• Staying Mindful This Autumn

    It’s the time of harvest festivals, brightly coloured leaves and bonfires. Like any season, the joys of Autumn can pass us by all too quickly if we don’t pay attention. There are of course many reasons to dislike the season too – it’s getting colder and the evenings are getting steadily darker. However, whether we enjoy Autumn or not, it provides many mindfulness bells – prompts that remind us to come back into the moment and experience it fully.

    Mindfulness in Autumn

    Fruits of Autumn

    The first half of the season has a real feeling of abundance to it. Even the smallest green spaces may contain a blackberry bush, a rosehip bush or a hawthorn tree. Taking a moment to pick fruit is a great way for us to stop what we’re doing and become present in our surroundings.

    There are still a few late blackberries hanging here and there, so why not use them as an exercise in mindful eating? Notice how the berry looks and how it feels when you pick it. Does it squish in your fingers, leaving a dark purple stain? How does it taste? Bitter? Sweet? It’s also a good reminder to feel gratitude – for your taste buds, for the fruit, for the moment.

    A Chill in the Air

    There’s no denying it – summer is definitely over. Although many of us probably take the time to be mindful of the summer sun on our skin, how many of us give the colder weather such attention? We tend to notice and appreciate things we like in life, and begrudge those that we believe we hate.

    Instead of just thinking ‘Oh, I hate the cold!’, why not try using it to become more present in your body? Notice the chill on your face, how the wind ruffles your hair. You don’t have to enjoy it, but being mindful of it may bring new feelings and sensations. As well as the weather, we can enjoy the warmth and softness of our scarf, the snugness of our coat or the comfort of a hot cup of tea when we return home.

    Spiders

    Not all of us are afraid of spiders, but for many people this season can be anxiety-inducing because there are so many big spiders about! Yet even these creepy crawlies are mindfulness bells in disguise. Spotting one our eight-legged friends may at first send you into a panic, but mindfulness isn’t just about savouring the good stuff, it’s about noticing when we’re suffering too. Can you be present in and accepting of the anxiety? Can you take a deep, steadying breath, and get some perspective – that it’s just a spider? And if that doesn’t work and you totally freak out, can you show yourself some self-compassion and forgiveness?

    Bonfires and Fireworks

    As the nights draw in and the trees become bare, at least we have the warmth of a bonfire to look forward to. Bonfire nights and firework displays offer a treat for all the senses. We can savour how the heat of a bonfire warms our cold faces, the smell of burning wood, the bang of exploding fireworks or the sound of happy voices around us, the bursts of colour in the night sky, maybe even the taste of a hotdog or jacket potato. Appreciating these physical sensations can bring a whole new level of enjoyment to these traditional events.

    The Coming of Winter

    While there are many things to enjoy about Autumn, for some of us it may be a worrying time. Depression can worsen due to the dark mornings and evenings, and we may feel more socially isolated, stuck in our homes away from the cold. The cold can also exacerbate some physical conditions. We may also be struck with a sense of loss; with the leaves falling from the trees it can be a harsh reminder that everything eventually ends.

    Yet even here we can cultivate mindfulness. The seasons change, just as we change. We all go through our own personal seasons, times of light and sunshine, and then times of dark and cold. We’re not separate from nature in this way; we’re inextricably linked with its transitory cycles. If we can accept the changing weather, we might take one step closer to accepting our own changeability.

    But just as winter will again become spring, our darkest moments also pass. If winter proves to be a difficult time, our discomfort can be a mindfulness bell for compassion, self-love, and maybe even forgiveness of ourselves for not being consistent and steady all of the time. By practicing mindfulness, we can build internal bonfires, to bring us comfort all year round, despite the changing nature of ourselves and our world.

    .....

    MEDITATION:

    Changing Seasons Meditation

    Body Scan

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    New Year's Resolution Workshop

  • Allowing Ourselves Time to Recover

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

    Allowing Ourselves Time To Recover

    Listening to Our Experience

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

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

    Tuning In

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

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

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

    Honouring Our Bodies and Minds

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

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

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

    .....

