November 2015 archive

Unleash Your Inner Bob Ross: Coloring Meditation

Coloring Meditation

As host of the PBS show The Joy of Painting, Bob Ross had the ability soothe babies to sleep with his calm voice and effortless brush strokes.

If you haven’t experienced the tranquil aura of Bob Ross, check out the first episode of The Joy of Painting, where he gently guides you through simple steps to create a majestic picture of the woods. I can guarantee you’ll smile a few times throughout the half hour segment.

The benefits you walk away with from watching Bob Ross paint (happiness, positivity, mindfulness, imaginative creativity…) are similar to the benefits you walk away with from coloring. The activity reminiscent of childhood has been recognized as a relaxation technique, one that can distract one from stressful thoughts in order to stimulate a positive mindset. Coloring has also shown to increase communication between different areas of the brain.

Coloring as meditation goes back to ancient times. Traditionally, mandalas are used as patterns to color. Mandalas are circular shapes with no beginning or end made of elaborate shapes and designs that are open to being filled with beautiful colors. Using mandalas for an active coloring meditation provides a time to relax, create balance in the body’s energies, and enhance creativity and self-awareness. Below are pictures of a mandala I recently colored for a meditation:

Blank mandala

Coloring Meditation in Progress

Coloring meditation is a casual way to achieve mindfulness. Coloring is a fun activity that easily absorbs your full attention to filling in lines with attractive colors. There really is no wrong way to color, and it is done freely by the individual participant. As you color, take slow breathes in through the nose and out through the mouth. Relax as you focus on the mandala in front of you. Choose any coloring utensil you would like — crayons, pencils, markers, or even paint. Use your senses to become aware of your present surroundings: What sound does the marker make on the paper? How does the pencil feel as it moves across the design? How marvelous are the colors you were drawn to use? Enjoy the motions of the meditation!

The Finished Product!

Once you are finished coloring, meditate on what you have created. Appreciate your work, and remember to bring this mindful focus to your other methods of meditation.

At the end of this post are a few websites where you can find printable mandalas to color, or you can check out a site like Amazon that has a collection of mandala coloring books available to order.

As you proceed with your coloring meditation, remember the wise words of Bob Ross: “Believe that you can do it, because you can do it.”

Happy meditating!

Mindfully Combating Those SAD “Winter Blues”: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Tomorrow’s predicted temperature is 44°F. Personally, I find that temperature to be less than ideal. I will handle it though, because on Thursday the temperature is expected to bounce back into the 60s, which I find much more desirable.

This fall has blessed the Philadelphia area with what seems to be warmer than average temperatures. I have not hesitated to take advantage of it by walking to my destinations whenever possible and taking part in outdoor activities. I’m doing my best to be mindful of the warm weather now because, as my mother always says, I’d rather be warm than cold, but also because I am secretly dreading the annual case of the Winter Blues. It comes when the weather stays consistent at freezing temperatures and makes mindfulness a bit more difficult, as I am forced to wear a puffy winter coat and suffocating scarf while people in other parts of the world get to wear shorts and lay on the beach if they so please.

The Winter Blues is a commonly used expression for feeling down when the weather becomes cold enough to keep people feeling cooped up in their homes and distracted from mindfulness. It is also used casually as an alternate term for Subsyndromal Seasonal Affective Disorder, a milder form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (otherwise known as SAD). Symptoms include prolonged feelings of lethargy; intense fatigue; negative thoughts such as guilt; abnormal sleeping patterns; a craving and indulge in carbohydrates and sweets; and difficulty concentrating, remembering, and socializing. SAD affects a few million of American adults, and happens to be more susceptible in northern regions, particularly in women ages 18-30.

Subsyndromal SAD is a result of a chemical imbalance caused by lack of sunlight. Sunlight is difficult to catch between December and March. In the Northeast region of the United States, there are less than four hours of sunlight available those months outside of the typical nine to five workday – that is 1/6 of the day, which is not a long time.

