What The Moon Can Teach Us About Appreciation

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If you’re reading this, chances are you’re currently on a planet floating in space. Yes, this beautiful brilliant home we call Earth, and Friday (Earth Day) was the one day a year we rededicate ourselves to taking care of her. Earth Day is the day we plant all the trees, turn off our lights, conserve our water a little more carefully, and decide we will take care of our home with more diligence. After all, our planet takes such good care of us.

 

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to see Hubble 3D. It was a gorgeous film exploring all the things we’ve gleaned from this wonderful telescope. The galaxies we’ve discovered, nebulas and formation of new stars, the new perspectives, and the things we’ve learned about other planets in our solar system.

 

Tra moonAt the very end of the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio, who narrates the film, says,

“It has been said that in discovering the moon, we discovered our earth.”

He went on to talk about how we’re always searching for other bigger and better things as humans. We have the desire to study things we have not yet explored, discover something that we’ve never seen before. Yet, after all of this searching, discovering, and knowledge that we’ve gained through the Hubble, we have yet to discover a place that loves us and protects us as perfectly as our beautiful Earth does. The beautiful balance of the ozone layer, the elements, the way our climate finds balance despite the things we do to destroy it.

 

This lead me to think about my own life. I have the tendency to be lured in by wanderlust, exploring, adventuring, and finding the best Pho restaurant in California, among other things. Maybe I’m on the constant search for something unexplored–a better job, better house, better relationships, even a better climate to live in. But maybe in reality, it’s all right under my nose?

 

Maybe I just need to appreciate the things I have in the moment that I have them. Maybe I need to learn to savor the moment, trust the wait, and enjoy the beauty of becoming. I need to recognize my perfect path and perfect circumstances that have all collided into creating who I am becoming. As beautiful and enticing as adventuring and exploring is, sometimes I forget where I am right now is the best place for me. I have to recognize that I am enough in this present moment.

 

Maybe, much like our beautiful planet, there are things in motion that I often am unaware of–cyclical patterns of weather, the beautiful plants creating oxygen–that are working on creating of the beautiful life I live.

 

Yes, it is important to take the time to rededicate ourselves to becoming a little more aware of the beautiful things we’ve been given. And maybe we can say in discovering the earth, we’ve discovered ourselves.

What is the difference between Mindfulness, meditation and Meditation (uppercase “M”)?

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Over the past few years, the idea of living mindfully and practicing mindfulness has captured the collective imagination of people all around the world. From the streets of Bali to boardrooms in Silicon Valley, there has been widespread adoption and thousands of mindfulness gurus are teaching a myriad of flavors of it.

 

As a result, there are many diverging views about the similarities and differences between mindfulness and meditation and we find that often people are speaking past each other because a lack of consensus and clarity on what mindfulness and meditation mean. This is my personal attempt to provide some clarity and offer my own understanding. But first, let’s look at some of the existing opinions out there.

 

Some practitioners argue that the two are essentially the same — age old practices focused on making us more calm, developing a higher degree of self-awareness, and increasing our level of compassion towards others.

 

Others say that mindfulness is an intention and way of being, whereas meditation is a practice (see Headspace’s FAQ). Jon Kabbat Zinn, often credited with popularizing mindfulness in the US says that  “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Meditation on the other hand, is the actual practice of sitting and applying a specific technique for desired outcomes.

 

Still others assert that in addition to mindfulness, mindfulness meditation is a type of meditation, focused on creating more awareness and presence, i.e., more mindfulness. This allows for a number of other approaches to meditation with different intentions to co-exist with mindfulness meditation.

 

Finally, there is the view that builds on this understanding and goes further, saying that there is meditation with a lowercase “m” and Meditation with an uppercase “M.” In this view, Meditation is understood as an intention and practice that goes beyond mindfulness and into the realm of awakening to the ultimate nature of reality in which pure awareness transcends and includes body, emotion, thought, personal identity, space/time, individual consciousness,” leading to a fuller embodiment of conscious love, and a commitment to positive change in the world.

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 4.14.39 PM“Whereas a basic mindfulness practice allows us to be more present within the container of our everyday experience, Waking Up takes us beyond the mere present moment of thought, sensation, and emotion, to come to the direct experience of a non-separate awareness, totally open, spacious and free. Many of us have felt and known this experience directly in our own lives.” Beyond Mindfulness by Dustin DiPerna

 

Here is a summary of the viewpoints laid out above (which of course aren’t completely exclusive to begin with):

 

  1. meditation with a lowercase “m” refers to the broader set of practices that produce positive effects like equilibrium, concentration and altruism.
  2. mindfulness is a way of being in any moment — aware of each thought, each emotion and each action as it arises, thereby bringing a further degree of intentionality and equanimity.
  3. mindfulness meditation refers to meditation focused on helping practitioners become more mindful.
  4. Meditation with an uppercase “M” refers to practices focused on a more fundamental awakening to the true nature of how things are and a commitment to living more fully and serving a higher purpose.

 

This is quite different from how the word mindfulness is used the mainstream, which seems to be a narrow understanding of mindfulness. “Pop” mindfulness has come to be seen as a stress-busting productivity hack that miraculously makes anxiety disappear and the work day more tolerable.

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 4.14.46 PMThe good news is that with almost any meditation or mindfulness meditation practice, these results are observable with consistent practice and so we are fully in support of the widespread adoption of these techniques in all walks of life and by all people. Having said that, this narrower understanding may have lost some of what is fundamental to the individual experience as well as the collective impact that can be generated.

