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Which Meditation Should I Do?

Choice is great when it opens up our world and brings us a sense of agency and freedom.

And… at times it can feel paralysing when we’re unsure which option – of the many – to choose. In meditation, I’ve certainly had the experience of dithering for so long about which recording to listen to that I lose the motivation completely (or the time slot), and end up not practising at all.

With time as our practice develops, we gain more confidence in knowing which practice will best meet our needs on any given day. And we might not always need to listen to a recording.

But then there are those times we just don’t feel sure what would be most supportive. Here’s a menu of meditations for those moments.

These are the same meditations I’ve shared on my main page, but organised by how you’re feeling, instead of by meditation type.

It’s not an absolute ‘prescription’ to be rigidly followed, but a few ideas to help get you unstuck.

This list includes some very short meditations of only a few minutes long – for those days when you’re especially busy, or just feeling resistant to meditating.

GUIDANCE NOTE:  These practices are devised to support stress reduction, but are not intended to address debilitating mental health conditions or severe emotional distress.  Do not listen to these recordings when driving, or when concentration on another task is important for safety.

WHEN FEELING SCATTERED OR STUCK IN ‘BUSY MIND’

Relaxing Into Body Awareness (22 mins) – a body scan meditation with a focus on meeting experience as it is, softening resistance and relaxing into ‘being with’ what’s happening, with greater confidence.

5-Minute Breathing Space – slightly longer than a standard breathing space, a short meditation to help re-establish mindful awareness.

Breathing With The Body (16 mins, Recorded Live) – finding a grounded presence through embodied awareness of the breath.

IF YOU’RE FEELING OVERWHELMED OR FRAZZLED

Basic Breathing Meditation (16 mins) – a short practice for bringing mindful awareness to the breath.

Basic Body Scan (22 mins) – a meditation inviting awareness to inhabit each area of the body.

Support Your Self (6 mins) – a short meditation to bring self-kindness into your day.

FOR DEVELOPING GREATER AWARENESS

Opening To All Of Your Experience (Recorded Live, 19 mins) – a gentle practice of ‘befriending’ – opening more fully to all the various aspects of our experience: the pleasant, the neutral and the unpleasant. Welcoming these in on our own terms can be empowering and help develop a broad, calm and stable awareness.

Mindfulness With Breathing (20 mins, Recorded Live)* – Establishing and maintaining contact with the breath, as felt in the body. Led on a practice afternoon for those with some meditation experience, less guidance than some of my other recordings.

Mindfulness With Feelings (22 mins, Recorded Live)* – A mindfulness with breathing practice, opening to a range of feelings, including energy and pleasant feelings. Allowing all experience to arise and pass, held in the container of the breath.

*These 2 meditations can be done ‘back-to-back’ if you would like an extended practice of 40 minutes.

IF YOU’RE FEELING TENSE

Calming Body, Heart & Mind (Recorded Live, 14mins) – a practice to bring kindness to difficult experience, drawn from the approach developed by Kristin Neff and Chris Germer – see their websites for more meditations.

Supported By The Earth (Recorded Live, 20 mins) – A grounding practice to encourage mindful relaxation. Guidance is given for lying down, so please adapt as necessary if you are seated. (Excuse the audio quality, I think I was lying a bit close to the mic!)

Imagining Compassion (7 mins) – connect with an image of a person, being or place that helps you feel supported, soothed and cared for.

WHEN YOU’RE SHORT ON TIME

Body Check-In (5 mins) – reconnect with embodied awareness.

5-Sense Check-In (5 mins) – drop into Being in the body.

Finding The Positive (5 mins) – taking in what feels good about the present moment.

You can find additional recordings on the Meditations page, organised in the following categories: Self-Kindness, Mindfulness With Breathing, Body Awareness and Short Meditations.

For personalised support with your meditation practice, I run mindfulness workshops and classes in Heaton Moor (South Manchester), and a Coaching Programme via Skype.

You might also like the post Should I Sit Up Or Lie Down To Meditate?

 

 

 

JULY TIPS: Self-Kindness And The Power Of Less

When you hear the term ‘self-kindness’, perhaps it conjures up an image of taking yourself off for a spa break or a holiday. Self-care is definitely an important part of the practice*, but there are also other ways to support yourself with kindness, which may be more accessible when you can’t get away from it all.

