3 Self-improvement Apps to boost your Health and Wellbeing

The key to self-improvement doesn’t need to be a huge game-changer that turns you into a human machine. The key can be to make those little changes to your health and wellbeing.

Those tiny victories that make you feel like a good person. There are so many ways to change your health and wellbeing and for that I don’t want to preach to you about any state-of-the-art techniques or new products to change your life.

I just want to share with you three apps that I have been using that have helped me create a few new habits to feel better in myself.

1.Youper

A few weeks ago I wrote about 3 things that got me back into meditation and writing. My final point was a kick up the arse which led me to this app. It is a great start for self-improvement as all it asks you to do is tell your personal assistant, Youper, how you are a feeling and what makes you feel that way. It’s not necessarily an awe inspiring act to think about how you are feeling and why – it’s been a constant for thousands of years – but it has helped me to track my moods daily and learn the patterns of what makes me feel a certain way.

It’s a short conversation with an ‘artificial intelligence’ that takes less than two minutes. If you give it a try you will start to make a new habit if you stick to it and begin your journey to improving your health and wellbeing. For me, I started to feel more in tune with my thoughts after a few days.

2.Oak

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If you have read 5 simple steps to a No-BS meditation then you will know that I love meditation. It’s a passion that I know will last my lifetime. The most challenging part of it was never sitting with my thoughts but making it a part of my every day living. This change that and I can feel the self-improvement already!

To put it simply, it gives you several guided and unguided meditations, breathing exercises and get-to-sleep techniques. Not dissimilar to the high-ranking meditation apps like Calm and Headspace. Absolutely right. What makes this app different for me is the ‘levelling’ system to give you an incentive to complete a series of sessions before making it to the next stage. Maybe its my love of RPGs that has given me a strong connection but I know it is helping with my health and wellbeing.

Since using Oak, I am yet to miss a day of meditation. In fact, I have been meditating three times a day for the past twenty five days. For that I am eternally grateful. It’s a great motivator. Try it to see your own self-improvement.

3.Couch to 5k

This is one app that I have not used myself but have seen the positive effects first hand. Firstly, with my Dad – to whom I am very proud – who went from being someone who never ran to someone who is so addicted to it now he has done several 10k runs an a WOLF Runs. Note: a Wolf Run is a muddy obstacle course in the UK that I think everyone should try!

The satisfying moment is watching my partner commit to this same idea and is already on week 2 of the app’s programme. So, just because I am not the one using an app doesn’t mean I am not improving my own health and wellbeing. Being a person of support alongside someone’s own self-improvement gives nothing but benefits for everyone involved.

There are thousands of apps out there focused on self-improvement but that was three that have helped me improve my health and wellbeing. The idea of freeing yourself of technology to live a better life is something that I disagree with to a certain degree. Developments in technology do have their negatives but when there are efforts being made to help with your self-improvement then it seems stupid not to try them.

5 ways to make meditation feel less of a chore

4 Real World benefits to meditation you didn’t know

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5 ways to make meditation feel less of a chore

1.Do your chores

The late great Alan Watts is a helpful inspiration for this. If you find meditation a chore then combine it with something that literally is so. The monotony that comes with washing up, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom doesn’t need to be seen as a chore in the same way meditation seems to.

2.Incorporate it into your day

I get the train everyday. I have no time to wake up, get ready, have breakfast and meditate – unless I woke up at 5am which ain’t happening because I am not a monk. So I make use of the time I have available. As soon as I get on the train I spend 10 minutes in meditation. I close my eyes. Count my breaths. Relax.

There does come an element of worry, no doubt. What will other people think of this nutter on the train sat up straight with his eyes closed? Who cares? For all they know I am asleep. If you’re worrying what people think of you then you are in need of some meditation and mindfulness.

You will stop caring what people think when you realises how little they actually do, to paraphrase David Foster Wallace. If you are lucky enough to live in the UK, people will say nothing and move on with their lives.

