Are you sitting in an office right now? When’s the last time you heard someone cough or sneeze—like 5 seconds ago? Exactly!
What do you do if you think you might be coming down with something?
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Maybe it’s because I’m now married, and two people’s schedules make life more complicated. Maybe it’s because I consider my friends part of my family and I want to celebrate with them. Maybe it’s that I live in Minnesota and the cold plus the limited hours of daylight are weighing on me.
Whatever it is, December already seems like an effort. With a different holiday event (or two) every week from now until New Year’s, I’m feeling the stress and tiredness of the season even though we’re just a few days into the last month of the year.
Regardless of the reason, the truth is that I’m not sure how I’m going to make it through all the expectations, the busyness and the sweets that accompany this month. And because of that realization, I’m going to fight back. I’m too young to dread waking up every day and I’m too fortunate not to be celebratory this time of year (or any time of year, for that matter). I’m taking matters into my own hands with four seemingly obvious routines (but it’s always good to have a reminder, right?):
- Sleep. I’ve been drained for the last few months. Like, more tired than I’ve ever been in my life and it’s been hard to pinpoint why. I’ve probably been working and worrying a little too much, but I’ve also been getting up earlier—and not adjusting my bedtime appropriately. My husband sent me this article yesterday and it kind of hit me upside the head. Getting up earlier is only successful when we adjust our whole awake-asleep routines to fill the gap. And because we know sleep is super important (stress management, digestion, weight, headaches, our ability to make sound choices—they’re all impacted by sleep, or lack thereof), I’m making it a priority this month. Even if that means my evenings consist of dinner and a mere half hour of reading before I hit the hay.
- Essential oils. I think we here at NMDL tout the benefits of EOs pretty frequently, but it’s only been in the last nine months that I’ve really experienced their potency. EOs have the best chance of doing their jobs when you inhale them, and I used to find that kind of annoying. Like I’m supposed to carry them around with me and awkwardly sniff them while working at a coffee shop? Yes, yes I am. And it works. Thanks to Susannah’s recommendation, I’ve been carrying a little bottle of my own EO blend (lavender + eucalyptus have been my favorite recently—uplifting, focusing and stress-relieving) with me wherever I go. I feel a little like a crack addict, trying to covertly inhale my concoction in public, and much like when I wear my hair in a topknot, my husband knows I’m stressed when my little bottle comes out, but who cares?
- Avoid sugar. Because of some complications with celiac disease, I’m currently on a no-sugar-including-fruit-and-alcohol diet. And it’s reeeeaaaalllllly hard this time of year. Or when I’m feeling overwhelmed. So then I sneak a piece of dark chocolate… and wake up with a headache and small-eye syndrome (does anyone else get this? It’s not puffy eyes, it’s just the intense feeling that my eyes have shrunk and I’m convinced that the whole world can tell I suddenly have beady, rat eyes. No? Just me and my sister?). So, even though this feels like the season to indulge, I’m doing my best to restrain, replacing those sugar cravings with lemon water and peppermint essential oil. I know I’ll feel more awake, more balanced and more able to tackle the world of holiday parties when I do.
- Indulge in self-care. Another thing I think we do well here at NMDL is self-care. Well, we do a good job of talking about self-care and its necessity. Usually, when stress levels are high and schedules are busy, the first thing to go from my life is taking care of myself. This month, instead of cutting those precious moments of relaxation out of day, I’m deliberately putting more time into my self-care routine, even if that’s just taking an extra 10 minutes to do a face mask in the morning before work. But usually it’s doing a face mask while taking a bath (after doing a long round of dry brushing and self-massage) and watching Gilmore Girls.
That’s it. Those are the four things I’m declaring to do to keep myself sane this year. What do you do to cope with holiday stressors?
It’s been nearly 2 weeks since we began our Meditation Challenge (tomorrow is the last day!). We hope you’ve been following along and enjoying this challenge. We’ve highlighted some tips an effort to help you build a practice that feels attainable and rewarding. For me personally, using essential oils in my practice has made getting into the habit of meditating daily much easier.
Hope Gillerman, our Meditation Challenge sponsor, had some wonderful advice on incorporating essential oils into meditation earlier this week. I’d like to expand on that here and suggest that many of you may already have some common essential oils in your home that you can use for meditation. Essential oils have countless applications and last forever, so they are a great investment. I purchased my first bottles years ago to make my own cleaning supplies, and now I regularly blend perfumes, aromatherapy treatments, and bath soaks. I grew familiar with their meditative properties well before I ever considered actually meditating.
