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S2E15 Top hacks for getting into a meditation habit with Alison Potts

Listen to S2E15: Top hacks for getting into a meditation habit with Alison Potts

Alison teaches Instinctive Meditation, which is natural, healing and life-affirming. Alison is a meditation coach, wellbeing mentor, meditation teacher-trainer writer and teacher in self-care, meditation and wellness. Originally from the UK, she now lives in Brisbane, Australia with her husband and daughter.

Her work is dedicated to teaching practices for greater self-connection, self-worth and thriving, including yoga, meditation and personal coaching.  She runs sessions, workshops and retreats in Australia and overseas and in schools and workplaces. Her guided meditations on Soundcloud and Insight Timer have been listened to over a quarter of a million times.

She has trained intensively with Lorin Roche PhD – an author, meditation expert and the leading developer of instinctive meditation in the West – and has a 200 Hour Yoga Alliance certification with Pranava Meditation Teacher-Training. Largely due to her own healing journey with MS, she is passionate about teaching the power of cherishing our individuality and intuition, sharing practices to connection to our innate states of freedom, healing, creativity, spontaneity and joy.

Transcript

Episode transcript

Geoff Allix  00:00 

Hi everyone, Geoff Allix here, your host of the Living Well with MS podcast. To all our listeners. I hope you and your families are staying safe and healthy during this COVID 19 crisis. While social distancing and other restrictions may seem like a drag, in the long run, it will prove critical to stemming the tide of this epidemic and returning to a sense of normality. I have faith we will come out of this stronger, smarter and a bit more enlightened as a result. In the meantime, we at Overcoming MS and the whole team behind this podcast are here for you, to keep you informed and help you keep on track with your personal journey to a healthier you. Now on with the show. Today’s guest is Alison Potts. Alison is from the UK but moved to Brisbane, Australia in 2010. She was diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS in 1994, having had symptoms since her final year at university. Alison had a 20 year career with the BBC in London, and for the last 10 years has been a meditation, self care and well being coach, teacher and teacher trainer. Alison also creates guided meditations for SoundCloud, OMS and the App Insight Timer, and has had over a quarter of a million listens to date. So Alison, tell us about yourself and your experience having MS and following the OMS program. 

 
 

Alison Potts  01:22 

Well, I live in Australia now. But I’m British originally, and I’ve lived in Brisbane for the last 10 years. I’m now in my 50s. But I was diagnosed with MS when I was about, I think I was, 26 or 27. Having had symptoms for a few years. So actually, I can trace back symptoms to my final year at university. So all my adult life. And what I do now is I work in the field of well being and inner practice and meditation. And I’m a coach and a teacher and a teacher trainer. And I do workshops and run courses online and in the flesh. And I’ve been doing that for the last 10 years. But before that when I was in England, I worked in the media, I worked mainly for the BBC, both in production and publicity. 

 
 

Geoff Allix  02:19 

And so did you find out about OMS quite early on? 

 
 

Alison Potts  02:23 

I found out about OMS a few years ago, I’m not sure how long you guys have been going. But it appealed to me because I mean, basically my trajectory was that when I was diagnosed there was no medication. And there was a tendency for neurologists and medical people to just kind of leave you to get on with it yourself. And because I was young and very interested, I had just got married, I had just started my career at the BBC, you know, I had all the drive to do things. I felt that I was having all these setbacks, obviously regarding my health, and I didn’t really want to surrender to them. And what I wanted most of all was some sense of how I could look after this myself, the things I could do for myself. It being the case that, as I said, in terms of medical people, there wasn’t much they could offer. There was no treatment, there were no disease management drugs and so on. So I looked, quite early on, I looked into things like diet, obviously exercise, managing fatigue, and the usual kind of strategies that one needs to work with these kinds of symptoms. And I started learning for myself. And of course, there were some people, I don’t know if you’ve heard of her, Judy Graham. And yeah, she’s a real veteran in this area. She’s amazing. I mean, I got her book, she also was working with the BBC and as soon as I was diagnosed, my mum sent me her book. And that got me more on the path of understanding the implications of diet in particular, it took me longer to learn about things that I work with, and now with other people, you know about understanding your emotional life and your feelings and looking after your mental health, as well as your physical health and so on, which I think is a big part of wellness, to be honest, but I was sort of making it up as I was going along. I was experimenting, I was exploring. And when I found something that was useful, obviously I applied it, I was working with my lived experience, what I didn’t like in the world of MS in terms of you know, once the digital space opened up, because bear in mind, there wasn’t any internet either when I was diagnosed. What I didn’t like was, when i first looked at websites and forums, was that there was so much negativity, and I can understand that. I can understand that people are going through a lot, and they want to vent, and express their despair. But I don’t think it’s particularly healthy to read a lot of stories of people’s despair when one is on a path. You know in terms of healing and recovery and finding meaningful paths in life. You know, no matter that one has a condition or something going on with one. And I felt the bias was particularly negative. And I think that can be the problem with the internet, people who are happy and getting on with life, don’t tend to write about it. Whereas people who go through a hard time are looking, quite understandably, I’m not saying this with any judgement, you know, looking for ways in which they can get things off their chest and express how they’re feeling. But it wasn’t a healthy, I don’t find this a healthy place to be, I didn’t want to be in that kind of environment. And I found OMS actually, because I approached them with a blog I’d written. I realized on World MS day, a few years ago that, wow, it’s been 24 years since I was diagnosed. And I wanted to write, I wanted to reflect on what I had learned in my journey. And so I offered them the blog. And then, obviously, after you guys published the blog, I got very involved with OMS, and I supply meditations and so on, but what I really love about Overcoming MS is, not only are you covering exactly what my approach has been, I never did end up taking any medication, you know, an approach that involves diet, a holistic approach that involves diet, exercise, mental health strategies and so on, meditation and so on, but also tells a very positive and hopeful story, which is a fuller picture of what having MS is, and I think, particularly for people when they’re first diagnosed, a lot of people have these stereotypes about illnesses like MS, and they’re frightened, and they’re worried about what’s going to happen to them, they’re already dealing with a lot of difficulties. And exactly what you need at times like that are spaces like Overcoming MS, which are full of information, practical, tested information that you can use that will change things for you. And also read those inspiring stories, which aren’t happy spins on things. People can talk about problems, but you can talk about problems and also successes and strategies and solutions in the same conversation, can’t you? And I think that OMS does that really well. 

