Tag Archives: kindness

Why mums can’t do everything…

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newborn-1506248_1280Mums do so much. So, so much. Yet they always think they can do even more. They feel guilty if they stop, even for a few minutes.  Sitting down, in the day….NO! Going to bed when they’re exhausted….NO WAY, there’s still more chores to do!

But here’s why us mums need to take care of ourselves. (That’s us mums of whatever age, with one, two or more children, babies, toddlers, or teens). We can only give our best when we feel at our best. And we frequently feel way less than our best. Sometimes, we forget what our best even felt like.

When we become tired, exhausted, and depleted, we lose something of ourselves. Mums frequently say they can barely remember who they were before they had children. Becoming a mother is certainly a life-changing event, a momentous thing for any woman. We grow very quickly, learning our baby’s, and then our older child’s needs. We very quickly learn to put their needs before our own. There’s probably nobody more selfless than  mothers. And that’s the way it has to be.

But when we get tired and neglect our own needs for too long (and we all know it can be VERY long!), we start to lose ourselves, that glimmer and sparkle that makes us who we ARE. We may lose our sense of humour, we may lose our vitality, we may even start to lose that vital empathy and ability to see things from our child’s point of view. Those things that bother them can start to feel so small compared with our own mountainous fatigue. We may become impatient, irritable, or depressed. We may stop enjoying and savouring this time with our children as much as we feel we should (oops, there’s that guilt again!) The sheer wonder of being a parent can start to pass us by, and it can feel like an endless uphill struggle.

So – we need to take time out. It isn’t selfish to look after ourselves from time to time. Who are we kidding if we tell ourselves we can be awake for 20 hours a day, every day, and still be supermum?! Yes, the house might be tidy, but the children crying again will feel like the last straw. Someone else can wash up for a change, someone else can bring in the washing and fold it away. Take those few  minutes for yourself, have a sit down with a good book, your favourite music, do some exercise, have a lovely warm bath – whatever you need to replenish your energy levels and bring back some of that lovely sparkle that makes you YOU!

What are your favourite ways to relax and recharge? Leave your comments below!

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Alison x

 

 

Decluttering and looking after ourselves

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I have been thinking a lot about happiness lately – along with writing more and being more proactive in my business (Ok, I didn’t go into yoga teaching and therapies to do marketing and accounting, but I do have to accept that they are necessary evils!), taking steps to live a happier and higher-energy life is key for me this year.  It’s so easy to feel a bit overwhelmed by the many demands of life, and before you know it, you can feel less than your best!

Luckily for me, most of the things I teach – and use regularly – are hugely effective at lifting my mood.  Some energetic or relaxing yoga  can work wonders, as can a bit of reflexology, and Jin Shin Jyutsu in its simplest form is really the art of identifying and then balancing the subtle shifts of our moods.  And ultimately, for me, the key to feeling good, day by day, is to take time out for things I enjoy, and to live my life being ME – by my own standards, not anyone else’s. Even when you teach others ways to relax, to energise, to feel brilliant, it can be easy to forget to do this consistently, day by day, moment by moment. Despite my daily meditation and yoga practice, I felt that this year there was even more I could do….more reading, more writing, more looking after myself and earlier nights.  I have been taking a few minutes to light candles and nightlights around my home in the early evening, and have been doing a major decluttering, after reading the amazing The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever by Marie Kondo. There’s still a way to go, but clothes, books and paperwork have been having a complete sort out – the recycling bin and the charity shops near me have benefitted too!

In Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life,
Arianna Huffington writes of the critical need to reevaluate what we mean by success.  Her moment of realisation came when she collapsed from exhaustion, two years after setting up the Huffington Post.  She writes:

…after my fall, I had to ask myself, Was this what success looked like? Was this the life I wanted? I was working eighteen hours a day, seven days a week, trying to build a business, expand our coverage,and bring in investors. But my life, I realized, was out of control. In terms of the traditional measures of success, which focus on money and power, I was very successful.  But I was not living a successful life by any sane definition of success. I knew something had to radically change. I could not go on that way.

The book goes on to look at the many ways we could redefine success, to include our wellbeing, and making room in our lives for wonder, wisdom and giving to others. So whilst there is nothing wrong in living a ‘successful’ life, in terms of status and money, if that is the kind of life that makes us feel fulfilled, we need to make sure we look after ourselves as well.

