Category Archives: Mindfulness

Listening To Your Body Is Good Medicine

iStock_000044639012_SmallWe often regard stress as something to be avoided. Ultimately though, stress is inevitable…from the moment our alarm clock rings, we experience a “fight or flight” response and continue to experience stressors for the remainder of our day.

Although people generally regard stress as negative, stress is actually adaptive in that it helps us to strive for and achieve our goals.  When an elite sprinter is in the starting blocks, stress elevates the blood pressure and heart rate, enabling the runner to reach top speed quickly. Upon realizing I have a deadline, I experience a stress response and am motivated to stop procrastinating and get to work.

Ultimately, the problem may not be that we experience stress, but that we don’t recover from it efficiently. Recovering quickly from stressful situations may help us to harness the power of stress. In addition, people who recover more quickly from stress are known to have better physical and emotional health outcomes.

This ability to recover quickly from stress is sometimes called resilience. People who are more resilient are more able to quickly return their body to a relaxed state. Researchers are finding that mindfulness practice is one way to bolster resilience. Studies at University of California, San Diego are showed that mindfulness training can people in high-stress positions like elite athletes and Marines to more quickly reduce their physiological stress response. Another study with “normal” people who were put into a stressful situation (periods of breathlessness) found that those with low resilience had less awareness of their body, but more brain activity indicative of distress. Researchers concluded that the key to coping more effectively with stress involves bodily awareness, which can be developed via mindfulness practice.

The body scan meditation is a way to increase resilience by tuning into the body in a curious, non-judgmental way. Being more engaged with your body will help you to notice when you’re holding on to stress and release it when it’s not helpful to you. Try the body scan once a day for a week and see if you notice any changes in the way you respond to stress.

(Thanks to  Kelsey Banes for this article!)

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Meditation is Different and Healthier than Relaxation

iStock_000004778955_Resize2I regularly teach meditation to people who have never meditated before and one of the common misconceptions is that meditation is the same as “relaxation.” While meditation may have a side benefit of helping you feel relaxed and peaceful, it is not the primary intention of meditation. The primary intention of meditation is  to teach you how to be navigate your life (all of the ups and downs) without over reacting and getting stressed out. In other words, it teaches you how to alleviate your suffering.

And you don’t just have to take my word for it. In a recent study in the Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, mindfulness meditation was shown to be more effective than either “eyes-closed relaxation” or silence in increasing awareness, reducing depression, anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate in a diverse sample of people. These health outcomes are extremely important for anyone experiencing the demands of school, work, major stress-related illnesses, and difficult living environments.

This study is particularly interesting because it was comprised of African American university students and urban residents. The use of diverse populations in research is extremely important in our ability to correctly understand the impact of interventions. Surprisingly enough, many researchers in the past have ignored gender, racial, and cultural differences with sometimes devastating consequences.

If you would like to try meditation, it can be helpful to join a group and have an experienced teacher lead you through the practice. Use the internet to search for programs near you by using the words “mindfulness meditation groups.” As an alternative, feel free to use the recordings on this website. I have meditation and yoga sessions that can be help you sail through the holiday season and on into the New Year.

Enjoy!

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Mindful Leaders Matter at Work

performance level conceptual meterIf you’ve had a job for any length of time, it is not lost on you that your supervisor can have a significant impact on your day.  Your relationship to your supervisor can make you feel like being more or less productive and empowered. As a leader, it is important to know what brings out the best in your employees.  As an employee, it feels great to work for someone who understands and practices effective leadership skills.

The role of mindfulness in the workplace has increasingly been recognized as an important quality associated with better task performance, lower emotional exhaustion, better social relationships, and enhanced well-being (Narayanan, Chaturvedi, Reb, and Srinivas, 2011; Glomb, Duffy, Bono, and Yang, 2011).  Research has also examined how supervisors’ mindfulness impacts their employees’ well-being and performance (Matthias, Narayanan, and Chaturvedi, 2014).

