Tag Archive | Mindfulness

Conscious Meditation: What actually happens when you meditate?

Buddha Tree

The quieter you become, the more you can hear – Ram Dass

I have thought about starting a meditation practice for as long as I can remember. I have read countless articles about the benefits  – lowered reactivity, more patience, less stress, improved physical health – have been completely convinced that it is the ideal practice for my often harried mind and over stimulated nervous system. I have started and maintained a regular daily practice for about a week, multiple times. I even attended a 10-Day meditation retreat. But I never made it a regular, lasting habit.

Until this year.

This year, I decided would meditate every day, for at least 10 to 15 minutes a day.

And so far, I have.

And I love it.

But I still have questions.

  • What is the best way to practice meditation?
  • What about when I was actually sitting there focusing on my breath? What was supposed to happen then?
  • Would I see a difference in my life outside of those moments of meditation? Would I be more peaceful? Would I be more patient? Would it be easier to pause and respond in the moment instead of reacting mindlessly?

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO PRACTICE?

 Just like there is no “best way” to breathe, there is no “best way” to practice meditation – there is only the best way for each individual – the method that feels right, that allows you to settle into your practice and that motivates you to keep coming back day after day.

Before I began, I downloaded numerous guided meditations. I downloaded meditations from Tara Brach, Deepak Chopra, Thich Nhat Hanh and found numerous podcasts dedicated to regular meditation, such as A Quiet Mind, Meditation Oasis and Quiet…

…but I can’t speak to their efficacy because after two months, I have yet to open one. As an introverted mother of two – often rambunctious – young children, I found pleasure in retreating into meditation as a way to decompress and rejuvenate myself, preferring the silence and simplicity of just following my breath, to trying to concentrate on a guided mediation, in these moments.

And as in earlier attempts, I initially experienced some of the “monkey mind” often referred to in writings on meditation, when your mind jumps from one thought to the next, but I soon found myself settling into each practice and enjoying the peace, stillness and time to myself that meditation allowed.

WHAT WILL I EXPERIENCE DURING MEDITION?

Because meditation is such a personal experience, no one will experience the exact same sensations as anyone else, but initially it is common to feel:

  • feelings of frustration;
  • an inability to concentrate;
  • an increased awareness of repetitive thoughts; and
  • the need to continually refocus on the breathe, mantra, etc.

But as you persevere with your practice, the feelings become more pleasant, such as those mentioend by Light Watkins, in his post 5 Signs You Went into Deep Meditation, including:

  • a feeling of deep relaxation,
  • shallow breathing,

And from my own experiences:

  • a feeling of floating,
  • a feeling of vibrating energy
  • a feeling of heaviness as your body sinks into your meditation surface; and
  • an overall feeling of peace and well being.

WILL I SEE NOTICABLE CHANGES FROM A REGULAR MEDITATION PRACTICE?

I have always wondered how, or if, my life would really change with a regular meditation practice. I knew, that if I practiced regularly, my brain would change in positive ways. I know that I’d have moments of peace, as well as moments of frustration, when I was meditating, but would I see a difference in my life outside of those moments of meditation.

According to WildMind Buddhist Meditation, some of the outward signs of a progressing meditation practice include:

  • a greater ability to concentrate;
  • becoming more aware of the outside world;
  • becoming more aware of your posture;
  • becoming more aware of your actions;
  • become aware of more interesting and vivid dreams;
  • experiencing feelings of calmness and a reluctance to end a period of meditation;
  • other people noticing that you are changing – becoming more relaxed, less reactive, and more friendly;
  • having interesting experiences in meditation – like a delightful sense of rhythm in your breathing;
  • noticing a gap between stimulus and response in your interactions, and realizing that you have a choice about how to respond; and
  • becoming more dissatisfied through more self-awareness – and finding things about yourself that you want to change.

And now, after over two months of daily (albeit short) practice – although I haven’t experienced any of the above signs of a progressing practice – I can feel a change when I sit down, legs crossed, eyes closed. While there is still that initial flurry of activity, my body seems to know that this is time to rest. My limbs grow heavy, my focus turns inward, and often when the bell rings to signal that my time is up, I don’t want to move, enjoying the bliss of this trance-like state I’ve fallen into.

