Gratitude

  • 8 Ways to Celebrate Your Birthday Mindfully

     

    As we approach a birthday, anniversary, or long-anticipated event, it can bring about many thoughts and feelings. We might experience happiness and joy, but we can also feel disappointment, regret or sadness if our day, or lives, are not as we wish them to be. 

     

    Such milestones can prompt us to look inwardly, to judge ourselves or to make comparisons with others. In doing so, we can prevent ourselves from fully enjoying our day or even cause ourselves and others suffering.

     

    So, what can we do to cultivate joy and ensure a more positive experience?

     

    Here, we offer eight ways to mindfully support a happy birthday and to help us remember that birthdays are a celebration of the unique gifts each of us brings to the world. 

     

    1. Let Go of Expectation 

     

    Have you ever not planned something for your birthday?

    How does the thought of it make you feel?

     

    Perhaps it brings up feelings of discomfort or maybe it’s a refreshing idea.

    We might find ourselves planning our birthday weeks or even months in advance, ruminating over what we may or may not do. In doing so, we can give ourselves excessive time to plan every minute detail in our heads, unintentionally setting expectations.

    When we set expectations, instead of being able to enjoy each moment for what it is, we can end up lost in thought, worrying that everything will go to plan. We can miss out on what is actually happening, letting our birthday pass by without being fully present. 

    For example, if we are planning a party, we might fret about looking our best instead of enjoying the experience of visiting a salon or taking a warm shower in preparation. We might spend time wondering if someone is going to turn up, instead of connecting with those that are already there. 

    Consequently, when things turn out different to how we expect -- as they usually do -- we can be left feeling disappointed.

    Instead of planning, we can consider if a level of uncertainty might help to keep our minds open.

     

    Can not-planning allow us the freedom to choose what we want to do to suit our needs nearer the time, or even on the day? 

     

    Perhaps in choosing not to envisage every last detail we can relieve pressure around preconceived ideas about what a birthday ‘should’ or ‘should not’ look like. As we let go of our own expectations, we can also avoid complying with the expectations of others. 

    When we make space to enjoy the anticipation of not-knowing what will happen on our special day, we can let it unfold with curiosity and wonder. 

     

    2. Nourish Yourself

    If there was only one day in the year to feel nourished, birthdays are likely to be up there. 

    If you wake up on your birthday and want to curl up in a blanket with a good book and a cup of coffee, then it’s your birthday and no one is there to judge you, including yourself. If you want to party until 4am for your 80th, then it’s also your birthday!

    When we shift our awareness to observing how we feel, we can more easily accept what is and respond to meet our needs, as opposed to what the world around us might dictate. 

    Regardless of the day, it’s important we regularly set time aside to think about what will nourish us, so that we can learn to restore, reset and reconnect with the world around us. A birthday can provide a good reminder to set such intentions as you move forward into a new year.  

     

    3. Choose Gratitude 

    Instead of ruminating over what a birthday might mean, we can focus on being grateful for what we have as we reach each milestone. We can pause and notice everything around us –- almost like taking a polaroid picture in our head. 

    We might choose to start or end our day by writing a list of things we are grateful for from last year. This might be experiences, people, objects, or the things we might otherwise take for granted, such as our health and mindfulness practice. 

    Gratitude can help us to see the world the way it is and let go of the imagined version of our day or the way we might otherwise feel we ‘should’ be celebrating. In directing our attention to gratitude, we can better cultivate positive mind states.

     

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    4. Read (or Start) a Mindful Journal

    As we write down what we are grateful for on our birthday, we might also take a moment to look back on our journal and the year that has passed. 

    We can take note of what we have learnt about ourselves in a compassionate way. We can celebrate the challenges we have overcome, the experiences we have been a part of and the unexpected surprises that might have taught us something along the way. 

    Whilst mindfulness is about the present moment, it can be helpful to reflect on the past from time to time to support us in being more mindful and to help set positive intentions for the future. 

    You might realise that the event that you were so dreading turned out to be enjoyable. Or that the noise the washing machine was making was not a sign that it was broken at all. It might be that thoughts about where we were heading at the start of the year could have turned out to be completely unfounded. This can help us to move forward with greater knowledge and intuition. 

    If you haven’t started one, you might treat yourself to a shiny new journal -- it’s your birthday after all!  

     

    5. Invite a Beginner's Mind

    When we are children, we celebrate birthdays -- both our own and that of others -- with a pure excitement that can be lost or hidden under layers of busyness or stress as we grow up. Rather than being a day to catch up with friends, eat cake and play pass the parcel, it can feel like a chore. 

    When we invite a beginner's mind to our birthday, we forget about making our day ‘perfect’ and centre in on the here and now. We celebrate as if we were a kid again, reverting to a childhood sense of curiosity and joy.  

