• Mindfulness in the City

    By Amy Wood

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

    “Life in the city can be both exhilarating and exhausting,” says Tessa Watt, leading mindfulness teacher and author of Mindful London. “It's easy to find ourselves in a state of constant rush and agitation, swept up by the crowds and the hectic pace of work and play. So it's all the more important to take time out to nourish ourselves – to simplify things, stop rushing around and make time for ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ ”. Finding ways to carve moments of silence and space into city living is crucial, and the conscious practice of mindfulness is a simple way to do so. Here are some of our tips on how to find calm in the chaos of the city.

    Into the wild

    Nothing is more grounding and nurturing than time spent in nature. Rooted in the here and the now, the natural world is alive and ever-present - an idea that's central to the practice of mindfulness. Nature's restorative benefits are backed by research and accessible to us all at any given moment. Studies have shown that nature can not only improve cognitive function, but can also immunise our brains against the effects of urban stress. Despite its reputation as a concrete jungle, London has over 3000 green spaces and eight million trees within its radius, so we are never far from flora and fauna. Lunch breaks and walks to work are ideal opportunities to reconnect with nature and restore equilibrium with our mindfulness practice. We can cultivate mindfulness by tuning our awareness to the sensory experiences of nature around us: the sound of bird song, the breeze on our skin, the warmth of the sunlight on our face.

    Calmer commutes

    Many of us feel the uncomfortable nature of commuting on overcrowded buses and trains. It can leave us energetically drained and mentally disconnected before the day has even begun. There's a compulsion to switch off and autopilot our way through the experience, but that only leads to a sense of disconnect from the present moment. We can find a new perspective on our commute by incorporating simple mindfulness practices into the journey. Giving our attention to the subtle movements of the train or bus and letting these sensations fill our awareness can bring us back to the here and the now. By focusing on the breath, we can create internal space where we may be lacking it externally. When the mind wanders, as it has a natural inclination to do, we can gently bring the attention back to the breath.

    Silent sanctuaries

    Spaces and places that promote calm are hard to come by in the city, but they do exist. Churches, museums, libraries and bookshops all provide a welcome respite from the city's soundtrack of sirens and traffic. No belief system is required to enjoy a church's space. We can simply appreciate it for what it is - a tranquil environment untouched by technology. Moments spent in these types of spaces are important to our mindfulness practice as the emphasis is on the experience of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. We can embrace them for the opportunity they bring to slow down and breathe.

    City challenges

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

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    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

    8-Week Interpersonal Mindfulness Course

  • Cultivating Gratitude All Year Round

    Think back for a moment to what you did over Christmas and New Year’s. Maybe you spent time with family. Perhaps you carved out some space just for yourself, or got some friends together for a party. Whether it’s Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve or somebody’s birthday, we tend to roll out the red carpet, deck the halls and bake a cake. Mindfulness can help us to savour the joy of these occasions, but it also invites us to be present for every moment, not just special events.

    During the holidays, we may have felt grateful for what we have, thankful for time with friends and family. So how can we bring that sense of appreciation into our everyday lives? Two of our teachers at The Mindfulness Project shared their ideas for how we can cultivate a spirit of gratitude all year round.

    Thoughts from our teachers

    We asked neuropsychologist and mindfulness teacher Dr Melanie Tokley what experience she most enjoyed over the holidays. She shared her memory of attending a six-night silent meditation retreat in Devon:

    “On New Year’s Eve, our third day immersed in silence, we walked up a winding path lit by tea lights to a beautiful bonfire. One by one, we threw pieces of paper into the fire bearing the words of things we wished to let go of. We sat around the fire drinking hot chocolate infused with cinnamon bark and cardamom pods. Despite the silence, I felt incredibly connected to everyone present. I could hear fireworks exploding in the sky from nearby towns and, despite the remoteness of our location, there was a profound sense of connectedness and community.”

    Melanie’s words paint a beautiful picture of how she spent New Year’s Eve. By mindfully engaging with her experience, she has created vivid memories, full of detail and texture. You can almost smell the fire, taste the cinnamon and feel the sense of letting go she must have felt in that moment.

    Doug Vaughan, a psychotherapist and teacher at The Mindfulness Project, suggests that “appreciating the ordinary” is one of the most effective ways of practising gratitude, no matter what time of year it is:

    “The holidays are especially conducive to gratitude practices and cultivating loving kindness. But whatever the time of year, one of my favourite practices is appreciating the ordinary. Rick Hanson introduced me to this concept and each time I apply it, it feels as though I’ve found a delightful secret that is freely available. That sense of savouring the okayness of this moment, enjoying those times when our bodies feel alright; those moments when there’s no apparent gloss nor grit – just a simple alright-ness that can be savoured. On a personal level, if I can recognise those moments, take them in, then my step feels a little lighter and my smile is readier to broaden.”