I haven’t been any moments where I feel, as others have written, that I am outside myself, connected through a shared energy, to the rest of the earth and it’s population. I’m still in my house, listening to the birds chirp, the horns honk and the occasional rooster crow.

But right now, that is enough for me.

How about you? Have you recently started a regular meditation practice? Or are you a seasoned practitioner with insight to share? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

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Back to the Well

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“It is not wrong to go back to that which you have forgotten.” — West African proverb

It has been quite a while since I’ve posted on A More Conscious Life.

Last June we left our “school year home” for our nomadic summer existence and with it, the predictable school year schedule – complete with early bedtimes and child-free nap-times. I had planned to cut down on the time I spent on the computer during our break, both because I knew I would have less uninterrupted time to myself and because I was beginning to feel that I was writing more about living consciously than actually living consciously. I loved researching, writing and learning as I wrote each post, but I wasn’t taking my practice off the page and really living what I wrote. Not to mention, that the very mindlessness I was trying to avoid was drawing me to my computer, my email, my blog, my research, and away from my life, again and again.

So I took a step back.

As we moved through June, I played, I visited, I watched, I ran, I stopped, I noticed, I lived each day without opening my computer. I went days without answering emails, I had evening long conversations with family and friends. I stopped rushing to check my email first thing in the morning, stopped spending hours lost in articles in the afternoons and stopped missing out on the pleasure of a quiet evening without obligation. It felt so freeing!

July passed in much the same way and although I felt guilty about not completing my monthly posts, I never quite worked up the motivation to get back to them. I was enjoying living unplugged, without analyzing it, and wanted to hold out just a little bit longer.

August came and with it our return home, the beginning of  a new school year and a resettling into a daily, weekly and monthly routine of schedules, obligations and the necessities of life to be attended to. I thought I would pick back up with the blog, but I didn’t.

That month we moved into a new house, in a new part of the city, where our internet connection was sporadic, if it appeared at all and when it did, we found ourselves, on our pay-as-you-surf plan, spending much more on internet than we had anticipated.

And so the blog was pushed back again.

When other obligations seemed to take up more of my time, I decided that maybe it was time to let it to for a while, physically and emotionally and come back to it at a time that was more practical, more convenient.

But as the months passed into fall, I realized that when I’m not writing about living consciously, I’m also not thinking about living consciously, which makes me less likely to actually live consciously.

And so, I decided to begin again. Maybe not as often, maybe not as regularly, but begin.

Because without the constant reminders, motivation, inspiration and community of others on this path, it is so easy to slip back into mindlessness, reactivity and regret.

And with them, it is much easier to remember that each moment is precious, each moment is a choice and each moment is another chance to pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and get back to your practice of mindful living.

I’m looking forward to being back.

Thanks for reading!

Sharon

A Practice of Mindful Eating

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“When walking,walk. When eating,eat.” – Zen Proverb

For the first month of my More Conscious Year, I have been focusing on becoming more present, or mindful, in my own life. I chose presence, or mindfulness, as my focus for the first month, because I believe that it is really the foundation for a more conscious life. If you aren’t aware of how you are feeling, what you are thinking or, sometimes, even what you are doing throughout your day, it is hard to make conscious choices because of the way our brains are wired for automatic processing.

When we aren’t aware of what we are feeling, it is easy for frustrations to build or for stress to adversely affect us, leading us to react strongly or negatively to situations, rather than to calmly choose our responses.

When we aren’t aware of what we are thinking, it is easy for our moods to be affected by our thoughts without our knowledge or understanding.

When we aren’t aware of what we are doing, it is easy to make mistakes, misplace things or waste time wouldn’t have had we been more focused.

Mindfulness practices works to avoid all of these by helping us be more aware of how we are feeling, what we are thinking and what we are doing throughout the day.

