My Wellness Journey by Deborah Matthews

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Like so many of you, my life has flipped and flopped, soared and crashed, plateaued, leaped, and crumbled.  It’s often been messy and confusing with a healthy dose of belly laughs and sorrow.  When I listen to the message, life seems to be encouraging me to “Let yourself adapt, Deborah . . . adapt.”  With the constant change I have experienced in my health, thoughts, environment, and community, I’ve had to define for myself what being well and wellness means.  It couldn’t be about not being sick or in pain.  I have chronic kidney disease, migraines, and a host of other health challenges.  It couldn’t be about being totally peaceful and blissed-out.  I am a worrier and a doer.   For me, wellness is a promise – a commitment to take care of myself and others, to attend to family, friends, creatures, plants, and the downtrodden, and to cultivate a bigger picture of a “well-er” world with my self included.

To connect with my sense of wellness, I begin by getting quiet.  Literally.  Taking the noise and distractions away allows the space for me to grow both inward and outward.  I get distracted very easily and I am also not someone who likes to sit still.  If I am feeling good, I am up and going!  For me quieting means performing mindful activities in silence.  These may include sitting outdoors drinking my coffee in the morning, walking, Pilates, yoga, bodywork, painting, gardening, cooking, and holding my cats 🙂 I free up in the quiet space and my mind and body have the chance to connect to a wellness that lies underneath physical symptoms or anxiety about the day.

This emergent, quiet wellness also gives space for sowing the seeds of my imagination and creativity. I don’t have to push. In fact, I can’t. The seeds will grow at their own pace and may blossom (if I’m lucky) into a sense of balance or perspective. My wellness is not a solo project, either.  It’s deeply rooted in the support of family, friends, students, doctors, bodyworkers, movement teachers, mentors, and podcasters. They ground me and nourish me and help me find up and down as I flip and flop and, on occasion, freak out!

I am beyond grateful to have found this deep well of wellness within me and around me.  It’s always there, but it has been years in the discovery and uncovering.  Some days I connect to it easily; Other days turn into epic fails despite my best efforts. On those days, receiving the help and nurturing of others is my greatest challenge and blessing.

Wellness for me begins with shhhhh . . . .creating the space to build the inner and outer relationships that feed my soul.  I hope that InsideOut can provide the resources for you to walk that path of wellness creation, whether it’s quiet or loud.

Much love to you all,

Deborah

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Spring is here! Guest post by Austin Dixon, L.Ac.

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Spring is here! Even if the weather still has random wintery moments (welcome to NC), the energetic shifts that come with the season change are in full effect. So even on days when we reach for a scarf, things are changing. We tend to feel the physical and emotional changes more moving from Winter to Spring than other season changes. Spring’s energy is a bit chaotic and more noticeable than the subtle changes we experience when we transition to other seasons.

In Chinese Medicine Spring is associated with the Wood element. All the trees start to bloom and grow. We see baby animals and beautiful flowers everywhere. Everything is alive! Everything has a newness and the energy around us feels a little like a young child set free on a new playground. It can be both exhilarating and exhausting. It’s important to recognize the chaos but not get caught up in it. Take time to meditate or just sit quietly. As the weather gets warmer and the days get longer we can easily find ourselves committing to too much, saying yes to everything, resulting in getting run down quickly. Make sure to build in breaks and be conscious of overbooking. Trust me. Say no. Take some breaks and you will be able to do the stuff that really matters without burning out.

Spring is associated with the Liver and Gallbladder channels. These channels provide the body with a smooth flow of Qi which is essential to balance. Our Liver Qi has a tendency to get stagnant due to stress, overwork, and emotional upset. Needless to say, a lot of us have Liver Qi Stagnation. Liver Qi Stagnation can present as anger/irritability, headaches, stiff or painful joints, tension, excessive sighing, or issues with the eyes just to mention a few. Symptoms of Liver Qi Stagnation can be more prominent and persistent during the Spring. It is very important to move Liver Qi before it wreaks havoc on the other channels. Acupuncture, meditation, and regular exercise are great ways to move Liver Qi. Something to keep in mind while choosing an exercise routine for the Spring is that the Wood element governs the tendons and sinews (you may notice a flare up of tendonitis). Focus on exercises that are less rigorous and more stretching and strengthening like yoga, Pilates, walking, swimming. Tai Qi and Qigong are also great for this time of year.

