The Health Benefits of Meditation

 
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The final area of wellness that I will address here that is essential to living a long, healthy, happy life of vitality is developing and using a consistent meditation practice. Just as a reminder, the foundations of physical wellness that I have addressed so far are sleep, nutrition, and exercise/movement. The foundations of mental wellness that I have addressed here are the benefits of a strong social support, core relationships, remaining open-minded and curious, and the willingness to take on challenges and life-long learning.

Meditation offers health benefits that impact mind and body. Meditation addresses the stress response allowing us to access the relaxation response which creates increased mental wellness, creative expansion while releasing uncomfortable and non-useful thoughts and emotions.

Meditation is certainly not something new that I have talked about here! In fact, I’ve mentioned it over and over (as it is one of the primary ways that I keep myself sane) because I’ve see the direct impact that it can have on a variety of struggles for those that I work with, including anxiety, emotional eating, eating disorders, panic attacks, depression and limiting thoughts and beliefs—which directly impact the ability to take action. Meditation is one of the core practices that I have studied both in relation to my yoga studies along with all of the emerging research within the therapy, mental health and wellness world—and all of the benefits really are pretty vast and astounding.

When you are able to add in even just a small amount of meditation daily, you can have a tremendous return on your time investment in the way of health and wellness benefits. As little as five minutes a day can impact stress hormones, neurotransmitter production and circadian rhythms. Twelve minutes a day has shown an even greater impact such as improving telomere length of neurons in the brain (which indicates a younger brain!) increasing focus and concentration and decreased cognitive decline. Not to mention that meditation improves your self-awareness and reduces emotional reactivity which is one of the most valuable ways to improve the quality of your life on a daily basis.

There is often a lot of confusion about meditation. People tell me all the time, “I can’t meditate, I can’t get my mind to be quiet.” This is the primary misconception of meditation. The fact is that meditation is not about turning off your thoughts and sitting in perfect silence. I can tell you from experience that this is not what happens, and definitely not when you are just beginning the practice. Now maybe a long-long time meditator can silence their mind for long periods of time, but most of us have A LOT of thoughts constantly running through our minds. So let’s say that you generally have 100 thoughts a minute, and through a concentration and meditation practice you have 60. That will still feel like A LOT of thoughts, but it is still an improvement! With more practice maybe you’ll have 45 thoughts a minute, and with more 30, but again, that may still feel like a pretty active mind.

The purpose is not to silence your thoughts, the purpose is to distance yourself from the thoughts, to not be so reactive to the constant stream of emotionally provoking thoughts which may only cause stress and tension. In meditation you learn how to witness your thoughts rather than respond to them. This is the true practice, to recognize that you are not your thoughts and that they do not define you. Traditionally meditation is done in a seated posture and connecting with a single point of focus. This single point of focus could be your breath, a word or phrase, an image, a candle flame, or an image you create in your mind such as a sphere of light.

Mindfulness meditation is about being aware of all external and internal potential distractions, such as sounds, body sensations, thoughts and emotions and the mindfulness process invites you to simply notice them. You can even label them for exactly what they are. Here’s an example, as you sit and observe your internal and external space, if you hear the sound of a car, plane, ticking clock or someone talking, you simply label it as a sound rather than letting your mind consider the story of the sound. When you get into the story of the sound you will most likely evoke emotions and then thoughts, such as “ugg, that’s so annoying, I’m trying to meditate and that car keeps honking it’s horn.” That’s how we typically address annoyances in life, however mindfulness invites you see the honking just a sound, no thoughts or emotions necessary. Do you see how this may help improve your response to other potential annoyances in your life?

Meditation is allowing your mind to fully focus on one thing, and when you find you are distracted, you bring your focus back to that single point of awareness—that one thing. It really doesn’t matter so much what your point of focus is so long as you make a consistent effort to maintain it. Not judging your experience or getting involved in your emotions is helpful as well.

The most important element in order to reap the benefits of the practice is to be consistent. Daily is ideal, and even 1-15 minutes is great. If daily does not feel doable quite yet, you might start with 3 days a week and increase as you are ready. I am planning to roll out some support for those interested in a supportive community of beginning/skeptical/interested meditators in the fall! Stay tuned for updates! If you find you’d like some support getting started now, feel free to reach out. No matter how you start, try not to get caught up in the details, it is the experience and practice that matters most, not that you have the right chair, lighting, props or anything else!

If you have been implementing these eight areas of wellness that help support a long, healthy and happy life I’d love to hear how they are working for you!

5 Practices to Upgrade Your Self-Image

 
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If you are ready to ditch the negative internal talk and bring on a greater sense of confidence, well-being and elevate your view of yourself, I recommend you keep on reading. Whether you struggle with emotional eating or not, so many people struggle with a negative or unfavorable view of themselves. Do you do this: Do you hide your value, question your worth and feel less important than others? If you do, today is the day to take back ownership of you. Today is the day to reclaim your confidence, your self-compassion and step into your personal power. Are you ready?

