stress management

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Sacred Space Conference

Published March 6, 2013 by ireneglasse

I’ve become a very last-minute addition to the roster at this year’s Sacred Space Conference in Laurel, MD.

“The Sacred Space Conference is a place and time of respectful sharing and thoughtful learning among the many rich and varied traditions, beliefs, paths and organizations found in the DC/Baltimore metropolitan region, the surrounding Mid-Atlantic area, and the world.  It is our hope that through this conference we will increase understanding and religious tolerance between the many traditions within the esoteric community, as well as within the public at large.”

I will be presenting yoga classes Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning at the Conference.  If you’re there, I hope to see you!  If you don’t have anything going on, passes are still available at the door.

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Perfect Expression

Published December 13, 2012 by ireneglasse

For Pagans, the darker side of the year is a time for internal work–for choosing a battle, digging in, and working your way through.  The combination of myth cycles, sunlight and weather that keeps us indoors serves as grease for the wheels, if you let it.  This year, I’m working on Perfectionism.  I have an ideal inside my head of what my life is supposed to be like–what I should look like, how I should act, what I should do.  And when I fall short of that ideal, I wrestle with a lot of guilt.  The guilt feeds into my anxiety disorder.  I redouble my efforts, this time stressed and anxious, and ultimately manage to screw myself up.  I end up getting sick, overextended, neurotic…it’s an ugly cycle.  And it goes on almost constantly.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about ways to overcome my Perfectionism.  I’ve been working on self-acceptance, on the idea of ‘enough.’  That I do enough, have enough, am enough.  This evening I’m doing a releasing ritual with my wonderful working partner to further this cause.  I’ll be creating a new mala for use in prayer and yoga practice.

Yoga practice.  So many ideas come together here.  The one that really crystallized for me this past week was the idea of Perfect Expression.  A phrase often uttered by instructors at my studio is ‘Find your perfect expression.’  By that, they mean to listen to your body when you’re working on a pose.  To find out where you, personally, need to physically be, what you need to cultivate.  Not to worry about reaching the peak of that pose–Perfect Execution–but what is exactly right for your body in that moment.

For example, I have tight hamstrings.  I’m extremely strong, but not very flexible.  It seems to run in the family–we have very dense muscles and tissues that keep mobility a little pinned down.  So, for me, the Perfect Expression of Downward Facing Dog means my heels don’t touch the floor.  Yet I still get as much out of that pose as someone whose heels do touch–i.e. a great hamstring stretch/shoulder opener/lower back expansion.  That slight difference in execution becomes meaningless since the beauty and benefit to the body are equal.  Even if, 20 years from now, my heels still don’t touch in Down-dog, it will still be the Perfect Expression of the pose for me.

Perhaps there is a Perfect Expression of the Self as well.  We all have an ideal we strive for, whether given to us by our family, the media, our culture as a whole or some combination of those sources.  That ideal is Perfect Execution–beauty, health, wealth, a stable, loving relationship, enough time to help those in need, clean house, nice cars, etc, etc.  A perfectly executed life.  Yet the same way all our bodies are different, our minds and lives are different, too.  We have tight hamstrings, bad shoulders, trick wrists.  We accumulate little dings and dents along the way and must modify that Perfect Execution to fit the needs and limits of our unique, individual self.

And perhaps that modification is Perfect.  Perfect for us in that moment.  Perfect for our reality.  Perfect for the soul, the personality, the life we lead.  Perfectly expressed for who we are.  That expression doesn’t look like the ‘peak pose’ of the life we imagine–it doesn’t look like the ideal inside our head.  But the resemblance is unmistakable.  Although the images aren’t identical, we still cultivate the root of that ideal.  We reach toward it.  And that Perfect Expression is exactly where we need to be.

So I haven’t saved the world yet.  I haven’t completely balanced house-work-music-health-life.  I haven’t figured out the Mysteries of the Universe.

And it’s Perfect.  The things I think of as flaws, as failings, are just modifications.  I have tight hamstrings.  I have an anxiety disorder.  I modify Downward Facing Dog.  I modify my life.  And the beauty and benefit of those modifications are the same within me as Perfect Execution would be.  I do not feel guilt in my yoga practice.  I don’t beat myself up for not being able to flawlessly move through Standing Twisting Triangle.  Instead, I find that place within me that benefits most from the energy of that pose and I breathe into it.

Perfect Expression.

As in yoga, so in life.  As within, so without.  As above, so below.

A blessed New Moon to you, and to your Perfect Expression.

 

Ending a cycle

Published December 5, 2012 by ireneglasse

In the myths of the cultures we sprang from, new light is on its way.  The days are short and the nights long; the cold keeps us indoors and it’s all too easy to fall into brooding and retrospect.  The wheel of the year is winding down, turning toward its end.  And though we throw wide the East Gate soon to let in new light, that time is not yet here.

