“P” is for Practice

The dictionary defines practice in various ways. As a noun it can mean actual performance or action:  I attend dance practice on Wednesdays. As a verb it can mean to habitually carry out or perform a particular activity, method, or custom, in order to acquire, maintain, or improve upon proficiency: I practice expressing gratitude each day. To live well, it is essential to develop and nurture wellness practices appropriate for individual lifestyles, needs, and preferences. That old phrase “practice makes perfect” reminds us that once the practice is established, repeating it to improve or maintain wellness is just as essential! So, let’s jump in with “P” is for Practice!

There are certain familiar daily rituals or activities that contribute to living well. The usual suspects include eating a balanced diet, exercising, and attending to good hygiene. Adding some form of meditation, yoga, contemplation, prayer, or reflection will contribute to overall health, reduce stress, and offer respite or solace from worldly troubles. This kind of practice offers a benefit to everyone, including and especially caregivers and patients.

One form of meditation consists of listening to a guide or teacher speaking words intended to assist with stress and/or pain reduction, centering or calming the mind and body. Guided meditations may also include an element of journeying to seek answers to questions or find peace with personal challenges. One of my favorite meditations is the loving kindness practice also known as the metta practice. Dr. Laura Kampel offers an 8-minute version of the practice here. Another beautiful meditation is the Essential Phowa Practice that is offered for the dying (or the deceased) as a means of releasing suffering for the sake of all beings. Further Shore was named for the Phowa practice.

Some meditations are general, others place a focus on areas such as forgiveness, surrender, courage, healing, or compassion. A simple internet search for “guided meditation” will offer a wide range of results. If you think you don’t have time to meditate, here is a one minute example by author and mindfulness instructor, Tamara Levitt. Even one minute can change your state for the better! There are many other forms of meditation practice. Mindfulness, progressive relaxation, mantras, chanting, or transcendental meditation are a few. Sometimes just sitting in silence for several minutes letting thoughts drift away, will help to center and clear a cluttered mind. I offer guided wellness meditations on request. If you have never done so, maybe the time is now to try it.

While meditation is a wonderful tool to increase wellness, sometimes it just doesn’t fit into a busy day. Another way to practice wellness is to place a mindful focus on a specific and desirable ontological state of being for given period of time. The amount of time can be for just one day, a week, a month, or a year! Some examples for practice include being peaceful, humble, compassionate, accepting, grateful, or kind. When placing a focus or intention on a particular state of being, there will be more awareness of and opportunities to practice that state. Journaling can help with processing your practice experiences.

My tradition annually is to do this on the winter solstice, as I light a candle and journal about the intention for the next year’s practice. I then set a visual reminder in place, a special bracelet or an art piece for my desk that will remind me of the practice throughout the year. This year, I am practicing presence.

As with all practices, focusing on desirable ontological states of being is both fulfilling and enlightening. However, it can also feel like an impossible feat, and that is why it’s called a practice! Personally, I am well versed at being present for others; holding space for others. When I decided to practice presence this year, I was thinking about doing so for others (not myself). There have been many circumstances to remind me that this is not just a state of being I hold for others. This year, I’m learning to be more present for myself and it feels like a stretch! Good thing I have those bracelets to remind me that I too need mindful presence.

Being fully present or mindful with myself can often be eclipsed by thinking about what someone else might need in the future. Does this ever happen for you? Experimenting with mindfulness just for a moment right now, I am grateful to be outside, surrounded by beautiful nature; aware of birds chirping, Olivia quietly breathing nearby, a feeling of physical warmth and a calm mind. A deep breath. Now the moment is gone, but the smile remains. Please take a moment with yourself right now to be fully and mindfully present to where you are, who you are, how you feel. Notice what you notice. Breathe.

The importance of adding mindfulness to any of our wellness practices cannot be overstated. Science tells us that applying mindfulness to our activities improves feelings of physical well-being, reduces stress, and increase happiness. Mindful eating helps with improving digestion. Mindful breathing can help to reduce anxiety. Mindful listening will result in more positive interactions at home, at work, and in caregiving situations. In this short video, Jon Kabat-Zinn explains how mindfulness is really about the presence of heart.

In closing, please think about what practice (noun) encourages a state of wellness for you or those you care for, and how you practice (verb) this. In addition to daily routines for basic survival or self-care, is there something that uplifts your mood, calms your mind, or supports your body to remain physically fit? Is it something you do outdoors, like playing sports, gardening, or walking in nature? Is it mindfully creating beauty with flowers, food, art, poetry, music, or the written word? Is it communing with companion animals, loved ones, oceans, or stars? Sitting in reflection, prayer, or meditation? Practicing dance, tai chi, qigong, or yoga? Establishing any wellness practice in a mindful, attentive way is a great start. Practicing that practice may not “make it perfect” but will offer opportunities for enrichment, growth, and wellness.

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