5 Tips to Improve Your Focus

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Have you ever wondered what it takes to be great? As in, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Rich Froning-great? Okay, maybe your aspirations are not to reach the Hall of Fame, but I’m sure there has been some sort of inkling within you to be really good at what you do, whether it be work, sports, a hobby, or being a parent.

Whenever I work with an athlete or performer (or if am “sport psyching” myself), the first thing I always talk about is Focus. Being able to control or manipulate focus is one of the pillars to greatness. You can be the most talented person in the world, but unless you can prolong your focus through distractions, or keep from straying from your goals, you won’t reach your full potential. You may have the knowledge, experience, or the physical training under your belt, but you need to be able to focus (on the right things).

Keeping focus has become increasingly difficult in this world filled with over stimulation; we are constantly bombarded with information, distractions, and to-do lists; our minds are constantly on-the-go. With all of these distractions, how can we be expected to keep our focus, attention, concentration, and/or awareness? First things first, we must start by understanding the fact that we control our focus and we choose our focus. For example, when I’m swimming, I can choose to think about how heavy my legs feel from the exhausting workout, or I can choose to count my strokes and give myself “focus cues”, or key words to repeat. One choice pushes my limits in the workout, and the other choice drains and exhausts me. If I plan ahead of time and am prepared to choose the right focus when those not-so-productive thoughts creep in, it becomes much easier to, “change channels” and change my focus.

“Where your mind goes, your body follows”, I’m not exactly sure who said this first, but it’s been attributed to yogi, Baron Baptiste. Your thoughts can lead to feelings, which can lead to action (or, inaction). Here’s how thoughts can leave an imprint on your body:

  • Worrying so much that you feel sick.
  • Stressing out about an exam, interview, presentation so much that you begin to flush,get sweaty, have tightness in your chest, or notice your breath changes.
  • Thinking of an upcoming event and feeling nervous (butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, increased heart rate).

Your thoughts can cause a physiological response in the body. What thoughts are you focusing on? What messages are you telling your body? What response are you creating?

Here are a few tools for overcoming distractions and maintaining your focus – regardless of the activity you are pursuing:

 

1) Breath Control

Deep breathing not only relaxes you, but it also enhances performance by oxygenating the blood and energizing your brain, nerves and muscles. Take deep inhales and exhales when you start to feel anxious, stressed or nervous. A proper breath fills the belly and chest (all the way up to the collarbone).

2) Cue Words

Cue words are focus reminders allow us to SNAP back into the present moment and stay out of any negative thinking patterns.

Examples:

• Breathe • Relax
• FOCUS • Go!• Push!

3) Reminders/Sayings/Mantra

  • Focus on my game plan
  • Let it go
  • Be here
  • I am just as good as anyone else here
  • Stay calm; you’ve got this
  • I am totally capable

4) “Tree it/Park it”!

Imagine that anything negative is leaving your body and then focus fully on the step in front of you. By releasing or letting negative feelings flow out of your mind and body, you preserve positive energy for doing the things you really want to do. You can visualize getting rid of negative energy/thoughts by touching the floor, a desk, your water bottle, or even your shoe.

5) Bring Your Awareness to Your Physical Body OR Technical Cues

Usually when we are stressed out we start to hold tension in the body. Scan your body; relax your face, drop your shoulders and take a deep breath. Technical cues can be: “bend your knees”, “quick feet”, “Drop your shoulders”.

Remember: You decide whether you let things distract you, upset you, lower your confidence, or put you in a negative frame of mind. How you respond to challenges is YOUR choice. Control your focus, by paying attention to the right thoughts and the right cues. When you can control your focus, you can achieve great things and be the very best version of yourself.

 

 

Looking to Improve Your Performance?

As more and more athletes try to differentiate themselves from the pack – different physical regimes, nutrition (no meat, mostly meat, juicing, supplements), mobility – many athletes are turning to the Psychology of Sport. We’ve all heard it before, “My head wasn’t in the game”, “he choked”, “she psyched herself out”; Sports are a mental game, there is no denying it.

A big part of that mental game is learning about self-talk (both positive and negative). Negative self-talk, or internal dialogue if left untended to, has a tendency to run and rule the minds of many, many athletes.

