In December 2020, Fit is a Feminist Issue blogger Martha created a tradition – a series of reminder posts to take good care of ourselves during this last month of the year when it is far too easy to get swept up in your to do list, no matter what you are celebrating or not celebrating. Last year, it was my turn and after an introductory Go Team post called Give Yourself Some Space, I created a series of reminders called ‘Making Space‘ that offered a suggested short exercise video and a suggested meditation in case you needed an easy way to find space for yourself in your schedule.
For 2022, I’ll be doing the same thing but I’ll also be including a link to Martha’s post from the same date in 2020 and I’ll offer a few extra ideas for relaxation, creativity, and self-kindness here and there.
These posts are not about insisting that you do more, more, more during this busy season. Instead, I want to encourage you to remember that there IS a *YOU* who is doing all of the things and you are worth taking good care of.
Perhaps the things I suggest aren’t what you need in the moment. That’s totally ok. Perhaps you can use something else to create some space, something that will help you feel more relaxed or more in charge of your day.
On December 1, 2020, Martha reminded us that we are always enough (a position that I whole-heartedly endorse) and that things don’t need to be perfect to be good. Please go check out that post for an excellent reminder of how it is ok (and encouraged!) for you to show up just as you are.
On that theme, I’m wondering if you know about Jennifer Louden’s Conditions of Enoughness? I find them an excellent tool for keeping my self-expectations in line with my actual capacity but, like most useful things, they take a bit of practice. If you feel like you are always scrambling or if you have a nagging feeling that you are falling short, the advice at the link above could be just the thing you need to give yourself a break.
If movement is something you need right now, perhaps this short series of stretches will help.
If meditation is more your speed, give this a try.
Whatever you try or whatever you do, I hope you can be kind to yourself in the process.
PS – If you are already feeling overwhelmed by the thought of the month ahead, you might find this old article of mine helpful. December is like a messy closet, here’s how to get it back on track. I’m not actually too concerned with you be ‘on track’ but I do want you to have peace of mind and I hope the suggestions in that piece can help you move in that direction.
Hi everyone– I’ve been thinking more about sitting lately because I’ve a) driven a good bit the past two days; and b) went to a conference where sitting is what almost everyone is doing almost all day. Luckily I’ve been able to combine my sitting (both in car and conference room) with plenty of walking in between long sits.
But speaking of long sits, meditation presents an altogether different challenge on the sitter. You have to get comfortable, but in a way that is supportive, non-achy and non-drowsiness-provoking for maybe up to an hour (longer for some). Even sitting upright and not moving for 10–15 minutes can prove difficult. Feet fall asleep, necks twinge, calves cramp, and the imperative to move is strong. Not that moving to adjust position is a bad thing. It’s just (in my experience) that a quiet body is more conducive to a quiet mind.
I wrote this post back in 2020 (remember 2020? Never mind) about ways people sit in meditation. Of course sitting isn’t required at all– standing, lying down, walking– all of these are ways to comport one’s body while meditating. But I hope you like these options if you’re looking for a sitting posture that might work for you.
Last October I jumped on the Peloton bandwagon. A lot of my friends have one of their bikes and it felt like folks from all different areas of my life were happy with the classes. I don’t have a Peloton bike, but I am able to set up my bike with trainer to be able to take some of the Peloton classes using their app (I don’t get Peloton metrics with this set-up, but I have Zwift and Garmin metrics and am happy with those.) I learned that Peloton offered an “educator discount” on their app and off I went with a whole new world of strength, yoga, walk/run, and bike classes to try out.
Peloton offers a lot of “programs” which are classes they string together in a series. You need to complete class one before moving on to class two, etc. I quickly noticed that they had a two week meditation program called “The Power of Sleep.” As someone who struggles with both falling asleep and staying asleep, I was intrigued by this series.
I have always liked the idea of meditation, and some parts of the meditation practice, but my attempts at regular meditation had been met with a lot of mental resistance and feelings of failure for not being able to “get out of my own head.” I’ve come to understand that those feelings are common and part of the process itself, but it took me some time to get there. Soon after I downloaded the Peloton app I began exploring their meditation classes, seeing which instructors I liked and what types of meditations were available.
