Category Archives: Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness During a Snowstorm

black and white photo of person walking alone on a city sidewalk during a snowstormJanuary is the quietest time of year in Ontario.

Life slows down here quickly once this month begins.Not only have the majority of the big winter holidays have passed by, the weather itself isn’t terribly conducive to driving anywhere even before this pandemic began.

The overnight temperature can dip to -25 Celsius (-13 Fahrenheit) or colder, and we often have sleet and snowstorms taking turns making slippery messes of our roads and sidewalks.

There is nothing like sitting next to the windows in my home and watching the snow blanket everything on those days.

Sometimes it falls so quickly that buildings on the other side of the street have been transformed into dark blurs of colour behind a shimmery white veil of snow. Anything past that point is so smudged beyond recognition that I wouldn’t know what it was at all if I weren’t already familiar with it.

My mindful approach to these days is something that started early in life. Let’s meander for a while.

Quiet Snow Days

These storms remind me of the years I spent growing up in a small town in Wyoming. Sometimes it snowed so heavily that all of the highways and other roads going into and out of town were closed. Residents were asked to only use local roads for emergencies, so almost everyone stayed home and waited out the weather.

two wooden cottages almost totally covered in snow
The snow was this deep in the nearby mountains, but not quite so heavy where I lived.

I was a slim, petite kid. For a while I remained just barely light enough to walk on top of snowbanks that had partially melted and then frozen again.

Those moments were pure magic and required no thoughts flitting through my mind at all while I carefully walked without leaving a trace in the snow.

These snowy days of the present also remind me of a massive blizzard many of us on the eastern half of North America experienced in the late 1990s.

It happened as my family was moving across town, so I had many opportunities to see the snow as my parents were driving and in the yards of both our old and new homes.

My siblings and I had our typical two weeks off from school for the Christmas holidays that year. It began snowing heavily right before we were scheduled to return to school. For the next two weeks, school was cancelled one day after the next.

Sometimes it would be delayed by an hour or two before being cancelled. Other days were so stormy that everything was cancelled immediately. I remember waiting quietly for the news each morning with no expectations since our superintendent was normally so reticent to cancel school despite how much time it took the county to salt and plow all of the rural roads that would bring students back to class eventually.

Once the announcement was made, there was often a moment of silence as I wondered how I should fill my time on yet another unexpected day since we were between semesters and I’d finished the homework we’d been given before Christmas break began.

Then a few of the members of my household would either drive across town to our old house to take another van full of stuff to the new one (if the town roads were cleared and salted recently enough for this to be safe), go shovel off the roof,* or put a previous load of stuff away.

*It was an old, flat roof in some places. That snowstorm was so heavy and never-ending my parents were afraid the roof would be damaged if they didn’t clear it off.

Snow Encourages Mindfulness

Even beyond these personal experiences, snow itself encourages silence. It dampens sound as explained in this post.

close-up photo of a snowflake Have you ever taken an outdoor walk during or after a big snowstorm? Whether you live in a big city, a small town, or miles away from the nearest neighbour, the world becomes a much quieter place after a storm like that.

All of that snow acts like insulation. Everything from bird chirps to the roar of a river (if it hasn’t already frozen over) to the rumble of a truck driving down the road is quieter than it normally would be.

Even the soft crunch of boots walking on fresh snow is quieter than normal.

If you’ve never experienced this sort of moment in time, I hope you’ll have a chance to try it someday.

The world is such a quiet, solemn place then that I find it easy to walk without thinking. Nearly all of the familiar landmarks in my area will still be recognizable during or after a big storm, but their edges are softened and muted.

I live in an urban area where it is pretty safe to walk outside even during the heaviest snowstorms, so sometimes I’ll go stand on the sidewalk (far away from the road) and watch the snow cling to everything from skyscrapers to my glasses.

In those moments, there is no need for words or thoughts. The snow will end when it ends. Until then, I sit indoors or stand outdoors and marvel at the feeling of snowflakes coating my hair, coat, boots, and every other surface they can possible reach in this corner of the world.

If you have snow where you live, how do you react to it?

Why I’m Starting My Light Therapy Sessions Earlier This Year

A hand reaching up to touch a bright lightbulbI am not a doctor, and this post is not intended to be taken as medical advice. Please talk to your healthcare provider to see if light therapy lamps are right for you.

Last winter I talked about how much light therapy helps me with my winter blues.

When I stopped using it during our sunniest months here in Ontario, I wondered when I should start up again but decided to defer that decision until autumn.

This spring and summer were filled with the glorious light that lifts my mood every year. Like life for almost everyone else on Earth, they were also filled with the cancellation of many long-anticipated events thanks to Covid-19.

I smiled and made the best of the outdoor, physically-distanced activities that were still safe to do, but with autumn coming up I wondered how my mental health would fare once it was cold and dark here once again.

This isn’t meant to sound like a complaint, by the way. Cancelling all of those festivals, parades, and events was absolutely the right thing to do from a public health perspective. I’m also grateful for my good physical health, safe home, and all of the other advantages I have that so many others do not.