    MEDITATIONS:

    Body Scan

    TIP:

    Why Meditate?

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Mindfulness for Anxiety and Depression

    8-Week Mindfulness Course for Depression

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

  • Improving Our Health, Compassionately

     

    Close up of potted plant

     

    One of the exciting things about life is that we don’t have to stay the same as we are right now; we can re-invent ourselves at any time. 

     

    For most of us, there are accessible changes we can make to become healthier, whether that’s by eating our greens, getting fitter, breaking unhealthy habits or addictions, or by cultivating greater peace of mind and emotional resiliency. However, we all too often make these types of self-improvement plans when we’re in a low mood and from a place of self-criticism.

    Maybe we’re not been getting out of the house much recently, and so we think to ourselves ‘I’m lazy, I need to start running every day’, rather than having a kinder perspective such as ‘I might benefit from going for a short walk at lunchtime a few times a week’.

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

     

    A Checklist for Mindful Goal-Setting

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

     

    Is my goal realistic?

    Say we want to stop eating so much chocolate, because we recognise it's not making us feel so good. We might come up with the goal of giving up chocolate completely. It might work; we might indeed have the will power to never touch anything sweet again.

    Alternatively, it might be really difficult! So difficult in fact, that we fail terribly and then feel even worse about ourselves than before. We might make ourselves miserable in the process, defeating the object and feeling better in ourselves and well-balanced.

    Instead of banishing chocolate from our lives altogether, why not just get more mindful about eating it? There's nothing wrong with enjoying some chocolate, so instead of completely removing it from our lives, we can treat ourselves now and again and practice savouring each bite to make it a greater pleasure rather than a habit. We’re still moving towards our health goals, but in a more self-compassionate and realistic way, without sacrificing our mental health by being harsh on ourselves.

     

    Is my goal kind?

    We want to get fit, so we sign up for the toughest, most physically gruelling boot camp we can find. We want to drink less caffeine, so we banish every drink except water. We want to get more sleep, so we say we'll be in bed by 9pm every night without fail, no matter what we're missing out on. These kinds of goals seem more like punishments than ways to help us enjoy life, which is likely to be one of the reasons we want to be healthier in the first place.

    When we don’t like how we look or behave, it can feel impossible to treat ourselves kindly. We may feel that we don’t deserve kindness; that because we’re depressed, lacking motivation or addicted to something, that we’re bad. Instead, we can adjust our goals to make them both achievable and fun.

    Imagine that your friend wanted to get fitter, or that your child was suffering with depression, or that your beloved was struggling with an addiction. It’s unlikely that we would speak to them the way we speak to ourselves. Would we really say to a friend, ‘You're so lazy. You need to sign up to marathon and start training at 6am every morning immediately'?

    Instead of a boot camp we might try a new fitness class with a friend and -- if we like it -- making it a regular activity before introducing a new goal.

    Instead of banishing caffeine we might to reduce our caffeine intake to a coffee a day, replacing other drinks with an enjoyable alternative such as an intriguing herbal tea or fruit infusion, sparking our curiosity.

    Instead of being in bed by 9pm we might set a reminder to start winding down at 9pm, choosing to turn off the TV and put down our phone by 9pm to read a book or have a bath if we're not tired enough to sleep.

    In taking micro steps, we can gradually reach our goals one step at a time and enjoy the process. We can also listen to our bodies more easily, ensuring we're taking care of our needs and not pushing ourselves too hard to the detriment of our health.

     

    TOP TIP:

    When setting goals, it’s useful to imagine that we are helping a friend set their goals instead of our own. Imagine the kindness and gentle encouragement you would feel for your loved ones, and incorporate that level of care and compassion into your own goal-making.

    Make your goals self-nurturing. For example, instead of ‘I don't want greasy skin’ , try changing it to ‘I want my skin to glow by choosing healthy food, sleep and exercise.’

     

    How will I treat myself when I stumble?