 

So at Sphere, our intention is to help rediscover and repurpose Meditation for contemporary practitioners. From more basic options for beginners, to more advanced courses focused on generating stability in multiple states of consciousness (more on that in a subsequent post), our hope is to include and transcend mindfulness in a deeper and more profound exploration and a wider and more extensive embrace.

Come explore with us.

Outdoor Mindfulness Exercises for Earth Day

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All of us are reliant upon the sun for energy, the earth for food, trees for air, and water for drinking. But when we go about our busy lives, it is easy to take the water, air and plants around us for granted. The practice of mindfulness takes us off autopilot, allows us to pause, experience the present moment and give gratitude for all the elements of the natural world that support our daily lives.

 

Stepping out of our classrooms or houses to practice mindfulness allows us to connect, appreciate and develop a relationship with the natural world. My students tell me that after practicing mindfulness outside, they frequently have “mindful moments” where they simply notice and appreciate what is around them. To do this with your students in celebration of Earth Day, here are some exercises that my students have found beneficial.

 

Engaging the 5 Senses

First, take your students outside and ask them to sit down on the ground, on a bench, or whatever works for the space you are in. Invite them to spread out in order to feel like they have their own space, but keep them within earshot.

Part 1

Start by asking your students to close their eyes and take a few deep breaths. Then ask them to put their attention on the sounds around them — seeing if they can focus on the calls and movements of birds or any other natural sounds within earshot. Their attention will naturally dip back into their thoughts — gently remind them to bring their focus back to the sounds every minute or two. When the timing feels right, move on to the next part.

Part 2

Next, ask your students to feel the sun on their skin — their faces, hands, arms or any place exposed to the sun. Ask them to keep their attention on all the parts of their body where they can feel the sun, reminding them that all the life and energy on earth comes from the power of the sun.

Part 3

Ask them to feel the air moving across their skin. After doing this for a minute or two, ask your students to concentrate on a specific part of their body where they can feel the wind — it could be the tip of their nose, their hands or the back of their neck. Ask them to keep their attention in this specific place until you feel ready to move on to the next part.

Part 4

Instruct your students to feel their bodies sitting on the earth. See if they can keep their attention focused on any part of the body that is touching the earth — it could be their feet or the whole lower half of their body (if they are sitting on the ground). Ask the students to really connect with the earth and feel the earth supporting them.

Part 5

Next, ask your students to connect with their breath. See if they can focus on their breath for 1-2 minutes, paying close attention to each inhalation and exhalation. Ask them to keep their focus on each breath while thinking of how the air passing in and out of their lungs comes from the trees.

Part 6

End with a gratitude practice. Ask students to envision their favorite place or thing from the natural world. It could be a park, an animal or a tree — whatever comes to their mind. Once they have something in mind (it will take a moment or two), ask them to send thoughts of gratitude to this place or element of the natural world. Encourage them to fully appreciate this place or creature. Remind them how special it is to have this creature or part of the natural world in their life.

 

After you have done these exercises, ask your students to end by gently opening their eyes. Then have a discussion about what they just experienced together. Discussion topics might include:

  • Which one of the elements did the students connect with the best?
  • What did this feel like?
  • Does anyone feel more like part of the Earth?

Tips for Teaching this Exercise

  1. Use your intuition to figure out how long to spend on each part. The whole exercise can last between 10 and 25 minutes depending on your students. You can also break up the exercise and have a discussion in between the different parts.
  2. You want your tone to be gentle and inviting.
  3. Before teaching this, it is good if you have a time before the school day or before teaching this lesson to go outside and practice the exercise yourself.

Make this mindfulness exercise a special Earth Day treat. And if you have experiences with or ideas about celebrating Earth Day in similar ways, please share them in the comments section below.

 

 

The Stealthy Way to Manage Your Inner Critic

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Let me introduce you to someone who’s been pretty central in my life: my inner critic.

 

My critic’s been with me for about as long as I can remember, following me around with a lot of Very Important Things to inform me about: its opinion about what I’m doing, what I should be doing, and what I’m not doing.

 

It comments on things such as: what my hair looks like today, whether I’ve exercised enough, whether the work I’m doing is good or not.

 

Actually, often it’s not just one critic with a specific opinion – sometimes it’s practically a whole family reunion of critics!  At times, it can get pretty loud up there in my head.

 

But in my work with coaching clients, and in my own life, I’ve discovered a couple of sneaky ways of working with the inner critic that, while perhaps not eliminating it entirely, certainly turn down the volume.

 

How To Work With Your Inner Critic

Since you’re a human being, you probably have a critic (or two) as well.  (Be careful to not get an inner critic about having an inner critic!)

 

Here’s the thing about the inner critic: just because you have one doesn’t mean that you have to believe what it has to say.

 

Here are two strategies to work with your critic when it shows up in your head:

STRATEGY 1)

While our critics try to keep us on the straight and narrow path, and mostly really want the best for us, sometimes they can speak to us in an especially harsh tone, such as: “Who do you think you are?” “Are you kidding me?” “You are a joke/fake/fraud.”

 

Just as you wouldn’t put up with a horribly mean and demeaning person in your life, there are also some critics who should not be granted any type of audience with you.  They aren’t invited to this party, and they need to get the boot: set a boundary, and don’t take their calls or texts.

 

STRATEGY 2)

While some of our critics are are shaming and debilitating, others are like nudges, unskillful flag carriers for things that are actually important to us. These critics say things such as: “You can do better.”  “That wasn’t your best effort.”

