A transcript from Anxiety Depression | Meditation Mindfulness video by Nathan Cavaleri
Meditation and mindfulness played a huge role in getting me back up on stage. Not long ago it was an ordeal for me just to go down the road and have drinks with a mate. I didn’t understand the relationship between thoughts and biochemistry, and how they can skew the perception of any given moment. And that’s why a phase of burn-out expanded into years of depression and anxiety that corrupted so many areas of my life.
If I had understood the principles of mindfulness to begin with, I doubt I would have experienced those problems in the first place. I beat leukaemia when I was a kid, and I came out swinging with my guitar. I got to play with some of the world’s most amazing guitarists, and I never had to doubt my body or my mind – never. Challenges were potholes, not blackholes, and I had full faith in myself and the world around me. So it was a complete shock when I found myself later in life on a daily rollercoaster of dread and fatigue – challenged by the simplest things, and rendered too tired & wired to participate, and too scared to sleep. I was confused and irrational, and I didn’t understand where these feelings and states where coming from, so I branded every situation which triggered them as the problem. And I couldn’t have been more wrong.
In one tiny moment of clarity I saw no logical relationship between these aspects of life that were being claimed by anxiety, and I wondered then if there was more to it than I thought.
My first meditation session helped to clear up a lot of misconceptions around mindfulness. I believed meditation was primarily a tool to relax and calm the mind, which is pretty unattractive for a ‘type A’ creative wanting to take on the world – when all along it’s fundamentally a practice to help identify, understand and relate to the types of thoughts and feelings you wouldn’t normally be aware of … the ones that affect emotions and biochemistry, and which actually have more control over you than you think.
Initially it was difficult to get beyond the intense feelings that would arise during a session -– sensations of feeling out-of-body and panicked -– and I almost believed that it was the meditation itself that was creating these sensations, until in one session I discovered the dialogue that lay beyond. This was a real ‘Ah-ha!’ moment for me because I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God! No wonder I feel so much fear, because just look at the shit that’s on constant rotate in the background. Look at what I’m believing.’ I can’t understand why I was believing such stories at the time, but they aren’t happening now. None of these stories was true, yet my body was walking around as if they were: I was on-guard and in fight-flight freeze while I was trying to go about my daily tasks.
It was a profound realisation, and one that has inspired so much change. Through relating to my inner world I was able to reclaim joys of life that I’d thought were gone forever: socialising, exercise, sleep, travel.
And now I’m trying to reclaim my relationship with music by going back out on the road and putting new music out there. It’s early days, but each run dissolves that little bit more fear by proving my worries wrong and leaving more room for joys to shine through – the type of joys that helped to heal me when I was a kid battling leukaemia.
I’m now starting to see that mindfulness is not just for those who are in an emotional pickle. It’s been great for my productivity and creativity. I’m more resilient for it, and my happiness and confidence are now becoming less hinged to circumstance. When I can see what’s going on inside, I can see more clearly what’s going on outside, and I just make better decisions for it. Now knowing what I know kind of feels like I’ve been living in half a world, because your inner world has so much influence over your outer world.
It’s a mentally-driven world, and unlike a muscle that fatigues and stops when it’s overworked, an overworked mind gets anxious and scrambled. It runs into overdrive, gets depressed and fires-off all sorts of unhealthy biochemical reactions.
Our minds affect everything, and the principles of mindfulness and meditation can help us keep our minds healthy.
Nathan Cavaleri will be touring to New South Wales soon. See details here.
Why yoga and meditation can help change your drinking
One of the aims of a practice like yoga and meditation is to be able to slow down, calm the mind and to feel whatever arises for you.
It is important to have a way to connect back in with yourself, and that may be scary for some people. For those who have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, this may seem extremely difficult, as often people drink in order to numb challenging feelings and to escape whatever is happening in their mind or body. It is also very beneficial to have an outlet that allows you to be an observer of your thoughts and feelings, learning not to get so caught up in them.
Mindfulness / consciousness
Often when someone has been drinking regularly for a substantial period of time, they disconnect from their true selves and what their body is telling them. Yoga and meditation is an effective way to start unpacking this, as well as being a relaxing and calming method to reduce feelings of anxiety, stress or depression.
One of the goals of a yoga or meditation practice is to learn the skill to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings and sensations that arise when you are in a challenging yoga posture. These sensations can also come up through mediation and make it very hard to sit with. Working through these sensations and learning to cope with them through breath and staying in the present moment, allows us to have the ability to cope better with situations in our external lives. For example, when we come face-to-face with something that would usually cause us to drink, like a fight with a partner, we can have the awareness that it might be best for us to leave the situation and have some time alone. We can remove ourselves and sit with whatever feelings come up. That way we learn to work through any anger/hurt/sadness/grief and return to the person with a greater sense of calm and clarity of the situation.
