Tag Archives | mindful monday

Mind Over Matter: Why My Grandmother was Right

Photo courtesy of Smth Criminal29

In my youth, anytime I scraped my knee or found myself sick in bed with the flu, my grandmother would very assertively tell me, ”It’s mind over matter, girl! Keep your head on straight and you’ll be just fine.” As a child, I was more interested in receiving pity instead of advice about how to be mindful, but now that I’m an adult, I look back at that time and am quite impressed with my grandma’s forward thinking. I also count myself very lucky to have been the recipient of such meaningful advice at such a young age.

Indeed, she was right – the power of the mind is nothing short of extraordinary.  It has even been credited with saving lives. In fact, it has been said that the mind is a wonder-drug that can be used to treat a variety of medical conditions. The best thing about this particular medicine is that it’s free and easily accessible.

Studies show that practicing meditation and being mindful in general can help patients prepare for and recover better from some risky procedures, including quadruplebypass surgery! By gaining control over your mind, you learn how to keep your body relaxed, which in turn lowers your blood pressure and the amount of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is a chemical caused by stress that can lead to inflammation, impaired healing and an increased response to pain.

Another positive effect of living mindfully and meditating is an increased endorphin level. Much like a ‘runner’s high’ – you can experience the same pleasant feelings when you stay in the now and focus on controlling your brain’s responses. Along with more endorphins, you can also look forward to an increased level of GABA (Gamma aminobutyric acid) – a very important neurotransmitter that is responsible for keeping your moods regulated.  Without enough GABA, you’ll end up experiencing anxiety, insomnia, bad moods, and in rare cases, epilepsy.

Some people simply don’t ‘buy in’ to the idea that we have the ability to control our minds to such extreme extents.  Those people are usually the ones shown to have much higher levels of anxiety and chronic pain. To make matters even more interesting, one study divided participants into two groups – those who mindfully meditated regularly, and those who didn’t meditate at all.  All participants were hooked up to fMRI brain scanners and then asked to put their hands into extremely hot water. The amazing thing is that the group of people who reported living mindfully showed up to 50% less activity in the areas of the brain associated with pain responses.

The concept of ‘mind over matter’ usually refers to the act of gaining control over our mind’s response to pain or illness. Another phenomenon that some people feel is a matter of mind over matter is superior athletic ability. Is it nature, nurture, or a combination of both? Is it possible that all it takes is the right mindset in order to become an Olympic gold medalist?

While the jury’s still out on that one, there’s definitely enough proof to show that by living mindfully, meditating regularly, and being closely in touch with your body and mind, you have the potential to live a much happier, healthier, and longer life.  If you ask me, that sounds like a pretty sweet deal.

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Mindfulness Basics: Meditation for the Real World

Photo courtesy of Wonderlane

In order to start really enjoying my life to the fullest, I had to learn how to live more mindfully.  If you’re wondering what that means, you’re not alone.  I have been asked many times precisely what mindful living entails, and most people also want to know if there is a difference between mindfulness meditation and traditional meditation.

The concept of mindfulness is the act of paying attention to the things that are happening around us, to us, and within us in order to deliberately notice our responses - with the ultimate goal of increasing our enjoyment of life. A very important part of living mindfully happens to be dedicating time each day to meditate, but probably not the type of meditation you’re thinking of.

Mindfulness meditation means simply becoming more aware of things and accepting what is happening, moment by moment. Through meditating mindfully, we learn how to be more present in our lives without judging or trying to change anything.

In contrast to other forms of meditation, the goal of meditating mindfully isn’t relaxation; therefore, it can be performed anytime, anywhere. Since the goal of living a mindful life is to participate more instead of being mentally absent, regular mindful meditation sets us up for success when it comes to: enjoying all that life brings our way, making changes when necessary, and being more compassionate toward others.

To begin with, meditating with a mindful purpose is usually performed with the eyes open. The exceptions to this would be if you want to simply focus on your breathing, or do a lying full body scan to practice being more aware of each body part.

