Most of the time our attention is lost in thought. So today, with the freezing rain, thunder and lightening, and high winds -- my mind whispers "climate change"! I can hardly blame my brain which has evolved to survive and is constantly scanning the environment for threats. This is how our ancestors survived . So our brains are "Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for the positive ones". As a result, our "tilt" towards this negativity bias makes us stressed out, unhappy and can adversely impact our health. But there is a way to build a more resilient outlook in the face of life's challenges. Yes, Polyanna, focus on the positive. In fact, the simple practice of placing attention on the good things that happen throughout throughout the day and staying with those positive experiences for at least 30 seconds each time will change your brain to see things more positively. Literally. As Thich Nhat Hanh says “What is most important is not to allow your anxiety about what happens in the world fill your heart. If your heart is filled with anxiety, you will get sick, and you will not be able to help.” So, I'm going to stop writing now and sit down and enjoy a warm cup of tea on this grey, wintery day -- and feel good about it. Ready to deal with whatever is ahead with clarity and an open heart. I got this. So do you.
Since practicing mindfulness I've started to paint. This is my first attempt at painting outdoors. I completed it in the studio. I struggled a lot with this painting and when I finished I felt disappointed with it and "put it away". After a wonderful loving-kindness meditation tonight I pulled it out and looked at it less critically. I like the shadows on the barn and reflection in the pond. The lens through which we choose to see the world is so powerful. Tonight I choose to see it with love and self-acceptance and it feels great!
Mindfulness strengthens our ability to choose where we direct our attention. This can be really helpful when writing an exam, cooking a meal, or listening to a friend. Often, we use the breath as the object of our attention because it is always happening in the present moment and is available 24-7. I have a mind that is easily distracted and when I started to practice breath meditations I noticed that my mind slipped away on a thought after as little as one or two breaths. Upon closer investigation, I noticed that if was in the pauses between the breaths where my mind left the present moment. So here’s a simple way to stay with the breath!
Many of us have heard about the benefits of meditation. You may have even tried it, but found it hard, and gave up – saying “this isn’t for me”.
Wait! Did you know the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program offers many different types of meditations including breath meditations, walking meditations, visualization meditations, open focus meditations and many more. You just have to find the meditations that resonate for you.
An easy one to start with and works well for me is the loving kindness meditation.
If you find yourself becoming critical of yourself or others when stressed you may also find the loving kindness meditation helpful.
I’ve attached a link on my website to a guided 10 minute loving kindness meditation:
https://www.yoga-therapy.ca/audio-of-meditation/ (scroll down to the bottom of the page for the loving kindness meditation)
The important thing to remember is that if you try this, you may be following the guided meditation but can’t experience any feelings of kindness, warmth and compassion! Even though it might feel dry and mechanical, this is where you just need to do it – daily. And trust the process. Sharon Salzberg, a well-known meditation teacher says: “Our job is to just say the phrases, knowing what they mean, but without trying to fabricate a feeling.” Below the level of our awareness, the brain is hardwired to learn to love better. Let it happen. It will happen. It happened to me.
So now I’m motivated to do this practice regularly because it has helped me become kinder and more loving to myself and others. And isn’t that what a meaningful life is ultimately about? For more info on the upcoming program in October at Perth Physio:
I recently came across this short 3 minute animated short on You Tube. It is a good summary of the mindfulness approach taught in the MBSR program. Students learn to become more accepting of themselves and others as well as more responsive to the stresses encountered in daily life (like being cut off in traffic!).
For more information on the upcoming MBSR program at Perth Physio here's the link:
Many studies over the past decade have shown that people who regularly practice gratitude tend to be happier and less depressed. And it’s so easy to do! For the past few years, my husband and I have made it a habit to pause before we begin eating a meal and reflect on one thing we are grateful for in that moment. The trick is to remember to do it. You’ll be glad you did. Among many other benefits, our digestion has improved since we started this practice. Now we wouldn’t miss it.
For more information on the next mindfulness course at Perth Physio check out : www.yoga-therapy.ca/mbsr/
It seems like the word mindfulness is everywhere you look. If you type ‘mindfulness’ into Google Search, up pops 157,000,000 hits. We all have a vague sense that if we learned how to be mindful it would make our lives better somehow.
But what is mindfulness? It means paying attention to what is happening in your life NOW - not in the past or the future, but in the here and now. Mindfulness begins when we recognize the tendency to be ‘lost in our thoughts’ and make a commitment to be fully present for our lives. We do this through a moment-to-moment awareness of bodily sensations, thoughts and emotions with a friendly, non-judging attitude.
But what really got me to commit to the practice of mindfulness was its touted effectiveness in reducing stress. I was going through a rough patch a couple of years ago and felt it couldn’t hurt to give it a try. I am so grateful I did. Here’s 4 reasons why it worked for me. Maybe some of them may resonate for you too.
1. This Life Is Precious – We Can’t Waste It
In the space of three short years I lost my mother to dementia, my brother to lung cancer and a friend to pancreatic cancer. The reality hit home that tomorrow isn’t a guarantee and we need to make the most of today. Yet, despite my best intentions, I realized I was still missing so much in my life, mindlessly showering, eating, driving, working, and even interacting with others. Mindfulness has helped me to practice being fully engaged with life – even the difficult parts.
2. Accepting My Monkey Mind
Ever since I was a kid, I have been pre-disposed to anxiety. To keep that anxiety in check my brain is constantly trying to solve a problem or improve a situation through creative ideas and solutions. I thought my ‘monkey mind’ was a problem until my mindfulness practice helped me see that ‘the mind has a mind of its own’. Our brain has between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts per day! Now when my mind wanders away I notice where it’s gone and then return to the anchor of my breathing – over and over! Practicing this patiently and with a light touch helps calm and ground me.
3. Life Doesn’t Have To Be Perfect To Be Okay
Mindfulness helps me to notice how my mind likes to judge both myself and others. When I want more of what she has or less of what he has, I notice the sensation of my heart constricting. Practicing open-hearted acceptance of life as it is in this moment isn’t easy, but it is at the heart of the ‘being mode’.
4. Feeling Connected
Mindfulness has helped me become aware of how my social interactions account for the majority of my stressors. Mindful listening has helped me to continually tune into my own body sensations and thoughts during communication as I learn to listen deeply and really connect and receive the message of the other person. You don’t necessarily have to agree with the other’s point of view but it is important to acknowledge it. When both sides in a relationship feel truly heard then extraordinary new possibilities emerge.
This past year, I have made life changes I didn’t have the courage to make before. Life isn’t perfect, but I am happier than I’ve ever been. And every day I practice mindfulness meditation– not because I have to, but because I want to.
Mindfulness is a game-changer, no doubt about it.
For more information on the next Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction 8 week program:
This blog has been a long time coming and now it's time to start to post. It dovetails with the fact that I am leaving the Yoga Connection in Perth, Ontario, a yoga studio I co-founded in 2000. I will still teach there but I'm no longer part of running the business.