Stress Less this Holiday Season

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Wondering how to reduce your stress and enjoy life more this holiday season? Take a look at the latest blog post I penned for the HeraHub Herald, a resource for Women Entrepreneurs. Imparted are practical mindful TIPs (Taking In (the) Present) that you can pack in your toolbox to use when you are faced with overflowing calendars, store lines, traffic and mindless eating.

Supporting you to be well, be merry, be mindful this holiday season!


Surviving the Holidays with Mindfulness and Gratitude

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Looking for tips on how to get through the stress of the holidays? Find yourself with busy schedules, long lists of to-dos, anticipated changes in new ways to be with the holidays, managing relationships and more? Need a reminder on why gratitude is important, and new twists on old practices? Check out a couple of posts I wrote recently or contributed to that speak to all of these situations.

Tips for a Healthy Holiday Season can be found on Hera Herald… the e-news site from HeraHub, co-working space for women. These tips are not only healthy for you, they are mindfully-based… where you can bring your focused attention to the subject, with an open or beginner’s mind, along with non-judgment, patience, and non-striving (letting things unfold as they may).

Interested in Gratitude from another angle? I wrote this piece for the A2ZHealingToolbox for their Thanksgiving edition, focusing on how to employ gratitude during times of loss and grief (family status, job/career, transitions, and death). I list certain practices and put a new spin on some older ideas. Worth a preview at: A2ZHealingToolbox: Thanksgiving: Gratitude .

Check back later this week for links to two more resources from BeingMerry: a guest blog post on Reducing Holiday Stress with Mindfulness, and an article focusing on and The Introduction of Mindfulness-Based Applications to Increase Well-being.

Until then, be well, be merry– and be mindful!

 


Eating, Drinking and Being Mindful: 5 Tips to Help You Eat Mindfully this Holiday Season

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Yes, the holidays are upon us… as are the bowls filled with Halloween candy, bottomless cookie platters, delicious baked breads (healthy because they are pumpkin, carrot or zucchini, right?), rich creamy soups and casseroles to warm us, and festive cocktail beverages that go down effortlessly.  Such a spread would increase anyone’s waistline over time, if encountered mindlessly.  How do you plan on eating this holiday season? Giving yourself the gift of eating mindfully might be your answer.

An Ancient Practice Revisited: Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is not a new mindfulness fad, as some media sources suggest. It’s actually existed since our ancestors started eating with awareness thousands of years ago. However, lately what many experience in today’s world is mindless eating—where we consume our food and nutrients while distracted by our devices, hectic schedules, hectic minds, and each other. In our modern world we don’t “experience” eating as we multi-task or task shift, preventing our bodies and minds from being united in the same space and time, unaware of how much we’ve taken in.  As a result, we tend to overeat, and then feel bad and beyond full– and may even beat ourselves up over it– which can result in eating even more to make us feel better emotionally.  This mindless eating can turn into a cycle and affect our weight and wellness at the same time.  In 2013-2014, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention  reported the percentage of adults over 20 years of age with obesity was 37.9%, and the percentage of adults over 20 years of age considered overweight (including with obesity) was 70.7%. Is mindless eating the culprit? Perhaps it is one variable that is influencing our conditioned eating habits. The antidote to mindless eating and to fuel our minds and bodies simultaneously, with exactly what we need, is eating mindfully.

Slow Down and Gain Awareness

Thankfully, eating mindfully is gaining momentum in the west. Mindful eating is not about a certain diet that promotes certain foods over others (though healthy choices are recommended). Mindful eating encourages us to intentionally focus on the present moment internally (acknowledging the thoughts, emotions, and sensations) and externally (the environment). Mindful eating is about slowing down and bringing awareness to nourishing ourselves: with the what, why, when, where and how. When coaching or teaching about eating mindfully, we look at all areas where our appetites might arise (we call these hunger centers), acknowledging them, and then ask what do I need to nourish myself most appropriately. Check out my website at your leisure, for more information about the curriculum specifically in the Eating Mindfully class.

 

5 Mindful Eating Tips to Keep You Healthy this Holiday Season

And in the meantime, consider these five mindful eating tips, to help you nourish yourself this holiday season in a healthy way:

1)      Check in with yourself and NOTICE your hunger. Where are you hungry? What sensations, thoughts or emotions do you notice?  Sometimes we THINK we are hungry when we look at the clock and notice it’s 12pm. Or we SENSE we are hungry when we walk into the mall and smell the cinnamon bun baking. If you feel a need for connection or warmth, heart hunger is asking to be nourished. Did you know there are a total of nine hunger centers? We cover these in the Eating Mindfully class. Taking an assessment BEFORE you eat on where you are hungry can lead you to make healthier choices on how to meet your appetite needs.

