Mindful Influence ~ Creating conscious moments

Kari Estrada


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Falling Awake

In mindfulness meditation there are several meditations that you can choose from.  I personally do a mixture of belly breathing, body scans, and hatha yoga.  Meditation practices can range from three to sixty minutes and in some instances, longer.  I enjoy having a variety of meditations so that I can choose the practice that best fits my day.

My focus today will be on the body scan.  At first, many believe this to be a way to relax the body.  In essence, it is a way to observe and listen to your body as it ‘falls awake’.  Scanning your body starts at the tip of the toes as you work your way up through your head.  A body scan allows a systematic approach to discover each part of the body through awareness.  You want to perform this without judgment or expectations.  Remember, this takes practice.  Each mindfulness practice will not be perfect.  If thoughts come about during this exercise, simply focus your attention back to that part of the body you are on.

how-to-do-a-body-scanFor me, the body scan is about making a mind-body connection and allowing my breath to take me on a journey through my body.  I started doing body scan meditations for chronic pain in my feet from an accident.  I also use it when I have an occasional headache that will not go away on its own. Performing a body scan alleviates pain that I would have otherwise taken a pain reliever for.  Through body scans, I am healthier and do not suffer from pain.  I prefer my ‘mindfulness minutes’ over popping a pill.

When doing a body scan, let go of your thoughts on the past or the future and just be in the moment.  Be patient with yourself, as this will take practice.  I prefer to follow guided body scans as my attention stays more focused and in the moment.  I have found several guided mindfulness body scans on YouTube.  Below I have shared an audio-guided body scan that I use quite often.

Try and ‘fall awake’ with a mindfulness body scan meditation.  Please let me know your thoughts and experiences after you have done a few body scans.

[photo credit]


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Surf the Wave

STRESS!  Some say it is a four-letter word.  Stress is defined as our body’s reaction to stressors from a challenge or event that results in a fight-or-flight response.  We all have experienced different kinds of stress from all categories of life.  How we respond to stress in our life can have major impacts on our physical and mental health.

The Father of American Psychology, William James said, “The greatest weapon against our stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”  Through mindfulness we practice the art of self-awareness, mind-body connection, emotion regulation, and attention regulation.  By identifying our thoughts and we can choose how we want to respond to the wave (stressor) we see approaching us.

Stressors cause our bodies to be thrown out of homeostatic balance.  This is normal and how our brains are wired.  Responding to the stressor is how we can control our balance.  The key element is that we all have a choice of how we want to take on the wave.  Do we let it crash into us, or do we surf it?

Surfing the wave will create much more neutral and positive outcomes to help keep our mind-body balance.  Medical studies have shown that by incorporating mindfulness into our lives, the amygdala in our brain actually gets larger.   The amygdala plays and important roll with anxiety and stress.  This structural change in the brain increases memory, self-awareness, and empathy functions while reducing anxiety and stress.

Think of an example of a stressor you have had recently.  How did you react to it?  Did you recognize it for what it was?  Did you ruminate the endless possibilities or dwell on the negative outcomes it may bring?  Did you allow space or time to understand and process your thoughts and emotions?  Did you make judgments or have expectations from this stressor?  If faced with it again, would you respond in the same ways?

Stress is part of life.  We do have a choice of how we think and respond to our stressors.  When you see that next wave approaching, CHOOSE to surf it.  Your outcomes may surprise you.   Let me know your thoughts on how mindfulness has helped you respond to your waves.


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Practice, Not Perfect

Practicing mindfulness consistently is the gateway to enjoying the benefits.  Emphasize on the practice rather than trying to perfect it.  Some days will be harder than others to keep your focus and attention.  This is completely okay and will happen even 10 years from now.  Remember to engage with the 7 attitudes and to keep practicing regularly.

Here are some of my personal benefits that I have experienced through my mindful practice over the past six months:

  •  Less Multitasking – Have you ever burned your dinner you were cooking because you were checking e-mail or social media on your phone?  By doing less, we accomplish more.  Focusing our attention in the present moment helps us to complete tasks and projects more effectively and efficiently.  If our attention is on cooking dinner, usually it will not burn.
  • Patience – I have been a stay-at-home Mom for 3 months.  This was a big adjustment for me since I usually worked an average of 60 hours per week.  Being mindful has taught me to be more patient with myself.  Knowing I will not always have the opportunity to be home, I focus on enjoying each day with my kids and to “be in the moment” with them.  I am practicing patience to connect with my kids rather than force developments or situations.
  • Positivity – Practicing mindfulness consistently makes me a much more positive person.  In December, my position was eliminated without any notice.  A year ago, I would have felt depressed and unsuccessful.  I decided to accept the situation, let go by not dwelling in the past and not having future expectations, and to trust my journey.  I am able to identify with my emotions and thoughts and respond positively.
  • Energy – Through mindfulness I am energized and rarely feel tired.  I am healthier and happier.  I have reintroduced my workouts into my daily schedule and have plenty of energy to keep up with my family and school.

