The Marble

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My youngest son started middle school this week in a town roughly 40 minutes from our home.  He will have to start fresh with new friends, new teachers, a new culture and new expectations.  Even though he is up for the challenge, he is understandably anxious.

In new situations, it is natural to feel uneasy and overwhelmed.   Mindfulness shifts the attention inward like a spotlight on these thoughts and feelings and calming yourself can be as simple as observing your breath. However, it can be difficult in new situations to remember to breathe and be present.  When the anxiety upsets our balance, it may just take a simple reminder to bring it back.

Enter the Marble – my son was given a marble to keep in his pocket as a reminder to breathe.  Each time he reached into his pocket and felt the marble, it was his queue to be mindful of his breath, inhaling and exhaling and being present, calming any anxiety he may feel in that moment.

It is proven that mindfulness helps strengthen attention, adaptability, emotional regulation, compassion, calming and resilience.  To think, it can all start with a simple breath, and sometimes a simple reminder.

Embrace the moment!

Mindful Moose

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Walking

I love my morning walks they have become a daily ritual I look forward to.  Some days I exit my house with a mind full of chatter, I can walk for an hour and return home unaware of the experience, I have been in my head for the entire journey.   I live just behind a beautiful provincial park, so to wander through this amazing park and not truly notice it – well, that is just criminal.

I have found if I set an intention for my walk I can remain somewhat present to the experience.  ‘somewhat.’  Our minds naturally wander through thoughts, and that is okay;  when I am walking and notice my thoughts drifting to the chatter, I take a breath and bring myself back to the moment.

At the beginning of my walk, I take a moment to just breathe in the air, being aware of my breath as I inhale and exhale.  Once I start walking I cycle through my senses.  Sights, sounds, scents.  Today I started by observing the trees and the changing colors, the sky, and the clouds, the bright pink sun, the birds, and insects.  Next, I listened to the sounds surrounding me, the wind through the leaves, the pounding step of the runner that just passed me, the river moving by me and the plane overhead.  What can you smell? today it was the scent of freshly fallen leaves and crisp morning air.

Now soften all your senses and take in the experience, be mindful of your surroundings and your place within them.  Open your heart with gratitude and appreciation for the beauty that surrounds you.

Embrace the moment!

 

Mindful Moose

 

 

 

Patterns

My husband and kids attended an event at a beautiful lake in central Alberta over the weekend.   After the event, many of the attendees posted a great number of pictures on social media. Excitedly I looked through the pictures and saw the amazing faces of the families that attended – moms and dads, grandmas and numerous kids.  However, I notice as I scan the photos that my jaw is tight, and my shoulders are becoming tense.  I recognize that I am feeling very sad and hurt.  It takes me a minute to understand why but then I realize that in going through the many photos posted, there isn’t one picture of my family.

Immediately I judge myself. I shouldn’t be upset, I shouldn’t feel hurt and why am I feeling sad over a series of posted photos?  But the feelings of hurt have settled in.  I start questioning my families value.  I feel sad that the faces of my own children are absent from the collage of photos and the anxiety I try so hard to avoid starts to take hold.

I have entered dangerous territory.  My mind is beginning to cycle through feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.  My internal dialogue has become negative and I start comparing and judging.  It is a familiar pattern of self-sabotage. I have to act and fast.  So I STOP!  In the midst of these challenging emotions, I turn to the 3-minute breathing space.

‘This exercise is taken from Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). It is a quick and simple way of taking mindful pauses throughout the day and maintaining continuity in our mindfulness practice. It is also helpful for interrupting automatic (i.e., habitual) and unhelpful thinking patterns that can sometimes spiral into negative moods and destructive behaviors. It integrates two types of meditation (open-monitoring and concentrative) as well as the practices of acceptance, attentional switching, and letting go. The following instructions are from Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression by Segal, Williams, and Teasdale, 2002.’

Step 1 – Becoming aware

Start by adopting an erect and dignified posture. Then, if possible, closing your eyes and bringing your awareness to your inner experience by asking “What is my experience right now?”

  • What THOUGHTS are present? As best you can, acknowledging thoughts as mental events, perhaps putting them into words.
  • What FEELINGS are here? Turning toward any sense of discomfort or unpleasant feelings, and acknowledging them.
  • What BODY are SENSATIONS here right now? Quickly scanning the body to pick up any sensations of tightness or bracing, acknowledging the sensations.

STEP 2 – Gathering your attention

Redirecting your attention to the physical sensations of breathing in the abdomen. 

Feel the sensations of the abdomen wall expanding as the breath comes in and falling back as the breath goes out. Follow the breath all the way in and all the way out, using the breathing to anchor yourself into the present.

STEP 3 – Expanding your attention

Expanding the field of your awareness around the breath so that it includes a sense of the body as a whole, your posture, and facial expression.

If you become aware of any sensations of discomfort, tension, or resistance, taking your awareness there by breathing into them on the in breath. Then breathing out from those sensations, softening and opening with the out breath. As best you can, bring this expanded awareness to the next moments of your day.

It is important to remember that we are not defined by our thoughts and feelings, all human beings experience difficult emotions, our thoughts are not our truths. Cultivate kindness and compassion for yourself and your experience and become aware of uncomfortable emotions without shame or judgment.

Embrace the moment!

Mindful Moose

 

Hands

Today I’d like you to close your eyes for 2 minutes, place your hands on your upper abdomen and breathe.  Breathe into your belly filling it up and releasing the breath. Notice the motion of your hands as your abdomen expands and relaxes.  If your mind wanders, acknowledge the thought and let it go, gently bringing your attention back to your hands and your breath.   When ready, open your eyes.

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  1. Now bring awareness to the image in the picture. Pay attention to the picture without labeling what is before you.  Soften your eyes and expand your attention.  What colors do you see?  How many different colors do you count? Look closely at the various shades and hues.  Is the image blurry or clear? What shapes and objects are present?
  2. If you become restless or distracted. If your mind wanders to other thoughts, gently notice that your mind has drifted and bring it back to the picture.
  3. With compassion and an open heart, become aware of your feelings when looking at the image. Continue to be kind to yourself, look at the picture with a sense of interest, kindness, curiosity and a compassionate awareness.
  4. Stay with the picture for a few minutes, fully aware of the image in front of you. After a few moments, take another deep cleansing breath.   Check in with yourself, how are you feeling?  My wish is that you feel calm and centered.

Embrace the moment!

 

Eclipse

Mindful pauses are opportunities and reminders to pause and bring your full attention to the present moment at any point in the day.  These moments will provide a chance to find calmness and connection in an often rushed and frantically paced world.

  • Pause and become aware of sensations in your body.  Do you notice tightness anywhere?  Are your shoulders raised up toward your ears?  Is your brow furrowed?  Can you soften those areas?
  • Now bring your attention inward to your breath. Notice your breath rise and fall naturally. Slowly breathe in for the count of 5, hold for 5 counts and exhale for 5 counts and hold. If your mind wanders simply return your attention to the breath and begin again.  Each time your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the sensations of breathing.  Do this 5 times.

Solar Eclipse Sunset

  • Now bring awareness to the image. Pay attention to the picture without labeling what is before you.  Soften your eyes and expand your attention.  What colors do you see?  How many different colors do you count? Look closely at the various shades and hues.  What shapes and objects are present?
  • If you become restless or distracted. If your mind wanders to other thoughts gently notice that your mind has drifted and bring it back to the picture.
  • Stay with the picture for a few minutes, fully aware of the image in front of you. After a few minutes, take another deep cleansing breath.   Check in with yourself, how are you feeling?  My wish is that you feel calm and centered.

Embrace the moment!

The Art of Breathing

The average person takes about 15 breaths a minute.  Breathing is something we do with little thought. However, when we are feeling angry, anxious or frightened our breathing quickens and oxygen moves from our brains and is sent to our limbs in a Fight, Flee or Freeze response.  The part of our brain responsible for this is called the amygdala and its primary purpose is to keep us safe, but it can sometimes think we are in danger when we really aren’t.  When we are in a Fight, Flee or Freeze response and less oxygen is reaching our brains, we often fail to think clearly.  This is when we have to get more oxygen back to our brains and we can do this by paying attention to out breathing.

I remember being told to breathe when I became anxious prior to exams; but breathing in and out often left me feeling more anxious and often is a state of panic. The advice to breathe slowly was sound but what I failed to know was that there was an art to slowing my breath.

Square breathing was introduced to me by an elementary school teacher and it has become so beneficial to not only me but others who are trying to calm themselves. It is very simple.

With your finger, trace a square in the air.  Each line of the square should take four slow counts.

  • Now breathe in for the first line of the square, as you are breathing slowly count …1,2,3,4
  • Hold your breath for four counts as you trace the second line … 1,2,3,4
  • Exhale for four counts while still tracing the square … 1,2,3,4
  • And hold for four counts as you trace the last line … 1,2,3,4

Continue inhaling, holding, exhaling and holding for 2 minutes.  Check in with yourself, how are you feeling? Like anything new, learning ‘calming breath’ takes practice.  Be patient with the process and with yourself. Practice throughout your day and as you improve you will likely be able to increase the hold count for a longer stretch. 

Thank you, Mindful Moose