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4 Mindful New Year’s Resolution Strategies for 2015

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

The transition out of the old year and into the new offers space to take pause.  Lots of us use this time to take stock of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we want to be. This is a chance to let go of the past as a clean new slate opens up just waiting to be filled.  So can you guess what the number one way most of us want to show up differently in the coming New Year?  The number one resolution this year is the same one most of us made in years prior; weight loss.

Unfortunately the one thing that New Year’s resolutions and diets have in common is that fact that most of them barely make it past the 6 month mark, which doesn’t bode well for next year, or the following; you get the picture.  Clearly something’s amiss.

The upside to all of this is that so many of us are motivated to make positive changes in our health, in addition to weight loss, improved eating habits and engaging in more exercise also made the list.  We want to improve our health and our wellbeing, but we need more than willpower to make what scientists refer to as these “adaptive challenges” stick.

So if willpower won’t cut it, what will?    One answer lies within an increasingly growing trend based on practices thousands of years old; the practice of mindfulness.

In scientific terms, mindfulness is defined as a series of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being  (resulting in such benefits) as calmness, clarity and concentration (Walsh & Shapiro, 2006).

In approachable terms, mindfulness practices span from meditation to gratitude, or any activity that allows you to tune out and tune in.  In other words, taking a break from the noise and confusion as you focus on your breath, or the things in life you’re grateful for.  Mindfulness gives us the ability to just be in the moment, free of judgment or drama, allowing us to step back and objectively observe.  Ultimately the practice of redirecting our attention to a more positive state, allows us to access calm amidst chaos, even when we’re not engaged in practice.

The reality is, most of the time (up to 90%) we’re operating on auto-pilot, simply falling back into old habits that no longer serve us. Developing a mindfulness practice teaches us to step back and calmly assess a situation before we react, giving us space to rethink our automated responses.  And it works!  As a former emotional eater, I ran the exact same pattern when I came home from a stressful day at work – self-soothing with food.

But after years of developing these simple practices, I give myself the option of another choice.  I can head to my meditation cushion and breathe myself into a state of calm in a few short minutes.  Then I no longer feel the need to self-medicate with a sweet treat, a glass of wine, or whatever the go-to happens to be.  I have a great new alternative that doesn’t leave me with a hangover, and instead moves me toward a healthier future.  Meditation is scientifically proven to help practitioners to resolve addictions, lower stress and maintain a positive outlook, as this practice helps build a natural defense against the lure of addictive habits.

Here are 4 Mindful New Year’s Resolution Strategies designed for your busy life, so you can begin reaping benefits that grow with each day. 

Develop a Short Morning Meditation Ritual

Establish a readily accessible space at home where you can set up a cushion and sit comfortably, keeping your spine upright.  Begin your day with a simple breathing exercise, like deep breathing (see below) or basic breath awareness.

Sit comfortably in a chair, or cross-legged on a cushion. Rest your hands lightly on your knees with your palms facing up. Touch the tips of your index fingers to the pads of your thumbs as you create a circle of unity within. Straighten your arms and feel the energy radiating from your heart to your hands.

Gently close your eyes and take a normal breath. Now begin taking slow deep breaths, known as Ujjayi breath.  From the Chopra Center, here is how:

  • Take an inhalation that is slightly deeper than normal. With your mouth closed, exhale through your nose while constricting your throat muscles. If you are doing this correctly, you should sound like Darth Vader from Star Wars.
  • Another way to get the hang of this practice is to try exhaling the sound “haaaaah” with your mouth open. Now make a similar sound with your mouth closed, feeling the outflow of air through your nasal passages. Once you have mastered this on the outflow, use the same method for the inflow breath, gently constricting your throat as you inhale.

Practice this style of breathing as you make every effort to focus on your breath, ignoring the thoughts that will insistently try to distract you.  Every time you feel caught up in a thought, a feeling, or anything other than the present moment, just take your attention back the breath.  And you’ll do this many times, this is the practice.  Sit for 5-10 minutes each morning and discover the benefits throughout your whole day.

Engage in a Deep Breathing Practice (from the Harvard School of Public Health):

To practice this technique, begin by finding a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down. Start by observing your breath. First, take a normal breath. Now try taking a slow, deep breath. The air coming in through your nose should feel as though it moves downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully.

Now breathe out through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural). Alternate normal and deep breaths several times. Pay attention to how you feel when you inhale and exhale normally and when you breathe deeply. Shallow breathing often feels tense and constricted, while deep breathing produces relaxation.

Continue this for several minutes. Put one hand on your abdomen, just below your belly button. Feel your hand rise about an inch each time you inhale and fall about an inch each time you exhale. Your chest will rise slightly, too, in concert with your abdomen. Remember to relax your belly so that each inhalation expands it fully.

Try to practice this breathing technique for 15 to 20 minutes every day. You might also try shorter bouts lasting a few minutes when anxiety begins to build, to see if this feels calming.

Start a Gratitude Journal

By taking some uninterrupted time each day to really reflect on what you’re grateful for, you actually help your brain to reframe the rest of your day in a more positive light.  It can be as simple as recording 5 things you feel grateful for in a journal, which you update on a daily basis, or a deeper reflection on one of your gifts, where you really ruminate on all of your reasons for appreciation.

If you really feel inspired to embrace this practice, try the challenge below:

14-Day Gratitude Challenge (from Personal Excellence)

  • Day 0: Start a Gratitude Journal
  • Day 1: Write 10 Things You are Grateful For in Your Life
  • Day 2: Give Thanks for Your Food
  • Day 3: Write a Gratitude Note to Someone
  • Day 4: Reflect on the Meaning of Gratitude
  • Day 5: Identify 3 Things to Appreciate about Your Adversary Day 6: Give Thanks for Your Life
  • Day 7: Give Thanks to Yourself
  • Day 8: Transform an Ungrateful Thought
  • Day 9: Share Something You are Grateful For with Someone Day 10: Give a Gratituity Tip
  • Day 11: List 3 Things You Tend to Take For Granted (and What You Plan to Do About Them)
  • Day 12:  Take Action on Your Plan from Day 11!
  • Day 13: Do a Gratitude Meditation
  • Day 14: Give Thanks for Your Mistakes

Try a Body Scan Meditation: (based on the work of John Kabat-Zinn)

Find a quiet space where you can close your eyes for 5-10 minutes to engage in this simple practice, designed to reduce reactivity and stress in everyday interactions.

Steady your breath by slowly and consciously breathing in and holding  at the peak of the inhale for a second or two.  Repeat on the out breath, holding briefly at the peak of the exhale before repeating.  Take a few minutes to slowly scan your entire body, starting at your toes.  Notice any sensations in your body without trying to change them.

If you prefer a guided practice, try this 8 minute seated body scan:

If you’re new to the concept of mindfulness, you may try adopting the practice that sounds easiest to incorporate into your day.  Personally, I keep my meditation cushion at the foot of my bed, so if I don’t stop and sit first thing in the morning, I’ll trip over it.

Learning to slow down and live more mindfully will affect every aspect of your being, so whatever your resolution this New Year, using meditation to improve the quality of your mental state will have a positive effect on your entire life.

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