Mindful Exercise

by Cheryl Jones

In preparation for my upcoming retreat, Mindful Exercise, and the re-launch of my book “Mindful Exercise,” I thought it might be helpful to answer some of the questions I often get asked. I hope this empowers you to take another step along your mindful path!

What is mindful exercise?

Mindful exercise is about paying attention, in the present moment, to the experience of exercise with kindness and patience. You can think about exercise as any physical activity or movement.

Can you provide an example of mindful exercise in practice?

As you exercise, try taking off the headphones and turning off the TV. See if you can simply notice the sensations of breathing and moving. You might notice your heart rate getting faster, the body warming up, or perspiration. You may also be aware of the muscles working, pain, fatigue, or exhilaration.

How will it change how I exercise now?

You’ll likely notice things about your body you never noticed before—a newfound sensitivity to movement that can reduce your chance of injury. As you tune into your body, you’ll be able to take better care of yourself in general. Mindful exercise is not “vanilla,” so to speak. It’s a way of moving that will help you create a sense of balance. As you tune into your body, you’ll also be able to take better care of yourself in general.

Are some exercises more conducive to mindfulness than others?

You can bring mindfulness into any physical activity or sport—your routine at the a gym, a walk in your neighborhood, playing golf, gardening, or a yoga class. By the way, yoga is not necessarily mindful. It’s not what you’re doing, it’s how you’re doing it.

What do I focus on when exercising mindfully?

You don’t need to focus on anything, per se. It’s more of a gentle awareness of whatever is happening in your body without criticism. You’ll likely notice thoughts and feelings, too. When your mind wanders off, just notice whatever thought has drawn your attention away and bring your attention back to the breath and movement. If an emotion bubbles up, you can acknowledge whatever is true for you. Mindful exercise involves managing distraction and being aware of whatever is happening within you, over and over again, without self-judgment.

My exercise routines are so boring. Will that change?

Bringing mindfulness into an exercise routine transforms it from a workout or task to a spiritual practice. You’ll learn how to access your inner stillness and connect with the wisdom of your body. As you tune into what your body needs you’ll likely be more creative with your exercise routines. You may even be more open to trying different types of physical activity.

Will mindfulness change my exercise results?

If you’re doing any type of strength training routine, exercising mindfully will make your workouts more effective. Moving slowly and purposefully will help you get stronger, faster. Your workouts will be shorter because you’ll be doing less repetitions, and doing them more slowly. You’ll notice the difference between muscle pain and joint pain. You’ll learn to stretch but not overstretch, keeping your body safe.

What other changes might I notice?

Overall you’ll be more tuned in to your own body, what it needs and what you need. You’ll get to know yourself better. Your body will always tell you if something is a good idea or a bad one. If your body likes your choice, it will respond with relief. If it doesn’t, the body will get tense. With mindfulness, you’ll be better able to manage the stressful thoughts that drain your energy level and keep you up at night. You’ll also be able to be more in touch with your feelings and better able to regulate strong emotions so you can respond rather than react in stressful situations.

How will mindful exercise benefit my life?

Practicing patience and kindness with your body will spill over into other areas of your life. You’ll likely be more patient and kind with other people at home and work. The body’s capabilities change from day to day; mindfulness will enable you to be in a place of gratitude for whatever the body can do that day. You’ll learn to feel more grateful for the magnificence of your body regardless of its size, age, or health status. As you focus on what’s right about your body, you’ll be more able to focus on what’s right about your life.

 

Cheryl Jones is an author, coach, and the chief mindfulness officer of The Mindful Path. She has completed extensive training in MBSR through the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School and is the resident expert in mindfulness at the Aetna where she leads strategic initiatives and has inspired the adoption of mindfulness practices at work. Cheryl is a Copper Beech Institute master teacher and holds a master’s degree in exercise science from UConn and a certificate in spirituality from the University of Saint Joseph.

