Stop, Breathe & Think at Wellness Week

This month, we’re traveling to Washington D.C. to host Stop, Breathe & Think Workshops for the Pan American Health Organization’s Wellness Week. The PAHO is the world’s oldest international public health organization and serves as a regional office of the World Health Organization.

Pan American Health Organization Wellness Week

The PAHO/WHO’s Wellness Week showcases best practices in health and wellbeing, and we’ll be teaching our SB&T mindfulness meditation exercises to members of the government, health organizations, and the general public. We’re honored to be invited to take part in this event, which hosts people from countries all around the globe!

Boosting Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence…

This summer, Pixar released their latest animated feature, Inside Out, smashing box office records and garnering critical acclaim.  The film follows 11-year-old Riley as she navigates her emotions during stressful situations, like moving to a new home.  The emotions–Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger–are personified by comedic actors like Amy Poehler, creating a discussion around emotional intelligence that’s accessible and entertaining.  Not bad for a “kid’s’” film!insideout

At Tools for Peace, we couldn’t be more excited that this conversation is so widely taking place. For 15 years, we’ve worked with children who struggle with challenging emotions and have helped them deal with life’s difficulties through mindfulness and meditation.  For some, simply recognizing and naming their emotions is hard.  For many, learning to be OK with what they feel is another challenge. So, how can you help your child?  Talking to your kid about his or her feelings is a great first step, but practicing mindfulness with your child is a great leap in developing her emotional intelligence.

The goal of mindfulness meditation is not to clear your mind of thoughts, feelings, and judgments. That’s impossible! Mindfulness helps you take a step back, recognize your thoughts and feelings and allow them to come and go so that you can be more intentional about your actions.

If you are looking for ways to practice daily mindfulness with your child, try this simple SB&T practice:

STOP
Just pause for a moment—you can stop what you are doing, or you can just pause for a moment in your mind.
Reminding your child to take a moment to stop, breathe & think instead of blindly reacting is a simple way to introduce mindfulness into his or her everyday life.  “I find myself going, ‘Stop, Breathe. Think’ all the time now. When I’m about to do something that might not be right, I find myself pausing to think about what I’m going to do, and if it’s worth the effort,” said one of our program alumnus.

BREATHE
Take a few deep breaths, paying attention to your breath as it goes in and out. Sometimes it’s helpful to place your hands on your stomach or chest while breathing deeply.

Taking slow, deep breaths calms the “fight or flight” response and kicks in the “rest and digest” response, where the heart rate slows and muscles relax. Have your child breathe mindfully, so that he or she can begin to pay attention to how they are feeling and name their emotions. Learning to observe emotional states can help your child begin to separate who they are from what they feel.

THINK
With openness and curiosity, like an explorer, just notice the thoughts that are running through your mind. Become aware of any emotions or physical sensations you may be feeling. If you notice any tightness in your face, shoulders, hands or body, just take a moment to breathe, and relax your muscles.

Sometimes, scary or difficult thoughts and emotions can arise during mindfulness practice, and naturally, your child might want to suppress them.  When this happens, validate their feelings and let them know that they can and do change.  (In fact, Dr. Dan Siegel established that an emotion left alone changes in about 90 seconds.)  Also note that simply observing an emotional state, like anger, can help take yourself out of it.  Let your child know that he or she should just notice how they feel, letting the emotions drift by like balloons floating across a wide blue sky. As your child gets more comfortable with mindfulness, meditations that encourage positive feelings, such as compassion and kindness, can be introduced.

When you’re ready for a guided meditation, you can try a mindfulness meditation app like our Stop, Breathe & Think, named one of Graphite.org’s top picks for teaching kids about emotional intelligence.  If you’re using SB&T, you can work with your child in the app to select emotions that describe his or her feelings and then practice one of the suggested meditations. Start off with shorter tracks and work your way up to longer ones, depending on your child’s needs and age.  Remember, just being there with your child while practicing mindfulness is a powerful show of support.

Lastly, the most important thing you can do is accept your child’s emotions, allow him or her to express them, and don’t encourage him or her to push them away.  In Inside Out, the emotion Joy eventually realizes Sadness is an important and necessary part of Riley’s life. Accepting all of your child’s feelings will result in a happier and healthier kid.

