The Mindful Way To Charisma: Practices for Projecting Warmth & Presence

May 29th, 2017 by

Some of us are charismatic. Some of us just aren’t. For a long time, charisma has seemed like a magical gift that only a lucky few were given – but research is now showing that charisma is something that we can learn, and that meditation has a lot to teach us.

Charisma has little to do with how we look – we’ve all known people who are good-looking, but not charismatic, and other people who are charismatic but not good-looking. It’s a matter of behavior. In The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism, author Olivia Fox Cabane identifies charismatic behavior as consisting of three essential components: presence, warmth, and power. We express these through our body language, and it’s remarkably difficult to fake them. But the good news is that we can learn to influence our mental state in a positive direction, and our body language naturally follows suit. We too can have charisma.

Mindful Presence
When we’re talking with someone who isn’t present, we can feel disregarded and resentful, as if that person feels something else is more important than their current interaction with us. And if we’re the one who’s distracted, they feel the same.

The mind of the average person wanders almost fifty percent of the time. It’s difficult to be fully present, and even small improvements can have a big effect on those around us. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Mindfulness meditation trains us to focus on the present moment, regardless of whether we’re alone or with someone else – and when we are truly present with someone else, that person can feel our attention. They feel heard, respected, and valued. An added plus is that learning to be more in tune with the present moment also helps us to be happier – the more our minds wander, the more unhappy we are likely to be.

Practice:
The next time you’re speaking with someone, try this exercise from Cabane: feel your toes. Even though I practice meditation regularly, I still get distracted during interpersonal exchanges! Feeling my toes, or the soles of my feet, is a quick fix that gets me right back into my physical body in the present moment, and really helps the other person feel that I’m on the ground with them instead of lost in my head.

Compassionate Warmth
The next component of charisma is warmth. Someone who projects attentiveness and a desire for our happiness and success is someone who is attractive, even magnetic. We want people to like us and wish us well – and the best way to project through body language that we like someone and wish them well is to practice actually doing just that. Metta (loving-kindness) meditation is the Buddhist practice of generating and sending compassion – good wishes for yourself and others. In A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives, author Thupten Jinpa walks the reader through the Stanford Compassion Cultivation Training course, a program that teaches us how to be more compassionate in everyday life. Sometimes, we fear that being more compassionate means weakness, but compassion doesn’t mean we can’t stand up for ourselves. In fact, it means we can do so more effectively and with greater ease.

Practice:
Cabane shares this exercise: imagine the people around you have angel wings. Smile and silently send them good wishes. When I tried this, I found myself smiling constantly. People seemed nicer, not because they were different, but because I was seeing them differently. And many more people smiled in return.

Grounded Power
Power is the third element of charisma. Power means different things to different people, but it boils down to being able to influence the world around us. It can mean physical strength, social status, wealth, intelligence, expertise, or authority. It can be hard to tell whether someone really is powerful, so people will tend to accept whatever your body language projects.

Because meditation can help us feel more grounded – projecting a sense of ease, confidence, and stability – both mindfulness meditation and metta meditation can increase our sense of power. In addition, anything that helps us realize the potential of our physical body, whether that’s yoga or long walks or weight training, will increase the confidence with which we move. While I’m only 5’5, simply getting stronger made it so that I no longer felt short around others taller than me. This shows up in my body language and posture, and people notice.

Practice:
One of the biggest obstacles to projecting power is the discomfort we feel around uncertainty. Cabane recommends the following visualization: Take several deep breaths, imagining the clean air rinsing away all your concerns. Imagine lifting the weight of everything you are concerned about from your own shoulders, and putting it on the shoulders of a benevolent entity or force – God, the Universe, Life, or anything else that works with your beliefs. Explore the idea of becoming comfortable within the uncertainty, letting go of the need to have an immediate answer.

Putting it Together
According to the research, charisma is the ability to project presence, warmth, and power through our body language and sincere attentiveness. While different people will have different degrees of each, all three elements are necessary. By practicing these mental states, our body language will automatically change to match them and we will be able to project more charisma than we knew we had.

