Colorful or dark, shimmery or opaque, crystals come in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes. Sprinkled throughout the earth, these precious gems possess the power to help you tune into your higher self, clear yourself of toxic energy and even mend a broken heart.
Don’t believe me? Just take a look through history. It’s easy to see how crystals have played an important part in our evolution. Crystals like amethyst, opal, amber and citrine have been carried as talismans, adorned in jewelry, used in healing ceremonies and activated as part of shamanic rituals and rites. They even decorated the tombs of ancient Egyptian kings. To this day, crystals are used in jewelry and technology, and line the homes of those of us who are fascinated by their spiritual energy.
Crystals are so much more than just pretty ornaments. Often discredited as “woo-woo” nonsense, crystals sometimes get a bad rap. The truth is, when used correctly, crystals can be magical, uplifting and enlightening. If you’re anything like me, the pure beauty of these crystals draws you in. But maybe you’re left wondering, “What are these crystals and what do they mean? How do I use them? Do they really work or is this just some spiritual mumbo jumbo?”
Hey, it’s alright; you’re a crystal beginner! I was once in your shoes. I remember feeling the draw to be around these crystals, to bring them into my home, but never knowing what else to do with them. Ready to take your crystal knowledge to the next level? Consider this your ultimate crystal guide.
Crystal Guide: Choosing the Right Crystal
Just as every human being is a divine work of art, each crystal foraged from the earth has a distinct healing property and meaning. These crystals carry within them the wisdom and power of Mother Earth itself, and just holding them in your hand can be a transforming experience.
When deciding to buy a crystal, there are several ways to find the best one for you. The first way would be to research the healing properties of certain crystals. For example, if you’re looking for a crystal that is used to help with insomnia, you could try searching for “crystals to help you sleep.” The second and the more organic way is to simply purchase a crystal because you feel naturally drawn or attracted to it. Then watch as the crystal teaches you all you need to know.
I always say crystals will find you. Of my collection of crystals in my home, almost half of them have been given to me as gifts. Once you begin to believe in the power of crystals and accept their assistance, the exact crystal you need will step into your life.
Crystal Guide: How to Cleanse Crystals
Before you bring a crystal into your home or life, remember to treat the crystal with care. Keep your crystals in a safe place and away from harsh sunlight. When I work with crystals, I like to begin by setting an intention. I ask myself, “What do I want to learn from this crystal?” or “Why am I adding this crystal to my collection?”
Once you set the intention, start by clearing the energy of the crystal. Crystals need to be cleared because they can absorb the energy of everyone who has touched or held them.
“Before using any crystal, the easiest way to clear them is to put them on a plate of non-iodized or kosher salt,” explains Alison Olkowski, a reiki master, life coach and sales manager at Crystal Vision LTC in Hollywood, Florida. “The other option is to place the crystal directly on the Earth, because the vibrational frequency of the Earth is 432Hz, which is a naturally cleansing vibration.”
Many people wonder why you need to clear a crystal before using it. “Everything has an energy field and crystals come into contact with many different energy fields in their lifetime,” Olkowski explains. “Cleansing resets the energy of the crystal back to zero, back to its natural state. Then you can set your intention and create a personal relationship with that crystal, one that best suits your energy.”
Crystal Guide: Charging Crystals
When I start working with a crystal, I like to carry it with me or take it along to important events. I might have the crystal in my purse, or if I feel I need extra support, I might carry it in my hand. Using your crystal in your daily life is the best way to build a relationship with your crystal and helps you to really start to feel its energy.
A beautiful way to arrange your crystals in your home is to try an altar or crystal grid. An altar is a spiritual way to invite more peace, love and happiness into your home. You can create an altar using crystals, pictures, candles, statues, feathers or anything that feels deep and meaningful to you. Clear a space in your home—maybe it is near the front door or maybe it is right next to your bed—and set up a little spot for your altar. As you place your crystals and spiritual items on your altar, notice how you feel. This is always a great time to do a little meditation or say a little blessing.
Another great way to decorate your home with crystals is to form a crystal grid. This is a geometric pattern that you can form using crystals; it’s done for the specific purpose of directing your energy toward a goal. As you create your grid, you don’t need to follow any particular pattern. Instead, just feel what feels right for you. Instead of putting your thoughts and focus into what the grid looks like, redirect your thoughts into, “What does this experience feel like?”
Crystals need to be charged in order to perform at their highest energies. My favorite time to charge my crystals is to use the power of the full moon. Every full moon (or even better, super moon), I take my crystals outside and let them sit under the light of the moon. In the morning, you can collect them again and take them inside. You can also charge your crystals using sunlight. Just be careful, because some crystals will fade after prolonged exposure to the sun.
Crystal Guide: How to Use Crystals
Beginning Your Spiritual Awakening? Try Amethyst
If you’ve been ramping up your yoga classes, you have a passion for Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday and you just started reading Gabby Bernstein’s The Universe Has Your Back, it might be time to invite amethyst into your life. The name amethyst comes from the Greek word for “not intoxicated,” and it was a crystal known for invoking a sense of inner peace and tranquility. Often used to help reduce nightmares and insomnia, this brilliant purple crystal will take your meditations to a new level. Also known for enhancing psychic abilities, amethyst is perfect for the spiritual seeker.
How to use it: Place a small amethyst crystal on your third eye (the spot right between your brows), lay down and practice a one- to two-minute guided meditation (you can find them on YouTube). Notice any sensations you might feel as you meditate.
Suffering from Headaches? Try Apatite
Oh no, you’ve found yourself in a bit of a pickle. It seems like everything is falling apart and no matter how hard you try, you cannot seem to get yourself out of this funk. If you’ve been suffering from headaches, confusion, uncertainty or doubt, it’s time for a problem-solving crystal like apatite to enter your life. This bright blue crystal, which is often associated with the throat chakra, comes from the Greek word for “to deceive” for its ability to act like a chameleon and resemble other stones. Apatite is a great problem solver; it is believed to help soothe headaches and clear away uncertainty and lower emotions. Apatite can help you see things from a new perspective.
How to use it: You can try apatite in one of three ways. The first is to create a crystal grid and put your apatite crystal at the center. Ask a question to the crystal as you create the grid and see how the crystal goes to work for you. Secondly, you can sleep with the crystal next to your bed and notice any dreams you might have. Finally, you can journal and place the apatite next to your journal, ask yourself specific questions and see what comes through in your writing.
Tired of the Toxic Friends? Try Black Tourmaline
You’ve been thinking about the type of people in your life and the term “toxic friendship.” If you’ve been debating pressing the “unfriend” button, or you feel what everyone else feels, or you’re very sensitive to chemicals, allergens and toxins, black tourmaline might be your new best friend. This crystal can be used to clear toxic energy, purify your thoughts and psyche and even remove deep-seated fears. This is a very grounding gem and perfect for those moments when you feel the toxic energy of the world. Do you need a digital detox? Use black tourmaline to recharge your spiritual batteries and bring you back to the present moment.
How to use it: I like to use black tourmaline along with an affirmation ritual. Pick an affirmation you like, for example, “I am attracting healthy, happy relationships into my life,” and then make that affirmation part of your daily ritual. Hold the black tourmaline in your hand as you say the affirmation out loud. Take the crystal with you as you go about your day or place it next to your bed at night.
