Article Archives – Melinda VanKirk
Finding Balance – Reduce Your Anxiety and Depression

Finding Balance – Reduce Your Anxiety and Depression

Balance – Reduce Your Anxiety and Depression with One Simple Practice

Balance is my focus this week.  By definition, it means “to bring into harmony or proportion” (merriam-webster.com).  How am I working on finding balance?  Right now, I am focusing on one simple practice – a morning walk into the rising sun.

It seems so easy to fall out of balance in our lives, with emotional changes, environmental changes, and physical changes that we experience every day.  Our world is one of anxiety and stress – which is ironic considering we have so many things to make life easier right at our fingertips.

The reality is, we are impacted by a lack of connection in our world. Our phones, computers, and tablets are tools designed to connect us to the world, but can often exacerbate that feeling of disconnection.  Literally, our physical human connection is impaired – how often do you look at someone else when your phone is in your hand?  What do you notice yourself doing instead of talking to the person sitting next to you?  (I am guilty of this too – so please know there is no judgment here, just self-observation.)  The pandemic has amped up these feelings more than ever – there is so much discord, violence, isolationism – we all feel it.

(Click here to learn more about my personal journey.)

Balance
Balance

So I ask you to reflect on your own feelings

“What can I do to regain balance and find connection in my life?”

When you find balance within yourself, you can reduce your anxiety, fear, and stress.  You can be a better person for everyone and everything else in your life.

Finding balance allows us to show-up more for our families, our friends, our neighbors, and even those we have never met.  Finding balance within our world begins by finding it within yourself.

One Simple Practice to Find Balance, Reduce Anxiety, and Help with Depression

Balance
Balance Zen Tower

Walking into the Rising Sun

Four Tips on Building This Habit

 

Recently I began a new wellness adventure in my life.  In May, I began seeing an Ayurvedic practitioner, and have been slowly changing my lifestyle to live a healthier life through my daily habits.

If you aren’t familiar with Ayurveda, it is the sister science to yoga (founded in many of the same principles) and literally translates to “knowledge of life.” Ayurveda focuses on the idea that a healthy lifestyle can restore balance and good health.  It connects the mind, body, and spirit with our environment – much as our yoga practice does.

(To learn more about Ayurveda,  you can read more in this in-depth article from the Chopra Center.)

Each week I am working on adding a new habit to my life, and I wanted to share this week’s habit, as it has greatly improved my feelings of anxiety and depression, even in the short amount of time I have been actioning it.

This habit is simple – Walking towards the rising sun.  

As the sun rises in the morning hours, take a short walk facing the sun. This can be a great time for your morning meditation – leave your devices behind, and notice the sounds of nature around you.  Reconnect with the earth, feeling the ground under your feet.  Find your roots, your balance, and allow the energy of the sun to fill you with joy and gratitude.

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Start Small

This practice can be done in just minutes a day.  Decide that for 2 minutes a day you are going to take a walk in the morning towards the sun.  Committing to 2 minutes a day makes it easier, and won’t aggravate your stress levels. (If you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up either!  Remember, this practice is to REDUCE anxiety.)  You can build the length of your walk from there, and grow the habit as you like – if you have 10 minutes, maybe that will be the key amount of time for you.  This is your practice, and you will find what works best.  No right or wrong here – as you are unique, and what works for someone else may not work for you.

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Set a Habit Trigger for Yourself

For example, setting your walking clothes out the night before.  Or maybe you work it into your day right before your morning coffee – figure out what works for you, and find how you can be consistent in your practice.  Write it down, set a reminder – put it in your phone or calendar – where does this fit into your schedule?  Even if you are at work early, take a break when you in the morning to take your 2 minute walk outside.  Maybe it’s just before you go into the office and you are in the parking lot – what a great way to de-stress before you tackle the day!

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Make this a Nourishing Practice

As you walk towards the sun, appreciate the sun, nature, and draw in it’s energy for your day. 

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Make this practice one of enjoyment!

The whole point of this exercise is to reduce stress, so be easy on yourself as you begin to develop the habit.  Aim for 80% of your days – but maybe start with 20%.  It is most important to take things one day at a time and work towards automation.  

Learn More About Creative Souls

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Transitioning Into Fall – Balancing Vata

Transitioning Into Fall – Balancing Vata

Transitioning Into Fall – Balancing Vata

As we begin transitioning into Fall, and out of the heat of Summer, you may find yourself feeling “off” or out of balance.  As the temperatures drop, the days get shorter, and the air becomes dry, we often find ourselves in a state of flux.  

Personally I have been having some difficulty transitioning to this new season.  As much as I love Fall, I find myself out of balance almost always during a seasonal change.  Odd sleep cycles, vivid dreams, and poor digestion have been the result of my body needing to make changes in order to come back into balance.

What are you Experiencing?

