Vacation meditation

I was 22 the first time I crossed the Atlantic ocean. I had just finished my undergraduate degree and I wanted to celebrate with a trip. I was with a friend from high school on one leg, a friend from University on another (and sadly, almost 15 years later, I am no longer in touch with either of them). I also had a leg in between where I was going to take a train from London to Paris by myself and have a night in Paris alone. I didn’t sleep that night and somehow ended up in a gorgeous restaurant with my one sundress that hadn’t made it to the bottom of my traveller’s backpack.

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My life 10 years ago. A swiss summer. Please ignore the low rise jeans. They were popular at the time.

By the time I returned home about a month later, I was changed. I went on that first flight with nervous anticipation, but almost no expectations. I have never been the same since. I know that some people can go abroad and come home and say “There’s no place like home.” Yet a part of me has always thought, since that month, “There’s no place like a place I have never seen.”

I have been to more countries than the years I have been alive. I am returning to several I love dearly in the next couple of weeks: Italy, Germany and Sweden. I love them because of the people there, because of the lifestyle offered and (let’s be honest) because of the food. My love is coming with me and I can’t wait to people watch over steaming bowls of pasta with him.

I also realized that my wanderlust has sometimes crept into my meditations. I sometimes bring myself back to Hawaii with the rolling waves on the beach, or back to Bali with the flowers strewn across doorsteps. I also sometimes imagine what it would be like on trips I have not yet experienced.

For today’s meditation, let’s travel together. It’s a short one but I hope it will make you realize how vast your own imagination is, and how the powerful mind can relax itself, even when the next vacation is not in cards.

I hope that you enjoy!

My stress relief toolbox + free meditation

It seems that everyone around me is stressed, for varying and warranted reasons. As an empath, it has been rubbing off on me, so I have been reaching for the things that calm me down. One of my friends told me that she was stressed and I asked her how she was nourishing herself. She paused for a long time and couldn’t think of anything.

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I recommend after reading this post to take a pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write your own list. Don’t think too hard. Just think about the things you most reach for when you have a bad day that make you feel better. Then, when you have a bad day and you feel flummoxed about what to do, you can reach for your own solutions, which won’t make everything right, but will bring your stress levels down.

Here are some of my tried-and-tested nourishing tools:

  1. A pimped out bath: candles, bath bombs, ambient music.
  2. Lying on the floor. Sometimes this is an official yoga pose. Other times, it is just what it sounds like and helps me to feel grounded.
  3. Hot tea. There is something about the ritual of making tea that helps me to calm.
  4. An early bedtime. I will unabashedly put on my pjs at 7 and go to bed at 8 when I feel like I need to recharge.
  5. Bright clothing. Something about putting on a bright colour surges me with energy, even when I am lacking in it.
  6. Lattes. Mike and I bought each other a cappuccino maker for Valentine’s Day and I love bringing out my inner barista.
  7. Hugs. Sometimes I have to ask for one, sometimes I don’t, but either way, it always helps me.
  8. Outside time. Being outside, even if it is just outside my building can help to pull things into perspective.
  9. Cuddles from animals. They use me to give them food, I can use them for affection.
  10. Books that I have already read. There is something comforting about returning to a story that will give me no surprises.

If you feel inclined to do so, let me know what you most turn to when you feel the effects of stress within your own life. We can all benefit from more ideas on how to develop inner resilience.

I didn’t even mention meditation in my top ten list, but it is what most soothes me when I find I am taking something too hard or forecasting the future. I get up in the morning and I sit. It sounds so simple, but it ends up allowing me release, even on the subtlest level.

This month’s free meditation is a five senses mindfulness exercise that doesn’t require any formality. It is something to take with you on the road, to help with any racing thoughts or when you start to feel stress build in a way where the only thing you are looking forward to is that glass of wine at the end of the day. (No judgment, it’s just hard to wait the whole day for your relief.)

I hope that you enjoy it. I have so been enjoying our small community of mindful warriors.

