Tag Archives: meditation

Fancy trying meditation?

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Looking back at 2016, and I think one of my successes was maintaining a meditation practice. It wasn’t always perfect, but I did manage something close to 350 days out of the year – not bad!

I also hit a personal record ‘streak’ of 122 days in a row. And then I forgot one Saturday – argh! Not for an obvious reason, like being super-busy or stressed – in fact, I was probably too chilled out that day. Oops!

The silver lining to this, however, was that I was no longer tied to the app I’d been using – Calm – which, while good, was blown out of the water by the one I’ve since switched to: Insight Timer.

I’m not here to sell that to you (not least cos it’s free!), but one of the things I’m loving about it is the 365 Days challenge. I think there’s something like 140K people signed up already worldwide, which is pretty amazing! And yes, it’s as obvious as it sounds: try to meditate every day for a year 🙂

2020mfpTo help with this, each day has a new podcast. The first 20 were a series, 20-20 Meditate for Peace, which I finished this morning (having missed the first two days of January due to daft ‘traditions’ which don’t lend themselves to this whole idea of fresh starts!). While a little too ‘new agey’ for my tastes (yes, I meditate; no I don’t need to have chats with my own ‘higher self’. Hmm), I got a lot out of this. That’s perhaps surprising given I have been meditating for quite some time now, but there’s never a wrong time to go back and have a refresher on the basics.

More, I decided to use this building practice – it started with 1 minute on day one, 20 minutes on day 20 – as a way to get back into seated postures. I usually meditate in ‘corpse pose’, which is great for deep breathing, imo. But I’ve always looked at those pictures of folk sitting crossed legged for hours, and wondered how on earth they could do that. It’s not the legs that get me (although I decline the full lotus position of feet above knees!), but the back. So, 20 days of building up I’m hugely pleased to say my posture is WAY better!

There are a hundred benefits to meditation – and posture is now one of them, for me! – so if you fancy giving it a go, I do recommend the 365 Days challenge. The next couple of weeks are due to focus on different roots of meditation practices, and will then explore different types. So, an encouragement to stick to a routine, but also a great way of learning more about this whole thing. And I’d suggest that if it hasn’t worked for you before, trying out the different types – breathing, walking, or even eating meditations have been mentioned! – there’s almost certainly going to be something that suits.

Namaste, as they say!

TIL 22: Stress Management 4b

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Following on from this post, I realised in my sleepy state I’d forgotten several things we’d covered!

First, the concept of ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’, and how much we use these words to beat ourselves up. Try and catch yourself! Even the fun stuff in life is all too often turned into a ‘should’ – I should really go on holiday. I must catch up with the girls, it’s been ages. It might sound minor, silly even, but just the change from ‘should’ to ‘want to’ in talking/thinking about a task can make it easier or more enjoyable. Even chores – not “I have to do the ironing”, but “I want to look after my clothes and feel good about my appearance.” (for example)

We also did a really lovely visualisation exercise, based around that idea of change. We were to imagine ourselves somewhere calm and safe, with a view of a broad swathe of sky. Imagine the warmth of the sun against your skin, and a cool breeze. Now look out and see the shadows start to lengthen, and the birds singing the evening chorus. The air cools a little, and the sky starts to go from blue into the amazing reds, oranges and pinks of sunset, then darker still into indigos and the deep deep blue-black of night. The stars come out – what a view you have of the milky way! Ponder for a moment how far those pinpricks of light have travelled to reach you. Now watch the moon rise, throwing shadows around you, shifting as the orb tracks across the sky before setting. Feel the calm moment of utter stillness, before a hint of light starts to show in the east, gradually brightening through the golden pinks of dawn. A few chirrups start from the birds, building to the full dawn chorus as the sky continues to brighten. You can see the dew on the grass in front of you reflecting the new day’s sunlight.

As well as being relaxing in its own right, this visualisation reminds us that change is a constant. The sun dips below the horizon every night, and rises again every morning. The seasons rotate in the same manner. As a tree loses its leaves in autumn, it doesn’t fret for the loss but rather makes space for the new growth in the spring. Likewise, our own lives will change and cycle, and each time something falls out of our lives it makes room for something new.

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3/52 Changes – Sleep

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3/52 Changes – Sleep

From fretting over what order I should follow the chapters/suggestions, I’ve found it’s started to flow quite well – not always easily, but I’m still going and I’m still psyched up!

Starting with meditation is turning into a key enabler: there are so many times following a ‘programme’ like this starts to feel like adding to the daily harassments, and then I give up, but a few minutes of breathing calmly really does help. I’m still strugging with exercise, but again, a few moments and I can accept that five minutes isn’t going to kill me, while remembering how essential I see this habit to my life-quality in general. And absolutely that the aim is for the tiniest of habit-steps (five minutes!) and just one at a time (ahem).

