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this needs html editing. i'm doing it gradually. Here's every day of the six-week challenge, sans links to articles:

week one

Create Your Sanctuary

DAY ONE: Find a Room of Your Own

"Children love to be alone because alone is where they know themselves, and where they dream." --Roger Rosenblatt

We all need a place to relax and reflect. Virginia Woolf had a room of her own; Superman, his Fortress of Solitude. Spending time alone helps us find peace, encourages thought and lets us rejuvenate, so we can emerge ready to handle whatever lies ahead.

Your assignment: Carve out your own space. Spend some time exploring your home or neighborhood for a restorative spot where you can be alone with your thoughts. Be willing to get creative; the sunny corner of your favorite room, the bathtub, your car or a quiet park bench will all do nicely.

Your sanctuary must be free of distractions. That means no television, computer or phone. You're looking for a place that will allow you to recharge your batteries, not drain them further.

Once you've found your space, spend 10 minutes sitting quietly. You don't have to do anything else today. Just notice what it feels like to be still. How does the air smell? What noises do you hear?

Think about how you can use your sanctuary during the challenge. Know that you have this space to return to whenever you need recharging. Now wherever you are, or however busy you get, you'll know that you have a place of calm waiting for you.

Find out what others chose as their sanctuary. Introduce yourself to other women involved in the challenge on the Mind-Body message boards. If the going gets rough over the next few weeks, they'll be there to cheer you along.

Create Your Sanctuary

DAY TWO: De-Clutter

Today it's time to take the next step in creating your sanctuary: de-cluttering.

Buddhists believe our attachment to material things impedes happiness. Getting rid of what we don't need helps us stop worrying about things that don't matter. It frees up space for new things to come into our lives -- possessions, sure, but also intangible things such as hopes, habits and attitudes.

Your assignment: Take some time to tend to the things you've been putting off, things that might become distractions later on. By doing now what you've been meaning to get around to, you'll clear your head and free up space to focus on yourself over the next six weeks.

What are you hanging on to that no longer serves you? Getting organized is a huge goal, so keep it simple. Organize your closet; pay the bills; sort through the junk drawer, stacks of mail or the backseat of your car. Whatever you choose, do what will have the biggest impact on your peace of mind.

When you've finished, sit quietly and soak up the feeling of relief and accomplishment. Remember this feeling. It will inspire you to tackle the other parts of your home -- and your life -- that need attention.

Get inspired and share your achievement on the Mind-Body message boards.

Create Your Sanctuary

DAY THREE: Finding Balance

Now that you've cleared some space for yourself, it's time to do some big-picture thinking. What do we mean by balance, and what does the mind-body connection have to do with it?

To me, balance comes from choosing what makes me feel better instead of worse (eating a salad versus a double bacon cheeseburger, for example). It also means accepting what life presents without trying to change it, cling to it or push it away. It sounds simple enough, but balance is a lifelong process. You can never "get balanced" and then be done with it.

To achieve balance, we must be aware of our own needs. We all have an internal wisdom that lives deep inside our bodies -- it's what we refer to as a "gut feeling." The problem is that in today's stressful world, there is so much going on that this voice is nearly drowned out.

The mind-body connection is the channel of communication between your physical and emotional self. Many events in life, both good and bad, can cause anxiety or stress. If you try to ignore these feelings or don't know how to cope, your body knows something is amiss. It responds by exhibiting symptoms like stomach pain, back aches, exhaustion or insomnia. Once you learn to pay attention to these signals, you will find that your body communicates its needs quite skillfully.

Learning to establish good emotional health -- through techniques like stress reduction, meditation and exercise -- will not only make you happier; it will also make you healthier. This is the heart of mind-body medicine -- and this challenge.

Your assignment: Spend 10 minutes sitting quietly. If your mind is racing, lie on your back on the floor with a pillow underneath your knees. As you begin to relax, ask yourself, Is there anything my body is trying to tell me? Make a mental list of any physical ailments you are or have been experiencing. Now think about what's been consuming you lately. Are you stressed at work, angry at a loved one, planning a big move? What underlying emotions do you associate with these things? Don't discount any thoughts that pop into your head. Just make note of them.

Are others experiencing the same symptoms as you? Talk about it on the Mind-Body message boards.

Create Your Sanctuary

DAY FOUR: Prioritize Happiness

"I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness." --the Dalai Lama

In order to be able to make choices that make you feel better as opposed to worse, you have to be able to answer this very simple question: What makes you happy? Is it winning the lottery? Finding a bargain on a cute outfit? Getting a promotion? Crossing the last thing off your to-do list?

