials, approximately 75% of participants conformed at least once.  His research along with others in the field of psychology begs us to consider when we are influenced or go along with others rather than our own guidance.

It’s not just our family members and those close to us that are influencing our beliefs.  Each day we are consumed with TV advertisements, Facebook posts, radio talk shows and other influences that ask us to believe one way or another. Every day!  It requires us to be vigilant in wiping away the judgments of others and becoming personally centered to hear and know our own inner Truth.

A Beautiful Lakota Tradition:

In a beautiful Lakota tradition, the custom of knowing yourself and following your True North is known as “Hanbleciyapi” or the crying for a vision or vision quest.  Native Americans of the Lakota way are encouraged to take time in solitude and in nature for several days and nights.  Asking the Great Spirit for information on the purpose of life, they return with insights and a deeper connection to his or her intuition.  It’s time away from all other influences and time dedicated to hearing your True North.

Finding Your True North requires solitude, listening and a daily routine to check in on what is yours and what belongs to others.

Begin today….

Coping with Chronic Illness

Healing practices like meditation can help with coping with chronic illness

Seeking ways to deal with chronic illnesses

“In your quest to become as healthy as possible, may I suggest that you secure the best team of physicians that you can find; keep abreast of all new research related to your illness; find a yoga or meditation teacher to help you learn to balance and center yourself; explore and examine any and all spiritual issues related to healing (such as forgiveness, anger, letting go, fears, change, etc.); and, perhaps most importantly, do not blame yourself for your illness.”

– Carolyn Myss

Coping with a chronic illness sucks! That needed to be plainly stated.

Whether it is an illness that you have struggled with all of your life or one that is newly acquired, coping with a chronic illness is an arduous journey.

How are you to advocate for your health when you feel awful? How do you move forward from depression, anxiety or fatigue associated with the chronic condition? How do you physically get to a point where you actually want to get out of bed, if the chronic illness is that debilitating? These and so many other questions are valid as you receive advice, are given more medications or tests and learn a new “normal” for your life dealing with a chronic illness.

Where do you start?

Carolyn Myss’ quote is a great place to start.

1.  Build your network of healthcare providers and practitioners. Know your team. Be sure you feel comfortable with them.

2.  Learn about your illness and its latest research. Sign up for the Facebook support group or, better yet, look for a Meet Up group in your area or other in person support group, possibly affiliated with your local hospital.

3.  Find that alternative healing person who can assist you in finding your center. The first place to check is to see if there is an integrative department tied to a hospital system. If not, find a certified practitioner to partner with you and help you tap into your innate healing abilities. (Of course, make sure that they have had significant training – not just a weekend certification program. And do a gut check, if it does not feel right, then it is likely not right for you. Although aggravating, it is better to find another practitioner. Remember some of this is available by phone or Skype.)

4.  Explore and examine the larger potential implications of your illness. You will likely want to enlist some help with this endeavor. I encourage you to find someone who you trust and feel that you can be completely open. It might be your alternative healer, a spiritual coach or counselor, a religious officiate or a therapist. Some of the first areas to explore are those outlined above by Carolyn Myss.

5.  Remember:  You are not to blame for your illness. We sometimes do not know why things happen as they do. There are numerous possibilities for an illness including physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, global, environmental and so many more. Compassionately let go of the blame.

Then what?

Even before you get through all of the above steps, it is important to recognize that you do have a new normal entering into your life whose duration is undefined. Regardless of the intensity of your chronic illness, you likely have other dynamics at play including the impact to your work, your personal life and those you love. You do need time to allow for the readjustment happening in all aspects of your life.

This may mean a period of grieving for you and those close to you. Grieving is a typical and even necessary process to deal with your chronic illness. Elizabeth Kubler Ross was the pioneer who recognized that with loss comes grieving. She described five possible stages including: denial; anger; bargaining; depression and acceptance. A person grieving may experience all of these or may experience a few. Whatever you are feeling, simply allow it. If this feels scary, I encourage you to find a compassionate, professional practitioner (Alternative healer, health or spiritual coach, therapist, etc.) to partner through the grieving process.

