Shrugging My Shoulders (Today’s Daily Presence)

Every card I’ve pulled from my Daily Presence deck, which centers on meditation and relaxation related to a particular area of the body, has felt serendipitous in its connection to what I needed that day. It was no surprise, then, that today’s card focused on the shoulders, an area of my body that holds much of my anxiety. I chose to focus on a progressive muscle relaxation to ease my tension.

Whenever I’ve participated in progressive muscle relaxation, the area of my body I cannot wait to get to is my shoulders. Drawing them up to my ears and then releasing them provides more stress relief than the practice does for most parts of my body. The muscles in my shoulders are extremely taut and inflexible, so I often repeat the practice several times. When I tried it today, part of my upper spine cracked and shifted, indicating to me that attention to this area was sorely needed. What area(s) of your body might benefit from progressive muscle relaxation? How does your body respond to the practice?

Matters of the Heart (Today’s Daily Presence)

For today’s Daily Presence mindfulness mediation, I focused on the physical experience I have of my heart. My week has been significantly more stressful than most, and I was not surprised when my finger pulse monitor showed my heart beating around 90 beats per minute even when I was seated (it is normally in the 60’s or 70’s).

The heart and the breath are intimately linked, so I concentrated on breathing deeply and in rhythm. When I checked my pulse a few minutes later, not only was it in the low 70’s, but I felt calmer as well. I suspect that what I call an “anxiety response” is primarily a racing heartbeat (along with other signs of sympathetic nervous system activation).

I realized through this meditation that I associate my heartbeat with sound more than any other sense, when in fact the way I experience it is through a felt sense. Yet, when I imagine hearing it slowing down, my body responds in kind. I would like to spend more time observing it rather than reacting to it, as I believe many of the impulsive decisions I make in life are aimed at slowing it down indirectly through altering my perception of the situation. This is why I love mindfulness so much. It puts me in direct contact with my inner sensations, and strips away the “story” that my mind creates to explain those internal reactions. What is your heart telling you? Through which sense do you connect most fully with it?

Creating a Design (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I’ve had an art breakthrough! Well, possibly. Over the years, I have stopped and started more art projects than I can count and have shelves of paint, paper and other supplies sitting idle. I have finally come to recognize that my inertia on being visually creative has to do with form more than substance. I dislike mess and fumes, so the idea of getting out a set of paintbrushes, attempting to paint a creation beyond the scope of my fine motor skills, and, finally, having to clean everything up afterwards taxes me too much. The solution? Digital art!

As soon as I get an idea in my head, I usually want to spend as much money as I can reasonably waste (hence my unused artroom) on accumulating the tools needed to execute my vision. In this situation, however, I’ve decided to proceed more slowly in order to make sure the way of arting that I’ve landed on actually fits me. Specifically, I downloaded a free app version of Adobe Illustrator to try out on my phone with my stylus before I invest in something like a Wacom tablet. Yesterday, I created a candy-corn cartoon, and, for today’s simple pleasure, will be keeping the fall theme going by designing a pumpkin cartoon. I find it hard to follow through with being artistic when it doesn’t feel like it has any utility, but I know that I need ways to occupy my mind that are healthy and safe, so I’m going with it. What is your favorite way to art? What digital tools do you like to use?

Drawing a Card (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I use tarot and oracle cards as a way to (re)focus my vision as well as for clarity in situations that I find confusing. For today’s simple pleasure, I drew a card from a small hand-painted deck I made that contains one-word verbs to motivate change. The word I received was “cleanse,” which felt ironic, given that I’d just eaten an entire lunch filled with junk food and therefore feel gross. My stress level has been extremely high, so the card spoke to me about finding positive self-care behaviors in which I can engage rather than unhealthy coping mechanisms.

I also found a card stuck in between my books which referenced the Earth and how it provides all we need. I’ve gotten multiple messages recently about returning to Source and connecting with humanity, so this felt on target. With all that is going on domestically and abroad, it is easy for me to focus on dehumanization and evil. The cards I drew, collectively, are reminding me that there is goodness, gentleness, kindness and care in the world, if I pay attention to it.

Taking a Nap (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I’m not a napper, but I might become one! I generally sleep or at least lay in my bed for at least eight hours a night, so naps aren’t necessarily something I need in order to make it through the day. However, as of late, since starting T, I’ve been battling bouts of insomnia wherein I am unable to fall asleep for several hours. In addition, as I age, I think mid-day rests might renew my energy and stamina.

For today’s simple pleasure, I lit several candles and cuddled with my dog in bed for about fifteen minutes. Initially, I found my mind wandering quite a bit but was eventually able to enjoy the warmth and softness of the ambiance I’d created as I drifted in and out of light sleep. Short naps have been shown to increase a person’s ability to focus and feel re-energized, so I plan to integrate them into my self-care “toolkit.” What are your thoughts and experiences with napping as a simple pleasure?

Soaking in Water (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Taking a warm bath relaxes and satisfies many people’s need for a simple pleasure. I, however, become nauseous from the heat. Hot water only works for me in small doses, so my version of a bath involves involves soaking my feet in water infused with a homemade bath bomb containing essential oils and dried herbs.

As I did this today, I found myself able to reconnect with my body and temporarily less aware of my chronic pain as all my energy went into finding the right temperature that was soothing rather than scalding (I recommend using a thermometer for this if you have any conditions such as diabetes that could affect your ability to perceive temperature in your feet). My feet feel smooth and pampered after my treatment, which allows the rest of my body to come to a place of calmness and comfort. What is your favorite way to soak in water?

A Five-Minute Stretch

A song I found relaxing while meditating.

I’m someone who is much more faithful with exercising than I am with the “cool down” stretch that is supposed to come afterwards. A purchase I made this year that has made all the difference in keeping me stretching was when I bought different sizes of Chirp Plexus Wheels (I am not associated with nor am I an affiliate of the company that manufacturers them). I use the largest size wheel to ease into stretching out my back. My spine cracked in multiple places the first time I used a friend’s, which is what sold me on it. The middle-sized one has proven useful in doing assisted back-bends; my upper body and core strength as well as my flexibility is insufficient to do them on my own. Finally, the smallest wheel allows me to stretch my neck and hip areas.

I paired today’s simple pleasure of stretching using my wheels with the mediation music video I’ve embedded in this post. The combination made me “crave” the smell of incense or a candle burning from past classes I’ve taken, but I instead refocused myself on stretching. Today has been a rough day so I didn’t feel especially relaxed when I finished, but I did find myself centering on my breath at the end which is something I completely forget to do whenever I am stressed. What is your favorite stretch? What equipment (if any) helps you get the most out of your stretches?