Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What it Means to Relax Part 2

Yesterday, we discussed why to relax and the healing power that comes with relaxation, but sometimes I think few of us know how to actually relax, so this post is dedicated to that specifically.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of techniques for relaxation. There are even apps for it. Some of the most popular are: meditation, walking in nature, restorative yoga, yoga nidra, yin yoga, somatic awareness, knitting, exercising, cooking, and vacations. There are even programs designed to change our brain waves to help us relax, including Holothink and Holosync. I could probably go on, but you get the idea. There are ways we have come up with to help us relax.

But how many of us are actually able to relax in these settings? How do you know if you have fully relaxed? Is that even possible in this modern world?

First, there are several reasons it is so incredibly difficult to actually relax. One of the main reasons is the one we all know – the world is moving incredibly fast, and we are inundated with information. We are expected to keep up with everyone all the time. That is a huge problem, but it is only a piece of the problem. The other might be genetic. I’m no scientist, and definitely no geneticist, but there is some new information coming out about epigenetics that helps explain our inability to calm.

Yogis and other mystics (and yes, the New Age folks) have always known that our ancestral lines play a huge part in our lives today. Shamanism has ways to clear and work with our ancestral lineage. Science is finally catching up and explaining how this happens through epigenetics. If you are really interested, here is a link to the Wikipedia article about epigenetics.  Basically, the idea is that our genes activate in different ways based upon what worked for our ancestors. It makes sense. If your ancestors lived in a place where there were lions everywhere, we had to become acutely aware of threats early in life, or we would die. Of course, what this means today is that we have generations upon generations of suffering, depression, fear, anxiety, etc. expressing itself in our genes, and on top of everything else we live in the most overwhelming cultural environment I can imagine.

Are you relaxed yet?

So, in some ways our bodies have become hard wired to not relaxing. This is a perfect week to point this out with Passover and Easter. Passover is about celebrating overcoming hardship . . . but the hardship came first. Easter is about rebirth . . . but the horrific death came first.  And that death and hardship live on in our cells and our gene expression. So, while yoga nidra is lovely, and yes it’s one of my favorite relaxation techniques, it has to overcome a lot of conditioning.

 As I mentioned before, I have been working a lot on somatic awareness. The goal is to begin to pay attention to the signals our bodies send to us. I have been doing this on some level for over a decade. It really has been my entire time practicing yoga. But these days, I am looking at it differently and really trying to understand it differently. I am also finally starting to notice where I hold tension. Everywhere would be an understatement, but it is useful to know.

What I have found over the past few months is just how intensely difficult it is to really, truly, let go and relax. I may be able to relax one part of my body, but then the rest of it tenses up. I have begun to notice what parts of my body tense when I go to move, and they are not the parts of my body needed to move in that moment. One of the relaxation techniques I left off above is biofeedback. The entire goal is to notice where you are tense, so you know to relax there.

Noticing is the first step. We simply cannot relax until we know where we are tense. Meditation helps us do the exact same thing with the mind. It helps us notice where our mind is tense or racing or confused or whatever, and then just let it go. While the body and mind are simply one entity, for some people it is easier to learn to relax the mind first, and for others it is easier to learn to relax the body.

But at the end of the day, relaxation is more difficult for us than it was 1,000 years ago. The techniques have not changed, but we have to learn to use them more effectively.

True relaxation begins with noticing where our tension patterns lie. As you read this, take a moment and stop. Scan your body. Where is there tension? Where is there no tension? For some of us, the only place without tension is the ear lobe. That is okay. I am starting to believe that is more normal than we would like to admit. Then begin to tell the body it is safe to let go. It is safe to relax the shoulders. It is safe to relax the thigh muscles when you are sitting and lying down. It is safe to relax the core muscles. We have ways to hold ourselves up without tension.

