Christmas

  • Beating The Winter Blues, Mindfully

     

    As we fall into a new rhythm that brings darker days and colder weather, our mood can take a hit.

     

    For some it’s a sense of feeling low-spirited, but for others it manifests as a debilitating type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D), which causes symptoms of anxiety, hopelessness, irritability and fatigue.

    Research has shown that one in fifteen people in the UK suffers from S.A.D, otherwise known as the 'winter blues'.

    Scientific studies point to a lack of the sunshine drug - vitamin D - as the culprit, which means levels of serotonin and melatonin drop and the body’s circadian rhythms are disrupted.

     

    So how can mindfulness make a difference?

     

    The first way mindfulness can be used to counteract the effects of S.A.D, is by helping us to build resilience - the ability to adapt to change and overcome the unpleasant things in our lives without being overwhelmed by them.

    Whether we’re challenged by low mood or cold weather, we can stay present and turn towards any unpleasant feelings with a curiosity and non-judgmental awareness.

    This can help to soften the hard emotional states that arise with S.A.D and strengthen our ability to bounce back in similar situations.

     

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    Likewise, mindfulness can help us to understand and embrace the impermanence of life. When we stay mindfully engaged in the moment, with whatever is arising in our thoughts, feelings and experiences - we gain an awareness that change is the nature of all things.

    Understanding the truth of impermanence can benefit us in moments of low mood, as it helps us to realise that these feelings will eventually pass.

     

     

    The next tool we have in our mindfulness practice is the power of perspective. As the adage goes: ‘change how you see, and see how you change’.

    For example, instead of directing our focus on what is lacking over the winter – warmth, sunshine, nature in bloom – we can choose to shift our awareness to see its gifts.

    A time of endings opens the door for self-reflection, and the slower pace brings with it an opportunity to rest and recalibrate. A conscious change in perspective, if we practice it often enough, can become embedded in our brain thanks to neurological plasticity.

    We can extend this sense of wellbeing even further by creating a daily or weekly gratitude list. From warm drinks and woolly socks, to the simple joy of having a bed to sleep in at night – there are countless things to be grateful for over the winter months.

    We can use gratitude as a buffer against negative attitudes and mind-sets by bringing our awareness to the good things in life and taking the time to savour them.

    Finally, since mindfulness goes hand-in-hand with self-compassion, adopting a regular self-care practice over the winter months can also help to remedy a low mood.

     

    Ask yourself what can you do to make yourself feel good?

     

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  • The Only New Year’s Resolution You’ll Ever Need...

     

    Are you worried you might not have the willpower to keep your New Year resolutions this year?

     

    Sorry to be a downer, but you’re probably right! According to a study at the University of Hertfordshire, 78% of us fail to keep our New Year resolutions and are left feeling disappointed with ourselves.

    The problem is, we make these wild utopian promises to ourselves of making big changes in our lives with immediate effect.

    “From tomorrow, I’m not going to smoke another cigarette” or “From now on, I'm going to keep my house tidy”.

    When we slip up, we see it as confirmation that we just don’t have what it takes, that we’re not disciplined enough so we might as well give up.

    One cigarette becomes a relapse into chain smoking, and a little chocolate indulgence spurs a return to munching uncontrollably in front of the TV. “Oh well, there’s always next year…”, we say.

    Sound familiar?

    Unfortunately, it's not so easy to change old habits. Willpower isn't enough. We need mindfulness skillpower! But how do we develop that?

    One approach is called 'urge surfing’, and here’s how it works:

    1. Recognise

    Imagine you’re sitting in front of the TV and suddenly crave a bar of chocolate. The first step in mindfulness is to simply become aware of such an urge, i.e. recognise it.

    You can even name it in your head: “Urge to eat a bar of chocolate”.

    2. Acknowledge

    Most of us have been told that we ought to 'get rid' of such urges once they arise - control them, because they are bad. Or that we should distract ourselves by thinking of something else.

    Unfortunately our brains don't work that way.

    Research has shown that the more we resist something or try to make it go away, the more it will persist. Therefore, the second step is to simply acknowledge to urge to have a bar of chocolate. Allow to urge to be there.

    3. Investigate

    Once you have acknowledged the urge to have that chocolate bar, investigate how this urge feels in your body. Is it a tension in your chest, a watering mouth or a tickling sensation?

    Check in and find out for yourself. If you wish, you can even close your eyes during your investigation.

    4. Kind Surfing

    While you are investigating the urge, just try to be with it for a few seconds, maybe even a minute. Surf the urge and while doing so, be kind to yourself. It's not easy to surf an urge, so do not expect too much from yourself too soon.

    Even if you only stick with the urge for half a minute and then go ahead and have that bar of chocolate anyway, you’ve still exercised that part of your brain and could be better equipped the next time an urge comes along, so well done!

