How to Breathe While Meditating

How to breathe while meditating

​How to breathe while meditating

​How breathing works

Breathing is a natural part of life. When we’re not consciously controlling it, the autonomic nervous system controls our breath. This system works automatically, without conscious effort. Breathing is unique as compared to other visceral (e.g. digestion, endocrine cardiovascular) functions in that it can also be regulated voluntarily. Automatic breathing requires no attention to maintain, whereas voluntary breathing involves a given amount of focus.

If you try to hold your breath, your body will override your action and force you to let out that breath and start breathing again. The respiratory centers that control your rate of breathing are in the brain-stem or medulla. The nerve cells that live within these centers automatically send signals to the diaphragm and intercostal muscles to contract and relax at regular intervals. ​

​Chest breathing

Typically, when we pay no attention to our breath, it will do its basic job of oxygenating our systems and keep us alive. But, we can choose to do more with the breath than simply stay alive. The first time this idea entered my awareness was many years ago when a shiatsu instructor ​told me I breathed only enough to stay alive, but not enough to really do my body any good.

​At that time in my life I was a “chest breather”. I would take small shallow breaths into the top lobes of my lungs, using the chest muscles to inflate the lungs by pulling on the rib cage. My chest would expand and contract with each breath and my abdomen was not involved. These breaths were short and quick, using only a small part of the lungs and delivering a relatively minimal amount of oxygen to the bloodstream. ​

​Belly breathing

A few years later my meditation instructor told me to “breathe, breathe!” For some reason I thought he was speaking metaphorically, and I finally asked him if he really meant, you know, breathe, like inhale, exhale. He looked at me, cocked his head, and said, “Yes. Inhale, exhale… from your belly.”

Belly breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, refers to breaths that use your entire lung capacity. The diaphragm and abdominal muscles pull down on the abdominal cavity to fully inflate the lungs. The chest expands very little if at all while stomach breathing, while the abdominal area expands noticeably. Breaths taken while stomach breathing are slow and deep, taking longer to inhale and exhale and delivering a significantly larger amount of oxygen to the bloodstream.

​Which kind of breather are you?

​Lie on your back with your hands on your abdomen to see whether you typically are a chest or stomach breather. If you feel your hands rise and fall, you’re a stomach breather, but if your hands remain mostly stationary, you’re a chest breather.

Practice belly breathing with these 3 easy steps:
1) Lie on your back on a flat surface or in bed. Use a pillow under your knees to support your legs if needed. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.​

2) Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.​

3) Breathe out slowly through your nose or mouth. Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhaleThe hand on your belly moves toward the floor and the hand on the upper chest remains as still as possible.​

Hint:You may notice an increased effort is needed to use the diaphragm correctly. At first, you may get tired while doing this exercise. If you want to strengthen your diaphragm and abdominal muscles involved put a book or a light weight on your belly and practice deep breathing for three to five minutes. Make a conscious effort to breathe from the diaphragm whenever you notice that you’re breathing from your chest. As your body becomes accustomed to stomach breathing, you’ll naturally take deeper belly breaths with less conscious prompting.​

How to breathe while meditating
​​How to breathe while meditating

Now that we’ve covered the basics of how to breath deeply, let’s explore how breathing deeply enhances your health and meditation practice.

​You can breathe into and out from either your nose or mouth, which ever is more comfortable for you in the moment. However, during each meditation, choose one method and stick with it. Close your eyes, or soften your gaze. A softened gaze relaxes the mind, disengaging it from the energy of the external environment.

The most basic effect of belly breathing is that we now have an anchor for our mind (to keep it from drifting) as we pay attention to the rise and fall of our abdomen. We choose to focus our attention on the inhale and exhale and not on the shopping list or the next chore. This focused attention, or freedom from distraction, is a foundation for meditation practice.

​As you are learning, it is helpful to experiment with the following tips while breathing deeply:
​1) Silently say for yourself, “inhale, exhale” with each cycle of breath.