Once I discovered “The Power of Sleep” series I decided to give it a try. The meditations were short, most of them only 5 minutes in the first week. My partner and I go to bed at different times most nights, so I would do the meditation just before going up to bed. I found them to be a nice transition from whatever I was doing before that (usually tv or reading), but I still had chores to do after the meditation, such as letting the dogs out and teeth brushing routines. I completed the two week series and went back to my previous on/off cycle with meditation for another week or two, but I noticed it was more on than off.
My partner was away one night and I put a sleep meditation on while I was in bed, just about ready to fall asleep. It worked so well and I fell asleep almost as soon as the meditation was over. I began to brainstorm how I could listen to meditations without disturbing my already asleep partner, and I discovered a headband with headphones built-in. I was already a sleep mask wearer to block out extra light, so wearing something on my face/eyes wasn’t something new to get used to… the headband was a little more compressive, and the on/off buttons hit right on your center forehead (or over your eyes if you are pulling it lower), so that did take some adjustment. Being able to listen to sleep meditations as I drifted off to sleep made the adjustments worth it, and I quickly fell into a nightly habit.
Over the past year I’ve experimented with a variety of meditation classes and instructors. I’ve narrowed my favorites down to about 3 instructors and a strong preference for “body scan” meditations. I don’t mind taking the same class many times, but I do have to rotate my most favorite so I don’t take the same class too many times in a row – that causes my brain to think I should memorize the whole class. Instead I have about a half dozen classes that I rotate through each week, and I always try new classes to see if they will make the rotation.
I have not meditated daily for the past year, but I have been way more consistent with meditation this last year than ever before. I will often reach for a short meditation during the daytime hours now too, usually when I arrive at my office and am getting settled in to a busy day. I appreciate that my sleep practice makes meditating at other times of day easier, as my brain and my body know what to expect and I can settle in more easily without a lot of mental resistance.
We talk a lot about meditation on the blog (and in our world) and at times I have felt frustrated that I wasn’t “getting it” or able to do it right. I’m glad this was something I kept trying until I found a way that worked for me… maybe that means there is hope for my yoga practice too!
Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.
The Thanksgiving holiday gave me the opportunity to have a nice, slow start to my week on Monday.
I took Khalee for a walk and, even though it was windy, I took time to tune into my surroundings, noticing how the leaves have changed (or fallen), how the river noises are quieter, and how everything smells a little different right now.
When I came home, I took down the load of clothes I had hung earlier. (It was a fine day on clothes, as the saying goes.) This task can be pretty mundane (or even boring) but today it was routine in a good way – repetitive actions with positive results.
As I turned with my basket of clean clothes, I noticed how inviting my swing looked and I remembered how much I enjoyed meditating while sitting there cross-legged the other day.
So I decided to meditate there again today.
And that brings me to 51 days of meditation in a row.
When I opened the Insight Timer app today, it offered this very appropriate quote for how I felt at the end of my meditative afternoon:
Mental health is not a destination, but a process. It’s about how you drive, not where you’re going.
– NOAM SHPANCER, PHD
I liked how, today, I have ‘driven’ myself calm instead of driving myself around the proverbial bend.
Wishing you all ease for the week ahead. Please try not to cram 5 days of work into a 4 day week. 💚⭐️
Who remembers streaking? Not the hair-kind, but the running around naked kind. It was a thing in the mid-late 70s on college campuses that appeared, had its moment, and faded out. Before Weird Al Yankovic was old enough to drive, singer-songwriter Ray Stevens was on the case, releasing the novelty song “The Streak” in 1974. It was a huge hit, and then disappeared (as these novelty songs are wont to do).
It happened again a week and a half ago: I missed a day. I’ve finally gotten used to this– it’s not cause for feeling like a failure. Starting again is another (and very important) step in developing stable habits over time. Starting over. Picking up where I left off.
Looking at the Ten Percent Happier app on my phone, it faithfully notes and keeps track of every session. I really like how it shows my sessions over time. It sees all and tells all. Here it shows where I missed a recent session.
But that gray circle is only one element of a larger picture. When we pan out and look at my sessions over time– also faithfully recorded by the app– we see two patterns emerging. Here’s pattern one, showing my streaks of consecutive sessions.
You can see that I’ve started and restarted many times– 35 to date in the past two and a half years. There’s a serious drop off at the 10-day mark– only 11 of those. And there’s a further drop-off at the 20-day mark– I’m at 6 of those. As you all know, it’s hard to do most things (apart from teeth brushing, maybe) 150 days in a row. I’ve only hit that mark once. And oh, was I bummed when I missed a day after reaching the 200-day mark!
