Maria Connolly, LPC

Category: Mindfulness

Mindfulness provides access to powerful inner resources so we can change the way we see and ultimately experience difficult situations. We’re empowered to participate in these situations – and interact with the world at large – as we work with what arises instead of trying to escape.

You Can Be Merry and Be Healthy – It’s Okay to Take Care of Yourself!

it's okay to take care of yourselfDon’t you love the holiday season with its bright lights, lovely music, and pleasant aromas of pine trees and baked goodies? It’s such a festive time of the year!

Yet all that glistens is not gold, as the saying goes. There are inevitable stresses during this time of year. Rather than writing a typical “how to relieve your holiday stress” article, I’m sharing something you really need to hear…

But first…Which of the follow stress triggers really get you down the most? (Please come over to my Facebook Page and let’s share.)

  • Is it feeling trapped by obligations, being pushed beyond what you can physically and emotionally handle?
  • Is it spending beyond your budget, thinking you’ll deal with it later, when in reality the bills nag at you, robbing you of joy?
  • Is it falling into unhealthy patterns due to your history, family traditions and personal beliefs?
  • Is it being thrown together with a family member who brings you pain?
  • Is it seeing an empty place where a loved one was last year, but isn’t this year?
  • Is it the disruption to your routine that allows little down time that makes you crazy?
  • Is it feeling guilty for eating and drinking things you normally wouldn’t?

Your ability to handle all of these stress triggers revolves around one thing…your self-care. And I’m sure you’ve already read plenty of articles of how to deal with holiday stress that tell you to do this and do that. What you really need is permission to take care of yourself – to be told it’s not selfish to nurture your own wellbeing. So let me reassure you…

It’s okay to set limits to what you can do physically and emotionally.

It’s okay to set a budget for what you can spend and then stick to it.

It’s okay to do things differently than everyone else.

It’s okay to start a new family tradition.

It’s okay to schedule alone time to think about how you can make even a slight change in the coming year.

It’s okay to be more deliberate about your choices.

It’s okay to indulge a little.

It’s okay to treat yourself to a massage or a brief getaway to gain some breathing room.

It’s okay to walk away from family squabbles and go for a walk or to the gym.

It’s okay to insist on getting to bed at a reasonable hour.

It’s okay to bring new meaning into your holiday: identifying why and what are you celebrating… family, connection, or spiritual growth.

It’s okay to take time out to do breathing exercises to center and balance yourself when you feel tense.

It’s okay to view friends as family, if your family has let you down.

It’s okay to say, “No! Not this year”.

Didn’t you feel the stress flow away as you read, “it’s okay”? We all need reassurance that we can choose what’s okay for us.  In the same manner, we respectfully and lovingly allow others to have the same freedom of choice. As each person calmly explains their point of view, it can promote peace and greater awareness – the very foundation of being merry and being healthy. And that’s what I wish for you. Have a happy holiday season everyone! See you on my Facebook Page.

Breathe Your Way to Wellness With the Yoga Alternate Nostril Breathing Technique

Yoga alternate nostril breathing techniqueDo you find that you don’t appreciate the little experiences of each day as much as you should, whether it’s a pleasant conversation, a delightful meal or a spectacular sunset? Don’t you owe it to yourself to savour these gifts? We can all create greater appreciation and connection with our world by slowing down and becoming more aware. Connecting our appreciation with our breathing is an excellent way to do this.

In my last post I shared some breathing exercises for you to try. Do you find that you forget to deeply breathe for days on end? It’s not unusual that your mind gets busy with day-to-day concerns and that it has trouble quieting down. One thing I’ve found to be very helpful is to leave visual reminders throughout your home, car and office. It could be as simple as coloured dots strategically placed to catch your eye and remind you to slow down and breathe. Or you could use fashionable wall art, signs, or shelf decoration that remind you to breathe.

Rather than worrying about the past or the future, learn to be present in the moment.

Use breathing to achieve awareness. Practice cueing your breathing process throughout the day in a variety of good and bad circumstances (cooking a meal, travelling to work, talking with a co-worker). Breathing in reminds you to open yourself fully to the experience, to how you feel, what you’re thinking, and how you’re reacting. Breathing out lets the tension, worry, and anxiety flow away. The next inhalation opens you again.

