stop your wiggling.

Lately I’ve been enamored with the dichotomy between stillness and movement.  You may remember this post where I talked about travelling horizontally vs. travelling vertically. To borrow from Pico Iyer,  travelling vertically means traveling into Stillness within. I’ve discovered that I’m fairly skilled at resisting extracurricular fidgeting in two areas of stillness: savasana and seated meditation.

But I’m nearly terrible at finding stillness inside a yoga pose. 

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This is one of my favorite poses, but I’m constantly wiggling once I’m in it. (photo cred: epagaFoto and Allyson Cheney)

It’s part career hazard: as a yoga teacher, my eagle eye is scanning the room, looking for any opportunity to help a student move more efficiently and enjoyably in and out of each pose.

And it’s part habit: I always want to find a way to make my pose look and feel ideal.

But what if ‘ideal’ for today is exactly where the pose landed in its first mental conception and physical manifestation? What if the pose doesn’t require a shifting of the hips, an extra elongating of the spine, an extra stretch of the ribs, or an extra visual scan around the room to see who’s doing the pose better than I am? It usually doesn’t.

One thing I adore about the Ashtanga asana system is that I only get 5 inhales in each pose. I sure as heck better get myself into my pose in one movement. Forget about wiping sweat, drinking water, fixing bobby pins, adjusting bra straps: there is simply no time for these shenanigans. There is only time for stillness.

Again, to quote the very wise Pico Iyer, “Stillness is not an indulgence… it’s a necessity for anyone who wants to gather less visible resources.”

Meaning: we don’t need 3 hours in meditation to find stillness. We don’t need to indulge in a three week sabbatical to make stillness a part of our lives. (Although, how cool is it to get into the mountains, set up your yoga mat on a pine needle carpet and start your day with birdsong? It’s really cool!)

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Travel, if you have the chance.  But also be brave enough to be still.

I’m working on finding stillness in each pose—getting into the pose and staying as still as possible. Physically, this could conceivably be a long time but mentally, this is SO difficult for me! I want to wiggle my way to perfection– shifting ever so slightly with each breath, nailing that pose and moving on to the next.

But when I do this ‘quick and conquer’ thing– what mental resources am I gathering?

Perhaps not the ones I need.

What do I need?

I need patience.

I need patience, patience, patience, and the tenacity to be imperfect. I need to gather up all my courage to get myself into an emotionally uncomfortable place and stick it out. This freedom to find stillness, to gather up the less visible inner resources feels like the ultimate prize.

My challenge for you today is to change your view of stillness from an indulgence to a necessity. 

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My challenge for you today is to change your view of stillness from an indulgence to a necessity. (photo cred: epagaFoto and Allyson Cheney)

When you are practicing yoga (or not… maybe you are just trying to make it through the day without losing your mind at work and your temper at your kiddos) can you be brave enough to stop fidgeting and fixing? Can you be brave enough to be still and gather up resources that will ultimately fill you up? These are the resources of patience, gratitude, resilience, and ease. The resources that allow you to look around the room with your eagle eye and assess your life as being blessed, even if you are momentarily uncomfortable.

If you aren’t great at doing this, perhaps try listening to one of my Guided Meditations. Give yourself time and grace; expect a natural learning curve.

In the meantime, let me know which inner resources you’ve gathered while in a moment of stillness, and how your outlook on life is beginning to shift.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

-lisa

Author’s Note: this article first appeared on MayaYoga.com in September 2016. Lisa Ash Yoga retains the rights to this article 

self-care and six dollar juices.

self care picture for site

Here are some life-skills I learned in school: how to make garlic toast, how not to make garlic toast, how to put out an electrical fire, how to call for help in an emergency, and how to take care of someone hurt in an accident.  Here’s a skill I didn’t learn in school: how to take care of myself.   

The concept of “self-care” is trending right now; for good reason. Most of us (and probably all of you who are reading this right now) have attained a level of proficiency in meeting our basic needs of food, water, shelter and Google Fiber.  But most of us are nowhere near proficient in meeting our emotional and spiritual needs. 

Civic organizations provide a structure to engage generously with our community at large, but sometimes the act of giving leaves us feeling depleted. And spiritual communities take care of each other; but a vast majority of millennials and yuppies (no malice intended, I’ve adopted this label wholeheartedly) aren’t actively participating in faith organizations at this time in our lives, so: who’s taking care of us?

