Mornings can be hectic. With breakfast blunders, temperamental toddlers or early a.m. emergency emails from your boss, your stress may be through the roof before your workday has even officially begun.
What's worse, this tense start can dictate the rest of your day. But a 5-minute morning meditation ritual may be just what you need to nix that nervous energy.
Here, Jodie Skillicorn, DO, an osteopathic physician, holistic psychiatrist and author of Healing Depression Without Medication: A Psychiatrist's Guide to Balancing Mind, Body, and Soul, shares how starting your mornings with mindfulness can help you set healthy intentions — and the right tone — for the day ahead and keep you calm, focused and anchored.
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How to Set Healthy Intentions
Be Kind to Yourself
"A healthy intention comes from the heart, not the head," Dr. Skillicorn says. To illustrate the difference, consider the way many of us set head-based resolutions to lose weight.
Often, the decision to shed pounds is based in the unkind notion that something's wrong with you, you need to be fixed or you should look some other way.
"As you move to a heart-centered intention, you may recognize that the goal is not to look better but to be healthier, so that you may engage more fully in life with more vitality, stamina and joy," Dr. Skillicorn says.
With this shift, your intention might sound something like this instead: "I make healthy food choices to nourish my body, so I feel more energy and strength throughout the day."
Zero In on the Present
When setting intentions for the day, Dr. Skillicorn also suggests focusing on what is in your highest good, right here, right now. This will help you stay grounded in the present rather than flustered about the future.
For example, that might mean focusing on being grateful for what you have rather than what you lack. Alternatively, you might concentrate on nourishing a healthy body or prioritizing sleep. Another healthy intention could include offering yourself compassion rather than judgment.
A 5-Minute Morning Meditation to Start Your Day
Dr. Skillicorn designed this five-minute meditation to bring peace to your mornings and intention to your day.
1. Begin by sitting tall, feeling your sit bones pressing firmly into the ground beneath you and imagining an invisible string gently pulling your head towards the sky. Place one hand over your heart and one over your belly and simply notice your breath as it is in this moment, feeling the rise and fall of the chest and belly with each breath in and each breath out.
2. Now place both hands gently over your chest and imagine breathing in and out of the heart center. Feel the rise and fall of the chest, the sensation of your hands against your chest, perhaps noticing the rhythm of your heartbeat.
3. As you continue to breathe in and out of the heart center, bring to mind something or someone for which or whom you feel gratitude, compassion or love. It could be a child, a beloved pet, a favorite flower, place or moment, or even the smell of lavender or fresh-baked bread — anything that brings with it the feeling of gratitude, contentment or love. The key here is to focus on the feelings stirred by the memory as you continue to breathe in and out of the heart.
4. From this heart-centered space, you are ready to set your intention. Clarify this intention with specifics and in the present tense as a positive statement, as if the transformation has already occurred. Imagine how it would feel, taste, sound and smell to manifest this intention.
For example, if you are experiencing difficulties sleeping through the night, imagine falling asleep with ease and awakening refreshed and energized. See the dark room as you go to bed and the sunlight streaming through your window as you awaken. Hear the crickets serenading you to sleep and the birds chirping outside your window as you open your eyes in the morning. Feel the cool night air on your skin and the warmth of the morning sun on your face as you arise.
From this embodied space, allow your intention to form: "I fall asleep with ease and sleep peacefully through the night. I awaken in the morning feeling rejuvenated, energized and motivated to begin my day."
5. Write down your intention and briefly revisit the fulfillment of your intention with all your senses before you go to bed and when you awaken.
When doubts or judgments set in, just notice them and return to the breath, the heartbeat, the feel of your hands over your heart and the sensations in your body while imagining the intention already fulfilled.
How a Quick Morning Meditation Can Improve Your Day
When overwhelmed or stressed, your brain switches to survival mode — you act without thinking and do what's necessary in the moment. This anxious autopilot-like state is the opposite of acting with healthy intention.
An intention is a mindful decision based on your values and rooted in purpose, Dr. Skillicorn tells LIVESTRONG.com. Meditation can help you set and act on intentions.
"By calming the nervous system and stepping out of the stories in our heads, meditation allows us to connect with a deeper intuitive guidance system," Dr. Skillicorn says. In other words, once you settle your racing thoughts, you can focus on your authentic intentions.
This skill — learning to quiet your mind — is particularly important given the influx of thoughts that bombard our brains every day.
"Research suggests that on a typical day we have roughly 4,000 distinct thoughts, of which around 95 percent are repetitive and 80 percent negative," Dr. Skillicorn says.
That's because "our brains are evolutionarily designed to focus on the negative to keep us safe," she explains. That is, musing on the beauty of a rainbow didn't ensure our ancestors' survival, but remembering where they last saw a poisonous snake or burly bear did.
While modern life has its fair share of scary scenarios, most of us aren't running from dangerous animals every day. So a constant state of worry doesn't serve us.
"Intentions, like meditation, help refocus our mind and bring us back in alignment," Dr. Skillicorn says. "This shift in focus turns down the threat detector in our primitive brain and lets it know we are safe."
Indeed, a study published May 2013 in PLOS One found that regular meditation appeared to shrink the amygdala, aka the brain's threat-detection control center.
Consequently, setting healthy intentions through meditation helps us "focus not on fear and lack, but on what we most desire," Dr. Skillicorn says. And with regular practice, you can eventually change the wiring of your brain and transform your intentions into real possibilities.
It's true. According to a paper published November 2012 in Neuron, our brains can't tell the difference between an actual memory and one that's dreamed up by our creative imagination. In other words, once you imagine your healthy intentions, they have the power to become your reality.
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