6 comments on “Three Powerful Ways to Hit The “Pause” Button”

Three Powerful Ways to Hit The “Pause” Button

For many of us, life seems to dash by at breakneck speed. Like a game character jumping through hoops, solving puzzles and facing challenges, it can sometimes feel as if we are being propelled forward with little agency or control, thoughtlessly rushing from one thing to the next; then realising that months have disappeared and we’re not entirely sure what we’ve done with them. Luckily, however, we don’t have to rely on someone else to press pause and give us some much-needed breathing space – we can do it ourselves.

These are just a few of the ways we can empower ourselves to put everyday life on hiatus, and enjoy a moment or two that’s entirely our own.

Meditate at least once a day

Meditation has an extraordinary number of benefits, and is recommended for everything from alleviating anxiety to improving our creativity. A hugely important yet often overlooked benefit, however, is that at the most basic level it gives us some time to ourselves. By committing to 25 minutes where we simply aren’t allowed to take phone calls, sort out lunch for our kids, get stressed reading the news or scroll through emails, we are giving ourselves much needed “time out.”

While benefits like reduced anxiety and improved performance are key to a meditation practice, it also gives us the discipline to not constantly engage with whatever flighty worry our brain throws at us. And what’s more, it teaches us that it doesn’t matter how urgent something seems or how busy we think we are, there’s always time to take a breath and withdraw from everyday cares – which is an extremely powerful lesson.

Plan periods of rest

In the past and in many cultures, a “day of rest” was codified in religious law. While this can still be surprisingly strict in small pockets of society (for example in traditional Jewish communities), somewhere along the line the idea of setting aside a day to rest was lost to the majority of us. Work takes up a huge amount of our time, and once that’s finished, we have everything else to contend with. The result is that it can be surprisingly difficult to slow down, because there’s always another chore, commitment or social engagement to attend to.

The best place to start is to plan periods of rest – even if it means putting them in your diary a week in advance, and deliberately turning down invitations or obligations during that time. You may have to call in support to make this possible, but there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. For example, if you plan to rest on a Monday afternoon, you may arrange for a family member or partner to take on the responsibility of picking up the kids from school on that day, and return the favor another time.

You also have to be strict with yourself, to make sure you don’t find yourself thinking “oh, I’ll just sort out a couple of things on my to-do list.” If you find it difficult to switch off, try leaving the house and going somewhere you find relaxing, like the beach or cinema; or commit the time to a restful task you really enjoy. You might love cooking, and could spend that Monday afternoon leisurely preparing an elaborate meal. Or perhaps you could spend the time journaling, walking or painting – as long as it’s something you love, but don’t usually get enough time for.

Remember that not everything needs to be productive

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves, in a world where our day is so dominated by the idea of being on the clock, that not every action has to be productive. In fact, it’s perfectly acceptable to while away time doing things that aren’t productive at all. We place so much value on efficiency – to the point where even our sleep needs to become “optimized” – that we completely miss the main point of life: to have a nice time, and try to make sure other people are having a nice time as well.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have goals, of course, or want to achieve things. But it also doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be busy 24/7, and work flat out all the time. We’d still be ploughing fields with oxen and working 16 hours a day if we hadn’t invested thought in how to make our lives easier, and fought for our right to leisure time. Rest isn’t only important; it’s completely necessary to our wellbeing – and you could argue, when you look at all the repairs our body is busy with when we’re at rest, that being unproductive is actually a very productive way to spend the day.

While there is value in hard work and pushing yourself, there’s equal value in saying “you know what, today I’m doing exactly what I want to do.” Getting over the mental block that tells us there’s always something we need to be stressing about is a vital factor in hitting the pause button. And with rest at the top of our to-do list, life in general will suddenly feel just that little bit more chilled.

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Holly Ashby. Holly is a wellness writer who works with Beeja Meditation, a meditation centre that teaches a form of transcendental meditation in London, and has written extensively on the benefits of meditation. Will Williams’ (the founder of Will Williams Meditation) first book The Effortless Mind is now available, and explores the inspiring stories of people overcoming issues such as poor mental health through the practice of meditation.

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2 comments on “Is Information Overload Making it Harder to be Happy?”

Is Information Overload Making it Harder to be Happy?

Dissatisfaction, discontentment, and out-and-out unhappiness are a surprisingly ubiquitous feature of modern life. Mental health issues are a growing public health concern, rates of stress, anxiety and depression are rising sharply among the UK’s teenage girls and the United States has become 5% unhappier over the past 10 years.

All this comes despite the fact that, objectively speaking, modern humans in wealthy countries are probably some of the luckiest people that have ever lived. There are also myriad self-help books, wellness gurus, and “Five Ways to Find Happiness” listicles crowding our cultural landscape. So why do we find it so hard to find a solution to our unhappiness, and is information overload part of the problem?

