Happy New Year! By now, everyone has been into 2017 for two days. That’s two days into the new goals, resolutions and intentions for yourself this year. One that has been on my list for a couple of years has resurfaced again…. a formal meditation practice. Most of us know nowadays that meditation is a good thing. But so far I have not been able to stick with it because I’ve allowed myself to become too busy too often. But this year will be different. I’ve decided to do the following:
- Start small, meditating only 3-5 minutes (or less if need be). Slowly take one deep breath in and think, “I receive life.” Exhale slowly and think, “Life is good.” Then repeat for at least two more rounds and you will be energized significantly because more oxygen has entered your blood stream than usual. The longer and slower you do this, the more alive you will feel.
- Understand that this simple breathing exercise reduces stress, calms anxiety, erases irritability and clears your mind. The process is called “mindfulness,” which at first seems contradictory. “Mindlessness” is more like it because your goal is to clear your head of all thoughts except for breathing and exhaling. This increases your resilience to stress and induces a calming effect on your nervous system, thus erasing anxiety.
This makes sense given that meditation allows you to focus on breathing in and breathing out while everything else that clouds your mind disappears. If you feel that your mind is drifting, simply go back to thinking only about breathing in and breathing out.
- Understand the principles of meditation. Beginning meditators often think the goal is to get to the point that they can focus without becoming distracted. That goal is difficult. Instead become aware that your mind has drifted, redirect your attention back to your point of focus without criticizing or judging yourself.
- Do meditation in your own way. It’s alright to do more while concentrating on your breathing. Some people find that a walking meditation is the way to go. This increases your heart rate and distributes more oxygen throughout your system. Jogging is even better. Just remember to stay focused on your breathing. If your attention drifts to past, future or evaluative thoughts, remind yourself that you’re breathing in life and exhaling the phrase, “life is good.”
- Do away with all-or-nothing thinking. If you can’t do 30 minutes of meditation, then do 15. The idea is to learn how to clear your mind and focus only on your breathing. On those days when you have more time, you can gradually build up to 30 minutes if that’s your preference.
Doing at least 15 minutes of a formal practice when you begin meditation will allow you to try different types of meditation. It will also increase your comfort and familiarity with meditation so you can restart a formal practice if you’re going through a period of stress or overthinking.
I am only one week into it right now, with a goal of continuing to do so at least three times a week throughout January. Won’t you join me?
Now that we are in the holiday season, many of us resign ourselves to the weight gain that typically follows. Indeed, it is very hard to pass up holiday sweets that seem to be everywhere as well as extra servings of a traditional family dish. That’s why so many weight loss books are published at this time promising a “New Year, New You.”
So it’s no surprise that the No. 1 New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. But this year consider a broader approach to resolving the problem for more lasting success. Here are 10 points that my health-coaching clients have incorporated into their weight-management programs that you may want to consider:
1. Sleep better.
2. Work out more, whether it is outside, at the gym or home.
3. Begin a daily mindfulness or meditation practice.
4. Drink more water and get rid of diet sodas.
5. Eat more vegetables and less meat.
6. Organize your home, workspace or both.
7. Make new friends and/or spend more time with those you already have.
8. Improve work/life balance to allow more time to take better care of yourself.
9. Quit tolerating an uncomfortable situation at home or work out of fear. Define the problem and fix it.
10. Find an app or person to hold you accountable to whatever goal you are trying to achieve so you will create a lasting new habit.
There is a lot of help available, so take advantage of it now so 2017 can be your best year yet!
Spirituality comes naturally, and it is typically a very healthy activity. If you have found meaning, hope, comfort and inner peace in your life, you know what I’m talking about here. Spirituality is available to you through religion, music and art, nature, exercise and possession of a high sense of principle and morality.
Being a spiritual person is the ability to engage in any or all of these activities. It’s the key to health and happiness too. The mind, body and spirit are connected — and when synchronized properly, your overall wellness spikes. But like anything that’s worthwhile in your quest to get healthy and stay that way, being spiritual takes practice.
And you do not have to join a gym to find it. You can be outside or inside to practice spiritual health — anywhere that is quiet and comfortable, a place where prayer and meditation comes easily. Good spiritual health gives you a sense of wellbeing both physically and in your mind. It brings comfort and strength and will power to live you’re your life to the fullest.
How strong is your spiritual health? Do you want to strengthen it? If so, here are some ideas to consider:
— Take some time daily to practice meditation. Get comfortable and sit down in quiet, pleasant surroundings. Cross your legs like a yogi as best you can. Hold your hands palm-side up while resting your arms on your knees. Sit up straight and relax. Simply clear your mind by focusing only on your breathing initially. This should not be difficult. Every time a thought enters your mind, cut it off by returning your focus back to your breathing. Slowly take in a breath and slowly exhale. Doing this regularly for about 20 minutes will give you a sense of inner peace, comfort, strength, love and connection.
— Do something good for others every day. Say “hello” when you pass a stranger. Hold a door for someone who needs a hand. Smile. These little things are acts of kindness, and they are very easy to do when you stop and think about it.
— Pray. Ask God to help you clear your mind of the senseless clutter that takes up valuable space in a place where goodness needs room to thrive.
— Read a good book about good people doing good things for themselves and for others.
— Learn about yoga and then give it a try.
— Sing if you can. If that’s a problem, take some lessons. It’s never too late to learn how to sing. This will surely help your breathing too.
— Exercise and eat right. Your brain works better when you do.
— Talk to your doctor about the importance of spirituality as a way to deal with stress. Good ones know how important it is for getting healthy and staying that way.
— And always be respectful of others. Practice the Golden Rule.
PERSONAL NOTE: Do you need help with your health? Doctors typically find out what’s wrong when you’re feeling bad, then go about treating your symptoms. They are trained to determine your problem then treat it in some way with drug prescriptions and surgery and the like. They may advise you on how to get healthy. But a doctor’s time is limited. Ultimately, it’s up to you to follow through and make healthy changes to your life.
That’s where a wellness coach comes in. A wellness coach works with you one on one, or sometimes in groups, to understand your problem and determine what’s important to you. They help you develop an action plan and provide accountability to get you started with new habits that will last a lifetime.
Make Life Meaningful
Happiness, resilience, connection and kindness — the key ingredients for a good life — do not come naturally for everyone. They thrive with practice. Here are two simple ways to stay in good shape:
- Live in the present. Stop fretting over the past and quit worrying about the future. Be mindful of what you are doing in the present. Mindfulness helps each of us to tune into our own senses. So practice paying close attention to your thoughts, feelings and sensations in a non-judgmental way. This reduces stress and opens the mind to the good things in life.
- Practice mindful eating. This fosters a healthier relationship with food. Hold a single raisin between your thumb and forefinger. Focus on it. Turn it in gently, notice the folds and ridges and the areas that shine and those that are dark. Roll it at your fingertips, exploring the texture. Close your eyes as you hold it and imagine how it tastes. Bring it close to you nose and appreciate its fragrance. Bring it to your lips, then gently place it in your mouth. Enjoy the initial taste. Bite it in half. Note what is happening in your mouth as you slowly chew. Now slowly swallow. Feel it moving downward into your stomach. Consider the next one and start again.
By increasing awareness of internal and physical states, you are practicing mindfulness. You are living in the moment. You are practicing control over your thoughts, feelings and behavior right now. You are also becoming more attuned to hunger and fullness, and therefore eliminating emotional eating.
“When we taste with attention, even the simplest foods provide and universe of sensory experience,” notes mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn. So take time to practice this everyday and at every meal. And enjoy!
The exercise of gratitude as a tool for happiness has been in the mainstream for years. Studies support its effectiveness, suggesting that a positive, appreciative attitude contributes to greater success in life. While many acknowledge gratitude’s list of benefits, it can be difficult to sustain. Many of us are trained to notice what is lacking in our lives. For gratitude to meet its full healing potential, it needs to become more than just a one-time thing. We need to find a new way of looking at things and create new habits.
Practice makes perfect. If we practice giving thanks for all we have, instead of complaining about what we lack, then we give ourselves the prospect to see all of life as an opportunity and a blessing.
Gratitude focuses on where we put our effort and attention. Gratitude balances us and gives us hope.
Some Ways to Practice Gratitude
• Keep a gratitude journal in which you list things for which you are thankful. You can make daily, weekly, or monthly lists. Greater frequency may be better for creating a new habit, but just keeping that journal where you can see it will remind you to think in a grateful way.
• Make a gratitude collage by drawing or pasting pictures.
• Practice gratitude around the dinner table or make it part of your nighttime routine.
• Make a game of finding the hidden blessing in a challenging situation.
• When you feel like complaining, make a gratitude list instead.
• Notice how gratitude is impacting your life. Write about it, sing about it, express thanks for gratitude.
As you practice, an inner shift begins to occur, and you may be delighted to discover how content and hopeful you are feeling. That sense of fulfillment is gratitude at work.
1. Walk outside.
Skip the gym and head for the great outdoors. While exercise is a great boost to your mental health, going for a walk or a run offer even more vital health benefits. You’ll exert more effort and will have increased signs of vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem, as compared to staying indoors.
2. Take vitamin B12.
You’ve always known taking vitamins is important, but do you know about the benefits of B12?
A severe deficiency of B12 can lead to depression, anxiety, paranoia and other harmful problems. Get your B12 dosage from supplements or by eating eggs, poultry and dairy products.
3. Write down simple goals.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness says setting simple, well-defined goals like, “I will smoke one less cigarette each day for the next three weeks,” is a great way to succeed. Set goals for yourself in relation to your mental health — such as, “I will take two minutes each day to focus on breathing” — and be as specific as possible.
Once you’ve accomplished that goal, reward yourself!
4. Listen to calming music.
Plenty of studies have shown that performing tasks while listening to classical tracks such as Pachelbel’s “Canon in D Major” eases your mind and reduces anxiety. If you’re not one for classical music, opt for other tracks that are slow and soothing.
5. Use lavender oil.
Put a bit of lavender oil on your pillow. It can improve your sleep quality and ease insomnia. If you don’t want it on your pillow, try drinking lavender tea before bed to soak up its healthful benefits.
6. Spend money on someone else.
You know that victorious feeling you get when you find the perfect gift for someone? That’s your happiness levels skyrocketing. People who buy something for someone else feel happier throughout day. And you don’t have to break the bank every time — spending $5 for someone else is fine. It’s the thought that counts for others as well as yourself.
We know this is touted as the mind-clearing fix-all, but it’s for good reason. Mindful meditation increases the brain’s emotional regulator, and combats depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia and more. Start slowly by meditating for 3 to 5 minutes per day in order to get comfortable with silence. Listen to your breathing or use a mantra as a way to focus your mind on relaxation, and soon you’ll be getting 20 minutes or more of excellent calmness.
Balance Through Meditation
“Balance” may sound intangible, but there are chemical markers for every benefit that meditation brings. The negative effect of stress on the heart, as well as the recovery process from stress, is driven by the production of hormones and neurotransmitters throughout the body. Meditation has been found to be a powerful means of rebalancing and regulating these biochemicals.
Cortisol is known as a major stress hormone, and meditation has been found to consistently reduce cortisol levels in the blood. Deep relaxation produced by meditation triggers the brain to release beneficial neurotransmitters, including oxytocin and dopamine. Oxytocin triggers reactions that support your ability to de-stress and also to behave calmly in stressful situations. Not only does it immediately relieve stress symptoms, like high blood pressure, but it’s also been found to have long-term calming effects—up to three weeks. Animal studies have revealed that the heart tissue has oxytocin receptors.
We can also point to the blood vessels specifically. When you relax, your parasympathetic nervous system engages to counter the effects of your sympathetic nervous system. Your sympathetic nervous system, which responds to your direction, is like the gas pedal, while your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls involuntary and unconscious processes, is your idle mode. Take your foot off the pedal, and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate slows, blood vessels dilate, breathing slows and deepens, and blood pressure falls back to normal. In most people, unfortunately this automatic return to balance has been compromised by stress and other kinds of subtle imbalance. Meditation effectively restores you to a deeper standing rest rate. Once you’re balanced, your immune system is strengthened, and in terms of the heart, your resistance to stress increases. This reduces a major risk in heart disease and strokes.
The good news is that unhealthy choices can be changed, and while meditation can’t make you exercise and eat better, it can wake you up to your body’s signals in both areas. You can’t change what you’re unaware of, but with increased awareness, any change becomes possible.
“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes everyday…unless you are too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” Zen Proverb
Good time of year to discover the benefits of meditation…..
Meditation has benefits for people of all ages. Read up on making it a part of your healthy lifestyle.