The word play ritual to spell release, intention and surrender

As the year end is getting closer, people take time to reflect on the months past and set their vision for the future. Today, I offer you a ritual that can bring more creative play to this process. Words, rituals and play captivate the brain in their own unique ways and facilitate transformation. Words can cause the brain to create a vivid and real experience of whatever these words represent to us.  Rituals tap into the predictive power of the brain to set expectations and rewire the brain to give commands in accordance with such expectations.  Play liberates our creative spirit, silences the inner critic, and allows us to see a broader range of possibilities and solutions.

The ritual below is a form of contemplative practice, so it should not be rushed. You may have heard that the popularity of coloring books for adults have grown over the past years because they help people release stress. Coloring is easy and gives an opportunity for the mind to wander. In addition, research suggests that using your hands to write or do crafts, like knitting, for example, also benefits the brain. The word play ritual offers the same benefits but in a more personal and creative way. Children can have fun with it too.

It is inspired by nature and the change of seasons. While trees let go of the leaves and stay bare in their dreamy rest through the winter, our human cycle of activity tends to speed up during the holiday season.  Amidst this hustle and bustle, it is useful to find a practice that can bring us to the roots, ground and center our energy. As leaves decompose in nature to fuel the growth of plants in the Spring, our dry plant ink will help us let go of anything that is no longer needed and cultivate the quiet intention for the transformation we want to bring into our lives.

You begin by preparing your dry plant ink. For my ink, I used dry rose petals, chamomile flowers and lavender flowers that I often use to brew teas.  Dry herbs, spices, tea leaves are all good options. You can crumble the dry plants with your hands or use a rolling pin.

I like to collect my dry plant ink into a mesh sachet bag. I may even through a few of my favorite crystals into the mix.  When not in use, you can keep such sachet on your desk for its beautiful aroma, which will serve as another reminder to your brain of your set intentions. (The sense of smell is the only one of the five senses directly linked to the limbic system – the center of emotions in the brain.)

For your project, you will also need a surface to work on, such as a sheet of paper or a canvas. Instead of a pen, I roll a paper cone to spread my dry plant ink on the surface. You can just use your fingers to spell the words too. I have a little paint brush and a broom to help me along.

Once you have everything ready, it is time to think of the words that represent something that you want to release. For example, I chose to spell the word “fear” as something to let go of. I “sit” with this word and the feelings it may stir in me as I spell it with my dry plant ink. As you paint your word, notice what comes up for you in the process. For example, I noticed that I wanted to rush and finish the “unpleasant” word faster. This is not surprising because we want to avoid unpleasant feelings or discomfort associated with them. However, I chose to slow down and make it beautiful nonetheless. Those negative feelings are there for us to warn or alert us to something. They are worthy to be acknowledges and accepted for what they are.

Once the word is completed, take time to appreciate it before you let it go. I sweep it with my tiny broom. You can mix it up with your hands or even blow it away. This represents the impermanent nature of our emotions. We can move from one mental state to another.

Now is the time to pick up a new positive word that represents something you want to focus on or bring more of into your life.  You use the same dry plant ink to transform the negative into the positive as you invite the lessons of your negative experience to fuel the positive change. Savor the time and the process as you spell your positive word. Notice what comes up for you now. My positive word ended up much bigger and fuller than my negative word. I added more ink to complete it. Keep it as long as you wish before you feel it is time to return it back into the sachet bag and breathe in its lingering aroma. I left mine on my daughter’s desk for now as a surprise when she comes back from school. Perhaps, it will inspire her to paint her own.

Try it and let me know how it goes. Maybe, you will want to share your picture too.

I wish you a happy and peaceful holiday season!

[UPDATE] This is what I got back from my daughter 🙂

By | 2016-12-21T12:49:31+00:00 December 20th, 2016|Brain, Change, Communication, Creativity, Learning|0 Comments

10 yoga-inspired reflections for joyful, stress-free holidays

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff – just sweat. Keep your body hot and your mind cool.thanksgiving
  2. Breathe in peace and calm, breathe out love and joy.
  3. Stir drinks, not emotions.
  4. Twist torsos, not words.
  5. Cartwheel around sensitive topics.
  6. Invert perspectives to get the right side up.
  7. Feel your roots and bend like a willow.
  8. Even if you can’t keep your balance, you can find it again.
  9. Be present for all that is here now, and be grateful for what it awakens in you.
  10. Would a leaf floating to the ground make a sound?
    Would a thought crossing your mind leave you kind?