From here it becomes incremental steps to finding your health and wholeness. Everyone’s journey is very personal to them. It helps to have the support of your professional and informal team as you take each step.

Other resources are available through your healthcare practitioners or you are also welcome to explore additional Four Directions Wellness Healthy & Fit blogs to help begin taking the next step.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao Tzu

 

Radical Self-Care for a Balanced Life - Four Directions Wellness

Radical Self-Care for a Balanced Life

Anne Lamott, the celebrated, quirky and funny writer of books on writing and spirituality, recently gave a TED talk entitled, “12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing,” in which she spoke about something she called “radical self-care.”

“While fixing and saving and trying to rescue is futile,” Lamott says, “radical self-care is quantum, and it radiates out from you into the atmosphere like a little fresh air. It’s a huge gift to the world.” We spend so much time in our workaday lives being told we’re not good enough, that the “other side” is not good enough, it’s no wonder American workers feel they’re on the verge of burnout on a regular basis.

This summer, especially as it heats up, it’s important to go take time for radical self-care. I’ve got three suggestions for giving yourself the radical self-care you desire.

Spice Things Up With a Relaxing Siesta – Radical Self-Care for a Balanced Life

Most people think of the siesta and it conjures up thoughts of leisurely napping the afternoon away in Barcelona. The truth is that you can have the power of the siesta without it taking up a dramatic amount of time from work and making you look like a slacker to your colleagues.

Whether you decide to take this radical self-care moment to do a mindfulness meditation exercise, go for a healthy walk after lunch, or if you really want to take a power nap, it doesn’t need to take a lot of time. Most of these activities will take it tops 20 to 30 minutes, and I like the idea of being able to sprinkle these activities throughout the day as a means of recharging your body, and your mind. Who doesn’t want to reduce coronary mortality risk by 37 percent with a power nap?

American society is getting wiser to the power of sleep, and specifically power napping for those who feel sleep-deprived, and taking time for one’s self-care throughout the workday. But, until the culture changes dramatically, it’s best to find slow parts in your workday and utilize those for something rejuvenating.

Splurge at the Spa – Radical Self-Care for a Balanced Life

My next suggestion you wouldn’t immediately think it, but going to the spa is an act of radical self-care. “Spa” is an umbrella term for places providing a wide variety of health, wellness, and cosmetic treatments–not just for the ladies, gentlemen. Spa treatments include many services such as massage, reiki, facial masks, reflexology, hot tub soaking and sauna lounging, body scrubs, manicures and pedicures, and aromatherapy.

The point is that it’s making time for your body to not be bombarded by the distress of everyday life and to give it a chance to release the toxins to which your body is constantly exposed. There are many affordable spas and spa-like treatments in the Washington, DC area so you can find something that relaxes you and nourishes your body within your budget. Make a “self-date” and take yourself to the spa. You deserve it.

Vacation or Staycation, You Decide – Radical Self-Care for a Balanced Life

Last, but not least, should not have to be radical, but when you look at the statistics you realize it is: take a vacation. More than half of Americans don’t take their paid vacation days for fear of being replaced, totalling more than 658 million vacation days! It’s worth noting that Project: Time Off’s State of American Vacation 2016 report found that those “who take 10 or fewer days of vacation time are less likely to have received a raise or bonus in the last three years than those who took 11 days or more.” Take more time off, get the true value of your compensation package, and make more money! It’s a win-win-win!

Well, now comes the hard part. You need to make time to plan your vacations. You need to make sure to consult your work and family calendar to make sure the vacation is a good time. Once that’s done and you’ve chosen a destination, now you can do some backwards planning.

From the date of your return from vacation, plot out all the projects and tasks you know will happen around that time. This gives you ample time to prepare for work and family obligations leading up to, and then after vacation. It affords you the ability to leave on vacation without stress, and prepared for the return without the distress typically associated with the backlog. Notify everyone you work with the dates of your vacation so that they know they can postpone starting any major projects that need your input or effort around that time frame until after you get back. Guilt-free and well-planned vacations are truly radical self-care.

