4 Ways To Build Optimism

Lake Erie, January

1. Moving the body.
When you feel “stuck”, then it’s time to embody something different. By this, I mean things like taking a walk, simply standing up, or lifting your arms overhead to stretch. We are built to move, and our bodies need to remain fluid and flexible. Consider small, very small steps to take in this direction and notice the impact on your emotions, outlook. What seems doable, enjoyable, in this moment?
2. Meditation. What if you trusted yourself to know how to do this? It takes practice, yes, and yields great benefits. Even for 5 minutes, consider sitting down and noticing your breath in and out. Or take a walk, and notice your surroundings. Centering prayer, mindfulness, or other traditions provide ways to focus attention, quiet the mind, and cultivate new choices. Ann Cushman says in Moving into Meditation, “But a mindfulness practice is not primarily about getting somewhere else. It’s about opening to where you actually are–to what’s true for your real body, your real life. It’s about entering into the realm of your senses: hearing the rain on the roof and the swish of car tires in the puddles, smelling the soured milk and lemon peel in the garbage disposal.”
3. Go outside. Even if you venture outdoors for 5 minutes to clear your head, you have opened a window of possibility. If it’s raining, why not put on a raincoat, or take an umbrella?
4. Write down your experience. Take 5 minutes and write down what you are experiencing in the moment. Allow yourself to write freely, without concern about punctuation, grammar. Write for your own eyes. Then, if you like, tear it up or keep it. Your choice! Sometimes using the written word to gain clarity is remarkable.

Coming to the Senses

digital roots

The human body receives constant sensory input that provides up to the second information about the world around us. This is great news! And thankfully, we are created to modulate these responses. So, how can we use this amazing instrument, the human body, and play healthier music within? Intentionally noticing the five hard-wired senses gives us opportunities to do just this.

Whether or not you believe in behavioral resolutions this time of year, bringing awareness into our lives is a powerful practice. Why? Because when we go through the motions of the day without noticing how we feel physically or emotionally, stress, body pain, and inflammation occur. Instead, when we tune in and witness what our sensations and reactions are, we can use this information to calm, center, and choose a different response. 

Use this simple exercise to practice sensory self-care. Please be patient and compassionate with yourself. Noticing the world around you, your reactions, is a process of change by itself. It takes practice, for all of us, every day, moment by moment. 

What sight, sound, touch, smell or taste reminds you of relaxation, comfort, joy… or any other positive emotion or experience that’s linked to your health?

Take a few moments to be still and visualize easy, accessible things you can do to bring pleasant awareness to the senses. Is it listening to a favorite song on the way to work? Enjoying a cup of tea with a friend? Using essential oils? Feeling the feet on the ground as you sit at your desk? Wiggling the toes? Looking up from the laptop and allowing eyes to rest? Taking time to really taste food while chewing? Taking a deep breath? Hugging someone you care about, love? (Remember, to get a hug you’ve got to give one).

Be as specific as you can and write down three things that bring you relaxation for each sense. Before you begin, take a few deep breaths. As you hold your pen, or write on your laptop, drop shoulders away from ears. You may want to write about or focus on one sense each week, or each day. Do what “makes sense” to you!

 Sight

1.

2.

3.

Sound

1.

2.

3.

Touch

1.

2.

3.

Smell

1.

2.

3.

Taste

1.

2.

3.

After you complete the exercise, even if you haven’t actually done any of these things yet, check in with yourself and notice your mood. What do you notice? How’s your body feel, compared to when you began this writing or visualization exercise?

Incorporate with any meditation practice and en-joy coming to your senses.

Finding Your Frog

adapting
adapting

Yesterday in yoga class our teacher taught us how to practice frog pose. The class theme was around water, so it felt like a natural fit! Frogs are remarkable, really, because they are adaptable, jump exceedingly long distances, swim easily, sing at the top of their lungs, in perfect rhythm with each other. And like this loud guy in the photo I found on our drain pipe, they live in exquisite verdant green skins. Last, but not least, frogs know how to breathe.

Frogs also assume a facial expression of content, and are often depicted as smiling. What can we learn from frogs? Flexibility? Strength? Optimism? Pausing? If we practiced more of these things, would we feel happier?

Here’s a humorous, research driven perspective on happiness and success, from Shawn Anchor.

Awareness, from a visual seescape

woman in the scarf
surprise in a fan

After receiving acupuncture recently, I sat up on the table and took time to admire the vintage silk scarf my practitioner had lovingly placed on my knees and legs to keep me warm while I rested during treatment.

This curly-haired woman drawn within the fan image peered out from the scarf–hair not unlike mine, or my acupuncturist. After considering several messages of meaning, one of many that brought gratitude was the choice to notice the scarf on my legs! I’m endeavoring more to notice what’s present, as a part of an awareness practice, which brings centering, a brief pause, and whatever teachings become present. What fullness a simple observation of the visual field can bring. The noticing itself provides the meditation.

