Manage Your Stress Before It Manages You

stress painAre you tired of feeling stressed and overwhelmed? If so, please join me on my free webinar to learn simple, practical techniques to deal with the stressors in your life. It is happening on Feb 26th at 1:00pm EST. Click on this link on that day to join us http://gowoa.me/i/PyqOnly a limited number of people can attend, so don't delay, sign up today!

I am one of 31 personal development experts for Join a New Year's Revolution. You can register and join this group for FREE and have instant access to our free eBook and daily webinars during February. Check out my chapter 12 - "Dear Stress, Let's Break Up!". http://joinanewyearsrevolution.com/

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Relaxation Tips for Stress

iStock_000009910758 The busy holiday season is coming! Do you find yourself already feeling the pressure of planning for the holidays, working to wrap-up your 2013 work year, planning for 2014, and all the other events of your life? What would it be worth to learn relaxation techniques that are good for you and will help you deal with stress? Sound good? Let's get started.

How do you relax at the end of a stressful day? What do you do that helps you wind down, unwind and become calm? Many of us relax by zoning out in front of the TV. Sound familiar? Actually this does very little to reduce the effects of stress on our bodies and mind. To effectively reduce stress, we need to activate our body's natural relaxation response. Yes, we do have natural responses! In a nutshell, you can do this by practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga. These activities can greatly reduce everyday stress and boost your energy and mood.

Stress is necessary for life! We all need some stress for our productivity, creativity, learning, and our survival. Stress is only harmful when it becomes overwhelming and interrupts our healthy equilibrium our nervous system needs for balance. Unfortunately, overwhelming stress has become increasingly part of our everyday lives, especially during the upcoming busy holiday season. When stress has thrown your nervous system out of balance, relaxation techniques can bring it back into a balanced state by producing the relaxation response. This is the state of deep calmness.

When you experience too much stress it overwhelms your nervous system and your body produces chemicals that prepare you for "flight or fight".  Now this is good if you are in an emergency situation where you need to act immediately. But it wears your body down when constantly activated by the stressors of everyday life. This is where the relaxation response slows down that heightened state of readiness and brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium.

Contrary to what you may think...the relaxation response is not lying on the couch, sleeping, or self-medicating yourself. It is a mentally active process that leaves your body and mind relaxed, calm, and focused. Learning how to do relaxation techniques is easy, but it does take practice. Many stress experts recommend setting aside 10-20 minutes a day for your relaxation practice. If you want even more stress relief, set aside 30-60 minutes. That may sound like a daunting commitment...don't stress out! Many of these techniques can be incorporated into your daily schedule, practiced at your desk, over lunch, or as part of your daily morning routine. Even doing these techniques for 5 minutes can help you achieve a relaxed state.

There is no single relaxation technique that is best for everyone. When choosing a technique consider your own needs, preferences, fitness level, and commitment to doing the practice. Here are different techniques to choose from or combine to fit your needs and preferences.

Technique 1:  Breathing Meditation 

Deep breathing is the simplest technique to learn and can be done anywhere, anytime. It is a very powerful relaxing technique, and provides a quick way to get your stress levels down. Deep breathing is an important part of many other practices as well, and can be combined with other relaxing elements.

The key to deep breathing is to breathe deeply from the abdomen, getting in as much air as possible in your lungs. You should feel your abdomen rising when you are breathing deeply. The more oxygen you get, the less tense, less anxious, and more relaxed you feel.

  • Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
  • Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach will rise. The hand on your chest should not move much.
  • Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach will move in as you exhale.
  • Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough to make your stomach rise and fall. Count slowly as you inhale and exhale.

Technique 2:  Progressive Muscle Relaxation 

This technique is a two-step process where you will tense and relax different muscle groups in the body. With regular practice, progressive muscle relaxation helps you learn what tension, as well as complete relaxation, feels like in different parts of your body. This awareness is very useful in sensing the first signs of tension and stress. As your body relaxes, so does your mind! Try combining deep breathing with progressive muscle relaxation for even more stress relief.

