• Mindfulness in Relationships: Connecting with Others

     

    Horses Grooming One Another

    Written by Jenni Chante

     

    Relationships of all kinds can be a minefield of unrealistic ideals, old baggage, hang ups, habits and misunderstandings. All too often we find ourselves stuck in unhelpful ideas and beliefs, rather than genuinely connecting with people.

     

    Thinking that we know those around us inside out can sometimes block us from being present and really hearing them. Or we may feel so sure of our role within a relationship that we find ourselves repeating unnecessary behaviours which lead to the same old arguments again and again.

    In arguments we often place the blame on the other person – they’re not listening to us, they don’t understand, they’re being difficult or purposely trying to wind us up. Conversely, people can feel the same way about us.

    Yet by becoming more mindful, we can start to accept some responsibility. Taking responsibility for our feelings and actions is not the same as blaming ourselves. We can take responsibility without layering guilt over the top.

    By introducing mindfulness we can start to let go of the repetitive dramas and reach a much deeper, more meaningful level of connection with our partner, family, friends and also ourselves.

    Here are some useful questions to ask ourselves when things feel difficult or strained within a relationship.

     

    1. What are my beliefs about relationships?

    Relationships are important to most of us. We may even attribute our self-worth to our relationship status or circle of friends. It’s useful to be mindful of what we think a relationship should provide us with, or what feelings and experiences we believe shouldn’t arise in a successful relationship.

     

    Do you have ideals of what your perfect relationship should look like?

    Or the type of people you think you should spend your time with?

    Or how your family unit should function?

    How does it match up with the truth?

    Are confrontations arising because of some discrepancy between your fantasy and reality?

     

    The truth is real relationships will rarely meet idealised expectations. Life is messy and unpredictable. Not only will your expectations cause rifts, they may also be holding you back from experiencing the true joy which can come from honest, real connection.

     

    2. What are my beliefs about my partner, family and friends?

    We can very quickly fall into the trap of thinking we know a person. We experience a few of their idiosyncrasies and bam – we’ve made up our mind up about them. When we do this with a partner it leads to us experiencing people through our limited lens of who we believe they are, rather than seeing them as they truly are – a perpetually evolving human being with great capacity for revealing new facets of their character.

    Be mindful of whether you’re being present with those around you, or whether you’re stuck in an old idea of who they seemed to be at some stage in the past.

     

    3. What are my beliefs about myself?

    Just as we can become caught in old ideas about others, the same can be true of ourselves. We may believe we have a certain role to play within a relationship, or that certain aspects of ourselves are not good enough.

    But like others, we also contain deep potential for change. By bringing attention to the limiting thoughts about ourselves, we can break free of old cycles of behaviour.

     

    4. Do my verbal expressions match my true feelings?

    It’s an ongoing joke that women expect men to be able to read their minds. However, most of us are guilty of wanting others, particuarly our partners, to guess or uncover what we’re really feeling, and that’s true of both men and women.

     

    How often do we really explain our feelings in full?

     

    Or when misunderstandings arise, how often do we truthfully look at what we’ve said, rather than staying stuck in how we feel. Of course, sometimes we ourselves aren’t entirely sure of what’s going on inside our minds, so it’s not always possible to be clear.

    Yet even during these times we can still bring mindfulness to our confusion, and express that our loved ones. Sometimes just saying “I’m sorry, I know I’m not making sense, I feel really confused” can take the edge of a heated argument or miscommunication.

     

    5. Am I exaggerating?

    Often when we are upset, we project our current feelings into the past and future. For example, say that we are upset that our partner didn’t help us with a household chore. This may trigger some old emotions around not feeling supported, and that emotion colours our view of the past.

    Suddenly instead of it just being “You didn’t help me with ___”, it’s “You never help me” or “You always let me down”.

    An alternative suggestion might be “I’m feeling frustrated / unhappy / stressed because the house is a mess. I’d like us to make this more of a priority”, placing the onus on how we’re feeling and offering a solution without the need for an argument.

    By being more mindful and honest about the truth of the situation, and of dealing with the present problem instead of raking up the past or projecting our suffering into the future, we can avoid a lot of conflict and remain closer and more connected with those closest to us.

     

    Discover how mindfulness can support healthy relationships on a course or workshop.

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  • 5Rhythms: A Call to Dance!

    Woman Dancing

    Written by Alexa Frey

     

    Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways. Not just by sitting on a cushion. Dance is one of the many ways we can practice and it is indeed a very fun and beautiful one.

     

    The most widely-known mindful dance practice is the 5Rhythms approach to movement meditation, which was founded by Gabrielle Roth in the late 1970s. As a practice it is very much about about being in our bodies as they are being put into motion, while at the same time allowing the mind to quieten.

    Teachers of 5Rhythms offer a gently guided framework for exploring our inner world and outer experience, creating a "dynamic movement practice ... that ignites creativity, connection, and community." Here are a few ways in which this beautiful practice can enrich our lives and our mindfulness practice.

     

    Connecting with the Body

    As we dance, we naturally connect with our bodies. Moving to the beat, we might feel our feet on the ground, our arms swinging through the air, our head shifting back and forth. We might notice that our shoulders feel tense and start loosening them up through movement. We notice our body, the pleasant and the unpleasant, the tingly sensations and the drum in our hearts. The mind quietens, and we become present.

