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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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We came across this great video that we thought that you might find interesting.  Take a look and let us know what you think.

 

 

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How to Make that Vacation Last

How to Make that Vacation Last

by cheryl on May 20, 2012

in Meditation

“Vacation, all I ever wanted.  Vacation, had to get away.  Vacation, meant to be spent alone.”  Well, maybe not alone, in fact with 13 other people, but what a vacation it was!  After returning from an amazing vacation a few weeks ago, I can’t seem to get that classic 80’s tune from the Go-Go’s out of my head.  (Yes — I was/am a huge Go-Go’s fan.)  In fact, I can’t seem to get my head back from vacation.

This was no ordinary vacation.  I spent six days living at sea on a sailboat with my family of five.  Along for the adventure were two other families, dear friends, sailing across the beautiful blue Caribbean sea in their own boat, meeting us at remote islands each day to hike, kayak, snorkel, swim and play on the beach.

I realize that this was a very unique vacation, a vacation that is probably not for everyone, and one that was totally my cup of tea (or my cup of rum punch as the case may be).  Each day I enjoyed watching the sun rise and the sun set.  I kayaked each morning over the still, calm water before cooking and eating breakfast with my family.  At breakfast, we talked about the beauty of the crystal blue water around us and imagined all the pirates and explorers who had sailed on these seas before us.  After breakfast, we sailed on to our next destination, thrust forward only by the power of the wind as it caught our sails.

It all sounds heavenly, but it was not all luxury cruising.  During our sailing time, we all pitched in to help hoist the sails, swab the deck, check the lines and clean the galley.  We had limited water onboard, so water conservation in toilets, showers and sinks was a challenge and a necessity. No cell phones, no internet, no cable TV.  Our time was spent reading, talking, swimming, snorkeling, exploring, and simply enjoying the beauty of our surroundings. We were on our own, no captain and no crew, just us.  For me, it was the ultimate exercise in getting away from it all.

Now that I am home and back to a busy life in suburbia, I find myself with the same feeling I have after a wonderful yoga practice and blissful shavasana (for non-yogis, shavasana is done at the end of a yoga class when you lie on your back with your eyes closed, breathing deeply, as you relax the muscles that you just worked and you melt into the ground beneath you).   After shavasana, I often ask myself, how can I keep this deep state of calm, quiet and relaxation going off my yoga mat?  Since returning from my sailing vacation, I have been asking myself, how can I hold on to that blissful, relaxing feeling of my vacation now that I am home and back to my daily routine?

To figure out the answer to this question, I made a list of what it was about the vacation that helped me to feel so connected, relaxed and rested.  I concluded that if I could come up with a list of what made the vacation so fantastic, I would work to incorporate those things into my life at home in an effort to enjoy each day in a more relaxed, less stressful and less exhausting way.  Why not make a little part of each day like a mini-vacation?  Why wait for those few weeks a year to truly unwind and nurture myself?  Short of magically creating the beautiful blue sea, ocean breezes, rum punch on a sandy beach, and a beautiful boat to sail on, here is what I came up with:

(1)  Start the day with some time for peace, quiet and contemplation

(2)  Get exercise everyday – keep that body moving

(3)  Connect with Nature any time you can

(4)  Eat healthy, fresh food and get some rest

(5)  Spend quality time connecting with family and friends

If I could treat myself to these five things each day, would I feel some of that vacation state of mind back home?  I will say that I have tried it and, although it is not quite the Caribbean around here, it has been wonderful to take time each day to indulge in what makes me happy and more peaceful, and to take a mini break in an otherwise hectic day.  Most importantly is the idea that instead of pushing through the unpleasant business of each day and simply dreaming of the next opportunity to take a break from it all, I have tried to truly enjoy each day as it comes by incorporating into each day some of what makes me feel happy and peaceful.  Here are some observations I have made along the way and suggestions for how to incorporate these five things into your life.

First, it is interesting to me that once our lives get busier and more stressful, the first things that we “have no time for” are the things we need most.  The first thing to be cut from our schedules are often the things that I listed above.  Ironically, these things are needed most when we are busy and stressed.   By incorporating them into our lives, we will feel less stressed and better able to cope.   We will also have more energy to tackle our long “to do” lists.  If we include in our days the five things listed above, we can maintain at least some of that calm that we had on vacation and we won’t need to begin the count down to our next vacation the moment we return home from our last getaway.

Start the day off with a few minutes of calm.

On vacation, we have physically removed ourselves from the distractions and aggravations of our everyday lives.  When we are “away from it all,” we are able to focus on truly being present and enjoying every moment of our getaway.  We are able to experience fully where we are and how relaxed we feel both physically and mentally.  When we return home, we find ourselves back in the thick of it, our minds twirling with what we need to do next, no longer able to enjoy being where we are.  With some practice and a little effort, however, we can foster our ability to bring that focused, relaxed feeling into our lives everyday by simply taking the time to recreate that vacation state of mind wherever we are.

