Kendall (Smith) Harvey ’02 is a licensed professional counselor and somatic psychotherapist. She studies and provides psycho-education about the latest in neuroscience research and holistic, integrated health. Here, she offers two tips to improve your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Both focus on increasing your awareness — the first step toward making any intentional change. Harvey says it is especially important to experiment with these practices and notice how they work for you.
Breathe. This seems obvious, however, many people have a default of short, shallow breathing. When you inhale and exhale quickly, you send a message to your brain that there is something to be afraid of; your brain can always find something to be worried about, so it does and thus contributes to the pattern of short, shallow breaths. The breath is a barometer of our experience and is a powerful place to practice immediate interventions.
Practice: Begin by noticing your breath, and bring some nonjudgmental awareness to the quality of your breath. What is the length of your inhale? Length of your exhale? Where is your breath in your body? Is it rhythmic? Or choppy? As you notice it, it may shift, or change, which is not a problem. Slowly, after allowing your breath to be exactly as it is, begin to increase your exhale. Let your exhale linger, and you will naturally begin to extend your inhale. Continue to deepen and lengthen your breaths, deliberately and in small increments until your exhale is four to five seconds longer than your inhale. This practice activates your parasympathetic nervous system, allowing you to “rest and digest” properly. Notice how you feel.
Practice gratitude. Leaders in the field of neuroscience produce studies on mindfulness practices that are capable of altering our neural structure in a positive way. One accessible and quick exercise offered by psychologist and author Rick Hanson is called “taking in the good.”
Practice: Wherever you are in the moment, pause to become aware of your surroundings. Use your sensory awareness to acknowledge that you are likely sheltered, in a safe environment, perhaps you have recently eaten, maybe some part of your body feels strong and capable, maybe you’ve just had an experience connecting with someone — chances are, this particular moment, just as it is, is relatively positive or neutral. Spend 20 seconds noticing what is good about the moment you are in; it doesn’t need to be a peak experience, just relatively positive. Be aware of how you feel internally and what is happening externally.
— After earning her BA in psychology and religion at Colgate, Harvey attended Naropa University for her MA in transpersonal counseling psychology with an emphasis in wilderness therapy. She provides in-person counseling and long-distance coaching sessions from her home in Durango, Colo. Visit krescounseling.com for more information.
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