Monthly Archives: October 2015

  • Finding Refuge in the Breath

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    The mind is a constant whir of activity. Without any effort, our minds can jump from past regrets to concerns about the future to mentally noting that doctor’s appointment we have next week. If our minds are particularly busy, this stream of thinking can sometimes become too much for us to take. The non-stop nature of it can be overwhelming.

    Naturally, we want to retreat. And we might do so in a number of different ways. We may have a glass of wine, or a cigarette, or some cake, or switch on the TV and zone out. We might constantly check social media for distractions, or go on shopping sprees, yet this only increases the busy-ness of our minds. Rarely do these things give us that sense of respite we so badly need.

    Thankfully there is a better refuge available to us, one which we can access at any time, no matter where we are or what we’re doing. It doesn’t exist outside of ourselves, so we’ll never be without it.

    When we find ourselves in the midst of stress, anxiety, depression, sadness, or even intense excitement (this can be overwhelming sometimes too), simply taking a deep breath can bring great relief. When our minds have become tumultuous with thought – each passing thought like a wave that rocks our little boat in a stormy sea, and the rocking never seems to end – we can take a deep breath and…. ahhhh, the waves settle; sometimes just a little, but sometimes a lot! The more we practice, the easier it gets to remember to take those important moments of refuge.

    Try it now. Take a deep breath…. and let it out slowly. How has it changed the quality of this moment?

    .....

    MEDITATIONS:

    Body Scan

  • Trying Out Mindfulness with Teenagers

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    written by Gaia Martinelli-Bunzl

    Adolescence Is a Challenging Time

    Being a teenager can be tough. From exam stress, to discovering one’s identity and sometimes tricky relationships with parents and peers, there are a myriad of reasons why young people find it hard to cope with their emotions. Along with all the social pressures of adolescence, teenagers also have to cope with their biggest brain growth spurt since infancy. The teenage brain is learning how to grabble with impulse control, how to read and process emotions and how to start making decisions, whilst at the same time experiencing a surge of new oxytocin receptors which can result in a new, intense self-consciousness (many of us will certainly remember that!).

    As a teenager, I remember the constant moods swings, peaks of anger (usually directed towards my parents), and acute stress over tests and exams.  I would long for the day high school would finish and when my life would ‘finally begin’. My studies were completely academic, and no one ever taught me about how my mind worked or how to deal with all these new emotions and onslaught of thoughts.

    The Magic Art of Mindfulness

     Fast forward to my early twenties. I was lucky enough to be introduced to mindfulness by my mother, and my life completely changed. I no longer felt like I was the victim of my thoughts and emotions. I learned to embrace and accept myself with more patience and kindness. I can truly say that there was a before and after mindfulness. In fact, I’m not sure how I survived life before it.

    Motivated by this personal experience, I began to think about how different my choices and experiences in life would have been had I learned mindfulness at a younger age. And I became convinced that all children and adolescents should learn it as soon as possible to help shape their lives in a positive way.

    Teaching mindfulness to teenagers is an incredible honour. I love being able to empower them with tools which help them become more aware of their emotions and thoughts, and how to deal with difficulties in a more skilful way.

    Get a Taste of Mindfulness with this Simple Practice

    Here is a simple practice to give a flavour of mindfulness to adolescents. This exercise helps to expand their awareness of their experience and notice what is happening in their mind and body, helping them to become more present.

    A parent, friend or sibling can guide it, by reading the following instructions and pausing for a few moments in between each sentence.

    Instructions:

    Begin by sitting in a comfortable, upright position. Let the shoulders relax, and have your hands gently resting on your lap. Let your eyes close or gently lower your gaze. - Notice one in breath and one out breath.- Notice where in your body you feel your breath the most. - Notice your feet touching the floor. - Notice where your body touches the chair. - Notice your hands touching. - Notice one in breath and one out breath. - Notice how your mind feels right now. - Remember something that happened yesterday. - Bring your mind back to right now. - Notice one in breath and one out breath. - Imagine something that might happen tomorrow. - Bring your mind back to right now. - Notice one in breath and one out breath. - Bring your attention to your right foot. - Bring your attention to your left leg. - Bring your attention to your shoulders. - Bring your attention to your left arm. - Bring your attention to behind your eyes. - Bring your attention to your ears. - Notice one in breath and one out breath. - Notice how your mind feels right now. - Bring your attention to the sounds in the room. - Open your eyes. You can stretch your body if you feel like it. - What did you notice when you did this practice? Was it hard to focus your attention on the different parts of your body?

    This practice is adapted from the Mindful Schools Curriculum.

    MEDITATIONS:

    Body Scan

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Mindful Parenting Workshop

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

  • Weaving Mindfulness into your Day

    Strawberry Heart Square_3People often complain that they don’t have the time to practise mindfulness. If your one of those busy ones, you might like this: Think about three things you do each day. Like brushing your teeth, being in nature and having lunch. Then link this activity to a mindfulness practice:

    Nature + Mindfulness: Every time you go for a walk become fully present for a couple of moments. Connect with all your senses: smell the air, feel the wind on your skin and just walk. When you notice your mind going into thinking, just gently return to the present moment experience of simply being in nature.

    Lunch + Gratitude: Before or during each meal spend 20 seconds consciously feeling grateful for having food on your plate. Bring to mind where the food comes from and how lucky you are to live in a country where there is enough food. Stay with the feeling of gratitude and notice how it makes you feel.

    Brushing your teeth + Something Good: In the evening when you brush your teeth, make a habit of bringing to mind one good think that happened on that day. Maybe you had a wonderful conversation with a friend or someone gave you a gift. Whatever it is, close your eyes, bring the situation to mind and stay with that mental image for some time.

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

    PMSThe 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, 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. 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. We can try slowing 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, we’ll not only get more pleasure from the food (which is why we’re eating it!), 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, however, 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. 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.

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Mindfulness for the Female Cycle