    For example, we can open a gift with excitement, rather than expectation or worry. We can focus on the cake in front of us, rather than how it will look on Instagram. If we want to, we can even play musical bumps, mindfully listening for the music to stop without thinking about where we might fall! 

     

    6. Mindful Gift Giving

     

    Have you ever thought about giving a gift to someone else on your birthday? 

     

    It might be a small token of gratitude for someone that has supported us over the course of the year or a donation to a charity that we admire. 

    A mindful gift does not need to be expensive; it can be spending time with someone, writing a thoughtful card to acknowledge your appreciation, or simply thanking someone out loud. 

    Mindful giving can strengthen the connections with those around us and help to cultivate joy for both the recipient and ourselves.

     

    7. Before You Blow Out the Candle…

    If you have a busy schedule planned, why not start it with a simple candle meditation, focusing on the flame and helping to move into the day with clarity and inner calm. 

    Alternatively, if you’ve chosen to have a cake to mark the occasion, you could use the candle as a cue to look around you before you blow it out. Perhaps notice who is there to celebrate with you, tapping into your senses and how you feel in the moment.  

    And once the candles have been blown out...  

     

    8. Have Your Cake (Or Not)

    Finally, many of us will celebrate with an edible (or drinkable) treat on our birthday. Why not take a moment to really savour the moment and enjoy that special something in detail with some mindful eating?  

    A birthday cake, for example, might generate eye hunger -- one of the seven types of hunger -- so why not feast your eyes on the detail of the icing or the different layers before savoring each bite, noticing the textures and flavours. In doing so, we can really appreciate it and the effort that has gone into making it. 

    And if you don’t feel like a huge slice of cake… then eat what you want -- listen to your body and save the cake for another time if that’s what it’s telling you. Put a candle in an avocado, a piece of sushi or a slice of cheese. Tune in and give yourself the birthday presence you’re truly craving.

    Happy birthday!

     

    Meditation

    Candle Meditation | 6-Minutes

     

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  • Cultivating Positive Mind States

    Written by Alexa Frey

    In mindfulness, we train our attention to be in the present moment. How? By anchoring it on a sensory experience – for example, the breath, a bodily sensation, or a sound. In short, we learn to place our attention on a chosen anchor. That’s the first step. With practice, we then become better at directing our attention where we want it to be. Slowly but surely, we learn to focus and stay in the present moment.

    Now, once we are able to focus, and choose where we want our attention to be, we can start engaging in what in mindfulness is called ‘cultivation’. This means, that we place our attention on something that fills us with gratitude, acceptance or anticipatory joy, or compassion for ourselves or others.

    How does this work? Usually we start by settling our attention on the breath, which helps to calm down and focus the mind. After a while, we begin to engage in cultivation. If we wish to cultivate gratitude for example, we will bring up a person or a thing, or a situation, that fills us with gratitude. Maybe the lush tree that grows in front of your house evokes gratitude in you, or the fact that you can see, or maybe you feel grateful that you own the cutest dog in the world!

    So, bring to mind what you are grateful for and keep your attention on it. As you stay with it for a while, you will notice a sense of gratitude spreading through your body. A sense of expansion and joy.

    As you practice cultivating gratitude, your mind might drift off – just like in a normal meditation. It might run off to a completely different experience. If this happens, gently redirect your attention back to what you are grateful for. Return to gratitude. Again, and again, and again.

     

    Learn to cultivate positive mind states through mindfulness on an eight week course or mindfulness workshop. 

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  • Cultivating Gratitude All Year Round

    Think back for a moment to what you did over Christmas and New Year’s. Maybe you spent time with family. Perhaps you carved out some space just for yourself, or got some friends together for a party. Whether it’s Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve or somebody’s birthday, we tend to roll out the red carpet, deck the halls and bake a cake. Mindfulness can help us to savour the joy of these occasions, but it also invites us to be present for every moment, not just special events.

    During the holidays, we may have felt grateful for what we have, thankful for time with friends and family. So how can we bring that sense of appreciation into our everyday lives? Two of our teachers at The Mindfulness Project shared their ideas for how we can cultivate a spirit of gratitude all year round.

    Thoughts from our teachers

    We asked neuropsychologist and mindfulness teacher Dr Melanie Tokley what experience she most enjoyed over the holidays. She shared her memory of attending a six-night silent meditation retreat in Devon:

    “On New Year’s Eve, our third day immersed in silence, we walked up a winding path lit by tea lights to a beautiful bonfire. One by one, we threw pieces of paper into the fire bearing the words of things we wished to let go of. We sat around the fire drinking hot chocolate infused with cinnamon bark and cardamom pods. Despite the silence, I felt incredibly connected to everyone present. I could hear fireworks exploding in the sky from nearby towns and, despite the remoteness of our location, there was a profound sense of connectedness and community.”

