Breathlessly going Forward

Although I have put in the required hours, my learning project is not complete. I have learned a lot, but I am not done. I have learned:

  • Meditation may have medical benefits for people who make it a regular practice, including rewiring the brain, better resilience for stress, immune support, emotional wellness, and improvements in sleep
  • It’s not easy. Meditation is work. Every time. Making time to practice it daily was difficult, and the little voice in your head gets louder if you have a large “to do” list

  • The focus is important – whether it is visualization or focusing on breathing, giving your attention a clear task is the route to training your mind.
  • There are many types of meditation to try. Some are based in theological rituals, others are based on physical practices, and others are based on mindfulness
  • I did not have success with my original goal: improved sleep. However, I noticed that I had less headaches, I was better at self-calming, and I began to personalize less of my challenges
  • For my best learning, I need a blend of online, self-selected content, books to read, and human contact to check in and seek answers to questions
  • Reflecting openly about my new interest has increased my connections and PLN – reflecting regularly has increased my support network and also kept me engaged in my learning
  • Journaling helped me to process my personal learning experiences and growing knowledge base to transition into my more public thinking out loud blog

    Meditating at my local little beach.

    Meditating at my local little beach.

  • A meditation “space” was less important than I thought. I tried meditating in my bedroom, my front porch, in the woods overlooking the beach, as a passenger in the car, while cooking, and even at work
  • I like my new mindfulness! This part is simpler than I thought. I connect with my senses to ground myself in the present. I smell Spring in the air while walking the dogs, I hear my dogs lolloping around me, and I see the diffusion of light as I move through my day
  • There was one component of my chosen app Headspace that I did not have a chance to fully utilize and I believe that it would have added even more of a dynamic experience, based on my time as part of our #tiefit group: the ability to connect with other Headspace buddies. You can encourage each other and cheer one another towards daily practice. I never did find another Headspace partner. That is ok, as it took me 7 months to accept my first FitBit buddy. So, in terms of connecting with other Headspace users, it may still happen over time.
  • The way that the app is gamified (it tracks your “streaks”,
    My run streak from earlier this term.

    My run streak from earlier this term.

    there are incentives for reaching certain milestones, and your progress is represented in multiple ways) encourages you to compete against yourself and ensures that you keep returning.

  • It is actually less about doing a little “something for yourself”, and more about considering the people who will benefit from your ongoing practice of meditation. Focusing more on the benefits that your work will provide to others will make the practice easier, your mind softer and more malleable to the process. Meditation should be done as an act of service, not solely as a treat for yourself. However, your increased calm and self-understanding may lead you to be less critical of yourself and others.

  • Some days are better than others. At first that was difficult and when I re-read my journal I can see how critical I was of my efforts. Now, I realize that it is about the practice. Learning a sport is similar: you attend practices and some days are better than others, but ATTENDING the practice still counts.
  • I have begun to practice some of the strategies and reminders as a new part of my daily ritual. Headspace teaches you to “flash” some of the teachings as often as 5 times a day to ground you in the moment. I have taken some of the lessons to help me ease into sleep on restless nights, or visualize my busy thought traffic as a road that I step further and further away from. I am in the process of owning this new learning!

So, my journey continues. I have paid for a year’s use of this app, I am enjoying the practice, and I feel like I am getting something out of it. I am learning the skills to be more in the moment and to be present in whatever task I am attempting to do. It is actually feeding my sense of gratitude and joy. The guided meditations are working for me, but I hope to try a few more guided mindfulness activities on the move.

Thank you Alec Couros for giving me the opportunity to learn something new and to explore new ways to bring balance into my life. And thank you to my expanded PLN for supporting me along the way with resources, ideas and encouragement.

My mental "clutter" that I sketched out earlier this term as I began this journey.

My mental “clutter” that I sketched out earlier this term as I began this journey.

 

Final Reflection on EDCI 569

Here is our final reflection on EDCI 569, completed as another collaborative project by Jardi – a mixed up mash-up of Jarod Fong and Heidi James. Although we have never met face-to-face, we enjoy working together and appreciate the opportunity to connect over shared work and interests. This is an example of the power technology has to facilitate those connections.

Our project is a video reflection on our term of learning. We began by creating a theme based around one of our Learning Projects: meditation. The rest fell into place: we co-authored the script through a Google Doc and then each did some individual filming. Through Voice Memos we added the audio track together. We checked the final project through BlueJeans, and posted it to YouTube. We called it “Meditating on our Learning”.

Thank you to Alec Couros, Dean Shareski, Alan Levine, Audrey Watters, Sylvia Martinez, Dave Cormier and all of #tiegrad for another amazing term.

Music Credit:

Mini-Meditation Update

As our Masters term winds to a close and my assignment due dates crash towards me, I have tried turning to some of the skills I have learned through meditation. Some days (or moments) are more successful than others.

