Category Archives: Mindfulness

How to Stay Relaxed in Crowded Places

Today’s topic comes from a search engine query that a new reader did recently that lead them to this site.

With the holidays rapidly approaching, I thought this would be a good thing to discuss as there will be plenty of crowded parties, shops, malls, group dinners, and other places and events in many of my readers’ not-too-distant future.

(Please don’t ask me to explain what’s going on in the photo on the right. I honestly don’t know. It fit the theme of this post nicely, though).

Like many folks, I’m not a huge fan of very crowded places. Large groups of people tend to be boisterous, and it bothers me to be surrounded by so much noise without being able to figure out what any of it is supposed to mean. Loud music is one thing, but hundreds of conversations all blurred together will never be something I enjoy.

I also find it draining to constantly need to weave my way through a crowd. Anatomically modern humans have done a lot of amazing things over the last 40,000 years, but figuring out how to efficiently herd thousands of people who are slowly meandering through the mall on a lazy Sunday afternoon is not one of them. Ha!

With that being said, there are occasions when you need to pick something up at the store during a peak shopping time or attend a holiday party. I have a few tricks for doing what I need to do on these days without spending an inordinate amount of time in a situation that I find unpleasant.

Arrive Before (or After) the Busiest Time

You might be surprised how quiet stores in Toronto can be even right before Christmas if you show up to them first thing and finish your shopping quickly. Many Torontonians don’t seem to begin running their errands until later in the day even when they only have a handful of shopping days left before a big holiday, so getting a head start on them is a great way to avoid the crowds.

This effect is only stronger in smaller communities. I spent a big chunk of my childhood living near or in a town of about 16,000 people, and the stores there barely had any customers in them at all for the first few hours after they opened up most mornings. It was the perfect time to browse peacefully or get help from the store employees.

I’ve also had similar luck when it comes to timing my arrival at parties. It’s simpler for me to get into the festive spirit of a party if I plan it so I arrive a little earlier or later than most of the other attendees. I like warming up to big groups gradually, and it’s easier to do that if I don’t spend the whole time surrounded by a huge crowd.

Have a Plan

One of the many lessons my mom taught me when I was growing up is that shopping requires a plan. Neither one of us are people who ever shop as a hobby or a way to kill time. If she needs to buy something, she adds it to a shopping list and tries to acquire it as efficiently and frugally as possible.

I have the same policy. There’s nothing wrong with replacing something when it wears out or buying something I expect to use regularly, but I do not dawdle during the process. If I can’t find what I need, I stop shopping and go do something fun. There will always be another day to try again.

Mom reads this blog, so she might be smiling by now at how much she affected me in this part of life. Her efficiency really rubbed off on me, though!

Stick to the Perimeter

I don’t know about you, but I prefer being on the edge of a crowd instead of in the centre of it. There’s something comforting to me about knowing that I could quietly slip out a side door if I needed a few minutes of peace and quiet before wandering back into the event or building. In fact, simply having this available to me as an option makes it unnecessary for me to take a breather from the crowd in many cases.

It’s also nice to see who you meet on the perimeter of a party. While I don’t have any scientific data to back this up, it’s been my experience that you’ll meet a lot of likeminded people on the edges. Folks who love the energy of a crowd and want to be the centre of attention tend to wiggle into the centre of the room and more-or-less stay there.

People who aren’t so enamoured with that experience tend to congregate on the perimeter. They’re exactly who I want to start a conversation with once I’ve figured out who they are. As much as I love watching the life of the party do his or her thing, it’s nice to find kindred spirits when I’m feeling a little overwhelmed or want to find my footing in a conversation.

Find a Distraction

This is where I’m going to appear to contradict myself. One of the best things about people who thrive in big crowds is that they can be incredibly entertaining if you’re looking for a distraction.

While I wouldn’t necessarily want to follow them around all day every day, I really appreciate it when they spontaneously start organizing a few rounds of karaoke at a party or amusing bored children with a game or story while sitting in a food court.

They have such a wildly different approach to large crowds that I can’t help but to be fascinated by how their minds work. Would they feel as out of place in a quiet room as I do in a loud one? I’d bet they just might!

If there aren’t any interesting people to observe, I’ve also distracted myself by spotting animals* or by counting the number of people who are wearing an article of clothing that’s a specific colour. There is always something to occupy your mind if you pay attention to everyone around you.

*This is Toronto, after all. Dogs are welcomed nearly everywhere. Sometimes you’ll see a cat, snake, rabbit, or parrot being carried around as well, and this doesn’t even begin to count all of the wild birds in this city who have been known to wander around on the subway, at the library, or in other indoor places.

