Category Archives: Mindfulness and Meditation

Intuition, Mindfulness, and the Alarm Bell In My Brain

This is the story of something that happened to me last year. It won’t take long to tell, but it’s important.

I met someone at a social event who was friendly, funny, and charming at first glance. They seemed like exactly the sort of person anyone would want to spend time with.

They’re hiding something, my intuition said quietly a few minutes after we’d met.

This was the first time I’d laid eyes on them, and I knew nothing about them other than the basic details they’d shared about their life and interests. They thought carefully before they spoke, and every word that came out of their mouth sparkled.

They’re sugarcoating the truth, my intuition said in a slightly louder tone.

I had no proof to back up these feelings. I’d literally just met this person. They were full of smiles and kind words for everyone around them. There was nothing about their words or actions that should have alarmed me. It was a perfectly ordinary get-together in every way you could imagine.

They’re lying about something. This wasn’t a question. It was a declarative statement I had no proof for but still kept circling back around to.

I felt uneasy around them for reasons that are hard to put into words. There was something about them that was slightly off-kilter no matter which way I looked at it, and that made me nervous. When I was younger, I might have brushed off this warning and decided to find out more about this person for myself.  These days, I listen and take heed.

The beautiful thing about mindfulness is how it can focus your attention on what really matters in situations such as these. Something wasn’t lining up in the things they said about their life.  I didn’t and still don’t know exactly what they were being evasive about, but my mind was still enough to listen to those thoughts when they popped up and take action quickly when they refused to go away.

No, I do not think I’m clairvoyant or have any other abilities that defy scientific explanation.  If anything, I believe that my mind picked up on subtle but important discrepancies between their verbal and non-verbal cues that might have shown they weren’t being totally honest about the things they shared about their life.

But I do think that my mindfulness habits helped me to realize there was something off about this person sooner than I might have in a different timeline. The beautiful thing about learning how to quiet your mind is that it makes the rare feelings that refuse to be ignored much more noticeable than they might have otherwise been.

 

7 Free Online Meditation Resources

I’ve been slowly accumulating a list of the most helpful resources for my daily meditations. When I first began meditating, I was overwhelmed by all of the options I had online and had no idea where to begin.

It is my hope that this list will make it a little easier for readers who are new to meditation to stick with the practice over the longterm.

All of the links I’m about to share in today’s post have free content that I’ve found useful. Some of them do also offer certain courses or other types of material for a fee, but you are by no means required to buy them. I made sure that I selected sites that have plenty to offer for visitors who aren’t ready for that kind of commitment yet (or ever).

I should also note that I am not affiliated with these sites, and I am not being compensated for mentioning them in any way. I simply find their content useful.

Breathworks

Breathworks is a website that teaches people who are experiencing pain how to reduce suffering through Mindfulness-Based Pain Management. I have no experience with the chronic and/or severe pain many of its users are dealing with, but i do find this site helpful for headaches and other minor issues I occasionally have.

Calm

Calm is a guided meditation app that I’ve mentioned on this site before. While many of their routines do require you to be a paying member, they are currently offering a free trial for anyone who wants to experience the full app. Although, to be honest,  I’ve gotten a lot of use out of their free content and do not have a membership at this site.

F*ck That: An Honest Meditation

F*ck That: An Honest Meditation is the perfect thing to watch if you’re not easily offended by curse words or sarcasm. (If you are, skip this entry).

Not every meditation session goes smoothly for me, so I appreciate videos like this one that acknowledge that.

Mindfulness in Action

Mindfulness in Action focuses on managing stress in places like schools, prisons, and the workplace. I don’t know as much about them as I do some of the other resources on this list, but I love the idea of finding such practical applications for meditation and mindfulness.

Rain Sounds

Rain Sounds is quickly becoming one of my favourite resources for non-guided meditation. I’ve loved the sound of rain since I was a small child. Few things relax me as quickly as that does, so it works perfectly when I need to take twenty minutes and quiet down my mind.