I am finding myself struggling with more frequent sleepless nights lately, and I find that turning my focus onto my breathing helps sometimes. The visualizations for stress are not working AT ALL for late night restlessness.

Earlier this term, Jarod and I were talking about our Learning Projects, and he told me about a book that was recommended to him by a colleague. It was called “10% Happier”. It is written by Dan Harris, a reporter for ABC who had the start of a panic attack live on air. Through his journey to calm the voice in his head (admit it, we all have one), he finally discovered the secret that worked for him… (spoiler alert)

Meditation.

He describes his process: Sit upright, feel your breath, when your mind wanders, simply return to your breath. This is EXACTLY what the first 30 sessions of the Headspace app teach! Mr. Harris backs it up with the same research that I found at the beginning: daily short meditation will grow the areas of your brain associated with self-awareness and compassion. It should shrink the areas associated with stress.

So, I am proud to tell you that I am not done my Learning Project. I have managed to meditate daily since I chose this project. I will continue to meditate long after this term concludes!

Photo Credit: hatalmas via Compfight cc

My Stress Floats Away

I married an amazing man. He has supported every step of this Master’s journey, including my Learning Project about meditation. Shortly after my birthday in January he told me that he had a gift idea that went hand in hand with my Mindfulness project. He wouldn’t tell me what it was until I cleared a date in this crazy schedule.

My gift was a session at the Float House: a sensory deprivation and floatation center in downtown Victoria!

I had several friends reference the Simpsons episode prior to my visit to the Float House. The Simpsons did get one thing right: you will feel better after your floating session. I found far more helpful information online and from visiting the Float House websites. Essentially, floating involves just that: floating. You enter a private tank that has about 10 inches of water with about 800 pounds of dissolved Epsom salts in it! Your body is buoyant, and there are no pressure points. The tank is light proof and sound-dampening. The research indicates that there are benefits for both mind and body by participating in this practice.

I was excited to try floating. Most people worry about claustrophobia when floating for the first time. My worry was about being warm enough. I am always cold, and the water is only heated to body temperature. I followed a link through the Floathouse’s Twitter stream. It suggested to have a cool initial shower, dry your face and chest completely and not to move too much once you are in the water. All of those things worked for me!

My experience was great at the Float House. I was welcomed in, invited to have some tea or lemon water, and to chat with the other guests. They only host floats on the odd hours so that the pods can be filtered between guests. After everyone arrived, the experienced floaters were sent to their rooms. There was only one other person who had not floated before, so we were given a tour.

Once you are in your private room you are asked to shower and use their special unscented soap on your hair and body before entering the pod. The pod has a light inside that softly changes colours. The pod is quite large inside. You are given foam earplugs and the advice is to use them if you can, as they keep the salt water out of your ear canals. Once in the pod, you lower the dome and lie back. At first I found myself straining to keep my head up and then I remembered that I would float and relaxed back into the water. There are controls in the pod to keep the light on or off and to add music or not. I turned out the lights and kept the music off and prepared to relax.

My pod at the Float House. Picture taken with permission of staff.

My pod at the Float House. Picture taken with permission of staff.

At first I was totally aware of being in water. Every inhalation and exhalation had the water level changing on my body. I had a brief sensation of movement, as if I was travelling upwards (the direction my head was) and a little to the right. In reality it was the exact opposite, as eventually I drifted into the wall on the lower left part of the pod.

The time flew by. I attempted to follow some of the guided meditation techniques I had been learning. I don’t think that I actually meditated, but I never became lost in thoughts as I often do while trying to meditate. My only thoughts were about things immediately inside the pod. I was aware of my breathing, my increasing sense of calm, how comfortable I felt, the silky smoothness of the water and what it felt like to be buoyant. I was very calm and relaxed and felt quite soothed by the experience.

Music signals that the session is about to end. After the music plays for a bit, the lights in your pod are turned on to indicate that it is time to leave. When you leave the pod, you shower again to remove the salt from your body. There are different products to use post-float. You return to the lobby to enjoy some tea or water with the other guests.

My calm state and relaxed body lasted all day. I was tired early and went to bed for one of the best nights of sleep I have had all term!

I would highly recommend this experience to everyone. I intend to go back as soon as I can.

Breathing and Stress

I completed my foundation course in Meditation through the Headspace app. It was a series of 30 sessions that gradually increased in duration over time. The funny thing was that although I paid for a year-long subscription to the app, it does not unlock anything. You must still progress through all 30 sessions in sequence before you can unlock any other options for meditation.

Is it weird that I wanted a little more fanfare when I completed my first 30 days?

I am still meditating daily, and enjoying it. My sleeping has not yet improved (not at all) but I have noticed that my heart races less and I feel less anxious overall. (Unless I think about my Masters assignments. Then, I crumble)

About 5 days before completing the foundation pack, you are invited to pre-select your next pack for meditation and load it into the queue. There were 3 big themes to choose from: Health, Relationships, and Performance. I was drawn to Health immediately because of my goals for this year. I had difficulty deciding between Stress and Sleep as my next series. I decided on Stress because I think that it is the underlying cause of my poor sleep. After you select your pack, you must decide between 10, 15, or 20 minute sessions. Reflecting on my foundation series, 20 minutes worked well for me. It was a challenge, but it also gave me the greatest opportunity for practice.

