Self-Care

  • "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.

    >> VIEW UPCOMING COURSES <<

    Written by Rosalie Dores, Mindfulness Teacher at The Mindfulness Project

    Originally posted here

  • Are You in Need of a Mindfulness Retreat?

    Close-Up Tree Leaves

     

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

     

    -- SARAH POWERS

     

    This year, as well as taking a traditional holiday, consider taking a break to nourish your body and mind on a restorative retreat day. 

    A retreat takes us away from the distractions of daily life. It might include the surroundings of nature and can be a wonderful opportunity to slow down, take a digital detox and truely experience time for ourselves.

    And there are many ways in which a retreat can be beneficial...

     

    Space To Grow

    Carving out the time to fully dedicate ourselves to an extended period of mindfulness away from everyday life is an excellent opportunity to deepen and rejuvenate our practice.

    Mindfulness teacher James Milford explains;

     

    “A retreat removes the daily responsibilities and technological distractions, meaning that you have more time and space in which to dedicate yourself to sitting.

    This is essential as practice can grow stale and tick-box like if all we ever do is try and fit it into an existing schedule.”

     

    Breaking Habitual Patterns

    Although it may take some time to adjust to initially, taking a retreat in silence gives us the chance to see ourselves and our habitual patterns more clearly.

    Mindfulness teacher Christiane Kerr highlights;

     

    Silence can be challenging for many of us when we first start to observe it, but over time it becomes a welcome and nourishing refuge.

    Being in silence allows our practice to deepen and helps us recognise our habitual thought patterns.”

     

    For example, you might notice that you get very self-conscious at meal times, which might lead to urges to eat more or less than usual. On retreat, there’s no distracting ourselves in such uncomfortable moments by checking our phones or chatting. Instead, we have the opportunity to cultivate awareness of our patterns, and meet them with self-compassion.

     

    Comfortable Chair for Meditation

     

    Connecting With Others

    Although it might sound strange, silent retreats offer a wonderful opportunity to connect with others in a new and profound way. Surrounded by fellow meditators, a retreat offers a supportive and nurturing environment in which to practice -- there is always someone there supporting you with their presence.

    Moments where you catch someone’s eye or receive an encouraging or understanding smile become really special.

     

    “Practicing mindfulness alone day after day can be a little dispiriting at times, so a retreat is a welcome chance to be with others and draw benefits from their participation and proximity.” 

     

    For most of us, sitting in collective stillness for long periods will be a new experience - but through it we may find that we discover new ways of being with others and a rich sense of connection that nourishes and enriches our practice.

     

    Training Our Muscle of Attention

    On retreat, we spend a large amount of our time in formal meditation, and the rest of our waking time in informal practice. This means we are exercising our muscle of attention much more than we would usually do. This presents a wonderful opportunity for us to have deep insights, and this turning inwards to connect with ourselves and our inner wisdom can bring new perspectives that leave us feeling refreshed and renewed.

    Most retreat attendees notice a significant difference in their ability to meet everyday challenges with more ease when returning back home.

     

    Blanket & Cushions Outside

     

    For those new to meditation or a silent meditation retreat, the idea might seem quite daunting and scary, or even just really unappealing. But by placing ourselves in this unique environment, we can truly spend time with ourselves, have space for reflection and practice living in the present moment.

    And just because it’s silent, it doesn’t mean that you can’t talk to one of the teachers or support staff if you need to. There is often dedicated time for discussion with the teacher in groups during the retreat. In other words, the silence isn’t there as a test of stamina, but rather a way to observe your habitual patterns and thoughts. It is only through this awareness that we gain a platform to change and grow.

     

    All eight-week courses include a retreat day. For those that have completed a course, we run regular retreat days to help reconnect with practice. 

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  • 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.

     

    Learn More on an 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course.

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  • What Is Mindful Self-Compassion?

     

    An interview with mindfulness teacher and supervisor Jiva Masheder, as she reflects on the practice of mindful self-compassion. 

     

    Firstly, Can You Tell Us a Bit About Yourself?

    I came to mindfulness in 1997 and loved it immediately. In 2007 I started the Masters programme at Bangor University to train to teach mindfulness which I finished in 2012. 

    I find the practice so beneficial in terms of improved emotional stability and mood and greater clarity about my own internal processes, which gives me choices about how I want to be. 

