Mindful Running

Two runners on trailLast month, I completed my second half marathon. It was a different challenge for several reasons. Some were known ahead of time; some were not.

I knew it was going to be on a groomed trail and because of that, and the type of training that I was completing prior to the race, I would probably not top my previous finish time. So that left me wondering what type of race I should run. If I wasn’t running for a time goal, what was my goal? If my goal was not time, how could I avoid the obsession on time? Would my ego allow me to race, talk about it afterwards and not have the type of outcome that is usually expected and praised?

First of all, I started to develop a non-time focused goal. I came up with: “focus and fun.” Though, I always have two preliminary goals: don’t get hurt and finish. I practiced visualizing completing the race safely and with a stride that was focused and a heart that was having fun.

Secondly, I had to figure out how to not worry about my time during the race. I started to devise this plan: leave my running watch at home. I talked about this with my running buddies and got lots of positive feedback. One very experienced runner told me that she had her fastest 10-mile race when her watch stopped working during mile one. She said it improved her focus. Instead of being driven by the time on her watch, she was listening to her body, paying attention to her stride, and going with the flow. Then I found an article in Mindful magazine, called “Meditation on Foot.” It reinforced the steps I needed to take if I wanted to be truly focused during the race.

So, I was now resolved to leave my watch at home and have an intention of “focus and fun”. During self-Reiki sessions prior to the race, I would spend 5-10 minutes visualizing: running with focus and fun, moving fast and with ease, and crossing the finish line with plenty of energy left in my tank.

How did it turn out? As with any race experience, it had some unexpected twists. The biggest one was the number of hills. I’m accustomed to very flat conditions and the hills were brutal – not so much from a cardiovascular perspective, but from a muscle perspective. In the last mile, my left calf muscle was screaming and I was worried it was about to tear. I had to walk for awhile and was uncertain I could cross the finish line running. However, the course leveled out for the last quarter mile or so and I was able to run across the finish line at a modest pace.

Overall, though, I achieved exactly what I set out to do: I finished, I did not get hurt (beyond needing a couple of extra rest days for my calf to recover), I was focused (so focused I didn’t even listen to music), and I had fun (it was a beautiful, well maintained and dry course set in a forest preserve. My fellow runners were friendly and supportive and the weather was perfect.)

So next time you set a challenge for yourself, I encourage you to get clear on your intention(s) for the activity. Do whatever preparation and training is required and utilize visualization to achieve your desired outcome. If you can add in some Reiki it will help to boost your focus and calmness!

Wishing for you laser focus and lots of fun!

I teach Reiki and mindfulness and I’m operating on autopilot

awareness
Photo by Janice E. Lodato

This article also appears on the Huffington Post.

The title of this post is 100% accurate at times. This is a difficult thing to admit but it’s true: sometimes I’m on autopilot and walk around with an almost complete lack of awareness of my thoughts and of the present moment.

Awareness of my lack of awareness came about in the following way: I have a new, highly demanding job that calls for lots of my attention and time. When I finally carved out some time for writing, an activity that brings me joy and fulfillment, I found I had nothing to say.

My thoughts were not clear, my intention was lost, and the voice in my head that creates a narrative was silent.

There are so many reasons for this situation. First, there is the lack of time spent reflecting on ideas. I haven’t been participating in one of my other favorite activities: staring out a window and just thinking. It may look like I’m doing nothing or that I’m not in the present moment, but I’m in a very present place of engaging with an idea, only in my mind and nowhere else. This feeds my writing.

Second, there is the lack of time spent taking in ideas. Oh, there are plenty of ideas at work that swirl around all day about technology and process issues, but I’m talking about, what are for me, the big ideas. The ideas about what it means to live a meaningful life; what it means to be human; and what it means to be kind and loving. One of the things that feed my writing is reading articles and books that explore these big ideas.

In all honesty, I haven’t been doing those two things and it’s creating a void in my ability to write and think creatively.

Now things aren’t all bad, I’ve been maintaining my self-Reiki practice and I meditate, eat well, and exercise regularly. I spend time with friends and connect with my family, but let’s be honest here, I’m on autopilot.

