Wicked SMART

I'm so grateful to be offering another Stress Management and Resiliency Training (SMART) program at Chrysalis Meditation and Wellness Center in Winchester, MA.  The experience is transformative and the space lives up to it's name - a safe, supportive cocoon.  You'll learn these MGH-based techniques in a small group of twelve people or less.  This means plenty of opportunities to share, to listen and to be heard.  Trust me, the wisdom of fellow participants is just as impressive as the curriculum.  The last two sessions sold out so I'd love for you to snag a spot today!  Click here for details.

Still not sold?  I could tell you all the incredible ways this 8-week program creates positive change in people's lives.  I could tell you it's fun, informative, practical and powerful.  Instead, I'll let two of my recent students tell you how it served them:

"As a student of Christina's 8 week SMART program, I found the experience both inspirational and life changing. Christina is an amazing instructor who brings her experience, stories and gentle guidance each week to facilitate an awe inspiring program. Many topics and methods of mindfulness and meditation are discussed with the goal of finding one that works best for you and your lifestyle. Can't recommend this program enough- Christina is wonderful!'" - Lynne

"As an Assistant Principal my day can be hectic and stressful.  The SMART program taught me  to find ways to transfer my inner thinking from negative to positive.  It has provided me with a new set of tools to help students navigate their world as well." - Andrea

This program makes a difference.  Show up, try it out, consider a different perspective, look inward and you'll realize everything you need is already here.  Contact me with any questions!

 

Self-Care Tip for Holiday Relief: Stress S.O.S.

We’ve all had those moments when we reach our breaking point.  The sky is falling, the wheels are coming off the bus, we’ve absorbed as much as we can manage and something’s gotta give.  One wrong look or off-hand comment and the Hulk is busting out!  The key is knowing when you’re reaching your limit before you get there.  This is what self-care is all about.  It starts with self-understanding and self-compassion.  We pay attention to how we’re feeling and recognize what we need to bring ourselves into balance.  Here’s a quick way to pull yourself back from the brink:

  • Stop.  
  • Take 3 deep breaths.  As the breath goes, so does the mind.  Slow, deep breaths can quickly change raging flames to burning embers.  
  • Attend to bodily sensations.  Get out of your buzzing thoughts and spiraling emotions and into your body in this moment.  Feel your feet on the ground, notice where you are tensing your muscles and soften into yourself.
  • Respond rather than react.  This may mean doing nothing or it may require mindful speech or mindful action.  The first 3 steps give you just enough space to be aware of what you are about to say or do and why.  

Self-Care Tip for Holiday Relief: No Mo' FOMO

How’s your calendar looking these days?  Probably filling up with social gatherings, family parties, work functions, school events and more.  When you check out your list of appearances, how many of them truly matter to you?  Here are some tips to avoid over-committing and running yourself down this season: 

  • Make a list of priorities for your holiday season.  Include your favorite traditions, events and activities.  Then, add words to describe how you want to feel during this time of year, similar to setting an intention in yoga class. Let this be your source of truth when it’s time to RSVP (instead of FOMO “Fear Of Missing Out”).
  • Don’t say “maybe” when you really mean “no”.  “Maybe” because you’re checking your schedule is different than “Maybe” because you feel bad saying no.  Your time is finite and your energy is precious.  Don’t waste either one on people and places that do not align with your priorities and intentions.  If you don’t protect your time and energy, no one else will. #keepitreal
  • Stop “shoulding” on yourself.  Many of us are people pleasers by nature and cringe at the thought of disappointing another person.  When we make choices from beliefs of “should”, we are short-changing our authenticity.  Be honest about what is important to you and own your choices without guilt.  In the words of Elsa, “let it go!”