I did some pre-reading on stress through the Headspace app. There is also a Soundcloud post from Andy about stress.

Photo Credit: Celestine Chua via Compfight cc

One thing that I learned through my journey in the foundation pack was that not being fully present is a learned habit. We get caught up in multi-tasking, juggling lots of thoughts and ideas that we forget to be fully immersed in the moment. We were presented with a challenge as a mindfulness activity, and I suggest you try it. Try to be fully mindful every time you move to stand up or sit down for a full day. It is one of the tasks that we offload onto our autopilot, we don’t have to cognitively engage in standing or sitting. So, the challenge is to actually BE present when you stand or sit – don’t change how you are doing it, or slow it down, just be aware that you are in the process of standing – why, where are you going; or sitting – why, where? Andy Puddicombe says that being fully aware 5 times during the course of a day of standing or sitting is outstanding! I dismissed this and decided that my goal would be to be aware of standing or sitting 12 times that day. I managed to be fully present 5 times of standing/sitting. Please try it, and let me know how you did.

Focus on Breathing

Besides training my mind for “soft focus”, I find that focusing on my breathing is a challenge. As part of the routine preparation for meditation, my guide tells me to be aware of my breathing, to become aware of how it feels to take air in. The moment I bring my attention to my breathing it feels WEIRD. I begin by trying to breathe deeply. . . resulting in feeling a little light-headed. I try to breathe naturally. . . and I can’t find my rhythm.

My husband has always called me a budgie breather. As a Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 9.20.00 AMcertified dive instructor, he tried to teach me SCUBA diving during a trip to Ontario and I barely tapped the air tank, although his was empty. As a former firefighter, after any practice or emergency requiring donning our SCBA tanks, my tank was the only one that could be returned to the truck without requiring a refill. I “sip” air. I really notice this when I am trying to do anything active. Picking up running again after not doing it for a while, it is always my puffing and gasping that I struggle with, not my muscles.

I have used “box breathing” while feeling stressed to bring awareness to my breathing and also to hold air in my body for longer periods of time.

While looking for breathing exercises and specific guided meditations involving breathing, I discovered 4-7-8 breathing. What I liked best about the following video is how Dr. Weil describes this as a practice. I should know by now that meditation and mindfulness is not about instant gratification, so I guess it is ok that even my breathing can still be giving me some challenges!

I am a beginner, after all! One thing that I have learned is my preference for being in savasana position while doing meditation. Whenever I am seated and trying to meditate (even in a chair), I keep my core tightly engaged. I can’t seem to break the habit. The only time my breathing seems effective for the purpose of meditation is while in savasana.

Any suggestions to help me learn better breath control would be appreciated!

 

Motivated to Breathe

I am well into my Headspace guided meditation practice. The sessions have doubled in length of time and there are more sustained periods of practice required. A few key ideas are resonating with me this week.

The first pause came when I was reminded that this is a process. In one session I was asked to be less results-oriented. This is a difficult challenge in learning as we are so accustomed to evaluating and assessing along the way. Instead, I was told to focus on the process and the journey. My goal should not be to tame my restless mind, but instead to develop genuine curiosity and learn to observe my mind with a soft focus.

So, I will not report on the specific drop in my sleep pattern (again) this week. It’s ok that I have been more restless as the time commitment has increased. I will continue to work at this each week, and be gentle with myself as I face some of the common obstacles to meditation.

The biggest question that came out earlier this week was a “Why are you doing this?” While focusing on my breathing I was asked about my motivations. It started simply enough – direct your attention to your intention. This was easily answered. I want to be more present, mindful and calm. My hope is that this will lead to increased hours of sleep. The next day the question changed slightly. If we believe that we will get something positive out of this journey, how might others benefit from our new learning? Ah hah! My mind rejoiced! My underlying purpose has not really been about my high-speed flitting thoughts, after all. My secret, deeply hidden reason for doing this is guilt. I am constantly on the go. My people never get my full attention, because I am worrying about everything that I need “to do”. My ultimate purpose is to train my mind to focus my attention to whatever I am doing in the moment. Whether it is eating a meal, speaking with a friend, commuting with my husband; my goal is to be fully, mindfully PRESENT. I know that I was previously present. My husband speaks of it all of the time. I was a lot of fun when I was in the moment!
Later in the week one of the guided meditations explained that if we meditate as an act of service; with the idea of having something to offer others, the process will become easier, the mind will be softer and become more malleable. I love this focus!

I wonder how our choices in learning new things can be paid forward? I wonder how many people mindfully choose to learn something new with the idea of helping others? How will your current learning project become an act of service for the people in your life?

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc