Isn’t it always the way that when life gets hectic or stressful, the first things we let go in our tight schedule are generally those things we most need?
When my life cranked up last year the first thing I let go was my meditation practice. At the start of the year I had a nice little meditation habit happening. But sometime mid year it seriously slipped by the wayside.
I didn’t think too much of it until my Headspace
app renewal came through at the start of last month and I realised that in the whole of 2016 I’d not even made it through the three introductory levels!
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve been making a big effort last year to be a lot more mindful through my day to day life. But I do feel that, for me, adding in a regular block of formal meditation time daily has huge benefits. So I’ve been doing just that since the new year. Not every day yet, but most days, generally switching between my Headspace and Smiling Mind
apps depending on how I’m feeling.
The way the Headspace app works is that I’m currently stuck on 20 minute meditations, I need to get through three more 20 minute sessions to move out of the “intro” series, at which point I again have full reign over which track – and which length track – I choose.
Only three steps left til I can make my own choices!
I gotta say – 20 minutes of meditation is a HUGE stretch for me. I struggle big time. Which is why I keep flipping back to Smiling Mind, where I can choose a lovely seven minute track I can easily manage! I’ve done many, many more seven minute tracks there in 2016 than I have 20 minute tracks here!
But at the same time, I also want to extend my practice, so this morning I headed back to Headspace.
Ready for some zen.
It didn’t exactly turn out that way…
Here’s a brief rundown of at least 19 thoughts that ran through my head through this morning’s meditation.
1) Man I haven’t done this in ages.
2) I do love Andy’s voice.
3) Oops. I closed my eyes, I’m not supposed to do that yet.
4) Okay now I can close my eyes.
5) This is so much easier with my eyes closed.
6) But why do I struggle so much with eyes open meditation? I should be able to go that.
7) Don’t ‘should’ yourself Sarah
8) Gah, you forgot to respond to that person that texted you last Friday
9) I better send that power point presentation off its due today.
10) But I better change that slide that needs changing first…
11) Damn I forgot to link up my new accounting software with my invoicing software.
12) I really should YouTube how to do that.
13) I wonder how hot it’s going to be today?
14) I hope that dress I bought yesterday is okay for tomorrow’s conference?
15) What shoes shall I wear with it?
16) Hair up or hair down with that dress?
17) And what about earrings….?
18) Oh, there’s Andy talking again.
19) That’s right I’m supposed to be meditating…
And that was all in the first five minutes! There were way more thoughts in the following 15 minutes, but that’s okay. I’m slowly more able to not beat myself up about my wandering monkey brain!
You see the whole point of meditation isn’t actually to eliminate thought. It’s about being able to let those little thoughts come and go without getting hooked on to them. Clearly my little meditation hiatus has disrupted my ability to do just that. I did find myself latching on to some of those thoughts. Which is why I still love guided meditations, that little voice in my earbuds gently reminding me to let those thoughts go.
So hopefully I’ll be hearing a little more of Andy from Headspace on a daily basis as I head further into 2017.
What about you? Do you have a regular meditation practice? Any favourite apps? Any advice you can give me to keep a little more focused and build this habit?
I’d love to know your thoughts.
Until next time,
Do you see that mole there. That little one to the left of my chin?
Back when I was a teenager I used to think that mole gave me something in common with Cindy Crawford. So I was secretly a little proud of it. I may have even “enhanced” it every now and then with a little eyeliner. But didn’t we all make poor makeup decisions in the early 90s?
I haven’t really given much thought to that mole in the past two decades. It’s just been there, blending into the landscape of my face. Until the past month or two. When I started noticing it was getting bigger.
So I did what so many of us tend to do in these situations.
I ignored it.
Not intentionally, of course. It just wasn’t a priority, it was probably nothing. I was so busy, I didn’t have time. Insert any number of excuses here.
But it was always there. In the back of my mind. Just one more little annoyance I “should” get checked out – somewhere on the list after getting my pap smear and booking my first dentist visit in seven years.