I stick to my routine like a drill sergeant and have no wiggle room for a healthy, long-term gaze out the window. So, I’m re-evaluating my workdays and my schedule in general to make sure there is open time for reading enriching materials and thinking, just thinking.

Perhaps I’m more mindful than I give myself credit for – I became aware of my lack of day-to-day, moment-to-moment awareness of my thoughts and I’m making changes to come back to that place of mindfulness.

And as I finished writing that, the previously silent wind chimes in my backyard, sang out – affirming my intention and awareness of the present moment.

Sat nam. I am. I am here now.

Wishing for you an abundance of loving awareness.

Everyday Mindfulness

This post also appears on The Huffington Post

“If you really want to be a rebel, practice kindness.”
The Kindness Rebellion by Sharon Salzberg

Stop. Notice. Or don’t stop. Keep going AND notice. It’s all here for you right now.mindfulness meditation

Lately, I’ve been putting a focus on everyday mindfulness as a way to increase kindness and calm in my life. For me this means not just the mindfulness of the meditation cushion and the Reiki session. It also means the mindfulness – the deep awareness – of the ordinary.

An example of everyday mindfulness is feeling the water while I’m washing my hands. Noticing its temperature and the sensation of the water on my skin. Seeing the bubbles of the soap and smelling the scent of the soap. Hearing the sound of the water flowing from the faucet and into the sink. Still . . . only washing for 60 seconds or less, though in those moments – those seconds – completely mindful of washing my hands.

This exploration allows me to experience the sacred in the ordinary. It takes me deeply into all the gifts of this abundant life . . . the water, the soap, the knowledge, the care, the ability . . . to wash my hands. So ordinary, so divine.

You may be reading this and saying to yourself, “How can you revel in such an ordinary and mundane task when the world is imploding upon itself?! When we’re faced with constant violence and hatred. Wake up and fight.”

And, yes, I hear you. I can’t read the news or interact on Facebook without crying. I hear you, my heart breaks constantly and I speak up as I can. And my path is one of peace. My path is one of the warrior of peace. I will stand calmly in the face of violence. I will be a source of love, kindness, and calm.

In order to do that, I need to cultivate it. To create calm in me, I need to practice it. To be able to smile and reassure those who are suffering, I must be sincere in my peacefulness. To be able to listen calmly and provide helpful guidance, I must be calm. I must be able to be present. Here in the ordinary of everydayness and in the extraordinary face of violence and upheaval.

I’m not saying that this is your path or should be your path. I’m simply saying this is the way for me. The path to peaceful presence and kindness for me is through everyday mindfulness.

I’m able to access that through the practices of Reiki and meditation and ongoing, daily, moment-to-moment reminders to be myself, to be here – not in the past and not in the future. Here at this red light, this opportunity to breath, to notice my hands on the wheel and my feet touching the floor, and the sensation of a small smile that comes over my face that reminds those around me that I am safe, I am calm. I am.

Fearlessness and Endless Energy

paragliding, fearlessnessLet’s shatter some myths here. There is no state of ongoing fearlessness or endless energy. One may experience moments of fearlessness or heightened bravery. And one may experience days of bountiful energy. However, these are not states that are fixed (or static) in our human experience.

I started reflecting on all this a couple of weeks ago when I saw a post on the MindBodyGreen website, titled, “’Fearlessness’ Is a Myth: Learn to Control Your Fear Instead.” The trigger for my reflection was the word, “control.” In my experience trying to control one’s emotions leads to a lot of angst and internal conflict.

However, the article is much more balanced and helpful than the title implies. The author, Jennifer Mielke, offers three approaches to working with your fear rather than trying to control it or trying to strive for an unattainable fearlessness. The approaches are:

  1. Get familiar with the ways fear shows up in your life.
  2. Spend some time with your fear.
  3. Appreciate your fear.