We often take for granted the beauty in such simplicity of our environments, and those around us. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking, particularly about the future and be swept away by agendas and plans. Every season of the year, of life brings newness, a fresh perspective. Even things and people we see every day can be noticed and appreciated…if we take a moment. Just a moment.

Savoring

CLEAR SKIES, GOOD BREATH

 

During a yoga class recently, I drank in two ways our teacher encouraged us to use our breath. One was “allow your shoulders to rest on the breath”. Wow! I love that, mostly because a lot of us carry tension in our shoulders. During coaching sessions, I ask clients how they’d like to begin. If they’d like to begin with some form of relaxation exercise, such as imagery or mindfulness, or any simple breath awareness, I usually include an invitation to drop the shoulders away from the ears. That’s one of the first things I learned in yoga 16 years ago.

The second prompt our teacher, Kat gave us was to imagine our breath expanding our ribs and diaphragm out from the sides of our body. I liked that as well because it helps me visualize the breath and make it 3D.

When you see a body of water this season, stop and breathe. Water is a fundamental element of life; it’s a wonder in itself.

Here’s a video link to water lapping on the Cheasapeake SAVORING

Mindful Opportunities

Wavescape
Wavescape

Today an opportunity presented itself. I took advantage of lovely sounds in my dentist’s office, while waiting for the biannual scrub. Truly lovely sounds. A flatscreen monitor placed in the corner of the waiting area displayed waves lapping on the shore of Hawaiian Islands. Instead of hearing broadcast news in a healthcare provider’s office, I listened to ocean waves at what seemed like nature’s perfect cadence. As I sat on the comfortable couch, with my back supported and feet flat on the floor, I began by watching the waves on the beach. Then, closed my eyes and simply drank in the auditory landscape. I knew there was a gentleman sitting nearby reading a magazine, and I could occasionally hear the staff quietly talking. I thought about looking at my smartphone and checking e-mail, and although that would’ve been perfectly OK, now I have the gift of a beautiful image that keeps bubbling up in my awareness today.

In her book, The Willpower Instinct, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal  states “Neuroscientists have discovered that when you ask the brain to meditate, it gets better not just at meditating, but at a wide range of self-control skills, including attention, focus, stress management, impulse control, and self-awareness.”

Where are opportunities, even for 1-2 minutes during your day, where you can listen, or “watch” your breath, or observe the world without striving to accomplish anything, except for the gift of self-care?

Loving Kindness

Sun
Sun

 

Are you wondering about how to practice Loving Kindness Meditation? Here’s a straightforward one from University of New Hampshire Health Services. This particular script is applicable to most…you’ll see.

Loving Kindness practice may help you boost your overall health, including decreasing inflammation and increasing positive emotions. Here’s an article from the HuffPost Health Living.

Since relationships cause us  great distress and great joy, why not try this?

Loving Kindness Meditation for College Students

The Regulatory Body

Vertebral
– Vertebral

 

What if you could learn ways to place a governor switch on your sympathetic nervous system, therefore awakening the more latent yet powerful parasympathetic system? Developing the skill of relaxing the body and mind is akin to conducting a defrag on your computer hard drive. It’s simply a way to decrease the ever-present clutter of the mind and soften the edges a bit. This build up of daily life as human beings prevents us from thinking clearly, making better decisions, and being more aware of the car ahead. Whether referring to the calming process as “relaxation techniques” or “meditation”,  science remains solid on how quieting the central nervous system can lead to better health. Quieting the mind has been around for thousands of years throughout religious and spiritual traditions. I encourage you to do your own research, and consider what matters to you. What health outcomes are of interest to you?

On PubMed,  several thousand articles exist on meditation, the relaxation response, and mindfulness alone.

If you’d like to start, consider beginning with the breath. It’s quick and effective to notice  your breathing. If you’re working on your laptop, walking the dog, sitting in your car at a stoplight, take a breath. Sit at your kitchen table, at your desk at work.  Take a full breath. If you like, take another one.

Some more techniques to try on, which can be practiced independently from each other.

Breathe in for counts of 4, exhale for 4. Do less if this is difficult. Take it easy.

See if you can stop at the top of the inhale, then exhale.

Notice all parts of the breath; the chest, diaphragm, and belly.

Drop the shoulders away from the ears.

Imagine the breath as a  soothing color.

Consider taking a full breath every time before you do something, like answer the phone, put your keys in the front door. Take a breath when you’re in a long line.

Consider the breath with compassion. Refrain from judging. You’re doing a great job.

Any time spent quieting the bodymind generates a healthier state. Don’t make it complicated or over commit. Simply start with the breath. That’s at the heart of the matter.

 

Heart Meditations

Earth Heart
Earth Heart

Repeating a favorite prayer, spiritual passage, poem or affirmation can bring calm and ease into the day. Perhaps there’s one in your memory bank, or one that you’d like to deposit.

Here’s one from the Christian tradition. Choose one that fits you. May your heart be open today to what is possible.

 

The Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

 

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

 

The above text is from Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, a helpful and rich resource for meditation practice.