    We might be doing really well with our plans, but then one major upset has us hiding under the duvet or reaching for the caffeine. In these moments, it feels like all of our hard work has been for nothing!

    This is where self-compassion can really shine and make all the difference, because it’s at these times of perceived failure that we’re most likely to give up on our goals completely.

    Mindfulness helps us see that life is a series of moments. Rather than mentally remaining stuck in a previous moment where we mindlessly watched TV instead of going to our fitness class, we can ‘refresh’ ourselves and become new again in the here and now.

    This can help us forgive ourselves for slipping up, because what’s done is done, and now this is a new moment. It helps us see that we can begin again, and again if needed, because each new moment is a fresh opportunity. If we we stumble and manage to get back on track, we should be giving ourselves a self-compassionate pat on the back!

     

    Do I really need to achieve this goal?

    Do we need to get stronger, fitter or look more radiant, or are our negative thoughts at this moment driving our desire to set goals? Are we comparing ourselves to others or a past version of ourselves? Is the true goal that we want to feel happier, for example?

    When our minds are clouded, it can be hard to judge what is true. Yet through practicing mindfulness, we are more able to take a step back from our thoughts and see them more clearly.

    If we’re already fairly healthy, perhaps it’s not our behaviour that we need to change, but the thoughts we have about ourselves?

    An effective way of exploring the truth behind our desired goals is to place your hand on your heart, to close your eyes, and really tap into how your goals make you feel.

     

    Are our goals coming from self-compassion? Are they moving you forward or creating a cycle of guilt and shame?

    By exploring our self-beliefs and inner dialogue, we can find out where our health goals are really coming from, and whether we should put them into practice; remembering that our health is not just physical, but mental too.

    When we learn to cultivate positive mind states and meet our imperfections with kindness, we can also find it easier to maintain our physical health, saving ourselves from unnecessary suffering.

     

    Find out more on an 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) Course or Self-Compassion Workshop with The Mindfulness Project.

    << VIEW EVENTS CALENDAR >>

     

  • 10 Tips to Mindfully Survive a Nervous Breakdown

    Written by Alexa Frey

    -- If you’re thinking about suicide or need someone to talk to, help is available. Please call the Samaritans free on 116 123 (UK), The National Suicide Prevention Lifelife (US) on 1-800-273-8255, or find a suicide helpline in your country via IASP or Suicide.org --

     

    A nervous breakdown is defined as: “an acute, time-limited mental disorder that manifests primarily as severe stress-induced depression, anxiety, or disassociation in a previously functional individual, to the extent that they are no longer able to function on a day-to-day basis until the disorder is resolved”.

    A nervous breakdown can have many causes such as having too much pressure at work, overwhelming family duties, a divorce or death, being diagnosed with a terrible illness, a traumatic experience such as abuse etc.

    According to Helpline, the most common symptoms of such a breakdown are depressive symptoms, such as loss of hope and thoughts of suicide or self-harm, anxiety with high blood pressure, tense muscles, clammy hands, dizziness, upset stomach, trembling, insomnia, hallucinations, extreme mood swings or unexplained outbursts or panic attacks. 

    This can include chest pain, detachment from reality and self, extreme fear, and difficulty breathing paranoia, such as believing someone is watching you or stalking you flashbacks of a traumatic event, which can suggest undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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

     

    1. Practice Meditation

     

    Try to meditate at least once a day. That’s if you can meditate. If you’re too deep in a hole, meditation might be impossible. Your heart might be beating too heavily in your chest, or you might be experiencing uncontrollable tremors which make sitting - and keeping your head upright - hard. If you can’t meditate, then don’t. But maybe, once a day, do try to give it a shot. 

    Anchoring your attention on sounds can be helpful, if the feelings or sensations in your body are too distressing. Mindful walking can also be very helpful, if sitting upright feels too torturous. If all this fails, you can always turn off the lights in your bedroom, and simply stare into the darkness - sitting or lying down. The sensory deprivation will hopefully help calm your mind and body.

