Monthly Archives: May 2015

  • 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 then approach communication with clarity.

    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 and 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.

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    To learn more about Mindful Communication, join us for a fun workshop on the 27th June. To read more about it click here.

  • Taking Mindfulness on Holiday

    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.

    Palm Trees

    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 what the weather, the culture, the hotel, or the activities will be like 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 Dramas

    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. 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 that 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!

  • Taking Time to Play

    Have you ever sat and watched a group of children play, and sighed to yourself, thinking, “Man, I’d love to be a kid again!”? How nice it would be to feel so care-free again!

    Yet just because we’re grown up doesn’t mean that we can’t still play. In fact, taking time to play is very beneficial for our well-being, relationships and even productivity.

     

    play

     

    A Waste of Time?

    Author and psychiatrist, Dr. Stuart Brown, MD has studied the life histories of over 6,000 people and found a compelling link between a person’s success in life and their childhood, and current, playing habits. “An adult who has “lost” what was a playful youth and doesn’t play,” he says, “will demonstrate social, emotional and cognitive narrowing, be less able to handle stress, and often experience a smoldering depression. From an evolutionary point of view, research suggests that play is a biological necessity.” And yet so many of us don’t allow ourselves to be playful.

    We certainly live in a results-driven society. When it comes to work, education, and sometimes even how we spend our free time, our focus is usually on what we will achieve by the end of a particular activity. We spend our time in the same way we would spend money; we feel we must put it to ‘good use’, and not fritter it away on frivolous things. If we do spend time on something that was fun but not ‘useful’ (i.e. we don’t have anything to show for it afterwards), we may feel guilty for having wasted that time. For example, we may avoid investing time in learning new things unless it will benefit our career, or if we exercise it may because we have particular fitness goals that we want to achieve, rather than because we enjoy moving our bodies. This is probably why we envy children’s ability to play: they don’t play to achieve something; they play because it is a joyful way to spend time.

    Yet if we really watch children play, we can see that they are not wasting time at all. Firstly, enjoying our lives is never wasteful. And secondly, children learn many skills from playing. They learn how to interact with the world, with other people, and in the process of playing they explore their dreams, emotions, and who they are. Studies, such as Brown’s, show that this beneficial process doesn’t stop justbecause we’ve grown up.

    Enjoying This Moment

    One of the main benefits of practicing mindfulness is that it helps us become more present. Being present in the moment doesn’t mean that we forget about our responsibilities, or that we don’t make plans for the future. However, if we are spending the majority of our time preparing for the next day, week, months or years, then we are perpetually missing the gift of the present moment.

    While we of course can’t become completely like children again, we are able to become more conscious about how we spend our time, and can actively choose to spend some of that time simply enjoying life. Giving ourselves permission to play is an excellent way to do this.

    How to Play

    Dr. Stuart Brown, MD compares play to oxygen: “…it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.” The opportunity to play is all around us because all it really means is to engage with our present surroundings with curiosity and imagination. Cultivating a sense of curiosity helps us stay mindful, because it means we are really taking notice of things. We can do this anywhere, and in many different ways.

    We could buy a pack of paints and start adding them to a canvas, with no idea of what we’ll end up creating, just exploring how the colours look, how they blend together or contrast with each other. We could take a walk with no destination in mind, just because we want to explore where we live, or an area of countryside. On our walk, we can stop to notice trees, plants, streams, touching them and engaging with them as if the world is our playground. We could take some time to look out of the window at the clouds and daydream. We could have funny conversations with our pets, and notice the cute and amusing ways they react to us. We could dance like no one was watching, or sing like no one could hear us. We could try on clothes that we wouldn’t normally wear, or experiment with make-up and accessories, not because we’ve got to get dressed up to go somewhere, but because it’s fun to play dress-up sometimes, just as we did as children.

    Regaining our sense of play can help us in many areas of our lives. It can help us become more creative in work or at home, it can help us connect with loved ones, friends and even strangers, and perhaps most importantly, it can help reconnect us with ourselves!

    When was the last time you played? What did you do? Or what play ideas would you like to do? We love hearing your experiences, so share them in the comments below!

  • Dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Thinking

    OCD

    Obsessive compulsive thoughts can range from a mildly irritating sense that you might have left the oven on, even though you know you haven’t, right up to the very distressing belief that simply having a negative thought might cause harm to others. Although scientists have not yet agreed on a definitive cause for OCD, there are a number of theories which offer explanations of why some of us develop these very strong, and uncomfortable, intrusive thought patterns.

