Mind Over Matter: 21 Days of Meditation

As you probably have guessed, I am not a trained medical health professional. What I am is a mom, a mimi, a retired teacher, a lover of nature and of music, as well as, someone living with chronic illnesses. I share my journey to provide some insight and hopefully ideas that may be helpful to others dealing with similar issues. Always, consult with your doctor before trying anything new.

Monkey Mind is a Buddhist term meaning
“unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful;
inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable”.

Have you ever noticed your mind’s thoughts as you’re driving alone in your car? Or as you’re lying in bed trying to fall asleep? Really, at any moment of the day, I can find my brain zipping from one random thought to another. Like a monkey swinging from thought branch to thought branch. My yoga teacher termed this as having a “monkey mind.”

Thoughts that bounce from one random thing to another tends to be the norm in this day and age. I have found that while I actually thrived on that mentality for most of my life (feeling like I was more accomplished juggling all these thoughts into some sort of coherence day in and day out), I now am so overwhelmed with my foggy fibro mind that I find myself frozen in anxiety.

The more I study how the mind works, the more I am coming to understand that I have been yanked around by my thoughts for a good portion of my life. In the past few years, I found myself being physically pulled from one thing to another right along with my thoughts which lead me to a state of panic. On the journey to rewire my overactive nervous system, I have come to realize that meditation is the missing link. As a meditation teacher and researcher Dr. John Kabatt explains, “Most people don’t realize that the mind constantly chatters. And yet, that chatter winds up being the force that drives us much of the day in terms of what we do, what we react to, and how we feel.”

21 Days of Meditation

I’ve been meditating every day for 30 minutes at least once a day for 21 days. As explained in my post Up the Air: Struggles with Flying, Fibro Flare, and Acceptance, I am going through the Mindfully Based Stress Reduction 8-week course online through https://palousemindfulness.com/. David Potter shares this free course, based on Dr. John Kabat Zinn’s program at UMass Medical School.

Dave Potter is a certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction instructor and received his training through the UMass Medical School
where Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Center for Mindfulness.
 

The program’s format makes this teacher’s heart smile. It’s easy to understand and all the resources are accessible and meaningful. While it’s all on-line, everything other than video and audio files can be printed to keep in a binder (which is what Dave suggests doing). I made a digital binder that I will share here. It’s view only, but you could make a copy of what I’ve done. I’m finishing week-3. I decided to do week-2 twice because I had a flare during the first go-round and felt it would be beneficial to continue it for one more week.

 

You may click through the pages of the digital notebook that I’ve created.

 

Course Overview:

Week 1: Simple Awareness

I watched all the video links basically in one sitting; I was excited to get started. I printed out the formal practice and informal practice so that I could begin. The first week David takes you through a guided body scan. There are two versions: one of 32 minutes and one of 20 minutes. However, the research that showed good results was at least 30 minutes a day, so I did that one.

At first, I did the body scan in my bed. I was familiar with doing the scan because of previous experiences during yoga classes and other video-guided body scans. The main difference I found in this one was there was no mention of relaxing or releasing, just noticing how you were feeling. It is suggested that you do this and all meditations when you are alert, so if you’re really ready to drift off, this would not be the way to go about it.

I did have a couple of sessions when I would blank out on whole sections of the body. I would be “focusing” on my ankle and the next thing I notice I was to be focusing on my belly. So, those times, I didn’t count towards my half-hour. I really enjoy the laying when I’m meditating. I find I don’t grip in my body as much. Also, I used a Bluetooth eye mask or flax-seed eye pillow to help my eyelids relax. (Does anyone else have restless eyelids?)

I purchased both on Amazon. I like the sleep mask for listening
to something without bothering someone else.
It’s my
new favorite thing for air travel.
The flax seed eye pillow is perfect to rest my eyes,
but it only stays on if I’m lying flat.

The biggest takeaway I have from this first week was that it’s natural that our brain goes off every couple of seconds. So, instead of thinking I’m weak and will never be able to do this, I was told to see each time I noticed that I was thinking about something else to see that as a brain sit-up. Each noticing and bringing back the focus to my breathing, choosing to focus on my nasal passages as it comes in and out, is strengthening that brain pathway. This was a HUGE revelation for me and really helped me to enjoy the noticing and coming back to focus.