     

    Moving Through Emotions

    Emotions arise in every dance, as they do in every day life. Just as we move consciously, we notice our emotions with more awareness. We might notice that our belly feels cramped from anger, or that our chest feels heavy from sadness, or we notice an expansive feeling of joy spreading out from our head. During a 5Rhythms session, we get to know our emotions, we move with them, shake with them, we breathe through them and we move. We just keep moving.

     

    Processing Trauma

    Each of us carries trauma in our minds and bodies. As we live, we experience trauma. Trauma tends to send us into fight, flight, freeze, and sometimes even into faint. Through the dance, as we move, we make contact with our trauma.

    We might notice that at times our bodies want to freeze in response to a negative thought. Or that we want to grab our phone and text an angry message to a friend. As we dance with the rhythms we notice such impulses and we … keep moving. We move with and through our trauma with self-kindness and acceptance.

     

    States of Transcendence

    As we dance, there might be times when we completely loose ourselves in the dance. In those moments, we might tap into something bigger and experience a sense of interconnectedness and love for the earth, the animals and our fellow human beings.

    At other times, we might clearly see one of our destructive and painful patterns so clearly, that we dance and break through it. Or we might just simply become fully present in our bodies as the present moment just unravels beneath our dancing feet.

     

    Community

    As we dance with our fellow beautiful dancers, we connect. Even if we don’t want to talk to anyone, we can connect through dancing. Maybe just by observing another dancer for a while, maybe by smiling at another dancer and sometimes we choose share a dance with another dancer.

     

    Being in Dance

    As we dance, we don’t have to achieve anything. We don’t have to dance well. We don’t have to look good. We don’t have to be good. We don’t have to dance the way our internal judge might think should be dancing. In the 5Rhythms dance we dance the way our bodies want to move. Moment by moment. We are free.

     

    Dance Is Always Possible

    Dancing is always possible. On some days we might be too weak or tired to fully move. On those days we might just lay on the floor with our legs up the wall tapping our feet against the wall.

    On other days we might feel like giving our bodies a good stretch before we start fully moving to the beats. At other times we feel full of energy and bounce around throughout the whole dance. There’s no pressure during the 5Rhythms.

     

    I have been doing the online 5Rhythms dances with Sue Rickards for the past year and a half during lockdown and have experienced her teaching to be hugely transformative. She is an absolutely unique and wonderful teacher. She makes everybody feel welcome, and embodies pure presence, acceptance and kindness.

    Sue's online dance groups over Zoom take place every Tuesday and Sunday evenings (UK time). Everyone is welcome and you can join by registering directly through the 'A Call to Dance' website.  

     

    Find out more about Mindfulness Project's courses, workshops and drop-in sessions.

     

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  • 8 Ways to Celebrate Your Birthday Mindfully

     

    As we approach a birthday, anniversary, or long-anticipated event, it can bring about many thoughts and feelings. We might experience happiness and joy, but we can also feel disappointment, regret or sadness if our day, or lives, are not as we wish them to be. 

     

    Such milestones can prompt us to look inwardly, to judge ourselves or to make comparisons with others. In doing so, we can prevent ourselves from fully enjoying our day or even cause ourselves and others suffering.

     

    So, what can we do to cultivate joy and ensure a more positive experience?

     

    Here, we offer eight ways to mindfully support a happy birthday and to help us remember that birthdays are a celebration of the unique gifts each of us brings to the world. 

     

    1. Let Go of Expectation 

     

    Have you ever not planned something for your birthday?

    How does the thought of it make you feel?

     

    Perhaps it brings up feelings of discomfort or maybe it’s a refreshing idea.

    We might find ourselves planning our birthday weeks or even months in advance, ruminating over what we may or may not do. In doing so, we can give ourselves excessive time to plan every minute detail in our heads, unintentionally setting expectations.

    When we set expectations, instead of being able to enjoy each moment for what it is, we can end up lost in thought, worrying that everything will go to plan. We can miss out on what is actually happening, letting our birthday pass by without being fully present. 

    For example, if we are planning a party, we might fret about looking our best instead of enjoying the experience of visiting a salon or taking a warm shower in preparation. We might spend time wondering if someone is going to turn up, instead of connecting with those that are already there. 

    Consequently, when things turn out different to how we expect -- as they usually do -- we can be left feeling disappointed.

    Instead of planning, we can consider if a level of uncertainty might help to keep our minds open.

     

    Can not-planning allow us the freedom to choose what we want to do to suit our needs nearer the time, or even on the day? 

     

    Perhaps in choosing not to envisage every last detail we can relieve pressure around preconceived ideas about what a birthday ‘should’ or ‘should not’ look like. As we let go of our own expectations, we can also avoid complying with the expectations of others. 

    When we make space to enjoy the anticipation of not-knowing what will happen on our special day, we can let it unfold with curiosity and wonder. 

     

    2. Nourish Yourself

    If there was only one day in the year to feel nourished, birthdays are likely to be up there. 

    If you wake up on your birthday and want to curl up in a blanket with a good book and a cup of coffee, then it’s your birthday and no one is there to judge you, including yourself. If you want to party until 4am for your 80th, then it’s also your birthday!

