Posts Tagged ‘mindful’

Mindfulness In Travel

Taking time out of everyday life to meditate and mindfully reflect gives the opportunity to be conscious of what makes our present experience so meaningful.

When the opportunity to travel is either planned or presents itself, the traveler is expected to want to make the absolute most of the trip. Time is spent talking to others for recommendations on and researching the best natural sights to see, historic places to visit, hotels to book, and restaurants at which to eat. When the traveler arrives at the destination, he or she is ready to see and do as much as the twenty four hour day will allow. Whether visiting somewhere new either across the state or across the world, it is expected that one would want to extract as many experiences possible from the trip.

Yet, is creating a packed agenda the best way to value time away from home?

Rushing around a foreign place is surely exhilarating, but it is easy to get caught up in sticking to a plan. Sometimes, it is important to explore freely to get the best sense of how the culture functions and how the locals live; letting spontaneity lead the way can open doors to unlikely adventures, maybe along the lines of discovering a local surf shop in Cape Town, a quaint café in Paris, or an art installment on public display in Boston. In the words of avid traveler Wendy Worrall Redal, “Rather than try to fit in every sight, explore fewer things in greater depth.”

This idea of doing less may seem unproductive, however doing less on a trip actually leaves more time to be mindful of the activities in which the traveler takes part. Immersing one’s self in the paintings hung in Madrid’s Museo Nacional del Prado or savoring a meal in the in middle of Dubai’s desert with full attention allows one to be mindful of every aspect that makes the new experience unique. Additionally, making free time allows the opportunity to reflect on the trip. Whether things went off without a hitch, or construction delayed transportation time, record feelings that arose in the memorable moments, and recognize how that affected the overall excursion. It is not important to record everything, whether that be through writing words in a journal or posting edited pictures on Facebook, but simply what is most important to the traveler.

Travel writer Pico Iyer advocates for such quiet time in his TED Talk “The Art of Stillness.” He speaks about how traveling experiences can be perceived in any way possible, but it is up to the traveler to use his or her mindset to realize the best in them, which comes by way of taking time to sit still. Getting in the habit of being still and recognizing mindfulness is a great way to remove one’s self from the busyness a trip will induce, and realize the wonderful opportunity it is to be visiting a new, sometimes unfamiliar place.

For help getting started on such a mindful mission while traveling, a service called Slow Travel is available. Slow Travel advocates for travelers to almost emulate the life of a local in destinations across North America, Europe, Australia, and the Caribbean. The service finds travelers vacation rentals, and encourages the exploration of the surrounding area in-depth: Buy groceries at the local market, check out what the streets have to offer that day, and interact with full-time residents. Pretend you live there. Slow Travel also asks its travelers to share their unique stories, favorite memories, and original pictures on their website. The hope is to inspire others to live like a local while traveling and share knowledge on where to go and what to do to fully enjoy the trip.

Another service, Slow Food, is in support of being mindful of experiencing new foods in travel. A non-profit organization, Slow Food encourages practicing local food traditions with the best and most natural ingredients. It recognizes diverse and delicious foods around the globe, thus, taking the time to mindfully eat meals made from of the land would promote the Slow Food mission.

Thinking of what the world has to offer, I’m tempted right now to book a trip anywhere to mindfully take the time to slowly immerse myself in a different culture through sights, local life, and food. Applying everyday mindfulness – taking time to meditate and consciously recognizing the positives in my surroundings – while traveling emphasizes the benefits of a constant mindful lifestyle. Hopefully the next trip I take, whether it be a short weekend in a nearby city or a long cruise to the Virgin Islands, I look forward to continually practicing mindfulness to get the most out of the present experience.

Happy meditating!

 

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!

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!

 

 

 

The Origin Of The Yoga Mat And Its Purpose Today

If a person says they’re heading off to practice yoga, you may automatically picture him or her wearing tight fitting workout gear with a rolled up yoga mat in tow.

Why? Is the mat required by the yoga instructor? Does it help to achieve poses? Who started using yoga mats anyway?

A brief history of the yoga mat in an article by Collin Hall states that the yoga mat was invented to aid a person’s medical condition and happened to catch on.

He credits yoga instructor Angela Farmer as the first to use a yoga mat in 1968 in London, England.

Earlier in her life, Farmer underwent a medical procedure which disabled her from sweating from her hands and feet. Getting a good grip on the floor, therefore, resulted in some difficulty. In an attempt to solve her problem, she purchased a piece of material from a carpet factory she found while working in Munich, Germany.

The carpet material successfully fixed her issue. Additionally, the students she instructed in London became interested in her new tool. To satisfy the students’ desire for a yoga mat just like their instructor’s, Farmer’s father partnered with the German carpet factory to make more mats. The rest, as they say, is history.

Hall goes on to mention that the grip yoga mats provide average users with can hinder the body’s movement: the relationship between strength and flexibility becomes unbalanced. When hands and feet are placed in a fixed position (strongly reinforced by the yoga mat), there is less movement the body undergoes. This emphasizes the need to be flexible, creating a ‘tendency to wedge oneself into postures.” There is then less of a need to use the body’s strength in order to hold positions.

