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Category: Self-Care Practices

Top Ten Relaxation Tools

Top Ten Relaxation Tools

Is it me, or have you also noticed that people seem a little more stressed than usual lately? Whether it’s in response to world and national news, personal issues, transition, loss, etc., I’ve been picking up on a lot of tension in the air in recent months. It feels like a good time to share my favorite relaxation resources.

I’m no stranger to anxiety. Throughout my life, I’ve come to realize the importance of managing my stress level. It’s really not so much about what’s going on around you as it is your response to it. That being said, there are situations I’ve learned I need to avoid. For instance, fast-paced, busy, high-stress jobs are not for me. I’m not able to be my best self in that kind of environment or when I’m working too much.

Some stressors are within our power to control. We can walk away from them or change the way we look at them. However, others are stickier, and that’s what we need our self-care toolbox for. Here are some relaxation tools I swear by.

Meditation Apps

My two favorite meditation apps are Insight Timer and Calm. To describe each app would be a blog post of its own, so I won’t attempt to do that. (You can click on the links to learn more.) Instead, I’ll touch upon what I’ve found most helpful.

I mostly use Insight Timer, which is a free app. It offers more than 12,000 guided meditations in many different categories and also has a timer for unguided practice. If you want to relieve anxiety, reduce stress, sleep better, manage emotions, etc. you can find plenty of guided meditations for these concerns and more! I primarily use the timer – which can be customized with different bell and ambient sounds. However, if you don’t have an established meditation practice, I recommend trying some guided meditations for relaxation.

Calm is a paid app ($60/year), but some institutions (such as Cornell University) offer free memberships to their employees/students. If you are entitled to a free membership, lucky you! It’s definitely worth checking out! But there’s also a scaled-down, free version that has some worthwhile features.

For example, I love the Breathe Bubble that guides you to breathe slowly and deeply for relaxation. Ever since I was a child, I’ve experienced anxiety in doctors’ offices, and the Breathe Bubble helps me to calm down in that situation and whenever I’m feeling upset or frazzled. I also enjoy the Sleep Stories from time to time, especially one about lavender fields in Provence that I listen to while diffusing lavender at bedtime. The sleep stories are relaxing and are like having a bedtime story read to you. Sometimes I’m in the mood for that, and I rarely make it to the end of the story before falling asleep. Actually, I don’t know if I’ve ever made it to the end!

Yoga Nidra

Yoga nidra, or “yogic sleep”, is a form of guided meditation that promotes conscious, deep relaxation and restores your mind, body, and spirit. You do it while lying comfortably on your back. You never need to worry about doing it “wrong” because there’s no way to do it wrong, even if you fall asleep. It can be done from 10 minutes to an hour or longer, depending on the version you choose.

Yoga nidra helps me to fall back asleep if I wake up in the middle of the night or too early in the morning with a busy mind. It really knocks me out! Even if I make it to the end of the meditation before falling asleep, I’m in such a relaxed state by then that sleep will come soon. When I practice yoga nidra, it feels like I sleep much more deeply. 

There are several stages of yoga nidra meditation, including:

  • Moving awareness from the physical body inward
  • Sankalpa: A carefully chosen, positive intention or affirmation stated in the present tense
  • Rotating consciousness through the entire body (body scan)
  • Awareness of the breath, to promote relaxation and concentration
  • Experiencing opposites (i.e. cold/hot, heavy/light)
  • Visualization 
  • Revisiting your sankalpa/intention during deep relaxation
  • Bringing your mind back gradually from psychic sleep to waking state (unless you wish to fall asleep)

A few years ago, I downloaded Julie Rader’s 45-minute version of yoga nidra from iTunes and got a lot of mileage from it. It’s a good one! However, once when I was traveling and didn’t have it easily accessible, I searched for “yoga nidra” on Insight Timer and discovered a 29-minute version (“Yoga Nidra for Sleep & Rest” from The Stillpoint) that is my current go-to yoga nidra meditation. It works like a charm!

Yoga nidra doesn’t have to be done at bedtime. It can be done any time of day to promote deep relaxation. Here is a brief article to learn more.

Weighted Blanket

I love love love my weighted blanket! What’s a weighted blanket, you ask? It’s a blanket that’s filled with pockets of non-toxic poly or glass pellets to weigh it down and feels like a big, full-body hug. You know how infants are soothed by being swaddled? It’s like that. In many people, deep pressure touch causes the brain to release neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which have a calming effect. Weighted blankets can be useful for those who experience anxiety, stress, and insomnia, as well as sensory integration disorder, Asperger’s, ADHD, and Rett Syndrome.

Anyone who has tried my blanket has been instantly soothed. My daughter used it just the other day and said it felt like the blanket was hugging her! The sensation is like covering yourself with a blanket of calm. I also use it to enhance relaxation when working with Reiki clients.

I ordered my weighted blanket from Magic Weighted Blanket. Weighted blankets aren’t inexpensive but are therapeutically invaluable, in my opinion. Websites that sell weighted blankets can help you to figure out how much weight is best for you. 

