Meditation, let your eyes close, take a breath and just let go. This is easier said than done. Meditation is a lost art, something that we might think about but never get around to doing. When people think of meditation perhaps an image of the Shaolin Monks sitting cross leg comes to mind. You may think “that could never be me; I’m too busy for that”. Let’s put our busy schedule aside for a moment and talk about why everyone should make time for it.
We all (well most of us anyway) bathe regularly; we clean our bodies just about daily. Just as our body needs to be cleansed so does our mind. Think of meditation as a bath for the mind. Our head gets muddled with stress, friends, family and our own inner voice. Letting that perpetually build can take a toll on your sanity. The holidays are 100% busy and stressful. If there was ever a time to start a meditation practice this is it.
So what is meditation? Meditation is different for everyone. Being a yoga instructor, I have dedicated many hours to meditation and have made it a part of my life. From a yoga perspective, the practice of yoga and the movement you do in class is all preparation to unite the body and mind, and create a calm receptive state for meditation. However, traditional yoga meditation is not the only meditation! There are many, many schools and thoughts on meditation such as vipassana, visualization, kundalini and much more. Just like exercise, everyone likes something different.
To give meditation a try, just sit. Literally, start by sitting; find a way that is comfortable for you to sit. Cross your legs, sit on your shins or even find a comfortable couch or chair. Then begin to close your eyes, be an observer of your thoughts and the way your body feels. Once you are within yourself, try to let go. Let go of thoughts, stress, your to-do list and just be present. People new to meditation may not be able to go more than 5 seconds before the next thought slips back into their mind. If this happens to you, find a focus within your body, such as your inhalation and exhalation. Some people find it easier to focus by listening to the sounds of the environment or the sounds of their own body. It’s normal to feel impatient or agitated by sitting but don’t be discouraged. Practice makes perfect. Incorporate 5-10 minutes a day and work your way up from there. As you begin to practice more often you will slowly see a shift in your attitude and mind. With time, you may begin to notice feelings of mental calmness, less anxiety, more compassion and creativity throughout your daily activities. Allow the process to transform your mind. I encourage you to find a practice and style that is right for you!
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Optimism can shape our reality. Our ability to look at a situation and discern whether the outcome will be good or bad is skewed by experience. If we experience a negative outcome and approach every situation that follows with skepticism, our beliefs of a negative outcome become re-affirmed. It is then easy to start to look for that negative in everything. The reality is in the eye of the beholder.
Training the brain to be positive is like training the muscular system. Recent research on neuroplasticity shows that as you develop new habits, you can rewire the brain. So, what does this mental workout entail?
Find your personal strength- Recent research has shown having an “Oprah moment” of psychological growth in response to a traumatic event in your life is possible if coupled with specific action. In other words, the belief “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” can only be accurate if a personal betterment of self is associated with it. According to, “Post-Traumatic Stress’s Surprisingly Positive Flip Side,” by The New York Times, recent studies done on trauma survivors show positive change in relation to renewed appreciation, better relationships, and more spiritual satisfaction.
Meditation – This concept has been brought up in past blogs, but transitioning from internal dialog to awareness can bring deeper clarification of our perceived reality. Learning to be present and experience with our senses while observing our reaction to it is crucial to breaking the cycle.
Controlling memory – You can cultivate positive energy by changing the stories you tell about the events in your life. This goes back to being the observer and noticing how you process your experiences.
BREATHE – Controlling your breath will reduce anxiety by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. A lot of our physical habits/ reactions can negatively impact our mental state and visa versa.
Control the external environment – It seems like common sense, but find the things you enjoy participating in and make it more of a routine. Research suggests people are attuned to context when they are experiencing positive emotions. When you spend more time allowing yourself to see the good that surrounds you in even the smallest of details, you can train your brain to recognize the positive, or evoke positive emotions in response.
Visualization/ modifying the senses – Using a visual to imagine every time you notice your thoughts going in a negative direction can divert your thought pattern. Try envisioning a stop sign, which can give even more motivation to control that negative thought path, or visualizing something funny (i.e. a purple elephant in a tutu). This is like self-induced semantic priming, where you are evoking a reaction to a situation when it occurs later in your life.
You can also get a theme song. I’ll never forget one summer I took an accelerated summer course in organic chemistry that was so grueling. And, I remember one kid would sing to himself, “You’re the Best,” by Joe Esposito as his theme song. Let your song be a reminder you can choose to redefine what is possible.
Write a gratitude journal – Reflecting on all you have to be grateful for leaves you with true appreciation. This as a regular practice should keep everyone thankful & optimistic. More importantly, it keeps you realistic. Life is hard and every human being has a collective of both positive and negative experiences that help shape your personality. Recent research suggests an optimal ratio of positive to negative being 3 to 1. This to me seems an arbitrary demonstration of our need to have balance in every aspect.
