Category Archives: Meditation

My Advice to People Getting into Mindfulness

bepresentjpgI’ve recently been asked to say, in one sentence, my advice to people getting into mindfulness.  There are so many things I would like to say that parsing it down to one sentence seemed like quite a challenge.  To help me and (hopefully) you in the process, I will share the advice that I’ve been given and have given to others over the years and maybe I’ll come up with one sentence in the end.  Let’s see what happens…

“Just Do It” – This is one of the first and best pieces of advice I ever received.  No, it wasn’t advice from Nike, but from Jon Kabat-Zinn and I’m sure he’s shared it with thousands of people around the world.  This advice has served me well and has gotten my butt on the cushion to sit in meditation on innumerable mornings.  You see, my mind never tells me that this morning is a great morning to get up a half an hour early to do my mindfulness practice.  But, I “just do it” anyway.

“Make space for formal practice” – When I say “space” I mean create an actual physical space where you do formal practice (e.g. a particular chair, room, place at work), but I also mean “space” in terms of setting aside the time for practice.  It helps if you write it down on your calendar or set your alarm.  You can even start with just a few minutes a day and it will make a difference.   Try even a couple of minutes during the work day and notice how you feel.

“Relax” – There is really nothing to do.  Mindfulness is an un-doing of all the things we think we are and how things are supposed to be.  Relax into the present moment with openness and curiosity.  One meditation teacher said “stop seeking peace and happiness and peace and happiness are here.”  Take a deep breath, relax, and see if you can sense the truth of that statement.

“Don’t give up” – Mindfulness practice is simple but not easy.  You keep coming back to the present with kindness over and over again.  Eventually you begin to get better at noticing when you aren’t present, and you stay in the present more often.

“Be gentle with yourself” – One of my favorite ways of describing mindfulness is “affectionate attention.”  You are gentle and kind with yourself, with others, and with your experiences.  We are such perfectionists in this culture.  Instead ”try a little tenderness” as Otis Redding would say!

“Find a community or support group to practice with” – There is a great power and energy in practicing mindfulness with others.  We support and learn from one another in community and hold each other more accountable.

“Realize that everything is practice” – What this means is that you can bring your mindfulness to anything and make it a meditation.  In fact, your entire life can be a meditation.  You pay attention to all of your senses with kindness and curiosity.  You can do that anywhere and anytime.

So, I can’t really sum all of that up in one sentence, but if I only have one this is what I’d say.  “ Taste a little bit of mindfulness every day, even if it is one mindful breath, and do it with kindness.”                                    

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Meditation Matters – A mindfulness in the workplace tip

Managing your energy throughout the day will determine if you feel good, get your work done, and have enough get-up-and-go left over to have fun with your family and friends after work.  Believe it or not, your energy level is one of the only things you have control over.  Some behaviors decrease your energy (like eating too much sugar or sitting in front of a computer for too many hours without a break) and some behaviors increase your energy (like taking time for a healthy lunch and positive self-talk).  When we have energy, we will feel a lot of vitality.  “Vitality” has been defined as having significant energetic resources and feeling enthusiastic and alive.

Most people I talk to say that their workday is too busy and they have too much to do—a set up for being burned out and fatigued.  That’s why it’s more important than ever to find ways to replenish your energy on a regular basis.  Taking “micro-breaks” that give you “momentary recovery” at work help you save time and energy in the long term.

However, not all breaks are the same.  Research on breaks at work demonstrate that smoking and getting a cup of coffee is detrimental to your health and rest breaks and physical activity during breaks tend to improve your health.  In fact, more frequent breaks that include rest or simple flexibility and strength exercises are associated with fewer injuries and accidents; less fatigue, anger, and depression; and increased mood.

meditateAnd, meditation matters. According to a study in the Academy of Management Perspectives (Fritz, Lam, and Spreitzer, 2011), out of 22 other strategies, meditation was the only “micro-break” that increased a person’s vitality during the workday.   Meditation was compared to things such as “drink water, have a snack, drink a caffeinated beverage, check and send personal emails and text, shop, nap, and physical activity.

In the same study, it was discovered that the work-related activities that improve vitality are to learn something new, focus on what gives you joy in your work, set a new goal, do something that will make a colleague happy, make time to show gratitude to someone you work with, seek feedback, reflect on how you make a difference at work, and reflect on the meaning of your work.

My suggestion would be to meditate for a few minutes at some point during the day.  Afterward, spend your day learning, building positive relationships at work, and reflecting on the meaning of what you do.  Oh.. and the thing NOT to do is “vent about a problem.”  That apparently really sucks your energy.  So the next time you feel like complaining, stop, close your eyes, and do a mini-meditation.  Don’t you feel better already?

 

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Moments of Mindfulness

iStock_000008216335MediumOur life is only lived in moments.   And, I have discovered that some of the most important moments (if such a thing exists) are the very first moments of the day.

