Category Archives: mindfulness

emotional awareness

Following my practices last week with Sharon Salzberg’s loving-kindness meditations, I have been looking online for information on the loving-kindness meditation.

I came across the website Wildmind, which is a website on Buddhist meditation. It has a section devoted to metta, the Buddhist name for loving-kindness, which I have found really helpful.

So far I have read the first sub-section, Introduction to lovingkindness meditation, which describes what the loving-kindness meditation is (and isn’t!) and the benefits that can come from practising it. While I’m not a Buddhist, I am very interested in their meditations as the well-acknowledged roots of modern mindfulness, so I’ve found the guidance on the website really interesting. I plan to work through the remaining sub-sections on the website in order, trying out the meditations offered wherever possible. This was what formed the basis for my mindfulness practice today.

This evening I began reading the second sub-section, Ways of Cultivating Metta, which discusses the importance of not forcing feelings of loving-kindness or expecting instant results from meditation, but instead allowing it to develop naturally, however long that takes. It is important to develop emotional awareness as a basis for the organic cultivation of loving-kindness, and to that end the web-page features an Emotional Awareness practice.

The practice began with a body scan of sorts, where I moved the focus of my awareness around my body, starting at the feet and releasing tension from each body part before moving on to the next one. I have to say I enjoyed this and found it really relaxing, which I know is not the aim of mindfulness practice but is certainly a welcome gift when it comes! I could feel the tension in my body disappearing as the practice progressed, and I felt like I was sinking into soft goo as I moved the focus of my attention up my body.

After the body scan element I was directed to bring my attention to my breath, just to see what I felt there. I continued to feel relaxed and calm. In fact, I think I felt so relaxed that my concentration began to drop off. I think this could be because I was tired, as I did the practice at about nine thirty at night, and it meant that my mind started to wander and I have relatively little memory of the end of the practice. I do know that I continued to do slow, calm breathing after the guided meditation had ended, which left me feeling very drowsy. I do think that writing this practice up has revived my brain up a bit!

Overall I really enjoyed this practice and I’m keen to listen to it again and hopefully remain more alert so I can get more out of the meditation; perhaps that will be tomorrow’s goal. Beyond that, I’m excited to read further in the Wildmind section on loving-kindness!

Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel on Unsplash


practice during the night

For my practice on the 24th, I decided to revisit the Core Breathing practice from the Stop, Breathe & Think app. I was interested to see how I would fare with a familiar practice as lately I’ve been changing up what I do quite a bit.

I did this practice lying down when I woke up in the night. I had to focus on breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth, and I found it very helpful to picture the movement of air in and out of my lungs as I did the practice.

My thoughts became a bit distracting towards the end of the practice, but I did manage to bring my attention back to my breath to finish. I think this mind-wandering could have been at least in part because I was so sleepy.

I’m not sure if I’ll try to do this type of practice again when I wake up in the night. It did help me to get back to sleep but it was also harder to maintain a sense of awareness because I was drowsy. I’m not sure whether I should try to lean in to the way it helps or if it will make practising at other times harder. If any of you use mindfulness to help with getting (back) to sleep I’d be interested to hear your experiences!

Photo by Krista Mangulsone on Unsplash

morning mindfulness of the breath

For my mindfulness yesterday (it’s just gone past midnight!), I listened to Core Breathing from the Stop, Breathe & Think app.

I did this practice right at the start of my day, before I got up. It involved sitting up and imagining the movement of air in and out of my body as I breathed.

I’ve really enjoyed bringing my attention to the breath during the last few practices I’ve done, and it was no different today. I experienced a sense of grounding from focussing on my breath and I also noticed that I was still aware of my breathing even after the practice had ended!

It’s interesting to me how the awareness cultivated through mindfulness continues outside the boundaries of formal practice. Indeed, I know that since being introduced to mindfulness I’m better at noticing when I’m tensing certain body parts or sitting in a way that causes me discomfort, and I’m learning to allow myself to make adjustments based on what I feel.