For Overcoming Obstacles, Try Bloodstone
They say when it rains, it pours and sometimes you find yourself in circumstances beyond your control. Instead of turning to Facebook to vent your frustrations, why not pick out a beautiful bloodstone to help you overcome your obstacles? Used for thousands of years as a powerful healing crystal, bloodstone is thought to help detoxify the body and specifically to stimulate the blood-rich organs. Think about your liver, your spleen and your kidneys—the parts of your body that work to rid you of toxins. Use bloodstone to help you release and let go, welcome the change and rise above the fear.
How to use it: Bloodstone is a great stone to use during a full moon. Full moons are often chaotic, energy-packed times of the year. Sit down with your bloodstone and feel its calming energy. You can journal or meditate, think about the things you would like to let go of and watch as the crystal helps you through the tough times.
Been Wishing for a Baby? Try Moonstone
Fertility, motherhood, nurturing and flowing—these are all qualities associated with the soft, semi-transparent crystal known as moonstone. Found all over the world and very popular in the ancient world, moonstone is tied to the concept of the “divine feminine” and the power of the moon. Often linked to fertility, romantic love and sensuality, women were known to carry moonstone as talismans or good luck charms.
How to use it: Wear moonstone close to your heart as a pendant or carry it with you in your purse or pocket. Set an intention with moonstone and be clear with the universe by asking for what you truly desire.
Recovering from a Broken Heart? Try Rose Quartz
The heart is one of our most powerful organs and one that can be so easily bruised. If you have ever been through heartbreak (because, let’s face it, who hasn’t?) you know that feeling in your chest when you just feel like your heart has been split into two. Rose quartz is a delicate, pale pink crystal that can help mend a broken heart. This crystal is great for attracting love into your life or to help your heart to heal from emotional pain or loss. It’s a powerful crystal and yet so subtle and divine. When you invite the rose quartz in, be sure to treat it with extra tender love and care.
How to use it: Place a few rose quartz crystals in your bedroom or around your house. When you pass the crystal in your home, pick it up or just stand by it and let the crystal be a reminder that you deserve love and that your heart will heal. Be open to the messages you might receive from the crystal or just acknowledging how the crystal makes you feel when you touch it or feel it.
Now that you know a little more about crystals and what they mean, which crystal will you choose to take home?
They say a clean home is a happy home, but perhaps the same can be said that a cleansed home makes for a happy person.
Our home is often a reflection of who we are, both physically and spiritually. And while we want our homes to be joyous and comforting, sometimes negative energies can find their way in.
Perhaps you’ve moved into a new apartment and something feels off, or your home still carries the emotional weight of a loved one who passed away there. Whatever it is that’s causing a negative energy in your dwelling, there are ways to give yourself, and your home, a new beginning.
Lorrie Webb Grillo, certified feng shui practitioner at Thriving Spaces in Denver, Colorado, explains that negative energies in homes can vary from person to person, and even room to room.
“Have you ever walked into a room where someone was in a heated argument? Most of us can immediately tell that something uncomfortable was going on; the air feels charged,” Webb Grillo says. “That’s the impact of negative energy.”
She notes that negative energy can manifest itself as a “heavy” feeling in the air and even as dulled sounds in spaces where the energy is “murky.”
Cleansing Negative Energy
This is where the art and science of feng shui—and how it can help cleanse negative energies—comes in. “In feng shui, we believe that everything is alive with energy and everything is connected, hence our homes have energy and we are in a relationship with them,” Webb Grillo says.
In other words, how one person copes with a negative space can vary wildly from that of another, and so will their cleansing methods.
The first part of any negative energy cleansing, she says, must begin with acknowledging that it’s there and the root of what caused it.
For instance, when it comes to a household that has experienced a death, the energy “is usually that of sadness and grief, which are not necessarily negative, as they are appropriate for the experience,” Webb Grillo says. “The space cleansing involves acknowledgement, expression of farewell and release.”
Let’s say you’re dealing with getting rid of the energy an ex-lover left behind. “The energy is held in some of the ex’s things—and removing their stuff is a powerful and successful way to release negative energy,” Webb Grillo explains.
While you can practice cleansing on your own (more on that in a bit), experts like Webb Grillo are often called in to help those who need guidance. After the feng shui consultant is told about the negative energy and what caused it, a ceremony takes place.
“I usually write out the ceremony in advance with some information from the participants and make sure that they have time within the ceremony to express themselves,” she says. “It is most powerful when they speak their stories and acknowledgments aloud.”
Using a process from Denise Linn’s book Sacred Space, Webb Grillo abides by these four steps for a ceremony: preparation, purification, invocation and preservation.
“This means you prepare yourself and the space for the clearing, you determine what it is you are clearing, you are grateful for what you are asking to bring in, and you ‘invoke’ or acknowledge that you have done so and have something in the space to preserve the cleansing,” she says.
So, a cleansing can vary from removing items that carry a negative energy (like your ex’s clothing or furniture that belonged to a deceased loved one) to bringing in new, positive things in (like a plant or a crystal, which Webb Grillo says “can preserve a space and encourage a fresh energy to circulate.”)
Tools to Clear Negative Energy
Even if you don’t use a feng shui consultant, you can create your own ceremony, as well as incorporate helpful tools into your cleansing.
“The burning of sage or incense literally eats up the oxygen in the space and this clears [negative energy] out,” Webb Grillo says. You can also get this from candles (a natural one, without synthetic scents) or essential oils. “Citrus oils bring in fresh, positive energy,” she says.
If you don’t want to burn sage for a cleansing ceremony, Webb Grillo recommends that you “leave a bowl of sea salt in a silver dish to sit and absorb” what’s hanging in the negative space.
“Leaving the salt there for a week would be a good time frame, then washing it down the sink, acknowledging that the salt holds the ‘old’ energy that is being discarded,” she says.
And, believe it or not, something as simple as clapping or ringing a bell “can be a great way to bring a fresh energy” into a space harboring negativity, she says.
While a ceremony with a feng shui expert can take about an hour, Webb Grillo notes that if you do it on your own, it can be even shorter, but the positive results can last a lifetime. Plus, space cleansing doesn’t have to be a one-time thing! Whenever you feel any sort of negative energy, whether it’s one corner of a room or your entire home, you can practice the art of feng shui and cleansing.
“When our homes are cleared and cleansed, we feel uplifted and happier, [we are] able to achieve our dreams and goals,” she says, “That’s what feng shui helps us to accomplish.”
If I told you that the secret to improving your physical and mental health and well-being can be found in an ancient Hellenistic philosophy dating all the way back to the third century B.C., you’d probably say, “Are you high?”
On the contrary, I’ve stopped using mood-altering substances like Xanax as a direct result of this philosophy I’m referring to. I’m talking about Stoicism, a remarkably old practice that’s currently enjoying a modern revival thanks to high-profile devotees ranging from self-help gurus like Tim Ferriss to celebrities like Anna Kendrick and Michele Tafoya.
What Is Stoicism?
For most people, Stoicism is greatly misunderstood. The word itself often conjures up images of an emotionally constipated individual who represses her feelings, is indifferent to pain, suffering and even joy, and is, well, stoic in the face of everything life throws at her.
