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As professionals, we desire to help others in health and wellness through our knowledge, experience and training. We continue to learn and grow and provide the best practices for our clients and companies. There are so many options for certifications and avenues of wellness that it can be overwhelming sometimes to know what we should be learning or where our focus should be. A mantra can help us to fine tune our focus on what we want for our career and even personally in our life.
A mantra is defined as a motivating chant, or any repeated word or phrase. In my coaching practice I call it the vision statement; a picture of who you are and what you desire. The word mantra is derived from Sanskrit word meaning “a sacred message or charm”. Many might also use the word “motto” as a similar description. The difference between a motto and a mantra is how personal the phrase is. A mantra is a phrase that describes your passion, your desire, or your goals. It’s personal. It is a representation of your purpose and who you are as a professional or as a person.
Our mantras can sometime be the same for our career and our life, or we may choose to create a separate mantra for each. Our mantras can be vague, covering a bigger picture of our goals, or it can be very specific and tailored to a specific event or timeline. For example, a vague mantra would be “I help others and I increase my knowledge consistently.” A more specific mantra could be “I am certified nutritional coach in 2018”.
A mantra can be created annually, monthly or weekly. It is preference. If you are interested in creating a mantra today, below is a basic guide to finding your mantra. I challenge you to first take time to reflect on your thoughts, feelings and aspirations. Maybe write down a few things that are in the front of your thoughts this month or year. You decide how vague or specific your mantra will be. Add more detail or specific goal as desired. Feel free to make one for personal and one for professional, or one for both. If you make a separate one for each, tailor your answers to just professionally or just personally.
1.Write down 3 words that describe how you wish to feel in 2018.For example, mine would be happy, energetic, and confident. If you have more than 3 ideas, write them all down. Then reflect on each and circle the 3 that are most important to you in this moment.
2.Write 3 things you wish to accomplish this year.For example, mine would be to help others, improve health, one fun adventure. Again, if you have more write them all down and choose the 3 that are most important to you in this moment.
3.Now, circle one word in each list that stands out to you the most today.The one that connects to your heart, the first thing in your head that really sticks out. Then use those two words to develop a statement; a positive, future tense statement, as if you are already accomplishing it.
4.Write down your mantra on a piece of paper.Then below list 2-4 action steps that are needed to obtain this mantra. These can be small or large action steps, just be sure to use the S.M.A.R.T. acronym when setting these actions steps (Smart, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time sensitive).
When I first went through my coach certification, I created a simple mantra which was “I am able, and I am happy”. It appears as a vague statement, but I know it represented very specific things I was feeling and dealing with at the time. I had experienced health struggles and burnout from my job. That statement represented the goal I had of overcoming my health obstacles and getting back to enjoying what I do in a positive and nurturing environment. This year my mantra is one word, which is “flourish”. It’s the basis for my blog. Your vision and needs change and shift in importance over time, so a mantra is a great way to narrow focus in a phrase that is easy to remember and repeat often.
Whatever your mantra becomes, write it down where you will see it the most, or write it down in multiple places. The nightstand, the office computer, wherever you will be reminded of this statement. I like to type it into a colorful phrase and then frame it by my desk. Remind yourself of this desire daily, and create action steps to help you achieve your mantra in 2018.
Ashley Denney is wellness manager and certified health and wellness coach for a continuing care retirement community. She has earned a Bachelor's degree in Exercise Science from Old Dominion University. She is a AFAA Group exercise and yoga instructor. She is also a Certified health and wellness coach through WellCoaches. She lives in Virginia with her husband Todd and two dogs. Ashley enjoys anything outdoors, and teaches yoga and paddle board yoga in the summer. She is passionate about helping others live well in all areas of wellness.
Posted By Trevor McDonald,
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
Numerous factors kickstart an addiction; not all is to be blamed on the illicit substance itself. Since this is the case, many former addicts follow the holistic approachto overcome their addiction. Theobjectiveof holistic healing is to create a balance between the emotional, physical, and spiritual aspects of an individual. In other words, an ailment can only be properly alleviated if the entirety of a person is sound as opposed to solving one area of the whole problem. In addition to pre-existing addiction treatments such as psychotherapy or prescribed medication, holistic healing can also be equally effective.
