“In today’s rush, we all think too much — seek too much — want too much — and forget about the joy of just being.” ~Eckhart Tolle
I love the above quote by Eckhart Tolle. Too many of us desire more and more…our minds racing thinking and planning for the next thing we can obtain whatever it may be. I can recall unnecessary stress I put on myself prior to starting my health and wellness coaching program couple years ago. This was my first time taking a course online and I was aware of the importance of managing my time properly. Thankfully, through this program, I discovered mindfulness, meditating, and becoming a healing presence, and my life hasn’t been the same since.
Mindfulness is simply the art of being fully present in the moment. After 20 years of clinical experience, author, clinical psychologist, and neuroscientist, Tamara Russell defines mindfulness as awareness skills enhanced by being fully directed in the present moment, non-reactive (curious but calm), and non-judgemental (compassionate). It sounds so simple, but it’s actually easier said than done especially when we have so much going on in our lives. The art of keeping our mind, our focus, and our thoughts fully engaged, yet tranquil, for a long period of time requires regular training of the mind. An example of mindfulness training, and one that I practice, is meditation. Check out below excerpts from Petite Retreats: Renewing, Body, Mind and Spirit without Leaving Home on how to practice breathing and seated meditation.
Personally, barriers to mindfulness I strive to work on are self-criticism and negative thoughts. One of my favorite lectures in the health and wellness coaching program was Rick Hanson’s Using the Mind to Change the Brain audio lecture. His discussion on “self directed neuroplasticity” pertaining to “altered gene expression,” and the fact that powerful mental activity can actually alter strips of atom inside this long chain of DNA really resonated with me. Since then, I’ve been a lot more selective about situations I give my attention and energy to, because whatever the neurons in the brain are doing, for better or worse, they’re wiring together.
Listening to this lecture motivated me to try to cultivate a healthier and more positive mindset by focusing on the positive things in my life regularly. Internalizing and savoring the positive brings a smile to my face and help ease away worries and tension I may be feeling. I have noticed doing this exercise over the past couple years has aid my mindfulness lifestyle by being more carefree, less rigid, less reactive, an attentive listener, and more connected to the people around me, from those whom I’ve just met to those who have been in my life for years.
Even if the majority of my week has been stressful, doing what is in my capacity and looking on the bright side of things helps minimize unnecessary negative thoughts or self-talk. This helps me to be a healing presence onto myself and others.
Excerpts from Petite Retreats: Renewing, Body, Mind and Spirit without Leaving Home by Linda Mastro & Anna Harding
In this practice of breathing meditation you will use controlled inhalations and exhalations to focus the mind. If you are a newcomer to pranayama (controlled breathing exercises), begin slowly. Do five or ten rounds, rest, then do another set of five or ten breaths. If you get dizzy or light-headed, stop and lie down.
- Begin by sitting in a comfortable position, just as you have been doing for seated meditation. Pay special attention to your belly and relax this area. You will begin by practicing each phase of the three-part breath for several inhalations and exhalations before putting them together as one fluid movement.
- The first phase of the three-part breath begins by placing your palms on your belly. Slowly inhale through your nose until you feel your belly expand under your palms. Exhale and feel your belly flatten back to its starting position. Repeat several times. Focus on bringing breath deeply enough into your lungs so that you feel the expansion and contraction down into your lower abdomen.
- Move into the second phase of the three-part breath by resting the palms of your hands on the sides of your rib cage. Slowly inhale into your chest. Feel how your ribs widen under your palms. If the breath is deep enough, you may feel the rib cage press out into your hands. When you exhale, the ribs ease back to their resting position. Repeat several times, gaining awareness of how the center of your body expands and contracts with each breath.
- Practice the third phase of the three-part breath with your hands resting on your upper chest just below your collarbone. Inhale and bring your breath into your upper chest so that you feel a slight lift in your collar bone. Exhale and feel the collar bone rest back into position. This is a more subtle movement than the belly or rib cage. Be patient as you practice.
- To practice dirgha pranayama or the full three-part breath, exhale completely. On the inhalation move your hands to your belly then to your rib cage and finally to your collar bone. Notice how those parts of your body expand as the in-breath fills your lungs. With the exhalation move your palms from the collarbone, to the rib cage and down to the belly, feeling how these sections of your body relax as breath leaves the body. At the end of the exhalation, give your belly a gentle squeeze to release the last bits of breath then start again. After you have the feel of the three-part breath, you can bring your hands to your lap and continue this breathing pattern – belly, rib cage, upper chest expanding as you inhale then upper chest, rib cage, belly relaxing as you exhale – for several rounds. Inhale and fill every inch of your lungs. Exhale and empty completely with the slightest press in the belly when you reach the end of each out breath.
Although you will be guided to sit for 10 minutes, feel free to sit for shorter or longer periods depending on your comfort level. TIP: Set a timer for the length of your meditation break so that you can avoid looking at your watch or worrying about how long you have been sitting.
- Find a comfortable seated position. You can sit in a chair, preferably one in which your spine will be straight and the soles of your feet can easily touch the floor. If you prefer, sit on the floor cross-legged on a cushion or on a meditation bench.
- Sit with your back straight and relaxed. Let the muscles of the rest of your body soften and relax. Rest your hands on your knees or in your lap.
- Close your eyes and take a breath. Consciously look for tension in your face, neck, arms, feet and stomach and let the muscles release. Feel the sensation of your breath as it enters your nostrils. As you breathe in, you might notice, “cool.” As you breath out you might notice, “warm.” Feel how your chest and belly expand with the inhalation and contract with the exhalation. Even in stillness, much is happening in your body.
- Pick a focus point: the temperature of the breath, the movement of breath as it comes in and goes out, or the sound of the breath. Train your awareness to notice the first moment of the in-breath. Sustain the attention for the duration of just that one in-breath. When you need to exhale, notice the out-breath and how it is slightly different from the in-breath.
- Thoughts and feelings will arise as you attempt to focus on your breath. This is the way the mind works. It is a busy place! Patiently label the thoughts “Thinking” then bring your awareness back to the breath. Treat the wandering mind as you would a playful puppy excited about everything it sees, hears and smells. Call it back lovingly as patient teacher, not an exacting judge.
- When the timer chimes the end of your seated meditation, slowly open your eyes. Stretch, wiggle, bringing movement back into your body. Look around and notice the room. Feel your body and note the state of your mind. You may want to make a few notes in your journal.
Your meditation will be an exercise in building awareness. As you breathe, thoughts will vie for your attention. Notice when you have strayed from focusing on the breath to following a thought. Remember: Meditation is all about gently bringing yourself back to the breath and letting go of the thought that had displaced that connection. You might do this a hundred times in a short sitting: A trip to the Bahamas. Come back to the breath. A conversation you want to have with a friend. Come back to the breath. A pain in your knee from sitting still for so long. Come back to the breath.
Russell, Tamara. “What Is Mindfulness?” Google Books, Watkins Media Limited, 2017, books.google.com/books?id=h1ksDwAAQBAJ&dq=what+is+mindfulness&source=gbs_navlinks_s.
Maryland University of Integrative Health (Health and Wellness Coaching Program Lectures).