Does Mindfulness Help?

(video 3:30m) If Mindfulness Meditation doesn’t take away the things that are bothering me, how does it help? How does noticing what’s bothering me benefit me? I already know how bothered I am! How is paying attention to it going to make things better?

Great questions! Glad you asked.

It does seems counter-intuitive to do something that not only doesn’t fix the bad things, it has you pay attention to them more! The difference is really about perspective or point of view… normally, when we’re realizing that we feel terrible, we’re in the middle of it. We’re believing the thoughts and emotions that we’re having and we think and feel as if they are our whole reality. We’ve forgotten that actually they’re just thoughts and emotions and that they come and go.

Mindfulness offers us another place to notice from, a place that we have access to at all times if we care to be in it – that part of us that is simply aware that we’re here doing what ever we’re doing (thinking and feeling). It’s simply to notice from that state of mind that is always here, available, that can notice what we’re thinking and feeling.

It’s so simple that it is easy to miss. You can access it right now by noticing where you are physically. Notice that you (in your body) are standing or sitting or lying down where ever you are. Notice that you are there and not say, in Paris (unless of course you are and then notice that you’re in Paris and not in London.) That part of you that just noticed that simple fact is the part we’re using in mindfulness.

If you start thinking or feeling things about the place that you’re in, say that you really like the temperature, there’s a part of you that can notice that you’re thinking. There’s a part that can say, “This is me having the thought that I like the temperature.” That’s it. That’s the part of you that we’re accessing. Super simple.

So how does accessing that part help? Well, imagine that you’re really upset about something. Your heart is racing, you’re breathing fast, you’re looking around for someone or something to yell at… you’re in the middle of emotion. What if you could in that moment access that part of you that can say, “Hey, this is me feeling really upset. Wow. This is big! I’m REALLY upset!”

Right in that moment, you have just given yourself a tiny bit of room from the emotion. You’re still feeling it and you’re also aware that it’s not your whole reality. Suddenly, you have choices. “Hm. I wonder what I want to do with this feeling? Do I want to yell at the person in front of me? Or do I want to let them know I’m super upset and need to go outside and vent for a few minutes?”

See how that works?

Yes, it takes practice and commitment to keep practicing, and if you like it it can change your life. In the beginning you might just get to watch yourself yell at the person, which is pretty painful. “Wow, this is me yelling at this person and being a complete jerk. Ouch.” And slowly, we get better and better at being in the mindful place even during stress, and our ability to choose what to do (vs just yelling) gets stronger and stronger.

Enjoy being mindful.

(p.s. If you’re interested, practicing this state actually causes measurable changes in the brain according to studies. Psychologists call it “self-regulation” and neurologists have found that the related part of the brain grows in size. Look for Dr Sara Lazar’s studies on my Links page.)

How to Calm Your Mind, Part 2

(video 12:04min) In Part 1 we covered the idea that when we’re practicing mindfulness, and when we’re being mindful we’re going to keep thinking… And that actually we WANT to think (gasp!).

And now we want to know why we’re told during practice that we should “let go of our thoughts”? If thinking is ok, then why do we need to let go of it?

Great question! On to Part 2!

How to Calm Your Mind, Part 1

(video: 9:44min) “I can’t stop thinking!” is the number 1 complaint I hear when people start practicing mindfulness.

We’re stressed! We want the madness to stop! Doesn’t mindfulness help us calm our minds and let go of thoughts?!

Well yes, and no… Mindfulness helps you change your relationship with your thoughts. It does NOT make them go away. This new relationship is less stressful and more calm.

For most of us, this new relationship takes a bit of explanation to understand. Most instructors know it’s actually more comprehensive for you to experience it than try to explain it to you… which means that before you experience it you’re confused about your goal during practice. You think you’re supposed to stop thinking.

 

So what are you supposed to be doing? And how will it help? Here are two videos to help you unravel this mystery.

Why is it important to practice mindfulness regularly?

(video: 5:31 min) Does mindfulness ever become permanent? Will I ever be mindful all the time with out having to practice it regularly?

Well yes. And no.
Yes in that you can reach a stage where mindfulness is something you’re doing all of the time, as a behavior, a habit or an state of being.

And no in that until it becomes an ingrained habit, you need to keep reinforcing the behavior by practicing it!

Why? Because your brain learns and changes based on your behaviors. What you do today is changing your brain. You’re either creating & maintaining neurological structures for mindfulness today or you’re creating structures for something else.

Thanks to Dr Lara Boyd on TEDxVancouver for making the relationship between our daily behaviors and our brain so clear.

How to Deal with Discomfort


Feeling too uncomfortable to practice?

That’s normal!

You don’t have to practice if you don’t want to!

And when you feel ready, take a few minutes and simply notice what comes up. Be present to whatever happens.

You may notice yourself…
not wanting to think or feel whatever you’re thinking or feeling. Keep noticing that. Stay with it. Stay present. Remember that whatever you are thinking or feeling will change eventually. EVERYTHING does. And if you stay present with it, and don’t try to change or fix it, it will naturally change (on it’s own) even faster.

You may notice yourself…
diving into the stories around why you are thinking and feeling those things. You may notice yourself adding fuel and building up the pain! Keep noticing that. Stay present, simply observing yourself doing that. It will change on it’s own eventually, especially if you stay present and just notice versus try to change or fix it. And if you do start changing or fixing it, simply notice THAT!