You can counteract emotional distress, fear, grief and anxiety by simply learning to breathe through the experience. It doesn’t matter if the strong emotion is caused by something real or imagined. What you perceive or believe in your mind manifests in your body in a physical way. You become tense, and tension affects your ability to think clearly, act rationally, breathe deeply and relax. Tension also causes pain, anxiety and panic. Shallow breathing serves in a self-protective function – that of cutting off a feeling you don’t want to handle. On the other hand, if you can learn to release your strong emotions through breathing awareness, you can break the negative, destructive power of these strong emotions. The conscious use of breath is a valuable tool in learning to express emotions appropriately.

Today I’d like to teach you how to do the yoga alternate nostril breathing, which will significantly enhance your emotional wellbeing. Involving both nostrils allows your body to become balanced. But first you must increase your awareness of imbalanced breathing so you can bring it back into balance. I encourage you to do this exercise in short practice sessions daily.

  • Exhale completely, using both nostrils.
  • Press your finger against your right nostril, closing it completely.
  • Inhale slowly and smoothly through the left nostril only.
  • Hold that inhaled breath for a few comfortable seconds.
  • Then close the left nostril and exhale through the right nostril.
  • Hold while comfortable.
  • Inhale through the right nostril only.
  • Release your left nostril and close off the right.
  • Exhale through the left nostril. Hold.
  • Keep switching between left and right nostrils as you inhale and exhale rhythmically for a total of 10 to 15 sets.
  • Go back to breathing through both nostrils.

Your body really does know how to heal itself if you provide it with the balance and harmony it needs. Breathing is a primary method for correcting any disharmony. Learn to listen to what your body is telling you as it attempts to regain balance. Responding to those messages and you’ll feel more centered and at peace as you learn to accept your limitations and be forgiving of yourself and others.

More than creating greater satisfaction in life, proper breathing can increase your concentration, assist you to tune into your deeper, creative self, AND make you physically, emotionally and mentally healthier. Are you ready to feel a greater connectedness with your family, friends, community, and the Earth? Contact me and I’ll support, coach and hold you accountable as you create the deeply meaningful life you crave.

Tap into the Powerful Anatomy of Breathing to Promote Better Health

Anatomy of BreathingAir is the first food of the newborn. ~ Edward Rosenfeld

Does it seem strange that we need to learn how to breathe properly? Don’t we breathe naturally from the moment we’re born? And we couldn’t quit, even if we wanted. If we hold our breath, our bodies force us to gasp for air. If we’re deprived of it for only a matter of minutes, we suffer.

So can there really be a right or wrong way to breath? Is there a way to harness your breathing to create a greater connection with your world as you release stress and tension? Could stress relief simply be a breath away? Why is it vital that we stop taking our ability to breathe for granted?

To answer these questions, let’s consider how breathing promotes better health…

With each breath of clean air, the diaphragm and other muscles pulls the chest cavity down while elevating and widening the rib cage, thereby creating a larger area for the lungs to expand fully as they pull in oxygen. Your red blood cells absorb this oxygen and transport it via your blood stream to every cell in your body. As these oxygen-rich cells travel through your system, there are countless chemical interactions that result in giving you greater energy and mental clarity.

The problem is that aspects of a modern lifestyle restrict our daily breathing process. What are some of these?

  1. Pollution

Our environment may be polluted by toxic elements from car exhaust, industrial pollution, off gassing of chemicals like formaldehyde in the rugs and furnishings in our homes. Another problem is the self-imposed pollution of smoking tobacco.

  1. Lack of Oxygen

Our homes are so tightly sealed up for the winter that there’s little air exchange, so we’re not getting an adequate supply of fresh oxygen. We wear restrictive clothing or have poor posture that doesn’t allow us to breathe deeply.

  1. Restrictive Emotions

We carry harmful emotions that restrict our airflow such as anger, fear, anxiety and grief. Breathlessness can be caused by anxiety.

What do these restrictions to our anatomy of breathing do to your health?

  • Your metabolism slows down.
  • Your brain can’t function optimally, producing brain fog.
  • Your organs are starved of oxygen reducing their function and the quality of your life.
  • The elasticity of the lungs diminishes causing shallow breathing.
  • Relationships suffer because you become short tempered, irritated, and on edge.

How can enhancing the anatomy of breathing promote better health?

Just ask any pregnant woman in labor or athlete who wants to excel at their sport if they benefited from learning how to breathe in a more focused way. They will resoundingly answer “Yes!” Breathing isn’t just for critical times like these. It’s important for everyone to create an awareness of how we are breathing every day. How do we do that?