Familiarity with fear: I would call that being mindfully aware of your emotions. When you’re mindfully aware, you might notice how certain words, settings, sounds, or experiences trigger fear in you. Then you might notice how that fear shows up in your body. Do your shoulders lift? Does your breath shorten or stop? Does your mind scurry in a fit of “What ifs”?

This exploration is part of what Mielke calls, spending time with your fear. The bodily awareness of your emotional state can be that time as can journaling, exercising, meditating, talking with others, or being in nature.

I really love what she says about appreciating your fear. She notes that fear is a way to put the brakes on. And putting the brakes on is something we all need at times. In our go-go-go culture, fear can be a signal that something needs reassessing. Sometimes the thing we fear is not the thing that needs to be addressed, but it can be a signal that something needs reassessing.

I used parts of this process in a similar way a few weeks ago when I heard in my self-talk a string of judgementalness towards myself, friends, and strangers too. When I asked myself where this was coming from I realized I was bone-tired. This deep fatigue had led me on a fighting mental rant to “shield” my tired self.

I, then, acknowledged my fatigue and instead focused on what I could do to help myself feel more refreshed. I appreciated the mindfulness that led me to this awareness of how things were for me in that moment.

Will I be able to rid myself of fatigue, judgementalness, and fear? Absolutely not. Will I remain aware of them and appreciate them and know that they arise and fall as all things in our human experience? Absolutely yes.

Wishing you the freedom and power of mindful awareness.

 

Your One-on-One Meditation Session

meditationImagine you’re at home, seated on your sofa or your favorite chair. The house is quiet and you’re feeling really pleased with yourself for taking this time in your day for meditation. You close your eyes, focus your mind, try to find your breath, and then . . . nothing, or a lot of something. A lot of noticing that pain in your knee and the crookedness of your back. Or you can’t stop trying to solve that nagging problem with your computer. Your mind keeps asking, “Why won’t it print?!” Then you remember, “Oh, I’m supposed to be meditating. How am I supposed to do this?”

If this is your meditation practice, a one-on-one session is exactly what you’re looking for. When I work one-on-one with clients we explore what has been working and not working with their practice. Also, we uncover what they hope to achieve by meditating.

There are three main components to the first meditation session:

  1. Reviewing past experiences and the intentions around a meditation practice for you as an individual. This will vary greatly from person to person.
  2. Demonstrating and planning for your at-home practice. We review various sitting positions — their pluses and minuses and explore how to carve out those precious minutes in your day to practice.
  3. We meditate together. Honestly, there is nothing better when it comes to meditating than meditating with at least one other person. Meditating with others makes the practice much easier and often more profound. In a session, I use a guided format that aligns with your intentions and sets you up for ongoing success in your meditation practice.

Subsequent meditation sessions provide a check-in on your progress. I serve as an accountability buddy. What better way to succeed than knowing you have someone to report back to on your journey? Each session, also includes a guided meditation because with each practice we learn more about how to meditate and the workings of our inner selves.

My clients report greater mental clarity and deeper relaxation by cultivating a daily meditation practice. With on-going one-on-one sessions, they have a way to check-in on their practice and achieve a state of deep relaxation. One of my clients has reported that as her practice has grown, she has been able to be calmer in her interactions with her family and more mindful before she speaks. She says that being calm and mindful has deepened her relationship with her children!

Contact me today to schedule your one-on-one meditation session and find out what meditation can do for your life!

Mindfulness: Current Research

Mindful Meditation BuddhaMany people wonder, why should I meditate? What are the benefits? To me, the short answer is: “Because it works.” Then, of course, the next questions are: “How does it work? How will it help?” Simply put, meditation works by increasing awareness. To be mindful is to be aware of one’s experiences, both internal and external experiences. Mindfulness-based meditation helps one to become aware. By being aware, we are able to make better decisions, manage our mood, and activate more parts of our brain.

Now you may be asking, “But what difference will awareness make? What does the research show in how awareness changes our experiences / our human experience?”

