Monthly Archives: August 2015

  • An Introduction to Mindful Parenting

    Stocksy_txp4e2f17f2k4S000_Small_405050Cultivating mindfulness in our role as parents will certainly be a challenge at times, however the benefits that mindful parenting can bring make it a challenge worth accepting. By being present with our children, and our own emotional process, we can make better decisions and react with greater clarity and compassion.

    Children Are Already Half Way There

    Small children easily switch from one emotion to another, without clinging to previous thoughts or feelings. In this sense, they are already present; they are in the moment with each emotion. However, what children lack is conscious awareness of their experience. They don’t yet have the language to explain their feelings, and so they express them through their behaviour. They don’t know what it means to be angry, sad, disappointed or exhausted, just that they feel the discomfort from it. As parents, it’s up to us to teach children about their emotions, to give them words for their feelings, to help them understand why those feelings have arisen, and about how to deal with them. Meeting these experiences with mindfulness means that we can do this is an effective and compassion way.

    Modelling Mindfulness

    Compared to other species, human beings are born “immature”. What this means is that our minds are more open to learning from the environment we are born into, rather than having a set of fixed instincts and reflexes. A major way that we learn how to fit into our environment as children is through imitation. A good example of this is when babies play with toy telephones, lifting it up to their ear and pretending to talk. There is no evolutionary need for a baby to know how to use a telephone; they do it because they have watched us do it many times. 

    This really highlights the importance of mindful parenting. Say for example that our child is having a tantrum; if we yell at them to calm down, what they are learning from is our angry tone, not our words. If we can practice mindfulness, and incorporate it into our day-to-day way of being, we can successfully demonstrate mindfulness to our children so that they can imitate it and learn from it.

    Where to Start?

    The best first step to mindful parenting is to practice mindfulness for ourselves. It may be useful to look through our blog for tips on how to become more mindful in different areas of life, or to sign up for one of our courses or workshops. Our Lab also offers lots of free meditation links, articles and videos to get you started. Most importantly, practicing mindfulness for ourselves will help us cope better with the challenges of parenting, so that we can enjoy less stressful lives.

    And Then….

    When we start to become more aware of our own thought processes, emotions and reactions, this will change the relationship we have with our children for the better. We can step out of reactivity (although of course we’re only human and will still get caught in emotional reaction sometimes) and into being more present with whatever our children are going through in the moment.

    Some Practical Examples of Mindful Parenting

    Avoiding Reoccurring Problems

    Albert Einstein famously described insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Mindfulness can help us notice unhelpful or unproductive habits so that we can adopt new strategies.

    Say for example that going to the supermarket with our children is always a headache. Our child always ends up seeing something they want, we tell them they can’t have it, and so they become grouchy or angry. We may get so frustrated with their behaviour that we eventually cave in and let them have it, just so that we can get some peace. Situations like these can turn into regular patterns that cause a lot of stress.

    Being more mindful can help us pre-empt such situations and deal with them before they happen. We can, for example, explain to our child that we will only be buying what’s on our shopping list, and ask if there is anything they can think of now that they might like to add (within reason). We can create a routine whereby the family as a whole stops making impulse buys at the supermarket. This gives our child a structure that they know will always be in place.

    Owning Our Emotions

    Let’s face it, children can be a non-stop stream of changing emotions and challenging needs. It’s stressful, and this means that, like our children, we may find ourselves on an emotional rollercoaster. Although we don’t intend to, children can provide an easy outlet for our anger or frustration. We can talk to children in ways that another adult would not let us get away with. This is why it’s important to take a step back to acknowledge and own our emotions, so that we don’t unintentionally lash out at our children or make them responsible.

    There are different ways that we can take responsibility for our feelings. Sometimes we may need to explain to our children that we are feeling very angry, but that it isn’t their fault. Other times, it might mean that we need to make extra efforts to give ourselves self-care, i.e. that we arrange childcare so that we can take some time out. Self-soothing practices may also be useful, such as placing our hand on our chest, or giving ourselves a hug. In other words, sometimes we’ll need to be our own parent and look after our own wellbeing.

    Shifting Our Perspective

    Mindfulness helps us reframe situations so that we can see them from a different angle. Sometimes what we think of as ‘problems’ can actually be opportunities for growth and bonding.

