Aug 10

October Retreat Online Sign-up at Retreats Page

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Jul 26

All Is Made Holy

allismadeholy

Jul 22

Tread This Path Lightly: Reflections and research on self-compassion as a healing practice

john2014Do you sometimes get down on yourself for not being perfect? Do you notice yourself being unkind to yourself when you make mistakes? Or maybe you get caught up in frustration when something does not turn out as you had hoped? Can you be self-critical or overly demanding of yourself? Or maybe you are struggling right now with incredibly difficult life challenges. If any of this resonates with you, or if you would like to simply be a bit happier, then this article is for you.

I think we all can relate to questions like the above and I most certainly have had such moments of self-berating and struggle. Recently in my work as a research psychologist, I became interested in exploring how self-compassion may be related to mental health (mh) outcomes. There is a fascinating, growing body of psychology literature that suggests a relationship between being self-compassionate and positive mh outcomes. I boiled the field down into just a few morsels of wisdom that I think may be useful for others. Therefore, in this article I have three aims: 1) describe the psychology of self-compassion; 2) briefly describe the research; and 3) offer a few tips on how to bring more of it into your own life.

The Psychology of Self-compassion

Self-compassion, as defined by a leading scholar in the field, Kristin Neff, PhD, is one’s willingness to be contacted by and receptive to one’s own suffering, rather than turning away from it (Neff, 2003). Being self-compassionate involves a desire and willingness to be with this suffering and committed to healing it with a soft kindness. Self-compassion is a practice of approaching one’s challenges, limitations, and shortcomings with a loving acceptance and recognizing them as a universal part of our basic human condition. It is a remembrance and honoring of one’s innate, human worthiness and an invitation to forgive ourselves for our imperfections and slippages of virtue.

Neff (2003) suggests that self-compassion has three facets: (a) self-kindness- the application of kindness and understanding to oneself instead of harsh judgment and self-criticism; (b) common humanity- remembering and feeling that one is a member of a larger human tribe, rather than a isolated and separate being; and (c) mindfulness- to embrace fully the painful aspects of one’s experience with equanimity, rather than becoming enmeshed in them.

Psychological Research on Self-compassion

Being self-compassionate appears to be connected to numerous positive mh outcomes. A meta-analysis study, which is an aggregate analysis of many similar studies, conducted by Macbeth and Gumley (2012) surveyed the larger field of compassion and mh. They found that having higher levels of compassion were related to lower levels of mh symptoms, such as anxiety and depression. A study published two years ago by Van Dam & colleagues (2012) of about 500 adults with mixed anxiety and depression remarkably described the role of self-compassion in predicting mh outcomes. The researchers found that participant scores on a measure of self-compassion predicted participant reports of depression and worry. In a subsequent analysis, they combined measures of self-compassion and mindfulness and discovered they could predict not only depression and worry, but also anxiety and quality of life. When they further teased apart their findings, they discovered that self-compassion was actually a more robust predictor of anxiety and depression symptom severity and quality of life than “dispositional” (or innate) mindfulness. They calculated that self-compassion accounted for as much as ten times more unique variance in mh outcome variables than mindfulness. Findings such as these speak to the importance of self-compassion as both an independent practice and perhaps as an essential ingredient to be included in mindfulness training and practice.

As a scientist, I must acknowledge these studies are limited by their cross-sectional designs, homogenous participant demographics, and researchers readily acknowledge the challenges associated with defining and measuring such complex, theoretical constructs such as mindfulness and compassion. Despite these and other limitations, I think these findings are worthy of igniting enthusiasm among practitioners and cause for reflection on how to include compassion training in yoga and mindfulness programs.

Practices to Cultivate Self-compassion

In this last section, I discuss how to utilize Neff’s (2003) three facets of self-compassion to practice and inspire self-compassion in your own heart. Next time you have a difficult experience or are struggling with challenging emotions, consider trying out these practices:

1. Practice self-kindness: Soften into your own pain, and move deeper within to connect to yourself in a way that acknowledges and honors something really good about you. Know that it is common, when experiencing intense emotions, to not be able to think of something good, so in that case, do something that brings you happiness and joy. One of my practices is to take myself out for a cup of coffee at my favorite cafe with a really good book or a caring friend. In meditation, you can offer yourself supportive phrases of encouragement that honor the suffering and hold intention for its resolution.