2)      If you feel sensations in your stomach area or other bodily sensations that suggest food is what you need, ask yourself what kind of food do I need? Cellular hunger requests a type of food to satisfy a deficiency in a specific element that keeps our bodies going. Listen to what your body is legitimately telling you to put in your mouth, stomach and system. And then give it what it needs.

3)      Before you eat, ask yourself HOW MUCH food do I need? Stomach hunger just wants volume (as it cannot taste food) and may not need as much as you think? Remember, our bodies are pretty wise and will give us the answer if we just listen. This is especially an important question to ask when eating out at a restaurant. Generally, in today’s restaurants, one plate of food is really 2-3 servings combined. After you ask yourself how much you need, serve yourself 2/3rds of that initially, knowing you may go back for seconds.

4)      Reduce Distractions: Turn off the electronics and your monkey mind. Many people consume their food while watching TV, surfing the net, or reading their email. Try turning off the electronics and tuning into your own self. Finding a comfortable place to eat, like at a dining room table, can help reduce the mindless eating being distracted and on the go. Set the intention to be present to your food and eating experience. When your monkey mind wanders to thinking about something else, don’t criticize your mind for wandering…. that’s it’s job! Just simply and kindly bring your attention back to your meal.

5)      Pause. Before, during and after your meal. Before you begin eating, perhaps offer grace as a blessing for the food you received, acknowledging all the hands that helped get this food to you. Then take the time to savor what is before you. Take in the colors, textures, shapes and smells. During the meal, put your eating utensil down between bites, and chew your food fully (perhaps over 20 complete chews). Chewing your food more allows for efficient digestion. Also during your meal, check in to see if your appetite is satisfied. Try not to aim for fullness; it’s better to find a sweet spot where you are 2/3rds full instead of overly full.  After your meal, walk away from the table and notice how your body feels. Does it feel energetic, tired, sluggish, fatigued? Listen to your body and may your next choice for action be a healthy one based on your body’s answer.

 

Folks who eat mindfully can alter their weight, weighing 10 pounds less a year, due to simply becoming aware of how much, when, where, what and why they eat.  Eating mindfully has the ability to change eating patterns or at least question them. Once we start to question, our awareness increases. Once we are aware we step out of auto-pilot, and have a chance of changing a bad habit, in that moment. So why not arm yourself with some healthy tips this holiday season and avoid the mindless eating trap. Your mind, body and heart will be glad you did.

The next Eating Mindfully course will start in February of 2017 at the Jewish Community Center in La Jolla. Be sure to check out the registration page and sign up!  I also coach one-on-one Eating Mindfully skills—bringing in the curriculum into our co-active coaching calls. Whichever route you go, may you be mindful with nourishing yourself!


Getting Your Mind Back on Track: Ending Rumination with Mindful Meditation

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Send your bags packing and avoid the Land of Rumination.

Check out the guest blog post I penned this week for A2Z Healing Toolbox.com . This is a GREAT resource for anyone experiencing any type of grief, loss, trauma and transition.

Whatever the grief is, know that comparing your grief with someone else does not help. Making it smaller than it is, or larger than it is does not serve you in dealing with it. Check out this website to find tools that may help you work through whatever it is that you need to work through. And know that you are not alone!

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When’s the last time you experienced the power of AWE?

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Last weekend I had the privilege of attending The Art and Science of AWE Event organized by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. It was a day to increase awareness of this universal feeling and see it in a new light; as a positive emotion that brings a multitude of benefits to our health, well-being and society overall.  The day was spent hearing from researchers, artists, other professionals, and practitioners alike.  And yes, I was awestruck many times through out the day by how powerful AWE is, and moved by performances at the same time.

What science shows is that awe benefits us on all levels: cognitively, physically, emotionally and socially, in the way we process information, and the perspective from which we view the world . Awe is accessible to all of us, at any time.  We don’t have to wait for something miraculous to happen (such as the birth, or heroics). We can experience it right in our own backyards, and within ourselves.

What is AWE and What Does It Do?

Dacher Keltner, Ph.D. of UC Berkeley, and Founder of the Greater Good Science Center, defined awe as a feeling of “being in the presence of something vast, beyond our current understanding.” Michelle “Lani” Shiota, Ph.D. of Arizona State University adds that AWE is “an emotional response to physically or conceptually extraordinary stimuli that challenge our normal, day-to-day frame of reference, and are not already integrated into our understanding of the world.” Both scientists show that awe not only affects the individual emotionally, cognitively, and physiologically, it also affects us socially as a community as well.

