Quiet your mind, soften your jaw, let the tension flow out of your muscles…decrease stress hormones, change your physiology, create optimal well-being. Yes!
The Eastern Sierras are simply magnificent in August! I am so blessed to be in the Mammoth Lakes area and we are being treated to a high-altitude spring awakening. At 9000 feet, the wildflowers are prolific and varied — their exquisite colors are found only in nature. Rich purple of the Monkshead, Lupine, and Larkspur; soft coral colored Indian Paintbrush and her sister, the bright red Paintbrush; Columbines of white, yellow, and pink; one of my personal favorites is the hot pink stalk of Elephanthead…I could go on and on about each gorgeous bloom, just as I could write hundreds of words about the pristine alpine lakes, crystal clear and inviting. Superlatives abound in my mind that describe the rushing streams, the expansive meadows carpeted with color, the haunting call of the Clark’s Nutcracker, and the stark beauty of the granite spires reaching toward the cloudless blue sky.
There is no doubt that being outdoors, immersed in nature, is connected to your optimal health and well-being. How? Let me share…
- The breeze that ruffles your hair will push away worry and hectic-ness.
- Any mood short of euphoric will improve vastly when in the presence of wildflowers .
- Cruising around outdoors offers more exercise that if you hang around indoors. Either by foot or bike, you’ll get your heart rate up.
- The sound of water bubbling over rocks is a metaphor for tension being washed away from your physical and emotional state.
- Standing atop a rock outcrop, looking down at a clear lake, brings clarity to your own perspective of the world.
Whether you can get to the mountains, the ocean, or a local park, allow the lovely experience of savoring time in nature to uplift, comfort, and nourish you.
A marvelous occurrence: 5 + inches of rain has fallen within the past 72 hours. It’s not so much the ferocious storm that has made this time special, as it is the calm and slow pace that I gave myself permission to create and enjoy in the midst of the storm.
Friday’s plans for a snowshoe outing were canceled due to weather and suddenly, on Thursday night I realized that I had a weekday looming–without commitments!
Admittedly, my mind went to all the work-related items I could accomplish! Eight hours of unexpected and suddenly available time can create the space for many To Do tasks to be checked off the list. I thought about it for just a moment when my next thought was NO! Just hang out. Take advantage of the day and of the storm and stay warm, dry, and quiet–right at home.
At that moment, I gave myself permission to just be.
For the past 72 hours, I have not gone out of the house, except to take Grace for a walk. Twice a day for the past three days, I have donned my rain-gear and enjoyed a 1/2 hour of bliss–walking through the storm, cozy and warm in winter clothes, experiencing the fierce wind and rain, senses stimulated by the sights, sounds, and smells of the storm, and I’d return home with a joyful heart and a smiling dog.
I’ve sat quietly and have felt grateful for that quiet. I have baked dozens of mini-loaves of cranberry and coconut-pumpkin bread to be shared next week as holiday love. I have savored the aromas wafting from my kitchen. I have watched the flames in the woodstove. I have made soup and roasted squash. I have had fun on FaceBook and yes, I have even answered a few emails. I have watched the great trees bend and sway in the powerful winds. I have enjoyed seeing the birds braving the elements to stay well-fed from the feeders. I have slowed down.
I gave myself permission to be calm within the storm.
In the midst of a busy day, intent on my To Do list, I sat down to create a guided imagery .mp3 for a client. Admittedly–and ironically–I was a bit frazzled as I settled in for the task at hand. With my own eyes closed, I invited her to do the same…and proceeded to drop in to a restorative and calming place of quiet relaxation.
Through guided imagery, brain chemistry is changed, resulting in our becoming more receptive to the positive images that are evoked in the guiding. When our brains are consistently invited to imagine positive situations such as calm, confidence, success, peacefulness, joy, and the myriad of happy emotions available to us, it becomes familiar with positivity. The path of least resistance shifts to healthful, forward-moving thoughts, actions, and responses while letting go of barriers such as anxiety, doubt, and resistance. Taking just a few moments each day to sit with an intention to quiet our busy brain becomes an amazing opportunity to manifest our best selves!
Twelve minutes later, I was gently bringing my client, via the recording, to express self-gratitude for her willingness to gift herself the time to practice a quieting session, then to gently open her eyes, look around the room, and move with graciousness through her day. And that is just what I did…
I write and speak often about the benefits of taking time to relax–to quiet the mind, mitigate the effects of stress hormones in the body, and to create brain changes that support personal, emotional, and professional well-being. Another opportunity to relax came to me recently in a different format, but one that I am willingly going to cultivate as a practice.
