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Mindfulness 101

Posted By Joy Rains, Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Mindfulness 101

Present moment awareness is called mindfulness. Mindfulness allows you to become aware of your internal experiences, such as your thoughts and feelings—and your external experiences, such as what is happening around you. 

Consider this: Just as it’s the nature of the heart to beat, it’s the nature of the mind to think. I call the mental content that cycles through the mind “STUFF,” which is an acronym for:


STUFF serves an important function, since it helps you navigate through life. Yet, you may not even realize this STUFF is present. It can fade to the background of the mind, but it’s still there, influencing your behavior.

Try this: Pause for one minute. Notice what’s going on in your mind—your STUFF. 

Some people are surprised by the amount of STUFF they notice during this one-minute exercise. Others don’t notice much of anything at all. There’s no right or wrong; the point of the exercise is to become aware of your experience.

When you develop your power of awareness, you can respond to life’s events consciously, rather than react to them unconsciously. As ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus wrote, “We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.” 

A proven way to build your awareness is through the practice of meditation. Meditation is a practice of noticing. You don’t try to stop thinking; rather, you allow your STUFF (Stories, Thoughts, Urges, Frustrations, Feelings) to surface and then let it pass, without judgment or internal comment. You practice noticing your experience in the present moment, observing your STUFF as if you are witnessing it. 


How to Meditate

I recommend choosing a regular place to meditate. Sit on a chair or floor cushion in a quiet room. Start with 2–3 minutes, setting a timer if needed. As you become used to practicing, gradually increase your time to 15–20 minutes a day if your schedule allows. If you’re short on time, try to meditate for just a few minutes to maintain a daily routine.

Here are steps to follow:

  1.  Start by sitting up straight, without being rigid. Keep your spine aligned with your head and neck. Gently close your eyes. Try to release any physical tension, keeping your body relaxed—but your mind alert. 
  2. Choose an anchor—a neutral focal point that doesn’t stimulate your mind. Commonly used anchors are: your breath; your body; a word repeated silently, such as peace; a sound you listen to, such as ocean waves; or an object to hold, such as a smooth stone.
  3. Rest your attention on your anchor. Whenever your mind wanders, gently refocus on your anchor. For beginners, this may be as often as every second or two. Although many people think the practice of meditation involves stopping all thoughts and feelings, this is not so. Expect that thoughts and feelings will continue to arise. 
  4. Accept your wandering mind. Meditation is a practice of returning to your experience in the present moment. Again and again and again. Notice when your attention wanders, and then return your attention to your anchor. The intent of meditation isn’t to suppress thoughts and feelings. Consider anything that draws attention away from your anchor to be like a cloud passing, or like a boat floating by as you watch from the riverbank. Allow it to pass without judgment and gently refocus on your anchor.
  5. Continue gently refocusing on your anchor for the rest of your practice time. This process is key, since it exercises your mind’s “muscle.” Just as the repeated practice of doing abdominal crunches can build your core strength, the repeated practice of noticing distractions and returning to your anchor can build your power of awareness. The practice of shifting your attention to a neutral focal point (your anchor) is like shifting your mind out of “drive” and letting it rest in “neutral.” Each time you refocus on your anchor, you’re training your mind to let go of distracting thoughts.

Meditation is a simple practice, but it can be challenging. As stated earlier, people often have the best success by starting with brief periods of regular practice time and gradually increasing the length of time spent meditating as they become used to practicing. 


When to Meditate

You can meditate almost anytime. (Note: Don’t meditate when driving or performing another task that requires your full attention.) It’s important to practice when it works best for your schedule. Meditating for a few minutes is preferable to not meditating at all.

Many people find practicing first thing in the morning works best, before they get busy with the day. It’s helpful to schedule meditation practice to coincide with an activity you do regularly, such as brushing your teeth in the morning.


Where to Meditate

I suggest creating a dedicated meditation place. Over time, you may find your mind begin to quiet down by simply entering your dedicated place. Meditation places can even be portable—for example, a meditation cushion that’s used in different settings. An entire room in your home could be devoted to meditation—or just a corner of a room. One meditator carved out a small space next to the dryer in her basement laundry room by installing a sliding translucent screen. Another transformed a bedroom corner into a private space by using a sheer curtain as a divider. Another uses a favorite chair in the living room. 

