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Mindfulness Tips from Community Members

To conclude our #Meditate4MentalHealth month-long campaign on our social media we asked our network to share their perspectives on the practice of meditation and mindfulness and how it helps their mental health.

We truly believe in collaboration and recognize everyone is a teacher, so it was really cool to learn about all the different practices and honest opinions about meditation, which can be challenging! Maybe there are some that resonate with you. Here’s what was shared with us:

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How do you practice meditation?

  • “I try and often fail, but I use Insight Timer app guided meditations and the timer for 6 minutes when I can. I also like mantra meditation”

  • “I have three favorite practices: one is to simply inhale to a count of 5, pause for 5, then exhale for 5 and I set my cell phone to chime for 10 minutes. The second is to exhale and imagine I am slowing releasing stress and tension and breathe down to the earth, repeating as many rounds as is necessary to feel a deep calm settle in. The third is to picture a quiet, safe space that I really enjoy, filling in every detail of that place as a I slowly withdraw attention from everything else — usually I picture myself sitting under a blooming apple tree on a quiet pleasant day.”

  • “Sometimes I sit up and sometimes I lie down. Usually in the morning”

  • “A few times in the morning, longer when I have time”

  • “I don’t practice”

    • And that’s ok! Meditation might not be for everyone…. in fact, in our poll on our Instagram, 90% of people who answered said they meditate and 10% did not.

What do you find challenging about meditation?

  • “Of course I want to set aside time for this and often don’t “find the time” - one of the biggest challenges is time. Another is my own mental barrier of conditioned thinking saying that this is a waste of time and I should be doing something more productive.”

  • “Remembering to do it, remembering that I can do it at any time

  • “Keeping my thoughts away and just being and breathing”

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What are some of your favorite tips or techniques for mindfulness and/or meditation?

  • “Mantra meditations help me the most because my mind wanders so easily but mantra/chanting keeps it focused. For mindfulness, my dog is super helpful! I just pet him and try to be really mindful with him and he is the best thing that has helped me ground and focus on the present moment. Also, I learned a while ago that since writing down your goals helps you reach them - I use my passwords at my work computer to be my current focus “Take3DEEPbreaths!” is an example of a previous password I used and typing it out each day, multiple times, helps me to remember the importance of it”

  • “I don’t focus on anything in specific. Focusing on something specific produces the illusion that I am a separate entity that can focus on something internally or externally. Really, there is nothing inside that is focusing and nothing outside that can be focused on. When seen in this way, our entire lives are a meditation. To put an end to the idea of an internal ‘self,’ to put an end to the habitual usage of words to label the inside and outside, is to see everything clearly… I love you”

  • Acknowledge your thoughts and let them pass. Come back to your breath. Try making a practice of meditating in the morning before the day becomes hectic”

  • “Find a time that works best in your day and commit to a few minutes to sit and be still. Small changes over a period of time can be powerful. You can extend the time as it suits you. Create a habit and see where it leads you.”

  • “Giving myself ‘credit’ for all the small amounts of practices throughout the day - simple moments of pausing and being present, or short breathing practices. I used to be really rigid in my practice and think I was falling off if I wasn’t sitting for 20 minutes everyday. Now I try to sit whenever I can, but also lean on lots of smaller shorter mindfulness practices throughout my day”

Thank you to everyone who shared! If you have any more tips, or want to add to this resource, please feel free to comment here in the blog and keep this a living document.

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Stressed out?

Ever have the experience where you feel like your to-do list is never ending? How about feeling a pressure that you always have to do more? In that moment, how do you respond?

It is a completely normal reaction to want to stay busy… how else will those tasks get done? But perhaps, the best thing you can do is practice mindfulness and actually intentionally slow down. Although it might be challenging and counterintuitive, there is strong scientific research that supports the value of mindfulness for stress.

How does meditation help reduce stress?

When practiced regularly, meditation has been shown to help essentially re-program the brain to be better able to respond to stress. Stress causes our autonomic nervous system to become active, and as a result, stress hormones are released into our bodies. When these hormones enter the bloodstream, they set off our “fight, flight, freeze” response. Everyone experiences stress a little differently; but common symptoms include: muscle tension, anxiety, dizziness, irritability, headaches, fatigue, lack of focus, and so on. If stress endures overtime, it can causes changes in our brain leading to a chronically activated “fight, flight, freeze” state.

Meditation actually can then help change the brain. Research has shown meditation contributes to neuroplasticity by reshaping and strengthening the neural pathways in our brain. This helps increase our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for our awareness, and shrinks our amygdala, a part of the limbic system of the brain responsible for emotions, memories, decisions, moods. Both of these changes help to increase our mental resilience by allowing us to become more aware and less reactive.