Here’s what the research shows: (Courtesy of mindful.org) *

  • Mindfulness Relieves Anxiety and Improves Mood
    • A review of 39 previous studies involving 1,140 patients, by Professor Stefan Hofmann of Boston University, concluded that mindfulness is effective for relieving anxiety and improving mood.
  • Mindfulness May Keep Brains Young
    • A study by Dr. Eilnee Luders at UCLA School of Medicine, published in NeuroImage, shows that long-term mindfulness practitioners have greater brain volume, stronger neural connections, and less atrophy than non-practitioners. This suggest mindfulness may keep brains young and even help prevent dementia.
  • Mindfulness can lead to better Decision Making
    • A study conducted at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute by Dr. Ulrich Kirk, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, finds that people who practice mindfulness use different parts of their brains in the decision-making process. This is most visible in their ability to react more rationally, rather than emotionally, when faced with unfair situations.
  • Mindfulness Changes Brain Structure
    • Research published in 2011 in Neuroimaging by Sara Lazar and her team at Massachusetts General Hospital, reveals that an 8-week mindfulness training program makes measurable changes in brain structures associated with learning and memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.
  • Mindfulness Reduces Stress
    • A study conducted by Britta Holzel at Massachusetts General Hospital, and published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, finds that mindfulness-based stress reduction can lead to structural changes in the amygdala, a brain structure that plays a crucial role in stress responses.
  • Mindfulness Increases Immune Response
    • A study by Richard A. Davidson and Jon Kabat-Zinn, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, indicates that mindfulness increases both positive feelings and antibody responses to immune system challenges.
  • Mindfulness Enhances Attention, Mood, and Memory
    • A 2010 Wake Forest University study, published in Consciousness and Cognition, shows that only 4 days of mindfulness training can enhance the ability to sustain focused attention. It also shows significant improvements in mood, visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and cognition.
  • Mindfulness Reduces Irritable Bowel Syndrome
    • A 2010 Swedish study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry finds that 10 weeks of mindfulness training results in a 50% reduction in IBS symptoms, as well as other positive outcomes.
  • And others:
    • A study at Duke University shows that mindfulness can reduce the frequency of binge eating by as much as 75%
    • Patients in recovery for substance abuse at the University of Washington were 50% less likely to relapse if they practiced mindfulness

Two of these studies strongly relate to my experience of practicing mindfulness. For instance, the study of meditators who play the ultimatum game concludes:

“In summary, when assessing unfairness in the Ultimatum Game, meditators activate a different network of brain areas compared with controls enabling them to uncouple negative emotional reactions from their behavior. These findings highlight the clinically and socially important possibility that sustained training in mindfulness meditation may impact distinct domains of human decision-making.” (from: “Interoception drives increased rational decision-making in meditators playing the ultimatum game” Frontiers in Neuroscience, 5:49)

The key phrase here is that they were able to “uncouple negative emotional reactions from their behavior.” This seems to me to be one of the main benefits of mindfulness practices like meditation, yoga, and Reiki. The ability to uncouple my emotions from my actions is embodied when my life is in flow – where I feel in control of myself in the healthiest of ways, i.e., where I am aware of how feel (and feel it) however, I mindfully choose how to act in any given situation. Because I have practiced this dance between emotions and action on my meditation cushion, when the opportunity arises in “real” life situations, I’m able to discern between my emotions and my actions and, more often, choose wisely.

The other study that really spoke to me was the one that examined the experience of participants who trained in mindfulness for only 4 days.

A 2010 Wake Forest University study, published in Consciousness and Cognition, shows that only 4 days of mindfulness training can enhance the ability to sustain focused attention. It also shows significant improvements in mood, visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and cognition. (from “Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training” Consciousness and Cognition, Volume 19, Issue 2, June 2010, pages 597-605.)

In my experience, it doesn’t take a lot of sessions to start gaining the rewards — of course, the more consistent the practice, the better. It is indeed a practice. The more practices, the greater the rewards. The more automatic the responses become and, as some of these studies point out, one will start to experience changes in physiology, including brain chemistry.

Hopefully, you’ll find this research as compelling as I do and you’ll join us on the cushion today!

Wishing you the gift of awareness!

