Mindfulness Practices

  • 8 Wellbeing Benefits of Practicing Gratitude

    Close Up of Dandelion Seeds

     

    Increased gratitude is a common result of practicing mindfulness. As we start paying more attention to our thoughts, we notice where we block ourselves from appreciating the good things in life.

     

    Say, for example, that you always used to get angry when stuck in traffic, but now when you bring your focus to where you are (rather than where you want to get to) you notice things such as the song on the radio or a beautiful scene beyond the car window. We can’t feel grateful for things we don’t notice, and so mindfulness and gratitude go hand-in-hand.

     

    The Science of Gratitude

     

    Robert Emmons, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology at UC Davis in California, and has been studying the effects of gratitude on over 1,000 people. The participants in his study ranged in age from eight to eighty, and were split into two groups.

    One group was asked to keep a journal in which they were to write five ‘gifts’ that they were grateful for each day, while the other group had to write down five ‘hassles’.

    Some examples of the ‘gifts’ people noted were generosity of friends, and watching a sunset through the clouds. Examples of ‘hassles’ were things like difficulty in finding a parking space, and burning their dinner.

    What Emmons found was that those who had kept a gratitude journal experienced significant psychological, physical and social benefits: a 25% improvement in overall health and wellbeing in comparison with the group focussing on what had gone wrong each day.

    Here are just eight of the many ways in which mindfully practicing gratitude can improve our wellbeing, and the wellbeing of others around us.

     

    1. Greater Energy Levels

     

    When we experience sadness or depression, our energy levels slump way down. Sometimes doing the simplest of tasks can feel like running a marathon. However, people who kept a gratitude journal in Emmons study reported that their energy levels improved. Many also started exercising more.

    People with depression are often told that exercise will help, however this study suggests it may in fact work the other way around; that being mindful of what’s good about our life plays an important role in having the energy to exercise.

     

    2. Better Sleep

     

    On average, study participants found that they were not only sleeping 10% longer than they used to, but that the quality of their sleep was improved. They reported waking up feeling more refreshed and ready for the coming day.

     

    3. Reduced Blood Pressure

     

    With our current hectic lifestyles, high blood pressure has become a common problem. However, simply taking moments to focus our attention on our loved ones or friends, or on the beauty of nature, can lower blood pressure, thus taking the strain off our hearts, brains and many other parts of the body.

     

    4. Feeling Less Lonely

     

    Gratitude strengthens relationships, not just with people we know, but with other people in general. When we’re mindful of positive traits and behaviours in others, we feel more supported, and that leads to us feeling more able to support others in return.

    When we feel safer, we become less selfish, as we no longer feel such a need to look out for our own interests above others. This leads to us feeling less lonely and isolated, as we are more able to truly connect with others.

     

    Happy Dog Running

     

    5. Fewer Physical Symptoms

     

    People who wrote down five things they were grateful for each day became less affected by aches, pains and other physical symptoms. This ties in with other studies which have found that mindfulness can ease uncomfortable physical symptoms, even chronic pain.

     

    6. Improved Attentiveness

     

    As we mentioned earlier in this post, mindfulness and gratitude are very much linked. Over time, those who deliberately thought about what they were grateful for experienced greater attentiveness. They felt more alert and aware of life.

     

    7. Taking Better Care of Health

     

    Practicing daily gratitude resulted in many participants taking better care of their physical health. Mindful individuals tend to have better self-control and are less impulsive, in many areas of life, including eating habits. Add this to more exercise and better quality of sleep, and you’ve got an all-round much healthier life.

     

    8. Increased Joy

     

    When we steer our attention to what’s good about the world, we naturally feel a greater sense of joy. It’s important to note, however, that gratitude isn’t about denying what’s wrong; solely acknowledging the positive and avoiding the negative can do us much psychological harm.

    But, noticing good things, when and where they exist, takes us away from seeing the world as a bad place where bad things happen.

    In truth, life contains both good and bad, but mindful gratitude helps us appreciate those lovely moments in life, whilst at the same time enabling us to make more of those lovely moments for others.

     

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  • What Is a Retreat Day?

    Warm Drink and Cosy Blanket

     

    What does the word retreat conjure up for you? Sitting quietly in an empty room? Hiding under the duvet? Heading out into nature? 