A meditation place should include a dedicated place to sit, such as a chair or meditation cushion. Some people also like to include inspirational items, such as books of short readings (for before or after your practice), meditation beads, candles, or music. 

You can practice meditation almost anywhere. You could even meditate in your car—once it’s parked!


Simple Meditation Practices to Try

You can choose from the following practices, or listen to recorded audio meditations posted on my website, www.joyrains.com.

Body Awareness Meditation

Use this as a stand-alone practice or as a starting point for other meditations. Begin with your head and move your awareness downward to one muscle group at a time. Alternatively, start with your feet and move your awareness upward to one muscle group at a time. As much as you can, try to relax each muscle group before moving on to the next one. 

You can release muscular tension with your imagination, visualizing your in-breath surrounding the tension and your out-breath gently releasing it. Or, imagine the tension becoming warmer and melting away. Take as much time as needed. If any tense areas won’t release, see if you can accept them as they are.

You can also tighten each muscle for a few seconds and then relax it, to differentiate between a tensed muscle and a relaxed muscle. Be gentle and don’t strain. 

Throughout this process be aware of your body and how it feels. Allow your spine to support you, and allow the seat and ground beneath you to support you. Release any muscles not needed to support you. Keep your body relaxed but your mind alert. Try to develop a muscle memory of what it feels like to relax.

Simple Breath Meditation

Start by sitting up straight, without being rigid. Keep your spine aligned with your head and neck. Gently close your eyes. Try to release any physical tension, keeping your body relaxed and your mind alert. Rest your attention on the pace of your breathing, without changing anything; simply notice. You might notice the coolness of the air as you inhale and its warmth as you exhale, or you might notice the rising and falling of your chest. You could even silently say “rising” with each inhale, and “falling” with each exhale. Each time your attention wanders, gently refocus on your breath.

Smooth Stone Meditation

Choose a smooth stone that fits in your hand. Start by sitting up straight, without being rigid. Keep your spine aligned with your head and neck. Gently close your eyes. Try to release any physical tension, keeping your body relaxed and your mind alert. Then, shift your attention to the stone in your hand, noticing its various characteristics, including: its weight, temperature, shape, texture, and size. Each time your attention wanders, gently refocus on your stone. You can also keep your meditation stone in your pocket to remind you of an intention, for example, being relaxed or staying focused.

More Ways to Practice Mindfulness

You can also cultivate mindfulness by considering your activities to be meditative practices, as if the activity itself is your anchor. For example, consider integrating brief mindfulness breaks into your daily routine, such as pausing for a moment and noticing two full breaths, washing your hands and noticing the feel of the soap and water, or eating a meal with full awareness of the textures and flavors of your food.

Another simple way to integrate mindfulness into your life is with a walking meditation. As you walk, gently bring your attention to the soles of your feet as they touch the ground. Any time your attention wanders, gently bring it back to your feet. Consider using a walking meditation as you transition from one place to another. World-renowned meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says to “be aware of the contact between your feet and the Earth.”

Joy RainsJoy Rains is a corporate and community mindfulness trainer. You can find her primer for beginning meditators, Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind, on Amazon and BN.com.

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What Wellness Professionals Need to Know about Sugar Taxes

Posted By NWI, Wednesday, February 7, 2018

By Christina Peterson, MS

sugar-sweetened beverageCalls for taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) by health professionals and advocates continue to occupy news headlines. Seattle recently joined the growing list of U.S. cities that are experimenting with a tax on SSBs, while Cook County (Chicago) repealed a similar policy after only two months. Advocates of the tax point to studies using economic modelling, which paint rosy pictures of increased tax revenues, decreased SSB consumption and significant health impacts, to argue for the value of this strategy. Although much more empirical research is needed to determine long-term effects of taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, the existing empirical evidence suggests little effect on SSB consumption or health. This is not surprising given that people can purchase SSB from neighboring municipalities, order them from online retailers, substitute from newly taxed beverages to other unhealthy beverages, or switch to a generic brand of soda. Wellness, which draws heavily from self-determination and salutogenesis theories, provides insight into how professionals might think more constructively about nutrition policy. 