Like many things, self-kindness can lose its appeal if it feels like an extra duty you need to add into an already-busy life. I like to approach it as a practice of doing less, not more: less self-criticism, less pressure on myself, less trying to pretend I feel ok if actually things feel hard.

Here are three things I can do without when I’m having a difficult day, and what I’ve learned to do instead. They are all examples of ‘self-kindness in action’ – the kind of support that can come to your rescue right when you need it.

*I’ll be looking at self-care in next month’s tips.

Less Criticism

Putting ourselves down for being imperfect is a habit that many of us fall into. It can feel deceptively productive to find what’s ‘wrong’ with us, so we can fix it. But in my experience, it usually only keeps me trapped in a cycle of toxic shame.

It can be more helpful to cultivate a habit of self-appreciation. This won’t necessarily replace self-criticism to begin with, but it provides a gentler counter-balance that moves you in the direction of self-kindness.

When I’m caught in the trap of self-criticism, I look for some way that I can also appreciate myself. Perhaps I screwed up one task, but felt good about something else I did. Maybe I think I offended someone, but my intention was a genuine attempt to help them.

Sometimes, it boils down to appreciating myself for just coping, or bringing some awareness to my challenges. It’s enough.

Less Pressure

I spent many years pushing myself to be an impossibly perfect version of myself.

I still feel that pull sometimes, and it can show up as a long list of stuff I want to get done, so that I can feel good about myself. That list hanging over me can feel pretty overwhelming.

This is when I remind myself that I don’t need an excuse to take my foot off the pedal, and that being human is enough reason in itself.

A self-kindness pause helps me to see that I don’t have to be a superwoman to feel good about myself. The way I apply this pause is usually to ask myself ‘how can I go easy on myself today?’

This might mean physically doing less, eg letting something wait a day, rather than pushing myself to get on top of everything. Or it might mean choosing to shoot for ‘good enough’ instead of perfect.

Less Rejection

When we’re being hard on ourselves, we may be invalidating our own experience. Think about it. If a small child told us they were scared, or sad, or angry, and we ignored them, told them they were being silly, or that they didn’t feel any of those things – we’d be invalidating what they are actually feeling. How often do we do this to ourselves?

It was one of the first things I noticed when I began doing self-kindness meditation. Sometimes I’d realise that I’d spent the whole day trying to pretend I was ‘ok’, when in fact I felt vulnerable, afraid, or sad.

I learned to practice Supportive Self-Talk. This is a way to validate my own experience by first listening to what I’m feeling (in meditation, or in life). Once I’ve heard what needs to be felt, instead of rejecting or abandoning the hurting part of me, I can let myself have my own experience as it really is – whether it feels nice, or a bit painful. This can be quite a relief compared to trying to pretend I feel something different.

When I see myself through the eyes of my ‘Supportive Self’ in this way, I can respond by saying to myself what I really need to hear, instead of being dismissive or invalidating.

With a bit of practice, Supportive Self-Talk can be available whenever you need, again without ‘making time’ for it.

Further Resources

Self-Kindness Meditations can be found on my meditations page – done regularly over a period of time, they help to re-programme old habits and cultivate supportive self-talk.

Enoughness As True Happiness – this blog touches on ways to find self-appreciation in everyday life.

Committing To Self-Kindness – this blog is about easing into self-kindness practice, slowly and gradually, because it often doesn’t come naturally at first.

If you would like to work with me, I run mindfulness workshops and classes in Heaton Moor (South Manchester).  I also offer 1-to-1 Skype sessions that cover some of the self-kindness approaches mentioned above – see the Coaching Programme page for info.

If you would like to be notified when I add new monthly tips – you can ‘follow’ this blog and you’ll receive an email whenever I post tips and blogs (use the button at the bottom right of the website footer). I also post updates to Twitter

‘Enoughness’ as True Happiness

I’ve always felt a little bit of resistance to the word ‘happiness’. It can feel like a concept that is defined by someone else’s idea of what I should achieve, and then sold to me via magazines and social media.