There is no advantage in approaching performance or life situations thinking, “I can’t” , I won’t be able to do this”, “I’m not good/smart/fast/strong enough”. It’s somewhat of a self-fulling prophecy, the more you think of failure, the more likely that failure will ensue. 

Not only that, a lot happens in the body physiologically when we start to think negatively; it can cause powerful changes in our brain’s chemistry that can profoundly influence coordination, balance, concentration and muscle response accuracy.

You may not even be aware of the constant fight that goes on in your mind. But, for the most part, there is a lot of mental chatter going on. And if you just silently responded in your head, “What? No, there’s not“…well, I prove my point.

So, how do you get rid of the negative voices? How do you control which voice you hear? How do you improve your performance by changing your thought patterns? How do you even know if there is a conversation going on up there? Phew. Those are a lot of big questions. But there is one simple answer:

Get present.

 

Get out of your head and into your body.

Get out of your head and into your breath; get a pattern going with your breath.

Find a focus cue.

Find a “push word”. I personally use the words, “Push it”, “Let’s go”, “Focus” (as a few examples).

Notice your surroundings – feel your feet on the ground.

Have a positive saying ready to respond to that negative voice (Reframing is what this is called).

Whatever you need to do, DO IT to get out of autopilot, away from that inner critic and into the moment. When you are stuck in your head, you are not being present with WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. And…newsflash, sports are born out of the moment; if you don’t happen to be in it, you’re going to miss it (or mess up, or not perform to your potential).

And that goes for life as well; why not learn to be present when other people are speaking to you, or when you are walking down the road, or enjoying the day with your friends? Next time you are chatting with someone, instead of rehearsing how you are going to respond, look into their eyes and REALLY HEAR what they are saying. We all know what it feels like to be speaking with someone who is completely checked out. You know what it looks like on other people, but do you know how it feels when you are doing it?

Start to practice being present in every day situations; show up for yourself and for others. You’ll notice that when you start to find moments of presence, there is less chatter. OR, you really start to HEAR the chatter for the first time and become aware of the negative things that are being said. At that point, you can start to take steps towards changing that chatter.

“A battle that must be waged on two fronts is far more difficult to win” – James Loehr

Until next time…Cheering you on,

Meg

“Flex” your Personality with the MBTI

I just completed the MBTI Training a few weeks ago and let me tell you, this was one of the BEST courses I have taken.

If you’ve never heard of the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), let me give you a quick Readers Digest version on what it is all about and why I think it is so useful.

A few quick MBTI facts:

  1. The Myers-Briggs instrument is the world’s most popular personality assessment (as many as 1.5 million are administered annually).
  2. The results have been proven to be consistent and reliable.
  3. Twenty years of research preceded the initial 1962 publication.
  4. The research began with Carl Jung and was eventually fine-tuned by the Mother-Daughter duo, Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers (rumour has it, they used it to help women get jobs after World War 2).

Basically, the MBTI answers four questions about your INNATE (inborn) preferences:

  1. How do I get energy?
  2. How do I collect/gather information?
  3. How do I make decisions?
  4. How do I deal with the outer-world?

The MBTI questions are to be answered from you as your “natural self”, away from the roles you play (so, not how you are at work).

You are then given a four letter code that shows your INNATE preferences in how you navigate through the world. To answer the questions above, you can be:

  1. Introverted (I) – Extraverted (E)

DROP the definitions of shy and outgoing, because that’s not what these mean. The question is “How do I get energy?” – Are you energized from the outer-world? From people? Through verbal communication? Or, do you do you find it energizing to focus on the “inner world” (reflection and solitude)? Do you prefer communicating through written language?

2.   Sensing (S) – Intuition (N)

Do you often ask – “prove it”, and look for data, details and proven facts – concrete and verifiable data? Do you look at proven ways of doing things when approaching problem solving? Do you do things in a sequential order? Or, do you prefer to look at the big picture? Speak with metaphors? Look for future possibilities? A person who has a preference for Intuition won’t say, “prove it”, they will say “trust me”.

3.   Feeling (F) – Thinking (T)

Do you take relationships into consideration when making decisions/dealing with conflict? Would you consider yourself empathetic? Do you consider how your decisions will effect people? Or, do you tend to look at situations objectively, you “step out” instead of “stepping in” to a situation. Do you take a “mission first” mentality, based off of logic and reason?

