A Year of Natural Health & Beauty Tip #40: Relax & Focus in Just Ten Breaths

Image by Mike D. Logan via Flickr

At this point, you’re well aware of the amazing multitude of benefits from meditation and deep relaxation.

In case you’ve forgotten, a few ways your body, mind, and spirit can be affected by slowing down include reduced stress, strengthened immune system, enhanced emotional stability, and a greater sense of overall well-being. 

Today’s tip is one that you can practice anywhere, anytime—literally. All you need is your breath and one empty hand. It’s easiest to learn this with both hands, but once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you can even do it with both hands full (while driving, for example, or while holding both a child and a grocery cart). Using gentle touch helps to ground your thoughts and awareness. It brings your attention to your body, which helps you to remember where you are, right here, right now.

Focusing on the rhythms of your breath immediately calms your mind, relaxes your nervous system, and brings you into a calm awareness of the present moment. It helps you to concentrate with a clear head and soft heart. You can practice this tip as often as you like!

Stuff to Know:

  • Breath work and meditation should be used in conjunction with conventional medical or psychological care, not as a substitute for it. If you are suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts, severe anxiety, an eating disorder, or other psychological or emotional distress, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional before practicing meditation.

How to Relax and Focus in Just Ten Breaths

  1. First, relax your hands. Rest your thumbs gently at the base of your same-hand index fingers.
  2. Inhale as you slowly slide your thumbs to the tip of your index fingers. Exhale as you slide your thumbs back to the starting point.
  3. Move your thumbs to the base of your middle fingers and repeat.
  4. Repeat again on your ring fingers and pinkie fingers.
  5. Then, repeat your pinkie finger again. Move your thumbs to the base of your ring fingers and repeat. Work your way all the way back to where you originally began.
  6. After you’ve completed your index finger again, relax your hands. Take two long and slow breaths, savoring the moment.

Remember:

  • Don’t force it! Just breathe and slide your thumbs along your fingers. It’s that simple :-)
  • Keep your breath gentle—do not over-fill your lungs or make noises. The simpler, the better.

Like this tip? Consider buying my book to get all 52 tips PLUS bonus tips in an easy-to-read format! It’s called A Year of Natural Health and Beauty: 52 Easy, Frugal, Natural Ideas to Enhance Your Mind, Body, and Spirit. You can buy it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other places. Click here to learn more or to purchase!

 

Questions for readers:

Do you practice breath work during the day?

Do you have any tips for everyday relaxation?

A Year of Natural Health & Beauty Tip #21: Practice Mindfulness Meditation

Image by Nicolas TACCHI via Wikimedia Commons

You knew it was coming, didn’t you? ;-)

You knew I wouldn’t ignore the physical, mental, psychological, emotional, and spiritual benefits of meditation when discussing natural health and beauty. And yet, some of you resisted. And you’re still resisting because you Just Don’t Want to Meditate. Or you Just Don’t Have the Time. Or you Just Don’t See the Point.

I won’t be coy and pretend it’s easy to learn or to practice. I won’t tell you you’ll gain psychic superpowers or solve all your problems overnight.

I will, however, remind you of the benefits of learning to meditate and of putting that practice to use.

These include:

  • Reduced stress
  • Strengthened immune system
  • Increased productivity
  • Greater sense of overall wellbeing
  • Feeling of “purpose
  • Enhanced mental, emotional, and psychological stability
  • Reduced anxiety, fatigue, and depression
  • Regulated blood pressure
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Lowered levels of stress hormones, like cortisol
  • Lowered cholesterol levels
  • Regulated breathing and increased lung capacity
  • Increased creativity
  • Improved comprehension and memory
  • Greater sense of living in the present moment
  • Greater sense of compassionate self-awareness and acceptance

Beginners often start with a practice called “mindfulness meditation.” This easy-to-learn seated meditation increases your awareness of the present moment and brings calm, steady attention to the natural flow of thoughts streaming through your mind.

It requires no dogma, no faith, no organized religion or belief system—just steady breath and compassion for your own humanness.

Stuff to Know:

  • Meditation should be used in conjunction with conventional medical or psychological care, not as a substitute for it. If you are suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts, severe anxiety, an eating disorder, or other psychological or emotional distress, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional before practicing meditation.

How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation

It can be easier to learn mindfulness meditation by focusing your awareness on only one sensation, object, or thought, such as your breath, a candle, or the concept of forgiveness. Set aside a quiet spot to practice and wear comfortable, nonrestrictive clothes.

