Last year I started a daily meditation ritual, I began with 7 minutes and for a long time it was the longest 7 minutes of my day. My mind was like a washing machine, thoughts of what I had planned for that day, what I’d eat for breakfast, what I did the previous day, what I needed to do the coming week and a thousand other things spun around in my mind. It was if I had a flatmate living with me that wouldn’t shut up. Sitting in stillness and attempting to silence my flatmate so I might have a few minute of peace was a frustrating experience.
I persisted, initially I used meditation music to help focus my awareness and I gradually increased the amount of time I sat in stillness each morning. After a few months of practise I found that I didn’t need or want the music and slowly, painfully slowly… I noticed moments of actual stillness come into my practise. Moments when my flatmate had shut the hell up and I wasn’t thinking a million thoughts, moments in between the thoughts. I also noticed that if my flatmate did pipe up, I didn’t get involved in the dialogue, I was able to let the odd rant or chatter pass while maintaining my sense of stillness and awareness of self.
I had been teaching Mindful Movement for around six months when I began my stillness meditation practice, with the idea to train in Mindfulness Based Stillness Meditation (MBSM). I felt mindfulness training would compliment my teaching of Mindful Movement and assist me in my own life. Last week I spent the week at the Gawler Foundation Living Centre in the Yarra Valley, in a residential meditation teacher training program and it was a wonderful experience that I could have easily continued for longer than the five days!
I was collected and shuttled into the beautiful Yarra Valley and to the Gawler Foundation property, a retreat set within 40 hectares of natural bushland. Our group for teacher training consisted of 29 women and 1 man, which was no doubt a little daunting for the gentleman now known as Goddess Murray… It was a group of magnificent people from across Australia, from a range of different backgrounds, some of the people had previously attended cancer programs at the Gawler Foundation and were back to learn about teaching what they had learnt so they could help others. It was a truly inspiring group of people to share such a wonderful week with.
Day 1 began with learning and practising mindfulness based meditations that focused on the breath and the sense of awareness before our closed eyes, we learned about the fundamentals of the thinking mind and about the function of our awareness and attention. We were nourished with a delicious plant-based diet and given the opportunity to get to know each other and to explore the property, making friends with the large population of kangaroos that casually roamed the grassy plains.
After breakfast the following day we gathered together for Day 2 of teacher training. It was if the attendees from Queensland had brought the weather with them as the sun shone brightly and I was distracted by the flurry of orange and red leaves falling from the tree outside our training room window. As our teacher Paul Bedson mentioned ‘distraction is resistance to mindfulness’ my attention snapped back to the training and the present moment.
Day 3 started with what was called ’Noble Silence’, we awoke and went about our morning routines in silence, as well avoiding contact and gesturing to our fellow attendees… the only sound at breakfast was the symphony of spoons clanging against the crockery. I didn’t manage to maintain my silence, although I still claim that it wasn’t really my fault as I was startled by a staff member unlocking and entering the bathroom I was standing stark naked in!
As we moved through the training we came to mindfulness of emotions, a process of nurturing the felt sense and placing our awareness on and within our bodies. Day 3 came to a close with a serene mindfulness through music experience, a session of live harp music it was wonderful and relaxing, so relaxing, I took a little nap mid meditation!! After the official schedule of the day was fulfilled our magnificent little group took the music outside under the Full Moon for some more harp, blended with percussion and a little dancing on what felt like almost balmy midsummer night!
Day 4 and 5 expanded on both our teaching knowledge and learning new mediations, including a full body awareness meditation. Over the course of the retreat we meditated between 1-2 hours a day which really deepened my own personal practice and brought several personal insights and opportunities for growth and healing. The retreat finished with an inspiring and touching graduation ceremony and the chance to share our personal insights. We all were able to connect with one another in gratitude and with an amazing sense of openness and vulnerability throughout the week and I felt a real connectedness and bond within our group. We have already planned to remain connected and expand our network through both an alumni social media group and a reunion retreat next year.
I can honestly say that meditation has changed my life, here are the three big things I’ve gained through my practice:
When an important situation or event is happening in our lives it can be overwhelming… It might be something that is really super exciting, like the anticipation of a great holiday you’re jetting off on tomorrow or a big day for you, like your wedding or graduation.