    The more you observe your urges, the more mindful skillpower you will develop. Research has even shown that this skillpower is like a muscle in your brain that you can grow – just as you can grow your biceps in the gym.

    But as with the weights, don't expect to lift the heaviest weight the first time you go to the gym.

    Unfortunately, there is no quick fix, especially when it comes to our brains – just as our biceps, they need time to grow and change. So be patient and kind to yourself. It's all about training.

    The Conclusion?

    Don't set yourself fixed goals as New Year resolutions that are doomed to failure. Instead, make the resolution a goal to develop mindful skill-power!

    One way to do this could be to join one of our courses in the New Year. The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) will help you develop your mindful awareness and a sense of balance.

     

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  • Don’t Forget Self-Care This Christmas

    Christmas Self-Care

     

    Christmas is a time for thinking of and giving to others. That’s what makes this time of year so beautiful and special! Yet it’s also important to take time for ourselves amidst all of the gift-giving, party preparations and cooking.

     

    Sure it’s a fun holiday, but if you’re responsible for buying the family presents, or if you’re hosting Christmas dinner, it’s easy to start feeling the pressure. Making sure you take care of yourself as well means you can enjoy the festivities without any unnecessary stress.

    Mindfulness is important when it comes to self-care, because without it we are not likely to notice when the pressure is getting to us. We have a habit of trying to soldier through things, often thinking to ourselves that we’ll only have time to rest once this and that are done.

    But there’s no reason why we can’t care for ourselves as we go.

     

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    Those who have a regular meditation practice will probably be used to checking in with how you’re feeling. Maybe you’ll notice when you’re feeling tight, or feeling tired or overwhelmed.

    If you don’t meditate regularly, or if you struggle with noticing when you’re feeling low, it may be useful to set an alarm to go off at certain times of the day, to remind you to take a moment and ask "how am I feeling right now?"

    Once we get into this habit, it becomes easier to take action when we’re not feeling great. What we do to help ourselves feel better and cared-for is very individual.

    Perhaps we might make time for a relaxing bath, we might watch a film that makes us laugh, or we might go for a walk in the countryside.

    As it’s Christmas, maybe we could put on our favourite Christmas song that fills us with warm nostalgic Christmas feelings, or we might even buy a gift for ourselves!

    Whatever it is that makes you feel more relaxed, happy or rejuvenated, try and find some time for it this Christmas, because when we take care of ourselves, we have more energy for taking care of other people too.

     

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  • This Is the Season To Be Jolly… but What if We Aren’t?

     

    For some of us Christmas is the most enjoyable time of the year. However, for others it might be a more difficult or painful time.

     

    When we’re caught up in our excitement, we may sometimes find ourselves pressuring others to feel the same way as us; reacting with judgement or criticism (directly or passively) when someone tells us that they won’t be sending Christmas cards, or that they’d rather spend Christmas alone with a meal for one.

    This reaction, whilst understandable (we might fear losing our own joy) and socially acceptable, actually flies in the face of what most of us consider to be the true spirit of the season: love.

    There are many valid reasons for people to not enjoy this time of year, or indeed other celebrations such as their birthday.

    It may mark the anniversary of the loss of a loved one, it might remind us of a painful childhood, or the sights, sounds and expectations of Christmas might simply just be too overwhelming for the senses.

    And just because it’s Christmas time doesn’t mean that normal life stops; couples still get divorced, people become ill, lose their jobs, or suffer with depression.

    The most compassionate thing that we can do is to say, "It’s OK" to our friends or family members who aren’t feeling jolly this Christmas, or to ourselves if we’re the one feeling that way.

    We can use mindfulness to help us make space for those feelings to just be as they are, without trying to enforce cheer upon ourselves or others.

    If you’re excited and happy for Christmas, that’s OK too! Enjoy it!

    But, if you’re not feeling so great, that’s OK too.

    Just bring awareness to whatever is arising right now, whether festive or not, and try to meet that experience with openness and presence.

     

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  • 4 Tips for Mindful Communication at Christmas

     

    A season for family, friends and festivities, the Christmas period brings our relationships and interactions with others into the spotlight.

     

    It’s often said that our closest relationships present us with our greatest challenges in life, so it’s little wonder that family gatherings over the festive season can be fertile ground for tension and conflict.

    Bringing mindfulness to our interactions can help us to navigate our way through this period and cultivate positive connections. 

    With this in mind, we bring you four top tips to support a mindful Christmas.

     

    1. Listen with Intent

    Connecting with others is important to our happiness and wellbeing -- when we are disconnected, we can feel stressed and revert back to reactive patterns of communication.

    We can bring mindful presence to our conversations by staying open and curious. We can listen with patience and acceptance.