  1. Sit in a comfortable position on a folded blanket, bolster, or firm cushion. You can also sit on a chair with both feet flat on the floor and your hands resting in your lap. Adjust your position so your spine is erect. Sit with your head, neck, and spine in one straight line.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Begin to steady your breath by inhaling for a count of five and exhaling for five. After a few of these deep breaths, breathe naturally again. Notice the way the air feels as it travels in and out of your body through your nose.
  4. Continually bring your awareness back to your breath, in and out, in and out.
  5. Do not force yourself to concentrate. Simply notice when your mind wanders, and then gently bring your awareness back to your breath. Consistently returning to the present moment takes patience and dedication.
  6. Be careful not to punish yourself for wandering thoughts. Thinking is the natural state of your mind. Meditation is not a competition.
  7. Now bring your awareness to the object of your focus. This might still be your breath. If it’s an object, like a candle, soften your gaze.
  8. Maintain your awareness. When your thoughts start to wander, gently guide them back to the object of your focus. Don’t fight the thoughts. Simply acknowledge them and let them pass, like clouds floating by or like ocean waves.
  9. Do this exercise for 10 minutes a day, gradually extending your sessions to 20 or 30 minutes.

Remember:

  • Start small! Even 1-2 minutes a day will bring you great benefits, when practiced every day.
  • Don’t get too comfortable. You don’t want to fall asleep! If you easily doze off when trying to meditate, take the necessary steps to address fatigue and sleep problems outside of your meditation practice.

Like this tip? Consider buying my book to get all 52 tips PLUS bonus tips in an easy-to-read format! It’s called A Year of Natural Health and Beauty: 52 Easy, Frugal, Natural Ideas to Enhance Your Mind, Body, and Spirit. You can buy it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other places. Click here to learn more or to purchase!

 

Questions for readers:

Do you meditate?

Do you have any tips for practicing meditation or establishing a practice?

A Year of Natural Health & Beauty Tip #7: Stretch Once an Hour

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A simple and straightforward tip this week: stretch!

It can be so easy to get stuck on your butt ~ in front of the computer, on the couch, in the car, on a plane… We often spend several hours a day just sitting!

Recent research has shown that the more time you spend sitting, the more likely your health will suffer as a result.

Heath issues related to too much sitting include:

  • Greater risk of heart disease
  • Slower metabolism, even for those who exercise regularly
  • Greater risk of diabetes
  • Higher chance of elevated cholesterol
  • Higher chance of obesity
  • Even a greater risk of certain cancers

Why Stretch?

You don’t have to roll out a yoga mat and do anything crazy. Just stand up and stretch. Some benefits of stretching include:

  • A clearer mind and refreshed outlook, preparing you for whatever work or concentration you’ll require in the next hour.
  • Reduced risk of injury when you do move or exercise.
  • Increased flexibility.
  • Increased blood flow.
  • Reduced inflammation.
  • Reduced muscle tension.
  • Increased energy levels.
  • Relaxation and stress relief.
  • Improved balance.
  • Improved posture.
  • Improved mood.

(iStock)

Easy Ways to Stretch (and to Remember to Stretch!):

A simple way to combat on-your-butt-itis is to stand up and stretch once an hour ~ no matter what you’re doing or where you are! Here are some ways to help make stretching once an hour an easy thing to remember:

  • Set a watch alarm or use a kitchen timer.
  • If you’re at your computer, set up StretchClock (for free!) on your browser. This handy reminder will alert you when your hour is up and will even open a short video you can stretch along with!
  • If you’re a clock-watcher, stretch at the top of the hour.
  • Drink water (perhaps lemon water!) throughout the day. You’ll be standing once an hour, guaranteed, as you make your way to the restroom! ;-)
  • Stand up. That’s all ~ just get off your rear end for a minute. I’ll bet you a nickel you automatically reach your arms up to stretch your back, spine, and shoulders once you’re standing! :-)
  • If you’re driving, it can be tempting not to stop if you’re making good time. But put your health first. Pull off to a rest stop or a scenic view if there is one. Stand up, reach your arms overhead, twist to the right and the left. Touch your toes if you feel like it. Then get back in the car. Feel refreshed? Thought so!
  • If you’re flying, it’s crucial to stretch during your flight. Sitting too long on a flight can increase your risk of blood clots, which can have serious health effects. Stand, stretch, walk to the rear of the plane and back ~ that’s all it takes to reverse the negative effects of sitting too long.
  • If you’re watching TV, make sure you stand up between programs.
  • If you’re watching a movie at home, pause in the middle and take a quick stretch.
  • If you’re at a movie theater, it’s probably very unlikely you’ll get up and stretch… but not after reading this post, right?? :-)

It’s hard to overlook the benefits of stretching. A simple stand-and-stretch once an hour will bring benefits to your mind, body, and spirit. So don’t just sit there ~ get moving!

