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The three M’s of beating stress

As we come to the end of September, I find myself thinking about summer as if it was long long ago. In our household, back to school also means back to work and to the super-busy routines of fitting everything into a day. The easy days of summer seem far away as stress starts to show up in familiar ways. Tense shoulders, difficulty sleeping, a shorter temper…we all have symptoms that tell us when we are not in our easiest groove.

Numerous studies over the years have proven the significant long-term impact of stress on our physical, emotional and mental health. We know it’s hard on us, but it can’t always be avoided.

So what can we do on a daily level to keep it in check? I work well with mental anchors, something that’s easy for me to remember.  My three “M’s” are my go-to when I’m reaching for an less healthy quick-fix (extra cup of coffee and sweets I’m looking at you) or looking to manage the stress build-up when I feel myself getting bogged down.

 

Meditation:

Meditation is becoming more and more of a mainstream solution to the culture of stress we perpetuate in the West. Many studies such as this one done by Harvard medical school show that meditation practiced consistently has more benefits, including on our physical health, than taking a vacation.

We can’t always control the stresses that impact us on the external level, but we can always change how we choose to respond to them. When we fill our inner well with love, strength, peace and vitality, than we are better equipped to manage whatever comes at us in our day to day lives. Meditation promotes self acceptance, non-judgment and also invites us to seek a deeper perspective on our lives, which can bring more meaning to how we approach challenging situations in life.

Movement:

I don’t know anyone who can avoid storing stress in their body. We all have our special spot. For some it’s neck tension, or lower back tightness from sitting at a desk all day. Maybe your stomach gets in knots or you have a hard time taking deep breaths. Whatever it is for you, your physical body is the first landing pad for the unresolved roil of life’s demands.

That’s why movement, of any kind, is a key tool in managing stress. Even if you don’t have the time to commit to the gym or sports, studies prove that any kind of physical movement will significantly aid the balancing of stress. Even though I drag my feet many nights to take the dog out for a walk, I always feel so much better after being out for an hour, my head is clear and the big stuff doesn’t seem so daunting.

So what can you fit into your day? A walk, a yoga class, a dance party at your desk? Get creative and commit to some movement every day.

Music:

Maybe the less obvious of the three, music is often the quickest, most reliable tool I can reach for when things are feeling rough. Baby screaming and dinner just got burned? Put on some funk music, find a new groove. Studying for a big exam, feeling overwhelmed? Maybe some Mozart or piano sonata to calm your nerves and change your approach. How about some sing-along pop tunes for the traffic grind on your commute ride home?

Whatever your style and taste, music is a universal human language that changes our brain state and brings us new energy. Proven to lower stress hormones and our heart rate, music brings us into the moment. So when all else fails, stop what your doing and put on the tunes, in just a few seconds it can change the tone (literally and figuratively) of how your day is going.

Want to do a super combo? Try all three M’s together! A musical-movement based meditation. One can often bring about the next and all three together make a super tool that makes the worst of days manageable. Make it your own and enjoy!

Elinor Svoboda

Level 1 and Level 2 teacher, Filmmaker, educator and mother of 2!

If you are interested in meditation classes, check our our description for the foundation course of Level 1 and find out more about the comprehensive meditation system we offer at the Training in Power Academy.

 

The Spirit of Purpose: An Audio Interview with Faye Fitzgerald

Spiritual teacher Faye Fitzgerald is never one to shy away from the big questions of life. She has a knack for bringing big lofty concepts down to earth in a way that makes them tangible and easy to understand.

In this interview, we tackle the big topic of capital “P” Purpose: What is it? Where does it come from? And how do we as spiritual seekers make it a part of our lives? Faye doesn’t disappoint with offering her profound, yet practical view of the nature of Purpose, while sharing some of her personal story along the way.

While this isn’t the first interview we’ve done with the founder of the Training in Power Academy, this time we decided to take different approach and create an audio podcast for your listening pleasure. Enjoy and please share!

