Christmas

  • Eat, Drink and Be Merry (Mindfully)!

    smell
    If you’re trying to stay healthy, the Christmas season can bring some stress. When we’re catching up with friends and family, and attending work parties, we’ll likely be offered countless mince pies, cakes and chocolates, plus plenty of glasses of alcohol.

     

    Usually we might eat and drink too much in December and then try to make up for it in January with a strict diet. Yet we could instead use a little mindfulness this season so that we can enjoy all the tasty things without feeling guilty, bloated and groggy afterwards. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without the food and drink after all.

    The smell of mulled wine, the taste of spiced fruit, and that sound of lifting the lid off of a box of chocolates are nostalgic elements of the season. We probably have many warm memories of these things, and so we should feel free to enjoy them!

    By mindfully savouring these treats we’ll not only enjoy them more fully, but we’ll also be less likely to overindulge and make ourselves sick.

     

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    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! When we eat a slice of Christmas cake we can savour the smell of mixed spices, and take a moment to think of the time it took to soak the fruit in the alcohol, then to mix it with the cake batter, and then to decorate it, all so that we can enjoy eating it in this moment.

    Even if we’re out drinking, we can apply the same attention, savouring the warmth of our mulled wine or the bubbles in our champagne; we can mindfully enjoy getting a little light-headed and merry, and of course we can also savour the company of our friends and loved ones.

    It’s usually only when we do these things mindlessly that we end up regretting them; we knock back too much wine or overeat without noticing, and are then left with all the bad feelings that come after, like a hangover or a stomach ache. But by being present while we eat and drink, we can monitor our feelings as we go and will know when we’ve had enough.

    So this Christmas don’t be afraid of mince pies and bubbly; be present and make precious memories of sharing them with friends!

     

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  • We Don’t Have to Wait until January for a Fresh Start

    stone

    Christmas is fast approaching, with the promise of New Year’s resolutions hot on its tail. We collectively buy into the idea that January 1st marks the time for fresh starts, however we don’t really have to wait until after Christmas to start anew. Each and every moment gives us that opportunity. Including this one right now!

    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. By postponing change, or imagining that somehow the start of a new year will mean the start of a new personality in which we’ll have more willpower and drive, we often set ourselves up for failure. It’s all too big; too much to tackle all at once.

    Instead, let’s remember that in each moment we have the chance to make a different choice. Becoming more present and grounded in our day-to-day lives makes us more able to choose not to have that cigarette right now, to have the healthy option for dinner, or to go out for a run – because we feel like it, not because we’ve trapped ourselves in a big commitment. And then we can just take each moment as it comes. Maybe the next time we want to binge on junk food, we might just eat a little less or more slowly. Maybe we won’t exercise every day, but if we’re present enough to enjoy the feeling it gives us afterwards we’ll want to do it more often. If we’re in our heads, dreaming of an ideal version of ourselves that we hope will miraculously occur come the new year, then we aren’t being present in all of those little moments that really matter. For it’s in those moments, these moments happening right now, that we make more conscious choices. This way, we can change in an organic way that suits our current abilities. And we’re far less likely to feel like ‘failures’ in February!

     

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  • Have Yourself a Mindful & Merry Christmas!

    Mindfulness is all about getting out of our heads and into the present moment and the best way to do that is by connecting with our senses. Why? Because we can't smell tomorrow, or feel yesterday! That's why Christmas is such an amazing opportunity to practice mindfulness.

    Practise Coming to Your Senses this Holiday Season

    Whether you're out shopping for gifts or taking a Sunday stroll, be sure to really tune into the sights, sounds and smells of the season. Feel the winter wind on your cheeks, observe how the Christmas songs can take you back and give you a certain feeling inside, take in the smells of mulled wine and pine needles in the air. Be present for these things -- this is the real essence of the season.

    Wooden reindeer in snow

    Savour the Flavours without Going Overboard

    Mindfulness not only helps with truly savouring all the treats that Christmas brings, it also helps limit the overconsumption that often accompanies holiday parties and family meals. We tend to end up consuming more food and drinks than we'd like, however this holiday party season is the perfect time to practice using mindfulness to help us determine when we've had enough. By really savouring our food and drinks more slowly, we can naturally notice when we've had our fill. We can use mindfulness to check in with our bodies and follow the signals that it sends about fullness. So rather than acting when our mind says: "I want another cookie!" we can listen to what our belly says. If you notice that you are comfortably full or maybe that your belly is already bursting then thank your mind for that thought and try to leave the cookies in the jar -- or simply close your eyes and smell the cookie. Sometimes savouring with the nose is just as amazing as savouring with the tongue. Try it out!

