I call them the usual suspects.
Those places in my body that get very tight when I'm thinking too hard, worried, working long hours, or just letting my brain spin.
For me it's the chest, neck, and jaw.
This area of our body is ultra complex. The shoulder and neck joints are incredibly mobile and play ball with the upper back and the chest. It is easy to understand why we cramp up in our face, jaw, and chest especially if we are locked into a very cerebral experiences.
In this personal practice we do very, very simple shoulder motions, neck stretches, and breathwork to zap tension in the shoulders, chest, neck, and face. What's great about these complex and integrated parts of the body is that one or two simple moves can positively impact the whole system. After light movement we head into intentional pranyama practice drawing from Lion's breath.
Replace stress, worry, and tension, with peace, softness, and clarity
Want to take this practice further?
This breath is also used in a Kriya practice inspired by the Goddess Kali the goddess of destruction, and thank goodness for her. How can we ever rebuild if we are still clinging to what's broken and no longer working? In that Kriya practice you take Goddess pose and make either the shape of a sword with arms overhead, or goal post with chest open wide. Then, engage with lion's breath, or I suppose we could consider it lioness breath too.
I hope you enjoy this practice as much as I enjoyed recording it for you.
Skills don't sharpen themselves. And, as anyone who has ever trained for a race like a 10K, half, or full marathon will tell you, a training plan is vital to get across the finish line feeling good.
Similarly, the mind also needs exercise.
Meditation is one of the best ways to influence mental and emotional strength.
Here are a few ways to optimize your meditation practice for the most benefit.
More, actually is, better.
While taking 2-5 minutes to breath deeply, or connect to a mantra throughout the day is beneficial. A formal seated meditation is important in gleaning the full benefits of the practice. However, for a lot of people the prospect of sitting still in meditation for 20 minutes a day feels fruitless when dealing with many competing priorities.
Take heart. Your effort to carve out dedicated time to meditation is not done in vain.
Increasing the duration of meditation, like tacking on mileage to a run, has real benefits.
20 minutes of daily meditation is known to improve task accuracy, and fewer mistakes at work. Additionally research finds that adhering to longer meditation practices encourages greater more mindful responding.
That's the juice. Mindful responding is the secret sauce of relationships building, conflict management, and leading yourself and others compassionately and confidently through an obstacle.
Yes. Wrestling through the first few days of a 20+ minute meditation practice can be uncomfortable. But, don't give up. Not only does it get easier to do, it becomes more comfortable over time as well.
Consistency, regardless of time, is key.
If you only practice 20 minutes one time a month the benefits won't stick, and you would be better off practicing 2 minutes per day everyday.
Consistency is where most people encounter difficulty. Developing discipline around a habit that has delayed gratification is tricky. Finding ways to enjoy the practice can make habit formation easier. Bundle your meditation with a positive activity can be a great mind trick. Or, try a different style that you enjoy more!
When it comes to meditation there are many different styles to try, and it just takes a little bit of effort to experiment in search of the best option for you. Research shows that adherence to a practice may be more important that the technique that is chosen.
Overtime the ability to stay consistent will become easier. But don't take my word for it. This isn't just positive lip-service. Rather this is because the practice itself is changes the brain.
Long-term meditation practices increase areas of the brain that contribute to emotional regulation and impulse control. Thus, the more consistent a practitioner is, the stronger they are at dealing with discomfort (like refusing the snooze button to ensure you can get your meditation and exercise done for the day) and overriding the desire to quit when things get tough (like giving into a wandering mind and ending the practice early out of frustration.)
Formal + Informal = Magic
But we don't have the ability to simply sit and meditate all day long. And, most of us don't walk through our lives blissed-out all day long. Life happens, and stress is inevitable.
The ability to accurately respond to stress is important.
A formal seated meditation practice is useless if the benefits don't carry forward off the cushion. Studies show that mindfulness techniques can work wonders to combat stress when implemented informally throughout the day. One way to think about informal meditation is to reframe it as 'applied meditation'. This is the aspects of meditation that happen off the cushion.
