mindfulness

From Mindless to Mindful

So far, this summer has been a somewhat mindless journey.  While most people may see that as relaxing and carefree, I’ve found it to be a personal struggle.  Since my routine has switched up, I’ve had to be more aware and focused on practicing presence and being in the moment.

I’ve always been a big picture kind of person.  I am able to create powerful visions, set my eyes on a goal and chase after it.  However, this makes focusing on details a bit more of a challenge for me.  And I realized, this is exactly whats been limiting my mindfulness this summer.

Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely surrounded by gratitude for my summer experiences.  I am provided financial stability with my jobs and am given the opportunity to make connections in a city that is still new to me. But, while I am very aware of all I have to be thankful for this summer, I still couldn’t shake off this feeling of emptiness. When I looked at the big picture of this summer, I recognized I wasn’t in my norm, my comfort, my passion of teaching and was working to make financial ends meet. Of course I was surrounded by more negativity than normal.  Who wouldn’t be with this kind of perspective on their day to day life?

But, I was very aware that I was choosing to look at my life this way.  To simplify the picture and create this less-than exciting narrative for myself. So, as I sat in the shower in this morning, I decided to meditate and let it go.

The first thing I did was recognize the feeling I was surrounded by.  And the best way I could describe it was empty.  What may be empty for others may not match what I’m describing as empty, but for me and my journey, this word just seemed to fit.  So, I was aware of this empty feeling and that I had to let it go, replace it with another emotion.  I wanted to be surrounded by gratitude.  How can I surround myself with gratitude? I started with a reflection of my day so far…all two hours of it.

I got to start my day with a run.  I’ve started to deem running as “meditation in motion” because that’s exactly what it is for me.  I’m able to get lost in the moment as my body moves and pushes itself. So, that was one detail of the morning that surrounded me with gratitude.  The next was new friends to run with.  One friend who I would not have even met if I hadn’t been a part of the lululemon family this summer.  This one detail of gratitude then spiraled into another and another.  My change in schedule has allowed for me meet new people at the box, who go early in the morning, people who I may have rarely ever spent time with if I didn’t have the opportunity to coach early in the morning.  I’ve been able to read books, so many books for pleasure these past few weeks.  I’ve saved money on gas from traveling less by car and more on foot.  I could enjoy a morning run midweek with friends because I didn’t have to be in a rush to get anywhere.  I’ve been able to step foot on my mat multiple times a day, in different settings, in new studios.

I took a deep breath and just like that, emptiness was replaced with gratitude.  My big picture shifted from negative to positive as it was filled with details of love, compassion and excitement.  And all I had to do was take the time to follow the cycle of mindfulness that I preach to my students day in and day out.

The most challenging part was being reminded that I should not judge myself for being mindless.  Each day is a new day, a new journey making us all beginners.  By simply being aware of the mindless habits I was creating allowed me to be more mindful.

So, if you too are finding yourself struggling to go from mindless to mindful, try these steps:

1. Mindful Thinking: be aware of the thoughts and emotions around you.  Do not judge those thoughts and emotions.  Just recognize their presence.

2. Mindful Speaking: say out loud what you will replace these thoughts and emotions with.  Breathe in and breathe out.

3. Mindful Listening: listen to your body, to where you may feel tension, to the thoughts surrounding your mind.  What are you becoming aware of as you work to replace those initial feelings?

4. Mindful Acting: Put it into action. Practice your replacement emotion.  How you do it is up to you.  And always remember to breathe.

If you slip, do not judge yourself.  Simply repeat steps 1 through 4.

Cheers to mindfulness and the mindlessness that sparked the journey.

The Health and Fitness Fad

Health and fitness is a touchy topic.  Mostly because there are so many views of what determines how fit and healthy you are. However, among the various opinions and trends, there is one thing that is fairly consistent within the health and fitness fad:

image. 

The food we eat.  The muscles we flex.  How many of us are creating an image of health and fitness without truly leading a life of balanced wellness?  At what point do our lifestyles go from balanced to obsessive?