The Rationale vs. The Evidence 

Taxes on sugar sweetened beverages are not new and have been implemented in many areas in many different ways. Thirty-four states currently have a sales tax imposed on soda sold in grocery stores, and 39 states tax vending machine sales. The most prevalent argument in support of levying a sugar-sweetened beverage excise tax (on top of any existing sales taxes) is the potential impact on public health. The CDC suggests that 49% of American adults drink SSB on a daily basis, with the average consumption of 149 calories. Soda and sugar-sweetened beverages have been implicated as a major source of excess calories and sugar, leading to weight gain, diabetes, and dental caries. Advocates argue that an excise tax on SSB will encourage people to decrease their SSB consumption, leading to significant improvements in weight and subsequently health.

But at what cost? Are the actual changes in consumption or health outcomes substantial enough to be considered worthwhile? How sustainable or long-lasting are these changes in consumption? And are there other programs or policies that would lead to more significant health outcomes and have a societal or individual cost that is equivalent to or lower than a SSB tax?

There is little evidence to support the claim that SSB taxes have significant influence on consumption. Although SSB tax supporters cite several studies that estimate 7.9%-21% decreases in SSB consumption, with the greatest impact occurring among low-income individuals, resulting in an estimated 30 fewer ounces purchased each week per household. However, most of these studies have significant limitations that constrain their ability to make substantive conclusions about SSB consumption impacts.

healthy drink

The first important limitation is that even if consumers decrease their consumption of SSB, the studies do not account for the substitution effects that a randomized field experiment shows increases the consumption of water, milk (flavored and unflavored), juice, generic brands, beer, and milkshakes or yogurt smoothies. Consumers may also choose to cut costs in other parts of their household budget to cover the increased cost of SSB or shift their purchases to stores in neighboring areas or online retailers. Most studies do not account for any of these substitution effects.

The second major flaw with studies on SSB taxes is that most do not control for the considerable overall downward societal trend in soda consumption over the past two decades or the effects of tax campaigns on social norming. This is critical since SSB consumption has been decreasing at a rate of nearly 1% a year since 1998 as people recognize the adverse health effects of consuming large amounts of added sugar.

Lastly, the sampling and analytical methods in some studies have been criticized for inflated demand elasticity estimates or weak sampling strategies. Therefore, it is not surprising that evidence based on self-reported soda consumption and household budget surveys suggests that a SSB tax did not significantly change in the case of Berkeley, CA, and that SSB taxes are predicted to decrease body weight by less than one pound in Mexico. So, if SSB taxes show lackluster impacts in practice, how can wellness professionals start to think differently about their policy advocacy?

Self-determination theory

Self-determination (SDT) is a theory of human motivation that begins with the assumption that people evolved to be “inherently active, intrinsically motivated, and oriented toward developing naturally through integrative processes.” Essential to the process of becoming aware of, and internalizing behaviors that move one closer to achieving their full health potential is fulfillment of an individual’s psychological need for competence, relatedness, and autonomy. In the context of food and nutrition, competence refers to developing individual and community capacity to identify, source, and prepare affordable, culturally-appropriate, healthy foods. Relatedness is about providing people with spaces and opportunities that create a sense of personal connection with others who value the health-promoting behavior. Lastly, autonomy means that people must recognize the value of a behavior for themselves and feel that doing this behavior is their own personal choice, free from the external coercion of incentives or penalties.

Taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages as a public health strategy violate the psychological need for autonomy. It is no wonder that many people perceive this tax as intrusive and react negatively toward the idea of health professionals and politicians coercing them to make particular decisions about what they eat and drink. Furthermore, these policies do not support cultivation of competence or relatedness. In this way, SSB taxes undermine self-determination. Public health education campaigns have contributed to a greater societal awareness of SSB adverse health impacts and, like the case of tobacco, contributed to individuals making autonomous choices to decrease their SSB consumption, without the excise tax.

healthy choices

Salutogenesis and Positive Health

Avoiding a bad behavior does not necessarily lead to the existence of good behavior. Health is more than just preventing disease, and includes learning how to live fully. Salutogenesis refers to proactively generating full health potential. The key aspect of this framework is potential. Health approaches based on salutgenesis study the origins or causes of health. This is conceptually different that the traditional pathogenesis approach which seeks to understand the origins or causes of disease and design interventions that aim to reduce risk and avoid problems.

Reducing disease risk is important, but it is not the same as cultivating health potential. Sugar-sweetened beverage taxes respond to a situation that threatens to cause disease. However, decreased SSB consumption does not inherently lead to healthier eating patterns that include more fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains (causes of health). Without policies that enable the conditions for people to cultivate healthy diet patterns (e.g., living wages, shorter work weeks, access to quality fresh produce, cooking skills, affordable healthcare), SSB taxes are not likely to produce better eating habits. 

Is there an appropriate use of SSB taxes?

Food policy initiatives warrant special attention because of their ability to cause great benefit or great harm to society. In some cases, regulations that restrict individual choices are necessary to support public health. Although SSB taxes may only have a trivial influence on consumption habits, they may have other important goals, such as providing subsidies for fresh produce or nutrition education, which may be justifiable to promote wellbeing by bring people together, build competence, and support autonomy in nutrition decision-making. Some SSB tax policy initiatives propose using revenue to fund nutrition education and fresh produce subsidies. This strategy is not without challenges of its own since the revenue typically goes to the city’s general fund for use on whatever programs the city council ultimately decides to fund. In practice, ear-marking tax revenue for specific purposes is politically challenging. However, if the goal is for consumption of SSB to decrease, that also means revenue will decrease. In fact, many cities that implemented an SSB excise tax are reporting lower than projected revenues. For SSB taxes to generate sufficient revenue to fund public health programs, SSB consumption must remain stable or new sources of revenue must be found. A Catch-22.

Drawing on the works of Antonovsky, referenced by Becker, Glasscoff, and Felts, we can adapt guidelines for developing strategies that advance health can help nutrition and public health professional advocate for salutogenetic public policies:  (1) look at the public health data differently: instead of looking at populations who have succumbed to a problem like diabetes to find out what they are doing wrong, look at those who are succeeding and try to find out why they are doing well (what policies facilitate these behaviors?); (2) persuade policy-makers to consider outcomes related to success (e.g., greater consumption of fruits and vegetables), not just outcomes related to problem reduction (e.g., decreased soda consumption); and finally (3) stimulate the development of innovative policies that cultivate the conditions for these desired outcomes to occur. If SSB taxes are conceived as public health-promoting strategies in themselves, they have an obligation to be evaluated on the extent to which they will support self-determination and salutogenesis and be mindful about the place of health policies in relation to other aspects of well-being.

Christina Peterson (@foodkindness) is a PhD student in Evaluation, Statistics, and Measurement and the University of Tennessee. She is passionate about promoting sensible nutrition, inclusive communities and economic diversity through food system program and policy evaluation. Christina also has a MS in Nutrition and a BA in Economics. Prior to starting her PhD, she worked for a wellness non-profit conducting needs assessments, program evaluation and research on certification standards. Christina has worked and volunteered in many countries, including Singapore, Myanmar, Vietnam, Kenya, Spain, and Mexico. She is currently working as a Graduate Research Assistant for the Office of Information Technology Research Computing Support group. 


Tags:  excise tax  SDT  self-determination theory  SSB  sugar-sweetened beverages  tax on SSB  taxes 

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8 Reasons to Attend a Professional Wellness Conference in Person

Posted By NWI, Thursday, February 1, 2018

Today we have no shortage of online seminars and training opportunities literally at our fingertips. With all that's available, you may wonder why it's worth traveling to events like the National Wellness Conference (NWC) and attending in person. While all participants choose to attend for different reasons, here are our top eight reasons to attend a wellness conference in person:

1. Wellness is about communication and the human connection. Sending a message to someone's inbox is nowhere near as meaningful as connecting over a networking social or banquet and really learning from one another.

