For the past few months I have been traveling around teaching the benefits of living a mindful life and how a meditation practice can boost your well-being. It is interesting to me how people show up in my life to learn this "tool". I have always been a teacher in many capacities...art, science, creative writing, theater, pilates, soccer and now I find myself teaching a way of "being". I am finding much inspiration in helping people to live a more fulfilled life with less stress and more compassion. From two year olds to 80 year olds, I am planting seeds for a brighter future.
When people arrive in my class, you can sense this feeling of stress, curiosity, and maybe a little doubt. They are unsure how to sit and where to sit and are filled with those normal feelings of doing something unfamiliar. The music is welcoming, the lights are dim and I greet them all with a warm welcome. We begin with a "check in". This is the first tool they learn in how to be mindful. Just step away from whatever you are doing and "check in".
"Close your eyes, or find a soft gaze. Feel your breath. Notice your thoughts and try not to judge them. Be kind to what is going on inside and out. Smell the air, accept the noises around you. Just pause and feel your sense of being. Feel your body in this space. Travel from your toes to your head, scanning the sensations in your body. Try not to just focus on the negative, what feels tight or sore, but notice what also feels good. Be here. Just be here and breathe."
We join back together, with a glimmer of hope and less residue of the stresses we brought with us. What is this big buzz word mindfulness anyways? I tell people it is practicing "being" and getting in control of your thoughts, instead of your thoughts controlling you. Paying attention to what is happening inside and out without judgement. Notice what you feel, hear, and smell. Tune into your senses. You can practice mindfulness anytime of the day. Brush your teeth, walk your dog, climb the stairs, listen attentively to whom you are talking to, or get in or out of your car mindfully. Underneath this umbrella of mindfulness are all kinds of formal practices like yoga, tai chi, pilates, nature walks, and meditation. The formal practices help you to informally be mindful, especially a regular meditation practice.
Then it is time for me to "geek out" and talk about all the science behind meditation and mindfulness practices. I particularly focus on our nervous system and how our breath regulates whether we are in "fight or flight" or "rest and digest" mode. "Sigh." That is your body trying to get you to chill out and be in the parasympathetic nervous system ("rest and digest"). How many times do you sigh a day?
"Most of us are living in this chronic state of stress, going and doing with our minds churning away. Think of your body as a bull's eye and all these darts get pinged on you all day long. Traffic, bills, text messages, social media, forgetting your password, straining for more time, the news, and the list just goes on and on. Our nervous system is overloaded and our bodies are just pumping cortisol into our system. Cortisol overload is what then leads to so many health problems, sleep problems, depression, anxiety, and just a general sense of not being well or unhappy. We need tools to clean out our nervous system. We go to the gym to build muscles, we eat good food to be healthy, we organize our closets, we wash our clothes, we get rid of junk email. Let's do the same for our mind and body with the help of our breath."
Convinced? It seems so easy. Just breathe? It takes practice and commitment. You can't go work out at the gym just one day and be strong. You can't go eat one "clean" meal and then be healthy. It is the same with meditation and mindful practices. Practice. Practice. Practice. You will see and feel the benefits.
"Here is one simple breath technique. It is box breathing and it is endorsed by the Navy Seals. Whenever they have to attend to a dangerous situation, they box breathe to get themselves focused and centered to perform. Breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale 4 seconds, hold for seconds. Repeat this pattern for a few minutes."
Ahhhh. Another layer of stress has left the room. This box breathing is great for when you need help in the moment. Someone cuts you off in traffic, you want to react to something someone has done or said, or before a conference or test you need to take. This will help you to respond, instead of react to the situations you face in life. Don't let another dagger come into your bull's eye.
We spend the last 20-30 minutes of the Mindful Meditation workshop doing a lovely guided meditation. Before we begin, I give them my meditation pointers:
1. Be comfortable, but try not to fall asleep. Support your body as needed with bolsters, sitting in a chair, leaning against a wall or even lying down if you need to.
2. Allow your thoughts to be part of the meditation. Don't fight them and try not to get frustrated by them. Think of your thoughts as bubbles surfacing up from the bottom of a pond, or books you are placing on a bookshelf. They will be there, just try not to attach to them or allow them to take you into your story.
3. Use my voice and the tools I give you as an anchor. The anchor brings you to the present and it might be focusing on your breath, listening to the sounds around you, or feeling the sensations in your body. Just keep returning back to my voice and the anchor.
4. Be non-judgemental and be okay with whatever is happening. Try to quiet that critic inside your mind.
5. Surrendor to the flow.
6. There is no right or wrong.
7. Let go of effort and allow everything to just be.
We gently come back after our meditation through a flow of stretches, ending with giving thanks for the time to practice "being" and honoring what we are grateful for. The light slowly enters into our eyes, we notice our hands and feet, and gradually start bringing the other parts of the room into our awareness. Staying connected to our breath we notice those around us and bring a smile to our face. Our sense of being is present and relaxed. The day seems brighter and our mind clearer.
The real practice is when you go out into your world, and bring this compassion with you. Our world needs more stillness, our people need to gain their health and happiness back. Bring meditation into your life, even if it is only for a few minutes a day. Listen to everyone attentively, let go of trying to control everything and enjoy this journey of life. We will face challenges, but maybe we can culitvate some calm within the storms and learn from them, instead of letting these situations defeat us.
I would love to connect and share this Mindful Meditation program with you.