    When you do meditate, try to incorporate cultivation practices. Meditate on what you are grateful for in you life. When we’re in a hole, it’s good to remember the good stuff that’s still there in our life. Maybe that’s the beautiful tree outside of your bedroom window. Or you are grateful that you have best friends that support you. Also, try to give yourself compassion for what you are going through - give yourself all the love you need.

    Lastly, do practice anticipatory joy by bringing up things you look forward to in the future. Maybe summer’s coming up and you’re looking forward to sunbathing. 

     

    2. Ask Friends for Help

     

    One of the hardest things when having a nervous breakdown is that you feel lonely. Not because you don’t have any friends, but because we are so weak that it can be very draining to be around people.

    Make sure that you stay in contact with friends and family - even if you decide to be on your own. If phone calls are too much use WhatsApp (in moderation), or ask your friends to come over - but let them know that they can’t stay too long.

    As you are going through a nervous breakdown, you will also notice which of your friends are friends that nurture you and which deplete you. You might have a friend that only texts you to let off steam. During conversations with this difficult friend use your mindfulness skills to notice how he or she makes you feel in your body. If this friend makes you feel tense, annoyed, sad, etc., it might be time to cut down contact with them.

    As you are going through a nervous breakdown, you may also find that some friends decide not to be there for you. This can be painful, but it's also a great way to learn which of your friends are true friends.

     

    3. Practice Self-Compassion

     

    You want to get better. Every day. Obviously, nervous breakdowns aren’t fun. Also, there are many different reasons why people have nervous breakdowns - as mentioned above. Some nervous breakdowns like the one due to a work burnout, will most of the time, pass. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. However, other nervous breakdowns, might not pass as easily. Especially if the origin of the nervous breakdown stems from a chronic mental health disorder such as major depression, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

    Not only do such mental health disorders deplete and burn us out, they also often make it extremely hard to stay positive - a quality which in our society seems to be a must. However, how can one stay so easily positive if the very illness that one has been diagnosed with doesn’t allow a person to be positive or rational?

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

     

    4. Common Humanity

     

    When we’re going through a breakdown, we might feel very lonely. Alone in our room, we might feel like we are the only one that’s going through a hard time. Especially when we look through our window onto the street, and everybody else is going about their day you might feel like life is passing you by and that you’re missing out. In those moments, remember that you are not alone. There are many other people out there, right now, who go through a difficult time. Even though it seems like you’re alone, you are not.

    Search the internet for stories of other people who have went through hard times in their life. Read their words and find out what deep wisdom they have learned by surviving such a difficult time. Ask friends and family for their stories.

    Remember: you are not alone. We are in this together.

     

    5. Listen to Your Body

     

    When we are in the midst of a nervous breakdown, it is important to listen to our body. We may feel very sad or even depressed and that can make us feel sleepy (especially if we’ve been prescribed tranquilisers). Many people experiencing a nervous breakdown can also feel exhausted. It’s important to give our bodies the rest they need. However, do listen to your body for signs of oversleeping. Too much sleep can cause dizziness and brain fog, which we want to avoid at all costs.

    Also, make sure that you go outside once a day if possible, for a walk in nature. However, do make sure that you choose a path that’s not too steep or too long and always be aware of how far it is to get back to your home. You don’t want to end up exhausted in the woods. If going for a walk seems like too much, try some YouTube exercise or gentle yoga videos. Yoga with Adriene has a few easy and relaxing options.

     

    6. Reduce Technology

     

    Having a nervous breakdown, we often feel like everything is too much. Sounds are too loud and laptop screens might feel too bright. This is why it can be helpful to keep minimise technology.

    Order a hard copy book and immerse yourself into a story, which will make you feel good inside. The pages - just black and white - will help calm your mind. Audiobooks can also be useful. Close your eyes and listen. Just listen. You will notice that when your mind drifts off, you will quickly come back to listening - after all, you don’t want miss the plot. This will give you a break from the endless ruminating and worrying.