Cheryl will be offering a day retreat, Mindful Exercise, at Copper Beech Institute on August 13, 2016.

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Harp Music: A Conduit for Healing and Love

by Marcie Swift

Barbara Russell, Certified Music Practitioner and teacher of the harp, was anxiously awaiting her studio date to create her first CD. Enthusiastically embraced by several hospice communities and hospitals, Barbara is highly regarded for her soulful, intricate, and deeply spiritual arrangements that abet stress, pain, loneliness, and depression.

But Barbara was suffering from her own anxiety. Prior to her studio date, she met with the young and talented rising star of the harp world and superb teacher Haley Hewitt in order to brush up on technique and create the best sound for the CD. Barbara found herself fretting with each practice session. She was focusing more and more on her deficits, less and less on her healing skills. To make matters more challenging, a series of severe thunderstorms rolled into the Sunderland, MA area, making imminent the cancellation of her recording date.

That was when she called me. I’m a friend, colleague, and long-term student of Barbara’s and also a Certified Music Practitioner of the Harp. But at that time, I was undergoing chemotherapy following a series of grueling surgeries that began in December 2013.

Barbara left me a phone message. With a slight quiver in her voice, she gently asked for inspiration and support. She knew I had gone through the recording process of my own 11 years prior and that I had high regard for her talents, including plucking an uncanny degree of emotion from each string. Her embellishments and fluidity were a constant source of inspiration to my own playing.

I told Barbara that she was slipping back into a performance model of harp playing and forgetting that the CD was a vehicle to help and nurture others who are not able to be in her presence. Could she shift her focus from her perceived technique deficits and imagine herself playing for others to aid them in suffering, and pain, and anxiety? I reminded her that our healing harp work is based upon intention and that the CD should be a declaration to heal and nurture even more people than ever before.

This seemed to turn a light bulb on in Barbara’s mind and she relaxed.

On Monday, Barbara arrived at the studio with a renewed perspective. A semi-retired psychologist with an active practice for 35 years, I enjoy assisting friends with career and relationship issues. I offered an active intervention plan. But something even more transformative and unexpected happened that surprised us both.

I told Barbara how much I wished I could be in the recording studio to support her and to hear her wonderful, soothing vibrations. Then I said something I had not expected to say. I asked her to imagine that she was playing for me while she was recording.

“I just had my fourth chemo treatment two days ago and a whopper of a booster shot on top of it and I am lying here in my bed today really suffering,” I said. “Today is not a good day at all and it will take a week before I feel more myself but then I have to go through another treatment. Why don’t you picture me while you are playing as I am now, in bed, in pain, nauseated, tired, and frustrated that I can’t be outside kayaking?”

Those ideas resonated with Barbara, and she arrived at the studio with a clear sense of direction. She found herself playing well and smoothly. The thunderstorms came and halted the recording for a bit, but she went on for several hours of recording.

That night at 11:30 pm, Barbara sent me an email describing how she had pictured herself playing for me, saying the words “Marcie” and “heal” while her music flowed. What she could not have known was during that day, I woke up to severe nausea, stabbing pains, and fatigue. I took my dog for a walk and went on some simple errands around town, literally taking everything one step at a time and slowly. By noon I started to feel stronger and even hungry to the point of being ravenous. My pains stopped and I spent the rest of the day learning a new Scottish reel and preparing dinner, something I had not felt capable of doing previously. My energy and mood were noticeably improved, much to my surprise. When I read Barbara’s email, I realized my improvements coincided with Barbara’s playing.

I think we forget that we heal ourselves as we heal others. In this case, Barbara and I are two healers with a long-term respect for one another’s ideas and music. The bond was strong and flexible, so strong and flexible that it stretched over 60 miles and seemed to enter my cells and my very soul on what was previously a nightmarish day.

The therapeutic harp is being used by trained practitioners all over the world to heal and alleviate stress, pain, sorrow and suffering of a multitude of human challenges. It is also increasingly being used for pain relief in conventional medical settings. A recent article in the New York Times tells of how an E.R. in New Jersey is using the therapeutic harp and other healing options as an alternative to opioids for pain.

