Happy Spring Equinox!

Park in Spring Time

Today is the first day of the Spring in the U.S. Spring is here. Can you feel it?

Spring flowers are in their glory in my local parks, beaches, and neighborhood. I enjoy taking time to stroll through a park to watch and observe spring flowers after a busy day at work. By focusing my attention on the beauty, the vibrant colors of the flowers, the tension and stress falls to the background of my mind. Also allow myself to fully breathe in and out of the fresh air and to fully take in visually with the green grassy field and the blue expansive sky. Within less than 10 minutes, I am in the state of calmness and expansiveness.

I invite you to take 10 minutes this week to take a walk in your local park and to experience peace and calmness that Nature awaits to share it with you!

Also join me for a special meditation class on Saturday, March 25 in Pasadena, CA to renew and recharge yourself in celebration of Spring. Here is the link to sign up the class: http://bit.ly/2mpyR9O  I look forward to meeting and meditating with you this weekend …

About Charlene

Charlene has over 20 years’ experience in the art of meditation and mindfulness. For over 15 years, she leads meditation classes around the U.S. to inspire others to experience joy of their own beings through the practice of meditation.

5 Ways to Boost Your Meditation Efforts Today

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Do you wonder if you’re meditating in the right way? Or feel disappointed because your time with meditation feels imperfect? Believe it or not, these are feelings that even long-term practitioners of meditation struggle with from time to time. I still experience them on a regular basis.

Instead of focusing on the way you think you “should” be meditating, embrace your own experiences every day. Stay committed to the process, incorporate meditation boosters, and it will become a little easier.

#1. Get into meditation right away. There are a lot of distractions that can eat into my meditation time. I might want to find a more comfortable pillow. The light might not be just right. I could be thinking about my deadlines instead of trying to focus my mind. I’ve found that when you just get into meditation right away, the need for perfection tends to go away. Having a meditation time that is “good enough” is, well… good enough.

#2. Don’t overdo it. I will always recommend striving toward at least 20 minutes of daily meditation. I’ve found that this amount of time tends to provide some of the best benefits. Sometimes, however, I just can’t put together a 20-minute block for meditation. Instead of forcing the situation, reduce the time commitment for that day. Instead of 20 minutes, try 10 minutes instead. If 10 minutes is too long, try for five minutes. If meditation is stressing you out, then it won’t be providing the mind with many benefits.

#3. Keep an open mind. I used to think meditation was a bunch of baloney. Once I opened up my mind to the possibility that meditation could be real and beneficial, it sparked my curiosity. I began to explore a little more of what it was about. We often seek to become masters of the skills and talents we embrace, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Meditation can be fun. You must be willing to allow it to be fun before that will happen.

#4. Give yourself a chance to succeed. I face a few challenges every day when it comes to meditation. I hate getting up early in the morning, but that’s the best time for me to meditate. So I structured my day to accommodate how slow I can move in the morning. I get up 15 minutes earlier and then made it so that I can come into work 30 minutes later. I take a half-hour lunch break instead of a full hour to make up the difference. When you give yourself a real chance to succeed, you’re one step closer to success.

#5. Take it one day at a time. You might try to meditate, but then forget about making time for it. Or you might sit down to meditate and nothing happens, so you give up. This is okay. Just try again tomorrow.

Meditation shouldn’t be a headache. It shouldn’t be a stress trigger. These are the ways I’ve found that help me to be more consistent with my meditation time.

How do you manage your schedule to accommodate meditation?

Here’s What Will Happen To Your Body, Mind & Soul When You Meditate

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For most people, meditation is a practice to help calm the busy mind. While this is true, we often overlook the other useful benefits that meditation has on our body. So what really happens to the body when one meditates? Our meditators at BookMeditationRetreats.com share with you 5 amazing things that will happen to you when you meditate!

Your Immune System Strengthens

Regular meditation practice will increase your body’s immune system by boosting the presence of antibodies in your bloodstream. This increase in antibodies helps the body better neutralize viruses and bacteria that attack. A study by UCLA showed that HIV positive patients who meditated regularly better maintained their level of CD-4 cells – white blood cells that protect the body from infections – than those who didn’t.