It doesn’t need to be a train journey though. I can guarantee there will be 10, 5, even 2 minutes where you can just sit with yourself. Before setting off to work, just sit in the car and take a few breaths. As soon as you get to work compose yourself. Incorporate it into your day and it will notbe seen as such a ‘burden’

3.Don’t sit cross-legged

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Wiki Commons

Those enlightened bastards with their peaceful faces and ability to sit in lotus position for 7 days straight. Damn them! But there’s no need to think like that. Meditation is all about what happens inside you. Your body is just in for the ride. All you need to do is find a comfortable position. Sit in a chair – for me it’s just a train seat – it doesn’t need to be a favourite.

It doesn’t need to made into a grand moment in your day. All it is is conscious sleeping. You don’t need an entire area dedicated to it if you don’t want to. That’s not to say that having a meditation space is a bad thing – if you do it right it can be wonderful. The point is to be able to enter a meditative states no matter the situation. Do it at work, the dinner table, just as you wake up or go to sleep. Don’t make it a big deal. Do make it a part of your day.

4.Try group meditation

My first encounter of group meditation was at the Birmingham Buddhist Centre – the multicultural Birmingham in Britain, not the other one with very different connotations – and it was wonderful. The community is a huge part of the Buddhist belief. That is not to say you need to take in the teachings of Buddhism. It is just a great way to push past the idea of meditation being a chore.

You can join a group or find friends who are willing. The group mentality lets you talk about your experiences and break down certain worries you have rather than keeping them all in your head. If you are anxious about what is inside your head, this is a place where you can explore them openly with no judgement. It never hurts to try.

5.Don’t see it as a chore

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Public Domain Pictures

The idea of meditation being so infuriating is your response to it. Everything feeling towards something is something you can learn to surpass. Be mindful. You have the power to change your mind. Try saying to yourself that ‘it’s just a bit of fun’. It’s there to help. You don’t need to take it so seriously. It’s not a job, It’s there to make your life. easier. It is impossible to do it wrong.

Meditation does not need to be seen as a chore. Enjoy it. Sit with it.

Go Sugar Free and relish the Health benefits

Sublime states of meditation

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Go Sugar Free and relish the Health benefits

On Saturday I watched the documentary Fed Up with my wonderful girlfriend and the health benefits of going sugar free seem endless. By the end of the 92 minute romp through the causes of obesity in the US (UK obviously following by example), I felt enraged and empowered to do something. I’m not the angry-at-everything teenager I once was but I can see there are positives to heeding the words of this enlightening film.

As someone whose primary vocation in life is to spread awareness on mental health, I believe that going sugar free – or at least reducing your intake of sugar-based products – will have a real impact on your mental health and health in general.

The Sugar Free Epiphany

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Pexels

 

The moment that really hit me harder than a stack of books thrown by a professional stack-of-books thrower was the marketing of food and drink products been shown as ‘low in [something]’. Whether that be fat, sugar or a big ‘ZERO’ slapped on the side of the packaging, we are all taken in by those big letters and feel it vital to buy them over the regular products because they are of benefit to our health.

NO! Cue beams of light from the heavens, light bulbs going off above my head and cold water splashed in my face.

When something is reduced or removed from food or drink, the flavour changes completely! It’s like having no butter on your toast or no Orange Soda in your cereal every morning. It just tastes different. So what have they decided to do? Leave it as it is because there’s nothing wrong with something being bland?

No again! A replacement is added and that could be anything from sugar to any other confusingly-named compound that is merely another form of processed sugar. You don’t need to be an expert in this field to know that if you are consuming so many ‘low [seemingly bad food types]’ you’re more than likely have more sugar than your body can handle. It is slowly killing us and very few people are doing anything about it.

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That feeling of lethargy you get after finishing a meal from any fast food restaurant. That thought that it wasn’t enough and you need more. That is all the sugar that has been pumped into your meals to make you want more. A study by US group practice Lahey Health, states that the effects of sugar are ‘similar to that of cocaine altering mood, possibly through its ability to induce reward and pleasure, leading to the seeking out of sugar.’ The Fed Up documentary went further to suggest that sugar is actually more addictive than cocaine.

