Mind Over Matter: How to Use Meditation to Combat Stress

We read a lot about the importance of reducing stress in our lives to help combat heart disease, lower blood pressure, rejuvenate aging bodies, and reduce inflammation. That is much easier said than done! With electronic devices going off at all times, it can be difficult to de-stress. If I stay in “fight or flight” mode for too long, I am sure to spiral into an autoimmune flare. When I saw this article by Denis Faye posted in a Team Beachbody Newsletter, I felt like it was written for me! And if I need this, I bet others do to! Read on and see how you can help to de-stress your body!

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Mind Over Matter: How to Use Meditation to Combat Stress

By Denis Faye
Like many a poor sap trying to make the most of this hectic world, my mind tends to churn like a washing machine filled with ferrets. Even in the most tranquil of moments, dozens of thoughts scrape and bite to get to the top of my consciousness—and most of the time, it’s the big ugly ones that win the race.

Rodents and household appliances aside, you may know this phenomenon simply as “stress.” You have a million things to do and a billion things to worry about. We all do. It’s the curse of the modern age.

Unfortunately, most of us look to pursuits to take the edge off; they may seem to help, but actually compound the problem. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional cocktail, or a little mindless television from time to time, but activities like this don’t solve anything. They just cover up your issues and make your thought process all the more unruly.

If you’re looking for a serious solution, meditation is a far more effective way to cut through the cerebral clutter—and unlike a booze bender or a reality TV marathon, it only takes 5 to 10 minutes a day.

The Benefits of Meditation

People tend to associate meditation with Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, but Judeo-Christian fans may be surprised to learn that there are references to meditation in the Old Testament. And, in Islam, meditation is an important part of Sufism. Although there are certainly connections to religion, meditation, in the modern sense, can be completely secular. No blue deities, no transcending this earthly form, no incense (unless you dig that, then it’s, like, totally cool)—just an opportunity to organize your thoughts and take back your brain from the laundry list of external forces pulling you in a million directions.

The science on the benefits of meditation is super strong, especially when it comes to stress reduction. Research appearing in the Journal of Biomedical Research shows that meditation does this by increasing parasympathetic activity. Your nervous system is divided into two parts—sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system controls your “fight or flight” reactions. It’s the predominant nervous system when you’re under the gun. The parasympathetic nervous system controls your “rest and digest” functions. In other words, when things are mellow, the parasympathetic takes charge—and meditation makes that happen more often.1

But that’s just part of the story. A consistent meditation practice has been scientifically linked to improved cardiovascular health, focus, and information processing.2 In fact, if you pick a malady at random, odds are that there’s a reasonably credible study showing that meditation either improves symptoms or acts as an effective way to manage symptoms. There’s really no reason not to do it.

How to Meditate

Many people mistakenly think the goal of all meditation is to “turn off your brain.” This is one technique (sort of), but in truth the definition of meditation shifts depending on whom you ask. In some circles, it’s a matter of reading a philosophical/religious text and contemplating the key passages (suggestions: the Bible, the Tao Te Ching, or Winnie the Pooh). Tony Horton often refers to yoga as “moving meditation.” When I’m cycling alone, I often focus so intently on my breathing and the cadence of my peddling that it becomes a form of meditation. Some people consider sitting on a favorite park bench and breathing deeply for five minutes to be meditative.

However you do it, the key to any good meditation practice is to quiet the noise in your brain—not drown it out or dope it up, but actively calm it down.

All those options aside, if you’re looking for something more specific, there are a few meditation techniques that have been shown to be especially effective.

First, it’s important to find a quiet place with minimal distractions. Here in Los Angeles, lots of people prefer the beach. Frankly, I find the waves, the birds, and the beauty of it all just too distracting. My favorite place to meditate is the middle of my living room, at about 6 AM before my daughter and my dog wake up demanding waffles and kibble (in that order).

Next, sit comfortably, but up straight. You want to be comfy because, once you master it, you’ll be there for a while. You want to be upright for a couple reasons. Many experts claim it’s necessary because a straight spine allows energy to flow better. Personally, I think sitting up straight is a good way to avoid accidentally falling asleep. If you have back issues, do what you need to do. I elevate my rump by sitting cross-legged on a yoga bolster. I also support my spine by sitting with my back against a wall.

Finally, start with five minutes a day and increase gradually as it becomes easier. Odds are, your thoughts are going to be all over the map the first few times you do it. That’s cool. Even if your practice felt like a complete mess, it benefited you given it took you one step closer to learning how to calm your brain. You’ll get there. Just try again tomorrow.