There are natural treatments for people with Subsyndromal SAD. For those with the opportunity to spend a part of that 1/6 of the day outdoors, walking for about 30 minutes in sunlight is a great way to boost one’s mood, and get vitamin D. If walking is not possible, sitting near a window where sun shines through can also do just fine. Additionally, eating a balanced diet can contribute to an improved mood. While carbs and sweets can serve as comfort food, it is best not to binge on either of the two. Instead, be mindful of what is being put into your body, and try reaching for fruits, vegetables, or protein first. (Tips on combining mindful practices with both walking and eating can be found earlier in my blog!)

Another natural treatment with additional benefits is socialization. Socialization gives one the chance to create a sense of belonging in the world; by establishing connections with others that are satisfactory to you, the individual involved, a comforting feeling of belonging and purpose is developed. During the cold winter months, getting bundled up to trek in the cold can be an unpleasant hassle. However, it is important to make the effort with the goal of achieving happiness in oneself. Make simple plans with friends or family to go shopping, see a movie, get coffee, or wander around a museum – something that gets you into a different environment with a person you care about to spend a couple of mindful hours together. A great way to socialize with familiar faces and strangers is to volunteer through community service. With the holiday season quickly approaching, there is an abundance of opportunity to do good for others and oneself at the same time!

If natural treatments are not enough to combat the effects of SAD, that is okay! Another popular treatment for SAD is lamp or light box therapy. Bright light boxes or lamps can be purchased without a prescription for less than 50 dollars. Studies have shown that spending about 30 minutes under a box/lamp over the course of eight weeks bettered the moods of those diagnosed with SAD. Psychology Today contributor Christopher Bergland takes using a light lamp to the next level by using his time under it to practice mindful meditation (a basic breathing meditation can be found earlier in my blog, too.)

The above treatment suggestions have been proven to lessen the effects of SAD, but are by no means substitutes for true medical assistance. SAD can sometimes be a facet of a more serious depression or bipolar disorder. If SAD symptoms persist despite these natural treatments and throughout the year, contact your doctor for professional medical assistance.

Although winter has its beautiful moments – think snow days and the holiday season – it also has its debilitating cold that can potentially strip us of our mindfulness. The temperature will inevitably drop in the coming weeks, but that does not mean our mindfulness has to go with it. Remember to take care of yourself physically with exercise and balanced eating, and mentally with various mindful meditation practices. Both will lighten your mood and remind you to be mindful of the present moment as well as help to see the positive side of winter (because somewhere in the cold, it’s there).

“Wherever You Are…”

Dr. Richard Alpert, otherwise known as Ram Dass, offers a positive reminder to be mindful of current surroundings and situations.

Excited to be home with the family for Thanksgiving? Can’t wait for Friday to roll around again? Wish it was summer on the beach once again? None of that matters right now. There is no need to live in anticipation for the future, yearn for an experience built upon imaginary expectations, or long for the past.

All that is important is being mindfully immersed in the great things the present moment has to offer. Be aware of and appreciate all things that contribute to make up the here and now.

 

Exercise And Mindfulness (Plus A Walking Meditation)

Physical exercise is vital for the body and the mind.

Working out is a method of exercising the body into a healthy physical shape, and can also exercise the mind into a healthy mental shape. When jogging around the track, counting reps, or stretching to loosen up the muscles, being mindful of the body’s movement is necessary for successfully completing these regimens. The goal of these workouts may primarily be to strengthen and tone muscles, and it is, too, possible to make strengthening mindfulness part of that goal.

Mindfulness and physical exercise may initially elicit the practice of yoga. The concept of quiet, conscious breathing is only a step to follow to yield physical results like alleviating lower back pain, aiding a detoxifying cleanse, or curing a hangover. Although yoga has been proven as an exercise that improves mental health and mindfulness, any other everyday workout can benefit in improved mindfulness, too.

Physical workouts of any kind are known to release the body’s chemical endorphins. When the physical body is put under stress and experiencing pain, endorphins act to relieve the mental pain that comes with those effects. This release happens during a workout when a second wind is achieved, or when a workout is complete and the body is no longer pushing itself.  If you’re anything like this writer, you heavily depend on endorphin releases during workouts because exercising is a challenge and, at times, unenjoyable. When she realizes she is able to push her body further during a run, she (gratefully) acknowledges her rejuvenated mental focus on completing the workout. When she feels happy that she (finally) finishes a workout, she acknowledges the mental pride in the achievement (because running is really difficult and actually doing it is truly a grand success. But I digress…).

