3 ways to think about relaxation

1 06 2011

It’s a stressful time for many of us.  If you’re in college, finals are keeping you awake at night.  If you’re working, chances are you’re racing to meet your numbers or wrap things up before the summer.  And if you’re a homemaker, you’re prepping for summer, figuring out how to keep your rambunctious kids occupied or (if you can afford it) where to go for a much-needed family vacation.

So…what can we say here about relaxation that hasn’t already been said?

We could list 100 ways to relax, with at least something on the list that may be new to you.  Or we could promote our unique method of relaxation, perhaps a new form of meditation or recreation.

But those things are just a Google search away.  I mean, seriously, why reinvent the wheel?

Instead, we offer you 3 simple and profound ways to think about relaxation, no matter who you are and what you seek.


If you need to relax, there’s probably something in your life that’s troubling you, winding you up or keeping you awake at night.  This isn’t always a bad thing…studies have shown that adequate levels of stress can increase productivity, creativity and overall performance.

But if a person, work project or situation is starting to occupy more of your life than it should, then stress levels become unhealthy.  Stay in this zone for too long, and your body/mind will rebel – you’ll fall ill, become depressed, get grouchy over inconsequential things, snap at your loved ones etc.  You know what I’m talking about.  I’m sure you’ve experienced this at least once in your life.

The first step is to be aware that things are off-balance.  Then, it’s time to figure out how and when to let things go.  Can you delegate?  Can you step away (even temporarily) from the stressor?  What techniques have you used in the past to distance yourself from your stressful reality (e.g. yoga, meditation, counting to 10, calling your best friend…), and which ones can you use right now?

Remember, your desired end goal may justify getting stressed out/overworked in the short term, but your overall health and well-being needs your attention too.  You only have one body.  Honor and nourish it!

Breath is life.  When we forget to breathe deeply and slowly, we are robbing our bodies of oxygen and the very fuel it needs to carry us through our days.
In a world where brains and intellect are so highly valued, we spend too much time in our heads and not enough time remembering or acknowledging the bodies that transport us.  Just the simple act of slow, conscious breathing reconnects us with our bodies.  It slows our heart rate and immediately relaxes us.
If you’ve ever done cardiovascular exercise, you’ll recall your trainer asking you to breathe.  This is to sufficiently oxygenate the body that you’ve placed in temporary overdrive.  If you didn’t breathe, you would feel faint or dizzy.
And if you’ve ever done any sort of bodywork or somatic therapy, then you’ve experienced the deep, penetrating effects of breath.  Conscious breathing into your tissue or your spine can release deep tension and literally enliven you.
This last principle will mean different things to different people.  What does it mean to you to live, really live, a full life?  More than having outlets or having good relationships, this is about discovering and living out your dreams and life purpose.
Not to get all ‘Oprah’ on you….but her brand stands for living your best life.  When you know and respond to what truly drives you and feeds your soul, the very thought or practice of that activity will relax you.  More than that, it will energize and uplift you, as well as those around you.
There are, of course, the practical matters of life.  Bills need to be paid, mouths to be fed.  And some dreams do have a shelf life, so don’t chase them if the chances of success are truly slim to nothing.  But those among us who have found and made peace with what we were born to do, can wake up each morning feeling a little more relaxed in their life journey.
If your circumstances make it impossible to make a drastic change in your life, then take baby steps.  I promise you, every step you take toward realizing your life’s vision is a step toward greater peace and relaxation.
I hope you’ve found these 3 principles to be useful. Do you agree or disagree with them?  Please comment below!

How will you honor Memorial Day?

27 05 2011

by Vanessa Trafas

When you think of Memorial Day, what comes to mind?  For me, I remember family barbeques and family outings where we would catch up and enjoy the extra day that was tacked onto the weekend.