Awe moves us from our own self-interest toward the good of the group (which speaks to being an antidote to the narcissistic epidemic we have in the West). Awe makes this shift by enabling us to gain a sense of our “small self”, where we become more humble and generous, and connected to something larger than ourselves. While it doesn’t make us feel shameful or unimportant, it does help put our problems into perspective. Awe also shifts us from our isolated self to an integrated self, as we become more curious, creative, and purposeful. Cognitively, awe allows us to take in more information and discern it’s quality at the same time. Lastly, awe aids in breaking down the “us vs. them” mentality that runs amuck in our society, leading us to feel more compassion toward others.

On a physiological level, the effects of awe on the body have been shown to lower cytokine levels, or proteins that help boost our immune systems fighting disease, infection and reducing inflammation.  High cytokine levels are associated with poorer health and diseases such as heart disease, depression, type-2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Physiologically, awe has the effect of relaxing, soothing and calming; turning down the fight and flight response of the sympathetic system, while at the same time decreasing the rest and digest response of the parasympathetic system, so that we are more relaxed but alert.

Avenues to Elicit Awe

We heard from numerous sources on ways to elicit the social emotion of awe, from being out in mother nature and her wonders, to experiencing The Arts (music, dance, literature/poetry, visual arts), as well as The Sciences (from the macro- universe to the micro- inside ourselves).  Awe can be elicited by others such as powerful leaders who inspire us to become better , while encouraging us to fold into the collective.  Awe can also arise from witnessing acts of altruism and courage.

The Vocal Artist Melanie DeMore, reminded us that in feeling awe, we are the smallest and the biggest we will ever be: The smallest as it humbles us, and the biggest as we become interconnected. She also reminded us to walk around in the world AWAKE, and awed us with her incredibly soulful voice.

Awe In Education

Researchers and educators alike touched on awe in education, and invited the audience to do an exercise, which is the same one we do at the AWE Inspired Retreat (next one 6/18/16 at the Keys Creek Lavender Farm). Try it for yourself and see what you notice. Or better yet, attend the retreat:


AWE AWAKENED Exercise

  • Start by checking in and gaging your well-being /happiness level. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being low and 10 being high, rate your level of well being before you start this exercise.
  • Close your eyes gently, or gaze downward at the floor.
  • Take a deeper than normal breath through your nostrils.
  • Release your breath slowly through your mouth, releasing any tension that you may be carrying as well.
  • Now reaching back into your childhood, recall a moment when you felt awe or wonder. Bring to mind the feeling you experienced as a child with as much detail as possible. Savor that experience staying with it by taking a few extra breaths. Notice the feeling that is awakened.
  • Notice the way your body is responding right now to this memory. What do you notice?
  • When you are ready, gently open your eyes and write down what awe meant to you as a child and what it means to you now.
  • If possible, share this memory and insight with someone else.
  • Revisit your well-being /happiness level again. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being low and 10 being high, rate your level of well-being after completing this exercise. Did the level stay the same? What do you notice?

 

We heard from an inner-city High School Teacher in New York on how she is facilitating the feeling of awe in her classroom, specifically through journaling with prompts and metacognitive reflections, and through AWE walks (we call these Sense and Savor walks in the AWE Inspired Retreat).

AWE in the End

No matter how you slice it, AWE is a gift and privilege of being alive. It is a universal human experience. We are here for a short time, in the grand scheme of things. Our lives are now. What are you doing to acknowledge it’s gift?  What will you do to increase your quotient of awe in your life? If you are wanting to get out in nature, consider registering for the retreat at the Lavender Farm in Valley Center. Or you don’t have to look far, for you can find awe in the world around you and inside yourself if you slow down to pause and notice, taking in the treasures that life provides.


May: National Mental Health Awareness Month

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So much going on this month of May. Beginning with the most important (in my book): National Mental Health Awareness Month!

Why is it that our society cares more about how we look and function on the outside than how we feel and function on the inside? Just look around at the media these days that tell us how we should look and what we should have. The truth is mental health is just as important, if not more, than physical health and beauty. After all, wasn’t it Gandhi who said:

      “Your beliefs become your thoughts,

Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions,

Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny.”

 

It All Starts with Your Thoughts

So it all starts with our thoughts, but those are some of the last things we give attention to, or conversely, we give them too much attention and get wrapped up in rumination. We begin thinking too much of the past and what I “should have” done, or thinking too much about the future and all the possibilities of what will happen, that we lose the one moment we have, the one in the present. The bottom line is that we are either oblivious to our own mental health and “not noticing”, or we exhaust ourselves from over identification. Into which realm do you fall?