Eye Pillow

Similar to the idea of a weighted blanket is a yoga eye pillow. This is a pillow that’s just large enough to fit over your eyes and usually is filled with flax seeds and perhaps a calming herb like lavender. The eye pillow puts light pressure on your eyeballs and lowers heart rate via the oculocardiac reflex and also stimulates the vegas nerve. These responses can result in deep relaxation and a sense of grounding. 

The combination of yoga nidra (or relaxing music), lavender essential oil, my weighted blanket, and my eye pillow is the ultimate relaxation! 

Eye pillows are also lovely during Reiki treatments. It’s really nice to have one with a cover or zipper that allows you to remove the filling for laundering.

Calming Fragrances

I enjoy using essential oils for relaxation. My favorite ways to use them include: diffusing, putting a few drops in a bath along with 2 cups of Epsom salt, putting a drop on my yoga mat, and even just sniffing the opened bottle.

Lavender is my go-to essential oil for sleep and relaxation. I love sandalwood, too, either by itself or blended with orange essential oil. They are my favorites! But what works for one person might not work for another, and there are sooooo many possibilities!

Tara Healing Incense, a traditional Tibetan medicine for relieving stress, tension, and depression, is my favorite incense. I’ve used it for many years. Handmade by Tibetan refugees living in Dharamsala, India, it’s an earthy, smokey, NOT perfumy fragrance composed of 30 pure and natural herbs. It’s available in most stores that sell incense and meditation supplies. 

White Noise App

I’m someone who needs white noise in the background to fall asleep, especially with all the traffic that goes by our house and over the bridge. In the summer, a fan will do nicely, and I also have a white noise machine. However, the White Noise app (from TM Soft) has oh, so many wonderful choices. The sounds are so soothing and create a peaceful atmosphere during the day, not just at night.

My favorite sleep sounds are brown noise (much gentler than white noise) and stream water flowing. Other relaxing choices include: theta waves, zen spa music, waterfalls, ocean, peaceful lake, camping in the rain, campfire, and probably hundreds more. I also like to use this app to facilitate a peaceful environment and to drown out sounds from activities going on in another room so I can focus.

Float Therapy

In contrast to a weighted blanket, a float tank provides a sensation of weightlessness and supreme relaxation that you really can’t experience any other way. You’re like a cork floating and don’t have to do anything at all to stay afloat and therefore can completely relax your entire body. Sometimes referred to as a sensory deprivation tank, it’s a chamber that usually measures around 8′ x 4′ and is filled with about 10″ of water that is so heavily concentrated with Epsom salts that you float effortlessly. I’ve written previously about float tanks, so I won’t reinvent the wheel here! You can click the links to read my articles on Flotation Restoration, Part One and Part Two. 

Restorative Yoga

There are many different forms of yoga. Restorative yoga is a particularly meditative form that adopts a very slow pace and deep breathing that triggers the parasympathetic nervous system. Restorative poses are held for a long time to allow your body and mind to relax deeply. You might even hold a pose for 10 minutes, breathing slowly and deeply. It’s very different from the more active, athletic forms of yoga!

I appreciate the restorative yoga video collection on Gaia when I have a subscription. There are also plenty of videos on YouTube to choose from. Restorative yoga sequences often require a number of props (blankets, bolsters, blocks) that allow you to really release into a pose. However, there are also some poses that only require blankets, such as Legs Up the Wall, for which instructions are given in this article. Of course, yoga studios also offer restorative classes.

It might go without saying, but if you do restorative yoga on your own, a peaceful atmosphere free from interruptions and distractions is essential. You need to be able to relax completely. Make sure you gather whatever props you’ll need ahead of time so they’ll be within reach.

This page on Yoga Journal offers a nice introduction to restorative yoga, with some useful links.

Imagination Vacation

I am enamored with filmmaker, Louie Schwartzberg’s work. He is a pioneer in the field of visual healing. He films nature in extraordinary ways, speeding up processes that are too slow to observe (such as time-lapse flowers) and slowing down what’s too fast for us to see (such as the movement of hummingbirds and dragonflies). His films “bring a sense of natural wonder, healing serenity, restoration and well-being” to your environment. I have all three of his DVDs, and there are also lots of downloads featuring diverse landscapes and life forms all around the world. His “moving art” facilitates relaxation and awe and transports you to the beautiful places he’s filmed. He even has some DVDs you can watch on Netflix. Once, I watched Louie’s videos of time-lapse flowers on my phone during an uncomfortable medical procedure, and the doctor agreed that it really worked for me. 

I also enjoy videos of ocean waves. I own a few on DVD, but there are also lots of free videos on YouTube. Ocean waves videos create such a relaxing environment. Sometimes I’ll burn an ocean-scented candle to make it even more of a sensory-immersive experience. I’ve even reclined on the floor in front of the screen with my feet in a basin of water or sand and a fan blowing for an even more complete experience! But even just sitting and doing nothing other than watching a nature video of ocean waves, fish swimming around underwater, etc. without any props can slow your breathing and heart rate. I call it taking an imagination vacation, and whenever I remember to do it, I’m glad that I did and promise myself I’ll do it more often.