Mindfulness and the Creative MInd

February 7th, 2017 by

What do you think of when you think of creativity? Far too many people think of someone other than themselves – art and ideas are for other people, or kids, but not them. But it’s not limited to children and those uncommon individuals like William Shakespeare and Georgia Okeeffe who have been touched by genius; everyone can be creative. While some studies show that creativity can slow with age, other studies show it doesn’t have to – and mindfulness may be one of the keys to maintaining creativity throughout our lives.

Creativity is not restricted the arts and music – scientists and accountants and computer programmers are creative. Creativity occurs whenever you’re producing something both new and useful, whether that’s a book or a building or a pasta salad. Scholars who gave the same creativity tests to artists and engineers got the same spectrum of results: both groups were equally creative. You can be, too, even though creativity tends to peak in our late 30s and early 40s, just when some of us are too busy with kids and bills to feel creative at all.

But creativity is our birthright. Creativity feeds the soul and gives significance to our lives. Part of being your best self is being creative, whether it’s solving the ordinary problems in life, expressing yourself through music or movement, writing a novel, cooking with whatever’s on hand, or joking with your friends. (Humor, of course, is highly creative.)

Mindfulness supports creativity in a variety of ways, some more direct than others. One major component of creativity is divergent thinking, the sort of thinking that generates lots of new ideas. Divergent thinking is important enough that for a long time the term was used as a synonym for creativity, but it’s not the whole story. Creativity is realized when we also use convergent thinking to pick an idea, or combine several, and run with the result. The right and left hemispheres of the brain must work together for us to be creative.

In a 2012 study at Leiden University in the Netherlands, researchers studied the effects of meditation on both divergent and convergent thinking. Participants who engaged in “open monitoring” mindfulness meditation – the sort of meditation in which you observe whatever arises in your awareness non-judgmentally – were significantly better at a task that required divergent thinking.

In the Five Factor model of personality, “openness to experience” is the trait that correlates highly with creativity. Several studies have also shown that openness to experience also correlates highly with meditation practice. Interestingly, creativity – not overall intelligence or openness – predicts a longer life. Scientists theorize that this is because creativity exercises the brain, maintaining the integrity of neural networks. Creativity also allows us to handle stress better, which helps protect our health.

Mindfulness meditation might also support creativity in other ways. Just one night of sleep loss can severely impair someone’s divergent thinking; mindfulness meditation improves sleep. Many creative types need to be in a particular mental starting place to begin work, and find that meditation can help them get there consistently.

How to Meditate for Creativity

Interested in trying meditation to enhance your creativity? Try open monitoring meditation – sometimes called “open awareness” or “open focus” meditation – which is an aspect of mindfulness meditation. After first settling your mind by focusing your attention on something you are experiencing in the present moment, such as the feeling of your breath, allow your thoughts and feelings to move through your awareness, without reacting to them or judging them. As best you can, simply see them as they come and go, but don’t hold on to them or follow them. Similar to the experience of watching clouds passing through the sky, allow your thoughts to be witnessed and released as they move across the blue sky of your awareness. If you notice your attention has become engrossed in the content of the thoughts (rather than simply witnessing the thoughts as temporary mental events), then return to your original “anchor” for attention (for example the feeling of your breathing). Then, when your attention is again settled in the present, expand again to a more open focus in which thoughts, emotions, and sensations can arise, be known, and allowed to pass naturally. Set aside some time each day for your meditation practice. As little as ten minutes a day can be life changing. Try it and see for yourself what creative ideas begin to arise in that head of yours!

Can Mindfulness Meditation Really Slow Aging? The powerful link between mind and body

October 2nd, 2016 by

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Meditation has a lot of benefits for those who practice regularly. New studies are suggesting that meditation can even help slow down the complicated process of aging. While the work is still new, it’s quite interesting and finds support in a wide variety of studies.

People vary widely in how they age. One marker of biological age seems to be “telomere” length – the length of the protective protein caps at the ends of the chromosomes housed in each of our cells. The longer the telomeres, the more times a chromosome can replicate itself without errors. Shorter telomeres are correlated with weaker immune function, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, and other problems of old age. “Telomerase” is an enzyme that helps keep our telomeres long and healthy, slowing cellular aging. The correlation between cellular aging and bodily aging is still being studied, but new correlations are coming to light.