Obviously, the history of Memorial Day plays a huge role in making it an important weekend.  It is the one day that we have designated for the remembrance of those who have died while serving our country.  And while it may be a sad day of remembrance, many of us have turned this weekend into a celebration.  Not a celebration of those who have died, but instead a celebration of those who we are grateful to still have.  In remembrance of the fallen soldiers we appreciate the people in our lives that have had an impact and have been there for us throughout the good and bad. So, in light of this day of remembrance and appreciation, we would like to share with you some ways to spend your Memorial Day weekend celebrating your friends and family.

Family Barbeque/Picnic – When I was younger my family and I would have a barbeque at the closest park and play softball, soccer, or just pass the football around.  I will admit that when I was younger I didn’t necessarily want to go out and have a picnic; instead I wanted to stay home and watch TV all day.  It definitely takes a lot less energy to stay home then it does to go out.  But, when we got to the park and started barbequing, talking, and playing games I would enjoy myself and enjoy spending this time with my family.  Barbeques create that fun-loving atmosphere that is well deserved after a tough week of work and is a great way to both unwind and connect with loved ones.

Sporting Event – We all love to go out and support our favorite sports teams, so what better way to do it than with close family and friends on a holiday weekend.  I recently attended a San Francisco Giants baseball game with one of my very close friends and it was AMAZING.  I had been to baseball games before but not to one where I knew almost everyone’s name on the team.  Yes, of course it made it even more exciting watching the recent World Series champs play a game against their cross town rivals, the Oakland A’s but it was the atmosphere at the game that made everything that much more AMAZING.  There were families, friends, couples, professors, students, and more and everyone was enjoying themselves.  It is these interactions between our close friends and family that we will cherish and rooting for the same team side-by-side strengthens those bonds.

Local Event – There are so many events going on during Memorial Day weekend that it could be hard to choose that one event that is just right for the entire family.  There are concerts, parades, festivals, and the list goes on and on.  Recently, I spoke to my sister about what she was doing this Memorial Day weekend (we do not live in the same city) and she told me about the Scottish festival that they’ve attended for the last three years.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to go with my family to this event but I look forward to it in the future (hopefully, next Memorial Day).  Her underlying message about the festival was: “oh my gosh, the Scottish festival is SO much FUN, I can’t wait to go this year!”.   Through this simple choice, my family has started a new tradition on Memorial Day weekend and they all look forward to spending that weekend with each other and enjoying the Scottish music and dances.   So, don’t be wary about attending festivals, they can give you a new experience and you may just learn something new about another culture (my family is not Scottish).

Dinner Celebration – If you’re not up for an entire day of activity and want to take it slow on your three day weekend, then having a group for dinner is a great alternative.  Get the whole family together and enjoy the night just talking around the dinner table.  Make it a potluck and have guests bring food; there are plenty of delicious Memorial Day recipes online.  If cooking dinner is too much work, then eat out or order take-out.  The most important thing is not where you eat but whom you are sharing your meal with.

One-on-One – So, you’re not up for an outing with a big group and you would rather spend some quality time with someone special.  Of course, we all love our families but sometimes we need vacations from them as well.  Take Memorial Day weekend to spend time with one person who you really connect with.  Maybe you haven’t been able to spend as much time with this person as you would like and the extra day of the weekend is just what you need to make up for lost time.  Let them know how important they are and what they mean to you and how they have been exceptional in your life.  Sometimes, it is those who are there for us most often whom we forget to truly appreciate.

It is these moments that we spend together that truly show us how important our friends and family are in our lives.  They are our support system, the people we go to when we aren’t having a good day or when we just need to talk.  As time moves by we get fewer opportunities like these.  This makes it even more special when we are able to spend this time with those who are close to us.  For the last four years I have not been able to spend Memorial Day weekend with my family.  I have instead used this weekend to catch up on work, like many of us who have busy schedules and rarely get the time to relax.  It is for this reason that we must take these moments to relax and enjoy the company of family and friends.

So go and spend your weekend doing something fun with those you love!

5 tools for life change. (And…we’re back!)