This space of darkness and reflection has its own value.  With each year, we gather to ourselves more memories, more experiences, more feelings.  Some joyous, some sad.  We learn, we grow, we change.  And as we fill the pages of this year’s book, the sorrows and challenges can weigh heavy on our spirit.

The last new moon of the year is fast approaching.  It falls on Thursday, December 13th, this year.  Why is that important?  The transition of darkness to light in the lunar cycle is a good time for releasing.  As the final cycle of its kind of 2012, this upcoming new moon offers us a unique opportunity.

What do you carry that no longer serves?  What injuries have you taken on this year?  What relationships have become toxic?  You have a chance to release those dark pieces into the endless night and begin the coming year with a blank slate.

This can be as simple as offering up your burdens in prayer, writing them on a piece of paper and setting that paper alight, or performing a full-fledged releasing ritual.  You can take this opportunity to purify your home, releasing the gathered energies of the last year.  You can also use this new moon to further your work on changes already underway.

I am working on releasing guilt.  I struggle with feelings that I am not good enough, that I don’t do enough, help enough, work hard enough.  I fight against my humanity and the finite nature of my time and energy.  I beat myself up for not meeting the unrealistic ideal I carry within me.  And I am trying to change that behavior.  As part of my own releasing, I will be getting a tattoo that symbolizes allowing my true nature, imperfections and all, to be what it is without self-punishment.

There is a Navajo word, ‘hozro’ that translates, roughly, to ‘moving with the current flow of energy.’  Rather than struggle in this season, allow the energetic current to carry you.  You can travel this river into the night and back out again.  You can release the burdens you no longer wish to carry into those dark waters and turn to face the dawn lighter and more ready for the adventures to come.

May the flow find you, may it bear you up, and may it carry us all into the light of the coming year renewed.

An Introduction to Labyrinth Walking

Published October 25, 2012 by ireneglasse

I often receive emails or comments that run something like this: “You talk about Labyrinths and Labyrinth Walking a lot.  What is it, exactly?  What happens at a Labyrinth Walk?”

So, let’s begin at the beginning.

What is a Labyrinth?

In Labyrinth Walking terminology, a Labyrinth is a single meandering path that winds from an entry point to the center of the design.  There is only one path–the same walk is taken on the return trip from the center to the entry point (now the exit).  There is only one path.  There are no turns or dead-ends as in a maze, and nothing designed to confuse or bewilder the walker.  To walk a Labyrinth, you simply start walking between the lines and follow your feet.  Although the path winds toward the center and back out again, you never have a choice to make about the direction you’re going.  That single path holds true.

Labyrinths can take many forms.  Here are some examples of Labyrinth designs:

Although each of the above Labyrinths have unique characteristics, they all share the most fundamental trait: there is only one path.

Because of the single path, if you decide to walk a Labyrinth as part of a group (at an open Labyrinth Walk, for instance), you will encounter other people along your route.  Labyrinth walking as a group is a cooperative experience–to allow someone else to pass, you can simply step out of the way, then back to wherever you were on your path.  Everyone shares that single route.

On Labyrinth Walking

The Golden Rule of Labyrinth Walking is “There is no wrong way to walk a Labyrinth.”  You can set any pace you’d like–you can walk slowly and meditatively, at your usual walking pace, at a good clip…you can even dance or run through the Labyrinth.  It’s all up to you.  You can enter the Labyrinth with a specific thought in mind to contemplate, you can carry a prayer with you, you can enter in joy, grief, or pain, or you can wander in with no expectations or plans at all.  All ways to move within the Labyrinth are correct.

A lot of things can happen during a Labyrinth walk.  If nothing else, if you walk in with no expectations, you will walk out feeling more relaxed than when you entered.  However, many other things are possible.  You might realize the solution to a problem you’re facing or change your perspective on a situation.  You might find a creative block suddenly loosened.  You might find yourself connecting deeply with Spirit, whatever form that happens to take for you. Many people pray on a Labyrinth walk.  Occasionally, we find ourselves walking with the souls of those who have passed on before us.  Surprising things can happen.  We calm down, gain insight, figure out solutions…the possibilities are endless, and endlessly individual.  Everyone gets something unique to them out of their walk.  One of my favorite quotes from ‘The Sacred Path Companion’ (the workbook for ‘Walking a Sacred Path’, both by Lauren Artress) is “The Labyrinth meets you where you are, gives you what you need, and nurtures a web of interconnection.”  Every Labyrinth walk I take or facilitate underscores that quote more deeply.