For example, you can offer to yourself Thich Nhat Hanh’s 4 Love Mantra’s: 1) Darling, I am here for you; 2) Darling, I know you are there for me…and I’m so happy you are truly there; 3) Darling, I know you suffer… that is why I am here for you; and 4) Darling, I suffer. I am trying my best to practice. Please help me.

By turning this practice towards oneself, one is able to empower more self-reliance and confidence in being able to skillfully manage challenging emotions without turning toward external (or in some cases, unhealthy) coping mechanisms. We establish our own heart as our place of true refuge.

2. Connect to a common humanity: When in strife, remember your sacred membership to an abundant planet of fellow human-beings, animals, plants, natural resources, and a larger universe of stars, planets and all things cosmic. It is common when something traumatic or really difficult happens to us, that we may feel as if we are alone in the experience. Finding safe ways to get more connected to a positive community builds self-compassion by fostering feelings of warmth and affiliation. Broadening one’s perspective outward beyond the self puts one in contact with others who have walked a similar path and this may relieve feelings of isolation. In meditation, one can imagine being fully and beautifully interwoven into this inseparable web of life and sending well-wishes of healing, love, and kindness toward the self and outward to all beings, plants, animals and the universe.

3. Practice mindfulness: Perhaps an oversimplified way of describing mindfulness is that it is present-moment awareness, held with intention, in a way that is discerning, yet non-judgmental, and compassionate. Mindfulness can be practiced in a myriad of ways including yoga, meditation, art, and all of the variety of mind-body practices. Even many of our everyday activities can be practiced with mindfulness, such as washing the dishes or taking a shower. Mindfulness builds self-compassion by providing a lens to notice self-judgments, and it offers us a framework to intentionally let go of the desire for things to be other than what they are. As we develop a radical acceptance of all things, including ourselves, exactly as we are, we are essentially laying down fertile soil for a flowering of the seeds the practices sow for positive self-transformation. It may sound paradoxical that change comes through acceptance, but imagine how much easier it would be to move through the world without the ten thousand pounds of self-judgment that you may have been carrying around all of these years.

Here I have described several ways in which practicing self-compassion can be a powerful way to bring more happiness, freedom, and grace into your life. The tools of self-compassion are simple, yet they hold the potential to make profound, meaningful, and positive contributions to your well-being. Now is the perfect time to begin to practice. As you finish reading, I invite you to take a few moments to honor yourself for your commitment to your well-being and reflect on how you may deepen this commitment by offering self-compassion and kindness to yourself every day. You can write your thoughts down and create a self-compassion action plan.

About John’s Teaching:

SF+Berkeley: John teaches weekly Restorative yoga classes at Yoga Tree and offers numerous Restorative yoga workshops throughout the year at numerous YT locations and will be teaching an Advanced YTT- The Psychologically-minded Yoga Teacher, on Nov. 15 at YT Portrero. His weekly teaching schedule is: Sunday 6:15 pm @ 6th Ave; MW @ 8pm Telegraph; Fri 8pm @ Valencia.

Mountain View: John teaches two Power yoga classes at Yoga Belly: Tue @ 4:15pm & Fri @ 4:30pm

Bio:

Dr. John Rettger is the Director of Mindfulness in the Stanford University School of Medicine’s Early Life Stress & Pediatric Anxiety Program. John’s current research is focused on developing mindfulness and yoga-based wellness programs for youth, teachers and mental health and wellness professionals. He has taught, consulted, and lectured on mindfulness and yoga for mental health in a variety of settings including professional development groups; a law firm; an International Workgroup on War, Violence, and Trauma at Stanford; the Stanford School of Medicine’s Residency program & Psychiatry Grand Rounds; the Stanford Dept. of Religious Studies; elementary schools; retreats; local school district staff development trainings; and psychology clinics. He is a lover of poetry, hanging out with friends and drinking awesome coffee.

