Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Fresh Start for A New Year

Happy Healthy New Year my friends! Have you made your resolutions and set your goals for this new year? We all know how that goes. We have good intentions but often no real plan. I read someone said “a goal without a plan is just a wish”. I have made a lot of wishes. Most of them never really panned out. 

I've learned a few things from living my life and from the many people I have interviewed on the Happy Healthy You! podcast. Here’s the thing about goals; goals are like trees. Stay with me here.

In my backyard the county has planted a tree farm as part of a restoration project. From our back deck we see rows of plastic tube things sticking up out of the ground. After a couple of years some of them still have live trees growing inside but many of them just didn't make it. I guess the logic was to plant as many as possible and see what happens. Many of the trees never took root. Some were surely eaten by deer. Those that are still growing must have had an advantage and it wasn't just the protective plastic tubes that the county provided. Those growing baby trees are my inspiration for my New Year.

To flourish and grow trees (and us with our best laid plans) need the advantage of intentional planning. They (we) need balance. They (we) need nourishment, the opportunity to grow roots and something to reach for. I am sorry for those trees that didn’t make it, but maybe they have something to teach us. 

Those trees were planted with the best of intentions. But left to chance only some will survive. I guess if we throw enough of our resolutions out there maybe a few will take root. But wouldn't it be great to be a little more conscious and intentional about our resolutions in 2018?

Most of us, myself included, have areas we wish to improve in body, mind and spirit. This balance has been key to my well-being and happiness and also healing from grief and loss as I have written about in my book Back to Happy. For our seeds to take root and grow, they need conscious intention and attention.

Here are some of my best thoughts for a fresh start as we begin this new year for our bodies, our minds and our spirits. I offer them up to you with love and gratitude and my best “wishes” for your happiest, healthiest year ever.

Body
Want to get in shape this year? Start with a check up. Know your numbers; blood pressure, cholesterol. etc.
Go to your local track and time fifteen minutes of running or walking. Get down in a low plank position (elbows under your shoulders, spine and legs in a straight line, ankles bent at 90 degrees, toes on the floor) and see how long you can hold it. How many push-ups can you do in a minute? How many crunches can you do in a minute?
Sit on the floor. Can you move to a standing position without using your hands?
Now you have your starting point. Everyday this year you know what you have to do. Go out and do a little bit better. Chart your progress. 

Mind

Sit tall, eyes open or closed and follow your breath.
Now we move to our meditation practice. How long can you sit in the morning and/or evening to meditate? Try it today. See how long you can sit with your spine erect, your eyes closed or just slightly open, and follow your breath as it enters and exits your body. Meditation is simple. Meditation is hard! As soon as you notice a thought, come back to your breath. Use a timer this first day and chart your progress. There is only one rule, no judgment! Judgment defeats the whole dang purpose of meditation. The reason I love yoga is it prepares me to sit in meditation for longer periods without thinking about my grocery list or my cramped legs. Maybe try a yoga class this year. You've got a starting point. Meet yourself where you are. You can have a goal of twenty minutes in the morning and evening if that works for you. 

