Just before the usually joyous May Day (which also happens to be my beloved, incredible mom's birthday), I was faced with something I've been fortunate enough not to have faced before: injury. Teaching fitness is my job and one of my passions, so when I suddenly started having severe hip pain, preventing me from exercising or even walking without limping, you can imagine that I started freaking the f**k out. I started trying every kind of therapy I could think of (anti-inflammatories, acupuncture, massage, stretching, physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments, tiger balm, Chinese herbs, etc.), and for about three weeks, the pain and my limp only got worse. My mind was flooding with worst-case scenarios; I would never be able to dance or run again, I would have to quit my job, I would be driven into bankruptcy by exorbitant medical bills, my clients would think of me as a failure, I would gain 25 pounds and sink into a deep hole of depression and never crawl back out. Total, utter fear-based bullying from my worst inner critic, my ego. I was crazy stressed, exhausted and constantly verging on tears.
I was speaking with one of my clients during a health coaching session, and we began discussing how infusing more mindfulness into her daily life could help her overcome the fearful voices in her head and move forward with confidence and hope. As I started giving her ways to become more mindful, I realized what a hypocrite I was being. Letting my fear take over my thoughts was the opposite of practicing mindfulness and was blocking me from being present to the healing that was actually going on. I was stuck in my head, but not using my mind at all. It wasn't the first time I'd had a huge moment of learning about myself through coaching a client, but every time it happens, I am overcome with an enormous wave of gratitude for this amazing work I get to do.
So what did I do? Exactly what I suggested for her - dedicated myself to mindfulness practices every day. And what has happened? Stress has started to melt away, hope has crept back in, and the pain has started to lessen. Is it gone? Am I healed? Not yet. But I know I'll get there, one mindful step at at a time.
Whatever is going on in your life, bringing your mind into the present moment with these simple practices is not only calming, but can also put a dead halt to negative brain clutter, allowing you to move forward instead of staying stuck.
I like to start the day with a short mindful breathing exercise that's super simple and brings me back to my body. The 4-7-8 breath is an exercise recommended by Dr. Andrew Weill, wellness expert and badass, and the best part is - it takes less than a minute!
- Sit with your feet flat on the ground and your hands resting in your lap and close your eyes.
- Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, just behind your teeth.
- Breathe in through your nose as you count to four.
- Hold your breathe as you count to seven.
- Keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth, purse your lips and breathe out around the sides of your tongue, as if your tongue is a billowed sail.
- Repeat this pattern four times, then slowly return to normal breathing and open your eyes.
2. Eat without distractions.
Most people, myself included, find this one really tough. With all of us trying to maximize our precious time through constant multi-tasking, we forget that eating is actually something worthy of our singular focus and attention. When we don't pay attention to our food as we eat it, we eat too fast and deprive ourselves of the sensual experience of the flavors, colors, scent and textures of our food. The result - poor digestion, overeating, and a lack of satisfaction that causes us to crave more food. How many times have you sat down to lunch in front of your computer, plowed through it without stopping for air, then felt unsatisfied and immediately wanted a muffin (or chips or candy, etc)? Or unintentionally eaten an entire bag of chips while watching your favorite TV show? Or shoved breakfast down your throat while reading the paper and felt sick the rest of the morning?
It is difficult to sit and be with your food, but I promise it is rewarding. When you start to get used to it, eating becomes a relaxing, pleasurable and truly nourishing experience that leaves you fulfilled and energized, instead of sluggish and stressed. Why would you want to deprive yourself of that three times a day? Here are some ways to get started:
- Always sit down to eat.
- No technology, reading, writing, knitting, etc. while eating.
- Take a deep breathe in and out before starting to eat and take in your food with your eyes and nose first, noticing its colors and scents.
- Count your chews, aiming for at least 25 per bite, and set your utensil down while you chew. (Bonus fact: your saliva has essential digestive enzymes in it that start breaking down your food before it enters your digestive tract, giving your tummy a way easier time doing the rest of the job)
- Notice the flavors and textures of your food and how they change as you chew. You can even remark on them silently in your head or out loud if you're alone or just awesome enough not to care who hears!
- Think about where you food came from, how it got to your plate and visualize it literally infusing your cells with nourishment and energy.
- Create a post-meal mantra or ritual (i.e. saying "thank you," taking a deep breathe, giving yourself a high-five like I do) to signify that you are satisfied and grateful for the nourishment you have received!
- Make eye contact. This may feel vulnerable, but it focuses you on that person and allows you to communicate authentically.
- Breathe while you interact and let their words or actions fully sink in.
- Try not to think of what you're going to say in response (if anything) before they're done.
- Let your curiosity lead and ask questions to help you fully grasp what is being communicated.
- Use your body language to convey your focus on them - nod, smile, touch them (if appropriate), lean forward or simply turn your body towards them.
3. LISTEN with your whole body.
When you have the amazing opportunity to interact with another glorious living being, give them the damn attention they deserve! Be present with your friends, family, lovers, co-workers, pets, the checkout person at the grocery store, your neighbor, the person next to you on the train...you get the picture. Use all of your senses to take in what they're saying (or not saying) and try to understand a little bit more of their experience. When you can involve yourself fully selflessly with another being, you are able to get out of your own head and be in the moment of connection in a way that will help you empathize, learn and grow.
With love, light, gratitude, and mindfulness,