    When we shift our awareness to observing how we feel, we can more easily accept what is and respond to meet our needs, as opposed to what the world around us might dictate. 

    Regardless of the day, it’s important we regularly set time aside to think about what will nourish us, so that we can learn to restore, reset and reconnect with the world around us. A birthday can provide a good reminder to set such intentions as you move forward into a new year.  

     

    3. Choose Gratitude 

    Instead of ruminating over what a birthday might mean, we can focus on being grateful for what we have as we reach each milestone. We can pause and notice everything around us –- almost like taking a polaroid picture in our head. 

    We might choose to start or end our day by writing a list of things we are grateful for from last year. This might be experiences, people, objects, or the things we might otherwise take for granted, such as our health and mindfulness practice. 

    Gratitude can help us to see the world the way it is and let go of the imagined version of our day or the way we might otherwise feel we ‘should’ be celebrating. In directing our attention to gratitude, we can better cultivate positive mind states.

     

    4. Read (or Start) a Mindful Journal

    As we write down what we are grateful for on our birthday, we might also take a moment to look back on our journal and the year that has passed. 

    We can take note of what we have learnt about ourselves in a compassionate way. We can celebrate the challenges we have overcome, the experiences we have been a part of and the unexpected surprises that might have taught us something along the way. 

    Whilst mindfulness is about the present moment, it can be helpful to reflect on the past from time to time to support us in being more mindful and to help set positive intentions for the future. 

    You might realise that the event that you were so dreading turned out to be enjoyable. Or that the noise the washing machine was making was not a sign that it was broken at all. It might be that thoughts about where we were heading at the start of the year could have turned out to be completely unfounded. This can help us to move forward with greater knowledge and intuition. 

    If you haven’t started one, you might treat yourself to a shiny new journal -- it’s your birthday after all!  

     

    5. Invite a Beginner's Mind

    When we are children, we celebrate birthdays -- both our own and that of others -- with a pure excitement that can be lost or hidden under layers of busyness or stress as we grow up. Rather than being a day to catch up with friends, eat cake and play pass the parcel, it can feel like a chore. 

    When we invite a beginner's mind to our birthday, we forget about making our day ‘perfect’ and centre in on the here and now. We celebrate as if we were a kid again, reverting to a childhood sense of curiosity and joy.  

    For example, we can open a gift with excitement, rather than expectation or worry. We can focus on the cake in front of us, rather than how it will look on Instagram. If we want to, we can even play musical bumps, mindfully listening for the music to stop without thinking about where we might fall! 

     

    6. Mindful Gift Giving

     

    Have you ever thought about giving a gift to someone else on your birthday? 

     

    It might be a small token of gratitude for someone that has supported us over the course of the year or a donation to a charity that we admire. 

    A mindful gift does not need to be expensive; it can be spending time with someone, writing a thoughtful card to acknowledge your appreciation, or simply thanking someone out loud. 

    Mindful giving can strengthen the connections with those around us and help to cultivate joy for both the recipient and ourselves.

     

    7. Before You Blow Out the Candle…

    If you have a busy schedule planned, why not start it with a simple candle meditation, focusing on the flame and helping to move into the day with clarity and inner calm. 

    Alternatively, if you’ve chosen to have a cake to mark the occasion, you could use the candle as a cue to look around you before you blow it out. Perhaps notice who is there to celebrate with you, tapping into your senses and how you feel in the moment.  

    And once the candles have been blown out...  

     

    8. Have Your Cake (Or Not)

    Finally, many of us will celebrate with an edible (or drinkable) treat on our birthday. Why not take a moment to really savour the moment and enjoy that special something in detail with some mindful eating?  

    A birthday cake, for example, might generate eye hunger -- one of the seven types of hunger -- so why not feast your eyes on the detail of the icing or the different layers before savoring each bite, noticing the textures and flavours. In doing so, we can really appreciate it and the effort that has gone into making it. 

    And if you don’t feel like a huge slice of cake… then eat what you want -- listen to your body and save the cake for another time if that’s what it’s telling you. Put a candle in an avocado, a piece of sushi or a slice of cheese. Tune in and give yourself the birthday presence you’re truly craving.

    Happy birthday!

     

    Meditation

    Candle Meditation | 6-Minutes

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses, workshops and drop-in sessions.  

     

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  • Present Perfect

     

    Do you frequently find yourself ruminating over mistakes? Do you give yourself or others a hard time when things don’t go according to plan? Do you find it painful to hand over tasks to others, for fear they’ll mess things up?

     

    If any of this sounds familiar, you may be a perfectionist: someone who spends a significant amount of time feeling anxious about doing things ‘correctly’ and prioritising what you feel you should do over what you’d like to do.

    Almost all of us experience these feelings from time to time, however when our striving for perfection becomes excessive, we can end up feeling exhausted and entirely lacking in self-worth.

    Far from improving our lives, perfectionism can destroy our peace of mind, leading to life feeling more like a chore than a joy.

     

    Obsessed with the Destination

     

    As perfectionists, our focus is primarily on future goals – finishing the project, getting the grades, succeeding, achieving, completing. We’re so busy working towards the “perfect outcome” that we completely miss the journey, along with any happiness which may lie in the process.

    We want to reach perfection, so that we can finally stop and rest. And yet, we never do seem to get there, do we?

