As a graduate student juggling an internship, job, classes, and a barely-yet-there social life, a daily practice has been indispensable in helping me stay connected to myself and not get swallowed by the demands of the world. Early in my twenties when I started practicing yoga and working with an expressive arts therapist, I was taught the importance of a daily practice.
So what is a daily practice? A daily practice is an exercise in turning inward and creating self-awareness. An intentional time (could be as little as 5 minutes) set aside to get to know ourselves better. Our fast pace society and technology era has allowed us convenience in connecting with others on a global level, but what about connecting to ourselves? How often are we actually aware of how we feel, are able to locate where in our body we are experiencing it, or are aware of our thoughts? It’s not uncommon to find ourselves living on autopilot, slave to our thoughts and habitual behaviors.
What are some daily practices that help us create self-awareness?
1. Meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation is an excellent daily practice. This link may be helpful in exploring what this technique entails. http://altmedicine.about.com/cs/mindbody/a/Meditation.htm.
2. Breathing Exercises. Sitting for a few minutes every morning with eyes closed taking slow deep breaths has a very grounding and calming effect before rushing out the door. I believe the place from which we go out in to the world is important. When we are connected to our breath (our life force), we are drawing energy inward, invigorating ourselves. Shallow breathing can sometimes occur when emotions are repressed and /or we are too much in our head. Often we are not even aware we are holding our breath. This exercise has given me the awareness to catch myself during the day. It’s amazing what a few deep breaths can do for our mind and emotions. I use this tool when working with kids too when they are having melt downs. Here are a few links with some breathing exercises that may be useful for a daily practice. I highly recommend alternate nostril breathing as it balances the emotions. As always know your limits. If you feel lightheaded, it’s best to stop. http://cas.umkc.edu/casww/brethexr.htm
3. “Morning pages”are great for those who gravitate toward the creative process or want to delve in to one. I highly recommend writing “morning pages” of author Julia Cameron as indicated in her bestseller The Artists Way. I can’t recommend this practice enough. As a creative person, I gravitate toward writing and the morning pages have provided me with great insight. Over time I like to go back and read over my morning pages and take notice of the thoughts I keep repeating. Check out these links by the author herself explaining the exercise and benefits. In a nut shell, it is stream of consciousness writing. Three pages hand written every morning of whatever comes to mind. Even if your thoughts are, “This is so lame”, or “I’m so tired”. Write it! http://paperartstudio.tripod.com/artistsway/id3.html, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EpDcrAVqIco
4. Another writing practice that is more active is the work of author Byron Katie. Her approach is more of a Cognitive Behavioral one, and her structured exercises have been popularized and allow us to challenge our belief systems which often keep us stuck in unwanted behavior and/or negative self-thoughts. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byron_Katie
Benefits of a daily practice? Like most things, the benefits of a daily practice happen over time with consistency. It is much better to do 5 minutes of meditation daily, than 30 minutes once a month. This is a practice in intentionally showing up for yourself. You are worth it! The benefits I have experienced over time are a sense of inner calmness and stability, the ability to handle life’s stressors better , (we all have our moments, don’t expect miracles), greater self-awareness and a feeling of control (not a false sense). Changes in life where they are needed can occur as we gain insight in to what keeps coming back to us in thought and emotion.
Tips: The advice that was given to me was to show up, stay open, and see what happens. I would also like to add have patience and compassion for yourself. Sitting with ourselves can be one of the most challenging tasks of all. We may want to run as we get in touch with certain emotions. This can feel incredibly uncomfortable. Take notice of your wanting to run. I encourage you to stick it out, move through it and over time it will become easier. And lastly, progress, not perfection. There will definitely be days where you miss your daily practice due to life. As you cultivate a relationship with the daily practice and yourself, you might find where it was once uncomfortable to sit with yourself, it is now uncomfortable to get so far away from yourself.