Many things can cause the shortening of telomeres – primarily, of course, time. The protective protein caps naturally wear down as cells divide and renew themselves, something all cells do. However, research is showing that having a regular meditation practice seems to have a protective effect on this wearing down process thus preserving the length of our telomeres. While the popular idea that your entire body renews itself over seven to ten years isn’t quite true, it’s pretty close – only a few types of cells don’t renew, and some (like heart cells) renew extremely slowly. Lifestyle factors that seem to accelerate telomere shortening include poor diet, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle.

Stress is another major factor in shortening telomeres. We know that too much stress is bad for us (as is too little: everyone needs some challenge in life!). Stressful thoughts – such as constantly perceiving threats and ruminating – can lead to prolonged periods of reactivity and chronic stress. In contrast, mindfulness meditation increases positive mental and emotional states, including being able to view stress as a challenge rather than a threat. Various studies are linking mindfulness with increased telomere length.

A pilot study of 39 caregivers compared one group who practiced daily meditation to another group who listened relaxing music, and found that the meditators had better cognitive functioning, less depression, and improved telomerase activity after eight weeks. While these results need to be confirmed in a larger sample, they are promising signs that meditation can be helpful for longevity as well as your mental state.

Higher objective stress is associated with shorter telomeres, leading researchers to conclude that higher objective stress actually ages our cells. Fascinatingly, higher perceived stress leads to even shorter telomeres, thus illustrating the powerful influence of our thoughts on the body. Because meditation helps us change our perception of stress, it also changes the physical effects of the same objective amount of stress, even at the cellular level.

A UCSF study of early-stage prostate cancer patients showed that lifestyle changes – diet, exercise, stress-management (including meditation) and social support – over five years lengthened telomeres by 10% The control group, who didn’t experience the lifestyle interventions, had telomeres that averaged 3% shorter than at the beginning of the study. While the study was very small, it’s quite intriguing! The researchers believe that the findings should hold for healthy individuals, as well.

We’ve long known that mindfulness meditation can help keep us young by encouraging mental flexibility and inner peace. How amazing that it can also keep us physically young by helping our cells renew!

Mindfulness Practices
Awareness of Breath Meditation
Body Scan (Similar to “Yoga Nidra”)
Gentle Yoga
Walking Meditation
Tai Chi / Qigong

Saying “Yes” to Anxiety: How Mindfulness Lets You Step out of the Whirlwind and Really Take Care of Yourself

September 1st, 2016 by

 

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Anxiety is worrying about the future. One reason mindfulness helps anxiety is that being mindful means being in the present. The more you practice dwelling in the present moment, the less room you have for anxiety. It sounds simple, and it is – just not easy.

Mindfulness meditation is the practice of bringing your mind to your experience of the present moment over and over again – body sensations, sounds, the feeling of breathing in and out. Minds are distractible. They like to comment, narrate, make judgments, create “stories”. An anxious mind will make up anxious stories. The body responds, for example the stomach churns, the heart races. This can generate more thoughts and emotions that perpetuate a continuous cycle of anxiety. Mindfulness practice enables you to gently bring your attention back to the bare experience of the present moment – your breath, your body, your current real feelings – without the filter of the story-making machine in your head. By learning how to do this, you can step out of the cycle of anxiety and more skillfully manage difficult emotions.

Mindfulness meditation isn’t going to make you happy all the time. Meditation isn’t for distracting you from your current anxiety or trying to “fight” it. Instead, meditation practice teaches you how to stay with your anxious feelings – and just the actual feelings – while seeing, and then letting go of, your thought-induced anxiety about your anxiety. This can take the form of thoughts such as how you are “always going to be an anxious and fragile person”, and how you always “freak out at the littlest things.” Mindfulness meditation, and the skills that come with regular practice, can help you slow down the escalating whirlwind of the anxiety cycle.

