Tag Archives: mindfulness

Mindfulness or meditation?

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peace-of-mind-349815_1280Being mindful is very popular these days. ‘Mindfulness’ is a real buzz word.  It’s become mainstream in a short space of time in the way that ‘meditation’ never quite has.  ‘Meditation’ still has that slightly exotic taste to it, and conjures up the idea of sitting uncomfortably, or, as one of my students (wrongly!) once put it, trying to ’empty’  the mind.

So mindfulness just sounds a little more achievable. A bit more everyday. Our mind doesn’t have to be ’empty’, it just has to be noticed. We regain some control over our wayward minds and notice where it wanders off to, time and time again. Even more, mindfulness can be practised anywhere, any time…during any activity.

Of course, mindfulness and meditation are really one and the same thing, just like two sides of a coin. When I originally trained as a yoga teacher,  we were taught that, with regular meditation practice (that is, the formal, cross-legged kind!), the benefits would start to spill over into everyday life.  We would gradually apply the calm, spacious mind we experience in meditation to more and more of our lives – and, hey presto! that sounds just like mindfulness.

And so, when I teach meditation, I am also teaching mindfulness.  When I teach yoga, I am teaching mindfulness too.  Dru yoga, the style of yoga I teach, is soft, flowing and performed with awareness, finding the grace and ease of our bodies rather than trying to force anything. Joints are kept soft, not locked. We generally flow in and out of postures rather than settling in for a long hold. We listen to our bodies, which change daily, and the way we feel, and select the practice which seems right, in the moment. Mindfulness in action, in every movement, prepares the body and the mind for a more formal seated practice. We find the stillness in the movement, and also the movement in the stillness.

So now, when I teach mindfulness, I teach a whole range of things – from simple flowing movements, performed with awareness, to breath awareness, to meditation in both seated and standing positions, and lying down full-body and mind relaxation. I teach how to apply the principles of mindfulness to daily activities, to eating, to walking, to relating to others. I show how it can be hard, to begin with, and yet easy to fit in to our busy lives.  It can be as easy as bringing our awareness to the quality of our breath in a heated moment, as simple as savouring a lovely meal, or enjoying a hug.

I would love to read your experiences of mindfulness  – please leave your comments below!

Alison x

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A time to reflect and make plans

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I’m not the biggest fan of new year’s resolutions per se, as we so often make them, stick with them for a few days or weeks, and then go back to the way we were before when we realise we have been too ambitious, and other things get in the way of that punishing exercise schedule which seemed such a good idea before we went back to work after the holidays.  It’s so easy to get discouraged and then give up altogether.  But I do think that this is the ideal time to have a look at the year we have just lived through, at the achievements we have made, however small,  and consider how we would like to take them forward.  And not just our achievements, but also our failures, the lessons we have learnt this year and which we can use to help us in the coming year.

When we stop to look over the past 12 months, we might be surprised by how far we have come.  We might not have changed the world, exactly, but we may have taken our first baby steps towards something incredibly important in our lives.  So whilst I have not yet become self-sufficient in making my own clothes, I have started that process and made a few items, and whilst invisible zips are still a bit scary, I can imagine that they will keep getting easier with each garment (I hope!). I’ve made most of the birthday cards I’ve sent and all of our Christmas cards this year, so hope to continue this next year.  I have continued my daily yoga and meditation practice, and have resumed my writing after quite a long – and unintended – break. I have bought a Nutribullet and most days I’m  drinking a delicious and homemade smoothie full of healthy fruit and vegetables.  I  completely quit sugar last year, and then resumed it to some extent, but now Christmas is over I’m already looking forward to my January cleanse.  Mindfulness of eating has become too ingrained to overindulge for long!

So even if, like me, you have previously been discouraged by unsustainable resolutions, don’t despair.  Look at how far you have already come, and then think about what small and achievable steps you could work towards next. Optimism is great, but try to be realistic too, so that, come the end of  January, you haven’t given up altogether.

 

Time for a holiday!

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summer-814679_1280How long is it since you had a holiday?  And how long since you took a holiday before you were exhausted, when you could really enjoy it?

