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.

Emotional Reflection for Emotional Eating

Emotional Reflection:
An Essential Component to Managing Emotional Food Cravings

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Allowing time and energy to reflect on the messages from your emotions begins to create more emotional awareness and freedom from emotional eating. Emotional eating is most often driven by uncomfortable emotions and an attempt to avoid or suppress them. When you find that you are in a space of avoidance and have learned to practice the Pause (check out the previous blog) as a method to begin to make peace with food, you can shift into a space of internal reflection.

When you Reflect on your emotions, you open yourself to a powerful recognition of your internal world, your experience of—and response to—your life. For many, the shadow side, or darker side of the emotional world can be frightening. Uncomfortable emotions are often viewed as “bad” and you may fear that you will get stuck in those uncomfortable emotions. It limits your ability to fully know yourself and live in a truly present manner in life without awareness of all of your emotions.

Emotions are important information about your experience of the present moment. They show up as a response to your experiences and are essential to understanding yourself and the depths of your being. While the fear exists that you may get “stuck” in an uncomfortable emotional space, the opposite is actually the truth. When you are experiencing an uncomfortable emotion, it is for a reason.

When you take time to Reflect on your emotions and connect with and understand the why behind them, you can make a choice as to how to respond. If you get stuck in a space of avoidance, you perpetuate the discomfort, and this leads to the desire to continuously numb, whether with food, alcohol, distraction, projecting your discomfort onto others or otherwise.

When you numb consistently, this creates the feeling of being stuck as you never connect with the original emotions and do not allow yourself the opportunity to derive the information your emotions will offer you. This creates essentially a backlog of old, uncomfortable emotions which can be overwhelming and painful.

Becoming comfortable Reflecting on your emotions begins with mindfulness. When you become mindfully engaged with the present moment you can learn to witness your emotions. In the space of the witness, you become a silent observer of your emotions, so rather than being the feeler of your feelings, you are the observer of them.

The internal witness, or silent observer perspective creates an opening to awareness. From the space of awareness you have an opportunity to make a choice. The intention of becoming a witness is not to escape, but to understand and create comfort internally with whatever is true for you in this moment.

You are not tuning into the internal witness in order to not feel your feelings. The opposite is true. You tune into the internal witness to become more and more comfortable with feeling your feelings. This process offers a supportive internal space and creates an opportunity to react to your emotions in a healthy way.

When you witness and Reflect on your emotions, you become deeply aware of them and derive the information they provide you. During the process of Reflection you might choose to just be with your emotion, or you might choose to do something proactive with it, such as write the emotion down. You might choose to call a friend or share it with a loved one. You can take time to ponder the emotion and journal about what it feels like internally to have this emotion. You can journal about why it is there and what information the emotion is trying to communicate with you.

Once you are in touch with the why behind the emotion, you can make a choice on how to respond. Is anger there because you are not ok with the way someone spoke to you or treated you? Can you tell them? Can you journal about it? If you are anxious, do you have too much on your to-do list? Are there too many pressures in your life at this time? What can you do about that?

If you are lonely, can you reach out to someone you care about? Can you connect with a friend, loved one or neighbor? If you are happy, why? What is offering you this internal experience right now? How can you savor it without clinging to it?

Making a choice about how to respond to your emotions creates action, and action naturally moves you forward. When you move forward you are building emotional awareness leading to acceptance, and a deeper inner wisdom. Learning to not judge your emotions, but to be aware will move you further forward on your journey to making peace with food.

The next time you find yourself in a space of mindless eating, stress eating, emotional eating, or numbing your internal experience of your emotions in any way, first offer yourself the time to Pause. Once you have given yourself the needed time within the Pause, move into this powerful phase of emotional Reflection. In this space where you are Reflecting on your emotions, there is no room for judgement, just awareness. Once you know the why, you can choose how to respond to the emotion, creating a sense of empowerment, confidence and Inner Strength.

Feeling empowered, emotionally aware, confident and strong is how most of us want to feel. Try building your emotional awareness with mindful Reflection and notice the impact. As you begin to incorporate these elements, let me know how they work for you!