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 Warby 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 Perfectionby 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 Sufferingby 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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
Mindfulness: it’s one of those trendy buzz words that have been gaining a lot of popularity in the health and fitness world, like kale or alkaline or “ancient grains.” But what is it REALLY?
I used to think you could only practice mindfulness if you were a hip and fully bendable yogi, fresh off your latest meditation retreat where you and the Kundalini crew ate exclusively vegan tofu and discussed tips on optimizing your DIY composting toilet-that’s-really-a-bucket.
But after taking a mindfulness quiz in which I scored extremely poorly (the quiz literally told me to “Think again”, which made me laugh sheepishly), I realize that one can easily practice a little bit of mindfulness in everyday situations.
I’m a firm believer of practice makes perfect, and that holds true for mindfulness as well! Here are 10 actionable ways one can begin practicing mindfulness:
1. Instead of scarfing down your food, chew with purpose! Mindful eating is a great place to start because, hey, WE ALL EAT. Consider the texture, taste, and smell of your food. If it’s one of your favorite dishes, relish the act of eating it! Why exactly is it your favorite dish? Do you have any fond memories associated with it?
2. Be truly cognizant of your surroundings while driving. For many people, we go on auto-pilot during our commute. Change this by practicing mindful driving: feel your palms on the steering wheel or your foot on the pedal. Listen to the cars around you.
3. Be aware of your breathing. Feel your lungs slowly expand in and out and listen to the rhythm of your heart beat.
4. Feel the textures of your clothing as you wear them. Are you wearing a particularly soft hoodie? A silky blouse? The rough denim on your legs? How do these articles of clothing make you feel?
5. Notice your mood, and acknowledge any shifts in emotions. Do you feel hungry? Nostalgic? Melancholic? Happy? Anxious? Impatient? Why do you feel that way?
6. Set a 5 minute alarm on your phone. Then, for the next five minutes, practice concentrating on an object in the room. It can be a pen, a potted plant, anything. Be fully aware of that object: how it feels, its functions, how it is built or created, etc. If your mind starts to waver or you become distracted, practice focusing your attention back on the object. Keep at it until the five minutes is up.
7. Practice walking meditation. You can do this while walking in the parking lot, grocery shopping or even just taking a walk down the street outside of your house. Feel your legs carry you from one place to another. Feel your foot stepping on the pavement or floor. Feel the muscles of your body acting in unison to transport you to a different location.
8. Go to a busy area, like a park or a restaurant, and listen to the sounds around you. It can be a bird chirping in the free, a dog barking in the distance, your neighbor’s wind chimes. Listen to the different pitches of each sound and focus entirely on hearing the environment around you.
9. Pay attention to seemingly mundane or normal tasks – even the little inconsequential things that you do on a regular basis. Feel the smooth glass on your smartphone, or listen to the rhythmic clickety-clack of your keyboard as you type an email.
10. Embrace stress and acknowledge how it affects you physically and mentally. When you feel stress, become aware of the physical changes that are taking place in your body that have resulted because of the stress. Perceive the stress in your body as energy that will allow you to accomplish the task at hand. Accept the stress, and mindfully channel it towards productivity.
This is by no means an exhaustive list: there are hundreds of other ways one can practice mindfulness. With enough hard work and effort, you’ll be on your way towards becoming a more mindful and self-aware individual!
About the Author: Nicole Clarke is a content writer in the addiction treatment and holistic health niche. When she isn’t blogging, she is probably spending time with her family or online shopping! She discovered the benefits of mindfulness at the beginning of her journey with sobriety from substance abuse. Please reach out to her on Twitter at @NicoleHClarke!
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about summer?
For me it’s seasonal allergies.
Now don’t get me wrong. There are many things I enjoy about this time of the year. Those of you who follow me on Twitter have probably noticed my tweets about enjoying the sunshine and all of the local fruits and vegetables that are ripening now. It’s definitely not all bad news.