As we begin to allow ourselves to relax, relaxation can come. It may not come immediately, but it can begin to sneak in. It can begin to enter our being and our cells. Relaxation can happen when we notice what is stopping it and consciously let that go. But for that we have to stop. We have to notice. We have to take the time and turn inward. It is, at times, very difficult, but the rewards are endless. Eventually, we will begin to notice the tension and let it go even when we are stressed out at the grocery store or in traffic. When we learn to relax, we can live in this world with more ease and comfort. We can begin to heal, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Relaxation is key to everything. It is so, so simple and yet incredibly difficult.

How do you notice if relaxation is working? What techniques work better for you? Do you notice places you find it impossible to relax? What could you do to relax in those spots?


© Rebecca Stahl 2014, all rights reserved.
The post, What it Means to Relax Part 2, first appeared on Is Yoga Legal.

Monday, April 14, 2014

What it Means to Relax Part 1

The internet and blogs and books are full of information about the fight, flight, or freeze response and the sympathetic nervous system. My favorite personal writing about it was in response to getting chased by a sea lion in New Zealand. It was a perfect example of the fight, flight, or freeze response done right . . . and for the reason we have the response in the first place. I was being chased by a wild animal, and I had to get away. I got away. What happens, though, when that threat is gone? Can our body go back to its resting state?

The sympathetic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that activates when we are in fight, flight, or freeze. The parasympathetic nervous system is what allows us to relax and heal. It is the “rest and digest” part of the nervous system. It is what allows our body to go into its healing place. As I have mentioned before, the body is capable of healing itself, but in order to do that, it must be in a state of rest.

Chronic stress (of all varieties) has a tendency to keep our bodies in a constant state of the fight, flight, or freeze response without an opportunity to get into the parasympathetic “rest and digest” and heal mode. This, of course, can wreck havoc on our health. And look around at the world and notice how many people deal with chronic dis-ease. Many of us are not living in our parasympathetic state most of the time.

But what does it mean to truly rest? How many of us are able to get into that space? How many of us know what it really feels like to allow the body to release its tension patterns?

Most of us get so used to our tension patterns we do not even realize when we are holding them. Yoga is one of the ways we learn how to go into our bodies and learn to listen to them and find our patterns. The patterns in our body are similar to our mental patterns, called samskaras. Undoing a samskara is not an easy task. It requires knowing it and wanting it to change. But then it also requires unwinding the pattern itself, a task that can seem daunting when we have lived with the samskara longer than we have not. Imagine taking a hike and ask yourself which is easier – the pre-made path or the path never before taken? Imagine cutting down a path to hike, and that is what it takes to release a long-held samskara.

Releasing a tension pattern in the body is no different. We have to first feel the tension patterns and then be willing to release them. But then we have to understand what it takes to relax. We have to trust that when we release the tension, something else will continue to hold our body up.

Tension patterns exist for a reason. Some are there because of how we sit at a desk or in a car. Some are there, however, as a response to the traumas we have faced in our lives. Trauma can come in many forms – childhood abuse, relationship abuse, earthquakes, floods, and even vicarious trauma. When we experience trauma, we tense up to protect ourselves and never let go for fear of not having the strength to stay upright. But those patterns then begin to cause their own problems. Long after they have stopped protecting us from a trauma, they wreck havoc on our bodies and make it difficult to allow the body to relax.

And then we have a three-fold problem. The mental samskaras are the thoughts we hold as a result of our childhood and events in our lives, and they hold the body in tension. Together, they inhibit our parasympathetic nervous system from activating, and we end up with a downward spiral of tension and mental patterns that becomes more and more difficult to overcome, and at the end of the day it is our health (mental, physical, and spiritual) that suffers. Our ability to heal is diminished until we learn to bypass these tension patterns.

I want to be clear. We never lose the ability to heal. We inhibit our body’s access to its healing capabilities. And it is because we are literally stuck in a rut and trying to pull ourselves out. But this can be overcome, and deep within us we never lose the ability to heal ourselves. The parasympathetic nervous system is always there, and it is always able to function if we give it the time and quiet to do it.