Truthfully, you can meditate mindfully by focusing your attention on just about anything.  Since mindful meditation is a process aimed at developing better awareness in general, the practice can be carried out during any number of activities, like: eating, running, swimming, walking, making love, getting a tattoo, working, doing yoga, and recovering from an illness. In fact, some women even mindfully meditate through the process of childbirth.

Regardless of the activity at hand, in order to mindfully navigate or “meditate” your way through it, you must anchor your mind to four levels of the experience:

  • Physical sensation of being in your body - Simply become aware of all of your body parts and how they move during the activity.
  • Feelings brought on by the activity – How does your body feel? Does it hurt or feel good? Are you hot or too cold?
  • Your mental state – What emotions are you experiencing?
  • Consciousness mapping - Is your mental state positive or negative?

When you first begin mindful meditation, the most important thing is to focus on your reactions to your own body and mind as much as possible.  Develop a strong connection with your own body and mind before you begin responding to your outside environment. After that, try to keep a good balance of your awareness of your inner and outer worlds as much as possible.

Mindful living can give you the intense experience of being deeply aware of your environment and your life’s adventures. The more in touch you are with your inner self, the more free you will be to enjoy and react to everything external.  Mindful meditation will help you create a quietude within your body, mind, and soul, affording you the ability to notice and focus energy on the beauty and joy of everything that surrounds you.

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The Heart of Mindfulness is All in Your Approach

Photo courtesy of Klearchos Kapoutsis

The goal of this week’s Mindful Monday post is simple: we’re going back to the basics.

Many, many times, even the most dedicated person can lose sight of his or her goal(s) of living mindfully, making it easy to slip back into a harried, stress-filled way of living. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen to us by taking the time now to review some basic mindfulness concepts.

While mindfulness is at the heart of Buddhist meditation, it has nothing to do with Buddhism and everything to do with paying attention. The words for mind and heart are essentially the same in many Asian languages.

Mindfulness = Heartfulness

Heartfulness is the act of showing your mind and body affection by paying attention to the moments of your life on purpose, in the now, and without judgment.

Some people get mindfulness and awareness confused.

For example – being aware that you are eating is not the same as eating mindfully. Many people eat while talking, texting, watching television, reading, or a myriad of other distracting actions.  On some level, you are ‘aware’ that food is going into your mouth, but you will never fully connect with the experience unless you are mindfully paying attention to all of the sensations involved in eating and your reactions to them.

That concept carries through to everything you do in your life: shopping, sight-seeing, interacting with your children, having conversations, seeing a play, taking a drive, even sitting still in the silence of your living room!

It’s the attitude you have when approaching activities that will make all the difference in how deeply you connect with them. Through practicing regular mindfulness, you’ll be able to live a much more fulfilling, happy life. Let’s review the key attitudes of mindfulness:

Kindness toward yourself as you become more aware of your thoughts and reactions
Acceptance of how you feel, right now
Curiosity about your feelings toward everything that you experience
Patience for expert mindfulness to develop
Go with the flow of your reactions to everything you are experiencing. Don’t force anything.
Trust your mind and your inner strength to guide you toward a more enlightened life.
Non-judging attitude toward good or bad experiences – simply observe.
Non-striving approach to every moment -rather than look forward to a future moment, stay in this moment and allow it to completely unfold for what it is.
Open-mindedness - Everything that you encounter has so many possibilities as long as you are open to them.

If it seems like too much to tackle all at once, try to adopt one of the above attitudes into your life at a time until you feel you have mastered it.  Then you can progressively practice all of the mindful attitudes, one by one.  Believe me, you WILL feel your reactions to life begin to shift in a very positive direction.

Next week’s Mindful Monday will be dedicated to reviewing the steps to successful Mindful Meditation.

