Tips for a Mindful Holiday

These are tips for a mindful holiday, any holiday. Birthdays and anniversaries, sunrise, sunset and all of the other events that repeat on our calendars… give us the opportunity to realize our powerful potential.

Yoga for mental health is a soulful practice of poise. It allows us to look at life, from all aspects, with equanimity and curiosity. It encourages compassion and creativity and reveals gratitude and joy. What follows are tips to practice in the midst of it all..

#1/5 tips for a mindful holiday 

PAUSE… 

in between bites, in the midst of a hug, before walking in the door. 

These are the good old days… and you don’t want to miss them. These can also be trying times, and you’ll want to have your wits about you. 

Take a deep breath and pause before the next one. 

Prepare your plate with care (and lots of color!) Position yourself so that you breathe easily while eating. Direct your gaze downward, even close your eyes while you savor flavors. Put your fork down while you chew. 

Take a deep breath before you answer, or ask, questions. Try using a “Hmmmm…” as a sign of active listening, and, as a way to tune your nervous system before responding. 

Take a deep breath when you have your arms wrapped around someone  you love. Sustain your gaze, wink, smile… at your own reflection in the mirror and when you see your heart reflected on someone else’s face. 

Pause when you’re washing your hands and marvel at them. Feel the water, smell the soap. 

Make some space, take some time before bed to relax and reflect. Stop ingesting and start digesting… be quiet, close your eyes, maybe support your spine (to help open your belly) or put your feet up. Just a few minutes like this can help to prepare your body and mind for the deep reset that is sleep. To help  keep your mind more focused, less scattered, you can choose a few moments of gratitude. Repeat them to yourself or write them down. End with a wish for wellbeing, for yourself and for all of those who have been with you in your world on this day.

#2/5 tips for a mindful holiday

NOTICE… 

unique smells, colors, sounds and feelings when outside of your normal routine. The holidays are a GREAT opportunity for this. Linger for a while and learn. Invite others to notice with you… especially if you have kids at your table. Develop a broader perspective, make or reinforce connections, let the moment make an impression by noticing it! 

It can be helpful to apply this tips for a mindful holiday with equanimity. If you notice negative or unpleasant sensations you can elevate your response to them from the subconscious to the conscious level. We don’t have much power over our instincts. We do have, especially with this practice, a LOT of power over how we respond. 

As you invite all of your senses to be present and engaged, you will likely find a greater sense of ease. It is easier when we have our mind, body and heart’s resources all available to deal with whatever’s right in front of us. When one, or many, parts of us are somewhere else… we suffer. 

Have you noticed that most of your suffering comes from this sense of separateness? Sometimes our mind is in a memory, or a fantasy and it misses a reality. Sometimes, we miss the wisdom of our bodies, their fullness, hunger, aches, pains or ease. Sometimes it’s our heart’s desire that’s pushed out or down or held back.

Notice where there is space, when there’s too much and when there isn’t enough. Notice when you are hungry and when you are full. Notice that it is impossible to eliminate this dynamic, it is possible to cultivate poise in its midst.

Notice when you are breathing in, when you are breathing out and when you are between breaths. 🙏🏼

#3/5 tips for a mindful holiday

PROTECT

yourself and those vulnerable souls nearby from unnecessary pain and suffering. There’s quite enough that’s unavoidable, don’t you think?

Be thoughtful with your words (the ones in your head and the ones on your lips.) 

Take breaks from the bustle and go to a quiet place… if there’s not a room in the house for this try sitting quietly on the couch or the floor with a kid or a pet or an elder, take a extra trip to the bathroom or out to the car to walk slowly and breathe deeply for a few minutes. 

This desire (need) to “defend” is intrinsic. If we don’t do it mindfully, our subconscious will come up with ways to do it that might not be so mindful… 

Let the intimacy of a closer connection, a more sustained gaze or touch be part of network of safety that can hold you steady in the midst of a lot of movement. 