Relax: in front of the video camera, an audience, my Toastmasters colleagues…I’ve blogged previously that I have been held up by my expectation of perfection, for performing well, for success–heck, I gave a winning speech at Toastmasters about this very topic–and I am slowly giving myself permission to accept my best without being self-critical, to understand the value and insight I bring to others need not be delivered in a “perfect” manner, and simply to relax.
As I continue to pursue this way of being present, another opportunity to relax has recently come up for me. I’ve submitted a video to Man on the Go, Chris Brogan’s newest online venture–a travel blog for busy professionals–with my subject matter titled Healthy Travel Tip of the Day. I see endless possibilities for subject matter and intend to submit a video for each and every idea I can think of that relates to physical and emotional health and well-being for the successful professional. Here’s where the opportunity arose: being relaxed in front of the Flip video camera! Allowing myself the human element of spontaneity, to go with the flow but provide useful and practical information that is presented with my own unique and personable style.
This epiphany is a gift. A liberation from my self imposed expectations. An Opportunity to Relax.
Joy, mindfulness, positive affirmation, and visualization
We are creatures of habit, finding comfort in the familiar. Our brain reinforces this sense of routine and familiarity, in that the brain would rather you made the same choices over and over. Although you may be committed to a goal of “eating healthier” or “becoming fit”, the very desire to change familiar behaviors to ones that will support the achievement of your goal(s), are perceived by the brain as being a stressor, which will activate the sympathetic nervous system response of fight or flight.
The body of science-based evidence continues to expand that validates the fact that we can “change our brains” to be more responsive to subtle and pleasant behavior change goals. There are four principles to practice that will decrease the excitability of the brain, minimize stress hormone presence in the body, and create the brain changes that will enhance the achievement of small-step behavior change goals.
- Invite joy into your life
- Move mindfully through your day
- Express positive affirmation regarding your intention
- Visualize the outcome you desire
How wonderful those principles are! Finding joy is such a gift—and it is everywhere, if you choose to see it. The laughter of children playing, the glorious song of birds celebrating spring, the scent of blooming flowers, the smile you receive as a result of a kindness you extend to another human being, the petting of an animal…all of these opportunities present themselves to us every day (in variations, of course), and if we slow down enough to see them, then JOY will become a primary emotion throughout our day. And by the way, joy and gratitude are kissin’ cousins in terms of the positive effect on your brain and body.
Mindfulness and joy go hand-in-hand, in that the slowing down of being mindful creates the space to experience joy. Additionally, mindfulness can be evoked while we are eating, listening, and even while working on the computer.
Ah, positive affirmation…isn’t it interesting that we have evolved to be a species that expresses displeasure about ourselves—in the form of negative self-talk. This very common and potentially sabotaging dialogue can be slowly let go of simply by practicing positive affirmation. Called cognitive restructuring, expressing your intention with positive words will diminish resistance and ambivalence that the brain holds regarding new behaviors or thoughts. For instance, stating “I enjoy the energy I feel after going for a brisk walk” is received differently by the brain as opposed to “If I am going to get into shape, I have to go for a walk”—a subtle difference on the surface perhaps, but truly, there is the positivity of “enjoy the energy” versus the obligation of “have to go”. Think about it!
Lastly, consider visualization. It’s been known for years that prior to competing, athletes visualize the ski run, or the gymnastics routine, or the bike race, seeing themselves at their best performance. This prepares the brain for success and fine-tunes mindfulness for that particular event. You and I may not be racing in the Olympics, but nonetheless, the same technique of visualization will enhance our performance to create our own personal successes. Imagine a party scene, as it relates to your commitment to “eating healthier”. See yourself visiting with friends, visualize the buffet table: you take a small plate, mindfully selecting a variety of small bites of whatever you desire, see yourself sitting at a table with friends, enjoying their company, eating slowly, savoring flavors and textures, allowing yourself the time to become satiated. Visually experience the pleasure and satisfaction of having eaten well, reveling in good conversation with others, and having honored your personal commitment. When you arrive at the party in reality, you will have set the tone for your behavior, simply by having visualized your success.
These four principles are FREE! Meaning they are available to you right this very minute, at no cost to you, but for the few moments it takes to practice. Practice is a key concept, as each of the four mindsets becomes more and more familiar to you and your brain when they are intentionally practiced.
I invite you to experience joy, cultivate mindfulness, express your positive beliefs about yourself, and visualize your success. What a rich life you live!