It's Possible: A Mindful Work-Life Balance

These days, we’re working longer hours than ever and spending less time with our families and friends, at our hobbies, and on our health. In the United States alone, we now spend an average of 47 hours a week at our jobs, and being digitally connected 24-7 can make us feel like we never quite get to leave. With emails, mobile phones, the web, and texting, work has completely bled into our home lives. How can we bring life back into balance without sacrificing success in the increasingly demanding workplace? Can practicing mindfulness help?

Study after study suggest that mindfulness is an essential component of professional achievement. Dr. Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, has studied the effects of mindfulness for over 35 years. She finds that mindfulness is a common denominator amongst people who are tops in their fields.“At the very highest levels of any field—Fortune 50 CEOs, the most impressive artists and musicians, the top athletes, the best teachers and mechanics—you’ll find mindful people, because that’s the only way to get there,” said Langer.

In fact, the latest science shows that people who practice mindfulness demonstrate increased memory, are more focused, and have better relationships with their co-workers, all key ingredients of workplace success. Mindfulness, however, doesn’t just help at work; it can also help you achieve that seemingly elusive work-life balance. How?

Regular mindfulness and meditation practice enables you to become less reactive and more adaptable to pressure. It also helps to reduce stress. In other words, you won’t be reacting to issues blindly as they arise; you’ll learn to slow down, prioritize, and find optimal solutions. In other, other words, you’ll work smarter, not harder, leaving more time for your life away from the job. Less stress means you’ll actually enjoy that extra time, not spend it worrying about what’s going on back at the office.

“At the very highest levels of any field you’ll find mindful people, because that’s the only way to get there.”
TfP

Companies like Google and Apple already offer mindfulness courses to their employees, but what can you do if your company doesn’t yet offer mindfulness training? Not to worry; it’s possible to incorporate mindfulness into even the most hectic schedule. Here are five simple ways:

1. Stop. Just pause for a moment – you can stop what you are doing, or you can just pause for a moment in your mind.

2. Breathe. If you find yourself stressed at your desk, stop and take a few deep breaths, paying attention to your breath as it goes in and out. You’d be surprised at how well this can recharge you.

3. Think. With openness, curiosity, and without judgment, just notice the thoughts that are running through your mind and the quality of your inner dialogue (e.g., about a project or a coworker). Become aware of any emotions or physical sensations you may be feeling. If you notice any tension in your face, shoulders, hands, or body, just take a moment to breathe, let go of the inner dialogue, and relax your muscles. Then, just go back to whatever you were doing. This simple practice can be done as much as you like, and whenever you remember.

4. Plug in. You can meditate anywhere. (Yes, really!) So find an empty office, take a seat in your parked car, or take a mindful walk at lunch or while on a break. Pop in your earbuds, and use a mindfulness meditation app before, during, or after work for just a few minutes (or more!) to reap the benefits.

5. Go deeper. A self-paced online course offers a convenient way to learn mindfulness skills on your own schedule, deepening and reinforcing your practice.

TfP

After you’ve taken the time to refresh, you can go back to whatever you were doing. Remember, you can take time to stop, breathe & think as often as you’d like. It’s an always-available tool for your stressed-out moments. Happy meditating!

Half a Million Downloads & a Webby Nomination!

Thanks so much for your votes! We’ve won the 2015 Webby People’s Voice Award for Best Health Fitness App! We are so grateful for your support. Happy meditating!


We’re excited to announce that our Stop, Breathe & Think app is nominated for a Webby Award!

As a nominee, Stop, Breathe & Think has been recognized as one of the five best apps in the world for Health & Fitness. When we created the Stop, Breathe & Think app, we wanted a simple, effective way to further support our students to become healthier, happier, and successful in school and life. We’re proud that this effort is being honored by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.

We’re also delighted that Stop, Breathe & Think is now benefitting over 500,000 people around the world who have downloaded the free app. That’s half a million people who are cultivating kindness and compassion in their daily lives. We are grateful and humbled that our app has touched so many, not through big advertising campaigns, or a big budget, but through you, our community. Thank you.

