Meditation

  • How To Make Friends With Change

    Written by Amy Jane Wood

    If there’s one thing that can be counted on in life, it’s change. Sages, scientists and philosophers have agreed on this simple fact since time immemorial: “Nothing endures but change,” declared Heraclitus back in Ancient Greece. "All conditioned things are impermanent" said Buddha. “Nothing gold can stay,” wrote Robert Frost. A profound acceptance of this truth – that all things are impermanent – can truly transform the way we live.

    Of course, it is in our human nature to try and defy change. Left-brain thinking, which is so dominant in our culture, seeks to sweep the world into tidy boxes -- filing and ordering life to give it more permanence, security and familiarity. But to do this also goes contrary to the truth – that the present is living, in flux, and therefore difficult to fix. In a paradoxical twist, the only thing we can count on is change – so it makes sense to try to make friends with it.

    We can try to see change with new eyes by appreciating what it brings to our lives. Have you ever stopped to consider what a world without change would be like? “Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible.” says Thich Naht Hahn. Without change, we would be frozen in time and space. In this way, change opens a world abundant with potential and possibility -- a living moment for which we can be grateful.

    Many of us may feel that change arouses fear and anxiety. Perhaps this stems from an expectation that it will be for the worse, or from a desire to distance ourselves from unpleasant aspects of our experience. Whatever the reason, fear blocks our ability to meet change with acceptance and open-mindedness. In these moments, we can use mindfulness to become more aware of the dialogue that’s taking place within -- and by looking at fear with curiosity and non-judgement, we can begin to disconnect from it and find the power to step into courage.

    Of course, we all need to feel grounded when change takes place around us, but so often we seek this anchor in external things or people. Once we truly understand that the external world is transient and fleeting, it makes little sense to continue to seek security in it -- and that's when we can start to look for that anchor inside of ourselves using mindfulness and meditation. By practising over and over the act of remaining present with what arises, we can come in touch with a part of ourselves that is beyond the ebb and flow of life.

    In fact, the more we let ourselves experience change, the more we may realise that it is something we can survive and benefit from. Life doesn’t necessarily get ‘easier’, but using mindfulness, we can ride its waves with more resilience and equanimity – or in the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, we “learn to surf.”

  • 10 Tips to Mindfully Survive a Nervous Breakdown

    written by Alexa Frey

    A nervous breakdown is defined as: “an acute, time-limited mental disorder that manifests primarily as severe stress-induced depression, anxiety, or dissociation in a previously functional individual, to the extent that they are no longer able to function on a day-to-day basis until the disorder is resolved”. A nervous breakdown can have many causes such as having too much pressure at work, overwhelming family duties, a divorce or death, being diagnosed with a terrible illness, a traumatic experience such as abuse etc. According to Helpline, the most common symptoms of such a breakdown are depressive symptoms, such as loss of hope and thoughts of suicide or self-harm, anxiety with high blood pressure, tense muscles, clammy hands, dizziness, upset stomach, and trembling or shaking, insomnia, hallucinations, extreme mood swings or unexplained outbursts, panic attacks, which include chest pain, detachment from reality and self, extreme fear, and difficulty breathing paranoia, such as believing someone is watching you or stalking you flashbacks of a traumatic event, which can suggest undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

    A nervous breakdown can last from a few hours to a few weeks. If your breakdown has been going on for a while, and you need some relief, the following ten tips are for you. They will help you not only survive this difficult time, but they might even help you grow from this difficult experience.

    Practice Meditation

    Try to meditate at least once a day. That’s if you can meditate. If you’re too deep in a hole, meditation might be impossible. Your heart might be beating too heavily in your chest, or you might be experiencing uncontrollable tremors which make sitting - and keeping your head upright - hard. If you can’t meditate, then don’t. But maybe, once a day, do try to give it a shot. Even if only for one minute. Anchoring your attention on sounds can be very helpful, if the feelings or sensations in your body are too distressing. Mindful walking too, can be very helpful, if sitting upright feels too torturous. If all this fails, you can always turn off the lights in your bedroom, and simply stare into the darkness - sitting or lying down. The sensory deprivation will hopefully help calm your mind and body. Also, when you do meditate, try to incorporate cultivation practices. Meditate on what you are grateful for in you life. When we’re in a hole, it’s good to remember the good stuff that’s still there in our life. Maybe that’s the beautiful tree outside of your bedroom window. Or you are grateful that you have best friends that support you. Also, try to give yourself compassion for what you are going through - give yourself all the love you need. Last, do practice anticipatory joy by bringing up things you look forward to in the future. Maybe Summer’s coming up and you’re looking forward to sunbathing. For more inspiration, find below a list of cultivation meditations.

    Ask Friends for Help

    One of the hardest things when having a nervous breakdown is that you feel lonely. Not because you don’t have any friends. But because we are so weak, that it can be very draining to be around people. Make sure that you do stay in contact with friends and family - even if you decide to be on your own. Use whatsapp (in moderation), if phone calls are too much and do ask your friends to come over - but let them know that they can’t stay too long. As you are going through a nervous breakdown, you will also notice which of your friends are friends that nurture you and which deplete you. You might have a friend that only texts you to let off steam. During conversations with this difficult friend use your mindfulness skills to notice how he or she makes you feel in your body. If this friend makes you feel tense, annoyed, sad, etc., then it might be time to cut down contact with him/her. As you are going through a nervous breakdown, you will also experience that some friends might just decide not to care, not to be there for you. That can be very painful, but also a great way to learn which of your friends are true friends and which ones aren’t.