 
 

Geoff Allix  07:10 

Okay, so you mentioned meditation quite a bit, and what is your specific relationship to meditation? 

 
 

Alison Potts  07:17 

Well, I think like a lot of people, it’s something I discovered for myself quite early on in life, but probably didn’t call meditation. I’ve always been, since I was a child, I’ve always been very imaginative, very dreamy, I love nature. And it’s been very easy for me to relax into that space of dreaminess and driftiness, which is essentially the space of relaxation, and the meditative space, somewhere between sleeping and wakefulness, we have this nice mending state where our minds can, we can sort of release and relax and be with all our energies. When I was young, what that looked like to me was, I spent a lot of time sort of drawn, I think, at the end of the school day, in times like that, to be outside in my garden, whatever the weather, walking around, we had these apple trees, four apple trees, one in each corner of our garden and I’d sort of map a path and go into other worlds and be in my body and be aware of the air and the quality of light, all of those things which actually make up a good meditation. And I’m very, very interested in these kind of instinctive calls we have, to go into those sorts of spaces. So I actually pursued it into my university degree, which was in comparative religion and spirituality, which looked a lot at kind of psychology and neuroscience, as well as the history of religions and aspects of spiritual experience. And so it’s always been like something I’ve been fascinated by. And I realized with MS that one of, you know, one of the key ways the nervous, basically, we’re dealing with a disease of the nervous system or vulnerability within our nervous systems, our mind-body systems. And so anything which is, has where, you know, societies and cultures of all kinds from all over the world have worked with meditation in different ways. But essentially, it is for the nervous system. It’s for our mind-body system. And it’s an approach that connects us to our emotions and our minds and our physical bodies and our energy bodies in ways that not only tune us up and make us feel better, but they also inform us about the choices and the directions we want to take in our lives. We get to sort of see what’s going on in the inside. We get to listen to our bodies and what our bodies are telling us. We get to listen to what our emotions are telling us. And I think with something like MS. It’s just priceless to have that time and space, to keep up really with what’s happening and be kind to yourself, be nurturing in that space. Because I know that in my early years with MS. And I had an experience of feeling like I was losing my identity, I was losing a connection to the cell cycle. I was, you know, the one I used to be when I was healthy. And I was worried also about my future self being able to deliver on all kinds of plans and dreams I’d had. And in that respect, that’s, I think, where we can often maybe become more hyper, go into these spaces where we’re afraid, and we’re stressed. And of course, the stress state is, exactly the state that we’re trying to avoid, because we want to soothe and repair our nervous systems, and in any case, collaborate with healing, not with getting more wounded or injured, which stress can do. So I realized that there was a great connection between the sort of self care aspects of meditation and taking that me time and connecting to the inside. And also, meditation connects us to nature and the things we love. I realised there was a connection between that and healing. And I got interested in the work of, particularly, Herbert Benson, who first coined the phrase “relaxation response” at Harvard Medical School, and their Mind Body Institute, I got very interested in the biology of the process. But I got also interested in how people are meditating and in what ways and, you know, we hear about standard methods of meditation. But there are many more than the ones we hear about. And I was lucky enough that I was very interested in yoga. I was doing yoga regularly. And when we moved to Australia, 10 years ago, with my daughter, who was then 6, I think, and my husband, I forgot to mention my family. I thought, here’s an opportunity for me, I’d left the BBC, here is an opportunity for me to start a path doing these other things I’m interested in including yoga. And it was through my yoga practice that I met someone called Dr. Lorin Roche, who is quite well known, very well known, actually, for his work in the field of instinctive meditation. I’d studied mindfulness as well, when I was in England. And I love mindfulness. But it does have some, I think it has some limitations. That can put some people off and make it hard for people. So it’s nice to kind of enhance mindfulness and evolve other ideas and experiences into people’s experimentation with meditation. And so Lorin, I learned a lot from him. He’s actually in California, but he’d come to Australia a lot. And he trained me. And we had one to one sessions on Skype, we had sessions when he was here, he’s certified me 200 hours, yoga alliance, meditation training, I’ve also got a yoga teacher training. And from then on, I just, I developed my own business, I started coaching people, and so on everything I’ve already said about what I do. But of course, at the same time, I’m exploring things for my own practice. And I think one of the wonderful things about meditation is you can kind of invent and create and discover particular ways of practicing, and gateways into meditation that work for you specifically, and for your body and for what you’re going through and for what you need. And, you know, the people I coach, just find it becomes, as I have, this really welcoming space, it’s delicious, you want to do it, and when you do it, you’ve got a variety of ways, so you don’t get bored, and you can keep evolving those ways. And you feel better, and the feedback comes into your life. Because not only have I discovered, I used to get very, very fatigued, and now I get less fatigued. And what I used to do is I’d have these big swings, where I’d be so fatigued I couldn’t do anything. And for a long time, sometimes, you know, I wouldn’t know for how long and I know everybody listening to this will probably relate, you know, it’s going to be a day, a week, months, you know, half a year. But then I would eventually creep my way back up again. And then when I was up again, to be like, I want to do this, I’m gonna do that I want to use this energy before I lose it, which of course would bring me back down into burnout. And one of the things about being in a regular practice of meditation is you get to be with your inner rhythms, and your inner healing rhythms. This just happens automatically when you’re in your space, the relaxation response, and it gives you more of a sense of what is imbalance for you. And you know, believe it or not, Geoff, it’s really helped me in ways in which I can think I can’t, I’m not in touch with my energy. I feel tired. I’ve been restless, I think I need to do things and there are demands on me. I don’t know where to start. I can meditate you know, for about 10 minutes and come out knowing right, well, I’m going to cancel that appointment. I’m going to prioritize doing this today. I won’t meet up with so and so next week. I think it’ll feel better to me to have a space in my diary, but I’ll see if I can meet up with them the following week. I’m going to take a nap this afternoon, we’re gonna get some, you know, go for a walk, you make these very crucial decisions that we,who are looking after our energy bodies so carefully, need to make in the outer world. And it’s something that I’d love people to understand about meditation, it’s not just about kind of, it’s not really in any way about escaping from life for a while. And then just going back into all again, having had a little bit, maybe a bit of a rest or, and relax, it really is about cultivating ways of tuning into what is imbalanced for you. 

