Free meditations for you -- from my closet

Insight Timer Meditation

Insight Timer Meditation

Hey lovely people, 

I am beyond thrilled about this. I have teamed up with the Insight Timer app to offer you guided meditations - all for free! Just download the app, and search for my name, or listen online.

There is one beginner-friendly mediation on there now, with more to come. I really do record these in my closet, and I am so grateful that I now have a platform that is free and widely available. 

I am so passionate about meditation as a tool for anxiety and depression. It has been such a game-changer for me. I know there are many misconceptions about what meditation is, and everyone tends to think that their brain is just too busy to meditate. But everyone's brain is busy. That's the job of the brain. Learning to use your breath and awareness of your thoughts can be the key to finding a little bit of stillness in the middle of the chaos.

It is absolutely hard work. And it's absolutely worth it. 

wishing you peace,

~Lisa 

PS. Want to kick your meditation up a notch? Join me on a retreat!


Meditation for People Who Can't Meditate: an audio guide

"Meditation suffers from a towering PR problem."

-Dan Harris, 10% Happierscreen-shot-2016-09-21-at-8-51-33-am.png

People tell me all the time that they can't meditate -- they tried it and their minds are spinning wildly and they can't stop their thoughts.

I’m sorry to break this to you because I'm sure you are an absolutely delightful person: but your brain is not special. It’s not.

That is what everyone’s brain does. It's your brain’s job to always look for problems. That’s how it has kept you alive.

Saying you can't meditate because you can't stop your thoughts is like saying you can't play basketball because you aren't a unicorn. Of course you are not a unicorn and of course you can't stop your thoughts.

Luckily, we're not trying to stop our thoughts when we meditate. We're just trying to shift our relationship with them and realize those manic thoughts don't have to run our whole damn lives.

Meditation was an absolute game-changer for me - it helped me get a handle on my anxiety and depression, and I believe it can help everyone.  It's not woo-woo hippie stuff. It's science.

For me, meditation is like brushing my teeth. It might not be a thrilling activity, but it's vital to my health. And it makes me much more pleasant to be around. Trust me. 

I made a little guided meditation audio for you, dear person who thinks they can't meditate. The mediation part is just five minutes - you can totally handle that. Five minutes. Once a day. Not a BFD.

Happy breathing, everyone.

(And if you're interested in learning more, I write extensively on meditation in my new book Not Just Me: anxiety, depression, and learning to embrace your weird.)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBfkjgYg71Q&w=560&h=315]

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"To be completely honest..."

"I hate that phrase --  'to be completely honest.' Why do people say that? As if I want you to lie to me."

My friend was saying this as he and I were sitting at an outdoor bar that has swings instead of seats. We were trying to solve the problems of the world over beer and french fries. So why do people start off this way when they are about to admit something difficult about their lives?

It does seem like a silly caveat, but of course there is a reason we feel the need to ramp up like that. We live in a culture where someone says how are you and the other person says I'm fine. It's an automatic exchange. We live in a world of the thoroughly filtered selfie, the cherry-picked Facebook photo, the emotions boiled down to emojis.

It feels safe and easy to wade in these tepid, shallow relationship waters in which we risk nothing. We learn nothing. We are never vulnerable and we miss the opportunity to create a more meaningful relationship.

My dog, Grace, passed away two weeks ago. She was my best friend, my writing partner and my muse - and I am struggling to put words to my heartbreak.

I'm sad.

But I want to put a better spin on it. I don't want to make other people uncomfortable. I don't want them to think they need to do anything for me. I don't want them to worry.

But to be completely honest, my anxiety is acting up.

To be completely honest, I find it hard to focus.

To be completely honest, I cry a lot.

And this is the part where I'm supposed to pretty up my sadness and say things about how lucky we were to have Grace and how much she taught me and how someday I'll learn how to work and walk and breathe without her. I'll be okay.

It's all true.

But to be completely honest, I just miss my best friend.

When we are finally open about how we really feel, it's tempting to follow up with an apology because it feels too vulnerable, too honest. We feel guilty about having those not-so positive emotions - but that is just part of the human experience. Sadness, disappointment and loss are inevitable. I look around at the things that are going on in the world and every morning it seems there is news of more brokenness. There are real, massive, deeply troubling problems.  Many of us are struggling and many of us are not talking about it. But talking about it is what we need most.