4.    Judging (J) – Perceiving (P)

Again, drop the “traditional” definitions you have for these two words. So, if you have a preference for Judging, it doesn’t mean that you are a big ‘ole judger, making opinions of everyone and everything you see. The judgers are the “to-do” list people, they start projects early (so they can finish early), they like to plan ahead and don’t necessarily like last minute changes, they like structure and order, they like closure. People who have a preference for Perceiving are those who get energized from last minute deadlines (remember those in university who would start their paper the night before it was due and work through the entire night…and still get a great grade?), they are adaptable, flexible and like to keep their options open for any opportunity that may arise.

What’s really interesting about the MBTI, is that you aren’t DUMPED into an Either/Or – you either like being around people, or you don’t. You can be an Introvert, with what’s called “out of preference tendencies”; an introvert who has extroverted tendencies. This is Step 2 of the MBTI, and it is extremely helpful in recognizing that we are all unique individuals and one INFJ may look like another INFJ, may look partly like another INFJ, or will look nothing like another INFJ. (Check out a sample report here)

So, what does it mean to FLEX your personality? It means, to step out of your preferences to be able to “speak” the language of those around you. If you have a preference of Intuition (the big picture people- what is possible, people) and you are working with someone who has a preference for S (the details, facts, prove it-people), you are going to want to change what you speak about, what you emphasize in order to get your point across. If you have a tendency to be Mission First (Thinking) and working or interacting with those who have a preference for F (empathizers, looking out for the best interests of people, creating relationships), you may want to step back and ask yourself: “How is this going to effect morale, how is this going to effect the relationships of the people around me?”

The MBTI codes mean that we all “speak” different languages! What may seem like an argument to an F, is merely a discussion to a T.

I love this following example from the book True Type Tales:

“I am always interested when people say, “The french are so rude.” I’m curious as to what causes people to experience the French that way, so I’ll often ask, “Oh, what makes you say that?” And often they’ll say, “Because they won’t speak English.” And then there’s this moment where we just stare at each other for a few seconds. And then I say, “Um, that’s because they’re french.”

This is the same for Types, we all speak the language of our preferences, but if we are talking to someone with the OPPOSITE preference, the message can be lost. So, why not “flex” and try to speak their language?

Sincerely yours,

An INFJ – one of the possibilities for people-people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Biggest Struggle in Sports

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I’m someone who has LITERALLY played sports my entire life. I was competitively swimming by 7 years old, and if I wasn’t swimming I was playing basketball, volleyball, badminton, rugby (well, I was invited out for one game and broke my wrist…my mom didn’t like that), participating in triathlons, biking and most recently Crossfit. I’ve always been a decent athlete; partially because I was lucky enough to be born with a McDougall frame (some might call that big-bones), but mostly because I’ve always tried to be the hardest working person in the room/on the team/on the floor.

For some reason, the older I get in my sporting career, the more I struggle with…my Self-Talk.

Those closest to me can attest that I am probably singlehandedly harder on myself than anyone could ever think possible. I demand perfection of myself.

These personal demands are extremely hard on me, especially because I don’t make the commitment I used to make to sports (I don’t train full-time, I love hanging out with my dog, and to be honest, I’m not the young pupp I used to be!).

Since I don’t train like I used to, how could I expect the same results? It’s crazy, I know.

I was playing basketball the other day with Julien and when we left the gym he could tell I was extremely frustrated with myself. I was upset because I felt like not enough of my shots were falling, to which he responded, “you made more shots than you didn’t; you just want to make every single shot and never miss.” He was right, I hated that I was missing shots; but how ridiculous is that? Basketball is not a game of perfection, every single shot does not always fall.

As I get ready for the World Military Basketball Championships, I’ve been really trying to focus on what is called “Reframing”.

Every time I play and think a negative thought, I take note of it; after the practice, or when I’m done shooting, I sit down and write the negative thoughts out.They are usually awful things; things I would never ever say to another person, despite how bad I thought they were.

Once I have all of the negative things on paper, I first off, see how ridiculous I sound and then I change the thoughts to something more positive, something more productive. I look at those positive thoughts and then every practice, if a negative thought sneaks in, I have the pre-rehearsed “ammo” to fire back at this mean girl living inside my head.