 

Think about it this way: these types of inner critics are a bit like an elderly aunt who criticizes your every move and can’t give you a compliment to save her life.  For example, instead of telling you she’s concerned about your health, she makes a comment on your pants size.  She loves you, but isn’t very skillful in how she expresses that love.  That’s your critic, too: it loves you, but doesn’t say it very skillfully.

 

Instead of trying to get rid of these types of critics (internal or external), you’re better off to acknowledge them, give them a small amount of attention by finding the critical nugget of information they want to share, but not take in all of what they’re saying to you.

 

With your elderly aunt, you might be able to say to yourself, “Well, that’s just Aunt Mabel; but yeah, I probably should back away from the dessert table.”

 

Similarly, with your inner critic, listen for the nugget of information, or the personal value that’s underneath.

 

For example, if you have a critic that’s particularly concerned about your being perfect, never making a mistake, you probably hold a value about being of service, quality, or excellence.

 

When we can find the nugget that’s useful for us hiding underneath the criticism, we can see that what we really want isn’t perfection. Instead we can ask ourselves, “How can I be of more service, quality, or excellence?”

 

Your critic is like a favorite song of yours that’s gotten the volume turned up too high, and is no longer pleasant to listen to. Turn down the volume on the critic’s criticism, and see what deep desire of yours is hidden underneath.

 

Why It Matters To Manage Your Inner Critic

Ironically, when we are wrapped up in the story of our critic, we are less able to do exactly what the critic is wanting us to do or be: be excellent, be successful, get things done.  That’s why getting detangled from it is so important.

 

If we can have some compassion for the less skillful parts of ourselves and not believe everything those parts say, the critic’s voice will diminish.

 

The critic may never go away entirely – which is perhaps just as well, as our critic is usually part of our conscience – but if we find and honor the nugget – the important piece, the personal value – that’s underneath the critic’s crummy delivery of its message, its vice grip on us lessens.

 

And then you can get back to the job of being awesome.

 

 

7 Happiness Habits, Backed-by-Science

Although happiness is a timeless and universal human quest, only in recent years has research turned its focus on how happiness can be sustained and increased. Science has now confirmed that with certain practices, we can change the neural pathways of our brain. Happiness is a set of skills we can learn through practice.

 

pie-chartThe research proves that happiness is possible through intentional habit changes, more than circumstantial changes. In fact, only 10% of our happiness is due to our external circumstances and a full 90% is based on our inner environment, with 50% of our happiness level coming from our genes, and as much as 40% from the choices we make and our intentional daily activities. (Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, et al., 2005)

 

So, what does this all mean? Putting the 7 habits into daily practice really does affect our happiness…science says!

 

 

 

DAILY HABIT # 1: MINDFULNESS, MINDSET, FOCUS

The Science: Mindfulness, the ancient practice of focusing non-judgmental awareness on the present moment, is increasingly recognized in today’s scientific community as an effective way to reduce stress, increase self-awareness, enhance emotional intelligence, and effectively manage painful thoughts and feelings.

 

The mind is highly trainable through various mindfulness practices like meditation, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Evidence for the efficacy of mindfulness practices in improving psychological well-being continues to grow exponentially. Just a quick scan of the National Institute of Health’s PubMed database reveals over 500 scientific studies on mindfulness/meditation and the brain!

 

Anyone can stand to benefit from cultivating the skills of mindfulness — particularly in our busy modern lifestyles that are often characterized by stress, sleep deprivation, multitasking and digital distractions.

 

The Practice: For the next 24 hours, don’t believe everything you think. Rather, be a selective sifter of your thoughts; it’s possible to observe the fluctuations of the mind without becoming them. Identify your automatic thoughts. Are they positive, negative, fearful – what do you say to yourself when you are not paying attention? PAY ATTENTION to how thoughts make you feel. You alone create your day, thought by thought, choice by choice.

 

DAILY HABIT # 2: GRATITUDE, APPRECIATION, LOVE

The Science: Research has found that gratitude can significantly increase your happiness, and protect you from stress, negativity, anxiety, and depression.

 

Developing a regular gratitude practice is one of the easiest ways to counter the brain’s negativity bias – the tendency to cling to the negative things in our environment. By intentionally focusing on the good parts of our day, the positivity grows. In fact, it only takes 21 days of writing down three things for which you are grateful every day to begin reaping the benefits. Moral of the story? Count your blessings, daily, it has a measurably positive effect on our well-being.

 

The Practice: Gratitude is an orientation that becomes a habit with regular mental rehearsal. Upon waking tomorrow, let your first thought be, “Thank you for this breath.” Notice how saying an “Awakening Appreciation” to yourself, before you even open your eyes, can shift your entire day. For the next week, start each day simply, in appreciation for the gift of life. When you wake with a grateful heart, that feeling of appreciation cascades into the rest of your day, and beyond.

 

DAILY HABIT # 3: BODY WELLNESS, MOTIVATION, SELF-CARE 

The Science:  Happiness is good for your health. And vice versa. A review of hundreds of studies has found compelling evidence that happier people have better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers. Anxiety, depression, pessimism and a lack of enjoyment of daily activities have all been found to be associated with higher rates of disease and shorter lifespans.

 

What’s more, if you have a good sense of well-being, it’s easier to maintain good habits, such as, exercising, eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep. People who have an optimistic mindset may be more likely to engage in healthy behaviors because they perceive them as helpful in achieving their goals.

 

Taking care of your physical wellness may well be the most effective instant happiness booster of all.

