4.2018

Zion Nat'l Park, Columbine

Relax

90 Seconds to Breathe With Intention

Another Opportunity to Relax

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.

Brain Changes Lead to Behavior Changes

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!

A Cure for the Spins

My head was spinning. Ok, Ok, not in the way you are imagining…this was not the result drinking too much alcohol! My spins were in response to a long phone call with my web guy Lance Brown. And, by the way, the spins were not because of Lance, this was all about me. Sigh. My equilibrium shake-up comes from my inner voice reminding me to slow down, stay present, and to be kind to myself as I contemplate all the various options to grow my business, HeartMatters. I struggle with finding time for it all: blogging, writing articles, preparing for presentations, meeting with clients and following up on those meetings, building new relationships, and now tweetdeck…Not to mention, exercise, cooking, spending time with my husband, walking the dog, doing chores, blahblahblah.

So here is the cure: I hung up from Lance and marched right into the kitchen. I sliced apples and pears, then threw them into a baking dish, adding cinnamon, fresh nutmeg, and a pinch of sugar.  I mashed up coconut oil, flour, and another pinch of sugar, tossed that on top of the fruit, placed the dish in the oven, set the heat for 350, the timer for 45 minutes, and voila! In less than 15 minutes, I had simmered down. The focus of thinly slicing the fruit and making the topping allowed me to breathe and quiet my mind. Now the mouth-watering smell wafting from my kitchen is another reward for having given myself permission to take 1/4 of an hour out of an already busy day to nourish myself by immersing in an activity that I cherish.The smile on my hubby’s face when he smells/see the unexpected dessert will be further reward!

In planning my day, I would not have seen time to make a fruit crisp, which makes that brief waltz away from “work” all the more of a gift. Next time, I might go out to the garden and weed for a few moments, or sit on the porch and listen to the birds singing from the treetops, or watch the clouds float by… you get the idea, right? Giving yourself permission to enjoy a few moments to relax in the middle of the spins will completely cure them!

What are you doing for your own variation of the spins?

A Guided Relaxation Session

relaxation breathing.mp3

Listen to this soothing practice of relaxation breathing. Inhale calm and quiet, exhale tension and stress…

Sticking to the program while traveling: is it possible?

In my home environment, I have a routine: regular exercise, healthy meals, and time to quiet my busy mind. In familiar territory, this works well. Whew.

Visiting in Washington, DC, I am experiencing the challenge of maintaining my typical healthful behaviors–I am out of my routine. For the past few days, I have thought often of how to enjoy this working vacation; how to balance sightseeing in the nation’s capital, business meetings, humid weather, and restaurant meals.

Here are some of the strategies that I have utilized thus far:

1. Walk, walk, walk! Most urban vacations provide an opportunity to walk versus renting a car or taking public transportation. Take advantage of this whenever possible. We must have put in 5 – 8 miles each day. Although walking does not evoke for me the same “exercise response” as riding my bike does, it ramps up metabolism, maintains a high level of energy, and helps to burn the excess calories in case those restaurant meals are larger than usual. If you are enjoying a more rural vacation, there will be hiking trails to keep you active. Walking considerations include:

  • staying well hydrated
  • wearing comfortable shoes (do I sound like my mother?!)
  • being prepared for weather

This morning, I “went for a walk”. This was an intentional exercise session: 1 hour of more vigorous walking in a lovely park near the hotel.  The other option is the hotel exercise area. All hotels have a gym nowadays; stationary bicycles, treadmills, elliptical machines. A half hour here will be a terrific contribution to your health and support your usual routine.

Eating out each meal may seem a bit daunting, but it need not be! I would encourage staying away from buffets, especially the breakfast buffets that offer white flour bagels, sweet rolls, commercial yogurt (check for HFCS in the ingredient list), and toaster waffles. These processed foods will quickly elevate your blood glucose level, leading to a “crash” a couple of hours later, that will leave you hungry, grumpy, or both. Not a pretty sight.

Try to find fresh fruit, whole grain toast, eggs, good quality yogurt, milk or cottage cheese, or a small bowl of oatmeal to start your day. Carry water with you to stay hydrated during the day as you are out and about. Stick an apple in your backpack to share with your travel mate mid-morning to maintain your energy, blood glucose, and metabolism. Look for a salad at lunch, with a protein added, such as a scoop of tuna or a half chicken breast. Or share a sandwich and add a cup of soup into the selection. Think about having a mid afternoon snack, such as an orange or fruit sweetened popsicle, to avoid over-eating at dinner. Dinner, ah yes, the big challenge. You might consider skipping the bread. A sacrilege, I know! Good bread is so, so delicious BUT we have a tendency to overeat if we have bread while studying the menu. I am merely suggesting this as a consideration, particularly if you are having an alcoholic beverage. Perhaps you would like to order a spinach salad or other greens before dinner. Suggest to the waitperson that you would like the dressing on the side or ask for olive oil. Sharing an entree is a possibility, as the portion size will likely be quite adequate. Eat slowly, savoring the flavor, enjoying the conversation, and after 10 (ten) minutes you will be delightfully pleased with how satisfied your stomach feels.

Dessert is an option of course. You are on vacation after all! Did you walk a lot during the day? Or have time to go to the exercise area in the hotel? What were the rest of your food choices like for the day? What’s planned for tomorrow? These are but a few considerations to mull over prior to the dessert menu being offered. Sharing a dessert is an excellent strategy to minimize the calorie intake. Remember my suggestion of taking small bites, putting down the spoon, taking a long moment to roll the yummy flavor around your mouth, delight in the texture, and swallow completely before you pick up the spoon again!

Travel is a real treat. Whether you are in the mountains, at the ocean, in a sprawling city, or a national park, you can remain committed to your healthful routine of eating well, staying physically active, and taking a few moments to sit quietly and relax, without compromising a fun, lively, and interesting vacation.

Where are you going to travel to next?

Front Porch Morning

Summer mornings are peaceful at my house. All mornings are actually, but the summer at 6 AM is a special time to enjoy. The air is simply delicious—fresh and cool and inviting. With a cup of coffee, I head out to the front porch. First I must check to see that the resident frogs are not hiding under the cushions on the couch.  I don’t know why they seek shelter on the couch, but there they are most mornings. Assured that it is a frog-free zone, I can settle in.

How delightful it is! A rooster from a far-off neighbor greets the brightening sky. Some mornings I can hear the coyotes howling as they sign off for the day. As I sit quietly, the sun slowly ascends, illuminating the sky and lighting up the treetops. Over several minutes, I witness the subtle change from dawn to day. In harmony with the morning, I feel my own energy shift internally, as I transform to what will soon become my daytime vigor.

But it is the birds that lure me out at 6 AM, day after day. Ah, the birdsong! Variety is the spice of life, and we have it: Grosbeak, Robin, Chickadee, Nuthatch, Finch, Stellar Jay, Woodpecker—acorn and my personal fav, the pileated—and some mornings if I am really lucky, I can discern the call of a Kingfisher up on the irrigation canal that meanders through the forest.  The birds serenade me, they sing to celebrate the new day, their various sounds merging into one fantastic symphony. I breathe, I quiet, and I breathe some more. I express gratitude for this gift of nature—the sunrise, the forest, the fresh air, and the birds. My heart is filled with joy! I am ready to jump into my day.

“When I began to work with Robin as a client, she immediately recognized that my success involved more than treating issues relating to my heart. Her knowledge and caring has given me the opportunity and confidence to improve my overall health and mental outlook for the future. I have received excellent care from many doctors but what may be more important is that Robin has made me want to do more for myself.
—Pat G., Client

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