My Meditation Practice

Meditation – What Has Been Working

August 20, 2016

Patanjali says that yoga* is the calming of the fluctuations of the mind.

But I have to be honest and say that I am finding fluctuations in my meditation practice, not just my mind. While this blog is an evolving medium, it’s intent is to share just this – the ebb and flow of my practice. What I’m noticing, what I am struggling with, where I’m finding benefits, etc. I have also shared and will continue to share what I find to be working during my actual practice.

This is one of those posts where I share what is working for me now.

My meditation practice is truly just sitting with my breath. Complete and total breath awareness. Nothing else. And this is hard.

In-and-out of my head flow the thoughts (just to describe a few):

My grocery list….
What I have to do once I stand up….
The comment that recently annoyed me….
If I’m hungry or not…
Wow I’m doing it!!!! I’m meditating!!!!
Oops, now I’m not….

And this is how I (usually) practice:

My grocery list….
Back to the breath.
What I have to do once I stand up….
Back to the breath.
What recently annoyed me….
Back to the breath.
If I’m hungry or not…
Back to the breath.
Wow I’m doing it!!!! I’m meditating!!!!
Back to the breath.
Oops, now I’m not….
Back to the breath.

Back to the breath’ is what ebbs and flows right now in this stage of my meditation ‘maturity’.

What does ‘back to the breath’ mean? Is it a breathing pattern? Usually. It’s anything that brings my awareness within the edges of my form.

As of late, ‘back to the breath’ has been the act of focusing on the moment when I feel the back of my lower lungs stretch.

Try it finding this spot. Right now. The lower part of your lungs are below the shoulder blades and just above your navel.

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If you observe your un-altered breath, you’ll notice that it stays in a certain area of your torso – the area under your sternum.

If you have some experience with, or a regular pranayama practice, you may have a more developed breathing pattern where your navel moves in and out. Try to do this type of three part breathing first.

Once you have the breath moving in and out using your navel (which is engaging more of your diaphragm), try to move the breath so it stretches out the back of your lungs. This take immense internal concentration.

Even if you don’t feel the back of your lungs inflate and deflate, keep picturing it. Keep sending your awareness there. Eventually you will start to turn this mind-body connection on. In time, you will be able to tap into this special inside spot.

I’m sharing this because I’ve found this ‘special inside spot’ to be truly centering in my mediation practice. This ‘back to the breath’ practice is what is working for me now and truth be told, it feels really, really good. So I wanted to share.

Meditate & be well.

*References to yoga on this blog are towards the meditative practice as opposed to the physical asana practice which is often connected with the term.

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Meditation & Minfulness

Meditation & Impermanence

August 13, 2016

I keep a personal journal (that my sister made me) and along with documenting my random musings, I also collect quotes in it. I also randomly flip back through my journal to see where my mind has been. A few days ago, I was doing just that – opening random pages of my journal and reading my thought-history.

I came across this quote the day after I wrote a post about our attachment to impermanence as a source of suffering or discontent.

“Nothing in this world is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – William Shakespeare

I’ve always believed that the universe sends us little messages and I can’t help but think this is just that. A little message from the universe saying ‘good on ya Erin.’

I also can’t help but think how beautifully Shakespeare speaks to our potential ability to manage our attachment. Oh, and how easy he makes it sound.

But here is the thing, there are times when it is easy, and times when it’s really (maybe really really) hard. We can all look back on times when we’ve managed well. We’re all more competent than we give ourselves credit for. But then there are times when managing our attachment to the impermanent nature or life has been a significant challenge.

We all go through these phases. Highs and lows. Ups and downs. Good times and bad times. There are seasons in nature and seasons in life.

But here is the thing that I’ve been thinking about. The highs shouldn’t be too high and lows shouldn’t be too low. The pendulum shouldn’t swing too far to one side only, nor should it swing too far on either side.

One of the laws of physics says that for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. One way to look at this is that higher the high, the farther you have to fall. I realize that is a pessimistic view, but it’s also illustrates an important perspective – we need to be able to weather the good and the bad without sacrificing the balance of our body, mind and soul. And to do this, we can’t go too high and we can’t go too low on the pendulum. And managing our attachment to life’s impermanency is what manages the swing of the pendulum.

