Meditation 101: Meditation for Beginners

images-3.jpgHave you always wanted to meditate and did not know where to start?  If so, then you are certainly not alone.

Before my mindfulness journey, I believed that meditation was just for Buddhists and monks in monasteries in some mysterious far away mountain.  I also held this misconception that people who meditate generally exude this aura of unshakable calmness and serenity and at any moment, they are going to say something transcendental like…”Do or Do Not.  There is no try” (Yoda).

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In reality, meditation is not as complicated as I made it out to be.  In fact, meditation can be done with just a mat/chair, an attitude of openness, and your breath. Meditation is actually a simple yet life changing practice that can reduce stress, increase the feeling of calmness and promote happiness.  Anyone can do it and the benefits are endless.

In this blog, I offer you simple steps to start a meditation practice that hopefully will serve you during the good times…and more especially, the more turbulent moments.  I have also included some tips I call “Get Real” based on my experiences since I can’t be perfect all the time…..

The Basics:

1.  A quiet time and place

If possible, have a dedicated space exclusively for your daily sitting.  It also helps if you set a regular time to practice.

Get real:  However, if you are like me and you set an intention to always meditate in the morning but somehow end up sleeping in or got busy preparing lunch for Olivia and getting her ready for school…don’t worry about it.  I learned to just “chill” and just meditate at night or on the train on my way to work.  The important part is actually realistically committing to meditate at some point during the day.

2.  Posture

Sit cross legged on a meditation cushion or on a chair with your feet flat on the floor.  Don’t lean back.  Instead, sit with a dignified yet relaxed pose.  Place your hands, palms facing down on your thighs.  Let your eyes close, or if you prefer,  keep your eyes open, softening your gaze.

Get real: 
I started my meditation practice sitting on a chair.  I initially thought “aren’t I supposed to be sitting on the floor in a lotus position?” and “should I go out and buy a meditation cushion (zafu)?”  Nope.  Basically, you have to throw out all the misconceptions you may have heard or read about meditation.  Go with what works for you.   If you don’t have those pretty zafus and zabutons, or you are not able to do a full lotus (or a half lotus, for that matter), or if you want to close your eyes rather than keep them open (my eyes feel really dry so I keep mine closed)…it’s ok.  Work with what you’ve got and what you are comfortable with.  There is no right or wrong way to meditating.
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3.  Notice your breath…AND FOLLOW THEM.

Place your attention on your breath as you breathe in and out.

Get real:  “Wait, what? How do you do that? “–that was the question exploding inside my head when I first started.  It had to be explained to me that if you pay close attention, you will notice how cold the air is as you breath it in or how your belly goes up and down.  You don’t have to force anything or think about how you are breathing.  Just notice……

Did you also notice the smallest of pauses between the in-breath and the out-breath?

4. Notice your thoughts….and DON’T FOLLOW THEM!!!

At some point, you will notice that your mind will wander and your attention is taken away from the breath.  Just acknowledge that you are “thinking” and congratulate yourself that you have caught yourself ….and once again begin on focusing on your breath.  No need to judge or belittle yourself.  Just say ” Oh, I’m thinking.”..and begin again.

Get real:  I congratulated myself a lot.  I still do.  I find that in the first few minutes, my mind is really on overdrive and there is a lot of chatter.  Sometimes, on really stressful days when there are so many thoughts that are clamouring for my attention, I scream inside my head… “SETTLE DOWN!!!”.  Interestingly enough, this works for me.  Figure out what works for you.

Remember….be kind to yourself.  No need for be so hard or angry with yourself when your mind starts to wander.  You can always begin again.
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5.  End your session

After your allotted time, you can consider your meditation period complete!  Congratulations!

Get real: I started with a 20 minute meditation practice.  However you can start with just 5 minutes a day and you can increase as you get more comfortable.  I also chose a little gesture that gave me closure…I take a deep breath, put my hands together in front of my heart and say “Namaste” quietly.  Find one that resonates with you.

Congratulations, you just finished meditating!

In future blogs, I will cover other aspects of how to improve your meditation practice using helpful tools like what apps and meditation accessories I found useful (and those I did not!) and questions that I had such as “how long should I be sitting?” or ” am I doing this right?”.  I’m thinking you would probably have the same questions I did!

