Tag Archives: Meditation

Unguided Meditation Update #1

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 something I’d like to try at some point in the future, but for now I prefer having some sort of background noise that isn’t a human voice when I meditate.

Deep Breaths Aren’t Peaceful

A couple of weeks ago, I briefly tried a section of my meditation app that plays three different tones over and over again. The first tone prompts you to breath in, the second prompts you to hold your breath, and the third prompts you to exhale. There is otherwise no noise in it. Yes, this technically isn’t unguided meditation, but i thought it would be an interesting and possibly quite helpful transition from the fully guided routines I’ve been doing.

As much as I loved the idea of this, it turned out not to work for me at all. I was so focused on remembering which sounds signalled which action and anticipating what would happen next that those sessions didn’t go well at all.

On a slightly humorous note, they reminded me going to the doctor and being asked to breathe in deeply while your doctor listens to your lungs. There’s something about that experience that always unnerves me a little bit, possibly because I’ve had pneumonia in the past and know how miserable it is to have even the mildest form of that disease.

Deep breathing works for me if I’m timing my own breaths, but I ended up really not liking being told when to breathe in and out again.

Rain Is Peaceful

The meditation app I use has a setting that plays the sound of rain falling. While it isn’t as strong or heavy as a thunderstorm, it isn’t quiet rain either. You can hear the drops splashing as they hit the puddles on the ground. The sound is gentle, soothing, and beautifully repetitive.

It masks all of the unavoidable distractions that come with living in a urban environment and in a building where noises from one apartment can easily carry several floors away if the conditions are right. Someday I do plan to meditate through dogs barking, the elevator door pinging, people having loud discussions, and someone dropping something heavy on the floor a few floors up, but for now it’s nice to dampen these things.

Just as I suspected, I absolutely love this section of the app. Listening to rain fall is my favourite sound in the entire world, and I find it very easy to clear my mind and simply be when I have something so soothing playing in the background.

There have been multiple times when I was surprised by the quiet beep that alerts me when I’ve reached the end of my session. The time passed much more quickly than I thought it would, and I could have kept meditating without realizing how long I’d been doing it.

I will continue using this feature regularly. As you can probably tell, it’s working well for me. Honestly, I wish I’d tried it ages ago.

 

 Next Up: Trying New Positions

So far, I’ve been doing most of my meditating either while I’m walking or while I’m lying down. Yes, I know that these aren’t conventional positions for meditation, but sitting meditation failed terribly for me the first several times I tried it. I’ve also been dealing with some minor muscle twinges and aches that make certain positions uncomfortable for me to remain in for long periods of time.

The next goal I’ve set for myself is to slowly transition to sitting meditation if I can do so without aggravating my muscles.

I will update you all again in a few weeks!

Experimenting with Unguided Meditation

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 about why mediation was difficult for me.

I’ve spent the past few weeks experimenting with my meditation practice in a few different ways.

Morning meditation sessions worked better for me as far as my concentration during them went, but I also found myself missing meditation as part of my bedtime routine.

There is something incredibly relaxing about meditating an hour or so before bedtime. Fitting more than one meditation session into my day isn’t something I wanted to do until I was doing better with one session a day.

Last week, the meditation app I use temporarily put the guided meditation sessions that I’ve been using for a long time behind a paywall. While I was deciding whether to sign up for a paid account there again to see if I liked it all of the special features more than I did when I’d previously paid for them, I began thinking about unguided meditation.

My first meditation attempts many years ago were with unguided meditation. They didn’t work well for me back then because of how unused to this practice I was, but maybe I’d get more out of them today? It took me a couple of tries to get into the habit of weightlifting, after all. It took me even longer to cut 90% of the added sugar out of my diet as well.

This could be another case of something that took a few attempts to turn into a habit. I am tentatively planning to write a follow-up to this post in a few weeks once I have something else to say about it. It’s too soon to say much more about it, but I’m enjoying the process of trying something new.

An Update on My Difficulties with Meditation

Wow, it’s been six weeks since I last blogged about meditation. I knew it had been a while when I first began working on today’s post, but I had no idea that so much time has passed.

The last time I blogged about this topic, I talked about the possibility of taking a break from meditation. It turns out that I was far too stubborn for that option.

I didn’t want to make any drastic changes to my meditation habits until I’d figured out if I was going to continue meditating or give it up for a while. There are a lot of fantastic apps and other services out there, but I don’t want to pay for something I won’t use regularly.

If there was a way to begin feeling more relaxed after my sessions again, I was going to keep using my current app until I figured it out.

Now that I have the answer to that question, I have to decide how to change this part of my daily routine.

No, I’m still not back to my regular habits yet, but I am still meditating and I have noticed an improvement over the last two months. Today I’ll share the techniques that worked for me. I’ll also talk about some other ideas I’ll be trying in the near future.

Going Through the Motions

While I know that going through the motions is generally used to negatively describe how someone is performing a certain action, I don’t think of it that way for this particular situation. Sometimes going through the motions is a perfectly valid response when something isn’t working out the way you hoped it would.

There were days, especially back in early December right after What Should You Do When Meditation Isn’t Working? was first published,when I listened to my guided meditation app without consciously trying to clear my mind or participating in the process at all.

As odd as this might sound, listening without trying to participate in any way was helpful. I like the soothing voice of the woman who narrates the sessions on the app I use, so it was nice to hear her talking even if I wasn’t reacting to the routine the way I typically would.