    We think that this determination to succeed makes us better at what we do. Yet while it may sometimes make us more productive and hard-working than others, it kills spontaneity, flexibility and ultimately creativity. Creativity requires the space to make mistakes and adapt; perfectionism restricts and confines us to a narrow view of how things should be.

    With so many internal should’s and shouldn’t’s, we are dragged away from the present moment, locked into a rigid view of good and bad, right and wrong, success and failure. Failure in itself is not so bad, yet when we believe that our self-worth exists within success, failure then feels like the end of our world. It doesn’t matter that we did our best, learnt new things, or had good experiences along the way: if we didn’t ‘win’, it didn’t count.

    In his book ‘Present Perfect’, Pavel Somov describes perfectionism this way:

     

    “It is a mindless reaction driven by the past rather than a mindfully chosen action that reflects the present.”

     

    Stuck in our prison of rules from the past, we lose sight of the value of the present moment. Which is ironic, for if we could only slow down for a moment, we would see that perfection has been there all along, waiting for us to take notice.

     

    The Perfection of Flow

     

    “Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it.”

    -- SALVADOR DALI 

     

    Even if we were to create something which met our standards of perfection, it could never remain that way. Just as things grow and blossom, they also fade and decay. Seeking perfection in a world of constant change is like demanding that a beautiful sunset never end. We cannot stop the sun from dipping below the horizon.

    However, we can make efforts to become present with the sunset and savour it while it is there. We can use mindfulness to shift our focus from creating perfect outcomes to enjoying the perfection inherit in the moment to moment flow of life.

    This can be done by noticing when our minds are preoccupied with thoughts of ideal outcomes:

    Next time you are working on a task, such as a work project, creative pursuit, or even when you are sitting doing meditation, try to notice when you start thinking about achieving an end goal, rather than appreciating the moment to moment experience of what you are doing. End goals could be anything from wanting to impress your boss, make more money or become an “expert” meditator.

    Once you’ve noticed, gently bring your attention back to the present moment. Focusing on the breath or on physical sensations is a useful way of doing this. However, beware of turning this practice into yet another goal to be achieved perfectly. Gentleness is key here. Whenever you notice that your mind has wandered, bring it back to your current experience.

    Experiment with resting in the sense that whatever you do, whatever you feel, you are already perfectly human, perfectly changeable and ever-evolving just as all of nature is, and that you could never be any other way.

     

    Join internationally renowned clinical psychologist, speaker and author of ‘Present Perfect’, Dr. Pavel Somov, for a special workshop, 'Overcoming Perfectionism', on Thursday 19th August 2021.

     

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  • Communicating Mindfully When We Are Upset


    communication

     

    Communication is the bridge which links our innermost thoughts and feelings to the outside world. Yet, if our emotions get the better of us we can cause problems with unskilful communication.

     

    Sometimes we may be so caught up in our emotions that we’re not even sure of what it is we are trying to say. If we are mindless of our tone and the type of language we are using, we may appear hostile, angry or just confusing to the people we are trying to communicate with. This could leave us feeling misunderstood and isolated.

    But if we can communicate mindfully, we have a much better chance of being heard and understood, as well as understanding others.

     

    Understanding Ourselves First

     

    The first step to mindful communication is to become really clear on what we’re thinking and feeling. Unless we pay attention to our own experience, we don’t have much chance of successfully expressing that experience to others.

    Say, for example, that we are angry with our partner. We are upset because they have been neglectful in some way. We may spend days, or even weeks feeling angry at this person for what they’ve done, or haven’t done. Without us necessarily being aware of it, our emotions may affect how we communicate with them.

    We might become snappy or unkind, and although this might give us the impression that we are expressing our feelings, it isn’t a mindful, clear way of communicating. What’s likely to happen is that the other person picks up on our upset, feels upset or defensive in return, and we end up in a vicious cycle of bitterness and emotional outbursts.

    Through practicing mindfulness, however, we become more in tune with our inner experience, and recognise fluctuations in our mood. If our partner has upset us, instead of holding onto the resentment we feel, or wishing it had never happened, we can acknowledge our feelings and the situation with honesty.

    For example, “My boyfriend didn’t remember our anniversary, and that makes me feel sad/angry/unappreciated, etc.” By seeing and owning our feelings first, we can approach communication with clarity and build stronger relationships.

    What Do I Want From This Communication?

     

    As well as being mindful of our true feelings, it’s also useful to become clear on what we want to get out of communicating with a particular person.

     

    Do we want them to feel bad about how they’ve made us feel?

    Do we want to punish them with our words?

    Or do we want to feel understood?

    Do we want to find a resolution to a problem?

    Maybe we want to understand the other person better, as well as helping them understand us.

    If we feel like we want to use our words to get revenge on someone because they have hurt us, this is a natural feeling and doesn’t mean that we’re a bad person. Yet do we really want to act on these feelings and say things which might cause someone pain?

    It may be a good idea to just sit with these feelings for a while, rather than verbally lashing out and saying something we may later regret.

    If we want to feel understood, or find a solution to a conflict or problem, it’s helpful to take a few moments to think about the kind of tone or language we want to use in order to help us meet our communication goals.