I strongly believe that it's none of those things. Studies have shown that people who win the lottery go back to being just about as happy or unhappy as they were before they won. Money, possessions and status are all external things. They can't really change how you feel on the inside (once your basic needs for food, shelter and clothing are reasonably met).

True happiness comes when you can stop resisting things as they are and learn how to be content, no matter what's happening around you. It also comes from doing more things that bring you joy -- helping others, taking care of yourself, pursuing a passion, delighting in the many wonderful things (such as a sunset or the sound of the rain) that exist all around you.

Your assignment: The Dalai Lama says "The greater the level of calmness of our mind, the greater our peace of mind, the greater our ability to enjoy a happy and joyful life."

Following his thoughts on how to cultivate true happiness, dedicate as much time as you can today to doing things that help clear your head. Whether it's taking a walk around the neighborhood before or after work, sitting quietly in your sanctuary, spending time outside on your deck and listening to the birds, or dancing in front of the mirror with a hairbrush for a microphone, just do it. Practice doesn't always have to be serious -- have some fun!

Your fellow challengers and I would love to know what makes you happy. Come share your thoughts on the Mind-Body message board.

Create Your Sanctuary

DAY FIVE: Set Realistic Goals

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered by your old nonsense." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Living in balance is a lifelong process of discovering, accepting and loving who you really are, not trying to become something you're not. Take a look at how you feel about yourself. Now envision yourself as the person you want to be. We are all here because we want to bring about change. But remember that this is not Extreme Makeover. We're going for change that is nurturing and empowering. As the challenge goes on, remember to be kind to yourself, laugh at yourself and love yourself. Putting too much pressure on yourself will only cause more tension. All you need to do is keep showing up and giving it your best for that day.

Your assignment: Map out a realistic path for the rest of our time together. Sit in your sanctuary or another quiet place and think about what you want to accomplish during this challenge. Make a list of things you'd like to work toward. And because balance is about being present for all parts of your life, not just the good stuff, make a list of the things -- such as relationships, beliefs or habits -- that detract from your peace of mind.

Now look at the list of things you want to move toward and the list of things you want to move away from. Choose two or three things you'd like to change the most and write them down on a fresh piece of paper. Keep this list next to your Commitment Contract to help keep you on course as the challenge goes on.

Talk about your goals with other women on our message boards.


week two Listen To Your Body

DAY ONE: Let Your Body Relax

In our busy world, relaxing sounds like an indulgence, something frivolous that only people with hired help can afford to do. On the contrary, relaxing is as important to our health and well-being as eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising. Conscious relaxation gives us renewed energy and focus to greet the rest of our day.

Zoning out in front of the TV may seem like relaxation to you, but it's not. Relax comes from the Latin word relaxare, which means "to loosen." It's an active, not passive, gesture. Relaxing should involve taking some action, no matter how gentle, to loosen your mind's grip on the body when you need it most.

Your assignment: Engage in a relaxing activity. Give yourself at least 10 minutes to perform one of these rituals. Instead of reaching for that afternoon cup of coffee, you just might find that rest is as restorative as it is calming.Aromatherapy. Something as simple as peeling an orange and breathing in its citrusy scent can revitalize you and refresh your spirits instantly. Get outside. Nature is a great tranquilizer and energizer. Step outside of your office or home and breathe in the fresh air, take a walk around the block, listen to the wind rustling the leaves. If you can't get away, open the windows and notice how much sweeter the air smells. Take a bath. Light candles in the bathroom, pour Epsom salts or bath oil into the tub, and put the world on hold for 15 minutes. If none of these sound particularly enticing, create your own relaxation technique. Share your ideas with us on the Mind-Body message board.

Listen to Your Body

DAY TWO: Happy Meals

In this fast-paced, lose-weight-quick society, it's easy to get caught up in the latest fad diet and lose sense of what food is really meant to do: nourish and power the body.

We act as though food is our enemy. But every cell in our body demands a steady supply of energy to perform optimally -- and that energy comes from each piece of food we swallow. Without a nutritionally balanced diet, our bodies subsist on inadequate or inferior fuel. You really are what you eat, emotionally and physically, so why wouldn't you want to give yourself the best foods for your body?

Your assignment: Today you're going to learn how to bring your diet into better balance.