2. Discover the unexpected! Attendees often say that a conference exceeded their expectations, but the things that have the biggest impact on them are usually completely unexpected!

3. You're only as good as the information you have. There are many places to find the latest data, best practices, products, and working knowledge on a wide variety of wellness-related topics, but you will find all of it in one place in the engaging, informative, and fun setting that a conference provides.

4. Get your passion back! Have you lost your drive and inspiration? Replenish your energy by attending an upbeat, lively, and invigorating conference. You'll go home with a renewed sense of purpose that will amaze you!

5. Make REAL and lasting connections. People at conferences are often very open and willing to share their experiences. It's not uncommon to see speakers and attendees gathered after a session for impromptu discussions.

6. Share what you know with others. We all expect to learn from conferences, but sometimes the most rewarding part can be relating what we know and inspiring others with our experiences. Each of us has great lessons and experiences we can share, and there's no better way to do it than in the welcoming community of a conference atmosphere.

7. Be a part of the wellness community at large. We each work and live in our own community, but to come together once a year and be a part of the greater group of wellness professionals, students, and leaders is a unique and rewarding experience.

8. Build relationships. Grow your personal and professional networks for support and collaboration with the people you meet at the event. You'll be able to stay in touch throughout the year and look forward to getting together at the next conference!

Join us at our educational and rewarding in-person event! 

Only two weeks left to save $75 when you register for the National Wellness Conference by February 16!

Register online today! You can choose to pay by credit card or select "pay by check" to create an invoice. "Women Leading Well" Pre-conference and Worksite Wellness Certificate Program registration also available.

Note: Team discounts are available for groups of three or more. 
Email nwc@nationalwellness.org for details.

Tags:  National Wellness Conference  NWC 

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Spreading the Word on Wellness at the HBCE in Clearwater, FL

Posted By NWI, Thursday, February 1, 2018

The NWI had the pleasure of attending the IFEBP sponsored Health Benefits Conference & Expo in Clearwater, FL this January. Those in attendance were Matt Lund (NWI Exec Dir), Dr. Michael Arloski (NWI Board President), Sherri Galle-Teske (NWI Membership & Engagement Dir) and Caroline Carlson (NWI Marketing and Creative Dir).

A big thank you to Sallie Scovill and George Pfeiffer for providing the pre-course session of the Worksite Wellness Specialist for over 40 attendees.  

Dr. Joel Bennett (OWLS) brought down the house with his “When Wellness Hits the Wall:  How to Address Stress, Depression and Substance Misuse”.

It was wonderful to get out of the Wisconsin weather but even better to meet more wellness professionals and visit old friends.

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7 (totally doable) New Year's resolutions that will change your life

Posted By NWI, Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Reposted with permission from NBC Better from the original article
by Sarah DiGuilio / Jan.02.2018 / 8:33 AM ET

Does the New Year mean a new you — or another failed New Year’s resolution? Probably the latter for most of us, psychologists say, because thinking the flip of a calendar is enough to motivate us to ax all of our bad habits and behaviors is actually really unrealistic.

“We typically make resolutions around our most challenging habits, such as losing weight, changing our diet, exercising more or stopping smoking,” said Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D, associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Carleton University.

First of all, we’re not always as committed to those resolutions as we need to be to actually be motivated to stick with them, explains Pychyl, whose research focuses on procrastination and goal pursuit. (There’s a difference between changes we think we should make as opposed to changes we actually want to make.) And instead of setting discrete, measurable goals for ourselves, we often set broad intentions, like “exercise more,” he added. “We don’t think clearly enough about how we will implement this change.”

Plus, there’s the fact that we only have so much willpower we can turn to to help us stick to the new habits, adds Roy Baumeister, professor of psychology at Florida State University and author of "Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength."

"When people try to make multiple changes, they put multiple demands on that limited willpower," he said — and they end up failing.