There are some fairly widely-accepted principles that can help you get the most out of your walk.  Remember, what follows are simply suggestions.  When walking a Labyrinth, the most important guidance to listen to comes from within you.

Calm and Center Yourself

Take a moment to clear your mind and become aware of your breath.  You may want to spend some time around the outside of the Labyrinth before you begin.  When you feel ready, enter the Labyrinth, find your own pace and follow the path.

Set Your Own Pace

Allow yourself to find the pace your body wants to go.  If you meet someone on the path coming the other way, simply turn slightly or step off the path and allow each other to pass.  If you wish to pass a slow walker, or help others pass you, it is easy to do so at the turns.  There are places to step off and pause if you need more time along the way.

Take Your Time

The center of the Labyrinth is a good place to pause and reflect, sitting or standing or kneeling, before retracing your steps on the path that now guides you out of the Labyrinth.  A Labyrinth walk is a journey, not a race to get to a destination.  You are welcome to take all the time you need.

The Three R’s

There are three movements and associated emotional states to the Labyrinth, and you are free to make of them whatever you like.  Remember, there is no right or wrong way to walk a Labyrinth.  These states can happen in order with the associated actions, or in a different order, or not at all.  All paths and experiences are correct.

Releasing

On the inward journey, walkers can cast off, discard, divest, unwrap and forget.  It is an opportunity to unload emotions, mental states, memories and thoughts that do not serve the walker’s highest good.

Receiving

At the center, walkers can pause.  This space is an opportunity to be open, expectant and receptive.  Walkers can take the time to listen to an inner voice, to Mystery, or to the simplicity of silence and stillness.

 Returning

On the outward journey, walkers can gain direction, satisfaction, comfort and new energy.  It is an opportunity to integrate the knowledge gained within the Labyrinth, to prepare for leaving Sacred Space.

What happens at a Labyrinth Walk?

An open Labyrinth Walk is a great way to begin your Labyrinth practice.  Depending on the location and layout of the Labyrinth, and whether there are any facilitators present, open walks can vary a bit.  I’m going to recount what you’ll experience  if you come to one of the Open Full Moon Labyrinth Walks that I facilitate at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick.

At the UUCF, we walk at night, after the sun has gone down.  We have two Labyrinths we use, an indoor one and an outdoor one.  Which one we use is dependent on time of year and climactic conditions.  (The next open walk I’m hosting will be on the indoor labyrinth–it’s getting chilly out there!)  The indoor Labyrinth is a Chartres-style canvas Labyrinth that we roll out in the sanctuary.  The outdoor Labyrinth is a contemporary Labyrinth designed specifically for the church by John Standing Bear.  It is laid out in brick on a grass courtyard.

The Labyrinth is marked with flickering LED tealights.  They help show you where the pathway leads.  If you arrive after the walk has begun, you’ll find that it’s pretty quiet.  Labyrinth walking is a meditative activity, so it’s customary to keep the noise down in order to give everyone time with their thoughts.  If people do want to talk and socialize, however, they’re more than welcome to do so elsewhere on the property.

I stand at the entrance to the Labyrinth.  My purpose there is simple: since we all walk the same path together, it’s easy to have a ‘traffic jam.’  I help put space between people as they enter the Labyrinth so that while you walk, you have a chance to focus inward rather than worry about stepping on the person in front of you.  I’m also then available to answer questions or help out anyone who needs extra assistance for their walk.

The number of people at a Labyrinth walk can vary greatly depending on the time of year.  At a guess, we’ve had as many as 40 and as few as 10 at past Labyrinth walks.  After I welcome you onto the Labyrinth (generally done with a gesture in order to maintain silence), you’ll probably end up passing a couple people who are on their way out.  You may also find that when you come to the center, there are a few other people seated in meditation there.  Everyone is very good about being respectful of each others’ space.  This is the aspect of Labyrinth Walking that fosters community.  A Labyrinth Walk can be deeply personal and cooperative at the same time.

On your return journey, you’ll again pass other walkers.  After you walk out of the Labyrinth, you’re welcome to sit down and journal or think about your walk.  There are benches at the outdoor Labyrinth and seats placed around the perimeter of the indoor one.  You can sit and contemplate, move to an area where conversation is welcome to chat about your experience, head home for the night or walk a second (or even third) time.

During the warmer months, we welcome hand drummers to play during the second half of the Labyrinth walk.  Drums add a different energy to a walk.  Where a silent walk is contemplative, a drumming walk is jubilant.  People dance and twirl on the Labyrinth, clap their hands and sometimes sing or chant.  That’s why we only have drums during the second half of the walk.  It allows walkers a choice in terms of what kind of walk they’d prefer.  Many walkers, myself included, do both.