In order to practice presence, or mindfulness, I committed to developing a new practice each week, each week adding a new task to the previous week’s task, with the intention of continuing each new practice throughout the year to form new positive habits:

Week 1 – “Single” Tasking – Practicing Mindful Eating

For the first week of January, I worked on doing one thing mindfully each day. I had originally intended to try to do everything I did mindfully each day, but after reading this post, which suggest just choosing one thing to do mindfully, I scaled back my lofty aspirations and decided to just focus on eating, since it is something I am fortunate to do at least three times a day.

My practice of mindful eating consisted of taking three deep breathes after I sat down to a meal, before beginning to eat, putting my fork down between each bite and focusing my attention on the act of eating, while I was doing it. If I was talking or getting up to refill water glasses, I wasn’t eating. When I was eating, I just ate.

As simple as that sounds, the experience was incredible.

As I started to take more time to eat, just simply putting my fork down after each bite, I realized how often I just shovel in food, trying to get through the meal, before getting up to fill little cups, clean up spills or lecture about polite table manners.

It was so nice to slow down. It was like a mini break from the rush of the day. It also gave me more time to appreciate the food and to be grateful for the abundance we have in our lives.

Now after a little less than a month of mindful eating, I have noticed real changes in how I respond to the simple task of eating.

Whereas before, I could easily eat on the go, in the car or rushing out the door, I now notice almost a physical resistance to eating on the run, as if my body doesn’t want food it isn’t offered in a state of calm.

Before, I would often find myself at the end of a meal, after having spent time shopping for it and preparing it, not even haven taken the time to enjoy it; now I thoroughly enjoy each bite.

Before, I thought that I could enforce a state of calmness during mealtimes, but now, I find that I am able to create it within myself and am less agitated and more understanding of the countless ups and downs of meal times with small children.

I don’t always remember to eat mindfully. Sometimes I forget to breathe before taking that first bite. Sometimes I find myself getting up to get something mid-chew. Sometimes I’ll eat a snack in front of the computer when find myself needing to do both quickly. But when I don’t eat mindfully now, I notice it. And I return to my practice.

For me, and maybe a lot of you, new habits are easier to maintain when you see or feel a real benefit. For me, the practice of mindful eating feels good, and in just four weeks, it has become a positive habit that I am looking forward to continuing.

What about you? Do you find yourself rushing through meals or craving more peace and calm in your life? Is so, why not begin a practice of mindful eating today?

For more information on Mindful Eating, see The Center for Mindful Eating’s publication Food for Thought – What is Mindful Eating?

Thanks for reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

A More Mindful January

Boat Peace

The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” ― Jon Kabat-Zinn

To begin A More Conscious Year, I thought I would start with the goal of being more mindful, or present, during the month of January. Many of you reading this may be well aware of the definition of mindfulness, but for any who are not, The Greater Good Science center’s Definition of Mindfulness reads, “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment.” Or as Wildmind Buddhist Meditation puts it in the post What is Mindfulness, we don’t judge experiences as good or bad, or if we do make judgements, we simply notice them and let them go. “We don’t get upset because we’re experiencing something we don’t want to be experiencing or because we’re not experiencing what we would rather be experiencing. We simply accept whatever arises. We observe it mindfully. We notice it arising, passing through us, and ceasing to exist. Whether it’s a pleasant experience or a painful experience we treat it the same way.”

Put that way, it doesn’t sound so difficult. But in the midst of a stressful situation, it can be quite difficult to maintain that sort of non-judgemental awareness. And that is where the importance of practice comes in. The more you practice being mindful, the more natural a state it will become, even in times of stress.

The benefits of mindfulness are many:

  • greater ability to concentrate;
  • lowered stress levels;
  • improved immune function;
  • growth in the area of the brain involved in learning, memory, emotional regulation, and empathy;
  • improved relationships;
  • increased ability to parent responsively, and
  • a greater sense of joy.

In her Huffington Post article, Thirteen Things Mindful People Do Differently Everyday, Carolyn Gregoire describes how mindful people meditate, pay attention to their breathing, turn daily tasks into mindful moments, take long walks, feel their feelings rather than trying to run from them or drown them in chocolate or alcohol, pay attention to what they put into their bodies and minds, and consequently, are more likely to seek out new experiences, appreciate nature, take themselves less seriously and experience more joy.

