On Monday I hit DAY 50 of consecutive meditation. 50 days is a lot. My previous longest streak of consecutive days meditating was around 50 days, hit in October 2015 (Insight Timer shows milestones) and it says that my “best” consecutive days – my personal best – is the current 52. I'm quite pleased with this. When I hit 60 it will be 2 months. When I hit 90 it will be three. These are milestones I'm looking forward to.
My new current favourite guided meditation in the Insight Timer app is called, Awaken Your Inner Light and Wisdom, by Melody Litton. It clocks in at just 17:35 but it's powerful. I left the following review after the first time I did it:
A new favorite. This will go in my regular rotation. I feel lighter, taller, more creative, more optimistic, and inspired. Thank you. ❤
My previous new favourites, and still in rotation, are three Kabbalistic meditations by an LA-based teacher. I wrote about the Good Morning Soul meditations in a previous post, and then added Awaken Heart opening Meditation to the rotation. The way I choose a meditation is to ask myself what I need that day and then I go to my go-tos, I search for what I want (e.g. by style and/or time), or I search a list. Before Insight Timer I did this with YouTube but Insight Timer has nearly 4,000 guided meditation. Not all of them are in English – at least 4 other languages are represented, but most are.
The guided meditations that I've been drawn to use intuition and souls. That might not be for you, but one of the cool things about meditation – regardless of whether you're guided or not – is that there's something for everyone, whether you prefer religious or secular, science-based, psychology-based, mindfulness, focusing on breath, or spirits, angels and souls.
If you're looking for good meditation tools, I recommend Insight Timer (free), or the 5-week Master Your Mind program, or the Calm app for mobile or desktop (I sometimes use the desktop interface during the day).
(Clicking won't take you there. This is a screen shot.)
My yoga practice has been consistent too. One month ago yesterday I committed to daily yoga practice. Except for missing one day near the start, I've done every single day. My practice lasts from 10-25 minutes, although now that I'm consistent with it and my body is adjusting, I feel more comfortable starting 40-60 minute videos, which is closer to the amount of time that studio classes last (90 minutes is usual but in the past, 75 minutes was my limit). When I say that my body is “adjusting”, I just mean that I'm used to the consistency and the movement, though it's still challenging. My body is constantly sore, in a good way. Five days ago, I made the following comment on the YouTube page of Brett's Yoga for Core Strength & Flexibility | Abs & Core Workout for Women:
I did this one this morning. It made me angry because my body was having a tough time with it and my wrists were hurting, but my anger isn't necessarily a bad thing. On another day I will love it. Sometimes the workouts that make me angry are my favorite ones because I like the challenge (if I'm complaining it's hard, I'm often loving it simultaneously). Today, I sat out in child's pose a few times, just as I would in a yoga studio. Not being in a studio, I was free to whine and swear out loud. 🙂
It was hard. And the next few were hard. This core strength session reminded me of the gym classes that I used to take that were lead by a former gymnast who had long blonde hair and perky everything, who kind of looked like a Barbie doll, but healthy and in proportion. She instructed like a drill sergeant, which is a style that I respond well to, though I acknowledge that this style is not everyone's preference. She had perfect form – I remember her perfect plank – and her classes were so hard that I'd grunt and complain and she liked when I did. Even when I hated it I liked it. My continued simultaneous love and hate for a challenging workout remind me of those great workouts. My muscles are constantly sore now and I feel grateful for that because it's a sign that I'm working hard for it and getting stronger. I'm grateful for my sore muscles and to myself for working them, and for the person who instructs via YouTube – and all those who help her do it.
I realized something on the weekend: The habits and routines that I've cultivated since the beginning of the year are essential for my self care and several of them are non-negotiable. They're helpful for a variety of reasons, including…
Overall health & wellness, prevention & treatment
Many of these activities are beneficial to physical and mental health.
Many of my habits/routines/activities keep me mentally healthy. Making the bed and reading a hardcover book are at the bottom of that list, but above it is flossing and at the top are meditation and yoga. They're among the tools that keep me from losing my shit, from lying on the floor sobbing. I've got a post about my mental health issues rolling around in my head. In the meantime, I threw together this quick infographic:
Related to mental health, they give me a sense of control. I'm not a control freak, but there's only so much one CAN control. I can't control a lot of what's not working in my life, but I can take 10-20 minutes to do yoga – even if it's in bed – and I can stop and breathe and have a 10 minute meditation. I can take 5 minutes to make the bed. I can take a few minutes to floss my teeth every night when I'm way overdue for a cleaning. I can read a few pages of a book. I can (mostly) control my time.
