• Can Mindfulness Ease PMS?

     

     

    As women, so many of us are challenged by our monthly cycles. The female body ebbs and flows, and each menstrual phase brings with it a unique set of physical and emotional attributes.

     

    These changes can create a permanent feeling of flux and give rise to a cascade of emotions – from times of anger and sadness, anxiety and irritability, to elation and optimism, even precipitating conditions such as PMT (Premenstrual Tension), PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) and PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder).

    So what can we do to support ourselves each month? Although we may not be able to completely control our hormonal cycles, the good news is we can change our relationship to them -- and that’s where mindfulness comes in.

     

    Mindfulness helps us to reconnect with the body

    We can begin by becoming more aware of our bodies and emotions in each moment and start to recognise familiar patterns in our cycle. Charting thoughts, feelings and symptoms in a diary or on an app over the course of a few months can give us a clearer understanding of our behaviour, and patterns may even come to light that we can then begin to pre-empt.

    In this way, our moods will no longer take us by surprise and we can take more measures to respond to them with acts of kindness and self-care.

     

    Mindfulness offers emotional rescue

    So often we respond to unpleasant emotions in the same way that we do to bodily pain -- with dread and resistance. But what if we could look at them with acceptance and curiosity instead? We might find that we see them in an entirely different light, and that they even ease somewhat.

     

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    Mindfulness is one of the best tools we have to develop this new way of relating with our moods. There is a lovely poem by Rumi, called 'The Guest House' where we see emotions passing through as guests -- it’s a helpful analogy to remember when we’re in the throes of low mood, and a useful reminder of how to put our emotions and their impermanence into perspective.

     

    Mindfulness meditation lowers stress levels

    Chronic stress can wreak havoc on our hormones, and further aggravate PMS symptoms, especially dysmenorrhea (pain during menstruation). Happily, mindfulness can offer a helping hand here.

    Study after study has shown that meditation is a powerful antidote to stress, because it works to deactivate the amygdala -- the area of the brain that controls our stress response.

     

     

    By bringing even just 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation to our day, we can keep our cortisol levels in check, which may help to dissipate some of our PMS symptoms.

    A key to improving our relationship with our hormonal cycles is being aware of them in the first instance, and then learning to work with and not against them.

    If we can better anticipate the highs and lows we can do things like structure our schedule in a way that takes advantage of each varying state.

    For example, scheduling those challenging meetings for the days where we are most likely to feel assertive or using the more reclusive times of the month to focus on tasks involving less interaction with others.

    There may also be times when we feel like we can’t get anything done and in those moments mindfulness allow us to bring a quality of self-compassion and self-care to our experience that provides a measure of relief in itself.  

    With more awareness and respect for our cycles, the subtle shifts in mood will no longer come as a surprise. Instead we can better anticipate our needs and learn to hold each fleeting state of mind more lightly, as we go with the flow.

     

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  • How Mindfulness Can Help Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS)

     

     

    The symptoms of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) can range from mild irritability, bloating and cramps, to acute depression, anxiety, even suicidal feelings. It can make it hard for us to focus at work, and can sometimes cause conflict at home with our loved ones.

     

    We may find ourselves snapping at people, or feeling tearful for no discernible reason. In short, it can make us feel vulnerable, out of control of our emotions, and that we are not really ourselves.

    Due to the complex nature of PMS, mindfulness unfortunately can’t offer a complete ‘cure’. However, it can offer some much-needed comfort and support to help us get through those difficult times to help ease PMS, and can be used in conjunction with other remedies and treatments.

     

    Awareness of Your Cycle

    Some women find it useful to track their symptoms by keeping a diary. After two or three months, you may start to notice a pattern in your symptoms.

    Having this knowledge of our fluctuating moods means that they won’t take us by surprise so much. It also enables us to deal with them with greater awareness.

    If we discover that our mood worsens in relation to our cycle, we can mindfully watch out for the negative thoughts or beliefs that come with it.

    Knowing that our emotional symptoms have a physical cause (i.e. ovulation) might help us go a bit easier on ourselves, and rather than beat ourselves up about it, we can do more to be caring towards ourselves.

     

    Communicating Mindfully with Loved Ones

    If we become angry or irritable each month, this will affect how we communicate and interact with our partners, friends, family and even work colleagues.

    Mindfulness can help lessen the negative impact that our changing moods or physical discomfort may have on other people, because it can improve our communication. When we are mindful of how we’re feeling, we can express those feelings in a more neutral, considered way.

