On Friday morning, 8.45 a.m., I bent down to pick up something from the floor of my bedroom. In that instant, a sharp, searing pain shot through the base of my neck and between my shoulder blades. Frozen, in pain, I cried out, unable to move.

Sixty hours later, I am here, writing a post on what happened between then and now. And it all has to do with mindfulness and how it helped me deal with this pain.

Why #mindfulness is the mental #workout that we all need. Click to Tweet

As soon as this happened, I did the most natural thing in the world: I panicked. Slowly attempting to straighten up made the pain worse, so I inched over to the bed and lay flat on my back for a few minutes. I’m no stranger to back pain or stress, as regular readers of this blog would know, but each episode brings me closer to an understanding of what to avoid and how to learn from my mistakes.

I knew, for instance, that the injury was cervical or muscular in nature. The last time this happened with such excruciating agony was two years ago, when I’d blogged about taking a break.Β 

Treatment back then needed medication, therapeutic massage and almost complete rest from laptop and smartphone usage. Bearing that in mind, I decided to do the same this time as well, deactivating my Facebook account and logging out of my other social media accounts. Save two friends and of course, my husband and daughter, nobody else even knew about my predicament. Plus, it was the weekend, so they wouldn’t have known anyway.

Lying there, in bed, weighing my options, I turned to two important things: the cause for the sprain and the way to overcome it.

The cause

If I were to go strictly by the physical aspect, I know the answer to this one. I hadn’t done the customary warm-up stretches before my daily workout. The funny thing is, this was exactly the reason for the last episode as well, and yet, here I was again!

How fickle is the mind. When things go according to plan, we remember everything. One lapse here or there and the mind takes its painful way to remind you.

But to be very honest, I must admit that the cause here was rooted in a couple of other things as well. One was mental stress created of my own doing. I won’t go into details because I don’t think that matters. The other was, strangely, enough, the barrage of negative news I’d been reading for the past 2 weeks.

Many people aren’t aware that we stopped buying newspapers well over 9 years ago. I’ve also stopped watching TV news, out of choice. So the only way I get my news is through online channels. While that works, what has been happening of late, is the slew of articles on my news feed that are heavily tilted one way or the other. There is, in fact, more opinion, than news.

As a student of journalism, this disturbed me deeply, probably more than I realised. I couldn’t turn anywhere for just reporting of facts. Everything was a conspiracy theory or a cover-up. Details of murders were gruesome to the point of making me want to throw up. (I was a first-hand witness to a suicide last year and that episode still triggers my anxiety and causes severe post-traumatic stress disorder).

The atmosphere was getting oppressive. The activism of social media warriors was making me question my own silence on various topics.Β Was I wrong to not speak up? Was I being too sensitive?

Any wonder that my body reacted and violently so? We all know that our minds and bodies are inextricably linked when it comes to physical and mental well-being. A muscular spasm was just the body’s way of saying, ‘Enough is enough.’

Mindfulness-Mental Workout we all need

Dealing with it

Naturally, I took meds to ease the pain. I took sufficient bed rest and stayed off my feet for as much as possible. Having a tween daughter and a completely hands-on spouse are a Godsend in this situation!

But what mattered more was the way I chose mindfulness to tackle the root cause. Mindfulness is pretty simple in essence: It asks that you be fully present in the current moment, without judging it, one way or another.

Simple in theory. Very hard to practice, if you don’t make a habit of it. So I began with the following:

  • Guided meditation
  • Watching my breathing (especially when online)
  • Taking a whole minute or two, to decide if I needed to read a news item or post an update/ respond to a tweet
  • Responding with patience to triggers
  • Not being everywhere at once

I downloaded the app ‘Calm’. The easy ten-minute meditation pieces are incredibly calming. People I know also recommend the app, “Headspace” for similar reasons.

When we are online, we tend to hold our breath while reading tweets, scrolling through Facebook or opening e-mails. It’s true! So, now, each time I access any of those, I do it with intention and yes, I attempt not to hold my breath!

As much as I advocate thinking before posting on social media, I’ve fallen prey to posting angry tweets or ‘funny’ status updates. Humour can be misconstrued online, have you noticed? A ‘harmless’ post of mine triggered an unnecessary debate. Upon reflection, maybe I should not have posted the update. But if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have learnt this lesson in mindfulness! Catch-22, eh? So, judge nothing. Even the instinct to share is human. Do it, but be ready for the outcomes, whatever they may be.

The best thing to have come out of the mindfulness practice is my ability to respond better to triggers. Offline, at home, I can now pause before I react and choose to respond. Online, I can now choose to scroll past a tweet/update without having the urge to engage.

Mindfulness also taught me not to put too many roles on my slender shoulders. They can’t take the strain (pun intended). Be it home or blogging or social media, I shall aim to do what I can and when I can. What matters is whether I enjoy myself while doing it and not hurt/harm myself in the bargain.

Advocates of this practice recommend that you indulge in it daily. Even a few minutes a day can work wonders, they say.

We all know that’s true when it comes to physical fitness. Why don’t we take care of our mental health the same way? For our own sake, we must and we should.

If you haven’t yet, I suggest that you start today. Make mindfulness a part of your daily routine. Share with me if you find the benefits useful and helpful.


*Featured image courtesy: Shutterstock

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33 thoughts on “Mindfulness: The mental workout you need

  1. Practice mindfulness goes a long way to help our spiritual, mental and physical well-being. This post is very helpful since I am facing some health issues and it’s such triggers that can affect us. Got some tests to do. Like a friend told me, our body speaks to us and listen to it. Thanks Shailaja.

  2. I hear you, Shy. I have had to take a couple of reality checks myself. I’ve been consciously slowing down, and learning to give myself grace when everything on my to do list doesn’t get done (or even most things). Though I still do make all those lists. I just don’t fret about ‘doing it all’ anymore. Glad to hear you are doing much better now.

    Oh and btw, those meditation apps, I have heard of them, but haven’t tried them. Mostly because I feel like I don’t know the first thing about meditation. Though after reading about your experience, I think I should at-least check them out before I write them off.
    Shantala recently penned this post Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg – Book ReviewMy Profile

    1. I hear you on the apps. I stayed away for the longest time. But this one, Calm, is very unobtrusive. I liked the guided meditation. So much so that I casually mentioned it to Gy and now she’s hooked to it! Also I don’t know the first thing about meditation either. And what I liked about calm was the fact that it doesn’t make it spiritual or religious. It’s just helping you stay in the moment. Try it out. You can always chuck it if it doesn’t help. πŸ™‚

  3. I hear you Shailaja. Been in the same place, and it has taken a lot of effort to get to a much better state of mind.

    You’re spot on in saying that the mind remembers everything that goes according to plan. What also helps is examining what we did wrong when something didn’t. That’s how we form effective mental models.

    Glad you found the Calm app useful. I’ve also downloaded meditation and white noise tunes in the Gaana app and listen to them for 10 minutes a day. And 90% times, I don’t read my Twitter timeline – just specific lists I’ve created to improve self learning. Staying away from social media from extended periods of time is also helping.

    Take good care of yourself. It’s important to make our mind wear the oxygen mask first before we help others’ minds wear them during a calamity.

    1. Thank you, Vishal. You’re right about staying away from social media for extended periods of time. It’s definitely helping me. I’m so glad to hear that the same is true for you πŸ™‚

  4. Hope you are back normal again. A week back, my elder ones teacher in school, conducted a session for all kids on mediation. Of course kids wouldnt sit through it in entirety, but I realised the teacher had spoken to them about its importance in a way they understood it best. ‘Cause coming back home, she made me sit through a 5 min meditation session. Despite being aware of mediation and breathing techniques, sometimes I am so caught up with daily chores and routine that it takes a back seat. So first it was my daughter drawing my attention to it and now your post too… May be I should….

  5. I completely agree with you, Shailaja. it’s something I have come to realise over time that we need to be present in the moment, learn to focus on our breathing even as we go about our daily tasks and thus practice being mindful. An act that will solve half of our problems and give our mind the much needed break. I did a post on it some time back and keep practising it daily.

    P.S.
    I was wondering what the matter was – why you had disappeared! In fact, a day before you published this post I had decided to ping you to find out if all was okay!
    You take care, dearie!
    Hugs!

  6. I love the way you have analysed this, Shy! Acceptance is the first step always.

    I took charge of my health only recently after realizing that my hormone problems were dragging me down. It’s been close to six years since I’m battling it but only decided to do something about it now.

    I sat down and did exactly what you did. Today, I feel much better and I’m very happy with the lifestyle I’ve now chosen.

