We are all part of an intricate web of inter-dependency and COVID-19 has forcefully brought this reality home to us. We rely on so many people to help us maintain the lifestyle we've become accustomed to, and when those people aren't there we miss them! Here in the UK we are on lock-down. We are allowed out once a day to shop and exercise. All shops apart from pharmacists and food retailers are closed until further notice. Everyone is where possible working from home. We feel the effect of this in small ways, for example my fringe is nearly in my eyes and my roots are showing through and it will be weeks until my hairdresser opens her doors again. And we feel it in big ways: a friend has been waiting for a hip replacement, which will improve her mobility and quality of life, and this has been cancelled due to the pandemic. Schools are closed, so parents are struggling to keep kids occupied indoors, and juggling this with working from home.
In this post I'll share with you a meditation that helps you to cultivate gratitude towards all those people who help make your life run more smoothly. The Showing Appreciation Meditation can be found on page 188 of the Yoga Through the Year book. It helps to strengthen our gratitude "muscle" and stops us from taking people for granted. It's particularly relevant at present as it gives us an opportunity to send good wishes and gratitude to all those "neutral" people in our lives who we usually take for-granted. Before you do the meditation just take a moment now to consider all the people who are helping you to get through the COVID-19 pandemic: the front-line health workers, shop assistants, online delivery people, food growers, postal workers, water, gas, electricity, and internet providers, and the list goes on
The Showing Appreciation Meditation
This meditation engenders positive feelings towards self and others.
Allow 10-20 minutes.
Find yourself a comfortable, erect sitting position, either on the floor, or in an upright chair. Or if you prefer this meditation can be done lying down.
Relax the parts of your body that are in contact with floor down into the earth. Let go of any unnecessary tension; relax your shoulders down away from your ears; and soften your face by adopting a half-smile.
Now become aware of the natural flow of your breath and maintain a background awareness of the breath throughout the meditation.
We begin by cultivating a sense of gratitude and loving kindness towards our self. Recall three things that make you feel grateful towards yourself. If you are finding it hard to think of anything, see if you can find just one small thing you like about yourself and feel grateful for. If you find yourself lapsing into self-criticism, congratulate yourself for noticing this, and send yourself some love and compassion.
Now silently repeat several times the Loving Kindness phrases for yourself:
May I be safe,
May I be happy,
May I be healthy,
May I live with ease.
Now bring to mind someone who you are close to and who helps your life to run more smoothly. Consider all the things that this person does for you, big or small, and all the ways that they improve your quality of life. Send your gratitude and thanks to this person; thank them for the many ways they contribute to your happiness.
Now silently repeat the Loving Kindness phrases a few times for this person (if you wish you can insert their name into the phrase):
May you be safe,
May you be happy,
May you be healthy,
May you live with ease.
Now bring to mind a neutral person; someone who helps you in some way but who you don’t know very well. Choose someone who you don’t have strong feelings towards either way, but who makes your life run more smoothly. Perhaps they are someone who delivers your mail; or serves you in a shop; a cleaner at your place of work; or a bus driver etc. Send your gratitude and thanks to this person; thank them for the help that they give to you. Silently repeat the Loving Kindness phrases a few times for this person:
May you be safe,
May you be happy,
May you be healthy,
May you live with ease.
Now picture yourself, your friend, and the neutral person altogether. Picture all three of you looking safe, happy, healthy, and at ease. Just like you the friend and the neutral person want to be happy and free from suffering. Just like you their life has ups and downs. And just like you they rely on others to help and support them and to make their life run smoothly.
Repeat the loving kindness phrases for the three of you:
May we all be safe,
May we all be happy,
May we all be healthy,
May we all live with ease.
After repeating the phrases a number of times, let them go and finish by once more sending yourself good wishes, loving kindness, and compassion. Resolve to take these feelings of love, kindness, and gratitude for yourself and others back into your everyday life.
For an audio version of a similar meditation visit the Finding Peace in a Frantic World website and listen to their Befriending Meditation.
For shorter Loving Kindness meditations see my other recent posts:
Spread Kindness not the Virus
Find Peace With Compassionate Walking
In these coronavirus days of social isolation our challenge is how to maintain a physical distance from people, to prevent the virus from spreading, and at the same time remain connected to others, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. The Loving Kindness meditation, that I will describe in this post, is a wonderful way of connecting with others and sending them your love and good wishes, at a time when circumstances may demand that you are physically apart. We're all experiencing the stress of uncertainty and rapid change at the moment, and this meditation is way of showing love and compassion to yourself and others.