I have 2 major priorities in my life right now. Self-care is one of them. The two depend on each other.
I also like that I'm achieving these goals and that makes me achieve other goals. It's putting life into sync. It's helping me fulfill my 2017 theme, “Perseverance”. I am persevering. I'm doing it.
I'll put together a post about mental health. I've been thinking about it since a national mental health awareness day on which mental health stories were shared, for one day. I decided that in order to keep the conversation going, wouldn't have one day of discussion because mental health shouldn't come out of the closet for one day only. It should be be taboo for 364 days of the year. It should always be okay to talk about. Right?
I wanted to update you on my meditation journey and also provide you with more tools for your practice.
Insight Timer's 365 Challenge is going great! In an audio recording that Insight's leader posted to the app on Friday, he said that the app was about to hit 1.5 meditators and gave these numbers abut the collective experience:
- 3 million minutes of meditation in 24 hours, which is
- just under 50,00 hours of meditation, which is the equivalent to
- 5 1/2-6 years of meditation.
Collectively. In one day. Those are great numbers to take to potential Insight Timer app investors. I can envision them in a spreadsheet on a PowerPoint or Prezzi presentation.
My meditation practice
I meditate at least once a day, often twice. It's the first thing I do in the morning and the last thing I do before I sleep. At the start of the month I downloaded a habit tracker called Fabulous and this one has actually stuck. Now, my mornings look like this:
- Open my eyes
- Say a couple of short Hebrew prayers if I remember to (yes, this bacon-eating Jew has restarted this practice – I like the ritual)
- Go to the living room and lie or sit down on the couch and meditate for 10-20 minutes.
- Drink a glass of water
- Walk the dog
- Do 20-40 minutes of yoga
- Make a cup tea, take my supplements.
- Make and eat some breakfast.
I've meditated for 37 consecutive days since December 19.
About my practice & inspiration for yours
-My current favourite guided meditation is called A Kabbalistic “Good Morning Soul” Meditation, lead by Alison Serour, a teacher at the Kabbalah Centre in LA. I'd never done a kabbalistic meditation before, but had participated in some kabbalistic prayers during synagogue-ish services. I wasn't/am not particularly connected to Kabbalah (do you – personally – pronounce it so that the “a”s sound like “up” or like “ka-bawl-uh”? I use the former.).
Insight Timer has two versions of Good Morning Soul: The short one that's nearly 8 minutes, and the long one that's 21 minutes. I like them both. They speak to me. They feel good. Sometimes they inspire me. They make me ask questions of myself and so facilitate some self-learning and personal growth. The longer one includes a prayer in Hebrew, which might or might not work for you. That said, there are meditations for everyone. If you are 100% atheist and don't believe in anything you can't see and anything that science hasn't proven, do breathing meditations. Science has proven those work. Do what works for you. Forge your own path. (That's this website's tagline.)
New meditations daily for 365 Days
-With the 365 challenge, new meditations are being added daily to a specified playlist that participants can use if they choose. I didn't do the first set of guided meditations because it was a series that started at 1 minute and built to 20. Great for some people, but not I. This week I've been following along more, but also doing some other ones too. It really depends on what I need. The mediation added to the playlist today was Alison's “A Kabbalistic Awaken Heart Opening Meditation”, created based on a Hebrew prayer called “Patach Eliyahu“, Prophet Elijah's prayer-meditation from the Zohar. It was nice. A large section of it resonated with me and made me feel empowered. It reminded me of the saying that things happen for you, not to you.
If you want to join the 365 Day Meditation Challenge, download the Insight Timer app from your device's app store and do it.
Meditation for beginners
In another post I'll discuss styles of meditation because there are so many. Some focus on the breath. Others take you on journeys through your imagination. Some have you craft your ideal day or life. Others take you to past lives. Some use mantras. Even if you don't believe in some of those things (past lives, for example), I think they're worth experiencing. There is so much that we as humans don't know and understand and we tend to disbelieve what seems impossible.
No time? No problem
Don't have the patience to meditate? No problem. Meditation increases your ability to keep focused in spite of distractions but you only need to start for a few seconds at a time. You can start with 5 minutes a day. If you add just 1 minute per week, you'll be up to an hour in a year (if you want to be). Just sit down and start. Don't overthink it. Read the following, and follow the instructions:
Stop reading right now. Close your eyes. Breath in for 4 counts, out for 8. Open your eyes.
There, you've meditated.