At the end of a walk, after the last walker leaves the Labyrinth, a few people generally stay and help clean up the tealights and move chairs if we were using the indoor one.

And that, my dear ones, is that.  I hope this helped answer your questions about Labyrinth Walks.  If you have any additional questions, anything I didn’t address, feel free to leave me a comment 🙂

‘Solvitur Ambulando.”

Strong, slow, deliberate

Published June 6, 2012 by ireneglasse

Everyone has their battles.  I’m convinced that it’s impossible to make it to adulthood (and in some cases, just past 10) without a serious issue or two.  Or four.

I have an anxiety disorder.  It’s diagnosed, I’ve been through counseling for it.  As it was explained to me, one can have a predisposition for greater or lesser amounts of anxiety.  Think of it like a fight or flight response–the response is stronger in some people than in others.  In order to move from ‘responsive’ to ‘disorder,’ all that’s required is a little trauma.  Mine hit right around age 13 (since being a teenager isn’t hard enough on its own) and presto!  The shifter jumps a couple gears and off we go.

I’m pretty fortunate.  My anxiety issues are not so severe that they necessitate medication.  That said, they do need to be managed.  And it is in the management of our issues that I think people, myself included, often fall short.  It’s not enough to take the pill, you see.  Or to have gone through therapy of some sort once.  Although we can take the edges off of our issues, they remain with us, and can regrow their ridges if ignored for too long.

June is always a rocky month for me.  Many of the clubs I juggle in my life are in the air, and on fire, during June.  Cassandra Syndrome‘s summer tour season is underway.  Although we’ve pared back on gigs this year to one a month, there’s still a lot that happens behind the scenes to make those gigs happen.  Especially since we’ve just changed lineup.  My garden is also picking up speed–there’s more maintenance necessary, new rounds of crops to put into the ground, pest management has begun.  And finally the big one–the Shenandoah Midsummer Festival.  I co-chair the festival.  I’m blessed to have a team of amazing folks that helps make Midsummer happen, but it’s still a LOT of work.  This year in particular is a bit anxiety-inducing since we’re at a new location.  The location is fabulous, but since we haven’t run the festival there before, I don’t know what, if any, problems will arise.  I’m trying to plan for things I can only theorize about.

This along with all my other duties and activities.

I could feel the stress building over the last couple weeks.  I found myself, several times, quite literally turning in a circle while trying to figure out how to do two different things at once.  The memory problems that I associate with increased anxiety were showing up, plus the awful sinking feeling that underlies the condition.  The everything is going to go wrong, and I will be left alone forever feeling.

Here’s the good news.  I noticed the ramping up.  I noticed the issues coming to the fore.  And that increase in stress was what I carried with me into the Labyrinth during Monday night’s walk.

How do we slow down when the world speeds up around us?

One, we limit how much world is allowed into our minds.  I have a hard time not working if I’m attached to the internet.  So now, at 9 pm, an alarm goes off on my phone and I end all use of electronic media.  Reading is fine.  Writing (with a pen) is fine.  Meditation is fine.  Gmail is not.

Two, we focus on making our goals reasonable.  I know for a fact that it is impossible to get everything on my to-do list knocked out today.  I also know from reading study after study that multitasking is not as effective as many of us would like to believe.  So, I sat down, figured out what actually *needs* to happen, and focused on that.  If my living room doesn’t get cleaned today, the world will not end.

Three, we specifically make time for fun–for relaxation.  For letting ourselves off the hook for an hour or two.  If there is never a release in the pressure, we slowly grind down underneath it.

I figured out the fourth option last night as I was journaling.  I was mulling over stress and realized that there’s an area in my life where I’m already good at managing it.  Yoga.  My muscles can be screaming, my heart pounding, sweat pouring, yet in a yoga practice I am centered in myself, completely calm, and breathing fully and smoothly.  Three words came to mind about how I approach my practice.

Strong.  Slow.  Deliberate.

I focus a lot on alignment, on smooth transitions between poses.  On making my physical practice as much like the flowing of water as possible.  This idea of fluidity can be turned to my own life–to my to-do list, to the chittering monkey voice inside my head urging me to more and more faster and faster.

I choose my next task with Strength.  I will focus on it, turn all my attention to it, until it is completed.  I will meet it with all my energy, rather than attempting to divide my reserves.

I move Slowly.  Rather than the chaotic tumble of a mountain stream, I move as with the swell of the ocean.  I choose to take the time to ensure tasks are done correctly, thoroughly, skillfully.

I work Deliberately.  I consciously choose my actions.  I reflect on situations and obstacles and think them through rather than falling into mindless reaction.  When I do identify a path to pursue, I move forward in full awareness.  I stay mindful of the present moment.

Strong.  Slow.  Deliberate.  And, as always, remember to Breathe.