Mantras are statements that you say to yourself to focus and empower yourself. Mantras can be simple “I am…” statements (I am important, I am valued, I am strong, etc), or can be multiple sentences — whatever you need, personally, to fill empowered.
I repeat this to myself several times while I’m meditating. I breath in deep and then say each short piece on the out breath. I also write these words down every morning into my journal when I first get to work.
And I mentally repeat it as I sit in the waiting room of the doctor’s office.
This is not a mantra that applies to my life as a whole. Right now, it’s something that I find strength and focus in while I’m struggling with this mystery illness. It’s what I need right now. When my body is well again, I will change my mantra to something more appropriate.
In fact, one of my mantras that I constantly find myself reverting back to in times of health and happiness is:
Think Lean. I am fit and productive.
I repeat this one to myself all the time, especially at work. It’s a constant reminder to stay on task and to avoid the snack stand. Cut the fluff, cut the fat. And for goodness’ sake, stay off Facebook.
Grateful people are happy people. Appreciating what you have and how far you’ve come is one of the foundations for living a more mindful, more meaningful life. Gratitude rituals are present in the teachings of so many wellness gurus that it almost feels cliche. Since I’ve started my intentional journey into mindfulness and wellness it seems that every person, every book, every podcast, and every article that talks about how to be a happier person tells you that gratitude is key and that ritualizing it creates a habit of thankfulness.
So it’s not really cliche–it’s something that actually works.
I’ve incorporated a couple of different gratitude rituals into my daily life. I’ll probably delve into each item much deeper in follow-up blogs. Here are some of the things I do to celebrate life and achievement:
During yoga, I’ll do gratitude sun salutations. With each routine set, I focus on one aspect of my life that I’m thankful for-home, marriage, family, financial stability, etc.
I keep a simple journal at work that I use as a daily planner. In it, I write out, in long form, three things that I am grateful for each morning before delving into my work day-coffee, corgis, upbeat music
During my lunch break, I often take a walk through a graveyard that’s around the corner from my office. My first lap around the path is always mindfulness focused, and part of my mindfulness practice during this walk is to once again think on those things that I’m grateful for that day.
I’m currently practicing a meditation method taught by Vishan Lakhiani that guides you through 6-phases. During one of these phases-the aptly named gratitude phase-you are instructed to think of three things your grateful for in your personal life, three things you are thankful for in your professional life, and then three things that you love, or are grateful for, about your self.
I think my practice here may be a bit extreme, but I want it to become second nature for me to be happy with what I have in this moment. So when the big sucky situations happen, I’ve exercised and toned that gratitude muscle, and I can focus on the positive instead of the temporary negative of those moments.
I never want to take my life, my felicity for granted. I’ve worked long and hard to get where I am, and I’m going to get even better.
In her book, The Charisma Myth, Olivia Fox Cabane has several exercises to express gratitude. One that I loved is to sit down with a pen and paper and write out five things that you can see in the room with you that you are grateful for. I am grateful for my cell phone that connects me to so many people. I am grateful for air conditioning because I live in the south and OMG the humidity. I am grateful for windows, so I can see the outside world. I am grateful for my chapstick, because it keeps my lips soft and healthy.
There are so many ways to get into the habit of gratitude. It’s all about taking a moment to stop and ponder on the joys of right now, no matter how small or how bizarre. Just allow yourself to be pleased with your progress and to be happy.
I guess I’m kinda a hipster when it comes to my dogs. I liked and owned corgis before they were cool, but my affinity for animals – especially dogs – started long before my first corgi.
Growing up, the two dogs that I had for most of my childhood were Peanut the Cocker Spaniel and Oreo the Shih tzu (my affinity for naming dogs after food started early, too). Peanut always felt like she was covered in baby powder and she audibly farted a lot, but she was loyal, sweet, and un-freaking-breakable. This dog got ran over twice, had a tree fall on her, got hit in the head with a huge rock, and fell through the ice into the middle of a pond. Oreo was the first pet that was “mine.” I always wanted a Shih tzu, so my parents finally gave in and got me one. I named her Oreo because my dad was dieting and I was a smartass kid who knew naming a dog after something he wasn’t supposed to eat would taunt him. Oreo was a smelly pup, but she was a super cuddler when you needed her to be.