     

    When we talk about a retreat in mindfulness, we’re talking about setting a prolonged period of time aside to tune into our senses and the present moment. To notice what’s going on in our bodies and minds.  

    We’re disconnecting from the distractions of everyday life to investigate beneath the surface; to restore, reset, and reconnect

    Just as we might set time aside to spend with our friends or family, we’re setting some time aside to catch up with ourselves and recharge our batteries.

     

    What is a Mindfulness Retreat Day?  

    In a nutshell, a mindfulness retreat day is a day dedicated to our practice, where we set aside our usual tasks and responsibilities and simply take some time for ourselves to be present.

    A full-day guided retreat is included in all of our Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) Courses. 

    The retreat’s an important part of the mindfulness course, where we can further explore the practices, deepen our own practice and consolidate learnings from the course. 

     

    What’s the Purpose of a Retreat Day? 

    It’s very easy to become stuck in a trance of ‘doing’. Retreat days allow us to take a pause and help us to slow down. They create a sort of circuit break and can provide us with clarity. 

    With a retreat day, we create a bit of extra space which can allow us to go a little deeper than our regular meditation and mindfulness practice. 

    As we immerse ourselves in mindfulness, it’s also useful to embrace mindful attitudes such as acceptance, curiosity, and non-judgment.  

    Things we might ask ourselves during the retreat include:

     

    How do we feel as we begin and end the retreat?

    Does anything change as we move through the day?

    Are we experiencing any difficulties or challenges?

    Are there any recurring patterns?

     

    A retreat day can be deeply relaxing, challenging or both. It’s not often we have a full day to ourselves, so we can learn a lot more than we might expect. 

     

    Where Can I Do a Retreat Day?

    There are plenty of places you can do a retreat day -- a meditation or mindfulness studio, retreat centre or from home. Anywhere you can meditate, you can do a retreat day!

    You might seek out the support of a teacher and group (particularly if you are just starting out with mindfulness or haven’t done a retreat before), or do a self-guided retreat at home. 

    All of our retreat days are currently run online. We might instinctively feel that doing a retreat day at home isn’t really a retreat, but there are benefits to doing a retreat day from home, beyond home comforts and the need to travel.

    Doing the retreat day at home still offers the same guidance from a teacher, practices and group support, albeit through a device.

    Most powerfully, it also allows for the opportunity to more closely integrate our mindfulness practice into daily life, weaving in our usual distractions.

    Some participants reported having a more joyful presence with others in the home during the break or realising ways they can bring the practice into their day to day -- which continue to benefit them beyond the course.

     

    Bath, Candle and Coffee

     

    Do I Have to Stay Silent? 

    A lot of people ask this question. Do I really have to be silent all day? Perhaps they even wonder if this is possible if they’re a natural chatterbox. 

    If the idea of being silent fills us with trepidation, we can try to take it as and when it comes. When we feel uncomfortable with something, it often presents a valuable opportunity to learn something new about ourselves.

    It might also be helpful to reflect on the purposes of the silence. One, is that it’s simply offering an opportunity to let go of our external communication and turn inwards, so we can deepen the connection with our practice.

    No matter how you feel about periods of silence, by the time you come to the retreat you will have built up plenty of guided meditation practice which may make it easier than you’re expecting. Most people find it goes much quicker than anticipated. 

    Try to approach the day with a curious beginner’s mind.

     

    Book a Mindfulness Retreat Day or Course With The Mindfulness Project.

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    If We’re Silent, Why Is a Mindfulness Retreat in a Group?

    There’s a sense of community when we practice mindfulness with other people. When a retreat day is part of a course, participants will also be able to discuss their experiences either at the end of the day or in the next session. When we listen to others articulate their experience, or share our own, it can help to make sense of it all. 

    Just as with signing up to a mindfulness course, the act of scheduling in and committing to a retreat day can be useful. In signing up, we’re setting an intention to make some time for ourselves and our practice.

    Finally, a group setting can also remove any niggling temptations we might experience alone, such as taking a quick peak of our phone! 

     

    Will I Be Sitting All Day?

    The simple answer is no. You are unlikely to be sitting cross legged for a pins-and-needles-inducing period of time! A retreat will cover many mindfulness practises from the course throughout the day. 

    You’ll probably find yourself lying down, sitting, mindfully walking, and perhaps even jumping around or nibbling (not at the same time)! Everything is broken down into bite-size meditations. 