And yet there is also something sad about missing out on almost everything you love about spring and summer only to begin the plunge into another long, dark cold season. This became even more true as I read about the cancellation of Halloween on Church and our mayor discussing the possibility of cancelling trick-or-treating as well. My favourite holiday will either be cancelled altogether or is going to be nothing at all like it was in the past.

At this point, I suspect every upcoming holiday will be celebrated virtually, within the same household (or small social bubble), or not at all until enough people have been vaccinated against this disease to stop it in its tracks.

There’s nothing I can do to change things like these. What I could do was start using my light therapy lamp earlier this month as soon as the first faint whispers of autumn appeared in the form of dark, cloudy days.

A blue lamp that is turned on and releasing light against a plain white wall. I’d forgotten how bright it was. That one little lamp fills the whole room with light and still has some left over to spare.It doesn’t emit heat the way the sun does when you’re outside on a bright summer day, but it otherwise feels something similar to that experience.

(Yes, I purposefully picked photos of dimmer lights for this post. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s eyes).

It’s still a little too early for me to feel the effects of it, but that also means it should start working long before November arrives and we start seeing sunsets before 5 pm.

What creative ways are you planning to celebrate upcoming holidays?  If you also have a light therapy lamp, when did or will you begin using it this year?

3 Mindfulness Exercises for a Bad Mood

An old dandelion that has lost all but one of its seed heads. The final seed head is holding onto the dandelion tenaciously. As I mentioned here, the idea for today’s post came from numerous hits my site has gotten over the last year or so about mindfulness exercises for bad moods.

I purposefully narrowed down this list to a a few exercises that are quick and easy to do because that’s exactly what I need when I’m down in the dumps. Complicated instructions and lengthy lists are best saved for more cheerful days, I think.

If you know of other quick and easy exercises like these, do jump into the comment section below and share. There are many other visualization techniques out there, and they range from simple ones like I’m about to share to much more complex routines.

 

A Gratitude Challenge

Time commitment: 1 minute

Best for: Reframing your thoughts

Step 1 – Close your eyes

Step 2 – Make a list of three things you’re genuinely grateful for. Literally anything counts, and there are no wrong answers. Sometimes I count the friendly pigeons who live in front of my building as one of my answers. They’re also so curious to see what the humans are up to when we wander by.

Step 3 – Open your eyes

 

white and red balloons floating away in the skyThe Balloon Game 

Time commitment: 1-5 minutes

Best for: Letting go and interrupting rumination

Step 1: Close your eyes and make a list of the things that are currently bothering you. They could be anything: unresolved conflicts, regrets, old conversations that keep replaying in your mind, and anything else that can’t be fixed right now or ever.

Step 2: Visualize as many balloons as you need for your list. I like to spend at least a minute picturing their colours and shapes in detail before imagining my problems listed on them.

Step 3: Imagine releasing each balloon into the sky on a windy day. (I once lost a balloon this way as a kid. They escape so quickly you can never chase them down again!) If or when that thought pops up again, remind yourself that it’s been blown away now. There’s no way to chase it down again.

 

Big Deep Breaths 

Time commitment: As long or as short as you want it to be.

Best for: Living in the moment and calming racing thoughts. 

Step 1: Search for breathe calming gifs like this one. You’ll want to keep your eyes open for this exercise.

A mindfulness gif of a box being expanded and contracted.

Step 2: Synchronize your breathing so that you inhale when the image expands and exhale when it contracts. Some of these gifs are specifically designed to slow down the breathing cycle a little for users. That in and of itself can distract you from thoughts that stubbornly stick around.

Step 3: Repeat as many times as necessary.

How to Be Mindful During a Heat Wave

Woman relaxing in hammock outdoorsThis has been an unusually hot summer so far here in southern Ontario. Our current heat wave has lasted over two weeks and is showing few to no signs of letting up.

With temperatures hovering around 35 C (90 Fahrenheit) every day and soaring into the 40s Celsius range (100+ Fahrenheit) regularly, my air conditioner can’t keep up with the heat and humidity. I count myself lucky when it pumps out cool air!

It is for these reasons that I decided to blog about mindfulness and heat waves today. Feel free to play around with this format to best suit your needs depending on where you’re performing this exercise and what your senses detect while you’re doing it.

As you notice the feeling of sweat beading on your skin or the heat from the sun reaching your body, try to take note of these sensations without judging them. Simply acknowledge them and move on. 

Note the sensations of the surface you’re sitting, lying, or walking around on. Are your bare feet touching a patch of soft grass? Can you feel the heat of the sidewalk through your flip flops? Is the hammock you’re lying on moulding to your body? Is the bench you’re sitting on a smooth one? 

If possible, close your eyes and listen to the sounds of everything around you. Do you heard birds chirping? Car engines revving? A distant conversation? The wind rustling through the trees?

It’s perfectly normal to feel distracted during one of these sessions. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back into focus again. Keep your eyes open or closed as you wish for the rest of it. Soak in every part of this moment you can. 

