Stop. Think. Breathe. Your meditation questions answered by Kim Murray of Happy Heads May 14 2017, 0 Comments

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As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close today, we asked you on Twitter and Facebook to send in your questions for meditation guide Kim Murray of Happy Heads. Kim recently guided a mind clearing 45min meditation session at our Hey! Holla 'Good Vibes Only' pop up event in Old Street to a full-house of people looking for some head space and quality time out from their day.

Life can be hard at times, we have all experienced things which affect our mental health to varying degrees. This could be bouts of anxiety, stress at work, coping with grief/loss, trouble focusing, feeling low or depressed, feeling overwhelmed, finding it hard to 'switch off'. Happy Heads teaches simple mindful tools that empower everyone to live a happier, calmer and stress free life. 

What exactly is meditation?

Meditation is simple - it’s taking a moment to stop, think and breathe. We so often get caught up in the output of our day, mindfulness gives you invaluable space to look at your internal world and in turn makes your head happier. 

Thanks to everyone who contributed with questions, you highlighted a number of issues and feelings which we can all relate to! 

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Sometimes I feel like a browser with way too many tabs open! My mind flicks through everything but it's really hard to focus on one thing and get things completed. How can I eliminate the noise, save my sanity and tick off the to do list?! Alex, Hey! Holla Co-Fo, Hackney Wick

Do you have any advice on how to move from a mindset of multitasking into a mindset of fully focusing on one thing at a time, when so much work is coming in from various projects and there are always things that seem to be high priority? Often times for me, important but non-urgent work drags out for months because there's 'no time' to get it done. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Serena Lee, Hey! Holla Brand Ambassador, Hackney.

Firstly – you’re not alone! So many of us have trouble focusing on one thing when there is often so much to do. I would start by eliminating the amount of content your brain is taking in so reduce the amount you check your phone. News feeds and social media feeds are constant new information and makes it hard for our brains to focus when we really need to. Don’t check it first thing when you wake up, instead find somewhere to sit quietly and do a 3 minute body scan. Sit upright in a chair with your back supported and feet flat on the ground. This is a really simple meditation, start by taking three deep breaths (in through the nose and out through the mouth) and close your eyes. Notice the sounds around you and start to scan down your body checking in with how each part feels. Don’t try to change or fix, simple notice how each part feels. Start with your head, then throat, chest, tummy, legs feet and back up again. Keep a soft focus and just work your way up and down your body for three minutes. Do the same body scan before you go to bed every day and you’ll begin to notice a difference in both focus and ability to prioritise your to do list.

I feel like my mind does need time out sometimes but how can I fit meditation into my already busy day? And when is the best time to do it and how long should I do it for? Frances, Balham.

Meditation only needs to take 5 – 10 minutes a day so no time at all! I would recommend doing it the moment you wake up before your brain begins to take in lots of information (texts, emails, news etc). Try doing another meditation just before you go to bed to help settle your mind before going to sleep.

Hey! Holla Blog | What is meditation

When dealing with a loss, do you think we should be taking time out to grieve? And if we don't, do you think it can effect us in everyday life? Sophie, Ascot.

Grief is such a personal process you need to follow what feels right for you. I personally think taking time to grieve and process the loss is incredibly important. If we don’t face the grief and honour the sadness we feel at losing our loved one it can indeed come back to effect us in other ways such as anxiety or depression, for example. I thought it would make me more sad thinking about my Dad every day but it’s quite the opposite. Often during my morning meditation I will picture he’s sat next to me guiding and comforting me. Sometimes he says nothing and other times there might be some words of wisdom. Now of course this is my internal dialogue but that doesn’t matter it makes me feel calm and happy. Grief is something we navigate continuously but the sadness doesn’t have to consume you. Think of your emotions like the weather – its forever changing. Just because you feel sad one day doesn’t mean it will be the same the next day. Each morning or evening take a few deep breaths with both hands on your chest (heart centre) and check in with how you’re feeling. Imagine checking the weather and your feelings are the clouds. Don’t try to judge, change or fix, simply notice how your feeling and softly in your head say the words "I’m ok".