 
 

Geoff Allix  15:35 

So actually that time spent meditating could be, you’re not wasting the time, you actually could, more than gain the time back because of prioritizing and doing things properly. 

 
 

Alison Potts  15:47 

That’s the skill. That’s the skill, you know, in meditation, we can learn certain skills. And that’s exactly right. It’s, you know, there’s a reason we’re wired for these states of meditation. You know, if you think about our early ancestors, they were living these highly stressful lives trying to keep everything going. And they were physically very active, and they needed very quick ways to rest and repair their body. And at the same time, the whole energy body, you know, and they were very vigilant people when you think about it, because they had to be because they were in genuine danger all the time. But at the same time, we know they were very hearty well people, which is, obviously how we have a planet and a population now. And what we know from archaeology and oral narrative, and all the ways that we can find out about people in prehistory, is that they did have a huge appreciation, for example, for nature, and they did have time to do the sorts of things that we love doing like, you know, gaze out at a body of water, or play with our children, or, you know, the women would be rocking the baby, you know, they looked up at the stars that, you know, they managed to create whole astrological maps. So we know they had time to really feel into those kind of connections we have with a universe, that is meditative. And while they were having those, you know, special experiences of intimacy with life, in the background, their bodies, were going through the cycles of rest, repair, recovery, renewal, that happens when we’re in the state of relaxation, and priming them to be alert for what they had to do, you know, the important and difficult lives, the physical and mental lives that they had to go back into, it’s a very elegant thing that our body thrives in. So you know, you said a waste of time, and I do think people worry about is it kind of doing nothing? Is it kind of a waste of time? And knowing that it isn’t, and knowing that actually it is everything you need in one package. And that if it feels like a waste of time, there are things you can do to make it more interesting and feel less wasteful. I think that’s very powerful. 

 
 

Geoff Allix  18:06 

We’ve had a lot of podcasts where I asked people, what are the hardest things with implementing the OMS program. And by far the most common response, I would say at least 90% of the time, it’s people saying that meditation and mindfulness is the hardest thing to implement. So what do you find are the main obstacles that people find in actually having a regular meditation practice? 