    After 20 years of mindfulness practice, I still felt something was somehow missing. Mindful Self Compassion filled that space and has been enormously helpful to me in viewing myself more kindly. 

     

    What’s the Science Behind Self-Compassion?

    This works because we are very sensitive to an internal climate of criticism and judgement - it's like having someone nagging at you, all the time, and this contributes to anxiety and depression. 

    As mammals, we are hard-wired  to respond well to kindness and tenderness, and cultivating that as our internal climate is enormously beneficial for our wellbeing. It's also quite possible to do. 

    It turns out a kind internal motivator works better than a harsh one! Just think of the best teachers or coaches you've ever had - were they kind and encouraging? Or did they berate you at every turn?

    Dr. Kristin Neff, who co-wrote the Mindful Self-Compassion programme with Dr. Chris Germer, is a researcher on the subject of self-compassion. She has written three books on the subject; ‘Self-Compassion’, 'The Mindful Self Compassion Workbook’ and ‘Fierce Self-Compassion’.

     

    Cat Relaxing

     

    What Are Some of the Benefits of Self-Compassion?

    There's a mass of research to show benefits such as reductions in anxiety and stress, depression, and building resilience.

    It can help to improve communication and relationships, support healthy living and allow us to self-regulate emotion. It also offers a general sense of well-being and self-worth.

     

    Isn’t Self-Compassion All About Bubble Baths and Chocolate?

    The research shows that actually, when we are more self-compassionate, we are more likely to have good health behaviours. So while the occasional bubble bath and chocolate might be just the right thing, people are also more likely to eat healthily, exercise and get enough sleep.

    Self-compassion can also help us to draw clear boundaries so that we're choosing where, when and how to spend our time. When we focus on our values in a self-compassionate way we can protect what is important to us.

    For example, if we value family time it might mean declining an invitation to a work event we don't really want to attend to ensure we have the time (and energy) to dedicate to our family. 

    We don't get more self-indulgent - which is a common concern - we are more like a good parent who makes sure their child eats their broccoli!

     

    Join a Mindful Self-Compassion Course or Workshop.

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    Will Self-Compassion Help Me To Silence My Inner Critic?

    We do spend a session looking at the inner critic. People often feel that without it, they'll just lie in a bath and eat chocolate all day. 

    Instead, we learn to develop compassionate, encouraging motivation, which over time will come to replace the inner critic. This does take time. 

    Whilst self-compassion might not silence our inner critic, we can learn to relate to it differently and find a kinder motivation which can gradually replace the inner critic.

     

    Heart-Shaped Coffee & Fern

     

    How Does the Course Differ From the MBSR and MBCT Course?

    It's superficially similar - eight weeks, group course, practices and sharing. However, it includes more reflective guidance and written exercises. There’s also more discussion and exploration in small groups than you typically do in MBSR or MBCT. 

    As you'd expect, it also has a far bigger emphasis on self-kindness and a wider range of self-compassion practices to engage with. Many participants appreciate this as they're more likely to find a couple of practices that really resonate. 

    The course works well whether you've got experience in mindfulness or not. It's also a great follow-on course after a Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course.

     

    Is There Any Home-Practice on the Course?

    From the first week there are practices to engage with and they are a crucial part of the course. They are shorter than MBSR, typically 15-20 minutes, and there's a wider range to choose from

    The suggestion is to do 20-30 minutes a day of guided practice. As with anything, the more time you give yourself to engage with the course, the more it will give you. The programme also equips participants with ongoing practices and reflective exercises beyond the course.

     

    Join a Mindful Self-Compassion Course or Workshop.

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  • 5 Common Misconceptions of Self-Compassion

     

     

    There are many misconceptions in mindfulness, and the same can be said of self-compassion.

    Many of those that sign up to the mindful self-compassion course may even find themselves questioning what mindful self-compassion is as they join their first session.

    In this article, we dispel the myths of self-compassion to help explain what it means to practice.

     

    1. Self-Compassion is Self-Pity

    Self-compassion is not the same as self-pity. Self-pity is usually an isolating and lonely experience.

    It makes us feel disconnected from the world, like we’re the only one with a problem. It can lead us to catastrophise or wallow in our problems, which both tend to make us feel worse.

    The truth is; everyone suffers, everyone feels pain, and everyone experiences challenging emotions such as sadness, disappointment and jealousy. It’s not just us, even if it might feel like it from time to time! When we accept that, we’re moving toward self-compassion. 