It is a skill that I think is so useful for anyone who is looking to gain control of some of the self-limiting thoughts that can consume any sort of performance.

To recap, you’ll need to:

  1. Start to be aware of the thoughts that come up in practice (good or bad). What do you say to yourself when you make a mistake?
  2. Take note of any negative, self-limiting beliefs (these may be particularly noticeable when you are nervous, someone is watching, or there is a lot on the line).
  3. Immediately after the practice/event, write out all the negative thoughts that surfaced as you played.
  4. Reframe the thoughts to something more productive. If you aren’t sure how to start, ask a close friend or family member to help.
  5. Read the positive thoughts over and over; when you go into a practice or game, as soon as you notice ‘Negative Nancy’ sneaking it, make sure to slap that beech with some positive self-talk.
  6. Repeat as necessary.

 

‘Till next time,

 

 

The #1 Reason to Complete the Whole30 (that has nothing to do with food)

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I recently finished a little something called, The Whole30 Challenge; it was a 30 day dietary makeover- no sugar, grains, legumes, dairy, alcohol…and most importantly, no FUN (okay, that last one was optional). Let me answer the FAQ’s that are probably rushing through your mind: Yes, I drank my coffee black. No, I didn’t always enjoy it. Yes, I had to make sacrifices. And yes, it was hard.

Before I embarked on my 30 day adventure, I knew it was going to be tough, but as you can see here, I was ready for the challenge. And although at times it was a struggle, I (obviously) managed to come out of the 30 days alive.

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I stuck to the rules and even lost the 15lbs I gained at Basic Training. I know, I know… I GAINED weight at Basic training?! I kept telling myself it was because I was wearing heavier clothes and hadn’t cut my hair in awhile, but then I realized those two things were ridiculous and had to come to terms with my weight gain. So, while most people at Basic…correction…everyone at Basic had the pounds melting away, I somehow managed to grow an extra 15 lbs. Let’s just clarify what that means, that’s like a small person attached to me, like a baby midget (?what?), on my back at all times. And I know what you are thinking, “oh, stop it Megan, it’s probably just muscle”. Let me stop you right there, NO, it wasn’t.

Before the Whole30 on the Left and on the right, just 1 week to go with the W30

Before the Whole30 on the Left and on the right, just 1 week to go with the W30

Irregardless (not a word), I’m not here to talk about food, weight loss, or my obvious outrage concerning the military’s lack of high-intensity physical activities for recruits. I’m here to give you ONE really good reason to complete the Whole30 that has NOTHING to do with food. Sounds ridiculous, right? Hear me out. Completing your own 30day challenge could be good for numerous reasons (unless of course it’s 30 days of binge drinking; in that case you may want to rethink your life choices). However, one of the main reasons I believe you need a 30 day challenge to add a little spice in your life is because…. We all need a lesson in:

 Learning to set a goal, committing to it and seeing it through till the end

(…is that three reasons?).

Here’s WHY we all need practice at this:

These days it’s tough for most people to focus through a three minute video, let alone something that takes 30 days of their time. I recently read that we now have a shorter attention span than a gold fish….Wait…did I lose you? Let me say that again. WE now have a shorter attention span than a gold fish. Ummm, what? So much for us being an advanced species. Sure humankind has made major medical breakthroughs, travelled to space and created insane technological advances (hello!? have you SEEN Ironman?!…oh. Wait. That’s not real..?…..awk.waaard…). But if you ask most of us to concentrate on anything for more than 10 seconds, well, that appears to be asking too much.

Calvin didn't realise that in just 3 seconds he'd have a 2nd chance to make a 1st impression...

 

In this day and age, with constant stimulation, being pulled in a thousand directions, it’s important that we pursue our goals and learn to commit to something. What’s even more important is to stick with that something, even when obstacles arise or things get difficult. We are becoming so used to instant gratification, that when things get hard, we bow out. I see it all of the time in yoga; the moment a pose starts getting challenging, or uncomfortable, I’ll see students give up on themselves. But, it is in those moments of discomfort that we begin to mentally GROW and shape ourselves.

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So, why not commit to a positive change in your life for 30 days. You’ll challenge your mind to commit, plan ahead and overcome obstacles in order to achieve your goal. It doesn’t really matter what the goal is, whether it is big or small; what matters is that you learn to stick with something and see it through- RIGHT until the end.