To get you started, here are some nutrition guidelines from our Energy Booster Diet and nutritionist Heidi McIndoo:

A combination of carbs, protein and fat eaten at regular intervals will help keep energy levels high throughout the day Choose whole grains and complex carbs over refined grains and sugars Eat healthy snacks every three to four hours to keep your blood sugar level stable Dehydration can cause fatigue and feelings of hunger; keep water handy and try to avoid caffeine, ultra-sugary sodas and sweetened beverages Eating fried or fatty foods can make you feel sluggish; opt for natural, unprocessed foods Eat plenty fruits and vegetables -- five to eight servings a day Increase your sources of protein with nuts, seeds, fish, beans and tofu

Today, follow our sample meal plan or create your own using the guidelines above. The most basic thing you can do towards eating better is to ask yourself at every meal, Is this food going to make me feel better or worse? Tonight, before you go to bed, think about how your body feels. Keep a food journal if you'd like to note any changes that occur in the coming weeks.

Listen to Your Body

DAY THREE: End Mindless Eating

How you eat is just as important as what you eat.

Intuitive eating is the latest "nondiet" diet. But take the fancy name away from the fad, and what you have is a hunger-based approach to eating. Revolutionary, right? It's about listening to your body, understanding your cravings and not giving in to emotional eating. It is not about setting stringent rules or counting calories.

Examining your relationship with food can be enlightening and liberating. How many times have you stared down the contents of your refrigerator waiting for something to beckon to you, not because you were hungry, but because you were bored or stressed or anxious or sad?

Your assignment: Dedicate today to paying attention to how you eat your food. That means no snacking because you're upset or bored, no eating while standing in front of the fridge, no grazing mindlessly while staring at the TV and no turning meals into multitasking affairs.

Instead of scarfing down a sandwich at your computer or behind the wheel of your car, take 15 minutes to truly savor your meal. Sit down, push everything else aside, give yourself plenty of room and actually taste what you're eating.

Think about the food you're putting into your mouth. Eat slowly and stop when you're comfortable. Remember that as your food reaches your stomach, you will feel full.

Check out nutritionist Heidi McIndoo's surefire tips on how to avoid emotional eating.

Share your own advice and read others' on the Mind-Body message boards.

Listen to Your Body

DAY FOUR: Exercise Your Body and Mind

Exercise is one of the best medicines we know of, and it's free. Because the mind follows where the body leads, exercise can relieve stress, reduce anxiety, improve your sex drive, decrease depression, help you sleep better and make you feel better about your body and yourself.

Your body was not designed to sit all day. It needs to move and stretch. But exercise doesn't have to be vigorous to be beneficial. Moderate-intensity activities such as gardening, washing the windows, climbing steps and house cleaning all qualify as exercise. Some people may feel the need to work up a sweat and get red in the face to feel satisfied with their workout, but it's not absolutely necessary. Again, it all comes down to what makes you feel good.

Your assignment: Choose a form of exercise that you enjoy and do it for 20 minutes today (or more!). If you are new to exercise or have special health considerations, be sure to consult your doctor first. A brisk walk around your neighborhood is an easy and safe aerobic activity. Can't get away? Bring the family along. Don't make it about goals or performance. Just note how you feel before you exercise, and after. Try to work a short routine into your schedule every day, even if it's just a 10-minute walk. You'll feel better that you did.

Listen to Your Body

DAY FIVE: Learn a Restful Pose

Today we're going to focus on relaxing the body.

Restorative yoga is a gentle form of yoga that is expressly designed to quiet the nervous system and give the body a chance to rejuvenate itself. Once you set yourself up in a restorative pose, the only work you need to do is to relax and breathe. These poses are a real treat, and a powerful tool to have in your arsenal of stress-reduction techniques.

Many yoga studios offer restorative classes on Fridays, when everyone could use a little help unwinding. If you like today's assignment, check in with your local studio and see if they offer a restorative class. If you think five minutes of restorative yoga feels good, imagine how you'd feel after an hour!

Your assignment: Learn and engage in the following restorative yoga pose that doesn't require anything except a little floor space in front of a wall.

Legs up the wall pose: Find an empty spot of wall with a clear floor space in front of it. Sit down next to the wall so that your right side is against the wall. Your right hip should be touching the wall; your legs extended out in front of you, parallel to the wall.

Bend your knees in toward your chest so your heels come toward your buttocks. Now roll down onto your left side, so that your entire body (or the left side of it) is on the floor. The bottom of your feet and your behind should be flat against the wall. Now roll onto your back and straighten your legs up against the wall. You should be in an L shape with your back on the floor and your legs up the wall (as pictured).

You can rest your hands on your belly, or you can extend your arms out over your head for an additional shoulder opening. Close your eyes and hold the pose for two to five minutes. Breathe deeply.

To come out of the pose, bend your knees and roll onto your left side. Slide yourself away from the wall and gently come back up into a seated position.