     

    Join an 8-Week Self-Compassion Course.

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    With self-compassion we recognise that experiencing difficulty is part of the human experience. This allows us to feel more connected with others and offers a sense of belonging. 

    Self-Compassion invites us to notice when difficult feelings or thoughts come up and take steps to avoid slipping into self-pity. Instead of listening to inner doubt, judgement or self-criticism, we tune in to our self-compassionate voice and create space for what we really need. 

    With self-pity we’re digging ourselves a hole that might be hard to get out of. With self-compassion, we’re offering ourselves a ladder out of a difficult situation! 

     

    Sad Dog

     

    2. Self-Compassion is Self-Indulgent

    You may have heard the phrase 'self-care isn’t selfish’, and the same can be said of self-compassion. It’s not self-centred or indulgent. And here’s why…

    When we’re investing time in our own wellbeing, we’re investing time in those around us. Our friends and family want us to be happy. Self-compassionate can help us to feel happier.

    When we take the time to work on ourselves, it increases our resilience and inner strength. Strength that we can save for when it’s most needed, reducing the need to lean on others. It also enables us to offer others greater support when they are having a difficult time. 

    We’re keeping our battery charged, so we have more to offer the world. We can’t do that well if we’re depleted.

    What’s more, self-compassion breeds compassion. When we are more self-compassionate towards ourselves it can be much easier to be compassionate towards others.

     

    "Self-care isn't always baths and chocolate (sometimes it will be), but it is an intentional stance to do what you need to do for yourself."

     

    -- EMILY MITCHELL

     

    The big question in mindful self-compassion is ‘What do I need?’. We’re getting into the habit of asking ourselves this question, letting the answers be what they are, then offering kind encouragement to meet those needs.

     

    3. We Can Use Self-Compassion To Let Ourselves off the Hook

    Sorry to break it to you but self-compassion isn’t about giving us an excuse to not do something or allowing ourselves to always take the easy path. It’s better than that. It’s about making choices that help us instead of hindering. 

    In some cases, letting ourselves ‘off the hook’ might be the right thing to do. But in others, it might serve us best to take the tougher course of action. 

    This is where self-compassion can really come in handy. 

    Let’s take an example…

    There’s an event that in the right frame of mind we would really want to go to. Yet we’re feeling nervous or insecure about attending. 

    Many of us have been there, we’ve tried on six different outfits, the room is a mess, we’re starting to feel flustered and we’re on the edge of putting our pyjamas back on and eating an entire tub of Haagen Dazs. We're on the edge of self-pity. 

    Without self-compassion we might find we talk ourselves out of going, make excuses and later feel regret. 

    With self-compassion, we’re able to acknowledge how we really feel. 

     

    “I’m worried about what other people will think of me” 

    or;

    “I’m nervous that I won’t know anyone.” 

     

    And we can reply – in our heads or out loud – with words of encouragement.  Just like a friend might, we can say;

     

    “You can do this”

    “You’re a good person, if people don't like you then it doesn’t matter”

    “It’s OK, you’re just a bit nervous”

    or even; 

    “If you really don’t like it when you get there, you can leave”

     

    In giving ourselves this gentle encouragement, we can help to meet our actual needs with what will serve us well in the long-term.

     

    4. Self-Compassion Shows Weakness 

    Firstly, let’s start by saying that there is nothing remotely ‘wimpy’ or ‘weak’ about noticing that something is hard and trying to do something about it. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  

    Think about the last time you faced a challenge and didn’t act with self-compassion. Perhaps you got irritated, jealous or even found yourself in a state of despair. It’s easy to do.

    When we’re dealing with a difficult emotion or challenge we often gravitate towards distracting ourselves or burying our heads in the sand. 

     

     

    When we act to support ourselves with self-compassion or seek to understand what we really need, it can be more challenging. We’re coming up close to how we feel – not in a harsh or mean way – but asking ourselves what we really need. We’re being honest with ourselves instead of slipping into reactive habits, and that can be hard to do. Which brings us to… 

     

    5. Self-Compassion is Easy

    So by this point you may have decided to give this self-compassion thing a try? Easy, right? 

    Well, just like mindfulness, self-compassion will take practice. (A lot of practice.) One day it might be easy and the next it might be more challenging! 

    If we’ve been lacking self-compassion for ourselves for a while it may feel completely alien to start cheering ourselves on. We may come up against feelings of ‘backdraft’ - a resistance to offering ourselves compassion.