The Loving Kindness Meditation originates from a Buddhist meditation called the Metta Bhavana. Metta can be translated as love, compassion, or kindness, and Bhavana is the development or cultivation of these qualities. In this post I'll share with you the Loving Kindness Meditation phrases and we'll look at ways that you can use them informally, including how to incorporate them into a yoga session. In my next post we'll look at how to use them as a formal sitting meditation (see The Showing Appreciation Meditation on page 88 of the Yoga Through the Year book).
Below is my favourite version of the Loving Kindness meditation phrases:
May I be safe.
One simple way of using the loving kindness phrases is to silently repeat them at the beginning and end of your yoga session. At the start of my home yoga practice, I stand in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) and repeat the phrases for myself, which makes me feel safe, secure, and looked after. Then at the end of my yoga session, following my pranayama practice, I sit and send good wishes and love to myself, my husband, and my daughter (who lives 150 miles away from me). Sometimes I use the formal phrases above, and at other times I just give myself a hug, and say, "I love you. I hope you have a good day", and then I do the same for my loved ones, imagining that they are on either side of me and that I am holding their hands, sending them love and good wishes too.
You can also incorporate the phrases into simple yoga sequences. To do this simply repeat one line of the Loving Kindness (metta) phrases each time you exhale. For example, pictured below, inhaling raise your arms, and exhaling lower your arms, silently saying, "May I be safe". Next time round, on the exhale, you say, "May I be happy" etc. Try it. It will focus an anxious mind and induce a state of calm.
You can do the same in this Cat Pose variation:
If you prefer you can simplify the phrases to: safe, happy, healthy, ease.
Inhale, exhale, safe.
Inhale, exhale, happy.
Inhale, exhale, healthy.
Inhale, exhale, ease.
If, at present, your mind is like the proverbial hamster on a wheel, relentlessly going over coronavirus worries, you'll find that the Loving Kindness phrases are a wonderful way of realigning yourself with a sense of safety, good health and happiness. They are also a way of surrounding yourself with love and sending your love out into the world.
See also: Find Peace With Compassionate Walking
Peace is the walk.
All over the world people are practising social distancing in order to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 virus. However, although we are physically more distant from each other, no hugs or handshakes, many of us are creatively finding ways to stay connected with each other through acts of kindness. In this post I'll share with you the practice of Compassionate Walking which is a wonderful way of extending love to yourself and others.
To begin the practice, start your walk by sending love and good wishes to yourself. This can be as simple as saying something like, "I hope you have a good day today". Use any phrases that help to build up the energy of loving kindness in you. Have compassion for yourself, recognising the difficulties you face at present as you adjust to the restrictions imposed by the virus.
Next, as you walk extend goodwill and loving kindness to both yourself and to passers-by. Do this one person at a time. Again, it might just be a simple phrase such as "I hope things go well for you and me today." Like you, this person is also struggling to adjust to this new world we find ourselves in. Like you they want to be healthy and happy. Send out your love to them. Recognise your shared humanity.
It can also be fun to send out love and compassion to trees, plants, dogs, cats, birds, the earth and the sky.
If you want to develop the practice of Compassionate Walking further you can incorporate the Loving Kindness Meditation phrases:
May I be safe.
The approach is the same as in the less formal version of the meditation already described. You begin the meditation by saying the phrases for yourself, engendering feelings of loving kindness towards yourself as you walk. Next, you choose individual passers-by and say the phrases for both of you:
May you and I be safe.
Christopher Germer, in his book, "The Mindful Path of Self-compassion", says that you can also simplify the phrases to: "Safe, happy, healthy, ease" or "love, love, love, love". Simply repeating these shortened phrases for yourself and others.
If you are quarantined at present and not able to leave the house to walk then see my earlier post: Relieve Stress with a Walking Meditation, which can easily be done at home. My next post will explore simple ways to incorporate the Loving Kindness Meditation phrases into a yoga session.
Here is an excerpt from a blog post I recently wrote for my publisher's website at Llewellyn Worldwide.
During the uncertainty of the current COVID-19 crisis, many of us are looking for ways to support our spiritual and mental health, alongside safeguarding our physical well-being. Walking Meditation is one of the best ways I know to relieve stress and calm an anxious mind. It’s ideally suited for those times when you want to meditate but don’t want to spend more time sitting still. It’s also a way of getting some gentle exercise. Many people find it’s a way of freeing up their ideas and of magically finding creative solutions to difficult problems.
