dance for your life

Dance For Your Life…No Really!

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Dance For Your Life!

I wrote last about finding your passion, and soon will add an entry about following that passion. Before I do so, however, I wanted to write about one of my own passions…dance. You may have heard the phrase, “Dance like no one is watching.” I like the adage, “Dance for your life.”

Why do I dance? Because, while I’m dancing there isn’t anything I’d rather be doing. I feel the same way while hiking or kayaking…I’m supremely happy in the moment and wish it could last forever. True passion. Thankfully, my passions are healthy and keep me young. More specifically, there are many reasons I love dancing and recommend it to everyone:

1~It’s good for your body. Dance helps develop good posture and balance–something that’s always beneficial, especially as we age. Movement helps the body remain mobile and flexible, especially during this technology age in which so many of us spend countless hours sitting idle in front of a screen.

2~It’s good for your brain. Dancing, especially ballroom, creates new neural pathways in the brain and improves cognitive functioning and memory. Research has shown that because of this, dancing decreases the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and helps to decrease Parkinson’s symptoms! The idea to ‘dance for your life’ has some validity.

Harvard recommends dance

3~It helps reduce stress. Dancing increases mindfulness. When you dance, generally all of your current stressors take a back seat as you focus on the class, your routine or your partner. You are in the now, focusing only on the music and what your body is doing, what your partner is doing. It helps you refill your cup so you’re ready to approach the rest of life from a calmer place.

4~It makes you happy. Ok, generally, no one and nothing can MAKE you happy, but dancing actually does affect the pleasure centers of the brain, increasing Serotonin…the ‘feel good’ hormone. This can help to counter conditions such as depression and creates an overall boost in happiness. It’s pretty rare to see someone dancing and looking like they’d rather be somewhere else. One of the things I love about dancing is being in a room full people, from all walks of life, who are all smiling and having a great time.

5~It’s social. As humans, we thrive on contact with other humans. Unless and when you only dance by yourself and don’t take classes or work with an instructor, dancing involves connecting. While participating in a class or dancing in a social setting you have contact with other dancers and are building a community. This is even more so for partner dances. For 2 or 3 minutes at a time you are connected closely with another person, listening and moving to the same song and creating a conversation. And social dances and classes can help those who are introverted or shy expand their social network in a supportive setting with like-minded people.

dance for your life

So you think you CAN’T dance…?

When I tell people that I’m a dancer, many respond with, “Oh, that sounds like so much fun, but I can’t dance.” Maybe you’ve even said the same about yourself in the past. Fortunately, there are two primary facts which dispel this myth held by many people:

1- No one begins practicing a new style of dance already knowing how to do it. That’s what lessons are for. If you’ve never danced at all, you may be surprised that it makes sense and is easier than you thought, but you do need to begin somewhere. Some good instruction goes a long way.

2- Almost anything can be learned, even rhythm. Listening to music in a focused way can help you learn to hear it in a way that helps you dance. The body naturally responds to music and those responses can be trained, with patience and commitment.

Accomplished, professional dancers spend countless hours listening to music and practicing their craft. When you’re starting out you can’t reasonably expect to dance like the pros or other long-time dancers, nor is it reasonable to discount yourself as a dancer just because you don’t have the same skills. Thankfully all of the practice time in dance is just fun!

If you’re searching for a new activity that’s good for your body and your mind and helps you connect with others, dance! It could be one of the best options for aging gracefully. If you’re already a dancer, it’s nice to know that you’re helping yourself stay young and healthy while having so much fun! I’m grateful every day for the gift of dance.

Finding Your Passion

Passion 101: Finding Your Passion

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Finding Your Passion

 

This idea, finding your passion, may seem trite or trendy or even simplistic; who doesn’t know what their passions are? Well, surprisingly there are many who really have no idea, or are not in touch with them. Many live lackluster lives, going through the motions and not connecting with much meaning other than in relationships, and sometimes not even then.

Some people say they have no passion, that they need help creating or building it. I believe passion is hardwired, but sometimes it needs uncovering and cultivating. Watch children play, or listen to them tell you stories…it’s easy to see that they tend to feel passionate about many things. Does this passion just disappear as we age? I don’t think so, but many things can get in the way.

In today’s ever-busier, ever-more demanding world, most people find their minds overrun with information and doing…right now you can probably list at least a couple of people you help or take care of, five decisions you have to make soon and ten things you need to do. Where are you on that list? If you’re like many, you’re at the bottom, if you made the list at all.