When I taught kindergarten, I’d put these kinds of videos on the SMART Board for quiet interludes during the day, to promote calm. There’s nothing like nature to bring you back into harmony and balance!

Crystal Connection

A few summers ago, I was at a Mindfulness in Education conference. Meditation teacher, Jack Kornfield, led us through a guided meditation in which we received a special gift from a spiritual being. In the meditation, H.H. the Dalai Lama give me a heart-shaped rose quartz heart, and right after the session was done, I went to the retreat center shop and bought one. It has been quite literally a relaxation touchstone for me ever since.

When I hold the crystal heart in my hand, it takes on my body heat and becomes quite warm. For some reason, I find that very soothing! It’s so pleasurable to touch the warm crystal to my face. I’ll sometimes even sleep with it in my hand or under my pillow. It gives off calming energy. 

If I notice tension in my body, I often will place that or another crystal on the area that feels imbalanced. For me, that’s usually just below my rib cage. I also use crystals in my Reiki practice, placing them on certain areas of the body as I feel guided.

Use your intuition to select a crystal that feels right for you. If you have more than one, use your intuition to select which one to use at any given time. There are lots of websites that sell crystals, but I recommend going to a brick-and-mortar shop if you can get to one, so you can feel which crystals you’re most drawn to.

Energy Muse has some useful information about selecting and working with crystals, to get you started. Check out their blog for some handy guides, articles, and videos if you’d like to learn more.

Those are ten of my top twelve choices in my relaxation toolbox. I hope you or someone you know will find them useful! My two other favorites are mindfulness meditation and Reiki. I write frequently about mindfulness in one form or another and intend to write more about mindfulness meditation and Reiki in the future. In the meantime, if you would like personal instruction/coaching in mindfulness or a Reiki healing session, please contact me. I do both!


© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

The Morning Thought Game

The Morning Thought Game

I’ve been playing a little game with myself every morning. It’s a thought game, and the object is to select a thought to begin the day as you would select an outfit from your closet. A thought that is empowering, hopeful, positive – perhaps one of appreciation or gratitude. A thought that makes you feel good and starts the day with positive momentum.

If the thought you wake up thinking about isn’t like that – if it is disempowering, anxiety-provoking, or doesn’t make you feel good – you can play the game, too. Notice how the thought feels, and put the disempowering thought away, as you would put clothes back into your closet when they don’t feel quite right. Then select a different one.

Is the sun shining this morning? Do you hear birds singing? Does it feel like spring is in the air? Is your bed nice and comfortable? You could start right there.

You could even have a positive affirmation or inspirational quote near your bed that you see when you wake up in case you need a go-to good thought, like a favorite, comfortable outfit you can rely on to feel good in. I have a few affirmations surrounding my bed. There are two on the door, and on each side of the bed there is a candle with a positive affirmation wrapped around it. The messages placed around my bed are very intentional.

What kind of thought doesn’t work in this game? Any thought that is somehow constricting or binding or restricts your breathing, preventing you from getting a nice, deep, full breath. Any thought that doesn’t feel right, doesn’t make you feel like who you want to be, or makes you feel self-conscious. Any thought that doesn’t support your sense of who you are at your best and who you are becoming. Thoughts that are unflattering and don’t make you feel beautiful and worthy. Thoughts that might work for others but don’t feel right for you perhaps because they are not compatible with your energy or vibration (kind of like how different colors work better for different people).

Choosing your thoughts in the morning really is so much like deciding what you want to wear. You could even set a thought out the night before so you don’t have to think about it in the morning. It’s just there. You can plant a thought in your mind before you fall asleep – something you feel grateful for, perhaps. That’s why writing in my gratitude journal is the last thing I do before getting into bed at night. You could even leave a note to yourself next to your bed to remind you of a positive, empowering thought to think when you wake up.

Consider how you might arrange your bedroom so it’s a pleasurable experience to wake up in it. This includes the artwork on the walls, the color of the walls, having a totally clutter-free bedroom, nice pillows, and a comfortable mattress. The first thing you see when you wake up can set the tone for the day, so consider: If it were a metaphor, what might it represent? If it’s something with a negative association, can you move the object or change the way you see it so it has a more positive meaning?

If you keep your phone near your bed, perhaps because you use it as an alarm, you could put it in airplane mode so you’re not inundated by emails or social media notifications when you first wake up. Give yourself some time to check in with yourself first and generate friendly thoughts so your first thoughts of the day are on your terms!

I love my bed so much that my go-to thought is how grateful I am to have such a comfortable bed. If I find myself thinking a negative or otherwise disempowering thought when I wake up, I can start thinking about how comfortable I am in my bed and how appreciative I am to have it. It’s like taking an outfit out of the closet and realizing it’s not the one you really want, then putting it back and taking out one that feels like yessss!

