Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Winter Wellness: Easy Tips and Tools for Happiness

After dabbling in yoga for years, my best friend Leah and I have been really passionate about yoga for over a year now. So passionate in fact, that I decided to become a yoga teacher, completing my 200 hour hatha yoga teacher certification last fall in Greece (if you're a regular reader of this blog, you probably already know this. For more information, check out my posts from September 2015, available here). Upon my return to classroom teaching in November, I've been incorporating aspects of yoga into our day in kindergarten--a daily asana practice, meditation, and pranayama (breathing exercises). A large research base provides a lot of information about the many benefits of yoga for children, and my kindergarten kiddos won't let the day pass without getting on their mats. I've also started teaching yoga in my hometown as well as training to teach casually at The Zen Zone in Brandon.

This past Sunday, Leah and I spent the entire day at the Prairie Yoga Snowflake Winter Wellness Festival at The Fort Garry in Winnipeg. Four sessions, a lunch keynote, and the communal energy of 300 yogis--what did we gain from this inspiring day? Read on to gain a few tips to apply and new resources that you can access for greater health, happiness, and overall well-being!

Probably most relevant to everyone was Tracy Hutton, our lunch keynote, She is a strengths coach and former manager at Lululemon, focusing on leadership development. She spoke to us about ten happiness habits that we can incorporate into our daily lives. Her habits included:
-develop a daily meditation and mindfulness practice. Commit to meditating even one minute a day. My favourite apps to help you start meditating? Check out Buddhify and OMG I Can Meditate.
-use your strengths. We feel happiest when we are engaging in activities that we are good at. Tracy says that we are not meant to be well-rounded people, so if you are not successful at something, don't do it. Instead focus on developing your strengths.
-use your strengths to serve others. The purpose of developing our strengths is to make a difference in our world.
-hug daily! Research shows that an eight-second hug improves feelings of happiness.
-generous explanations. When something goes wrong, rather than immediately thinking of a negative explanation, try using a generous explanation (for example, if someone cut you off in traffic, explain to yourself that they were late for work and rushing, rather than telling yourself that people are inconsiderate and terrible drivers). Tracy says that there is a cost to us when we believe our negative stories and self-talk, and that by developing positive explanations for events or behaviors, we actually increase our sense of well-being.
-an attitude of gratitude. List things you are grateful for everyday--by writing them in a journal, texting them to your best friend (Leah and I have done this), or recording them in an app. I recommend Gratitude Journal and I'm trying to use it daily.
-be physically active. Dance, exercise, practice yoga, and get moving! Check out daily yoga challenges from Erin Motz (Bad Yogi), Adriene, and Do You Yoga.
-don't care about what other people think. This is easier said than done, but worrying about what others think never makes us happier. Tracy recommends, "Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken." (Oscar Wilde).
-practice forgiveness. Holding a grudge against someone is like, "taking poison yourself and expecting the other person to die".
-connect to others and be social. Human beings are social creatures who thrive on interactions and relationships with others.

Tracy also shared some advice on setting goals:
-set micro goals...little tiny goals that can be easily accomplished. My new micro goal? One generous explanation a day instead of engaging in negative thoughts. Micro goals are key to achieving change and increasing happiness.
-make sure your goals are expressive (helping you grow as a person and expand your strengths, making you happier) rather than impressive goals (any goal related to impressing others, getting rich, etc). Tracy said that once you have reached an income of $70,000 annually, there is no correlation between money and happiness.
-when you set a goal, ask yourself if you will enjoy pursuing the goal. If you won't enjoy the journey, don't make it a goal.
-a great tool to keep you on track with your goals is an app called Streaks. It tracks how many days in a row you accomplish your micro goals, leading to bigger life changes. Streaks for Small Starts is a similar free app from the state of Tennessee worth checking out too. It tracks your "streak" on a number of healthy goals, but you can't enter your own goals.

Another highlight from the wellness festival was attending Amber Chalus' session, Finding Freedom Within. Visit her website to learn more--she has lots of great tools for learning to love yourself, live your best life, and liberate yourself from what is holding you back. Since attending her session, I've been listening to her podcasts (available on iTunes) during my daily commute. Really interesting and inspiring!

I'm excited to implement some of these new ideas to make small changes in my life. As far as applying this to my classroom practice, my kindergarten kids and I are going to continue with daily yoga, meditation, and breathing practice, using technology tools to support us (stay tuned for more information on this). We're also going to experiment with setting "micro goals" each day. If we learned to do all of these things when we were five years old, think where we'd be now! I'll let you know how it goes in a future post!