Even for a moment, you can shift your senses inward to be sure there’s enough space for you to feel safe. Do this by listening for your breath… amplify it if you can’t hear it. If you can’t hear it still… move to a quieter place and try again. It’s there. Try a Yoga Nidra practice to help clear your mind. We have an audio download for you here: https://yogaformentalhealth.com/guided-meditation/

When you are sure and steady… see if you notice that anyone else is a bit more shaky. 

Share your intention and mindful presence to those who might be dangling. These might be the loudest, most obnoxious people in the room. They might be the ones who are diving into their screens or not saying a word.

Be careful about projecting your behavioral intentions onto other people. Instead, DO what you need to do to stay present and then pay attention to the vulnerability of those around you and honor them. 

#4/5 tips for a mindful holiday ⠀ ⠀ 

FORGIVE…⠀ 

yourself and others for the mistakes of the past and any impatience with the present. ⠀ If this one feels impossible go back to steps #1 – pause, #2 – notice, #3 – protect until you feel safe enough to proceed. ⠀ ⠀ 

Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting, it doesn’t mean permitting. ⠀ ⠀ 

To forgive is to find freedom. ⠀ 

Once free, the life force may grow. It may evolve. It may be that the spark of compassion that sees the potential for this growth is the very component that was needed to allow it to happen. ⠀ 

It’s ok. We’re human. We can learn from our mistakes. ⠀ ⠀ 

See the potential that your brilliant life force has to be realized and, see it in others. Check out a previous post about “The Difficult Person” if you’re dealing with one.

#5/5 tips for a mindful holiday ⠀ ⠀ 

ENVISION…⠀ ⠀ 

the outcome you WANT. We spend a lot of time thinking about the worst case scenario… imagine that mental power directed towards this mindful process!⠀ ⠀ 

With this vision, focus on the feelings, (know that you can’t eliminate unpleasant ones but you absolutely can encourage more pleasant ones!) ⠀ ⠀ 

This requires that you focus on YOUR role. Build your awareness, tolerance and resolve.  

BKS Iyengar, my teacher’s teacher, says: Yoga teaches us to cure what we cannot endure and endure what we cannot cure. ⠀ ⠀ 

Waiting for the chance that “they will… do… say… not do… not say… ” is a terribly powerless situation. Instead, try envisioning another outcome, get your mind working FOR you, not against your (or anyone else’s) potential for NOW. ⠀ ⠀ 

Your people will benefit most from SEEING you happy, contented, joyful, patient, focused, clear (or whatever else you may be desiring.) Feel that possibility, notice when it’s close, do the things that bring you closer. Your insight and intuition can be your guide. ⠀ ⠀ 

Cycle back through Tips 1-4 with each new moment of awareness and watch your path unfold with ease… ⠀ but not without some effort to stay on it!⠀ ⠀ 

Follow @yogamargi on social media for mindfulness practice tips, inspiration and stories! I LOVE hearing how these tips have helped! Share comments, tell people, or message me to keep the intention flowing… 🙏🏼

With great gratitude and LOVE, 

Margi

Gratitude for mental health

Practice gratitude for mental health. When we practice gratitude we become more present. When we are more present we see more clearly. To see clearly is to know deeply. Deep knowledge is a reservoir of peace. It will steady us in shifting light. It will allow us to stay present even with that which we are resolved to transform. Especially with that…

Gratitude practice is both the outcome AND can be the path to mental heatlh. 

It can be alarming to confront aspects of our selves that we thought we’d so carefully contained. These are the parts that we’d packed our bags and moved away from, put in the back of the closet or have worked so hard to transform. We might notice embarrassment, shame, sadness or other negative emotions arise when these parts emerge.  

Gratitude practice for mental health is both the outcome AND can be the path.

Notice the range of emotion that you experience in a day. Notice that even when unpleasant feelings are there, there is also room for neutral and even pleasant feelings too. For example, you may be both embarrassed by past behavior and proud of how you’re more likely to act now. 

