3 Types of Strength to Practice with your Children and How

“Building resilience in children is not about making them tough. Resilience is the ability to recover from difficulties and manage how you feel.”

One of my favorite YogaCalm® lessons to teach to young people and their families is about Strength. When we think about being strong we often first think about physical strength, and sometimes about powering through tough times with a stiff upper lip or minimizing and moving on. As parents we can do this out of fear and think we need to protect our children by teaching them to be “tough” so that they don’t get hurt. The reality is they will get hurt and by teaching them all the types of strength they will learn to be “tough” in a healthy way and learn to not fear challenging situations. They will face them head on and evolve and grow stronger through their life experiences. And yes, sometimes we do have to power through and yet their is such opportunity in growing your child’s resilience by teaching them how to tap into not just their physical, but also their mental and emotional strength.

3 Types of Strength to Practice and How:

Physical Strength - Muscle Power - Movement and Healthy Eating

  • Moving (playing tag, going on a walk or hike, swimming, yoga, biking, sports) together as a family when your children are young builds life long habits. Help your child feel strong, empowered and fueled by how they move and what they eat. Be aware of your relationship with food and your body as parent in front of your child, your children are watching and hearing everything.

Mental Strength - Brain Power - Healthy Self-Talk (How we think about ourselves) and Decision Making in challenging, stressful situations

  • Challenge yours and your child's negative self talk around mistakes, fears, and worries. Language is powerful. "I made a mistake" (guilt based self talk) is easier to work with and grow from then "I am a mistake" (shame based self talk). Help your child turn mistakes into challenging growing and learning opportunities.

  • YogaCalm® uses the following positive self talk statements. "I am Strong" "I am in Control" "I Can Do It" "I Can Be Responsible" I love to pair these statements with strong poses such warrior poses.

  • Create a encouragement jar filled with positive self statements to move through difficult times or pick a family mantra or motto to move through these times together.

  • Decision making - Use your Strong Voice as a guide! Finding our strong voice is the same as finding our wisdom (our inner guide). To tap into that voice and wisdom we often have to slow down and reflect on what's most important to us and make a decision that matches our values.

Strong Voice Activity from YogaCalm® . After grounding and finding calm and stillness with your child via breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or a body scan ask them the following questions. Then have them write the answers down to create a visual reminder of their strong voice.

  • Can you find the strong voice inside of you?

  • Where do you feel the strong voice in your body?

  • Is the voice high or low?

  • Is the voice loud or soft?

  • Does the voice make you think of someone?

  • What does the voice say?

  • What can you do to find your strong voice when you are angry or afraid?

  • When do you need your strong voice?

  • Draw a picture of yourself feeling strong.

Emotional Strength - Heart Power - Ability to feel, identify, and express feelings without harming oneself or others

  • Practice is the best way to work with identifying and naming feelings. Feelings aren't right or wrong, good or bad, they are comfortable and uncomfortable sensations in our body and they give us messages about what we need. Once we regulate our emotions we can dig deeper into the need. Am I feeling sad because I miss spending time with a friend or feel left out. Am I feeling angry because I didn't get something that I wanted. Once we identify the emotion and the need (connection, competency, control, love to name a few) we can then move into problem solving or soothing with our child.

Other resources:

 Check out Dan Siegels work around resilience! I often create "Grow Your Green Zone" boxes with children in my private practice to encourage them to take healthy risks and increase their tolerance for discomfort (stress, anxiety) as well as work through and regulate the big emotions. We put in "Be Brave" challenges as well as various emotion regulation tools around breathing, self-talk, and movement.

Favorite Picture Books on the topic:

Brave by Stacy McAnulty

I Can Handle It (Mindful Mantras) by Laurie Wright

I Can Do Hard Things:Mindful Affirmations for Kids by Gabi Garcia

May your find the courage to tap into all your strengths; physical, mental, and emotional.

Yours in Mindful Movement and Good Health,


3 Practices to Help You be a More Mindful Parent & Partner

“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn

One of my favorite questions to ask myself and those in my practice is “What do you want to remember, how do you want to live your moments?”   For many of us those moments are in relationship.  And what we know is that when we are distracted and chronically running around to the next thing, we miss moments to connect and to really be present and remember.  When I was younger, we honored multi-tasking, it was often named a strength to be able to do many things at once.  Now, it is the much more challenging art of single tasking that I honor and work to practice.  This habit of single tasking and focusing on one thing at a time is mindfulness and is most important to me as a parent and partner.  I want my memory to be filled with all the little moments I spend with the people I love the most.  The little moments are those tender visceral moments that later when we recall them it is more than the autobiographical memory; it is a feeling that we feel.  Most recently it has been our son asking about our days at dinner.  He asks probing question after probing question because single word answers are not satisfying to him.  My husband who is less of a talker, opens more than ever before with a smile and ease, and I watch in awe at the charm and wit of my 4-year-old son.  I feel immense love and connection in these moments.  I also want my son and husband to have these memories of me.  I want them to remember me as someone who was fully present and available to them in their lives.  This is where mindfulness comes in and here are three practices to support being a more mindful and present parent and partner.

1.       Cultivate Attention – This is the habit of attending to what is right in front of you!  Our mind wanders to both internal distractions (job stress, worries, insecurities) and external distractions (phone, the weather, to do lists).  I encourage my clients to practice mindfulness of everyday activities to hone this skill of paying attention to what you are doing in the present moment.  Try waiting in line for your coffee with out pulling out your phone.  Tune into your surroundings and the people around you, describe what you see.  Or practice showering or brushing your teeth without being halfway through your day planning and preparing and anticipating the stressors.  Use your five senses as a guide to attend to what is happening in that moment.  The brain is a muscle and the more we practice single tasking the more we will be able to do it at those important moments like dinnertime or when our partner or child is asking us to listen and be there for them.

2.       Nurture an Openhearted Presence – This is about our attitude and how we are paying attention.  Are we being open and curious or closed and critical?  If you catch yourself being quick to tense or give advice when your child or partner is talking, pause, and ask yourself is this me listening to understand or listening to judge or solve?  Work to develop an attitude and presence of (COAL) Care, Openness, Acceptance, and Love.  This presence builds safety and trust and a long-lasting bond.

3.       Know Yourself! Practice Self-Awareness – As Maya Angelou said “When you know better you do better.” Self-awareness is the condition of being constantly aware of your thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and actions.  There are basically three states of consciousness; reactive, responsive, and intuitive.  Learn to know what state you are in and attend to your needs so you can be in more consistent state of responsive and intuitive with the ones you love.  One of my favorite mindfulness awareness practices to share with parents and partners is “Know Your State” from the book Mindful Discipline.  Here is the challenge and practice.  If you don’t have a child or want to focus on a partner, substitute child for partner below.

“At least three times a day – but as often as you can remember to do it – sense your current state of consciousness.  Ask yourself, “Am I in a reactive state, a responsive state, or an intuitive state?”

Sense your body.  How tense is it? How uncomfortable is it?  Are you feeling frustrated, angry, withdrawn, or anxious?  These are all clues that you may be on the cusp of, or entering into, a state of reactivity.

Check out your attention and goals.  Are you watching your child’s every move like a hawk, waiting for them to do “just one more thing!”?  Are you feeling really tuned out, fuzzy, or withdrawn, not wanting to be with your child at all?  Are you hypervigilant and falsely effusive, trying to make sure everything goes perfect and that everyone is happy?  These may be indications that you are in some degree of reactivity.  If you are, it may be a good time to “heat up the tension” (Progressive Muscle Relaxation) or to otherwise take a moment away from your child to calm and support yourself.

Regularly practicing a body scan can also help you to build awareness to your state of consciousness and learn to know yourself so that you can do better and be better for your child and/or partner.

May your moments be memorable and filled with mindful attention, openhearted presences, and an awake awareness to be skillful and confident and to find pleasure and joy in the little moments, because they aren’t so little.

Yours in Mindful Movement and Good Health,



5 Simple Practices to Build Community in Your Home

Our families are our first community, they are our central community, they are our heart.  It is in the family community that children learn what it means to be in relationships with a group of people.   Communities both support and challenge us and families are no exception.  As parents we often want nothing more than for our children to find happiness and health in their relationships outside the home.  We know that people are healthier in relationships, maybe you have seen the expression; Wellness and Illness to illustrate this point.  Our child’s wellness starts in the home.  Here are 5 simple practices to be mindful of to build community in your home.

1.       Connecting Time ­

In our increasingly busy lives, it is more important than ever to turn off and set aside the distractions and spend quality time interacting with our families.  This can be shared activities of play and routine check in times to talk about our individual lives.  It is important the play is collaborative.  Yes, going to your child’s sporting event and cheering them on is important and builds community, but the connecting time I’m talking about here is playing and being together. So, tossing the baseball back and forth, playing tag at the playground, reading a book with your child, going on a hike, or going to a museum.  Furthermore, creating time and being accessible to talk is also important to give you and your child opportunities to give and receive support.  Make it routine to talk about your day at dinner or before bed, you may get a shoulder shrug or “my day was fine.” But stick with it, your child will take note if you stop asking. When we are fully present and engaged and connecting with our children it communicates, they matter and are a priority, and these are the little moments that build lasting memories and a secure bond.

2.       Cooperation

Learning to work together, get along, and help each other accomplish a task or goal is an essential practice for life and there are so many opportunities to do this in the home.  Everyone in the family plays a role in participating to make the home run as smooth as possible, no one person should shoulder all the burdens.  A community works together.  Easy ways to create opportunities for cooperation are to have everyone help with dinner.  Someone sets the table, someone cooks, someone cleans up, give everyone a role.  Start this when your children are young, so it becomes a norm and if they are not young talk about the value of helping each other out.  My favorite lesson in cooperation came when my mom bundled me and my four siblings up in our snow gear and sent us outside to shovel.  Oh, the arguing that ensued, but we eventually realized that the sooner we worked together to shovel the driveway, the sooner we got to play.  So, the more everyone works together on tasks such as dinner or house projects the more down time the family gets relaxing and enjoying each other in the home.