25 05 2011

by Maya Mathias

I stopped updating this blog 16 months ago to make HUGE changes in my own life. And I’m now ready to re-launch this ChangePals blog, plus the accompanying it’s-so-freakin’-cool-I-wish-it-were-live-already website (coming this fall) with wiser eyes and a deeper heart.

Since my last post, I’ve learned even more enriching lessons, many of which I’ll share here in the coming weeks and months.

In a nutshell…I’ve moved halfway across the world, made new friends, started a business, secured 6 paying clients in 8 months, hired & trained a couple of interns AND healed a strained relationship with a close relative. Not bad for 16 months’ work.

But it wasn’t easy. No real and long-lasting life change ever is. That’s why the idea behind ChangePals is so powerful. It’s a place where change is your friend, where change is something to be cherished for the growth it brings us instead of the pain it can often cause us along the way.

How can change be your friend?

Think back to anything you accomplished that you’re still immensely proud of. I bet it didn’t come without a fight, hard work or taking a honest look at yourself more than once and saying you could do it. And I bet it involved at least one mentor or good friend who convinced you that it was an accomplishment worth striving for.  A caring someone who supported you when the going got rough and, more importantly, who gave you a kick in the rear when you got lazy and wanted to give up. And ultimately, someone who showered you with kind words and bear hugs when you met your goal.

So….here’s what you can expect from ChangePals:

  1. Inspiration.  We’ll have lots, and lots, and lots (did I forget to say it was lots?) of stories from people who have successfully changed their lives, or have at least learned something about the process of change.  There’s a bunch of science and theory around the idea of change, and we’ll blog about those too, but we also want to focus on the emotional & creative side of change.  You know, those unexpected messages that come to you when you hear someone else’s story and get a little ‘lightbulb’ moment of your own.
  2. Support.  We want ChangePals to be a SAFE and EFFECTIVE place to find the best mentors and friends for your life change.  ChangePals is not a therapy group or a collection of addiction-anonymous associations.  It’s a destination for high-functioning people (like you and me) who just happen to feel stuck in some way.  Between the ideas here and on our new website (launching this fall), we’ll help you ignore the naysayers in your life and find people who can and will cheer you through your change goals.
  3. Resources.  There are a ton of tools and ideas out there about how to make successful personal change.  We aim to blog about the ones that have worked best for us, our friends and our coaching clients.  The tools could be from a best-selling author or our Aunt Susie.  We really don’t care.  All we care about is that people have used it, and that it WORKS.
  4. Motivation.  Yeah, this one’s a tough nut to crack sometimes ain’t it?  The secret is….there is no secret.  ALL of us struggle with a lack of motivation at times.  We just need to keep reminding ourselves of our goal, and to keep our cheerleaders/mentors in the loop so they can help us stay on track.  Most of all, we need to remember not to beat ourselves up when we slip.  We’ll address the art and science of motivation as often as possible in this blog.
  5. Creativity.  In our rush to make it through each day on this earth, we often forget that we are an infinitely creative species.  It’s exciting to be living in a time where all forms of creativity are being celebrated (e.g. storytelling, problem-solving, art, technology etc).  And it’s equally exciting that adults are rediscovering the benefits of play and exploration, especially at work.  Here at ChangePals, we’ll show you how to tap into your creative toolbox to uncover your deepest passions and make the life changes that mean the most to you.
So there you have it.
5 ways that ChangePals hopes to serve you.
5 areas that can guide you through the most sacred and courageous of life choices.
5 beacons to help you design the life you know you’ve always hoped to live.
Tell us…what else would you seek from a friend in change?  Please comment below.

The bodily curse of the knowledge worker

23 01 2010

[tweetmeme source=”changepals” service=”bit.ly”]

The turn-of-the-millennium business buzzword ‘knowledge-based economy’ sounds downright archaic  these days.  Except for the fact that we now actually live it, through every tweet and with every blog post.  Each of us has become a de facto knowledge worker, skimming cryptic 140 character updates or 1500-word articles for nuggets of wisdom that can propel ourselves, our work or our businesses to greater heights.