Today, I felt calm and alert at the end of the practice, which put me in a good place for starting my day in a positive manner! I was particularly pleased by this because in the past when I’ve attempted practices in the morning I’ve ended up falling asleep. I think that sitting up for today’s practice helped to avoid this, and I’m keen to explore morning mindfulness further as I progress in my mindfulness journey.

What are your experiences of practising mindfulness right after you wake up? If you’ve had more success than me, I’d love to know!

Photo by Brian Gonzalez on Unsplash

catch-up post: mindfulness of breath

I’ve been a little busier than I anticipated these past few days, so this post holds updates on how the First Month Challenge has gone for days 7-9! I made notes after my daily practices and have only been able to write them up for the blog today. I’m hopeful that keeping this blog will allow me to develop the time management skills that I’ll need to update regularly, but for now I’ll summarise in this catch-up post.

Day 7, 20th May 

Today I completed Day 4 from the Days of Calm series on the Calm app. Entitled Pulling Out of Autopilot, it encouraged me to pay attention to my breath so that I wasn’t just breathing automatically but instead noticing the steps that made up the whole process.

I found the practice easy to follow and I had lots of opportunities to practise bringing my attention back to the breath after it drifted away. After the practice ended, I felt the urge to extend it so I continued to do some unguided focused breathing.

The practice left me feeling calm and grounded, and so far I’d definitely recommend this series as a gentle introduction to mindfulness.

Day 8, 21st May

I had a long day today, with a busy volunteering session during the day and then helping my friends with revision in the evening. This left me with little time for a formal practice, so I decided to do some mindful breathing as I prepared for sleep.

I did this lying down in my bed and brought my focus to the slow movement of air into and out of my lungs. It was very relaxing and settled me down for a peaceful night.

Day 9, 22nd May 

I did my practice for today lying in bed at 1pm, having gone back to bed to lie down after a slow morning.

I decided to continue with the Days of Calm series on the Calm app, today listening to Day 5, The Value of Non-Doing. It involved paying close attention to the breath and noticing where I could feel it most strongly in my body. Today that was around my nostrils, as the sensation of air moving in and out felt particularly strong.

I did get pulled away by thoughts a little as the practice went on, but I kept going and continued to bring my attention back to the breath. I ended the practice feeling calm and refreshed.

mindfulness for distress

It’s day six and I had a bit of a weird day today.

I’ve been binge-watching the series UnREAL, which has been a bit hard as it features someone who is dealing with poor mental health. I struggle to see depictions of depression etc. as it sometimes hits too close to home with how I’ve felt before. At the same time, I feel compelled with this series to keep watching and find out what happens to this character.

I haven’t been in the head-space to do a proper mindfulness practice today but I did bring mindfulness in when I took  a shower earlier.

I tend to get stressed by showering at the moment, as with the constant sounds and sensations it all gets a bit overwhelming. I paused midway through and brought myself back to my breath, which helped me to be able to make it through the shower without needing to sit down and take a break.

I think this is a good example of how using moments of mindfulness can be helpful during short periods of distress where it isn’t feasible to do a formal mindfulness practice.

Now I know I have this in my mental tool-belt for next time I take a shower!

my brain is a box in a house

Sometimes I describe my brain as a box in a house.

When I’m feeling okay, the box is in one of many bright rooms in the house. There’s plenty of space to think. On days when I’m feeling low, the house has shrunk to just one dark room and I have much less space to think and cope.

But on some days (I don’t even have to be feeling particularly low), my head feels so blurry that it’s as if the house has shrunk to a single black room that is only barely the size of the box. I don’t think it even counts as a room any more! I don’t have any space to think and I struggle to maintain a pattern of thought and hold conversations. Everything feels fuzzy and slightly wrong, and I am powerless to change this. For a long time, I’ve simply had to wait it out.

Everything feels fuzzy and wrong, and I am powerless to change this

I went into today’s practice feeling like this. I had been feeling a bit off all day, like my head was stuck in treacle and I couldn’t think fast enough. I also felt quite negative about how I was managing to cope with this blurry head, which led me to feel low as well.