You Improve Your Breathing

As you meditate, you quiet the mind and focus on the breath.  This helps you come into the present moment instead of focusing on your challenges and stress. As you focus on your breath, your breathing becomes slower and more regulated. Your resting heart rate also slows down. A slower heart rate and regulated breathing will lower the risk of a great number of diseases including high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. There are many breath-focused meditation practices that you can try out to attain this benefit!

You Get Better Sleep 

With the constant stress in our fast-paced world, many of us suffer from insomnia and our lack of sleep has become detrimental to our overall health and well being. Meditation will help you get better sleep as it brings about relaxation, which will enable the body to sleep. Stress inhibits the production of melatonin hormones – a neurochemical that is essential for sleep – making it difficult for us to sleep at night. As meditation brings about relaxation and reduces stress, our bodies will be able to produce melatonin naturally, helping us to get that deep, invigorating slumber we all crave for!

You Actually Want Healthy Food

A big part of meditation is mindfulness and understanding how your body works and what nourishments it needs. When you begin practicing mindfulness, you will slowly see that your mindfulness practice will encompass all aspect of your life, including your diet. Instead of junk food, you will opt for healthier options. As they say “The body is the temple where the soul resides in”.

Furthermore, much of our over-eating habits stem from emotional eating. We tend to overindulge when stressed or anxious. Meditation practice calms the mind, allowing it to enter into a state of calm and quiet. Eliminating stress will inadvertently eliminate our unhealthy eating habits, leading to a healthier lifestyle!

Your Outlook on Life Changes for The Better

By being present and focused on the here and the now, you learn to let go of the past and the negative emotions associated with it. You also learn to not worry about the future and all that might be. You start living your life in the now, appreciating and enjoying your environment as it is.

Meditation also teaches us to take note of our emotions, and let it come – not suppressing them. While we allow our emotions through, meditation also teaches us to not react extremely to them. It gives us the ability to experience but not grasp onto our emotions.

About

Elaine Clara Mah

Elaine is a Contributing Writer for BookMeditationRetreats.com. She is a firm believer in meditation and sets aside at least an hour a day for silence.

You Can Change Your Life in 7 Minutes and Here Is Proof

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Life is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think about success, then you’re likely to find it. If you feel like you can’t succeed, then you won’t find success.

To change your life in 7 minutes, the first step you need to do is change your approach. I look at this process like the approach one makes when shopping on Black Friday. You plan out what stores to shop at, which deals are the most important to you, and then you decide to make things happen.

The same thing can be done with this morning routine, if you’re willing to give it a try.

#1. Prepare for your day before it starts.

Find a quiet place. Don’t be like me and think your desk is the best quiet place there is. Eliminate all distractions. Then bring along a journal or diary, a writing utensil, and a watch or a timer. After all, if you’re going to change your life in 7 minutes, it helps to have proof that it can actually happen.

#2. Clear your head.

This isn’t about meditation, prayer, or any form of religion or spirituality. In our modern world, clearing your head means shutting down your devices, ignoring your email, and stopping the social media notifications. I find that it is helpful to spend just one minute of being mindful of what is happening in this very moment.

#3. Breathe.

Deep breathing has a naturally calming effect on the body. No matter how much stress you might be experiencing, a deep breath can offer some relaxation and provide you with a better focus. I try to spend at least one-minute practicing deep breathing. Try to get 7-10 good deep breaths in during this 60-second period.

#4. Express yourself.

Now spend time with your creativity. This is what your journal or diary is for. Spend three minutes writing, drawing, or expressing yourself in this private book in some way. I personally like to doodle in mine, drawing animals, flowers, or whatever else strikes my fancy at that moment. There are no rules here except for this one: let your creativity flow.

Don’t think about it. Heaping pressure on yourself to write or draw something specific will result in a creativity blockage. Just grab your pencil or pen and put it to use.

#5. Debrief.

Once you’ve spent three minutes with your journal or diary, you are ready to review your work. I find it helpful to close the book before starting the 60-second debrief. This small transition helps me to shift gears from creativity to analyzation.

