A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 19. Being Present in Mind and Body

BEING PRESENT IN MIND AND BODY

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Technology has taken over basic human interactions. Instead of admiring a sunset with a loved one, we take a picture of it and upload it to Instagram. We watch movies with friends and spend half the movie with our heads in our phones updating our news feeds. When we are somewhere else mentally, we might as well not be present physically. When we are not present with someone, they may feel neglected and ignored. 

At Christmas time, my phone got robbed and I was forced to use an old block of a phone with a grey screen and a memory that could hold 20 messages in my inbox at a time. But it had internet access….. NOT. I spent 3 weeks without internet access on my phone. If I needed to check emails, I logged onto my laptop and done it the old fashioned way. I spent a lot of time in my own head. I learned a lot about myself during those 3 weeks. I realized how much I “thought” I needed my phone and how much time others spent on theirs.

One evening my best friend came to visit and we sat down to watch a movie. She stared at her phone for the first 30 minutes. I could feel my blood boil. I asked politely for her to put her phone away as I thought it was rude of her. She laughed it off and continued watching some random Snapchat story on her phone. I didn’t understand why she even bothered to come visit and watch a movie if she was going to sit on the couch on her own for most of the night. I never felt so alone. That was me before my phone got robbed. It made me realize how many amazing opportunities or memories I had missed because I was on my phone or I was busy taking a picture of the memory. From that night on, I always tried to make more of a conscious effort to put my phone down when others were talking or when I had allocated a time to do an activity with someone.

This weeks exercise wanted me to stay present with friends, family and colleagues with these simple steps: 

  • Turn off your phone and put it out of sight. Having it on the table next to you gives a message that something may take precedence over your time with this person.
  • Notice where your mind goes. Every time you are aware of it drifting off, bring it back in the same way as you do when you meditate.
  • Notice whether any particular emotions are arising- perhaps restlessness or the wish to be somewhere else. Whatever comes up, acknowledge it, tune into the body, and explore any sensations that accompany it.
  • Practice Listening Mindfully (Week 10’s exercise).
  • Reflect on how being present with someone both physically and mentally affects the encounter and the relationship. What do you notice?

Reflection:

The same friend came over again the other night and I purposely left my phone upstairs. We didn’t watch a movie, we just sat there and chatted and it was amazing. We laughed loads and spent genuine time together. At one point I had to go grab my phone so we could double check a date for the next time we were planning to spend time together. We just sat there an listened to each other. I was nice not having any distractions for a while and I felt grateful that I had someone who wanted to sit there and be present with me. I was worthy of their time and they were worthy of mine.

Work colleagues on the other hand, I just cannot stay present with. It is much harder to stay present and actively listen when you and the other person and worlds apart and you have genuinely no interest. That’s kinda mean but that’s what goes through my head. I do try stay present as often as a I can but my mind drifts off and I get easily distracted or reach for my phone. I must try this exercise with a work colleague and report back. It is hard though when you’re working a 13 hour night shift and the same person is speaking to you the entire night. How can someone hold concentration for that long? ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz………………….

Goal: 

Must try stay present at work. Stop being rude and staring at my phone in the company of others.

 

J x



 

劾Meditation: Developing Loving-Kindness Week 1

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As the submission date for my thesis approaches, I decided to take up a new hobby that would keep me grounded and focused, MEDITATION. I searched the internet for the most appropriate and inexpensive course I could find and came across a ‘Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Meditation’ five week course every Wednesday morning from 10:30-12:45 at the Dublin Buddhist Centre. For under 25’s the course costs just 55. BARGAIN!  and for everyone else see the price list below:

170 for waged
135 low-waged
95 for unwaged, students or OAPs.

Who better teach me how to meditate than the Buddhist Community! The early mornings suited me because I do a lot of night duty so it meant I could just go straight from work.

Week 1:

  • Introduction to meditationPosture workshop
  •  Body Scan

Mindfulness and the Mindfulness of Breathing meditation practice

Week 2:

  •  Exploring aspects of mindfulness
  • The four foundations of mindfulness

Week 3:

  •  Exploring friendliness
  • The Metta Bhavana meditation practice

Week 4:

  • Working with the mind: distraction and absorption

Week 5:

  • Taking meditation into the world
  • Keeping your practice going after the course

I’m going to write about what each week entailed and give a little personal reflection on how I found the class and how I got on with the homework on and off ‘the pillow’.

