TWEAKS 2 MYC #27: ACTIVE MEDITATION

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As mentioned in a previous blog post (TWEAKS 2 MYC #21), sitting meditation, which involves sitting down quietly and focusing your full attention on your breath, while keeping a non-judgmental attitude towards your thoughts, can improve memory, “focus”, and overall brain efficiency as well as decrease stress, anxiety, depression, and pain (Sharma, 2015).

However, it can be hard for some people to sit quietly for 5 to 10 minutes. If this is the case for you, try active meditation. Active meditation has the same principles as sitting meditation, but the only difference is that you perform an exercise/stretch while focusing on your breath, instead of sitting down in a chair.

For this post, we will use the “Air Squat”:

Below are the basic instructions on how to properly practice active meditation:

  • Practice this exercise every single day
  • Set your timer for 3 minutes
  • Do slow and steady air squats for 3 minutes
    • Your breathing rate and heart rate should not go up!
    • If it does, shorten the range of motion of your squat
  • The idea is to synchronize your air squat movement to your breath
    • Focus your full attention on your breath going in and out of your nostrils while performing the exercise
    • Start by inhaling fully through your nose (pushing your diaphragm out as far as possible) at the top of the position
    • As you go down, exhale slowly through your nose
    • Your exhalation should be continuous throughout the movement
    • At the bottom of your squat, you should be at the end of your exhalation
    • As you rise, inhale slowly through your nose
    • Your inhalation should be continuous throughout the movement
    • At the top of the position, you should be at the end of your inhalation
  • When you notice that your mind is wandering (e.g., you are thinking about the past or future, you feel anger or boredom, you label your sensations), simply recognize it and tell yourself “breath” to help you bring your full attention back to your breath
  • Keep a non-judgmental attitude towards your thoughts
    • Just view your thoughts as thoughts (don’t label them as good or bad)
    • Don’t try to stop your thoughts (let them come and go as they please)

You can also choose another exercise or stretch if you want. The idea is to time your breath to the movements you are performing (i.e., inhale when your body expands and exhale when your body contracts) and focusing all your attention on the air going in and out of your nostrils.

Once you feel comfortable doing this 3-minute active meditation exercise, you can add a few minutes to your total time, if you want.

Set goals. Do just one thing at a time. Keep it simple and smart. Do it consistently. Reflect on the process.

TWEAKS 2 MYC #22: SMILING

Picture Tweaks to MYC 22

Would you agree that receiving a smile from a total stranger can brighten up your day? Consider the following scenario. You’re walking down the street with your head down after a terrible day at work. You feel angry and can’t wait to get back home. A bunch of negative thoughts are swirling around in your head and you can’t make them stop. When crossing the intersection, you lift your head and notice a person walking towards you. For a brief moment, they look at you and smile. You instantly feel better and realize that your problems are not that bad after all. Life is good!

Now, you can get the same types of benefits if you take the time to smile when you’re feeling down! Researchers have discovered that the simple act of smiling can increase positive mood (Yamamoto, Sugimori, & Shimada, 2010) and lower heart rate (Kraft & Pressman, 2012). Moreover, smiling can predict longevity! Abel and Kruger (2010) found that smile intensity (i.e., no smile, partial smile, full smile) is positively correlated with longevity.

Listen to Ron Gutman talk about “the hidden power of smiling” in his 2011 TED talk:

So, if you ever feel sad, stressed, or angry, STOP, TAKE A DEEP BREATH, and SMILE! It might not solve all your problems, but it’s going to help you take a step in the right direction.

Set goals. Do just one thing at a time. Keep it simple and smart. Do it consistently. Reflect on the process.

References

Abel, E. L., & Kruger, M. L. (2010). Smile intensity in photographs predicts longevity. Psychological Science, 21, 542-4.

Kraft, T. L., & Pressman, S. D. (2012). Grin and bear it: The influence of manipulated facial expression on the stress response. Psychological Science, 23, 1372-8.

