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Stressed out?

Ever have the experience where you feel like your to-do list is never ending? How about feeling a pressure that you always have to do more? In that moment, how do you respond?

It is a completely normal reaction to want to stay busy… how else will those tasks get done? But perhaps, the best thing you can do is practice mindfulness and actually intentionally slow down. Although it might be challenging and counterintuitive, there is strong scientific research that supports the value of mindfulness for stress.

How does meditation help reduce stress?

When practiced regularly, meditation has been shown to help essentially re-program the brain to be better able to respond to stress. Stress causes our autonomic nervous system to become active, and as a result, stress hormones are released into our bodies. When these hormones enter the bloodstream, they set off our “fight, flight, freeze” response. Everyone experiences stress a little differently; but common symptoms include: muscle tension, anxiety, dizziness, irritability, headaches, fatigue, lack of focus, and so on. If stress endures overtime, it can causes changes in our brain leading to a chronically activated “fight, flight, freeze” state.

Meditation actually can then help change the brain. Research has shown meditation contributes to neuroplasticity by reshaping and strengthening the neural pathways in our brain. This helps increase our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for our awareness, and shrinks our amygdala, a part of the limbic system of the brain responsible for emotions, memories, decisions, moods. Both of these changes help to increase our mental resilience by allowing us to become more aware and less reactive.

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In what ways does practicing meditation help with my experience stress?

Through practicing, you become increasingly more aware of your thoughts, and as your awareness of your thoughts increases, you begin to see that they are not always the truth. Meditating also helps you to not react immediately to a situation. Instead, you become better able at pausing and take more time to respond in a mindful, wise way. It also allows you to become more in tune with sensations in your body, which can then indicate whether you are experiencing stress earlier and allow you to help in turn take better care of yourself. Meditation has also been shown to help you develop emotional intelligence and, as a result, you can become more compassionate. Mindfulness also helps improve focus, which in turn, allows you to be more present and even work more efficiently.

What can I do when I’m feeling stressed?

Good news, there a lot of practices! You might even be doing some of these things already. We’re sharing a few we use, maybe you try them out to find what will support you best.

Take a Pause

See if you can create a few minutes in the midst of the busyness to pause and take a few deep breaths. A pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement when we are no longer moving towards any goal. Tara Brach, a meditation teacher says “through the sacred art of pausing, we develop the capacity to stop hiding, to stop running away from our experience.”

Listen Fully

Singing bowls are often used in yoga classes or meditation practices. It is believed that the energy caused by the vibrations in the bowl can influence your brainwave functions. When you listen to the signing bowl, played here by Colleen, your nervous system is engaged and it helps to bring you into parasympathetic, "rest-and-digest" state. Listening to singing bowls is said to help reduce stress and provide clarity of mind.

Move Your Body

Feel like you can’t be still… then try mindful walking or take a few stretches. You can even move while you listen to your favorite guided meditation. Moving helps reduce the physical sensations, like muscle tension, associated with stress. It can also help if you are feeling fatigued or tired, as moving mindfully, sometimes can give you a little extra boost of energy.

Let Yourself Be With the Stress

We typically see stress as “bad” and something to get rid of. But, it's a natural response and completely healthy when its balanced. As you notice stress, eee if you can cultivate non-judgemental awareness of your experience. Notice what is happening. Know that with time and compassion our perceived stress tends to decrease. Meditation essentially helps us to zoom out and step back so that we can become more aware of our reaction and what causes stress in the first place. Want to practice? Here’s an exercise called Notice, Shift and Rewire.


BE SURE TO FOLLOW TYP ON FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM AND TWITTER FOR MINDFULNESS TIPS AND GUIDED MEDITATIONS AND PRACTICES IN HONOR OF NATIONAL MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH. WE ARE CREATING A MOVEMENT TO #MEDIATE4MENTALHEALTH AS RESEARCH SUPPORT THE MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF MEDITATION.

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Meditation versus Mindfulness: What's the Difference Anyway?

If you have ever wondered what is the difference between meditation and mindfulness, you’re not alone.

The two practices are very related and embody many of the same principles; yet, there are some differences. We’ll break it down here for you and share some resources so that you can hopefully feel empowered to incorporate both practices into your life (that is, if you don’t already).

