Many people fill their lives so full that it can be difficult to step back and find calmness. In this last episode of a five-part series, APU’s Dr. Marie Gould Harper talks to yoga teacher Christine Shaw about simple present moment practices that can bring calmness and awareness. Try a visualization technique to help calm the mind and relax the body. Also learn why self-care practices like these are so important to ensure that you’re not “pouring out” more than you’re “pouring in.”
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Read the Transcript:
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Welcome to our podcast today. I’m your host Marie Gould Harper. Today, we are going to talk about living life to the fullest. We have a returning guest, Ms. Christine Shaw. This is our final episode in the series of yoga and wellness.
[Listen to Episode 1: What You Focus on, You Find: How a Positive Mindset Guides You to Success]
[Listen to Episode 2: From Resistance to Acceptance: Reducing Stress]
[Listen to Episode 3: Techniques to Improve Your Physical and Emotional Health]
[Listen to Episode 4: Manage Stress by Finding a State of Calm]
Christine is an enthusiastic innovator and entrepreneur, always looking to guide people to trust their intuition and heal from stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, and life situations so they can thrive in life. She has over 40 years of experience in the wellness and fitness industry and thousands of hours teaching yoga. She is the owner of Liberty Yoga Studio in Newark, Delaware since 2012. Christine created YES, Yoga for Emotional Support, after experiencing painful and challenging emotional situations when her daughter struggled with substance use disorder from the age of 12 to 19, and when she married a man who lived with the effects of unresolved childhood trauma.
She turned to yoga to help navigate and relieve her own pain and stress and it has helped her to move forward and thrive in the face of difficult life situations. Christine, welcome back to our podcast and thank you for joining me.
Christine Shaw: Hi, Marie. I’m so happy to be back here with another session with you.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Great. I’m very excited about the topic today. I think we should just jump into it. It’s one of my favorite sayings, so I’m very interested in hearing what you have to say. How did you get the idea for this particular topic?
Christine Shaw: The topic today is “Whatever happens, I don’t mind. The ultimate practice for a happy life.” I got this because one of my favorite teachers, spiritual teachers, Eckhart Tolle, he tells a story of this other spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti, and he traveled the world continuously for more than 50 years, just conveying his message to people of being kind and passionate.
At one of his talks in a later part of his life, he surprised the audience by saying, “Do you want to know my secret?” The secret to his longevity, to his calm nature and everyone was excited to hear that. The audiences had been coming to for years and years, and they still kind of failed to grasp the essence of his teaching. Finally, after all these years, he’s going to give them the secret, the key.
He said, “Here’s my secret. I don’t mind what happens.” Eckhart Tolle says, “For me, whatever happens can be a source of inspiration,” and so we use that whatever’s happening around us as a tool. We might wonder how can we possibly get to this state where “Whatever happens, I don’t mind.”
Another favorite teacher is Pema Chodron and she’s this Buddhist nun, and she does a lot of talks on this thing called “Don’t bite the hook.” This means that as humans, we tend to grasp onto things. We have our likes and our dislikes and in yoga, we call them “attachments” and “aversions.” What do we really feel like we need to have in our lives? What do we definitely don’t want? Those kinds of attachments and aversions can be fuel for not being in this state of whatever happens, I don’t mind.
So, on the last podcast we had, we had practiced this PMR, progressive muscle relaxation, where we ultimately tensed and relaxed our muscles. That practice helps us to have an awareness of where we were and what we were holding onto or what we were resisting, same kind of idea. That was a good practice.
In life, we can choose our responses, like how are we going to respond to the things that show up? We can either be open to that difficult situation that’s presented to us, and it can help us to be more compassionate and wise, and we can use it for this opportunity to grow, to become more wise, more loving, more compassionate, or we could become more afraid, more reactive in our lives.
This thing about the hook, so many people think that the hook is like an external thing, but really it’s inside of us, things that are simply the way they are, that’s going on our environment, but then we have this certain relationship to them based on our own past programming that creates that hook, the attachment.