It is the noticing that is the key. The more you can simply notice, the more you allow whatever is here to be here. If you try to change or fix, inevitably you repress it and that locks it into place. Things that we’re repressing, we are holding and thus we can’t let go of them. If you can wait it out, simply observing, you will reach a point where you don’t need to repress any of it and your innate wisdom will surface with the answer for how to solve what ever is happening. It will not feel like repression or denial. You won’t feel that you need to make it stop. Instead, you will see the wisdom of what is happening, the undercurrents and the reasons and often the situation will reveal itself as useful and helpful… it will usually naturally end at that point.

Eventually, you may cultivate the willingness to notice whatever you are thinking and feeling… Not because you like it or want to be thinking or feeling whatever you are thinking and feeling… Simply because it is here. You will stay present because you will know the wisdom of this process.

Play with it and see if this works for you.

Mindfulness is Not Self-help

(video 4:12) I listened to the Science of Meditation Summit presentation by meditation teacher Susan Piver who said one of the myths about mindfulness is that it is a form of self-help. “It’s not,” she says, and after listening to her explaination, I totally agree.

Mindfulness as a concept is simply being present, aware of ourselves, and pure mindfulness practice is simply noticing ourselves. What ever we’re doing, thinking, feeling, we simply notice. We don’t try to change anything, we simply notice.

Self-help is another set of meditations, therapies and tools that we use to change what we notice. If, using mindfulness, we notice that we’re angry a lot and inappropriate with how we express it, we might take other steps to create healthier expressions of our anger. Now we’ve added self-help.

I find this distinction really useful for understanding the role of mindfulness and the role of self-help. Mindfulness is for being aware of what is happening. Self-help is for changing what is happening.

Sensational Awareness – Guided Meditation

MME Album Art(meditation: 8:51 min)

Ever thought, “Uh! I wish I hadn’t said that!!”

Americans like to call this putting your foot in your mouth. Sometimes I put my whole leg in! Open mouth, insert leg. Yikes!

One of the beauties of meditation is that I don’t do this so often anymore. Meditation helps me be more aware of what I’m thinking and feeling… so that I have a moment to decide whether to say something before it pops out of my mouth.

Instead of being lost in my thoughts or overwhelmed by my feelings, I cultivate a perspective (called presence) that lets me see the difference between me and them. I stay aware that I am bigger than my thoughts. I am like a container for them. They are still very much here in me, they are just a PART of me versus taking over me.

This subtle and powerful change in perspective makes all the difference.

I do not get so overwhelmed because they do not fill my entire world. I do not get so lost in them because I see the whole map now.

Make sense? Probably not. If you are like most people this is at best a crazy sounding conceptual theory that doesn’t realate to your experience of reality. I clearly remember thinking this myself. “What the heck does that mean, ‘I am not my thoughts’?

So, how to go from wacky sounding theory to part of your reality?

Experience it yourself!

Below is a practice to help you experience this with sensation, the easiest of the three (thoughts, emotions, sensations). You will happily discover that you do this already (you are present quite often), quite naturally… And now you know how to cultivate it.

Note that if this is the first time you’ve experienced meditation, this isn’t the easiest place to start! I recommend starting with something simple to get the mechanics down first like 3 Breaths.

Happy sensing!

Mindfulness Practice: Sensational Awareness

  1. Start by becoming present to the location you are in: look around at what you can see right now.
  2. Close your eyes and gently shift your attention to your breathing. Notice your breath moving in and out of your body right now. Be curious about your breath. “How am I breathing right now?”
  3. Find a place in your body that has a strong sensation to focus on. Often it is easiest to feel a place that is painful or stiff, or chose a place that feels very fluid and nice. Anywhere is fine, as long as there is sensation that is easy to feel there.
    1. Shift your attention away from your breath and to the area you have chosen with the strong sensation.
    2. Remembering that you are the one feeling the sensation (“I am feeling/sensing.”), be curious about the qualities of the sensation. Notice as much as you can about how it feels. (You can notice qualities like: big/small, intense/soft, rough/smooth, sharp/dull, pulsing/constant, dense/open, etc.)
    3. As much as you can feel it and don’t go into the story about why you are sensing it. Cultivate being curious about feeling the sensations versus thinking about why you feel this way and what you can do to avoid (or repeat) it in the future.
  4. When you feel complete, shift your attention back to your breath. Notice your breath moving in and out of your body.
  5. When you’re ready, open your eyes to end the practice, noticing the space that you’re in right now.

When your mind wanders, as it inevitably will, gently bring it back first to presence by noticing your breath and the quiet between thoughts, and then re-focus on the heart of the practice.

 

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Secret to Savoring Precious Moments

(3:33) Ever feel like time is flying by? Here’s a simple secret to savoring your precious moments… Drink in all your senses!

How?
When you’re standing on the beach, holding your loved one’s hand this summer, inhale slowly and take a moment to drink in all that you can see, hear, feel, taste & smell. Drink in the rich blue of the water and the fluffy white foam dancing over the top, the crash as the wave hits the wet sand, the call of the gulls and children laughing, the warmth of the sun kissing your skin, your loved ones hand softly caressing your’s, the salty tang in the air, the soft smell of sea.

It’s a great way to drink in the moment!

Weaving Presence Into Your Practice

Sometimes we lose sight of the role of presence in our practice. Maybe we were never really clear about how our meditation practice helps us be more present. Here’s one way to consciously weave presence into our practice.

In those moments when we realize that we’ve been thinking and have stopped noticing our breath (either we were lost in thought or naming our thoughts), before coming back to the breath, take a moment to feel deeply into the present… And then return to the breath.

How to feel deeply into the present? Many ways. You can look around at what you can see in this moment, really noticing the colors and shapes around you in this moment. You could do the same with sounds or with your physical sensations. You can pick any one or two of these or all 3 as you feel it. Whatever helps you really notice what’s in and/or around you in the moment.

Enjoy!,
Elena