Category Archives: Meditation

Mental Outlook – One of the Four Pillars of Health

Be the type of person you want to meetSince you are the only one that thinks inside your head, it would seem that choosing positive thoughts and creating good healthy mental patterns would be quite easy. But for any of us who have tried to walk this path and create thoughts, behaviors, and habits that lead to the life we want to manifest, we all know that it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Despite our best intentions,  at times we get engulfed in the negative story line.

Besides going through emotional upsets and even traumas in each of our respective lives, as a species we also have a negativity bias built into our brains that makes it easier to lean towards the negative. Indeed, left to our own devices, we all tend to put more weight on the negative than the positive in our lives. Yes, we can get a nice warm glow when someone gives us a sincere compliment or praises our achievements. But where is the residual value of this praise if we are wounded so easily by criticism or a harsh word by an unmindful, thoughtless person? Think of how easy it is to allow a negative story line to spiral out of control in our minds until we are convinced that we are not loveable or worthwhile. It often doesn’t take much for us to sink to a low depth in our self esteem.

You can devote some time to doing things that make you feel good, that make you laugh, that give you a high. But those same demons will sneak in the back door as soon as something goes very wrong, or someone decides to take their frustration or own low self esteem out on you. The yo-yo method of Mental Outlook doesn’t work any better than the yo-yo method of dieting. We swing from “vine to vine”, looking for something else (we’re not sure exactly what) because we don’t see we are already whole and complete as we are right now. We have to wake up and tune into this.

What really helps take you further down the path of love and acceptance is a conscious choice, then being willing to do the work to make this happen. Geeze,,,,it’s like so many other things, eh? Even a positive mental outlook takes work, a bit of mental and spiritual weigh-lifting. This is not because we are lacking in any way, but most of us have learned what we know and believe from others, who had their own wounds and issues to work out. “Unearthing” the richness of who we are and what we have to offer takes work mainly because we have to get rid of the unnecessary baggage before we can dive deep. It is simply part of our life’s work to discover first hand what is true for us and not just blindly accept another’s blueprint for our life.

For me, a meditation and yoga practice is important for clearing the clutter in my mind and tuning in but there are other practices that can be just as valuable, including Tai’ Chi and Qi gong (pronounced Chi Gong).  I believe a spiritual practice of some sort – whatever that is for you – is important for a sense of fulfilment and vitality. Does the word “spiritual” bother you?  Then pick another word.  But a practice where you can quiet the mind and stop the chaos, and feel a part of something greater than just yourself and your problems is crucial for good health.  This positive spiritual practice will help you plug into things that really nourish and recharge you.  You must nourish yourself, otherwise it won’t take long for you to become depleted. Even if your time is limited, you can set priorities and let something go so you can have a mini-break and recover. You only have 30 minutes while the baby sleeps? Spend it meditating instead of watching some silly TV program. The meditation will leave you more calm and refreshed than the TV. Remember that you can only do one thing at a time well, whatever the hype is about “multi-tasking”. If you try to open up too many windows on your computer, what happens?  It crashes! So will you. Get calm, close some windows, take a deep breath, and focus on the one thing you need to do in front of you. When that is done, you can move on to the next thing. Work on one “window” at a time.

By now, we’ve all heard how important a positive attitude is for health and happiness, and more than likely you’ve incorporated some of this sage advice into your life already. If so, good for you!  If not, don’t take my word for it – just commit to adding some positive practices, such as positive affirmations and a gratitude journal, yoga, meditation, etc. into your life every day for one month, and then see if your life improves. If it doesn’t you’ve lost nothing.  But you will never know that life can be so much better if you don’t give it a try.

Suggestions to get started:

  • Commit to devoting time to becoming the person you want to be. Writing an agreement with yourself is good, or teaming up with a good friend can also be beneficial. It is not easy to stay the course on your own if you have no experience with this. Work out one or two small steps to begin in the direction of your goal (even if the goal is just a vague idea like “I want to be a better person”). You can get more specific after you begin and get more clear on what is important to you.
  • Start small, and add to this as you have some success. Meditate for a few minutes (10 is good, then add more time.), write in a gratitude journal every day for 30 days without fail, look at yourself in the eyes every morning and say something positive. 
  • Practice mindfulness. Try “closing all the Windows” and being present – to the activity you are doing, to the person you are with, to the feelings you are having. Notice the next breath and place your full attention on this. Place your focus on the sensations in your body….is your jaw tight, are you slouching, are you warm or cool, is there discomfort anywhere in your body? Tune in and really feel what is happening for a few moments. It can start this small, but be fully present to what is happening now.
  • Bring more positive people in your life. Spend more time with the ones you already know. Limit your time with people who bring you down, make you doubt yourself. Don’t waste your precious time with people who want to tear you down.
  •  Be persistent but kind to yourself. Don’t immediately think, “I’m no good at this” when you try meditation and your mind is all over the place. If you had to fly a jet plane, you would probably not feel confident your first try. So just show up for it, no matter what happens. Be present for the chaos, for the calm, for the anger, and for the happiness. No judgement.