Self-Care Tip for Holiday Relief: Top Stress-Busting App

What’s the top stress-busting app you won’t find on your phone?  App-reciation!  That’s right, friends.  It’s free and accessible to anyone, anytime, anywhere.  Practicing an attitude of gratitude trains the mind to see the all goodness in life and brings broader perspective.  When we make the effort to acknowledge the little joys, the stresses that once loomed large may not seem so bad or at the least, we feel more balanced as we’re temporarily toughing them out.  Here’s an easy way to get started:

  • Start an appreciation journal. 
  • Leave it by your bedside and before you go to sleep, take a minute to write down 3 things you are thankful for that day.  Just a word or a phrase will do.
  • Every day write down 3 NEW things, no repeats.  This encourages you to look for simple moments that often go unnoticed.  It’s amazing how open your view becomes with this new awareness. 
  • Commit to 1 week, look back at your daily entries and notice how you feel.  It’s a wonderful daily practice or a helpful reminder during moments when you’re feeling down or overwhelmed.

For more self-care tips and ways to boost your resiliency to stress, check out my workshop at Barre & Soul in Melrose, MA on Sunday, December 13, 2:00-3:30pm.  "Take Care:  A Self-Care and Stress Resiliency Workshop."  Details here. 

Self-Care Tip for Holiday Relief: Rest So Hard

We’ve all heard the phrase “work hard, play hard”, but what about “rest hard”?  In our hurry-up-do-it-all-there’s-never-any-time culture, most of us feel over-scheduled, over-extended and overwhelmed.  Even still, we may be highly functioning on the outside, but paying the price on the inside as the body and brain work overtime to bounce back from constant stress and stimulation.  For our nervous system, this means too much “fight or flight” and not enough “rest and recover” which can lead to serious health issues.  Get some rest to feel your best.  Here’s how:

  • Slow your roll.  Walk slower, eat slower, drive slower.  Focus on what you are doing while you are doing it.  This kind of mindful attention brings a quality of relaxation to the nervous system that creates balance for our internal systems.
  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep every night.  Try to limit screen time right before bed and create a nightly wind down ritual that welcomes sleep more easily; for example, take a warm bath or shower, listen to chill music in dim lighting or read a book. 
  • Do nothing everyday.  Seriously!  Give yourself permission to take a break for several minutes throughout the day with no technology and no to-dos.  Breathe, walk, meditate, cat nap, whatever interrupts the hectic pace of your day.  These mini-R&R moments are like an instant recharge for your internal energy battery. 

For more self-care tips and ways to boost your resiliency to stress, check out my workshop at Barre & Soul in Melrose, MA on Sunday, December 13, 2:00-3:30pm.  "Take Care:  A Self-Care and Stress Resiliency Workshop".  Details here

A Walking Wet Blanket

Today, I shared a gift of guided relaxation with my HR colleagues to kick off our team meeting.  They all know I live and breathe this stuff and I appreciate their willingness to have a new (and potentially uncomfortable!) experience together.  The fact that this request was made, unsolicited, encourages my vision of employee well-being taking root in our work culture.  Sure, the roots are small and slow-growing but they do exist and for that I am grateful.

As I began guiding them, I couldn't help realizing what an amazing departure from the norm this exercise would be.  Plant your feet...sit comfortably in your chair with a tall and relaxed posture...close your eyes...notice your breathing...feel your inhale and your exhale...slow down and deepen the breath in and the breath out...focus on your feet on the floor, your body in the chair, your breath flowing in and out...

Relaxing is not something we typically do in this field.  Working in HR, you sometimes feel like a walking wet blanket.  We put out fires, dampen "risky" behavior and absorb a lot of messes.  We soak up people's anxieties, complaints, worries, frustrations, work pressures, home stresses, business dilemmas and more.  The helpers are often the last ones to help themselves, at work and elsewhere in life.

As I sat in a room full of oversaturated blankets, I knew these few moments of stillness and quiet could give them a good wringing out; a rinse for the nervous system, a release of the weight that comes with serving others, a respite from the endless faucet of emails, phone calls, deadlines, issues and projects.  

The letting go is the hard part.  Allowing yourself to loosen the grip on control and structure and really drop into the experience of relaxation.  Maybe they felt it or maybe they didn't.  The outcome is not as important to me as the realization that their well-being matters.  More important is learning to be aware of when the blanket can't absorb anymore, when the stress is swelling and everything needs a good squeeze to lighten up and start fresh.  Before self-care can take hold as a personal commitment and a lifestyle, the foundations of self-awareness and self-understanding must be laid.  To know yourself is to love yourself.