Gratitude for mental health is the outcome AND practice is the path.

Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity wrote the poet David Whyte. It is mindfulness in all things that will give us access to the depth of knowledge that comes in the absence of complacency. Don’t deny the insight that is possible when you pay attention.

Expose yourself to a different perspective… sometimes it might be a place or a person. Cultivate the power to change perspective from within by looking at your current surroundings with more curiousity. Focus attention there. Describe, with great detail, the more adjectives, the better, what you see!

Gratitude is both the outcome AND the path. 

Practice paying attention. Practice offering careful, curious and loving attention to all aspects of your experience. Set time aside, it doesn’t need to be much. Even a minute will make a difference. Practice gratitude for mental health, flexibilty, perspective, compassion and creativity.

I’m grateful to have just spent time with some of my oldest friends, the people who became my family after I left my parents’ house. Like families that start all nestled in shared space and expand over time, so have we. Over decades, our paths have diverged. If just starting from here, they may never have crossed. 

Gratitude practice for mental health is both the outcome AND a strategy that can clear a path to a deep connection, an abiding love for WHO is present in these people with whom we find ourselves in this life. 

I’m going to focus on these teachings over the next couple of weeks in classes on G Street. THIS is yoga for mental health. https://yogaformentalhealth.com/calendar-of-events/

You can register for classes in advance by following this link: https://yogaformentalhealth.as.me/

Thankful for you… 

Margi

Cycles

Feeling that new moon this month. The beginning of something, that comes right after the end of something… it’s such a tender time. Think of moms and babies, tiny seedlings, a new school, a new job, a new relationships… that tremor of change… sometimes we recognize it as excitement, anticipation… sometimes fear, vulnerability, rawness.

Our orientation on this spectrum of emotional tone has everything to do with all of the other cycles that we’re traveling.

We have the daily spin of the earth, the monthly pass by the moon, the yearly trip around the sun and then the arc of our whole life.

We also have relationships, projects and places that come closer and then move farther away throughout our lives. It can be dizzying!

To gain perspective, confidence and clarity, practice orienting to these cycles and adjust your expectations accordingly. Sure, every day might be our last and, maybe that awareness is helpful if there is a bigger change that you need to make. However, if you’re here, reading this, you’ve probably also noticed that the days keep coming in the meantime…

For us humans, everyday, we need, at a minimum: water, food, air, movement and sleep. Our physical body’s needs cycle quickly! If/when we develop strategies for consistently anticipating and meeting these needs… then we can address our more subtle (though often not so subtle) needs.

What are our interests? What is our purpose? What do we love? Who do we want to get to know better?

All of those questions take time to answer. We have our lifetime!

If your daily needs are not yet well met, you should focus on refining your schedule. Use other people, and whatever you have learned about yourself and how you can best “show up” for things, to implement any changes. And, do it slowly, over time. Give your brain a chance to build new neural pathways!

If/when those patterns are well supported, you can move on to a bigger picture perspective! You may want to take on a lunar cycle and try a practice of setting intention and paying attention over the course of a whole month. Your sankalpa or resolve, should be a short, simple statement of intention. The more clear that it is, the more likely that you will be able to see your success.

I shared with you last time that I was abstaining from all intoxicants this month. I have enjoyed them throughout my adulthood as a way to shift gears, unwind, spark creativity, conversation and connection BUT… there are LOTS of other ways to do that too. I always really enjoy the experience of taking breaks from regular habits when I’m on retreats and look for ways to integrate the practice more consistently at home. Harder to do…

Committing to a specific practice for a whole month gives us a chance to see it under varied light. The weeks of the month correspond well to the seasons of the year in terms of energetics… 1st week: spring, 2nd week: summer, 3rd week: fall, 4th week: winter. Motivation, optimism, intro/extroversion and other qualities vary over these weeks and seasons.