I am grateful for you.

xx Courtney

Best Escapes Anyone Can Have (B.E.A.C.H.) In India

I have only been to India once. As I now teach yoga, when I tell people this, they often imagine me in an ashram, a la Eat Pray Love. And although I have been to Italy, India and Bali, like Elizabeth Gilbert, I went for very different reasons than she did (although I did see a medicine man and must tell you that story another time).

I went to India to train a group of men on an IT platform. I wore a suit. In another life, I gave PowerPoint Presentations. Okay, I still do, but now they are yoga or writing related. When I was in Gurgaon and New Delhi, I didn’t even consider taking a yoga class. I mostly fought off jet lag and ate rich meals with my colleagues. I am squinting in all of the photos that were taken – with a camera – because I forgot sunglasses.

Although I don’t like to repeat countries (I always say I will save that when I am older) I think I will have to make an exception for India, to have an entirely different experience. I would like to have long periods of meditation and sit outside in the heat with a group of people looking for more than what our Smartphones and computers can deliver.

Rohit Agarwal lives there and he fuelled my Wunderlust by writing this article about the top ten beach resorts in India. I have been on a plane within the last week and I truly have nothing to complain about, but I couldn’t help but sigh as I looked at the lavish photography. Read with caution.


India has been considered a subcontinent for its unique topographic features and landmarks. One of those features is that more than one-third of the country is clearly defined by bodies of water. Surrounded by the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean, the Indian Subcontinent provides a surreal location for ideal beach retreats. From coastal waves to backwater beaches, from white sand to pebble beaches, from relaxing lazy ambiance to wild sports adventures, the following 10 resorts mentioned below are literally the Best Escape Anybody Can Have (B.E.A.C.H.)

  1. The Leela Goa

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Leela

A private beach and absolutely beautiful lagoon suites with exemplary hotel service are what describes The Leela Goa which is India’s only beach and riverside resort. Pamper yourself with their ranges of Ayurveda Spa treatments or just sign up to their cultural meanderings and heritage visit experiences.

  1. Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

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Park Hyatt

The Indo-Portuguese village structure will charm you as you enter Park Hyatt Goa Resort. Located on Arossim beach and home to one of the largest pools in Goa, the resort is ideal for both, sunbathing on the golden sand and enjoying the pool water slides. Don’t miss out on the horticulture tour and fresh seafood cooked to perfection.

  1. Barefoot at Havelock

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Barefoot

Experience paradise at Havelock Island’s one of the best beach resorts. Nestled in lush rainforest greenery and near a white sand beach, barefoot at Havelock is a dream come true for beach lovers. Explore the resort grounds filled with exotic birds and animals or go snorkelling to explore fascinating underwater life.

  1. Mayfair Palm Beach Resort

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Mayfair

Facing the Bay of Bengal, on the coastal lines of Odisha lies the Mayfair Palm Beach Resort catering to the aesthetic pleasure of sea-lovers. The resort is exquisitely decorated with sea shells and the architecture suggests an old world charm while the rooms are sufficiently modern. Enjoy tea with a cool sea breeze by the ever rolling waves.

  1. Taj Exotica Goa

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Taj Exotica

If you are looking for a secluded and romantic experience at one of the finest beach resorts in Goa, Taj Exotica Goa has got you covered. Their unique private dining experience with handcrafted menus and enthralling settings by the beach is one of the sensorial services the resort offers.

  1. Vivanta by Taj Bekal

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Vivanta

Private courtyards and swinging beds by the sea? Luxury is redefined at one of the Kerala’s most elegant resorts. Take a leisure cruise on a Kettuvalam, Keralite houseboat often known as ‘boast with knots’ or spend an evening enjoying the gorgeous landscape with the sea and the backwaters converging.

  1. Marbela Beach Resort

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The beach facing accommodation of Marbela Beach resort will make you feel as if paradise is literally at your doorstep. This resort is also home to the hottest night beach parties of Goa and private luxury tents. Beautiful cabanas a few steps from the beach, surrounded by small gardens are perfect spots to view tropical sunsets.

  1. Kadmat Beach Resort

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Kadmat is one of the virgin unspoiled beaches of Lakshwadeep Islands. Surrounded by crystal clear water and glistening white sand positioned in the coconut palm groves with dolphins playing beyond the coral reef at sunrise, Kadmat Beach resort is situated in the lap of mother nature. The glass bottom boat ride and scuba diving are two of the most stunning experiences available at the resort.