    Practice Self-Compassion

    You want to get better. Every day. Obviously, nervous breakdowns aren’t fun. Also, there are many different reasons why people have nervous breakdowns - as mentioned above. Some nervous breakdowns like the one due to a work burnout, will most of the time, pass. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. However, other nervous breakdowns, might not pass as easily. Especially if the origin of the nervous breakdown stems from a chronic mental health disorder such as major depression, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Not only do such mental health disorders deplete and burn us out, they also often make it extremely hard to stay positive - a quality which in our society seems to be a must. However, how can one stay so easily positive if the very illness that one has been diagnosed with doesn’t allow a person to be positive or rational?

    Whether we are in a breakdown due to a work burnout, a chronic mental illness, a death of a close one or another chronic illness, we can choose to treat ourselves with self-compassion. To be patient with ourselves, to allow ourselves to be angry, anxious or depressed and to give ourselves all the love that we have.

    Common Humanity

    When we’re going through a breakdown, we might feel very lonely. Alone in our room, we might feel like we are the only one that’s going through a hard time. Especially when we look through our window onto the street, and everybody else is going about their day you might feel like life is passing by you and you’re missing out big time (Facebook newsfeed will be the worst!). In those moments, remember that you are not alone. There are many other people out there, right now, who go through a difficult time. Even though it seems like you’re alone, you are not. Search the internet for stories of other people who have went through hard times in their life. Read their words and find out what deep wisdom they have learned by surviving such a difficult time. Ask friends and family for their stories. Remember: you are not alone. We are all in this together.

    Listen to your Body

    When we are in the midst of a nervous breakdown, it is important to listen to our body. We may feel very sad or even depressed and that can make us feel sleepy (especially if we’ve been prescribed tranquilisers). Many people experiencing a nervous breakdown can also feel extremely exhausted. It’s important to give our bodies the rest they need. However, do listen to your body for signs of oversleeping. Too much sleep can cause dizziness and brain fog, which we want to avoid at all costs. Also, make sure that you go outside once a day if possible, for a walk in nature. However, do make sure that you choose a path that’s not too steep or too long and always be aware of how far it is to get back to your home. You don’t want to end up exhausted in the woods. If going for a walk seems like too much, try some YouTube exercise videos. Yoga with Adriene has a few easy and relaxing ones.

    Reduce Technology

    Having a nervous breakdown, we often feel like everything is too much. Sounds are too loud and laptop screens might feel too bright. This is why it can be helpful to keep technological use to a minimum. Order a hard copy book and immerse yourself into a story, which will make you feel good inside. The pages - just black and white - will help calm your mind. Audiobooks can also be great (look for “Catcher in the Rye” on YouTube). Close your eyes and listen. Just listen. You will notice that when your mind drifts off, you will quickly come back to listening - after all, you don’t want miss the plot. This will give you a break from the endless ruminating and worrying. Also, try to use Facebook and Instagram as little as possible. The endless scrolling won’t make you feel better, and trust me, if you see all the oh-so-happy lifes of your friends, while you can’t get out of bed, will not help. If you do watch a movie, choose one that doesn’t make you too anxious or sad. Instead choose something calming and/or happy!

    Communicate your Needs

    Going through a nervous breakdown, we don’t have the energy that we usually have. It might be hard for us to pay those bills, clean our home, and complete other important tasks. In times like these, we need help from our friends and family. However, not all of us are good at asking for help, and not all the friends that we have are selfless enough to offer help. During a breakdown we already feel fragile enough, so having to feel disappointed because a friend lets us down, should be avoided at all costs. Thus, go through a list of all your friends in your mind and pick the ones you think, will be willing to support you. Let those angels one by one know about your situation and kindly ask for their help. Also, if they say or do things that might hurt or annoy you, do let them know in a gentle way. Not everybody knows exactly how to deal with someone in such a difficult situation. But most are willing to listen and learn.

    Dropping into the Present Moment

    During a nervous breakdown, we spend a lot of time worrying about the future. Will I ever get better? What if things get worse? Or we ruminate about the past. Why did I not take better care of my health? I should have eaten healthier. Why didn’t I go see the doctor earlier and ignored the all the signs? It is natural to think about the future and the past. But especially during a nervous breakdown this tendency can deplete and exhaust us even more. Apart from that, if you pay close attention there are actually some positive, or at least a few emotionally neutral moments, even during a breakdown. Try to become as present as you can in those moments by connecting with your senses. Say you’re having a bath, notice the warm water touching every part of your body. Notice the scent of the bath oil. Turn off the light and simply listen to the sounds that emerge out of the silence. Become present and know, that in this moment, everything is ok. In this tiny moment, nothing is wrong. It’s just you in a warm bath tub. That’s it. Everything’s ok. Now.