As always, thanks for stopping by and if you would like to join me in my journey of healthy and mindful living….don’t forget to click on the link and follow me!!!

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Debbie.

A new year’s resolution: another look at Work-Life Balance….

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As another year draws to a close and a new year just around the corner, this is generally the time when everyone takes a deep breath and comes up with an impossibly unsustainable new years’ resolution…like going (back?) to the gym, eating out less, or spending more time with the family.  However, one resolution that tends to come up with most of my workaholic friends is striking the right “work-life balance”. 

I first heard of the phrase “work life balance” in the early part of my career as an accountant for one of the Big 4 accounting firms (it used to be the big 5).  The managers and senior managers were always talking about not having time for dinner with their families during the peak of audit season.  In fact, they had not seen their wives or husbands in daylight as they generally left for work before sunrise and when they came home, the whole house was already asleep.  They always said, “I have to get a job with more work life balance, man.”  

What exactly is “work-life balance”?  In a nutshell, it is the holy grail of the art of balancing work (i.e. career and ambition) with life (i.e. family, leisure, health).  This balancing act can be tricky and many of us have fallen into the trap of focusing on the work aspect….leading to the demise of the other.  Burnout and the compounding stress of a never ending workday in contrast with boredom and the compounding stress of always watching the purse strings are just some of the results of too much focus on either work or life.

In Nigel Marsh’s TEDtalk about work life balance, he brilliantly sums the paradox as “it is quite easy to balance work and life when you don’t have any work; not a very useful skill, especially when the money runs out.”

So where does this leave us?  Work life balance is different for everyone but these are some of my thoughts and tips that may help in find YOUR balance:

1.  It was never about Balance

Consider the three words again:  Work, Life, Balance. 

It was just recently that I realized that perhaps I was looking at this phrase all wrong.  Isn’t “work” really just part of “life”?  Why would “work” garner 50% of this equation? In fact, in thinking about this more deeply, MY life would likely be broken down into these components:  work, my family and friends, and my SELF.   All of these contribute to my overall happiness—but certainly not 50% of work!!!

Work is just part of life, such as my family and my health and wellbeing would also be.  Put another way, work is really just a piece of the Pie of Life; we should not give it more (or less) importance as the other parts of our lives. Alas, sometimes, this realization comes too late when our health fails us or when we suffer our first anxiety attack, for example. As far as I know, no one on their deathbed has ever said “I wish I had spent more time at the office”.

So perhaps, a change in perspective is warranted since it was never about balance to begin with….it is really about integration of the work in the overall scheme of things.

2.  Beware the Golden Handcuffs

Maybe it was just me but I found that even though I made a good living, it seemed as if it was never enough.  So, I went for promotions that paid me more money which meant more responsibility and more stress; other times, I would change jobs just for the fact that it paid more.  You would think that if I had more money, I could save more and be happier.  Quite the opposite.  Ironically, I found that the more money I made, the more expenses I seemed to have!  So, when finally I realized my happiness was inexplicably connected to my work life imbalance, it was so much more difficult to just throw in the towel and say, ENOUGH! 

Faced with choice—would you quit a job that makes you sick or would you just suck it up?

So beware the golden handcuffs…

3.  Establish boundaries

Employers try to attract talent or keep employees by giving incentives like flexible work environments including work from home, the perks of having the newest smartphones in the market, dress down Fridays, or even a daycare in the premises.  If you come to think about this though, these incentives just make your work day even longer!  I am sure that these employers have good intentions but it is critical that boundaries are set early on or else work will definitely take over all of your hours of the day. 

“But wouldn’t that limit my career?” you are probably asking.  Well, that would be up to you.  I think that you would likely come out to be a more productive and happier employee since you actually have time to BREATHE.  Have you ever worked with someone who always seems to be on edge since they have too much on their plate and everyone is tiptoeing and walking on eggshells around them for fear of being yelled at?  I worked for someone like that—I remember I used to take the longer route to the washroom so I wouldn’t have to walk by his office. Yah, not nice.

So, there you have it, a few thoughts to ponder as a new year is once again upon us.

Do you have any work-life balance tips of your own? Let me know in the comments below! Don’t forget to follow me by email so you never miss another blog… sign up below!!!

As always, thank you so much for following and reading my blog and may 2018 be a year filled with smiles, love, much happiness and prosperity.

