✨💛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 don’t have to be German to drive a BMW! That said, if you’re 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 isn’t 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 can’t control your experience; you can only choose how you respond to it.

Finally it isn’t 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?

• It’s always with us, it’s free, and it’s beautifully simple.
• It’s internal, so we’re 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.
We’re not thinking about breathing, but rather feeling it. We’re exploring the breath, being curious about the breath, being interested in the breath. It’s not an idea about the breath, but an experience of the breath itself.

The breath is an organic process, so we don’t 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, don’t worry. This is quite normal! Given our busy lives, it’s 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 you’ve wandered off, as you’ve 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

🌬A 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

Tai Chi: An early morning I spent pretending I was a bird🐥

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 Recently I attended a free introduction to Tai Chi session in The Dublin Holistic Centre . I was recommended by a friend to try it out as it was “calming” and “right up my street”.I YouTubed it and instantly I was attracted to it. Like minded people, standing in a small group, slow moving, in a deep relaxed state. I HAD TO TRY IT!

So what is Tai Chi? 

 Tai Chi is known as a mind art which combats stress, tiredness, sadness, anxiety and addictions. It focuses on posture, breathing, awareness and powerful whole body movements. It’s basically an internal Chinese martial art that is practiced for both defense training and its health benefits. You may have seen it in movies such as Jackie Chan or the Karate Kid. It is comprised of 37-postures, or movement patterns, which are repeated to the left or right to create the 108-movement sequence.

 Supposedly, it came about when a crane (a type of bird) and a snake came into contact with each other. The snake 🐍 attempted to attack the crane. The crane remained still and gently moved away from each attack the snake made. Eventually the crane wore the snake out and he was able to kill the snake. The aim of Tai Chi is to become the crane. 

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 So off I went at the crack of dawn, one cold Wednesday morning, to see how I could become a Crane. Beforehand I had pictured myself in slow-mo dancing around a room with old men in white clothing and long white beards becoming at Awe with the universe. When I arrived, I was greeted by a very pleasant man man dressed in navy and no beard. He explained the benefits of Tai Chi and what exactly the introductory class would entail. There were four people in attendance. The room was smallish but cozy and appropriate for its use.

 We started off by doing some meditation exercises to relax our minds and bodies. This included slow hand movements and breathing exercises with our eyes closed. Once we had all become grounded and calm, we began the Tai Chi exercises.The more relaxed your body and mind are, the more abundantly your energy can circulate. This is the first stage, known as Regulating the Body. Eventually, if you are interested in following the traditional path, you can progress through the stages of Regulating the Breath, the Mind, the Qi (the energy), and the Spirit. It can take up to three years to achieve full energy enhancements and full health benefits (a very long time).

 I was informed that it would take around 6 weeks to learn one movement but today he would explain a few different movements to give me a taster. SIX WEEKS TO LEARN ONE MOVEMENT. The thoughts of this was off putting. We started off with slow arm movements and different movements to shift our energies. He played relaxation music in the background which is fav! Eventually after 1 hour and 30 minutes, we had completed one complete move. One move contained several different movements. Each of these movements would take up to 6 weeks to conquer. Good posture is the main component of Tai Chi. If you are aware of the 7 Chakras (the wheels of energies in our bodies), you will know how important it is to have your spine straight and in line with your pelvis and head. Energies are transferred (Qigong – energy work) from the Crown Chakra (crown of your head) to the Root Chakra (base of your spine).

I will dedicate a future post to Chakra’s alone but in the meantime here is a brief overview of what each Chakra represents, its location and the emotional issues they bring about:

1. Root Chakra — Represents our foundation and feeling of being grounded.

  • Location: Base of spine in tailbone area.
  • Emotional issues: Survival issues such as financial independence, money and food.

2. Sacral Chakra — Our connection and ability to accept others and new experiences.

  • Location: Lower abdomen, about two inches below the navel and two inches in.
  • Emotional issues: Sense of abundance, well-being, pleasure and sexuality.

3. Solar Plexus Chakra — Our ability to be confident and in control of our lives.

  • Location: Upper abdomen in the stomach area.
  • Emotional issues: Self-worth, self-confidence and self-esteem.

