Get Me Some Head Space

9 Feb
Getting some head space is like the crisp fresh air on a Winter's day. © Jess Bruce 2015.

Getting some head space is like the crisp fresh air on a Winter’s day, cleansing and refreshing. © Jess Bruce 2015.

At the start of this year I made a promise to myself that I would meditate everyday. It was my new years resolution. A month in, I am proud to say that I have actually followed through! I have kept to my resolution and have meditated everyday. Yes I know, I am amazing. Well done me!!

I have been using the Headspace app as my meditation teacher and guide. It is a great platform and if you haven’t done so already I encourage you to head over to their website and check it out. I love that their tagline is ‘gym membership for the mind’. That sums it up exactly and also serves as a reminder of how important it is to meditate – it is exercising our  minds. It keeps our minds fit and healthy, just like going to the gym does for our bodies.

Headspace is great because it brings mindfulness meditation into the mainstream. It explains it in a very normal and natural way. It offers simple explanations of how and why meditation works at calming our minds by reducing our stress responses (which as I mentioned in last week’s post is very important in ME/CFS).  As a total non-sciencey person, I appreciate the funny animations and drawings that Headspace uses to explain the science of meditation. But they also give enough stats and references to research to satisfy my curiosity and convince me that there is merit to their explanation. They say that meditation can dramatically help you in 5 areas of your life: stress, creativity, focus, anxiety and relationships. Sounds good doesn’t it? If you want to learn more about how meditation works its magic on these 5 things, then check out the science section of the Headspace website.

The Headspace app is free to download on both iPhones and Android devices, or you can use the website in a normal internet browser. The programme starts with Take 10 – ten minutes of daily meditation for ten days with guided exercises to help calm your mind. Take 10 is free so it’s a great way to try out mindfulness meditation. And if you like it you can subscribe (varying price and payment plans are available) and become a Headspace member giving you access to the entire Headspace library of guided meditations.

I have just completed the Headspace Foundation programme, which includes Take 10, then Take 15 (15 minutes of daily meditation for ten days) and finally Take 20 (yep you’ve guessed it 20 minutes for ten days). By completing these 30 days I have unlocked the full Headspace library which includes meditations for all kinds of situations (on the go, in a crisis, daily practice) across all kinds of topics (stress, focus, health, performance, meditation obstacles and more). What’s especially great is you can choose the duration of your practice across all of these so you really can tailor it to fit your life and needs. Given my current mental state being less than placid thanks to all the house moving nonsense, it won’t surprise you that on completion of the Foundation programme, I have chosen the Stress topic to work through first. This comprises 30 sessions of  15 minutes (my chosen length) daily practice. So if you check back with me in 30 days, I should be all calm and zen!

I have really enjoyed the Foundation programme. Each meditation follows roughly the same structure: breathing in through your nose, out through your mouth, checking in with the physical sensations of your sitting position, scanning your body for any feelings, either physical or emotional, counting your breaths from 1 – 10 and repeating.

After a few sessions, Andy (the creator and voice of Headspace) suggests you set an intention for your practice, both for what you hope to gain from the practice for yourself and for others. I found this really interesting. Perhaps somewhat selfishly, I had always thought of meditation as a personal, private act who’s primary impact is on the person doing the meditating. And whilst that is true, it also affects your relationships and interactions with those people around you. Headspace encourages you to see the impact on both yourself and others. I picture myself in a sort of ball. Inside the ball I am bathed in a lovely soothing soft white light and this lights glows and radiates outside of the ball towards and touching all those around me. Thinking of others in this way gives me another incentive to maintain my meditation practice.

By Take 20 you are encouraged to take the self awareness, you have cultivated through your daily practice, with you and to notice it during your day, either by taking a few minutes and actively scanning your body and checking in or simply by being more mindful in your actions. For example, if you are walking, to really focus on your feet touching the ground. I tend to forget. But this seems normal and during Take 20 it is suggested you stick a blank post-it note on your desk at work or somewhere at home (I have one stuck to the bathroom mirror) so that when you see it, it reminds you to check in and focus on being mindful for a few minutes. The more you meditate and the more you remember to focus during the day, the more natural mindfulness becomes. Over time it will become second nature and your way of life without you even having to think about it. Well that’s the theory at any rate!

At various points during the Foundation programme, common obstacles to meditation are discussed, issues such as sleepiness, boredom and busy restless minds. Suggestions and strategies for how to stay zen are made, often by showing you a short animation at the start of your practice. I particularly liked the animations about curbing a restless mind, as this is my biggest obstacle. I don’t feel sleepy or bored during my meditation but gosh my mind jumps around like a monkey! One animation showed your mind as a calm blue sky that is ever present you just have to let it come to the surface. And another animation showed you sat watching traffic, constantly jumping up from your chair and running amongst the cars. Playing with traffic is never a good idea and something we are taught not to do from a young age. Instead, we sit and watch the traffic from a safe distance letting it pass without us physically battling with it. And this is the same for your thoughts during meditation. The idea is to let the thoughts pass without engaging with them and thus you avoid being swept away.

The biggest lesson I have learnt from my Headspace journey so far is that meditation is not about stopping your mind. That does not work. Instead it is about stepping back and focusing on something neutral such as counting your breath. And when you notice your mind has whisked you away, the second you realize, you bring yourself back to your breath. Your mind is a muscle and needs to be gently trained into being calm which is why I think ‘gym membership for your mind’ is such an accurate description for regular meditation practice using Headspace.

Is Headspace helping me? The answer to this is a resounding yes. Although it is hard and I am by no means good at it (more on that next week), regular meditation is helping me to be calmer, more self aware and more mindful. It’s slowing down the craziness of my mind. You might find that hard to believe given my very stressed post last week, but I think without my time outs each day using Headspace to meditate, I would have been even more stressed out by recent events and even less calm! In the same way that we need to go to the gym and exercise to stay physically fit and healthy, our minds need exercise to keep us healthy too – something that rings very true for those of us with illnesses such as ME/CFS.

So what are you waiting for, go and get yourself some Headspace!

Review disclaimer: the views in this post are my own, based on my own personal experience of using Headspace. What works for me may not work for you. I am not affiliated with  Headspace in any way. Therefore the opinions expressed in this review are solely my own. 

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3 Responses to “Get Me Some Head Space”

  1. thehomeschoolingdoctor February 13, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

    This is really great. One day I will make this a goal. It will not be any year soon. But it will one day. I noticed your ending disclaimer. Is that for WordPress, FYI, or legal purposes?

    • myjourneythrume February 15, 2015 at 10:45 am #

      Just my over active suppressed legal brain rearing its head!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. And….Float…. | my journey thru M.E. - February 24, 2015

    […] been trying to keep this in mind. Trying to let the stress just be. As the Headspace meditation taught me, the calm of a blue sky is ever present, it’s just a matter of letting […]

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