Three Misconceptions about Meditation

Guided Meditation and Relaxation

Three Misconceptions about Meditation that Prevent People from Starting a Practice

By now, you’ve probably heard about the incredible emotional, physical, and mental benefits of a regular meditation practice.  On the emotional front, it reduces anxiety, depression, and stress; increases compassion, social connection, and self-awareness; and improves mood.  On the physical front, it improves immune function, lowers blood pressure, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, and helps curtail unhealthy habits such as smoking and overeating.  As for the mental front, meditation improves creative thinking, concentration, multitasking, and memory.

Pretty amazing stuff, right?  Reading this list of benefits, you might think, “Why the heck isn’t everyone doing this?!”  In my experience as a psychologist and meditation advocate, there are three main misconceptions about it that prevent folks from starting a practice.  The misconceptions- which I hear frequently- go like this:

1.  “I could never meditate:  I can’t clear my mind.”

Many folks hold the misconception that meditation means wrestling with the brain in an effort to make it completely thought-free.  No wonder they don’t want to give it a try!  When someone shares this misconception, I explain that it is not about “mind-clearing,” but rather about simply noticing one’s experience (including thoughts, feelings, and sensations) in the here-and-now without judgment.  It is not a process of “pushing thoughts out,” but of simply noticing thoughts and allowing them to pass.  It’s about taking a break from the outside world and noticing what’s happening inside.  It is through this peaceful, non-judgmental process that stress is relieved and mood is improved.

2.  “There’s no way that I could meditate:  I can’t sit still.”

Many folks also hold the mistaken assumption that meditation must mean sitting perfectly still, cross-legged, on a cushion, in a quiet space, with incense burning and a statue of the Buddha overseeing the process.  While this would be wonderful, it is not necessary!  Meditation absolutely does not have to involve sitting still.  Walking meditation is a wonderful way to non-judgmentally experience the here-and-now (thoughts, feelings, and sensations) while in motion.  If you are concerned about the “sitting still factor,” I encourage you to try a walking meditation, running meditation, weight-training meditation, or general work-out meditation.  There are many apps and digital downloads available to guide you through the process.  I’d be honored if you tried my apps or album, which include a walking meditation as well as a progressive muscle relaxation exercise.

3.  “Meditation sounds great, but I just don’t have the time.”

Before I began my meditation practice, this was the misconception that kept me from getting started.  With my busy life, I just couldn’t imagine adding “one more thing” to my plate of responsibilities and activities.  However, I have learned that it can happen in small chunks almost anytime and anywhere.  While I love practicing meditation in my quiet space at home, I have done five minute to hour-long meditations on the subway, in-between patients at work, during my walks and workouts, and sitting in the car waiting for my kids’ activities to end.

Meditation for Beginners

Would you like to give a short meditation a try?  Below is my Four S’s Meditation, a short meditation that you can do anytime and anywhere:

First, close your eyes and take five to ten deep, calming breaths.

Next, take a few minutes to notice sounds, sensations, smells, and sights around you. Silently say to yourself:

I hear _______”  Simply notice the sounds around you.
I feel _______”  Simply notice any sensations in your body.
I smell ______”  Simply notice any smells in the air.
I see ________”  Open your eyes and really notice what you see around you.

Repeat as many times as you’d like, for five to twenty minutes. Finish with five to ten more deep, calming breaths.

Meditation has given me such a sense of peace that I truly look forward to it each day- and creatively find time to make it happen.  Once you start experiencing the benefits of meditation, I hope that you will too!

Take care,

Tanie

http://www.drtaniekabala.com/

Achieve Wellness by Doing Less

wellness and balanceAchieve Wellness by Doing Less

I recently had a session with “Kate,” a new mother, wife, and ICU nurse.  Kate expressed a feeling that people share with me frequently:  “I feel like I’m not doing enough.”  Kate shared feelings of guilt for “not working enough” (she works 24 hours per week in the ICU), “not losing the baby weight,” (her son is 10 weeks old), “not working out enough,” and “not cooking nice meals like I used to.”  To provide some context, Kate’s baby has feeding difficulties, has her up three or four times per night, and wants to be carried all day long.  Kate is exhausted and overwhelmed, juggling the responsibilities of parenting with the pressures of ICU nursing (and doing an amazing job, by the way), but she still she feels guilty for not doing “more.”