    For example, in a situation where we discover that our child has lied to us about something, our immediate reaction may be of disappointment or anger. We may want to tell them off or punish them, with the aim of teaching them that it is wrong to lie. However, sometimes it may be more helpful to use the situation as a chance to understand our child better. Applying some openness or curiosity may help us find a deeper bond with our child. We can ask questions to find out why they felt they should lie, and try to reassure them that it is safe to tell us the truth. Of course, for this to work, we must be mindful of how we react to them when they do tell the truth. We may realise that we haven’t made it safe for them to come to us, and so this gives us the chance to be more present with them going forward.

    Parenting is a complex process; there is no one-size-fits-all approach. This is why presence of mind is crucial, so that we can deal with each unique situation as it arises. By applying the key concepts of mindfulness, such as compassion and non-judgemental awareness, we can really enrich our family life.

    MEDITATIONS:

    Body Scan

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Mindful Parenting Workshop

  • How Mindfulness Breaks Us Free From Thinking in Absolutes

    greenerOur brains are a bit like movie projectors; each thought is a film and in that moment that one particular film is all that we can see and hear. Some are brighter and louder than others, grabbing our attention so much that we forget reality for a while. We can’t really stop this from ever happening, it’s just what brains do. They project a series of opinions, judgements and memories throughout each day.

    However, constantly getting caught up in these thoughts can cause a lot of problems, especially if those thoughts are unpleasant or restricting. Say for example that the movie currently playing in our head is all about how bad things are always happening to us, or how we’ll never feel happy ever again. These thoughts of absolutes (‘always’ and ‘never’) can make us feel totally hopeless about our lives, tearing away any sense of personal power or contentment.

    And yet, as convincing as our thoughts may be, mindfulness training gives us the knowledge and skills to be able to take a step back and remember that each thought is like a projected image. That’s not to say that we don’t still feel all the emotions from watching the movie, but at least we remember that it’s just a movie, rather than real life.

    Confirmation Bias

    A cognitive bias is a tendency to think in a certain way; usually in a way that diverges from good judgement, logic or objectivity. Psychologists have studied and named over 75 different cognitive biases! A common bias that many of us share is known as confirmation bias, or selective perception bias. This is when we pay more attention to evidence that supports what we already think, and dismiss any information that contradicts it.

    Here’s an example: We’re on our way to work when our car breaks down. Our brain searches for examples of other bad or inconvenient things that have happened to us, and suddenly we’re not just dealing with this one broken down car, we’re dealing with everything from our past that has ever gone wrong. We start having thoughts like, “Why do bad things always happen to me? Why do I never have any luck?” In our current state of mind, we’re overlooking all the good or even neutral things we’ve ever experienced – such as the countless number of days when our car didn’t break down on the way to work. Instead, we take our previous bad experiences as ‘evidence’ that we suffer from constant misfortune.

    Believing that we’re doomed to a fate of endless bad luck is distressing and painful. It can make the future look bleak and hopeless. So how can mindfulness help us avoid this trap of thinking in absolutes, without denying our understandable feelings and reactions when things do go wrong?

    3 Minute Breathing Space

    The 3 Minute Breathing Space is a very handy mindfulness practice that we can do pretty much anywhere, anytime. When we find ourselves in a stressful or upsetting situation, rather than letting our brains spiral into an even worse place, we can take a moment to acknowledge our present feelings. It’s a very useful tool to use to help us step out of our habit of catastrophizing situations.

    Begin by closing your eyes (if that feels okay) and start to become aware of how you’re feeling. What thoughts are going through your mind? And what emotions are present? This first step is about gently acknowledging what you’re experiencing without trying to change it or push it away.

    Next, once you have a sense of how you’re feeling, re-focus your attention onto the movements of the breath. Notice how your chest or belly rises and falls with each breath, how the air feels as it enters your nose or mouth as you inhale, and how it feels as you exhale.

    The third and final step is to then to extend your awareness to encompass the body as a whole, doing your best to bring a kind, spacious awareness to your present experience. Notice any tightness or tension that you’re holding in your body, whilst retaining some awareness of your breathing. Then when the time feels right, open your eyes again.

    Gratitude Journal

    If we have a tendency to catastrophize situations and often focus on what is going wrong, it may be helpful to start a gratitude journal. By noting down at least 3 things every day that we feel grateful for, we can train our mind to notice more of the good things that happen to us. Keep in mind though that noticing the good things doesn’t mean ignoring the bad. It’s simply about cultivating a more balanced perspective, noticing the full range of experiences in our lives.