I speak from experience.  It took me years to actually become aware of the fact that I had disordered habits.  Why? Because my actions were masked by the image of health.  I was a runner, so obviously I was thin, right?  Wrong.  I was thin because I barely consumed enough calories to keep my organs functioning.  On top of that, I excessively worked out, obsessively doing workouts throughout the day, especially after every meal.

If you looked at certain statistics, you could claim I was healthy.  I was a fast runner.  My fastest mile was 5:40. I could do movements like push ups and squats. But, I was far from healthy.  Because I was so mentally unhealthy.  

My physical activity was sparked by anxiety, stress, and the need to feel in control.  What started as a hobby became an obsession.  Fitness consumed my life.

If you were to look at my social media pages today, you would see pictures of my food, of my muscles, of my yoga poses. It’s a way to advocate for this life style change I’ve created for myself.  Health and fitness is still a major part of my life, but in a very different way.  I’m still an avid runner.  I lift weights.  I practice yoga daily.  My love of fitness has not changed.  What has changed is my perspective of it.

We assume that working out makes us stronger, faster and better.  I went from running and doing body weight movements daily with no true nutrition to working out just 4 days a week.  Yes, I hop on my mat and stretch daily, but I only do intense activity 4 days a week.  Because that’s what keeps me balanced. 

However,  it’s not all about exercise. It’s so so so much nutrition (like literally, mostly nutrition).  I don’t work out to eat…I eat to work out live.  I need proper nutrition to fuel my body.  Not just for exercise, but for life. I went from consuming barley 1000 calories a day to a minimum of 2000+ and this is the best I’ve ever looked and felt.

None of this would be possible if it weren’t for balancing my mental health.  I had to shift my perspective of my body before I could become passionate about taking care of it, respecting it.  I meditate, I become aware of the thoughts and feelings around me.  I listen to my body.  I research and educate myself.  I try new things.

So, among all the advice, the fads, discover what best fits you, mentally and physically.  You can practice yoga all day physically without ever truly finding peace within awareness. You can flex day in and day out without ever having an ounce of respect for the strength your body demonstrates on the reg. Life is a journey. Your health and fitness can either enhance your growth or hinder it. Grow in your awareness of how you treat your mind, body and spirit as well as why you treat them this way.

Because what’s the point of going through life looking good without feeling good?

National Running Day 2015

GUYS. IT’S NATIONAL RUNNING DAY!

So obviously I’m going to take the time to ramble about my relationship with running.

You see, running and me, we’ve come a     L     O    N    G    (pun intended) way.

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It didn’t always use to be this way.  In fact, it used to be the exact opposite.  I used to run because I didn’t honor my body.  I ran to escape my mind.  I ran because I felt like I had to.

I had very high expectations and very low self respect.  I ran and ran and ran to prove to myself I was something.  The (not so) funny thing about that is the more I tried to prove that something to myself, the higher my expectations were.  These expectations were unrealistic, unhealthy and unattainable.

Eventually, I shifted away from running.  I took the time to heal my body and my mind.  I needed to build mental and physical strength. I knew that eventually I would return to running, and when I did, I’d run for the right reasons.

Now, my runs are my time to be mindful, to be aware, to embrace my surroundings.  It’s the time to soak up the sights, the sounds, the scents around me and simply be. It’s my time to practice presence.

My runs remind me of my past.  My body has overcome a major struggle.  I don’t look at the past with regret.  It simply is. And because it is the way it is, I am the way I am.  My body is powerful because of it. I spent ten years being being guided by negativity and stress.  I’m dedicating the next fifty+ to being surrounded by happiness, mindfulness and presence.

I run to honor my body and free my mind.  Why do you run?

Running of the Bulls 8K: Race Recap

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Yesterday, I had the pleasure of venturing through downtown Durham.  Despite the high humidity (90% to be exact…) the race was a success!

And, although, I’m very proud of my pace, and overall placement for age group and gender..I’m measuring the success of this race in a different way.

I know what pace my body is capable of. I commit to long distance runs every Saturday morning and have easily sustained an 8 minute pace for 9 miles.  I didn’t go into this race with a pace goal.  I didn’t set myself up to meet an expectation.

Instead, I made a commitment:

to smile.

to be aware.

to breathe.

