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“To be hopeful in bad times is based on the fact that human history is not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” ~~ Howard Zinn

Happy February, everyone! I sure hope the start to your 2017 has been filled with positivity and happiness. Unfortunately, if you’re one of my readers here in the United States, I fear that many of you may be having a bit of trouble with positivity and happiness right now. I’m not going to go into politics…Goodness knows we’re getting bombarded by that everywhere right now. But what I will be talking about here in this post…well, I just hope that it does at least a little bit to lift your spirits if you’re feeling a bit out of sorts.

Throughout the month of January, I found myself getting all out of sorts with a variety of things. I had a lot of different things going on with my full-time job, with Toastmasters, with my family, with my yoga classes. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about when I say that it was one of those phases where I’d committed to WAY too many things. I think we’ve all found ourselves in this situation at some point in our lives, am I right?

Well, there I was, completely stressed out over trying to do too many things, and feeling like I was being pulled in all sorts of directions at once. I noticed that I was more short-tempered. My sleep was impacted. I was cursing over every little thing. My Lyme symptoms started to flare up. I felt like a HUGE failure! Try as I might, I just wasn’t able to provide the self-care I needed to keep things in check.

If this had only gone on for a day or two, things would have been just fine. But here I am, five weeks in, and things are still feeling out of control. I do see an end in sight, but some damage has been done, emotional and physical, that needs to be addressed.

Thankfully, this last weekend, I had the opportunity to get away for a weekend workshop on Restorative Yoga. It was held at a beautiful yoga studio in Mount Airy, NC called Sacred Space. It was just what I needed!

I was fortunate that my friend, Lidia, was able to join me. She lives in my area, so we drove there together and rented a nice room at a super cute B&B called Heart & Soul. When we checked in, we were in awe of how gorgeous this place was! We were within walking distance to the yoga studio, so we decided to enjoy the beautiful weather and walk over.

For those of you who don’t know, Mount Airy is the town that Andy Griffith’s town of Mayberry was modeled after. We enjoyed looking at all the stores, and we were even treated to an old-timey police car driving by us. Already, I was smiling, which I sorely needed at that moment.

The workshop was small, with only seven of us in attendance. When I took my first Restorative Training, there were over 30 people. Don’t get me wrong…that was a great training. But I’ve always preferred the smaller trainings, where you can really get to know each other and walk away feeling you’ve made at least one true friend for life.

me_lidia_sacredspace
(Me and Lidia, after training on Sunday)

By spending so much time on the mat in a gentle and restorative practice, I was able to sit with my thoughts, really dig in to what’s going on with me, and show myself a little compassion. By spending some quality time making an effort to begin and grow friendships, I feel I was able to walk away being able to show compassion for others a little more effectively. It’s amazing how, when you really stop to think about it, we are all part of a web of people who love US, and who WE love. This web is growing all the time, as long as you take that time to allow compassion in.

So to my friends who read this blog, and to my readers who I may never have met in person: If all the things going on in the world right now seem to be too much to bear, show yourself some compassion. Find the time to make time for YOU, incorporating any self-care rituals that rejuvenate and empower you. Find a way to reconnect with old friends, do something that will allow you to make some new friends, tell your best friends and family how life wouldn’t be the same without them. Be there for them, showing them compassion as they may be working through tough times, too.

Tap in to this compassion, rooting yourself to the present. You might find it’s just what you need to reset and recharge.

Namaste,

Melanie

happiness-quotes
(Photo courtesy of Top 25 Happiness Quotes)

It’s been about a month since I last posted. Which means it’s been just over a month since I last taught a yoga class. If I’m to be honest, then I have to admit those first two weeks were TOUGH.

Knowing that I was going to go through a period of potential depression over giving up something that’s been such a defining part of who I am for the last 13 years, I took steps to mitigate. (For those of you who know me, you know that my full-time job requires me to do a lot of “project management” sorts of things, so me preparing for disaster ahead of time is just another part of who I am.)

