Friday, 31 May 2013

Week 22 Update: A little bit of wonderful.

Wonderful things are happening. I feel calmer, less rushed, more centred. This is despite the fact that I've just gone back to study and have plans to triple my yoga teaching load. My mindfulness quest is bearing fruit.

I think this week's challenge has a lot to do with it (plus, I'm still meditating daily, so that's gotta help) - eating and focusing on just one bite at a time is amazing! Really!

My default approach to eating is to get as much in as quickly as I can. It's as though I have this terrible fear I'm going to run out of food. I've always been this way ... My mum has reminded me that as a small child I would do the same thing - literally stuff chocolate chip cookies into my mouth while my parents weren't looking (I had the guile to hide under the table). Needless to say, this week's challenge has been demanding.

But, oh, what joys! I'm tasting my food again, noticing textures, flavours, temperatures - even though that's not expressly what I set out to do. As I've slowed down my eating, I literally feel like I've slowed down my mind. It's really rather incredible.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Week 22: One bite at a time.

I can often be seen inhaling my food. My spoon is my shovel and I might not even pause for breath as I keep piling the food into my mouth.

Ok, so maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but the fact is that, despite my best efforts to bring mindfulness to my meal times (see Week 2), I'm still struggling to eat in a way that doesn't leave me wondering where it all went.

I cannot count the number of times in the past few weeks when I have mindlessly eaten just one more piece of chocolate (it's never just one more) or sat with my spoon hovering in front of my lips while I'm still chewing my last heaping mouthful. As I do so, I'm usually shovelling food in another direction too - helping my son get his feed in.

This week I'm going to take another step in the direction of mindful eating. But instead of an overarching goal of 'eating mindfully' I'm breaking it down. My focus: one bite at a time. I'm going to aim to finish one bite before I take another. That means no full spoon in hand waiting in readiness - one mouthful swallowed, then the next loaded up.

In his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh makes reference to this way of eating - where we basically operate on auto-pilot. A friend eating a tangerine popped one segment into his mouth and then, before the first piece was eaten, had another ready to go in. "It was as if he hadn't been eating the tangerine at all. If he had been eating anything, he was "eating" his future plans." That's what I do all the time - eat my future plans. So this week I'm going to eat my present!

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Week 21 Update: One to hang onto.

Meditation is a funny ol' thing. Some days, when I've sat down to meditate, it has felt absolutely lovely. On other days, I've wanted to peel off my own skin (nothing like a bit of drama, hey).

My mind, just like everyone else's, has a particular way about it - it wants me to believe everything it says. Like when it tells me that I don't have time to meditate, or whinges and moans for me to open my eyes already and double check the time. My mind resembles a two-year-old in many ways: persistent, ego-driven, bossy ... Yet it is possible for me to step back from it and watch it all unravel - even if only fleetingly.

That's what meditation has been for me this week - a way to really be in the moment by allowing myself to disconnect from all those crazy, haphazard, jumbled thoughts of mine. Somehow, things seem clearer after I meditate. It's not like I magically turn off my mind (far from it in fact), or as if I have all the answers to life's problems and challenges. I think I just get a bit of ... perspective.

This week has made it abundantly clear that meditation is good for me (no great shock, but it's always good to remember!) and good for my family. I'm nicer when I meditate; pure and simple. Even on the days when meditation feels frustrating, I'm still nicer. Plus, it helps me to tap into what I need - whether it be more rest, more challenges, less housework (!) ... it really seems to make life that little bit more balanced.

Meditation may have been my challenge for Week 21, but this is one challenge I'll be hanging onto - it's too valuable to let it slip through my fingers as I think about week 22 and beyond. So I'm going to aim to meditate every day. I'll be flexible and kind with myself though - the last thing I need is to turn it into something that hangs over my head and feels like a burden. Like any habit, it's a matter of making it a habit - just showing up every day!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Week 21: Meditation ... I knew it was coming.

There's one challenge I've been avoiding for over 20 weeks now. I know I can't keep avoiding it. I know it's a challenge that I'll find challenging. But most of all, I know I need to do it. Now's as good a time as any.

I'm going to meditate.

This week, for twenty minutes of every day, you'll find me sitting in my yoga room, meditating.

Why my reluctance to take on this challenge? Good question. I'm a big fan of meditation - I think it has the power to change the world.

I used to have a very dedicated practice. Then I had a baby and got obscenely tired and overwhelmed by my new responsibilities. And, I always feel busy. When my son sleeps, taking even 20 minutes out to do something as self-indulgent as meditating seems somewhat shocking. What about the dinner preparation? Washing? Vacuuming? What about that yoga class I have to plan and the writing I need to get done? What about all those big decisions I have to make? All that thinking I have to do?