    Regular Meditation

    Studies have shown that regular meditation can strengthen emotional resiliency by promoting changes in the brain. Richard Davidson, a neurobiologist at the University of Wisconsin, discovered that people who are able to regain their emotional balance after a setback have stronger connections between the left prefrontal cortex and the amygdalae than those who aren’t. Mindfulness meditation strengthens these connections! This means we can become more able to avoid getting emotionally knocked over by every inconvenience or misfortune that comes our way.

    Want to learn more about how mindfulness can help us deal with emotions? Check out our calendar for upcoming workshops and courses!

  • Practical Tips for Practising Mindfulness

    NYThere are so many benefits to be gained from regular mindfulness practice. Research has shown that mindfulness meditation can improve learning processes, memory and emotional regulation (just to name a few things!) by prompting changes in different regions of the brain. However, in the same way that it can be difficult to get into new exercise or healthy eating habits, it can be hard to turn mindfulness into a daily practice, even if we know how much we will benefit from doing so. Once we’ve gotten into the swing of things, maintaining a regular mindfulness practice becomes much easier. But what steps can we take when we’re first starting out that will help us incorporate mindfulness into our daily routines?

    Using Your Phone as a Mindfulness Prompt

    The simplest and easiest way that we can become more regularly mindful is to set an alarm on our phone or watch. By setting alarms to go off at certain times of the day, our present mindful self can remind our future self (who might have become a bit mindless by that point) to take a pause and breathe.

    How long we choose to pause for is completely down to us, but even if we’re working at our desks when the alarm sounds, we can take a moment to adjust our posture and let go of any tension we’re holding in our bodies, so that we can continue with our work in a more present mindset.

    It’s best to choose a gentle alarm tone, rather than something that will jolt or aggravate you when it goes off. Experiment with setting alarms at different times of the day, maybe focusing on times that you know you could particularly use a mindfulness prompt, for example on your commute to work, at lunchtime, or as you’re winding down in the evening.

    Making Time to Sit

    Even though we know that meditation is good for us, we can probably come up with lots of reasons not to do it. When faced with the choice between watching our favourite TV show and sitting for 20 minutes in silence, the TV show is probably going to seem more entertaining! Once we’ve gotten into a regular meditation practice, the benefits we feel from it will motivate us to make time for it. Yet until that happens, we might need to give ourselves a little push to make the effort. Setting a regular time for meditation can help us do this.

    Pick a time of the day that you’re most likely to be able to stick to. For example, if you’re always rushed in the mornings, it might be better to choose a time in the evening when things aren’t so hectic. It might be useful to start off with a short amount of time, like five or ten minutes. You can then increase your meditation time once you start to get comfortable with it. Try your best to sit down to meditate every day at your chosen time, even if you don’t feel like it sometimes. Just remember, it will get easier the more you do it.

    And if you do miss a day? Or two, or five? It’s okay! Go easy on yourself. Just try to keep that intention going, and start over again if you need to.

    Find a Meditation Buddy

    Sometimes sharing a routine with a friend can make it easier to stick to. It’s so tempting to make excuses and reasons not to do something when it’s just us, but we generally don’t like to let our friends down. We tend to make more of an effort to stay on track with our plans when we know that someone else is also benefiting from it. Plus the social side of it might make it more enjoyable if we don’t like sitting alone.

    Alternatively, if you want some guidance and a structured routine, it might be beneficial to join a regular meditation group. Here at The Mindfulness Project we host a weekly evening meditation for people who have completed an 8-week Mindfulness Course. Check out our calendar for more information on what’s coming up at our space!

  • Mindful Walking: At Home, In Nature and in the City

    walking

    Mindful walking is a wonderful practice 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 will vary depending on where we are doing it. Here are three different ways that we can practice mindful walking in our day-to-day lives.

    Walking Meditation At Home

    The easiest place to start practicing mindful walking is in our own 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 noise, other people, etc.

    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, gently trying to let go of any worries or thoughts. 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 ball of the foot, and the heel feels as they individually make contact with the carpet or tiles.

    Is the ground warm or cool? Soft or hard? If the mind wanders, simply bring it back to the movement of the leg or foot 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.

