Monday, May 2, 2016

Mind FULL or MindFUL: What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the new buzzword in pop culture. Today you can find classes in “Mindful Eating,” “Mindful Yoga,” "Mindful Bookkeeping," and even "Mindful Pet Ownership" (which I recently saw on a blog). Mindfulness is a word being used in lots of circles: advertising, the healthcare industry, spiritual venues, and in everyday conversation.

Even with the word "mindful" being used so often and by so many, few people can define it accurately. In my own reading, the simplest explanation of mindfulness I’ve found is one by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed the technique Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the moment, and non judgmentally.” For more information on this technique go to

In other words, mindfulness is simply being aware of all the things going on in this particular moment—thoughts, physical sensations, and emotions—while remaining nonjudgmental about what you notice.

Why Is Mindfulness Good for Us? 

We live in a fast-paced world. Work, technology, and family life have all taken on a rapid pace with little downtime. Our minds are constantly being filled with information. People, including children and adolescents, talk about “feeling stressed.” With our minds and bodies so busy each day, it makes sense that many people are experiencing negative effects. Mindfulness can bring balance back into your life.

Here are some benefits that I have found to be true to those who practice mindfulness (both personally and professionally):
  • First, mindfulness calms the central nervous system (CNS). This is important because when your nervous system is activated, all types of hormones get released and can often affect your body negatively. 
  • Second, the practice of mindfulness can allow you to hold more compassion and acceptance for yourself—your strengths and your faults. 
  • Third, mindfulness can help you be more present in your life and help you cope with the ebbs and flows of life more effectively.

My Teenage Self Experiences Mindfulness

As an example, I point to my own first experience with mindfulness at fifteen years old. An overweight teen, I'd asked my father to take me to a place where I could lose ten pounds in order to attract a boyfriend and finally be happy. 

My father thought I needed self-esteem more than I needed a boyfriend. Instead of taking me to Canyon Ranch, we went together to Sivananda Yoga Ashram in Upstate New York, where we spent two weeks meditating, practicing yoga, and learning to be mindful.

I came home to tell my friends about the experience. That night, we were hanging out with some guys and one of them called out to me, "Hey, chubby lady!” Before mindfulness training, that comment would have horrified me. But on this night, instead of feeling embarrassed and ashamed about how I looked, I walked right by him with my head held high and felt good about my strong body. 

As a teenager, constantly subject to pressures, mindfulness helped me to appreciate myself as I was in the present moment. It helped me to deal with stress calmly and to comfort and support myself in challenging moments.

Mindfulness can be a wonderful gift. It encourages us to stay in the present without judgment. Often what causes us stress and anxiety are the judgments we have. We either attach emotions to past experiences, creating stress and anxiety in the present, or we spend time worrying about future events, again creating inner turmoil. Mindfulness brings balance. Balance helps us stay centered. Staying centered helps us deal with life’s ebbs and flows.

Making Time for Mindfulness:
Formal & Informal Practices

You may not have time right now to give yourself two weeks at an ashram or mindfulness retreat, but you can start bringing mindfulness into your daily life with an at-home (or at-work, or in the car) practice.

Formal Practice: Two-Minute Mindfulness Exercise

Formal practice is simple: for two minutes, do nothing but sit still and breathe. 

Allow your thoughts to come and go, noticing them but not judging them. Be aware of your desire to attach to the thoughts, to judge them or to wish them away. But instead, just “be” with them.

Two minutes can feel long at first, but keep this in mind: two minutes is a long-time if you are doing push-ups in Boot Camp. Two minutes is not long if it's all the time you have before your child gets off the school bus. It's about perspective.

Informal Practice

If, like many of my clients, you are too busy to find time for a formal mindfulness practice, an informal practice can be a good alternative. 

Informal practices can include: 
  • turning off the radio in car and just focusing on your surroundings
  • mindfully preparing dinner; noticing the feel, taste, and texture of ingredients
  • being mindful during "downtime," for example, while in the shower 
The point of informal mindfulness practice is to not “fix” or “change” yourself in these moments. Rather, you are being mindful to just “be” with yourself. 

Whether you have time for a formal or informal practice does not matter. Do not judge yourself for the method you choose. (That would not be very mindful!) Instead, start where you are. It really does not make sense to start anywhere else.

For more tips on integrating mindfulness and other helpful practices into your daily life, Like my Facebook page: For the month of May, I will be posting weekly tips on how to integrate mindfulness practices into your life.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Guilt is Not a Feeling

So often, I have clients say to me "but I feel so guilty."  At this point I pause and let them know that guilt is actually not a feeling. "What do you mean it's not a feeling?" they ask, eyes wide, jaws open to the floor. I go on to explain that guilt is a combination of a feeling and a distorted belief. The feeling being fear, the distorted belief that you are not good enough.
The original definitions of guilt describe it as a "crime, sin, fault, fine" (noun) and "to commit an offense" (verb). It has also gotten a lot of attention throughout history. Guilt is a main theme in literary works of Steinbeck, Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare. In psychology, an over abundance of guilt can lead to mental health problems including anxiety and depression.   
But if we go back to the original definition it is quite a leap from “to commit an offense” to “I feel guilty because...I binged last night on ice cream” or “I made mistakes when my  kids were younger.” These are valid situations to have uncomfortable feelings about but it is a stretch to feel guilty about them. You would be better served investigating the uncomfortably; making space for the fear while also holding on to your essential goodness. Meaning, in simpler terms, feel your fear and don't throw yourself under the bus!
I used to think guilt was a feeling too. In therapy I learned how to deal with guilt and look at it in a different way. I thought I had the guilt thing figured out. However, when I became a mom I learned about guilt on a whole new level. I still feel challenged by it but luckily have the tools to work through it when the guilt does surface. For example, I had a “guilt” experience just the other day when I was scheduled to co-facilitate a workshop. Both my husband and my younger son were not feeling well. I woke up early to leave only to hear them both coughing from the other room. I started to feel guilty. On the drive down to the workshop  I began beating myself up for going to the workshop. What was I thinking by signing up for another Saturday workshop?  I shouldn't be going when I have a sick child at home that needs his mommy. Luckily, the things I have learned started to come into my consciousness. I then paused and started breathing into the guilt and allowed the fear to surface. Quickly behind the fear was the feeling that I was a bad mom that was unable to  connect to her essential goodness.  So I breathed into it and I asked myself, “Is there anything more I need?” I decided that once I arrived at the workshop I would let my colleagues know how I was feeling. I needed them to remind me that I wasn't a bad person for attending the workshop. That I wasn't being a bad mom or wife. I needed to be at the workshop for a variety of reasons and it was ok for my husband to care for my son.  
I don't always need others to help me get through the uncomfortable feelings. Sometimes I can give myself the reassurance and love that I need. It usually depends on the situation I am reacting to. The more emotionally charged, or the more I make myself bad and unloveable, the higher likelihood I will need to ask others for support. 

Next time you feel guilty, try this experiment. Stop what you are doing and give yourself 3 minutes to breathe into the feelings. Notice where the fear is in your body. Breathe into that area. Next ask yourself what you need in order to feel connected to your goodness? Do you need to remind yourself you are a good person? Do you need to call a friend and ask them to do that for you?  Once you have figured out what you need, give it to yourself. Three minutes can be all it takes to move from guilt into acceptance.