April brings with it tulips and daffodils, Spring showers, and National Occupational Therapy Month. But to be fair, April also shines as an honorary month for other special causes as well. This is the month to spread the word about Poetry, Child Abuse Prevention, Autism Awareness, Minority Health, Stress Awareness, and Humor…just to name …
Until you’ve been greeted by a slobbery, smooching, cold nosed, tail wagging dog, you haven’t experienced the purity of unconditional love. Talk about being mindful – these furry creatures are the epitome of living in the…
Source: 7 Mindfulness Tips from Your Dog
Life is described as many things, but rarely is it referred to as peaceful, calm, or still. Our lives are a busy juggle of work, chores, responsibilities to ourselves and others and many unexpected things that creep up day to day. Sometimes meditation, quiet reflection and even time alone seem like a distant dream within our hectic lives.
So what can we do? Apart from feel helpless and put it in the “I’ll worry about that quiet-time-for-myself-stuff later” basket? The good news is that stillness is within us. We do not need a quiet garden, secluded beach or a zen room with candles flickering before us in order to find it. The amazing thing about our personal power is that we can be still, wherever we are and whatever we are doing. It is a conscious and very empowering choice.
Here are five tips for creating stillness with ease within your everyday life:
1. Breathe. Whether you are on the subway, on a conference call, in the line at Starbucks, be aware of your breath. Take a few deep, slow breaths and notice how your body and mind feel as you tune into them and slow down for even 60 seconds.
2. Give yourself a minimum of 30 minutes of electronic downtime. It is surprising how many people go through all of their waking hours with a tablet, phone, TV or laptop constantly present, including as we fall asleep at night. I like what is referred to as the “electronic sundown” with no electronics active in the hour leading up to bed. Better sleep is much more likely this way, too!
3. Wake up 15 minutes earlier. This is a trick many successful people take advantage of. They wake sooner, before the world is awake and before the wheels start turning on all of life’s demands. Take those minutes just for you and just be present in your body. It can center you and change your mindset for the whole day.
4. Be aware that you create your own energy. External conditions do not. Marianne Williamson said in her book A Return to Love, “Everything we do is infused with the energy in which we do it. If we’re frantic, life will be frantic. If we are peaceful, life will be peaceful.”
5. Learn from some of the greatest spiritual teachers. Apply their wisdom often by making stillness and calmness your daily mantra. Deepak Chopra recently said to Oprah on her Super Soul Sunday (when she commented how extremely busy he is and how tricky it was to get him on the show), “My body is busy, my mind is still.”
Remember, your internal conditions create your external conditions. Peace begins with you.
When we’re stressed, self-care is often the first thing to go. Why is this?
1. Our brains go into fight-or-flight mode and our perspective narrows. We don’t see we have options—options for coping with stress and making ourselves feel better.
2. We’re so busy trying to solve problems that we’re stuck in “doing mode”—trying to get more and more done—when switching to “being mode” may be just the break we need.
3. We may not have a “go to” list of self-care activities. Self-care has to become a habit, so that when we’re dealing with stress, we remember that, “Hey, I need to take care of myself in this situation.” And, you need a variety of activities to try—if one doesn’t work, you can switch to another. Like my Self-Compassion Facebook page for daily self-care inspiration!
Fortunately, there are several pathways to self-care, and none of them need be difficult or take a lot of planning:
When you feel stressed and need a calm mind, try focusing on the sensations around you—sights, smells, sounds, tastes, touch… This will help you focus on the present moment, giving you a break from your worries.
Breathe in fresh air.
Snuggle under a cozy blanket.
Listen to running water.
Sit outdoors by a fire-pit, watching the flames and listening to the night sounds.
Take a hot shower or a warm bath.
Get a massage.
Cuddle with a pet.
Pay attention to your breathing.
Burn a scented candle.
Wiggle your bare feet in overgrown grass.
Stare up at the sky.
Lie down where the afternoon sun streams in a window.
Listen to music.
A great way to take care of yourself when you’re coping with stress is to engage in a pleasurable activity. Try one of these ideas.
Take yourself out to eat.
Be a tourist in your own city.
Watch a movie.
Make art. Do a craft project.
Walk your dogs.
Go for a photo walk.
You can also give yourself a boost by doing a task that you’ve been avoiding or challenging your brain in a novel way.
Clean out a junk drawer or a closet.
Take action (one small step) on something you’ve been avoiding.
Try a new activity.
Drive to a new place.
Make a list.
Immerse yourself in a crossword puzzle.
Do a word search.
Read something on a topic you wouldn’t normally.
Getting in touch with your values—what really matters—is a sure way to cope with stress and foster a calm mind. Activities that people define as spiritual are very personal. Here are a few ideas:
Read poetry or inspiring quotes.