3.       Communication

Healthy communication is key in creating a community that can handle the challenges that come with family life.  How we communicate with our children is a direct mirror to how they will learn to communicate with us.  I will never forget that moment of “aha” when my 4-year-old took a big sigh, furrowed his brow and spoke in an irritated and annoyed tone with how I was playing with him all wrong.  I felt a zing of disrespect that led me to want to say “fine, play with yourself.”  Luckily, that did not come out of my mouth due to taking a pause and big breath.  I realized my son sounded just like I sometimes do when he won’t get dressed or eat or follow my lead.   I’m not saying you can’t be frustrated with your children, but there are ways to communicate this that keep them open and receptive to your feedback and guidance.  This practice of kind and respectful communication build trusts and keeps us as a family communicating.  We learn to express our feelings, especially the uncomfortable ones of irritation, annoyance, and anger in a kind versus mean way.  We want our children to know they can come to us when they feel these emotions so we must work to communicate tolerance for their many changing moods.  If we don’t they may learn that mom and dad only want to hear me and listen to me when I am happy and calm and polite.  We are our children’s teachers and guides and how we role model and practice communication in the home will ripple into our children’s interactions with us and their communities outside the home.

4.       Compassion and Care

This one is straight forward.  Practicing care and compassion is about kindness and love.  How often is your family expressing care through loving touch, words of encouragement, gestures, and showing up for each other!  This is where going to your child’s sporting event, school play, music recital is great example of care.  Caring is also the work of tending and attending to our child’s needs.  My favorite proactive parenting tip for providing care is the acronym HALT.  When my child is behaving in a difficult way is he hungry, angry, lonely, or tired?  What is the need behind his behavior?  This curious approach allows me to offer him the care he needs to grow and thrive and move through a challenging moment.

5.       Lastly Courage!

I believe that when we are connecting, cooperating, caring, and communicating in our family it builds our child’s sense of security in themselves to have the courage to go out and explore communities outside the home.  They know they always have their core community, the family, to return to who understands them and loves them unconditionally.   Courage is also about speaking up and out and sharing and seeking to understand different points of view.  This takes courageous energy to push through difficult conversations which is imperative in the diverse, beautiful, and complicated world we live in, and these rich conversations can be experienced in the home.

May your families thrive in wellness. 

How Family Yoga Tools Can Increase the Harmony in your Home

Have you ever had those moments where during family conflict or chaos you lay your head down and wave an imaginary white flag of surrender?  If you have, I hope you know that one you are not alone, two you are normal and so is your family, and three we know we cannot stay in that place for long or the whole family suffers.  We know we need to mindfully keep our cool and take the reins, but how do we do that? The practice of yoga is a great resource to increase the harmony in your home.  By practicing yoga together as a family, you have a shared language and toolbox when it comes to those tough moments.  Your child knows if they see you close your eyes and take big deep belly breath you are approaching the end of your rope, feeling big emotions, and working to calm down.  Ideally, they may follow suit or more importantly they will feel safe knowing “phew Mom is getting calm” versus they are ready to blow their top which can add to a child’s chaotic energy.  Practicing yoga with your family also creates a fun playful and healthy way to be together.  With partner poses you get to play around and with all the animal names you can be silly being a hissing cobra or mooing cow.  These fun interactions create bonds and memories that will last life time.

Here are 3 of my favorite yoga tools to teach families!

1.       Self-Regulation through Breathing

So many fun ways to practice breathing to regulate your nervous system and allow you to respond to big emotions from a place of wisdom.  From that place of wisdom, we are more likely to determine the need behind our child’s misbehavior or emotional storm so we can meet it and help them settle.  Furthermore, when we stay grounded, calm, and regulated it has a direct calming effect on our children.  And yes, sometimes we may not get the immediate calm from our child and they may continue to spin as we find our center.  But you will wisely know you are building a foundation for your child’s long-term development (emotional intelligence) by modeling this self-regulation practice and you won’t feel that all too common parent guilt or shame from losing your cool and reacting.

·       Try out belly breathing with a hoberman sphere this creates a great visual to fill the belly and chest as the ball expands and deflate as the ball contracts.  You can also pace your child’s breathing by expanding and contracting the ball at a slow pace.

·       Check out the book Breathe Like a Bear and make it a practice to choose a breathing exercise to practice as a family for a week, take turns picking the exercise.  Nothing better for a child than seeing their dad pretending to blow out an imaginary candle in a moment of frustration to shift the mood and redirect the energy in a playful and truly regulating way.

·       Lastly, Volcano Breaths! No better image than thinking of your anger and frustration like a volcano ready to explode.  So, instead of exploding slow the pressure down with big volcano breaths.

Press hands together at heart, take a big inhale as you raise your hands above your head, and then pull your hands apart and breathe out with an explosive volcano breath or sigh releasing arms down to the side…and repeat!

2.       Mind Jar is a tool to teach grounding to make clear minded (wise), safe, and effective decisions in the midst of a challenge.  Grounding is a way to deal with overwhelming emotions.  Much like breathing, it is a way to practice staying in the present moment, not focusing on the past or future and getting rooted and calm in your mind and body.

I came upon the mind jar activity from the book “Moody Cow Meditates”.  Moody cow has a rotten, horrible day that leads to him losing his cool and throwing a baseball through a window.  Grandpa is called in and teaches moody cow about meditating using a mind jar. It is basically a glitter snow globe in a jar that you can make with your child.  It shows children that sometimes our mind is whirling and feels chaotic (jar shook up with glitter swirling).  We can’t think straight, and our mind is not clear to make a safe and healthy decision.  So, we have to pause (breathe) and wait for the angry, irritated, or worry thoughts (the swirling glitter) to settle before we make a choice.  The thoughts are all still there but settled on the bottom of the jar and settled in our mind so we can think about them from a wise, clear space.

3.       Challenge Pose!  This can be a great distraction coping skill to redirect your child’s wild playful energy when it is not the time or place to be wild and playful.  Like while you are trying to make dinner or get them ready for bed.  I don’t know about you, but if I don’t slow my child down as he is winding up like a top, I know it can spin out of control until he is in tears which is no fun for anyone. Challenge poses are a time in the family yoga practice where you take terms leading the family through your favorite challenge pose and hold the pose for the length of time the leader challenges you too.  You can call it “challenge pose time” or turn it into a playful yogi says (simon says) game.  As your child is winding up, redirect it to a fierce warrior pose, a steady grounded tree, a graceful dancer, or a steady wise eagle.

As parents we are role models and mentors to our children and our actions and habits have greater impact then our words.  So, we must practice self-care and self-regulation if we want to cultivate it in our children and home.  Yoga teaches relaxation, breathing, and grounding skills.  These tools help us not live in a reactive place of stress and instead find a sense of steadiness and ease amidst the chaos and increase the harmony in our home.

May your home be filled with laughter, love, and harmony.

Yours in Mindful Movement and good health,



Mindful Movement and Mental Health Part 2 – A Mind-Body-Brain Approach to Wellness

“As we begin to re-experience a visceral re-connection with the needs of our bodies, there is a brand-new capacity to warmly love the self.  We experience a new quality of authenticity in our caring, which redirects our attention to our health, our diets, our energy, our time management.  This enhanced care for the self-arises spontaneously and naturally, not as a response to a “should.”  We are able to experience an immediate and intrinsic pleasure in self-care.” – Stephen Cope, Yoga and the Quest for the True Self.

In my last blog (part 1) I shared my introduction to the benefits of mindful movement (yoga, mindfulness meditations, breathing, and guided relaxation exercises) with the middle school students I worked with in Portland, OR.  I want to expand on how a mindful movement approach to wellness could work for you.  And just like the middle school students learned, you have the personal agency to decide what works and what doesn’t for you.

What I love about yoga and mindfulness is it asks you to pause, slow down, and non-judgmentally tune into your whole experience (thoughts, feelings, sensations, behaviors) in the present moment in a curious versus critical way.  The practices condition and train your mind to tune in and ask “What’s going on?” vs. “What’s wrong?”.  The first question, I believe opens us up to calmly and curiously attend to our experience and determine what we need.  The latter can lead to a frantic or anxiety-based reaction of labeling our experience as wrong or bad and focusing on fixing it or making it go away.  I often encourage my couples and parents to try this simple language change technique when checking in with their partner or children.  It can be a tricky habit to change. 

For example, I can easily be at home with my family and in my own head of worries while interacting with them.  Sometimes my husband notices I’m a bit off before I do.  And if he asks me “what’s wrong”, sometimes I can react defensively “What do you mean, nothing’s wrong, why do you think something is wrong?  I’m fine.” or I may respond with a detached and simple “Nothing.” And then the conversation and opportunity to connect to myself and partner at a deeper level is missed.  If he asks, “What’s going on or more specifically what’s going on for you right now you seem distracted?” I tend to pause and be more open to reflect on that question and share or re-engage fully with my family and let the distracting thoughts or feelings go.  The second phrasing of the question allowed me to return to presence with my family vs. become anxious or disconnect.   Same with children, if I ask my son “what’s wrong?”, he tends to take on the lens of hmm…what is wrong?  And he may search to answer that question from a lens of wrong when nothing was wrong to begin with.  Or he may have an emotion of anger or sadness but those are not wrong emotions to be fixed, but my what’s wrong questioning puts that filter or judgement around his feelings.  Now, I’m not saying we can never ask someone what is wrong, in fact, it is a perfectly normal, fine, and at times needed question.  The challenge is to slow down and mindfully tune in to our self and others and determine if that is the most helpful question in that moment.  This is the skill and practice of awareness and self-awareness.

So, how else does the practice of mindful movement help us tune into our whole experience?  Yoga through its movement, breathing, and relaxation practices teach us to inhabit our body.  To soothe and relax the muscles and balance our heart rate to stay calm and regulated.  Then our mind and brain can intentionally and appropriately respond to the present moment and do so in a wise and healing way.  Yoga is often referred to as bottom-up regulation.  It teaches us to tune into the body first and attend to the visceral or deep inward feelings (sensations) before the intellect which would be top-down regulation.  This is a practice, and the calming and staying in the present, is so important.

As Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book title implies “The Body Keeps Score”, meaning our body holds onto trauma and painful experiences.   If you’ve been in a car accident you know that it takes time to drive in a car again without flinching, tensing, or an increased heart rate.  Those sensations are telling you that you may be feeling anxious or scared, which makes sense, your body remembers the terror of getting into an accident.  It remembers that experience and holds onto it protectively, even if there are no current, present threats.  The work of yoga and mindfulness and trauma work in general is learning to let go of or change those associations that keep you consciously or unconsciously stuck in the trauma.  Tune in and notice you are gripping the steering wheel for your 30min drive to work or your heart is racing.  The cost of not noticing means stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) pumping through your body and you may arrive to work agitated and jumpy or tired and withdrawn.  The bottom up regulation approach would be relaxing or softening the hands, taking deep breaths and in time the association of driving and accident go away or when they come up, you know how to return to the present moment of safety via the body and breath.  Yoga is full of cues to tune into areas of your body and notice what they feel like.  It wasn’t until yoga that I realized my shoulders are often tense and up towards my ears and my jaw clenched.  Those regular cues to soften the jaw, relax the shoulders in yoga class carry through for me off the mat.  And when I notice I can breathe, relax, and let go vs. hold onto that tension that leads to muscle pain, headaches, and continued release of stress hormones.

Yoga and mindfulness also teach us to befriend our feelings and feelings are sensations in the body.  I know that may sound a bit woo woo (slang term for unconventional, supernatural, pseudo-scientific) but stick with me.  Anxiety is a top concern that brings clients into my office.  Clients comes to me feeling fearful of their anxiety, rightfully so, for some it has had debilitating effects on their relationships and life.   They experience traumatic panic attacks that leave an imprint of fear, causing them to avoid situations and events which leads to isolation and sometimes feelings of depression.  If you have ever had a panic attack, you know, it is as if you are dying and you can convince yourself you are.  So, befriending anxiety and panic may sound, well woo-woo, but again it is a practice and a trauma informed yoga approach emphasizes skill building and choice. 

For me, I often start with validating a client’s responses to their anxiety and teach them a bit about the brain and the fight, flight, freeze survival response.  I acknowledge that of course they avoid going to parties if they lead to panic attacks, that is terrifying to have experienced.  I work to lift the shame and again that “What’s wrong with me?” thinking that can keep us stuck.  I honor the strategies they are using to avoid and minimize their suffering and empower them to know they can learn new ways.  They can learn to thrive and not just survive.  They can train their brain and body to tolerate anxiety and see it as a helpful emotion versus an emotion to run from or fight.  We often start our work with awareness and learning to identify how you experience the emotion of anxiety.  I encourage clients to get curious and note throughout the week what situations trigger anxiety, what does that anxiety feel like in their body (where do they feel it?), what are their thoughts, action tendencies, and what do they actually do in those moments?  They work to note these things and by writing the thoughts they often identify their thoughts around the feelings of anxiety are anything but friendly.  We then map this out into an anxiety spiral and find an entry point to break the cycle or spiral of anxiety.  For some with anxiety, breathing is not regulating, especially if they have had panic attacks that include a feeling of suffocating and not being able to breath.  So, the entry point may be their thoughts and intentionally getting outside of their critical head and naming everything they see in their surrounding (table, chair) and then moving to the other senses (connecting to body) what do I feel (rub hand on chair they are sitting in), what do I smell, hear, taste?  We practice this in session when they are not triggered, and I encourage them to throughout the week so they can access it easier when they are. I relate the important of practice to performance activities (sports, acting, speeches), we practice so that when we are in the pressure situation, we have the confidence and muscle memory to move through it and thrive. 

A couple amazing past clients share more here on their experience of using mindful movement in counseling: https://www.danellechapman.com/what-is-mindful-movement (scroll down to “What Do Clients Say about Mindful Movement?).

Wishing you all moments to pause, tune in, respond, and thrive.

Yours in Mindful Movement and good health,


Mindful Movement and Mental Health Part 1

Many people ask how and why do I incorporate mindful movement into my mental health practice and what is it?  Great questions!  To me mindful movement is a mixture of yoga, mindfulness meditations, breathing, and guided relaxation exercises.  I was first introduced to yoga in 2010 when I went to a Yoga Calm ® training for ideas as a School Counselor.  I was working in a difficult and wonderful middle school in SE Portland OR and was in my 7th year.  I was feeling stagnant and stuck in providing the support and relief I saw the middle schoolers needed.  They were a fierce group of kids with stories longer than mine.  These young people were facing violence, poverty, neglect, and racism.  They were fighters both physically and mentally and many were stuck in that fight, flight, freeze space out of a survival need.  They often needed to be on guard and aware of their surroundings to stay safe.  So, how could I help them respectfully drop those defenses in school so they could open up to learning and healthy relationships?  I say respectfully because as a Middle-Class White woman who grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, I had no first hand understanding of what it was like to be in their shoes.  I learned through them and honestly I wanted them on guard out in the community and for some in their homes.  I however, wanted them to learn that they could choose to be vigilant or choose to relax and receive.  Receive support, care, kindness, and an education.

This is where mindfulness and yoga came in.  I started with my small groups and expanded to teaching yoga in the health classes every Friday.  Some students were resistant and that was okay.  I made sure they knew they were in charge of their bodies and the choices they made in the yoga space.  I just asked that they didn’t take away from others experiences out of their nervousness, embarrassment, or understandable awkwardness in trying something new.  We talked about how normal it is to act out or shut down when we feel these emotions.  And what did those emotions feel like in their bodies; butterflies, tightness, hot?  We used the breath or movement to slow down their critical minds to be able to tune into their bodies and make a choice on how to respond.   I was also mindful that there is no one size fits all model, so what is calming for me may not be for them, so I had them explore what was regulating and calming for them; was it moving, sitting, laying, observing, drumming?  I gave lots of options, which is what yoga is all about.  Yoga calm taught the language of saying “I’m not ready for that or I have not learned that yet.” versus “I can’t”.  I loved this because I wanted the students to have a sense of agency in that space, something they did not have in other areas of their life. “The guiding principle of recovery (from trauma) is restoring a sense of power and control to the survivor.” – Judith Herman.  Together as a class and community, we created a routine and mixed music, drumming, games, challenges, and guided relaxations into the classes. 

I further worked to make the classes relevant and to connect the lessons on the yoga mat to their worlds outside of that space, the “big yoga” as we called it.  For example, naming and understanding emotions and making choices on how to respond to them in yoga and in life.  A common one was when we did a balance pose.  We talked about what knocks us off balance in here and in life?  Our inner voice, our friends, worries, fears, these things all distract us and knock us off balance from focusing on the present moment.   We talked a lot about sadness and anger two strong emotions these kids felt.  How do we learn to work with these emotions in a way that is safe and healthy and serves us?  They are intelligent emotions and uncomfortable emotions.  These topics and more came up, I believe because the students felt settled and calm after movement or play in yoga.  This allowed them to dig deep, open up, and tolerate these deeper conversations, their minds and bodies were grounded and safe to have them.   This is when transformation happened, and students learned they could drop their guards and defenses.  They learned to trust themselves to tune in to their environment and the signals their bodies were getting and ask is this a safe place? They didn’t have to be stuck in a space of always feeling unsafe and distrustful, which isolated them.   Most students grew to love that hour each week, as did I.  It was an invitation and opportunity to show up to safe space and relax and receive the support, care, challenge, and kindness from myself and their classmates. 

I am so grateful for this introduction to the powers of yoga and mindfulness that I continue to study it and work to incorporate it in my my private practice with families, individuals, and hopefully someday couples.  Yoga and mindfulness are tools to help us overcome trauma, regulate anxiety and stress, and be present in our lives to experience joy, happiness, and love.  If you want to learn more about the science and biology of these interventions (stay tuned to part 2 of this blog) or check out Overcoming Trauma through Yoga, Reclaiming Your Body by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper, The Body Keeps Score; Brain, Mind, and Body Healing of Trauma  by Bessel Van Der Kolk, or any of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books who created Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

In eternal gratitude to the amazing middle school students in Portland OR, who taught me hope, resilience, and strength….Namaste.

Be well,


More on Mindful Movement in Counseling: https://www.danellechapman.com/what-is-mindful-movement

How do we Live a Balanced Life in an Unbalanced time?

II often find myself using the phrase “I need to find a balance” or “strike a balance.” How do we do that  when our life or community can feel like they are in turmoil?  We may be striving to find a balance between work and play, exercise and rest, healthy eating and indulging, talking and listening, silly and serious, active and relaxed, present and auto pilot, social time and alone time, enjoying the present and thinking about whatever’s next.  The work of finding balance, I believe, is pivotal in maintaining an equanimity (mental calmness, composure) that allows us to participate effectively in our families and communities.

A personal example showed up recently for me as our family prepared to move from Portland to Denver.  My son and I spent the last month with friends expressing gratitude and saying goodbye.  As a parent, I often am in the auto pilot role of parenting--busy correcting behavior and managing needs.  Sometimes  I do this to the point that I struggle to find the balance between hovering and appreciating the little person my son is becoming.  By striking the balance between over-active parenting and observing, I can more effectively receive the gifts of being a parent. 

Lately, my clients (and I) have been trying to find balance amidst the current political and social climate . It can seem impossible to find mental calmness when we are inundated with stories and experiences of injustice.  It is easy to feel overwhelmed by what we have little influence over, but there are very powerful strategies that can restore balance in these turbulent times.

The Starfish Story is one way to restore balance.  It reminds me that I should; “Do the good that is right in front of me.” Here is one version of the starfish story;

While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, picking up starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water.

He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

The old man smiled, and said, “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it into the back into the ocean past the breaking waves and said, “It made a difference for that one.”

I know for me smaller, simpler kind deeds give me the energy to believe all our actions matter.  Furthermore, it propels me to access a more balanced (grounded) state of mind which allows me to stay informed of what is happening in our communities and not shut myself off.  To ultimately be able to respond and participate more effectively in my community.

So, how do you live a balanced life during an imbalanced time? 

1)    Go slow. I know going slow can be either a privilege or seemingly impossible. But building in a few minutes of ‘slow time’ every day feeds your nervous system and your soul.

2)    Reflect regularly. It is easy to be swept up in the busy-ness of our complicated, full lives. Reflection helps connect us with our deeper purpose and with those with whom we share our lives.

3)    Practice forgiveness. There are very few areas of life where compromise is not useful. Go easy on yourself and others and remember that grudges and judgment prevent us from experiencing an expansive life.

4)    Start small. It can be enticing to start the week by trying a bunch of new practices and strategies. Instead, choose one new mindset or behavior to try for a month and take note of how it feels and the changes that ensue.

