• Eat, Drink and Be Merry (Mindfully)!

    smell
    If you’re trying to stay healthy, the Christmas season can bring some stress. When we’re catching up with friends and family, and attending work parties, we’ll likely be offered countless mince pies, cakes and chocolates, plus plenty of glasses of alcohol.

     

    Usually we might eat and drink too much in December and then try to make up for it in January with a strict diet. Yet we could instead use a little mindfulness this season so that we can enjoy all the tasty things without feeling guilty, bloated and groggy afterwards. Christmas wouldn’t be the same without the food and drink after all.

    The smell of mulled wine, the taste of spiced fruit, and that sound of lifting the lid off of a box of chocolates are nostalgic elements of the season. We probably have many warm memories of these things, and so we should feel free to enjoy them!

    By mindfully savouring these treats we’ll not only enjoy them more fully, but we’ll also be less likely to overindulge and make ourselves sick.

     

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    The key to mindful eating (and drinking) is to slow down and fully engage all the senses, and what better time to do this than at Christmas! When we eat a slice of Christmas cake we can savour the smell of mixed spices, and take a moment to think of the time it took to soak the fruit in the alcohol, then to mix it with the cake batter, and then to decorate it, all so that we can enjoy eating it in this moment.

    Even if we’re out drinking, we can apply the same attention, savouring the warmth of our mulled wine or the bubbles in our champagne; we can mindfully enjoy getting a little light-headed and merry, and of course we can also savour the company of our friends and loved ones.

    It’s usually only when we do these things mindlessly that we end up regretting them; we knock back too much wine or overeat without noticing, and are then left with all the bad feelings that come after, like a hangover or a stomach ache. But by being present while we eat and drink, we can monitor our feelings as we go and will know when we’ve had enough.

    So this Christmas don’t be afraid of mince pies and bubbly; be present and make precious memories of sharing them with friends!

     

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  • We Don’t Have to Wait until January for a Fresh Start

    stone

    Christmas is fast approaching, with the promise of New Year’s resolutions hot on its tail. We collectively buy into the idea that January 1st marks the time for fresh starts, however we don’t really have to wait until after Christmas to start anew. Each and every moment gives us that opportunity. Including this one right now!

    Change rarely happens in one fell swoop. Lasting changes are made up of lots of little choices; lots of little moments that when added up together become powerful. By postponing change, or imagining that somehow the start of a new year will mean the start of a new personality in which we’ll have more willpower and drive, we often set ourselves up for failure. It’s all too big; too much to tackle all at once.

    Instead, let’s remember that in each moment we have the chance to make a different choice. Becoming more present and grounded in our day-to-day lives makes us more able to choose not to have that cigarette right now, to have the healthy option for dinner, or to go out for a run – because we feel like it, not because we’ve trapped ourselves in a big commitment. And then we can just take each moment as it comes. Maybe the next time we want to binge on junk food, we might just eat a little less or more slowly. Maybe we won’t exercise every day, but if we’re present enough to enjoy the feeling it gives us afterwards we’ll want to do it more often. If we’re in our heads, dreaming of an ideal version of ourselves that we hope will miraculously occur come the new year, then we aren’t being present in all of those little moments that really matter. For it’s in those moments, these moments happening right now, that we make more conscious choices. This way, we can change in an organic way that suits our current abilities. And we’re far less likely to feel like ‘failures’ in February!

     

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  • “They Might Have Guns But We Have Flowers.”

    paris2

    In a recent interview at the scene of the Baraclan attacks in Paris, one French father shared a beautiful message of hope with his young son.

    In the short clip, the son says that they will have to leave their home because of the terrorists. After the father’s reassurance that they won’t be leaving, and that France is their home, his son pleads, “They have guns, they can shoot us because they’re really really mean daddy.” His father then replies, “It’s okay, they might have guns but we have flowers.”

    “But flowers don’t do anything,” says the son.

    “Of course they do, look,” says the father, pointing towards them, “everyone is putting flowers. It’s to fight against the guns.”

    “It’s to protect?”

    “Exactly.”

    “And the candles too?”

    “It’s to remember the people who are gone yesterday.”

    “The flowers and candles are here to protect us,” says the son.

    There’s a short pause as the reporter, the father and the son smile warmly at each other, and then the reporter asks the boy, “Do you feel better now?”