Light a candle.
Write in a journal.
Spend time in nature.
List five things you’re grateful for.
Dealing with our emotions can be challenging when we’re coping with stress. We tend to label emotions as “good” or “bad,” but this isn’t helpful. Instead:
Accept your feelings. They’re all ok. Really.
Write your feelings down. Here’s a list of feeling words.
Cry when you need to.
Laugh when you can. (Try laughter yoga.)
Coping with stress by engaging the body is great because you can bypass a lot of unhelpful mental chatter. It’s hard to feel stressed when you’re doing one of these self-care activites:
Go for a walk or a run.
Go for a bike ride.
Don’t skip sleep to get things done.
Take a nap.
Connecting with others is an important part of self-care. This can mean activities such as:
Go on a lunch date with a good friend.
Calling a friend on the phone.
Participating in a book club.
Joining a support group.
It can also mean remembering that others go through similar experiences and difficulties as we do.
We’re not alone.
Simply acknowledging that we’re all part of this human experience can lessen isolation and lead to a calm mind.
Mindfulness Meditation can be intermixed with Humor to help any walk of life during anxiety. Humor is infectious. It lightens burdens, inspires hope, connects us to others, increases our insight, keeps us grounded, focused, alert, and happy. Laughter is a universal language that stimulates both sides of the brain. It allows us to get messages quicker and remember them longer. We all learn more when we are having fun. Becoming more mindful of flow of duty and desire in our lives, we become more able to redeem more from our lives, and rediscover the humor that lightens our days.
Here’s a thesis abstract of a study done on nursing students in clinical practice proving positive effect of humor and mindfulness on anxiety:
By O’Brien, Denise A., Ph.D., CAPELLA UNIVERSITY, 2013
Clinical nursing practice requires intensive education, yet anxiety can interfere with student learning. A gap exists in the nursing literature on how nursing students can manage anxiety during clinical practice. Since the clinical portion of nursing education may be especially anxiety provoking for nursing students, a new teaching strategy has been developed to help reduce anxiety during clinical practice. In this quasi-experimental research study, a new teaching strategy known as mindfulness meditation intermixed with humor was used for four weeks with nursing students to examine whether there was a reduction in anxiety during clinical practice. A sample of 73 male and female junior and senior nursing students from a nursing program at a university in the southern region of the United States completed pretest and posttest questionnaires, which included the Spielberger’s State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS), and the Multidimensional Sense of Humor Scale (MSHS). One-way ANOVA and correlation analysis were conducted to assess whether gender, race, and age were significantly related to the measures of STAI, MSHS, and MAAS scores. The findings indicated there was a significant reduction in STAI scores when participants were exposed to the new teaching strategy, which indicated a reduction in anxiety levels of junior and senior clinical nursing students. The results also signified a significant increase in the MAAS and MSHS scores, which revealed that participants became more mindful and humorous when exposed to the new teaching strategy. Implications include the use of mindfulness meditation intermixed with humor being implemented by nurse educators as a teaching strategy in clinical nursing courses to help reduce anxiety levels.
In ancient Asian languages there were no separate words for heart and mind, but one concept referring to both as an inseparable whole: heart-mind. In the East the image of a bird is often used to emphasize that developing a sharp mind and a compassionate heart need to be developed side by side.
Practising mindfulness does not only involve becoming aware of our experience as it is, but also cultivating of an inner attitude of compassion toward what is. So, it is not just about bare attention. We do not only open the eye but also the heart, even when what arises is painful.
When we sense that our striving to control the uncontrollable only contributes to more suffering, there is spaciousness for another attitude of kindness and compassion. Then, mindfulness can be deepened with heartfulness.
We do not have to practise the one before we can practise the other. Rather, the practice of opening the eye and the heart go hand in hand. When the eye opens, the heart responds and opens at the same time. When the heart opens, the eye sees more deeply.
I taught a mindfulness class at my daughters’ elementary school this week. Unsurprisingly, the kids taught me way more than I taught them.
While I was doing research to develop the class, I came upon a wealth of information about mindfulness programs in schools. For one, I learned that actress Goldie Hawn has been working with neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists and educators to develop a mindfulness curriculum for schools. I was thrilled to find out that their research reported that mindfulness education in schools has proven benefits: it increases optimism and happiness in classrooms, decreases bullying and aggression, increases compassion and empathy for others and helps students resolve conflicts.
If you ever want to be inspired and also have a giggle, ask a group of kids what they think “mindfulness” is. “Relaxing out of our daily troubles and stress,” “A way to stay yourself when you’re going through something troubling” and “It’s like getting off of one railroad track and getting onto another one” were some of my favorite answers from the recent class meeting. Kids can really be fountains of spiritual wisdom!