​2) Count your breaths. Some suggest counting to ten or five, but Dr. Herbert Benson found that people experienced a stress response when counting to ten, as their minds often drifted off. Dr. Benson suggests counting to one, then counting to one on the next breath.

3) Practice a fully flowing breath. This technique is simultaneously stress relieving and energizing and helps oxygenate the blood. Begin by in a comfortable upright position. On the inhalation, allow your diaphragm and lungs to expand fully, first from the belly, then from the ribs, then into the chest, and finally into the throat. On the exhalation, hollow out the lungs first, then pull the navel in toward the spine. Repeat several times.

This conscious connection with breath enhances our qi (internal energy) and can decrease physical and emotional stress and increase a sense of calm and relaxation. Breathing deeply with intention and attention also connects us to our intuition and the divine within.

Four-Part Breathing Cycle


This is a helpful technique not only during your daily meditation practice, but also during times of stress. It allows you to create a moment of calm in a chaotic situation which may in turn allow you to respond rather than react. It can be practiced anywhere at any time… in the grocery line, before a meeting, or as part of a longer meditation practice.

Find a comfortable posture. Close your eyes or drop your gaze. Take a moment to focus on relaxing the muscles throughout your body (including your tongue). Breathe into your belly for a count of four. Pause your breath for a count of four. Exhale for a count of four. Pause again for a count of four. Repeat as often as you wish. Do not worry about whether you have achieved a deep level of meditation. Simply enjoy the fact that you chose to take this time for yourself, your mind, your body, and your spirit.

As your meditation practice deepens you can simply let your breath wander on its own without paying any intentional attention to it. But remember, it is a wonderful anchor if you find yourself distracted.

If you’d like to learn more about using breath to support your meditation, or cultivating mindful compassion join us for one of our upcoming programs.

 

4 Practical Ways for Maintaining Hope in Troubled Times

4 Practical Ways for Maintaing Hope in Troubled Times4 Practical Ways for Maintaining Hope in Troubled Times

A friend recently asked me, if I could offer any quick and practical suggestions for maintaining hope during troubled times — times of polarized politics, international uncertainty,  and when determining if news stories are true or false becomes difficult.  She said she was beside herself with overwhelm and stress, and knew that I’d published a book on compassion.

The answer to her question can be complex, but in keeping with her request for quick suggestions I wanted to share these ideas.

1) Choose to manage or control what occupies your mind.1) Choose to manage or control what occupies your mind. 

This may sound overly simple, but at the most basic level we DO have a choice over our minds. We really CAN choose to manage what stories spin in our brains. However, choosing to control what occupies our minds takes patience, courage, and practice. Often it is easier to let our mind run wild rather than reining it in.

Think about it, how often do you let your mind run wild? We all do it. We all come up with stories about the future. We all ruminate about the past. However we do have a choice about how long we let those stories run.

When we hear reports on the news about another shooting, another bombing, or another investigation it is easy to become overwhelmed. But, we also need to continue living our lives, doing things in this present moment to help ourselves, our families and friends, and communities. We can’t afford to let our overwhelm and distress bog us down, as that does not serve anyone.

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, observe the choices you’re making in the moment. Noticing these choices brings you into present moment awareness. Present moment awareness helps prevent ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Check out this Infographic for ways to help settle your mind. 

If you are motivated to and can actively create positive change, by all means act — send postcards, make calls, go on marches! But if  what troubles you is elsewhere and you don’t have the ability to do anything but think or theorize about an event, consider shifting your mindset to something that is positive and productive right where you are. 

2) Pay attention to your breath.2) Pay attention to your breath.

Now that you’ve made the choice to rein in your wild mind, turn your attention to your breath.  Try this breathing exercise as a way to slow down your breath, slow down your thoughts, and connect with your body.

