For most students, summer vacation is in full swing. At this point, routines have been established, and both parents and kids pretty much know what each day will bring. If you are a parent with school-aged children, you know exactly what I mean. At the time of this blog post, we’re right in the heart of summer—a perfect place to be for reviewing the goals we had before the season began!
One big goal for my summers over the years has always been to find time to relax, renew, and really slow down the pace of life. But, more important, it has been to find time to relax with my daughter, Michelle, and my husband, Dick. Of course relaxing and spending time with my daughter and husband are things I do all year long, but there is something magical about time spent with our children, families, and close friends on a warm summer day in nature. Just the word “summer” for me has always meant really slow down and “be” with those you love!
For many with children, summer comes to an end quickly and the new school year soon begins. Although we all know how fleeting summer can feel, there’s still plenty of time left this summer to get outdoors for a day of relaxation at the beach, park, mountains, lake, or pool.
In summer, we are somehow able to place everyday concerns on the backburner from time to time, so take this excellent opportunity to practice Focused Attention, the Living Present part of The Practice. Giving your kids your focused attention has the potential to deepen your bonds, nourish your hearts, and create lasting memories. When you set this intention of really being here and now, there are only two things you need to do to practice focused attention:
- Focus your mind on what is happening in the moment. (Keep the smartphone and tablet tucked away.) I know this can be difficult in all areas of life, but make it a goal to really be in the moment when you are with your children. For example, during a conversation, at an event, or even driving in the car, just be totally in the moment with them, making every ordinary moment of your day extraordinary.
- Use all of your five senses. See, hear, taste, smell, and feel the experience of being with your children. Really “see” them when you are having a conversation; listen to them completely, not allowing your mind to wander to something else; taste your meals together, savoring each bite and not rushing through the mealtime; smell the ocean breeze or the freshly cut lawn; take your shoes off and stand barefoot in the grass, the sand, or the shallow water, and feel yourselves grounding into this beautiful planet Earth. In this way, you are teaching your children the value of being here and now completely!
This summer Michelle and I had the extraordinary opportunity to spend time together during my book tour for The Practice: Simple Tools for Managing Stress, Finding Inner Peace, and Uncovering Happiness. From one location to the next—over fifteen in all—we landed, rented a car, and ventured out into many new cities together, completely present for this amazing time in our lives.
Michelle programed the directions to our destinations into her phone and easily got us to the bookstores, radio spots, and television programs that were planned. We laughed in Scottsdale when the phone told us, You have reached the drivable part of your destination. Please park the car and walk the rest of the way! It was 9:30 pm and very dark! Michelle said to the lady, “That’s not possible!” With laughter in our hearts, we realized we were talking to a machine. So taking matters into our own hands, we drove one more block, and there was our hotel!
Many people have asked me which city and which bookstore signing were the favorites. I say all of them were my favorite because Michelle and I enjoyed every single minute of every talk and book signing. Really practicing being present in the moment during this once-in-a-lifetime trip with my daughter gave me deep, beautiful memories that will always be with me.
When we can show up for our lives and be in the moment completely, the sun brightens our days and the beautiful memories we make brighten our lives. Whether we are young or old, there’s a wonderful sense of freedom I think we all feel in the summer. What have you done this summer to enrich your relationship with your children or with your friends and other loved ones? What is still on your “to-relax” or “to-do” list this summer? I would love to hear your stories!
I often quote these words by my friend, Buddhist nun, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo: “Our mind with its incessant stream of thoughts, memories, opinions, hopes and fears is our constant companion, from which we cannot escape even in our dreams. So it makes sense to cultivate a worthy travel companion for our journey.”
For me, these words ring true, and I have devoted much of my life to learning how to cultivate my mind through the spiritual practices I now teach in my workshops and in my new book, The Practice. But let us not forget the other companion with whom we also spend our entire lives: the human body.
This body of ours is an incredible machine. It may not use words the way the mind does, but it speaks to us all day long through feelings and sensations. We know when our body feels good, when it hurts, and even when something just feels off. It carries us around the world, allowing us to interact on all the physical levels through our senses. It is our miraculous vehicle for accomplishing our great works in life!
So, to me, it also make sense to cultivate this companion, to be kind to it for all it does, so that we can be healthy in both body and mind—and as a result, in heart. When we are in alignment—body, mind, and heart—we are just naturally happier and more at ease with the world and ourselves.
Here are several ways to cultivate a healthier, happier body:
- Eat clean. Clean eating is a big topic these days. This approach to eating generally focuses on foods in their most natural forms and avoiding harsh chemicals and other food additives. It’s not my intention to offer dietary guidelines here, but it’s certainly a good idea to become familiar with the healthiest options in all the food groups so that you can make the best choices at the grocery store and when eating out.
- Drink water. The human body is made up of about 60% water. Every system in our body depends on water to function. Although other beverages contain water and can conceivably replenish our fluid levels, fresh water doesn’t contain any sugar, flavorings, or difficult-to-pronounce ingredients that might have a negative effect on the body. Therefore, make water your beverage of choice as often as possible. Herbal teas and water with a twist of lemon, lime, or other type of fruit are good choices as well.
- Exercise. This is a general term for getting your body moving. Exercise comes in many forms, and finding the right physical activity and frequency for you is a personal matter. My advice here is simple: condition your body so that all your joints, tendons, and muscles have a chance to see some action—after all, that’s what they were made for. If you are uncertain how to begin, check with your healthcare practitioner for suggested exercises.
- Get outside. A cool breeze on your face, the tickle of grass on your bare feet, raindrops on your head, and the rays of the sun warming your skin—this is your body interacting with nature. Being outdoors for at least a few minutes every day is one of the most powerful ways to connect with the earth and ground ourselves in its life-giving sustenance.
- Listen to your body. Your body has a language all its own. As you start to listen to it, you will begin to understand what it is telling you. Sometimes your intuition speaks to you through your body—butterflies in your stomach, a tightness in your chest, a lump in your throat. These sensations could be suggesting that there’s something you need to address. Take these messages to heart so that you can take action.
- Practice relaxation techniques. At least once a day, consciously give your body the opportunity to relax for at least a few minutes. The number-one form of relaxation on my list is meditation. If you are familiar with The Practice, you know that I recommend meditating first thing upon awakening. Meditation is sitting with yourself, to connect within, grounding yourself, and learning how to listen within to your intuition, your body and accessing your heart. Take a minute to check out my Waking Up Meditation, the first tool in my book. We have other types of relaxation as well—for example, deep breathing, progressive relaxation, visualization, and a good old-fashioned bath. With all of these suggestions, the benefits of relaxation on your body are virtually endless.
- Get regular checkups. Visit your doctor, acupuncturist, holistic health coach, etc. as often as recommended for your age and level of health. Staying proactive with your physical health makes great sense.
- Pamper yourself. Be kind to your body by doing something extra nice for it from time to time. Some ideas include taking an aromatic bath, trading massages with a friend or partner, and getting a manicure and/or pedicure. Let your body know you appreciate it by taking a little extra time when it comes to your personal care.
The good news is that all of these steps are also incredibly good for your mind! The mind-body connection is a powerful force in our lives, and when we strengthen one aspect, the other naturally wants to follow suit. So now that I’ve shared some of my tips, I’d love to hear your thoughts for maintaining and strengthening the mind-body connection in your daily routine.