Spanish Saturday – The Start

Hola amigos! I have become increasingly interested in learning a new language, and it’s time to turn that wish into a goal!

Habit: Practice Spanish on Duolingo for 30 minutes every day for 66 days.

Start Date: 04/17/2016

Projected End Date: 06/22/2016

Action Plan:

  • Practice on Duolingo
  • Listen to a Pimsleur Spanish audio-book
  • Watch 2 Spanish movies
  • Read 10 Spanish children’s books
  • Find a good Spanish podcast or radio show
  • Attend a meet up or find people willing to converse with me in Spanish

Incentive: A weekend trip to a fun locale where we can immerse ourselves in a Spanish-speaking community.

Lofty Goal: Attain enlightenment!

I took 4 years of Spanish in high school and some of my family members have a passing fluency. I figured my background with Spanish would make it an easier habit to dive into. I never gave learning a second language a shot in school, but I’m ready to take it more seriously this time around.

Ultimately I would like to become fluent enough in Spanish to add it to my resume. I’ve always wanted to travel more for work, and being able to speak another language will open new doors for me.

Follow me on Duolingo, and kick start your own habit!

Meditation Monday – The End

MeditationCover

I am happy to report that I haven’t lost any momentum after completing the initial 66 days of cultivating this habit. Now it’s time to pause and reflect on my progress so far.

Action Plan Progress:

  • DONE – 72 consecutive days of meditating for at least 10 minutes a day.
    • 1,194.3 meditation minutes logged (~20 hours).
    • Average 17 minutes a day.
  • DONE – 66 daily photos taken of my meditation locations.
  • DONE – 2 books on meditation read.
  • DONE – 7 people connected with on meditation.
  • DONE – 3 classes on meditation attended.
  • DONE – 5 different meditation techniques attempted.
  • DONE – 10 weekly blog posts on developing my meditation habit written.

Grade: A+

Incentive: I decided against a meditation retreat, and choose to splurge on a spa retreat instead. I will meditate during my massage, manicure, and pedicure. Now that’s an incentive!

Lessons Learned:

“We are the cosmos made conscious and life is the means by which the universe understands itself.” – Dr. Brian Cox

This quote popped into my head today as I was trying to wrap up my meditation experience so far. It’s given me the opportunity to understand myself better, and by extension everything around me.

I continue to see improvements in my ability to focus and in dealing with stress. Morning meditation is especially beneficial in handling whatever comes my way throughout the day. A lot of the guided meditations I listen to also have suggestions for ways to incorporate your practice into your day, so it’s good to start early.

One surprise benefit to my meditation practice was that it made me better at quarters! I seriously wish that I would have practiced meditation when I was playing competitive sports, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a mental edge.

6 Month Goals:

  • Complete 2 Headspace theme packs
  • Read 1 new book on meditation
  • Attend a Tai Chi class

This has been a worthwhile endeavor and an excellent starting point for building future habits. I’m excited to find ways to stay on track and have already started a health theme pack with Headspace that will take me through another 30 days of meditation. Stay tuned for more on the meditation journey in the future!

Book Breakdown: Wherever You Go There You Are

This book has been on my to-read shelf for 2 years and I am glad that taking on this habit has finally motivated me to read it.

Kabat-Zinn’s best selling book is broken down into 3 parts focused on defining meditation, practical applications, and the spirit of the practice. The chapters are short and often accompanied by quotes and passages from other works on meditation.

It seemed like every time I picked up this book, I was able to apply the teachings immediately. I read the chapter Patience when I was experiencing a lot of anger and it helped me to detach from the storm of emotions.

This is also the third source that has touted the benefits of early morning meditation. I have been trying to sit first thing in the morning, but it has not been happening with any consistency. The chapter Early Morning has reaffirmed my intent and I will be waking up 15 minutes earlier everyday to listen to a Headspace guided meditation.

Not every idea or anecdote resonated with me. I am not a big fan of chapters ending with the phrase “Get the idea?” especially when my answer is no. But the topics are so varied and brief that the goal must be to get a better sense of meditation rather than to present a step by step guide.

Wherever You Go, There You Are does an excellent job of making the abstract concept of mindfulness accessible. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning the basic principles of meditation.

Would you like your own copy of Wherever You Go, There You Are? Simply leave a comment to be entered into a drawing to win a copy of the book.