    The trick is to keep trying and to build a regular practice. Attending an 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course can be a great way to do this. It might take patience and we will inevitably stumble. Just as we wouldn’t expect to learn any other valuable skill overnight, the same can be said of self-compassion. A teacher's input and the support of a group can really help. 

    Every time we don’t get it quite right it’s a learning curve... and an opportunity to practice self-compassion. As Hugh Grant’s character once said in Notting Hill, we can simply say ‘whoops a daisies’, give ourselves a pat on the back for trying and approach it from a new angle. 

     

    Build a Regular Practice on the 8-Week Self-Compassion Course.

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  • Can Mindfulness Ease PMS?

     

     

    As women, so many of us are challenged by our monthly cycles. The female body ebbs and flows, and each menstrual phase brings with it a unique set of physical and emotional attributes.

     

    These changes can create a permanent feeling of flux and give rise to a cascade of emotions – from times of anger and sadness, anxiety and irritability, to elation and optimism, even precipitating conditions such as PMT (Premenstrual Tension), PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) and PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder).

    So what can we do to support ourselves each month? Although we may not be able to completely control our hormonal cycles, the good news is we can change our relationship to them -- and that’s where mindfulness comes in.

     

    Mindfulness helps us to reconnect with the body

    We can begin by becoming more aware of our bodies and emotions in each moment and start to recognise familiar patterns in our cycle. Charting thoughts, feelings and symptoms in a diary or on an app over the course of a few months can give us a clearer understanding of our behaviour, and patterns may even come to light that we can then begin to pre-empt.

    In this way, our moods will no longer take us by surprise and we can take more measures to respond to them with acts of kindness and self-care.

     

    Mindfulness offers emotional rescue

    So often we respond to unpleasant emotions in the same way that we do to bodily pain -- with dread and resistance. But what if we could look at them with acceptance and curiosity instead? We might find that we see them in an entirely different light, and that they even ease somewhat.

     

    Join Our Mindfulness for PMS and PMDD Workshop.

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    Mindfulness is one of the best tools we have to develop this new way of relating with our moods. There is a lovely poem by Rumi, called 'The Guest House' where we see emotions passing through as guests -- it’s a helpful analogy to remember when we’re in the throes of low mood, and a useful reminder of how to put our emotions and their impermanence into perspective.

     

    Mindfulness meditation lowers stress levels

    Chronic stress can wreak havoc on our hormones, and further aggravate PMS symptoms, especially dysmenorrhea (pain during menstruation). Happily, mindfulness can offer a helping hand here.

    Study after study has shown that meditation is a powerful antidote to stress, because it works to deactivate the amygdala -- the area of the brain that controls our stress response.

     

     

    By bringing even just 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation to our day, we can keep our cortisol levels in check, which may help to dissipate some of our PMS symptoms.

    A key to improving our relationship with our hormonal cycles is being aware of them in the first instance, and then learning to work with and not against them.

    If we can better anticipate the highs and lows we can do things like structure our schedule in a way that takes advantage of each varying state.

    For example, scheduling those challenging meetings for the days where we are most likely to feel assertive or using the more reclusive times of the month to focus on tasks involving less interaction with others.

    There may also be times when we feel like we can’t get anything done and in those moments mindfulness allow us to bring a quality of self-compassion and self-care to our experience that provides a measure of relief in itself.  

    With more awareness and respect for our cycles, the subtle shifts in mood will no longer come as a surprise. Instead we can better anticipate our needs and learn to hold each fleeting state of mind more lightly, as we go with the flow.

     

    Join a Course or Workshop.

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  • How Mindfulness Can Help Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS)

     

     

    The symptoms of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) can range from mild irritability, bloating and cramps, to acute depression, anxiety, even suicidal feelings. It can make it hard for us to focus at work, and can sometimes cause conflict at home with our loved ones.

     

    We may find ourselves snapping at people, or feeling tearful for no discernible reason. In short, it can make us feel vulnerable, out of control of our emotions, and that we are not really ourselves.

    Due to the complex nature of PMS, mindfulness unfortunately can’t offer a complete ‘cure’. However, it can offer some much-needed comfort and support to help us get through those difficult times to help ease PMS, and can be used in conjunction with other remedies and treatments.

     

    Awareness of Your Cycle

    Some women find it useful to track their symptoms by keeping a diary. After two or three months, you may start to notice a pattern in your symptoms.

