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Mindfulness may be fundamentally understood as the state in which one becomes more aware of one’s physical, mental, and emotional condition in the present moment, without becoming judgmental. Individuals may be able to pay attention to a variety of experiences, such as bodily sensations, cognitions, and feelings, and accept them without being influenced by them. Mindfulness practices are believed to be able to help people better control their thoughts, rather than be controlled by them. Try a couple of these strategies and see what they can do for you.

Focus on your breathing.

When you have negative thoughts, try to sit down, take a deep breath and close your eyes. Focus on your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Sitting and breathing for even just a minute can help.

Wake up Early

Choosing to awaken a little earlier in the morning not only allows you to begin your day with mindfulness but also extends the amount of time you have to enjoy life. Give it a try for a week or so. You may be surprised at how much more you enjoy your mornings with just a few extra minutes.

Pay attention.

It’s hard to slow down and notice things in a busy world. Try to take the time to experience your environment with all of your senses — touch, sound, sight, smell and taste. For example, when you eat a favorite food, take the time to smell, taste and truly enjoy it.

Live in the moment.

Try to intentionally bring an open, accepting and discerning attention to everything you do. Find joy in simple pleasures.

Accept yourself.

Treat yourself the way you would treat a good friend.

Awaken with Gratitude

When we begin the day with gratitude, we train our minds to look for the positive rather than focusing on the challenges, frustrations, and slights we have encountered throughout the week.  The key to making this habit effective is not the number of things you feel grateful for or even the amount of time you spend in gratitude, but rather the intensity of focus and feeling you have around the effort. A mindful gratitude practice means immersing yourself in the emotion so that you feel deeply and profoundly blessed.

Do a Mindful Body Scan

The simplest way to get in touch with how you’re feeling is to do a mindful body scan. A body scan is a meditative practice in which you focus on each part of every area, often beginning at the toes and moving to the head.  The key here is to train your attention on each specific part for a moment and pay close attention to how you feel.

Practice a Morning Breathing Exercise

Do you pay much attention to your breathing? Practicing mindful, focused breathing, even for ten minutes a day reduces stress and promotes relaxation. Slow, deep, rhythmic breathing causes a reflex stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which results in a reduction in the heart rate and relaxation of the muscles.

Notice Your Thoughts

If you allow negative thoughts to run rampant first thing in the morning, you lose the best time for creativity and productivity. Many people wake up feeling anxious and filled with dread, as the cycle of rumination and negative thinking begins the minute their feet hit the floor.

Practice Morning Meditation

Meditation is the centerpiece of practicing mindfulness exercises. It does not take a genius to understand that practicing mediation at some time during your day is going to be an important part of your mindfulness routine. Taking time to meditate for just ten minutes a day will support all of your other daily mindfulness habits, as meditation is a form of strength training for your mind.  The purpose of meditation is to observe the patterns and habits of your mind and learn to tame the incessant chattering of your thoughts. With practice, you’ll gain more and more control over your thoughts, rather than your thoughts controlling you and your emotions.

Write in a Journal

Working through a journal for ten minutes is an excellent mindfulness habit because you completely focus on putting your thoughts onto paper. It’s a way to liberate your mind from the mental chatter that can set your morning off to a negative or anxious start.

Be Present with others around you

How many people around the world begin their days with little to no interaction with the people they hold most dear? What are we working so hard for anyway, if not to spend quality time with our loved ones? The best place to start is be being present with those around you, even for just a few minutes before you begin your work or school day.

Eat Breakfast Mindfully

If you eat breakfast, even if it is something simple like a piece of toast or a cup of yogurt, then consider making breakfast a mindful activity. Mindful eating involves both what you eat and how you eat it. Being mindful about your breakfast is a great way to reevaluate your food choices while slowing down enough to appreciate what you are eating. Eating healthy foods at breakfast can set the stage for smart food choices throughout your day.

