The Witch's Book of Self-Care: Magical Ways to Pamper, Soothe, and Care for Your Body and Spirit - Arin Murphy-Hiscock 2018
People often glibly say “You should meditate” when you mention that you’re stressed. It’s frustrating to have it prescribed. It’s like being told that drinking water will make things better. Of course it will, at a basic level. But how do you approach meditation to make it valuable as self-care? And who has time to do all that anyway? Meditation can be daunting to begin because your new highlighted awareness makes you notice everything that derails you. (Hint: That’s okay. No one’s grading you. There’s a reason people practice meditation: it’s an ongoing thing; you don’t master it then stop.) Some formal types of meditation call for specific positions and mantras, which can be hard work.
Creating an atmosphere conducive to meditation can help. Try an incense such as cedar or lily and keep it for meditation only; that way, your mind-set will click into meditation mode when you breathe in the scent.
The main goal of meditation is to improve self-awareness and facilitate relaxation. It’s a process, not a goal-oriented thing. And it cultivates kindness, starting with yourself. By not judging yourself or self-scolding for allowing thoughts to buzz in and out of your mind during meditation, you are accepting that you are only human. Cultivating compassion, starting with yourself, is an important element of self-care.
Here are some basic recommendations when it comes to meditation:
♦ Be comfortable. You can sit, but don’t slouch; try to be upright. Don’t choose an overly soft chair; try for a straight chair or sit cross-legged on the floor. You may also lie down, but again, not on something like a soft bed (unless it’s bedtime and you’re using meditation techniques to fall asleep). Try a carpet or a yoga mat. A bare wooden floor might be fine, if you fold a blanket or towel to put under your head.
♦ Most people find it easier if they close their eyes, because it shuts out visual distraction.
♦ Turn off your phone, and close the windows if you hear a lot of distracting noise like traffic or people.
♦ When you begin, allow yourself to check in with your body. How does it feel? Notice the sensation of your limbs against the seat or the floor, the weight of your hands on your legs or folded in your lap. Relax any muscles that you have tightened.
♦ If your mind drifts, it can be helpful to tell yourself wandering and then gently redirect yourself to your focus.
♦ Just 5 minutes of meditation is a good goal at first. If you have to stop earlier, don’t scold yourself.
♦ Meditation teachers often recommend daily meditation for maximum benefit. A few times a week is a good goal.
There are different kinds of meditation. Here are some types that are easy to access and can be used for brief sessions pretty much anywhere.
Preparing for Meditation
Meditation benefits from ritual preparation. Performing a set of actions leading up to your meditation can enhance and maximize your benefit, because it will take you less time to get into the right frame of mind.
Here are some tips:
♦ Avoid meditating on a full stomach. You may feel relaxed, but trying to meditate may send you to sleep.
♦ Use a regular incense to help signal to your body that the scent indicates meditation is about to happen.
♦ Meditating to the same piece of music is another shortcut that helps your brain get itself into the right frame of mind.
Mindfulness meditation is about keeping your awareness focused on the present moment. As self-care hinges on being able to know yourself and your needs in any moment, practicing mindfulness meditation allows you to become better acquainted with your reality, your thoughts, and your body while you appreciate the moment you’re in.
Mindfulness meditation allows you to observe yourself without judging. Being mindful means being aware; there’s no value placed on the thoughts that arise or the fact that thoughts are arising. They are there; they happen. That is all. Observe the thought, then let it pass without pursuing it. Return your mind to how your body feels.
The goal of this is to learn to release self-judgment. It also teaches you to release judgment of situations beyond your control. Stuck in traffic? Note the fact, and let it go. There is nothing you can do, so getting angry is a detrimental use of your energy. Getting anxious about being late and possibly garnering the anger of colleagues or your supervisor is a natural response, but with practice in mindfulness meditation, you can note that you’ll probably be late and then release the anger or frustration. Mindfulness meditation can help you focus less on negative emotion or thought patterns and improve your control over emotional responses.
Mindfulness can also help you break bad habits, like getting tangled up in anxiety, pessimism, and negative self-talk.
Breathing meditation (or breath awareness) is a form of mindfulness meditation that uses the breath as a focus. Rather than allowing thoughts to float through a quiet mind, this kind of meditation uses the regular pattern of inhalation and exhalation to give your mind something to pay attention to.
The easiest way to practice breathing meditation is to just breathe and observe it as it happens. Again, no judgment or imposed control; just breathe. If thoughts distract you, release them and return your focus to your breath.
Another common form of breathing meditation is to count during each part of the breathing process. For example, inhale for the count of two, hold for the count of three, and exhale for the count of four. (The slower exhalation helps slow your heart rate and physically calm the body. This is a great way to relax while you’re trying to fall asleep.)
When you breathe, notice your body. How do the mechanics of breathing work? Do you breathe deeply from your abdomen, your belly rising and falling? Do you breathe lightly, with your chest barely moving? Can you feel your back expand when you inhale? Remember: no judgment; just observe.
This is a great technique to use outdoors. It also incorporates exercise and being in fresh air, both valuable additions to your self-care regime.
Choose a path. Before you begin, close your eyes and center and ground. Feel the ground under your feet. Note how your clothing feels against your skin. Inhale and observe how the outdoor air feels as it flows into your lungs. Exhale and release any tension in your body.
Begin to walk. Without judgment, note how your body feels as you move. Observe the things you pass; don’t think about them, just note them and let them go.
The point of the exercise is to be in the moment. This allows you to work on acceptance—of the self and what goes on in your environment independent of you.