I would like to be one of those people!

But practicing mindfulness is not easy, especially in Western, multi-tasking, productivity driven societies. Practicing mindfulness involves a conscious effort to slow down, to pay attention to what is in front of you, to push aside all of the planning, worrying, ruminating that many of us do on a regular basis as we go about our daily lives. Practicing mindfulness involves changing neural pathways in our brains that have served us for years, if not decades, of automatic responses.

But it can be done.

Mindfulness, a practice that arose out of Buddhist tradition, is now being practiced in homes, schools, hospitals and offices around the world. The internet abounds with scientific findings on the proven benefits of being more mindful.

So how can we become more mindful?

In his post The Mindfulness Guide for the Super Busy on Zen Habits, Leo Babauta suggests a 30-Day Mindfulness Challenge and lists eleven tips for practice during the month, including:

  • doing one thing at a time, slowly and deliberately;
  • doing less, with breaks in-between;
  • taking five minutes for a daily meditation;
  • practicing conscious listening; and
  • turning meals and daily chores into opportunities to practice mindfulness.

For the month of January, I have chosen the following practices to help me have a more mindful month:

1. Week 1: “Single” Tasking – Practicing Mindful Eating and Daily Chores

Because I’ve found it difficult to stay mindful for long periods of time in the past, I want to start this month out with something that will be easy to practice anywhere and that will provide me with regular reminders of my intention. Throughout our days, we are almost always doing something and many of us typically eat three meals a day. Making a conscious effort to eat mindfully and do whatever it is I’m doing at the time, more mindfully, will allow for countless opportunities throughout my days. In the post 13 Ways to Bring More Mindfulness into Your Life, on Daring to Life Fully, Marelisa Febrega suggests starting small by choosing one thing you do every day and practice doing it mindfully. She also recommends pausing before starting a new activity and taking a few breaths before beginning. Eating mindfully would be a good start. For more on mindful eating see Tiny Buddha’s 5 Tips for Mindful Eating and Summer Tomato’s 9 Tricks to Eat More Mindfully.

2. Week 2: Awareness of Mindfulness Cues

Mindfulness cues, or reminders, can be helpful to bring your mind back to the present moment. Mindfulness cues can be internal or external. Internal mindfulness cues include things like rapid breathing, a sense of frustration, or negative thoughts. External mindfulness cues could be entering and exiting through a door (each time pausing to return to the present moment), hearing a phone ring, beginning a conversation, sitting down to eat, starting a car, etc. For the second week of January, I will make a list of mindfulness cues to bring myself back to the present moment and add them to my practice.

2. Week 2: Practice Mindful Body / Sensory Awareness

As many writings on mindfulness state, while our mind can wander, our body is always in the present. By returning to our body through body and sensory awareness, we can connect the two and return to the present moment. Additionally, our body often reacts the same way when we are confronted with a real stressor or are simply thinking about something stressful. Awareness of these stress responses, rapid breathing or tightened muscles allows us to conscious return our bodies to a state of calm. For the third week of January, in addition to continuing my practice of “single tasking” and awareness of mindfulness cues when I notice my mind wandering or my body tensing, I will work to return my attention to the feeling of my feet on the ground or an object against my skin; noticing the sights, sounds, smells and textures around me. to bring myself calmly back to the present.

4. Week 4: Practice Regular Meditation (Twice a Day)

Meditation, it is said, is not essential for mindfulness, but it helps a great deal. And the benefits of meditation both mirror and increase those of a mindfulness practice. So for the third week of January, I am going to add a second 15 minute afternoon meditation practice to my regular evening meditation. For more see GAIAM Life’s Meditation 101 and Goodlife Zen’s How to Meditate: 10 Important Tips.

Throughout the month, I will also use the mantra, “Be Here Now,” to bring my attention back to the present moment whenever I notice it wandering. This mantra has worked for me in the past.