Recite Positive Affirmations

As a mindfulness habit, affirmations are positive phrases that you repeat to yourself, describing who and how you want to be, using the present tense, as though the outcome has already occurred. Establishing a positive affirmation habit first thing in the morning can impact the outcome of your entire day. Positive affirmations, when practiced deliberately and repeatedly, can reinforce chemical pathways in the brain, making the connection between two neurons stronger, and therefore more likely to conduct the same message again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine being outside with a blue sunny, sky while you feel the soft snow beneath your skis and you feel the wind on your face.  Any one that downhill or cross country skis will tell you that skiing makes you feel healthy and happy. But while the physical benefits of being outside in nature and skiing are obvious, it has only been in recent studies that science have proved that the mental benefits of snow sports are just as valuable. A study led by Stanford University found that city dwellers have a 20% higher risk of depression than rural residents and a 40% increased risk of mood disorders. 

No stranger to finding creative ways to connect people to nature, Heather Hendrie is a Squamish based clinician who offers Ski Therapy in addition to her regular clinical practice. As an avid skier, former ski instructor and outdoor guide, Heather hopes to add ski therapy sessions to her suite of offerings this winter.  Heather became interested in the healing power of nature through her healing journey, where nature provided great relief and a sense of perspective leading her to pursue a degree in Clinical Mental Health Counselling, specializing in Wilderness Therapy.  Ski therapy seems a good fit for Hendrie, who made headlines when she created the “Lifts of Love” event in Banff.  An annual singles speed dating event held at Mount Norquay. It follows naturally that she’d take her therapeutic work to the chairlifts and groomed trails.   I caught up with Heather to discuss this interesting form of therapy.  

What is Ski Therapy? 

Heather describes Ski Therapy as a playful, Nature Based  way to connect with a therapist while moving one’s body.  The therapeutic process is at work while breathing fresh air, taking in the surrounding scene and engaging in bi lateral movement that is proving to support significant reductions in the levels of both bodily distress and emotional stress. These combined emotional physical and physiological benefits could make ski therapy a real 2 for 1 type practice, and ideal for people who’d like to try a novel approach in therapy. 

Where do you offer Ski Therapy? 

Heather hopes to offer sessions through maintained cross country skiing trails at the Whistler Olympic Park in the Callaghan Valley.  Making this therapeutic modality accessible to more people is currently a passion of Heather’s, as skiing has historically been such an exclusive pursuit. 

Do you need to know how to ski?

While Heather’s background is as a guide and instructor, the focus of ski therapy is healing and relief from symptoms, rather than the technical aspects of the sport. 

ski therapy 3

What theoretical approaches do you use? 

Heather applies a Transpersonal, humanistic, mindfulness-based, experiential approach to her work, inspired by such leaders as Rogers, Maslow, Van Der Kolk and Peter Levine.  

How do you manage confidentiality with others around? 

Confidentiality looks different outdoors than when sessions are conducted within the confines of an office, but fortunately, the field of therapy is increasingly being de-stigmatized. That said, Heather mitigates any concern in this area by always addressing consent and confidentiality with a client before beginning work together.  

 

Interested in learning more about Ski Therapy? Check out https://heatherhendrie.com/

The term “mindfulness” was defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.  This free challenge is for anyone who’s looking to add a little more calm into their daily life.  Mindfulness can help you to help you break down old thought patterns, tap into the present moment, and find your inner calm. It’s all about getting down to the basics of mindfulness in a fun and practical way.  Think of it as a self-development tool that helps you deal with things more mindfully on a daily basis. If you are new to mindfulness, this is a great way to see what it’s about.

How to get started?

Simple!  Just read each day’s challenge activity and spend the 5-10 mins needed to complete the challenge. Each day, try to do the next item listed.  It’s that easy.

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Day 1  Gratitude Challenge

Welcome to day 1!  To start out the mindfulness challenge, we are going to simply try to focus our attention on things that you are thankful for in your life. Research has linked gratitude with a wide range of benefits, including improving sleep patterns, feeling more optimistic, strengthening your immune system and feeling less lonely and isolated.

 

To start, find a comfortable place to sit and take 10 big deep breaths.  Your task today is to simple close your eyes and think of 5 things that you are thankful for. Think about people in your life, experiences you’ve had, good fortune that’s come your way, etc.  Or it could be as simple as a new shirt you bought.  Just think to yourself “I’m grateful for….” and come up with 5 items. An alternative is that you can write your 5 things down in a journal.   Finish off this challenge with 10 deep breaths.

