I describe meditation or mindfulness as a way to tune ‘in’ rather than tune out. I tend to be an anxious person myself. If you tell me to tune out, I become more aware of my anxiety and my critical voice kicks in. “I must be doing it wrong”. Tuning in and bringing awareness to thought, activity and feeling triggers the parasympathetic nervous system. This system slows down our heart rate and breathing and increases intestinal and glandular activity. It is the part of our automatic nervous system that regulates the body’s unconscious actions- digestion, reproductive, salivation etc.
Activity that allows us to tune in, focus and relax can be a form of meditation.
Do you enjoy….
- Playing an instrument
Have you ever described being in the ‘zone’, while engaged in any of the above mentioned activities? These activities trigger our natural relaxation response, signaling the shift to the parasympathetic nervous system. When we are in a relaxed state, we are able to concentrate, focus and think clearer. Our brain is able to see the broader picture. We are able to respond rather than react. Our self-dialogue becomes more positive and optimistic.
Conversely, when our sympathetic nervous system (also known as the ‘flight or fight’ response) is turned on, the body reacts by preparing or prepping us for stressful events or danger. Our bodies can’t determine if it is real or perceived danger. It just automatically responds. Ever hear of someone building a bomb shelter and storing food and water ‘just in case’? That is kind of what our brain does as it responds to stress and danger. Our brain is trained to look at what’s wrong or how to be prepared for something bad to happen. The intent of this response is to protect and prepare us. However, this leads our brain to become narrowly focused, skeptical, critical and negative.
How can these activities listed help us meditate or practice mindfulness? The answer is simple – Notice and bring awareness to self when engaged in these activities. Tune in! It’s like trying to tune into a radio’s frequency to get better reception and understanding of what is being said. We need to do the same for our body’s frequency. By doing so, you are contemplating and reflecting which is the basic definition of meditation, remember?
Here are some questions to tune in and create connection, understanding and awareness.
- How does your body respond in this activity?
- What does my body need at this time?
- Do I need rest? Eat? Stretch? Is there tension, tightness or pain?
- Pay attention to your breath and body sensations
- What are you feeling?
- How does your body move in this activity? Fast? Slow? Fluid? Stiff?
- What messages are in your head?
- Are you enjoying this activity?
- How do you know you are enjoying (or not enjoying) this activity?
- What do you smell, feel, taste, hear?
- Are you aware of any memories while doing this activity?
Meditation can be active and engaging. You don’t have to be a posturing Buddha-like figure. Here are some other ways to build your practice of meditation and mindfulness.
Eating- Next time you take a bite of your food, notice what it looks and smells like before eating it. Notice how you are feeling. Are you eating in response to a feeling or stressful situation? Notice the texture and taste of the food in your mouth before swallowing.
Yoga – I also get much resistance when I suggest yoga as a way to relax or meditate. “I have tried it. It’s not for me” is a typical response. Did you know there are many types of yoga? Here are few brief descriptions.
Try a few different types before dismissing yoga all together. Yoga has many natural, holistic, healing and restorative benefits.
Yoga Nidra - Refers to the conscious awareness of the deep sleep state. It is the
deepest possible state of relaxation, while remaining awake.
Power Yoga- Combines strength training, stretching, and meditative breathing. Many
of the moves produce sweat and muscle! In this class, yogis can look like a pretzels
with how they twist and bend their bodies. Anyone that says yoga is too easy hasn’t
been to this class. Each flow moves into the next, making it an intense aerobic
Bikram Yoga- Is the hot yoga! There are 26 regular poses within this type of practice.
Benefits are detoxification, strength development, flexibility and tone.
Vinyasa Yoga – This class focuses on breath and movement. It is a very physically
active form of yoga.
Restorative Yoga- One of my favorites! Blocks, blankets and bolsters are used to
passively relax muscles.
Yin Yoga – Referred to as yoga for the joints. Often, this type of yoga is perceived as
‘easy’ and ‘soft’ but holding long poses, sometimes up to 20 minutes can not only be
challenging for the body but also the mind.
Read more about the different types of yoga on www.matsmatsmats.com
Qigong- The rhythmic, repetitive and gentle flowing movements and breath techniques of Qigong create a calm, peaceful meditative state. Qigong produces many health benefits, including improved, restorative sleep and increased energy, creativity and spiritual effects.