 

The Practice: In a bad mood? Move. Movement is medicine. In fact, did you know that the APA now includes exercise as a proven treatment for depression? “In 2010, the APA finally caught up with Hippocrates, who recommended that all people in a bad mood should go for a walk—and if it did not improve, walk again. Sedentary behavior causes brain impairment, and we know how: by depriving your brain of the flood of neurochemistry that evolution developed in order to grow brains and keep them healthy.”   ~John Ratey

 

In the next 24 hours, get out of your head and into your body more. Think of movement and healthy eating as “happiness triggers” rather than thinking of them as exercise and dieting. What is one “happiness trigger” you will commit to today?

 

DAILY HABIT # 4: COMPASSION, GIVING BACK, ALTRUISM

The Science: Happiness and altruism are intimately linked – doing good is an essential ingredient to being happy, and happiness helps spur kindness and generosity.

 

Research suggests that how we spend our time and resources is as important, if not more important, than the amount of money we make. Giving to others releases endorphins, activating the parts of our brains that are associated with trust, pleasure, and social connection. Being altruistic and spending money on others leads to higher levels of happiness than spending it on oneself. Happiness, in turn, increases the chance that we’ll be altruistic in the future, creating a positive feedback loop of generosity and happiness. As the researchers write, “Policies that promote well-being may help to generate a virtuous circle, whereby increases in well-being promote altruism that, in turn, increases well-being. Such a cycle holds the promise of creating a ‘sustainable happiness’ with broad benefits for altruists, their beneficiaries, and society at large.”

 

The Practice: In the next 24 hours, do something for someone who can never really repay you.  This can be as simple as reminding someone of their strengths and potential. It’ll surely elevate that person. Notice how it makes you feel, too. When we do good, we feel good.

 

DAILY HABIT # 5: AUTHENTICITY, VULNERABILITY, FORGIVENESS, LETTING GO

The Science: When Dr. Brené Brown conducted thousands of interviews to discover what lies at the root of social connection, a thorough analysis of the data revealed what it was: vulnerability. To be clear, vulnerability does not mean being weak or submissive. To the contrary, it implies the courage to be your authentic self. The rewards of vulnerability are immeasurable. When you embrace an authentic and vulnerable stance toward life, people will meet you there in that openness, allowing you to experience true connection.

 

Forgiveness is a byproduct of living authentically and vulnerably. Forgiveness doesn’t mean tolerance of error or malintent, but rather a patient encouragement of growth. Practicing forgiveness doesn’t only benefit the person we forgive; recent research shows that it has tangible benefits for ourselves as well. So the next time you’re holding a grudge, try letting it go for your own happiness!

 

The Practice: You feel real freedom in direct proportion to how connected you are to living your truth. Every morning, before the demands of your day steal you away, dedicate a few moments to breathe-in who you truly are. Then, trust this truth to guide you through your day. The moment you stop caring about what other people think and start living by what’s in your heart, is the moment you will finally feel FREE. Remember, “Be you. The world will adjust.”

 

DAILY HABIT # 6: SOCIAL CONNECTION, NATURE CONNECTION, EMPATHY

 The Science: Our busy lives often leave us stretched for time to connect with others, but science suggests that social connection should be tops on our to-do lists. Dr. Emma Seppala from Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) says that when connection with others is present, it can boost mental and physical health, and even increase immunity and longevity.

 

Relatedly, happiness is collective. Our happiness depends on the happiness of those to whom we are connected. Studies show that through practicing happiness, we make those we come into contact with happier. In other words, happiness is contagious! This extends to the 3rd degree of contact (a friend of a friend of a friend).

 

The Practice: In each of us there is a little of all of us. For the next 24 hours, humanize strangers you encounter on the street. Notice, how does your perception of random people change when you treat each as though you are meeting your long lost friend? ”A person experiences life as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. Our task must be to free ourselves from this self-imposed prison, and through compassion to find the reality of Oneness.” ~ Albert Einstein

 

DAILY HABIT # 7: PURPOSE AND MEANING, STRENGTHS, SOUL

The Science: Many people tell themselves, “If I work hard, I’ll be successful. If I’m successful, I’ll be happy.” But recent discoveries in psychology and neuroscience show that this formula is backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. In fact, science has shown that, “The brain at positive is 31% more productive than at negative, neutral or stressed.” ~ Shawn Achor

 

What’s more, researchers have found that the type of work you do is key: engaging in meaningful activity is a big indicator of happiness. As Harvard happiness expert Tal Ben Shahar says, “Happiness lies at the intersection of pleasure and meaning.” In addition to seeking work imbued with a sense of purpose, scientists have discovered that people thrive in environments where their strengths are emphasized. If we are actively involved in trying to reach a goal, or an activity that is challenging but well suited to our skills, we experience a joyful state, or what psychologist Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.” The experience of flow in both professional and leisure activities leads to increased positive effect, performance, and commitment to long-term meaningful goals.

 

The Practice: Place your hand over your heart. Feel that? That’s called purpose. You’re alive for a reason. Find time for the things that make you feel happy to be alive today…what if, “The meaning of life is to give life meaning. “

 

 

The science of happiness speaks for itself. But you don’t need science to prove that happiness is found in simple day-to-day habits practiced intentionally over time. Test it for yourself. Sign up today for Project Happiness’ FREE daily habit tips, bridging the science of happiness into strategies for your everyday life: http://projecthappiness.com/happiness-habits-2/

 

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#MindfulMonday Circles Challenge

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Today, stop supporting the thoughts and feelings that are not supporting you.

 

Identify your automatic thoughts. Are they positive, negative, fearful – what do you say to yourself when you are not paying attention? PAY ATTENTION to how thoughts make you feel. You alone create your day, thought by thought, choice by choice.


