Self-Care Matters: Start Today

In honor of May which is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month, we are kicking off our online self-care course with recommendations and exercises for establishing a daily/weekly self-care practice. As we say in mindfulness and counseling, lifestyle change is dose-related and the more consistently and frequently you practice, the more benefits accrue, and the stronger your self-care or stress-reducing muscle becomes.

Yesterday when I was at Macy’s Galleria in St. Louis partnering with Clinique Cosmetics in a “healthy lifestyle” event for their #startbetter campaign, from the customers to the other lifestyle experts (Paul Mitchell Salon students were there and did a great job on hair and nails) to the women behind the counter, everyone talked about how stressed and busy they are. A few, had regular mindfulness activities like gardening or walking in nature, but most did not. The problem-too little time.

How many of us tell ourselves that we don’t have time in our day to practice self-care? I know I did until I suffered from walking pneumonia seven years ago when I let myself get run down and didn’t know if I’d get back up. Or the story I heard Ariana Huffington tell last week as part of the Women on the Edge of Evolution online conference, about how her life had been frantic and out of control until she found herself lying face down in a pool of blood one day, passed out from fatigue and emotional exhaustion. Many of us have these stories to tell.

So, here’s this week’s assignment. See if you can carve out five minutes twice a day and do something restorative. Close your eyes and breathe for five minutes-click here for an online exercise; take a shower and dedicate your time to appreciating the sensation of the water or the smell of the soap instead of focussing on your to-do list; spend five minutes before you go to bed and in the morning when you wake up, expressing gratitude for what you have, or whatever self-care looks like for you.

Try it and see how it goes. Then, share your experience with us so we can support and encourage each other. You are “not alone” which is the theme of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month and one of my favorite songs from Into The Woods.

Our community is with you. Namaste.

Mindfulness: Self-Care for the Mind

For the past three years, I’ve been teaching mindfulness classes to women and couples to improve health, including fertility and decrease stress and mommy guilt at my practice, Midwest Mind Body Health Center.

My students often remind me how challenging it is to take time for self-care and mindfulness outside of class and how helpful it is to have a group in which we deliberately set aside time to practice. Honestly, I need this too. Having a class or community which actively supports your mindfulness and self-care practice is important and necessary for many of us.

This week when I thought about my upcoming mindfulness class, June 5 & 6,  and the online self-study course we’re hosting on living self-care,  it occurred to me that “mindfulness is self-care for the mind.” So, by taking 5 minutes twice a day to do something which is restorative or stress reducing is strengthening our mindfulness muscle. You can choose what you do. It doesn’t have to be sitting with your eyes closed meditating for five minutes. Instead, it can be simply paying attention to the experience of what you’re doing like the sensations of taking a shower, going for a walk or eating a yummy treat one bite at a time. If your mind wanders, bring it back to the sensations and feeling of the moment you’re in.

Because mindfulness is hard to explain in words, please enjoy this video of one of my mindfulness classes from the Fox Files on Fox2 in STL. Click on this link to see the video-

You can even count it as one of your five minute practices for this week.

In the meantime, let’s keep supporting and encouraging each other on-and offline. Namaste.

Living Self-Care Mindfully

It’s Monday again. Time for week two of our online self-study course in self-care and mindfulness. If you’re joining us for the first time, welcome. If you’re back for more, we’re glad you’re still interested in improving your life through self-care and mindfulness. Although we will be going through the process step by step, it takes attention and effort to maintain in a world filled with distraction and external demands.

Last week, we asked you to spend 5 minutes twice each day in some self-care activity which could be closing your eyes and paying attention to your breath (mindful breathing) or noticing the sensory experience of taking a shower, walking in nature or washing the dishes. How’d you do? Were you able to set the time aside to practice for 5 minutes each day? Were you able to focus on what you were doing and bring your mind back when it started to wander? For now, what’s most important is dedicating the time to being in the moment and having a different experience than we usually do when we’re caught up in our busy, stressed out lives. True self-care.

This week your assignment is to spend 10 minutes twice each day in some self-care activity or twenty minutes once a day. I like to sit on my porch or deck and slowly sip a cup of tea (in my tranquili-tea cup a friend gave me) and watch the clouds passing in the sky, look at how green it’s become or listen to the bird songs. The same friend who gave me the teacup says it’s getting a little “mental spa” time. When my mind starts to fill with future worries or past regrets, I bring it back to the momentary sensations I’m experiencing before getting too far down the “not in the moment” road.

Your other assignment this week is to notice when your mind wanders and start to bring it back to the moment you’re in. If this happens, you can close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to redirect your attention. Another strategy is to hyper-focus your attention on one sense like seeing or something which provides a momentary experience naturally like watching a cloud pass by in the sky. When I’m walking and a train goes by, I stop and focus my attention on the train until I see the caboose. Then I resume my walk.

Whatever happens, congratulate yourself on your effort. Marcel Proust said “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new lands but in seeing through new eyes.” Namaste

A Simple Mindfulness Exercise: Notice the Moment You’re In

Last week, we asked you to spend 5 minutes twice each day in some self-care activity which could be closing your eyes and paying attention to your breath (mindful breathing) or noticing the sensory experience of taking a shower, walking in nature or washing the dishes. How’d you do? For now, what’s most important is dedicating the time to being in the moment and having a different experience than we usually do when we’re caught up in our busy, stressed out lives. True self-care.

