Meditation hacks

My two challenges for the month of May were the following:

  1. Not complaining.
  2. Meditating every day.

Nr 1, I probably failed somewhere around the 4 minute mark, but I managed to start (very slowly) to incorporate mediation into my daily activities. I don’t think it was a resounding success though, so I will try to tackle the same two challenges for the month of June.

I am by no means a meditation blackbelt, despite having made it through a Vipassana session last year. Therefore, I am very keen on approaches that make it that little bit easier. Here are some of them that I have found work quite well (as life is about shortcuts and taking the easy way yeah)

  1. Ten deep breaths

As I said, meditating is haaaaard (there goes my not complaining challenge). Many of us struggle with sitting still for half an hour in the morning dark. However, I found that taking ten breaths concentrating on making the exhale longer than the inhale is a great two-minute activity to reset your batteries. I use this during the day when I get overwhelmed, and before going to bed.

How to do it: Sit or stand still, close your eyes and slowly breathe in, then breathe out, trying to make the exhalation equal or longer in length than the inhalation. It is not necessary to take a super deep breath (you’ll end up hyperventilating), but it is necessary to slow it down.

2. Walking meditation

Mindfulness meditation centers around making yourself focus on sensations, noticing them and noticing their temporary nature. I find that doing this while walking to work is helpful in starting the day more grounded and calm.

How to do it: When walking, scan your body from head to toe and notice sensations. The noise of the tram passing you by, the wind in your face, the fabric of your clothes, the waistband of the too small pants you got on the internet digging into your midriff. Notice that all these feelings are temporary, they come and go- come and go.

3. Empathy/gratefulness meditation

I discovered this approach in the  book Empathy by Roman Krnazich. It is a great way of connecting to the world, practising gratitude for all we have and do, and all the people who make it possible for us to have/do these things.

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Today, I am grateful for coffee.

How to do it: Start with your morning routine. During each activity within your routine, imagine all the people who stand behind what you do. The corner shop man who sold you the toothpaste, the person in the factory who made that toothpaste, the people taking away your trash after you are done with it. You can also do it with other parts of your day, little by little.

So, do you meditate? Or do you not complain? Any tips for those starting out?

 

 

Great yoga reads

I have come across so many great articles and books that have helped inform my budding yoga practice. Here are some of my recent favourites.

Yoga and the individual

1 The difference between practicing yoga postures and having a yoga practice

This post from The Yoga Lunchbox NZ looks at what are the conditions that help set apart the practising of yoga for self-realisation, and that of doing it for something else (strength, flexibility, sponsorships, awesome pants).  This is no clickbait so I give away the solution: it is 1) a container (daily practice) and 2) a teacher.

Why are these two elements of container and teacher crucial to create a yoga practice?

Because real work of yoga arises not in the physical achievement of the postures, but in the understand of the Self through observation of our relationship to the postures.

So, get practising and look for a guru!

Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga

I read this book while struggling with some difficult stuff personally, and it touched me a lot. This is a memoir about the journey of the author to yoga, and what her practice mean to her. What really speaks to me is that she talks about struggling with postures and philosophy, and not only in the terms of overcoming them- some struggles are bound to stay. The book also balances asanas with meaning focuses on everything that is beyond the asanas, and how the pursue of yoga can help you become a better person.

Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It

Although not strictly a yoga book, I find this one really relevant for personal development for everyone dealing with others. That includes most yogis! Being more empathetic is also one of the values you may want to develop through your yoga practice.

 This is a book about the power of empathy to change ourselves as people, but also our societies. It tells you about fascinating psychology/sociology research, great stories, and even has a list of 6 things that you can do to grow that side of your personality.

If you’re short on time, the author gave a talk at a Google campus which you can watch below.

Yoga and the community

Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga

OK so this is a book about Bikram- actually one of the books that unleashed the shitstorm that has been going on for a while now. It is also an absorbing deep dive into the world of Bikram, from the stories of individuals to the wider community around him,  the whole cult of personality and the culture of competitive asana championship. It looks at all the abuse and conflict that people close to their guru have experienced, but also how the practice itself seems to work for so many. Counter-intuitively, reading this actually MADE me go to a class to see what it is about! More predictably, it made me feel very uncomfortable about giving money to anything connected to that guy. But I did actually quite like the sessions, and luckily my local “Bikram” studio has left the franchise and re-branded themselves a few weeks after my first visit. Hooray!