How do you feel? Talk about the experience on the Mind-Body message boards.


week three Clear Your Mind

DAY ONE: Start meditating Practicing meditation is the best way I know to step off the stress merry-go-round The average person has 60,000 thoughts a day-- many of which we're neither in control nor aware of. Meditation allows us to turn down the volume and slow down our thoughts so we can see what's really going on within ourselves. Meditation means consciously choosing to focus on something other than your thoughts. Its most basic form involves following your breath. It sounds simple, but is very difficult to master. To keep their minds from wandering, ancient yogis used meaningful words and phrases -- mantras or chants -- to redirect their attention. Spoken aloud or repeated silently, mantras are like the white lines of a highway: when you start to steer off course, your mantra will guide you back. Your assignment: Set yourself up somewhere quiet and private. If you prefer the floor, sit in a cross-legged position with a cushion, blanket or pillow under you. You want to keep your spine tall and lifted. Sitting with your back against the wall or in a straight-backed chair can help. If you choose a chair, sit on the front edge of the seat with your feet flat on the floor. Rest your palms on your thighs. I keep my eyes open when I am tired, and close them when my mind is moving a million miles a minute. You decide what suits you best today. If you choose to keep your eyes open, focus your gaze on the floor about two feet in front of you. Now spend five minutes listening to your breath (If you have a timer, set it so you won't have to keep an eye on time). As you inhale, say silently to yourself, "Inhale." And as you exhale, say, "Exhale." When you find your mind has wandered off, which it invariably will, gently return to where you left off. "Inhale" in. "Exhale" out. How did you feel before, during and after? Did the 5 minutes fly by, or inch along? Come share your experiences on the Mind-Body message board. Clear Your Mind DAY TWO: Take a Breather A vital component of physical health, your breath is a great indicator of what's going on with your emotions. When you're stressed, your breathing becomes faster and shallower. Your adrenaline starts pumping and your heart starts racing. If stress is an everyday occurrence, your body gets locked into a permanent state of high alert. The good news is that taking even one deep breath, way down into your lungs so that your belly expands into the waistband of your pants, helps your body turn off its stress response. Practicing breath awareness can help shift you out of emotional states that you may not even be aware you're in. Your assignment: Today, your assignment is simple. You're going to notice your breath and the power it has over your mind and your body. First, try the following breathing technique from Allen Elkin, PhD, director of the Stress Management and Counseling Center in New York City and author of Stress Management for Dummies: Take a deep breath, deeper than normal, and hold it in until you notice a little discomfort. At the same time, squeeze your thumb and index finger together (as if you're making the okay sign) for six or seven seconds. Exhale slowly through your mouth while releasing the pressure in your fingers and allow all your tension to drain out. Repeat these deep breaths three times. With each breath, allow your shoulders to droop, your jaw to drop and your body to relax. Periodically check in with your breath throughout the day. What is your breath like when you're resting, eating lunch or having a tense conversation with a loved one? How often do you find yourself holding your breath? Become extremely curious about the way you breathe. Before going to bed, take a few moments to practice your relaxation technique. Has it helped? Come share your findings on the Mind-Body message board -- we'll be comparing notes. Clear Your Mind DAY THREE: Visualization They say that where the mind goes, the body will follow. A lot of times, our tendency is to imagine various worst-case scenarios. How many times have you thought about what would happen if you lost your job, your partner or parent got sick, or you ran out of gas on the freeway? Now think about how powerful it would be if you could spend the same amount of energy imagining positive and rewarding experiences. Today we're going to concentrate on using the power of our minds to lead us to places where we actually want to be. Your assignment: Repeat your meditation practice from Monday. But this time, instead of focusing on your breath, visualize something positive, such as: • Seeing yourself work through a problem • Seeing someone you love work through a problem • Envisioning someone who annoys you finding happiness • Imagining a difficult conversation going well Set a timer for 5, 10 or 15 minutes so that you can concentrate on your visualization. While sitting in meditation, turn your attention to the sound of your breathing. Once you've settled in, call up the scenario you've decided to work on. Visualize the details of the situation and watch yourself work through it. At the end of your practice, notice what effect the practice had on your mind and body. Talk about your visualization with others on our Mind-Body message board. Clear Your Mind DAY FOUR: Guided Relaxation If I told you to relax, what would you do? Plop down in front of the TV? Take a nap? Take a deep breath and hope that was good enough? Sadly, none of these things have the power to help us truly relax -- to slow down, release tension, soothe jangled nerves and ultimately come back refreshed. Relaxation is a skill that has to be learned. And in our ever more stressful society, it's a skill that is only becoming more vital to our well-being. So today you're in for a