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!

Embracing Nonjudgment

 
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Nonjudgment is a key concept within mindfulness. Mindfulness is paying attention from moment to moment with a nonjudgmental awareness. Nonjudgment means not having a reactive response to what is occurring, not responding—especially in a stressful manner—to whatever is true right now.

Nonjudgment can be a challenging concept to embrace because it is part of the nature of the mind to judge. However, this function of the mind/thought is not for the sake of beating yourself up or passing judgment onto others. The purpose of the capacity of the mind to judge is to engage the ability to make the best choices for yourself in the moment.

Unfortunately, judging and responding in an emotional way to that formulated judgement has become something that happens more rampantly. This internalized or passed onto others judgment is contributing to deep suffering on many levels. When you judge yourself, you create a feeling of being not good enough, unworthy and increase your stress.

When you judge others in a way that triggers a negative opinion of them, you are most likely activating your ego rather than your true self. In this ego space you are not allowing yourself to be accepting or compassionate towards their reasons why they have/do/are…whatever it is you are basing this judgment upon. This creates a limit to the connection you could experience with that person and also creates a cloud around a more clear decision to not subject yourself to that person.

When you embrace the concept and action of nonjudgment, you are not considering something as good or bad, right or wrong. You are not passing your internal opinions and values onto another but practicing the ability to deeply accept the truth of what is presented before you. When you practice nonjudgment, you are able to connect with a level of inner freedom and peace that allows you to experience less stress and an overall sense of lightness and wellbeing.

If you feel that you operate often out of a space of constant judgment, know that increasing your capacity for nonjudgment and deeper acceptance is a practice. It takes time, effort and focus to cultivate within. The most effective way to build your ability to practice and be in a state of nonjudgment and acceptance is through a consistent mindfulness practice. The second is through deep self-reflection.

While creating a consistent mindfulness and meditation practice has a number of benefits, today’s focus is specific to the ability to practice nonjudgment and acceptance. Your ability to accept others directly correlates to your capacity to accept yourself. If this feels like a little off-putting to consider, that’s ok, that’s just your ego responding and your ego is sensitive, guarded and most likely a little fragile. I know that mine sure is, which is why this practice is so, so very important. Without the internal barometer of mindfulness, meditation and self-reflection, we get stuck operating out of the needs of our ego. This will not increase our capacity of joy but will only create a temporary experience of survival and safety. But fear is always lurking out there—which ironically only breeds more judgment and nonacceptance. Nonjudgment allows you to release your ego based fears.

There are several mindfulness and meditation practices that offer the ability to grow in your capacity for deeper acceptance of yourself and others and allow the judging mind and ego to rest and feel safe. The most accessible is as simple as connecting with the rhythm of your breath. When you mind wanders, first, make note if it is a thought riddled with judgment (not to judge yourself, only to build awareness!) and then label it as a just a thought, then let it go. This will occur over and over and over again throughout the course of a minute. Initially this practice can be quite exhausting, but absolutely worth the effort. I recommend that you start slowly here, with just one minute and increase from there.

The second phase needed to build acceptance and the ability to practice nonjudgment is deep self-reflection. With deep self-reflection you are taking a closer look at your thought process. In this phase you become curious about your biases, your judgments, how they came to be and why they occur. Do you judge people for their appearance? Do you judge people for their material possessions? Do you judge people for their voice, their tone, their speech patterns, their words? Do you judge other people for what they do and the choices they make? These judgments may happen, however in deep self-reflection you can begin to understand why. This self-reflection practice gives you the ability to become aware that you are not your thoughts. Regardless of the emotional response that may or may not be conjured up by a thought, you can practice in the space of the witness to label it as a thought, or a process of your mind, and then let it go.

Earlier I may have triggered your ego by saying that your capacity to accept others is equal to your capacity to accept yourself. If you find that you judge others, how much time do you spend judging yourself? How much time do you spend commenting internally or out loud because of your appearance or your material possessions or for you what you say, do or the choices you make? Often the ego deflects this internal pain and suffering onto others and it creates this internal anxiety that is underlying, well, pretty much everything. It is deeply uncomfortable and unsatisfying, and I believe that most of us live in this space unconsciously much of the time. 

If you are ready to heal from these internal patterns of thought, feelings and behaviors, today is the day to begin a mindfulness practice. If you are ready to dig deep and understand how these patterns arose in order to ensure that they remain at bay, then today is the day to begin deep self-reflection.

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!