Mindful Listening podcast

Hi there, here is a mindful listening exercise you can try with your family. This is a beginner mindfulness exercise, where we learn about the mindful body and practice mindful listening.

In mindfulness meditation, we can use the senses as as anchor. Listening, seeing, body scan, body sensations, taste, smell can be anchors for our mindfulness meditation practice, that bring us into the present moment.

Endlessly in our practice the mind wanders–because that is what the mind does! I heard Ringo Starr, a longtime practitioner of meditation, refer to the mind as though when it wakes up, eg, in the morning, it races off like a Ferrari. Yes, that it is my mind! That is the nature of the mind. A creative, excited mind will fire off in many directions at one time. This is what we are wired for; to build, create, problem solve.

And yet, without a break, the constant spinning of the mind will be exhausting for us! We need rest. Mindful listening allows us this rest.

Please listen to this podcast and come back for more.

Kind regards, Rosanna D’Agnillo – CalgaryMindfulness.ca

Intention as a mindfulness oppportunity

More of my teaching is moving to mindfulness of intention. A recent Calgary Herald article comes to mind, which encouraged parents to “put the camera down and treasure the time you have with your children now.” An excellent opportunity to be “in the moment”!

The writer, previously obsessed with documenting her children’s infancy, noticed she was focused on creating and saving moments for future public presentation, and simultaneously mourning the passage of time and infancy. She noticed the motivators of fear and guilt behind her work, and recommended just taking a couple pix instead of dozens.

I’ve noticed that I find it harder to remember events unless I have a photo documenting it. Perhaps that’s part of aging, or just being a busy single mom—sometimes it feels rarely possible for me to think/do one thing at a time and get it all done. I’d say it is both of these, plus something else: operating without clear intention.

Let’s take a moment to find the intention of this scenario mentioned in the Calgary Herald. Definitely, as the writer acknowledged, even her documenting of an event had little to do with the intention of savouring the moment. When our intention is not aligned with our heart and actions, this creates incongruence and suffering in our lives.

I can’t stress how important it is to understand what actually motivates our actions. Even eating healthfully will backfire if there is fearfulness associated with it: “I’d better eat better or else I’ll get sick.” Then we don’t enjoy eating healthfully; it feels like punishment and prevention, rather than a joyful opportunity.

How can we understand our intentions? Without mindful practice often we live and act oblivious to our inner truth. It is in learning to pay attention to our thoughts and emotions, the undercurrent that constantly during our thoughts, actions, sleep. Our undercurrent intenion will certainly pattern itself through many scenarios—do you feel under attack? Limited? Not enough time? Opportunity to be creative? Constant survival mode?

Start paying attention to this voice, to understand your true intention. Simple actions, even routines like cleaning, can become an undue stress in our lives when tied to thoughts of self-attack and victimization. No kind of vacation can cure this dis-ease, since, as my sister says, “where you go, there you are!” We bring our thoughts of self-attack and victimization to our fun, also!

The result is that no action can actually be truly fun or restful.

When we align our intention with our thoughts and actions with deliberate mindfulness, most actions, even grunt work, benefit from greatly reduced stress levels! How to make this real in the moment, quickly and effectively?

Find a way to feel good before you take action, and if nothing feels good, it is time to explore what is really wrong. Take, for example, doing the dishes: our gut response to a messy kitchen can be quite stressful. Stop, drop & offer thanks for the food you were able to prepare, for the cutlery and dishware that your hard work paid for and thus allows for a nice meal, etc. Or if the root problem is that you are always stuck doing this work and you resent it, time to make a plan. How to allocate the labor in a way that is fair?

But if we never stop and address our thoughts and actions with mindful awareness, we just can’t get there. Even such beauty as savouring our children’s youth can be tainted with our inner painful story, needlessly!