Life is all about relationships; relationships with ourselves, with others, with alcohol etc. Relationships really come down to connection and understanding. There is a close relationship between the mind and the body, and yoga and mediation are a way to weave this together.
Yoga Teacher, Vytas Baskauskas, from California, spoke to Yoga Journal about finding sobriety through the 12 step program and a disciplined yoga practice.
“A lot of people come to AA to get sober, and yet they’re still riddled with physical maladies and imbalances… Yoga was challenging, and it opened my mind and my body. It enlivened places that had been dead for so long, and as I worked my body, I found a refuge, some relief from feeling like a prisoner of my own thoughts. When you’re an addict, you often have a hole in your life, and by filling it with the philosophy of yoga, God—whatever you want to call it—that’s a high too. But it’s a high that won’t kill your relationships, hurt your family, or your body.”
Knowing that you have to wake up at 6am to get to a class is a great way to have an excuse to go to bed early or leave an event early and not have too much to drink. If you are out on a Friday night with friends at a bar and there’s an amazing yoga class on tomorrow at your favourite studio – it can help you tune back into what you really need. You may find that having one more means you won’t get there.
Having an alternative way to relax, helps get you into a healthy routine, as you can take yourself to a yin yoga or meditation class to unwind, instead of meeting someone at a pub. Many people start to crave the feelings that are released after yoga or a mediation practice, and these can help to become your ‘therapy’. This is when change starts to happen if you do the work. No one is saying it will be easy, but forming habits like this gradually changes your lifestyle for the better!
In both of these mindful practices, you are taught to be kind to yourself and to remember to honour your limitations. You learn to find your edge with love and acceptance rather than judgment and discouragement. It doesn’t matter what you look like or whether you are ‘flexible enough’ or ‘strong enough’. No one judges you for being ‘bad’ at yoga or meditation, because there is no competition. It is a self-practice and each day is different and may feel different in your own body.
How do I get into mediation?
The Headspace app is a great place to start if you want to get into a regular practice. It offers free, easy and practical, 10 minute sessions to try, but there are loads of other apps and online videos!. You can also look up meditation classes in your local area if you prefer to go to a space to meditate with others.
How do I get into a yoga practice?
Setting yourself goals for a consistent weekly (if not daily) practice, is something that demonstrates a lot of self-discipline. If you have struggled with keeping at things in the past, a good idea may be to buy a membership to a yoga/meditation studio and that way you know you have paid and that might make you go! There are also thousands of apps and online videos to follow.
This yoga sequence from Yoga Journal was created for people who have or have had a dependency, and it has lovely little illustrations and affirmations for you to focus on in each posture. https://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/higher-ground
Just set up the computer somewhere you have space to roll out a mat or a towel and make sure you have uninterrupted time to work on your breath and follow the guide. Namaste
How to surround yourself with positive people
The best advice I have heard about living the most fulfilling and optimistic life was given to me by a man I hold in the highest regard. A man who is a father to eight kids, plus half the neighbourhood. A man who makes the most of every situation and even if something really shitty happens, like bankruptcy or a terminal illness, focuses on the good stuff and making the most of the present moment, constantly asking, “don’t you love it?” A man who opens his door (literally) to anyone of any status or background. A man with the biggest smile and an even bigger heart.
“Surround yourself with positive people,” were his words of advice when I graduated high school with one of his step daughters, and it has stuck with me to this day.
Spring is upon us here in the southern hemisphere, bringing with it a season of transformation. Trees that shed their leaves and flowers in winter are now starting to bud and the weather is warming up, bringing clearer days with it. We feel rejuvenated from hibernating through winter and there is a sense of growth and new beginnings in the air.
Spring tends to be the season during which we feel inspired to make some changes to our lives.
We often say that a person is exhausting or drains our energy. They may be someone who takes from you in ways that you understand, or in a subtle way that you can’t put your finger on. This could be your partner, a friend, a colleague or anyone that you interact with often.
I’m not encouraging you to ditch a friend who is going through a hard time and seems to be in a negative place. That friend needs your support now more than ever. But you have to think of yourself first because if you feel drained and uninspired, you won’t be able to support anybody. Just be aware of these people and the place where they find themselves. To keep your spirits high, you may want to think about saying ‘no’ when you just don’t feel strong enough to take them on that day, or if you’re no energised enough to meet up with them. You can always reschedule for a time when you are feeling better and not so vulnerable.
On the other hand, there are some people who leave you feeling lighter and good about yourself. They lift your mood with a simple laugh or joke, or some great advice. These people are easy to be around and they make you love yourself more, too.
Surround yourself with people who make you feel awesome and you may be able to be that person to someone who needs it. It will make you happier, more inspired and optimistic. So, how do you do this?
Finding contentment is a real challenge for people in the western world. We are constantly searching for something more, whether that be through material possessions like houses, cars and tech, or shifting environments in our travels, careers and relationships. But when we focus on the good in our lives, we are likely to attract more of it.