    Having this knowledge of our fluctuating moods means that they won’t take us by surprise so much. It also enables us to deal with them with greater awareness.

    If we discover that our mood worsens in relation to our cycle, we can mindfully watch out for the negative thoughts or beliefs that come with it.

    Knowing that our emotional symptoms have a physical cause (i.e. ovulation) might help us go a bit easier on ourselves, and rather than beat ourselves up about it, we can do more to be caring towards ourselves.

     

    Communicating Mindfully with Loved Ones

    If we become angry or irritable each month, this will affect how we communicate and interact with our partners, friends, family and even work colleagues.

    Mindfulness can help lessen the negative impact that our changing moods or physical discomfort may have on other people, because it can improve our communication. When we are mindful of how we’re feeling, we can express those feelings in a more neutral, considered way.

    Say for example that we tend to find our partner very irritating during PMS – every little thing they do seems to put us on edge. We may become snappy and a bit mean. If we’re not mindful, we could really hurt our partners feelings, or cause arguments.

     

    PMS

     

    Yet, by regularly checking in with ourselves, and asking, ‘How am I feeling right now?’ we can express our feelings more mindfully.

    For example, if we notice that we’re in a bad mood, we could give our partner a heads up: ‘I’ve woken up in a really low mood. I’m doing my best, but I might be a little grouchy today, I’m sorry’.

    Or if we realise that we’ve snapped at them, we can at least acknowledge it and apologise, explaining that we didn’t mean to hurt their feelings, we’re just struggling right now.

    Simply being open, honest and mindful of what’s happening for us can make those difficult emotions easier to cope with. Trying to hide them or deny them will not only make them harder for us to deal with, but we also won’t be as sensitive to other people’s feelings.

     

    Can’t Sleep?

    Our menstrual cycles can play havoc with our sleeping patterns. If we’re finding it hard to get to sleep, mindfulness can help in a few different ways.

    Thinking long term, it may be worth beginning a regular mindfulness meditation practice. Studies have shown that people who meditate daily experience improved sleep. This may be because meditation helps us step out of stress responses (which prevent us from sleeping) and into a more relaxed state.

    Meditation also helps the brain deal with those internal chattering thoughts – the type that can keep us awake at night! Research shows that meditation decreases activity in the ‘me centre’ of the brain – the part that’s responsible for mind wandering and self-referential thoughts (otherwise known as ‘monkey mind’).

    For more immediate comfort (for example, if you’re reading this in the middle of the night because you can’t sleep) some mindful breathing can help calm a racing or stressed-out mind. Each inhalation and exhalation offers a helpful anchor for our attention, rather than going around and around with whatever is going on in our minds.

     

    Mindful Comfort Eating

    Many woman experience food cravings in the lead up to, and during, their periods. The foods we usually want to eat at this time are high in sugar, salt, fat or carbohydrates – like chocolate, crisps, or bread. This isn’t really a problem, unless we overdo it.

    What can sometimes happen is that we’ll go overboard on the junk food then feel unwell, or guilty. Feeling guilty or ashamed then makes us feel even worse, and then we’re caught in a vicious cycle.

    Practicing mindful eating can help us enjoy our comfort foods, without overindulging and making ourselves feel even more bloated or depressed as a result. In learning to identify the seven types of hunger, we can first understand the hunger we are experiencing.

    We can then slow down the whole eating process by taking the time to enjoy how our food smells and looks before we begin to eat. Then, as we take the first bite, we can really savour how good it tastes. This way, not only will we get more pleasure from the food, but by slowing down we also become less likely to eat more than we really want to.

     

    Self-Care

    Self-care is always a nice thing to do, but when we’re feeling vulnerable, tired or unwell it’s especially important. Otherwise, what we’re likely to do is ignore, ignore, ignore… until things get so bad that we suddenly can’t cope anymore.

    By cultivating an attitude of self-care we can identify our when we need to restore ourselves. In doing so we can give ourselves the attention and care we need to deal with our symptoms as they arise.

    During PMS, our acts of self-care could take many different forms. It could be that we take some time out to rest, arrange to meet a good friend, treat ourselves to a comforting bubble bath or our favourite film, or if our symptoms are particularly difficult we might decide that we need to visit our doctor to talk about medication or hormone supplement options.

    It's also important that we continue to cultivate self-care when our period begins. This might mean cosying up with a hot water bottle, booking a relaxing massage or taking some gentle exercise to ease any pain we might experience. We may even wish to consider the period products we choose to use.