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Definitely not Bikraming here, but doing yoga with my mom and brother in a field in rural Hungary. I know you are eager to know the details of my outfit. Bottom: Bro’s thrifted sweatpants cca 2002 Top: my favourite sweatshirt supporting the fantastic Skateistan 

5 Justice

This is one of the most thought-provoking articles I have read in a while. So much of the talk and thinking around yoga concentrates on self-actualisation and individual progress. Much less attention is paid to the ways in which  this eternally positive discourse about yoga is inserted in the wider community and how it can contribute to or even hinder social progress. I would love to hear what yoga teachers think about this! The text has several hyperlinks, all worth clicking.

And then I became a yoga teacher, and somehow, all those feisty, political issues became quietly taboo. Modern yoga culture has a tendency to respond to politico-structural issues with fuzzy, pink-tinged, life coach answers; which in the case of structural inequality actually increases rather than decreases oppression. So when yoga studios are struggling to survive urban gentrification and they run more and more teacher trainings, leading to more and more yoga teachers struggling to find students, the answers given are all about personal change – from marketing oneself better to setting a clearer intention. Even though the teachers with the most at stake are those already most marginalised. It’s easy to preach non-attachment when your income is already secure.

What are your favourite yoga books/articles?

On being bad at sports

I kinda suck at all of the sports I practice. Despite all the effort and enthusiasm, I am a 5+ hour marathoner prone to training weight gain, a rock climber who is still struggling on the easier pitches, and that girl in your yoga class who can still not straighten her legs in Downward Dog. Then again, running, yoga and climbing have been such awesome sources of inspiration, growth and fun over the years, that they have become part of who I am.

At first sight, one would think that sports are about: challenging yourself and having a great time. Physical activity makes you feel good. We have the Holy Trinity of evidence on this: academic papers, common sense wisdom, and bad stock photography.

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Woman laughing alone with tiny, pastel-coloured weights

By the time we get serious about exercising, it also becomes part of our identity and therefore something that we use to validate ourselves.  Working out makes us feel good. But it also arouses feelings of insecurity, inadequacy and overall unpleasant shite. There are so many ways to fail at self-discipline, constant progress and all-round measuring up to everyone else.

Self-worth, measuring and comparing

Am I really good enough if I run the next race slower than my first ever? What if I skip the gym?  How on earth do all Instagram yogis have their headstand and Teeki leggings collection all figured out? I have thought about these questions a lot while struggling with comparisons and self-worth and think that social media fitspo and fitness trackers are two of the main tools that backfire when I am trying to build up an exercise routine that comes from a happy place.

In running, my experience is that it becomes about obsessive time tracking very easily. Technology really bit us in the ass there. Measuring our progress can be helpful in training. But from my job evaluating programs for NGOs, I also know that you will work towards what you are measured on. Humans are incredibly biased towards judgement and measurement. This means that even if you start using Runkeeper with the most positive attitude possible, you will likely get lost in the data and focus on improving your numbers. In psychological terms, your intrinsic motivation shifts towards extrinsic motivation This, if you are an NGO or an average runner, will put you at risk of enjoying your activity less, buying way more gear than you need because of your insecurity, and of losing sight of why you started working out in the first place.

That feeling of yuck and self-pity mixed with not being good enough? Being anxious about improving yourself and comparing yourself with others, who seem to be doing so much better? It is normal. We even have specific research on fitspo, which links it to increased feeling of insecurity and self-worth (albeit accompanied by an increased willingness to work out in some cases).

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Jackie O’ has zero issues with body image on the yoga mat

 

The solution? As the Buddha would say, Let that shit go. Here are some ways I managed to get rid of bad feelings when it comes to sports:

  1. Ask some questions

Reflection is always a good place to start. Think of an occasion where you really enjoyed your workout, and ask yourself what was the reason behind this? It is rarely the data as you often don’t see it until afterwards; and I bet it was not looking damn hot while being in a difficult yoga pose, crushing a Crossfit workout or spinning.

