Mindful Eating

  • "Tell me, what is it you plan to do…"

    Mary Oliver - Summer's Day

    "Tell me, what is it you plan to do…"

     

    Mary Oliver in the poem ‘A Summer Day’ asks us the question, ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ The question challenges us to face the fact that life is precious and that it doesn’t last forever. This question feels particularly pertinent at the beginning of a new year, “Time is passing, opportunity is lost, am I living well?’ It prods complacency, creating a sense of helpful, motivating urgency around making choices that support health, happiness and well – being.

    Many people attend mindfulness courses because they understand that the capacity to be present is absolutely fundamental to a sense of being fully alive. After attending an MBSR course people often struggle with continuing to integrate practice into daily life. Graduate courses like Deepening Mindfulness and Interpersonal Mindfulness, ongoing practice groups such as the Weekly Drop-in Sessions and varies one-day retreats, are designed to support people in sustaining practice, and bringing mindfulness more fully into their lives. There is however much we can do ourselves to support our practice.

    Intentionality, grounded in a recognition of self- responsibility and accountability is essential.  Recognising that a life lived mindfully centres on actively locating and integrating ones practice within the context of daily life. If you are serious and passionate about living a healthier and more fulfilling life, it is necessary to take a regular, disciplined approach to what you do. Choosing a specific meditation practice that you do each day, and setting aside a specific time are fundamentally important in sustaining a practice. Success as in any other enterprise – business, arts, sports – depends on establishing a disciplined and committed lifestyle. If you live haphazardly, just doing what you feel like when you feel like it, you may not find the time or inclination for things that will benefit you.

     

     

    Making Choices in Every Domain and Every Day

    Applying mindful awareness to the entire domain of your life involves continuously reflecting on how you are living your life. It means being aware of the choices you have. Angeles Arrien  describes three ways that choices function. It is through choice that we can:

    1)Create new ways of being/realities

    2)Sustain and maintain current ways of being/realities.

    3)Release and let go of ways of being/realities that no longer serve us.

    Slowing down, pausing and recognizing the choices that we have enables us to know firstly, that we have a choice, and secondly, the consequences of the choices we make.  It means being aware of the choices you are making and the motivations and intentions behind these, and recognising what these choices are creating in your life; whether it is well -being or its opposite.

    For example having the intention to eat mindfully brings many benefits. We slow down while we are eating, notice more; taste, texture, sight and smell, and a deeper level of appreciation emerges in relationship to our food. The routine, everyday activity of eating becomes more enjoyable and vital! This greater sense of awareness extends to the ways in which we consume. We develop a greater awareness of impulses and cravings for foods that are not nourishing, that are unhealthy for our bodies. We perhaps recognise what lies behind these impulses, whether loneliness, fear or stress and make healthier choices about how to be with these. We read labels, paying a greater attention to what we will be ingesting, or consciously reduce our intake of fats, salt and sugar. In this simple act of paying greater attention to our eating we can cultivate a relationship of respect and care for ourselves, our bodies. We ingest foods that are nourishing and that contribute to our bodily health and vitality.

    Noticing our patterns of consumption in general can support us in understanding ourselves and taking greater care of our well-being. Noticing our relationship to shopping for example. Do we shop excessively, buying things that we don’t really need? And the media – Do we watch TV programmes and films or read magazines that fill our consciousness with damaging or unhelpful information? What we consume psychologically impacts our well-being. Try noticing how you feel physically when you veg out in front of the computer or TV.

    How do we spend our free time, nourish our minds and hearts? Spending time nurturing ourselves through inspiring reading, a hobby that we love, walks in nature, listening to music we enjoy, an audio talk, a deep bath, playing with our children, being in silence, or just being. Making the choice for well-being can be just what we need rather than deepening the groove of habitual unhealthy lifestyle habits.

    Mindful movement, whether it be Yoga, Tai-Chi, dance, Aikido, running, walking or gardening can cultivate a greater sense of awareness with regard to our bodies, as well as being fun and good for our health. Developing bodily awareness allows us to be more receptive to our bodies messages of fatigue, discomfort and stress, and to recognise that we need to take care of ourselves. Giving your body regular attention allows you to attend to the build up of tensions and strains that gather from everyday living. In this way we can develop a preventative approach to our health care rather than one of cure; where we give our bodies attention only when they are crying out for it. Mindful movement is as vital a maintenance skill as brushing your teeth and is deeply life enhancing too. It allows us to be more in touch with ourselves and our world and to live more vital, healthy lives.