  1. Coral Reef Resort

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Coral Beach

Here’s another ideal beach resort on the island of Havelock. The resort’s private beach area is well known for its cleanliness and play area. Opt for an open sea diving course, as the location of the resort is close to coral reefs and makes for a spectacular underwater experience. You might get lucky if it drizzles, for you will be able to see a clear rainbow, adding to the already ethereal experience in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

  1. The Leela Kovalam

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Leela Kovalam

An exotic location at the beach town of Kerala, the Leela Kovalam is a unique destination for beach lovers. It is famous as India’s only cliff-top resort. Relish the beach of Kovalam from different angles. Savour the best of local cuisine at the resort and get the feel of the Village Life experience.


Courtney’s final note: if you plan on going to one of these resorts, or even to India, please tell me so that I can be extremely jealous of you.

 

 

 

Guest post – Using Technology to Aid Meditation

Hey everyone! I will be back with a brand spanking new meditation at the end of the month. I am about to go to the Mayo Clinic for an on-site module for my health coaching certificate. I can’t wait to share with you what I learn (and I will also have some FREE sessions available when I am finished for anyone who is interested!).

In the meantime, I have another guest post from a wonderful writer! Her name is Cassie Phillips and she reached out to me as a fellow freelance writer. If we can’t help each other out as writers, what are we doing in this life, huh?

More about Cassie: she has a background in mental health and she is a regular meditation practitioner. Because of this, she says that she loves to learn about the advances being made every day that bring people a higher quality of life. As a busy mother, she believes good mental health starts early in life but can be attained at any age.

Mother-writer-meditator = superwoman in my eyes. Without further adieu, here is her article about technology and its possible role in your meditation journey (as backed by the Dalai Lama himself):

What Are the Benefits of Using Technology to Aid Meditation?

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Several years ago, in an attempt to regain some calm in my life, I decided to dip my toes into the world of meditation. After consulting with an experienced friend, I sat down in a relaxed position, closed my eyes, concentrated on my breathing and gave it a try. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever attempted. It was almost a decade before I gathered the motivation to begin again.

While meditation has gone mainstream in recent years, ten years ago it seemed a little more obscure in the western part of the world. In large part, the rise of its popularity can be credited to the simultaneous rise of technology. Today, you can download apps and videos that do everything from reminding you to meditate at regular intervals to actually providing you with guided meditations.

It was the second provision that brought me back into the fold. Once I realized I could reenter at my own pace and with the help of a guide, I realized meditation might not be as out of my reach as I once thought. These guided meditations come in all shapes and sizes, from the most basic mantras to far more authentic Eastern-based sessions and can be used to help remedy a variety of different problems.

The Next Wave of Technology

However, apps are only the most basic of the available technology. At the University of Massachusetts, for instance, fMRI and EEG technology have developed ways to measure brain waves, which leads analysis that then provides immediate feedback to facilitate more effective meditation and contemplation.

Others have taken this research and developed technology to offer affordable tools to the public providing the same results with the same tools. Unsurprisingly, as technology develops, so does the advancement of meditation aids.

Of course, some meditation experts and practitioners have their doubts regarding the marriage of technology and meditation. In their opinion, this departure from traditional methods holds risk; or, at the very least, a lessened meditative impact on the tech-user’s life. At worst, it completely misrepresents the goals, methods, and values of the contemplative life and leads the user down a completely false path.

However, it should be noted that the Dalai Lama himself has wholeheartedly endorsed the embracing of scientific and technological advancements. In fact, he has been credited with saying that should science disprove the claims of Buddhism, Buddhism should then change their beliefs. This leadership has provided a framework for some skeptics to reconsider their position.

The Use of Information

As technology has opened new avenues for the contemplative life, it’s also opened up the possibility for personal risk as well as potential ethical dilemmas. While some apps are merely guided meditations or some other innocuous offering, some are designed to track your personal data, meant only for your benefit. This includes your health stats as well as your relaxation levels and other identifying information.