About 2 or 3 weeks before my “retirement” from teaching, I joined a challenge I came across called 100 Happy Days. It intrigued me…all you have to do is post on some sort of social media one thing each day that made you happy…preferably a picture, but that wasn’t mandatory. You just add the hashtag #100HappyDays and voila! And it’s completely free. I noticed when reading about it that most people (over 70%, I believe) don’t complete the challenge.

Well, I love challenges and I’m not a quitter, so I signed up and chose Facebook as my social media outlet. I decided I will NOT be one of those who fall into that 70% category.

At the time of writing this post, I am on day 51. Over halfway through and still going strong. It’s actually become quite vital for me, because not only is it helping ME be happier, but it seems to be affecting others in more ways than I could have dreamed. What started off as being something I felt I needed to do for myself is encouraging others to do the same. It’s so humbling! So many people have told me that they look forward to my posts each day, that I’ve prompted them to look for things in their own lives that make them happy, that I am inspiring them to be happier. Me…INSPIRING others…wow!

As I look back over the past 51 days of my #100HappyDays Facebook posts, I picked up on something. There’s a definite pattern in the things that make me happy. It’s kind of cool to see that pattern because it lets me know there are definite REGULAR things in my life that make me happy. That tells me that I need to make sure I am doing those things as much as I possibly can. The things that I’m talking about are:

  • My daughters. I don’t get nearly as much time with them as I’d like, as they are busy with their social lives and all that jazz. Especially my oldest, since she’s off at college. But any time I got to spend with them, it seems like it made it to one of my happiness posts. Here they are on the day we moved my oldest into her college apartment…this was day #10.

MorganandCasey_082015

  • My dogs. They always seem to lift me up when I’m feeling down, they love me unconditionally, and they are the best napping buddies. Here we are together on day #5.

Melanddogs

  • My husband. Many of my posts revolve around the alone time we get to spend with each other, and it seems like we are getting a little more of that kind of time together lately. Whether it be working out together, hanging out and chillaxin’, or hiking at the Riverwalk or lake. Here we are on day #17, enjoying a pre-season Panthers game.

melandtravis_panthersgame2015

  • The water. I couldn’t believe, as I looked through my posts, how many of them revolved around my time at the Riverwalk or the lake. Water just seems to calm me down and bring me such happiness. Every time I’m around it, I notice the animals, the waves, the rocks, the trees. I love ocean time as well, but haven’t had a chance to get there during this challenge yet…but water is water, and I’ll take it! Here is a great shot of me and my hubby at Lake Lanier in Georgia on day #31.

meandtravis_lakelanier_2015

  • My family. I have had an opportunity over these past 51 days to spend some quality time with my parents, my in-laws, my brother-in-law and niece, and one of my cousins. Each time, it’s made it as my happiness post for whatever day it happened to be on. My family is my rock, and they support me in everything that I do. How could I be anything BUT happy, right? Here I am with my parents and my cousin, along with my hubby and daughters, on day #4.

family

Now don’t get me wrong. There have been many days during this journey so far where I’ve gotten almost to the end of the day and wondered what in the world I was going to post for the day that made me happy. In other words, I’ve had some bad days. We all do. We can’t have utopia 24/7, now can we? But each time I had one of those days, I was able to scan through my day and find at least one thing. Sometimes it was something small, like on day #7, where all I could think to post about was that the weather was good on that day.

But you know what? Making myself find that ONE thing made such a difference in my attitude. Every. Single. Time.

So I am looking forward to seeing what else I learn as I complete the last half of this journey. What new things will pop up that bring me happiness that I was not expecting? Will I be able to find more ways to include all the things above into my life more frequently, so that I am happier more often? Can I learn to find that one small thing more easily on the days when it seems like everything is hopeless?