Sometimes that overwhelming feeling is filled with anxiety, tension and stress. Maybe you’re waiting to find out if you got that job you really want, passed that exam or maybe its the 2 week wait that Rebecca Hopkins talks about in her 2WW Survival Guide. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to make it through those two weeks where you’re waiting to find out if your IVF round was successful and you’re pregnant!
Being overwhelmed shows up in many forms; excitement, anxiety, sadness, stress, tiredness, depression, even joy. Sometimes I’m so excited by the work I’m doing and the projects and people I’m involved with that I find it difficult to wind down at bedtime, or I’m awake really early and ready for action (not so much a bad thing!).
Whether the sense of being overwhelmed relates to positive or negative emotions, finding a way to disconnect, a way to unpack and release those overwhelming feelings is essential to our personal growth and our sanity. Your self talk can drive you nuts - ‘what if’ this and ‘what if’ that, our minds become like a washing machine whirring constantly and in turn feeding our emotional fires. Finding a way to quieten the incessant flatmate in your head that won’t shut up can be challenging even for the most relaxed of us.
So how can we deal? When we don’t know which way is up, when we are overwhelmed by our work or family commitments, when we’re crazy excited about what tomorrow will bring or we’re enduring a two week wait. How can we regain our equilibrium and a sense of relaxed calmness despite what is happening around us?
Here are my top 3 tips to get you on your way:
1. Embrace a practice
My life has been completely transformed through embracing a practice, by bringing some daily rituals into my life. For me it is practicing Mindful Movement (qigong, tai chi and breathwork) and meditation.
2. Make it a daily ritual
Every morning before breakfast I dedicate some time to these practices, sometimes its a few minutes, sometimes its an hour. I find when I start the day from a relaxed and centred place its easier to deal with the challenges that arise and my practice equips me with go-to during my day if things do get overwhelming. Bringing a ‘practice’ or some ‘rituals’ into your life that help you to maintain or to regain your equilibrium, despite what is going on around you will revolutionise your life. It might be hard at first, to be disciplined, to make the commitment, but it will soon become your saviour.
3. Make it your ‘Go-to’
Having a practice to turn to when you’re feeling overwhelmed is a way to release stress and anxiety and to bring calm and centred energy into your life - instantly. When I get too busy, when worry creeps in or I’m feeling confused I take a mini-break and put my Mindful Movement practice to work. A few minutes later I’m feeling calm, clearer and filled with renewed energy.
The Qigong Show - Whole Living Magazine
Click the image to check out some easy movements
While we advocate embracing something into your daily life, a practice doesn’t have to be daily, it just needs to be a go-to for you when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Maybe its going for a run, maybe its journalling, maybe its a minute of deep breathing. Your practice can be anything, all it needs to be is something that calms and relaxes you, and something that is accessible to you at any time, in any place, when you’re feeling shaken and stirred.
If you’re interested in learning a short Mindful Movement routine that you can adopt as your go-to when you’re feeling overwhelmed, join our next introductory workshop on April 27th.
It's amazing how much energy you have when you’re really excited and passionate about what you do. Last night I was on such a high from holding my first workshop and from discussing some new and wonderful upcoming projects that I just couldn’t go to sleep. I then woke up around 4:00am and my excitement hadn’t dissipated so I spent an hour or so lying awake thinking about the great things to come! At 7:00am I sprang out of bed with gutso and immediately went to work on my to-do list.
Since I’ve started consciously creating and living more aligned with my values and the things I bring joy to, my entire life has changed. It doesn’t matter to me what time of the day it is, or which day of the week, work doesn’t feel like work and I can happily pour hours into growing my business, programming classes and workshops and teaching people Mindful Movement and meditation.
Through consciously creating a life I love I’ve realised that my ‘work’ doesn’t have to be limited to one area. I don’t need to only teach Mindful Movement, I don’t only need to be a Holistic Health Coach, I can create my life so that I work and receive an income through being involved in projects that excite me. A portfolio career! All that is really necessary is that I bring joy to and feel excited about what I putting my energy into, and through that my energy becomes boundless and abundant.
Your only ‘job’ in this life is to be in service. To share your gifts with others. To create and live a life you love, to feel excited when you wake up and to feel thankful you’ve been blessed with another day. If you’re not feeling this way about your life then it might be time to create some space, work out why and make some changes.
