what a well-curated life really looks like on Instagram

what a well-curated life really looks like on Instagram

Social media is something I've grappled with both personally and professionally, in a variety of ways that probably sound familiar to you:

  • How much time on social media is too much? If I struggle with moderating, should I delete the apps from my phone? (But when I have, how long does that really last?) 
  • If I find myself compulsively picking up my phone to check Facebook, Instagram, or email and feeling itchy when I don't, do I need a serious digital detox? (Yes, but also, I-don't-wanna!)
  • Is it possible that I've actually rewired my brain and attention span through this stuff? (Methinks yes. Scary.)
  • Should I Snapchat? Why do I feel like I'm pretty tech-forward in most ways but when it comes to Snapchat I'm like the Grandma who signs her Facebook comments and uses all caps? LOVE, GRANDMA (Answer: I just don't.) 
  • How many posts a week should I make on Instagram, and how many stories? What actually makes for a fun or interesting story? Should I make this thing a story, or a post? 
  • How do I decide how much of my personal self/life to put into my more professionally-oriented social media accounts, especially in a field where being real/human is super important, but so are personal/professional boundaries? 
  • Why do I often take photos of stuff but rarely post them? (I want to take my phone out long enough to capture something, but don't want to take the time in the moment to craft the text or hashtags, so then it just collects digital dust on my phone until it no longer feels interesting or relevant!) 
  • What's the point of any of this godforsaken stuff anyway, if it creates this kind of stress?! I quit!

Yeaaah, welcome to the inside of my brain. As one of my clients jokes with me (and of course is no secret to all my friends), I'm a special kind of weird. But since that weirdness is part of what makes me ME, I embrace it and know that my people will find me, and people who don't appreciate it have plenty of other choices for friend, therapist, yoga teacher, etc! 

I digress. I know at least some of those are things you relate to, too, or you wouldn't still be reading this. I won't address every single point here (because you'd be reading for the next two hours), but there is one point that I really want to focus on:

A life that is actually well-curated probably looks a little 'meh' on Instagram. 

What do I mean by that?

I decided to take an impromptu walk through the woods a few weeks ago, and pulled into a beautiful little state park off the beaten path on the edge of Nashville. I wanted to leave my phone in the car so the walk felt more calming (as I do on walks in my neighborhood, which I haven't done in a while since it's cold AF). But then I thought — wouldn't this be a prime opportunity for a beautiful shot of some trees that I could post on Instagram? I'm nature-y, and my feed should reflect that, right? And I'm sure I could come up with some nice stuff to say about the healing power of being in the woods. 

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WholeYou Podcast #10: Fifth Chakra (Vissudha)

WholeYou Podcast #10: Fifth Chakra (Vissudha)

Feeling creatively drained or struggling with clear communication? Take a listen to our WholeYou throat chakra episode. 

Episode 10 of the WholeYou podcast is here!  See below for the show notes, listen to the show (stream or download) on the embedded SoundCloud box below (on the full post - click "read more" at bottom), or find it on iTunes of your favorite podcast app. Thanks for listening! 

Fifth Chakra At-a-Glance:

  • Sanskrit Name: Vissudha
  • Location: Throat area
  • Element: Sound
  • Color: Blue
  • Issues: Communication, creativity, listening, resonance, finding one's own voice, purification, refinement
  • Basic Rights: To speak and be heard

What we Discuss in Episode #10:

  • How to know if your fifth chakra is out of balance
  • Signs of a deficient and excessive fourth fifth
  • Finding your voice and creativity
  • Blocks to creativity and how to bring more creativity into your life
  • Yoga poses, meditations, and pranayama to balance your fifth chakra
  • What resonance means and why it's important with the throat chakra
  • Fifth chakra affirmations

Lauren and I are really appreciate you taking the time to listen and share your comments. If you like the show, subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast app, and please take 1 minute to leave us a review on iTunes  — it helps us to reach more people, and we'd be so grateful! 

 

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do i really need to meditate daily to feel calmer?

meditate-daily-post

“I know meditation is ‘good for me,’ but how important is it really? And do I have to do it everyday?”

I hear some variation of this question frequently, so I thought I'd share my “answer" to it here on the blog.

People may ask this question when they feel like they have tried and “failed” at some kind of meditation practice, or perhaps they haven’t yet tried because they “just know” they would fail. They might be looking for permission to not meditate without feeling guilty about it, or to understand how to overcome the blocks they’re experiencing when they practice.