Are you brave enough to do your own #100HappyDays challenge? If so, go to their site and sign up! I’d love to know if you decide to join in, so let me know which social media outlet you choose, so I can check in with you. I love seeing what others are posting, as it gives me all kinds of ideas for myself. And if you don’t already, follow me on Facebook so you can join me on my journey to happiness.

Namaste,

Melanie

Yesterday, I gave my 6th Toastmasters speech. This one was to satisfy the requirements for Speech #5 in the Competent Communicator’s manual (I gave speech #8 already, so that’s why this one was my 6th speech). The purpose of this 5-7 minute speech was to work on the skill “How your body speaks”, which means making sure that you use your body in ways that come across naturally, using appropriate gestures and facial expressions, making appropriate use of the space you’re giving your speech in, and making appropriate and adequate eye contact. I do these kinds of things all the time in the yoga classes I teach, but doing them in a more “professional” setting was a little scary to me, I must admit.

I decided to tackle the topic of prayer for this speech. Why? I am not sure, to be honest. Talking about praying in a setting like the one I was planning on can be considered tricky and taboo.

But, just as it happened when I was preparing for my last speech, a song popped into my head that I could not seem to get rid of. There must be something about songs from the early 1990s that resonate with me, because I kept hearing “Pray”, by MC Hammer, over and over in my head. In the chorus of that song, he says, “We got to pray just to make it today.” When he says those words, he’s talking about how we’ve got to include prayer in our lives if we’re going to make it in this tough world we live in.

So, I took it as a sign that I needed to tackle this one. I wrote my first draft and ran it by my mom, my most trusted advisor when it comes to writing…plus, she’s pretty damn knowledgeable about this topic, so I wanted her to help me ensure that I didn’t offend anyone.

The end result? It went better than I hoped, so I was ecstatic! I was able to creatively use my body language to talk about the topic of prayer, and was able to inject a bit of humor into it, which is kind of my signature in my speeches. My evaluator said I inspired her to start praying regularly…that’s exactly what I needed to hear! Some of you mentioned you wanted to be at the speech but couldn’t, so here’s the gist of what I did and said.

I started off by asking everyone to fold their hands in front of them, close their eyes, take a deep breath and relax their bodies. Then I told them to think about something they need in order to be happy.

If it’s something you already have, then think about how grateful you are for that thing. If you don’t already have it, then ask for it. Take in another deep breath, and as you let it out, seal in these words you just spoke to yourself. Now, open your eyes.

Madame Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and most awesome guests,

Believe it or not, you just said a prayer. How did it feel? Comfortable? Weird? Scary? Prayer doesn’t come easy to all of us, and it may be because we don’t truly understand what it is.

Today, we will cover what prayer is, different ways a person can pray, and how you can use prayer to help you live a happy life.

What is prayer, exactly?

A prayer is a solemn request for help, or an expression of thanks, addressed to a higher power. In other words, it’s a communication process. It may seem a little weird to think of it that way, since you’re not physically seeing or hearing anyone when you pray.

Many people think prayer is complicated, but I assure you it is not. It is simply an expression of faith that comes from the heart.  When I pray, I like to think of it as my “direct line to the Divine”.

Think of praying like having a conversation with your best friend. Your best friend loves you unconditionally, right? Well, so does the Divine! When you can talk to the Divine like you would your best friend, you’re better able to talk about your needs and what you are thankful for with joy, with confidence and with conviction. These are things that will help your life be a better one.

Time for a pop quiz. Following are three examples of what people might consider to be prayer. One is NOT an authentic prayer. Can you guess which one it is?

  1. “Today, I am thankful for the gift of wonderful friends and family.”
  2. “I just had some medical tests and I’m scared. Please help me get through this, no matter what the results are.”
  3. “PLEASE, let that shirt I saw last week be on sale when I get to the store!”

Got it figured out yet? If you answered #3, you get the gold star! While choice #3 is a request for something, it’s not something that will truly make your life better.