    Melanie’s words paint a beautiful picture of how she spent New Year’s Eve. By mindfully engaging with her experience, she has created vivid memories, full of detail and texture. You can almost smell the fire, taste the cinnamon and feel the sense of letting go she must have felt in that moment.

    Doug Vaughan, a psychotherapist and teacher at The Mindfulness Project, suggests that “appreciating the ordinary” is one of the most effective ways of practising gratitude, no matter what time of year it is:

    “The holidays are especially conducive to gratitude practices and cultivating loving kindness. But whatever the time of year, one of my favourite practices is appreciating the ordinary. Rick Hanson introduced me to this concept and each time I apply it, it feels as though I’ve found a delightful secret that is freely available. That sense of savouring the okayness of this moment, enjoying those times when our bodies feel alright; those moments when there’s no apparent gloss nor grit – just a simple alright-ness that can be savoured. On a personal level, if I can recognise those moments, take them in, then my step feels a little lighter and my smile is readier to broaden.”

    How can we bring this sense of awareness, connection and gratitude to our everyday experiences?

    When we practice mindfulness we become more attuned to the many moments that make up our day-to-day lives, and learn to treat all moments as equally important. By bringing this presence to our experience, we are more able to recognise and appreciate the good stuff when it happens. Next time you’re enjoying something, really tune in and see how that feels in your body. See if you can have a sense of gratitude and appreciation for that moment. Mindfulness also means being with moments of difficulty, so next time something difficult happens, also tune in and see how that feels. By fully being with our moments like this, we’re less likely to cling on to them or push them away, and can just appreciate life for how it really is.

    We can also spend some time seeing how special the ordinary can really be. Try to bring the sense of occasion you cultivated at Christmas or New Year’s to an everyday task, or a typical evening at home. Switch off your phone, roll out the red carpet and savour the simple “okayness” of the moments as they pass. See how it changes your experience. We’d love to hear how you get on, so feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

     

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  • Weaving Mindfulness into your Day

    Strawberry Heart Square_3

    People 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.

     

    Learn to better cultivate mindfulness on a course or workshop. 

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  • Mindfulness Tips For When We Feel Jealous

    jealousy

    Sometimes 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.

     

    Find our more about our mindfulness courses and workshops. 

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  • Getting the Most Out of the Summer

    Flower Box

    Summer is here! And so it’s time for picnics, walks on the beach, BBQ’s with family and friends, and chilled out summer evenings. For those of us in England, it can also mean super changeable weather!  But whether we’re having a typically unpredictable English summer, or the sun and sand of exotic holiday destinations, there’s many things around us at this time of year that we can take time to appreciate and feel grateful for. We can use the signs of summer as reminders to practice being mindful.

    The Gift of Sunshine

    There’s something about a clear blue sky and warm summer sunshine that makes life seem that little bit easier. Of course, just because the clouds have gone doesn’t mean our worries have too. Yet by taking a moment to appreciate the nicer weather we can at least soften our troubles for a while. Actively noticing and feeling grateful for the positive things in life, like the sunshine, can help make us healthier and more resilient. You can read more about this in our blog post, 8 Wellbeing Benefits Of Practicing Gratitude.

    So next time we notice that the sun is shining, we can take a few deep breathes and spend a moment or two to focus on our experience. We can let our eyes drink in the beautiful blue of the sky, and notice the warmth of the sun on our skin or in our hair. Try sending a smile or a heart-felt ‘thank you’ up to the sky, and notice how it might change your day.

     

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    Switching Off

    Maybe we’re on the beach or lounging in the garden, and we want to take pictures of our cocktails or our ‘hot dog legs’ to put on social media. This isn’t a bad thing, but maybe we don’t always need to show the world that we’re having a nice time; maybe sometimes we can appreciate the lovely day and keep the experience as a private gift to ourselves, or something we only share with those who are there with us.

    Mindfulness is all about getting in touch with the moment to moment nature of life. By pausing and settling in to the moment, we may find that it’s simply enough to enjoy what we’re doing without immediately reaching for our phone to share it. Experiment with appreciating some moments just for yourself, and see how it changes your experience.

    Connecting with Nature

    Summer offers a great opportunity to spend some time in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of town or city life. Although a lot can be said for winter walks, sometimes it’s easier and more pleasant to be outdoors when it’s warm and dry! If we’re not mindful, the summer can pass us by before we know it, so if we have busy schedules we may need to consciously set aside some time to appreciate it while it’s here.

    No matter where we choose to go, there will be plenty of things around us to help us become more mindful. If we go to the beach, we can take time to notice how the warm sand feels between our toes, or how the gentle sound of waves can soothe our worries away. If we’re in the countryside, we can notice how the sun shines through the leaves on the trees, creating brilliant greens and dappled shade on the ground. Or we can watch how the bees and butterflies flit from flower to flower.