From here, there are a number of practices to experiment with. You might want to try a variation of Transcendental Meditation (TM), developed by Maharashi Mahesh Yogi, who you might remember as that yogi guy who hung out with the Beatles. In this practice, you pick a mantra to focus on—a word that has meaning to you and feels right, such as “love” or “heal” or “beer.” (It could happen.) Armed with your mantra, sit quietly and repeat it silently to yourself. When your mind wanders—which it will—simply steer it back to your mantra.

Another technique is mindfulness meditation. Like the TM variation above, start with a focal point—typically your breath. That’ll hold your attention for a little while, but soon thoughts or sensations will try to take over. Don’t try steering away from these things. Instead, accept them without judgment and let them pass by, like waves on a beach or clouds in the sky. If it helps, you can also assign “tags” to help you observe thoughts passively. For example, let’s say you’re in the middle of meditating and suddenly you remember how one of your coworkers stole your lunch out of the fridge yesterday. Instead of following that path and letting your anger consume you, assign it a tag that describes how you feel, like “anger.” Now, just repeat “anger” in your head, distancing yourself from both the thought and the emotion. It should soon pass.

I’ve found this technique to be an incredibly powerful tool for managing my emotions. It can also be used for pain management, by isolating and passively accepting pain instead of letting it consume you—which can be a massive benefit when Shaun T’s got your legs searing in the middle of an INSANITY® workout.

If you’re looking for a more in-depth look into mindfulness meditation, I strongly recommend Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield.

The modern world is a stressful place. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do about the barrage of stressors that make up daily life. You can, however, change how you—and your body—react to them, so take a deep breath and take back your life.

Sources:
Wu, S.-D., & Lo, P.-C. (2008). Inward-attention meditation increases parasympathetic activity: a study based on heart rate variability. Biomedical research Tokyo Japan, 29(5), 245-250. J-STAGE. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18997439
4 Scientific Studies on How Meditation Can Affect Your Brain and Creativity

When failure happens: A preemptive guide to moving on

Even though we all know that failure is a fact of life,

Even though we’ve watched people both near and far fail and successfully come back from it,

Even though our favorite superhero is usually the one that has to overcome adversity first,

Most of us spend more time dreading failure than actually preparing for it or looking for ways to soften the blow when it comes.

Anyone who wants to succeed however, must also know how to deal with failure without losing enthusiasm along the way, or giving up altogether. Every failure tells you what DID NOT work. Now you have a chance to try something new that might work! This is true for your relationships, finances, nutrition, fitness, all aspects of life!

In the same way that we write business plans, rehearse speeches and plan parties days before they are slated to happen, we must also figure out an action plan for when things go south.

Not only will this plan help us to fear failure less, it will also help us to move on more swiftly when it does happen.

Step 1: Grieve, but don’t dwell.

When we stand there facing failure and all our crushed hopes and dreams coupled with the work and effort we’ve put into achieving them, our initial reaction may be to turn away or feign nonchalance, but that will only hurt you in the long run.

To be able to move on from any kind of loss, we need to allow ourselves to acknowledge and work through the feelings that come with it. Give yourself time to adjust and try not to make any important decisions while you’re still reeling, but also have an end point in mind.

Even though we can not predict when the feelings that accompany loss will subside, we can decide when to stop wallowing and embrace the possibility of life once again.

Step 2: Take responsibility and learn your lessons.

The second step and arguably most important, is to accept the part that we played in the failure. It may have been a lack of preparation, an issue with the team we assembled, or inadequacy in our skill set.

No matter what the issue turns out to be, accepting responsibility restores our power because it shows us what we can do now or in the future to prevent similar mistakes.

We may need to take time out to learn, tweak our approach or figure out a new direction altogether, but we definitely won’t feel helpless if we accept our shortcomings and open ourselves up to growth.

Step 3: Move on to the next thing.

“If you keep the wheel turning, success never runs out. It is infinitely abundant. As long as you are letting go of your failures and remaining open to what wants to emerge, there will always be something else waiting for you.” Simon T. Bailey.

The only way to move past a failure is to disengage and move on to the next project. You may still carry your doubts and fears with you, but trusting yourself to try again, no matter how wounded, will inevitably lead to new lessons, progress, and ultimately success.

You don’t have to avoid failure or feel helpless in the face of it.

You only have to remember that you have the power to try again and do better next time, and that will always lead you closer to the success that you seek.


SOURCES

http://www.washington.edu/counseling/resources-for-students/healthy-grieving/

https://www.success.com/what-ive-learned-about-success-you-have-to-keep-starting-over/

Cooking Mindset!

