Start A Simple Meditation Practice in 4 Easy Steps

Yes, many people sign up for fancy classes and retreats in order to study and learn meditation. Some travel to India and China to study with gurus, live in ashrams, and be in silence. Though these approaches may work for some, the hardest part for most is bringing the practices they learn abroad home and integrating them into their regular stress filled Western lives. I have seen many get addicted to “escaping” as far away from home as possible just to get some peace. What I am suggesting here is… how about you learn to meditate simply in your life right now and then see where that practice takes you? Maybe it will be to India or maybe it will help shape your current partnerships, friendships, careers, and even how you parent. Right now, in this moment, what is it that you’re wanting to upgrade? What if your meditation practice helped you with that? And what if you achieved some stress relief and happiness in the process? Here’s my take on how to try meditating – try simple.

Find Mindful Moments 

Instead of trying to sit with your legs in a pretzel right away, take a couple of weeks to schedule daily 5 minute mindfulness breaks for yourself. What is a mindfulness break, you ask? That’s a really great question! Mindfulness can be defined simply as an act of observing yourself in the present moment. We rarely put down our devises and are even less likely to be not-doing anything at any given moment. We are in a constant state of busy.

So, DO put down your phone, turn off the TV, and take some time to observe what’s going on around you. You can go to a park, sit at your desk and shut your computer off, or sit outside at a coffee shop. Really, anything counts. Take five minutes to observe the noises and colors around you, to listen to the sound of your own breath, to really breathe in and out. Set a timer and make sure to do the full 5 minutes. It may seem long and unnecessary at first, but try and breathe through the distraction of your thoughts and judgements and I promise it will get easier.

Schedule Time

You will never have the time if you do not schedule the time. It’s that simple. 5 minutes is not a lot, I bet you spend more time browsing Facebook every day. No judgement here, just know that you can make time! Remember, there’s nothing more important than your health and your relationships! All other goals suffer if you overlook these two things. So, make the time! For me, having these five minutes scheduled into my phone calendar (with a reminder set) works. You can also try writing a reminder down or have a friend remind you and keep you accountable. Doing this practice first thing in the morning or at another consistent time daily may help. Try it all and see what works for you! Remember, 5 mindful minutes a day for two weeks and then either move on or add… Meditation! 

Find a Comfortable Seat and Breathe!

Find a comfortable place; it can be a chair, a pillow, the ground. I don’t think it needs to be a quiet place or even a special place of peace for you. Though these things help, not everyone has a quiet place to get away to and if you have one, it may not always be available. This practice is really meant for you to be able to do it ANYWHERE in any situation. So, get uncomfortable! It’s the only way to find true comfort.

You can sit crosslegged or on your knees. I suggest using lots of pillows and props if they are available, especially in the beginning! You can sit on a pillow or blanket and place some rolled up blankets or small pillows under your knees. Do what will make you comfortable. Sitting up tall is can still be difficult, but I encourage you to roll your shoulders back and endure it. The 5 minutes will eventually get shorter. Close your eyes.

Begin to control your breathing. and try to take inhales and exhales that are equal to each other; 3 or 4 counts in, 3 or 4 counts out. I like visualizing as if the breath is traveling through my whole body. Inhales travel up the front line of the body, making you taller and more open in the chest. Exhales come down the backside of your spine which allows you to feel grounded and strong. Continue this practice, even if you get away from it for a bit during the 5 minutes – come back to it. You can increase how long you sit with time. Trust me, 5 minutes is a great start! 

Observe

You’ve already practiced mindfulness and now that you have your breath going and your eyes closed you can begin to observe how your body is feeling from the inside out. It is still ok to tune into the outside sounds and to even be distracted. There’s no such thing as a perfect meditation. One of the most valuable meditation lessons I’ve learned over the years is that it is not about creating a perfect environment for quiet and calm. As I mentioned earlier, it is rather about finding perfection in any space. So, acknowledge the distractions around you, hold on to them for a few breaths and then start to let them go. Maybe they fade, maybe you shift your focus back to your breath. This is your meditation practice.

Traditionally, meditation is not about listening to relaxing music or a voice recording of someone saying something inspiring. These tools are there to help you focus in the beginning. Once you are focused, you are asked to let go of the focus and try “just being” without any purpose. I truly believe that with persistence and a little planning you can get there simply. It’s not always easy, but the steps are simple, so go ahead and try! And when you do, you can work towards creating more space for yourself amongst the clutter of the distractions and to do lists. With that and with time, I truly believe anyone can find more happiness, laughter and connection to themselves and others. 