    Try to use social media as little as possible. The endless scrolling won’t make you feel better, and trust me, if you see all the oh-so-happy version of your friends lives, while you can’t get out of bed, will not help. If you watch a movie, choose one that doesn’t make you anxious or sad. Instead choose something calming or happy!

     

    7. Communicate Your Needs

     

    Going through a nervous breakdown, we don’t have the energy that we usually have. It might be hard for us to pay those bills, clean our home, and complete other important tasks. In times like these, we need help from our friends and family. However, not all of us are good at asking for help, and not all the friends that we have are selfless enough to offer help. During a breakdown we already feel fragile enough, so having to feel disappointed because a friend lets us down, should be avoided at all costs.

    Thus, go through a list of friends in your mind and pick the ones you think will be willing to support you. Let those angels one by one know about your situation and kindly ask for their help. Also, if they say or do things that might hurt or annoy you, do let them know in a gentle way. Not everybody knows exactly how to deal with someone in such a difficult situation, but most are willing to listen and learn.

     

    8. Dropping into the Present Moment

     

    During a nervous breakdown, we spend a lot of time worrying about the future. Will I ever get better? What if things get worse? Or we ruminate about the past. Why did I not take better care of my health? I should have eaten healthier. Why didn’t I go see the doctor earlier and ignored the all the signs? It is natural to think about the future and the past. During a nervous breakdown this tendency can deplete and exhaust us even more. Apart from that, if you pay close attention there are actually some positive, or at least a few emotionally neutral moments, even during a breakdown.

    Try to become as present as you can in those moments by connecting with your senses. Say you’re having a bath, notice the warm water touching every part of your body. Notice the scent of the bath oil. Turn off the light and simply listen to the sounds that emerge out of the silence. Become present and know, that in this moment, everything is OK. In this tiny moment, nothing is wrong. It’s just you in a warm bath tub. That’s it. Everything’s OK right now. 

     

    9. Seek Medical Help

     

    In the midst of a breakdown, all we want is to just stay in bed (and sleep). We want to hide from the world. We might feel physically really weak, we might experience awful social anxiety which prevents us from leaving our house, or we might just feel too depressed to leave the bed. We might hope, that if we just give things a bit of time, that we’ll feel better soon. While for some of us that might be true, most of us will need professional help.

    Your doctor might prescribe you medication to help you get you out of the worst anxiety or depression and a therapist may be able to help you with speaking therapy (try to find one who incorporates mindfulness). Know, that you do not need to get through this in your own. There’s plenty of help!

     

    9. Self-Care

     

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

    MEDITATIONS:

    Body Scan

    Animal Affection 

    Gratitude

     

    The Mindfulness Project runs a range of courses and workshops. Please note, these are not suitable if you are currently experiencing a mental breakdown.  

    << VIEW COURSE CALENDAR >>

  • Three Mindfulness Tips for When Life Gets Hectic

    beeWouldn’t it be lovely if life was just a gentle unfolding of events? If work and family stuff and exams and big changes were all neatly spaced out and we never had to think of more than one thing at once? Although we may find ourselves regularly wishing for such a life, the truth is that life gets hectic! And sometimes there’s so much to get done or to think about that we might feel like our brains will explode. Wishing for life to be different tends to make our to-do lists seem even heavier, so what’s the alternative? How can mindfulness help when we seemingly don’t have any spare time for it?

    Make Use of the Breath

    There are lots of great quotes out there about how we must ‘make time’ for the important stuff, and while the sentiment is true and sometimes useful, at other times it can just make us feel guilty or irritated. If we’re rushed off our feet it can be really hard to find time for things like a seated meditation, even though we know it will help. During busy periods it may be more beneficial to simply make better use of something we’re already doing, and that is breathing.

