Children + Mindfulness = Good Stuff

A quick post to share an article I saw this past week: Why Children Need Mindfulness Just As Much As Adults Do.

As you probably guessed based on the programs I offer for children, young folks can and DO benefit from mindfulness practice just as much as their grown ups do.

Carolyn Gregoire writes in this Huffington Post piece that research points to mindfulness helping children thrive in school, deal with cancer and other chronic pain, treat autism and ADHD, and even lead towards self-actualization.

As someone who regularly practices and teaches mindfulness, it is heartening to see research findings like this. :-)

Contact me today if you're curious about how mindfulness could help you and your family!   

Loving Fear

Roomies! Eeek!

Roomies! Eeek!

I get scared.

A lot.

Sure, the big black jumping spiders sharing our apartment with us freak me out; but the fear I’m talking about usually rears its head right before I’m going to do something I love—like teach meditation, go traveling, start a business, or write a blog. Usually the fear comes around when I’ve been following my heart’s call, and it tries to convince me not to do what my heart has pushed for.

For weeks ahead of a big heart-led event, like this Mindfulness Teacher Training I recently attended, my fear starts creeping in. Not yet even discernable as a thought, it envelops me like a fog—trying desperately to obscure my heart from me. Before I know it, I’m clinging to every detail of planning for the event. As if having some control over part of it will somehow make the free-floating-fear-fog dissipate. Instead, it usually gets worse the more I plan.

Closer to the event the worries start to bubble to the surface. What will I say? Will people like me? What if I’m late? What if it’s not the right thing for me and my heart has been full of bologna this whole time?!

Logical Leslie takes over, attempting to shut these fears down. You’ve done this sort of thing before. You won’t know the answers unless you do it. It’s as though I’m desperately hoping that if I can logic my way through it, the fears will leave and I’ll get to be the self-assured confident person I aspire to be.

Unfortunately planning and logic-ing the fears away doesn’t usually work for me. Instead, this tends to amplify my anxiety. Even when I meditate on my fear each day, sending myself love, it still feels like part of the fear keeps eluding me. And that elusive part grows so big when I’m not meditating that it feels like a terrifying shadow following me around, weighing heavily on my heart wherever I go.

Yeah. It’s pretty miserable.

As the actual event gets closer I somehow convince myself that I’m not THAT scared, and that whatever messages my heart sent me months ago when I signed up for this, well, that those messages are probably still worth following. A stoicism overtakes me. I’m tight—tight shouldered, tight stomached, tight lipped. As if locking myself inside of me will somehow protect me from myself and whatever imaginary Other my fear has created.

At times like these, all I can do is breathe—following each breath with faith that my heart still knows the way.

A few minutes before my first solo trip to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2010. Sure, I'm giving thumbs up, but I'm actually a nervous wreck in this picture!

A few minutes before my first solo trip to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2010. Sure, I'm giving thumbs up, but I'm actually a nervous wreck in this picture!

So two weeks ago when I finally went to this training after months of fear and anticipation building up, I had the rare opportunity to really be with my fear as I felt it. I suppose it only makes sense that at a Mindfulness Teacher Training we’d be practicing a lot of mindfulness—awareness of our present moment experience without judgment.

I learned two surprising things about myself and my fear through this practice. 1) I was holding onto a story that “I” wasn’t enough, and that my vulnerability would reveal this to everyone around me. 2) I saw that my fear was afraid! Afraid that I wouldn’t be afraid anymore!

The first realization was big, but it’s one I’ve been working to uncover and disprove my whole life. My heart knows I am enough. Usually I just have to do these “scary” things to regain my trust in myself and my heart’s desire. Being vulnerable in these situations isn’t something to hide, rather, it is an offering. Honoring and respecting my vulnerability was a huge gift for me. We are ALL vulnerable, and if we try to hide our vulnerability we sell ourselves short, missing the chance to empathize and offer each other love and compassion. Like a new flower, I’m most vulnerable as I grow, and like that new flower, I’m also beautiful in my vulnerability. Can I keep viewing my vulnerability as an offering? I hope so.

Opening to the sun, beautiful in their vulnerability. 

Opening to the sun, beautiful in their vulnerability. 

The second realization was a doozy for me. My fear is afraid. Whoa! If this is so, why do I keep pushing it away? That’s not how I would treat a scared child! So why am I treating my fear like that? Being scared, having fear, this doesn’t make me less of a person. The heart that guided me to whatever scary place I find myself in, that same heart has the capacity to hold my fear with love. When all of my efforts revolve around strangling or stifling my fear, it just grows out of control. But by holding my fear with nonjudgmental loving attention, by becoming intimately familiar with all of its facets, its sharp edges, its soft parts and tight parts, I was able to let it go with ease and grace.

Realizing that my fear was afraid, seeing its vulnerability, gave me the empathy to hold my fear with love. And in holding it with love, not stifling or strangling it, I could let it go.

Let's see if these realizations stick, or if I'll get to re-learn them the next time I'm afraid. :-)

Getting Out Of A Rut

Ever find yourself in a rut? Stressed out at work, too exhausted to cook dinner, anxious thoughts flitting through your head all evening to the point that they’re keeping you up at night, then not sleeping well and feeling unable to focus the next day? That’s pretty extreme. Maybe you’re just feeling kind of blah about stuff and aren’t sure why or how you got to feeling this way.

Photo Credit: Greg Crespo  Stuck in a rut, it's easy to miss the beauty surrounding us.

Photo Credit: Greg Crespo

Stuck in a rut, it's easy to miss the beauty surrounding us.

