Monday, September 25, 2017

Book Report - The Four Tendencies

I have loved every one of Gretchen Rubin's book since I first read The Happiness Project about seven years ago.  She's a meticulously detailed writer and researcher with a very easy-to-read style that's a cross between research paper and personal diary.  Her work on becoming happier and habit change has been profoundly influential in my life, and in a way that feels much more realistic and accessible than some of the slightly more extreme books out there, such as The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  (Good luck getting us to purge that much)

In her book Better than Before, Rubin unearths four tendencies - a somewhat looser term than "personality type" - a framework that identifies people based on how they respond to both inner expectations (like keeping a New Year's Resolution) and outer expectations (like meeting deadlines at work or school).  I was not at all shocked to learn that I, like Rubin, am an Upholder - and apparently we are a very percentage of the general population, which now that I think about it makes total sense.

The Four Tendencies are, briefly:

Upholders - Readily meet inner & outer expectations

Obligers - Struggles to meet inner / Readily meets outer expectations (the majority of people are obligers)

Questioners - Readily meets an expectation if it makes sense to them, and will ask lots of questions to get to that justification

Rebels - Struggles to meet inner and outer expectations - values freedom and will meet expectations that they determine align with their identity

If reading that you still feel like you have no idea what you might be, there's a handy little quiz you can take that will tell you.

One thing Rubin points out is that there is a ton of variation within each tendency.  This only tells us one big, broad thing about ourselves - how we respond to expectations.  It doesn't touch on any details such as our level of patience, kindness, anxiety, work ethic, intro/extroversion, or temperament.

But while it's not a big, comprehensive personality framework a la Myers-Briggs, it can have a huge effect on your life when you learn more about what motivates you, what de-motivates you, and how to work with your tendency - as well as the tendencies of those around you - to help yourself meet the expectations that you have to and want to meet.

This was also really helpful for me because, while it may seem like I've got it made as an Upholder because we are the "get shit done" tendency, one of our downsides is that we can be pretty judgmental of others who struggle with expectations that we ourselves don't.  We have a harder time putting ourselves in someone else's shoes, and this book helps you to see the perspectives of those who react differently than you in given situations.  It also helped illustrate why some of my weaknesses are my weaknesses - a paralyzing fear of mistakes and failure, occasional difficulty delegating, a tendency to be inflexible and to get rattled when plans change, and a clinging to habit or rule just for its own sake, even if it no longer serves me.

The book breaks down strengths and weaknesses of each tendency, how to understand and deal with each tendency, and puts it into different contexts of personal relationships, family, work, and even health and self care.

My only complaint about this book was that I wanted more of it.  I preordered it and absolutely devoured it.  It's short and a lightening-fast read.  It pairs well with its predecessor, Better than Before, which is the book that first helped Rubin discover these four categories of personality, which you should definitely read if this book also leaves you wanting more.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Transition (a search)

Whether or not you have a hard time falling asleep, I'm sure you've heard the same advice many times over the years since electronic devices have taken over our lives - no screens for an hour before bedtime.  It's a rare human being that actually is able to follow this, in my experience, but we all get why we should be doing it.

So many people who have a hard time winding down for bed, or who have a hard time transitioning their mental/stress state from work to home, struggle because there is no clear divide or boundary anymore between the different facets of our lives.  Work, the news, engagement with others via text and social media, all permeate any and all attempts at setting boundaries and divides between the two of them - but these boundaries and divides are crucial for our mental health.

During last weekend's amazing Brain Gym course, I noticed a lot of little things about myself that I wanted to adjust or improve or get help with, and one of them was a seeming inability to shift gears between work mode and home mode.  I set such a massive premium on being productive, busy, and fast, that my days off get overscheduled (even if they're scheduled with activities I love!), and I find myself absurdly powerwalking around my apartment like I'm trying to get past slow walkers on the way to the subway.

As a result of that noticing, and realizing that, although I am quite lucky and blessed that I usually fall asleep okay, I often feel myself with an unnecessary level of anxiety when I'm at home, on my own time, working on (or playing!) my own personal priorities.

The goal, then - to slow down.  Calm down.  And to figure out a way to make clear the transition between the fast-paced, chaotic outside world of the city and shift that energy when I'm at home.