We need to pause before we get too high and before we get too low. And this is what meditation is. We practice and observe what it is to pause when we are sitting in meditation. We spend time in this pause. We give our mind, body and soul some time in this pause. This pause creates space between our true selves and the good or the bad. Here we can rationalize, process and manage.

When things go from looking like this:

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To looking like this:

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We know we are managing our attachment to impermanence. This management is one of meditation’s gifts.

Meditate & be well.

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Meditation & Minfulness

Change, Attachment, and Impermanence

August 7, 2016
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I am going through a big change.

I am leaving beautiful Vermont and moving to Germany for my job. The chance to live and work abroad has been a significant goal of mine for a very long time. I want to connect and set up roots in a completely different community. I want to figure out how to be successful in my career under completely different circumstances. I’ve been itching to get outside my comfort zone.

And I did it. I made this happen. I am going to work for a company that I am ecstatic about, doing a job that I have experience and success in. And I am definitely outside of my comfort zone.

Even though I know I want this, and this decision feels so right, it’s still hard.

I am leaving a pretty good life.
I am leaving everything I know.
I sold my lovely little home.
I left a job I was successful at.
I said goodbye to my family & friends.
I said goodbye to my family & friends.
I said goodbye to my family & friends.

Needless to say, the concept of impermanence and attachment have been on my mind as of late.

The notion that our attachment to life’s impermanency causes suffering is a foundational concept in Buddhism. The stronger the attachment, the greater the suffering.

That being said, there is good news.

Buddhism also teaches us that suffering and attachment have a causal and direct relationship. So the less we attach to life’s impermanency, the less we suffer.

But let’s be honest – we can’t rid ourselves of all attachments. Nor should we.

Our human connections, the pursuit of our passions and our love for life itself are potential sources of suffering but they are also the substance of humanity and the ingredients for a fulfilling life.

And this is where I am. I can either attach & suffer or accept that the suffering I have felt from all the goodbyes is actually beautiful. It’s beautiful because it means I have built a life filled with people I care about.

The sorrow I am feeling doesn’t have to consume me or govern my actions and this is what meditation has helped me learn. 

Life is ever-changing. It’s a continuous flow of moments weaved together creating a wealth of experiences. The potential in these experiences arises from their dynamic nature; day-to-day, minute-to-minute and breath-to-breath.

If I accept and go with the current of life, I can weather the suffering that comes along with desires and attachments. I can pause and realize that I am the same person through the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, the easy and the hard.

And this is what I want. I want to go into this next chapter with all of my heart, all of my mind, and all of my soul.

Meditate & be well.

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Meditation & Minfulness

Meditation & Self Awareness

July 27, 2016
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There are so many ways to speak to self awareness.

It is described as the act of perceiving, gaining knowledge, learning and understanding one’s thoughts, beliefs and motives. I like to think of it as honoring your true nature.

There is a lot of information on the interwebz about self awareness. It’s also used in a number of different contexts. In my grown-up job, I speak to self awareness most often when providing guidance and professional coaching to my staff. To honestly assess where they need to develop more skills to achieve their next milestone.

But what really gets me thinking is why do we need to be educated and coached on self awareness? Why do we need to consciously work on learning about ourselves? Where did we loose ourselves?

I think it is because we are so externally stimulated. We have amazing senses and highly functional brains so we can take in a lot. We are always doing, seeing, speaking and processing and that can take up a lot of space in our minds. This is illustrated in our tendency to identify ourselves with or in relation to something else. For example, we describe not our true selves, but ourselves by our circumstances. I am an artist. I am a utra-runner. I am a mother.

We also live in a highly competitive culture. We are taught that inadequacies lead to failure so we conceal our weaknesses. We desperately want to prevent judgement. So on-goes the hard shell and out goes the opportunity for true improvement, potential and contentment.

Here is the thing, being a mother, an artist or an ultra-runner isn’t what makes you tick. These attributes are on top of your true self. Honestly assessing where you can improve enables the potential to improve.

When you understand what is inside, you can start to see the why. Why you react in specific ways. Why you cannot make changes in an area that is causing you angst. Why you can’t achieve a specific goal. With the why, you can start to make changes.