Be Patient

Anything from walking to the other side of the room to getting a specific goal accomplished will almost certainly take longer than they would if you were in a less busy place.

Breathe. Remain mindful.

Don’t try to tamp down your thoughts. Lots of other people there probably feel a little irritated or overwhelmed as well. Even if you’re literally the only person in the room who feels this way, it is still much better to acknowledge those emotions than to hide them.

Be patient.

It will be okay.

How Meditation Helped Me Soothe a Pulled Muscle

I woke up feeling stiff and sore one day last week. While I’m not still sure what caused it, it hurt to move my head in certain ways when I got up that morning.

A few years ago I experienced a more painful version of this injury after sleeping in an odd position, so this time I didn’t delay in following the home treatments that had worked so well back then.

It was better to treat it immediately than to do nothing wait for it to slowly get worse like it did last time.

The Cycle of Pain and Muscle Spasms

Here’s the problem with this kind of muscle strain: the pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion feed into each other in a cycle that can be tricky to break.

The pain made my muscles in my neck and shoulder tense up and spasm. This was even more true in the evening when I was tired and feeling more sore than I had when the day began.

My muscles contracting made the strain hurt even more because I didn’t have the full range of motion in that part of my body.  Positions that felt good for my muscles could be uncomfortable for my spine, and vice versa.

Not having the full range of motion in my neck and shoulder also made it difficult to truly relax. It was hard to turn my head in certain ways, for example, and sleeping in some positions was simply impossible.

Consciously trying to relax is also hard to do in this situation because I was so focused on how uncomfortable I was feeling.

The Treatment

One of the first things I did for myself after taking some over-the-counter pain relief medication was to find my microwave-actived heating pad. It’s a piece of cloth that’s filled with magical little beads. I don’t know what the beads are made of, but they warm up beautifully  and can be wrapped around any sore part of a body. I especially enjoy the gentle pressure that this heating pad provides since sitting or lying in certain positions were simply not happening for me at that point.

The medicine and heating pad were temporary fixes, though. What I really needed to do was to break the cycle of tension and pain.

That’s where meditating came in very handy. While the heating pad and medicine were doing their work of temporarily making me feel better, I opened up my meditation app and started using a session in it called “Body Scan.”

“Body Scan” is a guided meditation program that begins with asking you to focus on your breathing. After you’ve done that for a minute or two, it has you methodically relax every single part of your body beginning with your scalp and working your way down your body until even your toes have gotten some attention. If you feel any sensation in a part of your body, you’re supposed to take note of it without labelling it as good or bad.

This is a lot harder to do than you might imagine when the sensation in that area is objectively painful! It is an important part of the process, though.

I’d never thought I’d spend so much time thinking about everything from my ears to my fingers to the small of my back, but it really does work if you focus on the speaker’s voice and follow her instructions.

This wasn’t a quick fix. With that being said, it did help me to relax some tense muscles that really needed to be soothed.

Finding Relief

Time is by far the biggest healer of injuries like this, of course, but I also noticed another feedback loop developing that was much more positive than the first one.

Every time I meditated, my muscled relaxed a little more than they had in the previous session.

As they relaxed, my pain levels dropped even after I cut back or  fully stopped using medication and only relied on heating pads for relief.

As my pain levels dropped, I was able to move my head in ways that had been difficult the day before.

As my range of motion slowly improved again, my muscles spasmed less.

I have no idea how – or even if – this would work for more severe or longterm types of pain. It was a nice bit of relief for a temporary injury, though, and I was very grateful for it once I got into the habit of meditating more than once a day during he duration of this injury.

How has meditating improved your life lately?

Mindfulness on a Rainy Day

Today’s post is going to be a little shorter than normal. Why write more words than you have to?

As I mentioned last week, the weather here in Ontario has been unusual in all sorts of different ways over the last few years. We have finally seemed to drift away from the summer-like heat of September and early October, but we’re continuing to experience the same kinds of heavy rainstorms we did this past spring and summer.

Yesterday was a particularly drizzly day. We didn’t get many millimetres of rain, but it did rain off and on so frequently that it felt like the world was always going to be this damp. What made me giggle about this thought was that only a few days ago I felt like the world was going to remain hot and humid forever.

Oh, how things change. Sometimes it happens when we least expect it, too.

I stood in front of my window and watched the rain fall. There weren’t any particular thoughts rolling through my mind in that moment. It was relaxing to watch the people, cars, and bicyclists pass by on the ground below me.

Suddenly, I remembered a story from my childhood that had to do with rainy days and the things people do on them.

Old Memories Surfaced

When I was a child, I loved going out for long walks in the rain. My mother didn’t know this at the time, but I used to collect some of the earthworms that crawled onto the sidewalks when the ground became too soggy to hold them.

