Being in the Moment

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly. – The Buddha

We’ve heard this before that instead of looking backwards or forwards, we should live in today. But is that something that is easy to do, especially in today’s fast-paced world, where you have so many demands on your life and time? There’s always something coming up that we need to prepare for or anticipate, and our lives are so well-documented that it’s never been easier to get lost in the past. Given the fast pace and hectic schedules most of us keep, a base level of anxiety, stress, and unhappiness is the new norm. We may not even realise it, but this tendency to get sucked into the past and the future can leave us perpetually worn out and feeling out of touch with ourselves.

The cure for this condition is what so many people have been saying all along – conscious awareness and a commitment to staying in the “now.” Living in the present moment is the solution to a problem we may not have known we had. But what does it actually mean to “live in the present moment?” How could we be living in anything but the present?

Living in the present is not just an arbitrary term or a popular phrase—it’s a recognised and evidence-backed lifestyle that psychologists are quick to recommend for those struggling with anxiety and stress in their day-to-day life. Being in the present moment, or the “here and now,” means that we are aware and mindful of what is happening at this very moment. We are not distracted by ruminations on the past or worries about the future, but centered in the here and now. All of our attention is focused on the present moment.

Why is being present minded so important? Being present minded is the key to staying healthy and happy. It helps us fight anxiety, cut down on our worrying and rumination, and keeps us grounded and connected to ourselves and everything around us. Although it has become a popular topic in recent years, living in the present is not just a fad or trendy lifestyle tip, it is a way of life that is backed up by good science. Being present and exerting our ability to be mindful not only makes us happier, it can also help us deal with pain more effectively, reduce our stress and decrease its impact on our health, and improve our ability to cope with negative emotions like fear and anger.

Living in the now is so difficult because we are always encouraged to think about the future or dwell on our past. Advertisements, reminders, notifications, messages, and alerts are all so often geared towards the past or the future. Think about how often we are busy doing something else, perhaps even fully engrossed in it, when we are jolted out of our flow by our phone’s sudden “ding!” Our phones are incredible pieces of technology that allow us to do so much more and do it so much more efficiently than ever before, but we really need to take a break from our phones at least once in a while. Other factors that contribute to our inability to live in the now include the fact that we often edit out the bad parts of our experiences, making our past seem more enjoyable than it really was, we face a lot of uncertainty when we live in the present, which can cause anxiety and our minds simply tend to wander! It can be tough fighting these factors, but luckily we are not slaves to the tendencies of our brains and it is possible to overcome our more destructive or harmful urges and make better choices.

We need to have a balancing act between the past, present, and the future. We need to look back over our past successes and mistakes and learn from them and be planned for the future or prepare ourselves for what is to come.

It’s essential when we want to a healthy life to spend some time thinking about the past and the future, but it’s rare that we don’t think enough about the past or the future—usually our problem is focusing too intently, or even obsessively on the past or the future.

One of the aims of mindfulness and a key factor in living a healthy life is to balance your thoughts of the past, the present, and the future. Thinking about any of them too much can have serious negative effects on our lives, but keeping the three in balance will help us to be happy and healthy people. It’s hard to say what the exact right balance is, but we will know we’ve hit that when we worry less, experience less stress on a regular basis, and find ourselves living the majority of our life in the present. So how do we ensure we get to this healthy balance? Here are some guidelines to keep in mind. Think about the past in small doses, and make sure we are focusing on the past for a reason, perhaps to relive a pleasant experience, or maybe identify where we went wrong, or figure out the key to a past success. We should think about the future in small doses, and make sure we are focusing on the future in a healthy, low-anxiety way which means we don’t spend time worrying about the future and think about the future just long enough to prepare for it and then move on. And lastly, we need to stay in the present moment for the vast majority of our time. It’s easy for me put these down here and I also struggle, but if we keep doing this, we will get better with practice.

So how can we live in the moment, but also plan for our future? It may seem complicated to figure out this delicate balance, but it’s not as complex as it seems. When we engage in mindfulness or present moment meditation, we are not ignoring or denying thoughts of the past or future, we are simply choosing not to dwell on them. It’s okay to acknowledge and label our past and future-focused thoughts, categorise them, and be aware of their importance. The important point is to not allow yourself to get swept up in thinking about the past or future. When we are aware and present, we don’t need to worry about getting caught up in thoughts of our past or anxiety about our future—we can revisit our past and anticipate what is to come without losing ourselves.