Consider these scenario of 'applied meditation'. Someone cuts you off in traffic. Rather than speeding up to flip them the bird and jeopardizing your safety and the safety of those in cars around you, you instead take 10 deep breaths. Or perhaps your boss is rude to you during a business meeting. In that moment you decide to unclench your jaw, and wait for the right time to bring up the issue rather than immediately shooting off an angry email or meeting their negative energy with an outburst of your own.
If stress reduction is all you're after then informal techniques may be all you need. The more you practice regulation through mindfulness during our day the better you will be at responding appropriately.
It's great to know how to stay calm.
It is even better to respond accurately, with the right intensity, and also have the ability to return to a neutral state once the stimulus has stopped without long-term worry, self-doubt, or rumination. This is very similar, and in many ways related, to the concept of heart-rate recovery in cardiovascular fitness.
Stress response is physical. We are put into action with an increased heart-rate that enables the body to move quickly. Once the stress has passed by, the body begins the process of recovery. The faster the heart rate can recover after a big effort the better. Quick and efficient heart-rate recovery is a true marker for cardiovascular health because it means the organ is strong enough to respond, and isn't being unnecessarily burdened after the fact. It is helpful to remember that the nervous system is integral in this, and that the body responds to psychological stress much the same way.
Nervous system training is key.
Formal meditation is much like training for the game, and keeping skills sharp so that they are effective and applied in real life scenarios.
Often, after we have begun to apply regulation skills in everyday life, we begin to also seek out a greater capacity for resilience. Bouncing back quickly while also incorporating the lessons learned is like the holy grail of meditation benefits.
This is where maintaining formal meditation practices can really come through.
Uncomfortable, boring, stiff, achy, or restless meditation sessions happen. Those aren't 'bad' formal meditations. In fact they can be very good and helpful. Encountering obstacles inside the meditation practice, and returning to it with compassion and commitment hones skills of discipline, perspective, appropriate response, self-care, and self-confidence. These are the ingredients baked into resilience.
Two important aspects resiliency that influence our ability to bounce back is our assessment of the event after the fact and the perspective we take when considering ourselves within the circumstance. Long-term meditators are known to have an easier time accessing empathy and viewing things in new and novel ways. Seeing things from other points of view is crucial for undoing false narratives that we hold about ourselves, others, and circumstances, and it invites an openness to authoring new stories that are kinder, more generous, and, in general, optimistic. We can create new options for ourselves, through resiliency, in which we identify warmly with ourselves and identify less with the circumstances that happen to us.
This comes with practice, and it is totally worth the time and effort.
Ways to Expand Your Meditation Practice
Finally, let me know! How are you optimizing your meditation practice? How does meditation improve your life? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Would you like to come hang out with me and one of my good friends?
It is so special to share a conversation I had with Kathryn Austin. Kat is a LCSW who resides in Austin, Tx with her beautiful family, and she's my former neighbor. We talk about the 5AM origin story of our meeting. How I forced her to be my friend. And the laughter we share.
In this conversation we also discuss her powerful life experience of witnessing her sister's unexpected final week in hospice while also staying present with the joy of caring for her bubbly and vibrant new baby. Holding both grief and joy at the very same time is a skill that Kat attributes to her personal practice of Grace.
We also dive into topics that are central to Kat's practice as a therapist, inner dialogue and radical responsibility.
Questions like these become important.
I hope you enjoy this episode. I'd love to hear from you after you listen.
If you want to learn more about Kathryn and her practice visit therapybykathryn.com or follow @revivedreverance on Instagram.
Everything in this episode is intended for informational and entertainment purposes only, and is not intended as a diagnosis or recommendation for anyone. We simple are sharing our own personal opinions, experiences, and practices. If you feel you would benefit from professional support please know that resources are available! Visit NAMI.org to learn more about mental health resources in your area.