I hope this has been helpful in explaining a few of those Springtime symptoms you may be experiencing. Just like the trees we are always growing. Spring is a great time to refresh your self care routines (or finally create one) and create new health habits.

Pro tips: get acupuncture, maintain regular exercise, build in breaks, and enjoy your Spring!

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Year of the Dog…Guest post by Austin Dixon, L.Ac

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I love the new year. It is the perfect time for reflection and new intentions as well as cleaning up and cleaning out. I love getting rid of what no longer serves a purpose in my life and freeing up some space for newness and change. This process is not always easy but there is beauty in the struggle and always an opportunity to learn something new. However, the expectation that we change our behaviors immediately and sometimes drastically is unrealistic without easing into it or doing some serious planning. That is why I consider the first few months of the year as my time to ease into my new habits and intentions. It is nice that the Chinese New Year comes anywhere between a few weeks to a month and a half after the Gregorian calendar celebrates the New Year. Though I am not Chinese, I enjoy learning about other cultures and their approach to the new year and self improvement. It is an additional time to reflect, learn, and fine tune my intentions.

 

According to the lunar calendar the Chinese New Year begins February 16, 2018 and lasts until February 4, 2019. Each year is associated with a zodiac animal; this year is the year of the Dog. The year of the Dog comes every 12 years. The years are also associated with the five elements, Earth, Metal, Water, Wood, and Fire. This year is the year of the Earth Dog. The Earth Dog comes around every 60 years. Though it is considered bad luck if the zodiac animal of the year is the same as the year you were born in, a little heads up can help you be aware and possibly aid in some decision making. I am just going to skim the surface on this topic. You can definitely go deeper into the subject if you desire. At the very least these predictions can be entertaining and give you something to consider when setting new intentions for the new year.

 

The characteristics of people born in the dog years are said to have some of the most desirable human qualities. They are loyal, honest, amiable, and kind. They don’t need much in the way of material things and are happy with the basics, food, shelter, water, and a little love. They work hard and rest hard, a nice balance of yang and yin energy. On the flip side, they can be stubborn, self surviving, and have a brutal bite.

 

The year of the Dog is predicted to be good for business and technology and a great time to make lifestyle changes.  It is said that this year is a perfect time to start a new business or start learning something new. Health might be a bit more challenging for folks so it seems that this is a great time to focus on eating a balanced diet, limiting sugar, getting lots of sleep, and exercise. Dogs like to work hard, play hard, and rest hard. It will be extra important to rest and rejuvenate after work and social events.  Unfortunately, the year of the Dog may bring political turmoil (shocking). I don’t think anyone is surprised by this. Our current president is a dog.

 

I hope this post has given you something to think about and inspired you to get rid of something (physical or emotional), set a new intention, or motivated you to put your health at the top of the To Do List. Happy New Year, y’all!

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Rose. Thorn. Seed. Guest post by Austin Dixon, L.Ac

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At the end of every year my family spends a weekend with 2 other families to celebrate my husband’s birthday and the New Year. On New Year’s Eve, after we put the kids to bed and all the adults put on PJs, we get some refreshments and gather around the fire to discuss the highlights and lowlights of the previous year and our hopes for the coming year. This little exercise turns into hours of laughter, tears, and inspiration and we call it Rose, Thorn, Seed. It is also something we practice daily in our house and I want to share it with you.

The basic idea of daily Rose, Thorn, Seed is that we each share our Rose of the Day, the best part of the day, our Thorn of the Day, the part we did not like or enjoy, and our Seed for tomorrow, a thought or action we want to plant for the next day. Simple, right? Right. Very simple and very effective when you are looking for a way to get to know your partner better, get your kids to talk to you, or get to know yourself better. You can do Rose, Thorn, Seed by yourself with a pen and paper, mentally over a glass of wine or cup of tea, or with a partner, friend, or your whole family.

My husband and I started this when we lived in Brooklyn, before kids. We were both in school and working 2 jobs and never saw each other. We led completely different lives. I was doing acupuncture, yoga, working as a nanny and dancing, while he was working with computers, making Facebook video games and working on an Off Broadway show. I had as little insight into his world as he did mine. By checking in each day with our Rose, Thorn, Seed it sparked dialogue about things we would otherwise fail to mention about our day. We had been together since college and I started learning new things about this man. This proved to be such a helpful tool for us that we started doing it with our friends on their birthday, New Years, and daily with our kids.

