The four lifestyle changes to improve your quality of life:
- A consistent bedtime
- Cutting back on caffeine
- Looking back over your day
- Getting some movement and some sunshine, ideally early in your day.
You’re listening to Keith Horan and the mindfulness community. With your host, Keith Horan. We’re talking about mindfulness and self compassion, how it can help you with stress and anxiety and feeling overwhelmed and just bring about more peace of mind. Thanks for being here. Welcome to today’s episode. This is our first episode. So I’m going to set the stage and give you a sense of what to expect. Today I’m asking the question, why are we interested in mindfulness? Like what is it about life that drew us to this practice, I’m also going to share something that we’ve been working on in the mindfulness community, which is all about sleep, I think you’ll find it really helpful. So I’ll talk about the practice that I think is the most useful to do. And also for easy lifestyle changes that can lead to much better night’s sleep. Oh, and somewhere in the middle, we’ll take time to do a two to three minutes mindfulness practice, it’s great to get a short practice in during the day.
Welcome to my kitchen, which is actually upstairs in our house. It’s like a large open plan room with living room and a kitchen. It’s like the main room in the house. And I’m set up in front of a big window, looking across the barren landscape, which, which is like this wild, beautiful, Rocky landscape in the west of Ireland. It’s just gotten dark, it’s raining outside. I’ve lit the wood burning stove. So there’s a nice fire going. So yeah, it feels like a nice time to discuss a few ideas. And I’d love to start by asking the question, why are you interested in mindfulness? For all of us, like what is it that makes us interested in mindfulness or meditation or this kind of stuff? And I don’t mean like, the 10 ways mindfulness can help us or something like that. I mean, in your life, what are the different experiences and I didn’t know coincidences, things you saw or read that, that made you interested in this area? I’ve thought back over my own life to look at what what brought me towards mindfulness, and I’ll share that with you. But really, I am hoping that that will help you reflect and stir up some of your own memories and reasons why I am why you have this interest. So I won’t be offended at all, if you drift into a little bit of daydreaming and remembering, in fact, that’s really ideal. So I actually started practicing mindfulness, really young. I mean, I first really learned to meditate when I was 22, or 23 and it was in college that I started to kind of read about this stuff. I’m 45. Now No, I’m not. I’m almost 45. And so it’s a good while. And so my memories are from like teenage years, and, and those kind of times and, and actually, I think it was teenage, it was certain things during those teenage years that made me look at meditation and think, gosh, there’s something here. It was usually like, prompted by, you know, teenage misery, like something’s going wrong, you know, I had a really nice childhood, but still, even within that, you know, you’ve arguments with your parents are the girl you’re interested in, you know, it’s not working out or that type of stuff. And, you know, a teenagers kind of turbulent up and down life and dealing with all of that stuff. And I remember times when I’d be feeling miserable. And there was something for some reason I had this image of, of these monks wearing orange robes, you know, walking slowly, or meditating in a mountainside or in the woods or something like that. So I have this picture of like, somewhere on the planet, there’s people who seem to have like, real equanimity and balance, and things don’t seem to bother them, like the everyday stuff and, and even the big stuff like, you know, life and death, the fact that we die, all of this, they seem somehow to be at ease with it all. So yeah, when I was struggling, I think like, Where can I go and find that like, I’d like some of that and looking back, you know, There was a lot of escapism in this, like, I don’t really want to deal with everyday life, I’d like to go and find this solution elsewhere, kinda like that. Initially, there was that kind of, maybe I can learn something that will bring me to this ideal state, and then I’ll be content. At that stage, I really knew nothing about meditation, I really hadn’t an idea was just an image in my mind. So it was during kind of early college years, I started reading. So probably like lots of people and maybe like you reading books by different meditation masters, like the Dalai Lama, or jack kornfield, or, or people like that. I found that I didn’t really understand the books often. But something in me kind of shifted a little bit as I was reading them, like, I feel a little bit more calm. Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I spent my college years just, you know, reading books like that. So like, I was spending some time reading about meditation and wisdom and compassion. But I was probably spending more time drinking too many pints of Guinness with my friends. Through that reading, I got a feeling and a sort of a growing trust that there was something here for me, there was something that it was worth