This would be a truly excellent blog post if I could tell you that I figured out exactly how to do that, but I'm only just now thinking about it and wondering how best to do it.  When I wake up in the morning, I have a lovely ritual I do to transition me from sleep mode into a peaceful start to the day, but taking the power-walking energy out of the equation at home - and at work, where it's certainly not always necessary or helpful - is a little trickier.

I'm curious if others, especially those who have a hard time calming down for sleep, and especially especially parents who are still "at work" when they're at home doing the work of keeping their kids alive and healthy, have anything that works for them to help transition into a state of letting go of the day, letting go of the rush, and being okay with settling into a slower, calmer state.

Anyone?  Bueller?

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Magic of Brain Gym

Fart Neck Pose.
Would you do this with your boss?
I cannot believe I haven't blogged about Brain Gym yet!  That is absolutely bananas, and also sort of great because after a few years of incorporating the little bits and pieces I learned from Shari (founder & director of Karma Kids Yoga and the only boss I've ever had with whom I've also done crazy things like the pose on the right, which she named "fart neck"), I finally took the "Brain Gym 101" course this past weekend to learn more in depth about the what's and wherefore's.

Brain Gym is a lot of things, but what it is primarily is a way to facilitate better learning through movement.  Although it started in the field of education and helping children learn better, everyone can benefit from it.  You may be reading and writing just fine, but do you have a situation where you struggle to communicate your needs clearly to a partner, a friend, a co-worker?  Do you struggle with random bouts of unexplained anxiety that you struggle to release?  Or maybe you just want improved handwriting or fine motor skills (piano playing, knitting, etc).

Everybody has external and internal challenges in how they relate to themselves, others, and the world, and Brain Gym offers a simple, movement-based platform to help optimize our brain function, calm and ground our bodies, and prepare ourselves to learn new information or repattern old habits.

The foundation of the program is PACE - an acronym for Positive, Active, Clear, and Energetic.  We all learn at our own pace.  There are four actions/movements performed before beginning any Brain Gym session to help activate the body's electrical system (by drinking water), stimulate the reflex points of the eyes to find our visual center, activating both sides of the body to fire neural pathways in both the right and left hemispheres by crossing the midline of the body, and activating the vestibular system and balance related muscles, which helps to draw blood and attention from our periphery to our midfield to access our higher-order thinking and decision making.

Adorable illustration of PACE
Shari had shown me the movements of PACE and a brief overview of why we do it / how it works quite awhile ago, and I incorporated the movements into my morning routine simply trusting that, in a general way, it was helpful.  It made me feel more alert, awake, and focused, but I would always move through it in a rote, automatic, way - counting things out and doing it for the same time and in the same way, no matter how I was feeling physically or emotionally that particular morning.

My focus was drawn to a lot of my patterns and tendencies that I'd rather change this past weekend, and funnily enough, one was rushing through things and doing them just to do it - because it's on my list.  It felt wonderful to slow down, understand more, and listen to my body and be present for this movement I've been going through for ages and have a deeper understanding of it.

Our instructor, Mari Miyoshi, was lovely, kind, clear, and patient.  Having worked as an OT for many years, she had so many anecdotes to share about children (and adults!) who were helped through Brain Gym.  It was even more powerful to experience in real time the changes we all as a group and individuals experienced.

The best part is that the movements are ridiculously simple.  How many times have you tried to barrel through a frustrating task, only to easily accomplish it after walking away for a few minutes, getting some water, maybe talking to someone else and shifting your focus?  For me, I always know the only way to move through certain bad moods is to, as I call it, "Shake myself out of myself" through some sort of movement, change of scenery, or distraction.  That's what Brain Gym offers - a full toolkit to set you up for success, and to rebalance and reorganize your nervous system when the inevitable obstacles of life and work come up.

Brain Gym obviously doesn't turn us into perfectly functioning, neurologically balanced robots.  As Mari said, the course was the easy part - now the fun part and the hard part comes in with applying it to everyday life and to our teaching.  Like yoga, like with anything - the more you practice it with intention and consistency, the more benefit you receive.

