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Mind how you go…

People mostly think that meditation is about completely emptying our mind of all thoughts. If you can do this, that’s amazing – and, for seasoned meditators, it’s the ultimate goal; it is an incredible experience when you “get” there. Mindfulness meditation, however, is the practice of actually focusing our attention on our thoughts, actions, present moments – where we are and what we are doing. Non-judgementally. Just observing our experience, focusing inward and relaxing the mind…I can hear a lot of you saying, “Well, that’s easier said than done!”

Try this simple mindfulness practice. You can give it a go any time during the day, as many times as you like.

  • Set aside some time – start with just a few minutes at a time – aim for five minutes…
  • Observe the present moment, just as it is – remember, this practice is not about emptying or quietening your mind. You actually want to pay attention – without judging your experience or yourself.
  • If you do realise you are judging your thoughts, take a deep breath and sigh “ohhhh well” and gently return to being the observer.

Every time you return to the focus of your Meditation – in this instance, your observations – your meditation “muscle” gets a little bit stronger.

Be kind to yourself. We were all beginners at some stage!

Let’s get our ZEN on…

ZEN is the art of being in the now.

Try this five minute Zen Meditation.

Sit or lay in a comfortable position with your spine straight. Close your eyes. Focus on your breath. Notice the air entering & leaving your body. Then allow your mind to focus only on what is happening right now…notice the sounds you can hear…the smells…the way your body feels. If thoughts about anything else enter your mind just gently refocus on the present moment…think about your breathing & the sensations you are experiencing right in the present moment. See how long you can do this – aim for five minutes.

Be gentle on yourself. It can take a while to learn how to keep your mind in the present moment…Practice Zen Meditation as often as you like to develop a greater sense of inner peace.

So…where to from here?

Extended periods of time spent in “flight, flight, or freeze” mode (or stress response) are clearly not good for us, being a major contributor to significant physical and mental health issues in the modern day.

If we do not manage to return to a relaxation response, our ability to embrace a state of well-being is compromised, and a level of dis-ease will ensue.

Meditation allows us to return to the relaxation response, and, essentially, results in the opposite of every effect of the stress response.

Regular meditation practice can –

  • elicit relaxation
  • calm the mind
  • strengthen the body’s immune system
  • slow biological aging
  • reduce stress
  • improve your power of concentration
  • allow more rational thinking
  • encourage better sleep
  • help with self-confidence and self-esteem
  • give you a sense of physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing
  • assist in the treatment of illness and dis-ease
  • lead to more physical energy and motivation…

…and so on…the benefits are illuminating and life-changing.

Food for thought…

In a state of extended stress response, as a result of the 24/7 “on” experience we now endure because “it’s just how it is”, our bodies are suffering significant long-term negative physiological and psychological problems.

The following conditions are just some of the issues recognised by conventional medicine as being caused, or worsened, by stress:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Cancer
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Drug dependencies
  • Weakened immune response capabilities
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle stiffness, neck pain backache
  • Sleep disorders, and
  • Digestive issues

Food for thought?

Are you already meditating? This might surprise you!

At any point in time when your mind is either completely focused or completely quiet, you are meditating. If you think about it, life itself is one giant meditation exercise – if you are completely focused on what you are doing – reading, in deep conversation with someone, constructing a blog post, scrolling through your Facebook feed, deciding what you are going to have for dinner… – or if you are sitting quietly, not engaging with any particular thought, you are meditating.

So, innately, you have the ability. The secret, however, is to realise when your focused mind is actually causing you some level of dis-ease, and no matter what you do, slipping in to the “sitting quietly, not engaging with any particular thought” version of meditation feels pretty much impossible.

How do you know if you’ve reached that point of no return? In simple terms, you are ready to “fight, take flight, or freeze”.

To keep you safe, your brain has already bolted and left the building, and sent your body out of what should be it’s normal, homeostatic state (that is, a constant, balanced internal environment). Now, the additional issue with this is that, in this day and age, with our senses being overloaded 24/7, via whatever mobile device is your choice of weapon, the driver that cut you off in the merging space, the colleague who just gets up your nose simply because they’re breathing, ridiculous and unrealistic deadlines at work (etc. you get the idea), what’s considered “normal” is not what it used to be. Back in the day, if you were being pursued by a saber-toothed tiger and managed to escape, and the threat passed, your body was able to recalibrate and return to homeostasis pretty quickly. That doesn’t happen anymore, and we are more dis-eased than ever before.

Our longevity is on shaky ground…

 

Om…

With another year under way, how are you feeling about your “new year’s” resolutions”? Did you have the opportunity to reflect on your last year, and resolve to do things differently this year – take better care of yourself, have a better work-life balance, exercise more, eat more healthily? The usual suspects 😉 We barely have time to recover from the busy-ness of the festive season and, before you know it, it’s back to work and life once again starts to get hectic. Most people I talk to are already feeling like those resolutions seemed like a good idea at the time, and, for some, are already a distant memory, with life already back in top gear.

My resolutions for 2019 are about continuing to live simply – and eating nutritious, organic food, getting out in nature as much as possible, and meditation. I really want to deepen my meditation practice, and, because this is important to me, I have already begun researching and incorporating ways in which to make this happen. Actually, I guess they are more like intentions...

I was a bit of a late-comer to meditation, especially considering a number of family members have been practicing bringing peace and sanity into their lives for many years, and have often espoused the benefits they experience with regular practice. I guess I was more of a “I don’t have the time” and “It’ll be okay, I’ll sort it out” kind of person, “flapping” and muddling my way through life.

And then, just over five years ago, cancer came knocking. Thankfully, I didn’t need much convincing that I needed to start doing things – well, life, actually – quite differently.

Enter meditation…

Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to post a short piece each day about meditation, that will hopefully help to explain a topic that can seem quite massive and complex, leaving people thinking “it’s all a bit too hard”. If you ever get the sense that you’re barely keeping your head above water, “flapping” against the riptide, and you’d like life to just slow the heck down a little, these posts are for you.

It’s time to start waving, not drowning.

Surviving the “silly season”

With the end of the year almost here – can you believe it?! – it is so easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of everything and forget to look after ourselves – and this is usually on top of a very hectic past twelve months.
Because we are (mostly) always on the go – and, therefore, in a heightened state (cue the fight or flight stress response), we “shallow breathe”. Shallow breathing doesn’t allow for the full expansion and contraction of the lungs, and so we limit the amount of oxygen that can get in to nourish our bodies (most importantly, the brain), and, consequently, we don’t remove as much carbon dioxide, our metabolism’s waste product. At this very fundamental level, we cannot operate effectively or efficiently because we are starving our cells of their most precious resource and, at the same time, allowing them to swim in a waste product; we are not in homeostasis.
For those of you retreating with me, we will dive in to this more deeply next year, but in the meantime, one of the easiest ways to take the pressure off, for a few minutes every day, is a very gentle breathing meditation where you simply place your right hand on your belly and “belly breathe” – meaning, when you inhale through your nose, push your belly out as far as is comfortable, then when you exhale all the way out through your nose, release the belly all the way back in.
Do this for one minute as soon as you wake up each morning, and, if you think of it, repeat as many times as you can during the day; set a reminder on your desktop or phone if necessary. Find a spot you can sit quietly in, or go for a walk and find a view…Your brain will love you for it!

Remember – you can only give the best version of you to others when you give to yourself first – that is, you take time out to nurture you. Slow, deep belly breathing is the way to go!