These are just a few of the benefits I have gained over the past six months.  My next post will discuss how mindfulness can reduce stress.  I want to encourage you to develop consistency with mindfulness.  Remember, PRACTICE, NOT PERFECT!

Please share how mindfulness has enhanced your life and the benefits you have experienced.

 


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Checking Our Attitudes

It is not easy to always be aware and awake in the present moment…it takes practice.  Mindfulness can benefit our emotions, health, and relationships.  Laying down a foundation is important to notice how our minds work as well as developing self-discipline. 

I have mentioned in earlier posts about the book, Full Catastophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  This served as my introduction to mindfulness and to several meditation techniques.  Below, I will briefly define the seven attitudes that Kabat-Zinn outlines for a mindfulness foundation.

  1. Non-Judging – to be impartial to our own experiences and to take each moment for what it is. 
  2. Patience – be patient with yourself and know that things will develop in their own time; not expecting certain outcomes. 
  3. Beginner’s Mind – observing or noticing as if you are seeing something for the first time. 
  4. Trust – trust in yourself through your emotions and thoughts; listen to yourself.
  5. Non-Striving – let go of trying; have no expectations
  6. Acceptance – seeing things or situations for what they are; accept each moment.
  7. Letting Go – experiencing the now; not worrying about the past or the future

mindful_attitudes

I wrote all of these down on a post-it note and placed one in my notebook, one on my desk, and one on my mirror.  I started to pay attention to my thinking and how I could respond to myself, others, or situations with these attitudes.  Writing or responding to e-mail, having a conversation with my husband, and listening in meetings are a few examples of situations where I started to apply the seven attitudes outside of my meditation.

Each of these attitudes influence and integrate with each other.  If you work on one, it will lead you to the others.  Encouraging and nurturing these seven attitudes along with motivation will lead you to a self-disciplined and committed mindfulness practice.  

Please comment on your beginnings of laying your mindful attitudinal foundation.

 


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A Daily Vacation!

How much time do you spend each day for yourself?  Can you commit to 10 minutes a day to spend time just “being”?  Most of us are fairly busy and our days are filled with a career, family, friends, and recreation.  It is important to take the time each day to practice doing nothing.  There are many methods of practicing mindfulness.  Today, I am going to discuss a daily vacation that can help add balance in our lives.

just-breathe

In Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, Full Catastrophe Living, he discusses the practice of mindfulness breathing.  This is one way that we can focus on the moment, let go of our many thoughts, and to keep our attention on our breath.  To start, you want to lie flat on your back or sit with good posture (straight back and shoulders down and back).  Begin breathing in and out, while paying attention to both the breath in and the breath out.  Where do you feel your breath?  You can focus on your belly, chest, or mouth.  Kabat-Zinn describes this as “riding the waves of your own breathing.”  As you practice, you may have thoughts that arise.  Be aware of these thoughts, but only by observation.  Look at them as if they are floating by on a cloud.  If a thought is distracting, return your attention back to your breathing.

Finding the time to practice mindfulness breathing can be quite challenging.  When I started this process I was a full-time professional, part-time MBA student, a wife, and a mother to two young children.  At first, I would fit it into my day when I felt I had some free time.  I was NOT practicing everyday because my time was very limited.  Ultimately, I figured out that I could set my alarm 30 minutes earlier than normal, have a cup of coffee, and practice my breathing in silence since my kids were still asleep.

Through my Mindful Leadership class at the University of Nevada, Reno we had to reflect on our meditations and situations we faced in life.  It helped me incorporate mindfulness meditation into my daily routine.  It took me awhile to learn how to let go of my thoughts and to pay attention to my breathing.  Sometimes, 10 minutes can feel like forever!

I want to challenge you to try mindfulness breathing for 3 weeks.  Find out what time of day works best for you and try to practice for at least 10 minutes a day.  Be open to practicing and please share your experiences on your daily vacation.

HAPPY BREATHING ~


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What is all the “Mindfulness” About?

By now, I think that most of the American culture has heard the buzzword, MINDFULNESS. It is being written and talked about in western mainstream. Many say it is the latest fad; I believe that mindfulness is a tool that leads you to positivity and happiness.

Mindfulness can be defined in many different ways. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Another way to describe mindfulness is to practice “being” rather than “doing”. It has been around for over 2500 years and the benefits continue to be researched. Many organizations such as Google and the U.S. Military incorporate mindful-based programs into their culture.

I was first introduced to mindfulness through sports. We practiced letting go of our thoughts and focusing on our breath. We also practiced visualizations this way. I was not aware at the time that I was being mindful. Many athletes in various sports use this technique. Over the past four years I have practiced various mediations off and on that included belly breathing, body scans, and Wuji Gong. In the fall of 2013, I enrolled in a class titled Mindful Leadership through the MBA program at the University of Nevada, Reno. This class taught various methods of practicing mindfulness and how it can be integrated with leadership practices. Through this class, meditation practice has become part of my daily routine.

Dance

In todays busy world we are always looking into the future and rushing though life, causing us to miss out on what is happening in the present moment. Through this blog, I will share how a mindfulness lifestyle can influence experiences and provide a greater appreciation for awareness, focus, and life’s moments.