Self-Care

  • 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. 

     

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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. 

     

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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.

     

    N.B. Please note, due to Covid restrictions, all retreats are currently offered online only. In the future, retreat days will be offered online and in-person.

     

    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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  • 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!

     

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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.

     

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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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  • The Importance of Rest

    Beach Path

     

    It’s easy to tell when a baby or small child is tired. They might cry, get super grouchy or throw an almighty tantrum. As we get older, we learn to regulate our behaviour more, and we become better at hiding our tiredness.

     

    We may still feel grouchy, but we can function. If we weren’t able to do this, commuting home at the end of the day would reach a whole new level of unpleasantness! However, just like when we’re small, our mood changes when we get tired. Whilst we’re able to hold back from crying and screaming, we might express our discomfort in other ways.

    For example, how many arguments with our partner/children/colleagues started because one of us was tired? Tiredness can result in poor judgement, mental fogginess, lowered capacity for compassion (for ourselves and others), and when it gets really bad we become more likely to have accidents.

    And yet, despite all of this, sometimes we are just as oblivious to our need to rest as a toddler having a tantrum. We have become so skilled at hiding our tiredness that even we can’t tell when we need to rest.

     

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    Running on Empty

     

    We can stumble through our daily duties without noticing much about what’s happening around us, or what’s going on within. Before we know it, we can end up totally exhausted, without having noticed how we got there. Our bodies might be tired enough for rest, but our minds are still racing away, thinking and worrying about all the things we need to do.

    When we aren’t mindful, we can easily strain ourselves. For example, we might drink caffeine to stay awake, until we crash. If we’re self-critical, we can put too much pressure on ourselves to work long hours and not give ourselves adequate time to relax. We might forfeit sleep in order to get more done, and then wonder why we can’t switch off when we do eventually go to bed.

    Over time, this way of being will deplete us. Despite everything we might achieve through pushing ourselves, we will inevitably lose our sense of joy and our peace of mind. When we’re tired, the world can seem so grey. But by slowing down and paying attention, we can start to notice the beauty of life again.

     

    Listening to the Body & Mind

     

    Being mindful helps us tune into ourselves so that we can hear those subtle signals from our bodies and minds that tell us it’s time to rest. Whether it’s through meditating daily, or setting reminders throughout the day to prompt us to take a moment to check in with ourselves, the important thing is to make the time to listen.

     

    Are our muscles tight? Do parts of our bodies ache or hurt?

    Do we feel lethargic?

    When did we last eat something or drink some water?

    And how do we feel emotionally?

    Are we feeling stressed, depressed, angry, overwhelmed?

     

    If we receive a ton of yes answers, it might be time to get some rest! By paying more attention to how our bodies feel, we become less likely to get snappy or irritable when we’re tired, and more able to take positive action.

     

    Give Yourself Permission to Do Nothing!

     

    Doing ‘nothing’ may seem in total opposition to society’s obsession with ‘achieving’, and so for some of us it can be really hard to do. But it’s important. Apart from food and water, rest is our next most basic and essential need. So why do we feel so bad about giving ourselves time for it?

    In the same way that we set aside time to exercise, we need to deliberately take time to rest, both physically and mentally. Developing a mindful bedtime routine is a good way to wind down at the end of each day.

    For example, switching off our phones at least an hour before we go to sleep can help us mentally switch off from work and life stresses. Setting aside a regular time to meditate is also useful, and gives us a chance to check in with how we’re feeling.

    Just remember that any thoughts about being lazy, not deserving the time out, needing to do other things first, whatever, are all just thoughts. We do deserve to enjoy life from a rested mind!

     

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  • 3 Mindfulness Tips for When Life Gets Hectic

    Busy Bee on Lavender

     

    Wouldn’t it be lovely if life was just a gentle unfolding of events? If work and family stuff and exams and big changes were all neatly spaced out and we never had to think of more than one thing at once?

     

    Although we may find ourselves regularly wishing for such a life, the truth is that life gets hectic! And sometimes there’s so much to get done or to think about that we might feel like our minds might overflow.

    Wishing for life to be different tends to make our to-do lists seem even heavier, so what’s the alternative? How can mindfulness help when we seemingly don’t have any spare time for it?

     

    Write It Down

    Trying to keep mental to-do lists can be highly stressful. We worry whether we’ve forgotten anything, or become anxious about potentially forgetting something unless we tell ourselves about it again and again.

    This constant stream of forward planning can make it hard to sleep at night, or makes us grouchy with our loved ones.

