Stress Reduction

  • How Animals Help Us Live in the Moment

     

    The company of animals certainly seems to have a healing effect in many of our lives. This is probably partly due to the fact that they don’t judge us in the same way fellow humans do.

     

    They may get annoyed with us if we stroke them the wrong way, but they’ll never judge us for our flaws.

    A cat or a dog will never reject us because we eat too much, have credit card debts, or don’t call our mothers as often as we should. It’s not unusual to see dogs sitting beside homeless people on the street.

    Our animals love us, even if we don’t love ourselves. In many cases, they embody mindfulness; they are non-judgementally present in the moment.

    When an animal is sitting with us, they aren’t busy thinking about yesterday or tomorrow. They are simply there. This is probably why they have such a special place in many of our lives.

     

    Being Mindful with Our Pets

     

    In our busy lives it can be all too easy to take our pets for granted. However, if we can make the time, our pets can provide us with great ways to practice mindfulness.

    Next time you’re with your pet, why not take a few moments to really notice everything about them. When you stroke them, pay close attention to how their fur or feathers feel beneath your hand. Maybe even imagine that it’s the first time you’ve ever felt them, and see what difference it makes to your experience of them.

    Notice their appearance, taking in every whisker, every feather or patch of coloured fur, every paw and claw. Watch how they’re breathing. Listen to their heart beat if you’re snuggled up with them.

    Perhaps most importantly of all, cultivate a sense of gratitude for having them in your life. Remember all the difficult or painful times that you’ve been through, and how your pet has been there with you through it all. Let that gratitude fill you from top to toe.

     

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    Animals & Meditation

     

    One of the great things about animals is that they don’t care about our plans. They have a habit of interrupting those streams of thought that we feel are very important.

    Although this may at first seem like a negative thing, it can actually help us become unstuck from living in our mental chatter by bringing us back to reality. For this reason, animals can help us in our formal meditation practice.

    Have you ever been meditating, and then heard a dog barking in the distance, or had your cat try climbing on you for a cuddle? Far from being distractions from our meditation, they can enhance it.

    Meditation is not about escaping from the present moment, but about embracing it. While we’re taking our meditation very seriously, animals are just living their lives. And so that dog barking in the street or that cat determined to have your attention act as anchors to the flow of the present.

    They are reminders that we are not in control, and that the best way to cope with life is to let go of our pre-conceived ideas of how things should be and join in with the dance of how things really are.

    We can do this by noticing our reactions to them. If we feel annoyed about our meditation being interrupted, we can look at why that is.

    Perhaps it’s because we have an inaccurate idea of what meditation is about. Or perhaps we’re attached to an idea of how we’d like to be. In this way, animals can have a very humbling effect.

    They can remind us that our meditation practice doesn’t place us in an elevated state above the rest of life, but that in fact our meditating is just like the barking in the street, just one small part of life as a whole.

    Animals are indeed great mindfulness teachers, if we take the time to notice them. What mindfulness lessons have you learnt from your pets? We’d love to hear them in the comments below!

     

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  • Finding Refuge in the Breath

    Gentle Breeze by the Ocean
    The mind is a constant whir of activity. Without any effort, our minds can jump from past regrets to concerns about the future to mentally noting that doctor’s appointment we have next week.

     

    If our minds are particularly busy, this stream of thinking can become too much for us to take. The non-stop nature of it can be overwhelming.

    Naturally, we want to retreat. And we might do so in a number of ways. We may have a glass of wine, eat cake, or switch on the TV. We might constantly check social media or the news for distractions, or even go on a shopping spree.

    At times, this might be just what we need, but often this only increases the busy-ness of our minds. Rarely do these things give us the sense of respite we so badly need.

    Thankfully there is a better refuge available to us, one which we can access at any time, no matter where we are or what we’re doing. It doesn’t exist outside of ourselves, so we’ll never be without it.

    When we find ourselves in the midst of stress, anxiety, depression, sadness, or even intense excitement (this can be overwhelming too), simply taking a deep breath can bring great relief.