Tips for beginners
Some people find it challenging to build a daily habit. Maybe it's lack of time, discipline, motivation, etc. Here are some tips to create a strong meditation practice:
- Start small. It's better to start really small, so there is absolutely no excuse for you to skip your practice. Again, starting with just 5 minutes a day can hep.
- Recommit. At the end of every session, commit to show up for your practice the following day.
- Never zero. This means that every day you will practice, even if only 5 minutes. Make it a non-negotiable part of your life. This is how I treat my yoga practice and why I've been able to practice daily.
- No expectations. Nothing kills motivation quicker than unmet expectations. Most of the benefits from meditation come only after months or years of daily practice. So letting go of expectations sounds like a smart strategy to me. Go easy on yourself! There's no “failing” in meditation. It's not a test or a competition. “No expectations” also means that you don't need to meditate on a cushion on the floor. In my recent post that announced the 365 Day Challenge I gave the Dr. Seuss version of examples of where you can meditate.
- Be prepared. Sometimes you will feel tired, busy, or “not in the mood”. Be mentally prepared to meet those challenges with the “never zero” idea, and do the practice no matter what.
- Joyful attitude. Meditation is not a task, but a precious moment to go deep inside yourself. Enjoy the practice, and it will be easy to keep it up.
Master Your Mind
If you're a beginner, I recommend a meditation course called Master Your Mind. It's a 5 week program with lessons and guided meditations that helps build the habit. You're provided with 35 short daily lessons, organized by week – each with its own unique themes, goals and insights. The program is self-paced, and the techniques are presented in a way that both secular and spiritually minded people can connect to. No particular belief or worldview is required for following the lessons.
Full disclosure: I signed up as an affiliate, after I'd read the associated website, Live and Dare and tried some of the lessons. This is NOT why I chose to post today, it simply integrates well.
Master Your Mind will help you:
- Develop the habit of meditating daily. You will start with sessions as short as 2 minutes, and increase gradually, up to 15-20 minutes. It's built in a way you cannot fail.
- Find the ideal technique for you. Each week you'll be introduced to a new practice, such as mantra meditation, breathing awareness, chakra meditation, etc. By the end of the course you will be well equipped to choose the technique that best suits your needs.
- Have an optimal attitude towards meditation, so that you can enjoy the process as well as the result, and keep meditation as a lifetime habit.
- Deepen your meditation and enhance your mind.
- Integrate mindfulness into your daily life, through reminders, exercises, and daily challenges.
Here's how the course goes:
When you sign up you get lifetime access with 5 weeks of daily lessons (audio and PDF), mediation cheat cheat, private forum, 60 days of email support, and free updates for life. There's a one time fee. It's not a membership site.
Snippets of testimonials:
“The course was easy to follow, and every day I had a small taste of success, step after step. The entire approach matched my understanding of best practices for establishing a habit.”
“…it helped me learn to forgive myself and accept my limitations. I also learned to have some compassion for myself and others.”
“…gave me skills to deal with negative emotions.”
“I found a calmness within me that I didn’t know existed. There is a sense of peace seems to follow me through the day. My anxiety also calmed down. Now I can’t imagine not doing it every morning.”
“With your course I could successfully build the habit, one small step at a time. You were asking “less” from me which made it non-negotiable and doable, while others always asked “more” from me which left me feeling inadequate in my practices.”
Learn more and get it here.
Quick yoga update
In 17 days I've missed just one day of yoga. Sometimes I run out of time but before bed I take 10 minutes to do some stretching and breathing. It counts. It's the “never zero” rule above. I also created a video today to append to last week's post about yoga so watch for that. I didn't end it with “namaste” because I thought that was too cliche, but sometimes I end my own yoga or meditation practices with a silent, “Namaste, motherf****r!”, 'cause I'm quirky like that and sometimes I'm moved to.
Be well and feel free to comment if you've got something to share.
I wrote this in my journal at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday night (Sunday morning) with the note, “Blog this”. What's here is a slightly edited version with a context note at the bottom:
I've discovered the joy and beauty of late night dog park visits.
Late at night it's dark. No one is there. It's silent.
Between throws of the ball (for a game of fetch) I stand and listen. I hear people walking past the park at the top of the hill, speaking on their cell phones or to their companions. I hear cars drive past and the occasional dog bark in the distance.*
For now when I look down I see a glossy sheet of ice. In a few days it will all melt. I look up at the sky and see moon and stars.
I stay present in the moment.
This is mindfulness.