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Day 2  Eating Mindfully Challenge

Today you are going to take some time to mindfully eat a single item of food.  Find a small food such as a grape, peanut, raisin, etc.  The objective of today is to spend the next few minutes paying attention to everything about that small bit of food. Notice the texture. What does it feel like?  Hold the item under your nose, and inhale naturally. With each in-breath, notice any aroma or smell that arises. Bring awareness also to any effect in your mouth or stomach. Now bring the  slowly up to your mouth, noticing how your hand and arm know exactly how and where to position it.  Place the item gently into your mouth, without yet chewing. Hold the item in your mouth for at a few seconds, exploring it with your tongue, feeling the sensations of having it there. Notice this pause and how it feels to take some time before eating the raisin. Next and with each small bite, feel your teeth going into the food and slowly chewing each bit of the food. This exercise should take you 5 to 10 minutes to get through that small piece of food.

mindful eating squrrel

ground technique

Day 3   The 54321 Grounding Challenge

Today’s mindfulness challenge involves using your senses to ground yourself. Find a comfortable place to position yourself then go through each number and calmly identify each of the items listed.

Take a deep breath to begin.

5 – See: Where ever you happen to be, look around for 5 things that you can see, and say them out loud. For example, you could say, I see the computer, I see the cup, I see the picture frame.

4 – Touch: Pay attention to your body and think of 4 things that you can feel, and say them out loud. For example, you could say, I feel my feet warm in my socks, I feel the hair on the back of my neck, or I feel the shirt against my shoulders.

3 – Hear: Listen for 3 sounds. It could be the sound of traffic outside, the sound of typing or the sound of your tummy rumbling. Say the three things out loud.

2 – Smell: Say two things you can smell. If you’re allowed to, it’s okay to move to another spot and sniff something. If you can’t smell anything at the moment or you can’t move, then name your 2 favorite smells.

1 – Taste: Say one thing you can taste. It may be the toothpaste from brushing your teeth, or a mint from after lunch. If you can’t taste anything, then say your favorite thing to taste.

Take another deep breath to end.

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Day 4    Mindful Seeing Challenge

This simple exercise requires a window with some kind of view to the outside world and a couple minutes to complete.  Your task is simply to comfortably position yourself looking out that window and observing and noticing everything that you see.  Paying attention to any trees or leaves that are moving. Notice the colours of the stop sign or street lights. Items moving in the wind. What shapes and patterns can you see in your view?  Try to see the world outside the window from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with these sights. The intention is to be aware and observant on the world around you.

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Day 5  Box Breathing Challenge

How much attention do you bring to your breathing? Practicing mindful, focused breathing, even for a few minutes a day reduces stress and promotes relaxation.  Slow, deep, rhythmic breathing causes a reflex stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which results in a reduction in the heart rate and relaxation of the muscles.

Today’s mindfulness challenge is a simple 4 count hold  breathing challenge. You begin by expelling all the air from your chest and then keep empty for a four count hold.  Then, perform your inhalation through the nose for four counts. Hold the air in your lungs for a four-count hold.  Maintain an expansive, open feeling even though you are not inhaling. When ready, release the hold and exhale smoothly through your nose for four counts. This is one circuit of the box-breathing practice.  Try to continue this breathing for 5 minutes.

box breathing

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Interested in going more in depth into mindfulness?  Learn more:

Free 8 week course.  Online Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course (MBSR)

Mindfulness Exercises   Free Online Mindfulness Courses

20 Reasons why Mindfulness is good for you   Mindfulness Meditation Benefits

How should I go about transferring colleges? I have been feeling extremely depressed and anxious. Will going to a new school help me grow and cope or should I stay and develop where I am at?

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This is a common thought when things are not going well at one place. Having been a counsellor in schools I’ve experienced many students that have changed schools due to the same feelings.

