Category Archives: Mindfulness

When all else fails, check in with the wisdom of your own body.

imagesCAXK8S3UThe problem: Conflicting and confusing diet and nutrition information.

The New York Times had an article on Sunday entitled “Why Nutrition Is So Confusing” that I want to share with you.  It resonates with me a lot, because I teach a class on mindful eating filled with people who come in confused about what they should or shouldn’t eat because of all of the different and conflicting messages we hear and read.  I am sure they are not alone.

Even when you follow the research carefully, as I try to do, you will be left shaking your head in wonder.  There are studies showing success on many diets –low carbohydrate/high protein, moderate-carb, high protein, moderate-fat, Mediterranean, etc.  Then there are the lists of diets that “experts” have determined are the best.  According to U.S. News rankings, even the Slim-Fast Diet made the list at #6 this year.  Granted, there has been research demonstrating it’s efficacy in the short term. The problem is that we also know that most diets aren’t realistic over the long haul.  You go off the diet and then you gain the weight back. Are you really going to drink Slim Fast all of your life?  Even if you did, chances are you will also eat a lot of other things that will not result in long term weight management.

The solution:  Mindfulness of the Body

In lieu of waiting for the definitive answer on what to eat and why, there is a fount of wisdom inside your body just waiting for you to listen.  It may take some time for you to really hear what the body has to say if you have ignored it for a long time.  However, before too long you will be able to discern the food it does and doesn’t like for you to put into it.  When you eat food that it likes, you will have more energy and feel healthier.  When you eat the “right” amount, you will not feel weighed down.

When I started mindfulness meditation practice, I was shocked at the messages my body was giving me that I had managed to miss for most of my life.  The first thing I noticed was the chemical taste of Diet Coke.  I had been a dedicated Diet Coke drinker for years and, all of a sudden, I REALLY tasted it.  The taste was so unappealing I immediately stopped drinking the stuff.  Do you really think your body wants colour (caramel E150d), sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame-K), caffeine, phosphoric acid, citric acid and phenylalanine (the ingredients besides water in Diet Coke).  Granted, I still drink coffee and get my cup a day caffeine fix, but without the extra chemical additives.

Fifteen years after that discovery, I’m still checking in with my body at every meal to see what it wants and how much.  Just today at noon, at lunch with a friend, I looked down and saw that both of us had left food on our plates.  Just because there was food doesn’t mean that we needed to keep eating.  We were both full.  We threw the rest away.  My body feels good this afternoon because it’s not loaded down with food I didn’t want or need.

Body awareness is a key component in the road to weight management. Any program or diet that doesn’t include this as a foundation is likely to be doomed. Start your body awareness practice right now by simply scanning your body from head to toe (with particular attention to the belly).  Spend even a minute in this way and you can begin to notice and release tension.  Done before you eat, you are more likely to discern what and how much you need.  Practice with all of the BASICS of mindful eating and find out what you’ve been missing about what you eat and drink.

 

 

 

 

 

To re-train your taste buds and your mind to listen to your body, start by using the BASICS of mindful eating.  Here is a reasonable road to weight management.  If you followed these guidelines alone, you would solve most of your problems with food.

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Happy at Work?

rec-man-juggling-work-10-13-11-md[1]Do you feel like you’re juggling more balls than you can keep in the air?  Are you becoming increasingly distracted, irritable, impulsive, and restless?  Are you having difficulty keeping up with your work?  If so, you may be experiencing what most working people have at some time or the other.  It’s called Attention Deficit Trait (ADT) and you’re not born with it.  It’s a “workplace-induced attention deficit caused by the constant, relentless input of information.”

Edward Hallowell, the psychiatrist who identified ADT identifies the symptoms as follows: “When people find that they’re not working to their full potential; when they know that they could be producing more but in fact they’re producing less; when they know they’re smarter than their output shows; when they start answering questions in ways that are more superficial, more hurried than they usually would; when their reservoir of new ideas starts to run dry; when they find themselves working ever-longer hours and sleeping less, exercising less, spending free time with friends less and in general putting in more hours but getting less production overall.”

