Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My Life Balanced: 120 Days Challenge - Mindfulness & Meditation

For this My Life Balanced update, I want to focus on what I consider to be the biggest strengths of the 120 Days Challenge Workbook: its focus on mindfulness and various forms of meditation as a core practice that bolsters all the work being done to change and refine the users' work on their nutritional health and fitness.

As I've mentioned before, each day includes short statements that can be used to spark the direction of one's own goals from a holistic place that includes meditation or journaling, nutrition, movement, and food for thought.

On frequent rotation is the suggestion to do a 'body scan' - that is, to pause and listen to one's body - does it feel tight? Sore? Tired?  What is it craving - certain foods, movements, rest or activity?  What makes it feel relaxed or joyful or satisfied?

Body scans and me go way back - as someone who has lived with rheumatoid arthritis since my late teens, this is a frequent and useful way to pay attention to what is needed to treat symptoms and determine how to avoid overdoing (or underdoing) so that comfort and functionality can stay optimal.  It's a constantly shifting target - today may need to be a rest day, and tomorrow may be an opportunity to get a few extra things done, but the more you pay attention to your body's response to activity, food and stressors, the better you get at challenging yourself as far as you can while stopping short of the point where recovery costs more in energy than the original effort.

So, I really appreciate seeing it here as something that can and should be applied to everyone who uses the My Life Balanced process - because not only does the 'right' answer vary from person to person, it varies from day to day for each person.  So many 'plans' assume that everyone starts from the same place with the same resources, which sets people up to either be overchallenged (and set up for failure and feelings of guilt), or underchallenged and not seeing any significant results - turning effort into pointless busy work.

This sort of mindfulness of our own body's signals and responses to what we do with it is what enables the My Life Balanced Program to be infinitely modifiable to whatever each person seeks to get from it.  For me, the connection of meditation and inner work with the outer work of eating appropriately for me, and keeping my body as limber and functional as it can be is key to making this work for me.

Regarding meditation, I am also noticing another thing I really appreciate - there are a variety of meditational processes that are noted, as well as plenty of room to incorporate whatever methods have worked for you before starting it.

I am one of many who has never had very good results with the sort of meditation that involves no movement at all, and focuses on 'emptying the mind'.  Vanessa includes at the front of the book a few specific breathing techniques which are beyond helpful in attempting this form of meditation - breath provides a focus and a rhythm that makes it much easier to clear the mind (not so much empty it as declutter) because instead of 'trying' to focus on nothing, you're focusing on breath, releasing random thoughts and creating space to listen - to your body, to that still small voice of wisdom.

My favorite sort of meditation, though, involves more active movement.  One of the day's movement suggestions involved a form I used to love several years ago when I was more mobile - a walking meditation.

Try a walking meditation today. Choose a surface that we are able to walk barefoot on and connect with the ground. During our walk, bring all our awareness to what we feel with our feet connecting the earth.

I was really happy to be reminded of form of moving meditation, as it worked very well for me, and while I have been striving to walk more (I still use my Pacemaker walking sticks regularly), this offers me a great platform for getting back to an old pleasurable activity.

I plan to dust off my old copy of The Spirited Walker: Fitness Walking For Clarity, Balance, and Spiritual Connection and begin using it again. It is a truly lovely book that, much like the My Life Balanced Program, blends practical advice about walking with a spiritual meditative component that incorporates nature awareness, rhythm techniques, and other aspects of walking that make it an exercise in mindfulness as well as fitness.

Finally, I want to mention a third form of meditation practice that I find helpful - visualization.  Here, the purpose is not to empty the mind of stray thoughts but to visualize a thoughtform in order to experience it.

The one I use most often is a part of my spiritual practice and is a variation of a grounding and centering meditation used often by various people.  It is known as the Two Powers Meditation and can be done seated or standing, staying still or incorporating movement to reflect the visualization.

It can be done silently but it is also often done in groups, with one person talking it through for the others.  The basic process is to imagine yourself a tree (or 'the World Tree' - an ancient depiction of the cosmos), roots grounded deep in the earth, the trunk creating a home for all life on earth, and the branches reaching up to the heavens for light and nourishment.

In the meditation, you first stretch your roots down deep into the earth into a pool of water, drawing up cool energy into yourself - the Well of the World, where our ancestry and past are.  The cool watery energy is used to fill cauldrons within us, sometimes conceptualized as chakras.  Then you visualize life growing and living on our branches - all those things that share life with us here and now, and then reaching upward past the atmosphere and into the universe to draw down divine light and fire, filling those same spaces within so that the water and fire combine.  Finally, especially when done with a group, it is helpful to visualize one's branches extending outward and intertwining with one another so that together, we are a Grove, strengthened and supported by one another as we each are rooted firmly in the earth and nourished by the divine.

