Monday, December 29, 2014

Meditation as a grounding practice...

Why do we meditate?
Is it to better ourselves in some way so that we can have lasting happiness?

If you sit down to meditate with a set goal such as to be happy it can turn into an exercise in frustration. Making time to meditate means we're getting off the fast track through life so that we can connect with the life that is right here. We open to our lived experience, right here, right now. Sometimes it's more challenging than others as when we get swept away by our emotions and stories. Sometimes this can feel as if we are in the middle of a tornado and unable to see things clearly. Sitting down to meditate in the midst of emotional chaos with a set expectation regarding the outcome is not meditation. It's instead another way of resisting what is happening in our lives at the moment. When we are trying to make something happen it's usually because we are in some way resisting life. Instead if we approach meditation with the intention to help ourselves. We get off the reactivity ride and shift to responding in a way that helps us open to what is happening within us.

Meditation is a practice that helps us stay connected to our lived experience moment to moment. It is a practice that can help us learn to stay grounded and calm instead of reactive and agitated. It's when we open our awareness to explore what is going on within, without judging ourselves that we can reconnect with life as it is. We let go of defensive reactions and come into direct contact with the vulnerability that lies beneath the defense. We stop living life like a character in a novel.

Notice when you're caught up in a story...

I like to say that we're great storytellers and have a habit of taking events that happen in our lives and making up stories about what it means. As a result we sometimes end up living like a character in a novel. In reality, things that happen in the world around us aren't about us. When we take things personally and react by blaming, criticizing or getting defensive we escalate the pain that then leads to suffering. Meditation practice can help us notice how that reactivity is affecting our body, mind and heart. If I'm hurt and I sit down to meditate, instead of focusing on the situation or person that triggered the hurt I can begin to notice how the hurt shows up in my body. I pause...breathe and notice is there tension in my body? Is there a heaviness around my heart? I tune into the breath and notice if there is tension or pressure there. I begin to breathe in bringing compassion to the hurt. As I breathe in and allow the hurt to be there and meet it with compassion and acceptance. The intention is to turn towards the pain instead of lashing out at others. When I am able to do this it helps me to reground myself, to soothe the emotions. It also allows me to see when I am caught up in a story filled with defensiveness and reactivity. With this awareness I can begin to respond in healing ways. Meditation can help you develop the capacity to help yourself stay connected to life instead of the midst of a story about life.

Meditation is the path that helps us come back into balance with body, mind, heart and life. It's not about perfecting ourselves, it's about freeing ourselves from the stories and reactions that can keep us stuck and disconnected from the vibrant life that is right here. 

May you be peaceful

Monday, December 8, 2014

Music to calm body, mind and heart...

The healing and calming power of music...

We find music not just by playing instruments  or listening to songs but also in nature. Walk in the forest and you'll hear a natural symphony of sounds made up of birds, insects, wind, and rain.

The composers of centuries ago often composed their music based on the sounds of nature. So music is a natural part of the world. It can also be healing, energizing and calming. Sometimes it can help in healing and soothing physical, mental and emotional pain. Other times we listen for the joy of it. Either way it can really help us shift out of a stressful state if we open to the experience of listening with body, mind and heart.

Whether listening to an orchestra, a song on the internet or the natural sound so of nature, pausing to listen and really take in these sounds can have a powerful healing effect on the body, mind and heart. It is a movement towards opening our senses and truly allowing the sounds to resonate within the body. This pausing along with tuning into our senses and receiving the sound of music can allow us to experience deep moments of peace and contentment. This in turn can help the body restore and revitalize the bodies energy and release built up tension.