 
 

Alison Potts  18:35 

I find from what people say to me and bear in mind, I’ve talked to hundreds of people about meditation over the years. And I can tell from the chatter on the internet, that the main obstacles really fall into two categories. One is that people have all these ideas and stereotypes about meditation, they’ve read things, that there’s this kind of one size fits all thing, that should work for everyone. It involves sitting and blocking your thoughts and feelings and focusing on your breath. And it involves work and it involves discipline and you have to concentrate. And the second prohibitor I think, or barrier for people tends to be, which you alluded to earlier, the kind of doing nothing and wasting time idea, is that they shouldn’t be taking time and space for themselves. That self care itself is kind of you know, that this could be seen as being lazy or idle or other people need them more than they, you know, they should be looking after other people. So the barriers that are sort of external ones and internal ones, and I can address those briefly, if you like because it gives you a summary. I think it’s really helpful for people to understand where some of this meditation chatter comes from and then forget about it. Meditation has existed all over the world. And people have been meditating in their own way and having their own techniques since time began. But the meditation that we know about in the West, came through a very enthusiastic branch where a lot was recorded. But it was certain practices, practiced by certain people, and these practices were practiced mainly by monks, these practices come through monastic Buddhism, and more of the kind of priestly parts of India. And what you’re looking at then is that people were describing and developing techniques for their lives, which involves being celibate, not having a job, not having a relationship, not having any possessions, living away from home, not having a home, living in an ashram, not even making or doing anything creative, like putting a picture on the wall. And they dedicated their lives to this work in a respectful manner. I mean, we can honor the tradition. But what has happened is that there’s some of the language that we see floating around the meditation scene about witnessing and detaching and blocking, that comes from, specifically the techniques that were developed through these lineages, which absolutely involves sitting in lotus, and thinking, you know, focusing on anchoring your attention to the extent you wouldn’t be thinking about what you could be doing if you weren’t a monk, because you’ve made vows, you’ve made vows to never make money, to give up all your possessions, never, you know, get into a relationship. And so the last thing you want is that any of those, you know, what we’re talking about here is natural impulses of being a person aren’t they, our sensuality, our desire to build things, our desire for pleasure. These are all healthy things that we have, that are life enhancing. And what these practices were there to develop was a way of getting, you know, ascending or transcending from any of those feelings, which is hard work and almost impossible, easy for a monk because they didn’t really, well, not probably not easy, I don’t know, we don’t know whether they were accomplished any of these things, but they were away from towns and places where things were going on. But we people, our lineage, if you want to think about in terms of what our lineage is, right? We were what, in yoga we call householders we are people who do have jobs and we have lives of love. And we’re interested in doing things and we’re interested in being healthy, and we’re interested in pleasure and we’re interested in connections and helping people and building relationships and buying houses and building a life for ourselves. And that requires a different kind of practice. For us to be able to engage with life requires different practices than for people who require disengagement. Does that make sense to you, Geoff? 

 
 

Geoff Allix  22:59 

Yes, no, absolutely. And no, I agree. Even now, a lot of the guided meditations will still have gongs sounding. And there’s sort of some carry overs if you like. 

 
 

Alison Potts  23:14 

Yeah, and you know, some of these traditions, some of the things, we can be informed by these traditions, I quite like a sound bowl or singing bowl. And I’ve got, you know, like, some of these things are very beautiful practices, yoga is beautiful. Just as you know, early martial arts practices like Tai Chi are beautiful. We’re not knocking the tradition, but what we’re talking about in meditation is our mental health, our inner life, our personal private space, and what we do there, and what’s imposed from the outside on there matters, you know, there’s an amplification of our experience. We all know that, you know, and when we’re in the inside, and just, unfortunately, people are reciting scripts and guiding meditations using language, which is beating people up a little bit in saying, be quiet, sit still, calm down, shut up. And so if someone’s feeling restless, if someone’s got pain in their body, you know, this is inflammation. I think one thing we learned from MS. We’re very skilled at this, we’re very skilled people, we learn to really understand how our body gives us information. We know more about this than a lot of people who are, you know, quote unquote, healthy. And why would we go into a space, an inner world space, and take this time to then block all those messages out, when we could be going into our instinctive beings to listen more to our body’s intuition and to what it’s telling us. You know, it’s like our bodies are saying I’m tired or I’m sad or I’m really, really frustrated and by taking those notes we can be like, if I’m restless in meditation, I move, I do some kind of movement. I meditate while I’m walking or swimming or, you know, doing some yoga or even if I’m too tired to move, then but I still feel like my body needs some movement, you know, just some stretching, just some wriggling, you know, you see kids doing it, they just wriggle if they want to wriggle, animals wriggle if they want to wriggle, people should wriggle if they want to wriggle. And there’s this idea that meditation is like, you must be still, you must calm down, you’re gonna impose all these demands and conditions on and I think what puts people off is they see, these are more demands, more requirements, and I have to get up at a certain time. And it’s just another, it’s another stress. And this is like, this is such a disconnect, because actually, meditation is about de-stressing. And your body knows how to do that, if you collaborate with it. So if you invite your body, in delicious ways, into de-stressing, ways which all of us know because we do them naturally, when we take a lovely warm bath, or when we take a walk on the beach, when we make love, when we sit and sip a beautiful drink for a while slowly, you know, we are then queuing our body to do what it knows how to do. And we can take a note from that, we can either decide to be taught by monks and lose our vibrancy and lose our sense of connection to ourselves, which is important, very important, or we can offer ourselves up to our wise, instinctive beings. Our bodies are intelligent, they know how to go through this healing and repair, even bodies with MS. And we want that, we do, we want to harness that. And we do want to build those strong neural connections, don’t we? We want our body to get very familiar with the state of ease, the state of relaxation, and the state of pleasure. And those sorts of highly healing states. Do we want to get our bodies familiar with a sense of demand and concentration and focus and blocking, which I, as a person who has dealt with so much, so much physically and mentally in my journey with MS certainly do not find appealing. So that’s people’s idea of meditation, or those are the kinds of practices that are being taught, you’re listening to on guided meditations, so then they are quite right not to do them, I would say you shouldn’t meditate in a way that makes you feel bad. You know, because you also hear people saying, I failed to meditate, or I’m a bad meditator. And what they’re doing is, they’re just using the wrong technique. There’s nothing wrong, but what they’re then saying, they’re making themselves feel bad for no reason. They were just taking, it’s sort of like taking medicine that was never made for you, it’s not going to make you feel better and probably make you feel worse. And you shouldn’t really do that. 