But hey, life happens. And, life (plus the app) reveals another way to frame my meditation habit. Take a look at pattern two.
For me, maintaining enough continuity to keep the weekly streak going is something I’m focusing on. Yes, it too could get interrupted, so I would do what one does: pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.
Hey, does that sound like a song? If so, that’s because it is a song by Nat “King” Cole. Here’s the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald’s version, whose streak of magnificent performances is impressive no matter how you frame it.
Readers, how do you feel about streaks? Aiming for them, being in the middle of them, getting interrupted, resuming? I’d love to hear from you.
As I write this (on Monday night) I am at Day 22 and I feel really good, really at ease.
Not every minute of every day but, at any given point, it’s a little easier to find that space, that breathing room, when I need it.
And, to be clear, I’m not saying that I am meditating here and there in search of that ease. I mean that, because of my short daily meditation sessions, there’s a little bit of extra room in between my thoughts – I just have to choose to look for it.
Given my galloping ADHD brain, sometimes it is a bit tricky to remember to make that choice but I am definitely making it more often than I ever have before.
I know that I have tried to develop a meditation practice several times before and my results were mixed, to say the least.
This time, though, doing the easy thing, not making a plan, just taking it a day at a time has worked out marvellously for me.
It has become easy and straightforward to include meditation at the end of my day – sometimes for 10 minutes, sometimes for 2 minutes – and I feel great about it.
In case you were wondering, Khalee is also a fan of my quiet practice…
This week I’ve had a big treat: my 19-year-old niece Gracie is visiting me. This is also the first time she’s visited me on her own; usually the whole family (sister, niece and two nephews) come together. We have a regular slate of favorite activities: dim sum lunch, Halibut Point State Park, Mount Auburn Cemetery (the bird watching there is great), Walden Pond. Often, we visit a museum or two: the Peabody Essex in Salem is one of their favorites. I love it when they visit– the feeling of being ensconced in family, the silliness and chaos of moving from place to place in a five-person group, the enjoyment of showing them familiar places and exploring new ones together.
This time, it’s been just Gracie and me. We’ve slowed down a bit and experienced our fun in different ways. Gracie helped me with dog sitting, and we cooked together. We went to Walden and to the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum. We also did some meditation.
One morning, we did a Ten Percent Happier app meditation with my favorite teacher Jeff Warren. This one is called Practicing Joy. He guided us through an exercise of thinking about moments when we noticed someone else seeming happy or joyful. It could be very simple, like kids playing and laughing. Or noticing someone reading a book in a park and smiling.
At the end of the meditation, I was left with the feeling that the world was full of joyful moments. It certainly doesn’t seem that way when we look at the big picture, but there is respite to be found by focusing in on small bits of life experience. Here are some moments of joy from this week with Gracie:
Following Gracie through the zen garden outside the Gardner museum.
Hanging onto and playing together with my swim buoy in the middle of Walden Pond.
Playing a game with rocks in the same pond.
Walking Dixie the dog at all hours of the day and night.
Helping Dixie stalk the neighborhood bunnies (none of whom were harmed in the course of the game).
Walking around the neighborhood together without the dog one evening after a particularly large dinner.
Watching Gracie try to do yoga with a dog in the same room.
She leaves today. I’ll miss her. And, I’ll try to remember and look for my own moments of joy, in walking, cycling, doing dishes, yoga, swimming, playing.
Readers, do you remember a moment of joy from this week? They’re not profound, just a momentary influx of good feeling from something in your world. If you have one to share, please do. If you don’t remember one, do some noticing this week. I think you’ll see them.
Hi everyone! You know this already: I’m a big ol’ booster for the Ten Percent Happier App. What can I say? I’ve got the zeal of the relatively-new convert. I’ve been meditating almost daily for 2 years now, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t that long. But it’s long-to-me, and makes me feel happier. Maybe even more than 10% happier, honestly.
So, I thought I’d share some of my favorite meditations with you. It’s not so much that I want to promote particular teachers or particular apps, but rather that there are certain kinds of meditations I keep returning to, that center or ground or soothe me. Others lighten my burdens. Some are just fun mental explorations. So here goes, in no particular order.