So, tell me...How do you 'rinse out' when you've reached capacity?  Is there a behavior you notice that tells you it's time to pause?  What self-care practices help you return to balance when your stress is spilling over?  I'd love to hear from you!

Yoga is not my job, it is my joy.

Messages like this one from a yoga therapy client are like wind in my sails, continuing to propel me onward.  Not in a straight line or to a specific destination, but growing and expanding to fulfill my purpose of living and giving with my whole self.  I am humbled by every opportunity I've been given to answer the call in my heart to serve others through yoga.  I came alive when I found this practice and it has shown me a way to support and guide, to teach and learn, to listen and share, to understand and be understood, to be with and to just be.  

As a yoga therapist, yoga teacher, educator and guide, I am a compassionate and committed partner along your unique path towards health, wholeness and balance.  Thank you for fueling my joy.

"Yoga therapy with Christina as my guide taught me how to be in control of my stress level and emotions - a difficult concept for a pregnant woman! Practicing breathing techniques, stretches, and simple meditation helped me be more conscious of my own ability to mediate and even alleviate my stress and prenatal worries. These techniques were especially helpful immediately post partum which is a particularly challenging time in any woman's life. I know I will continue to rely on the practices I learned with Christina as my new life unfolds!" - Beth H.

Like sands through an hourglass...

The image of an hourglass popped into my head as I was driving home one night at the end of 2014.  Admittedly a mindFULL, not mindful, moment.  I imagined the opening scene of that soap opera.  You remember, the gigantic hourglass with sand passing from top to bottom through a narrow opening.  "Like sands through an hour glass, so are the days of our lives..."  

The first 6 months of 2014 felt like a race against an hourglass in my mind - pressure to find our first house, to pass my yoga therapy training and to launch a workplace wellness program all by mid-June.  These were big "to-dos" on the horizon and I was driving towards them with intense discipline and focused attention.  On a deeper level, there was another hourglass - a bigger one - staring me in the face.  Through self-study and reflection, I encountered a nagging fear that I was getting older and hadn't achieved those societal measures of a "successful" adult life:  home, marriage, kids.  This was the triathalon of grown-up milestones and I was still running 5Ks (literally AND figuratively).  On the surface, I acknowledged that I was on my own path in life and things would happen in their own time.  Intellectually, I believed I was content with that.  Living my "niyamas" like a good yogi - contentment and surrender to what is.  

But the hourglass kept looming, the sand seeming to fall faster as June approached.  I became obsessed with finding a home before our rental lease expired - finishing one leg of the triathalon.  I convinced myself if I had one, the others would come soon after and I'd be caught up to everyone else - back on track.  I got so close.  Then, the hourglass exploded.  Our relationship ended suddenly, shockingly.

Shards of glass and sand everywhere - pain, loss, sadness, anger.  The mess was overwhelming, too much to clean up, so I laid in it for a long time.  When I found the strength to get up, I didn't get far before stepping on broken glass - sharp, sudden, unexpected pain.  Watching TV, riding the train, driving home from work, taking a walk, anywhere, anytime.  As the months passed, I got used to walking through the glass.  Maybe the edges wore down or maybe my skin hardened a bit.  

One thing I promised myself was not to bury the broken glass deeper in the sand.  I forced myself to feel everything I was feeling, no holds barred.  In the words of the Buddhist meditation teacher, Pema Chodron, "let it pierce you in the heart".  If this pain was my path, I was going to let it in.  Fully feeling the heaviness, the emptiness, the hurt.  Not running away from it or filling the void with new hobbies or ice cream or shoes - the ghosts of breakups past.  Pema says, "nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know."  It might have been easier to push the pain down, but a sudden gust of wind could blow through and expose the edges to the surface again and again.  I could have buried my head in the sand too, distancing myself from the people I love and the passions I care about.  I didn't.  I couldn't.  This time, I knew better.  The veil of ignorance, called "avidya", was lifted when I started studying the deeper aspects of yoga to better understand the mind and the ways it can cause us to suffer if we allow it to.  Intentionally, I chose presence and acceptance of pain instead of avoiding or resisting it.      

