Self-Care

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

    Written by Amy Jane Wood

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

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

    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, and to the life that we lead.

    WORKSHOPS/COURSES

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

  • Can Mindfulness Ease PMS?

    Written by Amy Jane Wood

    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 self-care and kindness.

    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.

    MEDITATIONS:

    Acceptance Meditation

    Love Meditation

    Mountain Meditation

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Mindfulness for the Female Cycle

    The Power of Mindful Self-Compassion

    8-Week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

  • Phone off: My 12-hour Digital Detox

    written by Alexa Frey

    A busy and emotional week lay behind me and I urgently needed a break. Thus, I had decided to spend a whole Saturday doing nothing - in solitude. Nurturing myself. Taking care of the most important relationship that I have, the relationship with myself.

    Saturday, 2pm. I had slept in, eaten breakfast and then slept a little more. I went on to Netflixing an animal documentary (ok, and a little ‘Mad Men’). Everything should have been good. But my heart was pounding in my chest and my body just wouldn’t settle into my self-proclaimed chill out day.

    Ding! My friend had texted and I texted back. A few texts led to a whole conversation and by the end of the conversation, I felt even more tense. But now I knew why my heart was pounding in my chest!

    There was this sense – in that moment - that I wasn’t safe. The fact that my phone was on, didn’t give me that solitary space I needed. I had this visceral sense, that at any moment, someone could intrude my space and disturb my chill-out day. But not only that, I noticed how the impulses to check social media and be in online contact with my friends didn’t let me attend to myself. The self, that I had neglected all week. The self, that needed attention and nourishment.

    I decided to turn off my phone. For 12 hours. This is what I’ve learned:

    Back to Books

    As soon as I had turned off my phone, like magic, my body started calming down. Moments later, I realised that I actually had no desire to be on Netflix. So I grabbed a book from my bookshelf and – feeling like back in the 70s – started reading. I noticed the simple letters on the paper pages. Black and white. This simplicity felt soothing. Freeing. So I read for a while. As my body calmed down more and more, I looked outside and felt a pull to get out into nature.

    Off to the Park

    Walking towards the park, I spotted a little bee dancing around a flower. I paused and watched it as a smile grew on my face. As I looked up, a woman came walking towards me, her gaze firmly glued onto her phone screen. I wondered whether she too had spotted a bee, as I continued walking. The park seemed brighter today as I passed by a blackberry bush. My friend’s favourite berries. I grabbed for my phone to send her a picture. No phone. Just me.

    Old School Entertainment

    After having a swim in the Hampstead Health woman’s pond, I lay down in the grass. Wondering what time it was. At this point, I’d usually check in with my phone, maybe read an article from my Facebook feed or shoot off a few texts. But here I was – just me. Since there was no online entertainment, I started listening to those two very old French ladies behind me, wondering how they had lived most of their lives without phones. It was lovely listening to them discussing the new Diana documentary, Brexit and the long dark Winter nights in Norway. I was truly entertained.

    Missing out?

    “It’s 7:05pm!” One of the French ladies answered to my question. I decided to make my way back home. I was wondering whether my flatmate was hungry too and felt to urge to ask her out for dinner. I grabbed for my phone. No phone. I am so used to be able to reach out to my friends and family whenever I want to, that the situation felt strange. Foreign. I made my way back home – uncertain whether my flatmate would eat without me, and whether she was even at home.

    Deeply Connecting with Myself

    She wasn’t at home, and I didn’t know where she was. I had decided to keep my phone off and spend some more time just with myself. That evening, I really settled in. Reconnected with the most important person in my life. Myself. Phone off. Just me.  

    .....

    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

    TIPS:

    Why Meditate?

    The Present Moment

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

    One-Day Mindfulness Retreat

    Deepening Mindfulness Retreat Day

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Mindfulness for Anxiety and Depression

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

    Written by Alexa Frey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    .....

    MEDITATIONS:

    Body Scan

    Good Friend Meditation

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    8-Week Interpersonal Mindfulness Course

  • Are you in need of a mindfulness retreat?

    Mindfulness Retreat

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

    This year, instead of a traditional summer holiday, how about taking a break to nourish your self and mind on a restorative retreat? Away from the distractions of daily life, a mindfulness retreat in the nurturing surrounds of nature can be a wonderful opportunity to slow down, have a digital detox and truly take some time just for ourselves. Read on to find out some of the ways a retreat can be beneficial...

     

    Having 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. “A retreat removes the daily responsibilities and technological distractions, meaning that you have more time and space in which to dedicate yourself to sitting,” says mindfulness teacher James Milford. “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. “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,” says mindfulness teacher Christiane Kerr. 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.