This is how to have a holistic approach to addiction recovery:
Restore emotional balance
Guilt and shame are common emotions to experience after you decide to live in sobriety. However, these demanding emotions can cause episodes of anxiety and depression. The holistic approach encourages you to confront pain through either holistic therapy or meditation. By intentionally reflecting and assessing past life experiences and choices, you eventually see the big picture of what caused an addiction. Furthermore, reflection and honesty with oneself develop emotional resilience when in the face of challenging emotions and help you become more understanding and compassionate for yourself.
Alleviate physical symptoms
The state of one’s body is directly connected to how well their mind will function. Addiction recovery is not limited to one suffering emotional obstacles. It has a fair share of physical symptoms from withdrawal, mainly: fatigue, low energy, and muscle tension. You can alleviate the symptoms mentioned above with the use of acupuncture to restore proper blood circulation, massage therapy to stimulate relaxation, release muscle tension, and treat insomnia.
Establish spiritual ground
There are multiple facets to spirituality besides connecting with a divine or religious deity. Spirituality also refers to your sense of self and the feeling of harmony with the surrounding world. After a life of abusing drugs, one may feel they have lost a significant part of their identity, which can ignite confusion on how to live in sobriety and even induce depression.
Find some spiritual ground by turning to yoga and meditation. Both practices deepen self-awareness and introspection, both of which are necessary to create perspective on the root causes of certain choices, overcome trauma from past experiences, and develop a plan of action to avoid relapse. Additionally, yoga and meditation are stress-reducers, which will permanently replace the previous coping mechanism of abusing substances.
Practice mindful nutrition
Eat only wholesome and clean food that optimizes organ function and exercise daily to sustain physical strength and energy. The act of eating is also important as well. Look to implement mindful eatingwhich creates a connection to the act of eating food and encourages you to dedicate your attention to enjoying a meal. The philosophy behind this action is to ultimately help you develop a sense of awareness and understanding for how consuming certain foods and outside substances affect your body, whether that be positive or negative.
Create a safe external environment
Avoid traveling to places that have triggers and break off relationships with people who will drag you back into substance abuse. There is no reason to include either in your life again. Regarding your living space, be intentional with the type of atmosphere you create. The home should be clean and organized, free of clutter that can otherwise frazzle thoughts and emotions; it needs to diminish your stress and promote relaxation! You should feel at ease devoting time to hobbies, unwinding from the world, and spending time in quiet solitude in your home. To amplify this positive and safe environment, implement the use of aromatherapy with essential oils and keep photos and sentimental items close. You can also breathe new life into the space by allowing in as much natural light as possible and decorating corners with plants— some of which remove toxins in the air.
In conclusion, holistic healing can provide tremendous benefit to a recovering addict and will be the perfect complement to any additional medical treatment. If you’re looking to begin a life of permanent sobriety and devoting equal attention to the emotional, physical, and spiritual elements of your mind and body, then starting out with a holistic approach is a strong first step.
Trevor McDonald is a freelance writer and recovering addict and alcoholic who's been clean and sober for over 5 years. Since his recovery began, he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help spread treatment resources, addiction awareness, and general health knowledge. In his free time, you can find him working with recovering addicts or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.
Posted By Sherri Galle-Teske,
Monday, April 2, 2018
Dr. Sallie Scovill, Ph.D.
On March 21, 2018, Sallie Scovill, Ph.D., (University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point) and I had the pleasure of co-presenting at NWI's Wellness Connect Event in partnership with The Twin Cities Wellness Collective at 514 Studios in Minneapolis.
The National Wellness Institute is committed to wellness outreach and education in and around the world—thus providing the tools, trainings, and resources to propel your career in wellness.
Dr. Scovill, Associate Professor, School of Health Promotion and Human Development, UWSP, did an outstanding presentation on “Cultivating Resilience To Banish Burnout.” Focus was placed on growing personal and professional resilience through skill building in order to move past potential burnout.
