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Ready for a Change? These 3 Steps May Help

Looking inward may help you gain clarity

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Do you feel stuck in a rut? What if you could get out of autopilot mode and forge a new path? Truth is, you can. Often, the hard part is figuring out how to break free from your existing routines and patterns.   

Making time for relaxing, contemplative activities such as walking meditation, restorative yoga and journaling may help. Those approaches allow you to get in touch with your deeper feelings to begin mapping out the life you want to live. Consider these three ways to get off the mundane merry-go-round so your dreams can take shape: 

1. Practice walking meditation

Mindfulness practice — paying attention to what’s happening in the present, without judgment — has been linked to lower levels of perceived stress in many studies, including one involving more than 2,000 adults ages 18 to over 65, reported in 2021 in Frontiers in Psychology. The practice comes in many forms, including walking meditation, says Sara Lazar, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. The idea is to walk slowly while paying attention to your senses and surroundings — from chirping birds or the hum of a city bus rushing by to the way your feet hit the ground. “Start with 10 or 15 minutes,” Lazar says. “Set an intention of staying in the present moment … focusing on your direct experience, rather than planning your day or rehashing a conversation you had earlier.”

By quieting the mind, walking meditation and other mindfulness practices can help you observe situations rather than react to them, Lazar says. Mindfulness can also promote “fluid intelligence,” which helps people solve problems in new, creative ways, according to research by Lazar and others. In her team’s study of 47 middle-aged adults ages 39 to 69 published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience in 2014, those who practiced yoga or meditation had slower decline in fluid intelligence over time than nonpractitioners. Classes such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR, are great ways to learn walking meditation and other forms of mindfulness practice, Lazar adds.

2. Try restorative yoga to release tension

Restorative yoga, a practice that uses foam blocks, bolsters and other props to support the body, can help with managing stress, says Colorado-based yoga instructor Kerry Temple-Wood. With each pose, pay attention to your breath, especially the exhale, because it connects the mind to the body, Temple-Wood says. “The long, deep exhale tends to settle you into your body and helps shift the mind out of autopilot,” she explains. Slow breathing may lead to changes in the central nervous system and corresponding feelings of relaxation and reduced anxiety, according to a 2018 review of 15 studies published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

A gentle pose known as Legs Up the Wall suits people of nearly any fitness level, Temple-Wood says. Start by lying on your back perpendicular to a wall, on a towel or yoga mat. Stretch your legs up the wall, scooting your buttocks and hips as close to the wall as you can while remaining comfortable. Close your eyes and breathe slowly, letting your belly rise on each inhale and fall on each exhale. Stay in the pose for 10 minutes or however long is comfortable. Holding this and other gentle, restorative poses can help relieve tension because you’re “not pushing muscles beyond what they’re able or ready to do,” she notes.

3. Grab a journal to reveal your thoughts and desires

Find some of your favorite pens and a blank journal to record your thoughts and emotions. Writing about deeper thoughts and feelings can ease emotional distress and help people cope in healthier ways, according to a study of 66 health professionals ages 21 to 60 reported in 2017 in Acta Biomedica.

Journaling can also help you discover ideas. “Writing and using a pen gives the subconscious mind a vehicle to find inner expression, versus the rational mind that says, ‘I should do this,’ ” Temple-Wood says. Journaling often provides you with “reflections and kernels of truth” or “hidden gems,” she adds. Be on the lookout for ideas about new paths, such as making relationship changes or pursuing career yearnings that nourish your soul.

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