First off, it sounds like it’s been really hard for you. Going through depression and anxiety is not easy and with the stresses of school it can make it that much harder. I hope you’ve sought out some supports (schools usually have great counselling access for free) and have some positive coping tools to help you deal with what your going through. If you haven’t already, please visit your family doctor and discuss what’s been going on with you.

Changing schools would change the environment around you but this would involve a lot of transitioning which would add stress to your situation. In most cases, I’d recommend students try to make it work where they are. Where they are comfortable, have some supports, know their way around, etc. The experience of depression and anxiety is an internal process that is not going to magically change by changing your outside surroundings. A person experiencing depression that gets put in Disneyland, still is a person experiencing depression.

I would encourage you to seek out support for your wellness as your first plan of action at your current school. If when you are feeling better and you still want to change schools, then go for it. Remember that facing adversity can be a positive thing that helps you grow stronger. Building resilience is a lifelong process that will help you face bigger challenges in the future. All the best in your journey.

I’m a very socially awkward person. Recently, I’ve been trying to go out on my own (but I still suck at social interaction), and I was wondering, is it okay to go on your own to a coffee shop/fast food place or is it too weird?

First off, Congrats on taking that step to face your fears and do it anyway! You are well on your way to making this better for yourself. I think that is the key to really feeling more comfortable in public places. Slowly, gradually expose yourself to spaces that you don’t feel comfortable in. If you commit to this, you’ll find that it gets easier and easier. If you want to take it farther, try attempting to smile at 3 people you pass by in your day. To supercharge the process, see a certified counsellor or psychologist and they can support you systematically desensitize yourself to these situations that scare you.

In terms of going out on your own, Yes, of course it is ok to go to any place by yourself. Take a look at this pic.

Coffee shop

You’ll notice so many people working or just using their phones in a coffee shop. Looks natural right? It is very common for people to just go to a space to enjoy a coffee and do some work or school.

As an aside, try not labelling yourself socially awkward because really, humans can just be shy or have trouble around people they don’t know. That’s normal and something that people can work on and totally ok! It’s important to tell yourself the right stories.

Best of luck on your journey!

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Physiological Effects of Nature Therapy

As a result of stressful situations in daily life a, research is pointing us in a direction of getting back to our roots. Nature therapy, a health-promotion method that uses medically proven effects, such as relaxation by exposure to natural stimuli from forests, urban green spaces, plants, and natural wooden materials, is receiving increasing attention.

 

It is empirically known that exposure to stimuli from natural sources induces a state of hyperawareness and hyperactivity of the parasympathetic nervous system that renders a person in a state of relaxation. This state becomes progressively recognized as the normal state that a person should be in and feel comfortable.  Could this immersion in nature be helpful for you?

 

 

7 Rules for a Happy Life

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James Michael Sama offers up a list of 7 things that we can do in our day to day life to live a happier life.  How many of these are you doing on a daily basis?

1. Help those you can, whenever you can
2. Stay true to your commitments
3. Remain courtesy at all times
4. Be honest and genuine with everyone
5. Care less about who’s right and more about whats right
6. Do your best to avoid drama
7. Show your appreciation for others

Curious about what science says about becoming happier?  Time magazine writer found that science believes there are 3 things we can all be doing to train our brain to be happier.

3 Ways to Train your Brain to be Happy

Three Blessings

You must teach your brain to seek out the good things in life. Research shows merely listing three things you are thankful for each day can make a big difference. This technique has been proven again and again and again. One of the reasons old people are happier is because they remember the good and forget the bad.  Gratitude is a powerful force for training your brain.

Social Comparison

People probably encourage you to not compare yourself to others. Research shows it’s not necessarily harmful — but only compare yourself to those worse off than you.  When you compare yourself to those that are better off than you, this does not lead to positive feelings and may make us feel worse.  

Tell Yourself The Right Stories

When your vision of your life story is inadequate, depression can result. Psychotherapists actually help “rewrite” that story and this process is as, if not more, effective than medication.“Retrospective judgment” means reevaluating events and putting a positive spin on them. Naturally happy people do it automatically, but it’s something you can teach yourself. And when it comes to the future, be optimistic. Optimism can make you happier.

Eric Barker – Time Magazine