Psychologist Martin Seligman proposes in his book, “Flourish,” a new well-being theory. He believes there are four pillars of well-being, including: positive emotion induced by happiness, satisfaction, and engagement; meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment. We can all flourish by reminding ourselves to view optimism as training our brains.
If you have questions about this posting, or would like ideas on beginning a new workout regime, please feel free to contact Personal Fitness Trainer Amber Walz.
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OHMMMM… With the stress of modern life most people seek some sort of retreat. Often times this manifests as a vacation adventure, internet search, blog or book, television show or movie. This does in a sense allow a break to enjoy life, but have you actually allowed your brain to completely shut off?
Meditation is said to help us realize our emotions as we deal with the suffering and joy of life, bringing to the middle (a balance in the present moment). Meditation is seeing the mind and differentiating parts of an experience (the present and the perception). Many cultures have a form of meditation, most are familiar with Buddhist meditation. Brahma meditation focuses on loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity. Vipassana meditation quiets the mind through concentration and mindfulness.
When we intentionally shape our attention through mindfulness, we induce long-term changes in brain function and structure. This is neuroplasticity- how the brain changes in response to repeated experience.
Psychologically, there are often problems stemming from too much rigidity or chaos that meditation can bring balance to. Common psychosomatic disorders that are alleviated through a meditative practice are: anxiety, binge eating, mind chatter, compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, drug addiction, chronically relapsing depression, and perceived stress (to name a few).
Through regular practice, there is improved self-perception, confidence, optimism and self-control. Look at meditation as kindness to yourself and your own life experience. When it comes to choosing a meditative practice that is appropriate for you my advice is to explore options. There are several guided meditations (visual- i.e. chakra meditation), focus meditations (for example candlelight and Hamsah- third eye meditation, or breath meditation), also deity meditations (for example Brahma or Jana- nature meditation). Chanting is often times used to maintain or heighten a meditative state, and yoga asanas and breath work are used in preparation. Zen meditation is one of the most disciplined styles, and you can always start with disconnecting with outside distractions by being outdoors in nature away from other people.
However you choose to start a regular practice is your choice and comfort level. There is always room for your practice to deepen and take new forms. In modern society, meditation may be one way to bring harmony and balance to your busy life.
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This month, I want to talk a little about Meditation and Pranayama. These are not Yoga Poses, but the root of the practice. The juice and foundation. Meditation is a practice of stilling the constant chatter and pounding in the mind, and Pranayama are the breath control practices of yoga that help with the stilling of the mind.
Notice I say “practice”, as Meditation certainly doesn’t come to me or most of us naturally! A few years ago, a friend said, “Tonja, you got the poses down. Now, what you need to do is stop moving and sit your butt down and listen to your intuition.”
For me, sitting still for even 5 minutes is a wrestling match, but when I finally set my butt down and settle into stillness, it is truly an amazing practice of transforming my crazy busy mind into, clear, focused, sharpness.
Meditation for beginners. First start by doing 10 minutes yoga warm up or light stretches. Then prop your sit bones up on pillows or yoga blocks until you feel comfortable to sit for at least 10 minutes. Here’s the thing. Silence, no music, no waterfalls, just you and your wonderful breath. It’s hard…you can do this. Focus first on just the act of breathing, feel the richness of breath, the physicality of the miracle of the respiratory system. Sit tall, but not rigid, and drop your chin half way toward your chest. Once you begin to settle, start with a Mantra (repetitive words or sound, who’s purpose is to calm the mind) The mantra I work with right now is “YES” on the inhale, and “Thank you” on the exhale…over and over again repeating this simple gratitude practice. It doesn’t matter what you are “YESSING” and THANKING…. It is signaling the sub conscious mind in the Alpha state, to imprint Gratitude on your cellular level. A practice of daily Gratitude will change your life, guaranteed.
The Pranayama practice I love to begin with is Ujjaii Pranayama. In your “seat” press the tongue behind the front teeth, which drops and lengthens your palette and creates space around the nasal and throat passages. Slightly close the glottal muscles, back of throat, to sound like a soft snore. If you like to deepen this, count to 4-6 on the inhale, HOLD the breath in as you lift your belly up 2 counts, relax all muscle effort, and exhale slowly.
Pretty soon, a fidgety 5 minutes of Meditation/Pranayama has turned into 20 minutes that you don’t want to end.
There are many techniques for quieting the mind; I’m sharing some that work for me. All the Greats use Meditation to tap into their inspiration. Russel Simmons, of Def Jam Recordings and Rush Management, has just written “Supper Rich” where he explains how yoga and meditation has helped him become not only a tremendously successful business man, but more open and loving in his life. It’s an excellent book.
As always, ask your teacher about any yoga technique, and they can point you in a direction that they’ve gone. Try it, and with practice, you’ll go in the right direction and style that’s right for you.
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