I know this particular visualization might not be for everyone, but I find it a very compelling metaphor and as a meditation practice, it stills my stress and 'busy brain', reminds me that I am supported in whatever I do, and gives me a perspective that reminds me that while this moment is all I have now, it is but a very small moment and nothing to stress over.

If you're interested in doing visualizaton work, searching iTunes or Amazon Music or YouTube will give you a huge collection to try out - find a few and see how they work for you.

Getting back to the My Life Balanced program, if your experience is anything like mine, you will find that, like that tree metaphor, it leads you to branch out, seek more information on those portions of it that appeal to dig deeper - learn more about specific practices unfamiliar to you, as well as draw on old and possibly neglected practices that have served you well in the past.  You won't find everything you need to know within its covers - and I think that is its strength.  It doesn't lay out a lot of 'must do' instructions, but instead is a launch pad to discover your own potential and passions.

And all that starts with a simple bit of mindfulness. Do a body scan. Listen to what your own body.. and mind.. and spirit... how are they expressing their needs and desires, and how might you respond?

Previous posts in this series:
My Life Balanced - Introduction to a New Series
My Life Balanced - 1st Progress Report
My Life Balanced: 120 Days Challenge (Heavy on the CHALLENGE!)


  1. Love this post Lynda! You put into words perfectly all my thought process behind why and how I created this program.

  2. I've never heard of this program before, but it sounds really interesting!

  3. This is fantastic! The concept is something truly appealing to me!

  4. This is fantastic! The concept is something truly appealing to me!

  5. This is fantastic! The concept is something truly appealing to me!

  6. Thanks for sharing on the Healthy Living Link Party. It has been pinned to our party board and tweeted. Glad to have you as a regular contributor to the party.

  7. I love this post and especially the quote about the present moment is all we truly have. Thank you for this lovely post and sharing with us at #Wednesdayswisdom

  8. Stopping in from Nifty Thrifty Sundays - I like the well of the world visualization, I love walking meditation and visualizations. I am also a big fan of guided-meditations where I can relax and other people guide me through what I should be saying and doing.

  9. What an inspiring post. Thanks for sharing at Funtastic Friday:-)

  10. I'm here from Nifty Thrifty Sundays :) I love the idea of the tree visualization meditation and I had never heard of that before. Sounds beautiful and restorative. I'll have to try it out! I'm trying to focus on mindfulness these days so I really enjoyed your whole post!

  11. This is a great reminder that I could definitely use a little more meditation in my life! Thanks so much for sharing with us at Share The Wealth Sunday!


  12. I haven't done meditation before, I'll need to try it out someday to help clear out my thoughts and relax. Good luck with your life balance challenge! #ProductReviewParty

  13. This is a great meditation exercise. My therapist started me with guided imagery and meditation (they can go hand in hand) and it worked wonders for becoming more self aware of my body! Thank you for sharing your exercise at #ChronicFridayLinkup! I pinned your post to the Chronic Friday Linkup board at www.Pinterest.com/beingfibromom

  14. Great post and we certainly do need to listen to our bodies. Thank you for sharing with us at #AnythingGoes linkup and see you next week.

  15. Great Post! Thanks for sharing on My 2 Favorite Things on Thursday!! I love having you! Hope to see you again on Thursday! Pinned!

  16. Sounds like a very great program! Thanks for sharing with SYC.

  17. I am not going to lie, Lynda, but even though I love walking, the fact that I'm doing because I have no other choice bothers me. In fact, it bothers me so much that I stopped for weeks and when I had to pick up my glasses this week, it was a painful experience.
    I am working on my acceptance and growth. I will get there.
    Thank you so much for sharing it on #TipTuesday!

  18. Thank you for sharing this post with us at the Hearth and Soul Hop. I was really interested to read it as meditation is something I know is good for me but something I struggle to do! Love the idea of the World Tree meditation, that sounds very restorative. I do like walking meditations as well - probably because I'm not very good at sitting still! Sharing :-)

  19. What a great and true quote! Thanks for sharing this at the Say G'day party! Pinned all and look forward to seeing you on Saturday!

  20. Great post! Pinned and tweeted. Thank you so much for bringing such a masterpiece to our party. I hope to see you tonight at 7 pm. We can’t wait to party with you! Lou Lou Girls