REFLECTION QUESTIONS: 

  • What is the difference between a thought and a belief?
  • How do you define”Belief”? Possible definitions to consider:  1) A thought that you accept as true regardless of evidence. 2) A unconscious contract we make with ourselves. 3) A thought that you keep thinking.
  • Are your beliefs empowering or limiting your life?Think of a trigger situation in your life, one which is emotionally charged and consistently results in suffering. (Note: Sometimes it is difficult to identify the beliefs we hold, but exploring our “triggers” is one of the best ways to start. Triggers are situations that set off a memory charged with emotional intensity, and often there’s an underlying limiting belief is at play.) Once a trigger is identified, we can ask ourselves what belief was connected to this trigger? Identify the beliefs, or inner stories, that you’re telling yourself in these situations. Then ask yourself this series of questions to “flip your script” into an empowering belief:
    1. What does this belief do or get for you? In other words, what are you trying to get for yourself by repeating this thought? Go deeper by repeating this question a few times until you detect the positive intention that the belief is trying to “get” for you (such as protection, safety…).
    2. What do you want instead? In other words, what empowering story do you want to tell yourself instead?
    3. How will you know in your body when you’ve got this new story (i.e., what I will feel, hear, see, taste?) and in what situation (i.e., when, where, with who?) do you want it? Imagining this physical evidence is the beginning of integrating this new belief into your cells.
    4. What is one step you can take to start living this empowering belief today? Example: Today I will take time to notice my successes, even small ones by writing them in my gratitude journal each night.

 

COMMIT TO ACT: 

Upon waking, before you even open your eyes, let your first conscious act be to reach toward your best feeling thought.  A good feeling thought makes us feel expansive, or big, alive, strong, peaceful, etc.  For the next 24 hours, don’t let your mind run away on a train of thought without it being a deliberate choice. Let the good feeling thoughts become a dominant story line in your life! Remember, “The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.”

 

 

5 Vital Keys to Health and Wellbeing

IMG_7225I was a sickly child and I hated being sick. In my early 20s (which was 54 years ago!) I decided that I was done being sick and done not having energy to do all the things I wanted to do. I started doing research on what creates health, and I was fortunate to read a few books that changed my life. At that time, I threw everything out of my kitchen and started to do my grocery shopping at the one tiny health food store in Santa Monica, California.

 

As I got off all processed foods, stopped eating sugar and ate only organic foods, my health improved rapidly. My excitement about how good I felt led to a life-long passion for learning about what creates excellent health and wellbeing. I discovered that we each need to address five major life areas to create excellent health.

 

1. FOOD – Eat for a balanced gut

There are many ways of eating and there is no one way that works for everyone. Each of us needs to tune into our body to see what feels best, perhaps it’s eating a Paleo or modified Paleo diet, a vegetarian diet or a vegan diet. However, whichever suits you, there are some general guidelines that apply to everyone.

 

Recent research indicates that 80% of our immune system is in our gut, and that the balance or imbalance of our gut flora affects our organs and our brain. An imbalanced gut is caused by antibiotics and other drugs, by processed, sugared and pesticide-laden foods, by bad air, fluoridated water, too much alcohol, over-exercising and stress.

 

Eating fresh, local and organic foods goes a long way toward creating health, as does including fermented foods with each meal (unless you are suffering from SIBO – Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth. If this is the case, it’s best to work with a functional medicine doctor to heal the SIBO before including fermented foods in your diet). An imbalanced gut can cause both physical and emotional problems.

 

2. EXERCISE – The best exercise is what you do naturally

It is very important to find exercise that you love to do so that you look forward to doing it and want to do it your whole life. Research indicates that the best exercise is what you do naturally – gardening, walking, fun sports and so on. Intense or extreme exercise, such as running marathons, tends to create an imbalance in the gut flora (called gut dysbiosis), and can even create gut permeability (leaky gut).

 

3. HYDRATION – (Sorry, coffee doesn’t count, it’s a dehydrator!)

Our bodies need good, clean filtered water – about ½ ounce per pound of weight – so a 150-pound person would need 75 ounces of water daily. Coffee doesn’t count as it is dehydrating. Not enough water can cause insomnia, anxiety and muscle cramps. However, overdoing it and drinking too much water isn’t healthy either.

 

4. SLEEP – Skimping on zzz’s weakens your immunity

A lack of sleep greatly lowers the immune system’s ability to fight off illness. Most people need at least seven good hours of sleep a night to keep their immune system healthy.

 

5. STATE OF MIND – I put this last on the list, yet it’s the most important. 

Research indicates that stress is a major cause of 90% of all illness. Most people have no idea how to lovingly manage life’s stressors. They might run or meditate, and this might help, but what creates the most inner peace is learning how to take loving responsibility for your feelings. This means that you learn to move toward your painful feelings rather than push them away with various addictions. It means embracing all your feelings with a desire to learn about what they are telling you.

 

All our feelings have information for us. There are two basic kinds of painful feelings:

            1) Wounded Feelings we create by our own self-abandonment, such as anxiety, depression (these can also be caused or exacerbated by a gut imbalance), guilt, shame, anger, emptiness, aloneness, jealousy and so on.

These feelings tell us that we are being unloving to ourselves by ignoring our feelings, judging ourselves, turning to addictions to numb our feelings, or           making others responsible for our feelings.

            2) Core Painful Feelings of life, such as loneliness, heartbreak, grief and helplessness over others and events. These feelings are telling us a lot about what is happening with others and with situations and events.

