Habits

  • 9 Common Misconceptions of Mindfulness

    Flower and Mirror

     

    Mindfulness is a simple yet powerful practice that can offer many benefits. It’s popularity has led to an explosion of information through apps, podcasts and blogs over the last 20-years.

     

    Some of this information has led to misconceptions of mindfulness and what it means to practice it. These misconceptions can often act as obstacles to the practice, resulting in feelings of failure and sometimes even causing people to stop practicing altogether.

    With this in mind, we’ve highlighted some of the most common misconceptions around. Are any of these holding back your mindfulness practice?

     

    1: Mindfulness Is About Emptying the Mind

    The goal of mindfulness isn’t to get rid of thoughts and to get the benefits of mindfulness we don’t need this to happen. If you’ve ever actually tried to ‘clear your mind of all thoughts’, you’ll notice it’s virtually impossible!

    If we think of emptying the mind as the goal, we may quickly become frustrated in the practice and may want to quit.

    Rather, the intention is to focus our attention on something in the present (e.g. the breath), and when the thoughts arise see if we can keep bringing our attention back, with kindness. 

     

    2: Mindfulness is Only Cultivated Through Meditation

    A common misconception of mindfulness is that it’s about meditation and nothing else. 

    Whilst practicing mindfulness meditation in a formal way is important, we can also practice mindfulness informally, by bringing mindfulness into our daily activities.

     

    Can we be present with nature when we’re out on a walk?

    Can we mindfully listen to someone speak, rather than thinking about how we might respond?

     

    The essence of this informal practice is can we be fully present with whatever we’re doing.

     

    3: Mindfulness is The Same Thing as Relaxation

    There is often the perception that when we practice mindfulness we should feel relaxed.

    The reality is that during our meditation we sometimes feel relaxed, but often also experience frustration, boredom, restlessness and the whole range of human emotions! This doesn’t mean that the practice is going ‘wrong’. It’s part of the process.

    There are more longer-term benefits to be gained from mindfulness than feeling relaxed. By observing our experiences and allowing them to be as they are, we can cultivate a sense of contentment and gain freedom from habitual thought patterns. This can help to release us from loops of stress, depression and anxiety. 

     

    Sleeping Cat

     

    4:  Mindfulness Is a Quick Fix

    Mindfulness is a long-term approach to help us to cope with worry, stress, and anxiety. It’s not a quick fix. Stressors, unfortunately, are simply part of being human. They will always be there, one way or another, big or small. 

    Mindfulness can help us to respond to stress more effectively, to be less overwhelmed,  and to build resilience for when it’s needed. Over time, we may find it helps us to deal with whatever life throws at us, without pre-empting what that might be! 

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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    5: You Have to Sit to Practice Mindfulness

    You do not have to sit on the floor to practice mindfulness. In fact, you don’t have to do anything. It’s your practice. 

    Meditation can be done in any posture. Seated, standing, lying down or walking are usually recommended, but we probably want to avoid lying on the bed, as this usually results in sleep!

    The most important thing is finding a balance between comfort and alertness, and what works for your body.

    If you’re not sure where to start, we’d recommend beginning with sitting on a chair with your feet on the floor and using a cushion or rolled up yoga mat to support your back.

     

    6: There Is a Goal in Mindfulness

    If there is a goal to mindfulness, perhaps it’s not to have goals; to just let things unfold. 

    That said, we all come to mindfulness practice hoping for some benefits. We can try to hold these lightly rather than making them the focus. We often find that the more we try to get somewhere, the further that place gets from us.

      Autumn Leaves

     

    7: We Can Have a ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’ Meditation 

    One day we might find mindfulness comes naturally, the next it might be more difficult. It might be exactly the same practice, with a different result each time. The effect of each practice can also vary immensely from person to person. 

    If you’ve had a difficult morning – your alarm didn’t go off, you spilled your coffee, etc. you might find it hard to settle. Another day, it might come more easily.