    Instead of storing everything in your mind, try writing it down. This can give the mind an opportunity to let go and relax for a while. As well as being practical, this is also a great way to take care of your well-being.

     

    Journal & Pencil

     

    Make Use of the Breath

    There are lots of great quotes out there about how we must ‘make time’ for the important stuff, and while the sentiment is true and sometimes useful, at other times it can just make us feel guilty or irritated.

    If we’re rushed off our feet it can be really hard to find time for things like a seated meditation, even though we know it will help. During busy periods it may be more beneficial to simply make better use of something we’re already doing, and that is breathing.

    When we’re busy trying to meet deadlines, moving home, revising for an exam, looking after the children, etc., we’re breathing throughout all of these activities. So whilst we’re breathing anyway, we might as well make the most of it!

     

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    Whenever you notice that you’re feeling tense, or that you’re not paying attention to what’s happening because you’re thinking ahead to everything else you need to get done, try just deepening the breath for a short while.

    It won’t slow you down or get in the way of what you’re doing; in fact by becoming a little more present and mindful you’ll probably make less mistakes, and feel less stressed out too.

     

    Heart-shaped Coffee

     

    Small Acts of Self-Compassion

    The stress of being busy can take its toll, and we may find that we’re feeling angry, irritable, tearful or depressed as a result.

    It’s during these moments of distress or discomfort that we could really do with a little self-compassion. And a little goes a long way! Regular, small acts of self-compassion can drastically transform your day, as can weaving mindfulness into our day.

    Research showhttps that treating ourselves compassionately triggers the production of oxytocin – a hormone which helps us feel loved and safe.

    In her book, ‘Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind’, Dr. Kristin Neff explains how when we give ourselves a comforting hug, oxytocin is released in the same way as when someone else hugs us.

    So we don’t have to wait until someone else reaches out a caring hand; giving ourselves the same kind treatment has the same effect.

    Next time you notice that you’re feeling distressed or uncomfortable, try wrapping your arms around yourself for a compassionate hug, or try gently stroking your own arm or face, whilst gently acknowledging how hard things are for you right now.

    Talk to yourself, either out loud or inwardly, in the same way you would to a friend who was feeling overwhelmed or pressured by having so much to do. See how it changes your experience.

     

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  • 8 Ways to Celebrate Your Birthday Mindfully

    Three Pink Balloons

     

    As we approach a birthday, anniversary, or long-anticipated event, it can bring about many thoughts and feelings. We might experience happiness and joy, but we can also feel disappointment, regret or sadness if our day, or lives, are not as we wish them to be. 

     

    Such milestones can prompt us to look inwardly, to judge ourselves or to make comparisons with others. In doing so, we can prevent ourselves from fully enjoying our day or even cause ourselves and others suffering.

     

    So, what can we do to cultivate joy and ensure a more positive experience?

     

    Here, we offer eight ways to mindfully support a happy birthday and to help us remember that birthdays are a celebration of the unique gifts each of us brings to the world. 

     

    1. Let Go of Expectation 

     

    Have you ever not planned something for your birthday?

    How does the thought of it make you feel?

     

    Perhaps it brings up feelings of discomfort or maybe it’s a refreshing idea.

    We might find ourselves planning our birthday weeks or even months in advance, ruminating over what we may or may not do. In doing so, we can give ourselves excessive time to plan every minute detail in our heads, unintentionally setting expectations.

    When we set expectations, instead of being able to enjoy each moment for what it is, we can end up lost in thought, worrying that everything will go to plan. We can miss out on what is actually happening, letting our birthday pass by without being fully present. 

    For example, if we are planning a party, we might fret about looking our best instead of enjoying the experience of visiting a salon or taking a warm shower in preparation. We might spend time wondering if someone is going to turn up, instead of connecting with those that are already there. 

    Consequently, when things turn out different to how we expect -- as they usually do -- we can be left feeling disappointed.

    Instead of planning, we can consider if a level of uncertainty might help to keep our minds open.

     

    Can not-planning allow us the freedom to choose what we want to do to suit our needs nearer the time, or even on the day? 

     

    Perhaps in choosing not to envisage every last detail we can relieve pressure around preconceived ideas about what a birthday ‘should’ or ‘should not’ look like. As we let go of our own expectations, we can also avoid complying with the expectations of others. 

    When we make space to enjoy the anticipation of not-knowing what will happen on our special day, we can let it unfold with curiosity and wonder. 

     

    2. Nourish Yourself

    If there was only one day in the year to feel nourished, birthdays are likely to be up there. 