It’s Ragnar RACE WEEK!!! I’m so nervous! Today is the day to start getting my list of things to pack written – sleeping bag and pad, headlamps, running clothes (3 sets), snacks, coolers, medications.

The other half of the stress is making arrangements for kids to be driven to soccer practice, soccer games, picked up from school etc. Sometimes the planning for the kids hardly makes taking time for myself worth it but we all need that time to do something fun and crazy. I’m not sure running a 200 mile relay race is fun and crazy but I’m about to find out! I’m sure at midnight when I have to wake up to run 4miles I’ll be questioning my sanity. 😜🤣😲

I was recently listening to a podcast about the Longevity Project, a documentary looking at centenarians around the world. One common theme is food is love, food is community. A lot of time is spent on acquiring and preparing food by the community and also consuming the food in a community setting.

I bring this up now because I mentioned to my husband that I was going to make a beefstew (kids favorite) on Wednesday for the kids to eat Thursday and Friday when they get home. He thinks I spoil them and should let them fend for themselves. While they wouldn’t starve and would find something to eat, I see it as a labor of love to have a good, nutritious meal for them to eat while I’m away.

In a different podcast, the interviewer speculated that at some point in the US, cooking and being in the kitchen was seen as a negative. You had advertisements from the food industry to get quick, prepared meals so that you didn’t have to slave in the kitchen. Cooking was made into a chore that we should all avoid.

I know I do not like to cook. I think mostly from a lack of confidence in the kitchen. Maybe one day I’ll take that summer long cooking class I’m dying to take.

So would you let the kids fend for themselves or would you make them something yummy to have in your absence? The stew is going to take me 30min to prep tops.

How To Successfully Form New Habits – The REAL Truths

Have you ever tried to instill a new habit…and failed? (New Year’s resolutions anyone?!)

In reality, most of us have been in this disappointing situation, but rather than beating ourselves up, it’s far better to understand what it truly takes to form a new habit, so next time we can act from a position of knowledge, which will boost our chances of success.

First let’s examine the ‘truths’ we’ve been lead to believe, and see if they really stack up.

You’ve probably heard the saying that it takes 21 days to form a habit. It has become one of those meme-worthy ‘facts’ that we fully accept at face value, without ever wondering if it’s even true!

But did you know there is NO scientific data to back up the 21-day habit-forming claim?

It’s actually based on anecdotal evidence from the plastic surgery patients of one doctor, and the claim itself dates back to the 1950’s

You can read more about why that study lead us all in the wrong direction for decades in the article published by the University College London (UCL) entitled, “Busting the 21 days habit formation myth.”

Researchers at the University College London did a much more scientific study of the timing around habit formation that was published in the European Journal of Social Psychology.

“Participants performed a self-chosen health-promoting dietary or activity behavior (e.g. drinking a glass of water) in response to a once-daily cue (e.g. after breakfast), and gave daily self-reports of how automatic (i.e. habitual) the behavior felt. Participants were tracked for 84 days.”

What Is the real answer to how long it takes to form new habits?

According to the UCL study, they found it takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit. But that it can vary widely based on the individual and their unique circumstances. For one person it took just 18 days, whereas another person didn’t manage to form a habit within the whole 84-day study, but was projected to do so after as long as 254 days.

So what does this all mean for us?

In a nutshell, to give ourselves a higher chance of success we need to reset those habit-forming expectations for a lot longer than 21 days!

Look at it this way. The 66 day average for instilling a new habit would mean our New Year’s Resolutions would start sticking around March 6th.
Most of us give up long before this date…but this clearly shows we need to stick with it.

So what can you do to stack the odds in your favor to form new habits?

There are four simple strategies we recommend, to succeed with your new habits in a way that not only produces stronger formed, longer lasting habits but also does it in less time!

1. SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS

The Health Psychology Review wrote, “Habits are automatic behavioral responses to environmental cues, thought to develop through repetition of behavior in consistent contexts.”

If we give ourselves the right environments and triggers and place ourselves in the right set of circumstances, we can dramatically improve our chances for success.
For example, if you want to set a new habit of eating healthy food instead of fast food you need to tell the rest of the family so they’re all on board and have a plan of what you’re going to eat to replace that fast food in your diet.
Likewise, if you want to start working out in the morning before breakfast have your workout clothes laid out ready the night before so it becomes automatic to put them on, and workout.