Breathing Techniques- So many to choose from. Here are a few examples.
Diaphragmatic breathing – Deep breathing contracting the abdomen rather than the
chest. The inhale should expand the abdomen and deflate on exhale.
Count while breathing – Counting can help slow down the breath as you focus on the
Descriptive Breathing- As you inhale, breathe in positive words (relaxation) and exhale
negative words (stress)
Ocean breathing – Breath slowly in and out through your nostrils. Notice your breath
and the rhythm it creates. Watch your chest rise and fall. Listen to the soft, gentle
sound that your throat creates similar to the sound of the ocean waves floating on the
Fire Breathing – Take a deep breath in through your nose, down to your abdomen. As
you exhale, breath out through your throat as you would if you would be fogging up a
mirror with your breath or add the sound “HAAAAAAA”. This form of breathing can be
helpful in releasing 'stuck' or negative emotions.
Image Breathing – Imagine on the inhale a cloud (sailboat or water) on one side of
your head and as you exhale you notice the cloud (sailboat or water) floating to the
other side of your head.
Guided Imagery – Use breathing techniques to create a relaxed state. Once in a relaxed state, imagine a calm/comfort/safe place or positive qualities you want to enhance within yourself. Connect to the images using all of your senses. What do you feel, hear, see, taste and touch? Visualization paired with a relaxed state creates new neural networks in brain functioning.
Check out my resource page for some guided imagery CD’s.
Prayer – Creates focus, intention, reflection and connection within ourselves and our spiritual well-being.
Intention – Establishing an intention to any exercise or activity builds focus, connection and reflection. Try setting the intention “I am going to be my best self today” first thing in the morning. See how that affects your day. Or, set the intention, “I want to feel connected to my partner” before you set out to resolve a conflict or argument.
If you are having difficulty making changes or setting goals, start with creating an intention.
- I intend to be more forgiving
- I intend to be more open and connected to others.
Setting intentions creates that small space to allow for change, flexibility and CHOICE. You can then choose to respond rather than acting out of habit.
-Tara Brach has several books about self- compassion and setting intentions.
Loving-Kindness Meditation – You can create your own loving-kindness meditation, depending on your own needs and current challenges. Here is an example:
May you feel appreciated.
May you feel purposeful
May you feel good enough.
May you feel peaceful and at ease.
May you know the beauty of your true nature.
May you feel understood and supported.
May you feel loved and connected.
Say this out loud and then repeat meditation changing the ‘you’ to ‘I’. You can say this to a specific group of people, family, friends, humanity and/or yourself.
Pair this with imagery. Imagine your heart with open arms as it takes in and stores these words.
Headspace Meditation- Is an app on a smart phone that provides daily mindfulness audio scripts. They offer 10 free trials. They are only 10 minutes long, making it easy to fit into your day! Having someone guiding and prompting you can help you stay focused during your mindfulness practice.
Thisissand- Another app on your phone. The subtle, gentle movements of creating sand art on your phone can be very relaxing. Phone apps make mindfulness and meditation convenient which can increase accountability. Sometimes we just need that quick shift of focus to prompt the parasympathetic nervous system. Focusing on a project or activity quiets the ‘noise’ in our head. If you use this app, I would encourage you to practice noticing and awareness (scanning your body and notice any thoughts, feelings, sensations and breathing). Otherwise, this could be another mindless, ‘time-waster’ activity like watching television or surfing the internet. I hear many people say they relax by watching television or surfing the web. We do these activities when we want to ‘veg’ out, meaning check out. These activities produce a numbing affect from our stress. This is very different than what I am suggesting. I want you to relax but also check in and be aware of your emotions, mind and body.
You can even combine setting an intention to your work of art.
I want to be more grateful... calm... inspired...etc.
What would that look like in this picture?
I hope some of these suggestions will help you succeed with creating a meditation and mindfulness practice in your daily schedule. Start small – 10 minutes a day- as you create a new healthy habit!
*Disclaimer- For anyone experiencing dissociation or paranoid thoughts, please consult with your medical or mental health provider before attempting some of these practices mentioned in this blog.