    The biological theory suggests that in OCD sufferers, the brain struggles with turning off particular impulses. For example, before we leave the house we might check that all the electrical switches have been turned off. Even after we’ve checked, the impulse to do so still remains, and so we may experience discomfort and concern if we do not check once more. Another theory suggests that the cause may be psychological, and that people with OCD place too much importance – through no fault of their own – on the kinds of intrusive thoughts that everyone experiences from time to time (for example, “Did I leave the oven on?” or “Am I a bad person?”). Rather than letting these thoughts come and go naturally, OCD sufferers may believe that something bad will happen unless these thoughts are acted upon, or even that the very act of having certain thoughts is causing bad things to occur. Stress, depression and traumatic life events, while not considered to be causes, can act as triggers of obsessive compulsive thoughts, and often aggravate our pre-existing problems.

    At its worst OCD can be debilitating, and even if we can function normally with these thought patterns, they may still cause anxiety and depression. Yet mindfulness offers some hope.

    Using the Breath as an Anchor

    When we’re caught in repetitive or obsessive thought cycles, we’re not present. Instead, we’re trapped in painful what-if’s or ruminations about how things we’ve said or done may have affected others negatively. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a gentle awareness of the present moment. Practicing mindfulness can really help us break free of this internal trap, by grounding us in the reality of the moment, while also helping us cultivate a greater sense of kindness and compassion towards ourselves.

    In mindfulness meditation, we train our minds to focus on the here and now. We give our brains something to focus its attention on (i.e. the breath or a piece of fruit), whilst at the same time, encouraging ourselves to notice when our minds are wandering away from that focal point, and gently bringing it back each time. This practice can help us develop a healthier relationship with our thoughts, by encouraging patience and kindness within ourselves when we get carried away by mental chatter. This can be immensely helpful when it comes to obsessive compulsive thoughts.

    When we find ourselves caught in obsessive thoughts, there is one focal point which is always available to us: our breath. For as long as we’re alive, we’ll always be breathing, and so directing our attention away from our thoughts and onto the breath is an option that will always be there. By paying attention to the physical sensations of breathing, like how the air feels as it fills our nostrils or how our chest expands and relaxes with each breath, we can take some of the emotional charge out of our obsessive compulsive thoughts and feel more grounded in reality again.

    Mindfulness Improves Impulse Control

    Studies have shown that mindfulness can be effective for helping us control impulses. When we have a more observational relationship with our thoughts, we’re more able to sit with impulses and urges, patiently being with them and waiting for them to pass, rather than acting on each and every one. For example, if we’re giving up smoking, mindfulness can help us accept the feeling that we want a cigarette, without interpreting our experience to mean that we must have one. This process can also be applied to obsessive compulsive thoughts.

    Say, for example, that we are leaving the house and we’ve locked the door behind us. But then a thought pops up that says, “You better check again, just to make sure.” So we double check, and turn to leave, but the same thought arises yet again. If we get caught by this series of impulses, we could be stuck checking the door for the next ten minutes or more.

    However, studies suggest that regular mindfulness practice helps our brains become better at regulating impulses by promoting growth in the areas of the brain that are involved in impulse control. This means that mindfulness may be very beneficial for those of us who struggle with obsessive impulses, not just because it makes us more aware of them, but also because it enables our brains to deal with them better, in the same way that exercising makes our muscles stronger and more able to deal with stresses and strains.

    If we can be patient with our obsessive thoughts, and make efforts to deliberately and repetitively re-focus our attention on something like the breath or our surroundings, we may reach a place where obsessive thoughts can arise and fall away more freely.

    Want to learn more about mindfulness and how to use it in our day-to-day lives? Check out our calendar for upcoming workshops and courses!

     

     

  • Mindful Eating: The End of Dieting

     

    Strawberry Heart Square_3

    Few of us exclusively eat when we are actually physically hungry, when our body sends us hunger signals such as a grumbling stomach, slight dizziness or an empty stomach feeling, which let us know that we need fuel up our bodies.

    Most of us will eat at other times too - when it’s the “right” time on the clock, when we feel stressed out, upset, bored or when we have a craving for a particular food. If we are offered food we will often take it, no matter how hungry we feel, and we will eat just because we are in the company of other people who are eating. Sometimes we know that there won’t be any food available or that there’ll be no time to eat later on, and so we eat more than we need so we have enough food in our bellies until there is food again.