So for week three’s new addition I just went with the feeling that “Get More Sleep” was calling to me! It’s actually chapter 26 of the book, but – especially since the Christmas break – I’d been aware of staying up too late doing useless things, and my all-too-familiar constant refrain of “I’m shattered!” as I grumbled blearily through a day. So, more (or just better) sleep? Yes please!

The chapter has several suggestions for getting more sleep. First is assessing how much you get now – a bit vague, methinks, as the recommended 8 hours isn’t always enough, especially if it’s – like mine – tending towards broken (there’s a whole other topic on non-sequential sleep hours, but not today). Nor am I impressed with the idea of taking naps: this can make it harder to sleep at night, even if you can fit such things into a working day! I’ve never found napping easy or useful, personally. And getting up earlier is an end result, not the start for me – and tends to happen as the mornings get lighter.

The better (for me) suggestions included using exercise – although not right before bed! – to ensure your body is tired out during the day. Well, we’ve started the exercise habit and while I can’t say it’s tiring me out yet, I’ll continue to work on that one!

But for this first stint at the habit experiment, I’m focusing on two steps:

Go to bed earlier — the Internet will be fine without you.

And:

Establish a bedtime ritual. It takes time to unwind the body and mind. At least an hour before bedtime, start slowing down… This kind of ritual helps establish in your mind that it’s time to sleep, and your body takes this cue and begins to prepare itself.

So for the past week I’ve been trying to do two things: first, and a long-standing “I know I should” is to get the pc off far earlier – at least by 9pm was my goal. I also tried to stop using my phone to play the odd game, or just check something later at night – making a ‘no screens’ space.

My ‘ritual’ then involves all the prep for bed (teeth brushing, etc), stretches, meditation – sneaking another habit in! – then writing and reading in bed. I know some advise against such things (in bed), but it works for me, not least because the bed is then nice and cosy when it’s time to snuggle down and turn off the light.

Best success of the week saw me not even turn the ‘pooter on after work. I ate, watched something on the tv, and found myself feeling tired and cold, so just went to snuggle under the duvet – even though it was only half eight! I had the most relaxed couple of hours scribbling and reading that I fell asleep easily and slept better than usual – ah, yup: I get it!! Okay, not the most practical of daily practices, but it was nice mid-week, and did indeed make me less grumpy, etc that during the day.

Conversely, I spoiled my own goals last night with the usual “It’s Friday so I ‘should’ stay up late ‘cos I can!”. I’ve spent most of today headachy and lethargic. Hah!

I remember reading a quote a while back about such things – I can’t recall who said it, but to paraphrase: “The worst thing that could happen if we got more sleep is that we become better human beings.” 🙂

2/52 Changes – Exercise

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Chapter 2 in the book is ‘Unprocrastinate’, but I’m putting that off 😉

So, after some debate – which I imagine will be a weekly thing now, knowing me! – I realised the benefit of following the book’s suggestions more or less. For one, it saves me doing all the ‘glamorous’ stuff up front and then hitting a lower motivational period with only less attractive options left to me. Secondly, as I read ahead I realise that there is a flow to a lot of the suggestions, as well as a good mix of various types of activity. So far I’m adding little 5-10 minute habits to my daily schedule, but there is a danger of overwhelm if that keeps going!

I was equally tempted to skip chapter three, as Walking implies outdoors which really is NOT appealing in Scotland’s freezing January weather! Instead I decided to make my week 2 habit-experiment the more generic Exercise.

It’s kind of a traditional New Year’s Resolution, and one that I – among many others! – rather fail at, every year. But it’s also kind of a core habit to develop: there are SO many benefits ranging from helping with sleep (chapter 26), mindfulness (week 13), to quite probably extending your life – I mean, c’mon: of COURSE this should be more a part of my daily life!!

Minion hearts zumbaAnd again, the approach – that I’ve read a million times but only now is sinking in at a ‘real’ level, it seems! – of small and frequent is totally helping. Instead of dragging myself to the gym – too easy to excuse myself out of – I’m dragging myself to a simple 5-minute (just tiny amount of time!) zumba warm up in my living room. Doing it as soon as I’m in from work (trigger!) gets it over with, helps me warm up after the walk from the bus and before the heating’s fully kicked in, and means I can shove my dinner to cook while I’m in the shower and have a lovely evening in my jammies relaxing 🙂

The week didn’t work as well as week 1, as I was out late three night. Two included large amounts of walking over my norm, so exercise still done, but I did slack on the meditation – only 4/7 on that this week.

