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BMJ (Breathing, Meditating and Journaling) to Enhance a Gratitude Way of Being in Your Life

The title of an article in Prevention magazine was “The way to go through tough times is through advanced gratitude”. This caught my eye because I have often asked, “Why do some people do so well when faced with adversity and others don’t?” I know I have learned I have a lot of strength and resilience from all that I have been through and often wonder where does that all come through.

I do think there are a number of reasons but one that really made sense was referenced in the article as “advanced gratitude”. This stands for the ability to identify and appreciate the bad events in your life because of what you’ve gain from them. I do remember after the first accident, instead of being angry at the person who had changed my life, I was trying to step into the “What am I to learn from this incident?” way of thinking. I would never wish bad on anyone but I do think sometimes given a “detour” in life we grow and sometimes recreate the person we are.

I have always tried to live life optimistically, even when I have felt down and out. I would really try to look at what I did have and be grateful. My mother has been my rock through many of the circumstances I have faced and she has helped me keep this as a focus. My brother gave me a Gratitude Journal one Christmas during the challenges of the first car accident because I was devastated and really questioning a lot.

My whole life as I knew it was changed in an instant. I tried to hold onto what I knew and believed was who I was and what I was supposed to be doing at all cost. It took me almost 4 years to “die” off the old person and allow the new one to blossom. It was hard, the unknown was scary. There were days when I could barely come up with 5 things to write down in the journal but I would manage to do so each day, even if it was being grateful to be alive and breathing.

I kept holding on to a belief that everything would work out and be ok but there were still days that I wasn’t sure. In the article there was a quote, “It all starts with making a habit of appreciating what you have, what you’ve lost, and what your life would be like if fate hadn’t nudged you this way or that” These  three things can help you move into an advanced gratitude way of thinking.

Look for the gifts in those that you meet, the things that happen around you and to you, how you touched others while your life is flowing and then when tough times hit you will have an easier time spotting these same things when you are challenged. The journal allows you to continue to bring up the importance of this in your life on a daily basis. The more you acknowledge it the more you are able to live it and others around you support it. We so often attract those like ourselves so be the person you want around you.

Yes, opposites do attract and if you are strong, energetic and positive you may find that those who are low energy, needing constant reassurance that they are ok and negative, gravitate towards you. They want what they don’t have and your energy is appealing and uplifting to them. Be careful about being pulled into a “fix them” process because you are a nice person. Protect yourself and if you do choose to surround yourself by those people, look at what it is about them that is drawing you towards them. You very well may be a gift for them at that time in your life but if you find they are creating an exhausted state for you it is ok to be honest, share your feelings and walk away if you need too. Through writing down things you can “sort” through what is going on in that circumstance.

Focusing on the gift that they are, what is it about them that you enjoy and reinforcing that time as precious moments you may find that it moves both of you into a greater level of sharing.  Share with them some of your techniques for being happy (writing down what you’re grateful for etc.). You can also step back and look at how your life would be if you had not met them or had the job you have, live where you live etc. This helps you evaluate what blessings you do have. If you imagine that you do not have something it can help you be thankful for all that you do have. Through the process of remembering how tough things were and how far you have come you allow yourself to move into a stronger place of being grateful.

Dr Emmons states so wonderfully, “Suffering can be a reason for gratefulness in that it shatters our illusions of self-sufficiency and teaches us what is truly important”.  We can’t do it alone, we need each other. Moving through various traumas and surgeries myself I came to realize this at many levels. The small things, that I could do so easily and had to ask others for help was very humbling. I definitely found I appreciated even the little things more as I gained back strength and the ability to live my life more fully again. I wasn’t sure what things were going to look like, I had to just stay present to the process and trust that it was all going to be ok.  Knowing that others were there to help me definitely let me know I was loved and cared for.

Dr Emmons states, “The ability to bounce back after trauma is what psychologist call post-traumatic growth, a positive transformation that can occur when people go through serious stress, such as a chronic illness, an injury or disaster.” No it is not about people being grateful for the injury, illness or situation it is what happens afterwards that creates the transformation.

How we deal with the circumstance will greatly shape how we move forward. Checking in on what is truly important, friends, family, time shared with others are sometimes what overrides some of the basic things like jobs, money, houses, cars etc. they are just things! One door closes and many others can open. Often when one loses a job they end up pursuing their passion or real dream only to find success in that joy that they might not have found had their life not been turned upside down.