Week 1:

 This week introduced us to meditation, its origins and what meditation is not. I have just written down the notes they gave us on these topics below to give you an understanding on what we learned.

What is Meditation?

Meditation is a means of transforming and changing our minds for the better. It helps us change the way we relate to ourselves and the world around us. If we experience difficulties, meditation can help us to work creatively with those difficulties. If life is already good for us, meditation can deepen our enjoyment and appreciation of life.
Buddhist meditation techniques offer a way of encouraging and developing positive states of mind. We can use it to cultivate calmness, clarity and awareness, and also can help us to develop emotional positivity. It can help us let go of ways of being that limit us, and allow us to go beyond a limited sense of ourselves. It can even help us to see more deeply the true nature of things.

The main thing we learn when we meditate is that we have a choice about what we think and feel. We tend to think of our personality as being fixed. We tend to think that the thoughts and emotions we have are somehow inevitable, and outside of our control. But actually our emotions and thoughts are much more fluid and ever- changing than this. And even though much is beyond our control in life, we can always take responsibility for our own states of mind and choose to change them for the better. Meditation empowers us to make this choice.

Buddhist Meditation

Over thousands of years Buddhist meditation techniques have developed to help people work with their minds. The foundation of all these techniques is the cultivation of a calm and positive state of mind.

The meditation practices we teach cultivate this calm and positive state of mind. They consist of two simple but effective practices drawn from the Buddhist tradition, originally taught by the Buddha himself over 2,500 years ago. The pair complement each other and can be learned by anyone.

The first practice is the Mindfulness of Breathing, which cultivates clarity, awareness and calmness. The second practice is the Metta Bhavana, or Development of Loving Kindness practice, where we develop friendliness and loving-kindness for ourselves and others. (We also do sessions of body awareness, which we call the Body Scan.)

Both practices are Buddhist in origin, but one does not have to be a Buddhist to benefit from them. After all, you dont have to be German to drive a BMW! That said, if youre interested in Buddhism, learning these two meditation practices is a great starting point.
Through learning these meditations, we may not find the meaning of life, but we can certainly find ways of living a life with more meaning. They are called foundation practices, but you can go a long way with them! They can profoundly transform your life for the better.

What meditation is not

It is worth saying what meditation is not. It isnt escapism: if you want to escape try watching lots of reality TV, getting drunk, doing drugs etc. They are more effective ways to escape your experience! When you sit down to meditate what you get is your experience, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes not, but always very real.

Neither is meditation about controlling your experience; it is about becoming aware of your experience and encouraging it in positive directions. In any case, you cant control your experience; you can only choose how you respond to it.

Finally it isnt about your mind going blank, or going into some trance! When you sit down to meditate, you get yourself, just as you are.

Meditation posture 

It also showed us the best postures to hold whilst we meditate. I chose the seiza position which entailed sitting on the floor with a mediation pillow and two blocks under my ‘sit bones’ (basically take your two hands and move the two sides of your bum cheeks to either side) and wrapped myself in a blanket where I could rest my hands. For those who find this one uncomfortable the chair was recommended. The lotus position is my goal. Very majestic

Why is the position in which we meditate  important?

The position in which we meditate is very important to keep the spin in alignment with the pelvis. Usually when we are in a seated position of any kind our pelvis and spine are curved which eventually leads to slumping and becoming uncomfortable. In order to remain comfy and cause no strain or discomfort to our backs during meditation, our spine needs to remain straight. When our pelvis is in a straight position, the spine follows it. The pelvis is considered the anchor of the spine. When we move the flesh to either side of our ‘sit bones’, we allow the pelvis to become aligned with the spine creating an upright comfortable posture. You literally just take your two hands and pull each bum cheek to the side and sit. This means that the top rim of the pelvis is neither rocked backward nor forward.

In order to enjoy meditation and sit satisfactorily in chairs, we must also pay attention to the position of the thighs. One of the problems with most chairs is that they force us to sit with our thighs in a horizontal position, or worse yet, with our knees higher than our hip sockets. As soon as we raise the knees to the same level or higher than the hip sockets, the pelvis tilts backward, and the lower back rounds. This position causes strain on the muscles and discs in the back causing pain. It was recommended that you place a block or two under your sit bones and sit on the edge of the blocks to help direct your thighs downwards allowing them to be placed below your hips. As you become a regular meditator this position will become easier and the muscles will begin to stretch leading to your knees automatically falling below your hips. This can take a long time so don’t beat yourself up for needing like three blocks and a blanket. Everyone has to start somewhere. There are loads of hip opening exercises you can do to help you with this position. We do a lot in yoga class but I won’t get into details on this post. The position of your ankles and feet whilst in a cross legged position is also important. I always thought you literally sat on your ankles and feet when crossing your legs but I was informed this would just cause pain and discomfort. Which it did. Again the correct position for sitting cross legged takes time.