I wanted to soak up my surroundings.  My focus was to be aware of the bliss and gratitude that surrounded me when I ran.  I centered on the sights, the sounds, the scents that were present; that were a part of this journey with me.

At one point in the race, I told myself to keep my head up.  And I did just that.  I looked up, peered around at the sea of people surrounding me and soaked up the empowerment that came from recognizing I was one small part of this big community.  Pretty powerful stuff.

So rather than trying to control my pace, my body, my breath…I just let it be.  I ran. I smiled.  I enjoyed my time on the road with my fellow runners.  I truly believe this is why I had a successful run.

That and my fuel.

There are many components to living a balanced life style.  Creating a balanced mindset is probably the most necessary, and difficult to achieve.  Balanced nutrition is key, especially for athletes.

Night Before the Race

I planned my meals the day before the race to allow myself to have most of my carbs at night.  Carbohydrates provide stored energy.  So, I had strawberry banana protein pancakes followed by some oatmeal for dessert. And water. LOTS of water ALL DAY LONG.

Morning of the Race

Coffee.  And more water.  Followed by Shakeology with half a serving of whey added to it.  I’m the odd one out who has to eat right before a work out.  Shakeology before my runs has proven to work for my body.  It provides me with TONS vitamins and minerals. It leaves me feeling energized and ready to go!

Post Race

2 Chia Bars (1 acai berry, 1 chocolate peanut butter), 1 banana, 1 sesame seed bagel with 2 egg whites, 1 cup of greek yogurt with a scoop of strawberry whey protein and 1 cup of protein fiber almond flax granola from Whole Foods.  I. Could. Not. Get. Full. When your body burns calories, it’s VITAL to restore those calories.  I may not have gotten full…but I also never got that post race crash…because I fueled my body properly! Restored my body with carbohydrates and rebuilt muscle with protein!

Here’s some ramblings of me talking about the race.  Other topics coming soon:

the value of quality race gear

and

why I’ve stopped blasting music during my workouts

Life Narratives: Construction & Destruction

It’s no secret that people are exposed to society’s pressures.  From a young age, we’re taught our routines, pushed to paint this picture of our future and start paving the path.  At what point do we get too caught up in writing our life narratives that we’re forgetting to live our lives?

I’ve been there.  I had my whole narrative planned and written out since I could remember: from high school to college and back to the classroom as a teacher. College was a blur.  No, not due to a large consumption of alcohol.  On the contrary, it’s due to the fact that I was always, always going and going and going.  Working, studying, working some more…I rarely had down time.  I thought this was good.  I thought it meant I was going after my goals, I was being ambitious and earning my way into my career.  These habits continued through my first year of teaching.  I was in go, go go mode.  Constantly busy, work was always on my mind.  But I was “living” the dream, right?  I was in my career! I was happy…right?

Eh, not so much.  Actually, not at all.

I was so busy constructing this narrative of my life that I forgot to actually live my life.  I was so busy creating these thoughts, these images of what my life shoulda-coulda-woulda been.  Finances. Jobs. Relationships. I let these thoughts define me.  I clung to them, to the narrative of Devin Gaynor: super teacher, super girl friend, super daughter, super sister, super friend etc; etc; etc;

The funny thing about thoughts is…they are just thoughts.  Our lives are simply bigger than just thoughts.

So, rather than clinging to these thoughts of what woulda-coulda-shoulda been, we need to build awareness of what was and what is.  We need to be at peace with the existence of these thoughts, of these feelings, of the situations that present themselves.  From there, we can build on possibility.  We can create our reactions.  We can create our choices.

So, I vow we accept the construction and destruction we’ve built with our life narratives.  Accept what was, what is. Let go of these self-created expectations and make the choice to live your life.

 

Selfing

We live in a society filled with selfing.  No, not selfies, although those are plentiful (guilty), but selfing; we make things ours.  And its limiting our presence, our awareness, our mindfulness. 

I was recently gifted the book Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  Merely halfway through the book, I am already so thankful for it’s guidance during my this journey into a more mindful life style (thanks Sherry Hall!)

You see what I did there?  My journey.  That right there, is selfing ladies and gents.