While strategies listed above may work for me, I realize that they may not work for everyone. In her Psychology Today article 10 Best Practices for Being Present, Nancy Colier, LMSW, she acknowledges that all practices for cultivating mindful will not work for everyone because we all respond uniquely to different stimuli. She recommends trying different practices and selecting the ones that resonate most with you (The post 13 Ways to Bring More Mindfulness into Your Life, mentioned above, lists some more varied and creative mindfulness exercises).

Cultivating a mindfulness practice isn’t easy. It takes concentration, dedication and a genuine desire to be more mindful. For every time I have been able to focus mindfully, there are at least 100 times I’ve simply been mindful of the fact that I haven’t been mindful. Additionally, in her post Seven Obstacles to Mindfulness and How to Overcome Them, Tiny Buddha recognizes that “sometimes you want to be anywhere but in the now.” As a parent of two small children, I can recall many instances when I’ve wanted to escape the present moment by any means possible. Yet, again, hopefully, with practice, staying in the moment won’t be so difficult, or unappealing. Tiny Buddha states, that “when you realize that the challenging times are there to help you grow, you will automatically feel more peaceful and relaxed.”

Here’s to automatically feeling more peaceful and relaxed!

Thanks for Reading and Happy New Year! I hope this is a year filled with joy, peace, happiness and countless moments of consciousness!

What about you? Do you have mindfulness practices that work for you that you’d like to share? Are you interested in your own More Mindful Year? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

 

Conscious Living – Daily Consciousness Rituals

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“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love …” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Our family is in a period of transition. We are leaving our home of three years and moving overseas. In the month we have in between leaving our current home and settling in our new home, we are visiting friends and family in three different states, staying in three different “temporary homes.” As a mother, I am aware of the importance of routines for children during transitions, yet even as an adult I find myself craving a daily routine – something to give structure to the chaos and a reminder to be present. Something to help me to celebrate each day, rather than losing them all in a whirlwind of activity.

In their book Gifts of the Spirit, Philip Zalensi and Paul Kaufman, talk about the importance given to the day and the passage of time in various religious traditions. In early traditional cultures, the sun was often worshiped as a god that brought light and took it away at the end of each day. Quotes such as “Carpe Diem” and “Live each day as if it were your last” are well known in popular culture. Yet all too often, we find ourselves rushing through our days and wondering where they’ve gone or wishing them away until some future time. One way to prevent this is through Daily Consciousness Rituals. Daily Consciousness Rituals can help to give structure to your days and allow you to give priority and awareness to what matters most in your life.

In our often busy, over-scheduled lives, it can be hard to incorporate, or even fathom incorporating another “task” in our schedules. However, many consciousness rituals take 5 minutes or less, but can add so much more than they take away in terms of your perspective and feelings of peace and control over your day.

Following are some Daily Consciousness Ritual suggestions for various times throughout the day, although many routines can be done at any time that works best for you. Additionally, many daily consciousness routines can be done with children.

Morning Rituals

Afternoon Rituals

  • Mid-Day Check-In
  • Savoring Tea and a Healthy Snack
  • Walking or Stretching

Evening Rituals

  • A Gratitude Journal Entry
  • Journal Reflection of Your Day
  • Three Good Things Exercise
  • Conscious Preparation for the Next Day
  • Evening Self-Care Rituals
  • Un-Plugging 30 Minutes Before Bedtime
  • Family Connection Rituals
  • Meditation

Read more about daily consciousness routines at A Happy Simple Life,  Rachael Campbell‘s Personal Coaching Pages or at Healthy Living Rituals.

Thanks for reading!

What about you? Do you have any daily consciousness rituals that help you maintain consciousness throughout your day?

Conscious Nonjudgement – Learning from Others

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In every man there is something wherein I may learn of him; and in that I am his pupil. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last week, I returned to my regular night of yoga after two weeks off. During my absence, the previous instructor had left and a new instructor had taken her place. The previous instructor was inspirational in her practice of yoga. Her classes were theme based and varied. She had an incredible memory for the positions both in Sanskrit and English; she led us through sequences gradually, building up to more advanced poses; she continually reminded us to listen to our bodies, take breaks if needed or challenge ourselves with more advanced poses if they were a part of our practice. She had an uncanny ability to know where we were out of alignment or tense, allowing us to self-adjust simply by listening to her suggestions. She respected us as adults and yoga practitioners, never giving too little or asking too much. She valued the silence we could cultivate within our minds as we flowed continually, one pose, one breath, at a time.