    Seek Medical Help

    In the midst of a breakdown, all we want is to just stay in bed (and sleep). We want to hide from the world. We might feel physically really weak, we might experience awful social anxiety which prevents us from leaving our house, or we might just feel too depressed to leave the bed. We might hope, that if we just give things a bit of time, that we’ll feel better soon. While for some of us that might be true, most of us will need professional help. Your doctor might prescribe you Xanax to help you get you out of the worst anxiety, anti-depressants can get you out of the depression and a therapist can help you through speaking therapy (try to find one who incorporates mindfulness). Know, that you do not need to get through this in your own. There’s plenty of help!

    Self-Care

    I wish to end this article with something really legit positive about going through a breakdown. Now is the time, to indulge in self-care. Try to let go of guilt, and just give yourself everything you need. If you can afford it, order a massage therapist to your home as often as you can. Buy yourself fresh flowers once a week to put next to your bed. Go on Youtube and listen to your favourite teenage songs and sing along if you have the strength for it. Watch all the movies (in moderation) that you’ve always wanted to watch but never had time to. Have as many warm baths as you can. Meditate and use cultivation practices to feel good inside. Grab a pen right now, of all the good stuff that you can still do and go for it!

    MEDITATIONS:

    Gratitude Meditation

    Love Meditation

    Animal Affection

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Cultivating Happiness Workshop

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

  • Are you in need of a mindfulness retreat?

    Mindfulness Retreat

    “On retreat, we nourish the most important relationship that we have - the relationship with ourselves.” - Sarah Powers.

    This year, instead of a traditional summer holiday, how about taking a break to nourish your self and mind on a restorative retreat? Away from the distractions of daily life, a mindfulness retreat in the nurturing surrounds of nature can be a wonderful opportunity to slow down, have a digital detox and truly take some time just for ourselves. Read on to find out some of the ways a retreat can be beneficial...

     

    Having space to grow

    Carving out the time to fully dedicate ourselves to an extended period of mindfulness away from everyday life is an excellent opportunity to deepen and rejuvenate our practice. “A retreat removes the daily responsibilities and technological distractions, meaning that you have more time and space in which to dedicate yourself to sitting,” says mindfulness teacher James Milford. “This is essential as practice can grow stale and tick-box like if all we ever do is try and fit it into an existing schedule.”

     

    Breaking habitual patterns

    Although it may take some time to adjust to initially, taking a retreat in silence gives us the chance to see ourselves and our habitual patterns more clearly. “Silence can be challenging for many of us when we first start to observe it, but over time it becomes a welcome and nourishing refuge,” says mindfulness teacher Christiane Kerr. Being in silence allows our practice to deepen and helps us recognise our habitual thought patterns.” For example, you might notice that you get very self-conscious at meal times, which might lead to urges to eat more or less than usual. On retreat, there’s no distracting ourselves in such uncomfortable moments by checking our phones or chatting. Instead, we have the opportunity to cultivate awareness of our patterns, and meet them with self-compassion.

     

    Connecting with others

    Although it might sound strange, silent retreats offer a wonderful opportunity to connect with others in a new and profound way. Surrounded by fellow meditators, a retreat offers a supportive and nurturing environment in which to practice -- there is always someone there supporting you with their presence. And moments where you catch someone’s eye or receive an encouraging or understanding smile become really special. “Practicing mindfulness alone day after day can be a little dispiriting at times, so a retreat is a welcome chance to be with others and draw benefits from their participation and proximity,” says James. For most of us, sitting in collective stillness for days at a time will be a new experience - but through it we may find that we discover new ways of being with others and a rich sense of connection that nourishes and enriches our practice.

     

    Training our mindfulness muscle of attention

    On retreat, we spend a large amount of our time in formal meditation, and the rest of our waking time in informal practice. This means we are exercising our muscle of attention much more than we would usually do. This presents a wonderful opportunity for us to have deep insights, and this turning inwards to connect with ourselves and our inner wisdom can bring new perspectives that leave us feeling refreshed and renewed. Most retreat attendees notice a significant difference in their ability to meet everyday challenges with more ease when returning back home.

     

    For those new to meditation or a silent meditation retreat, the idea might seem quite daunting and scary, or even just really unappealing. But by placing ourselves in this unique environment, we can truly spend time with ourselves, have space for reflection and practice living in the present moment. And just because it’s silent, it doesn’t mean that you can’t talk to one of the teachers or support staff if you need to, and there is often dedicated time for discussion with the teacher in groups during the retreat. In other words, the silence isn’t there as a test of stamina, but rather as a way to observe your habitual patterns and thoughts. It is only through this awareness that we gain a platform to change and grow.

    .....

    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

    TIPS:

    Why Meditate?

    The Present Moment

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

    One-Day Mindfulness Retreat

    Deepening Mindfulness Retreat Day

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Mindfulness for Anxiety and Depression

  • Finding Your Inner Balance in an Unpredictable World

    centreIn 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 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.

    .....

    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

  • The 11 'Dangers' of Mindfulness Meditation

    dangersMindfulness meditation is a wonderful tool, supported by a growing wealth of evidence which demonstrates the many benefits of the practice. However, recently there have been a few articles in the press which have highlighted the 'dangers' of meditation. Therefore, it seems a good time to look deeper into what could be considered meditation dangers, and how we can not only address them but also learn from them.