Fancy Floating

A few weeks ago a friend told me about the Fadeaway Floatation Center in Des Moines, IA.  I was excited to learn about an alternative meditation technique and after reading through their website I had to find a place to float! The Wellness Center in Minneapolis offered a 90 minute float session for $70 plus tax and fees, and they had excellent online reviews.

FloatTankThe staff at The Wellness Center was very friendly and accommodating. I showed up 10 minutes early for my appointment to fill out the required paper work. There is a special release for the float tank and a lot of dos and don’ts. They walked me through the facility and float process.

I started by inserting the wax earplugs. They stick better if you put them in before you shower, and will keep the water out of your ears once you are submerged in the tank. Then I showered with fragrance free shampoo and body wash (no conditioner) before entering the tank. I entered facing out, and closed the door behind me.

I was very nervous at first. It’s an eerie feeling to not be able to see, hear, and slosh about in an enclosed space. When I felt some air bubbles by my leg I thought, “what if it’s an alligator?!” That made me laugh and relax. I experimented with different positions and felt most comfortable with my arms above my head.

Eventually, my shoulders started to feel itchy. When meditating it is normal for me to feel areas of discomfort, but once I focus on it the feeling fades. This sensation was not going away. A combination of the water temperature and salt caused a heat rash. It got to be so uncomfortable that I ended my session 30 minutes early. The staff said they could lower the temperature of the water, but only by .1 degree, which probably wouldn’t help me.

Even though I will not be floating again, I thought it was a great experience. If you don’t have any skin sensitivity issues, I would recommend giving it a try. There was a guest book outside the room, and all the messages I read were very positive. My favorite comment stated it like astral projection!

Have you ever floated? Please share your experience in the comments!

Book Breakdown: The Art of Living

Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time inspired me to start this blog. In it Ferrazzi discusses how a 10-day Vipassana course changed his life. The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation is a synopsis of that course and I thought it would help me cultivate my meditation habit.

William Hart is an assistant teacher to Goenka and he set out to provide an outline of Vipassana as taught in Goenka’s 10-day course. Each chapter is a lesson followed by actual questions and answers from course participants and Goenka and is followed by a parable. The book/course is a progression through the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Each lesson builds on the last to show you that gaining wisdom, ethical conduct, and concentration will provide enlightenment.

There are some assertions in the book that seem fanciful to me. I don’t buy into the idea that the Buddha understood particle physics from meditation, but I won’t invest the time to research further since their scientific credibility isn’t a huge concern for me. I also found it took me longer than normal to absorb the meaning of certain passages. I am a quick reader, but I kept having to reread sentences and paragraphs before I understood the meaning. That might have to do with the number of Pali terms in the book that were totally foreign to me.

I did get some great insights into suffering, intention, awareness, equanimity, and compassion. Chapter 3: The Immediate Cause included my favorite story, “Seed and Fruit.” The following quote provided a flash of insight about karma and how we are make our own future.

“Our difficulty, our ignorance is that we remain unheedful while planting seeds. We keep planting seeds of neem, but when the time comes for fruit we are suddenly alert, we want sweet mangoes. And we keep crying and praying and hoping for mangoes. This doesn’t work.”

I will also give this book high marks for prompting me to entertain the idea of becoming a vegetarian. I’m not there yet, but I have never really entertained the idea until now.

I would recommend The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation to anyone interested in learning more about Vipassana, the teaching of the Buddha, or looking for some insights into the loftier goals associated with meditation.

Do you want to win a free copy of The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation by William Hart? Follow me on Instagram @ppreoccupation to be entered into the drawing! The winner will be announced on Monday.

Asked & Answered: A Dilettante Approach to Meditation

Gabriel Harren and I are both on the Community of Practice steering committee at sdg. At our last meeting we discussed Gabriel’s upcoming CoP presentation about demystifying meditation. The presentation is scheduled after my 66-day challenge so I invited Gabriel to a meditative breakfast. I was excited to discuss meditation with someone who had practical experience, but hadn’t made it their career or become a recluse.

 “Clarity of mind.”

Gabriel indicated that he has always been a little high strung so 4 years ago he started practicing meditation regularly. He currently meditates 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week. His routine consists of coffee, an inspirational quote, the Skimm, and making himself comfortable in a plush chair before listening to a guided meditation from Headspace.

