Relationships

  • Using the Body’s Wisdom as a Signpost to Healthy Relationships

    Written by Alexa Frey

    Mindfulness means living in our body. Noticing what footprint experiences leave on us.

    Some of us were repeatedly hurt by our primary caregivers or other important people in our lives. Repeatedly. Throughout childhood or adolescence.

    People hurt us and we got used to that pain. Somehow pain became part of our lives.

    Now, as grown ups, we might find ourselves meeting people who hurt us. We might have a partner that doesn’t give us what we need. Maybe he or she is even causing us emotional pain on a regular basis. Or we find ourselves working in a job that stresses us out, day by day.

    If we were exposed to repeated pain in our childhoods and couldn’t escape, we are now more likely to stay stuck in and stay in such unhealthy situations or relationships. We’re trying to manage, tell ourselves it’s not as bad. We’re enduring. We’re trapped.

    How can we use mindfulness to free ourselves from our past conditioning that creates unhealthy patterns in the present?

    It’s simple. By dropping into and checking in with our bodies.

    How does this over-chatty and nervous friend make me feel we meet in this loud bar? Does my chest tense up, or does my heart rate increase? Does my body become restless?

    How does my body feel at work? Am I feeling claustrophobic? Stressed out? Tense?

    How does my romantic partner make me feel every time we meet? A bit anxious that I am not good enough? Restless or bored?

    As we start to frequently check in with how our body feels in certain situations and with certain people, we will become more and more aware, which situations and people actually nourish us, and which deplete us.

    The next step is to take care of ourselves. Which means, taking the necessary life changes to expose ourselves less to situations and people that leave a negative footprint on our body, and increase the ones, that make us more happy and healthy.

    So, mindfulness is about using our bodies wisdom. We don’t always have to analyse every situation or person. How about we just simply start with asking ourselves: how does this right now, make me feel, in my body? That’s it.

    .....

    MEDITATIONS:

    Body Scan

    Good Friend Meditation

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    8-Week Interpersonal Mindfulness Course

  • How to Introduce Mindfulness to our Friends

    friendsWhen 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.

    MEDITATIONS:

    Good Friend Meditation

    TIP:

    Why Meditate?

    The Present Moment

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    8-Week Interpersonal Mindfulness Course

  • Mindfulness Tips For When We Feel Jealous

    jealousySometimes it’s as harmless as envying a friends new pair of lovely shoes, but at other times jealousy can feel like a painful dagger in our hearts. It can make it difficult to enjoy any sense of happiness or gratefulness in our lives, because all that we can see is what we don’t have. It’s called the ‘green-eyed monster’ for good reason, for at its worst jealousy can make us bitter, resentful and lead us to behave in ways that aren’t aligned with how we really want to be.

    When we’re focusing on the good in others’ lives, and only on the bad in ours, our view of life becomes distorted and we get stuck in an envious trance. If we can learn to notice it when it arises, jealousy can serve as a reminder for us to take some mindful steps back into the present moment.

    Recognise and Accept

    Before we can make positive use of the arising of jealousy, we must first get to know it better. How does it make us feel? Although it may seem unappealing, it might be useful to bring to mind a situation that made you feel jealous, so that you can become familiar with the mental and physical changes it creates. For example, it might make you feel tense, or perhaps it gives you a heavy or restrictive feeling in your chest or throat. Maybe your pulse quickens, or perhaps you start to feel tearful. What kinds of thoughts are attached to the emotion? And what happens to your mental clarity? It’s likely that any sense of peace or spaciousness disappears, and instead we find that our whole attention is taken up by the subject of our jealousy.

    Once we become familiar with these signs, we will then be more able to recognise its presence next time it occurs. With this recognition, it’s also helpful to give ourselves some compassion and understanding, trying our best to just accept that we feel jealous in this moment, without piling on too much guilt or judgement about it.

    Breathe Through It

    Jealousy might sometimes highlight problems in our lives that we have the power to change. For example, if we’re envious of a friend’s career, we might find that we can take certain steps that will enable us to change careers and find our dream job.

    However, in other situations, we might experience jealousy over something that we just can’t do anything about. For instance, in unrequited love, if we see the person we love with their partner, and feel all the jealousy and pain that comes with that, there’s nothing we can do to change that situation. In these types of scenarios, the best that we can do is to breathe through the emotion until it passes (which it always will).