And, as I discussed a few articles ago, it’s easier than ever to take trips that connect you to Nature and are close to the DC area in the Great Outdoors. You may feel you can’t make the extra effort or make room in the budget for large trips, so make it a staycation. You can do day trips throughout the time, even make time with the family to do a few home renovation projects. Simply make sure to leave plenty of time on the backend of that staycation to rest and relax before getting back to the grind.

What are some of your ideas for radical self-care moments throughout your workday? Let us know in the comments!

Importance of Decluttering for a Better Life - Four Directions Wellness

Importance of Decluttering for a Better Life

“Out of clutter, find simplicity.” ― Albert Einstein

Many people find clutter challenging. After all, it’s procrastination (which is an emotional skill that often begets negative consequences) in its physical form. Living in the Nation’s Capital, you won’t be surprised that there’s even a membership organization for clutter, The Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) (formerly the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization); they’re not promoting clutter, they train professions to combat it, of course.

In honor of National Simplicity Day, on July 12th, let’s keep this simple―there are three ways to help you declutter your emotions and surroundings together: understand the importance of decluttering to you, deal with your physical clutter, and manage your mental and emotional clutter.

Importance of Decluttering

The first thing to understand about the importance of decluttering is why it’s important to you. You might get nagged by those around you for things laying around, but typically it’s not social pressure that helps you clear the decks and get to root cause.

I recommend that you sit down, right now, with a piece of paper and pen. Write down at least three ways decluttering your home or work spaces would be beneficial to you; no one else. These three benefits must be all about you.

Your Emotions and Surroundings – Importance of Decluttering

That list is something to refer back to whenever you need encouragement, because it’s your reasons for decluttering. What you will realize is that, mostly likely, that list of benefits of the importance of decluttering is comprised of emotional advantages in your life and work.

Physical clutter is only one type of clutter–the visible and physical stuff around you. Your brain, however, parks each and every thing in your physical world somewhere inside your memory. And, when it does so, it creates a kind of psychic baggage when it’s not clarified. Why is that clutter there? And, what do you need to do with it?

There are many techniques for decluttering (and there’s no harm in trying them), but one of the most powerful decluttering methods are just three simple steps:

  1. Determine where important things go (i.e., keys, new mail and bills, wallet, phone, legal documents, groceries into the refrigerator or pantry/cabinets, etc.). You might even draw a map of your home and work spaces to label where these important items live.
  2. Then, take a few minutes every day to put those important things where they belong. This can be when you arrive in the morning at work, or return home from work.
  3. For everything that is left–let’s call it backlog–take another five minutes to process a few items that are laying around.

That’s it. You’ll be surprised that after a few weeks, how much clutter dissipates. Also, pay attention to the things you’re avoiding. As we’ll learn next, there’s more to clutter than meets the eye.

Your Mind and Emotions – Importance of Decluttering

So, you’re humming along and making progress on your three-simple-step method for decluttering for a few weeks. Then, you stop! But, why? Often, this is because you came across something in that pile of papers and stuff that was an emotional landmine. It reminded you of an unpaid invoice, a difficult conversation you need to have, an uncomfortable appointment upcoming, you name it.

And this is the reason why decluttering is so important, because it’s a physical tether to your emotional needs. Not only does your mind track where everything is in your physical environment, there’s also an emotional residue associated with every item in your life.

So, you might have a sentimental thank-you card from a friend, family member, or client. You have designated a place for it, and you can easily put it there. But, when it comes to things that harbor negative emotions, those are toxic to your space and your emotional well-being, and you unconsciously avoid it.

The goal here is to make conscious what negative context surfaces by this item, then make a logical, rational choice about what needs to be done about and with it. Both how you’re going to address the negative emotion/circumstance and what you’re going to do physically with that object. If you don’t address both, you can’t build the resilience needed to declutter when the next emotionally negative item comes into your home or office.

I think Victoria Moran, author of Lit From Within: Tending Your Soul for Lifelong Beauty, summarizes the importance of decluttering best when she writes,

A simple life is not seeing how little we can get by with—that’s poverty—but how efficiently we can put first things first…. When you’re clear about your purpose and your priorities, you can painlessly discard whatever does not support these, whether it’s clutter in your cabinets or commitments on your calendar.