With this possibility it is clear to see why obesity has risen if people can’t help themselves but crave more food filled with hidden sugar products.

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Flickr

The Sugar Free Challenge

The final message of Fed Up was to go 10 days completely Sugar Free. If you’re up for it then go for it by clicking here. Nothing is stopping you but yourselves. That’s not to say you have to go completely teetotal. By simply cutting down you can encourage so many health benefits, such as:

  • loss of weight and prevention of obesity
  • having more energy throughout the day
  • having clearer skin
  • avoiding mood swings
  • reducing inflammation
  • reducing the risk of digestive conditions
  • reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes (if you pronounce it ‘diabetus’ stop it. Get help)

The Health Benefits of choosing the right sugars

If the idea of going completely sugar free terrifies you then you have the choice to actively look for options where sugar is necessary. We all need some level of sugar in our system, and it doesn’t need to be through processed foods. My advice would be, if it can be grown or formerly walked around until it met your plate, then eat it down. Side note: I’m not a doctor so take my word as gospel. If you’re eating or drinking something that needs added sugar for extra flavour, maybe give it a miss. Try:

  • Dairy products like milk
  • Unsweetened Greek yogurt contain lactose
  • Fruit – lots and lots of fruit
  • Carrots
  • Beets (for an acquired taste)
  • Sweet potatoes / Yams
  • Potatoes – boil ’em, mash ’em, generally stick them in any water-based concoction
  • Parsnips
  • Switching to brown sugar (if you are really desperate for the sugar fix / raised in a country where tea is a national requirement)
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Pixabay

Quick reminder: Just because I said eating fruit, dairy, etc. doesn’t mean you should go on a strict fruit and dairy diet. Everything in moderation. Eat Fresh (not likely Subway though – that is far from fresh).

Using mindfulness to cope with annoying songs

4 ways to get to sleep

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Using mindfulness to cope with annoying songs

Mindfulness is not a technique that is confined to meditation. It can be used in all parts of you’re life and a big part of my life is music. As a former music snob, I found it difficult to even listen to annoying songs, or song I found annoying. There’s that feeling of gut-wrenching agony of ‘they don’t write their own songs’ or ‘his voice is so irritating’. All thoughts that are really of no benefit to you at all

Is it because you have heard the song so many times on the radio? Are you trying to impress your friends with an esoteric taste in music – ‘Oh, I hate people whose favourite Joy Division song is “Love Will Tear Us Apart”‘.

Get out.

There comes a time when you have to think about what benefits you. Learning mindfulness is something that aids your own thought process to be more accepting and generally improve your mental health.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of annoying songs out there. The only way you’re not going to get that feeling of pain every time is to understand the root cause of it. So stop succumbing to the belief that the song is annoying and make it so you no longer enter the cyclical thinking of feeling annoyed – mindfulness is there to help you.

1.Choose three annoying songs

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Newsdog (Wiki Commons)

‘Paradise’ by Coldplay, ‘Viva la Vida’ by Coldplay and any other song from the discography of Coldplay.

So, you’ve got your three songs. You’re ready for the next step.

2.Listen to all three annoying songs back-to-back

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PixyBay

It’s the hardest step of mindfulness, I promise. The key is to try not to react with fits of rage or squirming or vomiting. The key is to sit with the songs. Be mindful of your feeling during that period of time.

  • How do you feel?
  • Don’t analyse it. Just sit with the feeling.
  • Where does the feeling come from?
  • Focus on that area.
  • Sit with the feeling

3.Explore what you feel when listening to the annoying songs

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MetroJP (Flixr)

What I may have felt was a feeling of despair in the pit of my stomach. A screaming in my head to turn it off. But why? Why do certain annoying songs make you feel a certain way? That’s the whole point of mindfulness.

