• Random Acts Of Mindfulness

    Some of the most simple activities - from having a beer to taking a shower - can give us opportunities to develop our practice. Another way to develop mindful awareness is to bring a bit of the ‘random’ into our lives and see if it gives us a new perspective...

    Now, we aren’t suggesting that you should stop that daily shower (those close to you will not thank you for that!) but by doing things differently or trying something new, we can naturally become more mindful and present. So, using the shower example, you could use a different hand to grab the soap than you do normally, take a bath, or even take a short, brisk walk before you start your morning routine.

    Mark Williams and Danny Penman, in their bestselling book ‘Mindfulness: a Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World', suggest these ‘habit releasers’ as a way of cultivating our innate curiosity and awakening the ‘child’s mind’ in us. We open up the opportunity to see the world with fresh eyes, finding joy in unexpected places. By breaking free from tradition, and the daily routines we go through (often unconsciously), we can also potentially free ourselves from any negative thinking patterns we might be stuck in.

    Even tiny changes can make a big difference. Here are a few suggestions…

    Change up the commute: Take a new route to work or to somewhere else you go to regularly. You may discover a whole new part of town (or, admittedly, you may get very lost as I did when I was trying it the other day!).

    Play musical chairs: If you have a set place that you sit every day, whether in the office, on the bus or at the dinner table, try somewhere else and see what the world looks like from your new perspective!

    Talk to a stranger: Instead of buying your groceries and counting out your money in silence, why not strike up a conversation with the person on the check-out or behind you in the queue, or the person sitting next to you on the bus? In London, we can see the same people every day without ever even acknowledging their existence. Who knows what you might have in common?

    Go for a wander: As Penman and Williams say, having a good walk, “can put the world in perspective and soothe your frayed nerves.” Even if you’re walking a route you go regularly, see if you can see it with new eyes. Take in the little details, the sounds and the smells. Feel the sensations of walking in your feet and your legs, and the air on your face.

    Do a random act of kindness: Bake a cake for an elderly neighbour, stop and have a conversation with a homeless person, send a handwritten letter to an old friend, leave a good book that you’ve finished reading on the bus with a note in it to whoever finds it... There are countless ways we can do something for someone else, just for the sheer joy of giving.

    You could choose a different habit releaser each week, try it every day and note how it makes you feel, whether it brings up new thoughts or emotions. Who knows what exciting new landscapes await!

     

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  • Six Ways To Make Your Day More Mindful

    Think about the last time you had a shower. Did you breathe in and smell the fragrant scent of the soap? Did you enjoy the sparkle of the bubbles, the prisms of light in the foam? Did you luxuriate in the warmth of the water as it enveloped your skin?

    Or did you furiously lather the shampoo into your hair while planning the meeting you had later on that morning?

    We spend so much of our days lost in thought, hurtling around from one activity to another, and often trying to do several different things at the same time. This frantic busyness is the cause of so much of our unhappiness and anxiety, and the common call of the Londoner - “there just aren’t enough hours in the day!”

    With mindfulness, we have the chance to really slow down and appreciate everyday activities with new eyes, new senses. And every time we do this, we’re applying what we learn in our formal meditation practice (the time we take just to sit or lie and practice meditation) to our everyday activities. The formal practice is about learning to pay non-judgemental and kind attention to whatever is going on in our mind, body and the world around us, moment by moment. We can then take this sharpened attention into our everyday lives, bringing a rich awareness to our experience of the world and the ways in which we interact with it.

    Our lives offer countless opportunities for this type of everyday mindfulness practice. Here are six suggestions to get you started:

    1. Waking up

    When you wake up, try keeping your eyes closed for a few minutes and focusing on your breathing and on the sensations around you - the softness of your duvet, the smell of the linen, distant sounds from outside the window. Just make sure to set your alarm to ‘snooze’ in case you fall back to sleep!

    2. Eating and drinking

    Instead of wolfing down your dinner in front of the TV, you could try cutting out all other distractions and really focusing in on the food - looking at the colours and shapes, smelling the aromas, tasting each layer of flavour and savouring every mouthful. You can even do the same with a pint of beer or a lovely cup of tea!

    3. In the queue

    While you’re waiting for something - at the bank, the doctors’, the bus stop - you have the perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness. Take the time to be attentive to your breathing and any emotions or thoughts you may be having - even if they’re ones of frustration. Let it all be. The beauty of this practice is that rather than seeing this as ‘dead’ time, you start to appreciate this time as a little breathing space amidst the busyness of the day.