If you’re not paying much attention to what you need and every moment is filled with doing, no wonder it’s difficult to connect with your passion. One of the keys to finding your passion is learning and practicing mindfulness and stress reduction techniques. When you slow down and become more self-aware, really spend some time with you, you can observe thoughts and feelings and pursue what matters to you. This can’t occur while you’re online or texting, watching movies or gaming, even if you’re alone, nor while spending time with others.

When you are alone, quiet and mindful and paying specific attention, you can try some simple techniques to become more aware of your passion.

Tips for finding your passion

 

~Make a list of when you are really happy, really angry/frustrated, really fearful, really excited…basically when you feel strong emotions.

Explore this in more depth and see what comes to you. Generally a passion will energize you—it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be ecstatically happy, but your feelings and energy will be heightened. This may be joyful or exciting, or very centered or inspired. It will likely keep your attention for a long time…you’ll feel like you could do or experience this thing very often and never grow tired of it. And likely, while you’re engaged in this activity or experience you probably lose track of time and stop being aware of much else.

Sometimes passions are identified through things or situations which result in emotions like anger or frustration, or fear. If you find that you are not only extremely troubled by an issue, but can’t stop thinking about it, perhaps if you focus on it more at length, with no distractions, you’ll discover a passion for working to change it. Or perhaps thinking about it more will lead to a related issue or activity which holds your interest and passion.

~What are the things you think about often, that come back to you again and again?

Do you daydream about the same things often, even to the point of distraction from work or duties? Maybe friends or family members say that you are obsessed with something, that you’re always talking about it. Do you dream often of something? If you sit down and really give your attention to this for a while perhaps you’ll realize it’s really important to you and it’s always on your mind because it’s a passion.

Finding Your Passion 2~If money and situation were not factors, what would you do/what changes would you make?

Perhaps your answer to this just doesn’t seem feasible. Still pursue the gist of this idea (and whether it’s truly impossible) and what you love about it…what feelings come up, where does it lead you?

~Peruse a catalog of classes at the local community college or online workshop resource.

Which listings interest you most or sound really exciting? Which do you wish you could take if you had the time and/or money? Think about these more in depth. Our interests and hobbies aren’t always our passions, but if we spend more time doing them, or even thinking about them, we may find that they are.

~When do you become really animated while talking about something?

If your heart rate increases while talking about something and you start talking more quickly and people say you’re really excited about it, you’re probably passionate about it. If you find yourself unable to hold back a huge smile while thinking of something, you’ve probably been successful in finding your passion, and you likely have others if you can allow them to surface.

~What did you always want to be as a kid, or what really stands out from your childhood that you felt excited and happy about?

These may have become refined, but there’s likely still something that gets your energy flowing now as it did then.

“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” – Oprah Winfrey

Great, so you’ve been successful in finding your passion…now what? Now you just need to learn how to cultivate and follow it. Next time: Following Your Passion.

beautiful creek through forest shows how nature heals and nurtures

10 Ways Nature Heals and Nurtures

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10 Ways Nature Heals and Nurtures

They say time heals all wounds, but for me and many others, nothing heals and nurtures like Nature. When was the last time you spent an hour or two, or a day, just being in the forest or at a river, with no distractions? There’s quite a bit of research being presented these days on just this topic. Science is now interested in something people have done for eons, and some of what the research shows can seem rather obvious, but some is a bit surprising. Here are 10 Ways Nature Heals and Nurtures, 10 reasons to get yourself out there.

1 ~ Stress Reduction: As you might expect, time in nature reduces stress. It not only helps to decrease heart rate and lower blood pressure, it can actually lower your night time cortisol levels. This leads to better, more restful sleep. In addition, time spent in natural light helps maintain a stable sleep pattern by regulating the production of Melatonin.

2 ~ Improved Mental Health: It’s a quick step from #1 to understanding how nature can also help to improve mental health—decrease depression and anxiety, and increase self-esteem. It definitely increases your Happiness Quotient, and for those struggling with more significant issues, it can be a very helpful addition to counseling or other treatment.

3 ~ Decrease in Mental Fatigue: Meditation and yoga and similar activities can be helpful in creating a restorative effect on the brain, and time in Nature can do the same. It turns out that even looking at pictures of nature can create this effect, more so with images which create a sense of awe and inspiration.

4 ~ Better Health: If time in nature includes activity…walking/hiking, kayaking, cycling or others, health benefits tend to include weight loss/management, better cardiovascular functioning, higher oxygen levels (which helps everything), etc. If that time is purely quiet and meditative, however, it can be just as beneficial by decreasing the effects of stress on the brain and body. Meditation indoors is highly beneficial, but adding the component of nature boosts the effect.