    Say for example that we tend to find our partner very irritating during PMS – every little thing they do seems to put us on edge. We may become snappy and a bit mean. If we’re not mindful, we could really hurt our partners feelings, or cause arguments.

     

    PMS

     

    Yet, by regularly checking in with ourselves, and asking, ‘How am I feeling right now?’ we can express our feelings more mindfully.

    For example, if we notice that we’re in a bad mood, we could give our partner a heads up: ‘I’ve woken up in a really low mood. I’m doing my best, but I might be a little grouchy today, I’m sorry’.

    Or if we realise that we’ve snapped at them, we can at least acknowledge it and apologise, explaining that we didn’t mean to hurt their feelings, we’re just struggling right now.

    Simply being open, honest and mindful of what’s happening for us can make those difficult emotions easier to cope with. Trying to hide them or deny them will not only make them harder for us to deal with, but we also won’t be as sensitive to other people’s feelings.

     

    Can’t Sleep?

    Our menstrual cycles can play havoc with our sleeping patterns. If we’re finding it hard to get to sleep, mindfulness can help in a few different ways.

    Thinking long term, it may be worth beginning a regular mindfulness meditation practice. Studies have shown that people who meditate daily experience improved sleep. This may be because meditation helps us step out of stress responses (which prevent us from sleeping) and into a more relaxed state.

    Meditation also helps the brain deal with those internal chattering thoughts – the type that can keep us awake at night! Research shows that meditation decreases activity in the ‘me centre’ of the brain – the part that’s responsible for mind wandering and self-referential thoughts (otherwise known as ‘monkey mind’).

    For more immediate comfort (for example, if you’re reading this in the middle of the night because you can’t sleep) some mindful breathing can help calm a racing or stressed-out mind. Each inhalation and exhalation offers a helpful anchor for our attention, rather than going around and around with whatever is going on in our minds.

     

    Mindful Comfort Eating

    Many woman experience food cravings in the lead up to, and during, their periods. The foods we usually want to eat at this time are high in sugar, salt, fat or carbohydrates – like chocolate, crisps, or bread. This isn’t really a problem, unless we overdo it.

    What can sometimes happen is that we’ll go overboard on the junk food then feel unwell, or guilty. Feeling guilty or ashamed then makes us feel even worse, and then we’re caught in a vicious cycle.

    Practicing mindful eating can help us enjoy our comfort foods, without overindulging and making ourselves feel even more bloated or depressed as a result. In learning to identify the seven types of hunger, we can first understand the hunger we are experiencing.

    We can then slow down the whole eating process by taking the time to enjoy how our food smells and looks before we begin to eat. Then, as we take the first bite, we can really savour how good it tastes. This way, not only will we get more pleasure from the food, but by slowing down we also become less likely to eat more than we really want to.

     

    Self-Care

    Self-care is always a nice thing to do, but when we’re feeling vulnerable, tired or unwell it’s especially important. Otherwise, what we’re likely to do is ignore, ignore, ignore… until things get so bad that we suddenly can’t cope anymore.

    By cultivating an attitude of self-care we can identify our when we need to restore ourselves. In doing so we can give ourselves the attention and care we need to deal with our symptoms as they arise.

    During PMS, our acts of self-care could take many different forms. It could be that we take some time out to rest, arrange to meet a good friend, treat ourselves to a comforting bubble bath or our favourite film, or if our symptoms are particularly difficult we might decide that we need to visit our doctor to talk about medication or hormone supplement options.

    It's also important that we continue to cultivate self-care when our period begins. This might mean cosying up with a hot water bottle, booking a relaxing massage or taking some gentle exercise to ease any pain we might experience. We may even wish to consider the period products we choose to use.

    Whatever form it takes, we can consciously act kindly towards ourselves, listening to our needs and taking action accordingly. If we deny or suppress our needs, we become tense and stressed. However, if we show ourselves compassion, this creates a lighter and more spacious mindset for us to deal with our symptoms.

     

    The Mindfulness Project Runs a Regular Mindfulness for PMS and PMDD Workshop. View Our Calendar for Dates.

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  • Opening Our Arms to Every Experience

    Open Window

     

    Wouldn’t it be lovely to be happy all the time? Waking up with a big grin on our faces, bouncing out of bed and skipping into work every morning for a whole day of joy and laughter.