Take a moment and think about how your body has been reacting to the seasonal change.  Has your sleep been interrupted lately? Have you been having lucid dreams or waking up at odd hours? How about your digestion – is it poor? If so, you may be experiencing an imbalance, which could be caused by this change in seasons.

Transitioning Into Fall
Transitioning Into Fall
Transitioning Into Fall

Combatting the Fall Transition –  Finding Balance through Yoga

One way to combat this transition into the Fall season is through your asana yoga practice.  Grounding, strengthening poses and repetition will help balance the body, and challenging poses heat the body and release mental tension.  Twists make space in the body – physically flushing out the old and making space for the new.

Challenge yourself!  Forget your ego – forget about if you can “nail it” and experiment with some challenging postures.  It’s all just playtime – falling out of a pose can be fun, and laughter is always the best remedy for stress.

Come join me in a class to try out some fun and playful peak poses.  

Tips to Help the Seasonal Transition into Fall

Transitioning Into Fall

Seasonal Change and Yoga – what do they have to do with each other?

Read this detailed guide for the Ayurvedic perspective –

Banyan Botanicals Fall Guide

Seasonal changes are directly linked to our bodies’ sense of balance.  Yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, helps us work through these imbalances in our lives.

As we begin Transitioning into Fall you may have noticed some changes happening around you – in Ayurveda, we are moving from the heat of Summer, or Pitta season, to the cooler, drier temperatures of Vata season. We are now in this time of transition where the hot temperatures give way to cool, dry air, and unpredictable changes in the weather.  Vata season is governed by the air element, and just like Fall, Vata holds these qualities – cool, dry, windy.  This change in season can cause us to become out of balance, which impacts us physically and mentally.

How Can You Stay Balanced with these changes?

According to the Chopra Center, “when too much Vata accumulates in the body and mind, the imbalance may manifest as physical or emotional disorders, including insomnia, dry skin, arthritis, constipation, high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression.”

If you are feeling any of these things, it may be time to pause, look at your eating and routine and make some changes.

See our tips for how to keep balanced this time of year.

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Change up your diet to eat seasonally

Look for local fresh produce (organic when possible) and eat for the season.  Apples, squash, sweet potatoes – these are all great for this time of year.  Soups for dinner are a wonderful choice, as they are warming, oily, and comforting – the opposite of Vata.

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Switch-Up Your Asana

Slow down your practice and get strong!  Use grounding poses to build strength, and introspective poses to help you reduce “monkey mind.”  Move fluidly and with intention, making your practice a moving meditation.  Check your ego at the door and tap into you.

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Practice Grounding Breathwork

Practice balancing breathwork (pranayama) like alternate nostril breathing – Nadi Shodhana.  Click to see my video on my favorite version of this breathwork practice.

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Nourish Your Senses

Dress for the weather – be careful to not get cold and dress appropriately.  Give yourself a daily warm oil massage after your shower (I love sweet almond oil with a drop or two of your favorite essential oil).  Clear-out your nasal passages with a Neti Pot, and even lubricate them with a dab of sesame oil.  Pay attention to your mood and be sure to take time for nourishing self-care practices.

How Yoga Can Help Creativity

How Yoga Can Help Creativity

The Link Between Yoga and Creativity

So you may be wondering what on earth yoga and creativity have to do with one another, and how yoga can help you become more creative.  Well you might be surprised how much yoga can help you tap into your intuition, overcome your fears, and step out of your comfort zone to open yourself to creativity and new possibilities.

 

Debunking the #1 Yoga Myth

Often the first thing I hear when I tell people I am a yoga teacher is, “I’m not flexible, so I am not very good at yoga.”  This statement makes me cringe every time I hear it.  Yoga is so much more than being flexible and getting into challenging poses.  It is so much more than the PHYSICAL practice, and really begins with the MENTAL practice.

 

Yes – I said mental – meaning MINDFULNESS. This term can mean many things to many people, but according to lexico.com, mindfulness is “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.”  Yoga helps us activate mindfulness by drawing our awareness inwards and facing the inner shadows that hold us back in life.  

 

Yes, yoga includes physical postures and practice, but it also includes meditation and self-study. By combining all facets of yoga, you become more mindful, and tap into that creative part of yourself.  This is how yoga can help creativity.  The more you practice it, the more easily you can access it!  

How Yoga Taps into Creativity

As a creative being, how often are you afraid to tackle that new project, or take a chance on a new idea.  Are you afraid to move out of your comfort zone and take risks?  I live with this fear every day – and it can be crippling. It causes us to make choices that go against our own intuition to “play it safe.”  

 

Through yoga practice (mindfulness and physical practice) I find that I become less afraid to take that leap and follow my inner guide.  Simple acts of movement, meditation, and journaling are the most beneficial things I can do for myself each day. And I don’t need to spend hours of my time doing this either.  20 minutes a day in the morning can make a huge difference on my outlook for the day – feeling less stress, balanced, aware, and ready to take on the day.  