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The Scientific Power of Meditation

The Scientific Power of Meditation is a fast introduction to how meditation can change your brain waves, amount of grey matter,  and mental state. I like the fact that there is scientific evidence that meditation is good for the human body. It’s not all the placebo affect!

Tiny Buddha

Finally, Tiny Buddha is a site that shares meditation and mindfulness articles, tips, quotes, and so much more. They have multiple people contributing new material to this site, so the audience gets a very wide range of perspectives. Some of the contributors approach meditation from a spiritual perspective while others are more interested in practical or scientific applications of it. I love the diversity of thought in this community.

What meditation resources do you find most helpful?

5 Books About Mindfulness I’d Like to Read

While I still don’t maintain an active TBR list, the books listed below have caught my attention. I’ve requested almost all of them from my local library, and I’m looking forward to reading them this autumn as they become available. Look below the images of the various titles for my brief explanations on why each title appeals to me so much.

In general, I prefer books about mindfulness to approach this topic from a scientific point of view. I also appreciate it when they talk about how mindfulness can improve someone’s life in practical ways that are easy to apply to one’s everyday routines. For example, one of the titles in this list talks about living with chronic pain or illnesses. Another title focuses on how something as simple as paying attention to what you’re eating at mealtimes can be an excellent way to remain in the moment.

I can’t and won’t officially recommend any of these books until I’ve read them, but I thought my readers might like a peek at what I’ll hopefully be checking out in the near future.

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-to Book by Dan Harris

As a fidgety skeptic myself, I’m looking forward to seeing what on Earth this author is going to recommend to those of us who fit these two categories. The title made me smile, and I’m hoping the content will as well.

Practicing Peace in Times of War by Pema Chödrön

I’m a peaceful person, but there are occasionally times when the actions of others get under my skin.  I’m very good at walking away when someone is trying to get a rise out of me, but I’d like to become better at de-escalating those interactions as soon as they begin.

Love for Imperfect Things: How to Accept Yourself in a World Striving for Perfection by Haemin Sunim. Translated by Deborah Smith

This is a little further down the New Age scale than I usually read, but I’m curious to se what the author has to say about perfectionism, self-care, and accepting love. I also think it’s a good idea to occasionally read stuff that’s out of your comfort zone.

Living Well with Pain and Illness: The Mindful Way to Free Yourself from Suffering by Vidyamala Burch.

As an able-bodied person who has never been seriously ill or in chronic pain, my main purpose for reading this book is to get a small glimpse of what mindfulness looks like for people who are living with these sorts of health problems.

I appreciate it when monosexual people and and men take the time to listen to my experiences as a bisexual woman. There’s something to be said for seeking out the perspectives of folks whose experiences of the world could be very different from your own when they’re willing to share their stories.

Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Wai-Yin Cheung

The authors’ exploration of the emotional side of eating is what I’m most curious to read about in this book. I’m not currently trying to change my weight, but I would like to hear what they have to say about food that’s eaten because someone is feeling strong emotions. This is something that most of the health and fitness bloggers I follow don’t talk about very much or even at all.

What books about mindfulness do you find helpful? Have you read any of the books on my list? If so, what did you think of them?

5 Reasons Why You Should Try ASMR

Picture credit: Emma L. Barratt, Nick J. Davis. CC-BY 4.0.

Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a calm tingling sensation that some people feel at the back of their their scalp and down on other parts of their body after being exposed to certain types of auditory stimuli.

ASMR is used for relaxation purposes. There are many videos about it floating around on Youtube and other places. I’ll share one at the end of this post for anyone who would like to try it for themselves.

It’s similar to many forms of meditation in that you remain with your eyes closed still during it. One of the side effects of this phenomenon that I find particularly helpful is how much it encourages listeners to focus on everything that’s happening in this particular moment without thinking about the past, the future, or anything else that might make your mind wander.

