Week 4, Day 4: Why Meditation or Mindfulness?

Today, I wanted to relay how meditation and mindfulness help me with anxiety, stress and even panic attacks and share how I find it works best. It is too easy to be put off, thinking that it is hard. Still, in reality, we have already completed several mindfulness exercises by this point in the course and, hopefully, they were an enjoyable experience.

I am going to talk you through a couple of exercises, nothing complicated, just little things that help me get my power back; some tools that I can bring out when I feel like I am going to wobble, some action to take so I don't feel quite so helpless. Sometimes that knowledge alone helps.

I know I am more likely to experience anxiety when I am going through periods where I have a lot of work to do, as I have been recently. I get more work completed if I get into a slightly manic state. Do you know the feeling I mean? When you are on a deadline, right against it. You get one job completed after another; you are super productive smashing it….. Know the feeling? It is sometimes coupled with low-level anxiety, but you can trick yourself into thinking it feels good if the rewards for completing the tasks are high. This is adrenalin coursing through your body and that putting yourself under stress. Prolonged times of stress are not good for you, and if you can't cut the pressure out from your life, you need to find ways to give your body and mind a break, so you don't burn out or breakdown.

I want to share with you how I think meditation works. I have read many books on the subject, been on courses, and studied it during my yoga teacher training, so my words are not from one source, just what works for me, and I hope can help you too. When meditating, people think you are supposed to be sitting there with no thoughts, feelings or emotions, and if something enters your mind, you have failed. Whereas it is the act of trying to clear your mind that is important, and the more you try, the stronger your ability will be, just like exercising a muscle.

So what does clearing your mind mean? If you close your eyes and take in a nice deep breath, you think about your body relaxing as you exhale. You take in another deep breath and as you exhale you relax a bit more and then, just as you think you've got the hang of this mediation, a though pops in. It might be: I wonder what I should have for lunch? Then your mind journeys to; I fancy avocado, but will need to go shopping, then I hate it when the 'ripe and ready' ones aren't ripe, to: first world problems eh?

Instead, you can decide to keep working that muscle and as soon as you realise your thoughts are full of lunch, you focus on taking another deep breath in and, as before, when you exhale you feel your body relaxing further. Every time you realise your mind is going on an adventure, you simply notice and go back to focusing on your deep relaxing breathing.

Every time you notice and repeat the process, you are getting stronger and more in control of your mind. You can start with just a couple of minutes, every day if possible. I think you will notice the difference pretty quickly!

Mindfulness is about focusing on one thing so entirely, all of the senses are drawn in and everything else fades away. The first mindfulness exercise I was taught was the raisin exercise, I am sure you could find a version on Youtube if you would like to test it. But I will give you my interpretation anyway.

First, you look at the raisin, notice the varying colours, peaks and grooves in the skin, the size and shape, if it is symmetrical, plump, dried out. Really look at the raisin from all angles and then pick it up. How does it feel? What temperature is it, how heavy is it? Roll it between your fingers. Is it soft, hard, sticky, take in everything that you can about this raisin in your hand. Then lift it up to smell it, does it smell sweet, fruity, does it remind you of anything? Lastly, pop in in your mouth. move it about and explore the textures, finally bite into it. What does it feel like? Taste like? By eventually swallowing the raisin, how do you feel, is that like any other raisin you have ever eaten?

Even though there are many different ways to use mindfulness, that is a really good example. Using so many of your senses, slowing right down, doing things with real purpose, and concentrating will calm you down and bring you to the moment. Not be carried away with mind adventures of possible outcomes or reliving past experiences where you wish you'd done something differently, or that someone else had - being in the moment, slowing down and mindfully focusing on one thing.

Both of these exercises are useful but used in different situations. Mediation is best practiced somewhere where you can sit (or lie) undisturbed, somewhere comfy where you feel safe. Set a timer and start with just a few minutes and build it up. I find meditation is great for bringing your day to day stress levels down. Perfect for switching off from a busy day, lowering your adrenaline and heart rate down in a healthy way. Mindfulness can be used while you are on the go. Pausing to watch your teabag steep, feeling the sun on your face, watching the birds fly in the sky, tuning in and bringing everything you have to that moment. Working on all of this should reduce the severity of anxiety and panic attacks, but if you feel one rising, having the ability to focus on your breath and feeling your body relax on the exhale. Concentrating on something in your field of vision with all you have, knowing you have these tools at your disposal, might give you the confidence to know you can handle it.

So todays task is to give mediation a go - you've got this, remember the important bit is to keep working the muscle and keep trying.

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