    “Yes, I feel better,” says the boy.

    Some may argue that this exchange was ‘soft’ or naïve, because of course flowers and candles cannot protect us from bullets and bombs. And yet, these things can protect us from the hatred and fear that terrorist attacks inevitably cause. Expressions of love and unity protect us from closing our hearts; they protect us from disconnecting from each other.

    Mindfulness practice teaches us how to redirect our focus; away from dwelling endlessly on the men with guns and towards the acts of courage and love which have been shown not just in Paris, but also in Beirut and other parts of the world. That’s not to say that we ignore the tragedy of what has happened and that we should not educate ourselves on the spread Islamic Extremism and do whatever we can to prevent it from spreading. But it is helpful to consciously notice the continuing goodness of people too. People like Adel Termos, who selflessly tackled a suicide bomber to the ground in Beirut, thus saving countless others from the explosion.

    Thankfully few of us will ever face the terror of gunshots. Yet we all face the fear those gunshots send echoing across the world. If we can mindfully look to the goodness of people, to the flowers and candles, to the kindness expressed in the face of horror, then we have not lost.

    “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people helping.’” Fred Rogers

     

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  • Hygge: Cultivated Cosiness

    mug
    There are many words from other languages that we don’t have an equivalent word for in English. Like the German word ‘schadenfreude’, which means to take pleasure from the misfortune of others, or the Spanish word ‘sombremésa’ which is used to describe the time spent after a meal, talking to the people you shared the meal with. Although we are familiar with these emotions or situations, somehow having a singular word for them can make them more tangible; naming such things can help us become more mindful of them.

    The Danish and Norwegians have a concept known as ‘hygge’ (heurgha). It’s used to describe things or situations which give us a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. ‘Hygge’ is an integral part of Danish life, and so it may come as no surprise that Denmark is considered to be one of the happiest countries in the world.

    My Danish friend, Daniel says: “You can make something hyggelig; you tidy your home, you bring cake for your class, you light candles, etc. And something can be hyggelig too; an old house, or a bench in a park, or a campfire... It's very ingrained in the language and social interaction/tradition but we're also very relaxed about it in the everyday. It can range from the very small to the big things.”

    So how can we use mindfulness to help us bring more hygge into our lives?

    One way is to bring awareness to what makes us feel nice and cosy, and then to consciously incorporate more of those things into our lives. For example, if fairy lights make us feel happy, we can hang some in our bedroom, or if we haven’t seen our friends for a while we could invite them to our home for a candlelit meal. Or we can just set aside some time to snuggle up under our duvet and read a good book.

    Another way is to be more mindful of the hyggelig things that are already around us! We can, for example, slow down and savour a lovely cup of tea, take time to enjoy a beautiful scene, or delight in the warmth of a knitted jumper or blanket.

    How do you cultivate cosiness in your life? Leave a comment sharing your best hygge moments!

     

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  • Can We Practice Falling in Love?

    mindfulness

    If we look at the phrase ‘to fall in love’ we’ll notice that it implies an effortlessness. We don’t think of it as a ‘pushing’, ‘forcing’ or ‘creating’; it’s a falling, a letting go. If we think of the things that we are in love with, whether it’s a partner, a close friend, a pet, a career, or even a pastime, we’re likely to find that we did not choose to love them. Rather, there developed a love which we have allowed ourselves to be open to.

    This makes love a rather beautiful and precious thing. We love things not because they are perfect (after all, what in life is truly perfect?), or because we have made a logical decision to love, but because we’ve tapped into a connection or alignment with that thing in that moment.

    That feeling of falling in love can be fleeting. Perhaps this is because it requires a presence that we often don’t feel we have time for, or at least don’t make the time for in our busy lives. Even in long term relationships, where one would assume both partners are consistently ‘in love’, there are in fact moments when you find yourself falling back in love again after having become disconnected. This usually happens in moments of letting go of expectations, resentments, and narrowed ideas of how things should or shouldn’t be. When we’re just ‘there’ with that person, connecting heart to heart, that’s when we find ourselves falling into love.

