Mindful Mondays

Mindful Mondays are brought to you by Joie Schmitz of YOGA\VIVRE. These quick one minute exercises are sure to help you start your week off on a positive note! Check back here each week for a new Monday message!

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Do you often feel sluggish in the middle of the day?  Do you experience frequent headaches?  Is it hard for you to stay focused on work or daily tasks?  Do you ever have issues with digestion?  Is coffee the first thing you drink each morning?  Do you have days when you just feel “blah”?
My guess is that everyone can answer yes to at least one of those questions.  And, everyone who answered yes has an opportunity to feel better everyday – by boosting your energy, alleviating your headaches, sharpening your focus, smoothing your digestion, calming your nerves, and improving your mood.  All you have to do is drink water!
Staying hydrated keeps all of the systems in the body functioning at their peaks.  When our physical bodies are humming, our minds are more at ease.  Simply staying hydrated is an easy way to feel better in your own body and steady in your own mind.
Try drinking a tall glass of water today, when you experience any of the “symptoms” listed above.  Then see if you can make it a habit to start every morning with a glass of water!

Valentine’s Day is over, but let’s keep the love flowing!  Here’s a simple yoga practice to encourage a wide-open heart:

Grab a small pillow and roll it into a cylinder shape, or use a yoga block.
Lie down on your back with the pillow or block underneath you, directly behind the center of your chest.  (You should be able to comfortably rest your head back toward the floor in this position.  If you can’t, adjust the prop beneath you either further up or down your back.)
Stretch your legs out straight and relax your whole body.
Start with your right hand holding your heart, and your left hand on top of the right.

For approximately 30 seconds, feel the warmth and support of your hands around your heart space.

Then, slowly stretch your arms out wide, so you create a letter “t” shape with your body.  Turn your palms to face the sky.

For about 30 seconds, feel the openness and expansiveness in your heart.

Stay open to giving and receiving love!

Take one minute before turning-in to bed tonight to recap the highlights of your day.  What was the best thing that happened to you?  What made you smile?  What did you accomplish?  Did you have a nice conversation or exchange with someone?  Did you overcome a challenge, solve a problem or by-pass an obstacle?  Were you lucky enough to have a little time to do something nourishing for yourself?
Write down all of the good stuff you can think of that happened today!  Make a list.  Then, rest easy in this positive mind-set.

It is a wonderful feeling to experience gratitude.  When we feel grateful, we feel good inside.  The better we feel inside, the friendlier we are with others.  In turn, they may feel gratitude for the kindness we shared, and pass it on.  This ever-broadening spiral can start with you!
Spend one minute today meditating on one thing for which you are grateful.  Imagine that tiny seed of gratitude planting in your heart.  As you focus your mind on it, you are nurturing it.  Envision the seed growing, sprouting and blooming.  Tend to it as you would your garden, but instead of water and sunlight, shower it with your mental energy.  Picture its brilliant green color and budding flowers.  Allow the vines to wind through the entire body, so you are filled with gratitude.  Smile and admire the image of this vibrant creation in your mind’s eye.
Gratitude will grow and bloom just like the plant in the meditation, if you tend to it with your mental energy.

This really is as easy as it sounds… Sing!
Pick any song you like.  Sing along with some music or go solo.  Sing in your car, in the shower, or for an audience.  However you approach it, the key is to sing out loud and let your voice be heard (even if it is only heard by you.)
Studies have shown that when you sing, the vibrations created by the sound you make can help relieve stress and anxiety.  Reap extra benefits by singing an upbeat song that elevates your mood!

This week, when you go to work, or the grocery store, or school, or the gym, or the coffee shop – anywhere you go on a regular basis – take a different route.  Drive on different roads.  Find another way to end up at your destination.  It might not be as quick or as direct as the route you are used to, but that is ok.  As a matter of fact, that’s the point!
When we switch up our routines, we open ourselves to new experiences.  Literally, life becomes more about the journey than the destination!  And sometimes these tiny shifts in our daily lives can make big impacts.  We slow down and take notice of what’s around us.  We gain fresh perspectives from our new place of observance.  We approach every-day events with more open-mindedness and mindFULLness, acceptance, patience and zeal.
Even if you don’t feel like life needs a boost right now, try it.  Especially if you are a creature of habit, try it.

This simple breathing exercise is invigorating!  Try it when you are feeling a little sluggish or in need of a shot of energy in the middle of the day.
To start:

Find an open area where you have room to swing your arms.
Stand upright with your feet 8-12 inches apart and bend your knees.
Interlace your hands in front of you and let your arms hang down.