Feel free to let me know how you do with this, or for that matter, how you feel about this post.

 

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Sleep – One of the Four Pillars of Health

sleeping woman -blog imageMy last blog was devoted to the four crucial components for good health – diet, exercise, sleep, and mental outlook.  I’ll look at each one in a little more depth, and sleep seems a good place to start.  If you’re not getting proper sleep, life is just not going to be as good as it can be, full stop. The fact is, you cannot be completely healthy if you don’t get good sleep. There is some wiggle room as far as how much sleep an individual needs but the amount of sleep you need is what’s important. It is probably going to be between 6 – 8 hours per night.

Lack of energy, fatigue, and brain fog are bad enough, but these are not the only problems associated with lack of sleep. Poor sleep can lead to depression, pain, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and even more. Lack of sleep causes our bodies to secrete too much cortisol, which is very serious in the long term. When we sleep, our bodies rejuvenate on a cellular level and our brains “flush out” and reset. Sleep is crucial to our health and it is not possible to be healthy without getting good sleep consistently….at least, much more often than not.

For chronic problems with sleep, the cure can take time and seem very elusive. This is true for any chronic health problem and generally requires some lifestyle changes. For starters, we must go to bed and get up at the same time every day. When first starting to do this, it may seem difficult because you may not be sleepy at night, or you may be very sleepy when it’s time to get up. But persevere….it will help your sleep in time.

Also important: turn off all devices (including TV) at least an hour before you turn in. The blue light emitted by these devices is stimulating to your brain and it does ot allow the body to produce enough melatonin, which is a very important hormone that signals our bodies to get sleepy.

Almost all experts agree: use your bed for only sleep and lovemaking. Do not bring work, mail, games, etc. to bed with you. If you want good sleep consistently, follow this advice.

Create a bedtime ritual, which can be anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour or so. It can involve your bedtime ablutions (teeth brushing, face washing, hair combing), or be more elaborate such as a warm soak with essential oils, lighting a candle, meditation, stretching, or writing a list with tasks for the next day so you don’t have to trouble yourself with thinking about these things.

Many people have been helped by regular meditation, massage, hypnosis, and acupuncture, and also by getting more exercise (early in the day; not right before bedtime!). If your problem with sleep is long standing, it pays to commit to taking steps to resolve it. It can be trial and error to unravel the problem because there are so many causes for insomnia…. so be patient. If these “sleep hygiene” pointers have no effect, you may want to consider supplements. This approach should be handled with a light touch, however. Though there are some tried and true natural sleep problem remedies, many supplement companies have jumped on this bonanza and are marketing questionable products. Here is an overview of some of the supplements available for sleep issues:

GABA: Study results can be read in PubMed; also in ANH-USA database. There is some debate whether GABA can cross through the digestive system and remain intact enough to offer real benefits, but the good news is there doesn’t seem to be adverse effects from taking this. Try combining with Niacin if it’s not effective on its own for you. There is good empirical evidence that it does work for some people, so it is worth a try.

Theanine: Can be supplemented but also found in green tea. This is why green tea has a relaxing effect, despite the fact it contains some caffeine. Start with a low dose; remember organic substances do not have the “knock out” effect of pharmaceuticals, so don’t over supplement with Theanine.

Kava Root Extract: This is good for chronic anxiety. (Nutrition and Healing, October 2013).

Lavender Oil: (Lavandula angustfolia or Lavandula officinatis) Lavender has shown in studies to slow the activty of the nervous system (University of Maryland Medical Center, USA). No reported negative effects, bust just a few drops is all you need. Splash out too much of this lovely substance, and it could have a stimulating effect on the nervous system!

Magnesium: This should be in a chelated from (citrate, ascorbate, orotake, glycinate). Good documentation from many sources that magnesium has a natural muscle relaxant effect, and is soothing to the nervous system. For problems with sleep caused by tension or overactive nervous system, take 400-500 mg. Only reported negative effect is some people can get diarrhoea from the citrate form.