Finding the Cause

There are many theories as to what is making us unhappy. It might be how marketing creates a constant sense of unattainable desire and fear of social exclusion, the fact many of us spend much of our lives in work rather than pursuing our hobbies and seeing loved ones, or our increasing isolation from community and nature. Or, as is being increasingly suggested, we might just be looking at social media too much.

Whatever it is, many of us struggle with negative feelings  – such as stress, loneliness, envy, and worry – on a daily basis. And as many theories as there are trying to explain modern unhappiness, there are just as many suggestions to solve it.

We are bombarded from every side with ideas, advice, and instructions on how to better live our lives. Those who don’t subscribe to a particular religion can pick and choose the bits of spirituality that appeal to them, while rejecting anything that seems too at odds with how they would like to live.

Just One Too Many Ideas

With so many ideas, advice, and guidance on how to live our lives, and this unimaginably vast deluge of information all available to us at the click of a button, is it any wonder that so many of us are frozen into confused inaction? What’s more, the nature of the media and clickbait content is making this even more difficult to assess and sift through with any amount of good judgement.

There’s always the next new trend: the thing the media grabs on to and promotes beyond all sense, before subjecting it to a comprehensive backlash that ensures any good advice is utterly lost.

A couple of years ago, ‘clean eating’ was touted as the solution to all our problems, and wholeheartedly embraced. That was until the inevitable moment where the movement was completely trashed, and cited as the cause of everything from body fascism to eating disorders.

This cycle of extremes, and the Internet-borne impulse to discuss everything in the most polemic ways possible, make it difficult to trust anything. And things get even more obfuscated when you consider that with every trend and backlash, there are vested interests muddying the waters in their attempts to shape opinion one way or the other.

Seeing the Wood for the Trees

So, under the weight of all this advice, how do we find what works for us, and is truly relevant to our own lives? Unfortunately, in order to answer this question, I’ll be adding to the mountain of guidance already out there.

The first thing to do is make efforts to disengage a little. You know how kids are generally carefree and happy unless something immediately and obviously bad is happening? It’s because they have no problem existing in the moment, and tend to take life for what it is. They also only have to trust in one set of rules and ideas – that of their parents – which might not always be ideal, but certainly makes life simpler.

Meditation

I would recommend meditation to help yourself live more in the now, and give your mind some space from the chattering and assault of information that has become a constant in so many of our lives. It offers clarity, and an increased insight into how your mind works — along with the thought patterns, fears, and worries that tend to dominate.

And aside from all this, it makes some space in your day to simply be. In an age when our smartphones mean there isn’t one second of our time where we needn’t be entertained, informed, or socializing, this is very rare indeed.

Switching Off

You may also consider a digital detox. Rolling news and constantly updating social media feeds are pretty addictive, and a week where you turn your smartphone off (or just turn off the WiFi and data) can help you to stop mindlessly scrolling.

With an end to this stream of information, you won’t always be taking in differing opinions, the next new trend, and what product or idea has fallen out of favor. This will give you the chance to focus, and truly concentrate on finding the things that make you happy, rather than being pulled in hundreds of different directions.

Commitment

Lastly, it’s important to commit to an idea, at least for a little while. So many of us fall into the trap of believing that an overnight overhaul will lead to a totally comprehensive lifestyle change, where we join the gym, go on a diet, and start painting. Then, when we fail to keep any of this up, we berate ourselves and promise to try again next week, week after week, sometimes for years on end.

The content of our resolutions may change as different ideas fall in and out of fashion, but so often they are ultimately doomed. Instead, it’s far easier and clearer just to pick one thing, and do it for at least two months to see whether it results in us feeling happier and better within ourselves.

This might be using your lunch break to go out for a walk everyday, rediscovering your passion for climbing/pottery/cooking by devoting two hours of your time to the pursuit each week, or promising to read a few pages of a book before bed rather than checking your phone. Yoga is also a great place to start, because it’s a practice that isn’t focused on competition or performance, and something you can dive into whatever your skill or fitness level.

The trick is focusing on and committing to one thing – and not reading 18 different articles about the relative advantages and disadvantages of each habit before finding a new trend to try.

In an age where there’s such a wealth of opinions and information available to us, the simple act of choosing something to wholeheartedly believe in can be a really powerful step towards happiness.

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profilepicEditor’s note: This is a guest post from Holly Ashby. Holly is a wellness writer who has worked with Beeja Meditation, a meditation centre in London, for three years. They teach a form of transcendental meditation to help people cope with the stresses of modern life, hold meditation retreats, and help those living with issues such as anxiety and depression.

