Hey friends, and welcome to another episode of the anxious pineapple. As always, I’m thrilled to have you here with me.
Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with the lovely Carol Covelli about mindfulness meditation. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. My own meditation practice has been a messy one, full of ups and downs, and lots of unlearning.
My earliest experience with mindfulness meditation was in my mid-20s. My mom and I decided to take a meditation course together and I remember it being a bit of a disaster. We were told a number of things about meditation that are super cliché and simply not true, like our minds should be empty and we need to sit perfectly still. I can remember feeling so tense every time I went to practice, because I was fearful that I would do it wrong. And the fact that I could not for the life of me get my mind empty made me feel like a failure in my practice. Luckily, when I got to grad school my understanding of mindfulness and meditation changed substantially – I kept reading all of these papers on how amazing and beneficial mindfulness is, so it really encouraged me to re-examine my own practice. And I began to unlearn all of the things about meditation that I had been taught earlier. My practice continues to be one of trial and error, and I am learning to let go of the perfectionism I have tied to it. I continue to practice everyday when I go for a walk, or take a moment to quickly check in with myself.
On today’s episode, Carol is going to share a bit about what mindfulness meditation is, and dispel some of the common misconceptions around the practice, as well as share practical ways you can incorporate it into your life and different resources you can access to start. As a bonus, Carol also leads a guided meditation during the episode, so you can try it and see if it’s a good fit for you. Whether you are a seasoned meditator, or are just starting out, this episode is for you!
Before we begin, let me share a bit about Carol’s background. Carol Covelli, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist with an online practice serving clients all across New York and New Jersey, USA. She specializes in helping women in their 50s through their mid-life awakenings so they can find their truth and live a fuller life. Carol earned her Master of Social Work from Fordham University in New York and believes everyone deserves to be free from the emotional obstacles that prevent them from living a fulfilling life. Alright, let’s do this!
K: Hi Carol, welcome to the Anxious Pineapple.
C: Hi Kayla, thank-you so much for having me.
K: I am so excited that you are here. I feel like mindfulness is such a buzzword right now. And I see it and hear it everywhere and I know that listeners are probably curious about what it means. So, I’m really pumped that you can kind of explain it to us today.
C: Yeah, mindfulness, mindful awareness – you are right, it’s everywhere. Be mindful of this, be mindful of that, but what really mindful, mindfulness, mindful awareness is it’s being fully present in the moment. So, what does that mean? That means you are in your environment, you are present in where you are, where your body is. The thoughts aren’t flying around your mind. You are just fully present with what’s happening in your environment with openness to it and curiosity and really without judgment. That’s mindfulness.
K: I love that. I feel like so many of us get caught up in, like, worry about the future, like anxiety, right? Or even the past, like a lot of us ruminate or think about things that we’ve done or things that have happened to us, so we really get stuck in the past and the future, but for a lot of us kind of being in the present is a challenge.
C: Absolutely. Especially with anxiety; but even if you don’t have anxiety, your mind is wired to just continue to roll, roll, roll, roll… you know, whether you are thinking about what you have to do next, or what you already did… and of course, if you have anxiety, that will feed the anxiety.
K: Absolutely. I have a friend who is a big yogi, and she said the hardest pose for her was always Shavasana, that pose at the end, where you are lying still because it was really difficult for her to keep her mind focused on the present, right. So easy to be like: “oh, what do I have to do next?” or “what am I having for dinner?” or… I totally get that – our mind just kind of constantly going. So, I am curious Carol, is there a difference between mindfulness and meditation?
C: Meditation is the practice of mindfulness, so as you meditate, you are actually learning to be mindful. And then you take that practice, your brain incorporates that, as you go into life you find you become more mindful.
K: I love that. You know, I find for myself that I almost see meditation as kind of this tool that helps to cultivate the mindfulness, right? I sense that’s what you are saying there, and there are so many different ways of practicing meditation nowadays I feel like. You know, traditionally, when I think of meditation I think of sitting there and being still, but I feel like there are alternatives to that. Is that true?
C: Absolutely. A lot of times people I work with I will ask them: “do you meditate? Have you tried that?” and they will say, “oh my gosh, I can’t do that, I can’t make my mind blank, I can’t just not think of that thing” and it’s not that; but, also there are other ways to practice meditation. There’s walking meditation, where you are walking and taking in your environment and really just focusing on what’s going on around you. There’s guided meditation, which can be visualization or not. There’s mantras. There’s all different types of meditation; it’s just finding what you connect with and not everybody connects with the same type.
K: Yes. And, I think that’s important to remember, because I remember my first taste of meditation and I was like: “ugh, this doesn’t feel like it works for me”, but the fact that there are so many different opportunities to practice and different ways of doing it I think makes it more accessible to everyone.
C: Absolutely. I mean, there are websites, there are apps – I mean, if you look you can find different ways to meditate. It’s awesome. It’s amazing.
K: That’s great. Now, I am curious about your own practice. How did you get passionate about mindfulness? What makes you excited about it?
C: Oh gosh. Well, I started meditation, oh gosh, I’d say almost 30 years ago. Actually, in my own therapy, when I was dealing with anxiety and it wasn’t called meditation, they called it a guided relaxation exercise, so I started – I was given like a tape – this is how long ago it was – I was given a cassette tape with a guided relaxation, so I would do that over and over. And over the years, I would be in and out – I would do meditation or there were times when I wasn’t doing it. I would say about 10 years ago I was just going through a lot of stress and it just dawned on me to really go back to meditation. There was more accessibility, I didn’t just have that tape anymore, and so I was able to go on websites and pull up guided meditations and I would do that on and off; but, I would say that the past 5 years I made it into a daily practice. So, I practice every single morning.
K: That’s great. You know, I appreciate you sharing your personal experience with it because I feel so many of us can relate to that. Especially that anxiety piece and how this can be really helpful for that.
C: Absolutely. On so many different levels, I mean, you do the meditation and the meditation itself decreases anxiety because you are focusing on what is happening in the present moment, or the visualization or the guided meditation. There is the in-the-moment benefit, where you are feeling more relaxed, but there’s a lot of long term benefits to meditation that are backed by research and science. So, meditation will decrease your overall stress. It does help to control anxiety and depression. It improves your overall emotional health, decreases your blood pressure, it helps with sleep – I mean there’s so many benefits. It even changes your responses in your brain and literally and does change the structure of your brain. I believe it thickens the gray matter of your brain – I think that was shown in research – what that controls is your executive functioning, your emotional control, your memory, self-aware – so there are a lot of long term benefits of meditation, as well as in-the-moment benefits.
K: It sounds like it’s a win-win, like, it doesn’t sound like there is anything negative about practicing mindfulness. It’s just this tool that can be so helpful on multiple levels.
C: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, I am mean, even in the moment – so meditation is the practice that cultivates the mindfulness and when you are in that space, you think of terms of anxiety and sympathetic nervous system being triggered, the meditation and mindfulness help to release or set in motion the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the calming factor, the calming system in the body. So there’s a lot of biological and neurological benefits to meditation.
K: You know, I think so many of us are feeling ultimate stress this last year and a half of the pandemic and , you know, a lot of our lives have shifted substantially because of that and I feel like what you’ve really said here is that mindfulness and meditation might be a really great tool to navigate those things – all the stress that so many of us might be carrying. This would be a great tool to use to kind of alleviate some of that feeling.
C: Absolutely. And, I’d like to, if it’s okay, to take a moment to address some of the misconceptions that people have about meditation.. Because people think of meditation and think: ‘oh, the woo-woo stuff’, or, like I said before, ‘I have to get my mind blank… I can’t erase my thoughts’ and it’s really not that, right? So meditation is the practice of being present, so your mind is going to wander. You expect your mind to wander. It wanders and then the practice is bringing it back. So, if the meditation is, let’s say a breath meditation, and you are noticing your breathing and the sounds around you and what’s happening in that moment, and your mind starts thinking about all of the things you have to do next, you notice it – ‘Okay, I’m taking my attention away from my breathing and I am not going to beat myself up over it, I’m just going to let that thought pass by, and I am going to bring my attention back to my breath.’ And that’s the practice, right? Meditation practice, not meditation perfect. So, a lot of people imagine they are supposed to be sitting for hours doing this or they imagine: ‘oh gosh, I have to go in and just erase my mind’ and they get all tense thinking about it and it’s not that. You expect your mind to wander and you bring it back – it goes back and forth. So, it’s learning a new skill. So, if you pick up a new instrument you’ve never played before, you’re not going to play it like a professional musician, right? You’re going to have to do things – do scales or skills and techniques over and over and over again – and then you build on it and that’s like meditation, right. The skills going back and forth – the mind wanders and you bring it back.
K: Oh, I’m so happy you said that because I know my first taste of meditation I felt like I was failing at it. I felt like, you know, I couldn’t get to that palace of complete thoughtlessness, if you will. I couldn’t get to that space, and I felt like I was supposed to reach this epiphany or this euphoria, and this magical spot and I just can’t ever get there so I completely gave up my practice thinking that I just failed. I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t perfect enough in my practice, right, so I know that so many people listening probably feel the same way about that.
C. Absolutely, and a lot of people say: ‘I can’t picture myself on the beach… I just can’t picture myself.’ You don’t have to picture yourself on the beach and you don’t have to do it for hours, and hours, and hours either. And that’s another misconception is people think I don’t have an hour to sit and do this, this feels like torture. You don’t have to. You can do it for two minutes, you can do it for five minutes, you can do it for one minute. It’s just taking a moment and noticing where you are, noticing how you are breathing, and then you take a couple of deep breaths, notice them, and then keep going. There’s some really good meditations, short meditations, online to help with that; but, you can do as little as a couple of minutes. I mean – you may want to build up on that. Some people do – I did. When I restarted with meditation I started with five minutes and it was hard.
K: Yes, yes – five minutes pretty seems like a lifetime when you first get back to it.
C: Yeah. Do it for 30 seconds. Set a timer and say I am just going to do this for 30 seconds – I am going to sit and be and my thoughts are going to come into my head and I am going to let them go by and just go back to just noticing where I am at and that’s it. And 30 seconds is up.
K: That feels so much more doable than, you know, an hour or two, which I feel like, like you said, is such a misconception. So many of us have that idea in our heads that we have to sit cross-legged, perfectly still, for, like, hours in order to cultivate this; but, the fact that you have said, you know, you can take just a few minutes sounds much more manageable and realistic.
C: And you get the benefits. I mean, even doing it for a few minutes a day gives you the benefits. There’s no: “you have to do this for two hours a day to get any benefits.” You are going to get benefits just from doing it for a few minutes at a time.
K: Yes, that’s great. Now, I’m curious how can the average person incorporate it into their day? Now, you’re saying we don’t need an hour or two, but should we practice at a certain time, or how often should we practice – what does that look like?
C: It really depends on what you are comfortable with. So, I practice in the morning – I would say within the first ten minutes of when I wake up, I am doing my meditation practice because for me it gives me that little bit more of energy I need and I get up and I get through my day; but that’s me. For other people, they may want to do it before they go to sleep or as they drift off into sleep, that’s okay. For other people, you could be at work, sitting at your desk or wherever you’re at and just say “okay, I am going to take a couple minutes on my lunch and just meditate.” I just take those few minutes to either pop in my guided meditation or I notice my breath, set my timer for a minute, and do that. It really depends on the individual, but I would say just experiment. Try it at different times throughout the day and see what feels comfortable for you.
K: Yes, so it sounds very much like you can take it with you anywhere, right? You can do it at work, you can do it when you have a few minutes – it really depends on how it fits into your schedule.
C: Absolutely, yes.
K: Now, I am curious because you mentioned the word sleep and I know sometimes when I practice I do fall asleep. Is that a bad thing or is that something we should just embrace?
C: No, that’s okay. Yeah, just embrace it. There are sleep meditations, there are meditations to help you with sleep, so yeah, absolutely embrace it, that’s okay, it’s all good.
K: That’s right. So again for so many of us, that brings on that feeling of failure, like: ‘oh man, I fell asleep during this’, but that’s okay – perhaps that’s what our body needs at that moment.
C: Exactly. That’s right. For some people they find meditation energizing and for some people they find it really relaxing and it helps them get to sleep. It’s just what your body knows it needs.
K: Now, that’s a really nice segue into kind of my next question – I am curious, is there a certain way we should feel when we are meditating? Like, should there be this big epiphany or like a wave of energy or relaxation that comes with it?
C: There can be, there doesn’t have to be. It’s not about reaching a destination, right? Meditation is the journey – it’s not about ‘okay, I have to arrive at this place; I have to have this euphoria.’ Meditation is the journey, so some people do – some people meditate on certain thoughts or ideas or if they have a question they may meditate specifically for that to find help within to find the answer; but, in general, it’s again the journey. So there isn’t an expectation. Don’t go into meditation with an expectation.
K: I like that. I feel like so many of us with anxiety, especially that perfectionism tendency, we feel like we need to get that space. Like, there is an endpoint, there is a destination we have to get to. It’s like unlocking that next level, but it sounds very much like that’s not the case at all. Everyone’s experience will be very personable for what they need at that moment.
C: Yes, yes. Absolutely.
K: Now, I know I’ve asked you a few questions here, but is there anything else you’d like to share about mindfulness and meditation before we try it?
C: Sure, what I would just like to really come across with is there are so many resources to start a meditation practice. You don’t have to go about it alone. I mean, there’s many apps – several apps – there’s websites. I started with UCLA – they have a Mindful Awareness Research Centre, so they do all of this research on mindfulness and meditation and on their site, UCLAhealth.org, they have some free meditations and one of them is a 5-minute breathing meditation that I recommend a lot to people who are just starting. You don’t have to do all 5 minutes.. ‘Ah, five minutes!’, but you don’t have to do the five minutes. So, that’s an excellent resource for also information about mindful awareness. That’s just a great site. Two apps that stand out to me – there’s Headspace, that seems to be pretty popular. People have heard of it, and it gives the practical use of meditation. It’s a free trial and then a monthly fee, but it’s the meditation without, as people say, the “woo-woo” stuff. But if you want the “woo-woo” stuff, you can go to Insight Timer, which also has an array of free meditations and they have, if you want to join, I think it’s like 20 dollars for a year. Their meditations do get more into the spiritual end of it, but, if you are into that, that’s awesome, and if you’re not, Headspace is really good or UCLA is really good. So, I want people to come away from this show and at least have a couple of directions to go if they want to start a practice.
K: Absolutely, these are fantastic. I know after the show I am going to download all of those apps and head to the UCLA website. Now, you mentioned the word ‘spiritual’ and I think so many of us connect mindfulness and meditation with spirituality. Is that always the case? Does it always have to have this spiritual link?
C: Meditation can be your meditation practice, so it’s personal to you. It can be spiritual, it doesn’t have to be. It’s really whatever you want it to be because it really is about just being in the moment. Again, you are taking that attention away from the wandering mind and bringing it back to what’s happening. And, if you feel drawn to having a spiritual connection that way, then absolutely. And some people don’t really want that, and that’s fine too. So, it’s so individualized. You can make it however you want to make it, however it’s going to work for you.
K: Yeah, I really appreciate that perspective because I think for so many of us we like to play the comparison game a little bit, and, you know, ‘should I be practicing the same way as the person next to me is practicing?’ But, it sounds like it’s very much individualized and everyone will have a different experience.
C: Yes. Absolutely. You can look at the person that is sitting next to you and be like ‘oh my gosh, they really know what they are doing. They are so into it.’ And they could say, ‘oh my gosh, I just can’t get my mind back to my breath.’ You don’t know, it’s all so individual.
K: So, why don’t we take a few minutes to practice a quick guided mindfulness meditation.
C: Sure. Absolutely. So, just get comfortable in your seat if you are sitting. Or, you may be sitting people, Kayla, or people listening may be laying down and that’s okay too. Whatever is comfortable.
And, when you are in that comfortable place, just take a long, slow deep breath in.
And then let that go.
And then take another, long, slow deep breath in.
And just gently let that go.
And then bring your attention to your breath. Just notice it, breathing naturally. Notice your breath floating in and floating out.
Just notice it – thoughts coming into your mind. And just notice them, just acknowledge them. And allow them to float by. There is no judgment, nothing to fix.
And just bring your attention back to your breath.
And you may find you have to do this several times, and that’s okay. Just keep bringing your attention back to your breath.
So, just slowly bring your attention down to your feet.
If they are touching the floor, just notice the floor beneath them, almost like they are taking root. Just notice if you have any tension in your feet, and if you do, send your breath there. Just as you breathe, just notice if you are holding any tension in your feet, and see if that relaxes.
Then we will bring our attention up our legs, our calves, our thighs. Notice if there is any tightness and send your breath there, and see if there is a release. And if not, that’s okay. There are no expectations. So, it may release or it may not. Wherever you are is exactly where you need to be.
Slowly bring your attention up to your seat, to your stomach, and lower back. This is one of the areas we hold a lot of tension in. So, we may clutch our buttocks, or we may feel a lot of pain in our lower back, or it aches. And just notice if you are feeling anything like that now.
And just continue to breathe naturally. And just send your breath there.
Notice if there is any release. Again, no expectations. See if it relaxes.
And then we will move up to our chest and our upper back, and other areas that kind of hold a lot of tension. So, when you’re here, just take a nice long, slow, deep breath in and just feel the expansion of your chest and your back. And then, just let that go. And see if that releases any tension, especially in our chest. See if it brings some relaxation.
Then we will move to our shoulders, our arms, our forearms, our wrists, our hands. And notice if there is any clenching, clenching the fist or the hand. Just notice it. See if noticing it helps it to release, even a little bit. Just notice yourself in this space.
And then we will move up to your neck, your throat. And notice if, again, if you are holding any tension or tightness, moving up into your jaw. A lot of times that’s connected. Just breathe naturally and just notice any feeling that is happening there. And if there is any release, that’s great, and if not, that’s okay too.
Move up to your face. Your cheeks, your nose, your eyes, your brow, the space between your eyebrows, forehead, and the back of your head and the top of your head. Again, we just notice – we don’t judge. There’s no supposed-to’s in this process. Just breathe naturally and see if you are holding any tension in those areas and allow it to release.
And just stay in this space for a moment, breathing naturally. Notice if there are any other areas of tension you want to send your breath to. If not, that’s okay. Where you are is exactly where you need to be. And just know that you can visit this space anytime you want.
So take a moment more and then, when you are ready, take a long, slow, deep breath in. And then let that go.
And then we will take one last long, slow, deep breath in. And let that go.
Then, when you are ready, you can start to wiggle your fingers, wiggle your toes. Feel yourself moving around.
Feel your breath deepen as you kind of come back to the room.
And then, when you feel ready, you can open your eyes.
K: Wow. That was incredible. I hope listeners could hear you talk over my loud breathing. But, truly, I do feel relaxed. That was really helpful for me. I noticed areas where I felt tension. And, I hadn’t really given them much thought before, so that was really helpful to just notice those parts of myself that maybe I have kind of been neglecting.
C: And, sometimes just noticing it helps it to release.
K: Absolutely. I noticed my jaw was completely clenched until, you know, you brought attention to it. And then I was like ‘oh, okay’ I noticed I’d been holding it like that for so long, so that was really nice to feel that release.
C: I’m glad.
K: One of my favourite parts of your meditation practice here was this idea of no supposed-to’s. What a nice reminder as we are practicing that we don’t need to show up, we just need to be where we are.
C: And that’s mindfulness. Being where we are. No supposed-to’s. No judgment. Being curious. Noticing those parts of ourselves. And just knowing where we are is okay. So that’s mindfulness right there.
K: I love that. So, I like to always end with the question of what listeners can get curious about this week. So, what do you hope listeners will get curious about this week?
C: Listeners can get curious about the possibility of looking into, or perhaps starting, a meditation practice in their life and what that might look like. Or, get curious about ‘hey, let me take a minute here to just notice my breath and not judge my thoughts and see what that might be like.’ Baby steps.
K: I think that’s something I need to get curious about too. So thank-you again for peaking our interests and getting us kind of connected to ourselves and this idea of mindfulness. And, Carol, I would like to have you back anytime on the show.
C: Aw, thank-you so much. This Has been so awesome. I appreciate you having me, Kayla.