• Not Wanting To Be Here, Now

    Many of us, at some stage of our lives, have experienced a feeling of not wanting to be here anymore. This may have been triggered by a traumatic event which caused painful feelings and thoughts we’ve wanted to escape from, or we may not be able to link it to any one reason in particular – it’s just a general sense of discomfort or pain that we’d rather not experience.

    Bringing focus and acceptance to these thoughts and feelings may at first feel counter-intuitive. Accepting the fact that we don’t want to be here, or that someone we care about has expressed such a feeling, may feel dangerous and challenging. There are certain corners of our minds which seem too dark and scary to look at.

    However, studies have shown that mindfulness can be used to not only help people after suicide attempts or suicidal urges, but can also offer significant preventive effects too.

    It’s More Common than You Think

    Despite increasing awareness and understanding of mental health issues, suicide is still a taboo subject, and many of us don’t like to talk about it. We don’t want to bring other people down or worry them, we don’t want to look like a ‘failure’, and we don’t want to look ‘crazy’.

    The truth is that suicidality affects people from all walks of life, and is increasing in frequency. It not only occurs in people with psychiatric diagnoses, but also in people with no diagnosable conditions at all. So there is really nothing ‘abnormal’ about suicide. Finding life difficult to bear is actually a common ground which many of us share.

    Experiential Avoidance

    A number of studies have directly linked the desire to avoid negative or unwanted thoughts, feelings, or sensations with suicidality. Our unwillingness to accept and allow emotions such as anger, sadness or guilt can result in us feeling we need an escape from them. A study by Baumeister (1990) found that the majority of suicide notes expressed the person’s need to escape from emotional pain as the reason for ending their life. When we don’t know of any other way to ease that pain, suicide can start to look like the only effective solution.

    Mindfulness is the antidote to experiential avoidance, because far from exacerbating difficult feelings, it helps to ease their weight. In the same way a distressed child needs a loving hug, our painful emotions need loving acceptance. Compassionate mindfulness enables us to step out of dangerous avoidance. By journeying through our pain, with clarity and acknowledgment, we stop needing to run away from it. Facing it becomes the escape we crave; only this way we are able to continue our lives.

    This principle of acceptance is just as important in the aftermath of a suicide or suicide attempt. When a loved one takes their own life, or tries to, we find ourselves dealing with a range of difficult emotions. Anger, guilt and regret are common reactions, including when it’s ourselves who have made an attempt. We may feel enormous guilt at causing pain to our family and friends, or we may feel guilt for feeling angry at someone for putting us through that pain. It’s a difficult time for everyone involved, and we are likely to feel many conflicting emotions.

    Mindfulness helps us stay connected to us each other during these painful times, provides a much-needed anchor to the reality of the present moment, and will make the healing process easier and more rapid. It doesn’t necessarily mean we share our every thought with others – that may not be appropriate – but taking the time to breathe, to compassionately acknowledge our own emotions without feeling attached to them, or creating stories about what they mean about us, will allow those feelings to arise and fade naturally within us.  

  • 5 Mindfulness Tips For A Happier Relationship

    by Jenni Chante

    Relationships can be a minefield of unrealistic ideals, old baggage, hang ups, habits and misunderstandings. All too often we find ourselves stuck in unhelpful ideas and beliefs, rather than genuinely connecting with our partner. 

    Thinking that we know our partner inside out can sometimes block us from being present and really hearing them. Or we may feel so sure of our role within a relationship that we find ourselves repeating unnecessary behaviours which lead to the same old arguments again and again. 

    In arguments we often place the blame on the other person – they’re not listening to us, they don’t understand, they’re being difficult or purposely trying to wind us up. During this process our partner usually feels the same way about us. Yet by becoming more mindful, we can start to accept some responsibility. Taking responsibility for our feelings and actions is not the same as blaming ourselves. We can take responsibility without layering guilt over the top. 

    By introducing mindfulness we can start to let go of the repetitive dramas and reach a much deeper, more meaningful level of intimacy with our partner, and with ourselves. 

    Here are some useful questions to ask ourselves when things feel difficult or strained within a relationship.

    What are my beliefs about relationships?

    Being in a relationship is important to most of us. We may even attribute our self-worth to our relationship status. It’s useful to be mindful of what we think a relationship should provide us with, or what feelings and experiences we believe shouldn’t arise in a successful partnership.

    Do you have ideals of what your perfect relationship should look like? How does it match up with the truth of your relationship? Are confrontations arising because of some discrepancy between your fantasy and your reality?

    The truth is a real relationship will never meet your idealised expectations. Life is messy and unpredictable. Not only will your expectations cause rifts between you and your partner, they may also be holding you back from experiencing the true joy which can come from honest, real connection. 

    What are my beliefs about my partner?