Some of the tangible benefits of meditation he has experienced include lower anxiety, better ability to focus, and clarity of mind. Improved concentration has allowed Gabriel to be more productive and focus on his sales goals.

He has also experienced the intangible benefits of meditation that let him be more engaged with family, friends, and colleagues. His passion for meditation and self-improvement has allowed him to add value in other’s lives. He feels like he is a better listener and more patient.

“Everyone should be doing it.”

Because Gabriel is so willing to share his experience with meditation he has had the opportunity to talk with a lot of people about creating this habit. He maintains he is not a guru, but can certainly help people come up with an action plan. For most it seems like getting started is the hardest part. Change is difficult, but Gabriel recommends trying to understand the why before digging into the how. If you understand your goals and motivation it will be easier to dive into the tactics.

“…enjoying a blissfully balanced life.”

Gabriel’s overall goal is to clock 10,000 hours of meditation, which is the generally accepted benchmark for mastery in a field. By meditating for 1 hour a day in 30 years he could be enjoying a blissfully balanced life. I know that’s something I want!

Pro-Tips

  • Headspace!
  • Get a good night’s sleep and do your sit first thing in the morning,
  • Create a routine of your practice.
  • Recognize the “gremlins in your head” and get your mind out of the way.

Recommended Reading

I had a wonderful time discussing practical applications for meditation with Gabriel and discovering new ways to grow my practice.

What tips discussed here will be the most useful for your meditation practice? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Meditation Monday – The Middle

Top picture from my photo journal.
Top picture from my photo journal.

I halfway done building my meditation habit so let’s take a look at the stats!

Action Plan Progress:

  • 37 of 66 consecutive days of meditating for at least 10 minutes a day.
    • 546.97 meditation minutes logged (~9 hours).
    • Average 15 minutes a day.
  • 37 of 66 daily photos taken of my meditation locations.
  • 1 of 2 books on meditation read.
  • DONE – Connected with 7 of 2 people on meditation.
  • DONE – 3 of 2 classes on meditation attended.
  • DONE – Experimented with 5 different meditation techniques.
  •  5 of 10 weekly blog posts on developing my meditation habit written.

Grade: A+

Lessons Learned:

For the first month of building this habit the photo challenge aspect of my action plan was getting in the way of my practice. I had time to meditate, but finding a space that was visually interesting to meditate in made it harder to achieve my primary goal. I realized this was a problem once I signed up for Headspace.

Headspace has a Foundation Series with 3 levels that are 10 sessions each. They recommend making your practice part of a routine and doing it in the same place at the same time everyday. I didn’t want to abandon my photo journal so I have recently started meditating twice a day. I do my Headspace guided mediation right after I wake up and then I meditate again later in the day in a peaceful space. This way I am working my habit into an existing routine, and increasing my meditative time by practicing more throughout the day.

My meditation practice has improved my ability to focus and the way I deal with stress. When I first started meditating I had a lot of negative-self talk at that beginning of my sits, but that has quieted as I continue to practice. I am very happy with the progress I have made so far, and sincerely hope I can turn this into a lifelong habit.

Follow my Instagram meditation photo journal while it lasts @ppreoccupation!

Multiform Meditation

The idea of sitting still and trying not think originally seemed equal parts foolish and intimidating. To overcome my unease I tried a variety of meditation techniques that could help develop my habit. I have them listed below in order of personal preference.

Walking Meditation

I learned walking meditation (kinhin) at Dharma Field. Standing with your hands in the shashu position focus on your breath, and on your exhale take a half step forward. At first it seemed like too much to concentrate on: following my breath; walking at the right time; not taking a normal stride, but after a few minutes I got the hang of things. The additional focus on my posture and speed really helped me to stay in the meditative state and when my ending bell sounded I felt relaxed and refreshed.

I will be incorporating this in my regular practice by doing walking meditation at the end of my sit. This will be a great way to bring myself back to an awakened state gradually, and it will allow me to extend my sessions by incorporating different techniques rather than sitting for longer.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

11931135_1632250123704341_1948719911_nI tried two different hand poses for alternate nostril breathing, and I preferred the one with the index and middle finger folded down (bottom picture). When I had those fingers resting between my eyebrows I found it hard to relax and not to press them into my skin. Once I settled into the timing of movement the time flew by! I was focused and my mind seemed to wander less because I was aware of my breath and body.