But instead we hold our tension patterns. We live in a world with nearly constant overwhelm. There are more forms of pollution today than ever before. We have chemical pollutions, of course, but we also have noise, news, and phone pollution. We have stress of constantly being connected, and we have the stress of trying to keep up as the world moves faster and faster and faster.

But amidst it all, relaxation is still possible. We can find a way to release the tension in the body and allow our body to enter its natural healing state. But we have to be willing to surrender. We have to be willing to trust that when we let go, the body, and therefore ourselves, will be safe. We hear so often how the body and the mind are connected. I do not actually subscribe to that mentality. In my worldview, they are simply the same thing. The more I read in scientific, not new age, literature, the more true that statement is.

So tension is tension, whether mental or physical. They are one and the same. Our brains run our bodies, and together they create health or dis-ease. So, today I ask you to notice your mental patterns. Notice your physical tension patterns. Where are they? What do they mean? And then ask yourself the all-important question. In this world of constant overwhelm, are you willing to release these patterns to find calm and health? Part 2 will have some ideas for learning these techniques.


©Rebecca Stahl 2014, all rights reserved

The post, What it Means to Relax Part 1, first appeared on Is Yoga Legal.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Compassion in the Law

I have been reading a lot of Lissa Rankin’s writing recently. You may remember me discussing her before. She is the one who wrote Mind Over Medicine, the book I wrote about back in June (has it really been that long?).

Her most recent writing to inspire me is a blog post called, “A Call for Greater Compassion.” Read it. You will thank me. Her main point is that we all have our faults, we all have our sins, and that is what makes us able to share our compassion with each other. She even asks, “Who are we to judge?” And she ends with a challenge:

Think of one person you’re judging today, one person who isn’t living up to your standards, one person who is disappointing you or doing something you don’t like. Would it be possible for you to tune into the part of that person that is hurting? Can you see that part as a little child who just needs love? Can you open your heart to that little child and reach out to that person with that kind of love?

It is not an easy challenge, for sure. We live in a world where we are taught to judge, even if we are not lawyers. At some level it is biological – we need to be able to tell safety from danger if we are going to survive as a species. But the judgment she discusses, and I think is the bigger issue, is the judgment we place on our fellow human beings for being human, for struggling with life, for making mistakes.

I notice this most in myself when I’m driving. When people do things I am not expecting on the road, I get really riled up. If they slow down to turn without a signal, cut me off, or anything really that does not fit with my ideal of how they should be driving in that moment, I freak out. Guess what? I do all of those things as well. Probably more than I would like to admit, in fact.

This sort of judgment does not serve us at all. But even that judgment can leave us quickly. It is judgment almost more at a situation than at an individual person. After all, we rarely know who cuts us off in traffic, and short of breaking into serious road rage, none of us then go discover their identity. But what about when we judge our friends for their choice in partner, or we judge our parents for how they eat, or we judge our neighbors for struggling with drug addiction, or we judge our soldiers for their mental health issues? What happens to these people when we judge instead of offer compassion? The best-case scenario is we lose someone close to us. The worst-case scenario is that we end up with something similar to the shooting this week at Ft. Hood.

And yet, lawyers are asked to judge all day, every day. It is, literally, in the job description (whether or not you are actually a judge). And think of the people the law judges – rapists, murderers, child molesters and abusers, and thieves. But as odd as it sounds in modern America, these are the people who need our compassion the most. And so do their victims. In parts of the world, the rape victim is the one put to death while the rapist walks free. I think I can say this pretty freely – that does not fit within this picture of compassion either. But I think I have more people on my side for that one. What about the perpetrators of these horrific crimes? Can we find compassion for them while still finding a way to keep other members of society safe from their actions?

When I was a camp counselor, we were taught two things that have stayed with me for the past 17 years: 1) we do not punish, only discipline, and 2) the child is not bad, only their actions are a problem. While my camp did not use the word compassion, we did talk about respect and caring. I have carried these ideas with me, and I try every day to separate the person from the person’s actions. After all, I work with the children who usually love their parents regardless of what they did to them.