    If you wake up on your birthday and want to curl up in a blanket with a good book and a cup of coffee, then it’s your birthday and no one is there to judge you, including yourself. If you want to party until 4am for your 80th, then it’s also your birthday!

    When we shift our awareness to observing how we feel, we can more easily accept what is and respond to meet our needs, as opposed to what the world around us might dictate. 

    Regardless of the day, it’s important we regularly set time aside to think about what will nourish us, so that we can learn to restore, reset and reconnect with the world around us. A birthday can provide a good reminder to set such intentions as you move forward into a new year.  

     

    3. Choose Gratitude 

    Instead of ruminating over what a birthday might mean, we can focus on being grateful for what we have as we reach each milestone. We can pause and notice everything around us –- almost like taking a polaroid picture in our head. 

    We might choose to start or end our day by writing a list of things we are grateful for from last year. This might be experiences, people, objects, or the things we might otherwise take for granted, such as our health and mindfulness practice. 

    Gratitude can help us to see the world the way it is and let go of the imagined version of our day or the way we might otherwise feel we ‘should’ be celebrating. In directing our attention to gratitude, we can better cultivate positive mind states.

     

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    4. Read (or Start) a Mindful Journal

    As we write down what we are grateful for on our birthday, we might also take a moment to look back on our journal and the year that has passed. 

    We can take note of what we have learnt about ourselves in a compassionate way. We can celebrate the challenges we have overcome, the experiences we have been a part of and the unexpected surprises that might have taught us something along the way. 

    Whilst mindfulness is about the present moment, it can be helpful to reflect on the past from time to time to support us in being more mindful and to help set positive intentions for the future. 

    You might realise that the event that you were so dreading turned out to be enjoyable. Or that the noise the washing machine was making was not a sign that it was broken at all. It might be that thoughts about where we were heading at the start of the year could have turned out to be completely unfounded. This can help us to move forward with greater knowledge and intuition. 

    If you haven’t started one, you might treat yourself to a shiny new journal -- it’s your birthday after all!  

     

    5. Invite a Beginner's Mind

    When we are children, we celebrate birthdays -- both our own and that of others -- with a pure excitement that can be lost or hidden under layers of busyness or stress as we grow up. Rather than being a day to catch up with friends, eat cake and play pass the parcel, it can feel like a chore. 

    When we invite a beginner's mind to our birthday, we forget about making our day ‘perfect’ and centre in on the here and now. We celebrate as if we were a kid again, reverting to a childhood sense of curiosity and joy.  

    For example, we can open a gift with excitement, rather than expectation or worry. We can focus on the cake in front of us, rather than how it will look on Instagram. If we want to, we can even play musical bumps, mindfully listening for the music to stop without thinking about where we might fall! 

     

    6. Mindful Gift Giving

     

    Have you ever thought about giving a gift to someone else on your birthday? 

     

    It might be a small token of gratitude for someone that has supported us over the course of the year or a donation to a charity that we admire. 

    A mindful gift does not need to be expensive; it can be spending time with someone, writing a thoughtful card to acknowledge your appreciation, or simply thanking someone out loud. 

    Mindful giving can strengthen the connections with those around us and help to cultivate joy for both the recipient and ourselves.

     

    7. Before You Blow Out the Candle…

    If you have a busy schedule planned, why not start it with a simple candle meditation, focusing on the flame and helping to move into the day with clarity and inner calm. 

    Alternatively, if you’ve chosen to have a cake to mark the occasion, you could use the candle as a cue to look around you before you blow it out. Perhaps notice who is there to celebrate with you, tapping into your senses and how you feel in the moment.  

    And once the candles have been blown out...  

     

    8. Have Your Cake (Or Not)

    Finally, many of us will celebrate with an edible (or drinkable) treat on our birthday. Why not take a moment to really savour the moment and enjoy that special something in detail with some mindful eating?  

    A birthday cake, for example, might generate eye hunger -- one of the seven types of hunger -- so why not feast your eyes on the detail of the icing or the different layers before savoring each bite, noticing the textures and flavours. In doing so, we can really appreciate it and the effort that has gone into making it. 

    And if you don’t feel like a huge slice of cake… then eat what you want -- listen to your body and save the cake for another time if that’s what it’s telling you. Put a candle in an avocado, a piece of sushi or a slice of cheese. Tune in and give yourself the birthday presence you’re truly craving.

    Happy birthday!

     

    Meditation

    Candle Meditation | 6-Minutes

     

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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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  • 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.

    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.

     

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