    As a consequence of this, it is easy for our calorie intake to exceed the amount we actually need and so inevitably we gain weight. Our society’s prescription for having too much weight is an often extreme, short term diet in order too lose a few pounds and then eat less and more healthily for the rest of our lives.

    Why Diets Don’t Work

    Usually when we start a diet we are very disciplined. We have a dream target weight, a food plan, freshly stocked kitchens and so we enthusiastically commence our diet. As soon as the first few pounds are off the scale, for many of us, something almost miraculous happens: super-hero motivation fills us and we burst with willpower. At this stage, we might not even be able to understand anymore why we were eating too much, let alone ever touched chocolate cookies or crisps! We feel like a new person who has finally got their weight and eating habits under control.

    Unfortunately, this first phase doesn’t last forever. I believe this may be because human beings are evolutionarily programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. In phase one, the pleasure of losing our first pounds is so exciting that it unquestionably exceeds the pain or discomfort of not eating that second portion or bar of chocolate in front of the television after an exhausting work day. We’ve got endless willpower!

    After a while, however, something shifts and our willpower decreases. We realise that in order to keep those pounds off permanently we will have to always maintain that same level of discipline. In addition to that realisation, we might go through a stressful period at work or a difficult period with our family - or simply feel a bit low, as life can be. That’s usually when we discover that we can’t maintain our willpower anymore and we slip. “After all, what’s the problem with a little piece of chocolate here and there anyway?” we might think. But it never ends with that small piece of chocolate, which soon becomes a bar and we end up back in our familiar and comfortable eating habits. This is shown by the fact that about 95% of people who lose weight by dieting regaining it in 1-5 years. Not only that, our dieting can promote an unhealthy relationship to food.

    I believe this is because diets don’t help us change our eating patterns in a sustainable way. They change – for a certain time – the food we put on our plates and into our mouths, but they do not change our relationship with food. In order to change our eating patterns in a sustainable way, willpower is simply not enough.

    Mindful Eating - Tapping Into Our Innate Abilities

    Unlike diets, Mindful Eating teaches us to change our eating patterns step by step. It teaches us mindfulness skill-power! However we cannot develop this overnight. It takes time. Because just as eating patterns take years or decades to evolve, they take a lot of training to sustainably change.

    Mindful-Based Eating Awareness Training doesn’t tell us what to eat or what not to eat. It doesn’t provide us with any rules or orders. Instead it trains our innate ability to tune into our bodies cues and learn to read these signals telling us when it’s time to eat, how much to eat and when to stop eating. It teaches us the skills to tap into our hunger and fullness awareness, to better develop our taste satiety and trains our ability to slow down while eating, thus tasting our food mindfully.

    Hunger and Fullness Awareness

    Training our hunger and fullness awareness lets us reconnect with our ability to check in with physical hunger and fullness symptoms. For example, instead of listening to our mind when it says it’s time to eat, we start listening more to our belly and whole body’s signals of when it’s time to eat. We also learn that hunger and fullness are intimately linked but don’t completely ;it is possible for us to feel full and still physically hungry. In the water bottle meditation during the course, participants are asked to come to a session hungry and then drink half liter of water (or 1 small bottle of water) while mindfully observing how they feel fuller and fuller in their stomach, yet still they may have a feeling of physical hunger.

    Taste Satiety

    Food tastes a lot better when we start eating and this satisfaction starts to decrease when we go into the phase of overeating. This satisfaction decrease is because our tongue sends feedback signals to our brain to tell us to stop eating. But many of us don’t tune into these taste satiety signals. The more we can train our taste satiety ability, the more we will be able to tell when food doesn’t taste as good and will then naturally stop eating because we do not get as much satisfaction.

    Slowing Down

    Mindful Eating also teaches us how to slow down. Through training, we can learn that by taking time to eat we to savour every bite. If we gulp down our food or watch television while eating (or both), our tongues and brains hardly register that we’ve eaten a whole meal. No wonder our mind and body will then not be satisfied after a meal and will request more food. Many of us, when we start to practice mindful eating, will become real food gourmets, because mindful eating not only trains us to savour every bite mindfully, it also teaches us to look at our food, smell it, feel it and sometimes even mindfully listen to it. As trained mindful eaters we don’t want to gulp down a whole chocolate bar anymore, but will now go for smaller sized deliciously prepared desserts that not only satisfy our tongues, but also our other senses.