    This mindful enquiry can also extend into the realm of our social relationships –What conversations do we have, are they helpful or unhelpful to others and to ourselves? What is our intention in speaking? How do we listen? Do we listen to speak or do we listen in order to really hear what the speaker is wanting to express? Mindful listening can deeply nourish our relationships creating understanding, empathy and compassion. Check out Nik Askews’ Ted talk for more on this here.

    Crafting Our Future with Present Choices

    Living mindfully, can offer us a deeper quality of happiness. A happiness that is derived from an overall vision of well-being and health, rather than a short term vision of immediate gratification. As we proceed in our practise we begin to realise the truth that what we will become, and how our lives unfold, depends to a great extent on how fully, how un-distractedly, we can live in this present moment.

    Jane Hirshfield on the threshold of a new year, reflects in her poem on how our choices have a significant impact on how our lives are shaped.

    I imagine myself in time looking back on myself- this self, this morning,
    drinking her coffee on the first day of a new year
    and once again almost unable to move her pen through the iron air.
    Perplexed by my life as Midas was in his world of sudden metal,
    surprised that it was not as he’d expected, what he had asked.
    And that other self, who watches me from the distance of decades,
    what will she say?  Will she look at me with hatred or with compassion,
    I whose choices made her what she will be?

    Our choices now, will make us what we will be. What are your priorities? What choices are you going to make? Who, or what will you want to look back on in a decade?

     

    We have a full programme of courses this January for beginners and more advanced meditators to help cultivate more intentional living.

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    Written by Rosalie Dores, Mindfulness Teacher at The Mindfulness Project

    Originally posted here

  • Making Healthy Choices from a Place of Self-Nurturing

    Fruit Smoothie


    If we approach healthy living from a place of guilt, shame and self-criticism, we may find ourselves trapped in cycles of yo-yo dieting or unrealistic exercise plans that inevitably fail.

     

    Rather than exercising and eating well because we want to or because it feels good, we might be making choices based on emotive should’s and shouldn’t’s; because we feel that we are doing things wrong.

    Trying to stay healthy from this place of feeling bad about ourselves doesn’t usually work. However, if we cultivate a sense of self-nurturing awareness, it becomes much easier to take care of our bodies.

     

    Are We Punishing Ourselves?

    If we notice that we’ve been putting on weight or that our physical fitness is not as good as it used to be, it’s common to feel that we’ve let ourselves down, that we’re lazy or bad in some way. We recognise that our bodies don’t feel good, yet rather than listening to what it needs and nurturing it with care, we may start punishing it because we feel ashamed of ourselves.

    For example, say we’ve been busy with work, so we’ve been eating unhealthy convenience food and we haven’t exercised in a long time. Our shame might drive us to become very restrictive about what we can and can’t eat, or we might put ourselves through gruelling exercise routines to make up for all the time we’ve spent not being active.

    When we do this, however, we step out of the present moment, away from listening to our bodies and what they need. Rather than acknowledging that we want to change our habits with a sense of self-compassion and patience, we become stuck in self-criticism and rigid rules.

     

    Plants & Watering Can

     

    Although we may find that we’re able to stick to our new regime for a short while, it sure feels like hard work. We’re might get into a cycle of fighting ourselves. Just one slip up can make us feel like everything is ruined, and soon enough we’re back to our old unhealthy habits.

    This is because our foundation for health is built upon unstable, negative emotions. In the same way that a romantic relationship can’t flower from resentment or bitterness, our relationship with our own body can’t be healthy and complete if we’re always telling ourselves that we’re bad and wrong.

     

    Shifting Our Focus

    Instead of focussing on what we’re doing wrong, and trying to enforce change, we can shift our focus onto cultivating self-compassion and self-nurturing. This way, healthy habits can flourish organically. When we become more attuned to our physical needs, we’ll naturally want to take action to meet them.

    So if we find ourselves in a situation like the one above, where we’ve not been eating well and not been exercising, rather than jumping into self-criticism, we can instead pause and try to notice how our bodies feel in a kind, non-judgemental way.

    Do we feel tired? Drained? Are we having trouble sleeping? Do our muscles feel weak? Do we feel lethargic or bloated after eating unhealthy foods? If a loved one felt this way, would we dump guilt on them? Probably not. We’d more likely want to help nurture them back to health. We can do this for ourselves too.