That's where I'll pull myself up. All of those reasons why I can't meditate are the very reasons why I should.

When I used to meditate daily, I felt so centred. I had a series of 'aha' moments in the clarity that came through my dedication. Choices and decisions that once felt like mental gymnastics to mull over suddenly felt easy and obvious. I could do with some of that now.

I'm sure everyone out there has heard of the amazing benefits of meditation - they are numerous and profound. From stress relief to improvements in physical health markers, there's no shortage of reasons to practice. Often, though, we think it's too hard, that we don't have the time, or that we just aren't doing it right. Really, it doesn't have to be that way. I used to sit for an hour a day to meditate. That was before my son was born. Now, that really does seem to high a mountain to climb, so I'm settling on what feels like an easier ask - just 20 minutes a day. Surely that's do-able.

Time to take the plunge. Off I go.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Week 20 Update: Staying mindful to the tune of "The farmer in the dell"

I've been up and down the stairs plenty of times this week. And it's been far more mindful than in the past.

Ok, so I'll admit that not every trip up and down has been mindful. Sometimes I've zipped up those stairs faster than you can imagine. On the whole, though, the stairs have become a place of their own this week - not just a thoroughfare, but an actual location worthy of my attention.

The thing that has helped me the most? Well, I've been singing ...

I spend a lot of time ascending and descending the stairs with my son. So this week, we've made it quite the affair. "We're going up/down the stairs, we're going up/down the stairs, mummy and baby are going up/down the stairs!" (to the tune of 'The farmer in the dell'). 

As I repeatedly belted out this tune, I realised the significance of what I was saying, or rather, what I was not saying. My little ditty did not refer to what we were going up/down the stairs for. There was no destination, no purpose, just a simple observation of fact.

All in all, I think my approach gave me a lot this week - all those moments on the stairs add up to lots of mindful time. So I think my new song may get a lot more air-time here.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Week 20: Going up, coming down.

Our new house is double-storey. I spend a lot of time going up the stairs - usually to grab something I've forgotten, deposit clean washing, put my son to bed or get him up, change a nappy - and then coming back down. Rarely do I take the stairs slowly.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book Wherever You Go There You Are, makes a lovely comment about this simple act of going up the stairs and back down. He makes the observation that this time on the stairs is often a transition period - a time when you are heading somewhere, usually for something very specific. As a result, your mind is usually on that next thing:

"So I discover that I am frequently pulled by my need to be somewhere else, or by the next thing I think needs to happen, or the next place I think I'm supposed to be." (Jon Kabat-Zinn)

But what of the act of going up/down the stairs itself? What a brilliant opportunity to practice mindfulness; to slow down and take in the journey, rather than being so focused on the destination.

I was speaking with someone today about my plans for my mindfulness challenge this week and she asked me, "What if you don't have stairs?". Well, never fear, you don't need them! Pick anything. Maybe your version of my stairs is the hallway you walk down time and time again, or the dash from your car to the train station platform. Perhaps it's your ascent/descent in the elevator at work, or the act of walking through your front door. Rarely do we experience these acts as something worthy of our attention. Rather, they are pathways to our next destination.

This week I'm likely to go up and down my staircase countless times. I'm sure it's good for my thighs, and at the pace I travel, I'm no doubt also getting a decent cardiovascular workout. But this week the focus is going to be on what this repetitive trip can do for my mindfulness mission. I'm going to slow it down, notice the sensation of my footfalls on the soft carpet, the rhythm of my breath, the action of my muscles and bones. No longer an express-way beckoning me to my next task, my time on the stairs will be an act of mindfulness.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Week 19 Update: I'm still trying.

It's funny - during some of my 'challenges' I've had great insights, really started to chip away at my 'stuff', and felt very much in touch with what I'm trying to achieve. During others, I've not felt like this at all. This was one of those weeks.

This week, I set out to notice my aversion to reality, for want of a better description. Basically, when I see something that upsets me, I tend to make up a great big, convoluted story about it; a story that may or may not have some kernel of truth ... most likely not. So, instead of getting carried away by my story, this week's challenge was to remember that reality is reality. What I think about something - the story and drama I give it - doesn't change what's really going on. 

And I tried. I really did. I'm still trying. I just don't think I've had enough practice yet. 

