20 tips for a happy retirement. #14 – Practise mindfulness!

I’ve been thinking about taking up meditation, I figure it’s better than sitting around doing nothing!

Popular misconceptions are that mediation is about emptying one’s mind and thinking of nothing at all and why would you want mindfulness when your head is already full with stuff?

Well hopefully you will learn something and possibly get some benefit at whatever end of the spectrum you are currently at!

It can be easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much.Paying more attention to the present moment, to your own thoughts and feelings and to the world around you can improve your mental wellbeing. It’s NOT a religion and it can be self taught although probably best to get some direction and guidance at some point, there is plenty of guided meditations on YouTube etc. Meditation is for everyone, the healthy and the sick, the depressed and those full of life, the evidence suggests that everyone has the capacity to benefit as it’s all about YOU and noticing what is going on around YOU by noticing the everyday!

“Even as we go about our daily lives, we can notice the sensations of things, the food we eat, the air moving past the body as we walk,” says Professor Williams. “All this may sound very small, but it has huge power to interrupt the ‘autopilot’ mode we often engage day to day, and to give us new perspectives on life.”

Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.

“It’s easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour,” he says.

“An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs.

“Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment.

“It’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.”

So let’s get straight to it!  

  1. If possible sit up straight and relaxed in a straight-backed chair with your feet planted on the floor. If sitting is uncomfortable or you prefer lie on the floor or even on your bed. Allow your arms and hands to be as relaxed as possible, many prefer to lay their hands across the lap or down by your sides if lying down.
  1. Close your eyes, relax and focus on your breathing as your breath flows into and out of your body. Focus on the sensations as you draw air IN through the nose and OUT through your mouth, down your throat and into your lungs. Feel the expansion and subsiding of your chest and belly as you breathe. Focus your awareness on where the sensations are strongest. Stay in contact with each in-breath and each out-breath. Observe it without trying to alter it in any way or expecting anything special to happen.

  1. When your mind wanders, gently shepherd it back to the breath. Don’t worry, minds do wander and it’s the act of recognising that the mind has wandered and encouraging it to return to focus on the breath is key to the practice of mindfulness.
  1. Your mind may eventually calm but will in all likelihood this will be short lived but with practice one can remain calm for longer. Thoughts or powerful emotions may enter your mind simply observe without reacting to your experience or trying to change anything. Gently return you awareness back to the sensations of the breath again and again.
  1. After a few minutes, or longer if you prefer, gently open your eyes and take in your surroundings. Sometimes a timer or alarm is useful so that you have one less thing to think about for 5 minutes!

What are the benefits of meditation?

The Mental Health Foundation supports mindfulness as a tool to help you live your life, improve general wellbeing and treat depression. Evidence shows that it can help with a number of problems, such as recurrent depression, anxiety disorders, addictive behaviour, chronic pain and many more mental and physical problems.

NICE, the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, has recommended that Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy is an option offered to prevent relapse for people who are currently well but who have experienced recurrent depression. Your doctor would need to decide if the therapy is suitable for your situation before offering access to the treatment.

Meditation is also recommended by Cancer Research UK as a popular and useful form of complementary therapy, because it can help people with cancer cope with problems such as pain, difficulty sleeping, tiredness, feeling sick and high blood pressure.

Keep it regular

It can be helpful to pick a regular time – the morning journey to work or a walk at lunchtime – during which you decide to be aware of the sensations created by the world around you.

Try something new

Trying new things, such as sitting in a different seat in meetings or going somewhere new for lunch, can also help you notice the world in a new way.

Watch your thoughts

“Some people find it very difficult to practice mindfulness. As soon as they stop what they’re doing, lots of thoughts and worries crowd in,” says Professor Williams.

“It might be useful to remember that mindfulness isn’t about making these thoughts go away, but rather about seeing them as mental events.

“Imagine standing at a bus station and seeing ‘thought buses’ coming and going without having to get on them and be taken away. This can be very hard at first, but with gentle persistence it is possible.

“Some people find that it is easier to cope with an over-busy mind if they are doing gentle yoga or walking.”

Name thoughts and feelings

To develop an awareness of thoughts and feelings, some people find it helpful to silently name them: “Here’s the thought that I might fail that exam”. Or, “This is anxiety”.

Free yourself from the past and future

You can practise mindfulness anywhere, but it can be especially helpful to take a mindful approach if you realise that, for several minutes, you have been “trapped” in reliving past problems or “pre-living” future worries.

Give yourself a break and think positively about yourself and others with Loving Kindness Meditation – 7 Benefits

This is from https://positivepsychology.com/loving-kindness-meditation/ and there is plenty more on their site.

Repeating kind words to ourselves such as “May you be well,” “May you be happy,” “May you be healthy,” etc., infuse a deep sense of self-worth instantaneously. During loving-kindness meditation, all we need to do is commit to some dedicated moments of appreciation, gratitude, and encouragement, first to ourselves and then to others.

The practice has a long-lasting impact on our mind and our body and kick-starts a ripple effect of positivity that is truly empowering. Some of the proven benefits of loving-kindness meditation include:

1. Less self-criticism

There is hardly any space left for self-criticism and self-harm once we commit to loving-kindness meditation. The method quietens our inner critic and makes us more self-accepting than ever (Frederickson, 2001).

