Just like you exercise your muscles, practice your skills

Use it or lose it!

They say, “Use it or lose it!” And that’s true of pretty much everything.

We exercise to improve our health. If we don’t exercise, our health tends to decline.

We exercise to improve our cognition. Yup, exercising our body helps our mind.

We exercise to get stronger. Use those muscles or they become weak.

We exercise to retain flexibility. Don’t stretch and our flexibility decreases.

We exercise aerobically to strengthen our heart and increase lung function. Don’t exercise for a few days and we’re out of breath faster.

Practice not only makes perfect…

The same holds true for other skills. If you played piano when you were younger, you know what I’m talking about! Don’t practice and you won’t even remember where the keys are.

We practice our balance to stay upright and prevent future falls. Falls, especially as we get older, can be dangerous, if not tragic. From slipping and falling on the ice to rolling an ankle on broken pavement, improved balance can help.

Download my “Week of Balance” booklet. A free .pdf file to help you get started retaining your balance.

In dog training it’s the same. Lots of skills are involved in training a dog to compete in obedience or agility. Don’t practice one of them and the behavior deteriorates. My agility instructor likens this theory to circus performers spinning plates on a long dowel. He’d get a row of plates spinning, and when the last one started the first one would start to slow down and topple. The performer would have to run back to the first one and start it spinning again.

Calm your mind

Being able to calm your mind is another skill that requires practice. There are so many distractions in the world that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to focus on a single thing. From our own devices – phones, tablets, laptops, TVs – to the world around us, there’s a lot to take in.

I find it imperative to be able to narrow my focus. I get more done when I’m not trying to do several things at once. We all have heard people extol the virtue of multi-tasking, but the only things that benefit from multi-tasking are computers.

We’re much more productive when we can focus on a single task and then move on to the next one.

Guided meditations can help calm the mind

But many find it hard to calm the mind at first. It just takes practice. And sometimes a little help. Check out my free short, guided meditations. Sometimes just a couple of minutes of a guided meditation helps clear your mind. And there are also lots of free smartphone meditation apps. (I find these to be a little long, but everyone’s different.)

Guided meditations:

Garden meditation

Ocean meditation

River meditation

Stress – it’s not going away

Play with your dog to relieve stress!Stress, our old friend. It’s ever-present. And it’s not going away. Every day we hear on the news something that makes us gnash our teeth. And since social media makes everything immediate, even from the far-reaches of the globe. Former allies are now questionable, and we’re cozying up to former enemies. Your boss is asking for ridiculous deadlines. The talk-show host on your favorite radio program has gone insane. Even commercials are making us angry and on-edge.

And when we feel those stresses, they can manifest themselves in our behavior. Many people eat when they’re stressed. Some get cranky with those they love (because getting cranky with the boss can get you fired). Some people become ill. None of these are good things.

So, how can you keep your blood pressure (figuratively) under control?

Take a step back. Unplug for a while and turn off the TV.

Go for a hike in the woods. Or just a nap under a tree in the back yard. Enjoy some nature.

Close your eyes, clear your mind and breathe for a few minutes.

Talk to a friend about your dogs.

Play with your dogs.

Work in the garden.

Listen to music. Not on the radio.

Some people advocate meditation. I honestly do think it helps to ground me. I do a couple of minutes every day or so – without meditating for a bit my mind tends to take off into the “What if …” zone. And then it goes around in circles and spirals, and I get all hot and bothered. So I sit down, close my eyes and think about nothing.

Some people like listening to guided meditations. They’re good too – in fact, I’m developing a series of short guided meditations.

But, whatever you do, make sure the stresses of today’s world don’t affect you adversely.

Meditation for Sanity

My mind is spinning!

meditation for a clear mind and sanity
meditation

It’s Monday morning, and my brain is whirling. Feed the dogs, feed the lizard, make my lunch. Boil water for coffee. DON’T SPILL IT! Wait… the lizard isn’t eating his bugs… wait … wait … wait … Would you eat already? I have to water the plants … I have to wash my hair … I have to …

Just wait. Stop. Why am I stressing? I love my little lizard. He’s just waking up. Other stuff can just wait. Focus on the important things. My family. The dogs are fine. My sister and I are fine. I’ll get to work when I get there.

The answer is to think about nothing!

So often our minds are spinning out of control, we’re anxious and stressed about things that are unimportant. It’s easy to lose focus.

When that happens to me, especially on Mondays, I have to just stop and take a couple of minutes and close my eyes. Think about absolutely nothing. Just nothing. If my mind wanders, I consciously bring it back to nothing. People call this “meditation.” I call it thinking about nothing.

“Meditation” has gotten a bad rap in modern society. People hear the word and they see yogis in long skirts sitting in the lotus position with their hands on knees. Or they think of hippies in the ’60s with tie-dyed t-shirts, tattered jeans and barefoot at Woodstock.

But meditation has helped me to focus. When I clear my mind, important tasks become clearer.

If I’m having a hard time clearing my mind to think of nothing – if there are too many extraneous thoughts running through my mind, then I’ll picture a beautiful sunset or a single flower.

After a couple of minutes I can open my eyes and the day is clear. The tasks are lined up in the right order and I can be productive.

The best position for meditation

Do you have to sit cross-legged to meditate? Nope. Just sit in a comfortable position so that you can totally relax. It’s traditional to have your hands palms-up on your knees to be receptive to good things, and I like that. Sometimes I’ll sit in a chair. Sometimes I’ll sit on the floor. Most often I’ll sit on a low stool or yoga block so that I can sit cross-legged and my knees are comfortable.