 

The feeling I receive from my yoga practice, whether I choose to do something creative that day or not, allows me to open up my mind to new possibilities.  There is scientific research on how meditation and breathing practices can improve your health – with the one undisputed outcome being that meditation increases focus. Just Google it and you can find multiple articles instantly on the many benefits of mindfulness and yoga (with science to back it up!).

Meditation

Ways to Start Your Day for Creative Inspiration

Here are some tips to get you started!

  • Start your day sitting in a quiet place.  Sit with a tall spine and close your eyes, or take a soft gaze onto the floor.  Now take a few long deep breaths and feel yourself become present in the moment.  If your mind starts to wander, draw your attention back to your breath.  

  • You can set an intention for your day, or use this time to draw inward.  If you have difficulty focusing, and you would like some specific guidance, feel free to use a meditation app or online video.  I absolutely love Calm and Headspace for their guided meditations.

  • Take 5 minutes to write down in a journal (or on a piece of paper) 3 things you are grateful for.  I do this every day and it helps lighten my spirit and feel good going into the day.  Set an intention or positive affirmation for yourself for the day – this may be something simple (like “I am at peace”), or a directive of how you would like to feel for the day (for example, “I release all fears and embrace my challenges with love”).  You can set a mantra for yourself as well, such as “I release self-doubt and trust in myself.”

  • Take 10 minutes to do some stretches to start your day.  Sign-up for our newsletter and receive a PDF for some stretches to creatively start your day!

Of course you can choose to take as much time as you like in any of these steps!  And if you don’t have time in the morning, try out your practice in the evening after work or before you sit down to do whatever creative activity you plan to work on for the day.

It’s also a great way to take a break from your work and de-stress and stretch out the body.

Painting

After Your Yoga Practice

If you have the time, I highly suggest getting started on any creative activity immediately after your morning practice. 

Set-up exactly what you want to work on creatively before you start your asana and yoga practice, so you can jump into your creative activity with enthusiasm and focus right after.  

Even if you only spend 10 minutes, having your supplies out and ready create an invitation for your creativity whenever you walk by.  It can be very restorative to sit for just a few minutes at a time and do some type of creative work – even just drawing lines or sketching ideas in your sketchbook to come back to later.

Every week I teach an online yoga class that will help you tap into your creativity called Vinyasa Flow for Creative Souls.  For more details go to my Schedule page. 

Happy creating!

Melinda’s Story – A Yogi’s Personal Journey

Melinda’s Story – A Yogi’s Personal Journey

So I thought I would take this opportunity to share a yogi’s personal journey – my own. We all have different experiences in life, but yet we connect to each other in the most basic, human, fundamental ways – through our shared experiences and emotions, with empathy and compassion. 

Here is the story of my yoga journey. . . 

 

Growing Up

Born in Cleveland in 1976, then raised in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, I was a happy, joyful child.  With an upper middle-class population, good schools, and many well-off families (numerous doctors and lawyers reside there), Worthington is a place people dream to raise their families.  My family was a bit more modest in what we had, but we had everything we needed.  My parents, both Lecturers at Ohio State, met in grad school and received their doctoral degrees from OSU in 1968.  My father also worked for a small market research firm for a good portion of his career.  Their salaries were modest, but they provided my older sister and I with more culture than most children receiving – signing us up for music, dance, and gymnastic lessons at a young age.  We had a wonderful upbringing, with love, support, and encouragement to be whatever we wanted to in life.  Always supporting my artistic and creative side, I couldn’t have asked for more.  

My sister, Michele, was the outgoing, loud, extrovert in the family – always excelling at physical activities like dance, gymnastics, and soccer.  She had the flexibility and strength to do so many things that I always longed to do, but couldn’t.  I was the quiet, introvert who excelled at music and art, and had good grades in school.  I always enjoyed my dance classes and gymnastics, even if I wasn’t the best in the class.  

Michele was nearly two years older than me, and boy did we fight a lot!  We loved each other, but as small children we drove my parents crazy with our constant arguing.  It wasn’t until I reached middle school that we actually started to get along (at least more often than not).  It was a love/hate relationship growing up, but eventually we became each other’s biggest supporters in life. 

My parents being the atypical parents they still are, always encouraged me follow my dreams – assuming that college was in my future.  I could go anywhere in the country (or probably the world) to college, and major in whatever I wanted.  They never pressured me to choose the “right” career path, and encouraged me to do my best in whatever path I chose.  I didn’t need them to pressure me, as I found that everything around me in American culture did a pretty good job of that.