Progressive muscle relaxation starts at the feet and works up to the face. For the sequence of muscle groups, see below:

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Sequence

1. Right foot*                                6. Left thigh                            11. Right arm and hand

2. Left foot                                    7. Hips and buttocks             12. Left arm and hand

3. Right calf                                  8. Stomach                              13. Neck and shoulders

4. Left calf                                    9. Chest                                    14. Face

5. Right thigh                             10. Back

*If you are left-handed you may want to start with your left foot.

  • Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes, and get comfortable.
  • Take a few minutes to relax, breathing in and out in slow, deep breaths.
  • When you are relaxed, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on the way it feels.
  • Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10.
  • Relax your right foot. focus on the tension flowing away and the way your foot feels as it becomes loose.
  • Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.
  • When you are ready, shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same pattern of muscle tension and release.
  • Move slowly up your body, contracting and relaxing the muscle groups as you go.

Technique 3:  Body Scan Meditation 

This is very similar to progressive muscle relaxation,  only instead of tensing and relaxing muscles, simply focus on the sensations in each part of your body.

  • Lie on your back, legs uncrossed, arms relaxed at your sides, with your eyes closed. Focus on your breathing, allowing your stomach to rise with each inhale and fall as you exhale. Breathe deeply for two minutes to begin feeling comfortable and relaxed.
  • Focus on the toes of your right foot. Notice any sensations you feel while continuing to focus on your breathing. Image each deep breath flowing to your toes. Remain focused on this area for one to two minutes.
  • Move your focus to the sole of your right foot. Notice any sensations you feel in that part of your body and imagine each breath flowing from the sole of your foot. Continue to focus on your right foot for one to two minutes. Now move your focus to your right ankle and repeat. Move to your calf, knee, thigh, hip, and repeat this sequence on your left leg. Follow that by moving up the torso, through the lower back and abdomen, the upper back and chest, and the shoulders. Pay particular attention to any area of the body that you feel pain or discomfort. You may want to focus on those areas a bit longer.
  • Focus now on the fingers of your right hand and then move up to the wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm, and shoulder. Repeat for your left arm. Now move through the neck and throat, and all areas of your face, the back of the head, and the top of the head. Pay close attention to your jaw, chin, lips, tongue, nose, cheeks, eyes, forehead, temples and scalp. When you reach the very top of your head, imagine your breath reaching out beyond your body and imagine yourself hovering above you.
  • Spend some time in silence and stillness, noting how your body feels. Open your eyes slowly and stretch.

Technique 4:  Mindfulness 

Mindfulness is about "being" in the moment, fully aware of how you feel and your experience both internally and externally. Most of us are so busy "doing" that we are seldom in the present moment. This means we are missing a huge part of life! We are often thinking about the past, especially blaming and judging ourselves, or we are worrying about the future. This type of thinking can lead to stress. However by staying calm and aware of the present moment, we can bring our nervous system back into balance. You can incorporate mindfulness while you walk, eat, exercise or meditate. Mindfulness has long been used to reduce stress, pain and illness.

Key Points of Practicing Mindfulness

  • Quiet environment. Choose a quiet place in your home, office, garden, or outdoors where you can relax without distractions or interruptions.
  • Comfortable position. Get comfortable sitting in a chair or on the floor. Avoid lying down so you don't fall asleep. Sit with your spine straight, feet on the floor. Or sit cross-legged or in lotus position.
  • Focus point. This point can be internal, a feeling or an imaginary scene. Or it can be something external, such as a flame or a meaningful word or phrase you repeat throughout your meditation. You can either close your eyes or softly gaze downwards. To help your concentration, you may find it helpful to focus on an object.
  • Observant, noncritical attitude. This is so important to remember as you practice mindfulness. Don't worry about distracting thoughts that may show up in your mind or worry if you are doing it "right". If and when those thoughts pop up, don't judge them or yourself, accept it, and turn your attention back to your point of focus.

Technique 5:  Visualization

Visualization, or guided imagery, is a variation on traditional meditation that allows you to use all your senses - vision, sound, touch, taste, and smell. This typically involves imaging a place/scene where you feel at peace, free to let go of all tension and anxiety.

Choose whatever setting is most calming to you. It may be a quiet forest, a mountain, a beach, or a favorite childhood spot. Visualization can be done in silence, while listening to soothing music, or with a recording of a guided imagery session. You could even download sounds to match your chosen place.