Present moment awareness is a great way to cut down on how much you worry. The following six steps will help us become more attuned to the present and rid ourselves of excess anxiety. We should cultivate unselfconsciousness and let go and stop thinking about our performance. We must practice the art of savouring which means avoid worrying about the future by fully experiencing the present. Another step is to focus on our breath and allow mindfulness to make us more peaceful and smooth our interactions with others. And then find our flow and make the most of our time by losing track of it. We should also improve our ability to accept, move toward what is bothering us rather than denying or running away from it. Lastly we should enhance our engagement and work on reducing moments of mindlessness and noticing new things to improve our mindfulness.

For yoga practitioner, it is an excellent way to get connected to the present and stay in the moment. Yoga has many reasons that it is helpful for mindfulness, but one of the biggest is certainly the focus on the breath. However, for people like me, who are yoga-challenged, I believe that breath control and meditation helps in the pretty much the same way. Set aside some time every day, preferably in the mornings and meditate. It is not an instant cure, I will be honest. I used to meditate on and off previously, but since about April this year, I have start meditating seriously and it has taken me about six months for me to actually see results. I feel I am now more aware and also less stressed and things that used to cause me anxiety and stress have actually reduced. The best thing, I have started not worrying about things that don’t really matter and have started to beome non-judgemental and disengage myself from stressful situations which earlier used to make me spend hours worrying about.

I have found five execises which help to strengthen present moment awareness. The first is a mindful body scan, which I love and try to do at least twice a day, once in the morning to energise me and the second in the evening to help me relax. So how do we do a body scan? Sit or lie down and take a few deep, mindful breaths. Notice the way the breath enters and exits our lungs. Starting with your toes, focus the attention on one part of the body at a time. Pay attention to how that area is feeling and notice any sensations that are being experienced. After a few moments of focused attention, move up to the next part of your body, so from the toes to the feet to the calves, abdomen etc. If you are doing a body scan to relax, start from the top of your head and work your way downwards. Not only is a good method for putting you in a mindful state right off the bat, it can also help you notice when your body is feeling differently than normal. You might catch an injury or illness that you wouldn’t normally notice, just by taking a few minutes each morning to scan your body.

Another good exercise that can help set the right mindful tone for the day is to write in a journal. I have spoken about this previously and I like to use Google Docs for this as this allows me to sync the page across my different digital devices. For a more mindful day, when you start your day, take a few minutes and make an entry and write what is in your mind and clear it. Journaling like this allows us to remove all the thoughts from our heads and allow us to relax. The best thing, at least for me, is that these pages are very confidential and nobody other than me can access it. A physical book on the other hand, may land in hands you would rather not read what you have written. You can also visualise your goals which will make it more likely that they will be followed through and become mindful on a more regular basis. I like using project management tools to track my tasks for a week and when I check them off, it is a wonderful feeling. And when I finish my weekly tasks before Sunday, it is a serious high! People also say that taking a mindful walk among nature is a good way to cultivate mindfulness. Just engage all your senses and stay aware of what’s happening both around you and within you, be intentional with your awareness; notice your feet hitting the ground with each step, see everything there is to see around you, open your ears to all the sounds surrounding you, feel each inhale and exhale, and just generally be aware of what is happening in each moment. Lastly before you end your day, take a few minutes and review your day. Think back to the start of the day and remember your mindfulness exercise that kicked it all off. Think about how it made you feel. Think through the rest of your day, being sure to note any particularly mindful moments or memorable events. Take stock of your mood as you moved through your daily routine and end your day on the right note.

You can become mindful at any moment just by paying attention to your immediate experience. You can do it right now. What’s happening this instant? Think of yourself as an eternal witness, and just observe the moment. What do you see, hear, smell? It doesn’t matter how it feels—pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad—you roll with it because it’s what’s present; you’re not judging it. And if you notice your mind wandering, bring yourself back. Just say to yourself, “Now. Now. Now.”

Here’s the most fundamental paradox of all: Mindfulness isn’t a goal, because goals are about the future, but you do have to set the intention of paying attention to what’s happening at the present moment. Become aware of being alive. And breathe. As you draw your next breath, focus on the rise of your abdomen on the in-breath, the stream of heat through your nostrils on the out-breath. If you’re aware of that feeling right now, as you’re reading this, you’re living in the moment. Nothing happens next. It’s not a destination. This is it. You’re already there.

Meditation – To open your eyes, close them

Wikipedia defines Meditation as a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state. Scholars have found meditation difficult to define, as practices vary both between traditions and within them.

Meditation has been practiced since 1500 BCE antiquity in numerous religious traditions, often as part of the path towards enlightenment and self realization. The earliest records of meditation or Dhanya as it is called in Sanskrit, come from the Hindu traditions of Vedantism. Since the 19th century, Asian meditative techniques have spread to other cultures where they have also found application in non-spiritual contexts, such as business and health.