Most of us hear our alarms each morning and like a good thoroughbred at the starting gate, the bell sounds and we are off to the races.  We dread getting out of bed because what follows is often unpleasant —  yelling at the kids to get up as we rush through our morning routine, hurrying and scurrying to get everyone out the door.   Tomorrow, try something different.  Set your alarm half an hour earlier and enjoy a few minutes of quiet time before the busyness of the day begins.  Stretch your body while taking a few deep breaths, sit for a few minutes just taking some slow deep breaths in quiet meditation while concentrating only on your breathing, enjoy a quiet cup of coffee or tea while taking in the view out the window, or sit outside for a few quiet minutes if the weather is nice.  Notice how good that feels, how peaceful, how vacation-like.   Those wonderful moments of quiet each morning can set you up for a calmer, less stressful and more enjoyable day ahead.  Think of it as a treat for yourself, a little pampering, a chance to center yourself before the busy day begins.   Don’t use that time to go through your “to do” lists, watch the news or check your e-mail.  Instead, use it as a time to really relax and take in the peaceful quiet and stillness of the morning.  You deserve it and the few less minutes of sleep will pay off in a calmer, more peaceful you.

Get your blood pumping and enjoy the outdoors

Too often, we cut out our time to exercise when our day is crammed with meetings, appointments, and a giant “to do” list.   Instead, it is when we are the busiest that we need to carve out some time, whether it is a ten minute walk, a yoga class or a quick jog, to get our blood pumping and the oxygen flowing in our body.  This will increase your energy level and your productivity, which will help you to get all that work done.   Research shows that exercise helps reduce the physical symptoms of stress in the body, which will also help you to feel calmer, better able to focus and be more productive.  One great trick that I often use is to find little ways to get more physical movement into my day, especially when I don’t have time for a full workout.  For example, park your car in a spot far away from the store and take a longer walk to the door (rather than circling a few extra times to find the closest spot).  Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.  Walk or ride your bike to your destination instead of taking a cab, bus, subway or car.

You can use this same strategy as an opportunity to spend some time outside where you can enjoy the fresh air and the nature around you.  Many studies have shown that simply being outside, and enjoying nature can bring great physical and psychological benefits to people.  Try not to be preoccupied by your thoughts — your “to do” list and your schedule.  Rather, take a break from the torrent of thoughts and be fully present in your surroundings.    You may be amazed at how nice that can be and how refreshed you will feel.

Eat Healthy Foods and Get Some Rest

When we are busy, we too often cut out the simple pleasure of eating slowly, joyfully, and healthfully.  We grab what we can on the go, and often that “fast food” is unhealthy food.  In addition, we often reward ourselves when we are stressed with food high in fat and sugar.  Unfortunately, the pleasure we feel from eating these foods doesn’t last long and we soon are left feeling bloated, tired (the crash of the sugar high) and upset with ourselves for eating what we did.  Instead, we need to remember to fuel ourselves with fresh, healthy food that will make us feel good not only for the short time we are eating it, but for the rest of the day.  Eating a healthy and nutritious snack will not only give us the energy that we need to get through the day, but it is something that we can do to nourish our souls by treating ourselves to something that is good for us.  Think of eating healthfully as a way to pamper yourself, to treat yourself with great care by filling your body with what it needs to do all that important work and to feel good while doing it.

In addition to eating well, we need to be sure to get plenty of rest.  When we are on vacation, we often feel like we can sleep for days.  We are simply exhausted from our extremely busy schedules at home.  At home, many of us fall into that caffeine trap of needing that morning and afternoon pick me up to give us the energy to make it through the day.  Often those caffeinated drinks are also loaded with sugar (again a sugar and caffeine high followed by a big crash).   Just be aware that your body is telling you that you need to rest, not drink more caffeine.  A good night sleep can do wonders for your body, mind and spirit!

Connect with Family and Friends

Finally, we need to make time to connect with our families and friends. We need to make a conscious effort to have quality family time when we are home and to connect with those special people in our lives.  This is more important than most, if not all, of the things that we put in the way of that time together.   Most of us have heard about the many studies that show that children who have family meals are much less likely to become involved with drugs and alcohol, have better social skills, better grades, and a closer connection to their family.  Those alone are enough reason to take time out to have a family meal.  But taking the time to connect with your family and friends will have incredibly positive effects on you as well.  It makes you feel loved and connected to those closest to you.