3 IMPROVE YOUR BRAIN FUNCTION
Walking doesn't just make you more creative, it actually improves cognitive function overall. This means walking is good for your noggin in general. In fact regular walking regimens may reduce the risk of dementia.
2 COMBAT LONELINESS
Maybe you're like me and have a hard time meeting new people. I'll be honest. I have a really hard time making new friends. I'm very introverted. I have had a primarily self-directed job for a decade. My entire family lives elsewhere. And, I have moved to a new town several times in the last 7 years. The pandemic certainly did not help. It can be excruciatingly lonely at times (... BTW do you want to grab lunch with me). But one way I bust out of my loneliness bubble in the middle of the day is to go for a walk. I get to say hello to my neighbors, meet people's dogs, and generally remind myself that the world is much bigger than the thoughts in my head.
1 IMPROVE YOUR HEART HEALTH
Walking is considered steady-state cardio. There are many ways to improve heart-health and steady-state cardio is just one of them. The benefit here is not about calorie burn or improving your recovery times. Steady-state cardio is about building endurance. Essentially you are introducing the concept, to your heart which is a muscle, that it can sustain elevated work for longer and longer periods of time. Because your heart is a muscle it adapts like other muscles of your body by getting stronger by adapting when encountering repeated stimulus over time.
Let's take a walk in my recent walking mediation on my podcast Personal Practice.
"Whenever we're in a creative pursuit... we have to be so connected to our core value and our reasons why. It can be so easy to listen to the noise...That is the practice. The stay connected even when there's noise all around."
Want to test your faith?
Launch a business!
Then throw in R&D that takes 3x as long as you planned, a global pandemic, and converting your spare bedroom into a lab while still trying to function as a family of five. That will do a little more than shake your faith. It might convince you to throw in the towel. But when your why is strong and you've decided that failure is not an option, you find a way!
I loved this down-to-earth and inspiring conversation with Brad Lepcyzk. He and his wife Erika are the founders of Memore (like memory!) a brain health nutrition brand that makes delicious powdered supplements that keep your noggin healthy. He shares the ups and downs he faced getting the product ready for market, and how he is navigates big emotions of the sales cycle.
Join us as we talk about the emotional ride of business success and failure, why optimism truly takes practice, and how routine can be a God send!
In this episode Brad also talks about the Maria Shriver Women's Alzheimers Movement. You can visit their website to learn more about the studies that Brad mentions, and how to get involved in supporting a cure. As we discuss in the pod some Alzheimers diagnoses are directly tied to genetic factors, but those genetic factors are not necessarily the deciding factor on developing the disease. In fact the Women's Alzheimers Movement in cooperation with the Cleveland Clinic has prevention guides, which include nutritional and exercise considerations, to equip your brain with its best line of defense.
Big thanks to Erika, Brad, and Brit at the Memore team. They extended to Personal Practice listeners a huge discount on their first order of the product. I told you this wasn't an ad... but wowee I take it back. How can I say no to such an offer? So it's official. I'm legit telling you to go buy this stuff you like to boost your smoothies and morning routines with high quality, whole food supplements.
Use my code to get 20% off your entire order! Yourmemore.com/juliamarie
You can also learn more about Memore and follow along with recipe tips and positive brain health conversations by following the brand on Instagram. Instagram.com/yourmemore
Body. Mind. Spirit.
Hi there! You found me. My name is Julia Marie Lopez. For 20 years I have studied meditation and mindful movement as my primary tools for healing. For the past 10 years I have worked as a wellness business owner, the Founder of Practice Everywhere, and now I am embarking on a new adventure to expand how we define our Personal and Public Practices.
Since I offer you my experience and perspective, share my writing about life, love and wellness, and offer a bit of unsolicited advice, I think you should also know that I do include affiliate links and promotions in some of blogs. If you make an action (such as sign ups, memberships, or purchases) I might earn a commission. I promise to use this income to support my love of coffee, dogs, yoga, and my family (in no particular order).💜