We are so quick to claim things as me, mine, or my.  This includes thoughts and emotions.  By claiming these moments in a selfing manner, we are attaching ourselves to them.  All thoughts and emotions (the good, the bad, the ugly) are not ours to claim, though.  Rather than empasizing them as our own, we need to simply be aware of their existence.

Thoughts and emotions, whether positive or negative, hold us back from being fully aware.  If we are in a not-so-lovely situation, we find ourselves dwelling on the negative.  I’m sad, I’m lonely, I can’t believe this happened to me.  It’s a thousand times harder to let it go when we’ve made this distinct claim that it is ours.

Claiming moments of pure joy, bliss or happiness as ours isn’t exactly beneficial either.  By doing so, we’re creating expectations.  And, in my opinion, expectations can be toxic.  When we claim these moments, these thoughts, these emotions as ours and that they are our sources of happiness, we create an expectation to be able to claim them again.  When this doesn’t happen the second go around, we’re left disappointed.

Mindfulness is awareness.  Awareness that thoughts, moments, feelings are present.  Whether they are good or bad, you are simply at peace their existence.

So, I challenge you to catch yourself in the act of selfing, and shift it.  Those thoughts, emotions, they are not your own.  They are simply thoughts and emotions and you are aware of their presence.

 

Mindful Monday: 002

I’ve always loved the many wise words of Buddha.  One concept of Buddhism has been on the forefront of my mind lately: attachment.

Attachments play a big role in our perspective. Our perspective influences our ability to mindfully think.

Attachments come in various forms: relationships, material things, hobbies.  We often become fixated on the idea of something, on our routines, on our expectations.  So much so, that we lose sight of it’s true value, and focus on solely on the emotion the attachment provides us. It becomes our external force of happiness. This attachment shifts our perspective, our view of the world around us.  Our decisions are influenced by this attachment whether we realize it or not.

You are not your attachment.  You are you.  Once we become more mindful of the way we see ourselves, the self that is free of the attachment, you are able to not only let it go, but appreciate it more.

Here’s an example of an attachment I’ve recently “let go” of: fitness.

No, I didn’t stop working out.  But, I shifted my perspective of fitness. I’ve always been an athlete: softball, basketball, volleyball, running CrossFit.  Two that have played a role in my life are the later: running and CrossFit.  They are the two that I grew very attached to. They were my external source of happiness.  My level of happiness was dependent on a successful run or WOD.

It wasn’t healthy, physically or mentally.  My worth was is not equivalent to my abilities as an athlete.  When I stopped focusing on my image as a runner/CrossFitter, when I stopped looking at them as things I had to do in order to be healthy and happy, I became healthier and happier.

I shifted my perspective.  I mindfully thought about who I am and who I want to be.  I thought about how I can maintain a peaceful, minimally stressed mind. I freed myself of my own expectations.

We can shift our perspective on many things.  Whatever the attachment is, visualize and acknowledge yourself free of that attachment.  Know your strengths and values as an individual.  To quote Elsa, “Let it go.” (You know you’re a teacher when…)

What are you attached to that’s taking up space in your mind and heart?  How can you shift your perspective of this attachment to be more free?

Mindful Monday: 001

There are two concepts deeply connected to happiness:

choice

perspective

We either have the power and control of them, or they us.

The first step in leading a mindful lifestyle is mindful thinking.  We’re all very familiar with the phrase “think before you do.”  But, how many of us truly obey this “rule?”  Grasping the concepts of choice and perspective will help you do so mindfully.

The power of choice is the power of our reaction.  We cannot always control what happens to us.  However, we can always control our reaction.

We can better control our reactions when we shift our perspectives.  When our perspective is driven by peace and positivity, we see things with more clarity.

So, how does one begin to allow choice and perspective to guide their mindful thinking?

First, you breathe. Take a deep breath in through your nose, (like, deep deep..feel your stomach expand) and exhale s.l.o.w.l.y out your mouth.

Then, in your head, complete the following statements:

“I feel ___________.”

“I feel ___________ because…”

This is you taking the time to acknowledge your thoughts.  Be aware of your feelings and why you feel this way.  How are you choosing to perceive the situation?  Can you choose to shift your perspective?  How will you choose to share your thoughts?