    Emotional Eating, Urge Surfing & Self-Compassion

    Every time we eat when we are bored, anxious or even happy, we are eating for emotional reasons. We’re not eating because we are physically hungry and therefore our body doesn’t need to be given food. In such moments, we not only need to tap into our hunger awareness, taste satiety and mindful eating skills, we also need something else to cope with our emotional discomfort or pain. This is where basic mindfulness skills come in.

    One of the many things mindfulness teaches us is to learn to accept and sit with uncomfortable states of mind, heart and body; to accept this very moment as it is – pleasurable, neutral or uncomfortable, and observe it with curiosity and with a non-judgemental awareness. When we feel upset or bored, we often don’t stay with those feelings but immediately feel the urge to push them away. In those moments, a piece of chocolate comes in handy because it momentarily takes our mind off of an uncomfortable state.

    A technique called Urge Surfing helps us with such emotional urges. Urge Surfing helps us to accept and observe emotional urges with kindness and curiosity so that we will become stronger and stronger in surfing them. This is important because no urge lasts forever (mostly only a few seconds or minutes). Thus, the more professional we become in surfing the urges, the less we will give in to them.

    Self-compassion is a vital part of Mindful Eating. Often when we have overeaten we end up berating ourselves, which usually makes us more upset, and in many cases makes us want to eat even more. In a Mindful Eating course we instead learn to treat ourselves with kindness, so that we can interrupt the cycle of overeating, beating ourselves up and then eating even more as a result.

    Mindful Eating is not about willpower, restriction or following rules. It’s about reconnecting us with our bellies, taste buds, emotions, treating ourselves with compassion and kindness.

    Want to learn more about mindful eating and experience some of the practices for yourself? Check out the details of our next 8-Week Mindful Eating Course here.

  • Simple Mini-Meditations for the Workday

    Home workspace of a modern woman. Images on the screen are the property of Lumina Images and can be licensed at Stocksy.com.

    A recent survey conducted by Bupa showed that 28% of British workers don’t take a minute for themselves during the workday. And two thirds of employees are unable to take a proper lunch break, even for 20 minutes. So it’s little wonder that so many of us feel that we just don’t have the time to fit meditation into our day.

    However, taking even just a few moments to slow down and calm our minds throughout the day can have a positive effect. After all, just one minute of mindfulness is better than none! So why not try these super simple mini-meditations to start off with.

    A Few Deep Breaths Before Jumping Out of Bed

    The alarm buzzes, jolting us from our sleep, and suddenly we’re facing another work day. If we like our job, then this isn’t such a bad thing. Yet if we dread going into work, these first few moments in the morning can be pretty tough. Taking a moment to calm our minds during this time could make a huge difference to how we feel for the rest of the day.

    Before we jump out of bed and get busy with our morning routine, why not take just a few deep breaths first? As we breathe in deeply, we can notice how the oxygen fills our lungs and energises the body. As we breathe out, we can try to let go of any tension we’re holding in our neck, shoulders or back. Of course, consciously breathing for 10 or 20 minutes is proven to benefit us in many ways, but if we feel stretched for time, just three deep breaths can be enough to take us out of our default mood of dread or depression and into a more relaxed state of mind.

    Have a Mindful Tea Break

    Leaving our desks and spending a few minutes in the kitchen to make a hot drink can provide a nice break. If we add mindfulness, however, this time can feel even more enriching.

    Try turning the process of making tea or coffee into a mindfulness meditation by slowing down every action, even if it’s only slightly. When we reach for our mug, instead of grabbing it from the cupboard, treat it as if it’s something precious. Notice how it feels in your hand – is it cool, or warm from the dishwasher or sink? Notice how the tea bag feels when you pick it up and place it in the mug, or how the coffee granules look as you dip a teaspoon into them. Watch how the boiling water pours into the mug, and how the coffee dissolves, or how the tea bag starts to turn the water a rich brown colour.

    Noticing each individual step of the process can help us appreciate the present moment more. Instead of seeing this time as meaningless, as just a necessary thing to do in order to create a drink, we can use this time to remember that every moment can feel special, even the seemingly mundane ones, if we just take time to slow down and notice.

    Take a Mindful Eating Moment in Your Lunch Break

    Bupa’s survey showed that about a third of workers eat their lunch at their desks, and a quarter admitted to answering emails or using their work phones during lunch. This trend is having a detrimental effect, both to work productivity and to our physical and emotional health. Over half of the people surveyed said that skipping lunch puts them in a bad mood. However, while the length of our lunch breaks may be out of our control, we do have control over how we spend the time we do have.

