Mod 2: Exercises


So, I’d like to share a couple of tools that you can utilize to get better at controlling your experience of your life. Both work in different contexts to help you be more in tune with your thoughts and how they are shaping your perceptions and emotions.

Exercise 1:  S.T.O.P.

STOP is a wonderful little technique with four steps, each starting with a letter in the word “stop.” Here are the steps:

STOP — Pause your thinking, and whatever you’re doing, for just a second.

TAKE a few deep breaths. Before you resume anything, breathe. Don’t think about what’s happening to you, or how you’re feeling, or what you’re thinking. Those things can wait the few seconds that this step will take. Focus only on your breathing and how it feels.

OBSERVE what is happening. Now you can ask yourself, what exactly are you feeling and thinking? Give it a name: fear, guilt, confusion, anger, panic, whatever it is. Don’t try to force it away, don’t judge it, just look at it with gentle curiosity so you can identify it.

PROCEED — Carry on with the moment.

You’ll be surprised how often doing this enables you to create a space, a break in the cycle between thoughts and feelings. How does that cycle work?stopillustration

But the STOP exercise breaks the chain between steps 2 and 3. And in doing so, it keeps the pain from escalating into a freakout. It can even create enough of a wedge that the pain is diminished, especially if you insert more positive thinking at step 3.

For example:  You see a text has come through on your phone from your narc. Your instantaneous response is to feel a wave of panic and dread fill your belly. Without STOP, the next step will likely be something like you think, “Oh god–he’s going to yell at me, he’s going to make me cry, what did I do? Why can’t he just leave me alone, I can’t take this, it’s going to kill me!” You listen to yourself create a scene in which he’s mean, you cry, you feel helpless, you have a breakdown. Looking at that scene upsets you even more. By the time you look at the text, you are in full freakout mode and it doesn’t even matter what the text turns out to be.

With STOP, you feel the wave of panic and dread. You pause, take a deep breath, and think about how that breath feels filling your lungs, how the air feels coming into your nose, then you exhale and notice how that is, and you repeat that a few times. Then you turn your attention to your body. You acknowledge the fear in your gut. You think, “Well, that’s natural, I don’t know what this text will say, and based on experience, I fear it will be abusive.” You extend a little tenderness to yourself, understanding you’ve been a victim and it’s natural to have fear. Then you think about what the text really is and isn’t: It’s a digital message you can do with as you see fit, it’s not a man with a club threatening your life. You recognize that you have the wherewithal to do what you need to do after reading the text.

It may amaze you how that pause, that reflection on your breathing, is actually enough to help you react completely differently to the very same stimuli than you would without practicing STOP. It really can make the difference between a freakout and a completely tolerable reaction.

Next time you’re hit with one of those nasty triggers that are part of the life of a narc’s victim, give STOP a try. And it can help a lot in any situation when you feel negative emotion kicking in. It’s not at all wrong to feel negative emotions—they are a natural part of the life of every human being—but reducing the fight or flight narrative these feelings provoke can help make us more stable, like that cat who doesn’t run under the bed at the thought of a vacuum cleaner.

Exercise 2: Introduction to meditation

Let me start by saying, when I first starting studying and employing mindfulness, I encountered a lot of mention of the importance and relevance of meditation to better mental health. I was fairly resistant to the idea, thinking that I wouldn’t be able to do it, or it would take too much time, or it wouldn’t make much difference.

I happened to hear via a Facebook friend that Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey were offering a free 21-day meditation program online. Having had my resistance chipped away for months by all the authorities recommending meditation, I decided this might be a good way to give it a try.

The program was great for introducing me to how to meditate and the effects of the practice became evident almost immediately. By the end of the three weeks I liked it so much I considered it a joy to have in my life rather than any kind of chore.

(If you want to keep tabs on the next offering of a free meditation challenge occurs, follow Chopra Center Meditation on Facebook.)

Why meditation is way easier than you think

Some of the reasons you’ve avoided meditation may include these misconceptions about it:

  1. You have to have monk-like discipline to pull it off.
  2. It only works if you do it for hours.
  3. You need to sit in an uncomfortable position to do it right.
  4. It requires some sort of holy space to do it.
  5. The results are some New Age-y kind of transcendence that seems weird.