I was a happy child, although inherently a bit meek and quiet.  I loved animals and art, believed in fairies and dragons, and could play by myself for hours on end.  I learned to read, sew, and ski at age 4 – not a typical child for sure.  My love of music developed at a very early age.  At 6 I was listening to the J.Geils Band, Michael Jackson, and Olivia Newton John.  I learned to play piano at age 7, violin at 9, trumpet at 10, French horn at 11, and saxophone at 12.  Sadly, around age 15 I had quit all of my music lessons, as high school neurosis set in and being in the band wasn’t “cool.”  Being an artist was much cooler than a musician, so it is there I focused my passions and decided that was my future career. I would be a fashion designer, as I was obsessed with the Supermodels of the 90s like Claudia Schiffer and Christy Turlington.

 

 

Adolescence into Adulthood

High school was difficult for me, despite the fact on the outside everything looked OK. I excelled in school with good grades, and rarely got in trouble (let’s face it, I was trustworthy and really good at not getting caught).  Sophomore year I fell into a very dark place in my life – to this day I have never shared this with my parents or sister, although they are probably reading it here now.  I became very depressed for a period of several months – barely leaving my room when I was home, and listening to music for hours on end.

My sister was the regular partier in high school – known for her wild partying, sneaking out of the house, and loud outgoing personality.  She was the rebellious teenager, to my parent’s dismay.  In my eyes, I felt I had to protect her – keeping her secrets and staying awake at night worrying – just hoping she would come home safely.  I loved her, but to me she was a tornado in her adolescence – all energy and attention was sucked away from me and placed on my sister, and I fell into a dark place of isolation, always feeling like I didn’t matter. Hence the start of my drinking and depression. I became obsessed with the Doors and the Seattle Grunge music scene (it was the early 90s).  I was obsessed with Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, and dreamed of the day I would graduate and move away to Seattle.  I listened to that dark, drug inspired music for hours at a time, often in my bed weeping or punching a pillow in anger.  I began drinking and partying on the weekends as a regular activity – a way of escape from my depression and anger.  I controlled my eating habits, cutting out all fat in my diet (but ate Twizzlers and Bagels regularly as my “low-fat” diet).  I was looking for a way to control my downward spiral – thoughts of suicide loomed in my mind often, and I wanted nothing more than to get out.  My fantasy was to live like a character in the movie Singles.  I would be an artist, meet my soulmate, and have this fabulous Boho life. Oh the dreams I had. . .

I didn’t talk to my parents about my depression, and became angry that they didn’t see how I was hurting.  Now, as an adult and parent, I realize how naive this was of me, as in their eyes everything was good.  How could I expect them to read my mind?  At 15 you tend to have these expectations and perspective that are skewed and self-centered.  I blamed others like my sister and parents, the school system, anything external. Now, so clearly I see that it was my responsibility to reach out for help.  But Man – it’s hard when you are in that dark place. It took some time in therapy as an adult to realize this, and forgive my family (who honestly I do not hold accountable in any way for my state of mind at this point in my life).

I somehow made it through this dark period of high school, and by Senior year I was out of my depression and looking forward to my next chapter in life.  Off to Colorado I went to study Fine Art at the University of Colorado, living in Boulder and having this Boho life I always wanted.  I loved my year in Boulder – to this day it is one of the fondest memories.  I connected with other girls in a way that will never be replicated or replaced.  We cared and supported each other, as we grew into our adulthood together.  It was a really special time in my life.  As much as I loved it, I was homesick and broke, so I decided to come back to Columbus and finish my schooling at the Ohio State University. I lived at home for awhile, saved some money, and followed the comfortable path with little risk.

I liked OSU – I met a boy my first year there, who later became my first husband.  I took art classes and excelled at school.  I love learning – to this day I think I could be a professional student if this existed as a career.  I decided on Sculpture as my major, and then freaked-out my junior year and changed my major to Art Education.  I believed that I needed to teach to have any kind of job, and let fear rule my choice once again.  A decision I later regretted, as teaching in public high school did not suit me at all.

During my years at OSU I tried to stay fit, and bought several VHS tapes to try different types of workouts.  Among them was a 20 minute yoga video by Rodney Yee. I practiced with the video every once in a while, and realized that I liked yoga, but never attended any classes.  It was a good go-to video for me – I always felt great after, but I never thought too much about yoga as a daily practice.

 

Young Adulthood

I graduated from OSU in 1999 Summa Cum Laude, and then continued on at OSU to get my teacher certification the following year.  After this, I moved to Kentucky with my boyfriend (who was a graduate student at UK) to teach high school art.  Life was great – full of possibilities and adventure.  I thought I had found my calling and was going to make such an impact on the world teaching children about my passion. What an awakening my first year teaching.  It was utterly awful!  I cried so many times after school – almost daily.  At 24, I was barely older than my students, I had no idea how to discipline them, and the students treated me as a fellow student, not a teacher.  I was lost and stressed out all the time.  I ended up being laid-off after my first year teaching, and found a job at a county high school about 30 minutes away.  