     

    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. And 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,” says James. For most of us, sitting in collective stillness for days at a time 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 mindfulness 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.

     

    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, and 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 as a way to observe your habitual patterns and thoughts. It is only through this awareness that we gain a platform to change and grow.

    .....

    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

    TIPS:

    Why Meditate?

    The Present Moment

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

    One-Day Mindfulness Retreat

    Deepening Mindfulness Retreat Day

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Mindfulness for Anxiety and Depression

  • Three Mindfulness Tips for When Life Gets Hectic

    beeWouldn’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 brains will explode. 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?

    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! 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.

    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 some lists. Writing everything down gives 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.

    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.

    Research shows 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.

    So 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.

    .....

    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

    TIPS:

    Why Meditate?

    The Present Moment

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS

    Introduction to Mindfulness

     

  • Enjoy Some Mindful Gardening This Spring!

    gardeningAlthough it’s still a little chilly outside, the daffodils and crocus’ are blooming which can only mean one thing: spring is just around the corner! So now’s the time to find those gardening gloves, buy some seeds or bulbs, and roll up our sleeves for some mindful time in the garden. Even if you don’t have a lot of garden space, or any at all, there’s still plenty of things that we can do to go outdoors and get our hands dirty with some lovely soil.

    In our fast-paced, technology-driven lives, gardening offers some much needed reconnection with nature, and ourselves. In the garden, nothing is instant. We can’t force plants to grow overnight. Instead, we must practice patience, awareness and some tenderness so that we can turn seeds into shoots, and shoots into full-grown plants. This makes gardening an ideal way to practice mindfulness: we can’t jump ahead to the end result, therefore we’re naturally steered toward being present in the process.

    Whether we’re cutting back an overgrown garden to create a vegetable patch, or simply potting flowers on our windowsill, there are many sensory ‘anchors’ that we can use to enrich our mindfulness practice and our gardening at the same time. For example, we can pay attention to the rich smell of the earth, the silky strands of young roots, or marvel at the potential held within a tiny seed. If we’re working outside, we can take some time to fully appreciate the fresh air entering our lungs, the water in our watering can, or if you want to get really deep, the natural cycle of life as we clear away the old, dead overgrowth to make way for fresh, new life. Being outdoors can also help us find a sense of being part of something bigger than ourselves; like the plants around us, we’re also part of nature.

    As well as being a great way to ground ourselves in the present moment, gardening can double-up as an act of self-care too; by nurturing plants we also nurture ourselves. Taking time out to do something we enjoy is important for our well-being, and helps us reconnect with ourselves. Regularly giving ourselves time to do things which help us feel balanced and centred makes it easier to navigate life’s ups and downs.

    Being practical with our hands can help us step out of our busy thinking for a while, and we can easily turn gardening activities into meditation. Whenever we notice that our minds are wandering, we can use our sensory experiences to guide us back to the present.

    .....

    MEDITATION:

    Candlelight Meditation

    Body Scan

    TIPS:

    Why Meditate?

    The Present Moment

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS

    Introduction to Mindfulness

  • Making Self-Care a Daily Habit

    self-careA common side-effect of practicing mindfulness is that we start to notice the ways in which we neglect our well-being. Whether it’s unhealthy habits or addictions, stresses in our lives, or unkind judgemental thoughts about ourselves, by becoming more mindful we see these issues with greater and greater clarity over time. With this new awareness can often come a desire to start treating ourselves with more care.

    For those of us who have been self-critical or neglectful of our well-being throughout our lives, self-care may at first feel a little awkward and unfamiliar. We might also not be so good at recognising when we need it. Developing a new, caring attitude towards ourselves can take time as we undo a lot of old, ingrained uncaring patterns and habits.

    At first we might only notice that we need self-care when we feel really low, like when we have the flu or when our depression is really bad. This is a great first step! However, self-care doesn’t have to end there. We can turn acts of self-care into a daily habit. With practice it may even start to come as naturally to us as brushing our teeth!

    Although small self-caring actions are better than none at all, to truly cement self-care into our natural way of being it may be useful to intentionally set aside at least 30 minutes a day to do something nice for yourself, so that you really stop everything else that you’re doing and just focus on you. It could be that you take some time after work to do a relaxing yoga routine so that you can enjoy the rest of your evening, or that you go to bed a little earlier than usual to read a good book, or that you make yourself a healthy meal with all of your favourite ingredients. It could even be that you sign into Netflix and order a pizza, just as long as you’re doing it with that intention of treating yourself nicely, rather than as a distraction or zoning out.

    Far from being selfish or self-indulgent, developing a daily self-care habit can give us more energy and resilience to deal with all other aspects of our lives.

    .....

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course