treat. We've created a guided relaxation audio file for you to listen to and follow along with. Ideally, you'll be able to play it either on your computer or on an MP3 player. If not, you can print it out and have someone read it to you. Your assignment: Find someplace quiet where you can stretch out. Dim the lights, light a candle if you like and make sure your phone's ringer is off. Get a blanket to ensure you stay nice and warm. Lie on the floor on your back. Place a rolled-up blanket under your knees if your lower back has been bothering you lately. Then play the guided meditation, or walk yourself through it using the text version. When you're done and you've come back to your daily routine, come share your experiences on the Mind-Body message board. Clear Your Mind DAY FIVE: Meditating in Everyday Life "There is no enlightenment outside of daily life." --Thich Nhat Hanh, author of The Miracle of Mindfulness Not all meditation has to be done while you're sitting alone in a quiet place. Even the simple practice of taking a deep breath when you find yourself tensing up is a small but powerful meditation practice. Today you're going to identify the things that trigger stress for you and then consciously teach yourself to turn these triggers into an opportunity to relax. Your assignment: Choose something that sets your nerves on edge -- it could be your cell phone ringing, a siren, the sound of your child whining, the way your husband chews his food... Just make sure it's something you hear several times a day. Then resolve to take a deep breath each time you hear your trigger today. You're cultivating the ability to notice when you're getting pulled out of balance, and then you're taking a simple step to make yourself feel better. It may be a simple technique, but it's also profound. Do you notice any change in how you feel when you consciously take a full, deep inhale and exhale? Come tell us what you discover on the Mind-Body message board. ----- week four Focus on the Good DAY ONE: Practice Optimism "Being satisfied with what we already have is a magical golden key to being alive in a full, unrestricted and inspired way." --Pema Chodron, author of When Things Fall Apart There are two sides to every story, including the stories we tell ourselves. When I look in the mirror, I can look at the lines around my eyes and tell myself, "I'm getting old!" Or I can say, "Look at how much laughing I've done." They're both technically true, but the latter is obviously going to make me feel better. Your assignment: Pay close attention to the things you tell yourself, and make a concerted effort to tell the positive side of the story. Start small: What is the weather like? How does your breakfast taste? Then turn your positive spin to other people. Notice something you love about your partner, your roommate or your child. The real test will come when you're out in the world. Someone will cut you off in traffic, your least favorite coworker will send an annoying email, the clerk at the grocery store will be surly. Notice your first reaction, then make the effort to find something good to say about the situation. Maybe you can admire your coworker's dedication to doing her job, or appreciate the opportunity an aggressive driver gives you to practice your new way of thinking. I know this exercise can be challenging. It can also be extremely enlightening. The flip side of today's task is to notice how many times you want to say something negative. Don't chastise yourself -- after all, this week is about accentuating the positive. One of my teachers, Cyndi Lee, says that we can't break a habit we don't know we have. Just noticing is the first part of transformation. Let us know how you've done at the end of the day. Come share your insights and aggravations on the Mind-Body message board. Focus on the Good DAY TWO: Express Gratitude "Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted -- a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul." --Rabbi Harold Kushner Even on the worst days, when the phone won't stop ringing, the kids won't stop screaming and you can't find your keys, there are still things to be thankful for. The challenge, of course, is acknowledging them. Giving more attention to the good things in your life helps give them power to take root and grow. The more gratitude you can cultivate in yourself, the more you can spread the good feeling to other people. Your assignment: Take note of the things in your life that you are thankful for. People, gestures, events, a cool breeze, the sunshine -- nothing is too big or small. I suggest carrying around a small notebook in your purse to keep track of things as they occur to you. Or come share them on the Mind-Body message board. Then, tonight, spend a few minutes reflecting on the many things you have on your list. Focus on the Good DAY THREE: Laugh Therapy "Laughter is an instant vacation." --Milton Berle A laughing fit is as cathartic as a good cry. It really clears the mental decks. When you are engaged in a full belly laugh, all you are conscious of is that you are laughing. It is mindfulness and pure joy in action. And not that you need a reason, but laughter has been proven to lower blood pressure, increase the level of oxygen in the blood, work abdominal muscles and encourage the body to release endorphins. Your assignment: While you can't force a laugh, you can invite more humor into your life. Today, try to see the silliness that's lurking just below the surface. If something happens that annoys you, make a funny face or do a silly little jig. Notice how differently you feel when you greet life with a laugh instead of a grimace. And don't forget to spread your silliness on the Mind-Body message boards. Focus on the Good DAY FOUR: Let Go of an Old Hurt Because we're working on bringing more balance