Meditation for Non-Meditators

By Amy Kim, Psy.D.

People have become more drawn to the ancient practice of meditation out of desperation to feel calmer and happier. But the common belief that meditation will immediately make you relaxed is misguided; meditation does not make you more relaxed, at least in the beginning.

The purpose of meditation is to go inward and get to know yourself – including all the ins and out of your mind’s processes, the thoughts that are constantly churning, and the multitude of sensations and perceptions that often go unnoticed. The point is to get to know your inner workings. Why is this important? Without knowing yourself (and everything that’s going on inside of you), you can’t possibly be in charge of yourself, which means you’re not in charge of your life. Meditation helps to increase awareness of your thoughts, feelings, tendencies and habits that, left unaware and not managed, lead to tension, stress, sadness, fear and irritability, among other things. But for many, the thought of a formal lotus-position meditation practice is intimidating or downright unappealing. Here’s what you can do instead:

Find a moment or moments throughout the day to simply DO NOTHING. Here is one definition of how to be mindful and meditative: PAY ATTENTION. Here is another one: JUST NOTICE. Even while driving, take a few moments and sit before you start the engine. Pay attention. Just notice your thoughts, feelings, and perceptions within and without. Before you get out of your car to walk into your home at the end of the day, take a moment, sit, and practice being still; see what you notice. If you’re sitting in an Uber or Lyft, instead of looking at your phone, take a moment to pay attention to your breath, your thoughts, your feelings. Before you check your phone or get out of bed, take a moment, be still, and see what you notice – thoughts, feelings, sensations. Before you turn on the tv, sit, take a moment, be still, and pay attention to what’s going on inside you and around you.

These are micro-moments where you can start to get to know yourself. By getting to know your insides better, you can start to make choices that work for you; perhaps you notice tension or pain where you didn’t know any existed. Perhaps you notice the same racing thoughts that cause a lot of discomfort. Perhaps you notice that you can’t sit still and are always fidgeting. Perhaps the same fear-based thoughts afflict your every day. Perhaps the same behaviors keep you feeling depressed and tired. Only by taking moments to be still and tune in to what’s going on can you notice these habits and then actually do something about them. Effective therapy can guide you through this process but the awareness part cannot be skipped. First, notice what’s going on in an open, curious, nonjudgmental, and compassionate way. Then, decide what you want to change. And only then, will you be equipped to make positive changes that can transform your life.

How to Feel Better

By Amy Kim, Psy.D.

Whether or not you’re seeking therapy, everyone, no matter what, is always putting their energy towards feeling better. There is so much lately about wellness, health and bio/life hacking as efforts to simply feel better – emotionally, physically and mentally. But feeling better or being happier isn’t as complex or as much of a mystery as it’s made out to be. It’s not found in the perfect workout, the perfect relationship, the perfect job, the perfect health, the next achievement, a magic superfood or supplement, or some way of eating (or not eating). It’s not in making more money, waiting until your family is just so, or having a certain body. Feeling better can happen right here, right now. How, you ask? Here are the basics:

1)    Sleep: Sleep is as important as anything else in having emotional, physical and mental health. Without enough sleep, your mood will suffer, you’ll be more susceptible to irritability, anxiety and overwhelm, your hormones will be imbalanced, your eating habits and food choices will be impaired, and your mental and physical performance will suffer.

2)    Eat responsibly: Do not pursue the perfect diet or an eating dogma (paleo, vegan, keto, pescatarian, no dairy, no sugar, no wheat, ad infinitum…you fill in the blank). You must experiment with and decide how you will eat and what you will eat in a way that works best for you. No diet, book or wellness expert can do this for you. Instead, figure what foods, what times of the day, and how much you eat feels best for you and then eat accordingly. This requires tremendous responsibility, as all of the messages outside of you (from so-called "experts" to advertising) will tell you to do anything and everything that’s not optimal for your individual health and lifestyle.

3)    Talk to people IRL (that means “In Real Life”, for non-millennials). Spend time with people IRL. Texting, emailing and messaging via social media is not real communicating. People “communicate” more than ever and are lonelier and more anxious, isolated and depressed than ever. You must talk to real human voices and look at real human people.

