Monday Meditation: Compassion

 

Compassion. It’s a concept easily lost in the busy-ness of our days. Someone cuts us off in traffic, a store clerk is rude as we buy our groceries, and we get frustrated or angry. But what if we sprinkled a little compassion on the situation? What if we looked behind the behaviour of these people?

 

 

We’ve all had times where we’ve been the person cutting someone else off, or been rude to someone, perhaps even without realizing it. We’ve all had days where our life events have created a chain reaction of negativity that we’ve passed along somehow to another person. And if that person reacts negatively back – gets angry or frustrated – it tends to fuel our own negativity. But if that person reacts with compassion, sensitivity, and gives us a positive message, often it can change the course of our thinking. Perhaps it makes us stop and reflect on our behaviour, or perhaps it turns our day around and gives us that boost of friendliness or kindness we sorely needed.

 

We encounter numerous situations each day, through our own personal actions and thoughts, our interactions with our families and friends, and the way we relate to strangers. Behind every action we take are long and complex life stories that have brought us to this point.

 

If we can practice compassion during times when other people are challenging our patience or testing us,  we have the power to make a difference in both our own and someone else’s day.

 

This week, take some time to reflect on the practice of compassion. Are you compassionate with others, but not with yourself? How can you bring a deeper sense of compassion to your everyday?

 

Wishing you a thoughtful, and compassionate week ahead.



Two Yoga Poses For Sleep

Sleep. It’s such a precious commodity. Yet most of us experience trouble sleeping at some point in our lives. There are countless reasons for this: mental stress, physical stress, an inability to fully relax, the list goes on. And when sleep eludes us, it can cause even more anxiety because we become overly focused on the sheer act of getting to sleep.

 

 

Rest assured. There are ways to ease the body and mind into dreamland. The first step is to create an environment that is conducive to sleep. Put away or turn off your computer, smartphone, tablet or television, and establish a quiet zone in your bedroom. Then try some yoga and relaxation techniques to further calm the body and the mind.

 

 

Here are two yoga poses to relax the body at nighttime.

 

 

 

Child’s Pose: From kneeling, sit your buttocks back towards your heels and release your chest downwards. Relax your forehead on your forearms. Imagine opening a trap door in the middle of your forehead that allows any thoughts or mental clutter to fall right out of your mind. Hold for 2-5 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legs Up the Wall: Lie on your back with your legs up against a wall, and bring your buttocks as close to the wall as possible. Let your heels rest on the wall, and allow your legs, hips and back to completely relax. Hold for 2-5 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s a meditation exercise that encourages deep mental and physical relaxation.

 

 

Autogenic relaxation: Find a comfortable position lying down, and take a few deep breaths. Bring your awareness to each area of the body from the feet to the head, and mentally encourage that area to release. For example: Say to yourself, “My feet are relaxed, my feet are relaxed, my feet are completely relaxed.” Repeat with each body part. By focusing on each area of the body, you are releasing unnecessary tension and allowing the body to come into a state of rest.

 

Combined with a quiet, dark sleeping environment, the above exercises should help bring on a good night’s sleep. Sweet dreams!

 



Monday Meditation: Messages Of the Mind

We humans can be hard on ourselves. We beat ourselves up for the littlest things.  “I wish I was better at this.”  “Why couldn’t I do that right?” We compare ourselves. “Why can’t I be more like her?” “How does he do it?” Many of us live with a constant stream of self-criticism when we don’t live up to the expectations we put on ourselves. And these messages have an impact.

 

There is power in our thoughts. Negative thoughts are like weeds. They multiply and attach to other thoughts until they clog up the mind. Positive thoughts can be harder to cultivate, but the effect they have on us is freeing. Akin to a door or window being opened, allowing in sunlight, and fresh air.

 

Just as it takes effort to pull weeds from the garden, it takes effort to shift away from negative thinking.

 

This week, let’s meditate on the messages in our minds. Are there recurring beliefs or negative statements that seem to be on repeat in our heads? Can we shift those messages into positive ones, or replace them with new, fresh thoughts?

 

I’ll leave you with a quote: “What we think, we become.” What do you want to become?