A friend of mine introduced me to ASMR a few years ago. I was a little confused and skeptical about what it was and how it worked at first, but once I found the right type of stimulus this quickly became one of my favourite things to do on days when I need some extra help relaxing or clearing my mind.

Honestly, I wish I’d known about it decades ago. It’s not every day I discover something quite this useful even though there’s still so many things we don’t know yet about how it works or why some people are so much more sensitive to ASMR than others are.

My goal for this post is to spark the curiosity of anyone who would wants to learn more. If nothing else, I’d like everyone to know that ASMR exists and that it can be an excellent relaxation tool.

It’s Not Yet Well Understood

This is normally the part of a post like this one where I’d talk about the science behind ASMR. I always enjoy figuring out why specific practices do or don’t work well on the human body. Right now there are far more questions about ASMR than there are answers. Like Synesthesia was in the 1990s, this is something that is very poorly studied or understood by the scientific community as of now.

It could be that it will be turn out to be something akin to the placebo effect. Maybe everyone who thinks they feels pleasurable tingles at the back of their head when they hear specific sounds will someday learn that it was their own mind accidentally tricking them.

I think it’s more likely that we’ll discover some sort of slight brain difference in those of us who can feel these things, but there’s always the possibility that the studies currently being conducted on this phenomena will turn up nothing of note at all about it. Only time will tell. If or when I hear more about this, I’ll write an update post.

It Can Be a Helpful Mindfulness Tool

I take a pragmatic approach to matters such as these. While we’re waiting for studies to be done on ASMR in an attempt to study it in detail, I believe that there can be merit to using things without understanding how they work. This is even more true for free, non-drug home remedies that don’t appear to have any negative side effects.

I’m not a doctor, and I’ll never give anyone medical advice. What I can say is that ASMR is one of the tools I use on days when mindfulness doesn’t come easily to me. There is something about concentrating on the gentle sounds of a Youtube video rather than on whatever  it is that’s bothering me that makes it easier to live in the moment than it would if I attempted to live in the moment in pure silence.

It’s Relaxing

Honestly, who doesn’t love relaxing experiences? (Now that I’ve typed that, I’m half-expecting someone to pop up in the comment section to explain why they actually find relaxation stressful for some reason I haven’t thought of yet).

The beautiful thing about listening to these types of videos is that they don’t require any special equipment or training from their audience. Anyone who has somewhere quiet to sit or lie down can participate in them and hopefully feel the same sorts of pleasant and relaxing sensations that I and many other folks have experienced.

There’s nothing quite like reaching the end of an ASMR video, opening my eyes, and realizing just how relaxed I am from it. When I’m listening to one of these role-playing exercises, the only thing on my mind is concentrating on the voice of the person narrating it or on the other sounds they’re making into the microphone.

It Feels Nice

When I listen to the right kinds of ASMR videos, I eventually feel a tingling sensation at the back of my head that gently travels down my face and neck to my body.

No, in case you were wondering, this isn’t a sexual sensation. I’d compare it more to the feeling that can come from getting your favourite kind of massage from a massage therapist who knows exactly when to work out a knot in a sore muscle versus when to gently rub your shoulders or back instead.

It’s simultaneously soothing and invigorating. I end every ASMR session feeling like a million bucks.

It Doesn’t Work for Everyone (but It Might for You!)

The only way to know is to try.

If or when you do give ASMR videos a shot, be sure to look at a variety of different types. Some of them – the food ones, for example –  don’t do anything for me at all.

It may take some trial and error, but I think of that as a positive thing. Like many other things in life, you might succeed the second or five or tenth time you try instead of the first one.

An ASMR Sample

Hair brushing and cutting ASMR videos happen to be my all-time favourite. I adore getting my hair cut and gently rubbed in real life. Apparently, that spilled over to my online preferences as well.

If the video below doesn’t do anything for you, keep trying. There are ASMR videos out there that featuring whispering, eating, slow movements, crisp sounds, and many other types of stimuli that might be right up your alley.