Your head is obviously attached to your spine and therefore it’s position is essential. Position the head so that you are looking straight ahead, then slightly drop the skull so that the eyes fall about three feet in front of you on the floor. Some meditation systems teach you to keep your eyes open, others keep the eyes closed. Whichever you choose, this position of the head will be comfortable. We were taught to close our eyes and imagine a hook is pulling our head towards the ceiling. I had just finished night duty this day so I was advised to slightly open my eyes and stare at the ground if I felt I was falling asleep. It is not ideal to fall asleep during meditation as your brain and concentration becomes lazy and impacts on the benefits and purpose of the practice.

The position of the arms and hands are another one. Tie a blanket around your hips and place your hands inside the front and there will be less weight pulling through the arms and straining the shoulders and neck. You can also place your hands on your knees or thighs with the palms facing up or place your hands in a mudra position.

The first half then finished with a body scan which they encouraged us to do before beginning of every meditation as it helps us to become aware of our inner and outer worlds.

Reflection

It was difficult to get comfortable at first and my feet are pretty stiff so I moved around a lot trying to find the best position. There was complete silence which was I have always liked a guided body scan as it keeps me focused and engaged as I find it hard to concentrate and stay focused during without Guidance. We reflected together as a group and then had some tea and chats at the break. Our teacher encouraged me to try and figure out why I find it harder to sit with myself without guidance. Something I will figure out as the course goes on I thought?

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In the second half of the class we were taught about mindfulness and were introduced to a simple ‘mindfulness of breathing’ meditation. We practiced this for 20 minutes and again reflected on our experience as a group.

Mindfulness

Central to meditation is the practice of mindfulness. When we are mindful, we are aware; we notice what is going on around us and inside us.

Mindfulness is something we can practice when we’re on the bus, when we’re waiting in the queue at the shop, while we’re eating. It’s not abstract or esoteric it’s simply about paying attention to what’s there with an attitude of interest and exploration.

Through being mindful, we learn that small things can have a big effect. Becoming aware of our bodies, our emotional life, our communication with others, helps us to live a life that flows into a rich tapestry of awareness, imbued with beauty and appreciation.

From a Buddhist perspective, mindfulness even includes an awareness of ‘how things really are’ – an awareness of the true nature of things. By being mindful, the Buddha says, we become more wise and more free. It’s because of this that he said that ‘mindfulness is the direct path to freedom’.

The Mindfulness of Breathing Meditation Practice
In this meditation practice, we are, quite simply, mindful of the breath, aware of the breath. We bring more and
more of our energies to bear on our experience of sitting here breathing.

Why meditate on the breath?

Its always with us, its free, and its beautifully simple.
Its internal, so were less and less dependent on external stimulation.
The breath offers way into our state of mind. Awareness of it takes us deeper into ourselves and how we
are feeling.
The breath can be a refined, pleasurable experience, which can be very enjoyable.
The breath offers a meditation on life. It has a poetic quality: to be alive is to breathe.

We breathe from our birth continuously until our death, when we draw our last breath. By focusing on the breath, we become aware of the mind’s tendency to jump from one thing to another. The simple discipline of concentration brings us back to the present moment and all the richness of experience that it contains.

But also, by being aware of the breath, our energies will gather around the breath and our deeper energies will unlock and integrate, rather than remain scattered. By practicing the Mindfulness of Breathing regularly, we can experience ourselves becoming more free, at deeper and deeper levels of ourselves.

How do we practice?

We do this practice by being aware of the body breathing, being aware of the breath in the body. In other words, we bring this quality of mindfulness to our breathing.
Were not thinking about breathing, but rather feeling it. Were exploring the breath, being curious about the breath, being interested in the breath. Its not an idea about the breath, but an experience of the breath itself.

The breath is an organic process, so we dont force it or try to control it. Instead we simply be aware of it, and let it happen in its own way, without trying to change it.

