Friday, February 26, 2016

How to start meditating: Mindful Moment for the SPIRIT

I’ll never forget the day a spiritual mentor looked at me and said “your mindfulness muscles are weak”. I was living a fast-paced, high-stress, non-stop lifestyle and could literally not sit still for more than 2 seconds. (This only a slight exaggeration. Just ask my husband. He would say my record of sitting still was less than 5 minutes tops. And that took significant effort.) 

As a Doctor of Physical Therapy, her words spoke to me. I spend my career helping patients improve their movement, one way being by strengthening their muscles. When she said I needed to strengthen my mindfulness muscles, suddenly things clicked. I realized I didn’t have to live my life multi-tasking, striving for efficiency all the time, and being without moments of rest and recovery. 

I found my answer to mindfulness training through meditation. Neuroscientists have discovered that meditation actually causes physical changes in your brain. Pretty amazing isn’t it?  There is evidence that meditation can decrease stress and anxiety and increase focus, creativity, and improve communication.

When I started meditating, I situated myself laying down on my bed determined to keep myself still for the recommended 10 minutes. I had installed an app to be my guide through this process (see bottom of the post for more). Truthfully, I was scared. I really did not believe I could stay there for 10 minutes. And what if my mind went elsewhere (like it does ALL THE TIME)?

Here’s what happened: before the end of the 10 minutes my body completely shut down and I fell asleep for 3 hours! This girl, who had never taken a nap in her life (I mean…who has time for that?!), was out for 3 hours. This was a huge awakening (and accomplishment). My body was clearly exhausted, running on adrenaline, and when I finally took a few minutes pause I went into complete hibernation mode. It quickly became evident that my body was craving rest and reprieve from my current hectic lifestyle. 

I started meditating almost daily. A year later, I get about 4-5 sessions in each week. I literally feel my body craving and anticipating meditation time. The long naps after meditating have subsided, however it took several months before they started to fade (I did have a lot of lost rest time to make up for). What’s most incredible to me is that I now am meditating for 20 minutes at a time and it feels like 5 minutes. Our bodies (and minds!) are truly amazing at how they can learn, adapt, and grow.

Some days, 20 minutes of meditation is just not possible. I’ve come to learn that this is OK. Even on days that I miss my full 20 minutes, I still take a few “mindful moments” to pause and settle my body and brain. Meditation doesn’t have to be lengthy, scary, or even done in a quiet place. In fact, you don’t even need to start with 10 minutes. If you’ve never tried meditating before, they best way is to start pausing and taking a few “mindful moments” throughout your day. In case you’re interested in learning how to start, I’ve created an acronym to help you.

Take a moment to observe your sensations as they relate to your surroundings. Notice noises, lights, the feeling of where your body makes contact with a surface. Scan from head to toe to notice any areas of tension in your body. Check your breath - is it shallow? fast? what is its quality? At this point we are just observing, not judging or attempting to make any changes.

If you feel comfortable, close your eyes, if not just soften you gaze taking your surroundings slightly out of focus. You may choose to look at a single object. Imagine yourself in a place and in a position where you would feel completely relaxed. This may be in your bed, on the beach, or cuddled next to a loved one in front of a warm fire. Let your imagination take you somewhere comfortable.

 Check your breathing. Sometimes during moments of distraction we hold our breath without realization. Allow your breath to deepen, the belly relax and expand, quiet the chest so that it does not move with each breath. Start counting your inhales (silently or in a whisper). Continue to the count of 10. If you become distracted and don’t make it to 10, without judgement, start over at 1 and repeat the exercise one more time.

Repeat scanning your body from head to toe. When you come across areas of tension this time I want you to tell yourself to let go. Allow the tension to fade and your breath to deepen. 

Take a moment to reflect on why you are taking this moment out of your day to pause. Remind yourself who you are doing this for and why. Think of how you and others may benefit from you taking time to take care of yourself. 

The most importance part of this meditating is the ending. No matter how you are feeling about the meditation, give thanks for this moment and for this day, as each is a blessing. "In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." 1st Thessalonians 5:18 (KJV). 

Interested in training your mind more? My favorite meditation app is “Headspace”. Consider it a gym membership for your brain. There is a 10 day free trial before being asked to join with a subscription. I have been using this app for over a year now and it has been nothing short of life changing. (Note: I have no relationship with Headspace and am not incentivized for you clicking on the link above. I just love it so much and have to share!) 

If you choose to use Headspace, I do have a few recommendations:
(Feel free to lay down in your bed, despite the recommendation not to do so.
*Make sure you deepen your breath through your abdomen, instead of your chest (as the cues are given in the app). This will help decrease hyperactivity in your nervous system. 
If you are unable to do a subscription service at this time, the app is a free alternative for learning meditation skills. 

If you are interested in reading more about the idea of “giving thanks in all things" then check out Ann Voskamp’s book, “One Thousand Gifts”

Have you tried meditation? What are your favorite meditation apps? I would love to hear how others are incorporating mindfulness into their day!

Have a great day! 

*This post may contain affiliate links* 

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