4. Heart Chakra — Our ability to love.

  • Location: Center of chest just above the heart.
  • Emotional issues: Love, joy and inner peace.

5. Throat Chakra — Our ability to communicate.

  • Location: Throat.
  • Emotional issues: Communication, self-expression of feelings and the truth.

6. Third Eye Chakra — Our ability to focus on and see the big picture.

  • Location: Forehead between the eyes (also called the Brow Chakra).
  • Emotional issues: Intuition, imagination, wisdom and the ability to think and make decisions.

7. Crown Chakra — The highest chakra represents our ability to be fully connected spiritually.

  • Location: The very top of the head.
  • Emotional issues: Inner and outer beauty, our connection to spirituality and pure bliss

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 Tai Chi is all about the movement of energies in order to remove negative energy and increase positive energies. This energy in our bodies is derived from the food we eat and the fat we burn, combined with the air we breathe through the metabolic process. In addition, with every breath you are inhaling air, which is a gas, which is made of molecules, which are made of atoms, which are made of energy. You inhale positive or negative ions all day long. We also receive some percentage of our body’s energy from the sun and moon, and our body’s energy is influenced by the radiation of our surroundings, both natural and manmade. In fact, the human body is a living bioelectromagnetic field.

The next bit I have just copied and pasted off a website that explained how energies move within our bodies. I tried to rewrite it in my own words but I found it very difficult to explain.

When you want to move your body, your mind generates an electrical impulse through the spine to the muscles, and suddenly you are Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail. Your intention to move first creates a brainwave – this is an electrical frequency usually between 1 – 20Hz.  The impulse then transmits instantaneously throughout the body in a complex process that utilizes your body’s energy to facilitate movement. A typical modern way of measuring your energy is with an EEG (Electroencephalogram), which distinguishes brainwaves by measuring the speed with which neurons (nerve cells) fire in cycles per second. Alpha brain waves range between 7 – 12 Hz, which relates to deep relaxation. The Alpha range is also the base frequency of the Schumann Resonance, which is the vibrational frequency of the earth’s electromagnetic field. When you are deeply relaxed, your Alpha brainwaves resonate in sympathy with the earth’s EMF, producing “constructive interference” which amplifies the vibration.

Qi circulation
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Whether you view the body’s energetic activity from a chemical, spiritual, or purely mechanical viewpoint, understand that this energy within the body is the Qi we are referring to; Qi is not some special “other” kind of energy. This subject has been widely misunderstood, sometimes because of the limited understanding by students of these concepts since Tai Chi came to the West, and largely due to cultural and language barriers.

Don’t keep searching for your energy when you practice. Realize that you are energy.

You are not a human body experiencing a spirit. You are a spirit experiencing a human body.

Thus, when you understand a Tai Chi posture clearly, your will mind generate the correct intention, and you will energize your body all the way to the fingers and toes more efficiently. This will gradually improve your circulation to the extremities, and help to permeate your body with healthy circulation of blood, energy, and nutrients.

 The class ended with a guided meditation exercise following with a closing of our energies. We basically inhaled positive energy and moved it into our bodies with arm movements then we closed ourselves up again.

Tai Chi Tips

  • Practice out in nature and get some fresh air, preferably near mountains, forests, or water for an increase of negative ions.
  • Close your mouth loosely, and touch the tongue to the roof of the mouth gently.
  • Breathe naturally. Don’t worry about your breathing until later in your practice.
  • Tai Chi is whole body exercise. Movement is initiated in the legs, directed by the waist, and manifested in the hands.
  • Upper body is light, the middle body is flexible, and the lower body is solid and heavy.
  • Energy follows consciousness, or as its put in qigong study, “The Yi Leads the Qi.”
  • Stay relaxed and don’t frown from concentrating too hard. Tai Chi is fun!