 

 

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How to Turn off Auto-Pilot and Live Your Life to the Fullest

Photo courtesy of Bing Ramos

On the journey toward living with mindfulness and balance, it’s important not to slip into auto-pilot too often.  Much like arriving at a familiar destination in your car and having no idea how you got there, living life on auto-pilot steals moments right out from under you. It’s so easy to zone out, and it’s ok to let it happen once in awhile, but for the most part, living mindfully means paying attention to every moment we are lucky enough to experience.

I’ve spent a significant amount of time creating effectual habits in order to become more productive, and that type of automated thinking, in the appropriate settings, is actually good for my brain and allows me to function better professionally. Habitual thinking occurs when the brain becomes so accustomed to certain tasks that performing them becomes automatic, leaving us able to concentrate on more important things. Examples of beneficial habits include exercising, flossing your teeth, and taking your vitamins every day.

A problem arisis when the brain slips into automatic mode too often, leading to lost life experiences. In order to use your inner capacities for awareness and insight, it’s important to focus on “being” rather than “doing.” Living mindfully means letting your mind rest in each moment as it comes, watching your thoughts and reactions to all that life has to offer.

If you’re finding it difficult to shut off auto-pilot and be more present in your life, here are ten simple things you can do to get started:

1. Appreciate the things others do for you. Start taking notice of the small favors people do for you. By telling my husband how much I appreciate what he does, I’m more in tune with how happy he makes me feel.

2. Start listening. Admit it: when your kids (or sometimes your friends) launch into a long story, it’s easy to stop paying attention. Instead of formulating your response, sit back, watch the person’s body language, and listen.

3. Sit with your body; quiet your mind. You can do this at any point during the day. Take a break from what you’re doing, feel the space your body is taking up, and think only of your breathing.

4. Be more aware of your posture. Becoming more attuned to where your body is in space can turn a slouch into a ramrod straight spine. I have personally grown a full inch since posture became a priority.

5. Think of those who are less fortunate. When you’re facing a hurdle, take a moment to imagine how it would feel to be homeless or seriously disabled. Then turn your focus back to your life, and grasp the full greatness of what you do have.

6. Practice progressive relaxation. You can combine this with #3 when you have time. Lie down in a comfortable position. Tighten and then systematically relax each muscle group.

7. Eat slowly. Allow your food to sit on your tongue longer; put your fork down in between bites. Enjoy the way your food tastes, feels, and smells.

8. Drive under the speed limit. By making a concious effort to move more slowly, you’ll realize that life doesn’t have to be so fast paced, leaving you more capable of enjoying the scenery.

9. Recognize that answering your cell phone is a choice. So many people answer calls, text, or read facebook updates while engaging in face-to-face interactions with other people! Put your phone down, turn it off, and focus on the real people around you.

10. Do things that make you feel good. You have the power to say yes and no. Utilize that power according to your happiness requirements. Simply: participate in activities that you enjoy, and avoid situations and people that cause your happiness level to suffer.

Simply because Ford predicts that cars will soon be equipped with nearly complete auto-pilot capabilities doesn’t mean that humans should follow their lead. On the road of life, you’re the one navigating. Choose your destination, feel the wind in your hair, and stop often along the way.

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When the Words Get in the Way: How to Talk Less and Say More

Photo courtesy of Val Pearl

Foot in mouth disease can plague even the best of us on occasion. I personally have been a victim of not knowing when to shut my mouth in the past; in fact, it used to be quite a problem for me. Along my journey toward becoming a better person, I wanted to learn how to stop myself from saying things I always end up regretting later.

I started out by focusing on when I was having the most problems with putting my foot in my mouth. It always seemed to be at the most inopportune times!  As it turns out, research shows that people actually do tend to let things slip when the pressure is on to behave well, and this has a scientific basis.

Known as one of the brain’s ‘ironic processes’, when we are specifically trying to keep unwanted thoughts from exploding out of our mouths, it becomes even harder to do so.  This is because the human brain is constantly working arduously to keep unwanted thoughts at bay, but when it becomes overloaded, such as in times of stress like an interview or first date, undersirable tidbits end up getting past the gates.