How Our Daily Activities Affect Our Health

 

Do you carry a heavy purse on one shoulder? Commute to work, only to spend eight hours sitting at a desk?  Cross your legs when you sit? Carry your child on one hip? Hold the phone to your shoulder with your ear?

 

 

Whether we realize it or not, every action we take in our daily life – big or small – has an impact on the way our physical body functions. And over time, any stress on our bodies creates an imbalance that could sap us of strength and energy. For some, an imbalance may result in nagging muscle aches or pains; for others, it may manifest in a chronic condition.

 

 

So how can we become more aware of the effect of our everyday actions and prevent our “bad habits” from wrecking our bodies? Here are three ways:

 

 

Visualize Your Day

 

In your mind, walk through your typical daily activities – from getting out of bed in the morning to going to bed at night. Visualize the way you’re standing when you brush your teeth, the way you sit at your desk, talk on the phone, eat your lunch, play with your kids, sit on the couch, even your workout regime. You might be surprised at how many activities you engage in that create imbalances or put negative stress on your body.

 

 

Brainstorm some ways to combat these imbalances. For example, if you drive long distances or sit at a desk all day, schedule stretch breaks where you can counteract the stresses of sitting with gentle back bends and some neck and shoulder stretches. Or if you carry your purse on one shoulder, try to be conscious of switching arms as much as possible.

 

Body Check-In

 

In the morning, at lunchtime, and in the evening, perform a “check-in” with the body. Here’s how to do it: Get out of that office chair and rise to a standing position. Direct your attention to each body part and notice if there are any areas of tension, pain or discomfort. See if you can trace this discomfort back to an action or activity (large or small) that you recently engaged in.

 

 

Once you have a focused awareness of your body tension(s), perform some gentle but targeted stretches to release tightness in the muscles. The more time we spend connecting our minds with our bodies, the more likely we are to catch and stave off negative stress before it creates strain on our muscles or joints.

 

Regular BodyWork

 

Incorporate regular bodywork into your life. Just as cars need regular maintenance, so do our bodies. Making an appointment to spend time working on your body increases your awareness of your physical habits and their effects. Whether it’s in the form of a monthly massage, a weekly yoga class, or a daily guided relaxation, bodywork is a fantastic way to maintain and nourish a healthy, balanced body. And as an added bonus, your mind will feel refreshed as well.

 

 

So, as you head off into the rest of your day, bring a greater awareness to everything you do. You might be surprised at the results.

 

A version of this post originally appeared on January 11, 2011 in my weekly health and wellness column over at That’sFit.ca (no longer in publication).



Monday Meditation: The Breath

This week, instead of meditating on a theme, phrase or idea, we’re going to turn our attention to our breathing.

 

It may sound simple, but it’s amazing how much mental clutter surfaces when our focus is purely on the breath.

 

 

Here are a few tips for the Breathing Meditation:

 

  • Decide how long you’ll be meditating for and set a timer.
  • Find a comfortable seated position (or lie down on your back), close your eyes and become aware of your breathing. Don’t try to control the breath, just notice the rhythm of inhalations and exhalations.
  • As you breathe in and out, observe any thoughts that come through your mind. Try not to let yourself attach any weight to these thoughts. Imagine they are like clouds passing through the sky, and refocus on your breathing.

 

As you practice the breathing meditation, notice any patterns that come up in your practice. Is there a point in the meditation where you seem to get distracted or find it a challenge to continue? Do you get agitated or uncomfortable part-way through your allotted time? Are you tempted to finish the meditation earlier than planned because your mind has filled with to-do lists for the day ahead? It is often at the most challenging times during our meditations that we need to be gentle with ourselves, remind ourselves to simply be present, and bring our attention back to the constant and steady rhythm of our breathing.

 

May your week be as calm and steady as your breath.

 

Want to know more about the breath? Read What’s the Big Deal About Breathing?



Gratitude Exercise

Gratitude. There are always aspects of our lives to be thankful for. Being grateful can shift our moods, change our interactions with others, and give us an important perspective on our lives.

 

Take two minutes to complete this exercise on gratitude and see how it affects you.

 

Grab a blank piece of paper or turn to a fresh page of a notebook. For the next two minutes, write down everything in your life that you have to be thankful for.

