When I trained with Drs. John and Julie Gottman of The Gottman Institute years ago, I was introduced to 30 years of research they had conducted observing over 3000 couples in determining the predictors of divorce. One of the behaviors they recognized as very problematic in marriages is when one partner (or both) use what the Gottmans call harsh-start-up which is when a partner begins a conversation with a harshly negative or critical comment. The anecdote, of course, is approaching the same conversation with a soft-start-up which is consciously softening tone and choosing words which are respectful and absent of criticism or negativity.
And the practice of mindfulness is infused throughout this set of skills you can adopt.
This same idea is true for the way we lead our lives. If we are able to employ a softer approach to everything we see, do and say, our relationships will thrive in a very positive way and we will likely feel a greater sense of peace in our daily lives.
The Power of Soft: 10 ways to improve relationships & life by using
- Check in with yourself before you speak. Notice if there is any “charge” of anger and take a deep, full breath. Come into awareness and intention to speak softly.
- Express feelings, thoughts, ideas, and requests with a soft tone of voice.
- If you want to receive something, first give freely and then softly and clearly make a kind request of others. If you are ignored or get a “no” don’t take it as personal rejection rather understand that person is simply not available at this time.
- When you hear others brag and boast, know that likely they have some fear and insecurity within. Soften your heart to them rather than rush to judge.
- Listen more than talk. Hold space for others and just really listen. As you listen simply hold the space with full attention rather than rushing to respond.
- When you feel the sensation of anger, soften the edges and peek underneath the anger noticing there are probably thousands of moments of confusion, fear, pain and doubt under there. Breathe into the sensation of anger feeling it as simply energy in your body. Breathe through it and with it. Watch how it will begin to dissipate simply by being observed with breath and softness.
- If someone is harsh with you, attacks you verbally or lashes out, take a moment to sit back and breathe and remember they also have pain, confusion, fear and doubt under the emotion from which they are speaking. Soften your heart toward them knowing this. Then, with a soft, clear voice make a request, “I must ask that you please not speak to me so harshly. I am sorry for what you are feeling and I will help if I can.”
- Be like water. Take the shape of whatever container you find yourself. Flow around obstacles. Be softly persistent. Be capable of changing shape and form as needed to adapt to the environment. Be fluid in all things for here is your greatest strength.
- Practice softening the muscles around your eyes and jaw regularly. Also, practice softening your belly throughout the day. Drop your shoulders down and away from your ears and notice when your hands are gripping the steering wheel or the pen or the phone. Soften.
- Take pause. Learn to wait and not react and jump to respond to what others do and say or to whatever impulsive thought may tempt you. Cultivate an ability to shift into neutral and observe long pauses before taking action.
A steady, dedicated practice of observing the power of soft will improve your relationships and your life. The word power is often confused for hard-hitting, fast-moving, action-oriented behavior. On the contrary, soft-touching, slow-moving, being-oriented behavior with fluidity, flexibility and patience allows for longer lasting joy and peace in life.
Menopause symptom relief is key to quality of life for women in midlife.
When I was hit with sudden, full-blown menopause symptoms following a medically necessary full hysterectomy at age 44, I had to figure out some solutions. I was too young to be dealing with these symptoms.
I found a wonderful functional medicine doctor who ran all kinds of tests and helped me realize the natural means to providing menopause symptom relief. Here are the things I have discovered:
Clean up your diet
- Eating organic dark leafy greens every day
- If you’re a meat-eater, only buy and consume hormone-free, humanely-raised, organic meats and eggs.
- Give up white foods (sugar, potatoes, refined grains)
- Lean toward small portions of unique whole grains (spelt, millet, amaranth) rather than wheat and rice
- Try quinoa a few times/ week – it’s actually a seed not a grain and is high in protein
- Incorporate juicing vegetables a few times each week
Kick the coffee habit
- Caffeine is found to contribute to hot flashes and irritability as well as mood swings. Do yourself a favor and make friends with the herbal tea menu and say adios to coffee.