A valid question to ask this month is when was the last time you attended to your own mental health– your feelings and general state of well-being? Many people don’t take the time to drop inward, and when we do it’s on the negative. Since way back when, the human brain has been wired with a negativity bias (we need 3 positives to counteract 1 negative event), with the media focused on the worst, and our 24/7 connected and socially comparable status, it’s easy to see why many can easily get swept up in that downward spiral of negative thinking. Add to that the natural stressors of life that may involve difficult communication with others, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for anxiety or depression. When these dips in mental health last for periods longer than an hour or day (perhaps weeks, months and even years), we begin to see major mental illnesses arise. These altered states of thinking take a toll on our psychological and physical health as well, and are much more prominent.

 

The State of Well-Being: Lost

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, while a whopping 70% of U.S. adults are obese or overweight (FastStats 2014); only about 17% of U.S adults are considered to be in a state of optimal mental health: successfully coping with normal life stresses, working productively, and making contributions to the community. That leaves 83% of us needing to attend to our own mental health and how we cope with life. The CDC’s website states currently 26% of us have been diagnosed with depression, and estimates by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world, trailing behind ischemic heart disease.

With this in mind, why aren’t we all as concerned about mental health and illness as we are about physical health and illness? What can we do about both? We can check out resources that speak to both and well-being in general. We can become aware of the need to balance, and bring attention to the mind-body connection. That is what we do at BeingMerry.com. We bring attention to wellness and well- being with Mindfulness.

 

Bringing Awareness to Well-Being: Retreat Solution

To address the physical and mental connections, we offer day-long Mindfulness Retreats to bring one’s mind back to one’s body and heart. In fact, in May and June 2016 we will be offering AWE Inspired Retreats at Keys Creek Lavender Farm, 40 minutes north of San Diego. Science has shown lavender to be a natural soothing and calming agent, and mindfulness to bring the same, plus a whole lot more.

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During these day retreats, we take a moment to slow down and bring awareness to the connection of physical and mental health. We bring in mindfulness that allows us to reset our auto-pilot in our brain, and influence both our immune systems and stress reaction cycles. We drop into our senses within the body, and really notice the experience we are having—with THIS mind and THIS body. We try to see thoughts and emotions for what they are, and not get carried away with the mind on her travels to the future or past.

At the AWE Inspired Retreats, we nourish our minds and bodies with our breathing, with slowing down and taking in, and with compassionate movement and healthy refueling. We see our journeys for what they are, and in that moment, give ourselves what we need. We participate in various forms of meditation that allows us to experience greater calm, and connect to our minds, bodies, and feelings. We discover inner resources that can change our lives, and awaken our capacity for authenticity and wisdom. We intentionally slow down to bring focused attention to our human experience—“being” in this brain and this body. And knowing, that is enough.

If you want to know more about the AWE Inspired Retreats, check out the registration pages found at:

Or access the specific Monthly retreats from the following pages:

 

Bringing Awareness to Mental Health

Other solutions are out there to help you invest in your mental health. Take a look at what Mental Health America has put out this month to increase your awareness:

31 Tips to Boost Your Mental Health

To close this post and leave you with a thought about mental health, mindfulness and the benefits of retreating inward and toward your breath, I turn to poet David Whyte who said it so succinctly with his poem “Enough”. I encourage you to take this moment to think about your well-being, and how you will invest in it this month, as we all strive to live the healthiest lives we can—opening to life and connecting our minds, bodies and spirits:

Enough

Enough.

These few words are enough.

If not these words, this breath.

If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life we have refused

again and again until now.

Until now

by David Whyte, from the book Where Many Rivers Meet

 


From Stressed to Blessed, Part 2

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As we exit Stress Awareness Month, I wanted to share a specific practice may allow you to have another perspective on stress. In the Mindfulness -Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class we define stress as change, which is an inevitable part of life. We adopt the mindset that change can be helpful, allowing us to grow and experience things that otherwise might not have occurred (and perhaps see things through a silver-lining). We notice how stressful events or changes go through a cycle, having a beginning, middle and end to them– much like the changing nature of our breath or physical sensations. Much like our
thoughts and emotions as well. They all come and go. We practice many sitting meditations in MBSR focusing on the breath, body, thoughts and emotions, so this analogy fits nicely, as we sit and notice what arises and falls away.

Categorizing Stressors

We also talk about different kinds of stressors that propel opportunities for change; such as internal stressors, originating from our inner self- like a certain thought or belief, to external stressors originating from the outside world- like the demands of  work. We also categorize the duration of stressful events from acute- lasting a short time-like recovering from the flu, to chronic stressors- like being a caregiver to an aging parent or a child with special needs. Finally, we talk about maladaptive responses to stress that are conditioned happening on autopilot, where we just react without thinking.