When another friend asked me how I was doing - she really asked, looking deeply into my eyes -  I fell into her arms and sobbed in a yoga change room. Afterwards, I was tempted to apologize for my public melt-down, the open display of my true emotions.

But  I wasn't sorry.

So I sent her this. And with that show of gratitude and a heart emoji, I healed my own heart a little bit.

All while being completely honest.

 

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*****

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Embrace Your Weird event tonight in Virginia

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 8.02.31 AM Hi all,

I'm thrilled to be giving a talk tonight in Charlottesville, Virginia. The event is called Embrace Your Weird: from Anxiety to Authenticity and it's based on the new book that I am writing. There is even a whole fancy Power Point thingy.

Many of us are afraid to talk about anxiety, depression and panic attacks – it’s about time we change that. This talk is a deeply personal exploration of mental health, told with compassion and humor. It’s a hopeful, entertaining and enlightening look at the root causes of anxiety, the results of the latest research and ideas for how to manage stress in your own life.

The event is free and open to the public, as part of Retreat Week at Ix Art Park. For more information and to RSVP, please click here. 

And in case you were wondering, yes, I'm feeling very anxious about giving an anxiety talk. But I'm gonna to do it anyway.

with love,

~Lisa

 

Why I will do yoga until the day I die

IMG_0922 Yeah, I know. That’s a big statement. Especially for me.

I can have some bandwagon tendencies. I jump on and ride along for about six months until a more interesting wagon rolls on by. For a while, thought I needed to buy a potter's wheel, I looked for apartments to rent in South Africa and went through a phase where thought I really needed to be able to read hieroglyphs.

This is different. Yoga is a keeper. This is a lifelong practice for me and if I ever stop doing it, someone needs to kick my ass back on to the mat because I’ve temporarily lost my mind.

Yoga taught me how manage my panic attacks and anxiety, it has lessened my depression and made me a much happier person. It's made my marriage stronger and has given me the supportive community that I've always wanted.

And then there is the physical stuff.

When I was 11 years old, I broke my back. I was working on a film called Rambling Rose, and in a freak accident in the school room, I crushed three vertebrae between my shoulder blades and I got whiplash in my lower back. It's not even an interesting story, I pushed myself back to get out of a chair, the wheels got caught, I fell backward, hit the wall and snapped forward. I'd really rather tell you I was saving kittens from a burning building, but I like you - I don't want to lie.

After five days in the hospital, they put me in a metal brace and drugged me up on codeine, so I could finish the film. Then, I went home to recover and had to use a wheelchair if I needed to walk further than a few steps. (If you want to hear more, and the reason opiates and gorilla costumes don't mix, all that is in my book.)

In time I healed, but some issues remained. I had nerve damage and lingering pain. My left foot would drag when I got tired and the lightest touch to my lower back would cause spasms to shoot down my legs. I was generally stiff and sore, I couldn't get anywhere near touching my toes. But, I just accepted pain was part of my life; I was grateful I could walk. My back pain was manageable. It was mostly fine.

Then, at the age of 30, I walked into a hot yoga studio. Thanks to my anxiety, I had spent an entire therapy session devoted to discussing whether or not I could survive a yoga class. I felt panicked about the people, the heat, the physical postures I knew I couldn't do. But I got myself in the front door and found a whole community of men and women with open arms - ready to welcome my messed up body and chaotic mind. They all had jacked up bodies and minds when they started, too.

Everything changed.

I started to get flexible. 20 years of back pain melted away. And with it, a whole lot of emotional pain dissolved, too. It wasn't instant. It took time. But it became clear that yoga was making me stronger – mentally, physically and spiritually. Yoga gave me back my spine, in more ways than one.

I was ready for a life with a “bad back.” I was prepared for the constant ache and various restrictions. One of those things I shouldn’t be able to do is this:

IMG_1743

 

But here I am anyway.

It changed my normal. It changed what I could expect from life.

Yoga is not about being flexible or having cute yoga pants or chanting in some language you don't understand. It's about learning to get distance from the incessant chatter of that inner critic jerk who wants to ruin everything. It's about the courage it takes to be willing to show up, just as you are, and have that be good enough.