Yoga is everywhere nowadays. Find a class you love.
Spirit

Now for the best part, our spiritual life - our connection to the divine. This is what gives meaning to our existence and helps us live happier, more emotionally stable, beautiful and love-filled lives. Spirituality is harder to measure but there are tools given to us through the ages that work. We should consider them.
Prayer: Find a favorite prayer and pray it everyday upon getting out of bed. I like The Lord’s Prayer, given to us by Jesus. It’s really the perfect prayer because it has everything that we need - devotion, supplication, confession. But you can choose another that works for you like The Serenity Prayer or The Prayer of St. Francis. The important thing is to acknowledge and make that connection to a higher power.
Forgiveness: Who do I need to forgive today? Can I let go of resentments and past hurts? Can you face this person and personally forgive them? If not, can you write a letter or make a phone call. If not, can you write the letter and burn it, symbolizing the end of the resentment. If it is difficult, ask for help from your higher power, a therapist, counselor, or spiritual advisor or a trusted friend.
Gratitude: What am I thankful for this day, this moment? Write it down. Sit with this feeling of gratitude and let it permeate your being. Gratitude is powerful stuff.
Beauty: Where can I bring more beauty into my life?
I love flowers. I like to see fresh flowers in every room. Beauty feeds the soul and enlivens the spirit. Get up early and watch the sun rise. I dare you to not be in awe. See a play, read good poetry, listen - really listen to a beautiful piece of music, admire art or even better, create your own!
Love: Love is everything. Take a moment to reflect on where and how well you give love and where and how well you are able to receive it. If one is out of whack, make it your goal to bring that back into balance. It can be as simple as letting your spouse finish the dishes while you read a good book or take a long hot bath. How about volunteering? If you’re craving companionship, there are a lot of options out there but you have to take action. There are animals to rescue, church communities to join, dating sites. Your prayer and meditation will help clear that connection to your soul and will guide you to the right place to fill your love tank.
Retreat: Remember, we cannot offer our gifts and our love to others if our well is empty. it’s important to stay replenished. Sometimes that means pausing to take time to reconnect to God and ourselves. You can go away to a seminary, an ashram, a retreat center, or stay in your own home by creating a sacred space for yourself to be quiet, to rest and reflect. It is in the stillness that we are restored. Turn off your technology. Read sacred literature.
Create regular pockets of peace for yourself and you will be happier and healthier for it.

I haven't mentioned nutrition in this blog but my feeling is that with attention to balance in mind, body and spirit, nutrition naturally falls into place. We eat what our body needs and are guided to healthier choices. Bad habits fall away with attention to our fitness, our peace of mind and our spirituality. Of course, if you find yourself needing help to quit any habits, bravo to you! Go for it! You are my favorite tree of all.

I also did not mention organization, time management, career aspirations or financial goals in this blog about balance. Again I suggest to you, when we get our minds, bodies and spirits in order, the rest falls neatly and almost miraculously into place. You'll see.


Well, that’s my two cents for starting off the New Year with a fresh start. Balance in body, mind and spirit is a pretty sweet resolution. Just beware of the side effects: joy, health, contentment, peace. 

Happy Healthy New Year!
XO,
Connie

Connie Bowman is an actress, author of the book Back to Happy and host of the podcast Happy Healthy You! Join us on our Facebook page for podcasts, more info about living a whole life in mind body and spirit and even special offers like podcast sponsor Blue Planet Eyewear offering 20% off purchases with Code: Connie20. Click here for their site.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

For When the Nights are Longest

On this longest night of the year we are reminded that our days are short on this Earth. We are invited to reflect on the seasons past and find stillness in this darkest time. 

Does that scare you just a little? It does me. 

I am a lover of the light. I enjoy the sunshine, happy people, belly laughs, karaoke, musical theatre... I named my podcast Happy Healthy You! and wrote a book entitled Back to Happy for goodness' sake!

Being with darkness and grief is not a pleasant thing for me. Or for any of us I suspect.

Yesterday I found out that a dear friend from my school days had passed from this world. He was a sweet, loving generous soul who was a friend to everyone he met. His life was way too short.

How do we reconcile in our hearts and minds sad events like the passing of a dear friend during this “hap-happiest time of the year”? I found myself yesterday praying one minute and then bustling around preparing for our family holiday celebration the next. It was a strange, surreal day. 

This time last year another friend passed too soon and suddenly. She was a yoga friend and a member of the DC acting community. We were stunned and shocked by her passing, as was her family.

This week on the Happy Healthy You! podcast I am joined by my sweet friend and fellow yogi Ashley Sky Litecky of Skyhouse Yoga (www.skyhouseyoga.com) to honor the life of Tricia McCauley and try to make sense of tragedy, grief and loss. She also shared a beautiful yoga practice to help move some of our grief through the emotional and physical bodies. She reminded me and I share it with you that community is vitally important during times of grief and loss. I cannot agree more. I am grateful for my family, my friends, and for you, wherever you are reading this. Thank you for being my community.

