Mindfulness Exercises

Quiet your inner critic with self compassion

Written by Stephanie Dykema, Ph.D.

Photo by  Bart LaRue  on  Unsplash

Photo by Bart LaRue on Unsplash

If you’re like most women I know and work with you’re way more critical of yourself than you are towards other people.  We have a harsh voice running in our minds all day long: “why did I say that?” … “I really should lose weight” … “I’m so stupid and can’t do anything right”. 

Instead of judging yourself, try self-compassion. Dr. Kristin Neff describes self-compassion as having the same kindness and understanding towards yourself that you have towards others when they are having a difficult time.  

When you fail at something or notice something you don’t like about yourself, ask yourself: What would I say to a friend in this situation?  You’ll probably notice that your response to a friend is much more gentle than what you’d say to yourself. Self-compassion is letting go of criticism and judgement of ourselves and giving ourselves kindness and gentleness.  

In other words, self-compassion is being an ally with yourself rather than your own worst enemy.

Next time you feel embarrassed or like a failure, imagine what it would be like to say to yourself: “I’m human, we’re all human, everyone struggles and make mistakes” or “This really sucks, I feel terrible..  how can I care for myself right now?”

Self-compassion is not self-pity. Self-pity is a “poor me, I’m struggling so much and I’m so alone” attitude. Self-compassion is an attitude of “no, I’m not perfect, but neither is anyone else… other people aren’t a horrible person when they make a mistake, and neither am I”. 

Try taking a short, 4 minute self-compassion break right now!

If you want to talk more about how to make change in yourself and your relationships while also being flexible and compassionate towards yourself contact me to set up an appointment: stephanie@balanced-awakening.com.  

Neff, K. & Gerner, C. (2018). The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Mindfulness in Everyday Life

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Written by Kristin Ridder, Ph.D.

How many times have you gone through your day on automatic pilot - and then wondered where the day went? This happens to everyone in many ways. Maybe you had a conversation with a friend and realized you didn't even know what they had just said to you because your mind was somewhere else. You might have been driving and suddenly noticed that you missed your exit because you had been so caught up in your thoughts.

Mindfulness teaches us to be aware of these patterns and to bring ourselves back into contact with the present moment instead of worrying about what could go wrong in the future or reliving pain from our past. It teaches us to be be psychologically present and aware, noticing what is happening in the here and now while paying attention to both the inner world and outer world.

Contact with the present moment is important for self-awareness about our thoughts and feelings, which lets us chose our behavior and make intentional choices. Over time, cultivating mindfulness helps us to observe our thinking patterns, notice when we get caught by certain unhelpful thoughts, and allow these thoughts or emotions to be without getting caught up in them. It sounds so simple, but it can be a tricky skill in real life. Being present lies at the heart of mindfulness.

I like these simple ways to get mindful because anyone can do them, nearly anywhere. Nobody can be mindful or present-minded every moment of every day! Your mind will probably pull you back to your thoughts again and again. That’s normal - our mind is effective at training us to believe that our thoughts are very important and that we should always pay attention to them! These exercises, from the book “ACT Made Simple” are an easy way to bring yourself back to noticing the present moment and practice shifting away from those unhelpful thinking patterns.

Take Ten Breaths

This is a simple exercise to center yourself and connect with your environment. Practice it throughout the day, especially any time you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.

  1. Take ten slow, deep breaths. Focus on breathing out as slowly as possible until the lungs are completely empty—and then allow them to refill by themselves.

  2. Notice the sensations of your lungs emptying. Notice them refilling. Notice your rib cage rising and falling. Notice the gentle rise and fall of your shoulders.

  3. See if you can let your thoughts come and go as if they’re just passing cars, driving past outside your house.

  4. Expand your awareness: simultaneously notice your breathing and your body. Then look around the room and notice what you can see, hear, smell, touch, and feel.

Drop Anchor

This is another simple exercise to center yourself and connect with the world around you. Practice it throughout the day, especially any time you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.

  1. Plant your feet into the floor.

  2. Push them down—notice the floor beneath you, supporting you.

  3. Notice the muscle tension in your legs as you push your feet down.

  4. Notice your entire body—and the feeling of gravity flowing down through your head,

    spine, and legs into your feet.

  5. Now look around and notice what you can see and hear around you. Notice where you

    are and what you’re doing.

Notice Five Things

This is yet another simple exercise to center yourself and engage with your environment. Practice it throughout the day, especially any time you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.

1. Pause for a moment
2. Look around and notice five things that you can see.
3. Listen carefully and notice five things that you can hear.
4. Notice five things that you can feel in contact with your body (for example, your watch against your wrist, your trousers against your legs, the air on your face, your feet upon the floor, your back against the chair).
5. Finally, do all of the above simultaneously. 