    The great thing about nature is that it’s never in a rush. It takes its time, and yet everything gets done: the flowers bloom, the grass grows and the bees collect their pollen. This provides us with a gentle reminder that we too are part of nature, and that we are all growing and blooming in our own time.

    Ice Creams, Berries and BBQ’s!

    When it comes to food and drink, there are lots of things we can enjoy in the summer that just don’t taste the same at any other time of the year. If we practice mindful eating and drinking, we can really enjoy and savour these things.

    We can notice how our ice cream tastes, and how it melts in the heat. As we try to lick the edges of our ice creams before they melt, we may be reminded of carefree childhood summers, or simply just enjoy getting a little messy! If we’re eating strawberries, we can slow right down and really experience eating them; noticing how they look, smell and how they taste as we bite into them. Maybe they’re still warm from the sun, and so we can feel grateful for being able to eat fresh locally grown fruit. And if we’re at a BBQ with friends or family, we can take the time to notice the smell of the coals and smoke, or even how it’s kind of satisfying to watch how the food slowly cooks on the grill.

    There are so many unique sights, sounds, textures and tastes to be enjoyed in the summer, and noticing them with more attention, and intention, can make our moments so rich and memorable!

     

    Would you like to learn more about how mindfulness can enrich our lives? Check out our calendar for upcoming workshops and courses!

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  • 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!

     

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  • 8 Wellbeing Benefits of Practicing Gratitude

    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.

     

    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.

     

    1. 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.

     

    2. 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.

     

    3. 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.

     

    4. 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.

     

    5. 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.

     

    6. 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.

     

    7. 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.

     

    8. 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.

     

    The Mindfulness Project runs regular workshops, courses, retreats and drop-in sessions. 

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  • Embracing Impermanence

    Through practicing mindfulness we discover many things about ourselves and life that we may not have given much thought to previously. We may become aware of strengths we didn’t have the confidence to acknowledge before, and we may find a new honesty and acceptance about our weaknesses.

    Practicing mindfulness can also lead to us seeing life in a different way, sometimes bringing a harsh clarity that can be hard to deal with. For example, when we become more mindful of our moment to moment existence, it becomes strikingly clear that nothing is permanent; thoughts, emotions, relationships, and ultimately life itself are all destined to change or end at some point.

    This awareness can be a double-edged sword. It shows us that grief, pain and heartache will all eventually pass, and this gives us hope. Yet it also reminds us that all that we cherish will one day fade; hardly a joyous prospect! We may feel panic or depression; it may throw our whole life into question – the choices we’ve made, the things we have given priority to. But it may also gift us with the ability to appreciate each precious moment, rather than forever projecting our happiness into an imagined future.

     

    Impermanence

     

    Fear of Connection

    Opening our hearts can be challenging at the best of times, but knowing that everything is impermanent may make it feel too hard to bear. If everyone is bound to die, if feelings change, if loves comes and goes unpredictably, then we may feel like, ‘What is the point?’ It’s a difficult question. But mindfulness may help us come to our own answers.

    One of the many benefits of mindfulness is that it can help us focus on what is truly important to us. Cultivating self-awareness helps us put aside what we think society wants from us, what our parents expect of us, what our education has taught us to believe, and allows us to reach our own heart. It gives us the space to ask ourselves, ‘What is really important to me, in this moment?’

    This simple question can help us cut through fears and insecurities, which often distort our true values and wishes. We may have told ourselves over and over that it is too dangerous to open our hearts to other people, to situations, to new experiences, so much so that we live from that story and lose touch with what we want for ourselves deep down. So, what is the point of opening our hearts in the face of impermanence? If we look deeply enough we may find that actually we’re willing to face the possibility of losing something for the opportunity of connection.

    The Art of Gratitude

    Perhaps the most profound discovery we will make through exploring impermanence is a sense of gratitude. In any beautiful moment, no matter how simple or spectacular, we can reign in our attention and think ‘So, this moment is fleeting, but how lucky I am to be here to experience it.’

    Being fully in the moment won’t always necessarily be joyful. At times this presence may feel bitter-sweet. Appreciating a beautiful scene alone may bring with it as much sadness as it does happiness, or saying goodbye to a sick loved one who we may not get the chance to see again is bound to break our heart. But at least we will know that we did not let the moment pass us by without honouring it.

    Knowing that we do not have forever to make the time to enjoy special moments, that appreciation and happiness do not exist in the future but in the here and now, we can start to lead more fulfilling lives. Whilst we may want to capture a moment and live in it forever, knowing that we can never do that makes those moments more meaningful. Because they will pass, they are worth our attention.

    Facing the impermanence of life is not easy. Many of us will battle with the range of emotions that impermanence brings. Yet if we can accept this as a shared battle, something that all human beings have to face and traverse, it can bring great humility, compassion and fierce presence into our lives.

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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