Welcome back to week two! Have you been keeping on top of your exercise plans? If not, stop right now and do five minutes of stretches.
Ready? Okay, then. It’s important that you keep on top of yourself when it comes to doing what I’m asking you to do, even when you don’t want to. In fact, especially when you don’t want to (that’s when you need it the most). As you get further along, you’ll begin to notice that your body needs different sorts of care on different days. Sometimes you need exercise, others comfort, and others company. How will you start to figure this out? Mindfulness.
I often tell people who start with me that if I have two clients with the same presenting issues, one of whom meditates and the other who does not, the one who meditates sees more significant change sooner. Why? Because the more aware a person is, not only of their experience but what is happening around them, the better able they are to process in therapy in order to release difficult feelings and cope.
If you already meditate, make sure you’re getting at least 5 minutes each day. The morning is often easiest, as it’s when your mind is most quiet. If you already do 5 minutes a day, maybe now is the time to make it 10.
If you don’t already meditate, you can start with simple mindfulness activities to ease into it. We often envision mindfulness to be this peaceful experience sitting cross-legged on a beach, hands on knees, whispering “om.” That’s not meditation. At least, not really.
Meditation is the act of recognizing when we’ve gotten lost in our thoughts and intentionally bringing ourselves back to the present. Jon Kabat Zinn describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgement.” Meditation is the formal practice, while mindfulness is what we do informally in-between. This being said to explain that mindfulness and meditation are not always awesome. Sometimes they’re grueling, vulnerable, and raw.
This might sound intimidating, but mindfulness and meditation are only grueling, vulnerable, and raw because being human is. Our minds race constantly, wishing for something, remembering something, planning for something. We zombie out on our electronic devices so that we don’t have to face that being human. We fear what our thoughts will become, but I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to fear your thoughts.
- Your thoughts aren’t real. Your mind makes thoughts like your nose makes boogers. You don’t live your life according to your boogers, so you don’t need to live your life according to your thoughts. When we talk about thoughts, we very specifically say “your thoughts,” which means there is a you. YOU are in control. Not your thoughts. You can learn to stop believing everything you think and start feeling in control of your life.
- While being human is grueling, vulnerable, and raw, it is also awe inspiring, uplifting, and beautiful. Oftentimes in order to get to the latter we must first gather the gumption to face the former. Life is not all good nor all bad. It is a mix and part of getting control of your thoughts is beginning to create a more realistic view of the world.
If you need a place to start, go with a body scan. I’ll work on recording and sharing some meditations in the next few weeks, but there are a lot of places out there you can find guided meditations (See bottom of blog for apps). Body scans are helpful to begin with because we can use our senses, which helps ground us. The act of feeling our toes, knees, back, or jaw instead of listening to and believing every thought that pops into our heads is an exercise. Think of it as building your mental muscles.
You can also work on just following and observing the breath, without trying to control it. Find the place you feel your breath the strongest in your body (nostrils, chest, stomach, throat) and focus on that one place. No need to count your breaths or change them. You just watch your body as it knows what to do.
Alternatively, you can take a walk and notice, one at a time, your 5 senses. It’s easiest if your walk is slow and deliberate. Similarly, you can scan through your five senses while you brush your teeth (instead of what you probably do, which is review yesterday, plan for today, and worry or wonder).
When you get hooked by a thought, pause, acknowledge it, and come back to your body or your breath. By doing this, you weaken the neural connection that wants you to mindlessly think and you strengthen the neural connection for mindful awareness.
Yes, meditation can change your brain structure.
Any time that you catch yourself in ruminating depressive talk, pause, focus on your breath for three full breaths, and then try to return to your day. You’ll know depressive talk by it’s negative tone. Examples might include, “what’s the point?” “I’m never going to…” “why would anybody…” and any version of you not being good enough. Put a pause on those thoughts.
One last thing. It’s normal to have negative first reactions to meditation. I didn’t like it AT ALL for the first six months. Ten years later, it’s my best friend. Here are 5 common struggles with meditation:
- “I can’t seem to do it right.” Don’t worry about this. Any time you recognize that you’re lost in thought, you’re doing it.
- “It just makes me fall asleep.” Sometimes this is an avoidance thing your mind does. Other times your body is just trying to tell you it needs more rest.
- “I can’t stop thinking!” It’s okay. You’re not really supposed to STOP thinking. Instead of that, make your goal to focus your attention on breath, body, etc. Also, you might find that the moment you sit to meditate your mind lights on thought fire. It’s not that you suddenly start thinking more, it’s that you are now aware just how much you already think.
- “I get cramps/tingling/itching when I try.” That’s normal. Again, some of this is a distraction technique your mind will use. Sometimes your nose isn’t itchy, your mind is. Other times you might just be really feeling your body when you normally spend a lot of effort ignoring its cues.
- “I get really anxious/agitated when I try.” Normal again. Part of this is the fear that we might not do it well or that we’ll uncover some deep darkness. Again with your intention, work on making your goal focusing your attention on your body or breath instead of trying to calm down.
Now it’s your turn! In addition to more maintainable exercise, it’s time to add meditation to your daily self care routine. Here are some apps to help:
Smiling Mind (Free and has versions for Teens)
Stop, Breathe, and Think (There’s also a kid version)
See you next week!