But there are days when it is really difficult. There are days the lies become too much, the pain the children face becomes too much, and it is just easier to judge. After all, that is our learned response from a young age. But my yogi heart knows differently. My yogi heart says to ask the questions Dr. Rankin suggests. One day in particular I vividly remember offering compassion to someone who was screaming at me. It was not the first time he did it. The next day he wrote me an email apologizing for his actions. My compassion toward him was silent, but it worked. Never before had he written such an email.

There is no question the legal system is leaps and bounds ahead in terms of compassion than where we were even 20 years ago. We talk about rehabilitative courts, and we utilize alternative dispute resolution where available. We offer people services to help them on their way. But we still have so far to go. The big step, the really difficult step, is changing the attitudes of those of us who work there. The big step is changing the attitudes of society from judgment to compassion.

So, my fellow lawyers, can we find compassion in the law? Can we bring a lens of compassion to our work and still protect society from actions that harm? I had a conversation today with someone whose initial response to my discussion of being a lawyer was saying that the law teaches us not to be compassionate. I disagree. I believe we can do both, and I know so many people who do so on a daily basis. But can we do it all the time? Can we take judgment out of the picture? Can we come to the law with compassion for the people who sit across from us? Are you willing to take Dr. Rankin's challenge?


© Rebecca Stahl 2014, all rights reserved.

The post, Compassion in the Law, first appeared on Is Yoga Legal.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Coming Back

This has been the longest break I have ever taken from this blog. There are several reasons for it, but most importantly, I have not been motivated to write, so I decided not to try to write for no reason. I also felt I was getting away from what this blog was originally designed to be – a way to integrate yoga and a professional life, in my case, a lawyer.

But these past few months have also taken me deeper into my practice than ever before. None of it has been “yoga” in the western definition of asana. It has not even really been a traditional yoga practice as I have described on this blog so many times.

But yoga means “to yoke.” It means union. And that is exactly the path I have been on these past couple of months.

I do not know if you have noticed, but this year has been even quicker than 2013, and it is not looking like it is going to calm down anytime in the near future. Somehow, in the midst of this craziness, we have to find a way to not just hang on for dear life but also to ride the waves doing what we want to do with our lives in a way that does not destroy us.

I have been reading several books about how we can learn from the body’s sensations and the way we move. This work comes in many forms: Feldenkrais, Hanna Somatics, Somatic Experiencing, Trauma Releasing Exercises, Neurogenic Yoga, Core Awareness, and Somatic Intelligence. And these are just the ones I have found. But they all have one thing in common – they are designed to help our bodies release trauma so we can heal.

I am finally seeing information about Vicarious Trauma (or Compassion Fatigue) take root in the legal profession. Other professions have known about this phenomenon a long time. I have a label about it for a reason – it’s important. But so much of what is being taught do not involve understanding the body’s piece of our trauma and stress. These past two months have been the deepest exploration of this phenomenon I have ever done, and I have not even begun to scratch the surface.

And yet, I knew I had to write about it. I knew I had to share it. Because I think this is the piece that is missing from so much of our discussions. Pain is rampant in society, particularly among professionals. There are too many reasons for its existence among professionals for me to go into right now, but we rarely talk about how trauma is stored in the body and what we can do to release it.

The most important step is just noticing. So many of us have trained ourselves not to feel, either our emotions or our bodies. But both of them eventually get to a point where they take over and force us to pay attention. Better to nip it in the bud ahead of time and begin to notice what our bodies are telling us.

And so, as you sit here and read this, notice your body. Just notice. Does it feel tense in one place? Does it feel fluid in another? Does it feel like it wants to move in ways you have not allowed because you’re staring at your computer or your phone? What happens when you take a moment to notice the sensations of your body?

