Yoga for Compassion

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

New Year’s Day: A man came on to the beach from the waves in Playa del Carmen, revealing himself as a one arm and one leg amputee. He pulled himself along with his right arm. I was amazed that he had successfully met the challenges of swimming in the surf. I also noticed a tattoo of five Olympic rings on the inside of his biceps. Hmm. Paula looked at me and we shared a thought consistent with a line I read this morning, “The universe is constantly trying to reach us to say something or teach something” (Chogam Trungpa). I’m unsure of the something, yet it fit with the phrase I awoke to for BookOfJoymy annual theme, Yoga for Compassion (for 2017, that is nicely 17 letters). Compassion has been central in recent years and has been highlighted and prioritized by my recent reading of The Book of Joy (based on wonderful conversations between Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu). Compassion feels so timely and fitting personally and so necessary in the broader fear-filled milieu. Compassion is powerful and foundational.

“If with kind generosity
One merely has the wish to soothe
The aching heads of other beings,
Such merit knows no bounds” (Santideva)

Combining my message (mess+age; see previous blog), with my daily yoga practice, I see a delightful way to be “on the court” with this theme. In more serendipity (which tends to increase when on the right track), I also read this morning, “The main way to develop compassion is to generate good feelings toward others.” And following the idea I had shortly after arising of beginning practice with compassionate intention and closing with being of service, I also found these instructions:
“Arouse the mind of bodhicitta [wishing to attain enlightenment motivated by great compassion for all sentient beings] before every practice.
Dedicate its positive results to others” (intending their safety, health, happiness, & equanimity).

So I have begun and this theme will guide me as I teach and participate in more yoga teacher training this year. I’m including in my year’s motif the idea that the bigger the mess, the bigger the lesson and contribution to my message. With self-compassion, I’m more deeply exploring where I am out of alignment in ways that have been hidden to me.

I encourage you to join whatever parts of this theme hold promise for you. Or find your own theme that will focus and catalyze your exhilarated learning in 2017. I hope our paths will cross and our hearts will connect. May you share your great light as the world hungers for it. May you and your loved ones be filled with joy, peace, and great love. May you transform a challenge into an opportunity to be world-class.

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My Mess+Age: Performance? Humor? Or Something More Messy?

Monday, December 12th, 2016

This past week I had the privilege of speaking at the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers convention and I got to meet the wonderful Judy Carter, who wrote The Comedy Bible. I interviewed Judy some years ago and I’ve been following her worJudy Carterk since. After establishing herself in the world of humor and comedy, Judy wrote The Message of You and has been helping speakers to tell their story. She delivered a short keynote on the topic that was very timely for my personal and professional journey.

The stories we tell and often the focus of our professional lives align with our modes of compensating and surviving in the world. It’s no accident that my company is called Exhilarated Performance and my new audiobook is Humor Me: Lighten Up and Love Life humor_meLaughing (time out for shameless plug: it makes a great holiday gift and is easy to send online with no postage or delivery costs. Still need a present for friends and family? Get them Humor Me). I’ve spent most of my life trying to clear bars and stay ahead of the fear of not doing enough. When a recent annual review suggested that I was unsatisfactory in a domain, I came face-to-face with my reactivity and had to ask deep questions about why this would bother me after so much growth and personal development work.

What Judy has helped me to realize is that my past history, my pain and personal mess (with age) point me to what I have to share and, perhaps, my most authentic contributions. The premise of my forthcoming book is that the core of many contemporary serious problems is that we are disconnected from ourselves, each other, and the planet. The roots of this connect to my own feelings of disconnection and my struggles to fit in. I also am very intrigued to address our stunted emotional lives and especially how boys and young men are taught to “man up” and suppress their feelings, which I believe has a lot to do with the rampant aggression and violence that men perpetrate. As shown in the documentary, The Mask You Live In, research shows that compared to girls, boys are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, prescribed stimulant medications, fail out of school, binge drink, commit a violent crime, and/or take their own lives. As a very sensitive person in environments that called for toughness, I developed armor that I’m still working to uninstall.