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a moment of self-care: yoga and nature! my two favorite things.

My overarching New Year’s Goal (remember this article about Big Dreams?) was to practice better self-care. Just because I look young and fit, doesn’t mean that I’m ‘on point’ when it comes to self-care. One of my biggest challenges is developing habits and sticking to them.  My work days are long and I’m racing to get to sleep after teaching so I can wake up early again the next morning; my self-care bedtime routine is sporadic at best. So, vitamins? Yea, I take them… I think. Herbal supplements? Definitely.  At least, I took them last month.  Revitalizing skin cream (I am getting older, after all)  For sure I use that, when I remember to.  Brushing my hair? Cutting my fingernails? I can do that in the car on my way to work.

These might seem like trivial, inconsequential examples, but it’s the intention behind the action of self-care that matters. What matters is that I’m channeling energy into caring, loving, life-affirming interactions with my body.  When it comes to self-care, we only get one human body. Which is why I’m a proponent of practicing yoga gently, of sitting in meditation daily, and of setting micro-intentions throughout our day.

This Instagram infographic caught my eye and reminded me just how multi-faceted the concept of self-care really is:

self care (2)

It doesn’t feature “Treat Yo’ Self” (read: expensive) spa days, six dollar juices, or shopping sprees.  (Although, yes, you should get a massage. Everyone should get massages!)  It highlights intangible gifts we can give ourselves:

Presence, support, awareness, prioritizing, adjusting environment, mindfulness, and slowing down.

Just being there for ourselves and using a little mindfulness to prioritize what’s really important in life is an act of self-care. Adjusting our environment to be more life-affirming is an act of self-care. Saying no to extra events, even if they sound like exciting opportunities, is an act of self-care. Saying yes to slowing down is an act of self-care.  Setting boundaries with supervisors and co-workers is an act of self-care.  Becoming aware of our negative self-talk and mindfully choosing positive thoughts is an act of self-care.

This year has been emotionally arduous for me, to say the least. (Remember the old maxim: if you pray for patience then God will give you something to be patient about? That’s kinda how I felt.)  I confronted my deep-seated fear of failure with the “New Dog Debacle” (remember Sir Kevin-barks-a-lot?) but ultimately decided to choose self-care and found the Little One a new home.

I encountered incredible resistance at work, which triggered insecurities about my self-worth but ultimately found courage to stand up for myself and speak my truth. I learned to prioritize my vocational aspirations and choose more time for myself and my family, as opposed to feeling like I needed to work every single day of the week (I mean my studios have incredible teachers on staff and you, dear reader, can practice at home; you love me, but you don’t need me). And I took a brave step forward in healing by addressing some chronic health concerns. (Believe me, if you spent your childhood in doctor’s offices like I did, the mere act of calling to make an appointment requires herculean effort.) Oh, and I figured out a 2:00 pm routine for taking my vitamins and supplements that hasn’t failed me yet.  (I still show up to work without my hair brushed, but whatever: your hair doesn’t look too primped at 6 am classes, either!)

self care picture for site

So, why I am sharing all of this super personal info with you?  (Besides the fact that I’m honest to a fault? Thanks, Mom!)  I want YOU to broaden your understanding of Self-Care.  I want the concept of self-care to be separated from ‘indulgence’ and be seen as a skill worth learning, pursuing and perfecting.  I want self-care to be so ingrained in your daily routine that you feel present, supported, aware, mindful and courageous on a daily basis.  I don’t want you to feel guilty for putting yourself, your emotional health, and your mental well-being as the top priority in your life.

Tell me, how are you going to practice Self-Care today?  Tomorrow? Next week?  What new habit are you going to set that will only make your life more wonderful?

I can’t wait to hear about it!