What techniques have you tried to declutter your home and work surroundings? What worked? Let me know in the comments!

And, if you feel chronic disorganization and clutter has you stuck and you need some professional help, check out the ICD’s list of professional organizers who can help you.

Celebrating What Unites US

Celebrating What Unites US

Just two days ago, we came together as a country to celebrate what unites us.  People joined together for picnics, baseball games, apple pie and fireworks at dark to celebrate our nation’s birthday.  Many of us had our American flags flying, a poignant reminder of what brings us together and of what also originally brought our Founding Fathers together when they courageously established our United States

It’s amazing to consider all that our Founding Fathers were tasked with doing as they developed a new nation.  They were tasked with unifying the 13 rebellious colonies, developing our common guiding principles, and literally starting a new nation from the ground up.  No simple undertaking for any leaders.

Celebrates What Unites US - US American Flag

One of our nation’s first symbols created was our American flag.  Flown across our great nation each day and especially on July Fourth!   We all know how each star is a representation of each unique State with the stripes representing the first 13 colonies.  The colors also hold significance.  The colors were, in part, determined by Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, who is credited with stating, “White signifies purity and innocence; Red, hardiness and valor; and Blue signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice.”  

Most of us remember the meaning of the American flag.  It is however the great American seal that also holds so much rich meaning at this time in our country.  As the Declaration of Independence was being signed by each representative, the Second Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams to be the key architects of our nation’s Coat of Arms.

Out of Many, One – Celebrating what Unites US

The three thoughtfully deliberated on our nation’s great seal.   Each had their own views of what should be included.  Even with the three having major differences and diverse backgrounds, they too placed those aside to create a masterpiece.  It was reportedly not an easy task and did require others involvement to gain additional insights and to achieve unity.  Charles Thomson is credited with finally achieving unified agreement on our Coat of Arms.  He chose the Latin motto “E Pluribus Unum” meaning “out of many, one.”  These diverse men came together to create as one. In so doing, they led very separate and diverse colonies to form one nation.

So how do we continue to seek our oneness as a nation?  How do we celebrate what unites us – the United States — rather than divides us?  Our Founding Fathers were purposeful in that as well.  Our nation’s leaders purposefully had the eagle balanced between an olive branch signifying our focus on peace and the arrows signifying our ability to defend.   Over time, the arrows began to represent more warring then defending, more divisiveness rather than unity.   It was President Truman who is credited with having the eagle permanently facing the olive branch through an executive order, signifying the focus on peace over divisiveness.

Hitting at the Heart of America – Celebrating what Unites US

Just a few weeks prior to the July Fourth holiday In Del Ray, Virginia, our community recently experienced first-hand how divisiveness in our country can turn violent.  During a practice session of the Republicans for a Congressional bipartisan game for charity, a violent event happened when Congressman Steve Scalise along with Capitol Hill police, a Congressional staffer and bystander were shot.  The arrow had been chosen.  Yet in typical Del Ray fashion, our community came together in a show of support later that night, an immediate response offering the olive branch rather than the choice of further divisiveness.  

The following night, Congressional leaders held their bipartisan baseball game.  There were representatives from both political parties and some in the audience booed the opposing political party when the players came on the field.  Yet, the legislators (and many others in the audience that night) put aside their differences and came together for everything that stands for America — supporting their colleagues affected by the shooting (regardless of the party), giving back to the community, and playing a game of baseball.   They chose the olive branch.

Choosing the Olive Branch Over the Arrows – Celebrating What Unites US

When President Truman reportedly mentioned his executive order modifying the eagle’s head towards the olive branch, Winston Churchill quipped that maybe “the eagle’s head should just be on a swivel.”  While Churchill was well known for his wit, his comment does raise a larger question of where do we — both as a nation as well as individuals — wish to place our attention?

It’s not just the responsibility of our elected officials or our media or “others” to chose the olive branch over the arrows.  It does beckon all of us to consider where in our lives we can make a choice to celebrate what unites U.S. rather than divides us.  

