The word “meditation” means a lot of things to different things to people.
There are “guided meditations” where a teacher or a guide provides either a live or recorded verbal sequence of visualizations to help your mind and body align and go to a state of focused relaxation.
For some, the word “meditation” means to contemplate, to consider a concept, idea or issue with mental focus.
Meditation, as I understand it and practice it, is a bit different than these definitions. For me we can observe meditation through seated practice, walking practice and moving practice. For these purposes, I want to introduce you to the art and practice of “seated meditation.”
“Seated meditation” is an art and a practice. An art because it is an experience, a process and an expression of who we truly are in any given moment without prescribed, exact, predictable outcome. A practice because it is an act we must choose to engage in regularly in order to realize the benefits.
Seated meditation is the practice of coming to a comfortable seat with spine erect and willingness to just sit and be with your whole self.
Seated meditation is a practice of allowing what is to just be without action.
Seated meditation is an opportunity to cultivate our relationship with what I call “the gentle observer.”
The “gentle observer” is an aspect of Self that is able to notice without judgment and without action. I find that most humans have little if any connection with and awareness of this part of themselves; therefore, it requires a dedicated practice to cultivate this “gentle observer.”
“Mindfulness practice” is when we choose to notice, to pay attention without jumping to action or judgment.
We bring mindfulness practice into seated meditation in order to practice, to cultivate, to nurture, to expand the aspect of Self I refer to as “the gentle observe.” This is the part of us that can simply BE. This is where we find peace.
Now, let’s be clear… We don’t start sitting in meditation and instantly experience peace… Nor is there always peace in meditation even after years of practice.
There is a process and a practice that must be observed.
In the process of cultivating this “gentle observer” and the subsequent experience of peace, we encounter all the not-so-gentle aspects of Self and the non-peaceful feelings and experiences we have in the body, mind and heart.
Seated meditation is the ideal place to practice observing these not-so-gentle, non-peaceful sensations, thoughts and feelings. By observing, by increasing our awareness without action, reaction or judgment, eventually these not-so-gentle, non-peaceful experiences begin to fall away and we are left with a delicious state of BEING with what is… This is peace.
Once we experience this sense of peace, it is like a glorious glimpse… in Japanese this is called “satori.” We experience it but do not cling to it. We do not expect it or chase after it the next time we sit. If we anticipate it, expect it or chase it the experience will surely elude us.
Instructions on Seated Meditation
In the beginning of your practice, it is important to find a certain time and place in your life that is quiet and without interruption. Early morning and just before bed at night are ideal times.
Designate a specific place in your home as your meditation area.
Some people like to set up a little table of dedication to their practice to create a sense of sacred space with a candle, maybe an item that has special meaning to you and your own personal spiritual beliefs just as a reminder that meditation is your special sacred time with your own Self. This is not necessary, however.
In the beginning, bring a timer with a gentle chime. Turn off all other sound and vibration on your device and set a timer for ten minutes. This will help you to allow the timer to “mind the time” rather than your mind worrying about how much time has gone by. Ten minutes per sitting will be enough in the beginning.
Once you have practiced daily for 2 weeks increase the time to 20 minutes.
Eventually you will no longer need a timer because as your connection to your inner Self and your inner Knowing grows stronger you will intuitively know when your meditation has ended.
Sit on a firm cushion under your tail-bone in a comfortable cross legged position OR kneel with several cushions under you like a high saddle OR you can sit on a couch, bench or chair.
Just find a way to sit comfortably with the spine straight and do not allow the back of your head to lean against anything.
You can begin by resting the backs of your hands on your legs/knees with palms softly open in a gesture of receptivity and willingness to receive whatever your meditation practice has to bring you.
Some people like to observe a bow of respect by bringing palms together, aligning thumbs at the forehead or the heart and bowing forward in the tradition of the East – a way of saying to your own Self and what you believe in spiritually, “I am here, I respect, I enter this practice with reverence for all of Nature within me and outside of me.” (if you have a particular religion you observe you can include here what you believe in, i.e. Jesus, God, Allah, Divine, Kuan Yin, Saints, etc.) This is not necessary, however.
In this practice, I recommend you close your eyes in order to bring all the mind’s focus inward.
As soon as you close your eyes it is as if you have entered a new room and for many they immediately become aware of discomfort.
The body may be uncomfortable.
The mind may seem to race about.
You may have feelings or thoughts of urgency to get up and stop doing this.
You may have feelings and thoughts of judgment about what this is all about, how boring it is or how you just “can’t do this.”
