Living Mindfully

Good morning!

I just wanted to share the opportunity I was given to be a guest on the Decatur Public Library Podcast. I had the opportunity to define mindfulness, speak at length about the benefits, guide a brief STOP method practice and offer advice about starting your individualized mindfulness practice.

The definition of mindfulness I have devised is, the practice of holding space to offer loving, kind aware as to your present reality.

Recording this was SO fun!! I hope you enjoy and find it to be informative.

 

 

Living Mindfully – Long Overdue Podcast

Surrendering and Resilience

Surrender and resilience are both words that come up frequently in my line of work. As a social worker, mental health professional, and employee assistance provider the meaning of resilience and the art of fostering resilience is woven into so many of my days. At first thought, resilience is about strength, hardiness, steadiness, ability to withstand pressure. During an exquisite Yin Yoga session, the concept of surrendering flooded my mind as the instructor urged us to settle into the pose, surrender to gravity, and allow your body to go where it needs to be.

Breathe. Surrender. Breathe. Let go. Breathe. Surrender.

The concept of elasticity is important to the definition of resilience. Elasticity is the ability to return to previous form, the ability to bounce back.  Elasticity allows you to bend without breaking.

Have you ever seen the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall?” It makes for a great laugh. The goal of the protagonist, Peter, is to travel to Hawaii to get his mind off of his adulterous ex-girlfriend. In one scene, he takes a surfing lesson. Chuck, his surfing instructor, keeps encouraging him to “do less.” “The more you do, the less you do.”  This guy is hilarious and has all the chill. While his methods are questionable, I think what he is aiming to get Peter to accomplish is the art of release. Peter needs to surrender to the flow of the waves. He needs to release his grip on his heartbreak, fears, failure, regrets, questions, and whatever else holds him back from being in sync with the ocean and, more importantly, with himself.

I think we can all relate to the moments of life where we insist on holding on with white knuckles to control, expertise, success, being right, being seen as we wish, and the other traps that comparison and the need for power can lead to. Right? Have you been there? Holding so hard to something? Being too rigid in your thought process? Building a wall between you and moving forward in life and relationships because of your need for control or perfection or avoidance of vulnerability?

When we white knuckle life, we can miss out on the moments or perspectives that help us bounce back after heartbreak, failure, or trauma.  In Yin Yoga, the more you are able to surrender to the pose, the more your body benefits from the stretch. This practice not only begs for physical surrender, but emotional and spiritual as well. In this case, the less you do…the more you do. Surrendering your thoughts and preoccupations creates a meditative experience that is truly rejuvenating. Letting gravity and breath carry you through the extended posture hold creates a necessary release of toxins and emotions.  When you face resistance, breathe through the discomfort and allow time for your body to release into the position you are seeking.

These lessons must carry over into our day to day lives to be optimally beneficial. We must learn to release our expectations, judgement, resentment, and fears. We must learn to breathe through the uncomfortable and trying times. We must grow comfortable with the idea of letting go of control when we know we do not truly have any real control from the start. We cannot continue to white knuckle time, money, and power and also hope to experience true joy, gratitude, and love.

In pursuit of resilience in the face of critical stress, trauma, grief, loss, and work/life balance we must aim for elasticity. It is possible to hold on to values and convictions while also taking pause to see the world through the lenses of others. It is possible to be ambitious and motivated while also making self-care a priority and releasing the binds of perfectionism. It is possible to speak your truth, but walk in grace and empathy to allow others to find and proclaim their truth. It is possible to be vulnerable, and brave, and steadfast, and flexible all at once.

I encourage you to take a moment to surrender the thoughts, fears, regrets, shame, etc. that hold you back. What creates tension in your body, mind, and soul? Close your eyes imagine the heavy weight taking form, floating to the sky, and leaving your sight. Surrender the parts of your life that make you feel powerless; holding tighter will only make you grow tired. Practice the art of surrender. I hope that letting releasing whatever binds you today help you to bounce back to your intended path.