Opening up Your Awareness

Expand your awareness around stress this week by noticing how it shows up in your life and being curious by asking/answering certain questions. Are the stressors originating internally or externally? What might be the duration of the stressors? How often is it/are they occurring? Intermittently (acute) or constantly (chronic)? Do you have any control over the stressor? How do you normally react to the stressor? Is auto-pilot controlling the reaction, or do you have some control over your reaction? As we begin to open our awareness to stress, and become curious, we see stressors for what they are and how some fall away and pass, and for some we can choose a healthier response by bringing in mindfulness.

When we bring mindfulness to stressful events, we have a moment to pause and notice, and see the change for what it is rather than what we are (with our judging, striving, and impatient minds). Just by pausing, we break the auto-pilot cycle and have the freedom to intentionally choose a different response.

Looking for that Silver Lining

To cite an example of seeing stress differently and bringing mindfulness to the table, let’s consider an acute external stressor many people experience every day: traffic. Seeing traffic as negative– it’s stopping us from what we want to do– our initial auto-pilot reaction may be maladaptive; we may grip the steering wheel tighter, breathe shallowly, and intently stare at the red car lights glaring in front of us “willing” the situation to change- for the light to turn green or for the bottleneck traffic jam to break up. We may start to ruminate about how much traffic “stresses us out”, and begin mentally going to our to do lists (of what we need to do next and in less time now), or worst case scenarios about what may result from the traffic- being late, disappointing others, etc…Maybe you will be so late, you’ll miss what you are aiming for all together!  Rumination can easily lead to over identifying with the situation.

By taking a “stress can be helpful” mindset, we might see traffic as a time to STOP:

  • Stop
  • Take a breath
  • Observe and
  • Proceed

This breath allows the oxygen we take in to our bodies really nourish us. This breath has a calming effect, that engages the parasympathetic system of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). On a cellular level, this breath strengthens your well being by  allowing your body to take in more, and affect telomeres that are responsible for the aging of cells. On a conscious level, you may then choose a healthy response, such as focusing on a positive memory from the day, or using gratitude to recall something that went well during the day, and for this moment to recall and savor it.

You may realize that this stressor or change will end soon, and that rumination won’t make the event pass faster, and may even get you more riled up. You realize that with each opportunity to literally pause, you are refueling yourself. If you adopt this suggestion you may find that you arrive at your event calmer and with greater perspective– taking in more around you.

Try It Yourself

I encourage you to try this breathing practice the next time you are in traffic, and notice what arises in you. Check in with your body. Are you gripping the wheel with tension, or breathing in and nourishing your body? Whichever behavior you choose, notice how it
feels IN your body. What do you notice directly? Check in with your mind: are you ruminating about the future or rehashing something in the past, or perhaps bringing gratitude and remembering something that went well today? Check in to how your thoughts influence the way you feel in both your heart and body. What do you notice?

Attempt this practice for one day or one week. Notice what you are feeling and thinking as a result. Chances are you’ll be a little more compassionate behind that wheel- starting with yourself and working outward. What we know about change and stress is that they happen, and if we bring mindfulness to our lives during this time we are creating
a more compassionate world, starting with one event and one person. If you choose to take on this challenge, email me with what you noticed. I would love to hear what you experienced and noticed from taking this new perspective


From Stressed to Blessed

(This blog post was adapted from a piece written for HeraHub: Co-working Space for Women– for April is STRESS AWARENESS MONTH)

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The demands of the business day seem to continuously pile up: the phone calls, emails, voicemails, budgets, reports, and meetings on the schedule. You are the ultimate producer, juggling multiple roles and projects to build or contribute to the business that you envision will change the world. You look at the clock, realizing although you’ve put in a full day, time is ticking. You wonder how much more you can accomplish before you start it all over again tomorrow, squeezing in food or sleep, or if you’re a parent too, the duties of raising a family. Your mind continues to race through to-do and “should-have” lists, as your shoulders tighten, and pressure in your neck and head increases. Your body screams, “STOP!”

So what do you do? Perhaps think, “This work will never get done! I just don’t have it in me to finish it all!” And then give up? Or ignore the tension in your neck, and continue to race forward, increasing your blood pressure, and compromising both your health and the quality of your work? Or reach for yet another cup of coffee or drink d’jour to get you through the night? What the experts in stress science suggest you do for healthy living is adopt a stress is helpful mindset accompanied by mindfulness.

A Stress Mindset?

Stress, the predictable part of life in this constantly changing world, can be harnessed to help you perform at your peak. Adopting the mindset that stress is helpful (not harmful) can build your resilience, and help you cope in healthier ways. In her book, The Upside of Stress, Dr. Kelly McGonigal shares evidence from the new Science of Stress that just holding this belief can change your relationship to stress and the outcomes. Ever hear of the Self-fulfilling prophecy, or placebo effect? There’s a similar thing going on here with mindset. Our beliefs shape our attitude, thoughts and then behaviors. And we tend to find what we are looking for, and act in accordance with our beliefs.