The hook is where your attention goes, where we want to grasp onto. Then we can just ask ourselves, why? Why do I bite this hook? Why am I attached to these things? What is it that I like about it, or I don’t like about it? Basically, just coming back to this present moment and having this internal looking—looking inside to see what’s happening right now within me. Then to say, now, how am I going to respond to this? Can I respond to it in a peaceful and relaxed kind of way?
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Yes, and I was trying to think of certain examples that I have done in my life. The part that I like when you said that some people think of it externally, but a lot of time it’s what’s within ourselves and I’ve found to search inward, I have to have silence externally, if that makes sense. To be able to lay in the grass and actually hear the grass, things are that quiet and you’re sensitive to what’s around you. I think that helps you to search what’s inside of you.
Why are certain things at certain levels? Pretty much like you were talking about what I call the dual effect, the positive and the negative, and to just try to make yourself aware of why those things are going either on a subconscious level or on a conscious level.
Christine Shaw: Yeah. I love that. I love the visual of lying in the grass and listening, like listening to the grass. That’s a neat thing to say because everything is energy. I find that’s true for me as well, where I really can’t tune into my own energy or even the energies around me when I’m always in this state of movement. I have to kind of get still and just go inward and notice my breath and the subtle energies.
Our external world is called our proprioception—we’re aware of in our spatial environment. But our internal world is called our introception, which is an internal reception and that’s a little quieter, it’s subtle. But really paying attention to our heartbeat, the breath coming in and out, maybe even feeling the blood flowing through your body. That’s that inner knowing.
I agree with you, when you get real still, that’s when that will show up more powerfully, and then we can in tune to our energy. I do a thing at the studio that I own, that’s called a sound bath. Have you ever done a sound bath before, Marie?
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: No, that I have not.
Christine Shaw: It could be called a singing bowl concert. I have these singing bowls that are crystal and they’re tuned to the different chakras. When you go to a sound bath experience, you simply lie down in Shavasana, which is your resting pose, and allow the sound to envelop you.
Pretty soon the sounds of the bowls and the vibrational energy attunes with your own vibrations inside. It brings this sense of deep relaxation and peace. It might even bring a sense of something that’s unfamiliar. Like, “Wow, I’ve never really experienced this before,” but it’s always, I shouldn’t say always, because everyone has different experiences. Some people that have tinnitus have told me that that is too much, hearing that sound. Then other people with tinnitus say they love it. But that sound vibration, everything’s vibrating, so we can get in tune with sounds around us as well, the vibrational energies around us.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Yes, and as you were speaking about that, I thought of something. I mean, it ties into a segment of our audience and those human resource professionals that are concerned about employees in the workplace, what could assist them with minimizing conflict? Also, being able to focus on being the best that they could be versus worrying about things that may be going on in the outside, such as in the home and what is going on in the job, whether that’s being worried about a promotion? What are some of your suggestions, based on what we’ve been talking about today, that could assist people who cannot rest their mind to have a sense of peace?
Christine Shaw: Yeah, it’s a lot. I like the sentence you said about minimizing conflict. Minimizing conflict at the work place, at home, wherever we’re going about our day, but really the minimizing of conflict goes on within our mind, within our own self where we’re like, why am I having conflict with this?
To answer your question, I think it’s more of finding an awareness. Just being aware is a really important first step. We can just be going off and letting our emotions drive us. There’s a good quote that I like to say, which is, “Emotions make good navigators, but not good drivers.” You don’t want them to put them in this driver’s seat, but they can, they’re there, they’re important, to help us to navigate what’s going on and how to then choose the right response for ourselves.
A lot of times people choose a response or something based on what they think somebody else wants or needs or that kind of thing. I teach a lot about self-care. That’s all what YES is about. A lot of people think that when they’re taking care of their selves, that looks like taking care of somebody else like first. I always say, “No, take care of you first. What is it that you need in this moment?” Once you do that, then the conflict can be resolved, I would say, a little easier, whether it’s at work or home or wherever.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: We may have said this in one of the earlier episodes, but just a refresher or a recap on the importance of taking care of self before you try to reach out and take care of someone else. It’s almost like trying to, or attempting to, I was getting ready to use a geographic location, but it’s like if you were in Washington DC and you’re trying to get to New York, New York and you are on E in DC. You’re not going to make it to New York because you’re empty. I think that sometimes we have people who are empty, but they look at all the tasks that they have to complete during the day, and everything seems to be a priority, but they’re operating off of fumes.