5 Ways To Stay Healthy While You Travel

Picture this: it is the middle of July heat and you are enjoying a decent helping of Italian pasta with braised beef and a glass of red wine in Florence, Italy. Exactly what you are supposed to be having in Italy, right? But how do you feel the rest of the day? Are you able to enjoy walking around the city? Are you excited for the next meal a few hours later or are you still feeling full? This really depends on you, your body and your habits. For me, the meal above would put me in a deep food coma for the rest of the day. Have you been on numerous trips which ended up slightly tainted due to some overindulgence? Below are some pointers on how to stay healthy and energetic on your trip or vacation while still enjoying all of its perks and flavors.

1. Let healthy start at the airport

The airport and airplane food are nothing to write home about. Start your travels off right by bringing a few goodies to the airport with you, saving some money and making sure your travel nutrition is on point. I recommend bringing some almonds or walnuts as good sources of protein and energy. You can also bring some veggies like raw broccoli, celery and carrots with you easily in some ziplock baggies. If you are in for a long flight, I recommend also steaming some veggies, sautéing a chicken breast and making brown rice or quinoa to bring onto the plane with you. Something simple like this will taste great even if it’s cold and you can skip at least one of the hot preservative-loaded meals served to you on the plane. Give yourself a break though and have a nice treat such as a cappuccino or a chai at the airport, you’re about to be on vacation after all!

2. Keep moving

I was jet lagged and woke up in Jerusalem at 4am with nothing to do. I tossed and turned and then decided to get out of bed and move for a while. A simple 25 minute yoga sequence with some backbends woke me up and kept me energized for the rest of the day. That night, I was able to go right to sleep and my transition into a new time schedule was complete!

Waking up and moving, even just inside your hotel room can rev up your metabolism and give you new energy. Keeping at least part of your usual morning routine (if you’ve got one) can provide balance during a busy travel schedule.

The good news you choose how (and when) you want to move! Yes, you can do yoga. You can also go for a walk (or a run) outside, use your hotel gym to lift some weights or simply do some push ups, squats and jumping jacks in your room.

3. Eat local food in small portions and consider the seasons

When you travel, there’s so much to taste! I suggest; do it more often! Have smaller portions, keep yourself satiated and enjoy! One of my favorite things to do in Italy was to go out in the morning, find a deli and buy some local snack-ables – prosciutto, cheese, fruit, locally made bread. I would dig up some veggies like tomatoes and beets as well. These all can be great snacks in between meals. As for bread; some freshly made bread with butter, jam or both (!) can be a great compliment to your morning java.

Tasting what’s on your plate is way more important that eating the entire thing. Slow down, chew your food, enjoy and save room for desert. This is a big lesson and reminder for me as it is normally hard for me to slow down and not finish something really delicious. 

Additionally, when you travel in the summer, eat foods that are cooling. This varies for people. Watermelon slices in the middle of the day will surely quench your thirst. Try and enjoy iced beverages and eat more raw foods to keep cool.

In the winter, cooked foods usually feel good. Have some cooked fall veggies, some meat (if you normally eat it) and maybe an indulgent cup of soup to keep your insides nice and warm. Also, a cup of warm ginger tea can keep you from being cold and rev up your metabolism.

In spring and fall, your overall diet will depend on the weather and how you’re feeling. Take some time in the morning to close your eyes and take a few deep breaths (please see my post on how to include a simple meditation in your every day life). With this, you can tune into how your body is feeling: hot or cold, high or low energy. After you figure it out, eat accordingly. Maybe you need more healthy carbs for energy or cooling foods because you got overheated at night. Trust yourself and be mindful of what you fuel your body with first thing in the morning.

4. Drink lots of water

My guess is you are walking a ton and drinking lots of delicious beverages while on vacation. Remember to compliment everything you do with a generous gulp of water! Water will not only keep you hydrated but will also help your digestion and give you energy. Have a glass of water after every drink and always carry a water bottle with you whenever you’re exploring and walking around. Depending on where you travel, tap water may or may not be an option. Plan ahead for your day and buy water at the local grocery store if you need.

5. Take it ALL in!

A vacation is usually a whirlwind that can quickly fly by, am I right? Too often, we (as digital age humans) become slaves to sharing our travel experiences over social media.  Think of being at a concert and listening to your favorite song. Then you look around and there’s a sea of cellphone cameras in the air blocking the people attached to them from the full experience because they are recording it for everyone else’s online pleasure. Of course, it’s fun to take pictures and share. Remember to bring balance to it all though. Put your phone away, breathe in the fresh air, take in the sights, laugh with your friends and loved ones. Make some new friends. Maybe then, pick up your phone and snap a few shots. 

Another fun thing you can do while traveling is to journal. It’s such a cool way to recall all the funny/exciting/interesting moments from the day and record them. You can later read through old journals and remember things you would have otherwise forgotten.