Sitting quiet and allowing your body to chill out can reveal a lot about your true sub-conscious thoughts. Meditation helps one reach this process. Learning the skills to meditate not only helps you relax but can also help you transform over your lifetime. It has proven to reduce stress and improve one’s health. You allow your brain to disengage during relaxation and this can definitely improve your attention when you are working on tasks or other projects. We are becoming very sensory overloaded and distracted in today’s world of fast paced technology. We need to step back and “be” for a few minutes each day. To many pressures of “To Do” are driving people into more isolation and diseases. We need to practice becoming “mindful”. No matter what you are doing be present where it is driving, eating, working out, working etc.

While being mindful you also boost gratitude. With eating if you take the time to think about what you want to prepare, make a list for the store, embrace the shopping as being about bringing in nutritious choices for your body and then when you are home be grateful for the fact that you are able to put food on your table it enhances your thankfulness/gratitude.

With children as they grow, they “explore” foods, the textures, colors, feel, temperature, as they grow and develop and this shapes some of their eating behavior and choices. Be like a child and explore your food the same way.   When you eat, notice how you feel, what your mind is thinking, what flavors did you notice, sweet, salty, spicy and did it satisfy you? As you eat if you find yourself wandering off, bring yourself back and continue to evaluate the food and how your body is responding to it. It is important to sit down to eat, don’t have other distractions going on around you, allow yourself to focus on eating and being nourished.

Once you are done, take a few deep breaths before you leave the table. Allow yourself to soak in the meal, the flavors and being grateful. If you take the time to focus on what you are eating you are less likely to over eat. In addition, if you chew your food, experience it and take at last 20 minutes to eat you are less likely to overeat.

When you do your exercise, think of it as a moving mediation.  If you are walking try not to listen to music, pick a trail or path that has a roaring river, birds in the trees, wind that might hustle through the trees, or other noises to listen to. Sometimes even a busy road in the distance can be a bit soothing. Focus on your breathing, if you find yourself drifting come back to your breathing and taking in the noises. You want to rally in the moments around this movement, not all the thoughts of things you need to do etc.

I find when I am hiking with others I might see the little lady bug or colorful bug on the trail, notice shapes in the clouds, hear nature sounds, see the glisten of the sun on the snow in the winter when snowshoeing, see the incredible views we have here when bicycling and so it becomes more than just movement it becomes moments in time spent in nature and taking it all in, God’s amazing creation.

I can take those imagines and use them when I am meditating. We help the brain relax and recharge and this helps us throughout our whole body. Sometimes trying to do 15 minutes is just too much for people so start with 1 minute simply sitting quietly and breathing in and out. You can work up to a longer period of time just like building up your exercise time.

Research has found that people who meditate for 30 minutes a day and did it for 8 weeks did increase the gray matter in their hippocampus, an area critical to memory and learning and reduction of the gray matter in the amygdala which is associated with anxiety.  The control group that did not perform mindfulness meditation did not exhibit any changes in their brain matter.

For your well being make it a point to find the time to sit and listen to your breathing. At first it may be a little irregular but over time it will calm down. Just like exercise, you will develop conditioning. The few minutes to download and recharge will help you greatly throughout the day. Deep breathing allows us to access our buried emotions so they rise to the surface. Sometimes we think we are losing control as a river of tears releases but in time we may find that this process is not destroying us but actually allowing us to let go of our past. It allows us to lift a great weight off our shoulders. Sometimes this technique really helps if someone is trying to lose weight.

If you find it hard to find time to sit still and breath you could sit in the car or under a tree at the park where your child has practice and work on it while they are busy or maybe you take a walk for 15-20 minutes around the field where they are and then sit in the car for 10 -15 minutes to breath and chill.

Sometimes finding 30 minutes is just not possible, ok, set an alarm on your phone for 3 brain breaks a day. Maybe you get up and walk to the lobby of your building or if it is a nice day you walk around the building, breathing in and out, stretching your arms over your head, taking in the noises, sunshine whatever is around you. Set a routine and then it become a habit. It may take a few weeks to find consistently and once you have a month of this process you will have established a new habit.

You then begin to notice how you feel when you don’t do it. Sort of like when you eat well and then go have a “splurge”. Do this a few times and you realize that you don’t like feeling that way so you start to make different choices. Miss your daily “quiet time” and you will find that you give up a few minutes of something else to keep it in your schedule or find creative ways to get it scheduled.

No matter what, be mindful and stay in the present moment. Don’t drift to the past, nor look into the future. You only have this moment right now. One side note, you can really face your fears through meditation, calming yourself down and focusing your breathing you can train your brain to make better choices.  The part of the brain that gets shifted is the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for managing and regulating our emotions that help us analyze and retain information.

For some TaiChi or Qigong can be a nice blend of moving and meditation too. You are breathing and moving in a routine that helps you focus and relax. Similar affects may be felt with yoga where you focus on your breathing pattern too. All of these techniques can definitely help your sleep. So often we find it hard to unwind at the end of the day.

