• Overcoming Distraction to Get Things Done

    “If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.” ~Native American saying

    Despite our best intentions, sometimes it can be really difficult to focus and work on a task that needs to be completed. We might have both external and internal distractions.  Interruptions are inevitable and they can deter our momentum and cause us to waste a lot of time trying to backtrack when we re-engage in our work.

    External distractions can be from email, phone, internet, or open/shared workspaces (either from co-workers or from family if we’re trying to work from home).  Because of this, there are endless possibilities for losing concentration.

    Besides these external distractions, we also have the ones that are playing in our mind about what needs to be done at home, who needs to be contacted, and what tasks need to be completed for other projects we have. It is often during the time that we are focusing on our primary task that we think of these things and are tempted to switch gears and take care of them.  But flitting between things never gives us the time we need to do the profound thinking and apply the focus necessary to do a job well.

    Our society seems to value multi-tasking but the only time multi-tasking is truly helpful is when one of the tasks that we’re doing simultaneously with another doesn’t require any attention, like folding laundry while having a phone conversation.  I think there is a lot of productivity to be gained by single-tasking.  That is, doing one thing at a time until the task is completed.

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  • Benefits of Eucalyptus Oil

    Eucalyptus oil is one of my favorite inexpensive products to transform my day.  I use it for a bunch of different things and have listed some ideas below.  Eucalyptus oil is distilled from the leaves and branch tips of the eucalyptus tree from Australia.  It has been highly prized over the centuries for its medicinal and aromatherapeutic properties.  Here are some of my favorite ways to use it.

    This photo belongs to And all that Malarkays from Flickr

    • Every day when I wake up, right after I’ve rinsed my face with water, I like to shake a couple drops of eucalyptus oil on to the end of a cotton swab and inhale the scent.   I exhale everything out and then place it in one nostril and rub it near the rim of my nose as I inhale deeply.  I then exhale sharply and repeat on the other side.  The exhilarating smell wakes me up, allows a brief 10 seconds of meditation and clears my sinuses.  If you’re in to this kind of thing, I also like to say a quick little mantra as I do this.  Some of my favorites are, “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better,” or “Today I am excited about everything.” If you shower in the morning, it’s also nice to place a couple drops in the base of the shower where the water won’t wash it away immediately.  It provides a spa shower sort of feel.
    • Eucalyptus oil is really good for the days that you are experiencing sinus problems or have a head cold.  I use it when I want to steam my face and get my sinuses clear. To do that, I boil a potful of water.  Once it comes to a boil, I remove it from the heat, add a few drops of eucalyptus oil, and then put my face over the bowl with a towel around my head to form a tent.  I spend the time inhaling and exhaling deeply.  After this is completed, everything becomes clear and is a good time to blow your nose.  This has the added benefit of being really good for opening up pores and clearing them out so you may want to try putting a face mask on after.  Try a moisturizing mask, especially if your skin is bothering you from excessive blowing of the nose, etc.  Putting eucalyptus oil in a humidifier has a similar effect.  My parents live at high altitude and every time I go to their house, my nasal passages suffer from the lack of moisture.  This is a great way to lubricate and open them and would also work really well if you have a humidifier running for your sick child and want to purify the air.
    • Every morning when I get to work, I add five drops of eucalyptus oil to my aromatherapy diffuser.  The invigorating smell really motivates me for the day and I like having the little bit of extra humidity in that dry office environment and to clear any negative energy.
    • Eucalyptus oil can be very revitalizing after a good hard workout.  I love to bike everywhere and the Houston summer can be brutally hot.  As sort of a shower on the go, I fill a basin of water and add about 5-6 drops of eucalyptus oil.  Then I dip in five small washcloths in the water-oil mixture.  A couple drops of peppermint or citrus oil also work well in this mixture.  Then I gently wring out the cloths and roll them up and place them in plastic bags that I keep in the refrigerator or freezer.  It feels amazing to lay this on your face after a brutal workout.  If I’m going on a long bike ride, I might add some ice cubes at the start and double bag them or put in a container so I can freshen and cool myself after.  It feels really good after hot yoga too.  I’m sure kids would love it after a hot sports practice as well.  Put the eucalyptus oil in with a light hand until you know if your skin will react to it.  Eucalyptus oil can be slightly irritating if it’s too concentrated.  The oil also soothes aching muscles so sometimes it’s nice to put the cloth around the back of your neck if you have sore shoulders and upper back muscles.