There are two main ways to incorporate healthier breathing techniques…

Practice proper posture. Throughout the day we do many things that restrict our breathing, such as slouching. The solution is to strengthen the core muscles of the abdomen, buttocks, thighs, and genital region. Also concentrate on keeping your shoulders rotated up and back, opening up the chest and bringing the spine into alignment.

Periodically expand your lungs to their fullest capacity.  Do this exercise while still in bed every morning. Then again numerous times throughout the day as you’re either sitting or standing. Remember to breathe through your nose.

  • Exhale slowly, as you pull in your belly muscles.
  • Inhale slowly as you expand the abdomen.
  • Continue inhaling as you expand your rib cage.
  • Continue inhaling as you feel your collarbone lift.
  • Pause briefly, without holding.
  • Exhale in reverse order slowly. Release the shoulders, relax the chest, tighten the belly.
  • Do as many times as is comfortable.

Practice breathing so the inhalation and exhalation are of equal duration. Next, push the exhalation to become a little longer. The more you practice, the greater your awareness will become. Do you wish there was someone guiding you toward greater mindfulness in your life? Contact me and we’ll discuss your heath goals and how you can achieve them.

Healthy breathing is just one indicator of your wellness. There are seven to keep in mind if you want to perform at your peak. If you haven’t taken the 7-Point Body Wellness Assessment yet, click here to download your free copy.

Sleeping Tips: Seven Ways to Sleep Like a Baby Again

sleeping like a baby tipsNothing is as peaceful or sweet as a tiny baby sleeping in his or her crib. Do you remember the last time you had a refreshingly, uninterrupted night’s sleep and you could say, “I slept like a baby”? When babies are deeply asleep, nothing disturbs them. Is it possible for you to sleep that soundly again?

As sleep expert James Maas, Ph.D., author of Sleep for Success and Power Sleep says, “When it comes to getting rest, adults should do things more like infants do. Adults are always trying to work both ends of the clock, staying up late, getting up early. They treat sleep as a luxury and it is not. It’s a necessity and babies already know that.”

What are some sleeping tips we should learn from babies?

1. Make sleep a priority.

When babies are tired, they go to sleep. As adults, we try to cram as much into a day, often sacrificing sleep to other less important pursuits, like watching that late night TV show and getting up ultra early the next morning to catch up on something we neglected to do. If you want to sleep like a baby, the smart thing is to prioritize what’s important to you and rearrange your activities around the 7 to 9 hours you need for a full night’s sleep

2. Stick to your sleep schedule.

If you don’t want a cranky baby, you honor the baby’s routine. By keeping the same bedtime and wake up time each day, even on the weekends, you’ll have more energy and will bounce back more quickly from the occasional late or sleepless night.

3. Initiate a wind-down ritual before bedtime.
Most parents prepare their babies for bed by giving them a bath, reading a story or singing a lullaby. If you want to sleep like a baby, you can benefit from a similar wind-down ritual. Schedule 30 to 60 minutes every evening to allow your body to transition from the day’s stress to a night of inactivity. Turn off the electronics and TV and keep them out of the bedroom. Meditate. Do some light reading. Listen to music. Take a warm bath. Write in your gratitude journal. Clear your mind by jotting down tomorrow’s to-do list, putting it on the table and mentally walking away from it.

4. Don’t obsess about sleep. When a baby can’t sleep, mom rocks her to sleep while humming a restful tune. If you’re lying awake, use an APP to play soothing music and schedule it to go off in 45 minutes. Or it’s fine to turn the light on and read a few pages in your book or use the time for meditation until you fall asleep.

5. Don’t hit the snooze button. Babies sleep until they wake up naturally. Rather than artificially forcing yourself to awaken, go to sleep earlier, sleep uninterruptedly until you absolutely must get up, then get out of bed when the alarm goes off. In time, if you’re getting enough sleep, you won’t even need the alarm clock.

6. Exercise throughout the day

When babies are awake, they’re constantly moving, strengthening their muscles for the day they can run around the house. Too many of us have sedentary jobs. Then we go home mentally exhausted only to sit around some more. Because exercising right before bedtime isn’t the best practice, doing some sort of physical activity throughout the day will make you tired enough to sleep. As little as three, 10 minutes bursts of exercise throughout the day – like walking, climbing stairs, and stretching – can help you sleep better at night.

7. Watch what you consume

A sugary drink before bedtime can cause your baby to be agitated and hyperactive. What we feed on physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually affect how well we sleep. Even the quality of our relationships with family, friends, and business associates will dictate how well you sleep. So take some time this week to mindfully identify how your daily decisions affect your quality of sleep.