    For those guided meditation practices where we do sit still, there’s always the option to move (mindfully). It’s not a test or exam and there’s no good or bad way to meditate. 

    So, whilst we can gently resist excessive fidgeting, if it’s helping us to stay more present then we can move. 

     

    Cushion on Wooden Chair

     

    What Do I Need for a Retreat Day?

    As the motto goes, be prepared! Have a think about what might be useful and set up your space the day before, if possible.  

    A drink, cushion, blanket, fan; have options available so that you’ll be comfortable. Perhaps light a candle or bring a plant into the room. 

    It’s worth considering what you’ll eat for lunch too. It might be nice to prepare something nourishing in advance, or have the ingredients ready to prepare something in the allocated break.  

    And it’s a good idea to let anyone else in your household know what you’re doing - especially if they might think you’re not speaking to them!  

    Finally, turn off those alarms, mobiles, laptops, and any other distractions (Alexa /Google Home, we’re talking to you). If you need to, hide them in a cupboard. 

     

    How Will I Feel After a Retreat Day? 

    This will vary from person to person and there is no right way to feel. You might notice that you’re particularly tuned into your senses after a retreat, and it can take a while to adjust. 

    Give yourself time to slowly move back into the day and soak up the practice. It’s a bit like leaving a serene spa - you’re unlikely to want to go straight to a nightclub! 

    We recommend planning a relaxed evening. This might include time spent journaling, submerged in a bubble bath or outside in the natural world, away from technology. You might even book a massage or treat to end the day for an extra dose of self-kindness. 

    If possible, schedule the rest of the day as ‘me time’ and continue your digital detox

     

    What If I Find the Retreat Challenging? 

    Just as it can take time to settle into a meditation, it can take time to settle into a retreat. 

    We might try to sit with these feelings for a while, but if we feel overwhelmed at any stage, we can adjust what we’re doing, take a break and / or let the teacher know. The teacher will be there to guide the entire session and offer support with anything we might find difficult.

    You can message your teacher directly in the chat box or put your hand up (virtually or in- person). Alternatively, you can simply sit out a meditation and come back to it, if and when you feel ready. 

    Whilst many of us will leave a retreat feeling inspired and highly connected with our practice, it’s OK if you don’t. If you come out of the retreat day feeling like you need to speak to someone, drop us an email. 

     

    How Often Should I Do a Retreat?

    After completing a mindfulness course, we recommend joining a retreat at least once a year to support your mindfulness practice. This might be a single day, a weekend or more!

    Many people find it supportive to do a retreat more often than this, so perhaps perhaps the best way of knowing is to simply ask yourself, are you in need of a mindfulness retreat? 

     

    Book a Mindfulness Retreat Day or Course With The Mindfulness Project.

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  • Mindfulness for Relationships

    Mindfulness Teacher - Rosalie

    An interview with mindfulness teacher, supervisor and retreat teacher, Rosalie Dores, exploring the Relational Mindfulness Course and what motivated her to become a relational mindfulness teacher.

     

    What Attracted You to Relational Mindfulness?

    I qualified to teach mindfulness in 2011 after completing my five-year master’s degree at Bangor University. While training I attended a seven-day relational meditation retreat. I had been practising meditation for 15 years. Practising relational meditation transformed my meditation practice and my relational life. It was a real turning point for me, it felt like a quickening.

    I’ve since graduated as a relational mindfulness meditation retreat teacher and spend much of my time studying reading and cultivating a wholehearted and skilful approach to life. I feel very fortunate that my passion for learning to live well, for developing the mind and body has become my livelihood.

     

    How Can Mindfulness Affect Our Relationships With Others?

    Relational mindfulness is grounded in personal solitary practice. In our personal practice we become more aware of what's going on within ourselves. With relational practice, we increase our availability to ourselves and others.

    We recognise our habits in relationships of advising, fixing, controlling or manipulating. We learn how to allow others to be as they are, and to allow ourselves to be as we are.

    A part of learning relational mindfulness, particularly as a group, relates to our sense of common humanity. We all experience challenges in relationships. We all experience some happiness. 

     

    Dog & Cat

     

    How Can Mindfulness Help Us To Communicate More Effectively?

    The first guideline we learn on the course is to pause; pause is fundamentally mindfulness. When we pause, we develop the habit of knowing what is going on in our bodies, hearts and minds.