Modern practitioners of the ancient philosophy, however, know just how silly such characterizations are.
At its core, Stoicism is a simple and logical idea. At the risk of sounding like an idiot, here’s a Netflix-style plot summary of a system originally founded by Zeno of Citium: Most things in this life are out of our control. What we can control, however, is how we react to all the out-of-control things that happen to us during our time on this planet. Therefore, how we react to all the things we can’t control, not the things themselves, ultimately determines how happy and fulfilling our lives will be.
Of course, even those wise, ancient Greeks and Romans recognized just how difficult this simple idea was in practice. That’s why stoics from Seneca to Epictetus put together a small library of practical tips and techniques to help.
And those very same techniques are precisely what modern Stoics swear by.
Imagine the Worst-Case Scenario
One of the most popular Stoic strategies is something called “premeditatio malorum” or, if you’re not one of the few people left who speak fluent Latin, “the pre-meditation of evils.” Basically, with this practice, you visualize all the worst possible things that could happen to you in any give situation.
For example, say you’re a runner. Running is your passion; you live to run. You have a 13.1 or 26.2 bumper sticker on the back of your Subaru, you have a winged foot tattooed on the middle of your thigh, and you devour Runner’s World with a religious zeal bordering on fanaticism.
Try a little pre-meditation of evils right before an evening run. What’s the worst thing that could happen to you? As you’re running on a public road, a car fails to see you in time and drives right into you at a high rate of speed. You survive the collision but lose feeling from the waist down and are told you’ll probably never walk again—and running, well, that’s out of the question. It would be horrible and tragic, but you’d find a way to survive and adapt.
Why on earth would someone willingly subject themselves to something like that?
For one thing, research shows that if you practice these negative visualizations regularly and with enough fervor, you’ll learn to appreciate what you have more. After all, if you can truly envision your life without working legs, just think how relieved and blessed you’ll feel when the visualization is over, and you’re back to having the legs of a runner again. This practice will also prepare you mentally for all the negative circumstances you’ll face at some point down the road.
Focus on What You Can Control
Another simple practice that can improve your physical and mental health revolves around focusing on the Stoic principle of control, or lack thereof.
Let’s use health as an example.
When it comes to our health, we spend so much time and energy worrying about factors that are beyond our control—why doesn’t my body look like [insert name of co-worker, celebrity or ex’s new foot model partner here] or what happens if I get [insert name of incredibly rare condition or disease I just found out about here]?
Remember, stoicism is all about accepting that many things are beyond our control and working to make the most of the few things that are. If you can learn to focus your efforts on making the body you were given look, feel and operate as efficiently as possible, without getting bogged down in the many, many aspects of the human condition that are beyond your control, well, then, you’ll be taking a Stoic approach to your health.
And chances are, you’ll be happier because you did.
It’s no secret: Meditation can reduce stress, improve concentration, increase happiness, slow aging and encourage a healthy lifestyle overall. In some cases, it can even help with cardiovascular and immune needs. Many people also meditate for the sake of better self-awareness and enlightenment, or mindfulness.
“I find the time to meditate because it truly sets my mood and perspective for the day,” says Melissa Berry, lifestyle expert and founder of CancerFashionista.com. “I always try to practice first thing in the morning and right before I go to sleep.”
While you can pretty much practice it anywhere, let’s explore how to create a special place within your home that you can retreat to whenever you need to meditate.
The ideal space should be an area in the home where you feel most relaxed. There are also specific items you can incorporate into the space to ensure meditation’s effectiveness.
Choosing the Right Place for Meditation
So where should you meditate? Where is the best spot in your home? It’s important to pick a simple, clutter-free environment. You should also avoid picking a spot in the house that gets a lot of foot traffic if you live with other people.
“It’s important to clear out the clutter physically and energetically,” explains Michelle Cromer, a feng shui healer, speaker and author. “Remove anything out of the dedicated space that will not aid in meditation.”
Clear the invisible energy and set an intention for the space before every meditation session, Cromer advises. “Some people like to use beautiful, soothing music to clear out the invisible energy in their meditation space,” she adds.
Lastly, don’t forget to factor in lighting. Do you want a well-lit environment or a dim one? Light up your space as you like. Many people want versatility—using sheer curtains to let sunlight enter during the day and lights with dimmers at night to adjust the mood.
Meditation Space Essentials
There’s no right or wrong about what to have in your meditation space. This is your space, after all. But, here’s a shortlist to inspire you:
- Meditation pillow (to sit on)
- Yoga mat (for sitting or yoga)
- Inspiring painting
- Plant or something to bring you close to nature
- Oil diffuser equipped with essential oils (try lavender, frankincense, sage, just to name a few)
“Using essential oil activates grounding earth energy. I would use the life-affirming energy of orange essential oil,” explains Cromer. “Using nine drops in a diffuser or on yourself will introduce a vibrant transforming energy.”
Cromer also suggests hanging a faceted crystal in the back right corner for love or on the back left corner for abundance. “This will bring in light, clarity and serve to constantly move the energy around the space.” Crystals raise the “chi” (which is essentially a warm current) in your space and in your life.
Think you’re ready? “Technology feeds us with so much information that it’s important to take the time to simply be and not think about anything,” Berry says. “It’s like a vacation for your mind, and I highly recommend becoming a frequent flyer.”
Tending to your own needs can often be the last thing on your mind. Life is loaded with responsibilities, obligations and things you really don’t want to do but do out of necessity. In-between long hours at work and running endless errands, you probably find yourself feeling frustrated that you don’t give yourself the same level attention as you do to, say, paying your bills. While taking care of your utility costs is essential, so is taking time to focus on yourself and engage in a bit of self-care (1).
Most people go about their days without taking a second to stop and wonder whether they are doing what is best for their bodies, minds and spirits. The problem is so prevalent, that researchers have spent years analyzing how a lack of attention to the self can be damaging to people who work in medical and legal fields (2). Luckily, figuring out a solution is as simple as remembering to take care of some of the basic functions of your body.
Here are five simple ways to make time for self-care.
1. Be Mindful
The first tip on how to practice self-care cuts right to the core of the matter: mindfulness. Purposefully focusing on the present moment is one of the most difficult tasks a person can be asked to perform, even though it only requires stopping actions and thoughts for a few minutes. Mindfulness might be hard to achieve because “our brains really like stimulation,” wrote Gary L. Wenk, professor of neuroscience, immunology and medical genetics at Ohio State University, in Psychology Today (3). Biologically, the human mind responds well to stimulation. Sadly, this information is also used a lot with creating advertisements.
While marketing professionals and the media as a whole assume bombarding the senses with videos, images and text is the best way to grab attention, all of the noise might be in vain. According to several studies conducted in recent years, the same over-stimulation distracting you from mindfulness may actually make people less likely to buy products or further research services (4). If you can wade through the madness and find a moment of serenity, you’re heading in the right direction for self-care.
2. Pinpoint Problems and Distractions
Distractions are a problem to both mindfulness and the idea of self-care. The more your attention is split between different tasks, the more impossible it becomes for you to slow down and focus on the present. Though you might not be able to actively change the world and how many distractions are thrown at you in a single day, you can definitely do your best to keep your head above the water. You simply need to get into the right habits and stick with them.
