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…
During her Move program in January, Adriene (of Yoga with Adriene) emphasized how important it can be to think about how you move.
She invited us to consider the actual movements we made when relocating our hands to move between poses, the way we moved our legs into downward dog, the process of how we unrolled our spines to stand up.
This wasn’t about making us self-conscious, it was about grounding us in our bodies, about considering the movement habits that serve us and those that hinder us. It was about figuring out where we find ease and what parts of our bodies need more attention. It was about figuring out how to work with or work around the unique abilities of our individual bodies.
Even though this process made for a tricky line to walk between being mindful and overthinking, it really set me up well for practicing for my recent TKD belt test.
In the course of learning and practicing my patterns and other movements, I had to think about how I was moving. After all, it’s not just that my foot has to end up in a specific spot but I have to move it in a certain way to maximize my power, to increase my balance, to ensure that I can reach the target that I need to reach.
Even though my TKD skills are a work in progress (and always will be), concentrating a bit more on the specifics of my movements did help me a lot. Recognizing that in one of my patterns, I always place my foot down at the wrong angle gave me the opportunity to correct it and execute my pattern more accurately.
(Sidenote: I actually learned DURING MY TEST that I was getting another movement wrong and the correction from my instruction made a huge, immediate difference in the effectiveness of that technique. Another victory for the ‘how’ of movement.)
My latest stop for this train of thought is a video I did on Sunday. I felt like doing some yoga but I also wanted to do something a bit different so I had my metaphorical cake and ate it too by doing this video from Liv in Leggings.
I really enjoyed it. She’s an engaging instructor and I found her ‘how’ explanations very clear even when I couldn’t quite execute the movements yet.
Considering the question of how – her explanations and my personal experience – helped me to be curious about even the most challenging movements.
That curiosity meant that I was intrigued rather than frustrated by the difference between the strength of my right arm and the strength in my left arm during a wheelish/bridge-ish pose where we had to support ourselves first on one arm and then on the other.
(I mean, I know that my right arm is stronger than my left and I know that I can be more precise with my right. But the difference was especially apparent on that one movement – and I could feel that I was moving differently as I was getting into the pose and I couldn’t hold myself steady in the same way while I was in it. I could support myself on my right arm for quite some time but my left arm started shaking almost right away.)
And it let me pay attention to my movements when doing twists so I could tell exactly which ones made the tight spot on the left side of my back protest. And I could see how small adjustments could bring some ease.
And, of course, overall focusing on the ‘how’ helped me to be more mindful and present while I was trying this new approach. That just seems like a good thing doesn’t it?
How much time do you spend thinking about the how of your movements?
Do you find it helpful? Does it make you more mindful?
PS- While all that shaking was going on I was really grateful for the various online yoga videos I’ve done from Adriene and Joelle Because they always refer to those kinds of shaking movements in a positive light. In their framework, it’s not about weakness in the shaking body part. It’s about energy flowing and about knowing that you’re alive and about putting the effort in. I think that’s a really encouraging way to look at it.
I hope today finds you with the space you need to take good care of yourself.
And I hope that you can recognize your own efforts to make that space, even if you didn’t always succeed.
You matter, your needs matter and your efforts matter.
And here’s a gold star for those efforts:
Now, onto our movement and meditation for making space. (As always, feel free to do these or to do your own thing.)
One of my favourite ways to get moving is to join my friend Elaine Dunphy in either an ageless grace or a Nia dance class. Since I can’t bring all of you to one of her classes (what with Covid restrictions and the laws of physics and all), I asked her to create a short video for today’s post.
Here’s Elaine, in full positivity and joy, with a New Year’s Eve message and a short and fun movement practice for you to try as you create a little space for yourself today.
And as for a meditation, I am offering two today.
The first one is for people with a lot of space in their day, the second is for people with just a sliver of time for themselves.
And if you just have a minute, here’s a meditation for you.
I hope that these posts have helped you find space for yourself during the month of December when time seems to telescope, dragging on or collapsing without any relationship to the clock or to the calendar.