The more I listened to her without expecting myself to join in, the more interested I became in trying again.

Comparing Meditation to Exercise

This section could almost be expanded into it’s own blog post, but I’ve noticed an interesting correlation between meditation and exercise.

Both of them require effort long before you see many results at all. It takes time and dedication to build muscle or lose weight. Even then, there have been times when my progress slowed or even temporarily halted in those areas for any number of reasons. Training your mind requires the same level of determination. There’s no quick fix for it.

The last few months seem like they were a plateau for me in this area of life. Yes, it was frustrating, but once I figured out what was going on I wasn’t nearly as annoyed with the process. I expect it to take a while to notice a difference in many of my fitness goals, after all.

Meditation should be held to the exact same standards.

Remembering What December Is Like for Me

December is my least favourite month of the year for a few different reasons.

One, I live far away from my family, and I miss them terribly over the holidays.

Two, my mood dampens a little bit every year between the end of Daylight Savings Time and the Winter Solstice. My body doesn’t like having that many hours of darkness in a day.

Three, I used to work in a field whose busiest time of the year was between October and the beginning of January with December being the peak of it all. While the actual number of hours I worked in December were only slightly higher than normal, there were multiple times when I stumbled into bed at 2 or 3 am only to go back into work at 11 am the next morning.

The shifts themselves were hectic, too. We dealt with many furious people over the course of the average day, and there was never enough time to do half of the things we were expected to do. I still associate those memories with that month, and it’s not a pleasant association.

Due to these factors, everything is a little tougher than normal for me in December. I should have thought of that when I was blogging about this at the end of last November, but for some reason it didn’t cross my mind until I began working on this post.

Now that I know more about why this plateau happened, I’m ready to start tweaking my meditation routine to see how it can be improved even more than it’s already improved for me since last November.

Other Adjustments I Want to Try

I’ve been doing guided meditation exercises since I first began meditating regularly. My very first attempts at meditation from years ago had been without any guidance at all, and they didn’t go well at all. I quickly became bored and gave up on them. Maybe it’s time to try self-guided meditation again now that I’m better at releasing stray thoughts when they appear?

Right now I’m meditating every evening. As much as I love winding down my day that way, a morning or afternoon session might work better. I’m even thinking about meditating for short periods of time more than once per day to see how they affect me.

If I do continue to use guided meditation, is it time to start exploring other meditation apps, Youtube channels, or other services? I’m using the free version of my current app, and it only offers the same few sessions to people who haven’t paid for a subscription. A few years ago, I signed up for a subscription to my current app, but I didn’t find their premium content worth the expense.

I don’t know how long it will take before I update you on this development in my life again, but I will let you know what I find as I continue to play around with my meditation habits.

What Should You Do When Meditation Isn’t Working?

Lately, my meditation sessions haven’t been doing much good for me at all.

I sit for the usual amount of time and do my best to exist without entertaining any stray thoughts that might pop up, but at the end of it I don’t feel any different than I did before. My brain is still churning out images as regularly as ever, and I don’t feel any more relaxed than I did when I began.

It’s frustrating.

I remember what it felt like to open my eyes and feel refreshed and relaxed after previous sessions. It would be so nice to get back into that habit, especially as we move into the holiday season and I begin to need the peace that comes after some meditation sessions a little more than usual.

The good news is that this is completely normal.

There’s no such thing as constant progress in life. Everyone eventually reaches a point where they face a setback, appear to be plateauing in their skills, or need a break in general.

I can’t give you a sure-fire list of steps to get back into your meditation routine, but I can give you a purposefully contradictory list of ideas to try based on the research I’ve been doing on this problem.

  1. Focus on maintaining the habit of mediation, not on what you get out of it.
  2. Try another form of meditation.
  3. Stick with it and see if you can push past it.
  4. Remember that everything ends eventually. This, too, will pass.
  5. Take a break. It can be a long break or a short one, but sometimes it’s easier to find the motivation to meditate if you can reset your habits.
  6. If you’re following some form of guided meditation, listen to the session without trying to follow along with it.
  7. Choose a different position. I find it easier to mediate while lying down on days when I’m having more trouble with it than normal.
  8. Spend some time reading about meditation.
  9. Move to a new location. Last spring, I had a lot of luck with walking mediation in the park. It’s too chilly to do that most days now here in Toronto, but you might find renewed motivation if you’re in a less familiar environment in general.

I’ve been spending plenty of time on #1, #6, and #7 myself. There is something to be said for going through the motions if it keeps you in the habit until meditation becomes easier for you once again.

Today’s post is purposefully short because this is still something I’m trying to figure out. I hope I’ll be able to write a follow-up post soon that details how I began getting more out of meditating once again. In the meantime, I’ll keep plugging away at it. If you’re having trouble with your meditation, I hope you also figure out a solution for yourself soon.

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

3 Reasons Why You Should Meditate Outdoors

I’ve slowly been trying to incorporate more meditation into my routine after the long break I took from it earlier this spring. This spring has been a chilly, wet one so far here in Toronto. We’re only now beginning to have a few days in a row where it hasn’t rained and the temperature has been above 10… Read More

Confessions of a Meditation Dropout

I have a confession to make: I haven’t meditated in weeks. It took me a while to figure out why I’d stopped. The slowdown in my routine was so gradual that I didn’t realize it was happening at first, but there have been some changes in my life recently that have lead to me feeling less… Read More