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a moment of self-care: take time to stop and look at the beauty around you

-lisa

show up for yourself.

show up for yourself, apples

I couldn’t figure out why my scarf smelled so good. It smelled fresh, crisp, and satisfyingly sweet around my face. I had just stuffed myself into an extra pair of fleece-lined pants, adorned myself with my hat and gloves, zipped-up two coats and (Ralphy-style) bent over to grab my purse when I was caught off guard by how heavy it still was. (I only carry a large purse in the winter; it’s storage for my many, many layers and winter-time extras… my hope is that one year I will make it through the winter without losing a glove.)  There I was, a performance-gear snowball, ready to roll down the stairs and out into 18 degree weather, so my purse was empty… and still heavy?

I found three apples rolling around the bottom of my purse. Seriously? Along with two books, a yoga mala, a lint roller, three camping forks, sunglasses (sunglasses!? it hadn’t been sunny in two months!), four pens and a zip-loc full of tea bags. No wallet. But, three apples!  I mean, I could survive on apples and almonds (and successfully have before), but carrying around three apples instead of my wallet in my purse seemed ill-advised.

Apparently, I stowed an apple in my purse each morning that week… and never got around to eating it.  I’m sure I intended to mow down on my favorite snack in between teaching my classes but instead I wound up with an apple-scented scarf.

Intentions are slippery, complex creatures.  So often, I set a remarkable, wise, intention in the morning and it slips away, unnoticed, by the 3 o’clock slump. I’ll set an invigorated, enthusiastic intention at the beginning of the year and it runs away three weeks into February.  Or, sometimes I do remember my intention …I just never get around to doing it.

But here’s the thing: life is too long to live without intention.  I’m not talking about ‘the great and humbling mystery and meaning of life;’ your life is already meaningful simply because you are living it.  What I’m talking about are the aspirations, the wishes, the yearnings, even the feeble wants that we spend so much time thinking about and planning, but never get around to doing.

Do you intend to do something but ‘never get around to it’?  (Remember this post: what you would do if nothing stood in your way?)  Hopefully, this ‘something’ is more important and inspiring than eating an apple that’s been in your purse for three days, but it definitely doesn’t have to be life changing.

Could it be: Call a dear friend?  Mail a card to your grandma? Clean out your closet?  Update your resume?  Invite your mom to a yoga class?  Begin a meditation practice?  Sit and breathe for 5 minutes daily, learning to de-stress?  Engage amicably with a co-worker who you find difficult to appreciate?  Go for a walk over your lunch break and actually take a ‘break’? Cut out sugar from your diet?  Donate your spare change to your favorite animal shelter?

Whatever your intention is: Do it.

Your challenge is this: today, do that SOMETHING that ‘you never get around to doing.’  Actualize your intention.  Make your idea into solid MATTER.  No one else is going to do it.

As modern poet cleo wade says: “Show up for yourself and do not wait a second longer.”

Looking for a good intention for your yoga class?  Check out this article I published a few years ago: intention.  Looking for a Meditation to help you uncover your intention?  Try this one: what is my deep, driving desire?

Happy Doing,

-lisa

show up for yourself, apples

 

who am I? #MeditationThoughtMondays

who we really are

At its core, yoga is the journey to unite with our True Selves.  It is much beyond sweating in spandex.  It is beyond having a perfect Virabradasana stance.  It beyond having a high-tech yoga mat.  It is a process of remembering our True Essence.  Even if only for one hour a day.  It is a big deal. (Remember this “no big deal” post?)

The authoritative text of yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, describes the goal of yoga as nothing short of total freedom from suffering and total uniting with the Divine.  We can’t do this when we are attached to our ego.  We have to move from local (personal consciousness) to nonlocal awareness (community consciousness), which helps us see the bigger picture.  And it’s really, really, hard work.  And it can feel like a really, really, long journey.

I’ve been studying yoga for a decade and teaching it for over seven years.  And I’m nowhere close to being unattached to my ego; I’ve experienced total union with the Divine for an approximate total of 5.8 seconds over the past decade.  I’m still on the really, really, really long journey.

According to Dr. Deepak Chopra, “One way to connect with your soul is by consciously asking yourself questions that go to the heart of the human experience.”

Three key questions that bring you into the heart of your human experience are:

  1. Who am I?
  2. What do I want?
  3. How can I serve?   

These questions are outlined by Dr. Chopra in his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga, which we are currently studying at Maya Yoga in my 6 am classes and in my Sunday morning Meditation Classes. You’ll want to investigate this summary if you don’t own the book.

The first question, ‘Who Am I?’ is usually answered with our role in relation to other people.  We may answer: daughter, wife, boss, father, etc.  Or we may identify in terms of positions or possessions: home-owner, assistant (to the) regional manager, middle school art teacher, etc.  Or we may identify with our choices: vegetarian, runner, lobbyist, etc.

But can we respond with answers that delve deeper than surface?  Our jobs may change, our families may change, our residence will change, our goals and experiences will certainly change over time.  What remains?  According to Yoga wisdom, It is the Experiencer, or the Inner Witness beyond our ego attachments, which remains.  Can we forget who we think we are… in order to come closer to who we really are?

Dr. Chopra illuminates: “The true purpose of yoga is to discover that aspect of your being that can never be lost.”

When you ask the question: “Who am I?”  Try to imagine who you are in Silence. You may want to start with this Meditation exercise.  Without words.  If you were completely alone: without a job, without a deadline, without a phone, without a hobby, without a family: who would you be?   

Try it.

  1. Sit in Meditation.  Set a timer for 5 minutes.  (Have a pen and paper handy.)
  2. Take 10 steady inhales and exhales to calm your mind.
  3. Breathe without agenda. Silently ask yourself: “who am I?”
  4. Notice the answers. Do not judge. Just notice.
  5. When the timer goes off, take 10 steady inhales and exhales.
  6. Open your eyes and write down your answers.
  7. Repeat for 7 days in a row. Notice how your answers change.

We will work on Question 2 next week…

“We need to forget who we think we are so we can become who we really are.”  -Paulo Coelho

Happy Forgetting,

-lisa

who we really are

what you think, you become. #MeditationThoughtMondays

what you think, you become

I’ve had some water in my basement this year.  And by ‘some’ I mean a puddle big enough to go swimming in my basement.  I tried not to complain because the rain also watered my garden and lowered my water bill. Two thumbs up for these unexpected perks… but not fun to be in a musty basement using a broom to sweep water toward the (already full) drain.  And not fun to empty the de-humidifier every twenty minutes.

The other day as I was trudging through my sloppy backyard to get to my basement and empty the dehumidifier, I had this thought: “Man, I’m so efficient!”  My mind did the endless ‘task-ticking’ it does when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with my to-do list.  I mentally made a list of all the chores I’d just rushed through that morning to boost my confidence in my ability to maintain a (not flooded) household and work-too-much and, and, and, and.  But really, the mental list making made me feel slightly more anxious and overwhelmed.  I had to stop and think for a minute: What words did I actually want to use to describe myself?

The law of subconscious means that what we think—we will become.

So, if we make a list of all our greatest attributes and constantly describe ourselves as such, we will eventually manifest these attributes in our life. 

what you think, you become

Yes, I’m efficient.  But, when I look back at my life in 87 years (yoga makes you young and Beet Smoothies make you healthy, so I’m planning on living to 116 years old, thank you very much) how do I want to describe myself and my life? 

This is a really important question.  What you think, you become.  Turns out, I don’t think I want to be described as ‘efficient.’  That’s a word used to describe a process– a machine.  My world is highly mechanized, that’s true.  I spend many hours with my fingers on my keyboard and my mind hooked to the internet.  But I wish for a world that is more human and less mechanical.  I wish to cultivate attributes that are more empathetic and relational.  So, I’m going to start thinking about what I wish to become.

I wish to describe myself as:

Flexible and Fun (I think I’m one of these)

Caring and Courageous  (again, I think I’m only one of these)

I’m challenging myself to imagine these attributes in my life and start describing myself with these words.  I’m challenging myself to imagine cultivating flexibility and courage in my own life.

I’m challenging YOU, my dear reader, to answer this question:  “When I look back at my life in 87 years, how do I want to describe myself?”  Write 4 attributes you WANT to be able to use to describe yourself, even if you ‘think’ they don’t apply to you right now.  And then—apply them. 

Dare to think of what you can become.  Use these words in your morning meditation, your morning mantra, or just throughout the day when you are confronted with a stressful situation.  After a month, reflect on how you have changed.  If you think it – then you can become it.