Step away from the wine and whiskey
- Medical research shows that alcohol consumption messes with our hormones and affects calcium absorption and may contribute to osteoporosis
- Research also indicates that alcohol consumption contributes to hot flashes
Create a sleep-time routine
- Stop eating 3 hours before bed time
- Turn off all electronics one hour before bed
- Create a very dark and cool environment where you sleep
- Wear cool, loose cotton nightgown and invest in some cool, cotton sheets
Saddle up to some supplements
- Seek a functional medicine doctor who can run tests to see where your vitamin and hormone levels are which can then lead to specific recommendations for natural supplements.
- Talk with your doctor about B-vitamin supplements. A lot of times this can help with symptoms depending on where your levels are.
- Omega 3 essential fatty acids have been shown to help with symptoms. You can increase your salmon consumption and you can supplement with good clean fish oil sourced from purest, cleanest fish.
- Seek out non-estrogenic herb supplements. You may want to stay away from soy as it’s been found to have complications for some women
Learn to relax
The RAIN mindfulness technique is one I have adapted from other versions and utilize with my therapy clients, my mentoring clients and my meditation students to help them with a practical way of dealing with intense interactions and situations.
So, let’s take a look at how I identify the steps in the RAIN technique.
R = Recognize. Recognize the challenge or difficulty that is present.
A = Accept and Allow. This is the opposite of our typical reaction which is to resist the challenge or difficulty. Here we have recognized we have a difficult challenge here and we accept that it is right here in front of us.
I = Inquire and Investigate. Seek clarification and gather information rather than jumping to conclusions or making assumptions.
N = Neutral. Rather than fighting, resisting or fleeing the scene, you shift into neutral gear which is more easily achieved after completing the first three steps of the RAIN process.
I appreciate the acronym RAIN for this practice because there is an element of knowing and accepting that it will rain some days in life.
Sometimes the rain is a soothing, welcomed nourishing experience and sometimes it comes with a storm that can even be destructive.
Overall, when it rains our outdoor activities and plans may be necessarily altered and yet we find way to make the needed adjustments.
The RAIN mindfulness technique practice is incredibly valuable during times of turbulence whether in personal relationships or political unrest. Rather than reacting and contributing to polarization, this technique can help carve out a space for you to give consideration with use discernment as to how your most centered self wishes to respond.
The RAIN technique does not preclude action. Rather, this technique is a way of lining up your wise mind, your feeling heart and the spirit of your highest self in order to take action in the most effective way without causing harm to yourself or others.
To learn more about mindfulness and seated meditation view my tutorial video here.
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What is Meditation?
The word “meditation” means a lot of things to different things to people.
There are “guided meditations” where a teacher or a guide provides either a live or recorded verbal sequence of visualizations to help your mind and body align and go to a state of focused relaxation.
For some, the word “meditation” means to contemplate, to consider a concept, idea or issue with mental focus.
Meditation, as I understand it and practice it, is a bit different than these definitions. For me we can observe meditation through seated practice, walking practice and moving practice. For these purposes, I want to introduce you to the art and practice of “seated meditation.”
“Seated meditation” is an art and a practice. An art because it is an experience, a process and an expression of who we truly are in any given moment without prescribed, exact, predictable outcome. A practice because it is an act we must choose to engage in regularly in order to realize the benefits.
Seated meditation is the practice of coming to a comfortable seat with spine erect and willingness to just sit and be with your whole self.
Seated meditation is a practice of allowing what is to just be without action.
Seated meditation is an opportunity to cultivate our relationship with what I call “the gentle observer.”
The “gentle observer” is an aspect of Self that is able to notice without judgment and without action. I find that most humans have little if any connection with and awareness of this part of themselves; therefore, it requires a dedicated practice to cultivate this “gentle observer.”
“Mindfulness practice” is when we choose to notice, to pay attention without jumping to action or judgment.
We bring mindfulness practice into seated meditation in order to practice, to cultivate, to nurture, to expand the aspect of Self I refer to as “the gentle observe.” This is the part of us that can simply BE. This is where we find peace.
Now, let’s be clear… We don’t start sitting in meditation and instantly experience peace… Nor is there always peace in meditation even after years of practice.
There is a process and a practice that must be observed.
In the process of cultivating this “gentle observer” and the subsequent experience of peace, we encounter all the not-so-gentle aspects of Self and the non-peaceful feelings and experiences we have in the body, mind and heart.