    So can we practice falling in love? It actually seems a lot like practicing mindfulness. With love comes acceptance and compassion, and a gentle tenderness. Perhaps love is not that dissimilar to that state of presence we so often talk about in mindfulness. If we make a conscious decision to stay open to life, maybe we can practice falling in love with a beautiful view, a bittersweet song, the dog barking in the street, a stranger who smiles at us, an inconvenient change in the weather, an old friend, a new date, or the partner we’ve spent many years with.

     

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  • Applying Mindfulness in Sport

    SportsWritten by Oliver Dixon

    Whilst the hectic, high pressure environment of professional sport might seem like the last place you would expect mindfulness to be utilised, the practice is actually becoming increasingly popular among professional organisations, particularly in the US. Michael Gervais uses it with the Seattle Seahawks, George Mumford has used mindfulness with numerous championship winning NBA teams including the Lakers and Bulls, and Novak Djokovic, who is considered to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time, has described mindfulness as the secret of his success. Here we look at several ways that mindfulness can be applied in sport.

    Improved Focus

    A major issue in sport which leads to poor performance is misplaced focus. This can be caused by ruminating on previous mistakes (e.g. a missed shot), or trying to predict the future. An example of this is when athletes are said to have ‘choked’; surrendering a lead because they felt the pressure, and more than likely have run through hundreds of possible scenarios in their mind for how the rest of the match could pan out.

     

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    Applying techniques such as mindful breathing can help keep you grounded in the present moment. Being more able to move on from mistakes or stop yourself thinking too far ahead ensures that you can stay fully focused on the next play.

    Mindfulness teaches us to become aware of the thoughts we have, not in a judgemental way but to simply recognise and observe them. This awareness is the first step in recognising what you are mentally saying to yourself during sport, and the results might be surprising. You’ll often find just how critical you are; comments you wouldn’t say to other people. When these thoughts are illuminated by awareness it then becomes easier to let them go, or at the very least not believe in them as truth.

    Novak Djokovic commented, “I used to freeze up whenever I made a mistake... Now when I blow a serve or shank a forehand, I still get those flashes of self-doubt but I know how to handle them: I acknowledge the negative thoughts and let them slide by, focusing on the moment.”

    Self-Regulation

    The practice of mindfulness helps us cultivate self-regulation of our emotions. The ability to react to another player’s action without emotion is often the difference between a wise decision and one that loses the game. Sport can be a hugely stressful environment, with so many factors being out of your control, and mindfulness practices have been shown to greatly reduce stress.

    Mindfulness also teaches you how to connect your mind and body, through exercises such as progressive muscle relaxation. This heightened mind-body connection means you can be more attuned to signals your body is giving off during sport. For example, you might notice when the red mist begins to descend earlier than before by recognising stress and tension in the muscles, or become aware of a possible muscle injury before it becomes serious.

    Visualisation

    One of the most powerful techniques in sport psychology is visualisation. By picturing your next shot or game, you can plan responses to different scenarios. However, if practiced incorrectly it can lead to negative results. Incorrect use of visualisation usually occurs due to a lack of control of the images you create, and can cause visualisations to be ineffective or even negative. For example, excessively visualising what could go wrong would likely result in a loss of confidence or cause anxiety. Mindfulness can help to increase the level of control you can have over your visualisation, through quieting the mind and allowing you to focus on only relevant information. It can also help you utilise all five senses to increase the vividness of the image, increasing the effectiveness of the exercise.

    So next time you’re playing sport and you miss an easy chance, or make a mistake, rather than let negative self-talk and rumination distract you from your game, take a deep breath, centre yourself in the present moment and carry on enjoying the game!

     

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  • Trying Out Mindfulness with Teenagers

    Surfboard Square
    Written by Gaia Martinelli-Bunzl

    Adolescence Is a Challenging Time

    Being a teenager can be tough. From exam stress, to discovering one’s identity and sometimes tricky relationships with parents and peers, there are a myriad of reasons why young people find it hard to cope with their emotions. Along with all the social pressures of adolescence, teenagers also have to cope with their biggest brain growth spurt since infancy. The teenage brain is learning how to grabble with impulse control, how to read and process emotions and how to start making decisions, whilst at the same time experiencing a surge of new oxytocin receptors which can result in a new, intense self-consciousness (many of us will certainly remember that!).