Gratitude: Life’s precious teacher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every night when I put my 4 year old son to bed, he asks me to recount the events of the day, often with excruciating detail. When we finally say goodnight, there is a sense of completion. No matter how good or bad the day was, in the eyes of a four year old, it was always fully lived.

While it can be tricky sometimes, this is a feeling I try connect to when my head finally hits the pillow as well. As student of meditation and personal development, I learned long ago that ending your day with gratitude sets you up for not only a positive mindset, but is the precursor to welcoming more prosperity into your life.

Knowing this to be an effective practice for myself, I decided one night to expand our nightly review and introduce a gratitude element with my son. After we retold the day, I asked him, “What are you most thankful for? What were the best parts of your day?”

A few things surprised me:

His answers.

I figured I would hear classic toddler interests: playing with my train, getting 2 gummy bears instead of 1, watching TV…Instead, a consistent theme showed up:

“When we saw our friend Pete at the grocery store.”

“When I got to order your coffee from Linda at the coffee shop.”

“Doing letters with my teacher at preschool.”

While these are all valid, special moments, somehow it wasn’t what I was expecting. I realized something about my son that I didn’t know before: he thrives off human connection. He loves his community and all the friends he has, young and old.

Then, he asked me the same question.

I’m not sure why this surprised me, but when he turned the focus on me, I had to gather my thoughts. For a parent of two small children, by 830pm, your head is typically focused on what you will be grateful for once the kids are sleeping: a moment of quiet, adult conversation, a glass of wine…

It’s important to me to be as honest as I can be with my son, so when he asked I paused to consider the question. Moments flickered in my mind:

“The sunshine and the birds singing on our dog walk today.”

“That hug we shared after being silly in the kitchen.”

“Having a whole dinner together without the baby crying.”

I could feel him considering it. I realized that he was learning about me as well, getting a window into what I love and appreciate as a person. Even though we shared the same day, we had our own unique experience, an important distinction for a toddler (and grownup!) to make.

Sharing this intimate learning moment together I felt a new gift of gratitude open up to me. I realized that gratitude not only paves the path for manifestation and abundance in our life, it shows us who we are and where our values lie.

Since connecting with my son’s love of his community, I make an extra effort to stop so he can talk about the garden he is planting with our neighbor. I also make sure I do this for myself, to stop and enjoy being outside in nature and the taste of a hot meal (if it happens)!

While people often talk about the principles of manifestation bringing you more things in your life, in this case, my new connection with gratitude has brought me…more gratitude.

There is no better feeling then an overflowing heart, what moments have brought you love today that are unique to you?

 

Elinor Svoboda

Level 1 and 2 teacher

Imagine re-imagined

When John Lennon wrote “Imagine” in 1971, it was a call to peace and unity in a tumultuous time. Yet, here we are in 2017 and the song has never felt so relevant. Countless artists have covered Imagine, adding their own tone to the universal message of the song.

With the raw power of their voices, American group Pentatonix have done just that, using themselves as the example for what peace, harmony and acceptance looks and sounds like. Check it out in the video below and have the Kleenex box ready!

Survival of the sisterhood: working from the inside-out

Women’s march on Washington. Photo credit: IB Times UK

After the historic women’s marches that took place across the world on January 21, 2017, the global consciousness was reminded of what women, when united, can achieve. For those who participated, there was a palpable power, a healing quality to the experience. It was a macrocosm of what many of us feel when we come together as women on a day-to-day level.

This is the sisterhood, a timeless force that draws women together to build communities, nurture each other and stand up for injustice when the need arises.

Despite their power, sisterhoods are also vulnerable to infighting, division and attack from external forces. Since the January march, the question has been asked: how to we keep the momentum moving forward? How can the sisterhood continue to be an effective collective voice and not scatter or become distracted?

Divide and conquer

Studies have shown that women not only enjoy the bonds we form with other women, but they are intrinsic to our health and wellbeing. Yet, there are many pitfalls that are prevalent within female relationships that can make women cautious and mistrustful of each other. Competition, betrayal and soldier gathering are all part of bullying behaviours that occur in groups of women. There is no girl who hasn’t felt the sting of backstabbing friends in middle school or popularity contests that invite you into the ‘in’ one day and abandon you to the ‘out’ the next.