Words as energy of 5 elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether.

five-elementsWords of all kinds traverse our meadows…
Words that bend minds,
Words that shoot arrows.
Words light up hearts,
And words hide in the shadows.

When we share words, we share facts, ideas, opinions, but those are not the only things we share. Words create a unique blend of energy around the message, just like spices add different flavors to the same ingredients in a dish. Some words work so well together that they transmit powerful energy. Others may neutralize or create confusion. The energy of words activates different emotions in ourselves, as well as our listeners. Words can make us happy, calm, motivated, sad, angry, confused or overwhelmed. With each choice of words, we can either disengage or connect, show up guarded or vulnerable, belittle or uplift, assume or explore.

The most creative forms of energy in communication lead to new patterns of understanding, appreciation, and emotion. Energy is not something inherent in words or emotions, but rather emergent from a variety of factors at play and thus can be transformed.

In our workshop “The Art of Speaking from the Heart,” we borrow from the 5 elements in yoga to talk about the energetic states of communication. These elements permeate all aspects of life, and many cultures use the concept of the 5 elements in one way or another. While this articles addresses their application to communication, these elements speak broadly to our physical and mental states.

1. Earth. The earth element brings a sense of safety and stability to conversations. You feel grounded and centered. The words are rooted in the core of your being, your values and beliefs. You strengthen the earth element in your communication when you build trust and rapport with the participants. All words and feelings are respected. People feel safe to express their concerns, discuss sensitive issues and show their vulnerability. The earth element invites the commitment to deliberation and thoughtful decisions. A well-designed process, structure and agenda support the earth element. In contrast, when the earth element is weak, participants may feel disrespected, manipulated, judged or ostracized.

2. Water. The water element suggests fluidity and flexibility. It awakens the creative flow in conversations and acknowledges the evolving nature of ideas, opinions and solutions. Participants are encouraged to connect with one another, keep an open mind and consider multiple perspectives. Self-expression comes easily as things “roll off your back.” The techniques of brainstorming, role-play and improv strengthen the water element. The energetic state of water invites fresh approaches and innovative solutions. When the water element is weak, conversations feel stale. Participants are entrenched in their positions and unwilling to budge or look at the situation from a different angle.

3. Fire. The fire element is about power and determination. It provides the energy and will to move forward despite difficulties and differences of viewpoints. Participants are willing to stand in their power and speak their truth. The fire element brings out the courage and will to explore the issues below the surface and reach deeper understanding and clarity. In yoga and Ayurveda, fire element is linked to digestion. In conversations, it invites the participants to “digest” the issues and emotions in healthy ways so that they can nourish their bodies and minds. Too much fire, however, can be overwhelming and cause anger, judgment or verbal attacks. The weak fire element results in apathy, withdrawal, and inability to digest new ideas.

4. Air. The air element harnesses the power of the wind to generate movement, enthusiasm, inspiration, and creativity. It brings lightness to conversations, making it possible to discuss difficult issues in a lighthearted and open manner. Humor, stories and anecdotes can strengthen the air element in communication. If it gets too “windy,” the participants can experience a “bumpy ride” – an unpredictable, abrupt or rough patch in their conversation. Regaining their balance and control by focusing on the agenda and addressing issues in a timely manner, can help avoid unnecessary stress and anxiety.

5. Ether, or space. The ether element invites us to observe the reality and hold space for everything that happens. It is about acceptance, conscious awareness, and capacity to connect with your higher self and speak your inner truth. When the mind is still, clarity emerges. We strengthen the ether element when we take time to reflect, mediate, journal, and integrate ideas. The ether element invites us to notice subtle things and welcomes silence as space to allow new ideas to percolate to the surface. Encompassing the fifth, or throat, chakra, the ether element is directly related to self-expression and communication. Sound vibration, emptiness, resonance and expansion are all qualities of ether. Unrestrained, ether can expand beyond boundaries and cause differences to emerge.

How do earth, water, fire, air, and ether manifest in your communications? Where do you find imbalances?