As we move into 2022, may you have the space you need in your mind, in your heart, in your days, in your schedules, and in the places where you spend your time.
We’re officially into that weird point of December where no one seems sure what day it is or what’s open or what they are supposed to be doing. And the range of Covid restrictions in various places is amplifying the confusion this year.
All of that adds up to even more reason to try and make some space for yourself – in whichever way works best for you today.
(That’s often the tricky part of making space for ourselves, I find. It’s hard to know what we are going to need from day to day and how much space we’ll require to give ourselves what we need.)
So, I’m just going to remind you that making space for yourself is a valid and important thing to do. You deserve gentle care. You deserve to have room in your own life. You deserve to feel good.
And if feeling good is out of reach right now, then I hope you can find a way to feel as good as possible in your current situation, even if the only space you can create is 10 extra seconds in the bathroom to squeeze your shoulders up by your ears and then let them slowly sink downward again.
Since we are in the in-between and everyone may need different things, I’ve picked out two choices for each video. Relaxing yoga/energizing cardio and meditation for hope/meditation for energy.
I hope you can find what you need today, in these videos or elsewhere.
I wish you ease.
Here’s your star for your efforts. ⭐️
Your hard work counts.
If you need to relax today, this yoga stretch video could be a good place to start.
If relaxing stretches aren’t your thing today, this fun dance video might be just the movement you need to create some space for yourself.
If you are feeling a bit overdone emotionally today, this guided meditation could help you untie some mental knots.
If you are feeling a bit blah and need some mental energy, this next meditation might be the answer.
I was slightly reluctant to post this (quite lovely) meditation because it is labelled for ‘productivity’ and I hate that word. Not everything has to be ‘productive’ and our cultural push for ‘productivity’ is one big reason we need to consciously make space for ourselves instead of being able to let it happen more organically.
However, that being said, it is an enjoyable meditation and is NOT pushing productivity. I feel like that word is in the title to help the video be picked up in searches rather than being part of the channel’s philosophy per se.
So, to be clear, I am definitely not criticizing the channel for putting the word productivity in the title and I am not suggesting that YOU need to be productive. I found this meditation energizing and I hope you do, too.
I hope you find space today, with these videos or in your own way.
Remember: No one else gets to decide what space you need or how you make that space. 💚 you are the boss of you. 😉
Since my post yesterday was inviting you to make some space for yourself this month, I’ve decided to help you out with that by offering a short movement video and short meditation video each afternoon in December.
I figure that if you don’t have to search for and choose a video, it might make it easier to fit it into your day. And if you subscribe to the blog, it will even show up in your email!
You don’t *have* to do these every day, of course, (I’m bossy but I’m not actually the boss of you) but I’ll bet it will feel pretty good if you do.
Please adjust to your own schedule and abilities, of course, I don’t want anyone to get hurt!
First up, since I seem to hoard my tension in my shoulders and I assume other people do, too, here’s Doctor Jo with some shoulder stretches.
And as for meditation, let’s give this one a whirl…ahem, let’s give this one a sit.
Please remember that you don’t have to automatically be able to sit quietly with your breath, that’s a skill that comes with practice. And that practice involves trying to meditate, noticing that your attention has wandered, and then returning to the focus on your breath. Returning over and over is PART of the initial process, it’s not a failure or a mistake.
Feel free to check in to let me know that you did one of these videos, or any other movement or mindfulness practice, and I’ll respond with a gold star for your efforts.
And whether you do these videos or not, please be kind to yourself today. 🌟
No, I’m not being snarky with myself here. I’m not stuck waiting for something that will never happen. I’m literally reminding myself not to hold my breath when I’m trying to focus.
Do you do that too? Or is it an ADHD thing?
Either way, it’s no fun. I’ll be trying to work on something and I won’t realize that I have been holding my breath until I catch myself sighing as I exhale. It’s not a good feeling and it involves a lot of unnecessary tension and I really want to stop doing it.
