A “bellringer” is a short activity that some teachers put on the board in the beginning of a class so students have something to do while attendance is being taken. Recently, one teacher among a quietly growing group tried something radically different to start his class –a mindfulness practice. What did he notice? Student participation is up and class disruption is down. He also noticed that the quality of their writing was far better and students wanted to continue the practice.
This is completely in line with a growing number of anecdotes talking about the power of bringing mindfulness to kids, tweens, teens and older adolescents.
Well as you may know by now mindfulness has made the cover of Time Magazine. This means that mindfulness has arrived, right? When I first heard this I said to myself something I said to myself over a decade ago which was “this practice is going to reach the mainstream world, it something we sorely need right now.” But watching a short clip on MSNBC made me curious about whether it’s being conveyed in a way where people are going to truly get the benefit that the science of mindfulness promises.
Let me explain.
I always say if there’s anything we’re assured of in life besides death and taxes, it’s stress and pain. While that may seem like a doomsday statement, if you look at it again, it’s actually quite freeing. If you know stress and pain are inevitable, then you can learn how to be grateful for the good when it’s here and be graceful when the stress and pain arrives.
Here’s a short passage from Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler: Quick Exercises to Calm Your Mind that gives voice to this.
“It is what it is, while it is. Nothing lasts forever. Difficulties will pass and so will the wonders; tune in to the preciousness of life.
Bring this awareness into the moments of your day, tuning in to what really matters.”
Life is so precious.
How can we get better and better at setting aside the trivial mind traps that keep us stuck and drag us down into states of anxiety and depression?
Smiling is something almost all of us could do a bit more often. Past science shows that smiling – especially the kind of smile that involves the muscles around the eyes – creates a specific type of brain activation that’s connected to being in a happy mood. More recent research shows that even adopting this kind of smile, known as a “Duchenne smile” leads to lower heart rate levels and quicker recovery from stressful activities. Resilience and positive brain activity are maybe good reasons to grin a bit more in our lives, but there’s even a better reason.
The following video will show you exactly what that is.
Over 10 years ago I had a realization that we walk through life often times unaware of all the sacred moments that are there. I was curious whether we could become more aware of these moments as they were happening and also were they possible to cultivate? After conducting a national research study I found that not only can we train ourselves to be more aware of them and we can also cultivate meaningful moments. Not only that it’s associated with stress reduction and increased well-being, but all the interviews pointed to a common theme of feeling more connected to life.
What is sacred in life is right in front of us and we often time don’t realize it until it’s passed. We’re “too busy” in our own heads to see it.
Now I’m going to share it with you.
Everyone has ups and downs in life, sometimes they’re more extreme than others. Today I am thrilled to bring you an interview with Toni Berhard, someone I deeply respect and a longtime practitioner and leader in mindfulness. She is author of her newest book How to Wake Up helping us navigate these ups and downs with greater ease and also the past award winning book How to Be Sick which speaks of how to live with greater peace with chronic illness. Toni was dean of students at the University of California Davis School of Law and the writings and practices in these books have been inspired by over 20 years of personal practice.
Today, Toni talks to us about why it’s so hard to be present to our lives, practices that Toni finds to be personally impactful, why we have to navigate joy, and some personal advice for the rest of us.
Elisha: You say that the key to peace and well-being is to be present for your life as it is. Why is that so hard to do?
I’ve always been interested in the wisdom of our elders and often do a practice with students and clients when they’ve seemed to veer off the path of what truly matters in their lives. I ask them to project themselves forward many years from now looking back onto this very moment right now, what do they wish they would’ve done? Bronnie Ware is an Australian Nurse who spent many years working in palliative care caring for those who were dying. She eventually published a book called the The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
Regrets can be seen as something that’s good if they give us insight into what we can change today for the better. Here are the Top 5. Use them as north star to help guide your actions in the days that follow toward an even more fulfilling life. Although we can veer off the path, when we notice the star, we can always come back to it.
Top 5 Regrets of the Dying:
When it comes to mindfulness, there are a number of great short practices that help us be more present to our lives. In this post I’m going to reveal three key mindfulness practices that can help us pause, break out of auto-pilot, step into emotional freedom and even open up to a source of connection that is ultimately healing to ourselves and the world. Plus, I’ll reveal a new practice that people are starting to love.
I know it sounds lofty, but give them a shot and let your experience be the teacher.
Our most fundamental need in life is to be safe. When we feel safe, the body relaxes, we become more flexible in the way we see life and are generally happier. But throughout life we all suffer different traumas and feel vulnerable. Maybe we were made fun as a child at school, were a child of divorce, felt inadequate as a parent or perhaps suffered more severe traumas such as some form of physical or sexual abuse. All of these are now reference points for your brain to bring up from time to time arousing feelings of insecurity and vulnerability.
How to we heal insecurity and feel safe again?
I’m going to give you a simple acronym to play with that builds on the practice that Christopher Germer, PhD and Kristen Neff PhD use to cultivate self-compassion called “Soften, Soothe, Allow.” The new acronym of S.A.F.E which I’ll explain in a moment, integrates the ability to inquire a bit deeper into the vulnerability that is there and expands a wiser, more secure awareness of our common humanity.
The acronym for this practice is S.A.F.E:
“Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote a wonderful book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, but perhaps it’s more accurate to say, ‘Wherever you go, here you are.’
At any given moment, whether you’re waiting at a stop light, waiting for a plane to take off, in line for a movie ticket, or getting ready to present at a meeting, here you are.
The truth is you’re never anywhere but here.
When we learn to embrace the hereness, all things come into place.”
~ Excerpt from Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler
All modes of suffering including anxiety, depression, trauma reactions and addictive behaviors arise from the brain’s very simple strategy of trying to get away from here.
If we can learn how to be okay with being here, a lot of the cycling of suffering will cease to exist.