Mindfulness: Headspace’s “Take 10” (Taken!)

I’ve made it through Headspace’s “Take 10”.  It was a 10 part series of 10 minute mindfulness meditation sessions.  I couldn’t have been happier that I chose this series to start my mindfulness journey.  However, I’m moving on from Headspace for the time being to try some other mindfulness apps.  One reason I’ve decided to try other apps is that Headspace gives you the “Take 10” series for free and then requires you to sign up for a (fairly costly) membership.  This, in and of itself, isn’t a problem except that you need to pay per month or per year, not based on how much you use the app.  So, if you know you’re going to use it every day I suppose it’s a good deal, otherwise it may not be worth it.  The other reason I’m moving on (for now) is because I want to try some other apps that were recommended to me.  It’s only fair that for this investigation into mindfulness that I do at least a cursory check of the options available to me.  Beforehand, I want to reflect on my Headspace experience while it is still fresh in my mind.

As I mentioned, Headspace was a great place to start.  It was impressive in the way that it introduced me to the basics of mindfulness and meditation all while getting me started in the process.  Over the course of the 10 days there were a few short animated videos that helped to further explain some of the concepts behind what was being done in the meditation sessions.  I thoroughly enjoyed these videos and strongly believe that without them I wouldn’t have become as excited about mindfulness as I currently am.  So on top of getting started with the meditations, I learned a few more things (in addition to my initial learnings):

  1. Training the mind through meditation isn’t about stopping thoughts or eliminating feelings during the exercise.  It, rather, is about allowing yourself to have thoughts and feelings, acknowledging them (but not judging them) and letting them pass.  This allows us to view things with some perspective that we may not have had before.  Doing this allows us to reach a place of being more calm.  Occasionally during meditation exercises we’ll lose focus and run away with a thought, which is fine, we just need to return to that calm place of perspective and continue letting thoughts pass.  For a (perhaps) clearer way of thinking about this, check out this video.
  2. More effort doesn’t always mean more results.  The perfect example here is falling asleep, we can’t force it and if we do it usually makes it even harder to fall asleep!  Training the mind through meditation is very similar, once you stop trying it is possible.  There is a very good example about taming a wild horse in this video.  We need to do things slowly while training the mind through meditation.  Getting past the feeling of trying to get somewhere is important.  It takes time, enjoy the ride!
  3. The “Blue Sky” always exists, it doesn’t go anywhere.  The metaphor is of your blank, calm mind being a clear blue sky.  Sometimes our mind gets so cloudy with thoughts (good and bad) that we lose sight of that “Blue Sky”.  However, continuing with the metaphor, the blue sky is always there above those clouds just as our clear, sane mind is still there beyond all those thoughts and distractions.  The “Blue Sky” is always there.
  4. Acceptance.  Wow, well we often talk about being accepting of others but what about ourselves.  The idea that we need to accept what is in our mind in order to see what is in our mind is very interesting.  The analogy here is to a pond, if we go chasing after everything in the pond we will muddy the waters and we won’t be able to see anything.  Our mind works the same way, we can’t chase every thought or idea.  Allowing the waters to remain calm allows us to see everything that is in our mind, even the things we might not want to see!  However, even though we may not like everything we see, it is important to see it all and acknowledge it without judgement…during meditation we must withhold judgement of ourselves!!  

I have to admit that on Day One I found it extremely difficult to concentrate and focus on both the voice leading the meditation as well as actually achieving a sense of calm and relaxation.  However, as the days went on, both me and the sessions improved.  I improved my skills for relaxing and endurance (10 minutes is a long time when you’re just starting!)  The sessions improved because a) they were somewhat repetitive which meant I already knew what to expect and b) the narrator didn’t talk as much as the sessions went on.  This second point was probably the most important thing because, while his voice isn’t irritating, I can’t stand when I’m looking for quiet and someone keeps talking.  Understanding that you’re learning throughout this process is essential, I need a teacher/guide!  

By the fifth or sixth session I was really into the groove.  In fact, one night I wasn’t falling asleep as quickly as I wanted so I put the session I had listened to that morning on my phone.  NO exaggeration, I was asleep before the 10 minutes were over!  I knew that next morning that I was really getting the hang of this, I was able to let my mind relax, turn off, and fall asleep.  The understandings I shared above, no doubt, played a huge part in me learning how to do this!

After day nine I started becoming frustrated, mostly with the fact that Headspace was making me pony up a bunch of money if I wanted to continue, this is good stuff!  However, after day 10 I’m happy that I made it through the whole “Take 10” but I’m also happy to try some new things (in the name of research…I think I’ll be back to Headspace soon enough.)