During the day I prefer to find people there so that both my dog and I can be social. Late at night I like the solitude. Two of my four Core Desired Feelings for 2017 are joy(ful) and peace(ful). This embodies both. It's calming and energizing. It's reaffirming. It's reassuring. It's so freakin' beautiful that I stand motionless even when I'm freezing in the sub-zero (celcius) temperatures with the windchill of -20°C/-4°F. I don't leave until my body insists that it's time. My mind protests as long as it can. I want to stay in the moment. My dog is happy staying or going. She likes the cold much more than I do and can go for hours.
Taken at my park at 5:30 p.m today, not late night, but it's similar – slightly brighter, on a cloudy evening.
*The park is essentially a bowl or a pit, downhill, with an alley on one side and a school between the park and a major street to the north. My “night time” visits have been between 11 p.m. and midnight. I did it Friday and Saturday and it will become routine as long as I can stay awake but I imagine that as early as 10 p.m. will suffice.
I've been meditating for many years. As I noted in this blog post, I've always been a dabbler in meditation and spirituality. I meditate. I occasionally pray. I believe in a lot of spiritual stuff based on my own and other people's experiences. I believe that meditation is part of a complete breakfast, so to speak.
You don't need to be “spiritual” to meditate. You don't need to believe in any “higher power” at all. You can choose to do the sorts of meditations that connect you with angels, if you believe in that, or you can sit in silence. It doesn't have to be a new-agey thing.
Benefits of Meditation
There are many including better focus, better mood, less stress, improved ability to regulate your emotions (see this report from Stanford University's med school), improved immune system, decreased pain (see study here), relief from fibromyalgia (see reports here and here), and more. It can improve your work life, your relationships, your sex life and more.
You might see benefits immediately. Research shows that significant improvement in health happens within 8 weeks of daily practice.
How to Meditate & Where to Meditate
You don't need to follow any rituals, listen to any particular style of music or wear certain clothes. Be you. Do you.
You can meditate it anywhere, although I prefer to do it with privacy with few distractions. I used to meditate in my cubicle as soon as I arrived at work, but I was one of the first in and had a corner desk, so it was relatively private. You could meditate on public transit, while waiting for a bus or while stuck on the freeway during rush hour. You can sit cross-legged on the floor, on a cushion or not, or cross-legged or seated on the couch. You can sit upright in a chair. You can lie down. Because I can't resist, here's the Green Eggs & Ham version:
You CAN meditate on a boat, with a goat, in the rain, on a train, in a car, in a train, in a box, with a fox, in a house, with a mouse, here and there and anywhere.
I enjoy meditating while camping, out in nature. A few years ago on my last day of a wellness retreat in St. Lucia I chose to do my own yoga and meditation outside on a deck under palm trees rather than join the group.
I have a favourite place at home (the living room doubles as “man cave” and my meditation room), with a favourite blanket that I sometimes cover myself with. It's red and fleecy. Red is my spirit colour. I don't know why, but I connect to it. Most often, I'm sitting on my couch sessions wearing my PJs. Other times I'm in bed. A couple of times I sat on the kitchen floor on the dog's bed because I was cooking breakfast at the same time and wanted to stay close to the stove. My dog often joins me on the couch, sometimes with her head in my lap. I posted this about a year ago, which shows just one of the ways I meditate:
Then there's this:
Famous & successful people who meditate
This club includes Madonna, Katy Perry, Kristen Bell and Jerry Seinfeld (among other celebrities), along with famous business people such as Rupert Murdoch, Padmasree Warrior ( CTO, Cisco Systems), Bill Ford (Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Company), Arianna Huffington and many others. Steve Jobs meditated. People say that meditation helps them be better business people and better at life.
One of my favourite meditation tools, of which I've been a user since 2015, has been Insight Timer, an app for iPhone and Android. It started as a timer but is now so much more. When I started with the app, there was a free version and a paid version and after maybe a month, I upgraded. Even though I could have used the timer on my phone, I preferred an app. Then they made it 100% free – the result of new company owners, I recently learned. Among the app's features that I like:
- Stats – summaries, detailed charts, milestones. It sort of “gamifies” it, in that if you're competitive with yourself you can track your streaks and use that to motivate you.
- The timer counts down by default, but you can make it count up. So, either do timed sessions (e.g. 20 minutes) or start the timer before you know how long you intend to meditate for. A newer feature is that when the timer goes off at the end of a session you can keep going and it will keep counting the “extra time”, which you can choose to log or not.
- Guided meditations, which are relatively new. There are now over 3000 free guided meditations, music tracks, talks and courses in the app, lead by over 900 meditation teachers, in various styles and multiple languages. I used to have go-to meditations on YouTube, but didn't like that YouTube only works with the phone is on. I have a few go-to meditations stored in Dropbox, which I use. I like that I have the option to meditate to a guided meditation in the app or not. There's a bookmarking feature that they're working on improving. The newest feature for guided meditation is playlists, which are meditations in categories generated by the app team. (No ability for users to create their own, yet.)