Why HALT Is One of My Favourite Mindfulness Exercises

This past weekend I (silently) had the following conversation with myself at a busy, public place when I suddenly realized that I was in a terrible mood and wanted to find out why I felt that way.  The sections in blue are my emotions. My responses to them are written in black.

Everything in the entire world is wrong. 

Oh, what makes you say that?

It just is. 

Okay, let’s probe a little deeper. Are you feeling hungry right now?

Yes. I should have eaten a full lunch two hours ago, but it was delayed. The snack I had isn’t helping much at all. 

Let’s get you some food. Do you feel better now that you’ve eaten something?

Yes. Only half of the entire world is wrong now. 

Are you feeling angry?

No.

Good. Are you feeling lonely?

Not at all. I’ve spent plenty of time socializing with friends lately. Now I’m surrounded by hundreds of noisy strangers. 

How do you feel about that? Are you feeling tired?

I’m not feeling tired in the sense that I need to go to sleep, but I am overwhelmed by all of the people here. It’s hard to ignore all of the background noises and intrusions on my personal space that come from having more folks in one space than that area was necessarily designed to hold. 

Now that you’re no longer hungry and have gone someplace quieter, how are you feeling?

So much better. 

HALT

As you’ve probably already guessed, HALT is an acronym for hungry, angry, lonely, tired. I’ve seen it being used for everything from stress management to parenting to coping strategies for people who are trying to end their addictions to drugs or alcohol.

It’s a technique that I’ve also found very useful when trying to remain mindful on days when I’m not at my best.

Sometimes the reasons why it’s difficult to remain focused in the present moment are rooted in what is happening to you physically. Not getting enough sleep or food can drastically change the way you look at the world. I know that I don’t respond well at all to missing my normal mealtime.  I can be grumpy, too, after a particularly poor night of sleep.

Some emotions can make it more difficult to remain mindful as well. I know that sometimes I can have trouble exploring feelings like anger or jealousy without judging those emotions (or myself for feeling them). This is even more true when I’m feeling overwhelmed by my current mood and don’t have any idea where to begin in untangling everything I’m currently feeling.

The beautiful thing about HALT is the way it encourages you to explore one simple question at a time. Sometimes I’ll realize that my bad mood was caused by something as easy to fix as needing a snack, 20-minute nap, or even a quieter environment in general. After I’ve taken care of that basic need, I’ll go back to my normal self.

Fixing an emotion like anger or loneliness can take more time than that, but knowing exactly what it is that’s making me feel so bad is a fantastic first step in figuring out how to solve it.

The Mind Is Like a Muscle

I think of mindfulness in much the same way I do weightlifting. The mind is like a muscle.

It takes time and effort in order to build muscle or practice being mindful. Neither of these are things you can become an expert at in a day or week.

I honestly didn’t see much difference at all in myself for quite a while when I first began lifting weights and practicing mindfulness. The changes were so gradual that I don’t think I realized they were happening at the time, although I can now look back and see subtle signs that things were improving once I began sticking to a regular routine for both of these practices.

The wonderful thing about HALT is that it doesn’t require any experience in mindfulness at all in order to be useful. It really is as simple as remembering the four basic questions and trying to find solutions to any “yes” responses you might get to them.

Will it solve every moment of distraction or frustration? Of course not, but it’s an excellent place to begin when you’re distracted or have a sense that something is wrong but can’t quite pin down what it might be. This is still an exercise I rely on quite a bit when I have the kind of day I referred to in the beginning of this post. It’s such an effective tool for getting to the heart of the matter when I don’t have the energy for more complicated tools.

What have your experiences with HALT been like? Have you ever used it as a mindfulness exercise?

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Unguided Meditation Update #2

Last month in this series on my experiments with unguided meditation, I mentioned wanting to try sitting up during my sessions. Meditation is something I’d previously been doing lying down due to a minor injury that made sitting in certain positions uncomfortable. Click on the link above if you want a refresher on why I chose that… Read More