References

MacBeth, A., & Gumley, A. (2012). Exploring compassion: A meta-analysis of the association between self-compassion and psychopathology. Clinical Psychology Review, 32(6), 545-552.

Neff, K. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and identity, 2(2), 85-101.

Van Dam, N. T., Sheppard, S. C., Forsyth, J. P., & Earleywine, M. (2011). Self-compassion is a better predictor than mindfulness of symptom severity and quality of life in mixed anxiety and depression. J Anxiety Disord, 25(1), 123-130. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2010.08.011

 

Dec 24

Winter Mindfulness Intensive: Cultivating Mindful Relationships

bluebannersmallAs my practice and teaching of mindfulness and yoga evolves, I have become more passionate about joining these practices to my training in clinical psychology to promote health through the direct application of spiritual techniques toward creating a more loving and compassionate society. I have therefore chosen January-March as a time to focus on mindfulness and relationships. With the start of a New Year, it is the perfect time to reflect and develop positive relationship skills to evolve our relationships toward a greater experience of love and freedom.  I believe in the sacred nature of interpersonal relationships and the power of intimacy as a transformative and spiritual path. My sense is that the health of human relationships plays a vital role in shaping modern culture and society. Whether it is a romantic partnership, business relationship, or the relationship between nations- mindfulness can provide a set of skills and awaken a wisdom that promotes health. The Buddhist psychologist, John Welwood, once wrote that “in a relationship … we cannot avoid having to face all our rough edges. Intimate person-to-person contact also stirs up a whole range of unsettling feelings, along with all our fears, going back to childhood, about love, power, abandonment, betrayal, engulfment, and a host of other interpersonal threats.” John candidly gives voice to some of my own challenges in relationships and I am sure most others resonate with these kinds of experiences as well. Mindfulness in its ability to awaken witness consciousness, in its power to provide us the ability to be still among waves of emotion, in its ability to bring physiological harmony and homeostasis seems to be a perfect practice to transform old, unhealthy, habitual relationship patterns and to lay down a vital foundation for wholeness. Psychological science lends support to these ideas as well.

In 2007, Karen Wachs & James Cordova published a study in the JOURNAL OF MARITAL AND FAMILY THERAPY suggesting that couples who practice mindfulness may be more likely to experience increased relationship health and stability, increased satisfaction and affectionate behavior and a deepened sense of inter-partner harmony on a number of life issues. In particular, they noted that mindfulness appeared to be associated with enhanced emotional skills in the areas of empathy, emotional identification and communication, and a more skillful experience of anger. The researchers especially felt that decreases in impulsivity and hostility surrounding the experience of anger was of particular importance and decreased anger reactivity appeared to mediate the relationship between mindfulness and relationship quality.

If you are seeking positive relationships in the New Year, or hoping to heighten your capacity for self-awareness, compassion, or to be able to offer and receive love with more freedom and grace, or maybe you are just seeking spiritual community or getting healthy, then our Tuesday night mindfulness Sangha may very well be the right place for you to come and practice. Check out the details below:

At the end of January, we will begin a nine week mindfulness journey focused on applying mindfulness in relationships. This class will be based on a book by David Richo called “How to be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving.” The Tuesday night weekly class themes are as follows. Class is from 6:45pm – 8:45pm.

Syllabus

2/4 – Week One – Getting Rooted in Mindfulness

Week Two – Mindfulness and Love

Week Three – Mindfulness in Relationship

Week Four – Mindfulness and Romance

Week Five – Mindfulness in Times of Conflict

Week Six – Being Mindful through Challenge & Disappointment

Week Seven – Mindfulness and Letting Go of Ego

Week Eight – Mindfulness and Loss

Week Nine – Deepening Commitment

The book is required reading for the course. You do not need to currently be in a relationship to take the class. It is helpful for partners to take the class together and to complete the exercises in the book. No previous experience with mindfulness is required. It is possible to drop-in on specific topics, however, participants should be committed to attending all sessions and completing the weekly assignments. Mindfulness is a daily practice and as such requires compassionate discipline to the path of meditation; an essential ingredient on the path is showing up for practice. Many students find group membership to be a critical component in establishing a daily practice and to feel supported on their life path.