Over the years, I have practiced with a variety of different yoga instructors and have learned something from each of them; yet I have practiced enough to appreciate the difference between a class with an experienced instructor and one with a beginning instructor, so it was with a little trepidation that I returned to class with a new instructor.

Just as I arrived, the class began slowly. And continued slowly. At times, the instructor repeated sequences as though she was buying time to think of her next move. Other times she left us in restorative poses for what seemed like great lengths of time when we hadn’t, in my critical mind, done anything to merit restoration. She forgot steps sequences; called out the wrong names for poses. My thoughts went from my breathing and postures to a critical stream of judgement. “Does she know this is a mixed level class? Or did it change to a beginning class? Am I really going to drive all the way out here for this?” And on and on in the same vein.

Yoga promotes peace, humility, understanding and equality. Yet throughout my practice that evening, my thoughts were negative, judgmental and unkind. Even as I noticed the tone of my thoughts and tried to return them to my breath, the flow of negativity continued with each pose. Before I knew it, the class was almost over.

As we were preparing for the final, resting pose, the new instructor offered us each a temple massage.Because I felt that I hadn’t gotten much out of the class, I was pleased at the idea of a brief massage to help me relax and finally quiet my thoughts.

I tried to relax and focus on my breathing as the instructor made her way around the class. Finally, I felt her fingers on my temples…

… and they were trembling.

In an instant, all of my negativity and judgement drained from my body. At her touch, I was at once reminded of our shared humanity and of her courage to be at the front of the class, sharing her love of yoga with us, while I grumbled from my mat. Maybe these were her first classes and she was still honing her skills. Even the most seasoned teacher was once in her shoes. I was ashamed of my judgement and lack of humility.

After class, I made sure to welcome her to the studio and thank her for the massage. In part, I did what I did to assuage my own guilt, but also, in the hope that I could pass along a little of the kindness and encouragement that I withheld throughout the class. I am grateful to her, and the experience, for reminding me that everyone has something to teach us, if only we allow ourselves to be open and receptive to what they have to share.

Thank you for reading!

What about you? Is there anyone you have come across lately that you may have judged too harshly? Is there any way you could re-frame the experience to be a learning experience or a reminder of our shared humanity?

Conscious Meditation

Buddha Tree

The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this lifetime.”Sogyal Rinpoche

I have wanted to cultivate a regular meditation practice for years. I have started and stopped, tried and failed, found inspiration and lost it. I even spent 10 days at a Buddhist Meditation retreat in Thailand. But I have never set aside enough time, fostered enough motivation or followed through with my desire to sustain a regular practice. Yet now, on my journey to live a more conscious, mindful, life, it seems all the more important to commit.

There are so many reasons to meditate. According to Belle Beth Cooper What Happens to the Brain When You Meditate (And How It Benefits You), meditation quiets your mind; it helps you focus; it helps you to be more creative, compassionate and empathetic; it improves memory and reduces stress. In her Psychology Today Article, This is Your Brain on Meditation, Rebecca Gladding, M.D. explains, in detail, how a regular practice of meditation physically reshapes the connections in our brain, leading those with regular meditation practices to be calmer, less reactive, more empathetic and more balanced in their responses and perspectives.

Yet even with all of this scientifically based reasoning, I find it difficult to sit down for 10 to 15 minutes a day and just do nothing. I am a task-master. I worship at the temple of productivity. A day when I clean my house, cook a healthy dinner, write a blog post, spend quality time with my family and knock a few other things on my to-do list is a happy day for me. I am very conscious of this aspect of my personality. And yet it is just this aspect that I would like to soften through meditation. I would like to be able to sit for a moment without thinking of all of the things I should could be doing. I would like to be more focused and not thinking constantly. I would like to be able to relax and just be.