Playing this game can become a morning habit. When you tune in to the gratitude or feel-good channel, it sets in motion a flow of gratitude and good feelings. And when you can get a wave of positive thoughts and feelings going in the morning, it’s a wonderful way to start the day that can give you some immunity against negativity. See how long you can ride that wave!

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Tea Time Tune-up

Tea Time Tune-up

Do you have a favorite self-care ritual that uplifts your energy and improves the quality of your day? For me, that would be my tea meditation. I’ve written about it before, but it has such a positive effect and has evolved over time, so I’m writing about it again. I don’t do it every day. There are even times when I skip an entire week. But when I do it, everything about it feels great. 

I find that doing tea meditation works best in the morning because it sets a tone for the day and sets a stream of positive momentum in motion. If I wake up feeling down or off, doing tea meditation soon after getting out of bed uplifts my energy and gets it flowing in a more positive direction. It helps me get back in alignment with my true self, which is a mighty awesome feeling.

So, how to do tea meditation? The first step involves tuning in to intuition. Which teacup do you feel most drawn to? What shape or color? What flavor tea do you want to taste? And then the question that sets tea meditation apart from just enjoying a cup of tea: What energy or essence do you want to infuse the tea with? What do you really thirst for today?

Sometimes you might not be able to answer that question right away, and that’s okay. Just start making the tea. Boil the water, pour it into the teacup or mug that feels best, drop in a teabag, and sweeten it a bit if it feels right. The answer might come while you do these steps. But no worries if it doesn’t. There’s still time.

It’s easy to fall into habit and grab your usual teacup and tea blend without thinking about it, but this is an invitation to be more present and aware. Take a deep breath, tune in to yourself, and ask: What do I really want? What feels right? Those are great questions to practice, in general, and tea meditation is a small but worthwhile opportunity to exercise the muscles of intuition and presence. 

I have a special spot on my meditation altar for my tea meditation mug, as well as a teeny-tiny (only two inches in diameter) plate for placing the teabag when it’s done steeping. You don’t need a special altar for it. The intention is what matters, and you can bring that anywhere.

As the teabag steeps in the steaming water, take a few moments to get centered. I do this on my meditation cushion, but again, you can do it anywhere. You might begin by focusing on your breath or doing a brief meditation practice (brief because you don’t want the tea to get cold!). Then tune into your energy, and consider what quality you’d like to activate or expand. That is the kind of tea you will prepare! For example, you might choose: 

  • Gratitude Tea
  • Love Tea
  • Empowerment Tea
  • Prosperity Tea
  • Joy Tea
  • Willpower Tea
  • Peace Tea
  • Alignment Tea

The possibilities are endless. If you want, you could even write the name of the tea on the teabag label to strengthen the intention. Cinnamon Rose tea is lovely, but Cinnamon Rose Love Tea totally rocks! 🙂 

If you have a vision board, consider placing it in front of you. You can focus on some of your vision board images during your tea meditation, if it resonates.

Now, get comfortable, hold your teacup or mug in your hands, and feel the warmth. Then focus on the kind of energy you want to infuse your tea with. You could start with just the word: loveprosperity, etc. Imagine the word going into your tea. Better yet, conjure images and feelings that activate that quality, and put them in your tea. Feel the feelings as best you can. If you’re steeping Prosperity Tea, for example, what would prosperity look and feel like? Does it look like standing on a tropical beach? Does it feel like the excitement of getting on an airplane to go someplace you’ve always wanted to go? Have you experienced that feeling before? Bring up the memory, and feel the feeling again. Let it infuse every cell of your being! 

Spend at least five minutes focusing on the quality of energy you want to awaken and expand, and imagine it going into the tea. Give it your all – the sky’s the limit – and make it awesome! Then start sipping the tea. Imagine yourself drinking in deeply that energy/quality/essence. Feel it becoming part of you.

This morning, I couldn’t decide on a particular energy or quality for my tea, and then a little voice in my head exclaimed, “Then make Feel-Good Tea!” So I focused on the best feelings I could remember experiencing. Some examples are: 

  • Completing a work of art that turned out better than I ever imagined
  • Balancing a particularly challenging, crescent-moon shaped rock (that seemed impossible to balance, but I believed I could do it)
  • Being offered a full-time teaching job
  • Discovering what my parents left behind for us because they loved us so much
  • Watching the full moon rise over the sea
  • Feeling the energy of the sunrise on the seashore
  • Meeting my children for the first time and feeling empowered by the birth experiences
  • Being on retreat at Light on the Hill retreat center
  • Getting married
  • Decluttering a room in my house and feeling the amazing energy flow
  • Experiencing and photographing a glorious moment in nature
  • Feeling deeply connected while breastfeeding my babies and gazing into their peaceful/blissful face as they relax into sleep nourished by love
  • Gliding on the river in my kayak.

You also could project forward (which is where a vision board is useful), and imagine how great it will feel when you achieve or become what the images and words on your vision board represent. Imagine yourself there now, and focus on the feelings! Send them into your tea.

Tea meditation is such a lovely ritual, full of warmth and good feelings. When the weather is hot, you could do this meditation with a beverage that feels refreshing and nourishing, such as infused water.

