Oh nuts, mine too.
I was on a roll there for a while. For starters, I was going to yoga a lot, and all my favorite teachers build it into the practice. Since I really enjoy meditating with other people, this was a nice motivator. Also, I found a “quiet room” at my job—a dimly lit alcove the size of a small walk-in closet that I imagine was created for nursing moms maybe, but which a few of us use regularly for midday downtime. I got into the habit of sneaking in there without my phone or any other distractions for about 20 minutes every day. That felt great! But then I sprained my ankle while bobbing and weaving in traffic to get a cab, and then I was away from work for a bit, and the routines I’d built into my day sort of went out the window.
It happens, but since it takes a toll on how good I feel, I’d like to get back on track—and I’d encourage you guys to join me.
Because if there’s one thing I have learned over the years about a meditation practice it’s that it’s always there to go back to. No sense kicking yourself when you quit. Just start where you are.* Wake up tomorrow and do it, and then wake up the next day and do it again.
Last week, I was in that place pictured up top—Big Sur. At a place like Esalen, the hippie enclave we stayed at for a few days, it’s frankly very easy to sit for 20 minutes or longer, daily. There’s a meditation hut with windows that actually open overlooking the ocean, for one, and for two, there’s no cell reception there. (That second thing is key.) Third, it’s among the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and beauty, especially the kind you find in nature, has that magical ability to just help you drop your shoulders and quiet the chatter in your head. Less easy is meditating after a stressful day at work in a city where strangers bark at each other and there’s bumper-to-bumper traffic even at, like, 2pm on a Tuesday.
But that’s sort of the point. Meditating every day is not easy, per se, but as with any good habit, the more you do it, the easier it gets—especially if you’re getting a “reward,” as Alexandra explained the other week. With meditation, the reward is subtle. As we said in our 11 Easy Ways to Meditate piece, you probably won’t see blue flashing lights or meet God for the first time in your sitting practice. But the sweet, incremental changes that come with looking inside and sitting still are really something else. Aren’t they?
So I’m going to get back in the habit.
Who’s in? And if you are still on track? Well, shoot. God bless. Now please share some motivating words with the rest of the class—especially those of you who took our meditation challenge a while back and then stuck with it. (Did anyone?! Don’t fib.)
* Also, read this book. It’s so good.
“You have really good sheets.”
Be still my heart. I love compliments as much as anyone (that means I love them a lot) but when this one was bestowed upon me recently my heart did a little somersault. I have good sheets! This is a big deal to me.
I take bedding seriously, always have. I’m also pretty into sleepwear and underwear. Basically, I get giddy about the details that make life’s quieter experiences a little prettier, more comfortable, a little more pleasant. And so bedding matters to me. But so does making responsible choices.
Bamboo sheets makes that really, really easy.
Here’s why it’s great: Bamboo is an abundant, easy-to-grow crop—which means that even when it’s not grown organically, it can be cultivated without pesticides or chemical fertilizers. (It isn’t always, though; do your homework.) It also produces incredibly soft fabric that drapes on your sleepy self in a way you can’t imagine. More pluses: It’s weirdly stain-proof, with the exception of blood,* and after many washes, it feels as soft as the day you cracked open the package. It helps keep you cool when it’s warm, and warm when it’s cool, and it’s never heavy or scratchy. The brands I’ve tried are BedVoyage and Bamboo Dreams. I love them equally. The only thing I have yet to do is replace my duvet cover with bamboo. Once I do, I may never make it out of the sack again.
Have you ever tried bamboo sheets?
P.S. Just make sure they’re 100% bamboo and not a blend.
P.P.S. Now who wants to take a nap?
* TMI alert: I mean real blood, like from a cut.
Yes! I do have PMS. Right now actually (I think). So I was pleased to come across this interview from Well+Good today. Even though we know that diet and lifestyle affect our hormones, being reminded by a health practitioner is, well, reassuring. And it also gives back a bit of a sense of control, which is nice too.
What affects your PMS?
Here’s the interview:
Many women assume that the awful PMS they endure—complete with cramping, headaches, lower back pain, and breakouts—is just par for the course.