A meditation practice doesn’t have to be rigid / all-or-nothing. 

Despite my firm belief that meditation is a powerful healing tool for a long list of physical, mental, and spiritual ailments, I do not meditate every single day. And on many of the days that I do, it’s only for about 10 minutes. I tell you this to be clear about the fact that I do not pretend to be “perfect” when it comes to this practice.

I certainly admire people who do commit to never missing a day, and sometimes wish I could be one of them. But I also know myself well enough by now to understand that if there is an expectation of “perfection,” I will usually feel intimidated and easily discouraged when I don’t “measure up.” Perhaps you relate?

Some people are motivated by seeing evidence that they’re keeping a new habit/behavior going everyday without missing a single day and thus “breaking the chain.” If that’s you and it’s working, then more power to you! For me, though, the higher the number gets, the greater anxiety (about possibly breaking the chain) and obligation (to not break the chain) I feel — and as important as certain practices are, I don’t want one of my primary motivators to be fear/obligation.

At this point in my life, I’m happy being a “frequent” meditator, and if you have found that the black-and-white thinking of “everyday or why bother” has gotten in your way, please let this be encouragement to find the gray area for your own practice.

The same principle applies with the length of time. Some of the most beneficial meditations I have done are the occasional two-minute mini breaks during the workday. To just sit and breathe for a minute — even with the temptation to check email again, take a social media break, or “get one more thing done” before the next meeting — is an incredible act of self-care, and I also believe, enhances brainpower and focus.

So instead of telling yourself, “if I can’t sit for 10 minutes, it doesn’t even count, so why bother?” — give yourself permission to have mini practices, and know that this does not make you a “bad” meditator!

Also, remember that “meditation" can mean a lot than just sitting in silence with your eyes closed.

In my post on the 3 types of mindfulness, I mention that meditation falls into the category of “formal mindfulness practices.” I would argue that most formal mindfulness practice can be called meditation — that ultimately, it boils down to intentionally stepping outside of your “normal” awareness of life and shifting that awareness fully into the present moment for a period of time.

That could certainly entail sitting in silence and being aware of the breath, and it could also include:

  • a walking meditation, bringing awareness to the subtle movements of the leg/foot with each slow step)
  • repeating a mantra out loud or silently
  • coloring freehand or in a coloring book with full awareness of the movements of your hand on the page
  • dancing freestyle to one or all of the 5Rhythms
  • a solo “eating meditation” going beyond typical mindful eating practices and being keenly aware of every taste and texture, allowing yourself to savor each bite slowly
  • a nature meditation, taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and textures in your favorite nature spots — like watching the birds come and go at the bird feeder, or noticing the reflection on a pond ripple and glimmer
  • making a meditation of your favorite self-care practices, like a sensory-rich bubble bath or a self-massage with warm coconut oil
  • journal stream-of-consciousness, allowing whatever flows into your mind to flow onto the page, a la morning pages from The Artist’s Way
  • doodling to an instrumental song, allowing the music to abstractly flow through your hand and onto the page

And those are just some examples! If sitting quietly everyday is not your jam, it’s probably a good idea to be with and explore the discomfort that comes up for you when sitting with yourself. And it may also be helpful to give yourself permission to experience meditation in other ways.

When I think about expanding my idea of “meditation” to include the above activities, suddenly it seems a lot more accessible and enjoyable.

So to come full circle back to the question at the beginning of this post: Yes, meditation is an incredibly powerful tool to deal with living in the 21st century. Though a meditation practice is far from the only way to clear your mind and access a sense of calm, it is one of the best ways. Unlike shadow comforts that feel good or relaxing in the moment then leave you feeling drained, guilty, or “unproductive” (hello Facebook scanning and hours-long Netflix marathons), meditation practices remind you that you're alive.

I don’t believe you have to do anything every single day beyond eating and sleeping (ok brush your teeth y’all), but there are tons of nourishing activities you can do frequently that will help you to feel more grounded, connected, and balanced in your life the more you do them. (Showering! Meditation! Movement! Snuggling! Long talks with friends!)

If you’re looking for some new meditation practices, check out my free original guided meditations

What are some of your favorite ways to meditate? Share in the comments!

improve focus and CTFO with yoga {the yoga sutra's 5 levels of the mind}

 yoga-improve-focus-clarity

I’m currently in the middle of a six-month yoga teacher training program (200-hour) at Sanctuary for Yoga in Nashville, and already the experience has been such a gift for me.