    On our mindfulness journeys as practitioners and teachers, we have certainly all encountered hurdles to our practice. Some of us might have unconsciously used mindfulness to force positive feelings, others might have used the technique to avoid certain situations (see below: 'Chasing a 'Feel Good' State' and 'Meditation as Avoidance').

    Most of us, however, would probably not say that by doing so we've put ourselves in 'danger'. On the contrary: If we have, for example, used mindfulness to feel good, we might have brought to awareness our tendency to chase happiness instead of trying to be with whatever presents itself to us in this very moment. Bringing this to light through practising mindfulness will then help us break free from this pattern. This potential 'danger' that we encounter during our practice might turn out to be a wonderful gift that helps us deepen our practice, and understand ourselves better, thus helping us grow.

    Here is a list of some of the common 'dangers' that we might encounter in our practice. They might help to shine a light on some mindfulness meditators patterns.

    1. Abandoning All Other Coping Mechanisms

    After practising mindfulness (even for only a couple of weeks), many people get really passionate about the practice. But we should not forget that there also exist many other great techniques that can help us cope with life's challenges. For example, sometimes when we feel down or nervous, we might not always choose to meditate, but rather go for a run or a swim. Or we might want to meet up with a friend or watch a funny movie. There are many ways to cope with the stresses of everyday life, so let's use them all!

    2. Chasing a 'Feel Good' State

    Many of us have experienced wonderful states when practising mindfulness meditation. We may suddenly feel complete peacefulness or have a great insight into the nature of our mind or life. Such states do happen during meditation and when they do, it certainly feels good. However, the primary aim of mindfulness is not about chasing these states or insights. Mindfulness instead is (most of the time) simply about maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment. Being attached to any experience can cause unhappiness, whether it's good or bad. But the funny thing is that the more we accept the simplicity of our moment-to-moment experience, the more often we will naturally be present and feel good when we meditate.

    3. Being Mindful of Everything All the Time

    In mindfulness we learn to pay attention to whatever arises in the present moment, on purpose and non-judgmentally. Yet, this does not mean that we have to pay attention to everything. For example, if we feel a very strong pain in our back, we do not have to dive right into that pain and explore it for twenty minutes. Or, let's say, we suddenly feel very sad during meditation - we do not have to stay with that sadness until we cry.

    A huge part of mindfulness is about cultivating compassion and care for ourselves. So if we do feel terrible pain in our back due to chronic tension, we can choose to meditate lying down or practice mindful movement. Or we may choose to shift our attention away from our painful back to our toes or the sounds around us. In short: meditation doesn't mean that we have to torture ourselves by focusing on unpleasant experiences. Instead we always have the choice in how we wish to approach our pain!

    4. Over-Analysis

    Some of us have the tendency to analyse our issues, character, family, friends, work colleagues or life in general. If one has such a tendency, we might easily start to analyse everything that happens when we meditate. True, great insight may arise when we practise mindfulness. However, mindfulness is not about putting a certain amount of time aside each day to silently analyse. Instead it is about developing the skill to notice when we've drifted off into analysis and then chose to gently come back to the present moment by reconnecting with a sensory anchor such as the breath, sounds or bodily sensations.

    5. Self-Improvement Project

    Many meditators turn their meditation practice into a rigorous self-improvement project. We may wish to become this eternally present, accepting, compassionate, grateful and enlightened being. This can actually have the opposite effect. If we have such high goals, we might become overly critical of ourselves when we do not live up to our high standards. Instead, we can remind ourselves that just because we meditate does not mean we have to be a 'better' human being in any way. All that we might become is just a bit more aware and accepting of our everyday humanness, and that's okay.

    6. Pushing Away/Detaching from Painful Thoughts and Feelings

    In mindfulness meditation we practise noticing when our minds have drifted off into the past or future, and then gently bringing our attention back to the present moment (see above: sensory anchors). Mindfulness is, however, by no means about learning to control our minds or to push away or suppress our uncomfortable thoughts or feelings. Rather, it is about maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment. It's about 'being with' whatever is arising in the moment. If we notice that we've started using mindfulness to forcefully avoid certain states of mind then we may be on the wrong track, and it won't work long term anyway. What you resist will persist.

    7. Too Much Practice (Too Soon)

    When we first start meditating, we might immediately fall in love with mindfulness (also called "the honeymoon phase"). Having a history of excessive worrying, analysis or rumination, we feel so happy to have found some peace of mind. What a relief! Often what happens in such cases is that we do too much too soon. Maybe we decide a month after our first meditation session that we will embark on a rigorous ten-day silent meditation retreat. This might work for some of us, but for others it might be overwhelming.

    Don't forget that a great part of mindfulness is about being kind and caring with ourselves. After all, we wouldn't run a marathon after having run for half an hour every few days, and maybe we'll even decide that we don't need or want to run a marathon at all!