The five following practices will allow you to upgrade your self-image. They will help you create a new, more favorable self-image. They will support a new way of being with, talking to and portraying yourself to both yourself—and to those around you. I love this quote by Marianne Williamson, she says: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be?” I love that quote because it offers such a powerful shift in our typical patterns of thinking. So, why do you shirk away from your light, your greatness, your true potential? Most likely because it is pretty scary to even imagine! Maybe because it is not so easy to maintain. Maybe because you’ve never been allowed to feel your greatness, however I imagine, deep down, you know that it’s there.

To be great, to show our light to the world and to step into our personal power is often not how we are taught to be. I just recently listened to a book that emphasized that is actually each of our moral and ethical duty to be our best, to live up to our potential and to share our gifts with the world. If you have something great to offer but don’t because of fear, that’s a disservice to the world. That feels very empowering, motivating and even liberating. 

So here are the five practices you can implement today to begin to elevate yourself, upgrade your self-image and step into your personal power. No matter what you do, who you are, or what fears may be holding you back, take time to integrate these practices and you will start your up-leveling process right away!

1.    Use the Affirmation: “In This Moment, I Have Enough, I am Enough.”

Affirmations are so incredibly valuable because they help to create a new way of speaking to yourself within your conscious mind. Affirmations invite a place to be kind, compassionate and loving towards yourself. This particular affirmation is valuable because it releases and shifts any feelings that you are lacking something. When you operate from a place of lack and scarcity mindset, you create an internal sense that you are not safe and secure. A lacking mentality implies that something needs to change before you can be enough or before you can share yourself and your gifts with others and with the world. This affirmation dispels that self-created myth. Even better, record yourself repeating this affirmation for 1-3 minutes and listen to it daily.

I encourage you to practice saying this affirmation at least three times daily for forty days in a row (you can keep going beyond 40 days, but commit to that at least to begin!) Offer yourself time to journal about how it feels when you say it to yourself and any shifts in your ability to accept it over time and your perceptions of being enough.

2.    Look in the Mirror and Smile at Yourself 3 Times a Day

Smiling is a simple and yet incredibly powerful facial gesture to share with yourself and with others. It can improve how you feel instantly. Try this practice of looking at yourself in the mirror, offering a kind, full-faced smile (don’t ½ ass it here!) and gaze into your own eyes in a kind and compassionate way for about 15-20 seconds.

Practice this three times daily for the next forty days and notice the impact. Again, use a journal to track how you feel when you do this practice. Sometimes it may feel awkward, other times it may be quite touching. No matter what you experience, track it in this way and notice the impact. 

3.    Tell Yourself, “I GOT THIS” with Each Struggle You Endure

I actually have “I Got This” come up as a reminder on my phone every day at 1 pm. Every single day, it brings me a sense of relief and makes me relax and smile. Because really, not matter what, I do. Life is good, life is hard, life is demanding, life is uncertain, life is all the things. Knowing that YOU know that “I GOT THIS” can be extremely reassuring. This awareness builds confidence and improves your self-image instantly. You shift from a space of stress to one of empowerment and the ability to say in that moment, “oh yeah I do!” With each struggle, remind yourself that you’ve experienced other struggles and so far you’ve survived them all. So with this one, no matter how large or small, you’ve totally got this!

4.    Reflect on Your Goals and Success Daily

If you’ve been reading here for a little while, then you know I’m a big fan of setting goals. Planning your action steps and reviewing your progress regularly is a form of self-accountability. I know for myself, if I plan it, it is WAY more likely to actually happen. If I don’t, there’s a good chance I will get busy with…pretty much nothing, at least nothing important. The next step is actually reflecting on your goals and the success you are creating through taking action towards your goals daily. When you do this, you are creating a sense of self-discipline by being accountable to your own daily check in. Begin this daily practice and notice the impact on your progress towards your goals. As you see yourself making progress and creating the change in your life that you desire you will experience an upgrade in your self-image.

