As a therapist and a life-redesign coach for women, I often hear clients talk about struggling.
In fact, we women over 40 use this word - struggle - often.
Life presents challenge and we struggle. We struggle with knowing what to do next. We struggle with difficult emotions. We struggle with how to handle situations.
I believe it's time for a reframe. After all, here we are over 40, facing the second half of life. It's time to do it all differently.
Ever watched ballroom dancing? I'm no professional dancer, but I can watch and observe the ebb and flow. The give and take. The pauses and then the bursts of energy. The harmony.
Ah.... there's the difference between struggling and dancing!
When we struggle there is tension, pushing and pulling. Struggling connotes a furrowed brow, a white-knuckled grip.
When we dance there is a harmonious flow, blending and cooperation.
So what would this look like to dance with life's challenges? How about this 5 step plan...
1. Challenge arises. Be with it. When a challenge arises, first, consider it a puzzle to be solved. A feat to be faced. Rather than bowing up with resistance, try to accept that it is here and simply have a look.With mindfulness practice, we are able to gently observe what is happening without reaction or judgment. Just gentle observation.
2. Feel the Rhythm. Now that you've noticed the challenge and are just hanging out with it sans reaction, go inward. Take note of sensations in your physical body. Scan for unnecessary tension. See if you can allow the tension to release and soften. Make a note of emotions that are stirring around and breathe into the feelings, noticing the physical sensations that go along with them. Just notice without acting or reacting. Feel your body in space just as a dancer does. Feel the pulse of life in your body.
3. Survey the dance-floor. Consider your options. What is possible? What is within your control? What is outside of your control? What is in the best interest of all involved? What are the consequences of the various choices?
4. Choreograph your plan. Now that you've outlined all your options, measure your steps. Consciously choose which course of action you will take and begin mapping it out.
5. Go with the flow. Allow your plan to be the framework for your dance but allow there to be flow. When the factors of the challenge intensify, you can grow softer and move with that intensity rather than matching it with resistance. When the factors of the challenge back down and ease up, you might lean in and take the lead with action.
The key to dancing with life's challenges is harmonizing. Know when to give. When to take. When to move and when to be still. This is the dance.
The next time you hear yourself saying "I'm really struggling..." take pause. Take a breath. Consider shifting that mind-set and even changing the language to reflect a choice to dance with it rather than struggle.
Mindfulness is THE most important component of a lasting, satisfying process of being well in mind, body and spirit.
Mindfulness practice is about conscious, expanded awareness of one’s present experience without judgment or analysis.
Sounds simple right?
It’s more challenging than it seems but this practice is well worth cultivating as it has profound effects on helping people heal and release the past without having to relive the past.
Mindfulness helps us to work with present pain without struggle and if practiced regularly it helps us to experience greater peace in every day life.
Having judgmental thoughts is something all humans experience. We are constantly judging ourselves, others, things, places, experiences by our very nature without realizing it.
The practice of mindfulness begins with noticing our judgments without judging ourselves for having them… and… if we notice we are judging ourselves for judging…well, we notice that…without judgment.
Discernment should be distinguished from judgment.
Judgement is when we place a value of good or bad on an activity, person, or experience. Discernment is when we assesses a situation or a person objectively and make a conscious decision to participate, to accept or to not participate or not accept.
The benefits of practicing mindfulness can most readily be seen when we bring the same level of attention and awareness into our daily lives and relationships. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes.”
I recommend that we begin with awareness of our breath here and now and make friends with the breath as a vital tool to bring us back to the practice of mindfulness, to integrate mind, emotion and body and to anchor us in the present moment instead of allowing ourselves to be splintered between past, present and future.
If we can first learn how to notice our breath we can then learn to breathe on purpose. Deeply, fully with awareness.
When we become mindful that we are rushing and splintering, we can gently stop, take a conscious breath and come back to this present moment fully. From there we have created a bubble of awareness that allows us to thoughtfully respond, to use discernment and consciously choose our action.
Without a mindfulness practice, without conscious awareness, without integration of mind’s thoughts, heart’s emotions and body’s sensations we become splintered. When we are splintered, we develop physical pains, disease, sickness that sometimes we can address or avoid altogether if we had been decidedly conscious and integrated.
Without a mindfulness practice we don’t hear the whispers of our inner knowing that will lead us in directions that promote harmony in life and relationships.
Unchecked, what starts as a twinge of fear can develop into a full blow anxiety or depressive disorder.
If we practice mindfulness regularly, we begin to experience an unwinding of tension in our body, heart and mind we didn’t even realize was there. If you are old enough to remember the telephones that hung on the kitchen wall with those long curly cords, you will remember having to hang the phone upside down to allow that cord to unwind and marveling at how it spun and spun until it finally settled into an unwound state and could be returned to the cradle on the wall. Practicing mindfulness takes us through that process. We unwind and allow for a bubble of acute awareness without judgment to help us slow down, see more clearly, feel more clearly and know more clearly.
Mindfulness practice has been shown through empirical research studies to alleviate all kinds of physical and mental health ailments, to reduced symptoms of stress and improve overall health.
