What is the difference between concentration and mindfulness?

Concentration helps you to focus your attention on one item. You train your mind to focus on one concept or task. Mindfulness is a state of awareness, a presence of mind. 

In my meditations, I progress into these states of being:

step one concentration
step two mindfulness
step three stillness

Stress changes your body, your mind and your behaviour

There are three ways stress can change you - your body, your mind and your behaviour.

Your body
- headaches
- poor digestion
- fatigue
- tense muscles
- insomnia

Your mind
- feeling anxious
- worrying
- feeling depressed
- panic attacks
- feeling overwhelmed

Your behaviour
- restlessness
- frustrated
- forgetfulness
- making mistakes
- drinking or smoking
- avoiding responsibilities
- eating too much or too little

When you recognise that you are stressed, use these mindfulness tips.
1) Recognise your thoughts as temporary and fallible.
2) Bring attention to your body sensations and allow them to run their course or take action.
3) Recognise your escapism behaviour as unhelpful and try to explore and accept your situation. 
4) Create a non-reactive space where emotions can be observed and acknowledged. Your emotions could be put into a context and be useful as a guide for future decision making.

It sounds counterintuitive to want to explore stress and not judge stress. However, it is helpful to see pressure as part of living and to process your emotions. These tools can be applied in your lunch break where you can walk out of the office and reframe your stress. 

Viktor Frankl was a Holocaust concentration camp survivor and Austrian psychiatrist. He endured extreme amounts of stress for three years in a concentration camp. He believed that we are "striving to find meaning in one's life". This sense of purpose enables people to overcome painful experiences. Instead of distracting yourself from underlying stress, you can explore the cause and eventually you may find meaning in your suffering.

Meditation: haters going to hate

Surprisingly, I enjoyed reading the New York Times article about hating meditation, Can We End the Meditation Madness? Mainly because all their other articles were glowing reviews of new meditation studios popping up in Los Angeles and New York. Their earlier meditation articles were dripping with benefits and interesting personalities. One described a new meditation studio, Unplug, which sounded so enticing I travelled from San Francisco to Los Angeles just to experience a few classes. I wasn’t disappointed when I visited Unplug, it really was a different experience being in a modern meditation paradise.

Yet, since I have become a meditation teacher a few people have confessed that they can’t meditate. I think they are being polite and what they really want to say is that they hate meditating.

So, why do some of us hate meditation?

  1. We are used to distraction.
  2. We are scared of our thoughts.
  3. We find it boring.
  4. We are perfectionists.
  5. We can’t sit still.
  6. We feel lonely while meditating.

On the flip side, why do some people love meditation?

  1. They use the temptation of distraction as a hurdle to overcome. By retraining their mind they begin to ignore distractions. As evident in scientific studies of the brain, their mind becomes more focused.
  2. They don’t judge their thoughts. During meditation they are mindful of their thoughts but don’t over-identify with each one.
  3. They welcome boredom as a part of meditation. After a stage of boredom, they experience stillness, a state of having an empty mind. Meditators see boredom like sweat on a runner, not desirable but essential to get to the endorphins. Scientific studies have shown that meditators experience endorphins.
  4. They let go of the obsession for perfection. They have enough motivation to start meditating but then while meditating they let go of the need to be perfect. If thoughts arise, they bring themselves back to the meditation. They view the constant refocus as an essential part of meditation, not as evidence they can’t meditate.
  5. They get used to sitting still or else they select a moving meditation style like active breathing meditation or tai chi.
  6. To prevent loneliness, meditation-lovers will often join a community of meditators and go to meditation classes. Meditation is often not the reason for loneliness; it is just that when we are alone, we usually distract ourselves by watching TV, listening to music or doing some sort of activity.

In the NYT hating meditation article, Grant says you can get exactly the same benefits from other avenues. True, but you could say that for any sport or wellness activity. The key benefits between playing soccer and playing tennis are fairly similar but a sports scientist could identify specific differences in the physiological benefits. Same to for meditation benefits, there are even specific differences in benefits between meditation styles.