This weekend was absolutely perfect to help support my goals and intentions for this upcoming "school year" - to cultivate calm, to stop overreacting or catastrophizing solvable problems, to engage more in stillness, to monotask over multitasking, and to truly pause and listen to myself.

Karma Kids Yoga will be hosting Brain Gym again next spring, and in the meantime, I highly recommend visiting their website for more information.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Monday, September 4, 2017

In which I blog about blogging

Everyone's been asked this question at some point - "What did you do for fun as a kid?"  Often the question is asked in an attempt for you to find your one true passion so that you can follow your bliss for your job and "never work a day in your life."  Or it's sometimes just asked to help guide you toward a valuable hobby that will bring you joy.

For me, the top answer that springs to mind is always writing.  Yes, I also had a deep and abiding obsession with movies, and I could spend hours playing with Barbies, but writing has been a consistent love and passion for as long as I've been able to do it.  I loved coming up with my own original stories, creating fanfiction before I even know the word, writing movie reviews (my former dream job, before the Internet made the profession way less common, important, and relevant), and even just straight up transcribing things I loved just for the pleasure of typing it and recreating it.  I've kept a journal my whole life, too, ever since my mom gave me my first one with the promise that it would always be for my eyes only, and one memorable semester in college I took three writing-intensive courses in one semester.  (That was not smart)

So it made a lot of sense to me to start this blog (far from my first, and God help me if my college livejournal is ever discovered) over seven years ago when I was new to the city and fresh out of my 200-hour yoga teacher training.  It would be a place to explore and discover all my new exciting yoga knowledge and inevitable spiritual breakthroughs.

Over the years I've been consistent with it, sometimes more consistent than others.  But over the years it's also become more of a chore, a self-imposed have to rather than a want to.  I'm an upholder, so if I commit to doing something, I'll keep that commitment even sometimes past the point of it being useful, enjoyable, or even practical just because I said I would, dammit.  With this blog, for instance - if I stopped posting, I'm pretty sure no one would notice or much care.  I don't say that to solicit cries of support or fish for a compliment - it's just a fact.  The Internet is not lacking for blogs or things to read, and like everyone else, I am not lacking for a platform to express myself on it.

And this brings me back to that question - What did you do for fun as a kid?  Well, I wrote.  It's so ingrained in me that I formed this weekly commitment to myself to write something worthy of sharing with others...yet it's become a source of stress (this isn't good/deep/interesting/insightful/funny enough!) and "have-to" (it's almost Saturday and I haven't posted for the week and I'll break my streak!).

Writing brings me joy - but only when I approach it that way.  Writing does help me through struggles.  I sometimes feel hampered in blogging because often when a lot is going on that isn't appropriate to share with the world for to respect peoples' privacy, or is more political in nature (aka almost every single thing I've wanted to write about since the current President announced his bid to run by calling Mexicans rapists).  I also feel tied to the self-imposed idea that this is just a yoga blog.  Which is stupid.  I'm literally only doing this for myself - I can make it whatever I want.  Also, you can tie pretty much anything to yoga, albeit sometimes with the thinnest of threads.

What I'm trying to say through all this self-reflective yammering is - if I want to change how I feel about this, I have to change my approach.  I literally do not have to write.  I get to write.  I love to write.  Writing is a deeply spiritual practice for me and it always has been, even as a kid when I would've had no idea what that meant.  It's something in which I can get lost in that ever-elusive, ever magical flow - when you're so immersed in an activity you lose track and sense of time and the usual mental chatter fades effortlessly into the background.  I think sometimes my resistance to writing actually comes from a resistance to allowing myself to escape that mental chatter that we're all so masochistically attached to and get into that state of flow.

So, I'm changing my approach and giving the practice of writing the reverence it deserves.  Even if the quality of my writing doesn't change at all or even diminishes, I can choose how rewarding the time spent is for me.  Don't turn a blessing into a chore - how blessed I am to even be wondering about this epically first world problem.  I have the freedom of speech, the education to write and express myself, and the time in which to do it.  What a tragic waste it would be to do anything other than enjoy it in complete and utter humility and gratitude.

Resurrection of a blog (and a hip)

One year ago today - on a much cloudier, much colder, and quite frankly very hungover morning - I went out to run.  My goal was either 4 mil...