But it isn’t easy.

As a runner, if I don’t run every few days, I feel a physical pull to get outside, stretch my legs and put some distance between myself and the confines of my four walls. Running exercises my muscles and clears my head. I would love to have that feeling, as a “meditator;” that physical need for regular practice, for mental cleansing.

So I’m committing here, in this post, to finding at least 10 minutes each day to begin a regular meditation practice. Armed with Zen Habits’ Leo Babuta’s 20 Practical Tips for Quieting the Mind and  Goodlife Zen’s Mary Jaksch’s guidance on what to do when things come up for you during your meditation practice, I’m ready to begin…

…doing nothing.

If you are interested in beginning or reinvigorating a regular meditation practice, there is so much going on right now to encourage people to meditate.

Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Choprah have launched a 21-Day Experience called Finding Your Flow that began on April 14 and continues through May 4. Their site offers daily guided meditations on a theme with a free registration.

In May, Mindful Magazine is starting a Mindfulness in May campaign that offers a month of daily guided meditations and interviews with practitioners in the fields of meditation, science and health for a fee of $25 with proceeds going to clean water initiatives around the globe (You have to register by May 1).

America Meditating is an initiative by the Meditation Museum in the D.C. area to encourage people to pause at 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. each day for a moment of peace and contemplation.

The Insight Meditation Center in California offers recorded talks, articles, newsletters and other meditation related resources. You can access the homework for their Six Week Mindfulness Meditation Course HERE.

Thanks for Reading!

What about you? Do you have a regular meditation practice? If so, do you have any tips or insights for beginners? Are you a beginner or interested in beginning a regular practice? If so, I’d love to start a conversation and share experiences.

Conscious Book Reveiw – 10 Mindful Minutes

 

10 Mindful Minutes

“The lotus is the most beautiful flower, whose petals open one by one. But it will only grow in the mud. In order to grow and gain wisdom, first you must have the mud.” – Goldie Hawn

I recently finished reading Goldie Hawn’s 10 Mindful Minutes: Giving Our Children- and Ourselves – the Social and Emotional Skills to Reduce Stress and Anxiety for Healthier, Happy Lives and I was so inspired that I wanted to share some of her wisdom and practical applications.

As someone who comes to consciousness and mindfulness as a secular pursuit, Hawn’s brain-based explanations of the benefits of mindfulness were particularly engaging. The book begins with an introduction as to why we, as a nation, need to embrace a more mindful lifestyle and goes on to explain the brain-mindfulness connection in detail. Her focus is primarily on teaching mindfulness practices to children, but the information is useful even for people without children. As she writes, Hawn includes personal stories that give the material a more intimate feel and she provides professional references for the facts she cites throughout. The latter chapters cover specific areas of mindfulness and each chapter includes games to play with your children to introduce and strengthen their capacity for mindfulness in each area.

In this post, I’d just like to share a few of the Mindful Sensing and Feeling Games she includes in the book. Not only are these games great for building mindfulness skills, but the are also great for spending one-on-one quality time, building connection and, some don’t require much other than you and your child, so they can be used anytime you find yourself waiting somewhere with a fidgety child.

Mindful Listening

Mindful listening is much like active listening: being fully present and listening without judgement or interruption. Practicing mindful listening allows our children, and ourselves, to practice being fully present, truly hearing what others are saying and building empathy and awareness of the feelings of others.

Hawn suggests a game called Echo in which you ask your child to tell you something as you listen carefully and then repeat it back, word for word. You then as your child to do the same for you. You take turns going back and forth, practicing with longer and shorter sentences. Afterward you can discuss what the experience was like, if it was easy or difficult and if anything helped your child to remain focused on listening. With little ones, silly sentences could make this even more enjoyable.

Mindful Seeing

According to the book, an estimated 80% of the information our brains absorb is visual, registering more than thirty-five thousand images an hour. Mindful seeing slows this process down and, when we use it with our children, allows us to step out of our thoughts and really see our children, as they are, at that moment, without any preconceptions, “shoulds“, or judgement.

