This week I am super excited to introduce Rachel Hébert as a guest writer for The Southern Trunk. A dear friend, a talented writer and someone who has inspired me from the moment I met her. Rachel has a gift for teaching others about how to improve their lives through health and wellness. I hope you enjoy hearing her heart and the simple ways you can change your life for the better. 

Wow. I find myself with jittery fingers running across the keyboard as I start this post. I’ve been journaling since I was 10, and learned what happened at Columbine high school in 1999. For some reason, my 10-year-old heart heard about the students who died and I started crying. Until very recently, I hated my emotional nature. Why did I cry when Miss Piggy rejected Kermit the Frog in one of the Muppets episodes? Seriously, what is wrong with me?

Actually, nothing is. I was made to help people heal in some way, some how, through my tear-filled life.

I think we are all made to help our fellow human beings with our own unique person.

This first post is an attempt to help someone, in some way, through simple things. When I think of simple, for some reason I think of the word small. Maybe that is because as Americans we often eat big meals, drive big cars, spend big numbers, live in big houses, and dream big dreams. These things are good in their place, but I’m not the first person to write about these things not bringing lasting happiness.

How about the 75-year Harvard study revealing the single most important factor in human happiness is relationships?

I couldn’t agree more, but on a day-to-day basis, how do we accomplish what is so crucial to our happiness? But wait, isn’t it selfish to focus on doing something that makes me happy? My mind wanders to the fear of being self-centered, but I know that I am.

Wait.

This study just gave me so much freedom. Let me wrap my mind around this a second….

If: Relationships + Me = Happiness

Then: HappinessRelationships = just Me

And: HappinessMe = Relationships

OK I see. You have to have Relationships and Me on the same side of the equation in order to obtain happiness. I like this math.

What if I translate “Relationships” to “Fellowship with others”

Fellowship with others + Me = Happiness … That means that others are happy in this equation too. That means that by pursuing my own true happiness, I am also making others happy. That is freeing. In fact, I might even translate fellowship with others to “investing in other people’s lives”

Investing in other people’s lives + Me = Happiness

Isn’t that what relationships are, investing in others’ lives? Now that I understand this particular A + B = C, I don’t feel guilty for pursing happiness. I’m actually super excited about it, and don’t mind claiming pursuing my own happiness.

Ok so now… How to pursue happiness and do it well?

Here is where I want to get back to simplicity. The simplicity of our senses… feel, smell, taste.

Since how I am feeling affects how I interact with others, I should probably pay attention to that if I want to be happy. I guess having a relationship means interacting with someone. Can I have any relationship to be happy? No, the nature of the relationships determine if our A + B = C is correct math.

Here’s how I’m going to think about this…

4 + 6 = 10, but another kind of 6 doesn’t work here.

4 + (-6) = -2

Now I’m in the negatives. That was fast.

But this makes sense to me with our original equation:

Relationships + Me = Happiness

The kind of relationship matters, just like the kind of 6 matters.

OK done with math. Daily life isn’t as simple as A + B = C, and we all have experience to tell us relationships aren’t that simple either. But how can we incorporate simplicity into our lives to make Me + Investing in others’ lives = Happiness a big, real, wonderful reality for us?

I offer a part of the answer is simple self-care. I said simple. That means using minutes in your day. We’re not talking hours. I’ve spent the last year delving into yoga, meditation, essential oils, and cooking. Each one can bring simple, wonderful change to our lives. If we are well, most often, we will be well with others.

Let’s start with yoga.

What frustrates us most? I would contend a main frustration for humans is when other humans waste our time. We can earn money back, we can buy things again, but we cannot get our time back.

In reality, I am the biggest waster of my own time. We usually don’t waste our life all at once; we waste it little by little.

How we do this varies for each person, but why do we waste our lives?

I don’t know, but I think it has something to do with not seeing the big picture. We often live from point to point, checking things off. If we don’t create space to think, we will waste our time. How can we create space to think in our already over-booked, hurried lives? Where in my day do I allow myself to just think? Not drive, not listen to music, not listen to someone else or myself talk, not work, not read, not check my phone, but just think? It’s a rare occasion during the day.