Some of these dynamics are a result of living in a patriarchy where, in the past, we would need a man to survive or have status. Women have been socialized to compete for male attention, stepping over our bonds with each other to secure a social position. While modern life, to some extent, offers us independence in our power, many of these attitudes prevail. Though we know ourselves to be free of the restrictive social rules on paper, many of them still run freely within us on a subconscious or semi-conscious level.

Internalized misogyny

In her bestselling book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandburg talks about how women have internalized the glass ceiling, we don’t even need the bullies to do the work for us! We have learned from years of subtle (and not so subtle) cultural messaging to second guess ourselves, hold ourselves back and not act until we consider ourselves to be ‘perfect’ or good enough. We are our worst enemies, keeping ourselves from success while our male counterparts climb the ladder in the workforce, confident and without any doubt that they have the right to do so.

In our work at the Training in Power Academy, starting with Level 1, we work by the philosophy “heal thyself, heal the world.” This means you can’t really start fixing the world, or anyone else for that matter, until you address your own issues. So when it comes to our relationship to each other, women have to ask some difficult questions of where we play out the negative relationship dynamics with ourselves. This could be defined as internal misogyny: where we dislike, mistrust, judge and malign ourselves because we are women. It may be so habitual and subtle, we are not even aware of it.

Love the woman in the mirror

Maybe it began with messages you absorbed from home or school about being a girl. Maybe it’s from years of viewing disempowered versions of women and their relationships in the media. Maybe the first time we are betrayed in a female relationship, you blamed yourself for being open to it in the first place. Where did you close yourself off and learn to be guarded and watchful of not only other women, but also the female portion of yourself?

Without having a conscious awareness of it, many women will walk into a group of women expecting to be judged. So the question would be, where do you judge yourself? When you look in the mirror, what tone of voice are you using? Who do you perceive looking back? Is your relationship with yourself, as a woman, a safe, nurturing place? Or is it something you struggle to uphold without self-betrayal, judgment and pettiness?

Because of the healing nature of this reality we live in, if we don’t address our internal dynamics, we will feel compelled to play them out with others again and again. So if we want the movement of the sisterhood to sustain and thrive, we must start by fostering a healthy connection within. We need to start honoring and loving ourselves as women and seeing our own innate value. We can use our community as a platform for this process, but knowing that we must be accountable for our own wounds that we seek to heal.

So I present this final question: What if the real fight towards the injustice that threatens our world starts by facing our internal negativity? Imagine the collective strength of a group of women who know themselves and love themselves. And then support each other to become even stronger! After centuries of being kept from our power individually and collectively, it’s time for us to become the resilient force that we know we can be. The world needs the sisterhood and the sisterhood needs each other, may we keep up the good fight and continue striving forward!

 

Elinor Svoboda

Level 1 and 2 teacher

 

Solstice: A Universal call to the Light

picture1Solstice is coming.

I get so very excited these days when the great wheel of time swings around to mid-winter’s eve. Let me preface by assuring you that I was once a tremendous humbug about Christmas time. I felt like there was magic happening but somehow the stories I was being told about the reasons for this magic fell short for me. So I started to research the origins of Christmas.

That’s when I discovered this amazing thing. This amazing truth that binds us all in an undercurrent so powerful that we are swept out of our routines by it. All the seasonal traditions – wreaths, candles, bells, bonfire, gift-giving, gathering with your loved ones – all of them are born of ancient rituals once used by our ancestors to call back the sun.

I do say ‘our’ ancestors, and I do not need to know who your ancestors are to say that. Look it up. I don’t care if you are Lebanese or Latvian, Irish or Icelandic, Japanese or Javanese…look into your myths for the story of the departure of the sun, for the waning of the light… and you will find it. Look into the history of your peoples and you will find that they did this.  Jewish folks may be thinking that Hannukah is a celebration of a historical event so does not fall into this category, but many scholars believe that this holiday of light replaced an older Solstice celebration in the Jewish calendar.