2. GOOD OLD REPETITION

There is a good reason why studies focus on the amount of time it takes to form new habits, as persistence over a time period is a key element of creating repetition-forming behaviors.
If you tell yourself that forming your new habit IS going to take at least a couple of months, then you’ve given yourself the right realistic expectations from the start.
How we frame our expectations is one of the biggest motivators to either continue or stop anything in life that we are trying to accomplish…so why would forming habits be any different?

3. WHAT BEATS OUT MENTORSHIP FOR ACCOMPLISHING ANY GOAL?

Research by psychologist Robert Cialdini and Tim Church, MD shows that finding a buddy who can work with you is one of the best ways to accomplish change. This is a very healthy form of peer pressure, that can actually work better than even mentorships.
So grab yourself an accountability partner and improve your chances of success.

4. GET THE RIGHT MINDSET

The British Journal Of Social Psychology wrote an article entitled, “Beyond frequency: Habit as mental construct.”

Here’s an excerpt from the article, “A habit seems to be accompanied by an enduring cognitive orientation, which we refer to as “habitual mindset.”

This makes good sense, right? If we don’t have the right mindset towards accomplishing our new habit forming behaviors then how can we ever expect to accomplish them. Habit formation isn’t about repetition alone. If we don’t go in with a winning mindset, then we can’t expect the results we really want.

So what’s next?

Well, now that you know the truth…tap into these 4 winning strategies and GET EXCITED!

New success habits are literally around the corner for you. What would your life be like if in a couple of months you could have your biggest new habit goal impacting your future?

I believe the answer to that question is that habit formation is life changing in the short term, just not quite as short as those 21 days we once thought.

Good luck on your new habits and what you know you can accomplish.


Sources:

  1. The Huffington Post – https://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-clear/forming-new-habits_b_5104807.html
  2. University College London – http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0908/09080401 & http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/bsh/2012/06/29/busting-the-21-days-habit-formation-myth/
  3. European Review Of Social Psychology Journal – https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14792779943000035 & https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ejsp.674
  4. British Journal Of Social Psychology –  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1348/014466605X49122
  5. Health Psychology Review – https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17437199.2011.603640
  6. Inc. Magazine – https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/what-beats-a-mentor-an-accountability-partner.html

How do you prep your meals?

Happy Monday!!! I hope your day is going well! I’m recovering from a stomach bug or food poisoning. It wasn’t horrible but enough to make me feel poorly. I did spend some time this weekend meal prepping. I made my leek and cauliflower soup but I need to get my proteins together. I had never thought of it as having a choice of proteins and a choice of veges to mix and match until I saw this article! Then I thought – DOH – I’ve got to share this! This is how I meal prep!Spring-Buffet-all-meals

The short story is to get cook 3-4 different proteins, 5-6 vegetables, 3-4 clean carbs, some healthy fats (avocado is my fav) and then mix and match these each day to keep it interesting!!! This helps to keep variety in your diet and keeps you from getting bored.

 

Proteins 
baked chicken breasts
baked salmon
sautéed shrimp
hard-boiled eggs
Shakeology

Vegetables
raw baby carrots
mini bell peppers
cauliflower rice
sautéed brussels sprouts
steamed baby zucchini
steamed artichokes
steamed broccolini

Fruits
mangoes
bananas (not shown)
mixed berries (not shown)

Carbs
lentils
baked sweet potatoes
edamame
oatmeal (not shown)

Healthy fats
avocados
hummus

Seeds/oils
balsamic vinaigrette dressing

 

Check out Amanda’s article to see how she put all these together each day to make tasty but varied meals!

Meet Ida Keeling, 100yr old runner!

When I saw this video on the NY Times blog, I knew I just had to share it with you. Meet Ida Keeling. She is 100yrs young. She has raced all around the world, holding the Worlds Record for 60-meter dash for women ages 95 to 99. Get this! She didn’t start running until she was 67yrs old in order to battle depression after the death of both of her sons. I love reading these stories because it just reinforces for me that it is never too late, until you’re dead. No matter your past failures in getting fit and healthy, you can always decide to try a different path until you find what works.

I just love her words of wisdom:

Get up and do things even if you don’t feel like it. Sometimes you don’t feel like doing this, that or the other. Do the thing that you don’t like to do first, and get rid of it.”

 

Wise words indeed! I always tell my kids, “If it must get done, do it first if possible.” Following this rule has allowed me to stay so consistent in my workouts for the past 5years. And when I stopped working out first thing in the morning, I started missing more workouts! I get busy working and then it’s time to pick up the kids and  then my time is on their schedule! This morning I was in my gym at 6AM just like old times! It felt great knowing I had the day off to a great start!