    4. Answering the phone

    When the phone rings or you get a text message notification, see if you can leave it a few seconds before picking up. Notice the sound and the effect on your body (does your heart rate speed up, any tension?), take a conscious breath and then go get the phone.

    5. In conversation

    When we’re ‘listening’, we’re often not actually listening to the other person at all but to our own internal stream of thought, maybe forming judgements, worrying about how you’re coming across or considering what to say next. Next time you’re in conversation, try being truly attentive to the person who’s speaking and focusing on what they are trying to communicate, both through words and through body language, without judgement and with a willingness to understand their point of view.

    6. At work

    However busy you are at work, you can take the time to take a few conscious breaths throughout the day. You could try setting yourself reminders on your computer, maybe at hourly intervals, to prompt yourself to pause and bring your attention to your breathing. Even just a few seconds can make a huge difference, giving you the chance to slow down and reconnect with the present moment, take in more oxygen and trigger your body’s relaxation response. The rest of your day will be much more productive!

    It can be helpful to introduce these mindful practices gradually into your daily routines. You could start just by trying to have a truly mindful shower each morning; then, when you get used to that, you could add something else until eventually much of your day could be spent in a kind of focused, highly-attentive meditative state!

    As well as bringing some calm to your day, you may well start finding enjoyment and wonder in things you may have taken for granted before. As Jan Chozen-Bays, MD says in her book Mindful Eating:

    “When we use mindful eyes, everything is beautiful and everyone walks in beauty”

  • 3 Principles Of Mindful Emotional Eating

    You have two options in regard to emotional eating: you can try to eliminate it altogether or you can try to make better use of it by making emotional eating more conscious.

    3 Principles of Mindful Emotional Eating

    If becoming a mindful emotional eater is the goal you’d like to pursue, the following three principles will help you transition from mindlessly-reactive emotional eating to mindfully-conscious emotional eating in moderation:

    1) when eating to cope with emotions, accept emotional eating as a legitimate coping choice, not a coping failure;

    2) when eating to cope with emotions, follow a predictable eating ritual, with clear start and end points;

    3) when eating to cope with emotions, remember that emotional eating does not have to mean emotional overeating.

    Following these guidelines will help you approach emotional eating with a sense of control.

    Ritualize Emotional Eating

    Habits, routines and rituals offer a soothing, stabilizing sense of predictability and help us feel in control of the moment. Emotional eating episodes are often haphazard and unstructured. To help you rely less on food and more on the activity of eating during your emotional eating episode, I encourage you to ritualize and structure your emotional eating “protocol.”

    I encourage to always begin by stating to yourself (out loud or internally) that you are making a conscious choice to cope by eating and that in doing so, you are giving yourself a permission to not feel guilty or disgusted with yourself afterwards since emotional eating is, however imperfect, a viable form of self-care. Decide in advance not to judge yourself.

    Following this statement of intent and the permission to cope by eating, identify how you feel and what you are trying to cope with. You might follow this by stating your expectations of how you wish to feel after you eat. Then, consciously consider what you will eat and decide on a “dose.” Then, with mindfulness of the process, eat.

    Take your time to savor and appreciate the flavor of the food as well as the subtle changes in your state of mind and body. Pause to check to if you have attained a desired emotional state; if not, proceed with another serving and check again. When you feel you have attained a desired state (whether you use psychological or somatic/physiological markers for that), allow yourself a realization that you have once again been able to successfully self-soothe with food.

    Congratulate yourself on another coping success!

     

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  • The Only New Year’s Resolution You’ll Ever Need...

    Are you worried you might not have the willpower to keep your New Year resolutions this year? Sorry to be a downer, but you’re probably right! According to a study at the University of Hertfordshire, 78% of us fail to keep our New Year resolutions and are left feeling disappointed with ourselves.

    The problem is, we make these wild utopian promises to ourselves of making big changes in our lives with immediate effect. “From tomorrow, I’m not going to smoke another cigarette” or “From now on, no more fights with my mum”.

    When we slip up, we see it as confirmation that we just don’t have what it takes, that we’re not disciplined enough so we might as well give up. One fag becomes a relapse into chain smoking, and a little chocolate indulgence spurs a return to munching uncontrollably in front of the TV. “Oh well, there’s always next year…”, we say. Sound familiar?