If you try it, I would love to hear how it went for you and what kind of tea you made. Send me an email, comment below, or comment on my Facebook page!

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

A Facebook Experiment in Self-Compassion

A Facebook Experiment in Self-Compassion

Last month, I reached my limit. My stress level was high. I felt upset, confused, frustrated, and disappointed and couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t selling more calendars. I had made a substantial investment to have my 2018 calendars printed and wondered why people in my Facebook network hadn’t bought more. Other people seemed to be more successful selling via social media during the holiday season. What was I doing wrong?

I had learned about the “trigger” words to avoid so Facebook won’t squash the reach of a post. The workaround was to pay for an ad, so I took the time to create nice ads only to receive messages about them “not delivering”. Grrrr! Then I learned about the bidding system that prioritizes which ads would be seen. It’s complicated, but the bottom line was that people weren’t seeing my posts or ads. I seriously began to suspect I was chosen without consent to be a subject in a secret Facebook study. By New Year’s Day, I’d had a number of mini-meltdowns and was (and still am) nearly $200 away from breaking even on my investment, which was terribly disappointing.

I was fed up with Facebook.

On the other hand, I was so grateful to everyone who did buy a calendar(s) or share my posts. Every time I received a sale, I literally jumped up and down, clapped my hands, and exclaimed, “Thank you!” It meant so much to me.

But I also began to feel jealous of people who were getting more sales and “likes” than I was – or likes from certain people – and couldn’t understand why, after posting free, uplifting content every day, more people didn’t support their local artist friend by buying a calendar. I’m not proud of those feelings, but I’m being honest.

I reminded myself of the real reason why I post daily to social media. It wasn’t to get likes. It was because photography, writing, and sharing the inspiration that comes to me through them is my spiritual practice. It’s something I can’t not do. It’s who I am and how I express myself. I’d keep doing it if nobody “liked” my posts – which, due to Facebook’s frustrating algorithms – sometimes happens! Reminding myself of this made the jealousy and comparisons seem so superficial and yucky. It was humbling. How could I let my spiritual practice – my true purpose – get hijacked by ego?  

I didn’t want to feel that way or be that kind of person. If my interaction with Facebook took me out of alignment with who I want to be – if I had so much trouble maintaining what Buddhists call “right relationship” to it – the answer was clear: Take a break. A Facebook fast. It would be my “new moon project” for 28 days. Posting to my “business” page was allowed, but no personal posts. Just jump on, post my biz page, and jump right back off without looking at anything else. Including my daughter’s pictures of my granddaughter.

In the nine years I’d been on Facebook, I’d never taken a break and even wondered if it would be possible, especially around the holidays when there’s so much to share! But it ended up being astonishingly easy! Now that the lunar cycle is over, and we’re almost halfway through the next one, I’m in no hurry to jump back in and so far have only stuck a toe back in the water.

It feels good to get unhooked. Amazing, actually.

There were some things I truly missed during my fast. I missed knowing what’s going on in my friends’ lives and being able to offer a word of encouragement to those who could use it or simply to acknowledge that they are seen, heard, and accepted. I missed the enriching and inspiring content certain friends share regularly and the opportunity to radiate love and acceptance to more people than I otherwise would interact with daily.

I think those are positive reasons to engage with social media. But do I need 562 “friends”? I think not. So before I return to Facebook, I intend to clear the clutter from my friend list and only keep those with whom I have or have had a real connection and/or those who inspire and uplift me. Common interests, resonant energy – things like that.

Being on a Facebook fast allowed me to gain perspective on what I like and dislike about the platform and why I engage in the first place. I couldn’t care less about the vanity posts that showcase the masks of idealized self-images we put on to impress others and to feel better about ourselves or to get “likes”. Political posts are a another issue. You can scroll through without much effort, but I have no desire to come across intolerant or hateful posts – which actually doesn’t happen much in my newsfeed. Mostly, I’m interested in authenticity and inspiration and the opportunity to be authentic and to inspire.

As with all relationships, I want my engagement with social media to feed and grow my soul, not my ego. Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem, “The Invitation” (of which a few lines are excerpted below – click on the link to read the full poem) sums up the kind of connections and sharing I seek on social media and in general:

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

Source: Oriah Mountain Dreamer. The Invitation. New York: Harper Collins, 1999. Print.

I don’t care about the parties you go to and who you know. I want to know what fuels and inspires you and what you have overcome to be who you are today, how you are the hero of your own life story. I want to know who you are on the inside…because the outside is only a shell, and that’s not the level on which I seek connection.

I want to understand your story and thereby better understand my own, as well as the greater story we are all part of. And I want to share my story with you so you might better understand yours through our similarities and contrasts. I want to feel inspired by the challenges you are able to overcome and connect through your suffering, which (at the most basic level) is also mine and only looks different on the surface. As the R.E.M. song goes, everybody hurts. But when we share our pain or connect with others who have experienced pain we are familiar with, it eases the suffering a bit. At least we don’t feel so alone.

