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 Tools to Aid in Emotional Detox

 
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When you think about cleansing and detoxing, you might only think about what to eat, drink or supplement to clear out unwanted toxic build up in your body. It turns out some of the most dangerous residual toxic materials are related to excessive stress hormones that can accumulate in your body. Excessive stress hormones negatively impact sleep, mood, energy and overall wellness by disrupting all the systems of your body.

While detoxing through wellness practices, nutritional additions or even supplements can help get the process started, there are other practices you can incorporate that will help aid in restoring balance from excessive toxic emotional residue due to stress, anxiety, grief, anger, resentment, overwhelm, fear, contempt and other emotional build up that can settle into your being and cause significant tension and discomfort internally.

Have you ever felt as though you have been emotionally “slimed?” Where you feel like you just can’t shake or rid yourself a particular emotion and the triggering thoughts associated with those emotions? If so, you are not alone! Emotions can be difficult to cope with, feel and release. These three tools below can help to detox the “slimy” internal residue of uncomfortable emotions and stress. A big part of releasing toxic emotional build-up in the body is acknowledging it and having a method to release. These three tools are helpful as they can offer an opportunity to create a space to explore the emotions and let them go.

1.    Journaling

Writing in a journal can act as a container for your thoughts, feelings and emotions. When you hold on to stressful thoughts and feelings, you keep your mind and body in a state of fight or flight—this is not healthy or helpful. Journaling has been proven to help reduce stress hormones, to improve the quality of your life and create a healthier perspective on emotions and life in general.

The next time you just can’t seem to “let-go” of an uncomfortable emotion or stressor, dust off an old journal or notebook—or even open up a document on your computer—and just start writing. If you are not sure where to begin, start with the emotion, the stressor and write-write-write. See how it feels to get it out, to purge these thoughts and feelings, close the journal and move forward. Think of journaling as a detoxing process for your mind, which will consequently help to clear your body of built up tension and stress.

2.    Art Making

Creativity is a major component to living a full life. Art making by its nature is healing and life enhancing. Creating a mandala is similar to journaling. To create a mandala, draw a circle on a piece of paper and then use any art materials such as colored pencils, markers, oil pastels or even crayons to release your feelings onto the page. The mandala (circle) acts as a guide, not a barrier. Begin by selecting a color that represents your internal emotions or stress and use line, shape color and form to let it out! You can change colors throughout, just begin with one that represents the emotions you are desiring to release.

Mandalas are one of my favorites because the circle acts as a balancing form on the page, however, even scribbling, doodling or doing soothing painting with water colors can have the same impact. Try not to focus on the product (what your picture looks like!. This is not relevant to the desired outcome: releasing uncomfortable stress and emotions! Art making acts as an emotional detox by letting it flow through you, out and away from you. Art making can be more freeing as you are not limited by words. The next time you are feeling stuck in pattern of holding onto a negative feeling, try creating with art materials and notice how it impacts your mood state. 

3.    Breathe

Your breath offers a direct passageway to greater health in mind, body, and spirit. You will breathe whether you think about it or not, it is a marker of being alive. However, you can bring your breath into your conscious awareness and access the healing benefits through specific actions of your breath.

When you breathe diaphragmatically you engage the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that calms you down. Parasympathetic nervous system response is referred to as “rest and digest mode.” The other function of the nervous system is the sympathetic nervous system response which is referred to as “fight or flight mode.” When you are harboring stress, uncomfortable emotions, or thoughts that are triggering those emotions, even subconsciously, you expose yourself to the toxic residue of these emotions. Emotions themselves are not good or bad, they are valuable information about our experience of our lives. However, if you hold onto emotions they can become a negative experience inside and out, causing significant discomfort that gets shoved into your physical body and creates toxicity.

Breathing helps to calm the nervous system and offers more clarity of thought. This can open you to deeper awareness of why the emotion is there, and how it came to be stuck or stagnant as you may originally not have been open or comfortable with receiving the message it was there to offer you. To begin, place one hand on your abdomen and the other hand on your chest. Then, direct your breath in through your nose and expand your abdomen as you inhale slowly. Then, breathe out through your nose drawing your navel in towards your spine slowly.

Continue with this pattern, breathing slowly and deeply and notice the impact on how you feel. Try not force it, just assure that your abdomen is expanding with your inhale, not your chest. You can pair this diaphragmatic breathing with a phrase, such as “let go”—saying “let” in your mind as you inhale and “go” in your mind as you exhale. This helps to free stuck emotional residue and can significantly reduce your stress. This practice also gives your mind a point of focus making it less likely that it will wander off to any other stressful or distressing thoughts.

Emotions are a part of life. Learning to experience, manage and release them is a tremendously valuable part of life. The paradox is often that if you avoid the discomfort you perpetuate its existence. If you allow yourself to feel your emotions, be present with them and make a decision about how to respond in the moment, you offer yourself to feel it as it’s related to the triggering circumstances—versus feeling all of the toxic build up and residue from long-term avoidance and fear.