Another release the body stimulates through exercise is the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which betters a person’s mood. A Harvard study on aerobic exercise and depression found that along with improved self-esteem, regular exercise contributes, albeit a small amount, to lessening symptoms of depression. The study found that exercise also staves off symptoms of depression longer than antidepressant drugs following its treatment, making for a natural mental health remedy.

The Harvard study references walking as a partial cure for depression symptoms. Though certainly not as intense as CrossFit or Pilates at an expert level, walking is still a beneficial form of exercise; it can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Walking, which demands less stress on the body than an exercise like running, is a great chance to practice active meditation, which combines some type of movement and mindful meditation. Whether walking with or without a purpose, walking meditation can be practiced in a couple easy steps (no pun intended) to achieve a state of mindfulness:

  • As you begin walking, focus on your breathing. Keep a count as you inhale in exhale to become conscious of the present moment. If a thought arises in the mind, simply acknowledge it, then return attention to the breath
  • Notice the parts of the body move as you walk at a comfortable pace. Feel the bottoms of your feet as they firmly touch and lift off of the ground. Recognize the movement of your legs. Be aware of how your hips move, your arms swing, and your posture. Pay close attention to how your balance is maintained.

These steps lead to mindfulness of the body and mind. Additionally, such active meditation provides the opportunity to become aware of and appreciative of natural surroundings if practiced outdoors.

The ability to reach a state of mindfulness while on the move supports the idea of constantly living a mindful lifestyle. If a habit of at least walking 60 minutes over the span of a week has not been established, it is never too late to make it one! Exercise, including walking, on an intense or moderate level, provides physical and mental mindfulness benefits that prevail long-term.

The beautiful fall days are still on our side weather wise; enjoy the outdoors, if possible, make time for a workout sometime during your day, and be mindful of the body’s physical movement.

Happy meditating!

Holiday Meditation: Mindful Eating

The hangover from binge eating Halloween candy may still be lingering. The blessed holiday that is Thanksgiving is already a mere two and a half weeks away. After that, the holiday eats don’t usually cease until the New Year resolutions are enacted.

The holiday season has the potential to manipulate your diet with opportunities to overeat. Increased food intake that is not necessarily healthy (cc: apple pie, Christmas cookies, festive M&M candy bowls, champagne…) can take a toll on the gut, the rest of the body, and the mind. To avoid such uncomfortable consequences, one may consider adopting a habit of mindful eating.

Mindful eating is taking the time to focus on the meal or snack in front of you, using all senses to pay close attention to each bite, and noting how the process of eating makes you feel. It also extends to noticing how you feel before and after a meal.

According to Jennifer Wolkin, Ph. D., ‘the brain and gut are intimately connected.’ The gut can affect emotional function just as emotions can affect gut function. Poor gut health has shown to lead to depressive symptoms. In some cases, eating large amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates are linked to a lower quality of metal health. Medical studies have also proved that mindful meditation has the ability to reduce symptoms of functional gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. Additionally, weight loss has shown to be a beneficial effect of mindful eating.

The core of establishing a mindful, healthy eating habit is eating slowly. Psychotherapist Char Wilkins suggests breathing in and out once before taking a new bite of food. Making time between bites creates the chance to observe and appreciate the food being consumed. Then, engage your senses by asking questions like the following: What are the colors of the food on my plate? What are the scents the food gives off, and do they evoke any memories? What sensations do I feel while focusing on the consistency of the food in my mouth? Am I starting to feel full as I concentrate on feeling the food travel from my mouth to my stomach? Being aware of the characteristics of food and steps taken to consume food create a mindful connection to the nourishment and satisfaction received from eating.

Clinical psychologists Elisha and Stefanie Goldstein challenge the mindful eater to take extra steps in becoming aware of food and eating. While biting into a forkful of stuffing or a taking a bite of turkey this Thanksgiving, think about each ingredient that was used to make the finished product. Where did such ingredients come from on the earth? Then, think of the effort the chef put into making the meal or dessert. Appreciate the time and caring that was put into making a dish for you and anyone else present at the meal. If you were the chef, remember your thoughtful preparation of the meal, and the positive intentions you had while creating the dish for a group of loved ones (including yourself).