Until I finally snapped myself into gear and booked my appointment for Tuesday this week.
All day Tuesday I had that heavy feeling in my stomach. You know the one. That feeling like river rocks in your belly. Weighing you down. Anchoring you somewhere you don’t want to be.
And it wasn’t just the belly. It was all those worrisome little thoughts popping into my brain. Why didn’t I get this checked sooner? What if it has to be removed? How deep will they need to cut? Will I have a scar? What if it’s something serious? Could it be cancerous? Will I need radiation or chemo? Why wasn’t I more diligent with my sun cream?
Sounds extreme right?
All these questions over one little mole. But they kept popping up – all day long until 2.45pm when I finally got to my appointment to be told by the doctor that my worrisome little mole was “totally benign” – possibly the two best words you could ever hear from a doctor. Apparently it’s just a normal little mole that’s growing. That’s what moles do.
Those words were like a magic spell. Expecto Patronum. All at once I felt lighter. Not only did that lumpy knot in my stomach dissipate immediately, but I also opened up physically. My body, all of a sudden felt loose and at ease, and for someone who is normally pretty well in touch with how my body is feeling, I was surprised to realise just how tense and brittle I had actually been that day. It wasn’t until my body released its tension that I actually became consciously aware of it.
Now, this story isn’t a brush with death tale. It’s not even a warning to wear more sunscreen – though you probably should.
I wasn’t even going to blog about this situation because it turned out to be completely nothing at all. But on reflection, I realised there was still a message here. Beyond the sunscreen wearing.
It’s about that sinking feeling. All those little questions.
The ones we push aside on a daily basis. The ones we do battle with. The ones we engage with and make bigger than they really are – either by ruminating, or procrastinating or catastrophising.
Now I’m not a doomsday prepper. I’m honestly not a pessimist person. I’m not one to dwell on drama (at least not since my angsty early 20s) and I’m not a hypochondriac. And I teach mindfulness and anxiety management for a living.
But even I’m not immune to worrying thoughts. To doubt and fear and rumination.
Because I’m human. And I have a brain whose sole purpose is to keep me alive.
That’s it. That’s what our brain’s number one priority is – at every moment of the day.
And it’s the reason the brain finds drama, and worry, and anxiety everywhere you look.
Back in the caveman days, our brains needed to be on point to keep us alive. Was that rustle just the wind, or is there a sabre tooth tiger about to pounce on us. Our ancient brain sees danger before anything else. In fact, our ancient brain can register danger before it even receives the visual message from our eyeballs. True story. The brain has a faster processor than your latest iMac.
But there’s not too many sabre tooth tigers around these days. And a brain hardwired for danger, in a world without sabre-tooth tigers is like a woman searching for an outfit on the day before laundry day – desperate. “Maybe this outift could work…” equals “Maybe this could kill us…”
Thanks brain. Thanks for all the worry. Thanks for all the jumping to conclusions. Thanks for all the ruminating. Thanks for telling us that everything you don’t understand in our modern world is going to destroy us.
This is stress. This is why we “get stressed”.
Because our brains are hardwired to see the danger, to register the negative, to identify threats – and to figure out what to do with them.
The point I want to convey here is that these thoughts are always going to crop up. Whether it be about a changing mole, an unknown pap smear result, a potentially philandering husband, a not home by curfew teenager, a potentially bankrupting business deal. Our brains will always, always jump to worst case scenario by default. It’s an unconscious reflex.
Now there’s certainly some thoughts we can’t ignore. And a rapidly changing mole is one of them. But really, I should have done it sooner, before the thoughts had so much time to weasel there way into my psyche.
And of course, there are people out there who are going through something a whole lot more serious than my little mole freak-out.
I don’t mean to be flippant here. What I mean to highlight is just how unhelpful our thoughts can be. Even for those people going through the tough stuff.