Practicing Visualization

Find a quiet, peaceful place and sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, feeling yourself becoming more relaxed with each breath. Now picture your calming place. "See" this place as vividly as possible in your mind. Picture everything you can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. Visualization works best if you incorporate as many sensory details as possible. Try to use at least three of your senses as you practice. Choose images that appeal to you or are special to you.

Example: Walking along a forest path

  • Walk slowly along the path and notice the colors and textures around you.
  • Spend time exploring each of your senses.
  • See the trees, their leaves, bushes, flowers and any animals that may be around.
  • Hear the birds singing, the breeze in the trees.
  • Smell the pine trees and flowers.
  • Feel the breeze in your hair and on your skin.
  • Taste the fresh, clean air.

Enjoy the tranquil feeling that comes over you as you slowly explore your chosen place. When you are ready, gently open your eyes and come back to the present. Don't worry if you zone out or lose track of where you are during a visualization session. You may even experience some stiffness or heaviness in your limbs, involuntary muscle movements, or yawn. These are all normal responses.

Other Techniques:  Yoga and Tai Chi

Perhaps you will find that you would get more benefits from practicing stress relief in a class with a group of people. Then either yoga or tai chi may be your best choice!

Yoga involves moving and stationary poses combined with deep breathing and meditation. It not only reduces stress and anxiety, it can also improve flexibility, strength, balance and stamina.

Tai chi is a self-paced series of slow, flowing body movements. These movements emphasize concentration, relaxation, and the conscious circulation of vital energy throughout the body. It is a way of calming your mind, reducing stress, and conditioning your body.

Tips for Making Relation Techniques a Part of Daily Life

The best way to start and maintain a relaxation practice is to make it a part of your daily routine. Before you tell yourself that you can't squeeze in one more thing into your busy life...please read these tips, give them a try, and know that many can be practiced while you are doing other things!

  • If possible, schedule a set time to practice each day. Set aside one or two short periods each day to practice. I have found that it is easier for me to practice first thing in the morning before all the other responsibilities of the day get in the way. Plus it starts your day in a relaxed, peaceful state of mind that makes your day better!
  • Practice relaxation techniques while you are doing other things. Try deep breathing anytime during your day while working, doing dishes, laundry or working outside. Mindfulness can be done while walking your dog, walking, waiting in line, or eating. If you commute to work, you may want to try meditating.
  • If you exercise, improve the relaxation benefits by adopting mindfulness. Instead of zoning out to music or staring at a TV as you exercise, try focusing your attention on your body. While exercising focus on coordinating your breathing with your movements and become aware of how your body feels as you go through each exercise.
  • Avoid practicing when you are sleepy. These techniques can be so relaxing that they can make you very sleepy, especially if done at the end of the day.  You will get the most benefit if you practice when you're awake and alert. It's also not a good idea to practice after eating a heavy meal or while using drugs or alcohol.
  • Expect ups and downs. Don't be discouraged if you skip a few days or even a few weeks. It happens. Don't judge yourself negatively. Just get started again and build up your momentum.

Contact me if you have any questions or would like to schedule a call!

 

Stress Management - Intentional Wellness

stress Stress is everywhere. It may seem as though there's nothing you can do about it.  You have all these demands in your life....a hectic and demanding career, bills that won't stop, family responsibilities, and too few hours in the day. Do you feel overwhelmed by all these? Don't know what you could possibly do to reduce this stress? The truth is you have more control than you think. The simple realization that you're in control of your life is the foundation of stress management. It's time for intentional wellness and choosing to let go of stress. This is about you taking charge, making choices (intentionally) of your thoughts, emotions, schedule, and how you deal with problems and stressors.

Identify the sources of stress in your life.

Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. This isn't as easy as it sounds. Sometimes the true sources of your stress aren't always obvious. It's easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Yes, you know that you have a lot of pressure with your job and you're constantly worried about meeting deadlines. But what are you thinking and saying to yourself about the situation? Your own thoughts and how you react to the stress can be increasing your stress.

