I used to scoff at the idea of self-love or self-care. Yeah, I thought it was important to go for a run, or take the occasional twenty minute bubble bath, but I never actually let my mind relax during those times. It wasn't until I got really sick, I mean really sick, that I began to change my thoughts on what it means to truly take care of my emotional well-being.
You see, I had already had four auto-immune diseases that I had been battling, and my attitude had been to never give up. But it was never give up to the point of martyrdom. It wasn't until I almost died before I realized that I actually had to surrender. Surrender? Well, that sounds a lot like giving up! Not at all. Rather it was a matter of learning my limitations, and most of all, quieting my mind, which in all seriousness, was and still is, the hardest thing for me to do.
A friend of mine insisted that meditation would help me with my illnesses. His sincerity moved me to give it a try. I sat cross-legged on the floor of my living room with peaceful music playing in the background, and the timer on my phone set for five minutes. I closed my eyes and tried to think of nothing. I couldn't do it. My mind kept darting from one thing to the next. It felt like it was screaming and wouldn't stop. Then I started stressing. Stressing over not being able to stop thinking. I kept wondering if the five minutes would be up soon, so I peeked at the timer. It had only been two minutes! Oh my god! How was I going to sit for another three minutes and try to think of nothing? It was tough, but I powered through.
After that first session, I figured I couldn't just do this on my own. I needed to do a bit of research on meditation, as it clearly wasn't a situation of sitting and being quiet. And boy, I found out that there is a lot of information out there! A definite overload! But what I learned from it all was to pick and choose what was going to work for me--my schedule, my personality, and my limitations. When I did that, it wasn't long before I was able to sit and meditate for five minutes, then ten, then fifteen, then twenty. Once I became accustomed to meditating, I added about forty-five minutes of yoga and breathing exercises, or pranayama. Now I look forward to meditating and doing yoga daily. I am much more at ease, coping better with pain, and my sleep is improving, which is a real bonus because I have always had issues with sleeping.
It's funny though, when I started the practice of meditation, instead of thinking of the benefits I might reap, I was more concerned about what other people might think. Would they think that I've become a hippy or a flower child of the 60's? And most of all, I was nervous that my husband would think that I've gone off my rocker. But at the end of the day, I realized that it was necessary to do what was best for me and to adjust my own perception of it. And you know what, I found out that many of my friends meditate and do yoga, and my husband couldn't be more supportive. He's happy that I've found something that is helping me to deal with the pain I go through everyday, and he notices on days that I haven't meditated and encourages me to keep at it.
Since I've been meditating, not only am I able to focus better at the more important things in life, but I find it easier to write. By decluttering my mind of all the riff raff that rattles around in my head, I can think more clearly about my characters and how I want the storyline to take shape. It really has been a bonus all around.
Below are some of the things that I've learned, together with some really great links and YouTube videos. And if there is something that has helped you, I'd love to hear about it.
Mantras are words, phrases, or sounds that are repetitively uttered to help focus the mind. There are various religions that use mantras as part of their meditative practices, like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, etc., and although I am not religious, I do respect what mantras can do for the mind and spirit.
Here are some great Sanskrit mantras to say while meditating.
1. Om - This is the vibrational sound of the universe and is thought to be the most sacred, which is why it is used the most when meditating to help achieve a higher plane.
2. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti - Meaning: Peace of mind, peace of body, peace of speech
3. Om Mani Padmé Hum - It has been said that the teachings of Buddha are in this one mantra. It is my favorite and the one that I use most often. I breathe in deeply, and then very slowly say Om Mani Padmé Hum on my breath out.
Om (ohm)- Om is the sound or “vibration” of the universe. This sound is the most important of all; but in the context of chanting and mantras, it is meant destroy attachments to ego and establish generosity.
Ma (mah)- Removes the attachment to jealousy and establishes ethics.
Ni (nee)- Removes the attachment to desire and establishes patience.
Pad (pahd)- Removes the attachment to prejudice and establishes perseverance.
Me (meh)- Removes the attachment to possessiveness and establishes concentration.
Hum (hum)- Removes the attachment to hatred and establishes wisdom.
4. Sat, Chit, Ananda - Meaning: Existence, consciousness, bliss
5. Sabbe Satta Sukhi Hontu - Meaning: May all things be well
I found these websites helpful in getting started with mantras.
You've probably noticed that people position their hands and fingers a certain way while meditating. That is called a mudra. Our fingers have nerve endings that connect to our endocrine glands and when you hold them a certain way it allows for electromagnetic communication to occur.
There are numerous mudras to choose from, but here are few and how they can help you.
1. Gyan Mudra - This is the mudra you see most often. Take the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb and extend the remaining three fingers. It will look like you are making the "okay" sign with your hands. This mudra is for mind relaxation and assist with concentration. You can also use this mudra when lying down if you have difficulty sleeping.
2. Prana Mudra - Take your ring finger and pinky and place the tips against the tip of your thumb as you extend your index and middle finger, keeping them together. This is the mudra I use most often as it is supposed to assist with energy, pain, and inflammation.
3. Pithvi Mudra - Take the tip of your ring finger to your thumb and extend the remaining fingers. This mudra is to assist with digestion, blood circulation, reduce fatigue, and keep oneself grounded.
4. Vayu Mudra - This one is similar to the gyan mudra, except that you bend your index finger down and place your thumb between the two upper joints of the finger. This mudra is to assist with arthritic pain, gout, and found to help polio and Parkinson's patients.
5. Dhyana Mudra - You will see this one used most often in Buddha statues. Place your right hand over top of the left, both palms up, and tips of thumbs touching. This mudra assists to achieve deep meditation to improve concentration.
For more information on mudras, please check out these great sites.
Nature & Music
The sounds of nature or music are great to play in the background as you meditate. Before I meditate, I like to listen to healing music to help rid my mind of negative energy. Then because I love nature so much, I meditate to the sound of birds singing, together with a mantra or affirmations. Then afterward, I will play positive relaxing music while I'm working, reading, or writing.
There are so many choices out there, but here are a few of the YouTube links that I use.
I had thought to myself, I breathe already. I wouldn't exist if I didn't breathe. It seems ridiculous to learn how to do something I'm already doing. Well, it turns out that I'm a very shallow breather, and without even realizing it, my body was in a constant state of stress, which could cause headaches, panic attacks, and aggravate respiratory issues.
Focusing on my breathing while doing yoga stretches has helped me immensely with keeping my mind and body calm. Using my breath, I have been able to help reduce migraines, increase movement, and lessen pain in my very troubled shoulders and knees, that physiotherapy and massage therapy have not been able to help with. In one shoulder, I've had adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder), and in the other, I have been recovering from septic bursitis. With my knees, I have patella femoral syndrome. So, you can imagine the pain and the resulting limited movement I have had. Unfortunately, these issues are byproducts of the four auto-immune diseases I have--Primary Biliary Cholangitis, Systemic Scleroderma, Erythromelalgia, and Crohn's. It has been vital for me to find a way to learn how to cope with them, and I figured, I'm breathing anyways, I might as well start doing it right. And you know what? It has been a game changer!
Here are some of the very easy yoga and pranayama videos that I have been doing. The benefits I have gained are immeasurable!