Stages of the practice

To help us be aware of the breath, and to encourage a deepening and refinement of our awareness of the breath, the practice is in stages.

Stage 1

Mindful of the breath, with a subtle count after the out-going breath

Stage 2

Mindful of the breath, with a subtle count before the in-coming breath

 Stage 3

Mindful of the breath

 Stage 4

As you breathe in and out, mindful of the sensations at the point where you first feel the breath enter the body

The count in the first two stages is a gentle guide to help you stay with the breath the practice is not mindfulness of counting! In each of these two stages, we count the breaths, up to ten, and then start the count again at one. This also helps us to notice if our minds wander off.

If the mind does wander off, dont worry. This is quite normal! Given our busy lives, its not surprising that this happens. The main thing here is not to give yourself a hard time, and instead respond with kindness. Accept with kindness that you have wandered off, and then simply return to the breath in the body and resume the practice again. In a way, you should really celebrate when you notice youve wandered off, as youve just moved from unawareness to awareness!

Reflection

I found this much more difficult as it was not guided and my mind wandered a lot more than in the first one. I did notice I was a lot more comfortable in my posture though as I realized having my feet slightly hanging off the pillow I was knelt on was much nicer. If you’re doing this meditation at home and find your feet are a bit ‘stiff’ you can easily fold up socks and slip them just under your feet near your toes or even a small blanket? Same applies if you have trouble with your knees. When I’m at home I use a giant cushion from my couch to kneel on so my feet can hang off the back. I sit on two blocks and one pillow and use my dressing gown to keep me warm whilst placing my hands in the pockets to keep my posture intact. My mind usually wanders off so I started to label them as they come about. I imagined a conveyor belt with my thoughts going by on it ‘WORK’, ‘HOLIDAYS’, ‘PHONE BILL’. Others like visualizing their mind as a sky with their thoughts as the clouds constantly changing and moving through your mind. Whichever works for you!

HOMEWORK

Homework for week 1 was to practice the body scan and mindfulness of breathing meditation every day. I managed to do it for 4 days. I didn’t set a time for it and always felt I was ‘too busy’ to fit it in. I found it hard to concentrate on my own and not with a group. The support from meditating in a group is amazing. You’re not afraid of someone in your house walking in on you sitting on a pillow meditating thinking you’ve lost your mind. Although, people in my house wouldn’t even bat an eyelid because they’re used to me doing random ‘hippy’ things as they would call it. So big things this week were definitely not giving myself the time and space and not setting a time for it every day. Some days I forgot to meditate and felt guilty then going to bed without doing it. You shouldn’t ever feel bad for not meditating because that is just counterproductive! I was also working nights for half the week then off work for the remaining half. I always find when I have no routine I am extremely under productive so that would explain the lack of consistency and laziness towards the end of the week. Leaving my ‘meditation station’ set up was a big help. I didn’t have to put in any effort to prepare the area, I just sat straight down. I found meditating before sitting down to do my assignment extremely beneficial. I felt I had more energy and did not get all ‘FML this thesis will be the death of me’, I remained calm and focused. That’s like the main aim of meditation, being calm and focused HURRAH!

J x

括 Year of Living Mindfully: Week 16

Creating a Space

By taking a Breathing Space we pause and take a moment to acknowledge what is happening in that moment.


 This exercise helps bring us into the present moment by noticing and acknowledging how things really are. Being honest with ourselves and not thinking about how we would like them to be. Following this we decide what to do next- if anything at all.

 It recommended becoming familiar with The Breathing Space exercise that I have attached below. Try schedule this into your daily routine. Set an alarm or write it into your diary. I usually set my alarm titled what my intentions are for that day. For example: ‘Breath’, ‘Thoughts become things’, ‘Gratitude’, ‘Forgiveness’. The book recommends attaching this breathing practice to meal times. We always have to eat so by making it part of this daily activity we are more likely to remember it. Over time it will become part of your regular day. They say it takes 30 days to break a habit. I also believe it takes 30 days to pick up a new habit. I gave myself the challenge of setting my alarm with the word ‘Breath’ during breakfast, dinner and tea time. Obviously my meal breaks vary from day to day so sometimes my alarm was too early and I completely forgot to do it when meal time came around. You will also forget and that’s o.k but don’t beat yourself up over it. The more you realise you have forgotten the more you will remember the next time. Each time you remember that you have forgot to do it, DO IT THEN. Do it as soon as you remember!