    With mindfulness we create space to recognise our habits of relating, our reactivity and to choose a way of relating that feels more beneficial both to ourselves and others. Additionally, the safety of the group supports people in growing their confidence to be more fully, and authentically, who they are.

    People learn to recognise what values are important to them, what their needs are and how to express these, and get them met. 

     

    Join the 8-Week Relational Mindfulness Course With Rosalie.

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    How Would You Describe the Relational Mindfulness Course?

    The course was developed to help people to carry some of the calm and peace found in solitary meditation into their relational lives. Not only intimate relationships but all relationships, including our friends, family and colleagues.

    We are relational beings and as such much of our happiness relies on the quality of the relationships we find ourselves participating in. Relationships can be both a rich source of fulfilment and a primary source of stress.

    The relational mindfulness course supports people in recognising the roots of their relational stress and the possibilities for experiencing more fulfilling and satisfying relationships. 

     

    What Do Participants Do on the Relational Mindfulness Course?

    The course runs over eight weeks with two and a half hour sessions and a full day retreat day. Each session includes periods of silent meditation, relational practise, group sharing and a small amount of movement.

    Every week participants are given a specific topic that draws on western psychological understanding and eastern wisdom to support people in deepening their self knowledge and understanding. 

    During the course participants learn six meditation guidelines. These guidelines support us in accessing and developing skilful ways of relating to others. We take one of the guidelines, learn and practise it. I sometimes think the guidelines are like dials on a radio - supporting us to tune into both ourselves and others.

    People who participate in the course often speak about the depth and richness of relationships they experience with other participants. Many of them report that the course has profoundly impacted them, their experience of relationships and what might be possible. Relating in this way can bring about deep satisfaction and joy. 

     

    Tea for Two

     

    How Does This Course Differ to Other Mindfulness Courses?

    The course is different from others because it focuses specifically on relationships. It is ideal for people with a mindfulness or other meditation practises because it deepens and strengthens that practice, while developing skills for integrating awareness into daily life. 

     

    Will the Course Help Me To Build More Confidence?

    The course is excellent for supporting people in developing greater confidence. One of the core skills we learn is how to manage the inevitable anxieties, large or small, that arise in relationships.

    People with social anxiety have found the course to be liberating. Being in a group of likeminded people, cultivating awareness and suspending judgement, individuals find that they can be truly authentic. These skills are transferable to daily life. 

     

    Who Is the Relational Mindfulness Course Most Suited To?

    The course is particularly supportive for people wanting to deepen their meditation practice, as well as those who work with others or that can feel socially anxious.

    We explore every kind of relationship; family, partners, friends, colleagues and even our interactions with strangers. Essentially, it's for anyone that would like to improve the quality of their relationships to live a richer, fuller and more satisfying relational lives. 

     

    Join the 8-Week Relational Mindfulness Course With Rosalie.

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  • 9 Common Misconceptions of Mindfulness

     

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

     

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

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

     

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    1: Mindfulness Is About Emptying the Mind

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

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

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

     

    2: Mindfulness is Only Cultivated Through Meditation

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

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

     

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

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

     

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

     

    3: Mindfulness is The Same Thing as Relaxation

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

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

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

     

    Sleeping Cat

     

    4:  Mindfulness Is a Quick Fix

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

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

     

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    5: You Have to Sit to Practice Mindfulness

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

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

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

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

     

    6: There Is a Goal in Mindfulness

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

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

      Autumn Leaves

     

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

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

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

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

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

     

    8: Mindfulness is a Religion

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

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

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

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

     

    Pelican on Calm Sea

     

    9: Mindfulness is Easy 

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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  • Cultivating Gratitude All Year Round

     

    Think back for a moment to what you did over Christmas and New Year’s. Maybe you spent time with family. Perhaps you carved out some space just for yourself, or got some friends together for a party.

     

    Whether it’s Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve or a birthday, we tend to roll out the red carpet, deck the halls and bake a cake. Mindfulness can help us to savour the joy of these occasions, but it also invites us to be present for every moment, not just special events.

    During the holidays, we may have felt grateful for what we have, thankful for time with friends and family. So how can we bring that sense of appreciation into our everyday lives?