When we see things as they are, we gain the power of perspective!

I’ll continue to offer you ways to practice applying awareness of these cycles to your processes. If you’re interested in learning more, please just start to track things for yourself. Identify one or more cycles that you’re aware of and everyday or every few days, check in with where you are.

Get in touch with me if you need help with this. We’ll work on it together.

I’m so grateful for the support your presence offers. Thank you thank you thank you… for being here and for being you.

Love,

Margi

Who are you?

What’s your type? Or, in the immortal words of that curious catepillar…  “Who are YOU?” If you use this as a prompt for a period of self-reflection, what do you come up with as an answer?  Currently, I’m someone who eats cookies for lunch! And cries when debriefing a difficult professional situation with a friend […]

FULL moon

Oh, this MOON, piercing the black night sky and sweetening the pastel hues of the morning. It’s the hunter’s moon, I’ve also seen the full moon called the traveller’s moon. It’s magical.  It feels true to me… I’ve been looking for sustenance, open to what this season uniquely reveals. I’ve been covering miles, soaking in […]

The difficult person

We’ve been practicing paying attention. We’re increasingly aware when we do that all things are connected. We can use this practice to better understand (and improve) the way we relate to people, all people.

So, you broke up with your partner, quit your job, moved out of the house, went on vacation, stopped hanging out with that “toxic” friend, started meditating and/or made any other big decision to try to better your life experience and, low and behold, you’re still miserable.  

Those habits, negative thought patterns and maddening moods have followed you. Maybe, you start to investigate the possibility that the “problem” might in fact be, you!

Now what?

1. Well, first thing, you could consider is a celebration! You’re not alone anymore! Your higher consciousness, the one that looks over you, the one that whispers words of wisdom, the one that loves and protects and encourages you, is now here with you. You may recognize it as your intuition, the voice or reason or truth. With your help and with practice, it can and will guide you. So, celebrate! Do whatever you like to do to celebrate: bake a cake, have a party, take a day off to play, sing in the shower, have a dance party in your living room, get dressed up and buy yourself flowers – celebrate and welcome your insight, give it the real red carpet treatment!

2. Next, cultivate your new relationship. Start by spending quality time together: the wise, patient and loving you with the cranky, tired, doubtful you. Treat that less sophisticated part of you gently, like you would a newborn or a stray. Offer treats, speak softly and lovingly. Be patient, be kind. You could even have a little script prepared for when this self shows up. Try something like: “ Hello again  (doubt, anger, shame) , I’m glad you’re here. I wanted to get to know you better. Could I sit beside you or walk with you for a while?”

3. Start noticing when you feel great, or good, or even, not so bad. When you do, pause, ask all 5 senses to pipe in and tell you more. To help stay focused, write it down. Be patient and persistent with this. Usually we are more attuned to some senses than others. In this practice, ask each sense: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch to seek out, notice, and report at least two things. Let your attention be fully immersed in this awareness of the senses. Enjoy.

4. Create rituals and establish routines around what nourishes you (refer to step 3 above if you need some ideas.) This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever sleep late or eat out. It does means that when you do, your system trusts that you will get it back. Theses rituals and routines assure that you have some reserves, some contingency for the unexpected. The truth is you are a divine spirit with a brilliant mind that is housed in a human body. And, that body is quite fragile, it has limits. You’re only every going to be so tall, only going to live for so many years, only every going to be able to stay awake for so long, go without food or water for so long, etc… I know this one can be kind of confusing, especially when we see what phenomenal influence it seems we can have on our health and longevity, our speed, and our tolerance for excess or deprivation, and for that matter, even our height! I have had several students report that they have gained inches with regular yoga practice! However, there are still limits in this lifetime, they have gained inches, not feet in height. The more willing we are to accept hat the body has needs and limits as well as phenomenal power and potential, the more consistently  we will be able to build on our strengths, rather than having to expend all of the time and energy it takes to recover from mistakes. 