Left to right: Taylor Ploss, Caroline Carlson, Sherri
Galle-Teske, Sallie Scovill, and Alex Morrall (founder of
The Twin Cities Wellness Collective)
Are you interested in hosting a “Connect Event” in your area? Contact Sherri Galle-Teske to learn how!
1. Get Noticed. The exhibit hall is in the concourse between the keynote hall and breakout session rooms, providing many chances to connect face-to-face with attendees throughout the day. And with a very limited number of exhibit spaces available, you're sure to stand out!
2. Make Connections. 700-800 wellness professionals and practitioners will walk through the exhibit space during the Conference. Where else will you find those numbers in your target audience?
3. Create Excitement. Launch your new product, company, or service where the industry's leaders and influencers are gathered. Start the buzz and watch it grow!
4. Educate Yourself. Exhibit packages include 2 full Conference waivers, allowing you to attend sessions and learn more about the very latest in wellness research, trends, and best practices.
5. Strengthen Your Brand. Showcase your company as a major player in the rapidly-growing wellness industry. Interacting in person has a much larger impact on your audience than online or print.
6. Follow Up After the Conference. Whether you gather contact information at your booth, or use the attendee mailing list provided to you after the Conference, you'll have the "in" to follow-up and continue the relationships you started on-site.
7. Less Downtime. If you've ever sat for hours in an empty exhibit hall, you know how valuable face time is. With the unique layout of the Saint Paul RiverCentre, exhibitors find themselves having a constant flow of foot traffic, with dedicated exhibit-hall only time, time between sessions, and even time during sessions when attendees take breaks. There's always someone to talk to!
Included in your exhibit registration this year is an 8’ exhibit table and two Main-Conference (June 18-20) passes, as well as having your organization listed in the conference program that is distributed to every conference attendee.
Spots are going fast!
Exhibit space is VERY limited, so register now to ensure that your organization is part of the 2018 National Wellness Conference!
Posted By Alex Moore,
Saturday, March 10, 2018
Updated: Friday, March 9, 2018
In our day and age, when corporate jobs are becoming the norm instead of the exception, companies are trying to make the working the working environment as comfortable, enjoyable and, most importantly, as healthy as possible. That is because many people find office jobs dull and unstimulating, leading to low productivity and job dissatisfaction.
Tedium is not the only negative factor involved. Office jobs have been linked to many preventable physical conditions such as obesity, heart diseases, cancer, as well as mental conditions like depression and anxiety. This is where corporate wellness programs, which are enjoying rising levels of popularity, come into action to improve the employee’s quality of life, and the workplace in general, with overall great results. Without further ado, here are five subtle benefits of wellness programs for the average workplace.
Corporate Wellness Programs Improve Employee Health Behaviors
It is easy to keep a tight sleep schedule or eat only healthy food for a couple of weeks. Maintaining said healthy habits for an extended period of time and breaking the cycle of self-destructive behaviors is where the real work begins.
This is where corporate wellness programs come to help through various means and methods. For example, when it comes to implementing structure, many online work or application platforms have started displaying the various benefits of their packages for ease of communication and to let the potential employees right from the get-go what benefits their packages include. While filling out your Burger King application online, you might have noticed that Burger King are promoting wellness programs in an effort to convince their employees that fitness and eating healthy are important for their well-being.
We all know that bad health decisions come in cycles, and in order to break them, a tight routine should be established. We eat junk food because we do not have enough time to cook healthy food. We get insufficient sleep because we spend all day at work and we want to do other stuff besides crashing in the bed.
Corporate wellness programs have the potential to break these cycles if the companies build their company policy around them. Employees will be incentivized to change their habits if companies make an effort to gently introduce these healthy behaviors into their daily routines.
They Prevent Office Related Health Conditions
The effect of sitting down all day and staring at the screen have been known and documented for a while now. Office bound jobs are the cause for many preventable conditions, both physical (obesity, heart diseases, cancer, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes) and mental, like depression and anxiety.
