Self-Compassion

  • 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

  • 10 Tips to Mindfully Survive a Nervous Breakdown

    written by Alexa Frey

    A nervous breakdown is defined as: “an acute, time-limited mental disorder that manifests primarily as severe stress-induced depression, anxiety, or dissociation in a previously functional individual, to the extent that they are no longer able to function on a day-to-day basis until the disorder is resolved”. A nervous breakdown can have many causes such as having too much pressure at work, overwhelming family duties, a divorce or death, being diagnosed with a terrible illness, a traumatic experience such as abuse etc. According to Helpline, the most common symptoms of such a breakdown are depressive symptoms, such as loss of hope and thoughts of suicide or self-harm, anxiety with high blood pressure, tense muscles, clammy hands, dizziness, upset stomach, and trembling or shaking, insomnia, hallucinations, extreme mood swings or unexplained outbursts, panic attacks, which include chest pain, detachment from reality and self, extreme fear, and difficulty breathing paranoia, such as believing someone is watching you or stalking you flashbacks of a traumatic event, which can suggest undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

    A nervous breakdown can last from a few hours to a few weeks. If your breakdown has been going on for a while, and you need some relief, the following ten tips are for you. They will help you not only survive this difficult time, but they might even help you grow from this difficult experience.

    Practice Meditation

    Try to meditate at least once a day. That’s if you can meditate. If you’re too deep in a hole, meditation might be impossible. Your heart might be beating too heavily in your chest, or you might be experiencing uncontrollable tremors which make sitting - and keeping your head upright - hard. If you can’t meditate, then don’t. But maybe, once a day, do try to give it a shot. Even if only for one minute. Anchoring your attention on sounds can be very helpful, if the feelings or sensations in your body are too distressing. Mindful walking too, can be very helpful, if sitting upright feels too torturous. If all this fails, you can always turn off the lights in your bedroom, and simply stare into the darkness - sitting or lying down. The sensory deprivation will hopefully help calm your mind and body. Also, when you do meditate, try to incorporate cultivation practices. Meditate on what you are grateful for in you life. When we’re in a hole, it’s good to remember the good stuff that’s still there in our life. Maybe that’s the beautiful tree outside of your bedroom window. Or you are grateful that you have best friends that support you. Also, try to give yourself compassion for what you are going through - give yourself all the love you need. Last, do practice anticipatory joy by bringing up things you look forward to in the future. Maybe Summer’s coming up and you’re looking forward to sunbathing. For more inspiration, find below a list of cultivation meditations.

    Ask Friends for Help

    One of the hardest things when having a nervous breakdown is that you feel lonely. Not because you don’t have any friends. But because we are so weak, that it can be very draining to be around people. Make sure that you do stay in contact with friends and family - even if you decide to be on your own. Use whatsapp (in moderation), if phone calls are too much and do ask your friends to come over - but let them know that they can’t stay too long. As you are going through a nervous breakdown, you will also notice which of your friends are friends that nurture you and which deplete you. You might have a friend that only texts you to let off steam. During conversations with this difficult friend use your mindfulness skills to notice how he or she makes you feel in your body. If this friend makes you feel tense, annoyed, sad, etc., then it might be time to cut down contact with him/her. As you are going through a nervous breakdown, you will also experience that some friends might just decide not to care, not to be there for you. That can be very painful, but also a great way to learn which of your friends are true friends and which ones aren’t.

    Practice Self-Compassion

    You want to get better. Every day. Obviously, nervous breakdowns aren’t fun. Also, there are many different reasons why people have nervous breakdowns - as mentioned above. Some nervous breakdowns like the one due to a work burnout, will most of the time, pass. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. However, other nervous breakdowns, might not pass as easily. Especially if the origin of the nervous breakdown stems from a chronic mental health disorder such as major depression, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Not only do such mental health disorders deplete and burn us out, they also often make it extremely hard to stay positive - a quality which in our society seems to be a must. However, how can one stay so easily positive if the very illness that one has been diagnosed with doesn’t allow a person to be positive or rational?

    Whether we are in a breakdown due to a work burnout, a chronic mental illness, a death of a close one or another chronic illness, we can choose to treat ourselves with self-compassion. To be patient with ourselves, to allow ourselves to be angry, anxious or depressed and to give ourselves all the love that we have.