4)    Manage your environment: Consciously choose what you subject yourself to, whether that’s news, social media, junk tv or internet programs, toxic conversations and a “stress” and “busyness”-obsessed culture. People are very attached to complaining, negativity, and being stressed, as if they have no choice about it. 

5)   Take charge of your mind: Your entire life experience stems from your thoughts. You must become aware of your habitual thinking patterns and decide whether they work for you. If they don’t, what will you do to change them? A competent therapist can help you retrain your thoughts so that your life is better. 

6)   Move: Just move. No matter how, when, how much, or what you do, simply move your body. This is essential for emotional and physical health. Unfortunately, our modern lifestyle with all of its "conveniences" has created the inconvenience of forcing us to put more effort (and money and time) into actually moving our bodies.

7)   Rest is required: Dedicated downtime (or time to do NOTHING) for actual relaxation is essential. Most people today don't prioritize rest. Instead, people worship productivity, efficiency and consumption. That means that every waking moment of they day, most people are engaged in some form of activity or doing. Without time to be still and quiet, people find themselves emotionally and physically depleted.

Fundamentals for Breaking Out of the Vicious Cycle of Dieting and Stress

By Amy Kim, Psy.D.

1) Stop trying to control your weight

Making decisions with the sole intention of controlling your weight will not work. Think about it: Is it working? Has it ever worked (meaning, have you been able to PERMANENTLY maintain a certain weight by dieting?). Physically restricting how much or what you eat, or mentally restricting your food with “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” will inevitably lead to a rebound effect of eating more than you intended to AND eating exactly the foods you tried to avoid. The only way to eat is to eat according to your individual body’s needs. Yes – your body has needs and you must learn to honor them.

 

2) Eat according to YOUR needs and preferences

Each body and person is different, with unique energy needs and food preferences, based on genetics, culture, lifestyle and environment. There is so much information out there about what to eat, what not to eat, how to eat and what your food and body should look life. Instead of looking outside of yourself to figure out how your food should look, direct your attention inward to get in touch with how your body feels: Is it hungry or full? Energized or fatigued? What foods make your body feel good? What foods make your body not feel good? These are the real indicators of what your food should look like, not what social media, a website or book says you should eat.

 

3) Eat to the point of REAL satisfaction

For people who have dieted, hunger and fullness cues are often skewed. People may try to eat only according to hunger or fullness, but this can also create stress (“Am I hungry? Am I full? I don’t know! I’m so stressed I feel out of control and I think I’ll turn to food!”). Instead, during this transition out of dieting, eat according to satisfaction—physical AND emotional satisfaction. This means your belly is filled and emotionally, you feel nourished as well. More importantly, if you’re actually satisfied, you can’t be criticizing or judging your food. Rather, you’re content because you allowed yourself to eat what and how much you were craving.

 

4) Give yourself permission to everything, and I mean, EVERYTHING

This doesn’t mean that you have to eat every food that’s out there, but mentally and physically, you must know that they are allowed (barring any medical conditions). All foods are literally on the table; everything is allowed and there are no good foods or bad foods. Certain foods have been given power that they don’t deserve only because they were forbidden in the past. You must regain power over these foods so that you stop being afraid of them and not “trusting” yourself around them. Only by actually allowing all foods (not just allowing yourself to eat them but also not mentally punishing yourself for eating them), can you no longer have a fraught relationship with food.

 

5) Let your body find and rest in its natural set point range

Every single body is meant to exist in a comfortable set point range where it likes to be without much fuss or muss. This means that even if you each too much or eat too little, your body is naturally pulled to exist in this happy state of equilibrium. This can only happen if you stop abusing your body by habitually eating too little or too much, which confuses and stresses the body (and mind!). By normalizing your eating, which means learning to eat according to your body’s needs and desires, your body will happily rest (and fluctuate) within a range of a few pounds without effort or stress.