    As a teenager, I remember the constant moods swings, peaks of anger (usually directed towards my parents), and acute stress over tests and exams.  I would long for the day high school would finish and when my life would ‘finally begin’. My studies were completely academic, and no one ever taught me about how my mind worked or how to deal with all these new emotions and onslaught of thoughts.

    The Magic Art of Mindfulness

     Fast forward to my early twenties. I was lucky enough to be introduced to mindfulness by my mother, and my life completely changed. I no longer felt like I was the victim of my thoughts and emotions. I learned to embrace and accept myself with more patience and kindness. I can truly say that there was a before and after mindfulness. In fact, I’m not sure how I survived life before it.

    Motivated by this personal experience, I began to think about how different my choices and experiences in life would have been had I learned mindfulness at a younger age. And I became convinced that all children and adolescents should learn it as soon as possible to help shape their lives in a positive way.

    Teaching mindfulness to teenagers is an incredible honour. I love being able to empower them with tools which help them become more aware of their emotions and thoughts, and how to deal with difficulties in a more skilful way.

    Get a Taste of Mindfulness with this Simple Practice

    Here is a simple practice to give a flavour of mindfulness to adolescents. This exercise helps to expand their awareness of their experience and notice what is happening in their mind and body, helping them to become more present.

    A parent, friend or sibling can guide it, by reading the following instructions and pausing for a few moments in between each sentence.

    Instructions:

    Begin by sitting in a comfortable, upright position. Let the shoulders relax, and have your hands gently resting on your lap.

    Let your eyes close or gently lower your gaze.

    Notice one in breath and one out breath.

    Notice where in your body you feel your breath the most.

    Notice your feet touching the floor.

    Notice where your body touches the chair.

    Notice your hands touching.

    Notice one in breath and one out breath.

    Notice how your mind feels right now.

    Remember something that happened yesterday.

    Bring your mind back to right now.

    Notice one in breath and one out breath.

    Imagine something that might happen tomorrow.

    Bring your mind back to right now.

    Notice one in breath and one out breath.

    Bring your attention to your right foot.

    Bring your attention to your left leg.

    Bring your attention to your shoulders.

    Bring your attention to your left arm.

    Bring your attention to behind your eyes.

    Bring your attention to your ears.

    Notice one in breath and one out breath.

    Notice how your mind feels right now.

    Bring your attention to the sounds in the room.

    Open your eyes.

    You can stretch your body if you feel like it.

    What did you notice when you did this practice?

    Was it hard to focus your attention on the different parts of your body?

     

    This practice is adapted from the Mindful Schools Curriculum.

     

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  • Weaving Mindfulness Into Your Day

    Cup of Tea

     

    People often complain that they don’t have the time to practise mindfulness. To find that dedicated slot in the day to set aside. But there's an easy way to practice more reguarly.

     

    Think about three things you do each day. Like brushing your teeth, being in nature and having lunch. Then, all you need to do is link each activity to a mindfulness practice.

    We've added a few examples below to get you started.

     

    What other combinations can you weave into your day?

     

    Nature + Mindfulness

    Every time you go for a walk become fully present for a couple of moments. Connect with all your senses: smell the air, feel the wind on your skin and just walk.

    When you notice your mind going into thinking, just gently return to the present moment experience of simply being in nature.

     

    Mindful Lunch

     

    Lunch + Gratitude

    Before or during each meal spend 20 seconds consciously feeling grateful for having food on your plate.

    Bring to mind where the food comes from and how lucky you are to live in a country where there is enough food. Stay with the feeling of gratitude and notice how it makes you feel.

     

     

    Brushing Your Teeth + Something Good

    In the evening when you brush your teeth, make a habit of bringing to mind one good think that happened on that day.

    Maybe you had a wonderful conversation with a friend or someone gave you a gift.

    Whatever it is, close your eyes, bring the situation to mind and stay with that mental image for some time.

     

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  • Exploring Fear with Compassion

    Compassion

    This blog post is based on a talk by Tara Brach, titled ‘Transforming Two Fears: FOF and FOMO’. Click here for the full audio.

    When we experience fear, sometimes the last thing we feel we want to do is meet it head on. Our habitual response may be to distract ourselves, or try to ignore it. However, by doing this, we miss out on the opportunities for freedom and growth that fear offers.