I mentioned in my last post that I wanted to complete the 30 days to not only see if I could give up my food addictions, but to become mentally stronger. It takes a lot of will power to turn down junk food at a BBQ, or even just constantly defend my choice to not have a drink when I’m out at a pub with friends. Believe me, it would have been a LOT easier to cave and drink alcohol over listening to the, “You’re doing WHAT? For 30 days? Why!?…I would NEVER…” But, I stuck with it and I do believe I’m mentally stronger because of it.

So, if I’ve managed to keep your attention this long (1) kudos to you for outlasting a goldfish and (2) now it’s your turn to choose your 30 days for change. The hardest part is beginning. So, DECIDE, take a deep breath and take the first step towards positive change.

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2 Small Steps to Create Big Change

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The other day I experienced the power of “being ready for a change”. Not the, kind of-maybe-I think I’ll give it a shot, ready. It was a definite shift in perspective. Confused? Let me provide some context. A lot of people who go to my gym were participating in something called, “The Whole 30”. It’s essentially a lifestyle change of your eating habits for 30 days. There were lots of conversations in the gym regarding who was participating and how progress was going. Every time I heard people discussing it, I thought, “there is no way in H*LL I’m doing that. Give up my coffee creamer? Friday night pizza? Saturday poutine? Forget it. It’s not happening.”

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Then one day after a workout, the coach was speaking of his experience during the 30 days. He said, “I really believe that I’m mentally stronger from completing it.” And that was it. Something in me clicked; I had found my motivation to make a change. I was finally ready and now I could commit.

So, what is the lesson here? What can you take from this and how can you apply it to your own life? First off, there is probably an inkling of a feeling deep down inside of something you’ve been wanting to change, whether it be eating healthier, working out more, being nicer to people…being nicer to yourself. Here is your TWO (yes, two) step model in order to create change.

1. Find Your Why.

Why do you want to make this change? For me? uhhh, to be healthier, make mad gains in the gym and to have my skin glow like a mermaid… obviously. While those reasons may seem standard (okay, maybe not standard), they weren’t a strong enough reason in the past to keep me from eating 1kg of mini eggs in one weekend (oh, don’t act like you’ve never done it).

 My “WHY” of taking on these 30 days was the challenge of becoming mentally stronger by making changes of things that I perceived to be “hard”. Why was mental strength more important to me than having a bod that is hrrrddd assss f*k? Well, it probably has something to do with my background, or that fact mental toughness will allow me to aspire faster to my goals. OR, when Mr. Only-cares-about-the-physical-Joe and his fabutanned abs are failing him during a plank-off, I will be tapping into my mental strength and will outlast him every time.

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My “why” for change may be very different from yours. Maybe the physical is enough and you are going to work out because it makes your butt look great. That’s awesome (and your butt does look great). But maybe you need something else; perhaps it’s for your own mental health, the longevity of your life, or that one day you want to be the worlds greatest Grandma- running laps around your grandchildren, or to still be doing headstands when you’re 90. It doesn’t matter what it is, what matters is that you find it.

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Once you know your WHY, it’s time to:

2. Change Your Perspective

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Before I started this 30 day endeavor, I had the mindset, “No sugar? This is going to be so hard!” But then I read this from the Whole 30 website:

It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard.”

Touché. Touché. I had to stop thinking of my changes as sacrifices and as changes that I was CHOOSING because I want to accomplish my ‘why’.

As I mentioned, if my experience is different from you and it doesn’t click right away. Don’t you fret! Changing self talk and potentially years of patterned, automatic ways of thinking could take time to change. So be aware of these thoughts, be patient and be positive.

If at this point you are totally lost or confused, go back to step 1 (you know, the step right before step 2)🙂 Soul search, meditate, talk to your friends, family, or neighbors dog and figure out the “WHY”; your true motivation for wanting to make change.

BECAUSE..

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Good luck on your quest for change…whatever that change may be.

 

 

10 Life Lessons from Basic Military Officer Training 

I recently finished BMOQ- Basic Military Officer Qualification (AKA Basic Training). It was from January to April in a city about one hour outside of Montreal (..umm Quebec in the winter? Can you say freezing?…anyway- irrelevant to this post).

