“The best way to remove a fault is to practice its opposite virtue. Practicing virtue decreases mental restlessness and increases happiness. Eradicate your bad character traits by strengthening good character traits.” —Swami Kripalu
“We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.”—Henry David Thoreau
Do you feel stuck? Do you find that you’re always preparing for the worst? Where are you putting your attention? When we step back and examine our worldview it can lead us to question our belief systems and our perspective. Yoga often initiates this exploration: As we experience being in our body, being in the moment, and fully feeling our experiences, we open to the possibility of being comfortable in the uncomfortable. How do we integrate this practice into our daily lives?
In her R&R retreat workshop Life Is Perspective, Kripalu Yoga teacher and life coach Coby Kozlowski, explores the gift of perspective and how yoga can impact our experiences. Discussing tenets from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, specifically, yoga as “the cessation of the modifications of the mind,” Coby notes that we can approach our experiences as “the observer, the witness, and open to seeing the way we frame our own experience in the belief systems that we’ve codified in our perspective.”
Can you learn to be an optimist? The answer is yes.
We’re always talking about the mind-body connection: how our emotional and mental state can affect our physical health. Now, a new study in the journal Aging confirms the notion, reporting that having a positive attitude about aging, but also generally, can add years to your life. That is, optimistic people live longer. Of course, optimism is a state of being often linked to genetics—you’re either born an optimist or you’re not—how you’re raised, and your life circumstances. For many who’ve faced certain hardship or personal struggle, it can be difficult to retain a sunny outlook when everything seems to be going wrong. What to do in that case?
“Centenarians often share genetically inherited positive personality traits: They’re easy going, out going, competent, and laugh easily,” says Susan B. Lord, MD, who leads several Kripalu Healthy Living programs. “They also tend to manage and express their feelings more freely than the general population.” These qualities have them—and their parasympathetic nervous system—living in a more relaxed state, which in turn optimizes organ function, slows down aging, and decreases the risk of developing disease. The question is: Can those of us who did not inherit a sunny, extroverted disposition develop this orientation toward life? Can we literally learn optimism?
Yes, says Susan. “Most of us are familiar with trying to change out of fear of getting sick or out of hating how we are now,” she says. “But this rarely works because it increases stress, which exacerbates the situation rather than turning it around.” When we focus on positive states, however, we actually change the brain, creating new neural pathways or habitual patterns of emotional stability, competence, positivity, contentment, and even joy—things that are consistent with longevity and good health outcomes. “Most of us spend entirely too much time wishing things were different, both in our past and our present,” she says. “We focus on negative emotions and memories so that is what we experience and create for ourselves. But neuroscience has shown that to change, we must put our attention on what we want instead of on what we don’t want.”
The inherent balance of body, mind, and spirit is our birthright, our natural default, and is always available to us. And what a blessing that is!
Consider the strangely discordant nature of our being. There’s the spirit, already connected to all—deeply quiet, the essence of peace. There’s the mind, eager to rush out of that seat of peace into the illusion of control, into yesterday, while wildly scanning tomorrow. And, finally, there’s the body, which holds the contradictions between the mind and the spirit.
Our minds become the primary operating filter through which we exist. As the mind takes over our experience, our access to the body’s signals weakens and our connection to the spirit diminishes. In order to find the balance between body, mind, and spirit, the mind needs to be trained. Without its training, we deprive ourselves of the depth of information available to us through the body and the spirit. Try these tips to train the mind and re-balance your life:
• At a red light, take three deep breaths. This brief break can help reestablish homeostasis, the body’s relaxation response.
• At work, set an alarm on your phone for a specific time mid-morning. At that point, walk to the restroom, allowing every step to be one of mindful presence. Splash water on your face. Be there, feel it. Enjoy this refreshing, balancing break.
• Take a few minutes at the end of your workday for a mindful transition: Do some simple stretches; go for a short walk. As you release the stress of the workday, you’ll be more relaxed and more available when you return home.
In this video series, Kripalu Healthy Living faculty member Maria Sirois, PsyD, shares her wisdom on the topic of resiliency and suggests ways to cultivate it in your daily life. Are you resilient? What does it mean to you to be flexible?
Summer and fun go hand-in-hand. The richness of the season gives us permission to open up and to let go, in body, mind, and spirit. So this is the perfect time to reinvent—and recommit to—your playful inner child.
Our childhood memories often act as doorways to pleasure and laughter. Along with the more challenging memories of childhood, remembering the freedom and spontaneity of our young selves can inform our adult selves in healthy and relaxing ways.
What summer activities lit you up as a kid? Did you enjoy swimming in the creek? Riding your bike to a new destination and having a picnic once you arrived? Going for a long walk as the sun set? Visiting amusement parks or the zoo?
When we give ourselves that which lights us up, so many arenas of the positive unfold, and the simple relaxation that results from having fun is a profound gift. Emotionally, we benefit so deeply from laughing, from letting go. And spiritually, the connection we feel while letting go into fun is profound. As Rumi says, “The door is round and open.”
So go ahead, choose one childhood outdoor activity. Give yourself this gift—the gift of summer, the gift of laughter, the gift of childhood, the gift of fun.
Is happiness possible for all of us? How do we take the first step?
Cheryl Kain, Guest Blogger
Because the Constitution declares our right to pursue happiness, contentment can seem, for many Americans, like a birthright. At the same time, the quest for happiness can feel like herding cats—elusive and frustrating. We’re failures if we aren’t “happy” all the time—that’s why scores of books are written promising the secrets to happiness. But the search for happiness as an aggressive imperative can have the opposite effect, especially since happiness is relative for many people, including those facing poverty, health problems, or deep despair. The questions become: Can we ever truly achieve happiness? And could there be a set of universal prescriptions for getting there?
Teacher and author Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD, a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology and author of Being Happy: You Don’t Have to be Perfect to Lead a Richer, Happier Life, says the number-one predictor of well-being is the time we spend with people we care about and who care about us. “Latin Americans are happier than North Americans, because of the emphasis on relationships,” he says. “Friends and family play a much more central role in their lives.” This certainly rings true for me: In my own life, I have been far happier in my thirties and forties than when I was a singing-career-obsessed twentysomething. According to Gail Sheehy’s New York Times bestseller, Passages, I am a “deferred nurturer” and, admittedly, I did not value relationships as much as I did getting ahead in those earlier years. Smack dab in early midlife, relationships trump all for me now. My daily relational experiences, whether with my bestie or the grocery clerk, far outshine the pleasure of those long-ago pipe dreams.