HMC Day 4: The Body Scan

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OK so you’re starting to get used to the idea of sitting without distraction for a few minutes at a time, your space is situated, you’re figuring out what time of day works best for you…what’s next?

For the next few days I’m going to tell you about different kinds of meditation just so you can start to get a sense of what’s out there. Around Day 7 or 8 we are also going to start lengthening the daily practice.

Today’s installment is about the body scan!

I love the body scan. It’s a classic meditation that brings awareness to each part of the body. The purpose is not to change anything, or even to relax. It’s simply to notice what is happening in your body.

Many of us are used to disconnecting from our bodies for lots of reasons (e.g. history of trauma, feelings of shame around body image, physical or emotional discomfort we are trying to avoid). Some of us might be used to over-focusing on an area of the body that’s in pain.

With the body scan, it’s about observing sensations without attaching judgment. So you might notice discomfort or pain in your lower back, and the challenge is to get curious about it rather than rushing to make it go away or think about how much you hate it, how much you can’t stand it, wondering whether you need physical therapy, etc. Instead, describe it to yourself with objective language: stinging, tension, throbbing. Notice whether it comes and goes, or whether the intensity waxes and wanes. And when the recording asks you to shift your attention to another part of your body, leave your lower back behind and observe the next part.

Assignment:

Sit or lie down (if you’re not too tired — you don’t want to fall asleep) and do this 5-minute body scan meditation: http://elishagoldstein.com/videos/5-minute-body-scan/

>> If you have some experience with meditation or you’re looking for a little more in-depth experience, try this version: http://elishagoldstein.com/videos/10-minute-body-scan/.

**If you missed the introductory post, welcome to the Holiday Meditation Challenge! If you’d like a summary of each week’s assignments in e-mail form so you can go back to them anytime, click here.

HMC Day 3: Choose a time

Holiday Meditation Challenge Day 3.pngDo you like the idea of starting the day by getting a handle on yourself, your thoughts and your emotions? Does the idea of a quiet evening wind-down appeal to you? Or a lunch-time recharge?

Meditation is beneficial no matter what time of day you want to integrate it into your routine. It’s a personal decision. I would suggest experimenting for a day or two and then committing to a time for the remainder of the challenge so that you make sure you check it off each day.

Probably the best way to choose a time is to go with what’s easiest and most reliable. While I prefer to meditate in the morning, I sometimes don’t get up in time to fit it in because my little ones wake up early. For me, I can stick to a recurring time much easier if I go with evening.

Of course you don’t HAVE to meditate at the same time every day, but I would encourage you to have some sort of predictable pattern (maybe your weekdays and weekends look different, or your Wednesdays are a one-off) rather than winging it. It’s hard to establish a habit if there are too many decision points or opportunities to miss.

Assignment:

Today, sit for 5 minutes. Try meditating at different times of day — you can even consider doing a couple of shorter sessions in the same day to see what works best. Then settle on a time and be consistent.

**If you missed the introductory post, welcome to the Holiday Meditation Challenge! If you’d like a summary of each week’s assignments in e-mail form so you can go back to them anytime, click here: https://www.subscribepage.com/holidaymeditationchallenge.

HMC Day 2: Find your space!

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HOLIDAY MEDITATION CHALLENGE DAY 2: FIND A SPACE

I love talking about meditation spaces. While a special space is by no means necessary (you can meditate anywhere that it’s possible to sit uninterrupted), I happen to be fascinated with what people find calming and beautiful. I feel a deep sense of tranquility when I’m in a space that feels comfortable to me — cozy, warmly lit, preferably with plants.

My usual meditation space right now is really just a corner. I sit on a meditation cushion (there are a bunch on Amazon; I use this one in green). In warmer months I often sit out on my deck, and in winter I sit near a window. I usually cover myself in a blanket and sit cross-legged.

Wherever you choose to practice, make it your own. Make sure it’s a place you like to be, because this will make it easier for you to show up and practice daily. But no matter where you choose, it won’t be perfect. Sometimes you’ll hear annoying sounds, or you won’t be able to get comfortable, or you’ll notice a draft. Meditation is, in part, about embracing discomfort and leaning into it — getting curious about it rather than trying to make it go away the instant we detect it. Sometimes when we observe discomfort, tension or even pain, we find that it’s not as uniform or intolerable as we would have assumed. We can learn something about the thoughts we have when we encounter discomfort.