Lavender, eucalyptus, and rosemary are three common essential oils that can be used for meditation. I chose them for this post because you may already have them on hand, or you can easily find them at your local natural health foods market. They aren’t traditionally thought of for meditation in the same way that frankincense or sandalwood is, but they work! Here are some reasons why…
Lavender essential oil is renowned for bringing calm and composure to stressed minds. The cooling and relaxing qualities of lavender benefit those who struggle with general unrest and irritability. It calms and stabilizes, and helps maintain overall mental-emotional equilibrium. If you feel agitated going into meditation, reach for the lavender essential oil. If you are dealing with strong emotions that threaten to pull you out of the moment during meditation, reach for lavender. If you’re looking for one big chill pill, yep — reach for lavender.
Eucalyptus essential oil works wonders for the respiratory system. With an unparalleled ability to decongest and clear the lungs, eucalyptus is both stimulating and soothing. It improves breathing and opens the chest in a way that makes your lungs feel as if they are twice as large. Want to breathe deeply or alleviate tightness of the chest? Eucalyptus oil is your new best friend. Eucalyptus oil also has an opening effect on the mind and spirit. It can help promote within oneself a wider perspective on life. Eucalyptus oil is penetrating and cleansing, and it helps to dispel any stagnant feelings that keep you bound up and limited.
Rosemary essential oil is energizing and increases the flow of the blood, especially to the brain, so you wouldn’t normally think of it for meditation. However, its ability to enhance concentration and focus plus alleviate mental fatigue go hand-in-hand with meditation. Rosemary is a strong, fortifying aromatic. It warms the spirit and helps boost the confidence of those who lack faith in their own potential. Feeling a lack of confidence in your meditation practice? Try adding rosemary essential oil to the mix. It will promote a presence of mind and a sense of identity that greatly aids meditation.
How to use essential oils for meditation…
Direct palm inhalation is the easiest way to incorporate essential oils into meditation, but diffusers are wonderful, too. At the beginning of your meditation practice, add one drop of essential oil to the palm of your hand. Rub your palms together and cup them over your nose. Breathe in and out slowly and intentionally for 10 breathes. As you breathe, count to five with each inhale and exhale or use your mantra to guide your breath. You can return your hands to your nose at any point during meditation, but if you sit with your palms facing up you will likely continue to smell the essential oils throughout your practice. Cautionary note: don’t use more than a drop or two, and avoid citrus oils or other essential oils that are irritating to the skin undiluted.
Do you use essential oils or perhaps incense during meditation? What are your favs?
We asked Hope Gillerman, founder of H. Gillerman Organics, to partner with us for the NMDL Meditation Challenge because of her powerful work with essential oils. Funny story — as we gathered around her table at A Night For Green Beauty last August, Hope let us smell a new blend she’d been working on. When Alexandra smelled it she said, “Whoa — that blend smells like meditation.” Then Hope showed her the label on the bottle… it was literally called MEDITATION. Naturally, we thought of H. Gillerman Organics when we started brainstorming this meditation challenge.
Hope’s experience as a bodyworker has focused on setting up new habits and bringing mindfulness and awareness to the body. We asked her to translate her technique into tips that will help build a seated meditation practice that is comfortable and enhances the experience. Here’s what she has to offer:
I have always had a mindfulness practice as an Alexander Technique teacher, which includes a technique for a 15 minute healing back rest exercise that is done with an awareness meditation. Practicing Ashtanga Yoga taught me yoga is a meditation on the breathe. Now that I have a slower practice I still focus on breathe, but I have never created the habit of a seated meditation practice. I will be exploring this along with NMDL readers.
As a holistic healer, I draw upon my unending passion for aromatic healing and my 30 years experience of working with people in pain. I use a timeless mind/body method called The Alexander Technique—the best, proven, long-term relief for back pain. The AT is also known in the music/dance/theater community as a way to enhance performance by setting up better breathing, muscular, and postural habits. Since setting up a meditation practice is about creating new habits and sitting with a strong back, I thought I would share some insights.
3 Steps to Better Sitting Habits for Better Breathing and Better Meditation
- To begin – Sit tall on a meditation cushion and find your sit-bones – the two bones you sit on when you are sitting on a hard surface. Clasp your hands behind your back so your shoulders roll open and chest lifts. Keep hands behind your back so you roll back off your sit bones and then back up to perching right on the top of the them. Repeating this 6-10 times gets your core muscle going and opens my chest so I can sit longer.