Now you may ask, “Why have a relationship with stress?” Because stress is a natural part of life, and the aspect that we have more control over than the stress itself is our response to it. Science shows stress can lead to many reactions besides the traditional fight and flight. Are you aware that we have access to the “challenge” and “tend and befriend” response that are also innate within us, which support health? By perceiving the “stress is helpful” mindset, we can identify what can be learned, look for the good in stress (perhaps a silver lining), and stop the auto-pilot of fight or flight response. By applying mindfulness we can pause, begin to see clearer, and intentionally choose our responses.

Applying Mindfulness to Stress

Jon Kabat-Zinn, grandfather of bringing mindfulness to the western world, and Founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Clinic and Program, as well as The Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts, shows how mindfulness (the ability to intentionally focus awareness on present moment experiences with non-judgmental and accepting attitudes) can support us living more engaged lives. Mindfulness allows us to perceive stress differently as we become aware of its effects on our minds and bodies. This awareness enables us to choose a response. In the MBSR course that I teach, we look at the circle of awareness as well as the stress reactivity cycle, and attend to where we may interrupt the conditioned fight or flight loop. One way to do this, as proposed by Elisha Goldstein and Bob Stahl in The MBSR Workbook, is to STOP:

Stopping and pausing whatever you are doing.

Taking a few deeper than normal breaths, to bring you back to the present moment away from your to-do’s and “should have” lists. Breathing this way nourishes and reconnects your mind and body, physiologically resetting the auto-pilot reaction cycle.

Observing what is going on inside and outside. Noticing the overstuffed inbox and overbooked calendar. Observing your thoughts (“I’ve got a lot of work to do here, will I make the deadline?”), noticing what you are feeling—exhausted, anxious, disconnected, and attending to how it is showing up in the body; a headache, your heart racing, and or pressure in your neck, shoulders, or even chest. Observing means taking note and allowing what is here to be here, and not trying to push it away or ignore it. You can then bring to mind your intention asking, “Where can I pause the auto-pilot reaction, what are the possible responses, and or what do I need in this moment?”

Proceeding to do the next thing that supports filling that need; take a walk or brief nap, connect with others (like our children or friends for a hug, or engage with a pet), or rise to the challenge reducing distractions, and managing time, boundaries and expectations more realistically.

We can influence our own well-being greatly, and relating to stress differently is one answer. The first thing to do to increase your stress awareness is to try on this mindset: simply thinking about how stress can be helpful, and what can be learned?  And then STOP: bringing mindfulness to your moments, supporting healthy responses, and increasing your overall well-being.

Kelly McGonigal and Jon Kabat-Zinn go further to include additional steps, which I cover in the MBSR class I teach, and in the retreats I organize. Additionally, I include this kind of information in my coaching sessions… all in the name of well-being. Check out the rest of this site to gain more information, and you will see how YOU can go from STRESSED to BLESSED.

 


Take This Month to Focus on Your Heart!

View More: http://angieafmanphotography.pass.us/merryportraitsHello February, 2016! So good to greet you! I’ve never seen you before. I wonder what adventures we will have in store for us this month? Perhaps a little heart work—in many different directions. After all, February is National Heart Awareness Month (today is the Go Red for Women’s Day). It is this month that we are reminded to focus on our physical health and well-being, getting our blood pressure numbers checked and controlled for, and to understand the need for awareness around stroke and heart disease. These aspects are so important to wellness, as increasing this awareness can reduce suffering and influence the quality and longevity of our lives. It is so important to know your numbers, as well as the signs for disease, and put in place measures you can take to reduce your risks. What will YOU do today to improve the health of your heart? Besides measuring your blood pressure, you can also check your cholesterol levels, get some cardio workouts in to exercise the muscle (more walking and moving/less sitting), and perhaps give gratitude for and appreciate your heart.

For Health and Love

February is also the month to focus on the heart through another lens: that of love. With Valentine’s Day coming up, we are encouraged to express our love for those important relationships in our lives; be it romantic, platonic, familial, etc… So much emphasis is placed on this day as well, and for good reason: social connections are one of the biggest influencers on our well-being. If you want to increase your happiness… go connect with another in any way you can—in person, virtually, or asynchronously. The effects of social connection broaden and build our inner resources in all ways: physically, psychologically and emotionally. They also build our social relationships as well. So, whatever way you can connect with someone and express your love or appreciation, just do it! Perhaps send a Valentine’s Day card, or a gratitude letter, expressing thanks for all the ways a dear one has made your life a better place. Ring up an old friend or relative and reminisce about a past good memory, or better yet create a new memory that you can reflect back on in years to come.

For Calmness, Relaxation, Comfort and Sanity!

Now, if you cannot connect with a love one for some reason in any moment, you don’t have to just pass on the idea… you can connect in your mind through a meditation known as Loving-Kindness Meditation (LKM, also known as Metta). What is Loving-Kindness Meditation? It’s an opening of the heart, wishing good will and well-being for others and for ourselves. It’s an ancient meditation that uses the power of language, imagery, concentration, connection and caring. By practicing LKM, calmness and relaxation are achieved through concentration. LKM can also bring comfort and soothing, and a whole list of other benefits as reported on by Researcher Emma Seppala in her article, “18 Science-Based Reasons to Try Loving-Kindness Meditation Today!” Any way you slice it, practicing this type of meditation is good for your heart physically, psychologically, and emotionally too. It’s involves cultivating and sharing a positive emotion with others, and with yourself. What we know about positive emotion is that we need more of it in our daily lives. So, do your heart and relationships some good and try it yourself. Check out the Guided Loving-Kindness Meditation I offer in the Resources section of BeingMerry.com, under Mindfulness and Guided Meditations.

My Story of Practicing Loving-Kindness Meditation

I not only teach Loving-Kindness Meditation (LKM) in the Mindful Self-Compassion course, I also practice it daily. I started my LKM practice a few years ago, when I became acquainted with it through the work of Barbara Fredrickson, research and author of the book, Love 2.0.   I had the opportunity of taking a coaching course from Dr. Fredrickson, based on her books Love 2.0 and Positivity. It was then that I discovered how LKM can affect the heart—not just through learning about it cerebrally, but by applying it and marinating in it, experientially. I learned to offer wishes of good will to my children, my pet, and my then-husband. I learned that relationships change from practicing LKM, in that we begin to see the people to whom we are offering wishes of good will in a different light; one of humanity and compassion (and when you are dealing with teenagers—sometimes you question their humanity and compassion)!

One jewel that I walked away with from practicing, and specifically offering LKM to myself, is that I too deserve these wishes of good will and well-being. When I included myself in the LKM practice, my circle of compassion became complete, and I began to feel differently about myself. I not only became calmer and more understanding with others, I started to show more compassion to myself. This has been especially helpful during the stressful transitional times of my life that included raising children and teenagers, transitioning careers, and going through a divorce. LKM has allowed me to awaken a practice of self-compassion and how I relate to myself, while enhancing my relationships with others. There are so many wonderful meditations out there for us to apply to enhance our well-being, but LKM is one that touched me the most, in so many different ways and places—especially my heart.

Starting Your LKM Practice

When I practice LKM, I notice how it relaxes my heart and sets the tone for the day and how I will live my life. Here are some guidelines to think about as you begin your practice.

Identify Your Intention

I start LKM with an intention, which arises after asking: What do I want to get out of practicing LKM? Why is it important? Why am I doing it? Identifying why I am practicing, motivates me to stay with the practice. Examples of an intention could be to bring more presence and engagement to life, or to improve relationships with myself and/or others, or perhaps increasing positive emotion and decreasing rumination (see benefits of meditation). There are so many intentions one can have for meditating. It’s good to check in with yourself on this.

Identify To Whom You Will Send Loving-Kindness

Once you know what your intention is, it’s time to think of a dear one to whom you will send these wishes of well-being. Bring to mind their image. What words of goodwill might you want to offer them? What might they need to hear that would resonate with them? I offer different phrases for my kids as they have unique personalities and specific needs.

Identify Phrases to Use

The traditional Loving-Kindness Meditation phrases of good will are:

  • May you be safe ,
  • May you be healthy,
  • May you be happy, and
  • May you live with ease.

You can use these phrases or identify others that resonate with your dear ones and yourself. With self-compassion, when finding phrases for ourselves, we ask, “What do I need to be happy?” And listen to the answers that arise: perhaps meaningful work, healthy children, a healthy body and life, love, friendship, etc…. There’s a great resource online from the Center for Nonviolent Communication that can be helpful to bring awareness to needs- a Needs Inventory where needs are listed and categorized.

Adopt an Accepting Attitude

There are so many ways you can offer Loving-Kindness to others. You may offer these phrases to your loved one, to many loved ones, to a neutral party, to a difficult party and to yourself. It’s important to note, to bring to mind the image of whomever you are offering these phrases, and to keep your heart open.

As you sit between breaths, notice what may be arising in you (sensations, thoughts, emotions). It could be a sense of warmth, or heat. Perhaps an openness or expansion. Or perhaps not. It may take a while to notice these feelings, and it’s important to remember that this is a practice to cultivate those feelings, which may take time. Just be curious as to what arises, and lean into that, holding it in awareness and accepting what arises.