Ask yourself what the sensations feel like. Do they feel hot or cold or neutral? Do they move, or are they static? If they move, do they move in circles or linearly? Is it stabbing? Is it shooting? Is it painful? Is it throbbing? Does it feel open? The body is constantly sending us signals, and we have done a wonderful job learning to tune them out. But tuning out the signals of our bodies rarely serves us.

And so, in this coming back to writing blog, I hope you can just take the time to notice the body. If emotions or thoughts come up with it, just go with them. Our bodies are messengers, and we just have to learn how to interpret. The most important step, however, is the first – awareness. Becoming aware of our bodies opens us up to possibilities we never knew existed. And then, being in our bodies, we can begin to find some grounding and calming as the world continues to move faster and faster.

I would love to hear what you feel and notice. Please share it in the comments.


© Rebecca Stahl 2014, all rights reserved.

The post, Coming Back, first appeared on Is Yoga Legal.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Heart and the Head

A friend of mine posted a great article on Facebook called, “The Downside to Down Dog” asking the question, “what is Yoga?” Her answer is that it is the path of the heart. Then I was reading a blog post by Lissa Rankin entitled, “Can You Hear the Voice of Your Soul?” And next weekend, I am going to see a teacher who starts his teachings by bringing people into their heart.

I think the universe is trying to tell me something.

The very first “alternative” medicine person I saw (actually, he was not the first, but the first who made any sort of impression and really started me on whatever path I am currently on) told me I am 97% in my head and 3% in my body, and that it should be the opposite. Yoga has helped draw me down from my head, but at the end of the day, I spend a lot more time being a lawyer than I do practicing yoga. Thus, I spend a lot more time in my head than my heart.

But what would the legal profession look like if more lawyers lived from their hearts? I am not even talking about doing more heart-centered work. I mean connecting to the heart in any capacity. Lissa Rankin, the blogger above, is a doctor. I mentioned her book, Mind Over Medicine, in the post, The Power to Heal (I find it hard to believe that post was from July).

In law school, lawyers are taught to “think like a lawyer.” I am sure this means something different for everyone, but the Dean of my law school at that time said it meant to her that we should be the last people in a room to make up our mind about something. But she did not tell us whether that should come from the head or the heart. Law school, for me, was amazing. I loved it. But one piece of it always bothered me. We read cases in a textbook, and we discussed the legal issues involved. That was great. But there was always something missing, and I noticed it most often in my Torts class.

These were real people. These were real cases. Whether they happened in 2003 or 1893, these people were harmed. We once read a case about a man who was turned into, “a human cannonball” because of an explosion at a construction site. But we discussed the negligence, not the person what was seriously injured as a result. I know doctors have to go through similar training. Instead of discussing the person, they discuss the symptoms. A person becomes a diagnosis. In the psychological realm, people talk about someone being depressed, not having depression, but otherwise someone has a mental illness, such as schizophrenia.

I do not want this to sound like I prefer people to BE their diagnoses. I am just pointing out how we talk about issues and people in professions. So, in physical medicine, psychological medicine, and the legal profession, we talk about criteria and elements. There are elements to a crime just like there are criteria for diagnosis. But we never look past those definitions to the person. We live in our heads and ask whether someone meets that definition for, and then we act accordingly.

There is a pull between the legal world and the yoga world I have never discussed. In some ways, it is the most difficult one to address. On one hand, I live in the world of lawyers where everything needs to be relevant, and nothing is true unless you can prove it. On the other hand, I live in the world of yogis, in the heart, where we know something is true because we feel it. At some level, this represents the ongoing battles between political and religious foes.

But when I say “feel it,” I mean the deepest sense of knowing. I cannot think of anyone I have met who would deny that intuition exists. We all get “ick” feelings from certain people and situations. It is those ick factors that sometimes save our lives. We sidestep situations that just feel wrong. Although the 1990s were called “the decade of the brain,” we still know next to nothing about how it works. Science has not yet helped us understand this head we live in and the intuition that we cannot deny.