Christine Shaw: When you were talking about being on empty, it reminded me of the idea of maybe making a list of what are the things, what are the activities, what are the emotions, what are the people, what are the situations that are draining of your energy and what are filling up your bucket or inspiring? It would be really a good exercise to just write those things down. Whenever I’m around this person, I really feel drained because they talk a lot or they complain or whatever it is. Whenever I’m around this person or in this situation, that is uplifting to me.
We can be on not on empty all the time, and if we have so many tasks, we can just get clear, get clarity on what is the most important thing for me to do right now? Whether it’s a task or giving myself a little rest or pausing to eat food. Like go outside, sit in the grass, eat some food rather than sitting at the desk and trying to nibble on something while you’re working. That just can be stress-inducing, just that right there. Like “I got to rush, I got to eat fast, and I got to do all this work. I don’t have time to stop and take care of me. What are you talking about?”
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: As you’ve worked with individuals, have you found people such as myself and getting individuals like me to calm our mind and to really live in the present?
Christine Shaw: Here’s a thing that really helps and that’s just sitting still. You could try it now. We might have even done this practice in earlier session, but it really works for me, is to just sit still and focus all of your awareness on one body part. Pick a body part right now. You could have your eyes open or closed. It could be your hands. It could be the crown of your head, your forehead center, any place on your body, and see if you can hold your attention, your full 100% attention on that spot in your body.
Now, we may be able to do it for three seconds before the mind starts to go off again. That’s the start of the practice to just give your awareness, your full attention to one thing. You can say to yourself, “This is my time to do this quieting my mind, this meditation,” because we can start thinking in our head like, “Oh wait, my to-do list or this or that.” That’s going to come in there. Then you say, “Ah, this is my time for meditation. It’s only going to be,” and you could set a timer, “Five minutes, that’s it. This is what I’m doing now.”
Just a little bit of time to just sit quietly, meditate, quiet your mind. When your mind goes off to a thought and it will, and then you notice that and you bring it back to stillness or to your breath, that right there, that’s meditation.
That little gap between going off and saying, “Oh, I just let my mind wander and coming back, bringing it back.” That’s a practice we could do anytime. Like you could sit in your car from task to task. You’re like, “Okay, I’m going to this next meeting,” or whatever you’re doing and say, “I’m going to take one minute right now, before I start the car and do that practice.” One minute, doesn’t take that long.
Then when you get to the place, pause, turn the car off. One minute, sit, quiet your mind. The more that we can practice it on a regular basis, so a lot of people think you need to sit down in your little meditation room with your cushion and be there for 30 minutes or something. No, you don’t have to do that, but if you say, “I’m going to have a regular practice every day, every time I go to do the next task, I’m going to pause for a minute and do this little practice.” It’s really helpful.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: I think you’ve summed it up and that’s what’s really good. I believe you are right when you say individuals, when they think of these type of techniques that they have to be completed in a certain place, a certain way, but you are giving practical examples of what we can do pretty much anywhere we are, and given any situation what works best for us to get through any type of challenge. That’s right. Those are present awareness, present moment practices, just being present. How can I be present?
Christine Shaw: Marie, I was thinking about something I wanted to share that happened yesterday. We had our recorded session and when we were finished, you and me and Bob, the audio engineer, we’re chatting a little bit, and we were talking about what our topic for today was, “Whatever happens, I don’t mind.” Bob shared the best analogy. I asked him, I’m like, “Can I share that on our theme topic today?”
He mentioned this thing called the audio compressor and he said they use it for recording and how it helps to reduce the dynamic range of sound, which is the span between the loudest sounds and the softest sounds. He described it as, “No matter how loud or soft a sound comes in, what comes out is consistent.” I was like, “Oh, that’s perfect. That’s just what we’re talking about.”
