• Are you in need of a mindfulness retreat?

    Mindfulness Retreat

    “On retreat, we nourish the most important relationship that we have - the relationship with ourselves.” - Sarah Powers.

    This year, instead of a traditional summer holiday, how about taking a break to nourish your self and mind on a restorative retreat? Away from the distractions of daily life, a mindfulness retreat in the nurturing surrounds of nature can be a wonderful opportunity to slow down, have a digital detox and truly take some time just for ourselves. Read on to find out some of the ways a retreat can be beneficial...

     

    Having space to grow

    Carving out the time to fully dedicate ourselves to an extended period of mindfulness away from everyday life is an excellent opportunity to deepen and rejuvenate our practice. “A retreat removes the daily responsibilities and technological distractions, meaning that you have more time and space in which to dedicate yourself to sitting,” says mindfulness teacher James Milford. “This is essential as practice can grow stale and tick-box like if all we ever do is try and fit it into an existing schedule.”

     

    Breaking habitual patterns

    Although it may take some time to adjust to initially, taking a retreat in silence gives us the chance to see ourselves and our habitual patterns more clearly. “Silence can be challenging for many of us when we first start to observe it, but over time it becomes a welcome and nourishing refuge,” says mindfulness teacher Christiane Kerr. Being in silence allows our practice to deepen and helps us recognise our habitual thought patterns.” For example, you might notice that you get very self-conscious at meal times, which might lead to urges to eat more or less than usual. On retreat, there’s no distracting ourselves in such uncomfortable moments by checking our phones or chatting. Instead, we have the opportunity to cultivate awareness of our patterns, and meet them with self-compassion.

     

    Connecting with others

    Although it might sound strange, silent retreats offer a wonderful opportunity to connect with others in a new and profound way. Surrounded by fellow meditators, a retreat offers a supportive and nurturing environment in which to practice -- there is always someone there supporting you with their presence. And moments where you catch someone’s eye or receive an encouraging or understanding smile become really special. “Practicing mindfulness alone day after day can be a little dispiriting at times, so a retreat is a welcome chance to be with others and draw benefits from their participation and proximity,” says James. For most of us, sitting in collective stillness for days at a time will be a new experience - but through it we may find that we discover new ways of being with others and a rich sense of connection that nourishes and enriches our practice.

     

    Training our mindfulness muscle of attention

    On retreat, we spend a large amount of our time in formal meditation, and the rest of our waking time in informal practice. This means we are exercising our muscle of attention much more than we would usually do. This presents a wonderful opportunity for us to have deep insights, and this turning inwards to connect with ourselves and our inner wisdom can bring new perspectives that leave us feeling refreshed and renewed. Most retreat attendees notice a significant difference in their ability to meet everyday challenges with more ease when returning back home.

     

    For those new to meditation or a silent meditation retreat, the idea might seem quite daunting and scary, or even just really unappealing. But by placing ourselves in this unique environment, we can truly spend time with ourselves, have space for reflection and practice living in the present moment. And just because it’s silent, it doesn’t mean that you can’t talk to one of the teachers or support staff if you need to, and there is often dedicated time for discussion with the teacher in groups during the retreat. In other words, the silence isn’t there as a test of stamina, but rather as a way to observe your habitual patterns and thoughts. It is only through this awareness that we gain a platform to change and grow.

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    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

    TIPS:

    Why Meditate?

    The Present Moment

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

    One-Day Mindfulness Retreat

    Deepening Mindfulness Retreat Day

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Mindfulness for Anxiety and Depression

  • Mindfulness for Teenagers

    It goes without saying that adolescence is a time of physiological and emotional upheaval.  Emerging from the cocoon of childhood in a tumult of hormones, physical developments and emotions, teenagers try and forge their own place, their own identity and to do so whilst trying to manage the expectations and opinions of their family, friends, and wider peer groups. Add to that the omnipresent reality of homework and exams, demanding extracurriculars, and impending decisions about their future and it is easy to see how these very real pressures can increase stress and anxiety.

    Luckily, there is increasing awareness of the pressures faced by teenagers, and the need to help guide them in dealing with the emotional realities of adolescence. Within mindfulness there are courses and school-based programmes specifically aimed at teenagers. These have provided a foundation for the growing research interest in the field, which is indeed showing positive results. A recent study showed that group mindfulness practice for teenagers resulted in “significant improvements in anxiety, internalising stress and attention”. Another research paper looking at mindfulness and self-compassion highlights how a course not only has the “potential to decrease stress”, but to also boost positive aspects of behaviour, such as “increasing resilience and positive risk taking”.

