Chopra quote about intentionLast week, I tried something new–setting an intention for the day. I pulled out my “positivity notebook” and on a clean sheet of paper, I wrote “What is my purpose today?” I did this two days in a row.

I scribbled the first few things that came to my mind. Starting my days in this way changed something in my mindset, which changed my entire morning. I admit, I’ve been known to start my mornings in a frenzied, negative state of mind, where the littlest thing that goes wrong can set off a bomb in my brain. But not that day, and not the next day either.

What is an intention? According to this article in Yoga Journal, it is:

…not oriented toward a future outcome. Instead, it is a path or practice that is focused on how you are ‘being’ in the present moment. Your attention is on the ever-present ‘now’ in the constantly changing flow of life. You set your intentions based on understanding what matters most to you and make a commitment to align your worldly actions with your inner values.

I flipped back to my intentions once or twice to remind myself of them before setting about doing the things I had planned for my day. The short list helped me focus on the present moment. I asked myself throughout the day, am I honoring my intentions right now?

Even a single moment spent intentionally can reset a downward spiral into emotional mind. I struggle with my emotions–I let them control me–all the time. I’m working on it, believe me. Intention setting is a new tool for me. It helped me go about my day a bit more mindfully.

I googled “setting intentions” before I sat down to write this post. Huffington Post, of course, had many posts related to this topic. According to this one:

Starting your day with an intention will leave you willing and available to say ‘no’ to what is not serving you in your life.

As a people pleaser and a yes woman, this idea intrigues and calls to me. I understand that I need to say no to more in order to feel less stressed and more relaxed, and to have more time to explore the things that make me feel good (to say yes to more).

Do you set intentions each morning? If so, how does it affect your day?

 

My favorite pose so far.

My favorite pose so far.

The first time I tried yoga, I was in college, around age 19, and I had the completely wrong idea about it. My friend and I bought a 10-class pass for just under $100 (what was I thinking, and how did I afford this on a college kid’s budget?!) to a yoga studio just inconveniently located to my apartment. We bought yoga mats, and we showed up to our first class early. I remember an awful lot of chanting, which of course made us giggle nonstop. He farted a lot during class, which made us giggle more. We never ever went back.

I tried yoga DVDs at home, but I never felt like I knew what I was doing. I also thought yoga would help me get into shape and burn calories and be some super skinny bendy girl. I was looking at it all wrong.

Over the next decade and a half, I tried it at home a few more times, never liking it well enough to practice regularly or attempt another class. It felt like a waste of my precious, scarce time. I couldn’t settle my mind enough to relax during yoga. And surely, I erroneously thought, if I wasn’t breaking a sweat, it couldn’t be that good for my body! I fell in love with pilates and walking instead.

Recently, I started taking a class that focuses on balance skills (I’ve mentioned it here and here and here), which kicked off with 4 weeks on mindfulness–something I’d been dabbling in for a little while already. And then I felt opened up to trying yoga again, when a new studio sprung up a block and a half from my house.

I thought, I’m 36, stressed out, and in desperate need of something to challenge and excite me. Why not yoga? It had been at least 5 years since I last tried it, and let’s face it, it’s been a rough 5 years (parenthood, while the best gift of my entire life, has had its challenges, to put it vaguely).

After my first beginner’s class, I felt a twinge, the slightest spark, of “Hey, I actually feel kind of relaxed, and like maybe I’ll go back. Interesting….”

I did go back, but mostly because I instantly felt a connection with the owner/teacher. She made me laugh, which is something I didn’t think was “allowed” during yoga. And she reinforced some of the concepts I was learning in my balance skills class, such as breath work/breathing. (I used to also hate to focus on my breathing, about as much as I hated yoga.)

Last night, I took my seventh class, and I started to cry during Savasana while the teacher read a beautiful quote about loving the child within. I know this might sound cheesy, but I felt like I released some of the pent-up negative emotion that had been eating away at my insides for so long. Let’s not get carried away–there’s still plenty of that left, I know! But I suspect yoga is the thing I needed to help me find a release for it.

On the walk to my car, I texted a friend who has practiced yoga for years: “Serious and embarrassing question: Is it ‘normal’ to feel on the verge of crying during yoga?” Her response began with “Um, YEAH!” and then explained a little bit about the emotional and physiologic effects of yoga. Another friend shared this Yoga Journal article, Emotions in Motion, with me.

When I read that, I wished I’d seen it sooner, because it gave advice about what to do to help you cope should you experience a breakthrough on the mat. Here’s what I did: Panic! Open my eyes, scan the room to see who might have noticed the tear rolling down my cheek. Nobody? Whew! Wipe the tear away and get back to what I was doing. Thoughts racing. Make them stop! I cannot cry in front of these strangers! Stop, stop, stop or I can never come back again!

And then I remembered all the different breathing exercises I’ve learned in the balance skills class and in yoga, and I began to focus on my breath again.

