meditation

Acting in line with your values, even on the rough days.

This month's text on values, by Maria: 

It’s a rainy Wednesday morning, the weather suited for my current mood. I am on my way to work to meet a handful of patients and I do not feel the slightest bit motivated.
The morning has started in the worst possible way: Before 8 am I have managed to come in conflict with both my partner and my two children. There's been yelling, blaming, nagging, endless discussions that don’t seem to lead anywhere. I have bitter thoughts in my head, and for a while it all seems hopeless. When landing in my seat on the bus, I wish the ride would never end -- but in 20 minutes I need to take on my professional glasses and show my patient, a person in a great deal of suffering, my engagement and empathic concern.

Something in the back of my head keeps nagging me. It says “Maria, this won’t lead to any good, the mistake is already made, settle with how you can repair what is broken and forgive yourself. Do something to distract you, use your time wisely!” I want to tell that annoying voice to shut up, put on sad music and pout. Instead I sigh, resign. By now,I know the voice is right. I pick up my phone, tell my partner I am sorry for acting out my stress on him. Ask him for forgiveness and to kiss the kids for me until I’m home again. I put on my compassion-app and listen to a guided meditation. It brings me calm, remind me of what loving-kindness and compassion can give me.

I come to think about the first patient of the day. A woman my age who is so hard on herself, never gives herself a break. I feel for her, want to help her see the benefit from being compassionate towards herself. I wish she could see what it has done for me. I put my hands up to my chest, try to get in contact with my compassionate voice in my head and tell myself  “What you did this morning was not great, but it was human. You were under a lot of stress and you have a hard time handling stress in the mornings. Choose to forgive yourself and let it not take over the whole day. Let yourself be of great use to your patients and colleagues and take care of yourself so that you can come home feeling content and with a lot of hugs in your back-pack.”

I start to wonder how I just a few moments ago could think about my work as horrible when really it is chosen with great care and is deeply meaningful to me. I wonder how my head could twist into thinking why I have chosen to have a family when there is nothing better in the world than to look into my children's eyes and feel their hands all over my face. I choose to not blame myself for these thoughts, they are merely thoughts, and they are human. This afternoon I will make up for the morning, I promise myself that.

Oh, good, I almost missed my stop sitting here with my head up in the clouds. During those steps to the office in the cold rain my mind has taken a new turn. I look forward to seeing that patient of mine and hopefully give her a way to let go of that self-criticism. I look forward to the meeting where we will plan for the future and I look forward to coming home to my family. The day might be hard, but being in contact with who I want to be and what I find meaningful makes it easier to get through the day even with draining energy. In the meeting with my first patient, I get to talk about compassion. When we do an exercise I remind myself about that this is something I need as well as the patient. In the meeting with my second patient, I get to talk about values and ACT and I get a reminder about who I want to be. After work, the kids are cranky and my partner and I are tired. I manage to remind myself about this morning; that is not who I want to be. After the circus of an everyday evening with two children, I lie next to my son. My mind starts to drift away to work and things that stress me. My son brings me back with his questions and needs. I remember to be thankful for it instead of annoyed like a was yesterday; that is not who I want to be. He gives me a big hug and snuggles into my arms and I just have to wait for him to fall asleep. Another day with disappointments, challenges, compassion and gratefulness has passed. 

Facilitating behavioral change: establishing a daily practice

If there’s something we psychologists know it’s how hard it can be to make behavioral changes. If it weren’t then this world would look a whole lot different, your life would probably look a whole lot different.

We’re creatures of habit, lovers of the path of least resistance and automatized to the point of in many ways resembling an autopilot that has set out across the ocean, navigating us through our daily lives.

Luckily, something else we psychologists know are a few tips and tricks on how to facilitate the desired changes in our behavior. And, lucky for you, one of our aims with YOMI is to share whatever knowledge we have that might make life easier for just about anyone who’s interested. Hence: this series of blog posts called “Facilitating behavioral change”, fresh with psychological knowledge and research, applied on our yoga and meditation practice, in our regular everyday stressed out lives.

When getting into yoga and meditation, whether it be through a more structured program such as the YOMI program, via a youtube home practice or the occasional yoga class at your gym, most people eventually become more and more intrigued by the thought of establishing a daily practice: a daily sadhana. Which, due to our somewhat habitual and lazy nature, can be easier said than done. Establishing new habits usually requires a bit of effort, but can be facilitated by a number of things:

·      Take small steps: the hard part of creating a daily practice is usually not so much the actual “practice” part as the “daily” part. If we focus too much on the practice being big, advanced or strenuous, chances are it’ll be hard for us to keep up on a daily basis. Rather, when starting out, try to take smaller steps in the beginning, gradually building your practice. Start with a shorter practice, using only poses and exercises you know well. When establishing a daily sadhana five breaths on your mat everyday actually is more beneficial than one and a half hour of advanced asanas once every other week. 

·      Create a good space: It might sound like an obstacle that shouldn’t have much impact on your own willingness to practice, but not having a good space to set up your mat or meditation pillow will decrease the chances of you practicing on a regular basis. People are fairly easily conditioned (as much as your average dog or rat), and our brains love to make associations between activities and certain places (e.g. associating our bed with sleeping, our dining table with eating, and the bathroom with brushing our teeth). So much that it can help us get sleepy when we are nearing our bed in the evening. Creating and condition yourself to a certain place for your practice is a good helper. It doesn’t have to be fancy, you just need to know where to roll out your mat, and that this preferably is a place where you have room to raise your arms, and not be disturbed by too much noise or other people. If you want to cozy it up, go ahead, see that as a bonus, but not as a required.

·      Keep your things handy: When NIKE claims “Just do it” they’re probably not thinking about that in order to do it we need to take a few steps first. Such as getting into the appropriate attire and finding our blocks. The rule usually goes that the more accessible your needed stuff are the likelier that you’ll do it. If you do your practice in the morning, set up your space and lay out your clothes the night before. Keep your mat visible, it’ll remind you of your practice. (Remember the previous step about creating a good space, and about how the brain loves to associate things with each other, such as your mat with you doing your practice).

·      Be humble towards the fact that you have a whole other life to live – but adapt accordingly: Few of us have the luxury of leading lives where time seems to come in abundance. We are usually quite busy, especially the one’s of us who seek out yoga and meditation to help manage our stress levels. And in some ways life is what it is; we won’t get rid of certain daily chores, our kids will need picking up from school at certain times each day, our bosses might keep giving us the evil eye if we slip home early too often from work. So, while you get ready for making that really big life change of downsizing or quitting your job (or if you’re just quite happy with keeping things fairly much as they are, but would like some more time for yoga), stay humble towards the fact that life is there, and it’s requiring quite a bit of you. But learn how to adapt accordingly. What time of day would be the easiest for you to practice? Are you a morning person enough to get up half an hour earlier and roll out your mat? Are you an evening person that would benefit from winding down with a night time practice? Is it possible to come into work later and staying later, giving you some more time in the morning? Are you willing to give up a bit of TV time in the evening to practice?  Do what suits and do what works for you, it’s usually a good guideline to increase your chances of getting on your mat. And that’s really what it’s all about: getting you onto your mat and start breathing. Once you’re there you can gradually build the rest.