    Just as the season changes, so too does our meditation. If we find a practice simple or difficult, it doesn’t mean it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s simply as it is.

    It’s reassuring to note that we can often learn more from our practice when we come up against challenges, approaching them with curiosity and self-compassion. 

     

    8: Mindfulness is a Religion

    Mindfulness is not a religion. It can be practised almost anywhere by almost anyone. 

    Meditation and mindfulness have been practised for thousands of years as part of some religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Stoicism and Taoism.

    Additionally, many religions include aspects of mindfulness, such as patience, non-judging, compassion, and generosity. These are human values, as opposed to being religious. 

    Secular mindfulness specifically – which is what we teach at The Mindfulness Project – is rooted in scientific evidence. This means that whether you have a religion or not, you are welcome to practice it.

     

    Pelican on Calm Sea

     

    9: Mindfulness is Easy 

    On the surface it might look easy, but mindfulness is a work in progress for even the most committed. 

    After decades of practice, there may still be challenging days. And these won’t always come when we’re expecting them. 

    In fact, in a world where our attention is turned from one thing to the next, simply being present can be tricky, but with time it does get easier on the whole. As with many things it takes practice, accepting that there’s no ‘makes perfect’ in mindfulness.  

    It’s not uncommon for people to expect to feel tranquil after a single meditation, dismissing it as ‘not for them’ if that’s not what happens. Whilst it’s true that it isn’t for everyone, we can be doing ourselves a disservice by not exploring it more fully. 

    To really feel the benefit of mindfulness, consistent practice over a sustained period of time is recommended. It doesn’t have to be an hour a day; five minutes of practice each day can be much more useful. It’s a bit like training for a marathon – we can build it up bit by bit.

    If you are finding the practice really difficult, then you can take action and reach out for support, you don’t have to go it alone. Our inbox is always open, or you can join a class, course or drop-in session for more guidance and support.

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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  • Do You Need A Digital Detox?

     

    Unless you’re a teenager, you’ll remember a time before our lives revolved around mobiles and computers. However, the ability to be technologically connected at all times is now central to many of our lives, to the point that we might feel some sense of withdrawal if we went a few days without checking our social media accounts.

     

    For some, this need for constant connectivity has become an addiction, and it makes many of us feel unable to genuinely switch off from work or social duties. Ironically, this virtual connection to the world can make us feel lonely and disconnected – the very feelings we are trying to use technology to help us avoid.

    It would be safe to say that these modern problems are impossible to resolve without mindfulness. Daily activities and habits become so second-nature that we often find ourselves going through the motions with little memory of when or why we started. Yet by bringing our attention to the present moment, we can notice our behaviours and therefore start to make more conscious choices.

     

    Self-distraction is at epidemic proportions—and it’s not the iPhone, it’s the thought of, ‘I wonder if anybody texted me.”

    -- JON KABAT-ZINN

     

    We reach for our phones or tablets reflexively now, almost in the same way we move our hand towards an itch so that we can scratch it. So it’s important to slow down and really tap into our motivations.

    Next time your phone pings with a text, email or notification try noticing your immediate response. It might be, “That could be work, I better read it!” or “Maybe someone has replied to my Tweet / Instagram post.”

     

    If it’s the evening, why can’t the work-related email wait until the morning?

    If someone has responded to a social media post, what does it mean to you that someone has responded?

    Or if your phone hasn’t pinged for a while, and you’re feeling a bit down about it, why is that?

     

    There may be other things we use technology for that we don’t need to. Things that we've become accustomed to. For example, when was the last time you asked a person for directions, rather than reaching for your phone to look at Google Maps? When you’re doing a sum, do you ever try and do it in your head before finding the calculator function?

    Using calculators and digital maps isn’t wrong. In fact, they’re very useful. But the problem comes when we use these useful things mindlessly. When we’re mindless, we cut ourselves off from other possibilities, other ways of doing things which might also be fun or rewarding.