I just finished reading Mark Williams and Danny Penman’s book Mindfulness: An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World, and it had some helpful ideas for how to get out of the ruts in which we so often find ourselves stuck. In addition to advice on getting out of your rut, the book provided straightforward and easy to follow instructions on cultivating a mindfulness practice of your own. I found Williams and Penman’s perspective refreshing and realistic. While the book offers eight weeks of mindfulness meditations and contemplations, I will just focus on the “habit releasers” that they include with each week of practice.

As creatures of habit we have a tendency to get into habitual ways of thinking and acting, and in turn, glossing over some of our lives with conditioned ways of being. Think about it the next time you drive somewhere. How much do you actually have to concentrate on the act of driving? What else are you thinking about during that time?

Once we train our brains how to do something, the neurons fire along the same course in our heads, carving out a well-traveled path. In many cases these well-traveled neuro-pathways make our day-to-day living much easier. Imagine if you had to put a lot of thought into the act of putting your pants on each morning. Unfortunately though, we sometimes put ourselves on autopilot without really meaning to. Williams and Penman explain, “You can easily end up thinking, working, eating, walking or driving without clear awareness of what you are doing. The danger is that you miss much of your life this way."

It is possible to be more mindful or aware of what is going on moment-to-moment. While having a daily mindfulness practice will help hone your skills and ability to maintain moment-to-moment awareness, you don’t have to have an established practice to try shaking things up a bit with these habit releasers that Williams and Penman suggest in their book:

  • Sit in a different chair or move the position of the chair you typically sit in for your next work meeting or at the dinner table. What is the view like from this new perspective?
  • Go for a walk. Try to make it at least 15 minutes long. Even if you can’t get out in nature, see what nature you can find sneaking out of the world around you. What new things, people, or places did you discover? Pretend you are an explorer in uncharted territory.
  • Value your devices. Before plopping down in front of the T.V. or Ipad for a night of mindless entertainment, decide what show you really want to watch or what website you really want to visit that evening. Make a point to only turn on the T.V. or Ipad for the program or website you have picked out, and to turn it off once it’s over. At the end of the evening, make a note of how it went, what it felt like to only watch or read what you wanted to.
  • Go to the movies at a set time and choose whatever movie looks best to you at that time. Don’t go with the movie picked out ahead of time. Even if none of the movies really appeals to you, go to one of them anyway. Let yourself be consumed by the film you chose. Williams and Penman explain, “Often what makes us happiest in life is the unexpected—the chance encounter or the unpredicted event.”
  • Plant some seeds or take care of a plant. Studies have shown that just the act of caring for another living thing can improve one’s life. Enjoy watching the mystery of life unfold as you tend to your plant. Notice the smells, colors, and textures. Soak it all in.
  • Think of something that used to make you happy that you don’t do anymore. Maybe it’s riding bikes, flying a kite, drawing or cooking. Set some time aside this week and just go do it. Don’t wait until you feel like doing it—just do it and see what happens.
  • Do something for someone else. You could let someone else go ahead of you in line, or send a thoughtful note to a friend. It can be as small and as simple as smiling at your neighbor. Notice what it feels like to connect with a smiling heart.

I dare you to try one these this week. Just see what happens. You might find you agree with Williams and Penman that “it’s difficult to be curious and unhappy at the same time.”

Do you have any habit-releasers that have helped you get out of a rut? Please share below in the comments!

How and Why Mindfulness Aids in Self-Control

Researcher Rimma Teper’s work looks into why and how practicing mindfulness can help regulate our emotions. Her interview with Emily Nauman over at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center gives some scientific backing to what many mindfulness practitioners have found through experience.

Rimma’s explains:

"The link between mindfulness and improved emotion regulation is certainly not a new one. What our model does is examine the nature of this relationship and helps to understand how mindfulness may improve emotion regulation.

There is often a misconception that mindfulness simply leads to less emotionality, or that mindful people experience less emotion.

Our model proposes that this is not the case. Specifically, we suggest that mindfulness leads to improvements in emotion regulation not by eliminating or reducing emotional experience, but rather through a present-moment awareness and acceptance of emotional experience. This sort of attentive and open stance towards one’s own emotions and thoughts allows the individual to still experience emotion, but also to detect emotions early on and stop them from spiraling out of control." 

In my own practice, it’s that “attentive and open stance” towards my emotions that helps shrink them down from the giant monster in my head to something more manageable. Instead of running in mental circles to avoid feeling something unpleasant, I can see the emotion for what it is and go from there. 

You can read the entire interview here: How Does Mindfulness Improve Self-Control?

Bill Treats PTSD with Mindfulness and Yoga

Each day, soldiers return home from combat often ill-equipped for the mental and emotional stress of life after combat. Suicide rates among veterans are upwards of 22 per day, and occurrence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among vets from Iraq and Afghanistan is between 11 and 20% according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

Mindfulness and integrative health programs may offer some relief for these veterans.  

A couple of weeks ago I brought up the utility of mindfulness for athletes, and today I wanted to briefly highlight an article about how mindfulness and integrative health programs may soon be among mental health options for veterans in the U.S.

Congressmen Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Rich Nugent (R-Fla.) introduced The Veterans and Armed Forces’ Health Promotion Act of 2013 in November. Among the many programs it seeks to introduce for members of the armed services, the bill would offer a variety of wellness programs aimed at veterans including mindfulness, yoga therapy and healthy eating. While some of these programs are already in place, the bill would make them more widely available to all veterans. 

Congressman Ryan, a practitioner and fervent advocate of mindfulness, explained to the Huffington Post that mindfulness is “helping the veterans, it’s low-cost, it’s low-tech, and there aren’t any side effects… If that doesn’t cross partisan lines, I don’t know what’s going to.”

Sounds reasonable to me!

Have a look at the full article here: Why This Congressman Is Fighting To Bring Mindfulness To Veterans

I'll keep an eye out and post an update on the bill's progress. At the moment, it has been referred to the Subcommittee on Military Personnel.