Valarian: This has been used for anxiety for a very long time. 300-400 mg. is probably needed; take note that many commercial brands do not have enough of the active substance, so read labels. As in most herbal remedies, I think a liquid tincture is most effective.

Melatonin: I though long and hard before including melatonin, because there is some dissent whether this is a healthy supplement. Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally in the body, based on the cycles of light and dark and your circadian rhythms. The argument is that modern life has blurred the cycles of light and dark with the use of so much artificial light, so supplementation may be necessary for some people. The other side of the argument is that the body stops producing melatonin efficiently following prolonged supplementation, particularly in doses that are high (higher than 3mg.)  Most articles I have read state a person is not at risk of dependence if the dose is not higher than 1 mg. Also, melatonin’s main benefit is when the circadian rhythms are seriously out of sync, as in jet lag. So, for short term use when travelling between time zones, a higher dose is effective and safe. This is probably about 7 days or less at the higher doses (+3mg).

Tryptophan: I almost did not include this at all, and do not recommend it. I did include it to encourage all who read this to explore further before supplementing with Tryptophan. There have been some serious side effects recorded, and some quite dangerous. I do not recommend this and would not take it until more conclusive studies are done. (Read supplements-and-health.com/tryptophan-side-effects)

 

 

 

Living With Good Health and Vitality – Implementing The Four Pillars of Health

happy-people-in-the-poppy-field-1280x800-wide-wallpapers-netOur bodies are designed to perform optimally. Knowing this yet seeing the number of people who struggle with feeling good every day can be perplexing.  Why does it seem so elusive for many people to wake up feeling great and to have energy throughout the day?

There can be complex issues that effect our quality of health caused by modern 21st century lifestyles, but in an effort to distil information into bite-size chunks let’s keep this simple. I believe there are four essential foundations for optimum health and that often we leave one or more out of the equation while trying to care for ourselves  The Four Pillars of Health, which form the foundation for great health and vitality, are Diet, Exercise, Good Sleep, and Mental Outlook. Very often people will focus on one, two, or even three of these categories but it is a bit more rare to embrace all four consistently….so at times we get out of balance, or homoeostasis.  The body will always circle back to homoeostasis if we give it what it needs.

All four of these “Pillars” are equally important and support good health, but let’s arbitrarily start with Diet. (This is where most people start when trying to make changes to enhance health.) There are volumes of wonderful blogs and books dedicated to this subject, but in a nutshell what you must do is eliminate, or severely restrict, all processed foods from your diet. You want to eat foods that come from Nature, not from a laboratory. Your body does not know what to do with the artificial ingredients in processed food and they will cause serious problems for you in time. Begin this process by adding in good healthy things to your diet – focus on the plethora of foods you CAN eat, instead of the things you cannot. If you build your diet on what you must stay away from, your willpower WILL cave in time! Ask yourself the question, “What great foods can I add to my diet?” Stop thinking “no,no,no” when it comes to food, and instead make a list of healthy foods you like and have fun creating new meals. Give yourself the tools you need to get started by doing a little research, collecting tasty recipes, and start adding great food to your pantry and fridge. Remember to make the shift to focusing on everything you can eat and don’t browbeat yourself. Begin to crowd the bad stuff out of your diet by adding in the good.

Exercise: Most of us simply don’t get enough. Our ancestors walked around about 10 times more than we do. (Great quote from Lucas Rockwood: “Sitting is the new smoking” – I love it!) Sit less, and move more. The fact is, the more lean muscle mass you have, the more energy you’ll have. And, even better – the more you will need to eat to maintain your lean muscle (without gaining weight) and keep going.  If you don’t have much lean muscles mass, you won’t have as much energy and you will require much less food to maintain your weight.  So, look into Burst Training (sometimes called Interval Training), and move your body every day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk whenever you can, join a class, and move your body throughout your day in as many creative ways that you can think of.

Sleep:  It doesn’t matter how great your diet is, or how much exercise you get; if you are not sleeping enough consistently, are are not going to function optimally. Full stop. Rest and recovery phases are crucial for healing and maintaining vitality and good health. Sleep dysfunction is tricky because there are so many different causes for lack of sleep.  Good sleep hygiene is essential, and an upcoming blog will be devoted to this topic. But it’s really good and proactive for you to dig into your own research about this, so even googling “sleep hygiene” is a wonderful start. Take even a small step in the direction you want to go and try to let go of worrying and fretting about not getting enough sleep.  I know how hard it can be, because I have not been a very good sleeper at times….but never once was it helpful to worry about it.  Watch this space for more information about improving the quality of your sleep.