This is my heartfelt wish from me to you. Happy New Year, everyone!

Debbie.

Birthday wishes

It was my birthday a few days ago.

Another year older.

One year closer to retirement.

I didn’t get a lot of birthday well wishes and even my mother forgot. She’s 86 so I couldn’t really blame her.

My sister almost forgot and she admitted it on a text at 8:30 that night while I was getting ready for bed. She asked me what I did for my birthday and I replied, “Nothing. Just went to work. Had dinner at home. Cheaper.” I had a smiley face somewhere in those sentences for added effect.

My brother forgot and tried to cover it up by sending me a text the next afternoon asking nonchalantly “What did you do for your birthday?”

My reply was the same.

Then we talked about one year closer to retirement and what I need to do to make it a reality. We are both accountants after all and investment strategies are infinitely more important than whether I had a birthday cake and whether it was chocolate or vanilla…

If I sound a little disappointed that my birthday was really nothing special, not really. It’s just that I seem to have come to a point in my life where birthdays have become just another mundane day of the week. I don’t expect any special treatment or presents or even a day off….

Is that sad?

Actually, I don’t think so. I quite enjoyed not having to dress up and think about where to go or even consider what to eat since a birthday dinner must somehow be more special than any other meal.

Too much effort.

Have I become lazy in my old age?

Actually, I don’t think so either. I think I have just realized how much more I enjoy a glass of wine at home than going out to a bar and having decide whether one glass of wine is enough or should I get the bottle instead…and who will be the designated driver.

Too much effort.

At any rate, I quite enjoyed my birthday–I had a quiet dinner at home with two glasses of my favourite wine and had combination of chocolate and vanilla ice cream cake with little icing flowers.

I got a hugs and a kisses from my daughter and hubby…and that is the greatest birthday gifts I could have!

So, for all September birthday celebrants out there…happy birthday!

Hope you had a fabulous birthday too!

Debbie

Wasting time (part 2)

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I survived last week without playing Candy Crush….see my last week’s post Wasting time…

Okay, let me qualify that a bit….I survived last week without spending too much time playing Candy Crush.  I ended last week at level 1170 and I am just on level 1172.

Needless to say, it was tough in the beginning….

“How can I give up on two hours of free lives?” I remember thinking as I pressed the “claim prize” button…

Well, I clearly impressed myself when after 15 mins (yes, I actually put a timer on my Iphone), I swiped away the Candy Crush app…

So, as with any challenge, it started off pretty tough.  It was like breaking a bad habit but as days passed by, it became easier.

I started reading The Art of Happiness which is based on insights from the Dalai Lama and when it just became too preachy at 8am while riding the train, I started another book that I found in the deep recesses of my book shelf, the Automatic Millionaire by David Bach.  It was a really old book (copyright 2003) that I got free when I worked for a bank.  It is actually a pretty simple book and an easy read so you don’t have to be a financial genius to read it.  I think it has a really good concept…”pay your self first…and make it automatic!”  Let me know if you want to borrow it and I will see how I can get it out to you…hahahaha!

So, in the past week, as I had to replace the time I usually spend playing Candy Crush to actually thinking about how I can get ahead in achieving financial freedom…at 55.

I went through my finances and looked at a few investing ideas and came up with a plan to maybe curb a few expenses that I found out was getting a little out of hand….I actually found this app called Mint that tracked my expenses and it seems my gas and fuel expense is overbudget by $48 and I have $3 left in my budget for alcohol and bars.

At any rate, what I want to convey here is not to get into investing or finding the most awesome app out there, but that sometimes pausing and not have Candy Crush (or Facebook or Pinterest) get away with all your precious time.  Maybe when you are walking with your baby in your stroller or on a long run on a nice Sunday morning to actually look up, ahead, and around…instead of posting what your status is on snapchat or Instagram…..It sounds surprising, but it does happen!

I realize this past week that my time is precious and I would rather spend it on what is meaningful to me.

Of course, I am not going to give up Candy Crush (are you crazy!!!), I just am going to keep it in check.  Five lives for a day and if I still can’t get past the level after five lives, I am not going to go on my settings and change the time so I get a new set of five lives….(Candy Crushers–you know what I’m talking about!!)

Have a good week, everyone!