Much like wanting to ‘stop being nervous’ or get into a better mood on command, we’d all love to have complete control over our thoughts, and especially, when and when not to share them. How can we keep our feet out of our mouths when it matters most?

The answer seems to be related to creating effectual habits. Just like in many other areas of our lives, like exercise, eating, and being productive, making keeping mum habitual gets us the most regular and reliable results.  The key is how and when to train your brain to keep quiet.

Don’t begin the process while you’re immersed in a stressful situation, for one.  In order to teach yourself to babble less and say more of the right things, you’ll need to take a gentle, nurturing approach. Think of your brain as a very complex network, and it’s important that the whole thing’s not lit up when you start rewiring a few of the grids. Otherwise, you might end up shorting everything out, negating all of your efforts.

Try this: when you’re in low-pressure situations, practice keeping negative thoughts to yourself by forcing yourself to think about (but not speak about) the things you really don’t want to say.  You’ll have to do this regularly, because after all, improving your prowess at any skill won’t happen without practice.

Just like any desired behavior, the best way to control what you say is to make it an unconscious action. By familiarizing your gray matter with saying the right things instead of making innapropriate comments, your brain will eventually become more comfortable with minding its manners instead of making your most mortifying musings public knowledge.

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The Biggest Surprise About Hitting Rock Bottom

Photo courtesy of Vincent Desjardins

On my journey to live the life I really want, a multitude of very important changes are occurring within me, but they are changes that I worked toward; they were goals that I clearly set out to reach. Today I want to talk about something remarkable that has happened to me along the way that I never expected.

Up until a year ago, I spent approximately 18 months fighting and clawing against the gravity that was inevitably pulling me toward rock bottom. I wanted nothing to do with hitting the bottom, because I knew I would have to admit some harsh realities after the impact.

After the collision, I remained curled into the fetal position with my eyes squeezed firmly shut in denial. A few weeks later, when I finally managed to open my eyes, it was with the sudden realization that I had exactly two choices: get busy living, or get busy dying.  And if I planned to stay alive, well, I had better get up and get moving, because I had some real work to do.

Thus began my exploration of self-empowerment and taking back control over my own happiness. Divorce, illness, unemployment, depression, low self-esteem, abuse, toxic relationships, obesity, lack of direction, and drug and alcohol addiction are just some of the reasons that have put many of us on the path toward self-love and acceptance.

As we all make strides toward living the life we really want to live, most of us have seen and felt a number of changes happen within us, like increased self-confidence, better self-image, and more effective life skills, all of which have led us to accomplish many personal achievements and overcome hurdles that we never thought we’d conquer.

As we accomplish more and come closer to our ultimate happiness, the image we project to others begins to shift. They can see us more clearly now that our walls of self-loathing, destruction, or denial are crumbling. Liking yourself makes you infinintely more likeable to others, which is something that most of us have known all along.

I am thoroughly enjoying how the positive changes are affecting my life, but I have to say that there was something that took me totally and completely by surprise in all of this, and it wasn’t mentioned as one of the most common side effects of self-improvement.

It is also something that is rather hard for me to admit, because in doing so, I will be making a confession about who I used to be. Ok. Here goes:

(I like helping people now.)

What many of us don’t realize as we’re spiraling downward (in some cases completely obliviously), is that we really don’t even like other people all that much, let alone want to help them. Only upon reaching the summit of self-love and appreciation can we begin to really care that other people are suffering too.  Going through the motions of helping others is one thing, but really, genuinely wanting to help someone simply for the sake of making his or her life better?  Well, that’s another beast entirely, and frankly, it’s something that makes hitting rock bottom 150% worth it.

Karl Reiland said, “In about the same degree as you are helpful, you will be happy,” and although we most definitely must focus on helping ourselves first, the level of our satisfaction in life can most accurately be measured by how much joy we feel when we reach out a helping hand.