Seated meditation is the ideal place to practice observing these not-so-gentle, non-peaceful sensations, thoughts and feelings. By observing, by increasing our awareness without action, reaction or judgment, eventually these not-so-gentle, non-peaceful experiences begin to fall away and we are left with a delicious state of BEING with what is… This is peace.
Once we experience this sense of peace, it is like a glorious glimpse… in Japanese this is called “satori.” We experience it but do not cling to it. We do not expect it or chase after it the next time we sit. If we anticipate it, expect it or chase it the experience will surely elude us.
Instructions on Seated Meditation
In the beginning of your practice, it is important to find a certain time and place in your life that is quiet and without interruption. Early morning and just before bed at night are ideal times.
Designate a specific place in your home as your meditation area.
Some people like to set up a little table of dedication to their practice to create a sense of sacred space with a candle, maybe an item that has special meaning to you and your own personal spiritual beliefs just as a reminder that meditation is your special sacred time with your own Self. This is not necessary, however.
In the beginning, bring a timer with a gentle chime. Turn off all other sound and vibration on your device and set a timer for ten minutes. This will help you to allow the timer to “mind the time” rather than your mind worrying about how much time has gone by. Ten minutes per sitting will be enough in the beginning.
Once you have practiced daily for 2 weeks increase the time to 20 minutes.
Eventually you will no longer need a timer because as your connection to your inner Self and your inner Knowing grows stronger you will intuitively know when your meditation has ended.
Sit on a firm cushion under your tail-bone in a comfortable cross legged position OR kneel with several cushions under you like a high saddle OR you can sit on a couch, bench or chair.
Just find a way to sit comfortably with the spine straight and do not allow the back of your head to lean against anything.
You can begin by resting the backs of your hands on your legs/knees with palms softly open in a gesture of receptivity and willingness to receive whatever your meditation practice has to bring you.
Some people like to observe a bow of respect by bringing palms together, aligning thumbs at the forehead or the heart and bowing forward in the tradition of the East – a way of saying to your own Self and what you believe in spiritually, “I am here, I respect, I enter this practice with reverence for all of Nature within me and outside of me.” (if you have a particular religion you observe you can include here what you believe in, i.e. Jesus, God, Allah, Divine, Kuan Yin, Saints, etc.) This is not necessary, however.
In this practice, I recommend you close your eyes in order to bring all the mind’s focus inward.
As soon as you close your eyes it is as if you have entered a new room and for many they immediately become aware of discomfort.
The body may be uncomfortable.
The mind may seem to race about.
You may have feelings or thoughts of urgency to get up and stop doing this.
You may have feelings and thoughts of judgment about what this is all about, how boring it is or how you just “can’t do this.”
I encourage you to sit THROUGH those feelings and thoughts. Notice them but do not allow them to hook you and pull you away.
Instead, gently redirect your noticing mind to how the breath flows in and out of your body so automatically.
Choose to be fascinated with the flow of your own breath. Watch it. Notice it. Focus your mind on the flow of your breath. Feel the sensations in your body as the breath comes in and out. Allow the natural breath to be your anchor, your home-base, your touch-stone in your meditation practice.
Each time your mind drifts away and you notice it has drifted, feel encouraged because as soon as you notice you have drifted away you have returned to the present moment. At this point, gently redirect your mind back to focusing on the flow of your natural breath here and now in your body.
You may find your mind drifts 1000 times. It is not how many times you drift away that matters, however. It is the returning to the present moment 1000 times that helps you to grow your connection to your inner Self and cultivate the gentle observer.
What Science Says about Meditation
- Meditation boosts immune function.
- Meditation is effective in addressing anxiety.
- Meditation helps with inflammation in the body.
- Meditation helps reduce and manage pain.
- Meditation increases your ability to feel compassion.
- Meditation helps heal depression.
- Meditation helps reduce and manage stress.
- Meditation brings healing levels of awareness to emotion and physical body.
- Meditation helps increase ability to focus and attend (good for ADHD)
- Meditation improves your thinking and memory abilities.
- Meditation helps increase and improve ability to regulate emotion.