    If we can investigate our fear with compassion and openness, we can move through it and beyond, to a more spacious place – not a place where the fear ceases to exist, but where it can safely co-exist with other aspects of our humanity.

    In her talk ‘Transforming Two Fears: FOF and FOMO’, Tara Brach explains two common types of fear: fear of failure (FOF) and fear of missing out (FOMO), and what we can do to meet these fears with kind awareness, curiosity and acceptance.

    Fear of Failure

    This can encompass many different fears, not just the obvious ones that may come to mind. Fear of failing in our career, education or relationships is common, and something we all share. So is the fear of not being able to cope with certain situations, for example ‘How would I cope if I became unwell?’

    There are probably countless other situations that we may have imagined, and consequently worried about, namely about our ability to successfully meet those challenges. Fear of rejection, or of not being good enough also fit this category. Tara describes it as ‘fear of deficiency’; a feeling that we’re simply not prepared or equipped for what the future may bring.

    These fears keep us alert to everything that might go wrong, in either our immediate or distant futures. They come from the primal part of our brain, which simply wants to avoid harm. It’s tempting to believe that by analysing everything that could go wrong, we will be more prepared.

    And sometimes this may be true. But usually what happens is that we become disconnected from the present moment, which is where our resiliency and strength truly exists.

    Fear of Missing Out

    Fear of missing out is somewhat different. It’s that nagging fear that we’re missing out on pleasure or gratification of some kind, that our lives could or should be different somehow, that we could have more, that things could be better.

    This fear creates a feeling of dissatisfaction with our lives. Or it can create a fearful sense of urgency, that we ‘must’ take this particular action now, otherwise we might miss out on an opportunity forever.

    Advertisers regularly take advantage of this shared fear of ours, promoting limited time offers, and encouraging material competitiveness with our peers, for example. But we may also experience this fear in relation to things such as finding love, having children, or losing our youth.

    Investigating Fear Through Meditation

    Tara Brach offers two reflective meditations to help us meet these two distinct fears, with honesty, acceptance and kindness. After all, these are fears that we all experience. Although we often believe they are a personal failing on our part, they are in fact a shared experience across all of humanity, and even other species too!

    Reflecting on the Fear of Failure 

    The first step of widening your identity – not being caught in the cocoon of fear – is to just investigate. Just to notice it, witness it,” says Tara. “So you might bear witness, without judgement, and just ask yourself, ‘So where do I become afraid of falling short?’

    With a sense of openness and curiosity, we can explore the kinds of thoughts and memories that come to mind when we reflect on our fears of failure, rejection or not being enough. Can we think of one particular habitual fear that comes to us time and time again?

    Rather than trying to dance around it and avoid it, take some time to really meet it within yourself. Notice the reactions it triggers, the typical line of defence you take against it. And rather than seeing it as your personal fear, Tara suggests viewing it as ‘the’ fear – one of the archetypal fears that all humans experience. How does doing this with a sense of kindness affect that fear?

    Reflecting on the Fear of Missing Out

    Now with the same openness, we can feel into the distinctly different fear of missing out; the stress or anxiety we experience from feeling there is something pleasurable or gratifying to be had that we don’t yet have. What feels particularly important to us to have right now? The range of experiences this could include is vast, from not wanting to miss out on the latest piece of technology, to not wanting to miss out on achieving an enlightening insight. It could be that we’re frightened of never achieving the level of wealth or success that we crave, or of not finding ‘the one’.

    The less we feel that our needs are being met in that area of life, the more intense our fear of missing out on that thing will be. Our desire or fixation on what we don’t yet have can cut us off from the present moment. By exploring our FOMO, we may notice that shift, from a mindful state to a more narrowed, restricted view. But again, this is not a personal fear of our own creation, it is ‘the’ fear of missing out, arising in us as it arises in all of us.

    How does it feel in the mind, heart and body? Tara reminds us that, “You’re bearing witness to how this human self is when caught in this conditioning. So bring some kindness to it.

    Using Fear as a Portal

    “If we deepen our attention when we’re caught in the fear of failure, when we’re caught in that fear of rejection… the more we discover a kind of timeless belonging that takes us beyond that fear. And with FOMO, the more we get in touch with that fear of missing out and that wanting for gratification, the more we discover that what we wanted was always here. And we tap into an absolute infinite flow of creativity, of dynamism.”