It’s important to realize that mindfulness is not a pill to be popped with results in 20 minutes. It is a practice to be embraced day in and day out. It is very helpful to join and attend a mindfulness meditation group or class with an instructor on a regular basis in the beginning of starting a practice.
The one book I recommend to my clients and students is Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn as a course of practice and understanding this way of life. I utilize this practice and philosophy in all of my coaching, teaching, and therapy services. This is the bedrock of all my work.
If you would like to discuss how I can help you develop your personal mindfulness practice please set up your free Connection Session here.
As we run around doing ten things at once, we create more stress for ourselves which actually works against efficiency and causes us to accomplish less.
In our desperation to be more productive, we are creating the opposite effect. Yet we continue to take more on, adding more balls to the juggling act.
Studies have established that the practice of observing predictable time off from working actually improves efficiency. Other studies show that mindfulness can increase improve focus, productivity and creativity by enhancing our executive functioning skills.
Here are 5 ways for bringing the practice of mindfulness into your daily work life so you can have less stress and accomplish more:
1. Wash your Hands like a Zen Master
Since hand-washing is something we all do every day, build in some mindfulness training each time you hit the sink. Slow down, listen carefully for the sounds, feel the sensations, smell the scents... Really focus on the simple yet full experience of washing your hands and keep complete attention on this experience for 30 seconds. Do the same as you mindfully dry your hands.
2. Wait Patiently and Mindfully
Whether you are sitting in traffic, standing in the line at the bank or waiting for your doctor to show up in the exam room, these are perfect opportunities to practice BEING. Forego the magazine-reading and put away your phone and tablet. Sit or stand and do absolutely nothing but notice the sensation of the air around you, the seat beneath you, the scents, the sounds. Discipline your mind to stay fully present. Notice feelings of boredom or agitation and try to breathe and be still through those feelings.
3. Take the Stairs...One at a Time
We all know foregoing the elevator and taking the stairs can be good for heart-health. It also can be good for mental-health and productivity. When you need to get a file up to another department or you are headed out for lunch break, take the stairs. But take them slowly. One at a time. Feel the weight of your body fully shift into one leg and foot on the step before placing the other foot on the next step. Notice the echo in the stairwell, the smell, the feeling in your body as you slowly climb. Feel your breath and your heartbeat. This act of mindfulness on a regular basis will increase focus and efficiency when you get to wherever you're going.
4. Take a Breathing Break
Instead of a coffee break, opt for a breathing break. Set your alarm every hour to take a break, close your office door, sit and do NOTHING but breathe and watch your breath for 3 minutes. Just 3 minutes at the top of every hour spent at your desk is like a reset button for your brain.
5. Invite in a Guru into the Office
Okay, it doesn't have to be a guru per se. But consider bringing in a registered yoga teacher to lead an office yoga class or a workshop on mindfulness meditation. It can help to have a seasoned expert lead you and your peers in having an actual experience of practicing mindfulness.
Whether you start your mindfulness practice through a corporate workshop, at a nearby yoga class, or just sitting at your desk, make a commitment to yourself to train your brain to press the pause button, slow down and just notice. The more you practice, the more natural it will come and you will notice you are more patient and getting more accomplished with greater ease.
In a society of ongoing digital demands and internet everything, we must reclaim our minds, our bodies and our lives by choosing to be mindful through daily practice or else we WILL burn ourselves out. The irony is, through practicing doing nothing we truly will see tasks completed with greater ease and we will have more white space in our lives to laugh and breathe easy.
This year has been a hard-working year for me.
It's been a year of really evaluating which efforts are yielding juice and which ones I can toss into the wind, lightening my load.
I'm a huge juicing enthusiast as you probably know. I have a video demonstrating and comparing juicing vs. blending and I provide juicing info and recipes as part of many of my wellness programs. I have an entire page devoted to juicing.
But I have a confession....
There have been many times during this busy year, though, when I've realized going to the juice bar at Whole Foods and paying $6 for a Green Machine juice is better for me than all the effort required to shop, wash, prep, juice, and clean up for 8 ounces worth of green juice at home.
The evolution of my career has take a similar turn.
In 2012 I sold my counseling center and closed my yoga studio. I needed to shift directions and focus on the work that energizes me and let go of what was draining me. With a staff of up to 16 under me at one time, I was spending too much time and energy managing and there just wasn't enough juice to show for all that work.
I've had two years of solo practice which has allowed me time to reflect further on where I want to squeeze and where I want to let go.
This year I decided to go for a dream and launch an online holistic wellness business and open a brick-n-mortar wellness center. I am feeling juicer in my life than ever serving the needs of women over 40!
But I must say...using mindfulness while going for a dream is key to determining along the way when the juice is worth the squeeze.
This is what I've learned this year I would like to share with you:
- Don't be distracted by every new shiny online program. Just like a packaged item at the grocery store, I learned to not assume the fancy box and label means there is quality on the inside. It's a good idea to do your research, talk to people who have done the program. Find out if the program will deliver what it appears to promise before you plunk down a hunk of money. (In case you're wondering, my 12 week program is PACKED with valuable content! Check it out!)