When our desire is to love ourselves rather than to try to control our feelings or control others, we open to learning with our feelings, which can lead to understanding, acceptance, peace and joy. Learn to love yourself now by taking our free Inner Bonding course at http://www.innerbonding.com/welcome!

 

Mindfulness To The Rescue: 4 Ways Mindfulness Can Help Parents

When we become parents

 

Nothing is more important to us than being a good parent, even though we are certain we are messing it up most days.  While we dearly love being parents, our stress exponentially increases once that child is born.  When we become parents, doing is no longer what’s important; fully being is.  Making this shift can be difficult – mindfulness will help.

 

While I practiced mindfulness about two years before becoming a parent, it was only after my daughter was born almost three years ago that I have deepened my mindfulness to an extent I didn’t know was possible before she came into my life.  Here are four ways I’ve found that mindfulness can improve your parenting and enjoyment of it.  (If you are a parent of a newborn, save this and read it in the future.  You may need to only focus on sleeping when you can.  Be compassionate to yourself and know you’re doing your best.)

 

1.  “Floor time.”  This is a concept in play therapy that can turn around behavior issues instantly.  Floor time is setting aside 30 minutes with no TV, no phones, or other distractions.  You sit and play with your child, allowing him to lead the play.  You give her yourfull attention, awareness and presence.  This is an amazing meditation.  You do not correct your child or even name things unless you are repeating what he says, (i.e., You can’t color her face green!  Her face needs to be brown!).  I often find myself trying to use it as a reward for myself if I get some chore done, but then I miss it or my daughter really needs the attention right then and not later.  So, I suggest doing this as soon as you can in the day or when you get home from work.  I sometimes need to break it up in 15 minute increments.

Here’s an article from Psychology Today describing this in more detail:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fixing-families/201202/kids-and-floor-time

 

2.  Notice emotions in your child and in yourself.  Teach your child emotion words as soon as possible.  I made a book with pictures of all of my daughter’s big emotions and describing what they are.  We have happy, frustrated, mad, tired, sick, surprised, etc.  When she was just a little over two, she could correctly name most of these when she felt them.  She replaced many tantrums with saying that she was “frustrated” instead.  While her feelings don’t always make sense, it helps me to know what she’s feeling and it helps me empathize with her instead of reacting angrily.  Notice your own emotions-when you are hurt that your child favors grandma over you, when you are frustrated with your child putting up a fight every night during the bedtime routine, etc.  By noticing my anger, I can usually stop myself from reacting and instead be calmly present with my daughter to help her manage her own emotions.

 

3.  Get up a little bit earlier to have time to yourself.  Or stay up late, whatever works for you.  This may be working out (I am a muchbetter mom after I work out), reading, planning your day, etc.  Spend at least 5 minutes in meditation.  Be kind to yourself and open your heart.

 

“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you

Don’t go back to sleep!”

– Rumi

4.  Try this Momma Meditation.  I started this during one of the hundreds of hours I’d spend holding my daughter while she was asleep because the second I’d lay her down, she’d wake up screaming.  The time to try this is while nursing your child, when you are rocking him to sleep or when she is asleep and you’re letting her get into a deep sleep before laying her down.  Start by watching your breath and not trying to change it.  Are you holding your breath?  Are you breathing shallowly?  As you hold your attention on your breath, you’ll notice it getting deeper and more constant.  Relax your muscles, starting from the top of your head, your face, your neck and shoulders, your arms, your stomach and back, and your legs.  It is often hard to relax these, but muscles can be relaxed and yet flexed to support your child.  Tension isn’t strength.  Now turn your attention to your beautiful child.  Notice her breathing and how it compares to yours.  Notice his features and how perfect they are.  Feel the weight of your child on you-from her head on your arm, to her fullest weight on your lap, to toe.  Sensing this weight on me is usually when I feel a swell of happiness and deep love.  Still allowing any other thoughts to drop, continue breathing and feeling your child’s weight.  Then, send love and energy from the universe to both you and your child.  I often picture a large, loving ribbon curling around us.  Visualize what you are grateful for in this day with your child.  Savor the perfection of this quiet moment.

 

 

Happiness Challenge: Day 18

21 Day challenge - Day 18

“Our mind is a garden our thoughts are the weeds, you can grow flowers or you can grow weeds.” 

#MindfulMonday Challenge:  Monday is a chance to start anew, begin the week with your mindset primed to receive the best that life has to offer. Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become a reality. For the next 24 hours think of yourself as a “thought farmer,” begin planting empowering thoughts early in the morning and don’t stop working till evening…seeds become the garden you live in, sow wisely.

Perhaps adopt this motto for the day: “I believe in the good things coming.” Focus on these good things as they show up in your day, week, and beyond! Whatever is going on in your mind is what you are attracting into your life…

Happiness Challenge: Day 11

21 Day challenge - Day 113“Your mind is your instrument. Learn to be its master and not its slave.” ~ Remez Sasson

Mindfulness is not meant to remove us from the reality or responsibilities of everyday life, but rather places our feet firmly in the practical ground of experience. When we are under stress, the brain processes information through pathways that lead us to impulsive and reactive behavior. Mindfulness strengthens the brains resourceful pathways; it’s a way of traveling through our lives in peace.

#MindfulMonday Challenge: For the next 24 hours, PRACTICE PEACE. Try this exercise to strengthen your brains ‘peaceful pathways’ — Take a moment to step fully into this lion’s ‘shoes’ and connect with one word that describes your experience being the lion in the picture (i.e., strong, serene, peace, brave, still, etc.). For the rest of the day, if you begin to feel scattered or stressed or disconnected from the present, breathe deeply as you come back to this one empowering word. Let this mindful lion state expand within you, and invite it to grow forward into your week ahead, accompanying you through the inevitable stress that arises.