Mental Outlook: We’ve all heard how important a positive attitude is for health and happiness, and more than likely you’ve incorporated some of this sage advice into your life already. If so, good for you!  If not, don’t take my word for it – just commit to adding some positive practices, such as positive affirmations and a gratitude journal, yoga, meditation, etc. into your life every day for one month, and then see if your life improves. If it doesn’t you’ve lost nothing.  But you will never know that life can be so much better if you don’t give it a try.

We swing from “vine to vine”, looking for something else (we’re not sure exactly what) because we don’t see we are already whole and complete as we are right now. We just have to wake up and tune into this. For me, a meditation and yoga practice is important for clearing the clutter in my mind and tuning in but there are other practices that can be just as valuable, including Tai’ Chi and Qi gong (pronounced Chi Gong).  I believe a spiritual practice of some sort – whatever that is for you – is important for a sense of fulfilment and vitality. Does the word “spiritual” bother you?  Then pick another word.  But a practice where you can quiet the mind and stop the chaos, and feel a part of something greater than just yourself and your problems is crucial for good health.  This positive spiritual practice will help you plug into things that really nourish and recharge you.  You must nourish yourself! Even if your time is limited, you can set priorities and let something go so you can have a mini-break and recover. You only have 30 minutes while the baby sleeps? Spend it meditating instead of watching some silly TV program. The meditation will leave you more calm and refreshed than the TV. Remember that you can only do one thing at a time well, whatever the hype is about “multi-tasking”. If you try to open up too many windows on your computer, what happens?  It crashes! So will you. Get calm, close some windows, take a deep breath, and focus on the one thing you need to do in front of you. When that is done, you can move on to the next thing. Work on one “window” at a time.

Choose one of these four pillars that you think needs some bolstering (Diet, Exercise, Sleep, and Mental Outlook) and add one positive thing to your life every day. You will be the one to benefit from this positive attention. Please watch this space for future blogs on each indivdual Pillar of Health.

Note: Dr. Pedram Shojai is a wonderful teacher to learn from.  I discovered him while compiling notes for this blog. He is teaching and writing about the very same thing (now I know there is nothing new under the sun!…..ideas, thoughts, and words are part of our collective knowledge base and are constantly being recycled and given a new spin, a new life.) that I am writing about only he calls it The Wheel of Vitality, and Mental Outlook is referred to as Mindset. Follow him if you are interested – a beautiful man with wonderful things to say.

You Can Find The Time to Meditate – Really You Can!

office meditation 2You want to start a meditation practice, but you’re too busy.  Perhaps you work full time, or your children need to get to day-care, you need to make breakfast (and dinner!), you are always running late, and you ALREADY have too much to do in the morning.  All your excuses are valid because you have a busy life. I’ll bet you have other excuses I haven’t even mentioned yet.  But the truth is, you still have time to meditate.

The first hurdle is, of course, to make it a priority. You would be surprised to learn how many very successful (and busy) people make time to meditate every day (I read that Oprah Winfrey sits in stillness 20 minutes twice a day).  Sometimes, to hear “If they can do it, so can you” sounds almost shaming, so reframe any such thoughts to be reassuring. It really can be done, and it really does not have to feel overwhelming.

The best time for a busy person to meditate is as soon as you wake up. You may already have to wake up earlier than you want to but chances are you will not even notice getting up 5 or 10 minutes earlier and these few minutes will belong to you. Here’s all you need to do to get started, after you open your eyes:

  • Get out of bed
  • Take care of your bodily functions (pee, have a drink of water…)
  • Meditate

Don’t even think about these steps; just do it.  Get up, take care of your physical needs, sit down to meditate for 10 minutes.  Five if you are an absolute beginner.  Buy a kitchen timer, set it for the allotted time, and be with yourself for these first few minutes of the day. Once you feel good about it and it is part of your routine, you can increase the time.

You can also sneak in meditation breaks throughout your day.

Lunchtime can be a good time, either a few minutes before you eat or a few minutes after. It can be nourishing to eat your lunch slowly, quietly, and mindfully as part of a mindful exercise, and it is helpful to have something so concrete to focus on, such as chewing mindfully and being aware of the taste of your food. Try it for even a couple of minutes the next time you find yourself eating alone.  You may discover that you are really tasting your food in a way that just isn’t possible when you are trying to eat, talk, text, or otherwise multi-tasking.

