Category Archives: Mindfulness and Meditation

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.

How to Clear Your Thoughts Before Writing

The idea for today’s post came from a comment from Elda:

First off I would like to say excellent blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts before writing. I have had a difficult time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out. I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or hints? Thanks!|

 

An opened laptop sitting on a wooden desk. There is a blank notebook and pen sitting on the desk beside it.Thank you for asking this question, Elda! I always enjoy hearing from my readers.

Yes, it can be tricky to settle down into a writing session when you first begin one. I’ve had that trouble at times, too.

Here are some things to try in order to make better use of those first 10 to 15 minutes of writing time.

My first several tips will be for short term relief. The last few are focused on how to improve this issue in the longterm.

Short Term Strategies

Clear Out Distractions

I work best in a quiet, calm environment, so for me this means turning off music, closing the blinds, muting my cellphone, and reducing or eliminating any other distractions I notice as well.

Your mileage may vary there depending on how your mind reacts to music, birds chattering outside of your window, relatives or pets interrupting you, etc., but do try to create the ideal writing environment for your personal preferences.

Two overlapping speech bubbles that have orange outlines Talk to Your Characters

This can be accomplished by writing down your conversation or speaking to them out loud and imagining how they’d respond to your questions.

It might sound silly, but I’ve had all sorts of breakthroughs with my own stories when I take a few minutes at the beginning to chat with my characters and see how they’re feeling.

Write the Most Exciting Scene First

Endings are my favourite parts of stories whether I’m writing, reading, or watching them. Often I’ll write that section first and then backtrack to previous scenes that foreshadow or refer to it in some way.

What strikes me as the most exciting scene does vary from one session or project to the next, but this is a pattern I repeat until the entire tale is written.

Go Off on a Tangent 

One of my favourite techniques for those days when I’m having trouble getting into the the rhythm of writing is to work on a different project for a little bit. It could be a blog post, an idea for another story, a poem, or something else entirely.

There’s something about the act of getting into the flow of writing on one topic that can bleed over into other writing projects if you allow it to.

Asian woman holding up a drawing of a lightbulb while sitting next to a white wall filled with sketches of various ideas.Describe the Setting or Backstory in Vivid Detail

That is to say, write about things related to your story that you don’t actually intend to include in the final project.

You could describe every nook and cranny of the room the scene is currently taking place in, talk about your character’s first childhood memory even if it’s not at all related to their current conflict, or discuss what happened in that time and place five or fifty years ago.

While these adjacent writing projects sometimes do lead to the inclusion of details in my actual work-in-progress, I don’t consider it a waste of time if I write something that’s ultimately left out of the final draft.

The better you know your characters and their worlds, the better your audience will know them, too.

Longterm Strategies

A black and white drawing of a black fist holding a pencil Take Notes After Each Writing Session

You can take note of all sorts of things:

– An idea for a future scene

– A plot hole that still needs to be addressed

– Thoughts on how your session went. Does your environment need to be adjusted? Do you want to schedule more or less time for your next session?

If it’s something you’d be sorry to forget about, jot it down.

Plan Ahead

While I do tend to fly by the seat of my pants when I’m writing, there is something to be said for having a general outline of where you want to end up in case you get stuck if you’re not already the sort of writer who plots everything out ahead of time.

The note-taking and planning processes don’t have to be extensive. My outlines and notes are usually pretty basic, but they do leave room for me to know where to begin or what to alter in my writing space during my next session.

The more preparation you do ahead of time, the easier it will be to jump back into the rhythm of writing whenever you return to it.

Meditate

Black woman closing her eyes meditatively while standing in a forest. What does meditation have to do with writing?

This is a topic I should cover in full in a future post sometime soon, but for now I’ll say that how you respond to stray thoughts during the rest of your day strongly influences how you respond to them when you’re writing.

Meditation is sort of like strength training for your mind. The process of sitting down to write and struggling to clear your thoughts could be made a lot easier if you practice that skill regularly just like carrying a few bags of heavy things home from the store is easier if you’re already accustomed to lifting weights.