Music during Restorative Yoga can help alleviate tension...
I teach yoga in a beautiful studio called Shanti 3 Yoga in Weston, Florida. As a yoga teacher I find that using music during a restorative yoga class helps calm and release the stress and tension that builds up in the body, mind and heart as we move through our hectic and busy lives. As the music plays, I invite students to soften the tension in their bodies and allow the soothing sound of the music to flow through them. This approach is different from mindfulness meditation as during meditation when we sit on the cushion the intention is open to inner experience and stay present with what is happening without pushing anything away or clinging to it. Both practices are powerful and both are paths towards healing,  clearing the mind and opening the heart. For the purposes of this post I'm focusing on music as a healing modality. 

Restorative yoga at home...
You don't have to come into a yoga studio to experience the calming and soothing effects of music. You can try it at home. I'm including a link to a beautiful song that you can play as you lay in a restorative pose.

You can choose to lay on the mat, on your back (shavasana pose) with a blanket under your head for comfort, an eye pillow to cover the eyes and calm the mind and a blanket to help keep you feeling relaxed and warm.

Turn the lights down. Lay on your mat and begin to connect with the sensation of the breath. Allow the breath to soften tension and stress in the body, mind and heart. Play the music with the intention of letting go of worries and concerns. Stay on the mat for at least 15 minutes or as long as you like and notice how you feel at the end of this practice. 

May you live with ease and peace...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Shift from reacting to responding with a compassionate heart...

Whether you're aware of it or not we all have our hots spots or sensitive issues that go off when we're triggered by some action, word, sight or sound that sets off any feeling of pain or discomfort. I say that our default button is set on react and defend rather than relate and respond when we get triggered. It's not you're fault, my fault or anyone's. It's a survival mechanism that's helped us survive since we've been on this planet. So the problem isn't this survival mechanism. The problem starts when we are reacting to things that aren't dangerous and life threatening as if they were. When this happens I say that our default button is hyper sensitive and becomes trigger happy. When we react to situations, thoughts, external events as if they are a threat we suffer. We suffer because the moment we're triggered and go into reactive mode we either push others away, withdraw and isolate ourselves or attack with words of physical violence. So the thing that we are usually seeking, which is safety becomes elusive because of our actions. (unless you are really in danger such as being stalked by a lion, or someone is trying to mug you in which case you need to react!) It's not just safety we're seeking it is also connection. We want to feel heard, seen, understood and loved. Both safety and connection are essential to our well-being. Without them our emotional and physical well being suffers. So how do we help ourselves? 

Notice what happens to your body, mind and heart when you are triggered... way is to begin to notice what happens to your body, mind and heart when you get triggered. What triggered you isn't as important as your reaction to the trigger. So you can get caught up in the content or story or you can begin to notice how you are reacting to the situation. For example, say that I am on my way to meeting and am running late. As I get on the expressway I notice that traffic is very slow and I end up stuck in  a traffic jam for the next 30 minutes. I can either spend those 30 minutes cursing the traffic and drivers around me, beating myself up for not leaving earlier, feeling angry at my boss for scheduling a meeting at this time or I can begin to notice how I'm reacting to the situation. I might notice that my muscles are tense and I feel anxiety in my belly. Instead of feeding the anxiety with worry thoughts, I might begin to breathe and allow the anxiety to be there. Along with being present with these feelings I can bring a feeling of compassion to the anxiety in acknowledgment that this is a moment of suffering. Being compassionate is what helps alleviate the suffering and it can also help to calm the body, mind and heart. Just like this small example there are many different examples that you can use from your own life to help yourself during times of stress and suffering. These moments are pivotal in learning how to shift from living mindlessly and reacting to life to living mindfully and responding to pain with a compassionate and wakeful presence. One keeps you stuck in a place of pain and the other helps you respond to pain and move through it in a compassionate way. 

Learn to cultivate a peaceful and loving heart... the world with an open and awakened heart instead of a judgmental, stressed out and reactive body, mind and heart. 
  • Take breaks throughout your day to be present in your body and pause the torrents of thoughts, stories and reactions.
  • You might practice with one word such as Peace...breathe in peace...breathe out peace 

This is a gift of living, breathing and being present and connected with this precious life around and within. Practice compassion and loving kindness to live mindfully and awaken the heart.