Debbie

 

 

Additions to my bucket list…

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I spent Canada Day with my sister-in-law and over a cold beer and some sour and not-nearly-so-ripe cherries from their cherry tree, I told her that one of my pipe dreams is to rent a villa in Tuscany, complete with a pool and a housekeeper who will come once or twice a week to make me an authentic Italian dinner and who won’t laugh when I practice my Italian.

It made me think that I should add this Tuscan dream to my growing bucket list….

To date, my bucket list looks like this:

1.  Learn to tread water

person-treading-in-water-clipart-13I can swim…well, okay, maybe I should put a caveat on that one.  I can swim for 2 minutes and then I get tired and I stand up.  So, I’d better be able to touch the bottom and stand or else I’m in trouble!

My daughter, Olivia, swims like a fish.  I think it’s because of the fact that I am not a swimmer that I put her in private swimming lessons the minute she turned 2!  She can tread water like it is no big deal.

Well, I think it is a big deal….

So, now that I think of it, perhaps I should take proper swimming lessons and work myself up to treading water…?

2.  Go on a week long silent retreat

Imagine not speaking for a week.

Enough said.

3.  Go to Fiji or Tahiti 6f97f9d2b3a8028c3e1a8f6ed2e2ff13

I’ve always loved to be around water.

Dang.  I really need to get going on those swimming lessons ….

I wonder how many years it would take to say “That’s me in the picture”….?

4.  Learn Tai Chi

Actually, I was so close to signing up for tai chi lessons a few years back….then work got in the way.

If you haven’t heard of Tai Chi, it can be best described as a moving form of yoga and meditation. It is actually quite fascinating, especially for someone like me who tends to rush around…Tai Chi forces you to slow your movements down.

I should start looking at this again….maybe I can strike this off my list sooner rather than later!

5.  Go on a road trip

images  I once asked Olivia if someday she would want to drive across Canada with me and along the way, stop and learn what our wonderful country is all about…from Halifax to Vancouver Island and perhaps see the Northern Lights in the Yukon.

She said NO.  “It costs a lot of gas and is bad for the environment”. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be able to convince her if we get an electric car…?

Be that as it may, I will keep this on my bucket list…

What is on your bucket list?

Have a good weekend, everyone!

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Debbie

 

 

 

Yes, I Remember….

I remember when my family was still living in the Philippines, I used to run and dance in the rain…with not a care in the world. The kids in our street always came out and played tag when it was pouring out. Running around with squishy shoes added just the right balance of chuckles and moans of disgust! I also remember when I used to just stand outside under one of the banana trees that my father planted around our house and listen to the raindrops as it hit the leaves and fell to the ground.

Nowadays, my days are so filled with hurrying around, catching the train, getting in and out of cars, sitting behind glass walls…that I haven’t really thought about how it feels to be outside in the rain. I think the last time I was outside in the rain was when I was training for a marathon and I got caught in the rain during a Sunday long run. That was 10 years ago. I remember thinking “I hope it doesn’t stop raining…”

Yes, I remember that I used to be just like that girl in the picture…and yes, she is still somewhere inside…

Let it rain.

 

Debbie.

Searching for Happiness

Someone recently asked me “How are you?  Are you happy?”  I actually had to pause since those are some loaded questions.

I replied with the obligatory “I’m doing well!  Thank you for asking!  How are you?”

I somehow skirted around the “Are you happy” question but it stayed with me.

Am I happy?

What is the definition of “happy” anyway?…still skirting the issue.

Some definitions of happy are “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment” or “fortunate and convenient”.

Somehow, I don’t think I could have said, “Yes, I am feeling fortunate and content..so yes, I’m happy.”

Therefore, I am starting a new journey and I have dubbed it “Searching for Happiness”.

So, come join me as I search for what it means to be happy…along the way, you may also discover what makes YOU happy! 

Have a good rest of the week, everyone!

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Debbie.

“Jupiter Ascending”…Not really

I’m going to be honest, I’m a Trekkie. (ˈtrekē/ noun-informal: a fan of the US science fiction television program Star Trek.)

I vividly remember practicing Spock’s Vulcan salute with the famous line “Live long and prosper” until my hand hurt. Oh, and how can I forget the Vulcan Mind Meld…”my mind to your mind; my thoughts to your thoughts.”

Super cool…

So, when I received an email from Netflix saying “We just added a movie you might like”..and it has the name of a planet (aka Jupiter), I’m intrigued.