Meditation

Meditation is considered to be more of a formal practice that you set aside a specific amount of time for. There are a lot of different ways, or methods, of meditating that range from taking a just a minute to practicing simple breath awareness to using mantras, or repetitive words/phrases, to help you focus, to sitting in stillness for longer periods of time.

Creating a meditation practice that supports you best might require trying a few different methods out. What helps you to relax, create more ease or become more mindful could also change depend on your overall day. We often think it’s helpful to know of a few different meditation techniques, that you can feel that you have in your own personal mental health toolbox. So, here are few different practices that members of the TYP team find to be helpful -

Guided Body Scans

Guided body scans are an opportunity to practice awareness of different regions of you body, and to allow yourself to really experience how they feel. Practicing guided body scans is said to help you get more in touch with your body, to provide balance to all the busyness of life, and to help train your attention.

Body scan meditations can be done on your own by bringing your awareness to your feet and then slowly working your attention all the way up your body all the way to your head, noticing each part. It can also be practiced by starting at your head and working your way down. Whatever is the most comfortable for you. Or, you can try following along with a guided body scan. Here’s one recorded by one Amanda, a TYP team member and instructor -

Mantra Meditations

Mantras are words or sounds that are often repeated during a meditation practice to help you focus and concentrate on the present moment. If you have ever been to a yoga class where they chanted the sound of Om….. that’s a mantra.

You can create a mantra yourself by bringing to mind a statement, or even one word, that you want to embody at that moment. Or, you can practice specific mantra meditations. “So-Hum” is a breath-focused mantra meditation that TYP Instructors occasionally use in classes. The words “So-Hum” roughly translate from Sanskrit (the language Yoga was written in) to English to mean “I am That” or “I am of All,” which reflects our inherent interconnectedness. The breath is a reminder that we are always connected. Here is how to practice “So-hum” mantra meditation:

  • Find a comfortable position - either seated or laying down. Allow your body to relax as much as possible into the support.

  • Bring your attention to the natural rhythm of your breath. As you start to feel and notice your breath, try to begin to incorporate the mantra “so-hum.”

  • As you inhale, silently say “so” to yourself.

  • As you exhale, silently say “hum” to yourself.

  • Repeat for a minute or longer feeling the breath, connecting to the words and even the feeling that they may provide.

Breath Focused Meditation

You can meditate by also dedicating a certain amount of time to focus on your breathing. Breath awareness is often considered to be a concentration meditation, as it provides you something to focus your attention too. Allow yourself a little bit of time, get as comfortable as possible, and see if you can focus on taking full breaths. It will be quite natural for your mind to drift from place-to-place, see if you can notice its happening and then just gently bring your attention back to you breath.

There are even certain breathing techniques you can try. Katy, one of team members, recorded a guided meditation focuses on expanding exhales. We love listening to it after a really busy day to help us relax. Listen to it on YouTube.

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Mindfulness

Mindfulness is all about being aware. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, defines mindfulness as “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally,” sometimes with the purpose of gaining “self-understanding and wisdom.” When you are actively being mindful, you are noticing and paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, movements, and also the effect they have on you and on others.

Mindfulness can be practiced anytime and anywhere, whether formally (which would include meditating) or informally (which could be while you do an activity, like brushing your teeth or showering). You can be mindful anytime you are showing up and really engaging with what you are doing and even while you are interacting with another person, i.e. in conversation and through truly listening and connecting. Mindfulness can be incorporated throughout your day.

Learn more about simple mindfulness practices for self-care in a recent blog post.

Be sure to follow TYP on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for mindfulness tips and guided meditations and practices in honor of National Mental Health Awareness Month. We are creating a movement to #Mediate4MentalHealth as research support the mental health benefits of meditation.

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Simple, Mindful Practices for Self-Care Sunday

Here are some ways to create mindful moments throughout your day:

Mindful Eating

Eating is an activity we do several times throughout the day to nourish ourselves. How often do you do it while you are distracted- either watching tv, reading something, rushing? I do it, too, because well life…. But, I’m setting an intention to slow down and eat more mindfully.

With your next meal, I invite you to be really present. Experience the flavor, texture, temperature, and try to really savor what you are eating. Try to take your time. Maybe even pause after each bite. When your mind leaves the experience, see if you can bring it back. Paying attention on purpose to experience of eating.