Ways to Pray

Now that you understand what prayer is, you may wonder how to do it. As I mentioned above, prayer is an expression of faith, which makes it universal and part of every religion. Different religions may approach prayer in different ways, but they all have the same purpose when it comes to praying: bringing you closer to the Divine.

Take a look at these images:

PrayingCollage

These are just a few of the many examples I came across when I was searching for images of people from different religions praying. These images show Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims and Hindus all praying. Notice the variety of postures being used. But also notice the similarities…folded hands, bowed heads and closed eyes seem to be commonplace, wouldn’t you agree?

Personally, I pray in different ways, depending on the occasion. Sometimes, I simply sit cross-legged with my eyes closed and my head bowed, and I run through a list of things silently that I need to pray about. Sometimes, I sing my prayers…certain songs just seem to strike a chord with me sometimes, if the lyrics are about something I am feeling the need to pray about. And sometimes, I pray on a verse or quote that speaks to me.

As you can probably tell, I don’t believe there is a “right” way to pray. As long as it is done earnestly and from the heart, I think it counts!

Conclusion: How to Find Happiness with Prayer

I encourage you to find a form of prayer that resonates with you and incorporate it into your life on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be every day, but try to establish a regular cadence. When you do this, you may notice you are happier. Why is that?

For one thing, remember that you’re communicating one-on-one with the Divine…how can doing that regularly not be wonderful?

Secondly, as you pray more regularly, your prayers will come more and more from the heart, giving them a whole new level of meaning. You find more and more things in your life to be grateful for, you start praying for your true needs (rather than that shirt you really want to buy), and you may also find you start praying fervently for those you love and care for, which gives your prayers a more selfless quality. More meaningful prayers provide you with a sense of security.

Finally, having a heartfelt conversation with the Divine helps you realize you are not alone. Modern life is stressful, after all, and we will have hard times during our lives. But knowing that we don’t have to go through those hard times on our own gives us the courage to be strong and to say “No” to the behaviors that may bring us down.

Remember this guy?

MCHammer

This guy, MC Hammer, had a popular song in 1990 called “Pray”. Listen to the lyrics if you don’t know the song…they really do a great job at expressing why it’s important to pray, in my opinion. In the chorus, he says, “we got to pray just to make it today.” Even 25 years later, these words still hold true.

Find a way to make prayer a part of your regular life, and discover the inner peace and joy that come with it. Then…you’ll find your happiness.

Thank you for listening and have a sparkling day!

Melanie

“Mirror, mirror on the wall…who is the fairest of them all?” ~~ Snow White’s evil stepmother

queen(Photo courtesy of Doug Craig)

If you’ve ever read Snow White or seen one of the big screen adaptations, you probably recognize the quote above. Snow White’s evil stepmother utters this quote over and over to her magic mirror throughout her time as queen, and it always told her that SHE was the fairest of them all…until Snow White came along. And then all of a sudden, the queen went to great lengths to destroy Snow White, so that she could once again be the most beautiful in all the land.

Now I know this is just a fairy tale, but think about something for a minute. The queen was just trying to get a little boost to her ego. She had no self-esteem and no self-love, so she was dependent on this mirror to tell her how beautiful and wonderful she was. The thing is, she never believed it herself, and her soul was dark because of it. Snow White, on the other hand, was not only beautiful, but she had a heart and soul that was pure love. Snow White believed she was the best she could be and she was happy with who she was, no matter what her circumstances were.

Sound familiar? I know many people with the “wicked queen complex”, as I like to call it. People who are constantly looking for recognition and praise from others. People who never seem to be happy because they’re always looking for the next round of praise. When I look at these people, I notice they surround themselves with people who tell them what they want to hear, who feed their ego. But when I look at them, I also notice that no matter how much they are told how wonderful they are, they still don’t seem to be happy.

Truth be told, I used to be one of those kinds of people. Heck, I still am a lot of the time. I am working on it, but it is HARD for me. So hard!