Deepak Chopra mentioned in a recent Youtube video that recent social media phenomena such as Twitter and Youtube are simply channels to exchange universal inter-connected energy and information.

It can’t be denied that we are spending increasing amounts of time and energy than ever before engaged in conversations, information or knowledge exchange and a more networked reality.

Which can get us in our heads.

And disengaged from our bodies.

It is vital that we continually bring our whole selves, and not just our knowledge worker brains, to the table each day.  As someone who spent years as an employed knowledge worker, there were times when I neglected or, worse, forgot that my body required as much TLC as my brain craved stimulation.

In Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED talk Do schools kill creativity?, he said ‘University professors…look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads. It’s a way of getting their head to meetings.’  Taken to the extreme, we as knowledge workers could all end up like the humans in the movie Wall-E, cheerless immobile and atrophied bodies that rely on technology to ambulate.  Such is the potential curse of the knowledge worker.

I exaggerate, I know.  But how can we make more conscious decisions to start living from the neck down too?

This is not an easy thing to remember when you’re caught up in the daily pressures of managing a business, or you’re a recently unemployed person who’s busy worrying where the next paycheck is coming from.  Who has time for food, exercise or realizing that you haven’t left your seat for the last hour?  There’s one more email that must go out, one more job ad to reply to.

Beware the perils of an over-used brain.  Burnout is not a pretty sight and won’t do you, your family, your employees or your customers any favors.

When you lose touch with your body, you start suffering from a chronic pain, your gastric juices give up on you, headaches are a constant in your life…the list goes on.  Before you know it, your immune system is compromised and disease could set in.

What’s more, a lack of self-care could ultimately limit the creativity and flexibility you need to grow or tend to your career.  Conscientiously harnessing the mind-body connection can generate personal breakthroughs at work and play.

So…what we can do about all this?  There is no one-size-fits-all solution that will lift everyone out of their brain-led doldrums, but creative wellness practitioners espouse several ways to reconnect to one’s body.  Some are listed here – try them out for size.

1) Breath.  Meditation and yoga are the most popular breath practices today.  Classes and books are easily available, or you can simply reprise your first act when you left your mother’s womb.  Stop what you’re doing, and breathe. (Crying your lungs out, like when you took your first breath, is optional.)  Feel your ribcage rise and fall.  Make each succeeding breath slower and deeper.  It can take as little as ten breaths to positively alter your mood.

2) Movement.  Get up, take a walk around the office floor or the block.  If going to the gym or pounding the pavement is not your thing, perhaps a dance class could be more enjoyable and sustainable.  And you don’t even have to be rhythmically-inclined – in Nia practice, for instance, each person moves at their own level of intensity and awareness through a dynamic blend of dance arts, martial arts and healing arts.

3) Sound.  This interesting journal article explores vocal improvisation as a means to better understand and connect to oneself.  In an especially relevant quote, it states ‘At the individual level, singing is making music with the body as instrument. As such, it is a form of “body work” that has the potential to do what all therapeutic body work does. It can release tension, loosen blockages of cellular energy, and access emotion, and memories that may be locked in various locations in the body.’

Remember, acknowledge and nurture your body.  Your loved ones, co-workers or business will thank you for it.

Being a startup in 2010

5 01 2010

We’ve welcomed 2010 at home and now at work.  As thoughts of New Year champagne and merrymaking fade into recent memory, projects and deadlines loom large.  Targets, goals, benchmarking…hello job!

According to this WSJ article, Americans are less satisfied with their work than ever.  No kidding.  Between doing more with less for at least a decade, and this style-cramping no-end-in-sight economy, I dare you to find 10 friends who go to work for ‘the man’ with a song in their heart.

