It was the first of September and I had arrived back from Aranda de Duero with all kinds of thoughts in my head about what I was hoping to do in the future.
I have always been driven by a need to find the most effective tools for healing and health, both mental and physical. I never bought into the psychoanalysis of Frued, 1) because it goes against common sense 2) it is very misogynistic 3) the scientific research on this therapy has yet to prove its effectiveness and in fact, has proven that the constant revision of negative events (or ones that do not even exisit!!!) can make matters worse.
There is of course the behaviorist approach, but this theory pretty much turns people into machines and lacks the very important part of cognition which even animals have proven to display. Then comes the discipline of Sociology, kind of a result of behaviorism. But alas, dropping all the blame upon social conditions is not the entire answer either nor is it really very empowering or healing. It is useful and important to recognize various social structures that propagate destructive behaviors or ideas, but unfortunately can then result in a loss of individual responsibility. I dabbled a bit in Cognitive Behavioral Approaches but finally I found the most effective treatment for my own well-being, was the practice of Yoga.
I have taught Yoga for over five years now and practiced it longer. For me, it has been the solution to anxiety and debilitating fears. Nonetheless, recently, I have been feeling there was something missing in my Yoga experience. So I went to back to my old love, Psychology, and found that she had evolved into a wonderful and light being supported by scientific literature and studies. I spent the summer reading up on Positive Psychology. I read all the literature I could that was published by Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology. It was really no surprise to see many of the principals of Yoga (ie. Observing and re-directing thoughts) peeping through the various practices that Seligman proposed and tested. I will outline some of them below. Please feel free to try out these exercises on your own and let me know how they go.
Write out in detail three good things that happened to you every night before your go to bed or before you start your day. Often times our minds are habituated towards observing and re-living the negative which limits overall life enjoyment, dampens creativity, creates mind blocks and creates difficulty in problem solving. This activity can help break the habit. Adding WHY those good things happened is a great way to combat the sense of helplessness that proceeds depression. No matter how small the effort, write down what you did to contribute to that positive experience.
I totally aced my exam today and it felt awesome. I studied hard to achieve that grade.
I had a great conversation with my partner today and it is because I actually set the time aside to listen and ask him/her questions about their day.
My dog finally learned how to sit and roll over and it is because I spent a lot of time training him.
ABC (DE) of arguing with yourself
Everyone talks to themselves, and we are always harder on ourselves than anyone else, and learning how to refute and rebuttal those negative thoughts I found to be far more effective than ´just thinking happy thoughts´ or repeating time and time again positive affirmations that you and I both know, we don´t really believe. Below is a formula to help you nullify those negative thoughts.
A (Adversity) State the problem (I failed the exam)
B (Beliefs) State the beliefs/emotions associated with the problem (I feel hopeless and stupid)
C (Consequences) How does this problem make you act/think (I think I might just give up, drop the course, maybe just try something different)
D (Debate/Discussion) Have an argument in your head with a litigating lawyer and counteract every negative statement
Lawyer: Yes you suck. Always failing.
You: No, that´s not true. I passed the last exam with a great grade.
Lawyer: Whatever that was a fluke, why did you fail this one?
You: It wasn´t a fluke. I studied really hard and I enjoyed the material. I failed this one because I had fought with my partner the whole week and spent the entire night cramming instead of taking time during the week to study.
E (Energize) Write down the steps you will take to change
I will do better next time. I failed this exam due to lack of preparation. I will ask the professor what areas I need to improve upon and make sure that I space out my study time and make sure that before the night of an important exam I avoid discussions that might start a fight.
Always try to make negative events situational and positive events a permanent way of being. Use terms like always and never only when referring to positive events/aspects and avoid at all costs using ´always´ and ´never´ when referring to negative events/aspects.
Often times in psychology there is a lot of emphasis on the individual and not enough on how that individual is interacting with the world around him or her. We live in a very individualistic society that tends to create almost a kind of numbness or ignorance towards how we react to one another. This can be seen in work, everyday conversations and sex. This is a great error as relationships make up one of the most important components of PERMA, or well-being as measured by Seligman. No man is an island and if a human is stuck in pure isolation, even if provided for physically, they will either go crazy or die, or both. There is also a great emphasis in how to deal with negative or bad communication but less upon positive and good communication. This is yet another error. By increasing the positive-constructive communication between friends/partners one creates a kind of buffer so when there is a real negative topic at hand, the positives truly do outweigh the negative. For a business the minimum of such positive-constructive comments to negative interactions is 3:1 and for a successful relationship it is 5:1.
Here is a very basic guide to improving your positive communication ratio so that you can experience both greater happiness within your relationships and within yourself.
Active-Constructive: Ask in great detail that your partner/friend relieve the event with you. Ask who was there, what was said, how did they feel, what did they think than give your own ideas.
Hi Hun. I got a new client today.