putting my time into, or maybe a skill that it was worth me cultivating. So that was early, you know, looking for an answer, or an alternative to sort of teenage angst, and then maybe some learning and reading. And then I think what was important for me, was just getting a taste of what it’s like to have a calm mind or a happy mind. And I, my own belief is that this is something we all naturally experience from time to time. So like, I can clearly remember one day, and I think I was late for whatever lecture I was going to as I was studying science and so I’m like 10 minutes late for the lecture. So I decided there’s no point in going in. I can remember, it was a nice day, and I sat outside the library, this is in UCC University College Cork. And I was sitting on a low wall there eating an apple, and just watching people walking by. I guess I was in no rush, because I had nowhere to go. And I remember realizing, I feel blissfully happy. Like, for no obvious reason, just this wave of happiness came on to me. I had a feeling that like, everything that’s happening right now is perfect, and also a feeling that I didn’t have to change anything about myself. Like in that moment, I saw myself as perfectly okay. So that always stuck with me moments like that, where we have a sense of contentment and inner peace. It then left me with the question how can I have this more often? Like, this is really nice but I’d like to have this more often. Or like, Is it possible to live in this kind of state? Do you have memories of times, where just even four minutes, five minutes? 10 minutes, you just felt really at ease with things? Yeah. And then this question, can this sense of peace be cultivated? Like, is there a practice that can bring this about more often? For some reason this, searching mind became strong for me like searching for wisdom and compassion and harmony. This became like a driving force. So I ended up quitting my first job. I been about a year working in Dublin as an environmental consultant and I decided to take off for India and go and try and find the best teachers that I could find. It led to over 20 years of practicing mindfulness and meditation and, and researching mindfulness and getting a Masters in this area. I’m really dedicating myself to this practice. Now, that was all pretty dramatic. And it’s not like any of that is needed for someone’s mindfulness practice. I’m wondering now, what memories are coming up for you? What is it about your life that drew you here? It can be really good to reflect on this and sometimes it can help to fuel your learning and the more curiosity then that you get from that the better. So some other time, I’ll go into my training a bit more but for now, here’s the main point. In the end, did I find everything that I was looking for? And did it work? And the short answer is yes. And that’s what I’m going to unpack over future episodes, just what I learned and how I think it can be helpful for you. Okay, so that’s a nice place to start. Let’s switch gears now and do a short two or three minutes practice.
This short practice is called the three step breathing space, there’s no need to change how you’re sitting or standing are, what you’re doing. It’s like an informal practice, something you can do in the middle of your day. So the first step is just kind of tuning inwards and seeing how are you doing right now? Like, how’s your body feel? Can you notice tiredness or energy, and most importantly, not trying to change anything just looking? Can you notice any emotions? Just being curious and seeing what’s here? And what’s your thoughts Like? Do you have loads of thoughts or not so many are? So just kind of taking this inward glance, like a brief snapshot to just get a sense of how am I feeling right now? What’s going on for me right now? Where am I at?
Then the second step is narrowing the attention and bringing it all the way into the breathing. So it’s just a couple of breaths, just noticing your in breath, the movement as you breathe in the movement as you breathe out. Again, nothing to change about your breathing, just noticing your natural breathing.
The third step is starting to expand from the breathing, and becoming aware of the whole body, like noticing maybe your feet on the floor, sensations throughout the body all the way up to the top of the head and out to the hands. Just being aware you have a body you’re in it. Being aware of the place you’re in sort of expanding out the senses, noticing what’s around you. And then just letting go of the practice. In this part of the show, I’ll share something that I’m using in my work with people that I think you’ll find like really practical and really helpful. For this first episode, we’ll take a look at sleep. So I’ll introduce you to the practice that I think is the best one to do at nighttime. It’s the one that is the most relaxing, and it’s also something you can do to help you fall asleep. Or if you wake up during the night, I think it’s the best practice to use. They’re not share for easy lifestyle changes that you can make that will help you to unwind at night, and that’ll lead to a better night’s sleep. So the practice I’d like to recommend is called the body scan meditation. This is a traditional sort of form of practice, like I’ve gone on retreats where this would be one of the main meditation practices of the day. The reason I like it related to sleep is because it’s traditionally aligned down meditation. So it tends to have that kind of relaxing effect, and during this practice, basically start by sensing into the body into the breathing and then the main part of the practice is moving your awareness through the different parts of your body. Like going in sequence, literally having your left foot and your left ankle and moving like that. This is kind of demanding for your attention, it brings you right into the body, and it helps us to just let go of worries or overthinking, or whatever is going on that’s keeping us in a sort of mental state or in a more sort of stirred up place. It really helps to kind of let go of the day, settle into the senses into the present moment into the body, you can find a guided version of this practice on my website, Keith horan.com. And I’ll have a direct link to that in the show notes, I’d recommend that initially, you use the audio to guide you. And do it a bunch of times that way, so that you can really learn the practice. Over time, it’s something that you could internalize so that if you wake up during the night, you’re able to guide yourself through that sequence. And even if you’re not trying to use this to help you sleep, if you’re looking for a practice to do at nighttime, this is a really good one to use. It’s really enjoyable, it’s relaxing, and it has that feeling of just letting go.