All of which gave me additional pause when I read that startups will keep struggling in 2010.  For many of us working in professional chain gangs, we dream of changing our work path, breaking free & finally being our own boss.  The article delivered a somber forecast, but here are some silver-lining thoughts if you want to or have already launched your own gig.  See if these might change your perspective:

  1. Angel investors and venture capitalists are doing more, but smaller deals.  VCs are targeting later-stage companies to minimize their risk.  And the SBA may see a modest stimulus-induced uptick.    So…funding is still out there.  What REALLY counts, more than ever in this climate, is a rock-solid business strategy that can be creatively and successfully implemented on a budget.  In other words, prove you know how to accomplish more with less dinero on as many fronts as possible.  If nothing, you will stand out for your ingenuity and resourcefulness.
  2. Companies are asking friends & family to work for free i.e. exchanging services or trading favors.  If you’re already neck deep in entrepreneur literature, this will not be news to you.  Consider 2010 the year to call in those favors – this is no time to be shy if you truly believe in your idea.  And if you’ve established high credibility with former bosses or colleagues, ask them if they’ll put their money or time where their faith is.
  3. Given the funding situation, a budding restauranteur featured in the article is rethinking his setup.  Instead of going it alone or starting from scratch, he may take on partners or invest in a failed restaurant.  So get creative.  Study that business plan again.  Is there something you can tweak without compromising your vision?  Is there a market entry point you haven’t considered?  Start talking to people abut your startup.  You’ll be surprised by what they reveal or point you to.  In this networked world where information courses at a million miles a minute and ideas just like yours could be a dime a dozen, sharing your idea won’t necessarily diminish your competitive edge.  However, a lack of  follow through and flawless execution will.

The business climate may not be ideal for your startup right now.  But that didn’t stop companies from trying and succeeding in previous downturns.  Give that budding vision a chance to breathe, evolve and eventually become the full-blooded entity you know it can be.

A New Year’s toast to your dream.  Cheers!

What are your Christmas gifts?

27 12 2009

A good friend asked me this week if I celebrate Christmas.  My knee-jerk response was ‘I don’t know.’  As a non-Christian, I enjoy the festive season as much as the next person.  Carolling, feasting, attending Christmas mass (I attended Catholic school and learned many hymns!), exchanging presents…been there, still doing that.  I mean, what’s not to like about yummy food, receiving gifts and admiring twinkling lights?

Upon reflection, though, I DO celebrate Christmas.  Every day of the year.

Not the eggnog, yuletide carols or snowball fights.  Not watching Christmas specials or ripping open yet another present from a Secret Santa colleague at the annual office party.

What I strive to celebrate is the gift of extending good cheer to a fellow human being.  What I love, more than anything about Christmas, is how people remember to care for the less able and fortunate in our midst.

The Salvation Army donation pails.  The massively overflowing bins of presents for needy children.  The sudden surge of volunteers at soup kitchens.  These efforts are noble, touching and richly rewarding.

So, as we march through the remaining days of Christmas, what gifts will you share with friends and strangers in the coming year?  How might you change the way you give of yourself in 2010?  And in what intangible, ongoing ways will you make a difference to a fellow human being?

Have a merry, joy-filled Christmas season.

The paradoxes of change

20 12 2009

I was amazed at how relevant this 1997 article  is today.  It argues that what you fear, or what you/your family/your organisation instinctually avoid, becomes a useful marker of the direction of the most powerful change that you could encounter. 

In modern parlance, the comfort zone is enemy territory.

This, however, clashes with our instinct for order and our desire to make sense of the world.  We cannot measure what we cannot define.  We need boundaries, frameworks, taxonomies and systems to exert control over the entropic world we inhabit. 

Predictability = safety, security, power.  And yet, the pace of change outstrips our ability to comprehend or compute it.  Surely it’s high time we accept the fact that quickfire change is here to stay and, the better we’re able to adapt to and thrive amidst it, the more we can function, contribute and excel.

As 2010 beckons and we look ahead to its untold possibilities, what are your current attitudes toward change?

1) Do you naturally seek order or invite uncertainty?

2) Do you move toward or away from what you instinctually fear?

3) Do your New Years’ resolutions change or remain constant over the years?  Why?

4) How do friends/family influence the changes you do or don’t make in life?

5) If you desire change, do you know what direction to take?

Let’s begin the beguine of change.