Some days who I am is a person who is overwhelmed by the world and needs to spend most of the class in tears, lying on my mat. And that's good enough, too. Yoga is where we learn to let go of what is no longer serving us and sometimes that process is emotional. Having a melt down in class is pretty much a  rite of passage. Everyone else is dealing with their own stuff so no one really notices, but it's still nice that tears look a whole lot like sweat.

Yoga is not about being "good"  - it doesn't matter that I still have a hard time getting my forehead to my knee in Dandayamana Janushirasana after seven years of solid practice. I’ll probably get there eventually. I’ll still be doing this when I’m 84; seven years is nothing.

I don’t take compliments well. I shrug them off and explain them away, inadvertently flinging a kindness back in the face of the person saying it.  But when someone praises my backbend, I do my best to fight that habit and simply say thank you. Because it’s the purest and most genuine way I know to express gratitude – to my spine, to this practice, and to this life.

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*****

If you are interested in yoga and have any questions, please ask in the comments! I always recommend going to a class because teachers can help you with proper alignment and any modifications you might need. At the studio where I practice, we have men and women of all ages and body types - new people are always welcome! 

If going to a studio is not feasible for you - check out Yoga with Adriene. She has free YouTube videos that are fantastic for all levels. 

*****

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Questioning the Cult of Busy

This is me being not busy

This is me being not busy

"How are you?" "BUSY."

It's become the standard answer to the question. Ah, yes. We're busy. We're all so very busy. We have so much going on. Things are CRAZY.

I'm not doubting that life tends to get hectic. Jobs and kids and pets and Instagram accounts. Yard work and workouts. Parents get medical procedures and laundry gets left in the washer.

We all have stuff.

But somehow, being "busy" seems have become a point of pride in our culture. Like, "I am a very important person because I only have time to sleep for five hours a night."

That doesn't make you important. You know what that makes you? A victim of advanced interrogation techniques.

I just had a book published. I did a book tour and media that consisted of things like twelve radio interviews in one day. I'm writing another book, I write two blogs, contribute to various online publications and I'm about to start teaching back-to-back workshops. I travel and give talks at schools and conferences. I teach yoga classes. I volunteer at an animal shelter. I also run the website and social media for a local business in my town. And then, you know. I have my life.

So, I understand busy.

But this is a shift for me. Generally, my life is not that busy. I've intentionally made it that way. I say no to things that spread me too thin and require me to multi-task because multi-tasking just means I do several things badly. For the past several years, I've just been working on my book. So, I was writing. I was walking the dog and doing yoga and cooking dinner. I read a lot.

But with this new avalanche of stuff, I've recently fallen into that trap that I hate - sighing and saying I'm BUSY. And enjoying the fact that people seem impressed by that.

But nothing in my life is better or more impressive or more fulfilling when I'm busy. It might be just the opposite.

So, instead of saying I'm SO busy, how about I talk about something real.

  • I'm excited about my new teaching gig.

  • I'm sad that my friend is moving out of town.

  • I'm madly in love with this new taco place I discovered.

That's actually how I'm doing. That has some substance to it. And it doesn't have the slimy aftertaste of a humble-brag.

What's so important when life is...let's call it... "full".... is that I don't get caught up in my own busyness. I don't think that any of it defines me, or somehow makes my life more worthy than when I have time to take a nap on a Wednesday.

Why do we feel the need to fill every second of the day with stuff? Is it so we can feel we are important to the world? Like we need to earn some badge of worthiness? Like people will forget about us if we're not everywhere at once? It is just the classic Fear Of Missing Out? If we step back, can we see that much of this busyness is self-imposed. We really can sit and read a book sometimes. The world will keep spinning all by itself.

I'd offer this: relaxing isn't lazy when it's planned.

We need time to relax and play as much as we need water. Play isn't frivolous. We can be better at the important things with the kids and the job and the pets and the Instagram accounts - when we have taken the time for self care. Stillness is important. Reading the Pottery Barn catalogue in the bathtub is important. Sitting on the porch and talking about why there are so many caterpillars this year - is important.

Stressing out about making the perfect key lime bars with the hand-squeezed key limes for the pool party is not that important.

We can choose to set boundaries on things and tell people we are sorry but we just can't take that new thing on. And we can be okay with the fact that we said no.

We can be *gasp* not that busy.

Because when we can create some space, we can actually be awake for our lives. We can be better for everything and everyone that we love.