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When doing meditation, how do you stop yourself falling asleep? I went to a sound bath and my mate started snoring!! Tina, Bracknell

Sitting upright in a chair or standing reduces the likelihood of falling asleep. You could also meditate with your eyes open, keep a soft gaze on an object in the room as you focus on your breath. Counting your breath also helps to focus your mind. One (in breath) two (out breath) and so on. Another great technique I learnt recently is to look at a window or picture. Follow your eyes around the frame - breath in (one side) breath out (the next side) and so forth. It helps keep you focused and you won’t fall asleep.

How do I stop myself going as red as a beetroot when doing public speaking? I'm ok speaking to say a group of six people but any more than than that I feel like I'm going blind and my heart races so fast I think it's going to beat out right out of my chest! It's so annoying and really affects my confidence at work. Laura, Hey! Holla Co-Fo, San Francisco.

Your breath is the conductor for your entire body so if you calm this down, your body (and blushing) will follow. You need to ground your energy so make sure both feet are flat on the floor as you present and don’t cross your legs. Before presenting you can do some of the following:

  • Make sure both feet are flat on the ground (sitting or standing) and gently tap all the fingers on both hands together. Take several deep breaths at the same time of doing this and you’ll start to notice a sensation in your feet. This technique really grounds your energy and I find calms me down instantly. You can even do this whilst presenting to keep you calm throughout.
  • When we get anxious we tend to take shallow breaths in the top of our chest so put both hands on your chest and take three deep breaths. This is not only very comforting – it also signals to the body to take deeper breaths and therefore calms you down.
  • Put one hand on top of each other just above your navel. This area is also known as your Solar Plexus, which relates to power and self esteem. When I feel nervous I always feel it here so just breath into this area and imagine there is a warm sun resting in this part of your body. 
  • Adjust your posture so that you’re standing tall with both feet flat on the ground (no slouching over). Put your hands either side of your body with palms facing out towards you (almost as if you’re a super hero that’s about to shoot power from their palms). Take a deep breath in (through your nose) and out (through your mouth). As you breath, say the words say the sentence ‘I am excited’ in your head. Do this 3 – 5 times until you can feel yourself calming. Our body reacts to anxiety and excitement in the same way (heart racing, sweaty palms etc) so you can trick your brain into thinking you feel excited.

Hey Holla Good Vibes Only Pop Up Kim Murray Happy Heads

If you try and practice blocking a thought, how can you prevent that thought, then becoming the only thing you think about? Clare, Skipton

Focusing on the present moment can really help to take us out of our ‘head’. Wherever you are (standing or sitting) just notice the sounds around you and try and name the sounds. Notice how your body feels in that moment and whilst remaining still notice the colours that you can see around you. Counting your footsteps as you walk is an incredibly simple way to focus your mind on the present moment.

Working in digital marketing I feel like I'm addicted to checking my phone for notifications. It upsets me when I feel like my little girl's not getting the full attention she needs. What advice would you give for limiting the amount of time spent on my phone to get quality time back with my daughter? Kelly, Queens Park.

Quite simply – turn your phone off. Give yourself a ‘digital free zone’ when you’re with your daughter. It doesn’t need to be all evening but maybe say to yourself (from 5 – 7pm) I’ll put my phone on airplane mode so you don’t get any notifications and enjoy the time you have together before bed. No one needs to be replied to in that second and the news / social media will still be there a few hours later. You’ll find this digital detox can be just as addictive ☺

What strategies do you suggest for a busy overwhelmed mother to find time in her schedule to practice mindfulness i.e. how do you encourage people to prioritise? Natalie, Bournemouth

I'm a new mum and loving it but it can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. I find it hard to get some much needed headspace for myself. Do you have any tips or techniques for clearing the head when sleep and time deprived? Liz, Herne Hill.