Hawn suggests a game called Really Looking to practice Mindful Seeing. Before playing the game, you need to gather a number of similar looking objects – pebbles, rocks, leaves, popped popcorn – and put them in a box or bag. Once you have the back, each person chooses an object from the back and studies it for a few minutes, asking, “What does it look like? What colors or markings does it have? Is it smooth or rough?”  You then place the objects back in the back, shook it up and dumped out the contents. Then each person must try to find the object they were holding. Afterward, you can discuss the game and ask how mindful seeing helped identify the object and what other ways you could use mindful seeing to be more aware.

Mindful Smelling

In the section on mindful smelling, Hawn sates that the olfactory gland is the strongest gland in the body, the greatest trigger of memory and the one that has the biggest impact on our emotional state. She lists a number of scents that bring about specific moods and cites studies that connect specific smells to deeper states of relaxation and improved memory and performance among students.

In the game, What’s that Smell, you choose four things that have distinct smells, ask your children to close their eyes and smell each item one at a time. After they smell each item, ask if they can identify it. When they are finished, if they are old enough, have them choose a few different mystery smells for you. Afterward you can discuss how the felt about the smells. Did they prefer some smells over others? Did they trigger any memories?

Mindful Tasting

In speaking of Mindful Tasting, Hawn brings up the obesity epidemic in America and the importance of being mindful of what we eat. She also talks about how, when we eat in a rush, we not only miss the flavor of food, but we also often overeat, as it takes our brains 10 minutes to feel full. She also emphasizes that mindful tasting reinforces the pleasures of sitting down and sharing a meal together.

In Look and Taste, you walk your children through mindful tasting by giving them raisin or small piece of chocolate. You first place it in their palm and ask them to look at it closely. Then ask them to smell it. Then allow them to place it on their tongue without biting down. Finally, allow them to bite down and eat it slowly. Afterward ask them to describe the experience and contrast it with just popping the item into their mouths quickly.

Mindful Movement

As with exercise, mindful movement, has many positive effects, including the emission of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which gives us a sense of well-being. As with any mindfulness practice, mindful moment also helps us bring our attention to the present moment and also allows us to enjoy freedom of movement through our bodies.

Similar to Freeze Dance, but the a slight variation, Freeze and Melt involves having your child run, dance, jump, hop, skip or otherwise move around wildly, stopping whenever you say, “Freeze!” You should instruct them to tense their entire bodies and freeze on the spot. When you call, “Melt!” they should relax and slowly melt to the ground. Play for as long as they enjoy it.

Mindful Optimism

Moving on from the senses to feelings, Hawn talks about the importance of optimism and the ability to teach the skills and practice of optimism to your children.

In Rainy Day Blues, you pretend that its raining outside and take turns acting out feeling sad or happy about the rain. This game could be continued with other scenarios, like getting sick, moving to a new home, ending a school year, etc. After each, ask your child how each charade them feel?

Mindful Happiness

In the section on Mindful Happiness, Hawn explains that the more a thought is practiced, the stronger the circuits that hold it in memory become. When we continually imagine happy outcomes instead of negative ones, our brains build resilience and we are more likely to feel happy.

In one of my favorite mindful suggestions, Hawn describes the process of making a Mindful Happiness Wall. She suggests choosing a place you and your children pass often and making a collage of pictures and drawings that make you happy. You can use children’s drawings, family photographs, pictures cut from magazines or anything else that brings you and your children joy. Add to the wall regularly and remind yourself, and your children, to look at it any time they need a little more happiness in their day. If sectioning off a wall is too much of a visual commitment, this same idea can be applied to a box or scrapbook.

These are just a few of the practical applications of mindfulness practices described in the book. For those well-versed in mindfulness, it may offer a lot of known information, but, at least for parents, I feel that it offers a lot of ideas, inspiration and encouragement to make it a very worth-while read!

Thanks for reading!

What about you? Have you read 10 Mindful Minutes? What did you think? Have you been inspired by any books lately? If so, please share!