    Becoming more aware of our motivations and emotions around technology may not result in us not using it for certain things, but it enables us to make our actions less reflexive and more deliberate.

    Creating Time Away From Technology

     

    Anyone who has ever tried to overcome an addiction or habit using willpower alone will know how challenging it can be. Using hard effort to change a behaviour is a largely ineffective method, and is why so many people get stuck in yo-yo dieting, cycles of sobriety and alcoholism. It's why so many smokers have had a hundred “last” cigarettes.

    Technology is comparable with insomnia in some ways. For example, in order to improve our chances of falling asleep we must first accept and acknowledge why we’re not falling asleep. Detoxing digitally works along the same lines. To start off with, all that is required is more awareness.

    If we start noticing how much we rely on digital connection and communication, then using willpower starts to become unnecessary. This is because when we are present in what we are doing we notice its affect. We can start by simple recognising;

     

    • When we use it - late at night, when we’re with family or friends, etc.

     

    • How it makes us feel - frustrated, isolated, over-stimulated.

     

    • How it affects other aspects of our lives - sleep, exercise, our connection with family, friends and nature.

     

    Let's take reading work emails before going to bed as an example – it makes you feel agitated and unable to unwind. Once you’re conscious of that feeling, and you know it’s linked with your action of checking emails at night, you naturally won’t want to be present in that agitation.

    Feeling the agitation of it, mindfully, is a little like noticing you’ve got a splinter. Once you know where the irritation is coming from, you’re unlikely to leave it there. Without having to mentally motivate yourself to reach for the tweezers, you just pick them up and remove the splinter.

    In the same way, once we’re aware, we naturally stop doing things that don’t make us feel good. Living mindfully gives us more choice, and will help us use technology when it suits our real needs, rather than as a mindless reflex.

    If this you think you need a digital detox, perhaps consider if it's time to take a mindfulness retreat and kickstart a more mindful routine.

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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  • Mindful Attitudes to Bring About Positive Change

     

    As we step into a new year full of possibility and promise, eager to leave last’s year baggage behind, now is the time that many of us take inventory of our world and resolve to set new goals and intentions for change.

    So often, these best-laid plans are derailed due to impatience or expectations – ways of thinking that lead us away from the present moment. It’s no surprise then, that the most effective way to usher in change is to do so consciously – using mindfulness. By making the choice to shift to more mindful attitudes, we can begin to break old patterns and cultivate long-lasting change. So how do we begin?

    Choose to be proactive instead of reactive. How do you respond when you struggle to meet a goal? Some of us may run on a reactive mode of thinking that can lead to knee-jerk responses like ‘what’s the use’. Reactive patterns are often habitual and automatic, and to break them we must first identify them. Bringing mindful awareness to these patterns gives us the power to do so, and to shift to a more proactive way of thinking. This also extends to the way we practice mindfulness when problems arise - used reactively, mindfulness can only help in the heat of the moment, but when used proactively, it guides our thoughts and actions before a problem becomes a problem.

    Choose fluidity instead of rigidity. Be open to the reality of the present moment – it’s peaks and valleys, the possibility for failure and the potential for success in any given situation. In this way, we become more fluid, more resilient and far less likely to give up at the first hurdle. The practice of focusing and refocusing our attention is the first powerful tool that we learn in mindfulness, and can help us to carry our new goals and intentions forward.

    Choose self-compassion instead of self-criticism. A kind inner voice that supports us, rather than judges us, is far more likely to elicit our motivation to grow and change. In fact, study after study has shown that self-criticism is one of the biggest obstacles to forming new habits and meeting new goals. By responding to our frustrations and difficulties with kindness and compassion, we are better able to bolster ourselves for success.

    Choose acceptance instead of denial. Acceptance is a fertile ground for growth and change, and can dramatically transform how we relate to our experiences. When we come from this place, we are more likely to succeed in whatever we do. By accepting ourselves just as we are, and recognising that we may stray in the process of trying to meet new goals and intentions, we reduce our resistance to change.

    Choose value-oriented intentions instead of all-or-nothing goals. Avoid rigid resolutions and all-or-nothing goals to ‘quit’ or ‘stop’ a habit, and keep an open-minded attitude with more positively-framed goals. Mindfulness can help us both make and follow through on such resolutions, as well as provide strategies that help you more effectively handle the stresses and challenges that often derail resolutions.

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops. 

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  • Improving Our Health, Compassionately

     

    Close up of potted plant

     

    One of the exciting things about life is that we don’t have to stay the same as we are right now; we can re-invent ourselves at any time. 

     

    For most of us, there are accessible changes we can make to become healthier, whether that’s by eating our greens, getting fitter, breaking unhealthy habits or addictions, or by cultivating greater peace of mind and emotional resiliency. However, we all too often make these types of self-improvement plans when we’re in a low mood and from a place of self-criticism.

    Maybe we’re not been getting out of the house much recently, and so we think to ourselves ‘I’m lazy, I need to start running every day’, rather than having a kinder perspective such as ‘I might benefit from going for a short walk at lunchtime a few times a week’.

    When we make health plans from a place of self-loathing, we often set unrealistic and unkind goals for ourselves. This means we are unlikely to achieve them, and even less likely to have a nice time along the way!

     

    A Checklist for Mindful Goal-Setting

    Whatever our health goals may be, it’s important to ask ourselves these questions before we set out to achieve them.

     

    Is my goal realistic?

    Say we want to stop eating so much chocolate, because we recognise it's not making us feel so good. We might come up with the goal of giving up chocolate completely. It might work; we might indeed have the will power to never touch anything sweet again.

    Alternatively, it might be really difficult! So difficult in fact, that we fail terribly and then feel even worse about ourselves than before. We might make ourselves miserable in the process, defeating the object and feeling better in ourselves and well-balanced.

    Instead of banishing chocolate from our lives altogether, why not just get more mindful about eating it? There's nothing wrong with enjoying some chocolate, so instead of completely removing it from our lives, we can treat ourselves now and again and practice savouring each bite to make it a greater pleasure rather than a habit. We’re still moving towards our health goals, but in a more self-compassionate and realistic way, without sacrificing our mental health by being harsh on ourselves.

     

    Is my goal kind?

    We want to get fit, so we sign up for the toughest, most physically gruelling boot camp we can find. We want to drink less caffeine, so we banish every drink except water. We want to get more sleep, so we say we'll be in bed by 9pm every night without fail, no matter what we're missing out on. These kinds of goals seem more like punishments than ways to help us enjoy life, which is likely to be one of the reasons we want to be healthier in the first place.

    When we don’t like how we look or behave, it can feel impossible to treat ourselves kindly. We may feel that we don’t deserve kindness; that because we’re depressed, lacking motivation or addicted to something, that we’re bad. Instead, we can adjust our goals to make them both achievable and fun.

    Imagine that your friend wanted to get fitter, or that your child was suffering with depression, or that your beloved was struggling with an addiction. It’s unlikely that we would speak to them the way we speak to ourselves. Would we really say to a friend, ‘You're so lazy. You need to sign up to marathon and start training at 6am every morning immediately'?

    Instead of a boot camp we might try a new fitness class with a friend and -- if we like it -- making it a regular activity before introducing a new goal.

    Instead of banishing caffeine we might to reduce our caffeine intake to a coffee a day, replacing other drinks with an enjoyable alternative such as an intriguing herbal tea or fruit infusion, sparking our curiosity.

    Instead of being in bed by 9pm we might set a reminder to start winding down at 9pm, choosing to turn off the TV and put down our phone by 9pm to read a book or have a bath if we're not tired enough to sleep.