Find a Yin Yoga class near you to help you manifest the practice of surrendering in your life.

 

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan

 

 

Being a Mindful Mom: The Total Truth

I have not written as much this past week, my life has been jam packed. Saturday in particular was crazy busy. Softball, birthday parties, wedding. Each event too far from the previous for any level of convenience. Early to the softball game, late to literally everything else. Food on the run. Changing clothes on the run. Making plans for childcare on the run. We hustled through almost every step of the day. We forgot to get a gift ahead of time and thanks to the late ball game…I had my kid hand the newly 4 year old cash for his present, nope not even a card. I had to make the struggle filled choice of being an additional 10 minutes late or settling for no card, no gift, and a mere 35 minutes late. Yup, not my finest moment. My kids made it to the super cute zoo party and got to feed the goats and eat the monster cupcakes. Half of Maya’s cupcake landed right above my left boob, and it was black icing so you could barely see it right?! Between the cash, the icing, and the half hour late arrival…I am pretty sure people are envious of how much our family of five has it together. Like who wouldn’t want to be us? But…we laughed, we explored, and we made memories. We may have seemed like a mess but we showed up to enjoy the moments and we showed up for the sweet family that invited us.

I have zero doubt that as the kiddos get older, our lives will become increasingly insane. More games, more parties, more jam-packed weekends. More moments that may or may not make people question my competency or ability to plan ahead or just my overall presentation. My daughter will not always have a bow on her head; my son may WILLINGLY and with my consent wear 2 un-matched shoes; my house will not always be pristine; and there will be some weeks where fast food or cheesy tortillas happen more than once, or twice, or however many times is necessary for us to survive that particular moment of life. I may not be the most organized and I may continue to pile up things in the garage waiting for a free weekend with the right weather to have a garage sale. My kids may get to school right before the bell rings 90% of the time. But I will show up for them, love them deeply, and try my best to teach them about joy in the present moment which is hard to do in the current world of distraction and constant stimulation.

Becoming a parent brought a great deal of self-criticism to the surface. Sometimes I add more to my plate than I should. Sometimes our schedules seem ridiculous, but I want to show up.  I want to create fun memories with my babies and teach them how to show up for people. I have this fear that writing a blog focused on mindfulness will send the false image that I am always at peace, always in control, and that I have mastered the art of being a mindful mommy 24-7. This is so stinking far from my reality. I may or may not drop the F bomb in front of my children and I lose all the chill from time to time. I have a temper and I get overwhelmed and I get tired and I do not take care of everything I need to each day. I think my husband may have courageously uttered the words, “Where is your mindfulness now?” the other day.  These are all the reasons why mindfulness has been so necessary for me, why self-care has been so meaningful for me, and why the willingness to be authentic has been so refreshing and freeing for me. I do not want to feel shame for the many ways in which I fall short on a day to day basis. I want to pour into my children and husband, but also been incredibly honest about MY needs. I want to walk alongside other mothers, fathers, women, and men that recognize the need for more truth in our lives and less judgment. I want to empower my children to love themselves and release the need for perfectionism. I want to achieve the balance between building meaningful connections and people pleasing. Seeking joy, experiencing moments of peace, spreading love and kindness, and honoring the worth that each and every one of us bring to the table has encouraged me to share my thoughts in this forum.

Being a Mindful Mommy is, perhaps, the opposite of achieving perfection. It is about recognizing your limits, being authentic and speaking truth about your needs and desires, and taking moments to dive into self-care. To adequately achieve these things, we must be in connection with ourselves. We must quiet the noise and check in with our bodies, hearts, and minds.  We need to risk being 5 minutes late to let our kids LITERALLY smell the roses and we should totally join them. We need to breathe in our surroundings and stop missing out on the beauty of each passing moment. The gluttony of busyness can be all consuming and I am so personally guilty of this sin, but I have recognized that missing out on the beauty of BEING PRESENT is not worth being 100% consumed with tasks, duties, and distractions. It is necessary to collide with the reality of the numbing nature of busyness. Perhaps we are running from shame, fears of inadequacy, lack of intimacy in our relationships, depression, etc. Filling our days with to do lists provides distraction from the battles we genuinely need to face and conquer. Brené Brown says “When you numb your pain, you also numb your joy.” This is a tough truth to face, but the healing that can emerge from confronting the dark parts of your story that you insist on running from can lead to exquisite joy and refreshing peace.