I decided to try some short mindfulness practices to see if they would have any effect on this head-space.

The first practice I used was Belly Breathing from the app Stop, Breathe & Think. It involved placing my hands on my belly and breathing deeply. It was fairly simple, but that was all I could manage whilst in the difficult head-space. I ended the practice feeling like I had a little more room to think, but my head was still fairly blurry.

Next I tried another app called Calm. It has a meditation series named 7 Days of Calm, which is an introduction to mindfulness meditation. Having previously completed Day 1, today I listened to Day 2, Returning to the Here and Now, which involved sitting up and focussing on my breathing. I finished the practice feeling calm and a little more clear-headed.

I then tried Day 3, Paying Attention. I was led from my head to my feet in a quick body scan. I managed to maintain my awareness for most of the body scan and ended the practice feeling relaxed and calm. I felt like my head-space had grown and I could think again. The box of my brain was at least in a room bigger than it now, if not in a whole floor or house. I also felt less negative about my mood than I did when I began today’s practices.

Nothing else has had such an impact on my mood and ability to cope in as short a space of time as 30 minutes

This effect of clearing my head and giving me back some mental capacity is what continues to draw me to mindfulness. Nothing else I’ve tried has had such an impact on my mood and ability to cope in only 30 minutes. I really think mindfulness practice refreshes the brain.

Do any of you have unusual ways that you use to describe your head-space on difficult days? I’d be really interested to hear how you find mindfulness effects you when you’re in that place.

Photo by Francisco Gomes on Unsplash

mindfulness that led to amazing dreams?

For my mindfulness today, I listened to Guided Loving-kindness Meditation from Sharon Salzberg from the mindful podcast, linked to in this article.

It’s a 45 minute long podcast that starts with an initial discussion of loving-kindness, which is also known as metta in Buddhism (and during this podcast). This is followed by an extended loving-kindness meditation. The article helpfully has the whole podcast pretty much transcribed, so if you’ve read it you can skip to 10:00 for the actual guided practice.

I listened to the podcast lying down in my bed during the mid-afternoon, having just written up my blog post for yesterday’s practice. Going into the practice I felt alert and excited to try this kind of extended loving-kindness practice. I have a little experience already with some loving-kindness meditations from courses I’ve attended, but they haven’t usually lasted more than ten minutes.

Initially, I was directed to repeat loving-kindness statements that described what I wished for myself. I began with a range but ended up settling on two that spoke to me most:

May I have physical health.

May I have mental happiness.

Next, Salzberg suggested aiming the statements towards a ‘benefactor’ – someone who had helped me. Immediately a lady came to mind who has made a huge difference in my life recently, acting with so much kindness and helping me to really get into volunteering work. I spent the next period of silence directing my loving-kindness thoughts at her.

The next focus was on someone who a is good friend. I thought of one of my housemates and directed my kindness towards her.

By the next suggestion, I was feeling quite sleepy and I can’t remember well what happened for either the suggestion to send my loving-kindness towards someone neutral or someone I have a difficulty with. As I struggle to know who I chose to focus on, I feel like I may have fallen asleep. I do remember hearing the bell signalling the end of the practice but that may have simply woken me up.

Immediately after the practice I felt so relaxed and calm that I fell asleep (again!). While I slept, I had a number of moving dreams, centring around music and feeling accepted.

In one of them, three musicians I love were all singing and when the fourth, one of my favourites, joined in, the songs all came together into a beautiful piece of living music. It felt really amazing.

On awaking I felt full of love and wonder. I don’t usually read into my dreams, but these dreams felt so joyful that part of me wonders if they were catalysed by the loving-kindness meditation I did immediately before falling asleep.

Either way, I really enjoyed my experience of today’s practice and the following happy dreams. I definitely feel refreshed and ready to use my evening!

Have any of you ever felt like your dreams were influenced by your mindfulness practice?

Photo by jill111 on Pixabay

mindfulness of the hands

For my practice on day three, I focussed on mindfulness of the hands.