Release

End your meditation knowing that you just did something wonderful for your whole body, mind and spirit, and for the body, mind and spirit of another as well. Try practicing on your own 5-10 minutes a day. Increase that practice to about 20-30 minutes if you can, gradually. Or choose a guided meditation—again look at my “resources” section. Or take time during your day and send those phrases out to whoever needs it in the world—perhaps using Social Media to begin to circulate good will and well-being. However you do it, practicing Loving-Kindness Meditation is something that you can do for yourself, for others and for the global community, to make this a more compassionate world. Be the change you want to see in the world… starting with you!

 


Goodbye 2015! Thanks for the Memories!

Keeping Time

With less than 24 hours away from a new year, it FINALLY might be the right time to think about what is coming next in our lives. And before you launch into goal setting, intention creating and vision boarding for what you want to manifest in 2016, have you taken the time to say goodbye to the current year, 2015, and all the gifts she has presented along the way? Our 24/7 culture glorifies the busy-ness of life, telling us to forge a head and fill our calendars with goals to accomplish, appointments to make, feats to overcome, all the while transforming ourselves and our world, for the better every day. How many of us live day to day, week to week, month to month checking things off from our to-do lists or bucket lists and not looking back? When is there ever enough time to look back?

Over this past year, you may have found yourself asking, “Where did that week or month go?” I used to ask myself this question too many times in the past. For many years, I lived my life that way; finishing one project and jumping into the next (or more realistically, multi-tasking all the while—working on too many projects simultaneously while my plate was too full). Sometimes, we give ourselves permission to “reflect” a bit; recap what worked, what didn’t and what we will do differently next time. Many people do this in their professional lives, but how many of us do this in our PERSONAL lives? How many of us would benefit from doing this in our personal lives? You may have heard the quote by Henry Cooke, “Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans.” This year, I challenge you to take some time BEFORE the New Year arrives, before making other plans, to respectfully look back over this past year of your life and give some “Thanks” for the days you have lived.

Looking back and giving thanks not only honors the experiences you lived this year, it also brings perspective. In doing so, perhaps you may recognize those significant life “dots”—you know, the questionable events that happen where you are not sure of their significance at the time, or moments where you may have had difficulty making a decision at a fork in the road but decided to follow your gut and landed in a new place. Or maybe there are experiences to look back on where you may not understand why you had to go through a horrible or trying situation, and then in retrospect, when you look back, you understand the importance. These life events or dots help us identify where we’ve been, where we’ve landed, and may give us confidence and a sense of direction as to where we are going.

In the commencement speech he gave to Stanford University Graduates in 2005, Steve Jobs noted:

“…You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”

Steve was referring to the challenging times in his life and turning points, such as dropping out of college, being fired from Apple, and being diagnosed with cancer. His underlying message was that if those things, which were unfortunate and devastating at the time, did not happen, he would have taken a different path and not ended up where he did—leading Apple once again, and launching a variety of new industries (personal computing, desk top publishing, movie animation, digital music, cell phone and mobile apps to name many industries he influenced). The world would definitely be different than how we know it now.

Lastly, Jobs noted how the dots connect, and that though we may not see how they connect at the time, and understand their importance, we need to trust in ourselves (“your gut, destiny, life, karma…”) that they will connect and that they will lead us to exactly where we need to be. Going back to connect the dots can bring us a sense of connection with our own time line, and aid us in going forward with more confidence.

Try this exercise: before ringing in 2016, look back over 2015 month by month. If you kept a gratitude journal or even a regular reflection journal, now would be the time to revisit and reread what you wrote from an earlier time in the year. If you are not the journaling type, no problem. In that case, mentally reflect what stood out to you in your life month by month. What experiences, both good and bad, stretched you in a new direction, lead you to a different place than you envisioned, or caused you to reevaluate your life? Acknowledge the events and give gratitude to them all—even the bad. Think of the unfortunate events with a reframed mind—as Steve Jobs did, as silver linings— finding some redeeming aspect of the event enabling you to learn something about yourself and/or others. You can chose to grow post traumatically in these situations by doing some internal work—reflection helps tremendously with that growth.

By saying “thank you” to all the experiences in our past year, we can feel good about where we are, and more confident in where we will go. I will be spending my day revisiting this year, thanking her for the opportunity to live those days. I will shed a tear here or there, I am sure. But I will also smile. And with each tear and smile I mindfully acknowledge, I will give thanks for being able to feel those emotions too. After I say good bye to this year, I will greet the New Year with strengthened inner resources I need to live my tomorrows. May your 2015 bring you the strength you need to greet 2016 with a smile, and may know you have what it takes to make this New Year exactly what you need it to be!