If those symptoms sound familiar, now is a good time to take a deep breath.  In fact, breathing and being aware of your breath and your body can be the first step in overcoming ADT.  “Most people don’t realize that there is a reciprocal relationship between the breath and our emotions, and that improper breathing can create mental distress,” states Dr. Patricia Gerbarg who has studied the relationship between stress and the breath for decades.

I first read about ADT in a new book called “Real Happiness at Work” by Sharon Salzberg.  I’m not finished with it, but so far I would give it RAVE REVIEWS!! I had the good fortune to be at a meditation retreat with Sharon in January in Massachusetts at the meditation center she co-founded in the 70’s.  In fact, she is one of the first people who brought meditation practice to the West back then.  She is a fabulous teacher and offers very accessible practices for bringing sanity back into the workplace at a time when it is desperately needed.  One of the people that she interviewed for the book said “one deep, meditative breath can settle my mind before a meeting or even just checking an email.”

Get the book  and practice more easy exercises to bring happiness to your workplace.  Listen to some meditations on Sharon’s website or start here http://www.tricycle.com/online-retreats/real-happiness-work by listening to Sharon talk about “mindfulness and concentration.”  She is doing an online retreat through Tricycle Magazine during February.  The first week is free.

 

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Making Healthy Food “Hip”: The Broccoli Revolution

iStock_000015487644MediumIn case you missed the article  in the New York Times on Sunday, the question that was raised was “what if broccoli was marketed like other highly processed food we get tricked into buying?”  Michael Moss, the author of “Sugar, Fat, and Salt: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” asked some of the master marketing minds from big food corporations “How would you get people to want to buy and eat broccoli? What would your campaign look like? What would the message be? What would you do that all the well-intentioned government-funded campaigns have failed to do for generations?”

I have to admit that I often buy broccoli because I know it’s healthy.  I also have to admit that I sometimes just throw it away because it’s gone bad before I eat it. Why? Well, as I discovered from reading this article, I have become pretty limited in how I think about broccoli and don’t often think about putting it in the meals that I cook.  For instance, did you know you can grill broccoli?  As one the marketing slogans said, “Have a side of steak with your broccoli.” Just by reading this article and thinking more about how “awesome” broccoli can be, I have bought broccoli once, ate it, and really liked it, and I have found a new recipe with broccoli that I’m going to try later in the week (it’s a stir fry with broccoli and shrimp).  My mind seems to be fascinated with the idea of making broccoli exciting.

We are very conditioned by the messages in our heads and in our environment.  How many messages do you see for fresh fruits and vegetables?  If you did, how much more would you think about them, buy them, and eat them?  Mindfulness can help us break out of the ruts of conditioning and discover new worlds of food.  I challenge you to pick a vegetable that you think you only eat because it’s healthy.  Think about a cool marketing campaign for it, find some new recipes and try them out, approach the vegetable with a beginner’s mind that will allow you to see it in all its glory.  So much of what we do starts with how we think about it.  Change your thoughts and you change your reality.  Repeat after me.. “Broccoli is awesome.”

We are also very conditioned by our taste buds.  If you eat a lot of highly processed food or food with sugar, fat, and salt, then your taste buds have become less sensitive and less able to enjoy the delightful subtleties of fresh fruits and vegetables.  (See my blog “Mindfully Training Your Taste Buds”).  Mindful eating can turn this around for you.  You can re-condition your taste buds to discover the joys of broccoli and many other vegetables.

Watch this video to see the behind scenes story about the broccoli makeover.

Become part of the movement to make healthy food hip!

