Mindfulness for Athletes: Body Scan

As an athlete, it is important that you can move out of your mind and into your body. This is so important for so many reasons. If you are an athlete, I want you to think about this question…could you teach someone to take the perfect shot on goal? the perfect foul shot? make the perfect save? Could you explain exactly how the body should feel in these situations? Have you ever really stopped to FEEL how your body feels in these situations? Probably not. Being able to not only know how to teach someone through explaining or showing how to do these things is essential. However, think about how much better able to replicate the perfect shot or save would be if you could explain or remember how it feels.

Having the right form comes from a few things…one is the knowledge of body positioning but the other is muscle memory. Today, take some time to go outside and mindfully shoot on goal, hit the ball, or whatever you need to do for your sport. Do this multiple times really being in your body. Pay attention to how the perfect shot feels so that you can explain it to someone else. Coaches, do this as well. If you are going to teach your players how to take the perfect shot, shouldn’t you know how to explain how it feels? This exercise takes you out of your head and into your body. It helps you to take the emotion out of what you are doing and allows you to focus more intently. This also helps you to train the parts of your body that you need to make those perfect shots or saves. If you are able to really feel the muscles needed, you know where to focus your training. Getting in touch with the feeling of the shot or save allows you to get in the “zone” so that you are better able to focus on the strategy of the game in key situations. As an athlete, I never used to understand why we would practice the basics over and over and over. I now know that it was so that we could FEEL what we were doing and master that feeling so that it became second nature.

Another great exercise to help to train your brain to really FEEL what is going on in your sport is a body scan. Click HERE for a guided exercise from Stop, Breathe, Think to practice this body scan. This is a great exercise to not only for athletes in training, but also helps to relax.

Follow the Leader Breathing Exercise

Click HERE for the video of this exercise!

If you have found that breathing exercises are an anchor for you, here is a great one to practice. It is based on the old childhood game of follow the leader. In this practice, you follow your inhales and exhales as they travel in and out of you. This helps you to notice your breath and focus. You should pay attention to how the breath feels going in, the pause between in the inhale and exhale, and then how the breath feels leaving your body. You can breath in through the nose and out through the mouth if that feels comfortable.

This is a great exercise to do with children or anyone who is trying to establish a focus on breathing. It is calming helps the brain and nervous system to relax. Enjoy!!!

Mindfulness for Elementary Aged Children (and children at heart!)

I am lucky to not only have two teenagers in my home, but also a 3rd grader. For her, this quarantine feels very different than it does for her older brother and sister. I have to imagine that many young children are struggling in different ways with everything that is going on. It is never too early to teach kids mindfulness. As a matter of fact, I think that the earlier we teach our children this tremendous life skill the better. Here are a few ways to introduce and practice mindfulness with children:

  1. Teddy Breathing – This is one of my favorite techniques to use especially at bed times. Have your child choose their favorite teddy bear or stuffed animal. Have them lie down and put the stuffed animal on their belly. Teach them to take notice their breath by watching the bear on their belly. This is a great way to calm a child and a great foundation to other mindfulness exercises. Click HERE to watch a short video that describes this technique.
  2. Journaling – One of my favorite things to do with my children is journaling. Create a journal where you communicate with your child back and forth. Ask them questions about what they are feeling and have them respond in writing back to you. Not only does this make a great keepsake, but it also gives those children who have a hard time opening up the opportunity to put their feelings in writing. Some of the hardest conversations have started with sort of communication.
  3. Coloring – Coloring is just as mindful for children as it is for adults!! There is a reason that kids love this activity and do it for hours. Now is a great time to have your child color or paint pictures to put in the windows of your home.
  4. Color Hunt – Choose a color and have your child silently walk around outside or in the house looking and noticing everything that they can find in that color. Have them write down what they found our simply point it out to you.
  5. Play dough – Anytime we do anything creative, it can be considered mindful. For some children, the kneading of clay or play dough and creating with it can be very therapeutic and calming. (maybe not so much for mom and dad, but I will have another post for you!!)
  6. Gratitude – Teaching children gratitude, especially at a time like this is such a great exercise. Each night or at any point in the day, teach your child to make a list of at least 5 things that they are grateful for. Talk to them about the good that you are finding in this unstable time.
  7. Mindful Walks – Very similar to the walks that I spoke about with older kids, make your walks mindful with your child. Take time to have them listen for sounds of nature. Take a small bag to collect stones. Stop and teach them to smell the flowers.
  8. Listen to the Bell – One of the first ways that I introduce my students to mindfulness is to teach them to listen to a chime or bell. You can use an actual bell or you can download the app Insight Timer and use one of the tones that they have. Have your child listen to the bell from the start until the end. They can even practice raising their hand when they no longer hear the tone. This will help them to pay attention to the sound.
  9. Practice with them – When kids see that you have a mindfulness practice and that you carve out time in your day for it, they will see the importance as well.
  10. Read a book about mindfulness – This is a time when there are a wide variety of really great children’s books that talk about mindfulness. Many do such a wonderful job of discussing kindness, empathy, compassion and self care as well. Here are some of my favorites:

