The Power of Play

Have you ever watched a child play? Kids play with their minds, bodies and spirits. They are joyful, creative, focused, and completely alive. The power of play permeates all aspects of life and it is how children learn, grow, develop, restore and reenergize. The benefits of play are not just limited to children. Adults can play too!

Here are some tips for bringing more play into your life:

Do something frivolous. Kids rarely play with a purpose. While goal directed activity is important, too much focus on an end product can drain our energy and bog down our minds. For a healthy diversion, try devoting some time to doing things that are fun for no other reason than that you feel like doing them.

Try new things. Left to their own devices children are natural explorers. Now it’s your turn to embrace that joy of discovery. Take a class, try a new sport, or visit a place that you have never been before. The possibilities are endless. It’s a big world and there are always new things to discover.

Be creative. Children have an incredible knack for turning ordinary objects into playthings—from toilet paper roll swords to backyard forts to impromptu performances. You don’t have to be an artist to flex your creativity muscles. Doodling on a napkin, singing in the shower, or dancing in mirror all count so long as you get those creative juices flowing.

Daydream. Kids live in the realm of imagination and you can too. Spend some time each day creating new adventures in your mind—design your dream home, plan an exotic vacation, create a new invention, imagine your perfect day. Exercising your imagination stretches your brain and will naturally bring more joy into your life.

Be silly. Not having yet learned all the dos and don’ts of polite society, children are naturally uninhibited when experiencing and expressing themselves and their joy. Doing something silly or unexpected. Tying on funny hats or singing at the top of your lungs can connect you back to this carefree time before “shoulds” and “musts” came to dominate your experience.

Have fun! Just like a child, joy is your birthright. Spend some time playing and see what transpires.

Biking and Life

I love to bike. Give me a long, flat trail and I could ride for days. Hills are another story. Unfortunately, where I live here in Connecticut, I can’t ride very far without encountering one.

Here are some tricks I use that can be applied to make any obstacle you face on the road or in life more enjoyable:

Think positive. I’ve noticed that my mindset about the upcoming hill has a big impact on my experience of it. Sometimes I dread the hills so much that I don’t even want to get on the bike! When I notice negative thoughts creeping into my mind, I try to countering them with more productive ones such as “I’ve managed similar routes before,” or “I can take it slow if I need to.”

Take it one step at a time. Rather than looking ahead fearfully at the daunting peak ahead, I try to focus on what I am doing in the present moment, knowing that each mindful pedal stroke will bring me closer to my goal.

Look for the breaks in the incline. One thing I’ve learned about hills is that they usually have breaks. You can’t always see them from the bottom but, during the climb, there are usually moments when the ascent is less steep and the peddling gets easier, even if it’s just for a moment. Savoring these brief moments of respite can really help me get to the top.

Rest when needed. Sometimes the breaks are not enough. Sometimes my lungs are burning and my legs are screaming and I need a rest. A well-placed rest helps me to regroup, re-energize and feel much stronger when I get back on the bike.

Be prepared. Sometimes a big hill will surprise me out of the blue but, most of time, I have some control over my course. Training on little hills first helps my legs to get strong enough to tackle the big ones later.

Enjoy the accomplishment. When I get to the top of the hill I make sure to celebrate. Life is short, and I want to make sure to fully enjoy my successes. I can also use some of that good feeling to carry me over my next big challenge—whatever it might be!

On Transitions

Change is in the air.

As we enjoy these last weeks of summer, many of us are thinking forward to the end of vacations and the return to the grind of work or school or both.  Some of us are facing more significant transitions like sending a child off to kindergarten or college, moving across country, or starting a new job.

The following tips can support smoother transitions:

Get informed. For many, nothing is more anxiety provoking than the unknown. While it is not possible or desirable to anticipate everything, it can be comforting to have some basic idea of what is to come.  For example, a child who is attending a new school may benefit from a visit to the classroom or a play date with a future classmate. Be aware that where information is lacking, the anxious mind will often fill-in the gaps.  Counter this tendency in yourself by simply being aware and help your child by listening closely and addressing their concerns.

Fall back on the familiar. In times of transition it can be helpful to bring your attention to the aspects of life that are not changing.  For instance a child moving to a new home may feel more comfortable knowing that their favorite stuffed animal and blanket are accompanying them on the journey. Changes give you the opportunity to discover the deeper, more integral parts of yourself.

Embrace the energy of excitement. Physiologically the energy of anxiety and excitement are almost identical.  The difference is the thoughts we attach to the energy of our experience.  The more you can tune into the energy of excitement, the more you will enjoy the experience.

Grieve your losses. Change is always accompanied by loss. Whether moving to a new home or moving onto to a new job or school, there is always a sense of loss for what we have left behind. Ironically, this can occur even when the move seems like a step up (a bigger house, a better job). When working through a transition, it’s important to allow some space to grieve what you are leaving behind.