Unfortunately, I hear this message from my patients almost everyday:  that they’re not doing “enough.”  Not working enough, not cooking enough, not exercising enough, not making enough money, not enrolling their kids in enough activities, not spending enough time with their kids, not keeping the house clean enough, etc., etc., etc.  We live in a culture that subtly says, “Do it all and do it all perfectly!” “Achieve, achieve, achieve!” and “Do more, do more, do more!”  Well, I’m here with a completely different message:  DO LESS.  If your body is exhausted or hurting, listen to it.  Give yourself permission to skip the work out and simply rest.  If it’s time to make dinner and you feel tired and overwhelmed, give yourself permission to order take-out:  and enjoy every bite. If you need a break from your children, don’t try to push through another craft:  give yourself permission to put them in front of a video while you take a relaxing bath, do a meditation, or call a friend.  If going for that promotion will bring added stress to you and your household system, give yourself permission to take yourself out of the running.  When you make conscious choices to take care of yourself (through rest, relaxation, connecting with others, and “doing less”), you’re bringing balance to your family system; promoting your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health; and modeling healthy behavior for your loved ones!

I’m working hard to help Kate be more gentle and compassionate with herself.  Specifically, we’re working to replace her culturally-based “do more” mentality with conscious choices that promote health, harmony, and balance.  Each time she is faced with a decision, she asks herself this question:  “What choice will lead to greater balance, peace, harmony, and health for me and my family?”  If you struggle with that nagging feeling of pressure to do more (as I do sometimes), I hope you’ll consider using this question as a guide too.

Take care,

Tanie

http://www.drtaniekabala.com

Authenticity Part II: Finding Healthy, Authentic Relationships

healthy relationshipsFinding Healthy, Authentic Relationships

I vividly recall a therapy session in which one of my weight loss surgery patients, Georgia, walked in and began talking nervously about a new, potential friend named Vickie. They had just gone to lunch together, and Georgia wondered aloud if she had made a good impression on Vickie.  She questioned if she “talked too much,” “said anything stupid,” and “had anything to offer to the friendship.” She talked at length about her concerns, at one point saying, “I just really wonder what she thinks of me.”  I asked Georgia if I could interrupt and posed the following question, “Georgia….what do you think of Vickie?”

Georgia fell silent and looked at me rather perplexed.  This is a common reaction when I ask patients about their reactions to a potential friend or relationship partner.  I frequently find myself saying, “You’re so focused on what they’re thinking of you that you’re not reflecting on how you’re feeling about them.”

I am not encouraging my patients to be judgmental- I am simply encouraging them to carefully reflect on whether the other person’s personality, behavior, values, interests, wants, and needs fit with their personality, behavior, values, interests, wants, and needs.  I have found that most of my patients, either because of past rejections, abuse, abandonments, or simple socialization, do not go through this exploration process—they simply try to please others, even if the others aren’t good for them.  In fact, most have no idea what type of person would be a good, healthy, authentic fit for them.  The result?  Inauthentic, unhealthy, exhausting relationships that feel like work.

Personal Development through Self-Discovery

Is your experience like that of Georgia?  Are you so busy worrying about what others think of you that you don’t reflect on how you feel with them?  Have you given any thought to the type of person that would be a good fit for you in a friendship or romantic relationship?  In other words, do you know what you’re looking for?  If not, I encourage you to reflect on the following questions, which are drawn from my book, The Weight Loss Surgery Coping Companion:

  1. With whom can I be myself, feel comfortable, feel safe, and feel joy?  What are the defining characteristics of these people?  What are their interests?  How do they spend their time?  Think hard about these traits—and then consciously seek out individuals who possess them.
  2. With whom do I feel uncomfortable, anxious, or fatigued?  What are the defining characteristics of these people?  How do they spend their time?  What are their interests?  You will likely feel healthier and more authentic if your interactions with such individuals are minimized.
  3. What do I want and need in a friend or relationship partner?  Spend some time reflecting on and clarifying your authentic wants and needs.  For example, do you have strong needs for verbal communication or affection?  Do you need security and safety?  Do you really want your relationship partner to share certain interests or values?  Then, consciously seek out people who meet these needs and wants – you deserve relationships that are fulfilling, energizing, safe, and real.