The strangest thing happened on the drive home from class last night–I felt happy. Not the kind of happy I was when I began the day with a cupcake for breakfast, either. I felt happiness in my heart. I haven’t felt that light in a very long time. I cried and laughed and sang in the car.

It’s because of yoga, isn’t it? I wonder what the 19-year-old me would think of the 36-year-old me.

 

photo by: kaibara87
He looks like a fixer. Arms crossed tightly, closed off to the story and probably already planning the action!

He looks like a fixer. Arms crossed tightly, closed off to the story and probably already planning the action!

I am a fixer. Until recently, I said those words proudly when someone came to me with a problem. I saw this as a sign of strength, compassion, ambition, and love. In my mind, wanting to fix someone’s problem meant I love them and want them to be happy.

But now? Now I say it in a completely different tone of voice, apologetic even. Now I see it altogether differently.

I’m enrolled in a 12-week balance skills (focusing on mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness) group, and I’m learning a lot there. I’ve learned at least 4 breathing techniques to help me dial down my emotions (particularly anxiety), and I’ve fallen in love with 4-7-8 breathing. I’ve learned the difference between willingness and willfulness. I’ve become more mindful in my everyday life. I’ve learned so much more, but the biggest lesson so far is that sometimes the Universe actually DOES give me what I need exactly when I need it. And this week, I finally realized that trying to fix people’s situations (ok, and my own) is actually problematic for a number of reasons! It’s like the Universe taught me this lesson many times over the past few days, and now I’m writing it down to hold myself accountable.

First, fixing is willful. It’s crossing your arms tightly in front of you and not accepting reality. An important piece to acceptance is giving up the fight. Not fighting a situation helps us to tolerate it (the distress) better. According to Marsha Linehan, “Freedom from suffering requires ACCEPTANCE from deep within of what is. Let yourself go competely with what is.” Fixing is stubborn, unyielding.

Fixing is saying “You are not good enough as you currently are.” In another moment of synchronicity this week, my friend Story shared a Momastery blog post with me, Our Sacred Scared- Day One. I practiced pausing and listening, and then I clicked through to the message. I’m new to Momastery, but immediately after reading this post, I subscribed to the blog and I’m looking forward to reading more about Our Sacred Scared. Here is the piece of that post that resonated most with me on my new journey to stop fixing, but I encourage you to head over there and read the example that follows this:

When someone lets you into her Sacred Scared – she is showing you her messy insides NOT because she wants you to fix it, but because she trusts you enough to let you know the real, true her.

Sometimes, fixing is not listening with our full effort and best intention. What do people generally want? We want to be seen and heard. Sometimes all we want is a “me too.” As a fixer, it sometimes is hard for me to pause and listen because my brain is going, going, going, devising a plan to solve the problem (sometimes even while the other person is still talking!), make the unpleasant situation go away, and generate happiness for my loved one.

Fixing is also frustrating–it can be for both the fixer and the fixee. The fixer may become upset that the fixee isn’t receptive (enough) to the plan for action or seems to choose to wallow, and the fixee may be offended by the attempt at fixing when maybe all he or she really needed in this moment was to be understood.

Going forward with the things I’ve learned about acceptance, I’m going to practice not fixing but listening, understanding, and accepting. Will you join me?

photo by: Forest Runner

In yesterday’s post, Easing Seasonal Depression: Part One, I told you about two kinds of light therapy that can be used to alleviate the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (aka, seasonal depression). Did you know that light therapy can also help with anxiety, PMS, and sleep disorders?

Why I Love the Valkee 2

At work, using the Valkee 2

At work, using the Valkee 2

Now that I’ve tried light therapy via both a traditional lamp and a headset with earbuds, I realize I am a devoted convert to the Valkee 2 headset for several reasons:

  • Portability. The headset is small, around the size of an iPod nano, and therefore it is easily transported–sometimes I place it in my back pocket while I’m wearing it. And while I’m using it, I’m not tethered to my desk.
    Quickness. The Valkee 2 requires only 12 minutes of daily use, which is easy to fit into my busy days. After 12 minutes, the device shuts itself off automatically.
    Discretion. It is far more discreet than the traditional SAD lamp. When the earbuds are placed in my ears, nobody can tell light therapy is being used; anyone passing by thinks I’m listening to music. No more co-workers giggling about my Bat Signal. And no more sore eyes (like I would sometimes get with a SAD lamp).
    Charging Time. I’ve been using it for a month now, and I’ve had to charge it only one time. Charging is simple and fast, done via a USB cord plugged into my computer.
These little lights seem to do wonders for my mood.

These little lights seem to do wonders for my mood.

Because of all these attributes of the Valkee 2, I find it incredibly easy to use. It has become part of my morning routine. I typically use it when I get to work around 8:00 am, while I’m checking email. I place the earbuds into my ears, turn the device on (it has only one button), and forget all about it for 12 minutes until it beeps to indicate it’s shutting off. The Valkee 2 has a circle on the front, which lights up when you turn it on. As each minute passes, part of the circle grows dim, so you can tell how much time has elapsed of the 12-minute cycle. For example, when 6 minutes have passed, only half of the circle remains lit. When people stop by to talk to me while I’m using the Valkee 2, I don’t have to remove the earbuds, as they are not noise-reducing earbuds and no sound is emitted during use.