Sometimes it is argued that looking after ourselves is just a form of selfishness.  But I would argue that we are unable to look after others if we do not sometimes put ourselves first.  Yes, as parents we care for our children, as therapists we treat our clients to the very best of our ability, as professionals we do our job the best we can.  But, how can we do this if we are drained, exhausted, and lacking in energy? How can we be our kindest, most loving selves when we are tired and aching and just longing for sleep?  I’m certain I’m not alone in being more empathic when I feel good in myself, rested, vibrant and healthy. Have you ever tried being the perfect parent, partner, friend, employer or employee when you’re feeling rubbish?  With the best intentions in the world, it’s just not going to happen.

So, it’s time for us all to stop feeling that it’s wrong to take a break.  We owe it to ourselves – and everyone else! –  to live life to the full.  To explore our human potential to the limit, rather than trudging along, robot-like, just trying to get through the days.

Taking time out, being the best you can be….those are my keys (for myself, and those I work with!) for this year.  Let me know the steps you’re taking to look after yourself!

The kind of resolutions I like…

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It’s the third of  January, and it’s a dreary kind of day outside.  The kind of day that makes you want to curl up by the fire.  It’s also far enough into the new year that you could already see yourself as failing one or more of your resolutions, if you made any, but also early enough in the year that you may not even have started, and so you could be wondering if it was worth even setting any.

Well, I really don’t like the kind of all-or-nothing resolutions which you could fail at this early on!  I mean, what’s the point of them?  It’s incredibly hard to start, or stick to, a new healthy eating plan when the house is still full of delicious Christmas leftovers!  If you haven’t started, why should a week or two into the year make any difference?  Why not start when the time is right for you?! If the blustery day puts you off wanting to go for a walk or a run, does it matter?  It’s not the only day of the year!  There are still 362 days left to do that!

I much prefer to look at the new year as a time to assess where I’m at in my life, and  keep moving forward. So rather than set myself ridiculous goals which I can succeed or fail at, I set myself realistic goals, and  see them as a continuation of what has gone before, a revisiting of my overall move towards better things.  It’s not a ladder I can fall off, more of a spiral staircase in which the overall movement is upwards but which curls around and comes back to the same spot, where I can go down a few steps but then back up.  I try to take small steps towards my overall goal, but I don’t try to do it all at once! As Lao Tzu said, The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Above all, I intend to be kind to myself this year,  so setting myself unreachable goals would really not fit that end. If you have already broken a resolution, or have not yet started, or not set any at all, be kind to yourself and just take one tiny step at a time.

The power of speech

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The words we use, the language and tone of our voices when we communicate with others is so important. We have all at some time in our lives said something we  later regret, whether saying something to hurt in a moment of anger, or being unable to resist the temptation to indulge in some juicy gossip. And the power of those words to cause harm may be so much more than we thought. They can never be taken back. Once the energy of those words is in the world, their damage is done and may continue for many years.

As Robert Browning writes so presciently in ‘A Lover’s Quarrel’, what we say may not necessarily reflect our true feelings, and yet can still cause untold damage:

Not from the heart beneath –
‘ Twas a bubble born of breath
Neither sneer nor vaunt
Nor reproach nor taunt.
See a word, how it severeth!
Oh, power of life and death
In the tongue, as the Preacher saith!

Some of our speech may be empty of true meaning, as empty as a bubble and disconnected from the truth of our hearts.  Our throat chakra, Vishuddhi, is situated between Anahata, the heart chakra, and Ajna, lying in the brain.  When we are focused and centred in our true selves, our speech will reflect the wisdom of both the head and the heart.  Yoga encourages us to adopt right speech, tasting our words before we speak them, assessing whether they are kind, whether they are true, whether they are necessary.  How much of what we say is completely unnecessary?!  The quality of truthfulness, satya, is one of the five yamas of Raja yoga.  This quality is not only about our speech, but also about living our life honestly and decently, in line with our own spiritual values.

I recently came across a prayer to the Divine Mother, in the excellent book Living the Practice: Collected Writings on the Transformative Potential of Yoga by Swami Radhananda, which begins:

May all my speech and idle talk be mantra 

A mantra is a word or phrase which is repeated in yoga and meditation practice and which connects us to our spirit.  The thought of all our speech being mantra is inspiring.  Could we really elevate our every word to the level of mantra, using our speech to connect us with our spirit, and that of those we are talking to, rather than disconnecting as we so often do in our everyday speech?  When we gossip about others, we are creating the illusion of  ‘them and us’, looking for differences between individuals, and creating separation.  When we speak unkindly, when we criticise others, we are using the power of our speech to disconnect from the person we are talking to, rather than building a connection from our heart to theirs.  By consciously improving the quality of our speech, by connecting what comes out of our mouths with our hearts, our minds and our inner spirit, we  begin to live truthfully and to honour the oneness of ourselves with everybody else.