    8. Over-identification

    Some of us over-identify with being a mindfulness meditator. Everything becomes about mindfulness: We join every mindfulness group out there, read every book on mindfulness, redecorate our flat in a mindful way, only want to have friends who practice mindfulness, etc. We might even become self-righteous about our lifestyle. While mindfulness indeed is a beautiful practice, we need to remember that the practice is about accepting ourselves and others as we are and not getting attached to any bundle of beliefs. Otherwise we might alienate ourselves from our non-mindful friends and family who might not really get what this is all about, or who simply have no desire to meditate - which is totally fine too! Not everybody in this world has to become a meditator. And the best way to share mindfulness is by being mindful yourself.

    9. Meditation as Avoidance

    Some mindfulness practitioners have noticed that they might have used meditation sometimes to avoid certain things. Let's say we feel down and lonely and it might be good to go out and meet a friend. But we cannot find the energy to leave our home. So instead we then decide to stay at home and meditate. There's nothing wrong if we do that once in a while. But staying at home and meditating all the time will probably not help us in becoming less sad and lonely.

    10. Doing it without Proper Instructions or Teachers

    When we learn to meditate, it's advisable to do it with a well-trained teacher. Sometimes, people who start meditation, for example, think that mindfulness is another relaxation technique. While relaxation might be a by-product of meditation, it is not the aim. Or a meditation newbie might think that he/she could have a completely thought-free mind when meditating and if that does not occur, he/she feels frustrated and thinks that he/she's not a 'good' meditator, or that meditation is not for him/her. In such cases it is good to have a well-trained mindfulness teacher to support the process of learning how to meditate. Especially because it is not advised to start with mindfulness when one is, for example, in the middle of a depressive episode. A well-trained teacher is aware of that and will find out before a course whether it's the right time to embark on a course or whether it might be better to wait for a while until the person feels more stable. Meditation can also bring up unexpected thoughts and emotions, some of which could be challenging. So it's useful (and comforting) to have an experienced teacher to help us through that process.

    11. Suppression of our Needs

    Although acceptance is a key component, meditation is not about blind acceptance. In mindfulness one learns to be curious and accepting about one's emotions and life in general. This is a beautiful skill to develop. However, this does not mean that we need to accept everything and never take action if we need to do so. If someone, for example, crosses our boundaries and makes us angry, we should not simply use the mindfulness skills to accept the action of this person and the resulting anger and be passive. Instead we can use our mindfulness skills to notice that we are angry, pause and breathe and then let them know how we feel. Mindfulness is by no means about suppressing our needs and enduring everything as a practice in acceptance! It is more about empowering us to feel more centred within ourselves, so that we can make decisions with greater consciousness, clarity and self-compassion, and sometimes that will involve taking action.

  • Practical Tips for Practising Mindfulness

    NYThere are so many benefits to be gained from regular mindfulness practice. Research has shown that mindfulness meditation can improve learning processes, memory and emotional regulation (just to name a few things!) by prompting changes in different regions of the brain. However, in the same way that it can be difficult to get into new exercise or healthy eating habits, it can be hard to turn mindfulness into a daily practice, even if we know how much we will benefit from doing so. Once we’ve gotten into the swing of things, maintaining a regular mindfulness practice becomes much easier. But what steps can we take when we’re first starting out that will help us incorporate mindfulness into our daily routines?

    Using Your Phone as a Mindfulness Prompt

    The simplest and easiest way that we can become more regularly mindful is to set an alarm on our phone or watch. By setting alarms to go off at certain times of the day, our present mindful self can remind our future self (who might have become a bit mindless by that point) to take a pause and breathe.

    How long we choose to pause for is completely down to us, but even if we’re working at our desks when the alarm sounds, we can take a moment to adjust our posture and let go of any tension we’re holding in our bodies, so that we can continue with our work in a more present mindset.

    It’s best to choose a gentle alarm tone, rather than something that will jolt or aggravate you when it goes off. Experiment with setting alarms at different times of the day, maybe focusing on times that you know you could particularly use a mindfulness prompt, for example on your commute to work, at lunchtime, or as you’re winding down in the evening.

    Making Time to Sit

    Even though we know that meditation is good for us, we can probably come up with lots of reasons not to do it. When faced with the choice between watching our favourite TV show and sitting for 20 minutes in silence, the TV show is probably going to seem more entertaining! Once we’ve gotten into a regular meditation practice, the benefits we feel from it will motivate us to make time for it. Yet until that happens, we might need to give ourselves a little push to make the effort. Setting a regular time for meditation can help us do this.

    Pick a time of the day that you’re most likely to be able to stick to. For example, if you’re always rushed in the mornings, it might be better to choose a time in the evening when things aren’t so hectic. It might be useful to start off with a short amount of time, like five or ten minutes. You can then increase your meditation time once you start to get comfortable with it. Try your best to sit down to meditate every day at your chosen time, even if you don’t feel like it sometimes. Just remember, it will get easier the more you do it.

    And if you do miss a day? Or two, or five? It’s okay! Go easy on yourself. Just try to keep that intention going, and start over again if you need to.

    Find a Meditation Buddy

    Sometimes sharing a routine with a friend can make it easier to stick to. It’s so tempting to make excuses and reasons not to do something when it’s just us, but we generally don’t like to let our friends down. We tend to make more of an effort to stay on track with our plans when we know that someone else is also benefiting from it. Plus the social side of it might make it more enjoyable if we don’t like sitting alone.