“I need to chill out right now” meditations:
Jeff Warren does a Ten Good Breaths meditation. I love love love this. It lasts 3 minutes. It’s focused but also a little on the light side, with a smidge of humor. Here it is on YouTube:
I also really like Diana Winston’s meditations for a moment of panic. There are 1-10 minute-long options. I’ve used them when I’ve worked myself up into a serious lather. They emphasize noticing the body sitting, feet on the floor and then awareness of body parts that are feeling quiet (like hands or feet). I couldn’t find a free version, but here’s a 5-minute breathing meditation by Diana on the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center site, which has lots of free guided meditations.
“I need to wake up” meditations
I used to think that meditating first thing in the morning was useless because I’d immediately fall back asleep. It never occurred to me that mindfulness and focus could help me make the transition to wakefulness. Some of the techniques use body scans, an introspective check-in (e.g. how are my emotions this morning?), or even a gratitude practice (e.g. what are three things I’m grateful for right now/in the next hour/in general).
Every morning, when my alarm goes off, I hit snooze once. Then I turn on one of the morning meditations for 5 or 10 minutes. It helps me adjust to the reality of leaving my bed sooner or later…Joanna Hardy has my go-to morning meditations on my app. She’s got a lot of online talks and guided meditations accessible here, and below is a very strange video but worth spending a minute on (keep watching for the breathing dog):
One the one hand, there’s that universally annoying saxophone music. What is that song, and why hasn’t it been banned? On the other hand, there’s that dog. Is it just me, or is his breath making heart-shaped humid patterns? Awww….
There’s also a coffee meditation, where you are drinking coffee and meditation by design. Yes, I do this often, too.
“I need to get in touch with my breath” meditations
These meditations are the meat and potatoes (as it were) of meditation apps, workshops, practices. Focusing on the breath is the foundation of mindfulness meditation. Every meditation teacher has their own variations, but for my money, no one does the classics like Sharon Salzberg. I love her reminders that whenever we come back to awareness after getting drowsy, bored, or distracted, that’s the work– that’s why we’re here. We come into contact with our own experience of ourselves, breathing, over and over again. That’s it.
Here’s Sharon leading a large room of people in a short and simple breathing meditation:
I do these sorts of meditations anytime I want to take a break, stop, and focus for a bit. It helps me reset myself, and it’s also restful and refreshing.
“I need to deal with scary emotions” meditations
These sorts of meditations are ones I do when I have a bit more time to process some difficult emotions or issues I might be facing. It could be that I’m anxious about an upcoming work event, or worrying about a member of my family. Maybe I’m avoiding dealing with something that’s too daunting. I’ve found that if I sit and meditate, something will come forth; I don’t know what in advance. But I’ve never been sorry that I did them.
Jess Morey does a great meditation in which she guides us to find a place in our bodies that feels calm, settled, grounded. Then we visit a feeling or belief or memory or a part of the body where there’s anxiety or disturbance. We don’t stay there long, but while there, just pay attention to how it feels. Then we go back to the grounded settled place. this repeats a few times. You can find a version here— look for dis/comfort. It’s 11 minutes long.
“I need to find something good, like right now” meditations
I like meditations that confront difficult emotions, but sometimes I want to see the light, the hope, the optimism that I know it out there (all news coverage to the contrary). For this, Sebene Selassie is who I turn to. Here’s a discussion and guided meditation from the Ten Percent Happier folks (the meditation starts at the 5-minute mark).
We are living in a glorious age of apps, podcasts, substacks, self-styled videos of all durations, and of course old-fashioned YouTube. I happen to like the features of Ten Percent Happier and don’t mind paying for it, but there are loads of free meditations everywhere. It’s kind of fun (for those of you who are meditation-inclined) to venture forth and explore what and who’s out there.
Meditator-readers: what are your favorite meditations? Where does one find them? Whose do you like best? I’d welcome any tips on new or familiar voices.
In a Washington Post article (1991), “The Pleasure Principle in Exercise,” the author provides a “research review” on the importance of enjoying exercise in order to persist with it:
“study after study shows that the people who stick with exercise are the ones who truly enjoy their activity. They don’t view their workout as one more chore to cram in but as a play break that’s one of the highlights of their day” (p.4).
This article, published around the time I was in high school, reflects what I have been told for years: ideally, exercise evokes the fun of childhood play and creates a rush of endorphins. Exercise should feel good.