     

    Noticing Our Tone & Language

     

    How we choose to phrase our feelings is important. The types of words we use can make a big difference in how we are understood, as can our tone. Even if the words we are using seem diplomatic, if our tone is bitter, sarcastic or mean, those words will count for very little.

    Most of us get defensive when we feel attacked, and so it makes sense to try and limit this if we want open and meaningful dialogue with someone. After all, the person may not even be aware that they have caused us any bad feelings!

    Rather than listing all the things we feel that the person did wrong, it might be more helpful to speak openly about how we feel, and why. For example, instead of saying, “You ignored me! I’m really angry at you!” we can mindfully rephrase it and say something like, “I don’t know if you meant to, but I felt ignored by you earlier. It made me feel really hurt and angry. Can we talk about what happened?”

    We can notice our tone, and try to take as much blame out of it as is possible. This way, we are allowing space for a real, two-way conversation. We are staying open-minded about what really happened; although we feel upset, we recognise the fact that we may have misunderstood something, or that the other person is going through their own emotions.

    Mindful communication isn’t about getting it right all the time. We’re all dealing with our own internal worlds, and sometimes we just can’t avoid misunderstandings and heated conversations. But we can become more mindful communicators at any time, just as soon as we notice that we’re stuck in a blaming mindset.

    Even if we notice half-way through an argument, we can make efforts to re-evaluate our stance and approach the situation with more mindfulness and compassion.

     

    MEDITATION

    Mindfulness of Breath

     

    The Mindfulness Project hosts a calendar of workshops, courses and retreats to teach and support mindfulness practice.

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  • How Animals Help Us Live in the Moment

    The company of animals certainly seems to have a healing effect in many of our lives. This is probably partly due to the fact that they don’t judge us in the same way fellow humans do.

     

    They may get annoyed with us if we stroke them the wrong way, but they’ll never judge us for our flaws. A cat or a dog will never reject us because we eat too much, have credit card debts, or don’t call our mothers as often as we should. It’s not unusual to see dogs sitting beside homeless people on the street.

    Our animals love us, even if we don’t love ourselves. In many cases, they embody mindfulness; they are non-judgementally present in the moment. When an animal is sitting with us, they aren’t busy thinking about yesterday or tomorrow. They are simply there. This is probably why they have such a special place in many of our lives.

     

    Being Mindful with Our Pets

     

    In our busy lives it can be all too easy to take our pets for granted. However, if we can make the time, our pets can provide us with great ways to practice mindfulness.

    Next time you’re with your pet, why not take a few moments to really notice everything about them. When you stroke them, pay close attention to how their fur or feathers feel beneath your hand. Maybe even imagine that it’s the first time you’ve ever felt them, and see what difference it makes to your experience of them. Notice their appearance, taking in every whisker, every feather or patch of coloured fur, every paw and claw. Watch how they’re breathing. Listen to their heart beat if you’re snuggled up with them.

    Perhaps most importantly of all, cultivate a sense of gratitude for having them in your life. Remember all the difficult or painful times that you’ve been through, and how your pet has been there with you through it all. Let that gratitude fill you from top to toe.

     

    Animals & Meditation

     

    One of the great things about animals is that they don’t care about our plans. They have a habit of interrupting those streams of thought that we feel are very important. Although this may at first seem like a negative thing, it can actually help us become unstuck from living in our mental chatter by bringing us back to reality. For this reason, animals can help us in our formal meditation practice.

    Have you ever been meditating, and then heard a dog barking in the distance, or had your cat try climbing on you for a cuddle? Far from being distractions from our meditation, they can enhance it. Meditation is not about escaping from the present moment, but about embracing it. While we’re taking our meditation very seriously, animals are just living their lives. And so that dog barking in the street or that cat determined to have your attention act as anchors to the flow of the present. They are reminders that we are not in control, and that the best way to cope with life is to let go of our pre-conceived ideas of how things should be and join in with the dance of how things really are.

    We can do this by noticing our reactions to them. If we feel annoyed about our meditation being interrupted, we can look at why that is. Perhaps it’s because we have an inaccurate idea of what meditation is about. Or perhaps we’re attached to an idea of how we’d like to be. In this way, animals can have a very humbling effect. They can remind us that our meditation practice doesn’t place us in an elevated state above the rest of life, but that in fact our meditating is just like the barking in the street, just one small part of life as a whole.

    Animals are indeed great mindfulness teachers, if we take the time to notice them. What mindfulness lessons have you learnt from your pets? We’d love to hear them in the comments below!

    MEDITATION:

    Animal Affection Meditation

     

    Find out more about mindfulness with a course or workshop.

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  • Do You Need A Digital Detox?

     

    Unless you’re a teenager, you’ll remember a time before our lives revolved around mobiles and computers. However, the ability to be technologically connected at all times is now central to many of our lives, to the point that we might feel some sense of withdrawal if we went a few days without checking our social media accounts.

     

    For some, this need for constant connectivity has become an addiction, and it makes many of us feel unable to genuinely switch off from work or social duties. Ironically, this virtual connection to the world can make us feel lonely and disconnected – the very feelings we are trying to use technology to help us avoid.

    It would be safe to say that these modern problems are impossible to resolve without mindfulness. Daily activities and habits become so second-nature that we often find ourselves going through the motions with little memory of when or why we started. Yet by bringing our attention to the present moment, we can notice our behaviours and therefore start to make more conscious choices.