Sunwatchers or stargazers of ancient times saw the sun stand still. That’s what Solstice means: “Sun stands still”. Y’see, as the year goes along the sun can be seen rising and setting in a southerly trajectory along the horizon.  Ancient astrologers and sunwatchers marked that passage so they could predict when to plant and when to harvest. What they saw, all of them, in every country, was that during the 6 days around winter solstice, the sun stops travelling along the horizon. It stops in one place, rising and setting there for nearly a week. And every one of those days, the sun rises lower in the sky, making the daytime shorter.

Our ancestors worried that the sun was losing some celestial battle for its life, or that it had lost interest in caring for the people of the world. Every culture on the planet created a plan to call that sun back. Among many Aboriginal peoples,  the Raven was called upon to steal the sun back from the evil wizard Tupilak once again. Goddess Beiwe was summoned by the Saami to bring back the sun and the sanity and hope of light. Mesopotamians took to the streets to act out the eternal battle between their god of fertility and the dragon of the underworld. In Japan, Ameterasu had to be coaxed from the cave of her self-imposed exile. The Bushmen of Africa tossed their Sunman into the sky so that all could share his light. The Kachinas were called back from the sacred mountains to bring the magic of all life to the Hopi.  The Oak King rose to kill his brother, the Holly King, and take back the throne in their eternal cycle of rising and falling to each other at the solstices. The Incans tethered the sun to specific ceremonial stations to keep it from wandering off.

Think about it. Before there was even any contact between these ancient cultures, each one of them performed some kind of magic to call back the support of the sun. From isolated pockets of civilization, this magic of hope and renewal stretched up from all corners of the earth, in unknowing synchronicity, to pull the sun back from the brink.  This simple magic of Solstice united every human on the planet, at a time when some did not even know there were other people. I can get pretty verklempt about it when I really imagine that unified intention.

I often think, if only everyone knew this.

We really have an opportunity to take down some cultural walls here and join together knowingly in this old tradition.

That’s my Solstice wish for all… a sense of unity and belonging to something greater than your human self.

As the Romans used to say,

“Sol Invictus”

(Hail the Return of the Invincible Sun)

Shaughna Born is an author, storyteller, researcher and spiritual teacher. She is a longtime member of the Training in Power Academy Faculty where she specializes in the Archetype and Alchemist classes. If you live in the Vancouver area, you can join Shaughna at the Secret Lantern Society’s festival as Solstice Historian at Granville Island to hear “Solstice stories- a sample of myths from all around the world”. Take a look at Shaughna’s website The Solstice Lady to see how our ancestors marked this time and read some of those myths for yourself.
Shaughna will be doing an online presentation of her talk “Return of the Light: One Woman’s Journey from Christmas back to Solstice” on Monday Dec 19th at 7 pm PST. 10$ per person. Email her at Shaughnabis@gmail.com for more info and to register.

Finding the Yin-Yang balance in relationships

Be it romantic, friendship, family or business, relationships are a cornerstone of the human experience. We are all made up of male and female energies, described in the East as Yin and Yang. We reached out to Faye Fitzgerald, founder of the Training in Power™ Academy to chat about how we can better understand Yin and Yang to bring more health into our relationships.

yin-yang

The Eastern concept of Yin and Yang is a well-known method of explaining the two opposing energies in nature and in ourselves. It is often used to describe the unifying or polarizing forces of female and male energy. What is your perspective of these two energies?

Yin is of the non-matter position or spirit frequency and the Yang is the matter position. This includes the bio-matter, which is your own physicality. So you are always both.

We have the symbol of Yin and Yang: Yin is dark because it encompasses the unseen portion of things. Consider the Buddha who described our thoughts as being ‘subtle matter’. This unseen portion is the area of will, which forces our existence to produce or manifest.

