The Well

The Gift of Giving (Repost)

by Andrew Shaw on Dec.20, 2010, under Recent Posts

Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to get outside of yourself, by giving and helping others.  Not only are you doing your small part to make the world a better place, but studies have also shown how altruism immensely benefits the well-being of the giver as well. This is a great time of the year to give, as that is what the Holiday Spirit is truly about, sharing love and compassion.  There are countless charities and organizations that depend on the support of the community to keep their doors open.  Consider donating a few dollars to a homeless shelter.  Buy a bag of groceries and take it to your local food pantry.  Join your community school or church as they usually organize a charitable campaign.  Donate a toy to Toys for Tots.  Go through your closet and put together a box of items for the Salvation Army.  If you’d like to donate to a charity, but you’re unsure where to start, check-out http://www.networkforgood.org/

Not everyone can write a check to their favorite charity, but that doesn’t mean you can’t lend a helping hand. These days, there is an increasing number of ways you can pitch in, offering your time rather than money, and the value of your service is priceless.  Consider volunteering at a homeless shelter, a hospital, a school, or another non-profit.  Sign-up to become a “Big Brother” or “Big Sister”.  Organize a canned drive.  Make a visit to a senior home and listen to a person’s story.  Be a good friend to someone in need.  Check-out http://www.serve.gov/ or http://www.volunteermatch.org/ to find volunteer opportunities in your community!        

Finally, it doesn’t take much to make a difference in someone’s life.  Even a simple small act of kindness can make a person’s day.  If you don’t have money or time to give, just offering your love and compassion to others is a wonderful gift.  You can start your day with the conscious intention to do good, to wish others well, to treat all human beings the way you would want to be treated.  And remind yourself throughout the day, and throughout this Holiday Season, to give the gift of kindness; a smile, words of encouragement, a listening ear, a helping hand, or a loving hug.

Be Well

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Attitude of Gratitude

by Andrew Shaw on Nov.21, 2010, under Recent Posts

I love Thanksgiving, not just because of football and all the yummy food, but because it’s a day to be with loved ones, and it’s a day to remember how very fortunate we are.  This Thanksgiving, and really every day, is a perfect time to express gratitude. An attitude of gratitude can change your life. This concept has been studied and repeatedly proven. Cultivating an appreciative attitude about life can contribute to greater levels of happiness and well-being. 

The comparing mind is a source of much suffering, of dissatisfaction, sadness, jealousy, resentment, anger, worry and stress.  When we compare, we feel that we don’t have enough.  But if we are able to shift our perspective, from our problems to our privileges, from what we lack to what we have, these negative feelings are replaced by gratitude, appreciation, happiness, contentment, love, and compassion.

You can practice and strengthen this attitude every day with a simple exercise; each day spend a few minutes reflecting on the things in your life you are grateful for.  Some people also like to keep a daily gratitude journal to write down what they’re thankful for.

Here’s a guided contemplation on gratitude to get you started:

Bring to mind things that you’re grateful for.  Most of the time we forget about how blessed we really are and we take so many things for granted.  In your day-to-day life, what things are you grateful for? 

It may be that you have food to eat, a safe place to live, a job and a paycheck, or other comforts.  Maybe you feel grateful for having a healthy body and mind, that you have abilities and are capable of doing many things.  You can walk and talk.  You have your senses; you are able to fully experience the wonders of life around you—you can see the beautiful flower, you can feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, you can hear the music of the birds, you can taste life.  You can bring to mind people you feel grateful for; your partner, friends and family, or other significant relationships.  People who are there for you, who support you, love you, and accept you.  You can also think about something that’s happened, is happening now, or is going to happen soon, that you feel grateful for.  A positive event in your life that you’re happy about or thankful for.  You can even feel thankful for the most basic gift.  There are people who are sick and dying… but right now, you have life, you are here, you are alive, and that’s a wonderful thing.  Something as simple as your breath, your heart beating, being alive, may be something you feel grateful for.    

Spend a few moments allowing all the things, people, events you are grateful for to come to mind.  And see if you can feel the gratitude in your heart when it comes, a feeling of warmth, of happiness, of love, of appreciation.  And let this feeling of gratitude, of thankfulness and contentment, flow through you.  If you aren’t able to feel gratitude, that’s okay.  The most important thing is to let yourself be as you are with acceptance.  This may gradually change with more practice and training the mind to notice more and appreciate more.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, full of joy and gratitude.  Be Well.