To identify your real sources of stress, look closely at your habits, attitude, and excuses:

  • Do you blame your stress on other people or outside events, or view it as entirely normal and unexceptional?
  • Do you explain away stress as temporary ("I just have a million things going on right now") even though you can't remember the last time you really took a breather?
  • Do you define stress as an integral part of your work and/or home life ("Things are always crazy around here") or as a part of your personality ("I have a lot of nervous energy, that's all").

Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, your stress level will remain outside your control.

Start a Stress Journal

Why would you want to document stress? Isn't it bad enough experiencing it? Actually starting a stress journal can help you identify the regular stressors in your life and the way you deal with them. Each time you feel stressed, keep track of it in your journal. As you keep a daily log, you will begin to see patterns and common themes, and get to the true sources of the stress.

  • What caused your stress (guess if you are unsure)
  • How you felt, both physically and emotionally
  • How you acted in response
  • What you did to make yourself feel better

Look at how you currently cope with stress. 

Think about the ways you currently manage and cope with stress in your life. Your stress journal will give you hints. Are your coping strategies healthy or unhealthy, helpful or unproductive? Unfortunately, the coping strategies of many only increase stress and it's harmful effects.

Unhealthy ways of coping with stress:

These strategies may temporarily reduce stress, but they cause more harm in the long run.

  • Drinking too much
  • Overeating or under-eating
  • Smoking
  • Sleeping too much
  • Procrastinating
  • Zoning out for hours watching TV or on the computer
  • Taking medications to relax
  • Withdrawing from family, friends and activities
  • Filling up every minute to avoid facing the problems
  • Lashing out at others

If your methods of coping with stress aren't contributing to your physical and emotional health, it's time to find healthier ones. While there are many ways to manage and cope with stress, they all require change. Yes, you can change....it is a choice! You can either change the situation or change your reaction. Since everyone has a unique response to stress, there is no one universal method that works for all or for every situation. Experiment with these different techniques to see which makes you feel calm and in control of yourself.

The Four A's to Deal With Stress

Change your reaction:

  • Adapt to the stressor
  • Accept the stressor

Change the situation:

  • Avoid the stressor
  • Alter the stressor

Stress management strategy #1:  Adapt to the stressor

If you can't change the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude. You can make this choice, have the control and power to do this....it is up to you.

  • Focus on the positive; practice gratitude. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you are grateful for and appreciate in life. Be sure to include your own positive qualities and gifts. This one strategy can help you view things in a new light.
  • Look at the big picture. Take perspective of the stressful situation. How important will it be in the long run? Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it getting in the way of your vision and goals? Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
  • Reframe problems. Look at the stressful situation from a positive perspective, especially if you cannot control the situation. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, listen to your favorite radio station, or simply breathe and relax until traffic clears.
  • Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others. Let go of feeling the need to "control" every situation or person.

Stress management strategy #2:  Accept the things you cannot change

Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can't prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, bad weather, or a national recession. The best way to cope with these situations is to accept things as they are, recognizing that you cannot change it. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it's easier and much healthier for you, than fuming and railing against a situation you cannot change.

  • Don't try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control, particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems. You do have control over your response to stress.
  • Look for the positive in situations. When you are faced with challenges, what will they provide that is positive? Perhaps they are really opportunities for growth and development. Also consider how you may be contributing to a stressful situation. What are you saying to yourself? What choices are you making? Reflect on those, learn from the past, and choose different responses.
  • Share your feelings. If you feel overwhelmed, talk to a good friend, coach or therapist. Expressing what you're going through can be very cathartic, even if there's nothing you can do to change the stressful situation.
  • Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentment. That negative energy is harming you. Free yourself. "Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." --Buddha

Stress management strategy #3:  Avoid unnecessary stress

First recognize that not all stress can be avoided, nor is it healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed. However, you may be surprised at the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate.