I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness by Susan Verde. (Click HERE to hear the book read aloud!)

Puppy Mind by Andrew Jordan Nance (Click HERE to hear the book read aloud!)

A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles Book by Thich Nhat Hanh

10 Ways to Practice Mindfulness for Middle and High School Students (and adults too!)

I am a middle school teacher. I have three children, two of which are high school students. I feel for this age group so much. While this time away from school is difficult for everyone, I feel like these students are feeling it the most. Their life is being social. This time of year is the time that they are typically getting ready for so many fun things. In speaking with my children and my students, I know that there is a lot of stress and worry happening. The excitement of being able to sleep in instead of getting up early has worn off. If you are in middle or high school or know a child at this age, here are some suggestions for mindfulness activities that may help ease this time of uncertainty.

  1. Keep A Journal – writing our feelings can be so therapeutic. Sometimes sharing how you feel does not feel comfortable especially when everyone in the family is dealing with so much. Keeping a journal where you may write your feeling or just keep track of what you are doing during this historic time may be calming. You can use your journal to write or to draw. There are so many great and different ways to keep a journal. Check out this link with just a few ideas.
  2. Coloring – I know that coloring tends to be an activity for younger children, but there is a reason that adult coloring books are so popular. Coloring is an extremely mindful activity that can help to calm a busy mind. You can then decorate your windows with the artwork that you create to help neighbors who may be walking have something beautiful to look at. If you don’t have a coloring book, try doing your own doodles or sketches or google free coloring pages to print some yourself.
  3. Mindful Walking – Often we feel as though walks are meant just for exercise. However, taking a mindful walk can be very calming. Take time to take a walk when you are not in a hurry. Concentrate on how you feel while you walk. Notice how your feet hit the ground. Notice the sounds around you. Notice the signs of spring that around you. Pick up a stone or a flower and sit with it for a moment. Take time to take in nature after being stuck inside.
  4. Exercise – Exercise is one of the most mindful things some people can do. There is a great deal of good endorphins that are produced when you get your body moving. Listening to good music and going for a run may be mindful for you. Give it a try!!
  5. Breathing exercises – Being still and noticing your breath can be your anchor. It is different for everyone. Close your bedroom door and sit with your breathe for as little as a minute. Over time, this practice may help you to find peace and calm. I have lots of breathing exercises and videos on this blog so please check them out! For some people, this may bring emotions to the surface. That is ok and expected. If it is uncomfortable, work on a different method of mindfulness.
  6. Using your Senses – In situations where your mind may be going a million miles a minute, stop and consider this 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 activity. Find 5 things that you can see, 4 things that you hear, 3 things that you feel, 2 things that smell, and one thing that you taste. Focusing on your senses will help you to get out of your mind for a time and into the present moment.
  7. Write a Letter – Letter writing is a lost art that I wish more people took advantage of. In a time when we are all looking for ways to connect, sit down and write a letter to someone whom you have not spoken to in a while, someone you miss, or someone that you appreciate. The process of writing can be very calming and often will help to lift your spirits.
  8. Declutter – When we are surrounded with lots of things, it is hard for us to relax and feel comfortable. Decluttering is a great way to help ease the feelings of anxiety. If you spend a lot of time in your bedroom, take some time to make it a space that you love and feel comfortable in. If you spend time doing school work in another part of the house, make a space for yourself that you enjoy. It can be as simple as clearing off a space by a window with a nice view. Add a small flower or a picture of someone you love.
  9. Mindful Eating – When was the last time you really took the time to sit and enjoy the food that you were eating? I mean really enjoy the flavors. Often we are rushing to eat a meal only to barely remember what it tasted like. Take some time with a chosen meal and really savor it. Put the meal together on a nice plate and take your time really noticing the flavors. Enjoy the process of eating each bite. If you cannot do this with a meal, make a cup of coffee or tea in the morning. Take the time to feel the warmth of the cup. Savor the smell. Feel the steam. Enjoy each sip. There has never been a better time to slow down and enjoy the things that we often take for granted.
  10. Yoga – Yoga is such a wonderful way to be mindful. However, I know that it does not appeal to everyone. If you have never given yoga a try, now is a GREAT time to do it. There are so many yoga instructors and studios offering free online classes while we are all stuck inside. If you have done it before and enjoy it, take time to add it to your day. Check out ww.soulcandyproject.com for free online yoga and relaxation classes or do a google search to find others. If yoga is not something that you love, try this relaxation pose…lay on your back with your legs either bent over the seat of a chair or your coach. Another version is to lay on your back as close as you can to a wall with your legs straight up the wall. Put a pillow under your head and maybe a blanket on your belly. Do this for about 5-10 minutes. This exercise is the equivalent of taking an hour long nap. It is a great way to relax!