    In taking micro steps, we can gradually reach our goals one step at a time and enjoy the process. We can also listen to our bodies more easily, ensuring we're taking care of our needs and not pushing ourselves too hard to the detriment of our health.

     

    TOP TIP:

    When setting goals, it’s useful to imagine that we are helping a friend set their goals instead of our own. Imagine the kindness and gentle encouragement you would feel for your loved ones, and incorporate that level of care and compassion into your own goal-making.

    Make your goals self-nurturing. For example, instead of ‘I don't want greasy skin’ , try changing it to ‘I want my skin to glow by choosing healthy food, sleep and exercise.’

     

    How will I treat myself when I stumble?

    We might be doing really well with our plans, but then one major upset has us hiding under the duvet or reaching for the caffeine. In these moments, it feels like all of our hard work has been for nothing!

    This is where self-compassion can really shine and make all the difference, because it’s at these times of perceived failure that we’re most likely to give up on our goals completely.

    Mindfulness helps us see that life is a series of moments. Rather than mentally remaining stuck in a previous moment where we mindlessly watched TV instead of going to our fitness class, we can ‘refresh’ ourselves and become new again in the here and now.

    This can help us forgive ourselves for slipping up, because what’s done is done, and now this is a new moment. It helps us see that we can begin again, and again if needed, because each new moment is a fresh opportunity. If we we stumble and manage to get back on track, we should be giving ourselves a self-compassionate pat on the back!

     

    Do I really need to achieve this goal?

    Do we need to get stronger, fitter or look more radiant, or are our negative thoughts at this moment driving our desire to set goals? Are we comparing ourselves to others or a past version of ourselves? Is the true goal that we want to feel happier, for example?

    When our minds are clouded, it can be hard to judge what is true. Yet through practicing mindfulness, we are more able to take a step back from our thoughts and see them more clearly.

    If we’re already fairly healthy, perhaps it’s not our behaviour that we need to change, but the thoughts we have about ourselves?

    An effective way of exploring the truth behind our desired goals is to place your hand on your heart, to close your eyes, and really tap into how your goals make you feel.

     

    Are our goals coming from self-compassion? Are they moving you forward or creating a cycle of guilt and shame?

    By exploring our self-beliefs and inner dialogue, we can find out where our health goals are really coming from, and whether we should put them into practice; remembering that our health is not just physical, but mental too.

    When we learn to cultivate positive mind states and meet our imperfections with kindness, we can also find it easier to maintain our physical health, saving ourselves from unnecessary suffering.

     

    Find out more on an 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) Course.

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  • How to Recognise a Fight-or-Flight Response

    bird

    As we navigate through life, it’s important for our physical survival that we recognise and act appropriately to dangerous situations. In these situations, we often don’t have time to logically weigh up our options and figure out the best course of action, and so our brains have evolved in such a way as to save us time.

    When faced with a perceived threat to our safety, a part of the brain called the amygdala (which processes memory, decision-making and emotional reactions) is triggered and ‘hijacks’ the rational, thinking part of the brain. In other words, the amygdala decides for us whether we should stay and fight, run and hide, or freeze completely.

    This is what is commonly referred to as the fight-flight-or-freeze response: very handy if a car is hurtling towards you, or someone starts following you down a dark, secluded alleyway, but not so useful if we’re simply arguing with our partner or just said something embarrassing to our co-workers. The amygdala struggles to tell the difference between real, immediate danger and perceived danger, i.e. although it’s painful to feel humiliated in front of others, it’s not going to kill us like a rabid dog would.

    So how can we recognise when we are reacting disproportionality to a situation?

    How Does This Moment Feel?

    Learning to recognise our emotional reactions takes some time, and becomes better with practice. The more we tune in to what we’re experiencing in this moment, the more we remember to do it going forward, and perhaps most importantly the easier and more natural it becomes to do so. Therefore the best way to start noticing our amygdala reactions is to start developing a regular mindfulness practice in general, in the same way that exercising regularly now will ensure that your body is strong and healthy later on in life.