At times of uncertainty, when we feel insecure, our overactive mind unrelentingly turns problems over and over, trying to resolve them, and our energy tends to get stuck in our head. This heady energy makes us disassociate from our body, making us feel stuck and disconnected from the flow of life. Walking Meditation is the perfect antidote to this as it brings our awareness back down from the head, into our body, and to the feet, and in doing so grounds us. Once we feel grounded, we regain clarity, we’re more able to cope with challenges, and life is flowing again.
The beauty of Walking Meditation is that it can be done anywhere, anytime, and it’s very simple to learn. It can be done indoors or outdoors. If you are quarantined at home it can be done around the house, or in the garden, if you have one...
Carry on reading... Walking Meditation in 3 Easy Step
Below is the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh giving guidance on Walking Meditation
The Ten Mindful Movements are a wonderful way to calm down when you feel too stressed to sit and meditate. The meditative movements give an overactive mind something to focus on and help to induce a sense of peacefulness. If you are self-isolating at home they are a gentle way of getting some exercise and meditating at the same time. Other members of your household and children might enjoy joining in too. If coronavirus restrictions in your country still allow you to go outside, they are lovely to do in the open air. Another bonus is that you don't need a yoga mat, so they can be done anywhere. They take about 10 minutes to do.
Here in the UK we are still allowed to leave our homes once a day to exercise (brisk walking enjoying nature for me). I'm also intending each day to practice the Ten Mindful Movements as I find them wonderfully calming, grounding, and centring. Perfect for bringing me back down to earth in these troubled times we're living through.
At the end of this post you'll find a YouTube video of the Ten Mindful Movements as done at Plum Village in France, and below is my class handout for the movements. Please note, on number 8) I do a Half-squat, as I think that's safer on the knees than the Full Squat done in the Plum Village version. I've also added an extra exercise number 12) Hug Yourself, Hug the World.
When practising the Ten Mindful Movements, every time you exhale you do a half-smile. This is super-relaxing! You'll find other smiling-breathing posts on my blog: The Breathe and Smile Meditation, and The Calming. Smiling Practice. Enjoy!
In my last post, the Calming, Smiling Practice, we considered how a smile can help you to regain sovereignty over yourself. The practice involves smiling at difficult feelings such as fear, anxiety, or uncertainty, knowing that you are more than your fear. In this post I will share with you a longer Breathe and Smile Meditation, which is adapted from the Sagittarius chapter of my forthcoming book, Yoga by the Stars.
It's important to say that smiling practice is very different from "positive thinking". We are not pretending everything's OK and ignoring our feelings. Rather we are lovingly acknowledging and attending to our feelings, and smiling, in the same way that you might smile to comfort a crying child. A smile relaxes you and also allows room for other more joyful feelings to arise.
The Breathe and Smile Meditation
Sometimes we approach our meditation practice with such intensity that we forget to cultivate an attitude of joyfulness. The Breathe and Smile Meditation allows you to maintain a clear, focused attention whilst at the same time joyfully lightening up.
This meditation can be done sitting on the floor, in a chair, or lying down in Savasana. Allow 10 minutes.
Find yourself a comfortable position, either sitting or lying. Become aware of your body, particularly noticing which parts are in contact with the floor or your support. If you notice any discomfort in your body, be aware of it without immediately trying to fix it, notice any sensations associated with the discomfort and how they change from breath to breath. Notice which parts of your body already feel relaxed, comfortable and at ease.
Become aware of the natural flow of the breath. Notice where in your body you are most aware of the movement of the breath. Perhaps you feel it at the nostrils as the air enters and leaves the body. Or perhaps you can sense it in the chest, or the belly. Wherever you feel it most clearly allow your awareness to settle there for a few breaths.
Next picture something or someone that makes you smile. Perhaps it is one of your kids, or a grandchild, a pet, your best friend, or a beautiful landscape. Allow your lips to relax into a smile; notice how a smile relaxes so many of the facial muscles. Imagine that the smile is spreading through your body; your eyes are smiling; the back of your throat is smiling; the smile expands across your chest; your belly is smiling. If any part of your body needs soothing, imagine that part of your body is relaxing into a smile.
Return your awareness again to the natural flow of your breath. Particularly be aware of the out-breath, which is the part of the breath associated with relaxation. Each time you breathe out, feel yourself relaxing into a half-smile. A half-smile is that gentle smile that you see on the face of the Buddha. Inhale: exhale half-smile. Carry on breathing and smiling over a few more breaths.