    We can very quickly fall into the trap of thinking we know a person. We experience a few of their idiosyncrasies and bam – we’ve made up our mind up about them. When we do this with a partner it leads to us experiencing them through our limited lens of who we believe they are, rather than seeing them as they truly are – a perpetually evolving human being with great capacity for revealing new facets of their character.

    Be mindful of whether you’re being present with your partner, or whether you’re stuck in an old idea of who they seemed to be at some stage in the past. 

    What are my beliefs about myself?

    Just as we can become caught in old ideas of our partner, the same can be true of ourselves. We may believe we have a certain role to play within the relationship, or that certain aspects of ourselves are not good enough. But like our partner, we also contain deep potential for change. By bringing attention to the limiting thoughts about ourselves, we can break free of old cycles of behaviour. 

    Do my verbal expressions match my true feelings?

    It’s an ongoing joke that women expect men to be able to read their minds. However, most of us are guilty of wanting our partners to guess or uncover what we’re really feeling, and that’s true of both men and women. 

    How often do we really explain our feelings in full? Or when misunderstandings arise, how often do we truthfully look at what we’ve said, rather than staying stuck in how we feel. Of course, sometimes we ourselves aren’t entirely sure of what’s going on inside our minds, so it’s not always possible to be clear. Yet even during these times we can still bring mindfulness to our confusion, and express that to our partner. Sometimes just saying “I’m sorry, I know I’m not making sense, I feel really confused” can take the edge of a heated argument or miscommunication.

    Am I exaggerating?

    Often when we are in the midst of upset, we project our current feeling into the past and future. For example, say that we are upset that our partner didn’t help us with a household chore. This may trigger some old emotions around not feeling supported, and that emotion colours our view of the past. Suddenly instead of it just being “You didn’t help me with ___”, it’s “You never help me” or “You always let me down”. 

    By being more mindful of the truth of the situation, and of dealing with the present problem instead of raking up the past or projecting our suffering into the future, we can avoid a lot of conflict and remain closer and more connected with our partner. 

     

     

     

     

  • Welcome Everything, Push Away Nothing

    Wouldn’t it be lovely to be happy all the time? Waking up with a big grin on our faces, bouncing out of bed and skipping into work every morning for a whole day of joy and laughter.

    Unfortunately, our minds aren’t designed like this. However naturally positive we are, it’s impossible to be in a state of constant pleasure all of the time. Our brains have evolved to preempt possible threats (a leftover from when our ancestors were struggling to survive in a dangerous world) and, sophisticated though they have become, still have a tendency to act like Velcro for the bad stuff and Teflon for the good.

    There will always be times when we are fearful, angry, bored or sad; and depending on our upbringing or genetics, some will experience these feelings more than others. The challenge arises when we do not welcome and accept these natural human tendencies and instead try compulsively to shut them out or make them go away.

    In the attempt to be happy, many of us try all sorts of ways to avoid uncomfortable feelings. For example, when sitting in the car in a traffic jam, we might turn on the radio or start texting a friend - anything to avoid potentially feeling bored or irritated. In a more extreme example, we might turn down an interview for a dream job because we don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we might be anxious or embarrassed.

    As well as trying to avoid uncomfortable feelings, many of us also chase after enjoyable ones, such as pleasure and excitement. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try to hold on to these feelings of happiness, they will, at some point, change or slip away. When inevitably they do, we leave ourselves open to disappointment or despair, or a neverending quest for the next high. In fact, as Russ Harris in 'The Happiness Trap' writes: "The harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more we are likely to suffer from anxiety and depression".

    So where do we go from here? Mindfulness-based approaches work on the belief that true wellbeing comes when we learn not to avoid uncomfortable feelings or chase after happiness, but to accept what is. By observing our minds and bodies, and how they react to situations, we practice a kind of self-awareness that allows us to be with challenging thoughts or feelings without allowing them to erode our quality of life.

    So if we’re sitting in the car and notice thoughts and feelings of boredom or loneliness, instead of trying to distract ourselves, we can consciously turn towards these sensations with an attitude of non-judgemental friendly curiosity. We might ask ourselves: What exactly is my mind’s reaction to this situation and what kind of feelings do I experience in the body? Instead of immediately grabbing the phone to send a text, we can become mindfully aware of the arising thoughts and feelings and then make a conscious choice of whether we want to check the phone or instead be with what is.

    The more we practice this, we learn to respond in a more mindful and attentive way to unpleasant experiences, accepting them as just thoughts and feelings that will, as with everything in life, pass away. By noticing and accepting as they arise and pass, we reduce their pull over us. We learn to 'welcome everything and push away nothing'.

    Developing this mindfulness skillpower will mean we don’t have to go through life desperately trying to avoid challenging situations or chasing an impossible dream of constant happiness. It means we can have a choice of how we want to approach the circumstances we find ourselves in... and this will ultimately lead to a richer and more meaningful life.

