Welcome back to Mindfulness Monday! Although this is Week Four of updates, it’s only Week Three in the book that I’m using for my “experiment” with mindfulness meditation, Mindfulness, An Eight-Week Plan For Finding Peace In A Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. As I said in last week’s post, I just had not given the meditations the time and attention they deserved so didn’t feel I could comment on them yet.
I’m happy to report that this past week, I was able to find a time that worked for me and allowed me to spend time practicing the meditations suggested for the third week. That’s been one of my biggest challenges so far.
Week 3 introduced two new meditations and revisited an old friend from Week 1. Mindful Movement and the Three-Minute Breathing Space were the two new ones. Breath and Body was the old friend I was talking about, except this time, it’s longer than it was in the first week.
The first two weeks’ meditations were to “help stabilize the mind and focus your attention” say the authors. “They, together with the informal practice of waking up to routine activities, have been laying the groundwork for everyday mindfulness — they type of awareness that tiptoes into your life and helps you become fully conscious of the world as it is, rather than how you wish it could be.” The goal for Week 3 is to weave this enhanced awareness more and more into the fabric of our daily lives.
What better way to start weaving mindfulness into our lives than by making us more aware of our bodies in motion? I was really looking forward to this meditation because I thought it would be sort of like Yoga (which I love) or Tai Chi (which I want to learn). It actually consists of four different, interconnected stretches. Since I had already been cleared by my doctor for Yoga, I assumed this would be fine for me. This is just another reminder — always check with your doctor before embarking on any type of exercise or wellness program. The stretches are very gentle but Williams and Penman recommend you clear it with your doctor first, and both they and the narrator on the audio download remind you to be gentle with yourself and listen to your body. They remind us that
“Mindful Movement is about cultivating awareness as you do this practice. It is not a competition with yourself or anyone else.”
I listened to my body and only did this for three out of the seven days. Although the stretches are gentle, they include quite a few overhead movements which, because I’m having an issue with my neck right now, caused some tingling down my neck and shoulder blades. Although I didn’t do it very many times, I really enjoyed paying attention to the sensations that arose when I changed position or moved into the next stretch. So often, when we deal with chronic pain, all we feel is pain. We don’t notice the way our blood flow to our muscles changes with a difference in body position, or the relaxation of muscles when the tension is removed after a stretch or contraction; we just feel that our whole body is one big lump of pain. At least, that’s the way I feel quite often. This has made me want to learn Tai Chi more than ever because I was able to see so clearly how mindful movement could be beneficial.
The Three-Minute Breathing Space acts as kind of a bridge between formal meditation and everyday life. It gives us a framework for being able to hit the “pause” button when we need to throughout the day. If we start to feel our thoughts are getting out of control, or we start to get overwhelmed, this can help us regain a sense of perspective and once again become grounded in the present moment. It’s focused on becoming aware of what’s going on within us, gathering and focusing our attention narrowly on the breath, and then expanding our attention to all the sensations we’re experiencing right then. I can see how this could be extremely helpful in everyday life. Sometimes if you can just interrupt that negative thought pattern it can help immensely, and I like having a structured method for doing that.
Last but not least was the return of the Breath and Body meditation. This time, it’s eight minutes long, but believe it or not, I didn’t mind it. My mind still wanders A LOT, but I love what the narrator on the audio download says. He reminds us again that the mind may wander but says don’t worry about it because that’s just what minds do.
I don’t know if I’m any closer to being more relaxed, which was my reason for starting this, but I’m learning a lot, both about myself and about how our minds work. One statement that really resonated with me this week comes from the narrator at the very end of the Breath and Body meditation:
“The deep stillness we seek does not arise because the world is still or the mind is quiet. Stillness is nourished when we allow things to be just as they are for now, in this moment, moment by moment, breath by breath.”
For someone like me, who really didn’t know what to expect with the whole meditation thing and whose mind is constantly buzzing with activity, this was extremely encouraging.
What are your thoughts on mindfulness? Have you experienced any benefits from a mindfulness practice? Please share!