Benefits which may surprise you:

5 ~ Stronger Immune System: Being around living green things…plants and especially forests, allows us to breathe in special chemical compounds given off by the plants. These result in increasing “natural killer” white blood cells which help to fight off viruses, and developing more anti-CANCER proteins!

6 ~ Better Eyesight: These days we spend so much time indoors in artificial light, especially looking at one type of computer screen or another, that the incidence of near-sightedness has greatly increased. Spending more time in Nature away from these can decrease the likelihood of worsening eyesight, especially in children.

7 ~ Improved Concentration, Memory and Productivity: Certain studies have shown improved results on retention and problem solving activities and work performance, the more time spent outdoors leading to better results. Even looking at Nature images helps, though. And if kids, especially those with ADHD, are struggling, a good, solid dose of Nature time can help them to refocus and improve their concentration and performance.

8 ~ Increased Energy Level: Those who exercise tend to have increased energy levels overall. Being in Nature can create the same effect. Thus, exercising outdoors near or in natural settings can be that much more effective. Increased oxygen intake, which happens much more readily while in Nature, especially forests, leads to increased Seratonin. This affects mood, memory and social interactions. And if the sun is shining, there’s an added benefit of increased Vitamin D.

9 ~ Boost in Creativity: I know that the majority of my creative thoughts, including poetry and new children’s book ideas, come while I spend time in Nature. Nature has always been my best Muse. It turns out that this is the case with most people! Perhaps this is due to the decrease in arousal and frustration levels and distractions inherent in time outdoors. Nature helps us let go of stressors and things weighing us down, as long as the phones get left behind or at least set on ‘do not disturb’ mode.

10 ~ Last, and definitely not least, is one dear to my heart—Increased Appreciation of Nature Itself: The more time we spend in Nature the more we realize just how important it is, for ourselves and future generations. Those who routinely spend time communing with Nature are more likely to see the benefits of taking care of our planet and acting as good stewards and helping others to do so. This is especially significant with children. Those who are immersed in Nature routinely from a young age tend to develop stronger voices for protecting it.

Truly, Nature Heals and Nurtures. It’s great to be outside at sporting events or other activities, but there’s no substitute for quite time with the trees, rivers, mountains, desert or ocean. To improve your health, mood and productivity, get out and spend time in Nature. If you want to decrease stress or increase creativity or sleep or memory, spend more time outdoors. If you can’t get out for a while, at least take breaks from the computer screen and all of life’s pressures and browse some beautiful images of the amazing thing that is our Earth.

More on how Nature Heals and Nurtures

serene landscape

Gratitude

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Gratitude

Gratitude. I’ve written about it before, as have many others, but it’s important enough to warrant repetition. It’s key to creating a fulfilling, joyous life. I try daily to offer thanks to the Universe for abundance in my life…a roof over my head and warmth within, plenty of food, family and friends, health, security and opportunity. I really try not to take anything for granted, and becoming aware and offering up thanks helps with this.

For Christmas this past year a wonderful friend gave me one of the best gifts I’ve received…a gratitude box. Within a lovely, enticing box I found a stack of 365 decorative papers and a little instruction sheet urging me to write down something for which I’m grateful on each paper, one each day, for the entire coming year. The finale: on New Years Eve, heading into another year in which I will hope for happiness and abundance, I’m to read each and every one of these notes, reminding myself of all of the wonderful things that happened or I experienced or were somehow memorable throughout the year.

I’ve fulfilled this “New Year’s Resolution” of sorts for two months now and it has become a part of my daily routine. I missed a day here and there and had to catch up until I found the perfect time and format for me and had enough repetition to solidify the practice. I find now that when I’m traveling and don’t have my box I miss writing and end up identifying my daily note in my head and sometimes write it down on my phone so I won’t forget until I return home.

I write about things I feel passionate about during the day or in general, things that happened that I want to always remember, nice words of support, abilities I am aware of, little things that made me smile, anything that provided me with comfort, relief, beauty, love, joy. Occasionally I have repeated entries because some things are so important to me and my passion or love so strong I can’t help but mention my gratitude for such a wonderful thing. Sometimes I think on it for a while, trying to identify something very small in order to expand awareness of my abundance; maybe my dog did something that made me laugh out loud, or I heard the first redwing blackbird of the season (already!).