Focused meditation is a technique in which you focus on one thing and one thing only. It’s the antithesis of multitasking. Multitasking may seem productive, but it’s a jumbled approach that means you give less than your full attention to all the things you’re doing simultaneously. It actually leads to a more fragmented sense of accomplishment and does nothing to nurture the sense of stability you need to reduce stress. You can feel more like you’re frazzled from juggling so many things than from doing one at a time, taking a short break, then doing the next.
You may be familiar (unwillingly so) with your mind skittering away from what you should be working on because you don’t want to expend the energy required to bite into it and get it done. When you’re tired—physically or mentally—it’s easier to do superficial stuff. Focused meditation helps us relearn the skill of focusing on the task at hand. It goes hand in hand with the concept of awareness of the moment, which is key to self-care. Focusing your attention on the task at hand—eating, reading, exercising—allows you to be aware of all the sensations that accompany that task and offers you the opportunity to examine how you respond to them.
Drinking a Cup of Tea: Focused Meditation
This activity has you focusing on drinking a cup of tea. It may sound easy, but drinking a cup of tea can take 5 minutes. Sitting doing only one thing for 5 minutes may be more of a challenge than you expect. You may be used to scrolling through social media on your phone while you enjoy a cup of something or listening to the news. This is all about your cup of tea. The bonus is that by practicing this kind of meditation, you can actually improve your ability to concentrate on a task.
What You Need:
♦ A cup of freshly brewed tea
♦ Self-care journal and pen
What to Do:
1. Center and ground.
2. Look at the cup of tea. Note the design of the cup. What color is the liquid inside? Can you see the steam rising?
3. Place your hands on the cup. How does the handle feel? Is the cup hot or warm? Is the design on the cup raised or flat?
4. Lift the cup. How heavy is it? How does the shifting liquid inside affect how you hold it as you lift it to your mouth?
5. How does the tea smell? Note the temperature of the air you breathe in with the cup close to your face.
6. Take a sip. Note how the temperature of the tea feels against your lips, your tongue, your throat as you swallow. Think about the taste of the tea.
7. Continue observing the tea while you drink it. If other thoughts arise while you’re enjoying your cup of tea, acknowledge them, then return your attention to the cup of tea. Don’t follow the other thoughts or feel frustrated; just notice that you’re having them and return your focus to the task at hand.
8. When your cup of tea is finished, jot down in your self-care journal how you feel and record your experience with the activity.
Drinking a special tea blend before you start your meditation can help you focus. Like the previous tips, the simple act of having a cup of tea when you prepare to meditate is a helpful shortcut (especially if you use the same cup and same blend of tea each time). Apart from that, the warmth is relaxing, and the drinking of the tea can be a meditation all of its own.
As noted in Chapter 3, please research any herbs you intend to ingest in any form to make sure they aren’t contraindicated in combination with any medications you are currently taking or with any physical condition you might have.
Here are some suggested tea blends for you to explore. You can use herbs and spices from your cupboard or garden or you can buy small quantities of them in an herb shop or grocery. Use commercial tea bags if that’s what you’ve got; there’s no rule against opening a peppermint tea bag and a chamomile tea bag and mixing the contents together, then using half for one cup and half for a later cup.
How to Brew
The following meditation tea blends will brew one cup of tea. The basic proportion for these blends is the given amount of ingredients to one cup of boiling water, unless otherwise specified. Allow the tea to steep for up to 5 minutes, then remove the tea from the infusion.
If you’re using loose tea blends, put them in a tea infuser or tea ball. If you don’t have either of these, put the ingredients in the bottom of a teapot or a cup, steep the tea, then pour the infusion through a strainer into a fresh cup. Compost the herbs when you’re done.
Remember, these are guidelines. Try each blend as written first, then play with the amounts next time. Take notes in your self-care journal!
Chamomile Meditation Tea
♦ 2 teaspoons dried chamomile
A classic; simple but effective. Brew as per standard instructions. Add a spoonful of honey for an extra sweet treat. If you are allergic to ragweed, a straight chamomile tea may elicit similar symptoms; if so, don’t drink pure chamomile tea very often, and try to use it in combination with other herbs.
Green Tea with Rose Meditation Tea
♦ 2 teaspoons green tea
♦ 1 teaspoon dried rose petals or rosebuds
Brew as per standard instructions. Adding a pinch of something lemony, such as fresh catnip, lemon verbena, or lemon balm, enhances this tea blend nicely.
Chamomile Mint Meditation Tea
♦ 1 teaspoon dried chamomile
♦ 1 teaspoon dried mint
Brew as per standard instructions. Add a drop or two of lemon juice to brighten it, if you like.
Mint Rose Meditation Tea
♦ 2 teaspoons dried mint
♦ 1 teaspoon dried rose petals or rosebuds
♦ 1/2 teaspoon dried chamomile
Brew as per standard instructions. Peppermint is the most common kind of mint, but you can use any mint for this recipe. If you have fresh mint available, use about 2 tablespoons of torn leaves. You can also replace the dried roses with approximately 3 medium-sized fresh petals.
Ginger Lemon Meditation Tea
♦ 1 × 1/4" slice fresh lemon
♦ 1 × 1/4" slice fresh gingerroot
♦ 1/2 teaspoon lavender flowers
Quarter the slices of lemon and ginger and place in the infuser with the lavender flowers. Pour a cup of boiling water over it all, and allow to steep for 5 minutes. This makes a stimulating meditation tea, as opposed to more traditional relaxing, calming teas. If the ginger is too much, reduce it by half next time.