     

    Weights & Yoga Mat

     

    Making Choices in the Moment

    Tuning into our bodies on a regular basis can help us make healthier choices, not from guilt, but from a place of honouring our body’s current needs. Approaching health this way makes everything more manageable, because we are taking each moment as it comes. We can adjust slowly to a new way of being.

    For example, if we are feeling lethargic and weak because we haven’t been giving our bodies the right nutrients or exercise, what do we do?

    First we can pause to assess how we feel in this moment. In this quiet space of reflection, we have the opportunity to step out of our regular, auto-pilot pattern, and instead of buying comfort food for dinner, we might notice that our body would prefer something healthier.

    If we notice that our mind is jumping ahead, thinking about how we’ll eat vegetables every day, we can patiently and compassionately re-focus our attention to right now. Instead we can think, “Today I will eat healthily. Tomorrow I will tune into my body again and see what it needs then.”

    The same approach can work for exercise. If we go out for a run today, we can notice how it makes our body feel. If it feels good, then we might think, “I will try and do this again, because I like how it makes my body feel. I’ll tune into my body tomorrow, and see what feels right.”

    Once we start listening to ourselves, with compassion, we’ll start to build a different relationship with our bodies. Rather than fighting against it, or trying to restrict and limit it with rigid rules, we become more present with ourselves, more grounded in the moment. We’ll start to notice which foods make us feel bad, and which give us energy. We’ll notice the difference in our bodies when we exercise.

    By becoming more mindful, we’re likely to find that our bodies naturally start to guide us towards what it needs, rather than having to make a forced effort with our minds.

     

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  • Understanding the 7 Types of Hunger

    Dog Eating a Cake

     

    How many times have you reached for the snacks at a party and munched through them without thinking, or ordered dessert even though you were already full, just because it looked so good?

     

    We eat for many reasons - because we’re stressed or feeling sad, because we feel like we deserve a treat or simply because it’s our scheduled mealtime.

    Eating mindfully is about expanding our awareness around food habits, so that we can make more conscious decisions about what we eat and when. According to Jan Chozen-Bays, MD, author of the book ‘Mindful Eating’, there are seven different types of hunger relating to different parts of our anatomy - the eyes, nose, mouth, stomach, cells, mind and heart.

    Once we are more aware of these different types of hunger and their reasons, we can respond consciously and more appropriately to satisfy them.

     

    1. Eye Hunger

    We are highly stimulated by sight, so a beautifully presented meal or treat such as a birthday cake will be a lot more appealing to us than a bucket of slop - even if the ingredients are the same.

    TIP: To satisfy eye hunger, we can really feast our eyes on the food before we put it in our mouths. If we mindlessly throw our dinner in our mouths while watching TV, we’re wasting an opportunity to fully appreciate it.

     

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    2. Nose Hunger

    Most of what we think of as taste is actually smell. Our sense of smell is much more subtle than that of taste, as anyone who’s had a head cold and a stuffed up nose will tell!

    TIP: To satisfy your nose hunger, practice sensitising the smell of your food, isolated from taste, by taking a pause before eating to really take in the aromas.

     

    3. Mouth Hunger

    What we think of as tasty, appealing food is often socially conditioned or influenced by our upbringing. This includes how sweet or salty we want our food, and the kinds of seasoning and spices we enjoy. What is considered a delicacy in one country can repel those of another culture. Anyone for deep-fried cockroaches?! Many people’s aversion to raw food is a prime example of this social conditioning of the mouth hunger.

    TIP: Generating greater awareness and a sense of open curiosity around the flavours and textures in our mouths as we eat can help satisfy our mouth hunger.

     

    4. Stomach Hunger   

    A rumbling tummy is one of the main ways we recognise hunger. And yet, it doesn’t necessarily mean our body needs food. The hunger cues from the stomach are self-taught and linked to the schedule we have give our imposed upon it. It takes practice to sense when a grumbling stomach means actual hunger.

    Often, we can confuse the sensation with other feelings that affect our stomach such as anxiety or nervousness. If we feed anxiety with junk food, then get more anxious about our diet, we can spark off a negative spiral of emotional eating.

    TIP: What to do? This takes practice. Listen to the stomach’s cues and start to familiarise yourself with them. Try delaying eating when you feel hungry and become aware of the sensations. Assess your hunger on a scale from 1-10 before a meal, then halfway through check-in again.