Are you anxious about feeling anxious?
Research shows that how we feel (and think) about our feelings affects us as much, or more, than our actual feelings. If we’re anxious about our anxiety, if we believe it’s an inherent part of who we are, or we judge ourselves harshly for it, the anxiety will have more negative effects on our minds and bodies than if we simply allow the initial anxious feelings to be present. Meta-emotions (how we feel about feelings) are powerful. We learn them from our parents, we use them for – or against – ourselves, and we teach them to our kids.

One reason meta-emotions are so important is that they govern whether we’re ok with feeling our feelings, or not. Feeling our feelings isn’t the same as reacting to our feelings. If we’re mindful we can see how feelings of anxiety are often followed by an instantaneous and unconscious reaction to the anxious feelings – typically something like “if I don’t make this go away right now I’m going to feel this way forever!” You can see how this drive to make the anxious feelings go away can lead to unhelpful behaviors (eating when you’re not hungry, or eating the wrong things, over-spending, alcohol or substance abuse, procrastination, the list goes on). Mindfulness enables a pause between the actual physical feeling and our automatic reaction to it. This ability to pause and feel your feelings as they are, without trying to make them go away and without magnifying them through runaway thoughts, enables you to stop the cycle, assess what you really need, and then do something that might actually be beneficial and healthy.

Just say Yes!
Jeffrey Brantley, MD, is the founder and director of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at Duke Integrative Medicine. The following practice is adapted from his book Calming Your Anxious Mind.
The Yes Practice
The simple practice of saying “yes” to experiences as you become aware of them, coupled with mindful awareness, can release you from the deep habits of reactivity and help you stay connected to the present moment. The instructions are simple: As you are practicing mindfulness formally or informally, and you notice any pain or resistance arising, name the pain or upset that is present, and respond with a friendly “yes” to that experience, as if talking to it directly. For example: “Fear about my health, yes!” “Pain in my tooth, yes!” “Anxiety and worry about my job, yes.” You may want to try this in informal practice (the situations of daily life). For example: “Stuck in traffic, not moving, yes!” “Angry about what my coworker just said, yes!” “Frightened by the people walking toward me, yes!” The “yes” practice is a way for you to activate openheartedness as you pay attention moment by moment. Being mindful – noticing what is happening as it is happening – implies making space, being accepting, and not becoming lost in aversion and reactivity.

Nurturing a Mindful Mind: Kids naturally take to mindfulness

June 20th, 2016 by

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Talk to any mindfulness practitioner, and they’ll say, “I wish I had discovered mindfulness sooner!” Increasingly, research shows that mindfulness benefits children just as much as adults — maybe even more. Mindfulness practices teach us many valuable skills including how to pause and observe what we’re feeling, how to concentrate, and how to soothe our emotions. Learn early and you’ve got a real advantage!

Goldie Hawn may be most famous as an actress, but she believes in mindfulness so much she founded the Hawn Foundation in 2003 to create MindUP™, an evidence-based training program for teachers and students. “Mindfulness can help people of any age,” she says. A sixth grader in the program reports, “Being mindful calms me down when I am angry. It helps me not get in a big fight because I don’t want to hurt my friends. It also helps me focus on my work.”

The Mindful Schools initiative trains educators to practice mindfulness themselves and to integrate it into their classrooms. The results have been striking. Studies show that mindfulness can improve a host of outcomes and teach critical life-skills to youngsters. Who wouldn’t want their child to have improved attention and focus, or better grades? How about increased emotional regulation, more empathy, and enhanced social skills? Benefits also include reduced test anxiety, stress, and depression.

Training kids in mindfulness doesn’t have to be difficult. The hardest part might be developing your own mindfulness practice: meditation, yoga, mindful eating. Kids will notice if you tell them to do something you’re not doing yourself! It’s also important to know that mindfulness isn’t going to change your child into a model of good behavior. Kids will still be kids. Mindfulness will help give them the tools they need to work with their emotions more skillfully when they arise.