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Reap What We Sow

by Andrew Shaw on Oct.25, 2010, under Recent Posts

A friend of mine, for a long time, was living a life he didn’t enjoy, and was caught in a string of negativity.  He wasn’t making good choices for his life.  And his actions seemed to just reinforce the miserable situation.  He wasn’t taking good care of himself; not eating right, not exercising, drinking too much, not getting enough rest.  His mind was always turning toward the negative and cynical.  He seemed to be continuously operating from a point of defensiveness and if he was wronged, he’d attack back.  He didn’t like his job, didn’t like where he lived, didn’t like the people he hung out with.  

A friend of mine also recently quit the job that was bringing him much unhappiness.  He decided to embrace uncertainty rather than stay safe in misery.  This initial choice led to a series of other new choices; he cut back on his drinking, he started going to yoga classes, he moved to Hawaii for six months to surf and work on a farm, he became a vegetarian, he started to cultivate a more positive outlook, and his once grey thoughts and attitude brightened. 

 The intersting thing is that these “two friends” are really one in the same.  One person, who changed everything one day, when he made a different choice and altered the very course of his existance.   

Every action has a reaction, every choice a consequence.  If we are seeking happiness and well-being, and want good things to enter into our lives, we must pay attention to the quality of our choices and actions.  To create happiness in our lives, we must learn to sow the seeds of happiness.  To create health and wellness, we must sow the seeds of health and wellness.  To create love, we must sow the seeds of love. 

This requires conscious choice-making and right action.  We have to be aware of the choices we make in the moment.  And we can ask ourselves, “what are the consequences of this choice that I’m making?”  “Will this choice and this action bring about happiness to me and to those affected by this choice?”  “Will this choice or action bring me better health and wellness?” “Will this choice bring about greater peace and love?”

If the answer to these questions is yes, and you feel a strong sense of goodness and ease in your heart, then it is the right choice and the right course of action.  You can use these questions as a guide, remembering to be aware, fully conscious about the impact of your actions and the significance of your choices.

Be Well

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Breathe

by Andrew Shaw on Oct.09, 2010, under Recent Posts

Breathing—Something so simple and yet so powerful and healing. 

Studies show that merely learning how to breathe correctly can have remarkable effects throughout your body.  The typical person tends to hold their breath when tense and only use around twenty percent of their lung capacity.  Sending better oxygen content to all the cells of the body can bring dramatic changes in general health and mood.  Health guru, Dr. Andrew Weil, says that if he could only give one tip for better health, it would be to breathe properly. Proper breathing technique is central to the ancient practices of Yoga, Qi Gong, Ayurveda and other meditation disciplines.  And, a clinical study by the National Institute of Health followed thousands of participants over a 30-year period and found that the most significant factor in peak health and long life is how well you breathe.

Stress, anxiety, poor posture and habit are some of the reasons that keep us from breathing properly.  We wind up using our chest muscles instead of our abdomen.  Belly breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, is a simple deep breathing technique that teaches you how to use your diaphragm, a muscle at the bottom of our lungs and the most important muscle for breathing.  It is often used as a complementary therapy for anxiety disorders and may also help to boost energy and stamina.

Belly breathing is also one of the best stress management techniques you can perform.  Your breathing directly reflects the level of tension you carry in your body.  Under stress, your breathing usually becomes shallow and rapid, occurring high in the chest.  When relaxed, you breathe more fully, more deeply, and from your abdomen (belly).  It’s difficult to be tense and to breathe from your abdomen at the same time.  The key to natural, diaphragmatic breathing is to begin to learn to sense unnecessary tension in your body and to learn how to release this tension.  This requires great inner attention and awareness.  It requires learning the art of self-sensing and self-observation, developing a fuller mind-body awareness.

To practice belly breathing, lie down or sit comfortably with your back straight.  Place your hand on your belly.  This will help you to be aware of your abdominal muscles as you breathe.  As you begin to inhale, your hand on the belly should begin to rise.  Now exhale noticing the abdominal muscles contract.  Once again your hand should move in as you exhale.  Expand your belly like you’re filling up a balloon.  Then exhale, letting all the air out of the balloon.  As you exhale, just feel yourself letting go of tension. You know you’re doing belly breathing right when you can feel your belly expand and contract, rise and fall.   Keep repeating the belly breathing slowly and gently for a short while.  When your mind wanders, just gently bring your attention back to the belly, and to the rise and fall there. 

