Have you ever had a daily practice? I consider a morning practice to be the ultimate Trim Tab. If you are looking to drastically shift your life towards purpose and fulfillment then it is worth developing a daily practice. I suggest a bare minimum of starting your day with 20 minutes of purposeful daily practice. Consider including the following:
Dream Journaling – I have always had a very hard time remembering my dreams. The exception to this is when I place a pen and paper next to my bed at night with the intention of writing down anything I can remember from my dreams first thing upon waking. Within a few days I get fragments, then scenes and then entire stories down on paper. A few times I have become lucid while dreaming. We spend a third of our life asleep. Remembering your dreams is the first step towards deeply rewarding practices such as lucid dreaming, dream yoga and dream analysis.
Meditation – Learning to meditate will change your life. Techniques and approaches to meditation are numerous, but the benefits that meditation can provide are even greater. Whether you begin to realize enlightenment, reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase concentration, reduce tension or understand the nature of reality, meditation will offer you as much in return as you can invest. I could not possibly say enough about it here.
Exercise – Most of us live abnormally sedentary lives. We did not evolve sitting in office chairs using our brains far more than our bodies. Bringing all of our energy into our minds at the expense of our bodies leads to everything from hypertension to obesity to depression and erectile dysfunction. If I had to pick the two most transformational practices they would be strength training and meditation. Combined their benefits multiply.
Prayer/Incantations – There is immense power in our minds. Our lives are shaped by the thoughts that we embody. When was the last time you attempted to reprogram your thinking? Have you ever attempted to consciously choose your beliefs? Do you think it is possible to choose the mood that you wake up in? Studies show that smiling in a mirror can be as effective as prozac to cure depression. Combine those smiles with words that feel sacred, uplifting or even a bit silly and your mood will shift even more. To combat depression I started waking up every morning, forcing myself to smile and say one or two sentences about each day being better than the last and growing wiser and happier each day. At first I felt ridiculous. Before long both the smiles and the positive thoughts started happening on their own. Our thoughts are programmed by every bit of information we ingest, why not be one of the authors of your thoughts?
Breathing Exercises – I might actually recommend these over meditation. I have written about breathing exercises before. If meditation seems daunting, consider learning some simple breathing exercises. Along with all of the other benefits they also end up being a stealth concentration practice. More on this in my next Insight.
Journaling – At times I like to journal at night, almost last thing, before I go to sleep. I find that even something as brief as 5-10 minutes of putting the days thoughts and events down on paper can have an incredibly positive effect on both my sleep and the mood that I wake up in. It is far too easy to lay down and close my eyes still wrapped up in the days events not even realizing that I am still ruminating over events that ended hours ago. Journaling allows me to honor what has happened, process my feelings about it and then let go and drift off peacefully to sleep.
Sacred Reading – Whether you choose ancient texts or more modern books on faith and spirituality setting aside time daily to immerse yourself in others wisdom is an uplifting and expansive practice.
Yoga – David Deida once described yoga as ‘moving just beyond your range of comfort so that in the future you will have a greater range of comfort.’ (paraphrase). Most Americans are familiar with the physical positions or asanas that yoga includes. While this but scratches the surface of a true yoga practice, if you dedicate yourself to something as simple as 5 sun salutations daily I am certain your days will be different. Creating space in your body creates space in your mind. Yoga is designed to facilitate this process.
Singing/Chanting – More primal than talking, there is a reason that most religions include some form of singing or chanting. Whether you sing folk songs or repeat a sacred phrase the simple act of using your voice with focus and purpose can be a deeply transformative practice. This was both one of the hardest and most rewarding practices for me during my year on the mountain.
Whatever you choose, the simple act of committing to putting aside time every day to focus on taking care of yourself, being present in the moment, and connecting deeply with an experience will reward you in ways you can’t know without having a daily practice.
This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.
If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.
Once again, scientists are showing that meditation is great for you. This time we get to see how even a short, 8 week course, can have a lasting impact on how people are effected by emotionally challenging stimulus.
A study recently published in the neuroscience journal Frontiers finds that participating in an 8-week meditation course can have lasting effects on the brain. This is not the first study to use neuroimaging to measure changes in the brains of meditators, but it is unique. Many studies have tracked changes in the brain during meditation. Being in a meditative state has been shown to have measurable correlations with an increased ability to focus, reduced anxiety, relief from depression, stress and a general decrease in emotional triggering to external stimulus. There have also been documented increased immune responses measured during meditation. What makes this study unique is that the scientists attempted to look not for changes during meditation, but for lasting changes that continue after meditation has ceased. This study was designed to explore “the possibility that meditation training leads to enduring changes in brain function, even outside meditation sessions.”
The scientists involved asked if “meditation training may induce learning that is not stimulus- or task-specific, but process-specific, and thereby may result in enduring changes in mental function.” Researchers looked at fMRI data before and after the 8 week meditation course to see what lasting changes even this brief training may offer.
All participants were new to meditation. “Healthy adults with no prior meditation experience took part in 8 weeks of either Mindful Attention Training (MAT), Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT; a program based on Tibetan Buddhist compassion meditation practices), or an active control intervention.” The control group participated in an 8 week health education course without any meditative training. (Frontiers)
This study looked specifically at a part of the brain called the amygdala, “which has been shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing of memory and emotional reactions.” (wikipedia)
3 weeks prior to the training and 3 weeks after the training all participants were shown a series of images intended to elicit a positive, negative or neutral emotional response. This is a widely used technique in many areas of consciousness research that allows the researchers to monitor the brains activity in a variety of situations using brain imaging techniques such as fMRI. What these researches found is that those who took part in the 8-week meditation programs showed significant changes in how their brains reacted to emotionally charged imagery that subjects in the 8-week health education course did not show.
The participants in the mindfulness group showed a decrease in right amygdala response to all three types of images. This supports the hypothesis that mindfulness meditation can improve emotional stability and response to stress. Essentially, meditation appears to help one to cultivate emotional resilience.
The participants in the compassion meditation group also showed a decrease in right amygdala response to positive and neutral images but not to negatively emotional images. The participants who reported engaging compassion practices the most in their own time outside the class showed an increase in response to negative images. These are images depicting human suffering. Participants trained in compassion resonated more with others suffering. This is perhaps no surprise. The curious thing is that the ability to resonate with others suffering actually correlates with a decrease in our own suffering. Anyone who has volunteered their time to help those in need is likely familiar with this phenomenon. Resonating with those in need feels good. Empathy is a rewarding experience. Apparently meditating on compassion increases this capacity with some degree of permanence.
Perhaps this is why serious meditators can seem so blissed out. It may also help to explain why over a decade of meditation has led me to become a life coach. I truly do love being of service.
If the thought of shifting your life seems both exciting and daunting, I would love to support you on your unique transformative path. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching program can kickstart your journey.