 

After my wonderful sailing adventure, I realized that we don’t have to live for vacation, to count down until the next opportunity we have to treat ourselves well.  We don’t need a vacation to enjoy some quiet time or to create quality time with our family and friends.  We can incorporate a little vacation time into every day and treat ourselves to those simple pleasures that will nourish our minds, our bodies and our spirits.

 

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How Full Is Your Glass?

How Full Is Your Glass?

by cheryl on February 4, 2012

in Healthy Living

Have you ever noticed how many choices we make everyday?  Most of us are incredibly fortunate to live in a world full of choices.  We choose everything from what to eat for breakfast each morning or what clothes we want to wear each day, to what we want to do when we grow up or who we want to marry.

On the flip side, we cannot always choose our circumstances.  Whether we are faced with great tragedy or the more mundane happenstances of our daily lives, we often feel like we are the unfortunate victims of life’s unfairness.

An important lesson that I often remind myself, especially when my children complain that something is just not fair, is the unwavering truth that life is not always fair.  I would love to look into their innocent little eyes and tell them that whatever wrong they have felt will somehow magically be made right.  As we all know, this is simply not true and is a lesson that would not serve them well in coping with life’s ups and downs.  I always feel like the bearer of bad news, the one who must deflate that balloon of childhood optimism, when I tell my children that life is not always fair.  Once they accept this to be true, however, things may get a little easier.

It is so important for us to recognize that when life’s unexpected, less than desirable situations come our way, we have a choice.   We can recognize that we may not be able to control our circumstances, but we can control how we choose to react to them.  Our choice is to either look at those bumps in the road as devastating blows that underscore the unfairness of life OR view them as unique opportunities to choose how we want to see the world.

I am not suggesting that we can avoid the pain (physically or emotionally) that may accompany our bumps in the road (or mountains as the case may be).  What I am suggesting is that we must be very careful not to add to that pain by struggling against what is.  Sylvia Boorstein explains this concept beautifully in her book, It’s Easier Than you Think, in which she explains the Buddhist notion that suffering comes from clinging.  She writes, “ [S]uffering is what happens when we struggle with whatever our life experience is rather than accepting and opening to our experience with a wise and compassionate response.”

How often do we say to ourselves or do we hear someone else say, “that’s just my luck” or “my life is just one disappointment after another” or “no one ever listens to me” or “that’s just not fair” or some other similar complaint?   If we convince ourselves that this is our tragic reality, then it becomes our reality through our own ever-narrowing perspective.  This conditioned response can make us feel powerless.  We begin to identify ourselves as the repeated victim of life’s unfairness, but we don’t have to.  We have a choice.  There is tremendous freedom in realizing that we do not have to react as we have become so accustomed to reacting.  We can take a step back and try a new perspective on for size.  Once we recognize that we may not be able to change the situation, we can choose to accept with grace and wisdom what we cannot change and react in a way that will make our lives easier and more joyful.

One very personal example of an incredibly challenging situation in my life is my mother’s recent illness.   The circumstances are what they are.  Life is not always fair.  So, I am faced with a choice.  I can look at her illness and it’s effect on all of us with regret, anger and resentment OR I can choose to take what is, what I cannot change, and look at the opportunities that I have been given.  I choose to let my troubles be my teachers.  As a result, I have learned so much. I have learned to appreciate the incredible gift of good health, the importance of cherishing each moment that I have with those who are special to me, the value in really listening to others, and the joy in simply being fully present for those I love so dearly.

When some days are filled with great challenges and sadness, I choose to focus on those little moments that I have learned to appreciate so much, in which I have found such joy even in the face of very trying circumstances.  I have never enjoyed having a quiet breakfast with my mother more than over the past few months, something we rarely get to do, even if we share those meals in a hospital room.   I have never felt the importance of holding her hand more, as she so often held mine when I needed it.  I have never fully appreciated the power of being able to breathe fully and deeply more than when I watch someone struggling to do just that.  I have never appreciated the sound of my parents’ voices more than when I make that first phone call each morning to find out how they are and am delighted to hear a cheerful, happy voice on the other end of the line wishing me a good morning.  All is right in the world when I hear happiness, optimism and the start of a good day on the other end of the phone.

Would I trade all of these lessons to make her illness go away?  Absolutely!  But I do not have that choice.  I still feel the pain of the situation – the sadness.  However, I try not to add suffering on to that pain by clinging to what I cannot change.  I also feel the incredible power of love, hope and optimism, the feeling that anything is possible.  I choose this perspective – it is the space in which I want to live and hope to share with those around me.  It is a work in progress and a challenging journey, but that’s what life is all about.

So, think for a moment, as you take a deep breath, and consider how you want to act and react to your life’s circumstances – the big and the small situations that you find yourself in everyday.   Embrace the incredible freedom we all have to choose how we want to see the world.  I choose to see my glass as overflowing.  How full is your glass?