As devastating as the explosion was, it liberated me from the hourglass, from the race against time, against our social culture's measure of my life's worth.  I can accept and even enjoy just walking through the sand, able to live life according to a new measure of happiness and success.  One that I determine for myself.  I'm the most free and the most me I've ever felt.  Trust me, it's not all lotus flowers and mala beads over here.  It is a long, hard road from devastation to liberation, from judgment to acceptance, from fear to love.  It's an ever-evolving process with many ups and downs.  How did I do it?  Where did I begin?  In a word, yoga.  My studies, and more than anything, my practice taught me everything I needed to heal my heart and mind.  The journey itself surprises me; the aspects of yoga that have had greatest impact on my healing are not the ones I expected.  I'll share more in my next post, "My Lost and Found Summer".

"Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured." BKS Iyengar

Miss Mysterious revealed

If you told me five years ago that I would be using social media on a daily basis, I would have laughed in your face.  Correction, scoffed in your face.  I touted my "No Facebook" status proudly and delighted in the shocked reactions when I told people this fun fact.  It was almost always followed by a list of reasons why I should join and with a hint of pity for all the "awesome" things I was missing out on.  Thanks, but no thanks.  Good for you, not for me.  When my friends would take pictures on their phones, I would jokingly put my open palm in front of my face and yell "No Facebook!!"  The singer Sia is much more inventive with her disguises than I was.

So, what's the big deal?  I always considered myself a private person and had no desire to share my daily comings and goings with people I never talk to, rarely see or haven't interacted with since the Joyce Middle School.  As my grandfather says (in his thick Portuguese accent), "no my business".  Translation: "it's not your business to know my business".  If I'm really honest with myself, I didn't like the "judginess" of it.  Is that a word?  My friends would sometimes pull up their accounts and we'd peruse the pages of people we hadn't seen in years.  Our social culture often influences us to compare our life circumstances to those around us to see how we measure up.  If someone else is perceived to be better off, we may feel compelled to step up our game - get more, do more, be more.  If someone else is perceived to be worse off, the ego may swell with quiet pride that we're on top.  We may not even realize it's happening, but the mind processes information in familiar pathways until we create new ones.  (Teaser for future post on brain plasticity!)  I felt badly judging other people and, way deep down, feared being on the receiving end of social judgment.  As far as social media was concerned, ignorance was bliss and I was happy in my bubble, thank you very much.

During my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training in 2011, one of my fellow trainees started a blog about her experience.  (Her name is Kendall Covitz, check her out at www.kendallcovitz.com)  Respecting my social media abstinence, she started referring to me as "Miss Mysterious".  I remember reading her posts in awe.  She was so open, real and unabashedly herself.  I also remember thinking, "I could NEVER do that."  I felt sincere admiration for her this-is-me-I-don't-care-what-you-think attitude, but the thought of being so exposed gave me agita. 

It's amazing how much we avoid unpleasant feelings and uncomfortable situations to maintain the familiar status quo.  To stay in our ignorantly blissful bubbles where it feels safe on the surface, yet we sense something is missing inside.  Throughout my 300 hour Yoga Therapy Training in 2014, I experienced a journey of profound self-exploration.  It took time and hard work to sit with the not-so-shiny aspects of myself in hopes of gaining greater understanding, acceptance and freedom.  Avoidance of social media may seem like a trivial example, but it was a sprout with deeper roots.  I knew there were things hindering me from feeling whole - fears, aversions, self-judgment, belief systems, etc.  We all have them, but we're not always willing to pause, take a long look and ask the tough questions of ourselves.  

In yoga, this practice is called "svadhyaya" or self-study.  Asking "why?" is a great place to start.  If something is upsetting your emotional balance, occupying too much of your mind space, bringing you down or riling you up, ask yourself "why?"  So simple, yet so profound.  Sit in a quiet place with a journal and challenge yourself to keep asking "why?" until you can't ask it anymore.  Write down anything meaningful that comes up for further reflection.  It takes practice and can unlock a deeper awareness of what is influencing your thoughts, feelings and overall state of being.  This is just one of the many tools I acquired through my training to better understand and support myself and my yoga therapy clients.  It's incredible what can shift and open up when you do the work and discover the yoga inside you.  