How mindfulness can help leaders in their ability to strengthen the workplace was directly examined in a recent study of a variety of work settings (Matthias, Narayanan, & Chaturvedi, 2014). The study found that employees whose supervisors who were more mindful had less emotional exhaustion and better work-life balance. Further, mindfulness of the supervisor was positively related to overall employee performance and job satisfaction and negatively related to employee deviance.

Mindfulness, present-moment awareness with an observing, non-judging stance, can influence the workplace in the following ways:

  1. Move people from an adversarial mindset to a more collaborative mindset (Riskin, 2002)
  2. Improve social interactions between co-workers and supervisors (Wachs & Cordova, 2007)
  3. Cope better with stressful relationships (Barnes et al 2007)
  4. Understand others’ emotional states as well as better understand one’s own emotions (Arch & Craskse, 2006)
  5. Be fully present in interactions with each other in order to demonstrate respect

To become the leader that truly inspires, cultivating the skill of mindfulness can increase awareness of yourself and others in order to increase your emotional intelligence and authentic leadership ability—two concepts known to be associated with great leadership.

For more information about mindful leadership, check out Janice Marturano’s book “Finding the Space to Lead” and her website which has lots of mindfulness meditations you can use throughout the workday.   Books on the Neuroleadership website by David Rock and “Search Inside Yourself” are also good resources for enhancing your leadership skills.

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Mindfulness Rescues Relationships

Having just finished an 8 week Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) this summer with faculty and staff at the University of Missouri, I noticed a particular common outcome for many of the participants. “My relationship with my husband/wife/partner/co-worker is better.”

There were a number of reasons why these relationships had improved.

iStock_000014175387_Medium1. I listened to my partner without interrupting.
2. I let my partner get angry or frustrated without needing to fix it.
3. I was able to tolerate negative emotions without running away.
4. I was able to let my negative reactions come and go without acting on them.
5. I am happier.

These improvements in  relationships are backed up by current research which explores the how relationships improve with increased mindfulness.  Wachs and Cordova (2007) found a significant correlation between mindfulness and global marital adjustment. In essence, “more mindful partners literally see each other more clearly, regard each other more nonjudgmentally, behave more responsively toward each other, and navigate challenging waters of intimacy more gracefully.”

Mindfulness increases the ability to both communicate emotions and understand the emotions of others.  Mindfulness also helps you think twice about reacting to another person’s anger or stress–being able to access a sense of ease even in the midst of difficulties that often arise in relationships, be they marital or work.

Note: I offer two-for-one specials for spouses or partners on MBSR programs which are taught at each University of Missouri campus at least once a year (3 times in Columbia) and there is an excellent online version for free by my colleague Dave Potter if you can’t get to an in-person class.  The next in-person classes start in September. If you work for the University of Missouri you can get 100 incentive points in 2016 for successfully completing any of these in-person and on-line programs.

Don’t wait to improve your relationships. Join an MBSR program in your area and let mindfulness come to the rescue.

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Strengthen Your Meditation Muscles

Lynn_June_Med_20824001_sResearch indicates that mindfulness is one of the most important skills for changing how you eat and how you feel about your body.  Mindfulness is a skill that helps you focus and attend to sensations like hunger, satiety, and taste, as well as increases kindness and self-compassion. Meditation practice is a method for strengthening your mindfulness. It’s like going to the gym for your mind.

If you’d like to know more, I’m conducting a three part series called Meditation and Mindful Eating for The Center for Mindful Eating (TCME) this summer.   This three part series will take of the mystery out of meditation, show you how to apply it to mindful eating, and help you establish a meditation practice of your own.