And in the course of figuring out how to break the habit, I’ve started by just being more conscious of when I might hold my breath and trying to stop myself earlier. But I have also been doing some research into different breathing videos and techniques. I figure that if I can practice breathing in more beneficial ways then I can not only stop holding my breath but I can replace my ineffective technique (holding my breath) with one that serves me better.
I mean, even if it doesn’t work, I get to spend some time breathing slowly and chilling out. There’s no downside to that.
So far, I have discovered that I really like having a visual element instead of just audio because it engages more of my brain so I can focus with more ease. (You know, so I don’t end up holding my breath while I practice breathing.)
Here are a few of the useful things I’ve found:
I’m not particularly anxious at the moment but I’ve still found these breathing GIFs for anxiety pretty good.
And I’m a fan of this video:
And I find box breathing very relaxing:
And if you are into breathing in shapes, this is adorable!
In addition to playing around with all of these videos and GIFs, I have been reading James Nestor’s book Breath and I plan to talk about it on an upcoming post. I’m not sure exactly when that will happen yet, though, so don’t hold your breath on that one. (Ha!)
Do you have any breathing videos or techniques to recommend? What do you use them for? What do you like about them?
Between holiday commitments, year-end chaos, and, in this bizarre year, stress about the pandemic, about work (or the lack thereof) and about the world in general, December can be a bit of a circus.
No matter how well-organized you are, no matter what you may or may not be celebrating, it’s really hard to avoid succumbing to the ambient stress of this time of year.
In the past few years, I have helped reduce that ‘revolving door‘ feeling for myself by employing an easy and short mindfulness practice. It doesn’t eliminate the stress of course, but it gives me a little more space to deal with it and it helps me keep some perspective.
I’m hoping that will hold true for this strange and anxious year, too.
Here’s what I do:
On the first of the December, I choose an instrumental Christmas album and commit to listening to at least one song from the album each day for the month. I might do yoga, draw, colour, or just breathe while I listen but I can’t do anything that even looks like work while the song of the day is on.*
It’s only a tiny thing but it really does help.
This year, to amp up my self-care, I’m also adding a little extra movement to each day.
I *could* frame this as one of my beloved 30 day challenges but that would put it into the category of things I MUST do.
Instead, I’m trying to think of the extra movement as a gift to myself – giving myself a little more time and space to be more fully in my body instead of being mostly in my head.
A gift feels way better than being challenged at this point in the year.
If you like the idea of gifting yourself a little extra movement, I’ve rounded up a few suggestions for you:
*You might be asking: Why doesn’t she do this during the rest of the year with non-seasonal music? It’s because it literally never occurred to her until she was writing this post. Brains are weird, weird things.
**Speaking of things that haven’t occurred to me before: Why do Advent calendars start on December 1 instead of on the first day of Advent?
As I write this, I just hit 150 days of meditation in a row. That is a big accomplishment for me. My longest meditation streak ever.
The day I started this streak, I participated in a meditation workshop and the teacher suggested that all we needed to do was noticeduring our sits, be mindful of our noticings. So that’s what I’m doing.
The biggest thing I’m noticing is that I’m in a constant state of re-learning what I already knew, but somehow forgot or thought I had changed. Or I’m discovering that circumstances have changed and what I learned no longer applies. Or I am the circumstance that’s changed and therefore needs to learn anew. I don’t got this, but I am getting it. Very few changes stick forever, no matter what, no backsliding. Good to know, so we don’t judge ourselves as falling short! This whole streak has been about impermanence and the wow-reallys?of staying curious.
Here are 9 more noticingsthat jazz my curiosity and keep me coming back for more:
Practicing daily makes it easier to drop into a meditation. Every day is different, but most days there’s a moment (often in the last moments of the sit) when I feel like my mind drops away and my body simultaneously gains 100 pounds and sinks into the earth and slips the bonds of gravity. I find that this moment may happen right away now. Not that it lasts the whole meditation, but the opening fidgets hardly have time to squirm before I’m noticing my mind and body in that more concerted meditation-y way.