I’m finding it’s time to dial down my performer and focus on self-compassion. Although I’ve learned a lot about performance and humor as strategies to get by in life, I sense I can contribute more powerfully and meaningfully to increase our connection to ourselves, each other, and the planet and to help boys and young men to be more emotionally capable and more relationally supportive by talking about my own experiences and outlooks of feeling like I couldn’t connect or fit in. We often think of trauma as dramatic events involving abuse or disasters, yet most of us have felt the trauma of not feeling loved, or feeling inadequate as a little person, or feeling like our parents or others could not attune to us.

I’m only beginning to explore The Message of You, and it feels like the start of a most vital voyage. I’ve been asking questions about how I can best serve progress for wholeness and human connection. The work I’ve done with my ALIVE model has been useful with a variety of groups and I sense that bringing my vulnerability to creating healthier approaches to masculinity could be an even bigger, better focus. I’m looking for “landing gear” and I welcome suggestions about how to move forward.

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Goodbye Maya: Thank You for the Lessons & the Love

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

MayaLastPhotoI lifted Maya up from her dog bed and carried her to sit in my lap in the back of Paula’s car. From the time my fingers slipped under her, feeling her soft fur that I’ve spent countless hours petting these last 10 years, to the time I took my hand off her chest when the vet said, “She’s gone,” Maya gave me a profound lesson in grace.

Maya has always been an “easy dog,” but she rose to new heights. She did everything possible to communicate that she was ready to go and we were making the right decision. She refused food; even an offer of a treat. She made not a single sound of protest.

Maya taught me many things and her final act served as a profoundly generous lesson. I learned about unconditional love from Maya. No other being has passed through my life with less ambivalence. I loved her purely and expected nothing in return. She showed me how to be generous and caring without an agenda.

MayaWalkMaya came to us after being a runaway. She was scheduled to be put down before our friend, Darlene, rescued her. She was so beautiful, even teenagers would stop to comment. She was incredibly gentle; a gift of yin in our yangster household. Maya was my partner on many ventures into nature and an always-willing companion on walks to the mailbox.

What a huge gift you gave us to leave with truly amazing grace. It was not lost on me that you passed on the fourth of October. I will celebrate annually how you filled my heart with joy: 10-4 Good Buddy.

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Now there’s a question that maybe no one else is asking. Perhaps the query will become more interesting as I offer my answer. After about 17 years of practicing yoga, I finally decided to become a yoga teacher. Many people will take the 200 hours of training to “deepen their practice” without any intentions to teach. Whereas that was somewhat true of me, I also had some yearning to combine my 35 years of teaching and coaching experience with my growing passion for yoga. I have been leading laughter yoga for a dozen years (just surpassing 550 sessions and 33,000 participants led), but this is a new challenge.

This morning as I was contemplating teaching my first “real yoga” class (Yoga for the Inflexible, offered by University of Alberta Campus & Community Recreation), I noticed that all my experience and acknowledgements were less salient than the concerns and nerves for teaching something new. I frequently put myself in the position of being a learner, partly to support my empathy for students. Yet, my lived sense of what it is like for the graduate students for whom I do a workshop each year about the first day of class was certainly heightened. I take some solace in knowing that all my past worries about new teaching experiences, like working with a translator in Thailand, ended up being unwarranted. The faulty internal dialogue says that maybe it was the anxiety that led me to prepare and is why it worked out. All this is background noise to address the inquiry I posed.