    Whatever form it takes, we can consciously act kindly towards ourselves, listening to our needs and taking action accordingly. If we deny or suppress our needs, we become tense and stressed. However, if we show ourselves compassion, this creates a lighter and more spacious mindset for us to deal with our symptoms.

     

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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.

     

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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? 

     

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  • Don’t Forget Self-Care This Christmas

    Christmas Self-Care

     

    Christmas is a time for thinking of and giving to others. That’s what makes this time of year so beautiful and special! Yet it’s also important to take time for ourselves amidst all of the gift-giving, party preparations and cooking.

     

    Sure it’s a fun holiday, but if you’re responsible for buying the family presents, or if you’re hosting Christmas dinner, it’s easy to start feeling the pressure. Making sure you take care of yourself as well means you can enjoy the festivities without any unnecessary stress.

    Mindfulness is important when it comes to self-care, because without it we are not likely to notice when the pressure is getting to us. We have a habit of trying to soldier through things, often thinking to ourselves that we’ll only have time to rest once this and that are done.

    But there’s no reason why we can’t care for ourselves as we go.

     

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    Those who have a regular meditation practice will probably be used to checking in with how you’re feeling. Maybe you’ll notice when you’re feeling tight, or feeling tired or overwhelmed.

    If you don’t meditate regularly, or if you struggle with noticing when you’re feeling low, it may be useful to set an alarm to go off at certain times of the day, to remind you to take a moment and ask "how am I feeling right now?"

    Once we get into this habit, it becomes easier to take action when we’re not feeling great. What we do to help ourselves feel better and cared-for is very individual.

    Perhaps we might make time for a relaxing bath, we might watch a film that makes us laugh, or we might go for a walk in the countryside.

    As it’s Christmas, maybe we could put on our favourite Christmas song that fills us with warm nostalgic Christmas feelings, or we might even buy a gift for ourselves!

    Whatever it is that makes you feel more relaxed, happy or rejuvenated, try and find some time for it this Christmas, because when we take care of ourselves, we have more energy for taking care of other people too.

     

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  • How To Make Self-Care A Priority – This Week and Every Week!

     

    As this week is national self-care awareness week, now might be a good time to ask yourself the question... How do I care for myself?  

     

    Self-care in its simplest terms is our ability to care for our own well-being. In the media, the term is often presented with an emphasis on the outer self and the health of the body -- including exercise, diet and grooming.

    While this is true to a certain extent, a more holistic definition of self-care is one that encompasses both mind and body.

    Self-care is as much nourishing and nurturing the relationship we have with our mind as the one we have with our body.

     

    The Power of Practice

    The power of this practice is not to be underestimated – when we take actions to protect, maintain and improve our mental, emotional and physical well-being, we can expect to see a reduction in the negative effects of stress, a boost to our mood and improved resilience.

    Mindfulness is so crucial to the act of self-care. With the awareness that the practice gives us, we gain greater clarity of the relationship we have with ourselves. 

    When we weave mindfulness into our day, we are practising self-care.

     

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    We notice habits and addictions that don’t serve our well-being, or unkind judgemental thoughts about ourselves that have a negative impact on our actions and experiences.

    Often, this new awareness can precipitate a shift in mindset, and a desire to start treating ourselves with more care.

    It’s worth noting that mindfulness is especially important in the context of self-care because it allows us to ensure that we use it for the right reasons.

    Without a mindful attitude, we may use self-care as a form of distraction to avoid our feelings and edge around the reality of our experience.

     

     

    Developing Self-Compassion 

    At the heart of self-care is self-compassion -- an understanding, acceptance and kindness towards the self, and we can use this as a sign-post for developing a daily self-care habit.

    Building self-care into our lives needn’t be overwhelming -- it’s as simple as making time for a few small acts of care and kindness towards ourselves each day, whether that’s yoga, meditation, getting more sleep or cooking a tasty meal.

    Over time, this will build long-term feelings of well-being and resilience -- and self-care will no longer be something that we come to when we need it, but something that we have already embedded within our lives.

    Self-care goes a long way in helping us to better cope with everyday stresses, and far from being narcissistic or selfish, it is in fact the key to a fuller life -- because the more we look after ourselves, the more we have to give to our family and friends, helping us to mindfully connect with others. More time to the life that we lead. 

     

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