children

Mindful Parenting Exercise:

The lesson that we are enough just as we are is such an important lesson to teach our children and to remind ourselves, as they struggle to figure out who they are and who they want to be.  Adolescence, in particular, is a time when children are constantly judging themselves by comparing themselves to others or their own view of who they think they should be.  We live in an age where children quantify their own worth by how many friends they have on Facebook or how many likes they have on Instagram.  As parents, we need to encourage our children to look inside themselves to discover their own inherent worth and inner strength.  We can do this by praising our children’s acts of love, compassion and kindness, and their willingness to try and take risks, rather than praising only their accomplishments.  In doing so, we teach them to value the strength of their character rather than value only their achievements.

Exercise #1:

Try the following exercise at home with your kids. At dinner, ask each person at the table to take a piece of paper and write down five things that they love about themselves.   Emphasize that these are for their eyes only.   See what happens.   It is interesting to see how easy or how difficult this can be.  Parents should participate as well.  There are no right or wrong answers and there is no need to share.  This is simply an exercise to get people to acknowledge their strengths and foster a positive self-image.  Younger children may find this easy and may ask if they can list more than five things.  It is the teenagers and adults who may have difficulty making this list. Encourage everyone to participate and take pride in the fact that they love things about themselves.  Another variation that might be easier for some, is to make a list of what they did well that day, something(s) they can be proud of.

 Exercise #2:

Another wonderful family dinner exercise is to go around the table and have each person say something that they love about another family member. It can be as simple as loving the way someone laughs, loving the way they are tucked in each night, or loving the silly faces someone makes.  Continue around the table as many times as you want, each time having one person speak about a different person at the table.  This may foster some laughs, some love and some real boosts in self-esteem.  It is also a practice in gratitude by recognizing the little things that others do each day that make us happy.

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Top Ten Mindfulness Tips for 2013 for Living a More Peaceful Life

Top Ten Mindfulness Tips from 2012

by cheryl on January 10, 2013

in Meditation

In 2012, we explored many ways to bring calm and joy into our lives.  Here is a recap of some of our favorite tools to help us lead a more stress-free, joy-filled and meaningful life.

 1. Breathe Deeply

That’s our story and we are sticking to it – one of the simplest and most effective ways to calm down is through simple mindful breathing exercises.  The simple act of taking a few long, deep breaths can work wonders on your body and your mind. Research has shown that the simple act of breathing deeply and fully can stop the release of stress hormones in the body and allow physical and neurological function to be restored to a normal state.  Breathing deeply and mindfully helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which triggers this relaxation response.  By focusing your attention on your breath, you will also slow down the tornado of thoughts spinning around in your mind.   So, try to stop for a minute or two each day, close your eyes and breathe deeply, inhaling fully through your nose and filling your lungs and belly as you inhale.  Then, empty your chest and abdomen completely as you exhale.  Repeat for a few minutes in the morning or throughout the day to find a bit of space, calm and relaxation wherever you are.  Try it with your children and you will be teaching them a valuable way to calm themselves down in any stressful situation.  It even helps at night to relax and unwind before bedtime, and get a better night sleep. So, in 2013, keep breathing deeply!

2. Do An Act of Kindness

Little acts of kindness not only brighten other people’s days, but can go a long way in increasing your own happiness. The new and emerging science of positive psychology, the study of happiness, shows that we can increase our own sense of wellbeing by making other people happy.  So, share a smile with a stranger, help someone open a door, offer a helping hand to someone in need, and you will feel a wonderful sense of connection and joy.

3. Practice Mindful Listening

Often when we lend an ear to a child or a friend, we are in problem solving mode.  We are analyzing, judging, or trying to fix something most of the time we are listening.  The truth is that people just want to be heard and feel listened to.  So, try some mindful listening by saying little, by looking into the other person’s eyes and  by giving them your full attention  – no texting, e-mailing or other distractions allowed.  We all know that frustrating feeling when we are speaking and we can actually feel that the other person is not really listening to us.  Rather, be a compassionate and fully present listener.  What a wonderful gift to give a child, parent or friend.  In doing so, you are also modeling mindful listening and may reap the benefits of that person learning to give you their full attention in return.