 

Respond

Readers, what other techniques would you recommend to Elda? What are your tried-and-true ways to centre yourselves and clear your minds before you start writing?

10 Meditative Virtual Nature Walks You Should Take

A paved road through a park. The sides of the road are lined by tall trees and other greenery.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 been asked to only use public transit for necessary trips like going to work, buying groceries, or seeking medical care.

In addition, all of the amenities in our parks are closed. That is, no one is allowed to use their playgrounds, washrooms, basketball courts, tennis courts, swimming pools, or dog parks. Even the benches are becoming off-limits for most folks!

I’ve been very fortunate so far during this pandemic in many other ways, but I am sure am missing those nature visits right about now. Yesterday was a bit of an antsy day for me which lead to the compilation of this list.

Some of these videos last a few minutes. Others go on for a few hours. Feel free to pick the ones that best suit your time availability and interests. They are roughly arranged from the shortest to the longest walk.

Forest Walk Meditation

There was very little speaking in this video. It’s mostly first-person footage of someone walking through a forest. I especially loved the bird calls in the background. They really made me feel like I was there!

Mountain Stillness

Wow, this was a beautiful scene! It included background instrumental music.

 

Spring Awakening 

There was upbeat instrumental background music in this one. It was cool to see the birds floating around in the pond.

Beach Trip Meditation 

Like the forest walk, this one involved no background music. There was some guided meditation here and there, but the rest of it only included the sorts of sounds you’d hear at the beach. The gulls in the background were so relaxing. I could almost taste the salt in the air.

Walking in the Hoh Rain Forest

All of the sounds in this 20 minute rain forest walk were natural ones. I heard many birds chirping in the forest. Sometimes there were also the sounds of the camera person walking on dead foliage or of running water.

Relaxing Virtual Walk Around the Chilterns

I’ve never been to England, but this looks like a very relaxing place to visit. It was a 25 minute walk that only includes natural sounds from the scenery. Most of the sounds the microphone picked up were of the wind.

Zion NP Utah Riverside Walk Trail

Wow, these red sandstone cliffs were gorgeous! This 53 minute walk does include some narration by the camera person. The portion of the walk by the stream was my favourite.

Secluded Beach at Sunset 

Several years ago, my spouse and I went on a beach vacation with a few dozen of my relatives. Other than catching up with everyone, of course, the nicest part of it was walking up and down the beach when there were very few other folks out and about.

I’m a morning person, so for me many of those times were early in the day when the tide had gone out. What a calming experience it was to hear nothing but the sound of the ocean lapping against shore and the cry of seagulls in the distance. This one hour walk reminded me a lot of those ones.

Kruger National Park in South Africa

There was so much wildlife during this 90 minute walk! I liked the lions the most. Their roars made me shudder.

2.5 Hour Virtual Nature Walk in the Redwood National and State Parks

There was some classical music playing in the background of this piece. The scenery was stunningly beautiful.

What are some of your favourite virtual walk videos?

3 Things I Like About Yoga

women doing yoga

While I briefly dabbled with trying yoga once many years ago, I actually dove into it for real a couple of weeks ago.

With all of the restrictions on when and why we’re permitted to leave our homes in Toronto these days due to the Covid-19 epidemic, this seemed like the perfect time to branch out and try something new.

Here are a few wonderful things that have stood out to me about this form of exercise as I’ve been acclimating to it. I’m keeping this post short and sweet because I’m still so new to yoga in general. Perhaps I’ll write longer posts about it in the future!

If any of you have been doing this form of exercise longterm, I’d sure love to hear your favourite things about it as well.

The Focus on Balance and Flexibility

Black silhouettes of various yoga posts against a white background. All of my other regular workout routines are heavily immersed in cardio and strength training exercises.

Yoga requires my body to bend and flex in ways that are quite different from dancing or lifting weights.