     

    5. Cellular Hunger

    When our cells need nutrients, we might feel irritable, tired or we may get a headache. Cellular hunger is one of the hardest types of hunger to sense, even though it is the original reason for eating. When we were children, we intuitively knew when we needed to eat, and what our body was craving. But over time, we lose this ability.

    TIP: Through mindfulness, it’s possible to become more aware of our body’s cravings for specific nutrients and to develop some of the inner wisdom we had when we were children. As Jan Chozen-Bays says, “To learn to listen to cellular hunger is the primary skill of mindful eating.”

     

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    6. Mind Hunger

    Modern society has made us very anxious eaters. We're constantly influenced by the current fad diet, the latest nutritional guidelines or research paper. We are deafened by our inner voice telling us that one type of food is good and one type bad. This can make it very difficult to pick up on our body’s natural cues. The mind is very difficult to satisfy, as it is fickle and will find something new to focus on if one craving is satisfied.

    TIP: Mindfulness can help calm the mind and allow for a more sensitive awareness of the other cues our body is sending us.

     

    7. Heart Hunger

    So much of the time, what and when we eat is linked into our emotions. We might crave certain comfort food because we were given it as a child, or because we’ve associated it in our mind as a treat for when we’re feeling down.

    Often emotional eating boils down to a desire to be loved or looked after. We eat to fill a hole, but that hole often can’t be satisfied through eating. To satisfy our heart hunger, we need to find the intimacy or comfort our heart is craving.

    TIP: Try noticing the emotions that you’ve been feeling just before you have an urge to snack and you might be able to find other ways to satisfy them, such as calling a friend or having a cup of tea or a hot bath.

     

    So, next time you feel hungry, check-in with yourself and work out what kind of hunger you're sensing. If eating is appropriate - go ahead and eat! Try to be mindful of what and how you eat, take in the aroma, feast with your eyes and savour every flavour. Only then will you be truly satisfied.

     

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  • There’s More to Looking After Our Bodies Than Diet & Exercise

    Wooden Human Body

     

    Let’s start by saying that a good diet and exercise are super ways to nurture our bodies. However, there is no shortage of advice on eating well and working out.

     

    Instead, we will look at other, less obvious ways to ground ourselves in body and find enriching physical experiences. Becoming more connected and in tune with our physical bodies is an effective way of being more mindful.

    In bringing awareness to our physical experience, we naturally come to the present moment, using our senses as anchors. It can also help us adopt a more self-nurturing and self-compassionate approach toward ourselves.

     

    Mindful Movement

    Mindful movement practices sometimes double up as exercise. For example, yoga is great for strengthening muscles as well as practicing mindfulness.

    Yet, there are other ways we can practice mindful movement; ways which focus less on fitness or weight loss, and more on enjoying simple bodily movements. For example, the practice of gentle mindful walking.

    Those of us who spend all day at a computer may particularly benefit from connecting with our bodies more. How often do we reach the end of the working day and discover tightness in the shoulders or an achy back?

    We can be so focussed on our work or studies that we disconnect from the body. Yet if we make a habit of regularly checking in with the body, we can give it more movement and flexibility.

     

    Giving It a Try

    So right now, tune in for a moment. How does your body feel? Sense into your feet, legs, back, shoulders, even down through your hands to your fingers.

    Are there any parts of the body that want to stretch or wiggle? If you feel comfortable with it, why not stand up for a moment and get curious about how your body wants to move.

    Maybe you feel like bending forward to touch the ground, rolling your shoulders, circling your hips, or raising your arms above your head for stretch.

    You can’t get this 'wrong'; it’s all about noticing your current experience, and meeting it with openness.

    Notice how any stretching or movements affect your mood or energy levels. Have some fun with it!

     

    Comfort and Cosiness

    There’s nothing like putting on your favourite pyjama’s and curling up in a freshly made bed to read a good book. Or perhaps your favourite comfort is to wear some fluffy socks as you watch TV with your cat.

    Whatever makes you feel cosy, try to do these things regularly, as a way of treating your body with kindness and care.

     

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    Sensory Pleasures

    This could mean so many different things; from finding a shower gel in your favourite scent, to being touched by your partner in a certain way (or touching yourself).

    Getting to know what feels, smells, looks or sounds good to us, and consciously gifting them to ourselves, is important for our well-being. It helps us engage with the physical world around us.

    We can use these pleasurable sensations as a type of meditation. For example, we can listen to our favourite songs and notice all the musical elements. We might place things around our home that we enjoy admiring in detail.

