Some great tips from the internet. Just these small steps can make a big difference. Try them and let me know how it went. From Yahoo news.com
Practicing mindfulness gives us the ability to shift our awareness and attention. How does that happen and why is it important?
By sitting and bringing our awareness back to our “anchor” (our choice focal point – can be breath, sounds, our body, etc), we are training and strengthening the muscle that shifts our attention. During practice we focus on our anchor, then our mind wanders. When we remember, we shift our attention back to our anchor. We do this for the duration of the sit. It doesn’t matter how often it happens. The point is the remembering and coming back to anchor. That strengthens the muscle of shifting awareness.
If you’re like a lot of others, including me, your shifting muscle has atrophied. Our attention has been hi-jacked by so many other things, the news, advertisements, e-mails, the latest series finale, and so on. Not to mention the, closer to home, issues such as needing to make a dentist appointment or just remembering to pick up milk on the way home. Our attention is pulled in so many directions not of our choosing. It just seems to jump to the next “important,” maybe loudest thing. It’s no wonder we’ve lost the ability to put our attention where we want it. So we practice bringing it back over and over.
And why is this important? Because do we really need to pay attention to “The Top 10 Foods that Will Make You Fat. # 3 Will blow you away”? Sheesh! Maybe it’s healthier and more soothing to pay attention to our child’s smile, to the person that let you cut in line cause you only had 2 grocery items, to the rhythm or your own heart beat, to the smell of the breeze or to the tinge of sadness you felt when you saw that homeless person.
It IS healthier and more soothing. And our neurological system needs it to calm down.
Do me a favor. Put down what you’re doing. Sit quiet for just a minute or 30 seconds even. Notice 5 of your breaths, how they go in and out. Where do you feel them, in your stomach, nostrils, chest? Are they cold or warm? Just notice them.
Ok stop. What did you notice? Was it easy? Was it uncomfortable. Maybe you couldn’t even keep your attention on 2 full breaths. That’s totally normal. The mind wants to think and in this age of constant stimulation we’ve been flexing that muscle a lot. But practicing mindfulness will help you strengthen the muscle of shifting attention which will give you choice on what you want to pay attention to.
Please let me know how it went. I’m really interested.
For those who don’t know, www.myfitnesspal.com is a website where you can track daily calories /nutrients and get health / fitness tips and info. Here’s a very quick and simple instruction on how to meditate. “How to Begin How to Meditate”. I was just struck how widespread the knowledge of simple meditation has become. You can find it on websites that have to do with sports, medicine, health, colleges, and the list goes on. I would imagine, when one is struggling with whether to eat an extra helping of dinner, checking in and being aware would help guide the decision. Hence, this article on Myfitnesspal. Enjoy!
A week ago I mysteriously developed a muscle spasm/deep pain underneath my left shoulder blade. The pain is constant and varies from extreme to just noticeable. My first thought was, “OK cool, an opportunity to practice being mindful and maybe I’ll get an inspiring post out of it”. So far, after 6 days and no apparent consistent effective pain strategy, I’d like to stop practicing please.
My initial strategy (that is sometimes helpful) was to make the pain the focus of my attention. I put my attention on it and tried to notice how it changed, it’s quality, it’s intensity. But as the days went by I was becoming disillusioned and irritated. I started to think I was missing something. I went back and read a couple of chapters in a very good book called “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. Jon Kabat-Zinn is the pioneer who integrated mindfulness meditation techniques with science to help people cope with stress, anxiety, pain, and illness.
The book’s invitation was to do a full body scan meditation. Today I did a truncated 25 minute version of the one explained in his book. The difference between what he suggested and what I was doing was that instead of just focusing on the pain, he instructs us to focus on ALL of the body, one part at a time. And if the pain distracts you, notice it and gently return to part you were focusing on originally. Of course if the pain is just too distracting, he suggests doing something else which I won’t go into here because that wasn’t my case.
The benefit of this strategy (focusing on the whole body instead of just the pain) was that it allowed me to see the whole picture of my body not just the pain. I saw that there were other parts that did not hurt, there were parts that were fatigued, there were parts being ignored. There were even parts that felt good.
But most importantly it allowed me to see clearly the thoughts and feelings I was having about the pain that, for some reason, wasn’t happening with my original strategy.
Here is a small sample of those thoughts and feelings…
These thoughts and feelings are not wrong in any way. They are normal and to be expected. But on some level they point to a fear and resistance I have about the pain. It’s really important to note that having resistance to what truly is happening will always cause an additional type suffering, the suffering of conflict.
I now clearly see in that focusing on just the pain, in this case, was not allowing me to see my resistance to it. Isn’t it interesting that you can focus completely on something and still miss the feelings about it? The mind is tricky sometimes.
This is why we practice relaxing, and observing with compassion. We want to see the whole picture, the pain, the feelings about the pain, the thoughts about the pain. We want to see the resistance. Because if we miss resistance or attachment, we miss this added dimension of conflict. And conflict causes extra pain.
