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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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Change Your Awareness, Reduce Your Stress

Changing your awareness can reduce your stress. Consider this: your body doesn’t know the difference between stress you imagine and real stress. If you are watching a suspenseful movie, your heartbeat may quicken and you may even find that beads of sweat are forming on your forehead. Your body is reacting to your mind’s cues.

But by bringing awareness to the content of your mind through meditation, you may be able to release tension in your body. If a woman is at the dentist thinking “I hate being here,” her body may be tensed up as a result of her thoughts. But by bringing awareness to her thoughts and to her body’s tension, she may be able to untangle mental and physical stress and bring her body to a more relaxed state – even though she doesn’t like being where she is.

Just as pulling aside the curtain in “The Wizard of Oz” revealed that the Wizard wasn’t so powerful, pulling aside the curtain on what the mind is thinking can help reduce the power of thoughts, and the related physical stress.

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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.

Taking Time for Mindfulness at Work

As the old saying goes, you have to take time out from chopping the tree to sharpen the axe. Since your mind is one of your main tools, it’s vital to keep it sharp. By pausing to take 2 minute mini-meditation breaks throughout the day, you are doing the axe-sharpening work. Yet, often the most difficult part is remembering to pause for your break.

Hang a reminder in your office space: Hang a picture of nature, or a beautiful sunset, or anything that reminds you to take a moment and pause. You could even schedule your breaks into your calendar.

Take your break. Here are three short practices to do at work:

1-Walk mindfully. Bring all your attention to the soles of your feet as they touch the ground. Anytime your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your feet. You can do this while walking in the hallway, walking to the elevator, or anywhere else you have space to walk.
2-Breathe mindfully. Bring all your attention to your breath as it moves in and out of your body. You may want to notice the coolness of the air as you breathe in, and its warmth as you breath out – or you may want to notice your chest rising and falling. Anytime your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath. Count with each breath until you reach 40. (Or 50, or 60 …)
3-Listen to a short guided meditation. You can find a 2:11 audiio meditation on http://joyrains.com/meditation/guided-meditations/

By doing this axe-sharpening work, you are clearing your mind, and improving your focus for the tasks that lie ahead. Walking and breathing meditations are available to you anywhere and anytime. It just takes intention – and remembering!

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.

Reducing Stress at Work—Part II

If you want to reduce your stress at work, consider whether your judgments are causing you additional stress. While judgments serve the purpose of helping us navigate our way in the world, they can also be a root cause of tension and anxiety. If you can, try tuning into your thoughts about your job and the people you work with. Perhaps your thoughts are along the lines of “He is too demanding,” or “They are not doing their task right,” or “She is so difficult!” Often the judgment itself creates tension. Bringing the light of awareness to the judgment can lessen its power, just like pulling aside the curtain in The Wizard of Oz and lessened the power of the Wizard. Notice what happens to your stress level if you simply note the situation around you while releasing your judgment about the situation. See if you can shift your judgmental thoughts to more neutral thoughts, such as “He is asking me to do a lot of work,” or “They are doing their task on a different timetable than mine,” or “She has a lot of requests of me.” Judgments often have an emotional charge to them which can cause stress. By releasing the judgment and the associated emotional charge, you are on the way to reducing your stress at work.

To help develop the ability to release judgments, consider taking up the practice of meditation. You don’t have to spend big blocks of time meditating; even a few minutes a day can begin to make a difference in your life. Can you interrupt your work flow and pause to focus on your breath? Just notice the coolness of the air when you breathe in and its warmth when you breath out, or notice your chest rising and falling with each breath. Practicing meditation can be very simple, no special equipment is needed, and best of all, it is free!

Reducing Stress at Work—Part I

Raise your hand if you have stress at work. My guess is that if I posed that question to a room filled with people who work, many hands would be raised.

If you’re wondering what contributes to on-the-job stress, here’s one explanation: You may have heard the expression you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. I’ll extend that to you generally can’t choose your coworkers, either. It’s likely that those you work with may have very different work styles, values, and priorities than yours. This diversity can make for a wonderful mix of creativity and productivity, but it can also be a source of stress in the workplace.

Consider that you may have a certain view of how things “should” be. Then your boss approaches you with expectations that you find unrealistic. Stress ensues. Or maybe you’re depending on work product from one department so you can complete your tasks. The work isn’t coming to you within the timeframe you expect. Stress ensues. Or perhaps you have a difficult client that is not behaving in a way that you find reasonable. Stress ensues. None of these situations are unfolding in the way you think they “should.”

When one’s view of the way things “should” be meets the reality of the way things really are, stress is often a common side effect. One of the first steps in reducing stress is to accept the way things are. Instead of thinking, “It shouldn’t be this way,” try thinking “This is how it is. Now, how will I respond?” While you may not be able to change your boss’s expectations, your coworker’s habits, or your client’s behavior, perhaps you can change your internal response to those circumstances.

Accepting the way things are can go a long way to reducing stress. This doesn’t mean you should give up your personal power, and it doesn’t mean that you have to like the way things are, nor does it mean that you shouldn’t ask for what you need. But it does mean that if you accept that fact that you can’t always change external events, and you can only change your internal response to those events, this acceptance alone can go a long way to reducing stress at work.

Breath Happens

The breath comes and goes. In breath, out breath. Again and again, throughout the day and night, throughout weeks and months and years, until you take your last breath. You don’t try to make the breath happen; it just happens on its own. There’s no need to try to control anything. The next breath will unfold without effort (assuming an absence of respiratory ailments.) Can you imagine your life flowing with the same quality of ease that your breath flows? Not trying to make it happen. Just allowing it to unfold.

Yet often people meet life with a huge amount of stress, spending hours ruminating over the past, or trying to control the future. To what end? The past has passed. As the old saying goes, forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past. And the future cannot be fully controlled. People can only control their actions, but they cannot control their results.

So how to let life unfold with a sense of ease? An important step in this direction is to train your awareness to rest in the present moment. Rather than staying caught up in worries about the past, or anxieties about the future, see if you can continually direct your attention to the present. This can be done through all five senses. What do you see, hear, smell, feel, taste? Another great way to do this is through awareness of your breath. Take short breaks throughout the day and simply direct your attention to your breath moving in and out of your body. Your chest rising and falling. The coolness of the air as you breathe in. Its warmth as you breathe out. Resting your attention in the present doesn’t have to be complicated. It just takes intention. And remembering that you can rest your awareness in the present moment anytime, anywhere.

You can find a short guided audio meditation, just slightly more than two minutes, on http://joyrains.com/meditation/guided-meditations/.

Welcome to A Mindful Path

Welcome to my blog, “A Mindful Path.” You may notice itʼs not entitled “The” Mindful Path, as there are infinite numbers of ways to achieve mindfulness, or awareness of the present moment.