    Unfortunately, it's not so easy to change old habits. Willpower isn't enough. We need mindfulness skillpower! But how do we develop that? One approach is called 'urge surfing’, and here’s how it works:

    Recognise: Imagine you’re sitting in front of the TV and suddenly crave a bar of chocolate. The first step in mindfulness is to simply become aware of such an urge, i.e. recognise it. You can even name it in your head: “Urge to eat a bar of chocolate”.

    Acknowledge: Most of us have been told that we ought to 'get rid' of such urges once they arise - control them, because they are bad. Or distract yourself by thinking of something else. Unfortunately our brains don't work that way. Research has shown that the more we resist something or try to make it go away, the more it will persist. Therefore, the second step is to simply acknowledge to urge to have a bar of chocolate. Allow to urge to be there.

    Investigate: Once you have acknowledged the urge to have that chocolate bar, investigate how this urge feels like in your body. Is it a tension in your chest, a watering mouth or a tickling sensation? Check in and find out for yourself. If you wish, you can even close your eyes during your investigation.

    Kind Surfing: While you are investigating the urge, just try to be with it for a few seconds, maybe even a minute. Surf the urge and while doing so, be kind to yourself. It's not easy to surf an urge, so do not expect too much from yourself too soon.

    Even if you only stick with the urge for half a minute and then go ahead and have that bar of chocolate anyway, you’ve still exercised that part of your brain and could be better equipped the next time an urge comes along, so well done!

    The more you observe your urges, the more mindful skillpower you will develop. Research has even shown that this skillpower is like a muscle in your brain that you can grow – just as you can grow your biceps in the gym. But as with the weights, don't expect to lift the heaviest weight the first time you go to the gym.

    Unfortunately, there is no quick fix, especially when it comes to our brains – just as our biceps, they need time to grow and change. So be patient and kind to yourself. It's all about training.

    The conclusion? Don't set yourself fixed goals as New Year resolutions that are doomed to failure. Instead, make the resolution a goal to develop mindful skill-power!

    One way to do this could be to join one of our courses in the New Year. The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) will help you develop your mindful awareness and a sense of balance.

     

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  • Have Yourself A Very Mindful Christmas!

    “Love the giver more than the gift.” - Brigham Young

    There’s nothing more likely to take the sparkle out of Christmas than family tensions. In many households, arguing on Christmas Day is as traditional as stuffing the turkey and entered into with equal gusto. According to research last year, the average British family will have at least five arguments on Christmas Day, with the first row at 10.13am.

    When you consider our sky-high expectations and the fevered build-up of excitement during the weeks leading up to Christmas, it’s not surprising we find it so difficult to keep the calm when the day finally arrives. When things really matter to us, it is typical to want to control them. When a bunch of people gets together, each with their own picture of how they want things to pan out, there’s bound to be friction and disappointment.

    Lovely though it is to spend time with our loved ones, those guys really know how to push our buttons (hell, they’ve installed them!) and we can have a tendency to fall back into mindless negative patterns in behaviour and communication that we’ve had since childhood. (Bedroom door slamming, bickering, fighting over the remote control or the last chocolate in the box - you name it!)

    So, how to have a more mindful Christmas with the family this year? Well, here are seven things to consider:

    • Be thoughtful: Ask your family what their plans are for the Christmas period and how they see you fitting in. Let them know what your plans are, including specific times and dates. Offer to help whoever’s in charge with the food preparation and if it’s obvious that they need support, just take the initiative and step in.
    • Accept them: Try to accept your family members just as they are. The more you try to change them or want them to behave differently, the more they’re going to feel pushed away from you. Try not to disagree outright with them... if you don’t think something they say is accurate or true then say things like “that’s not how I experienced it” or  “in my opinion...” Make sure to be aware of when it’s the ego that’s talking - it likes to be right or to make a statement.
    • Be compassionate: Christmas can be high pressure for everyone. If your mum is getting stressed and irritable, try to put yourself in her shoes. Imagine how she might be feeling right now. Be aware of any family dynamics going on between others - is your dad snapping at your mum because he’s exhausted from the cooking? Are your brothers or sisters nervous because of an old family feud that hasn’t been resolved? A lot of tension can be diffused simply by listening to everyone and their concerns and not judging.
    • Stop and Pause: If someone says something hurtful to you, stop and take a breath. Feel the feelings that may arise and name them - e.g. anger, shame, irritation. Then, instead of a knee-jerk reaction, try to respond in a calm way. It can be helpful to reflect on what it is that is making them act as they are towards you. Ask them what they would like you to do and, if it’s possible, do it without any reactivity. Their aggression is not about you so rise above it. If you need to, retreat to a quiet room to regain your composure with a few conscious breaths, or sit down for a full meditation.
    • Limit expectations: If you have great expectations, you will only get disappointed. After all, Christmas is just one day and, like any other day, it will be a mixture of good times and more challenging ones - however mindful you are. Take these steps in the spirit of playful experimentation and experience what happens, as it happens.
    • Be kind to yourself: It you do slip and get angry or snap at someone, don’t beat yourself up. Hell, it’s Christmas time and completely normal to flip out sometimes…
    • Be mindful: Enjoy the festivities and stay present as much as you can. Savour every morsel of the dinner, spend quality time with the family and don’t let the good stuff pass you by!