5)    Begin again. In mindfulness practices, we don’t judge our own humanity, rather we accept that we are deeply human. If today was not one of balance, tomorrow we always have the opportunity to start over.

 “Life is a Balance between Holding On and Letting Go” – Rumi

May you find the balance to step back and see with a relaxed and open heart, to hold on to what matters, and to let go of what takes you away from that which matters most.

Be Well,


Be Well,



Mindful Movement Practice - Compassion and Self-Care

It is not uncommon to feel a bit tired in the winter months.  Darker days, the adrenaline rush (drama and trauma for some) of the holidays are over, and we can fall into a rut anticipating spring.  For those working in helping professions; teachers, counselors, wellness professionals it is a busy time supporting and providing care for others.  If you aren’t in these professions most of us can think of ways we care for, support and lead others.  The key (or practice) is tuning in and knowing when we are starting to feel drained (empathy fatigue) and tapped out so we can work to recharge and renew!  This is a great time of year for self-care!  Okay, all times of the year are good times for self-care, but winter may be a good time to boost your practices if you are feeling lethargic, cynical, short-fused, or a bit more emotional than usual.  I share below a mindful movement practice that I have taught to clients and in my mindful movement classes.  I encourage you to find a quiet space to sit and reflect on the ideas presented at the beginning.  Maybe have a journal nearby to write down thoughts and feelings that come up as you think about compassion, self-compassion, self-care, resilience, and loving-kindness.  If you are not familiar with yoga, that is okay, you can have a practice of gentle stretching with the guided meditation or just do the reflecting and meditations.  It is your practice, do what feels safe and needed as you courageously turn towards yourself and your inner experiences and practice self-care.  Namaste.

The following practice is broken into the following sections; Reflection, Mindfulness Meditation, Movement, and Loving-Kindness Mediation.

       Reflection - Compassion and Self-Care with Loving-Kindness (Resilience)

As Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese zen monk, points out, “Compassion is a verb.”  It is not a thought or a sentimental feeling but is rather a movement of the heart.  As classically defined in Pali, compassion is “the trembling or the quivering of the heart.”  But how do we get our hearts to do that?  How do we “do” compassion? What gets in the way of being compassionate?

 Thoughts on how we do compassion and the barriers:

·       Compassion is born out of lovingkindness (tenderness and consideration towards others and ourselves).  It is born out of the wisdom of seeing things exactly as they are. When we are struggling and in pain confronting and accepting reality is not our instinct, it takes courage, strength, and skill!  Who wants to see the reality of an illness, we fight this reality and this fight can become a barrier to compassion and show up as denial, fear, or sense of overwhelm. 

·       Compassion also arises from the practice of inclining the mind, of refining our intention.  Is our intention to fix?  We only fix things that are broken so when our intention is to fix it is as if we are saying we are broken and our feelings and thoughts are wrong.  This is a barrier for compassion to flow through us. To do compassion we work to have the intention to feel our feelings and experience them, not fight it, but work with it, turn towards it.  In the mindfulness world this is referred to as attend and befriend.  Again We need strength, courage, and wisdom to be able to open so deeply. The state of compassion is whole and sustaining; the compassionate mind is not broken or shattered by facing states of suffering.  It is spacious and resilient. 

·       Furthermore, compassion is nourished by the wisdom of our interconnectedness.  We are all linked, and compassion is the natural response of seeing that linkage. It is caring and concern rather than a feeling of separation into us and them.  When we know we are not alone it is easier to do compassion to open up in this way.  Common Humanity vs. Isolation  https://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/

·       Lastly, wisdom of our interconnectedness arises hand in hand with learning to truly love ourselves. We best do compassion when we can be self-compassionate towards ourselves.   The Buddha said that if we truly loved ourselves, we would never harm another.  For in harming another, we diminish who we are.  When we can love ourselves, we give up the idea that we do not deserve the love and attention we are theoretically willing to give to others.

“We all have the same capacity for compassion and for peace.  Our hearts are indeed wide enough to embrace the whole world of experience both pleasurable and painful and with this knowledge comes freedom and happiness.” – Sharon Salzberg

 This to me leads to the idea of resilience.  When we know we can handle it, when we trust that we are stronger than we know, we often can relax. We can more easily let go of fear or guilt (not enough thinking) and truly be with and present in our moments and others.  We grow and learn through these experiences vs. get stuck in the pain or detached from our experience.

 To nourish our resilience, wisdom, and compassion we can practice loving kindness to ourselves and mindfully keep our heart open when we want to.  There is also wisdom in having boundaries.  With mindfulness practice we are in charge of when our heart is open and when our heart is protected.

 As you move through the practice outlined below, I invite you to bring your attention to your heart region both physically and emotionally.  Which poses challenge you to open up, to lift your chest, broaden your shoulders, and lift your gaze?  Which words and thoughts stir your heart?  Tune in to when you are embodying compassion throughout this practice.  Also, you can tune in to when you hug in or turn inward.  Some poses require you to hug in to keep you safe and stable or to take a break (such as childs pose). Some ideas you may not be ready for or want to think about and that is okay.  Practice self-compassion during these moments and be kind, treat yourself like you would a dear friend, child, or pet.  

Check In with yourself – What are your favorite self-care practices?  Complete this statement, Compassion to me is....

Mindfulness Meditation

Let’s begin, start with choosing one of the meditations below.

Sitting Meditation – Compassion for Self and Others (15min)



Self-Compassion and Loving Kindness (20min)



●        Cat Cow

●        Child's Pose

●        Sitting up - wrist exercises (rotating wrists in circles)

●        Mountain – 3 Big Deep Breaths with Sighs if desired….Let it out!

●        Eagle arms – both sides)


Sun Salutation(s) – 2-3 rounds

●      Forward Fold (option to use blocks and reminder of slight bend of the knees)

●      Kneeling Lunge (Right leg back)…..Crescent Pose, Warrior II, Warrior II with side angle

●      Plank (on knees as option)

●      Cobra

●      Table Top

●      Downward Dog (Right leg forward)

●      Kneeling lunge….(can change each round with one of these options- Crescent Pose, Warrior II, Warrior II with side angle

●      Forward Fold

●      Upward Mountain

●      Mountain


●        Child Pose

●        Cobra – option superman and swimming

●        Upward Dog

●        Thigh stretch on stomach.  Laying on stomach and bending one knee at a time and using strap or hand to hold foot and stretch thigh…careful with the knees.

●        Downward Dog

●        Seated Twists (Legs straight out front, bend right leg and plant right foot on opposite side of left leg by knee, twist to the right, left elbow on right knee….switch sides)

●        Shoulder Bridge (supported – block  or blanket under you on low back, sacrum, or not with legs stretch out one at a time for psoas stretch)

●        Seated Forward Fold

●        Single leg seated stretch


●        Rest and belly breathing- hands on belly feeling hands rise and fall on your belly

●        Core work

●        Back Twists

●        Savasana- corpse pose (rest pose) or you can return to a comfortable seat

If lying down, roll to side, pause, gently sit up, and press hands (palms) together at your heart.        

 Loving-Kindness Meditation

I encourage you to again offer words of kindness and compassion to yourself, slowly and affectionately…

 May I be safe.

May I be peaceful

May I be kind to myself

May I accept myself as I am.

“May the light in me, honor the light in you.  Namaste.” - Danelle


 Lesson by: Danelle Chapman Counseling & Mindful Movement LLC ©

When Body Positivity Backfires

“Although the trance of feeling separate and unworthy is an inherent part of our conditioning as humans, so too is our capacity to awaken.  We free ourselves from the prison of trance as we stop the war against ourselves and, instead, learn to relax to our lives with a wise and compassionate heart.” – Tara Brach

It is not uncommon in my practice to work with people on judgmental thinking and shame based self-talk.  This thinking often limits growth and leaves people feeling trapped, separate and at war against themselves as Tara Brach states in the quote above.  Most recently this has come up in my office around body image.  I hear (mostly) woman say, “I know I should be positive and accepting of my body….you know body positivity, self-love”  Oh the dreaded “should”.  Most clients smile at me when they say “should” and follow it up with a “I know, I know quit shoulding on myself”.   We smile together.  I love when people catch their destructive thinking patterns, relax with a smile, and do not attach to the unhelpful thought.   I encourage them to turn that should into an “I want” and get curious, what do they need and want and why?  I sometimes then hear “I want to be healthier and feel better in my body…and yes, I do want to weigh less and be thinner.”  They then go on to say how shameful and guilty they feel about wanting this.  This is the paradox, it is okay to feel negative about our body and still ascribe to the body positivity movement and all it stands for.  In fact it is quite normal to have “negative” moments about ourselves, our situation, and our bodies.  The balance is finding space for all the moments.  It is also how we relate to those negative moments and what we do with them that contributes to our well being or not.

The practices of mindfulness and self-compassion teach us to work to attend and befriend all our feelings and thoughts (comfortable and uncomfortable) and not move into that reactive place of fight (this is wrong), flight (avoid), freeze (numb).  The body positivity movement backfires when we think it means we should never feel bad or negative about our body or that accepting our bodies means we cannot work to transform them to a healthier, more authentic, balanced version of who we are.   It is okay to want to lose weight.  It is all about how we go about it.  Shaming ourselves for the way our body looks or shaming ourselves for not accepting our bodies are both toxic. 

Self-Compassion is key because when we’re able to be gentle with ourselves in the midst of shame, we’re more likely to reach out, connect, and experience empathy.” – Brene Brown

Acceptance is meeting ourselves where we are at and honestly and empathically seeing the reality of our situation as difficult and uncomfortable as it is.  You’ve heard me say, acceptance does not mean agreement.  So, we can accept our bodies, love our bodies, and still want to change them.  The work is coming to appreciate your body from a holistic and realistic place. It is so much more than how it looks.  I often encourage people to look to their relatives and realistically embrace the body type they were given genetically from their families.  Is your family known for strong powerful legs, curvy hips, big loving arms? This practice helps you to love your body and honor where it came from and not work to change it to an unrealistic version of what it should be.  I also suggest the practice of expressing gratitude for the parts of the body and what they do.  For example, I am grateful for my arms for being able to lift my son and give people hugs.  Gratitude and appreciation are wonderful gateways to acceptance and joy. 