I’YinBolsterm teaching a class that I created combining Laughter Yoga and Yin Yoga both because I think it offers a novel contribution to what people are seeking and it is a real self-expression. I see that people are laughter_yogadisconnected from themselves, each other, and the planet. We are hungry for wholeness and we often can’t articulate the problem or see good solutions. Yoga provides a wonderful variety of ways to connect us to ourselves, yet it is often a solitary practice and it can too easily be what I call “yoga-inspired exercise” or yoga-robics. Laughter yoga is very social and it provides the sangha or community that I believe is part of the design and benefit of yoga. Yin offers a balance from our frenetic lives and it greatly reduces the chance that one will practice more striving and doing. It is a gentle way of passively letting go. Laughter is the yang or more active way of letting go.

I’m teaching Laugh Yin as a way to provide a balanced, social, practice of connecting with ourselves, each other, and the planet. I’m doing this because it provides unique benefits and I’m one of the few people to have the background and training to offer it. This will be a playful and heartful experience marrying two wonderful approaches to happiness and wholeness.

Laugh Yin will be offered on Thursdays from 4:35pm to 5:55pm in the Van Vliet Centre on the University of Alberta campus. If you are in Edmonton or know people who are, registration is available at https://www.activityreg.ualberta.ca/ using barcode 33696 or the Advanced Search and enter “laugh” to find the course.

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INSPIRED. Dream BIG. Breed.

Monday, May 9th, 2016

IMG_0480“The greatest two-minutes in sports.” That’s what they say about the Kentucky Derby. I’m not so sure about that. I do know that there’s something revealing that the highlights of my trip had nothing to do with horse racing.
InspireCorps&Cliff
In addition to Churchill Downs, Louisville houses one gem of a guy I count myself lucky to know: Cliff  Kuhn, who is known as The Laugh Doctor. If you took the quality of experiences together and divided it by the minutes together, that quotient for my time with Cliff probably exceeds that of anyone I’ve met. Over
the past decade or so since we’ve met, we’ve only spent hours together. Our time included what I think is the hardest laugh of my life — we were doing an exercise, called a “laughter quake,” at an International Laughter Symposium. We ended up on the floor convulsing, tears and snot from unbridled guffaws. We also have had conversations with exquisite poignance. After our time at the race track, Cliff shared with me deep experiences and we explored life’s biggest questions. We have tremendous mutual respect and admiration, which I take as a total honor. Something that makes a relationship is who you get to be in the presence of another. We spend so much time deluding ourselves and posing for others that it is precious to be who you truly are and to be seen as such.

What brought me to Kentucky was a generous invitation from the InspireCorps team. For years I have
longed for collaborators and playmates. The partners Jen Grace Baron, Allison Holzer, and Sandy Spataro
have welcomed me to coach, design & deliver programs, and be part of their firm that uses the best of
positive psych and somatics to create epic teams and leaders. We practice what we teach and this means
both being in flow while creating workshops and laughing our asses off driving to and from Northern
Kentucky to Louisville. This weekend included re-uniting with one of my favorites from my cohort in years
of sport psych conferences as a grad student and young professional, Katie Kilty, who serendipitously also works with InspireCorps. I also got to hang out with Gabrielle Joyce, who keeps us all organized with beauty and elegance. Like Cliff, these amazing women provide moments of utter hilarity and spectacular insight. For most of my life, I have had a “story” that I don’t fully fit in or belong and these folks bust that up by providing a rich tapestry of connections.

Given our firm’s name and mission, I had to bet on Mor Spirit. He finished well out of the money, but the weekend was a great victory. An ad in the program caught our eye with the large text across a photo from The Derby, “INSPIRED.” The last line was “Dream BIG. Breed.” Make up your own joke. I am full of gratitude and appreciation for these people who inspire me, fulfill my dreams, and breed my desire to make as big a difference as I can.