Is meditation for everyone? Yes and no. Sure, anyone can meditate but not everyone will want to. As dance teachers say, “if you can walk, you can dance.”  Meditation teachers say, “if you can focus, you can meditate”.

If you enjoyed the article, click the love heart below. At Monday Mind, we welcome meditation haters because we were once haters.

 

Mindfulness versus Daydreaming

Are you a Walter Mitty?

Most mindfulness meditation teachers don’t encourage daydreaming because mindfulness is about being in the present moment, as it is.  I noticed the difference in a mindfulness lifestyle compared to a daydream lifestyle in the 2013 movie, Walter Mitty. Walter (Ben Stiller) doesn’t enjoy his job and indulges in fun daydreams. Yet, when a real challenge presents himself, Walter uses mindfulness as time and decision making becomes critical. He needs to  focus on the present moment to meet the time critical goal.

The case for daydreams

Dreams and daydreams can be a fun method of escapism and a way to experience creativity. Salvadore Dali dubbed his famous artwork, the melting clocks as “a hand painted dream”. Paul McCartney also composed the melody for ‘Yesterday’ in a dream. J.K. Rowling created ideas for Harry Potter while daydreaming on a long train journey. In visualisation meditation we create an image of what our version of success would look like. 

The case for mindfulness

On the other hand, mindfulness is about being fully aware of the present moment. Many philosophical traditions teach that living in the moment increases happiness. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally.”

Should I daydream or be mindful at work?

What about when we are bored at work, should we daydream or be mindful? The default mode of humans is that we like to start focusing on a task and then enjoy mind-wandering. Some studies have shown that mind-wandering correlates with unhappiness and activates the network of brain areas associated with self-referential processing. Daydreaming can hinder sensorial immediacy, openness, presence, generosity and patience.

However, the case for daydreaming is made by Dr Muireann Irish, Neuroscience Research Australia Senior Research Officer. Dr Irish says that daydreams give us the ability to consider the thoughts and perspectives of other people. She weighs in that it is best to not curb daydreaming but also not to give it so much importance that it hampers your job and stops you from paying attention.

Meditation philosophies

In the movie, it is fun to watch Walter’s kooky daydreams but when he faces his fears the pace of the movie picks up rapidly.  I believe both mindfulness and visualisation meditation can be helpful in life. It was through Walter's daydreams he realised he wanted more adventure.  Then he turned to mindfulness meditation to achieve his new goals. 

To learn how to face your fears and start both mindfulness and visualisation meditation, come to our Classic Meditation classes. Use visualisation meditation to find out what you are seeking and then mindfulness meditation to put it into action. You too might rediscover more zest in life.

Say no to junk food with a yoga mudra

Discipline is a personality trait that is tested in yoga.  I came across a really interesting study that proved how making a physical gesture could help in keeping on track with your goal. The study put a plate of junk food in front of people who planned on losing weight. When they tightened their fist while seeing the fatty food, they were more likely to resist the food. 

 

Tightening the fist is actually an ancient yoga mudra. What is a yoga mudra? This is the hand position while you meditate and the word means “a seal" in Sanskrit. Different hand gestures have different meanings and serves as an expression of the intentions of the mind. Tightening the fist as done in the scientific study is a yoga mudra called adhi mudra.  Adhi means “primordial” in sanskrit and is said to instill a deep sense of grounding. To do the adhi mudra fist, the thumb is folded into the palm, touching the base of the small finger. The rest of the fingers are folded over the thumb, creating a fist. This mudra activates the pectoral muscles, making the chest expand forward on inhalation, which can create a sense of empowerment.

 

It is interesting how yoga practice instills discipline and also mindfulness. Being mindful is about paying attention to the present moment. However, to prevent “living for the moment” at the expense of the future, we can bypass temptation by tightening our fist when we see the self-control dilemma. 

 

 Footnote

Here is the abstract of the scientific study:

Across five studies, we show that firming one's muscles can help firm willpower and that firmed willpower mediates one's ability to withstand immediate pain, overcome food temptation, consume unpleasant medicines, and attend to immediately disturbing but essential information, provided that doing so is seen as providing long-term benefits. We draw on theories of embodied cognition to explain our results, and we add to that literature by showing for the first time that one’s body can help firm willpower and facilitate the self-regulation essential for the attainment of long-term goals.