So I'm going to work at it. Like all of my challenges, there's still plenty to explore, notice, live with. I can't tick anything off my list and say I've got it all figured out - that's unrealistic and, quite frankly, utterly naive. I'll never have it all figured out, I'll never get it 'right' all of the time. Mindfulness is about taking each moment as it comes, so I've got plenty of time to keep practising.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Week 19: Reality is reality, no matter what I think.

I've already mentioned I'm a sensitive sort. One of the ways this plays out for me is when I see an ambulance/police car/fire truck/police helicopter/someone crying/people fighting/etc etc. Immediately, my stomach churns, I get a cold chill and my mind kicks into a frenzied panic trying first to work out what may have happened (the sticky-beak syndrome) and then to explain it away (the everything-is-surely-ok syndrome). Ultimately, it makes me feel ill to think that the world isn't always a happy, shiny place. There is sadness, fear, sickness, death ... It's inevitable.

Sorry for the doom and gloom, but I promise the lightness in this post is coming (well, relative lightness, anyway). 

The other day I looked out the window to see a police car parked on our street. My heart dropped. Dis-ease, right on my doorstep. My illusion of a happy world shattered once more. Then I stopped and gave myself a good talking to: "Come on, Erica. You know that what you think of this situation doesn't actually change what is really happening. And you have no idea what is happening. It would be the same whether you saw the car or not. The only difference is that now you're spending precious time thinking about something you have no control over". Right. Good thing my sensible side was there to slap some sense into me.

Let me explain a little more ...

When I was training to become a yoga teacher, I had one of those 'aha moments'. After studying the Yoga Sutra's of Pantanjali for months on end, it was starting to make some sense. One day, while on the train on my way to work, I saw some teenagers out the window who were "up to no good" (I didn't really know this, it just looked suspicious!). Of course, my body and mind immediately reacted and as the train pulled out of the station I couldn't let it go. In my mind I was trying to explain what I'd seen; then I tried to make it all ok - I needed to patch up this bruise I'd seen to make my vision of the world more ideal. Then it struck me - my mental gymnastics over what I'd seen changed nothing. Absolutely nothing. All it did was make me upset. It was like a light had switched on in my head and I could see clearly the futility of my thoughts. 

Since that day, I've been better at noticing this tendency of mine, but it's still there, ready to play havoc when I hear or see something 'bad'. So this week I'm going to give it a little more attention: reminding myself that what I think about something doesn't in itself change reality. Reality is what it is, no matter what I think*

*This isn't to suggest I want to become complacent or uncaring. It's simply a recognition that what I think doesn't change a thing. I could, of course, act when something is a-foot, should it be appropriate.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Week 18 Update: An asana a day keeps my grumpy bum (further) away.

A week of yoga asana EVERY DAY! What a brilliant idea, perhaps my best yet. It was awesome.

Like any good weekly challenge, I learnt stuff. Here it is:

1. My asana practice this week taught me a lot about listening to my needs in the moment. My practice every day was far from identical. Some days I practised in the morning, other times in the middle of the day or before bed. The time of day, my energy levels, my schedule, my emotional state, all impacted what I did and for how long. Sometimes I asana-d for a short time, other times I practised for an hour or more. The one thing that remained constant: I listened to my body and did what was right for me in that moment - not what I thought I should do, not my maximum effort every time - just what I needed.

2. It's liberating to take the pressure off. I think a lot of us don't do the things we know are good for us because we feel we don't have enough time. But I'd argue that we do have the time. Even if it's only five minutes, it's worth it. Yesterday I only managed to do a few cat/cows with my son. It's still yoga. A two-minute walk to the end of the street and back is still a walk; a single sentence is still writing; a paragraph read is still reading (I think you get the idea!).

3. My physical and emotional states are oh so intimately linked. Doing asana makes me feel better physically and emotionally. Chicken or the egg? It doesn't really matter. What matters is that doing asana regularly definitely keeps me as sane as I can manage. An asana a day keeps my grumpy bum (further) away.

4. The dance between challenging myself and nurturing myself is an intuitive one. Challenging myself to try something new, to do that fifth chataranga dandasana or work on a new balance pose can sometimes be exactly what I need. Pushing myself gives me the confidence to try stuff out in the real world, to realise that my comfort zone has fuzzy boundaries. Likewise, a more nurturing approach - lots of child pose, shavasana, pranayama - can well and truly hit the spot when I need it. It's not that hard for me to figure out what I need and when - I just have to listen, have to be present with where I'm at.

Ultimately, doing asana every day has helped me to live more mindfully this week; on the mat and off.

Namaste x