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The Beauty of Impermanence

Monday, March 7th, 2016

Every Sunday my iStuff reminds me it’s time to write my blog. More often than not, it feels like there are so many things swirling around my head, I don’t know which one to pick. (I’ve also been putting most of my writing energy into my book project, which is shaping up with the working title of “For Those Who Dare to Teach.”). Yesterday was no different. I would like to tell everyone who has even the faintest inclination to vote for Donald Trump to watch John Oliver’s evisceration of him (#MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain). But I let Donald slip into my last blog and I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m obsessing about him. I’d like to share some observations from the Oscars including the value of working against racism, yet the irony of going over the top to address one flavor while exhibiting several instances of another (did you catch the Asian-Americans are good at math and have small penises jokes? Where was Chris Rock then?). Those are just a couple of examples. I read a useful piece not long ago suggesting that momentum is more important than clarity. In that spirit, I’m picking one idea among the many and I hope it’s useful for you.

As I’ve spent much time this year in yoga teacher training, including a week of Yin yoga with Bernie Clark in Vancouver, I’ve been happy to get more deeply into the underlying philosophy and ethics that are as much a part of yoga as the postures and breathing. This morning I was doing a yin yoga class on video with Bernie, and he shared some stories related to Buddha’s notions about three characteristics of existence. I got to thinking about “anicca” or impermanence. So often it seems that impermanence provokes a negative mood; we associate it with death and fear. But so much of the joy of life rests on impermanence. If we really got how fleeting things are, we could take that as inspiration to savor them more. If the core of enlightenment and greater delight is about being preseApple Blossomsnt, then impermanence could be a loud call back to the present moment. Knowing that this stage in your child’s life, this time in your relationship, this split second in how nature is manifesting is not going to last could be motivation to appreciate the beauty and magnificence more fully.

If I’ve learned anything from nearly 30 years of meditating, it’s that my mind is disposed toward planning. I tend to be more caught up in the future than Marty McFly. If it weren’t for impermanence, I could easily lose more of my life with my attention out in front of myself. There are beautiful flowers that bloom on the trees in my backyard. I appreciate them so much more knowing that they will only be there for a short time.

Some quotations on impermanence:
“Anyone who has lost something they thought was theirs forever finally comes to realise that nothing really belongs to them.” ― Paulo Coelho

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” ― Heraclitus

Perhaps Alan Watts said it best, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

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One of my most important insights of 2015, was that I am a sensitive person. I’ve got lots of strategies, both functional and less adaptive, to protect myself from all the things that a sensitive person may feel. All the good work I’ve done and the wonderful teachings that I’ve been blessed to receive have helped me to live more of life with an open heart. I’m convinced that one of the most compelling needs in our world is for each of us to live up to our capacity for compassion. Dalai Lama explained how to turn our compassionate energy outward in A Force for Good. You can join in an act of compassion and share your story here.

Yet, being vulnerable does seem to bring greater pain when witnessing inhumanity. It has been a difficult year in that regard. I’m committed to stay above the fear mongering. It’s essential to see that perpetrators are also victims. Meeting violence with anger fuels a destructive spiral. As I posted recently, “When entertainment turns to ignorance and hatred, it’s time for an alternative. My suggestion is whenever you see someone like America’s favorite xenophobic candidate shouting his lunacy and telling you whatever is on his mind is HUGE, remind yourself that we are all connected. As many great spirits, such as Martin Luther King, have told us, only love conquers fear. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” As tempting as it is to get irate and yell, “you’re fired,” try a deep breath and the idea that we are part of a whole, a union, a yuj. Your love is greater. We can use it now.

I’m inspired by acts of kindness and the many individuals and organizations who are taking compassionate action. One recent story I read involved the “ongoing practice of fearless, creative, compassion. Rooted in the principles of service to others, and relentless optimism in the face of adversity, Serve 2 Unite today engages young people of all backgrounds to value humanity and the aspiration of living a genuine, honest life as a peacemaker.

