The Empath’s Guide

Self-care

Truth Byte #64

“Avoid energy zappers.”

 

I am an empath. That means I feel deeply what other people are feeling, sometimes even when they aren’t directly experiencing the feeling. It also means I can see into people’s emotional landscape even when they have spent a lifetime perfecting their masks of “everything’s fine.” I don’t know if being an empath is an official thing, but it’s an idea that has helped me understand and cope with my incredible sensitivity and often-debilitating compassion.

 

For much of my childhood, this made me seem like a crazy person. When there was tension in the room, I would feel it in my body, and my eyes would well up long before voices were raised. Read More

Sweat and Yoga

Truth Byte #63

“Flexible is the new strong.”

 

I started up my yoga classes again. It has been a few months since I rolled out my mat, because I was starting to feel like an hour of yoga every week was a bit indulgent. After all, I could be spending that time folding the pile of laundry that chronically sits in my guest bedroom, or vacuuming out the backseat of the car (damn kids and their food crumbs) or catching up on emails (over 4000 in my Inbox that need to be filed or deleted) or de-cluttering my garage. So I skipped yoga for months, thinking I would spend the time doing all these other annoying tasks, which, by the way, I never did. I simply took a longer shower and chatted on the phone with my sister instead.

 

But I digress. Back to yoga. Read More

Taking Off the Mask…again.

Truth Byte #60

“Being real will get you there.”

 

I have tried on a lot of flavours in my life. After my early years as teacher’s pet and uber-nerd, I moved to my teens where I tried hard to make hip-hop culture fit me, and then into my early twenties, when I joined the pseudo-spirituality of the New Agers.

 

It is finally now, in my later thirties, that I am settling in to a hybrid version of all these other identities. I have come to peace with loving books more than people and the urgent-yet-glazed feeling I get when I am wrist-deep in a new novel. I have internalized the struggles of the marginalized, joining marches and protests when there is a social issue I just can’t keep quiet about. And I Feng Shui my house, and teach my kids how to stop their bodies from bruising through simple energy healing techniques.
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How Yoga Saved my Baby

Truth Byte #56

 

“It’s better to bend than to break.”

 

I have been learning the last few weeks about flexibility. I get moving in a certain direction, and then I have to pivot, to quickly and effortlessly turn on the spot as Life throws me an unexpected, better opportunity.

 

I know, it’s a good problem to have.

 

And I learned this same lesson many years ago, in a much more painful way: yoga.

 

So let me take you back there, to the halls of my graduate program where we were learning about all things spiritual.  One of the graduation requirements was that we adopt a body discipline.  First year, it was mandatory Aikido. Amazing, loved it, but I wanted to try something new by second year.

 

Enter Course 234: Yoga.
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The End of an Era

Truth Byte #55

 

“Everyone changes, even you.”

 

For a long time, I used to wonder whether people could change.  I would have late-night debates with my friends from university about whether lasting change is possible, or if people just put on a show to win whatever life goal they are grasping for without ever really changing the fundamental fabric of who they are.

 

What I learned last weekend is that everyone changes, even me.

 

And I learned this lesson in the most unexpected place: on the ski hill.

 

But wait a second, let me back up a few years.

 

When I was in fifth grade, my eldest cousin took me and a gaggle of other little cousins up to a ski hill.  For an immigrant child, skiing was about the most “Canadian” we could get (besides drinking beer and eating back bacon, neither of which were culturally sanctioned for me as a nine-year old Muslim girl), and maybe playing hockey, a sport that was way to expensive for a “working-three-jobs-each-to-make- ends-meet” parental budget.
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Finding Fun in Food and Paint

Truth Byte #54

 

 “It was always supposed to be fun.”

 

When I was a kid, everything was so much fun.  Whether it was playing in the forest behind my house, late-night-hide-and-seek with the neighbourhood kids, or Disney movie marathons, my life was so full and rich and fun.  Even the summer I spent with a cast on my leg was fun as people wrote messages of hope in their first grade printing and my little brother devised secret contraptions to help me deal with the itchiness.

 

Being a kid was fun, and yet I couldn’t wait to grow up.

 

I see this pattern repeating with my own kids.  They love to measure themselves against my abdomen to see how much they have grown, and whenever someone compliments them on getting taller, they beam from the inside.  They can’t wait to be older.

 

But why?

 

From where I am sitting, older is often the opposite of fun.  Older means more responsibility, unavoidable obligations, and being bored or stressed a lot of the time.

 

Why would anyone want that?

 

My guess is most of us don’t.  When we were teenagers, we had big ideas about what it would mean to be a grown-up. We imagined adult-ing to be a lot like childhood, except with less people bossing us around, setting curfews, and telling us what to do.  We imagined we would be doing whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, and thoroughly enjoying it.  We imagined we would be loved, and respected, and valued, and that our voice and perspective would really matter.
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What Are You Thinking?

Truth Byte #41

“Your thoughts have the power to change your life.”

 

Think about who you were ten years ago.  What did you prioritize? How did you spend your time? Who were your closest friends? What was your general mood? Has a lot changed for you or is your life pretty much the same?

 

Have you ever met someone who, year after year, seems to be caught in the same rut?  Are you that person yourself?

 

I am here to remind you that your thoughts can actually transform your entire life.

 

It can begin with a small, general, wishful though, something like “everything happens for a reason”.  Because when you don’t let yourself believe things are happening for a reason, then you find yourself at the mercy of random events happening to you.  And your bad mood tends to get activated a lot.  Your kid misbehaving at a restaurant activates you.  The laundry, damp two days in the dryer, activates you.  The bumper to bumper traffic during construction activates you.  Your spouse’s tone or look activates you.  World events, continents away, activate you. Not having the right kind of coffee whitener activates you.