Yamamoto, T., Sugimori, S., & Shimada, H. (2010). Effects of smiling manipulation on negative cognitive process during self-focused attention. The Japanese Journal of Psychology, 81, 17-25.

TWEAKS 2 MYC #18: BODY SCAN

Picture Tweaks to MYC 18

Eastern philosophers have always stressed the importance of living in the “present moment”. For example, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote in his book, Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living, that “to live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now”.

Being in the “present moment” is a state of mind that enables you to be fully immersed in the activity you’re doing. You are in tune with all your senses, you don’t think about the past or the future, and you don’t use your mind to describe what is happening to you in the “present moment”.

Although most of us can understand the importance of living in the “present moment” from an intellectual standpoint, only a handful of people seem to have the ability to experience this state of mind on a daily basis. So what can we possibly do to be more “present”?

An easy way to become more “present” and stop being in our “heads” all the time is to do what we call a “body scan”. A “body scan” is a form a meditation where you focus your awareness on the sensations in your body. This type of meditation exercise has been linked to improvements in the tendency to describe one’s experience, rumination (repetitive thinking), self-compassion, and psychological well-being (Sauer-Zavala et al., 2013). Moreover, Kaufman and colleagues (2009) found that a mindfulness training program, which included “body scan” exercises, enhanced athletes’ flow, mindfulness, and aspects of sport confidence.

Below are the basic instructions on how to properly perform a “body scan”:

  • Practice this exercise every day
  • Set your timer for 5 minutes
  • Sit down in an armless chair
  • Place your feet firmly on the ground with your knees at 90 degrees
  • Keep your back straight
  • Place your hands on your thighs
  • Relax your arms, shoulders, neck, and jaw
  • Close your eyes
  • Take 3 deep breaths
  • Focus your awareness on the “sensations” in your body (e.g., sensations in your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and organs such as tightness, suppleness, pain, spasms, energy levels, pressure, vibration, heat, and weight)
  • If your mind wanders (e.g., you are thinking about the past or future, you feel anger or boredom, you label your sensations), simply recognize it (you can tell yourself, “my mind is wandering”), and then bring your awareness back to the “sensations” in your body
  • Scan your body parts in the following order: toes, feet, calves, thighs, pelvis, glutes, lower back, stomach, chest, upper back, shoulder, arms, forearms, hands, fingers, traps, neck, jaw, mouth, nose, eyes, top of the head
  • Once you are done going through each body part, focus your awareness on the sensations in your “whole” body.

To be effective, meditation needs to be practiced consistently. For instance, you will reap many more health benefits if you do a 5-minute “body scan” 7 days per week, rather than a 60-minute “body scan” once in a while. Therefore, make sure that you pencil in your meditation sessions into your schedule!

Once you feel comfortable with a 5-minute “body scan”, you can increase your total time by 2 minutes and 30 seconds if you desire. However, if increasing your total time means increasing your chances of not doing it, then keep your sessions short (around 5 minutes). If you have the time and enjoy this meditation exercise, try going all the way up to 20 minutes!

A “body scan” is a great introduction to the world of meditation. There are many other types of meditation exercises out there, as well as important concepts to keep in mind. However, you don’t need to worry about that right now. I will cover these different exercises and concepts in future blog posts. Just stay tuned!

Set goals. Do just one thing at a time. Keep it simple and smart. Do it consistently. Reflect on the process.

References

Kaufman, K. A., Glass, C. R., & Arnkoff, D. B. (2009). Evaluation of mindful sport performance enhancement (MSPE): A new approach to promote flow in athletes. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology3, 334-356.

Sauer-Zavala, S. E., Walsh, E. C., Eisenlohr-Moul, T. A., & Lykins, E. L. B. (2013). Comparing mindfulness-based intervention strategies: Differential effects of sitting meditation, body scan, and mindful yoga. Mindfulness, 4, 383-388.