I want my Facebook feed to be filled with authenticity, inspiration, radiance, resonance, and hope. As I declutter my friend list, that’s what I’m looking for. It doesn’t mean only keeping people who appear to be most “like me”. Some people I respect deeply don’t share my world view, and they help me to break down the illusion of “other” and practice equanimity, tolerance, and love.

As I mentioned above, so far I’ve only stuck a toe back into the Facebook stream. Quick peeks. In those glimpses, one friend wrote about some incredible, synchronistic events she’s experienced that suggest her daughter, who passed away over a year ago, continues to communicate with her. This same friend also has shared her pain over losing her daughter. I find her journey through grief inspiring and her accounts of after-death communication uplifting.

Another, new friend posted about learning of her brother’s death, which hit her hard. Last week, her family received the call they knew they’d receive someday but hoped they wouldn’t. Her brother had been estranged from the family for the past 25 years, and she shared her tears and questions about who he was with courageous vulnerability. The next day, she shared joyful revelations about what she had learned about her brother’s life from a stranger who was a close friend of his. These revelations flew in the face of everything she assumed about her brother’s life and is clearly part of her healing journey. I believe we are ultimately part of the same journey and the same story, and witnessing healing and transformation in others helps to heal and transform us.

And then there were pictures of my granddaughter playing with some toys she got for her birthday. Feel-good posts.

These are all reasons why I am going to slowly break my Facebook fast. But as I return, I’ll be conscious of staying in alignment with my true self (not my ego!) while engaging with social media. If I cannot do that and find myself getting hooked again, then I’ll need to either adjust my friend list, educate myself, adjust my attitude, or take another break.

I’m glad to have interrupted the trance I had fallen into by stepping back and turning off what was sabotaging my peace of mind. To say no to what doesn’t feel right. Sometimes you have to get a little distance or take a time-out to regain perspective and a healthier balance so you don’t lose yourself. To remember you have a choice. My Facebook fast was yet another method of decluttering – not physical things this time, but my time and my thoughts. Letting go of what doesn’t serve us, whether on a physical or energetic level, is truly empowering.

It feels so good that I didn’t stop there. Today I’m on my tenth day without chocolate because apparently I’m quite sensitive to that, too (in a different way). And again, it has been so much easier to give up than I ever imagined. But that’s another story for another time.


© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

My Favorite Morning Rituals

My Favorite Morning Rituals

It’s the first new moon of the new year as I sit down to write. What better time to kick off a series of mindful self-compassion blog posts! I’ve been wanting to do this for a while and waiting until the time felt right, and that time is NOW. It seems so many people are so anxious lately, and in times of stress, we need more than ever to give ourselves the gift of our own kindness and compassion!

I’ll admit right out of the gate that I’m a recovering perfectionist who has struggled with self-worth all my life. I made Self-Love my theme for 2017, not knowing exactly what to call it because the term carries selfish, narcissistic connotations, and that wasn’t at all what it meant to me. I realized I’ve spent the past 23 years caring for others in my roles of mother, partner/spouse, daughter, and early childhood educator. I’ve also struggled with personal boundaries, compared myself to those who seemed to have what I felt I was lacking, and (along with that) tended to put people on pedestals. Not exactly self-esteem boosters.

Finally, I realized something had to change! I’d become so good at caring for and seeing the good in others and not so good at doing the same for myself. Putting my own needs and desires on the back burner was holding me back in a big way. I needed to achieve a better balance between caring for myself and others. So that’s what I did for the past year, and it was truly transformational! I’m excited to share what I’ve learned.

I thought I’d begin with three simple rituals I do every morning that have made a big difference. Rather than rushing into the day and what needs to be done, taking a few mindful minutes to honor myself reminds me of my inherent worth and helps me to start the day in alignment with my true self.

Making the Bed

For years, I didn’t make my bed. Didn’t give it a second thought. 

I’ve been going to Light on the Hill retreat center for individual retreats my entire adult life. At the end of the retreat, you’re expected to remove your bed sheets and make the bed with fresh sheets for the next retreatant. The instructions are to make the bed as if you’re preparing it for your beloved – with intention and a warm heart.

I so love that! 

Last spring, after decluttering the entire house, I splurged and bought a nice, king-sized bed. Getting rid of lots of clutter created space for what I really want in my living environment. The process generated lots of clarity around who I was, who I am, who I am becoming, and what/who supports the vision I have for my life. Waking up every day feeling rested was the foundation upon which everything else…um, rested.

I had been sleeping on hand-me-down beds for a long time, and it was high time to get a better bed. It was a reward I gave to myself after the epic decluttering journey during which I acknowledged how important a comfortable bed is to good sleep and overall well-being. I used some money I had inherited from my parents and felt it would please them to know I did something nice for myself. It made my back happy, too!

Now that I finally had a nice bed, I wanted to take care of it. I recently had gone on retreat and recalled the practice of making the bed for the next person and decided it would be a beautiful, loving gesture to do for myself. So now I make my bed with love and intention every morning, fluffing the pillows, arranging them just so, and brushing off any debris, to prepare it for another inviting and restful night’s sleep. Whenever I walk into the bedroom and see my bed, I appreciate the gesture and feel loved. It really makes me feel happy, uplifted, and grateful. 