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Take This Job and Love it: How to Practice Mindfulness in the Workplace

Photo courtesy of Sukhasanachair

Since today is officially Labor Day, we are supposed to recognize all of the economic and social contributions of our country’s workforce, which happens to include most of us. Since it’s us that we’re appreciating, I propose that we view today as a welcome day off and a last goodbye to long summer days and family vacations. Enjoy each and every moment of today – whether you’re sleeping in late, cooking burgers, or watching movies all afternoon. Be thankful that you have a job to have a day off from.

Make tomorrow your Labor Day! You’ll be back at work, after all, and you will have had the benefit of a long weekend to fuel your professional engine.  As your way of celebrating your Labor Day, find small ways to bring mindfulness into your workplace. We already know that thinking, moving, and eating mindfully keeps us centered in the moments of life, bringing us more in touch with ourselves and our experiences. As we practice mindfulness, our cortisol levels drop, leaving us with a feeling of evaporating clouds of stress and a sudden clarity of the here and now.

Although job-related situations may not typically be on your radar as appropriate mindfulness opportunities, they should be. Another benefit of living mindfully is an increase in productivity and the ability to come up with new ideas.  In fact, many companies today have begun encouraging mindful practices within the workplace. Although it has proven challenging and has seen some resistance, the movement toward corporate mindfulness is definitely on the rise.

To be more mindful at work, try some of the following suggestions:

  • Observe before you react. Allow situations to unfold completely. Gather information with clarity and purpose, but without judgement. This will allow you to react more calmly, effectively, and creatively.
  • Window gaze. Ideally, take at least a 30 minute walk to be one with nature every single day.  Identify with a particular tree and the way it moves in the breeze, or the brilliant colors of the flowers. Optionally, find a window and gaze out of it for at least 5 minutes to remind yourself that you’re part of a bigger universe than the walls that surround your desk.
  • Hit the pause button. Transitions at work can be jarring and can destroy your focus.  To avoid this effect, work at a steady pace and schedule breaks in between transitions so that you can give yourself time to decompress and find your center before the next meeting or event.
  • Check yourself. If you need a reminder to check in with yourself during the day, download The Mindfulness App, or set an alarm or timer. At intervals of your choice, do a self-check during which you simply focus on your breathing and being in your body.  Remember that you are a living, breathing person and not just a work drone!
  • Humanize your coworkers. Recognize that everyone you work with is dealing with challenges every day, just as you are, and chances are good that all they really want is to be happy too. This will make it easier to interact with them, even if their behavior hasn’t always pleased you.
  • Use the ‘three breaths’ technique. Anytime you’re ready to hit ‘Send’, ‘Save’, or ‘Publish’, take three slow deep breaths to clear your mind.  Then revisit the email, memo, or article in order to verify that your intentions, words, and ideas are all in order and that they make sense.

If you’re a leader in your workplace, lead with mindfulness by keeping an eye on the big picture.  By staying focused on yourself and the others on your team, you’ll have a much clearer idea of what is happening, why it is happening, and the decisions you need to make to be effective.

Mindfulness helps us gain clarity, achieve balance, and get more pleasure out of any situation or setting. On your journey toward living a more fulfilled life, remember to let your work persona in on the enjoyment, too.

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23 Impressive Sights to Mindfully Experience

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I recently took a weekend trip to Washington, D.C. with my newfound dedication to living mindfully. It was, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable vacations of my life, and I credit that to the fact that I remained focused on staying in the moment at all times. My mind was blown by the number of things I had never noticed about the city before. I took immense pleasure from simply sitting on a bench that overlooked the Potomac River. I made a conscious effort to experience each moment for what it had to offer, without looking toward the future and what was next on our itinerary.

