I Am Not My Thoughts
How I Adopted Mindfulness
I first heard about mindfulness through the works of Wayne Dyer and Louise Hay some time ago. It came in the forms of “positive thinking” and affirmations in an effort to manifest abundance and good health into my life. I had been dealing with forms of sadness and depression for most of my adult life and I knew that treating these with numbing agents was not serving me anymore.
Around this time, I followed my instincts and also joined yoga as a way to learn how to cleanse my body and mind. I chose Bikram yoga specifically because it promised the whole package: a hot body cleanse plus a great work out (I mean all the instructors looked ripped!).
After months of sweating my butt off in my local Bikram studio, I felt let down. I hadn’t experienced any significant weight change, and more importantly, I still wasn’t able to look at myself in the mirror with kindness or self-compassion. I decided to change strategies, and signed up for a zen meditation class lead by my Amatsu therapist in a town that was well over an hour away from my house. Every Tuesday evening we meditated and contemplated the teachings of zen meditation for 3+ hours. Sitting on that little wooden bench for one hour was a great achievement for me, and I started to feel the benefits of regular practice. That was when it all came together and I really I began to understand that I am not my thoughts. I had long connected my thoughts with my very identity, and now I was learning how damaging these anchors were to the harmony I was craving in my life.
I decided to relocate my practice to my home due to a demanding travel schedule for work and the time commitment required to continue with that group. This turned out to be a great choice. I had the basic principles of zen meditation, and now I could let go of the belief that mindfulness and mediation had to be done a certain way. After all, I couldn’t let the lotus pose stop me any longer; I had to find my own rhythm and my own practice. I began to practice for just 5 minutes a day with a timer in my bed or in front of the fireplace. I also started to count my breaths whenever I could. A tip I learned from Cheri Huber author of “How to get from where you are to where you wan to be”. By gradually adding time and testing different locations and practices, I built myself a meditation practice that was all my own.
Mindfulness today means embracing the minutes of my day so that my soul is fed, not by the things I think I should be or have, but by the moments that are granted to me. Mindfulness today means I can enjoy food and drink without stuffing or numbing things out. Mindfulness today means I can manage my stress levels and my sleep. Mindfulness means I can be the best version of myself today.
4 Tips to Start Your Mindfulness Practice
1. KNOW YOUR WHY
I believe that if you don’t know why you want to create a new habit, it’s really difficult to see it through. Why do you want to learn more about mindfulness? What brought you to this topic? That’s where you begin. There are no “coincidences”. If mindfulness has piqued your interest, then follow your curiosity. That is precisely how every (long and short) journey begins. Do you want to decrease the amount of stress in your life? Do you want to understand your thoughts? Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to be more present in moments that matter? Do you have a big event coming up and you want to enjoy every minute of it? What is your why?
2. JUST BREATHE
I so often tell my clients to take a breath when we are in the middle of breaking something down. You know, that moment when the voice inside your head gets louder, your heart beats faster, and suddenly you can’t think anymore? That’s what happens when your brain isn’t getting enough oxygen. Breathing, I have come to learn, is the most basic and best form of quickly grounding yourself. When we consciously breathe, we feed our brain the required oxygen, which in turn slows our heart rate (on the exhale), which in turn relaxes all of our muscles (including our voice box). Deep breathing removes the stress of the nervous system that’s focused on keeping us alive and frees up space (and energy) to focus on other things, like thinking clearly.
So why has the most basic and intuitive function of our body become yet another thing we have to re-learn how to do? I believe, it’s because at some point (likely some time in adolescence) you learned to suck it in. Lets face it; belly breathing isn’t really flattering around the midsection. I once heard that I could tone my abs simply by always keeping them tucked in and engaged. I took it to heart! (By the way, that is 30 years of engaging my core, and I have yet to see that six pack.)
Here is how to take a proper belly breath (no ab tucking included):
Let it all hang out (just relax for once, at least in the privacy of your own house).
Breathe into the belly first, then the lungs, and finally the throat. Hold it full for a brief moment.
Breathe out from the throat first, then the lungs, then the belly. Hold empty for a brief moment. Repeat.
Focus on the exhale more than on the inhale. It is harder to put more air in a tire that is already full!
Practise belly/diaphragmatic breathing daily while you lay in bed in the morning or at night.
3. USE INSIGHT TIMER
“If I have to turn my electronics off to meditate, how will I know how long I have mediated?” I once asked Oliver, my friend and zen buddy. “There is an app for that” he replied. I have used Insight Timer now for 4 years and it is a great tool to help you get into a new meditation habit, track your mediations, join communities, choose from thousands of guided meditations, or just use as a timer with beautiful bells and bowls. After all, you don’t want to be ripped out of your stillness by a shrill alarm!
4. CREATE A RITUAL
It doesn’t matter if you meditate in the morning, evening, or during your lunch break, but be consistent. The best way I have introduced consistency into my life is through rituals. I usually meditate in the morning, as that seems to be the time that is most under my control. In the morning, I am usually alone and able to turn off other forms of distraction. If you follow a ritual, it will make it easier for you to adapt to a new habit and notice effects and benefits. If you can, create a little meditation area that is just for you. I built a little meditation/stillness nook that is just for me and always ready to receive me whether I want to sit in stillness, meditate, read, or whatever my soul requires at that moment.