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Build Your Mind’s Muscle

Meditation is a wonderful way to build mental strength!

Consider this: Just as it’s the nature of the heart to beat, it’s the nature of the mind to generate thoughts. Meditation is not a practice of suppressing these thoughts, but it’s a process of coming into awareness of them–by shifting attention to a neutral object of awareness (such as the breath) each time you notice another thought arise. Essentially, it’s like you’re taking your mind out of drive and shifting it to neutral–again and again and again, sometimes as often as every second or two. Just as the repetitive motion of doing abdominal crunches builds core strength, this continual shift of awareness helps build your mind’s muscle.

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50,000 to 70,000 Thoughts Per Day

It’s widely reported that the average person thinks 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day. If people aren’t mindful about what they think, many of their thoughts could be self-sabatoging. Consider Mark Twain’s famous quote: “I’m an old man and have known a great many troubles, most of which never happened.”

Meditation is about coming into awareness of your thoughts, so you can respond to life consciously rather than react unconsciously. This conscious awareness can go a long way to choosing thoughts that serve you rather then sabotage you. For example, if a young man goes into a job interview thinking, “I’ll never get this job,” chances are he will be right. He will believe his self-sabatoging thought. But if he becomes aware of his negative thinking pattern, he can make a shift and choose a more productive thought, such as “I’m a good fit for this job.”

We create our reality through our thoughts. It’s important to choose carefully and choose consciously.

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4 Simple Tips to Reduce Stress

Here are four simple tips to help reduce stress:

Tip #1: Create a Stress-Free Zone at Home
Have a “stress-free zone” in your home. You can learn to associate a dedicated place with quieting your mind, a place where you sit for a few minutes each day and focus on your breathing. You could devote an entire room to this practice, or just a corner of a room. Your “stress-free zone” should include a dedicated place to sit, such as a chair or meditation cushion, and could also include inspirational items, such as books of short readings (for before or after your practice), meditation beads, candles, or music.

Tip #2: Count with your breath. Sit in a comfortable position and count silently to yourself with each breath. For example, count 1 with your in-breath, and 1 with your out-breath. Then count 2 with your in-breath and 2 with your out-breath. Then on to 3 and so on until you get to 10. When you get to 10 start again at one. Or, if you lose your place start again at one, without any judgement for losing your place. This process of counting with each breath helps divert your attention from your anxious thoughts and bring your attention to the here and now.

Tip #3: Say the word “peace” silently to yourself with each inhale and “release” with each exhale. As you say the word, imagine the feeling of peace filling your whole body. Say the word “release” silently to yourself with each exhale. As you say the word imagine releasing tension and anxious thoughts. Continue this practice. “Peace” with each inhale, “release” with each exhale.

Tip #4: Weave Mindful Moments Into Your Day
Consider weaving “mindful moments” into your day-times when you quiet the chatter in your mind, and bring your focus into the present moment. For example, when you walk to the coffee machine in the office, bring all your attention to the soles of your feet as they touch the ground. Anytime your mind wanders, gently bring your awareness back to your feet. Or when you eat lunch, bring all your awareness to the process of eating lunch: the pace of your eating, the taste of the food, the colors of the food on your plate. When your attention wanders, gently bring it back. This process of bringing all your attention to what is happening in the present moment can also go a long way towards managing stress.

The above tips are simple to practice, and best of all, they are free! They don’t require any expensive equipment or training. All they requiring is remembering to stop and pause-if only for a few minutes.

De-stressing During the Holidays

No time to meditate? If you are coming upon the busy holiday season, and you can’t imagine adding one more thing to your lengthy “to do” list, no problem! Simply by keeping your awareness in the present moment, instead of caught up in thoughts about the past or the future, you can relieve stress. You don’t need to sit in a quiet place with your eyes closed to meditate. You can practice anytime simply by noticing what you experience through your five senses.

Shopping: Notice what you hear in the store, including the sounds of shoppers, salespeople, music and even holiday volunteers, ringing their bells for charity outside the store’s entrance.

Holiday gatherings: See if you can be fully present to those you interact with, listening to them fully without your mind wandering to past and future events.

Unwrapping presents: Notice the color or pattern of the wrapping, how tightly or loosely it is wrapped and the sound it makes as you tear the paper.

Holiday baking: See if you can take your time baking, being fully present with your five senses, noticing sounds, smells, tastes, textures, colors and shapes.

Holiday rituals: See if you can be fully present to any holiday rituals you and your family may have, taking your time with them, and fully experiencing their meaning.

Lighting holiday candles: Notice how long it takes the wick of the candle to light. Notice the color and shape of the flame and any heat emanating from it.

Mindfulness is about coming into the present moment with full awareness. If you find yourself getting caught up in regrets about the past or worries about the future, see if you can gently bring your awareness to what you are experiencing in the here and now. Consider giving yourself a wonderful present this holiday season: the gift of presence.