I always advise having a pad of paper by the bed to write down things that come up so you are not holding it in your head through the night but if you do some brain quieting exercises you may find you are not going through so much mind stress when you are trying to go to sleep.  It is not uncommon to have wandering thoughts when your head hits the pillow.  It is often the time of day when you are suddenly alone with your thoughts and they just won’t quiet down.  When the mind has built up momentum it can take some time to settle it down. The more you try to focus on the fact that you can’t sleep the more you can’t sleep. You have to let go of what is keeping you awake. As mentioned above, write it down.

I also find my brain unwinds when I go workout and in the car so I have pads of paper available there too. I also keep a pad of paper with me in my sports bag and by the equipment at home and in the car. If I come to a red light I can jot down what is coming up to deal with it later. There is also the technique of saying it three times with “remember” in front of it and that will help stimulate the brain to place it into memory to recall when needed.

Have you ever noticed that, “whatever you resist, persists”? The thoughts you try to shut out keep on coming back. If you focus on not being able to sleep then you will probably find that you can’t sleep. Instead focus on your breathing or if you have to get up and read do so using a little bitty light that you can clip on your book (to purchase click here) so that you are not disrupting your whole melatonin regulation with bright lights. Often when one starts to read they immediately get sleepy so the best thing you can do is go to sleep. Don’t do stimulating things like on a computer as this can only make the situation worse. Journaling or writing down the things that you have on your mind can allow you to let go.

If you are finding you are going through some emotional things, write them down it may help you sort through to the root of the problem. Every disease or imbalance is linked to 1 of 3 root emotions, they are fear, anger or sorrow. Each one carries with it a pairing to an organ in Chinese Medicine. Fear if linked with the kidney’s so issues related to your salt balance, allergies, blood pressure, adrenals might be affected. For Anger it is the liver. Often correlated with this are congestion, toxicity, frustration and complaining and consistently waking between 1 and 3AM to pee or wake and can’t get back to sleep. When the liver is not able to detoxify as it should there becomes a build-up of toxins and this can affect your health. For sorrow the Pancreas is the related organ and the emotional correlation is often seen as a loss of sweetness in life and many times eating more sugar can be correlated to this loss. Don’t forget that the craving of sugar can also be related to not eating enough protein.

When one of these emotions is strong it can affect how well someone can heal. If it is not addressed it can stagnate the person.  It helps to look at what was going on a year prior to the onset of an issue/emotion because sometimes the circumstance shows up a year later as the sequence from what happened. If you did not deal with it then you might find yourself facing similar circumstances. Until you face the emotions it is very difficult to lose weight if that is a goal. We use weight a barrier or protection of our bodies to the outside world. It is our armor.

If you were to use journaling to look at Fear you could write the question, “What do I have fear about?” and keep writing it until the pen takes off. You may find that you end up writing about all kinds of things and in the end it wasn’t about Fear itself but other aspects in your life not balanced creating fear. Facing it allows you to set a plan towards moving forward.

With anger, sometimes there is a circumstance or a person which has created the emotion. Doing a letter writing process to the person or journaling about the circumstance can allow you to move into acceptance and that will help you heal. Holding anger in can lead to serious disease issues. When you write the first letter should be about the incident and the angst it created for you. The second would be about acceptance and being able to look at the gift from the person or circumstance. It may take a few weeks to reach the point of understanding where you can do this. If you can move into acceptance and/or love of the person or circumstance you can move forward in your health. Holding onto things creates stagnation and disruption.

The third emotion is sorrow. Loss of sweetness in life, so often people will look for “sweetness” in their diet to “stuff” the emotion.  The more intake of sugar one does the worse they feel. Recognizing the loss and coming up with constructive ways to deal with it and create new opportunities will also help one control their food. At the onset of a sugar craving you can get some protein to see if that settles it down. Getting out and walking when the desire for sugar is real strong can move your focus into something healthy instead of disruptive. Of course there are stages of grief that do occur and it is important to allow yourself the time to properly grieve. Elizabeth Kubler Ross wrote “On Death and Dying” and does a great job of explaining the 5 stages of grief one goes through as they move to acceptance. I highly recommend this book and if you want to order a copy (click here).

It is important to nurture and heal your emotional wounds just like you would if you had a physical injury.  If you stuff it down or tough it out you may end up creating a bigger issue down the road.  You are loved and you are love. Live your life from the place of love in your heart to give and you will affect others around you in an uplifted way as well as yourself.  Definitely choose love over fear, forgiveness over resentment. See the good in others and what they have as their gift and love that they are. Faith is a deep inner knowing that all is right where it is suppose to believe. Keep the faith that all is happening in the divine order it is supposed to. Let go, trust and be.

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