Rose, Thorn, Seed is also a great exercise when you are feel like you need a change but don’t know exactly what that change is. When you aren’t feeling fulfilled with life or your job but you can’t quite pinpoint what is disappointing you. For example, if you want to figure out what kind of job would be good for you, try writing down what made you feel good that day as it relates to your work. Write down what did not make you feel good and what you would like to see happen differently tomorrow. Over a few weeks you may see a pattern to everything listed under your Rose and notice what inspires you the most as well as a pattern to your Thorn. You can use your seed to help direct you to more fulfilling days at your current job or help guide you in a search for a new one.

I hope you find this little exercise as helpful as we do. My desire for you is that you start living a life filled with lots of colorful roses, few thorns, and some new seeds.

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Benefits of Chair Yoga…Guest post by RJ Lisander

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Yoga has been shown to improve overall health, prevent and (even in some cases) reverse disease when practiced regularly as a lifestyle. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that yoga can lend its benefits to those seeking to improve mobility and flexibility, but who may be limited by balance due to injury, disease and/or age. Below are some examples of how chair yoga may help you:

1. Improved mobility

A body that is agile is typically able to withstand and sustain injuries better. Chair yoga provides a safe and effective way to explore movement and improve balance and mobility.

2. Improved Flexibility

Chair yoga is appropriate for all, but is best for those who have sustained injury which prevent or hinder movement such as reaching down to tie shoe laces or pick things up. The supported and slow movements offered in a chair yoga class help improve flexibility safely.

3. Improved proprioception

Proprioception is the skill of knowing where your body is in space, and coordinating movements accurately. This is particularly important as we age and can help prevent falls due to changes in perception and balance. For people with restless leg syndrome or conditions such as MS, it may mean having greater control over the body and its movements.

4. Improved stress, mental clarity and pain management

Chair yoga (and yoga in general) includes breath work, which can help people not only with stress management but also for coping and managing pain. Through yoga and the accompanying breath exercises the postures, you can help your body and mind to cope with the pain of an illness or condition you may suffer with.

Curious? Join me for a Chair Yoga session at InsideOut.  Contact the studio for more information!

919-361-0104

info@insideoutbodytherapies.com

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Holiday Health + Happiness Challenge by Mischa Decker

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It is so easy to fall into unhealthy habits during this time of year- and I am not just talking about eating too many baked goods and not enough kale.  I am talking about…stress + feeling overwhelmed + putting too much pressure on ourselves to make the perfect holiday + a complete abandonment of our exercise routines.  Time goes quickly, schedules are crazy and there is just SO MUCH on our plates (literally AND figuratively!).

While prepping for a week away from my normal routine I began to think of a few small ways to stay centered and healthy this holiday season.  Here is the challenge I set for myself.  I plan to do these FOUR things MOST days of the week.

Will you join me?

  1. Drink plenty of water. I don’t know about you, but I tend to drink more “adult beverages” this time of year than usual.  Between holiday parties and family gatherings, my wine consumption miiiiight go up.  I also tend to drink less water when I am out of my normal routine, so I am making a point to keep my H2O intake UP this year!  **Bonus: add Young Living Lemon Vitality essential oil to your water for a little extra detoxifying and added flavor!
  2. Do the Pilates abdominal series. I know I will be doing less Pilates while traveling, but it is SO easy to take 5 minutes to do the Stomach Series.  If you aren’t familiar with this series of FIVE exercises, check out the video at the end of this post.  Your abs will thank you!
  3. Take a 20 minute walk.  If we make it a priority, we can usually find 20 minutes a day to go for a walk.  Even just a short walk can help clear the mind and invigorate the body!  It is also a great kick-start for the metabolism.
  4. Two minutes of gratitude. This is actually the one that is most important to me.  I have felt incredibly overwhelmed and actually a little down recently and I have noticed a shift in my thinking.  I am usually the cheerleader…”we can do this!” “things are going to be fine!” “this too shall pass!” but recently I have become much more negative.  And I don’t like it.  I know one thing that has helped me in the past is acknowledging all of the MANY things I have for which I am grateful.  And what better time than NOW to be THANKFUL for even the small things in our lives.  Here are a few ways to do your two minutes (or more!) of gratitude:
    • Use all or part of your daily walk to think about the positive things in your life.
    • Take a drop or two of your favorite essential oil in your hands, rub them together, put them to your nose and inhale.  Breathe in the scent and say aloud or to yourself the things you are grateful for at that time. **I use Young Living’s Frankincense and a blend called Abundance most often.
    • Keep a gratitude journal.  You can use bullet points or even just jot down thoughts.  It doesn’t have to be long or perfect writing!