Besides sedentarism, other factors that trigger their occurrence is the overall experience of working in an office environment. People are less willing to eat healthy and sleep well when they spend long hours at the office, chocked by deadlines and endless tasks.
To alleviate the effects of office life, many companies offer free gym memberships, or even install treadmills and other fitness equipment in the breakroom in an effort to keep them healthy and productive (more on that later).
Other measures to improve employee happiness and physical condition is offering free yoga classes, installing pool tables or encouraging employees to play board games in the break room. This has the potential to make going to the office a comfortable, even pleasant part of their daily lives.
Work Productivity is Improved
Absently clicking through the day, pretending to do work is a part of many office employees lives. Experts have even coined a term for this type of behavior, called ‘’presenteeism’’. We have all done it at some point in our lives, and for good reason. No matter how passionate we are about our jobs, office work can get very dull, very fast.
In fact, tedium is not the only cause of presenteeism. Various estimations confirm that the cost of presenteeism due to poor employee health is 2 to 3 times greater than direct health care expenses.
Further on, this research paper revealed that smokers are 28 % more likely to have poor work productivity than non-smokers, while employees who have poor diets are 66 % more likely than those who ate fruits, vegetables and whole grains on a daily basis.
Absenteeism is Decreased
A tedious and stressful work environment causes both presenteeism and absenteeism. But corporate wellness programs, if implemented intelligently, have the potential to decrease both of these phenomenon.
The reasons are easy to understand. Simply put, employees who are not obese, stressed, and do not suffer from health conditions such as high cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose are less likely to miss work. In other words, if you, as a company, make an effort to keep your employees healthy both from a mental and physical standpoint, they will not have any health-related reasons to call in sick.
They Help Establish Meaningful Connections
By promoting health and fitness through a wellness program, the company can educate its employees and incentivize them to make better lifestyle choices. Generally, individuals are more willing to change when they see that people around them are making a concerted effort to live better lives. They are even more willing to change if their action is part of a collective effort.
Organizing weight-loss contests or encouraging employees to quit smoking for a preset period of time for some charitable cause are surefire ways to improve the employee’s moods and give them a sense of collective appurtenance and, most importantly, a purpose they can dedicated themselves to mentally, physical, emotionally and socially. Moreover, working together to accomplish a common is a great opportunity to form strong bonds with one another.
Corporate wellness programs have many beneficial effects both on the workplace and the employees. It has been proven that these programs, which are becoming more and more popular as we speak, have the potential to change people’s lives for the better by preventing various work-related diseases and their overall job satisfaction.
Alex Moore is a Psychology Undergraduate with an interest in the workplace's social dynamics and its long-term effects on people. To him, the rise of wellness culture and its future prove very intriguing.
The path to wellness takes more work in a world where technology distracts and disconnects us
Conventional wisdom has long held that living a healthy life means eating well and getting enough exercise. Both are true enough, but those are just two pieces of a much bigger picture.
Forty years ago, the founders of the National Wellness Institute came up with six tenets they identified as necessary to living a healthy life: physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, emotional and occupational. One is no more important than the other, according to Matt Lund, the institute’s executive director.
“Being healthy basically means that you are balanced: spirit, mind, body,” he says. “When you are balanced, you are more likely to live a longer, purposeful life.”
Hailey Shaughnessy, a mental health therapist and health and wellness coach at Saratoga’s Trillium Wellness Center, says striking that balance means being mindful of all the components that create a healthy life.
“I believe that your emotions affect your physical health, and your physical health affects your thinking,” says Hailey. “It’s not just nutrition and exercise. It’s also sleep and hydration and spiritual connection and psychological well-being. They are all intertwined.”
Autumn Pappas, a lifestyle coach and art therapy book editor, believes striking that balance means being in tune with one’s needs and wants spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically.
“It’s important that we recognize how to fill those needs,” she says. “How we feel about ourselves is often projected with what we put out into the world, and that projection—good or bad—gets magnified by each and every one that we come into contact with.