    Don't be too Hard on Yourself

    A big part of mindfulness is not only compassion for others, but also for ourselves. Therefore, have the intention to be kind to yourself! We spend so much time leading up to the holidays thinking about everyone else: shopping for gifts, planning around others' schedules, and trying to create the perfect atmosphere for everyone. It's important that we have a little self-compassion as well. Make a point of just noticing how you might be putting too much pressure on yourself, or beating yourself up when things don't go as planned, or feeling like you ate too much. In those moments just remember to take a few deep breaths. And like you would tell a good friend: don't be so hard on yourself -- that's just part of the holiday experience as well.

    It's Just the End of the Year, Not the End of the World

    In the frantic run up to Christmas, we might see the holidays as like a drop-dead date and we forget that -- as beautiful as Christmas can be -- it's just another day that will come and go. Bring awareness to the expectations you might be holding for the day. Every time you notice your mind racing ahead to any sort of inflated or unrealistic expectations, just take a few breaths and come back to the present moment. The same applies to the good old expectation of a family drama. Ruminating about what could happen over Christmas dinner won't help. It only makes you more and more tense during the lead up to Christmas. Let go of any expectations and greet the day when it's at the door step.

     

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  • Have Yourself A Very Mindful Christmas!

    “Love the giver more than the gift.” - Brigham Young

    There’s nothing more likely to take the sparkle out of Christmas than family tensions. In many households, arguing on Christmas Day is as traditional as stuffing the turkey and entered into with equal gusto. According to research, the average British family will have at least five arguments on Christmas Day, with the first row at 10.13am.

    When you consider our sky-high expectations and the fevered build-up of excitement during the weeks leading up to Christmas, it’s not surprising we find it so difficult to keep the calm when the day finally arrives. When things really matter to us, it is typical to want to control them. When a bunch of people gets together, each with their own picture of how they want things to pan out, there’s bound to be friction and disappointment.

    Lovely though it is to spend time with our loved ones, those guys really know how to push our buttons (hell, they’ve installed them!) and we can have a tendency to fall back into mindless negative patterns in behaviour and communication that we’ve had since childhood. (Bedroom door slamming, bickering, fighting over the remote control or the last chocolate in the box - you name it!)

    So, how to have a more mindful Christmas with the family this year? Well, here are seven things to consider:

    • Be thoughtful: Ask your family what their plans are for the Christmas period and how they see you fitting in. Let them know what your plans are, including specific times and dates. Offer to help whoever’s in charge with the food preparation and if it’s obvious that they need support, just take the initiative and step in.
    • Accept them: Try to accept your family members just as they are. The more you try to change them or want them to behave differently, the more they’re going to feel pushed away from you. Try not to disagree outright with them... if you don’t think something they say is accurate or true then say things like “that’s not how I experienced it” or  “in my opinion...” Make sure to be aware of when it’s the ego that’s talking - it likes to be right or to make a statement.
    • Be compassionate: Christmas can be high pressure for everyone. If your mum is getting stressed and irritable, try to put yourself in her shoes. Imagine how she might be feeling right now. Be aware of any family dynamics going on between others - is your dad snapping at your mum because he’s exhausted from the cooking? Are your brothers or sisters nervous because of an old family feud that hasn’t been resolved? A lot of tension can be diffused simply by listening to everyone and their concerns and not judging.
    • Stop and Pause: If someone says something hurtful to you, stop and take a breath. Feel the feelings that may arise and name them - e.g. anger, shame, irritation. Then, instead of a knee-jerk reaction, try to respond in a calm way. It can be helpful to reflect on what it is that is making them act as they are towards you. Ask them what they would like you to do and, if it’s possible, do it without any reactivity. Their aggression is not about you so rise above it. If you need to, retreat to a quiet room to regain your composure with a few conscious breaths, or sit down for a full meditation.
    • Limit expectations: If you have great expectations, you will only get disappointed. After all, Christmas is just one day and, like any other day, it will be a mixture of good times and more challenging ones - however mindful you are. Take these steps in the spirit of playful experimentation and experience what happens, as it happens.
    • Be kind to yourself: It you do slip and get angry or snap at someone, don’t beat yourself up. Hell, it’s Christmas time and completely normal to flip out sometimes…
    • Be mindful: Enjoy the festivities and stay present as much as you can. Savour every morsel of the dinner, spend quality time with the family and don’t let the good stuff pass you by!