When I told them the dictionary’s definition (“a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique”), the kids weren’t entirely sure what I was talking about. And so we did some exercises to test it out. Feel free to try these at home!
1. The Bell Listening Exercise
Ring a bell and ask the kids to listen closely to the vibration of the ringing sound. Tell them to remain silent and raise their hands when they no longer hear the sound of the bell. Then tell them to remain silent for one minute and pay close attention to the other sounds they hear once the ringing has stopped. After, go around in a circle and ask the kids to tell you every sound they noticed during that minute. This exercise is not only fun and gets the kids excited about sharing their experiences with others, but really helps them connect to the present moment and the sensitivity of their perceptions.
2. Breathing Buddies
Hand out a stuffed animal to each child (or another small object). If room allows, have the children lie down on the floor and place the stuffed animals on their bellies. Tell them to breathe in silence for one minute and notice how their Breathing Buddy moves up and down, and any other sensations that they notice. Tell them to imagine that the thoughts that come into their minds turn into bubbles and float away. The presence of the Breathing Buddy makes the meditation a little friendlier, and allows the kids to see how a playful activity doesn’t necessarily have to be rowdy.
3. The Squish & Relax Meditation
While the kids are lying down with their eyes closed, have them squish and squeeze every muscle in their bodies as tightly as they can. Tell them to squish their toes and feet, tighten the muscles in their legs all the way up to their hips, suck in their bellies, squeeze their hands into fists and raise their shoulders up to their heads. Have them hold themselves in their squished up positions for a few seconds, and then fully release and relax. This is a great, fun activity for “loosening up” the body and mind, and is a totally accessible way to get the kids to understand the art of “being present.”
4. Smell & Tell
Pass something fragrant out to each child, such as a piece of fresh orange peel, a sprig of lavender or a jasmine flower. Ask them to close their eyes and breathe in the scent, focusing all of their attention only on the smell of that object. Scent can really be a powerful tool for anxiety-relief(among other things!).
5. The Art Of Touch
Give each child an object to touch, such as a ball, a feather, a soft toy, a stone, etc. Ask them to close their eyes and describe what the object feels like to a partner. Then have the partners trade places. Both this exercise and the previous one are simple, but compelling, ways to teach the kids the practice of isolating their senses from one another, and tuning into distinct experiences.
6. The Heartbeat Exercise
Have the kids jump up and down in place for one minute. Then have them sit back down and place their hands on their hearts. Tell them to close their eyes and feel their heartbeats, their breath, and see what else they notice about their bodies.
In this exercise, the meaning of “heart” is less literal. In other words, this activity could also simply be called “Let’s talk about feelings.” So sit down and casually, comfortably ask the children to tell you about their feelings. What feelings do they feel? How do they know they are feeling those feelings? Where do they feel them in their bodies? Ask them which feelings they like the best.
Then ask them what they can do to feel better when they aren’t feeling the feelings they like best. Remind them that they can always practice turning their thoughts into bubbles if they are upset, they can do the Squish and Relax Meditation if they need to calm down, and they can take a few minutes to listen to their breath or feel their heartbeats if they want to relax.
My hope for the mindfulness class was to give the kids some tools they can use anytime: tools to calm down, slow down and feel better when they are troubled. I sure wish I had these tools at my disposal when I was their age. Imagine if all the children around the Earth learned to use these tools during their childhoods. What a change our world would experience within just one generation!
Photo Credit: Stocksy
Would love to hit these retreats as a bucket list in life:
Research has found that humans and dog are linked so deep at a level that there is a noun called petitation that has found way into the world of mindfulness. Connecting at a deeper level with your dog through a sacred gaze, produces oxytocin – the happiness and well being hormone. Much don’t we realize how much the creature lying on our lap and getting stroked is helping us transform at a hormonal level. This is indeed amazing and am in love with my pet at a whole new level now.
Below is the abstract quoted from Nagasaki’s research on the Oxytocin-gaze positive loop between humans and dogs:
“Human-like modes of communication, including mutual gaze, in dogs may have been acquired during domestication with humans. We show that gazing behavior from dogs, but not wolves, increased urinary oxytocin concentrations in owners, which consequently facilitated owners’ affiliation and increased oxytocin concentration in dogs. Further, nasally administered oxytocin increased gazing behavior in dogs, which in turn increased urinary oxytocin concentrations in owners. These findings support the existence of an interspecies oxytocin-mediated positive loop facilitated and modulated by gazing, which may have supported the coevolution of human-dog bonding by engaging common modes of communicating social attachment.”(Nagasaki 2015)