5. Make space for creativity, rest, tantrums and other unexpected guests. No one’s very pleasant when they’re in a rush so slow down. Practice being unscheduled. During this unscheduled time, ask yourself how you’d most like to spend your unscheduled hour/day/week. Do whatever you can manage, save other ideas on a list for another time. Invite ideas, questions, friends and nature to share space with you. 

Repeat these steps until you notice that you are both enjoying your own company and others until the path seems to be unfolding with more ease before you. Then, keep going…

44

I turned 44 last weekend. I have to say, I love getting older. And so far, the 40s are my favorite decade yet!

Birthdays are such powerful days.

As someone who has experienced infertility knows, a viable pregnancy itself is a miracle. A live birth is another. Surviving childhood is something we take for granted now but was not guaranteed even just a couple of generations ago.

The memories that birthdays evoke and the expectations that arise with them can be startling! They can put us so surely in our experience. They can also pull us away.

I have a memory from childhood, maybe I was 5 or 6. I thought that everyone had forgotten my birthday. Then, there was a surprise party. I was confused. It was only a couple of years ago that I was actually convinced that the surprise was the intention all along…

My sister shared another powerful memory with me recently. One of our family’s traditions was that you got to choose your birthday dinner, it could be anything you wanted. Except for her… because it was too hot to cook dumplings in the summertime. She’s the middle child. She usually had to compromise. She’s really good at it.

These days I’ve come to expect that my friends with kids will be busy on the weekends with birthday parties. There are always cakes and presents. I hear about elaborate plans. I’ve seen a fair share of tantrums and tears.

These lives are so precious, so impermanent, so important. Rituals and traditions keep us connected. Except, when they don’t.

A birthday without a mom is a strange thing. And when you live thousands of miles away from where you grew up and the people you’re related to… things are different.

This year there weren’t any presents to unwrap or cake. I have everything that I need, but still couldn’t help missing the ritual…

I wore a golden crown, sat under a golden Happy Birthday sign, blew out a candle in an egg frittata and got to spend the day with 10 of my favorite people: The Golddiggers. As luck would have it, my birthday has fallen over the Klondike Road Relay race weekend for the past couple of years. It’s both the easiest built in celebration you could imagine and also, not really mine.

I got text messages from a few of my siblings, a call from another, and a card from my Dad a few days later (who’s still getting used to doing the things that my Mom used to do.) I have a dear friend who LOVES birthdays and is offering some special attention. Otherwise, it’s up to me to decide who and what and when and how to celebrate the miracle of my birth and my life.

And for each of us… as the Earth returns to the position it was in at the time of our birth… we have the opportunity to reflect on the pathway that has led us back here.

We can remember the people, characters in our story, who were close then and are faraway now… choose to see who is close now and will someday be gone. We can see the trajectory of our potential realized as it guides our course and will continue to do so. We can choose to see the power and profound impermanence of these conditions that we call our life, or not. We might just notice the aches and pains, the wrinkles, gray hairs and disappointment.

That’s not my path.

With each moment passing, our opportunity is waning. Life is here, now.

Its end is getting closer every day… celebrate however you can, whatever you can, whenever you can! Let me know when I can join you. I LOVE to celebrate!

Happy Birthday to me…

Coming around the corner

You know that feeling when you see the curve ahead and you’re going a little too fast and you know it’s going to be a little wild and so you hold on tight and get ready to straighten her out on the other side?

I think it might be like this every month, every season, every day… ? Maybe I just drive too fast? Maybe travel too much? Maybe it’s not me.

The tension between “me” and “not me” (or at least what’s “not my fault”) has been the glue that holds me to this insight path. Spiritual teachers insist that there is no separation and that suffering springs from the illusion that there is. I find, there’s just as much suffering in the belief that there isn’t! Then, I really am, truly implicated, guilty as my Catholic teachers and preachers always told me I was!