Overall thoughts:

 I found Tai Chi was not for me. It was waaaaay too slow. I love meditation and yoga but this was completely different all together. Maybe I need to slow myself down a bit more? Maybe I should not have went before college as I had a lot on my mind that day? Small groups do sometimes make me a bit anxious. I had to repeat some postures a few times as I was not doing them correctly so this also put me off. Another thing may have been that I attended with my friend. BIG MISTAKE. Awkward silences led to me and him looking at each other and giggling. He would stand in front of me and we would have to move at the same pace with our eyes closed by bonding our energies together without looking. I opened my eyes a few times and seen him doing the postures and found it hilarious. We would glance at each other the odd time both thinking ‘WTF are we doing here?’. Overall I don’t think I will be going back. Yoga and light meditation is as far as my inner ZEN will be going.

J x

🏃🏼🚶🏻A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 8 🏃🏼🚶🏻

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 

🔮Love Yourself Mindful Yoga & Meditation 🔮

‘The perfect workout for body, heart and soul’

 Recently I attended a ‘Love Yourself Mindful Yoga and Meditation’ workshop with Sophia Pollaro in The Elbowroom, Brunswick St, Dublin. From reading Sophia’s profile online I discovered she was a qualified Yoga Teacher for the past ten years. While practicing various forms of meditation, she discovered the benefits of Mindfulness Meditation and its direct connection to the body. Yoga, and its endless benefits, was the next step on her path. Sophia’s teaching places emphases on a deep connection with the breath, stillness and clarity of the mind, strength, balance and a mindful flow of movement. Her classes include asanas (practice of postures), pranayama (breathing techniques) and dhyana (meditation). Clothes wise, I wore yoga pants, socks with a grip underneath them (yoga socks), and a loose t shirt (comfy clothes). I also made sure I didn’t have a heavy meal beforehand. Just some fruit and yogurt or you could even have a smoothie maybe an hour before. No one wants cramps or indigestion at their first yoga class!

 We all know how to love others. We love our friends, family, partners and even pets but it is a bit more difficult to show love towards ourselves. This workshop thought me how to cultivate the healthy and healing self-attention we all need. Our awareness of breathing was the core skill thought to enhance relaxation (its importance was spoke about in an earlier post). To start off a full body scan was done to check in with ourselves and relax each part of our body (examples of this was mentioned in previous posts) Meditation was also brought in at the beginning followed by asana flow (a type of yoga). It wasn’t too difficult. Iv never done yoga before and I wouldn’t be the most flexible but I was able to do most of the moves without cutting off my breathing or looking like a twisted upside down fool (you don’t really go upside down, slight exaggeration). The meditation focused on self-compassion and love to ‘quiet the mind and nourish the heart’. Sophia asked us to pick one thing we did not like about ourselves. We sat with that thought. We thought about how it manifested in our daily lives. How it made us feel, what actions or behaviours it caused. Then we took a deep breath in and exhaled that negative thought. We were told to imagine someone close to us was sitting in front of us disclosing that they did not like that similar part of themselves. I imagined my little brother sitting on the mat infront of me. I became tearful when I imagined him with similar feelings about himself. Whatever way we responded to our loved ones telling us this information we were then to respond to ourselves when we had these thoughts. Sophia thought us how to be kind to ourselves, show love and compassion and to acknowledge these negative thoughts about ourselves. We were also thought how to show affection towards ourselves with this gentle pose: 

Sophia then repeated an affirmation of self love we all had to repeat in our heads as we meditated:

May I be happy

May I be safe 

May I be kind to myself

May I love myself just as I am

To end the Workshop we done another full body scan followed by the listening of a self love poem. This poem is the extended version of the one I have on my home page (Charlie Chaplain):


 On their website they said this workshop would leave you feeling ‘deeply relaxed, emotionally and physically stronger’, which i most certainly did.

 I have added the link below to the workshop and website if anyone is interested in attending in the future.

Love Yourself Yoga & Meditation Workshop

the-elbowroom-logo

 

J x

 

🍎A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 4🍎

SAVOURING OUR EXPERIENCE

Attention informs our experience and helps us notice exactly what is going on. Our experiences become more vivid as we pay attention to them.