into our lives, we have to spend some time dealing with things that might be painful or unpleasant to think about. Are you ready? Odds are, you've experienced something in the past that didn't turn out the way you wanted it to, and it left you feeling a little bruised. Maybe a lot bruised. Today your task is to revisit that situation with the goal of releasing any remaining hurt and blame. You may be disappointed by a situation or even angry at yourself. By working through any residual pain you may be carrying around, you can clear some mental and emotional space to welcome new, more fulfilling people and situations into your life. Your assignment: Write a letter to yourself describing the hurtful situation. Does it look as bad now as it did then? Explain why your feelings were hurt and own up to your negative contributions. Apologize for any pain you may have caused. And if it's yourself that you haven't forgiven, now is the time to be kind to yourself and to let go of self-blame. See every side of the situation and wish those who hurt you happiness. Finally, get rid of the letter in the way that brings you the most closure -- you can send it, tear it up and throw it away, burn it, bury it... Whatever method you choose, do it with the intention of fully releasing yourself from any lingering emotions. As you dispose of it, remind yourself that being able to forgive other people begins with being able to forgive yourself. Focus on the Good DAY FIVE: Try Something New Now that you've worked to release yourself from an old hurt, you've created an opening in your life. This is a great opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and try something new and fulfilling. What's been tugging at your curiosity lately? Whether you've been dreaming of doing something big or toying with something smaller, take one step toward making it happen today. It could be a long-term goal, such as running a marathon or learning a new language, or it could be a more modest ambition, like taking a cooking class or a trip to a nearby city, learning to knit or joining a book club. Your assignment: Take two minutes to list some of the things you'd like to do. This list isn't about the things you feel you should do. It's about naming the things that sound interesting, fun and gratifying. Now look at your list and figure out which thing is calling to you the loudest. Don't feel daunted if it's the most ambitious thing on your list, or guilty if it's the smallest. Just dedicate yourself to doing one small thing over the weekend to make it a reality. If your goal is running a marathon, run around your block. (Hey, it's more than you would've done without the list!) If it's taking a class, call and request a catalog or look up the schedule online. It doesn't matter how small the step is. It only matters that you take it. Finally, come and share your list on the Mind-Body message board. We'll be comparing notes and cheering each other on. Maybe you'll even find someone in your neighborhood to join forces with! ------- week 5 Connect With Others DAY ONE: Cultivate Compassion In his book The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama defines compassion as "a mental attitude based on the wish for others to be free of their suffering... [it] include[s] a wish for good things for oneself." Compassion may seem like a selfless endeavor, but we actually benefit tremendously from it. Feelings of compassion can improve the functioning of our immune system, lessen depression and increase our sense of well-being. Caring for others may even lead to a more satisfying love life, according to a 2004 University of Chicago study. What makes compassion so powerful? It opens your heart, paving the way for you to feel more connected to, and forgiving of, others. When absorbed in your own little world, you get lost in routine and, whether you feel it or not, detach yourself from others. Compassion is a powerful antidote to the rigidity and isolation that creep in when you're preoccupied with yourself. Best of all, it's a skill that can be developed through practice, which is exactly what we're going to focus on this week. Your assignment: Today you're going to practice what Buddhists refer to as metta, or loving-kindness. Choose one of these simple ways to begin exercising your compassion muscles: • Take 10 minutes to reflect on the people who support you and keep you going every day. As you think of each person, picture his or her face and say to yourself, silently or out loud, "May [insert name] be happy, healthy and free from suffering." • Reflect on the positive things you've done recently, whether for yourself or for someone else. Allow yourself to spend several minutes reveling in how good it feels when you do nice things for yourself and for others. • Take 10 minutes to acknowledge and appreciate yourself. Say to yourself, either silently or out loud, "May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy." Or, if these traditional Buddhist phrases don't resonate with you, come up with your own positive wishes for yourself. Connect With Others DAY TWO: Smile at a Stranger "My religion is kindness." --the Dalai Lama In certain instances, it is easy to feel compassion. When you're watching the news and you see footage of people huddled on the roof of their home waiting to be rescued from rising floodwater, it's easy to imagine how it must feel to be one of those people and to genuinely wish them well. Bringing compassion into your daily life can be more challenging. How can you feel compassion for your neighbor who mows his lawn early on Saturday mornings; or for telemarketers, who have the most thankless jobs; or for yourself when you catch a glimpse of yourself with bed head and puffy eyes? The answer: Start simple. Your assignment: Throughout the day, make it a point to perform