In our lives, it’s a great analogy for managing and cultivating our own inner equilibrium. We could have our own inner audio compressor. Where in yoga, we can use the words like homeostasis or equanimity, all the systems of our body and our mind working together with this interstate of harmony.
Just like the audio analogy, anything that comes in our experience, whether it be really loud, like a person who’s yelling because they’re angry, or soft like the beauty of nature or a shy person maybe trying to reach us and seek connection. We can stay consistent in our responses, neither going way over here or way down here, and just keep content in the face of anything that arises. Bob, thank you. I’m going to use that analogy.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Yes. I know, it was special. It was like, you could use it any place in any type of conversation and everybody will understand what you’re talking about.
Christine Shaw: That’s right. Whatever comes into our experience, we have an opportunity to process it. We’re like the little computer processor and the reason that it’s difficult for so many people is that we process it based on our past experiences and they might not have been so great. We learned some certain things when we were growing up that don’t serve us in this day now that we’re an adult. They served us when we were a child, but now that we’re adult, these little ways that we coped with things don’t. So, it is understandable that based on our experiences, our responses are going to be different. One person might have one response and another person over here would have a totally different one.
I also like this quote that Wayne Dyer said, or he was speaking in front of a crowd of people, and he asked them this question. He said, “What comes out when you squeeze an orange? Does apple juice come out? Does grapefruit juice come out? No, orange juice comes out. Whatever’s inside the orange is what’s coming out.”
Then he equated that with people. When people get squeezed, squeezed by the stuff of life or the difficulties that are in their lives, what comes out? Whatever’s in there. If what’s in there is frustration and anger and rage, that’s what’s going to come out when they get squeezed when life is like tightening up on them, when difficult stuff comes. We can work on saying, “What I’d really like to come out, is this calm, peaceful way of responding, no matter what happens.”
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: I like that analogy too. I was thinking of a group of people, taking it back to the workplace. I know individuals who, they’re employee relations, part of their job is the conflict resolutions. What you just stated is a very helpful way of thinking of things when interacting with people that you’re not sure what’s going on inside. And by not knowing what’s going on inside of a person, you’re kind of handicapped to how to neutralize the situation. Because just like you could say something, it may mean one thing to you based off of your experiences, but it may be a trigger word for someone else.
Christine Shaw: That’s right. Language is super important. I remember my daughter, she was struggling with substance use disorder and this can relate to the workplace too, and I always would try to give her so much advice and it never seemed to work. She would always get angry or one time I remember saying, “Oh, a lot of people experience that, that anxiety,” and all that meant to her was that, oh, hers didn’t matter. I was like blowing it off because other people experience it. That definitely wasn’t my meaning.
I decided that I was going to, when she was telling me all these conflicts and things, that things that were going on with her and sort of almost wanting me to solve it, I would empathize with her. That’s what people really want. They want empathy, but also just understanding.
“I understand, that sounds so challenging what you’re going through” and this again, like I said, could be at the workplace, like really listening to someone, really people just want to be heard. Empathizing saying, “I understand. That sounds like it was really challenging or very frustrating for you.” Then saying, “What do you think you’re going to do about that?”
I’ll tell you, that sentence worked like a charm. She didn’t expect me to do that. She expected me to try to solve it and give her all these things to do. “What do you think you’re going to do about it?” Then you continue with a dialogue. She might be like pondering, “I’m not sure what to do or here’s what I thought I would do, what do you think?” Then you can get into more of a back-and-forth dialogue. To really first say, “What has worked for you in the past to solve this problem? What has worked?” and then you can brainstorm and work together.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: By you providing that example, I was thinking, “Yes, the true definition of coaching, when you allow the person to be responsible for their solutions, you just navigate the process.”