This concept of Yin and Yang can easily be applied when dealing with relationships. This includes a male-female dynamic as well as same-sex relationships. The ultimate goal is to find a energy balance between the two individuals.

Sometimes when you have a partner who is only on the Yang, then you’ll have them coupled with someone who is only on the Yin. A classic picture might be a huge, loud guy and she will be small, quiet female. He just finds her lovely and everything she wants to do is just fine by him because she’s Yin and he’ll never understand her because he’s so Yang.

You have counselled many couples and have developed 2 ground breaking relationship courses. What has been some of the key observations you made with how Yin and Yang plays out in relationships?

Every person is a mixture of both energies, but when you have two predominantly Yang people together it can be dramatic and often stressful. That’s because they are butting heads and they act everything out on the external level. For example, a Yang man would be wise to not compete with a Yang woman, but rather give her room to pursue her ambition. She in turn would benefit from not being overbearing or controlling with him. The best position for the Yang dominant relationship is if they join forces and support each other in their respective intensity.

On the other extreme, you can get two Yins together too. That is interesting, because they are both full of ideas, but they keep waiting for the other to take the action. If they don’t take action they will lose respect for each other and it can build resentment between them. If they decide to work together on a creative project and go into action-mode, they are often very sensitive in their approach and can be very successful.

What are some classic archetypes that you feel describe a healthy Yin and Yang placement?

Apollo and Artemis, by Gavin Hamilton (c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Apollo and Artemis, by Gavin Hamilton (c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

I think Apollo is a wonderful Yang archetype. He shines the sun and brings fertility and love. He is the beauty of the creative male who understands himself and doesn’t need to berate or belittle anyone to be strong. He is the Yang who comprehends his aggression is for protection, not to harm the beings he supposedly loves.

I would choose Diana, the Goddess of the moon for a healthy archetypical Yin. She is known as Artemis in Greek mythology. She is the huntress and a warrior. She is independent and connected to the mysteries of the universe. Her internal motivation creates a sense of trust and self-sufficiency, so she is not at risk of submitting or buckling to anyone else.

How would you then describe a healthy relationship dynamic?

I would describe it as mannerly, polite and formal. This means being mutually supportive and willing to divide areas of strength and cover areas of weakness. The 100% required for a relationship is required from each party. If you’re only willing to give 60% that leaves 140% on the shoulders of the other partner and there will be a gap. When there is a gap, it tends to widen as time goes on. You can’t owe, otherwise you’ll have resentment and cheating, so it’s best if both parties find a way to give equally to the relationship.

How do you counsel people to get in touch with their Yin and Yang in a healthy way?

An imbalance of Yin and Yang will often show up as the need to control. If people are over controlling on the external, chances are they feel out of control on the internal. The Yang controller will focus on a need for dominance and their behaviour will be visibly dominating.

In contrast, the Yin controller is the one who will “tsk tsk” under the breath. They will give you approval only when they get what they want and there is a passive aggressive dynamic rather than the aggressive of the Yang.

On either side of the spectrum, they’ve got to move out of their fear and find the courage to go inwards. That is a lot of what we teach in our training – the journey inward – where all the answers really are for your life. Of course, if you are busy having all the answers for everybody else’s life, you might be missing out on a couple of things on your own. You’ve got to be conscious, which is what we try to offer our students, a clear path to that conscious living.

Faye Fitzgerald is the founder of the Training in Power Academy, a spiritual education system that offers over 20 courses in meditation, spiritual healing and self-empowerment. She has been teaching and counselling people to their spiritual wellness for over thirty years. Find out more at www.fayefitzgerald.com

 

 

 

 

 

A new world vision: School replaces detention with meditation

A Baltimore elementary school has been getting a lot of praise and web-traction lately for their use of meditation instead of detention. For the past year, children are sent to the “mindful moment room”, when they have misbehaved or need to wind down. Here they are coached to breathe and reflect on their feelings and actions. The school has also integrated Yoga into their holistic program and as a result of their new approach, there have been no suspensions in over a year.