I hope that these questions are helpful, and I wish you the very best on your path to authentic relationships!

Take care,

Tanie

http://www.drtaniekabala.com

Authenticity Part I: Taking Inventory

personal developmentPersonal Development – Taking Inventory

Quote:

“I always looked to my mom for what to wear, what to say, what to eat, what to major in….everything.  I hoped if I did everything she wanted, she’d finally stop criticizing me.  She never has.  Now I have no idea who I am and how I should be living my life.  I really don’t know myself and what I like…..I don’t even know whether I like this jacket I’m wearing.”  -Kara

This quote is from one of my patients, Kara, who had recently undergone weight loss surgery and was struggling with the “who am I?” question.  This question is very common question among my patients, many of whom haven’t gotten to know themselves because they’ve spent their lives trying to gain the approval of parents or other authority figures, fit in with peers, avoid punishment, or simply survive.  Such folks reach adulthood with a profound sense of identity confusion:  confusion about how to lead an authentic life.  When I say “authentic life,” I’m referring to a life that “feels right” because it reflects one’s true self:  one’s genuine passions, preferences, opinions, wants, and needs.  It’s a life in which one’s true self is reflected in choices about relationships, career, free-time, and self-expression.

Let me give another example of a patient’s experience of identity confusion or “lack of authenticity.”  Kate came to see me after her recent graduation from a prestigious college.  She came from a “high achieving family” where she was “expected to be number one at everything I did.”  Kate gave this response when I asked her what she would like to do with her newly-acquired free time:

“I honestly don’t know.  I never know what to do with myself when I have free time.  It gives me anxiety.  I guess I should work-out.  I honestly don’t know what I like to do.  I’ve always just studied.” -Kate

Self-Realization / Self-Discovery

Do you feel like Kara or Kate?  Are you unsure about your preferences, opinions, wants, needs, and passions?  Are you unclear about the types of activities that give you a sense of joy or contentment?  Are you uncertain about what you want and need in a friend or relationship partner?  Are you unsure about “everyday things” such as what you like to wear or how you’d like to decorate your personal spaces?  Are you unclear about what career is “right” for you?  If your answer is “yes” to any or all of these questions, take heart- you are not alone, and the journey of self-discovery is an exciting one, rich with rewards.  In my book, The Weight Loss Surgery Coping Companion, I lead readers through a series of questions and exercises for uncovering their authentic selves.  I’d like to share some of those questions below, and I encourage your to reflect on them and perhaps even write your responses in a journal:

*What aspects of my life feel “right?”  What aspects feel “wrong?”

*Does my career feel like a good fit for me?  Why or why not?

*What am I passionate about?  Am I spending time on those passions?

*Have I lost touch with things that I used to be passionate about?

*What kind of person is a healthy fit for me as a friend? As a relationship partner?

*Do I dress in a way that reflects my true tastes and preferences?

*Does the décor in my personal spaces reflect my true tastes and preferences?

*What activities and experiences make me feel joyful and alive?

*What activities and experiences deplete my energy and bring me down?

*What types of people make me feel joyful and alive?

*What types of people deplete my energy and bring me down?

What did you learn about yourself by answering these questions?  Did anything take you by surprise?  Do you feel compelled to do anything based on your answers?  I truly hope that these questions serve you as a first-step in embarking on a path of self-discovery.  In my upcoming blogs, I will provide exercises to further help you explore and discover your authentic self, and make choices based on that authenticity.  As I said earlier, the path to self-discovery is rich with rewards- I hope that you join me for the journey!