    Bringing more awareness to our sensory experiences may help us start to enjoy things we normally do in auto-pilot, such as brushing our teeth or applying moisturiser.

     

    Looking After Our Bodies

    Our bodies don’t need to be perfect in order for us to enjoy the physical world around us. Having fitness or healthy eating goals can be very rewarding, however taking the time to look after our bodies in other ways is important too.

    When we step out of thinking of our bodies as a ‘project’ that needs work, we can start to enjoy the fact that we have a body that can move, feel and experience the world.

     

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

    Sound familiar?

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

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

    1. Recognise

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

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

    2. Acknowledge

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

    Unfortunately our brains don't work that way.

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

    3. Investigate

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

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

    4. Kind Surfing

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

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

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

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

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

    The Conclusion?

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

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

     

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  • Mindfulness for Teenagers

    It goes without saying that adolescence is a time of physiological and emotional upheaval.  Emerging from the cocoon of childhood in a tumult of hormones, physical developments and emotions, teenagers try and forge their own place, their own identity and to do so whilst trying to manage the expectations and opinions of their family, friends, and wider peer groups. Add to that the omnipresent reality of homework and exams, demanding extracurriculars, and impending decisions about their future and it is easy to see how these very real pressures can increase stress and anxiety.

    Luckily, there is increasing awareness of the pressures faced by teenagers, and the need to help guide them in dealing with the emotional realities of adolescence. Within mindfulness there are courses and school-based programmes specifically aimed at teenagers. These have provided a foundation for the growing research interest in the field, which is indeed showing positive results. One study showed that group mindfulness practice for teenagers resulted in “significant improvements in anxiety, internalising stress and attention”.

    Another research paper looking at mindfulness and self-compassion highlights how a course not only has the “potential to decrease stress”, but to also boost positive aspects of behaviour, such as “increasing resilience and positive risk taking”.

    Mindfulness, as the research indicates, can offer tools and attitudes that help navigate the uneven terrain of adolescence. Stress, anxiety and pressure are part of a teenagers’ reality, but they do not have to be debilitating. Through mindfulness, they can develop awareness, resilience and the emotional intelligence needed to skillfully cope with the pressures of their academic and social lives.

    One of the missing pieces is how to give teenagers access to mindfulness programmes outside of school-based programmes, as these are not yet widely available. One of the best ways is to practice and embody it as a parent. Be a living demonstration of the ability to respond rather than react at times of difficulty and stress. By seeing how a calm, even demeanour leads to less emotional upheaval, the benefits of mindfulness are passed on almost by osmosis.

    But this might not be enough on its own. Teenagers are known to rebel against anything their parents do or suggest, so they might dismiss your actions. Or perhaps they simply do not pay attention to your good example. Therefore, getting them to practice mindfulness themselves might require other in-roads.

    One way is to use the technology that is (quite literally) at their fingertips. Smartphones are now central to the lives of teenagers and these devices can be utilised to help them engage with mindfulness.

    There are apps they can use. Headspace has a version of their app for younger children, three different age ranges going up to 12, while “Stop, Breathe, Think” and “Smiling Mind” have been developed to make mindfulness accessible for teens.  Youtube too has a wealth of videos aimed at engaging teenagers with mindfulness and the cultivation of wellbeing, helping make it relevant to them.

    The one thing these technological routes into mindfulness cannot offer though is the teacher led experience. Mindfulness practice raises many avenues to explore and there is a need to find a qualified and experienced teacher who can skillfully guide practitioners.

    There are some options available. There are some family and child therapists who offer mindfulness for teenagers, or perhaps a dipping the toe in the water approach, attending a workshop may be the perfect way to get teenagers into mindfulness in a relaxed and informal way?

    Even if teenagers only grudgingly participate at first -- they will thank you later. It seems safe to say that everyone who comes to mindfulness wishes they had only found it sooner.

     

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  • How To Use Mindfulness To Cultivate Happiness

     

     

    Is negative thinking clouding your happiness? Mindfulness may be able to help. Scientific studies have confirmed that we all hardwired with a ‘negativity bias’ - an evolutionary function that was once necessary for our survival. This means our brains are built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news and a tendency to embed negative experiences more strongly than positive ones.