 

This news led me to reflect, how would have things been different for me if I had been given this knowledge as a child? What if punishment was replaced with an opportunity for self empowerment?

While I was generally a well-behaved student, I was a very sensitive and high strung child. I dreaded going to school most days. I had a hard time sitting still in class. Eventually, my mother sent me to school with a “doodle book” every day to keep my hands busy, where I would scribble and draw while the teacher spoke. This habit followed me all the way until university, until I learned to meditate.

As I learned to be comfortable in my body, present in the moment and focus from a greater part of my mind, the need for constant distraction disappeared. That’s not to say I stopped drawing, this was a constructive outlet that eventually enriched my creative life, but I stopped needing it as a coping mechanism.

In many ways, I believe children are naturally built for meditation. Although most kids are busy and sometimes frenetic, if you watch them when they becoming engaged play and imagination, the same kind of focus is engaged as we use in meditation. Clinical psychologist Dr Lee Pulos has done extensive research on brainwave patterns and has proven that young children live primarily in the Theta and Alpha brainwave patterns, until they are adults when they move more into the logic-based Beta pattern. These Theta and Alpha patterns are the same states that artists, well-practiced yogis and practitioners of meditation achieve in their practice.

If we can catch children early on and give them the scientifically proven benefits of meditation, then imagine what kind of foundation of emotional health, inner wisdom and personal strength they could develop! If we did this as a society, what kind of world might we build? Something to meditate about, no doubt.

Read the full article about the Robert W. Coleman Elementary school here.

Creativity Meets Vulnerability: Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert and Brené Brown

image copyright: Trisha Harrison
image copyright: Trisha Harrison

I was taking a solo road trip to visit a friend and decided to accompany my journey with a handful of new podcasts. First on my roster was “Magic Lessons”, a podcast by Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert, which accompanies her new book on creativity, Big Magic. In the podcast, Gilbert speaks with a variety of artists, writers and progressive thinkers on the concept and practice of creativity. I waited until I was rolling on the highway and launched into episode 12, her conversation with the deeply insightful writer and speaker Brené Brown.

Like many, I was introduced to Brown through her TED talk on the power of vulnerability. A researcher who has extensively profiled the role of vulnerability, shame, courage and worthiness in the human psyche, she had some profound comments to share on the topic of creativity. Needless to say, this half hour of my highway stretch became a pocket of insight and inspiration that has continued to ruminate with me since.

Before you dismiss the topic of creativity as not being relevant to you, I beckon you with Brown’s introductory statement on the topic:

“The only unique contribution that we will make in this world will be born of creativity.”

Boom. Right out of the gates. She then follows this up with something she has discovered for herself in the last few years through her research, “there is no such thing as ‘non-creative people’, there are only those who use it and those who do not.” She describes unused creativity as the being opposite of benign, meaning, it remains active. What that means is if it’s not used it builds up and festers into negative emotions like resentment, grief and ultimately, pain and depression.

As someone who has pursued a creative path most of my adult life, these statements gave me the shivers. I could feel them penetrating the places where I still devalue my creative ideas, where I suppress my creative state out of a fear of it disrupting my life and making me look silly or stupid. And yet, I know how painful it is if I don’t listen to my inspiration or ignore my inner innovator. It’s thanks to all of the spiritual development that I’ve done that I’ve come to know that my creative voice is the voice of my spirit. This is why her first statement about our contribution being directly related to creativity rings so true to me. When we can listen to learn to hear or know that voice, then follow its call, it will inevitably lead us to something connected to our uniqueness, to our mission here as spiritual beings.

It’s important to specify that being a creator isn’t only for those who paint or dance or write poems. Elizabeth Gilbert’s whole thesis in Big Magic explores the idea of ‘creative living’. This means living from a state of inspiration, play and creation. This can be in a business, your home, on a canvas or a garden, whatever resonates with you.

Check this podcast out – Season 1, episode 12 – and let us know what you think in the comments below. You can grab the other episodes here. I hope this podcast brings some creative fortitude to your day as it did to my road trip and the days to follow!