One popular mindfulness activity for very young children is a “mind jar” — a jar full of glitter suspended in liquid, that your child can shake to reflect their busy mind and then watch the glitter settle as their own thoughts and feelings calm down. A snow globe will also work. Several websites have easy instructions for making a mind jar. [http://www.preschoolinspirations.com/2014/11/13/6-ways-to-make-a-calm-down-jar/]

Kids are naturally curious, so mindfulness practices are a great fit for young minds. One great exercise is eating one raisin mindfully. Ask your child to look at one raisin as if they’d never seen one before. Then guide them to notice the raisin with each one of their other senses, asking them what they notice-— how it feels, smells, tastes, and even the sound of chewing. The inner “aha” that comes from paying close attention to something as simple as a raisin spurs children to see what else they can discover just by paying attention. The Harvard Vanguard blog has a great script for talking your child in mindful eating. [http://blog.harvardvanguard.org/2013/04/smart-kids-practice-mindful-eating/]

Children are very active, so often a movement-based practice works well. Many kids love yoga for its moving and soothing qualities. Mindful walking, especially in nature, can help children connect what’s outside them to what’s inside them. Simply go for a walk and pay attention to the walk itself.

Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman, relates the “breathing buddies” exercise. Even very young children can focus mindfully on their breath with help. You and your child can lie on your backs each of you with a stuffed animal on your belly. Focus attention on the movement of the buddy as you breathe in and out. This exercise is great for improving kids’ attention skills and self-management. They learn to associate the soothing qualities of their breathing with their ability to pause, focus, and soothe themselves.

Some people, including kids, can actually become more anxious when they first start practicing mindfulness — if you’ve never paid close attention to yourself before, you may find a sense of worry living inside. If your child experiences this, encourage him or her to continue the practice and try to determine what part of the experience is causing the anxious feeling. If your child is uncomfortable with negative thoughts, help her to practice letting go of thoughts and returning to the feeling of the breath. If your child is uncomfortable with letting go, help him notice how he feels in his body in the present moment. Ask him to breathe kindness into the part of the body that feels anxious. You might also have your child place a hand on the part of the body that feels anxious, feel the warmth of their own soothing touch, and gently repeat a kind word of their choosing like “soft, soft, soft”. If the problem persists, it may be best to find another mindfulness activity, such as yoga, mindful walking, or mindful eating, that don’t cause anxiety. [http://www.gisc.org/gestaltreview/documents/teachingmindfulnesstochildren.pdf]

Sharing mindfulness with your children can be a wonderful way to help them help themselves. Even if your children aren’t attending a school with a mindfulness program, you can teach them to experience the present moment through your own examples and guidance. Mindfulness is a quality that can be strengthened with practice, and teaching them some simple techniques will serve them their entire lives.

Going With Your Gut: How Mindfulness Meditation Develops Insight

May 18th, 2016 by

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Call it a hunch, gut feeling, intuition – that immediate sense of truth, without words or reasoning, is one of your most important faculties. It can tell you where you want to move in life, what you need to let go of, and how to best relate to challenges. But how can you develop your intuition?

Seeing Clearly

Meditation is one way to tap into your “gut” feelings. Mindfulness meditation is sometimes known as “Vipassana” – an ancient word from the language of the Buddha which means “insight” or “seeing clearly”. Vipassana or mindfulness meditation is the foundation of most Western meditation practices. It’s also the most studied by Western scientists.

“The insights of meditation are intuitive, not conceptual,” writes Joseph Goldstein, author of Insight Meditation (1993) and co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society. “Intuitive in this sense does not mean some kind of vague feeling about something; rather, it means clearly, directly seeing and experiencing how things really are.”

Rather than trying to solve problems with the thinking machine in the head, we practice mindful awareness, training our attention to “just be” in the present moment by focusing on an anchor like the breath, footsteps, sounds, or body sensations. As we become more skilled in being “present”, we can begin to see creative solutions to sometimes very big problems in our lives. These solutions arise spontaneously from within, through feelings and an “inner knowing,” and not through thoughts or concepts. We simply know.

Knowing What You Really Want

Often, we don’t really know what drives us. We are moved to do something, because it’s the expected thing to do in life or because it seems like a reasonable choice. But if we understand our true motivations, maybe we would do things differently. Before she began her meditation practice, a friend of mine bought a lovely house. It seemed like the logical and “right” thing to do. However, she soon noticed that she really didn’t even like having a house! She wasn’t handy and felt like she was rattling around in the extra space. Once she began meditating, however, she gradually had the insight that want she really wanted was not a house, but a home. She realized that had she continued to rent, and work on developing more close personal relationships, her life would have been moving more in the direction of her true needs and desires. Meditation created the conditions for her to see and feel her true feelings. When she sold her home, she felt immense relief.