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two dogs

Peace Despite the Stick

by joanna on December 12, 2011

in Meditation

For those of you new to our blog here is a little information about my home life. I have two amazing dogs. They are both labradoodles….Chip is 3 years old and has a very old soul…He weighs about 70lbs. Taz is a puppy and still is full of all of that frenetic puppy energy and he weighs about 25lbs. Chip loves to lay on the lawn stretched out with his face resting on the grass. Today I took a look out of the window and saw Chip laying peaceful as he usual does all stretched out. This was not an unusual sight for me or anyone who lives near us to see, but what struck me as so odd was that he wasn’t moving despite the fact that Taz had a long stick half resting on his back and half on the grass that he was stepping on and biting. Each time Taz climbed onto Chips back to bite the stick more I expected Chip to turn around and snarl at him. It never happened, Chip was so at peace even while Taz was climbing and jumping on him. It struck me as so powerful that he could be so peaceful with this annoying young puppy jumping and poking him with this stick. As I think about my day ahead and all of the pokes I will invariable experience with “Sticks,” I will summon my inner Chip to carry me through each of these situations.

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Being Wrong

Being Wrong

by joanna on December 8, 2011

in Healthy Living

I love being wrong. I know that sounds so strange and counter intuitive, but my last post was about the garden being finished for the season and I was wrong. Big time wrong. Let me explain, it was a sunny day on Monday and I looked out at the garden that I had yet to clean up and decided not to delay. The sun was shining, the kids where at school and the moment was mine. I ventured into the garden which looked so sad and wilted. All of the energy and life seemed to have been picked from it. I began my ritual of ripping out all of the plants that I had so tenderly planted with such promise and hope. Some had yielded their full potential of edible gifts while others hadn’t. As I carelessly walked on top of the raised bed ignoring where I was stepping and hastily making my way through the task of bending and pulling out all of the tomato stakes and remnants of tomato plants this huge patch of lush green weeds caught my eye on the other side of the garden. I couldn’t believe I had such a large cluster of weeds that were such a brilliant green color. When I walked over to it to examine it more closely and I was in awe of what I saw. It was a full crop of Broccoli Rabe. One of the crops that I have struggled with the most. Despite the most carefully executed planting, watering and carrying routine time after time I had failed to grow this beloved family favorite. Each year I had experienced another failure from this crop. When I examined it more closely and looked back at my garden notes that I had kept from the start of the season I was even more amazed. It was all completely wrong. It wasn’t supposed to be there, that wasn’t where I had put it or intended for it to grow. This made the discovery even more profound and perplexing to me. As I contemplated how seeds or plants take root and choose to succeed, I pondered on how some times the things we are sure are right for us do not take root, and the others we are convinced are not right for us on our path take root and thrive. It is so often that a different path appears or something grows where it is not supposed to, but being open to being wrong allows you to see that what was once thought of as a weed is now a luscious gift in life.

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pot of tea

The House is Still

by joanna on November 16, 2011

in Meditation

Its as quiet in my house as it can be. The kids and my spouse have not awakened. The dogs are still groggy from a night of sleep and have not yet started to bark at the frequent squirrels who appear in our yard. The only noise in my kitchen is the whooooing sound of my electric tea pot warming my water for my much anticipated cup of green tea. This is one of my most favorite times of the day. It is peaceful and my mind is quiet. The day has yet to unfold and I find myself working hard to keep it at bay while these precious moments fuel my body and mind for whatever may cross my path. The water is now boiling and can hear the noise of the water bubbles bursting onto each other. Then, I hear the click that indicates that the water has completed its cycle of transformation from cold tap water to liquid gold that penetrates the tea bag as it transforms itself into my cup of tea. During a recent Dharma talk I attended with Thich Nhat Hahn in New York he talked about how your tea is not just tea. How it has the essential elements of the earth, water, the clouds and sun and everything in the universe. So while you are sipping your tea you are sipping the clouds. Today, I will drink my cloud tea and be present in the day. It is a rare gift today, a weekday during the school year when my kids and spouse all will be home. My attention has only now moved from the inside of my house and how peaceful it is to the noise of the last fall leaves rustling on the tress as the autumnal breeze blows through them. What a sensation to be able to be moved by the wind. Right now they are all aligned and dancing to the left, but as the wind shifts the movement of the leaves becomes more erratic. Just as the energy shifts cause us to become more erratic during the course of our days. How can we navigate our way through our windy days and maintain our connection to the tree as we fall to the earth at time? Through meditation and breath work. Meditation provides me with this tool. Meditation is not something that was a natural fit for me. I have spent years in constant motion not sitting down to breath for a moment. Always racing to get one more thing done, but lately I find that sitting and breathing has taken on new meaning and that the need to get one more thing done doesn’t seem as important.

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