Immediately after work when you first get home can be a good time, and a lovely transition between work and home life. The key is consistency, even if it is only for a few minutes.

Actually scheduling a 10 minute meditation on your calendar can be the key for some people. If you meditate in the middle of your day, there are some wonderful aps to support you with this. They can be helpful is you need a little more focus. To name just a few:

  • Omnava
  • Headspace
  • The Mindfulness App
  • Insight Timer

With your marvellous creative mind, you can probably think of other moments when you can squeeze in a few minutes of meditation. We can all relate to the feeling of not having enough time, but meditation actually helps us to become more productive so is worth the small time commitment. We all face countless distraction all day long (I don’t have to list them!) and slowly building a meditation practice will increase your ability to focus on priorities and minimise these distractions. Please don’t worry about whether you are “doing it right”. Just do it.

(Please see Meditation page of this website, and/or previous posts on Meditation for more information).

A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation

Science is catching up to what many of us have known for a long time – meditation is very good for you. Neurologist researchers have concluded that we have between 15,000 and 50,000 thoughts each day, and that the majority of these thoughts are fear-based or negative. Of these, 80% are re-runs, or thoughts we’ve had before – sometimes over and over. That, folks, is bathing our brain in negativity for a large portion of our day.

If you keep track of your thoughts for even a few minutes, you’ll see that there is a lot of busy-ness up there in your head. In yoga, this busy-ness of the mind is called “monkey mind”. In the office or at home, it might be called “multi-tasking” – but whatever you call it, it can be wearing and exhausting for the mind and contributes to our stress levels. Meditation is a great technique to help curb this tendency. It is a remarkably simple technique that, with practice, all of us can learn. Though simple it is not  necessarily easy because of our tendency to judge ourselves and become uneasy when our untrained mind becomes still.

Here are three steps to begin your meditation practice that I teach in my meditation classes. My heartfelt thanks go out to two of my meditation teachers, Christopher Baxter and David Nichtern for helping me learn and master these steps.

1). Taking our Seat:

Sit cross-legged only if this is comfortable, otherwise it is far better to come to a kneeling position (with support) or to sit in a chair. Rest your hands on your thighs with torso upright but relaxed. Chin should be slightly tucked in toward your chest with the back of the neck feeling long and relaxed. Your posture should feel uplifted but not stiff. Your back should be as straight as possible with a feeling of rootedness through the sitz bones and tail bone, and a feeling of rising up through the torso and chest. Feel a sense of settling down and reducing your sphere of activity.

2). Placing Attention on the Breath:

Begin to pay attention to your breathing. Have a light touch here, not too intense. Just a relaxed focus on the breath going in and out of the body is all you need. Once you notice your awareness has shifted elsewhere (and it will shift elsewhere! – This is not a failure.) simply bring your awareness back to your breathing without judgement or criticism of yourself. Just keep bringing your awareness back to the breath as many times as you notice it is wondering away. Your focus is soft and relaxed, not hard and intense.

3). Labelling Thoughts:

When you notice you are thinking about something, just say to yourself, “thinking” and bring your awareness back. It is helpful to take a “democratic” approach to thoughts – ie., no more importance is given to one thought over another. So, whether you are thinking about what you are going to have for dinner or about climate change – it is all just labelled “thinking”. You are neither repressing your thoughts or focusing on them. You just label each thought “thinking” and come back softly to focusing on your breath.  As the body continues to settle down, your mind will as well. Be patient and loving with yourself, just like you would if your mind were a toddler that kept wandering off. Label that wandering off “thinking” and patiently come back to your breath. It is always there, waiting for you to come back.

If you need to move to restore circulation, go ahead and do that without any frustration or self-criticism. Fix the problem, resettle, and continue where you left off….focusing on the breath.

In future blogs, I will write about other techniques. For now, practice these three steps for 10 minutes every day for the next 7 days. Increase to 15 minutes the second week.  Finally increase to 20 minutes on the third week. There is no need for any expectations because all you are doing is making a date to be with yourself a few minutes every day. Nothing woo-hoo needs to happen, so don’t worry about seeing colours or having a peak experience. All you are going to do is sit quietly with yourself and observe the breath. Try it for the next 21 days with all my good wishes.