     

    Thoughts from Mindfulness Teachers

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

     

    “On New Year’s Eve, our third day immersed in silence, we walked up a winding path lit by tea lights to a beautiful bonfire. One by one, we threw pieces of paper into the fire bearing the words of things we wished to let go of. We sat around the fire drinking hot chocolate infused with cinnamon bark and cardamom pods.

     

    Despite the silence, I felt incredibly connected to everyone present. I could hear fireworks exploding in the sky from nearby towns and, despite the remoteness of our location, there was a profound sense of connectedness and community.”

     

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

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

     

    “The holidays are especially conducive to gratitude practices and cultivating loving kindness. But whatever the time of year, one of my favourite practices is appreciating the ordinary.

     

    Rick Hanson introduced me to this concept and each time I apply it, it feels as though I’ve found a delightful secret that is freely available. That sense of savouring the okayness of this moment, enjoying those times when our bodies feel alright; those moments when there’s no apparent gloss nor grit – just a simple alright-ness that can be savoured.

     

    On a personal level, if I can recognise those moments, take them in, then my step feels a little lighter and my smile is readier to broaden.”

     

     

    How Can We Bring Gratitude to Our Everyday Experiences?

    When we practice mindfulness we become more attuned to the many moments that make up our day-to-day lives, and learn to treat all moments as equally important. By bringing this presence to our experience, we are more able to recognise and appreciate the good stuff when it happens.

    Next time you’re enjoying something, really tune in and see how that feels in your body. See if you can have a sense of gratitude and appreciation for that moment. Mindfulness also means being with moments of difficulty, so next time something difficult happens, also tune in and see how that feels.

    By fully being with our moments like this, we’re less likely to cling on to them or push them away, and can just appreciate life for how it really is.

    We can also spend some time seeing how special the ordinary can really be. Try to bring the sense of occasion you cultivated at Christmas or New Year’s to an everyday task, or a typical evening at home.

    Switch off your phone, roll out the red carpet and savour the simple “okayness” of the moments as they pass. See how it changes your experience. We’d love to hear how you get on, so feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

     

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  • How to Introduce Mindfulness to our Friends

     

     

    When we discover something that improves our lives it’s natural to want to share that knowledge with others - especially our friends. Whether it’s a new way of eating, a new found love of yoga or the benefits of mindfulness, we may feel compelled to tell our friends and family how they too could feel better if they were to try it.

     

    However, as we’ve probably also been on the receiving end of such recommendations, we know that, while intentions may be good, it’s all too easy for these suggestions to come across as pushy or overzealous.

    People, in their eagerness to help, may end up forcing ideas on others that are not always helpful. As mindfulness practitioners, we are not immune from sometimes becoming a little fanatical too.

     

    So how can we share the benefits of this great practice, without losing sight of what we’re trying to promote?

     

    It’s useful to develop some awareness of the kinds of situations that prompt us to suggest mindfulness to others. For example, when a friend tells us that they are feeling depressed, is our first thought to tell them to try mindfulness? If someone tells us that they’ve been feeling stressed at work, do we jump in and start telling them how much mindfulness has helped us with that problem?

    We may find that we sometimes make such suggestions in a bid to ‘fix’ the other person’s problems, instead of engaging in some mindfulness of our own. Sometimes a friend may simply want someone to listen to their struggles for a while, and rather than telling them to sign up for a mindfulness workshop, we could use this time to practice our mindful listening skills.

    That’s not to say that suggesting a mindfulness practice is always wrong in these situations! Yet we should use mindfulness ourselves so that we can better judge whether it’s the right time to discuss solutions.

    We should also keep in mind that mindfulness isn’t a cure-all, and that not everyone will find the same benefits in the practice as we do. And that’s okay. If we feel offended or frustrated by their lack of interest, this may be something for us to meditate on and explore within ourselves.

    Perhaps the very best way to introduce the concept of mindfulness to others is simply to embody it. By focussing on and deepening our own practice, rather than telling everyone else to start theirs, we will naturally become better listeners, more empathic and compassionate, and more emotionally spacious to deal with other people’s problems. This way, mindfulness can arise in conversations organically, without feeling forced or like we’re trying to fix things.

    For those that would like to integrate mindfulness practice into their interactions with others, explore our 8-Week Interpersonal Mindfulness Course. 