Cut yourself some slack. Transitions can be exhausting mentally, physically, and emotionally.  It may take time to establish new routines and get yourself back into familiar territory. Make sure you give yourself some extra rest and relaxation. Self-care is critical for stress management.

Surrender to the experience. Times of change can emphasize that basic existential fact that you do not have all the answers nor can you control all aspects of your experience. Transitions are a great time to practice the art of surrender. Focus on the things that you can control, such as your perspective, and let the rest go.

Embrace the autumn and all of the change it allows!

Harnessing the Power of Meditation

Chances are you’ve already heard about the many benefits of meditation.  Just 10 to 20 minutes a day can improve your health, decrease stress and anxiety, lower your blood pressure, shrink your waistline (by lowering levels of the stress hormone, cortisol), improve your focus and attention, slow or even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, and increase your sense of joy and wellbeing.   The wonderful  thing about it is that anyone can meditate. It takes no special skills or abilities.

Read on for some tips for starting a new or enhancing your existing practice:

  1. Start small. Don’t have the time to devote to a 30 or 60 minute practice? No worries.  Even short bursts of mindfulness can accrue major benefits.  Try starting by sitting in meditation for just 5 to 10 minutes a day (consistency is more important than the length of your practice).  Pretty soon you may find yourself naturally sitting for longer periods of time.
  2. Experiment with different techniques. While some purists will tell you that only their method is “real” or “best,” there are actually many different forms of meditation and they are all valuable. The trick is to start with a style that resonates with you.  Have trouble clearing your mind?  Then start with a guided visualization.  Love to be out in nature? Try a meditative hike.  Like to sing?  Try chanting.  The possibilities are endless and all roads benefit you.
  3. Join a group. When it comes to meditation, more is often merrier. The energy created by a group of meditators can be very uplifting, and you may find you can sit longer and meditate more deeply in a group setting than you can on your own.  Plus, signing up to meditate with a group is a great way to hold yourself accountable.
  4. Release expectations. There is really no right or wrong way to meditate. Some days will likely feel easier and more comfortable than others.  The only thing you have to do is make time.  That’s why they call it a practice.
  5. Stick with it. Finding time to meditate may be difficult at first but the pay-offs are worth your persistence. The more consistent your practice, the more likely meditation is to become a regular part of your life.  Pretty soon you won’t know how to ever managed without it!

A Beautiful Sunday Afternoon Lesson

Buddhists will tell you that it’s not the external reality that determines your experience but the way you interpret it.

This bit of wisdom was driven home to me this past weekend during a mediation. I had the honor of participating in a paddleboard meditation class along the Saugatuck River. A group of us paddled, mindfully to our meditation spot in a tiny rock and reed filled cove.

After a long and stressful week, I was excited to drop into my meditation.

Before our leader even began the guided meditation I had already tuned into my breath, and turned away from my thinking mind. I was vaguely aware of the sounds in my environment, and how they blended together with the sound of my breath:

the buzz of crickets,
the splashing of water again the rocks,
the steady hum of traffic on a nearby road.

But mostly my focus was inward. My mind was quiet, calm and relaxed.

Then at some point from periphery of my awareness I realized the other members of my group were talking. As my mind drifted to their words I understood that they were complaining about the traffic sounds which up until that moment had been pleasing to me. As I began to connect with their words, my experience of the situation began to shift…

The sound was from motor cycles…
Loud ones…
Revving their motors…
For 20 solid minutes….

I wondered for a moment if I too should be annoyed with this apparent distraction. After all, I’d been looking forward to this experience all week, and now it was being ruined by these inconsiderate bikers.

I let these thoughts float through my mind. Watching them, but trying not to attach.

As I tuned back into my breath it occurred to me that those bikers, like me, were spending their Sunday doing what they love best. I let that sense of joy merge with my own as I tuned back into the safe, still spot inside. The sound of those engines became expression of those bikers’ joy and the hum of their motors once again blending in with the sound of my breath, and the crickets, and laps of the waves.

What a beautiful way to spend my Sunday afternoon and, also, what a wonderful lesson!

The Five C’s of Effective Discipline

For many parents discipline can be tricky business. Some parents worry about being too hard – some about being too soft. Others play it nice for a while and then get frustrated and end up going 180 degrees in the other direction.

Regardless of your natural inclinations these tips can help you discipline your child more effectively:

  1. Be Consistent. Kids learn more from our actions than our words so it’s important that we keep the two congruent. If you tell your child that “bedtime is at 7pm-no exceptions,” then you best be prepared to follow through. Kids feel safest when expectations are consistent and they know what to expect.
  2. Stay Calm. It can often seem like our children are specially designed to push our buttons but the bigger your reaction, the more difficult it is for you to parent effectively and the more likely you are to be modeling undesirable behaviors like yelling, hitting and name calling. Remember that parents can take time outs too. Don’t hesitate to take as much time as you need to calm yourself down before responding to your child’s misbehaviors.
  3. Be Concise. When disciplining your child it is important to keep your words to a minimum. Anything more than a few sentences and your kids will most likely tune you out. Plus, the more you talk, the more likely your child is to misinterpret your words or conclude that whatever you are telling them is open for negotiation.
  4. Be Clear. Children need clear explanations of what they did wrong, what you expect them to do differently, and what the consequences will be for noncompliance. Don’t fall into the trap of reasoning with your child (but do try to be reasonable). Avoid shaming and blaming in favor of providing information that your child can use to improve his or her behavior.
  5. Show Compassion. Your child is not misbehaving merely to torture you. It’s natural for all children to do some limit testing. Temper your own anger and frustration by remembering that your child is still learning and needs you to guide him or her towards more expected behaviors.