     

    Unfortunately, our minds aren’t designed like this.

    However naturally positive we are, it’s impossible to be in a state of constant pleasure. Our brains have evolved to pre-empt possible threats (a leftover from when our ancestors were struggling to survive in a dangerous world). Sophisticated though they have become, they still have a tendency to act like Velcro for the bad stuff and Teflon for the good.

    There will always be times when we are fearful, angry, bored or sad; and depending on our upbringing or genetics, some will experience these feelings more than others. The challenge arises when we do not welcome and accept these natural human tendencies and instead try compulsively to shut them out or make them go away.

    In the attempt to be happy, many of us try all sorts of ways to avoid uncomfortable feelings. For example, when sitting in a traffic jam, we might turn on the radio or call a friend - anything to avoid potentially feeling bored or irritated.

    In a more extreme example, we might turn down an interview for a dream job because we don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we might be anxious or embarrassed.

    As well as trying to avoid uncomfortable feelings, many of us also chase after enjoyable ones, such as pleasure and excitement. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try to hold on to these feelings of happiness, they will, at some point, change or slip away.

    When they inevitably do, we leave ourselves open to disappointment or despair, or a neverending quest for the next high.

    In fact, as Russ Harris in 'The Happiness Trap' writes:

     

    "The harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more we are likely to suffer from anxiety and depression."

     

    -- RUSS HARRIS

     

    So where do we go from here?

    Mindfulness-based approaches work on the belief that true wellbeing comes when we learn not to avoid uncomfortable feelings or chase after happiness, but to accept what is.

    By observing our minds and bodies, and how they react to situations, we practice a kind of self-awareness that allows us to be with challenging thoughts or feelings without allowing them to erode our quality of life.

    So if we’re sitting in the car and notice thoughts and feelings of boredom or loneliness, instead of trying to distract ourselves, we can consciously turn towards these sensations with an attitude of non-judgemental friendly curiosity.

    We might ask ourselves:

     

    What exactly is my mind’s reaction to this situation and what kind of feelings do I experience in the body?

     

    Instead of immediately grabbing the phone to send a text, we can become mindfully aware of the arising thoughts and feelings and then make a conscious choice.

     

     

    The more we practice this, we learn to respond in a more mindful and attentive way to unpleasant experiences, accepting them as just thoughts and feelings that will, as with everything in life, pass away.

    By noticing and accepting as they arise and pass, we reduce their pull over us. We learn to embrace every experience, instead of turning away from those that might feel uncomfortable. This can help us to move forward.

    Developing this mindfulness skillpower will mean we don’t have to go through life desperately trying to avoid challenging situations or chasing an impossible dream of constant happiness. It means we can have a choice of how we want to approach the circumstances we find ourselves in... and this will ultimately lead to a richer and more meaningful life.

     

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  • 3 Ways to Experience Mindful Walking & Movement

    Two Smily Dogs Walking

     

    Mindful walking and movement are wonderful practices that can really centre us in our bodies and the present moment.

     

    By becoming more familiar with the intricacies of movement, we can experience a new-found appreciation for something that we do all the time, usually without giving it much attention.

    How we practice mindful walking and movement will vary depending on where we are doing it. Here are three different ways that we can practice in our day-to-day lives.

     

    1. Walking Meditation at Home

    The easiest place to start practicing mindful walking or movement is at home. In the privacy of our own space, we can take the time to really slow down, creating a more intimate connection with how our bodies work and move, away from distraction.

    If walking  isn't possible for you, perhaps try some gentle stretching or upper body movement using the steps below as a guideline. It doesn't matter what you're moving or how you're doing it - as long as you're not straining your body in any way. What's important is that you're aware of your body and focusing your attention.

    If you'd like to try mindful walking at home, start off by finding a clear space to walk around in. It doesn’t have to be a big space; just enough room to take a few mindful steps back and forth will do. 

    Before taking the first step, close your eyes for a moment and focus on the breath, trying to gently let go of any of any thoughts or worries. If it’s helpful, you can imagine your thoughts melting away through the breath, letting them leave the body as you exhale.

    Opening your eyes, you can then begin with the first step. Lift your leg as you normally would, only slowing the movement right down, so that you become aware of how the leg feels as it lifts the foot away from the ground.

    As you step forward, bring awareness to how the hips, thighs, knees and calves all work together, on both sides of the body.