UNICEF report ranks Canadian children low on well-being – how Mindfulness can help

In Sept 2019, UNICEF released a report on the well-being of children in richer countries, ranking Canadian children in 25th place out of 41 wealthy nations. Canada came in behind countries with much smaller economies like Poland, Estonia, and the Czech Republic. The report stated that only 55% of Canadian children were happy with their lives! Here are some other surprising and disturbing statistics coming out of the report:

 

  • less than one-half liked school;
  • one in three children indicated they feel symptoms of mental distress regularly;
  • one in four children stated they were bullied regularly
  • one in four children identified as lonely,
  • only half reported feeling a sense of belonging at home.

Here, the stressors aren’t war, famine, and severe poverty, so we must turn to the key issue of mental health and well-being. It is vital for parents to check-in with our children, so we can teach them to identify the what and why of well-being. If they don’t feel good, why? What is really going on?

This is where mindfulness training, where we develop the capacity to sit with our thoughts and emotions, to identify them, and to watch them without letting them consume us, is so helpful. It is a key long-term strategy for assisting children in getting to know themselves, apart from the needs and offerings of parents, teachers, friends, and media. Mindfulness is not just a trend; it is a cornerstone of emotional / social development, literacy and well-being.

Thanks, Rosanna D’Agnillo

Mindfulness of the Inner Critic & Healing / Growing

Listening to your inner critic

Is your inner critic too loud? Are you a chronic overachiever, or pushing yourself to being wonder woman, working full time, caring for a family and even for aging parents? Take a moment right now to sit still and take ten deep breaths. Notice where your thoughts wander, when they zone out. Are you stuck in your inner critic’s audience, unable to shut off the show or leave?

Inner critic is a nice name. I actually refer to this voice as my inner ghoul! Sometimes I will do a short practice, say ten minutes, where I interrupt my meditation to write down the negative thoughts that come to mind. I jot them down in a notebook and then return to the practice, noticing the breath and body. Sometimes I come up with three pages of “why I’m unworthy” and “why I’m unlovable.”

Stopping to write down the nasty thoughts is helpful, because it gets them out of your head, where they have much more nebulous potency, and on to paper, where they appear in their true form–ridiculous, illogical, and punitive. I would never tolerate any such nonsense from family members, friends or colleagues and yet I bombard myself with it 24/7.

Want a quick look-see?

  • “I am doomed” [to fail at a task, in love, in my profession, as a parent].
  • “I am a phony” [at everything! A parent, musician, meditation instructor, friend, girlfriend, daughter, gardener, recycler and really an endless list] “and everyone will see through me and sever all contact with me.”
  • “I’ll never have enough.” [love, security, abundance, companionship.]
  • “I have made many bad choices and completely wasted my potential.” [at everything–marriage, parenting, career, finances, in my spirit practice].

Does any of this sound familiar? How do we tolerate this? Simple answer: habit and lack of mindfulness about it. Our work is to start paying attention to the attack, to make conscious what is just under-the-conscious. Once it is conscious, we can bring our big mammal brains to the task of understanding & problem solving:

  • Is this true?
  • Is it helpful?
  • Do I need to make some changes?
  • Am I happy?

When the inner ghoul’s poisonous sound waves remain unobserved, they continue to wound much more deeply. Only in our mindfulness of this self-criticism do we create the space for examination, growth, healing and recovery.

Thanks, Rosanna D’Agnillo

How mindfulness can help teens cope with stress

How mindfulness can help teens cope with stress

How mindfulness can help teens cope with stress, you ask? Ooo, one of my favorite rants. Definitely, better self-soothing is one of the benefits of a regular meditation practice. It doesn’t need to be a difficult practice, either. Yesterday with my students we did something I call a “generosity meditation.” In this blog post, I’ll detail how it works and comment on the student feedback.

What is a generosity meditation?