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We develop patterns and thought interpretations that aren’t always good for us. We do things that prohibit our relationships, careers and personal growth. Without self awareness, it is really hard to break these patterns. It’s really hard to reach your potential. The hard shell stays locked on.

When you better understand the root cause, the ‘inside’, you can better understand the reasons behind the patterns, thought interpretations, reactions and stumbling blocks. It’s like treating the cause of the allergic reaction instead of the symptom of the allergic reaction.

The what  is self awareness. The why is potential. The how is meditation.

In my last post I wrote about the pause. I wrote about how meditation gives us the opportunity to practice pausing and when we pause we can create space. We just need a little space between us and the pattern, the stimuli, the cause, the action, the reaction.

In this space we can observe. We can pay attention. We can reflect. We can assess. More often than not, our responses are lightening fast and before we know it, we’re back to the same. Goal not achieved. Angst is back in full force. Our typical reactions prevail.

In this space we can start to get to know the why. We can look underneath the hard shell. We can start to converse with our true nature.

Meditation becomes the gateway to the inside. 

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When we practice meditation, we not only practice pausing, but we also practice going within. Meditation is a time to start to get to know our true nature, what is underneath that hard shell.

To change, to reach out potential, we have to pause and let ourselves be open and vulnerable. Meditation is the dedication to practicing this pause & vulnerability.

Meditate & be well.

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Meditation & Minfulness

Meditation – Practicing The Pause

July 23, 2016
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Inhale
Pause
Exhale
Pause

Meditation is your time to practice this pause.

Try it, right now.

Inhale
Pause
Exhale
Pause

Can you feel that pause? Just as your breath transitions from inhaling to exhaling there is a moment. A space. A pause.

Can you be in that pause? Sitting there with the space of nothing and infinity at the same time.

This isn’t easy. Especially at first.

But the ability to do this, to pause, is monumental.

Think of the last time you were upset, agitated, depressed or anxious. More often than not, these feelings of anxiety, agitation, frustration and depression come on quickly and last longer than they should.

There is a natural reason for this. We’re fight-or-flight animals and triggering these defense mechanisms were necessary to outrun the bears.

But today, when we don’t have any bears to out run, we still conjure up these harsh overreactions with just as much speed. They come on in a moment and overtake us.

All of a sudden we jump to harmful conclusions. We can’t think strait. We can’t problem solve. We make rash decisions that are harmful to others and ourselves.

But if we pause, just for a moment, we can create some space between our true selves and the fight-or-flight reaction.

In this pause, our higher brain has an opportunity to step in with some reason. This pause can lessen the grip that anxiety and agitation can have on our mind, our breath and our soul.

Meditation gives us the opportunity to practice this pause. So when the stimuli comes up – whether it be your co-worker, that person who cut you off or even your spouse, you can pause before jumping to your usual reaction. It’s not you, it’s your pattern. Your opportunity in these situations is during this pause.

Inhale
Pause
Exhale
Pause

There is so much power in this pause.

Meditate & be well.

 

1 Comment

  • Reply Ira Rabois – Summertime July 23, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    […] *New Addition: I just saw this posting on Facebook, meditating on the pause by Erin Ramsay. […]

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    My Meditation Practice

    My Meditation Recipe – What is Working For Me Now

    July 10, 2016
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    I have a relationship with my meditation practice.

    Sometimes I get along great with her. I crave my time with her. I look forward to sitting down and being with her, which is really being within myself. 

    And sometimes I don’t. I don’t want to be around her and I kind of avoid her.

    Truth be told, I have a slight need to defend myself here. But I’m not going to. I’m sharing my journey as a normal person and this normal person’s meditation practice ebbs & flows.

    As of late, meditation and I have been in an ebb phase.

    I’ve been here before and when this happens, I have to change a few things up in my practice. In the past, I would try to address my struggles with big, grandiose changes like mediating for 1 hour twice per day every day!

    Spoiler alert – fail.

    Huge lightening learning – small changes actually work.

    So I’ve made a few small changes that have brought be back to flowing with my meditaiton practice.