In my efforts to counsel both myself and others through this existential muddle, I’ve been trying to figure how to direct this amazingly prolific and powerful emotion of GUILT for some good.

Guilt -> goal is the formula that I’ve come up with…

For example, feel guilty about consuming something that the body doesn’t really need (or want), realize, the feeling is energy to move you towards your intention and clarify what that is. Begin with the mental framework, in this case, it may be: May I be nourished. May I be satiated.

Practice repeating the phrase that you come up with throughout the day for several days until you have it memorized and it starts to pop up sometimes on its own… look for little moments where your mind might otherwise wander (stop lights, teeth brushing, dish washing, waiting) and insert the phrase here. It will be more effective if you practice reinforcing the intention not ONLY when you’re in the challenging situation.

Reflection on past experience doesn’t seem to be optional. We all do it! All sentient beings do it… chicken TV in our yard proves that! Some do it more consciously, thoughtfully, intentionally. We all do it subconsciously. It is the way that our brain decides what to do next.

If you’re motivated to help… consider that your subconscious (chicken brain) could use some, especially if you’ve had a sense that you’re stuck or moving in the wrong direction! Often the actions we direct towards others are just the things that we need.

Non-harming, reverence, posture, breath, mindfulness of senses, and concentration will steady and buoy our process. I’m both grateful for the ease down the stretch of summer and feeling that rush of the curve just ahead… the season is shifting and the momentum is building. It is time to anchor to the practice.

I’ll share a Facebook LIVE video practice for the Equinox and in Anchorage will have monthly New Moon practices for the monthly curve. For the daily and weekly curves… I’ll be practicing at noon on Tuesday and Thursdays at the G Street Studio in downtown Anchorage, and, at 5:30pm on Wednesdays.

If the philosophy is what you want more of… you’re with me!! I’m gearing up to share a new subscription based Sutra study with you soon! You can email me and let me know that you want to be on that list: yogamargi@gmail.com. It’s going to provide such resonance for our curiosity and passion! I can’t wait!!! (But, I’m “patiently” waiting while my site gets ready…)

Such love, till next time!

Margi

Chair Pose

Unavoidable practice opportunities…

Supported Handstand with Margi Clifford

In pursuit…

The tundra was scratchy and squishy beneath my hands… I could grab onto it in a way that reminded them and me of their strength. The perspective from this platform, just shy of the peak, in this pose, almost able to stand on its own, feels quite impossible to convey… It seems so vast, so strong, so wild, so quiet, so temporary. 
Jill told us that many mountains had risen and fallen over time here, and there are ocean artifacts. 🐡🏔 Handstand is an elusive, often frustrating, sometimes painful posture. Even when it is “achieved” by experts, it is short-lived. 
I’ve found myself in pursuit of this unicorn 🦄, like so many others, and I’ve been reminded again and again of the body I’m in… with its misshapen sternum, contorted ribs and shoulders, twisted pelvis and scarred lumbar. 
Still, even in this body, the one called fat, flat, and cockeyed, the one that has crashed to the floor with a thunderous proclamation of failure more times than I can count, the power and potential of dedicated practice, with vigor, over a long period of time, is not to be underestimated. In fact, it is outlined in the Sutras. 
Almost two decades in this complicated relationship with this powerful pose now… we’ve broken up, gotten back together, needed space, and have had great passionate moments together and now it’s family. I turn to it almost every day to help refresh my perspective and, just to check in… Handstand is number 7 in my #10EssentialPostures course and the full lesson is in your inbox if you’re subscribed! 📬 It includes wake up and warm up activities, contraindications, alignment and energetic cues. 
The whole course will be available soon if you missed the boat 🛶! Visit link in bio to subscribe and get free downloads in the meantime. ⬆️ The free standing posture may never be one of the cards in my hand… but with walls and doorways, furniture, trees, boulders and yoga friends around, it doesn’t need to be. I have just the right balance of freedom and support, pride and humility.