Other features include nearly 4000 groups, the ability see who's currently meditating worldwide and near you, and the ability to “friend” people. I have yet to find the “Find friends/”Invite friends” feature useful because the search function is limited. With “find” you can search by First name, name and location or email address to find existing users. For “Invite” it's email only. I'd like social media integration.
I've used other apps such as Calm, Headspace, Omvana and Mindroid and while they remain on my phone, I always go back to Insight Timer.
365 Days of Meditation
The CEO – or he refers to himself, “custodian” – of the app recently committed to 365 days of meditation in 2017 and invited users to join him. There are currently 38.5K people registered. Almost 40,000! I've never done 365 days of anything, except sleep and brush my teeth. I've come close with one game on my phone that I've been playing almost daily since February. According to the app, my longest meditation streak since May 2015 is 33 days. My current is 13 days, though I feel like it's cheated a bit because there was one day I didn't meditate, but falling asleep to a meditation after midnight counted for that day.
The playlist for the 365 days, which will have one new meditation added daily (Australia time, night before North America time) includes a 1-minute meditation that's part of a series. That particular series, for those who seek it out, is 20 days of meditation, starting with 1 minute and working up to 20. If you're a beginner, or are impatient, it's a good place to start. I generally meditate for anywhere 10-20 minutes, depending on what I feel I need. Some days 10 minutes feels too short, other days it feels like just enough. I don't judge myself if my mind wanders, I ask myself if my thoughts serve me and whether I need to follow their path. Sometimes I count breaths. One of the ways that guided meditation benefits me is that my mind is less likely to wander if I'm focusing on someone's guidance than it is if I'm sitting in complete silence.
If you have a half hour and want to hear more about Insight Timer and the 365 Days of Meditation, listen to this podcast in which Christopher Plowman, co-founder of the Insight Network and CEO of the Insight Timer phone app, share his vision for a kinder and calmer world where the whole world meditates every day. I heard it in the app itself (it's on the 365 Days Together playlist) and found it really interesting as a longtime user of the app.
Current screen capture from my phone
Some of my favourite meditation resources
Other meditations sources I like:
- Rebecca Campbell, author of Light is the New Black and Rise Sister Rise. Join her mailing list to get her Sourcing meditation for free. It's one of my go-tos.
- Gabrielle Bernstein. Her website and her books. Her books often have supplemental information and meditations online. I recently finished her latest book, The Universe Has Your Back. I adore her because she defies the stereotypes of spirituality. She swears, wears makeup and heels. She talks about “losing her shit” and not always practicing what she preaches. That's my kind of girl. Human, vulnerable, accessible. It's easy to adopt someone's practices and listen to their guidance when you can related to them. So what if I don't like wearing heels? I appreciate authentic, no-bullshit people who do.
- Spirit Voyage. They have a lot of 40 day Global Sadhanas, during which the same meditation is done daily for 40 days, on your own time. When you sign up you get daily emails. Read more about them here. I've done a few but haven't reached 40 days.
I like the Kundalini yoga style, which is essentially chanting with breathing. Kundalini Yoga breathing techniques, meditation, and the chanting of mantras, and sometimes movement. The associated “songs”, the tunes with the chants, often pop into my head and become ear worms. Sometimes they pop into my head and calm me down. I enjoy the music, 'cause I like music, and like guided meditations, the mantras give me something to focus on even if I'm listening rather than saying them and even if I don't understand them. Some of my favourites are on Spotify playlists that I've put together – I have one list exclusively for meditations, and another list of “pick me ups” which includes songs that uplift me with a few Kundalini mantras. Another good resources to learn more is 3HO. I only recently found that site, and it's become one of my 2 main resources (along with Spirit Voyage).
So, I encourage you to start meditating, or keep meditating. Daily for a year, or a few times a week. Get the app and sign up for the 365 days, or get the app and don't. (It's a good app.)
Check out the 5-week Master Your Mind meditation course. I'm going to work through it.
I'll try to remember to check in on my progress from time-to-time.
If you currently meditate, tell me about it.
More new year's posts to follow.
Whether you're a meditating novice or you've been doing it for years, you might have trouble with it. Maybe you think you're doing it wrong. One of the biggest challenges? Thoughts that pop up. It just so happens that I gave some advice to someone about this yesterday and then today, I came across a related article while looking something else up.