May you be peaceful

Monday, October 13, 2014

Meditation is...

When Meditating...

Be patient
Be kind
Listen to the inner world of sensation

Offer good will towards yourself
Send it out to others
Open your heart to...

Connect with the mind
That is spacious like the sky
Watch thoughts flow in and out
Feel the breath flow in and out
The ebb and flow of emotions and energy

Notice what it's like right here
Right now
Open, stable, attentive
In the moment

C. Ricardo 10-13-14

Thursday, October 2, 2014

In Search of Happiness?

"True happiness is something that, by its nature, gets spread around.” Buddha

It seems a no brainer that if I were to ask, if you want to be happy, your response would be a resounding Yes! I believe that all of us want to be happy and what often gets in the way is when we seek it in things, people or status.
  • So when was the last time you felt happy? 
  • What does happiness mean to you?
  • Is it money, relationship or peace of mind?
I'll be happy when...and if...

Have you ever found yourself saying or thinking these words?  Prior to learning and practicing mindfulness, I found myself yearning for things to be different. I really believed, if only things were different (more money, more time, less worry) I'd be happy. So I'd dwell in the world of "what if and if only and was miserable. My attention and energy were hooked in pursuing happiness in things and trying to control the world around me. This just kept me racing through life and getting no where. It was exhausting and I was piling on more stress to what was already a stressful. 

The awakened heart opens us to life

We come into balance when we learn to let go of reacting to stress or trying to control the world around us or within. When we learn to respond instead of react to challenges in life with acceptance and compassion we're able to reconnect with the vibrancy around us.  We're able to feel more connected to the things that nourish the mind and cultivate loving connection. This allows us to open to life. We see both the beauty and the suffering and don't judge one as better than the other. So instead of turning our eyes away and closing our hearts to suffering, we're able to stay present and respond with compassion and loving kindness.  It can be challenging to do this as letting our guard down and opening our hearts is counter intuitive. It goes against striving and survival. The benefits out weigh the challenges.  When we approach life with an awakened heart it opens us to life, love and our energy that is tied up in worry is free to appreciate life in the moment. Even when things are difficult, when we practice mindfulness we have more clarity of mind, our hearts are more open to life, compassion and happiness.

Mindfulness is a conscious choice...

All of this is great in theory but mindfulness is not about theories. It is about the lived experience. Right now pause and notice the following:
  • What's the body like in this moment as you read this? 
  • What emotion is felt? 
  • Has this article triggered memories from the past? Hope for the future? 
As you finish reading this take at least a five minute break and:
  • Close  your eyes and tune into the body
  • Breathing in feel the sensation of breath coming into the body
  • Breathing out soften and relax the body and heart.

Take time to consciously connect with this moment. It truly is a gift and can lead to meeting life with acceptance, compassion and happiness.

May you be well

Monday, September 29, 2014

Practice Mindfulness for a Healthy Body, Mind and Heart

Practicing mindfulness connects us to the present moment, gives light to what's most important in our lives, and helps reduce anxious and stressful feelings. It is a very grounding and healing practice as well as challenging. So what is mindfulness and how can we practice in every day life? To get free tips and activities please read the full article at

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Beyond Coping there is life...

Today I was thinking about how precious life is. That each moment is a gift no matter what we're facing in life. It's sometimes a challenge to remember this as we get caught up in stories, opinions and drama. When we arrive right here, feeling our feet on the ground, the sensation of breathing, looking out and taking in our surroundings, this is a moment of pure awareness and it's a gift. I say it's a gift because when we step out our busyness and into life it's like seeing clearly for the first time. Our senses come alive and colors, sounds, sensations are more vibrant. Live each day with moments of mindfulness and your view of the world slowly shifts from one where things are happening to you, to one where you're interacting with life.