Some of those worms came home with me if I thought they weren’t strong enough to survive outside or if I hadn’t already picked up my fair share of them during the current storm. Sometimes people accidentally stepped on worms on the sidewalk. It made me sad to see them injured. I tried my best to help out the ones I could. There was an aquarium filled with soil and plants in my bedroom where they could live safely, so that’s where I put them.

A year or two later, my family moved a few thousand miles away. One of the many things we did before we packed up the moving van and began a new chapter of our family’s adventure in the same state my siblings and I were born in was to take that aquarium and dump the soil (and earthworms!) into our backyard. I assume we repotted the plants as well, but I don’t remember that part of that day.

It wasn’t until all of the soil had been dumped out that mom noticed there were an extremely large number of plump, healthy worms wiggling around in it. I believe I told her what I’d been doing at that point and that she was surprised by it. One of my strongest memories of that day was feeling surprised that she hadn’t noticed what I’d been up to. I’d always assumed that she had ways of knowing everything her kids did!

It’s funny how a storm can dredge up half-forgotten moments like that. I hadn’t thought about that memory in years.

Mindfulness Through It All

The rain continued to fall yesterday. I saw people scurrying on the street below. They stayed close to the buildings and other covered parts of the street. Maybe that was why I only saw a handful of opened umbrellas being used down there? The sidewalk was quite damp, but there weren’t too many big puddles on the ground.

One of the things I appreciate the most about practicing mindfulness is how it frees me to enjoy little moments like this one.

I smiled at the memories that cropped up in my mind. When they faded away again, I returned to watching what was happening on the street.

There’s something beautiful about living in the moment like that. I was grateful for the rain and for the time to relive a happy, old memory before returning to the present day.

3 Reasons Why You Should Celebrate the Autumn Equinox

If I have any readers in the southern hemisphere, feel free to switch the word “autumn” for “spring” in today’s post. A lot of what I’m about to say can apply to the shift between other seasons as well with a little tweaking.

In fact, maybe I’ll revisit this topic from that angle in six months once Canada shifts to spring weather? I won’t make any promises, but I will keep this idea in mind for the future.

In the meantime, this is why I think everyone should be taking note of the autumn equinox tomorrow.

It Will Help You Live in the Moment

Over the last few years I’ve begun to pay more attention to the two solstices and two equinoxes we have each year in an attempt to remain mindful no matter what season Ontario is currently experiencing.

There are parts of this time of the year that I deeply enjoy and other parts that I’m not such a big fan of, just like there are things I like and dislike about winter, spring, and summer.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about practicing mindfulness has been how its adjusted the way I see the world at the end of a season when I’ve grown tired of the snow, rain, or heat.

This, too, will pass if given enough time.

Nothing lasts forever, so it’s a good idea to settle into it while it is here and find the good in whatever it is that’s happening right now.

 

There Is Always Something New to Discover

When I was a teenager, I noticed that my grandfather read a lot of books about World War II. While he wasn’t old enough to serve in that war, he was definitely old enough to remember it when it happened. Instead of asking him why he read about a period of history he’d personally experienced, I decided to quietly pay attention to what he kept on the stand by his favourite chair to see if I could figure out the answer myself.

Most of the books he read were about history in general. Many of them were about things that happened decades or centuries before he was born. I think I also remember seeing books related to farming, fixing machines, and other practical topics that applied to his lifelong work.

What I learned from this experiment is that there’s always something new to discover no matter who you are or how much you already know about a topic.

So far the autumns of the 2010s have been warmer than most of the ones I remember from my childhood thanks to climate change. While some of this may be part of the natural process every mind goes through when it decides which memories to keep and which ones to toss away that may have distorted my memory of what September should be like, I also think there is something to be said for paying attention to how weather patterns have shifted over time.

Someday someone might want to hear our stories about what it was like to watch the world grow warmer than its ever been before. We’re living through a part of history that is going to be discussed for many generations to come.

Autumn Is the Beginning of the Holiday Season

I’m not a huge fan of celebrating most of the big holidays hat happen between now and January, but I sure do love seeing all of the pretty decorations for them.

Hallowenn, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, Eid, harvest festivals, and many other holidays bring out the creative side of people. The nice thing about living in Toronto is that we get to see decorations for just about every holiday known to humankind during this time of the year. If any group of people celebrate it, a few of them are almost certain to live here.

I am often amazed by just how much thought people put into the decorations they choose for the holidays their families celebrate. For example, look at the gigantic scarecrow above this paragraph. I’ve never looked at a bale of hay and imagined it could be repurposed as a friendly face, but that concept works beautifully here.