I want to share this poem by Jan Richardson that I think so so beautiful and appropriate:

Blessing for the Longest Night

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.
It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.
So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.
You will know
the moment of its
arriving
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.
This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.
So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.
This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.
– Jan Richardson


Have a blessed holiday. May you keep the faith in the darkest hours, always hope in the light, and enjoy precious moments with loved ones as you celebrate in the days to come.

XO,

Connie

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Wild Geese





My husband teases me that I say yoga is great for everything. Maybe it's not good for everything but yoga can prepare us to move through life’s joys and sorrows with ease and grace and to unify our minds, our bodies and our spirits so that we can live happier, healthier lives. 

In many ways joy can be as challenging to contain as grief. The intensity of joy floods the nervous system with exhilarating feel good hormones. Joy can be thrilling, exciting and stimulating. Grief, likewise creates a similarly intense response. Both emotions affect us profoundly; physically, emotionally and spiritually. 

Moving through the asanas (poses), breathing practices, and meditation of a full yoga practice allows us to move stagnant energy from the body and helps us to remember and reunite with our true natures. Our mats can be places to return to again and again to clear out the cobwebs and relieve stored tension in the body.

This week I am recovering from wedding joy. (Yes, recovering from intense joy is a thing!) There is also the letdown after all the planning and the full weekend of festivities and celebrations. It was so much fun, extremely emotional and touching to see family and friends gathered to celebrate the happy couple. It was also exhausting.

I need yoga this week. I feel tired but am also flying high like the wild geese I keep seeing these past few days. There was so much love for this couple, my daughter and her now husband, our sweet new son-in-law. He could barely contain himself when those church doors opened to reveal his bride. Tears flowed from both of them even before her father and I walked her down the aisle. It was stunningly beautiful, sweet and sacred.

Have you noticed all of the wild geese flying overhead lately? I am in love with the geese. A few years back I recorded this, Mary Oliver’s Snow Geese, a poem about joy and it’s fleeting nature. I love this poem because it captures beautifully how transitory this emotion joy really is. Joy often seems like it's gone soon after it arrives. If only sorrow was as short-lived!

For ancient Celtic people wild geese symbolized God. Much like God, geese can be disruptive, surprising and sometimes unexpected, but also quite awesome and beautiful just the same. Like the geese, God sees from a higher vantage point and moves with perfect precision.

Consider the expression “wild goose chase”, meaning to chase after something that is hard to catch. Sounds a lot to me like our souls, our true selves, or God. There are times when God does seem elusive. This can be especially true in times of stress or sorrow. We may look and look but cannot find a trace of God in our lives. When this happens, I need to find something like those miraculous geese to tide me over until I can reconnect with what has been there all along. Yoga always helps. So does prayer, sacred writings, meditation, time with a dear friend, a good long nap…

Why do they fly in a V? I looked it up. It conserves their energy. Each bird flies slightly above the bird in front, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. The birds take turns being in the front, falling back when they get tired. In this way, the geese can fly for a long time before they need to stop to rest. They know when to fly, how to fly and where to fly. How do they know all of this? Their formations are precise. The sound of the wings flapping as they fly can be deafening if you are close. And their loud bossy honk, their communication with one another, is fascinating to observe as they encourage the slow, slacker geese to fly faster. They are individuals, yet their unity allows them to move through the sky with great power and mighty impressive precision.

A pair of geese will get together to raise a family and, for the most part, will stay together the rest of their lives (up to 25 years), raising new families each year. Geese have very strong affections for others in their group (known as a gaggle). If one bird in the gaggle gets sick, wounded, or shot, a couple of others may drop out of formation and follow the ailing goose down to help and protect him or her. They try to stay with the disabled goose until it dies or is able to fly again, then they catch up with the group or launch out with another formation. 

Geese are social animals who suffer when confined in individual cages. Confinement such as this also can lead to lesions of the sternum and bone fractures, as well as foot injuries from the cage floors. 