Meditation may be used with the aim of reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and pain, and increasing peace, perception, self-concept, and well-being. Meditation is under research to define its possible health benefits which could be psychological, neurological, and cardiovascular as well as other effects.

Meditation has been associated with all the major religions of the world, be it Hindusim, Islam, Jainism,Buddhisim or Christianity. There have been many religious practices which has its roots in meditation, be it chanting the lord’s name with a rosary or sitting in one position and comtemplating the infinite.

I have written about meditation previously, but even though I have tried meditating in fits and bursts, after a few days, I usually find myself starting to slack. Earlier this year, I restarted meditating again. It started with someone asking if I was interested in being a part of a group for Deepak Chopra’s 21 day meditation course. Intrigued, I said yes and started the programme. During the programme, I also came across an app which was giving free access to all their meditation programmes for a year because of the current situation and I decided to take them up on their offer. Initially, I used to meditate at night before bed, but soon started falling back on old habits and trying to miss one day thinking it was no big deal. Then I switched it up. I started waking up about 30 minutes earlier daily to meditate and to my big surprise, this really worked for me. I found that I really liked being awake early enough when the house was in silence and the 15 minutes I spent on my practice started paying off. These days, I find myself waking up early even on weekends and public holidays, when I would normally sleep in, just because I want to meditate in silence and darkness (or with minimal light). I have now been consistent with my practice for more than two months and it has done wonders in my own behaviour. I feel that I have become less anxious and also feel more positive these days, with the cloud of negativity that usually hangs around me, lessened to a great degree. I am also trying to be more grateful to things around me, which is a positive thing.

Mediation is a practice and you only get better the longer you practice it. Every meditation practice is unique in its own way and even if you feel you did not have a good practice, incrementally you are getting better. Meditation is great for both physical, mental and spiritual well-being. It lowers your blood pressure, improves blood circulation, lowers heart rate, reduces anxiety, slows down your respitory rate, reduces anxiety, lowers blood cortisol levels, reduces stress, gives you feelings of well-being and improves and deepens your sense of relaxation.

Contemporary researchers are now exploring whether a consistent meditation practice yields long-term benefits, and noting positive effects on brain and immune function among meditators. Yet it’s worth repeating that the purpose of meditation is not to achieve benefits. To put it as an Eastern philosopher may say, the goal of meditation is no goal. It’s simply to be present.

Meditation is not as difficult as we think. All we need to do is sit in a quiet place with no distractions. Close your eyes and start focussing on the one thing we all have and do – our breathing. Just breathe naturally, there is no need to to changeyour breathing style and technique. If you mind wanders, and this is common and natural, just acknowledge it and go back to focussing on your breathing. You may also feel phantom itches and perhaps pain. When this happens, again acknowledge it and go back to your breath. When you start, you can start at 1-2 minutes and then once you become comfortable, slowly start increasing the time and you can go as long as 15-20 minutes. The longer you practice meditation, the more your focus becomes sharper and you can after some time, focus on your breathing without your mind wandering for the entire duration of the meditation.

During times like this, when we are anxious on so many levels and worry about our health, finances and scores of other things, a meditation practice will help you manage your anxieties and help you get a grip on things so that you don’t get overwhelmed.

Positive Self-Affirmations: Your Psychological Immune System

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Sometime last week, I randomly had a thought of putting together all the affirmations I had collected and written down in different places into one document. I truly didn’t know why I did what I did and decided to find out more about affirmations and see whether they have any impact on our lives and if they are beneficial in any way. I have used positive affirmations previously and also have read the book, The Secret, but to be honest, the affirmations did not work for me previously. So I decided to find out more about affirmations and maybe this time, I will be able to successfully use affirmations.

So let’s start at the very beginning – what exactly are positive affirmations? Affirmations which are a New Age terminology are said to be “the practice of positive thinking and self-empowerment—fostering a belief that “a positive mental attitude supported by affirmations will achieve success in anything.” More specifically, an affirmation is a carefully formatted statement that should be repeated to one’s self and written down frequently. For affirmations to be effective, it is said that they need to be present tense, positive, personal and specific.

These ideas grew in popularity after books like Rhonda Bryrne’s The Secret, Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich and Wallace D. Wattles’ 1910 book The Science of Getting Rich became popular in their times. Affirmations are also referred to in Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), Neuro Associative Conditioning “NAC” as popularized by Anthony Robbins, and hypnosis.