On Monday we challenged you further, asking that you spend 10 minutes twice a day practicing self-care mindfully. Now it’s Thursday? What has your experience been? Whatever’s happened, just the thought to make time for yourself each day is mindful. Let me tell you how.

Research indicates that we spend 80% of our time worrying about the future, 20% of our time regretting the past, and very little in the present moment. However, when we start to notice that our mind has strayed from some activity we intended to do, in that moment, we are living in the present. Sound confusing? It can be.

Let me give you another example. In mindful stress reduction class, we often focus our attention on our breath or a phrase/mantra. After seconds or moments, thoughts begin to interrupt and try to distract us. In the moment when we catch ourselves having a thought instead of paying attention to our breath or mantra, we are being mindful of the present. Still, the best way to learn this is to practice by first setting time aside for self-care and mindfulness and then, noticing when you do or don’t and trying to come back to it.

Here’s the best example though. Today, I noticed that my mind was getting agitated and I felt restless. I’d told my mom I’d visit her and realized after two days of being in my office, I needed some alone time. I called my mom who totally understood and guess what? My mind settled down and I felt calmer. Self-care and mindfulness all in one.

Best Always. Namaste.

Practice Mindfulness with Dr. Sanford

Last Friday, I got to speak at the Postpartum Support International (PSI) certificate training in St. Louis. It was a wonderful blend of maternal child health providers from public agencies and private practices gathered together to support pregnant, birthing and postpartum women and their families. Both welcoming and warm, I felt much at home.

After my opening remarks, I led the group in a mindfulness exercise.  I was returning to my seat when a woman at the table next to mine stopped me and said, “You have such a soothing voice. You should make a meditation CD.” Since, I’m practicing mindfulness these weeks along with you, she got my attention and I listened. Of course, in my head, I’m thinking like many of us do “Where will I start? Which of the many mindful coping skills that I teach, shall I choose.”

Then I realized, keep it simple. Just click here on Simply Breathe or Soothe Your Body Mind, and you can try my guided mindfulness exercises. Pick the one you like or alternate between the two. Whichever suits you.

Please listen to one of these mindful coping skills daily or every other day for the next week. We call this “formal” practice. For your other 10 minutes of daily practice,”informally savor the moment you’re in” by tuning in to any activity you’re already doing. It could be showering, walking, gardening, playing with your children or spending time with your pet. When thoughts occur, redirect your attention to the sensory experience of what’s going on.

Make your best effort to commit to “formal” practice 10 minutes daily and “informal” practice 10 minutes daily. Do your best. Whatever happens, it’s okay. Be gentle with yourself. No judgement or criticism.

Have a good week. Namaste.

Thursday’s Cup of Comfort

Welcome to my first ever Thursday’s “Cup of Comfort.” I’ve decided by the end of the week, most of us need encouragement and inspiration instead of another “assignment” when many of us haven’t made time yet this week to look at Monday’s Mindfulness Practice. Also, I realized by later in the week, it’s good for me too.

Today I just happened across a post from Vishnu’s Virtues on MindBodyGreen which I wanted to share. A “happy coincidence” as I like to call it. I picked out the ones I liked best. If you want to read the whole post click here.

Just in time for our first “cup of comfort.” From Vishnu Subramaniam’s 10 ideas for soulful living. Enjoy!

6. Choose quiet-time over busy-time.

We run around our day-to-day life embracing our perfectionist tendencies and our unknown desire to get it all done. Forget that.

Cut out the things you hate doing out of obligation.

Create downtime for yourself to breathe, rest and reflect. Cultivate quiet time for your soul to take in life at its own pace.
Your life will not be remembered by what you got done, it will be remembered by how much you embraced each moment in front of you.

7. Choose today over what happened.

Unless you have access to a time machine, you can’t change the past. But you can embrace what you’re doing today, and the experiences that you’re facing right now.

Lighten your load by releasing the burdens of the past. Catch yourself when you want to brood over past failures and pain. Center yourself and bring your attention back to the present.

10. Choose vulnerability over hiding.

Show up in the world exactly as you are. Embrace your emotions, hurts, pains and life’s story. Your unique journey is what makes you, you.

Share who you truly are and what you’re feeling with others. No need to hide, create stiff boundaries or put up walls around you. Being vulnerable with others allows you to show up honestly in the world and create deeper and more genuine relationships with others. Yes, you might get hurt sometimes, but at least you’ll always be deeply seated in your truth.

You have a choice everyday about how you live your life.

Let go of fear-based, ego-filled living.

Opt for a more joyful, soul-centered life.

“At any moment you have a choice that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

Memorial Day: Remembering Those We’ve Loved and Lost

Looking for something I could post today in honor of Memorial Day, I found this. One of the most moving songs I’ve heard recently about losing someone you love-

As you listen, remember those you’ve loved and lost, and let your heart radiate those feelings. This one’s for you, dad. Even though it’s been 16 years, I still feel the love for you and your love for me.