My prayer for us is that we can take a lesson from the wild geese and learn to fly together, to take care of one another, to share  leadership and to honk loudly when someone needs a little encouragement to do better. And for those of us lucky enough to find a partner to travel this journey with, may we honor that relationship with deep reverence, remembering to look deeply for the divine spark in the other as well as ourselves.

Joy and sorrow move through the emotional and physical body throughout our lifetime. As I wrote in my book Back to Happy we cannot hold on to joy anymore than the geese can stay forever in the air. They must find fields on which to land. Joy is a gift to be cherished but not clung to. 

Sorrow, although it does pass, can stay with and affect the body in a negative way if we allow it. We can, however, choose otherwise.

Next up on the Happy Healthy You! podcast  we talk about the issues that can land in our tissues after trauma and how to move through the tough times. 

Like the geese, we must keep moving though the seasons of our lives. Practices like yoga can help. To practice with me, visit my yoga page at www.conniebowman.com

Namaste,
Connie



                                          SOMETHING TOLD THE WILD GEESE
                                                            By Rachel Field

Something told the wild geese
It was time to go,
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered, "snow."

Leaves were green and stirring,
Berries, luster-glossed,
But beneath warm feathers
Something cautioned, "frost."

All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice,
But each wild breast stiffened
At remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese
It was time to fly,
Summer sun was on their wings,

Winter in their cry.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Checkin' In With Your Soul


This week has been a lot to take in. The news is difficult and scary and sad. What are we to do with all of the emotions?

I am not a psychotherapist but I have experienced the trauma of sudden loss. I wrote Back to Happy to tell my story and to give my experience meaning by possibly helping others in their grief. What worked for me might not work for you. But in everyone’s story there is something to take away and try on for ourselves.

I encourage you to take time to ask your soul what it might be needing this week. Be gentle with yourself and others. Pray, meditate and gather with loved ones or your faith community. Read sacred literature or texts. Make soup. Take a yoga class. Soothe your soul. 

When tragedies happen, like the one in Las Vegas this week, we are all affected. Even if we didn't  personally know any of the souls involved, we are touched. Our collective soul is wounded and we all must heal together. Once we accept that what happens “to the least of these” (Matthew 25:40) happens to us, we are headed to a much more joyful and peaceful world.


This week we celebrate the 200th episode of the Happy Healthy You! podcast with best selling author Thomas Moore talking about his new book Ageless Soul. He was a delight to speak with and so wise. He also addressed the news and how our souls are deeply affected by violence directed at one another. You can listen to our conversation here.

In the meantime, be well, happy and healthy.

Join me for yoga here or on YouTube here.

Many Blessings,
Connie










Thursday, September 28, 2017

Football, Yoga & Beginner's Mind

I have been trying to jump back from crow pose for years. I have built up my arm strength. My core is ready. I can successfully do the pose itself but still have not been able to jump back to plank from crow. I watch other yogis do it with such ease and “I think I am strong. I can do that.” Over and over I have tried through the years and have never been able to do it.

Until today.

Today I watched a video that gave me some simple tips I hadn’t learned before. The three tips were to press my finger tips into the mat, so much so that they become white in color. The second tip was to look forward and not down or back as I had been doing. And the third tip was to expel an audible exhale as I sent my legs backwards to plank.  Boom! That was all I needed. I got it on the first try. It was thrilling, but then these kinds of things make me happy. :)

Sometimes pure brute strength is not enough to achieve a goal. Sometimes we need a fresh new way of thinking to get there. It takes beginner’s mind. 

Beginner’s mind is a concept that comes from the Zen tradition. It means having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and freedom from preconceptions when approaching anything. Beginner’s mind is actually the space where the mind does not know what to do. It is that delicious state when we are sure of nothing, yet completely fearless, totally available to the moment.