That summer between jobs, my boyfriend and I got married – I was officially an adult with a career and a husband.  Things at work improved for me a bit, as I learned how to structure my classes better. I still struggled often and found myself unhappy much of the time.

Sometime around this point in my life I began to practice my yoga videos again.  I bought more Rodney Yee videos, and yoga became a regular practice for me.  It allowed me to be introspective while I was physical – a new concept to me, as I always thought I had to do intense cardio or lift weights to get a workout.  I was drawn to yoga as I didn’t need to be “good” at it.  No one was competing with me, although I could see my own personal progress the more I practiced.

Finally I decided to go to my first yoga class – an Ashtanga yoga class that was 90 minutes long.  After that class I couldn’t walk for days, I was so sore.  People were doing the craziest, bendiest poses I had ever seen in my life!  It was like watching an acrobat at the circus – they were so advanced and I felt so inadequate.  I took away some good learnings, though – Ujjayi breath and some basic posture corrections, that to this day I reference.  But I realized that Ashtanga was not for me.

I continued my yoga practice with my videos at home, and it became part of my life – until I injured myself in a skiing accident in 2004, which took me out for months.  During this year my husband and I had many struggles, which I won’t go into detail about, but things were not going well.  Life was falling apart around me, and I was drowning in it.  Work, home life, my identity, all in a downward spiral, like a riptide carrying me out to sea to be swept away forever.

I made some terrible decisions during this period of my life, which I still feel shame and guilt over.  I tend to think of it as an out-of-body experience, as I was not myself (although I try to reconcile this feeling even now).  I lost a tremendous amount of weight and struggled with my eating, as my relationship with my husband fell apart. My body seemed like the only thing I could control.  Just before my separation I was 5’6” and 112 pounds – my “goal weight.”  To my friends’ dismay and concern, I hit size 0, the skinniest of my life.  I worked-out like a fiend – getting up at 5 for my yoga practice, going to the gym after work to do cardio and lift weights.  I had gotten breast implants in 2001, and finally in 2003 reached my Barbie/Playboy Bunny goal of what I thought I should look like. I was never really pretty in school like some girls are – you know the ones who look effortlessly beautiful and never have a pimple or appear to have any flaws?  (I always dressed a little different, dyed my hair, and wore crazy makeup to try and fit into my role as “Artist.”)  With age this changed.  This obsession with my looks gave me focus and purpose.  It was the era of Paris Hilton, encouraging women to be sexy and stupid – and wear pink glitter.  I followed this path, and liked the attention I got.  I felt beautiful and fit into what society deemed pretty for the moment.  I was not healthy – mentally or physically.

In 2004 I decided to call it quits in my marriage despite our marriage counseling, and moved back to Columbus.  I was lost in life, living with my friend, and broke.  It was a bad place in my life – I wasn’t being creative, I had lost my yoga practice, and I didn’t want to go back to teaching.  I found a job as a substitute teacher (which I actually loved), but I once again became depressed and decided this time to see a counselor to help me through my depression and divorce.

Counseling helped immensely.  I made the choice to start fresh – move to California and live with my sister, where I would go back to school for a degree in Fashion Design.  I would be the artist I always wanted to be!  The plan was made – but just like so often in life, plans change.  During this time I also met a man (eventually becoming my current husband) – a fellow teacher – and everything changed.  My move to California was off.  I stayed with my decision to go back to school, and applied to the Columbus College of Art & Design.

My passion to be an artist pushed me through school.  It was, to this day, the most difficult thing I have done in my life.  Barely sleeping for the next 3 years, I persevered taking all studio classes (which is pure hell), and forcing myself to my limits.  CCAD is known for how hard they work their students, and take a sense of pride in having a large number of Freshmen drop out.  They only want the students that can “hack it” – those that will sacrifice everything to be a successful artist.  I was one of the strong ones – I sacrificed it all, and somehow I didn’t suffer from a mental breakdown (although a few anxiety attacks put me close to the edge). Thanks to my boyfriend and parents I was able to push through.  My yoga practice during this time didn’t exist – as really anything outside of work and school barely existed.

I graduated from CCAD as Valedictorian in 2009 – my parents have never been so proud of me as in that moment.  I was proud of myself – I did it!  I grabbed life by the balls and wrestled it to the ground.  I may not have been the most talented, but I worked the hardest to get to the top.  I was proof that hard work pays-off.  I felt amazing!

 

Until I didn’t.

I graduated during the recession, and couldn’t find a job after graduation.  Lacking confidence and feeling unworthy, I began to spiral again.  I felt like my accomplishments didn’t matter.  I continued substitute teaching and waitressing (my second job I had to get during school just to pay the bills), and applying for jobs.  Finally I got an interview at Abercrombie & Fitch for a contractor position in Technical Design.  I landed the job, and was on my way to my new career!