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In what ways does practicing meditation help with my experience stress?

Through practicing, you become increasingly more aware of your thoughts, and as your awareness of your thoughts increases, you begin to see that they are not always the truth. Meditating also helps you to not react immediately to a situation. Instead, you become better able at pausing and take more time to respond in a mindful, wise way. It also allows you to become more in tune with sensations in your body, which can then indicate whether you are experiencing stress earlier and allow you to help in turn take better care of yourself. Meditation has also been shown to help you develop emotional intelligence and, as a result, you can become more compassionate. Mindfulness also helps improve focus, which in turn, allows you to be more present and even work more efficiently.

What can I do when I’m feeling stressed?

Good news, there a lot of practices! You might even be doing some of these things already. We’re sharing a few we use, maybe you try them out to find what will support you best.

Take a Pause

See if you can create a few minutes in the midst of the busyness to pause and take a few deep breaths. A pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement when we are no longer moving towards any goal. Tara Brach, a meditation teacher says “through the sacred art of pausing, we develop the capacity to stop hiding, to stop running away from our experience.”

Listen Fully

Singing bowls are often used in yoga classes or meditation practices. It is believed that the energy caused by the vibrations in the bowl can influence your brainwave functions. When you listen to the signing bowl, played here by Colleen, your nervous system is engaged and it helps to bring you into parasympathetic, "rest-and-digest" state. Listening to singing bowls is said to help reduce stress and provide clarity of mind.

Move Your Body

Feel like you can’t be still… then try mindful walking or take a few stretches. You can even move while you listen to your favorite guided meditation. Moving helps reduce the physical sensations, like muscle tension, associated with stress. It can also help if you are feeling fatigued or tired, as moving mindfully, sometimes can give you a little extra boost of energy.

Let Yourself Be With the Stress

We typically see stress as “bad” and something to get rid of. But, it's a natural response and completely healthy when its balanced. As you notice stress, eee if you can cultivate non-judgemental awareness of your experience. Notice what is happening. Know that with time and compassion our perceived stress tends to decrease. Meditation essentially helps us to zoom out and step back so that we can become more aware of our reaction and what causes stress in the first place. Want to practice? Here’s an exercise called Notice, Shift and Rewire.


BE SURE TO FOLLOW TYP ON FACEBOOK, INSTAGRAM AND TWITTER FOR MINDFULNESS TIPS AND GUIDED MEDITATIONS AND PRACTICES IN HONOR OF NATIONAL MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH. WE ARE CREATING A MOVEMENT TO #MEDIATE4MENTALHEALTH AS RESEARCH SUPPORT THE MENTAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF MEDITATION.

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Meditation versus Mindfulness: What's the Difference Anyway?

If you have ever wondered what is the difference between meditation and mindfulness, you’re not alone.

The two practices are very related and embody many of the same principles; yet, there are some differences. We’ll break it down here for you and share some resources so that you can hopefully feel empowered to incorporate both practices into your life (that is, if you don’t already).

Meditation

Meditation is considered to be more of a formal practice that you set aside a specific amount of time for. There are a lot of different ways, or methods, of meditating that range from taking a just a minute to practicing simple breath awareness to using mantras, or repetitive words/phrases, to help you focus, to sitting in stillness for longer periods of time.

Creating a meditation practice that supports you best might require trying a few different methods out. What helps you to relax, create more ease or become more mindful could also change depend on your overall day. We often think it’s helpful to know of a few different meditation techniques, that you can feel that you have in your own personal mental health toolbox. So, here are few different practices that members of the TYP team find to be helpful -

Guided Body Scans

Guided body scans are an opportunity to practice awareness of different regions of you body, and to allow yourself to really experience how they feel. Practicing guided body scans is said to help you get more in touch with your body, to provide balance to all the busyness of life, and to help train your attention.

Body scan meditations can be done on your own by bringing your awareness to your feet and then slowly working your attention all the way up your body all the way to your head, noticing each part. It can also be practiced by starting at your head and working your way down. Whatever is the most comfortable for you. Or, you can try following along with a guided body scan. Here’s one recorded by one Amanda, a TYP team member and instructor -

Mantra Meditations

Mantras are words or sounds that are often repeated during a meditation practice to help you focus and concentrate on the present moment. If you have ever been to a yoga class where they chanted the sound of Om….. that’s a mantra.

