Category Archives: Mindfulness Tips

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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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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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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Mindfully Training Your Taste Buds

kids-tasting-foodIt is amazing to me how trainable our taste buds must be.  I say this because many people at the beginning of my mindful eating class say they prefer to eat fast food, junk food, and processed food instead of fresh fruits and vegetables.  They prefer the taste of food laden with chemicals and pesticides and artificial colors instead of real food. I find this incredible—being the fresh fruit and vegetable lover that I am.  But, after getting over my shock at these exclamations, I decided to spend some time (and this blog piece) trying to address the problem of helping people change how they eat for the better yet encouraging them to “eat what they want” –a primary principle in my class. Continue reading

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Eat for Life – Enroll in this successful non-diet approach to weight management!!

eatforlife_colorlogoDo you eat when you’re stressed, bored, or sad?
Do you snack without noticing that you’re eating?
Do you have trouble not eating certain foods if they’re around the house?
Do you have a hard time not overeating? (e.g. eating until you’re too full)Are you easily enticed to eat, even when you’re not hungry?
Are you tired of the endless diets that don’t work?

Well, of course, you answered “yes” to some of these questions.  And, if you’d like to be more mindful about how, what, and why you eat, consider taking the Eat for Life program.  This program is non-diet approach to rediscovering a healthy and joyful relationship with food and your body.  You can take the class on-line or, if you live in Columbia, MO, you can take it in person.  Classes start September 24.

This program is backed by research that shows you can become a more intuitive, mindful eater, treat your body with more respect, and decrease eating behaviors that lead to weight gain.

Some of the things you will learn include:

  • BASICS  of mindful eating (simple mindful guidelines for eating)
  • The  Three Food Wisdoms – no forbidden food, eating the “right” amount and knowing and respecting your patterns and triggers with food
  • How  to stop using food as the way to handle your emotions
  • How to savor your food and respect your body at the same time

Research on this program has demonstrated that after 10 weeks participants become more intuitive eaters, they have more appreciation for their bodies, they decrease problematic eating, and they increase in their ability to be mindful.  To register or to get more information, contact Craig Deken csdk89@mail.missouri.edu.

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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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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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