The majority of those niggly negative thoughts really aren’t helpful. In fact, they distract us and take energy away from the practical stuff we need to be doing to address any situations we’ve got happening in our lives.
So it’s up to us to add the conscious thought back in there when the negative insta-thoughts pop up. We might not be able to control when those little thoughts crop up and pop in. But we can have a control over how we react to them.
Do we engage with them, tangling ourselves up in knots?
Do we expend all out energy pushing them away and trying desperately to cover them up with something else?
Or do we acknowledge them. Let them be there. With the awareness that our brain but them there to keep us alive, whether or not the danger is real or imagined?
Dealing with our thoughts can be tricky, but as I mentioned earlier in this post – if we don’t deal with them, they can tie us up in knots physically and emotionally. Which is why stress is so detrimental to our health. And which is why I’ve spent the past few years building more mindfulness into my life, and supporting other women to do the same through my work. It’s the one thing I’ve found works the best for the niggly little thoughts.
Give it a go, it might surprise you. I’ve included a link to a free five minute mindfulness meditation here for you to try. Let me know how you go!
Until next time, keep well and let your brain know who’s boss.
I know you’ve seen them. They’re everywhere. At the newsagent, in bookstores, even in the magazine aisle of the supermarket. Adult colouring in books, also known as mindfulness colouring books – there’s simply no escaping them! All of a sudden, colouring is THE hot new thing in wellbeing. It’s supposed to help improve focus and concentration, while promoting relaxation. Many are also touting colouring as a wonderful form of therapy. But is this going a bit far? Now I love a good colouring session as much as the next girl, and I’m super happy I have two artsy kidlets, for whom I can buy hundreds of Smiggle pens which I immediately claim as my own!
But while colouring might be fun, is it actually good for our health? Is it really therapy?
Smiggle, I love you. (No, this is not an ad for Smiggle!)
I went to an expert for the answers. My wonderful friend Belinda Ryan is an art therapist and owner of Ignite Art Therapies. I asked her to tell us her thoughts on mindfulness colouring. Here’s what she had to say:
Yes! Lets talk about colouring.
There is definitely an ever increasing trend toward colouring books. Not just for kids but for all of us with a number of Amazon’s best sellers being Adult Colouring books.
So why has this taken off so much? There are a few reasons. Firstly, it is quite nostalgic to pick up a set of colouring pencils, it takes us to a place where we once were – the innocence, the freedom to do what we want and to be totally in the moment. I think we all have that little child inside us that wants to be creative, and this trend gives us permission to do so. It’s also about moments to play – we live in such a rule stricken world and it’s a great thing that we can play with a pencil and a page, one section at a time.
But the main benefit of mindful colouring is that of focus.
There is something about colouring that takes you to a peaceful place. It’s the repetitive action and zoning into a focused state that is of benefit. While you are colouring you are absorbed in that one activity and the rest of the world is on hold. When we colour our mind slows down and those things that stress us out disappear for a moment. It’s relaxing, meditative and allows us to centre our energy – something that is very hard to capture in this fast paced world in which we live.
Without trying to burst the ‘colouring is amazing’ bubble, there have been many claims that this is art therapy and while it is very therapeutic in nature, and a brilliant mindfulness activity, it is just that. It doesn’t tackle the things that are causing the stress, anxiety, fear, hormone enraged anger or withdrawal, but rather it gives us some respite from it. Art therapy differs as it allows those issues to be present so that they can be explored, understood, transformed and let go of ,through facilitated creative exploration.
That being said, colouring definitely is of benefit and it is something I give my clients to do as a zone out activity. There are numerous activities that calm us down, let the world disappear for a while and as long as we don’t fully escape the things we need to deal with (that’s what art therapy is for), then colouring is a good thing.
Belinda Ryan, Art Therapist and Director of Ignite Art Therapies.