A long time ago, I heard to try to be mindful from the moment you awake.   After trying that a few times, I thought “Right! That’s not happening.”   For some reason it just didn’t seem possible.  In my defense, I would get up shortly after the alarm went off and head off to my meditation cushion to meditate, but the experience of those first few moments evaded me.

For a variety of reasons, in the past few weeks, I have experienced a shift.  Perhaps the most important reason was I set a stronger intention to see if I could make it happen – catch those first few illusive moments.  And, the results have been quite interesting. Continue reading

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Habit Releasers – Mindfulness to Shake Up your World!

Feeling a little frantic lately?  Needing a little peace in your day?  Well, I have just the thing for you. There is a new book out called Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World.

It is written by Mark Williams, who is a wonderful mindfulness teacher and researcher that I met at a mindfulness conference a number of years ago, and Danny Penman, a writer for UK’s Daily Mail.  Mark has done a lot of work with mindfulness as it relates to depression and co-authored a couple of books on that topic. These are also worth a look if you have any struggles with depression.

His current book appears to be very close to an outline for the mindfulness-based stress reduction program that was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and that is taught at the University of Missouri (among thousands of other places in the world).   So, if you can’t get to a class, you could pick this book up and get a lot of the same exercises.  NOTE:  taking an in-person class will help you understand the material better and help keep you more accountable.  Actually doing  the mindfulness practices on a regular basis is the key to finding peace in a frantic world—not just reading about them.

One of the exercises in the book I really like is called a “Habit Releaser.”  Give it a try.  All you have to do is make a deliberate choice to break out of one (or more) of your usual routines.  For instance, notice which chair you normally sit in at home, at a meeting, in a coffee shop, or at work and then sit somewhere different and new.  Or perhaps you could drive a different route to work or to the grocery store.  Walk a different route than you normally do.

There is nothing wrong with having habits but they tend to put us to sleep and on automatic pilot.  Changing up the scenery, even by just sitting in a different chair, can show you something new and give you a new perspective on life.  Be aware of the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of this new way of doing things.  Comment your experience below and tell me what you discovered!  There is a whole world out there you miss most of the time.

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Search Inside Yourself – A Great Idea and a Great New Book

Wouldn’t you know a Google engineer would write one of the clearest, most straightforward, easy-to-compute books on mindfulness that I’ve read in a long time.  Actually it’s a book on mindfulness and emotional intelligence based on the seven week course being taught at Google called “Search Inside Yourself.”  Mindfulness is like having a search engine for your body, feelings, and thoughts, as well as for the ability to understand and relate to other people.   

Mindfulness, once again, is proposed as the key for harnessing your ability to respond to your life instead of react to it.  In this book , the response you make to your life is one predicated on an increase of your emotional intelligence.  Daniel Goleman, who pioneered work on emotional intelligence, broke it down into five domains:  self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.   Not hard to see how competencies in these areas would be useful.

Chade-Meng Tan (more informally known as Meng) who wrote Search Inside Yourself and developed the course by the same name had the good fortune of working with and learning from Daniel Goleman (who wrote the book on Emotional Intelligence),  Philippe Goldin (a Stanford University scientist), Norman Fischer (Zen Buddhist priest and poet ), Mirabai Bush (co-founder of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society), Marc Lesser (CEO and Zen Teacher), and Yvonne Ginsberg (meditation teacher and professional coach ).  That’s a pretty impressive line-up.  And, I have to say, the results are FANTASTIC.


Buy the book and go to the Search Inside Yourself website and listen to Meng and his colleagues as they introduce the seven weeks on video. 

I’d give you a money back guarantee (but I didn’t write the book).  Darn!

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Mindfulness for your Heart!

Over the years of defining mindfulness for people just being introduced to the term and the practice of meditation, I have noticed a change in my explanations.  As my own understanding of mindfulness has deepened and changed me, my instructions have taken a decidedly softer and kinder portrayal of this way of being and sensing the world.  I always start with the most popular definition of mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn:  “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”  From there, though, I find it helpful to expand on the “nonjudgmentally” part.  If you aren’t judging what are you doing?  My experience is that I’m allowing, I’m accepting, I’m open, and I’m loving. Continue reading

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Mindfulness Helps You Sit With Pain (Emotional and Physical)

It’s the second week of the mindfulness-based stress reduction program and some people are wondering why on earth I am asking them to do the body scan every day (a formal mindfulness exercise that asks people to systematically bring attention to their body from head to toe).  All kinds of comments are made after we do it at the beginning of class. On one hand, people say things like “It’s kind of boring,” “My mind wanders all over the place,” “The more I do it the less attention I pay to it (and I don’t like the recording).” On the other hand, people indicate “It’s really relaxing,” “I’ve noticed how it’s changed the way I relate to other things in my life,” “I’m able to release the tension in my body,” and “I am more able to cope with my pain.”

Our lives are filled with things that we like and things that we don’t like.  We feel pain (both emotional and physical) and we feel joy. Mindfulness teaches us to treat all our experiences with equal care and compassion and kindness.  Meeting life head-on in each moment teaches us that we can be with whatever is present without reacting. And if reacting is happening, we notice that with curiosity and openness. Continue reading

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Meditation makes us all winners!