What’s a generosity meditation, and how is it that this type of practice of mindfulness can help teens cope with stress? Basically, we take a few minutes in silence, in our mindful bodies, after I ring the chime, to count our blessings. As usual, rather than emptying our minds and being zen with the universe, when practicing mindfulness the children and I have a really specific job on which to focus. Sometimes it’s listening to what’s around us, for sounds we normally don’t hear. Just noticing what is. Sometimes we use the breath as an anchor. Sometimes we observe our thoughts and feelings. There are many other types of practice, and sometimes we combine them, too, just as you do during a longer meditation sit.

After this practice, I get such unanimous feedback from every child comfortable speaking out, whether in kindergarten or grade 12, that I felt compelled to write a post! What’s on our list of blessings?

  • #1: Relationships – You got it. Family. Friends. That’s right folks, every child who described their generosity practice identified relationships as the number one thing to be grateful for. Why? We’re pack animals. We need community. It’s both a basic need and soul food. So, no wonder it’s on the top of every list!
  • #2 Basic Needs – Next on the list were the basic necessities: food, shelter, warm clothing (needed in Calgary this winter, as we’ve had a few months now of very cold weather and few Chinooks), clean water, clean air. Not one child mentioned his or her tablet, video games, cell phone, or trips to Mexico. These didn’t even figure into the picture!
  • #3 Soul Food – I call this category “Soul Food,” and group into this category those aspects children identified that made their lives stimulating. Again, not one child mentioned his or her cell phone, video games, or SnapChat! The comments were: education, sports, music, and spiritual practice.

How mindfulness can help teens cope with stress
How mindfulness can help teens cope with stress

The results were so singular across about 100 children, that it made me realize the act of taking time to be mindful and grateful is how and when we re-calibrate to focus on what really matters in life!

Here’s the kicker, and the real meat in my post, relating to stress & teens. My next question to the children was, as usual: “Did you notice how the generosity practice made you feel?” Younger children said, simply, “good.” That’s great; I’m alright with simple and sweet. Some of the older and more articulate children felt that the generosity practice made them feel that their day-to-day stresses were easier to handle, or not so serious.

Yes, being grateful for what we have really puts things in perspective! But, why?  Well, that’s part of the effect mindfulness has on our brain/body chemistry. The act of breathing deeply and the act of thinking positively are literally our superpowers, I tell children. These actions have a profound impact on our mood.

We teach our children hygiene, chores; how about we teach them mental self-care, too? We live in a world where they must rely increasingly on their own state of mind and emotional resilience to function. So, IMHO, and call me biased, but I see it with my own eyes in the classroom: a wee bit of mindfulness can help teens cope with stress! This practice is accessible, fast and easy. It is absolutely worth a try! For more information, please write me.

Kind regards, Rosanna D’Agnillo    www.RosannaD.com

 

Approaching anxiety and isolation with mindfulness

Approaching anxiety and isolation with mindfulness

Anxiety and isolation aren’t just issues that rat-race crazed urbanites are trying to get a handle on. Yesterday, I read an article in the local paper, the Calgary Herald, about farmers struggling with mental health.  (Here’s the link in case you want to check it out: https://www.pressreader.com/canada/calgary-herald/20170127/282071981621297).

Anxiety and isolation: approaching these with mindfulness
Anxiety and isolation: approaching these with mindfulness

How often do you think or hear any of the following in discussions:

  • If only we could go back to the way it used to be?
  • If only we could live off the land again, we wouldn’t feel that modern sense of isolation within the crowd.
  • If only we could simplify things, we’d feel better.
  • If only we didn’t have to work for money, we’d know a great sense of purpose.
  • If only we could get out of the city more, we’d feel more peaceful and connected to something greater than ourselves?

Well, this recent article shows the grass ain’t any greener out of the city and on the land. A 2016 University of Guelph survey of 1000 farmers showed 45% experiencing high levels of stress, 35% suffering from depression, and 58% dealing with anxiety. Sounds pretty normal for when one hail storm could wipe out a year’s income!