Because of the rapid pace of technological development, ethical conversations are still evolving. For instance, when apps store our data, who ultimately owns that data? And who has access to that information? Is it the developer? The company that owns the app? Employees?

These potential risks shouldn’t keep us from utilizing the meditation technology as it becomes available, but they should encourage us to take the necessary steps to protect our information. Securing your connection is a good first step to preventing violations of your personal data. Once you do this, you can proceed with the knowledge that your personal information, including your health both physical and mental, is protected and private.

Though the field is still developing, it cannot be denied that technology has, for some, thrown open the gates. It has invited in the curious but skeptical, the one who would like to dip their toes into the waters of meditation without the full commitment. While this may seem lukewarm, it’s actually an effective method for introducing meditation to those who might otherwise never encounter it.

Guiding Me Forward

As I reentered my own contemplative journey, it was absolutely technology that smoothed the way. Though I would have liked to take a class, I found the accessibility of technology-supported meditation intriguing and inviting. What began as a curiosity turned into my full-fledged induction into this world. Despite finding many of the free apps useful, I now also have a paid subscription which allows me to access a large number of high-quality guided meditations.

Slowly but surely, my own practice has developed and become a natural part of my day, and ultimately, my life.

How do you meditate? Do you use something to guide you? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below so we can discuss!

Pain and the art of mindfulness

I have said before in my classes how mindfulness is much easier when we are going through easy times. Sitting there and breathing with your eyes closed may have the obstacle of a busy mind, but this obstacle is not the same as a stressed out body.

Guess who is dealing with some pain?

My cat got pretty sick about a week ago. At the same time, my partner left for a business trip. I was super worried that something would happen to him while Mike was gone, so I stayed with this sad cat on my lap for days. I slept upright. I slept frozen in position. I watched movies at 2 in the morning.

He got better. I got worse.

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My back, used to flexibility, movement and care, did not like this frozen position. It seized, then spasmed. I dealt with it and subbed my classes, figuring it would go away.

Five days later, I have been massaged, foam rolled, acupunctured, herbed, iced, heated, and the pain lingers. It is there all the time. It frustrates me and I fluctuate between surrender and frustration. I have lost the ability to use my body for anything but walking, at least for now. It was hard to sit long enough to write this.

There must be a lesson in this. I have slowed down but I have to become okay with being slower. I have to learn how to breathe and love the parts of myself that are inflamed and annoyed. The parts that need a healing voice rather than a voice of judgement.

This is hard work.

Anytime I have been in pain, it always helps me to be a better teacher once I am back on the horse, so to speak. It helps me not to rush my students and to meet them where they are. It helps me to listen to them as I try to listen to the messages my body gives me, even when that message is “ow.”

Meditation is not just for the good times. If you are in pain (emotional or physical) this meditation I recorded this month will resonate. I want you all to know you aren’t alone, whether you are struggling or thriving. Your body will shift and change through your life, through each year, through each second. I am using this time to remember not to take my health for granted.

If you give this meditation a shot, please do let me know what you think.

My relationship to my body today

I was in a Pilates class this morning and I thought to myself, man, has my relationship to my body changed.

I think this is true for all of us. As we get older, or get injured, or change priorities, how we treat our bodies does as well. It is never a stagnant relationship. Even when we are pretty sure that we have “nailed it.”

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Here is where I’m at with my body today.

  1. I listen to it when it hurts. I used to wait for pain to get to an 8 out of 10 before I would listen. Now when it is at a 2 I take a step back and listen to what my body needs from me.
  2.  Self-care is higher up on the ladder of importance. When I was younger, exercise was the be all and end all. Now it may be rest, or acupuncture, or meditation. My commitment to my body is now multi-faceted.
  3. I don’t weigh myself. I have no idea what I weigh unless you count once a year at the doctor. I found the number gives me no indication of my health.
  4. I celebrate what I can do rather than begrudge what I can’t. Of course, this is a work in progress. There are still days when I get frustrated, but I am much more likely to remember that I want a relationship with my body that is kind.
  5. I feel stronger by not expecting everything. Before my body goals were lofty, from running fast to doing the splits to lifting weights. My body goals are still well-rounded, but I am not always intense. Interestingly, I became stronger once I let my mind soften.
  6. I am a huge fan of functional movement. This is perhaps the biggest change. In the past, I loved the idea of exercise (yes, I am one of those annoying people). But it had to be official exercise. Boot camp. Yoga. Swimming. Now I consider the benefit of a good walk outside. The benefit of sitting up straight, of foam rolling or of coming from sitting to standing with good form. I like to think of myself in twenty years and my movement decisions are often based on this person. I don’t want to wear away my joints right now in an effort to “look good,” meanwhile reducing the amount I am able to move in the future.

