In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. -Albert Camus
Even though February is the shortest month, it can feel like the longest stretch between the excitement of the new year and the promise of spring. You can avoid stalling out by stirring up your energy and redirecting it to boost your mind, body, and spirit and keep them balanced. By paying attention to the present moment, we can stay centered on our best intentions. If you can’t be here with us under the Arizona sun, we have some tips for bringing its warmth and vigor into your life.
Mind your body this winter by putting some spring into your step. Get your blood flowing to increase energy levels and improve your overall health and fitness. Make it part of your daily routine, even if it is a short workout. Just ten minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise can significantly improve brain function. You might even find yourself sitting up a little straighter after a Pilates session or sleeping better after a high-intensity workout. Your mind, mood, skin, and sleep can all get a boost when you get your body moving.
Focus on your breathing by taking slow, deep breaths. You will notice that you will feel more alert and awake since you are using your lungs to their full capacity. Restricted breathing significantly decreases respiratory function, which in turn lowers energy levels in the body.
When you consciously control your breathing patterns, you can better focus your mind, detach more easily from immediate reactions to thoughts, and get more in touch with an inner core of strength. It also induces multiple physiological and chemical effects such as altering heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormone levels.
KEEP A JOURNAL
The process of writing can help you get in touch with your inner voice and use what you discover to arrive at truly attainable goals, an action plan that really fits who you are, and a way to get back on track if life steers you off-course. Journaling can help us live in the present moment, noticing what surrounds us and what is inside the self. Mindfulness is about being in the moment, but it is also about accurately perceiving our awareness. A journaling practice can help us with this process by anchoring thoughts and feelings to paper and creating a roadmap for reflection.
Research has shown that exposure to nature can counter depression, decrease stress levels, improve blood pressure, and boost creative and cognitive abilities. Doctors treating everyone from children to adults suffering from anxiety, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, and chronic illness are now writing prescriptions for getting outside and into nature to supplement conventional medical treatments. You can keep your connection to nature year-round, regardless of the weather, and feel the exhilaration of wind, rain, or snow on your face.
Notice the flavors and textures of your meal. Take the time to fully immerse yourself in the sensory experience of eating. At the start of a meal, try pausing for a five-minute silent eating meditation. Miraval’s registered dietitian and nutritionist, Angela Onsgard says that “our brains need that space in time for the hormone leptin to kick in and deliver the message that our stomachs are sufficiently full.” When we rush through meals or forget to chew, we can miss that sweet spot between hungry and uncomfortably full. An ancient Chinese philosophy called Hara Hachi Bu recommends eating until we feel 80 percent full. It gives your brain time to catch up to your belly.
Purchase a copy of Mindful Eating by Miraval here.
When we meditate, we create and enter a space of peace with a clear awareness of the present moment. In this state of consciousness, the body rests deeply; the mind, though quiet, is awake. In the silence of awareness, the mind releases old patterns of thinking and feeling and learns to heal itself. People meditate to manage issues ranging from physical imbalances and burnout to emotional blocks and cognitive chaos. It’s a powerful tool for restoring balance. When difficulties arise, some people dwell on them and can’t let them go. Meditation offers another path: It helps us turn the focus onto an object while allowing us to drop the storyline attached to it. When this happens, we can observe our bodily response. Perhaps the throat constricts, the gut tightens, or the face feels soft. When we step inside the physical response, we begin to notice the corresponding emotions: perhaps we feel fear, anger, sadness. Miraval’s Yoga and Meditation Supervisor MaryGrace Naughton reminds us that, “when we consciously choose to open in meditation — emotionally, mentally — it becomes a purification process. When we choose presence, it gives us an opportunity to unpack and release troublesome things and draw in things we desire.”
Download Miraval Meditations by MaryGrace here.
Research shows that making art can significantly reduce stress-related hormones in your body and that the act of drawing something has a massive benefit for memory compared with writing it down. Creating art is a powerful way to access a meditative state of mind liberated from the confines of verbal communication. Creativity is its own language that enables humans to connect with one another — and themselves — on a symbolic level. The process of creating art overrides the need for words and can make room for more elusive elements of the subconscious to come to the surface. Rebecca Wilkinson, Miraval’s licensed art therapist and practicing artist, helps people see themselves and their lives differently by using art to access different parts of the brain. “Art helps us see parts of ourselves that we don’t have access to in any other way.” The act of creating something from nothing — of living in the moment — is relaxing and revitalizing. “Even if you just draw stick figures, they will be your stick figures,” Rebecca says, “and they will have a story to tell.”
Miraval Mandala Coloring Book by Rebecca Wilkinson available here.