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  • Restore, Reset, Reconnect

     

    After a busy or stressful period in our lives it's important that we find time to reconnect with ourselves and re-establish our inner space.  This can be the perfect time to press the reset button, so that we can enter our next chapter feeling recharged and refreshed.

     

    In order to reconnect with ourselves, we must first disconnect. That means making time and creating space to be with ourselves. In an age where our inner and outer space are encroached upon as never before, by technology, media and advertising, it can seem quite a radical act to disconnect -- but the benefits it offers us are manifold. Below are a few ideas to guide you this month.

     

    Schedule Solitude

     

    Solitude has a crucial role to play in helping us to recharge. Prioritise some time spent in your own company, and plan something nourishing for yourself -- it could be as simple as a cup of tea in your local café, or a solo stroll through the park. Use the time to reflect on your intentions.

     

    Take a Digital Detox

     

    For as many days as you can manage, unplug from technology. Put down your phone and delete news and social media apps for your return.

    Disconnect from the internet. Bring your focus back to the people and places around you. Give your brain a holiday from the constant stream of information it is inundated with.

     

    Create Space for Silence

     

    Silence restores the senses and recharges the mind and body. Stepping away from the distractions and stimulations of life every now and again can do us the world of good.

    A silent mindfulness retreat can offer refuge and space to turn inwards. We may also find it rejuvenates the relationship we have with ourselves.

     

    Relax & Release

     

    Slow down, and take time to be, rather than to do. Give yourself permission to be idle, and to experience periods of openness that you aren’t trying to shape with expectations or fill with thoughts and actions.

    Relaxation slows down brain waves, which refreshes and renews the brain's chemistry. Perhaps consider if you need a retreat day to reconnect with your mindfulness practice? 

     

    Establish a Daily Practice

     

    We can extend the benefits of a reset by carving out the time to dedicate ourselves to a daily mindfulness practice.

    The more we practice, we are better connected to ourselves and our intentions, which guide the direction of our lives.

     

    Join one of our retreat days and make some space for yourself.

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  • Using Mindfulness to Maintain Motivation

     

    By James Milford

    The end of a mindfulness course is often a bittersweet experience.

     

    It is often accompanied by a sense of elation at having completed this journey together. There is a shared feeling. Words of enjoyment, appreciation and encouragement are imparted. Awareness of impending separation is tempered by urges to stay in touch and the hugs goodbye. The bond built over 8 weeks formed a cohesive unit, but then, suddenly, it’s gone. The group, the physical and cognitive support that has been a fixture of your week, scatters like the atoms of an out-breath into the ether.

    There is often a burst of enthusiasm after a course. The desire to maintain a daily practice is high. Over eight weeks the requirement of daily mindfulness practice shifts from a cognitive knowing of its importance, to experientially understanding its substance and worth. You can now empathise with Jon Kabat-Zinn when he says:

     

    “Making a time for formal practice every day is like feeding yourself every day. It is that important.”

     

    However, there will be challenges to regular practice, times when our motivation suffers. Maybe you have had a busy day and you just wanted to relax. Maybe the kids are demanding and on top of all your other responsibilities finding time simply eluded you. Maybe the myriad of time pressures from daily life just mounted up and you decided against formal practice for that day. This happens -- indeed it is to be expected.

    Life is busy and demanding, and from time to time our mindfulness practice will slip down the list of priorities. When this happens, we just set our intention to begin again the next day and look for ways to reignite our practice

    However, avoidance can easily become a habit. Research has indicated that many mindfulness practitioners experience a lessening of motivation once the formal structure of a course is completed, with many abandoning mindfulness altogether within a year of the end of their formal course. Various contributing factors have been attributed to this, including lack of time and diminished interest to missing the support and structure offered by the group.

    So how are we to meet these real challenges and maintain our mindfulness practice? By using mindfulness of course! By tapping into the experiential and attitudinal qualities of mindfulness that were woven into the teaching of the 8-week course, you can explore your challenges and respond to them mindfully, getting practice back on track.

     

    Acceptance

     

    Rather than ignore or shy away from the fact that your mindfulness practice is suffering, open fully to this reality. Bring a sense of acceptance to the fact that you are having difficulties with motivation. Explore the sensations, thoughts and emotions that arise when you feel resistance to practice. By doing this you make the difficulties part of your mindfulness practice, exploring obstacles and giving yourself a sense of space in choosing to respond.