Christine Shaw: Yes. That’s so great. Solutions are what we are looking for. A lot of people want to focus on the problem and there’s no solving anything when we’re focusing solely on the problem. Like yes, we have to know what the problem is, but now, okay, based on this, what are some steps we can take? What is the solution going to be? I have a practice for today if we have some time, we could do it.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Okay. Yeah. I think we have time for one practice.
Christine Shaw: It’s really about creating this environment, so that’s kind of what we’re talking about, the inner environment. What does the inner environment look like? You mentioned it and we’ve been talking about it throughout this whole series of some inner stillness, inner quiet. How can we cultivate that?
A lot of people it’s difficult for them to sit quietly because they just really say, “I just cannot turn off this mind,” but if they have some sound like the sound bath or if they have some guided visualization, that’s helpful. Then they can be like, “All right, I have something to focus on.” The thing they’re going to focus on is creating that inner stillness.
I’m going to take us through a little visualization to help to create inner stillness. Now, this is a nature visualization, and you could do any sort on your own or find lots of recordings that are out there. I really like Insight Timer. It’s a great place to go, an app that has lots of good guided meditations and trainings and all sorts of stuff on there.
I’m going to take you through this little nature visualization. Find a place right now to really sit comfortably or you can lie down and let’s just start with a focus on the breath. Be really still in your body and begin to notice using your introception this breath coming in and going out. Just coming in and going out. Take a long, slow, deep breath in and a long, slow, full, relaxing, exhale breath out.
Now, we’re going to imagine that you’re outside on a warm summer or even a fall day, and you’re going to go for a walk to a nearby beach that’s by a lake or an ocean. You’re going to begin on a trail that takes you through the woods. You’re at the edge of the trail and the trail actually has a little sand on it and leaves and you look up and see the canopy of trees above you. Then further above that is the nice blue sky with some puffy white clouds. You just take that whole visual in and then a nice, cool breeze comes and you can hear it through the trees.
As you walk, you look down and see a few leaves scattered on the ground on top of the sand. It’s a nice cushiony walk through the woods. You can hear birds, you can hear sounds far off in the distance like the ocean or the lake sound. As you walk through the woods, you start to see that it’s traveling, you’re traveling uphill. As you go uphill, it’s opening up a little and there are still trees just scattered around, but as it opens up, you’re going up and up to more sand and the sand is warm and welcoming. You can see that it looks soft and you bend down to feel the sand. Sure enough, it is very soft going through your hands.
Then you keep walking along, just really taking long breaths and enjoying every breath, every moment, all the sights that you see around you. And now you’re up higher, so you’re seeing out all around to these sand dunes and it starts to become sand as far as you can see as you walk along on the sand dunes, they dip down and back up and you marvel at these shapes that the sand is creating. As you walk some more, you can see out over the edge of the sand dunes and way down, there’s this beautiful lake or ocean, you can choose.
You decide that you’re going to go down the sand dunes, but right now you’re way up high and you can see as far as the eye can see out to the water, some little boats are sailing on the water and birds flying in the sky and you decide you’re going to run down the sand dune to the water. You’re running and running and running. The sensation of the wind blowing in your hair is creating such calm and peace and joy within.
You get to the bottom and here’s the water, spread out as far as you can see, and scattered along the beach are little rocks. These rocks are so colorful and beautiful that you bend down to take a closer look. They’re all different shades and colors and shapes and you pick a few up to examine and put in your pocket.
Now, you continue to walk. Now, you decide I’m going to take my shoes off so that I can feel the water going through my toes and the sand beneath my toes. You take your shoes off and start to walk along the water’s edge, feeling the water between your toes and lapping up to your ankles and calves.
This wonderful sensation comes over you. This sensation of being present and aware and joyful and peaceful and content, that nothing in this moment is better than this moment. This is the moment that you’re enjoying.
You walk a little bit more down the beach. As you see more birds, you see some people down walking their dogs and you continue to make your way. Now, you decide you’re going to make your way back around this loop, back to home. You begin to walk down this sandy path that leads you back to where you started.
Now, just feel your body and how that visual in nature, nature is so healing and calming and relaxing, that you can do this sort of thing in real life. You can go back to a time where you were experiencing something like that.