When you schedule a peace practice into your regular morning routine, the rest of your day’s to-do list (and overall well-being) will benefit as you approach each task mindfully!

Happiness Challenge: Day 4

Live in the moment. Leave the phone.

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“Happiness is enjoying the moment for what it is, not what it could be or should be.” ~Unknown

The world today is full of distractions, pulling us from the moment in front of us. Cell phones are one of the biggest thieves of our presence. Today, put down your phone and choose to engage in the moment instead of thinking you should/could be somewhere else. Your life is in front of you, not in some email or Facebook newsfeed. Live it NOW. #SaturdaySoul

Meditate to Reboot

Meditate to Reboot

Our minds can get overloaded each day with the streams of info that constantly bombard us from all sides.

Meditation is a way of rebooting your system and shutting down unnecessary programs – a bit like going to the Genius Bar with a broken laptop, and coming back with a brand new one!

#MindfulMonday

Be Grateful to Everyone

Be Greateful to Everyone
Pema Chodron
Be grateful to everyone. Others will show you exactly where you are stuck…the next time something provokes you, thank it and then use it, let it be a teacher.
#GratiTuesday

Mindful Living: 5 Ways to Savor Summer

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-summer-fun-water-image7575780Originally published in the Huffington Post – June 19, 2013

Summer is here — the season we have waited for all year! How to make the most of it? Here are a few tips that cost nothing, and can really add to making this summer season even more memorable. Dive in; the water is fine…

1. Walk a little slower; look a little closer
What if you gave yourself an extra five minutes instead of rushing to get on with your day? The goal is to notice something new on your route, or even to look at something familiar in a deeper way. Maybe it is saying hi to the vendor as you pick up your morning coffee. It could be catching the subtle variations in the green of the leaves on a favorite tree, the tones of the bark, or how it looks after a rain. The sound of birdsong taps into another sense – listen for the calls that are most audible. You may hear them for the very first time when you move a little slower. There is life all around you. How does it feel to

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Congressman Tim Ryan Introduces the Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act

tim-ryanCongressman Tim Ryan has been a force for the support of mindfulness in our military and schools and now he is expanding that support with the Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act. The act, co-sponsored by Congressman Dave Loebsack, Congressman Tom Petri and Congressman Matt Cartwright, amends the Elementary Education and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to allow funding for teacher and principal training and professional development to be used for social and emotional learning programming.

“I have already seen what teaching social and emotional learning skills can do for a student and their classroom,” said Congressman Ryan. “Teaching social and emotional learning skills is based on

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The Best Kept Secret to Happiness: Compassion

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-chacma-baboon-image2038391Marketing executives want us to believe that happiness lies in a product that will taste delicious, magically fill our bank accounts, or transform us into a supermodel that looks not a day past 20. Our social norms promise that happiness will lie in status, accomplishments, relationships, and possessions. We are always on the lookout for the next thing: once we have the perfect mate, we look for the perfect home; once we’ve found the perfect home, we look for a bigger one, or a new car or a bigger bank account; once the perfect job is attained, we look for the next promotion or look forward to retirement or a new job. We seem to be on a constant and futile chase after the promised land of lasting happiness. Dan Gilbert of Harvard University has shown that we are, in fact, terrible at predicting what will lead to happiness. Our norms, for example, would suggest that a winning lottery ticket would make our happiness scores skyrocket while paralysis would make them plummet. Research shows, however, that winning the lottery ticket, though it creates an initial rise in well-being, does not lead to lasting happiness over time nor does becoming paraplegic lead to lasting unhappiness.

A closer look at our own experiences as well as research data suggests that

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The Good News About Stress and 5 Ways to Cope

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-stress-image1035525Originally published in the Huffington Post – April 16, 2013

“If you’re not stressed, you’re not working hard enough.” More and more this mantra seems to be woven into our cultural dialogue. Stress may be considered the new “normal,” but it doesn’t have to be that way. Simple shifts in attitude and practices can yield big benefits. April is National Stress Awareness Month, which gives us the opportunity to look at both negative trends and some signs of hope. Here’s the bad news, the good news and how

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Randy Taran Featured on Microsoft’s Daily Edventures with Anthony Salcito

This week, Project Happiness founder Randy Taran sat down with Anthony Salcito, Vice President of Microsoft Worldwide Public Sector Education to discuss her work with Project Happiness. The video is part of Anthony’s Daily Edventures, a 365-day look at heroes in education. To learn more about Microsoft’s Daily Edventures, visit www.DailyEdventures.com

Sustainable Happiness — Lessons From Bhutan

From the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/gross-national-happiness_b_1720955.html

I recently had the pleasure to sit down with the honorable Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigme Y. Thinley. He had profound things to say about the importance of Gross National Happiness for individuals, as well as for societies looking at the well-being of their citizens. Even in the U.S., where the pursuit of happiness is written into the constitution, there are important lessons to learn. Here are some ideas that can increase your long-term happiness.

More money does not equal more happiness. As U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, “[Gross National Product] fails to take into account the social and environmental costs of so-called progress. We need a new

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Happiness is Spreading in Bulgaria

I love Bulgaria!