If I’m being honest, until somewhat recently, I was always just a “dabbler” in yoga. Despite knowing the tremendous mind/body/spirit benefits, like most things, I get excited about it for a while, then move on to the next thing I’m excited about, until I inevitably end up circling back to yoga.

Sidebar, this pattern of mine is starting to make a lot more sense, because I just realized within the past couple of days I am an Enneagram Type Seven (I had previously misidentified myself as a Three.) This discovery feels incredibly validating, and characteristic of a Seven, I'm eager to drop everything else and dive in to learn as much as I can as quickly as possible, even if it means staying up till 2am doing so and then feeling exhausted tomorrow. But alas, I will summon my wiser self and try to put that project on the shelf until later this week. Meanwhile — this post is not about the Enneagram!

Case in Point...

So, back to yoga: I am a busy-body. I was always one of those people who was eager to roll up the mat at the end of savasana and get on with my day. Those are precious minutes I could be on to my next task! I mean, if I’m going to be still, at least let it be a minimum 10-minute meditation so it “counts” for something. Yeah… see what I’m working with here? Though I’m a little embarrassed by it, I know I’m not alone here.

I started to be open up to savasana once I more fully understood its purpose. Savasana not just a nice relaxing pose at the end of a physically strenuous practice; it's about integration. In those few minutes, your mind and body have the opportunity to soak in the practice in a deeper way, so it’s not just something you checked off your list of “good healthy activities” or “workouts for the week,” but a practice that ultimately can make you a more whole person, and more integrated into the charmingly-funky patchwork quilt that is humanity.

For all you who have been committed yogis for years, I know you’re going “duuuuh!” (Well hopefully not, because surely that’s not in line with one of the yamas, right?!) I always knew there was a lot more to yoga than just the asanas (the poses) — that it’s a mind + body + spirit practice based in ancient Hindu texts and traditions. But it took me wanting to get certified as a teacher so I could integrate yoga with my therapy clients to actually commit to deepening my own practice.

Through the required readings and more frequent yoga practice (including personal practice on my mat, sans yoga DVD — my former self is gasping right now), I have started sinking my teeth in to the philosophy of yoga and finding, not surprisingly, so many parallels with the wisdom of modern psychotherapy and self-help.

One topic that spoke deeply to me recently as I was reading The Heart of Yoga by T. K. V. Desikachar (1995), was the five levels of the mind, according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra (originally compiled in about 400 CE and revived in popularity in the late 19th century). Desikachar does a a fantastic job of translating the Yoga Sūtras and putting them into context in a way that illustrates how incredibly relevant they remain over 1600 years after their initial writing.

In Desikachar’s description of the five levels of the mind, I could clearly see myself when I’m functioning well, and when I’m uhhh… not functioning so well. I also thought some of his metaphors were hilarious. So without further adieu, from the bottom to the top —

1) Ksipta

“The lowest level of the mind can be likened to that of a drunken monkey swinging from branch to branch: thoughts, feelings, and perceptions come and go in rapid succession. We are hardly aware of them and can find no thread linking them.” Hahahah. I hope I’m not the only one actually picturing this drunken money right now. Or nodding enthusiastically in recognition. Oh, drunken monkey, please sit down and CTFO (chill the F out, for those who need a translation).

2) Mūdha

“Here the mind is like one of a heavy water buffalo standing for hours on end in one place. Any inclination to observe, act, or react has nearly disappeared.” Desikachar describes that this state might result from eating too much or not sleeping enough, medication (hello NyQuil and me last week), or “in people who, after many unsuccessful attempts to make something of their lives, simply withdraw and do not want to know about anything anymore.”

Depressing much? Really, though, I have had many days of feeling like that water buffalo who did not give a single f*** anymore. In my case, I think it’s often sort of like the drunken monkey had a blast but is now hungover and has no idea what to do with her life.

3) Viksipta

“The mind is moving but the movement lacks consistent purpose and direction. The mind encounters obstacles and doubts. It alternates between knowing what it wants to do and uncertainty, between confidence and diffidence. This is the most common state of mind.” So, for most of us, a “normal” baseline kind of day would feel like this. We more or less know what we’re doing, but have a reasonable amount of confusion or uncertainty.

Since Desikachar does not offer a ridiculous animal metaphor here, I will: think of Viksipta like your average domestic tabby: alternating between goal-directed (look! bird at the window! Oooh— treats! Will you pet me? What’s this TAIL suddenly in my field of awareness? IT MUST BE APPREHENDED) and utterly lackadaisical (in the middle of said tail-apprehension — stares off into the distance in a nihilistic fog. Lies on couch and doesn’t move for eight hours.)