If you are a middle or high school student right now and have other suggestions on ways to be mindful, I would love to hear from you. Comment on this blog or email me at mekellymurphy@gmail.com. I hope that you can find a way to bring peace and calm into your day!

Mindfulness and Athletes

I am a mother of a high school athlete. It is breaking my heart watching him wait day after day to find out if his lacrosse season is going to be canceled or not. I have watched him do online workouts, play hours of wall ball, string a new net, and keep in touch with his coach and teammates. I have seen coaches around the country post great workouts and films for their athletes to help them keep motivated and stay in physical shape. However, coaches and players….I think this is the PERFECT time for you to work on that part of your game that always seems to get forgotten…the mental game!

I was a high school and college athlete. Most of my training was in the physical aspect of the game. However, I remember clearly a time when I was in high school going up our state rivals. We were playing for the state championship. We were a very good team, but the game was going to be very close. Our teams had been rivals forever and day before the big game, the local paper in the town we had traveled to published a story where the players and coach of the rival team stated that our team did not play with heart. I remember clearly our coach making copies of that article for each player on our team. She read the article to us and let us think about it. Needless to say, it fired us up more than anything. However, what she did next changed the way that we played forever. She had us put everything away and do visualization exercises. We visualized what it would look and feel like to walk into the gym with confidence and clarity. We visualized every play of the game until we could visualize ourselves winning. We did this exercise multiple times prior to the big game. However, what I really remember was our entire team doing this exercise just after walking into the gym the day of the big game. What I didn’t know at the time is that it would be my first experience with mindfulness.

From that moment on, I used that exercise throughout my athletic career. As a volleyball player, I spent many sleepless nights visualizing my serve or the winning kill. As a lacrosse goalie, I visualized stopping every shot that was taken against me. I know that it made a difference in how I attacked stressful situations. What I learned about those exercises is that I could be in my body rather than in my head during a game. I could visualize how exactly to make contact with the ball for the perfect serve or how to move to stop the shot. Being in your body instead of in your head is such a powerful tool in athletics.

Athletes, now is a really tough time. If you are a spring sports athlete, I know that you are more than disappointed that you are not on the field or court. This is a very difficult time that can mess with your mind and spirit. However, what if you took this time to work on the part of your game that you probably do not give enough attention…the mental part. Look, you have probably heard the old quote, “Athletics are 10% physical and 90% mental”. It is so true!! Think of the last big game you had. Were you able to focus in the key moments? Were you able to block out all of the commotion and focus on what you really needed to do? How nervous were you going into the game?

Mindfulness is workout for your brain. You workout in the gym to build muscle, strength, and muscle memory. You run sprints to build stamina and agility. However,when was the last time you did any work on your brain? Mindfulness exercises, done regularly, help to train your brain to be in the moment. They help to train your brain to control your emotions in key situations. They also help you to be able to focus on seeing what is in front of you so that you can make the best decisions on the field or court. However, the brain is like any other muscle. You cannot sit down only before the big game and do one or two exercises. You have to work your brain like you would any other muscle. You are not going to build huge biceps in one or two lifting sessions. You are also not going to build mindfulness in one or two sessions.