Making my bed is not an obligation or chore. It’s a joy. As I do it, I think of how great it feels to walk into the room when the bed looks tidy and beautiful. It’s a little thing that makes a big difference.

Mirror Work

This next morning ritual might sound a little weird. There is a mirror outside my bedroom, and after making my bed, I greet myself in the mirror with a big smile and loving words.

Last year, I worked my way through Cheryl Richardson’s book, The Art of Extreme Self-CareEach chapter in the book offers a strategy to practice for an entire month, and one month, it was mirror work. At first, it felt a little awkward and reminded me of the Stuart Smalley skits on Saturday Night Live. But I was committed to practicing the exercises in the book and gave it a try.

It ended up being the most powerful practice I experimented with from the book, especially because I’ve had body image issues all my life. When I looked in the mirror, I did so critically, noticing what I perceived as flaws. Flaws seen through a magnifying glass! Looking in the mirror was not a feel-good activity.

After greeting myself with loving words, I look in my eyes and state positive affirmations that I have posted around the mirror. It might sound corny, but these affirmations are deeply meaningful reminders I want to attune to every morning…and it works. I really look forward to this ritual! It’s like tuning an instrument, and the instrument is my mind.

Now, quite unbelievably, looking in the mirror is an opportunity for loving kindness and to affirm who I really am and what is most important to me. More often than not, when I look in the mirror throughout the day (not just when I do the “mirror work”), the loving voice intercepts the critical voice, which is rather miraculous! It’s as if I have trained myself to see who I really am rather than compare what I look like to how I think I should look.

I just don’t do the mirror work when anyone else is around…or if they are, I do it quietly

Lemon Water Cleanse

Next, I go into the kitchen and drink a cup of warm water with the juice of half a lemon and a dash of cayenne. This is little reminder to be mindful of what I put in my body. Apparently, warm lemon water has health benefits, and it’s a simple gesture that only takes a couple minutes from start to finish. It feels like a healthy, cleansing way to start the day. It reminds me that my body is a temple, and I begin the day treating it as such. That is the intention behind this ritual.

Doing these three rituals affirms every morning that I matter and have positive worth. It makes me feel good about myself. All these activities are done with a sense of joy, not out of obligation. It feels good to walk into the bedroom when the bed is made up beautifully. It feels good to smile and say kind and loving words to myself while looking in the mirror. And it feels good to begin the day conscious of what I put in my body. Altogether, these three rituals only take about 10 minutes!

Bonus Time!

Vision Board Massage

If time permits – especially on mornings when I don’t have to get ready for work right away – another morning ritual is sitting on the side of my bed and looking at my vision board, which hangs on the wall next to my bed. Looking at my vision board reminds me of my Big Whys, what is most important to me, what I want to manifest in my life, and who I am when I am at my best. Every item on my vision board sparks joy and boosts my energy.

For an extra special bonus, I give my hands and feet a massage while spending time with my vision board. First, I roll my feet on a foot massager, which feels really great. I might even massage my feet with my hands, too. Then I massage my hands either with Chinese health balls, my own hands, or by rolling homemade lavender putty in my palms. The latter is currently my favorite. Think playdough for grownups! It feels so relaxing to roll the putty around in my hands, making balls and snakes, just like when I was a child (and a kindergarten teacher)! It seems to massage the pressure points in the hands, in a fun way. 

Yoga Practice

Another bonus morning ritual is a half-hour of home yoga practice. My favorite resource is Yoga with Adriene on YouTube. Every year, she kicks off the new year with 30 days of yoga. This year, the series is called True. Last year, it was Revolution, and the year before that was Yoga Camp. When I finish one series, I go to one of the others, and there are plenty of videos to last the whole year – and they are free! Adriene’s message is all about self-love and finding what feels good.

I’ve been doing yoga long enough to really feel the difference it makes in my body and mind. It makes me more aware of the energy in my body and where I’m holding tension. I’ll often become aware of my feet when I’m standing in line somewhere, and it’s a pleasant experience that takes me out of the thinking mind, reconnects me to my body, and deepens my breathing and relaxation response. Once, I was waiting in line at the bank, and the customers in front of me had business that took a long time. I became aware of my feet, then aware of the energy in my body, and it was like doing a body scan meditation! When it was my turn, the teller said he couldn’t believe how patient I was.

There are lots of benefits of yoga, and that’s just one of them. It seems to get the energy flowing more smoothly through my body. I tend to live in my head, and yoga really helps me to more fully embody the experience of having a body. It takes my attention away from my thoughts and emotions and is a portal to deeper presence and relaxation.