Wrong on all counts. Here are four simple reasons why it’s no hassle at all to meditate:

  1. It’s as easy to do as breathing.
  2. You can’t possibly fail at it.
  3. Even ten minutes a day suffices for it to make a difference.
  4. You can do it anywhere, in any position.

And I assure you, nothing weird happens. Sometimes you experience some really cool things, sometimes you don’t, but it’s never scary or freaky and it really doesn’t matter how it makes you feel at the time…it’s still working.

Five simple elements to meditation

So little is required to meditate, it’s possible you may have done it more than once without realizing it. At any rate, the technique is simple.

  1. Find a comfortable spot, bed or chair or cushion, where there are few distractions.

It helps also to be dressed comfortably and have the room not too warm or cold. Distant sounds like traffic outside, or nature sounds like birds or the wind aren’t a problem, but do try to be in a place where it’s basically quiet and no one will interrupt you.

  1. Lie down or sit up straight, and close your eyes.

You can have the bed, chair, or pillow support you, or sit up without support if that works for you. Traditional meditation involves sitting up erect and cross legged on a cushion, but you don’t have to do it this way. Closing your eyes limits distractions.

  1. Center yourself in your body.

By this I mean something akin to what you experienced in the body scan in Mod 1. Do a quick scan of your body, simply being aware of the feeling of being inside your own skin, of occupying space with your physical self.

  1. Breathe naturally and normally, focusing your attention on your breath.

You don’t have to force your breath to be any way other than how it wants to flow. You may be inclined to breathe deeply and slowly, which is good, but don’t do anything that feels forced or unnatural. Notice the sensations of breathing: the expansion of the chest, the sensation of it filling with air, the contraction, the expelling. Or, you can notice the movement of air in and out of your nostrils. Concentrate on the experience of breathing, and clear your mind of anything else.

  1. Let thoughts come and go without letting your attention be carried with them.

The goal of meditation is to focus on the breath rather than thinking and day-dreaming. That said, the brain is designed to think, and as long as we’re alive, it will do so. The thing about meditating is, you increase your awareness that thoughts happen and your mastery of how far they can carry you away.

And that’s it! Those are the full instructions, and as you can see, they are quite simple. You can perform this process for a minute or an hour or anywhere in between, and you will benefit from it.

But I can’t stop thinking!

I’d like to elaborate a bit on step 5, which of course is the part of meditation that most often gets people hung up.

The typical train of thought of the meditator goes something like this:

“Breathing in…breathing out…breathing in…breathing out… breathing in…breathing out…breathing in…breathing out… breathing in…breathing out…I wonder what I should wear today, it’s supposed to be cold again…why has this spring been so cold?…what if it’s cold for my sister’s wedding?…I told her it was too early to have an outdoor ceremony…but she never listens…so exasperating…oh crap, I’m not meditating! This is too hard, I suck.”

This meditator does not suck, this meditator is human. Not only that, this meditator is meditating quite successfully! Because she suddenly noticed she was thinking! In regular life, we very seldom notice that we’re thinking. The goal of meditation is not to stop thinking—that’s impossible. The goal is to be aware that we’re having the thoughts. And also to avoid attaching to them, or letting them dictate to us.

So, at the “oh crap, I’m not meditating” moment (which happens to me like 394 times a week), you don’t move on to “This is too hard, I suck,” but rather return to “breathing in…breathing out…” In other words:

  • Recognize you were having a thought
  • Give yourself a quick tiny pat on the back for noticing
  • Let the thought fade from view like a passing car, completely without judgment
  • Go back to focusing on the breath

I personally think that the process of getting better at meditation is simply getting better at noticing you’re thinking. Like maybe you notice at the “why has this spring been so cold” mark rather than the “so exasperating” mark. When that happens, you’re improving at being aware of your own thoughts, and being aware of your thoughts is what gives you the big boost in controlling your perception of your life.

Types of meditation

There are numerous ways to categorize meditation, which has been around for thousands of years and ranges from the spiritual techniques of ancient Buddhism and Hinduism, all the way to secular approaches developed during the past 50 years. I’m making up my own list here, for what it’s worth. This is far from a complete list, but includes some basic types that you can start practicing whenever you see fit.