Compassion for Your Own Experience

Meditation is the practice of staying present in the moment without judgment, even those moments we’d like to escape or avoid. It’s a skill that grows with patient practice, and it enables us to have insights in how we work with difficulty, including pain. In my mid-forties, I developed chronic pain in my hip, and I became quite angry about it. As my pain increased, so did my anger and attempts to get rid of the pain, which included physical therapy, electrical nerve stimulation, and giving serious consideration to a hip replacement. One night, as I lay awake with the throbbing pain, I had the insight that anger and resistance were not relieving my suffering. I tried a different approach: instead of resisting the pain, I tried to get to know it. I brought my attention right into it and discovered a part of my body that was holding a tremendous amount of suffering and yet was trying to do the best it could to keep functioning.

When I came up close to my pain without judging it, as I had learned to do from my meditation practice, I felt spontaneous compassion for this part of my body that was suffering. As I continued to work compassionately with my pain, the change was dramatic. Although I still have some pain, it’s manageable now and I know it’s a signal to take care of myself (think yoga). Having compassion toward pain in my body (and heart) is an insight I credit to my meditation practice.

The skill of mindfulness, developed through meditation, allows us to experience things they really are, without the distracting and often intensifying effect of our judgments, beliefs, and thoughts. Sometimes what we discover has been long hidden by the activity of the chattering mind. It’s only when we train the mind to become quiet that these realities become known, whether it’s our desire for a home or compassion for our own pain. Learning how to sit quietly and just “be with” our own unfiltered experience allows us to receive insights that can transform our lives.

Rx: Meditate in Nature – Wide open spaces are good for the body and mind.

March 28th, 2016 by

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Twenty-five hundred years ago, the Buddha meditated under the Bodhi tree. He was outside, in nature, when he attained enlightenment – not inside a monastery or palace. Whether you believe the story to be myth or history, people have long known that there is wisdom, serenity, and balance in nature.

The Science of Green

Research, too, shows that green spaces bring benefits to people, more than just being outside. You don’t have to travel miles away from everyone — even your local park can help. A recent study compared walking in an urban park versus walking through urban streets and found participants had lower heart rates, lower anxiety, and greater subjective well-being after just fifteen minutes walking through a park. In another study walkers fitted with mobile EEG sensors were significantly less stressed when they strolled through green space than when they ambled through shopping or commercial districts.

In Japan, walking through the forest is known as shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing”. Research has shown that it improves cortisol levels, heart rate variability, blood pressure, sleeplessness, mood, and other markers of stress. Researchers looked at the components of a forest bathing experience, including sight, smell, sound, and touch, all of which show benefits.

We often meditate indoors. It’s convenient and eliminates some distractions. The outdoor environment is less controlled. There could be traffic noise or kids playing or it might even start raining! While there doesn’t yet seem to be research that directly compares meditating indoors to meditating outdoors, every contemplative tradition includes meditation in nature, in both stories and prescribed practices. Given the evidence-based benefits of both meditation and nature, it stands to reason that we can reap significant benefits by meditating outdoors.

Try Walking Meditation

Any meditation that can be performed indoors can be performed outdoors, as long as you have a suitable space. While you may already be familiar with sitting meditation, the natural world is ideal for walking meditation. Most of the time, we use walking as a means to get somewhere. The hustle and bustle of the street, the hard concrete of sidewalks, our everyday shoes all serve to keep us moving.

A walking meditation, by contrast, has no destination. Wear comfortable shoes, or if the ground is safe go barefoot. Begin by centering yourself. Feel the ground beneath your feet, the air stirring around you, the sunlight or fog on your skin. Keep your gaze softly focused ahead of you. When you begin walking, the pace is not important, but awareness is. Walk at the pace that best allows you to be fully present. Feel the muscles in your hips and legs and feet as you lift each foot and replace it gently on the ground. Just as in sitting meditation, your attention will wander. That’s ok; the value doesn’t come in having perfect concentration, but in continually bringing your attention back to the present moment. Use the feeling of taking your next step to gently anchor your attention into the here and now. Gil Fronsdal of the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood, California notes, “I sometimes find it restful to think of letting my body take me for a walk.”