And I certainly do not claim to have all the answers. What I do know is that this push and pull between head and heart is really a non-dichotomy. They are really one and the same. The separation we pretend exists simply does not. Reading those cases in law school, although we never discussed the fact that people were hurt and maimed and harmed, our hearts saw it and knew it, and it affected all of us. There is no way to separate. We can listen more strongly to one or the other, but at the end of the day, they are the same Being.

And so, I continue to wonder – how can we be more explicit about the heart in more professional settings? There are so many ways, but I have heard before that the first step is admitting there is a problem. If we could recognize there is a lack of heart speak and understanding, perhaps we could begin to see a way to acknowledge what is already there.

What about you? Do you listen more to your head or your heart? Do you believe there is a difference?


© Rebecca Stahl 2014, all rights reserved.

The post, The Heart and the Head, first appeared on Is Yoga Legal.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Flowing Breath

It was my senior year in college when I really started doing yoga on my own. It was not until my first year in law school when I started going to classes, and it sort of became my life, but my senior year in college was the beginning of that path. I would practice in my living room with little more than a book to guide me (looking back, perhaps not the safest choice, but here we are).

Breathe is the most common label on this blog. And I have previously told the story of how I remember learning to breathe my senior year in college and how I then found my breath again in the mountains of Yellowstone. Nature has a way of bringing us back to our internal awareness and breath. Trees provide us with oxygen, and the Earth grounds us and heals us.

But we have the breath wherever we are, wherever we go, and in whatever we are doing. The breath can, therefore, heal from anywhere as long as we know how to find it.

Just knowing the breath is there does not mean we all know how to use it properly. In fact, I would think most of us do not. There is more to the breath than just trying to get as much air in as possible. I think I have finally realized this. When we try to take a deep breath with effort, we are actually fighting the breath rather than receiving the breath. And that is how so many of us try to breath, even when we think we are relaxing into the breath. We do not flow with the breath. We fight it.

The modern world does not make relaxing into the flow of the breath easy to do. Doctors and anyone else who studies anatomy (yoga teachers often included) know how the breath enters through the nose or mouth, travels down the windpipe, and goes into the lungs. The muscles of the diaphragm expand and contract the lungs for the breath. But that does not tell us how we can receive the breath. It tells us what muscles are used and where the breath goes.

Many people are stuck in fight or flight mode. Lawyers are particularly adept at this. We live in an adversarial world. When we spend our working hours thinking in an adversarial manner, it is difficult not to be adversarial with ourselves, even with our breath. We tense up our driving and computer muscles, furrow our brows, and forget what it means to be soft. And so we fight with the breath.

As you are reading this, notice if you are simply allowing the breath or if you think the breath needs to come differently. Even as I write it, I can feel the tension building at times. And when the breath becomes stilted and tense it stops being an avenue for healing and becomes an avenue to strengthen our patterns. We often talk about samskaras as mental patterns, and ways of being. But they work on our body similarly. We all have our own ways of walking and moving. Think about how you can tell someone walked in the room long before you see their face simply by how they move. When we hold our tension through our breath, we ingrain those patterns even more rather than relaxing into the healing power the breath can bring.

The breath can heal nearly anything. The stories of miracles I have read this year are long, and while there is a logical part of me that doubts it can happen to anyone, the yogi in me knows otherwise. I know the breath is capable of producing miracles. But we have to let the breath guide us instead of trying to guide the breath.

I just started reading a new book called, Awakening Somatic Intelligence: The Art and Practice of Embodied Mindfulness, by Risa Kaparo. I have read a lot about movement, somatics, and breathing, but this book puts it all together in a way I have never seen before. But the most important aspect it teaches is that we have to get our beliefs out of the way. We cannot understand the breath through our eyes or even our anatomical understanding. The only way we can understand the breath is by letting it teach us.

When I sit in a courtroom, I can feel all my tension patterns and can see everyone around me fall into theirs as well. Everyone’s breath tightens as we await whatever is going to happen. We rob ourselves of our own health in those moments.

