A ketogenic lifestyle solves the problem of knowing what to eat and diminishes feelings of hunger and cravings. But when the weight loss seems to stall and it begins to feel frustrating, that’s when that neglected muscle between our ears needs some attention and TLC. Whether we are busy executives or stay at home moms we are constantly multi-tasking and juggling and worrying about everything that needs to get done.
It’s seems like things were easier to process and manage when we were younger and now it seems more and more difficult to focus and maintain clarity on our lives and our goals. We find that our emotional, mental and physical well being begins to suffer as do our relationships and productivity. Part of that stems from the “ghosts” of our pasts that come along and preoccupy our minds with the could of’s, should of’s and would of’s along with the worry of the future of everything that needs to be done.
We worry and over analyze the possible end of the world effects of what happens if everything doesn’t get done. The inability to control our thought patterns appears to weaken our mental ability to focus. As we get older the problem gets more difficult as the chatter of the voices gets louder. If you have ever tried to sit for 5 minutes you know what I mean.
Humor me, and close your eyes and take a deep breath. Just sit for a moment and be aware of what is running through your head. It may sound like this: “I can’t forget to pick up the kids. Did I feed the cat? I need to put the laundry in the dryer. I hope somebody emailed the CEO… on and on and on… until you get to this one. “This is just stupid. Why am I sitting here. I have things to do. I’m done! I’m not just going to sit here.” Some of us think that hearing voices only belongs to crazy people.
Well I hate to break it to you, but we must all be crazy because we all have it. It’s the people who don’t admit they are crazy are the ones I worry about. But we have a constant chatter in our heads that prevents us from being fully present. Many people suffer from anxiety, depression and other disorders simply because they are unable to control their mind. For many people, sitting still can be extremely painful.
We live in a world of constant stimulation. We are not a culture that typically sits and daydreams. If we are standing in line we are constantly entertained by our smartphones and communication. The thought of sitting still is an uncomfortable place to be. Agonized by feelings or wasting time or looking ridiculous. Stephen Pressfield writes in the War of Art, “Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” He refers to a writer. The one who torments him or herself to push through resistance and actually sit and write. That writer’s block stems from a fear of uncovering the creativity that not only should be released but wants to be released.
But our internal fears and voices create the resistance that prevents us from pursuing our craft. The same reference can be made to weight loss. How many of you have been tortured by the voices? The voices that prevent us from living at our best? That prevent us from making the right choices that move us in the direction of our goals. To walk away from the cupcake or put the leash on the dog and get moving.
How about the thoughts that prevent us from being connected with people we care about. How many times have you sat with someone and had to ask them to repeat themselves because your mind wandered off. People who suffer from anxiety, obesity and sometimes depression are inundated by the snowball effect of thoughts that build upon one another like a scab until the reality of the present moment has left them and they are utterly distracted by the what if’s of the future of the ghosts that haunt them from the past.
So why meditation?
Personally, I have never had the discipline to sit every day in meditation. Believe me I would like to and I am working towards it. They call it a meditation “practice” for a reason. I have often used meditation as a tool to quiet my anxiety and calm my mind. I taught it to my daughter who would have fears when she went to bed or anxiety prior to a golf tournament. The ability to just be still and breathe was really helpful.
So why does it feel like such nonsense to so many people? Meditation has been practiced and is a huge part of the Eastern spiritual culture. Most Westerners and Christians are afraid or perhaps just leary of meditation. Most of us are afraid of what we don’t understand. Meditation began thousands of years ago when Buddha promised that meditation could eliminate the suffering caused by the untamed mind.
Some people are concerned that meditation is a trance, and some just consider it a waste of time. One of things I was taught was Prayer is the act of speaking – Meditation is the act of listening. And meditation required the discipline and the willingness to be in devotion with God. I really liked this. There was something peaceful and spiritually rewarding to know that with all the busyness in my life that I could devote 15 minutes a day to connect and be still with something much greater than me.
I have spent several days at a yoga/meditation retreat where I was introduced to the meditation practice. I’ve also spent 5 days at a Buddhist monastery retreat called “How You Do Anything Is How You Do Everything”. I revered these 5 days of mindfulness and meditation and was surprised that I experienced 5 FULL days. Not busy days, where I was left with thinking “Where did the time go?” but more of the feeling of I enjoyed every minute of my days. We didn’t sit all day in a room with our legs crossed mindlessly chanting. Movement was a meditation.