    We don't necessarily have to agree with what a relative or friend is saying, but we can still be open to different points of view and listen with the intent to understand, not to judge.

    We can consider these moments an opportunity to practice equanimity and compassion.

    In this way, the person communicating has the experience of feeling respected and valued.

     

    Christmas Dog

     

    2. Make Space for Emotion

    The festive season can bring with it a full spectrum of emotion -- from warmth and celebration, to bitterness and frustration caused by quarrels. It can also bring moments of sadness and loneliness triggered by memories of lost loved ones.

    We can use mindfulness to make space for all of our emotions by observing whatever arises, and knowing that we don’t have to act or react to it.

    Instead, we can simply let it pass through our awareness with acceptance and non-judgement.

     

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    3. Abandon Expectations

    Around this time of the year, we can find ourselves bombarded with images of Christmas ideals of unity, harmony and joy, but the reality can be different and far more complex. This is especially true when it comes to close relationships.

    We can lay the ground for a more enjoyable experience at Christmas by choosing to not have expectations. Instead, we can stay mindfully present with our social interactions as they unfold moment-by-moment.

     

    4. See the Good In Others

    Dealing with difficult relatives can be one of the greatest challenges over Christmas.

    This year, see if you can transform a testing interaction with a relative by looking for the good in their character.

    It’s always possible to find qualities that you appreciate in someone, such as kindness, generosity, humour or even just positive intentions.

    When we make the choice to stay consciously look for these traits, we may find our interactions are transformed.

     

    The Mindfulness Project runs at calendar of events to support mindfulness practice and communication throughout the year. 

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  • Christmas Presence: The Gift of Mindfulness

     

    “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence.”

    -- THICH NHAT HANH 

     

    Make a pledge to put down your phone at Christmas and be fully present with those you love. Look at them in the eyes; listen with intent; abandon your expectations; stay curious and give conversations your unwavering awareness as they unfold.

    Observe what this approach does to your experience moment-by-moment -- you may find that it expands and deepens your connections, as well as your sense of the memory after the moment passes.

    You’ll likely discover that presence is one of the most precious gifts we can give at this (and every) point in the year, and adds far more value to our lives than any material object can.

    Most of us would like to think that we are present in our daily lives, but the truth is that so many of us live a far distance from ourselves and from our experiences. We often operate on autopilot patterns of feeling and behaviour not just in the midst of our daily lives, but in the face of those who matter most to us, our loved ones.

     

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    As a season of unity and connection, Christmas lays the ground for interaction and gives us an opportunity to put our mindfulness in motion. With the simple and repeated practice of awareness, we can give presence to everything the season brings -- from warmth and joy, to difficulty and tension -- without needing to change or fix anything.

    We may find that being better connected to the moment in this way, a better connection to our self and to our family and friends begins to grow and flourish.

    Mindfulness is not just a gift for us individually, but collectively too. In these turbulent times of division and discord, mindfulness has the power to reinforce the shared humanity that holds us all together.

    The individual is reflected in the collective, and when we bring awareness to the way that we relate to ourselves individually -- that is, when we develop a deeper understanding of and more compassionate connection with our self -- this is mirrored in our interactions with those around us in the collective.

    Mindfulness begins individually, on our own terms, but if you like the idea of giving it as a present, you can browse our shop for mindfulness gift ideas and vouchers. 

    Whether you want to help a friend or family member cope better with stress and anxiety, introduce them to ideas of self-care and compassion, or more broadly, live a life that is fuller and freer -- mindfulness gives us skills that last a lifetime.

     

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  • The Secret to Keeping your New Year’s Resolutions

     

    It happens every year. We start off with the best intentions to break old habits, learn new skills, stay fit, be productive, get happy. But we are quickly reminded that change rarely happens in one fell swoop.

     

    Lasting changes are made up of lots of little choices, lots of little moments that, when added up together, become powerful. The key to being present for those moments where change can actually happen is mindfulness.

    In practice, mindfulness is a simple and very powerful way of training our awareness. It is about paying attention to what is happening here and now (i.e. to sensations, thoughts, and emotions) in a non-judgemental way.

    The practice also encompasses a set of principles that can wholeheartedly change how we relate to our experiences.

    In this way, it can serve as an antidote to the stress and habits that can undermine our health, performance and quality of life. From a place of inner calm and balance, we are better able to set value-oriented goals and move towards the positive life changes we seek, one moment and choice at a time.

    Regardless of your goals for the year ahead, every regime can benefit from mindfulness. By becoming more present and grounded in our day-to-day lives, we can start to surf the urges that keep us locked in old habits and patterns, and instead make healthier choices that align more truly with our values and offer a start to long-lasting change.

    Here are some tips on how to set and keep your New Year’s resolutions:

    1. Use mindfulness to tune into your body and sense what really matters to you when you make your resolutions. Then let your values guide your priorities.

