Mindfulness Practices
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
By: Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM

All supportive techniques, like meditation, yoga, chanting, music, tai chi, or walking in nature, share one common thread: they focus the mind. Training yourself to be present calms the nervous system.

Whether you pay attention to a piece of dark chocolate as it melts in your mouth and releases phyto-chemicals throughout your system, or you attend to your breath in Vipassana meditation, the calm center, so elusive in day-to-day life, expands before you like a vista of awareness.

The inner miracle of these ancient practices is how by cultivating your full attention, you come to know previously hidden aspects of your self, your connection to all that is, the cyclic nature of life, and your innate ability to ride its waves.

Mindfulness can come bidden, as in a formal meditation or yoga practice; or, unbidden, when the awesomeness of a ripe peach floods your senses, or a loved one’s hug ignites primal feelings of connection. Opportunities to more fully experience life are available every day, provided we know how to access them through presence, silence, and attention. Formal practices help train the body-mind to this state of alert openness.

It may seem as if you only need to pay attention, but an open, receptive body enables you to fully experience the beauty inherent in nature, people, music, art, food—anything. Disciplines like tai chi, meditation, or yoga teach integration of the body, mind, and spirit. Each opens up the flow of chi, breath, or prana (the energy body) revitalizing you and making deeper connections possible.

Think back to a time when you were fully present. Maybe it was at the beach, in the mountains, with a loved one, or simply breathing in the fresh scent of the outdoors. If you remember it as salient, it was because your attention was completely devoted to experiencing that moment, and your body-mind was relaxed and open. You probably felt intensely alive, connected, and joyful. Those experiences do not have to be random, unusual, or infrequent. The good news is you can access wonderful states of being through fairly simple techniques. They may take a little time to learn and integrate into your life; but, once you do, you will have peak experiences on a regular basis.

Without a daily practice of yoga, meditation, or tai chi you have to wait for those natural highs to serendipitously occur. Learning how to catalyze them brings greater joy, serenity, stress relief, and perspective. In time, you will feel more in control of yourself and your reactions to the normal vicissitudes of life.

Paradoxically, sitting still in quiet meditation actually encourages a flexible mind. More than that, these practices lead to inner congruence between your true self and your behaviors. Of course, like learning to read, this can be a slow, non-linear process. Allow the inevitable backsliding, procrastination, and ambivalence. Be patient with beginner’s mind. Keep showing up. Even five minutes of daily meditation or yoga is a gift to yourself and your personal evolution. You don’t need to trek to Tibet, spend a fortune for a spa holiday, or devote hours a day. A steady, small practice will gradually become your path to inner peace and self-acceptance.

Here’s a simple exercise to cultivate an open heart:

Sit comfortably on the floor, or stand with feet hip bone distance apart.

Bring your arms out to the sides, parallel to your shoulders.

Stretch and feel the energy moving out through your fingertips.

Gently bring your hands behind your back and interlace your fingers., bringing your shoulders down and drawing your shoulder blades a bit closer together. Don’t force the movement, allow it to evolve organically.

Slowly, breathe into your heart center, the fourth chakra. Visualize a green light or mist infiltrating that whole area.

Take a couple of more breaths like that and relax your arms down.
You may want to shake them out a little bit.

Feel the openness in your chest, the easy flow of breath.

Take that open hearted feeling into the rest of your day, and let it encourage compassion for yourself and others.

Two Free Meditation Podcasts:

www.themeditationpodcast.com – The Sterns use their incredible sonorous voices in combination with binaural beats to guide you into a deep state of relaxation, while entraining the two hemispheres of the brain.

www.meditationoasis.com – Mary Maddox has a treasure trove of guided meditations for everything from intuitive self-healing to flowing with change.

Note: The binaural beats music the Sterns employ actual entrain your brain waves to a greater state of relaxation, lessening anxiety. You can learn more about this by searching for “binaural beats” or “brainwave synchronization” at wikipedia.com.

I find that more than an hour of binaural beats is uncomfortable, but less than an hour feels great.

Author : Nicole S. Urdang
Nicole S. Urdang has been a psychotherapist in private practice for more than 20 years. That experience, coupled with earlier work in hospitals and clinics, means she has helped thousands of people, from young children to ninety year olds, and has dealt with just about every problem you can imagine. You can learn more about Ms. Urdang here on the Find-a-Therapist.com Directory.