    You can find eucalyptus oil very easily at any health food store.  The Aura Cacia brand has worked really well for me.

  • How Journaling Can Change Your Life

    I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train. ~Oscar Wilde

    Journaling has truly changed my life in very positive ways.  I first started journaling as part of the morning pages required for The Artist’s Way self-guided course.  In that book, the author Julia Cameron says that the first thing you should do every single day when you wake up is to write three pages freehand in a journal.  The notion is that it enables you to clear your head and allows ideas to flow more freely throughout the rest of the day.   This was one of the exercises in the book that I found extremely helpful and have hung on to.  It has helped me for some creativity-related things, but mostly just for life.

    When I first started (as with meditation) I had no idea that this was going to open me up to a whole new world.  Journaling has allowed 7 different extremely important things to happen in my life.  Read below about ways it might affect yours:

    1. Enact personal change: If you complain about the same things day after day, it becomes nearly impossible to ignore the words that have been staring back at you.  Maybe you write over and over and over again that you need to stop drinking so much, or you need to get over a relationship, or that you need to do something about your weight.  By writing about it day after day, it enacts us to take charge and do something about it.  As one example, this blog was born in my journal.
    2. Tell your story: Journaling allows you to tell your story in whatever way you paint it.  There are all kinds of things that happen to us in life, either that we allow or that are forced upon us.  Journaling helps us to alter the way we tell that story.  Essentially it allows us to write our own history.  It’s pretty hard to write a story starring yourself as the victim.  Victors generally write history as Chief always says.  So tell your own tale of redemption, growth and efforts from your point of view.
    3. Objectivity: Journaling allows you to maintain some objectivity in your life.  It allows you to relate what is going on in your head to what is going on in your world.  This is an extremely important one for me because I tend to be anxiety-prone.  I live in a world of endless possibilities given both my personality type and my life situation at the moment.  Journaling is a way to disentangle all the random thoughts that are running around in your head and to separate things in to distinct problems, solutions, and relationships.  It’s kind of a way to be your own counselor.
    4. Bitch session:  Most of us have a great friend or family member we can call up and rant and rave to but let’s face it…sometimes those people get tired of hearing us moan and lament about the same things over and over.  Journaling allows us to just release these horrible pent-up thoughts or emotions or woe-is-me feelings.  It enable us to do so without having to dump on someone else, or be judged by anyone, or to have anyone try to solve our problem (instead of just listening).
    5. Ideas and insights: Journaling allows you to capture ideas and insights and plant seeds about what you are aiming for next.  Sometimes I will sit down after a particularly vivid or poignant dream and record as much of it as I can remember.  I find that when I look back later, these dreams were life-changing shifts in my consciousness.  I also write a lot of ideas I have, whether about writing, or business ideas or insights.
    6. Reveal tracks and patterns:  If you are journaling, you might notice that there are different things in your life that trigger other events or outcomes.  When are you happiest?  What causes sadness or strife?  What set you up for success?
    7. Makes peace with the past:  Journaling is a place to deal with the things from the past that were never addressed or maybe you didn’t want to admit to or deal with.  It allows us to find the lessons in what may have been struggles, or to see a situation for what it really brought to our lives .  It enables us to see how something might have changed us and ushered us to growth.

    Here is what I have found works best for starting a habit of journaling: 

    Buy yourself a nice journal.  This is a really fun activity to do at an art or bookstore.  Take yourself on a little date!  I also like to buy nice pens.  These Sakura archival quality ones are my favorite.  They only require a really soft touch and were nice when I was having some wrist problems related to RSI.  One of my favorite journals is this one I found at Barnes and Noble.  I like it because it has a lot of room to write but is soft cover and fairly small, so I can always have it with me.

    Set aside time to write.  I know the popular thing to say is that you don’t have time to do this.  But you can find time.  There are going to be days when you can’t get to it, sure, but after awhile it becomes a craving for catharsis, a bit of “me” time.  I know the morning is a sacred time and I wish I had more time to do it then but the reality is that I don’t.  I think there is something special about late afternoon too.   It has a similar amorphous quality like morning does.   I use my transition from workday in to home life to journal.  Often times at work, I will go sit outside in the very last hour (when I’m mentally exhausted and likely to be staring catatonically at my workstation anyway) and go find a location just outside the building to scribble away and release any stress from the day.