But I recently realized this narrative doesn’t fit with my experience. Starting in middle school (think fitness testing, track and field, etc.), I often felt like exercise sucked. Tired, out of breath, achy. I knew I should exercise, that I should like it, but in fact the effort didn’t feel pleasant. Teenage me thought: why pursue bodily discomfort on purpose? So when high school gym class finally became optional, I stopped exercising altogether.
Mental Aspects of Physical Fitness
The disconnect I have felt—between how I should and did feel about exercise as a young person—was made clear to me during my first meditation weekend. It turns out I have had different ideas about meditation as well. I thought meditation was like a car wash: you went into it feeling dirty and unhappy, and somehow came out feeling shiny, happy, and clean.
Meditation, it turns out, is more about noticing what I am feeling and experiencing (good, bad, different), then leaning into that experience. Meditation involves concentrating on letting go of judgements, expectations, and the need to change what can sometimes be difficult feelings and bodily sensations. Meditation is a kind of mental playbook for managing how to show up for sometimes uncomfortable situations or emotions.
Mindfulness, the “noticing” part of meditation practice, can be taken to other activities (I further learned). It’s why, I put together, there are so many mental “check-ins” during yoga practice. Noticing tension and discomfort at its first sign can help me to be present in–but without automatically seeking to judge, avoid, or change–what I am experiencing (unless there is pain that will imminently lead to injury, of course). And, indeed, I did find through our yoga practice that it was much easier to handle discomfort in my body when I noticed and accepted that it was there.
There are critiques of mindfulness, namely as a self-help discourse that convinces stressed out folks collective suffering is in their heads rather than a societal issue. I don’t disagree with concerns about how meditation and mindfulness are (mis)understood and (mis)used in Western culture, but I am still learning about them as they relate specifically to my own fitness practices, so for now I am keeping an open mind.
Mindfulness During Exercise
When I was a kid I didn’t have a mental playbook when I wasn’t loving the exercise I was told I should be loving. Without a mindful approach, I immediately leaned away from the tension and discomfort caused by physical exertion and effort.
Now, in my mid-life, I think the so-called “pleasure principle of exercise” is wrong for me. As I continue to explore physical activities (many for the first time in a long time), I am not going to try to convince myself that exercise will always be a “play break” or a “highlight of my day.” (Sam looks at some actual research in her post Rationality and the Hatred of Exercise.)
Instead, I am going to try to be mindful: to notice and accept the tension, discomfort, and other sensations I feel whilst being physically active. I am going be try to be really present when my exercise sucks.
Ironically, it may be precisely the goal of seeking to notice my discomfort (rather than striving for its enjoyment) that may get me to exercise more often. I’ll let you know how it goes.
My favorite thing about summer is the knowledge that, at any time, I could run and jump in water. Ocean, lake, river, backyard wading pool– just about anything will do. All of them call my name throughout the season. My best real-estate fantasies include a backyard pool, with beautifully landscaped surroundings, all of which are magically maintained by unnamed third parties. Alas, I know (second-hand from my sister) how much work and expense a pool takes. So far, none of my friends have taken the plunge and kitted out their residences with a gorgeous aquatic oasis. But one can hope…
In fact, I’m lucky to live not far away from both ocean and freshwater places to swim and paddle. This summer, my plans include regular dips and laps and floats and strokes and landings and submergings, always surfacing for that big breath of air waiting for me.
Surfacing, taking big breaths of air. I think of those children and teachers in Uvalde, Texas, with no more breaths of air awaiting them, and my own breathing becomes more ragged from anger and grief. I’m not alone. Author and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg led an online loving-kindness talk and group meditation on Friday night. One thing she said that resonates with me is that sometimes, the breath is not the thing that settles us. Sometimes it is sound, or a visual image, or a touch. Maybe it’s the feeling of the weight of our bodies in contact with a cushion, mat, chair or floor.
What always settles me and puts me in contact with the world and myself is the feeling of my body in (and even on) water. I feel feelings I rarely experience on land: I’m buoyant, weightless, sleek, smooth, strong, even patient. I know, right?
I don’t know what to do or say right now. I don’t even know how to settle my breath when I read about or focus on the horrors that are happening in the US. There’s a lot to be done, and I want to do my share, pull my weight. This requires strength and stamina and stability. I think that being in and on and around water– for me– will help me gather myself for the work to be done.
Readers, I hope one or more of the elements speaks to you and strengthens and sustains you. Thank you for reading.