The outfit this scarecrow is wearing looks like something that could be hemmed together fairly easily and inexpensively, but the joy he or she brings is immeasurable. If this is something you find pleasure in as well, now is the perfect time of the year to begin looking around and seeing what kinds of wonderful decorations will begin to pop up in your area.

How you celebrate the autumn equinox is up to you, but I hope you’ll consider acknowledging it as the seasons change.

Now Is the Perfect Time to Start Practicing Mindfulness

The autumn and winter holiday season is right around the corner.

In the past, I’ve felt kind of like discombobulated like the glass of water in the picture on the left for several different reasons: I’ve felt pressured to participate in religious rituals I disagreed with; I do not enjoy the wasteful, commercialistic side of the holiday season; I miss the sun when sunset begins to happen before 5 pm in November and December.

Whether you love the extra hours of darkness and the festivities of this portion of the year or, like me, are not a big fan of them, they’ll be here before we know it.

This will the first holiday season I will have ever been through as someone who meditates and practices mindfulness regularly. I have already seen positive changes in my life as a result of these new habits. It’s going to be fascinating to see if they make the end of the year more enjoyable for me. My best guess is that they will be!

If you haven’t started practicing mindfulness yet, now is the perfect time to begin. Let’s talk about why this is so and what to expect if you decide to add this habit to your daily routine.

Mindfulness Isn’t a Quick Fix

No, this isn’t going to be one of those blog posts that promises to improve every part of your life in five easy steps. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of that writing style or of the idea that reading a single article is all someone needs to make big changes in their life. Few people are that simple or that easily swayed.

There is also the fact that learning how to stop and focus on the present moment takes time. While I am gradually getting better at brushing away unhelpful thoughts and keeping my mind focused on what is currently going on, I still have a long way to go.

This is by far the biggest reason why I strongly recommend getting started with this habit as soon as possible if it’s something you’re hoping to get benefits from over the next few months.

If you want to be able to live in the moment at the end of the year when you’re at an event that you find stressful or over-stimulating, practicing now will make that day easier than it might have otherwise been because you will have already gotten into the habit of quietly focusing on the moment instead of thinking about what happened in the past or what might happen in the future.

Mindfulness Is a Lifestyle Change

Think about practicing mindfulness the same way you would if you wanted to learn a new language, strengthen your muscles, or play a new instrument.

All of these skills take time and effort to master. I’ve never heard of anyone becoming fluent in a new language in a day or a week. The same can be said for learning to play the piano or swing a kettlebell.

While the basics can be figured out fairly quickly if you’re motivated, it will take sustained effort over much longer periods of time to really reap the rewards of your hard work.

Mindfulness requires that same attention to detail. When I first began meditating and doing my best to remain in the present moment when I wasn’t meditating, I didn’t notice any major changes in how I thought or felt.

It took a while for me to fall into the habit of doing it regularly, and even longer for me to learn how to use it to relax consistently.

Mindfulness Is Worth It

I wish I’d started practicing mindfulness regularly many years ago. There were several false starts over the years as I slowly figured out what did and didn’t work for me.

While I understand why it took me a while to where I am today, I sure wish I could have had a cheat sheet to both warn me about the techniques my brain would not find helpful well as to tantalize me with all of the positive effects of mindfulness if I kept plugging away at it.

If there were a way for me to give you a tour of my mind and show you all of the small but still wonderful improvements I’ve made as a result of this habit, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

Since that isn’t currently possible, I’ll tell you that my mind wanders a little less now than it used to. It’s easier to return to the present moment when it does go scampering off into the furthest recesses of my brain.

I’ve also come to love my daily meditation sessions and mindful moments. They are such a nice way to pause and immerse myself in the moment before moving on with my regular routines. It’s going to be interesting to see what other benefits I discover over the next few months as I become even better at the skills i’m currently practicing.

In short, mindfulness is worth every ounce of effort you put into it.

Who to Follow on Twitter If You’re Into Mindfulness and Meditation

A few weeks ago I started a new series of posts on this blog about Twitter accounts that share the same theme. This week I’m going to be recommending accounts that are about mindfulness and meditation. There aren’t as many mindfulness and meditation suggestions as there were for the science fiction and fantasy version of… Read More

Meditating During a Heatwave

August in Toronto is a hot and humid affair. While this month did start out chiller than usual, we’re currently in the middle of a heatwave that’s been going on for a few days now. I’m lucky enough to have fairly decent air conditioning in my apartment, but I’m still counting down the days until… Read More

How Mindfulness Helps Me When I Wake Up too Early

As I’ve mentioned on this site before, my circadian rhythm is strongly affected by how many hours of daylight we have in Ontario. I can’t help but to wake up when the sun rises no matter what part of the year it is. This process begins at about 5 a.m. in June and July, so… Read More

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