    If you find this part really hard, another suggestion I would make is to trying use 750words.com.  It’s an online private site that allows you to type everything out.  This would actually only take about 10 minutes and surely you spend 10 minutes a day on your computer wasting time already.  Instead of looking at people’s political rants on Facebook, journal a bit and discover something about your own soul.

    Journal about whatever comes to mind.  I usually just take a stream-of-consciousness flow to my journaling.  For one thing, it’s sometimes good to dump out all the stuff that is circling through my consciousness and causing clogged thought pathways where the subconscious might be able to come forward.  Doing it this way also helps me to recognize what thoughts and associations I tend to have over and over.  Sometimes my journaling is incredibly creative and insightful and the makings of a story or poem or post pour forward.  Other times I find myself writing two pages about lining up a catsitter or what I should do about my drycleaning and alterations.  No matter what the thought, it feels good to get it out.  Some people keep gratitude journals, whereas others use journaling prompts.   This page is kind of fun for that.  Do not edit or censor anything.  Sometimes it comes out wrong or unexpected for fruitful reasons.

    Happy journaling, my peaceful warriors! 🙂

  • 10 Ways to Jump-Start Creativity

    There are times I feel duller than a doorknob and can’t think of anything to write (and so I procrastinate and write posts about creativity 😉 ).  Creating is not just required for artists and writers though.  Creativity is about generating something new – something that wasn’t previously in existence.   Creativity is an innate human desire to be original and to make new connections.  You may have to call on creativity  to figure out how to solve problems (for work, relationships, life, or a pet project) or to acquire new insights.  Sometimes when I’m looking for inspiration or hoping to have ideas flow, I try doing any one or a combination of the following things listed below.  Most of them are rather counter-intuitive because they aren’t productive, per se, but they can get your mind spinning and your creative webs extruding.

    Creativity Photo via deichgnu on Flickr Read more

  • Meditation: The Basics

    When kids are behaving badly, we tend to give them a timeout.  This is usually because they become so wrapped up or fixated on one thing that their emotion or upset feeling takes over every interaction they have.  This emotion that takes over is often anger, greed, frustration, or distress.  While they sit in timeout, they remove themselves from the rest of the world and have a chance to reflect, rest, and realize that the emotion they were painting on to every interaction they had might be kind of silly.  And how do they emerge after some minutes?  They are usually calmer, more focused, and ready to start their next activity with a fresh outlook.  This is essentially meditation.

    For the longest time, I didn’t really “get” what meditation was.  After years of doing yoga, the idea of what it meant began to grow organically through my practice.  It’s essentially a self-imposed timeout.  It’s a chance to withdraw from the world and get a sense for what is going on within us by observing ourselves.  It’s an opportunity to see what emotion or thought is arresting our attention.  Most people will avoid observing themselves by any means necessary.  This is often done under a veil of busyness which seems to be a badge of honor in our society.  But by actively not thinking about anything or distracting ourselves with the external, we somehow find solutions to our problems.  It’s almost like a way to push a vehicle off the rutted path that is only getting more treacherously deep with each passing.  In this case, the ruts are our thinking patterns.

    You know how sometimes you feel like you totally know something, a simple fact, but the harder you think about it, the more quickly it wriggles away?  Then, when you stop thinking about it, you randomly yell out the answer?  That is sort of like meditation.  By forgetting what you are trying to solve, answers suddenly crystallize.

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  • Cold Showers for Health

    Cold showers have a number of health and beauty benefits.  It may sound daunting at first, but give it a try and I think you will learn to love them.  The various benefits of a cold shower are listed below:

    • Increases immunity– It contracts the muscles to help eliminate toxins, much the way a massage would do.
    • Stimulates the nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic)-  The sympathetic nervous system mobilizes the body’s resources under stress, whereas the parasympathetic nervous system aids in the control of most of the body’s organs. Due to the sympathetic stimulation, there is some evidence that cold showers can help control panic, anxiety and depression.  And it stimulates the parasympathetic system by flushing the organs and bringing a fresh supply of blood.
    • Increases circulation– The cold response brings blood to the capillaries and stimulates the lymphatic fluid which is vital to the immune system.  The response is similar to dry body brushing.  I have found it also makes the body less sensitive to changes in temperature.  Paradoxically, this is especially helpful during the wintertime to help one deal better with cold temperatures.
    • Burns fat – According to Timothy Ferriss in The 4-Hour Body, cold stimulates the body to to produce BAT, or the type of fat that is referred to as “fat-burning fat.”   He says there are at least two types of fat: white adipose tissue (WAT) and brown adipose tissue (BAT).  Essentially, what little brown fat we have (BAT) takes calories from normal (WAT) fat and burns it.  Cold showers help to increase the amount of BAT available.  In doing so, this “fat-burning fat” burns regular fat and glucose as heat.
    • Increases overall well-being and energy– After a cold shower, you will feel energized and invigorated.  Remember that lovely feeling you get after diving in to a cool body of water?  Ya, it’s just like that!
    • Makes legs ultra smooth– If you shave while you’re cold, the goosebumps cause the hair to stand on end and stick out farther than they normally would.  That way, when your goosebumps retreat, you hair is removed from below your skin surface and they feel ultra-smooth for 2 days.  I discovered this when I used to shave at the end of my dock during Minnesota summers!
    • Makes hair shiny and closes pores– Cold water closes the cuticle of the hair and makes the hair stronger while preventing dirt from accumulating on the shaft of the hair.

    I have found that the best way to get the benefit of a cold shower is to simply turn the water cold at the end of the shower for the last 3 minutes or so.  I usually like to keep the water warm until after I rinse out my shampoo.  Then I turn it cold and step under to douse myself.  I leave it cold while I shave and condition my hair.  I rinse my conditioner out with cold water.

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  • Dry Body Brushing

    Body Brushing<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />Dry body brushing is an excellent way to exfoliate the skin and stimulate circulation.   It increases the elasticity of the skin and has been touted as a way to reduce cellulite, cleanse the lymphatic system, increase immunity, energize the body, and tone and tighten the skin.  <br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />It&#8217;s best to do your body brushing just prior to showering or bathing.  Brush in the direction of lymphatic drainage, towards the heart in long, sweeping, brisk strokes. Brush in counter-clockwise strokes on the abdomen.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />You can find a body brush at a health or natural store for $15 or less.  I found mine at Whole Foods.Dry body brushing is a wonderful way to revitalize your health.  Skin, of course, is our largest organ. One of its functions is to help us get rid of impurities.  Dry body brushing can eliminate some of the dead skin cells that might be clogging our pores and reducing skin’s ability to rid itself of waste material.  The dead skin cells can also prevent our new fresh skin cells underneath from being visible, so brushing helps to keep the skin looking youthful and healthy as this fresh layer is revealed.

     

    In addition to dry body brushing’s ability to tone and tighten the skin through phsycial exfoliation, it also helps to activate circulation.   It does so by getting the blood flowing to the surface of the skin.  Because of this stimulation of circulation, the skin’s appearance improves and it is also energinzing, much the way a brisk walk would be.

    One of the most amazing things that dry body brushing does is to stimulate and aid the lymphatic system, which has the function of transporting waste and toxins from the cells.  As a result, it helps to increase immunity and fortify the body’s defense against toxins. Read more

  • Reaping What We Sow

    Plant CeremonySometimes we have a lousy year or we want a mulligan in life.  There are times we just need to release or start over.  What follows is a story about a clever little ceremony my friend conceived of on my birthday three years ago today to do just that.  Besides a birthday, I also think it would be a really good practice to perform at New Year’s, or I like the idea of fall being a time for renewal, as Victoria Smith blogs about in this post on Corbae Café.  This would also work really well after a break-up, after a recovery, or any time you are committed to turning over a new leaf in life.  In some years, I have decided to consider the Chinese New Year as my time to “start fresh.”  Immediately after the holidays, it can be really hard for us to plan for and implement a change due to the exhaustion that goes along with December.  There are bullets at the bottom detailing how this can be done.  Please feel free to read the meat in the middle about how it worked in my life.