Take a close look at what you’ve written or what you’ve drawn. Think about why that is what your mind felt was necessary to express. Then make a brief plan to accomplish an outcome that is associated with what your creative side expressed. Choose just one outcome. Address it. Focus upon it. Be intentional about finding a way to make it happen.

And that’s it. Using this routine will cost you just 7 minutes and it will change your life. Want proof? Implement it today and see what happens.

Have you tried this 7-minute routine? What results were you able to achieve?

Could Meditation Be the Answer to Cancer?

How To Not Turn Meditation Time Into Thinking Time 

Science is finally realizing what those who have practiced meditation have known all along: that the positive impact it can have on personal health is a powerful effect.

I’ve felt this effect personally in my life. There is a definite positive difference in my energy, my attitude, and my emotional stability on the days when I make time to meditate.

For more than 5,000 years, meditation has been practiced by those who are spiritual, those who are not spiritual, and everyone in-between. Yet despite these widely accepted practices, the idea that meditation can provide medical benefits is often dismissed without a second thought.

There are 5 key reasons why meditation could be the answer to cancer for some.

#1. Meditation naturally decreases stress. One of the risk factors for cancer development is the presence of chronic stress. Thanks to cortisol, the stress hormone, the body is unable to produce the number of T-cells it needs and this weakens the immune system. There are direct benefits to reducing stress as well, including less anxiety, better sleep, and a reduction in digestive tract symptoms.

#2. Meditation can improve cellular health. When compared to those who do not meditate, the molecular signature of those who regularly meditate is very different. Not only does this improve cellular health, but it also shows benefits for a person’s overall mental health. Research published in 2009 by the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences indicates that meditation may even improve cell growth.

#3. Meditation allows melatonin levels to rise. This hormone helps people go to sleep, but it offers more benefits than just 8 hours of rest. Healthy melatonin levels help to strengthen the immune system, reduce the risks for heart disease, and are considered to be beneficial in the fight against cancer or even diabetes.

#4. Meditation improves your emotional state. This is the most powerful component of meditation in my opinion. Stress is essentially the result of an emotional trauma that occurs in your life. If your boss yells at you, that’s a traumatic event and causes stress. If your car breaks down, that’s a traumatic event as well. Although we can’t control these events, we can use meditation to limit the damage that stress can cause in its aftermath. Harboring hatred, anger, or grief can contribute to worsening health, but with meditation, these negative emotions can be released.

#5. Meditation helps you to make healthy choices. When I can meditate regularly, I find that many of my daily habits tend to reflect a desire to be healthy. I’m more active when I make time to meditate. I make better eating choices. I spend more time in contemplation and less time with mindless entertainment. Not only does this help to keep the weight down, but it also limits chronic stress triggers and the potential for future disease development.

Could meditation be the answer to cancer? That really is up to a medical provider to decide, but the bottom line is this: adding meditation can only help, no matter what you’ve got going on in your life.

Have you added meditation to your daily routine? What are the direct benefits you’ve seen come about from your daily practice?

Why Mindfulness Can Be an Excellent Diet Plan

Woman having pub lunch, eating salad and reading magazine

 Around the holidays, food seems to be everywhere. Then, when the new year comes along, resolutions for weight loss become popular.

Sometimes food is used for comfort. It’s a brief moment of joy in a world of sadness.

Whether you’re always dreaming of what you want to eat or you’ve just been to one too many family events this year, the solution to the expanding waist line could be mindfulness. I find that when I’m more aware of the world around me as I eat, I’m more conscious of the reasons why I am eating.

I also pay more attention to what food goes into my mouth.

If you’re thinking about how to apply mindfulness to your eating habits, here are the 5 steps I follow with every meal.

#1. Give thanks.

I think it is important to be grateful for a meal. Not everyone gets three meals per day in our world. Food is often taken for granted. Whether you say grace, thank the universe for its bounty, or have another spiritual or personal ritual that you follow, embrace it. Be present in that moment.

#2. Get rid of the distractions.