A short meditation is better than no meditation.When I started this streak, I sat for 10 minutes a day. I knew that if I demanded more from myself that I would fail. Why set myself up for failure in advance? There have been days when I’ve only managed 8 minutes of riding on the personal rollercoaster of my mind. Great. I accomplished what I set out to do. Often, I am more open to a longer meditation when I’ve given myself the grace of a short one the day before.
Noticing feeds itself, so I notice more details when I’m not meditating. Over the last months, I’ve become more aware of the complexities and hidden corners of how I am in the world. What feels most sharpened is my sense of responsibility for who and how I am. I notice that blame is futile. Better to open my heart, to consider how I might change the circumstance, even if that’s just changing my own attitude. Pissed off by someone else’s thoughtlessness, how can I be more thoughtful somewhere else? Noticing slows the world down enough to create a pause for reflection.
There’s a lot of dogma around meditation, which we should not be dogmatic about. A lot of people prepared to say that there’s one right way to meditate and at the end of their suggested path lies … fill in the blank—peace, bliss, no pain, wealth, happiness, fulfillment, career success, spectacular sex, love, the source of infinite wisdom and so on. The dogmas conflict, no surprise. We have to self-test and find the combination that works for each of us. To do that requires tuning into where our mind and body is at, making an honest assessment of our condition and situation and choosing for ourselves what feels right, which, by the way, may change. I’ve been self-testing a lot of different modes on my meditation app (Insight Timer)—various guided, recorded music or chanting, timer with background of rolling OM chants; plus some other guided meditations I’ve downloaded, and meditating on specific subjects or objects (my spirit guides, space-time, elevated emotions like joy and gratitude, or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, fear).
Meditating on fear is squirrely and uncomfortable. I recently read Kristen Ulmer’s book, The Art of Fear. These past days, I’ve tried on a bit of her dogma, meditating on fear. The idea is that getting intimate with my fear will transform the feeling into a healthy catalyst, instead of a dreaded obstacle. My list of fears stretches the length of the alphabet and more, ranging from losing my ability to move easily, to not connecting with people, to my washing machine going on the fritz and flooding the downstairs neighbour’s apartment. Plus, the existential, running subtext fear that my life doesn’t have meaning. Simply allowing fear the space to express itself, instead of telling myself to get over it, is new. I feel a small catalytic effect. As in: okay you’re scared, that’s okay, let it be, and hey, maybe you can still do the scary thing.
Owning my woo-woo is scary. Meditating on, for example, one’s spirit guides feels out there. I fear that I’ll lose credibility (whatever that means) if I admit to any kind of woo-woo experiences or encounters. I am allowing myself to be more woo-woo curious and owning up to it (like in this piece about a puppy in India, that I wrote around day 100).
Sneezing during meditation is like an orgasm. As a kid, I read Where Did I Come From?, which compares an orgasm to a sneeze. Over the years I wondered if I have orgasms wrong, because they never felt like sneezing. Then I sneezed while I was meditating the other day. Because I was alone in my office and in the midst of a meditation and quite sure I wasn’t about to sneeze out great gobs, I just let myself sneeze without holding my arm in front of my face or ducking my head or any of all the twisting we do to be polite and not sneeze on others. Holy crap. That sneeze went right through me like a wave of sparkles over my nerve endings. Our well-justified, necessary public fears around sneezing mask the thrill of the simple sneeze. Like orgasms, something to look forward to in private.
I think a lot of non-contemplative thoughts when I’m meditating. In addition to thinking about sex when I’m meditating, back on day 45, I narrated a succession of interior design thoughts I had while meditating. I still have such thoughts. Everyone does, even monks on high mountains. Oh, and I did get the new duvet from Boll and Branch I was thinking about, which makes bedtime even more delicious. (I’m with Tracy, who writes often about the radical pleasures of sleep.)
Meditating regularly enables me to be kinder with myself. Noticing generates the gentle pause, in which we see our suffering from the outside and thus cultivate compassion. A truism worth repeating—if we are more compassionate toward ourselves, we will be so with others.
All of these noticings are small. Yet abundant enough to keep me going on my streak. Have you noticed anything in your meditation? Or in another streak you’re having?