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Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

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Tag: mindfulness

03 Dec

Opening Presence This Holiday Season: Five Ways to Stay Mindful

Ideas to Consider 2 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

{image via pinterest

Of all the gifts my husband I could give each other this holiday season, we agreed that putting away our cell phones might be the most valuable one.

Let me tell you, one constantly connected, slightly workaholic to another (oh, is that not you also?), putting that thing away is tough stuff! But I made a commitment to no cell phones at meals about a month ago, determined to break the habit by the holiday. And while I find myself biting my lip at times wanting to google a random question I just thought of about Israel and Hamas or Christina Aguilera’s hair, or wanting to reply to just one more email, it’s getting easier.

The holidays can be one of the most difficult times to practice being more present, our attention being pulled in a thousand different directions. From Thanksgiving menus to Black Friday deals to work holiday parties to cookie competitions to festivals to wrapping to travel, we often come as unraveled as the ribbon in the bottom of our gift wrapping supply box.

We end up moving from one event to the next with a holiday smile plastered on our face, belying the overwhelm we feel underneath. And in the midst of the madness, we lose sight of the true joy and peace that the season can bring. 

In the spirit of all that is merry and bright, here are five simple ways to practice mindfulness this holiday season.

  1. Sip your peppermint mocha mindfully. With the deluge of savory and sweet treats around the holidays, it’s easy to start engaging in mindless eating or overeating. Our office staff room always quickly fills up with goodies starting around Halloween, and by New Years most of us couldn’t tell you the difference between a macaroon and meatball. With all of the amazing dishes, it’s a great time to practice eating mindfully by taking one slow, delicious bite at a time. See this primer for how.
  2. Take a walk in the winter wonderland. For people who struggle to sit and chant “om” for an hour, a walking mediation is often a great way to connect with the present and develop a sense of peace. Try taking a quiet walk (leave the iPod at home) and observing the sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors.
  3. Start a gratitude practice. The holidays can pull for us to get caught in the past, longing for people, places, and traditions long lost, and in the future, longing for more (more attractiveness, more friends, more stuff). What’s goes missing then is appreciation for the present. The holidays are a wonderful time to start a gratitude practice, whether that involves daily recitation, journaling, or some other creative endeavor.
  4. Make a holiday craft. Creating something beautiful around the holidays is a great way to engage your attention and senses, and can serve double duty as a low-cost gift for your great aunt! Check out Pinterest for awesome ideas.
  5. Hang your stockings with care. Try turning holiday decorating into a mindfulness practice by taking the time to notice the details in each decoration. Observe the way that each ornament reflects the twinkling lights and the smell of mothballs pulling out the stuffed snowman. Notice the way the flames on the menorah candles dance and the sound of the rustling leaves on the wreath as the door opens and closes. You can even turn this into a game, challenging yourself to make at least ten observations for each of the five senses.

However you celebrate the magic of the holidays, I wish you many mindful moments!

 

08 Mar

Your Inner Nutritionist

Ideas to Consider 7 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

bon appetite {credit prettystuff; via pinterest}

 

I used to wear glasses, and when I did you could frequently find me running frantically around my house, late for work as usual, as I searched for them. If you were looking in the window during this charade, you would undoubtedly laugh, as I would estimate at least forty percent of the time they were on my face or folded on to my shirt. To me, this demonstrates just how disconnected I was from my own body. I could have glasses resting on my skin, making my vision clearer, and have no awareness in the moment of what was, literally, right in front of me.

Thanks to LASIK and mindfulness practice, I am much more connected to myself these days and don’t lose any glasses. I know that I’m haven’t been alone in this disconnection, however. Every day I see individuals who are utterly unaware of their bodies unique signals, and I see how this unawareness wrecks havoc on their ability to properly care for themselves.

When it comes to feeding ourselves, our bodies have an absolutely incredible system for keeping us healthy. Many of us believe that if we really listen to our bodies, it will tell us to eat Hostess cupcakes all day long and send us spiraling into a state of obesity. In fact, our bodies just don’t work like that. That belief itself is worth exploring, and is often tied to messages that we’ve gotten throughout our lives about how bodies just can’t be trusted. We’re told this by our parents growing up (“You can’t be hungry yet – you just ate!”), by our friends (“Watch out or your Twinkee addiction is going to catch up to you.”) and by the diet industry (“Trick your body into losing weight!”), and even by the government and food industry, (“Follow these food pyramid guidelines, not your hunger! Don’t worry that they are the result of dairy and beef industry’s advice to the USDA.”).