3 months later I was hired full-time for La Senza as a Technical Designer for Panties.  I couldn’t have been happier.

 

Until I wasn’t.

The first year in my new career was amazing – I learned so much and loved my job.  I was happy!  I thought I had it all, with an amazing boyfriend and a loving family (his family as well as my own).  My boyfriend and I were married in 2011.  I became a stepmom to his three wonderful children, in a new career, and happy overall.   But over the next couple of years work responsibilities increased, and the hours got longer and longer.  I was the first one in the office on my team, and the last one to leave at night.  The lights would turn off on me at the office, and I sat in the dark, completing my work as best as I could for the day.  Misery quickly set-in, no relief or end was in sight.  The miseries of corporate America became apparent to me at this time.  I was the hardest worker at college – I could hack it, I knew I could!

Then one evening in 2013 something unimaginable happened – my four year old niece, Berkley, became ill and suddenly passed away.  She was sick with a virus for less than 24 hours, and no one knew about her unidentified heart condition.  Her heart gave out as she was napping at home in the afternoon.  This was a really dark period for my sister, and so hard on the whole family.  It was a wake-up call for me. Life is precious, and sacrificing my life, my relationships, for work – for some corporation who doesn’t know me from the next person – is not the answer.

As I fell back into yet another spiral feeling the loss of my niece, and coming to terms with not having any children, I turned back to my yoga practice.  This time my Gaiam app and once again Rodney Yee videos.  Here I discovered many other teachers and a whole new world of yoga.  Yoga was literally my savior – a major mental breakdown was in my future without it.  Eventually I began to attend classes when a new yoga studio, Mat Happy, opened up in my town.  I was in love instantly!  The sense of community, kindness, and passion for yoga came through with every teacher, and every class I took.  My practice progressed from one class a week to 5 or more classes a week, within the year.

Work became a bit more manageable as my bosses changed, and my workload lessened (thank god for these people in my life!).  I was happy once again – fit, active, and learning so much at work on how to be a better communicator and cultivate relationships with difficult personalities.  Eventually I was promoted to Senior level, and was part of a great team.  It took so many years to get to that place, but things were good – my hours were normal, and I had an amazing boss that understood work-life balance.  I wasn’t being too creative in my job, so I started doing some pet portraits for people.  It was my creative outlet – allowing me to feel like my true self.

Life was once again good and I thought I had found my path.  I decided in 2018 to enroll in Yoga Teacher Training.  As I said, I could be a lifelong student, so it was no surprise that I wanted to add this to my repertoire of schooling.

Then in the Fall of 2018 La Senza was up for sale.  I had a terrible boss (nice person, but terrible managerial skills with no technical design experience) who was recently hired in the Summer, and it felt like everything was falling apart once again.  I prayed that the business would go under and I could get a severance package. I was done with corporate life and company politics. I was over bad bosses and their micromanaging.  I just wanted to breathe – to work at being a yoga teacher and an artist – to escape the madness of my work place.  How to do this was a complete mystery, however.

Sadly La Senza was sold off to a private equity firm.  Happily, my boss moved positions and didn’t stay with La Senza. She moved back to New York.  I thought – well maybe things would be OK?

They weren’t.

Many employees left the company, and my team grew smaller and smaller, with no chance of back-filling any positions.  I was teaching yoga one day a week, which I loved, but work was crazy.  I was doing the work of 3 people, as was my entire team of 3 that remained.

I decided it was time to make my own career path.  In the Fall of 2019 I enrolled in an online course to start my online business.  I continued my job and teaching yoga weekly, but things just got worse at work. Holding on for the paycheck feels terrible – I wanted to leave badly, but couldn’t bring myself to do it out of fear.  I survived several rounds of lay-offs in early 2020, and then COVID19 happened.  We were furloughed in March, and left to hang in limbo indefinitely.  No paycheck from the company, and only the hope of getting unemployment (along with several hundred thousand other Ohioans).

Finally the day came where I jumped on a call with probably 30 others, only to be told they were eliminating our positions and they were restructuring the business (not really a surprise).  I cried from relief, from grief, from pain, from suffering, from joy, from sadness, from uncertainty.  I cried for the sleepless nights, the hours my husband had to listen to me complain about bad bosses and too much work.  I cried for everything I had been trying to deal with through my yoga practice, meditation, and journaling. I had so many tools in my toolbox to deal with these feelings, but it is still so damn hard.

Thank God, the Universe, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, Allah – all of them!  I am free from these confines that work has imposed on me.  Not without fear and doubt, however.  As I sit here writing this, with fresh wounds from the loss of my job, I realize what an opportunity life has presented me.  It is so easy to become wrapped up in ourselves – all these external things in life that we allow to become our identities – our titles in life like designer, boss, wife, mother, artist.  These are all external things that are a part of me, but they do not tell you who I am.  They don’t show you my soul, my higher Self.