    So by meeting these fears with attention and compassion, we can use them as portals to move beyond, into greater spaciousness. Our fears will still be there, and will still catch us. Yet by mindfully greeting them each time we notice them arise, we can become less and less contained by them. We can stop basing so much of our identity around constantly trying to subdue these fears by using outside sources, such as money or achievements, and instead tap into something deeper within.

     

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  • The 11 'Dangers' of Mindfulness Meditation

    dangers

    Mindfulness meditation is a wonderful tool, supported by a growing wealth of evidence which demonstrates the many benefits of the practice. However, recently there have been a few articles in the press which have highlighted the 'dangers' of meditation.

    Therefore, it seems a good time to look deeper into what could be considered meditation dangers, and how we can not only address them but also learn from them.

    On our mindfulness journeys as practitioners and teachers, we have certainly all encountered hurdles to our practice. Some of us might have unconsciously used mindfulness to force positive feelings, others might have used the technique to avoid certain situations (see below: 'Chasing a 'Feel Good' State' and 'Meditation as Avoidance').

    Most of us, however, would probably not say that by doing so we've put ourselves in 'danger'. On the contrary: If we have, for example, used mindfulness to feel good, we might have brought to awareness our tendency to chase happiness instead of trying to be with whatever presents itself to us in this very moment. Bringing this to light through practising mindfulness will then help us break free from this pattern. This potential 'danger' that we encounter during our practice might turn out to be a wonderful gift that helps us deepen our practice, and understand ourselves better, thus helping us grow.

    Here is a list of some of the common 'dangers' that we might encounter in our practice. They might help to shine a light on some mindfulness meditators patterns.

    1. Abandoning All Other Coping Mechanisms

    After practising mindfulness (even for only a couple of weeks), many people get really passionate about the practice. But we should not forget that there also exist many other great techniques that can help us cope with life's challenges. For example, sometimes when we feel down or nervous, we might not always choose to meditate, but rather go for a run or a swim. Or we might want to meet up with a friend or watch a funny movie. There are many ways to cope with the stresses of everyday life, so let's use them all!

    2. Chasing a 'Feel Good' State

    Many of us have experienced wonderful states when practising mindfulness meditation. We may suddenly feel complete peacefulness or have a great insight into the nature of our mind or life. Such states do happen during meditation and when they do, it certainly feels good. However, the primary aim of mindfulness is not about chasing these states or insights. Mindfulness instead is (most of the time) simply about maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment. Being attached to any experience can cause unhappiness, whether it's good or bad. But the funny thing is that the more we accept the simplicity of our moment-to-moment experience, the more often we will naturally be present and feel good when we meditate.

    3. Being Mindful of Everything All the Time

    In mindfulness we learn to pay attention to whatever arises in the present moment, on purpose and non-judgmentally. Yet, this does not mean that we have to pay attention to everything. For example, if we feel a very strong pain in our back, we do not have to dive right into that pain and explore it for twenty minutes. Or, let's say, we suddenly feel very sad during meditation - we do not have to stay with that sadness until we cry.

    A huge part of mindfulness is about cultivating compassion and care for ourselves. So if we do feel terrible pain in our back due to chronic tension, we can choose to meditate lying down or practice mindful movement. Or we may choose to shift our attention away from our painful back to our toes or the sounds around us. In short: meditation doesn't mean that we have to torture ourselves by focusing on unpleasant experiences. Instead we always have the choice in how we wish to approach our pain!

    4. Over-Analysis

    Some of us have the tendency to analyse our issues, character, family, friends, work colleagues or life in general. If one has such a tendency, we might easily start to analyse everything that happens when we meditate. True, great insight may arise when we practise mindfulness. However, mindfulness is not about putting a certain amount of time aside each day to silently analyse. Instead it is about developing the skill to notice when we've drifted off into analysis and then chose to gently come back to the present moment by reconnecting with a sensory anchor such as the breath, sounds or bodily sensations.

    5. Self-Improvement Project

    Many meditators turn their meditation practice into a rigorous self-improvement project. We may wish to become this eternally present, accepting, compassionate, grateful and enlightened being. This can actually have the opposite effect. If we have such high goals, we might become overly critical of ourselves when we do not live up to our high standards. Instead, we can remind ourselves that just because we meditate does not mean we have to be a 'better' human being in any way. All that we might become is just a bit more aware and accepting of our everyday humanness, and that's okay.