    Alternatively, if you want some guidance and a structured routine, it might be beneficial to join a regular meditation group. Here at The Mindfulness Project we host a weekly evening meditation for people who have completed an 8-week Mindfulness Course. Check out our calendar for more information on what’s coming up at our space!

  • My Mindfulness Journey

    daisy

    I’ve been a self-taught mindfulness enthusiast for some years now. I’ve read articles, listened to talks, and sporadically practiced meditation, and found all of this to be useful in dealing with the depression and anxiety I’ve experienced since my pre-teens. So when I decided to do an 8-Week Mindfulness Course, I just thought it would be a good way to solidify my existing knowledge, and maybe help me start practicing mindfulness meditation more regularly. I didn’t realise then how much deeper the course would take me, or how much of an impact the following 8 weeks would make.

    My Shaky Start

    I had a lot of anxiety before and during the first session. As someone who feels anxious about talking to new people, I found it quite challenging. But I soon discovered that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, which was comforting.

    I also found the first body scan meditation emotionally difficult – I found unexpected physical and emotional pain arising. But again, after listening to other peoples experiences afterwards, I learnt that I was not alone in this. The gentle guidance and support from the teacher, Dr. Cinzia Pezzolesi helped me see that my difficulties were not a sign of failure or of ‘not doing it right’, just that I was getting in touch with myself.

    The challenges of the first session made me realise that I was not being as present with myself as I had thought, and although it was difficult, I was excited about continuing the course.

    Mindfulness Has Become a Lifestyle

    Having always practised mindfulness alone in the past, it was really useful to have structured guidance from the teacher, and to be given homework assignments to do each week. Even though I may not have always stuck to the homework, having it to come back to as a reference point was invaluable and encouraged me to stick with it, whereas in the past when I’ve practised alone it was all too easy to let long periods of time go by in between meditating or practicing being aware.

    The course has helped me incorporate mindfulness into my daily life, to the point where I would now notice its absence; in the same way that you would notice a difference if you stopped exercising after exercising regularly for a couple of months.

    New habits take time to develop, and I found that the 8-week course gave me the perfect space to develop those new habits in a supportive environment. The process was gentle; there was no pressure to do any of the practices and you could adapt the practices if you needed to in a way to suit you. This relaxed and down-to-earth approach therefore created very little mental resistance in me that sometimes happens when we’re told what to do or how to do it. The focus was on intention and that in each moment we have a fresh opportunity to try again. This really suited me, and made me feel safe and supported.

    Surprising Benefits

    Before the course started, I thought that the only benefit I would get would be a slightly calmer mind. However, the actual benefits are far greater than that, and have taken me by surprise.

    The main difference I have noticed is that I now have the mental strength to make healthier choices. As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety since childhood, I’ve been told so many times that regular exercise and eating healthily will help, yet depression can make those things seem impossible. Some days it takes all my willpower just to get out of bed and face the day, so I haven’t felt able to develop a regular exercise routine or take the time to prepare healthy meals, even though I’ve tried many, many times throughout the years.

    Having completed the 8-week mindfulness course, I find that my choices are changing in a natural way. I can’t say that it’s been effortless, yet feeling more present in my body and having greater mental clarity enables me to give myself that little push to make choices that nourish my body, rather than deplete it. For example, I’ve always been the kind of person who reaches for comfort food, cigarettes or alcohol to make me feel better in times of stress or upset. However, the mindfulness course has given me the skills to be able to soothe myself without always turning to those unhealthy things, which often didn’t really make me feel better anyway. That’s not to say that I don’t still smoke, drink or eat unhealthy food, but I feel more in control now, and those things have become something to indulge in from time to time, rather than an automatic, mindless coping mechanism. In fact, I’ve never felt so healthy in my life! I now feel like I can give my body the healthy things it needs, like giving a gift to myself.

    I’ve also noticed that I’ve become kinder to myself in other ways. For example, I don’t beat myself up so much for feeling depressed, anxious, angry or upset. I now have a more compassionate space for those feelings within myself.

    Going within and getting to know ourselves better is never an easy journey; it can bring up challenging or uncomfortable feelings sometimes. But I’ve also discovered that it can be very freeing, and has made me feel hopeful about the future, something I’ve rarely ever felt. Being guided through this process sure beats trying to do it alone!

  • Dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Thinking

    OCD

    Obsessive compulsive thoughts can range from a mildly irritating sense that you might have left the oven on, even though you know you haven’t, right up to the very distressing belief that simply having a negative thought might cause harm to others. Although scientists have not yet agreed on a definitive cause for OCD, there are a number of theories which offer explanations of why some of us develop these very strong, and uncomfortable, intrusive thought patterns.