In addition to expressing gratitude and appreciation for your body and its different parts, catching and noting that self-critic builds your awareness, so you can work to honor the feelings and thoughts that come up with being imperfect.  Yes, honor the negative feelings and thoughts.  We then acknowledge we are not alone, everyone has aspects of their body they’re unhappy with.  We can then work to be kind, supportive, and understanding towards ourselves and that is the energy that leads to being healthy.

“With self-compassion, we don’t need to be perfect in order to feel good about ourselves.  We can drop the obsessive fixation with being thin enough or pretty enough and accept ourselves as we are; even revel in who we are. Being comfortable in our own skin allows us to focus on what’s really important: being healthy – and that always looks good” – Kristin Neff




Listen and Live with a Compassionate Heart

"Compassion, a sense of universal responsibility, thinking of others as your brothers and sisters and all human beings as one family -- that is the antidote for fear, hate and jealousy." – Dalai Lama

As a parent, counselor, and human I feel strongly about cultivating and practicing compassion.  I believe this most strongly when I feel cut off from my compassion instinct and overwhelmed and swept away by the enormity of the pain in this world.  I feel empowered knowing that through mindfulness practices I can access it again.   We have the ability to tune in to others in a deep way during times of not just love, but also pain.  Fred Rogers believes the inability to feel, talk about, and manage feelings (ingredients of compassion) disable us;

“Part of the problem with the word 'disabilities' is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can't feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren't able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities.” 
― Fred Rogers, The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember

The value of getting in touch with our feelings and others and forming close and strong relationships is an ability we all have.  Empathy and compassion are the skills to do this.  Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese zen monk, points out that, “Compassion is a verb.”  It is not a thought or a sentimental feeling but is rather a movement of the heart, an action.  As classically defined in Pali, compassion is “the trembling or the quivering of the heart.”  How do we get our hearts to do that?  How do we “do” compassion? And what gets in the way of being compassionate?

Compassion has been said to be hardwired, innate in both the evolutionary and neurobiological arenas.  It is an instinctual habit that triggers our reward system.  Compassion can get blocked in an increasingly anxiety and fear-provoking world.  We become hijacked by our limbic system and we can get stuck in a protective state of fight, flight, freeze and cut off from our compassion.  Tara Brach describes this beautifully in her talk “What’s It Like Being You?”.

Compassion is a courageous act, it asks you to be with others pain.  Sometimes we can go into a flight response because we don’t want to feel that pain, it is too much.   We reach a point of empathic distress.  We are a sponge about to burst from absorbing others pain and not knowing what to do with it, so we turn or run away.  We can also have a freeze response to this sense of overwhelm and move into a protective numbing or freeze space and we cut off.  Lastly, you can go into a fight response, you have a defensive reaction, judgement, or a anger toward the situation or person.  It is not uncommon to be able to relate to all three of these states.  I saw these responses a lot in my work in the schools.   The inequities and social justice issues provoked anger, sadness, and burnout.  Well-meaning compassionate individuals got trapped in the dilemma of it is not fair, it is too much, and it is.  However, we have to move beyond that pain and transform it into care and connection.  The cost not to is too great and is as Fred Rogers described, a real disability.

I’d see educators experience empathy fatigue.  They’d get stuck in the unpleasantness, they were that sponge with no space to absorb anymore.  The work was to move them to a mindful place, release the pain, create space, and unblock the compassion. I love the metaphor of be the ocean, not the waves.  When we practice mindfulness our body is relaxed and present and our mindset is expansive or larger and we have room for the pain (the waves).  We are then the ocean influencing the waves.  

So, how do we do this?

Practice caring connection.  This can be as simple as building community.  Saying “Hello, how are you?” to our neighbors, shop keepers, mail people, teachers, and truly wanting to know the answer, pushing past the “I’m fine” response.  Or even simpler, smile and make eye contact, see all people as human beings worthy of being seen and treated with kindness even if it is not returned or received, that may be their hurt or cut off from compassion. 

Be curious and inquisitive.  Learn to listen wholeheartedly with your mind, body, and heart.  Hear not only the words, but sense the emotions, and name empathize and validate other people’s experiences.  I teach my parents and couples about the skill of attunement to build trust.

A – Awareness of partner’s negative emotion 

T – Turning toward partner 

T – Tolerance 

U – Understanding 

N – Non-defensive responding 

E – Empathy

Source: John Gottman

Practice mindfulness; pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.   It is natural for our mind to wander and be preoccupied with our own stuff, step out of that endless thought stream and engage with the world around you.  And my favorite, Tara Brach’s RAIN. The acronym RAIN is an easy-to-remember tool for practicing mindfulness and compassion using the following four steps:

R- Recognize what is going on;

A – Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;

I – Investigate with interest and care;

N – Nourish with self-compassion.

Release, renew and reenergize; wring out and release that sponge I mentioned earlier.  Move your body; run, bike, walk, dance, dig in the dirt (garden), practice yoga.  Create art, music, poetry.  Play and be silly! Sing, Laugh, Cry, Yell, whatever you do, let it out!

May we all find the courage to listen and live with a compassionate heart.  Namaste

Main Source: Tara Brach https://www.tarabrach.com/what-is-it-like-being-you/




Anchoring with Imagery


I recently got my second tattoo and while my brother lovingly and jokingly says “You are one more tattoo away from a biker gang”, I realize the power of grounding and anchoring in imagery these days.  Now, you do not need to get these images tattooed onto your body to find your steadiness and ease in the world, but it can be helpful to associate your values and intentions with an image.  

Grounding and Identifying Resource Anchors are two mindfulness strategies to move through and not get swept away by big emotions.

Grounding: Sitting comfortably, become aware of the sensations where your feet meet the ground; the weight of your body on your seat; the contact places where your arms or hands rest on your legs. Let your breath be slow and full, and feel the sense of gravity, of belonging to the earth. With your senses awake, recognize that “I am here in this moment, right now.”

You can also ground yourself by touching an object that you experience in either a pleasant or neutral way. It might be something you carry with you such as a stone, shell, pencil, piece of jewelry or meaningful talisman. Or it could be touching the fabric of your clothing or the material of a chair or sofa. Another approach to grounding is to name ten things you are noticing in the room you are in, or name what you are seeing outside.

Resource anchors: These are places to rest the attention that can help collect and quiet the mind, as well as arouse an increased sense of ease. They can be employed separately or in some combination.

·       Be aware of sensations in the body that are neutral or pleasant like the feet or hands; feeling the whole body sitting; or open to sounds and the space they are occurring in.

·       Place your hand(s) gently on your heart, belly or cheek (or a combination of these) and feel the sensations of warmth and contact. You might also hug yourself.

·       Mentally repeat a whispered phrase of reassurance, comfort or love:

“It’s okay sweetheart.” “I’m sorry and I love you.” “I’m here with you.” You might also repeat a set of phrases, as in the lovingkindness or metta practice: “May I be happy, may I be free from inner or outer harm, may I be peaceful, may I be free.”

·       Visualize something or someone that brings a sense of comfort, safety or love - a person who you trust, a place in nature where you feel at home, a spiritual figure or deity. You might imagine a loving being embracing you and/or filling you with healing light. 

Resource: https://www.tarabrach.com/working-with-fear/

I thank my son for finding the extraordinary in the ordinary and reminding me of the value of noting what I see in the world and the meaning I can pull from it as a resource, an anchor, a steady point of attention.  He sees things through a beginner’s mind, which is an attitude of mindfulness many of us work to practice.  Beginners mind refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would. 

As we all know life is busy, life is full, and if we don’t take the time to pause it races past.  My favorite thing to do is go on walks with my son and watch him stop and look at everything, this is especially grand when we have no time restrictions.  He loves to pick up flowers and stones and give them to me and his Dad as gifts.  Some may say he picks weeds and gravel, but to him they are beautiful treasures.  A beginner’s mind at its best, his lack of preconceptions, openness and eagerness allow him to just experience the moment with the attention of wonder and mystery and in turn cultivate joy.  Such potential in walking through the world this way.  

He loves dandelions and like most children loves when they are dead and he can blow the fuzzy white seeds into the air and make wishes.  This was the inspiration for my latest tattoo, cheesy maybe, but to me it is beautiful.   A reminder life is short, dream and make wishes, and our seeds spread and grow everywhere.  The last one being a powerful reminder that how we show up with others matters in ways we may never know.  We never know if a smile at a stranger plants a seed of hope in their soul or if an extra minute listening to someone plants a seed of being valued in this world.  I want my son to remember this lesson he has reminded me of through the image of the dandelion, now forever on my shoulder.

What images ground and anchor you in what matters most and remind you of how you want to live your moments? 

May you find a steadiness and ease in the images around you. Namaste.

Forgiveness is for the Forgiver

“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.  Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Forgiveness is a practice, and a painful and difficult one at that.  It is one we resist because it is so challenging to let go of the anger, resentment, and hatred that we cling to so fiercely when someone has harmed us.  That anger, resentment, and hatred become our shield, our armor.  We ground ourselves fiercely in a stance that no one will ever harm us like that again.  This is a fine stance to take, yet the harm to ourselves comes when it leads to us cutting off love and disconnecting from others and from ourselves.  Meditation teacher and Psychologist Tara Brach teaches us that “When we have been betrayed and wounded, when we are threatened and afraid, holding onto resentment is a way of protecting ourselves.  It is our way of armoring against the experience of raw pain.”

When I work with clients around forgiveness I treat it like a grief process in that there are stages and phases of forgiveness.  The work is in building the capacity, skills, and strength to bring awareness, loving and compassionate awareness to each phase we are in.  It is okay to be angry, it is normal and makes sense, again it is protective.  We need to honor and experience the anger in conscious and safe way.  It is by naming and feeling the anger that it begins to loosen its grip, be released, and we heal.  We can then begin to relax and create the space to trust and forgive.  We practice forgiveness to be open to love.  This is a courageous act, to let that armor down, maybe not all the time, but if we remain locked in our anger and unable to forgive, I agree with Dr. Martin Luther King in that we cannot love. 