What we often fail to hear through all the white noise is the sound of our Inner Nutritionist, despite the fact that he or she is wailing to get our attention. Our Inner Nutritionist is comprised of all of the internal wisdom that resides in our amazing bodies. It’s built on millions of years of collective evolution and decades of your own personal experience. To put it frankly, it knows what it’s doing – a heck of a lot better than your Aunt Sally, Slim-Fast, or the USDA.

Our Inner Nutritionist tells us things like when we are hungry and when we are full. The Inner Nutritionist even has cool hormones at his or her disposal that can make certain foods more or less appealing.  Linda Bacon talks about the restrained eater, the subject of many studies, in her book, Health at Every Size. The restrained eater is someone who has kicked their Inner Nutritionist to the curb, and instead responds to external cues to determine their eating. The restrained eater responds to things like the amount of food available, peer behavior, and their emotions to determine how much and what they eat. While these things can influence all of us to some degree, those with a tight relationship with their Inner Nutritionist are able to observe and acknowledge these factors and return to their own sense of what’s right for their body in the moment.

Utilizing this resource can take a lot of practice, particularly for someone who has long ago fired the Inner Nutritionist. Bringing it back happens when we can practice mindful eating and develop a more balanced relationship with our bodies. An Inner Nutritionist packs his or her bags when her boss doesn’t believe she exists, ignores her, or, worse, berates her.  Just for today, practice being curious as to where your own Inner Nutritionist might be.

Do you believe you can trust your body for your food choices?

16 May

Anger ain’t always pretty, but sometimes it is {Self-Discovery, Word by Word}

Word by Word 9 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

fireworks2{Image :: Fireworks in San Jose by mrjoro}

 

You know the way a firework shoots up into the darkened sky and explodes into a thousand different particles of light? How, for a fraction of a moment, it illuminates the earth above in spattering of colors that the sky has never seen? It’s breathtaking.

When I was young I used to be terrified of fireworks. They seemed to rip through the sky like deadly missiles, and I was not a huge fan of anything destructive or war-like. My emotional reactivity didn’t help – I would feel like my heart was going to jump outside of my chest and be speared by my popsicle when a new Boom! would rock the area. This was unfortunate because in Cincinnati, like many cities, the annual fireworks display was an important event.

While I still haven’t totally conquered my fear of roller coasters, I have indeed learned to appreciate the spectacle of fireworks. I love to sit and watch the way the night sky lights up and, even better, the round faces of children with their heads tilted to the sky, mouths gaped open in wonderment, drops of their own red popsicles dripping onto their shirts.

So what does this have to do with anger?

As I was sitting reflecting on this concept of anger, images of big, bold, bright fireworks filled my imagination. Now, anger does not always show itself in the form of an intense explosion, but, for many of us, this has been what we associate with this emotion.

Some of learned to connect anger with dangerousness, because that’s what we were witness to in our early lives. When our father or mother or other important figure became angry, he or she made it known in a way that incited fear in us. Perhaps he raged through the house in an uncontrollable way. Or she raised her hand to us in a flash of contempt. Or maybe it was the silence that was so unsettling, knowing that at any moment anger could turn to pain.

If that was our reality, it’s no small challenge to relearn that anger can in fact be beautiful. Yes, beautiful.

Like fireworks, anger often comes on in intense waves – it can feel like it’s shooting through us. It can feel unsafe, like it could rip us through our core. But the fact is that it won’t rip us apart. Rather, it allows us to feel our reality in an intense and passionate way. It lets us know that we are alive and real and, yes, vulnerable. It tells us that wrong is being done and it motivates us to action.

Looking at anger with appreciation first requires looking at it from a place of safety. We wouldn’t allow our six-year-old selves to walk right up to the firework and hold the explosion in our hand. We hang back a bit, hold on to our mother’s comforting hand, and close our eyes if we need to.

If we can look at our own and others’ anger from a place of safety, we can begin to see just how beautiful it can be. We need to generate a sense of security in ourselves to be appreciate its power, and creating that for ourselves may take some time, particularly if we have been a victim of trauma.