What distracts you individually is going to be different than what distracts someone else. The first step toward eliminating what breaks your focus is by figuring out the exact culprits. If you tend to laze in front of the television and watch endless streaming programs after work when you should be focused on yourself, the problem is somewhat evident. Pinpoint your biggest distractors and work toward cutting back on these habits or eliminating them altogether. You might really want to binge that show, but you’ll feel better taking care of your own needs before anything else.
3. Eat Better Food
OK, so this is going to sound obvious: you need to eat better. While most people try to pay attention to the ingredients in what they buy or want to know the source of meat or produce, these details are not as important to your diet as the actual act of eating. You definitely want to make sure you don’t eat too many processed foods, sure, but it is more important to eat something when your body gives you the impulse. Eating when you’re hungry, regardless of the meal, might help your body create energy and regulate hunger overall (5).
The reason for this is simple: survival. Your body is designed to work the best when it is being given sustenance and nourishment. Ignoring hunger pangs because you can’t find organic options is working against your health in subtle ways. Unless you always have access to the specific snacks and meals you prefer, you need to make compromises now and again for the benefit of your health. This doesn’t mean you need to hit fast food when you feel pangs of hunger, you just need to remember you might not find exactly what you want.
4. Take a Stroll
Getting out of your house is also a fantastic move to make when you want to practice a little bit of care. Some people enjoy the great outdoors and some people find all the fresh air to be too much. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, there is overwhelming evidence to suggest taking a walk outside can do wonders for your wellness. The act of walking is enough to engage your cardiovascular system and keep oxygenated blood flowing (6), but that is only the beginning.
In Japanese culture, there is a popular activity known as forest bathing (7). Essentially, the mentality behind this action is to simply exist within a forest and see how it improves a person’s mood, ability to think and overall health. Research on forest bathing suggests it can do wonders for a person’s overall feelings of wellness (8). Some studies believe this actually has to do with the green found in the leaves of each tree (9). No matter the reason, experiencing a bit of nature for your health seems like a sensible choice.
5. Get Sleep
The idea of getting extra sleep can be laughable to people who have packed schedules. Still, the whole point of this article is to remind you to take care of yourself! No matter how busy you might be, you absolutely must get a full night of rest. Consistent sleep is incredibly important to your physiology. Without ample sleep, you are increasing the odds of developing a number of psychological and cardiovascular disorders (10). You might even die far sooner by pushing sleep off (11). Whatever you need to do can actually wait when the time comes to snooze.
If you have a difficult time sleeping, there are plenty of tactics to explore. Essential oils might be the natural, effective solution you have been searching for. As long as you stay aware of the importance of sleeping, eating and engaging in healthy practices, you are going to have a far easier time showing yourself the self-love you deserve.
For anyone who has suffered a panic attack, you know that while the episode may only last a few moments, it can feel like an eternity.
No matter what triggered you, whether it was bumping into an ex at a party or feeling overwhelmed in a crowd at a concert, the overwhelming feeling of shortness of breath, the tightness in your chest and the overall sense of doom can be terrifying.
“A panic attack is the stress response going into overdrive due to a perceived threat, and that can take all kinds of forms,” explains psychotherapist and meditation instructor Ralph De La Rosa.
Once you know what your triggers are and can sense a panic attack coming on, there are steps you can take to stop one in its tracks. Symptoms of a panic attack may also include hallucinations, claustrophobia and a sense of surreality.
By catching a panic attack in its early phase, De La Rosa says, “we have the agency to impact our emotional state.”
“The first order of business is awareness,” he says. By acknowledging what (or who) has the potential to set off a panic attack, you can work from there to derail it.
Breathing Exercises for Anxiety
Once you feel the onslaught of distressing thoughts and emotions, it’s time to practice your breath work, De La Rosa explains. “The simplest breath work is big, deep belly breaths in which you inhale low beneath the belly, to the navel, and slowly exhale through the mouth.”
Mindfulness breathing can also be an incredibly helpful tool for those who suffer from panic attacks. This form of breathing entails “little by little, letting go of all effort with the breath and elongating the space between breaths,” De La Rosa explains.
In fact, the spaces between the breaths become more important than the actual breaths, De La Rosas says. “Let the exhale go out with no pushing…the belly relaxes and goes out and softens. Let the inhale tell you when it wants to come, the next exhale will happen naturally, and it shepherds the inhale and exhale.”
This type of breathing, he says, “slows the heart rate, regulates the nervous system and halts anxious thoughts. “
Reframing Your Thoughts
But breathing isn’t the only aspect of stopping panic attack: there’s also your perception of the moment itself. “How you talk to yourself and frame or perceive the situation is huge,” De La Rosa says. “We can re-frame a situation however we want.”
In the case of a panic attack, De La Rosa suggests using it as a moment of growth and learning. When you feel a panic attack beginning, frame it as an opportunity to practice how you use your skills in combating your disorder. “Re-frame the cognition around the attack from stressful, irritating and fearful to one of interest, curiosity and meaning,” he says.
When you find meaning or purpose in something like a panic attack, you take away its power over you.
Getting Through a Panic Attack
But let’s say even with this knowledge, a panic attack still gets the better of you? Well, remember, that’s OK, and you can work through that episode by allowing it to happen and by being kind to yourself in the process.
“When we fight our negative emotions, especially something like a panic attack, it can add a second layer of stress,” De La Rosa says. “Relate to the emotion, hold the emotion and look at it with some level of empathy, gentleness and kindness. The emotions pass along much quicker when we add that ingredient to the mix.”
Even though you shouldn’t try to avoid a panic attack while it’s occurring, you can excuse yourself to the restroom to regain your composure and have some privacy, De La Rosa recommends.
Most importantly, whether you’re working toward stopping a panic attack before it starts or you’re enduring one, De La Rosa says the key is to “look at the panic and feel compassion for yourself and your situation.”
In our increasingly busy and stressful lives, it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the things we don’t have, as opposed to what we do. Not getting enough likes on an Instagram post (especially when that granola breakfast you prepared looked so yummy!) or getting overlooked for a raise at work can send even the most level-headed among us into a spiral.
But, by giving yourself just a few minutes every day to meditate with a focus on contentment, you’ll not only be able to find peace within yourself, but also change how you see the world around you.
Whether you’re a newcomer to the world of meditation or it’s already part of your everyday routine, Sylvia Maldonado, founder of the meditation and wellness service Breathe Bar in Chicago, says you can start small and work your way up to what you want to achieve.
Choose the Right Meditation Style for You
Maldonado, who started her daily meditation routine at just three minutes a day, suggests that you first find what practice works best for you and your learning style.
For some, meditation apps on phones work best, while others learn from teachers in a class. “Once you have your goal and motivation and baseline, then you can have your own practice at home,” she Maldonado says.
Once you find what style of meditation suits you and your lifestyle, you should expose yourself to different kinds of meditation as well, including mantra, mindfulness, breath work, and gratitude, among others.
Create a Meditation Space
Maldonado recommends creating a designated space in your home for meditation practice that makes you feel the most relaxed. After all, meditation should be something you look forward to. Light candles or put on essential oils, if that is something that brings you serenity.