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5 Blood Curdling Fears and Worst Nightmares of Public Speaking

halloween-speakerAll public speakers must face them.  Hidden in the conference rooms of haunted hotels, they wait for the right moment to pounce and send chills down our spines, usually right before some big, important presentation.  They are the speakers’ blood curdling fears and worst nightmares. Halloween is a perfect time to acknowledge their existence and poke a little fun at them.

1. The Ghost of the Killed Messenger.  You know how the saying goes, “Kill the messenger.”  And who is the messenger? It’s you, the public speaker. No wonder, the mere task of opening your jaw, moving your mouth, straining your vocal cords in order to produce some incoherent sounds that someone may actually hear is a deadly fear of most people. According to findings of the Chapman University Survey on American Fears, public speaking is the top personal fear in 2016, afflicting 25.9% of Americans. Since early days, the prospect of losing your social standing in a group or being kicked out spelled gloom and doom for humans.  The memories of the Ghost of the Killed Messenger took deep roots in the oldest part of our brains, causing doubt and anxiety even in modern-day speakers, whose message may not get them killed, however, it may cause them feel rejected. And that’s like being dead to someone, so it’s a death sentence, however you look at it (or turn away and don’t look). The speech witch told me about a spell that you can use, however, to make the Ghost of the Killed Messenger disappear: “In my message lies the power to connect minds through distance and hour, to shine the light of truth for all, and in that power, I stand tall.”  Let me know if the spell works for you.

2. The Memory Maniac. This one is creepy. He picks unsuspecting speakers’ brains. Just when you thought you memorized your presentation, the Memory Maniac would creep into your brain and steal the memory of your speech, leaving no traces. The more panic-stricken you are, the easier it is for the Memory Maniac to do his memory robbery. Wouldn’t you be afraid to forget what you were going to say?

There are a few tricks you can perform, however, to stop the Memory Maniac. First, don’t memorize your presentation word for word. That just leaves too much information in plain view in the brain for the Memory Maniac to steal. Instead, hide it in the Memory Palace.  This memory trick originates in the ancient Greece.  In his historic overview of the “science of memory,” Carl Malamud tells the story of the poet Simonides of Ceos, who witnessed the destruction of the banquet hall where he sang his poem just minutes before the collapse.   Simonides was able to reconstruct the guest list by visualizing the exact location of every guest at the table.  This visualization technique became known as the “memory palace.”  First, you choose your “memory palace”, which can be any place or route that you remember well.  Next, you place your thoughts or images that you want to remember next to distinctive points in the rooms of your palace or along your route. Those points serve as memory hooks.  When you need to recall the material, you mentally walk through the palace and “collect” the pieces of information that you left at each distinctive point. Since the memory palace you choose only makes sense to you because you know it well, this trick confuses the Memory Maniac, who wouldn’t know what’s important enough to steal.  Another way to escape from the Memory Maniac is to take a nap. Sleep crystallizes all the important details in your memory, and the Memory Maniac can’t carry them away when they are in the crystal form.

3. The Time Thief. This one is sneaky. You successfully used the spell and made the Ghost of the Killed Messenger disappear. You hid all your memories in the memory palace overnight. There is a lot to say. You are half-way through your presentation when you suddenly realize that you have no more time left. The Time Thief used it all up.  Have you ever complained about the speakers who went over their allotted time? How about the speakers who kept it short and to the point? Then, you know how important it is to finish on time. A tell-tale sign that the Time Thief is in the room is that the audience members get anxious, stop listening and start looking at their phones. Some may even rush out of the room.

What do you do to keep the Time Thief away from your conference room? First, bring a magic clock. This clock should tell you when to start, when to take breaks, if needed, and when to finish your presentation.  Ideally, it should also work as scales to measure all your content and tell your exactly how much time your speech would take. Since those magic clock-scales are hard to come by, try to cut your content a little so that you target about 90% of your allotted time.  Don’t overstuff your audience’s brains. They are busy people, not scarecrows. Rehearse the parts of your presentation to know how much each part would take.  Monitor the magic clock as you go to know where you should be in your presentation and adjust accordingly. Sprinkle your presentation with some pixie dust activities that can fill up or reduce time as needed. Look for the pixie dust labeled “Q&A” or “Audience Participation.” By the way, you should never end your presentation by throwing pixie dust around. It gives control over your message to whoever happens to catch most of your pixie dust. Plus, it creates a mess in the room. Always tidy up the ending.