 When doing ‘The Breathing Space’ exercise it is important to be self aware that if you have negative feelings or thoughts or whatever come about, your automatic response will be to try and fix them to make yourself feel better. Sometimes this happens when I meditate. I notice my t shirt is a little bit uncomfortable around my neck and I try to fix it. It has taken me months to be able to sit with these discomforts or negative emotions and not react to them. Practice makes perfect and all that jazz! I have learned to acknowledge these feelings etc. and let them go. Literally with an out breath, let them go.

 

 Once you have experience watching the breath, you can expand this to mindfulness of the entire body. Personally I find it difficult to do this on my own and prefer guided meditations or sometimes I attend a mindfulness yoga and meditation class. It all depends on how I am feeling. The more anxious or stressed I am I usually prefer to book into a class as I tend to think “I don’t have the time to be mindful”. By booking into a class and paying in advance it means you kind of have to go. That’s how my brain works anyway. The following exercise requires a dedicated 10 minutes or longer to complete. I think setting your alarm 10 minutes earlier in the morning is the best time to do it. Start your day as you mean to go on! Usually as the day progresses you are more tired and not a***d.

 Mindfulness of the body allows us to change our relationship with discomforts or pain. As I have spoke about in previous posts, we notice narratives we create around pain and discomforts, we can feed into these feelings and we can learn to let it go. By doing this the discomfort is reduced. We learn how to live with things that are not how we would like them to be. As I was saying up above usually when I meditate I find it hard to not react to a tight fitting t shirt or an itchy nose. By pausing before reacting to these feelings and sensations we allow ourselves time to react differently. My yoga teacher always tells us to breath into the discomfort or pain. Literally visualise your breath inhaling and exhaling through the area of discomfort. It took me a long time to be able to do this. Our automatic responses are built into us. As children our parents ran straight to us when we fell and rubbed the area that was painful to relieve the discomfort. It takes time to change these automatic responses. Practice pausing before reacting every time you remember. Set a reminder on your phone titled ‘Pause’. Eventually it will become a habit like everything else and you will naturally react this way. Give yourself 30 days!

 Through this practice we learn to be with physical sensations. We practice tuning into our bodies and noticing what is arising within them. Those who experience periods of great sadness (depression) due to chronic pain will use things such as avoidance to cope and deal with their discomforts. This approach is the complete opposite. Through using this mindfulness technique we are zoning in on the pain and being with it as opposed to avoiding it.

 J x

A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 11

What Attitudes are you Feeding?

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Usually when we feel a particular emotion it leads us to having thoughts about the feeling and sometimes finding evidence to support it. We may also describe it with language like ‘what a nightmare’. It can be hard to figure out which came first. Did the thought come first? The emotion? The feeling?

When we catastrophe an experience, we allow the emotion to build up like an angry fire. The emotion then becomes out of control and we experience an unconscious mind/body chain reaction leading to usto feel even worse.

This exercise speaks about how we have the potential to control our emotions. Now obviously we can only control our emotions to an extent. But as I always say, self awareness is key! By bringing thoughts or emotions into our awareness, we can watch our thoughts span out, become aware of the physical effects they have on our body and how overwhelming they can be. The first step is becoming self aware. We cannot change or do anything differently without becoming aware of it. Makes sense really. By acknowledging that a particular emotion is present, it allows us to react differently and puts a halt on the negative reaction you would usually take. This whole exercise reminded me of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. We become aware of how our thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviours are interlinked. By changing one part of the chain, we cause a domino effect thus changing the automated response. For example, when I am feeling sad I listen to sad music thus making me feel even sadder. I then start to think negative thoughts and might even have a good cry. This negative cycle has become a built in automated response. I am basically feeding into my feeling of ‘sadness’. To break this negative cycle, I might listen to happier music when I feel sad in order to help lift my mood.

Mindfulness teaches us how to tune into our experiences on a regular basis, enabling us to tune into negative behaviours as they arise. We become aware of thoughts, emotions, feelings or behaviours and explore them. The book recommended using a gentle breathing exercise to bring ourselves back into the present moment. Again refer back to my post on Breathing or simply use my ‘Breathing through the feet on the floor’ (my fav). Obviously when you are feeling a bit angry, the last thing you are thinking of is doing a quick breathing exercise. But if we refer back to my post on changing automated responses, you will see how we easy it is to start a negative response but just as easyto start a positive response. Practice makes perfect. For something to become an automated response, it must be practiced. It must become part of your routine. It will take time and it will not happen over night.