    When we’re busy trying to meet deadlines, moving home, revising for an exam, looking after the children, etc., we’re breathing throughout all of these activities. So whilst we’re breathing anyway, we might as well make the most of it! Whenever you notice that you’re feeling tense, or that you’re not paying attention to what’s happening because you’re thinking ahead to everything else you need to get done, try just deepening the breath for a short while. It won’t slow you down or get in the way of what you’re doing; in fact by becoming a little more present and mindful you’ll probably make less mistakes, and feel less stressed out too.

    Write It Down

    Trying to keep mental to-do lists can be highly stressful. We worry whether we’ve forgotten anything, or become anxious about potentially forgetting something unless we tell ourselves about it again and again. This constant stream of forward planning can make it hard to sleep at night, or makes us grouchy with our loved ones.

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

    Small Acts of Self-Compassion

    The stress of being busy can take its toll, and we may find that we’re feeling angry, irritable, tearful or depressed as a result. It’s during these moments of distress or discomfort that we could really do with a little self-compassion. And a little goes a long way! Regular, small acts of self-compassion can drastically transform your day.

    Research shows that treating ourselves compassionately triggers the production of oxytocin – a hormone which helps us feel loved and safe. In her book, ‘Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind’, Dr. Kristin Neff explains how when we give ourselves a comforting hug, oxytocin is released in the same way as when someone else hugs us. So we don’t have to wait until someone else reaches out a caring hand; giving ourselves the same kind treatment has the same effect.

    So next time you notice that you’re feeling distressed or uncomfortable, try wrapping your arms around yourself for a compassionate hug, or try gently stroking your own arm or face, whilst gently acknowledging how hard things are for you right now. Talk to yourself, either out loud or inwardly, in the same way you would to a friend who was feeling overwhelmed or pressured by having so much to do. See how it changes your experience.

    .....

    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

    TIPS:

    Why Meditate?

    The Present Moment

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS

    Introduction to Mindfulness

     

  • Enjoy Some Mindful Gardening This Spring!

    gardeningAlthough 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.

    .....

    MEDITATION:

    Candlelight Meditation

    Body Scan

    TIPS:

    Why Meditate?

    The Present Moment

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS

    Introduction to Mindfulness

  • The Poetry of Mindfulness

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    Mindfulness can have such a profound impact on our lives, so it makes sense that we would want to express those experiences in the form of art, writing, music or poetry. When we become more present and connected to life it makes us notice things more, and this active noticing enriches our creativity.

     

    In poetry we can capture moments or feelings, condensing them into words so that we can share them with others, and often also clarifying them for ourselves in the process. To be able to do this, we must first really pay attention. In order to describe something as formless as an inner experience, one must first fully feel into that experience, exploring its edges and depths with mindful awareness. This makes writing poetry a great mindfulness practice!

    Not only is creating our own poetry useful, but also reading the poetry of others.  Comfort can be found in the words of poets when they reflect back to us a feeling that we recognise, or when those words act as a prompt for us to reconnect with something deeper within ourselves.

    The poem below is a great example of how poetry can describe the feeling of ‘returning home’ to ourselves that many mindfulness practitioners experience:

     

     ‘Love After Love’  -- DEREK WALCOTT

     

    The time will come

    when, with elation

    you will greet yourself arriving

    at your own door, in your own mirror

    and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

     

    and say, sit here. Eat.

    You will love again the stranger who was your self.

    Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

    to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

     

    all your life, whom you ignored

    for another, who knows you by heart.

    Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

     

    the photographs, the desperate notes,

    peel your own image from the mirror.

    Sit. Feast on your life.

     

    In poetry we can find descriptions of universal human experiences. Although our personal circumstances may vary from person to person, and we all go through unique challenges, there are some feelings we all recognise, and that can be reassuring.

    Here’s another great poem, which seems to describe the bittersweet feeling of accepting life as it is, and finding our place in the world:

     

    ‘Wild Geese’ -- MARY OLIVER

     

    You do not have to be good.

    You do not have to walk on your knees

    for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

    You only have to let the soft animal of your body

    love what it loves.

    Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

    Meanwhile the world goes on.

    Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

    are moving across the landscapes,

    over the prairies and the deep trees,

    the mountains and the rivers.

    Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

    are heading home again.

    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

    the world offers itself to your imagination,

    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting

    over and over announcing your place

    in the family of things.

     

    If you’ve never written creatively before, the thought of writing poetry may seem a bit daunting! Yet we might be surprised by what we come up with when we allow ourselves the time and space to experiment with words.

    We could start out by noting down some key words or imagery, things that speak to us and of our experiences in the world. Then we can try sewing them together, creating sentences, and eventually telling our own stories. We don’t have to show anyone else if we don’t want to, but it might be fun or useful to add poetry to our set of private mindfulness practices. Why not have a go and see what comes to you!

     

    Learn more about mindfulness with one of our eight week courses or specialist workshops or seminars for all levels.

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  • How to Recognise a Fight-or-Flight Response

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    As we navigate through life, it’s important for our physical survival that we recognise and act appropriately to dangerous situations. In these situations, we often don’t have time to logically weigh up our options and figure out the best course of action, and so our brains have evolved in such a way as to save us time.

    When faced with a perceived threat to our safety, a part of the brain called the amygdala (which processes memory, decision-making and emotional reactions) is triggered and ‘hijacks’ the rational, thinking part of the brain. In other words, the amygdala decides for us whether we should stay and fight, run and hide, or freeze completely.

    This is what is commonly referred to as the fight-flight-or-freeze response: very handy if a car is hurtling towards you, or someone starts following you down a dark, secluded alleyway, but not so useful if we’re simply arguing with our partner or just said something embarrassing to our co-workers. The amygdala struggles to tell the difference between real, immediate danger and perceived danger, i.e. although it’s painful to feel humiliated in front of others, it’s not going to kill us like a rabid dog would.

    So how can we recognise when we are reacting disproportionality to a situation?

    How Does This Moment Feel?

    Learning to recognise our emotional reactions takes some time, and becomes better with practice. The more we tune in to what we’re experiencing in this moment, the more we remember to do it going forward, and perhaps most importantly the easier and more natural it becomes to do so. Therefore the best way to start noticing our amygdala reactions is to start developing a regular mindfulness practice in general, in the same way that exercising regularly now will ensure that your body is strong and healthy later on in life.

    An easy place to start is to begin regularly asking yourself, ‘How does this moment feel?’ Set an alarm on your phone, or place a few sticky notes around your home or work desk if it helps you remember. Just take a moment to check in with yourself.

    Try asking the question after something upsetting happens, like an argument, some bad news, or an unexpected bill, and get familiar with what happens in your body and mind when this stuff happens. Do you feel scared (like you want to run away), angry (like you want to fight) or numb (like you just want to curl up into a ball)? Is your heart rate elevating, your breath quickening or restricting, your body tensing and tightening, or feeling weak and fatigued? If so, you may be experiencing fight-flight-or-freeze. This is a universal experience: if you have a brain, you experience amygdala reactions, end of story! So don’t beat yourself up about it. Just try to observe it as best you can, so that you know how it manifests within you.

    Once you’ve started to notice these reactions, what can you actually do about it?

    Mindfulness Techniques

    Research shows that mindfulness practice shrinks the amygdala and also weakens connections between the amygdala and pre-frontal cortex. This means that over time we become less reactive to perceived threats and more able to think about how we’d like to respond. For example, when our partner does something that usually triggers a fight-or-flight response (i.e. makes a comment that we perceive as critical or embarrassing, yet isn’t meant as such), we can react more calmly and not in a way that then descends into an unnecessary falling-out.

    Once we’ve recognised a change in our mood, like an onslaught of disproportionate rage or depression, we can then apply some helpful mindfulness techniques.

    This could be focussing on the breath while we observe our amygdala-triggered thoughts. Any time that we notice our minds getting stuck, we gently bring the attention back to the breath, and continue to breathe through the reaction until it passes. Remember that the emotional reaction isn’t wrong or bad, but at the same time, if the reaction isn’t appropriate or helpful to the situation then it’s better to let it pass.