    As the foot reconnects with the floor, notice how the toes, the balls of the foot, and the heels feels as they individually make contact with the carpet or tiles.

     

    Is the ground or air warm or cool?

    Soft or hard?

    Are there any textures to explore?

     

    If the mind wanders, simply bring it back to the movement of the leg, foot or body and notice the different qualities of the process. Try walking up and down for a while in this way, remembering to breathe, and gently re-focussing the mind when it drifts onto other things.

     

    Does the practice change your mood?

    How does it feel in the body to slow down in this way?

     

    Whatever experiences or sensations arise, try to be open to them, noticing them with a sense of curiosity, in the same way as when we are doing a seated meditation.

     

    2. Mindful Walking in Nature

    When we’re in the countryside or at the beach we can not only practice becoming aware of our individual bodies, but we can start to see ourselves as a small part of a bigger picture.

    Our body takes its place as an instrument in nature’s orchestra of wildlife, swaying trees, falling rain and ocean waves. Seeing ourselves as a valid and equal part of life in this way can be very healing, and can offer us opportunities to cultivate gratitude and self-compassion.

     

    “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” 

    -- Thích Nhất Hạnh

     

    To build on our mindful walking practice, we can expand our awareness to how our movement or presence affects our immediate surroundings, and reversely how our surroundings affect us. For example, if we are walking on grass or sand, we can notice how our foot sinks into it, flattening it, perhaps leaving an indentation behind us. We may gently touch nature as we move. 

    We might not feel comfortable walking or moving quite as slowly as we do at home, but this is okay. However quickly or slowly we walk and move, there is always the opportunity to bring awareness into it.

    And if we need to duck under branches or jump across streams along the way, we can also do this mindfully, noticing and enjoying the different movements of the body.

     

    Barefoot Walking on Log

     

    3. Resisting the Urban Rush

    It’s one thing to walk mindfully at home or in the tranquillity of nature, but staying mindful in an urban area can be challenging. With so much noise and activity around us, it’s hard not to get swept away by the rush.

    This is especially true when we’re walking along routine routes, for example walking to or from work. We’re sometimes so focused on our destination that we completely switch off for the journey.

    However, even in the hustle and bustle of city life, we can still add some mindfulness to our steps and movement. 

    If we want to walk more mindfully in such a busy environment, it’s important to centre ourselves. Using the breath as an anchor can help us feel grounded in the midst of sensory overload.

    By taking some deep, conscious breaths we can take a step back from our thoughts about everything that’s going on around us, and we can find a place of inner strength and calm.

    We can then set the intention to go inwards and notice more about our movement, starting a similar process as the walking meditation, only not as slowly.

    We’re bound to find our minds wandering frequently in the city, but again, each time we notice this we can gently return our attention to the breath, and to our movement.

    We may notice aspects of ourselves in those around us as they run around with a smile on our face, feeling gratitude for our practice. 

    Why not experiment with mindful walking when you're next out and about and see how it changes your journey?

     

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  • 4 Ways Mindfulness Eases Anxiety & Depression

     

    Anxiety and depression affect nearly one in four of us in the UK. So if that includes you too, you are not alone.

     

    Though their root causes are varied and complex, we do know that anxiety and depression are exacerbated by our fast-paced, plugged-in world, which leaves us little time to connect with ourselves.

    Mindfulness may not be an overnight fix, but it does offer us an arsenal of tools and techniques to ease the weight of anxiety and depression and prevent recurrance.

    And its effects are cumulative – which means that what we practice only grows stronger.

    Find out just a few of the ways it can help…

     

    1. Mindfulness Soothes the Nervous System

    On a simple level, mindfulness meditation soothes the nervous system and promotes a sense of calm which reduces anxiety. Being attentive to physical sensations and breathing mindfully activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which induces a state of peace and relaxation in the body.

    This is backed by recent scientific studies, which have revealed that levels of cortisol – the hormone that’s triggered in response to stress – are dramatically reduced in those who practice mindful awareness.

     

    2. Mindfulness Teaches Us to Accept Difficulty

    When the blues strike, it’s common to want to hide what we feel and detach from our emotions. Sweeping pain under the metaphorical rug stops us from connecting with it, which can simply make it worse. As the old adage goes: ‘what you resist, persists’.

    The idea of turning towards emotional pain may seem counterintuitive, but when we gently open the door and invite it in, our relationship with it can be transformed.