     

    Self-distraction is at epidemic proportions—and it’s not the iPhone, it’s the thought of, ‘I wonder if anybody texted me.”

    -- JON KABAT-ZINN

     

    We reach for our phones or tablets reflexively now, almost in the same way we move our hand towards an itch so that we can scratch it. So it’s important to slow down and really tap into our motivations.

    Next time your phone pings with a text, email or notification try noticing your immediate response. It might be, “That could be work, I better read it!” or “Maybe someone has replied to my Tweet / Instagram post.”

    If it’s the evening, why can’t the work-related email wait until the morning? If someone has responded to a social media post, what does it mean to you that someone has responded? Or if your phone hasn’t pinged for a while, and you’re feeling a bit down about it, why is that?

    There may be other things we use technology for that we don’t need to. Things that we've become accustomed to. For example, when was the last time you asked a person for directions, rather than reaching for your phone to look at Google Maps? When you’re doing a sum, do you ever try and do it in your head before finding the calculator function?

    Using calculators and digital maps isn’t wrong. In fact, they’re very useful. But the problem comes when we use these useful things mindlessly. When we’re mindless, we cut ourselves off from other possibilities, other ways of doing things which might also be fun or rewarding.

    Becoming more aware of our motivations and emotions around technology may not result in us not using it for certain things, but it enables us to make our actions less reflexive and more deliberate.

     

    Creating Time Away From Technology

     

    Anyone who has ever tried to overcome an addiction or habit using willpower alone will know how challenging it can be. Using hard effort to change a behaviour is a largely ineffective method, and is why so many people get stuck in yo-yo dieting, cycles of sobriety and alcoholism. It's why so many smokers have had a hundred “last” cigarettes.

    Technology is comparable with insomnia in some ways. For example, in order to improve our chances of falling asleep we must first accept and acknowledge why we’re not falling asleep. Detoxing digitally works along the same lines. To start off with, all that is required is more awareness.

    If we start noticing how much we rely on digital connection and communication, then using willpower starts to become unnecessary. This is because when we are present in what we are doing we notice its affect. We can start by simple recognising;

     

    • When we use it - late at night, when we’re with family or friends, etc.

     

    • How it makes us feel - frustrated, isolated, over-stimulated.

     

    • How it affects other aspects of our lives - sleep, exercise, our connection with family, friends and nature.

     

    Let's take reading work emails before going to bed as an example – it makes you feel agitated and unable to unwind. Once you’re conscious of that feeling, and you know it’s linked with your action of checking emails at night, you naturally won’t want to be present in that agitation.

    Feeling the agitation of it, mindfully, is a little like noticing you’ve got a splinter. Once you know where the irritation is coming from, you’re unlikely to leave it there. Without having to mentally motivate yourself to reach for the tweezers, you just pick them up and remove the splinter.

    In the same way, once we’re aware, we naturally stop doing things that don’t make us feel good. Living mindfully gives us more choice, and will help us use technology when it suits our real needs, rather than as a mindless reflex.

     

    Find out what happened when The Mindfulness Project co-founder, Alexa Frey, took a 12-hour Digital Detox.

     

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  • A Mindful Approach To Insomnia

     

    If you suffer from insomnia, you’re not alone. An estimated 50% of us in the UK struggle to get a good night’s sleep.

     

    Poor sleep doesn’t just make for an uncomfortable night; the effects of insomnia carry on into the day too. For example, we may find that our ability to focus is impaired or we may feel grouchy.

    Insomnia can increase depression, affect our physical health and has even been shown to lead us to make unhealthier food choices. It’s a problem we just can’t afford to ignore.

    The good news is that one of the many benefits of practicing mindfulness is improved length and quality of sleep. However, unlike most other methods, such as medication or counting sheep, mindfulness requires us to kindly acknowledge and accept our sleeping difficulties, rather than try to cover over them, fix them or avoid them.

     

    Changing the Goal

     

    When we can’t sleep, the thing we want more than anything is the very thing that eludes us. Our only goal is to ‘just get some sleep’, and so begins the struggle. As the night goes on, our desperation increases; the more sleeplessness we experience, the more we crave to meet our goal.

    This conflict between how our present moment really is and how we want it to be can bring up a range of unpleasant emotions. We may get angry and find ourselves remembering past events that have annoyed us, or we may become overwhelmed by depression and find that our predicament brings us to tears.

    Mindfulness offers an alternative ‘goal’. Rather than trying to get to where we want to be, we re-focus our attention on where we actually are. We stop trying to fight the situation, and instead surrender to it with awareness and self-kindness.

    The word ‘surrender’ might have negative connotations for some people. But think of it this way: You’ve just walked into a pit of quicksand. Your natural instinct is to try and get out as quickly as possible, so you start struggling against the pull. Then you notice that the more you struggle, the faster you sink.

    So what do you do? Fight more, or surrender?

    It may seem obvious in this scenario. And yet so many of us spend each night fighting to escape our sleeplessness, when in fact we need to breathe, relax and let go of the struggle to fight it.

     

    Observing with Self-Compassion

     

    Perhaps you can’t sleep because you’re feeling stressed or worried about something. Perhaps you’re in pain. Whatever the reason for your insomnia, paying attention to it in a kind, accepting way will help your body and mind relax.