A drop of water falling into an otherwise still pool of water

Feel your skin’s reaction to the heat. Are you perspiring? What other sensations on that part of your body are currently happening?

Breathe in and out slowly. Notice how your breathe changes the sensations you’re experiencing. Is it cooler or warmer than the outside air?

How is your mind functioning in this weather? What thoughts are rolling through your head? Some people may feel less energetic on days like this. If you can, rest for a little while at the warmest part of the day. 

Gentle acceptance and curiosity is key. How is your experience in this heat wave shifting as a result of this practice? It will probably take multiple sessions to notice changes, but everyone is different. 

Breathe in, breathe out. 

May all of us in hot, summery places stay as cool and mindful as possible.

A Mindful Approach to Headaches

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any medical conditions. Please consult with a medical professional if you need medical advice. I’m simply writing about my own experiences here. 

The first multi-day tension headache I remember experiencing happened at age seven or eight soon after my family moved to Wyoming. Our house was small and comfortable but rarely quiet due to the simple realities of how trailer homes are constructed and the fact that two adults, three young children, and a small assortment of mischievous pets shared that cozy two-bedroom home.

Ordinarily, the overlapping, never-ending conversations, barks from our excitable dog, clangs from the kitchen, and other noises didn’t bother me as a child of that age, but I did wish for quieter corners of the globe when my head pounded for days in a row. What I had instead were cold wash cloths on my forehead and the stillness that comes from lying down and waiting for all of our home remedies to chase that discomfort away.

woman lying in bed with a headache
Are anyone’s headaches actually this photogenic? Mine sure aren’t.

My life has changed in countless ways since then.

I’ve since learned that mild dehydration, caffeine, and stress are among my biggest triggers for these long-lived headaches.

But every once in a while, one of them still sneaks past my best prevention efforts.

This past weekend was my most recent experience with a stubborn headache that lasts multiple days.

Along with drinking extra water, getting more rest, and eating chocolate when taking over-the-counter pain medicine to help amplify their effects, mindfulness is another tool in my headache-busting toolbox.

Headaches can’t always be prevented, but I can have better experiences with them when they show up by remaining in the moment.

Less Tension, Less Pain

Chalkboard with the words stress and relax written on it. The word stres is crossed out with a red x. My headaches often spiral into a negative feedback loop of pain leading to tense muscles that in turn lead to more pain.

The best thing I can do when a new one begins is to relax my muscles as soon and as much as possible.

This is where mindfulness comes in. Whether I’ve undertaken a formal meditation session on that particular day or have simply decided to breathe in and out deeply and slowly, every ounce of relaxation matters.

Sometimes this looks like me lying down and closing my eyes for twenty minutes. While it can lead to a nap, sleeping isn’t the goal. Breaking that cycle is the goal.

A Distracting Walk

Woman walking barefoot on a beach as the tide comes in. Her footprints are straight and even across the sand.I know I talk about my love of long walks a lot on this blog, but this time I’m thinking of them as a type of distraction instead of a form of exercise.

Ideally, the walk would take place in a natural setting like a park or a beach, but it can happen on city streets as well. It’s generally slow and meandering instead of brisk.

The purpose of it is to gently pull my attention away from my discomfort and to anything else happening around me.

It could be the sight of two seagulls fighting over a french fry someone accidentally dropped or the sound of leaves rustling in the breeze.

Maybe a jogger will run by and I’ll take a moment to silently congratulate them on their good running form. The sun’s rays could shine down on my forehead and almost feel like a warm kiss from a loved one.

These sounds and sights wash over me. I acknowledge them but do my best not to dwell on them once they’ve passed. Responding to small moments like these is a nice reminder that headaches, too, will pass and that I shouldn’t spend time thinking about how long they’ve been going on or when they’ll end.

There’s something about this sort of distracting change of scenery that does a body good, especially when you’re in discomfort.

Living in the Moment

person walking in a forest. The forest floor is shaped like a person's hand held up to their mouth in a shushing motion.

Patience is a skill I’ve honed nicely over the years.

While medication dulls the pain of a headache in the short term, this is one of those ailments that needs time to truly fade away. It can’t be rushed.

One of the beautiful things about taking a mindful approach to headaches is that it teaches you to sit with yourself in this exact moment.

There’s something freeing about doing what you can to alleviate the pain of a headache and then stopping and observing everything you’re experiencing in that moment without judging it.

Will mindfulness cure headaches? No, not in my experience, but it can make it easier to handle them when they pop up.

10 Meditative Virtual Nature Walks You Should Take

Lately, I’ve been feeling the effects of cabin fever. This is typically the time of year when I’d begin spending much longer periods of time outdoors each day now that the weather is warming up. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many of the outdoor places I’d normally be visiting now are closed. Torontonians have also… Read More

On Mindfulness, Light Therapy Lamps, and Being a Human Houseplant

My name is Lydia, and I’m a human houseplant. Or at least that’s what it feels like at this time of the year. You see, I get the winter blues. While other people are outside revelling in the snow, ice, and cold weather, I’m inside quietly counting down the days until spring. If winter in… Read More