For many months now, I’ve been working on improving my health and wellness. I’ve incorporated meditation, I’ve pared back on my commitments, and I am spending more time with my family and friends.

About two months ago, I started working with a friend of mine who is an amazing energy healer. I was having a lot of pain in my legs and in my back and shoulders, and she offered to see if she could help. When she started working on my back and shoulders, she immediately noted that this pain was due to something emotional rather than physical. As she continued to work on me, she said I needed to work on loving myself and trusting myself, and on speaking my truth.

I was floored, because when I thought about it, I realized she was right. I am great at building others up, but I am always beating MYSELF up, always thinking I could be doing something better, always apologizing for everything.

She gave me some mantras and meditations to do, and I eagerly started working on them. I am a very task-driven, Type A personality, so I love it when I get “assignments”. I also ordered an amazing workbook by Louse Hay, “Love Yourself, Heal Your Life”. This book was recommended as a great one to help with developing self-love, and the thought of having a multitude of “assignments” to do sounded like just what I needed.

LouiseHayBookCover

When the workbook arrived in the mail, I was SO excited! I started reading it right away. In it, the author says that you should do each exercise until you’ve got it down and feel like you’ve truly accomplished it before moving on to the next one. OK. Easy enough.

Or so I thought. The first exercise I did is the Mirror Exercise. What you’re supposed to do is stop and look at yourself in a mirror as often as you can, and every time you do, you’re supposed to say something nice to yourself. That didn’t sound so bad.

The first time I tried it, though, was so UNCOMFORTABLE! I looked at myself and immediately wanted to pick apart what I saw.

  •  “My face looks fat.”
  • “My skin looks blotchy.”
  • “Look at those wrinkles on my forehead and around my eyes.”
  • “Is that a double-chin?”

You get the idea. So I closed my eyes, opened them, and tried again. This time, I really looked and STRUGGLED to find something nice to say. So I said something cheesy like, “You have pretty hair” and then walked away, emotionally exhausted from the attempt.

Wow! This was going to be harder than I thought. But I don’t back away from a challenge, so I vowed to keep at it. I thought I was making some progress until I went to my chiropractor this week. He looked at me after the adjustment and said, “You really need to start believing in yourself. You don’t trust yourself at all. You need to trust that you’re worth standing up for.”

Hmm…OK.

Then today, I saw my friend who’s been working with me. I told her I was experiencing some pain again in my back and right shoulder, and she went back to what she told me the first time I worked with her. I told her I’d been working on it but that it was not going so well. She gave me some more mantras, ones I can use with my mirror exercise, so that maybe it will be less difficult for me.

When I got home, I took this pic of myself:

Melanie_05172015

After I took it, I started analyzing it. I started to do what I usually do, which is to pick myself apart. But then I said, “No! Enough! I am worthy. I honor myself and I respect myself too much to continue to treat myself this way.” Then I looked again…not at my blotchy, post-yoga skin, but in my eyes. To me, my eyes look like they truly believe I am worthy, don’t you think? I think my head knows, but it’s my heart I need to work on. I need to believe it to my very core.

Yoga has been wonderful to me throughout the years in helping me believe in myself, but somehow, I’ve lost my way a bit. I think I’ve spent so much time working on my students that I forgot about ME. I definitely have not been very good at practicing what I preach.

Well, that’s going to change. I want to be happy from the inside out. I am willing to do the hard work, even if it means dealing with uncomfortable feelings as they rise to the top. I am worth it. I know that now.

If you’ve never done the mirror exercise, I encourage you to try it. It might be uncomfortable. VERY uncomfortable. And it might feel silly or awkward. But that just means you need to do it all the more. I never realized how hard it can be to say something nice to yourself. But if you can’t love yourself and say kind things to yourself, you can’t expect others to love you and be kind to you. You’ll never be happy…truly happy…until you can look yourself in the eyes and say, “I love you.”

I want to be Snow White, not the evil queen. How about you?

Namaste,

Melanie

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