Neuroscientists have discovered, through various technologically advanced means of assessment, that meditation stimulates increased activity in several parts of the left prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain associated with desirable emotions, such as happiness, enthusiasm, joy and self-control.
Interestingly, these same studies demonstrated a decreased level of activity in the parts of the brain related to undesirable emotions, such as depression, selfishness and a lack of happiness or satisfaction.(http://www.pnas.org/content/101/46/16369.full)
Meditation also produces a calming effect in the amygdala, that walnut sized part of the brain that acts as an alarm and trigger for fear and anger.
Meditation and mindfulness techniques are used by an expansive variety of people now that Science has proven its benefits. Corporate leaders are meditating and encouraging employees to meditate now. Medical professionals are more and more embracing meditation as a practice recommended for their patients. Many schools are beginning to encourage children to meditate. There are meditation classes taught in prisons now. Athletes often meditate to help with their sports.
The US military has been offering mindfulness training to personnel returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, in order to help them cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the psychological after-effects of combat.
Now… it’s your turn….
So, now that you’ve read about this and perhaps watched my video, I encourage you to dedicate time and space in your life every day to begin your own practice of seated meditation. Allow this to be your quiet, sacred time.
After you practice for a while and get beyond the initial bothers of “the monkey mind” you may find that during your meditation practice you experience emotion or even spontaneous movement in/with the body. If this happens, just feel it, allow it to be there and keep focusing on your breath. Do not give in to the curiousity that will arise. It is simply another level of awareness, acceptance and allowing. This will produce healing for your body, mind and heart.
If you need further support or instruction, please contact me personally.
Lynn Louise Wonders
In order to feel fulfilled and content in your life a regular practice of self love and care must be in place. In order to be able to love and serve others, we must first love and care for ourselves.
Here are 54 self care tips
- Write “lunch break” on your calendar and take them.
- Eat slowly. Chew and really taste your food. Don’t eat on the run. Sit down and savor
- Take time between appointments to close your eyes and take 4 slow cycles of deep, full breaths.
- Upon waking in the morning, get up slowly, put your feet on the floor and take a few minutes to sit and be with the new day and your breath before jumping up.
- Drink 8 ounces of water each hour of your work day.
- Drink 8 ounces of warm lemon water upon waking each morning. It will help with digestion.
- Walk briskly for 15 minutes every day. Swing your arms. Look up at the sky and the tree-tops.
- Practice some gentle, simple yoga postures and stretches throughout the day. Take an intro yoga class.
- Avoid processed or “fast” food. Eat whole foods.
- Buy local and organic. Eat seasonally.
- Skip sugar and white flour.
- Consider giving up cocktail hour. If moderation is possible, no problem but be honest with yourself…
- Learn to say no. Take a moment to ask yourself if you really have the time and energy to do what you are being asked to do.
- Use that gym membership you have. Try a new class, go for a swim, join a basketball league.
- Take your shoes off and walk in the grass. Feel the earth beneath your feet.
- Find ways to laugh. Comedy radio or tv. Hang out with funny people. Seek the humor in all things.
- Build in slow down time so you can move from activity to activity or issue to issue with pauses in between.
- Keep a gratitude journal. At the end of each day reflect on what small or large parts of your life you can feel grateful.
- Snuggle with a furry baby. Animals help open our hearts. Take time to nurture and care for a pet or volunteer at the Humane Society. Loving an animal will open YOUR heart.
- Clean out a closet, a cabinet or a drawer each week. You’ll feel lighter.
- Plant flowers near your door and notice them with a smile everytime you leave or come home.
- Plant an herb garden in your kitchen window. Cook with fresh herbs.
- Find out how to use essential oils in everyday life. Aromatherapy is good for mood and a natural replacement for many of the toxic cleaning products.
- Take care of your skin naturally with castile soap, baking soda, witch hazel and coconut oil. Save money and nurture your skin naturally.
- Set firm and loving boundaries with others. Respect your own time, space and emotions. Don’t let others run all over you.
- Clean out the fridge monthly. Get rid of expired items and wash down the surfaces.
- Connect with people you care about. Reach out to people you haven’t spoken to in a while and tell them how much you appreciate them. Loving others is a way of loving yourself.
- Keep indoor plants throughout your house and office and nurture them. In turn they will clean the air you breathe.