You can create a mantra yourself by bringing to mind a statement, or even one word, that you want to embody at that moment. Or, you can practice specific mantra meditations. “So-Hum” is a breath-focused mantra meditation that TYP Instructors occasionally use in classes. The words “So-Hum” roughly translate from Sanskrit (the language Yoga was written in) to English to mean “I am That” or “I am of All,” which reflects our inherent interconnectedness. The breath is a reminder that we are always connected. Here is how to practice “So-hum” mantra meditation:

  • Find a comfortable position - either seated or laying down. Allow your body to relax as much as possible into the support.

  • Bring your attention to the natural rhythm of your breath. As you start to feel and notice your breath, try to begin to incorporate the mantra “so-hum.”

  • As you inhale, silently say “so” to yourself.

  • As you exhale, silently say “hum” to yourself.

  • Repeat for a minute or longer feeling the breath, connecting to the words and even the feeling that they may provide.

Breath Focused Meditation

You can meditate by also dedicating a certain amount of time to focus on your breathing. Breath awareness is often considered to be a concentration meditation, as it provides you something to focus your attention too. Allow yourself a little bit of time, get as comfortable as possible, and see if you can focus on taking full breaths. It will be quite natural for your mind to drift from place-to-place, see if you can notice its happening and then just gently bring your attention back to you breath.

There are even certain breathing techniques you can try. Katy, one of team members, recorded a guided meditation focuses on expanding exhales. We love listening to it after a really busy day to help us relax. Listen to it on YouTube.

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Mindfulness

Mindfulness is all about being aware. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, defines mindfulness as “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally,” sometimes with the purpose of gaining “self-understanding and wisdom.” When you are actively being mindful, you are noticing and paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, movements, and also the effect they have on you and on others.

Mindfulness can be practiced anytime and anywhere, whether formally (which would include meditating) or informally (which could be while you do an activity, like brushing your teeth or showering). You can be mindful anytime you are showing up and really engaging with what you are doing and even while you are interacting with another person, i.e. in conversation and through truly listening and connecting. Mindfulness can be incorporated throughout your day.

Learn more about simple mindfulness practices for self-care in a recent blog post.

Be sure to follow TYP on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for mindfulness tips and guided meditations and practices in honor of National Mental Health Awareness Month. We are creating a movement to #Mediate4MentalHealth as research support the mental health benefits of meditation.

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Simple, Mindful Practices for Self-Care Sunday

Here are some ways to create mindful moments throughout your day:

Mindful Eating

Eating is an activity we do several times throughout the day to nourish ourselves. How often do you do it while you are distracted- either watching tv, reading something, rushing? I do it, too, because well life…. But, I’m setting an intention to slow down and eat more mindfully.

With your next meal, I invite you to be really present. Experience the flavor, texture, temperature, and try to really savor what you are eating. Try to take your time. Maybe even pause after each bite. When your mind leaves the experience, see if you can bring it back. Paying attention on purpose to experience of eating.

Perhaps you also use your time to cook a healthy meal to nourish yourself. I, personally, enjoy spending Sunday doing some meal prep to be prepared for my busy work week ahead. As I wash and chop vegetables, cook grains and meals, I try to be really present to the experience. Not only does it help leave me relaxed; but it also allows for a little less stressful week knowing I have food to provide me with the energy needed.

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Need some recipe inspiration?

Here are some favorite Sunday meal prep ideas from the TYP team:

  • Steel Cut Oats

    Make a big batch and then just reheat (or eat cold) and customize with whatever toppings you’d like - fresh fruits and berries, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and so on!

  • The “Stew”

    Double the recipe on this satisfying turmeric chick pea stew with collard greens and have lots of leftovers to serve with rice or quinoa throughout the week.

Mindful Walking

Take a stroll. As you walk, see if you can be really present to the journey and experience. Try to notice the ground beneath you as you take each step. Pay attention to your surroundings, notice your neighborhood- the houses or apartment buildings, trees, plants, other people passing by… Simply take the sights, sounds, smells and feels- using your senses to be in the moment.

One of my favorite sunday activities is to take a long walk to a coffee shop or cafe and try to wander there. Often, I just let myself be drawn to whaetever catches my attention along the walk. In doing so, I often discover little unqiue things about where I live that I miss when I’m busy rushing.

This is another practice that your can incorporate into your daily life - if you walk to work, or even throughout your home, maybe you try to be with the experience more by bringing awareness to the sensation of placing one foot on the ground and try to take it one step at a time.

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Mindful Expression

Get creative! Mindfulness can be anything that allows you to immerse yourself in the moment. Put some music on and dance around your house, sing, play an instrument, draw or doodle, work on a crafty project, like knitting or crochet! Whatever calls you, try to be with the experience and let your creativity flow, using it as a practice. Remember there is no right or wrong way to express yourself!

What’s your favorite way to be creative?

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more mindfulness tips all month of May to #Meditate4MentalHealth

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