But Maryam Fakhradeen from the University of Missouri-Kansas City won the book “Commit to Sit: Tools for Cultivating a Meditation Practice” by posting her comment about doing the three minute meditation.  She said “Helped a LOT; I knew I was tense but didn’t realize I was THAT tense until I was doing the exercise.  Love learning new mindfulness exercises & tips!”

It’s amazing what you notice when you simply bring your attention to your body, your feelings, and your thoughts.  When you check in with yourself, you might find tension or sadness or anger or happiness or peace.  Things could feel pleasant or unpleasant or there might not be much of a feeling at all.  Mindfulness is the tool that helps us to pay attention with curiosity and kindness so that no matter what we find when we look, we can be with it without reactivity.  Hey, then you can relax. No need to struggle with what’s happening.  We are just looking in to see what’s there.

Take a few breaths and, voila!  In a moment or two something else is happening and we can relax around that too.  Mindfulness helps us to sit beside our experiences as well as be in the middle of our experiences at the same time.  This ability to abide with our lives can come in real handy, because, as you know, life is filled with ups-and-downs coming at us constantly and mindfulness lets us ride the waves.

Listening to NPR this morning, the benefits of meditation practice are even being picked up on by business schools around the country—from Harvard to  Michigan’s Ross School of Business.  The bottom line is that “slowing down” (taking a three minute breathing break) helps them be more effective.  Listen to the whole story here. 

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Taking the Mystery out of Meditation

Meditation is like taking a good friend to a coffee shop and getting to know her better, only without the coffee and the good friend is you.   Just sit down with yourself and bring your open, curious attention to what is going on with you.  Notice what thoughts are passing through your mind, what feelings are present, and what your body feels like.

If you spent even a teeny portion of the time you spend getting to know others in getting to know yourself, it would be extraordinarily beneficial.  Research indicates the benefits of meditation range from alleviation or decrease in a broad range of physical symptoms to a decrease in anxiety and depression.  However, a lot of people go through their entire lives without doing it. 

Getting to know yourself and living a life of presence doesn’t have to happen through meditation practice, but it is one of the best ways I’ve discovered. 

You might have been reading this blog for some time now and never taken the time to “taste mindfulness” for yourself.  So, I’m offering a challenge to help you get started.

Just sit, right where you are.  Don’t move (except to settle the body into a relaxed, yet alert posture.  Click here and practice a three minute meditation.  If you will comment below on what you noticed by September 11, I’ll put your name in a drawing for a book called “Commit to Sit: Tools for Cultivating a Meditation Practice.”

As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, when you sit down to meditate, don’t even think “I am meditating.”   “Just be awake, with no trying, no agenda, no ideas even about what it should look like or feel like or where your attention should be.”   Do this three minute meditation every day or try some of the longer meditations found on the Audio/Video link above.  Find out, firsthand, the benefits of meditation.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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Watering the Flowers and Trees as Meditation Practice

When you think about meditation, you might think about someone serenely sitting on her cushion with her eyes closed, soft music in the background, beautiful flowers on an altar, burning incense, etc.   While this may be true, there are many other things that can be considered meditation. 

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book Arriving at Your Own Door, “meditation is really about paying attention, and the only way in which we can pay attention is through our senses, all of them, including the mind. “

If you think about it then, ANYTHING can be meditation.   The key is to be present, pay attention, and experience the present moment with the senses of taste, touch, smell, sound, sight, and thought.  So, you can be aware of all (or part) of theses senses when you are sitting in meditation but you can also take this practice OFF THE CUSHION. 

In fact, in a recent article I just read on Diets in Review, they were mentioning the fact that since here is a growing body of evidence that suggests that sitting for long periods of time is pretty unhealthy for the body, you might want to try more active types of meditation practice, particularly if you are sedentary during the day.  Read full article here.  Not that I want to discourage anyone from sitting meditation practice (as I think it is a pretty healthy thing to do).  But, I do want to suggest that you take a broader perspective about meditation practice.

My own meditation practice this summer has included watering the flower beds.  In case you haven’t noticed, we are having an incredible drought this summer, and I have spent hours watering to try to keep my flowers and trees alive.  Instead of being frustrated by what is happening, I have brought this activity into the realm of meditation practice.  The time I spend watering is time I get to spend outside in nature, being grateful for the beauty of the flowers, listening to all the little bugs and birds, breathing in fresh air (something we don’t get enough of these days), feeling the warmth of the sun against my skin, and smelling the scents of the mulch and flowers.   Occasionally I even have an erratic sprinkler that gets me pretty wet which is just delightful. 

Other types of active meditation are described in the article above and include walking or running meditation,  cleaning or yard work meditation, and dancing meditation.  I would also include yoga,  swimming, biking, hiking, and climbing to name a few.  All you have to do is be present and take it all in.  Do these types of activities on a regular basis by yourself and strengthen your ability to be present for your life, as well as get some much needed movement into your day.

 

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