4. The Tech Trolls. Plug it in! Speakers love their slides, mikes, WiFi, cameras, projectors and screens until the Tech Trolls shows up and technology stops working. The tech trolls are just grumpy. There is no reason for them to disrupt a well-planned tech-savvy presentation, but they like to do it anyways. It is very scary and frustrating for speakers and event organizers. The only way to defeat the Tech Trolls is to outrun them in the worst-case scenario race. A Tech Troll says, “I will make your video load super slowly.” You say, “I have thought of that and uploaded the whole video to my flash drive so I wouldn’t have to rely on the Internet connection.”  Another Tech Troll grumbles, “I will cause a blackout.” You respond, “I have thought of that…I’ve got a few aromatic candles here and a story to tell.” You get the idea. Plan for the worst, and your will outsmart the Tech Trolls.

5. The Audience Zombie Apocalypse. This one is tough. How do you present anything to zombies?  The only piece of advice here is you have to know your audience. Take time to learn as much as you can about your audience before your presentation. Ask the event organizers or Siri, search web, connect though social media. Include some content into your presentation that is particularly relevant to your audience that can help you build rapport. And don’t turn into a zombie yourself! Keep it lively!

Happy and safe Halloween!

By | 2016-10-31T18:45:09+00:00 October 31st, 2016|Miscellaneous|0 Comments

Take a breath: 5 ways breathing can help you confidently speak in public

yoga-in-atlantaAs a long-time student of yoga, I have come to appreciate the quiet helper that is there for us in a variety of situations if we care to notice – our own breath. We often take it for granted, but if we learn to pay attention to it and work with it consciously, it can help us regulate stress, boost confidence and increase impact of our speech.

When you are about to pronounce the first word of your speech, do you do it on an inhale or exhale? Have you noticed or just guessed your answer? Now, go ahead and pretend you are about to speak. First, exhale and then start speaking. Then, inhale and start speaking. Do you notice the difference? When you take a full breath and fill your chest with air before speaking, the sound traveling on the waves of air as you exhale is more resonant and reaches farther. There are many other reasons why public speakers may want to tap into the power of breath.

  1. You brain needs oxygen. Around 20% of all oxygen that enters the body goes to the brain. Many people are shallow breathers, especially if they are sitting at their desks in a slouched position. Taking deep breaths before and during your speech may improve the focus and clarity of thinking. Studies suggest that we yawn when we need to bring more air and blood flow to the brain to cool it and make it more focused. Now that you know why we yawn, don’t take it personally when your audience members start yawning – their brains may just need more oxygen.
  2. Deep breathing helps to release stress. Dissolve your pre-speech jitters with a breathing pattern. There are various patterns that can help you regulate your physical and mental states by counting the duration of inhales and exhales. For example, you can inhale for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four. Notice how you fill up your belly, then your chest as you take a deep breath. The goal is to stop racing thoughts and calm the nerves.
  3. Breathing regulates your speaking tempo. You may have experienced it or heard someone else speak really fast and appear out of breath. It is not a comfortable state to be in or to listen to because it leaves us agitated. Natural breathing helps you slow down and take pauses that are needed for your words to sink in. Think of silence as the white space in a speech. The white space in a painting provides contrast so that other elements become prominent. Similarly, pauses are needed to increase the impact of your words.
  4. Breathing can replace your filler words. Nobody plans those “ums” and “uhs” in their speech, but they pop up nonetheless when we lose our train of thought or get briefly distracted by something else. To regroup, try taking a breath or two instead of filling the space, and then move on to the next point.
  5. Breathing varies your pitch. You don’t want to sound monotonous. Breathing can help you raise or lower you pitch depending on your message, character or a line in a dialogue. Here is a fun experiment…Take a deep breath and try speaking in a really low voice. Impossible, right? Now, exhale fully and try to speak in a high-pitched voice. That’s hard too. Now, you know how to use your inhales and exhales to vary the pitch naturally and effectively.

How do you use breathing techniques in your public speaking?

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By | 2016-10-18T13:38:20+00:00 October 18th, 2016|Communication, Public Speaking|0 Comments