Check out this New York Times article "The Busy Trap." It's long, and I know you are busy, but it's a good read.


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Managing anxiety: off the yoga mat and onto the stage

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I went to Providence, Rhode Island last weekend to speak at Johnson & Wales University and The Lady Project Summit. I did a reading from my book, spoke on a writer's panel and gave a talk about the rewards and challenges living an authentic life and embracing who you really are.

It was a phenomenal weekend for many reasons. I  had lots of teary-eyed hugs with people who are on their own journeys towards living a life they truly believe in. I also met wonderful people like Maureen Petrosky who took me to Gracie's, which is a restaurant that not only has unbelievable food, but also shares a name with my dog.

I was also scared out of my mind a lot of the time.

I have structured a pretty quiet little life for myself. I struggle with anxiety and get overwhelmed easily, so I try to keep life as simple as possible. I spend time with my husband, dog, and close friends. I do yoga. I stay home a lot, watching Netflix and reading books and cooking dinner. It's lovely.

But I've started doing these events which thrill and terrify me in equal measure. Sometimes, when I am in a new place, standing at the front of the room with a bunch of people looking at me, I panic and go into fight or flight mode.

This is a pretty typical evolutionary response to fear. When our ancestors had to face down a woolly mammoth, we had a couple of choices. We could try to kill it or we could run away from it.

The thing is, these days, we don't see many woolly mammoths.

We see public speaking. Or an uncomfortable conversation. Or a group of strangers. Or an opportunity that is unnerving. Or a situation we can't control. Or an outcome that is unknown.

But our minds go back to woolly mammoth territory and we want to either fight it or run from it.

What if there was a third way?

This is the most monumental thing that doing yoga has taught me.

I do hot yoga. That's the one that is 90 minutes in a room that is heated to 100 degrees.

It's hard. But it's not nearly as hard as life.

So, the yoga studio is my place to practice dealing with the actual hard things in life. Because when I get to a yoga posture that is challenging me - and my instinct is to either run out of the room or walk up and kick the instructor in the shins for making me do this - I hear my teacher's voice in my head:

Meet resistance with breath.

Maybe I can get beyond my caveman mentality and just stop for a minute. I can realize that I'm stronger than I think I am and I can be still for a moment and stop the spinning of my mind. I can take a breath - then decide how I want to respond.

So, as I stood in a glorious theater in Providence, RI, with a group of strong and interesting women all sitting there, ready to listen to me speak - the spinning started:

What am I doing here? Who the hell am I? What makes me think I have the right to stand here and say anything about anything to anyone? They are going to throw things at me. I need to run out of the room right now.

And then I took a breath. I met that resistance from my inner critic, with my breath. Then I remembered that they actually invited me to come speak. They wanted me to do this. These people had voluntarily signed up for this workshop of mine and no one was tied to their chairs.

So, I said:

"Hi. My name is Lisa Jakub. Thanks for being here today. I'm a kind of nervous, but really want to talk to you about something that is important to me. I want to talk about how we can all live a life that feels authentic even if it's different from what other people expect of us. And the reason that I feel like I can talk to you with some authority about this topic is because I screwed it up so majorly, for such a long time."

And then they laughed and then I loved them.

That's what can happen when we don't operate on automatic pilot and when we are open to options beyond the binary way we are tempted to see the world. It's not always yes/no, black/white, good/bad, kill/run - the world is nuanced and so are we. When we can still the story line in our minds, a whole beautiful world of middle options become clear.

Sometimes we get a chance to make friends with the woolly mammoth, and we're rewarded with a fantastic weekend, spectacular people and some really good macarons.

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Don’t just do something - sit there

  Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 9.03.43 AM The search for a deeper understanding of self is both inherently natural and completely exhausting.

That kind of self-reflection can leave you sweating and chewing your toenails if you aren't prepared for it. It’s the reason that we have reality television -- so that we don’t have to do the hard work of sitting with ourselves and trying to figure out who we truly are. But we do reflect, because it seems more selfish to just wander through life and not think about what you want your contribution to be.

Since I was a kid, I've had a nasty habit of getting so anxious about things that I hyperventilate and black out. It could be about a phone call or a party or merely pondering what the hell I am doing with my life. Panic attacks can happen anywhere. I can be in my living room or in a restaurant, when suddenly there is gasping and shaking and trying to fight the tunnel vision and convince myself (and anyone else who might be present) that I'm not actually dying.