But once we can look at anger with new eyes, once we can stay present with the brightness and the burning, a world of wonderment can open up to us.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

This post was written as part of the Self-Discovery, Word by Word series. This month’s series is hosted by Jules at Big Girl Bombshell, who has chosen the word ANGER. Please go check out the details and take part!

NTS-Medium

02 Feb

Mindful Exercise

Exercise 26 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

runner

{Image Credit :: Josh Janesen}

I often hear fitness experts promoting various ways of distracting ourselves from the pain that many believe to be inherent in exercise. I’m not talking about mantras or visualizing yourself crossing the finish line, both tools that can be very positive and body-affirming; I’m talking about tips I’ve heard such as “mentally prepare your grocery list” or “listen to an engaging audiobook.”

The problem with thinking about milk and eggs while engaging in exercise is that, like worrying about tomorrow’s budget meeting while having sex, it takes us out of the moment and into our minds. And our minds, amazingly enough, are not always the best places to be.

I would venture to say that the vast majority of us are not present during 99 percent of our lives. Being present means approaching our thoughts, feelings, and actions with awareness and intention. When it comes to mindful eating, it means attending to the full range of sensations in the experience of an orange.

But what is mindful exercise all about?

Mindful exercise involves being aware of our bodies and minds during physical activity. It means tuning in rather than tuning out, and allowing ourselves to be fully present, even in moments of discomfort.

Why the heck would we want to do that?

Great question! There are numerous benefits of practicing mindful exercise. Consider a few of them:

  • Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer and her student found that making women more aware during physical activity resulted in lowering their blood pressure, decreasing their body weight and body fat, and improving waist to hip ratios. The women in the study did not change their behavior, they simply became more aware that they were engaging in physical activity.
  • Mindful exercise serves as a great practice of mindfulness in our daily lives. If we exercise daily – whether it’s more formally by going to a gym or simply by playing with our children or shoveling the snow – we have a built in time to practice being more present in our lives. And we know that this practice can lead to decreased depression and anxiety, decreased stress, improved immune functioning, stronger relationships, and better sleep. It’s like a magic pill!
  • Mindful exercise also tunes us in to our bodies. If we stay focused and aware of the various points of tension and stress, we can detect problems more quickly and potentially avoid more serious injury. Personally, I blame too many treadmill workouts watching the Today Show for my late-in-the-game marathon training injury a few years back. Had I been focusing more on the signals my body was sending me sooner, I may have been able to resolve the issue and avoid being sidelined.
  • Mindful exercise can make us better athletes. When we’re able to tune in to the way that our bodies move and flow, as well as increase our awareness of our surroundings, our performance improves. To be on top of our game, we have to be operating with intention and focus. In competitive sports, mindfulness gives athletes an edge by increasing perception and reaction time.

So, how do I do “mindful exercise”?

If you tend to be an on-the-go runner, like me, it may help to supplement your more intense aerobic workouts with a lower-intensity, mindfulness-based practice, such as yoga. A recent study found that even a single session of yoga or Feldenkrais produced mood-enhancement in participants. Stepping off the elliptical and into a class such as these will help you learn to focus your awareness and stay more present as your body moves.

While anywhere your mind goes is okay (You’re not doing anything wrong if you do start planning your grocery list. It’s a judgment-free zone!), it might be helpful to start by becoming aware of the following:

  • Breathing – Notice the rate of your breathing, the feeling as your chest rises and falls, and even the sound.
  • Heart Rate – Notice how your heart feels as it pumps blood to the rest of your body.
  • Muscle Pangs – Observe all the little twinges, and make sure to stop if you the twinges are actually pain.
  • Areas of tension – Notice where your body feels tighter and looser. Focus on what it feels like to have your muscles contract and release.
  • Joints – Observe the feeling as your body moves at your joints. Is it smooth? Creaky?
  • Thoughts – Notice any thoughts that come into your mind. If they are critical, observe them and come back to your breath.

Just like everything related to mindfulness, mindful exercise takes practice. You’re likely to find your mind in all sorts of different places and tied up in all different ways, and that’s okay. Stay aware that even by engaging in a few moments of mindfulness per day, you’re treating your mind, body, and spirit in a whole new way.

Do you ever turn off the iPod and focus on your body during exercise?

NTS-Medium

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