    Mindful Walking In Nature

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

    When we’re in the countryside or at the beach we can not only practice becoming aware of our individual bodies, but we can also start to see ourselves as one small part of a bigger picture. Our body takes its place as one instrument in nature’s orchestra of wildlife, swaying trees, breezes, flowing rivers or waves on the sea. 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.

    To build on our mindful walking practice, we can expand our awareness to how our footsteps 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 might not feel comfortable walking quite as slowly as we do at home, but this is okay. However quickly or slowly we walk, 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.

    Resisting the City Rush

    It’s one thing to walk mindfully at home or in the tranquillity of nature, but staying mindful in a city or town can be challenging. With so much noise and activity all 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.

    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 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 steps.

    Why not experiment with kissing the pavement, the underground escalators and the Tube train floors with your feet, and see how it changes your journey?

    Would you like to learn more about how mindfulness in nature? Check out our upcoming Mindfulness and Nature Connection workshop here.

  • Mindfulness Tips For When We Feel Jealous

    jealousySometimes it’s as harmless as envying a friends new pair of lovely shoes, but at other times jealousy can feel like a painful dagger in our hearts. It can make it difficult to enjoy any sense of happiness or gratefulness in our lives, because all that we can see is what we don’t have. It’s called the ‘green-eyed monster’ for good reason, for at its worst jealousy can make us bitter, resentful and lead us to behave in ways that aren’t aligned with how we really want to be.

    When we’re focusing on the good in others’ lives, and only on the bad in ours, our view of life becomes distorted and we get stuck in an envious trance. If we can learn to notice it when it arises, jealousy can serve as a reminder for us to take some mindful steps back into the present moment.

    Recognise and Accept

    Before we can make positive use of the arising of jealousy, we must first get to know it better. How does it make us feel? Although it may seem unappealing, it might be useful to bring to mind a situation that made you feel jealous, so that you can become familiar with the mental and physical changes it creates. For example, it might make you feel tense, or perhaps it gives you a heavy or restrictive feeling in your chest or throat. Maybe your pulse quickens, or perhaps you start to feel tearful. What kinds of thoughts are attached to the emotion? And what happens to your mental clarity? It’s likely that any sense of peace or spaciousness disappears, and instead we find that our whole attention is taken up by the subject of our jealousy.

    Once we become familiar with these signs, we will then be more able to recognise its presence next time it occurs. With this recognition, it’s also helpful to give ourselves some compassion and understanding, trying our best to just accept that we feel jealous in this moment, without piling on too much guilt or judgement about it.

    Breathe Through It

    Jealousy might sometimes highlight problems in our lives that we have the power to change. For example, if we’re envious of a friend’s career, we might find that we can take certain steps that will enable us to change careers and find our dream job.

    However, in other situations, we might experience jealousy over something that we just can’t do anything about. For instance, in unrequited love, if we see the person we love with their partner, and feel all the jealousy and pain that comes with that, there’s nothing we can do to change that situation. In these types of scenarios, the best that we can do is to breathe through the emotion until it passes (which it always will).

    A simple meditation that focuses on the breath is useful for when we’re experiencing emotional pain. Of course, it’s a given that our minds will wander onto painful thoughts, but by gently bringing our attention back to the breath each time we notice, we can become a little calmer. If we can include an attitude of compassion during this process – forgiving and understanding ourselves – then we will find that our racing minds will eventually settle down, and we can move on with our day, knowing that at any time we can return to this practice of coming back to the breath.

    Proactive Steps

    By focussing on what is missing from our lives, our minds create suffering. However, there are things that we can do that will help our minds focus more on the good, and less on what is lacking.

    To help train our brains to see the good things in life, we can practice writing down three things each day that have made us feel grateful, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem. Knowing that we need to remember things to write down will prompt us to start consciously looking out for the good stuff. As well as this, we can also start allowing ourselves to linger on pleasant experiences. If we’ve been feeling jealous, we’ve already been letting ourselves linger on unpleasant experiences, so we might as well do the same for the good stuff! Each time we let these positive experiences and feelings sink into our brains, we get a little better at noticing them and appreciating them.

    There will always be things in life that make us feel jealous from time to time, and gratitude won’t cure that completely. However, by taking proactive steps to notice things that make us feel grateful, we’ll be able to bring some balance and happiness back into our lives.