I did the raisin meditation (which is the absolute slowest way to eat a raisin) about half-way through the week. I found the mindful eating videos in the extra resources very interesting being I feel my eating habits are long ingrained in me through a lifetime of school rushed lunches. I also began to realize that I can do anything mindfully. I’ve been working on applying that, especially with my driving. (See my post Am I Strong Enough?)

 

Week 2: Attention and The Brain

This week (which I did twice) was an introduction to sitting meditation, which was difficult for me at first because it involved setting up. I first did it cross-legged (not a requirement at all) on a chair, but then decided to set up my area downstairs where I do yoga. I have a bolster which I’m using to sit on (again, not a requirement).

I followed the same way of r
eviewing the videos and articles as in Week 1. This time, some of the videos that David includes from YouTube led me to explore other very interesting videos by meditation gurus such as Shauna Shapiro (Ph.D., is a professor at Santa Clara University, a clinical psychologist) and Sara Lazer (Ph.D. Neuroscientist of yoga and meditation).

A few of the biggest understanding from this week so far is that meditation actually changes the shape of your brain. It shrinks the amygdala (the fight or flight part of our brain), thus decreasing stress. Yes, thank you!

Also, I am becoming more comfortable in an upright position when meditating; I’m slowly learning to let go in my body. Actually though, I’m having to work on not controlling my breathing whenever I’m asked to focus on it. The one thing that is automatic in our functioning, I am trying to control. After two weeks, the good news is that I am finding moments of pure letting go.

Week 3: Dealing with Thoughts

This week, I have started mindful Hatha Yoga. This is actually what I practice at the yoga studio where I practice. Joan, my teacher, emphasizes the breath and focus on it during each asana. However, David requires that we do the two provided videos led by Lynn Rossy, Ph.D.

MBSR Yoga Routine #1
One of the harder things I have to deal with is the JUDGE in my mind that comes out as I do yoga. I strive often to do the poses correctly or push my body to get to where it “should” be.

Yoga is my jam, so I have been really happy doing this part. My teacher says, “Everything is yoga if done mindfully.” So, we can move mindfully to create an integrated body and mind. One of the harder things I have to deal with is the JUDGE in my mind that comes out as I do yoga. I strive often to do the poses correctly or push my body to get to where it “should” be.

I’m learning that striving and pushing is not the goal here. I want to accept me where I am on this day at this moment. The Judge and Critic are real but not my truth. I can look at it for what it is, a thought bubble. By noticing it and labeling it as “Thinking” or “Judging” and then coming back to the senses of the breath and movement, I find that I’m getting stronger at letting them go.

 

And so, three weeks in, I’m hopeful. I had a test today, and I didn’t fully pass, but I think I did better than I would have before meditation. After doing a wonderful sitting meditation, I went to write. However, my husband was working on getting our tax information ready. It’s more complicated with our retiring and our creating an LLC. I am the techie for the company. I created (using YouTube tutorials) a spreadsheet that keeps track of our expenditures, earnings, mileage, and costs for the office space.

So, when he wanted my help to get it ready, I began to get overwhelmed pretty quickly because he wanted the set up to be different than I had it. I could feel myself getting riled up and ready to be snippy with him. However, I worked on remembering the feeling I had just a bit before while meditating and then worked on breathing while I worked on the document preparation. I didn’t snip and we got it done without us getting upset with each other.

 
Describing meditation is difficult.
I guess my best explanation is
focusing on the senses of the body
in the present moment without getting
swept up in our own story.
 
 

Have you ever tried meditation? I’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences. I will share my journey further down the line. (Boy, I wish I had a brain scanner!)

Thank you for visiting my blog today. I am committing to posting once a week by Friday.  However, as you know, my new normal means that sometimes I have to listen to my body, and I cannot follow through as planned. Thank you for your understanding.