Now it’s time for some real mindfulness. Once you’ve sat with the thought ask yourself a series of questions:

  • Do you experience it as tense, painful?
  • What exactly bothers you about it? How do you know? (strain, cyclical thoughts).
  • Are there any particular stories you repeat in your head?
  • How does holding onto this problem cause future pain? Are you okay with that?
  • Is there anything more you can understand on a deeper level?
  • KEY QUESTION: What will you gain by letting these feelings go?

4.Acknowledge the feeling. Let it go. It’s just a song

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PictoQuotes (Flixr)

Like in meditation, whenever a thought cuts through your focus all you need to do is acknowledge that you have that thought or feeling and get back to the breathe. In this case, listen to the ‘annoying songs’, acknowledge what is an objective truth – don’t be smug saying ‘But Coldplay songs being terrible is an objective truth’. Stop living in an alternative fact reality and understand it is only a song. It is your reaction to the song. And you really are able to control it.

It’s just a song.

Our mind is a powerful thing. It gives you the belief that you are in no way in control of your thoughts or emotions but mindfulness proves that wrong. By truly being with a feeling and experiencing it, you get a closer understanding of it. You come to a realisation that there is no such thing as annoying songs. Songs exist. You choose to find them annoying.

Breathe.

It’s just a song.

5 relaxing songs to calm your mind

5 video games that can improve your mental health

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5 relaxing songs to calm your mind

Songs, relaxing songs especially, have the ability to calm your mind like nothing else. Meditation has its perks but can be difficult as your mind is constantly circling around thoughts over and over again. However, music can always remedy that. Songs can let you escape those nagging thoughts with a chance to lose yourself in relaxing songs.

There is so much to say about all the songs in this list but I will keep the information to a minimum and let you search through the links yourself to find something to your liking. The list is truly endless and you have hundreds of years of choices but here are just 5 relaxing songs to help calm your mind.

1.Underworld – Louisiana

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Discogs

Beautiful piano sound. Floaty vocals. Find it on Spotify here.

2.Tycho – A Walk

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Tycho (Bandcamp)

A good song to listen to to help you sleep. Find it on Spotify here.

3.Mr Jukes – Tears

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Genius

Great lyrics and very peaceful. Find it on Spotify here.

4.Nick Drake – Place to Be

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Genius

From my favourite album of all time, Pink Moon. If I had an original pressing of this…my life would be complete. Find it on Spotify here.

5.Childish Gambino – So Into You (Tamia cover)

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Undrtone

The original is fantastic as well but not quite as chill. No Spotify as it was on ‘Like a Version‘.

If you disagree and believe that one or all the above songs are not relaxing then listen to a relaxing song of choice rather than releasing your rage out in the comment section. Calm…it’s just a blog.

5 video games that can improve your mental health

3 things that got me back into writing and meditation

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5 video games that can improve your mental health

Finally, there is a growing belief that video games have the ability to improve a person’s mental health. This doesn’t just come from research but from individual experiences, especially my own.

I wholeheartedly believe that video games can have a positive affect on your whole lifestyle. The list of games like this are endless – and by list I don’t mean the likes of GTA, Battlefield and Fortnite where you can take your rage out on a similarly angry online user or punish yourself with Dark Souls; here are 5 games that I believe will be a benefit to your mental health.

1.Senua’s Sacrifice

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Spiel Times

If you read my previous blog post on the 3 things that got me back into writing and meditation this game is of great significance to me. It inspired me to uncover more about mental illnesses and ways in which they can be overcome.

Although this game is filled with symbolism, it takes an approach to psychosis that is both engrossing and brutally honest. The puzzles can be challenging but the reward can be something beyond what you have found in a game before.

How it can improve your mental health: A stronger understanding of psychosis – giving you a sense of empathy to understand a very misunderstood illness. Or it can give you a feeling of relief as it’s a game tackling a difficult subject with honesty. For me, it felt good to have a mental illness addressed in this medium in a way that was beyond the negative. Senua’s Sacrifice shows that your ‘illnesses’ can be controlled and carefully understood.