 

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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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Mindfulness Reduces Stress, Boosts Productivity

business and workDo you notice how your body feels when it’s hunched over your computer for hours on end?  Do you eat your lunch away from your office and computer screen? Do you stop and take a break when you get overwhelmed with a project?  Do you pause and take a breath before you react to an email you didn’t like?  Do you take note of your accomplishments at the end of the day? If you answered no to any of these questions, then perhaps you need to bring more midnfulness into your workday.  For tips you can use everyday,  Click here to read my article that was just published in T + D, an award-winning magazine published by ASTD, the largest professional association dedicated to the training and development field. (Photo by Istock)

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Mindfulness at Work…8 to 5!

iStock_000015423426SmallEmployees who use mindfulness at the workplace have demonstrated lower stress, improved health, enhanced communication, better decision-making capabilities, and increased productivity.   Leaders who incorporate mindfulness into their work lives tend to be more effective in relating to others, motivating employees toward shared goals, building effective teams, and promoting the growth of their employees.  People, like me, see the workplace  as the next great frontier for teaching mindfulness practice to help people enhance their work lives.  There are meetings, conferences, and workshops springing up across the country where discussions transpire about the best way of building mindful organizations.

This all sounds great, right?  But, I recently had two colleagues forward me an article from Huffington Post entitled “Beyond McMindfulness” warning about the possible misuse of mindfulness within corporations and businesses.   The suggestion was that mindfulness could be used to help stressed out employees “work more efficiently and calmly within toxic environments” filled with greed and immorality.  The article does end with the hope that the mindfulness movement will not just be a “corporate fad” but a “genuine force for positive personal and social transformation.”

One of my personality characteristics is “positivity,” so I see the glass as half full most of the time.  Therefore, I believe that mindfulness has such a powerful positive impact on individuals it can’t help but change the environment for the better.  Quite different than the stereotypical images of meditators zoning out with passivity, mindfulness empowers individuals to take beneficial action in their own lives and in the environment they work and live.  Mindfulness helps people respond with greater clarity and wisdom.  It does not make someone a doormat.

But, because I know it is more realistic to see the glass as both half full and half empty, it is important to be on the lookout for the ways the mindfulness can be misused and misunderstood.  It is important to realize the risks, yet imperative to offer this life-saving skill for people who are continuously being asked to “do more with less.”  A lot of us live at least half of our lives at work and it only makes sense to make it more humane and enjoyable.  Mindfulness can help us do both.

Go to my audio/video  tab for recordings you can use to start bringing mindfulness into your workday.

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To Listen and Be Heard – Mindfulness in Communication

Communication should be easy, right?  I say something and you listen.  You say something and I listen.  However, communication in which each person feels heard and acknowledged is actually quite rare.

“Every good
conversation
starts with
good listening.”

In the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Program I taught this week, we did an exercise in which one person talks and one person listens for 2-3 minutes. People commented how different this was from their normal conversation.  Many had not ever experienced listening or being listened in this way and decided it would probably really help if they did.  Good communication starts with good listening.

Reflect on your recent communications.  How did they feel?  Did you feel acknowledged, appreciated, and accepted? Do you think the other person did?  If not, then there might be a number of things going on.  Too often we are so busy thinking about how something will impact us, how it relates to our experience, and what we will say when we have a chance, that we don’t really hear the other person.

Another big barrier to communication is we are all VERY BUSY and don’t take the time to really be present for another person.  Today, like most days, I felt very rushed by everything I needed to do for work.  I ran home to meet the Culligan man so he could carry salt downstairs for my water softener.  Instead of being impatient and in my “I’m busy” mode, I decided to be simply present for this other human being who was showing up in my life.  Because I took just a few more seconds to be open, I had the most wonderful interaction.  I found out my Culligan man is a musician on the side and is working on a song for veterans that might be part of a larger project to help veterans.  He found out I was a health psychologist and I gave him tips on how to get running back into his life and perhaps eat a little better.  It didn’t take much longer than if I’d tried to rush him along (maybe a minute or two).  The gift of connection was priceless and impacted how I felt the rest of my day.

Here are some tips for improving your communication skills.