“both physical and mental health go hand-in-hand.” — Dr. Jennifer Wolkin

Eating slow and savoring food through awareness is the simple part of mindful eating. But what do you do when you feel satisfied after a meal, and there are still so many goodies to be sampled at dessert? The Goldsteins’ answer is to surf the urge. When the craving for something sweet hits after finish a meal, wait about 20 minutes. During that time, notice how your mind and body feel. There is no need to judge the feeling, just recognize whatever it may be. Then, after the time has passed, make a mindful decision on what you would like to do next. There are no right or wrong answers when you make that plan to approach the homemade pumpkin pie.

Eating mindfully is a habit to ease into. There is still some time before holiday get-togethers, so consider practicing mindful eating during you next meal. Allot enough time so the meal is just you and your food, no distractions that will drag you attention away from the food you kindly prepared. Use all of your senses, be aware of the meal’s characteristics, and how you feel before you begin eating, while you’re eating, and after you eat. Continue to build this habit in the days leading up to the holiday season.

Happy mindful meditating!

Mindful Positivity

If there is ever the need for motivation to make one’s self mindful, @TrainingMindful on Twitter is the place to turn to.

@TrainingMindful regularly provides positive quotes from notable, mindful figures. Such quotes are short yet powerful in reminding people of their personal worth and how mindfulness adds to a worthy feeling.

Below is a sample of Buddah quotes that promote love for one’s self to live a mindful life.

These lines let people know that mindfulness is key for living a fulfilled life. This mindfulness can only come from one’s own self, and not without respect and appreciation for the life one has.
@TrainingMindful also includes challenging quotes to remind its audience that a mindful life is not always attained so easily. Living mindfully forces people to examine the purpose of actions. While this may be tedious on a daily basis when communicating with others or making simple decisions involving different people, it must be done to  ensure, ultimately, only mindful action is taken. Additionally, @TrainingMindful acknowledges the hardship that is to be inevitably faced in life. Struggles are bound to appear on small or large scales, however it is up to the individual to either embrace such present or wallow in the negativity it brings. The former, of course, is preferred, and encourages a mindful lifestyle.
Occasionally checking in with @TrainingMindful is a useful tool when looking for an extra boost in staying mindful. Short quotes take almost no time to read, and are sure to provide a bit of motivation to upholding a mindful lifestyle.

 

Needed Progress Toward Mindfulness

“To spend almost half of our life lost in thought and potentially quite unhappy… it kind of seems tragic, especially when there is something we can do about it.”

These are the words of mindfulness expert and former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe. In his TED Talk entitled “All it takes is 10 mindful minutes,” Puddicombe discusses the need to calm the mind’s thoughts in order to appreciate and embrace the present moment. He presents this idea in light of a Harvard study that found close to 47% of a person’s time awake is spent thinking about something other than what is happening in the present. The study also found that ‘mind-wandering is generally the cause of a person’s unhappiness.’

For almost half of our time awake, our focus is not centered on the activity in which we presently take part. This leads us toward feelings of unhappiness.

This fact is a bit shocking. To think that much of our time living is spent with our mind fixated on different times is concerning. While thinking of situations that have already happened in the past, picturing a future that will hopefully unfold without a hitch in front of us, or fantasizing a scenario that may never occur, we are distracting ourselves from the moment, good or not so good, that is right in front of us. We fail to be mindful and appreciative of the present.

Puddicombe gives us hope in his TED Talk that we can change this this statistic. By living in the present moment, he explains, we can discover the happiness our lives have to offer us. He encourages each individual to “familiarize yourself with the present moment so that you get to experience a greater sense of focus, calm, and clarity in your life.” There is no reason for anxious, elaborate, or dull thoughts to control your perception on life; take a short amount of time out of your day to recognize such thoughts and see how they fit into the present moment. Then, immerse yourself in the present and appreciate the moment.

Below is the video and link to Puddicombe’s TED Talk. His presentation offers some interesting visuals to get the idea of our normal thought process across to his viewers. After watching, consider the next taking ten minutes to be mindful and focus solely on the present.

https://www.ted.com/talks/andy_puddicombe_all_it_takes_is_10_mindful_minutes?language=en#t-229211

Happy mindful meditating!

 

 

 

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