 This exercise teaches us how to prepare and eat food mindfully. This is definitely something I needed help with. I get food amnesia. My plate is empty and I don’t even remember eating it half the time. As for what it tastes like? Its never in my mouth long enough to even know.

Preparing your food

 Ok, so I was a bit reluctant with this bit. ‘Explore the process of food preparation with all of your senses’. Ommmm I am cutting a pepper. It wants you to pay attention to the knife chopping into the vegetable using all your senses. Smell the aromas of the vegetable. The sound of the pan sizzling waiting for the pepper to be cut. The smell of the oil burning. I suppose we all know this is happening when we prepare food but we don’t acknowledge it unless we hear the pot over boil or the food burning on the pan. This bit bored me to be honest. I felt like an insane hippy. Maybe others will enjoy this step.

Eating Mindfully

Explore eating in silence. No phone, no laptop, no t.v, no radio. Engage all your senses on that one action.

Look around the room and notice any sounds or smells. I heard birds and the next door neighbour slamming their door. Lovely.

How do you feel before you eat? I felt hungry. I felt excited to eat.

How do you feel after you eat? I felt full. I felt sad it was all gone.

How this experience differ from my usual eating regime? I felt calmer. I was aware of what I was eating and the pace of which I ate it.

How did they food you ate effect your mood later on? I ate a light breakfast so I felt energised and happier (I’m always happy after Iv eaten).

 How our food is presented to us makes us pay more or less attention to it. Colours, textures, smells. Colourful plates allow us to pay more attention to it. A white plate of mash potatoes is not going to trigger any senses and you probably wont pay much attention to it either. By making our plates more colourful and appetising we encourage healthier eating. How we feel after certain food informs us of our future food choices.

 Start off with drinking your morning cup of tea mindfully. Cuddle your cup. Feel the hot steam rise towards your face.Feel the warmth of the mug. Taste it. Smell it. Feel it in your mouth. Be in the moment. No distractions. Explore how your mind wanders to the past or future. acknowledge your thoughts. Bring it back to the present moment. Reflect on how you feel afterwards. Try start off by doing this for 5 minutes each day. You deserve to have at least 5 minutes when you don’t worry or stress about work or home life.

J x

 

🌻Understanding Meditation 🌻

 Meditation quietens your inner self and allows your mind to focus on one thing at a time. But who the hell has time to focus on one thing at a time these days? We’ve so many other things to be thinking about!

 When I first heard of meditation I imagined ‘hippy’ type people with long hair and baggy clothes in weird positions chanting ‘OM’ for hours. Since then Iv learned that sitting in weird positions is only one type and that there are many more options out there. It can be done no matter what your are doing or where you are. We meditate by performing tasks mindfully with our full presence and attention. If you are giving an action or thought your full attention in a calm manner, this is meditation. Stretching, exercising, yoga, breathing can all be meditations. A new type Iv recently come to understand is praying. In all religions meditation is key. Prayer helps you focus on the present, quietens your mind, keeps you in a still position, may forgive negative thoughts and promote thankfulness and gratitude. I never understood religion growing up. I just seen it as different groups of people who all believed in different stories. As Iv matured Iv realised that most religions promote Mindfullness, meditation, positive mindsets, gratitude, forgiveness, and all that other stuff I seen as ‘hippy’ attributes. I’m not saying I’m going to go off and become a nun now and I don’t intentionally sit down and pray to God and rarely go to church but I suppose Iv just become more aware of what exactly religion is now after 18 years in school learning about it 😂😂

 By learning how to meditate we discover new ways to deal with challengers and cope with problems. Meditation reduces stress levels and helps people find purpose and meaning in life. This can be a great coping skill for those who experience mental health difficulties to attain by helping them manage their symptoms. It can give us more energy and even reduce our risk of a heart attack? Soooooooo many pros. The only thing that can hinder your uptake of meditation is your mindset. If you believe meditation is bullshit and won’t work for you then it won’t. Mind over mater and all that jazz. I suppose you wouldn’t be attempting meditation if you thought it was all bullshit in the first place would you? Give it a go. If it isn’t for you then so be it. But no harm in trying!

J x

⭐️A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 2⭐️

 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