2.The Witness

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Joseph Anderson (Youtube) ##SPOILERS##

There’s a misconception when someone talks about ‘mental health’ that they are referring to illness. That is, obviously, absolute bollocks. The keyword being health and like your physical fitness, you have to keep your mind fit, active and healthy. This game will give you exactly that.

In The Witness you play an unnamed character who awakes on a island filled with puzzles. With each main puzzle that you complete, a new element of the very loose story is uncovered.

How it can improve your mental health: It may seem like a very basic puzzler in the beginning but The Witness forces you to think in new and unusual ways, developing your understanding of each stage.

This game will teach you scientific thinking and reasoning skills. According to a study by the University of Michigan, sited by Paula Gil Alonso “puzzle video games improve verbal comprehension, visual and spatial processing, visual perception, topographic orientation, planning and reasoning.”[1] So, what are you waiting for? Play it on just about any current generation console, PC or Mac. It will only be of benefit to you.

3.Ori and the Blind Forest

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Death. Loss. Betrayal. Puzzles. This game has it all when it comes to dealing with and working on mental health issues. The story follows Ori, a spirit of the Blind Forest as she attempts to bring it back to life in the hope of saving her dearest friend.

The effect grief has on a person is dealt with in this allegorical tale whilst providing a truly satisfying gaming experience.

How it can improve your mental health: It covers a dark story that deals with quite serious issues like that of Senua’s Sacrifice whilst containing challenging puzzles and mechanics like The Witness. This is the game that has the best of both: the harsh realities and ways to deal with grief and the cranial benefits of puzzles.

4.Wordscapes

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Ostatus

Another seemingly simple game that gets increasingly more difficult. But creating a healthy mind can’t be all sunshine and rainbows. You have to work at it like exercise, education and anything you want to improve.

That’s not to say that this game doesn’t put you in a calm state of mind with it’s changing atmospheres and sounds. Wordscapes is a mobile app that can be picked up as soon as you wake up or right before you go to sleep – providing you add the nighttime settings as not to affect your Meridian Clock.

How it can improve your mental health: Like The Witness, this puzzling game benefits your mind in improving your spatial and visual perception. On top of that, the added element of language give you the chance to increase your vocabulary and ability to improve pattern recognition.

5.Stardew Valley

 

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Gameplane

An addictive farming game with a nice story that doesn’t take too much effort to get your head around. The very story follows the concept of leaving the stressful life of work to escape for a while to be at peace. Even though the games above have been quite challenging, there are so many benefits to be had from just resting your mind and enjoying a game.

How it can improve your mental health: It’s calm. Really, really calm and satisfying. It is escapism at its best where you can wander off and not have to worry too much about anything. Calm and satisfying should speak for itself when it comes to improving your mental health.

Of course, there are so many that did not make the list. I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t offer you a few more as I know how picky I can be when choosing a game to play next. Have a browse and see what you think:

 

3 things that got me back into writing and meditation

4 Real World benefits to meditation you didn’t know

Reference

[1] ‘What effects do puzzle video games have on the brain?’

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3 things that got me back into writing and meditation

I’m back! After nine months in the dark I can finally say I’m back! It has been a slow process to return to writing and meditation. But I am here and there are three things that helped me get back doing what I love.

1.Work

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Tenor

For the past seven months I have been working – hence my hiatus from blog writing. This wasn’t necessarily what I wanted but the simple act of working again got me back into a positive mindset. It put me into a meditative state to know how I can focus on one thing for a long period of time.

After this, I now feel ready to get back into my own writing and gaining a new dream job in the process. Now I have that clear direction, my writing and meditation can take a clearer priority in being able to share what I have found over the coming weeks with you.

2.Senua’s Sacrifice

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Spiel Times

Gaming is a lifesaver – especially this game. I found this when I was hearing a screaming in my head that wasn’t my own – a terrifying scenario to be in. An insight Senua’s Sacrifice is a game that helped me get a clearer understanding of mental illness and passion to explore it further.