But there’s no need to start out uncomfortable. Find a surface you can sit on for 15-20 minutes at a time, like a yoga mat, pillow, or on a carpeted floor. (It’s best to sit rather than lie down, mostly because you’re more likely to fall asleep if you’re lying down — but there are no hard-and-fast rules.) If there’s a nook you can decorate with pictures or wall hangings or plants, great! If you need to be mobile depending on which room is free when you have a few minutes to yourself, get a cushion and take it with you wherever. I know some people who just sit in their bed and meditate when they first wake up!

Assignment:
Try out a few different spots and/or surfaces in your home and figure out where you want to practice on a routine basis. Don’t overcomplicate this, but do have fun! Once you’ve settled on a spot and surface, sit for 3-5 minutes today. Stick with a guided meditation if you’re new to meditating!

>> In the coming days, decide if you want to add anything to your space, like a blanket, a cushion, or some sort of calming scent or decor.

 If you missed the introductory post, welcome to the Holiday Meditation Challenge! We are countering holiday chaos by developing a meditation habit over the next 30 days. If you’d like a summary of each week’s assignments in e-mail form so you can go back to them anytime, click here.

 Catch up on previous posts on my FB page or here on the blog.

Holiday Meditation Challenge Day 1

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DAY 1: WHAT “COUNTS” AS MEDITATION?

A lot of people are hesitant to try meditation because they aren’t sure what it IS. Or they do try, but get preoccupied with whether they’re doing it right, and give up quickly because of their uncertainty.

There are lots of different forms of meditation, some of which we’ll learn about in more detail during this challenge. As a way to begin, it’s helpful to think about meditation as an opportunity to either a) practice returning your focus over and over again to your breath, a calming mantra, or a narration of some sort, or b) observe what’s running through your head and allow the thoughts to pass like clouds.

You can’t really do meditation wrong, exactly. I mean if you just sit down and spend 10 minutes planning your day or trying to solve a problem, you’re not meditating. But if you sit down with the intention to meditate and notice partway through that your brain has shifted into problem-solving mode or worry mode, and you observe yourself doing that and decide to let the thoughts go (or return your focus to whatever it is you started the session focusing on)…it counts!

It’s hard to describe meditation, which is part of why some people are reluctant to try it. The absolute best way to understand what it is I’m talking about is to sit for short periods of time, over and over, until something starts to click. Be willing to experiment with different approaches (again, I will introduce you to several over the course of the next month). You have to experience meditation to understand it.

You’ll find that the more you sit — no matter what approach you like best — the more you’ll see yourself as separate from your thoughts. As humans, we possess a unique and amazing ability to observe ourselves thinking. And the more we can remain aware of this capacity for observation, the less attached we get to individual thoughts, which gives us freedom from scripts and beliefs that do not serve us.

Assignment:

Sit for 2 or 3 minutes today. That’s it!

>> If you are brand new to meditating, you may find that it’s easiest to start out with a brief, guided recording. You can find tons of stuff on YouTube — many therapists and meditation teachers have narrations you can listen to online. You can also download at app like Headspace or Stop, Breathe & Think, and listen to one of their guided meditations for just 2-3 minutes at a time. Both apps have some limited content available for free. There are lots of other apps out there too — don’t get too caught up in finding the perfect app, just pick something and get started. You’ve got plenty of time to experiment!

>> If you are recommitting to a meditation practice after an absence, do what feels right for you. Listen to a guided meditation or sit in silence — but don’t try to put too many conditions or “shoulds” on it. Do whatever you need to do to get back in the habit, even if it feels like a step backward from wherever you were before. Start small.

Holiday Meditation Challenge

Holiday Meditation Challenge!

The holiday season may be the BEST time to start meditating.

Stay with me here. Yes, it’s a busy time of year. Yes, the month of December is filled with random extra obligations, tasks and social events. So why add one more thing to the mix?

Well, for starters, us busy people are exactly the ones who need to slow down the most, particularly during periods of high stress.

If you’re a busy extrovert, you may have started twitching at the very notion of slowing down — though maybe there’s a part of you that would like more clarity and calm. If you’re a busy introvert, you’re probably longing for quiet moments but find them almost impossible to come by over the holidays.