     

    Gentle Waves on Shore

     

    When our minds have become tumultuous with thought – each passing thought like a wave that rocks our little boat in a stormy sea, and the rocking never seems to end – we can take a deep breath and…. ahhhh, the waves settle; sometimes just a little, but sometimes a lot!

    The more we practice, the easier it gets to remember to take those important moments of refuge.

    Perhaps try it now. Take a deep breath…. and let it out slowly. How has it changed the quality of this moment?

     

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  • My Mindfulness Journey : Attending an 8-Week Course

     

    I’ve been a self-taught mindfulness enthusiast for some years now. I’ve read articles, listened to talks, and sporadically practiced meditation, and found all of this to be useful in dealing with the depression and anxiety I’ve experienced since my pre-teens.

     

    So, when I decided to do an 8-Week Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Course, I just thought it would be a good way to solidify my existing knowledge, and maybe help me start practicing mindfulness meditation more regularly.

    I didn’t realise then how much deeper the course would take me, or how much of an impact the following eight weeks would make.

     

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    My Shaky Start

    I had a lot of anxiety before and during the first session. As someone who feels anxious about talking to new people, I found it quite challenging. But I soon discovered that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, which was comforting.

    I also found the first body scan meditation emotionally difficult – I found unexpected physical and emotional pain arising. But again, after listening to other peoples experiences afterwards, I learnt that I was not alone in this.

    The gentle guidance and support from the teacher, helped me to see that my difficulties were not a sign of failure or of ‘not doing it right’, just that I was getting in touch with myself.

    The challenges of the first session made me realise that I was not being as present with myself as I had thought, and although it was difficult, I was excited about continuing the MBSR course.

     

    Mindfulness Has Become a Lifestyle

    Having always practised mindfulness alone in the past, it was really useful to have structured guidance from the teacher, and to be given homework assignments to do each week.

    Even though I may not have always stuck to the homework, having it to come back to as a reference point was invaluable and encouraged me to stick with it, whereas in the past when I’ve practised alone it was all too easy to let long periods of time go by in between meditating or practicing being aware.

    The MBSR course has helped me incorporate mindfulness into my daily life, to the point where I would now notice its absence; in the same way that you would notice a difference if you stopped exercising after exercising regularly for a couple of months.

    New habits take time to develop, and I found that the course gave me the perfect space to develop those new habits in a supportive environment. The process was gentle; there was no pressure to do any of the practices. You were encouraged to adapt the practices if you needed to in a way to suit you.

    This relaxed and down-to-earth approach therefore created very little mental resistance in me that sometimes happens when we’re told what to do or how to do it. The focus was on intention and that in each moment we have a fresh opportunity to try again.

    This really suited me, and made me feel safe and supported.

     

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    Surprising Benefits

    Before the mindfulness course started, I thought that the only benefit I would get would be a slightly calmer mind. However, the actual benefits are far greater than that, and have taken me by surprise.

    The main difference I have noticed is that I now have the mental strength to make healthier choices.

    As someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety since childhood, I’ve been told so many times that regular exercise and eating healthily will help, yet depression can make those things seem impossible.

    Some days it takes all my willpower just to get out of bed and face the day, so I haven’t felt able to develop a regular exercise routine or take the time to prepare healthy meals, even though I’ve tried many, many times throughout the years.

     

    Feeling Healthier

    Having completed the eight week mindfulness course, I find that my choices are changing in a natural way.

    I can’t say that it’s been effortless, yet feeling more present in my body and having greater mental clarity enables me to give myself that little push to make choices that nourish my body, rather than deplete it.

    For example, I’ve always been the kind of person who reaches for comfort food, cigarettes or alcohol to make me feel better in times of stress or upset.

    However, the mindfulness course has given me the skills to be able to soothe myself without always turning to those unhealthy things, which often didn’t really make me feel better anyway.

    That’s not to say that I don’t still smoke, drink or eat unhealthy food, but I feel more in control now. Those things have become something to indulge in from time to time, rather than an automatic, mindless coping mechanism.

    In fact, I’ve never felt so healthy in my life! I now feel like I can give my body the healthy things it needs, like giving a gift to myself.

     

    Learning to be Self-Compassionate 

    I’ve also noticed that I’ve become kinder to myself in other ways.