Now imagine that the air that you breathe comes from a vast ocean of love. With each inhale you draw love into yourself, and with each exhale give love back to the world. Inhale: love. Exhale: love. Carry on for a few more breaths and then let it go.
Notice what effect this meditation has had upon you. In what way do you feel different now to how you felt at the start of the meditation?
To conclude become aware of your body; noticing any sensations associated with the contact between your body and the floor or your support; feel a connection to the earth beneath you. Become aware of your surroundings. Do any movements you need to do to wake yourself up, including a good stretch. Resolve to stay in touch with your inner smile as you go about your day today.
In my next post I will share with you the Ten Mindful Movements which also incorporate the breathing and smiling practice.
Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects. Please do not think we need to be solemn in order to meditate. In fact, to meditate well, we have to smile a lot...If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work."
It's a beautiful sunny day here in the UK today, and we're all coming to terms with the government's announcement that for the next three weeks, at least, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus all UK citizens should stay indoors. Many of us are feeling daunted by the prospect of this. Fortunately we are still allowed out for one lot of exercise each day. Many of you around the world will be living under even tighter restrictions and perhaps don't feel you have much to smile about at the moment. This post will share with you the mindfulness technique of breathing and smiling, which will be another simple, quick way to lift your spirits, lighten your mood, and bring a bit of sunshine into cloudy days stuck indoors.
Calming and Smiling is such a simple, beautiful practice, and remember that a smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your face and your nervous system. The practice is like this: as you inhale feel the breath calming your body and soothing your mind. As you exhale do a half-smile (like the Buddha) and feel a wave of relaxation spread over you. It's really that simple!
You can also incorporate the calming, smiling practice into your yoga practice. Below are some simple ideas to get you started. You could also use them with Warrior Pose, Bridge Pose, and many other dynamic versions of the poses.
The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says that even though life is hard, even though it is sometimes difficult to smile, we have to try. He relates how a friend asked him, "How can I force myself to smile when I am filled with sorrow?". He replied that she must be able to smile at her sorrow. He said that a human being is like a TV set with hundreds of channels. If we turn sorrow on we are sorrow. If we turn a smile on, we really are a smile. We cannot let just one channel dominate us. He says that we have the seed of everything in us, and when we sit down peacefully, breathing and smiling, with awareness, we are our true selves, we have sovereignty over ourselves. I love the idea that a smile helps us to regain our sovereignty. We can't always control our circumstances, but we do have a choice in how we respond. We can breathe and smile.
In the next few days I will also post a longer Breathe and Smile Meditation (from my forthcoming Yoga by the Stars book), and the Ten Mindful Movements practice which incorporates the breathing and smiling practice too.
If you are feeling panicky and overwhelmed with all the uncertainty of the coronavirus crisis, then you are not alone. In this post I'll share with you a mindfulness-based meditation that will give you support whenever you feel worried, anxious, stressed, unsettled, panicky, or overwhelmed. It only takes a few minutes to do and will help steady you so that you feel more able to cope with whatever arises. It can be particularly useful during hectic, stressful times when you most need meditation but seem to have zero time to devote to it. So for those of you with caring responsibilities, such as kids off school, or jobs on the front-line, it can be a way of squeezing in a few minutes meditation in a busy day.
If you can find a few minutes to spend on this meditation it will actually save you time, as it restores a sense of perspective; preventing you from running around like the proverbial headless chicken. If you put in the time to learn and practice this meditation regularly, it will be there for you when you need it most, helping to restore a sense of calm. It's called The Four Minute Check-in Meditation and can be found on page 144 of the Yoga Through the Year book.
The Four Minute Check-in Meditation
This meditation can be done anywhere and anytime. Usually it is done standing, although it could be adapted to sitting or lying down.
A simple way of remembering the four stages of the meditation is by the acronym: S.A.G.E.
S: Stand tall
Step One: Stand Tall: Assume an upright and dignified posture.
Step Two: Awareness: Become aware of any thoughts and feelings that are arising. Notice any bodily sensations that you are experiencing. Just observe your inner experience, without judging, shaping or trying to change it.
Step Three: Gathering: Bring your awareness to your breathing. Notice how with each in and out breath the belly gently rises and falls. If your mind wanders off, gently bring it back to an awareness of the belly rising and falling with each breath.
Step Four: Expanding your Awareness: Be aware of the breath at the belly and be aware of the whole body breathing. If any part of your body feels tight or tense, imagine that you are breathing into it on the in-breath and breathing out from it on the out-breath; softening, releasing, and letting go with each exhale. Allow your experience to be just as it is in this moment.