    The biological theory suggests that in OCD sufferers, the brain struggles with turning off particular impulses. For example, before we leave the house we might check that all the electrical switches have been turned off. Even after we’ve checked, the impulse to do so still remains, and so we may experience discomfort and concern if we do not check once more. Another theory suggests that the cause may be psychological, and that people with OCD place too much importance – through no fault of their own – on the kinds of intrusive thoughts that everyone experiences from time to time (for example, “Did I leave the oven on?” or “Am I a bad person?”). Rather than letting these thoughts come and go naturally, OCD sufferers may believe that something bad will happen unless these thoughts are acted upon, or even that the very act of having certain thoughts is causing bad things to occur. Stress, depression and traumatic life events, while not considered to be causes, can act as triggers of obsessive compulsive thoughts, and often aggravate our pre-existing problems.

    At its worst OCD can be debilitating, and even if we can function normally with these thought patterns, they may still cause anxiety and depression. Yet mindfulness offers some hope.

    Using the Breath as an Anchor

    When we’re caught in repetitive or obsessive thought cycles, we’re not present. Instead, we’re trapped in painful what-if’s or ruminations about how things we’ve said or done may have affected others negatively. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is a gentle awareness of the present moment. Practicing mindfulness can really help us break free of this internal trap, by grounding us in the reality of the moment, while also helping us cultivate a greater sense of kindness and compassion towards ourselves.

    In mindfulness meditation, we train our minds to focus on the here and now. We give our brains something to focus its attention on (i.e. the breath or a piece of fruit), whilst at the same time, encouraging ourselves to notice when our minds are wandering away from that focal point, and gently bringing it back each time. This practice can help us develop a healthier relationship with our thoughts, by encouraging patience and kindness within ourselves when we get carried away by mental chatter. This can be immensely helpful when it comes to obsessive compulsive thoughts.

    When we find ourselves caught in obsessive thoughts, there is one focal point which is always available to us: our breath. For as long as we’re alive, we’ll always be breathing, and so directing our attention away from our thoughts and onto the breath is an option that will always be there. By paying attention to the physical sensations of breathing, like how the air feels as it fills our nostrils or how our chest expands and relaxes with each breath, we can take some of the emotional charge out of our obsessive compulsive thoughts and feel more grounded in reality again.

    Mindfulness Improves Impulse Control

    Studies have shown that mindfulness can be effective for helping us control impulses. When we have a more observational relationship with our thoughts, we’re more able to sit with impulses and urges, patiently being with them and waiting for them to pass, rather than acting on each and every one. For example, if we’re giving up smoking, mindfulness can help us accept the feeling that we want a cigarette, without interpreting our experience to mean that we must have one. This process can also be applied to obsessive compulsive thoughts.

    Say, for example, that we are leaving the house and we’ve locked the door behind us. But then a thought pops up that says, “You better check again, just to make sure.” So we double check, and turn to leave, but the same thought arises yet again. If we get caught by this series of impulses, we could be stuck checking the door for the next ten minutes or more.

    However, studies suggest that regular mindfulness practice helps our brains become better at regulating impulses by promoting growth in the areas of the brain that are involved in impulse control. This means that mindfulness may be very beneficial for those of us who struggle with obsessive impulses, not just because it makes us more aware of them, but also because it enables our brains to deal with them better, in the same way that exercising makes our muscles stronger and more able to deal with stresses and strains.

    If we can be patient with our obsessive thoughts, and make efforts to deliberately and repetitively re-focus our attention on something like the breath or our surroundings, we may reach a place where obsessive thoughts can arise and fall away more freely.

    Want to learn more about mindfulness and how to use it in our day-to-day lives? Check out our calendar for upcoming workshops and courses!

     

     

  • How Animals Help Us Live in the Moment

    The company of animals certainly seems to have a healing effect in many of our lives. This is probably partly due to the fact that they don’t judge us in the same way fellow humans do. They may get annoyed with us if we stroke them the wrong way, but they’ll never judge us for our flaws. A cat or a dog will never reject us because we eat too much, have credit card debts, or don’t call our mothers as often as we should. It’s not unusual to see dogs sitting beside homeless people on the street. Our animals love us, even if we don’t love ourselves. In many cases, they embody mindfulness; they are non-judgementally present in the moment. When an animal is sitting with us, they aren’t busy thinking about yesterday or tomorrow. They are simply there. This is probably why they have such a special place in many of our lives.

    Being Mindful with Our Pets

    Stocksy_txp09765ccdOx5000_Small_189814In our busy lives it can be all too easy to take our pets for granted. However, if we can make the time, our pets can provide us with great ways to practice mindfulness.

    Next time you’re with your pet, why not take a few moments to really notice everything about them. When you stroke them, pay close attention to how their fur or feathers feel beneath your hand. Maybe even imagine that it’s the first time you’ve ever felt them, and see what difference it makes to your experience of them. Notice their appearance, taking in every whisker, every feather or patch of coloured fur, every paw and claw. Watch how they’re breathing. Listen to their heart beat if you’re snuggled up with them. Perhaps most importantly of all, cultivate a sense of gratitude for having them in your life. Remember all the difficult or painful times that you’ve been through, and how your pet has been there with you through it all. Let that gratitude fill you from top to toe.

    Animals and Meditation

    One of the great things about animals is that they don’t care about our plans. They have a habit of interrupting those streams of thought that we feel are very important. Although this may at first seem like a negative thing, it can actually help us become unstuck from living in our mental chatter by bringing us back to reality. For this reason, animals can help us in our formal meditation practice.