    A simple meditation that focuses on the breath is useful for when we’re experiencing emotional pain. Of course, it’s a given that our minds will wander onto painful thoughts, but by gently bringing our attention back to the breath each time we notice, we can become a little calmer. If we can include an attitude of compassion during this process – forgiving and understanding ourselves – then we will find that our racing minds will eventually settle down, and we can move on with our day, knowing that at any time we can return to this practice of coming back to the breath.

    Proactive Steps

    By focussing on what is missing from our lives, our minds create suffering. However, there are things that we can do that will help our minds focus more on the good, and less on what is lacking.

    To help train our brains to see the good things in life, we can practice writing down three things each day that have made us feel grateful, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem. Knowing that we need to remember things to write down will prompt us to start consciously looking out for the good stuff. As well as this, we can also start allowing ourselves to linger on pleasant experiences. If we’ve been feeling jealous, we’ve already been letting ourselves linger on unpleasant experiences, so we might as well do the same for the good stuff! Each time we let these positive experiences and feelings sink into our brains, we get a little better at noticing them and appreciating them.

    There will always be things in life that make us feel jealous from time to time, and gratitude won’t cure that completely. However, by taking proactive steps to notice things that make us feel grateful, we’ll be able to bring some balance and happiness back into our lives.

  • Communicating Mindfully When We Are Upset


    communication

    Communication is the bridge which links our innermost thoughts and feelings to the outside world. Yet, if our emotions get the better of us we can cause problems with unskilful communication. Sometimes we may be so caught up in our emotions that we’re not even sure of what it is we are trying to say. If we are mindless of our tone and the type of language we are using, we may appear hostile, angry or just confusing to the people we are trying to communicate with. This could leave us feeling misunderstood and isolated. But if we can communicate mindfully, we have a much better chance of being heard and understood, as well as understanding others.

    Understanding Ourselves First

    The first step to mindful communication is to become really clear on what we’re thinking and feeling. Unless we pay attention to our own experience, we don’t have much chance of successfully expressing that experience to others.

    Say, for example, that we are angry with our partner. We are upset because they have been neglectful in some way. We may spend days, or even weeks feeling angry at this person for what they’ve done, or haven’t done. Without us necessarily being aware of it, our emotions may affect how we communicate with them. We might become snappy or unkind, and although this might give us the impression that we are expressing our feelings, it isn’t a mindful, clear way of communicating. What’s likely to happen is that the other person picks up on our upset, feels upset or defensive in return, and we end up in a vicious cycle of bitterness and emotional outbursts.

    Through practicing mindfulness, however, we become more in tune with our inner experience, and recognise fluctuations in our mood. If our partner has upset us, instead of holding onto the resentment we feel, or wishing it had never happened, we can acknowledge our feelings and the situation with honesty. For example, “My boyfriend didn’t remember our anniversary, and that makes me feel sad/angry/unappreciated, etc.” By seeing and owning our feelings first, we can then approach communication with clarity.

    What Do I Want From This Communication?

    As well as being mindful of our true feelings, it’s also useful to become clear on what we want to get out of communicating with a particular person. Do we want them to feel bad about how they’ve made us feel? Do we want to punish them with our words? Or do we want to feel understood? Do we want to find a resolution to a problem? Maybe we want to understand the other person better, as well as helping them understand us.

    If we feel like we want to use our words to get revenge on someone because they have hurt us, this is a natural feeling and doesn’t mean that we’re a bad person. Yet do we really want to act on these feelings and say things which might cause someone pain? It may be a good idea to just sit with these feelings for a while, rather than verbally lashing out and saying something we may later regret.

    If we want to feel understood, or find a solution to a conflict or problem, it’s helpful to take a few moments to think about the kind of tone or language we want to use in order to help us meet our communication goals.

    Noticing Our Tone and Language

    How we choose to phrase our feelings is important. The types of words we use can make a big difference in how we are understood, as can our tone. Even if the words we are using seem diplomatic, if our tone is bitter, sarcastic or mean, those words will count for very little. Most of us get defensive when we feel attacked, and so it makes sense to try and limit this if we want open and meaningful dialogue with someone. After all, the person may not even be aware that they have caused us any bad feelings!

    Rather than listing all the things we feel that the person did wrong, it might be more helpful to speak openly about how we feel, and why. For example, instead of saying, “You ignored me! I’m really angry at you!” we can mindfully rephrase it and say something like, “I don’t know if you meant to, but I felt ignored by you earlier. It made me feel really hurt and angry. Can we talk about what happened?”