“You simply want to position yourself for success,” she says. “Your spot doesn’t have to be on a cushion on the floor, especially if you have back or knee issues.”
If you choose to meditate in a chair, for instance, Maldonado says to plant your feet on the ground, keep your palms by your side (either facing up or down), and keep your back straight.
Practice Meditation for Contentment
Depending on the time you want to set for yourself (once you get into a routine, anything from five to 15 minutes is a reasonable goal), you are now ready to achieve contentment in your everyday life.
It’s a goal that Maldonado believes is an important one to aspire to. “Contentment is a really powerful word,” she says. “Contentment is different than happiness; it’s a way of being and an attitude that radiates its own positivity.”
Oftentimes, Maldonado points out, we get stuck in the what-ifs and possible future scenarios, rather than being in the here and now. “We’re swirling with these thoughts and that can be really stressful and drain energy and headspace.”
Meditating on contentment can “liberate you from all that made-up stuff,” she says. “It’s discernment between preparing for various scenarios and letting it take over.”
Contentment meditation can be something as simple as being grateful for your morning cup of coffee or appreciating all the loved ones in your life. “There’s no judgment for what you’re grateful for in that moment or that day,” Maldonado says.
The 5-3-1 Meditation Technique
One particular exercise Maldonado likes for contentment meditation is the 5-3-1 technique, in which you meditate for five minutes, write down three things you’re grateful for, and do one good deed every day (1).
Whether you do some variation of the 5-3-1 technique or your own brand of meditation, Maldonado recommends incorporating writing exercises, as it “reinforces the practice and the result can be a lot more powerful.”
Your alarm has gone off and after a few bleary-eyed moments of coming to, you start to realize everything you have ahead of you that day. You have a big meeting at work that you have to present for, but what if the subway is delayed again and you arrive frazzled and late? Your kids have a test today and even though you helped them study all night, what if still they get a dreaded C?
Phew, OK. Deep breaths. Time to incorporate some mindfulness.
Live in the Present Moment
Rather than worry about the what-ifs of the day, allow yourself to use the first 10 minutes of your morning to live in the present moment.
“A lot of people are in a heightened state of anxiety first thing in the morning,” says Keeley Teemsma-English, a Brooklyn-based therapist and licensed clinical social worker. “You wake up and all the stress of work, life, relationships, etc., can hit you all at once.”
This is where mindfulness can come in to save the day, so to speak.
“Mindfulness is about being in the moment,” Teemsma-English says. “You’re not worrying about the future, you’re not worrying about things that have already happened, you’re in that moment in time and you’re aware of what’s going on around you.”
By being aware of not only how you feel emotionally and physically in that place in time, you also get a stronger sense of what’s going on around you and focusing on that.
Five Senses Mindfulness Exercise
For your mindfulness morning exercises, Teemsma-English suggests incorporating all five of your senses. For instance, listen for sounds (the singing of a bird outside your window), look for sights (the way the morning sun hits your window), smell scents (the brewing of your morning coffee), experience tastes (enjoy the various texture and yumminess of your peanut butter and banana on toast), and reach out and touch something (give your dog her morning pet).
You can do this five times for each sense, she says, focusing solely on them as part of your mindfulness practice.
She says that a lot of her patients enjoy using their meditation apps first thing in the morning, as the guided exercises are usually short and sweet (roughly three minutes) and it can re-wire you to open those instead, rather than a stress-inducing email or social media check-in.
Another possible mindfulness step to take in the morning, she says, is to quite literally take some steps. Before you start your morning routine or head out the door for food, take a 10-minute mindfulness walk to clear your head, all while incorporating your five senses.
But even if you aren’t someone who gets stressed out first thing in the morning, Teemsma-English says incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine “starts you off on the right foot.” “You proactively de-stress and you don’t worry yourself about things that are on your plate for that day,” she says. Instead, “you learn to assign importance to the things that really matter. You learn not to add value to the things that don’t deserve our time or energy.”
Life can be messy sometimes. OK, honestly, life can be a real prankster. You think you’re on the right path and suddenly you get hit with a reminder of all of the responsibilities you have swirling around in the back of your mind. This can be a real obstacle and can even prevent you from taking care of business in the same effortless way you usually do. Getting your life together can often feel like a full-time job with absolutely terrible pay and confusing benefits.
Discovering a way to break free of the chains of your own mind is no easy goal. Still, there are some fun and challenging ways to push yourself to the limits of your own understanding and emerge a more adept and self-aware human. The best way to get this started? Grab a pen and a journal and get to writing. It might seem like too simple of a fix for many of the complex problems that come about in life, but there are some wonderful ways journaling can help you to grow.
Use “Busy” Less
You probably use the excuse “I’m busy” quite often. It is totally fine if you do—most people wind up pulling out this phrase when they are presented with making plans with friends or being asked to take on some extra work around the office. Though saying “I’m busy” is a commonplace response in the modern age, studies have shown a vast majority of humans say that they are busy when they really have more than enough time to get things done (1). The truth is most people do not actually “see” how much free time they actually have.
When you are not actively confronting big problems in your life like a heavy workload or intense family dramas, they are going to start to grow in size in your imagination. Dedicating time to getting your thoughts on paper at the end of the day can allow you a moment to actually assess the responsibilities in your life in a more logical manner. The more you write, the more you will see you are not as busy as you had initially thought and can start to improve upon your personal connections.
Go for Gold
As life begins blindsiding you with all kinds of minor troubles and lasting anxieties, it can cloud your reason. Your own personal goals and intentions can easily fall to the wayside when you have more pressing problems making your life difficult (2). By getting into the habit of journaling, you are going to be able to clear the air and make a bit more sense out of your personal ambitions. A great activity involved with journaling is writing out your hopes for the future.
Once you have put pen to paper, you can let your thoughts inform each and every stroke. Start to write about your visions of the future, what you want your life to look like in a year, and what you think you are going to need to do to get to that place. The more you write out your ideas, the easier it is going to become for you to create a tangible plan for arriving at your preferred destination down the line.
Exercise Your Imagination
Hitting the gym a few times a week to exercise your body is probably already a part of your routine. Unfortunately, most people forget they need to exercise their minds as often as their muscles. Dedicating time to journaling might seem like a small action, but there are studies suggesting it can actually do wonders with how you process information. Writing strengthens your imagination, allowing you the chance to get more imaginative with your problem-solving skills. Some professionals even argue that journaling is a surefire way to boost your I.Q., which can be a nice improvement to make (3).
When you sit down to write, you do not need to worry about whether it is any “good.” You are not trying to write Shakespeare under the table, you simply need to do it for yourself. The more you practice this activity, the better you are going to get at sorting through the madness of your own life to find a sense of clarity and stability once more.
Article Written by Jessica Thiefels
Staying active in the winter is hard—especially on the coldest days when even getting out of bed is a challenge. Don’t let the winter doldrums keep you from moving your body and working toward new goals and resolutions. Instead, use the following ideas to stay motivated and bring more movement into your day, even when it’s too cold to function.
Make Time for Stretching
If you don’t want to go outside, take time to stretch while relaxing in your warm home. Not only will this get your blood flowing, but stretching is critical to maintaining a healthy body:
“Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains and muscle damage,” explain experts at Harvard Health Publishing.