  1. Be present and listen more during the first three or four minutes of any conversation.  This will completely change your relationships with others.
  2. Paraphrase what you heard the other person say so that you’re sure you understood her.  We often only hear our version of what the person said.
  3. In difficult communications, connect with the sensations of your body (feel your feet on the floor and feel your breath) as a way of staying open to what the other person.  Difficult communications often bring up fear in us and staying with the breath and the body can help ground you.
  4. Before giving someone your advice, ask if it is wanted.  We love to help but sometimes people just want to be heard. Generally having a sounding board will help someone tap into to their own internal wisdom about what to do.

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Epictetus

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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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Mindfulness teaches us how to respond in 1/2 second or less

How many times have you done a particular behavior even though you’ve told yourself just as many times that you aren’t going to do it ever again?  Be honest. You don’t have to tell anyone.  But, you do have to live with the consequences of your behavior.  This morning it was me getting mad and throwing up my hands at the lady in the big red SUV behind me at the stoplight.  The second the light turned green she was honking at me and it really caught me off guard.

imagesCATU9PPADid you know that you have one-half of a second between the time you see something, hear something, think something, or read something before you engage in a behavior.  For instance, you have one-half of a second after you see the chocolate cake with chocolate icing in the break room at work to decide “I’m not going to have any because I’m not hungry” or just mindlessly gobble down a piece (or two).  That’s why you might be on the “see food, eat food” diet.  You’re just not present for that one-half of a second when you could choose the behavior based on your real hunger.

This means that you have to be REALLY PRESENT to catch that one-half of a second.  Just think about how many minutes and hours go by that you aren’t really present and the enormity of this proposition becomes clear.  Cheri Huber wrote, “We don’t lack self-discipline, we lack presence.”   I tell this to people in my classes who are working on not eating when they’re stressed, bored, or distracted. It’s not about self-discipline; it’s about being aware of where you are and what you are doing. Continue reading

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Mind the Body at Work

There are so many ways you can bring mindfulness into your workday.  One of Computer Manthem is to be mindful about your body and feed it, move it, stretch it, and breathe in ways that support your energy, your productivity, and your emotional, mental, and physical well-being. 

At a recent two day workshop the facilitators made sure our energy was high so we could stay focused and attentive to the information being shared.  Besides the interactive techniques the facilitators used, they set guidelines at the very beginning that gave us permission to stand or pace instead of sit.  We have been so conditioned to sit that we often feel like we need permission to stand.   

You can stand instead of sit at meetings, while you’re talking on the phone, while you’re talking to your office mate, and even when you’re typing.  You can get a standing work station or be creative and stack a bunch of books on a table and put your laptop on it.  Of course, if you want to get really fancy you can buy a walking workstation.  Granted, this option is a little more pricey, but well worth the money in terms of your health and well-being. 

Research is demonstrating that “sitting is the new smoking” and that sitting 6 hours or more a day has serious health consequences.  So stand instead of sit whenever you get the chance and take breaks throughout the day to walk for 5- 10 minutes or stretch and breathe.  These small changes can bring new energy to your work and lift your mood.

What you feed your body also makes a tremendous difference in your energy level throughout the day.  In my Eat for Life class this week we talked about the difference between “power” foods and “junk” foods.  Power foods are foods that help you feel energized and keep your blood sugar leveled out.  Junk foods are what the name implies.  (It just occurred to me… why would anyone want to eat something called “junk?”).  Anyway, junk foods drain your energy because you have a quick burst and then you’re down for the count.  At the same workshop I talked about earlier, people commented how everyone became brain dead after eating the large cookies set out mid-afternoon.  A snack like nuts, veggies and hummus, cheese with wholegrain crackers or an apple would be a better idea.  Or you could choose to take a quick walk around the block and you might find that urge you had for a cookie disappears.   Since this type of food is not always readily available at the workplace, bring in your own.  Start a “food bowl” instead of a candy bowl.

For more tips for being mindful about your body at work, read the 22 ideas to lift your post-lunch spirits and energy in the workplace!  It only takes a moment to incorporate some of these interesting ideas and change the way you feel. 

 

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