Harris, R. (2009). ACT Made Simple: An Easy-To-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

Grounding in Light Meditation

Looking for a new way to practice mindfulness and feel more grounded? I love this "grounding in light" meditation written by Nancy Napier and found in her book "Sacred Practices for Conscious Living." If you're just starting out with mindfulness meditation, you can read more about mindfulness in an earlier post. You may also want to give mindfulness of breathing a try before you engage in this meditation. 

Before you begin this meditation, find a comfortable and quiet place where you can be alone for about 10 minutes. You can sit in an upright but comfortable position in a chair or you could always lie on the floor. When you finish the meditation, take a few moments to absorb the practice. 

My favorite meditation book for women. And a meditation exercise to get you out of your head!

Review of Meditation Secrets for Women: Discovering your Passion, Pleasure, and Inner Peace

by Camille Maurine & Lorin Roche, Ph.D.

Playful and sensual - not words that you'd typically associate with meditation! But Camille Maurine and Lorin Roche, Ph.D. opened my eyes to different, more sensory and flexible ways to meditate and enjoy it. Meditation Secrets for Women is full of accessible meditations and practical ideas about how to incorporate meditation and a meditative state of mind into your daily life. 

Both women and men can benefit from this book (don't let the title limit you!). Women are designed somewhat differently from men and will likely appreciate learning about meditation from a perspective written for women that openly acknowledges and adapts to the way women tend to "be" in the world. Also, men may find this approach refreshing, as both men and women may feel that their inner feminine self is stifled by meditation driven by the masculine model. When we think of meditation, we tend to think of celibate monks who shut out sensory pleasure and "human" enjoyment of life (part of the masculine model). Meditating under this model has some limitations, and may feel impractical and/or restrictive to both genders. 

Meditation at it's best is about being open to all experiences - to all emotions, sensations, thoughts - and taking an observant, curious, nonjudgmental approach with yourself. Meditation Secrets for Women is structured in a way that guides you through this process and facilitates presence with self in a loving way. It encourages you to use all of your experience - including distraction - in the meditative process. 

The Sanctuary of Your Personal Space

meditation for women chicago

One of my favorite meditations from this book is "The Sanctuary of Your Personal Space." I appreciate how it gets the meditator out of her head and into her body by focusing on different movements with the hands. It's a great way to engage the sense of movement and befriend your personal space or aura.

In preparation for this practice, set aside about 10 minutes of your time. You can do this meditation while seated in a chair or on the ground. Be sure to give yourself some space to extend your arms fully and stretch out a bit. 

After this practice, you may want to set aside some time to journal or reflect on what the practice was like for you. 

  • What did you notice?
  • Did any unexpected emotions or sensations arise?
  • Were you able to be with yourself compassionately? Did any judgments arise?
  • How do you take sanctuary in or protect your personal space on a regular basis?

Mindfulness of Emotions Meditation

Want a new skill to practice that will help you feel less overwhelmed by your emotions? Try this mindfulness of emotion meditation. It's one way to practice making some room for unwanted emotions. When you allow difficult emotions to be present, they have less control over your behavior. The purpose of this practice is give you space to slow down and observe your inner experience. Emotions can be the scariest when you become focused on running away from them. In this exercise, you have the opportunity to practice doing the opposite. Over time, with continued practice, emotions or fear of emotions no longer have to drive your life!

Partnering up with Fearlessly Fit Life to help women develop a healthier relationship with food.

This week I'm doing a blog take over at Fearlessly Fit Life, where I'll be sharing information on how to develop a healthier relationship with food! Check out the video and see what else is going on with mindful eating at Fearlessly Fit Life. 

Mindfully eat chocolate. An exercise in mindful enjoyment.

As a follow-up to a previous post on the basics of mindful eating, I'm sharing a mindful chocolate meditation. Chocolate tends to bring up strong associations and sometimes strong emotions and/or cravings for individuals. What do you think of when you hear the world "chocolate" or are reminded of chocolate? How does it make you feel to eat chocolate? Chocolate may be associated with pleasant events or pleasant feelings. Or it may be associated with guilt, overeating, and overindulging. Perhaps it can bring up both for you. 

What is mindful eating? An adaptive way to manage the modern food environment.

It's the holiday season and food is everywhere! How does one navigate the modern food environment without gaining weight? This is a tough question to answer, as we have evolved in an environment where food was scarce. In order to survive, it was best to eat anything and everything available. Our world has evolved too quickly for us to keep up - in terms of keeping our bodies healthy. For many people in the developed world, food is too available given our biological predisposition. Food is also designed to hit the "need more" and "want more" triggers, as it's particularly sweet and fatty - good things for beefing up before the next food shortage.