Like this tip? Consider buying my book to get all 52 tips PLUS bonus tips in an easy-to-read format! It’s called A Year of Natural Health and Beauty: 52 Easy, Frugal, Natural Ideas to Enhance Your Mind, Body, and Spirit. You can buy it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other places. Click here to learn more or to purchase!

 

Questions for readers:

Do you spend a lot of time on your feet during the day?

Do you ever practice restorative yoga poses? If so, do you have a favorite?

A Year of Natural Health & Beauty Tip #5: Practice Legs Up the Wall

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Legs Up the Wall, called Viparta Karani (VIP-uh-REE-tuh kah-RAH-nee) in Sanskrit, is an excellent restorative yoga pose that can be practiced every day by yoga students of all levels. This pose relieves swollen and sore legs, calves, and ankles ~ and can be beneficial for those with varicose veins. It also stretches the hamstrings, spine, and the back of the neck.

By reversing the flow of gravity, Legs Up the Wall relaxes, renews, and rejuvenates the nervous system. It calms the mind, relieves anxiety and headaches, brings serenity and peace, and heightens self-awareness. Ancient yoga texts even claim that the pose will destroy old age.

Practicing Legs Up the Wall for even a few minutes a day can be an easy way to revitalize your mind, body, and spirit!

Stuff to Know:

  • If you’re a woman who is menstruating, consult with your yoga teacher before practicing Legs Up the Wall.
  • Avoid this pose if you have glaucoma or other eye disorders.
  • Also avoid this pose if you have a serious back or neck injury.
  • Consult your doctor if you have any medical concerns.
  • Be extraordinarily gentle!

How to Do Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani)

by Andrea Drugay

You can practice Legs Up the Wall with props or without props. Using a bolster beneath the hips can be more supportive for some people, but others might find that lying flat on the floor is a more rejuvenating stretch. Make sure you have a strong wall or sturdy door with enough space on either side to come into and out of the pose safely.

The following instructions are for using a bolster. If you don’t have one or choose not to use one, simply follow the instructions as below but rest your entire back on the floor.

  1. Place your bolster on the floor with the long side against the wall.
  2. Sit with your left side against the wall and your lower back resting against the bolster.
  3. Turn to the left and lift your legs up onto the wall. Be sure your lower back is pressing on the bolster before bringing your legs up the wall.
  4. Drape your lower back over the bolster. Lower your back, shoulders, and head to the floor to lie down.
  5. Shift your body so your buttocks scoot close to the wall, close enough for your sit bones to touch the wall. Your lower back should be fully supported by the bolster.
  6. Rest your arms at your sides with your palms up.
  7. Let your thigh bones relax. Imagine they are dropping downward, toward the back of your pelvis.
  8. Close your eyes and breathe gently but deeply.
  9. Stay in the pose for up to 20 minutes.
  10. When you’re ready to come out, very gently and slowly press yourself away from the wall. Bring your legs all the way down to the right side. Inhale as you press yourself back up. Come into a seated position and take a few deep breaths to reconnect with the present moment.

Remember:

  • Legs Up the Wall should feel good! Make whatever adjustments you need to feel comfortable and supported in the pose.
  • Don’t worry if your sit bones don’t touch the wall. Just make sure your legs can feel relaxed and that you’re not expending energy trying to keep your legs raised. Experiement with different heights, support, and placement to find the position that’s most comfortable for you.
  • For extra support, place a rolled towel beneath your neck.
  • To stretch your legs and hips more, open your legs into a wide “V” shape.
  • Try wrapping a yoga strap around your thighs when you’re in the pose. The extra support will help your legs to relax more deeply.
  • Keep your breath calm and relaxed.

Like this tip? Consider buying my book to get all 52 tips PLUS bonus tips in an easy-to-read format! It’s called A Year of Natural Health and Beauty: 52 Easy, Frugal, Natural Ideas to Enhance Your Mind, Body, and Spirit. You can buy it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other places. Click here to learn more or to purchase!

 

Questions for readers:

Do you spend a lot of time on your feet during the day?

Do you ever practice restorative yoga poses? If so, do you have a favorite?

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