The satisfaction we can gain by mindfully approaching a wide variety of sense-stimulating destinations can significantly enhance and enrich our life experiences. Here are some excellent places to test your ability to live mindfully:

1. New York’s Central Park in the fall

2. The Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC

3. The view from the Eiffel Tower at night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


4. Lucy the Elephant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Dachau Concentration Camp

6. Lavender Fields in France at sunset

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Portland’s Japanese Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. Machu Piccu

9. Times Square on New Year’s Eve

10. The view of Bora Bora from the Thalasso Spa Resort

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11. The frozen waterfalls in Pamukkale, Turkey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12. Longwood Gardens at Christmastime

13. A redwood tree in California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14. Mardis Gras

15. Ka Tao beach, Thailand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

16. Miami Beach

17. Yellowstone National Park in the winter

18. The Black Forest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

19. The tomb of Christopher Columbus in Seville, Spain

20. Niagara Falls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

21. The Met

22. One World Trade Center

23. The Statue of Liberty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credits:
3. Geofftheref
4. Amy_Kearns
6. Vainsang
7. ahp_ibanez
10. Pierre Lesage
11. Armando Lodi
13. Drburtoni
15. Narisa
18. LinksmanJD
20. ipeters61
23.
photosinframes

 

 

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The REAL Reason You Shouldn’t be Eating at Chik-Fil-A

It’s amazing to me the number of people who have completely given up eating at a popular fast food restaurant based purely on a principle that has nothing to do with food.

Whether or not your opinions on gay marriage line up with Dan Cathy’s is totally up to you, of course, but personally I’d like to see more people deciding what to eat based on whether or not the food lines up with what the body needs.

It can be easy to make mindless choices when it comes to eating when the rhythm of daily life seems to demand it.  You can become zombified, mindlessely shoveling in food ordered through a window. You’ve got places to go, things to do.

Since food is what fuels the body and mind, you’ll soon have no place to go at all if you aren’t more mindful about how and what you eat. Reckless bingeing followed by disastrous dieting has led to copious amounts of obesity and a real lack of nutrients that healthy bodies need to succeed.

Mindful eating involves slowing down and checking in with yourself before diving in. Does your body actually need fuel right now or are you just bored, sad, or angry?  Making sure that you are eating for the right reasons is the first step to mindful eating.

If you have checked in with yourself and have decided that your craving for food is due to a mind/body need, the next step is to make mindful choices about what type of fuel you put in your engine. Make thoughtful decisions so that you eat a variety of foods every day, including fruits, vegetables and plenty of protein. If your check-in shows that you’re regularly craving sugar or fat, you’ll have to look into the reasons or factors for that and make some life changes accordingly.

Lastly, once you have made a wise food choice, spend extra time enjoying it. Eat slowly, and really contemplate the flavors, textures, and spices that exist in your food. Eating mindfully involves turning off outside distractions. Don’t eat in front of the TV or computer – the distractions keep you from knowing when you are adequately full. Eating in relative silence is actually the best idea. It allows you to focus only on the task at hand, and when your body is properly fueled, you will be able to recognize it.

Chew slowly while you eat, and spend time tasting each bite. Try to really appreciate the taste and sensation of each morsel before swallowing. Avoid having the next bite ready and waiting on your fork. Enjoy a bite fully, contemplate it, and then take another thoughtful taste.  I have to tell you – as research for this article, I began mindfully eating this past weekend. It was absolutely mindblowing. I have never enjoyed a meal so much, and I stopped with half of my plate still full. Amazing!

You don’t have to have an hour-long silent meal every day of the week – that’s just not practical for most people, but you can aim for a once-weekly mindful meal and begin making better overall choices before stuffing your belly. Only this time, make your choices based on the issue at hand – your health.

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As a Thank You to all of our loyal readers, this week we will be doing our first ever FREE GIVEAWAY!  To be eligible, you must be subscribed to DailyPath, and you can do that by clicking the sign up box on our Home Page. There will never be a cost to you and we will never try to sell you anything (unless we write a book, of course.)   :)

The winner will be mailed a brand new copy of the book Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays. It’s a fantastic book and we wanted to be able to share it with a lucky reader. We’ll be drawing the random winner next Monday morning and the results will be announced here on the blog.  Good luck and thanks for reading.  We’re all in this together!

 

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