So there you have it – advice on colouring from an expert. Yes, it is wonderful, and yes it can be part of a therapy program, but on it’s own it is not therapy. So if you feel like you need some support to work through any issues and you fancy the idea of doing it through art, make sure you check out a qualified art therapist, such as Belinda.
One of the best things I’ve done for myself this year has been to start a regular meditation practice. It’s something quite new to me – and to be perfectly honest, it’s something way outside my comfort zone! But over the past several months I’ve come to realise what an incredibly powerful tool meditation is for new mothers.
As mums we can easily become overwhelmed by the enormity of our role. Every decision seems impossibly important. We find ourselves busily plowing through days – doing lots, but somehow not achieving much. Our minds suddenly cannot seem to be quietened.
If this sounds like you – meditation could be a wonderful solution.
Uncertain about meditation? Don’t be.
Meditation doesn’t need to be scary – we don’t need to climb to the highest mountain in our village and sit upside down cross-legged on a bed of lotus flowers in order to meditate.
We can do it anywhere, anytime, and there are several different forms of meditation you can try.
At its core, meditation is about allowing the mind to be still, calm, to focus. By allowing our mind to quieten, we also quieten our body and soul. Letting go of stress, anxiety and other negative emotions is the key benefit.
Here’s a few different meditation strategies to consider.
- Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit. Stop everything you’re doing and simply focus on your breathing. Focus on breathing deep down into your belly, not high into your chest. Focus your mind on the breath – in and out.
- When you notice your mind wandering – which it will! – Just be aware of this wandering, let the thought go and bring your attention back to your breath.
- Try this for a few minutes every day.
- I find this is a particularly good technique to use if you need a “time-out” from a crying baby. Put the baby in a safe place – on his or her back in the cot – and walk outside to try this technique for just a minute or two. It could be just enough time to break the cycle of stress and anxiety you feel building up, which allow you to go back to your baby with a calmer focus. Babies pick up on our emotions – if we can remain calm, it will help baby to learn how to be calm.
2: Your Mummy Mantra
- A mantra is similar to mindfulness meditation, but it can be used for a shorter period and you focus on a word, sentence or phrase which has meaning to you and calms you.
- It could be a simple word such as “calm”, “peaceful”, “relax”, or it could be a more meaningful sentence such as “this too shall pass”.
- Silently and calmly repeat the word or words to yourself, for as long as you need. Don’t try to change your thoughts, just allow the process to calm your mind.
- This is a great technique to use when your baby or child is upset or causing a scene in public – such as at the supermarket!
3: Moving meditation
- This is a great one for people who don’t like to meditate or “can’t handle” sitting still – great to practice while walking bubs in the pram.
- Find a calming, peaceful place to walk – along the beach, a park or trail is great to increase your connection with nature.
- Before you start your walk – stop for a moment to appreciate your surroundings, then bring your focus to your body. Feel the weight of your feet on the ground, feel the movement of your legs striding, feel the lift of your torso holding your body up. Raise your face up and feel the sun on your face. Concentrate on how your body moves and the sensations of this movement as you walk.
- Mindfulness is key here – being aware of your body and its surroundings.
4: Guided Meditations.
- There are literally thousands of guided meditations on the internet – some better than others. My advice is to simply google the sort of meditation you’re after, eg. “guided meditation for stress relief”, “guided meditation for confidence”.
- Listen to a few and choose some that you like. You can then download your favourites to your iPhone – you can listen to them anywhere – take your baby for a walk in the pram and take a few minutes to sit at the park and meditate.
- I quite like Meditation Station on iTunes – lots of free guided meditations for different topics.
5: Take a class
- A formal class is a great way to get the maximum benefit out of meditation, as you can be led by someone trained in meditation techniques.
- Most yoga classes will include some kind of guided meditation at the end, which is always great. Also, many massage practitioners will include some form of guided meditation at the end of their treatment.
- Another great option is an actual meditation classes – there are several around Adelaide – just google meditation in your local area – you might be surprised what you find!