  • Stories Like These ...

    Depending on what we have experienced in our early childhoods, we hold certain beliefs about ourselves and the world and these ‘stories’ then become firmly established as we grow up. As an adult, we may, for example, hold the belief that bad things are going to happen to us, so (perhaps without realising) avoid tricky situations or anything that might present a risk. Or we may believe everybody will eventually abandon us or let us down, causing tensions in our relationships or even a tendency to avoid getting close to others. We all have such painful 'Achilles Heels' - our soft spots that can hold us back in life or even cause us suffering if we believe them to be true.

    A psychologist called Jeffrey Young of Columbia University has identified 18 themes - what he calls personal ‘schemas’ - that can help us recognise our sore points. While reading through them, you might try bringing a mindful awareness to the thoughts and physical sensations you experience when you come across ones that you identify with. Try not to judge yourself or beat yourself up, but just kindly observe any physical reactions you have to the thoughts.

    1. Abandonment/Instability: My close relationships will end because people are unstable and unpredictable.
    2. Mistrust/Abuse: I expect to get hurt or be taken advantage of by others.
    3. Emotional deprivation: I can’t seem to get what I need from others, like understanding, support and attention.
    4. Defectiveness/Shame: I’m defective, bad, or inferior in some way that makes me unlovable.
    5. Social isolation/Alienation: I’m basically alone in this world and different from others.
    6. Dependence/Incompetence: I’m not capable of taking care of myself without help on simple tasks and decisions.
    7. Vulnerability to harm and illness: Danger is lurking around every corner, and I can’t prevent these things from happening.
    8. Enmeshment/Undeveloped self: I feel empty and lost without guidance from others, especially from people like my parents.
    9. Failure: I’m fundamentally inadequate (stupid, inept) compared to my peers and will inevitably fail.
    10. Entitlement/Self-centeredness: I deserve whatever I can get, even if it bothers others.
    11. Insufficient self-control/self-discipline: I have a hard time tolerating even small frustrations, which makes me act up or shut down.
    12. Subjugation: I tend to suppress my needs and emotions because of how others will react.
    13. Self-sacrifice: I’m very sensitive to others’ pain and tend to hide my own needs so that I’m not a bother.
    14. Approval-seeking/Recognition-seeking: Getting attention and admiration are often more important than what is truly satisfying to me.
    15. Negativity/Pessimism:I tend to focus on what will go wrong and mistakes I’ll probably make.
    16. Emotional inhibition: I avoid showing feelings, good and bad, and I tend to take a more rational approach.
    17. Unrelenting standards/Hypercriticalness: I’m a perfectionist, am focused on time and efficiency, and find it hard to slow down.
    18. Punitiveness: I tend to be angry and impatient, and I feel people should be punished for their mistakes.

    Once you’ve identified the two or three schemas that are most resonant for you, see if you can notice when they reveal themselves in your life. You might find noticing them easier if you have a think beforehand of how these schemas manifest for you - the kind of thoughts, emotions and behaviour they trigger. Then, when those schemas or beliefs appear, see if you can recognise them for what they are: simply stories swirling around our heads. And although these stories might at times feel very real and can bring us much suffering, they might not always be true.

    Do also remember that we all hold such beliefs and can therefore suffer at times. So don’t judge yourself for having them; instead, when they show up, be kind to yourself. By recognising the stories as simply stories and by holding them in a loving space, they will eventually loosen their grip.

    For more instruction on how to respond to schemas with mindfulness and self-compassion, check out Christopher Germer’s: The mindful path to self-compassion.

  • Random Acts Of Mindfulness

    In our last post, we spoke about some of the ways that we can integrate mindfulness into our everyday lives, with some of the most simple activities (from having a beer to taking a shower) giving us opportunities for us to develop our practice.

    Another way to develop mindful awareness is to bring a bit of the ‘random’ into your life and see if it gives you 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!

  • 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!

    This post is by our dear friend and advisor Pavel Somov, Ph.D, author of Eating the Moment: 141 Mindful Practices to Overcome Overeating One Meal at a Time (New Harbinger, 2008)

    The Mindfulness Project is offering a one-day introduction to mindful eating on the 22. of April and an 8-Week Mindful Eating course stating on the 17. June: http://www.londonmindful.com/8-week-mindful-eating-course.html.

  • 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:

    1. 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”.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.

    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, or if you are thinking you’d like to change your relationship to food in the New Year, check out our Mindful Eating course where you’ll learn and practice lots of valuable techniques around eating. We’ll also be running a smoking cessation course in 2014, so watch this space...

  • 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!

    Whether you’re with your family or not this week, have a lovely time over the festive break and we hope to see you at one of our brand new mindfulness courses in the New Year!

    Best wishes from Alexa, Autumn, and Anna.

  • 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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