    Common Humanity

    When we’re going through a breakdown, we might feel very lonely. Alone in our room, we might feel like we are the only one that’s going through a hard time. Especially when we look through our window onto the street, and everybody else is going about their day you might feel like life is passing by you and you’re missing out big time (Facebook newsfeed will be the worst!). In those moments, remember that you are not alone. There are many other people out there, right now, who go through a difficult time. Even though it seems like you’re alone, you are not. Search the internet for stories of other people who have went through hard times in their life. Read their words and find out what deep wisdom they have learned by surviving such a difficult time. Ask friends and family for their stories. Remember: you are not alone. We are all in this together.

    Listen to your Body

    When we are in the midst of a nervous breakdown, it is important to listen to our body. We may feel very sad or even depressed and that can make us feel sleepy (especially if we’ve been prescribed tranquilisers). Many people experiencing a nervous breakdown can also feel extremely exhausted. It’s important to give our bodies the rest they need. However, do listen to your body for signs of oversleeping. Too much sleep can cause dizziness and brain fog, which we want to avoid at all costs. Also, make sure that you go outside once a day if possible, for a walk in nature. However, do make sure that you choose a path that’s not too steep or too long and always be aware of how far it is to get back to your home. You don’t want to end up exhausted in the woods. If going for a walk seems like too much, try some YouTube exercise videos. Yoga with Adriene has a few easy and relaxing ones.

    Reduce Technology

    Having a nervous breakdown, we often feel like everything is too much. Sounds are too loud and laptop screens might feel too bright. This is why it can be helpful to keep technological use to a minimum. Order a hard copy book and immerse yourself into a story, which will make you feel good inside. The pages - just black and white - will help calm your mind. Audiobooks can also be great (look for “Catcher in the Rye” on YouTube). Close your eyes and listen. Just listen. You will notice that when your mind drifts off, you will quickly come back to listening - after all, you don’t want miss the plot. This will give you a break from the endless ruminating and worrying. Also, try to use Facebook and Instagram as little as possible. The endless scrolling won’t make you feel better, and trust me, if you see all the oh-so-happy lifes of your friends, while you can’t get out of bed, will not help. If you do watch a movie, choose one that doesn’t make you too anxious or sad. Instead choose something calming and/or happy!

    Communicate your Needs

    Going through a nervous breakdown, we don’t have the energy that we usually have. It might be hard for us to pay those bills, clean our home, and complete other important tasks. In times like these, we need help from our friends and family. However, not all of us are good at asking for help, and not all the friends that we have are selfless enough to offer help. During a breakdown we already feel fragile enough, so having to feel disappointed because a friend lets us down, should be avoided at all costs. Thus, go through a list of all your friends in your mind and pick the ones you think, will be willing to support you. Let those angels one by one know about your situation and kindly ask for their help. Also, if they say or do things that might hurt or annoy you, do let them know in a gentle way. Not everybody knows exactly how to deal with someone in such a difficult situation. But most are willing to listen and learn.

    Dropping into the Present Moment

    During a nervous breakdown, we spend a lot of time worrying about the future. Will I ever get better? What if things get worse? Or we ruminate about the past. Why did I not take better care of my health? I should have eaten healthier. Why didn’t I go see the doctor earlier and ignored the all the signs? It is natural to think about the future and the past. But especially during a nervous breakdown this tendency can deplete and exhaust us even more. Apart from that, if you pay close attention there are actually some positive, or at least a few emotionally neutral moments, even during a breakdown. Try to become as present as you can in those moments by connecting with your senses. Say you’re having a bath, notice the warm water touching every part of your body. Notice the scent of the bath oil. Turn off the light and simply listen to the sounds that emerge out of the silence. Become present and know, that in this moment, everything is ok. In this tiny moment, nothing is wrong. It’s just you in a warm bath tub. That’s it. Everything’s ok. Now.

    Seek Medical Help

    In the midst of a breakdown, all we want is to just stay in bed (and sleep). We want to hide from the world. We might feel physically really weak, we might experience awful social anxiety which prevents us from leaving our house, or we might just feel too depressed to leave the bed. We might hope, that if we just give things a bit of time, that we’ll feel better soon. While for some of us that might be true, most of us will need professional help. Your doctor might prescribe you Xanax to help you get you out of the worst anxiety, anti-depressants can get you out of the depression and a therapist can help you through speaking therapy (try to find one who incorporates mindfulness). Know, that you do not need to get through this in your own. There’s plenty of help!