On to four lifestyle changes that might be worth looking at. So I’d suggest you just take in the four of these, and maybe just choose one to work on. And if you’re feeling up for it, maybe take the one that that you need most adjustment in. The first one is having a consistent bedtime. So just think for yourself, like, Do you know what time you go to bed at? Do you have a sort of deliberate, planned time? or is it kind of decided by what programs you’re watching are, are just kind of random? It’s really useful for the body to get into a routine that really helps establish a good sleep wake cycle. So as much as possible, choose a consistent time and try to stay with it. In my case, I find if I’m sleeping, or at least in bed lights out by 11 really work. So I have this phrase in my head like lights up by 11. And I won’t always keep to that but if I don’t notice it and try and adjust the next night.
The second thing is to try and cut back on caffeine. Ideally, it means not having any caffeine after 2pm. Now in Ireland, we’re a nation of tea drinkers, who have now added a lot of coffee on to this, so this is a this is a tall order. So if you are drinking tea late in the afternoon, just start to move it back towards 2pm. And ideally, you’re looking at two, that gives you a chance to have the caffeine mostly out of your system by the time you want to go to sleep. Try this one out. A lot of people who’ve tried this have told me that they just naturally start to become sleepy around the time when they be going to bed. So it kind of takes less effort to transition and to let go of the day. The third suggestion is look at the last two hours before you go to sleep. What is it that you’re doing? And this is going to be personal so it’s up to you to test and see what are you doing that sort of stimulates the system agitates you, maybe knocks you towards a fight or flight kind of feeling. Like if you’re watching, you know, a thriller or horror or something like that, that’s really going to stir up the system and produce more cortisol and more adrenaline, all the types of things that you want to kind of let naturally subside in the evening. Look at what is it that that can be stressful for you in the evening? Is it possible to adjust that, especially the last two hours? equally, look at what activities would you find soothing, or kind of nurturing at nighttime. So like I mentioned earlier, I have a fire lit here. So that really helps like so for me lighting the fire is a really nice one, or putting on music, or reading the right type of book, like something that Sam like maybe in my case, I’ll switch to fiction at night, just thinking what else for you would work? What would be something that’s kind of calming, maybe a gentle yoga practice some gentle movement, the body scan is a really nice practice to do in the evening, maybe lighting a candle. Try to think if you had to design your sort of idea last few hours, what would they look like? And my sense of this is if you find the things that That would help you sort of calm down, relax, unwind, they’ll probably be the most enjoyable things. They might not sound like the most enjoyable things. But after you have an evening or a night like that, you might kind of sink into it and feel like actually, this is really nurturing.
The fourth and final suggestion is to look at what you’re doing during the day. So what we do at night allows the body clock to move towards that night mode, but we want the opposite as well, we want to have that sense of alertness and awareness and awakeness during the day. So one thing that really helps is getting some sunlight in the morning, even just 15 minutes can make a huge difference. Where I’m living, we often have rain, it’s not very sunny. So it doesn’t have to be that it’s just getting outside getting naturalize. Ideally, if we can had add some movement to us, that’s even better. So just having that feeling of being alert, awake, and being outdoors really helps with that. Okay, there the four suggestions, a consistent bedtime, cutting back on caffeine, looking at the last two hours, and getting some movement and some sunshine, ideally early in your day. The thing with sleep, though, is that it doesn’t help to try and force it at all. We don’t have to make more effort with sleep. It’s all about focusing on the causes of good sleep, which are the types of things I’ve just talked about. And then just waiting and over time, we’ll see the results come. We also don’t need perfect sleep, so there’s no need to bring extra stress to the situation, just gradually adjusting our lifestyles and moving things in the right direction. All right, I hope you have great sleep. And I hope you found today’s episode useful. Thanks so much for listening and take care. You can find today’s show notes and more great resources at Keithhoran.com.
I’d be delighted if you do a quick rating wherever you listen to your podcasts. This helps us in reaching people and growing the show. Thanks so much.