    Mindfulness, as the research indicates, can offer tools and attitudes that help navigate the uneven terrain of adolescence. Stress, anxiety and pressure are part of a teenagers’ reality, but they do not have to be debilitating. Through mindfulness, they can develop awareness, resilience and the emotional intelligence needed to skillfully cope with the pressures of their academic and social lives.

    One of the missing pieces is how to give teenagers access to mindfulness programmes outside of school-based programmes, as these are not yet widely available. One of the best ways is to practice and embody it as a parent. Be a living demonstration of the ability to respond rather than react at times of difficulty and stress. By seeing how a calm, even demeanour leads to less emotional upheaval, the benefits of mindfulness are passed on almost by osmosis.

    But this might not be enough on its own. Teenagers are known to rebel against anything their parents do or suggest, so they might dismiss your actions. Or perhaps they simply do not pay attention to your good example. Therefore, getting them to practice mindfulness themselves might require other in-roads.

    One way is to use the technology that is (quite literally) at their fingertips. Smartphones are now central to the lives of teenagers and these devices can be utilised to help them engage with mindfulness. There are apps they can use. Headspace has a version of their app for younger children, three different age ranges going up to 12, while “Stop, Breathe, Think” and “Smiling Mind” have been developed to make mindfulness accessible for teens.  Youtube too has a wealth of videos aimed at engaging teenagers with mindfulness and the cultivation of wellbeing, helping make it relevant to them.

    The one thing these technological routes into mindfulness cannot offer though is the teacher led experience. Mindfulness practice raises many avenues to explore and there is a need to find a qualified and experienced teacher who can skillfully guide practitioners. There are some options available. There are some family and child therapists who offer mindfulness for teenagers, or perhaps a dipping the toe in the water approach, attending a workshop, may be the perfect way to get teenagers into mindfulness in a relaxed and informal way?

    Even if teenagers only grudgingly participate at first -- they will thank you later. It seems safe to say that everyone who comes to mindfulness wishes they had only found it sooner.

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    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    Mindful Parenting Workshop

  • How To Use Mindfulness To Cultivate Happiness

     

     

    Is negative thinking clouding your happiness? Mindfulness may be able to help. Scientific studies have confirmed that we all hardwired with a ‘negativity bias’ - an evolutionary function that was once necessary for our survival. This means our brains are built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news and a tendency to embed negative experiences more strongly than positive ones. As Dr. Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness, puts it: The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.” But the good news is we can break this bias. Studies have shown that mindfulness can help to rewire the brain and increase our capacity for happiness and wellbeing. Read on to find out how…

    Mindfulness short circuits negative thinking

    In mindfulness, we learn to be on close terms with the nature of the mind. As we hone in on our present moment experience and observe our mental activity, we become more skillful at noticing when our minds are getting caught up in negative and discouraging patterns of thought. In observing this, we can choose to break the circuit and shift to a self-compassionate mode of thinking that is supportive and nurturing instead.

    Mindfulness promotes gratitude

    Gratitude is a powerful antidote to negative thinking. To be mindful means to be aware of what is happening around us, and within us - and this is the first step towards being grateful for what we have. Cultivating an awareness and appreciation of the things that are going well in our lives and developing a daily gratitude practice prevents negativity from clouding our vision and reinforces positive connections in the brain that increase our capacity for happiness. It’s simple and transformative.

    Mindfulness rewires the brain

    What we think, feel and do all sculpt our neural networks. This is neuroplasticity in action - the brain‘s ability to constantly change throughout life and rewire itself in response to our feelings, thoughts and experiences. Research has shown that every time we use a particular pathway of thinking - either positive or negative - it increases the likelihood that we will do it again. Happily, mindfulness can be used as a tool to dislodge deep-rooted negative thinking patterns over time and chart new pathways in their place, which are more positive and nurturing. By bringing mindful awareness to everyday positive experiences, noticing when something feels good and actively taking in that feeling, we can weave the experience into the brain. The more we establish and exercise these pathways for happiness, the stronger they become.

    Mindfulness builds inner contentment

    One of the greatest gifts that mindfulness can bring to our lives is a sense of inner happiness and calm. It is often said that states of anxiety and depression stem from our ways of thinking - if we’re anxious, we’re spending too much time thinking about the future and if we’re depressed, we’re ruminating too frequently on the past. Of course, there are other factors to consider here - both biological and environmental - but the simple act of staying present keeps us more centred, teaches us acceptance and gives us a greater appreciation of life. In mindfulness, we also train ourselves to observe the world more objectively - which gives us the power to see things as they are, not as we are. This allows us to respond to situations and interactions without projecting our own mental model onto them, and frees us from the tendency to live in our own minds.