    An easy place to start is to begin regularly asking yourself, ‘How does this moment feel?’ Set an alarm on your phone, or place a few sticky notes around your home or work desk if it helps you remember. Just take a moment to check in with yourself.

    Try asking the question after something upsetting happens, like an argument, some bad news, or an unexpected bill, and get familiar with what happens in your body and mind when this stuff happens. Do you feel scared (like you want to run away), angry (like you want to fight) or numb (like you just want to curl up into a ball)? Is your heart rate elevating, your breath quickening or restricting, your body tensing and tightening, or feeling weak and fatigued? If so, you may be experiencing fight-flight-or-freeze. This is a universal experience: if you have a brain, you experience amygdala reactions, end of story! So don’t beat yourself up about it. Just try to observe it as best you can, so that you know how it manifests within you.

    Once you’ve started to notice these reactions, what can you actually do about it?

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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    Mindfulness Techniques

    Research shows that mindfulness practice shrinks the amygdala and also weakens connections between the amygdala and pre-frontal cortex. This means that over time we become less reactive to perceived threats and more able to think about how we’d like to respond. For example, when our partner does something that usually triggers a fight-or-flight response (i.e. makes a comment that we perceive as critical or embarrassing, yet isn’t meant as such), we can react more calmly and not in a way that then descends into an unnecessary falling-out.

    Once we’ve recognised a change in our mood, like an onslaught of disproportionate rage or depression, we can then apply some helpful mindfulness techniques.

    This could be focussing on the breath while we observe our amygdala-triggered thoughts. Any time that we notice our minds getting stuck, we gently bring the attention back to the breath, and continue to breathe through the reaction until it passes. Remember that the emotional reaction isn’t wrong or bad, but at the same time, if the reaction isn’t appropriate or helpful to the situation then it’s better to let it pass.

    We might also try using mindfulness ‘anchors’ around us to help us come back to the moment. For example, try focussing on sounds, sights or other physical sensations that can help ground you in the present, again noticing where the mind goes, and each time gently and kindly bringing it back to your point of focus.

    It’s useful to view this practice as a form of self-care. By taking proactive steps to guide ourselves through amygdala reactions, we can not only save ourselves from the harmful effects of prolonged stress in the body, but we can also avoid further negative or destructive situations occurring because of our fight-or-flight responses.

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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  • Making Self-Care a Daily Habit

    self-care

     

    A common side-effect of practicing mindfulness is that we start to notice the ways in which we neglect our well-being. Whether it’s unhealthy habits or addictions, stresses in our lives, or unkind judgemental thoughts about ourselves, in becoming more mindful we see these issues with greater clarity. With this new awareness can often come a desire to start treating ourselves with more care.

     

    For those of us who have been self-critical or neglectful of our well-being throughout our lives, self-care may at first feel a little awkward and unfamiliar. We might also not be so good at recognising when we need it. Developing a new, caring attitude towards ourselves can take time as we undo a lot of old, ingrained uncaring patterns and habits.

    At first we might only notice that we need self-care when we feel really low, like when we have the flu or when our depression is really bad. This is a great first step! However, self-care doesn’t have to end there. We can turn acts of self-care into a daily habit. With practice it may even start to come as naturally to us as brushing our teeth!

    Although small self-caring actions are better than none at all, to truly cement self-care into our natural way of being it may be useful to intentionally set aside at least 30 minutes a day to do something nice for yourself or to simply rest. That way you stop everything else that you’re doing and just focus on you.

    It could be that you take some time after work to do a relaxing yoga routine so that you can enjoy the rest of your evening, or that you go to bed earlier than usual to read a book. Or you might make a healthy meal with all of your favourite ingredients.

    It could even be that you sign into Netflix and order a pizza, just as long as you’re doing it with that intention of treating yourself nicely, rather than as a distraction or zoning out.