    Self-Care

    I wish to end this article with something really legit positive about going through a breakdown. Now is the time, to indulge in self-care. Try to let go of guilt, and just give yourself everything you need. If you can afford it, order a massage therapist to your home as often as you can. Buy yourself fresh flowers once a week to put next to your bed. Go on Youtube and listen to your favourite teenage songs and sing along if you have the strength for it. Watch all the movies (in moderation) that you’ve always wanted to watch but never had time to. Have as many warm baths as you can. Meditate and use cultivation practices to feel good inside. Grab a pen right now, of all the good stuff that you can still do and go for it!

    MEDITATIONS:

    Gratitude Meditation

    Love Meditation

    Animal Affection

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Cultivating Happiness Workshop

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

  • Cultivating Positive Mind States

    Written by Alexa Frey

    In mindfulness, we train our attention to be in the present moment. How? By anchoring it on a sensory experience – for example, the breath, a bodily sensation, or a sound. In short, we learn to place our attention on a chosen anchor. That’s the first step. With practice, we then become better at directing our attention where we want it to be. Slowly but surely, we learn to focus and stay in the present moment.

    Now, once we are able to focus, and choose where we want our attention to be, we can start engaging in what in mindfulness is called ‘cultivation’. This means, that we place our attention on something that fills us with gratitude, acceptance or anticipatory joy, or compassion for ourselves or others.

    How does this work? Usually we start by settling our attention on the breath, which helps to calm down and focus the mind. After a while, we begin to engage in cultivation. If we wish to cultivate gratitude for example, we will bring up a person or a thing, or a situation, that fills us with gratitude. Maybe the lush tree that grows in front of your house evokes gratitude in you, or the fact that you can see, or maybe you feel grateful that you own the cutest dog in the world!

    So, bring to mind what you are grateful for and keep your attention on it. As you stay with it for a while, you will notice a sense of gratitude spreading through your body. A sense of expansion and joy.

    As you practice cultivating gratitude, your mind might drift off – just like in a normal meditation. It might run off to a completely different experience. If this happens, gently redirect your attention back to what you are grateful for. Return to gratitude. Again, and again, and again.

    .....

    MEDITATIONS:

    Gratitude Meditation

    Love Meditation

    Animal Affection

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Cultivating Happiness Workshop

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

  • 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

  • Allowing Ourselves Time to Recover

    How often do we recognise (on some level) that we are feeling unwell, yet push ourselves to carry on regardless? Whether it’s with work or social commitments, many of us have the feeling that we simply can’t stop, even when we’re feeling physically or emotionally drained. When we’re feeling low, it can be hard to imagine that we’ll ever feel better, and so it may seem that taking time out to recover won’t do much good. Yet, in time, we will feel better again, and taking a break from our hectic schedules may be just what we need in order to find health and clarity once more.

    Allowing Ourselves Time To Recover

    Listening to Our Experience

    We’re constantly receiving signals from our bodies and minds about our current state of being. If we’re feeling good, we may experience a lightness in the body, or a clear mind, more optimism, greater resilience, etc. When we’re not feeling good, for example if we’re becoming physically unwell, we might start to feel tired, or parts of our bodies might begin to ache; we may feel irritable or tearful, seemingly for no reason. Yet there is always some reason behind how we react to life.

    These negative experiences are all indications that we are struggling. In the absence of mindfulness, we might ignore these signals. Eventually these signals will worsen until we can’t ignore them anymore, by which time we find that we are forced to rest because we simply can’t function any longer. Yet if we become mindful, we can learn how to give ourselves the care we need, before we reach breaking point.

    Tuning In

    Mindfulness is the practice of noticing the present moment with compassion and non-judgement. This isn’t just applicable to outside situations, but to our inner experience too.

    Practicing mindfulness helps us become more in tune with our bodies, and helps us realise that we have the right to stop and take time to heal. Rather than being a sign that we’re weak or incapable, allowing ourselves time to recover, either physically or emotionally, is a sign that we respect and care for ourselves.

    We’re so used to thinking of what other people need from us, many of us find it uncomfortable to put our own needs first. We’re so aware of our responsibilities, it may feel impossible to say, “Hey, I’m going to take a few days just to look after me.” Yet self-care isn’t selfish. Allowing ourselves time and space to recuperate is our way of honouring our existence. Besides, if we’re rested, healthy and calm, we’re sure to be of more benefit to those around us.

    Honouring Our Bodies and Minds

    It’s important to take time to really listen to how we’re feeling. A great way of doing this is with a Body Scan Meditation. During a Body Scan, we go through the process of focussing attention on each part of the body, noticing any feelings, sensations or even emotions which might arise. It’s a way of taking notice of ourselves, just like how we might sit down with a friend and listen to them speak about how they’re feeling.