4. Think of Something You Did Well Each Day

At the end of each day, we often go through a list of all that we failed to accomplish and all that we did not do well.  Instead, at the end of each day, make a list of all that you did right.  We need to take the time to recognize and appreciate all that we accomplish each day, big or small.  Whether it is taking some much needed time for ourself, making sure our children are clothed and fed, calling a friend that we haven’t spoken to in a while, or completing a project at work, we need to appreciate our efforts and recognize our worth.   We may feel we are in a “thankless” job or situation, but the truth is there is great value in thanking ourselves on a job well done.  So, each night make sure to think about something you did well each day – you deserve it!

5. Take Time for Yourself

As we mentioned in one of our first blogs, it is so important to put your own oxygen mask on first.  We cannot find peace and calm in the world around us if we are not peaceful and calm ourselves.  We cannot expect our children to be relaxed and joyful if we don’t model that behavior.   So, it is essential to take a time out and make time for yourself.  In the end, it is not only a wonderful opportunity to connect with yourself, but it will pay off many times over in how you interact with the world around you.

6. Keep a Gratitude Journal

We often get stuck in the monotony of our daily schedules and forget to take note of the extraordinary gifts we have in our lives.  One way to get out of this rut, is to buy a small notebook and create a Gratitude Journal.   This can be a personal journal or you can create a family gratitude journal, in which each member of the family can jot done one thing he or she is grateful for each day.  You can also make this a family routine during dinner, with each person reflecting on something good that happened that day.  Research has shown that by simply recalling a positive experience our bodies release pleasure hormones, which can give us an increased overall feeling of wellbeing.

7. Unplug

It is increasingly apparent that we are becoming a society addicted to our electronic devices, unable to go for 60 seconds without checking our e-mails, voicemails or texts.  In 2013, challenge yourself to “unplug” for at least 30 minutes each the day, and during mealtimes.  Make “screen free” time in which you turn off your devices, phones and computers.  Although these are valuable tools in our modern world, they are also a source of distraction, increased stress, and huge energy zappers because they take us away from where we are and who we are with.  Checking our messages while engaged in a conversation with someone sends a strong message to those we are with that they are not important or worthy of our attention.  We must be mindful as well of the example we are setting for our children as we constantly check our devices while we are at a stoplight, while they are talking to us or during mealtime.  We can’t ask them to unplug if we are not willing to do the same.  So, take time each day to power off, so you can tune in and be fully present in the moment, before those moments pass you by.

8. Look into their Eyes

We have all heard that the Eyes are the Windows to the Soul.  Try it out and see for yourself.  Make a point of looking into the eyes of the person you are with.  When saying “Good Morning” or “Thank you” to people throughout the day, look into their eyes and see if you notice a difference in how it feels.  You can establish a much greater connection to the people around you by taking the time to stop and notice them by looking into their eyes.  So often these days we are so busy doing other things, that we don’t take a few seconds to truly acknowledge the people around us.  Try it and you will see that you can enrich your everyday experiences with your children, your colleagues and even total strangers by simply taking a brief moment to truly notice them.

9.  Take a Walk in Nature

Enjoying nature is a great way to take a much-needed break in our busy, hectic lives.  It offers us the opportunity to slow down, breathe deeply and clear our minds.  When taking a walk, running, hiking, or walking the dog, try to be fully present where you are, rather than solve problems, make mental lists or think about your busy schedule, which takes you somewhere else.  Use this time to clear your thoughts, appreciate where you are at that moment, and connect to the beautiful world around you.

10. Practice Acceptance

In 2012, we wrote about Letting Go of Expectations.  The flip side of that lesson is to practice acceptance.  Life is a roller coaster ride, full of ups and downs, great joys and great disappointments.  If we can learn to accept that life is not perfect, we are not perfect, those around us are not perfect and we embrace those imperfections and accept people and situations as they are, life becomes much easier.  We can learn to accept ourselves and the people in our lives for who they are, not who we want them to be.  In doing so we learn to embrace and appreciate ourselves and others with an open heart and mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Teachable Moments in the Eye of the Storm

Teachable Moments in the Eye of the Storm

by cheryl on November 13, 2012

in 2mindfulmoms

Hurricane Sandy was a massive storm that caused great devastation and loss of life along the Northeastern United States.  My prayers go out to all of those who lost so much in the storm.  Having lived through it with my children, and having been incredibly fortunate not to have been severely impacted by its wrath, I now have the opportunity to reflect on the many teachable moments Sandy has provided me and my children.  Here are a few of the things that we were reminded of this past week in the aftermath of a superstorm.