Take care,

Tanie

http://www.drtaniekabala.com

Three Strategies for Avoiding Emotional Eating

binge eatingThree Strategies for Avoiding Emotional Eating

Perhaps you’re familiar with one of these scenarios: you walk into the house after a long and frustrating day at work, you leave your boss’s office after a stressful meeting, or you come downstairs after a challenging episode of getting the kids to bed. You’re frustrated, overwhelmed, angry, tired, stressed, lonely, bored, or some combination thereof. You walk into the kitchen or break room and remember the cookies (or cake, or chips, or other comforting foods) that are there. You think to yourself, “I shouldn’t eat that,” but a force that feels almost beyond your control leads you to the object of temptation. You begin to eat, and almost instantly feel soothed and relieved- but also guilty.

You proceed to tell yourself to stop eating, several times, but continue anyway. Soon you’ve consumed a great deal of food, and feelings of shame and self-loathing set in. Questions like, “Why did I do that?” and “Don’t I have any will-power?” fill your mind. You promise yourself that tomorrow will be a better day and that you will eat in a healthy way from dusk to dawn……but unfortunately you find yourself in this position time and again. How do you avoid these emotional eating binges and the shame that accompanies them? Here are some quick, mindful strategies to help you do just that:

  1. Address the emotion that is driving the binge: Before opening the candy-stash drawer, take just one minute and simply close your eyes, breathe deeply, and notice what you’re feeling. Let your feeling(s) wash over you completely. Next, do whatever you need to address those feelings: lie down and rest, cry, vent your anger (by talking to a loved one, journaling, or exercising), or do a #meditation or #relaxation exercise to calm your body and mind. Most eating binges can be successfully thwarted by simply resting, crying, venting, or meditating! Once you have addressed the emotion that is driving the binge, you’re much better able to listen to your body and feed it what it truly needs, when it truly needs it.
  1. Change your environment: Emotional eating is often triggered by something or someone in your immediate environment (e.g., the stress of work, the loneliness of being home by yourself, the tension that you feel with a roommate). Therefore, it is often helpful to notice such environmental triggers and change your environment the minute you feel compelled to overeat. Take a walk, visit someone, go for a quick drive, move to a different part of your home, or simply go outside for some fresh air and a change of scenery. By removing yourself from the environmental trigger that is driving the binge, you’re both caring for your emotional needs and putting yourself in a better position to make healthy food-related choices.
  1. Preemptively create a list of things to do when you’re bored: When I ask my patients what they were feeling prior to an eating binge, I frequently hear, “I was just bored!” If you too have a tendency to overeat when you’re bored, I encourage you to preemptively create a list of meaningful, authentic, enjoyable activities to engage in when boredom sets in. Some activities that have made my patients’ lists are: research travel destinations, look though old photo albums, write a snail-mail letter to a loved one, organize photos, call a loved one, do a craft, read something you’ve wanted to read for a long time, watch a movie, try a new exercise or dance DVD, watch music videos on YouTube, do a yoga practice, plant flowers, create some art, take a walk in nature, or do a meditation or conscious relaxation exercise (my meditation and relaxation exercises can be found here). I encourage you to make such a list and have it readily available when the “bored munchies” (as one of my patients calls it) set in.

I sincerely hope that with these strategies, you will eliminate emotional eating and become more aware of, and attentive to, your emotional needs.

Take care,

Tanie

http://www.drtaniekabala.com

Mindfulness: Freedom from Emotional Eating

binge eatingMindfulness: The Key to Freedom from Emotional Eating

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve either been on a diet or an extended binge- I don’t even know when I’m hungry anymore.”  This was a recent quote by my patient, Sarah, who had come to me to address emotional eating prior to her upcoming weight loss surgery. Sarah’s experience was a phenomenon that I’d encountered countless times- individuals who restrict calories in order to lose weight, but then binge when the feelings of deprivation become overwhelming. When caught in this cycle, all awareness of internal hunger cues gets lost: the individual has no idea when she is hungry or full. She eats what she “should” for a period of time, only to eventually binge on what she “shouldn’t.” Weight is lost and regained. Feelings of frustration and hopelessness return repeatedly.

How can you break this “restrict-binge cycle” and regain touch with your body’s wisdom? To help my patients do this, I developed four mindfulness-based questions for guidance and introduced them in my book, The Weight Loss Surgery Coping Companion. What do I mean by mindfulness? When applied to eating, mindfulness means taking a break from the cell phone, television, kids, etc. and really noticing if you are hungry or not. Also, it means really noticing if you are confusing physical hunger with emotional hunger. Finally, it means really noticing your experience of eating (e.g., the taste, smell, and texture of your food); and then really noticing when your body is truly satisfied with the amount you have eaten.

