Mindfulness Meditation 101

Forget your keys or your cell phone? Misplaced your wallet or your purse? Say something obnoxious or rude and then wonder how that ever came out of your mouth? No, it’s not Alzheimer’s setting in. It’s not a senior moment. You can relax and stop worrying about either of these. Most likely, you, like many in this fast-paced culture, are suffering from – mindlessness.

What is mindlessness?

Mindlessness is when our thoughts run amuck, kind of like monkeys in a cage. They jump from here to there willy nilly. I know my mind is constantly processing. I’ve often been told “You think too much” and maybe so having worked in an analytical career for over 30 years. My job was all about problem solving and finding links and root causes. Plus the added pressure of being a single mom and having to manage everything myself, my mind was on overdrive for years.

Most of the time we operate out of routine and schedules like we are on auto-pilot. We are so used to moving fast in an endless struggle to accomplish more and more, we plan our days to the max, and then as our head hits the pillow at night we often wonder where did the day go? Did I enjoy it? Was I really present? Did I make choices that are in line with my values? Was I kind? If the answer to these questions is no, today I am going to share a technique to help us all with this unproductive and often stress-filled way of living.

It’s called mindfulness meditation. Now for those who may be new to this technique, there are many different kinds of meditation. This post is going to focus on what is called mindfulness meditation. In other words, we will be discussing a method on how to train our minds to be more attentive to the present moment. It is a skill that will serve us well in many areas of our lives and you can learn it right in the comfort of your home. You don’t need any special tools or equipment. All you need to start is 15 minutes a day by yourself. That’s it. You can carve out 15 minutes a day to live a life more fully engaged, right?

But first, let’s address the common concern many people have about meditation. It seems meditation has gotten a bad rap, especially among Christians, who balk at the very idea. Some disdain or dismiss it, thinking it is ungodly or against their religious beliefs. I would like to put your fears at rest. There are many verses of Scripture that encourage us to manage our thought life. One of them is 2 Cor 10:5 which exhorts us to “Take every thought captive”. Colossians 3:2 says “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things,”. The Apostle Paul knew the value of managing our thoughts and not allowing them to manage us. We are also encouraged to “Be still and know that I am God”. When we manage to sit ourselves down and clear our minds for a few minutes, we release stress and tension and we are able to sift through the cacophony of inner voices that chatter to us during the course of the day. Calming the mind is not the only benefit of meditation.

Here are some additional benefits you may be interested in:
– Lowers oxygen consumption.
– Decreases respiratory rate.
– Increases blood flow and slows the heart rate.
– Increases exercise tolerance in heart patients.
– Promotes a deeper level of relaxation.
– Reduces blood pressure
– Reduces anxiety attacks by lowering the levels of blood lactate.
– Decreases muscle tension (any pain due to tension) and headaches.
– Enhances the immune system. Research has revealed that meditation increases activity of ‘natural-killer cells’, which kill bacteria and cancer cells.

There are tons of books and now websites that offer to teach us how to meditate. Some of them can be unnecessarily complicated and confusing. Websites usually involve a fee at some point. Today I am going to share an introduction and some simple steps to begin your meditation practice.

Yes, meditation is a practice. It is a spiritual discipline just like reading your favorite sacred text or praying daily. Think of it as sending your mind to the gym. Just as we train our physical bodies to perform at their optimum level, so our minds need to be trained to perform well. We are constantly barraged by external sensory input: cell phones, noises, traffic, music, texting and talking. No wonder we have trouble hearing from God with so much input coming at us all the time. Just like defragging the memory on our laptops, it is important to clear out the mental clutter and basically do a reboot on our minds.

So here are some simple steps to help you get started.

1. Find a time of day or night, preferably both, where you can get quiet for 10 – 30 minutes. Make sure the cell phones are off and tell the family you are taking a quiet time break. Encourage them to take one as well.

2. Make sure your clothing is loose and comfortable and the room temperature is appropriate. We want to eliminate anything that could distract us from our task.

3. Sit in a comfortable position either in a chair or on the carpet. Use a cushion, pillow, or a folded blanket if you like more support. Make sure you sit up straight with an erect spine. I like to sit in half-lotus which is cross legs with one foot on top of the other knee.

4. Close your eyes and rest your hands either in your lap or on your knees palms up.

5. Begin to focus on your breathing. Start breathing through your lower belly rather than your chest. As you settle, your breathing will get slower and fuller. You may put one hand on your belly to make sure it is rising and falling with each breath until you get the hang of deep breathing.

