Splash Into Calm: The Truth About Stress


Stress is a fact of life, both in happy and challenging times.  The recent shootings in Newtown, Connecicuct has brought about much fear, anxiety, loss, anger and grief thoughout the country.  This is an extreme situation where stress is prevalent, yet many of us live with fear and anxiety on a daily basis.  How can we help ourselves so our emotions do not impact our physical and emotional wellbeing?  Throughout my book, I offer many simple practices and I will highlight two simple techniques to help guide you back to the moment so stress does not take you over.

 Martin Rossman, a clinical instructor at the University of California, San Francisco, Medical School talks about stress as he explains:

 “People under harmful stress lose the ability to re-engage the parasympathetic nervous system, which drives the body’s day-to-day natural functions, including digestion and sleep. While individuals vary in how long they can tolerate chronic stress, research shows it sharply increases the risk of insomnia, chronic disease, and early death.”

 Kelly Kinsella has a one-woman show called When Thoughts Attack, and she’s getting rave reviews because so many people relate to her message. I know most of us have plenty of material to write a sequel (probably an entire series), which makes me wonder why it is so difficult to calm our crazy mind.

 We try to be proactive through yoga, massage, meditation, and exercise so we are familiar with feelings of relaxation and stability, but before we know it we are blindsided by anxiety. Taking time for classes is helpful, but sooner or later we must go about our day. There are times we need a life preserver before we drown in the reactions of our mind. We need a few quickies that we can count on to get immediate results.

Many universities have added yoga as a course for freshman. They are using yoga as a way to help students with stress and time management. The practice helps them prepare to handle the lifelong challenges of stressful situations. I venture to say that many of us would not need the information here if we had taken this course when we were eighteen. Unfortunately, yoga is associated with difficult poses, but what it really teaches is flexibility in managing daily life.

Here are a few ways to achieve instant relaxation; these exercises have saved me on a daily basis:

Find Your Mountain

A mountain is sizable, stable, and majestic. It maintains consistency, even with the change of seasons and weather. The landscape on the mountain might alter, but the mountain remains solid. (You can equate this to a bad hair day!) Even if the mountain is judged in some way, it does not crumble or whine. You must remember that you have the qualities of a mountain, even when you are in the grip of tension or storms in your life.

 At work, there are times that we need to get centered quickly but it must be unapparent to others. (So, getting on the floor in your business suit is off the list.) If you are on your way into an important meeting, finding your solid, secure, calm self is just beyond the surface of your thoughts.

 Try this:

  • Stand with your feet solidly in the floor.
  • Feel the contact of your feet to the surface beneath you.
  • Bring to mind the image of the mountain and the attributes it embodies.
  • Take a close look at its solid structure: the sides, the top, the landscape.
  • Take a few breaths while feeling the weight of your feet tethered into the earth.
  • Now, imagine you are that mountain; regal, centered, and empowered, and take that into your day.

If you are not one for visualizations, then simply feel the attributes that the mountain embodies and draw those feelings within.


I focus on breath often and there are many different practices to choose from. The following counting breath will quickly foster a calm mind:

  • Begin to notice your breath moving in and out through your nose.
  • Start to count the number of seconds it takes you to inhale, without forcing the breath in any way.
  • Count the number of seconds it takes you to exhale, without forcing the breath in any way.
  • See if you can even out the breath on the inhalation and exhalation.
  • Count the breaths between 4 to 8 rounds.

Remarkably simple and incredibly effective, this technique can be done anywhere, anytime.

 Think of these simple techniques as a quick zap to your “attacking thoughts.” They are free and do not require any change of clothes and do not hurt (sorry for those of you who live by the no pain, no gain philosophy). They can be done anywhere and take less than three minutes. Now that’s a deal!

 Give these simple, quick techniques a try or any technique from a previous blog post and let me know in the comments below what happened.  Were you able to quiet your thoughts?