Fast forward to 2004, less than a year into marriage and Greg and I were just settling into life at Fort Campbell, KY. I’m pretty sure we were in our “permanent” housing for less than a week before we made the decision to get me a dog as a companion to prepare for Greg’s inevitable deployment. So we did what you did back in 2004 and you wanted a puppy – we picked up a local newspaper and hit the classifieds! Low and behold, right there in black and white was the perfect pup, exactly what I was looking or – a Shih tzu! And below that, an ad for some corgis. I saw the ad for the corgis and went, “oh, that could be fun,” but I wanted that shih tzu. So we called the number and were met with disappointment. The shih tzu had been sold.
But hey, corgis were cute, with their giant ears and stubby legs. And they were a novelty for sure. So we thought, why the hell not? and called up the number. We met the breeder at his place out somewhere in the country near Clarksville, TN and soon brought home Waffles – A Red Brindle Cardigan Welsh Corgi – and the beginning of my corgi collection.
Waffles was my puppy to spoil. She was incredibly smart and equally stubborn.
A few years later and a couple states south, we added Twinkie to the family. A few years after that, Scotch joined and completed the Loebick corgi trifecta.
Each corgi had their own separate and distinct personalities. Waffles was the old fart who kept the other two in line. Twinkie was the anxious one who loved attention and cuddles. And Scotch was the boy – rambunctious and care-free.
When I meditate on compassion, my pups come to mind. They are the embodiment of unconditional love. They crack me up when they play. They cuddle with me when I’m feeling down. And they help remind me of the simple joys in life – eating, playing, and relaxing. I swear, Corgis have healing powers. Or maybe it’s just the happy cuddletime oxytocin that gets released. Anyhoo, they definitely make me feel better, at least emotionally. Waffles, though not a lap dog for sure, always knew when I was feeling down and she would come lay beside me while I was sick.
Last night, I had a bittersweet dream. You see, Waffles died on July 6 of this year. She had an almost four year battle against degenerative myelopathy, a disease that slowly weakened and paralyzed her. I don’t remember much of my dream, but I do remember the part where I began lucid dreaming, because she was there. I knew I was dreaming the instant I saw her because I understood that she was actually dead, but I embraced the dream and snuggled with her, savoring the time because I knew it was only temporary. I remember feeling joyous that I had that extra time with her.
Today has not been a great day for me healthwise. I went grocery shopping this morning and have been near couch-ridden the rest of the day. Twinkie, Scotch, and the newest member of the Cabin Corgis, Beans, have taken up the torch. They’ve been with me all day, helping me with their mystical healing powers and keeping me company while I watched way too many episodes of Psych as I recover my energy. I even had both Twinkie and Beans napping on top of me as I completed a meditation while lying down. Their combined snoring was actually relaxing and gave me something to center my intentions on.
Meditation is the art of reaching a state where you are free from thoughts, emotions, and stresses —
That, my friends, is not meditation. That is nirvana, enlightenment, or whatever you want to call the ultimate phase of the human soul. Very few have ever reached this state.
No, meditation is a journey or an exercise. Meditation is simply acknowledging that for a few moments, you can let go of all the stressors in your life. You can detach yourself, and in doing so, can allow yourself to observe the now. We spend so much of our lives worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, that we don’t allow ourselves to feel the present.
Meditation has great benefits, both mental and physical, that I won’t go into here. Just know that every once in a while, you need to stop and just be. It’s kind of like when you work out–you don’t actually build muscle until you allow yourself to rest. It’s the healing of those torn muscle fibers that allow your to gain form and strength. The same is true for your emotional well-being. We can’t learn or grow as a person unless we give ourselves time to rest and and heal from the little tears that happen everyday to our non-physical being.
Even if it’s just for five minutes a day. Stop, take a few moments to observe your breath, observe how your body feels right now. Allow yourself to be quiet. And if your brain or your heart starts screwing with you, tell those pesky organs to calm down. Label the intrusions as thoughts or emotions – or be more descriptive. The more specific you can be with your labeling, the easier it is to push those interruptions aside and you can refocus on the here and now.
You can meditate anywhere at anytime. There’s no strict rules. Personally, my favorite time to meditate is in the evenings around dusk. I love to go outside and listen to the sounds of nature – crickets, treefrogs, the distant ducks and geese. I meditate in my hammock, on my porch swing (which is where I am now), or on the deck adjoining my bedroom while I sit on a pillow. I meditation anywhere from 5-15 minutes usually. From the time I close my eyes until I take that last deep breath and reopen them, the change in the sky and my surroundings is drastic and inspiring.