Lesson Number One: Less is More

In the hours before the storm hit, my family and I rushed to remove all the items from our basement to protect them from being destroyed by the expected ten to fifteen foot tidal surge that would soon sweep through our community.  Living only minutes from the Long Island Sound, and having a tidal estuary in our backyard, we had good reason to fear that our property might be inundated by the salty waters that Sandy would send our way.

As my family raced to bring all of our belongings from our basement up the stairs to areas we hoped would be spared, I took a moment to evaluate the situation.  What was all this “stuff” that we were moving around?  If the waves rolled in and completely ruined all of these items, would my life be greatly impacted?  I realized then, that none of this “stuff” really mattered.  All that really mattered was the safety of the people helping to move all that stuff upstairs.  As long as they were safe, the rest was all either replaceable or simply unnecessary.  So the first teachable moment for me was the opportunity to take a good look at all the things that we have, to recognize how unimportant most of those things really are, and to focus on what really matters.

We spend so much of our time, working so hard to accumulate things – new clothes, a new car, new furniture, new toys, a bigger house.  Do those things really improve our quality of life?  Is all of that stuff really so important?  Is it important enough to justify  the amount of time we spend trying to get more of it?   Perhaps constantly adding to our  “stuff” diminishes the value of each item and teaches our children the wrong message, that each item is only valuable and useful until we are able to find its newer, and more exciting replacement.

As I was hauling all this “stuff” up the stairs, I  was struck with the realization that if everything were to get flooded in that space, it is not the items that I would miss most.  It is the space itself that provided us the opportunity  to have fun, to learn, to be together and to create great memories, that is what we do in our homes (no matter how big or small, full or empty),  and those experiences cannot be destroyed even by a superstorm.

The tidal surge came and went and the flood waters filled our street.  We returned to our home the next day to assess the damage.   As we approached the lowest elevation point on our street, we had to walk knee deep through the cold salty water to get to our home.  The water was slowly receding, and as we approached our home, we realized that we were incredibly lucky.   The water had reached our garage but did not find its way into our home.  Many of our neighbors were not as lucky.

As I looked at the piles of “stuff” now upstairs untouched by the flood, I decided to pack much of it up, along with many other items from around the house, and put everything in boxes to donate.  Perhaps someone else, someone who lost so much in the storm, or others who had so little before the storm would be happy to have some.

Lesson Number Two: We are all in this together.

After realizing the great devastation and loss that many are experiencing after the storm,  people are mobilizing in great numbers to help those in need.  This sense of connection, kindness and compassion was also palpable in the days and hours before and during the storm.   There seemed to be a feeling in the air that we were all in this together, whatever may come.

This strong sense of interconnection was in stark contrast to how we live our normal, busy everyday lives.  Usually, we are so focused on meeting our own needs and the needs of our families, that we forget how wonderful it is to connect to those around us.  This incredible weather event connected so many people in so many ways.  It was not just the opportunity to donate to the hurricane relief efforts after the storm, it was also the numerous phone calls from friends and family in other parts of the country reaching out to check in to see if we were safe.  It was the caring conversations with total strangers in the grocery line in the hours before the storm, reassuring one another that it would be OK and making suggestions on what we might need in the days to come.  It was the endless e-mails from friends and neighbors asking who lost power, who needed a warm place to stay, who needed food, and following up with offers to help.

This was such a wonderful reminder that we all face challenges in our lives and we can get through those challenges with greater ease if we show kindness and compassion to one another.  Although we live in a western world in which we are often focused on “me” and “mine,” it was so nice to see that in times of great need, people were focused on “you” and “yours” or on “us.”  We saw first hand how much richer life is when everyone cares a bit more for one another.

Lesson Number Three – If Given the Choice to Laugh or to Cry, Choose to Laugh!

