“Every mindful step we make and every mindful breath we take will establish peace in the present moment and prevent war in the future.”
These are the powerful words of Vietnamese Buddhist monk, author, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh who suggests that world peace begins with cultivating peace within ourselves through the practice of mindfulness.
“What is mindfulness?” you ask? Mindfulness is the act of being present and living in the moment. It’s about paying attention to what you’re doing while you’re actually doing it. You may say, “Of course I know what I’m doing when I’m doing it.” But, do you really? Do you notice the sensations in your body? Do you feel the emotions that come up? And even if you do, why is it important?
At the pace the world is going, including all the political upheavals, environmental calamities, and technological advances, our minds race to keep up. We often find ourselves going through the motions of everyday life, not thinking about what we’re doing or why we’re doing it but just going on auto-pilot. The stress of daily life begins to take a toll on us, and our bodies eventually let us know in a usually inconvenient way, by coming down with a viral illness, aches and pains, headaches, fatigue, etc. Mindfulness helps us stay in tune with our selves and our bodies, thus being better able to respond more timely and appropriately, and thereby improving our overall health and well-being. And, who doesn’t want to be healthy?
Now that we’ve decided that being mindful would be of great benefit to our lives and the world, we need to understand the attitudinal foundations for practice. Here they are:
- Non-judgment. Cultivate impartial observation to any experience, without getting caught up in our own opinions.
- Patience. Patience is a form of wisdom in understanding that things must unfold in their own time. It allows us to embrace change with compassion.
- Beginner’s mind. See things as if for the first time, with curiosity and being open to possibility. This frees us from expectations and judgment based on past experiences so that we can fully appreciate the richness of the present.
- Trust. By honoring and trusting your feelings and intuition, you take responsibility for your own being and become more fully yourself.
- Non-striving. Practice being instead of doing, without trying to get anywhere other than where you are now.
- Acceptance. Acknowledge things as they actually are in the present.
- Letting Be. Practice non-attachment, purposefully letting go of impulses and ideas and letting things be as they are.
Being mindful in every waking moment of every day doesn’t happen overnight but with commitment, practice, and intention, we can choose to approach each moment with the above attitudes and will begin to see positive changes in our lives and the world.
If you’d like more discussion about mindfulness and its attitudinal foundations and are curious about how to put it into practice, check out my events page for future workshops regarding this topic or contact me here.
We’re in the midst of that time of year again when the air is filled with joy and happiness and yet sometimes we can’t help but feel busy and stressed. Are you scrambling to buy gifts, busy preparing the home for guests, or cleaning and cooking in massive quantities? Even if you’re not, how can you avoid getting caught up in the chaos of it all? Here are some tips to help you survive this holiday season and beyond:
- Breathe. You’d be surprised at how many of us hold our breaths or take small sips of air, especially in times of stress. So, if and when you notice yourself tensing up, slow down and take just three deep breaths. Notice how much calmer you feel when you remember to breathe. Read more about breathing here.
- Smile. You may be on a deadline trying to get the shopping done but please don’t be a Grinch. A smile can go a long way. If you get cut off in line, if someone grabs the last toy you were about to reach for, or if someone takes your parking spot, just smile and let it go. Watch how that smile changes yourself and others.
- Shake it out. Sometimes, the tension builds up so much that you just can’t take it anymore. In this case, it’s best to have some healthy outlets in place so that you don’t end up taking it out on others or harming yourself. Exercise, laughter, talking with someone, dancing, drawing, and doing a hobby are all great ways to relieve stress but if you don’t have access to those things at the moment, you can always shake it out (preferable in the bathroom or behind your desk so no one sees you). And when I say “shake it out,” I mean let your whole body loose and SHAKE IT OUT! Now, doesn’t that feel good?
- Be present. Through it all, be present and in the moment. Be the eye of the storm and notice the energy around you. Enjoy the time with family and friends or the peace and quiet if you are alone. Savor the flavors of the delicious meal that you or someone else has prepared. Soak it all in for this moment is all we have and soon this too shall pass.