In the words of Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck, "We forgive for the freedom of our own hearts."  Forgiveness is for the forgiver.  To me choosing to forgive and practicing forgiveness is a lifetime practice or as Dr. Martin Luther King says, a constant attitude.  It does not mean that we become passive to the person who is causing the harm, and it does not mean we condone the harmful behavior.  It means that we do not allow them to have the power and influence over us to shape our worldview and to live in the grips of anger, fear, and hatred.  More eloquently Tara Brach says “Forgiving is a movement of your heart not to carry aversive hatred or blame. That you can care about someone and still create boundaries… Each of you has this wisdom, heart, being place that intuits that there really isn’t freedom in the moments that you’re carrying blame and judgment.”

I can’t stress enough that this is a courageous practice and a practice to come to in your own time, much like the stage of acceptance in the grief process.  Acceptance, like forgiveness does not mean agreement with what happened, nor does it mean that you will feel good or okay.  It does not ignore the harm, trauma, or wrongdoing.  Acceptance is the practice of coming to terms with the reality of what happened.  We forgive, sometimes it is ourselves we are forgiving and sometimes others. To quote Lily Tomlin, “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.”  And much like grief there is no end to forgiveness.  We will walk through life being reminded and triggered of the harm that happened to us and we will feel pain.  That pain may show up as anger and an armoring.  This is an opportunity to once again compassionately and courageously practice forgiveness to remain open to love.

Here are some of my favorite resources to guide myself and my clients in this work:




May you all find the freedom and love in practicing forgiveness.  Namaste.


Loving Your Body from the Top Down

“It's like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.” ― Patrick Rothfuss

Practicing self-compassion, especially for women when it comes to body image, is not easy.  I work on my practice of having a healthy body image on a fairly regular basis, and the “aha” came for me when I stopped trying to get my body “right” and instead focused on getting my mind “right”.  You see, you can be a size small, and still think you are fat and not good enough.  It is like those funny mirrors at the carnival when you are struggling with body image issues.  What you see is not reality, what you see is the self-image you have of yourself in your head.  So, the exercise of loving your body doesn’t start at the gym, it starts at the top (your mind) and works its way down to your body.

So, how do we do this work?  It really is individual to each person and a good place to start is to think back to childhood.  Much of our self-image is rooted in how we were treated and seen by our early attachment figures, which is often our parent or guardian.  This is where our core beliefs start to form.  The good news is we can challenge the core beliefs that no longer serve us and create new ones.  For me, I received mixed messages growing up.   I had incredibly encouraging parents who complimented me often and always told me they were proud of me and that I was beautiful.  They encouraged athletics and being active (going outside and running around), we ate healthy (the four food groups), and enjoyed sweets and treats in moderation and often, only after we finished our greens.  The mixed message came in watching my mom exercise compulsively, eat not much more than salad, take diet pills, and put herself down for how she looked.   You know that question that makes our friends and partners roll their eyes; “Does this make me look fat?”  That was a common question my mom asked which got me thinking at a young age about the importance of not being fat or being perceived as fat by others.  I wish I could say I haven’t asked this question, and that how I felt about myself wasn’t influenced by how I look or how I think others think I look, but at times it is.  I have learned that it doesn’t matter how the receiver of this question answers it, it matters how I answer it.  So, do I blame my mom for my unhealthy body image? No!  Instead, I have compassion for her and wonder where she learned to view her body and self and practice self-compassion for myself. 

I am a big fan of Kristin Neff and her work on self-compassion.  She outlines three elements of self-compassion and I believe you can apply each element to your practice of learning to love your body from the top down.

1.     Self-Kindness – This is being gentle and understanding with ourselves, especially when we fail, make mistakes, and struggle.  It is also the knowing that making mistakes and having life difficulties is inevitable.  So, when it comes to body image, instead of getting angry at yourself and labeling yourself as “bad” when you ate too much, didn’t exercise, have put on a few pounds, or don’t fit into your favorite pair of pants, challenge yourself to practice self-kindness.  A good measure is to think, what you would say to your best friend if they were going through what you were experiencing? Would you call them a fat, loser?  Probably not, instead you’d take a gentle and encouraging approach.  You may remind them that they are beautiful and that you love them regardless of how they look, and that one extra piece of cake isn’t the end of the world.  You may say, “Your body is amazing and strong; remember that bike ride we took last weekend?”

2.     Common Humanity – This is “recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience - something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.  It also means recognizing that personal thoughts, feelings and actions are impacted by “external” factors such as parenting history, culture, genetic and environmental conditions, as well as the behavior and expectations of others.”  You are not alone!  Here are some sobering statistics from the National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders which exemplifies that body image is a common issue on women’s mind from a young age: (http://www.anad.org/):

  • 91% of women surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting. 22% dieted “often” or “always.”
  • 47% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures.
  • 69% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape.
  • 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner (Collins, 1991).
  • 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat (Mellin et al., 1991).

The challenge is to not give into the “external” factors and take on the helpless mentality of “I guess I will always hate my body”, “If only mom would have role modeled something different and I didn’t read fashion magazines, I’d love my body”.  The purpose of the element of common humanity is to pull us outside of ourselves, to move past the shame and blame and recognize we are human.  We learned to think and feel a certain way about ourselves because of the influence of “external” factors.  We are not just “weak, wrong, or bad” for learning to think this way, and we can unlearn this unhealthy way of relating to ourselves! 

3.     Mindfulness – “The willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity, so that they are held in mindful awareness. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them.” This is a healthy mindset to take on and practice a healthy body image.  Like I said from the beginning, the practice of loving your body starts in the head.  So, the next time you put on that pair of jeans and they are a bit tight or you find yourself comparing yourself to your thin best friend, be willing to honestly and courageously observe your negative thoughts and emotions.  We can’t change our thoughts, but we can catch them, check them, and challenge them and work towards changing our unhealthy reactions to them.  One suggestion is to take a deep breath and practice compassionate self-talk when you catch your negative body image self-talk.  Neff suggests:

“This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment?
May I give myself the compassion I need?”

Kristin also has several self-compassion meditations on her website, http://www.self-compassion.org/guided-self-compassion-meditations-mp3.html.

While I know I will never reach a perfect place of loving my body all the time. What I do know is that I have influence over how I think about my body, how I feel about my body, and how I treat my body.  I know that I am not alone in this struggle.  I know that my body is strong and allows me to run, hike up mountains, and practice pilates and yoga on a regular basis…oh and have a baby and still do these things, wow! I have learned to appreciate and compliment my body for what it can do and the experiences it has given me versus how it looks.  I practice loving my body from the top down.

“People often say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder.“ – Salma Hayek






Lessons Learned as a School Counselor

 “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

I’m approaching the end of my career as a School Counselor and as I move through the grief of this transition I feel excitement, sadness, and an immense amount of gratitude for all the lessons I have learned.  I’m a firm believer that we can feel some or all of the stages and phases of grief anytime we experience a significant change whether it is chosen or not.  And sometimes we deny ourselves from feeling them in fear that we are making the wrong decision.  We may ask ourselves why do I feel so sad and/or scared if this is the right or best thing to do? Well, because it is a change, it is new, and there are unknowns and you could fail….it is a risk to make a big change!  For me, I loved being a School Counselor.  I began my career at 24 and have grown up so much in the profession.

After moving through the sadness and fear I find myself filled with peace and gratitude.  Much of this is due to reflecting on all I have learned as a School Counselor, and the appreciation that who I am reflects the people and experiences in my life. 

“As we express gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them” – John F. Kennedy.  I will take these lessons with me beyond the school setting and live them in my roles as mom, wife, friend, daughter, sister, neighbor, counselor, and human.  Thank you.

·       Be Present with your Presence.  Your body language, eye contact, and attention communicate more than words.  And, some problems or challenges do not need thoughts, opinions, or reflections, they just need to be heard, valued, and given a space to breathe.

·       Be Curious vs. Critical.  Being curious keeps you open and connected while being overly critical keeps you closed and disconnected.

·       Value and see everyone, we are a community.  A simple way to do this, learn names, use them, and pronounce them correctly.  We are all connected and we all have value and influence.

·       Do the good that is right in front of you. This is especially helpful when feeling swallowed up and overwhelmed by the injustices, tragedies, and stressors of life. 

·       Don’t get trapped in the dilemmas. When you find yourself complaining, cynical, and agitated more than celebrating, believing, and calm you are becoming a part of the problem….self-care, self-care, self-care.

·       See the good…there is so much good…and let that fuel you through the not so good.

·       The highs are high and the lows are low.  Pace yourself.  And you get to choose how you ride those highs and lows.

May we all be open and grateful to the daily experiences and moments that shape our lives.  Namaste.



Spring Renewal by Seeing the Goodness

All beings are flowers


In a blossoming universe.

—Soen Nakagawa

Spring time is upon us and the season of spring often refers to a time of hope, youth and growth.  Flowers start to bloom symbolizing new life and growth and there can be a sense of hope that the drudgery and difficulties of winter are behind us.   Spring is often seen as a time of renewal, a time to rebloom into our full potential.  I have been thinking about this reblooming and returning to a space of hope, youth, and growth.  For me, it comes from a conscious choice to start to shed an energy that was the opposite of hope, youth, and growth.  I was feeling trapped, defeated, and stuck and found myself attending way to often to those things that fueled those feelings resulting in discontent and unhappiness.  I started my shift out of this by asking myself the question that I often ask my clients.  What do you want to experience more of in your life and how can you create and invite that?

I want, like most of us, to experience more kindness and goodness.  I want to see the goodness in myself and others and the world.  I was in a phase or slump of feeling trapped in seeing the cruelness and injustices.  Consequently my emotions, behaviors, and interactions with myself and others was impacted.  I was cutting off and feeling critical vs. connecting and feeling compassion.  I was falling into the pattern of blaming others for my irritated or agitated mood and interpreting their behavior in a critical “What’s wrong with them?”  lens vs. a “Gosh, they must be having a tough day, what’s going on and how can I help?”  My motivation to get this in check was not just for myself, but also for my son.  I want my son to see the goodness in the world and feel a sense of connectedness from carrying this mindset.  And I of course want him to act out of kindness vs. criticalness or cruelness.  I do not want him to be naive and out of touch with the difficulties in our world, I want him to know how to experience discomfort and pain in a healthy, effective way.  I like any parent want him to find a balance.  And as parents we all know role modeling is the best teaching tool.  So, I began my spring renewal to practice what I desire for him and ultimately myself.  I set an intention to be kind and work to see the secret goodness in this world.  Jack Kornfield introduced me to the practice of seeing the goodness, the beauty of the heart in his book The Wise Heart.  I share the practice he recommends below:

1)       Wait for a day when you awaken in a fine mood, when your heart is open to the world. If such days are rare, choose the best you have. Before you start for work, set the clear intention that during the morning you will look for the inner nobility of three people. Carry that intention in your heart as you speak or work with them. Notice how this perception affects your interaction with them, how it affects your own heart, how it affects your work. Then choose five more days of your best moods, and do this practice again five more times.