This morning my husband asked a question that touched me to my core. He asked, “What can I do about this football thing?” Now, I could give two tiddly winks about football but it means a lot to him. He’s a guy’s guy. He has season tickets to our local team, the Baltimore Ravens. He is also a vet. His father served in Viet Nam and Korea. His sisters were also in the military. When it comes to racism, he is the most intolerant person I know. He will firmly stand up to anyone who makes a racist comment. It's a core principle that he lives by and it’s one of the first things I loved about him when we started dating back in college.

Several years back I interviewed Hawah Ever on the Happy Healthy You! podcast and I asked the same question of him. I honestly wanted to know what a regular white suburban mom could do to help put an end the insanity of racism. 

Listen to the podcast. There are no easy answers. But asking questions can be a place to start. Also, taking action by supporting the efforts of people like Hawah or Becca Stevens, founder of Magdalene House, and so many others.

Perhaps adopting a beginner’s mind is the answer. Let’s get back to that space of openness. Clearly, we don’t know what to do. Which can be a good thing. 

What I do know is that love is always the highest and best choice. And that it's up to each of us to examine the way we live our lives to make sure we're doing all we can to lift one another. And that to achieve anything great it does require courage and strength.


A rising tide lifts all boats. ~~John F. Kennedy


Yet, what I learned this morning as I jumped back to chaturanga from crow for the very first time was that I wasn’t sure what I was doing when I started.  So I had to let go of old ideas of how to jump back. When I did, that’s when the magic happened.

We’re not going to magically love one another and treat each other with the respect and dignity we all deserve overnight. (Although it would be nice if we could). But with practice and beginners mind, we can let go of tired old ways of relating to one another that don’t serve the highest good for any of us.

And then maybe we can just enjoy the game. Or yoga.



Peace Love and Namaste,
Connie

Join me for a yoga class:
http://conniebowman.com/yoga.php

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Breath and Happiness

“Remember to breathe. It is after all, the  secret of life.” 


A lot of us walk around with neck, shoulder and back pain. It’s almost epidemic in this culture that spends much of its time slumped over a computer or steering wheel. Aside from the problem of inactivity there is a subtler influence this is having on us that can affect our minds, our bodies and our spirits. 

In a July, 2009 edition of the Journal Cephalalgia, a pilot study on dysfunction of breathing in chronic neck pain patients resulted in findings that chronic neck patients have decreased breathing capacity as well as poor breathing muscle strength. They also found a significant association between forward head posture and low breathing muscle strength in neck pain patients. They consider the relationship between breathing and neck pain to be an important factor in the assessment of neck pain patients, as well as in rehabilitation and medication use. In a June, 2013 edition of the Manual Therapy Journal, a study was performed to assess breathing weakness in association with chronic neck pain. The authors noted that individuals suffering chronic neck pain have weak respiratory muscles. They advise professionals treating chronic neck pain patients to consider breathing assessment and also treatment when necessary. 

Interesting findings, but we yogis knew that!

Correct breathing from the diaphragm is essential to our health and even our happiness I would venture to say.

Take a moment and just notice how you breathe. Is it shallow? Do you use your neck muscles when you inhale? How long does it take you to finish a full breath? Notice any movement in the belly, ribs and lungs. There should be some.

The way we breathe is crucial to our health. Breath brings us oxygen for our cells and restores us to balance. Each inhale is an opportunity to reboot our systems. Each exhale releases waste products from our body. It’s something we all must do but most take for granted.

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.” 

A series of good long deep breaths calm the nervous system. We send a signal to the brain that it’s time to relax. We are better able to think more clearly, to rest and digest. 
All the Yogi, Sufi and Taoist masters as well as the early Christian monks and mystics focused on the breath and used the it in their prayers and rituals. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find any genuine spiritual teacher or path that does not teach the vital importance of breath.

“And Lord God took the dust of the earth, and formed the body  of man; and breathed into the nostrils of man the Breath of Life; and man became a living soul.” 
~~Genesis 2:7

Please join me for yoga where we practice breath and movement to become more aware of patterns that can hold us back and keep us from living full, happy healthy lives. To find a class visit my website: http://conniebowman.com/yoga.php.

Happy healthy breathing my friends and Namaste,

Connie