Here are a few stretching routines to try:
You can also browse a full library of stretching videos from Flexy Friday.
Try An Active Meditation Flow
Meditation brings mind-body alignment and can help drive away those wintertime blues. However, you don’t have to sit still to reap the benefits. Active meditation is a great way to get moving on the coldest winter days while tuning into yourself and taking some time to relish in silence.
To find an active meditation, search general meditation apps like Insight Timer. If you want something more structured, check out this series from Cody. Each video has a different focus, allowing you enjoy a well-rounded practice with guidance.
Do An At-Home Workout
Even a small amount of space can be enough for a great at-home workout, you just have to know how to use it. Instead of ruling it out altogether, take a look at some of these great at-home workout platforms and find the ones that work best for your home.
In many cases, the best workout for a small space will be strength-based (opposed to plyometric or cardio); this is especially true if:
- You live above someone to avoid stomping.
- You have a lot of things that can fall off shelves.
- You have minimal space to move and most exercises need to be done in one place.
Take a Lunch Walk
If you work in a big building, lunch is your chance to burn some calories while staying warm—especially if you bring your afternoon coffee along for the ride. To get more out of your walk, take the stairs whenever possible and add exercises to the mix, including walking lunges, squats, wall pushups and calf raises.
If you don’t have a large building, it’s time to bundle up and get outside. To motivate yourself to get moving, invest in some new winter gear. Just like buying new gym clothes as motivation, investing in new winter apparel may be just what you need to get you outside for a short jaunt.
Find Ways to Boost Accountability
The best way to keep moving when it’s too cold to function is to get someone or something to hold you accountable! When the morning alarm goes off, the sun isn’t up yet and your bed is warm and cozy, the motivation to get up and head to the gym is nearly non-existent. Especially when you’re the only one making these decisions.
That’s where accountability tricks come in handy; when you’ve already paid for a class or your gym partner will be waiting outside in 10 minutes, you’re less likely to bail. Here are a few ways to take your accountability up a notch:
- Find a workout partner.
- Sign up for classes ahead of time; if you don’t go, you’re wasting money.
- Try one of the following apps: DietBet, Pact, or Healthy Wage.
- Reward yourself with weekly treats: a massage, a night out with friends, an extra glass of wine at dinner or a new outfit.
Stay Warm and Fit
Use these simple tips to stay fit and healthy, despite the cold. With a little extra accountability, extra stretching and at-home workouts, you’ll fit it all in while staying warm and strong all season long!
Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than ten years and is currently a full-time writer, ACE Certified Personal Trainer and NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition specialist. She’s also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Honest Body Fitness, an online health magazine for women who are fed up with being told how to look and how to get there, yet still don’t feel like enough. She’s written for Shape, Reader’s Digest, AARP, Snap Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness and more. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for health articles, workouts tips and more.
Article written by Joe Palinsky
For most people, the medicine cabinet is a storage space that acts as a window to the past. Expired pill bottles and loose adhesive strips mingle on the shelves, reminding you of all the maladies you’ve encountered in your years. With 2017 winding down, now is an excellent time to begin cleaning out all the old junk in your life. The medicine cabinet is a fantastic place to begin your endeavor!
While tossing out old vitamins and creams can be cathartic, you might also want to focus on what you will replace once everything has been tossed. Finding the right items for your medicine cabinet can help you to feel prepared for whatever health-related situations await. Ashwagandha, for example, is an herb with a number of uses that might have a future home in your medicine cabinet. To see if it works for your life, let’s examine some of the benefits.
1.) Ancient And Relevant
Whenever a new herb or plant appears on the shelves, consumers and advertisers alike tend to get out of control. Reports on the benefits of these products can be conflicting and overwhelming, making it impossible to know whether or not the supplement or remedy even works. Ashwagandha is different because it has been used for thousands of years in a number of places around the world with impressive results.
In North Africa, the herb has long been used as a way of dealing with inflammation and increasing energy levels. Often referred to as ubab or “winter cherry,” ashwagandha can also be found across parts of Asia. In India, the herb is mashed into a paste and used as a salve for treating burns and other wounds.
2.) Calming Effects
Stress and anxiety are very real problems for a large number of people. The world is more connected than it has ever been before. While this fact yields some wonderful results, it also can make one feel tense to constantly be bombarded with news and information about the world. Ashwagandha might also prove useful when dealing with these high levels of stress.
According to a number of studies conducted at several academic institutions, ashwagandha helped patients feel less stressed within a short amount of time. Anxiety can put a lot of strain on the brain and make memory recall somewhat impossible. When ashwagandha was present in the system, researchers noticed an improvement in how subjects suffering from anxiety could recall vital information.
3.) Better Spirits
Feeling grumpy or frustrated can often seem like a part of life. While it is true that you can’t do much to change a foul mood when you’re stuck in one, it also doesn’t hurt to try new tactics. With an herb like ashwagandha, you could be looking at a solid way to get yourself into better spirits. While conducting studies on the anti-anxiety effects of ashwagandha, researchers observed patients exhibited signs of improved emotional states.
Though studies are still being done to uncover exactly how ashwagandha improves an individual’s mood, many scientists believe it has to do with how the herb impacts the adrenal gland. Responsible for producing and regulating a large number of hormones, this endocrine gland is stimulated and rejuvenated by the constant presence of ashwagandha. This renewal helps to better regulate hormones like adrenaline, which tends to help with stress levels as well as overall mood.
4.) Memories That Last
Having a strong memory can work to your advantage on a daily basis. Keeping yourself sharp helps you to stay on top of tasks at work, keep important dates in the forefront of your mind, and allow you the ability to remember where you put down your keys before walking out the door. Though a number of factors work against a person’s ability to remember information, studies suggest that ashwagandha might be a good fit for those looking to improve areas of the brain related to memory.
It is important to note that these studies primarily focused on memory problems that resulted from head injuries. According to the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, ashwagandha might be helpful for patients suffering from dementia but it is too soon to tell. As of this point, no official studies have been conducted on ashwagandha and how it works in patients living with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
5.) Simple Warnings
Discussing the benefits of an herb like ashwagandha can be useful for your future. Still, it is good to note that there are a few individuals who should not be using the plant. For the most part, you can feel confident in stocking your medicine cabinet with ashwagandha. However, it is important to keep in mind that women who are pregnant or nursing should avoid the herb. Some studies suggest it might be fine for pregnant women but it is best to speak with a healthcare professional before making any decisions.
Joe Palinsky is a full-time writer and theater professional in Philadelphia. He predominantly works with ensemble-based Found Theater Company, where his writing has been featured in numerous productions. Though primarily a ghostwriter, his work has been published in the now-defunct Spirit News and as a guest on Found Theater’s blog.
Bears aren’t the only ones who “hibernate” in the wintertime! As the days get colder & we’re less exposed to sunlight, it’s common to experience the “winter blues.” You may feel a lack of energy, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, changes in your appetite & an overall lack of motivation.
While these are all normal responses to less sunlight, some might experience these symptoms on a more extreme level through Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of major depression, bipolar I or II disorder that displays a pattern that recurs with the seasons. Those more at risk for developing SAD are women, those living far from the equator or people who have a family history of depression.