How about thinking of what you like to do when you are feeling sad? Now have a think about those actions. Do they make you feel better or worse? For example, I might have a glass of wine if I feel a bit down or stressed. The wine will usually make me feel even shittier and the next day I am even worse with a hangover. What was so positive about that? That is most defiantly a feeder behaviour. What could I do differently that might help me more? I could watch a comedy. I could go visit a friend. Things that could actually lift my mood as opposed to bringing it further down? Makes sense doesn’t it?

Practicing Patience

Be patient and remind yourself that to begin with you may notice only after the event and wish you could have responded differently. This is perfectly normal; just continue practicing and noticing the emotions that you feed.

J x

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休睪 Year of Living Mindfully: Week 9 鳶

SOUNDS 

Sounds are like thoughts: we can’t control them, they come and go, some are stronger than others, and some can have a strong physical and emotional impact on us. 

Certain sounds can create negative or positive reactions within us, particularly if we are stressed or feeling a bit down. When I’m studying or trying to plan out something at last minute, loud noises or crowds of people speaking can really stress me when out and cause me to become anxious. To avoid this I usually put earphones in with relaxation music on really low to block out any negative noises. 

This weeks exercise teaches us how to be with sounds and thus provides training for being with our thoughts. It asked for us to pay attention to all sounds. How our body reacts to sounds. How our bodies pick up sounds like a radar. How the sound can manifest throughout the body in physical sensations. (Heart beats faster, your body jumps). How we judge a sound. The story we create when we hear a sound. (Oh that sounds like the neighbours are arguing nextdoor). Pay attention to your mood following each sound and how this affects your interpretation and thus your thoughts. A good example of this is when you are lying in bed before you fall asleep. You hear a noise and your thoughts jump to a conclusion that someone may be coming up the stairs. You begin to panick. Your heart beats faster. You feel frightened. This exercise asks to acknowledge the story brought about by the sound and let it go by bringing your attention back to receiving the sound as a collection of notes at a particular pitch. 

We can also use music or sounds to lift our moods and bring about happy or sad memories. I have certain playlists on my phone that I listen to depending on what mood I want to be in or what mood I am in already. I’m the worst for playing sad songs  when I’m in a depressed mood. Bring on tears and make myself even more depressed. This exercise asks you to nip that in the bud the second you notice it and change the tune!!

Pay attention to the small sounds that are easily missed like the birds or the neighbours cutting their grass. This is all part of being mindful. Building our awareness to everything in the world, step by step. 

WHAT DO WE DO WITH NOISE THAT IS DRIVING US MAD?

When the sounds you hear are unbearable and you find it hard to tune in to them, what do you do then? The instruction remains the same. Acknowledge the story the sound creates, the emotions it brings about, the thoughts that arise, how it manifests throughout the body. Use your breath here to anchor yourself when your thoughts and story tries to bring you away. The ‘breathing through your feet on the floor’ exercise works perfectly here! Always bring yourself back to your breath and any felt sensations throughout the body. The noise you are hearing is not personal. It is just a collection of notes and vibrations passing through the ear. 

By resisting the negative noise we create negative reactions which become automated responses. With this exercise we want to simply explore a different way of relating to a noise. Build awareness. Let go of resisting the noise and instead embrace it and move towards it. 

Self awareness is key! 
J X 

滕塔翠 Year of Living Mindfully: Week 8 滕塔

So its been two weeks since my last blog post. I was away in Rome for a few days and just had some general life stuff going on. I kind of felt under pressure to post something or schedule something to be posted whilst I was away but then I thought NO. Feeling under pressure and having tight time frames is the complete opposite of what mindfulness is all about. I decided to read the introduction of the book ‘A Year of Living Mindfully’ again, which states:

There will be times you forget to do your mindfulness practice, or perhaps you won’t follow the week-by-week format rigidly. Both these are okay. You are here to explore for yourself how mindfulness might become a part of your life, and so the best attitude you can take is one of health skepticism. If you view the process as an experiment, you will have no expectation of a particular outcome but will remain open to whatever arises.  Most importantly, cultivate an attitude of kindness and flexibility toward yourself. You can only do your best within the constraints of your daily life, so be gently on yourself when things go awry.