 

Observe how you feel afterwards. Could you write more?

 

Bringing awareness to all that we are grateful for is a powerful tool in maintaining a balanced approach to life.

 

For more tips on balance, check out the #21DaysToBalance initiative.



What’s The Big Deal About Breathing?

If you’ve ever been to a yoga, meditation or Pilates class, odds are you’ve heard one of the following phrases: “stay connected to the breath,” “breathe deeply,” or “it’s all about the breath.” While there are many reasons for deep conscious breathing in all of these practices, what good does it do us outside of the yoga studio? What’s the big deal about breathing?

 

 

We know that we have to breathe to live. But breathing deeply and consciously can make a huge difference in how we live. Here are five ways we benefit physically and mentally by the simple act of conscious breathing.

 

An Energy Boost – For those days when you’re so tired you could lie down on a bed of nails and sleep for hours. By focusing on deep, energizing breaths we can boost our energy levels, and combat mental and physical fatigue. We’re bringing in fresh oxygen and helping increase the supply of blood and nutrients to our body.

 

The Great Stress-Reliever – For the times when your kids or your spouse or your boss have pushed your buttons and your head might just explode out of frustration or anger.  By taking deep, calming breaths, you can reverse the stress response. Your muscles and mind can then relax, enabling you to gain perspective on the situation. It’s pretty difficult to hold onto muscle tension or stay angry and stressed when you’re breathing deeply.

 

Keep Your Appetite Honest – For the times you’re trying to monitor your food intake but all you want to do is have that extra brownie and/or bag of chips.  When we breathe deeply into our diaphragm, not only do we keep our digestive system running smoothly, we are also forced to pay attention to when our stomach is full. Have you ever tried to take a deep breath after overindulging at a meal? It’s nearly impossible without feeling like you’re going to see the meal again (except it won’t be on a plate this time).


 

Healthy Heart – For the days, weeks (or months) when we’re running around between kids’ activities, work, family commitments, and we’re taking care of everyone else except for ourselves. With women being more likely to die from heart disease than any other cause, staying connected to the breath becomes extra important. Deep conscious breathing has been proven to reduce blood pressure, improve blood circulation, and lower the heart rate, all of which contribute to the wellbeing of the heart. 


 

Slowing Down – For when the only time you wind down is by falling into bed at night exhausted. Being mindful of our breath allows us to truly listen to our bodies. It causes us to slow down, gain clarity on our physical and mental state, and gives us a little more space in our day. Who couldn’t do with a little more of that?

  In the days ahead, why not try to breathe a little more deeply? And let me know how it feels.

 



Monday Meditation: Balance

It’s the first Monday of 2013 here at Annabel Fitzsimmons Whole Living, and the first post of the year. Happy 2013 to you! Talk of resolutions abound, but I’m taking a new approach to the new year. I’m using January as a time to reflect, and build a foundation for the year ahead.

 

The theme for this week’s Monday meditation is balance. The word balance brings up a wide variety of reactions from people. Some people view it as an unattainable goal, an over-used buzzword, or a concept that places undue pressure on us in an already pressure-filled world.

 

But this week, I’m going to challenge you to throw your idea of balance out the window, and think about it through fresh eyes. Balance could be as simple as the physical ability to balance our bodies upright down the icy sidewalks of this snowy winter. It could mean eating a balanced meal that fills our bellies and gives us energy. Balance could mean standing on one foot in tree pose or staying upright on a spin bike as you get your cardio on.

 

This week, as you take some time to reflect, I ask you to meditate on the many different aspects of the word balance, and the many possibilities the word holds. Try to let go of preconceived ideas about the meaning of balance (somebody else’s idea of balance is not going to be the same as yours) and explore what kind of balance you’d like to see in your life for the year ahead.

 

2013 lies before us, full of potential and promise. May our meditation on balance this week allow us to move into the year full of positivity and optimism.

 

If you’d like a little daily inspiration on the theme of balance, please follow along the 21 Days to Balance initiative I’m involved in this month. You’ll get fast and friendly nutrition, exercise, yoga and meditation tips from nutrition expert Lianne Phillipson Webb, fitness expert Samantha Montpetit-Huynh and me.