In soothing Barbara back into her immune-boosting therapeutic harp work and away from the rigidity of self-absorption and self-doubt, I not only reminded myself why I believe so deeply in this work, I also profited intellectually, spiritually, and physically.

Music was the vehicle to transfer healing and love. Together we created a dynamic therapeutic intervention that broke through the barriers of distance and time.

 

Marcie Swift, M.Ed. CMP is a Certified School Psychologist, Certified Music Practitioner of the Harp, and Board-Certified Fellow through American Association of Integrative Medicine. Her CD, Thread of Life, showcases her original compositions, meditations and guided imagery. Marcie can be reached at marcieswift@msn.com.

Marcie will be offering the soothing sounds of the therapeutic harp in several programs at Copper Beech Institute during the 2016–2017 season, including Healing Harps, Healing Hearts, August 6, 2016 and Practicing Peace, September 11, 2016.  

© 2016 Marcie Swift

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Finding Ways to Play

A lump in my throat. Restless, fitful sleep. A pit in my stomach. A month ago, I greeted the news of being asked to be a speaker at a storytelling event with excitement and enthusiasm. Now, as the date approached, I was slightly nauseous and very nervous.

Three days before the event, I realized I had scheduled a lunch date with Miranda Chapman, a master teacher at Copper Beech Institute. I first met Miranda at Copper Beech and was immediately drawn to her energy. During her yoga classes, I felt as if her voice unlocked places deep in my heart, like listening to the dynamic sounds of a Mozart concerto for the first time. I had been looking forward to learning more about Miranda’s upcoming one-day workshop called, “Presence and Play: Meditation in Movement” and to simply catch up. However, at that very moment, I felt like I was on the verge of breaking out in to full-body hives. I wondered if I should cancel. Did I need the time to practice my presentation? Again. Over and over. One more time. I shook off the thought. I decided the best idea was to go to lunch. Miranda had always been an incredible source of both inspiration and grounding—two things I was in desperate need of at the moment.

“It is exciting to be on campus during the summer when it is beautiful and just a magical place,” Miranda said. “My day retreat is about playfulness and how to bring this quality of light-heartedness into practice.”

This is the first summer that Copper Beech is offering events like daylong workshops and concerts.

“The retreat will allow participants to notice when you get into a place where you are really burdening yourself with stories and you become overly attached to what something should look like or how it should be,” said Miranda. “When we find ourselves in this space, we have a very distinct desire to compare ourselves to other people, or to previous versions of ourselves or future version of ourselves. This can become incredibly heavy and starts to build this unhelpful seriousness around us. I know this from my own practice when I was focused on how I can prove myself. It wasn’t a light-hearted energy. There was no humility in it. I have always liked looking at playfulness in adult life and how we can find moments of pure joy.”

This one-day retreat will include traditional yoga poses and meditation, but also creative practices to welcome in playfulness and laughter. Miranda is masterful at creating a welcoming space and building a safe environment. I love that she “walks the walk” in her own life, too. Miranda shares her gifts by traveling to the Hartford Correctional Center and other underserved populations in Hartford through the generosity of an Aetna Foundation grant.

Not adverse to hard work or tough situations, Miranda and her husband have spent the last year building their house with their own hands while living in a trailer on their land. (To read more about her experience, read here.)  She recently returned from a two-week silent meditation retreat.

“The effervescence of being alive that is inherent in play and the quality of presence invites us to find the balance between all of these elements in our lives,” Miranda says.

It reminded me of the quote from Albert Einstein, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Play allows us to find the intersection between these two ways to live by remembering the magnitude of the gift we have been given while inviting curiosity and child-like wonder into our days. 