For city slickers like me to romanticize living off the land shows just how disconnected we are from generating our own food and power sources! My grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even my parents who just turned 65 were subsistence farmers in southern Italy, and just getting enough to eat was a constant struggle after the second world war. That’s why so many towns in the south of Italy were emptied out, as the denizens fled to the cities of North America in search of a better way of life!

So, farmers are stressed, anxious in rural isolation. City dwellers are stressed and anxious, even with desk or trades jobs. The root cause is not about our location, obviously, but about the burdens we handle. And yet, life is intense; no life is burden-free. It might have seemed so when we were kids, and we long for these times of less responsibility, but being an adult means we are surfing the tsunami life offers, from start to finish.

Truly the only recourse we have is a mindfulness about our thoughts and actions. How can we mind the gap, so as to introduce a mindful response to our emotions of anxiety and sense of isolation? This is the power of the breath. Our very own super-power, as I tell my children students. Mindfulness begins with the intention, then we follow up that intention with one breath. And another. And a third. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It doesn’t fix the external problem. But it does help us no longer be tossed about by our strong emotions.

For more information about how Rosanna can bring mindfulness training to your organization, please write Rosanna @ CalgaryMindfulness .ca. 

 

Got sleep? Top Mindful sleeping habits

Got Sleep? Top Mindful Sleeping Habits

How do mindful sleeping habits factor into our mindfulness practice? Well, it’s pretty simple. If you’re tired all the time, it’s nigh impossible to live mindfullly. In a constant state of exhaustion, we are basically running on empty and don’t have the extra willpower it takes to apply our focus, concentration and intention this way. If you are able to engage in a mindfulness practice at all, you’ll probably do it lying down because maintaining a mindful posture is just too much work when you’re tired. And, of course, once you’re lying down: well, you’ll just fall alseep!

So mindful sleeping habits play a big role in our health and our mindfulness practice. When I show up in class, and also in my music lessons, it is not uncommon for the young people facing me to have black circles under their eyes and be unable to suppress their yawns for the duration of my teaching.

Mindful Sleeping Habits
Mindful Sleeping Habits

Why do I call them mindful sleeping habits? Because anytime we apply our focus, intention, concentration to an activity, we are doing it mindfully, or presently. The act of mindfulness is an execution of our free will in a positive direction. The outcome of such an act can only be good, allowing us to bring the highest and best to ourselves and our community.

Top Mindful Sleep Habits

Here’s a list of what I think are the most important mindful sleeping habits for your children:

#1 No electronics in the bedroom or before bed 

Children’s minds are stimulated by TV, tablet and phone use past the point of exhaustion. It then takes children longer to fall asleep. We need at least an hour of gizmo-free time before bed, and devices should be stored and charged in a common area outside the bedroom, to minimize the temptation to check in the middle of the night. The 3 Bs: Bath, books and bed.

#2 Regular bed and wake times

Parenting 101. Our bodies have rhythm. (Circadian rhythm). Generally we should wake up within 20 minutes of the same time, so try to get to sleep at about the same time each night to allow for this. Don’t panic if you miss a bedtime; it’s all got to flow, but this routine should be built into a family’s schedule. It’s tricky with kids who are with Mom some days and go to Dad’s house other days…in the interest of your childrens’ health, work out a common bedtime that you both respect.

#3 No sweets or too much high carb food before bed

High-sugar before bed makes your blood sugar drop a few hours after you go to sleep, and your body wakes you up to get help sorting it out. If kids need a pre-bedtime snack, make it something low sugar. Make sure big drinks are taken closer to suppertime rather than bedtime, to minimize night-time bathroom trips! For parents, limit your booze and caffeine of course. Need I even say, don’t allow your kids to consume caffeinated beverages?