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Splash Into Calm: Thankgiving

Let’s look at the holiday where food is in the forefront—Thanksgiving. When we think about the Thanksgiving holiday there are a few aspects to be investigated: physical digestion, gratitude, and Native American culture. This excerpt from  Splash Into Calm sheds some light on the subject.


We already looked at mindful eating last week, so let’s broaden our scope and include another cause of digestion issues. The Wall Street Journal’s March, 2009 article in New Health Journal addressed the effects of stress on our digestion.

L. Edwards, director of the Behavioral Chronic Pain Management program at Duke University Medical Center, said: “Now, we recognize that what happens in the brain affects the body and what happens in the body affects the brain.” The article goes on to say:

The digestive tract has its own extensive system of nerve cells lining the esophagus, stomach and intestines—known as the gut brain—that are extremely sensitive to thoughts and emotions. That's what creates the feeling of butterflies in the stomach. When anxiety persists, it can set off heartburn, indigestion and irritable-bowel syndrome, in which the normal movement of the colon gets out of rhythm, traps painful gas and alternates between diarrhea and constipation.

This is not a pretty picture, but it is the truth. I realize that most of us acknowledge that stress has an effect, but it is greater than we imagine.  Stress produces tension in our internal organs, decreasing their oxygen supply. This directly influences our ability to take in nutrients from food. The more oxygen that is absorbed in our internal organs, the healthier they are. We definitely want to keep our internal organs happy!

All of the techniques and perspectives explored throughout Splash Into Calm help temper stress.  Slow, deep breathing creates movement in your diaphragm that massages your stomach and other organs, increasing oxygen flow and nutrient absorption as well as expediting the elimination of waste.

In addition, yoga practices are beneficial.  Specific yoga poses help with digestion, because they give internal organs a massage, which brings in more blood and oxygen.

 There is a simple yoga pose that helps relieve bloating and gas. It is fondly known as the Wind Relieving Pose. I would recommend waiting at least a half hour after a big meal before practicing this or any form of exercise. It can be done in bed or on the floor.

I will give simple instructions but if you are confused or uncomfortable, wait until you work with a skilled instructor.

  • Lie on your back with your legs together and your lower legs over a blanket or chair; or simply keep your knees bent with your feet side by side.
  • Bring both knees to your chest and bring hands over to the left knee, and replace your right leg back over the blanket or back to the floor. Keep it close to the midline of your body.
  • Leave your right leg where it is and support your left knee with your hands either near your kneecap, or behind the knee crease.
  • Do not pull it in, but relax as you hold it. Keep it pointed toward your left ear. Stay here for a minute or two. Repeat on the other side.


Thanksgiving is essentially about giving thanks (hence the name) but it seems to become a food-a-thon and stress inducer, and the icing on the cake (no pun intended) is the inevitable indigestion. Some families have a tradition of asking each person around the table to share what they are grateful for, which is a nice beginning, but does not go far enough.  Saying what you are thankful for and behaving with gratitude are two different things. This phrase applies: “Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk.”  You have the freedom to choose how you view everything in everyone in your life. Gratitude will foster a happier, healthier state of mind. 

Native American Culture

In today’s world there is great concern for our environment and the neglect and disregard it receives. We can learn a lot from the deep respect for Mother Earth and for all of creation embodied in Native American culture.  The Native American term Wankan tanka means “the sacred” or "the divine" and when we ponder the message of Thanksgiving, it is one of gratitude for all that is, all that has been, and all that will be. This is a way of life, the heart and soul, and the spiritual essence of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.  Let me know in the comments below how the practices and perspectives affected your holiday experience.  What is your focus during the holiday?

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Improve Bone Strength & Balance


Balance and bone strength is an issue for many of us.  Some of us can not participate in any high impact exercise, but learning to lean  through your bones for support will help.

Yoga's Mountain Pose has many applications and you can use it as a way to improve balance and bone strength.