As I have the good fortune of an extended holiday starting soon, I’m reflecting on my declaration of 2015 as the “year of mindfulness.” Some key ideas ranged from Jim Carey’s commencement address (“Choose love and don’t ever let fear turn you against your playful heart.”) to Kahlil Gibran (“It is my fervent hope that my whole life on this earth will ever be tears and laughter.”) I participated in two meditation retreats; took a course on mindfulness and social emotional learning and another on meditation; completed a project on mindfulness for student wellness; and I’m part of a research team that has received funding to begin a project on mindfulness in schools. Mindfulness fosters silence and as Larry Dossey wrote, “Silence means that a place has been created where a higher form of knowing can enter.” There is a lot to be said for declaring an intention. What’s yours for 2016?

Continuing on the same theme, my focus for the new year is on how transforming yourself and being fully alive prepares you to serve and contribute to others. One way I’m seeking to walk my talk is by taking two yoga teacher trainings. Deepening my own embodiment and being more awake to living from ethical principles will support my compassionate action. What landed for me this past week, while attending Somatic Educational Leadership, was that I am best suited and situated to make a difference with teachers (coaches, speakers, parents) to help them in this regard. So 2016 for me is the year of Exhilarated Teaching/Exhilarated Learning. Stay tuned.

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Thanks & Giving

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

In my daily practices to Love Life Laughing, Thursdays are for Thank You. This past Thursday, I had the privilege to lead two laughter yoga sessions to audiences from the ends of the developmental continuum: a class of elementary students visiting the University of Alberta for USchool, and a group of seniors at St. Anthony’s Ukrainian Church. I was feeling grateful for the opportunity to bring some laughter and joy and to share some daily practices and attitudes for having a life filled with more positive emotions. I was also thankful to Steve Wilson and Madan Kataria for their roles in developing and fostering laughter clubs and for teaching me how to lead SS_instructorthese programs and train others. Over the past few years, I have somewhat “back-burnered” my laughter yoga pursuits as I’ve been expanding into other realms that support aliveness and exhilaration. On Saturday, as I was sharing yet another laughter session with a marvelous group during their yoga teacher training with Sara Cueva (I will be a student in said training in January), I was feeling grateful again for this gift of laughter yoga. As I have deepened my love of yoga and been practicing daily for months, it struck me that part of the beauty of laughter yoga – and what distinguishes it from the vast majority of yoga classes I’ve attended – is that it is social. I’ve been to many yoga classes, where I enter a dimly lit room, spend the entire time on my mat and never even make eye contact with other students. In laughter yoga, it is centrally about being with others and fulfilling our deep need for connection. It was wonderful to be with a group so willing to play.

In related musings, it has become increasingly clear to me that one of the most potent methods for increasing happiness is being of service to others. There are a lot of things I do that get social currency as “accomplishments,” yet they don’t always feed my soul. When I volunteer at the Marian Center and help to serve a meal for people coming off the streets, I feel a sense of grace and a deep happiness for making a contribution (and being part of a community of like-hearted folks). With the plethora of books and tips about happiness, it seems that contribution and service are somewhat of a secret that, perhaps, should be top of the list.

As we head toward American Thanksgiving, I am thankful for opportunities to inspire laughter, joy, and kindness and thrilled for chances to give. I wish you moments of reflection on gratitude and opportunities for giving to others. Happy Thanks & Giving.

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ALIVEness – The Challenge/The Path

Monday, November 16th, 2015

You may have heard the story about the General who sent long letters from the front because he “didn’t have time to make them shorter.” It’s been somewhat like that for me and my rationalization for quiet times in blog-ville. I’ve been doing a lot of musing about aliveness and exhilaration and my writing energy has largely been directed toward a book on this topic. Here is my current take on the challenge and a brief presentation of factors for flourishing and thriving. jump1

In a time of abundance, people are walking around tired, unfit, and distracted. We are disconnected from ourselves, each other, and our planet. It would be great if our problems could be solved with a one-dimensional approach. The challenge is more significant and the solution is more multi-faceted. As a result of not feeling our sensations and emotions and not accessing the wisdom of the body, we are compromising our nutrition, hydration, sleep, and physical activity and we are facing unprecedented levels of self-inflicted disease, diminished performance, and discontent. As we are not connecting with and empathizing with others, conflict quickly turns to aggression and violence. Our lack of relationship with nature allows us to soil and rape the planet.