What it means is that when we think positively and have positive thoughts relating to a specific event or thing we want, we manage to turn things in our tide using the power of our mind and that specific event happens or we get hold of exactly what we want. In other words, they are positive phrases or statements used to challenge negative or unhelpful thoughts.

A 2009 study found that positive affirmation had a small, positive effect on people with high self-esteem, but a detrimental effect on those with low self-esteem. Individuals with low self-esteem who made positive affirmations felt worse than individuals who made positive statements but were allowed to consider ways in which the statements were false. There have also been some studies which show that when self-affirmation statements which involve writing about one’s core values rather than repeating a positive self-statement can improve performance under stress.

It is said that affirmations are not only for manifesting a specific goal, but they are also meant to encourage a life filled with positivity and gratitude.

We do speak with ourselves in different times during the day, something pepping us up and at other times cursing ourselves when we make a blunder. I tend to be more on the negative side as opposed to the positive side. Daily affirmations are like a psychological immune system. When you get bogged down or thinking negatively, your affirmations will allow you to pick you up and get you back on track.

While researching for this post, I read up a few articles on positive affirmations and saw that, in spite of my scepticism, there are benefits to this practice.

You perform better under stress – positive self-affirmations allow you to release your stress and help you perform better, whether at home, in school or at work.

You are better off psychologically – When someone uses positive affirmations regularly, they tend to feel happier, more optimistic, more hopeful, healthier, less sad and less angry.

Healthy habits – You can also use positive affirmations to change habits. Reminding yourself periodically can help promote a healthier way of living. Apparently a recent study showed that optimistic people have healthier hearts.

Self-Awareness – When you think, speak or write certain thoughts on a daily basis, you become more aware of them and then consciously work to reduce negativity in your life. This allows you to become a more positive person both inward and outwards.

Gratitude – Daily affirmations keep you in a constant state of gratitude. When you remember the small things that make you happy, you become aware of the little things in life that are important. This is especially true today when we live a fast paced life, one that is constantly on our smart phones.

Motivation – Affirmations allow you to motivate yourself into doing positive actions. When you tell yourself you will be successful in a particular activity, then the chances are that you will focus all your attention in making sure you do your best in this activity and be the best you are. Your thoughts point to the direction of your life’s actions.

So how do we go about making positive self-affirmations? You can think about them, repeat a sentence like a mantra while you practice meditation (in fact, I remember reading that meditating over a self-affirmation is a great way to do it), write it down some place or even whisper it under your breath at periodic points in your day. You could do one, more or even all of these during your day to affirm your thought for the day. There is no hard and fast rules about the timing or frequency when it comes to practicing positive self-affirmations.

According to psychotherapist Ronald Alexander of the Open Mind Training Institute, affirmations can be repeated up to three to five times daily to reinforce the positive belief. He suggests that writing your affirmations down in a journal and practicing them in the mirror is a good method for making them more powerful and effective.

You can create your own affirmation phrase which is generic like, “I am a successful person” or “I am confident and capable at what I do” or focus on a specific area of your life like, “I choose only to think good thoughts” or “I choose to eat healthily for all meals.

You can also create your own positive affirmation cards on small credit card sized paper where you write your chosen affirmation and pop it into your bag to read throughout the day. I prefer using an online diary like Google Docs and writing down my affirmations and I can view them while I am working or even during my commute as I whip out my phone and read it on the go.

There are loads of resouces online which have many affirmations you can use or you can create your own affirmations. What works for someone may not be the best affirmation for you, so you need to work around and see what works best for you. I personally feel this is more of a trial and error method.

Positive self-affirmations can be a refreshing way to use positive self-talk capable of reversing negative internal messages and motivating ourselves. Do you have your own affirmations you’d like to share? Or, even better, how do you come up with your own affirmations? Share in the comments, I’d love to hear them!

Meditation

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One of the habits I have decided to track this year is meditating daily. But this is one habit I am not able to sustain on a daily basis. I decided to see what could be the reason for this and thought this post could then help someone else with the same problem as me.

My usual meditation routine is at night – just before I nod off. This worked earlier, but these days, I find myself sleeping off before I am able to meditate for even five minutes. I wonder what I am doing wrong. I have tried the Calm app before but wanted to try free form meditation this time around and do a proper meditation as opposed to depending on an external source to ground me.

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There is plenty of evidence floating around, including scientific evidence, about how meditation is good for you. Some of the benefits include the reduction of stress, which in turn helps in the sleep cycle, dispels depression and anxiety, reduces blood pressure, helps in the alleviation of fatigue and cloudy thinking and controls anxiety.

