I grew up in a very strict religion, some would even say it was a cult. I left the organization at the age of 17, but one of the messages that stuck with me for a long time was to be wary of yoga and anything that claimed to be "spiritual" because spirituality that is not grounded in that organization's beliefs could potentially be demonic. While that is certainly not my belief, that history has kept me acutely aware of the vast array of potential initial impressions regarding these practices.
Before moving on, here are some topics covered in this blog:
Spiritual vs non-spiritual meditation
How to control excessive thoughts during meditation
Bonus tip if the mind is too jumpy
Mind like a muscle that can be strengthened
Common anchors that help us stay present
Everyday mindfulness beyond formal practice
Practice video shares meditation posture tips
FAQ video shares why cultivating the observing mind makes our lives easier and why we typically give up on meditation
It is because of that organization, one that encouraged me to guard myself/live in fear, that I wish to share the practice of mindfulness meditation in the most practical way possible. Not only do I wish to share the practice, I strive to demystify by explaining the very clear science behind mindfulness meditation.
That being said, this practice is deeply spiritual for me. The word spiritual can be seen as religious, but the definition that I prefer is, that which is beyond the physical body. Our life force, where does it come from? Is there a physical/tangible location for this life energy?
When looking into the origins of the word spiritual, it can be traced to the word for spirit in Latin - spirare. The definition of spirare is, brace yourselves - breathe.
Although I could go on about how this practice has become spiritual for me, and will gladly answer any questions about it becoming a spiritual practice (that can also strengthen any of your current spiritual practices, not go against them), I prefer to demystify it. I want everyone on this planet to have access to these practices and calling it a spiritual practice can create a barrier.
Let's begin with the definition of mindfulness from Jon Kabat Zin that I use and work with:
"Mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, and non-judgmentally."
I choose to use Jon Kabat Zin's definition because he has been researching this style of meditation since 1979 and I admire/appreciate the way he pioneered sharing these Buddhist contemplative practices, like vipassana, while doing so in a secular way. “I bent over backwards to structure it and find ways to speak about it that avoided as much as possible the risk of it being seen as Buddhist, new age, eastern mysticism or just plain flakey,” says Jon Kabat Zin.
This week I will be going live on Instagram, sharing a short mindfulness, Metta (aka Loving Kindness Meditation), or breathwork practice in order to breakdown the techniques, and share basic science as well as tips for making it feel more accessible, even to those with the busiest lives and minds. After each practice, I will answer questions from those who join me live as well as answering some of the most frequently asked questions.
Today's question: How do I control my thoughts and stop having so many thoughts?
It is the nature of the mind to be busy with thoughts, we learn to redirect our awareness (WITHOUT JUDGMENT) and come back to the present moment when we practice mindfulness. You’ll notice in the practice I share below, I direct awareness to observe what the body feels like when you reach the very top of an inhale and later I asked you to observe what it felt like at the bottom of the exhale. I know! Such a boring thing to do, but it is a powerful practice if you stick with it.
You haven’t done anything wrong when you notice yourself distracted with a thought!! This is the moment where you can CHOOSE! Yes, you get to choose to redirect awareness and become present through the observation of your anchor - sensations of breathing.
There are many anchors in a mindfulness practice, in this video, it was the breath.
Each time you become aware that you were caught in a thought, you begin the process of rewiring your brain and create new neural pathways that let you decrease the strength of your habit energies…ahem…reactivity.
Just like you go to the gym and strengthen your physical body, through the repetition of noticing the thoughts that arise and witnessing yourself releasing the thought to move back into the present moment, through whichever anchor you’ve chosen in your mindfulness practice, you're strengthening your ability to be able to CHOOSE!! With more practice, the easier it becomes to release a thought.
Don't be discouraged by the initial jumpiness of your mind or intrusive thoughts. Think of a baby learning to take their first steps. Just like a baby's coordination takes time to develop, being able to release thoughts also takes time, practice, and LOTS of repetition.
Also important - decluttering your awareness before you sit! I can't stress enough how detrimental checking social media, news, and messages are to your practice. Don't open any of those apps until you've centered yourself with a mindfulness practice, if possible.
Mindfulness can, of course, be practiced in the heat of a moment to get you slightly detached from your over rumination, but if you are going for more consistency and less intrusive thoughts, become more selective about when you practice!
When the mind is TOO busy - Bonus Tip
Although breathing is an automatic function, when we don't pay attention to it, we can be holding our breath or breathing quickly, which can make the mind jumpier. For this reason, I started this week's live mindfulness practice with a guided breathing exercise that has the ability to bring our nervous system into a state of balance.
Breathing in and out at a ration of 5:5 for a few minutes brings the 2 branches of your nervous system into a state of resonance. Finding that resonance helps to slow down our brain waves and once brain waves slow down, we experience a decrease in thought forms.
***The higher the stress load, the longer it might take to balance your system and establish resonance. Send me a private message if the technique created more anxiety for you!
Let's incorporate this into your day!
Think of something you do everyday.
get in car
Is it possible to choose one of these activities and cultivate a strong determination to become mindful for at least 1 minute (can be 6 breaths at ratio of 5:5) or 2 minutes (can be 12 breaths at ratio 5:5) anchoring your awareness on sensations moment by moment?
Take a moment...
Imagine what it will be like with the activity you have selected and how it will be to pause, to get present, to become mindful. How many times throughout your day do you perform this activity? Can you see yourself doing this activity of getting out of autopilot?
Becoming mindful simply means getting present, and doing so without judgment. In order to do this, decide what your anchor will be. Your anchor to the present moment can be any of the below.
sensations of breathing
moving your awareness through your body (body scan)
noticing sounds around
observing any sensations experienced because of the activity you are doing (for example - brushing teeth, noticing sensations in your hand from holding brush, or in mouth from being cleansed. Drinking water and observing the feeling of the water moving through body.)
Day 1 of Instagram Live - Mindfulness Practice
Day 1 - Answering the most popular mindfulness question I get.
Coming up this week!
How long should we practice for?
How long before we begin to notice mindfulness' effects in our relationships and everyday lives?
Equanimity! What it is. How and why you want to cultivate it.
The practice that helps us minimize our reactivity - Metta