Class Structure:

6:45pm – Opening meditation

7:00pm – Group check-in

7:15pm – Didactic and Discussion

8:00pm – Mindfulness Meditation

8:35pm – Closing

$275-$315* sliding scale/person for all sessions

$18-$38 sliding scale drop-in single session

$495-$565 for couples

Limited Enrollment – it is advisable to sign up ahead of time.

*a limited number of scholarships are available to students who demonstrate financial need. Please be sure to purchase the book ahead of time as assignments will be given on the first day of class.

Enrollment Instructions: To be enrolled, please contact John at 650-930-0170 or sign up with him at one of his public yoga classes.

Location: Blue Elephant Yoga & Mindfulness Ctr. 744 San Antonio Rd. Ste. 19B Palo Alto, CA 94303

Nov 03

Earth Healing

i wrote this as a closing meditation for the Spook Asana class at Lululemon last week. It is based on a poem by Rumi that I gave a personal touch to.

Trust your wound will be healed in the green soft arms of the ancient, Mother Earth
Let the embrace and the cool coating of the evening air soothe you
Allow the silent space of your heart to speak and be open to let the light of love shine in and out

Let the teacher, the spirit guide within, clear away all low hanging clouds
hovering in your sky
Never turn your head away from any bandaged place
But with soft eyes keep gazing into that wounded space
For through your wound is where the moon light shall enter you
And don’t believe for a single moment that you are alone
For there is always the light of the shining stars to guide you
back home

Nov 03

Fall Reflections: Halloween Myths and Symbols

Ever since I was a child, I found this time of year to be filled with excitement and mystery matched by a deep sense of transformation. Mother Nature casts her colorful magic and makes clear the shift of seasons. She tones down the temperature; she digests the fallen leaves, and she opens her heart and her arms to more deeply receive the soft grace of moonlight. The felt sense of winter’s arrival evokes in me a desire to slow down, turn inward, and to deepen my relationship with nature and loved ones.

pumpkins

photo by Franco Folini
flickr: creative commons

This is also a time of celebration. Over the centuries, Halloween has become a way for us to manifest the seasonal shift. Halloween occurs at an auspicious time of year- the marking of the end of the Fall harvest season and the beginning of the long, cold, and dark months of winter. In some traditions, it was viewed as a transitory period in which the veils separating the worlds thin. Through the thinned veils, spirits, fairies and other entities could more easily enter into our world. In ancient times, these spirits were both feared and revered for their powers. People often left offerings of food and drink, and crops to appease these spirits. It was also a sacred time in which our dead ancestors would revisit us. In olden times, families welcomed the ancestors to their dinner tables and set them places and offered food and other specialties by the fire. Religious traditions such as Christianity also honored this special time by intensifying prayer to ascend souls to heaven from the liminal space between.

Yoga, meditation, and writing have become sacred ceremonies for me and provide me a meaningful way to celebrate this ephemeral time. Reflecting on these symbols of Halloween, I believe that this is a fruitful time of year to intensify one’s practice and to hold intention around gracefully harvesting and integrating the gifts of practicing. This harvest can be as simple as taking a moment to simply notice how practicing might have transformed something in your life. You can notice these shifts on several different levels- perhaps psychological or emotional, physical, relational and maybe something has deepened in an existential or spiritual way for you. Maybe you notice that something has changed in all of these areas for you.

The thinning of the veils separating the worlds suggests a powerful metaphor of moving through our own internal veils. These inner-veils may be separating us from a deeper contact and embrace of our truest self. By taking seat and holding intention to move deeper within, we may may notice a clearer window to the heart. By simply casting the light of awareness toward the heart space, we may accomplish a softer deconstruction of unhelpful defense structures hindering our higher self-actualization. Through setting intention and practice, we can clarify our aspirations and allow ourselves to more fully open to our own inner-teacher guiding us along our spiritual path.