Changing the way we speak can be so hard. Like any habit, gossip or criticism can take a  long time to weed out.  But perhaps a good way to start is to choose just one aspect you’d like to change, from raising your voice to gossiping about a neighbour  or acquaintance you don’t like.  Once we become conscious of the need for change, of how our behaviour is creating separation, both between ourselves and someone else, and between our actions and our true spirit or motivation, we can continue to take small steps in the right direction.  We will at times get it wrong, and revert back to our old ways,  but we keep on trying, until  it  becomes easier and easier.  Until, one day, you notice that you really are more conscious in your interactions with others, that your speech really is like mantra, and totally aligned with your inner values.

 

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True giving

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Think about the last time you gave someone something – your time, your friendship, a smile, or a gift of some kind.  If you are totally honest with yourself, did you truly give without expectation of return?  So often we give to others as if we are entering into an unspoken contract with them; we are thinking ‘I’ll cook you dinner this week, then it will be your turn’, or ‘I’m looking after your child, so when I need someone to do the same for me, I know you’ll offer’.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with this per se – reciprocity has been the foundation of our economics for centuries – it is a world apart from true giving.  Of course it is reasonable to expect that if we smile at someone, they will smile and be friendly back.  If they don’t, we may not smile so readily ourselves the next time we see them.  But sometimes we must give for the sake of giving.  When we donate to a good cause, we are not expecting any benefit to ourselves, at least in the short term.  We give because someone or something else’s plight has touched our hearts.  We give because we care, because we have allowed something external to ourselves into our hearts.

When we offer our help, our companionship and our time to our friends and neighbours, we may well find that they reciprocate.  But when they don’t, that can be fine too.  We help because we want to help.  Because we can empathise with their situation, and with their needs.  When we truly give, we give selflessly, and without thought of ourselves.  We are in touch with our more spiritual selves, with our sense of compassion,  as we open our hearts to those around us, and make their needs greater than our own.

Being in the flow

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In my last post, I wrote about the importance of being able to stay with our uncomfortable feelings, and to let them pass. In my yoga teaching and therapy practice, as well as in my own personal life, it is evident that we really struggle with our emotions, and may hold on to perceived hurts for long after the event which caused them.  We may feed our sadness or our anger, dwelling on the events or circumstances of our lives to which we attribute the emotion, going over and over it in our minds.  We can have a relatively small encounter which upsets us, and by repeatedly bringing it to mind, we can blow it out of all proportion;  when it’s a more significant event, we can hold on to the associated feelings for years.  Once we dwell on and feed an emotion, it can become a part of us.  It is no longer just an energy flowing uncomfortably – but ultimately harmlessly – through us.  Instead, it crystallizes and becomes an attitude.

We all have these attitudes or outlooks, which can affect our whole lives and the way in which others perceive us.  We all know people who we would describe as angry, sad, fearful or anxious – as well as those we would think of as basically happy, giving and forgiving types.  We also flit in and out of these modes of being throughout our own lives.  So what started as a brief, passing sensation can last much longer and colour our whole life.

But just because the attitude has begun to dominate our general mood, doesn’t mean it has to be that way forever.  The emotion may seem to have solidified, even to have become immovable, and yet it can still melt away once we become aware of it and begin to work with it.  Even if anger has become such a basic part of our nature that we react irritably to minor events and explode when faced with bigger challenges; even if we are so fearful that we feel we cannot move forward in our lives.  Things which seem permanent can change and dissipate over time.

Firstly, we need awareness.  We must not close our eyes to the way we are.  We must see the difference between the way we would like to be, and the way we truly are.  Not judging, but seeing kindly, with compassion for the difficult parts of ourselves.

Secondly, we need to desire change, and to create the space to change.  One way we create this space is through the breath; through meditation.  Just sitting quietly – watching the breath, stilling the mind.  Noticing the space between the inbreath and the outbreath.  Calming the mind so that the endless chatter starts to ease away.  An analogy often used is that of  the sky – letting our thoughts be like clouds, just floating through our minds without holding on to them or spinning off in all directions.  In this way, we slowly learn to  stop fanning the flames of our emotions, and to be less reactive in our wider lives.  Whilst we are learning – and this may be for the rest of our lives! – we must continue to be kindly observant of ourselves, to reflect on our progress and not only our inevitable failings.  And whilst we are developing this kindness for ourselves, and learning not to identify with our difficult feelings – acknowledging, for example, that anger is a passing energy rather than turning ourselves into ‘an angry person’ – we could also think more kindly of the difficult people in our lives, allowing that they too can be other than the way we perceive them.