- Self care comes first. Yes, I'd like to save the world. But I have to ensure I am taking care of myself before I can take care of others.
- I must be my own client. Along with the concept of self-care I have learned to schedule time for me and my needs on my calendar and attend to those needs with the same energy I give to my clients.
- Don't believe everything you hear/read. Sadly, there are those out there who are just waiting for the vulnerable, uninformed suckers to fall hook, line and sinker for fear-based propaganda.
- Trust your gut. Intuition is something we all have. We need to practice listening for that whispering intuitive voice inside and trus it. It will never mislead.
- Extend love in everything you do and say. Even when someone is doing you wrong and you have to set boundaries and address issues, you can silently send that person love and wish for the highest good to come for all involved. It's the right thing to do.
- Step away from the screens. Online work can be like a black hole. A time suck. Set a timer and promise yourself you'll stop working and go for a walk or do some yoga or call a friend and actually have a voice-to-voice conversation.
- Save yourself from drowning in the sea of emails. I love email. It's the greatest thing to come along in terms of communication in business. But the other side to that coin is that email can be overwhelming, distracting and addictive. Unsubscribe from all those newsletters you never read and only check email 2 times each day. One brilliant business strategy coach I worked with recently (Michelle Y. Grewal) advised me to draft my outgoing emails in Word and then paste into email so that I wouldn't be distracted by all the influx in my inbox.
- Learn to meditate and dedicate time to practice daily. In the hustle and bustle of developing my new online business and opening my new center, I drifted away from my meditation practice of 21 years. And boy, have I missed it. I have learned how incredibly important coming to the cushion and observing this practice is every day.
- Take time to cherish family and friends. The rush and push to meet deadlines, crank out content and connect with clients can all too easily interfere with ability to have a personal life. I've learned to be sure I am scheduling time with my kids, husband and other loved ones and when I'm with them, in person or on the phone, I am sure to be fully present and attentive.
- Savor the juice. It's all too easy to get caught up in the rush to get on to the next project that we can lose sight of the delicious juice we've produced so far. Take time to slow down, sip on the juice of all your labor and enjoy.
"Come to the mat. Come back to the mat, because you love yourself. Use your practice to fall in love with yourself. Not the ego based kind of love, but the kind of love that allows you to flourish to your full potential so that you can help others do the same." ~ Feyhan Levine, Yoga Teacher
Yoga. Not pretzel poses and stretchy pants. Not super-models on the covers of fitness magazines.
Yoga. The simple practice of bringing together the WHOLE SELF with attention to body, mind and spirit.
It's not an occult practice. (I can't help giggle when I remember a judge in a rural county of Georgia asking me when I was on the stand testifying as an expert in a court case, "Isn't yoga some of that voo doo thing?" Oh my. No...)
No, Yoga is about love. It's about focus. It's about being awake to our lives. It's about service. It's about respect.
It's not about ego-based, self-centered narcissism.
It's about choosing to believe that beneath your ego-centric behavior and your stinking-thinking, you are a pure being of goodness.
And so is everyone else beneath their undesirable behavior and stinking-thinking.
"Coming to the mat" in Yoga is much more than rolling out that 6x2 piece of jute or rubber. It's about approaching yourself, your body, your breath, your thoughts, your inner-being with acceptance and willingness to work with where you are.
But Yoga is not just on the mat.
Yoga is a dedicated practice all day every day if you want to allow it to be a part of your life and see the transformation.
Yoga of thought is choosing what your mind will focus on rather than allowing thoughts to jump in and drag you down the road.
Today, practice this.... As corny as it may sound to some of you who have been conditioned to believe that "self love" is indulgent mamby-pamby stuff I hope you will open your mind - and more importantly your heart.
Set a timer on your phone/device for 10 minutes and turn off all distractions.
Come to the mat of your mind.
Visualize rolling out a yoga mat that feels like home to you.
In your mind take a seat and sit tall. Allow your body to settle into a comfortable seat in your mind and in your body wherever you are.
Close your eyes.
Imagine a time in your life when you felt the warmth and comfort of feeling loved. It could be your grandma's smile greeting you. It could be your little dog that is there wagging his tail glad to see you. It could be the day your child was born.
Remember and feel that sense of love in your body and breathe it in. Feel it.
Now, holding on to that feeling begin this practice:
Breathe in as you silently say, "I choose to love myself today."
Exhale out whatever reaction you may feel in your body or whatever objecting thoughts emerge.
Repeat. Breathe in and silently say, "I choose to love myself."
Exhale out reaction, discomfort - anything opposite of what feels like love.
Continue this practice until the timer alerts you.
Throughout your day continue to repeat these words.
You see, when we consciously choose to practice coming to ourselves, loving ourselves and acting in a way that is loving toward ourselves, the whole self comes together.
That is Yoga. And if you actually go to yoga classes or practice asana at home, incorporate this mind practice into your time on the physical mat.
Your life will change for the better if you do. Guaranteed.
To create your own personal yoga practice you can now find a yoga class to fit YOUR needs and download it to your computer, phone or tablet and take it with you everywhere. Click on over and check it out!