I previewed a bunch of other apps and finally settled on one that I’m going to take for my next test drive.  I guess this is a lot like buying a car, you want to know it’s a quality car and that you feel comfortable inside it before you commit!  I’m one session into my next ‘test drive’ and look forward to seeing where it will take me.  More to come but I can say with confidence, that if you’re looking to try out mindfulness then you should try the Headspace app.  Go through the “Take 10” sessions and see what you think, I’d love to hear!!

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Mindfulness: Getting Started

I began my personal experience with Mindfulness by researching the concept of Mindfulness and, to be honest, it was a bit overwhelming!  Type in “mindfulness” on Google and you’ll find enough to read for a million life times.  I, needless to say, don’t have that kind of time on my hands.  In fact, I was struggling to find any time for researching Mindfulness.  I think I was having a hard time prioritizing this pursuit because I was so overwhelmed with everything that was out there.  Finally, I decided that it was time to just do something and commit to the journey.  

Having previously reached out to my PLN on Twitter about “good mindfulness apps” I had a place to start and headed to the app store.  What I found in the app store was once again overwhelming.  I found the app I went for but I also ended up downloading 10 other free mindfulness apps, yikes!  Mindfulness is certainly a hot topic these days and it shows in the amount of material available to download for free.  Despite downloading all these apps I decided that I needed one place to start, not 11!

The recommendations I received all pointed me toward Headspace, so this was going to be my starting point.  I had no idea what to expect when I opened the app.  My research led me to believe there would be some element of meditation but also that there were different types, three or four popular varieties, associated with Mindfulness.  Thankfully, Headspace has been super user friendly.  In fact, they have a 10 day starter series for people like me (well, for everyone really.)  This series includes a short two-minute introduction animation that walks you through some helpful tips for getting started, exactly what I needed!  

Tips for getting started:

  1. Find a place to be undisturbed for 10 minutes (silence isn’t required but to start out, peace and quiet might be helpful.)
  2. Research has shown that creating a new habit is easier when we do it at the same time each day, so find a good place in your schedule to plan this exercise (also doing it in the same place each day is even better.)
  3. Time of day isn’t important but Headspace strongly recommends trying to complete this exercise at the beginning of the day (more on this later).
  4. Some days this exercise will feel easy and other days it will be hard but sticking with it is important!
  5. Sit comfortably before you begin (you don’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor unless that’s what you’d prefer!)  

Now that I’m started I’m happy to report that the overwhelming feeling of “where do I begin?” has finally subsided and I’m able to sit back and reflect a bit.  I’m three days into my 10 day series, and wouldn’t you know it I received a supportive email from Headspace today reminding me that “three is the magic number.”  I’m not exactly sure what their point was with that title to the email but I think they’re encouraging me to keep going 🙂  Well, I was going to do that anyway but it sure feels nice to get the reminder!!  Although, to be perfectly honest it’s not as easy as it sounds!

I’ll leave it there for this post, I’m off to a good start and I’m already starting to see changes but I will wait to complete the first week before I say too much about that.  Next time I’ll share my challenges in the early days of my meditation cycle as well as some of those changes I’m beginning to see.

2017: Mindfulness: Research, Practice, Reflect

Last year around this time I wrote about my first ever New Year’s Resolution.  I’m pleased to say that I actually followed through on this resolution, which required action from me each day, for the whole year!  It was the first time I decided to set a resolution and I didn’t know if I would be able to endure, but I did 🙂  The goal of last year’s resolution was to focus on the moment and remember those small occurrences each day that bring joy and happiness, it was successful! So, I’ve decided to try again this year.  

Stemming from the same idea of being present and focusing on what is important, I’ve decided to explore the concept of Mindfulness.  To get started with explaining what Mindfulness is, I wanted to give a definition and since my understanding of Mindfulness is still limited I’m using the words of one of my favorite resources, the Greater Good Science Center.

“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.

Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.”

Sounds intense!  I’ve done lots of reading about Mindfulness and it’s benefits in a school community.  My plan is to explore Mindfulness for myself; learning, practicing, and reflecting along the way.  My hope is that as I learn more I will, not only help improve myself, but also discover potential applications in the school environment.

To get started I’ve watched a few videos, taken a Mindfulness quiz, and clicked a few links…all from this article.  Have a look if you are at all interested in Mindfulness, it’s an interesting and exciting concept.  

More to come…we shall see 🙂