I did my daily practice just before I went to bed, having read a spread titled Using our hands and feet in the book Mindfulness Made Simple by Christopher Titmuss. I’ve been enjoying this book as it covers a range of themes, often starting with a discussion of a topic and then going on to suggest a practice that will help you to explore it.

Reading the section on the hands, I felt calm and ready to spend time in awareness of my body. I decided not to follow the suggested practice but to spend some time exploring the sensations in my hands that came from both stillness and movement.

I began by sitting up with my legs crossed and bringing my focus to my breath, sitting still with it for a while. I then slowly raised and lowered my arms, paying attention to what I could feel as I did so. My arms felt heavy, but it felt good to take the time to focus on these movements that I so often make without thinking throughout the day.

I then changed my movements to turning my hands at the wrist and noticing the sensations around that.

At the beginning of my practice I felt plagued by thoughts, which kept popping up and distracting me. I did find that when I changed to incorporate movement into the practice, the thoughts became less present as I was focussed on paying attention to changes in what I felt.

Looking back at the practice now I remember one session of a mindfulness course I was on where we talked about how to manage recurring thoughts during a practice. We discussed the value of paying a moment’s attention to these thoughts, thanking them for trying to remind you of things, and telling them that you will come back to them after the practice. My aim now is to use this technique next time my thoughts become distracting.

I ended the practice feeling calm and ready to have a restful night of sleep. I found it hard to wake up this morning and I don’t know if that’s because of the practice I did right before bed, but I’ll be paying attention to see if there is a link.

Have you ever focussed in on the hands like this? What did you notice?

Photo by Viktor Hanacek on Picjumbo

Please note I may make some money if you purchase on Amazon something that I’ve linked to in this blog post.

mindfulness right before sleep

My practice yesterday was done just before bed. It wasn’t ideal, as I was quite tired, but it was necessary since I’d been busy during the day. The meditations I used were both free ones from the app Stop, Breathe & Think, which I have on my phone. Before doing the practice I was feeling a little low.

First I did the Noting practice, which lasted 7 minutes and allowed me to pay attention to my whole breathing body. I enjoyed it and felt calm afterwards.

I then did the 2-minute Falling Asleep practice, which prepared me well to go to sleep. I felt warm and calm afterwards.

I drifted off soon after and although doing it right before bed meant I couldn’t expend as much mental energy on the practice, I did appreciate the boost in mood it gave me before I went to sleep.

Photo by Ash Edmonds on Unsplash

working with noise and loving-kindness

My mindfulness today was done by listening to podcasts in town. I was in the relatively busy marketplace, with cars going past and people chatting, so I decided to do some work on mindfulness of noise.

I listened to a podcast called How to Meditate with Noise: A 3-Minute Practice for Anywhere by mindful (linked to in this article). I listened to it with one earphone in and one ear free to act as a microphone, picking up the noises I could hear (an ambulance screaming into the distance, chatting people, a motorbike growling past) and focusing on simply listening and not trying to identify them.

The sun felt so warm on my back while I was sitting in the marketplace, and it reminded me of the sensation I get from loving-kindness meditations, so I decided to listen to one of those too.

I listened to Loving-Kindness Meditation from Sharon Salzberg – The Mindful Practice Podcast from mindful (on Soundcloud here, transcript here). It was more instructive, describing the steps that make up a loving-kindness meditation rather than slowly guiding me through one. I listened to the podcast and then followed the instructions, silently repeating thoughts that described my kind wishes towards myself as I walked on to my next commitment.

May I be happy.

May I be safe.

May I share joy with others.

May I have physical health.

May I feel calm.

I didn’t manage to attempt the visualisation section, but I will leave that for another time. I did find that doing the loving kindness meditation on the way to my next activity left me with a little more energy and ability to cope with a more testing person – indeed I have decided to use this person as someone to wish good things for when I next do the loving-kindness meditation described in the book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari. More on that to come soon!

Photo © Anna Grant 2018. All Rights Reserved. Do not use without permission.  

Please note I may make some money if you purchase on Amazon something that I’ve linked to in this blog post.