     

    Non-Judgement & Compassion

     

    Not practicing, can leave the door open for the doing mind to criticise ourselves for not practicing…….” I should be doing this”. Mindfulness practice should not be something else to give ourselves a hard time about. To avoid adding judgement to the fact that we are struggling with motivation, we can bring a sense of non-judgement and compassion to our reality. Recognise that motivation ebbs and flows, that it can be difficult to always find time and offer ourselves support. Recognise that you are human and that you are not striving for perfection. Let yourself off the hook a little.

     

    Beginner’s Mind

     

    Beginner’s mind is essential within mindfulness, but it has an elusive quality, particularly in applying it day to day. However, approaching things with beginner’s mind and a renewed sense of curiosity can be extremely helpful in restoring motivation to practice mindfulness.

    We can revisit our motivation for practice. This has likely changed since first decided to attend a course so spending a little time engaging with our continuing motivation can be incredibly helpful. Perhaps you are being driven by a subtle striving or goal setting that is inhibiting your practice. Approaching this with a freshness and beginner’s mind could be how you reinvigorate your mindfulness practice.

     

    Find Support

     

    Finally, it can be helpful to open up to what has changed, what is missing. Research into continued mindfulness practice has explicitly and implicitly highlighted the importance of group support as key in helping maintain interest and mindfulness practice. The lack of structure, support and teaching offered in a group can feel like a loss, so re-engaging with group practice could be beneficial. You might want to deepen your practice with a retreat. Perhaps it is a once a month or once a week drop-in class that you need. Maybe it is more structured and regular. Just explore and see what works for you. It could make all the difference and keep you coming back to the cushion.

     

    The Mindfulness Project runs a 12-week Deepening Mindfulness Course, as well as weekly  drop-in sessions, workshops and full-day retreats for those that have completed an eight week course or mediate regularly. 

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  • Mindfulness in the City

    By Amy Wood

    Frenetic and fast-paced, the city can present the greatest challenges to our mindfulness practice. Urban environments are hives of activity, and the smells, sights and sounds of the city can provide an overload of sensory stimulation that impacts us on a physical and psychological level.

    “Life in the city can be both exhilarating and exhausting,” says Tessa Watt, leading mindfulness teacher and author of Mindful London. “It's easy to find ourselves in a state of constant rush and agitation, swept up by the crowds and the hectic pace of work and play. So it's all the more important to take time out to nourish ourselves – to simplify things, stop rushing around and make time for ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ ”.

    Finding ways to carve moments of silence and space into city living is crucial, and the conscious practice of mindfulness is a simple way to do so. Here are some of our tips on how to find calm in the chaos of the city.

    Into the wild

    Nothing is more grounding and nurturing than time spent in nature. Rooted in the here and the now, the natural world is alive and ever-present - an idea that's central to the practice of mindfulness. Nature's restorative benefits are backed by research and accessible to us all at any given moment. Studies have shown that nature can not only improve cognitive function, but can also immunise our brains against the effects of urban stress.

    Despite its reputation as a concrete jungle, London has over 3,000 green spaces and eight million trees within its radius, so we are never far from flora and fauna. Lunch breaks and walks to work are ideal opportunities to reconnect with nature and restore equilibrium with our mindfulness practice.

    We can cultivate mindfulness by tuning our awareness to the sensory experiences of nature around us: the sound of bird song, the breeze on our skin, the warmth of the sunlight on our face.

    Calmer commutes

    Many of us feel the uncomfortable nature of commuting on overcrowded buses and trains. It can leave us energetically drained and mentally disconnected before the day has even begun. There's a compulsion to switch off and autopilot our way through the experience, but that only leads to a sense of disconnect from the present moment.

    We can find a new perspective on our commute by incorporating simple mindfulness practices into the journey. Giving our attention to the subtle movements of the train or bus and letting these sensations fill our awareness can bring us back to the here and the now.

    By focusing on the breath, we can create internal space where we may be lacking it externally. When the mind wanders, as it has a natural inclination to do, we can gently bring the attention back to the breath.

    Silent sanctuaries

    Spaces and places that promote calm are hard to come by in the city, but they do exist. Churches, museums, libraries and bookshops all provide a welcome respite from the city's soundtrack of sirens and traffic. No belief system is required to enjoy a church's space. We can simply appreciate it for what it is - a tranquil environment untouched by technology.