Athletes, I encourage you to use this down time to continue your physical training and to add some mental training as well. Imagine the outcome you and your teams could have if you take the time to do this now. Most teams do not fit this kind of training into their every day practices. Having a mental edge can be a game changer! Some of the most celebrated athletes have credited mindfulness with being what has given them the edge. LeBron James has recently signed on to the calm app to do an entire series on his mindfulness practice. The late Kobe Bryant spoke all of the time about how he meditated daily in order to be at his best. Many of the top professional teams have someone on staff that is considered to be their mindfulness coach. It makes sense to take care of the part of the game that is thought to be the most important part!

Coaches, you often get your players at practice just after they have spent an entire day at school. Many of your players are often coming to you with baggage from home as well. Then, the first thing that you do is yell and scream at your players for not having their head in the game. The question is, have you given them the time to put all of that behind them for a minute and train their brains to be here, now? Have you trained your athletes to pay attention to the moment and to arrive here in the game or practice that you are having? This is where training your team in mindfulness can give you the advantage.

If this makes sense to you as an athlete or coach, I encourage you to start your own mindfulness training. Start small by doing a simple mindfulness activity each day. Think of it as an extension to your daily training. Check out my blog post with some of the FREE apps that are available now. Start with learning how to be mindful and trying it each day. When you start, try to think of it like learning a new skill in your sport. It is not going to be perfect at first and needs a lot of practice to make good. Stop back to my blog for specific exercises that I will be posting over the next few weeks. Now is the perfect time to train your brain!

Suggested reading: The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance by George Mumford. Forward by Phil Jackson

Great Video to explain mindfulness!

Nagging Thoughts

Many of the people that I have spoken to lately have talked about how stressed they are feeling. Whether they are worried about themselves or loved ones getting ill or they are stressed with the new reality of working from home with their families in the house with them, people are having fears, worry and stress. Our children are having a tough time with the uncertainty. They don’t know when we will go back to school, when they will be able to play with friends, and when the world will go back to the way that they knew it. Sadly, as the adults, we don’t have an answer either.

This exercise is one to help kids and adults to deal with those nagging thoughts. One of the key objectives of mindfulness is to learn that we are not going to clear our minds every time we sit still. There will be many times that our minds are full of thoughts. When this happens, learning to sit with the thoughts and allow them to happen is important. Even more important, learning to sit with the thoughts and then let them go is helpful.

In this exercise, I encourage you to NOTICE anything that may come up, sit with ALLOW the thought to be there and then let it GO. Training our brains to react differently to the thoughts we have can be very beneficial. It allows us to be less judgmental with ourselves and hopefully we are able to transfer that to how we deal with others. It also teaches us to pause before our reactions and allows us to remember that we are ultimately in control of our thoughts.

Click here to view this Nagging Mindful Minute.

Take Time to Notice

With all that is going on, it is a challenge to stop and just take in what is around us. As I sit here typing, the sun is coming up and my house is peaceful and quiet. I can tell you that just minutes ago as I was hurrying to put all of the aspects of my online lesson for the day together, I did not notice any of beauty or peace around me. Now I do and it has changed everything about how I am breathing, how my shoulders feel (a lot less tense) and my mood.

Stopping to notice what is around us a great mindfulness technique. It brings us into the moment and helps us remember that pausing is so beneficial to our well being. In the podcast that I listened to you yesterday, Jesse Israel the presenter mentioned that studies have shown that we take in as much information in a day that our ancestors used to take in over a lifetime. When you think of it that way, you can understand why we need to pause and simply take in our surroundings. I hope that you find today’s mindful minute video helpful! Enjoy!!

Teachers, Students, Parents, EVERYONE – You Deserve Rest!

Today was one of those days that I needed to take a walk…by myself. During this quarantine time, we have been taking family walks every day. However, this morning I needed some alone time. I felt guilty as I took off by myself. Then, I talked to my husband who admitted that he was cleaning out the garage not because he wanted to, but because he needed some space.