It’s easy to forget there’s a powerful consumer industry that needs us to feel a sense of ‘not enough’ so that we’ll attempt to buy our way to happiness (some statistics estimate that the modern person sees about 5000 ads per day).

But true happiness, for me, comes from a feeling of ‘enoughness’. Admittedly, this isn’t actually a proper word, but I feel like it conveys a quality of appreciation which isn’t quite there when I hear the word ‘enough’.

This quality, a kind of quiet and steady wellbeing, is actually not all that elusive if I stay open to it. I’ve been reflecting on how it shows up in everyday life, and this is what I noticed…

Enoughness means I don’t always have to get what I want to be happy.

Enoughness means I can let go of trying to prove myself or get somewhere, and actually just be content right now.

Enoughness means that nothing I do has to be perfect.

Enoughness means I don’t have to fill my diary to feel fulfilled.

Enoughness means I can appreciate what I already do have that I’m grateful for, instead of chasing something more, or something else.

Enoughness means I can open to the wonder of just being alive (as trite as that may sound), every day, without waiting for something ‘big’ or impressive to happen.

Enoughness means that the way I live reflects my own values, even if they don’t match those of contemporary culture.

Enoughness means I can connect deeply with the people I care about, because I haven’t got half my attention on the mental pursuit of goals.

Enoughness means I’m more immune to the marketing strategies that want me to believe I need to buy happiness, or chase an unrealistic lifestyle (which also often seems to mean buying what someone is selling).

Enoughness means I can step back from Doing mode, and feel confident that it’s ok to leave those minutes unfilled by busyness. And realising that just Being can sometimes create more positive change than Doing.

Enoughness means that even when life feels uncomfortable, I know I’ll cope because I’m ok at a very basic level: my needs for oxygen, nutrients, physical support and shelter are rarely not met. As Rick Hanson puts it, I’m ‘alright, right now’.

A feeling of enoughness can also be the most reliable clue that I’m engaged in mindful living. So when I feel like I’m losing my way, if I look for a sense of enoughness, however ‘small’, it can make a big impact.

I’ll leave you with an Albert Camus quote that pretty neatly sums up what I mean by enoughess.

“Four Conditions Of Happiness:

Life in the open air

Love for another being

Freedom from ambition

Creation”*

Sheila runs mindfulness workshops in Heaton Moor, South Manchester, and also provides Mindful Living coaching by Skype.

*I believe the correct description is ‘Poe’s 4 Conditions For Happiness’.

JUNE TIPS: Foundations For Mindful Living

For many people, learning mindfulness is life-changing. But how do we consistently bring the benefits of this practice into our lives?

In a very basic way, I might define mindful living as balancing Doing with enough time just Being. This balance tends to lead to greater connection with ourselves, other people and our environment, a feeling of being more fully present in our lives. (For more detail see the Mindful Living page).

This month I’m taking a look at laying down a foundation for mindful living, on an ongoing basis.

Perhaps you’re at the start of your mindfulness journey, or looking to refresh your commitment to living more mindfully. In either case, it’s likely you’ll meet a few challenges along the way. Here are a few supports I fall back on when I need to feel more grounded in mindful living.

You could use some of these as journaling prompts, or just give yourself some space to reflect on what mindful living looks like for you.

Awareness of Intention

Everyone’s reasons for wanting to develop mindfulness may be different. Why is important to you personally? What made you want to learn about it in the first place?

If this is brand new, maybe there’s a change you’d like to see happen in your life. If you already practice mindfulness, perhaps you’ve already experienced some benefits, or cultivated some positive habits that you don’t want to ‘forget’.

Mindful living isn’t always an easy path to stay on – remind yourself often why it matters to you.

Remove ‘Doing Triggers’

Even if you’re not sure what mindful living really is, you might already have some awareness of how the opposite feels: rushed, distracted, overly busy, scattered and in constant Doing mode.

Think about what sort of things trigger these states and therefore undermine mindful living. Again, this is personal. In my case, it’s the devices that lure me into online time, books that I feel driven to ‘get through’, and excessive input from TV, podcasts and articles.

(My starting point with this approach was years ago when I began switching off notifications, one of the best ways I’ve ever discovered to protect my own mindfulness).