Like everyone else, I certainly have things happen during the day that are irritating or frustrating or difficult. If I can shift into a state of gratitude, however…identify something uplifting or pleasing, or compare the situation to something worse (and there’s always something worse), I can resume a feeling of gratitude and allow my day to flow positively rather than being caught up in the negative. When I let go of the frustration or irritation, joy flows in and the day goes smoothly and I feel happy.

The gratitude box has taken me a step further in my quest to be grateful and, by recognizing it and being thankful for it, to increase my abundance. I cherish my quiet moments of reflection and gratitude, as I do the friend who gave me this wonderful gift. I have designs for creating and offering this gift to someone else when the holiday season comes around again this year. It always feels great to share truly meaningful things.

Walk Your Talk

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Walk Your Talk

I’ve noticed that the times when I feel most genuine and true to myself, and therefore most at peace, are when I walk my talk. By that I mean when I make the effort to follow through with a plan, follow my own advice or recommendations or make the extra effort to support something I believe in rather than just talking about it.

It’s easy to sit back and voice opinions, “like” or post things on social media, sign petitions, offer verbal support of things others are doing or even blog in support of something. It’s easy to talk about what I’d like to do or see happen, or complain about the way things are going. Involving myself in a cause, physically, or following through on a plan that requires action, is a whole different experience.

Walking my talk, actually DOING something, has the added bonus of creating feelings of accomplishment, of community, of solidarity, of commitment to self and others. It raises the energy level of me and the collective. It’s also rewarding to make a positive impact and know that my actions are benefiting others.

The old adage states that “words are cheap.” I believe words can actually be very impactful and beneficial (as well as the reverse), and one can spend a lot of time and energy creating just the right combination of words to use in order to make a point or support someone or something. Words can only go so far, though. Taking action adds energy and strength to those words ten-fold, a hundred-fold.

I had the pleasure and honor of adding my voice and presence to the Women’s March this past weekend and spent an amazing few hours surrounding myself with and sharing and emanating love. It was one of the most loving, positive things I’ve ever done and I was so thrilled to be part of such a world-wide movement of peace. I want that feeling to persist and expand, so I intend to make the effort to become a part of many things this year that will spread love and peace. It will be a year of action, not just talk. I guess I ended up making a New Year’s resolution, in spite of planning not to. I will walk my talk.

lifescape wellness trees

New Years Resolutions

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New Years Resolutions

 

A new year begins. Did you make any new years resolutions? I heard of one from a stranger at the checkout counter today. His resolution is to be healthier; he was buying a pair of dumbbells. This fits in perfectly with the topic I’ve been wanting to write about this week.

Every year millions of people make resolutions, and millions minus a few eventually feel frustrated then guilty for not following through and ultimately abandon them. A resolution is “a firm decision to do or not to do something” or “the action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter.” People resolve to be healthier, to get along better with their significant others or family members, to get rid of things which no longer serve them. They decide it’s time to commit to someone or something or move on, to leave an unsatisfactory job and do something more worthwhile or fulfilling, or to just be more positive overall.

Two reasons so many of us “fail” in our resolutions isn’t lack of or misguided vision or intent, but under-defined goals and lack of plans for reaching them. Let’s look at the goal to “be healthier.” It sounds like a great goal…who can’t benefit from becoming more healthy? But what does that mean? If that’s the whole goal, it’s extremely vague and not very motivating for making changes. It’s also difficult to measure follow through and progress.

When we set goals we need to be very specific, create plans for achieving them, then evaluate and make adjustments as needed. In order to be healthier do you want to improve your diet, exercise more, get more sleep, drink less alcohol, incorporate meditation into your life? Once you have a more specific goal, it can be further refined to make it easier to achieve. If you want to get more sleep, identify how many hours you get regularly now and how many you want to get in order to be healthier. But don’t stop there.

It sounds great to have a goal of getting an hour and a half more sleep, on average, every night, but just wishing for it won’t make it happen. Will you set an alarm on your phone for an hour before you want to be in bed so you can be ready at your new bedtime? Maybe you will make a to do list on Sunday evening with specific items for each day and schedule them in so you don’t find yourself trying to achieve multiple tasks a half hour before bed. Maybe you’re a napper and will schedule a nap every other day. The point here is to be specific and set into motion a plan that will work.