Below are the four mindfulness-based questions that you can use anytime you feel compelled to eat:

Question #1

“Am I physically hungry or emotionally hungry?”

To answer this question, close your eyes, relax your body, and scan for signs of physical hunger: does your stomach feel hollow? Do you feel weak? Dizzy? Are you mildly nauseous? Don’t worry about what you’ve eaten so far today, what time it is, or what you “should” feel. Take your time and really listen to your body. Do you need food for fuel?

Next, scan for signs of emotional hunger. Close your eyes, take some deep breaths, and attend to your internal experience. Do you notice feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, or loneliness? Do you feel agitated or “at loose ends?” Are you bored? Tired? Do you feel like yelling, crying, or resting? Gently notice what your emotional self is telling you.

Question #2

If your answer to question #1 is physically hungry, then ask yourself, “What is my body truly craving?

Think carefully about the foods below and actually imagine yourself eating them. How would they feel in your body? Which one(s) is your body craving in order to feel nourished right now? If you truly listen to your body, you will find that it craves a healthy combination of the foods listed below:

Fruits (e.g., oranges, bananas, grapes)

Vegetables (e.g., salad, carrots, broccoli)

Protein (e.g., nuts, eggs, beans, meat)

Dairy (e.g., cottage cheese, a yogurt smoothie)

Carbohydrates (e.g., bread, pasta)

Whole grains (e.g., whole grain bread, crackers)

Liquids, as thirst is often mistaken for hunger (e.g., water, juice)

Once you have identified what your body is craving, mindfully eat whatever you are cravingEat slowly and really notice the sight, smell, taste and texture of your food.  Continue eating until you feel satisfied.  How can you determine when you’re satisfied? My favorite way to determine this is to ask yourself this question: do you have a sense of fullness, but could still comfortably dance or take a brisk walk? As you’re mindfully eating a meal, periodically check-in with yourself and ask this question. When you reach this point, stop eating and mindfully enjoy the satisfied sensation. Know that you will eat again soon, whenever your body signals that it is physically hungry once more.

Question #3:

If your answer to question #1 was emotionally hungry, then ask yourself, “What am I feeling and needing emotionally right now?

Again, close your eyes, take deep breaths, and notice your emotional experience. What are you feeling and needing right now? Are you feeling lonely, anxious, angry, or depressed? Are you agitated? Do you feel bored? Tired?  Do you need support, connection with others, rest, relaxation, or nurturing?  Do you need to express a feeling such as anger?  Let your feelings wash over you- really experience them- and meet these feelings with compassion.

Question #4:

If your answer to question #1 was emotionally hungry, then ask yourself, “What can I do right now to soothe myself that does not involve food?

What could you do right now to honor your emotional needs? Do you need to slow down, lie down, and get some rest? Would it help to write in a journal? Get out of the house and go to a store? Take a walk in nature? Connect with someone? Watch a movie? Take a step towards resolving an issue with someone? Honor your feelings and give yourself whatever you need!

I’m happy to report that Sarah is on a healthy path to rediscovering her body’s wisdom. She takes time each day to nourish her mind, body, and spirit through mindful eating and emotional self-care; and is approaching her weight loss surgery with a much healthier relationship with food. I truly hope that these four questions are equally helpful to you!

Take care,

Tanie

http://www.drtaniekabala.com

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

wellness

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

A few years ago, when I was practicing in the Washington D.C. area, I had the pleasure of working with a young woman whom I’ll call Kate.  Kate used to sit in my office wearing baggy clothes to “hide” her body, talking at length about how she felt “so fat and ugly.”  She avoided walking past mirrors or store windows because, “I just look so disgusting, I can’t stand to see myself.”  Kate avoided parties and other college social events because, “I feel like people are staring at me all the time, judging me.” Here’s the shocking thing:  Kate was a model.  She showed me her photo in several magazines and catalogs.  She was absolutely beautiful, inside and out.