Jupiter Ascending. Catchy name.

It is a movie about a young lady named Jupiter (so, not the planet!) who helps her family clean houses. Little does she know that she actually comes from a long line of intergalactic royalty and she holds the future of Earth in her hands.  The movie is mishmash of aliens, a genetically engineered bodyguard, a youth serum trade, and bees and other out-of-this world ideas.

I’m sorry to say that I would give this movie 1.5 out of 5 stars.

Well, that’s 2 hours I will never get back but this movie did give me pause….

As I was watching the movie, I could not quite understand why Jupiter didn’t seem to relish the idea that she was SPECIAL!

I mean, you are from a long line of alien royalty, you get to go into outer space, be in a space ship….you even OWN a planet!

Wow!  Except for bad aliens trying to kill you, what’s not to be excited about?

There are some days when I wake up and think “there must be some mistake…I AM destined to do great things, right? So, how come my life seems so boring?”

It’s like when I saw a trailer of the new movie “Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them”.  Jacob,the Muggle, sums it all up when he wistfully says  “I want to be a Wizard.”

I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a wizard or own a planet?

In thinking about this some more, I think it’s not about being grateful. I wake up grateful everyday and I thank my lucky stars that I am alive, I have a roof above my head and food to eat, have a family who loves me, I live in a country which doesn’t have a bully as its leader, I could go on and on…

No.  This is not about being grateful.

This goes much deeper.

It is about feeling SPECIAL.

BEING SPECIAL.

Hmmmm…Interesting.  I’m thinking there is some deep deep insecurity buried somewhere in my psyche that I need to look at the next time I meditate.

…or maybe, I am again overthinking everything and as I learned in my mindfulness practice that this feeling shall pass…impermanence.

It was just a silly movie, after all.

At any rate… Live long and prosper.

Have a good weekend everyone!!

Debbie.

PS:  I STILL wish I was a wizard….

A New Year’s Resolution…?

My daughter and I went to a small community Christmas concert that showcased wind instruments. Actually, the Oakville Wind Orchestra is Canada’s oldest concert band (it was created in 1866 and it was sponsored by the Town of Oakville on 1881 and it continues to the present day!) so it was a big deal to have something with so much history in our own backyard.

It’s not like one of those big production kind of things either!  The tickets were $20 per person and $10 for students. So for a total price of $30, we got to enjoy concert band music on a nice wintry evening. The musicians were very talented and you would not have believed that the group of 45, ranging from 16 year olds to seniors, were students, teachers, lawyers, accountants, wives, husbands, etc!  My daughter and I were really quite enthralled once they started playing.

My daughter plays the flute so it was quite understandable that she gravitated toward the flute players and was particularly captivated with how the musicians’ fingers seemed to lightly fly over the little tiny holes in the instrument…

However, what really caught my attention was the percussionist who was playing the xylophone.  Actually, she had different types of xylophones. http://www.guitarcenter.com/Orff-Xylophones.gc. 

I thought, “Wow!  I didn’t think that a xylophone could sound that good!  The only xylophone I know are the ones with the rainbow coloured bars that always seemed to be the favourite of all toddlers! Definitely no rainbow colours here!”

This evening also made me rethink –perhaps learning an instrument in 2017 would be a worthy endeavour.  I’m thinking that it would be a good New Years resolution…

My choices were:

Piano? Nope, I used to take piano lessons when I was small…I have not-so-fond memories of my piano teacher’s stern look when she realizes I didn’t practice…

Violin? Maybe not a good idea since I have this fear that I might get a crick in the neck that I will never recover from…

Flute?  Nope–I already have a flute player in the family…

Guitar? My fingers are not that long…

Ukulele? Hey!  It’s small and compact and short fingers are a non-issue..and I recall I bought my daughter a ukulele when she was somehow inspired by Grace Vanderwaal (the 2016 America’s Got Talent winner)….haven’t seen it lately but I’m sure it’s around somewhere….so no additional financial outlay there!

But somehow, telling people that learning to play the ukulele as my New Year’s resolution seems rather unusual. Not that it should really matter what other people think….

…or maybe I should consider learning a language instead…? French? Spanish? Italian?

Here’s to your New Year’s resolution…whatever it may be!!

Debbie.