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Top Tips for Starting and Maintaining a Regular Mindfulness Practice

Posted by Elfreda Manahan-Vaughan on October 5, 2018 at 3:55 AM Comments comments (0)


Once it hits Autumn I am usually inundated with requests about when my next Mindfulness course takes place and bookings for Mindfulness talks and workshops. It appears that once the shorter nights start, people shift focus from holidays and outdoor activities to learning and study. For some people getting to access a course is not always possible and so they embark on a Mindfulness practice themselves. For others, they’ve already done a course and they just want to get back into it. With this in mind, I have decided to give you my top tips for starting and maintaining a regular Mindfulness practice.


1. Find a teacher

I know I said above that not everyone can get to a class but there are still plenty of ways to get access to a teacher. There are lots of online courses, including my own, as well as apps that have teachings from reputable teachers. Finding a teacher is very important if you want to have the right kind of practice for you, to make sure you are practicing correctly and also so that you can ask questions if you are finding it challenging or aren’t sure if you are on the right path. Make sure the person you choose to learn from is a regular meditator themselves and clearly demonstrate that they are living mindfully. This does not mean they are stress free and happy all they time. What it does mean is they are clearly self-aware and managing their stress and demonstrating the core teachings of mindfulness.


2. Choose your time wisely

Knowing when to meditate is very important as it is not the same for everyone. I am a morning meditator. I like to do it first thing so that way I won’t miss out on it if my day gets busy or if I am too tired later in the evening. That being said, I also allow myself the flexibility of doing it later if I decide to have a lie in or if I am extra enthusiastic and decide to meditate a second time later in the day. Other people prefer last thing at night because it helps you relax and can be great for sleep. If you do choose to meditate at night, then it’s better to do it somewhere other than your bedroom and most importantly not your bed.


3. Get a Timer

Often when people start to meditate they sit down and close their eyes with the intention of meditating for a few minutes. In my experience without a timer they rarely do the time they intend and spend most of they time checking their watch wondering how long they’ve been. If you get a timer, I recommend the Insight Meditation Timer App, then you can set your time and get on with it, knowing it will ring when your time is up. You can also set interval bells if you want to extend your meditation and like to have some idea of what stage you are at. You can do 5-minute bells, for shorter meditations and 15 minutes for longer, for example. The Insight Timer is also useful because it logs your meditations, which can be very motivating for some, including me.


4. Choose your duration

As with all things, there are recommendations and best practices. According to the research, which you can find in the book Altered Traits by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson, the optimum time for meditation is 20 minutes. In the beginning this length of time can feel like an eternity so, it is important to start slowly and work your way up. If you go all gung-ho at the beginning, you will very likely give up after a while as the commitment may seem too much. Start by doing 5-minute slots, adding a few minutes a week over a period of weeks until you eventually get to 20 minutes a day. After that if you wish to do longer sessions, that is up to you.


5. Choose your location

Having a set location where you meditate every day is helpful. Having your zafu, stool or chair already set out with a blanket and cushion helps to make your practice formal, but also eliminates any excuses you might make for not having somewhere to practice or things not being ready. This should preferably not be in your bedroom or if it is, it shouldn’t be your bed. If you meditate in bed you will fall asleep. Having a candle or an altar can help some people too, as it gives the practice a sense of importance or value. Decide what works for you.


6. Commit

Mindfulness is a commitment. You must commit to doing it every day if you want to reap the benefits, or at least 5 to 6 days a week. Naturally we all miss a day every so often, but the research tells us that it is the daily practice that makes the difference to your brain and when we stop things go back to the way they were before. There are days when you will be challenged but if you make it part of your routine and commit to doing it for your own benefit, and the benefit of those around you, then you will be more likely to keep going when you’ve missed a day or when it seems like it is too hard.


7. Let go of your judgment

Mindfulness is a non-judgemental practice. What this means is, it is a way of being that allows what is, without trying to change or resist it. This is important when you practice because some days you will feel great and other days your head will be melted with over-thinking, itches, pain, uncomfortable feelings and general irritation. These are the times when you need to keep going and push through. This is when you need to be able to accept what is and let go of your attachment and judgement to wanting it to be different. These are the meditations that make the biggest difference when it comes to difficulties and challenges in your life. If it was always easy, then you wouldn’t reap the benefits of being able to deal with the hard stuff in life when they arise.


8. Give it a go

Finally, just give it a go. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Play around with different types of meditation and find the one that works for you, and if you struggle with sitting do some mindful movement or walking. There are lots of types of meditation out there, I’ve trained in Zazen from the Zen tradition, Metta or Loving Kindness, Healing Meditation and Visualisation meditation, such as those used in Reiki. I practice them all at different times depending on my mood or needs.