Anyone looking at Kate would be dumbfounded by her self-perception.  How could she see herself this way?  The answer lies in the messages that she received from important people in her life.  Throughout her youth, Kate’s mother was extremely critical of her appearance.  I recall Kate saying, “My mom was always staring at me, picking me apart, finding anything she could that was wrong with me, right down to my eyebrows.”  When she developed some acne as an adolescent, Kate’s mother took her to a dermatologist, pointed at Kate’s face and said, “This is unacceptable.  Fix it.”  Kate’s mother closely monitored Kate’s weight and became angry if she exceeded a size two.  Kate also recalled her father bragging about her modeling appearances and “giving me the silent treatment” when she was not chosen for a shoot. Basically, the messages that Kate received from her parents were, “People are scrutinizing you,” “Your appearance isn’t good enough,” and “Our  approval is conditional and based on your appearance.” Unfortunately, Kate came to believe these messages; they slowly but surely became the basis of her self-perception and the way that she navigated through the world.

Be Body Positive

I worked with Kate to identify and begin questioning these messages. Could it have been that her parents were wrong?  Perhaps she was always a beautiful person, inside and out, who deserved unconditional love and acceptance.  Perhaps the healthy people in her life (such as her favorite teacher, who was caring and supportive) were right.  Perhaps her parents’ messages were all about their own “issues” rather than any flaw or mistake on her part.

Over time, Kate came to believe that my suggestions might be true- that she shouldn’t believe the negative, self-critical thoughts that popped into her head so automatically.  She began to actively notice and question her harsh inner voice.  Slowly, Kate came to accept that her self-critical thoughts had been ingrained by influential people who had her all wrong.

Now let me ask you this:  Have you simply accepted certain messages that were sent to you by influential people in your life, such as parents, coaches, teachers, or peers?  Did you accept the content of criticism or teasing as fact?   How have these messages affected your self-perception and self-talk?

Today I encourage you to do this:  Don’t believe everything that you think.  Starting right now, begin to notice and question any negative message that you have received.  It’s very likely that those messages were- and are- all wrong.

Take care,

Tanie

http://www.drtaniekabala.com

Start Now

motivation

Start Now

A few days ago, I read a very wise quote by Mark Victor Hansen:

“Don’t wait until everything is just right to build the life that you want. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what?  Get started now. With each small step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident, and more and more successful.”

As Mr. Hansen points out, we often don’t pursue our authentic desires because of perceived obstacles and less than perfect conditions- we tell ourselves that we’re too busy, too overwhelmed, too short on funds, not smart enough, not creative enough, not motivated enough, etc., etc.  This sets a spiral of negative thoughts and inaction in motion, and our authentic desires go unrealized.

Self Motivation

I have personal experience with this phenomenon.  It took me years to start my book, The Weight Loss Surgery Coping Companion, because I told myself that I was too busy, too tired, and surely unable to simultaneously write a book and take care of a toddler.  Then one day when my daughter was taking a nap, I had the “So what?” moment mentioned by Mr. Hansen.  I sat down at the kitchen table and wrote the first paragraph of my book.  It was that simple.  Then I wrote another, and another, and another, and as the quote says, I grew stronger, more skilled, and more confident with each one.  When I finished writing that first day, I recall thinking, “Why didn’t I start this a long time ago?  This wasn’t nearly as hard as I’d built it up to be!”  I just needed to START.

Today I encourage you to identify one of your authentic desires (e.g., writing a book, learning a language, starting your own business, learning an instrument, changing careers, adopting an exercise practice) and commit yourself to taking one small step towards its realization this week.  Brainstorm the title of your book, order a Rosetta Stone language program, arrange to speak with someone who has started his or her own business, research local music teachers, make an appointment with a career counselor, exercise for just five minutes.  Putting aside negative thoughts and just starting the process is the key.  From there, you will become stronger, more skilled, more confident, and ultimately more successful.  I hope that you will accept this challenge- a richer life awaits you!

Please feel free to write to me about your experience – I would love to hear from you.

Take care,

Tanie

http://www.drtaniekabala.com