If you’re feeling the blues this winter, try working these tips into your wellness regime to help feel better naturally!
1. Light therapy or Bright Light Therapy (BLT)
If you have a hard time filling your space with natural light, consider using a light therapy box. They emit full spectrum light similar to the sun & are best used for 20-60 minutes a day, first thing in the morning. While you may feel the benefits in a few days, it’s important to use consistently to prevent symptoms from returning. Although safe, side effects can occur from light therapy (generally less severe than prescription medications) so always use under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
2. Exercise & meditation
You’ve been told countless times about the importance of exercise, but the endorphins released during your workouts are especially effective at improving your mood. You can also incorporate meditation & yoga into your routine to better manage stress and depression.
3. Nourish your body with whole foods
While sweets might seem like the answer to all life’s struggles, know that the “happiness effect” you might perceive is only temporary. Ultimately, spiking your blood sugar levels will cause inflammation & leave you feeling worse, so nourish your body with whole foods like leafy greens & antioxidant-rich fruits.
4. Get enough Vitamin D
Many people suffering from winter blues have deficient levels of Vitamin D. Have your doctor check your vitamin D levels & add a supplement to your diet if you’re lacking. Even though it’s cold, taking a quick walk outside in the sunlight during the day can help you feel better.
5. Socialize & connect with others
You’re probably not the only one who feels down in the wintertime, so talk to family & friends about the way you’re feeling. The act of sharing your feelings alone might help you feel better! If your symptoms worsen & interfere with your daily life, be sure to reach out to a professional for help.
While the gloom and gray of winter might leave you longing for the summer sun, don’t let it stop you from being active and socializing with friends! Take advantage of what every season has to offer and approach it with a positive attitude.
Article Written by Jessica Thiefels
“Mindfulness” is a buzzword we can’t seem to ignore any longer because it’s more than just a passing trend. In fact, this concept is rooted in ancient Eastern customs and culture and, when practiced regularly, can have a wide variety of holistic benefits that strengthen the mind, body and spirit.
Greater Good Magazine defines this term as “moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment.” This mental exercise grounds us in the present, enables us to observe our inner selves without judgment, and keeps our focus off the “white noise” of this distracted, hyper-frenetic world.
I know what you’re thinking: “But I can’t just sit still for 20 minutes; I’ve tried meditation, I just can’t do it.” The good news is you don’t have to sit still to reap the benefits of mindfulness. If you want to experience more balance and peace in your own life, these sports are ideal for practicing mindfulness and getting a workout at the same time.
Cycling engages the mind-body connection in several capacities, from the physical act of steering and pedaling to the mental drill of pushing through challenges, finding your pace and anticipating the route ahead.
“Every aspect of cycling can become a meditation,” suggests Nick Moore, author of Mindful Thoughts for Cyclists. He explains that preparing for a ride “has its own rituals that switch us unconsciously from civilian to cyclist—a mental shift of gears in which we transition from one energy state to another, from the potential to the kinetic.” And after, “giving the bike a rub-down, re-lube and once-over is a chance to decompress and gather our thoughts.”
Take your cycling outside for even greater mental health benefits. If you can only cycle in a gym or your home, stay in tune with your body and your breathing to maintain mindfulness.
The elements of competition and self-awareness that are prevalent in tennis work to keep your attention engaged in the action and energy of the court rather than your mind. According to a discipline known as Mindfulness-Based Tennis Psychology, this practice “enhances overall performance by increasing an athlete’s ability to function ‘in the zone,’ by sharpening concentration” to hone both “accuracy and precision.”
The Huffington Post also reports that tennis champion Novak Djokovic uses mindfulness in this tennis to release self-doubt, anger and worry, a skill he deems “just as important as physical training.”
You can play tennis alone against a wall, or with a partner; in either case, you may not have to try very hard to maintain mindfulness in this game. The game will keep you naturally focused on breath and movement.
Running has a way of giving you clarity and focus as you move to the rhythm of your footfalls and feel the deepness of your breath. That may be why 22 percent of runners said they started running as a natural form of stress-relief, according to a 2017 runners poll by Fit2Run.
This type of movement leaves room for “reflection and exploration,” suggests Runner’s World, making it the perfect way to practice active mindfulness. Tune into the repetitive motion that engages both the upper- and lower-body and listen to your feet as they strike the ground. Take note of how that feels, as your foot flows from heel to toe and back into the air again.
This less popular sport is rooted in the “kyudo” tradition of samurai warriors and has been described as a “moving meditation” to synchronize and bring about a sense of equilibrium to a person’s inner world. “Kyudo [which means ‘way of the bow’] is infused with philosophical influences…making it a ritualistic practice,” explains Archery360.
This unique form of archery eliminates all outside diversions to “symbolize leaving your worries at the door.” Instead, you enter the practice range, uninhibited from stressors with a clarity of “pure heart and mind.” The precision needed to align your stance, engage your isometric muscles, then fixate on the target is both an intuitive and immersive experience.
To enjoy this active meditation, look for a local archery school or class, which you may be able to find at a local college or recreation center.
The breathing sequence of “inhale, exhale, lift, hold, pause and repeat” is a powerful way to activate active meditation during your workout. Tuning into yourself in the weight room, finding stillness in the sound of barbells making contact with a metal rack or the feel of your biceps protruding under a heavy mass, boosts strength, both mental and physical.
Ayurveda expert Larissa Carlson suggests that by noticing the “sensation of muscles contracting and releasing, the roughness of your skin against the weight or the sweat trickling down your back,” it’s possible to achieve a posture she calls “meditation in motion.”
Start Moving Mindfully
Find time for these activities in your regular fitness routine—but don’t expect mindfulness to come naturally. Tune into your breath, make note of how your muscles are feeling, and connect breath with movement as much as possible. Soon, this mindful active state will come naturally, and you’ll leave very workout feeling that familiar post-yoga bliss that comes with focusing on breath and our bodies.
Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than ten years and is currently a full-time writer, ACE Certified Personal Trainer and NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition specialist. She’s also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Honest Body Fitness, an online health magazine for women who are fed up with being told how to look and how to get there, yet still don’t feel like enough. She’s written for Shape, Reader’s Digest, AARP, Snap Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness and more. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for health articles, workouts tips and more.
We have all caught ourselves worrying about our busy lives. Wake up, make breakfast, pack lunch, get the kids off to school, go to work, finish the big project at work, pick the kids up from school, take one kid to music lessons and another to practice, make dinner, do the laundry…the list goes on. Whatever fills your day, thinking about the exhaustive list of tasks and chores is likely to cause stress and anxiety, which can lead to health issues. What if we stopped worrying about everything that needs to get done and instead focused our attention on the present moment? The moment we’re actively experiencing. This is mindfulness: being present in your everyday life.
Practicing mindfulness means paying attention to your experiences, both physical and mental, and not judging them. This means instead of rejecting a feeling because it is “bad” or “good,” you learn to cope with it by not labeling it. For example, maybe you are working on a big project at work and you start to feel your heart racing as you realize the deadline is approaching. In mindfulness, you acknowledge the fact that your heart is racing, but don’t judge the feeling. Just acknowledge it’s there and accept it. While mindfulness is most often associated with meditation, the two don’t have to coexist. The best thing about incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine is that you can do it anywhere!