  • Learn to say "no". Know your limits and stick to them. Whether in your personal or professional life, refuse to accept added responsibilities when you already have too much on your plate. Taking on more than you can handle is a recipe for stress.
  • Avoid people who stress you out. If someone consistently causes stress in your life and you can't turn the relationship around, limit the amount of time you spend with that person or end the relationship completely.
  • Take control of your environment. If watching TV is your way of zoning out, turn it off. Limit the time you spend on the computer. If clutter is driving you crazy and stressing you out, take some time to clean it up, organize it, or get rid of it. If the news makes you anxious, don't watch it. Look around....you have more control over this than you may think.
  • Avoid hot-button topics. If you get upset over religion or politics, don't engage in those conversations. If you repeatedly argue about the same thing with the same people, stop bringing it up or excuse yourself when the topic comes up.
  • Pare down your to-do list.  Analyze your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. Differentiate between the "shoulds" and the "musts". Think about your priorities and what are those things that move you toward your goals and what is most important. Cross off the tasks that aren't truly necessary.

Stress management strategy #4:  Alter the situation

If you can't avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so the problem doesn't present itself in the future. Often, this involves changing the way you communicate and behave in your daily life.

  • Manage your time better. Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. When you're stretched too thin and running behind, it's hard to stay calm and focused. But if you plan ahead and ensure you don't overextend yourself, you can alter the amount of stress you're under.
  • Be more assertive. Don't take a backseat in your life. Deal with your problems, accept what role you are playing in the problems and then communicate what you need and what changes you will take. If you are working on an important project and a chatty co-worker stops by, say up front that you have a deadline and could talk later.
  • Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. If something or someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way. If you don't voice your feelings, resentment builds and the situation will likely remain the same or get worse.
  • Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to change their behavior, be willing to do the same. Remember, you may be contributing to the problem too. If you are both willing to bend at least a little, you'll have a good chance of finding a happy middle ground.

Stress management strategy #5:  Make time for fun and relaxation

In addition to taking a positive attitude and taking responsibility for your life, you can reduce stress by nurturing yourself. If you make time for fun and relaxation, you'll be in a better place to handle life's stressors when they inevitably come. Don't get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that you forget to take care of your own needs. Taking care of yourself is a necessity, not a luxury.

  • Set aside relaxation time. Include rest and relaxation in your daily schedule. Don't allow other obligations to always override your time. This is your time to take a break and recharge.
  • Do something you enjoy every day. Make time for activities that bring you joy. Even doing that for a short time can yield big benefits.
  • Connect with others. Spend time with positive people who enhance your life. Avoid negative people who can cause you stress. A strong support system will buffer you from the negative effects of stress.
  • Keep your sense of humor. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing helps your body fight stress in a number of ways.

Stress management strategy #6:  Adopt a healthy lifestyle

You can increase your resistance to stress by strengthening your physical health.

  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise, three times per week. Nothing beats aerobic exercise for releasing pent-up stress and tension. If you can't find 30 minutes to exercise, then just do ten minutes. Or make a point to move more throughout your day. Park a little further away. Take the stairs. It all helps!
  • Eat a healthy diet. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress, so be mindful of what you eat. Focus on eating whole, fresh vegetables and fruits, lean protein, fiber and whole grains. Start your day right with breakfast, and keep your energy up and your mind clear with balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day.
  • Reduce sugar and caffeine. The temporary "highs" sugar and caffeine provide often end with a crash in mood and energy. By reducing the amount of coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, and sugary snacks in your diet, you'll feel more relaxed and you'll sleep better.
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs may provide an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary. Don't avoid or mask the issue at hand; deal with problems directly and with a clear mind.
  • Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep fuels your mind, as well as your body. Feeling tired can increase your stress because it may cause you to think irrationally.

 

Coming soon...Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief

Mindfulness Practice for Caregivers...Serenity Wellness

  Are you a caregiver for a loved one? Perhaps one of your parents? This can be an incredibly difficult, yet important and rewarding role....but takes its toll on the caregiver. How do you go about this on a daily basis being both compassionate and accepting of the situation as it is? How can you achieve serenity wellness for yourself while caring for an ill or elderly loved one?

Here is a mindfulness practice specifically for caregivers from Jeff Brantley, MD, Founder and Director of the Mindfulness-Based StressReduction Program at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, NC. I met Dr. Brantley while completing my integrative health coach training and certification at Duke. He is an amazing person who not only practices mindfulness, but has the unique capacity for helping those he teaches how to do it as well. Just listening to him talk, always put me at ease and able to be mindful - or paying attention on purpose, with intention, in the present moment, in a friendly and non-judging way. Please try this practice if you are a caregiver or pass it along to someone who is.