I am not sure that I will ever have a moment in which my plate is completely empty…but that is exactly what makes my ability to seek out the quiet moments to allow myself to be still even for just a few moments each day so valuable. I have challenged myself to breathe in my surroundings, relish in joy as it happens, and call a time out when I feel myself becoming overwhelmed. Each of these challenges looks different for each of our unique lives, but I ask you to join me. Be present. Be mindful. Be authentic. Confront your fears. Release the expectations of perfectionism, release the desire to people please, release the belief that you need to be all things to all people…be present and enjoy what is immediately around you before this moment is gone.

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

Megan 🙂

Sleep…

I tried and tried to develop a pithy title for a post on sleep. Some ideas I had…”Sleep: A Love Hate Relationship.” “SLEEP: The Forbidden Dance for Mothers of Babes.” “How to Enhance your Sleep Life.”  Let’s be honest, at this exact phase of my life, 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep sounds like the most desirable and sought after thing that I can dream of. If I had 8 hours of uninterrupted and blissful sleep, I think I could probably take on the world. I was ALWAYS an awesome sleeper. I could take a nap anywhere and my sleep started the moment my head hit the pillow at night. But then my precious babies (whom I wouldn’t trade for gold) came along, and they need to nurse at night, or pee at night, or have a drink of water at night. When you multiply those needs times three, they can really add up. I give my lack of sleep credit for weight gain, increased anxiety, and memory loss. What I sought to determine was whether or not this credit was due. Was sleep, or the lack thereof, able to cause such palpable symptoms in my journey towards quality of life, mindfulness, and self-care?

In my research on the impact of sleep in our ability to improve our level of functioning and enhance mindful awareness, I came across a “Whole Health Changing the Conversation: Neuroplasticity and Sleep Clinical Tool” created by the Integrative Medicine Program, Department of Family Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health in cooperation with Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, under contract to the Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation, Veterans Health Administration.  This document is highly clinical in composition, but does an excellent job explaining how the body views sleep deprivation as stress. In my clinical practice, I often discuss the impact of chronic stress on the body. Your body has a natural reaction to what it associates with or as stress. This reaction is preparing you for survival. It dumps chemicals that (if needed) can make you more reactive, faster, stronger, etc. However, when you are not in a situation where you have to run for your life or fight your way to survival, these chemicals can cause damage. These chemicals also keep you awake and alert. So you can understand how stress and sleep deprivation become a cyclical battle. Understanding that your body is equipped this way is fascinating and helps you to understand the importance of stress-management, rest, and healing for your body. This tool also describes why sleep is essential for neuroplasticity:

Neuroplasticity is defined as change in the brain’s structure and function due to experience. The brain was once thought to become immutable after a critical period of development in early childhood. Now we know that the brain is constantly changing in response to experience and disease. Given the fundamental importance of sleep in the biology of all life, it should come as no surprise that sleep has major effects on the brain through neuroplastic mechanisms.

Neuroplasticity is essential for healing, the creation of and maintenance of memories, creating new pathways for information to be processed, and in maintaining overall brain health. Neuroplasticity is what creates the opportunity for a stroke or traumatic brain injury victim to learn to walk again. The brain is literally capable of finding a new route to process information and commands. Can we please take a moment to applaud our incredible bodies and what they are capable of…?

Outside of understanding the science behind sleep and the brain, I also wanted to start a conversation. Am I alone in the world? Who else has this battle with sleep? Is anyone else out there longing for improved sleep? So, naturally, I asked the question on Facebook. I quickly got a multitude of responses. People expressed that they identify with the struggle. People marketed the products they sell that can promote rest and relaxation. People recommended routines and habits that promote resting well. People expressed that they had found the solution to getting 8 hours of sleep with children. Long story short…I am NOT alone in my ongoing journey towards improving my sleep. It was encouraging and provided me with lots of ideas and set out on a whole new path of research and discovery.

Taking from my Facebook conversation, interactions with friends, my personal experience, and research I wanted to provide you with some tips to improve your sleep.

  1. Consult your physician: I always want to make sure that everyone takes their physical struggles to their family provider. Make sure there is not an underlying reason for your inability to wind down. If you feel concerned about blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, etc. it is important to implement self-care but also have an ongoing conversation with your provider to be safe and cover all your bases.

 

  1. Develop a Routine: this for me has been the ultimate struggle as a mother. I am spontaneous and disorganized. However, my ability to stay on top of housework, laundry, appointments, practices, projects, bills, etc. etc. etc. has been dependent on creating a doable level of organization and routine. This is crucial at night. Routines create positive habits, but also create signals that tell your body what is coming next. This routine can be as involved as including dinner time, bath time, one cartoon, warm milk, brush teeth, read book, prayers, lay down. Repeat nightly.  Or it could be as simple as spraying a lavender linen spray or rubbing essential oils on your and your children’s feet to create a signal that appeals to your sense of smell then reading a bedtime story. An important term used in my description of routine is Whatever routine you choose to implement must be achievable for the long run. Similar to a diet (or any lifestyle change for that matter) you want to create a realistic opportunity to be successful.

 

  1. Promote the body’s ability to relax: There are so many ways to achieve this. Multiple folks expressed their belief in the impact of essential oils, using oil on their body or diffusing oils in the room (some specific oils mentioned were cedarwood, vetiver, and other blends specific to essential oil companies.) My family and I certainly use oils; I absolutely believe this is a path to promoting relaxation. I have a lavender and chamomile linen spray that I crave at night now. I love breathing it in and my kiddos love it as well. Meditation and mindfulness exercises can also help. Box breathing, the body scan meditation, or certain music enhances your mind’s willingness to slow down and can aide in your pursuit of sweet sleep. Exercise and nutrition can also play a role in promoting rest for your body.

 

  1. Remove sleep disruptions: I shared wonderful dialogue with a dear family friend Jeannie Nichols, who is also a Licensed Spiritual Healer and Raindrop Specialist about this exact topic: the importance of removing distractions that interrupt the ability for our brain to rest.  For instance, falling asleep with the television on is a sleep deterrent. “The light fluctuation is disruptive to sleep,” says Nichols. I also read an informative article regarding blue light exposure and its impact on our sleep written by Michael J. Breus, PhD a.k.a. “The Sleep Doctor.” I recommend reading the article, “The latest on blue light and sleep” in its entirety. Breus summarizes his thoughts by saying, Nighttime blue light exposure is indeed harmful to sleep and circadian rhythms. And taking steps to manage blue light exposure—including using red light sources during evening hours—can make a real difference.”

 

  1. Be open: Life can throw you curve balls and you might have to adjust your routine or day-to-day priorities from time to time to achieve wellness. My relationship with sleep has been heavily impacted by the introduction of those three precious and dependent souls that are my children. One day they will not be as dependent. One day they may not want to snuggle so close. One day they will be headed out to conquer their own version of the world. I will, then, have complete and total access to 8 hours of sleep and my full short term memory capacities. For now, some 2:00 AM snuggles may not be the worst thing in the world. I fully believe that so much of our ability to cope with life’s trials is wrapped up in our willingness to open our hearts, love others, and love ourselves.

 

So, for now, I will mindfully and lovingly meet the needs of my children and give myself grace as I continue my dance with sleep. Sweet dreams until next time friends.

 

Peace, Love, and Laughter,

 

Megan

 

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