     

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  • Savour The Season - Guide To Mindful Eating Over The Holidays

    According to the British Dietetic Society, people gain an average of almost half a stone over the festive season, getting in around 6,000 calories on Christmas Day alone!

    Bad habits around food that we may already suffer from - sugar addiction, thoughtless snacking and a tendency to take 2nd or 3rd helpings without even thinking - go into overdrive at this time of year.

    The avalanche of festive treats and naughty nibbles descending on offices, supermarket aisles and parties in December means our powers of self-control are tested to the max. Before we know it, we’re inhaling mince-pies and knocking back the mulled wine as if it was water. We grab a handful of peanuts without even noticing, and are half-way through a box of Cadbury’s Roses before realising we’ve carpeted the room in discarded wrappers.

    So how can we pay more attention to what we’re putting into our bodies, so that we can enjoy the sensory delights of the festive season without thoughtless over-indulgence?

    One approach is through mindfulness. This practice, originally from Buddhism, but which has experienced a secular resurgence in recent years thanks to endorsement from figures such as Oprah Winfrey and Ariana Huffington, promotes a close, attentive awareness to the present moment. Part of its rapid expansion in the last decade has been due to the popularity the MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) course, which has been scientifically proven to have a whole range of health benefits, from beating chronic pain to tackling depression. Using meditation to train the brain over an 8 week course, MBSR has proved so successful, it has been taken up by the NHS and has prompted a number of spin-offs - one of them being the MB-EAT course (Mindfulness Based Eating Awareness Training).

    With MB-EAT (due to launch in London in 2014 as part of the programme by The Mindfulness Project), participants are trained to make conscious food choices, become more aware of their hunger cues and cultivate self-acceptance with a programme of mindfulness meditation, experiential eating exercises, teaching and self-reflection. Through this, they’re able to cultivate mindful awareness and a more balanced and positive relationship to eating and their bodies.

    Here are five simple steps to eating a mindful meal:

    1. Savour in silence

    At meal times, put away your phone, turn off the TV, and ask any family or flatmates to pipe down as you sit down to dinner. Any sensation that you experience outside of taste and smell while you’re eating can distract you from really appreciating what you’re putting in your mouth. While going through an entire meal in pure silence may be a bit much for most of us, just deciding to spend the first 3-5 minutes of a meal in peaceful contemplation of each tasty morsel can be enough.

    2. Come to your senses

    Before you dig into your meal, have a mindful moment with it. Sit down, tune into your stomach and notice how hungry you feel. Then look at the food and really study its colours, the shape and textures. Before you take the first bite, close your eyes, inhale deeply and savor the fragrant aroma. This should really get your mouth watering! When you eat, try to taste and identify all the different ingredients in your meal. This is particularly fun in restaurants, when you didn’t make the food yourself and may help you become more creative in the kitchen.

    3. Switch hands

    If you’re a righty, how about putting your fork or spoon in your left hand for a change? You’ll have to work a little harder on hand-mouth coordination, which will shift you out of autopilot or mindless eating (i.e. wolfing down your lunch in seconds) into mindful eating which involves eating consciously, staying more focused during mealtimes and, ultimately, eating less while still feeling satisfied.

    4. Chew it over

    Putting your fork down between bites of food is a great way of making sure you take the time to chew your food properly, rather than letting yourself mindlessly pick at your plate for your next bite. It also encourages you to slow down and pay attention to the taste of your food, instead of just shoveling it down your throat as quickly as possible.

    5. Know when to stop

    How do you know when it’s the end of meal time? Do you listen to external cues or your own internal ones? External cues are things like your waiter removing your plate, the end of lunch hour, or an empty bag of popcorn. It’s important to listen to internal cues like feeling full, considering the portion size that’s right for you, or feeling thirsty.

     

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