    Moments spent in these types of spaces are important to our mindfulness practice as the emphasis is on the experience of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. We can embrace them for the opportunity they bring to slow down and breathe.

    City challenges

    From the roar of the rush-hour, to the tedium of queuing, everyday irritations are an inescapable part of city living. But what if we could use these sensory experiences as prompts to be mindful? As challenging as that may seem, these experiences present the possibility to grow and strengthen our practice. The next time you find yourself waiting in line, embrace it as a reminder to stay present. If feelings of irritation arise, acknowledge them with non-judgement, notice how they are impacting you and let them fall away.

     

    Join a mindfulness courses or workshops with The Mindfulness Project.

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  • Allowing Ourselves Time to Recover

     

    Listening to Our Experience

    How often do we recognise (on some level) that we are feeling unwell, yet push ourselves to carry on regardless? Whether it’s with work or social commitments, many of us have the feeling that we simply can’t stop, even when we’re feeling physically or emotionally drained.

    When we’re feeling low, it can be hard to imagine that we’ll ever feel better, and so it may seem that taking time out to recover won’t do much good. Yet, in time, we will feel better again, and taking a break from our hectic schedules may be just what we need in order to find health and clarity once more.

    We’re constantly receiving signals from our bodies and minds about our current state of being. If we’re feeling good, we may experience a lightness in the body, or a clear mind, more optimism, greater resilience, etc. When we’re not feeling good, for example if we’re becoming physically unwell, we might start to feel tired, or parts of our bodies might begin to ache; we may feel irritable or tearful, seemingly for no reason. Yet there is always some reason behind how we react to life.

    These negative experiences are all indications that we are struggling. In the absence of mindfulness, we might ignore these signals. Eventually these signals will worsen until we can’t ignore them anymore, by which time we find that we are forced to rest because we simply can’t function any longer. Yet if we become mindful, we can learn how to give ourselves the care we need, before we reach breaking point.

    Tuning In

    Mindfulness is the practice of noticing the present moment with compassion and non-judgement. This isn’t just applicable to outside situations, but to our inner experience too.

    Practicing mindfulness helps us become more in tune with our bodies, and helps us realise that we have the right to stop and take time to heal. Rather than being a sign that we’re weak or incapable, allowing ourselves time to recover, either physically or emotionally, is a sign that we respect and care for ourselves.

    We’re so used to thinking of what other people need from us, many of us find it uncomfortable to put our own needs first. We’re so aware of our responsibilities, it may feel impossible to say, “Hey, I’m going to take a few days just to look after me.” Yet self-care isn’t selfish.

    Allowing ourselves time and space to recuperate is our way of honouring our existence. Besides, if we’re rested, healthy and calm, we’re sure to be of more benefit to those around us.

     

    Find out more on a mindfulness course, masterclass or workshop.

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    Honouring Our Bodies and Minds

    It’s important to take time to really listen to how we’re feeling. A great way of doing this is with a Body Scan Meditation. During a Body Scan, we go through the process of focussing attention on each part of the body, noticing any feelings, sensations or even emotions which might arise. It’s a way of taking notice of ourselves, just like how we might sit down with a friend and listen to them speak about how they’re feeling.

    If we’re used to rushing around and leading a busy life, this concept may seem a little daunting. If we take this time to get in touch with our bodies and minds, what might we find? It’s true that we might discover aches and pains, tightness or tension, or painful emotions that we’ve pushed down. Yet tuning into these sensations, paying attention to them, and then approaching them with care and kindness, is a way to honour ourselves.

    Life becomes easier when we regularly check in with ourselves, acknowledge our feelings and address our needs as they arise.

    Rather than ignoring ourselves, and storing up pain, illness or discomfort, we can make a more conscious decision to treat ourselves with as much care as we might treat others in our situation. If we’re sick, we can put ourselves to bed and give ourselves the rest we would insist that our loved one’s take. If we’ve overworked ourselves, we can take a few days off to re-balance, in the same way that we would take time off if we were physically sick.

    If we’ve become exhausted through stress or anxiety, we can care for ourselves by taking time to relax. And after taking this time to rest, after giving ourselves permission to feel bad, we will probably find that we soon feel much better, and can once again face each day without the fatigue or dread we had been storing up for so long.

     

    Join a mindfulness courses or workshops with The Mindfulness Project.

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