This all got me thinking about the time that we are in. While I have done my very best to see “The Good” in this situation each day, I have also realized how difficult this all is. If you have been on social media, you know that you get both sides.. the positives and the negatives. If you are in certain professions like teaching, you are getting it from both sides. Some parents are telling you that you deserve to make a million dollars a month while others are cursing you for taking a break and sipping wine while they do all of the work. It is all too much.

Here is what I know for sure (to steal a phrase from Oprah):

  1. Teachers you deserve rest! You are working your tails off to provide your students with everything that you give them while they are in your presence while they are not in your presence. If you are like me, you are trying to do everything perfectly for fear of what the parents may say. You are trying new and fun lessons, searching up all of the free resources online for hours, making videos, zoom calling with students, delivering meals, emailing parents and students, zoom meeting with administrators…..and then doing it all again the next day. In some cases, we are putting in more hours that we did when we physically went to work. Please, please, please…know that you deserve rest. Just like I have always preached, your students need you. Your family needs you. We are in this for the long haul fellow educators. I don’t know anything for sure, but I do feel like this is going to last longer than we originally thought. We have to treat it like a marathon and not a sprint. Take naps! Go for walks..alone! Take care of yourselves!
  2. Parents you deserve rest!! You have just been asked to put on an additional hat. Some of you are trying to juggle working from home while making sure the kids are being educated. You are cooking more meals in a day than usual, making snacks, trying to get the kids to go outside for fresh air, and the list goes on. In addition to everything, you are keeping yourself safe and healthy and probably making sure that your child is ok with all of the scary news that comes out all day long. Don’t expect to be perfect. Throw away the minute by minute schedule. Your kids will be fine if they do not get everything that the teacher sent done by noon. This is the perfect time to teach our children how to manage their own time. It is the perfect time to teach our children problem solving and coping skills. Let them see how to handle a crisis so that they can handle things better in the future, when you are not there! You deserve rest! You too are on this marathon roller coaster. As a parent your kids need you to be rested and able to handle all of this. Make a time for yourself if you can and rest!!
  3. Students you deserve rest! You are taking in more information than ever. Even though you are not in school and may get the opportunity to stay up later, you are still doing more than ever. The amount of work and worry that you are dealing with is a lot. As the adults, we notice this. You need to rest and take care of you. This does not mean blow everything off, but do take time to take care of you. Try to get regular sleep. Talk to friends on your phone, but know when to put the phone down and take a break. Get fresh air. Eat good food. You will feel better and be better off when this all ends.

This is an unprecedented time. I like to think that we may never get this time again to pause and take care of ourselves. We will never again this much time with our kids again as parents. We need to take advantage of pausing and getting rest!

During my walk I listened to the most amazing podcast. It is truly the best explanation of why mindfulness is so important and why rest is a necessity. Take a rest and listen!! It will all make sense!! Enjoy!

Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversation: Oprah and Jesse Israel: Your Life in Focus

Mindful Minute – Counting Your Breath

Click here for the latest mindful minute video!

My students and I start nearly every class period with a mindful minute. I love that they have taken to it so well. I even got a note from a substitute when I was out one day that told me that the students asked if they could do the mindful minute even though I was not there. That made my day!

In this exercise, I have my students practice noticing their breath. I have tell them to pay attention to the inhale and the exhale. I then have the count how many complete breaths that they take in a minute. This exercise helps in two ways. One, it helps them to focus on their breathing which is an anchor for some. Second, it helps them to know approximately how many breaths they take in a minute so that they can sit down and do it wherever they are. This way they do not need a timer or an app to do this relaxing exercise. Over time, I have the students do this again to see if they have been able to calm their breathing as we work to practice daily.

Click here to do your own mindful minute. Take some time today to do something for yourself. Find a little peace!

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4 Square Breathing

Many of us are feeling the stress of this current situation. It is hard not to when you turn on the television and have statistics running along the side of every channel. I have been hearing from some of my students and hearing about how they are a little anxious as well. My own children, especially my youngest, is having a really hard time. She misses playing with friends, misses her teacher tremendously and just would love life to go back to the way that it was.

One breathing exercise that has been so helpful in times of high stress or anxiety is one called 4 square breathing. This breathing technique helps to calm the nervous system.

Here is how it works…inhale for the count of four….hold for the count of four…exhale for the count of four….hold for the count of four. Doing this 4-8 times will help to reset your mood, calm the amygdala, and help you to relax.

Check out my video where I practice this technique with my daughter!