Seasonal shifts brought great celebrations among cultures that connected them more fully to the Earth. It is said that in 19th century Ireland, ceremonious prayers were offered, following which there would be a merriment of eating, drinking, and games. Across the Gaelic territories, there was deeper intent to these celebrations, that of divination. The seers had a sacred intention toward bringing good fortune upon rites of passages such as marriage and death. Our ancestors offered nuts and apples, and ignited bonfires to illuminate the night. The brilliant light of the fire symbolized the sun and it’s life-affirming light. The flames, smoke, and ashes channeled spiritual protection and offered cleansing. The hot, crackling flames of the fire evoked the strength of the sun and offered respite from the dark cloak of night. The fire encouraged growth and transformation.

Such rituals were healing and helped to create ease around the inescapable existential uncertainties of life and death. We can learn from this folk wisdom by bringing more ceremony and celebration into our own lives. By coming together in community with family and friends, we can take greater notice of what is abundant in our lives. We can intentionally create ways to honor and celebrate the basic goodness and beauty of Mother Earth and her role as provider and caregiver. Perhaps a really simple way to celebrate this season would be to bring greater compassion and kindness into our everyday relating to self and other. We can gently take pause, breathe, spend more time with loved ones, light a candle and simply hold meaningful conversation. We can open the door of curiosity and get to know our special ones in a deeper way, we can invite them more fully into our hearts by practicing unconditional acceptance.

We can start right now by celebrating this very moment and recognizing that, as Hafiz wrote, “now is the season to know that everything you do is sacred.”

Sep 22

Reflections on Inner-Peace

Reflections on Inner-Peace

John P. Rettger, PhD, ERYT-200
Blue Elephant Yoga & Mindfulness Center
Palo Alto, CAvrksasana

The Dalai Lama teaches that “the most important factor in maintaining peace within oneself in the face of any difficulty is one’s mental attitude, if it is distorted by such feelings as anger, attachment, or jealousy, then even the most comfortable environment will bring one no peace.”

My life’s work is about the internal environment- the inner-landscape of mind and psyche, body, emotions, and spirit. I deeply believe that in order to establish peace in the world, we must first establish peace within our own hearts. Whether I am counseling someone using the tools of psychotherapy, or teaching the methods of mindfulness meditation or yoga, my hope is the same- to help this person reawaken their heart. Inner-peace then, is established through re-connecting into the heart. This kind of work, my friends, is very hard and it requires a great amount of “heavy lifting”, and the love and support of others and a community.

 

As one journeys into the heart, the recognition comes that it is not only the self that has suffered- rather it is that all beings have suffered some form of loss, sadness, or despair in their lifetime. Beyond this, we will all at some point suffer illness, death, and other challenging aspects of the human condition. I believe that when we connect into the universality of suffering, an internal transformation begins to happen. We begin to awaken self-compassion.

 

Self-compassion is a deliberate practice of cultivating and offering ourselves kindness, friendliness, and love over and over again and most importantly in our darkest hours. Again, this is a very challenging practice requiring a great deal of courage and perseverance. Why is it so difficult you may wonder?

 

It is an incredible challenge to offer oneself kindness because of the many messages we receive everyday suggesting that we are everything but OK- you do not have to look very far to see an airbrushed supermodel smiling on a billboard or the swank-looking people sporting fancy clothes driving expensive cars on television- these kind of messages are everywhere in our culture. I think you know what I am talking about!

 

It is the judgements we receive from the environment that layer the heart over with what I will call the “veils of separateness”. As we begin to believe these negative messages that we are inadequate, we begin to separate the self from our true heart. As we dissociate from the heart we begin to create what I will call the “shadow self”. This shadow self consists of a lot of self-hatred and judgements that overwhelm us. Unable to contain these raw emotions, we project them out into the world because we think they are so ugly and unacceptable. We put this shadow self in the world and others and subsequently create even more separateness. We begin to think in terms such as “that person is ‘different’ or that culture is ‘not good or evil’”. We go on to try to destroy the other as a way to destroy the shadow self.