Inhale slowly, all the way into your belly, for a count of four. Gently hold your breath for a count of four. Exhale fully for a count of four. Gently hold the exhale for a count of four. Then repeat that process a few times.

Sometimes something as simple as connecting to your breath and body in the present moment is enough to break a cycle of distressful thinking. This technique is also really effective for dealing with stress, for example if a conversation is becoming overheated, or if you’ve just received some difficult news but you’re not in the right place to sit with it.

3) Consider the idea that unskillful behavior comes from unmet needs.3) Consider the idea that unskillful behavior comes from unmet needs.

When we hear of tragic events such as mass shootings, bombings, or ongoing legislative uncertainty, it can be easy to direct our ire to the we perceive to be the cause of the problem. Often the last thing we want to do is extend compassion to the person or people that have wrought havoc on the lives of many.

However, what would it feel like to consider that the ones committing crimes were people too. They all have parents (in one form or another); they all have friends (of one sort or another); they’re all human beings. Somehow, at some point something caused them to decide harming others was the right course of action.

But, we don’t know their back-story. We don’t know what their lives were like. We don’t know what they needed— love, security, food, role-models, training— to help them make different choices. Sometimes the worst choices arise because people are afraid, hurt, hungry, or lonely.

I’m not saying that harmful unskillful actions are just. I am saying that perhaps we can come to some sort of internal peace if we recognize that each of these individuals is human, and as such we share a common link.

Often extending compassion to another, even if we don’t know that person directly, can help us move into a place of peace. Perhaps it can help us move from being beside ourselves with grief and outrage, to a place of uncomfortable acceptance.

4) Move beyond empathy to compassion.4) Move beyond empathy to compassion.

Compassion combines:

1) Awareness—acknowledging distress in yourself or others;

2) Empathy—being emotionally moved by this distress;

3) Action—making some sort of response, which could involve some sort of physical action, or it could be as subtle as mentally/intentionally sending someone well-wishes.

Sometimes when we get stuck in that place of overwhelm or grief, it is because we’ve stopped at the second step, empathy. With empathy I “feel your pain,” and sometimes I get stuck right there with you.

With compassion we move beyond that stage of empathy and take action. Taking action allows us to move through that  stuck place of distress. Truly, the action can be as simple as intentionally wishing someone well. Bring to mind an image of someone in distress. Open your heart to the idea of compassionate action. Take some slow deep breaths, and with each exhalation imagine sending peace, love, kindness, support, compassion to the one you’re holding in mind.

Want more ideas for maintaining compassion?

This post just covers a few very quick and practical ideas for shifting from distress to hope. Making a permanent change takes courage, patience, and continual practice.

Dive deeper into these concepts and more in the Cultivating Mindful Compassion course. Meet weekly with your peers to discuss how compassion shows up in your daily life in the Cultivating Compassion Club. Or for daily inspiration pick up a copy of Cultivating Compassion: Simple Everyday Practices for Discovering Peace of Mind and Resilience. 

3 Useful Benefits of Participating in a Personal Growth Group

How do YOU nurture personal development?

Are you inspired by positive personal growth, extending acceptance and compassion for yourself and others? 

Do you experience days when striving to be your best-self is overwhelming and you want to hide under a rock?

Both of these perspectives are aspects of being human. Some days being open-hearted is easy, and some days it isn’t. Welcome to the duality of being human!

Choosing to be your best-self in all circumstances takes diligence and hard work. Social and cultural norms are often stacked against us.

Many of us grew up learning that good girls don’t talk back, ever. Good boys don’t show vulnerability. Nice people put others first at all costs. If you extend compassion to yourself you’re a slacker.

This is why finding a community of like-minded people is critical. It provides support on your down days, and allows you to encourage others when they need it. 

As each person  grows on  his or her own, while assisting other members in the community, a ripple effect of kindness, acceptance, and compassion flows outward to your loved ones, to people you see often but don’t know well, and even to those you find to be difficult.