    6. Detaching from Painful Thoughts & Feelings

    In mindfulness meditation we practise noticing when our minds have drifted off into the past or future, and then gently bringing our attention back to the present moment using a sensory anchor.

    Mindfulness is, however, by no means about learning to control our minds or to push away or suppress our uncomfortable thoughts or feelings. Rather, it is about maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment. It's about 'being with' whatever is arising in the moment. If we notice that we've started using mindfulness to forcefully avoid certain states of mind then we may be on the wrong track, and it won't work long term anyway. What you resist will persist.

     

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    7. Too Much Practice (Too Soon)

    When we first start meditating, we might immediately fall in love with mindfulness (also called "the honeymoon phase"). Having a history of excessive worrying, analysis or rumination, we feel so happy to have found some peace of mind. What a relief! Often what happens in such cases is that we do too much too soon. Maybe we decide a month after our first meditation session that we will embark on a rigorous ten-day silent meditation retreat. This might work for some of us, but for others it might be overwhelming.

    Don't forget that a great part of mindfulness is about being kind and caring with ourselves. After all, we wouldn't run a marathon after having run for half an hour every few days, and maybe we'll even decide that we don't need or want to run a marathon at all!

    8. Over-identification

    Some of us over-identify with being a mindfulness meditator. Everything becomes about mindfulness: We join every mindfulness group out there, read every book on mindfulness, redecorate our flat in a mindful way, only want to have friends who practice mindfulness, etc. We might even become self-righteous about our lifestyle.

    While mindfulness indeed is a beautiful practice, we need to remember that the practice is about accepting ourselves and others as we are and not getting attached to any bundle of beliefs. Otherwise we might alienate ourselves from our non-mindful friends and family who might not really get what this is all about, or who simply have no desire to meditate - which is totally fine too! Not everybody in this world has to become a meditator. And the best way to share mindfulness is by being mindful yourself.

    9. Meditation as Avoidance

    Some mindfulness practitioners have noticed that they might have used meditation sometimes to avoid certain things. Let's say we feel down and lonely and it might be good to go out and meet a friend. But we cannot find the energy to leave our home. So instead we then decide to stay at home and meditate. There's nothing wrong if we do that once in a while. But staying at home and meditating all the time will probably not help us in becoming less sad and lonely.

    10. Doing it without Proper Instructions or Teachers

    When we learn to meditate, it's advisable to do it with a well-trained teacher. Sometimes, people who start meditation, for example, think that mindfulness is another relaxation technique. While relaxation might be a by-product of meditation, it is not the aim.

    Someone new to meditation might think that they can have a completely thought-free mind when meditating. If that does not occur, they may feel frustrated and think that they're not a 'good' meditator, or that meditation is not for them. In such cases it is good to have a well-trained mindfulness teacher to support the learning process. Especially because it is not advised to start with mindfulness when one is, for example, in the middle of a depressive episode or suffering from the loss of a loved one.

    A well-trained teacher is aware of that and will find out before a course whether it's the right time to embark on a course or whether it might be better to wait for a while until the person feels more stable. Meditation can also bring up unexpected thoughts and emotions, some of which could be challenging. So it's useful (and comforting) to have an experienced teacher to help us through that process.

    11. Suppression of our Needs

    Although acceptance is a key component, meditation is not about blind acceptance. In mindfulness one learns to be curious and accepting about one's emotions and life in general. This is a beautiful skill to develop. However, this does not mean that we need to accept everything and never take action if we need to do so. If someone, for example, crosses our boundaries and makes us angry, we should not simply use the mindfulness skills to accept the action of this person and the resulting anger and be passive. Instead we can use our mindfulness skills to notice that we are angry, pause and breathe and then let them know how we feel.

    Mindfulness is by no means about suppressing our needs and enduring everything as a practice in acceptance! It is more about empowering us to feel more centred within ourselves, so that we can make decisions with greater consciousness, clarity and self-compassion, and sometimes that will involve taking action.

     

    Join the next 8-Week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course (MBSR) or 8-Week Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy Course (MBCT) and start learning about meditation with the guidance of a qualified teacher. 

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