    For example, I don’t beat myself up so much for feeling depressed, anxious, angry or upset. I have a more compassionate space for those feelings within myself.

    Going within and getting to know ourselves better is never an easy journey; it can bring up challenging or uncomfortable feelings sometimes.

    But I’ve also discovered that it can be very freeing, and has made me feel hopeful about the future, something I’ve rarely ever felt. Being guided through this process sure beats trying to do it alone!

     

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  • How Mindfulness Can Help Prevent and Ease Burnout

    Pug Wrapped in Blanket

     

    Most kinds of work brings some level of stress, whether we’re in a position that entails a lot of responsibility or whether we have deadlines and standards to meet.

     

    We may find ourselves doing more than one person’s job without the extra pay. Or we may simply just not enjoy our work and find that we are feeling stressed and low because we feel unfulfilled.

    Work-related stress may leave us feeling exhausted, disillusioned and all out of compassion or care for our fellow colleagues or clients.

    Burnout doesn’t just affect us as individuals, but also the people we work with and provide services for. We may find we’re more impatient with customers, or may get overly defensive when a co-worker offers some constructive criticism.

    Fortunately, mindfulness helps us spot the signs of burnout before they become severe, and can also improve existing symptoms.

    For example, studies have shown that after participating in an eight-week mindfulness course healthcare professionals saw improved scores on the Maslach Burnout Inventory – a test which measures factors such as emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation.

     

    Recognising the Signs

    For some, burnout can creep up unnoticed. How many of us let our job take precedence over our individual well-being?

    Of course selflessness is admirable in certain circumstances however, when this attitude goes unchecked, we may start to see serious consequences in regards to our mental and physical health.

    Whilst we may think we’re doing a good job by dedicating ourselves so fully to the role, if our actions lead to burnout we’ll find ourselves no longer able to care about the role at all.

     

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    Although it may sound like a small thing, recognising and acknowledging how we are feeling is of vital importance.

    We can’t seek support without first noticing that we need to, and it can mean the difference between taking a few days off work to rest and being forced to take a long absence because of severe burnout.

    Through practicing mindfulness we become more aware of subtle changes in our mood and physical health, and can start to notice more quickly when we are struggling.

    Rather than waiting for a full meltdown before we take action, we can read the signals of our minds and bodies and start to take better care of ourselves.

     

    Using Creativity to Re-Focus

    It’s hard to pay attention when we’re exhausted or disillusioned. Whether it’s paperwork, or interacting with a client or colleague, tiredness and disinterest can lead to us making mistakes. When those mistakes are to do with someone’s health, finances or important services the consequences could be serious.

    However, staying focused becomes easier when we notice new and different things about a person or situation. Simply changing some of our fixed routines can help us see things in a new light, therefore keeping us engaged.

    For example, if you’re struggling to feel compassion towards a difficult client, practice mindfulness when you’re talking with them. Notice your beliefs about the person, and imagine that they may not be completely true. Try to see that person with fresh vision, as if you were meeting them for the first time.

    Or if the problem is repetitive paperwork, make small changes to help you focus. Try sitting in a different place. If you can’t do that, change the layout of your desk. Use a new pen and notice how it feels in your hand, notice how the ink looks on the paper.

    Although these may at first sound like pointless exercises, studies have shown that making simple changes to our environment or to our relationship with an object or action can greatly improve attention and focus.

    When we’re engaged with an activity, responding in a mindful way, we’re less likely to make mistakes or feel stressed.

     

    Self-Compassion & Self-Care

    How often do we show the same level of compassion to ourselves as we do for our loved ones and friends? Preventing or healing from burnout is impossible without taking care of ourselves and practicing some self-kindness.

    Far from being a fluffy or airy-fairy concept, self-compassion allows us to perform better in our jobs in a practical way, by preventing harmful burnout. Self-criticism and compassionately noticing where we can improve are not the same thing.

    Many of us confuse being hard on ourselves with being driven, yet without kindness we are likely to drive ourselves into a breakdown rather than towards long-term happiness and success.

    Using mindfulness to become aware of the ways in which we give ourselves a hard time, and to step out of habitual unhelpful ways of responding to our own emotional needs, helps us overcome or avoid symptoms of burnout and will also make us better at our jobs.