#4 Set up the bedroom to promote sleep & give enough time to the bedtime routine

For example, it shouldn’t be too hot or cold. Warm colour lights are better than the overstimulating blue lights found in electronics. The room should be an emotional space of comfort and relaxation: clean, uncluttered if possible, nice-smelling! A bit of lavender oil on the pillow. Allow enough time in the pre-bedtime ritual in the bedroom for pillow-talk with your child to go through the days events. This is often when kids start decompressing from the day, and are finally ready to communicate with their parents about how things are going. If you’re hoping to kiss ‘n dash, you might be out of luck! Give yourself the extra time in this routine so you can be available to your children when it matters most to them.

I hope this helps! For more information on promoting healthy sleep habits, check my book, End Insomnia Without Drugs, which chronicles my own journey through post-partum insomnia and is available in hard copy and electronic form via Amazon and iTunes. The links are posted at www.End-Insomnia.com.

Thanks, Rosanna D’Agnillo

Children’s mental health & modeling purity of intention

Children’s mental health and modeling purity of intention

Supporting children’s mental health is the buzz-phrase of 2017, it seems to me. Everywhere I go, I am noticing opportunities, workshops, articles, etc, about how to support children’s mental health. So if we’re only noticing that children need mental health support now, what the heck were we doing before, in the classroom, as parents? What is this “mental health” concern about? Are we sticking new limiting labels on our kids, putting them in a new box?

Sometimes I will kick my kids outside, feeling just like Calvin’s mom does in Calvin & Hobbes: you know, where she literally tosses him out the front door, down the steps, head first. And even though I’m not talking about getting fresh air, getting exercise, grounding with the earth, getting sunlight–all those things that I know being outside gives them–their first rebuttal of protest to me is always, “But mom, I got enough exercise already at school today during recess.” Who said anything about exercise? Well, I must have, but wasn’t mindful of it, right?

Children's Mental Health: The components of social-emotional learning
Children’s Mental Health: The components of social-emotional learning

Where did they get this label, that moving their body through space and playing outside is something adults are forcing on them? They have lost that purity of intention for outside play: it’s fun and valuable because it just is.

Why isn’t this something that’s fun and desirable for them naturally anymore? You couldn’t drag me inside when I was a kid. I hated being inside, unless it was to practice music. Even in the coldest of Calgary winters in the 1980s, in my mom’s thin, hand-knit pink wool mittens with giant air gaps, I would build ice forts and play in the snow, only coming in long enough to thaw my frozen hands before heading back out. I want this for my kids too, but they think outside play is something I am pushing on them!

When I’m in a classroom, some children will have similar responses to my work and the mindfulness curriculum. Supporting their mental health through mindfulness is now another thing adults are forcing on to them so they can be more docile or better students:

Rosanna: “Can anyone remember what mindfulness is?”
Students: “It’s when we make ourselves be relaxed so we can pass a test. My psychologist says I need this to fix my ADHD and my anxiety.”

Generally, with young people, I find there is an initial inability to connect to this practice from a place of genuine intention. Why? Well, basically because young people are young, of course, and this type of integrated thinking is something still under development! But also, because they are so used to following the expectations of others, such as parents, teachers, and me, so that asking the questions related to purity of personal intention is still foreign.

For me, supporting children’s mental health through mindfulness practice is about modeling and teaching children how to begin looking within to find that core, pure intention:

“What matters to ME?”

“How can I bring the highest and best of myself to bear on any situation around me?”

How many of us adults still need practice being mindful of the basic intention we bring to any action? Well, for sure, I know I do! Aligning our pure intention with our actions, so that we can make decisions and take actions that align with our highest goals and values as a human being, is a life-long practice requiring, like every other discipline, repetition. Repetition. Repetition.

For more information about bringing mindfulness practice to your organization or classroom, please contact Rosanna D by writing rosanna @ CalgaryMindfulness.ca.  Also, for more information about how we parents can align with a purity of intention, here is a link to a presentation I gave the GATE Parents’ Association this year about Mindful Parenting: http://www.gatecalgary.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Mindful-Parenting-GATE_09272016.pdf