 

6) Accept your body as it is right now, and then treat it well

Dieting is inherently a rejection of your body. You are saying, “I do not accept you as you are and I will fight you; I will abuse you and not honor your needs and wants”. Rather than being at war with your body (and yourself), accept your body as it is right now. Fully accept the reality of your body as it is. From that place of acceptance, listen to it, see it, acknowledge and honor it, and then actually tend to what it really needs. This means that rather than eating a certain way to manipulate your weight, you choose foods to care for your emotional and physical health. Often people “eat healthy” as another cover for a diet, which isn’t health-promoting at all. Once you no longer fear any foods because all foods are acceptable, only then can you actually start consciously choosing foods that are the best for you in any given moment; this may mean vegetables in one moment or Oreos or French fries in another moment. This may mean going for a walk or a run in one moment, or taking a nap in another moment. Imagine how you would treat a child – would you not allow that child to rest when she’s tired, or frolic and play when she’s energetic? Would you not allow a child to eat ice cream out of delight or substantial and filling foods when she’s hungry? Treat yourself in the same way.

 

7) Keep stress and anxiety in your life to a minimum

Relaxation and feeling calm and centered must be a priority. Any undue stress in your life needs to be minimized. It is common to channel emotional stress or upset into “control” over food and body issues. Conversely, stress exacerbates food behaviors and body image issues. Find relaxation techniques that work for you, and work with a therapist to further tackle any underlying anxiety that dieting is trying to coopt.

 

8) Discover actual ways to feel good about yourself, other than your body or food

Dieting is an attempt to feel good about yourself, but rather than making you feel better, it usually makes you feel worse than before you started. Find things that you care about and craft your life so it reflects your true values and goals. Dieting is often about wanting to feel worthy, loved and ultimately, about being happy. So go connect with people and do things to feel good about! Finding other things to care about will take away the excessive focus on food and body.

 

9) Consciously consume media and images

We are flooded with thousands of images daily and you can choose how much you want to expose yourself to these images, along with which images you subject yourself too. Be mindful of how certain media outlets make you feel: Do they make you feel good and uplifted? Or inadequate and needing to “fix” yourself? Take charge of your emotional (and physical) health by being a conscious consumer of the incessant content out there.

 

10) Identify and challenge the messages you’ve been told about your body

Dieting is not a natural behavior. You learned to diet from society and/or family messages. Find what these messages are and decide for yourself whether you agree with them or not. Are they valid? Is a person’s worth actually based on their appearance and size rather than their character and contributions? What assumptions do you make about a person who doesn’t fit the western thin ideal? Is a life lived dieting a life worth living? 

Marital Problems and Ways to Handle Them

By Dr. Amy Kim

My thoughts on marital discord were written about by Trilby Beresford on The Stir. The following is an excerpt:

"The best way to patch up marital issues [is] through intensive self work," Kim explains. "It's about the small gestures in daily life, the tone and the words you use with your partner. Direct communication and willingness to work on oneself is key, as well as taking risks to communicate in new ways that might not be familiar."

What to do about Toxic Friendships

My thoughts on toxic friendships, or all toxic relationships for that matter (romantic, family), were shared by Trilby Beresford, contributing writer for Zooey Deschanel's online community for teens, Hello Giggles. The following is an excerpt:

To answer the question of whether ghosting a toxic friend is healthy, we enlisted the help of Clinical Psychologist Dr. Amy Kim. Her approach was straight-forward and logical: “I advise clients to first get very clear about the circumstances of the relationship and cultivate as much objectivity as possible. Then, a person should bring as much awareness to the ways in which this friendship is affecting them.” Of course, that might well mean going back in history to evaluate specific incidences that have occurred in said friendship, but the emotional clarity you will achieve at the end will be worth it.

Kim went on to suggest seeking professional support if you find yourself in a particularly toxic friendship. “Therapy can really help a person to develop an objective stance on the matter. Increased awareness will help to guide the next steps: ‘Ghost’ them? Set boundaries? Talk to the friend about the problem with the hope of improvement or a resolution?” Naturally, that’s all easier said than done! However, it does remind us that there are options in every difficult circumstance, and we should feel empowered to make the right choice when we’re ready.