Who likes pain? It hurts! But if it is in our experience, first we need to allow it. Only then can we respond to it with skill, and more importantly, with compassion.
By the way, I’m feeling less irritable since I realized I was trying to push away my pain. When it comes now I remind myself, “oh yeah, that’s how it is right now. I really don’t like it, it’s uncomfortable, it’s sometimes scary, but I will relax and allow it to be how it is. And I will act with loving kindness toward myself in this experience. At least for now, the added burden of conflict is dissipated.
I’ve linked to his youtube guided body scan that you can use at your leisure.
This is great! It’s sort of a techie version of an intro to mindfulness. I totally related to all the ways he mentioned about being distracted. It’s 3 minutes long. Please try it for yourself and comment how it was for you. I’m curious to know. I dare you to watch this video
Test subjects taking part in an 8-week program of mindfulness meditation showed results that astonished even the most experienced neuroscientists at Harvard University. The study was led by a Harvard-affiliated team of researchers based at Massachusetts General Hospital, and the team’s MRI scans documented for the very first time in medical history how meditation produced massive changes inside the brain’s gray matter. “Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says study senior author Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School instructor in psychology. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”
Sue McGreevey of MGH writes: “Previous studies from Lazar’s group and others found structural differences between the brains of experienced meditation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. But those investigations could not document that those differences were actually produced by meditation.” Until now, that is. The participants spent an average of 27 minutes per day practicing mindfulness exercises, and this is all it took to stimulate a major increase in gray matter density in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection. McGreevey adds: “Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time.”
“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life,” says Britta Hölzel, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. You can read more about the remarkable study by visiting Harvard.edu. If this is up your alley then you need to read this: “Listen As Sam Harris Explains How To Tame Your Mind (No Religion Required)”
SEE ALSO: Neuroscience Shows How Training In Compassion Meditation Makes Us More Altruistic
SEE ALSO: The Placebo-Nocebo Effect & Proof Of The Mind’s Explosive Healing, Curing Power
SEE ALSO: Bliss Of Letting Go: David Lynch Discusses Transcendental Meditation In New Doc
SEE ALSO: A Strong Back And A Soft Front: The Power, Beauty, Neuroscience, And Importance Of Compassion
Today’s twenty minute mindfulness practice went something like this. I sit down and take a deep breath, focus on a few of the subsequent breaths, ready to calm my mind. I notice one breath, two brea… “Oh, I’ve got to remember to tell the contractor that he can use the radio downstairs. This construction is taking so long. And how long are we going to be without heat? Thank goodness it’s not as cold as it was last week. But I should be rooting for cold and rain because of the drought. Which reminds me, I’ve got to start conserving more water cause this California drought is so bad. How is the next generation going to …” Wait, I’m supposed to be watching my breath. In… out… in… “Sheesh! What kind of meditation guide am I anyway. “… Wait, breath… in… out… in…out… in… out, “I should be starting to get calmer now cause… But that’s not the goal. Well it usually happens by now, maybe I’m not focusing right. BUT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE WATCHING YOUR BREATH!” Oh yeah, in… out… in… out…
And on it went for about twelve of the twenty minutes. Sound familiar? It should. This is not unusual. Even for someone who’s practiced a fair amount. It’s not even unusual for this to happen for the whole meditation! One of my meditation teachers, who actually used to be a monk, said that he recently got up from his meditation to make a phone call. He got so lost in thought, he completely forgot he was meditating. Feel better?
This is what the mind does. This is what we’ve asked it to do since forever, to figure things out, to worry, to plan, etc. So we can’t fault it for doing just that. That’s a good mind, right? So where was I going wrong? I wasn’t. Even though I was somewhat caught in the drama of my thoughts and kept loosing my way, there was a part of me that remembered all I had to do was keep coming back to the breath and keep watching the drama unfold. And I remembered to do that without criticism or judgement. Even the criticism is to be met without judgement. That is mindfulness.
And sure enough, after about 3/4 of the meditation, I began to settle in. I saw the thoughts for what they were, just thoughts, not realities. I realized that I didn’t have to act on them now or even in the future. And especially not now when all I needed to do was watch myself be. The calm eventually set in deeper, I even heard birds chirping far away. I didn’t feel the need to worry about what kind of meditation model I was being. It didn’t matter right now. All I was curious about was what was happening now. Then the timer rang.
As I continued on with my day, I noticed I was slower and more grounded. I noticed the mental push to urgently get things done, but I didn’t feel the need to necessarily act on those urges. I could see them for what they were, just thoughts, like during the practice today. Then I noticed something else, that my contractor had taken the time to bring my garbage cans in. This was an act of kindness that would probably have gone completely unnoticed and unappreciated had I not been paying attention.
That’s what mindfulness does. Yeah, eventually, it’ll probably make you calmer. But I think, most importantly, it makes you see the way things are, not how your plotting, worrying, freaked out mind imagines they are. But how they really are. Then you’re able to take in and appreciate the thread of gentle kindness that runs through life.