    Have you ever been meditating, and then heard a dog barking in the distance, or had your cat try climbing on you for a cuddle? Far from being distractions from our meditation, they can enhance it. Meditation is not about escaping from the present moment, but about embracing it. While we’re taking our meditation very seriously, animals are just living their lives. And so that dog barking in the street or that cat determined to have your attention act as anchors to the flow of the present. They are reminders that we are not in control, and that the best way to cope with life is to let go of our pre-conceived ideas of how things should be and join in with the dance of how things really are.

    We can do this by noticing our reactions to them. If we feel annoyed about our meditation being interrupted, we can look at why that is. Perhaps it’s because we have an inaccurate idea of what meditation is about. Or perhaps we’re attached to an idea of how we’d like to be. In this way, animals can have a very humbling effect. They can remind us that our meditation practice doesn’t place us in an elevated state above the rest of life, but that in fact our meditating is just like the barking in the street, just one small part of life as a whole.

    Animals are indeed great mindfulness teachers, if we take the time to notice them. What mindfulness lessons have you learnt from your pets? We’d love to hear them in the comments below!

    MEDITATION:

    Animal Affection Meditation

  • A Mindful Movie Experience: Momo

    ‘Momo’ is a magical film about our fear of losing time. Although it was made in 1986, this subject is still just asrelevant as it was back then. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that Michael Ende (who wrote the novel which the film is based on, as well as ‘The Neverending Story’) couldn’t have guessed that twenty-nine years on his wisdom would be needed now more than ever before. As a society we are obsessed with ‘saving time’. Think of the countless apps and technologies which have been designed to help us manage time. We count the minutes that we work, exercise – even meditate! We can instantly communicate with people who live on the other side of the world. We can pop food in a microwave and eat it five minutes later. And yet, who feels that they have more time? If anything, we feel we have less than we ever did. If you do too, then Momo is a must-see film.

    Momo starts off as any typical children’s film would – innocent and sweetly fanciful. We meet the heroine, Momo, when she is discovered hiding away in a hole by the side of the road, on the outskirts of an unnamed Italian city, by a kindly road sweeper. She is quickly accepted into the lively community there, and they build her a home. While the people around her get caught up in anger, doubt and arguments – like we all do – she brings a sense of calm wherever she goes. She is the embodiment of mindfulness: compassionate, non-judgemental and perfectly present. Her curious nature brings joy to everyone, and it seems that everything is wonderful… until the Men in Grey arrive.

    momoThis is where the sweet children’s film takes an all-too-grown-up turn. We instantly recognise these sinister Grey Gentlemen from the ‘Timesavings Bank’, who start advising the townspeople on how they could spend their time more efficiently – for how many of us have our own internal Grey Gentlemen? They analyse the time the people spend on sitting with friends or gazing out of the window reflecting on their day, and tell them how they are wasting valuable seconds here, there and everywhere. They are very convincing, and it’s not long before the people start acting differently; they become rushed, agitated, unfriendly. They no longer do things for the enjoyment of it, but for how much money they can make and how much time they think they can save. And this means they no longer have time for the free-spirited Momo. Even the kindly road sweeper says he has to work a late shift, “just this once”…. However, it doesn’t end there. I won’t spoil the film for you, but let’s just say I didn’t call Momo the heroine of the story for no reason!

    Perhaps the most prominent lesson of the film is to take time to appreciate all the little moments of life. Unlike the Grey Gentlemen, who frantically try to ‘save’ time by rushing, Momo notices, and therefore appreciates, everything around her. Many of us have certainly fallen into the trap of thinking that we never have enough time. And yet, practicing mindfulness helps us to see that this simply isn’t true.

    The ‘Three Step Breathing Space’ approach can help us re-centre when we get caught in a mental rush. This works firstly by becoming aware of our experience in the moment; what are our current thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations? Next, we redirect and focus our attention on the physical sensations of breathing. This way we can use the breath as an anchor, bringing us back to the present moment. We’ll probably find that our mind wants to wander, but we can gently keep bringing our focus back to the breath. Lastly, we expand our attention to our whole body, feeling the sense of our attention encompassing our whole being. This helps us acknowledge and accept everything that we are experiencing in the moment. By doing this practice regularly, we can notice more and more quickly when our attention is on rushing, rather than appreciating what’s around us. Like Momo, we can start to take more joy in the birds singing in the trees, the sun and the clouds in the sky, or the breeze on our faces. Far from being a ‘waste’ of time, noticing these seemingly small moment are what makes life worthwhile.

    Johannes Schaaf does a wonderful job directing this film, and Radost Bokel plays the part of Momo totally convincingly. The Grey Gentlemen are genuinely creepy, not just because we may recognise their plan to account for every second of every day within our own lives – they’re also pretty creepy to look at! There are also truly heart-touching and insightful moments where the film expresses mindfulness teachings we may already be familiar with, but have probably never seen portrayed in such a creative way. Momo is a special film, and is bound to leave you with a refreshed sense of how time should really be spent.

    We’ll be screening Momo at our Movie Night on Friday 20th March, 19:45 – 22:00. Click here to book your place.