This is belly breathing. This is better breathing.  Breathing through your belly will gradually become easier if you practice it on a regular basis.  After you have practiced this exercise for about a week, try doing your belly breathing at different times during the day, even when you are standing and particularly when you notice you’re feeling stress.  See if it helps you feel better and more relaxed.

Be Well

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Good Expectations

by Andrew Shaw on Sep.26, 2010, under Recent Posts

For over thirty years, the nation of Denmark has consistently ranked as one of the most happy places in the world, and the people of Denmark tend to be the most satisfied with their lives.  In trying to understand what makes Danes score so high on satisfaction surveys, researchers have found that it has a lot to do with their level of expectation.  Danes report having lower expectations for the year to come compared to most other nations.  And year after year, they are pleasantly surprised when things went better than expected and they feel more satisfied and happy as a result.

American society tends to overvalue the concept of “more.”  More possessions, more achievement, more success, more expectation.  More expectations for what we should have in life— money, houses, cars, toys, the perfect mate, the perfect body, and so on— fosters excessive desire, which will cause frustration, disappointment and pain, because sooner or later, we will run up against something that we want but can’t have.  We see this too in regards to overexpectation for ourselves and others.  We expect too much from a friend or a loved one and we get upset when they let us down.  Or we berate ourselves when we fail or come up short.  The problem with all this expectation is that it naturally leads to the feeling, “never good-enough.” Never good-enough is a recipe for continuous unhappiness and suffering.

So does this mean we should lower all our expectations, or for that matter, not have any at all? Wouldn’t that stop us from working hard to accomplish our goals or from trying to change things in our life for the better? Ultimately, as with most things, it’s about finding that right middle-point.  If our expectations are too high, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment and unhappiness.  If they are too low, it extinguishes our aspirations, energy and willingness to challenge ourselves and reach our full potential.  It’s important to remind ourselves to maintain this balance; for each of us to reflect on where we fall on the expectation continuum, and adjust our expectations accordingly.  This may very well be another key to happiness… just look at the Danes!

Be Well

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Smile Awhile

by Andrew Shaw on Sep.08, 2010, under Recent Posts

“In ancient China, the Taoists taught that a constant inner smile, a smile to oneself, insured health, happiness and longevity. Why? Smiling to yourself is like basking in love: you become your own best friend. Living with an inner smile is to live in harmony with yourself.” -Mantak Chia

If you’ve read Eat, Pray, Love, or seen the movie, you may recall the part about smiling meditation.  A sage medicine man provides a profound lesson about simply sitting and smiling.  Practice smiling with your whole body, he says, “even smile in your liver.”  It seems like such a basic instruction, to smile to ourselves.  But offering this loving attention in this way can be very powerful and healing.  Smiling in/to your liver, and any other part of your body for that matter, helps you to feel relaxed, peaceful, happier and healthier.

Try It Yourself

Bring your attention to your lips, to the corners of your mouth. Notice the feeling of the corners of your mouth as they are in their neutral, relaxed state. Now, ever so slightly, raise the corners of the mouth until you feel the “inner smile”. Perhaps imperceptible by an outside observer, you are lifting the corners of your mouth, ever so mindfully, until you feel a distinct shift in energy, a warm sense of well-being.   Allow the corners of your mouth to remain in this uplifting position and turn your attention to the inside of your eyes. First, notice them as they are in their neutral, relaxed state. Then, ever so slightly, raise the corners of the eyes until you feel the “inner smile” feeling here also. The corners of the eyes and mouth should now feel like one unit radiating a distinct, warm sense of well-being. This feeling is “The Inner Smile”.

As an informal practice, whenever it occurs to you, periodically come back and witness your face throughout the day. Bring your attention back to feeling the inner corners of your mouth and eyes as they are in any given moment. Then choose to practice The Inner Smile.   As a formal practice, the energy of The Inner Smile can be consciously directed downward into the heart, the belly, the liver, the stomach, the legs… to the whole of the body … in directed flows through particular parts of the body or as a radiating whole. For more formal directions, read ”The Inner Smile” chapter in Mantak Chia’s book “Awaken Healing Energy through the Tao”.

Be Well

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