 
 

Geoff Allix  27:40 

Yeah, and there are so many guided meditations now that you don’t, even if you vaguely just, it may even just be the sound of someone’s voice. And they’ve done nothing wrong at all. There’s perfect meditation is just, it maybe just grates a little. And you think, okay, well, there’s, there’s so many more that you can just kind of find another one. 

 
 

Alison Potts  27:58 

Yeah, well it does grate and if you feel you’re going to be grated on by a voice, or the words are making you feel bad in some way. Stop doing that meditation, you know, be rebellious. So you’re allowed to be rebellious, be yourself and this is your inner space, right. There are no meditation police, no one’s watching you on the inside, you can do anything you want in there. And I think people trust that every script is, you know, it’s one size fits all, a meditation that I don’t like might be balm to another person. This isn’t so much about the meditation itself. It’s about what do you need? And what do you respond to? What do you like, and, you know, one thing I recommend is, you don’t even need to listen to a guided meditation, but you might make a playlist of the music that you know, really shifts your mood and you know, music that has a playlist that might start you know, really upbeat, and then go down into relaxation, they’ve done some really interesting research to say that if your body is stressed and your mind is stressed, which is the perfect state to decide to meditate from, because time to de-stress, a great way to help yourself unwind is to make a playlist where the music at the beginning, (this is an experiment done at Stanford by the way), the music at the beginning kind of echoes your mood, you know, like lots of drum and bass I guess or whatever, whatever it might be, dramatic orchestral music, your hyped up mood and then gradually moves from piece to piece or song to song of going into more chill more, you know, sweeter, slower, whatever tender music. And they found that that kind of maps the relaxation response and also that people, then people get you know, the whole, they flush that stress out of their nervous system and because their body’s kind of aligning with music, we know that music works very interestingly on our brains and our mind body state. 

 
 

Geoff Allix  29:54 

So you’re not jumping straight into the relaxation, you’re actually mirroring your current mood. 

 
 

Alison Potts  29:58 

Yeah, that’s the way that we biologically relax. Has anyone ever said to you, Geoff, you’ve been stressed and annoyed. And they’ve said, just relax, take a chill pill. Does that work? Literally, I mean, if there is a good chill pill, and that’s fine. But, you know, like, does that really work? We know it doesn’t work, but it doesn’t work because the body, what happens when we go into a state of relaxation is, you know, imagine we’ve we’ve been doing lots of things in the world, but we’ve been busy doing them. So we’re in the action phase, we’re in sympathetic nervous system. When we slide into parasympathetic, which is the state of relaxation, and healing, what we’re doing is, we are beginning to, the outside is quietening down, right, and our body is beginning to feel the noise of everything that’s been going on. But we haven’t really had a chance to take note of that, we’re in this heightened state of awareness. So for example, you know, have you ever relaxed for a minute and thought, oh, my gosh, my neck hurts, my shoulders hurt, but you didn’t notice it until you relaxed or your brain gets particularly busy or full of thoughts. Do you see that some meditators think this is a problem, I’m relaxing, this shouldn’t be happening, but is exactly what should be happening. It is exactly what happens in the relaxation response. While we are witnessing our background tension being flushed through our nervous system, as we begin to unwind, we feel the tension that has been going on all the time, we’re just feeling it like a massage, you know, when you go for a massage, and at first, it’s like ouch, ouch. And then it’s like, ah, the muscles release, or acupuncture, I’ve had quite a lot of acupuncture with MS. And when they first put the needle on your muscle, they actually tense. And then there’s this amazing release that feels so good as your energy on blocks. And it’s the same process that happens in meditation and relaxation, which is that we feel this kind of ouch ah rhythm. At first, it’s a bit hurty we’re having all these thoughts, maybe stressful thoughts, we’re feeling the aches and pains of our body. And the advice to the meditator is, don’t worry about that, that means things are going, things are working. And the more you can just enjoy hanging out with a good thought, enjoying your breathing, feeling into your body, feel the feelings in your body, just take a bath, and then the more you will begin to feel that massage effect. Things will find their rhythm. Meditation is integrative. Our bodies are integrative. You know, that means all the little parts of us that have been separately feeling things and thinking things are coming together, like they’re on Facebook, and they’re all making Facebook friends and their friends are making Facebook friends and you’re kind of creating a forum like an inner democracy, everything’s catching up with each other. But this is all background processing, which we’re showing up for. And we’re showing up, agreeing that we’ll tolerate this unwinding process. And I really like that music. I think that technique’s a really easy technique for people to learn and use. I mean, it might not work for you, but it’s worth trying. 