We become passionate when we really love what we are doing or feel strongly about something. Being passionate means you are inspired, motivated and full of purpose. We enjoy being around people who are enthusiastic about what they are doing and their passion can sometimes even ignite our own.
Visualisation can be a powerful tool. Have you ever seen yourself in a situation, like receiving an award or getting a promotion, and felt it is so real that you just knew it would happen? To practice visualisation, it’s important not only to see and watch the event unfold but to also feel it in your body and notice what you can smell and see around you. For example, if you’re visualising a holiday, try to feel the breeze on your skin, the smile on your face and the joy as you splash around in the water. Realise how good it makes you feel.
Meditate, or try yoga and Tai Chi
These mindful practices allow us to tune into a state of peace and calm, decreasing the stress levels in our bodies. Yoga and Tai Chi are great practices that enable moving meditation. They can help you slow down and reset.
Strive for a nutritious diet
Food plays a huge role in how we feel. If our bowels aren’t working properly and we are not digesting our food, we can feel bloated, tired and drained of energy. It is hard to feel optimistic when you just feel like slouching on the couch.
Adopting some of the tools above in your day-to-day life, as well as limiting your time with people who aren’t bringing out the best in you and surrounding yourself with passionate, inspired and optimistic people, can really start to change the way you think and feel, for the better.
How to Meditate & Clear Your Mind
Meditation has been around for thousands of years and has proven psychological, physiological and spiritual benefits. It’s a difficult task to master, but if you can somehow introduce a regular meditative practice into your daily life, you will soon begin to notice positive changes.
Who’s not up for some positive change once in a while?
Historically, meditation was practised by saints and sages to bring about the joyful state of self-realisation; a state of consciousness where a person is free from worries and anxieties and is completely present in the moment. Meditation can lead you to become more mindful and clear-headed, gaining a greater understanding of life and purpose.
If your mood (anxious, stressed, tired) tends to be the trigger for drinking, try swapping the habit of pouring a drink with sitting down and meditating for just five minutes. Meditation resets your mind so you can move through the triggers, feelings and thoughts and get onto a more productive and healthy action like cooking dinner or getting organised for the next day.
Try this simple practice of controlled breathing from our in-house clinical psychologists to help set you up for your meditation. Read through steps 1-5 and then give it a try.
How to clear your mind:
- Get comfortable
Sit in a comfortable position, as comfortable as you can get. Sit up straight and relax your shoulders and muscles.
- Deep breath in
Take a deep breath in through your nose. Count “one, two”.
- Slow breath out
Breathe out through your mouth, pucker your lips (as though you are about to whistle) and breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in. Count “one, two, three, four”. Don’t hold your breath between breathing in and out, aim to keep your breath flowing smoothly.
- Deep breathing
Check you are using your diaphragm by placing your hand on your stomach. If you are using your diaphragm you should feel your stomach move out as you breathe in and move in as you breathe out. This helps to ensure you aren’t taking shallow breaths. Remember to keep your breaths deep, not shallow or big.
- Eyes Closed
Now close your eye and continue breathing this way until you feel relaxed.
What are the benefits of meditating?
Stress: When stress overwhelms you, it can have serious health implications including anxiety, depression and even cardiovascular disease. Meditation activates the body’s natural relaxation response and not only calms the mind, allowing you to relax and the stress to gently leave the mind and body, it also it provides a deeper knowledge and understanding of the workings of the mind and emotions.
Anxiety: The purpose of meditation isn’t to get rid of your anxiety, but to help you become more present in the moment. We often experience anxiety because we fixate on the past or on the future. However, meditation quiets an overactive brain so you’re intentionally focused on the here and now.
Sleep: A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials for insomnia found that eight weeks of in-person meditation training significantly improved total waking time and sleep quality in patients with insomnia.
Relationships: Mindfulness enhances couples’ levels of relationship satisfaction, autonomy, closeness and acceptance of each other while reducing relationship distress.
Cognition: Meditating for just four days is enough to improve memory, executive functions and their ability to process visual information. Meditation leads to activation in brain regions involved in self-regulation, problem-solving, adaptive behaviour and introspection. A 2013 review of three studies suggests that meditation may slow, stall, or even reverse changes that take place in the brain due to normal ageing.
Research also suggests that practising meditation may reduce blood pressure and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
So where do I begin?
Try the tips below to start on your journey to a clearer mind. You can even try a movement meditation if that suits you, rather than sitting still. Sometimes this is just walking slowly and focusing on your footsteps, the sounds and your surrounds. Or a gentle, slow yoga practice moving with the breath.
Resources to help you start
- Youtube videos like this Six Phase Meditation
- Apps like Smiling Mind – a completely free set of guided meditations developed by a fellow Australian charity.
- Meditation group Meet-ups
- Meditation schools and classes in your area. Many yoga schools also offer group meditation