Aaaaaand breath. Now, here’s Week 8 with absolutely no regrets or guilty feelings for being two weeks late…….

SEVEN……..ELEVEN 

This simple practice is a breathing exercise usually used with children. Basically it asks you to breath in a certain way. You inhale for the count of seven and exhale for the count of eleven. Give it a go!

I found this a bit difficult at first as I felt under pressure to reach the final number. The book also says it can be difficult for those who usually breath quite shallow. I didn’t think this was very mindful struggling to reach a number. But the book also says you can build it up over time. Again, practice makes perfect and practice makes it a routine or automated response.

After a while of practicing this while on the train to work, on my lunch break, waiting for something to download on my laptop, I found it quite calming. Everyday life can be very fast and all GO GO GO. Rushing to get to work. Constantly checking your watch. Meeting deadlines. This practice takes up exactly 18 seconds of your day. There is ALWAYS time to calm yourself!

MINDFUL MOVEMENT

Usually we move from A to B with a particular purpose in mind. It may be to lose weight through exercise, to run for the bus. Mindful movement allows us to let go of striving towards something and to just settle in the moment. Now this doesn’t mean its promoting endless wandering with no end point. It simply means having a ‘beginners mind’ allowing us to become open to more opportunities and experiences.  Basically this means ‘I know you’ve walked to the shop this exact same way a million times over but lets do it in a more mindful way’. Become more aware, acknowledge knew experiences, feelings, senses, thoughts, you know all the mindful buzz words I’v been bragging on about in my past posts. This week gave us a simple exercise to use whilst walking. It can also be applied to other things like exercising, running, yoga, Thai Chi (I’m actually joining Thai Chi next week).

Like every mindful practice, it experiments with the breath. The breath is always the main focus. How is your relationship with your breath? Are you holding it? Is it strained? Does it feel calm or panicky? Does it have an edge to it? I know from experience that when I am anxious and I zone in on my breath whilst I walk, I can become over aware of it and start to hyperventilate or think others can hear me breathing heavily (paranoid anxious times). This exercise wants you to focus in on how tense your inhale can be and how soothing your exhale can be. It encourages doing it barefoot if preferred, inside or outside your house. All you need is a short distance. So it can easily be done in your living room or bedroom. The book recommends waking around in a circle but I dunno how others would perceive that? (not very mindful I know, Wheres my non-judgmental approach?).

 

Sooooo here’s the exercise:


J X
 

A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 5 

Breathing through the feet on the floor 

Repetition becomes Routine 

The more we do something, the more our brain allows it to become part of our daily routine. This then becomes an unconscious action. This also happens with unhelpful behaviours. We find ourselves completing an action without consciously deciding to do it. 


 Breathing through the feet on the floor is something we can do to help us feel grounded at any given time. It can help us feel at ease when waiting for an appointment or interview for example. But if it becomes part of our routine when we are not anxious then it becomes part of our routine for when we are. The more we practice the easier it becomes. 


 The past week I have tried to do this practice as often as possible. I was quite unwell during the week and had to visit the doctor. In the waiting room I became very anxious as I felt the room was spinning. I used this technique to help reduce my anxiety and control my breathing. I found it really helpful especially because I had vertigo at the time and definitely did not feel my feet were anywhere near the ground. I tried this practice numerous times throughout the week. I was off work on sick leave so I had a lot of time to practice. I reflected instantly on the effect of the action and each time I remember thinking “Wow that actually worked”. 

 I would recommend trying to introduce this practice into your daily routine as much as possible or even just keeping it in mind when you feel anxious or worried about things (which we all do). It’s a handy tool to keep with you in all aspects of life! 
J x 

潃儭A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 2潃儭

 Through reflection we become more focused which enables personal growth and learning from our life experiences. The first section of Week 2’s activity highlights the importance of reflecting by simply scribbling on a page or using your eyes to observe. It allows us to keep focused on our goals to ensure we are heading in the right direction. 

 In college S.M.A.R.T goals were always drilled into our heads (Small, Measruable, Achievable, Realistic, Time). Specific short term and long term goals are essential to keep you focused in life. The amazing feeling you get once you’ve achieved them is just fabulous! Now I don’t mean setting yourself a goal like running a marathon next week and only giving yourself 7 days to train. Instead book a place on the marathon in 3 months time as your long term goal and set yourself small goals leading up to it like starting off this week doing a 10 minute run then work your way up. 