This is a wonderful passage from the book "Beyond Coping" by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. It's a reminder about what a gift it is to live in the present moment:

Beyond Coping

"You shouldn't chase after the past,
or place expectations on the future.

What is past
is left behind.

The future
is as yet unreached.

Whatever quality is present
you clearly see right there,
right there.

Not taken in,
that's how you develop the heart.

How can you practice this today? Pause and take a break to connect with this body, mind and heart. Notice what surrounds you and the aliveness within you. For this moment, meet whatever arises with awareness, loving kindness and curiosity.

May you be peaceful
May you be joyful
May you be safe

Monday, September 15, 2014

Is there a Right Way of practicing MIndfulness Meditation?

Am I doing it right? What is right?     
By J. Hood                                                        

I thought there was a script, and I was struggling with it. I wondered if I was doing it wrong and of course, I judged and questioned myself. The perfectionist in me wanted perfection to yield the highest level of success. If I was going to embrace this Mindfulness stuff, I had to do it right. Every day, I would sit and meditate and do my best, but let’s face it my mind was all over the place.

It took me some time to realize that my experience is just that. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
When my mind wanders I simply notice it and focus back on the breath. Some days are better than others and that’s OK, that’s just my experience and noticing it, is mindfulness. 

Meditation isn't about getting somewhere. It's about being present and open to the life that is right here. C. Ricardo 
“Looking at beauty in the world, is the first step of purifying the mind.”
Amrit Ray
For me the content of my meditation is not as important as consistency. I make it a point to sit every day. In the beginning, I was waiting on some AH-HA moment and these BIG changes would envelope me. It didn’t happen that way. The changes were gradual and subtle. About six months into my practice I started noticing things. I’m more aware of life and the little things. I’m more patient, compassionate and balanced, both toward myself and others. I can better regulate stress and my reaction to it. The list goes on and on. I find now, after 18 months of meditation, that the list grows daily and the benefits aren’t as subtle, these changes are pretty clear.

It’s clear my success lies in the repetition and consistency of a daily practice. For me this is a routine much like any other daily activity. It’s something I look forward to; it’s my time to be with myself.

In the beginning, it may seem hard to find the time. If you’re like me, there’s probably some unnecessary activity weighing you down. I eliminated just a little bit of that and replaced it with a daily routine of meditation and self-exploration and it’s changed my life.

I’m hopeful this will inspire you to pick your time, a quiet place and begin a routine of loving kindness toward yourself.  Stick with it even if it seems like nothing is coming from it. That’s just you being more mindful. Soon the joy of the practice will come shining through.

*This post is written and shared by guest blogger Joe Hood. He practices mindfulness meditation on a daily basis and shares his experience with this grounding and peaceful practice. Sharing his insight and experience is a wonderful way to learn about this practice.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Open to Life, Love and Experience

When was the last time you were really aware of breathing in and out? Is there tightness or ease in the body?

Moments of checking in are important, as they helps us become aware of what we carry in our mind, body and heart.

In the midst of writing, I pause and notice that I'm  caught up in thinking, planning and worrying. As I connect with the body, I notice a buzzing sound in the head and a tightness in the legs. There's a feeling of restlessness and agitation in the body. Thoughts about the future enter and attached to them is a thread of anxiety. Anxiety begins to circle the heart and there's a tight feeling in the chest; a hand slowly closing into a fist. Can I let the worry thoughts be there without reacting to them as if they are true? Can I hold this experience in a compassionate and accepting embrace? Can I soften the tightness, gently breathing in and out and feel the sensation of the breath, the fullness on the inhale, the release on the exhale?

If I go through the day on auto pilot it's like living in a trance. I'm ungrounded and lost in the world of thoughts. Pausing allows me to connect deeply with what is happening right now. So I pause, become curious and explore by connecting with what is happening through inquiry. I notice:
  • How is the body right now?
  • How is the energy? 
  • Am I reacting or responding?
  • If I'm reacting is it possible to soften? To allow whatever energy is within to flow freely?
  • Can I be open to what ever emotion is present? (sadness, joy, gratitude, love)
Pausing in this way, I immediately connect with the inner world of sensation and feel the vibrant aliveness that is here. This pausing, noticing and opening is an act of love and a act of mindfulness.