    As Dr. Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness, puts it: The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.” But the good news is we can break this bias. Studies have shown that mindfulness can help to rewire the brain and increase our capacity for happiness and wellbeing. Read on to find out how…

    Mindfulness short circuits negative thinking

    In mindfulness, we learn to be on close terms with the nature of the mind. As we hone in on our present moment experience and observe our mental activity, we become more skillful at noticing when our minds are getting caught up in negative and discouraging patterns of thought. In observing this, we can choose to break the circuit and shift to a self-compassionate mode of thinking that is supportive and nurturing instead.

    Mindfulness promotes gratitude

    Gratitude is a powerful antidote to negative thinking. To be mindful means to be aware of what is happening around us, and within us - and this is the first step towards being grateful for what we have. Cultivating an awareness and appreciation of the things that are going well in our lives and developing a daily gratitude practice prevents negativity from clouding our vision and reinforces positive connections in the brain that increase our capacity for happiness. It’s simple and transformative.

    Mindfulness rewires the brain

    What we think, feel and do all sculpt our neural networks. This is neuroplasticity in action - the brain‘s ability to constantly change throughout life and rewire itself in response to our feelings, thoughts and experiences. Research has shown that every time we use a particular pathway of thinking - either positive or negative - it increases the likelihood that we will do it again.

    Happily, mindfulness can be used as a tool to dislodge deep-rooted negative thinking patterns over time and chart new pathways in their place, which are more positive and nurturing. By bringing mindful awareness to everyday positive experiences, noticing when something feels good and actively taking in that feeling, we can weave the experience into the brain.

    The more we establish and exercise these pathways for happiness, the stronger they become.

    Mindfulness builds inner contentment

    One of the greatest gifts that mindfulness can bring to our lives is a sense of inner happiness and calm. It is often said that states of anxiety and depression stem from our ways of thinking - if we’re anxious, we’re spending too much time thinking about the future and if we’re depressed, we’re ruminating too frequently on the past.

    Of course, there are other factors to consider here - both biological and environmental - but the simple act of staying present keeps us more centred, teaches us acceptance and gives us a greater appreciation of life. In mindfulness, we also train ourselves to observe the world more objectively - which gives us the power to see things as they are, not as we are.

    This allows us to respond to situations and interactions without projecting our own mental model onto them, and frees us from the tendency to live in our own minds.

     

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  • The Secret to Keeping your New Year’s Resolutions

     

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

    Join Our 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course and Learn To Motivate Yourself With Kindness.

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  • Delve into the Unknown This New Year

    Dive

    It’s at this time of year that we reflect on what we have done during the previous twelve months, and think forward to the future to what we would like to achieve. This can be a good time to honestly and mindfully look at our lives and consider whether we are feeling fulfilled, and what we might do differently to ensure we are spending our time in ways that make us feel alive and content.

    What usually happens when we do this is to think of changes we’d like to make and new things we’d like to try. However, while the prospect of change can be exciting, it can also be daunting, especially for those of us who struggle with anxiety.

    When faced with the unknown, our minds naturally try to seek answers, even when there aren’t any. We want to know beforehand how we will cope, how we will feel and what to expect. Because we can’t possibly know these things, our ‘answers’ can so often take the form of ‘I can’t’, ‘It’s a silly idea’ or ‘I’m just not ready/capable’. And so we find ourselves sticking with what’s familiar.

    Making plans is of course important. It’s not wise to rush into new things unprepared, especially if it’s something big like travelling to a new place or changing career. Doing some research or asking for advice can help answer some of the more practical questions we may have.

    Yet there will come a point when we must finally face the unknown, without all the answers. As we all know, life is not always accommodating to our careful planning.

    Mindfulness can help us meet the unknown with presence and curiosity. When we get stuck in our old thought patterns we become inflexible; unable to open to new experiences or to access new parts of ourselves. But if we can find ways of coming back to this moment right here (again and again) we can not only find the courage to try new things, we may also surprise ourselves.

    We may find that we are far more capable than our habitual doubts and worries would have us believe. And we may also find that simply being more present in life creates exciting changes all by itself!

    Join a mindfulness course or workshop and start your year on a positive note.

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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.

     

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    The key to mindful eating (and drinking) is to slow down and fully engage all the senses, and what better time to do this than at Christmas! When we eat a slice of Christmas cake we can savour the smell of mixed spices, and take a moment to think of the time it took to soak the fruit in the alcohol, then to mix it with the cake batter, and then to decorate it, all so that we can enjoy eating it in this moment.

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

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

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

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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