With that being said, this is still a pretty sniffly season for me. A field of flowers might look picturesque to someone who isn’t allergic to them, but I’d sneeze my way through that sort of experience if I were to go wander around in that meadow. Breathing in that much pollen isn’t exactly my idea of a good time.
Unfortunately, this has been a particularly bad year for my seasonal allergies so far. Whether it was the unusually warm periods of this past winter we had or some other factor, the plants in Ontario have been growing wildly since spring began. I’ve been taking medication for my allergies as often as possible for the last couple of months, and I don’t see that ending anytime soon.
The beautiful thing about mindfulness is how it changes my approach to these itchy, sneezy days.
Acknowledgement without Judgement
Right now my nose is congested, my eyes are itchy, and I have a mild headache.
It took me a long time to learn how to acknowledge the things my body was feeling without immediately putting negative labels on them and jumping to conclusions about what would happen with them next. Honestly, I didn’t see how doing such a thing could possibly make a difference when I first heard of it.
The transition was so gradual that the only thing I can say about how it happened is that it started when I began to compare my assumptions about the future with what actually occurred.
Often, I was completely wrong about how a particular situation would turn out. A mild headache would fade away instead of becoming more painful. One particular itchy day didn’t necessarily mean that the entire week would pass by under a haze of sneezing fits.
This isn’t to say that acknowledging discomfort without jumping to conclusions is easy. There are still times I struggle with noticing molehills without assuming they’re going to turn into mountains any second now, but the more I practice this the easier it does become.
No Such Thing as a Perfect Time of the Year
My seasonal allergies activate during some points of the year and (obviously) cause few if any symptoms during those times when it’s cold and snowy outside.
Strawberries, one of my favourite foods, are in season and on sale at the grocery store from May to July. Other fruits and vegetables make appearances on my dinner plate when they’re in season. I relish the chance to eat as much of them as I can before the local supplies of those crops end for the year. As grateful as I am for the opportunity to eat fresh produce year-round, there is something special about the taste of a fruit or vegetable that was grown much closer to home.
Thunderstorms, snowstorms, and other types of weather appear and disappear throughout the year. If I can stay home and watch them subtly – or not so subtly – change the landscape, I can find a lot of beauty in the ways they soften the edges of a building, illuminate the sky with a bolt of lightning, or wash away the small bits of trash that accumulate in every city eventually.
There’s no such thing as a perfect time of the year. Every season has its benefits and drawbacks. The more you can remain in the moment, the easier it is to see this.
This, too, Shall Pass
A few months ago, I was impatiently* awaiting the true beginning of spring. Toronto continued to receive snowstorms and cold weather long after the spring equinox had technically already occurred, and I was dreadfully tired of the short days and icy sidewalks.
Now that we’ve had a few days where the temperatures soared well into the 30s Celsius (90s Fahrenheit, for my American readers), it’s getting a little more difficult to remember what those chilly times were like back in April.
Sometimes the world seems to change both slowly and all at once.
But this, too, shall pass.
*See! I told you haven’t completely mastered acknowledging sensations without judging them.
What helps you to remember to remain mindful? If you have seasonal allergies, how they are doing this year?
Social media is a double-edged sword. On the positive side, I’ve met a lot of incredible people on Twitter and other sites that I never would have otherwise crossed paths with. I’m grateful for the opportunity to make friends from so many different parts of the world. They’ve opened my eyes to everything from social… Read More
This year I’ve slowly gotten into the habit of collecting quotes about mindfulness and meditation that speak to me. Here are ten of my favourite ones so far. Most of them are serious. One is downright snarky in a funny, not cruel, sort of way. A few of them might appear to contradict each other… Read More
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
A few weeks ago, I blogged about experimenting with unguided meditation. Now that I’ve been doing it regularly for a few weeks, I thought it would be a good time to give an update on how it’s been going. When I talk about unguided meditation, I’m not talking about meditating in perfect silence. That is… Read More
Today’s post is going to be a pretty short one. As I’ve mentioned here before, I don’t believe in padding out blog posts to reach a specific word count. Sometimes I need a few hundred words to make my point, and at other times I require 1200 or more of them. Last month I talked… Read More