 
 

Geoff Allix  29:58 

Yeah, no. And it’s very, it’s very personal as well, isn’t it, because it’s the music that you relate to, the music that you love, drum and bass, or it could be a dramatic orchestral piece. Yeah, it’s for yourself. And I see you’ve given us quite a lot of tips already. But do you have any further tips for getting into a good meditation practice? 

 
 

Alison Potts  33:28 

The first thing I would recommend is that, which is exactly what you just said, Geoff, make it personal. This is about what you like,you’re going into your inner life, greeting yourself and no one knows you better than you. And, you know, you’ve journeyed with yourself since the beginning of time. So as you begin to, you know, find, explore this meditation groove that you’re trying to find, think about what you really need and what you really desire. Because that helps orientate you towards using meditation as a way of meeting your personal needs. So an example of that could be you need to feel some space, you know, maybe in lockdown and you know, some people are feeling a bit claustrophobic, they’re in small spaces with lots of people. So your gateway into meditation might be literally taking yourself outside and being under the sky for a while and looking up at the sky and the clouds and feeling the vastness or remembering a time when you felt very spacious, you are in a beautiful land you know, the summer here like Australia, you know, you’re on a boat looking out over the water and just feel that into your body for a while. It’s very clever how we can shift into the state, the desired state, just by not thinking about it, but feeling it, breathing with the sensations, revisiting it in our body. And then a second tip would be, similar to that really, just become acquainted with your natural spontaneous meditation moments, you know, and they can be moments like these, these moments we have in life which are naturally meditative, where we’re just suddenly drawn to something, to linger with it, sometimes just for a few seconds, like you might be walking in a hurry down your garden path to jump in the car to pick up the kids from school, or whatever. And you’re kind of bit stressed about it. But as you go down your garden path, you get a nice strong scent of some jasmine that is growing in your garden. And for a moment, you just stop and take a breath of that jasmine infused air. And your body just feels itself shift away from those stressful thoughts for a moment, same and it shifts you as you go forth into life, maybe you slow down on your way to the car, and so on. Same thing, if you love the moon, or a sunset, or the ocean, or get lost in a piece of music that sends you to another world. Or, you know, when you’re eating or drinking something that you just want to go, I just want to, I want everyone to be quiet. So I can just taste this last bite of cake or whatever. There’s this feeling of personal intimacy, we’re in our happy place, something’s affected us and those moments are spontaneous and then meditative. And if you understand that, and you understand that during those moments, you’re not blocking your thoughts. You’re not worried about all these meditation instructions that some boring meditation instructor has told you to follow. You’re just in the moment, if you can bring that degree of personal preference and naturalness into your more formal practices. I don’t like the word formal, I usually say you’re more intentional practices, you know, I know I need to meditate now and use some me time, if that is, you know, a brilliant way of feeling into how wonderful and delightful meditation can be. And you know, in instinctive meditation, we call these meditation gateways. So you might indeed make your gateway sitting outside and looking at the stars, if you love the stars, if you love your morning cup of coffee, then it’s been really devoted to enjoying, hugging the mug, letting the steam touch your face, slowly sipping that coffee, you know, it’s opening our senses to what we love, and allowing our bodies to do that amazing shift they do when we do that. We can go through any gateway into meditation, it can be a bath it can be a shower, it can be a memory you cherish. Think of meditation as a space where you look after yourself. You’re paying attention to yourself, and be really loving and warm and kind. So rather than going into the space thinking, I’m going to abandon and detach from myself, or just watch myself from a distance or try and not think or feel, go into the space thinking, how loving and compassionate and curious can I be, the kind of space you would want to offer if a friend came to see you who just wanted to either fall apart or celebrate something with you know, they don’t want to hide their big emotions, they want you to share in them, with them, and hold space. So it’s that kind of attitude. And it’s like, this isn’t easy. Anything isn’t easy for some people that’s being nice to themselves when they shoot into the inside. But what we’re doing Geoff is we’re cultivating skills in meditation. So if you can decide, well, for two minutes, I’m going to try and be nice to myself, you know, and then you can go some people have problems with that, right? They don’t they don’t like what they see and then you can breathe with yourself and agree to feel and send loving thoughts, even talk to yourself out loud. Say sorry, when you hear yourself beating yourself up. You can say sorry, forgive yourself a million times, every time you have a thought that beats you up know, if you can do that for two minutes, next time do it for three minutes, next five minutes, it becomes intuitive and we find then we are nicer to ourselves as we go around our lives. And I think most people with MS know that, you know, if you can capture this inner nuturer and have your own back. That feeling that you’re an ally to yourself, you can deal with what you have to deal with in a condition like we have. Let your body have its own experience, you know,  it’s not a performance, there’s not an outcome, if you look for an outcome you probably won’t get it, if you allow your body to go on a journey, you are going to get some lovely experiences. I mean, I’ve got the privilege of hearing the inside of people’s meditations, my clients tell me what’s happened and you know, what looks like drifting off and daydreaming to one person there’s someone else meeting their grandmother who died last year but having a chat with them. It’s remembering something they’ve forgotten about themselves or about life that’s uplifting. It’s feeling a sense of romance. Bring that you know they’re loved or that life is lovable. You know, when we drift and dream, we get these good intuitions, don’t we, that are truthful and helpful. And so I say go on the journey. When I guide people in meditation, I always say at the beginning, you know, don’t attach to my words, but it’s nice to help people. It’s nice to give people a bit of progressive relaxation, it’s nice to offer people some invitations of things to try, invite people into their breath and their body. But once you’re there, then I go, you know, at some point I go, you won’t hear my voice again until the end, and it’s time to transition have your own private journey, and that really does mean, see what happens, you know. And don’t worry about big feelings coming through, passionate feelings, we should, we should enjoy those and let them be, they’re a circulation inside of us and repressing them is not helpful, not helpful to us psychologically or physically.  

