Healthy Habit #3 – Yoga

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March is here and that means it’s time for a new Healthy Habit.  This month I have decided that I am going to give yoga a try.  I have heard so many good things about it, but have never done it myself.  You’ve probably heard the same list of healthy benefits of yoga that I have:  increased flexibility, stronger muscles, less achy joints, stress relief, and more restful sleeping.  But I also read that yoga has some other benefits that I didn’t know about.  Practicing yoga can strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis.  It can also get your blood flowing and improve circulation, which, in turn, leads to a healthier heart and a decreased risk of heart attack.  Yoga can also aid in weight loss (woo hoo!!), and boost your immune system.

So yesterday, I went to Target and bought myself a DVD for yoga beginners.  Before I try any classes around other people (I’m 42, a little overweight, and terribly uncoordinated), and embarrass myself, I thought I better give it a try in my living room.  I’m going to give the DVD a test run as soon as I finish this post.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Meditation Update

For the month of February, I started meditation as my healthy habit.  I have still been meditating in the morning.  I have missed a few days throughout the month, but have been pretty successful in staying consistent.  I started with guided mindful meditation and I find that I really like it first thing in the morning.  I have tried to keep my morning a routine and that seems to work best for me.  When I first get up, I make coffee and sit and journal as I have my first cup.  When I finish writing, I go sit in my comfy green chair and meditate using the app I downloaded to my phone.  I started at 5 minutes and have moved up to 15, but on rushed mornings I go back to 5.  What I have noticed is that when I meditate, I feel calm and mindful.  I am able to be in the present without anxiety and fear.  I am more aware of my breathing and what my body is feeling. It’s an absolutely wonderful feeling, and I only wish that it would last all day.  As I continue to mediate, I don’t think that I need to add more time to my morning sessions, instead I think that meditating more times throughout the day will be even more beneficial.

I was concerned in the beginning about being able to turn my thoughts off, but I quickly learned that clearing one’s mind isn’t the point.  The point is to learn how to redirect unfavorable thoughts as they come up.  While the calm, mindful feeling doesn’t always last as long as I want it to, the redirecting my thoughts and concentrating on my breathing has stuck.  I have found myself on a number of days in stressful situations at work.  I have consciously redirected my thoughts about the situations by closing my eyes, breathing deeply and reminding myself that, in that moment, I am alright.  It works!

I have also been trying to incorporate metta meditation into my day.  One of my fellow bloggers over at Mished-Up, commented that she enjoys metta mediation, so I did some reading up on it and have been practicing it along with the guided meditation.  Metta meditation, or lovingkindness (isn’t that an awesome name for it?), is a type of mantra mediation where you repeat phrases of loving kindness out loud or to yourself, beginning with yourself and working outward to your family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, strangers…as far as you would like.   As I inhale, I use statements like:  May I be strong, May I be mindful, May I be well, May I be joyful.  And I as I exhale I focus on breathing out the opposite:  Gone is weakness, Gone is worry, Gone is illness, Gone is sadness.  And I continue outward with the other people in my life, wishing them the same things I wish for myself.  I really love this meditation.  It’s repetitive but I like that…so far the phrases have not become rote, and I truly feel each one as I say it.

So after a month of meditation, would I say that it’s a keeper?  I think it’s definitely something I want to explore more.  I see the benefits and I feel better when I do it.  I think that’s reason enough to do some more practicing, don’t you?

Healthy Habit #2 – A Month of Meditation

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The month of February brings Healthy Habit #2 – Meditation.  It seems that I’m not the only one that has decided to give meditation a try.  Kristen over at Bye Bye Beer is also working on meditation, and Lucy at Soberistas is posting some great information about mindful meditation.  I’m keeping my eye on both, to be sure.

I hear such great things about meditation in the rooms of AA.  Step 11 is, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”  The fact that it is right there in one of the 12 steps, tells me that meditation is both important and beneficial to the recovering alcoholic.  I have carefully and thoughtfully worked my way through the steps with my sponsor, but somehow, up until now, I have managed to leave the meditation piece out.  I feel like my conscious contact with God is continually improving through prayer, I am doing well sharing my thoughts, needs and thanks with God.  But I have heard so many times that meditation opens the door for God to speak to us, instead of the other way around.  I haven’t felt that yet.  So, I thought it was high time to give meditation a try.

Outside of the rooms of AA, meditation is practiced for a lot of reasons, stress-relief being the chief among them.  Meditation can help you to learn to be mindful and present in your everyday life; to simply be.  Some of the meditation websites that I visited also say that there can be physical and mental health benefits.  It can improve your focus, memory, self-control, academic performance, as well as improving metabolism, heart rate and blood pressure.

