Progress, NOT Perfection

 
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Do you feel ready to make BIG changes in your life and yet you are waiting for the *perfect* time to implement those changes? Perfectionism is a plague. The need to feel, be or wait until everything is *perfect* only ends up creating excuse after excuse after excuse. If you really think that there will ever be the perfect timing, circumstances, or anything else to start along your personal wellness journey, no matter what your goals, hopes and dreams may be, then you will find that you will never make it happen. 

Perfectionism is loaded with fear. It is loaded with negative self-talk and feels safest and most in control when it is ruminating on the fantasy of change rather than on allowing yourself to take imperfect action towards change. Change is a process and requires many steps. The change process involves your emotions, mindset and an ability to shift your perceptions about what you want. Having a BIG vision is helpful, but when it comes to putting the change you want into action, it is most helpful to start with small, doable steps. When you consistently place your focus, effort and mindset into completing these small steps, you inevitably will create progress.

Perfectionism will tell you lies such as, “you will begin your personal wellness journey or work on your vision and goals after the trip, the wedding, the weekend, this or that holiday…” only to have something else that will trip up your ability to be *perfect* only causing a constant delay of just starting. It is imperative to change your mindset, change your focus and change your perspective to one of “try, one of today is the day, to one of imperfect action is still action.”

Here’s the cool thing about taking imperfect action, even if the outcome isn’t exactly what you want, there is still outcome. Even if your goal is not at 100% by your desired timeline, it’s way more likely to be some % closer than if you were waiting around for just the right time to begin. Let’s say your goal is to eat 7-10 vegetables and fruits per day or to exercise for 30 minutes 3-5 days/ week or to take a yoga class 2 x’s a week. Let’s say you reach the goal 60-80% of the time each week, how would that feel? How would it feel in comparison to not setting the goal, to not create and move towards your action plan and still be waiting for the *perfect* circumstances to begin your personal wellness journey? Yeah, that’s right, not so great! Whereas 60-80% is pretty great given that change is hard and life is busy and constantly distracting.

Let your new mantra become, TRY. Let your mantra be: what ONE thing can I do today to help move me in the direction of my goal? Let you mantra be: I can do it, I will do it, I have to do it no matter what. Today is the day to start. Today is the day to take any action, no matter how small. Today is the day to set out on the journey towards the change you want. Start with your vision, then set your goals, then create your actions steps, then create a plan and then do one thing every single day that moves you in the direction of the life that you want to live. I know sounds simple, but it’s definitely not easy. Perfectionism does not just go away without a fight… This process requires daily focus, review and action. This process requires dedication and pushing through many difficult emotions, thoughts and fears.

Motivation can be hard to come by so having a determined mindset is where you begin. Your journey is yours. It does not have to be *perfect*. If you are suffering from perfectionism, ask yourself why. What happened in your life that made you feel as though being *perfect* was the only way? Ask yourself what messages you received about being *perfect* that have led to feeling stuck, stagnant and the inaction that is happening in your life at this time as a result. Please be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that your perfectionism is not useful. When you try, even not knowing what the exact outcome will be, know that it will feel awkward and uncomfortable in the beginning. The concept of being *perfect* at all is a myth. No one is perfect. Offer yourself a moment to acknowledge this and then decide what imperfect action you will take TODAY! Let me know what action you do take and how it feels, I’d love to hear from you!

Meditation: How & Why

 
Meditation: How & Why
 

This past weekend I taught an eight-hour workshop on meditation to a wonderful group of aspiring yoga teachers. I am always so inspired by this particular training and how, with guidance and support, meditation becomes demystified and so much more accessible. Throughout the past few years of teaching this workshop, I am always struck by how this core element of yoga is so difficult to begin and to consistently stick with—and yet it is such an amazingly simple practice that increases ease, health, comfort and joy in life. Meditation is a practice. It is essential to remain dedicated and consistent to reap the benefits of meditation.

If you are unfamiliar with how meditation fits into yoga, I’ll give you a quick overview. Yoga is an eight-limbed system that can create inner peace and the ability to truly know yourself on the deepest level. It allows you to become the highest expression of yourself. Yoga is not a religion and actually can compliment every religion quite nicely. Often people mistake yoga for exercise or just stretching, which, of course it can be, however, the yoga postures are just one element of the eight limbs. While they are indeed an important element, they are not the “be-all-end-all” of what yoga truly is! You can learn more about eight-limbed path of yoga by reading my blog here.

The purpose of the physical postures within the eight-limbed path of yoga is to create a comfortable and strong physical body to assist in the ability to draw your awareness inward. The physical postures create the ability to concentrate without being distracted by aches and pains in your physical body. The postures also create strength in your body in order to sit comfortably for an extended period of meditation without your body becoming yet another distraction—your mind will be enough of a distraction to contend with!

Now that you know a bit about how meditation fits into the structure of the aspects of yoga that you may be more familiar with, I’ll get to the goods about how to meditate and why bother meditating in the first place. Meditation is the process of bringing your awareness into a single pointed focus. You find ONE thing to focus on and attempt to keep your attention on that ONE thing. Many people tell me “oh I’ve tried meditation and I can’t do it, my mind just won’t be quiet.” I always say, well of course it won’t! Nobody’s mind can go from its typical state of noise-noise-noise to perfect stillness in one minute! The purpose of meditation is not to empty your mind, but to offer a space for it to create less thoughts, more distance from them so you don’t identify yourself as your thoughts and more clarity and awareness of your internal world.