“If we are in a positive and healthy state of mind, we will project goodwill and good health to others. Living a healthy life is about taking care of one’s self first, so then we can, in turn, take care and enrich the lives of others around us.”
Building a Healthy Body
Although four decades have passed, the six tenets identified in 1977 remain the same, though achieving them today may call for more attention than ever.
That is particularly true in staying physically healthy. It is as important as ever to keep moving, whether that means walking, yoga, kayaking or a specific sport, such as tennis or golf. But with advancements in technology, we aren’t moving nearly as much as we used to.
“The more technology that comes out, the less we do,” Matt says. “We are the generation of now. We have access to everything now. That physical aspect is getting lost more and more each day. There’s a lack of family activity, of parents getting out with kids. Even though we’ve become technologically savvy, it’s killing us health wise. We no longer ride a scooter. Now they are motorized. Nothing makes us get our heart rate up.
“We were put on this earth as hunters and gatherers. That has changed. We are missing out on the physical aspect of it.”
For Hailey, physical health begins with sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will be too tired to get the exercise you need, she says.
Staying hydrated and eating “real” food as opposed to processed food is also important.
“These are not just the building blocks of nutrition for your bones, but also for your brain and emotional strength,” Hailey says.
Stress can also take a toll on our physical health.
“When you get anxious, your thoughts generate norepinephrine and adrenaline followed by cortisol, Hailey says. “Chronic anxiety results in constant high levels of cortisol, which can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure and cause the body to store extra fat.”
Forming Meaningful Relationships
Technology also has a big impact on our social health. Instead of shopping in actual stores, it is just as easy—or easier—to shop online. Likewise, visiting with friends and family can be just a thumb stroke, a quick click or a camera chat away.
But being socially healthy means being part of the community, volunteering and otherwise being a positive contributing factor, Hailey says.
“Social health is important because it builds purpose for one to continue living a full life,” she says. “It’s not only good for your health and well-being, but it’s also good for your soul. Social interaction builds our mental capacity and has proven to help us live longer and fuller lives. When keeping our brains active, I believe it helps us work through depression, anxiety and self-destruction.”
Social health is also about building sustainable and meaningful relationships, being in a positive relationship with a life partner, strengthening your family and friends around you, and growing your positive personal network.
Being socially healthy may also mean being a bit choosy about who becomes part of your life.
“When you go out and are talking to people and meet someone for the first time, really evaluate if this person is going to be a positive impact in your life,” says Matt. “If not, it’s probably best not to create that relationship.”
Mind and Spirit Critical, Too
Intellectual health often equates to personal growth and challenging yourself to think outside your comfort zone. It is also about knowing your trigger points and understanding what makes you angry and what makes you happy.
Once you have identified the problem spots, you can work through them, and that leads to an overall happier and healthier life, Matt says.
For Hailey, staying intellectually healthy means learning.
“I do a crossword puzzle every night,” she says. “I am always taking classes and doing different things. The more you can learn, the more you can grow intellectually. It doesn’t have to be a master’s degree. It could be doing a cooking class. You find different facets to yourself when you explore education.”
Spiritual health is defined differently from one individual to another. For some, it is traditional religion with services in a church. For others, it is a walk outside in nature.
“What’s interesting is a lot people think that spiritual means you have to be religious,” Matt says. “That’s not it at all, though religion can be part of it. It’s being able to be mindful, believing there is something greater than yourself and what is around you. It’s seeking a higher spiritual connection. It’s also to be tolerant of other views and beliefs. When we are tolerant, we can better understand world views and beliefs. We can grow, flourish and thrive together.”
Emotional health is largely about working with people, says Matt. But it doesn’t mean avoiding negative situations.
“It’s OK to be angry,” he says. “It’s how we project it. If you are happy, let people know. Show it. If you are sad, ask what are ways you can work with this? If you are frustrated, how are you able to work that out? It’s being able to understand and accept your feelings and also understand someone else. It’s building trust and respect for each other, and understanding that being optimistic is better than being pessimistic.”