Try this:

  • Stand with your feet parallel to one another about hip width apart with your spine upright and if possible allow the sides of your feet to be parallel as well.
  • Look straight ahead with a soft gaze. 
  • Bring your awareness to the connection to your feet on the floor and notice the distribution of your weight.
  • Shift your weight into your left foot as if it was making an imprint in the sand.
  • Allow your body to let go into that side (your other foot is on the floor).  Stay with this for about 20 seconds.
  • Now, come back to center and notice if that leg is more connected to the floor.
  • Do the other side and then come back to center.

This is a great practice to help those wanting to improve balance or bone density as well as overall bone health.  It is also a wonderful way to draw your awareness back to the moment when you are feeling stressed.

Do you feel more stable as you stand?  Are you heavier into the floor? Let me know in the comments below what you noticed.

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Depend on theTeachings, not the Teacher

The recent NY Times article featuring the sexual indiscretions of John Friend, Anusara Yoga’s originator and leader, have caused many to leave the tradition.  This is not the first spiritual leader to fall from grace. 

This situation brings to mind this quote:

Buddha left a road map, Jesus left a road map, Krishna left a road map, Rand McNally left a road map.  But you still have to travel the road yourself  Stephin Levine

We tend to put our spiritual leaders up on  pedestals, assuming and expecting them to live up to what they teach.  This is not unreasonable, but we forget they are humans and even if they are spiritually evolved, they still can fail us with sometimes shocking behavior. 

Disappointment and hurt results when we become dependent, wanting someone else to give us our answers.

When a teacher gives us the tools and teachings to look within, then they are truly teaching and empowering.

I tell my students to get dependent on the practices, not the teacher.  The practices will not fail you, but as a human being, the teacher can.  Remember, if the teachings have worked for you keep them, even if you don’t keep the teacher.

Let me know in the comments below if you have had teachers who inspired and empowered you.  Have you had teachers that have disappointed you?  Were you able to keep the teachings?

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Yoga: 5 Ways to Tell if you are Overdoing

A recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution focused on injuries while practicing yoga. 

The main reason is we push beyond our limitations because we pay attention only to our thoughts.  Our body has infinite wisdom, and the practice of yoga is to stay in awareness from the inside-out.  Being aware means noticing what the mind is telling you and checking in with your body.

Your body will tell you the truth and your mind will tend to judge.

 At times it is difficult to know whether you are pushing too much or you are really able to go a bit further.    Here are a few simple tips that will help.

  1. If you are comparing yourself to someone else, chances are you are overdoing it.
  2. If you are going further because a teacher told you to, you are not listening to your body.
  3.  If you cannot breathe into the pose when it is painful, then back out.
  4. If you feel a stretch and you can breathe and relax into it, then you are okay.
  5. If you feel a stretch and when you take an easy breath and you cannot release and go deeper, then you should ease out a bit.

Let me know in the comments below what you noticed.  Did you push beyond your limitations?  If so, why do you think that happened?

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Yoga: No Pain, No Gain? No Way!

The article in the Atlanta Journal-constitution February 22, 2012 was titled:  "In yoga class, play it safe."

The focus was on paying attention to your body as the way to avoid injuries and for yoga instructors not to push students. 

Yoga is a spiritual discipline that has become an exercise regimen. Classes are too large with little personal attention.  That is when injuries occur.

The student that was described injured himself because his approach was force and his teacher pushed him to go further.   After his injury, his focus is on mindful yoga practice and listening to his body.  It took a snap of his knee for him to really understand yoga and to pay attention to what the body is telling him.

Those who could benefit greatly from a yoga practice are scared to try.  I hear “I’m not flexible enough”, “I’ll make a fool out of myself”, or “I can’t get into those contortions”, and they stay away.    

“When you match the postural practice to the person’s need, then you’re being true to the intention of yoga."