 Daily reflection helps us move forward and ensures we don’t take two steps back along the way. We reflect on how far we’ve come with our goals, what steps were taking towards achieving them, and any what new goals have. It helps us identify any good or bad patterns we recognise in our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. We usually reflect with our friends through a phone call of how the night before went and how ridiculous so and so’s outfit was or maybe you come home from work and reflect with your family on how a colleague really p*****d you off today! Others might use diaries or social media to reflect. 

 I personally like to finish my day off by reflecting with family or friends by using this simple method: what was your peak and pit of the day?. This helps me identify good and bad points of my day. For example my pit of the day was missing my train and my peak of the day was getting a free coffee. Sometimes I don’t have any pits and sometimes I have too many to list off. At the end of a holiday or trip I like to do this  also. Reflecting back on arguments or conversations about who said what and how you responded when she said or expressing how they made you feel is another form. For example reflecting on going for a walk to get away from bad vibes at home and reflecting on your feelings before, during and after. 

 The second half of Week 2 teaches us how to do a ‘body scan’ on ourselves to help us tune into our thoughts, feelings, emotions and senses. Sometimes we tend to push a thought to the back of our brain because it is unpleasant and makes us feel bad. We also tend to intellectualise our experiences. These can both use up a lot of energy and can leave us feeling numb. Feeling emotions both good and bad, are what makes us feel alive! Tuning into our bodies is when we become curious about our emotions, feelings, thoughts and senses. This can be done through the use of the body scan. The following steps will guide you through your first body scan:……



This section also gives easy to follow steps for strong feelings of discomfort or pain:…..


These exercises can be done before work, during your break, first thing when you wake up, before you go to bed….. Any time of the day when you have an extra few minutes to reflect and be mindful. Iv done these exercises once and once only. I keep telling myself I’ll open the book and do it again but never find the time or so I keep telling myself anyway. 

Looking forward to Week 3! 

J x

杗aaaand Breath…..

Breathing, we all do it! 

 This post will explain why we breath, how we breath, what happens when we over or under breath and ways of controlling our breathing. We all need oxygen to survive so I think this information is vital before we begin to learn about any other form of mindfulness or other hippy related topics! Something as simple as breathing can have major benefits for our physical and mental well being.

 When we breath we inhale oxygen and breath out carbon dioxide. For our body’s to function to the best of its abilities we need the correct balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our body’s. This can be done through the correct rate and depth of our breathing. Usually we just breath automatically and the odd time can control it. For example blowing up balloons or holding our breath under water is a form of control.

 Our moods have a major impact on our breathing. If we feel anxious or stressed our breath may quicken and you may find yourself taking deeper breathes to try calm yourself down. People tend to panic when this happens. This can bring on things people know as ‘panic attacks’. When we breath too much we increase levels of oxygen to the blood and decrease levels of carbon dioxide. Also not breathing enough will decrease oxygen and increase carbon dioxide. When the body notices this imbalance it reacts with a range of symptoms: dizziness, confusion, breathlessness, blurred vision, increase in heart rate, tingling sensations, clammy hands, stiffness. I think we’ve all experienced these feelings before exams, interviews, first day on the job…. Some people may think they are having a heart attack or in extreme cases are ‘going to die’. You might feel as if you’re smoothering and cannot get enough air into your lungs but in fact you are actually taking waaaay too much air in and that’s why you experience these symptoms.

 Things that can help rebalance your oxygen and carbon dioxide levels are simple tasks like yawning (my personal fav). Being in control of your breathing is also skill to have. Its main aim is to relax the mind and body which can be done through deep, slow and controlled breathing. Below is an easy an easy to follow exercise for controlling your breath. As they say, practice makes perfect!

 Find somewhere comfy to sit or lie down. No music, no tv or other interruptions, knock your mobile on airplane mode and Try this simple beginners exercise below:

  • Take a deep breath in for 4 seconds (through the nose if possible)
  • Hold the breath for 2 seconds
  • Release breath for 6 seconds (through nose if possible)

 A lot of my future posts will refer back to breathing so it’s good to have a bit of background on its importance and have some practice before you try out some proper relaxation stuff. I personally use controlled breathing every day. It’s become part of my daily routine. I use it when I experience quick  breathing from exercise, anxiety in interviews or during meetings or just everyday sh**t that we all experience.

J x