Hailey believes the necessary work still bears a stigma in many communities.
Because she is a therapist, she has numerous friends who are also therapists and no shortage of people to talk to when times are tough. Others are not so lucky.
“People under-utilize therapy,” she says. “There is a stigma. People are afraid to say, ‘Hey, I went in and saw a therapist.’ There are some people that have to be very brave to make that first phone call. If you are suffering emotionally, therapy is a great tool. Laughter is great, too. The more physically healthy you are, your brain benefits as well.”
Finding One’s True Calling
The tenet that may be most difficult for many people to maintain in optimum condition is occupational.
Most adults work at least 40 hours a week to support themselves and their families. When someone’s occupational health suffers, odds are good that the rest of their health does, too.
“I believe 80 percent of people in the workforce work for an organization or boss they are unhappy with,” Matt says, citing articles he has read. “Only 20 percent work in a job they are happy at.”
He says how individuals choose their jobs has changed significantly with recent generations—and for the better.
It used to be common for people to follow in a family member’s footsteps. If an individual lived in a town built around paper mills, and their father worked there, it was understood his children would likely make a living at the paper mill.
“Now people say, ‘I want to find a job I love,’” Matt says. “It’s important to find a career you are passionate about, something that aligns with your personal values. You want to look for personal growth and development, and not putting up a bunch of debt.”
Hailey agrees that doing what you love is critical to happiness. She says that quest led her on a windy path.
She wanted to be a writer, but feared she would starve to death. Instead, she pursued a degree in business management, then went to work in the computer industry—a job at which she excelled, but which required her to travel extensively.
“I loved going to the gym,” she says. “I said, ‘I am going to do that instead.’ I became a fitness instructor. It was really interesting to me. People came to me to lose weight, then they’d come in and say, ‘No, I didn’t do my workouts.’ I realized there was an emotional component, and I found that fascinating. I went and got my master’s in mental health counseling.
“Computers and teaching and yoga and fitness—these things don’t seem to go together, but they all go perfectly together for what I do. You can create your own path.”
While other wellness specialists may call for additional or different dimensions to a healthy life, it is generally agreed wellness is multidimensional and holistic, positive and affirming, encompassing lifestyle, mental and spiritual well-being and the environment, Matt says.
“Wellness is a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential,” he says.
SALGBA—State & Local Government Benefits Association is the premier organization for public sector benefits professionals and has more than 1,000 members spanning over 50 states. Total membership covers more than 5,000,000 employees and represent a gross health benefits expenditure of over $14 billion per year. Among the active membership are some of the largest self funded health plans in the United States. SALGBA is the only association focused solely on public sector benefits professionals.
The organization distributes information on the latest resources, news, conferences, education and networking opportunities for municipal, county, school, higher education, and other state government benefits administrators and health promotion professionals.
Membership is based on the entity/organization and includes up to 6 individuals to be listed as receiving full membership benefits. A jurisdictional organization is a government entity established by state statute. An associate organization is a supplier vendor or consultant in the public sector benefits industry. The annual cost for a jurisdictional membership is $200 and associate membership is $325.
For more information contact the SALGBA Executive Director:
Ms. Tina Bowling
P.O. Box 867
Berea, KY 40403.
The National Wellness Institute proudly calls Stevens Point, WI our “hometown.” While connection to our membership, wellness education, and our preferred providers is our focus at NWI; we also believe in staying in touch with our local community.
Last month we played host to “Business After Hours” -an event that highlights networking people and area business together; along with great food, music, games and just plain fun! Please enjoy our video.
How well have you been sleeping so far this year? According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults between the ages of 18 and 65 years old should be getting anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep per night; so what do you average?
Join the National Sleep Foundation in celebrating its annual Sleep Awareness Week, March 11 to 17, 2018. This year’s theme “Begin with Sleep” highlights the importance of good sleep health for individuals to best achieve their personal, family, and professional goals. The week-long “Begin with Sleep” campaign will provide valuable information about the benefits of optimal sleep and how sleep affects health, well-being, and safety. Shareable messages including an infographic, pre-written content, and social media posts using the hashtag #YourDayBeginsWithSleep will be available here.