Meditation may be the tool you need to get through the next month with your head screwed on straight. A meditation habit can help you tune into yourself, allowing you to manage your emotions more effectively and stay focused on what matters most to you. Through meditation, you can become more keenly aware of what creates stress for you and how your brain responds. Awareness is the most vital step toward living a calmer and more centered life.

So if you’re busy, stressed, and would like to avoid being ground down into a pine-scented pulp this holiday season, this challenge is for you! Let’s not wait till January 1 to get a handle on life.

Follow along on Facebook or right here on the blog, where I’ll post daily tips and techniques to help you develop a solid meditation habit by Christmas. Consider it my gift to you 🙂 If you want to see the posts on FB, like my page or click “follow,” and under notifications, click “see first” so you don’t miss anything.

We start today — Monday, Nov. 27! And if you’d like a summary of each week’s assignments in e-mail form so you can go back to them anytime, click here: https://www.subscribepage.com/holidaymeditationchallenge.

Thanksgiving Stress-Busters

we all know that holidays have a way of generating crazy amounts of stress — good and bad — in addition to whatever else is going on in our lives. Sure, focusing on what you’re grateful for can generate feelings of love, warmth and connection, and can zap negativity…but sometimes being grateful is not enough!

So today’s blog is ALL ABOUT BUSTING THANKSGIVING STRESS. More tips to come as the holiday season unfolds!

IF YOU’RE TRYING TO BE HEALTHY/LOSE WEIGHT:

The key here is to hold two truths at once: you won’t completely derail weight loss efforts with one high-calorie meal, and you WILL derail weight loss efforts if the one high-calorie meal spirals into a week (or a month!) of overindulging. With that in mind…

  1. Decide ahead of time what you want to eat on Thanksgiving and stick to it. But be realistic and generous! You are probably going to want mashed potatoes and dessert. Allow for the delicious things you love the most, and then savor every bite.
  2. Keep a food journal. If you don’t already do this, commit to trying it just for this holiday weekend. You can go the paper/pen route or try an app like MyFitnessPal. It will help keep you accountable. And if you are already keeping a journal, don’t abandon it, even (especially!) if you get off track.
  3. Make a game plan for the rest of the weekend. The best thing you can do to counter Thursday’s feast is have a long weekend filled with physical activity (walking, hiking, jogging, throw on a workout video, etc) and planned, boundaried leftover consumption. Resist the temptation to eat nonstop for four days.
  4. Imagine what your Monday Morning Self or January 1 Self wants you to do, and tap into his/her inherent wisdom. How will you feel if you stay in control vs. if you don’t?

IF YOU HAVE TO SPEND TIME WITH RELATIVES YOU DON’T TYPICALLY GET ALONG WITH:

Maybe there will be someone sitting at your Thanksgiving table that a) you’re not crazy about or b) you have some sort of conflict history with (major or minor). Sitting on feelings of irritation, annoyance or anger all day long is very draining and will leave you vulnerable to irritability, anxiety or physical symptoms like stomach issues, neck/back pain or headaches. With that in mind…

  1. Notice feelings of irritation and allow them to exist without guilt. Sometimes the most draining part of being angry is the guilt about being angry. Do you have an underlying belief that it’s “not OK” to be angry with your mom/brother/aunt? Do you think you “should” enjoy being with your family? Do you feel bad that you don’t like your in-laws more? It is all OK! There is nothing wrong with experiencing anger, even though many of us were conditioned to believe that it’s toxic or bad.
  2. Plan a (brief) escape. Offer to run to the gas station to pick up more whipped cream or ice, tell your partner that you’re going to sneak out for some fresh air after dinner — alone — or take an extended bathroom break. During your decompression time, take some deep breaths, remind yourself of the impermanence of the moment, recenter. Listen to a few songs that put you into a good mental space. Congratulate yourself for hanging in there. Whatever you need to do to recharge for the rest of the day, do it, and don’t apologize for it.
  3. Consider whether the conflict or problems are worth addressing in a longer-term way. If you’re resentful about your role (you do all the prep, you always host, you never host, you’re always the one traveling, etc.) think about what it would be like to talk about this with the person or people in question at some point after the holiday craziness settles down. If you always feel criticized or judged, or you have concerns about someone’s drinking patterns or behavior, leave open the possibility of addressing this more directly. If the relationship isn’t that important to you or you don’t see the person much, maybe it’s not worth it. But if you find yourself mired in frustration frequently, it might be time to do something different. (More on this in a future post/newsletter.)