     

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  • Savour The Season - Guide To Mindful Eating Over The Holidays

    According to the British Dietetic Society, people gain an average of almost half a stone over the festive season, getting in around 6,000 calories on Christmas Day alone!

    Bad habits around food that we may already suffer from - sugar addiction, thoughtless snacking and a tendency to take 2nd or 3rd helpings without even thinking - go into overdrive at this time of year.

    The avalanche of festive treats and naughty nibbles descending on offices, supermarket aisles and parties in December means our powers of self-control are tested to the max. Before we know it, we’re inhaling mince-pies and knocking back the mulled wine as if it was water. We grab a handful of peanuts without even noticing, and are half-way through a box of Cadbury’s Roses before realising we’ve carpeted the room in discarded wrappers.

    So how can we pay more attention to what we’re putting into our bodies, so that we can enjoy the sensory delights of the festive season without thoughtless over-indulgence?

    One approach is through mindfulness. This practice, originally from Buddhism, but which has experienced a secular resurgence in recent years thanks to endorsement from figures such as Oprah Winfrey and Ariana Huffington, promotes a close, attentive awareness to the present moment. Part of its rapid expansion in the last decade has been due to the popularity the MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) course, which has been scientifically proven to have a whole range of health benefits, from beating chronic pain to tackling depression. Using meditation to train the brain over an 8 week course, MBSR has proved so successful, it has been taken up by the NHS and has prompted a number of spin-offs - one of them being the MB-EAT course (Mindfulness Based Eating Awareness Training).

    With MB-EAT (due to launch in London in 2014 as part of the programme by The Mindfulness Project), participants are trained to make conscious food choices, become more aware of their hunger cues and cultivate self-acceptance with a programme of mindfulness meditation, experiential eating exercises, teaching and self-reflection. Through this, they’re able to cultivate mindful awareness and a more balanced and positive relationship to eating and their bodies.

    Here are five simple steps to eating a mindful meal:

    1. Savour in silence

    At meal times, put away your phone, turn off the TV, and ask any family or flatmates to pipe down as you sit down to dinner. Any sensation that you experience outside of taste and smell while you’re eating can distract you from really appreciating what you’re putting in your mouth. While going through an entire meal in pure silence may be a bit much for most of us, just deciding to spend the first 3-5 minutes of a meal in peaceful contemplation of each tasty morsel can be enough.

    2. Come to your senses

    Before you dig into your meal, have a mindful moment with it. Sit down, tune into your stomach and notice how hungry you feel. Then look at the food and really study its colours, the shape and textures. Before you take the first bite, close your eyes, inhale deeply and savor the fragrant aroma. This should really get your mouth watering! When you eat, try to taste and identify all the different ingredients in your meal. This is particularly fun in restaurants, when you didn’t make the food yourself and may help you become more creative in the kitchen.

    3. Switch hands

    If you’re a righty, how about putting your fork or spoon in your left hand for a change? You’ll have to work a little harder on hand-mouth coordination, which will shift you out of autopilot or mindless eating (i.e. wolfing down your lunch in seconds) into mindful eating which involves eating consciously, staying more focused during mealtimes and, ultimately, eating less while still feeling satisfied.

    4. Chew it over

    Putting your fork down between bites of food is a great way of making sure you take the time to chew your food properly, rather than letting yourself mindlessly pick at your plate for your next bite. It also encourages you to slow down and pay attention to the taste of your food, instead of just shoveling it down your throat as quickly as possible.

    5. Know when to stop

    How do you know when it’s the end of meal time? Do you listen to external cues or your own internal ones? External cues are things like your waiter removing your plate, the end of lunch hour, or an empty bag of popcorn. It’s important to listen to internal cues like feeling full, considering the portion size that’s right for you, or feeling thirsty.

     

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