It may be tempting to try to edge in a couple extra hours of work or leisure in exchange for fewer hours of sleep, but is the loss of sleep really worth it? According to the CDC, “insufficient sleep has been linked to the development and management of a number of chronic diseases and conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression.” Additionally, the American Sleep Association states that, “35% of adults report less than seven hours of sleep per night.” With sleep deprivation becoming a more pressing issue in our fast-paced society, give your body a break and make time for some good rest. It may save you some doctors’ visits in the future. To learn more about sleep and sleep deprivation, or request promotional materials for sleep awareness please visit the National Sleep Foundation at SleepFoundation.org/SAW.
Present moment awareness is called mindfulness. Mindfulness allows you to become aware of your internal experiences, such as your thoughts and feelings—and your external experiences, such as what is happening around you.
Consider this: Just as it’s the nature of the heart to beat, it’s the nature of the mind to think. I call the mental content that cycles through the mind “STUFF,” which is an acronym for:
Stories Thoughts Urges Frustrations Feelings
STUFF serves an important function, since it helps you navigate through life. Yet, you may not even realize this STUFF is present. It can fade to the background of the mind, but it’s still there, influencing your behavior.
Try this: Pause for one minute. Notice what’s going on in your mind—your STUFF.
Some people are surprised by the amount of STUFF they notice during this one-minute exercise. Others don’t notice much of anything at all. There’s no right or wrong; the point of the exercise is to become aware of your experience.
When you develop your power of awareness, you can respond to life’s events consciously, rather than react to them unconsciously. As ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus wrote, “We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”
A proven way to build your awareness is through the practice of meditation. Meditation is a practice of noticing. You don’t try to stop thinking; rather, you allow your STUFF (Stories, Thoughts, Urges, Frustrations, Feelings) to surface and then let it pass, without judgment or internal comment. You practice noticing your experience in the present moment, observing your STUFF as if you are witnessing it.
How to Meditate
I recommend choosing a regular place to meditate. Sit on a chair or floor cushion in a quiet room. Start with 2–3 minutes, setting a timer if needed. As you become used to practicing, gradually increase your time to 15–20 minutes a day if your schedule allows. If you’re short on time, try to meditate for just a few minutes to maintain a daily routine.
Here are steps to follow:
Start by sitting up straight, without being rigid. Keep your spine aligned with your head and neck. Gently close your eyes. Try to release any physical tension, keeping your body relaxed—but your mind alert.
Choose an anchor—a neutral focal point that doesn’t stimulate your mind. Commonly used anchors are: your breath; your body; a word repeated silently, such as peace; a sound you listen to, such as ocean waves; or an object to hold, such as a smooth stone.
Rest your attention on your anchor. Whenever your mind wanders, gently refocus on your anchor. For beginners, this may be as often as every second or two. Although many people think the practice of meditation involves stopping all thoughts and feelings, this is not so. Expect that thoughts and feelings will continue to arise.
Accept your wandering mind. Meditation is a practice of returning to your experience in the present moment. Again and again and again. Notice when your attention wanders, and then return your attention to your anchor. The intent of meditation isn’t to suppress thoughts and feelings. Consider anything that draws attention away from your anchor to be like a cloud passing, or like a boat floating by as you watch from the riverbank. Allow it to pass without judgment and gently refocus on your anchor.
Continue gently refocusing on your anchor for the rest of your practice time. This process is key, since it exercises your mind’s “muscle.” Just as the repeated practice of doing abdominal crunches can build your core strength, the repeated practice of noticing distractions and returning to your anchor can build your power of awareness. The practice of shifting your attention to a neutral focal point (your anchor) is like shifting your mind out of “drive” and letting it rest in “neutral.” Each time you refocus on your anchor, you’re training your mind to let go of distracting thoughts.
Meditation is a simple practice, but it can be challenging. As stated earlier, people often have the best success by starting with brief periods of regular practice time and gradually increasing the length of time spent meditating as they become used to practicing.
