With the holidays now upon us, many of us are beginning to feel the stress of this time of year. So how can we make the holidays more mindful? How can we get back to truly enjoying this time of year? I plan to approach this holiday season with a more mindful mindset than in years past. So along with baking holiday cookies, sipping tea by the fire and wrapping gifts, I plan to add these five reminders to my holiday to-do list:
1. Practice gratitude. I think about the concept of gratitude a lot, especially this time of year, when we’re bombarded by advertising and crowds and the expectations of others and an overly full calendar. When that overwhelmed feeling begins to creep in, it often helps to count the many small blessings in my life. Because the holidays aren’t really about buying the coolest, hippest gifts—they’re about being grateful for things both big (my health) and small (my daughter’s smile over waffles on a Sunday morning).
2. Embrace the moment right now. We are all pulled in so many directions during the holidays—from potlucks and decorating to shopping and parties. These things are fun, yes, but they can be stressful, too, especially when you are trying to fit them around an already busy schedule. When I can slow down and savor and embrace this moment right now—and put aside my worries about my to-do lists—I can connect with my inner happiness and peace again.
3. Eat mindfully. I do try to eat mindfully on a regular basis—and as animal-friendly as possible—but so much temptation surrounds us this time of year. Even though I intend to try my best, I must also practice compassion for myself if I eat too many cookies or too much chocolate (which I’m pretty sure is going to happen).
4. Take time for yourself and your animals. Our animals find happiness in the most simple things—a warm bed, a clean bowl of water, a soft pet on the head. Let us all remember to take breaks for ourselves when we feel overwhelmed, and also to look to our animals for inspiration. Spending one-on-one time with them, either walking a favorite trail or cuddling on the couch with their favorite blanket, can calm our frayed nerves and bring us back into balance.
5. Breathe. And meditate. I am hoping my daily meditations will help me if I begin to feel overwhelmed by those myriad holiday stresses (difficult though well-intentioned relatives, busy parking lots, a sky-high pile of dirty dishes). Of course I feel like I have even less time now to meditate, but that’s when it’s more important than ever to keep it a priority.
6. Remember that this is a special time to enjoy. How easy it is for us to forget. I want to try my best to truly savor what matters most in my life—love, kindness and sharing with an open-hearted presence. I find this Dr. Seuss quote from How the Grinch Stole Christmas!perfect and inspiring for this time of year: “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.”
When I started my animal Reiki business out of my living room 11 years ago, one of my biggest challenges to building my new business was finding shelters willing to allow me in so I could bring Reiki to the animals. Back then, no one had even heard of Reiki! So imagine how difficult it was to open those doors and make those connections. But with a lot of perseverance, one by one I found people with open hearts and minds willing to take a chance on me.
Walking your dog is so great in so many ways: It’s excellent exercise, you spend quality time with your pooch doing what they love best, you get to breathe in fresh air, and dog-walking has even been shown to reduce stress and build your sense of community. But here’s an easy way to amp up your daily ritual and make it even more powerful: walk your dog mindfully.
When we think of mindfulness, we think of stillness, meditation, awareness and savoring this very moment with a full heart. Now incorporate these mindful intentions next time you walk your dog—and get ready to watch the many benefits unfold!
1. Slow down. If you walk the same loop around your neighborhood every day and you’re on autopilot, take a different path and consciously slow down. Instead of seeing the walk as a doggie bathroom break, awaken your senses and reconnect with nature around you. Feel the earth beneath your feet. Notice the new things around you. Breathe. Pay attention to how the flowers and trees smell, or maybe the crisp autumn air from a distant log burning in a fireplace somewhere. Listen to bird calls or the sound of the wind. Feel the sun on your skin. Follow your dog’s lead as he walks with balance and harmony on the earth. Getting out of your head and into the natural world in this way is very healing for both mind and body. (For more on the powerful healing properties of spending time in nature, check out my article on the Japanese art of “forest bathing.”)
2. Connect with the now. On this mindful walk with your dog, do not worry about what happened yesterday or in the past, or stress over what’s to come. Yes, this is difficult to do—but focus on setting your intention to focus only on this moment before you. This exercise in mindfulness allows you to free your mind and find a quiet place where true healing, inspiration and problem-solving can begin to grow.
It may help you to remember the five Reiki precepts.
For today only …
Do not anger.
Do not worry.
Practice diligently in your work.
Be compassionate to yourself and others.
3. Make mindful dog-walking your new habit. In our chaotic, busy lives, the reality is that, for most of us, mindful dog-walking will be difficult to do each and every time. But if you aim for 30 minutes three times a week, you’ll be incorporating more mindfulness into your life than ever before. And pretty soon something amazing will begin to happen: You’ll find it easier than ever to access that space of inner peace that our animals just naturally reside in—especially when times get tough.
The concept of “mindfulness” has been on my mind a lot lately. Not just because it’s splashed across headlines and gaining wider acceptance in the U.S. (even corporate America is embracing “mindfulness”)—but also because I spend so much time with animals in my work. And as I’ve written about before, animals are mindfulness masters who teach us important lessons about living mindfully every single day.
But with so much out there in the world about mindfulness these days, I’ve noticed absolutely no one is talking about a vital ingredient to living a truly mindful life: the heart. In other words, I believe you cannot be mindful without also being heartful—feeling and embracing the abundance of emotions and feelings in one’s heart. Without the heart component, mindfulness leads to a calm and aware state of being, yes, but also a state of indifference or detachment.
You cannot be mindful without also being heartful.