The trouble with holidays seems to be that they don’t come round quickly enough.  So when they finally arrive, we really feel in need of them – whether it’s a totally relaxing, lie-on-the-beach kind of break, a complete change of scene, or an adrenaline-rush activity holiday!  I once heard Caroline Myss talk about how some of us seem to need to justify our need for a break – you know, when you hear someone say, ‘yes, I really needed a holiday, I was so exhausted‘.  As if  apologising for needing to stop working for a while.  Her response was amusing, but dead right – ‘just take a holiday when you’re not exhausted, when you can really enjoy it!’

And how long is the optimum holiday?  Because for many or us, we are so stressed out before we actually go away, that it takes several days to relax and really start to enjoy ourselves.  So we might only really appreciate the last few days, and then, if life back home isn’t really something to look forward to, the last bit of the holiday can be spent dreading the amount of work which will be awaiting our return!  That’s if we haven’t succumbed to checking emails and making calls during our holiday, that is!

So, if holidays don’t come around soon enough, and then we don’t fully relax and enjoy them when they do, what is the answer?  Well, for me, it’s building regular breaks, or mini-holidays, into every week, and into every day. If I’ve had a busy week, or lots of stress, or not enough sleep – I stop and acknowedge that it’s time to take care of myself.  I might have an early night and read a favourite book, or I might give myself the luxury of an afternoon off to create something lovely (like a scrummy cake, perhaps!)  When my son burnt his hand a few weeks ago, and we took him to A&E that evening, and then had an early start to the specialist hospital the next morning, I had very little sleep, and, as you would imagine, plenty of stress.  I was a bit of an emotional wreck for 2 or 3 days, to be honest.  So when he went back to school, with reminders to be careful with his hand,  not to get the dressing wet, and so on, I  could have just worried about him all day long until  he got back home (that would have been so easy to do –  and of course I did think about him all through the day). I could have spent the day making up for missed time at work, catching up on all those emails, coursework and everything else that had been put on hold.  And I did, for part of the day.  But what I really, really needed was to stop, to take time out, and to calm my frazzled mind.  I had managed some meditation each day, just a little bit, and that had helped. But now I needed just to do something I would enjoy, and that would help me get back to normality.  So I got on with a sewing project, just for a couple of hours, something calm, peaceful and just for me.  I did a bit of yoga, and minded my breath.  I ate healthily, and generally took time out for myself.

And I didn’t feel guilty.  Because I knew I needed it, and that it would help me to cope with the hospital visits yet to come, and the support I still needed to give. It would help me to come back to my calmer, better self.  It would help me to feel well (in the true sense of the word, rather than just the absence of a specific illness).

I truly believe that everyone knows, deep down, when they need to have a break.  It doesn’t have to be long, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.  It just needs to be at the time that they need it. If you hear yourself proudly telling people how late you stayed at work, how many hours of ironing you did, or how little sleep you had, then your ego is far too tied up in achieving and doing.  So many stresses and illnesses can start this way. It’s time to look after yourself before illness makes enforced rest inevitable.  When you’re too ill to enjoy it.  Take time now, each week, each day, to do something positive for your own wellbeing.

 

 

 

 

Taking time out for ourselves

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womanstress  All the research shows us just how important it is to take time out, to look after ourselves, before we get sick. By taking care of ourselves at the very first sign of stress, we may prevent a whole range of mental, emotional and physical ailments. Yes, it can be hard to find the time, and yes, there may be others we need to take care of, but we will do that all the better for acknowledging our own needs.

If you’ve ever been less than patient with someone when you’re feeling down, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

If you’ve ever felt so tired, drained, and just plain exhausted that you have almost lost touch with that wonderful person you are on the inside, you’ll know how important taking care of yourself really is.

And if you have ever felt guilty about taking that time, you need to stop that guilt, right now.

Here’s why….