Once you select your single point of focus—which could be your breath, a word or phrase, an image or anything you find to be worthy of your focus—you aim to keep your attention on that ONE thing. As you begin this process, I can guarantee you that your mind will wander and wander and wander. Your mind will tell you things like—this is boring, pointless and stupid—or it will get caught up in your laundry list of to-dos’ or worry about that meeting or wonder what so-and-so meant when they said…blah blah blah… sound familiar? This is where the practice comes in. You have to put forth effort to bring your attention back to your ONE point of focus over and over and over again.

Let’s say your mind wanders one hundred times during your practice, then you aim to bring your attention back to your chosen point of focus one hundred and one times. With practice, you begin to find space between your thoughts and the distractions become less and less. Let’s say in a typical minute your mind has sixty thoughts. If you meditate for one minute and have forty thoughts in that minute, that may still feel like a lot of noise, however, it’s still fewer thoughts invading your mind!

I always encourage those new to meditation to begin with just one minute a day. For one week, commit to one minute per day and the next week increase to two minutes and so on. Over time it will become more and more comfortable and the minutes won’t feel like an eternity. There are many meditation apps out there, I prefer Insight Timer because it is free and has a ton of nice guided meditation options or you can use the timer which rings a bell at the beginning and end of the time you set for your practice. You can find meditation classes to take and of course there are plenty of books to read. However, the most important thing is not to get caught up in the learning about it—it is something that must be experienced consistently to gain the benefits—I recommend that you just get started. Meditation has to be practiced as it can be difficult to talk about as language diminishes the practice. Really we have to talk around what it is like because it is more about the experience.

So you might wonder, WHY meditate? If you haven’t noticed, meditation has gotten a ton of press recently. It is being studied profusely and all of the studies seem to be offering quite promising benefits to our health and well-being. Benefits include stress reduction, improved sleep, delaying the aging process, reducing cognitive decline, improving emotional well-being and self-awareness, increasing attention span, increasing compassion and kindness plus many more. Who doesn’t want all of these? Um, yes please!

Do you have one minute right now? Of course you do! Choose a point of focus, anything from paying attention to the rhythm of your breath or a word or phrase such as “love” or “be still” or an inspirational image. Turn on a timer for one minute. Anytime you notice that your mind has been pulled to a distraction (sounds in the environment, sensation in your body, thought or emotion), release the distraction and return your attention to your chosen point of focus. When you try it, let me know your thoughts and experience. I’d love to hear how adding in just one minute or more of meditation daily impacts your life.

3 Strategies to Eat Mindfully Throughout the Holiday Season

 
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The holidays offer a time for fun and fulfillment, yet they can be stressful, tiring and overwhelming at the same time. Maintaining mindful awareness throughout the season will help you remain connected to yourself, remain healthy and well while keeping any stress or emotional eating manageable and at bay.

During times of increased stress you become more likely to be in a rush and tired, which leads to making choices that are often rushed and favor convenience. This may cause an experience of not being fully present which can cause eating to feel like just one more thing on your to-do list. Rushing, not being present with your food and not choosing nourishment can cause the internal experience of stress to only become worse.

Mindful eating is paying attention to what you are eating while deriving pleasure and nourishment from your food. When you are eating mindfully, you enhance the experience of eating while acknowledging the opportunity to nourish your body and your mind. Mindful eating is paying attention to the sensory experience of your food.

Just the sight of the food you are about to eat begins the process of digestion. Mindful eating begins by taking in the visual elements and aromas of your food, before you even take one single bite! This mindful process enhances the experience of eating and pleasure of tasting your food.

The holiday season can trigger emotional and stress eating simply because of the stressed and rushed nature of the season. Additionally, this time of year more “comfort foods” tend to be always available and just about everywhere which can trigger the desire to eat irrespective of hunger. Cravings can be caused by just seeing or smelling food AND because of stress and emotional distress.

The three following strategies are intended to help maintain mindful eating throughout the holiday season in order to manage emotional and stress based cravings effectively. When you use these strategies you create an opportunity to be present with your food, to be engaged with eating in a mindful, calm and relaxed manner. This creates an opportunity to derive true pleasure and nourishment from your food, while at the same time reducing stress and emotional tension in general.

1.    Practice 1 minute of deep breathing before eating.

When you are breathing deeply and in a state of relaxation you are engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the rest and digest mode, which is the mode we want to live in—unless of course there is a true emergency. Often when we are rushed or stressed during the holidays, we eat more quickly to get to the next thing on the to-do list. Try slowing down, and breathing deeply for one minute before you eat in order to calm your nervous system. This will allow your body to assimilate the nutrients from you food more effectively while also creating a sense of inner calm as you release stress and tension with your breath.

2.    Before you eat, set an intention to eat mindfully.

When you set any intention, you set in motion a powerful force that helps you focus. When you set your intention to eat mindfully before you take your first bite, you will be far more likely to do so. Setting an intention helps you create a sense of ritual and care for the process of eating and the nourishment and pleasure you will derive from your food. Try setting an intention to eat mindfully before you eat and notice how this simple practice can shift your awareness and sense of focus from your to-do list to the present moment.

3.    Practice gratitude before you eat.

After a bit of deep breathing and setting your intention to eat mindfully, offer gratitude for the food you are about to eat. When you express gratitude for your food, you create a space for deriving pleasure from your food in a big way. This can be a powerful practice to reduce stress and emotional eating as gratitude helps to alleviate stress and anxiety. When practicing gratitude for your food before you take a bite, recognize the preparation and the life giving nutrients in your food—as well as the pleasure you will experience by eating it. Be grateful and notice the impact of gratitude on your physical body as well as your mood state.

Try these three mindful strategies to remain present, focused and engaged as you make choices about what you eat and how you eat it this holiday season. Taking time to slow down, breathe, set an intention to eat mindfully and practice gratitude will allow for health and fulfillment throughout the entire holiday season.