Benefits to consider of mindfulness:
- May help reduce anxiety and depression
- Improves focus and cognition
- Enhances emotional regulation and control
- Helps promote stress reduction while allowing the brain to become more adaptive to stressful or negative situations.
- Lower stress levels are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, improved immune function, lower blood sugar levels and reduced risk of early mortality.
- Enhanced self-insight, morality, intuition and the ability to modulate fear.
- May help improve sleep and reduce insomnia
- People who practice mindfulness report more positive moods
- May help reduce pain
What’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
- There is a lot of overlap between mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness is specifically the awareness of what is going on that present moment. It can be both a formal or informal practice. For instance, mindfulness is stopping to breathe when the phone rings versus rushing to immediately answer it. Just because you are mindful of your experiences does not mean you are meditating. Just as there are many forms of meditations, there are many ways to define the practice as well.
- Meditation is the formal practice that encourages relaxation and attaining a state of consciousness different from your normal, waking state. One of the most common forms of meditation is mindfulness meditation. In mindfulness meditation, you set aside time to intentionally pay attention to whatever is happening in the moment, bringing awareness to your breath, body and mind without judging any thoughts that come and pass.
Ways to incorporate mindfulness into your life
We all live busy lives. Being mindful doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to stop what you are doing to meditate. Here some ways to bring attention to your daily routines:
- Eating: Focus your attention on your meal. Invoke all your senses. How does the food smell? What is the taste and texture? What does it look like? Take note of all the colors on the plate. Be present at the meal without watching TV or scrolling through your phone.
- Walking: Mindful walking means being aware of every step you take. Take note to how your feet strike the ground and your specific, heal-to-toe rhythm. Notice the muscles in the legs and how your hips move. Is there any discomfort? If so that’s OK, remember not to judge! Take note to your breath, every inhale and exhale. Bring attention to your surroundings.
- Mindfulness meditation (the body scan): There are plenty of ways to meditate. One of my favorites is the body scan. The core of almost any meditation is the breath, so start your focus there, noticing the rise and fall of your stomach and the change in temperature from inhale to exhale. As you relax, bring focus to your head. Note any sensations on the top of your head, maybe there is tension in your scalp or you feel a draft. After a few minutes, shift your focus to your face, then neck, shoulders, arms, chest etc. until you have reached your feet. Always remember your mind is allowed to wander. If you have a thought pop up, simply acknowledge it without judgment and recognize that your mind has wandered off, and then return to your awareness back to your breath or scan. Start with a couple of minutes each day and increase over time.
- Showering: The shower is a perfect time to relax and forget about past and future events to focus on the now. As you stand in the shower, take note the temperature of the water, how does the water feel as it hits your body? Be mindful of the smell of your shower gel, soap or shampoo, the feeling of your hand or wash cloth passing through your hair or over your skin. Listen to the sound the water makes as it hits the shower floor. Take note to any thoughts that come up while you’re in the shower—remembering the importance of not passing judgment on them. Lastly, notice the feeling of the towel as you dry yourself off.
- Teeth brushing: Become mindful of the taste and texture of your toothpaste, the sensation in your arms as they go from side to side. Take note of the pressure of your feet on the surface of the bathroom floor.
In the digital world we live in, there are many apps that can help you incorporate mindfulness into your day. Just like anything else we do, learning mindfulness takes practice. Take some time today to be mindful and see how it can improve your day!
How many times have you gone to bed determined to wake up, early only to hit “snooze” five times before finally getting up and bolting out the door? I am far from an “up-with-the-sun” kind of person, but getting in the practice of rising earlier gave me more time to clear the morning brain fog and get energized for a productive day.
Here are my 8 tips for creating and actually sticking to a morning routine that enhances your mood and focus all day long!
1. Define your “why”
Why are you getting up so early? Defining your purpose is key to finding motivation to get out from under the covers. Maybe you want to clean your room, squeeze in a run or yoga session, or work on the novel you always wanted to write. Whatever your motive, write it down, set a phone reminder and make it a priority so you don’t have to think when the alarm sounds!
2. Set yourself up for success
When you’re half-awake, pressed for time and willpower is low, limiting your morning tasks and responsibilities the night before is helpful. While this seems like a no-brainer, actually making sure our clothes are laid out, lunch is packed, dishes are done and the laundry is folded before hitting the pillow is easier said than done.
3. Write something
Setting aside time to put pen to paper in the morning is the equivalent of a cup of coffee for a creative brain. Believe it or not, creativity peaks in the morning while the analytical side of our mind is still snoozing, allowing for a free flow of thoughts and ideas. Even if you’re job doesn’t demand a ton of creative thinking, giving your brain an early workout will allow you to hit the ground running once you’re at your desk.
4. Create an energizing environment
My favorite part about mornings is waking up and feeling happy in my space and connected with myself. I light a few candles or throw on my diffuser to gently wake up my senses and soak in the aromatherapy benefits. Make your space one that’s clear of clutter and distractions so you can wake up feeling stress-free. Try opening the curtains for some natural light or listening to a podcast or upbeat music while you get ready. Fill your environment with the good vibes you want to exude all day long!
5. If you can’t work out, stretch out
Exercising first thing is a great way to boost energy levels all day long, but if you’re not morning workout person, don’t sweat it (pun intended)! Instead, block out some time (preferably right after you wake up) to stretch out and get your blood flowing. The American Council on Exercise says stretching in the morning can reduce aches, pains and lead to greater amounts of energy and focus throughout the day.
6. Take your time with your coffee
In many cultures, the morning cup is a daily ritual meant to be savored and enjoyed. Don’t settle for blah tasting coffee or tea that’s just a shortcut to caffeine. Pour a cup of superfood spiked coffee to start your day with some essential fats and nutrients as well as a healthy jolt. If tea is more your style, try savoring earthy, herbal teas in the morning to stimulate your senses and help feel more grounded. You’ll be amazed at how the simple luxury of a good morning cup can enhance your mood all day.
7. Break from the screens & set intentions
When you jump right into e-mails, news updates and Facebook over breakfast, it can be over-stimulating and your morning time shifts to the needs of others. I like to silence my phone and set my own personal intentions for the day. I use this time to create to-do lists and write out my goals for the day and week. Taking the time each day to focus on yourself and your tasks puts you in an organized, productive mindset early, and visualizing your goals keeps your days filled with purpose!
8. Reward yourself!
Have one part of your routine that you absolutely love and look forward to each day. For me, sitting down to a podcast over my morning cup of tea and bone broth collagen smoothie is my reward for getting up early and giving myself extra time to settle into the day. Maybe you make time to read, make a tasty breakfast or stop for a good cup of coffee on your way to work. Saving time for little indulgences will boost your mood for the day and create an incentive to do it all again tomorrow!
Remember to keep your morning goals realistic and flexible. While you should hold yourself accountable to sticking to a routine, be patient with yourself and treat it like a practice: it’s okay if you miss a day so long as you get back to it tomorrow!
What are your favorite morning routines and rituals? Let’s talk about it in the comments!