May you survive and THRIVE today and every day. See you in the New Year!
You may be thinking, what clout do I have to be writing about aging? And you may be right. I am by no means an expert on getting old. However, I have the privilege of being surrounded by many energetic, fun, and vibrant people who’ve been alive longer than I have and I know that I want to be like them when I grow up! So, I started wondering, how can I be like that when I get to that age? From talking and rubbing elbows with my more experienced counterparts and from my grandma’s wisdom, here are some lessons I’ve learned:
1. Keep learning.
“Never stop learning because life never stops teaching.” My grandma lived to be 93 years old and up until the few months before she passed away, she took a variety of classes, ranging from English to Chinese painting and calligraphy to a computer class. She had her own computer and iPad and learned how to Skype. She was even on Facebook! This not only allowed her to keep in touch with her grandchildren and great-grand children, it also kept her mind sharp until the end. (Well, she also did Sudoku puzzles.) In my opinion, having a sound mind and being able to understand and communicate with others is one of the most important contributors to quality of life.
2. Stay busy and active.
“Age is just a number. You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” The body changes as we age and that’s part of living. I’ve met many people who compare themselves to their younger selves and get caught up in their own self-imposed expectations that they should be as nimble or as fit as they once were. The truth is, we can’t go back in time. Those who seem the happiest are those who don’t compare themselves to others or to their younger selves but instead embrace their potential and ability where they are now and keep moving. After all, if you don’t use it, you lose it! My friend, Helen, is 86 years old and continues to go camping and hiking in the summer and cross country skiing in the winter, often getting out on the trails 2-3 times a week! If she’s not out in enjoying nature, you can find her at the community center walking and participating in the group classes. She’s always doing something. Being active improves your functional status and as a bonus, it comes with a healthy dose of endorphins!
3. Play a little.
“You don’t stop playing because you get old; you get old because you stop playing.” I was watching a kid’s camp the other week and these children were running and screaming and laughing and having a good time, without a care in the world that anyone was watching. When do we lose that ability to just let go and play and, more importantly, can we get it back? I sure hope so. Why let societal expectations restrict us just because we’re older? My grandma loved to play games. Whenever we had a family gathering, she’d want us to have games ready. Over the many years, we played Charades, Mafia, Hearts, Mah-Jong, and Chinese checkers, to name a few. She even made her own Bingo set! It was her way of relating to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren and taking age out of the equation. Having fun and laughing together from the oldest matriarch to the youngest great-grandchild strengthened our family bonds and are some of my fondest memories. It made us all feel like children again!
4. Surround yourself with positive people.
I think this is the most important because no matter what you do or don’t do, your attitude will be different depending on who you surround yourself with. Choose to be around positive people and all of a sudden, you start taking on an optimistic perspective of life and things don’t seem that bad. My grandma used to say, “Eat the best strawberry first because as you keep eating, you will always eat the best one until the bowl is finished.” I am so grateful to be part of an inspirational community center full of bright, energetic, fun-loving people. Every visit is greeted with smiles from friends and strangers who are trying new things, staying active, and having fun. Every healthy adult I want to be like has a positive outlook. I leave feeling more energized and happy, always with a smile on my face because it’s contagious and this is how I want to live every moment!
Reviewing this list, it’s not so much about healthy aging as it is about optimizing health, at any age. After all, age is just a number and life is about living. Hopefully, with these lessons in mind, we will not only be able to live longer but also be able to live life to its fullest!
If you’d like help living life to YOUR fullest, contact me here.
Pictured above are some of the inspirational, vibrant, fun, active, and more life-experienced individuals I am honored to rub elbows with.