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I can honestly say that this training was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my entire life. Not because it was physically demanding, because I did not find the physical aspect hard. It was challenging because I was so far out of my comfort zone; I was mentally pushed unlike anything before. Anyone who remotely knows me can probably understand what I mean when I say that I was out of my comfort zone. My BFF actually said to me, “The only person less suited for the military than me, is you”.

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THIS person decided to join the military….What?

I’ve spent the last 5 years of my life completely immersed in a yoga community- where we don’t resolve conflict by yelling or degrading. We yogi’s hope for peace on earth and support each other with hugs, vegan salads, homemade chocolate and Kombucha (…or something like that)!

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Me as a warrior…before I was a REAL CAF badass warrior….or worrier…depends on the day🙂

So, let’s take me, an overly sensitive, introverted yogini and throw me into a testosterone dominated environment, where…not everyone wants to get along…or necessarily feels the need to be nice to everyone. AND THEN on top of that, ask me to not only be surrounded by people constantly, but to lead them, work with them and live with them. Sometimes I felt like I was living in another world.

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SO, in true Sport Psych fashion, I reflected, I debriefed and came up with a few lessons that I can translate into my life (and hopefully you can too!)

Here we go:

1) What people say about you says way more about them than it does about you.

I’m not going to lie, some people could say really hurtful, rude and blatantly mean things to or about other people;  rumors flew and people talked. I was on the receiving end of some of the words and rumors. And it sucked…a lot. But when I could take a step back from the emotion and how the situation made me feel, I realized that the words were not a reflection of anything I had done; it wasn’t my story, it was theirs. The words came from that particular persons fears, insecurities, and/or past experiences.

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Which leads me to my next point:

2) People may not remember what you say, but they will always remember the way you made them feel. ‘nough said.

3) Nothing is ever as bad as it seems.

I would get myself worked up over most of the big tasks we had to do- our missions, leading the group, living in the field. And every time the “tasking” would pass, I would wonder why I got myself so worked up. I began utilizing my skills from yoga to stay present and try not to think of what was yet to come and focus on taking things one step (or moment) at a time.

4) You are so much stronger than you think.

I saw our platoon members achieve things they never thought possible. Some made such amazing personal changes within themselves that it was almost hard to recognize them by the end of training. You never really know how much you can grow or what you can endure until you jump right in and give it everything you’ve got.

5) Believe and trust in others…

Micromanaging a group of 50 people doesn’t work anymore than micromanaging a group of 5 people does. Trust that people will get the work done, believe that people will pull through for you. Chances are if you treat them with respect, they will come together for you.

6) More importantly, believe and trust in yourself.

This may seem redundant to number four, but there was a point when I was doubting my capabilities and what I knew (deep down) that I could do. My sisters boyfriend gave me a piece of advice that I will never forget: “A lion doesn’t ask himself how to be a lion”. I knew that I had everything within me to be successful, I didn’t need to ask myself how to be something that innately I already am.

PSP Top Athlete? Hilare.

PSP Top Athlete? Hilare.

 7) Be who you are and say what you feel…

..because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. Thanks for the life advice, Dr. Suess. And thanks for Steph who didn’t mind one bit🙂

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8) People will always find what they are looking for.

Every room inspection I’d hear: “dust in the barrel”, “lint on your clothes”, “dust on the window sill”. If I would have wiped the window sill SECONDS before my Sgt walked in, he still would have found dust. If someone has something set in his/her head, they will always see what they want to see.

9) It’s okay to cry.

I probably cried once a week at training (hah); it made some people very uncomfortable, it made some feel like they needed to console me or offer me advice. I wasn’t ever looking to elicit a response from others; after days of holding in frustrations, it was a way for me to release and process things for the week ahead. Big kudos to my sister who was on the receiving end of almost every single one of those phone calls😉

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(This picture describes how I felt most of the time)

10) Look for the lessons learned in everything you do. 

The Mental Performance Consultant in me loves a good debrief and to talk about lessons learnt. In every challenge I faced, every difficult person that was presented to me, I always asked myself what I could be learning from this person or this situation. Usually I was able to work on my own insecurities, my own fears and build my own self-growth project out of each moment.

While I would never choose to go back to Basic, I am forever grateful for the people I met and connected with, the experiences I had and the foundation that has been layed for me as I start to intertwine my yogi self with the CAF…the ultimate yin and yang.