 

I am just that – I am me – a creative, loving, joyful soul.  I am connected to everything and everyone.  All of my life experiences lead me down this path to find my true dharma – my soul’s calling.  This is not created by the things around me, but comes from within my soul. I share my knowledge of where I have been, and where I am going, as my path is ever evolving.  It is a work in progress, that will change and morph over time.

As I progress on my spiritual journey, I learn to look within.  I realize that all these things I was doing, goals to attain, and extreme hard work, were not the answer.  The American Dream is a myth – working the hardest doesn’t equal success.  Money doesn’t equal success.  “Success” is a smokescreen designed to hide us from our true Self – the child within us that believes in fairies and dragons, magic and spirits.  Our inner being is mind connected to body, connected to soul.  This is our true authentic Self – the inner child that lives within each of us.

 

Creative Souls Art & Yoga is here to help inspire you and find your authentic Self – your inner guide, inner joy, inner passion – through learning these tools of yoga, meditation, creation, and self-expression.

It is my hope that Creative Souls Art & Yoga can help you on your journey by providing tools, practices, and community to support each other.  The more we connect as a community and to our true Self, the more we look within to find strength, abundance, love, and guidance.

May you be happy, healthy, free from suffering, and at peace.  Namaste.

 

Love Melinda

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How to Start Your Meditation Practice

How to Start Your Meditation Practice

How to Start Your Meditation Practice

Tips and tricks to building a consistent meditation practice for beginning yogis and non-yogis.

 

Do you ever think to yourself in a yoga class during Savasana – why won’t my mind be still?  How long do I have to lay here? Can I get up and leave yet?  You are not alone!  When we start a yoga practice, we often don’t understand or connect to the purpose of savasana (corpse pose).  We think it’s just rest for the body, but in actuality it is the time during our practice where we can let ourselves abandon our thoughts, and calm our senses.  This all-important practice at the end of yoga class can be transmitted to our daily lives through meditation.

 

Why Should I Meditate?

One of the best things we can do for ourselves is to explore ways in which to let the mind rest.  We are constantly busy and our minds are thinking non-stop (“monkey mind”).  Spending just a few minutes everyday to allow the mind to relax and focus on the present is incredibly beneficial for our brains.  In fact, meditation is shown to increase GABA and serotonin levels in the brain (the brain’s main neurotransmitters), increase DHEA, and reduce cortisol levels.  Not just that, but meditation physically CHANGES the brain! There are countless articles out there about the benefits of meditation – here is just one of many if you want to read a little more on the subject.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindful-musings/201605/3-research-based-reasons-start-meditating

Ask a regular meditator if he needs the science to back-up these theories about how meditation can help calm the brain and reduce anxiety, and he will likely tell you “no.”  People that meditate regularly do so for a reason – it is a lot like working out or doing a regular yoga (asana) practice – once you know how good you can feel from it, you want to keep doing it again and again.  The problem for many people is that they think they can’t sit still, and there is just no way to calm the mind (believe me I know – I live with one!).  So what is a person to do?

 Meditation focus 

Start Small and Build a Habit

Start small and commit to trying meditation out for an extended number of days.  It takes a range of time to form a habit, but research shows that after about 2 months (66 days on average) we are able to form habits. This may seem like a daunting task and a long time (were you hoping for the quick-fix?), but instead of feeling overwhelmed, commit to the task in a very small way.  Try and work towards the 2 months of doing daily meditation, but don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day here and there.

Culturally we tend to have this “all or nothing” mentality, which research tells us doesn’t work. It’s like dieting – we think if we commit we can lose weight – it’s all about will-power and strength, right?  No, it’s not.  In reality, if we mess up we tend to beat ourselves up, becoming self-critical with negative thoughts.  This often leads to overeating because we feel defeated, less-than, or without worth.  The same can happen in our meditation practice if we approach it with this “all or nothing” approach.

 

Start with 3-5 minutes of meditation in the morning (or whatever time of day you can commit to), and mentally commit to that as your first week of meditation practice.  Then recommit the next week – maybe it’s 5-10 minutes a day.  Start building this practice in small steps.  As you start building this pattern, you can increase the length of time you spend in meditation, and may find that you actually WANT to do more!  If you can increase this to 20-30 minutes at a time, that’s wonderful.  If not, that’s OK too!  This is a journey and a personal experience, and there is no rule around how long you have to meditate.  Some days might be 5 minutes, and other days you may meditate for an hour.  It’s YOUR practice and you will find what works for you.

 

Get Comfy!