Resolve to take this more open, spacious and accepting awareness into the next thing that you do today.
The above meditation is my version of a popular mindfulness technique called The Three Minute Breathing Space. You can find an audio version of the meditation on the Finding Peace in a Frantic World website, where you'll also find plenty of other free mindfulness meditations.
When I feel anxious, apprehensive, or overwhelmed my automatic reaction, like most people's, is to push those difficult emotions away; so I push them down, distract myself, or I ignore how I'm feeling. Experience has taught me that this doesn't work as what we resist persists. Fortunately, my mindfulness practice has given me tools for managing difficult emotions, and today I will share one of these with you in this post.
My go-to mindfulness practice for managing difficult feelings is The Surrounding a Difficulty With Love Meditation (you will find it on page 126 of my Yoga Through the Year book). In this meditation we learn to approach our difficulties with curiosity, rather than avoiding them, and this can help to reduce the intensity and duration of difficult emotions. This meditation can also help you to learn how to show love and acceptance to yourself when you are suffering.
The Surrounding a Difficulty With Love Meditation
Allow 10-20 minutes.
Find yourself a comfortable sitting position. Have a tall, erect, and relaxed posture. Or if you prefer lie down. Notice where your body is in contact with the floor, or your support. Allow those parts of your body that are in contact with the floor to go with gravity, and relax down into the earth.
Take your awareness around your body; noticing which parts of your body already feel relaxed, and which parts feel tight, or tense. Let go of any unnecessary tension; relax your shoulders down away from your ears; and soften your face with a half-smile. Become aware of the natural flow of your breath.
Now bring to mind a difficulty that has been troubling you. Spend a few minutes turning this troubling situation over in your mind. Notice in a non-judgemental way any thoughts and feelings that are arising in response to this difficulty.
As you dwell on this troubling situation notice how your body is responding. Notice where you are feeling the difficulty most strongly in your body. Rather than pushing the unpleasant sensations away see if you can welcome and surround them with love. Imagine that you are giving a big hug to the parts of your body that have tightened or tensed up in response to this troubling emotion.
Notice how the intense physical sensations change from moment to moment. Keep surrounding them with love. As you breathe in, imagine that you are breathing into this part of your body. As you exhale, soften and release, letting go of any tightness or tension.
Now let go of focusing on this difficult situation and the emotions it brings up for you. Bring your awareness back to where your body is in contact with the floor or your support. Feel yourself supported by the earth.
Come back to an awareness of your surroundings. Notice how you are feeling now and in what way this is different to how you felt at the start of the meditation. Give yourself a big hug and then carry on with your day.
On the Mindful Way Through Anxiety website, you will find an audio version of Inviting a Difficulty in and Working it Through the Body. Which takes a similar approach to the meditation I have described above.
In future posts I will share with you more tried and tested mindfulness techniques for managing difficult emotions, to help you find your peaceful place within.
It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness
The next few weeks look set to be a challenging time as the population of the world tries to find a way through and out of this coronavirus crisis. Naturally we are all feeling frightened and apprehensive in these uncertain, unpredictable times, and more than ever we need our yoga and mindfulness practice to help us to navigate our way through anxiety and fear, so that we don't get stuck in a frightened, anxious place, and we are able to take the actions necessary to protect and support ourselves, our family, our friends, and wider community.
Many of you will be self-isolating at home, so over the next few weeks my intention is to regularly post short, blog posts and share with you simple accessible yoga and mindfulness techniques that will help you find your calm place in the midst of the storm, and to assist you in managing the torrent of emotions that naturally arise during such turbulent times. I will also post short, simple yoga practices that you can easily do at home. Although I don't do audio and video, I'll be giving you recommendations of excellent online resources from other members of the yoga community. I'll also be making soul-nourishing and courage-inspiring book recommendations.
All of my regular yoga classes are cancelled at the moment, due to government restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus, and so I hope through my blog posts to give my students and newsletter subscribers lots of ideas of simple ways to practice yoga and mindfulness at home.
You can sign up for my newsletter to receive notifications of new blog posts, or just drop in regularly to this website to see what's new.
Jilly Shipway, sharing seasonal yoga ideas and inspiration with you through the year...
Please feel free to share ideas and resources that you find in my blog, but please do acknowledge me and my website as their source. Thanks!
Disclaimer: if you have any concerns about your health or suitability to do yoga, please consult a medical professional before attempting any of the yoga routines in this blog.