    We probably don’t have time to eat all of our lunch mindfully. Yet why not try eating at least the first two or three bites in a more mindful way? Before we start eating, we can take just a moment to look at our food, feel it in our hands, and appreciate the fact that we have something to eat. As we move our food up to our mouths, we can notice how it smells before taking a bite. When the food is in our mouths, we can focus our attention on how it tastes, and how the texture of it feels on our tongue, gums and teeth. Doing this, even just two or three times, can help our lunch feel more satisfying, and may also help us feel a little more in control of our time and our experience in the moment, rather than feeling that we are in a never-ending rush.

    Mindful Listening in Meetings

    In meetings, we’ll often find that our minds completely wander onto other topics, such as what we’ll cook for dinner, or ruminating about problems we’ll face when we return home in the evening. Yet this provides us with an excellent opportunity to practice mindfulness! After all, mindfulness isn’t about clearing our minds of thoughts; it’s about noticing what’s going on in our minds.

    We don’t always need to be in a peaceful setting with our eyes closed in order to meditate. In essence, meditation is all about noticing when our mind is wandering away from what we want to focus on, whether that’s our breath, the food we’re eating, or a meeting. So when we realise that we are no longer listening, we can practice bringing our attention back to whoever is speaking. This way, we can easily bring meditation into our workday, whilst at the same time being more productive and present in our work roles.

    Have you experimented with bringing more mindfulness into your workday? How did it change your experience? We’d love to hear your tips and stories in the comments below!

  • Tips for Mindful Baking

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    Baking is a perfect way to practice mindfulness. To successfully bake a cake, some biscuits or a loaf of bread, we need to pay close attention to the recipe. If we measure out too much flour or don’t include enough butter, if we don’t mix the ingredients in the correct order or don’t knead the dough for long enough, we’ll end up with poor results. This need for focus can help quieten our internal chatter, and can therefore be very therapeutic.

    A Party for the Senses

    We can involve all of our senses in the process of baking. Paying close attention to how the ingredients look, smell, taste, feel, and even how they sound, can provide a wonderful self-soothing affect. Next time you bake, why not take some time to really look at the ingredients as you measure them out and add them to the mixing bowl. Notice the texture of the sugar: is it fine and white, or coarse and golden brown? How does it fall as you sprinkle it into the mixture? Notice the colour of the butter, and the texture as you cut through it. Take time to smell the individual ingredients, and then notice how they smell as they become combined. If you’re mixing anything by hand, notice how it feels on your skin. You can even notice how the mixture sounds as you stir it or whisk it. The sounds of cake batter or bread dough as it is kneaded might bring back warm memories and comforting sensations from our childhood.

    Gratitude

    Paying more attention to the process of baking also gives us the opportunity to feel gratitude. When we slow down, and stop doing things on auto-pilot, we become more aware of how special things are. We can take a moment to feel grateful for the ingredients we have, for the farmers and workers which have grown and produced them so that we are able to use them in our baking. We can feel grateful for our senses, and for our ability to bake. If we’re self-taught bakers, we can feel gratitude for the recipe books we have read, or perhaps our school teachers, parents, grandparents, friends or spouses taught us how to bake, and so we can feel grateful for their presence in our lives. There’s really no limit to what we can feel grateful for, and appreciating the act of baking can make our final products even tastier than if we take everything for granted.

    Mindful Eating

    Once we’ve measured, mixed, and baked, we can then finish our mindful baking experience with some mindful eating. After all, if we’ve taken the time to bake with mindfulness, it would be a shame to just wolf down what we have created!

    Just as with baking, we can make use of all of our senses when we eat. Noticing how our food looks, smells, feels and sounds before we take a bite helps our minds focus less on our mental chatter and more on our present experience. Fully enjoying how our baking tastes can give us an enriching feeling of accomplishment. What might have once just been seen as a simple slice of cake can now provide a full and rich sensory experience, which helps ground us firmly in the sweet present moment.

    To learn more about mindful eating, why not sign up for our online Introduction to Mindful Eating workshop on Tuesday 12th May!

  • 8 Wellbeing Benefits Of Practicing Gratitude

    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.

    Gratitude

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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 out of seeing the world as just being 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.

    MEDITATIONS:

    Gratitude Meditation

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Cultivating Happiness Workshop, Self-Compassion Workshop, 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course, Self-Compassion Drop-In for Graduates