If I can help you in any way or if you have questions then, please feel free to get in touch. You can find my online course on my website and links on my Facebook page and if you would like a one to one session this can be done via Skype or Zoom or face to face.

Thanks for reading.

I hope our paths cross again in the future,

Elfreda (regular meditator, often itchy, fidgety and has a monkey mind).

 


Claustrophobia and Other Fears.

Posted by Elfreda Manahan-Vaughan on September 21, 2018 at 3:55 AM Comments comments (0)


 

Recently, I have been working with the service users in the Irish Wheelchair Association Navan branch, teaching Mindfulness, funded by the LMETB Community Education Service. The subject of dealing with upcoming stressful events was a topic of discussion as most of the class has fears about hospital appointments such as blood tests, MRIs and other tests. I had to have an MRI myself last month so, I had a good understanding of what they were talking about. I too had to prepare myself as like many people I am somewhat claustrophobic.


My claustrophobia all started when as I child I would hide under beds and in cupboards when I became overwhelmed by the noise and hustle and bustle of a house with 7 people, and one cat, living in it. On one occasion I got locked in a cupboard that had no lock on the inside, only to be found by my sister who happened to open the door, and on two other occasions I got stuck under a bed and caused myself to have panic attack. At the time, it always seemed like I had been missing for hours but I was regularly amazed, when I returned to the land of the living, that no one had even noticed I was gone. I am sure now, it was probably only 20 minutes but to me, then, it seemed like hours. Unfortunately, these experiences caused me to dread feeling helpless as, at the time, my cries for help fell on deaf ears (or so it appeared to me) and they also triggered feelings of claustrophobia.


As I got older I challenged myself to face my fears. I am fine in lifts, I have been in mines, caves, scary dark theme-park rides and have crawled under cars and into small spaces attempting to repair things or rescue animals, as the case may be. It took me by great surprise when one day during a meditation I had a flash back akin to being buried but which was actually me being trapped under a bed. In hindsight I realise now this was a by-product of some work I had been doing on myself in relation to asking for help and I guess my clever, old unconscious mind thought it would be good to create a scenario where the only solution I could think of was to be saved by someone else digging me up – ‘Oh insert expletive here’. (I have since come up with several other imaginative ways of getting out of being buried alive, by the way).


I had mostly forgotten about it but when the MRI appointment came around I started to get more and more panicked about being in the machine and feeling trapped. It came to a head when one night in bed, I started to panic, and I knew if I didn’t do something I would end up having a panic attack. First, I noticed my breath and made an effort to slow my breathing down. I looked around the room to ground myself in my surroundings, the cream paint on the walls, the blue carpet, the feeling of the duvet against my skin. As I started to relax, I lay flat again, I had sat up as I was afraid to lie down with the heavy feeling pressing against my chest. I turned to face my husband and I focused on his face as I allowed the moment to pass and my body and brain return to safety. Once I had calmed down it wasn’t long before I was able to return to sleep again, all the while reassuring myself that I was safe, and this was all in my mind.


The next day I set about fixing this so that I could have my MRI without fear or panic. I used self-hypnosis to put myself into a relaxed state and I ran through in my mind what the day of the MRI would be like. I saw each part, breakfast, the journey to the clinic, filling in the form, the canula in my arm, the tunnel and of course heard the sound that so many people dread. At every opportunity I mentally rehearsed feeling safe and calm, each time my mind wandered to fear I focused on the present and came back to now. I reminded myself it was ok to feel helpless but, on this occasion, I wouldn’t be. I’d have an alarm in my hand, the radiographer would be there, and my lovely husband, James, would be waiting outside. I practiced every day right up to the day of the MRI. When the day came, I was calm. When I lay down and went into the machine, I noticed my surroundings, the grey stripe on the ceiling of the machine, the coolness of the air, the weight of the cage across my body. Rather than trying to block out the sound, like most people do, I listened. I noticed the change in beeps and knocks. I counted them in-between the instructions to breath. I noticed my breath, my thoughts, and before I knew it, it was over, what was supposed to take forty minutes only took twenty.


As I told this story to the service users in the IWA one of them started to laugh as she realised that what she usually did, on occasions like this, was she planned to ‘freak out’. As we all laughed, the others understood, as they all knew they were in the habit of doing the same. Rather than thinking of how they wanted it to be, they were focusing on how bad it could be, how scared they might be, and what could possibly go wrong. They also realised they often felt ok during any tests but had never thought to prepare to be ok before and after, and especially whilst they waited.


In the moment it can be difficult to deal with a flood of emotions, Mindfulness and flooding techniques help but planning to cope is much better. The next time you are faced with a challenging upcoming event, then plan to cope, mentally rehearse it so that you know you can and will be safe.


Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment or ask questions and if you want to get in touch email info@metta-morphics,com or phone 00353868373582.

I hope our paths cross again in the future,

Elfreda

 



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