As Miranda’s words sank in, I realized I had been taking myself way too seriously and I had forgotten the element of play! My mind had become rigid by reciting my story over and over for the event. I knew every word, but it wasn’t coming from my heart. I had been focusing on how I would perform instead of how to be fully present. Play is a form of doing something with your whole being and being so present that you are unaware that your body, mind and heart are in alignment. The upcoming storytelling event would be filled with an audience that would want to play!

I could feel my excitement again. By taking on this light-hearted approach, my words would be able to be felt, not just heard. 

With a hug good-bye, I was thankful for our time together. I realized how easy it is to let my mind create stories that don’t serve me. I also realized how a simple conversation while being fully engaged can shift my energy. As each day spills into the next, it is important to take the time to find more ways to welcome play! 

To explore bringing play into practice and your life, join Miranda in her one-day retreat, Presence and Play: Meditation in Movement.

Kimberlea Chabot can be found chauffeuring her three kids to activities around West Hartford, Connecticut or writing for her blog about connecting to what matters most, www.LuckyPennyFound.com or sneaking off to a yoga class. In addition, she meditates regularly and yells at her husband and kids daily. 

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Finding Stillness When You Can’t Sit Still

by Brandon Nappi

“Can I practice mindfulness without meditation?” I am often asked. Here at Copper Beech Institute, we introduce mindfulness to thousands of people each year. We begin by sharing the reality that mindfulness is the simple capacity to be present to life non-judgmentally moment by moment. Meditation is one, time-honored way of cultivating attention, calm, and compassion but it is not the only way. While meditation practice is the beating heart of Copper Beech Institute, people are amazed to discover that there are countless ways of practicing mindfulness beyond meditation.

Here are a few ways of practicing mindfulness this summer in additional to the traditional method of meditation.

1. While Walking

Stillness of attention can be cultivated when life requires you to be in motion. Mindful walking can be practiced while walking the dog, strolling on the beach, walking through a parking lot, or on your way to a meeting. Bring your attention to the soles of your feet. Become curious about all the sensations that arise in your feet as they contact the ground. You can walk at any speed, though you might begin by slowing your pace slightly. Observe all the large and subtle movements in the muscles and bones within your feet and ankles that enable this miracle of walking. Notice when your attention shifts to thinking or judging, and gently shift your attention back to the soles of the feet.

2. At Red Lights

Any re-occurring experience in daily life is a wonderful opportunity to practice present-moment awareness. Use red lights in your daily driving to become a mindfulness bell reminding you to practice. At each red light, become aware of your breathing at the tip of your nose. With eyes open, pay attention to the sensation of air streaming in and out of the body. Notice the temperature of the inhalation in comparison to the exhalation. Notice the slice of stillness between the in-breath and out-breath. The breath can only ever unfold in the present moment and the simple act of bringing awareness to our breathing naturally aligns us in the present in the short time of a red light. Add other reoccurring tasks to integrate short periods of practice into your day, including brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, drinking your morning beverage, or any time you pick up your phone.

3. While Hugging

Hugging—whether a friend, a child, a relative, our partner or a pet—is a way of demonstrating our connection. Hugging is a moment of profound encounter between two people who care for one another. We often perform this action reflexively without any thought. Allow yourself the gift of enjoying this moment of connection, however brief. For even a second or two, a hug reminds us that we are all connected to one another. As you hug, you might take a breath as a way of becoming fully present to the experience and your intention to care for this person within your embrace. You might silently offer this wish as you release your hug: “May you be happy and safe.” The same care we extend in a hug to one person, we practice sharing with the world.

To explore mindfulness practice with Brandon Nappi and how it can foster greater love and compassion in your life, click here.

Dr. Brandon Nappi is founder and executive director of Copper Beech Institute, the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice. Copper Beech Institute offers more than 40 transformational programs to foster peace, resilience, and compassion in everyday life. Brandon Nappi and harpist Marcie Swift will lead the mindfulness day retreat, Practicing Peace, September 11, 2016. All are welcome. To learn more click here.

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