    Sounds familiar? Once we’re aware of the thoughts spinning through our head such as “If I don’t get some sleep, I won’t meet my deadline tomorrow” or “This always happens! I can never sleep!”, we can take steps to create some distance from them.

    In fact, you can practice doing this right now.

     

    1. Take a moment to really feel into one of these difficult thoughts, one that you often have when you can't sleep.

    2. Notice the emotions and feelings it produces in your body.

    3. Notice any tension or anxiety.

    4. Now mentally take a step back, and think of it as simply, “I am currently having the thought of….”.

    5. If it helps, imagine that the words of the thought are written on a poster, or a t-shirt, or on the side of a moving bus.

     

    Do you notice any difference?

     

    Self-compassion during this process is key. What can often happen when we can’t get to sleep is we get frustrated or angry with ourselves. Yet imagine doing this with a baby who can’t get to sleep.

    If we take our frustrated thoughts, and imagine vocalising them to the baby (imagine the words, tone and volume), think of what the reaction would be: more crying and still no sleep.

    And so, showing kindness to ourselves is vital if we want to become calm and relaxed, and thus more open and receptive for when sleep finally arrives.

     

    Join one of The Mindfulness Project's sleep or self-compassion workshops to support a better quality of sleep. 

     

    << VIEW COURSES & WORKSHOP CALENDAR >>

  • Understanding the 7 Types of Hunger

    Dog Eating a Cake

     

    How many times have you reached for the snacks at a party and munched through them without thinking, or ordered dessert even though you were already full, just because it looked so good?

     

    We eat for many reasons - because we’re stressed or feeling sad, because we feel like we deserve a treat or simply because it’s our scheduled mealtime.

    Eating mindfully is about expanding our awareness around food habits, so that we can make more conscious decisions about what we eat and when. According to Jan Chozen-Bays, MD, author of the book ‘Mindful Eating’, there are seven different types of hunger relating to different parts of our anatomy - the eyes, nose, mouth, stomach, cells, mind and heart.

    Once we are more aware of these different types of hunger and their reasons, we can respond consciously and more appropriately to satisfy them.

     

    1. Eye Hunger

    We are highly stimulated by sight, so a beautifully presented meal or treat such as a birthday cake will be a lot more appealing to us than a bucket of slop - even if the ingredients are the same.

    TIP: To satisfy eye hunger, we can really feast our eyes on the food before we put it in our mouths. If we mindlessly throw our dinner in our mouths while watching TV, we’re wasting an opportunity to fully appreciate it.

     

    2. Nose Hunger

    Most of what we think of as taste is actually smell. Our sense of smell is much more subtle than that of taste, as anyone who’s had a head cold and a stuffed up nose will tell!

    TIP: To satisfy your nose hunger, practice sensitising the smell of your food, isolated from taste, by taking a pause before eating to really take in the aromas.

     

    3. Mouth Hunger

    What we think of as tasty, appealing food is often socially conditioned or influenced by our upbringing. This includes how sweet or salty we want our food, and the kinds of seasoning and spices we enjoy. What is considered a delicacy in one country can repel those of another culture. Anyone for deep-fried cockroaches?! Many people’s aversion to raw food is a prime example of this social conditioning of the mouth hunger.

    TIP: Generating greater awareness and a sense of open curiosity around the flavours and textures in our mouths as we eat can help satisfy our mouth hunger.

     

    4. Stomach Hunger   

    A rumbling tummy is one of the main ways we recognise hunger. And yet, it doesn’t necessarily mean our body needs food. The hunger cues from the stomach are self-taught and linked to the schedule we have give our imposed upon it. It takes practice to sense when a grumbling stomach means actual hunger.

    Often, we can confuse the sensation with other feelings that affect our stomach such as anxiety or nervousness. If we feed anxiety with junk food, then get more anxious about our diet, we can spark off a negative spiral of emotional eating.

    TIP: What to do? This takes practice. Listen to the stomach’s cues and start to familiarise yourself with them. Try delaying eating when you feel hungry and become aware of the sensations. Assess your hunger on a scale from 1-10 before a meal, then halfway through check-in again.

     

    5. Cellular Hunger

    When our cells need nutrients, we might feel irritable, tired or we may get a headache. Cellular hunger is one of the hardest types of hunger to sense, even though it is the original reason for eating. When we were children, we intuitively knew when we needed to eat, and what our body was craving. But over time, we lose this ability.

    TIP: Through mindfulness, it’s possible to become more aware of our body’s cravings for specific nutrients and to develop some of the inner wisdom we had when we were children. As Jan Chozen-Bays says, “To learn to listen to cellular hunger is the primary skill of mindful eating.”

     

    6. Mind Hunger

    Modern society has made us very anxious eaters. We're constantly influenced by the current fad diet, the latest nutritional guidelines or research paper. We are deafened by our inner voice telling us that one type of food is good and one type bad. This can make it very difficult to pick up on our body’s natural cues. The mind is very difficult to satisfy, as it is fickle and will find something new to focus on if one craving is satisfied.

    TIP: Mindfulness can help calm the mind and allow for a more sensitive awareness of the other cues our body is sending us.

     

    7. Heart Hunger

    So much of the time, what and when we eat is linked into our emotions. We might crave certain comfort food because we were given it as a child, or because we’ve associated it in our mind as a treat for when we’re feeling down.