 

* Resources:

  • Mindfulness Relieves Anxiety and Improves Mood
    • “The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Volume 78, Issue 2, 2 April 2010, pages 169-183.
  • Mindfulness May Keep Brains Young
    • “The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter” NeuroImage, Volume 45, Issue 3, 15 April 2009, Pgaes 672-678.
  • Mindfulness can lead to better Decision Making
    • “Interoception drives increased rational decision-making in meditators playing the ultimatum game” Frontiers in Neuroscience, 5:49
  • Mindfulness Changes Brain Structure
    • “Mindfulness practice leads to increase in regional brain gray matter density” Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, Volume 191, Issue 1, 30 January 20111, pages 36-43
  • Mindfulness Reduces Stress
    • “Stress reduction correlates with structural changes in the amygdale” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Vol. 5, Issue 1, pages 11-17.

Reiki and Insomnia

Sleeping Girl, insomniaSometimes I wake up at 3:30 a.m. and can’t fall back to sleep. Does this type of insomnia ever happen to you? Is it a crisis for you? Do you lie in bed waiting for the alarm to go off or the sun to come up? Are your first thoughts? “I’m awake already??!! This is going to ruin my day.”

For me, that early wake up can be a gift. Sure, I’m short on sleep for the day and may need to turn in early that evening. And I may be fighting sleep at 4 in the afternoon. The gift, however, is that I get to lie in bed and practice self-Reiki for an hour. This dark, quiet time is an incredible gift. While the house is quiet and my family sleeps, I can do a full hour of self-Reiki – enjoying this self-care practice without being late for work or any other obligation.

Now you may say, “But the Reiki did not cure your insomnia.” That’s true, it did not. I was fully awake and allowed myself to remain awake – I didn’t fight it, I just engaged in a quiet activity that I enjoy. Then you may ask, “But I have chronic insomnia. Will Reiki help with that?” Yes, let’s explore that.

Now, if you’ve been reading this blog you know that Reiki is not a cure-all. However, it is a powerful healing modality and one that can have a positive impact on insomnia. It does so in two ways:

  1. Reiki brings on the relaxation response.
  2. Reiki quiets the mind, which brings about greater awareness and mindfulness, which in turn allows one insight into the underlying issues that may be keeping one awake.

The number one outcome of receiving a Reiki session is relaxation. When we’re relaxed, we sleep better, our bodies heal better, we think more clearly, and we relate to each other more genuinely. My clients who have had insomnia report deep relaxation during their Reiki session and sometimes a deep sleep during the session as well. One client, named Ruth, called me the day after her first session and reported sleeping straight through for 7 hours. She continued to come in for weekly sessions for four weeks and she reported that insomnia became an infrequent occurrence.

The awareness brought about by a Reiki session can also help with insomnia. Another client, named, Abby, was suffering from insomnia that left her with 2-3 hours of sleep per night. She would fall asleep immediately at night and then wake up after a few hours, unable to go back to sleep. After her first Reiki session, she reported feeling very relaxed and refreshed.

When she came back for her second session she said she realized several things about her routine and bedroom that were keeping her awake. She had made some changes including limiting caffeine in the afternoon and (she said this was most important) turning her bed so she no longer faced a window that had a bright street lamp outside of it. She said she also placed a darker curtain over the window. So in this way Reiki helped Abby to mindfully address her insomnia.

How has Reiki helped you with sleep and insomnia?* Please share your comments below.

~Wishing you a deep, restful sleep.

 

*Please note: Reiki is not a cure-all. There are many factors that contribute to a good night’s sleep. What one ate during the day, the level of physical fatigue (has the body been exercised during the day?), have there been relaxation experiences during the day (we can’t expect to know how to relax by practicing once per day while in bed hoping to go to sleep!), and a calm mind that has at least some peace about how things are. There are many more, including medications and physical conditions that interrupt sleep. Please remember that Reiki is just one factor in your self-care toolkit. Though I find it to be a very powerful one, you’ll need to find the one(s) that work for you.  Wishing you abundant good health.