I've come to see that my life is my message.  By sharing more of myself, I might inspire others to make positive lifestyle changes for their health and well-being.  It's been a long journey from "What will people think?" to "I am enough."  The final push I needed to post this came from Amy Poehler.  (PS. I love her, I think we could be buddies.) In her book "Yes, please" she says, "I have realized that mystery is what keeps people away, and I've grown tired of smoke and mirrors.  I yearn for the clean, well-lighted place.  So let's peek behind the curtain and hail the others like us.  The open-faced sandwiches who take risks and live big and smile with all of their teeth."  

Thanks, Amy.  I'm with you.    

August 2014 - Standing selfie in a moving Jeep in Madeira Island, Portugal 

August 2014 - Standing selfie in a moving Jeep in Madeira Island, Portugal 

Spring is your season to Flourish!

More workshops coming your way in March.  It's the perfect time to thaw out and discover all the tools you have to Flourish in '15.  Flourish means growth, without addition.  It's growth that comes from within and expands with awareness, exploration and practice.  Join me to breathe, move, reflect and relax.  This is yoga you can use - anytime, everyday.

Flourish in '15 Workshops

Sunday, 3/1 from 2-4pm

Barre & Soul, 450 Main Street, Melrose, MA

http://clients.mindbodyonline.com/classic/ws?studioid=7500&stype=-8&sView=day&sLoc=0&sTrn=100000054

Sunday, 3/15 from 1-3pm

Sukha Living Studio @Lexington Fitness Club, 177 Bedford Street, Lexington, MA

http://clients.mindbodyonline.com/classic/ws?studioid=208825&stype=-102

    

Reflections from my Holiday Recharge Workshop

It was an awesome feeling to share some yoga therapy tools and practices at last month's workshop.  Honestly, I didn't know if people would be willing to open up and share their personal reflections in a group setting.  I'm happy to say they did and they liked it, they really liked it!  

Check out what a couple of the participants had to say:

"I am still learning from the experience but felt particularly inspired by actually putting pen to paper and reflecting on the things that drain and recharge my battery. A couple of things that popped out as negative influences...  Contrary, it is my husband, daughter, exercise and volunteer work that keep me energized and positive. These latter areas will have my increased attention and devotion going forward, while the former must be eliminated. The two hours with you has helped me refocus on the good things in my life. Thank you again!"  -Shelley
"Christina Aguiar's workshop was a valuable opportunity to check in with myself by evaluating stress levels and how I process stress. Her guided meditation, movement and thoughtful handouts provided me with the tools to refocus in times where I've felt overwhelmed. There's so much to learn from Christina. I highly recommend her workshop and classes and I look forward to continuing practicing with her."  -Kendall

If you've taken a few yoga classes, you've probably realized it goes deeper than the poses.  There's no doubt that the physical postures can be transformative, but that's truly the tip of the iceberg.  The greatest potential for change is the awareness this practice brings to all aspects of our lives.  We slow down, we tune in, we focus, we observe, we pay attention and from there we take steps towards balance.  We choose a different way.  We break the cycle of swinging from "wound up" to "worn out", again and again.  Once we learn the tools, we can pull ourselves out of that rut when we find ourselves there.  The first step is to pause and notice, again and again.

Change happens now.  Stay tuned for more workshops coming soon!

Workshops on the way

I'm thrilled to share the tools of yoga therapy with people looking to create balance in their lives.  Aren't we all?  Join me for my upcoming workshops: 

The Energy Efficient Lifestyle

Saturday, November 8, 2014

3:00PM-5:00PM

Charlestown Yoga

191 Main Street, Charlestown, MA 02129

Sign up today!

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Holiday Recharge: Yoga tools to keep you balanced through the holiday season and beyond

Saturday, December 13, 2014

1:00PM-3:00PM

Barre & Soul

450 Main Street, Melrose, MA 02176

Sign up today!