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-Until next time.

Peas Love and PB Sandwiches.

Can Downward Facing Dog Wreck Your Shoulders?

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Since Moksha Yoga Westshore has opened their doors, I have been reminded of my love for anatomy, movement and yoga. Not only that, I am reminded of how much I love to teach other people these things! As there is an influx of new students, I have been paying a lot of attention to people coming into postures for the very first time. One that is particular interesting is Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Practically every style of yoga practices this posture (besides Bikram, most Yin styles, and I’m sure there are a few others out there).

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Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

BUT, should everyone be doing this posture? My answer is No. Definitely not…at least not always in the beginning of his or her yoga-journey. As the title of this article states, it could be a DOWNDOG disaster for some people’s bodies. While there are a number of things that could prevent your shoulders from being set into the proper position to take DownDog- a very common reason is a shortened Pectoralis Major muscle, which contributes to internally rotated shoulders.

 What activities (or lack of activities) make you a candidate for having shortened pecs? Too many “push” exercises (punching, pushups, planks), sitting with improper posture at a computer, desk, in a car, spending all day at a sewing machine (!MOM!), sitting and texting, sleeping for 8 hours curled up in a little ball, if you are a rower, swimmer, or perhaps you have had your heart broken and your shoulders have slumped forward in an effort to protect the body; or you were bullied or lack confidence, so you walked around for years with your head down and shoulders rolled in, instead of walking with your chest forward and head held high…I could go on, but as you can see, there are many, MANY reasons why your shoulders may be internally rotated.

How to tell if you have internally rotated shoulders? Stand up, shake your arms out, let them fall to your sides naturally and see which direction your thumbs point. An ideal situation is to have your thumbs point forward in a natural standing position. Knuckles pointing forward (or  ‘caveman arms’) is an indication of internally rotated shoulders.

Why does it matter if your shoulders are internally rotated? The shoulders are not a stable joint to begin with (they favour mobility over stability); however, the shoulders are MOST stable when they are externally rotated. This means that all of the structures surrounding the shoulders are in the proper place and the shoulder is working as efficiently as possible. Over time internally rotated shoulders can cause a whole host of injuries and pain in the body.

If your knuckles do point forward (from the exercise above), you may notice that you have troubles/restrictions when trying to reach your arms overhead. OR, you may be able to get your arms over your head, but the head of your humerus is smashing into the acromion or, to be more technical, “the greater tuberosity can “impinge” on the undersurface of the acromion, compressing the subacromial bursa and irritating the supraspinatus tendon” (http://www.dailybandha.com/2011/04/shoulder-kinematics-in-yoga.html), making things very uncomfortable (not to mention, not very sustainable over a long period of time).

The MMA fighter in the picture below is extremely fit looking, but as you can see, his shoulders are internally rotated, meaning they are not in an ideal position.

A tight Pec Major may be contributing to rounded shoulders and be causing havoc in your downdog.    allisat-use

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Now, what the heck does all of this have to do with your downward facing dog? Since your shoulder position is a very important piece of this posture, if you are heading into your downdog (or plank, or chaturanga for that matter) with internally rotated shoulders, you are creating a very unstable and unsustainable position that will more than likely cause injury over time.

Is your Pec Major the cause of all of this internal rotation? Maybe, maybe not. But it is definitely worth looking into if you practice yoga. Can Downward Facing Dog wreck your shoulders? If not practiced with proper alignment, there is a likelihood of shoulder issues that may develop.

Practice smart and you’ll be whipping out that downdog for years to come.

Peas, love …and stable shoulders.

Meg

As a bonus- check out the video below! Jill Miller, creator of Yoga Tune up, gives a very simple assessment tool that will allow you to identify a few other obstacles to your downward facing dog, as well as a different posture that may save your shoulders.

Life Lessons

“When a baby comes into the world, its hands are clenched, right? Like this?” He made a fist. “Why? Because a baby not knowing any better, wants to grab everything, to say the whole world is mine. But when an old person dies, how does he do so? With his hands open. Why? Because he has learned his lesson.” “What lesson?” I asked. He stretched open his empty fingers. “We can take nothing with us.”
― Mitch Albom, Have a Little Faith: a True Story

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