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!

The Value of a Morning Routine

 
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How do you get your day going? Do you have a routine, ritual and a way to ease into your day? Or, do you rush and feel as though you are always mentally one step ahead of yourself and yet feel one step behind with all you need to do before your day “officially” begins?

Having a consistent morning routine is one of those deceivingly simple life hacks that can be hard to implement, but when you do, it makes a major difference in the feeling of your whole day. The truth is that your morning routine does not have to be long, fancy or anything too out of the ordinary. Your morning routine just needs to be consistent and offer you the opportunity to be presently engaged from moment to moment. The first place to begin is to have an adequate amount of time to actually offer yourself space where you can ease into your day. The intention is to offer an opportunity to bring on a sense of calm rather than triggering your stress response first thing in the morning!

If you are thinking, that’s great but I’m NOT a morning person— I am right there with you and know all about it! The thing is, having a morning routine helps to create more ease into the day and actually creates less disdain of the mornings. I used to wake up with little time to spare and felt as though I was one step ahead of myself in my mind—what I still had to do—and yet I felt a step behind knowing that the time I needed to get out the door was looming ahead! I started my day stressed-out and it had a negative impact on the rest of the day. I had to make some adjustments and they have paid off big-time in my energy and my mood!

Routines are so incredibly valuable because they allow the wellness practices that you desire within your life to become a deeply engrained stress-relieving habit. When I don’t protect my time, energy and digestion, I suffer. When I attend to my health needs and keep my stress in a manageable space, I flourish. This is a practice, a daily need and it is useful to constantly review, update, tweak and grow.

For this week ahead, consider one thing you could add to your morning (or maybe take away—like the news or scrolling through social media) that would increase your ability ease into your day. What is one thing that would help you create more present moment awareness into your morning? How can you set yourself up to have reduced stress and increased energy? How can you create just one simple change that can have a big impact on your day ahead?

Not sure where to begin? Here are a few sample morning routines that you might find to be useful: 

Scenario 1:

-make your bed

-exercise

-shower

-deep breathing

-journaling/self-reflection

-tea/coffee/breakfast

-Your day has now begun! 

Scenario 2: (my office-day morning routine!)

-breathing exercises

-shower

-drink lemon water

-rest on the couch with tea

-breathing and intention setting for the day

-check in with emails

-breakfast

-prepare lunch for the day

-off to work!

Scenario 3: (my work-from-home day morning routine!)

-lemon water

-make ginger + Darjeeling tea

-breakfast

-intention setting

-daily preparation + organization/ideas/emails/posts

-exercise/yoga

-breathing exercises

-shower

-ready to jump into the day!

Scenario 4:

-exercise

-shower

-breakfast

-intention setting

-You are ready to take on the day! 

Scenario 5:

-practice gratitude

-eat breakfast

-sip morning bevi of choice

-read something inspirational

-shower + brush teeth

-you are ready to start your day!

Scenario 6:

-make your bed

-yoga breathing + postures + setting daily intentions

-breakfast

-shower

-ready for your day!

Do you have a morning routine that works for you? I’d love to hear about it! Did you try any of these listed above or tweak one area of your morning to improve your day and reduce your stress? I’d love to hear about your experience!

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.