2)       After starting a day in this way five times, set the clear intention to practice seeing the secret goodness for a whole day with as many people as you can. Of course, you will find certain difficult people. Save them for later, and practice first with those whose nobility and beauty is seen most easily. When you have done this as best you can for a day, choose one day a week to continue this practice for a month or two.

3)       Finally, as you become more naturally able to see the secret goodness, expand your practice. Add more days. Try practicing on days that are more stressful. Gradually include difficult people, include strangers, until your heart learns to silently acknowledge and bless all whom you meet. Aim to see as many beings as you can with a silent, loving respect.

The practice of seeing the goodness in others is to me fuel for the heart and mind to stay grounded and rooted in what is most important to us.  And for me this practice allows me to repair and renew my heart and mind to face the cruelty and injustice that very much does exist, but not get stuck in it.  Furthermore, it creates and invites more hope, growth and goodness and less fear, stagnation and cruelness.  Thomas Merton profoundly says “Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in the eyes of the divine.  If only they could all see themselves as they really are.  If only we could see each other that way all the time.  There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed….I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”

May we all pause and see the secret goodness and beauty in our hearts and those around us.  Namaste and Happy Spring.



A Peaceful and Steady Heart

Keeping a peaceful and steady heart in the midst of human suffering is one of the most important practices I can think of during times where we feel shattered, hopeless, and afraid.  We all have or will have these moments of losing faith and struggling to return to some sense of wholeness.  I wish our human spirits did not need to be challenged in this way, yet the reality is they often are.  In our deepest moments of sorrow, we have a choice to respond with compassion or react with fear.

Easier said than done.  This does not mean we can’t or won’t be afraid, get angry, or feel immense pain.  The intent is to tap into our steady, peaceful, and wise heart and find healthy, helpful, and safe ways to feel and express all these emotions.  This is the practice of equanimity.  Jack Kornfield beautifully writes in his book A Lamp in the Darkness that “Equanimity is an attitude of open receptivity in which all experience is welcomed. It’s a way to keep a peaceful and steady heart in the midst of it all.  It is finding a balance between pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame. For example, if we focus only on feelings of love and compassion without a balance of equanimity and peace, we can get overly attached to the way we want things to be. Also, while we can love the world and hold the sorrows of the world in compassion, we also need equanimity and peace to teach us balance with the things we cannot change.

I recently taught a yoga class in which we covered equanimity and peace and after I read the words above, I said “sounds lovely, doesn’t it?”  The challenge and struggle with this is how do we find a balanced perspective and accept that we cannot change, for example, what happened in Parkdale Florida? I can’t answer that question, I still long to believe that while we can’t change that it happened, we can make changes, so it doesn’t keep happening.  I wonder, and I guess hope that if we work individually and with our communities to relate to all the emotions we are experiencing around this event, others like them, or our own personal traumas in a more compassionate and balanced way we will return to wholeness and not stay heartbroken and shattered and reactive.  I know I feel a responsibility to stay open and receptive to all of life’s experiences to promote a sense of safety and peace in this world and not live gripped in a reactive fear place.  How do I do this?  I work to practice mindfulness with an attitude of equanimity.  This is both a simple and difficult practice. 

The simplicity comes in that mindfulness is about awareness and compassion.  The complexity is staying present with compassion while holding in our awareness violence, death, murder, and human suffering.  Our instinct while being exposed to these realities is fight, flight, freeze a protective response.  So, I encourage pacing yourself and finding a balance.  Again, the practice of equanimity comes in finding the balance between pleasure and pain, love and loss, conflict and peace.  I have a quote in my phone from Jack Kornfield, I’m not even sure where I heard it that says, “When we deny our happiness we lessen the importance of their deprivation.”  This reminds me that when I am feeling consumed by another’s loss or tragedy and feel guilt for my happiness to be grateful for my happiness and not take it for granted.  This I hope in some way honors the gravity of other losses and tragedies.  I further think of what the poet Jack Gilbert wrote in his very powerful poem Refusing Heaven “We must risk delight.  We can do without pleasure, but not delight.  Not enjoyment.  We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.  To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.”

Equanimity is often further explained with the quote “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf”.  We sometimes can’t stop the waves of difficulty from coming but we can work to practice responding from a steady and peaceful heart.  This does not mean withdrawal or indifference which could be the freeze or flight response, again that is a fear response.  Equanimity calls for an acceptance.  And again, easier said than done, who wants to accept that 17 people died senselessly in a mass shooting?  Acceptance does not mean agreement, it means we do not fight the reality of the situation.  We grieve, heal, and respond from a steady present heart vs. a reactive and fearful heart.  We do not forget to practice gratitude and happiness during these times just as much as we do not forget to practice releasing our anger and sadness through tears, advocacy work, and courageous conversations.

“May we find balance and peace, compassion and equanimity, amidst all the things of this world.”

Resource: A Lamp in the Darkness Jack Kornfield.




Feel your Feelings in 2018

I have been tossing around the usual new year blog ideas; goals, intentions, making changes and none of them resonated with me like the skill and practice of “feeling your feelings”.  That may seem like an obvious and unavoidable practice to some, but in my work as a Counselor I am often working with my clients to move out of numbing, avoiding, or feeling traumatized by their feelings and courageously feeling them so that they can heal.  Chris Germer, a well known psychologist coined one of my favorite phrases and reminders; “When we feel, we heal”.  I further want to dig into this practice with you because I was struck by a Harvard poll stating that millennials (those in the age rage of 18-38) are filled with more fear and dread than hope for their future.  Wow!  What will our future look like if we operate from a emotional place of fear and dread?

Tara Brach points out that “While fear is a natural and intelligent emotion, when fear goes on overdrive, we are in a trance of fear that contracts our body, heart and mind. Our resistance to the direct experience of fear sustains the trance and leads to decisions and behaviors that harm ourselves and others. Only by facing fear with mindfulness and compassion can we awaken from trance and reconnect with our capacity for creativity and full aliveness, wisdom and love.”  Furthermore, Brene Brown says “We’re all afraid. We just have to get to the point where we understand it doesn’t mean that we can’t also be brave.”

So, how do we unravel fear, understand it, feel it, and be brave and not paralyzed by it or destructive in our reactions to it?  Fear is what you experience when you are actually in a stressful or threatening situation, it is a present-moment emotional experience.  It is an automatic response to a threat.  Yet we can become conditioned to feel fear as a protective factor even when we are not in threatening situations.  We become in the habit of seeing the world thru a fearful lens.  This may be in reaction to trauma or chronic stress and anxiety.  Our mind and body stays in fight, flight, freeze mode and always on the lookout for the next threat.  So, to unravel and understand it we can practice mindfulness. We name it and challenge the story we are telling ourselves that perpetuates it.  While yes there are scary things that may have happened in your past and may happen in your future, what is happening right now?  Can you pause, relax, and tell yourself you are safe in this moment?  When you do this your behavior is more apt to be intentional, rational, and responsive, driven by courage and wisdom vs. irrational, impulsive and reactive, driven by fear.  

A common fear I work with is loss and death.  When we live in fear of losing the ones we love, being abandoned, facing a illness or tragedy we can miss out on moments of joy and even resist them.  Brene Brown terms this “foreboding joy”.  She describes this phenomenon as “When something good happens, our immediate thought is that we’d better not let ourselves truly feel it, because if we really love something we could lose it. So we shut down our ability to completely enjoy so that we can also shut down our capacity for feeling loss.”  This is not feeling your feelings.  What would it be like to learn to embrace uncertainty, change, grief, and loss so that we can also embrace love, hope, and peace?  I say we need to love hard the ones we love, because it will change, we will lose them and they will lose us.  Think of what you give up and miss out on when you don’t?  Human beings are strong and fierce and resilient.  I witness this time and time again in my work.  So as we enter 2018, let us be brave, unravel our fears and face them, soften our armor, and connect and reach out with love and compassion.

Below are some of my favorite phrases and practices to remind me of the value to feel your feelings and challenge fear:

  • Difficult Emotions x Resistance = Destructive Emotions (Chris Germer)

  • Name it to Tame It (Dan Siegel)

  • “I feel ________” vs. “I am __________.” http://www.drdansiegel.com/about/mindsight/

  • What we resist, persists (Chris Germer)

  • When we feel, we heal (Chris Germer)

  • Label your emotions with calm attention vs. Worried Attention

  • Distract - Relax - Cope

  • Stop - Take a Breath - Observe - Proceed

  • Practice Gratitude (opposite of foreboding joy) By practicing gratitude for what you have you acknowledge the meaning and magnitude of someone else's loss.  Where attention goes, energy flows.  Challenge your fear based lens and recognize and acknowledge the moments and experiences you are grateful for to cultivate a feeling of peace, contentedness, and joy.  This is the energy needed to move through the difficult times.

Links to mindfulness meditations to listen to:




Daring Greatly Brene Brown


Practice Compassion towards Self and Others

“A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest-a kind of optical delusion of consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” – Einstein

We seem to be at a time more than ever when we are the most connected yet the most disconnected.  Many connect effortlessly via texting, messaging, and social media, and their lives our out there for many to view.  Yet are we really connecting with each other in a way that fuels happiness, life satisfaction, motivation, and mental well being?  I would argue, not fully. 

To give and receive compassion and cultivate its full benefits; happiness, life satisfaction, motivation, connectedness, mental well-being, I feel we need to be present with ourselves and for the most part physically present with others.  Yes, we can cultivate it via technology, but I hope we can all agree that physical touch and proximity are much more impactful than connecting via technology.  It is in these physically present moments where mirror neurons can fire via eye contact and physical touch and lasting connection with compassion occurs.