That´s great! Tell me all about it! Who is it and how did it happen? How did you feel before the phone call and after? (Positive acknowledgement of the event and questions that further the conversation and re-live the experience)
Passive- Constructive: Congratulations or acknowledgment without asking for further details. Positive but not very warm or interested
That´s great. Congratulations (Positive acknowledgement of event but no further conversation)
Active- Destructive: Finding the negative in some good news that your partner/friend shared
Oh really? That would explain why you were 10 minutes late. Are you always going to be late when you get new clients? (Acknowledgement of event, but looking for the negative outcomes of the event)
Passive-Destructive: Not even acknowledging that your partner/friend shared something with you
Pass me the green beans . (No acknowledgment of the event)
Following these above exercises, I noticed a big difference within the first couple of weeks. I found myself observing my thoughts with more calm and when I felt that ever familiar swell of anxiety or uncertainty clouding my brain, I would search out a piece of paper and started writing down 3 positive things that had happened to me that day and why they had happened. So simple, but so effective. The arguing of negative thoughts is also a great tool and I am now much more aware of how my interactions increase or decrease my quality of relationships.
After learning and experiencing all the above and more, I was super excited to explore the world of Positive Psychology in more depth. One of my core strengths is love of learning. You can find out your core strengths here. I easily get obsessed and enthralled with learning and understanding new topics and ideas. In less than a month I had already read and digested the most important books of Positive Psychology, I had outlined all of the basics and I had recited the entire theory and the various practices to my friend as we drove back to Sevilla. I was even having him practice what I had learned. It was like a 7 hour positive psychology intensive! I was already pondering ways of perhaps pursing yet another Masters in the field or perhaps even a PhD, but then something changed…
I got home. I hugged my cat and I started to research various schools and opportunities and as I did this, the fire I had felt during the journey home, started to fade away. I felt tired. I did not want to answer the phone calls or emails from the schools I had contacted. I even stopped doing the Positive Psychology exercises that I had been doing so religiously.
I related this change of heart to a very good friend who I can always rely on for an honest assessment. She raised her eyebrow when I told her I was thinking of going to go back to school, and she asked if I really wanted to put myself back into the cold and very cerebral world of academia again…I had no reply.
The fact is that my head was super eager to be occupied all over again, but my heart knew better, my friend knew better and more than anything, my body knew better, I knew there was something else I had to learn, I just didn´t know what…
That was when, as I was watching yet another episode of John Oliver, Last Week Tonight in an effort to distract myself from this nagging feeling that I wasn´t quite in the right place, that there was something more I needed to study to in order to offer complete healing to myself and others, it was then that I saw to the right of my screen the prompt for a lecture titled: An academic overview of Tantra.
As John Oliver signed off for the evening, I clicked on the lecture and needless to say…my body, my heart and yes even my rebellious mind, alignedas I watched and began to understand with more clarity the ancient practice of Yoga, how deeply healing and practical it truly has the potential to be and where my next path of learning and healing should take me…
Stay tuned to learn more in my next post …Tantra: the sacred practice of sexual healing (no partner required)
It has been a while since I have posted anything and it is not because I am too busy working or giving classes. I cannot tell a lie and the truth is that I have been enjoying the peace, the beautiful night skies, homegrown veggies and the wonderful drop in temperature here in the province of Burgos.
As I substitute the classes for Domingo Gil of the Yoga & Pilates Center here in Aranda de Duero I have pondered just how amazing and perfectly life works out when you are open and willing to breathe, relax and take a chance.
When the student is ready, the teacher appears.
Almost four years ago I came to Aranda de Duero after leaving a very disappointing and disheartening job as a social researcher for Trinity College. I was certified as a Yoga teacher in India and throughout my Masters I continued to practice it, but I had no intention of transforming it into my profession. Nonetheless, my goal in life has always been to relieve suffering and to increase joy (one of the reasons I took the Yoga Teachers Training…). I thought I would find the answers in Psychology, but due to the heavy emphasis on pill popping and behavioral conditioning I was not satisfied and decided that the answers may lie in Sociology.
Unfortunately or fortunately, I came to understand the importance of basic economic structures in society (ie. tax systems and paternal/maternal leave) and its influence not only upon working behaviors but also levels of well-being. In fact the focus of my thesis was levels of well-being measured across Europe and how it interacted with gender, education, economic status, employment and age. This was my passion and I became very jaded with what I viewed as a very archaic way of viewing social practices and gender norms. I simply was not content with using GDP as a measurement of success and was convinced that current academia was very out of touch current social practices and experiences, especially among young working parents. I wanted to explore the very ambiguous but very important realm of well-being and social norms, after all, what is the point of a high GDP if the majority of the population is taking Prozac or suffering from depression. Unfortunately, Trinity College was not the place for such curiosity and I was pretty much put in my place by my supervisor and discouraged from researching such topics.