- Floss daily. So important but often neglected, this task will prevent painful, expensive dental issues down the road. Love your gums.
- When you hear someone speaking degrading, derogatory or deprecating things about others, stand up by pointing out the positive and the beauty. Shining light where there is darkness will expand your spirit.
- Learn to meditate and meditate daily. Just 10 minutes each day over the course of a year will transform you in wonderful ways.
- Listen to the audio version of the book Wherever You Go There You Are for free by Jon Kabat-Zinn and do the little exercises after each chapter. It will change your life for the better.
- Have a good cry. Breathe into the sadness and breathe out the tension.
- Feel your angry feelings while walking briskly. Swing your arms. The bilateral stimulation of the body and brain helps even out the emotions in a healthy way.
- Go to counseling. Counseling is a place to process what you are unclear about and feel supported and often guided when you’re lost.
- Connect with a spiritual practice. Regardless of religion or tradition, go within and connect to what you believe in.
- Give away clothing and items you no longer wear or use to a local shelter or charity. It will help you lighten your material load and provide for someone in need.
- Hire a life/wellness coach to help you get clear on specific goals, learn some new tools and skills and create accountability for yourself.
- Play with little children. Rediscover your inner child.
- Paint a room in your house or office. Bring in some color.
- Keep fresh-cut flowers in your space. It will remind you to appreciate the beauty and the delicacy of life now.
- Light a candle. It is a ritual that signifies a beginning, an opening, a special and/or sacred moment.
- Write love letters by hand to all the people you love.
- Write down your personal memoirs. Recount childhood memories honoring your past.
- Leave “white space” on your calendar for unprogrammed, unplanned, spontaneous experiences.
- Make pottery, paint on canvas, sketch, crochet… it’s meditative and good for the soul to create…
- Go for walks in nature often. Connect with the trees, mountains, beach…
- Smile at yourself when you pass a mirror.
- Lie down in the grass and watch the clouds.
- Play soothing music in your car, office and home.
- Use soft lamplight and forgo fluorescents.
- Hug 3 people every day. Feel the connection.
- Compliment yourself in your own mind as often as possible.
- Know that you are MORE than enough just the way you are.
I recently had the honor of participating in a round-table discussion with Jack Canfield, author of The Success Principles along with 9 other women who own and run successful businesses as coaches and mentors. We had discussion around how to define success. With the help of Mr. Canfield, we determined that success is defined as a sense of fulfillment in living out our life’s purpose.
Too often we equate success with winning. Winning most often connotes competition. I’m here to shake that up and point us back to this concept of fulfillment and living your purpose for being here on this planet.
Simple success is achieved when we feel fulfilled. When we are in alignment with our ultimate goal.
Part of the work we did with Jack Canfield was to work through a 4 step process of identifying what our life’s purpose is. Let’s walk through it now.
- Identify two qualities that are of value to you and others that you naturally bring to your life and work. For me I chose intuition and attentiveness.
- Next name two actions (ending in “ing”) you love to do that express the above two word. Mine were listening and teaching.
- Now, consider if the world were working perfectly what would it be like? How would people be interacting? Write two phrases or sentences. Mine was, People will get along harmoniously and will harmonize with nature.
- Plug in the above 3 into the following statement formula:
My life’s purpose is to use my ___________ and my ________________ to __________ and to ____________ in order to _______________________.
For example, here is mine: My life’s purpose is to use my intuition and attentiveness through listening and teaching others in order to help people experience harmony with self, others and all of nature.
Once you’ve identified what your life’s purpose is you can begin to achieve simple success because you now are very clear as to what your ultimate goal is for your time here on Earth. Simple success can be experienced on a daily basis when the choices you make in your business and relationships are in line with your life’s purpose because you will have a sense of fulfillment.
Success in terms of earning money or achieving awards is an off-shoot that naturally often follows when you are in alignment with fulfilling your life’s purpose. We must first be very clear about who we are at essence and what we bring to this life. Then, every day we can consciously make choices that align with that.
“Follow your bliss.
If you do follow your bliss,
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living
is the one you are living.
When you can see that,
you begin to meet people
who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid,
and doors will open
where you didn’t know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”
― Joseph Campbell