    I have stopped using my iPhone to time my sitting practice because I’d check the timer during my practice. I know use my oven timer & then sit in a different room. This allows me to get a little ‘lost’ in my practice, it’s still time bound but I feel more unleashed with out that d@*$ iPhone near me.

    I set my sitting practice to be 15 minutes long. During this time, I have two breath awareness patterns that have been serving me well:

    1. Sama Vritti – commonly referred to as equal part breathing, this is a pranayama technique where all parts of the breath are the same in length. I actually do a variation here where I inhale for a count of 6, hold in for a count of 3, exhale for 6, hold out for 3. Traditionally you would have the same count all around.
    2. Focused Breathing – I inhale focusing on my backside and exhale focusing on my frontside. I actually try to feel the back of of my shoulder blades splay out and lift as the breath stretches out the back of my lungs. I then move the breath across my collar bones and exhale down the front of my body feeling my navel hug into my spine. Moving the breath in this circular pattern is a whole lot o’things  – maybe this will be my next post:)
    3. 10 minutes of pranayama –Nadi Shodhana or Kapalabhati Pranayama  or both.

    The small changes have really worked for me these last couple of weeks. I was struggling with my practice and now I’m not so much.

    I’ve mentioned the small things before and the more I journey, the more I covet them. The small things mean I can do this. And here’s the thing about small things – they feed the soul just as much as the big things.

    Meditate & be well.

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    Meditation & Minfulness

    Finding Self-Honesty

    June 18, 2016
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    “To thine own self, be true.” -Shakespeare

    My meditation practice has brought many gifts into my life. The gift I want to talk about today is self-honesty.

    Self-honesty is not in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. My type A personality would love a clear, vetted definition of this word to use as a guide here. Something that I can memorize and reference. But it doesn’t technically exist.

    Ironically, the lack of recognized definition requires me to tap in to my own senses to define self-honesty, which is kind of what self-honesty actually is.

    For me, self-honesty is this amalgamation of seeking, accepting and understanding what I’m experiencing within.

    I think of it as this voice, deep in my core that is really quite wise. It’s the voice of my true nature. The one that had a say when I was a kid, telling me sincerely what I liked and what I didn’t.

    Horses? Like. Piano lessons? Dislike. Potato chips? Like. Bananas? Dislike.

    These examples simplify this inner voice, but what I keep thinking is how simple it was to listen to this inner voice when you’re a kid. I knew exactly what was going on inside when I was 8.

    But as I grew and became an adult, I began to ignore this inner voice. I turned away from it and began to pay attention to the outside ‘should voice’. Doing, thinking, saying and acting according to how I thought I ‘should’.

    I ‘should’ study science because that would mean I was smart.

    I ‘should’ do marathons because that would mean I was a dedicated, good runner.

    The ‘should voice’ was completely external, directed by all the things that were outside of my true self. Sometimes my true nature actually liked what the ‘should voice’ was saying (like running). But the problem was that the ‘should voice’ took it to the extreme (1 marathon = great! 6 marathons = bye bye knees.)

    The ‘should voice’ was loud, bossy and really (really) hard to please.

    When your ‘should voice’ takes over, it is hard to hear your true, inner voice and it is almost impossible act and make decisions that are in harmony with our true nature.

    We are exposed to so many external messages that it becomes a real challenge to turn inward and listen to our true nature, our deep-inside-voice.

    I believe that my inner voice brought meditation into my life because she knew I desperately needed to hear her. She knew that this externally-focused life was causing internal suffering and even harm. The ‘should voice’ didn’t work and I’d had enough.

    Meditation has given my inner voice some volume. It has given me the ability to step inside and connect with my true nature and recognize what I may truly need or want as opposed to what the media or other individuals may be saying. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard to stay the course. But at least I’m gaining awareness.

    Meditation has given me the pause I need to turn from the outside to the inside.

    As a result, life flows just a bit easier now. There are moments of calm, acceptance and self-love. Somedays there are longer moments than others and some days the moments escape me. But that is just how it goes.

    Meditate & be well.

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    Yoga

    Applying The Niyamas To Your Practice

    May 2, 2016
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    Last week, I wrote about how one can apply Patanjali’s yamas to meditation.  Yoga postures tend to dominate our social media feeds so we are quite familiar with the physical portion of yoga, the asana practice. But we tend to be less familiar with the concept of yoga as a science or a process of brining us more in touch with our true self. In the Yoga Sutras, one of the oldest and most regarded yoga texts written by the sage Patanjali, outlines the science of yoga in eight distinct limbs (or steps). The first limb, the yamas, describes the restraints that enable us to harmoniously live within a community.

    While the first limb is about our behaviors as they relate to others, the second limb or niyamas, is about the behaviors as they relate to our own internal happiness, confidence and inner strength. The niyamas are the observances or supportive duties that we can use to create a positive internal environment enabling us to connect with our true self. Together, the yamas and the niyamas constitute the moral codes of yoga’s philosophy, science and lifestyle.

    The niyamas are comprised of five core observances:

    Saucha (purity) Is about keeping things clean. Our body, our minds and our living space. Things take up energy and when we have ‘clutter’ both around and inside of us our state of mind is going to bear the brunt. Our meditation practice is essential to our mental hygiene but it’s going to be impacted by what is going on within our body and within our environment. Impurities adversely affect our thinking patterns, clouding our innate wisdom and clarity. So take inventory of what is going in and around you (and no I’m not suggesting a juice cleanse). What are some attainable and sustainable lifestyle changes you can make to de-clutter and cleanse your life? Where can you find a little more calm and a little more order that could potentially support your meditation practice?

    Samtosha (contentment) I love this one. It’s about welcoming what you get. It’s about releasing your mind of wanting something different and accepting what is. When we are constantly striving for something ‘different’ or when we have created a thought pattern that things ‘should’ be a certain way we foster the ideal habitat for suffering. There are a lot of expectations around meditation and this sets us up for frustration and struggle during our practice. But if we approach our practice as a time to just ‘be’ in whatever should arise we can begin to release some of these binding expectations. The number of minutes spent sitting in meditation is irrelevant. The number of times your mind wanders doesn’t matter. Let your mediation be a space to just ‘be’ and invite contentment into your practice.

    Tapas (self-discipline) This literally translates to heat. It is the energy you conjure up to mobilize change or focus an effort. We have to call on this energy, or this heat because we’re proactively doing something that will improve our body, mind or spirit. And chances are these are things that we don’t ‘really’ want to do. It takes self discipline to take care of ourselves in a culture seeped in unhealthy habits. Let’s be honest, sitting down for our mediation practice isn’t always high on our list. If it didn’t feel like a chore at times it wouldn’t be so hard to do. It takes commitment, self-discipline and this ‘fire’ to bring us to our practice every day. But here is the thing, we all have self-discipline. So use it.

    Svadhyaya (self-study) Literally translates ‘to recollect the Self’. This is about asking the eternal question ‘Who Am I?’ This one is not easy especially because the way we live can (and does) completely distract us from our true nature, our internal self. We are subject to constant stimulation and never ending messaging which prevents us from paying attention to what is going on inside. I’ve written about this here  and here. It’s one of the primary reasons I believe we need meditation more than ever. We need a break from all of the noise and stimuli. We need to practice listening to our own internal needs and inclinations without external influences. Use your meditation practice as a true break from everything we deal with in the outside world. Let your inner voice, your true self be present in your practice, learning from and listening to what’s inside. Use meditation to encourage your true self to be loud – eventually louder than everything else.

    Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion) This is the dedication or surrender to something higher. The offering to something greater than ourselves, the pinnacle of spiritual practice. Patanjali states that liberation, the highest happiness, can only come from a love of or communion with God. But once again, don’t get distracted by the anthropomorphic representation of God. Consider that there is a divine design, a benevolent essence in our universe and think about your contribution to this divinity. In simplest terms, it’s about the notion that this offering connects us to something greater. This connection makes our own capacity limitless and this is beautiful. I’ve shared my meditation recipe where I talk about finding the edges of your form. This gives you a tangible place to drop into, or go within. When I think of devotion in the context of this niyama, I think of the edges of my form actually disintegrating. So there is no outside of me or inside of me. It is all just me. There is true comfort here and I don’t think my words can do this comfort justice so I would encourage you to try it yourself. Connect to the greater universe in your meditation and feel the grounding effect this has on your practice.