 

Everything becomes a trigger when you are not consciously directing your thoughts and attention.

 

I have seen this in my clients.  Those who are focused on what they want, and are determined to have an ease-filled life of contentment tend to be more successful in therapy than those who spend sessions ruminating on problems and refusing to see their current challenges in a new way.

 

The thoughts that you continue to repeat in your mind eventually become beliefs.

 

And when you believe something, truly and deeply, you live your life as if it were true.

 

Let me give you an example.

 

Years ago, I truly believed, from the bottom of my heart, that life was about working hard, being disciplined, and being liked by people around me.  I tried everything I could to be nice, to be thoughtful, to fulfill my commitments, and work harder and longer than all my peers.

 

I thought that if I did all these things, I would fit in, make my mark, and be happy. 

 

But in reality, I was very very unhappy.  Though I smiled a lot and never rocked the boat, I felt like a shell of myself.  People close to me didn’t even really know me because I was so busy playing the part of “hard-working-nice-girl”.

 

And then things changed.  In my Master’s program, I met people who were toying around with a whole different approach to life.  They knew how to work hard, sure, but they didn’t prioritize hard work over connection.  They didn’t prioritize being liked over being authentic. They didn’t keep their commitments at the expense of their own health or integrity. They didn’t take themselves so seriously, and they knew how to have fun without the guilty hangover.

 

My world opened up.

 

I saw, in just a few short months as I settled in to life in California with these new classmates, the value of living a life driven by a different measuring stick.  What if connection, authenticity, personal integrity, and playfulness trumped those other things?

 

Finally, my life started feeling like it had meaning.

 

Fast forward ten years.  My deepest belief today is that life was meant to be fun and easy, and that it’s natural for me to feel supported and celebrated.

 

And the more I believe that, the more it happens.

 

And I am not the only one who it’s working for.  There is an entire field in mental health called “cognitive behavioral therapy” that focuses solely on shifting a person’s thoughts and behaviours for a more ease-filled life.  Pair that with “positive psychology”, where the therapist focuses in strengths and enlists the client’s optimism, and voila, a recipe for a better mood and outlook.

 

And your mood does matter.  Because when the exact same traffic jam happens and you are “Zen” about it, the disturbance does not bleed into the rest of your day.  When you are feeling good and your kid or spouse or business partner snaps about something, you see it as a call for help rather than a personal attack.  When you think about tragic world events, you find yourself sending thoughts of hope and help rather than despair and anger.  When the coffee whitener is out, you just choose tea instead.  It was time for a change anyway, right?

 

The choice is ultimately yours: to feel good or not? To change your thoughts or not? To stay stuck or move on?

 

So which one sounds better to you?

 

Ready for real change? Grab a cup of something warm and join me for my weekly YouTube Talkshow, Today is your Day and join me at www.talktosaira.com

A Smile Goes a Long, Long Way

Truth Byte #39

“It doesn’t take much to make someone smile.” 

 

Today, I read a story to my 3-year-old daughter as she waited for her dance class to start.  While we were reading, three other little girls and and older brother that was dragged along for the carpool snuggled up around me and secretly listened.  I invited them to join us (as if they already hadn’t), and their faces lit up.  Someone noticed that they were interested and invited them to join in.

 

That was all it took. 

 

As the dance teacher came out in the middle of our second story and the girls ran in to class, the older brother, who was about four years old, was left with a half-read story and a pile of ballerina books.  He shyly leafed through the book I was reading to them, sneaking glances up at me.  I asked him if he wanted me to finish the story.  His face broke into an ear-to-ear grin as he nodded enthusiastically.  So I sat there, for just five or six minutes, completing the story with this little big brother.  And he smiled the whole time.

 

There are a lot of things we can do to make each other smile, and most of them don’t even take five or six minutes.  The easiest thing is just to smile to ourselves as we look out onto the world.  Have you ever noticed a happy stranger?  The people who walk around in the world just looking like they are at ease with everything? That’s who I challenge you to be this week.

 

But here’s the catch: it’s hard to be genuinely happy if you are

  1. Beating yourself up about something
  2. Judging other people

 

And really, those are the only two barriers.  I know this because I have met and counselled people who have every reason to be miserable, and yet, have found a way to maintain positivity.  I have also met people who seem to have all the good things, and yet their “inside voices” are like pure acid.

 

Smiling, and being willing to seeing the world through the filters of hope and positivity, is simply a choice.

 

And for the scientists out there, here is a brain-science tidbit: your mind can’t really tell the difference between a fake smile and a real one (even though your best friend probably can!) So at first, it may just be about a fake smile.  Eventually, you really will start feeling better.

 

And I am not encouraging you to be inauthentic, or just put on a happy face.  I am a true believer in showing up as you are, and being the real you.  However, there are always a variety of ways to look at any situation, and if you really look for it, there is likely a reason to smile, even if it’s just because you are smiling at the irony of it all.

 

And if it’s too hard to smile in the grown-up world that we have collectively imagined and then created, take a break from it for a while and go hang out with some kids under six.  They will remind you about wonder and curiosity and being happy for no good reason.  No kids in your vicinity? Enter YouTube.  Hundreds of videos of kids just being adorable, lovable, and laughing uncontrollably.

 

Rather than furrowing your brow at the latest world news or family drama, what if you just allowed yourself to hang out with happiness and smile?

 

It will probably make you feel better.

 

And it may even rub off on someone around you.

 

It’s your life and only you can live it!

 

Check out my weekly talkshow for inspiration and practical advice on how to live a happier and more effortless life.  More at www.talktosaira.com.