I used to like to watch the news while I ate dinner. I felt like I was multitasking. Then I realized that I stopped caring about what I was eating because I was more concerned about what was on the TV. Maybe for you it’s the smartphone. Or it could be the internet. It could be this very article. Whatever the case may be, I’ve found that by getting rid of the distractions, it becomes easier to enjoy the food being eaten and that makes every meal more satisfying.

#3. Use all of your senses.

Eating is more than just flavor. It’s even more than just its smell. How the food looks, what it feels like, and even its savory components are extremely important to the eating experience. Allow your body to enjoy every moment of a meal with every sense. For me, I’ve found that embracing umami, the sixth tasting sense, has really helped me to stay present in the moment. Find what can work for you in this area and your approach to mindfulness will change.

#4. Have the courage to stop.

This one is simple. Once you feel full, stop eating. I grew up in a home where you had to clear your plate in order to be excused from the table. Allowing myself to be finished with a meal where there was still food present was one of the toughest things I’ve ever taught myself to do.

The opposite is also true. If you’re still hungry, then get more food. The goal is to be satisfied.

#5. Keep a journal of what you eat.

By understanding what you eat, it becomes easier to control how much weight you are able to lose – or gain. Sometimes we eat certain things without giving them a second thought. I’m that way with certain candies. If you keep a journal, then you become more aware of what you are eating… and that allows you to make healthier decisions.

How do you stay mindful when eating? Do you have any tips that have helped you stay present in the moment while you improve your eating habits?

Meditation and the Holidays: 5 Reasons to Give This Gift to Yourself

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How have you been doing with your holiday shopping this year? I’ve been on it. When Black Friday hit, I was already about halfway done. Thanks to the online deals that were available, I’m finished and the gifts are wrapped and under the tree.

The stress of trying to find a nice gift is gone. It’s a peacefulness that is nice to experience.

Yet that sort of peacefulness is nothing compared to what meditation can provide when you’re in the midst of the holiday season. If there’s one thing you give yourself this year, make it be the gift of daily meditation. Here are 5 reasons why it would be a smart investment.

#1. It gives you a break from the holiday season.

My local stores started playing Christmas music before Halloween this year. My neighbor put up his holiday lights the week before Thanksgiving. Being in the holiday spirit 24/7 can be downright exhausting. Meditation gives you a break from it.

It also gives you a break from those moments around the holidays that can make you feel sad or mad instead of glad. If you struggle during the holidays, don’t turn to resentment. Turn to meditation so you can begin to let the difficult moments fade away.

#2. It allows you a moment to experience gratefulness.

I know it’s easy to lose perspective during the holidays. The hustle and bustle of shopping, cooking, and planning a family visit makes us forget about the fact that there are some people in this world who would trade places within you and me in a heartbeat. Meditation slows you down so you can appreciate what really is good about your current life.

I find that this really helps me to turn my negative energy into something more positive.

#3. It gives you a chance to gather yourself.

Stress can be the cause of many health conditions. It festers in your heart, body, and soul until it unleashes its wrath. During the holiday season, it tends to build up more quickly than normal. I find that meditation gives me the chance to gather myself so that I can let go of what is trying to fester inside.

Once that stress is removed, you can focus on what gives you nourishment, like the love of family and friends. With meditation, you can clear out the mess to make more room for what really matters in life.

#4. It lets you push the reset button.

I dislike December because of all the pressure that exists. You’re pressured to get a certain gift. To give certain people a gift. To spend a certain amount of money. Many times these pressures are at odds with your personal values, so the conflict creates internal instability.

Meditation helps you push the reset button. It’s like turning your brain off and then back on again. The reboot allows you to refocus on what really matters to you at a core level.

#5. It allows you to find neutrality.

I compare meditation to the role that Switzerland plays in conflicts: complete neutrality. Opinions these days fly far and fast. People are unafraid to throw bombs and insults on social media, even to their family and friends. When you bear the burdens of your friends or your family, it can weigh on your soul like a heavy anchor.

Meditation helps you to explore the neutrality of every situation. It helps you realize that not everything is directed at you on a personal level. Even 5 minutes of daily meditation can restore your center and enhance your awareness so you can be more impartial.