- To sit comfortably — first, you must relax and stretch the back of the neck so the head doesn’t sit heavily on your spine. Here’s how: Put your cushion or seat against a wall or sit fully back in your chair. Lean forward and scoot your sitting bones all the way back in the chair seat. Lean your back onto the chair back or wall and imagine you can lift the wall up by lifting your back up. Then drop your chin, your nose and your forehead, letting go the back of your neck. Stretch the neck by pulling your chin back to your collarbone and dropping your shoulders. Keeping your collarbone where it is, lift your forehead until you are looking forward and down about three feet in front of you on the floor.
- Your back is where your support is. Your back is where your lungs are. Your back is a wall of support for you when you are sitting in meditation. Imagine, as you sit that the whole back of your torso is lengthening and widening.
On Changing Habits of the Mind…
Modern neuroscience has shown that to set up a new health habits you need to have…
- A true desire or need to create new habits and a cue that gets you going – like sitting daily for 5 minutes after your cup of coffee.
- A true enjoyment of the feeling of doing the new activity. Getting comfortable helps make this happen.
- A reward when you are done – like breakfast!
Anything that increases awareness gives you the opportunity to change. Meditation is a way to observe the mind, thus paving the way for more ways to change habits or set up new ones. If meditation is about focusing the mind and creating new neuropathways in the thinking, essential oils are a great way of aiding that. They help redirect the brain in ways it isn’t used to. Essential oils help get your brain on a different track. It’s a great sensory companion to meditation.
Inhale or anoint or diffuse an essential oil blend that you only use for meditation — something you love so much that you look forward to smelling it. Something that is completely unique and exactly what you love. I suggest making your own blend or buying your favorite oil. Some traditional mediation oils include: Sandalwood, Frankincense, Myrrh, Palo Santo and Rosewood. Use whatever helps you feel transported to a more peaceful, uplifted place. Try inhaling from palms: put a drop on center of palm, rub palms together, cup hands over your face and do 5-10 slow inhalations. While slowly inhaling, try and relax your belly to give room for your breathing muscles to move freely.
Don’t you love getting such concrete advice? We are super excited about our H. Gillerman Organics Meditation Challenge giveaway, and we also have a sweet offer for everyone this Friday. Stay tuned for more meditation discussion!
There are dozens of things we could be doing every single day to increase our health and wellness. It’s easy to get bogged down and feel like you’re drowning in wellness advice. When you total up all of the add-ons — like oil pulling, dry brushing, green smoothie making, or meditation, for example — healthful efforts can become just another thing to stress over or feel badly about. If anything, we are busy these days, aren’t we? Time constraints are normally my biggest challenge to adopting new healthy habits. There is so much I want and need to do in a day. But just as you don’t want to overextend yourself socially or professionally, you don’t want to overextend your personal maintenance time, either. Burn out — it’s real.
Rather than stretching myself to the limit by cramming in everything I could do for my health in a day, I do a little bit here and a little bit there, rotating things in and out. I liken it to eating a variety of fresh foods from day to day, which results in a well balanced diet overall. I changed my mindset from one that says, “I’m not as healthy as I could be because I don’t do X every day,” to, “I’m getting this a couple of times a week, and that’s awesome.” Here’s what I’ve learned from this approach — the habits that are the most rewarding stick and become something I choose to work into my routine daily.
Knowing that I operate better on a more fluid routine, I was a little worried about this two-week commitment to meditate everyday for our Meditation Challenge. Meditation hasn’t been in my repertoire of healthful habits, but I’ve approached this challenge as an opportunity to test the waters. I decided that if the hype is real, and meditation adds value to my life, then it’s going into the rotation. A week into the challenge, I love meditation. Have I meditated every day during this challenge? Honestly, no. I skipped Friday. I know! Should I even admit that? But here’s the thing — even though I skipped it on Friday when I had free time, I wished I hadn’t as the day wore on. I appreciated firsthand what meditation can bring to my day, and I missed it. So whether time constraints, fear of doing it wrong, or just plain old disinterest are keeping you from trying meditation, here’s a tip to get you going…
Find your own personal reason to meditate. Don’t settle for, “The Internet told me it’s good for me.”
Really take a moment to evaluate what you want out of meditation, and you may feel more compelled to go for it. Your reasons for meditating will likely evolve, but if you establish a purpose upfront, you may be more motivated to do it. It can be as simple as “I’m curious and just want to explore this modality.” What initially excited me about meditation was the opportunity to observe my own mind in an intentional way. What I’m learning is that meditation is multifaceted. At a basic level, it really takes the edge off the day, and that is just as valuable to me. My reasons for meditating are growing as I learn to practice, and that increases the likelihood that I will continue to meditate beyond this challenge.
What keeps you from meditating? How do you find ways to integrate it into your life?