Looking back I understand better now why I hated working as a researcher so much. I have always been an eternal student of human nature. As a teen I choose The National Geographic over Seventeen and spent my summers in the library reading or in a cafés simply observing and writing down the various insights that an adolescent can pretend to have. I was always a little bit odd and a little bit on the outside, but I was comfortable there as it gave me the chance to observe from a birds eye point of view. It was common for friends to ask me for advice and this gift has come in handy as I have traveled. Without more than a hello to the passenger next to me I have been given in great detail the life stories of perfect strangers from Guatemala to South Korea and from the Philippines to England. Fascinated by the differences and more than anything, the similarities in emotional experiences I procured from these unsolicited interactions. I dug out and searched for belief and behavioral patterns across the different cultures and countries I visited just to try and see how they intertwined with stories of heartbreak and joy. What made one person cry and another survive and then thrive?
I thought working as a researcher would be like an extension of my travels but with the chance to use numbers and literature to back up my observations. Oh how very wrong was I!! The cold towers and walls of academia have little space for those seeking out new and unknown theories of reality. This was a rude, but eventually welcome and necessary discovery.
I remember the day I sat down with my supervisor and she looked over my CV and with her very signature but very sharp honesty, asked me quite bluntly, if working as social researcher was really where I wanted to be. I stumbled and bumbled around trying to justify my existence in the exalted halls of that prestigious college, but as I cycled home in the biting cold of the Irish winter, I had to acknowledge that I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. I lost my direction, my guiding desire to be with humanity, to understand and taste the joys of what it means to be alive, in all of its imperfections and unpredictable idiosyncrasies, I had to recognize, was in direct juxtaposition to the world of spreadsheets, SPSS, bell curves and political positioning so entrenched in the world of academia.
So with a kind of eagerness I finished out my contract and with my partner, moved to Spain where he would teach English and I would seek to try and start up a Yoga practice and business. I am not going to lie, it was very hard and lonely those first months in Aranda. It was cold and I felt professionally lost and morally depressed. I was jaded with the world around me as I walked through the streets of Aranda de Duero, but one day, as fate would have it, looking up, I saw in front of me in blue and purple, a sign overhead that read, Yoga & Pilates center. I barely had enough faith in myself and life to jot down the number, and even less courage to call, but call I did and that is where one story ended and another began.
I was looking for a place to teach, but more than anything, I was looking for a teacher. I didn´t know it at the time, but there was a large gap in my education and I was blessed to come into contact Domingo Gil, a fellow revolutionary and Yogi who would support me with patience and a kind bluntness and honesty as I found my Yoga groove. Being a man who swears like a sailor, reads Neruda and opened his own Yoga studio after 20 years of personal practice and experience, he corrected my Spanish showed me how to correct and improve my own Yoga practice, that of my students and how to live a honest and full life without giving a damn about what others think . A 20 year old hippie at heart and a ´manitas´ man (a handy man) he never sits still long enough to moan about the struggles he has faced and overcome…unless he is meditating or in Sirsasna.
With him I lost the fear of being firm and learned how to trust my own intuition as I moved students into correct positions and provided modifications. I also learned the true trans-formative power of an honest Yoga practice on and off the mat. There was still a long journey of learning, struggle and success ahead of me, but eventually I ended up substituting his classes during his breaks and this is a tradition I have continued every summer since I moved to Seville.
It has become a place for me to escape and to learn, to further my practice and rest the soul.
What a wonderful pleasure to escape the city and the heat and find sweet reprieve in the Vergil of Aranda de Duero, practicing Yoga with the trees, the dogs and the natural serenity of an atmosphere created by such an honest and sincere Yogi. I am convinced more than ever that when the student is ready, the teacher appears…and as I prepare myself for my return to Seville, I open my arms to new and old students as I take my turn, once again, at being the teacher.
If you ever find yourself in the Ribera del Duero, be sure to enjoy the wine (I can give you some great recommendations) but also be sure to check out a class with Domingo Gil in the Aranda Yoga & Pilates Center. Uplifting and trans-formative, I promise you won´t regret it.
Next year, there will be a new addition to the family, I am sure that baby Lazerus will be walking on his hands before he walks on his feet!
When I first started practicing Yoga I could not have cared less about the Breath. For me, all I wanted to do was get my leg and knee back into working order so I could start jogging again. At that moment in time, talking about Breath was unimportant and perhaps even a bit dull and tedious.
But I was so very, very wrong.
Everything revolves around breath. Without breath, you die. There is no other way around it. The first moment of autonomous life is an inhale and the last moment of life is an exhale. Furthermore, what we now call our diaphragm, in utero, was once a part of the heart. The health of your heart and the movement of your breath are intricately connected. They cannot be separated.
Your heart and breath are integrated just as much as your mental health and breath are connected. Breathing from the chest is a warning signal to the brain. When an animal is threatened (which you are an animal) breath moves from deep slow complete belly breaths into shallow quick paced chest breathing. Breathing from the belly and slowing down its rhythm is a signal to relax. When the body is relaxed it is able to heal and the mind is able to revert its energies into more creative forms of thinking rather than being stuck in fight or flight mode.