4) Ekagrata

“Here the mind is relatively clear; distractions have little influence. We have a direction and, most important of all, we can move forward in this direction and keep our attention on it.”

Ever seen a meerkat in a zoo? No matter how many little kids are shouting at it along with 18 strollers with crying babies, meerkat keeps her eye on the prize. What the prize is, I’m not entirely sure, but meerkat is FOCUSED.

Although I’m about as distractible as a house cat with mild ADD, occasionally even I’m able to achieve this state of mind, especially when I get a bee in my bonnet about something (please tell me this is a commonly used phrase) or I’m on serious deadline.

5) Nirodha

“When ekagrata is fully developed, it peaks at nirodha… characterized by consistent focused attention…the mind is linked completely and exclusively with the object of its attention. Mind and object seem to merge into one.”

This is the level of the mind associated with “flow,” a psychological state named by Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (say that five times fast). We’ve all been there; you are so passionate about something or “into” it that you just get totally lost or immersed in it, and time almost stands still.

In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a widely-respected treatment model for many different behavioral issues (addiction, eating disorders, self-harm, etc.), this is referenced as one of the “how” skills of mindfulness called “one-mindfully,” which means choosing to do just one thing at that time. So, if you’re eating, eat; if you’re planning, plan; if you’re worrying, worry.

Multitasking vs. Mindfulness

This might sound like common sense now, but in the face of decades of talk about how important it is to be able to multitask, the concept of being one-mindful was actually quite radical. Of course, a slew of research in recent years has shown just how ineffective multitasking really is, which is why it has given way to mindfulness in both the self-help and business aisles.

I have certainly had moments of being in the state of nirodha, but they are few and far between. It pains me a little to say this as a cat person, but dogs are the first creature that come to mind when I think of nirodha or one-mindfulness. While cats have moments of existential ennui, dogs are almost always in the moment, present with whatever is happening now — because now has never happened before and how exciting is THAT?! *wag wag wag*

So there you have it — the five levels of the mind according to Patanjai’s ancient Yoga Sūtra text. I bet you could identify yourself throughout the various levels; and the million dollar question is, “How do I get more puppy-dog nirodha and less drunken monkey that ends up a tired and nihilistic Garfield?”

What Next? 

The short (and possibly obnoxious) answer is, of course, to practice all aspects of yoga — physically, mentally, and spiritually. And I’m living proof that it takes a while, and the time varies on your amount of self-awareness and commitment to these practices.

Learning about frameworks like this deepens my level of commitment to my personal practice and my excitement about yoga as a path for helping others heal emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

It felt extremely validating to see myself at these different levels, and to have a direction in mind that feels better than just thinking “I need to be more focused.” No — I’m working on expanding to higher levels of the mind, and in the meantime, I’m okay with the fact that I might still be frequently caught chasing my tail.

Have any other great metaphors for these levels of mind? Where did you see yourself the most? What helps you to get into a higher state? Let’s hear it in the comments!

Also, make sure to get my free meditation for mental focus + clarity right here

WholeYou episode #3 - dealing with difficult thoughts

wholeyou-03

We're now on episode 3 of WholeYou!

Thank you all for your comments and thoughts on our first two episodes. We really appreciate you taking the time to listen and connect with us on these topics so far. If you like the show, remember to subscribe on iTunes so you don't miss one!

In Episode 3, we’re talking about how to deal with difficult or 'unhelpful' thoughts. Just like emotional literacy, this is stuff that we usually are NOT taught in school or as a part of growing up , which is why it’s such an important topic for channels like this podcast.

What we cover in episode 3:

  • Why we don't label unhelpful thoughts as "negative"
  • How avoidance can make things worse - "What we resist persists."
  • Does “thought-stopping” work?
  • Why you can't just “affirm” your way out of painful experiences
  • Physical, mental, and spiritual tools to help you “defuse” from unhelpful thoughts
  • The power of curiosity and just observing your thoughts
  • Lauren's experience in a float tank

We’re interested in how you relate to this topic and what resonates with you from this episode — so if you take a listen, please leave a comment with your thoughts, questions, or as always, ideas for future episodes. You can also share your thoughts on social media with the hashtag #wholeyoushow!

So, go ahead and take a listen:

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Things we mention in this episode:

More from Valerie

More from Lauren

*Music credit for our mini theme song is Little Idea from Bensound.com. Thanks, Ben!