 

Wars, violence, aggression, they might all be forms of mistaken identity. We think we are battling persons who are not the same as us. Remember, we all share in suffering; it even turns out that physically we are all mostly made up of water; human beings mostly share in our gift of consciousness and have the ability to dream, to give and receive love. By dropping into this realization that we all exist in a shared environment and are even linked through our subtle energy fields, these veils of separateness begin to thin.

 

Inner-peace then is about reclaiming our true heritage of the heart. This human journey is about lifting away those veils of separateness and spending time each day getting reconnected with our own hearts. As we reharmonize the internal landscape, we can only act in ways that bring us in harmony with all of existence. This extends beyond others and includes all of Mother Nature herself.

 

I truly believe what inspires people is not the money, the car, the designer clothes or the “things”, but it is the ability to love unconditionally, to be able to look into the eyes of the other and open to grace. To recognize that we all stem from the same sacred waves of creation. To know, we are all one wild dance of atoms moving through space. What transforms communities are individuals who are committed to awakening and being of service.

 

Inner-peace is rooted in taking pause, spending time in silence, lovingly gazing inward and breathing into the radiant light of the heart. It is about lifting away the veils of separateness, reclaiming and illuminating the shadow self and embracing all of life’s challenges with our arms wide open. The tools of psychotherapy, meditation, and yoga are a few among the many that have been in use over the centuries. These practices give us a chance to transform, to awaken, and to infuse our lives with love and compassion. They bring us to the realization that we are all perfectly OK, and we always have been.

 

As we learn to fully accept and love ourselves, then there is no reason to wage any battles against anyone or anything. We realize that the conditions of being human limit the time that we all have here on this planet together and we better spend that time wisely. I would like to close with a short reflection from a Buddhist teacher.

Our relationships with one another
are like the chance meeting
of two strangers in a parking lot.

They look at each other and smile.
That is all there is between them.

They leave and never see each other again.

That is what life is–
just a moment, a meeting, a
passing, and then it is gone.

If you understand this,
then there is no time to fight.
There is no time to argue.
There is no time to hurt one another.

 Whether you think about it in terms of humanity, nations,
communities or individuals–
there is no time for anything less
than truly appreciating the brief
interaction we have with one another.

                                             –Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche

Article prepared for the International Day of Peace
Mountain View, California
September, 21, 2013

Aug 27

Freedom, Ease & Spaciousness all on a Saturday afternoon.

Have you been longing to reconnect with that most deepest, truest expression of Divine Illumination and Freedom in your own heart? Join us at the lovely Yoga Tree Valencia in the beautiful Mission for this amazing offering that will move you toward that blessed abundance and grace! Saturday 1:15 pm, Aug. 31- yogatreesf.com

Sign Up Online at: yogatreesf.com

Jun 26

Special Classes and Events This Week! 6/26-6/30

special week happening, lots of extra classes i’m subbing-
1. Thurs Prajna core flow 6pm (followed by my Slow Flow, can you say double up?) – Prajna Belmont
2. Friday – Gentle Flow – 3pm (CC $12) Yoga Tree SF Stanyan, yep, the studio near Haight Ashbury
3. Saturday 9am – Power Vinyasa Yoga Belly Mountain View
4. Fire+Earth Workshop Saturday, Blue Iris Palo Alto, 2pm -5:15pm

I’m stoked…. kinda like early Fireworks… Come out! Look for me the following Sat morning teaching Vinyasa back up at OMPower in SF

May 13

Special Classes or Classes John is Subbing This Week

John is teaching:

Yoga Tree Stanyan San Francisco

Saturday, May 18, 6:15pm – Restorative Yoga
yogatreesf.com

 

Yoga Belly Mountain View

Sunday, May 19, 6:15pm – Restorative Yoga & Meditation
http://www.yogabellystudio.com/workshops/

 

John is not teaching:

Prajna Yoga Belmont

Sunday, May 19, 4pm Restorative

YogaSource Palo Alto

Sunday, May 19, 8:15pm – Restorative Yoga
sub – Lindsey Richards

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