With meditation, you can unlock something beautiful that has been waiting to break free. Give yourself this gift and you’ll find that the holiday season really can be a source of gratefulness.

How do you cope with the holiday season? What has meditation helped you be able to accomplish this year?

6 Ways to Make Meditation Work Better for You

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Life hacks

I have to laugh at the life hacks that get published sometimes. Some ideas are pure genius. Then there are the folks who duct tape their phone to a ceiling fan while playing Pokemon Go and it smacks them in the forehead.

Not every life hack works as intended. Just ask the folks with forehead bruises and broken smartphones. The same is true for those who struggle with meditation. To this day, there are times when I struggle with meditating. Over time, I’ve developed these “meditation hacks,” if you will, that have helped me stay focused.

Could these help you as well?

#1. Take a walk.

The best walks involve intention. Instead of taking a leisurely stroll, you have a specific goal that you’re seeking to accomplish. I pick one thing that I want to find on my walk. Then I focus on finding that one thing or experiencing it fully however I can. This approach helps to set the stage for meditating when I get back home.

#2. Turn on the shower.

Some people like to take a bath to relax. I prefer a hot shower. If I can’t get my mind to focus, then I hop into the shower and let the stinging needles hit my head. The solitude of the experience and the heat of the shower brings out the creative centers of my mind. Stress goes away almost instantly. Then I’m ready to spend some time in my designated meditation spot.

#3. Take a drive.

Driving relaxes me. It’s also somewhat adventurous, if you’re headed somewhere you’ve never been before. The key to having a drive be helpful for meditation is to create what I call a “Zone of Quiet.” Turn off the radio. Avoid traffic that could make you angry. And remember to keep an eye on the road at all times.

#4. Offer gratefulness.

When I think of gratefulness, I actually think more about humbleness. There’s this willingness in an attitude of gratitude to sacrifice your needs for others. In this action is the heart of one of my favorite forms of meditation: loving kindness. If I’m really struggling to meditate, then I look for ways to help others. In the process of looking, I can often find meditation. I also gain the opportunity to make a positive difference.

#5. Seek technical assistance.

If things really aren’t working and I can’t get into the right state of mind, then I have a series of guided meditation downloads which will help me out. The best guides offer one-part encouragement, one-part visualization, and one-part natural sounds to encourage relaxation. When the guide can help me let go of the deep stresses that are preventing me from meditating, I can then proceed on my own.

#6. Set a timer.

One of my biggest struggles has always been timing. Some days it’s really hard to set aside 30 minutes to meditate. But, like with most things in life, you make time for what really matters to you. To encourage meditation, I set a timer for 15 minutes. Then I just get started meditating to the best of my ability. If I feel good when the timer goes off and there isn’t anything demanding my attention, I’ll set another 15-minute timer to repeat the process.

Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated, but it sure can be frustrating. These are the ideas that I use to help me meditate. What are your own meditation hacks?

Why Mindfulness Meditation Could Help You Stop Insomnia for Good

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Ever crawl into bed, feeling completely exhausted, yet sleep never seems to come your way?

It certainly happens to me, more often than I’d probably like to admit. I’ve seen 3am roll around far too many times for my liking. Racing thoughts and planning to-do lists in the quiet of night can create many sleep disturbances.

And even when sleep does come, I’ve found that those racing thoughts can invade my dreams, managing to wake me up anyway.

Then, when the demands of the day come about, the best way to describe how I feel is “lousy.” Do you struggle with feeling tired and lethargic after a poor night of sleep? And the cravings for the junk food…

There’s some good news if you suffer from insomnia like me. Published in the February 2015 JAMA Internal Medicine, a small study of middle-aged adults showed that a mindfulness awareness program which taught meditation could have a profound effect on insomnia, tossing and turning, and the other sleep disturbances that can rob someone of their productivity.

What Were the Results of the Study?

According to the study’s author, Dr. Herbert Benson, two groups were included in the study. Half of the participants completed the mindfulness awareness program. The other half completed a sleep education class that taught sleep habit improvement skills. Each group met 6 times, once per week, for two hours per session.