IF YOU ARE GRIEVING:

The holiday season can be particularly brutal if you’re in the first year after losing a loved one, if the holidays bring up poignant memories of a loved one who has died (often the case), or if the season as a whole overlaps with a death anniversary. With this in mind…

  1. Give yourself some space. Don’t overpack your social schedule. Make time specifically to be sad, cry, and/or honor your loved one.
  2. Don’t try too hard to recreate traditions that included the loved one if others aren’t on board, or if the person’s role in these traditions was central. Maybe reimagine old traditions in a new way that includes the memory or spirit of your loved one without putting pressure on yourself and other family members to do things the exact same way.
  3. Acknowledge feelings of jealousy, anger or despair. You may even notice that your emotions span a wide range, even conflicting with each other at times (i.e. relief if the person faced a long illness, or if your relationship was rocky, as well as deep sadness). It’s normal to have more than one feeling at once, or to cycle among a collection of feelings. Let go of how you “should” feel. Make space. Avoid judging yourself.

IF YOU’RE PLAYING HOST(ESS):

Hosting a holiday can be fun! It’s also super duper stressful, especially if you’re expecting a crowd. With that in mind…

  1. Ask. For. Help. And lots of it! Delegate as much as you can. Take shortcuts if you need to (the local bakery will make a delicious apple pie, promise!) Get a sitter to hang out with the kids on Wednesday while you get some advance prep done. Which leads me to #2…
  2. Prep as much as you can in advance. Chopping, making side dishes, mulling cider — it’s possible to do a lot ahead of time. And the less you try to pack in on the day-of, the more fun you’ll have. For stuff that has to be done on the day-of, write up a timetable/schedule.
  3. If you tend toward elaborate decorations or are super detail-oriented, choose one thing to make particularly beautiful and go easy on the rest. If you try to do too much you’ll risk being overtired and irritable.
  4. Set an alarm on your watch or phone at intervals throughout the day as a reminder to pause and soak everything in. Check in with someone you love, take a photo, take a few deep breaths and a moment to yourself if you need it.
  5. At the end of the night, jot down what brought you joy and what could have gone better. You’ll be glad you did when it’s your turn to host next time.

I hope these ideas help you feel calmer, more connected to yourself and others, and better able to enjoy the holiday. If you hear yourself saying you “should” be happier/more grateful/more selfless/more peaceful, drop the should and accept what you ARE feeling so you can work it through and move into a better space.

Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

First day on the job

When I first got my mini goldendoodle, Malcolm, in 2009, my dream was to take him to work someday.

I had observed firsthand the healing presence of dogs across a variety of settings, from schools and libraries to nursing homes and hospitals. During my master’s program, I wrote a research paper on animal-assisted therapy, arguing that integrating friendly dogs into a treatment setting could enhance the experience of therapy as well as strengthen the relationship between therapist and client.

Then, to be honest, I dropped the ball with training Malcolm. I prioritized it for awhile, and he earned his Canine Good Citizen certificate when he was about 1, but then a bunch of life milestones distracted me from keeping his skills sharp. He became barky — hypersensitive to any noise that could indicate a person approaching the door, overexcited when we’d get home from work, overanxious when other dogs were around. He has always been an affectionate, cuddly guy who loves people, and he settles down fast. But once the barking got bad I kind of gave up on the idea that he’d ever work with me in the therapy room. I assumed he’d be too disruptive, and I felt powerless to change the behavior.

Fast forward to now. I moved into my new office space over the summer and began to reconsider my options. I realized that if I wanted to work with him on this, there was nothing stopping me. I read up on ways to extinguish problem barking. I started getting him used to a new collar called Gentle Leader, which helps encourage him to stay tuned into me and also gives me a way to interrupt the barking impulse in a humane way. He won’t wear it all the time — only when he’s working. And once I’m confident that he’s going to stay quiet at the office, we’ll experiment with taking it off.

So, we are giving this a shot! Yesterday was his first day at work with me .

He barked a couple of times but responded to redirection. He greeted each client with love. He is showing me that he is capable of learning something new. I know in my heart that if he can work with me a couple of days a week, it will be good for him (he likes having a job) AND awesome for my clients. And it will give me an excuse to go for a nice long midday walk when he’s with me 🐶

What would you conquer if you knew someone had faith in you — or if you had more faith in yourself? 💜