6. Scan your body and relax and release any tension or tightness in your muscles. Relax your shoulders, your face, your hips, etc.

7. Once you have completed the body scan, continue to focus on your breath. The breath becomes a focal point of your practice. Observe the air coming in and out through your nostrils. Observe the length of your breaths. Keep your mind focused on your breathing. You will notice many thoughts come into your mind. This is natural at first. Notice the thoughts and let them float by like clouds. As your breathing slows down, so will your thoughts. Continue to bring your attention back to your breath each time it wanders.

8. Resist the urge to keep checking the clock. If you’d like, set an alarm. The longer you can sit the more relaxed and focused you will become. You will feel refreshed, relaxed, and energized to go about the rest of your day. Meditation is also a great practice to do at night before bedtime. It quiets the mind and prepares it for a restful night’s sleep.

As you can see, beginning a meditation practice is not all that difficult. The benefits you will receive are well worth the time you put into it. Like anything else, implementing a regular meditation time means decluttering your life to make room for what is truly valuable and useful. Turn the television off sooner and use that time to meditate.

Hope you enjoyed this post. Love to hear if you try my tips and how they work for you. Until next time, keep looking up!

Ariel

Simple Tips for Becoming a Stronger You

Spring is here and pool season is right around the corner. I know I can’t wait. It’s been a long winter, hasn’t it? Have you been exercising this winter? What about weight training? When we make the time to strengthen and develop our physical muscles, they have more tone, definition and strength. Our body is then equipped to do all the things we want and need it to do throughout our lifetime.

This week’s post is about exercise and no, it is not a dirty word, so let’s do away with any negative thinking or excuses right now, ok? Exercise is not a chore we have to endure. There’s a woman at the gym who is wheelchair-bound and I have been watching and encouraging her as she makes the effort to move her body. She is making slow but steady progress. The other day I saw her climb onto the stationary bike. Imagine what it would be like to be in a wheelchair.

Exercise is a blessing and also a lifestyle. Exercise is a part of my life and has been for many years. There have been seasons when I have been injured and out of commission, so I know what it feels like to be immobile. It’s not fun. Fun is being able to move, dance, and regular, consistent exercise helps us do just that. It helps us feel more alive.

It is important to make regular exercise a priority. I know you’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating, especially with the rate of obesity and cardiovascular disease on the rise all over the world. Did you know Mexico has surpassed the United States in terms of numbers of obese people – 32.8%. The United States now ranks #2 and that is not something to be proud of.

There are many ways to strengthen our muscles and get our bodies moving. Now that the weather is warming up, I love to get outdoors as much as I can. My grown sons still love to play soccer and basketball. I taught them to play tennis and took them to soccer and baseball practice. They saw me exercising in the basement to my videos. When I was raising my kids, I used to get up at 5:30 am and go for a run around the nearby college campus before the sun came up. Running is a great way to get a quick cardio workout in and all you really need is a good pair of running shoes. I’d sign up for 5 and 10k races and collect donations for charities. Then there is biking, working out at a gym, taking a fun group exercise class like Zumba, playing several sets of tennis, swimming, the list goes on and on. Let’s not forget yoga and pilates – two great ways to tone, stretch, and strengthen our core and connect with our bodies. Two fantastic low impact weight-bearing exercises that can really train the heart muscle as well as strengthen the bones are fitness walking and hiking. Both are easy and free.

While I’m on the subject of strengthening our muscles, let’s not forget our spiritual muscle. Did you know you have a spiritual muscle? Yes, indeed, and it’s called faith. Think about this. We all have faith in something to some degree. We have faith that the sun will rise every morning even if we don’t see it. We have faith that the chair we’re sitting in will hold us. We use faith every day but there are times when we need it in extra doses. In the same way we lift more weight at the gym, or run longer distances, there are circumstances in our lives that put more demands on our spiritual muscle. If we haven’t made the effort to develop our faith, we won’t be able to endure the inevitable trials that are destined to come our way.

So how do we develop our faith muscle? By exercising it, of course! Faith needs to be used in order to grow stronger. Every trial we go through is an opportunity to develop and strengthen our faith. Just as we strengthen different muscle groups with different types of exercise, different situations in life cause us to develop our faith in different areas.