    How can we bring this sense of awareness, connection and gratitude to our everyday experiences?

    When we practice mindfulness we become more attuned to the many moments that make up our day-to-day lives, and learn to treat all moments as equally important. By bringing this presence to our experience, we are more able to recognise and appreciate the good stuff when it happens. Next time you’re enjoying something, really tune in and see how that feels in your body. See if you can have a sense of gratitude and appreciation for that moment. Mindfulness also means being with moments of difficulty, so next time something difficult happens, also tune in and see how that feels. By fully being with our moments like this, we’re less likely to cling on to them or push them away, and can just appreciate life for how it really is.

    We can also spend some time seeing how special the ordinary can really be. Try to bring the sense of occasion you cultivated at Christmas or New Year’s to an everyday task, or a typical evening at home. Switch off your phone, roll out the red carpet and savour the simple “okayness” of the moments as they pass. See how it changes your experience. We’d love to hear how you get on, so feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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    MEDITATIONS:

    Gratitude Meditation

    Love Meditation

    Animal Affection

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Cultivating Happiness Workshop

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

  • The Secret to Keeping your New Year’s Resolutions

    It happens every year. We start off with the best intentions to break old habits, learn new skills, stay fit, be productive, get happy. But we are quickly reminded that change rarely happens in one fell swoop. Lasting changes are made up of lots of little choices, lots of little moments that, when added up together, become powerful. The key to being present for those moments where change can actually happen is mindfulness.

    In practice, mindfulness is a simple and very powerful way of training our awareness. It is about paying attention to what is happening here and now (i.e. to sensations, thoughts, and emotions) in a non-judgemental way. The practice also encompasses a set of principles that can wholeheartedly change how we relate to our experiences. In this way, it can serve as an antidote to the stress and habits that can undermine our health, performance and quality of life. From a place of inner calm and balance, we are better able to set value-oriented goals and move towards the positive life changes we seek, one moment and choice at a time.

    Regardless of your goals for 2017, every regime can benefit from mindfulness. By becoming more present and grounded in our day-to-day lives, we can start to surf the urges that keep us locked in old habits and patterns, and instead make healthier choices that align more truly with our values and offer a start to long-lasting change.

    Here are some tips on how to set and keep your New Year’s resolutions:

    1) Use mindfulness to tune into your body and sense what really matters to you when you make your resolutions. Then let your values guide your priorities.

    2) Set goals that are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, rewarding and time-based).

    3) Take small steps.

    4) Bring awareness to those moments when urges to pursue old patterns arise. Notice how it feels in your body and use your breath to surf the urge. See if you can make a different choice.

    5) Savor the satisfaction. Take time to acknowledge how good it feels when you achieve a goal.

    6) Self-Compassion: Try motivating yourself with kindness rather than criticism, and see how it changes your experience.

    Remember that change isn’t easy and takes time and practice. And whether you start in the New Year or any other time, remember that every moment is a new opportunity to begin again.

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    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    New Year's Resolution Workshop

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

     

     

  • 'Tis the Season... to be Mindful

    Mindfulness at ChristmasThe Christmas season can be stressful, especially if you are trying to stay healthy. Between catching up with friends and family, and attending work parties, you will likely be offered countless mince pies, cakes and chocolates, not to mention plenty of drinks. It is hard to resist overindulging around this time, which we might justify with our plans to make up for it in January. Yet we could instead use a little mindfulness this month, so we can enjoy all the tasty treats without feeling so guilty and groggy afterwards.

    The key to mindful eating (and drinking) is to slow down and fully engage all the senses, and what better time to do this than at Christmas! The smell of mulled wine, the taste of spiced fruit, the spritz of clementines and that sound of lifting the lid off of a box of chocolates are all comforting reminders of the season. By mindfully savouring these treats we will not only enjoy them more fully, but we will also be less likely to overindulge and make ourselves sick.

    The other aspect of mindfulness that can be particularly helpful around this time is self-compassion. Say we do eat too many Christmas biscuits or have too much holiday punch, it does not help to beat ourselves up and feel guilty about it. Instead try being kind to yourself and acknowledging that you are only human and doing the best you can under tempting circumstances. At the same time, bring awareness and a sense of care to your body and acknowledge that it might be taxed this time of year as well. Taking this stance can remind us to listen to our physical cues and honour them with our decisions, which might come easier next time.

    For now, do not be afraid of the mince pies and bubbly; just remember your mindfulness and savour the precious moments with friends and family.

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    MEDITATIONS:

    Candlelight Meditation

    Changing Seasons Meditation

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    New Year's Resolution Workshop

  • Mindful Nature Connection

    Mindfulness & Nature Connection

    Just as formal mindfulness meditation practice allows us to tend to ourselves and sooth our systems in a nourishing way, connecting with nature can have an equally therapeutic effect - especially given our busy and digitally loaded lifestyles. Putting our phones aside and spending some time in nature can leave us feeling calmed, refreshed and happier. If we can sit in the grass and watch a tree for a couple of minutes, notice the light shine through its fluttering leaves, we can pause and – connect with something bigger.

    The benefits of connecting with the natural world in this way are also supported by research. Simply being in nature has been shown to bring about positive emotions, and activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which calms and restores us. Studies have also shown that spending time in nature aids in attention recovery, is emotionally restorative, and promotes general psychological well-being. Mindfulness only enhances our ability to connect with nature and thus reinforces these benefits.

    You will find that there are some unique qualities to connecting with nature mindfully -- here are the key points to consider:

    1. Permission: give yourself permission to take time out, disconnected from your devices, to spend time in and be with nature.

    2. Intention: during your dedicated time outdoors, set the intention to connect and be present with the nature around you, as well as your internal experience. Be the observer or the field researcher of your environment.

    3. Attention: rest your attention on the sensory experiences of nature - the smells, sights, sensations. And when the mind wanders, as it will, bring your attention gently back to whatever you have placed your attention on.

    4. Attitudes: bring the qualities of mindfulness such as curiosity, allowing, and non-judgemental awareness to your time in nature -- this can enrich your experience with profound and insightful moments.

    The reason mindfulness and nature are such complements to each other is because in mindfulness we rest our attention on sensory experiences such as the breath or sounds, and nature offers so much inspiration for the senses. Feeling the sunshine on your cheeks on a crisp morning, or taking in the smell of fresh rain on the soil, or sitting down in a meadow and watching the wind blow through tall grass… these are the kind of moments where we can practice coming back to our senses to access the restorative benefits of both mindfulness and nature connection.

    Beyond just imagining it, we would encourage you, next time you feel the need for a real break, to leave your phone behind and make your way to nature.

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    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

  • 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.

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    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.

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    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

  • Understanding The Seven Types Of Hunger

    Purchase this image at http://www.stocksy.com/40413

    How many times have you reached for a handful of snacks at a party and munched through them without thinking, or ordered dessert even though you were already completely stuffed, just because it looked so good?

    We eat for many reasons - because we’re stressed or feeling sad, because we feel like we deserve a treat or simply because it’s our scheduled mealtime.

    Eating mindfully is about expanding our awareness around food habits, so that we can make a more conscious decision of what to put in our mouths and when. According to Jan Chozen-Bays, MD, author of the book ‘Mindful Eating’, there are seven different types of hunger relating to different parts of our anatomy - the eyes, nose, mouth, stomach, cells, mind and heart.

    Once we are more aware of these different types of hunger and their reasons, we can respond consciously and more appropriately to satisfy them. Here are the seven types:

    1. Eye hunger

    We are very stimulated by sight, so a beautifully presented meal will be a lot more appealing to us than a bucket of slop - even if the ingredients are the same. To satisfy eye hunger, we can really feast our eyes on the food before we put it in our mouths. If we mindlessly stuff our dinner in our mouths while watching TV, we’re wasting an opportunity to really appreciate it.

    2. Nose hunger

    Most of what we think of as taste is actually the smell of the food. Our sense of smell is much more subtle than that of taste, as anyone who’s had a head cold and a stuffed up nose will tell! To satisfy your nose hunger, practice sensitising yourself to the smell of your food, isolated from taste, by taking a pause before eating to really take in the aromas.

    3. Mouth hunger

    What we think of as tasty, appealing food is often actually socially conditioned or influenced by our upbringing. This includes how sweet or salty we want our food to be, and the kinds of seasoning and spices we like. What is considered a delicacy in one country can be repellent to another culture. Anyone for deep-fried cockroaches?! Many people’s aversion to raw food is a prime example of this social conditioning of the mouth hunger. Generating greater awareness and a sense of open curiosity around the flavours and textures in our mouths as we eat can help satisfy our mouth hunger.

    4. Stomach hunger   

    A rumbling tummy is one of the main ways we recognise hunger. And yet, it doesn’t necessarily mean our body needs food. The hunger cues from the stomach are self-taught - linked to the schedule we’ve given it for when are appropriate times to eat. It takes practice to sense when a grumbling stomach means actual hunger. Often, we can confuse the sensation with other feelings that affect our stomach such as anxiety or nervousness. If we feed anxiety with junk food, then get more anxious about our diet, we can spark off a negative spiral of emotional eating. What to do? This takes practice. Listen to the stomach’s cues and start to familiarise yourself with them. Try delaying eating when you feel hungry and become aware of the sensations. Assess your hunger on a scale from 1-10 before a meal, then halfway through check in again and do the same.