 
 

Geoff Allix  40:53 

I think a lot of meditation, they’re saying, if thoughts come up, you need to put them to one side, you feel that there’s something wrong with having feelings and thoughts while you’re meditating. But you’re saying that’s not always the case. 

 
 

Alison Potts  41:12 

That brain shaming, that brain shaming, you would never say to someone in a yoga class, you know, your thighs are really fat, you know, how dare you come to class with that saggy belly, but we put out these instructions, or I don’t personally, but people do saying, you know, bad mind, naughty mind, thinking mind, drifting mind, monkey mind, you know? And it’s like, if you want to make people artificially suffer in meditation, tell them not to have thoughts, because it is natural for us to have thoughts. We have billions of neurons, how many do we have, trillions probably, in our brains, and we want to have them. And it’s, you know, our minds are magnificent things. But the other thing is they have things that they want to tell us. And because we’re  often so busy, or we’re beating ourselves up or, you know, we’re often sort of saying go away thoughts, go away, you know, or you’re bad thoughts anyway, we want to bring that into this space of healing. And so the main attitude to have in meditation is welcome. Welcome all your energies, where they are all a circulation of lifeforce energy inside you, your thoughts are not bad things. They don’t need to be swatted away like flies, they don’t need to be squashed. But, you know, and you can drift away and drifting away is a sign you’re going deeper. So really, I mean, a simple way of thinking about it, if you start to get those ideas, when thoughts come into your head that something’s gone wrong, Is to A) recognize this is a healthy part of meditation. And B) to also say, look, I’m not a monk, I can think if I want to, you know, my practice is not to abandon myself in meditation, and what we find is that as soon as people realize it’s okay to think they get very relaxed about thinking. And then you get that lovely kind of headspace where your thoughts aren’t really bothering you, they’re giving you some information, and you’re engaging with them in a way that’s friendly and helpful. You know, which, you know, our self talk, we’re sometimes not aware of how we’re not very nice to ourselves, and the way we think about ourselves or talk to ourselves, we get aware of that in meditation, and we can literally engage, we can talk to ourselves in meditation, send love to those, those places that are just wounded places, you know, for some reason, something happened to us or someone says something to us and it’s set up these ways in which we fight ourselves internally. It’s a great place to make peace with ourselves, you know There’s lovely forgiveness meditations, there are some lovely loving kindness meditations. There are apps like Insight Timer, where you can literally look up under what you need, and find a meditation. If you want a guided meditation to help you with that thing. Where you can meditate on your own and, you know, do a wonderful job, with your music or, you know, a cat purring on your lap or what makes you feel comfortable and good and able to go into your inner space. 

 
 Geoff Allix  44:10 

Do you think that you could give us a quick brief guided meditation for our listeners now? 

 
 Alison Potts  44:16 

Yeah. How quick would you like it to be? 

  

Geoff Allix  44:19 

Just five minutes would be fantasstic. 

  

Alison Potts  44:22 

Five minutes? Okay, great. All right. Well, first of all, give yourself some time to settle into your body and you don’t have to change a thing. You don’t have to change the way you’re sitting. Unless it’s to make yourself feel more comfortable. You can stay standing up, you can lie down if you like. Find what your body needs. 