My shrink recommended that I try meditation. She sent me home with stacks of books and the instructions to just sit there and breathe. Just sit there. Alone. In silence. With my own self. I would have preferred a recommendation to massage my eyeballs with sandpaper.

I had an entire film career based on the fact that I could let my thoughts run away with me. Acting required me to completely believe the worst possible scenario, such as the fact that my computerized house was really trying to kill me, and let my body react accordingly. My mind was the master, and my emotions needed to follow.

However, I tend to do what I'm told and so, I sat. Every emotion that I wished would stay lurking under the bed, got in my face. Those voices pointed out all the other people in the world who understood how to do this life thing just fine, and how pathetic it was that I had massive anxiety about going to the grocery store.

But I still sat.

I started going to a weekly group that did Yoga Nidra, a deep form of meditative relaxation. Most of the other people in the group were vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. They possessed this disconcerting combination of looking both very young and very world-weary. They picked at their cuticles and talked about their PTSD. They mentioned their lingering pain from combat injuries and they pulled down their sleeves and tried to cover up the scars.

I stayed quiet at the gatherings, deciding not to bring up the whole “I’m stressed because I’m a former child actor” thing. It lacked the drama of mortar fire and made me feel like a massive jerk.

Instead, I just listened. I listened to these young warriors who knew more about sacrifice and suffering than I ever would. One guy told me he hadn’t been able to sleep more than a couple hours a night since he got back from his tour. He said this "chanting hippie shit" was not his scene, but he had actually started sleeping since doing a meditation practice. So, he was happy to trek down the pathway, which was draped in Tibetan prayer flags and Obama signs, to come to this little shed near the chicken coop in a yoga teacher’s backyard. He’d do whatever it took.

We sat together and breathed deeply. We sat with the voices that tormented us and we sat with the uncomfortable unknown. We didn't fight with the doubts and fears and regrets, we just stared them down until they exhausted themselves and slithered away. We let go of the past and the future and simply practiced gratitude for this moment right here. Eventually, I noticed that I was spending less and less time gasping like a fish who had just leapt out of her bowl.

It wan't like some lightning bolt where I saw God.

But I saw some peace.

And then I saw that maybe those are kind of the same thing.

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My Elephant Journal article and meditation book recommendations

Screen shot 2013-09-04 at 8.17.19 AM

Hello, everyone!

I wanted to share my brand new article which was just published in Elephant Journal - Learning to be Still: Lessons from a Former Child Actor.  I write about my experiences with anxiety, therapy and finally learning to find a little peace.

I've had many people write me to say that they have issues with anxiety, too, and I'd love to offer a little more information about meditation for anyone who might be interested.

First of all, I know that some of you roll your eyes when you hear the word "meditation." Maybe you have zero desire to be a dread-locked hippie, burning pachouli incense and randomly using Sanskrit  - you just want to chill out a little. That's totally fine. Books #1-3 on the list have very little woo-woo shit at all!

But, if you are down with the Dharma, there are some books here that get a little more into the spiritual history of meditation and use words like Sangha and Buddha-nature. You'll get a little more of that in books #3-5.

But all the books here have practical advice in managing panic attacks and anxiety. Most of them sit on my bedside table and have gotten me though some tough times.

Happy reading and most of all, just remember to breathe!

1.    Wherever You Go, There You Are - Jon Kabat-Zinn Ph.D: He's a molecular biologist, you can't get much more straight shooting than that. He's reasonable, logical, and he has an entire center dedicated to the PROVEN medical benefits of meditation (or mindfulness, as he calls it, so that people don't get intimidated).  I like everything the man has written.

2.    The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook - Edmund J. Bourne: This is the first book my therapist started me off with. It has clear directions for anxiety reducing techniques and short writing exercises.

3.    Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation - Sharon Salzberg: I love this because it's a 28 day program that comes with a CD of 15 minute guided meditations.

4.    After the Ecstasy, the Laundry - Jack Kornfield: Besides that it's an awesome title, this book has some great thoughts on waking up to our life.

5.    Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life  - Thich Nhat Hanh: He is a beautiful writer and puts complex ideas into simple to understand concepts.

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