Yet, the yoga mat, Hall continues, provides a way to show one’s personality. One can choose a solid color or a fun pattern that reflects character. One can make a statement by choosing a mat that was made in an environmentally friendly way. One can choose an expensive brand name yoga mat that markets itself as the best of the best, or the most basic yoga mat that was on sale.

Try practicing yoga without a mat and see for yourself what you prefer.

Having a piece of personality on the floor also builds a personal boundary. One marks their own space, a space that he or she is only allowed to enter. It creates a comfort zone, or it creates a boundary that blocks out others.

Reflecting on my own yoga practice, I can imagine myself not using a mat. I have yet to try it, but I can picture myself feeling liberated from a rectangular space that confines me. I can connect with the floor below me, and focus on my strength rather than my flexibility. However, the mat helps me mark my movements and reminds me to not spread myself out so far while changing my positions. In classes, mostly everyone else uses a yoga mat, and it’s more comfortable to practice on rather than a hard surface.

Reaching a state of mindfulness through yoga can only be done when you feel most comfortable. If you force yourself to take part in an activity that hinders you in anyway, there is no point, for you will be distracted from being mindful.

Try practicing yoga without a mat and see for yourself what you prefer. Mindfully acknowledge your sense of touch as you go about your movements to get the best feel for the method you would like to stick with. Go between the two as many times as you need to discover your partiality.

Whether you choose to always use a mat, never use a mat, or alternate between the two, the choice is ultimately yours. Enjoy the practice of yoga and the mindfulness that follows.

Everyday Single-Tasking

Here is a simple task you can complete in about 30 seconds.

It won’t take much effort, and anyone reading this can participate.

Answer these questions: 1) How many browser tabs do you currently have open? 2) How many of those are you focused on right now?

Currently, I have three open. I am only focused on one. This tab is the one in which I am writing this very blog post. I do not currently need the tab displaying the New York Times article I started to read but never finished. I do not currently need my Twitter feed. Knowing these other tabs are present for me to get distracted by, I am failing to be mindful while writing this post.

Being mindful of the number of browser tabs you have open is number one on Leo Babauta’s tips for single-tasking. His list focuses on single-tasking in front of your screen, whether it be a smart phone, tablet, or computer. The following five tips are suggested to enhance mindfulness in a daily activity in which all people participate.

  • Know why the tab is open: When you enter a website, think about why you are there, and what task you are there to accomplish. Whether messaging a “how are you” to a friend over Facebook or sending some emails, be conscious of the reason you pulled up a website in the first place.
  • Read the whole thing: If I followed Babauta’s tips, that New York Times browser would have been long closed. When you decide to start something, finish it. Do not let distract win in the middle of a reading on the decline of soda sales in the past two decades.
  • One app at a time: The same idea for browser tabs applies to apps. Stay focused on completing the task in one app before moving to another task in a different app.
  • Be mindful of interruptions and switching: Getting distracted online these days is inevitable, if not expected. Whether you are distracted by a notification on a different tab or a person standing next to you, be aware of the situation. Before you divert your attention away from the app or browser you are currently focused on, realize why you are turning away from it. Then, return your focus to get the original task done.
  • Mindfully put away the device: When you are not staring at a screen in front of you, be mindful of that. Recognize the amount of time you will have away from a device, and immerse yourself in the non-technological activity, whatever it may be.

Babauta makes an important statement about the tips at the end of his post: “I will fail at them often.” Babauta is aware that he is not always perfectly mindful. He knows he will let distraction get the best of him, and he knows he will fall into the habit of mulit-tasking. What is important, though, is his effort to be mindful. An important key to reaching mindfulness is practice. Not every practice attempt will be flawless, even in a small, everyday effort such as this, which is why it is crucial to frequently try to achieve mindfulness. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect.

Happy meditating!

Benefits for the Brain

After you meditate, your state of mindfulness will result in a feeling of calm and relaxation of thoughts.

Why?

According to neuroscience Richie Davidson, the brain is always capable of changing throughout its lifetime. In scientific studies such as this one, it has been proven that mindful meditation “is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.” In other words, mindful meditation affects the parts of our brains that translate to wellness.

Jennifer Wolkin, Ph D., for mindful.org explains a few examples of where the brain changes after mindful meditation and those parts’ responsibilities related to wellness.

Below, I further break down the certain parts of the brain affected based on Wolkin’s article:

  • Anterior Cingulate Cortex: Self-regulatory process. Deals with handling conflicts
  • Prefrontal Cortex: Executive functioning. Decisions in planning, problem solving, and emotion regulation
  • Hippocampus: Part of limbic system involved in learning and memory. Susceptible to stress related disorders like depression
  • Amygdala: Base of anxiousness and fear
  • Connections between Amygdala and pre-frontal cortex: Can potentially strengthen awareness
  • Default Mode Network (DMN): The wandering of thoughts in our minds

Mindful meditation can improve the functionings of these parts of the brain. Entering a state of mindfulness can calm our emotions in stressful times to make rational decisions, calm anxious feelings, and ease wild thoughts. More importantly, with the brain’s constant ability to change, it is possible to make habits of mindfulness. Mindful habits can result in a more stable state of each mentioned part of the brain.

Some affects will be felt immediately after entering a state of mindfulness, and with frequent practice, may be present often. Science has proven the positive affects of mindfulness on the brain; why not give mindful meditation a shot?

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