    By cultivating acceptance of painful thoughts and feelings in the present moment and holding space to simply ‘be’ with them, we may find they loosen their grip on our lives dramatically. This space can bring a sense of clarity and allow us to accept things as they are.

    As a side note, this space can also allow us to explore what we are willing and able to accept, and where we might act with self-compassion to better support our needs. 

     

    3. Mindfulness Opens Us to Self-Compassion

    We all have an inner critic – it’s a voice that often comes from the past: a parent, teacher or boss. When we find ourselves stuck in a rut, feeling anxious or depressed, that judgmental voice can make things ten times harder.

    If we’re not careful, we can live by the stories it tells us about ourselves and let it shape the direction of our lives.

    Becoming aware of our inner critic is the first step towards disengaging with it, and mindfulness empowers us to do this. By training the brain to spot its negative internal commentaries, we can choose to respond to life’s difficulties with self-compassion instead of self-criticism.

    In this way, we chart new neural pathways that support and nurture us when we’re feeling low. Making self-care a part of our day can be a useful way to improve our overall well-being. 

     

     

    4. Mindfulness Helps Us to Break Negative Thinking

    Negative and ruminative loops of thinking are characteristic of depressive and anxious moods. They can throw us into a black hole of self-doubt that colours our response to everything. Happily, mindfulness can help us to break this cycle.

    With mindful awareness, we train the mind to recognise negative thought patterns and learn the skills to interrupt and respond to them in a way that makes us more resilient.

    Science has also shown that mindfulness works to disarm the mind’s ‘stress centre’ – the amygdala – which is the seat of our fearful and anxious emotions. This boosts activity in the more thoughtful area of the brain – the pre-frontal cortex. As a result, we are less overwhelmed by negative and ruminative thoughts, and more able to access practical thinking and positive emotions.

     

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    * Statistics from mental health charity, Mind.

  • Taking Mindfulness on Holiday

    Ice Cream

     

    When we embark on a holiday we naturally want it to be a time of rest and relaxation, or excitement and adventure. However, whilst we may plan our holiday itinerary down to the finest detail, we can never plan for what feelings may arise during that time.

     

    Expectations vs Reality

     

    Our trips away may be planned months, or even years in advance, and so expectations are high; we want to have fun, and we want to have amazing experiences. Because holidays are often expensive and only last for a limited about of time, we may experience a very strong pressure for it to be a particular way.

    Yet real life rarely matches our ideas of should’s and shouldn’t’s, and so when we find ourselves in unexpected situations we may feel disappointed, that we’ve somehow ‘failed’, or that all the time and money we have spent has been a waste.

    Mindfulness can help with this, even before we’ve boarded the plane or packed our luggage into the car. Being mindful in the lead up to a holiday or weekend break can help us recognise any expectations we may be holding.

     

    Are we set on experiencing particular emotions?

    Are we envisioning how the weather, culture, hotel, or activities will be too vividly, to the point of becoming inflexible?

     

    It might be useful to pause and reflect on how we are mentally creating our future experiences. This not only helps us feel less disappointed if our real experiences don’t meet the standards of our imagined ones, but can also free up our minds so that we really appreciate the wonderful moments of our holiday.

    With fewer expectations we are more likely to notice those special moments that are impossible to plan for.

     

    Family Drama

     

    Although we like to imagine that family dynamics will change for the better once we are away from home, the truth is that we are still the same people with the same emotional baggage and history wherever in the world we happen to be.

    Conflicts and difficult emotions are bound to arise, whether we’re around the dinner table or sipping cocktails on the beach. In fact, with the pressure of high expectations, tension between partners or among family members can feel even stronger than usual. When we get stuck in ideals of how everyone should be, our connection to those people suffers.

     

    Water Inflatables

     

    Rather than being present with who they really are in any given moment, we find ourselves trapped by make-believe versions of them, and inevitably feel frustrated or let down when they don’t behave the way we want them to. But they, like us, are changeable human beings, vulnerable to a spectrum of emotions and experiences.

    If we find ourselves feeling uptight because our spouse is being grumpy, or the kids are whining, take a moment to feel into that emotion.

     

    Where is it coming from?

    Is it fair to blame the other person, or are we co-creating tension by having inflexible expectations?

     

    Compassion is a key part of mindfulness, and so approaching our holiday with mindful intent can help us be kinder and more tolerant of others, and ourselves! After all, family dramas are just as likely to be caused by our own issues as that of those around us.