Metta for Caregivers

The emphasis in this practice is on balance - the balance between opening one's heart endlessly, and accepting the limits of what one can do. The balance between compassion and equanimity. Compassion is the trembling or the quivering of the heart in response to suffering. Equanimity is a spacious stillness that can accept things as they are. The balance of compassion and equanimity allows us to care, and yet not get overwhelmed and unable to cope because of that caring.

The phrases we use reflect this balance. Choose some phrases that are personally meaningful to you. You can alter them in any way, or use ones that you have created out of their unique personal significance.

To begin the practice, take as comfortable a position as possible, sitting or lying down. Take a few deep soft breaths to let your body settle. Bring your attention to your breath, and begin to silently say your chosen phrases in rhythm with the breath... You can also experiment with just having your attention settle in the phrases, without using the anchor of the breath. Feel the meaning of what you are saying, yet without trying to force anything....let the practice carry you along.

"May I offer my care and presence unconditionally, knowing it may be met by gratitude, indifference, anger or anguish."

"May I find the inner resources to truly be able to give."

"May I offer love, knowing I cannot control the course of life, suffering, or death."

"May I remain in peace, and let go of expectations."

"I care about your pain, and I cannot control it."

"I wish you happiness and peace, and I cannot make your choices for you."

"May this experience help me open to the true nature of life."

"May I see my limits compassionately, just as I view the suffering of others."

"May I, and all beings, live and die in ease."

 

The Gift of Being Present - Intentional Wellness

Yesterday I took my dog, Cooper, for a long hike on one of the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway trails. Since I love to hike I was anxious to get out there and enjoy the warm weather and peacefulness of the trail. Key word here...anxious. Anxious to get hiking, we jump on the trail and I am hiking along feeling pretty good and Cooper is enjoying himself, although I keep interrupting his smelling time to keep us moving. I am keeping my pace brisk and charging up and down the hills, feeling the effects of not hiking on a regular basis. About a mile or so later, a bit winded, I stopped. And that is when it hit me...I was not present on this hike! Here I am in the middle of these gorgeous woods and I am so concerned about doing....get this hike going, that I am missing the essence, the gifts of all that is around me.

I began to breathe deeply, becoming aware of all around me, my body, the sounds, the feelings. That is when the magic began. I sat down on a rock and just experienced the present moment. It literally felt as though a switch had been turned on and everything came into focus, clearly, brilliantly. The colors of the trees and plants became brighter, the breeze more pronounced on me and in the trees, the birds singing suddenly became clear, and I noticed...really saw all that was around me.

I felt absolutely alive and completely refreshed. Turning down a new trail, the magic continued. It seemed to me that I had never really seen how beautiful this area was until then. A beautiful running stream that meandered along the trail. Cooper completely enjoying himself now. He suddenly had so much energy! He was running and splashing in the stream, jumping across it, running back to me then back in the water. What is going on? Just before this I had to keep urging him on to stay at "my pace". Sensing that I was now here and fully present in the moment, he too came to life.

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Feeling energized and completely alive and present, the hiking became easier and more natural. Our hike went much longer than I previously thought we could or would do. I become aware that I am smiling, happy and content. Then I smell something sweet but not the sweet from flowers or trees. It is the smell of something baking. What?? I am in the middle of the forest. I simply allow myself to take in this smell and I begin to feel the presence of my Mom who passed away just one year ago.

Sensing her around me brought me so much joy. I realized that it was my Mom who taught me the power of being mindful and the beauty of woods, plants and trees. When I was a small child she would take me for walks in the woods, picking berries or mushrooms, and enjoying a picnic lunch. Those were so special to me....just me and Mom because my older brother and sister were at school or at other activities. How had I forgotten about this? The memories came flooding back. She was with me to remind me to just be, that the present moment was all I really have, enjoy. Another gift. This is intentional wellness for my mind, body and spirit.

I came home feeling amazing and not one bit tired! What an incredible experience. The richness of being fully present on the hike once again helped me realize the benefits of mindfulness.

I invite you, or challenge you, to try being fully present during any activity that you truly enjoy. Just breathe and allow yourself to drop into the present. Begin to experience the gifts that are available to you.