I didn’t realize this, but when I first practiced yoga, I loved it because it allowed me space to think. I rode for Auburn’s Equestrian Team, and for four years enjoyed the company of 35 other women in the gym. At 5:30 A.M. we lined up on an indoor football field goal line with screechy whistles telling us it was time to run. We didn’t have much time to think. I miss the camaraderie of my teammates; I don’t miss the lack of thought-provoking time.

“Don’t let the next thing or the last thing rob you of the big thing God has for you to do in your life.” Louie Giglio of Passion City Church said this in a sermon I sat under recently. It reminded me of much of my life. I’m sure I shifted in my seat thinking about how I know I want to do more with my life than I have thus far.

But wait, before I start on a self-deprecating thought train, I’m going to remind myself of what I have started already. I have started radical self-care. It is not radical because I have started doing a headstand every day, or because I eat the rainbow for every meal and post it on my wellness blog. It is radical because it is simple change that helps me be well. When I am well, I can help others be well. Each of us can do this.

I challenge you to implement small changes in your routine, and be patient as you watch your body, and more importantly, your mind, respond.

It’s fitting to start with a morning routine. Try 5-10 minutes of yoga before your morning coffee. You can do this on a mat or on carpet or hardwood floor. We can wake up our mind by waking up our spine. Our spine is created to stretch in six different directions: forward bend, backward bend, left and right lateral bend, and left and right twist.

Further down are examples of stretching the spine all six directions. These exercises everyone, unless you are working with a constricting injury, can do. Let yourself enjoy the stillness in each one for a few breath cycles (inhales and exhales) and see how you feel.

As you move your body into each pose, breathe into the parts of your body that are tense. Imagine your breath literally flowing into your shoulders, your back, your hips, your arms, your neck, and face as you hold the pose. It may seem and feel awkward, it did to me at first. “Listening to my body.” “What does that even mean?” – was my first question in my first ever yoga class. But truly, if we are working inside a stifled, un-cared for body, what is going to happen? Our mind will eventually follow suit. I would encourage you to switch your alarm to peaceful noises if you are waking up to, quite literally, an alarming sound. Wake up to peaceful noise, peacefully make your way to your living room, or wherever you can practice these movements in your home. You can practice a lot of these in your bed even. Just get your body moving with intentional movement and begin to prepare your mind for your day. When you prepare your body for your day, preparing your mind comes so much easier.

“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance.” C.S. Lewis

Lewis is the man. Yoga is not the answer to combatting the evil in the world, but it can be part of the many little decisions we make every day that are of infinite importance to bringing good into the world.

There is no right way to start your yoga practice. I’ll go through my favorites, but remember, listen to your body. If you want to stand up and get moving, do so! If you want to just sit up in your bed and not open your eyes until you’ve done a few poses, do that! Keep simplicity in mind. When you feel yourself thinking “I’m not sure about that” “I think I would hate that.” It’s OK. There are hundreds of yoga poses that can be specifically tailored for your body, and more importantly, your beautiful mind!

Some of my favorite movements to start my day:

I start with my hands in a prayer mudra (hand position), and consciously choose not to turn my thoughts to my day yet. Intentions are a great thing. Pick an intention for the day. Intentions help accomplish your goals. They help ward off distraction, stress, and other inhibiting things. A regular intention for me is a joyful spirit in all that I am doing that day, even if it is a least favorite part of life. Another more specific intention could be to accomplish one thing at a time rather than letting every screen in your life ping your thoughts around.

Seated Cat Pose – Simply press into your knees as if you are pressing your body away from your legs. As you press, round your back and let your head drop.

Seated Cow – Pull on your knees as if to pull your body toward your legs,  arching your back. Arch your head and shoulders back as well.

Return to a neutral spine and inhale as you raise your arms up overhead. Let this be very active as  you feel yourself stretch through your fingertips. Feel the stretch in your side body.

Exhale as you open your arms wide, roll your shoulders down your back, open up your chest. Feel the freedom in opening up your heart.

Inhale as you draw your arms forward, round your back and tilt your forehead toward the ground.

These simple movements can be done almost anywhere. In bed, at your desk, even at a red light if you bend your arms to a 90 degree angle. All of these can be done standing as well – simply do the same rounding and arching of your back, and same arm movements, just while you are standing. You might get inquisitive smiles in checkout lines if you look like you’re doing interpretive dance. 😉 Hey, it’s three minutes of your life standing in line! May as well use it to help your brain + body instead of killing your back. Who knows, maybe you will even have the chance to tell the person staring at you how they can be well too. 🙂

OK on to our hands and knees.

Traditional Cat-Cow movements – Simply bring your wrists beneath your shoulders, your knees beneath your hips, and round and arch your back- keeping with the rhythm of your breath. If you inhale into a cat- inhale as you drop your head and tailbone and round your back as if you are an angry cat.

Not sure why cow is called cow, but if you exhale into cow, exhale as you lift your head and tailbone and draw your bellybutton toward the ground. It does not matter which one you inhale or exhale on, just keep the movement rhythmic with your breath.

I love this twist – gently bring your weight into your right hand as you inhale and lift your left arm overhead, reaching through your fingertips. As you exhale, draw your left arm down and thread between your right knee and right elbow. Bring your left ear and shoulder to the ground. Stay here for a few breaths. Inhale and unthread your left arm, reach back up toward the sky, then return it to the ground. Repeat on the opposite side.

Lateral bend – stand on your knees, shift your weight to your right knee, extend your left leg out to the side. Inhale your arms up, reaching toward the sky, draw your bellybutton toward your spine for core stability as you gently lateral bend to the left. Let your left hand gently rest on your left leg as you draw your right arm overhead, stretching your right side body. Stay here for a few deep inhales and exhales. Repeat on the opposite side.

Simple Forward Fold – come to standing, inhale your arms overhead, draw your bellybutton toward your spine for core stability, exhale as you draw your arms down and hinge from your hips forward. Draw the crown of your head toward the floor. Reach around the outside of your leg and gently grasp the back of your calves, hugging your torso closer to your legs. Inhale as you half-way lift, coming to a flat back, and press your hands into your shins. Extend through the crown of your head. Feel the effects of elongating your spine as you try to lengthen. Exhale and forward fold again. Inhale as  you sit your hips back slightly to protect your low back, and gently come up with your belly button still drawn toward your spine.

Whew that seems like a lot for just a simple back bend! Eventually these small, but crucial movements in your body will bring you to appreciate their effects. That’s a big ‘ole stretch for your back! You want to learn how to easily do it correctly so you can bend forward for the rest of your life.

Lastly – Triangle Pose! Come to standing step your left foot forward and right foot back about three-foot distance apart. Right foot is at a 45-degree angle. Inhale your left arm in front of you and right arm behind you so they are parallel with your mat. Look out over your left fingertips as you draw your bellybutton to your spine and hinge forward from your hips. When you cannot hinge anymore, and you begin to feel a stretch in your right side body, gently let your left hand drop and let the back of your left hand rest on the inside of your left calf. Reach your right arm up toward the sky. Breathe into the stretch in the right side body. As you inhale think about reaching through your right fingertips, actively feeling the stretch from  your left fingertips to your right. Stay here for a few breath cycles then repeat on the opposite side.

You have thoroughly stretched your spine in all six directions! Yay!

Treat yo self and do this before bed too. Try to get off Apple (or Droid) or whatever it is thirty minutes before bed, and prepare your mind to rest. Preparing your body = preparing your mind.

“Your experience changes your reality; your reality changes your brain and body.”Dr. Caroline Leaf

Create a healthy experience for your body and this in turn will change the structure of your brain for the better.

If you have any questions or just want to chat you can email me here. Thank you for reading, friend.

Author Rachel Hebert

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