    If we’re used to rushing around and leading a busy life, this concept may seem a little daunting. If we take this time to get in touch with our bodies and minds, what might we find? It’s true that we might discover aches and pains, tightness or tension, or painful emotions that we’ve pushed down. Yet tuning into these sensations, paying attention to them, and then approaching them with care and kindness, is a way to honour ourselves. Life becomes easier when we regularly check in with ourselves, acknowledge our feelings and address our needs as they arise. If you’d like to try a Body Scan Meditation, see the link below.

    Rather than ignoring ourselves, and storing up pain, illness or discomfort, we can make a more conscious decision to treat ourselves with as much care as we might treat others in our situation. If we’re sick, we can put ourselves to bed and give ourselves the rest we would insist that our loved one’s take. If we’ve overworked ourselves, we can take a few days off to re-balance, in the same way that we would take time off if we were physically sick. If we’ve become exhausted through stress or anxiety, we can care for ourselves by taking time to relax. And after taking this time to rest, after giving ourselves permission to feel bad, we will probably find that we soon feel much better, and can once again face each day without the fatigue or dread we had been storing up for so long.

    .....

    MEDITATIONS:

    Body Scan

    TIP:

    Why Meditate?

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Mindfulness for Anxiety and Depression

    8-Week Mindfulness Course for Depression

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

  • Improving Our Health, Compassionately

    turtle

    One of the exciting things about life is that we don’t have to stay the same as we are right now; we can re-invent ourselves at any time. For example, we can decide to become healthier, whether that’s through eating better, getting fitter, breaking unhealthy habits or addictions, or by cultivating greater peace of mind and emotional resiliency.

    However, we all too often make these types of self-improvement plans when we’re in a low mood. Maybe we’ve been eating too much junk food lately, and so we think to ourselves, ‘Oh god, I’m so fat. I must go on a diet!’ rather than having a kinder thought such as, ‘I want to start eating more mindfully.’

    When we make health plans from a place of self-loathing we often set unrealistic and unkind goals for ourselves. This means we are unlikely to achieve them, and even less likely to have a nice time along the way!

    A Check-List for Mindful Goal-Setting

    Whatever our health goals may be, it’s important to ask ourselves these questions before we set out on achieving them.

    Is my goal realistic?

    Say we want to stop eating unhealthily, and so we come up with the goal of giving up chocolate and sweets completely. It might work; we might indeed have the will power to never touch the sweet stuff again. But alternatively it might be really difficult! So difficult in fact, that we fail terribly, end up binging on them, and then feel even worse about ourselves than before.

    Instead of banishing sweets from our lives altogether, why not just get more mindful about eating them? We can treat ourselves now and again to a small portion, and practice really savouring it while we eat. We’re still moving towards our health goals, but in a more realistic way.

    Is my goal kind?

    We want to lose weight quickly, and so we decide to live on smoothies alone for a month, or we sign up for the toughest, most physically gruelling boot camp we can find. Yet these kinds of goals seem more like punishments than ways to help ourselves enjoy life more.

    When we don’t like how we look or behave, it can feel impossible to treat ourselves kindly. We may feel that we don’t deserve kindness; that because we’re overweight, depressed, addicted to something, that means we’re bad. But imagine that your friend wanted to lose weight, or that your child was suffering with depression, or that your beloved was struggling with an addiction. It’s unlikely that we would say to them the things we say to ourselves. Would we really say to a friend, ‘My god, you’re disgusting! You should starve yourself for a week!’

    When setting goals, it’s useful to imagine that we are helping a friend set those goals instead. Imagine the kindness and gentle encouragement you would feel for your loved ones, and incorporate that level of care and compassion into your own goal-making. Make those goals self-nurturing: for example, instead of ‘I don’t want to be fat any more’ try changing it to ‘I want to nurture my body with healthy food and exercise.’

    How will I treat myself when I stumble?

    We might be doing really well with our plans, but then one major upset has us reaching for the junk food or cigarettes again. In these moments it feels like all our hard work has been for nothing! This is where self-compassion can really shine and make all the difference, because it’s at these times of perceived failure that we’re most likely to give up on our goals completely.

    Mindfulness helps us see that life is a series of moments. Rather than mentally remaining stuck in a previous moment where we mindlessly scoffed a whole pizza, we can ‘refresh’ ourselves and become new again in the here and now. This can help us forgive ourselves for slipping up, because what’s done is done, and now this is a new moment. It helps us see that we can begin again, and again, and again if needed, because each new moment is a fresh opportunity to get back on track.