Many approaches address only one element of the difficulties we face. Whether it is mindfulness, diet, communication, or a wilderness expedition, no matter how effective the intervention, it is like providing one leg of a four-legged stool – the foundation and sustainability are lacking. The approach I’m advocating in my book (working title: Exhilarated) provides the rationale and practical methods to re-connect to self, others, and the planet.

Perhaps you think taking care of your health and well being is selfish. Exhilarated will show how investing in the five core areas of ALIVEness bring you toward happiness, health, and fulfillment, and may be the greatest social contribution you make.

The notion that we are all connected goes beyond a new age platitude; it is a scientific reality. At a more basic level, it is self-evident that if you are tired, uninspired, and unwell then you are less pleasant to be around and you probably bring others down ­– and if you are energized, upbeat, and vibrant, you have a positive influence on the people you meet. At a deeper level, we can imagine that each person is like a cell in a body; we are collaborating toward collective health or we are heading off in our own direction, like a cancer.

Being exhilarated not only feels great for you, but it is a gift to the world.

Exhilarated will enhance your

Attention & Energy

Loving Relationships

Inspired Purpose & Passion

Ventures into Nature and

Enjoyment … so you will become more fully ALIVE

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  –Howard Thurman

I would love to hear your questions, comments, and ideas of what you would like to see in Exhilarated.

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Meditation: Vanilla and Chocolate – Choose Both

Monday, July 20th, 2015

There are many things that get forced into (often false) dichotomies. Sometimes the value of both sides are diminished and the worth of the larger category gets lost. Yes, I’ve even heard arguments about the “real” or “right” way to meditate.

I punctuated the mid-point of “The Year of Mindfulness” by attending a three-day meditation retreat with Steve Armstrong. This experience deepened my practice and gave me greater understanding of the value of vipassana (insight) meditation. Much could be said about the mental factors associated with meditation, yet one particularly useful distinction is wisdom. As Sayadaw U Tejaniya  wrote “awareness alone is not enough.” This practice cultivates greater ability to live skillfully with greater joy. GreatMindfulness

Most of my meditation history has been more about calming the mind (samatha meditation). In many Buddhist traditions, samatha is done as a precursor to vipassana meditation. I found myself really privileging the latter, but the whole game involves a calm mind that leads to penetrating insights into the nature of reality, which ultimately results in wisdom that reduces suffering and may bring about enlightenment.

A couple weeks into my new bandwagon of vipassana, I discovered that Deepak Chopra was leading a global meditation that would be followed shortly by a free, 21-day meditation experience, “Manifesting Grace through Gratitude” that started July 13.   Since then, I have been doing vipassana meditation each morning and joining Deepak for a guided session (using a mantra, in the samatha tradition) in the afternoon. I must say that there is value to having both forms of meditation in your tool belt.

I’m increasingly convinced that you meditate is more important than your flavour preference. In our world that frequently seems to give badges for busy-ness, taking time to quiet the mind provides wonderful benefits. Some thoughts on the matter: “Nothing is so like God as silence” (Meister Eckhart); “Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation” (Father Thomas Keating); “The seeker’s silence is the loudest form of prayer” (Swami Vivekananda, from the Hindu tradition); and from Zen Buddhism the aphorism “He who speaks does not know, and he who knows does not speak.” Larry Dossey who shared these quotations in “One Mind,” observed “But silence means more than simply being mute; a stone can do that. Silence means that a place has been created where a higher form of knowing can enter.”

I’m very much enjoying the increased ease and peace I’m finding as a result of taking time for silence. There are many wonderful resources for exploring meditation. I hope you will play and share your adventures.

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