Senua’s Sacrifice follows the eponymous main character as she travels to Norse Hell itself in order to bring back her loved one. This fantasy interpretation of psychosis has gained widespread acclaim for its accurate portrayal of mental health and it reminded of the importance of educating people how to overcome their own demons – without the necessity to slay Norse creatures and travel to a mythical place.

This game has helped me to see how art – yes I think gaming is an art – can aid in bettering ourselves and gaining knowledge.

3.A Kick up the arse

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Giphy

Sometimes it is not helpful to have that support of ‘you can do it’ and ‘everything is going to be okay’. Sometimes it helps to have a person to tell you to ‘get on with it’, ‘you’ll get nothing done if you stay inside your head’. Tough love doesn’t suit everyone but it really helped to shock me out of my slump, shake me and get me focusing on what I can accomplish now rather than worry about the past or future.

I am eternally thankful to my partner for giving me this shock. It was the relationship equivalent of being whacked with a stick by a Zen master. And it hurt so good.

All this has allowed me to become truly grateful for what I have: a good family, an amazing relationship and a generally good life. This extended hiatus has given me time to understand what I want and how I can go about doing it. I cannot wait to share more of what I have found out with you.

Writing and meditation is a huge part of my life and I am so happy that I have returned to it.

 

Sublime states of meditation

4 ways to get to sleep

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Try a Buddhist Retreat

This time last year I attended a Buddhist retreat at The Forest Hermitage. It was located in abeautiful house in the middle of the countryside, with lovely people and a chance to wake up on a splendid autumn morning (6am) to frost and a blueish hue cascading across the landscape. Wondrous wildlife echoing magnificence.

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Forest Hermitage

I couldn’t escape any sooner.

This retreat came courtesy of the Theravada branch of Buddhism – imagine Eastern Catholicism – which is filled with chanting, ritual and tedious amounts of tasks I didn’t quite understand. The day went:

  1. Wake up
  2. One hour meditation (including bowing on several ocassions)
  3. Chanting (in a language I did not understand or speak well)
  4. Working / Gardening / Focused meditation (quite nice, actually)
  5. One hour Walking meditation
  6. Repeat indefinitely

Those that have been on a retreat may feel confused by my reaction as you may have felt invigorated by the experience. I did not. I jumped into a form of Buddhism that I feel is ridiculous – feel free to take offence, but really…you’re a Buddhist, what are you gonna do about it? Being raised a Catholic, I have come to despise all sense of ritual that I feel is unnecessary and downright harmful to well being.

My desire to, quite literally, run away stemmed from this fear of ritual and how unprepared I was to face two and half days of continuous meditation practice. My fear comes from my clear ignorance towards the many branches of Buddhism. I only hope my own stupidity can be used for someone else’s strength.

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Giphy

So, what’s the point in this post? It’s about researching a retreat. Don’t just jump head first into a form of practice that you disagree with. You wouldn’t throw yourselves into a Catholic retreat at the age of 14 just because your teachers told you to. Or maybe you did if you were lucky enough to go to a Catholic High School – how wonderful.

If you want to spend a weekend finding out more about yourselves and diving into intense meditation then you must look carefully at the variations. To make life easier for you here’s a deliberately reductive summary of the many forms of Buddhism/meditation retreats:

  • Theravada – tedious rituals that end in further anxiety (on my part)
  • Mahayana – THE BIG ONE! The popular one.
  • Zen – Spend your time not moving, worrying about not moving and getting hit with a stick for moving (don’t believe me? Feel free to try it)
  • Tibetan – Something about Llamas?
  • Triratna – An amalgamation of several forms and seemingly more accepting (one that I feel closer to) but has had quite bad press (nothing to do with me)
  • Secular meditation – No countries – no religion too. Imagine. It’s easy if you try

Do your research otherwise you will find yourselves running away…literally!

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Wiffle Gif

 

Sublime states of meditation

3 jokes at my expense

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