    Do I really need to achieve this goal?

    Do we actually need to lose weight, or is it just that our thoughts about our body are very negative at the moment? When our minds are clouded, it can be hard to judge what is true. Yet through practicing mindfulness, we are more able to take a step back from our thoughts and see them more clearly. If we’re already at a healthy weight, perhaps it’s not our body that we need to change, but our thoughts about it, and how we treat it.

    An effective way of exploring the truth behind our desired goals is to place your hand on your heart, to close your eyes, and really tap into how your goals make you feel. Are they coming from self-compassion, or self-hatred? Are they moving you forward into health, or holding you in a cycle of guilt and shame? By exploring our self-beliefs and inner dialogue, we can find out where our goals are really coming from, and whether we should put them into practice.

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

     

  • 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

     

  • 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

  • How to Have a Mindful Look at your Dark Side

    dark sideA key element of living a mindful life is being able to observe feelings (how they arise and fall away) and learning to be objective enough to allow that process to happen naturally. However, when it comes to extreme emotional experiences, such as hatred or intense anger, should we still be so accommodating? Can we really cultivate compassion if we make space for these destructive emotions?

    Mindfulness encourages us to become less judgemental, and so we are faced with a dilemma. If we don’t negatively judge feelings of hate, might it not just start to fester within us and start affecting our behaviour?

    It’s important to find some balance between knowing and living from our core values (i.e. being a compassionate person) and acknowledging that despite our best efforts we are not immune from experiencing the darker side of our humanity. People, events and tragedies are bound to sometimes trigger dark emotions within us; emotions that we would likely not want to admit to others for fear of judgement or misunderstanding. And this is where we might start to see the importance of allowing space for such experiences.

    Judgement leads to a denial of our internal world, and of the experiences of other people. This way of being is not in line with living a compassionate life. As dark as these feeling may be, it’s useful to look at them with the same openness and curiosity as other feelings.  Doing so creates a strange paradox; by looking at our very darkest emotions, we get to know them better, we get to see that they are fleeting experiences that we don’t need to hold onto or act upon, and also that we are not alone in experiencing them.  Therefore we are more able to become genuinely compassionate to the full spectrum of human experience, rather than simply the nice or comfortable parts.

    Being unafraid of our dark side, and honest about its existence, can help us live with greater presence and authenticity. And by shining the light of kind awareness on our darkness we reduce the risk of developing the types of cruel beliefs and ideologies that can grow from that darkness if left unchecked and ignored.

  • Meeting Imperfection with Kindness

    imperfectionThis post was inspired by Tara Brach’s talk ‘Relating Wisely with Imperfection’. You can listen to the full talk here.

    When we bring to mind our imperfections, how do we feel? Perhaps we feel a sense of guilt, embarrassment, shame, regret, depression or anxiety. We may feel a tightness; an urge to keep our imperfections hidden from others. We probably wouldn’t want everyone to know of our addictions and failings, all the times we acted stupidly or selfishly, the times when we’ve lost control, lost our courage or lost our minds. And yet, in the act of me writing these words and of you reading them and relating to them, we’ve both tapped into an important point to consider: these imperfections are not unique to us alone; they are universally shared by all human beings. We all know the fear of being seen as ‘not good enough’.

    If we take just one of our imperfections and look at it for a moment, what happens when we ask ourselves the question, “Imperfect, compared to what?” What standard are we holding in our minds that we feel we are falling short of? Is it a person, or an imagined ideal? Whatever the answer may be, it’s useful to bring awareness to the standards we are expecting ourselves to meet, and to question their validity.

    We may feel concerned about normalising our imperfections, however, because if we don’t feel bad about them how will we ever change? Some of our imperfections may cause hurt to others, and so how can we be okay with that? Yet, we may also know deep down that reacting to imperfection with judgement never really works. We will never run out of imperfections to judge, and so where does that approach leave us? A life of self-loathing and anxiety simply because we are human?

    True healing and change arises from acceptance and compassion. These qualities can only flower from mindful awareness. In order to cultivate this new approach towards imperfection (in ourselves and others), we can use mindfulness to help us remember to pause before we judge. Kindness rarely makes a person lazy. In fact, kindness and acceptance often gives us the strength to be able to make better choices, and to forgive ourselves more easily when we make ‘bad’ choices so that we can move beyond them.

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

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