But Meg Richichi, MS, LAc, an integrative women’s health practitioner, says that it doesn’t have to be that way. While out-of-wack hormones account for PMS symptoms, the cause of their wackiness could be your diet.
New York women’s hormones are constantly under attack, says Richichi, by a combination of culprits—stress, lack of sleep, and especially unbalanced diets.
Why is diet such a big deal? “Eighty percent of who we are comes through our gut,” says Richichi. “The building blocks of our hormones are what we eat, assimilate, and eliminate.”
Instead of masking the symptoms with Midol, Richichi recommends getting your hormones under control. Here’s where you should start:
1. Stress less.
When you’re super stressed, the nutrients in your body that create healthy levels of estrogen and progesterone are are busy just keeping your body in survival mode. “The signal that tells you to stress is the same one that tells you to ovulate,” says Richichi. If it’s all tied up, you’re going to have issues.
2. Sleep more.
A good night’s sleep will help with stress. But more importantly, sleep is a crucial time for hormone regulation. The longer and sounder you sleep, the more time your hormones will have to reset. And close the blinds—the light from a street lamp can disrupt the process.
Whatever you give your attention to gets bigger.
I can’t remember the first time I heard this. It might have been from my mother, who isn’t one to stew or dwell, or an early yoga teacher, or an old book. I know it was during my teenage years, at a time when I was probably stewing and dwelling a lot on things that maybe—imagine ça?!—didn’t really matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. Stewing is understandable: It’s what teenagers (and the rest of us) do all the time. But I had an early sense that looping thoughts and unproductive lines of mental inquiry could and should somehow be avoided. Easier said than done, obviously. This early lesson was my first clue as to how.
But what exactly are we talking about? The idea is simple, and it doesn’t require flaky hocus-pocus thinking (which is my specialty, obvs) to accept. Simply, whatever you focus on—good, bad, stressful, pleasant, anxiety-provoking, calming, exciting—is amplified in the mind. It takes up space. It grows. Put even more simply: Whatever you’re thinking about, you’re thinking about. If that thing is bad, then you have bad in your head. If that thing is good, you have good in your head.
None of this would matter, of course, if we saw everything as it really is, but we don’t. We have a single sticky thought and then launch a search-and-capture mission in our mind looking for other things that support that original one. As we do this, the idea pile-on grows and the next thing you know it, that silly, fleeting thought has pitched a tent in our mind and won’t budge, Occupy-styles.
Unfortunately we do this more with negative thoughts than positive ones. Let’s call this, gently, a “not very productive way to use our brains.”
But here’s the good news: The process that can make us miserable can also be flipped on its head to cultivate joy, compassion, peace and love if we do it right. We know our thoughts affect our feelings, and our feelings affect our physical body. They can trigger stress hormones, aggravate chronic pain, promote inflammation, disrupt sleep, trigger breakouts—the list goes on. And nothing on that list is awesome.
On the flip side, focusing deliberately and carefully on positive things can have an opposite effect. I was reminded about this recently when I was struggling with looping thoughts. As anyone who’s been there (all of you) knows, you can get exactly nowhere in that state of mind. Of course, anyone who’s been there (again, all of you) knows that when you’re in that state of mind it can be very hard to rip yourself from it and say: OK, stupid thought, I’m not going to think you anymore. Instead I’m going to think about what I want, what I’m happy about, what I’m grateful for.
But as with all good habits, this one is self-perpetuating. The more you force yourself to do it, kicking and screaming, faking it until you make it, the more you see it works, and then the more likely you are to keep doing it.
An important point here: This is not like The Secret, and not about changing the course of events with your brain. We can’t do that, unfortunately. And sometimes bad things do happen! But thinking about them all the time can’t stop that, so this trains your mind to quiet down in the face of things you can’t control (everything!) and cultivate some good feelings while you’re at it.
Whatever you give your attention to gets bigger.
Trust us! It’s true. Now, what to do about it?
There are a million ways to practice visualization, and it has many different applications. Here are five I like.