Sleep is so important because it’s the only way for our bodies to energize, reboot and regenerate. Babies have it right. Sadly, when we grow up we get away from the healthiest routine.  However, we can always improve by making little incremental changes. You can’t expect to fall asleep and wake up feeling refreshed by drastically altering your sleep/wake up times. Shift things by 15 minutes every week. Go to sleep 15 minutes earlier and get out of bed 15 minutes earlier. Over the course of a few weeks you’ll ease into a new schedule.

Sleep is just one indicator of your wellness. There are seven we all need to be mindful of. If you haven’t taken the 7-Point Body Wellness Assessment yet, maybe it’s time. Click here to download your free copy.

Choosing Gratitude – The Recipe for a Happier, More Meaningful Life

choosing gratitude for a happier and more meaningful life “When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” ~ Lao Tzu

Your feelings are your choice. You can choose to feel down or you can choose gratitude, which opens your world to peace, happiness and health. Gratitude means being continually mindful of how much you’ve been given. To say you’re grateful doesn’t mean everything in your life is great all the time. It just means you can see the goodness. Yet, because our brains are hardwired to track danger and potential challenges, we aren’t primed to notice the beautiful things around us. Instead we take things, ourselves and others for granted.

It’s easier to be grateful when things are going well. But it’s harder to stay open to gratitude during depressing times, tragedies and challenges. (When the attack on Paris happened I felt so sad and powerless against the enormous tragedy. At the same time, I felt deep gratitude and blessing for how the world came together to show solidarity toward France).

What happens when you withhold gratitude?

  • You’re more subject to depression and affliction.
  • You experience greater wear and tear when life brings challenges.
  • You naturally focus on what’s bad and hard.

On the other hand, what are the benefits of choosing gratitude?

  • Gratitude shifts your focus from what you think your life lacks to the abundance you already have. 
  • Gratitude makes you happier and more resilient.
  • Gratitude strengthens relationships.
  • Gratitude improves your immune system and your health.
  • Gratitude reduces stress and depression.
  • Gratitude increases determination, optimism and energy.
  • Gratitude makes reaching your personal goals more attainable.
  • Gratitude puts situations into perspective so you don’t complain or stay stuck.
  • Gratitude lessens panic and opens up your thinking of new solutions as you see what’s still working for you.
  • Gratitude helps you learn to love and accept yourself as you are.


Feeling gratitude is good. Expressing gratitude is better. Dr. Emmons, author of the book, Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happierfound that practicing gratitude can increase your happiness levels by 25%. This means your natural happiness set-point becomes, and is sustained at, a higher level regardless of outside influences.

What’s the first step in becoming more grateful? First you must learn to recognize what you’re grateful for. Try this gratitude exercise: 1) Imagine losing the things you take for granted – your home, a relationship, your senses such as hearing and seeing, your ability to walk. How does that feel? 2) Now, imagine getting each one back again. Fully experience the gratefulness wash over you.

Next, learn to acknowledge and appreciate the goodness in your life by daily journaling a gratitude list. Here are 12 suggestions for how to do that…

  1. Open your mind by attaching appreciation for everyone you contact daily.
  2. Get a beautiful journal and pen to record your special gratitude list.
  3. Commit to a regular time each day to write in your gratitude journal.
  4. Write 10 different things you’re grateful for and describe how they make you feel.
  5. Close your journal and breathe deeply as you center yourself in your feelings.
  6. Be amazed at all the goodness you’ve been taking for granted.
  7. Reframe every negative into a positive.
  8. When something bad happens, think, “What can I learn? When I look back on this moment, what will I be grateful for?”
  9. Give one genuine compliment daily by specifically saying what you appreciate about someone or about what they’ve done.
  10. Ask someone to share your appreciation. For example, “I think this sunset is gorgeous, don’t you?”
  11. Cultivate humility to let gratitude in…accept that you need others to make your life complete.
  12. Allow yourself to be human. If you miss a journaling day, do it the next.


Gratitude is a powerful emotion for both the giver and the receiver. Yes, you must receive gratitude from others, as well as, give it. In doing so, you gift the giver with feeling capable, needed and valued.

It doesn’t happen over night but you can learn to become aware of and acknowledge everything you receive, whether good or bad, with gratitude. Contact me if you’d like to work with me in person or over skype to learn to live a more grateful and embodied life.

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