Comment here or on our FB or IG posts and let us know if you are up for the challenge!

Happy and Healthy Holidays!

The Energy of Fall- Guest Post by Austin Dixon, L.Ac

austindixonGuest Post by Austin Dixon, L.Ac

In Chinese Medicine the seasons play an important role in our health and well-being. Our body and mind are better when we eat seasonally appropriate food, wear seasonally appropriate clothing, and follow sleeping patterns that correspond to the rising and setting of the sun. There are certain energies or emotions that are connected with the seasons that can often explain why people feel certain ways during a particular season or seem to experience a recurring issue at the same time each year. Since the temperature is finally starting to give us a break here in North Carolina and the leaves are changing, I am going to focus on Fall.

Fall is the season that is connected to the Metal element and Lung and Large Intestine in Chinese Medicine. When the energy of Metal is strong you are able to let go of the things that no longer serve you and hold on to what does. Think about animals storing up for the winter. There is no space for unnecessary items. Fall is the perfect time to reflect on how the year has been progressing, recognize what is working for you and what isn’t, and to begin to let go of what you no longer need.

Sounds easy, right? Ha!

Letting go can feel so overwhelming and borderline impossible to many (most) people. Our new age friends might throw around the phrase “just let it go” as if this was a simple task equivalent to tossing an empty Kombucha bottle into the recycling bin at Whole Foods. Don’t let them fool you. Letting go is hard. Like, really hard. I am not one who shies away from change, but even typing about letting go has my palms sweating. So, let’s get real and talk about what this looks like for those of us who may want to hold on to our Kombucha bottle (I could totally use this for something!).

Now, I am not a therapist and can only speak to my personal experience with letting go of emotional baggage. Since everyone is different and may not identify with my personal struggles I won’t bore you with the details of my own emotional balancing. I will say that mindfulness practices go a long way. Finding the right one for you can be life changing. I also highly recommend therapy. I know some great therapists in Durham if anyone needs a recommendation.

Another technique I firmly believe helps nourish our Metal energy is cleaning out. I truly believe everyone can benefit from de-cluttering, both physically and mentally. Some folks have more clutter than others, but we all have something we can let go of. De-cluttering your home or work space is a great exercise in sorting and examining what you actually need. It can be hard to figure out what we need to let go of emotionally.  Learning to de-clutter and let go of physical things will give you more skills when it comes to doing the same with emotions and mental baggage.

When the energy of the Metal element is not on point it is hard for us to realize we have too much stuff and even harder for us to let go of any of it. So. Let’s start small.

Start with a drawer. Or a closet if you are feeling bold. Or a whole room if you are really ready to get your Metal element in good shape. No matter how much you are trying to tackle make four piles. The first three piles are easy-ish: Keep, Trash, Give Away. Pile four is a little harder. Every time we start going through old stuff we always find something that “Oh my god, I totally forgot about this and I love it so much and I will use it all the time now that I remember it.” These items get their own pile. Since the first three piles are pretty instructive when it comes to the next step (keep, trash, or give away) we will focus on pile four. It is best to keep this pile small. If these items are from a drawer they should fit into a ziplock bag. If these items are from a closet or room try to keep them limited to one box. Give yourself two months to use these items. Mark your calendar and go about your life. When your calendar lets you know that two months have passed, reflect on what you have actually used out of that box. If you have not used anything from your OMG-I-LOVE-THIS box, it is all packed up and ready to be donated. Easy-peasy. If you have used these items then you know that they are truly important to you.

I find it most helpful to do this every couple of months. Once you start cleaning out on the regular it might not be so overwhelming and you are giving your Metal energy a little tune up on the regular.

I hope this helps. Please remember that the energy of Fall is different than Summer. You are supposed to slow down, reflect, let go, sleep when you are tired (this means go to bed earlier) and eat warm, nourishing foods.

Happy Fall Everyone!

Austin Dixon is an acupuncturist at InsideOut.  Check out her full bio here and her website here. Call the studio to schedule an appointment with Austin!

Moving through stress: Simple steps bring a sense of calm to your day… Guest post by RJ Lisander of Lotus Seed Meditations, LLC

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Not a single one of us is immune to the daily stressors in life.  We all wear many hats requiring us to move from situation to situation, decision to decision, circumstance to circumstance often without a breath in between.  Before we know it we can be flustered, moving too quickly and feeling like we are losing pace with each fleeting moment.

 

This time of year, as Summer starts to cool to Fall’s breeze we can feel especially unsettled.  Old routines are shifting to new routines and this transition of weather and routine can be especially turbulent.  Demands on our attention are heightened and time is at a premium.  We often find we have to put self-care off for another day or week.   

In these moments I try to remind myself this is all part of a cycle and these moments of stress are normal, and in some cases necessary to sustaining life, and as they pass we move back to a state of calm.  But, sometimes we stay in this heightened state and need a technique or two to help move us through them to a place of less stress and more calm. 

 

Not that the below list will solve all your problems, but the inclusion of a pause or multiple pauses throughout the day can help you find a little bit of balance between longer, larger resets. 

  1. Start the day before: Establishing and maintaining state of calm starts by taking a moment or two to organize your day the night before.  Review your calendar and do what you can to prepare for an easier start to the day. 

  1. Sleep: Try to get a full, uninterrupted night’s sleep.  When we sleep well everything else seems easier to manage. 

  1. Pack healthy and nutritious snacks to eat throughout the day:  Having small, healthy snacks will help keep your blood sugar level stable and will make it easy to keep your energy levels up (especially if you have a lastminute event that prevents or delays a meal).  Also, having snacks on hand will make it easier to resist the vending machine or drive-through. 

  1. Drink water:  Water naturally fights fatigue and increases energy.  Water flushes out toxins, relieves headaches and boosts the immune system.  So, keep a container of fresh, filtered water handy and sip it throughout the day.  The benefits on mood, hydration, and overall health are truly amazing. 

  1. Take breaks throughout the day to just slow down:  Making a cup of tea, going for a 10-minute walk outside, counting out the beads of a mala, or finding a quiet spot to close your eyes and breath with intent will each do wonders for perspective.  Sometimes all we need to do is pause long enough to breathe.  This can do wonders for calming the mind and senses. 

  1. Focus:  Find an object or objects that bring you a sense of peace and joy and have them at your desk at work or in a space you frequent throughout your day.  Gaze on them for a moment drawing your awareness toward something outside of your momentary frazzle and back into an inner state of joy.   

  1. Music:  Play soothing and happy music as you are able throughout the day.  Relaxing music has been shown to increase levels of serotonin and other positive hormones in the bloodstream providing our bodies with better mood, sleep and learning capabilities. 

  1. Scent:  Scent has been studied and proven to improve mood, cognitive capabilities and behavior.  Go ahead and dab on a touch of your favorite perfume.  Start a diffuser scenting the room with lovely essential oils that bring calm, awareness, focus, whatever it is you need at that time.  (Just be mindful of those around you and any sensitivities they may have to certain scents.). If you are in a space where a diffuser or perfume is not recommended, try dabbing a touch of essential oil on a pressure point or two.  Pressure points can include the temples, the back of the neck by the base of the skull, the neck by the jaw line, the collar bone and the wrists. 

Here’s to hoping you have a day filled with manageable stress, breath and space to be.  

Building on a minute a day…Guest post by RJ Lisander

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Last week was a bit of an overshare, but at the beginning of my attempts at a regular meditation practice it was so helpful for me to hear from those who made it look so easy. 

It takes time and practice to settle in and over time those words, to me, as they will to you, came to take on a newer more nuanced meaning.  It also took some work with different meditation techniques for me to settle in to what has now become a practice of about 60-minutes of silent meditation where I just “drop in” to my quiet mind.

After the visualization technique, which I explained last week, I experimented with a number of techniques until I found a really interesting style of meditation:  mantra meditation.

A mantra is defined as a word, a series of words, or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.  It can be something as simple as the traditional “om,” which is heard in yoga classes worldwide, or it can be a more personal affirmation.  Your local yoga or meditation guide can direct you to a mantra that is perfectly suited to you, your needs and beliefs if this phrase is not coming to you easily

As I settled in to try mantra meditation I selected “om” because, frankly, it was the Sanskrit (though you are not limited to Sanskrit mantras) I felt the most comfortable pronouncing and repeating.

Seated comfortably on my meditation pillow I took a couple of breaths to help me settle.  I then closed my eyes and started to repeat, in a very tentative and quiet whisper, Om.  Over and over, Om, Om, Om.  Before I realized it the om was longer, extending to the length of each exhale, Ooooooommmmmmm.  I relaxed a bit.  I could feel myself slowing down. 

Then the thinking mind crept in and I began to wonder what “Om” really meant.  Until that very moment I had just taken for granted that “Om” was an opening and closing chant stated in yoga classes to help raise the collective vibration, consciousness of the room.  And, while this sacred sound of Om is that, it is so much more.  (Here is an article to help explain om in more detail.)

As I settled into a regular practice I started to experience Om at the beginning of a breath as AH, the middle of a breath as OH, and the end of a breath as MM.  YES!!!  The illusive breath in meditation!  I had finally found it!  The answer was right in front of me the whole time.  But, the experience of it was just beginning to unfold for me.

The second piece of the meditation puzzle was revealed to me in this sound and the vibration that resonated through me.  I opened my eyes, my whole body … buzzing … is really the best way to explain it.  I could feel my whole body, alive and active, though I was simply sitting and breathing.  My mind was peaceful and I felt like I had just found the key that I could use to unlock all that was me that I had not ever been able to access before.

I sat for days after this experience trying to get back to this place.  But, I failed.  I was frustrated.  And, then I remembered something one of my wonderful first meditation guides recommended and I incorporated a mala to my mantra meditation.

A mala is a strand of 108 beads plus a “guru” bead traditionally used for meditation (and prayer).  Malas can be created with different intentions and different precious and semi-precious gem stones to allow for different intentions to be recognized in a practice. 

I happened to have a sandalwood mala nearby.  (Sandalwood is believed to help enhance meditation practices, among other things).  I took the guru bead (the largest bead on the mala and is typically near the mala’s tassel) and started chanting AH-OH-MM with my breath.  With each exhale, and the beginning of the chant, I moved my fingers along the strand to the next bead.  I did this the entire length of the mala, 108 beads, and rested.  I opened my eyes and, though I didn’t feel the buzz I described earlier, I felt the same heightened sense of my own physical being.

For over a month I repeated this every day.  It became second nature to me and I was able to focus the vibrations in different parts of my body.  The sensation of the breath and the vibrations were (and remain) especially strong in my spine, but this can vary by individual.  Anytime I am feeling anxious I repeat Om silently to myself and the vibrations return and help me calm.  My breath settles … and, for me, that was the greatest gift of mantra meditation.  (I often secretly joke to myself that this meditation became the seed of my practice.) 

To try mantra meditation follow these steps: 

  • Return to your meditation practice space 

  • Find a comfortable position  

  • Take a couple of breaths to settle 

  • Chant your chosen mantra  

  • Repeat the chant until you feel the vibration move through you and either continue to chant or sit in silence to enjoy the experience of the vibration from a place of internal peace 

As a side note, malas can also be used alone to help focus the mind and to settle the nerves in times of stress.  There are many styles of counting the beads.  I simply hold the mala in my hand and count off the beads, starting with the guru, until I have moved through all 108.  Typically, by the time I get about ¾ of the way through the strand I am feeling calmer and more focused.  (It is not recommended that you do this while driving, operating heavy machinery, etc.  And, please be careful if you are using malas around small children and animals. General common sense should be your guide here to make sure you and those around you are safe from the distraction of counting, long strings and broken strands!) 

For individualized pointers or resources lists for mantras, please send requests to rjlisander@gmail.com.  Of course, you are always invited to stop by InsideOut Body Therapies for a Sunday evening yin flow and meditation class where we experiment a bit with mantra meditations.  Additionally, check the schedule for upcoming meditation workshops. 

Lotus Seed Meditations, LLC 

Finding Calm in the Moment…Guest post by RJ Lisander

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Just checking in on you … how is your practice of meditation going so far?  
 

If you are anything like me, it’s probably not really going well at all.  It is hard to sit in the distraction of the mind and find peace.  Not to mention sitting and feeling the dull ache in the back and the slowly growing tingling in the left toe that eventually overtakes the whole foot in a sea of ever moving pin pricks growing in intensity.  

No, it’s not hard to meditate.  It can be near impossible.  So, how did you get through it?  

I added a focal point.

The buildup: It had been a particularly long day at work where a meeting ended with me, a natural klutz, making a turn to leave the room too quickly and spilling half-dayold, cold cream and coffee all over a pile of documents ready to be priority shipped to a marketing conference.  To say there was a less than a pleased look on the face of my boss and the immediate knowledge that the intern, who had been excited about and looking forward to a date for weeks, would miss that date to help me reprint and reorganize everything, caused me to feel less like a human and more like the slog at the bottom of slog is an understatement.

It was a bad day.  (Not my worst day, but a bad day nonetheless.)   

Knowing we had no option other than to make it work, the intern and I got the job done.  The intern even had time to make it to her date.  (In the spirit of full disclosure, she was late, but she did make it.)  I, on the other hand, went to a quiet apartment with no one home but two aging cats more interested in their evening meal than comforting me.  No friends were available to vent to so I left messages asking for return calls. Then I made a dinner for one, which I barely ate, as I was generally feeling nothing but self-pity. 

Now, here is where the real story starts:  I made my way to the sink where I started to wash dishes as I contemplated how to start my letter of resignation … you know, beat them to the firing me punch.  And, then, without thinking about it, after 6-weeks of trying to meditate without even the slightest bit of success, the feel of the warm water washing over my hands, the bubbles of dish detergent soothing my air conditioned-dried fingers, the sound of the water, a steady streamleft me feeling focused.  As I focused on the water and how it felt on my skin became aware of my shoulders relaxing.  Then just as I believe I was about to feel my breath the phone rang and instantly the moment was gone. 

didn’t answer the phone.  Instead, I rolled out my yoga mat and laid down on it –  work suit and all.  I knew no matter what happened at work the next day I would know I found a moment of peace and I was confident I would find that peace again. 

 

The takeaway: Now, I’m pretty sure that while none of you has actually had this day, you can relate to days like this.  And, it is often in these moments where we are not sure what to do, how to move forward, or how those things we don’t have control over will affect and even change our lives, that we seek outside advice.  In my case, that evening, I wanted a friend to help me sort through how to “fix” the idea that I knew everyone had of me being incompetent.  

But, in that moment of mindful meditation I experienced and realized the issue was much deeper; I move too quickly and I needed to slow down.   

The focal point: The next time I decided to meditate I pulled up a picture of a river on my laptop. This picture was from a favorite hiking spot and I just looked at the picture.  I recalled the smells, the sounds, everything I could about that spot.  And, though it would take several more meditation sessions before I found my breath, I left that session with a clearer head and a general sense of calm (and, the personal realization that I have a tendency to over-react to less-than-perfect-deliveries at work).   

Here are a few tips on how to start meditating with a focal point:  

  • Go to that place you have decided is your meditation spot.  
  • Take a moment and a few breaths and think about a place or an object that brings you joy.  Then find the picture of the place or the object. 
  • Take this picture or object and go back to your meditation spot.  
  • Then, once comfortable, take a cleansing inhale and exhale.  
  • Finally, look at your picture or object and notice every detail the texture, the shadings of color, the lightness, the density, the movement, the scent, and the feelings that those observations bring.  
  • Sit here for as long as you are able to focus on the picture or object and the observations.   
  • If your mind wonders bring your attention back to the picture or object until you have completely experienced this moment.  
  • When you are ready to exit your meditation do so with a deep and complete inhale followed by a complete exhale.  
  • Return your picture or object to its place or carry it with you as a reminder to take a moment to sit and settle. 

Be kind to yourself and keep trying!  Finding even a few moments each day for your meditation practice can help you find calm in the moment of mental chaos and live more mindfully.