I encourage you to sit THROUGH those feelings and thoughts. Notice them but do not allow them to hook you and pull you away.
Instead, gently redirect your noticing mind to how the breath flows in and out of your body so automatically.
Choose to be fascinated with the flow of your own breath. Watch it. Notice it. Focus your mind on the flow of your breath. Feel the sensations in your body as the breath comes in and out. Allow the natural breath to be your anchor, your home-base, your touch-stone in your meditation practice.
Each time your mind drifts away and you notice it has drifted, feel encouraged because as soon as you notice you have drifted away you have returned to the present moment. At this point, gently redirect your mind back to focusing on the flow of your natural breath here and now in your body.
You may find your mind drifts 1000 times. It is not how many times you drift away that matters, however. It is the returning to the present moment 1000 times that helps you to grow your connection to your inner Self and cultivate the gentle observer.
Neuroscientists have discovered, through various technologically advanced means of assessment, that meditation stimulates increased activity in several parts of the left prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain associated with desirable emotions, such as happiness, enthusiasm, joy and self-control.
Interestingly, these same studies demonstrated a decreased level of activity in the parts of the brain related to undesirable emotions, such as depression, selfishness and a lack of happiness or satisfaction.(http://www.pnas.org/content/101/46/16369.full)
Meditation also produces a calming effect in the amygdala, that walnut sized part of the brain that acts as an alarm and trigger for fear and anger.
Meditation and mindfulness techniques are used by an expansive variety of people now that Science has proven its benefits. Corporate leaders are meditating and encouraging employees to meditate now. Medical professionals are more and more embracing meditation as a practice recommended for their patients. Many schools are beginning to encourage children to meditate. There are meditation classes taught in prisons now. Athletes often meditate to help with their sports.
The US military has been offering mindfulness training to personnel returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, in order to help them cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the psychological after-effects of combat.
Now… it’s your turn….
So, now that you’ve read about this and perhaps watched my video, I encourage you to dedicate time and space in your life every day to begin your own practice of seated meditation. Allow this to be your quiet, sacred time.
After you practice for a while and get beyond the initial bothers of “the monkey mind” you may find that during your meditation practice you experience emotion or even spontaneous movement in/with the body. If this happens, just feel it, allow it to be there and keep focusing on your breath. Do not give in to the curiousity that will arise. It is simply another level of awareness, acceptance and allowing. This will produce healing for your body, mind and heart.
In order to feel fulfilled and content in your life a regular practice of self love and care must be in place. In order to be able to love and serve others, we must first love and care for ourselves.
Here are 54 self care tips
1. Write "lunch break" on your calendar and take them.
2. Eat slowly. Chew and really taste your food. Don't eat on the run. Sit down and savor
Take time between appointments to close your eyes and take 4 slow cycles of deep, full breaths.
Upon waking in the morning, get up slowly, put your feet on the floor and take a few minutes to sit and be with the new day and your breath before jumping up.
Drink 8 ounces of water each hour of your work day.
Drink 8 ounces of warm lemon water upon waking each morning. It will help with digestion.
Walk briskly for 15 minutes every day. Swing your arms. Look up at the sky and the tree-tops.
Practice some gentle, simple yoga postures and stretches throughout the day. Take an intro yoga class.
Avoid processed or "fast" food. Eat whole foods.
Buy local and organic. Eat seasonally.
Skip sugar and white flour.
Consider giving up cocktail hour. If moderation is possible, no problem but be honest with yourself...
Learn to say no. Take a moment to ask yourself if you really have the time and energy to do what you are being asked to do.
Use that gym membership you have. Try a new class, go for a swim, join a basketball league.
Take your shoes off and walk in the grass. Feel the earth beneath your feet.
Find ways to laugh. Comedy radio or tv. Hang out with funny people. Seek the humor in all things.
Build in slow down time so you can move from activity to activity or issue to issue with pauses in between.
Keep a gratitude journal. At the end of each day reflect on what small or large parts of your life you can feel grateful.
Snuggle with a furry baby. Animals help open our hearts. Take time to nurture and care for a pet or volunteer at the Humane Society. Loving an animal will open YOUR heart.
Clean out a closet, a cabinet or a drawer each week. You'll feel lighter.
Plant flowers near your door and notice them with a smile everytime you leave or come home.
Plant an herb garden in your kitchen window. Cook with fresh herbs.
Find out how to use essential oils in everyday life. Aromatherapy is good for mood and a natural replacement for many of the toxic cleaning products.