As you proceed along the path of fulfilling your resolution, it helps to check in. Is your plan workable or do you need to make adjustments? How many hours of sleep are you getting regularly now? It’s also a good idea to have small rewards periodically to keep you motivated, and to allow for slip-ups without condemning yourself. Sometimes it helps to make changes gradually so you’re not overwhelmed. Maybe your goal is to add an hour and a half of sleep each night, but that’s a big change, so increasing by a half hour every month or two might be more reachable. You can always increase more quickly if it goes really well, but expecting too much at first can lead to “failure” and abandoning the goal because it’s too difficult.

It is good to reflect on the past year and make reasonable goals for the new one. Hopefully we’ll all choose a resolution or two that are workable and make specific plans to achieve them, then reward ourselves as we make progress along the way. It feels great to achieve goals—small, daily ones and major life-changing ones. Here’s to making 2017 the best year yet!

 

 

 

 

Things happy people do

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Things happy people do

Do you know someone who just always seems to be happy, no matter what is going on around them? I’m sure you do. Long ago I used to look at such people and think, “Oh come on, no one is that happy.” The reality is, there are things that happy people do that keep them being that way. It’s not that they don’t experience challenging events. They’re normal people, but they don’t allow these situations to affect their well being, at least not for the long term. This is what I saw in my lovely grandmother. I still have a long way to go before I can say that I’ve mastered this, but it is an ongoing goal that I am closer each year to achieving…as long as I stay focused. Like meditation, it’s a practice.

Things happy people do which I find most useful:

1~Be grateful. I discussed this in my last post. Not taking things for granted helps to maintain perspective and bring about more good things.

2~Be mindful. Notice the beauty the world offers, from the smallest snowflake to the grandest mountain. Pay attention to what’s here right now. Notice your breath. Notice your surroundings. Get rid of “What if…?”

3~Be positive. When things are challenging, identify what’s working. Focus on something pleasant. Look for the silver lining in the sky of gray clouds. Think of someone else’s struggle and realize how small yours really is.

4~Be passionate. What drives you? What gives you pleasure? What creates in you a sense of utter bliss? Do more of these! Find at least one that makes time stand still and leads you to forget your troubles during that time.

5~Be relaxed. Stop thinking so much and ruminating on things that have already happened, things you can’t change. Read, dance, do yoga, listen to music, go for a run, play with your dog or children, create art, meditate. And BREATHE.

6~Be accepting of yourself and others and don’t compare. Recognize that no two are alike, we don’t know everyone’s stories and we’re all doing our best.

7~Be a great friend and partner. Nurture your relationships. You’ll develop and experience compassion, commitment, understanding, acceptance, love.

8~Be immersed in joy. Surround yourself with like minded, happy people.

I slip up regularly, but I try to enjoy the day, feel grateful for what I have and pass along my happiness to others with a smile and laughter. The world needs many, many more happy people!

Attitude of Gratitude

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Attitude of Gratitude

When I find myself struggling in some way, whether having difficulty accepting a current situation, having a day that just doesn’t seem to be going my way, or experiencing stress, I feel better immediately when I stop for a moment to identify a few things for which I’m grateful. Having an attitude of gratitude goes a long way, both to alleviate frustration and to attract the things I want.

One thing that always helps me to sit in that place of gratitude is to think of others’ struggles. Regardless of what I’m dealing with there is always someone who is coping with something more difficult. As my compassion for another grows, my frustration and stress dwindle. It becomes easy to laugh at my own struggle. Sometimes I even feel quite silly for feeling irritated or upset when I compare my situation with what could be.

Sometimes the most profound sense of peace and happiness comes from gratitude for the smallest of things. Sure, I’m grateful for my health, for always having more than enough to eat, for having a cozy home with plenty of warmth, for family and friends, and for an abundance which allows me to travel and take time for myself, donate to and help causes I choose.

At times, though, I feel amazing love, acceptance and joy by noticing and being grateful for a tiny flower growing along the creek, a ray of sunshine in the midst of a rain or snow storm, a trip to town in which I cruise through every intersection with a green light. These things help me reorient myself in the big picture: nothing is really that important if it won’t matter tomorrow.

So what’s good about today, right now? What am I lucky to have, to experience, to be able to do? What am I fortunate to NOT have or need to do? These things can be written down or spoken aloud, thought silently, shared or not, but the important thing is that they are acknowledged, and that I feel that gratitude, which will help them persist.

 

 

 

 

The Secret of Health

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The Secret of Health

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, not to anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.        Buddha.

This is a wonderful quote for centering and generally being mindful. In light of the current state of our nation as a result of the election, regardless of who you voted for, I think this is especially helpful now. May we all rally up and be wise and earnest as we move forward to build community, one step at a time.

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