Friday, February 14, 2020

Mind Over Matter: 21 Days of Meditation


Monkey Mind is a Buddhist term meaning "unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable".

Have you ever noticed your mind's thoughts as you're driving alone in your car?  Or as you're lying in bed trying to fall asleep? Really, any moment of the day, I can find my brain zipping from one random thought to another. Like a monkey swinging from thought branch to thought branch. My yoga teacher termed this as having a "monkey mind."

Thoughts that bounce from one random thing to another tends to be the norm in this day and age. I have found that while I actually thrived on that mentality for most of my life (feeling like I was more accomplished juggling all these thoughts into some sort of coherence day in and day out), I now am so overwhelmed with my foggy fibro mind that I find myself frozen in anxiety.

The more I study about how the mind works, the more I am coming to understand that I have been yanked around by my thoughts for a good portion of my life.  In the past few years, I found myself being physically pulled from one thing to another right along with my thoughts which lead me to a state of panic. In the journey to rewire my overactive nervous system, I have come to realize that meditation is the missing link. As a meditation teacher and researcher Dr. John Kabatt explains, “Most people don’t realize that the mind constantly chatters. And yet, that chatter winds up being the force that drives us much of the day in terms of what we do, what we react to, and how we feel.” 

21 Days of Meditation

I've been meditating every day for 30 minutes at least once a day for 21 days. As explained in my post Up the Air: Struggles with Flying, Fibro Flare, and Acceptance, I am going through the Mindfully Based Stress Reduction 8-week course online through https://palousemindfulness.com/.  David Potter shares this free course, based on Dr. John Kabat Zinn's program at UMass Medical School.

Dave Potter is a certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction instructor 
and received his training through UMass Medical School where
 Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Center for Mindfulness. 

The program's format makes this teacher's heart smile.  It's easy to understand and all the resources are accessible and meaningful.  While it's all on-line, everything other than video and audio files can be printed to keep in a binder (which is what Dave suggests doing).  I have made a digital binder that I will share here.  It's view only, but you could make a copy of what I"ve done.  I'm finishing week-3.  I decided to do week-2 twice because I had a flare during the first go-round and felt it would be beneficial to continue it for one more week.




You may click through the pages of 
the digital notebook that I've created.
 I am adding on as I go through the program.

Course Overview:

Week 1: Simple Awareness




I watched all the video links basically in one sitting; I was excited to get started. I printed out the formal practice and informal practice so that I could begin.  The first week David talks you through a guided body scan.  There are two versions one of 32 minutes and one of 20 minutes.  However, the research that showed good results was at least 30 minutes a day, so I did that one.  

At first, I did the body scan in my bed.  I was familiar with doing the scan because of previous experiences during yoga classes and other video-guided body scans. The main difference I found from this one was there was no mention of relaxing or releasing, just noticing how you were feeling.  It is suggested that you do this and all meditations when you are alert, so if you're really ready to drift off, this would not be the way to go about it.  

I did have a couple of sessions when I would blank out on whole sections of the body.  I would be "focusing" on my ankle and the next thing I notice I was to be focusing on my belly.  So, those times, I didn't count towards my half-hour.  I really enjoy the laying when I'm meditating.  I find I don't grip in my body as much.  Also, I used a blue-tooth eye mask or flax-seed eye pillow to help my eyelids relax. (Does anyone else have restless eyelids?) 


I purchased both on Amazon.  I like the sleep-mask for listening
to something without bothering someone else.
It's my new favorite thing for air travel. 
The flax seed eye pillow is perfect to rest my eyes,
but only stays on if I'm lying flat.
The biggest take away I got from this first week was that it's natural that our brain goes off every couple of seconds.  So, instead of thinking I'm weak and will never be able to do this, I was told to see each time I noticed that I was thinking about something else to see that as a brain sit-up.  Each noticing and bringing back the focus to my breathing, choosing to focus on my nasal passages as it comes in and out, is strengthening that brain pathway.  This was a HUGE revelation for me and really helped me to enjoy the noticing and coming back to focus.

I did the raisin meditation (which is the slowest way to eat a raisin) about half-way through the week. I found the mindful eating videos in the extra resources very interesting being I feel my eating habits are long ingrained in me through a life-time of school rushed lunches. I also began to realize that I can do anything mindfully.  I've been working on applying that, especially with my driving. (See my post Am I Strong Enough?)