1. Mentally rehearse positive outcomes. This is big with athletes, and can have a very practical application…or be an example of magical thinking (see below), depending on how you use it. Good yoga teachers will tell you to spend months literally visualizing the steps to get into a headstand—a challenging pose, no question—before you actually try to get upside down in the middle of the room. When I first learned it, my teacher wouldn’t let us practice against the wall because it would set us up with a crutch, she said. Instead, we had to picture a headstand, step by step, until we could do it. Similarly, a University of Chicago study looked at how mental rehearsing, as it’s sometimes called, might help basketball players with their free throws; the results were unequivocal, with visualizers sinking the ball way more than the controls. Professional athletes talk about this, and Olympians too.
The scientific explanation seems to be that repeatedly thinking about doing something creates neural patterns in the brain for that action—a blueprint, if you will. Your brain then trains your body to execute that thing, because it already knows how to. Crazy! And true.
2. Picture what you want. Of course, if the outcome you’re looking for is of the more interpersonal nature—about your career, or your kids, or your husband or wife—it doesn’t work the same way. You can train your brain all you want, but when there are other people involved, all bets are off, right? Well… Sort of. I’m a big believer in creating the conditions for the outcome you want. You can’t make magic happen (mayyyybe), but you can create the right conditions for things to happen, and part of that, for me, is focusing on positive thoughts—what I want as opposed to what I’m scared of. Alexandra and I are both really keen on this. To do it, simply picture what you want. Not just having it, but getting it. Really imagine, with your eyes closed and your mind focused, what it would feel like to have that thing, or what it would feel like not have to worry about that other thing. Put yourself there, and think about what it looks like, feels like, smells like. Set a scene, and give it your attention and then go back to it often.
3. Imagine thoughts shrinking…or growing. When I have a thought that won’t budge and is stressing me out, I like to name it—Oh, hey, mean thought that is telling me I will never be a prima ballerina—and then picture it in a circle in my mind, almost like a sign that’s been tacked up for me to read. I picture the thought I don’t like, and then I picture the circle shrinking slowly until it’s a speck instead of a menacing, pulsating globe of badness. Similarly, if I want to cultivate something positive, like peace of mind, or the feeling that everything is as it should be, then I do the same, only I start small and picture it growing in my mind until it takes up all the space I can imagine. This fills me with a feeling of wellbeing that is indescribable. I’m not sure why, but I trust it.
4. Do the white light thing. We’re getting increasingly weird here! OK so this one is just what it sounds like. Call to mind a thought, a circumstance, a person, an illness—anything that is giving you a little bit of a headache right now—and really hold that person or idea in your mind. Focus on it like you’re studying a map. Look at it, and identify what it looks like. Try as best you can not to THINK about it, but just see it in your mind. Then you get out your magic white-light wand and tap your thought three times (LOL), basking it in white light. If you want to pick another color, feel free. Whatever color signifies peace and healing to you is the color to pick here. Bask that thing in light like your life depends on it. Then when you’re done, do it again.
5. Picture a person you see as an evolved being and stare at them. This can be your grandpa or your guru, your lover of your childhood best friend—anyone who to you represents peace or wisdom or love. Maybe it’s someone who loves you unconditionally or a spiritual guide. I was taught this by one of my teachers, and he recommends picking someone you actually know or have come into contact with, as opposed to someone sort of remote, like Gandhi or the Virgin Mary (unless, of course, you’ve met them). Picture them sitting in front of you at eye level and just give them a gander. Look at the outline of their body, and their eyes, and their face. Smile at them, maybe. Hold them in your mind for a few minutes, and then when you’re done, say thank you.
Has anyone else tried visualization or mental rehearsing? Do you think it could help you stop bad thoughts in their tracks?
Because we’re getting ready to start tackling stress here in earnest—as Alexandra mentioned yesterday—we’d like to know: What stresses you out most? This will help us brainstorm ways to talk about this. If, for instance, your biggest source of stress is your boyfriend or girlfriend, or your job, or your finances, that’ll help us focus on what kind of practical stress-busters we might explore. Because the stress series is not going to be about doling out tips about how to deal with your 401(k) or your deadbeat husband. Sorry ’bout that.
Alrighty then. Have at it: What stresses you the eff out?