small gestures of kindness. Smile at a stranger, feed someone's expired parking meter or hold a door open for someone who has her hands full. And don't forget to offer yourself the same treatment. If you're tired, allow yourself time to rest; if you're stressed, give yourself the gift of a short walk outside. Notice how these moments of generosity make you feel. You may still get annoyed by a loud cell-phone talker. But try to persevere and let your patience build. Part of this practice is developing compassion for yourself, so don't get down on yourself if you're sometimes thinking unkind thoughts. Connect With Others DAY THREE: A Day Without Gossip Raise your hand if you know what a TomKat is. I know my hand is raised as I write this. We are a culture obsessed with real-life celebrity drama. What's going on with our friends, neighbors and coworkers is pretty darn fascinating too. The trouble with gossip is that it serves no real purpose other than distraction (and defamation). After all, it's much easier to analyze someone else's problems than to work on your own. Spreading rumors or stories usually comes from a place of judgment, from someone dissatisfied with his or her own self or life. Some experts believe gossiping can lead to stress, hostility and contempt for others. Besides, we all know how it feels to be the brunt of gossip: not good. Gossip takes you away from concentrating on what's important, like building meaningful relationships, taking care of your physical and emotional health, and pursuing a fulfilling life. Raise your hand if you wish you spent more time focusing on these important aspects of your life. Are you seeing what I'm seeing? The gossip's gotta go. Your assignment: Test yourself: Can you go a day without gossip? That means no US Weekly, no Page Six, no Entertainment Tonight. It also means no talking about someone else's personal life when she's not around -- whether it's your sister, your girlfriend, your neighbor or your coworker. This is a great opportunity to discover what you have left to talk about when you take other people out of your daily rotation. Connect With Others DAY FOUR: Give the Gift of Friendship "Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born." --Anais Nin Life moves so fast these days that it can be a big challenge to keep up with the people you love. As you get older, you might start to believe you don't have time to form new friendships or keep up with old ones. But there's a very good reason to make the effort to reach out: Scientific findings show that people with strong social networks live longer. Your assignment: Today your goal is to foster a friendship. Choose your method from the list below: • Take back the postal service and send something to someone you love. You don't have to write a novel to let a friend or family member know you're thinking about her. You can send a postcard, tear out an article you know she'd like or photocopy a picture of the two of you together and write "I miss you" on the back. • Know you'll never get around to buying stamps? Call up a friend and make plans. Your goal is to get a date on the calendar for the two of you to go do something -- no excuses, and no canceling! • Is there someone you'd like to get to know better? Take a leap of faith and invite him or her out for coffee or lunch. Connect With Others DAY FIVE: Love the Difficult Person in Your Life "It's a thin line between love and hate." --the Persuaders So far this week, you've worked on developing compassion for yourself and for others. For the most part, you've concentrated on people you either like or don't know. Today, you're going to step it up a notch. You're going to make a conscious effort to identify with someone who gets under your skin, and then you're going to wish that person well. (I'll pause here to let that sink in.) Feeling compassion for yourself and for your friends is lovely. It's wonderful. But you won't experience any kind of lasting transformation if you can't summon up compassion when you're up against the ropes. The real reason you need to do this is because what drives you crazy in others is generally something that you recognize -- and dislike -- in yourself. Martha Beck, a well-known life coach, calls it the "you spot it, you got it" syndrome. If you can forgive the difficult people in your life for their faults, perhaps you'll be able to forgive yourself too. Your assignment: Spend 10 minutes sitting quietly. Think of someone who makes you feel angry, irritated or impatient. Take time to understand what might cause that person to act a certain way. Could it be loneliness, insecurity, fear? Now practice the same loving-kindness meditation that we did on Monday. Repeat silently to yourself, "May this person be happy. May this person be healthy. May this person be free from suffering." Finally, notice how this makes you feel. Have your feelings for this person shifted in any way? ------ week 6 Make It Stick DAY ONE: Take Stock of the Past Five Weeks Welcome to the final week of the challenge. For over a month, you've been exploring ways to feel better in your mind and body. How are you feeling? What has clicked for you? What didn't work out so well? These last few weeks have been a whirlwind tour. I don't expect that everything will have resonated with you or even have made sense. But hopefully some of the things we've covered have helped you to feel better and have gotten you excited -- or at least intrigued. Today your task is to check in with yourself and see how the last five weeks have affected you. Your assignment: Make a list of the things you experienced during the challenge that changed the way you feel or think. Also note what you're still confused about or would like to work on more. You don't have to make any decisions yet about how to keep your momentum