Mindfulness and Body Image

By Amy Kim, Psy.D.

As seen in S-Life Mag:

Being mindful is a beautiful way of approaching one’s relationship with food and body. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to make the leap from struggling with food and body to mindfully eating and experiencing your body. Often, mindfulness is used as yet another way to try to control or manipulate one’s appetite or weight, which leads to further self-criticism and punishment. I’d like to propose an intermediary (and more practical) way of cultivating mindfulness, which is less about mindful eating (“Rate your hunger”, “Put your fork down between bites”, “Sit at a table and eat with no distractions”) and mindfulness of bodily sensations (“Feel your body as it rests on the chair”, “Notice the breeze as it hits your skin”) and more about actually having moment-to-moment awareness of your body’s needs.

To be able to get to a place where you can actually notice the amazing nuances of all of your senses and be fully present, honoring your basic needs and wants is essential. How do you begin? First, by getting very clear about your authentic goals regarding food and body. Ask yourself - are they your goals or society’s goals? This may be difficult to tease apart. Once you get very honest about what YOUR goals are for yourself, they may look something like, “To have a relationship with my body and food that is easy and pleasurable and without stress and striving.” Notice how there’s nothing about body manipulation (That’s society’s message). You can never actually be mindful or fully open to the present moment if you are trying to manipulate your body.

Struggling with your body necessarily means that you are living in your thoughts, and thoughts pull you out of the present moment, into judgment, and into the past (What could have been, what should have been) or the future (What will be, What you hope to be). Thoughts of regret, hope or anticipation immediately lead to tension. Do you notice that?

Can you allow your body and food to be what they want to be? To be what they will be anyway, no matter how much you try to change, manipulate and control it? Can you accept that your body is a miraculous and utterly mysterious organism that just somehow functions to keep you alive and gives you precisely the right signals and signs, if you could only listen to them more? Can you accept that you actually have no control over the ultimate fate of your bodily organism? And then from that place of acceptance, nonjudgment, nonattachment, and compassion, make mindful choices that nourish, sustain, and just allow it to be? In my therapy work, I’ve used the phrase “kindness compass” to inform moment-to-moment decisions. What’s the kindest and gentlest choice you can make in this moment?

 


Why Mindfulness is Important for Anxiety, Sadness and Any Other Negative Emotion

By Amy Kim, Psy.D.

Mindfulness, or the practice of paying attention in a nonjudgmental and compassionate way, is essential for reducing feelings of worry, tension, sadness and irritability. Why? Because feelings are more than just what you feel--underlying every emotion is a thought, physiological sensation, and accompanying behavior that drives that feeling. The practice of mindfulness helps a person to become aware of what exactly is contributing to or maintaining uncomfortable or painful feelings.

While the term mindfulness has been popularized in our culture and the field of psychology, I think the word awareness better captures what it means to be mindful. To be present or mindful, you need to first be aware—aware of internal and external senses and experiences, including thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and behaviors that may be keeping you from being fully present, whether you are with a lover, friend or by yourself, and no matter what you are doing, whether sitting in front of a computer, spending time with family, moving your body, or eating. Being aware gives you freedom to simply be, rather than allowing each moment to be hijacked by every whim, emotion, thought, or perceived pressure to do.

Eckhart Tolle has beautifully demonstrated that all you have is this moment. Life is comprised of one moment after another moment, ad infinitum, and your life is never not this moment right now. So if you are missing the richness of this moment, then you are missing your life. People have tendencies that obstruct their ability to be present and it’s important to become aware of the habits that rob you of the richness of each moment (or your life!). Therapy can help a person to develop awareness of patterns that not only feed anxiety or sadness, but also keep a person from fully living. Awareness is quite magical, in that simply bringing awareness to something immediately dissipates its intensity and power over you. And in that moment, you have the choice of whether to follow that pull for your attention. You can choose what you direct your attention to, and there is no better choice than to direct your attention to this moment in its fullness. Only then are you actually living.