Sure, it may seem like that’s a lot of thought to put into your thinking.  But, imagine: what if we all took in a deep breath, acknowledged our feelings and embraced awareness of our thoughts before acting?

Mindful thoughts create mindful people.

Mindful people create mindful communities.

Mindful Based Leadership

“21st Century Skills” is a major buzz phrase in the world of education.  Along with ELA (english language arts), Math, Science, Social Studies and other curriculum, teachers are also expected to guide their students in understanding how to utilize the 4 Cs: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. These are skills that people of all ages demonstrate and practice daily.

While I don’t like to play favorites, teaching 21st Century Skills is without a doubt my pride and joy.  Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching a wide array of subjects.  I’m passionate about creating engaging curriculum that makes my students excited to learn.  However, I remind my students daily that I can’t force them to learn.  My job is to provide them with the tools.  Their education is in their hands.  They have the power of choice. 

Using 21st Century Skills is a lifestyle.  It is something that must be practiced daily.  While certain aspects, like technology, are great to enhance these skills, it is by no means the foundation.  Being a mindful leader starts with you.

The Practice of Mindful Leadership

I’ve taken the 4 C’s of 21st Century Learning and added a mindful twist to them.  It’s one thing lead, it’s another to mindfully lead.

Mindfulness: maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.

Every thing we do is a choice.  This is not to be confused with what happens to us.  There will always be things out of our control.  However, the way we react is our choice. Using mindfulness to foster these choices is a powerful thing.

Mindful Leadership is a cyclic behavioral lifestyle.  I’ve outlined it like this:

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The first aspect of Mindful Leadership is Mindful Thinking (critical thinking).  Too often do we have knee-jerk reactions to a situation.  We act on our in-the-moment emotions, which can often be pretty disastrous.  (In my class we call this exploding like a soda bottle.  And, yes, I’ve been guilty of doing this many times). Rather than following the cycle, we tend to feel an emotion and act on it.  Instead, it would be beneficial to practice mindful thinking; being aware of our thoughts and feelings.  Take a deep breath, and analyze how something is making you feel.  What words are you thinking right now?  It’s okay to have thinking time.

After analyzing your thoughts and feelings, it’s time to mindfully speak, or communicate, those thoughts.  Express the way you feel, the words that were running through your mind.  Make it obvious that they are your feelings.  People can’t tell you how you do and do not feel. You have the right to feel your feelings.

The hardest part of the Cycle of Mindful Leading is Mindfully Listening.  We often “listen” to respond, rather than to understand.  Mindful Listening hones in on the collaboration aspect of 21st Century Skills.  Your allowing for the other person to practice the cycle as they mindfully think and speak their thoughts and feelings on the matter.

Once these pieces of the cycle have been demonstrated, mindful action can take place.  When we mindfully act, we are able to create something powerfully.  Our actions are more creative, more meaningful when they are built on a foundation of awareness.

Which brings me to…

The Pyramid of Awareness

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Practicing mindfulness allows for us to make mindful choices.  As we make mindful choices, we become more aware of how our choices impact not only ourselves but the people around us.  We cannot and should not judge the choices we make, or the choices others make.  Instead, we need to recognize and accept the impact of these choices.

Your choices start with you. The foundation of awareness is self awareness.  Before you can understand those in your surroundings (and they understand you), you must first understand the impact of the choices you make.  Every choice you make makes an impact.  While some impacts may be smaller than others, every choice counts.  Following the Cycle of Mindful Leading allows for you to make mindful choices for yourself.  With a solid foundation of self awareness, you are more open to mindfully understand your peers.  Peers can then come together to mindfully understand their community.  Communities join together to foster a change or have an impact on other communities (global change).

Mindful Leadership is a life style.  It allows for individuals to create respect and peace for themselves and for the people in their lives. I’ve had parents share with me that they are blown away by how their 8 year olds talk.  The level of maturity, respect and awareness they demonstrate seems unheard of.  Their children are giving them advice on how to their 20-something interns and co-workers need to practice their leadership skills.  It may not always be easy, but it will always be worth it.

I’ll share with you what I share with my students every day:

We all have the power inside of us to be leaders.  Whether or not you use this power is up to you.  The choice is yours.

Choose wisely mindfully.