Find a spot where you can be comfortable – put a cushion, a blanket, or comfortable chair in your meditation space that you can use daily.  Place a candle, a journal, mala beads, or whatever it is that will make your space more inviting.  Make sure you can be comfortable and sit with a tall spine for your practice.  Some beautiful and comfortable meditation cushions are for sale on the web, so look around and find something that will inspire you (no paid plug here, but I LOVE my Halfmoon meditation cushions).  Investing in a comfortable meditation cushion set or chair can help inspire your practice (not to mention make it WAY more comfortable and enticing to sit for longer periods of time).  Or if you sew, maybe even create your own as a fun, creative project to jumpstart your practice.

 

Create a Daily Ritual – Same Time, Same Place

Try and carve out a time that you can meditate daily – maybe it’s right after you get up, just after your yoga practice, or right after dinner.  Just ensure you choose a time and place where you won’t be distracted (I know it’s a challenge!).  Try and use the same space daily – you can even add some decorations to make your space more alluring. Candles, stones, journals, books, and art are inspiring additions to any meditation space!

 

Pair your Meditation with a Fun Activity

Make meditation time a time just for you!  It is much easier to develop a habit when you can look forward to “me time” – it won’t be a chore if it’s enjoyable.

I like to do my meditation practice early in the morning, first thing right after I feed the dogs.  I sit for a few minutes enjoying my morning coffee, and then begin my meditation practice.  I journal immediately afterwards to process my thoughts and jot down my daily gratitude.  This ritual I created is now my favorite time of day.  Especially just after journaling, I like to sit and enjoy the morning view out my window, in quiet contemplation.  I experience the most amazing feeling of calm and presence.

If you aren’t an early bird, think about other ways that you can find some quiet time regularly.  Be creative!  Maybe it’s just after the kids go to bed and you can enjoy an evening cup of tea and meditate.  Find what works for you.

 

Start Meditating with an Accountability Buddy

Find a friend and start your daily practice together.  Having a friend to lean-on and help hold you accountable is always a benefit – for ANY part of your life. It works great for your yoga practice too!

Holding each other accountable also means holding space for your friend.  Be kind to yourself and your friend if you slip-up and miss a day.  It’s not a big deal – just a little hiccup.  Some days are just insane and life gets in the way.  IT’S OKAY!!  Offering words of encouragement and kindness to each other is always more beneficial than the alternative.  Encourage your buddy to come back to the practice if she stops, and talk to her about her experiences and your own.  Make a pact to be kind and listen to one another, creating a safe space to talk and share.

Check out this article on holding space from the Chopra Center:

https://chopra.com/articles/holding-space-the-art-of-being-present-with-others

 

Practice!

Starting a meditation practice is just that – a practice!  Much like yoga or any activity, the more we do it, the more we are comfortable with it, and the better we get at it. Meditation is like becoming an athlete – you need to flex the meditation muscle in order to become stronger and more skilled.  We are all at different points in our practice, but the benefits exist no matter where you are starting from.  Practicing is the best way to build your skills.

 

Just Breathe!

Many forms of meditation exist, but the most accessible beginning to a meditation practice for most people is focusing on the breath.  The breath helps bring us back to the present moment and give the mind a focus (in yoga, the purpose of meditation is one-pointed focus, or Dharana).  Allowing the mind to just focus on the breath helps bring it to a place of stillness.

If focusing on the breath feels like it’s not enough to settle the mind, try a chanting meditation (mantra), a walking meditation, or a visualization meditation.

 

Get Some Guidance

Starting a practice is best when you have someone to teach and guide you.  Many great apps exist like Calm and Headspace, as well as countless videos.  You might already have a yoga app you are using that also has guided meditations (Gaia and Glo both have some wonderful guided meditations and teachers).  There is no rule that you need to do this on your own.  Eventually you may progress to this stage of not needing guidance, but having a teacher is invaluable in any new endeavor.

I personally follow certain teachers and use apps regularly.  They have helped me progress in my meditation practice, and opened me up to new ideas and types of meditation.  Sometimes I use the apps just for the nature sounds and music (Calm is my favorite for this).

Start a Journal

Having a notebook nearby to jot down thoughts just after your meditation is so beneficial.  Writing things down can help you process feelings, ideas, or simply develop an attitude of gratitude.  The 2 things I make sure I write down everyday is three things I am grateful for, and one positive self-affirmation.  It only takes a couple of minutes, and helps put me in the right mindset for the day.

I also like to write my feelings down whether they are positive or negative. It helps “get things out of my head” and process my feelings – it’s a great companion to my meditation practice, and has become a part of my daily ritual.

 

Make it YOUR Journey

The MOST important part of starting a meditation practice is making it YOUR experience.  This is your personal journey, and you need to find what works for you.  Once you start experiencing the benefits of meditation, you may find that it changes your life in the most positive ways.  Reducing stress, anxiety, and creating a sense of calm are just the tip of the iceberg.  I encourage you to start on this journey and make it your personal experience.  Don’t worry about what you are “supposed” to do.  Ultimately it is up to you to find what works for you.

 

Happy meditating!  Namaste.

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