The cost is $10 per session or it’s free if you become a member of TCME.  Part I is on Concentration and Lovingkindness Practice, Part II is Mindfulness – Sitting Makes Eating So Much Better, and Part III is Making Your Meditation Practice a Non-negotiable Priority.  I hope you can join me! Part I is on Thursday, June 25, at 4:30 (CST). To register go to TCME. http://www.thecenterformindfuleating.org/event-1920892

 

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Mindfulness Throughout the Day

Smiling“Mindfulness is easy. Remembering to be mindful is the challenge.“ These are wise words from Christina Feldman, a meditation teacher from England.

If you have tried to practice mindfulness, you know exactly what she’s talking about. In the moment, sensations are quite accessible–feeling your body, listening to sounds, hearing your thoughts, and feeling your emotions. But, it is truly amazing how we can block out our entire experience of being present with the busy activity of our lives. You can go all day without really being present for it.

So, here are a few ways that you can make mindfulness more accessible on a regular basis. These are particularly well suited for practicing mindfulness throughout the workday. Continue reading

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Mindfulness – A Very Productive Activity!

MindSetI recently introduced a small group of women to the concept and practice of mindfulness. As usual, people were very enthusiastic, curious, and a little confused about how practical it is to practice mindfulness on a regular basis. On the surface, it seems very obvious.  Everyone wants to be more present in their lives, right? Underneath the surface, however, there can be some anxiety about what actually” living in the present without judgment” would do to change you and your life.

I often ask people who have a hard time seeing the value in mindfulness, “how much time you spend getting to know yourself?”  Usually the answer is “Never.” You don’t think twice about inviting a friend for coffee or lunch to see how she is doing, but you rarely, if ever, spend time with you—cultivating the most important relationship you will ever have.  Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

You can start with a short daily meditation practice.  It doesn’t have to be very long.  Here is a meditation with awareness on the breath that lasts under ten minutes.  If you have never practiced meditation, you will probably be aware of many obstacles to sitting and “just breathing” for a period of time.  Namely, you could experience restlessness and have the thought “I should be doing something productive instead of just sitting here with my breath.”  If this happens, remind yourself that meditating is doing something.  What you are “producing” may not be as obvious as when you are sitting down in front of a computer, but I guarantee you that change is occurring.

Some of the change is in how you relate to yourself.  With mindfulness, you are practicing kindness toward yourself and that always translates into feeling better.  Some of the change is happening at the physical level. The body begins to relax. Some of the change is happening in your brain. You are training the mind to be more focused and alert. Being alert and relaxed is really the optimal way to engage in your life and be more productive when you are doing anything else you need to do.

Don’t expect drastic changes all at once. Mindfulness takes practice and gradually begins to open your eyes, your mind, and your heart to a new of living and being.  It is a gradual shift. It’s just like anything else you want to get good at. You have to practice it.  Eventually you might notice that you are less reactive to a co-worker, you don’t yell at your kids as much, and you don’t get mad at people who don’t drive the way you think they should.  You might notice you are more patient or friendly toward yourself.

In essence, mindfulness sets the stage for the type of story you would like to have unfold in your life. When you begin to live more in the present moment with curiosity and kindness, you will begin to connect to yourself. And, when you do that, you are more likely to create the relationships with others that are more sincere and meaningful.  You are more likely to create the life that you want. Do you want a disastrous melodrama or would an exciting adventure story (with a happy ending, of course) be more to your liking.  It’s up to you.

There are many meditations on this website that you can use to get you started.  Feel free to download them and share them with others. Also, if you are a University of Missouri employee and working on getting points for your wellness incentive this year, you can even get points for meditating by logging into your Cerner portal and going to the workshop section of their website.

 

 

 

 

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Better Eating and Living through Mindful Self-Compassion

BE KINDWhat better way to start the new year than with a dose of self-compassion. Instead of letting the winter blues set in, find out how to warm the heart and shut out the cold.

What obstacles arise as you try to practice self-compassion? Find out how to overcome them in the latest issue of Food For Thought, a publication offered quarterly through the Center for Mindful Eating is now available.  Self-Compassion: Nourishing the Heart helps you to take a compassionate approach to your relationship to food and eating.