    My 31st year had been a tough one.  There was a marriage separation and there was a move.  I wasn’t myself – I was feeling physically and mentally exhausted and mildly depressed. I didn’t know how my career was going to suit my new life.  I was lonely.  I was set to pass in to my 32nd year with no real plans.  After this year of seclusion and putting up walls in an attempt to go within and “find myself,” and shed some things from my past, my friend base was scarce and I had no family in town.  Just as I was beginning to anticipate the birthday blues, I found out a friend of mine, Karoun, was going to come in to town and was wondering if she could crash with me.

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  • Nauli for Good Digestion

    There are a number of kriyas associated with yoga that may seem freakish at first but are wonderful ways to care for the body.  The kriyas are various cleansing rituals that serve the purpose of keeping the body healthy, clear, and free of disease.  Some have become archaic since we now have more access to clean foods and drinking water but some still have a place in modern society.  One that I like to do every single morning when I wake up and before I consume anything is called nauli.  It is a way to massage the internal organs in the abdomen area, thereby working the abdominal muscles, the intestines, the reproductive organs and the whole digestive system.  One of the things this accomplishes is that it prevents the digestive system from getting too slow.  It relieves constipation and keeps things moving along.  It promotes a feeling of well being for me like I am cleared out and attentive to a key component of my health, superior digestion.  Expect to notice the digestive system in alert mode an hour or two after this exercise.  It’s a bit hard to explain and I won’t dig myself in to a hole by doing a YouTube video that could result in an infamous claim to fame but you can try your luck Googling around.  The way I do it is as follows:

    • Start standing up with your feet a couple of feet apart as you take a big inhale.
    • Exhale everything out through the mouth quickly and forcefully with the lips pursed as you double over (head higher than hips with hands on knees)
    • Begin 10 “pumps” of the stomach while holding the breath.  These pumps can be explained by pulling the stomach creepily far in and then pumping it back out to fully inflated.  You may feel the stomach sort of jiggle on the out since it is done with a pretty intense energy.
    • Inhale back up after you finish the 10 pumps.
    • Exhale through the mouth again as you bend over with your hands on your knees for the second set of 10 pumps.  Do not inhale or exhale as you do this.
    • Inhale back to standing
    • Exhale down and at the bottom with the hand on the knees, pull your stomach in as absolutely far as it can go.  Really suck it in so that you can feel a pressure on your inner organs and hold for as long as you can, or approximately 10 seconds.  Inhale back up and exhale standing to finish.

     I like to perform this every morning.  I usually do it the very first thing when I get out of bed because it must be done on a totally empty stomach.  If I do it within a couple minutes of waking, I know there is no chance of me having drunk any water.  It energizes me to begin my day on a healthy and pure note.  There are more advanced ways of doing nauli which involve rolling the stomach muscles from side to side so that both the ascending and descending colon are deeply massaged but stick with this simple routine until you get more used to it.

  • Tao Te Ching text, attributed to Lao-tzu

    “When you are content to be simply yourself
    and don’t compare or compete,
    everybody will respect you.

    Fill your bowl to the brim
    and it will spill.
    Keep sharpening your knife
    and it will blunt.
    Chase after money and security
    and your heart will never unclench.
    Care about people’s approval
    and you will be their prisoner.

    Do your work, then step back.
    The only path to serenity.”

    The Tao Te Ching is a short and elegant book.  There are many different translations from the original, which is ascribed to the Chinese philosopher, Lao-tzu, from the 6th century B.C.  This book, composed of 81 beautiful verses, is hard to describe.  It feels like it is written from the perspective of a wise and all-knowing soul.  The soul is akin to a grandparent or great-grandparent who has reached the end of their life, figured out the way to live, and is looking back on it all with a mischievous and knowing smile. It is reminiscent of someone who is too content with their own wisdom to attempt to change things that can only be figured out by others living and learning.

    Written like an abstract poem, this text somehow covers the ideas of governance, generosity, love, gratitude, spirituality and acceptance in a voice like a lullaby.  This is one of those books that I keep nearby and like to pull out when I am having a difficult moment.  Pretty much any verse I open to somehow helps me step back and put everything in perspective.  The passage above is one of my favorites to reflect on when I feel like I’m not good enough or like I am being judged.  It is a way to let go of achieving perfection.  The perfection is in the effort and mindfulness, but not in the over achievement at the expense of everything else.