All of that makes it sound like meditation might just be the best thing since sliced bread!  I don’t mean to sound skeptical, but it sounds too good to be true.  All of that said, I am giving it a try (because I have been skeptical about a lot of things.  For example:  the grace of God, the power of prayer, Alcoholics Anonymous, journaling as a form of self-awareness, taking medication for psychiatric issues…and I have been proven wrong on all of those!).

The first step in my search for peace and mindfulness was to decide which type of meditation I was going to try.  There are a bunch out there, and different things work for different people.  I decided to take a look at three different types, the ones that didn’t seem too far out there, for me.  First, there is guided meditation, in which you are assisted by a teacher or guide to talk you through your meditation, helping you to refocus as your mind drifts.  Second, is mindful meditation, which is about being aware of the sounds and activities happening around you as you let your thoughts flow, without judgement and without trying to shut them down.  And lastly, there is mantra meditation, in which you choose a calming word or phrase and repeat it over and over, either to yourself, or aloud, to prevent distracting thoughts from entering your mind.

To start with, I chose guided meditation. It seems like anything that has “guided”  in front of it is a good place to start.  I found a lot  of youtube videos that offered guided meditation, and I downloaded a couple of meditation apps to my phone.  Ultimately, I chose one of the apps to start with.  My decision was based solely on the way the guide’s voice sounded.  I picked the one that was the most soothing to me.  There are different lengths that I can set the app to, ranging from 3 – 30 minutes.  I started with 5.  Each morning, for the last nine days, I have gotten out of bed, made coffee, written in my journal and then sat down in my comfy wing-back chair to meditate.  I’m the only one up at that time, so I don’t have to worry about distractions, but I use my earbuds nonetheless.

I am, for 5 minutes, able to focus on what my guide is saying.  I can concentrate on what she asks me to, whether it is my breathing or how my body feels, or pushing distracting thoughts away.  It is relaxing, and mindful, and peaceful!  And the 5 minutes goes by very quickly (I think I am ready to up it to 10 minutes).  I also have to admit that there is a feeling of calm that stays with me for a little while after I am finished.  I also feel a sense of quiet focus…not like I am having to work at it, but rather my mind feels comfortable focusing on whatever task is at hand.  My mornings have been like that for the past few days, but somewhere during the day, I lose that peaceful feeling.  I thought that perhaps that meant that I should try adding another meditation session somewhere in the middle of the day.  However, both days that I tried that, I ended up falling asleep.  Ah, progress, not perfection!

I will keep meditating and I will try the other two methods, and let you know how it goes.

Namaste   😉

Right here, right now

Last week my husband suggested we check out the new Hobby Lobby that recently opened here. He knows how much I love craft stores, and luckily for me, he does too. So after work one day we stopped in just to look around. The store was huge, and there was a lot to see. As we perused the aisles and I daydreamed about the crafts I could make, we talked, laughed, planned future projects and purchases, and enjoyed ourselves. When we left the store, I checked the time and was surprised to see that we had been there for an hour and a half, just looking.

As I got in the car, it occurred to me that it hasn’t always been easy for me to just be in the moment like that and really enjoy myself. The whole time that we were in the store, I wasn’t thinking about the things that happened at work earlier in the day, or worrying about the pile of laundry that I needed to do later. I was just present. And I was happy.

When I went to treatment for my alcoholism, one of the things that I was taught was the importance of being mindful, staying present, basically knowing that I am ok right now, in this moment. As alcoholics, we tend to wallow in the past and worry about the future. Those two things, for me, were huge triggers for my drinking. I have a lot of wreckage in my past, huge amounts. Most of it was created by me, and so I suffered from so much guilt and shame that I would try to drink it away. I also had a lot of anxiety and fear about the future. Not knowing exactly how things were going to turn out, feeling like the negative things would never get better and that I was destined to live in fear and angst forever, also took me right to the bottle.

So how do you stay mindful and present? I am sure that there are many, many ways to do it. In fact, in treatment we were given a whole list of ideas that work for some people: journal, make gratitude lists, meditate, pray, the list goes on. But for me, what works is as simple as reminding myself that I cannot change the past, I cannot predict the future, and that I am ok, right now. Sometimes I have to do it over and over, because my alcoholic mind still tells me otherwise.

I try not to think about all of the beautiful moments that I missed because I was too caught up in worrying and feeling ashamed about things that had already come to pass, or feeling anxious and fearful about things that hadn’t even happened yet. What I know about now is that I miss far fewer of those beautiful moments. I am able to, most days, focus on the here and now, and feel the peace and joy that those moments bring.