  

Alison Potts  44:57 

And wherever you are, feel the earth underneath you, the ground. So even if you’re sitting on a chair or lying on a bed underneath you is the planet, the earth. And she’s strong and stable. She offers all this goodness up. And feel in your body, the parts of you that are making contact with the earth, you can feel that where you’re connecting to the chair, the bed, the ground. Maybe as you feel you can send some breath to those places that are connected to the earth, as if you have invisible roots, okay, from your body downwards. And you can surrender to gravity, surrender to those roots and simply drop the weight of your bones to the earth. Let her have you. 

 
 

Alison Potts  46:00 

And then you can take a nice deep breath in and a nice, long full breath out. Begin to connect to these luxurious waves of breath inside of you. It can feel really good to feel breath in your belly, filling you up all the way to your neck and shoulders. And then rolling back down like the tide through your being to the earth again. Begin to enjoy feeling the flow of your own breath in your own body. The way your breath is filling your own private inner space. With each breath in there’s a sense of filling, an expansion on the inside. And with every breath you release, a sense of letting go, releasing stress, surrendering your body to the earth. Enjoy that flow, breathing in you fill with inner space, breathing out, you release. Let go, breathing in your breathing in all the atoms and molecules of air, of life. And breathing out you’re sending some of the life inside of you back into the air outside. Yes, this intimacy breathing in the oxygen that the plants and grass and flowers and trees send you and breathing back to them the carbon dioxide that makes all the green things grow, this is the pleasure of breathing with life, and ourselves. 

 
 

Alison Potts  48:39 

Take another breath in and as you breathe in, feel the words I AM IN HERE. Breathing through your body as you breathe out. I am in here, what is the thought you could have right now that would give you pleasure just to breathe with it for another minute. A thought of a person or a place, something you love. Have a minute breathing with that thought and what comes, take your journey. You won’t hear my voice again. So it’s time to transition. 

 
 

Alison Potts  50:20 

Now beginning to think about rising up and awakening, again, from your special private time. Is there anything you’d like to ask yourself, or say to yourself in these last few moments? And then you can thank yourself, thank your body, thank your heart. Thank your very precious Spirit. For the gift that you are and the gifts that you have, for this time. I look forward to the next time, you can take some breaths and some space with yourself. And gently now taking some clearer, longer breaths, connecting to your body, feeling it again, allowing it to show you some organic movement at once, spark all your fingers and toes, have a stretch, nod your head, roll your neck, whatever feels good. Allow yourself to gently come back again. And when your eyes do open, keep your gaze soft for some moments. 

 
 

Alison Potts  51:45 

While you’re still slightly between these worlds, letting the life you’re about to move into the shapes, the colors or textures. Gently assimilate for your view. And when you’re ready, spend as long as you like here, but when you’re ready, go forth back into your day. Glad of yourself, and glad of life. 

 
 

Geoff Allix  52:24 

Thank you very much for that. I certainly feel absolutely great after that. 

 
 

Alison Potts  52:29 

Oh, good.  

 
 

Geoff Allix  52:32 

And could you, just to wrap up. Are there any final words of wisdom for our listeners? 

 
 

Alison Potts  52:42 

I would like to just speak from my personal experience really to say that, you know, I know that a lot of people think of meditation as, either something that’s hard or a bit of a luxury item or something that some people can do and some people can’t. And I just hope that you will consider it something you already do in your life. You know, you have these meditative moments and your mind body knows what to do. And it’s really about choosing ways in which you want to give yourself space to be with your body and your breath and your feelings. And get excited about exploring that. And you don’t have to, you know, first you don’t have to spend a particular amount of time on it. Really, when you’re starting any practice, you want to remain in love with it. So give yourself the amount of time that feels right for you don’t force yourself to stay, you’ve got all the time in the world. And the more that you find you love doing it, the more you’ll want to do it. And you’ll just find that you naturally want to spend more time doing it more often. 

 
 

Geoff Allix  53:46 

Thank you. And thank you very much, Alison, for joining us on the Living Well with MS podcast. 

 
 

Alison Potts  53:52 

Thanks so much, and thanks for all you do. And good luck everyone. 

 
 

Geoff Allix  53:55 

With that, I would like to thank you all for listening to this episode of Living Well with MS. Remember that there is a wealth of information at overcomingms.org, including show notes, and an archive of all Living Well with MS episodes. Once again, that’s overcomingms.org. There you can also find OMS friendly recipes and exercise tips. Connect with other OMSers in your local area. There are OMS circles program, and learn about the latest research going on in the MS world generally and related to OMS specifically. I encourage you to register on the site and stay informed about the latest news and updates. I also encourage you to subscribe to this podcast, so you never miss an episode. And please feel free to share it with others who might find it of value. Let us know what you think about the podcast by leaving a review. And if you have ideas for future episodes, we’d love to hear from you. So please contact us via our website overcomingms.org Thanks again for listening, and for joining me on this journey to Overcoming MS and living well with multiple sclerosis. I’m Geoff Allix and I’ll see you next time. 

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