I find that the body tells us the truth and the mind judges.  The problem arises when we listen to our mind, negating the wisdom of the body.

When you practice yoga or any other physical activity, do you listen to your body?  Let me know you experience in the comments below.

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New Year, New Habits

Have you ever fully realized that life is, after all, merely a series of habits, and that it lies entirely within one’s own power to determine just what that series shall be?– Ralph W. Trine

At the beginning of the year we resolve to make changes at home and work and before we know it, we are back to the same behaviors and habits.

What I find is helpful is structure and making it approachable and inviting.

 If you are trying to begin a meditation and centering practice, try this:

  1. Find a space in your home or office and make it inviting and comfortable.
  2. Create a ritual:  It only takes s short time to create a habit.  Do your practice every day, even if you don’t want to.  Set up a time each day, the same time would be preferable but not necessary.
  3. As prep before meditation and centering practice, take a moment to prepare.  Do something to calm and quiet your mind. Some examples are: Breathing, yoga, listening to music, lighting incense, walking, etc.
  4. If this is a new practice, start at no more than 5 minutes a day and slowly increase to up to 30 minutes each day.
  5. Leave your watch and cell phone in another room. If time is a concern use a timer with a soft alarm.   

Let me know in the comments below how this worked for you and if you were able to create your space. If you did not, what do you think got in your way?

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How to follow through on your New Year’s resolution? With Devotion

Many of you have made resolutions for change in 2011 and already frustrated and ready to quit trying.

A change in perspective will make a big difference.

Consider this yoga teaching:  Practice becomes firmly established by being continued for a long time, without interruption and with devotion.  

We hear the term devoted partner, parent, friend, teacher….  What does that bring to mind?  Perhaps loving, always willing to be there and dedicated.

What would happen if you gave this same devotion to your own wellbeing and resolutions?

If keeping your New Year’s resolutions seems difficult, treat yourself with the same kindness and patience that you would a child learning something new.

How do you treat people you are devoted to?  Can you bring that to your resolutions?  


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Digest a Happy Thanksgiving!

Physical digestion is most effective when we take in nutrients from our food and excrete what is no longer needed. 

The same is true for digesting life.  When we embrace all of our experiences no matter what they are and then let them go, we live a centered life.

The problem is that we hold on to both the positive and negative.  Our mind ruminates on what happened, leaving no room for fresh new perspectives.  We overflow with information, emotions and thoughts and we miss out of the present moment.

It is important to find ways to clear away some of the clutter.  Think of it as rebooting a computer when it is not responding.  Practices of meditation, breathing and yoga are quite effective at helping to make room for new experiences. 

Thanksgiving is here and we will be around family and friends, which can bring up many challenges.  Our mind is so busy that we eat and do not even taste our food which took hours to prepare.

With each experience, let go of what is not needed and have a Thanksgiving with only the leftovers that you want!

Let me know in the comments below how your Thanksgiving was.  Were you able to stay present and let go of what you did not need?  If not, what do you think stopped you?

Posted in: A Calm Perspective

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Lesson No. 1: Learn to Relax

This was the title on the front page of a recent issue of the Living section for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The article focused on a new required course for freshman at Emory University- Yoga.  They are using yoga as a way to help students with stress and time management.  This is happening throughout the country and it helping to prepare students to handle the lifelong challenges of stressful situations.

I often hear people say, “I can’t do yoga because I am not flexible enough.”  That is the exact reason to do yoga!  Yoga poses are important but is just a small part of what yoga is about.   Yoga teaches you to be flexible in your daily life.

Through breath, meditation, other centering practices and poses you gain direct access to your inner resources, enhancing your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well being.

At Custom Calm we realize that some cannot get on the floor and have other limitations, so poses are adapted to meet the individual where they are at.  It is a “work -in”, not a “work- out”, with the focus on living a happier, more peaceful life.

How different our lives would be if we started yoga practices when we were in college!  It is not too late to begin at any age.

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