So I encourage you, find a place where you are peaceful and comfortable – a room in your house, on the bus on your commute, on a cushy bed of moss under a willow tree (beware of chiggers!)-and give meditation a shot.
I’m currently sitting in the waiting room at my doctor’s office. It’s a familiar site for me. This is my fifth visit here over the past month, in addition to a sojourn to the emergency room for heart palpitations.
There’s some off in my body.
Now I sit here, waiting to be called back for an ultrasound sound on my gallbladder, and I know how strange it may sound, but I sincerely hope they find something.
The pains, the fatigue, the shortness of breath, the foggy mind–I thought I had beaten this last year–The illness that threw me for a loop for three months. Three months where I, a decently active individual, had my life disrupted. I stopped working out, I stopped hiking, I stopped eating right (frozen meals take less energy to make).
When my symptoms finally disappeared, it was a still struggle to get back on the wellness horse, but I did it.
Now here, 15 months later, I’m smacked down with similar symptoms once again, but this time I have a renewed resilience. I’m attacking with vigor, trying to find the truth of what’s going on inside my body.
And if it is my gallbladder then finally I can put a face to my enemy, so to speak. I can fight to take my body back, and restore my best life. I can plan, I can treat, and I can cure myself.
On Sunday, I engaged in a a 30-minute yoga routine. It was my first decently long yoga session in a long time. I’ve been practicing yoga on and off since I was 16. I love yoga. I love the balancing, the stretching, the breathing, and the mindfulness of the whole practice. I love the way it makes me feel afterward. But it always seems to take a back seat when I focus on muscle strengthening or cardio routines. Or really, yoga becomes my five minute cooldown, if I have the time.
But for the past few weeks, I have been suffering from a recurrence of a mystery illness that I suffered with for three months last summer. At least, it feels the same. This time, however, I’ve been vigorously pursuing a diagnosis.
I’ve also been vigorously pursuing and nourishing my personal wellness a lot more. So while I do not have the energy bandwidth for strenuous activities such as running or weightlifting, I have been getting in 15 minute yoga session every morning that I feel able, and 30 minute sessions on my recumbent bike in the evenings.
So this past Sunday, with autumn finally descending on Southern Appalachia, I had a glorious outdoor yoga session.
And man, I felt it on Monday! That rewarding soreness is a welcome ache when you’ve been down for the count.
It’s a cliche that when you’re angry, you should try to find your “Happy Place.” But a tired joke this sentiment is not. Recognizing and defining your happy place is essential to resetting and realigning yourself when necessary.
Being able to stop yourself, to take a moment to close your eyes and breathe deep, and to visual yourself in a place where you find calm and peace is a powerful technique. But before you can do this, you first have to identify where and what makes you content.
This could be the ocean on your last beach vacation, the lapping waves, the breeze, the gulls calling, the smell of the salty air. Or maybe it’s sitting on top of a tall mountain, overlooking a vast range, the sounds of song birds in the air, a patch of summer sweet blackberries behind you where hummingbirds take a break from their long summer sojourns. Or maybe it’s lounging in a big comfy chair in front of a roaring fireplace, snuggling in your quilt with a steaming hot cup of mulled apple cider in you hands.
Personally, I have a couple of visualization that I consider my happy places. The main one that I visualize when I need to check my emotions or thoughts, however, is my home. Specifically, I close my eyes and think about the wooded view I have from my back porch and of Mount Yonah the lonely mountain, lording over the towns below, my husbands arms wrapped around me in a warm embrace, birds chattering in the forest that surrounds us, and the light scent of butterfly bushes in the air.
A good happy place visualization should include all the senses, or as many as possible. Focus on the visual part of the visualization, yes, but also the sounds, the smells, the tactile sensations, and yes, you should include taste if your happy place calls for it.
So why does this work? It’s thought to be a type of placebo effect. You brain reacts the same way to both experience and memory. So simply recalling the effects of a certain event can release the same hormones, endorphins, and cause all sorts of chemical reactions (this can also be a bad thing, like when you remember traumatic events, but that’s a different topic all together).
Practice make perfect. The more that you take you mind to your happy place, the more reflexive the technique becomes, so that the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or experiencing an anxiety spiral, can can call up your happy place to help pull you out of the darkness.
*Disclaimer: The happy place technique is a supplement and not a substitute for proper medical advice or medications. Chemical imbalances are real. Please treat yourself accordingly.