From walking, to hand washing to eating – you were taught to be mindful of each transition in your day. Which brought about a feeling of being present instead of the rushing of having to wash your hands to get onto the next thing you have to get done. Now granted, we had no cell phones, no computers and we spent much of our day in silence so what else is there to do? Exactly! It taught me how to be present.
And it isn’t easy. We are driven by a culture to get things done and most of us are driven by our to do list for other people. A boss, a spouse, our children and we neglect the awareness of how we caring for ourselves because we are so distracted by everything outside of us. Meditation provides you to look inward without looking for anything. Your attention turns from your endless to do list toward the rhythm of your breath, and you feel more peaceful than you did before you began. The struggle is finding time and being still. The reward is:
✓ Focus and concentration improve
✓ Better attention span
✓ More compassionate
✓ Handle stress better
✓ More creative
✓ Ability to problem solve
✓ Ability to find calm in the storm
✓ Improved relationships
✓ Better sex-life
Western science is now concluding from research that meditation actually restructures the brain. After years of thinking the maturity of the brain is maxed out in the twenties, new studies are proving the brain is able to produce new neurons and create new grey matter. Eileen Luders, an assistant professor at the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine, looks for evidence that meditation changes the physical structure of the brain.
“Today we know that everything we do and every experience we have, actually changes the brain.” She has found several differences between the brains of meditators and non-meditators. Luders and her colleagues compared the brains of 22 meditators and 22 age-matched non-meditators and discovered that the meditators had more gray matter in regions of the brain that are important for attention, emotional regulation, and mental flexibility.
So How Do I Get Started?
Willingness… It’s that easy. It doesn’t require a lot of time or expertise – just the willingness to change your life for the better. You make the choice and you make the commitment. You grant yourself a “mind-cation” Time off from the to-do lists, appointments, stresses, emailing, tweeting and posting. You instead choose stillness, relaxation and commit to being in THIS moment. It’s not going to cost you anything except for the benefits you are going to miss out on.
- Set a timer for the same time everyday. Whether you make it a regular part of your morning routine or a midday break set aside 10-15 minutes to start.
- Dedicate a space that is identified as sacred to your meditation. It may include a candle or flowers or simply an undisturbed room in your home or office free from interruptions.
- Sit comfortably on the floor or in a chair. If you choose the floor, place a pillow underneath your hips to elevate them above your ankles and your ankles are comfortable criss crossed in front of you. If you choose a chair, sit with your feet flat on the floor. Either position your hands will be easily resting on your legs and your posture will be straight. In the beginning, if you are on the floor you can use a wall for support to keep your back straight. The helps to keep the energy flowing and prevent the dozing off state.
- Close your eyes and lift your gaze to the center of your forehead. Rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth directly behind your front teeth. Take a deep breath in through your nose for a count of five, hold for a count of five and release through your mouth for a count of five.
- Begin relaxing your body by starting at the top of your head and working your way down with each exhale.
When your mind starts to wander – AND IT WILL! Notice the thoughts as if you are just observing them floating by and go back to the breath. This is you training your brain. You are letting your mind know that you are in control. It doesn’t happen immediately.
It takes PRACTICE. Note the feel of the breath… the cool air on the inhale as it enters your body and the warmth of the exhale. The chatter IS going to be loud and incessant. The voices don’t want you to succeed at this. You must be willing to push through the resistance in order to reap the rewards. If God is an important part of your life, you may want to deepen the spiritual connection.
Sometimes I will repeat this mantra when my mind starts to wander is “Be still and know that I am God” and I focus on my breathing. To come out of the meditation, take a deep breath in and gently let it out. Bringing your awareness to your location. Before I open my eyes I spend a minute saying a prayer of gratitude and love.
Just seems like a nice way to wrap things up. Meditation doesn’t have to be weird. I think we can make it sexy and sassy. I think it can help us to overcome some of the obstacles in our lives that seem to be beating us down and I believe efforts of discipline are rewarded.