Following these simple discipline strategies will allow for more joyful, productive and rewarding interactions between you and your child.

The Path to Self-acceptance

Being myself has never been an option for me. I have always, by necessity, marched to the beat of my own drum. I imagine that is the case for each of us. No matter how hard we might try we can never fit ourselves into the mold cast by and for another human being. We are each unique individuals with our own unique strengths, goals, path and soul song. There exists for each of us a perfect path, rhythm and fit, and the more we accept and embrace that the more joy, ease and grace we will bring into our lives.

Being yourself seems like it should be the most simple thing in the world but for many it is actually quite difficult. Whenever we look outside ourselves for approval and validation, we cede our power to external sources and lose a bit of that connection to who we really are. Societal standards like the ideal body size, who your friends are, what job you have, what school you went to, etc. can provide some external validation, but they can never tell us, as individuals, who we really are or what will make us truly happy. If you’re not used to doing it, learning to tune into your soul song can be challenging at first but in the long term it’s the best, most fulfilling and easiest way to live.

Here are some tips:

Spend some regular time doing what makes you happy. If, like many people, you have lost touch with what you are passionate about, now is the time to start experimenting. The fastest way to strengthen your connection with your true, loving self, is to follow your joy.

Re-examine your “shoulds.” Often times the things we believe that we should have, or do, or be have little do with what our soul craves. Examine these messages carefully and decide for yourself whether they fit your hopes, goals and dreams.

Avoid comparison. So many of us are conditioned to experience the world from a sense of lack—if they have it then I don’t—but nothing could be further from the truth. Often times we desire the characteristics in others that lie dormant in ourselves. If you can see beauty in another person’s body, then you are already beautiful. If you appreciate a friend’s wit and acumen, you already possess those qualities yourself. Rather than getting caught up in the tangled web of comparison focus instead on cultivating those qualities in yourself.

Focus on your strengths. Focusing on our strengths gets us out of a negative mindset and helps us to focus on the positive qualities from which we can build more of what we desire.

Remember you truly are special, lovable and inescapably unique. The more you tune into your own special rhythm, the easier it is to sing, dance and celebrate life.

A Gift to Yourself on Valentine’s Day…

Many of us have been taught that love is something that exists outside of us. We search for that ideal relationship or focus on trying to feel more fulfilled by the relationships that we already have, but true love always begins at home. The more we learn to love and nurture ourselves, the more love we are able to give and receive from others.

So this year, instead of waiting for someone else to buy you those flowers or candy, try giving some love to yourself.

Here are some great gift ideas that you can give to yourself for Valentine’s Day:

Relax. Spend some time clearing your mind and calming your body. You deserve it! Try some deep breathing. Listen to some soothing music. Try some progressive relaxation. Meditate. Take a class or spend a few minutes sitting quietly on your own. For inspiration check out my LOVE MY BODY meditation.

Treat yourself. Buy yourself a special gift like a piece of jewelry, a scarf or something beautiful for your home. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, just something that speaks to you. You can also search for forgotten treasures in your own attic or closet; or swap items with a friend. If you are artistically inclined, you can paint yourself a picture, throw a pot, or knit yourself a soft, cozy sweater. The idea is to give yourself something special to remind you how beautiful you are both inside and out!

Indulge. Take a nice, long bath or shower. Paint your nails. Get a massage or a body treatment. Buy tickets for a concert, museum, or sporting event. Visit your favorite restaurant (or if you prefer order in). Plan your dream vacation. Even the smallest indulgences count. Don’t be afraid to dream big as you might be surprised when those dreams materialize.

Move your body. Go for a walk on the beach, or a bike ride in the country. Take a yoga class or a swim in the pool. Chose something you enjoy and move at the pace that feels most pleasing and comfortable to your body. This is about honoring your body with movement. It is not about “working” out or pushing yourself –unless that feels good to you.

Nourish yourself. Prepare a special meal or snack. Try for something that is reasonably healthy, nourishes your body and pleases your taste buds. If you don’t like to cook, you can dine out or buy something already prepared. Pressed for ideas? Check out my recipe for LOVE SOUP.

Feed your soul. Spend some time doing what you love. Follow your joy! It is the most sure-fire way to open your heart. Not sure about what stokes your internal fires? Get out there and try something new. There is no better gift you can give to yourself than the gift of love! Enjoy