5.    Practice Confidence

Confidence can be learned, practiced and developed over time. When you act in a way that reflects internal strength and confidence, it is inevitable that you will upgrade your self-image. When you stand up for yourself, even in a small, simple way that may not seem like much to someone else but feels like a big deal to you, you will elevate your own view of yourself. This naturally will elevate how others experience you as well. Begin this practice by noticing your posture. Stand up tall, relax your shoulders and breathe deeply and completely. This simple shift in posture can make a big shift in how you feel as well as how you are perceived by others. Body language makes a big impact. Once you change your posture, begin to practice the “putting yourself out there” confidence piece. Do you struggle with speaking up for what you want? Do this at least one time this week—no matter what! Do you struggle to speak up in your school or work setting in order to share your knowledge and expertise? Do this at least one time this week—no matter what! Do you struggle to pay attention to your own needs because you want everyone else to be happy all of the time? Spend time in self-reflection becoming familiar with your own personal likes and dislikes, wants and needs. Then, tell at least one person about one thing you discovered about yourself and let your needs be known. Afraid to share your creative gifts? Try singing, playing your instrument, showing your art work or written work to at least one person who you trust this week—no matter what! 

The most important element to building confidence and upgrading your self-image is to make it about you and your own view of yourself. Do these practices to express who you are. You are not doing them in an effort to gain anything in return from others, such as attention or reinforcement. Now you may receive those things, but that will only satisfy your pesky ego, and will not last (the ego is never satisfied). When you feel good inside because you created a spark of joy through believing in yourself, acting with confidence, smiling to yourself, repeating an affirmation or making progress towards your goals—that will be the lasting positive experience that you can continue grow with.

The last thing I’ll say is that upgrading your self-image is all about exiting your comfort zone and entering a place that may create your fears to take over. I’ll quote the great Elizabeth Gilbert to address these scary feelings: “Your fear is the most boring thing about you.” Today, commit to one or more of these five strategies to upgrade your self-image, and maybe, let it be the one that scares you the most. Feel the fear and do it anyway!

Your Weight Is Not Your Worth

 
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So many people feel as though there is a magic number they will see on the scale that will make them feel amazing, happy, proud and worthy. This is a message we receive often from society and maybe even from friends and family. The truth is that your weight is completely separate from your worth as a person. You are worthy, period. You are worthy simply because you are you and you are here. It is your birthright to experience your worth for who you are, not for what you do, what you own, what size you are, a number on a scale, or for any other external factor. 

If you have a goal and desire to lose weight for personal reasons, feeling proud of that as an accomplishment is a good thing. However, it is a separate experience from whether or not you are more valuable as a person because of the number you see on a scale changing. Likewise, if you find that you have gained weight and feel frustrated, that does not diminish your value and worth as a person. While it may feel that we live in a judgmental and shallow society, most of us just want to feel content, peaceful and happy. A number on a scale may offer a temporary jolt of happiness, but it is not sustainable happiness. This type of happiness is conditional and fleeting. True happiness comes from within and is unconditional.

True and lasting contentment, peace and happiness can only come from within. While external circumstances contribute to certain feelings, they are all fleeting. Finding self-worth and value in who you are requires self-compassion, self-reflection and self-exploration. Think about why you care about the people in your life that you love, care for and trust. Is it because they look good, own fancy things or step on a scale and see a certain number? I’d think not! Most likely you care for them because of who they are. Most likely you like the way that they make you feel when you are around them. This is an experience of the true person, not some external factor. This is what others seek from you as well. They most likely are not judging you, they want to be around you because of how you make them feel. 

When you feel good about yourself and own your worth, this is experienced by others. When you are down on yourself, negative and anxious about weight, perceived judgment and withdrawn from others, they may resist being around you. So how do you go about improving your self-worth on a deeper level? Self-compassion is a big one here. Grow in your ability to be kind to yourself, speak to yourself and any struggles you experience in the same way you would a friend. Self-reflection is helpful in order to improve your self-worth as you can see where your blocks are to self-compassion and self-acceptance. Some forms of self-reflection are journaling, meditation, therapy and other creative outlets. These processes lead to self-exploration where you can explore what comes up during your time of self-reflection. Through the self-exploration process you can make changes as you find patterns of thoughts, beliefs, actions and behaviors that are not serving you.

So now back to feeling worthy despite a number on the scale. To begin, I recommend throwing your scale away. If you insist on keeping it, try not to weight yourself regularly as weight fluctuates easily and often. Once a monthly is sufficient—but only if you feel it is not triggering or that you are overly attached to a specific number on the scale. When you go to the doctor you can always ask to not hear or see the number on the scale. If there is something in relation to weight gain or weight loss that may be medically driven, you do want to talk about the specific medical factors and solutions. However, this for the purpose of your health and wellbeing, but that does not require that you know the exact number.

Building self-worth is not an overnight task. If you have been struggling with frustrations due to your weight or your body, try beginning with at least a little self-compassion. What factors do you want others to notice about you, who you truly are on the inside? Notice those elements within yourself and begin to reclaim your self-worth based on who you are, not what you look like, what you own or feel that you lack. If you want to create change in your life, allow it to come from a place of kindness and care for yourself, not punishment and disdain. As you continue to practice self-compassion, self-reflection and exploration I’d love to hear what you discover.