You also become more self-aware with the help of meditation and that in turn helps you to develop a stronger understanding of yourself and how you relate to those around you, thus helping you grow into your best self. The infographic above is an excellent condensation of the benefits of meditation.

So now that we know why meditation is good, what’s the best time to meditate. Most studies show that meditating twice a day – once as soon as you wake up and once just before you sleep is the best. You can also try meditating in bits and pieces throughout the day (in tranches of one to five minutes each) if that’s what you prefer.

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To start meditating, choose a quiet place, one where you are sure not to be disturbed when you are doing your practice (however short it may be). Sit on the floor cross-legged or if you can’t do that, sit in a straight-backed chair. I usually just use the timer off my phone and set the time I want to meditate and start the timer when I am ready. Now close your eyes and start to concentrate on your breathing. Your mind will start wandering at this point and thoughts will start crowding your head, especially undone tasks. When this happens, and your mind starts to wander, just bring it back into the breath and start focusing on it again. As you improve your practice, you will find this interval between the times your mind starts wandering lengthening and after some time you may be able to go your whole session without the mind not wandering even once!

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I walk a lot. I try to get 10,000 steps in a day and this means I spend at least a couple of hours over the course of my day walking to clock in the steps. I had heard of walking meditation and this is something I am trying to see if I can do – it will allow me to incorporate my daily meditation when I am walking and as a bonus, help me alleviate the boredom that sometimes comes when you walk alone.

So what is walking meditation? It is simply meditation in action. It is being aware of yourself as you walk. Actually, when I read about it, I realised I was already practising it all along. So for those who want to do walking meditation, here’s how you do it.

Find a space where you can comfortably walk. This space can be either indoors or outdoors. Start at one point and before you start, anchor yourself. This means you take a deep breath and focus on your body. Feel the ground beneath your feet and feel it. Become aware of the different sensations and feelings in your body and also take note of your thoughts and feelings at that point.

Start by walking slower than usual with a relaxed and natural gait. Be mindful of every step you take and when you reach the end of the path, pause for a second to centre yourself before you start walking back. Increase your pace after a couple of rounds to a pace that you are comfortable with. Keep your mind focussed on your feet and the steps they take. As with the traditional meditation, when you feel your mind wandering (as it definitely will), gently guide it back. Walk for around ten to twenty minutes before you stop. When you are ready to end the session, pause for a moment and become aware of the world with a show of thanks ending the session.

As you become more adept at walking meditation, you can then start to utilise your senses to the world around you, especially if you are doing this outdoors. See, sense and feel the world, the wind, the air, the colours and smells around you as you become aware of what is around you.

I really see myself doing a fair bit of walking meditation now. What about you? For those on the fence, is meditation something you plan to take up soon? I have written about meditation earlier. You can read my previous articles here and here. Hopefully, this will allow me to come back and report that my meditation practice is going great guns!

Goodbye and Hello

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No, I am not leaving WP yet! Goodbye 2018 and hello 2019

It’s a bit later than I would have liked, but no time like the present to do this post. I for one believe that at least for the first two weeks of January, you are still finetuning what you want to do in the new year and so on that note, I am not late at all!

I ended 2018 the same way as I started it, with hope that the coming year will be better for all of us. 2018 was not a very good year for us, what with the children not really doing well in Sec 3 (which is considered a harder year than Sec 4) nor with me continuing being mostly a SAHM. I did get some relief in the form of some freelance work which I have been doing for the past few months, so I am grateful for the that.

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2019 is a crucial year for us as both GG & BB will be sitting for their O level exams at the end of the year. This will then mark the end of their school years and once the results are out, will start their tertiary studies. What that will be, I don’t know at this point. They both have ideas, but these will be translated into reality only when the results come out. So my nagging mode is super on these days, so much so that BB just sighs in frustration all the time. But it is for his own good and he knows that, so he just grins and bears it!

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This year, I decided not to make any resolutions which I will inevitably break a month or so later. Instead, I decided to use a couple of words to guide me this year and not stress out when I slip up. My words this year will be ‘Simplicity’ and ‘Productivity’. These words will guide me to lead a more simple but productive life this year. The words will also help adjust my goals and resolutions as the year goes by.

I also decided that I will try and change habits instead of trying to fulfil resolutions. I am currently trying to track 10 habits across different areas in my life. I hope I can do them every single day, but if I slip up some days, I am still ok with it. I will come back at the end of the year or the beginning of 2020 to say how I fared with changing habits.

So that’s my plan of action for 2019. I am hoping for a more simple, minimalistic and productive year for me and you!

What have you thought about and planned for 2019? I would love to hear from you!