    Treating our own emotions and the emotions of others with gentleness and kindness, instead of stress and frustration, can make holiday dramas much less explosive.

     

    “The little things? The little moments? They aren't little.”

    - JON KABAT-ZINN

     

    The cost and preparation that goes into planning a holiday can sometimes cause more stress than our daily lives – the very thing we’re trying to recuperate from!

    It’s easy to slip into anxiety over money, missed connections, and all the potential problems which can arise when we’re in an unfamiliar place. Yet the very fact that we’re able to take a holiday, to visit beautiful and interesting places is a great prompt to remember to hold gratitude in our hearts.

    Our brains are designed to notice threats above all else, and so noticing the good things around us can take a little practice. But once we start to make the effort, the easier it will become. By using mindfulness to notice when our attention is wandering to the negative, we can rein it back and focus it on what we feel grateful for instead.

    It may be something small, such as not missing the flight or a friendly smile from a waiter/waitress, or something bigger like a stunning view from a mountain.

    Take a moment now to remember something you feel grateful for, and notice how it changes your mood. Now imagine taking these moments while you’re on holiday. What a difference it can make!

     

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  • 8 Wellbeing Benefits of Practicing Gratitude

    Close Up of Dandelion Seeds

     

    Increased gratitude is a common result of practicing mindfulness. As we start paying more attention to our thoughts, we notice where we block ourselves from appreciating the good things in life.

     

    Say, for example, that you always used to get angry when stuck in traffic, but now when you bring your focus to where you are (rather than where you want to get to) you notice things such as the song on the radio or a beautiful scene beyond the car window. We can’t feel grateful for things we don’t notice, and so mindfulness and gratitude go hand-in-hand.

     

    The Science of Gratitude

     

    Robert Emmons, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology at UC Davis in California, and has been studying the effects of gratitude on over 1,000 people. The participants in his study ranged in age from eight to eighty, and were split into two groups.

    One group was asked to keep a journal in which they were to write five ‘gifts’ that they were grateful for each day, while the other group had to write down five ‘hassles’.

    Some examples of the ‘gifts’ people noted were generosity of friends, and watching a sunset through the clouds. Examples of ‘hassles’ were things like difficulty in finding a parking space, and burning their dinner.

    What Emmons found was that those who had kept a gratitude journal experienced significant psychological, physical and social benefits: a 25% improvement in overall health and wellbeing in comparison with the group focussing on what had gone wrong each day.

    Here are just eight of the many ways in which mindfully practicing gratitude can improve our wellbeing, and the wellbeing of others around us.

     

    1. Greater Energy Levels

     

    When we experience sadness or depression, our energy levels slump way down. Sometimes doing the simplest of tasks can feel like running a marathon. However, people who kept a gratitude journal in Emmons study reported that their energy levels improved. Many also started exercising more.

    People with depression are often told that exercise will help, however this study suggests it may in fact work the other way around; that being mindful of what’s good about our life plays an important role in having the energy to exercise.

     

    2. Better Sleep

     

    On average, study participants found that they were not only sleeping 10% longer than they used to, but that the quality of their sleep was improved. They reported waking up feeling more refreshed and ready for the coming day.

     

    3. Reduced Blood Pressure

     

    With our current hectic lifestyles, high blood pressure has become a common problem. However, simply taking moments to focus our attention on our loved ones or friends, or on the beauty of nature, can lower blood pressure, thus taking the strain off our hearts, brains and many other parts of the body.

     

    4. Feeling Less Lonely

     

    Gratitude strengthens relationships, not just with people we know, but with other people in general. When we’re mindful of positive traits and behaviours in others, we feel more supported, and that leads to us feeling more able to support others in return.

    When we feel safer, we become less selfish, as we no longer feel such a need to look out for our own interests above others. This leads to us feeling less lonely and isolated, as we are more able to truly connect with others.

     

    Happy Dog Running

     

    5. Fewer Physical Symptoms

     

    People who wrote down five things they were grateful for each day became less affected by aches, pains and other physical symptoms. This ties in with other studies which have found that mindfulness can ease uncomfortable physical symptoms, even chronic pain.

     

    6. Improved Attentiveness

     

    As we mentioned earlier in this post, mindfulness and gratitude are very much linked. Over time, those who deliberately thought about what they were grateful for experienced greater attentiveness. They felt more alert and aware of life.