    Far from being selfish or self-indulgent, developing a daily self-care habit can give us more energy and resilience to deal with all other aspects of our lives. Over time, we can find balance in an unpredictable world.

     

    The Mindfulness Project offers a range of courses and workshops focused on self-compassion, including the 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course. 

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  • Finding Your Inner Balance in an Unpredictable World

    centre

    In this uncertain world, we try our best to find routine and predictability, hoping that these things will make life easier. However, life isn’t so great at cooperating with our plans! Life is messy, so what can we do?

    Using mindfulness to find some inner balance can help us cope when life gets hectic with the ups and downs life throws at us. Finding our centre can help us navigate this ever-changing world with more ease.

    The first step is to recognise the beliefs and ideas we have about how our experience ought to be. For example, when something painful happens and we react with thoughts of ‘this isn’t fair’ or ‘this isn’t right’, we can use these as prompts to check in with our beliefs. What we may find is that our beliefs stem from simply wanting to avoid pain or discomfort.

    The next step is to understand that this is completely natural. No one wants to suffer. In this way, we are the same as every living being, and we can use this understanding to give ourselves, and others, some compassion.

    Seeing these reactions as universal, and not due to some personal failing, we can then loosen a little around these beliefs. We can’t shake them off entirely of course, but they may become a bit less heavy.

    Once we recognise and understand what’s going on in our minds, we can then take some practical steps to find our centre. By ‘centre’ we mean that deeper part of you; the part that is more spacious and therefore more accommodating to what is currently happening.

    You could try thinking of it as stepping out of the beliefs and ideas that make life painful (i.e. this is wrong, this is bad, this shouldn’t be), and into a wider space, the space that exists between those thoughts. Here in this space there is room for what actually ‘is’, and it is always there for us to take refuge in.

    How we connect with that centre may vary depending on what works best for us personally. We may find that simply focussing on the breath is enough to get us there. Or we may need to take some time away from everyone else to meditate for a while.

    Perhaps we might find our centre through mindful movement practices, or by going for a walk outside and getting some fresh air. Maybe it’s by placing our hand on our heart. Whatever it is, it will be something that reconnects you with this moment right here. This is where you’ll find your balance again.

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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  • 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.

    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!

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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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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  • Hygge: Cultivated Cosiness

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    There are many words from other languages that we don’t have an equivalent word for in English. Like the German word ‘schadenfreude’, which means to take pleasure from the misfortune of others, or the Spanish word ‘sombremésa’ which is used to describe the time spent after a meal, talking to the people you shared the meal with. Although we are familiar with these emotions or situations, somehow having a singular word for them can make them more tangible; naming such things can help us become more mindful of them.

    The Danish and Norwegians have a concept known as ‘hygge’ (heurgha). It’s used to describe things or situations which give us a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. ‘Hygge’ is an integral part of Danish life, and so it may come as no surprise that Denmark is considered to be one of the happiest countries in the world.

    My Danish friend, Daniel says: “You can make something hyggelig; you tidy your home, you bring cake for your class, you light candles, etc. And something can be hyggelig too; an old house, or a bench in a park, or a campfire... It's very ingrained in the language and social interaction/tradition but we're also very relaxed about it in the everyday. It can range from the very small to the big things.”

    So how can we use mindfulness to help us bring more hygge into our lives?

    One way is to bring awareness to what makes us feel nice and cosy, and then to consciously incorporate more of those things into our lives. For example, if fairy lights make us feel happy, we can hang some in our bedroom, or if we haven’t seen our friends for a while we could invite them to our home for a candlelit meal. Or we can just set aside some time to snuggle up under our duvet and read a good book.

    Another way is to be more mindful of the hyggelig things that are already around us! We can, for example, slow down and savour a lovely cup of tea, take time to enjoy a beautiful scene, or delight in the warmth of a knitted jumper or blanket.

    How do you cultivate cosiness in your life? Leave a comment sharing your best hygge moments!

     

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