Once identified, we can think about how to reduce these triggers. Using my examples above, this means leaving my phone switched off and out of sight whenever I can; reducing how many books are left lying around; and designating times and spaces in my day as ‘input-free zones’, such as a meal at the table or some quiet time cooking.

Your examples may be different. And you don’t have to stop at ‘Doing’ triggers: there may be other conditions in your life that undermine mindfulness. What could you do to reverse that impact?

Maximise Support

When we think about what could help us to be more mindful in daily life, meditation practice might be the obvious thing that comes to mind.

But we can also consider other conditions that support mindful living, and maximise those where possible.

Perhaps that means seeking out like-minded people, being outside more, or even getting more sleep.

Think about what conditions would help you to bring more mindfulness into your life. Which one would make the biggest difference right now?

Mindful Corners

Something that I find really supportive is to incorporate ‘mindful corners’ into my life.

Writer Pico Iyer talks about the “adventure of going nowhere” – I love how this phrase speaks to both the benefit and the challenge of spending more time just Being. He goes on to say that “Nowhere has to become somewhere we visit in the corners of our lives, by taking a daily run or going fishing or just sitting quietly”.

I’ve created literal corners of my everyday life that give me a nudge to drop into just Being. When I get caught up in busyness, or feel like my head is getting too full, these are the places that invite me to pause and connect to more stillness.

Some of mine include:

– my garden bench which has become a regular ‘sit spot’

– the family photo I use for a screensaver on my phone

– the pot-plant I put next to the armchair with the good view

– the mini nature painting that sits above the washing-up sink

They function as a frequent reminder of my intention to live mindfully.

Additional resources

If you would like to be notified when I add new monthly tips – you can ‘follow’ this blog and you’ll receive an email whenever I post tips and blogs – to follow, use the button at the bottom right of the footer. I also post updates to Twitter (I am no longer sending the tips out by monthly mailing list).

On the Mindful Living page of my site, I explore in more depth what this might actually look like in practice.

Pico Iyer’s 15-min talk The Art of Stillness has a great take on how finding pauses in our life can support intentional living.

Short meditations are one way to build pauses into your day, to help grow the awareness needed for mindful living – find mini-meditations (of 5 minutes or less) at the bottom of my Meditations page.

If you would like to work with me to support your own mindful living journey, I run mindfulness workshops and classes in Heaton Moor (South Manchester).  I’m also opening up some slots in the autumn for ‘Intentional Living’ sessions – these are 1-to-1 by Skype.  You can find out more on the Coaching Programme page.

 

Slow Meditation: Releasing The Pressure

There’s a lot of buzz about Slow Living at the moment, and it would seem natural to look to meditation to support this. But I’m wondering how many of us fall into practising what I think of as ‘fast meditation’.

This post was inspired by a brief online exchange I had with Carl Honore: when I mentioned this sense of haste in meditation, he astutely noted that “people are in such a hurry that they even want to slow down fast”.

So thank you to Carl for writing his book In Praise Of Slow, and for prompting me to reflect on my own journey towards slow(er) meditation. I’m not sure I’ve totally slowed it down yet, but I’ve definitely eased a lot of the pressure I’d been inadvertently bringing into my practice.

Meditation teacher Reggie Ray observes that when meditative traditions are adopted into contemporary cultures, they can take on the flavour of the dominant values of that environment. I recognise this from my own experiences.

When I’ve practiced in settings informed by ancient traditions, I noticed myself trying to get on the fast track to peace, growth or wisdom. I swapped chasing the goals of consumer culture for those of the meditative path: trying to master more complicated meditations, or get enough experience to go on increasingly intense retreats. There was a definite sense of trying to get somewhere, and as rapidly as possible.

Like many people, I started my meditation journey with an 8-week mindfulness course. Eager for change, I don’t think I realised that it was just a starting point – two months seemed like a long time, and if someone had told me that meditation is a path that can unfold over many years, I’m not sure I’d have given it a go in the first place. So the courses are a great place to start, to ease us into meditation. And it’s also really helpful if we receive encouragement to see the practice as an ongoing one, with no particular end point.