     

    7. Taking Better Care of Health

     

    Practicing daily gratitude resulted in many participants taking better care of their physical health. Mindful individuals tend to have better self-control and are less impulsive, in many areas of life, including eating habits. Add this to more exercise and better quality of sleep, and you’ve got an all-round much healthier life.

     

    8. Increased Joy

     

    When we steer our attention to what’s good about the world, we naturally feel a greater sense of joy. It’s important to note, however, that gratitude isn’t about denying what’s wrong; solely acknowledging the positive and avoiding the negative can do us much psychological harm.

    But, noticing good things, when and where they exist, takes us away from seeing the world as a bad place where bad things happen.

    In truth, life contains both good and bad, but mindful gratitude helps us appreciate those lovely moments in life, whilst at the same time enabling us to make more of those lovely moments for others.

     

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  • Earth Day

    Take a moment to look around you. The furniture you are resting on, the paper on your desk, the tea in your cup, the food on your plate -- all of this and most everything that sustains us, is thanks to nature and its resources.

     

    The earth is our home, but these days the majority of us live deeply disconnected from it, forgetful of the profound continuity between nature and our self.

    Today, on Earth Day, it is nice to connect with a sense of gratitude for the gifts of nature that surround and sustain us, which day-to-day we take for granted -- water to drink, sunlight to brighten and warm our days, trees to clean the air, earth rich in nutrients to grow our food. When we look with awareness, we see that we are a part of nature and not apart from it.

    Today is also a time to remember that our earth is as risk and we are edging towards an environmental disaster of epic proportions. The time is also now for us each to consider how we can play our part individually in caring for its future.

    As we do, it becomes clear that something deeper must change within us all -- at the level of our mind and our consciousness. In the words of Albert Einstein:

     

    “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

     

    Without an urgent shift in the state of our awareness, the repercussions of this crisis will begin to play out in all areas of life.

    At this critical point, mindfulness has an important role to play. The simple act of cultivating awareness is one of the first steps we can take to help us to begin to rebuild the relationship with have with the earth.

    When we become awake to the interconnection of life on earth, and aware of our dependence on it as a source of physical and psychic nourishment, we naturally deepen our respect and intention to care for it.

    These small shifts in attention and intention allow us to begin to make choices that are better for the planet and have a common humanity at their heart -- and although they may not feel much on an individual level, when they gain pace collectively, we may begin to see seismic shifts taking place.

    To honour both the hope and despair these reflections can evoke, here is one of our favourite Wendell Berry poems:

     

    The Peace of Wild Things

     

    When despair for the world grows in me
    and I wake in the night at the least sound
    in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
    I go and lie down where the wood drake
    rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
    I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars
    waiting with their light. For a time
    I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

     

    The Mindfulness Project runs a range of courses, workshops and retreats to help us to cultivate awareness.

     

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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.

     

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    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!

     

    Join Mindfulness on a Mindfulness Course or Workshop.

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  • 5 Common Misconceptions of Self-Compassion

     

     

    There are many misconceptions in mindfulness, and the same can be said of self-compassion.

    Many of those that sign up to the mindful self-compassion course may even find themselves questioning what mindful self-compassion is as they join their first session.

    In this article, we dispel the myths of self-compassion to help explain what it means to practice.

     

    1. Self-Compassion is Self-Pity

    Self-compassion is not the same as self-pity. Self-pity is usually an isolating and lonely experience.

    It makes us feel disconnected from the world, like we’re the only one with a problem. It can lead us to catastrophise or wallow in our problems, which both tend to make us feel worse.

    The truth is; everyone suffers, everyone feels pain, and everyone experiences challenging emotions such as sadness, disappointment and jealousy. It’s not just us, even if it might feel like it from time to time! When we accept that, we’re moving toward self-compassion. 

     

    Join an 8-Week Self-Compassion Course.

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    With self-compassion we recognise that experiencing difficulty is part of the human experience. This allows us to feel more connected with others and offers a sense of belonging. 

    Self-Compassion invites us to notice when difficult feelings or thoughts come up and take steps to avoid slipping into self-pity. Instead of listening to inner doubt, judgement or self-criticism, we tune in to our self-compassionate voice and create space for what we really need. 

    With self-pity we’re digging ourselves a hole that might be hard to get out of. With self-compassion, we’re offering ourselves a ladder out of a difficult situation! 