That means the more willpower it takes to skip the afternoon cookie break, the less you’ll have left to help you stick to your resolution to hit the gym that evening. (Baumeister’s research has shown that willpower — a type of mental energy — is actually fueled by glucose and can be strengthened and fatigued, just like our muscles.)

What does work when it comes to resolutions is setting goals that are specific and attainable, so you know exactly what you need to do to accomplish it — and you do it.

Small changes add up, said Elizabeth Beck, MPH, Professional Wellness Development & Education coordinator at the National Wellness Institute. “It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that to make lasting and impactful changes, we must dive into something head first and dedicate a part of our lives to it,” she said. “Small habits are much easier to grow and become big changes in our life.”

Here are a few such resolutions you can try in 2018 from Beck and other health and wellness experts that each take 10 extra minutes a day (or less), and can lead to BIG, impactful improvements for your health, happiness and well-being.

It can be as simple as deciding not to overreact if your kids or another family member gets on your nerves — or take a walk over your lunch hour instead of not leaving your desk. If you feel like you’re living on auto-pilot, starting your day by setting a daily intention can help you feel more in control of your life and your actions, said Jody Michael, founder of and executive coach at the career and wellness coaching company, Jody Michael Associates. And over time, those intentions can each serve as a small step toward big changes, she said.

Figure out the toughest, most important or most intimidating task you want to get done by the end of the day and tackle it first, suggested Annie Lin, founder of career consulting firm New York Life Coaching. That way it’s done, so it’s not hanging over your head or stressing you out the rest of the day.

“It will give you a tremendous sense of accomplishment,” Lin said. And you can let those positive, productive vibes motivate the rest of your day.

Shallow breathing keeps our bodies in that high-stress, fight-or-flight mode, Lin explains. But deep belly breathing sends a message to our brains to relax. Slowing down your breath can slow down the chatter in your head, and reduce stress and anxiety. (You may also find yourself thinking more clearly and sleeping better, Lin noted.)

How to do it: You can literally do this anytime and anywhere. Just, stop. Focus your attention on your breath. Let all your air out and take a deep inhale, then exhale, then repeat. “Even if you can only practice it a few times a day, you can still enjoy the benefit,” Lin said. 

Stairs are a great way to quickly get the body moving, the heart rate up, and increase your metabolic rate — no gym required, said Michael Castiglione, a New York City-based personal trainer and fitness coach. It’s not the only change you’ll need to make if you have big weight-loss goals or want to get from the couch to a marathon finish line — but it can be the first step to just get in the habit of moving more, which can encourage you to be more active in other areas of your life, too.

Whether you got in a tiff with a friend, family member or colleague, get better at apologizing by doing what you can to reconcile the conflict, rather than hold a grudge, said Emiliana Simon-Thomas, science director of the Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley. It takes little risk and little time, but it can be intrinsically rewarding in a big way.

Being able to say you’re sorry and mean it, makes it easier to get back to a positive mood after going through something difficult, Simon-Thomas said. “Positive states, like contentment, warmth, and trust, are important to health, social connection, and focus — and they confer an overarching sense of personal stability and resilience to stress.”

Too often we get hung up on the little things that go wrong from day to day, rather than focusing on everything that’s going right and what we have accomplished, Beck said. Talking (out loud) about something that we’ve achieved helps us remember our true potential and the impact we’re having on the world around us.

It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of work emails, after-school carpool schedules and life’s countless obligations. Spending 10 minutes of quality you-time could mean reading a magazine, meditating or playing with your pet, according to Beck. Focus on activities that not only make you feel good but also relieve stress and improve your well-being (diving into a bag of potato chips or mindlessly scrolling through your Facebook feed are NOT the goal).

“When you take a moment to do something for you, you will start to feel a sense of calm in what otherwise may be a hectic day,” Beck said.

And whichever resolution you choose, remember to be committed, celebrate the small successes as you do big ones and go easy on yourself, Pychyl said. “Be ready for setbacks and forgive yourself when you fail (which you WILL do),” he said. “Self-forgiveness re-establishes our motivation to try again.”

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