Instead of bracing myself to lift a heavy load or pivot to a new dance move, I’m learning how to better hold my balance with a tricky position and gently stretch just a little bit further every time.

The Attention Paid to Breathing Patterns

Dandelion seeds being blown away from a mature dandelion plant. Breathing isn’t something I consciously think about with other forms of exercise unless I’m out of breath for them.

Even then, the only aspect of it that crosses my mind is generally how many seconds or minutes are left until my body can slow down and catch up on some of the air it requires.

The incredible thing about yoga is how much your breath matter even though I’ve yet to become out of breath with any of the poses I’ve done so far.

I’ve actually started to pay closer attention to my breathing during times of the day when I’m not exercising as well as a result of these workouts.

It’s so interesting to see how these sessions are affecting me in that way. This wasn’t something I was expecting to happen at all.

The Reinforcement of Mindfulness

White clouds against a bright blue skyYoga is the slowest type exercise I’ve ever discovered. Everything about it encourages me to pay close attention to what I’m currently doing and think of nothing but holding my current pose.

There is something incredibly relaxing about turning away from all of the distractions of the world we currently live in and existing in a moment.

The fact that I can do that while also getting a good workout in only makes it better.

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

A desk lamp shining down on a houseplantMy 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 Ontario included as many bright, sunny days as spring and summer did, this post might be quite different.

But our winters include months of long, dark nights that make me half-forget what it’s like to feel warm sunlight on my face.

And having access to enough bright light is important for my mental health. It boggles my mind that some people on this planet live in places that don’t see the sun for months on end. I wouldn’t be able to cope with that well at all unless someone invents a way for humans to go dormant for the winter like real plants do.

Luckily, there are light therapy lamps for wilted houseplants like myself. I’ve been basking in the glow of that artificial sunshine this winter.

Sometimes I sat there and surfed the Internet on my cell phone. It was an especially good way to pass the time when I first accepted the fact that I needed to use one of these lamps but was skeptical about if it would do any good.

If actual plants had opposable thumbs, they might look at cute animal pictures while soaking up light, too, so they didn’t have to count down how many weeks left until spring or how many weeks after that it will take the weather systems in Ontario to shift from cold, wet, and slushy to anything that bears the faintest resemblance to true spring weather.

Then it started to work.The sadness began to lessen. I could concentrate better, I felt less sluggish, my energy levels slowly began rising, and my quality of sleep improved.

Am I back to my old self yet? No, but I’m doing better. That’s something to celebrate, especially as we inch into the time of the year that is the most challenging for me to get through.

For now I sit next to my lamp and chuckle at the fact that I react so much to the lack or the presence of sufficiently strong light. I am entirely human-shaped, and yet somehow I still need to bask in light like a plant to function properly.

When that thought passes, others don’t take its place. In this moment, I am surrounded by light. I breathe in and out as it shines onto me, the desk, the chair, and the floor.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

It’s that simple.

10 ASMR Videos I’d Recommend to Beginners

As I said in my first post on this topic: 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…it’s similar… Read More

Put Down Your Phone and Pay Attention

Today I’d like to talk to you about mindfulness, brainstorming, and what house wrens are really capable of. (If descriptions of the non-Disney side of the natural world are disturbing to you, consider this a content warning). No, I’m not anti-technology, and this isn’t a rant. Smart phones have brought many positive changes to modern… Read More

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Why You Should Meditate on a Flight (and How to Do It)

I recently arrived home from an Alaskan cruise I went on with my spouse and extended family. It was a wonderful trip that I’ll talk more about in various posts over the next couple of weeks, but I have missed connecting with everyone in the blogosphere. So here’s an interesting thing about me. I enjoy… Read More

4 Reasons Why You Should Try Walking Meditation

As anyone who has followed this blog for a while probably already knows, I’m always on the lookout for new meditation techniques. Recently, I discovered something called Walking Meditation that was so interesting I felt compelled to tell my readers about it.  What Is Walking Meditation? There are several different types of walking meditation out… Read More