In Japanese, the character “kokoro” means mind and heart (the same). So in Japanese tradition, your mind has to unify with your heart for you to be in the “right” space for healing. This idea—a fusing of heart and mind—fits well with my Reiki work with animals. When we sit or walk mindfully with our animals, our hearts open so we can radiate our inner compassion. And with our furry friends by our side, offering their unconditional love and acceptance of us, we are able to access our inner peace more easily. The heartful thinking that follows promotes generosity, openness to others, healing and more.
So next time you think of living mindfully, remember the importance of living heartfully, too. Instead of falling into old patterns of thinking—that the mind and the heart (thinking vs. feeling) merely battle one another—embrace the possibility of heart and mind existing as one and in partnership.
I truly believe meditation can impact our lives in positive, astounding ways. I noticed this firsthand when my daily meditations and my animal Reiki practice helped me to fight breast cancer, twice. But I’m not the only one: Meditation is going mainstream, with more people than ever before jumping on board, eager to experience for themselves the amazing benefits of meditation that have been supported by scientific studies. Discipline yourself for astounding results.
The benefits are numerous and broad; in fact, meditation is almost like a “happy pill” that any of us can take, and it doesn’t cost a thing. The best part is, it’s easier than you think. It can be done anywhere; meditation doesn’t require a formal setup. You can do it while walking the dog, while in the pasture with your horse, while sitting still on a bench. There really is no wrong way to meditate, as long as your heartful intention is there.
If you haven’t found time to meditate lately, here are 23 reasons to put it back on the priority list. (I personally like to meditate with animals; how about you?) Check out these 23 ways meditation can improve your life right now:
2. You’ll lower your blood pressure. Studies have indicated that mindfulness meditation, which helps you let go of pent-up tension, is a natural way to help lower your blood pressure. Some people even attribute their daily meditation discipline to allowing them the ability to reduce their dependence on blood-pressure medications.
3. Meditation helps you to better handle stressful situations. When you are able to get into a quiet, mindful space on a daily basis, you’ll feel calmer overall, allowing you to regulate your emotions and better handle the daily stressors that typically might send you over the edge.
4. Meditation decreases depression and anxiety.Mark Ruffalo is one celebrity who has spoken out about how meditation “saved him” from anxiety. But countless others with depression and anxious thoughts are feeling the benefits as well. Even cancer centers across the country offer meditation rooms for patients. Training our thoughts to focus on the “right now” instead of anxiety-producing thoughts is so helpful when you’re going through a tough time. And yes, I know this from firsthand experience, too!
5. Meditation helps to relieve pain. Amazing but true: Studies have shown that meditation can sometimes take the place of narcotics for patients who suffer from chronic pain. Though not a cure, as pain sufferers will tell you, even a small bit of relief can be priceless. I found meditation absolutely essential to help me relieve the physical and emotional pain of breast cancer treatment.
6. You’ll boost your immune system. In fact, a recent UCLA study found that HIV patients who practiced meditation were able to “slow down” the drop in their CD-4 cells (these are the immune cells that are attacked and destroyed by the virus).
7. You’ll feel the positive results of meditation in just minutes. It’s true! In study after study, it’s shown that you’ll feel the benefits of meditation in no time at all. And though every minute counts, if you want to feel the best results, shoot for at least 25 minutes a day for three consecutive days, according to Carnegie Mellon University.
8. Meditation makes a person more compassionate. The science shows this to be true. And as I have found in my work with animals, the compassion and kindness we feel after connecting with our inner self through meditation extends not just toward fellow humans, but to animals as well.
10. People who meditate are happier. Happiness is something we all strive for, isn’t it? Meditation helps to take us there—in fact, studies show you’re actually “rewiring your brain” for happiness. Science says there are seven habits we can practice for a happier life. Guess what? Meditation will nurture all of them!
11. Meditation helps to boost your memory and ability to focus and learn. Students who took part in “mindfulness training” did better on the GRE than those who did not. And remember, kids are never too young to learn how to meditate (and experience the positive effects of it!).
12. Your overall quality of life will improve. In addition to all of the scientifically backed health benefits of meditation, you’ll begin to feel more fulfillment in your daily life. Here are 10 profound tips from a Buddhist Monk on living a fulfilled life.
13. You’ll feel calmer throughout your day. When you’re able to find your Zen, you can bring balance into your family and work life, and your day will run smoother.
14. You’ll be more successful in work. Meditation is a success secret of CEOs and famous actors. Even corporations like Google and Apple encourage their employees to meditate—because it helps the bottom line. Here are three reasons everyone at Google is meditating.
15. It can help you to quit smoking and other addictive behaviors.This woman did it, and you can, too.
16. Meditation can reduce your risk of a heart attack. Meditation helps you to reduce the amount of stress you feel in life—which can help you combat cardiovascular disease, as this article from the American Heart Association points out.
17. Some researchers believe meditation can even protect against Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
18. Meditation can help you manage grief. When dealing with grief and loss, it can feel as if nothing will ever help. But when you meditate, you are training your mind away from the hurts of yesterday and the fears of tomorrow. I used meditation to manage my grief when my beloved dog Dakota passed away.
20. It will help you to be present and really live in this very moment. How many of us rush, rush, rush through each day? But then we wonder where the day went and wish we could slow down. Part of living a mindful life is living (and enjoying) the moment as we experience it. Meditation can help you to embrace more of these moments.
21. You’ll attain a better understanding of your deepest self. Meditation can help you answer this question: What is the true purpose of your life? Additionally, meditation can help to strengthen your connection to your intuition.
22. Meditation can help you feel inspired in new ways. Need to do some brainstorming? Is there a problem that needs solving? Focusing your mind in meditation can help you see things in new and different ways.
23. It literally reshapes your brain. Who knew “reshaping” your brain could improve your life … but it does! All of the positives listed above result from meditation’s physiological effects on the brain itself. Here’s a fascinating TED Talk on the subject: