Mindful Meditation

jared-rice-388260-unsplash.jpg

What is it?

Mindful meditation is a practice that trains the mind to focus on the present moment, without judgement. Being aware of your surroundings, thoughts and feelings. It can be practiced on your own, in groups or during retreats. Exercises during a meditation session include focusing on the breath, exploring the senses like taste, smell, touch and sound.

My experience.

Generally speaking, I thought I was quite self-aware. However, until I started using mindful meditation, I realised how much I could benefit from such a practice.

Rewind two years. I noticed that my heart would palpitate out of nowhere, constantly feeling that something bad was going to happen. I was exhausted all the time and found it difficult to sleep. I stumbled upon a channel on YouTube that posted guided meditations. The comments seemed to rave on about how this channel helped them through many tough times. I thought, if so many of these comments were saying it helped them, why not give it a try? During the day, I’d listen to these voice-overs to ‘escape’ the bustling world around me. I would sit in my car, just to be alone and listen. I learned to focus on my breath. I also learned grounding techniques, thanks to a counsellor I was seeing at the time.

Although I was working through functioning during the day, I was still struggling to sleep at night. So I decided to listen to guided meditations. This was the best decision I made! Within thirty minutes or less, I’d fall asleep! My phone would be left charging overnight, while the rest of the meditation video played through. However, if you feel safer in doing so, turn off electrical devices just before drifting off to sleep.

9 times out of 10, mindful meditation allowed me to have a deep, restful sleep! Finally.

Fast forward to today. I still use these meditations to sleep at night. Now, I am going to try and practice mindful meditation in the mornings – for extra motivation and focus!

Where do I start?

Personally, I would find channels/podcasts that are popular and have good feedback. Not all channels may appeal to you, so find one that you connect with.

I frequently visit a YouTube channel created by Michael Sealey. He has an array of videos targeting anxiety, depression, chakra cleansing and over-thinking to name a few. His voice to me, is very grounding, making me feel calm and at ease.

Mindful meditation can encourage self-compassion, slowly changing the judgemental tones we sometimes find ourselves using in our heads. You know that critical voice, always making us feel unnecessarily bad about ourselves/actions? Yep, that one. Change that voice and it’ll change your thinking for the better!

The other day, I downloaded an iPhone app called “Calm”. It’s great, because it has different ‘topics’ like mindful eating, mindfulness at work, 7 days of calm as well as many others. So far, I have found it very helpful for focus. It’s helped me feel more motivated in the mornings! Be aware that some topics are locked as it requires a yearly subscription fee.

From YouTube channels, smartphone applications to podcasts, there are many options out there for you to try.

Benefits of Mindfulness

According to a study conducted at Oxford University in England, mindfulness (coupled with cognitive therapy) has been said to reduce symptoms of chronic depression.

According to a study conducted at UCLA in America, mindfulness meditation could be a factor in improved memory and focus. They found that those who had been meditating long-term had more ‘folds’ in the brain’s cortex, suggesting improved information processing and the formation of memories.

In day-to-day life, mindfulness meditation can help reduce stress and anxiousness. It can also raise your self-awareness and help you to recognise thoughts and feelings that may or may not be serving you. Check-in with yourself, from time to time. Make time for self-inventory.

It’s not a smooth journey, but it is a path worth exploring for better mental health and wellbeing!

If you’d like to learn more, I’ve listed links below:

Applications to download:

  • Calm
  • Mt. Focused (for study)
  • Headspace

Image by Jared Rice.

A lot of us, we feel that meditation is about silence. No, it is about awareness. – Ralph Smart

Let go of what no longer serves you.

You are not your past. 

Namaste.

How art has helped me: the teen years.

jacqueline-day-619822-unsplash.jpg

*To make the post interactive, hyperlinks have been added. Videos and further information are there for maximum learning. Please note some videos may be triggering, so proceed with caution.*

High school was a place of discovery and I enjoyed the new-found independence. However, there was a power struggle between me and my parents. I admit, I was not the easiest daughter to deal with. At all. Restrictions and deadlines simply encouraged me to rebel, further and further. The more restrictions that came, the more resentment I harboured. I couldn’t understand why I felt the way I felt. I couldn’t figure out why I was losing motivation. Some days I was snappy and other days I thought I might burst from feeling loved. During these few years, I had confided in a teacher that I had lost motivation to do anything (including the psychology assignment due that day). She told me to speak to a counsellor to try and help me get back on track. I’d never seen a counsellor before, and my view of counsellors were people who would only tell my parents whatever I would say. I went once, feeling too vulnerable to have a proper conversation. I didn’t return.

I was part of a couple youth groups and that was a way to socialise, free of stress and expectations. However, every time the meetings were over, leaving was almost derisive; the feeling of impending doom remained. Having trouble trusting adults already, I wasn’t about to seek help from a teacher or counsellor. Guidance was what I needed, but I didn’t know where to look.

As the senior years rolled around, things got worse.

My family life was on unstable hinges and my personal life was slowly deteriorating. Let’s throw in a toxic relationship too, shall we? The cycle of control continued. He told me to stop talking to certain friends and that I shouldn’t be going to friend’s parties. If I tried to hide it to keep the peace, I’d be questioned and judged for doing so. He’d also belittle my feelings; I eventually stopped sharing them. One night, I remember being on the phone, and he realised I was at a friend’s party. He was furious, almost yelling through the phone. I was ready to throw the damn phone away. But, I was young and naive. I wanted someone to be ‘on my side’, even if that person was more controlling than my parents. Toxic relationships in your teenage years can be so taxing on your mind, body and those around you.  During this time, I had thoughts about self-harm and running away to be free from the control and manipulation.

I was away from school more and more, and my grades were slipping. Teachers began to notice. The year-level coordinator eventually coaxed it out of me, and I told him what was going on in my life. He said that abuse is never okay. I didn’t understand what he meant, but I felt like for the first time, an adult understood what I was going through. Still, because I wasn’t willing to seek further help, the coordinator couldn’t do anything more than listen if ever I felt overwhelmed.

I still felt trapped. Since I couldn’t talk about my emotions, I decided I’d draw them. I was already withdrawn from the outside world, so I may as well take advantage of it. Colours I remember using regularly was black, red and brown. I constantly drew squares and triangles, representing anger, barriers, cages and anything else that expressed feeling ‘imprisoned’. Charcoal was my weapon of choice. I enjoyed the ability to express so much, that I did my Research Project on art as therapy. This subject was the highlight of high school because I felt I could pour my soul into the work, without it feeling like effort. The same could be said about my final art project. I finally found a way to communicate. Perhaps it was my inner rebel triumphing again – always finding a way to survive.

Creativity was a permanent device in my tool-box, ever since. If I was feeling stressed, sad or anxious, I knew I could express it through art. Years on, I understand why my parents were over-bearing. They were trying their best to look out for me. Our conversations tell me they had learned not to be too strict on their younger kids, as it would only push them away. The ex on the other hand… well, he’s still an ex.

These days, I have been learning to speak up. Drawing is great, but to get through this world in life and work, it is important to be able to communicate effectively. To ask for what you want. To stand up, when you’re not being treated fairly. And to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

If you notice a friend is withdrawn, not their usual self, or talks about hardship in a relationship or in their family – support them. They may be experiencing mental health issues or have someone in their life that is emotionally abusive. Even if a friend does not want to share what they’re going through, it is important for them to know that they’re not alone.

Here are some signs you can look out for:

  • Withdrawn from family/friends
  • Constantly unable to make small decisions without checking in with their partner/family member
  • Excessively texting/messaging whereabouts
  • Loss of motivation
  • Loss of confidence
  • Being told they can’t talk to a certain person/group of people for no reason

What I wish I knew: Never be afraid to stand up for yourself. Read books about communication and human development to understand what’s going on in your mind and body. Be aware of signs of manipulation and emotional abuse. If you need help, reach out to a trusted confidant or counsellor. There are people out there that are for you, not against you.

Phone and online counselling service: Kidshelpline (ages 5 to 25).
Video on art therapy.
Image by Jacqueline.