So, week 3 I want to continue with both of these things – in fact, these two are ones I want as core, all the time things for me now! For my new habit – and believe me, the new thing every week lack of boredom is hitting my scanner buttons in all the right ways! – I’m rebelling again and going for chapter 26’s Get More Sleep, or at least the setting up of a sleep routine.

And a final thought on this week… this morning I ran out of pages in my journal book, and looked back at what I was doing this time last year: Happiness Project, 101 Changes, and Joy Diet all got mentioned. What happened to any of them?! All were great, but clearly not as good a fit for me as this one is so far. Instead of already forgotten resolutions and feeling like January has disappeared in a haze, I have a feeling that I’ve already started to accomplish something this year – and I’m still excited about continuing the experiment! 🙂

1/52 Changes – Meditation

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Week one complete! The first habit experiment both in the book and my own attempts was meditation. I’ve done classes in meditation before, so I know how it goes and that I enjoy it. However, the real ‘lesson’ from this week was the whole setting up a habit: one at a time, start small, and find a ‘trigger’.

Now, none of this is news, and yet somehow setting myself the challenge to follow this seems to have made it click!

The meditation has been good to get back to. The ‘just two minutes’ has helped more than anything; previously the classes had me aiming for 20, so when it got late I often skipped it. As ‘they’ always say, once you start you often keep going, and this I have!

As for triggers, I’ve been easing myself in by using meditative music online, so it’s been my last ‘thing’ before I turn the pc off for the evening, except weekends where it works great in the mornings.

The week’s over, but I’m planning to stick to this one. I’m not going to push for longer, just let it evolve – into a proper habit! 🙂 One thing I am doing is trying to get more used to the ‘usual’ posture, which feels much more doable at 2 mins.

So far (hah, one week!) so good! I’m really excited about where this could lead: the meta-learning of being able to develop a habit (and stick to it) is the start of so many improvements…! But hey: one step at a time.

Another change for week 2 – in two ways: first, I’m shifting the habit-week start to Sunday. Okay, this is largely due to being out all day yesterday and not making the new decision about what week two would be! But Sundays work: gives me Saturday to finish one and move to the next. Until next week…!

Turtle steps

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I was flicking through some of the bookmarks I hadn’t really gotten around to reading last year, and stumbled back
across 52 Changes (and yes, I’m aware I’m a few years out of date…!). This is an eBook from the guy who does Zen Habits. It lists a suggested habit to form (or in a few cases, break) each week for the year – and I’m really tempted to give it a follow! In fact, I am: at least starting (I’m well aware of the evidence this blog presents as to how some of these experiments pan out…!).

Anyway, to quote from the book:

The changes in this book aren’t a way to improve your life. Let me stress that: this isn’t a self-improvement book. It’s an experimentation book. It’s a change lab. It’s a way to explore yourself, to figure out what works best for you, to get out of your comfort zone, to learn how to change, and to be OK with change. And that’s the most important thing: learning how to be OK with change.

It’s about living life in a way that will give you the greatest fulfillment, will help you help the world, and to live more fully and in the present.

Which sounds worth a go, right?! I’m loving the intro, in it’s laid-back tone and lack of pretension. It’s all ‘give it a go, see what works for you’ rather than ‘must do x, y then z’. The advice is sound, too: one at a time (my downfall!) and start small. And – I love this! – “Enjoy the Change. If you don’t enjoy it, it’s not worth doing. And it won’t stick anyway.”

The order isn’t prescriptive, so I’ve been thinking about what would work best for me. So many are already in my mind:
mindful eating, exercise, yoga, meditation, sleep, creativity, and the lovely ‘unprocrastinate’.

Sleeping seems kind of key to me – I’ve been having far more disturbed nights back in my own bed than in the peace of my dad’s house over Christmas, which is disappointing and really highlighting the detriment that has on my day-to-day. But that’s habit #26 – half a year away! But then… if I plan to try anyway, maybe the 6-month mark would be a good reminder to focus? A read through that ‘chapter’ (a brief description, why, and a ‘how’ for each habit) shows that it draws in exercise and meditation, so maybe the order flows well. Although I wonder if ‘walking’ is better done away from Scotland’s icy January weather!!

So… for right now I think I might just start at the beginning, with meditation. I’ve always loved my dabbling, but always fall out of the habit. Here the suggestion is 2-5 minutes: and hey, isn’t that a more sustainable habit than 20 minutes?! Also, I think I may make today the ‘official’ start – Saturdays seem more flexible than Thursdays, which ever day the year starts on!

Which isn’t to say I’m not even looking at the other stuff – exercise, healthier eating, blah blah – until the ‘habit week’, but I figure this way I can have one thing that is unshakable for the day. And – true to my scanner nature! – know that next week I can shift to a new area (although keep up with the meditation, too!).

Let’s give this a go! 🙂