    2. Set goals that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Rewarding and Time-based).

    3. Break your goals up into small, micro-steps.

    4. Bring awareness to those moments when urges to pursue old patterns arise. Notice how it feels in your body and use your breath to surf the urge. See if you can make a different choice.

    5. Savor the satisfaction. Take time to acknowledge how good it feels when you achieve a goal.

    6. Cultivate self-compassion. Try motivating yourself with kindness rather than criticism, and see how it changes your experience.

    Remember that change isn’t easy and takes time and practice. And whether you start in the New Year or any other time, remember that every moment is a new opportunity to begin again.

     

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  • 'Tis the Season... to be Mindful

    Mindfulness at Christmas

    The Christmas season can be stressful, especially if you are trying to stay healthy. Between catching up with friends and family, and attending work parties, you will likely be offered countless mince pies, cakes and chocolates, not to mention plenty of drinks.

    It is hard to resist overindulging around this time, which we might justify with our plans to make up for it in January. Yet we could instead use a little mindfulness this month, so we can enjoy all the tasty treats without feeling so guilty and groggy afterwards.

    The key to mindful eating (and drinking) is to slow down and fully engage all the senses, and what better time to do this than at Christmas! The smell of mulled wine, the taste of spiced fruit, the spritz of clementines and that sound of lifting the lid off of a box of chocolates are all comforting reminders of the season. By mindfully savouring these treats we will not only enjoy them more fully, but we will also be less likely to overindulge and make ourselves sick.

    The other aspect of mindfulness that can be particularly helpful around this time is self-compassion. Say we do eat too many Christmas biscuits or have too much holiday punch, it does not help to beat ourselves up and feel guilty about it. Instead try being kind to yourself and acknowledging that you are only human and doing the best you can under tempting circumstances. At the same time, bring awareness and a sense of care to your body and acknowledge that it might be taxed this time of year as well. Taking this stance can remind us to listen to our physical cues and honour them with our decisions, which might come easier next time.

    For now, do not be afraid of the mince pies and bubbly; just remember your mindfulness and savour the precious moments with friends and family.

     

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  • Every Encounter is a Once in a Lifetime Occasion

    photo-1449885164684-02f9f7f1caa5 (2)

    ‘Ichi-go ichi-e’ is a Japanese idiom which roughly translates as ‘one time, one meeting’. It is used as a reminder that each encounter we have with a person or group of people will never be repeated. Even if we meet with those people regularly, that one particular encounter with them is unique.

    According to the Japanese Tea Culture Glossary, the expression has been traced back to a 16th century Japanese tea master, Sen no Rikyū. The concept was later elaborated on in the 19th century by Ii Naosuke: “Even though the host and guests may see each other often socially, one day's gathering can never be repeated exactly. Viewed this way, the meeting is indeed a once-in-a-lifetime occasion.”

    Indeed, it’s interesting to reflect on how our experiences with family and friends over the holidays, or even with our co-workers when we return to our routines, might take on a deeper significance if we were to view each encounter in this way.

    We might sometimes feel that life is rather monotonous: we may see the same people, and do the same things every year. But if we can bring more mindfulness to these occasions we may find that life actually presents us with many new and unique moments, if we just adjust our perspective a little.

    Experiment with applying the ‘ichi-go ichi-e’ concept as you engage with people over the holidays, and notice how it changes your experience of them.

     

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  • Putting Down Our Cameras to Make Mindful Memories

    CameraMobile technology makes it easier than ever before to document special moments in photographs or videos. However, how many of these moments are we actually experiencing mindfully, rather than simply viewing through a screen? Whilst it’s wonderful to be able to capture these sights or occasions so that we can remember them later on, we may sometimes find ourselves simply pointing and clicking in lieu of really looking and letting the moment sink into our minds.

    Mindfulness encourages us to slow down, and even to completely stop sometimes in order to notice or savour what we are currently experiencing. Rather than rushing from moment to moment, trying to see or do as much as possible, we can instead start taking the time to use our senses as a kind of camera, capturing the moment in a deeper way. By mindfully looking, listening, feeling, tasting or smelling, we can create a full sensory memory of the moment, so that in the future when we look back we’ll have more than just a snapshot on our phone. Although of course we can still take a photo or video as well!

    Next time you’re hosting a birthday party or attending a get-together with friends or family, or next time you see something beautiful or interesting, pause and take a moment to let the scene sink into your mind first. Really feel into the emotions it brings, whether it’s happiness, gratitude, love, awe or fascination, let it permeate your whole being. It may be helpful to think of it as a way of honouring the moment with your full presence. Take a mental snapshot before you take one on your camera, and then notice how it changes the quality of the memory when you look back on it later on.

     

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