Realize You Are a Part of the Natural World

When I was working on my Master’s degree in Transpersonal Psychology in Boulder Colorado, our professors took my class into the outdoors for an experiential exercise. Each of us went on our own solitary “walkabout” in the gorgeous foothills of the Rocky Mountains. After a time of walking, sensing, and savoring the beauty and serenity of the natural world, I sat down to meditate among the wildflowers. My experience then is best described as completing a jigsaw puzzle by inserting the last piece that completes the picture. At first it seemed as though the pieces of the surrounding natural environment all fit together perfectly – it was only “I“ that was the last missing piece. I felt separate. However, as I continued to meditate – patiently returning my attention to the immediate experience of the present moment – it felt as though my mental idea of “I” – that concept that separated me from everything else – dissolved. Only then did the last piece of the puzzle find its home in the living experience that surrounded me. All was one. I was no longer separate from nature. I was part of it.

Some Practices to Do Outdoors

Sitting Meditation
Walking Meditation
Yoga
Qigong
Tai Chi

Graduate’s Story: Artist Theresa Girard

February 14th, 2016 by

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Many of you have seen the beautiful art on display in the Integrative Mindfulness studio in Bonita Springs, FL. These are the words of the artist, Theresa Girard, on her experience upon completing the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program –

“The discovery of this seemingly simple process reaches far beyond anything I had previously considered. Being present for me began a new emotional connection to who I am and what is embodied in my true spirit. At the same time, filling a spiritual void that had crept into my life.
Previous torments, such as anxiety, fear, a barrage of “what ifs” lessened in an acceptance of being where I needed to be in the moment. A certain quieter place comes forward and seeps into much of my decision making and provides a peace focused on awareness. Even when things are not going well, I was able to decrease my self judgement and negativity.

As an artist, with an overly active and creative mind, I became able to self soothe in a forgiving way and found that my work actually raised to a higher level as I learned to slow down and really “look” and be a part of the painting in the present.

My new series of work is not based on comparison to other artists, but a peace at being here and a new self talk to encourage and gently disengage my focus from low self worth. I am lovable in this moment. My work is good, I can be successful for myself, just as a direct expression of my own energy……mindful energy….

Thank you!”

Client Stories: Wendy Berg

January 1st, 2016 by

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I’ve been thinking about how your MSBR class has changed my life. One area I haven’t heard many people talk about is mindfulness and athletic performance. Your class helped me become more aware of my body and to tune into the messages it gives me. When I used to run, I mainly distracted myself from what I was doing with music, thoughts, or TV. I still do that some of the time but most of the time I am aware of what is happening. I am now running, biking, swimming, doing strength training, and yoga as I train for a triathlon sprint. I do body scans while exercising, checking in with each part looking for issues, discomfort, pain, or fatigue. I check on my technique and form. Do I feel strong? Can I go faster? Further? Do I need to change my stride? My gear? My reach? My hip rotation? Or do I need to scale it back? Catch my breath? Walk for a minute? In the past, I never listened to my body and just pushed myself to finish whatever I set out to do even if it meant injuring myself. Ok, I’m still pretty goal oriented and almost always finish my daily plan, but I’m doing it in a kinder gentler way. I am more accepting of what is. I am okay with just doing my best no matter what that is on any given day. I’ve been able to do so much more without pushing so hard. I’ve let go of so many ideas I had about being too old to do something, and what I expected my body to be like in my 50’s. I am now in better shape than I’ve been in a long time, maybe ever. I’m still a little overweight and slow, but I no longer beat myself up over that. Now, I celebrate what my body can do and enjoy pushing the limits set by my mind and by society. And the back pain I’ve dealt with for 14 years is practically nonexistent. I’m not sure if that is from being in better shape, meditation, actually paying attention to my body, or a combination of everything. I find myself able to accept, appreciate, and celebrate what is in all areas of my life. Thank you for helping me along this journey. Feel free to use this if it may be helpful to share the benefits of MSBR and your class. Wendy Berg

