Spring Cleaning for Mental Clutter

Society values multi tasking and efficiency.  These skills are considered necessary for companies to thrive in today's competitive marketplace.  We now talk on the phone or listen to a book while going about our daily tasks.  Always on the go, time is a commodity.  The more we can accomplish in a shorter amount of time, the better ... or is it?   There is certainly a time and place for these efforts, but sometimes it can be a bit too much.  We may find ourselves with a bit of mental clutter.  Here are my 3 simple steps to begin mentally decluttering.  

  1. Slow Down - It is important to schedule some time to slow down, quiet your mind, and restore.  For a healthy way to slow down, I prefer yoga and meditation.  Other helpful practices include walking in nature, playing music, praying, journaling, or reading spiritual books.  It is important to schedule this time, and make it a priority.  If you regularly take the time to slow down, you will be able to access the skill when it is necessary in steps 2 & 3.   

  2. Listen - Dictionary.com defines listen as  "to give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing".  We must first practice listening to ourselves before we can ever truly listen to others.  Begin to become more sensitive to your gut instincts and physical cues that your body uses to communicate with you (tight shoulders, breath changes, etc).  Ask yourself what story is behind a particular feeling or instinct.  Use your practice of slowing down from step 1 to become a better listener.  We must be able to refine the art of internal listening if we ever want to be able to truly listen to others.

  3. Trust - It is impossible to slow down and listen without the element of trust.  Stop any urges to judge what your are hearing, how well your meditation is going, what you should be doing instead.  If you are practicing listening to yourself, give yourself permission to trust your instincts.  If you are practicing listening to others, fight the urge to solve their problems or judge what they are saying.  Less judgement and more trust will help free you from unnecessary mental clutter.

These are skills that I am beginning to refine after 16 years of yoga practice.  When I am able to get it right, I can feel a physical sense of lightness in my body and focus in my mind.  Notice the physical feelings that you have when you are actively listening to yourself.  Take that practice, and use it when you are interacting with others.  The ability to clear out enough mental clutter to slow down, truly listen, and trust ourselves and others is a highly rewarding practice that is well worth the effort.

 

Namaste - Beth

 

 

 

 

New Year Mindfulness

As we leave 2015 behind and enter 2016, many people will be creating New Year's Resolutions, things they intend to accomplish within the next year.  I am not against setting intentionsor starting new projects, but I'm not writing another blog about resolutions either.

So much of our time is spent dwelling in the past, or worrying about/planning for the future.  Why not take some time to be mindful, and just "be here now"?  Unsure how to even start living in the present moment?  Here are a few ideas to get you started.  

  1. Put your phone/ipad/laptop down!  How can you be in the present moment if you are busy becoming of one mind with an electronic device?
  2. Find a quiet space and close your eyes.  Listen to the sound of your breath, try to feel the thumping of your beating heart.  
  3. Try some yogic breath work (pranayama).  My students are exposed to this during each and every class and their current favorite  for stress relief is alternate nostril breath.  I'm including a video link to the right.
  4. Take a walk in nature.  Smell the smells outside, listen to the sound of the wind blowing or the stream moving.  Feel the fresh air on your face.  
  5. Quietly enjoy a cup of hot tea.  Don't do anything but experience the smells, taste, and temperature of the tea.
  6. Warm up with a quiet, hot bath or spend some time in front of a cozy fire.
  7. Join a meditation group. 

Now I will head out to gather food to mindfully prepare dinner.  How can you fit a little more mindfulness into your life?  How can you "be here now"?

Namaste - Beth

 

 

 

 

 

Attentive Practices to Beat Stress

 

A moment of truth as I deal with my own stress.  After writing this entire post on dealing with holiday stress, I accidentally deleted it without saving, and had to start over.  Now I'll be taking some of my own advice, taking a deep breath, and enjoying a cup of hot tea while I rewrite this blog post in an attentive manner.

When our busy holiday schedules get the best of us, sometimes we miss out on all the great little moments.  Much like our yoga practice, there is no such thing as a perfect holiday, although that is often our goal.  Mindful practices can help reduce stress levels and allow us to enjoy our experiences more fully.

I'll list several practices to try.  Find the ones that appeal to you, and put them into practice when you're letting life's stressors get in your way.  Your nervous system will thank you.

Breathe

  1. The yogic practice of attentive breathing is a proven method to calm the nervous system.  Begin by noticing the length of your inhale, then try to extend your exhale to twice the length of the inhale.  Over time, if the length of your inhale naturally lengthens as you calm down, you can respond by lengthening your exhale even more.  
  2. Aromatherapy is a great way to relax.  Essential oils like lavender can be used in body products, diffused into the air, or added to hot baths.  I have been known to put a drop on a surgical mask when I'm working in a stressful surgical case during my day job in cardiology.

Move

  1. Take a long walk, preferably outdoors.  Put your phone away, and really stay in the moment.  Practice hearing the rhythm of your footsteps and breath, noticing the sights, sounds and smells around you, and put your to do list away.  Take the time to be mindful as you walk.
  2. Yoga is an obvious choice as a way to move mindfully.  You may be able to take a full class at your favorite studo.  If not, consider a home practice.  That may mean a few of your favorite poses, or sun salutations on your own, or you can search You Tube for a free class that meets your needs.
  3. Tai Chi and Chi Gong are great gentle ways to learn mindful movement.  I advise seeking out an instructor or class if this practice interests you.

Stillness

  1. Meditation is a great way to focus inward and reduce stress.  Medical studies have shown changes in the brain structure of meditators with as little as 20 minutes of daily practice.  Some of my favorite people are regular meditators!  Tara Brach has many great meditations that are available for free online, and it's a great place to start.

  2. Mantra is another way to find attentive stillness.  You may choose a phrase that means something to you or try a more traditional mantra.  I'm a fan of Om Mani Padme Hum, in the Tabetan Buddhist tradition.  So Hum (I am) is another common mantra.  Simply think or say so with the inhale, and hum with the exhale. 

  3. Restorative yoga is a great way to relax.  Classes are available in studios and online.  Legs up the Wall is a great restorative pose that can be practiced in just a few minutes.  It is practiced by quite literally laying with your legs resting up against a wall as shown here.

Taste

  1. Enjoy a nice glass of tea.  This has been a favorite method of stress relief my entire life.  While in Nepal, tea was regularly offered when we entered people's homes.  I love this tradition!  Don't multitask or pay bills while enjoying your tea, although a nice conversation with a friend or family member is encouraged.

  2. My 95+ year old grandmother and 13 year old son agree that a very small piece of dark chocolate is something to be savored and enjoyed.  Rather than diving into your child's halloween stash of candy, try allowing yourself to take a moment to really experience a small amount of your favorite treat.  No guilt allowed.

If you already practice mindfulness, be sure to keep it up during the holiday season.  If you don't, or if you're looking for something new, try a few of the practices on this list.  Notice how you feel, and enjoy a stress free life during the holidays and into the New Year.

 

Namaste - Beth