This is an easy technique to pick up, and I would suggest that everyone give it a try! I will be starting my daily sits with 1 minute of alternate nostril breathing before a 10 minute session. This will afford me better focus as I start my sessions.

Tai Chi

Tai chi is a form of moving meditation similar to yoga. Since I suck at yoga I was glad to find an alternative. Tai chi is low impact, and much better aligned with my fitness and flexibility levels. I found an excellent tutorial video, but it has a lot of pop-up adds. I have not counted the time watching the video and practicing tai chi toward my daily habit because I don’t feel like I am in a meditative state while learning.

I am hoping that once I learn some of the basic forms I can take a class on tai chi or find a meet up group. I know I’ve seen groups of people practicing in the park, now I just need to find them. This is definitely a technique I am interested in pursuing.

Mantra

I had a lot of fun ideas for my mantra, like Stuart Smalley’s positive affirmation, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggonit, people like me” or “let that shit go.” Ultimately, I decided to stick with my goals and picked “salud.” It means health in Spanish and is a toast my grandmother always makes.

I repeated my mantra silently on my exhale for the first half of my sit, and then switched to chanting it during the second half. I had a neutral experience. It wasn’t overly distracting, but it didn’t seem to help me focus any better than sitting silently. I thought that since my love language is “words of affirmation” I would really benefit from a mantra, but this not a practice I will stick with.

Candle Staring

11376399_1622897171318699_1420930732_nThe first time I tried candle staring I used a guided meditation. There was an interesting point during the session where you close your eyes and focus on the negative image of the candle, but overall this technique did not seem particularly helpful. I felt more distracted and had trouble letting my thoughts pass.

I tried this method a second time without the guided meditation. It was slightly better than my first attempt but at the end of my session I spilled hot wax on my hand and that was the end of my foray into candle staring. All the angry cursing probably negated the benefits of that session.

I’m glad I expanded my horizons and tried various techniques. I am sure walking meditation, alternate nostril breathing, and tai chi will help me grow my meditation practice.

Have you tried any of these techniques before? Please share your experience in the comments!

Inspiration and Implementation: Meditation

InspirationBoard_Meditation

My friends are sharing some great meditation resources with me, and my own research is turning up a number of great books, sites, videos, and imagery. I have created a Pinterest account dedicated to my new habits that will house all of the various media I am collecting so that I don’t lose track of anything. Listed below are the Top 5 Meditation Resources I have found so far.

  1. The Honest Guys

I have been following the Honest Guys for a few years now and they consistently produce high quality guided meditations. I really enjoy the guided meditations that have a purpose like Deep Relaxation or Breathing Exercise. However, their crowning achievement is their Middle Earth Meditation series. 10 guided meditations that transport you to the Shire! It really helped me to get into meditation last year because it was a unique experience, and I still felt relaxed and refreshed afterwards.

2.  Andy Puddicombe’s TED Talk: All it takes is 10 mindful minutes

This presentation really helps to demystify meditation, and his juggling analogy is wonderfully accessible. A friend from work sent me this link, and after I watched it I realized I had seen it before. It was even better the second time around.

3.  Fulfillment Daily

I am cultivating this habit for the practical benefits to my overall health and well-being. When I was researching different studies that objectively analyzed the benefits of meditation I found an article written by Emma Seppala who is the founder of Fulfillment Daily. The site was created “to inspire you with tools for a fulfilling life through science-backed news you can trust.” This is exactly the type of information I was searching for, and I have really enjoyed browsing through their posts.

4.  Insight Timer

This is the meditation app that Glenna, from the open meditation session I attended, shared with me. I have used this app almost daily for my meditation practice. The paid version of the app is well worth the $3 I spent. The bells are a great way to recenter, and I have started to dabble in the guided meditation section as well. Another neat feature allows you to see all the other people using the app around the world. Currently, there are 496 people meditating worldwide with Insight Timer.

5.  Let That Shit Go

This is a fun print that I found on Pinterest that really captures my goal for my meditation practice. I will be adding the shirt version to my incentive and plan to buy it after I hit the 66 day mark!

I hope you have found these resources as useful as I have! I will be sure to keep adding to my Meditation Monday board as I find new and interesting tools for my practice so be sure to follow along!