Self-Care

  • 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 a animal documentary on Netflix. 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 learnt...

     

    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.

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness retreat days, courses and workshops.

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    Dancing Bees

     

    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 and a connection to nature.  

     

    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 WhatsApp messages. 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 a documentary, their latest family news 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.

    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.  

     

    Maybe it's time to ask yourself, do you need to take a digital detox?

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness retreat days, courses and workshops.

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

    Written by Alexa Frey

    Mindfulness means living in our body. Noticing the footprint our 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? How can we develop happier relationships with our friends, colleagues or partners?

    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 partner or family member 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 the feelings and sensations in our bodies, in certain situations and with certain people, we will become more aware, which situations and people 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.

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

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  • 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 holiday, how about taking a break to nourish your body and mind on a restorative retreat? But, what is a retreat and why might you need one?

    A retreat takes us away from the distractions of daily life entirely, 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.

    And there are many ways in which 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.

     

    All 8-Week MBSR, MBCT and Self-compassion courses include a full-day retreat day. For those that have completed a course, we also run regualr retreat days to reconnect with our practice. 

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  • Enjoy Some Mindful Gardening This Spring!

    gardening

    Although 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.

     

    Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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  • Making Self-Care a Daily Habit

    self-care

     

    A 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, in becoming more mindful we see these issues with greater clarity.

    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.

     

    Recognising When We Need Self-Care

    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!

     

    Making Self-Care a Habit

    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 or to simply rest. That way you stop everything else that you’re doing and focus on you. You can gradually learn to make self-care a priority.

    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 earlier than usual to read a book. Or you might make 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. Over time, we can find balance in an unpredictable world.

     

    The Mindfulness Project offers a range of courses and workshops focused on self-compassion, including the 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course. 

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

    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, 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.

    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.

     

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    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.

    Ruby, founder of WUKA Period Pants, says;

     

    "It's so important to put yourself first, and listen to your body. It's why we created so many different styles of WUKA period pants: everybody's different and responds differently during their cycle. For example, finding the right fit, flow, style and comfort in a pair of period pants goes a long way. Bleeding freely with no restrictions, mentally and physically, makes a huge difference."

     

    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.

     

    The Mindfulness Project runs a regular Mindfulness for the Female Cycle workshop. View our calendar for upcoming dates. 

     

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