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

As you strive toward being your best-self daily, let’s examine the benefits of joining a like-minded community

1) A group creates accountability and reinforces good habits

Some days, when you’re on your own, it is easy to give up and revel in small mindedness.

Like meeting friends at the gym for group fitness class motivates you to work out, finding a group focused on personal growth provides encouragement for developing a consistent outlook. Being accountable to a group while you’re enhancing your personal development reduces the likelihood that you will throw in the towel.

Joining a group reinforces why you’ve chosen to do the hard work of being an inspiring, fantastic, open-hearted person. It gives you a boost of encouragement to continue with your own individual cultivation at home.

Walking a path of acceptance and compassion for self and others takes mental and emotional effort and energy, which often, in turn, gives rise to resistance. Participating with a group of like-minded people, who share your ideological beliefs and values and are focused on personal growth, creates accountability for actually walking that path.

2) A group offers opportunity to receive feedback and share ideas

Personal growth groups often include participants of varying levels.

If you’re new to embracing self-acceptance or working with your inner-critic, you may find that other members of your group provide useful insight and help you see new ways of viewing difficulties. Group members share their own experiences, successes and challenges, which often provide new perspectives. The group dynamic uplifts and empowers everyone present.

Working on self-acceptance and self-compassion with only books or online guides as aids often leads to sporadic practice. Therefore, facilitated groups provide an opportunity to maintain something more than is achieved at home alone.

Knowing others around you face the same challenges helps ease isolation and builds resilience. Often hearing stories of how someone else dealt with the same challenge inspires you to continue moving forward.

3) A group creates community

Participating in community supports your individual inward journey. Connecting with others who share your intentions for world peace is inspiring and motivating. Participating in a group reduces isolation and loneliness and helps you recognize that “just like me”, others experience these same challenges.

Sharing this path for personal growth also lets you come together with shared intentions for change. Global movements often begin with a small handful of people strongly unified by a common intent. Applying Gandhi’s suggestion to “be the change you wish to see in the world” becomes easier when you are part of a collective crowd.

When actively practicing personal growth strategies you become part of the planet’s evolution, not its degradation. Individually you may not see the effect of living life with acceptance and compassion, but the group effect multiplies each single member’s actions and intentions.

We’d be honored if you choose Cultivating Compassion Club to be your personal growth group!

“Cultivating Compassion Club is a supportive and uplifting way to dedicate time, compassion and energy for oneself, so that one can authentically and graciously dedicate time, compassion and energy to others. Amy’s experience and expertise serve as a gentle guide for each participant in their path towards more ease and joy for life.” MPP

Cultivating Compassion Club provides:

  • Weekly small group meditation, coaching, and conversation sessions geared toward helping you move toward peace of mind and resilience
  • Support from like-minded people who are inspired grow and become even better
  • Daily inspirations and rich conversation via a private FB group
  • Access to a library of Amy Pattee Colvin’s guided meditations, with new additions monthly

“Amy is an excellent group moderator. I was impressed by her ability to tie our discussions back to the overall theme of compassion that we were focusing on. The group discussions were encouraging, comfortable and I left feeling lighter and thoughtful of things I would like to implement in my practice of mediation and self compassion.” Melissa Kinsky

Be sure to check out Amy Pattee Colvin’s Amazon Bestseller, Cultivating Compassion available on Amazon.com

5 Elements of Meditation

Five Elements of Meditation (Infographic)

All of us have heard about the benefits of eating healthfully, exercising regularly, sleeping well, spending quality time with loved ones. And, many of us are familiar with the concept of meditation but either convince ourselves that we can’t or don’t know how to do it, we don’t have time for it, or don’t fully understand its impact on our daily life.

However, meditation has been shown to be an excellent exercise for the brain. By deliberately and actively choosing where we place our attention we begin building new neural pathways and networks.