The results were clear: those who were taught mindfulness meditation skills had less insomnia, lower daily fatigue, and fewer feelings of depression at the end of the sixth session compared to the group that was taught sleep habit improvements.

There are many ways to invoke the relaxation response within the human body. I particularly like having a cup of hot tea (caffeine-free, of course) at the start of my bedtime routine as I settle into a few moments of mindfulness meditation. But it’s not the tea that actually eases stress, pain, or even high blood pressure.

It’s the practice of mindfulness meditation itself, even if done in an imperfect way.

How You Can Include Mindfulness Meditation Each Night

If you’ve been struggling with insomnia and feel like you’ve tried everything, then I invite you to give mindfulness a try – or a second opportunity, if necessary. There are two simple steps that you can use to help initiate the relaxation response you may need to be able to get a good night of sleep.

Step #1: Choose a focus of calm. You might feel ridiculous sitting on your bed, humming an Om repeatedly. My cat looked at me like I was crazy the one time I did that. You can focus on a peaceful word, phrase, or just focus on deep breathing if you prefer. The sounds can be repeated audibly or in your head.

Step #2: Choose to let things go. You must decide to let stressful events go. You must choose forgiveness. If your mind begins to wander, bring yourself back to your focus of calm. This will help the tension release.

Mindfulness meditation can be an essential tool for sleep. Include it with your next bedtime routine and let me know what results you were able to achieve.

5 Ways to Add Mindfulness Meditation to Your Work Routine

 

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Mindfulness meditation. It’s more than a business buzzword these days. It’s a practical action that anyone can take to experience better success in their job duties.

With the application of mindfulness meditation, an individual’s resilience, collaboration skills, and ability to lead are reinforced. And though the benefits are profound, I can tell you that experiencing these benefits isn’t always an easy process.

For mindfulness meditation to work, you’ve got to be willing to commit to the process with 100% of your personal energy. If you’re not “all in,” then the benefits will struggle to appear.

So how can each of us put in the time when we don’t have a lot of time in our schedules? I know there are days when I’m lucky to even find time to eat a sandwich. Here are some ideas that have really helped me be able to include mindfulness into my calendar.

#1. Take away the art of being “busy.” When I took an honest look at my schedule, I found that I was scheduling a lot of time where I was being busy instead of being productive. Since I felt like mindfulness meditation would make me more productive, I forced myself to remove the busy periods of time.

#2. Begin to delegate. I hate delegating. It’s not that I find it hard to let tasks go. I find that I don’t always trust those around me to do a good job. Can you relate to that? So I was brave. I allowed my admin to start reviewing my non-essential emails to let me know what was going on instead of reading through each message. This saved me more time each day than I’d care to admit – but it goes toward my mindfulness time today.

#3. Eliminate the negative self-talk. I’m so bad at this. “Good job, stupid,” tends to come out if I make a mistake. I’ve heard far worse from my colleagues. The only problem is that this negative self-talk enhances the guilt and anxiety we already feel because of failure. So, when we fail at meditation, the negative self-talk tries to show up. I’ll probably never completely eliminate my name calling habit, but by being more conscious about it, I’ve found that I’m more able to embrace mindfulness meditation.

#4. Incorporate it into other business events. When I really can’t find any time to meditate, I’ve found that most of my colleagues are finding a similar struggle on that day. Since my team gets together on a regular basis to discuss what’s going on, I’ve implemented the 5-minute mindfulness introduction. Before we begin the meeting, we have a group meditation session. It’s optional, of course, but it gives us at least a brief respite from what is going on and that helps immensely.

#5. Be realistic. I think this was my biggest mistake. At the very beginning, I expected – no, demanded – that I could make 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation work. Sure enough, it took me only 3 days to start finding excuses as to why I couldn’t make it work. When you’re realistic with your goals, you’ll be more successful. Period.

Mindfulness meditation can change everything. It allows you to connect with your job, your co-workers, and your family in new and exciting ways. How could you add just 5 minutes of mindfulness meditation to your routine today?

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