    We can notice our tone, and try to take as much blame out of it as is possible. This way, we are allowing space for a real, two-way conversation. We are staying open-minded about what really happened; although we feel upset, we recognise the fact that we may have misunderstood something, or that the other person is going through their own emotions.

    Mindful communication isn’t about getting it right all the time. We’re all dealing with our own internal worlds, and sometimes we just can’t avoid misunderstandings and heated conversations. But we can become more mindful communicators at any time, just as soon as we notice that we’re stuck in a blaming mindset. Even if we notice half-way through an argument, we can make efforts to re-evaluate our stance and approach the situation with more mindfulness and compassion.

    ---

    To learn more about Mindful Communication, join us for a fun workshop on the 27th June. To read more about it click here.

  • 8 Wellbeing Benefits Of Practicing Gratitude

    Increased gratitude is a common result of practicing mindfulness. As we start paying more attention to our thoughts, we notice where we block ourselves from appreciating the good things in life. Say, for example, that you always used to get angry when stuck in traffic, but now when you bring your focus to where you are (rather than where you want to get to) you notice things such as the song on the radio or a beautiful scene beyond the car window. We can’t feel grateful for things we don’t notice, and so mindfulness and gratitude go hand-in-hand.

    Gratitude

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    Increased Joy

    When we steer our attention to what’s good about the world, we naturally feel a greater sense of joy. It’s important to note, however, that gratitude isn’t about denying what’s wrong; solely acknowledging the positive and avoiding the negative can do us much psychological harm. But noticing good things, when and where they exist, takes us out of seeing the world as just being a bad place where bad things happen. In truth, life contains both good and bad, but mindful gratitude helps us appreciate those lovely moments in life, whilst at the same time enabling us to make more of those lovely moments for others.

    MEDITATIONS:

    Gratitude Meditation

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Cultivating Happiness Workshop, Self-Compassion Workshop, 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course, Self-Compassion Drop-In for Graduates

  • Being Vulnerable In Love

    There’s a popular saying that we must first love ourselves before we can expect others to love us. However, as with everything in life, the truth is more complicated than that.

    Love for ourselves will come and go; there will be times when we actually don’t like ourselves at all. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be loved by others. What is more crucial in a relationship is that we are willing to be vulnerable and honest; that we are willing to be open and show our loved ones who we really are, warts and all. This is by no means an easy feat, and however long we have been with our partner, it doesn’t seem to get easier with time. Being vulnerable is painful, and risky. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

    Love is a Risky Business

    Even in the early stages of a relationship we’ll find that vulnerability is necessary. Telling our date that we’d like to see them again, leaning in for that nervous first kiss, or telling them for the first time that we love them, all require us to take a risk. We open and offer our hearts to this other person, without any guarantee that they’ll want it. It’s no wonder that many of us find it easier to stay single! Yet love can’t blossom without us taking these risks, without these painfully vulnerable moments. This is true even 10 or 20 years into a relationship. The need to be vulnerable with each other never goes away.

    Strawberry Heart Square_3For a long time, society has taught us that vulnerability is a weakness. We’re not safe when we’re vulnerable, so it’s important to be strong. It’s true that we don’t feel ‘safe’ at all when we open ourselves up to others. But mindfulness can help with this.

    “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
    Thích Nhất Hạnh

    Life gets difficult when thoughts, emotions and outside events are constantly throwing us off balance. This is also true in relationships. When every misunderstanding and argument throws us into doubt and inner turmoil, it may feel that being in a relationship is not worth the hassle. However, through the practice of mindfulness we can develop a stronger centre, an anchor to ourselves. This way we can keep our heads above the waves, even if sometimes it feels like we’re only just managing to do so, rather than drowning every time our imperfections make the waters become choppy.

    Reframing Our Baggage

    By cultivating compassion and adopting a less judgemental viewpoint, we can reframe not only our own flaws and hang-ups, but those of our partner too. Rather than seeing our failings as a sign that there is something wrong with us, or that we’re not good enough (or that our partner is not good enough), we can start to see that everything we struggle with is simply a sign that we are human. These imperfections are something we share with all of humanity. Whatever we may feel embarrassed about or ashamed of within ourselves are not unique to us alone.

    Of course, there will be some issues that cannot be tolerated within a relationship. Not all relationships can last. But even in these cases, we can aim to end relationships in the most compassionate way that we are able to, forgiving ourselves or our partner if possible, so that we can move on in life without holding onto resentment or blame.