Breathing meditation (MBSR)

The process I described above is a basic breathing meditation with body awareness, the style of meditation most closely associated with Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. It’s a great technique because you can do it anywhere, for any length of time, with no equipment necessary. Your breath is always there, ready to be the focus.

Meditation with a mantra

A mantra is a word or phrase, in your own language or perhaps traditional Sanskrit, with a significant spiritual meaning (spiritual, but not affiliated with any particular dogma). As you breathe in your meditation, you repeat the mantra silently to yourself. You focus on the breath and the mantra.

I personally (maybe because I’m a writer and love words) find it easier to focus on a mantra than just my breathing. I like the simple mantra “so-hum,” which is used very frequently. The Sanskrit word translates to “I am that,” meaning something like “I exist, I’m here, right here and right now,” so it is a very in-the-now, mindful expression. The “so” fits very well with the in breath, and the “hum” likewise works well with the out breath.

Guided meditation

I feel that guided meditation is a wonderful thing, especially when the meditation is led by a really wise, loving, experienced teacher. My personal favorites for guided meditations are Deepak Chopra and Tara Brach, but you will find countless recordings online of all sorts of lengths by all sorts of people, so you can seek out your own inspiring favorites.

In guided meditation, the recorded voice gives you gentle prompts and instructions—like I did in the body scan audio—to direct your thoughts to certain ideas, concepts or images. There will be a theme to the meditation, like lovingkindness, or peace of mind, or finding meaning in your life. Typically you can, in your mental response to the suggestions, personalize the experience to your particular personality and current life. The guided meditation may also include periods of silence for focusing on breathing or holding a certain thought or image. It may also feature soothing music or sounds, which can be therapeutic as well. (It’s okay also to focus on the music or sounds if that works for you—meaning letting it carry you along, not meaning creating great narratives like “this reminds me of that Mahler piece I studied in college, what was that prof’s name again?”…etc.)

Each of the seven mods in the Lucy Rising program includes a guided meditation, and you can access them all in one place on the Meditations page. They are offered in both YouTube and SoundCloud versions, which have the same audio. The difference is just that the former has a few visual images too, and the latter is audio only.

For some good apps to use for guided meditation, see the Resources page.

Yoga

Most people think of yoga as exercise for the body, not the mind or soul. But it’s original and essential purpose was to use movements of the body to aid the mind in becoming more disciplined, focused and peaceful.

I was as resistant to yoga originally as I was to meditation. No, actually more so. But as part of my MBSR training I had to start regular yoga practice, and I quickly found it actually one of the best ways to meditate and be mindful of my body.

This type of yoga is always done in a way that, although sometimes a bit challenging, is never painful or exhausting. It’s not a “workout,” in that way; the goal is not to push yourself too hard physically. It feels great because it releases tension and stress from the body, relaxes it and balances it. It is, compared to say, breathing or mantra meditation, quite easy to put your attention where it should be, on the poses and your body. When you’re anxious or stressed out or otherwise out-of-sorts, it can be just the ticket.

I recommend at some point in Lucy Rising program you try out the two excellent MBSR yoga videos I used in my own training. They are each about 35 minutes long, but if you don’t have that much time, just move along with Dr. Rossy for as much time as you have available.

MBSR Yoga 1

MBSR Yoga 2

Walking Meditation

Speaking of involving your body, walking meditation is another way to bring mind and body both to the task of increasing your awareness. We’ll address this type in detail in the Mod 5 exercises, but suffice it to say, focusing your attention on feelings of walking, or on your surroundings if you are in a peaceful, natural setting is another great way to meditate.

Benefits of meditation

There are countless lists of the benefits of meditating, some 8 items long, some 26 items long, etc.! In recent years much scientific research has been devoted to exploring how regular meditation affects mental, emotional and physical health, and the results are staggeringly in favor of the practice. Here’s a short list of how science has demonstrated meditation will benefit you:

  • Reduces the destructive effects of stress
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Alleviates insomnia
  • Improves focus and concentration
  • Improves brain function and memory
  • Slows mental aging
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Boosts cardiovascular health

So I guess you can stop wondering why I include a guided meditation with every mod in the Lucy Rising program!

And without further ado, let’s get to the Mod 2 Meditation

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