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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

  • Using Mindfulness to Maintain Motivation

    By James Milford

    The end of a mindfulness course is often a bittersweet experience. It is often accompanied by a sense of elation at having completed this journey together. There is a shared feeling. Words of enjoyment, appreciation and encouragement are imparted. Awareness of impending separation is tempered by urges to stay in touch and the hugs goodbye. The bond built over 8 weeks formed a cohesive unit, but then, suddenly, it’s gone. The group, the physical and cognitive support that has been a fixture of your week, scatters like the atoms of an out-breath into the ether.

    There is often a burst of enthusiasm after a course. The desire to maintain a daily practice is high. Over 8 weeks the requirement of daily mindfulness practice shifts from a cognitive knowing of its importance, to experientially understanding its substance and worth. You can now empathise with Jon Kabat-Zinn when he says “making a time for formal practice every day is like feeding yourself every day. It is that important.”

    But there will be challenges to regular practice, times when our motivation suffers. Maybe you have had a busy day and you just wanted to relax. Maybe the kids are demanding and on top of all your other responsibilities finding time simply eluded you. Maybe the myriad of time pressures from daily life just mounted up and you decided against formal practice for that day. This happens -- indeed it is to be expected. Life is busy and demanding, and from time to time our mindfulness practice will slip down the list of priorities. When this happens, we just set our intention to begin again the next day.

    However, avoidance can easily become a habit. Research has indicated that many mindfulness practitioners experience a lessening of motivation once the formal structure of a course is completed, with many abandoning mindfulness altogether within a year of the end of their formal course. Various contributing factors have been attributed to this, including lack of time and diminished interest to missing the support and structure offered by the group.

    So how are we to meet these real challenges and maintain our mindfulness practice? By using mindfulness of course! By tapping into the experiential and attitudinal qualities of mindfulness that were woven into the teaching of the 8-week course, you can explore your challenges and respond to them mindfully, getting practice back on track.

    Acceptance

    Rather than ignore or shy away from the fact that your mindfulness practice is suffering, open fully to this reality. Bring a sense of acceptance to the fact that you are having difficulties with motivation. Explore the sensations, thoughts and emotions that arise when you feel resistance to practice. By doing this you make the difficulties part of your mindfulness practice, exploring obstacles and giving yourself a sense of space in choosing to respond.

    Non-Judgement & Compassion

    Not practicing, can leave the door open for the doing mind to criticise ourselves for not practicing…….” I should be doing this”. Mindfulness practice should not be something else to give ourselves a hard time about. To avoid adding judgement to the fact that we are struggling with motivation, we can bring a sense of non-judgement and compassion to our reality. Recognise that motivation ebbs and flows, that it can be difficult to always find time and offer ourselves support. Recognise that you are human and that you are not striving for perfection. Let yourself off the hook a little.

    Beginner’s Mind

    Beginner’s mind is essential within mindfulness, but it has an elusive quality, particularly in applying it day to day. However, approaching things with beginner’s mind and a renewed sense of curiosity can be extremely helpful in restoring motivation to practice mindfulness.

    We can revisit our motivation for practice. This has likely changed since first decided to attend a course so spending a little time engaging with our continuing motivation can be incredibly helpful. Perhaps you are being driven by a subtle striving or goal setting that is inhibiting your practice. Approaching this with a freshness and beginner’s mind could be how you reinvigorate your mindfulness practice.

    Find Support

    Finally, it can be helpful to open up to what has changed, what is missing. Research into continued mindfulness practice has explicitly and implicitly highlighted the importance of group support as key in helping maintain interest and mindfulness practice. The lack of structure, support and teaching offered in a group can feel like a loss, so re-engaging with group practice could be beneficial. You might want to deepen your practice with a retreat. Perhaps it is a once a month or once a week drop-in class that you need. Maybe it is more structured and regular. Just explore and see what works for you. It could make all the difference and keep you coming back to the cushion.

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    MEDITATION:

    Body Scan

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

    8-Week Interpersonal Mindfulness Course

    Deepening Mindfulness Retreat Day

    8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course

  • 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.

    .....

    MEDITATION:

    Changing Seasons Meditation

    Body Scan

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

    New Year's Resolution Workshop

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