My dad recently passed away and though emotions are raw, I know they will soon fade. However, as I reflect on the time I had with him, many vivid father-daughter memories come to mind, and I never want to let them go. Here are a couple of them:
I took a road trip from LA to Boston in 2008 and my dad accompanied me on the first half of it. One of the stops along the way was Havasupai, which is just outside of the Grand Canyon. It is a hot, exposed 8 mile hike just to get down the canyon to the village where we stayed a couple of nights. On a day hike from there, we visited a series of falls. To get to the bottom of the second falls (Mooney Falls), the trail took us down a steep cliff with chains and ladders. My dad told me later that he was scared and wouldn’t have gone down but a guy about the same age as him came along and said, “Come on. Let’s go.” And so he went. I was so proud of him that day and will always remember the smile that came over his face when he overcame his fear and conquered the challenge.
Another time, when my dad came to visit me in New Zealand, I brought him to explore one of the National Parks on the South Island. We took a small plane that landed us in a secluded valley. To get to the hut where we’d be staying overnight, we had to cross a river about 20 feet wide, filled with glacial water and not entirely calm. After pondering how we’d tackle the obstacle in front of us, we proceeded to take our shoes and socks off to brave the water that came up to our knees. We had a great evening at the hut all to ourselves and the next day, we hiked out of the valley in the rain where a jet boat picked us up.
There are many more adventures I’ve shared with my dad and on all them, he never complained once, and that is what impressed me most. He didn’t complain about staying in huts with no running water or electricity; or about the thick mud pits on the tracks that we had to maneuver around; or about the precarious weather; or the length of the hikes.
Life is full of experiences like these. No matter what they are, we can either resist with fear, worry, doubt, or anger; or respond with curiosity, humility, confidence, and love. So long as we choose the latter, we will be empowered and be able to go through life and death with peace in our hearts. I thank my father for not only giving me memories I will never forget but also for showing me how to find peace in my heart where I’ll hold him forever.
I love you, Dad.
In today’s society, we often find ourselves sitting in front a computer, with our necks extended forward and our shoulders hunched over. Over time, this creates muscle imbalances and makes us more prone to injury and pain. Here are 5 exercises to help counteract those imbalances.
- Use your head rest: Next time you’re sitting in the car, as the driver or passenger, notice if you’re extending your neck forward. Re-align your neck and spine by resting your head against the headrest and tilting your chin down slightly, pulling your neck back.
- Work your wings: Holding your elbows by your side at a 90 degree angle, externally rotate your arms outward, feeling a squeeze between your shoulder blades. Hold for about 3 seconds, release and repeat for 10-12 reps. Make sure you maintain your neck aligned as practiced in exercise 1.
- Cat/Cow: a classic yoga movement to promote fluidity in the back and pelvis. Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and with your knees under your hips with a neutral spine. Inhale, looking up as you pull your shoulders down and back, letting your stomach fall towards the floor, and emphasizing the arch in your lower back. Then slowly exhale, rounding your back towards the ceiling, pulling your belly button to your spine and tucking your chin. Repeat for 5 breaths at your own pace. You can also modify this movement by doing it seated or standing.
- Calf stretch: We walk so much through our lives and take our calves for granted. It’s no wonder they are often tight. Stretch them daily and throughout the day by hanging your heel off the edge of a step and holding for 20-30 seconds. Switch sides.
- Sun breaths: Start standing straight up with your feet together. Inhale as you circle sweep your arms up. Then fold forward as you exhale with your palms coming through heart center. Inhale with a halfway lift, lengthening your spine forward while keeping your fingertips on the floor or shins. Then exhale, folding down deeper into a forward bend. Try to keep your knees straight and feel the stretch in your hamstrings. Inhale as you rise up, circling your arms up towards the sky and then down through the heart center back to your side. Repeat 3-5 times to help lengthen your spine and hamstrings.
I recommend going through these exercises at least once a day. However, the more time you spend in one position (or even in the same repetitive movement), the more effort you’ll have to put in to stretch and strengthen the opposing muscle groups. Consider seeing a physical therapist or personal trainer to help guide you through exercises specific to your needs, even if you don’t have any pain. Remember, the goal is to optimize posture to reduce the risk of injury.
If you’d like a more hands-on experience, attend one of my Power of Posture workshops. See my upcoming events here.
Refer to my previous blog here to read more about the Power of Posture.