Continue Reading:

Walking Through the Walls: Chronic Pain Won’t Stop Me Anymore
As I followed the best advice from experts in the management of …
Unlearning My Chronic Pain: Mind-Body Syndrome
Those of you who have followed my wellness journey since developing Fibromyalgia …
teal line drawn waterlily with teal lettering of the title and motto

10 thoughts on “Mind Over Matter: 21 Days of Meditation

  • June 3, 2020 at 1:14 am
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    Thank you for sharing your experience Katie. I have a serious case of \”monkey mind\” too, I think that's the default state for most of us haha. I had established a consistent practice throughout 2014 and 2015 – I've struggled to maintain it over the years. A course sounds like an excellent way to get back into it. Things have slowed down for me at the moment, so I need to take advantage of this opportunity! I'm taking a look at this course in the morning 🙂 Thanks, sending well wishes your way

    Reply
  • June 3, 2020 at 1:20 am
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    I can’t say enough good about it. After my graduation, I received a personal email from Dave Potter and a certificate. There is a great FB group you can pose questions and hear about others’ experiences. Graduates get ongoing opportunities to practice, during quarantine, he leads Zoom meditations with breakout rooms.

    Reply
  • June 4, 2020 at 12:29 pm
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    I am terrible at sitting and being still, hehe. The only time it actually works for me is during flotation therapy where I absolutely have no choice. Past 30 minutes something in my brain 'snaps' and then I am able to relax. I tried the Palouse Mindfulness once though, and will say it was really helpful, especially if you can stick to it!

    Reply
  • August 14, 2021 at 4:30 am
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    Wow, good for you! I have tried meditation, only in 10-minute slots but I too found it very beneficial. I have not meditated in ages due to never being alone in my house since the pandemic. But this post reminds me that I really need to find a way. And I’m really intrigued about bringing the mindfulness into everyday activities like driving

    Reply
    • September 24, 2021 at 10:37 am
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      There are even Youtube guided driving meditations!

      Reply
  • August 15, 2021 at 7:40 pm
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    This course sounds like a really wonderful way to incorporate daily meditation into your life. I use meditation to help get through pain (mostly migraine) when medication doesn’t work or I’m waiting for it to work. I don’t know what I would do without it. I can really relate to the way you described your interaction with your husband and how meditation helped you there. I find it easier to kind of mentally take myself out of overreacting to situations, and I reall think it’s because of meditation.

    Reply
    • September 24, 2021 at 10:36 am
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      Yes, I really appreciated the tools this course taught me and the ongoing help that is available (all FREE and no strings). I’m glad you found this info helpful, Melissa:)

      Reply
  • August 16, 2021 at 12:10 am
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    I notice my thoughts most when I’m out getting my steps in and it’s funny because they’re all over the place, but I quite enjoy it. It’s not negative. I find it very soothing and I quite like it! I’ve read many articles about the healthy mindfulness effects of walking with yourself. Just wish I could do it for more than 10 minutes at a time! I didn’t notice things so much when I got my AS diagnosis back in 2009, but in 2014 after getting my fibro diagnosis, I really started noticing stress, anxiety and unhealthy thoughts. Like you, I did a deep dive into studying the brain via all the books we’ve talked about, I implemented deep breathing techniques, and that has helped immensely. 5-10 minutes of yoga helps as well, but that’s about all I can handle with spine issues.

    “I’m learning that striving and pushing is not the goal here.” This was a huge moment for me or breakthrough, if you will. When I realized that, I realized I needed to make massive changes in order to find peace and calm in my life. I think I did ok, but running my own business and keeping a lid on my health hasn’t been easy! It’s a very fine balance!

    Reply
    • September 24, 2021 at 10:26 am
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      This is the KEY! It’s so hard. But slowly, I’m arriving. All my life, all I’ve done is strived and pushed myself.

      Reply
  • August 16, 2021 at 1:09 am
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    Thanks for sharing your experiences and lessons learned from this programme… it sounds interesting enough for me to want to try, and I am a horribly fidgety person, though I know some meditation would do me good with my anxiety! I will need to look into this more 🙂

    Reply

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