As you inhale:

Swing your arms up overhead, like an elephant’s trunk.
Feel the arms, chest and belly stretch as you breathe in fresh air.

As you exhale:

Fold at your hips and let your upper body, arms and head swing down between your legs.
Feel your back, neck and legs stretch as you forcefully breathe out the stale air.

Repeat the swinging motions up and down for one minute.  Keep your knees bent the entire time, and relax your body so that you aren’t holding tension.  Allow your body movements and your breath to synchronize.  As you find a rhythm, make the swings and the breaths bigger and bigger!  To end, take a few moments standing upright and breathing slowly in and out through your nose — notice how you feel!

Yogic philosophy says that we all have a set of samskaras, or mental and emotional patterns (read: habits).  Our habits can have significant effects (positive or negative) on our health, happiness and well-being.  And, our habits are only habits as long as we fuel them with energy.
This week, choose one of your own habits/samskaras that effects you negatively.  Spend a little time acknowledging why it has become a habit of yours and how it makes you feel.  Then, spin it 180 degrees!  Turn that one negative samskara into a positive one.
Note that completely re-wiring your thought or heart patterns around that habit will take time.  Use your one minute mental workout to set the stage for this shift, and you will immediately start to feel changes.  A few examples:

Negative Samskara: You have a sweet tooth that can only be satisfied by dessert after every meal, so you indulge in unhealthy treats frequently.  You feel weighed-down by this negative habit.  //  Positive Samskara Spin: Rather than depriving yourself of sweets, you find healthier sweet foods to snack on, such as fruit.  Over time, you will find your sweet tooth satisfied by this simple substitution and you will have created a new, more positive mental and emotional pattern.
Negative Samskara: At the end of the day, you often find yourself exhausted, so you unwind by zoning out in front of the TV, rather than interacting with your family.  This leaves you feeling disconnected and unfulfilled.  //  Positive Samskara Spin: Find a TV show that the whole family can enjoy together, watch a single episode, then spend time talking about the show with one another, with the TV off.  By sharing the TV experience with each other, you can enjoy a little downtime, and foster more personal interactions, which can be very comforting and nourishing at the end of a long day.
Negative Samskara: You constantly compare yourself to others — your looks, your weight, your clothes, your wealth, your personality.  As a result, you feel shamed and inferior.  //  Positive Samskara Spin: Whenever you catch yourself sizing someone else up and creating stories in your head around why he or she appears so thin/happy/better-than-you, stop and acknowledge that you are, in fact, creating a story.  What you are experiencing is your own fabrication.  Instead of letting someone’s positive features and attributes affect you negatively, delight in them.  Chances are, those around you will delight in your ability to do this!

“The first and foremost question is: ‘Who am I?’  Everything else comes later.  Self-discovery is the root of all actions, all duties.  First, know your own inner self.”
-From The Splendor of Recognition by Swami Shantananda
Spend one minute today getting to know your own inner self a little better.  You can ask yourself:

Who am I, at the core of my being?
What is my true nature?
What is my calling in life?

Think through these questions one at a time, and take your time with each. Really try to break through the surface of your own being.  Look past your personality traits and genetics, and drop all ideas of who you think you should be and forget about any perceptions others may have of you.  Behind all of that is where authentic Self-Discovery happens.
You may choose to write down the thoughts that come up, and give yourself the opportunity to revisit them later.  You may not get very far or come up with any answers in one minute, and that’s ok.  These are big questions and Self-Discovery is a huge task.  But, when we take things minute-by-minute and give ourselves the freedom to explore internally, we’ve already achieved a state of mindfulness that will support us on the path of Self-Discovery.

I was reminded of this one [very significant] action when I visited Wadsworth Middle School today.  There, the words “Be Respectful” are posted all over bulletin boards and classroom walls.  It is clearly something they want to promote; encourage.
It’s working.  Everyone I came in contact with today – teachers, janitors, administrators, cafeteria staff, and hundreds of students, all showed respect for one another, and [very thankfully] for me, a guest teacher.  I witnessed students encouraging each other, teachers interacting with kids without a heavy sense of authority, and administrators challenging the school to a “pay it forward” exercise.
I was blown away to see and feel such a rich [and un-staged] display of RESPECT at a middle school, and I’m ecstatic that schools are teaching such an important life skill!  With the utmost respect for Wadsworth Middle School, I give to you this week’s 1-Minute Mental Workout:

BE RESPECTFUL: Make a point to actively show respect to someone today.  Make sure he/she feels respected.  Devote one entire minute to expressing your respect for this person, directly.  It will be appreciated more than you’ll ever know!