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Weekly Challenge: It All Begins With The Mind

Weekly Challenge: It All Begins With The Mind

These past few weeks have been dominated by vulgarity, insolence, and controversy. This includes Donald Trump's remarks towards sexually assaulting women, or spewing the terms "nasty woman" during a live debate; and yes, it also includes Secretary Clinton's potential "untrustworthiness," compounded by controversies deep within her emails and the Clinton Global Initiative; this also includes the tenacity of Hurricane Matthew and its ability to decimate the livelihoods of an entire country; the supposed "obituary" of the Great Barrier Reef; or our Senate's recent discussion of forest burning as a defined carbon neutral electricity source... 

The list could go on and on and on.

By this past Sunday, I felt exhausted. Overwhelmed. That is, until I slid into the booth at Ted's Montana Grill across from Mr. Jonathan Granoff and his wife Moon, renowned security and spirituality scholars, as well as my personal mindfulness experts, gurus, and mentors. They could sense my tension and strain. Mr. Granoff had this to say: "Go slowly and carefully. You are both very powerful and delicate and there is no hurry. One cannot pull a flower to make it grow faster. Feed the roots the rest will follow. You are on the good road."

Mindfulness is quickly becoming as trendy as kale juice, Buddha bowls, and sweet potato toast; you know, all the things you find just barely out of your comfort zone..but probably pretty good for you.

And yet, mindfulness isn't a trend, and it's not going away anytime soon, so you better get used to it (or at least I highly recommend it!). I won't be keeping score on kale juice, but for those able to secure a stronger relationship with themselves, they'll reap unbeknownst benefits. 

For example, according to TIME Magazine, simply exercising deeper breathing can lead to a happier mood, deeper sleep, less anxiety, a healthier heart, and better air intake! If one opts a a level higher by practicing meditation, expect a boost of serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins, a drop in blood pressure, smoother digestion, subsided swelling, and reduced pain

So how does one achieve "mindfulness," exactly?

This month, TIME Magazine published a special edition specifically to answer this question - because it's that important. Today, we find ourselves cluttered in distractions, leading to piles and piles of stress - according to a 2013 University of Southern California study, the average American consumes over 13 hours of media a day! And coincidentally, a lot of us actively seek a "mindfulness revolution." A 2012 study by the National Institutes of Health found that more than 33% of Americans said they had used alternative health practices, including mediation, over the course of the year. 

Photograph courtesy of TIME Magazine.

Photograph courtesy of TIME Magazine.

Sure, it's great. But what if I don't have time?

"I think there's been a kind of confusion in our culture where people have felt that they have to be anxious, uptight and always on the go to be effective," says psychologist and best-selling author Daniel Goleman to TIME. "It used to be you left work and went home. Now you've got your devices that follow you everywhere. The body is designed to be energetic and active and then recover. People don't have that recovery time - there's been this silent, invisible ratcheting up of invasion of our space." 

Below, I have listed mindfulness strategies in order of time and priority. Got 30 seconds to spare? Check out my top few. Care to dive a little deeper? Read further down. And lastly, want to offer your body an opportunity to really heal physically, emotionally, and mentally? Read your way through and enjoy every minute of your personal journey! Remember that each of these are merely suggestions. Find something that works better for you and your body? Go for it! 

1. 10 Seconds - Silence the Phone, I Dare You.

There's nothing healthy about a ping, ding, and trill every 5 to 30 seconds. Attention spans are dwindling by the second. According to a 2014 study, even being able to see your phone hinders your ability to focus. Try this: do not disturb, the crescent moon button found near notifications and in settings. When you activate the setting, your phone remains on but without all that noise. You can even set it so "favorites" can still get through and ring.

After a moment or so of zen, and when you feel the urge, feel free to open your phone and see who's said what. You may find you didn't miss that much at all.

2. 30 Seconds to 1 Minute - Deep Breathing Exercises

Mr. Granoff taught us: attitude brings gratitude brings grace. What gets us from one to the other? Breathing. Take a moment on your own, whether at home, in the office, or in traffic, to consider breathing "with gratitude." There are many different kinds of breathing exercise, but most simply, take the opportunity to count to five as you inhale, hold it there, and then give yourself another five seconds to exhale. A staple of yoga and other mindfulness practices, breathing exercises are now shown to help control blood pressure, and improve heart rate, according to TIME. 

3. 5 Minutes - Meditation

Did I send that follow-up email?...Shoot, I forgot to grab the groceries...I bet it's time to switch the laundry...I wonder how Molly liked Disney World...wait, focus, Savanah, focus.

Yes, this is me attempting meditation. And you know what? This isn't me failing. It's me succeeding! Do you also find yourself in a constant state of frenzy? Have you pulled the line "meditation just isn't for me"? Well, consider this: a study published in April 2013 in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience reports that practice, no matter how big or small, can reduce anxiety levels by 22%. It's just like that first pedal on a bike or maneuvering the new I-Phone; meditation is another skill worth putting in the toolbox. TIME Magazine offers a wonderful 5-minute meditation guide in its special edition that I highly encourage readers to check out. 

4. 20 Minutes - Eat Anywhere But Your Desk

Don't do it, don't do it! While at work, take yourself up on the challenge to excuse yourself from your inbox to grab a bite. No matter if it's the office kitchen or an outside bench, you are offering yourself the opportunity to stand up, explore, and socialize. As humans, we crave this. Let's offer ourselves the rewards we deserve. 

5. 45-60 Minutes - Yoga, or Another Mindfulness Practice

Yoga and other mindfulness practices are making their way into schools, hospitals, community centers, the office place, and even football practice (!) as more and more people experience the benefits. Not only does yoga offer a good workout, it provides a structured introduction to mindfulness, by introducing students to guided breathing, deliberate stretching, and mental awareness. 

For those in New York City, San Francisco, or Berkeley, I highly recommend checking out Yoga To The People. They offer something unique...yoga to everyone! The founders realized that many simply can't afford to do guided practice on a regular basis. Yoga To The People is funded on a donations-only basis, so bring your best downward dog, some cash if you can, and always a smile.

6. 45-60 Minutes - Guided Meditation

"Anyone can do it," says Janet Nima Taylor, the author of Meditation for Non-meditators, to TIME. "And the more consistent you are, the easier it will become."

The mind is everything.
What you think you become.
— Buddha

And a few apps for "spirituality on the go":

  • Buddhify - offering bright lights and graphics to give your meditation a modern edge.
  • Headspace - created by a trained Tibetan monk, and requires new members to complete an introductory 10-day (and just 10 minutes a day) meditation program before allowing access to its full spectrum of guides. 
  • Calm - breaks up the day-by-day by guiding viewers through breathing exercises, as well as aesthetically pleasing visuals and sounds to bring back a little peace of mind. Think crackling fire place or falling waves. 
  • Whil - the brainchild of the Lululemon founders, Whil allows you to train and grow with your meditation practice. Based upon inputted mood and intention, Whil churns up a unique exercise individualized for you!

I may be on the eleventh floor of a small walk-up in New York City, but I'm always back home in Charleston in my mind. 

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