Reference:

Firm Muscles to Firm Willpower: Understanding the Role of Embodied Cognition in Self-Regulation.  Iris W. Hung, Aparna A. Labroo.

Journal of Consumer Research Apr 2011, 37 (6) 1046-1064; DOI: 10.1086/657240

           http://jcr.oxfordjournals.org/content/37/6/1046.abstract

Do you know the basics of yoga?

What does yoga mean?

Yoga means to unite. The word "yoga" comes from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means "to join" or "to yoke". What are we uniting? The individual and the present moment.

What are the 8 limbs of Ashtanga yoga?
1.     Yama: Universal morality.

This is the ‘do not’ list of yoga. Do not lie, steal, harm others, be possessive or be greedy.

2.     Niyama: Personal morality.

This is the ‘to do’ list of yoga. Be pure, content, self-disciplined, self-aware and surrender to the present moment without judgement.

3.     Asana: Physical practices.

This is what most yoga schools concentrate on - it is the physical exercise component of yoga.

4.     Pranayama: Breathing practices.

Usually people have a love/hate pranayama. This is the breathing exercises you may have done for a few minutes in a yoga class. Some examples of pranayama are alternate nostril breathing, ujayi breath (sounds a bit like Darth Vader) or yogic belly breathing.

5.     Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses.

The withdrawal of the senses is to ignore the distractions of the external word such as a desire, a fear or a worry. By withdrawing from sight, sound, touch, smell and taste we can clear away the mental chatter and reflect upon deeper insights. How do we do this in a yoga class? We try to ignore being hungry, we try to ignore the sound of someone passing wind and ignore the sight of other people’s underwear in their see through yoga pants. Instead, we focus on the sixth limb, dharana.

6.     Dharana: Concentration

Concentration sharpens your focus and is a tool for staying in the present moment and offering your undivided attention to the task, to yourself, to your friends or to your loved ones. Dharana is about transcending the mind through intense focus.

7.     Dhyana: Meditation

Originally the asanas were to prepare the body for sitting on the floor in meditation for hours on end. Nowadays, the meditation practice in yoga is quite short and at the beginning or the end of the yoga class. The meditation is often an om chant in the beginning of the class or a meditation at the end in savasana (lying on the floor in corpse pose). Meditation is important for getting more clarity and connecting to the present moment without judgement.

8.     Samadhi: Enlightenment.

This is the lofty limb that is often joked about in yoga classes but rarely explained unless you are in an ashram. Enlightenment is viewed by some as a state of ecstasy, by others it is contentment and satisfaction. Enlightenment can be interpreted in many ways. For some it is being in a state of mindfulness.

What is the history of yoga?

There is no definite time that yoga originated. Some scholars believed the yoga tradition began as early as 5,000 years ago because there was a soap stone seal found in India that had carvings of people that looked like they were in yoga poses.

Why do yoga schools concentrate on sun salutations so much in yoga class?

Sun salutations are a sequence of asanas and are a great workout for the body.  It is difficult to pinpoint when sun salutations originated in India. Yoga classes focus on sun salutations because there is flexing, strengthening, lengthening and toning of the muscles. It is also to express gratitude to the sun as we would not be alive without the sun. It is fine to practice sun salutations and moon salutations regardless of whether it is night or day because the sun and moon are always present, we just may not be able to see them.

Why is it called a yoga practice?

It is called a yoga practice because it is never quite finished, the process is the destination.

Who am I?

 

Am I half a banana? According to the Naked Scientists, we share 60% of our DNA with bananas. This was discussed on the show, Sex Chromosomes, Genetics and Food Webs. Can meditation help us discover who we are?

Chris D. Frith is an expert in the new discipline of neural hermeneutics. He wrote that “there are many illusions that my brain creates for my sense of self. I experience myself as an island of stability, in an ever-changing world.”