So how are you today? What sensations are felt in the body? Pause and notice. Open to the breath? Check in and send loving kindness to this body, this heart, this mind. Connect with the life that is right here.

May you be healthy

May you live with peace and ease

May you be peaceful

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Meeting Reactivity wth Compassion

"Reactive responses are triggers and are like invisible land mines tied to deeper hurts, fears and pain. Meeting reactivity with compassion can help tame the reactive mind, body and heart." C. Ricardo

Are you aware of your triggers? How do you react when something painful or hurtful happens? Do you blame yourself or others? How does this affect you (body, mind and heart)?

     We all have triggers. There are certain situations, feelings or interactions that when touched set off a reactive/defensive response within us. This defensive response is often instinctual and automatic. It's a natural response to pain and meant to protect us from danger. However, it can backfire when we react in hurtful and wounding ways towards ourselves or others. So there is the pain that lies beneath the trigger and there is the defensive response that is meant to protect us but instead creates more distance, hurt and can potentially turn into  suffering.
The first arrow is the pain in life, the second is suffering...

     This reminds me of a story I heard about how Buddha approached teaching a student about suffering. Buddha asked the student, “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?” and the student replied “It is.” Then the Buddha asked, “If the person is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?”  again the student replied, “It is.” The Buddha then explained, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow is optional.”  

     The first arrow is the pain we encounter in life, the second arrow is the layer of thoughts, stories and meaning we attribute to the pain. This added layer is suffering. There are many instances where this happens in everyday life. You might be in a hurry to get to the office and stuck in traffic. As you sit there inching along, frustration begins to build. You begin feeling angry and impatient. Once your emotions are triggered your body responds by tensing up. Your heart begins to race and your muscles contract. By the time you get to the office, it feels like steam is coming out of your ears and when a co-worker greets you with a welcoming smile you lash out at them. Or maybe you made a mistake and dropped coffee on your brand new shirt and  your inner judge goes on the war path criticizing an shaming you for not paying attention. The point is that the problem isn't the trigger, it's the way we react to it. 

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom." Victor Frankl
     Much of the time pain turns to suffering because we are in some way resisting our experience. We may be  caught up in the world of thoughts, emotions, past regrets or guilt or perhaps we're trying to control the situation or outcome. When we engage with what is happening in our lives in this way, we lose our ability to respond and instead are reacting, trying to fix or in some way control the outcome. We're usually doing this in an effort to dampen or avoid pain, but it doesn't work. In fact, it has the opposite effect of transforming pain to suffering. Meeting pain with resistance causes us to disconnect from our bodies, minds and hearts. It is this disconnection that creates suffering as we tend to go inwards and in doing so feel alone and adrift in a whirlwind of thoughts that may be filled with judgment and fear. To help ourselves, we need to shift back into connection, into the present moment. When we are triggered and pause before reacting, we're able to be present and that moment is an opportunity to shift from reacting to responding. If we really want to stay connected with our values, with the people that matter most in our lives (starting with yourself!) we must be willing to shift the reactive response to one of understanding, love and compassion. This shift is a moment of profound awareness as we notice how the reactive defense is affecting our body, mind, heart. This moment of awareness is a moment of mindfulness.

When challenging/painful situations arise meet the pain with compassion and mindfulness...

"Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes." Carl G. Jung

     The first step towards helping ourselves is to become aware of when we are getting caught up in a story or when our emotions are so overwhelming that we and the emotion become fused. The next time you are feeling overwhelmed pause and reflect on the following questions:

  • What is happening in your body right now? (Tension, heart rate is fast, breathing is shallow)
  • How are your thoughts affecting you emotionally? (feeling hurt, sad, angry)
  • What are you believing? (my partner doesn't love me)
  • Before you react, can you pause and call on the breath to help you ground yourself?  
  • As you breathe in really tune into the breath. Think of the breath as an act of self care that helps tame reactive emotions.  
  • Notice how you' re caught up in reactivity; reacting to what is happening. 
We need to pause, breathe and bring a feeling of love and kindness towards ourselves. It's important to express understanding and acknowledge the difficulty we are experiencing in going through this challenging time, event, situation or feeling. This pausing and connecting helps us come back to the is only a first step but an important one.

Awareness, compassion and learning to stay in the face of pain are essential to healing and connection... 
Awareness is what can help us find our way back to connect with body, breath and life...An acronym that can help is R.A.I.N. it stands for:

Recognize - what is happening. That you've gotten hooked and drifted into thoughts or stories.

Allow - open to your experience. Bring acceptance to meet the pain. If sadness is present then name it and notice where you feel it in your body and pause..can you soften around the sadness...let go of resisting it or judging yourself for it (i.e. I'm weak or silly for feeling this).

Intimacy/Investigate - Get Intimate with what is happening - how are you reacting to your experience. Are you pushing it away? What is in need of attention or kindness?

Non-attachment - know that what you are experiencing (fear, sadness, anger) is an experience you are having and not who you are. For example some people will say I'm just a sad or angry person. You aren't sad every minute of the day and you can't be angry all the time. Being able to see what is happening without getting hooked to it helps you to be more open to the experience.

These are some tips on ways to begin to explore this healing practice.

May you be well
May you be free from suffering
May you be peaceful

Friday, September 5, 2014

Does the Universe Really Know Me?

"A human being is a part of the whole, called by us Universe..." Albert Einstein By Joe Hood (Guest Blogger) 
For better or worse Mindfulness allows me to notice things I wasn’t aware of in the past.

As I progress with my practice, I’m not surprised that I’m more mindful, but I am surprised at how naturally this comes to me. I now notice things that I never noticed in the past. For example, I may be struggling with something in my head and out of the blue someone plays a song that hits me like a ton of bricks. It may not solve the issue, but it allows me to see it with more clarity.  As I become more present and open to experience, I’m able to see what’s happening with a greater depth and perception. Which leads me to ask the question, how does the universe know me so well? Constantly, subtle things are presented to me, which fit into place like tailor made gloves.

I‘ve never been a big believer in fate, or the idea that things happen for a reason. I mostly subscribe to the theory that you make your own fate and you’re in control. But I’m not so sure anymore and that’s “BIG” for me.
Lately, the things that come before me are so dialed in and relevant, that it’s not to think there’s a programmer behind the curtain. Sometimes these things are so obvious, that I get the feeling someone’s messing with me.

"Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each moment. We also gain immediate access to our own powerful inner resources
or insight, transformation, and healing."- Jon Kabat-Zinn -

Mindfulness practice has changed me in many obvious ways and in ways that I’m not even aware of. As my mind becomes less cloudy, it’s easier to see things that I wasn’t able to see when I was less mindful and sometimes that’s a little scary. Particularly when these random things don’t seem so random anymore.

Giving up control is very hard for me. But I look at it this way; I don’t have to give up TOTAL control. I am only giving up enough control to allow all the data and information to come to light. This allows me to act mindfully and proceed with deeper clarity.

Now (don’t tell anyone I said this), but I do think there is an element of fate to our lives. For me, the saying “If it’s meant to be” is beginning to mean something and I’m finding peace in that.

I can see that things do happen for a reason.


* This post is shared by guest blogger Joe Hood, who practices mindfulness meditation on a daily basis and shares his experience with this grounding and peaceful practice. Sharing his insight and experience is a wonderful way to learn about this practice and I'm honored to have him post on this blog. I'm looking forward to his future posts :-)