    Hope you are feeling better now πŸ™‚
    Soumya recently penned this post Book Review: The Book ThiefMy Profile

  7. Calm is a wonderful app. I use it, too, and I’m so glad it’s given you some relief.

    Interstingly enough, I took a long break from the news a few years ago. I’ve since gone back to following 1 news source on Twitter, but I totally understand the need to disconnect from all of that negativity. It may be time for me to take another break from the news again soon.

    This was a really nice post. I hope your mental health continues to improve.

    1. Thank you, Lydia! I totally need the break and managed to take a long one this past weekend. It’s worked wonders for my emotional and physical health. Going to stay off social media for longer periods, unless it’s for work or the blog πŸ™‚

  8. Take good care of yourself, Shailaja! And the thing about negative news, judgemental posts and opinions on the feed is so so true. I have now started ignoring many posts that just make you sick to the core. Plus, I am back to my good old music days. The playlist is far soothing than anything else. At nights, it’s either scrabble or books. It helps. I haven’t tried meditation yet. Will download one of these apps and try it out. Too much information overload I believe is the root cause of half of our stress-related issues. Take care and recover fast. Sending you a big tight hug and lots of good wishes.
    Rekha recently penned this post #MythicalMondays – BrahmarakshassuMy Profile

    1. Thank you so much, Rekha πŸ™‚

      Life has become too fast-paced and I am unable to keep up. So I have stopped trying too. I now do things at a pace that is comfy and doesn’t stress me out, be it blogging or getting my news. Completely stopped outraging on anything on social media. Find it utterly pointless.

  9. Hey. Hope your backs better now ! Take care. Great post on mindfulness. I am a big believer in it, hope to a good practitioner too. Even I have Calm on my phone. It’s a great app.

  10. I look forward to reading your posts everyday and I wondered what happened to you this weekend. Then my mind immediately took me to the last week post you put up. The weekend break! So I thought you were continuing it! Thank God, you were able to find out the reasons that troubled you! Making up one’s mind is the most difficult thing and that’s why I feel mind health is more important! I am happy you chose the right way!

    1. Thank you, Jayanthy πŸ™‚ I am grateful for the aches and pains that keep me grounded and for friends like you who look out for me. It makes everything worthwhile.

  11. I hope you are feeling better now. I would still suggest that you pay a visit to a doctor even if you are feeling better. Mindfulness is a good practice overall. I would think meditation is something that must be a part of our daily lives with all the stresses of modern living and hormonal imbalances that ail us. Of course, most of us skip it due to lack of time. For that reason, Yoga is wonderful. All that chanting and orchestrated breathing is very relaxing. I also always meditate before going to sleep. Helps with the quality of sleep as well. Take care.

    1. Thanks, Rachna πŸ™‚ Fortunately, this sorted itself out this time and I know that a large part of it was stress-induced. Glad to have discovered it and worked on it in time. I am a big fan of meditation and its impact on our mental and physical health. The peace that comes from it is unparalleled.

  12. I hope you are much better Shy; this sounded really painful!
    I love the way you inject your personality in your writing; the reads are more personal and I feel I connect to you. Reading your perspective on the online triggers and how you deal with it, was very fascinating for me. I am going to try and watch my reactions and imbibe your learning to it if I have been reacting in the same manner.

  13. I hope you feel better, Shailaja.
    Mindfulness is a blessing really and I have experienced it myself last year when I was going through a low phase.
    I’m so stressed at work these days that I feel depressed almost every day which affects every aspect of my life. I think your post is a timely reminder for me to practice some mindfulness and get a hold on what is really important. So thank you for that!
    Take care, Shailaja.
    Nabanita Dhar recently penned this post #MommyTalks | When Two Moms TalksMy Profile

    1. Hugs, Naba. I see that stress in your posts and it worries me. Life and its trials are not worth losing our peace of mind. Do take good care of yourself. At the end of the day, what will matter is how we’ve lived and loved. Our jobs, our anger, our stress won’t help us when we are ill and battling for good health. Please take care, okay?

  14. I do hope you are better now. You might not believe this but you had been in my thoughts over the weekend. Glad you could channel mindfulness towards healing. I agree it is way easier to know what to do than to actually do it.

    1. Hugs, Tulika. I’m so glad to hear that I was in your thoughts. It always makes me feel all warm and happy. I found it tough, at first, to channel it. But the regular practice definitely helps in making it simpler. Also, yes, definitely better than I was on Friday.

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