For me, meditation is about being with life more deeply. Bringing a sense of hurry to meditation can echo how we rush through life itself.  As is often pointed out, the ultimate finish line we are racing towards is death. We can think of meditation as a journey, but as Pico Iyer explains, it’s ‘an invitation to the adventure of going nowhere’.

As we become more present to our embodied experience, we reduce the urge to constantly be somewhere else – in our thoughts, in the meeting we’re having next week, in the situation we screwed up yesterday, or in our fantasy future of ‘I’ll be happy when…’

I’ve been reflecting on how my own practice has developed over the years, shifting from quite a driven pursuit of trying to get somewhere, to something slower, more relaxed and somehow more deeply sustaining.

In the beginning, I needed to feel held by structure in meditation. I felt motivated and supported by having a weekly plan to do say, a 10-minute practice every day, following the guided recording. Meditation was so different from my usual mode of being that without these resources, I’d have abandoned it pretty quickly.

I did notice however that if I clung too tightly to structure, I started evaluating my performance, putting pressure on myself to ‘succeed’ in meditation. This success might look like practising daily in an unbroken run, or sitting for longer periods, or achieving a particular quality of awareness. I might look for evidence of results, to see if my meditation was paying off.

When this pressure got too much, my practice would lapse: it felt too hard, so I’d fall off the wagon for a while. And always, to start back up again, I’d need the wisdom of going slowly, to ease myself back in without putting high expectations on myself, or on the practice.

I’d remind myself that it’s fine to start with 5-minute practices, or to return to them if that’s more workable. I’ve found that five minutes of true presence is more restoring than slogging through half an hour just so I can tick it off my list, or give myself a gold star for achievement.

At one point, I noticed I’d become attached to a particular breathing meditation because I believed it would unlock the secrets of ‘advanced’ practice, and that was creating a sense of impatience. So I gave myself permission to go back to my beloved self-kindness meditation, which always feels less like making something happen, and more like deepening an ongoing relationship with myself.

I also began to explore some of the slower somatic meditations (which means body awareness). As I let go of goals and speed, I discovered I could access a ‘deep listening’ to the body which is subtle, but somehow restorative and transformative.

Somatic approaches tell us that the nervous system needs to go slowly, as it adjusts to gradual shifts – it may even reject fast changes by becoming overwhelmed. Going slowly is another way to bring self-kindness to the practice. As with all learning, it’s a balance between expanding your comfort zone, and not pushing yourself too hard and too fast.

I’ve also eased the sense of pressure by gradually letting go of some of the structure, as it began to feel natural to do that. Once it felt more familiar to spend time just sitting still, and noticing the constant flow of thoughts, emotions and body sensations, I found that I didn’t always need the guidance of a recording, or a particular focus of meditation, like the breath.

Eventually, the meditative qualities of awareness and presence began showing up in my daily life more, and so the line between ‘life’ and ‘meditation’ started to blur. Where I felt this shift most strikingly was in my experience of family holidays. While hanging out on the beach for a week with my husband and our son, I was dropping into the same meditative state I’d had a taste of on retreats – but without the hours of daily sitting meditation.

All my experimenting has helped me to build a practice that supports me and feels appealing, from day to day. Not measuring my progress has also meant I’ve learned to embrace every meditation experience as valuable, even if I don’t enjoy each session, or feel calm & thought-free. Without those expectations, there’s room for a whole dimension of aliveness that I was cutting myself off from, in the pursuit of something different.

I didn’t get to these experiences of meditation quickly, at all (I’ve been practising for over 10 years as I write this). Reflecting on the value of slowness in this practice, I’m so grateful that I’ve stayed with meditation even through the periods of wondering whether anything much was happening.

My journey has resulted in a huge amount of personal growth, and brought me to a much deeper sense of peace – but only because this process has unfolded slowly, over a period of years. And I’m still in that process. Now that I’m discovering the quiet thrill of being fully alive, I’m in no hurry to get to the end.

If you liked this blog, you might also like:

Quitting The Quick Fix: Mindfulness as a Lifelong Practice

3 Things We Can Unlearn To Boost Mindfulness

Keeping The Flame Of Mindfulness Alight

My collection of Meditations includes some short ones of around 5 minutes.

Pico Iyer’s TED talk The Art Of Stillness, and his book by the same name.