4 comments on “5 Mood-Boosting Mantras to Get You Through Any Challenge”

5 Mood-Boosting Mantras to Get You Through Any Challenge

2.pngYou must live alone, at least internally, in a quiet place. – Bhagavad Gita

Have you ever caught yourself repeatedly reciting a word, phrase, or affirmation in your mind? Perhaps you’ve told yourself “you can do this,” over and over as you nervously walked into a job interview, or repeated that “everything will be OK,” even when it certainly didn’t feel that way. Though this may seem like a mindless coping method, it is actually considered by many religious and spiritual traditions as a means of harnessing and focusing the mind. In Sanskrit, such affirmations are known as mantras, or “tools of thought.” A mantra can be understood as any sound, word or phrase that alters consciousness through meaning, tone, rhythm, or physical vibration.

The Meaning of Mantras

In modern society, the word mantra has almost lost its meaning. It is thrown around as a flippant cliché, far removed from its sacred origins. Traditionally, mantras are believed to have spiritual and psychological powers. When chanted with devotion, certain utterances are thought to create powerful vibrations within the body and mind, igniting intentions and enabling deep states of meditation. But the truth is that we need mantras now more than ever. A chaotic mind slips all too easily into negative thinking patterns, allowing negative energy to take over actions and behavior. Mantras enable us to see that we can manifest and harness the power of our intentions and energy, and that the positive affirmations we tell ourselves can become a reality. Repetition of a mantra is also a simple way to bring presence to your innate, positive qualities.

Since each mantra has a distinct meaning and vibrates on a unique frequency, each one is also believed to have distinctive healing effects; and not only spiritually, but on a physical, molecular level. When chanting mantras aloud, the vibrations and movements of the tongue stimulate some of the key glands of the endocrine system, which is responsible for governing and regulating hormones in the body. What’s more, the soothing and harmonious combination of sound, breath and rhythm – an inevitable outcome of mantra chanting – has a profound impact on the parasympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the “rest and digest” system. This, in turn, slows the heart rate, relaxes muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, and triggers the body’s healing response. When the physical body is at ease in this way, it is much easier to connect with your mind and consciousness on a deeper level.

The Benefits of Chanting Mantras

By focusing on the repetition of a specific set of words or sounds, mantra chanting can also act as an object of concentration, helping to bring the mind into the present moment. As such, mantras are commonly used to still the mind for meditation, much in the same way that some practitioners concentrate on the breath. A great way to retain focus and remain present whilst practicing meditative mantra chanting is to count each repetition on a garland of beads. Known as mala in Sanskrit, these prayer beads are used throughout religious and spiritual practices to mark the repetition of devoted recitations. Meditative states can be used to connect to the Divine within, and mantras are an effective way to maintain that connection.

Although mantras are typically chanted in Sanskrit, modern versions are increasingly used throughout all aspects of yoga, often to encourage a sense of connection to your intentions for the practice. For example, silent repetition of “I am present” during an asana class can motivate you to stay focused on the movements of the body, preventing your mind from running away from the classroom and straight into the arms of your to-do list. In this way, mantras can be used to cultivate a particular state of mind, allowing their meaning to gently seep into our subconscious and transform negative energy into positive power. Whether it’s an inspirational quote, a favorite lyric, or the wise words of a grandparent, if it leaves you feeling grounded, centered or uplifted, you can consider it a mantra.

5 Mood-Boosting Mantras

If you’re having trouble merging mantras with your practice, why not give one of the following mood-boosting mantras a try? Each is specifically designed to tap into and nurture a particular aspect of being: happiness, peace, prosperity, love, and connection with the Divine.

To get started, find any comfortable seated position, close your eyes, regulate the breath and simply repeat the mantra aloud in whichever rhythm feels natural to you. There is a modern version paired with each mantra just in case you’re not comfortable with reciting Sanskrit, leaving you with no excuse to not give it a go!

1. A Mantra for Happiness

Sanskrit MantraOm Paraanandaaya Namaha

Modern Equivalent: Happiness is a choice

Meaning: This mantra serves as a reminder that happiness is our inherent nature; we were born happy, long before negative thoughts, labels, and desires colored our experience. In remembering that true happiness comes from within, the chase for external and material happiness becomes redundant.

Practice TipSmile as you chant this mantra – you will find it hard not to feel more joyful!

2. A Mantra for Peace

Sanskrit Mantra: Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

Modern Equivalent: May all beings everywhere be happy and free

Meaning: Used for centuries as an invocation of peace, this mantra reminds us that we are all connected with one another as part of the same universe. By radiating this sentiment out to the world around us, we are able to step away from the ego and concentrate on universal well-being.

Practice Tip: Take a deep inhale and try vocalizing the whole of this mantra on the out breath.