So those are my morning rituals! I love creating rituals. The possibilities are endless. It’s all about the mindfulness and positive energy they generate – which is why I do them every day. Occasionally, something will come up, and I won’t have time to do all of them, but I resist the temptation to use that as an opportunity to feel bad. I tell myself it’s not the end of the world. Mornings like that happen, and tomorrow is a new day! It’s more fun to wake up and get out of bed when I have something to look forward to, and these morning rituals are a positive, uplifting way to start the day.

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

Deep-Freeze Vision Board Inspiration

Deep-Freeze Vision Board Inspiration

I just completed my first personal growth creative project of the year and am excited to tell you about it! It’s a project that’s ideal for this time of year, not just because of the New Year but because the bitter cold, shorter days present a wonderful opportunity for going inward when it’s too cold to spend much time outdoors. 

I overhauled my vision board so it sparkles with fresh, new energy!

I created my first vision board two years ago. It was a simple one on which I glued pictures and words that inspired me and supported my goals. That year, I focused on abundance and freeing myself from abundance blocks and therefore included several positive affirmations related to prosperity. It was a memorable experience because I completed it before going to bed one night, and I hadn’t even fallen asleep before I received a phone call from my daughter who told me she was in labor! It was perfect timing. 

Later in the year, I created another vision board – a supercharged feng shui version – after returning from a life-transforming trip to visit relatives on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. Spending nearly two weeks with them was a profound experience that helped me to better understand myself and where I come from. In the company of relatives who share my love of nature and my affinity for artistic creativity and writing, I experienced a sense of true belonging and being appreciated for who I was, rather than feeling like the family oddball. Finding my tribe right in my family tree changed everything, and a new vision board was in order.

I loved my feng shui vision board! I learned how to make it under the guidance of a mentor who is a feng shui expert, and it’s different from a “typical” vision board because it has separate spaces for each of the nine areas of the bagua:

  • Wealth, Prosperity, and Abundance
  • Fame, Reputation, and Recognition
  • Love and Marriage
  • Family and Community
  • Health and Unity
  • Children, Creativity, and New Beginnings
  • Knowledge and Wisdom
  • Career and Life’s Journey
  • Helpful People and Travel

I put my vision board on the wall next to my bed, and every morning it was the first thing I saw when I woke up. Then I’d bring it downstairs so I’d see it during the day. It was with me day and night, and I even photographed it and printed out a mini version to carry around with me. The energy coming off it was that powerful, and I found it to be a highly motivating tool for creating a more authentic and empowered life. 

As I achieved various goals, I’d remove those pictures/words from the vision board, to make room for new ones and keep it current.

However, I noticed that for the past month or two, my vision board remained on my bedroom wall. The spaces on it made the placement of the remaining pictures and words seem not quite right (visual person that I am), and it just didn’t have the oomph it used to have. I didn’t feel drawn to it because it felt cluttered. There were some pictures and words on it that didn’t resonate anymore, especially in the Career section. Too many different possibilities which made me feel pulled in too many directions. 

Also, I’d recently undergone another big, inner transformation as a result of decluttering my entire home and focusing on mindful self-compassion for the past year. Now it was time to declutter my vision board and infuse it with fresh energy that fit with the new me! 

I used the existing structure to revamp each section, and now it sparkles with inspiring energy again, and it doesn’t stay on my bedroom wall! I enjoy creating simple, daily rituals to keep me focused on what’s most important and recently came up with a new one that features my vision board and feels really good, too!

I love to give myself hand and foot massages and remembered that I have a foot massage roller that I haven’t used in a while and Chinese medicine balls, as well. So I put them under my bed and start the day sitting on the edge of my bed and using the hand and foot massagers while looking at my vision board for a few minutes and reminding myself of what’s most important. Sweeeet!

It’s a great way to get focused first thing in the morning.

Another ritual I enjoy is to look at my vision board while doing my “tea meditation”. (I wrote an article about it.) Essentially, it involves practicing feeling the feelings of attaining my vision board goals as I hold the cup of tea in my hands, and imagining those feelings going into the tea before consuming it. It’s one of my favorite cold weather meditations!

If you’ve never made a vision board, it’s pretty simple to do! It used to be that you’d need a stack of magazines to look through for inspiring words and images, but Google searches make it so much easier to find inspiring images now! Magazines are still good sources of words, but you also can print out words yourself using different fonts and colors. I hold onto the Omega and Kripalu retreat center catalogs that come in the mail, for words and ideas. Hay House and Sounds True have some really great book and audiobook titles that are great for vision boards! And my Inspirational Photo Gallery and Instagram account is filled with “quote pictures” (my latest creative passion!) – some of which I included on my own vision board. There are so many sources of vision board inspiration available!

There are apps to create virtual vision boards, and another option is to create a Pinterest board for a vision board. However, there is value in creating a physical vision board because you only have a limited amount of space to fit what’s most important to you. That cuts out a lot of clutter and can help you stay focused.

Making a vision board is a great cold weather project. I really appreciate this time of year because it’s a time to go inward, get in touch with yourself, and decide what you want to cultivate in your inner garden this year – how you want to expand. If you’re interested, Google “vision boards” for some inspiration, and give it a go! 

© 2018 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this article, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness teacher whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.

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