    We might also try using mindfulness ‘anchors’ around us to help us come back to the moment. For example, try focussing on sounds, sights or other physical sensations that can help ground you in the present, again noticing where the mind goes, and each time gently and kindly bringing it back to your point of focus.

    It’s useful to view this practice as a form of self-care. By taking proactive steps to guide ourselves through amygdala reactions, we can not only save ourselves from the harmful effects of prolonged stress in the body, but we can also avoid further negative or destructive situations occurring because of our fight-or-flight responses.

    .....

    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

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  • Making Self-Care a Daily Habit

    self-care

     

    A common side-effect of practicing mindfulness is that we start to notice the ways in which we neglect our well-being. Whether it’s unhealthy habits or addictions, stresses in our lives, or unkind judgemental thoughts about ourselves, in becoming more mindful we see these issues with greater clarity. With this new awareness can often come a desire to start treating ourselves with more care.

     

    For those of us who have been self-critical or neglectful of our well-being throughout our lives, self-care may at first feel a little awkward and unfamiliar. We might also not be so good at recognising when we need it. Developing a new, caring attitude towards ourselves can take time as we undo a lot of old, ingrained uncaring patterns and habits.

    At first we might only notice that we need self-care when we feel really low, like when we have the flu or when our depression is really bad. This is a great first step! However, self-care doesn’t have to end there. We can turn acts of self-care into a daily habit. With practice it may even start to come as naturally to us as brushing our teeth!

    Although small self-caring actions are better than none at all, to truly cement self-care into our natural way of being it may be useful to intentionally set aside at least 30 minutes a day to do something nice for yourself or to simply rest. That way you stop everything else that you’re doing and just focus on you.

    It could be that you take some time after work to do a relaxing yoga routine so that you can enjoy the rest of your evening, or that you go to bed earlier than usual to read a book. Or you might make a healthy meal with all of your favourite ingredients.

    It could even be that you sign into Netflix and order a pizza, just as long as you’re doing it with that intention of treating yourself nicely, rather than as a distraction or zoning out.

    Far from being selfish or self-indulgent, developing a daily self-care habit can give us more energy and resilience to deal with all other aspects of our lives. Over time, we can find balance in an unpredictable world.

     

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

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  • Opening Our Hearts to Grief

    grief

    In our mindfulness practice we may welcome the idea of opening up to experiences of happiness, and may even see the benefits of doing so with sadness or anger. Yet fully opening to the pain of grief may seem more difficult, and understandably so; grief is perhaps the most painful feeling we are ever likely to experience. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a friendship or relationship, that absence of something or someone precious to us can leave a gaping hole in our lives.

    When we find ourselves in the midst of grief, we might notice that our minds go into overdrive. We think of all the things we never got to say or do, or of all the things we could try in order to get back what we’ve lost. Our minds are not very good at accepting unresolved endings, and our internal scrambling for solutions can result in yet more pain.

    Practicing mindfulness is like opening a door to reality, and when that reality is painful we may want to do anything but be mindful. We might instead prefer to distract ourselves through things like comfort eating, smoking or partying, or we might get lost in memories, or fantasies of what we wish could be.

    This is all normal. And it’s something we will all go through, even if we’ve already been through it before. Opening our hearts to grief is not easy. There is no smooth or peaceful way through grief; it will hurt. However, by letting it in and facing it with honesty and self-compassion, we may have the chance to move through it more quickly than we might otherwise, and we’ll also be more able to reach out for the support we need. When we ignore it, or try delaying it, we tend to turn to more destructive ways of coping.

    Opening to grief might at first feel like raising the flood gates; at first we’ll be completely overwhelmed. Yet in time, a natural flow will come. The grief will still be there, but it won’t hit us as though a dam were bursting. Take each moment as it comes, whatever that moment may look or feel like. The grief will arise, but if we stay aware, open and honest in the face of it, we will make it through to the other side without drowning.

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