I find it really hard to fit meditation into my life as I have three small children and I'm rarely alone. Do you have any tips on how I can get into the habit? Sandra, Harpenden

I would integrate mindfulness with your child so that you do it together and it becomes part of your daily lives. There is a great book called “The Pants of Peace” by Marneta Veigas which has lots of great meditations for children. They’re also great for adults too – everyone loves the ‘Hat of Compliments’ meditation. Don’t give yourself a hard time if you can’t fit it in every day. If you find the mornings are consumed with getting the kids up and ready, try doing a short body scan before going to bed. Any time you feel overwhelmed gently tap both wrists together and take three deep breaths. The more your energy is calmed the more your child will calm. A really simple and quick meditation is to imagine you are blowing your worries into a balloon. Notice the balloon getting bigger and bigger until it begins to float away. You can do this whilst washing up, in the shower, breastfeeding – anytime!

How can we encourage people invest (time/money) in their mental health as readily as they invest in their aesthetics - hair/clothing/gym membership/class pass etc? Jess Mckee, Hey! Holla Brand Ambassador, Hackney

In the same way we work out to look after our physical body we need to train our brain to look after our mental fitness. Your body and mind are intrinsically linked and we often hold stress in different parts of our body. No matter how much I worked out I still had bad digestive problems. Since meditating every day I now don’t have any problems. I was holding my stress (as most of us do) in my gut. When you look after your mind – your physical ailments will often change so it’s vital you look after both.

Does the current trend of always being positive put pressure on people who are experiencing an appropriate reaction to a life stress or trauma? 
And, with the pressure of always displaying the positive - via social media, quotes, pictures etc is this making people think that anything that deviates from the 'positive' is depressing, rather than just human emotion?

Absolutely! The filtered world we’re constantly seeing often doesn’t make us feel great about ourselves. Let’s be honest you rarely check Instagram and come away feeling better about yourselves when everyone is saying how much they’re working out and eating quinoa!

I actually think more people should be honest on social media. There’s a fine line between the standard ‘moaning’ and being true to yourself about how you’re feeling. I often think the people that post most regularly on social media are often the most unhappy because they’re trying to externalise a world of happiness rather than working on keeping their internal world (brain) happy and enjoying life in the moment. If people focused less on their ‘social happinesss’ and more on their ‘genuine happiness’ we would have society that felt a lot less pressured to ‘show’ positivity all the time. People are increasingly turning to social media as their first outlet for happiness and distress, but we must be honest and open with the people around us first and foremost to enjoy the good and get through tough times.

Something I find very significant is that when someone is debilitated from a physical injury there is a lot of help and attention given, yet grief and mental health is so disabling yet hidden and so people are still seen as 'fully able'. How do you feel we can make mental health more 'visible' and understood so that people suffering can be better acknowledged? Also how does she feel we can drop the stigma attached with mental health?

I think it’s vital that we open up the conversation about mental health. Every human is unique and we all have days when we feel weird and that’s completely normal. We need to talk more about the normality of not being ok and encourage people to talk and get help when they’re feeling like they can’t cope. I was very honest with my friends when I realised I wasn’t ok and the outpouring of love and support was incredible. Whilst they said the natural “it will all be ok, don’t worry” to begin, at no point did anyone say “oh get over it”, in fact most people said they’d felt the same before. One in four of us will suffer from some form of mental health issue in our life so be open and honest – you don’t need to suffer in silence. With Mindfulness & Meditation becoming more and more mainstream I feel like looking after your mental health has never been so accepted – we need to keep the conversation going.

Interested in learning more about meditation and mindfulness with Happy Heads? You can book a series of one-to-one sessions with Kim, which is comprised of a bespoke programme of face-to-face visits, mindful exercises and Skype check-ins to ensure the journey together is rewarding and impactful. Happy Heads are also available for group guided meditation sessions.