You can continue to share your love for Stop, Breathe & Think by voting for us in the Webby People’s Voice Award for Best Mobile Sites & Apps: Health & Fitness.

Vote Now

Thank you for your dedication to creating a kinder, more compassionate world!

The Gift of Gratitude

By now, most of us have heard about the benefits of practicing gratitude: increased happiness, greater life satisfaction, stronger immunity, and less anxiety, to name a few (important) ones. While we all know that gratitude is good for us, why do we sometimes find it so difficult to feel or express gratefulness in our day-to-day lives? How can we better cultivate our feelings of gratitude?

One of the people we are grateful for is Gonzalo, one of our former students who regularly inspires us to keep practicing and continue the work we do. Gonzalo grew up in a neighborhood in South Los Angeles where multiple gangs were actively recruiting when he was in middle school.

“I believe now, that to face problems outside in the world, you first have to face them within yourself, and Tools for Peace helped me achieve that through meditation.”
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“At the time, I could not imagine myself beyond the grasp of violence. I could not see anything else. This was a point where graduating middle-school seemed less and less possible; let alone high school, and college was not even an option.”

Gonzalo said that he did not have the tools necessary to look beyond his circumstances. “I had never been exposed to thinking internally. I would swallow my emotions, and they would accumulate over time. I had little control over my thoughts and actions, and even more difficulty seeing the good in my life” he explained.  But once he was introduced to mindfulness and meditation, Gonzalo says that his outlook began to change.

“I had a mentor in my community who noticed I was struggling with confidence and the motivation to go to school, and she helped me receive a scholarship to the Tools for Peace Summer Teen Camp. The camp introduced me to mindfulness and meditation. To me, mindfulness is like a checklist that I go through to notice what is going on with myself and the people around me and to recognize that we are all in the same boat,” he said.

As Gonzalo began practicing mindfulness and meditation, he was able to broaden his perspective, and ultimately, transform his life.

“I was able to get distance from my emotions and started taking stock of the positive aspects of my life. I believe now, that to face problems outside in the world, you first have to face them within yourself, and Tools for Peace helped me achieve that through meditation. It opened up a whole new world for me. Now, I no longer see my community as a negative place, filled with people trying to cause harm. I see it as a place of potential. A place where positivity is possible. Where success is possible,”said Gonzalo, who is now attending college and working as a camp counselor at the Tools for Peace Summer Teen Camp.

“Gratitude has helped me. It makes the big things like problems into little things. And it takes little things, like a small act of kindness, and amplifies it to give it greater value.”
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Practicing the Gratitude meditation, said Gonzalo, was an essential part of seeing this potential, both in himself and his community.

“It’s easy to take for granted the positive things and get overwhelmed by challenges when you are habituated to a routine, especially if you feel limited in your possibilities. Taking time to focus on gratitude has helped me. It makes the big things like problems into little things. And it takes little things, like a small act of kindness, and amplifies it to give it greater value. It has helped me recognize my own inner resources, as well as external support that help me to accomplish my goals,” said Gonzalo.

So how can you introduce mindfulness and gratitude into your life? The practice of mindfulness meditation involves paying attention to what is happening in the moment, and observing what’s going on inside (your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations) and outside (your interactions and surroundings) with an open mind and without judging.  With some practice, you can create the mental space to see and appreciate the more positive aspects of your life.  Seeing and rejoicing in even small glimmers of the positive can slowly change your whole way of thinking.

If you would like to focus on strengthening your “attitude of gratitude”, start by trying the Stop, Breathe, & Think Gratitude guided meditation for free at http://app.stopbreathethink.org/.  (There is also a longer version of the meditation available in our app Store when you want to deepen your practice.)

Open the App Now

  

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Introducing the new SB&T blog!

Hello!  We’re excited to announce our new Stop, Breathe & Think blog. Here, we’ll explore simple ways to integrate mindfulness and meditation into your everyday life with straightforward tips, inspiring news, and the latest science.  Plus, we’ll give you some behind-the-scene looks at our programs and introduce you to our students and facilitators.  We’ll also announce Stop, Breathe & Think app updates, course registration dates, and information about retreats and other special events.  So, welcome!  We look forward to sharing this mindful adventure with you.