The night of the storm, we decided to leave our house out of concern for our safety and spend the night in a home nearby with 25 friends and family members.  In the midst of the storm we gathered.  We played cards, listened to the news and laughed a bit at the situation we were in.  At the time, I was fascinated by the storm and the potentially devastating impact that it would have on people’s lives.  So, the laughter that night at first seemed a bit inappropriate.  However, I soon realized that there was nothing any of us could do at the time, other than what we were doing.  We had a choice.  We could tremble with fear and worry in anticipation of what might be, or we could chose to sit tight, recognize that we were safe and make the best of our current situation.  This is so often our choice in life when circumstances arise that are beyond our control.  When given the choice to laugh or to cry when life gets challenging, always chose to laugh, and that is what we did.

There were many opportunities to make the best of a bad situation in the days that followed.  When we returned home, large hundred-year-old trees had fallen in our yard.  We were in awe of their grandeur and of the massive root systems that towered over us as they lay sadly on their sides, permanently uprooted.  As children so often do, my children saw the fun and found the joy in this new situation and decided to climb up on the now horizontal trunks and delighted in the giant bridges the trees now made across our yard.  They played in the enormous holes in the ground left behind by the now uprooted giants.  They splashed through the waters that flooded our streets and explored their new surroundings with awe and with laughter.

We saw first hand, on television, in the news and in our own community, the devastation that this storm brought to so many people’s lives, but in the midst of those struggles that often cause tears, it was so wonderful to be able to laugh a bit at the absurdity of it all and find great joy in the fact that we are here, that we all came together to face the storm, and that we are incredibly grateful for all that we have, most of which a storm could never take away.

 

 

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Children’s Body Scan Meditation

by cheryl on November 8, 2012

in Guided Meditation

Let’s begin by lying down in a comfortable position on the floor, with your arms resting gently on the ground, and your eyes closed.  Feel the weight of your body as it rests on the earth.  Feel the earth supporting you. Feel your feet resting firmly on the ground.  Pretend that you are an ice cream cone on a hot summer day and simply melt into the ground.  Rest your attention only on the sound of my voice.  Let all of the other sounds in the room fade away.

 

I am going to lead you on a scan of your body as a way of getting centered and relaxed – a reminder that you can be at home and at peace in your own body.

 

Start by settling your attention on your feet.  Feel the weight of your feet as they rest on the earth.  Notice the position of your feet, the sensations inside the feet, travel along the bottom and tops of your feet to your toes.  Just notice what you feel there. . . . Notice each toe and move your attention from toe to toe noticing how they feel.  Notice the space between the toes.

 

Now bring your attention to the tops of your feet and then to your ankles.  Bring your attention up your shins and around to your calves.  Notice how the backs of your legs feel.  Now, bring your attention to your knees, the front of your knees and the back of your knees.  Notice how they feel.

 

Bring your attention to your thighs, the front of your thighs and the back of your thighs.  Now move your attention up to your hips and see what sensations you feel there.  Notice how your lower back is resting on the earth.

Move your attention to the back body, to the lower back, to the mid back, to your shoulder blades. You may feel stiffness or tension, whatever you encounter, simply notice it.

 

Keep moving your attention around to the front of your body, to your abdomen and rib cage.  Notice how that feels as you inhale and exhale.  Slowly move your awareness to your chest, noticing any sensations you find there. Notice the lungs themselves, as you breathe . . . Does the breath reach into all areas of the lungs?  Notice the heart itself, and the sensations and movements within the heart.  Notice how it feels.  .  .

 

Move your attention back to the tops of your shoulders.  Slowly move your awareness down the upper arms, feeling your elbows, your forearms. Let your attention rest for a moment on your hands – the palms of your hands . . . the backs of your hands. See if you can feel each separate finger, each fingertip. . . .

 

Slowly move your attention back up to the top of the hands, back up the arms to your shoulders and neck.  Notice your neck and your throat.  Notice any tension or tightness . . . notice the feeling of breath as it passes in and out with ease.