When to Meditate
You can meditate almost anytime. (Note: Don’t meditate when driving or performing another task that requires your full attention.) It’s important to practice when it works best for your schedule. Meditating for a few minutes is preferable to not meditating at all.
Many people find practicing first thing in the morning works best, before they get busy with the day. It’s helpful to schedule meditation practice to coincide with an activity you do regularly, such as brushing your teeth in the morning.
Where to Meditate
I suggest creating a dedicated meditation place. Over time, you may find your mind begin to quiet down by simply entering your dedicated place. Meditation places can even be portable—for example, a meditation cushion that’s used in different settings. An entire room in your home could be devoted to meditation—or just a corner of a room. One meditator carved out a small space next to the dryer in her basement laundry room by installing a sliding translucent screen. Another transformed a bedroom corner into a private space by using a sheer curtain as a divider. Another uses a favorite chair in the living room.
A meditation place should include a dedicated place to sit, such as a chair or meditation cushion. Some people also like to include inspirational items, such as books of short readings (for before or after your practice), meditation beads, candles, or music.
You can practice meditation almost anywhere. You could even meditate in your car—once it’s parked!
Simple Meditation Practices to Try
You can choose from the following practices, or listen to recorded audio meditations posted on my website, www.joyrains.com.
Body Awareness Meditation
Use this as a stand-alone practice or as a starting point for other meditations. Begin with your head and move your awareness downward to one muscle group at a time. Alternatively, start with your feet and move your awareness upward to one muscle group at a time. As much as you can, try to relax each muscle group before moving on to the next one.
You can release muscular tension with your imagination, visualizing your in-breath surrounding the tension and your out-breath gently releasing it. Or, imagine the tension becoming warmer and melting away. Take as much time as needed. If any tense areas won’t release, see if you can accept them as they are.
You can also tighten each muscle for a few seconds and then relax it, to differentiate between a tensed muscle and a relaxed muscle. Be gentle and don’t strain.
Throughout this process be aware of your body and how it feels. Allow your spine to support you, and allow the seat and ground beneath you to support you. Release any muscles not needed to support you. Keep your body relaxed but your mind alert. Try to develop a muscle memory of what it feels like to relax.
Simple Breath Meditation
Start by sitting up straight, without being rigid. Keep your spine aligned with your head and neck. Gently close your eyes. Try to release any physical tension, keeping your body relaxed and your mind alert. Rest your attention on the pace of your breathing, without changing anything; simply notice. You might notice the coolness of the air as you inhale and its warmth as you exhale, or you might notice the rising and falling of your chest. You could even silently say “rising” with each inhale, and “falling” with each exhale. Each time your attention wanders, gently refocus on your breath.
Smooth Stone Meditation
Choose a smooth stone that fits in your hand. Start by sitting up straight, without being rigid. Keep your spine aligned with your head and neck. Gently close your eyes. Try to release any physical tension, keeping your body relaxed and your mind alert. Then, shift your attention to the stone in your hand, noticing its various characteristics, including: its weight, temperature, shape, texture, and size. Each time your attention wanders, gently refocus on your stone. You can also keep your meditation stone in your pocket to remind you of an intention, for example, being relaxed or staying focused.
More Ways to Practice Mindfulness
You can also cultivate mindfulness by considering your activities to be meditative practices, as if the activity itself is your anchor. For example, consider integrating brief mindfulness breaks into your daily routine, such as pausing for a moment and noticing two full breaths, washing your hands and noticing the feel of the soap and water, or eating a meal with full awareness of the textures and flavors of your food.
Another simple way to integrate mindfulness into your life is with a walking meditation. As you walk, gently bring your attention to the soles of your feet as they touch the ground. Any time your attention wanders, gently bring it back to your feet. Consider using a walking meditation as you transition from one place to another. World-renowned meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says to “be aware of the contact between your feet and the Earth.”
Joy Rains is a corporate and community mindfulness trainer. You can find her primer for beginning meditators, Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind, on Amazon and BN.com.