     

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  • 3 Mindfulness Tips for When Life Gets Hectic

    Busy Bee on Lavender

     

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

     

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

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

     

    Write It Down

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

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

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

     

    Journal & Pencil

     

    Make Use of the Breath

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

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

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

     

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

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

     

    Heart-shaped Coffee

     

    Small Acts of Self-Compassion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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  • Communicating Mindfully When We Are Upset


    communication

     

    Communication is the bridge which links our innermost thoughts and feelings to the outside world. Yet, if our emotions get the better of us we can cause problems with unskilful communication.

     

    Sometimes we may be so caught up in our emotions that we’re not even sure of what it is we are trying to say. If we are mindless of our tone and the type of language we are using, we may appear hostile, angry or just confusing to the people we are trying to communicate with. This could leave us feeling misunderstood and isolated.

    But if we can communicate mindfully, we have a much better chance of being heard and understood, as well as understanding others.

     

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    Understanding Ourselves First

     

    The first step to mindful communication is to become really clear on what we’re thinking and feeling. Unless we pay attention to our own experience, we don’t have much chance of successfully expressing that experience to others.

    Say, for example, that we are angry with our partner. We are upset because they have been neglectful in some way. We may spend days, or even weeks feeling angry at this person for what they’ve done, or haven’t done. Without us necessarily being aware of it, our emotions may affect how we communicate with them.

    We might become snappy or unkind, and although this might give us the impression that we are expressing our feelings, it isn’t a mindful, clear way of communicating. What’s likely to happen is that the other person picks up on our upset, feels upset or defensive in return, and we end up in a vicious cycle of bitterness and emotional outbursts.

    Through practicing mindfulness, however, we become more in tune with our inner experience, and recognise fluctuations in our mood.

    If our partner has upset us, instead of holding onto the resentment we feel, or wishing it had never happened, we can acknowledge our feelings and the situation with honesty. For example, “My boyfriend didn’t remember our anniversary, and that makes me feel sad/angry/unappreciated, etc.”

    By seeing and owning our feelings first, we can approach communication with clarity and build stronger relationships.

     

    What Do I Want From This Communication?

     

    As well as being mindful of our true feelings, it’s also useful to become clear on what we want to get out of communicating with a particular person.

     

    Do we want them to feel bad about how they’ve made us feel?

    Do we want to punish them with our words?

    Or do we want to feel understood?

    Do we want to find a resolution to a problem?

     

    Maybe we want to understand the other person better, as well as helping them understand us.

    If we feel like we want to use our words to get revenge on someone because they have hurt us, this is a natural feeling and doesn’t mean that we’re a bad person. Yet do we really want to act on these feelings and say things which might cause someone pain?

    It may be a good idea to just sit with these feelings for a while, rather than verbally lashing out and saying something we may later regret.

     

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    If we want to feel understood, or find a solution to a conflict or problem, it’s helpful to take a few moments to think about the kind of tone or language we want to use in order to help us meet our communication goals.

    Noticing Our Tone & Language

     

    How we choose to phrase our feelings is important. The types of words we use can make a big difference in how we are understood, as can our tone. Even if the words we are using seem diplomatic, if our tone is bitter, sarcastic or mean, those words will count for very little.

    Most of us get defensive when we feel attacked, and so it makes sense to try and limit this if we want open and meaningful dialogue with someone. After all, the person may not even be aware that they have caused us any bad feelings!

    Rather than listing all the things we feel that the person did wrong, it might be more helpful to speak openly about how we feel, and why.

    For example, instead of saying, “You ignored me! I’m really angry at you!” we can mindfully rephrase it and say something like, “I don’t know if you meant to, but I felt ignored by you earlier. It made me feel really hurt and angry. Can we talk about what happened?”

    We can notice our tone, and try to take as much blame out of it as is possible. This way, we are allowing space for a real, two-way conversation. We are staying open-minded about what really happened; although we feel upset, we recognise the fact that we may have misunderstood something, or that the other person is going through their own emotions.