So, what is compassion and how do we practice it?  Thich Nhat Hanh states “compassion is a verb, it is not a thought or a sentimental feeling but is rather a movement of the heart.”  Further in Pali compassion is defined as “the trembling or quivering of the heart.”  You may have also heard compassion defined as “to suffer with”.  This type of openheartedness can be scary and we may doubt our abilities to be this present with ourselves and others.  And to be honest at times, we may not want to go to this place.  We may be feeling a certain way; unhappy, stressed, anxious, angry, hopeless, sad and these emotions can drain us and cut us off from wanting to be openhearted to ourselves and others.   This is why compassion practices are just that, practices, and practices that are courageous and imperfect.

Kristin Neff is the expert in Self-Compassion and says it is “extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering or giving ourselves the same care and kindness we’d give to a good friend.”  And much like the metaphor around self-care that talks about when on an airplane, if there is an emergency, put the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping someone else.  This idea I believe is similar with compassion practices.  We must practice self-compassion before we can fully and honestly give compassion to others.  A favorite quote of mine to exemplify this is “The Buddha said that if we truly loved ourselves, we would never harm another.  For in harming another, we diminish who we are.  When we can love ourselves, we give up the idea that we do not deserve the love and attention we are theoretically willing to give to others.”   Again, remember compassion is a practice and therefore we are not perfectly loving towards ourselves and others at all times.  The practice is to notice, catch, and pause when we are being the opposite of self-compassionate and compassionate towards others.  When we find ourselves being judgmental, cutting off or isolating, or self-absorbed or over-identifying to negative emotions, this is a time to slow down and practice self-compassion.

Kristin Neff outlines three elements of Self-Compassion and has many exercises and meditations on her website for you to try out http://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/#guided-meditations.

The three elements of Self-Compassion and their opposites are:

1.       Self-Kindness vs. Self-Judgement (Fight)

2.       Common Humanity vs. Isolation (Flight)

3.       Mindfulness vs. Over Identification or Self-Absorption (Freeze)

I included the Fight, Flight, Freeze because what helped me with embracing this practice is understanding some of the research behind it.  Often people feel that being kind to oneself is too soft and will not propel us or motivate us to make change.  They misinterpret self-compassion as just accepting the status quo.  Self-compassion is a way of relating to ourselves and yes embracing ourselves flaws and all.  It is accepting ourselves honestly as we are.  And acceptance does not mean agreement. 

So, I may be unhappy with my physical health and want to be healthier and using self-kindness vs. self-criticism as a motivator will be more effective.  Research shows that being self-critical actually undermines our motivations.  We tap into our reptilian brain and feel threatened (fight response) and attack the problem and the problem is ourselves.  When attacking ourselves and in that fight response we are releasing cortisol leading to high levels of stress or even depression to deal with the stress.  Self-compassion elicits the opposite response, instead of feeling threatened, we feel safe.  Self-compassion via loving kindness creates the optimal mind state to do our best and change.  It taps into our mammalian brain or care giving system.  This is warmth, gentle touch, and soft vocalizations which release oxytocin and opiates, the feel good hormones.  I always think of how I teach children or pets.  I don’t berate them and criticize them, I often lower my voice and am encouraging to create a space of comfort and safety.  This ideally allows them to feel motivated and willing to take a risk, maybe make a mistake and  ultimately learn and grow.   So, why not turn this practice towards ourselves to support a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset that can leave us stuck.

So, how do you practice self-compassion?  You work to recognize and allow all your feelings and thoughts to rise to the present mind and choose to respond with love and care and encouragement.  My favorite sayings by Chris Germer are “What we resist persists” and “What we can feel, we can heal.”  So, when faced with a failure, insecurity, perceived inadequacy, or sense of suffering work to soften and not resist what is happening.  When you resist and fight it you are more likely to tap into the reactive and often fear based fight, flight, freeze response.  I encourage you to practice mindfulness and get curious, feel your feelings, and heal and change and grow and thrive!

One last great tool is the RAIN of Self-Compassion by Tara Brach

Recognize what is going on.

Allow the experience to be there, just as it is.

Investigate with interest and care.

Nourish with self-compassion.

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama


Reflections on Gratitude and Joy

“When you go to a garden do you look more at the thorns or the flowers?” – Rumi

We are entering the seasons of Gratitude and Joy, we see these phrases all over and yet, how often to we slow down and reflect on if we are truly practicing and cultivating these feelings?  And what do they mean?  How do we know we are grateful and joyous?  “Where attention, goes, energy flows”, so here we go bringing our full attention and awareness to these concepts.

To me and I know many others, gratitude and joy go hand in hand.  A favorite question I have been asked is, “Have you experienced happiness with enough gratitude?”  And when I can answer yes, that is joy!  Jack Kornfield refers to gratitude as one of the eight gates to joy.  The others being; Integrity, Generosity, Trust, Mindfulness and Presence, Connection, Mystery (happiness without a cause- I think of this as wonder also), and Joy in the happiness of others.

Gratitude as a gateway to joy is a practice we can all cultivate.  I agree with the statement that “No matter what you have faced, joy and renewal wait your return” – Jack Kornfield.  It can be easy and normal to get caught up in what Tara Brach refers to as the “If only” mind.  If only I finished all my house projects I’d be happy.  If only I lost some weight or was in better shape I’d be happy.  If only I made more money I’d be happy. If only I had more time I’d be happy. If only my relationship with so and so was (fill in the blank) I’d be happy.  If only I had a different job….you get the point.  Tara goes on to say when we hinge our happiness on things going a certain way we are missing out on being happy in the present moment.  Now this doesn’t mean to not strive to make external changes in your life, it simply challenges you to think about the energy you are using to fuel that change.  Is it coming from a place of inadequacy and criticalness or a place of humanness and kindness?  Is it coming from a grateful place for what you do have vs. what you do not?   I’m a firm believer that the latter fuel is healthier, more renewing and energizing and brings about joy.

Furthermore, happiness research shows that those who are happy choose to be happy, they intentionally turn towards happiness.  This doesn’t mean they do this in the absence of struggle, challenge, or pain.  They make the choice to be happy amidst the struggle, and that is brave and wise.  A way to choose happiness is to savor those moments that bring you happiness and express appreciation and gratefulness for them.  Again, gratitude is a gateway to joy.  Truly concentrate and be present in those moments, firmly lock those moments into your memory by being fully present in them.  My current concentration in joy practice is with my son.  When I’m reading him a book, I work (not always successfully) to focus on the story, his reactions, his warm body cuddled next to mine, his smile and laugh.  These are the moments I want to remember, these are the moments that matter the most to me.  These moments are more important that the do lists and work stressors to get to after our story time is over.  I don’t want to absent mindedly miss these moment, because if there is one thing I have heard the most as I have become a parent it is that “They grow up so fast.” 

So, what are the moments you are missing out on or not fully embracing because you are distracted, stressed, planning, fretting?  Intention and Attention are two words I remind myself of frequently.   One of my intentions is to experience joy and gratitude and to do this, I practice bringing my attention to the moments that cultivate these emotions and choose for moments to be happy.

Here is a great mindfulness meditation to spark your practice by Jack Kornfield “Concentration with Joy” https://jackkornfield.com/concentration-with-joy/


Surrendering to the Genuine Practice of Self-Compassion and Loving-Kindness

Talking about Self-Compassion and Loving-Kindness comes easily to me, truly practicing them with open-heartedness, now that is tough part.  I am very proud of my hard-working midwestern roots.  “Work hard, be positive, don’t complain, be grateful, don’t upset the apple cart.”  These are the messages I remember from my youth.  They are not bad, they are great, they have allowed me to accomplish the goals I have set out to accomplish in my life.  The gratitude has given me peace and grown my empathy and compassion skills for others.  Where these messages have become difficult is when “don’t upset the apple cart” leaves me stricken with anxiety when needing to confront a conflict, and when I find myself complaining or feeling the opposite of positive and then feel overwhelmed with guilt and “shoulds” and shame.

It has taken me a long time to embrace that it is okay to not always be happy, that that is not me being selfish or being ungrateful.  Also, that speaking my truth and disappointing others is also “okay”.  While the latter doesn’t always feel so good, I find myself remembering this quote “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time” And that song lyric You see, ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.” 

So, what do I mean when I say “surrendering to the genuine practice of self-compassion and loving-kindness”?  I mean not being so rigid in the belief systems from my youth that can leave me resisting and fighting truly feeling my feelings of anger, irritation, sadness, disappointment, resentment, and….you get the point, all those “negative” or “bad” feelings I thought I wasn’t supposed to feel.  I’ve learned that I can feel them and not be self-destructive or lash out at others.  I can incline with tenderness towards the difficult, uncomfortable, and painful feelings.  One of my favorite ways to practice this is a self-compassion mindfulness meditation from Chris Germer called “Soften-Soothe- Allow”. (https://chrisgermer.com/meditations/)

Chris Germer says that by intentionally practicing soften-soothe-allow as a mantra or full meditation “we reverse the instinctive tendency of the body to resist and react to emotional discomfort.  We also anchor our emotions in the body and transform them there.”  This is not only a self-compassion practice, but a courageous practice.  Below is an abbreviated version of what the three words encourage.  I recommend checking out the full meditation at the link above.

Soften – into any sensations physical or emotional.  Open up, create space, relax.

Soothe – practice words of encouragement and kindness to provide comfort to the pain.

Allow – the discomfort or challenge to be there.

I say it is courageous practice because I think of the dharma equation(s) Pain x Resistance = Suffering or Pain x Resistance = Destructive Emotions.  This practice is all about slowing down, relaxing, and opening to allow the pain to be felt and not resisted.  We then authentically move through the event or situation that caused pain, release our emotions, and heal and transform or grow.  The key to this is that it is a “practice” not necessarily a state of constant being.  There are protective factors in the resisting of painful emotions.  For example, when moving through grief.  There is shock and denial, and these stages or phases can be necessary to holding it together after a shattering loss.  It is important to have the skills to regulate, tolerate, and be with painful emotions before jumping head first into them.  So, remember the key to this practice is the loving-kindness and self-compassion which means no “shoulds” in terms of how you are supposed to do it.  Pace yourself, your pace, and if it is too triggering or dysregulating, trust your inner wisdom (your gut) and stop.

As you learn to incline with tenderness towards your pain to heal and grow may this quote support you in that practice; Like a caring mother holding and guarding the life of her only child, so with a boundless heart of lovingkindness, hold yourself and all beings as your beloved children.” – Gautama Buddha