    5. Cellular hunger

    When our cells need nutrients, we might feel irritable, tired or we may get a headache. Cellular hunger is one of the hardest types of hunger to sense, even though it is the original reason for eating. When we were children, we intuitively knew when we needed to eat, and what our body was craving. But over time, we lose our ability. Through mindfulness, it’s possible to become more aware of our body’s cravings for specific nutrients and to develop some of the inner wisdom we had when we were children. As Jan Chozen-Bays says, “To learn to listen to cellular hunger is the primary skill of mindful eating.”

    6. Mind hunger

    Modern society has made us very anxious eaters. Constantly being influenced by the current fad diet or the latest nutritional guidelines or research paper, we are deafened by our inner voice telling us that one type of food is good and one type bad, meaning it’s very difficult to pick up on our body’s natural cues. The mind is very difficult to satisfy, as it is fickle and will find something new to focus on if one craving is satisfied. Mindfulness can help calm the mind and allow for a more sensitive awareness of the other cues our body is sending us.

    7. Heart hunger

    So much of the time, what and when we eat is linked into our emotions. We might crave certain comfort food because we were given it as a child, or because we’ve associated it in our mind as a treat for when we’re feeling down. Often emotional eating boils down to a desire to be loved or looked after. We eat to fill a hole, but that hole often can’t be satisfied through eating. To satisfy our heart hunger, we need to find the intimacy or comfort our heart is craving. Try noticing the emotions that you’ve been feeling just before you have an urge to snack and you might be able to find other ways to satisfy them, such as calling a friend or having a cup of tea or a hot bath.

    So, next time you feel hungry, check in with yourself and work out what kind of hunger you’re sensing. If eating is appropriate - go ahead and eat! But try to be mindful of what and how you eat, take in the aroma, feast with your eyes and savour every flavour - then you’ll be truly satisfied.

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    MEDITATIONS:

    Body Scan

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Eating Awareness Training Workshop

  • Improving Our Health, Compassionately

    turtle

    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 example, we can decide to become healthier, whether that’s through eating better, 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. Maybe we’ve been eating too much junk food lately, and so we think to ourselves, ‘Oh god, I’m so fat. I must go on a diet!’ rather than having a kinder thought such as, ‘I want to start eating more mindfully.’

    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 Check-List for Mindful Goal-Setting

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

    Is my goal realistic?

    Say we want to stop eating unhealthily, and so we come up with the goal of giving up chocolate and sweets completely. It might work; we might indeed have the will power to never touch the sweet stuff again. But alternatively it might be really difficult! So difficult in fact, that we fail terribly, end up binging on them, and then feel even worse about ourselves than before.

    Instead of banishing sweets from our lives altogether, why not just get more mindful about eating them? We can treat ourselves now and again to a small portion, and practice really savouring it while we eat. We’re still moving towards our health goals, but in a more realistic way.

    Is my goal kind?

    We want to lose weight quickly, and so we decide to live on smoothies alone for a month, or we sign up for the toughest, most physically gruelling boot camp we can find. Yet these kinds of goals seem more like punishments than ways to help ourselves enjoy life more.

    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 overweight, depressed, addicted to something, that means we’re bad. But imagine that your friend wanted to lose weight, or that your child was suffering with depression, or that your beloved was struggling with an addiction. It’s unlikely that we would say to them the things we say to ourselves. Would we really say to a friend, ‘My god, you’re disgusting! You should starve yourself for a week!’

    When setting goals, it’s useful to imagine that we are helping a friend set those goals instead. 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 those goals self-nurturing: for example, instead of ‘I don’t want to be fat any more’ try changing it to ‘I want to nurture my body with healthy food 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 reaching for the junk food or cigarettes again. In these moments it feels like all 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 scoffed a whole pizza, 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, and again if needed, because each new moment is a fresh opportunity to get back on track.

    Do I really need to achieve this goal?

    Do we actually need to lose weight, or is it just that our thoughts about our body are very negative at the moment? 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 at a healthy weight, perhaps it’s not our body that we need to change, but our thoughts about it, and how we treat it.

    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 they coming from self-compassion, or self-hatred? Are they moving you forward into health, or holding you in a cycle of guilt and shame? By exploring our self-beliefs and inner dialogue, we can find out where our goals are really coming from, and whether we should put them into practice.

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Self-Compassion Workshop

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

     

  • 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

     

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