Week 2: Attention and The Brain



This week (which I did twice) was an introduction to sitting meditation.  Which was difficult for me at first because it involved sitting up.  I first did it cross-legged (not a requirement at all) on a chair, but then decided to set up my area downstairs where I do yoga.  I have a bolster which I'm using to sit on (again, not a requirement).

I followed the same way of r
eviewing the videos and articles as in Week 1.  This time, some of the videos that David includes from YouTube lent me to explore other very interesting videos by meditation gurus such as  Shauna Shapiro (Ph.D., is a professor at Santa Clara University, a clinical psychologist) and Sara Lazer (Ph.D. Neuroscientist of yoga and meditation).

A few of the biggest takeaways from this for me so far, is that meditation actually changes the shape of your brain.  It shrinks the amygdala (the fight or flight part of our brain) thus decreasing stress.  Yes, thank you!

Also, I am becoming more comfortable in an upright position when meditating; I'm slowly learning to let go in my body.  I'm even having to actually work on not controlling my breathing. The one thing that is automatic in our functioning, I am trying to control.  After two weeks, the good news is that I am finding moments of pure letting go.


Week 3: Dealing with Thoughts




This week, I have started mindful Hatha Yoga.  This is actually what I practice at the yoga studio I attend Branch Out Yoga.  Joan, my teacher, emphasizes the breath and focus on it during each asana.  However, David requires that we do the two provided videos led by Lynn Rossy, Ph.D.  

Yoga is my jam, so I have been really happy to do this part. My teacher says, "Everything is yoga if done mindfully." So, the idea that we can move mindfully to create an integrated body and mind. One of the harder things I have to deal with is the JUDGE in my mind that comes out as I do yoga.  I strive often to do poses correctly or push my body to get to where it "should" be. 

I'm learning that striving and pushing is not the goal here.  I want to accept me where I am on this day at this moment.  The Judge and Critic are real but not my truth.  I can look at it for what it is, a thought bubble.  By noticing it and labeling it as "Thinking" or "Judging" and then coming back to the senses of the breath and movement, I find that I'm getting stronger at letting them go. 



And so, three weeks in, I'm hopeful.  I had a test today, and I didn't fully pass, but I think I did better than I would have before meditation.  After doing a wonderful sitting meditation, I went to write.  However, my husband was working on getting our tax information ready.  It's more complicated with our retiring and our creating an LLC.  I am the techie for the company.  I created (using YouTube tutorials) a spreadsheet that keeps track of our expenditures, earnings, mileage, and costs for the office space. 

So, when he wanted my help to get it ready, I began to get overwhelmed pretty quickly because he wanted the set up to be different than I had it.  I could feel myself getting roiled up and ready to be snippy with him. However, I worked on remembering the feeling I had just a bit before while meditating and then worked on breathing while I worked on the document preparation. I didn't snip and we got it done without us getting upset with each other.


Describing meditation is difficult.
I guess my best explanation is
 focusing on the senses of the body
in the present moment without getting
swept up in our own story.
Have you ever tried meditation?  I'd love to hear about your thoughts and experiences.  I will share my journey further down the line.  (Boy, I wish I had a brain scanner!)


Thank you for visiting my blog today. 


I am committing to posting once a week on Fridays.  
However, as you know, my new normal means that sometimes 
I have to listen to my body and am not able to follow through as planned.
Thank you for your understanding.

Click link Subscribe to Pain FULLY Living Weekly Posts by Email



Friday, February 7, 2020

What's Good Enough?-Acceptance to Eliminate Shame


My counselor gave me this question to think on 
after we discussed my recent two-week fibro flare.


So, I have a confession, it's one I'm making to myself and to you if you're reading this.  I am a fair-weather accepter.  I have been working on acceptance of my life with fibromyalgia.  To get there, I have been meditating every day and have gone back to counseling.


I accept that I need to be mindful of my body's needs.  I accept that my days-in and days-out look different from what they had been. I accept that if I'm going to do something, I need to plan ahead by getting rest or packing extra things to bring with me. I accept that I need to bow out sometimes.  I accept that I have to let go of doing everything I'd like in one day. I accept that I need to ask for help.  I accept that I spend much of my day developing my health.

However, after a couple of weeks in a fibro flare, feeling like the power to my brain and body has been cut off and the joint pain of elbows, hips, and knees turned on high, I really, really got discouraged.  Eight days in, I used the word depressed for the first time ever when telling my husband over the phone how I was doing.  