Perhaps you also use your time to cook a healthy meal to nourish yourself. I, personally, enjoy spending Sunday doing some meal prep to be prepared for my busy work week ahead. As I wash and chop vegetables, cook grains and meals, I try to be really present to the experience. Not only does it help leave me relaxed; but it also allows for a little less stressful week knowing I have food to provide me with the energy needed.

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Need some recipe inspiration?

Here are some favorite Sunday meal prep ideas from the TYP team:

  • Steel Cut Oats

    Make a big batch and then just reheat (or eat cold) and customize with whatever toppings you’d like - fresh fruits and berries, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and so on!

  • The “Stew”

    Double the recipe on this satisfying turmeric chick pea stew with collard greens and have lots of leftovers to serve with rice or quinoa throughout the week.

Mindful Walking

Take a stroll. As you walk, see if you can be really present to the journey and experience. Try to notice the ground beneath you as you take each step. Pay attention to your surroundings, notice your neighborhood- the houses or apartment buildings, trees, plants, other people passing by… Simply take the sights, sounds, smells and feels- using your senses to be in the moment.

One of my favorite sunday activities is to take a long walk to a coffee shop or cafe and try to wander there. Often, I just let myself be drawn to whaetever catches my attention along the walk. In doing so, I often discover little unqiue things about where I live that I miss when I’m busy rushing.

This is another practice that your can incorporate into your daily life - if you walk to work, or even throughout your home, maybe you try to be with the experience more by bringing awareness to the sensation of placing one foot on the ground and try to take it one step at a time.

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Mindful Expression

Get creative! Mindfulness can be anything that allows you to immerse yourself in the moment. Put some music on and dance around your house, sing, play an instrument, draw or doodle, work on a crafty project, like knitting or crochet! Whatever calls you, try to be with the experience and let your creativity flow, using it as a practice. Remember there is no right or wrong way to express yourself!

What’s your favorite way to be creative?

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more mindfulness tips all month of May to #Meditate4MentalHealth

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Why Care About Mental Health?

Mental Health is important to our overall sense of wellbeing. It includes our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. Our mental health affects how we think, feel and act. It is Also involved in how we handle stress, connect to others, and make choices.

Maintaining mental health is just as important as maintaining physical health. Many people will have periods in their lives where they will have to make taking care of their mental health a priority. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 people will experience mental illness at some point in their lives.  The good news is that, if mental health is taken care of, whether personally or through treatment, 70 to 90% of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life.

When we are mentally healthy, we are able to cope with the stresses of life, have meaningful relationships and make contributions to your community, work productively, and realize our full potential.

In honor of May being the National Mental Health Awareness Month, we wanted to share with you practices that you can use to improve or maintain your mental health. Given that our mission is rooted in making trauma-sensitive yoga and mindfulness programming accessible, we wanted to extend what we offer within our programs to our larger community. We all deserve a chance to learn mindfulness-based practices that can be incorporated into our lives whenever we need them.

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Benefits of Meditation

Meditation and mindfulness practices have been well established in research to both improve and maintain menal health.

Here’s are some reasons why you should #Meditate4MentalHealth:

  • Meditation changes your brain and the way you respond to stress.

    • Brain scans of people who meditated for a little bit of time each day revealed that after 3 days there was more activity in the protions of the brain dedicated to resolving stress, providing focus, and creating calmness.

    • Practicing meditation has been shown to increase the grey matter of the brain which is responsible for ability to process information, which contributes to our sense of self and ability to be compassionate

  • Meditation is like exercise for your brain.

    • It has been shown to improve our memory. The hippocampus and frontal brain lobe, which are both involved in memory formation and storage, are activated during meditation.

    • It even helps boost our resilience, our ability to meet challenges and overcome them.

  • Meditation can ease anxiety.

    • Research has suggested that it helps to quell anxiety symptoms.  Practicing mindfulness allows you an opportunity to start to notice how much power you give your thoughts. After time, you can start to notice re-occuring thoughts and use strategies to try to soften the ones that cause anxiousness.

  • Meditation is accessible.

    • All you need to do is create a little bit of time (anywhere from 1 minute to a half hour) where you can allow yourself to be, breathe and connect. It is something you can practice anywhere! Whether at home, work, inside, outside, wherever you need.

Are you signed up for our newsletter?! We will be sharing exclusive guided meditations and tips all month long with our email subscribers. Sign Up at the Bottom of our Homepage.

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