Each of our Founding Fathers were very different people, from different backgrounds and with very different perspectives on how our country should progress.  Yet, they managed to forge a bond that would change the course of our rebellious colonies into the powerful, united nation we’ve come to be.

When you look at the United States today, the diversity you see is thanks to the diverse perspectives of the Founding Fathers and their vision for a country that was founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Get Involved in Giving to your Community – Celebrating What Unites US

How then do we support celebrating what unites us?  The answer as simple as “baseball and homemade apple pie.”  Get back to the basics of seeing the good.  Taking time to listen and be respectful of others, no matter how different their viewpoints.  It’s hard to hold space for a perspective completely at odds to your own views.  And when you begin (even after you have done this for some time), there will be missteps.  Feelings of anger or disbelief or other emotions will creep back in as the discussion continues.  Yet, listen to the experience and perspectives of another.  Really listen.  And fight against focusing on what is at odds with your own beliefs to focus on areas where there is agreement.

 

Many of us are active in our communities, offering an opportunity to engage with others who are different from us.  If you are not, join a local group to do some volunteering.  The opportunities are endless.  Here in Alexandria, Virginia, you can chose from a long list at Volunteer Alexandria.  Other options include supporting your local community homeless shelter. Or, donate some time at your local food bank. You can also find and help out at local animal shelters and rescue centers. Finally, you don’t have to wait to Veteran’s Day to honor and help out military veterans. Be creative and think about ways to engage, learn, listen and seek common areas of unity — of choosing the olive branch — of supporting our local community and our nation.

 

What unique ways have you used to celebrate what unites us? Let us know in the comments. And, happy birthday, USA!

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Fourth of July to you, your family and friends!  As we head into this wonderful summer holiday, the Fourth of July holiday offers a reminder of our nation’s origins.  Right here in our nation’s capital, there abounds opportunities to explore the historical locations and sites of our founding fathers. As you view the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument, have you ever considered what was here before this city became Washington DC?  Interestingly there are still amazing sites to see of the remnants of the Native American tradition and of their sacred sites.

Native American Sacred Sites:

Native American

Native American Sacred Sites

 

The long July weekend offers an opportunity to get outside and explore the sacred sites of Native Americans.  You don’t have to go far to learn of the Algonquian peoples who originally inhabited the area of Washington DC, as well as a good part of New England and over into Michigan.  As you visit the National Museum of American Indians, pay close attention to the outside before entering the museum.  All Native Americans feel that we are closely connected to plants, animals, rocks and the land.  Our interconnectedness means that what is in one person or plant or animal is in everyone. (And ironically just last week scientific researchers provided further clarification on what they call Quantum Entanglement, and how we are connected in the Great Universe.)

 

The Native Americans further believe that our ancestors are around us all of the time. They are here to help guide and support us.  To represent our ancestors, the museum kept with Native American tradition and placed 40 large uncarved Grandfather rocks near the front of the museum to greet you.  (Be sure to greet them back! Remember it’s all connected!)

Ohio’s Serpent Mound:

Not in the local DC region?  No worries.  There are Native American sacred sites in all 50 States.  A fascinating one is receiving international attention in Ohio and known as “Serpent Mound.”  It is a prehistoric effigy mound that is over 1300 feet long.  It is currently believed that the ceremonial mound was created by the Adena culture between 800 B.C.- A.D.100 and later by the Fort Ancient culture.   People around the globe visit Serpent Mound to ponder its use and historical significance.

 

Devil's Tower

Native American Sacred Site: Devil’s Tower

Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower:

Even if you go out West, there are plenty of sacred sites to see.  Head to Wyoming to view the Devil’s Tower, a geologic wonder where Native Americans have for hundreds of years held this space as sacred land.  Take a moment to look at the picture of Devil’s Tower.  In one Native American legend, a giant bear clawed the mountain to chase several young maidens.  His claw marks still remain to this day.

