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.

 

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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

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.

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

Breathing. Not Sleeping.

I am still struggling in my mindfulness journey. I found a few online resources to support me in going forward. I am visualizing “training my mind” as similar to the process of training your body. When you start running or working out, you can hit a wall and see very little progress for a time.

My two biggest struggles with meditation recently are restlessness and a very busy brain. A few websites that offered support:

Meditation Oasis

The Change Blog: “meditation isn’t supposed to be easy” – thanks for these words!!!

Mindful: which tells of Eastern teachings describing the mind as “a drunken monkey bitten by a scorpion”

Even the Headspace app reminds me that there are obstacles to successful meditation. A recent session began with a focus on the fact that training the brain is a skill, and like any skill it requires practice. It is ok for it to be difficult sometimes. At this point I am told that even resisting all of these distracting thoughts will only add more tension to my mind, so my only job is to be aware of the distractions. When my mind wanders, I only need to gently return my focus to the moment.

Some Wins:

  • I’m still meditating every day
  • A weird new observation happened when I had a headache last week. I have had regular headaches for a few years: often 2-3 times a week, and a migraine or two each month. I realized that this headache was the first headache I’ve had since I started meditating in over a month! Interesting. I intend to do some research to see if there is a correlation between meditation and fewer headaches.

I reconnected with some of my previous learning in my meditation journal: we are our most authentic selves in the spaces between our breaths, the spaces between our thoughts. So, even if those pauses are short, each one counts.

The Headspace app directs you to do a body scan every time. I am asked to become aware of the areas of tension in my body, not do anything about it, but just be aware. My tense areas remain the IMG_0248same. I carry tension in my forehead, along my jawline, my lips (I bite them constantly), from my neck down through my back, both shoulders, my right rotator cuff, my core is always tight, and I keep my toes curled up when I am stressed. Thinking about these areas of tension has given me another goal: I hope that meditation helps me to reduce the tension in my mind, hopefully leading to less tension in my body.

I pictured a bizarre version of the old “Operation” game, with the tweezers, red nose and grating buzzer noise! I had to sketch the creepy visual.

I’m hoping that daily meditation will heal these areas – with no buzzers to disrupt my focus.

 

 

 

Committing to Breathing

I made the purchase. The Headspace app is my favourite resource, and teaches me in the manner in which I prefer to learn. So, $100 later, I am committed. I wavered over the purchase for DAYS – I don’t spend money easily. But, after sampling through the resources listed on my previous blog posts, I realized that I am seeking a developmental program. I have a destination in mind: a calmer mind, increased presence, ability to adapt to stress as it comes, and more sleep. Sampling from all of the free guided meditation resources actually increased my sense of feeling disjointed, scattered and frustration with the lack of progress. I wanted a sequence, and I wanted one that held meaning and engagement for ME. The guided meditations from Headspace seem to grow over time. You are required to apply skills from previous sessions. It feels like I learn something about myself and how my mind works. I feel like I am unlocking something, and moving towards my goal. Headspace feels like a course of study, and that ideas and information will be revealed to me in a timely fashion, as I gain new skills and readiness.

One of the first animations was about visualizing your thoughts as cars and our need to chase and control them. I can use that! Right now! I can use it as I move through my day. When the stress of impending deadlines overwhelms me and I have been dwelling on that stress for hours at a time, and my shoulders have crept up around my ears with the tension…. I can pause and realize that I have chased that “time pressure” car down the highway and I am now being dragged along the street as I grip the bumper. This visualization helps me to break that cycle and have a laugh. Since these are early days in my mindfulness lessons, I am not given tools to tackle or control my relationship with my thoughts, only a suggestion that it is really all about that relationship and perspective.

Something that I love about these guided meditation sessions is that they start and end in the same way (so far). You start with absolute focus on your space. You identify the sounds and the physical sensation of your body in the position it is in. By starting with an inventory of sound and feeling, you are required to engage and acknowledge your present state. By ending the meditation with the same awareness, you are returned from your “mind work” to your physical space. This serves to help me be more present – to get “out of my head”. I found myself using these strategies to move myself out of a long, busy-brained, sleepless session the other night. I began by actively listening to my space: a clock ticking, my husband’s relaxed breathing, waves roaring on the beach, and the rain on the roof. Then, I inventoried my body – places where it was in contact with a surface, places of tension, pressure points. My fists were clenched, so I unclenched them and re-visited my body scan. The last step is to focus on your breathing. That was the last thing I remember. I was asleep.

Barely Breathing – Getting Started

I am one week into my Zen project. I am hoping to learn how to use meditation and mindfulness to decrease my stress, learn self-regulatory strategies and become more present in all elements of my life. My ultimate goal is to calm my busy mind with the hope of increased hours of sleep.

So far, I have done a lot of reading and online research. I listed the resources I have located in my previous blog post. I have been only using two of the resources so far: Headspace and Stop, Breathe and Think. I definitely prefer the Headspace app. I am dreading finishing the free 10 sessions as I am fairly certain that I will end up paying for a subscription to this service, as I am enjoying and learning a great deal from it. I am learning more about myself and what I need as I learn about meditation as I explore the tools that I have found.

My needs:

  • A soothing voice
  • Clear instructions, with specific things to focus on
  • Sequential lessons, building slowly in complexity
  • A focus on self
  • Metaphors that I can understand and that work for my busy brain
  • Simple steps
  • Guided meditation – I am nowhere near ready for independent practice yet – I still need direct instruction!!!

A key difference between Headspace and Stop, Breathe and Think is where you are asked to focus your attention. Headspace encourages me to consider my breathing and the thoughts that wander into my focus as I learn to meditate. Headspace has been very gentle in its guidance, so far. The voice is incredibly soothing, and even after long pauses, it does not intrude. There are simple explanations and metaphors for how we think and how we attempt to wrangle our thinking. I can see my thoughts as “traffic” – a busy street with all of my thoughts rushing by. I can see myself attempting to direct that traffic, control it, and I can even see myself running (screaming) after a wayward thought-car. Having that picture in my mind makes it easier to step back and imagine myself sitting at the side of the road, observing the traffic of thoughts, but staying less involved. Headspace encourages me to be gentle with myself, and it even gives me time during a meditation to allow my brain to wallow in the crazy if it wants to. Stop, Breathe and Think has not been enjoyable. In fact, I stopped my last session with 3 minutes still on the clock because I had become irritated. I find the voice to be a bit more intrusive, and the pace is ridiculous! The meditations flit from one thing to another, and I can’t keep up. The ideas are HUGE, and I cannot relate. In the space of a less than a minute, I am asked to imagine myself filling with peace, then I need to fill the room with peace, and then I need to see that peace spreading over the world. What??! I found myself feeling panicky at the end of these meditations, like I had not yet done my job. One feature I did like from this app is that it encourages you to perform a check-in for mind, body and emotions before it offered customized meditation options for you. I may look at this app again when I have more experience, but for right now I need to walk away.

Going forward, I need some measurable details. Since my ultimate goal is increasing my hours of sleep, I will be looking at my weekly averages.

Baseline average: 5 hours 22 minutes of sleep

First week (January 18 – 24): 5 hours 54 minute of sleep

 

A one-day snapshot of sleep efficiency as captured by Fitbit Force. Is it nap-time yet?

A one-day snapshot of sleep efficiency as captured by Fitbit Force. Is it nap-time yet?