Meditation for long periods at a time, 45 minutes or more, has value. But most of us simply don’t have the freedom to carve out that much time. Instead committing to a short daily practice of 3-5 minutes is a great way to get started and create a sustainable habit.

Take a moment right now to try a simple mindful compassion meditation.

Read through the infographic, and then choose an anchor for yourself. Your anchor could be your breath, the center of your body, an image—real or imagined— that brings peace and calm. Anything can be the anchor for your attention. It is simply a place upon which to rest your attention.

5-elements-of-meditation

Settle yourself into a comfortable position then set a timer for three minutes. All you need to do is pay attention to your anchor, detach from other thoughts, be aware when your mind has wandered and note where it has gone but don’t linger there, then kindly bring yourself back to your anchor. Repeat this cycle as often as necessary within the three minutes.

The process seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? In fact it may seem like you’re not really doing much of anything. But every aspect of this cycle strengthens your mind. You are practicing patience, and honing your ability to self-compassionately focus your mind and emotions. This in turn helps you deal more nimbly and resiliently with all of life’s challenges.

If you’d like to learn more about developing a mindful compassion meditation practice join us for one of our upcoming programs.

Exploring Inner-Peace on Winter Solstice

image3Being at peace with yourself sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? But we know it certainly isn’t always easy.

As we gain awareness of our emotions and thoughts, and as we authentically begin to believe and accept that we are enough just as we are, being at peace with ourselves becomes easier.

Today let’s look at releasing comparisons of ourselves to those around us.

Embracing this concept is particularly beneficial during the holidays when we engage with people we see rarely throughout the year.

We all do this one time or another—we see someone else and wish we had their attributes or their stuff, or their social position, or skills.

But ultimately all of those comparisons are external facing, and crop up when we’re not feeling 100% content with ourselves—when we are in moments of self-judgment.

When we are truly content with ourselves we begin to let go of juxtapositions; we begin to accept ourselves as we are, and we begin to accept others as they are without a need to hold both side-by-side.

YOU ARE A UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL. Embrace that.

HELPFUL TIPS:

1) Focus your awareness on your own successes

  • You are a unique person, and the only one who has lived your life. Take a moment to consider all the things you do well, big or small. 
  • You have the capacity to love, create, serve, and contribute. Let that shine through you in authentic ways. 
  • Figure what you love about your skills and knowledge, and aspire to pursue those things more often.

2) Compete less, appreciate more

  • At certain times competition is appropriate, but not all moments of life need to be competitive.
  • Look at the times when you compare yourself to others, does it arise due to competition? If so, how would things be different if you approached that moment with a collaborative perspective? 
  • Rather than looking at others as competitors, find a way to appreciate them. Admire the strengths in others and help yourself grow your own strengths. 
  • Practice routinely appreciating and complimenting the contribution of others, and notice how that effects your mind and spirit.

3) Express gratitude daily

  • Notice the good things about yourself and the world around you. 
  • Notice external things: the birds outside the window, the shape of clouds overhead, how comfortably those shoes fit on your feet, the warmth of the water in the shower. Feel gratitude for the beauty surrounding you. 
  • Notice the internal things: the kindness you extended to someone yesterday, the love you have for your dear friend, the willingness to become healthier in spirit, body, and mind through exploring new ideas. Be grateful for them.

As you move through your day today, pause for a moment each hour and gauge your level of internal peace.

If you’re feeling distressed or agitated, drop your gaze, take a few deep breaths, and detach from your thoughts.

Remind yourself that you have a choice about how you feel in the moment.

You may not be able to change the current circumstances but you have complete control over how you react to those circumstances.

Consciously move toward being at peace.

Sending best wishes for a peaceful day!

If you’re looking for a few more helpful tips and techniques like this, enroll in the FREE 9-day email series: 9 Ways to Cultivate Peace During the Holidays.

And, If you like the idea of being more at home in your own skin, you’ll love our new Morning Meditation series. 

A New Approach to Remembering September 11

Today is September 11th. 9/11. 911. Fifteen years ago today, the morning news greeted people in the United States with stories of a horrific act of terror unlike any other in this country. Today, we remember, we grieve; we all have our own stories of where we were, and how we heard the news.  For many today may be a day of sadness.cultivating-compassion-911v2

However, we are resilient. We have a choice to rise above grief and despair. We have a choice to remember the value in all humanity, regardless of faith, or ethnicity.

September 11th is the formal launch date for my new book, Cultivating Compassion: Simple Everyday Practices to Discover Peace of Mind and Resilience, and I chose this date with intention. I wanted to create an opportunity for people to look at this date  with a different perspective through offering tools and techniques to help all of us become more accepting and compassionate for self. From this foundation of self-acceptance and self-compassion, we start to extend those qualities outward.

Cultivating Compassion has 66 very short chapters. Every chapter has an inspirational theme, followed by self-reflection questions and suggestions for informal practice. Through this format,  readers become actively engaged and creating new perspectives through self-exploration and action. 

Here is an excerpt from the book: 

Day 56: Curtailing Criticism

Don’t make fun of anyone. Curtail your criticism and judgment of others.

Do you know people who constantly complain and rarely say anything good about others? Do you act like that yourself sometimes? We all do. Unfortunately, it is a pretty common response to the world. But, we can choose not to behave that way.

As you cultivate appreciation and acceptance of yourself, your capacity to appreciate others for who they are expands.

Consider that unskillful behavior may arise from unmet needs. Before you criticize someone else, take a moment to think of what really might be driving the behavior that you find challenging.

Is that person lonely, bored, angry, hungry, or anxious? If you consider the humanity in the other person, perhaps you’ll find that extending some warmth, rather than criticism, helps you become more peaceful. This may not work in all circumstances, but it is worth trying. If you still choose to judge and criticize, take a closer look at what unmet need is behind your choices.

Undoubtedly some people’s actions may seem unforgivable, but, in day-to-day circumstances, see if you can take a moment to recognize that we’re all human, and as such, we have similar basic needs. This may help you curtail your criticism and judgment of others. As you do, see if you find a greater sense of peace within yourself.

Self-Reflection:

Am I often critical of myself or others? How does this feel in my body? How do I break this cycle?

Informal Practice:

Today I will practice non-judgment. I will notice when I am being critical of myself or others, and I will stop that cycle by taking a few deep breaths, bringing awareness to my body, and then shift into a mindset of acceptance.

TODAY is the day to download this book for FREE. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. 

 

Adopt a Positive Mindset in 5 Simple Steps

Adopt a Positive Mindset in 5 Simple Steps

Oscar the GrouchDo you sometimes have a plain old grouchy day? Do you ever find yourself replaying a fight with a friend over and over in your head? Do you sometimes get hit with the blues or the blahs and you feel like you have a hard time shaking it off?

All of these states of mind are part of being human. We all go through one or all of these states fairly regularly. But… we also have the power to do something about it.

I know this from personal experience. Once upon a time I was fairly anxious and worried and I made up all kinds of disaster fantasies that would never really come true. Why did I do this? I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. For whatever reason, that was just the way my brain tended to drift. So I can tell you, I’ve been there. I didn’t like how it felt emotionally or physically. I didn’t like the kind of friend I was being. I didn’t like how I was treating myself.

I can’t tell you exactly how or when the change came about, but I can tell you that through a process of time, attention, and thoughtfulness I changed the way I think. Current research has shown that people, at any age, have the capacity to retrain their brains.

So, if you occasionally get hit with the blues, anxiety, “monkey mind”, remember that you have the power to change your thought patterns. If you choose to. If you work at it.

Don’t let the title fool you. The steps are simple. Taking action on them takes work.

I’m not offering a quick fix that will manifest a positive mindset tomorrow. I’m offering suggestions that I know will work, if you want them to, if you take action.

WhatFiresTogetherWiresTogether1) Acknowledge that you have choice in where your thoughts take you

The first step to creating a positive mindset, or happier outlook (whatever you want to call it) is acknowledging that you have choice about what is going on in your head.

You have a choice about mentally rehashing that fight with your friend last week. You have a choice about being anxious about your upcoming review. You have a choice about whether or not to be pissed off at the current state of politics in the US or the world.

Knowing that we CAN turn off the auto-pilot… that we DO have a choice in what occupies our mind… is the first step to adopting a positive mindset.

Awareness is the key. It is the first step.

Negative Stories2) Recognize negative stories as they’re happening

Recognizing stories as they’re happening requires us to be present. Present moment awareness, sometimes called mindfulness or meditation, is useful for many reasons.

One of those reasons is to help cultivate awareness of when our minds are spinning out of control.

When our minds spin we’re often creating stories about the past or future. The past is in the past, so unless you’re creating an action to plan to resolve what has already taken place, there is little point in ruminating about it. The future is in the future. While constructive planning is beneficial, if you’re creating disaster stories, remember they’re just stories.

I know a couple of people who are disaster preppers, and though it is valuable to have supplies on hand for emergency, there is a downside to spending emotional and mental energy worrying non-stop about the next earthquake.

When you notice you’re telling yourself stories in your head check-in with yourself to see if they’re making you feel peaceful or anxious. If these stories are not serving you well, acknowledge them (rather than suppressing or denying them) and put them to rest.

Take a moment to break the thought cycle by taking a few deep breaths. Inhale for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4. Repeat a couple of times as necessary. This acts like a reboot for your mind.

EmbodiedEmotion3) Notice how your body feels

This step also requires present moment awareness. Sometimes we get so caught up in our minds that we totally forget to pay attention to how our bodies feel. But our bodies can tell us quite a bit about how we’re doing in general.

Take a moment… yes, right now… to notice how your body feels.

Do you feel tension or discomfort anywhere? Where are you feeling most relaxed? How does your belly feel? What is your breathing like? Often we go through an entire day or week without paying attention to any of this.

Bodies can be a huge indicator of our mental and emotional state.

Over time, with practice, I’ve become able to identify how different emotions feel in my body. A few months ago I received some distressing news. And immediately my belly got knotted up. Over the next 24 hours as I listened to my body what I realized that I thought was anger and fear was really sadness. I didn’t make the connection intellectually. I needed my body to tell me what was really going on.

So the next time you notice you’re feeling tense or have butterflies in your stomach, notice what you’re thinking. If you’re stressed out or worried, go back to step 2 and try out that breathing exercise. See if that helps.

Learn Self-Acceptance4) Go outside and revel in the beauty of nature

Another way of helping to break the negative mental cycle, and help our bodies feel better, is to go outside.

Get some fresh air. Get a bit of sunshine, or breeze, or gentle rain on our face. Connect with something that is growing. Take a walk.

Whether you live near a park, a forest, or the water or in the city, look for something that is green and alive. Listen to the birds. Notice the temperature and the humidity.

Oh… there is that present moment awareness idea again… Focusing attention on nature and life outside of yourself is a great way to move into a positive mental mindset.

Help_Others5) Do something kind for someone else

The last tip is to create connection with someone or something else. Get out of your own mind through extending kindness to another.

The act of making someone else happy, extending even the smallest of kindnesses to another, helps us feel better about ourselves.

Hold a door for someone. Smile and say hello to someone. Give your dog an extra snuggle.

All of these actions help us move beyond ourselves, creating a sense of connection with the world around us.

Choose one or all of these tips to put into action TODAY. Repeat them tomorrow. Repeat for a week, and then a month. Pretty soon, these simple techniques will help develop a positive mindset and will lead down the path of living a more content and joyful life.