Happy thinking,

-lisa

be captured by silence. #MeditationThoughtMondays

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you cannot capture silence

 

When it’s 95 degrees outside and you are a tourist in a country that doesn’t believe in Air Conditioning, the only logical course of action is to spend your Friday night inside an art museum. To protect the artwork on display, the museum keeps constant cool temperature and low light. To protect the beauty of the artwork on display, the visitors keep tones muted and tend toward silence.  Despite brash colors and daring impressionist strokes which scream of emotion and sensation in Van Gough’s masterpieces, the galleries were primarily silent.  It reminded me that it is human nature to approach that which we find beautiful with silence.

Richard Rohr, author of Silent Compassion, points out that, “If something is not surrounded by the vastness of silence and space, it is hard to appreciate it is something singular and beautiful.  If it is all mixed in with everything else, then its singularity, as a unique and beautiful object, does not stand out.”

Silence is elusive.  Right now, even as I write this in the quietude of my backyard sanctuary, the silence of the early morning is vibrant with sound.  Some of these sounds make me smile (remember this post?) and some of these sounds are fairly annoying. (My backyard neighbor is constantly hammering.  After a year of this, I can’t imagine he has a single board left to hammer, and yet, here he is at eight in the morning hammering away…I have a few questions about this.)  But beyond the sounds, silence is a presence.  Silence can be its own being.

Silence can be something to meet and create a relationship with. Even if you don’t have a comfortable relationship with silence, as I naturally do, I think we all do this naturally when we encounter something beautiful. 

Your challenge this week is to bring something beautiful into your meditation space.  I brought a small vase of three Missouri Primrose blossoms to my meditation class yesterday and challenged my students to quiet their minds simply by gazing at the simple beauty of the flowers.  No counting, no repeated mantras, no English, no Sanskrit, no striving—just meeting silence.  In this way, we became captured by silence.  I want you to spend some time thinking about this: how can I become captured by silence?  How can I find something beautiful in silence?

Again from Richard Rohr:

“Silence precedes, undergirds and grounds everything…unless we learn how to live there, go there, abide in this different phenomenon, the rest of things—words, events, relationships, identities—all become superficial.  They lose meaning.” – Richard Rohr

Silence, the primordial beginning and ending, bookends our most meaningful experience: life itself.

This week, let yourself be captured by silence, even if it is just for one minute.

Enjoy the beauty,

-lisa

you cannot capture silence

 

 

 

stress less. #MeditationThoughtMondays

stress less

That’s great advice… but, um, how can you possibly “stress less” when life is hectic? My meditation students never fail to ask, “When am I supposed to give time to sitting around and meditating during the day?”

You might not have twenty extra minutes in a day to experience the stress relieving benefits of meditation.  But, when time is precious, do you have extra minutes in a day to GIVE To Stress? Stress steals moments.  Stress steals your ability to be effective, efficient, and compassionate.  Because your body is most concerned with survival, it doesn’t have time to be concerned with anything else, even staying healthy.  You can read more about stress and your immune response here.

Stress is a normal physiological response to, well, just about everything in your current environment.  Your body does not discriminate between physical stress and emotional stress: it reacts to both by releasing the same hormones and vamping up your sympathetic nervous system to all stimuli– real, imagined, positive, or negative.

During April, National Stress Awareness Month (yes, one more thing for you to stress over forgetting!), my Introduction to Meditation Workshops at Westport Yoga have been packed.  The best part?  In between our afternoon Sunday sessions my students have shared with me inspiring stories about how a one-minute morning meditation has reduced their daily stress levels.  Kara told me how she didn’t even get upset when her car was rear ended at a red stop light because she was practicing Mindful Breathing.  (I assigned the homework called “Red Light Breathing” to encourage students to stay mindful even during a stressful commute!) That’s extreme; I’d still get upset if my unsuspecting Subaru was hit by some knucklehead who was driving too fast.  But Kara’s Red Light Breathing must be super powerful.

Even one minute of mindful breathing can reduce stress and create relaxation in the body.   Whether you have one minute, or sixteen years, here are 9 tips you can utilize to reduce your stress level and lead a happier life.  (Number 9 is my favorite!)

The following was featured in Outside Magazine’s October 2014 Issue.  You can read the full article here.  It was written by Eric Beresini

clock

 

If you have: “10 Seconds: Laugh

Even just anticipating a chuckle is enough to relieve stress and elevate hormones that combat depression and boost immunity.

If you have: 5 Minutes: 
Chew Gum

Chewing two sticks a day for two weeks can fight off anxiety and fatigue and improve mood.

If you have: 15 Minutes: 
Meditate

Research has shown that a quarter of an hour of guided meditation performed in the office can kick psychological and physiological markers of stress. You don’t need someone in the flesh to help lead your thoughts; UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center offers free weekly meditation podcasts to download or stream.

If you have: 30 Minutes: 
Go for a Run

Five days a week at a moderate pace of around ten minutes per mile can boost your mood, concentration, and sleep quality—not to mention your cardiovascular health and muscle tone.

If you have: 45 Minutes: 
Take a Nap

A 45-to-60-minute daytime snooze boosts your cardiovascular system, bringing spiked blood pressure back down to normal.

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yoga and movement help reduce stress.  check out Lisa’s yoga teaching schedule here.

 

If you have: 90 Minutes: Stretch It Out

Studies have shown that yoga relieves tension in everyone from medical students to flood survivors. Ninety minutes twice a week erases anxiety and replaces it with calm, though sessions half that long can also work. (Check out Lisa’s full yoga teaching schedule here.)

If you have: 1 Day: Walk in the Woods

Shinrin-yoku is a Japanese term meaning “walking or staying in forests to promote health.” Just a day in the wild, researchers have found, is enough to reduce stress, even in chronic sufferers.

 If you have: 1 Year: Move to Switzerland

The country topped the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Better Life Index for life satisfaction. A strong sense of community, high life expectancy, and low unemployment make the Swiss life sweet. That and your in-laws probably don’t live there.

If you have:16 Years: 
Get a Dog

A pup will lower your blood pressure and generally improve your psychological well-being. And bringing it to the office can increase job satisfaction.”  – Eric Beresini  You can read the full article here

Russell Ash being coy

Every time you come home, your dog will welcome you with open arms, no matter how stressed you are.  You should get one.  

Which of these tips can you utilize tomorrow?  Which one is your favorite?

(I’m sure you have time to stress less.  I can’t imagine you have time to stress more.)

Happy Living,

-lisa

stress less

why you should write down your blessings.

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So, glass Ball Jars are super trendy right now. Totally ‘hipstipod old 001 (46)er chic.’  I have a million of them in my home.  Not because I’m trendy… but because I’ve recently been nerding out about the possible dangers of plastic and also I inherited 5 boxes of glass jars from my Grandma, who was an avid ‘canner’. (I made that word up… but you know what I mean.  She loved to can green beans, apple butter, peaches, etc.)

I’m using them for everything: bulk dry goods storage, water glasses, spare change holders, holiday decorations, bobby pin containers, you name it.

I’ve found a new use for the beautiful, homey, endearing glassware: Blessing Jars.  Like you, I’m great at starting a new ‘life-changing’ habit in January– writing in a Gratitude Journal, or charting my daily water intake, or recording the minutes I spend walking during the day.  And then, of course, the paper get tucked away in my files and I remember it again in June when I’m cleaning out my desk.  Perfect.

Despite my inability to maintain a routine of writing things down for the sake of accountability, I think the act of writing words on paper is decisively powerful.  When you write things down, energy becomes action.  I recently read this article which taught me that the act of writing leads to physical and mental health benefits including:

  • improved mood and sense of well-being
  • decreased stress and anxiety levels
  • lower blood pressure
  • better memory and sleep.

All of these sound like winners.  Yes, please.  Writing is good for you and is one small habit that can lead to a life filled with happiness and health (similar to eating more veggies–try my celery and pear slaw– and getting more exercise- try my yoga classes!)

New Year’s Resolutions are difficult to keep. Remember this post?  Don’t make this a resolution.  Make this a 30 second challenge for your health and your happiness.

Find a small piece of paper.  Write done ONE thing that is a blessing to you and put it in a glass jar.  Do this every day.  Or just whenever you remember.  As the days go by, your glass jar will quietly fill.  One day, you’ll look at it, and realize that your life, like your jar, is FULL of BLESSINGS.

“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”  – ray bradbury

Cheers to being full.

Happy writing,

-lisa