 

Bring your awareness slowly up to the front of your face. Be aware of what you encounter. Tightness, relaxation, pressure. Turn your attention to your eyes as they gaze inward, and feel the weight of your eyelids as they rest over your eyes  . . . Move your attention to your nose.  Notice the feeling of air as it passes through your nostrils.  Is it warm or cool?  Feel your cheeks and your jaw.  Is your jaw clenched or loose? Just notice what you are feeling and continue to breath through these sensations. . . .Feel your mouth, your teeth, your lips, the light pressure of skin on skin, softness, coolness.

Bring your attention to the back of the head, over the curve of your skull, notice your ears as they buffer the sounds of the room.  Now, bring your attention to the top of your head and simply feel whatever sensations are there—tingling, pulsing or the absence of sensation.

Now bring your body as a whole into your awareness, and take a moment to scan through your entire body.  Allow your breath to become more full, taking a few deep breaths.  . .

 

As you end the meditation see if you can continue to feel the world of sensations and all of its changes, moment by moment, as you move into the activities of your day.

 

Gently and gradually regain awareness of your surroundings.  When you feel ready, open your eyes.

 

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We are going to go on a little trip right now.  Like tele-transporting us to another place and another time.

 

Gently close your eyes.  Relax your body.  Take a few deep breaths.  Breath in for 5 slowly, then out for 5 slowly.

 

Now, think of your favorite place to be in the whole wide world.  Take a moment to think about a place where you love to be, where you feel a deep sense of peace and calm.

 

It can be a beach, on a mountain, in your bed, anywhere you feel really safe and calm, and completely relaxed.  Somewhere you love to be.

 

It may be somewhere you have been recently or a while ago.

 

Once you have chosen your favorite place, imagine yourself there right now. (pause for ten seconds)

 

Notice how you feel in this place. (pause)

Look around and notice what you see.  (pause)

 

Notice the colors and the shapes of things around you.  (pause)

 

Notice if you hear any sounds . . . any smells . . . (pause)

 

Are you standing, sitting or lying down?

 

How does it feel . . .notice what your hands are touching and how it feels . . . Notice how you feel in this special place . . .

Slowly come back into the room and open your eyes.

 

How did your body feel when you are in that place?  You can go visit that place any time.  Enjoy!

 

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Find a comfortable position either sitting or lying down.  If you are sitting, sit with your spine straight, your shoulders relaxed, your feet resting gently on the ground and your hands resting comfortably on your lap.  If you are lying down, feel the weight of your body resting gently on the earth and melt into the ground.  When you are ready, you can gently close your eyes or gently soften your gaze downward.

You may hear sounds in the room, just hear them.  Simply listen to them.

Now bring your attention to your breath.  Take a few deep breaths.   Take a deep breath in and release a deep breath out.  As you breathe, feel your chest and your belly filling with air and rising.  As you exhale, feel your chest and belly falling.

Now, breathe normally.  As you breathe normally, notice where you feel your breath in your body.   Is it in your nostrils?  Your lungs?  Your abdomen?  Simply feel it, one breath at a time.

(pause and allow the child time to experiment with this feeling)

You may find your mind wondering a bit.  When you notice that you have forgotten about your breath, simply bring your attention back to the feeling of your breath.

Remember that there is no right or wrong way to do this.

 

Simply bring your attention back to your breath and breathe normally.  Continue to pay attention to where you feel your breath in your body.

 

How does it feel as it enters your body?

 

How does it feel as it fills your body?

 

How does it feel as it leaves your body?

 

Don’t try to control the breath.  Don’t do anything to it.  Just be aware of your normal, natural breath.  See if you can be aware of the beginning of each inhale . . . The feeling between your inhale and your exhale. . .the feeling of each exhale.

See if you can feel the beginning of your exhale.  Feel the rising and the falling, the in and the out.

You may get distracted.  It’s OK.  Simply return your attention to the feeling of your breath.

 

(You can pause or repeat these instructions as you feel is appropriate with your child and adjust the length of the meditation accordingly.)

Now, feel your body on the chair or on the ground.  Feel the earth beneath you.  Feel your feet touch the ground, your hands resting gently on your legs or on the earth.

 

Simply be here.  In this quiet moment.

 

As we end our meditation, you can bring your attention back to any sounds in the room.  You can slowly wiggle your hands and your feet. When you are ready you can gently open your eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

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