     

    Sad Dog

     

    2. Self-Compassion is Self-Indulgent

    You may have heard the phrase 'self-care isn’t selfish’, and the same can be said of self-compassion. It’s not self-centred or indulgent. And here’s why…

    When we’re investing time in our own wellbeing, we’re investing time in those around us. Our friends and family want us to be happy. Self-compassionate can help us to feel happier.

    When we take the time to work on ourselves, it increases our resilience and inner strength. Strength that we can save for when it’s most needed, reducing the need to lean on others. It also enables us to offer others greater support when they are having a difficult time. 

    We’re keeping our battery charged, so we have more to offer the world. We can’t do that well if we’re depleted.

    What’s more, self-compassion breeds compassion. When we are more self-compassionate towards ourselves it can be much easier to be compassionate towards others.

     

    "Self-care isn't always baths and chocolate (sometimes it will be), but it is an intentional stance to do what you need to do for yourself."

     

    -- EMILY MITCHELL

     

    The big question in mindful self-compassion is ‘What do I need?’. We’re getting into the habit of asking ourselves this question, letting the answers be what they are, then offering kind encouragement to meet those needs.

     

    3. We Can Use Self-Compassion To Let Ourselves off the Hook

    Sorry to break it to you but self-compassion isn’t about giving us an excuse to not do something or allowing ourselves to always take the easy path. It’s better than that. It’s about making choices that help us instead of hindering. 

    In some cases, letting ourselves ‘off the hook’ might be the right thing to do. But in others, it might serve us best to take the tougher course of action. 

    This is where self-compassion can really come in handy. 

    Let’s take an example…

    There’s an event that in the right frame of mind we would really want to go to. Yet we’re feeling nervous or insecure about attending. 

    Many of us have been there, we’ve tried on six different outfits, the room is a mess, we’re starting to feel flustered and we’re on the edge of putting our pyjamas back on and eating an entire tub of Haagen Dazs. We're on the edge of self-pity. 

    Without self-compassion we might find we talk ourselves out of going, make excuses and later feel regret. 

    With self-compassion, we’re able to acknowledge how we really feel. 

     

    “I’m worried about what other people will think of me” 

    or;

    “I’m nervous that I won’t know anyone.” 

     

    And we can reply – in our heads or out loud – with words of encouragement.  Just like a friend might, we can say;

     

    “You can do this”

    “You’re a good person, if people don't like you then it doesn’t matter”

    “It’s OK, you’re just a bit nervous”

    or even; 

    “If you really don’t like it when you get there, you can leave”

     

    In giving ourselves this gentle encouragement, we can help to meet our actual needs with what will serve us well in the long-term.

     

    4. Self-Compassion Shows Weakness 

    Firstly, let’s start by saying that there is nothing remotely ‘wimpy’ or ‘weak’ about noticing that something is hard and trying to do something about it. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  

    Think about the last time you faced a challenge and didn’t act with self-compassion. Perhaps you got irritated, jealous or even found yourself in a state of despair. It’s easy to do.

    When we’re dealing with a difficult emotion or challenge we often gravitate towards distracting ourselves or burying our heads in the sand. 

     

     

    When we act to support ourselves with self-compassion or seek to understand what we really need, it can be more challenging. We’re coming up close to how we feel – not in a harsh or mean way – but asking ourselves what we really need. We’re being honest with ourselves instead of slipping into reactive habits, and that can be hard to do. Which brings us to… 

     

    5. Self-Compassion is Easy

    So by this point you may have decided to give this self-compassion thing a try? Easy, right? 

    Well, just like mindfulness, self-compassion will take practice. (A lot of practice.) One day it might be easy and the next it might be more challenging! 

    If we’ve been lacking self-compassion for ourselves for a while it may feel completely alien to start cheering ourselves on. We may come up against feelings of ‘backdraft’ - a resistance to offering ourselves compassion.

    The trick is to keep trying and to build a regular practice. Attending an 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course can be a great way to do this. It might take patience and we will inevitably stumble. Just as we wouldn’t expect to learn any other valuable skill overnight, the same can be said of self-compassion. A teacher's input and the support of a group can really help. 

    Every time we don’t get it quite right it’s a learning curve... and an opportunity to practice self-compassion. As Hugh Grant’s character once said in Notting Hill, we can simply say ‘whoops a daisies’, give ourselves a pat on the back for trying and approach it from a new angle. 

     

    Build a Regular Practice on the 8-Week Self-Compassion Course.

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