Oh the holidays. I don’t find them stressful in the typical way. I’m not a popular party guest and I don’t have many social obligations. But of course there is stress. It’s the end of the year and I feel as if I’m scrambling to get a lot of stupid, little things done. There are holiday presents to buy and the inevitability of spending too much because I either get carried away or wait too long and make impulse purchases. There is works stress (there is always work stress) and that desire to set new intentions for a new year. Basically there’s a lot of stuff going on in my head.
Over the last month I’ve developed a few daily practices that have helped center me, keep my intentions in perspective and quiet my cluttered mind. I have fallen in love with these three apps and want to shout about how much they have made a difference for me. Instead of pulling out my megaphone, I’ll share via blog which seems a much more civilized way of declaring my love.
Share the Meal
This app makes it painfully easy to donate to the United Nations World Food Programme which is currently raising money to feed children who have fled to Jordan from the ongoing conflict in Syria. The goal is to provide school meals to 20,000 Syrian children in refugee camps in Jordan for a full year. The importance, the site says, is to “provide vital nutrition and help them focus on their studies, rather than on empty stomachs.”
It costs 50 cents to feed a child for one day and donations levels start at that and include one week ($3.50), one month ($15), three months ($45), six months ($90) or one year ($182.50). I use it every morning, donating 50 cents to share my breakfast with a school child. It’s an offering of gratitude to start my day. It’s acknowledging that no matter how annoying my problems may be (like my recently discovered furnace issue) I have a pretty easy life with relatively unlimited possibilities.
Down Dog App
I have been an on-again off-again yogi for years. I’ve taken classes at yoga studios and at the local YMCA and I highly recommend going to a class with a certified instructor when starting out in order to make sure you’re alignment and technique is correct. I still like to to drop in on classes when I can to have someone watch and correct me. (And please yoga instructors, be willing to adjust me!) But with my schedule and location it can be difficult to get to a class. I’ve done a home practice but have had trouble sticking to it because I tend to bore myself.
Enter this app which is hella wonderful. The app is created by a group in Seattle and yoga instructor Adrienne Kimberly guides you through a yoga sequence. The app generates a new sequence every time you log in with Kimberly talking you through the poses accompanied by photos. Need more instruction? You can touch a video link in the corner where Kimberly explains the pose more fully. (The videos are also available offline.) There are music options which are not your typical yoga-mediation music along with the option for no music. You also can customize your yoga practice by choosing sequence type (beginner flow, intermediate flow, or lullaby) and practice length (30 to 60 minutes for beginner and intermediate or 12 to 20 for lullaby).
This app has motivated me to do yoga about five or six times a week. The lullaby sequence is great for after a run when I don’t have time for a 30-minute practice. On the days when I haven’t gotten in a yoga practice I find myself missing it. This is the closest thing to have my favorite yoga class in my living room that I’ve ever experienced.
My friend Tracy has been meditating for a long time and has been using this app for nearly two years. I started doing guided meditations to help quiet my mind and focus my intentions and while I still love guided meditations, I found it getting repetitive and ready for the next level. So I started exploring this app. It does included guided meditations, although I haven’t used them. I spent the first 20 days or so using different mantras I found through the Deepak Chopra and Oprah meditation challenge. Then I found two that seemed to really work and resonate with me. I set the timer, closer my eyes and repeat the mantra in my head.
You can set the timer for any length — from one minute to 24 hour. Bells gently bring into the time. I started with 10 minutes and have worked my way up to 21. And here’s the key thing about meditation: You still have thoughts. Your mind will still do it’s own thing. The idea is to notice what it’s doing and then return to the mantra. Some days I spent a great deal of time with the mantra. Other days my mind is wandering around like a kid in a candy store. Oh! Quiet time! Great because we have so much we want to bring up! But meditation isn’t about forcing anything. It’s not about being critical. It’s about being gentle. About sitting. About noticing. And so I come back to the mantra.
One of the cool features of the app is that keeps your stats. You get a gold start for every 10 consecutive days of meditation. Those stars turn red when you’ve reached five milestones and green when you hit 25. It shows how many total hours you’ve meditated, your total number of sessions and your average session length. There’s something about this I find motivating, especially as I start to cultivate my own practice. I no longer miss a day, even if I have to reduce my morning session to 10 or 15 minutes. As I’ve meditated, I find not only does it reduce my stress but I feel more focused and more generous. I feel I have a softer heart and am open to more creativity in life. I find I am able to be more myself than all these ideas of what I “should” be doing.