It is strange that we experience our life from the point of view of our ‘self’ as an island of stability because we are actually always changing. Even our body changes shape over time. So why does our mind always revert back to the assumption that the world changes but we can always rely on our sense of self as a steady viewpoint? Why do we take our mind's version as the truth?

Sri Ramana Maharshi, an Indian guru who spent many years in solitude, practiced self-inquiry meditation. This meditation style focuses our attention to the ‘I’ component of our thoughts. He recommends questions that we can ask on each thought:

1.     Who am I?

2.     Who is this?

3.     Who is thinking this thought?

Strangely enough, none of these questions are actually meant to be answered, they are designed to guide your attention back to ‘I’. What is the point then? If you practice this meditation regularly you can prevent excessive thinking because you realise that you are creating the thoughts. You are in charge of the storyline of your thoughts. Self-enquiry does not have to be a meditation practice that takes place at certain hours and in certain positions; it can continue throughout one’s waking hours, irrespective of what you are doing.

What we are to the world versus our self-view is constantly in conflict. For example, you know you are good at making presentations and then your boss tells you to improve your presentation skills. This can result in you adjusting the view of yourself as a brilliant presenter or ignoring your boss’ comments and assume he is wrong. All aspects of self including emotions and ideas are maps interpreted in the brain and projected on many body maps. Ourselves are constructed by mirroring then internalising the selves of others. It is this way that our personality develops as we become similar to those around us.

 

As Albert Einstein said, “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.” This is why our attitudes to sexism, racism, slavery, homophobia and disability are often shaped by the context we live in.

To get a better sense of self and to feel connected to the world, start a regular meditation practice. Many of my meditation students say that through their daily meditation habit they have developed their intuition and self awareness.

4 types of fear, what do you have?

When you see this list of the four types of fears, you may notice you are in a fear zone right now. You might remember a time when you have responded with each fear reaction. 

1. Flight

Many of us enjoy avoiding conflict. We drop friends, jobs or relationships rather than working through them. We pride ourselves on being diplomatic and rarely fighting but that is because we will exit or smooth over difficult situations.

2. Fight

The fight reaction is often encouraged in some workplaces and occupations. However, a toxic workplace can disrupt your personal harmony.

3. Freeze

Indecision seems like you are assessing options but you may actually be frozen. It can be difficult to recognise that you are frozen. Often friends and family identify it earlier than you do.

4. Please

At the time, you may feel like you are the bigger person but this is just another fear reaction. It is common in workplace bullying for the victim to snap into please mode.

Which reaction is the best? 

Some occupations, cultures and even family dynamics prefer a certain fear response. There is no winning fear reaction. It is fine to experience fear, it is a survival instinct. We can get to know our fears without judgement but with awareness.

How to face your fears

Thich Nhat Hanh recommends that we look deeply at our fears and then fear cannot control us. This can be achieved through mindfulness meditation which involves inviting our feelings and fears into our awareness and looking deeply into the face of fear.

As Mark Twain said, ‘I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.' If you want to learn how to meditate and face your fears, come to our mindfulness meditation class. We have designed specific face-your-fears meditations which will push you past the limitations you are so used to living with.

Have you had a stillness of mind?

Imagine that the sky represents your mind. Your thoughts are like clouds, coming and going across the background of the sky. Yet the sky remains still. In essence, stillness in meditation is when we stop thinking. When we meditate, we may have thoughts that come and go but the spaces between this is stillness. The longer the gap between the thoughts the longer you are experiencing stillness. The funny thing about stillness is that it is ever present within. You don’t need to go to a temple and find stillness. It is the backdrop of your mind.

When you experience stillness, it is a feeling of spaciousness and lightness. It is like all your worries and burdens have lifted and you forgot all the gravity of your worries.

After you meditate and experience stillness you can see your thoughts as just temporary ideas, like clouds. In the stillness you can experience a sense of peace. “Not asleep, not unconscious, not drowsy, quite clear but just a stillness” Dr Ainslie Meares.

 The concept of stillness takes time to grasp. Make this the year that you sit in stillness and experience the weightlessness.