    Often emotional eating boils down to a desire to be loved or looked after. We eat to fill a hole, but that hole often can’t be satisfied through eating. To satisfy our heart hunger, we need to find the intimacy or comfort our heart is craving.

    TIP: Try noticing the emotions that you’ve been feeling just before you have an urge to snack and you might be able to find other ways to satisfy them, such as calling a friend or having a cup of tea or a hot bath.

     

    So, next time you feel hungry, check-in with yourself and work out what kind of hunger you're sensing. If eating is appropriate - go ahead and eat! Try to be mindful of what and how you eat, take in the aroma, feast with your eyes and savour every flavour. Only then will you be truly satisfied.

     

    The Mindfulness Project runs regular workshops and courses on mindful eating.

     

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  • Developing Mindfulness Skills To Better Understand Race

    Selection of Varied Potted Plants

    Tina Basi is a mindfulness teacher and guest lecturer on the subject of sociology at the London School of Economics, specialising in culture and technology.

     

    In developing the Introduction to Mindfulness and Racial Awareness Workshop and Racial Awareness Monthly Drop-ins, Tina has brought together two of her lifelong passions, sociology and mindfulness.

    Tina is currently researching the concept of community and the role it has played in traditional mindfulness practice, bringing to light the work that is yet to be done in contemporary western mindfulness practise. She contributed an essay on the subject of community for the Mindfulness Initiative’s publication ‘Mindfulness: Developing Agency in Urgent Times'.

     

    What motivated you to develop the Racial Awareness Workshop and monthly drop-ins?

    This came out of my own experience in having challenging but necessary conversations with my own friends and communities. I found that as a woman of colour I often felt apologetic in putting my views forward or creating a conversation, and that my white friends were often very defensive and sometimes aggressive in the way that they were engaging with the conversation.

    I wanted to bring together my skills and experiences as a meditator and a teacher of mindfulness to help bring about this very necessary social change of creating racial awareness and ending racial injustice. 

     

    What do you hope participants will achieve from attending?

    I believe that being able to sit with unpleasant experiences when having discussions of race are going to be vital in progressing this period of social evolution for all of us. For all of society and for all the world.

    At the moment, there are lots of internal flashpoints when discussions of race come up and I think we understand from our studies of mindfulness that this is the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) kicking in.

    What we want to do is to be able to notice the way in which terms of race trigger the SNS. We want to notice it in the same way that we do with overthinking, signs of depression or any other triggers that take us into negative spaces. 

    It’s really about cultivating an awareness and a sense of spaciousness when we’re dealing with race. 

     

    What's different about the Racial Awareness Workshop and monthly drop-ins?

    The workshop introduces guided meditations, exercises, discussion and theory over the course of two-hours, focusing on the subject of racial awareness.

    The monthly drop-ins are an hour long and focus on a different race-related topic each month. They offer different practices each month, such as body scans, mindful movement, seated practice, awareness of sound, etc.

    Both the workshop and drop-ins are intended to help build a community and safe space to discuss race, allowing participants to share the journey of racial awareness in a sustainable way. There is an opportnuity to share what comes up for you and a really open invitation to share how those experiences have connected with racial awareness. 

    We wouldn’t usually talk about something so thematically organised on a mindfulness course, and here we’re going to actively invite opportunities to notice, experience and then articulate anything that might connect with race, racism or racial awareness. 

     

    Are the workshop and drop-in sessions suitable for everyone? 

    Absolutely, the course is suitable for anyone. My hope is that the topic of racial awareness might bring people who have previously thought mindfulness wasn’t for them into the conversation because this is a new way of engaging with race, racial awareness and conversations of race. Mindfulness is another tool to engage, just like debate, discussion, reading, learning, seeing, watching, and hearing. 

    Please note, you do not need to do the workshop prior to joining a drop-in session. 

     

    How many people will be in the group? 

    The workshops are small groups - up to 12 people. We have found that smaller groups mean that you have the chance to connect and share with almost everyone in the group and that really does help in the articulation process.

    When the group is too big it can be a bit intimidating to share what’s come up in your practice, but in a small group there’s a sense of intimacy and trust that is built right from the outset. This makes the learning process a little smoother and softer. 

    Quite often in mindfulness we find that others are having similar thoughts and feelings, and it can help to have someone else articulate what you have been through. 

    The drop-in sessions vary from week to week, depending on how many people have signed up.

     

    What do I need to bring? 

    There’s nothing in particular you need to bring with you. If you are doing the course online, it's a good idea to tell those you are living with that you are doing the workshop or drop-in session and to find a room where you can close the door and not be disturbed for the duration. This includes not just partners, family, friends, but pets as well.

    You want to be comfortable enough that you can focus on the practice itself, but not so comfortable that you will fall asleep. For the practices themselves, you might find it handy to have a blanket, cushion for your chair and a pair of warm socks -- there’s no need to have meditation cushions or to sit on the floor, unless you want to.

    Please note, the safety and welfare of all participants is a priority for us in running the workshops and drop-in sessions. 

     

     

    For more information about the Introduction to Racial Awareness Workshop and monthly drop-ins, please visit our Events Calendar. 

     

    >> VIEW EVENT CALENDAR <<

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