    Taking the Plunge

    There can be no love without an element of risk. In order to connect with others on such an intimate level, we are required to go out on a limb, to potentially make fools of ourselves, to take the risk of being rejected. But the payoff from taking these risks can be worth all the heartache it may cause.

    We can only be truly loved if we are loved as a whole. Allowing someone to only see and love our best side means we are not loved fully. The same goes for our partner; if we don’t allow them space to be imperfect, can we really say that we love them?

    Ultimately, if we want love we must dive into it, even though it is bound to be messy and difficult at times, because true love will also be beautiful and profound too. Let mindfulness be your anchor, and take the plunge.

  • 5 Mindfulness Tips For A Happier Relationship

    by Jenni Chante

    Relationships can be a minefield of unrealistic ideals, old baggage, hang ups, habits and misunderstandings. All too often we find ourselves stuck in unhelpful ideas and beliefs, rather than genuinely connecting with our partner. 

    Thinking that we know our partner inside out can sometimes block us from being present and really hearing them. Or we may feel so sure of our role within a relationship that we find ourselves repeating unnecessary behaviours which lead to the same old arguments again and again. 

    In arguments we often place the blame on the other person – they’re not listening to us, they don’t understand, they’re being difficult or purposely trying to wind us up. During this process our partner usually feels the same way about us. Yet by becoming more mindful, we can start to accept some responsibility. Taking responsibility for our feelings and actions is not the same as blaming ourselves. We can take responsibility without layering guilt over the top. 

    By introducing mindfulness we can start to let go of the repetitive dramas and reach a much deeper, more meaningful level of intimacy with our partner, and with ourselves. 

    Here are some useful questions to ask ourselves when things feel difficult or strained within a relationship.

    What are my beliefs about relationships?

    Being in a relationship is important to most of us. We may even attribute our self-worth to our relationship status. It’s useful to be mindful of what we think a relationship should provide us with, or what feelings and experiences we believe shouldn’t arise in a successful partnership.

    Do you have ideals of what your perfect relationship should look like? How does it match up with the truth of your relationship? Are confrontations arising because of some discrepancy between your fantasy and your reality?

    The truth is a real relationship will never meet your idealised expectations. Life is messy and unpredictable. Not only will your expectations cause rifts between you and your partner, they may also be holding you back from experiencing the true joy which can come from honest, real connection. 

    What are my beliefs about my partner?

    We can very quickly fall into the trap of thinking we know a person. We experience a few of their idiosyncrasies and bam – we’ve made up our mind up about them. When we do this with a partner it leads to us experiencing them through our limited lens of who we believe they are, rather than seeing them as they truly are – a perpetually evolving human being with great capacity for revealing new facets of their character.

    Be mindful of whether you’re being present with your partner, or whether you’re stuck in an old idea of who they seemed to be at some stage in the past. 

    What are my beliefs about myself?

    Just as we can become caught in old ideas of our partner, the same can be true of ourselves. We may believe we have a certain role to play within the relationship, or that certain aspects of ourselves are not good enough. But like our partner, we also contain deep potential for change. By bringing attention to the limiting thoughts about ourselves, we can break free of old cycles of behaviour. 

    Do my verbal expressions match my true feelings?

    It’s an ongoing joke that women expect men to be able to read their minds. However, most of us are guilty of wanting our partners to guess or uncover what we’re really feeling, and that’s true of both men and women. 

    How often do we really explain our feelings in full? Or when misunderstandings arise, how often do we truthfully look at what we’ve said, rather than staying stuck in how we feel. Of course, sometimes we ourselves aren’t entirely sure of what’s going on inside our minds, so it’s not always possible to be clear. Yet even during these times we can still bring mindfulness to our confusion, and express that to our partner. Sometimes just saying “I’m sorry, I know I’m not making sense, I feel really confused” can take the edge of a heated argument or miscommunication.

    Am I exaggerating?

    Often when we are in the midst of upset, we project our current feeling into the past and future. For example, say that we are upset that our partner didn’t help us with a household chore. This may trigger some old emotions around not feeling supported, and that emotion colours our view of the past. Suddenly instead of it just being “You didn’t help me with ___”, it’s “You never help me” or “You always let me down”. 

    By being more mindful of the truth of the situation, and of dealing with the present problem instead of raking up the past or projecting our suffering into the future, we can avoid a lot of conflict and remain closer and more connected with our partner.