Take care of your skin naturally with castile soap, baking soda, witch hazel and coconut oil. Save money and nurture your skin naturally.
Set firm and loving boundaries with others. Respect your own time, space and emotions. Don't let others run all over you.
Clean out the fridge monthly. Get rid of expired items and wash down the surfaces.
Connect with people you care about. Reach out to people you haven't spoken to in a while and tell them how much you appreciate them. Loving others is a way of loving yourself.
Keep indoor plants throughout your house and office and nurture them. In turn they will clean the air you breathe.
Floss daily. So important but often neglected, this task will prevent painful, expensive dental issues down the road. Love your gums.
When you hear someone speaking degrading, derogatory or deprecating things about others, stand up by pointing out the positive and the beauty. Shining light where there is darkness will expand your spirit.
Learn to meditate and meditate daily. Just 10 minutes each day over the course of a year will transform you in wonderful ways.
Listen to the audio version of the book Wherever You Go There YouAre for free by Jon Kabbat-Zinn and do the little exercises after each chapter. It will change your life for the better.
Have a good cry. Breathe into the sadness and breathe out the tension.
Feel your angry feelings while walking briskly. Swing your arms. The bilateral stimulation of the body and brain helps even out the emotions in a healthy way.
Go to counseling. Counseling is a place to process what you are unclear about and feel supported and often guided when you're lost.
Connect with a spiritual practice. Regardless of religion or tradition, go within and connect to what you believe in.
Give away clothing and items you no longer wear or use to a local shelter or charity. It will help you lighten your material load and provide for someone in need.
Hire a life/wellness coach to help you get clear on specific goals, learn some new tools and skills and create accountability for yourself.
Play with little children. Rediscover your inner child.
Paint a room in your house or office. Bring in some color.
Keep fresh-cut flowers in your space. It will remind you to appreciate the beauty and the delicacy of life now.
Light a candle. It is a ritual that signifies a beginning, an opening, a special and/or sacred moment.
Write love letters by hand to all the people you love.
Write down your personal memoirs. Recount childhood memories honoring your past.
Leave "white space" on your calendar for unprogrammed, unplanned, spontaneous experiences.
Make pottery, paint on canvas, sketch, crochet... it's meditative and good for the soul to create...
Go for walks in nature often. Connect with the trees, mountains, beach...
Smile at yourself when you pass a mirror.
Lie down in the grass and watch the clouds.
Play soothing music in your car, office and home.
Use soft lamplight and forgo flourescents.
Hug 3 people every day. Feel the connection.
Compliment yourself in your own mind as often as possible.
Know that you are MORE than enough just the way you are.
Many women in midlife suffer from chronic joint and muscle pain. I do! With arthritis and degenerative disc issues from years of over-doing it, I have to be very attentive to taking care of my body these days. The good news is that the experts tell us a particular way of eating can have a profoundly positive effect. Changing the way you eat to eating anti-inflammatory foods can make all the difference for women over 40. It has for me! As a part of my simple life project I have boiled down my shopping list to a very specific short list of staple items which I will provide at the end of this article for you.
Research indicates that diet should be an integral part of a pain management program — especially as women age. Before we go into the specifics of what are the anti-inflammatory foods you should be eating, let's talk about what inflammation is and why it's so problematic.
Painful inflammation is the body’s way of trying to heal
Inflammation in short term can be a way the body tries to heal itself. The inflammation that lingers over time, however, not only causes pain in the body, it can lead to heart disease, strokes, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and mental health issues such as severe anxiety and depression. Scary stuff! And it's something we must take seriously as we are here in the midlife point!
While you should always consult with your team of health care professionals who practice medicine (traditional and/or alternative), it's good to know that we can combat this chronic inflammation to a large degree by selecting anti-inflammatory foods.
“Following an anti-inflammatory diet is powerful therapy for pain control with many beneficial side effects,” Dr. William Welches, pain management specialist at The Cleveland Clinic says. “The anti-inflammatory diet is considered an integrative approach to pain management, along with exercise, stress management, osteopathic manipulation therapy and acupuncture.”
Three anti-inflammatory foods tenets to follow
Here are three basic shopping and eating guidelines based on the guidance of Dr. Welches:
Eat the rainbow: Take in eight to nine servings of highly nutrition vegetables and fruits every day. Go for the dark greens and dark purples and blues in the veggie and fruit aisle and make sure you include plenty of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower too. Think black berried, blue berries, purple cabbage, swiss chard, spinach and kale. The fiber and anti-oxidants in these foods helps return the body to balance.
