Mindfulness stuff

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A couple of days ago I came across a tweet that said ‘Do you ever feel like you’re on Season Five of your life, and the writers are just doing outrageous shit to keep it interesting?’ and I could only whole-heartedly agree.

In the past three year my life has been marked by some sort of event or change every couple of months. Some of them were scary but exciting, others mildly annoying while a few were really rough.

Through all of this I had the benefit of family, friends and a fantastic job that kept me focused on the bigger picture. And at some point I also started listening to those wise people who had been whispering for a long time that mindfulness, slowing down, meditating and practicing yoga might be quite helpful as well.

Yoga

I first dabbled in yoga sometime in 2009 when I lived next to a yoga studio in Wellington. I really enjoyed it and I still don’t know why I stopped going but I suspect I simply started another hobby. I picked up regular yoga practice again in Sydney, living next to yet another yoga studio and this time I stuck with it for several month. Then I found triathlon and suddenly running and cycling seemed more important and my three times a week yoga habit disintegrated.

Fast forward to late 2018 when I finally made the time to join our yoga classes at work. The Exasol office in Nuremberg has them twice a week for free and they are excellent. I decided to supplement these classes, which I didn’t always manage to attend, with a private tutor to accommodate my frequent travels. In parallel I also found a great yoga channel on YouTube and while I don’t work with the tutor anymore, I am now an enthusiastic follower of SarahBeth Yoga.

I am not the kind of person who can twist themselves into a pretzel without breaking a sweat, smiling, looking fabulous and practicing two hours a day. But what I have managed to incorporate is a nightly routine of 10min before going to bed. That plus one weekly session at work brings a very consistent and reliable practice into my every day life. It doesn’t demand too much time and 10min a day is better than 1 hour a week.

What I noticed after doing this for a few weeks is a much stronger connection to my body. When I swim, bike and run during triathlon training, I move my body, I strengthen it and build endurance, but I don’t usually connect with it. I don’t have to balance in place stretching one arm forward, holding my foot with the hand of the other arm while breathing calmly. Yoga involved using different parts of my body together to create balance, strength and stability. And I know now that those are things I need for my body as much as I do for my mind.

Stretching

Ahhhh stretching, never enjoyed it and really didn’t pay much attention to it until the first running injuries started to appear. After a long break from running last year, I laced up my shoes again in November and started to run. I loved it and enjoyed every run and have since managed to crush my half-marathon PBs from 1hr 58min (in 2008) down to 1:50:48 (Feb 2019) and then 1:44:26 (March 2019).

Stretching has been essential for this progress in my running and I have been diligent in warming up with dynamic stretches, cooling down with static stretches and not neglecting those exercises. Yes, it adds about 20-25min to each workout, but it is worth it in the long run (excuse the pun) because it means I will stay injury free. Hopefully.

Foam rolling

In my lounge, aside from a yoga mat, you can also find two yoga blocks, a foam roll, a fascia ball and a massage roller. Those things haven’t been used much but since returning from my triathlon camp in Cyprus in March I have made the effort to incorporate foam rolling as well.

Again, it’s a process that helps me learn about my body, about tension, soreness and pain. It means I pay more attention to what’s going on and without my own personal free masseuse, it’s the most effective way to release muscle tension and make me more relaxed as well.

A friend recommended the Blackroll app, which I’ve been using to have a simple program to follow, because without structure and if I just have to wing it, well, then it’s not going to happen.

Meditation

The body is taken care of through training, yoga, stretching and foam rolling, but the mind still needs some focus.

I won’t lie. I have a stressful job. That’s the way I like it, though. I need a certain level of stress and pressure from my own expectations to thrive. I need deadlines that challenge me, and I need some ambitious goals that force me to grow and to recognize my own abilities.

What I struggled with and sometimes still do is switching off. Especially when I travel and meet lots of people, because then when I lay down in bed at night my brain is making all these connections and comes up with ideas for where to take things next. And then I get excited about those ideas leading to more thoughts and ideas aaaaaaand it never ends.

In the past I used to say meditation isn’t for me because I can’t sit still. Today I say meditation is for me because I can’t sit still. In July last year I started using Headspace, a meditation app and I haven’t looked back. In those last nine months I have used Headspace almost daily and whether it was three or thirty minutes, every session has helped me.

I’ve lost my fear of how difficult meditation might be and now I simply do it, no ifs or buts.

It certainly has helped me calm the mind and while there are still plenty of situation that can’t even be silenced with two 30min sleep stories right after each other, overall it has made a massive difference.

Putting it all together

The reason why I wanted to share the four parts that have helped me be more mindful and to calm down when I need it, is because I hope that some of what I have learned will help you.

Rather than doing one or the other I have started to combine yoga, stretching, foam rolling and mindfulness into a nighttime routine. On the one hand, it gives my body and brain time to wind down before I go o bed. On the other hand it signals to me that it’s time to step away from my screens and to relax.

While I don’t own a TV and also don’t watch shows online that often, I spend a lot of time on my phone or computer, mostly on Twitter but also staying in touch with friends who live in other places.

What does the evening routine look like? Ideally it starts sometime around 8.30pm, but let’s be realistic and call it 9.15pm. I get to my yoga mat and start with foam rolling. The current session I use is called ‘Rollout’ in the Blackroll app and with around 10 repetitions per exercise it takes around 20min to complete. After that, I switch on a yoga routine, normally a 10min bedtime session.

Once I’m done with these 30min, my body is pretty relaxed, stretched out, and calmed down. I sit on my couch and it’s time for meditation. I used to do the meditation in bed and fall asleep during it. Loved it! But: this meant my phone was next to my bed and during those rougher times when I had awful nights of sleep I would wake up and start using my phone. So to avoid that and to leave my phone outside the bedroom, meditation has to happen before sleeping. I do 5min using Headspace and I could easily fall asleep on the couch during that, so I stay seated to prevent that from happening 😊.

Once I’m done, I switch off the lights and off to bed I go. Depending on how tired I am, I’ll read for a bit. And then it’s time for sleep – as much of it as possible. Around 7.5-8 hours a night.

Since starting this I have had the best quality of sleep in a long time and a bit factor must be the phone being far away. Even knowing that it is out of reach helps. I sleep through the night and wake up rested.

And the latest new habit I added is to not touch my phone for the first hour of the morning. That first hour is mine, no one else’s. Training, writing, eating and whatever else I pack into it comes before notifications and that’s been really helpful too.

What I’ve learned from it

Now none of this is rocket science and my parents’ generation will probably think ‘wow you needed to actually learn this?’, but with technology and constant connectedness new habits have crept in and not all of them are good or healthy. And sometimes it takes a bit of life punching you in the face before you realize that you need to make some changes to avoid going down the wrong path.

If any of these suggestions sound interesting but you don’t know where to start, simply ask. Or maybe try one of them and see how you like it. Yoga on Youtube and a number of Headspace offerings are free of charge, so they’re easy to commit to.

I hope you’ll find some more moments of mindfulness in your life.

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