Virginia’s “Bridge of God”:

If you don’t want to travel out West but instead are staying in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Take a moment to visit with the Monacan Native American tribe and their sacred site known as the Natural Bridge.  The bridge is 215 feet tall and is close to Lace Falls that has a 30 foot cascade.  The Native Americans reportedly have named their sacred site “The Bridge of God” as it invokes the “wow” factor by those who visit.

We Are Connected…

No matter the State that you are visiting, the Native Americans have always dedicated beautiful spots to connect with something larger than just one person.  They have paid a tribute to the wonders throughout the United States, and more importantly have recognized how we are all truly connected — connected to the water, land, plants, animals, birds and other humans.

What sacred site will you explore this July Fourth?  Enjoy!

Yoga and Emotions - Four Directions Wellness

Yoga and Emotions

Twist. Inhale. Stretch. Exhale. Contort. Sweat. Inhale. Stretch deeper. Exhale.

For many people who come to yoga, they come because they want a workout. They want to be more physically fit. Perhaps they were recommended to take yoga by their child, or a friend. Maybe they might even find a cute yoga partner, who may ask him or her on a date? The reasons are endless why yoga brings people to its ancient asanas.

International Day of Yoga LogoIn honor of International Day of Yoga (or, World Yoga Day, June 21st), a proclamation of the United Nations to “raise awareness worldwide of the many benefits of practicing yoga,” I want to focus on strongest among the benefits from yoga–the effects on our emotional well-being. By deepening your understanding of the mechanisms in place, you will hopefully gain a greater appreciation for the boundless ability to strengthen the body and mind, together.

 

 

Yoga and Emotions: Body and Emotions Are Connected

As you are likely aware, your body’s and emotional well-beings are connected. If you hurt yourself physically, you will feel a flood of negative emotions. If you heal and engage your body, you will have a surge of positive emotions. In this way, yoga is for the body and through the body, yoga affects emotions. This is the case with almost any physical exercise routine, since the body floods the brain with all kinds of chemicals to trigger these responses.

However, it is with the yoga that body toning, prayanama (or breathing techniques), and mindfulness training come together. You manage not only what the body is doing, but what the mind and emotions are thinking and feeling along the way.

Yoga and Emotions: Building Emotional Resilience

As your body stretches and you breathe, you’re training yourself for resilience. Have you ever been in a yoga class and your yoga instructor calls out the next pose? You bend into position, and you struggle to maintain it. A question pops into your mind: when will she end this position so I can relax? And, yet, nothing. She continues to leave you in that pose. It feels like an eternity. (It was only 30 seconds.) She directs you to inhale and exhale once more. And, finally, she calls the next pose, you release into the next pose, and sigh from relief.

That was an exercise in building resilience. Each time you’re putting into a micro-stress moment and you endure and then triumph, you’re teaching your emotions that you’re in command. Over time, this breaks its way into parts of your life in remarkable ways. When your boss yells, when the kids cry from being denied candy, or when that cab driver cuts you off on the road, you turn to your yoga training. You take a pause, breathe in deeply, exhale deeply, and weather the emotional storm. You stay in control.

Yoga and Emotions: Emotions Talking to the Body

This brings us to a greater point about yoga, emotions, and the body. In essence, you teach yourself through yoga to feel the emotions that arise in your body. And, by doing so, your awareness grows to learn what emotions feel like. Every emotion has a physical response. We are so frequently rapt in day-to-day activities, that we rarely know what we’re feeling more than a vague sense of good, or not.

For instance, right now, is your stomach tight? How are your shoulders? If you tense them and then relax them at this moment, do you feel a sense of change in yourself? There was an emotion there. What emotion was that? Do you know how you were feeling, be it anxious, excited, upset, or another emotion?

Through yoga, we start to overhear the conversation our body is having with our emotions. With that dialog, we can then identify what those emotions are and be present with them. Many times, simply acknowledging an emotion allows us to enjoy it if it’s positive more deeply, or let the emotion go if it’s negative.

If you haven’t experienced this level of emotional connection with your body, that’s quite alright. You’re not alone. And, even at the start, every little bit can make a profound effect on your overall well-being. All it takes is starting!