I was lucky enough that I could create an extended amount of uninterrupted space in my life that gave me a head start on creating a life I love. Not many people have this luxury, there are family responsibilities, financial commitments, schedules, work and a multitude of other demands on our time.
If you can’t just take off for a few months and leave it all behind a good place to start is by consciously creating a little space in your day to day life. Embrace a life practice; here are some ideas to get you on the path to consciously creating a life you love…
The only thing stopping you from creating and living a life you really love, a life you feel passionate about and excited by is you. Do it already.
As we close our eyes we begin to draw our attention inwardly… We stand in 'Bamboo in the wind', a simple and relaxed standing posture, our focus settles on the breath. Observe the inhalation. The sensation of the breath coming in, through the nostrils, feeling it glide past the back of the throat and move down into the chest, the diaphragm expands as the breath pushes further down, deep into the belly, the navel rising. Noticing the moment where the breath transforms into energy, the slight pause before the exhalation, like the pause between a wave rolling into the shore and receding into the ocean.
As the breath settles naturally we enjoy this simple posture for a few moments before our focus and attention turns to the centre line of the body. Scan from the crown, to the brow, to the throat, down to the heart, into the solar plexus, continue down below the navel and into the root area below the tail-bone. We attune our focus to the feeling centre of our body. Allow sensations to rise and fall naturally, just observe and compassionately keeping any feelings and sensations that arise company, no need to judge or change them, just let them be as they are and feel into them.
Once the body and mind feels stillness we begin our mindful movement. Keeping our eyes closed, we start by gently rotating the wrists and hands, first in one direction and then in the other. We then begin to move both the elbows, forearms, wrists and hands in circular motions, again firstly in one direction and then in the other. After a few rotations in both directions we take our hands and place them on our shoulders, our fingers facing forward and thumbs behind, we continue our circling motions, this time with the shoulders and the arms. We inhale circling in one direction, paying particular attention to each part of the movement, while coordinating it with the breath, we then exhale, circling in the opposite direction.
Our Mindful Movement is aligned with our breath, the three fundamental principles of Qigong being body, mind, breath. We are using the movement as our anchor for this mindfulness practice. If the mind wanders (as it is likely to do), just gently bring it back to the movement and breath.
Our warm up continues with circling movements for the head, neck, waist, hips, legs, knees and ankles, warming up each area and allowing our body to lubricate the joints, tendons and muscles.
Each practice of mindful movement and qigong varies, combining gentle stretches, stimulating knocking and accu-tapping and flowing, fluid movements. The focus is on each movement, the flow and coordination of the breath and the complete awareness of the body.
We may start with The Pine Tree, a gentle raising and lowering of firstly the hands and arms, then moving into combination with raising and lowering of the legs. This movement is considered a longevity exercise, the Pine Tree is a symbol for endurance, long life and self discipline and is often associated with god Sau, the god of longevity.
Stretching movements such as 'Holding one arm aloft' from Ba Duan Jin may follow. This is a gentle stretching of the arms in opposite directions and flexing of the hands, again coordinated with the breath. This movement regulates the spleen and stomach while also providing an opening through the sides of the body. Many of the stretching movements in qigong enable an opening of the meridians that run through the body as well as stimulating and massaging the internal organs.
Flowing and fluid movements help to relax the mind and promote a sense of clarity and calmness, bringing about a meditative state. The 'Fountain' is a simple flowing movement where the backs of the hands come together below the belly and gently rise to the heart with the inhalation. The palms open and the hands and arms float out and down with the exhalation. Many extensions and variations can be incorporated into this simple flowing movement.
Mindful movement is a combination of both modern and traditional qigong and tai chi and makes up 30-45 minutes of each class. Each session begins and ends with meditation, using a selection of intention, attention and inquiry based meditations. Classes may focus on particular paired organs and meridians or they may combine a series of movements which focus several different body areas and movement styles.
Mindful movement promotes balance and the flow of energy in the body, it relaxes the mind and creates a feeling of vitality in the body. We receive benefits to the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of our beings and we build our self healing abilities. Through the focus of body, mind and breath we build a connection to the present moment, a connection to our body and through nourishing our emotions and feelings we build compassion, empathy and the ability to connect to others.
Nicole L Betts
Nicole Betts is an internationally accredited Qigong & Meditation Teacher, Fitness Instructor and Holistic Health Coach.