2. More positive emotions

Studies have shown that regular practice of loving-kindness meditation increases vagal tone, a physiological marker of subjective well-being. The positivity loving-kindness meditation generates inside, attracts positive energy from the outside, and improves the quality of life and life satisfaction permanently (Kok et al., 2013).

3. Lesser self-destructive thoughts

Research has shown that seven weeks of unfiltered LKM practice induces joy, gratitude, care, and hope. Individuals with suicidal tendencies and borderline personality traits showed a marked reduction in their self-harming impulses and manifested an overall decrease in the negative symptoms (Fredrickson, Coffey, Finkel, Cohn, Pek, 2008).

4. Reduced pain symptoms

Pilot studies on patients with chronic back pain and migraine showed that when they practiced loving-kindness meditation for brief periods of 2-5 minutes per day, they showed a remarkable reduction in the pain symptoms and could accomplish their daily tasks with more ease and comfort (Tonelli et al., 2014, Carson et al., 2005).

5. More resilience

A study on people with long-term PTSD showed that engaging in deep, meaningful compassion and self-love meditations reduced the trauma and flashback episodes. Control studies showed that groups that received loving-kindness meditation scripts during their sessions could resume work sooner than participants who received other forms of guided instructions (Kearney et al., 2013).

6. Long-term benefits

Studies on the after-effects of loving-kindness meditation showed that individuals who attended the sessions felt positive and self-motivated for up to 15 months post-intervention. Compared with other meditation practices and self-help tools, loving-kindness reflection created more affection and empathy for strangers and social connections at work (Seppala and Gross, 2008).

7. Faster recovery

Clinical population such as people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders manifested a marked reduction in negative symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions when they practiced loving-kindness meditation individually or in groups. Besides positivity and symptom reduction, the practice also improved their judgment towards others they live or work with (Johnson et al., 2011).

How to Best Practice Loving Kindness Meditation

Besides the regular benefits of meditation, including awareness, mental peace, and focus, loving-kindness meditators enjoy added advantages of increased happiness, love, and affection. What’s more, the practice is uber flexible and straightforward, which expands its accessibility over a wide range of settings – personal, professional, and spiritual (Salzberg, 2008).

Although there are no right or wrong ways of practicing loving-kindness, as long as we are committed to unconditional love and self-appreciation, here are some requisites of practicing LKM every day:

  • Carve out some time from your daily schedule and commit to loving-kindness during those minutes every day. Even a small break at work would work fine. The key is a consistent commitment to Metta meditation during a particular time of the day.
  • Start with yourself. Using yourself as the subject, show all your love and care to the self in the first few sessions. Repeat praise words and blessings like “May I be well,” “May I be healthy,” “May I be at peace,” etc., and try to notice what changes within you after each session.
  • Set a timer for two minutes when you begin meditating. As you progress and get a firmer grasp of it, increase the time and practice accordingly. Having a timer in the first place prevents distractions or over-worrying about the minutes of training. When you utter the kind words to yourself, make sure you listen to yourself and internalize the meaning of the words. For example, try to imagine what it means to be at peace when you repeat the words ‘May you be at peace,’ or try to understand how safe you feel when you say the words ‘May you be safe,’ etc..
  • Once you get the hang of self-oriented LKM, your goal would be to direct the same love and kindness to others through the Metta practice, including friends, family, relatives, or colleagues.
  • After each meditation session, it is vital to spare a few minutes for recapitulating the experience. You can maintain a journal for recording how you felt before, after, and during the meditation session. Sharing the feelings helps in enhancing awareness about how the meditation helped you and provides enthusiasm to continue practicing in the future.
  • The final and an essential requisite of the loving-kindness practice is subjective comfort. Unless you feel comfortable with your body, your mind, and the environment where you are practicing, you cannot fully immerse into the meditative flow. Some comfort factors include:
    • Choosing the posture for meditating.
    • Regulating the amount of light that is in the room. A moderately illuminated place is preferable.
    • Minimizing the amount of noise around – less noise is ideal for any meditation session.
    • Wearing comfortable clothes – light and stretchy clothing can give you more comfort while sitting for long durations.
    • Preventing distractions – including TV, mobile phone, speaker, computer, or other gadgets. It is a good idea to keep them away during the meditation session.

Some common phrases used in Loving-Kindness Meditation:

Self-Oriented Loving-Kindness Phrases
1. May I be strong.
2. May I have the power to accept and forgive.
3. May I live and die in peace.
4. May I be safe.
5. May I love and appreciate others boundlessly.
Loving-Kindness Meditation Phrases for Others
1. May you be safe.
2. May you live long.
3. May you achieve what you want and deserve in life.
4. May you have the power to accept your anger and sadness.
5. May you be healthy and happy always.

OK, let’s get real, meditation isn’t for everyone and some say a snooze by the fireside dreaming away is just as relaxing but surely it’s worth a try? What have you got to lose? Since it’s focusing on YOU the benefits are mainly for oneself, however the added value is that those around you may well benefit too – everyone’s a winner! But if it’s not for you try this…

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