Try integrating one or more of these tools and notice the impact it has on your life, your body, and your self-awareness. When you free yourself of the discomfort of holding onto emotions that are not needed for your present moment experience, you open yourself to the possibility of offering a deeper space of peace and contentment within.

The Gift of Wellness

Giving the Gift of Wellness 

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During this hectic holiday season, wouldn’t it be amazing to have time to take baths, spend time in nature, get regular massages and cook delicious, nourishing meals that take half a day to prepare? But who has the time for that!?! Enter wellness gift ideas that encourage others to take time to care for themselves in order to be well, live well and feel well. Here are some ideas that inspire movement and progress for others along their own personal wellness journey.

Gift giving feels good. When you create a moment of joy for another person it doubles the warm and fuzzy feelings for you both. Now, if it is not financially feasible to give gifts that cost money, there are many gifts that you can create on your own or time you can spend that doesn’t cost a thing! If you feel like you have the means and the desire to give others the gift of improving their health, wellness and overall quality of life, here is list of some ideas to offer the gift of health and wellness this holiday season.

When you think of wellness, think of all the elements that make up a balanced, healthy, content life. Wellness comprises of relaxation, healthy movement and exercise, healthy eating, sufficient sleep, personal fulfillment and connecting with nature. Each area contains potential practices that encourage overall good health in mind and body. The following is a short list of ideas within each wellness area to spark your creative giving spirit!

1.    Gifts for relaxation.

Giving a gift certificate for massage, infrared saunas or other healthy body work offers an amazing gift of cleansing, detoxing, relaxation and greater health and wellness. Candles, bath salts and essential oil diffusers with pure essential oils are also wonderful gifts that encourage inner peace, calm and relaxation. Just be sure to read ingredients and look for pure essential oils in both the candles and bath salts so as to not give out toxic chemicals!

2.    Gifts for healthy movement.

Giving a gift of a yoga class series, dance classes, barre classes or a health club membership encourages healthy movement. If there is another activity that you know the person either already does and enjoys or has expressed interest in doing, this is a wonderful way to give the gift of health and wellness. Fitness trackers and personal training sessions also encourage healthy movement to feel well in body and mind. Health and fitness gear such as a yoga mat, new shoes or clothing are also great gifts.

3.    Gifts for healthy eating.

The gift of a healthy dinner subscription such as Sun Basket or a subscription to a monthly local produce delivery of fresh healthy food is an amazing gift to give. You can also create a homemade basket that includes healthy food items to make a favorite dish, meal or beverage along with the recipe or cookbook makes a fantastic gift. You might put together some ingredients in a basket like herbs, nourishing broths, sea salts, olive oils and vinegars, cacao, chia seeds, walnuts, matcha, or find a beautiful healthy cookbook. Teas, preferably organic, are also wonderful gifts that are healthy and delicious! Kitchen items that encourage healthy eating are also great gifts, like a high powered blender (Vitamix is my favorite!- but any are great!!), salad spinner or bowl, Instapot, tea pot with a nice strainer, stainless steel or glass water bottle with or without an infuser for herbs, spices and fruits. When you give a gift that encourages healthy eating, you are giving the greatest health insurance policy that exists!

4.    Gifts for healthy sleep.

The gift of sleep may be a challenging gift to give, but you can give items that encourage the possibility of rest and restoration! Sleep masks, sound machines, guided relaxations, relaxing music, binaural frequency sounds, a cozy blanket, pj’s or slippers encourage making sleep a priority and more available.  A gift certificate for restorative yoga or meditation also help to make rest and sleep more available and there’s always teas and tinctures that can help you get more zzz’s.

5.    Give gifts for personal fulfillment.

Gifts that encourage a sense of fulfillment are super valuable. Items that encourage self-reflection, mindfulness and living more intentionally bring value and increased wellness to life. Gifts like adult coloring books, sketch pads, gratitude journals, blank journals, art supplies, music, gift certificates for a fun creative class, books, or other items that you know the person on your list would love goes a lot further for fulfillment than a new shirt or a tie! When you encourage someone to explore, be creative, learn something new or learn more about a passion they may have, you encourage their continued personal growth and evolution. What an amazing gift to share!

6.    Give the gift of nature.

Nature is healing. Spending time in nature is tremendously therapeutic. Giving something as simple and beautiful as a plant, flower, bulb or even seeds to begin to sow in the early spring creates an opportunity to connect with nature each and every day. Gardening items or items that encourage being outdoors such as a hammock, bench or wind chimes encourage spending time in nature. If you are thinking a little larger, you might give the gift of a trip to the mountains, some outdoor adventure or the beach. Encouraging the opportunity to connect with nature is a wonderful gift to give.

This is a short list and it is intended to help spark some ideas that also allow for a personalized approach to giving. Finding “that just right thing” brings you a sense of pleasure and fulfillment. There may be other ideas you have that help to encourage others to live well, feel well and be well. I’d love to hear how you are sharing the gift of wellness to others this holiday season!