Chill Out

We are one stressed out culture. It's become a normal response for one's emotional descriptors ("how are you?" "I'm super stressed."). We tend to be content with this constant mental and emotional state. This unwelcomed guest somehow becomes a permanent resident and our bodies take the hit. Stress has been linked to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke among other health issues.

But our minds and bodies inform the other, which means we have the ability to lead a more stress-free life. Research has shown that incorporating calming techniques consistently over time shows quantifiable changes in our bodies' stress signals and stress hormones. According to a Time magazine article, "studies have found that the practice of paying attention to the present moment without judging it makes people better able to adapt to change and respond to stress". 

Paying attention to the present moment without judging it makes people better able to adapt to change and respond to stress.
— Mandy Oaklander, Time

If we want to elicit an aloha state of mind, it might be helpful to have a few simple practices that can lead to a more present and engaged way of living, thus reducing our stress. Each of these exercises can be done throughout the day, even in one's office right before that board meeting.

Safe/comfortable place: guided imagery that allows one to imagine a place, real or imagined, that brings about feelings of calm, safety and/or greater comfort. Going to one's safe/comfortable place when feeling any form of distress can help shift to feeling more calm and relaxed.

Body scan: eyes closed, lying down or sitting in a chair, focus on body sensations beginning from your toes traveling up to each body part until you reach the top of your head. Should you run into any sort of tension in the body part you are focusing on, be intentional to relax and release whatever disturbance you are noticing. At the end of your body scan, spend a few moments with your entire body completely relaxed (similar to the yoga "corpse" pose...terrible name, I know).

Breathing exercise:  a 3-year-old client once told me that he takes "deep breaths" when he is scared. He knows that our breath (physical) is related to states of calm or anxiety (emotional). The more shallow the breath, the more anxious we are. The deeper our breaths (from the diaphragm), the more calm and relaxed we are. Breathing while paying attention to the actual breath helps teach mindfulness. Notice the thoughts that come up and let them pass without getting stuck. Physically exhale and mentally exhale the thought.  

Mindful movement: from gentle yoga stretches (such as "downward dog", "child's pose", or "cat-cow") to walking creates a focus on one's body and the various sensations. This is not the same as a cardio workout or getting a perfect pose but rather bringing attention to each breath and physical sensation with each step or stretch. 

Peace be with you.

Hawaii On My Mind

You’ll come to learn that I have a love affair with words. So much so that I can easily fall into an etymological wormhole. (Thanks, Google.) I recently learned of the definition to a familiar Hawaiian greeting. Aloha means “to consciously manifest life joyously in the present". Is that not one of the most beautiful things you’ve read? I imagine that being surrounded by the crystal blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, gorgeous palm tree lined landscape and simplicity of island living would make aloha easily accessible. But for those of us on the mainland, how might we channel this ancient philosophy? Let’s pick apart aloha (compliments of Google) to see if we might bring some of that island magic to the contiguous U.S.

  • Consciously: in a deliberate and intentional way
  • Manifest: display or show (a quality or feeling) by one's acts or appearance; demonstrate
  • Life: vitality, vigor, or energy
  • Joyously: with great happiness and joy
  • Present: existing or occurring now

This small 5-letter word holds a lot of weight. Deliberately and intentionally displaying a sense or feeling of vitality, with great happiness and joy, in the immediate. It sounds great on paper (or screen) but practically speaking, it’s a lot of work to carry out. But if I want these tenants to be true characteristics of how I’m relating to the world, I’m going to have to roll up my sleeves. Just like if I want to run a marathon, I’m going to have to hit the pavement.

The more and more we cultivate a mindful life, we become more engaged, more rooted, and more us.

I think meditation and mindfulness can help direct us towards aloha. According to a New York Times article, mindfulness meditation creates a mental state "that can reduce stress, increase calmness and clarity and promote happiness". This is achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Mindfulness meditation is captured in the very notion of showing up to the moment without judgment or shame nor does it call for a Pollyanna ignorance and naivete. We can allow ourselves to sit, aware of what our 5 senses are telling us about the now and giving space to exist now, not in the past 5 minutes or 5 years or the next 5 minutes of the next 50 years but in the very second. We find that the present offers us something and we don’t want to miss it lest we rob ourselves. The more and more we cultivate a mindful life, we become more engaged, more rooted, and more us. And maybe, we can begin to smell some of that salt air in our landlocked city.

{The above-mentioned article also provides guided meditations ranging from 1-minute to 15-mintes.}