What would happen if while sitting in incredibly stressful situations, we just listened to our breath? What would happen if we just allowed the breath to come? No force. No pain. No tension. Just allow it to come. That is how the breath flows. That is where healing can happen. But we have to get out of our own way.

It is amazing to think that almost 10 years after learning to breathe my senior year in college I still feel like just a beginner.

How about you? Where do you notice your breath?


© Rebecca Stahl 2014, all rights reserved.

The post, The FlowingBreath, first appeared on Is YogaLegal.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Words We Use

It is January 1. This means half the people we all know are full of New Year’s resolutions. There has always been a joke that most people do not last through January on their resolutions, and I never really understood why when I was growing up. I have come to realize it is because we have to be truly committed to the resolution. We have to recognize how it will actually help us and the world. We have to be invested in wanting something to be different.

I have written before about using intentions rather than resolutions. That still holds true for me. Intentions are about how we interact with the world less than they are about the outcome of that interaction. The same outside shape of the body can be used in gymnastics, acrobatics, and yoga, but the intention is different between the three. Our intentions are what define how we engage with ourselves and the world.

About a week ago, I was frustrated with a situation, and I mentioned that a person with whom I was interacting was useless. A friend caught me in that moment, and asked me to think about what I had said and how putting that energy into the world changes the actual structure of the world. What if I had not said that? Might the person have been more useful?

I hate gossip. I have not touched on this subject in over a year, but I did back in October 2012. At its root, gossip is about using our words to bring energy into the world that harms people. That may not be the intention of the gossip, but that is essentially what it does. It brings the energy of the words into existence.

But at another level, we need to vent. We need to talk about what is bothering us, or it can become even stronger and make us even crazier. Yoga has helped me see and understand how it is not the situation that causes problems so much as it is our response to the situation. But there is another level where we live in a very difficult, fast-paced world, and venting is sometimes necessary.

The other day I was frustrated by a situation, frustrated by a person involved in the situation, and I had been venting about it all day. But did I have to use the word, “worthless”? Is there another way to vent without bringing the negative energy into my being and the world? The underlying issue was that people were not getting what they needed, and I saw one person as the obstacle to them getting it. But the truth is that this one person is not the only problem. The issue is much larger, and my words did not reflect that.

The other place I see this play out is with sarcasm and jabs at people we all love. How is it that we have learned to interact with each other by poking fun at them? Although we may be joking (and I would argue there is always an underlying truth to what we say), the universe does not recognize tone. The energy of our words are the same regardless of the smirk or chuckle that accompanies them.

Sure, it can be easier to poke fun than to have a serious conversation. I am one of the first people to go there. But why? What purpose does it serve? Frankly, it keeps us at a distance from people. It is a way to interact without really having to interact. It is a disconnected connection, similar to facebook, but in-person. In fact, I see people being more honest on facebook sometimes than they are in person. It creates its own barrier, so we can be more honest. In-person, the only barrier we have is sarcasm.

A new year is just a reminder to stop and assess. Where are we on our paths? Are we open to new possibilities? Are we expressing ourselves as we want to be seen in the world? And if not, how can we change our expression? I think one of the best ways is to change the words we speak. Is that person useless? No. Is the situation frustrating? Yes. But I can ask myself what I can do to change it instead of just throwing up my arms and screaming.

Of course, I can never stop the water cooler gossip (does anyone actually talk to people around the water cooler at their office? I don’t!), but I can change how I speak. I can choose to use words that bring positive energy into the universe instead of negative energy. Will I be perfect? I am pretty sure the answer is no. But I do intend to change how I speak. In some ways it is a scary prospect. Our society is built on sarcasm, and the current non-stop political environment only fuels the flames, but we each can take a stand. A stand to be mindful of the words we use.

Are you in?


© Rebecca Stahl 2014, all rights reserved.

The post, The Words We Use, first appeared on Is Yoga Legal.