This article will help you

a) understand how a compassionate mind influences our brains, bodies and the way you relate to yourself  and others,

b)  try practical suggestions for a compassionate approach to relate to heart hunger in a way that allows true nurturing of the body,

c)  identify self-compassion as a key motivating factor for taking care of ourselves, including eating, and

d) learn four steps to adding self-compassion to your meals.

Enjoy!

 

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Mindfulness Opportunities To Make Time For In 2015!

As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, one of the ways to have more time is to take some of it time for mefor yourself.  And, as we start the New Year, now is a good time to set the intention to take more time for mindfulness. Some people call it self-care, I call it a necessity.

Taking “time” for mindfulness might sound like an oxymoron.  But, unless you are already an enlightened being who dwells only in the present and without judgment, you might want to consider being inspired to take time to practice mindfulness by a few of my suggestions below.

TED Talks on Meditation Continue reading

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Ho Ho Ho! Happy For a Reason

HHo Ho Hoow would you answer the question “What do you want in life?” As it turns out, many people say they want to be happy.  Yet, despite our relatively prosperous conditions, only one-third of Americans report being happy and we rank 17th compared to other countries on how happy we are, with Denmark and other European countries at the top.

So what do we need to be happy? (Hint: I don’t think you’ll find it under the Christmas tree.)

Scrolling through the documentaries on Netflix, I decided to one watch on this very topic called “Happy.”  It was released in 2011, but if you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. While I’ve heard most of the information before, it is always good to be reminded of some basic facts.  First and most important, It is estimated that at least 40 percent of your happiness is created by with intentional activity–meaning it’s your responsibility (with 50 percent going to genetic and 10 percent to circumstances).

And, it’s not about how much money you make, how much success you have, or how much prestige you get from others.  In fact, after you have enough money to get your basic needs met, money will not buy you any greater happiness.  Even living under extremely poor economic conditions doesn’t doom you to a life of dread. In fact, many people with very little in the way of creature comforts are quite happy.

In the book “The How of Happiness,” Sonja Lyubomirsky details many of the intentional activities you can engage in to boost your happiness quotient. Try a few of them as you finish the holiday season and set some intentions for your happiness as the New Year begins.

  1. Be socially connected – The happiest and healthiest people have strong relationships to family and friends.  The communities you live in can provide love, meaning, support, and increase your feelings of self-worth. These networks support you with daily routines like cooking and taking care of children as well as during times of crises.
  2. Be physically active – Being physically active improves your life on many different levels by releasing hormones into your blood that do some pretty amazing things for your mood (and your weight). Doing some extra physical movement that feels good to your body, even if it’s only for a few minutes, every day will help you feel better, have more energy, and be more positive.
  3. Be resilient – The happiest people know how to bounce back from adversity.  One of the things that happy people do is re-frame negative events into learning opportunities.  You can’t change the events that happen to you, but you can change how you relate to them. As it turns out, construing benefit in negative life events is a tremendously effective coping strategy.
  4. Be grateful – Studies have shown that just listing 5 things that you are grateful for every Sunday can increase your mood compared to people who don’t take note of the good things in their lives. An attitude of gratitude can be practiced every day.  Before you go to sleep at night or when you first wake up, think of one or two things you are really grateful for.  When you feel grateful for someone, let them know through a kind word, a thoughtful email or card, or even just a hug.
  5. Be mindful – One of the attitudinal qualities of mindfulness is having a “beginner’s mind.” When you are keenly aware of your surroundings or seek ways to live out of your normal routine you will flourish with positive mental health.  There are many ways you can do this. You can drive a different way to work, go to a new restaurant, explore a new museum, try a new craft, learn a new language, play a new sport, or join a new club. Be open to the new and interesting in your life.  Never be a person who says they’re bored!  Life is an exciting adventure.

Happy Holidays!

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