Life happens in curious ways. I never dreamed that I would be visiting Bulgaria, but this weekend, I had the great pleasure of presenting a happiness speech and workshop in the capital city of Sofia. “Days of Happiness” is the first project of its kind in Eastern Europe. Organized by the Credo Bonum Foundation, it brought in speakers from around the world to address the issue of happiness. Why? In April, 2012 a UN Report declared Bulgaria one of the unhappiest countries on the world. Scientists, psychologists, authors, educators and economists all presented different perspectives on what can make a society happier. I have the deepest respect for the visionaries, led by Tzvetelina Borislavova, who are shining a light and actively working towards a positive future for all.

The country offers many attributes that generally are not regularly appreciated by its inhabitants. That can change. Historically, it is quite normal for

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How to Find Happiness

We need to suitably define this thing we call happiness. Too many people are chasing this elusive concept that, in my opinion, they don’t understand. They think happiness is a tangible thing you achieve once you clear away a certain roadblock: “If I just had a boyfriend, if I just made more money, if I just had a bigger house….”

So let’s clear up this myth. Happiness is not a concrete thing. It’s not about what we attain materialistically, what job we have, and or based on genetics. Happiness is a choice we can all make during every moment of every day. Yes, it’s true that some people tend to be more positive than others. However, this is a learned behavior, so anyone can work their way towards living a happier life.

What are some words I use to describe happiness? Joy and contentment are the first ones that come to mind. And I do believe the ability to experience these emotions is related to how people feel about themselves. Too many people are walking around with an internal emptiness that was created in childhood. And you can recognize this emptiness from the way they behave: those who constantly (and subconsciously) fill a void with material things, those who compare themselves to others (and what others have) and feel less than because of it, those who live too much through their children’s lives without paying attention to their own….

Here are some tips on how to

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Valentine’s Day — Really?

From the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/valentines-day_b_1247584.html

Valentine’s Day: What does it represent to you? Is it a reminder of the passions of new romance or the love that you are longing for in your life? Is it a commercial orchestration fabricated by the greeting card, flower and chocolate industries to make us buy more? Here’s the real question: Can Valentine’s Day remind us of the enormous capacity for love that we already carry within?

From the day we are born, not only do we need love and affection to thrive, we constantly give and generate love. Benjamin Disraeli says, “We are all born for love. It is the principle of existence, and its only end.” Yet the word love in itself is confusing. It means so many different things to different people. Here are some of its faces:

• the protective affection felt by parents for their children
• the resonance felt by sharing interests and true friendship
• the sexual expression of love that also can hold the potential of transcendence
• the sense of caring for others’ welfare — what we call unconditional love.

There are times when each of these types of love takes the lead, but

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Holiday Happiness — Be Here Now

From the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-taran/gratitude_b_1165364.html

So many people grumble and gripe about the holidays — too much family, too much food, too many obligations. But what if you approached it all with another perspective — as though this might be your last time to be together. Would you overlook some of the annoyances? Would you focus on what amused you about specific people instead of what drove you crazy? Would you choose to make the moments special and have a deeper connection?

This time of year reminds me of my father-in-law. He was with us one year, and by the next holiday season, he was gone, so quickly and unexpectedly to pancreatic cancer. I don’t harbor regrets as we all got to be with him at the end, but it gets me thinking of how impermanent life can be. It can also be something as simple as

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Implementing Project Happiness: Paddling Downstream

(See the end of the post for important Handbook ordering info!)

September 21, 2009

By now almost everybody is back at school (including those people on the quarter system who like to make everyone else feel jealous in August and early September!) and in the thick of things. I am incredibly pleased to report that we have more than twenty schools using The Project Happiness Handbook so far and that there are even more getting ready to take the plunge. Meanwhile all of us on the Project Happiness team are gearing up and are excited to take the plunge right along with you!

As many of you know, however, our curriculum isn’t quite in yet… (I put that in a smaller font hoping it might get less notice!) Our Assistant Director, Rolando Sandor, has been hard at work for several months polishing the Handbook, from fixing typos to improving the layout to making it easier to reference different sections. The good news is that the Handbook is a lean, mean happiness machine! The bad news is that it will not arrive in our offices until some time later this week.

I have received e-mails from many of you and have talked to others, so I know that this is a bit of a setback. Moreover, it is difficult for me to dive in and help in the way that I want when you are not all up and running with a physical textbook. But, following the curriculum’s advice, I have decided to paddle downstream and try to go with the flow.

So as the school year gets started, here are some things I can do for you:

• Look at your objectives/goals for a class and make detailed suggestions about Project Happiness activities that might be the right fit.

• Help you brainstorm extension activities that work for your program.

• Provide you with excerpts from the first chapter to get you started.

Connect you with other like-minded facilitators for collaboration.

• Help you develop a fundraiser to raise money for the curriculum.

• Point you to resources on social and emotional learning, mindfulness and active listening.

• Even engage in geekiness around writing, language and Project Happiness as a fellow linguistics enthusiast!

And to facilitate my role facilitating the facilitators (!) I am establishing regular virtual office hours. From 1:00PT/4:00ET to 2:30PT/5:30ET on Mondays and Wednesdays, I will be available to talk. And, to make sure everyone gets to communicate with their favorite distance tool, there are three ways to connect with me:

• Via phone at (650) 833-3882 (I can call you back in the continental U.S. and Canada)

• Via Skype with the user name abbykonopasky

• Or via Google chat with the user name abby@projecthappiness

You can e-mail me ahead of time to let me know you’d like to talk or you can just go ahead and contact me. Also, if those times are inconvenient, just contact me and we can set up an appointment that works for both of us. I can’t wait to hear how things are going and how I can support your vision for Project Happiness.

Abby Konopasky
(650) 833-3882
abby@projecthappiness.com

Important info on Handbook preordering