Miminize dairy and grains: Keep the dairy intake to a bare minimum - maybe a sprinkle of parmesan cheese or a bit of greek yogurt but otherwise steer clear. Also, avoid all refined sugar. Instead, reach for whole grains, including barley, buckwheat, steel cut oats, quinoa, brown rice, rye, spelt. Keep the servings small (like 1/2 cup) and only once/day.
Make meat an occasional thing. Take red meat or other meats very infrequently. Instead, include clean fish high in omega-3's such as wild caught salmon as the “meat” or choose vegetarian main dishes that combine legumes and small portions of whole grain along with lots of dark leafy greens and/or cruciferous veggies.
Go the extra mile to get your inflammation down!
To get the most of your efforts to reduce inflammation, in addition to eating anti-inflammatory foods observe the following practices according to Dr. Andrew Weil, alternative medicine doctor who promotes an anti-inflammatory lifestyle: .
Get outside and take a brisk walk for at least 20 minutes every day or hop on the treadmill. Be sure you are getting your heart and breath rates up to what is ideal for your age and health (consult with your doctor!).
I remember my first low back injury as my gateway into a lifestyle of yoga and regular care for my back, neck and shoulders. We were moving into a new house 20 years ago and I went to pick up a box and next thing I knew I was in agonizing pain and immobile. My doctor sent me to physical therapy. It was from my physical therapy experience I realized I had to keep my back, hips, legs stretched on a daily basis so I began attending yoga classes. It became such an integral part of my life I eventually went through training to teach yoga and have since taught thousands of classes over the years.
As women reach the mid-life point it becomes more and more important to ensure we are taking care of our back, neck and shoulders. Here are some tips backed by many experts in chiropractic and orthopedic medicine but remember you should always check with your own health practitioner before starting any new physical activity.
1. A daily gentle stretching of the entire body along with some rhythmic breathing goes along way in ensuring flexibility. Allow a certified yoga teacher or a physical therapist to demonstrate the safest stretches you can do at home on your own.
Find a gentle yoga class and go at least once/week. It is helpful to have a registered yoga teacher assist you in person with your positioning and provide guidance on how to breathe to maximize the positive effects of the postures.
Try some gentle online yoga classes. You can download them to your device and practice at your office or home anytime! Search for classes that cater to low back care or neck and shoulders.
If you do tweak your back or neck and are in pain grab an ice pack. Getting inflammation down right away is key. You might look into the benefits of turmeric for inflammation as a natural option or you can take an over the counter anti-inflammatory if you know you are in pain. Check with your health care practitioner.
If in pain, make an appointment to see either your chiropractor or your orthopedic doctor. Try to relax as much as possible because many times we tighten up around the area that has been injured which causes further pain and sometimes muscle spasm.
A topical analgesic that contains a wintergreen essential oil and/or white fir can help with muscle pain.
Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water on a daily basis helps keep the discs between the vertebrae soft and supple.
Watch your posture. Taking yoga classes will likely help with this automatically. Being more conscious of how you hold your head, shoulders and pelvis when you sit, stand and walk can be so important. Check out my friend Lisa Wolf's Posture Program
Express gratitude to and for your body as it is. Your body has been carrying you around for over 40 years! Every day make it a practice to give thanks and treat it as the treasure it is.
I pledged on September 6, 2016 that I would devote myself to a simpler life on a daily basis which requires practicing mindfulness in daily life.
I have a reminder that pops up on my phone at 6:50 am every day that says "A Simple Life Project." By committing to daily reflection as to how I might simplify my life this day, I have noticed how important it is to be a gentle observer.
What is a gentle observer? The practice of mindfulness in dailylife requires we practice observation without judgment.
If we dedicate ourselves to this mindfulness practice we have to learn how to observe in a gentle way. In other words, we notice what is happening inside of us and outside of us with a bubble of awareness between what's happening and any internal reaction we may have.
If we can manage to just be and breathe with what we observe including the internal reaction, we create a soft, gentle space where we can discern how or if we wish to respond rather than react.
Mindfulness in daily life is key to creating a simpler, more vibrant life. Here are 4 tips to being a gentle observer:
We must become aware of how hard and tense we are in our expressions, our voice, our posture, our manner in order to become softer. There is tremendous strength in being soft.
Mindfulness in daily life invites us soften into ourselves, our relationships and whatever is happening around us. Try right now. Notice what happens if you just think about the word SOFT and allow your facial muscles to grow soft, your shoulders to soften down, your breath to flow softly.