I actually just described to you a trip that I took to Michigan to visit my relatives there. We went on a walk just like that through the woods, up to the dunes, down to the water. I actually had my dog with me and he was splashing in the water and I can conjure that image right back up because I was so present with it. How was it for you?
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: It allowed me, believe it or not, to get rid of a headache.
Christine Shaw: Oh good.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Yeah, but I think since we started our sessions, I’m getting used to some of the techniques, so it’s helping me to get rid of some of the things I would normally go to a chiropractor, if that makes sense.
Christine Shaw: Yeah, we can get stuck. That’s why a lot of times we need the chiropractor to like crack stuff out of it. But sometimes we can get stuck and it could just be stuck in your looping thinking or it could be stuck in a part of your body that’s actually associated with an emotion. Some stuckness can get relieved by a lot of these tools, right? The breathing, the going in, the moving your body and yoga postures, the relaxation, the tensing, and relaxing your muscles. A lot of the practices that we’ve done during this series.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Exactly, and that’s why it’s nice to have all of them to be able to go back over them as the need arises, and I want to thank you for introducing the different techniques. They’re very simple, very logical and very practical.
Christine Shaw: Yeah. Well, you’re welcome.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Another reason why I appreciate you spending the time. There are so many people crying out, they look normal on the outside, but then you hear about some of the things that they’re experiencing. One of the things that I’ve always said, especially when we hear something tragic, is that wish I knew. I wish I knew. But sometimes it’s so simple to strike up a small conversation and you never know what a person is going through, or we could help them at any given moment. For that, I want to thank you for techniques not only for ourselves, but to be able to reach and give to other people, especially if we identified there may be a need.
Christine Shaw: That’s right, and just being open. I think that that’s a good thing to always remember. Am I open to learning new things? Am I open to other people and other people’s opinions? Staying open is a real key to that inner calm and equanimity and harmony. We keep using the word harmony. Can I be open to people and experiences and things? Then on my own needs, not let that sit on the back burner.
I have a friend recently, she had so much loss. She lost her husband and her brother in a very short span of time and other losses. Yet, the way that she tends to kind of manage them is going out and doing more and more for other people.
Just like I was saying earlier about draining, we don’t want to drain ourselves. We need to be like, I think about a fountain, Marie, where a fountain is always going out, out, out. When we pour out all the time, we don’t leave ourselves with anything.
We need to make sure we’re doing a good balance of pouring out and pouring in. Maybe again, with the list, write a list of things that you do to pour in and hopefully, you’re pouring out and you pouring in lists are equal or there’s more pouring in. When we get to the thing where there’s too much pouring out, we need to kind of reset, regroup and give ourselves that time that we need.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: I actually didn’t go to a list this time. I went to a glass of water I physically was doing pouring in, pouring out in my mind. Well, Christine, I want to thank you so much for joining me today and sharing your expertise. Do you have any parting words for us?
Christine Shaw: Sure. I do. I really feel that whenever I share about YES class, Yoga for Emotional Support, or workshops and things that I can do with people, 100% of the people say, “That’s needed.” That support, those techniques, helping people to release stress and especially in these times, but all the time, really, they always say, “That’s something that is very needed.”
It’s a unique program that I’ve put together because it incorporates lots of different techniques, but mainly sharing the solutions. We don’t focus so much on the problems. We know they’re there, but now here’s some solutions, here’s some ways that you can move forward and thrive in life, so that’s the goal.
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Great, and thank you to our listeners for joining us. We hope you have had the opportunity to take in some of the things that Christine has shared with us in all of the episodes. And that they can provide strength, not only to you, but to those around you, who may be experiencing depression, trauma, stress, and how you could diffuse the situation.
Christine Shaw: Thank you so much, Marie. It has been my pleasure to work with you, and it was so great. It was serendipitous that we met and said, “Hey, let’s do this podcast, because I think a lot of people could really use these practices.”
Dr. Marie Gould Harper: We have been speaking with Christine Shaw. This is Marie Gould Harper thanking you for listening to our podcast today.