If you think you might enjoy having greater connectedness with your emotions and body, I invite you to take the next week as an opportunity and a challenge to take a yoga class at one of many area events. And, if you do, let me know how the experience was; I’d enjoy hearing from you about your experiences with yoga!

Getting Out Into the Great Outdoors - Four Directions Wellness

Getting out Into the Great Outdoors

Just last week on June 5th, nations around the globe joined together to recognize “World Environment Day.” A day dedicated to encouraging each person to get “with nature,” recognizing the interconnectedness between humans, plants, animals and the environment. And an opportunity to reconnect with the healing aspects of our world.  And the concept is not new.  Many ancient healing arts have a connection to getting out into the Great Outdoors and with Nature. If it’s not the direct link with herbal medicines that are sourced from Nature, it’s the connection with the flow of the seasons, or the innate relationship between the Divine and our own life force in maintaining and healing the body. But somehow, in the Digital Age, we can get disconnected from getting out into the Great Outdoors. In doing so, we lose the number one self-care technique people talk about, and it turns out that science supports, in being able to make our lives better in many ways. The good news is that we can reconnect with getting out into the Great Outdoors with relative ease! And, by doing so, we reduce distress, increase resilience, and widen our positive capacities of the body, mind, emotions, and spirit.

Getting Out Into the Great Outdoors: Commuting to Work, and Socially

Living in the greater Washington DC region, it can seem tough in the city environment but we are blessed with many parks small and large available to us, including the National Mall. Here, Google Maps or Apple Maps on your smartphone can come in very handy. Simply search for “parks” in the app and it will surface the nearest parks to you at home or at the office.

If you’re able to, walk, bike, or take public transit to work and pick a path that meanders slightly through the greenest areas along your path to the office. On the other hand, if driving is necessary to get to work, you can choose a coffee break to take a brisk stroll through a park near your office, or take your lunch out to a bench in a nearby park.

Further, you can invite coworkers to walk with you and join you for a picnic in the park once in a while. Especially in the summer months, the sun stays late enough into the afternoon that you can invite friends (or make new friends on Meetup) for coffee or tea from your local café to carry to a public garden or park. Getting out socially is as important to our well-being as being alone with Nature, and research states it will improve your outlook too as it’ll make you nicer.

For greatest effect, make sure to take notice of the greenery that surrounds you.  Or better yet, take a moment to place your back up against a tree, pausing to feel the tree’s bark.  Then feel yourself sitting on the ground, connected with nature.  Go ahead and take a few deep cleansing breaths in and out.  Feeling the sun on your face and appreciating all that our environment has to offer, even if it is for a few minutes.

Getting Out Into the Great Outdoors: Day Trip, or a Weekend With Nature

If you have more than an hour, then take advantage of some of the amazing day trips in our region.  The National Parks Service is over 100 years old, having been established in 1916 as an agency of the United States Department of the Interior. Here in the Metro DC area, we have over a dozen national parks, state parks, and even more memorials, to take a day trip any fair weather weekend day. (In Virginia, take note of the fee-free days for the Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive in your calendar.) If you do take a trip out to a national park, remember to read up on the National Park Service’s guides on being prepared. If you decide to take a night under the stars in any of the national parks, also be sure to check out their handy guide for camping.

As an interesting footnote to history, Stephen Mather was a borax magnate, the instigating force behind the National Park Service, and its first director (serving three presidents until suffering a stroke in 1929). In 1903, Mather was ousted from the borax company he helped make great because of struggles with a bipolar disorder episode. It’s with a fortuitous twist that his wife Jane took him on a trip through Europe to see Nature, and it’s with this trip that his renewed connection to it became a lifelong pursuit of protecting and preserving it. In a way, Nature helped Mather and in turn, his stewardship has provided to everyone the great national parks, monuments, and other historic places for so many present and future generations to enjoy!

 

While getting out into the Great Outdoors may at first seem time-consuming, it’s actually quite simple with a little forethought, and it benefits you enough to make it worth the effort! Then we would love to hear from you.  How did you spend your time with Nature?  How did you connect with the Great Outdoors?