Next, before you speak aloud, intentionally soften your voice and your mouth. Try walking softly rather than stomping about unconsciously.
Breathe with awareness.
We are all breathing automatically but when we bring awareness to the breath we step into the practice of mindfulness in daily life.
Begin by making it a habit to NOTICE your natural, automatic breath. Notice how it feels as it enters and exits your body.
Befriend your breath by checking in ongoing throughout your day. Play with deepening your inhales and extending your exhales for instant calm to your tense body and mind.
Feel and express gratitude.
At the end of all of the thousands of yoga classes I have taught over the years, I always guide students to bring hands together in the "prayer position" at the center of the chest and with eyes still closed in a relaxed seated position after deeply resting in savanna.
Next, I suggest we seek a palpable sense of gratitude for the breath, the body and this day of being alive. Mindfulness in daily life is a practice that is enriched when we seek opportunity to feel and express gratitude. It might be gratitude toward the cashier at the grocery, or gratitude for the vibrant colors in nature out in our front yard, or gratitude for the opportunity to help someone who is struggling, or gratitude for a comfortable bed.
If we can adopt a habit of feeling and saying "thank you," we begin to marinate in gratitude all of the time. And if we can marinate in gratitude all of the time we naturally experience a simpler life and the practice of mindfulness in daily life.
I was leading a meditation class one Sunday and a long time student was expressing how hard it is to let go when she is so worried about her son who is making poor decisions as he prepares to leave the nest. I leaned in softly and replied, "This is letting go. . ." and I lifted my gripping fists and opened my hands and softened my fingers and wrists. I said, "Just release the grip."
Her whole body and face softened in that moment as she realized she was creating her own suffering by gripping so tightly mentally, emotionally and physically.
Letting go does not mean that we give up on our loved ones. Letting go does not mean that we become numb to the suffering of others. We can be dedicated to a project without gripping tightly. Mindfulness in daily life requires a regular practice of releasing the grip.
My own spiritual teacher told me many years ago that clasping my child to my chest in a tight grip of worry is not love rather having arms wide open for the child to come to me if and when he chooses is love. We can adopt this same practice for ourselves in our daily life.
By softening, breathing with awareness, feeling and expressing gratitude we are more able to release what no longer serves us and let go of the tight grip of anxiety. Practice clenching your fists very tightly - hold on for dear life! Now, release. Let go. Soften your hands and fingers.
Being a gentle observer is a practice of noticing with softness and then consciously choosing to continue to soften, breathe withe awareness, feel and express gratitude and let go of what you do not need to hold onto. This is the essence of mindfulness in daily life and key to having a simpler life.
Conflict happens. A disagreement with a spouse. A run-in with a neighbor. Opposing political views. Torn within your own mind and heart about what decision to make. It is an unpleasant experience and yet it is inevitable. It is when we allow conflicts to become bigger and more complicated than they need to be that we find ourselves in a bind.
Here are 8 steps:
Breathe. When you realize you are in the midst of a conflict our brain typically tells the body it's time to tense up and our breathing becomes short. Soften your belly. Drop your shoulders down away from your ears and take a deep full breath in. Release the breath slowly through your mouth. Ahhhh.
Identify the conflict. There is power in naming it. What is happening? Where is the conflict's origin? Take a step back into neutrality and just notice what's going on.
Own your part. If your conflict is with another person, be sure to look at how you have contributed to this conflict or caused it to escalate. Be willing to own that and if needed to sincerely apologize for your part.
Listen and reflect. Even if you don't agree with what you are hearing it can go a LONG way for the other person to feel heard. Listen for content and reflect back (out loud) what you hear the other person saying. Here's an example: "So, what I'm hearing is that you really believe strongly that all children should be vaccinated and that parents who don't vaccinate are neglecting their children's wellbeing. Am I understanding you correctly?"
Empathize. Even if you don't agree with what you are hearing, seek the place where you can empathize sincerely and this will help to soften the conflict. Here's an example, "I can hear that you feel strongly about this and I can understand that for you this feels like a really important issue. I get that."
Pause and breathe again. Repeat number 1.
Respond softly and respectfully. After you have helped the other person feel heard and understood and you've take a breath break, it's your turn to respond. Soften your tone and choose your words carefully.
Agree to disagree. Not all conflicts can be resolved with compromise or direct solution. Sometimes you can simply make peace by agreeing to have opposing views and walk away peacefully.