    Mindful communication isn’t about getting it right all the time. We’re all dealing with our own internal worlds, and sometimes we just can’t avoid misunderstandings and heated conversations. But we can become more mindful communicators at any time, just as soon as we notice that we’re stuck in a blaming mindset.

    Even if we notice half-way through an argument, we can make efforts to re-evaluate our stance and approach the situation with more mindfulness and compassion.

     

    The Mindfulness Project hosts a calendar of workshops, courses and retreats to teach mindful communication.

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  • A Dose of Meditation: Mindfulness for Mental Health

     

    ‘Mental health’ is defined by the World Health Organisation as ‘a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’(1).

    Today, we know that this is not the case for millions of people worldwide. In fact, one in four people experience a mental health problem each year. According to mental health charity Mind, the way in which people cope with mental health problems is also getting worse – with the number of people who self-harm or have suicidal thoughts on the increase.

    While mindfulness is no magical cure-all elixir, there is emerging evidence to show that it could support a state of mental wellbeing. In instances of mild to moderate depression and anxiety, for example, mindfulness-based interventions hold great promise to ease symptoms.

    With regular practice and the support and guidance of a teacher during an eight-week mindfulness course (MBSR or MBCT), studies have shown that the benefits include stress reduction, emotion and attention regulation and reduced rumination. It also has as much power to prevent depressive relapse as antidepressants, shown by to a large-scale study published by the Oxford Mindfulness Centre.

    Essentially, mindfulness works because it gives us better access to resources that may help us deal positively with our experience of anxiety and/or depression. Firstly, we are introduced to the skill of awareness – which is the ability to notice our thoughts and feelings as they arise. Awareness creates space and allows us to observe our mental processes more objectively so we identify with them less.

    Secondly, we cultivate an open and accepting attitude, which allows us to welcome whatever arises, rather than trying to suppress it, avoid it or become overwhelmed by it. In this way, there is less internal conflict – which can make things a little lighter. Beyond the power of attention training, practicing mindfulness in a community may also play an important role in easing symptoms. Anxiety and depression can heighten feelings of isolation and self-judgement -- which may further feed our suffering.

    Learning mindfulness and sharing our experiences in a group setting such as an MBCT, helps us realise there is a common humanity to these conditions and that we are not so alone.

    There are instances, however, in which mindfulness should be approached with caution where mental health is concerned. As we turn towards ourselves to face our thoughts and feelings, mindfulness can often heighten our experience and perhaps even intensify symptoms for a short period. In this way, it can be incredibly difficult to maintain motivation. For those with a history of certain mental health conditions, such as psychosis, borderline personality disorder, bipolar or PTSD, mindfulness needs to be approached with care and often a tailored one-on-one approach with the specialist knowledge of a mental health professional is advised.

    While mental health awareness has improved dramatically over the past decade, we still have a way to go to change the conversation we have around it – to break social stigmas, encourage education and strengthen our response.

    Mindfulness may not be a short-term fix, but with continued practice it could provide a long-term solution for mild to moderate disorders, by giving us the power to respond to unpleasant emotions and distressing situations more reflectively rather than reflexively. We know from emerging neuroscientific research that mindfulness also facilitates plasticity, and herein lies the hope -- that each time we respond differently, we create new, more positive connections and pathways in the brain.

     

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    References (1) WHO: Mental health: a state of well-being

  • Mindfulness in the City

    By Amy Wood

    Frenetic and fast-paced, the city can present the greatest challenges to our mindfulness practice. Urban environments are hives of activity, and the smells, sights and sounds of the city can provide an overload of sensory stimulation that impacts us on a physical and psychological level.

    “Life in the city can be both exhilarating and exhausting,” says Tessa Watt, leading mindfulness teacher and author of Mindful London. “It's easy to find ourselves in a state of constant rush and agitation, swept up by the crowds and the hectic pace of work and play. So it's all the more important to take time out to nourish ourselves – to simplify things, stop rushing around and make time for ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ ”.

    Finding ways to carve moments of silence and space into city living is crucial, and the conscious practice of mindfulness is a simple way to do so. Here are some of our tips on how to find calm in the chaos of the city.