Let me know what you have learned first-hand about your body and how your relationship to your body has changed!

My current favourite podcasts

Hi, I am Courtney, and I am a podcast junkie.

I assume I am not alone. I probably listen to at least an hour of podcasts every day. Although I still like my silent walks, a podcast can be a great way to get from point A to point B. It can also be excellent for someone like myself with no cable to speak of.

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Here are four of the podcasts that I look forward to popping up in my feed every week:

  1. HerMoney with Jean Chatzky. hermoney-3000x3000.jpgFor someone who doesn’t have a lot of investment knowledge such as myself, this financial podcast is a great intro. It is fun and approachable, which I realize sounds oxymoronic when it comes to money matters. Trust me, ladies. You will want to listen.
  2. The School of Greatness with Lewis Howeslewis_podcast_largeThis former pro-football player invites all of the movers and the shakers and the people who work really, really hard to get where they are at. He gives insightful advice for how to get further in your career, from social media tricks to public speaking skills. When I listen to it, I feel charged to keep my eyes on the prize.
  3. The Good Life Project.avatars-000181682718-mm4bu5-t500x500Jonathan Fields is the kind of feel good person that makes you believe that there is more good than bad in the world, and what is more important than that, especially in our era of bad news? A yogi and entrepreneur who identifies as an introvert, Fields has inspiring guests who talk about how they build lives of “fierce connection, profound meaning and radiant joy.”
  4. Happier with Gretchen Rubin1200x630bfGretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project. Her podcast is with her sister “the sage” Elizabeth, and the two of them discuss happiness hacks and stumbling blocks. They even give themselves demerit points and gold stars for things that have subtracted from or added to their current happiness levels. It always gives me good ideas for how I can keep joy within my busy life.

I will do one just with the yoga podcasts in another post.

The fact that I have so many may be the sign that I have a problem…

Valentine’s Day Meditation

You know the thing that irks you that you wish wouldn’t irk you? It arises and it falls, and you think, “I’m better than this,” but then it arises again?

No?

Well, mine is codependency. I get so frustrated when people can’t see their own worth outside of another person. When people see controlling behaviour as loving (“He wants to spend all his time with me…isn’t that sweet?”). I want to say to these people: Stop!!! Take a breath!!! Love yourself!!!

Over a decade of yoga, and I still have stuff to work through.

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In any case, it is time to get on the self-love train. It is almost Valentine’s Day, after all. I am planning on making heart-shaped cookies because I am cheesy. I have sent Valentines to my friends, as if I were five years old. And I have recorded this for you, because you reading this and being in my virtual life is something that I am grateful for.

Mush.

Legs up the wall

It has been a rainy day, and I have been outside a lot. At first I fooled myself into thinking it was “fresh.” It didn’t take long before I got tired of rain hitting my eyelashes and pelting against my clothing.

If I don’t take a moment to tend to myself after moments like these, I am in danger of taking it out on someone else. You know, the person who is responsible for very heavy rain. Screw that person. (See? It’s already happening.).

Legs up the wall is my go-to pose for taking a load off. I may sit with a meditation timer, or I might give myself no time limit at all. There is something about the whoosh of blood out of the feet and legs (that is the technical term) that allows me to feel incredibly grounded. Or at the very least, it releases my vile mind.

If you are in the mood for a legs-up-the-wall party, come join me on this recording. I also got kind of bossy with the mind in this meditation. Hope you enjoy! The music is by Lisbeth Scott.