How Do I Feel?

When I showed the Valkee 2 to my physician the other day while I was having my sprained wrist examined, he asked me if I think it’s working. My snarky but truthful response was, “Well, I’m not here asking you for an antidepressant, am I?”

It’s been a month since I started using the Valkee 2, and I feel really good! As I’ve said before, January is typically the month when I feel seasonal depression the most. It’s been a brutal winter here on the East Coast, with so many cold, gray January and February days. But I haven’t felt down, like I usually do in the winter. Of course it’s hard to say whether that’s contributed to the Valkee 2 or other factors (I am also taking a 12-week mindfulness course and I’m giving yoga another shot), but I like to think at least part of it is. I’m considering the Valkee 2 a crucial part of my winter survival plan.

Valkee 2 Giveaway

At the time of this writing, the device, from Finland, retails for approximately US $269 (199 euros). Valkee has generously offered to give one James & Jax reader a Valkee 2 of your own. On Valentine’s Day, Friday, February 14, one winner will be randomly selected to win a Valkee 2. You can enter this random drawing in several ways:

  1. Leave a comment below indicating what appeals to you about the Valkee 2. What makes you want to try it?
  2. Like Valkee on Facebook and leave a comment saying you’ve done this.
  3. Like James & Jax on Facebook and leave a comment saying you’ve done this.
  4. Tweet about this giveaway and comment here with the link to your tweet.

Each of the above is good for 1 entry, so you can enter a maximum of 4 times. Please be sure to leave a comment for each entry. The winner will be notified via email no later than 6:00 pm (ET) on February 14.

Disclosure: I received one Valkee 2 headset, courtesy of Valkee. All opinions expressed herein are a truthful representation of my experience using the Valkee 2 for one month. 

 

Back in November when I was bracing for the approaching winter (like I do every autumn), my therapist asked if I’d started to use my light therapy lamp yet. I had started in October, but only sporadically for a few reasons.

The Problem with Traditional Light Therapy

SAD lamp

My traditional “SAD lamp” (on the right)

First, I rarely sit still long enough to use it for the recommended length of time each morning (I believe it’s 30 minutes, at least to start). I’m a bit frantic in the mornings, packing lunches, checking Jackson’s school bag, and helping him dress and eat while getting myself ready before I race out the door to work. I don’t have the time–EVER–to stop what I’m doing and sit in front of my lamp. I’ve tried using it while I apply my makeup, but I’m sure you can guess how that turns out (I’ll spare you the terrifying clown photo).

Second, and this is directly related to the first reason, I keep my lamp on my desk at work. The only time I sit still for 30-minute increments is at my desk, so it seemed like the perfect place to sit in front of my lamp. However, the lamp is too bulky and fragile to lug home on the weekends, so I don’t use it on Saturdays and Sundays at all. Also, there are some mornings when sitting directly in front of the lamp isn’t feasible. Maybe I have to work on the computer, or maybe I have a meeting. Most importantly, it’s kind of embarrassing to use the lamp at work. I’ve had several co-workers stop by, curious about the light beam being projected from my cubicle to the ceiling. They’ve started calling it the Bat Signal.

Of course even with all those limitations, if something helps to relieve my seasonal depression symptoms, I’ll deal with the downside and just do it–when I can, anyway.

The Valkee 2: A New, More Convenient Light Therapy

The Valkee 2, which is the size of an iPod (approximately)

The Valkee 2, which is the size of an iPod (approximately)

So back to that November day in my therapist’s office… She asked if I’d heard about a Finnish product called the Valkee Bright Light Headset, which is essentially light therapy via earbuds. Intrigued but skeptical, I said I had not but I would look into this.

I found the company’s website and I started to read up on what seemed to me like a completely crazy idea–how could projecting light beams into my ear canals help my seasonal depression?! Because of my day job as an editor of several health care publications, I often read peer-reviewed studies and am familiar with and respect the peer review process. I appreciated that the company seems to have gone to great lengths to provide links to so many such studies, indicating promising results about “transcranial brain-targeted bright light treatment“–talk about a mouthful, right? I clicked through and read some of the abstracts to these studies, published in some very reputable journals.

My curiosity mounted. So what would any blogger do at this point? Find them on Twitter & mention them, of course! With astonishing speed, the company replied to my tweet, inviting me to contact them about perhaps receiving a Valkee of my own. It felt like Christmas to this girl who has suffered from seasonal depression for years!

Not only was I impressed with the idea of a new, portable, convenient way to use light therapy, but I also was impressed by the company’s responsiveness on social media. What’s even better is that the Valkee CEO himself responded to my emails, often within minutes. We talked about the product, and I grew more and more excited to try it myself.

In part two, I’ll tell you how it’s going, now that I’ve been using the Valkee 2 for exactly one month, and tell you how you can win one!