    Into the wild

    Nothing is more grounding and nurturing than time spent in nature. Rooted in the here and the now, the natural world is alive and ever-present - an idea that's central to the practice of mindfulness. Nature's restorative benefits are backed by research and accessible to us all at any given moment. Studies have shown that nature can not only improve cognitive function, but can also immunise our brains against the effects of urban stress.

    Despite its reputation as a concrete jungle, London has over 3,000 green spaces and eight million trees within its radius, so we are never far from flora and fauna. Lunch breaks and walks to work are ideal opportunities to reconnect with nature and restore equilibrium with our mindfulness practice.

    We can cultivate mindfulness by tuning our awareness to the sensory experiences of nature around us: the sound of bird song, the breeze on our skin, the warmth of the sunlight on our face.

    Calmer commutes

    Many of us feel the uncomfortable nature of commuting on overcrowded buses and trains. It can leave us energetically drained and mentally disconnected before the day has even begun. There's a compulsion to switch off and autopilot our way through the experience, but that only leads to a sense of disconnect from the present moment.

    We can find a new perspective on our commute by incorporating simple mindfulness practices into the journey. Giving our attention to the subtle movements of the train or bus and letting these sensations fill our awareness can bring us back to the here and the now.

    By focusing on the breath, we can create internal space where we may be lacking it externally. When the mind wanders, as it has a natural inclination to do, we can gently bring the attention back to the breath.

    Silent sanctuaries

    Spaces and places that promote calm are hard to come by in the city, but they do exist. Churches, museums, libraries and bookshops all provide a welcome respite from the city's soundtrack of sirens and traffic. No belief system is required to enjoy a church's space. We can simply appreciate it for what it is - a tranquil environment untouched by technology.

    Moments spent in these types of spaces are important to our mindfulness practice as the emphasis is on the experience of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. We can embrace them for the opportunity they bring to slow down and breathe.

    City challenges

    From the roar of the rush-hour, to the tedium of queuing, everyday irritations are an inescapable part of city living. But what if we could use these sensory experiences as prompts to be mindful? As challenging as that may seem, these experiences present the possibility to grow and strengthen our practice. The next time you find yourself waiting in line, embrace it as a reminder to stay present. If feelings of irritation arise, acknowledge them with non-judgement, notice how they are impacting you and let them fall away.

     

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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.

     

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  • Finding Your Inner Balance in an Unpredictable World

    centre

    In this uncertain world, we try our best to find routine and predictability, hoping that these things will make life easier. However, life isn’t so great at cooperating with our plans! Life is messy, so what can we do?

     

    Using mindfulness to find some inner balance can help us cope when life gets hectic with the ups and downs life throws at us. Finding our centre can help us navigate this ever-changing world with more ease.

    The first step is to recognise the beliefs and ideas we have about how our experience ought to be. For example, when something painful happens and we react with thoughts of ‘this isn’t fair’ or ‘this isn’t right’, we can use these as prompts to check in with our beliefs. What we may find is that our beliefs stem from simply wanting to avoid pain or discomfort.

    The next step is to understand that this is completely natural. No one wants to suffer. In this way, we are the same as every living being, and we can use this understanding to give ourselves, and others, some compassion.

    Seeing these reactions as universal, and not due to some personal failing, we can then loosen a little around these beliefs. We can’t shake them off entirely of course, but they may become a bit less heavy.

    Once we recognise and understand what’s going on in our minds, we can then take some practical steps to find our centre. By ‘centre’ we mean that deeper part of you; the part that is more spacious and therefore more accommodating to what is currently happening.

    You could try thinking of it as stepping out of the beliefs and ideas that make life painful (i.e. this is wrong, this is bad, this shouldn’t be), and into a wider space, the space that exists between those thoughts. Here in this space there is room for what actually ‘is’, and it is always there for us to take refuge in.

    How we connect with that centre may vary depending on what works best for us personally. We may find that simply focussing on the breath is enough to get us there. Or we may need to take some time away from everyone else to meditate for a while.

    Perhaps we might find our centre through mindful movement practices, or by going for a walk outside and getting some fresh air. Maybe it’s by placing our hand on our heart. Whatever it is, it will be something that reconnects you with this moment right here. This is where you’ll find your balance again.

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