Mindfully Managing Menopause

December 15th, 2015 by

Mindfully Managing Menopause

The significant hormonal shift that comes with menopause – bringing with it forgetfulness, insomnia, sweats, emotional outbursts, skin and breast changes, and slower metabolism—can leave women feeling most unhappy! If you are longing for a better way to navigate menopause, mindfulness offers some real benefits.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the skill of paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment. We all have this skill, especially in childhood, but it can diminish over time as we fall into the automatic reactive patterns of adulthood. Add menopause to the mix and you’ve got some very good reasons to seek relief!

According to research, menopausal women who participated in a training program known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (“MBSR”), when compared with a control group who did not receive the training, reported lower anxiety and perceived stress, reduced bother from night sweats, sleep disturbances, and hot flashes, improved quality of life, less overwhelm, and greater attentiveness.

How do you practice Mindfulness?

Mindfulness practice is patiently training the mind to focus on a chosen “anchor” that exists in the present moment – your breath, sounds (like the ceiling fan whirring), sensations in your body – and gently returning your attention to your chosen anchor when it wanders (and it will!). Each time you “come back” to your anchor, you’re strengthening your mindfulness muscle.

As you practice, you simply witness and observe all that comes into your awareness moment to moment, letting go of that natural tendency to judge what’s arising as “good” or “bad”, “pleasant” or “Unpleasant”. As you practice, lots of things will come up! Body sensations (tingling, numbness, fluttering, warmth, coolness) and thoughts (“How will I get everything done today?” “My back is killing me?” “I’m burning up!”). Rather than resisting these things, or trying to replace them with something else, you allow them to be present, but in the background of your awareness, as you escort your attention back to your chosen anchor. Simple, but not easy!

Why practice mindfulness?

Even in a short ten-minute practice you will get lots of opportunities to “come back” to your anchor, and this coming back is really what the practice of meditation is all about. It fortifies your ability to attend to just “what is” in the present moment without the overlay of thoughts that so often color our experience and make us truly miserable. In so doing you become skilled at differentiating between “observing” a thought from the point of view of a neutral witness, and being drawn into the “content” of the thought, two very different things. The latter is typically loaded with judgments, opinions, memories, fantasies, past, or future – all of which have an impact on your present moment experience, physical, mental, and emotional. Mindfulness practice enables you to step off the merry-go-round of thoughts and just “be”. And this quality of “being”, when cultivated on a regular basis, has real life implications for your health and quality of life.

Navigating a Hot Flash

At age 53, I’ve had numerous opportunities to “practice” during a hot flash. Before mindfulness, my thoughts would have judged the sensations as unpleasant and unwanted (“Why did I wear long sleeves?” “Now I’m going to miserable!”). Pursuing such thoughts undoubtedly magnified the unpleasant qualities of what was happening, making my hot flash much worse than it needed to be. With mindfulness I practice letting go of the judging and instead simply note that the sensation of heat is arising. I might reflect internally “This is how it is right now.” I let go of the impulse to escalate it by following the content of my thoughts. I stay attuned to what other sensations are present; the sound of rain dripping from the roof, the hum of the refrigerator, the feeing of breathing in and breathing out. I witness the stream of changing sensations moment to moment, and eventually notice the feeling of a current of air against my skin. Coolness. Yes, every experience, including a hot flash, eventually changes. I stay present with this process of change and notice after a few moments that my body is beginning to resume a normal temperature. Undoubtedly this hot flash would have lasted much longer, and been much more unpleasant, if I had automatically followed the content of my misery filled thoughts.

The practical benefits

While mindfulness cannot completely remove the symptoms of menopause, it can alter your experience of the symptoms. You can liken the symptoms of menopause to a loud, blaring television, bombarding you with colors, sounds, sensations, music, and storylines. Mindfulness won’t necessarily turn off the TV, but having a regular mindfulness practice can help turn the volume way down.

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