3. A Mantra for Prosperity

Sanskrit Mantra: Om Gam Ganapataye Namah

Modern Equivalent: I can overcome any obstacle

Meaning: This is the mantra of Lord Ganesha who is known in Hindu tradition as the remover of internal and external obstacles. This mantra can be used to stoke the fire of transformation and blaze your way to success.

Practice Tip: Try doing the Ganesha mudra while repeating this mantra. It is believed to boost self-confidence and courage, helping you to overcome any obstacles in your path to prosperity.

4. A Mantra for Love

Sanskrit Mantra: Om Mani Padme Hum

Modern Equivalent: Love pervades all

Meaning: A Tibetan Buddhist prayer of compassion, this mantra is said to contain all the teachings of the Buddha. This mantra instills a sense of loving-kindness toward all beings, reminding us that the power of love is innate in everyone.

Practice Tip: Om Mani Padme Hum is not directly translatable into a simple phrase. Try focusing on the vibrations of this mantra rather than getting lost in its meaning.

5. A Mantra for Connection With the Divine

Sanskrit Mantra: Om Namah Shivaya

Modern Equivalent: I am one with universal consciousness

Meaning: One of the most popular Hindu dedications to Lord Shiva, this mantra is used to connect to the Divine within and to draw attention to omnipresent universal consciousness. When repeated with devotion, this mantra is thought to bring spiritual insight.

Practice Tip: Om is believed to be the sound and frequency of the creation of the universe. Try elongating this syllable for an entire exhale, paying close attention to the vibrations it creates within the body.

Mantras can help you remain present in the moment, focus your thoughts and intentions on what’s important to you and, ultimately, manifest beautiful things in yourself and the world around you.

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Rachel Bilski. Rachel is a devoted yoga teacher and freelance content writer for Yogapedia, a yoga encyclopedia and resource that shares the philosophy and practice of yoga.

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6 comments on “Minimizing On and Off the Mat”

Minimizing On and Off the Mat

manduka-hippies

I recently moved into a granny flat close to the yoga studio where I teach. Although the circumstances for my sudden move were complicated, it was the simplest house-hunting experience of my adult life. I found the ad in the morning, and walked around the sixties-built room with Brady Bunch shelves and shaggy, mustard yellow carpet in the afternoon. The elderly owner Jim, with silver hair and Viking-blue eyes, evaluated me from the porch of the main house. He told me of the roses, figs, and tomatoes in the garden, the native birds that gather in the morning, and how the squeaky Hills Hoist in the yard was to share. I sensed a soft heart, and by that evening, had a lease waiting in my inbox.

The process of minimizing everything I had amassed, and so naively dragged from house to house over the years, was almost hauntingly as simple. I let go of stately furniture, and cheaply parted with memory-soaked trinkets with the knowledge they were of value to someone new. The heavy marble chess set haggled in Kabul, the overpriced, sleek camera tripod from Seoul. Mt. Wolf’s ‘Exit’ lyrics help explain the ease of these partings:

‘He who is easy to serve, swiftly finds peace. The more complicated we make ourselves, the more complicated is our idea of ourselves. The more we perceive our needs to be, the more of a burden it will be to this planet.’

During the weeks that followed, I realized how resolutely the stars had planted me in the granny flat. Jim is eighty, and lives alone in the house he built decades ago when he oversaw a vast building empire. One day, as I left home to teach, I learned that Jim is also a yogi and life-long meditator. He has read Autobiography of a Yogi, which I am yet to close, eight times over. On his months-long winter caravan trips around Australia, he pulls over for ten-minute meditation sessions, sinking so deeply into his breath that he has to pinch himself to physically awaken; tenfold recharged for the drive ahead.

No matter what time of day I see Jim, he is 100 percent focused on a task. Polishing his car, pruning the rose bushes, sweeping the deck, shampooing rugs, re-wiring trailer brakes, clearing dead leaves from the yard. These are not dreaded chores that get in the way of grander ideas of ‘living.’ They are, in fact, the things that make up life. I ask myself, when did we start to see tasks like cooking a homemade meal in over thirty minutes as obstacles to life? Is nourishment not a primal, vital part of living?

As I move through my own practice now, these ideas have awakened on my mat. There is no perfect outcome of a pose, no resplendent shape to hurry towards. Whatever contours I form on a given day is my own perfect experience to fully own in that moment. And as I teach, I encourage the same of my students. Let yourself land simply where you are meant to be. No need to complicate the breath or the pose. There is life in the transitions.

Minimize your things, simplify your ideas of life’s moments, and humble your mind in the physical pose.

‘He who is easy to serve, swiftly finds peace, and is already close to happiness.’

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Shannon Leah, a civil servant and part-time yoga teacher at Here. Wellbeing in Canberra, Australia. Her mission is to help people de-mystify the philosophy of yoga by exploring concepts through the breath and postures. She loves exploring the world and living simply.

Photo credit: Manduka on Instagram