going. We'll get to that in a couple of days. Today, just put on your most objective hat and decide what worked for you and what didn't. Your fellow challengers and I will be swapping our lists on the Mind-Body message board, and we'd love to hear what worked (and what didn't) for you. Come visit us and share your results. Make It Stick DAY TWO: Celebrate the Small Stuff Okay, so are you balanced yet? I'm kidding. Balance is not something that happens to you and then you're done. (I'm so sorry to be the bearer of bad news.) It's a perpetual process. So what that means is, you have to celebrate your successes along the way -- even if they're small. In fact, particularly if they're small. Congratulating yourself for your everyday victories not only makes you feel good; it also inspires you to keep on going. Today, your task is to take note of all the positive things that you've done or experienced since beginning this challenge. Absolutely everything counts! Your assignment: List the things that happened or the insights you had in the last six weeks that made you feel as if you were moving toward a more balanced life. And then brag about them! Be shameless -- you've spent a lot of time and energy on trying new things, and you deserve heaps of praise. Jot your list down in your journal or hang it on the fridge or at the office. Make mention of some of your successes in conversations with your family and friends. I know I'd love to hear what's been working for you. Please come share your list on the Mind-Body message board. Make It Stick DAY THREE: Set Immediate and Far-Off Goals Now that you've assessed what methods help you stay grounded, and now that you've had a chance to savor the feeling of being more in tune with your mind and body, it's time to make some decisions about what happens next. After all, if you don't know where you're going, how will you ever get there? Your assignment: Spend time reviewing the goals you set at the beginning of the challenge and your list of things that worked (which you created Monday). Now decide, what do you want to continue working on? Break down the things you'd like to keep doing into manageable chunks -- goals to work toward in the next month, three months, six months and a year. Try to think of them not as things to achieve and check off your list, but as commitments that you want to live up to and practices that you want to incorporate into your life going forward. For example, if the restorative yoga pose we did in week two felt really good, you could decide to incorporate more yoga into your life. So, for the next month, your goal could be to find a yoga studio, gym class, book or DVD that you like. (Use our list of helpful resources to guide you along.) Then, for the next three months, you could commit to practicing once a week, and for the following six months, twice a week. In a year's time, you could aim to practice three times a week and notice a considerable change in your body. The key is to start slow and remember that you are making changes that can serve you for an entire lifetime. If you're the type of person who needs to establish a routine to make it stick, work it in daily, but don't overdo it. You don't want to burn yourself out. Make It Stick DAY FOUR: Join a Community Everybody needs help staying on the path to balance. There will be times when you're so busy, or tired, or whatever, that you will just want to lie on the couch and eat cookies or chips every day. That's where the concept of sangha (community) comes in. The Buddhists believe that sangha is a vital piece of any personal practice. When you want to step off the path, your sangha can help keep you on track. That's why we call it a Community Challenge -- because we rely on one another's support to motivate us through these six weeks. Now that they're coming to an end, it's time to make sure you have people to check in with to keep you going. Your assignment: Decide how you will get support in keeping your healthy choices going, and take one small step toward making it happen. There are many types of communities out there. You just have to find the right one for you. Some suggestions: • Visit the iVillage message boards • Join a yoga studio • Start your own support group or club by inviting friends to meet regularly and celebrate successes, overcome problems and brainstorm new ways to stay inspired • Find a friend to be your goal buddy, and check in with each other every week • Meet someone new to become your workout buddy; post an ad on Craigslist.org, reach out on the Mind-Body message boards, or search online sites for activity partners Today, make a step toward establishing your sangha. Print out the schedule for a nearby yoga studio, email a friend to see if she'd like to be a goal buddy or visit the message boards and find yourself a cyberbuddy. Make It Stick DAY FIVE: Reward Yourself Congratulations! You've now spent six weeks working toward some of life's most important goals -- reducing stress, prioritizing happiness and putting yourself and your health first. Honor your efforts by treating yourself to something that makes you feel truly happy. Your assignment: Do something nice for yourself. Here are some ideas: • Make plans to spend time with someone who makes you feel really good • Buy yourself a treat that you always wanted but talked yourself out of for some reason • Sign up for a class in something you've always wanted to try • Treat yourself to a spa visit or a delicious meal out • Give yourself the gift of some "me" time -- turn off the phone, shut the door and do whatever you darn well please I've really enjoyed working with you these last few weeks. Your dedication and openness to new things is inspiring! May your personal path to balance be rewarding, interesting and ultimately fulfilling. Take care and keep breathing, Kate