Here is a short video I put together about this entitled “How to Transform Your Life”. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What do you think of the idea of having a spiritual muscle? Does yours need to be exercised more? What concrete things can you do to strengthen it? If you’re not sure, stay tuned and I’ll be sharing simple yet concrete and practical steps you can use to develop your faith. If you want to be stronger and stay calmer through the ups and downs of life, now is the time to start strengthening your faith.

Love to hear from you. Until the next time, keep the faith and keep looking up!

Ariel

How to Confront 101

Your boyfriend, spouse, significant other, good friend or loved one said or did something that hurt your feelings, let you down, or angered you in some way. Or perhaps you have had a misunderstanding or difference of opinion and you sense something is not quite right between the two of you. What do you do?
a) say nothing and secretly simmer
b) blast the person right then and there
c) if married, tell your spouse you have a headache that night or use some other passive-aggressive approach such as not returning phone calls or declining invites
d) end the relationship
e) wait for your emotions to simmer down, think through what you want to communicate, and then bring up the subject as soon as possible

The best answer, of course, is e which is known as healthy confrontation. This post is a crash course which will 1) give you a healthier attitude towards confrontation, 2) teach you some basic skills and 3) encourage you to deal with small issues before they become major problems which could cause you to lose a good friendship or relationship.

Confrontation has gotten a bad rap. I often hear people say “I try to avoid confrontation,” like it is the flu or something. I don’t think they realize confrontation is a healthy behavior, designed to preserve a relationship. The term “confront” means “face to face”. In other words, to be direct with the other person. Why then are so many people hesitant about confronting an issue?

The reason, I think, is two-fold: a) they are afraid of bringing up a touchy subject and b) they lack the skills to be able to handle conflict.  Here is a personal story.

The other day in the gym, I ran into a neighbor. This neighbor and I had made plans to get together twice this year and both times she has cancelled at the last minute with little explanation. Now I know things come up, and if someone has a legitimate reason, I am very understanding. However, after two occurrences, I felt it was time to say something. My neighbor had no recollection whatsoever of having previously cancelled, tried to justify herself and got defensive 😦 This was not what I had hoped for, but when we confront someone for the first time, we don’t know how the other party will react. I was hoping for a response along the lines of “I’m so sorry I had to cancel again. I know it was disappointing to you. I hope you can forgive me.” Now that would be taking responsibility and letting the other person know you care about their feelings.

Contrary to popular belief,  the goal of confrontation is to preserve relationships. When we make the effort to address issues, we allow the opportunity for the air to be cleared, for changes and amends to be made and for the relationship to grow. It is a win-win for both parties. Unfortunately, many people lack the skills to address confrontation and avoid it altogether.  The consequences are ugly and we end up losing a friendship that could have been preserved by a straight-forward and honest tete-a-tete.

What happens when we do not deal with issues? Hard feelings eventually build up and we tend to explode over some other minor infraction because we have not dealt with the real issue.  I have seen numerous 30-yr plus marriages and long-time friendships disintegrate because issues were allowed to build up over the years. Then one day, the deeply offended party decides to suddenly end the relationship leaving other party is stunned and clueless. You’ve heard of situations like this, right? So sad.

You have probably heard the adage “Do not let the sun go down on your anger,” and this is wise advice. When we harbor negative feelings we only harm ourselves. Chances are we will not have a good night’s sleep. Many couples stay up all night trying to resolve an issue. My experience is this: issues cannot always be resolved right away. If more than an hour has gone by, it is time to give the subject a rest and come back to it another time. Obviously, you are at an impass and it is time to take a break.                                                                          

Some tips to keep in mind when dealing with sensitive issues:

1. wait till the hurt of the injury has subsided before attempting to address the problem
2. address issues in a timely manner, before you explode, over-react or decide to end the relationship
3. do not allow too much time to go by or the other person may forget what happened
4. avoid sweeping problems “under the rug”
5. gently speak to the other person at a time when you are both relaxed, face to face if at all possible. Consider the amount of stress you both may be under.

In order to have a good outcome, both parties must be mature enough and have the desire to want to work through the problem in order to restore the peace and the relationship. My experience is after I work through a situation with someone, I am closer to that person. I appreciate their willingness to work through it together and that makes the relationship even more precious.

Which do you think is better: to continue to overlook things and store up hostility and then explode or to openly voice your feelings in a timely manner and get the matter out in the open? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this subject so please comment.

Here’s to healthier and happier relationships and until next time, keep looking up!