The next day, I went to my counseling appointment.  One thing that stuck with me, as far as acceptance is concerned, is that I've been accepting when things are going fairly well, and during this time, I was frustrated, angry, sad, and depressed due to not being in control at all.  I mean, I've been doing all the good things: yoga, meditation, belly breathing, gratitude, etc., so why this flare for this length of time?

I am coming to understand that I have great anxiety around not being in control.  As I've explained, my childhood was wildly unpredictable and fully out of my control.  Even then, I would play the "mother" to my mom and sister, trying to control the environment and make it all better.  Then, in my adult life, I worked in a field where my classroom was fully under my control. As teachers were taught to think that we could create an environment and expectations that would keep things predictable and moving in a good direction.  And at home, with my own family, I practiced the same mentality.

As I'm beginning to feel better the past couple of days, I began to think about what my counselor asked me to figure out. "What is good enough?" Meaning, these down days, I tend to beat myself up because of everything I want to be doing and be a part of that I'm not. So, instead of that, I would set up my own standard for what is good enough for me. Because it is me alone that is judging me. My norm has always to know what is good and then shoot for higher than that, so not reaching that highest level means complete failure. For the first time, I grasped that there is a good enough level and that it's okay for me if I chose to finally accept it.

Initially, I was thinking it meant I had to determine what was the minimum of things I did that would be acceptable on a down day? Thinking that if I had to lay around, I should have certain things that would make it more enjoyable and use that as my guide of "good enough". 


Down Day List of Special Things only for this time: 


  • Comfy but stylish PJs or outfit, rather than the leggings and beat up sweatshirt I tend to wear because I then feel ugly on the outside and inside.
  • Special books to read or listen to that make me feel like it's a vacation choice
  • A yummy tea in a special cup so I can pretend I'm at a fancy bed and breakfast 
  • A planned menu or special treats that will help me curb from eating the junk I tend to get into when I'm feeling down.
  • Movies, TV shows, comedy shows, and podcasts I could watch or listen to. 

Quickly, though, I realized that while having these things ready would be helpful, I couldn't quantitate "good enough" by what I did. Literally, by Googling "what is good enough", I came to find a talk by Brene Brown whose book I saw sitting on my counselor's shelf but didn't know of her myself. I watched her famous YouTube Ted Talk on Vulnerability, her interview with Russel Brand, her talk about shame, and then her show The Call to Courage on Netflix, all in the same evening. 


Photo by geralt
Shame for not being healthy fuels my struggle with acceptance.

Something she explained about shame really resonated with me. "I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection." I realize that I am ashamed of myself when I'm not healthy. I feel like I'm not doing all that I should to be well. I'm not good enough to figure this out.

I'm currently reading a book, GET BACK INTO WHACK by Sue Ingebretson, who describes her journey with fibromyalgia. She talks about how she came to manage the symptoms and healing. For me, this is what I expect of myself.  I have been diligent in being proactive. And so, I now understand that I feel shame for this flare because it means I didn't do enough or did something wrong. I feel shame for letting my people down.

And so, I realize that I have not accepted that I am vulnerable. I've been determined to outsmart this syndrome. And so, I'm understanding that I am vulnerable, but in the words of Brene Brown, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it's having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it's our greatest measure of courage.”  And by choosing how I respond to these times with self-acceptance and self-love, I do have control over these down days.

My Down Day "Good Enough" barometer:

  • Did I do what I was able to do? 
  • Did I listen to myself and my needs?  
  • Did I appreciate this day that I was given?
  • Was I present in my day?  
  • Did I relish in what I was able to do? 
  • Do I notice what I did (and not what I didn't) do? 

I understand that if I can use this through acceptance, I then release the shame (and all the bad feelings that go along with this) that just heighten the flare into something unbearable.

I'm not giving in.  Just allowing myself to have honor in these down moments. I am enough. I am grateful right now because I am alive.

How do you handle down days?  Do you beat yourself up?  Can you relax into it with acceptance?  Do you have any special protocols you do that help you feel more positive during down days?


Thank you for visiting my blog today. 

I am committing to posting once a week on Fridays.  However,
as you know, my new normal means that sometimes
I have to listen to my body and am not able to follow through as planned.
Thank you for your understanding.

Click link Subscribe to Pain FULLY Living Weekly Posts by Email