2. Ditch the trackers

I remember feeling like a workout did not matter if it wasn’t in my tracking app, and being quite harsh on myself if I had not improved compared to previous occasions. Let’s face it, if you aren’t  a pro athlete, the ultimate goal of your exercise should probably be something else than competing on time. Switching to a routine without a tracker or leaving it at home at least half the time will help you avoid depending on external validation and tune more into how you feel.

3. Diversify your social media feeds and inspiration

There is no one way to do awesome stuff. If you struggle with feeling inadequate, it can be very helpful to widen your inspiration sources to include a rainbow of role models. Social media is full of them! Following campaigns such as This Girl Can and body positive activists like Dianne Bondy can help you focus again on what the essence of your chosen sport is.

Any other suggestions for a happy and balanced exercise routine?

 

 

 

 

5 Things Friday – 5 things I changed in the past 6 months

 

As a somewhat anxious person, I tend to focus a lot on the road lying ahead and aaaaaall the tasks and change that still need to happen, in my life and in the world in general. However, I am trying to get better at appreciating progress, and celebrating success. Plus, looking back can be very useful for perspective and motivation, and don’t we all need some of that.

In the past six months, I have changed some aspects of how I live. Here are 5 examples.

  1. 30/60 day Challenges

J and I came up with the idea of a series of focused 30-60 day “challenges” aimed at stuff we would like to get better at, change in our lives, or which we thought would just be fun. The reasoning behind is that it is much easier to do something for a limited amount of time, rather than trying to change “forever”. Forever is a long time and it can get overwhelming to think, “Oh f*ck, I have to get up at 6 am and exercise for the next 60 years”.  30 days of getting up is far more manageable, while being suffi to see some  results. 60 days of daily yoga was definitely enough to level up my practice and forced me to go to a few classes that I would have never tried before (hello, hot vinyasa! *faints*) The full list is here.

2.  Monthly donations to charity and volunteering

We have decided to take a more systematic approach to giving to charity. We donate 150 euros per month to a charity (changing by month). It  is not as much money as we could potentially donate, and nothing compared to the amazing people at Giving what we can, but we plan on increasing the amount as we go. 150€ is already big enough to make a difference in some of the campaigns that we support, such as building  a home for a person with Habitat for Humanity, or support fundraising by friends.

I also started volunteering with Minor-Ndako, a wonderful organisation working with non-accompanied minors who arrive to Belgium as refugees.

3. Decluttering

In January, I took up the Minimalism Game. This is a challenge where you discard/donate 1 item on Day 1, 2 items on Day 2….for 30 days. I used this together with the KonMari method (see here for a great behavioural economics take on it) to make it easier to let go of stuff that I don’t really like.  It was actually not as hard as I imagined, which is a possible indicator of having way too much shiz in our HQ!

Anyway, what I like about this challenge was that we keep going on decluttering even after day 31- we have a huge IKEA container in the bedroom, and keep putting stuff in there. We keep asking the question “do I really use/need/like this?” and are getting quite good at separating from objects. Items go either to the nearby charity donation box or the self-service donation shelves at our local municipality. I have made repeat trips to the shelf, and it is great to see that all our declutter items have found a new home quickly!

4. Shopping less

This is my nemesis. I am a HUGE fan of thrift shopping and a sucker for sales. However, the humiliating moment of dragging  EIGHT trash bags full of one-time thrift-store “finds” to the donation box made me realise the waste of time and money the habit had become. I have made baby steps though! With my new, de-cluttered closet I also aim to:

  • buy less clothing overall (I objectively have plenty and can cover all occasions from marathon training to a Great Gatsby theme party and everything in between). This has been a moderate success so far. I have passed on buying many items I would have wanted, but am too embarrassed to share how many hours I spent looking at ankle boots on Amazon.
  • when I buy things that I really need, go for 1-in- 2 out.
  • buy preferably secondhand, and if not possible, then as ethically produced as possible.

5. Taking lunch to work

I am aiming to take at least 10 lunches from home per month. This is a not a very painful change as my usual workday sandwich doesn’t make me particularly happy or add a special break to my day, but one that can definitely help me save some money and eat healthier.  If there is a way that makes eating rice and vegs from a box feel like an accomplishment, sign me up!

 

Have you been working on bettering your everyday life? What are some of the changes you have made?