Mindfulness to Meditative Practice: The Basics

A friend asked me about transitioning to a meditative practice, wanting to calm the anxious monkey mind. I am sharing here the  basic process that may allow you to begin to transition towards a quiet meditative practice. I personally find it difficult and often consider my yoga practice as a way to calm the mind. If you are interested in growing this part of your life, I share the process here to support your mindfulness movement. 

Basic Mindfulness to Meditative Practice

The following are long term guidelines to incorporate a mindfulness meditation practice to support the reduction of anxiety, worry and stress and allow the mind to repair itself over time to support a greater sense of well-being and happiness.

There is significant evidence that a consistent practice can support reduction in generalized and obsessive anxiety and encourage greater happiness. MRI Results from Buddhist Monks show their ability to successfully calm the monkey mind, as well as, consistent evidence for the “happiness” parts of the brain (in the mid brain where our pleasure center resides) to be significantly better than the average person.

Step 1:

Consider reading Calming Your Anxious Mind by Brantley. This will take you deeper through the practices of slowly moving towards the possibility of sitting quietly in meditation. It is NOT necessary to get to a significant quiet meditation practice, staying in guided meditation will still provide the results needed. Also, the book suggests 30 minutes. This appears to be a much more long term practice, perhaps something to work towards after a years worth of consistent work.

A daily guided meditation also is available and a greater starter book, especially for those who do not enjoy reading as much.

Step 2:

I would like to have you take up a consistent gratitude practice. Get yourself a composition book and suggest that each day you write the date and three things you are grateful for in that day. It does not matter if you write many of the same things, the practice matters. Studies show that we get caught in foreboding joy, creating more anxiety and fear and once again, a consistent practice of staying out of judgement and focusing on what you are grateful for will improve the minds struggle to jump to the negative and get emotionally hung up in there.

Step 3:

Begin a daily mindfulness practice. Take just a few minutes to stay in the present using a typical daily practice. For example, consider spending your energy staying present in the moment by focusing on a chore that you often do mindlessly. Consider folding the laundry and talk with yourself as you fold the next piece of laundry, “I am folding this shirt, I fold the left over the right and then in half.” This can be done with any mundane task that suits you. The idea is to stay focused as much as you can on just being present with what you are doing. Talking to yourself can enhance focus. Don’t worry, you WILL get monkey mind and wander off into remembering, perhaps, ‘where did I buy that shirt?’ Without judgement, just notice you have wandered and come back to the task. Work towards doing this for about five minutes and when you feel like it has become less difficult, then move on.

Step 4:

Utilize a guided meditative practice. Many are as long as thirty minutes and again, I believe that length of time is for an advanced practice. Break the guided meditation into 10 minutes increments to begin with. Consider practicing at least once a day, perhaps grow towards once at the beginning and once at the end of the day when you, again, feel it has become less difficult to do one time a day. Over time, the idea is that once you have reached the end of ten minutes, you will begin to feel like you have taken in a much needed, long cool drink and taken in the deepest breath of the day (at least some of the time).

When sitting in meditation find a comfortable seated position. Consider sitting somewhere different than you normally do in your home. Elongate the spine, do not cross the legs (unless on the floor in a cross legged position) and place the hands comfortably on your lap/legs. Either find a fixed gaze forward or close or your eyes if it is comfortable. Again, over time it is suggested to have a special meditation spot. I like the use of a Zafu and Zabuton to sit in practice. You can find these for a reasonable price on www.dharmacrafts.com

*Try to practice when it is quiet and no distractions. This will mean silencing your phone.

Here are Some guided meditation practices (listen initially to decide if the person’s voice is soothing):

Jon Kabat-Zinn: He has many to choose from, each have about 8 different 30 minutes practices.

Ronald Siegel: www.themindfulnesssolution.com    This is a free site that utilizes the traditional Theravada Buddhist practices. They are quite beautiful and I believe appropriate to any religious belief system. Again, they are about 30 minutes long and can be broken up.

There are many, these two are the big players in the mindfulness meditation American arena.

Consider using the Mindfulness Bell App (or something like it). It is a gentle timer to bring you into and out of practice. This will keep you from worrying how long you have been sitting.

Happy Awakening! ~Namaste

Yoga For the Body Disconnected

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When we are body disconnected, we find ourselves thinking to much and possibly being told we are “in our head” most of the time. As Americans, we fall into the category of extreme body-disconnect. Do you feel clumsy in your body and experience yourself in a way that leaves you feeling awkward and well…disconnected? This lack of mind-body connection is a core struggle that leads to many other life problems that we can experience. A simple ache can grow into an injury as well as the common cold become a major illness. If we view our selves as a whole system, it is imperative that we connect with every aspect; from fingers to toes. Our lack of respect for our bodies can leads us to participate in unmanaged damage that could have life altering effects. 

To begin, get out of your head and take a deep breath. Yes, breathe in the deepest breath you have taken today. Some research says that the simple act of holding our breaths, especially during times of stress, deprive our mind and body of the necessary oxygen we need just to slow down, think and be present with ourselves. So, yes, breathe and breathe again…..
Next, Move, but with INTENTION. Sometimes when I am experiencing more body disconnection, I am one bruised up girl. I run into walls and chairs that I swear are jumping out at me, but have not moved from the exact spot I put them in years ago! So moving with intention is key. It is true that you can practice most any kind of movement with intention, being mindful of what and how your body is behaving. For the beginner body connector, or if you are like me and can loose the connection easily, I recommend slow, steady consistent movement that focuses on the breath, such as YOGA.
For many, the idea of trying yoga can be extremely daunting and uncomfortable. The truth is Yoga is for Every-Body. So many myths abound around yoga. Some believe that yoga can only be practiced in the context of a particular religion; while some believe that only the truly fit body can be an avid yogi. The truth about yoga is that it can be practiced by any person regardless of fitness level. Yoga is the type of mind-body practice where you are encouraged to listen carefully to what you need and modify your movements to meet the bodies limits. I have learned this can easily change from day to day. Some days a simple pose like the ‘downward dog’ is easy while other times I can’t wait for the teacher to instruct me to move on to the next pose! Yoga is often seen as a spiritual practice, it is not, however, a practice that purports a particular doctrine or dogma. Instead, yoga suggests that our bodies are sacred and remembering to connect with them in a meaningful way can have so many positive effects.

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If we return to our four pillars of health: emotional, physical, sexual and spiritual, we are reminded that without these four pillars, we become a lopsided, three legged table. Without finding a meaningful way to connect these four aspects of our health, we are not whole. Yoga can be the glue that allows us to connect to our Whole Selves and offer everyone regardless of our fitness level, spiritual background or fitness history an opportunity to remember the awesome connection we have within ourselves when we simply carve out time to breathe and move with intention.
So, Yes- Take another deep breath. Feel your chest expand as your lungs fill with the happy gladness that only oxygen can provide. Find a Yoga practice that is right for your body and eliminate the disconnect.
Recently, my eight year old daughter went to her very first yoga class after she was told by our pediatrician that she needed to increase her flexibility. Afterwards, I asked her how the experience was for her. She said she really enjoyed it and when asked why, she replied, “I liked that it reminded me that (looking down her toes) my feet are on the ground and I will get better at touching them with my hands.” With that, she wriggled her toes, looked at me and smiled.

Be Well and LiVe OuT LoUd.

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