    The niyamas can truly serve us by opening up new capacities to nourish our body, mind and spirit. Together with the yamas, we can learn to live a simple, peaceful, disciplined life that enables our true self to flourish. Once again, think about these observances and how they can contribute to your meditation practice.

    Mediate & be well.

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    Monthly Readings

    Meditation & Mindfulness Readings On The Internet

    April 30, 2016

    It’s the last day of April and to round out your month, here is a list of interesting reads on mindfulness & meditation from around the interwebz. Enjoy.

    Meditate and be well.

    The core skill of meditation is showing up
    Release your expectations and keep coming back to your practice.

    What Unconditional Self-Love Looks Like
    Self-love is deep within. This piece gives a new perspective to loving your true nature.

    The Unexpected Benefits of Anxiety
    We often use meditation as an anxiety anecdote, but this piece gives a different perspective on anxiety.

    Different Perspectives
    The last quote really resonated with me.

    Don’t Just Declutter, De-Own.
    Interesting thoughts on shedding the ‘things’

    We Are All We Have
    We are all that we need.

    12 Self-Awareness Exercises That Fuel Happiness and Success
    Powerful message about how recognizing your motivations.

     

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    My Meditation Practice

    Ramblings On My Meditation Practice – Small Steps

    April 28, 2016
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    ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.’  – Lao Tzu

    This past weekend I was walking with a friend. A good friend. A friend who suffers from chronic pain. Every day.

    For the past few months, she has been participating in a clinical study that is testing the effectiveness of this new treatment specifically designed for her ailment. On our walk, she was articulating the stress she feels when she has to speak to the effectiveness of the treatment – she thinks it is helping but it isn’t night and day. It was like she didn’t want to let someone else or herself down if she couldn’t say, with complete confidence, that this was a cure. She can pinpoint small improvements in some areas, but it’s not like her chronic pain is suddenly gone.

    This made me think of so many things that we assume will change. One action, one modification, one trial. Immediate results.

    I started out thinking this story represented the meditation journey. But as I’m writing it, I am realizing that this is how meditation also serves us too.

    When I started meditating, I didn’t notice anything. Not a damn thing.

    I was uncomfortable sitting and my mind wandered.

    But I kept at it.

    After awhile I was still uncomfortable sitting and my mind kept wandering.

    But I kept at it.

    Even though the B.A.T.s (Big A$$ Things = the things that stress me out and knock me down) I was dealing with were still in my life, I started to notice that very small things were changing. And I mean small.

    • I could watch a TV show without having to fiddle on my phone or get up constantly.
    • I could stand in line and not be impatient.
    • I could do things at a slow pace (slow paces typically drove me nutty).
    • I could read an entire article in one sitting without getting up to check something, do something, be somewhere, etc.
    • When something frustrated me, I could think, ‘huh, that’s frustrating’ as opposed to letting it completely consume me (this still ebbs and flows).
    • I could leave a dirty dish in the sink (hello type A).
    • I could untie my shoelaces before yanking my foot out of my sneaker.

    I told you they were small.

    When I sit on my cushion and drop into my meditation, I am making a small step towards my own inner connection, peace and fulfillment.

    And in return, I’m seeing small steps towards inner connection, peace and fulfillment.

    If you go in expecting that meditation is going to cure all of your BATs, you’re going to be in for a serious let down. Chances are you’ve practiced being a certain way for many, many years and it is going to take time to reverse your patterns, modify your behavior or change your actions.

    It also doesn’t help that we are conditioned to think that there are [immediate] fixes for everything.

    Attaching the expectation of immediate results puts an unattainable goal on your practice and that’s not fair. It’s not fair to the science of meditation and most of all, it’s not fair to you. You deserve a chance at whatever you are trying to cope with and meditation gives you a [really good] chance. So many things take time, and this is not a bad thing. There is a lot of learning, growing and strengthening that can take place with time. Think of how long it takes to save money or grow your hair out or move up in your career. The good things are going to take time.

    Keep practicing. Notice the little changes. Give yourself time. Treat your practice with compassion.

    Mediate & be well.

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