So many of our top diseases now are stress-related, and so many of us are  getting unwell, both mentally and physically, because of the way we live our lives.  Work, work and more work doesn’t make us happy.  It might (or might not!) make us rich.  But since when did money automatically make us happier?  Happiness is right here, right in this moment, not some time in the future when our bank account is a little fuller, or when we have that amazing new car, house, or tv.  It’s in the time we spend with our family and our friends, or pursuing our dreams, not only in the achievements and recognisable successes of our lives.  It’s in the whole process of life – and if it’s hard for you to find your happy side in all of this, I would encourage you to take time out and find a space in which you can get back in touch with that sense of contentment.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, it doesn’t have to be fancy, it might be as simple as watching your breath, having a stretch or reading a few pages of your favourite book. It might be in listening to a beautiful or uplifting piece of music, or going for a walk.  It might be in looking at the sky full of stars on a clear night, or at the dew on the grass in the morning.

So, we don’t have to spend a lot of money, and we don’t necessarily have to spend all that much time; even a few minutes in which we are mindful of our surroundings, or of what we are doing, totally and completely absorbed in our breath, or the music, or the movement….even those few minutes can help to build our sense of wellbeing, and help us to relate more happily to our world and those around us.  Our empathy, our patience and our sense of connection to others are all strengthened, and we feel amazing!  Physically, mentally and emotionally, we feel stronger, more resilient, and able to handle the demands of our lives with greater ease. Thinking and decision -making can be easier, as all the mental chit-chat starts to settle down.

 

 

Our own little world

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earth-11009_1280Are you, like me, sometimes in your own little world?

Do you sometimes get so absorbed in your own experience of something, or your own thoughts, that you forget that, all around you, others are experiencing the world in their own, unique way – a way which could be completely different to yours?

A couple of days ago, I was waiting to collect my son from the train.  It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and, as I was waiting, I was people-watching.  You know, just watching the world go by.  Just noticing people. All, no doubt, in their own little worlds. And then, I saw a lady walking her dog.  The dog was trotting along, a jaunty little thing, running on its little legs to keep up with its owner’s walking pace.  It stopped to sniff a couple of times, but each time the lead grew a little tighter, just trotted along again to catch up, in such a way that it seemed barely perceptible  to the owner that her dog was exploring the world of the pavements and the hedges with such attention.  She, meanwhile, was focused ahead, looking at the blue sky, the view in front of her, raising her face to the autumn warmth.

And it was so apparent that, although they were on the same walk, their experiences were totally different.  Maybe not so surprising, given that they were different species, and given the difference in their height.  It may look a little strange if we walked along and bent down to sniff the pavement!

But I’m sure that this same sort of thing happens all the time, with our children, our partners, our friends.  We think we have experienced something together, and we have – and yet, we will have perceived it in very different ways.  Our reality is filtered – by our expectations, our memories, our mood, our likes and dislikes, or raga and dwesha to use the yogic terms. A very young child will approach a walk in a very different way to an older child, or an adult.  They are more open to the moment, to the present moment in which they find themselves.  They are not constrained by the weight of their former experiences, they are not motivated by time, so they are able to be in the moment, and take as long as they want.  Every leaf, every stick – as every parent knows! – can be worth seeking out, and spending time with, no matter what the destination is, no matter the purpose of the walk. Each and every moment is valued equally.

As adults, we can try to enter into that world through the practice of mindfulness. We can learn a lot from watching a small child (or even a jaunty little dog!). Whilst not every 5 minute walk can take an hour – try explaining you’re late to work because you were collecting perfectly formed pine cones or stones! – we can still really see, feel, and hear our surroundings.  We can register the feel of our steps on the pavement, the sound of the birds in the sky, the sensation of sun – or rain! – on our skin. We can usually spare a second of our time to notice the smells around us, maybe we pass a rose bush or a jasmine, or some freshly mown grass (one of the best smells in the world, surely!)

And sometimes we could go for a walk, just for the sake of it, just for the experience.  By the sea, in the woods, in a park – it doesn’t matter. Just walking mindfully, fully experiencing all there is to experience, as freshly and directly as possible.  A walk like this can shift our mood, shake us out of our preconceptions, and remind us that we are more than we think we are.  Instead of letting all our opinions, our expectations, our habits and preferences enclose us, we can expand and grow when we look at the world in a new way.

And I think our homes, our workplaces – ok, the whole world! – would be better places if we stopped to remember just how much we colour our experiences through the lens of our perception.  If we stopped to remember that someone else’s perception is just as valid as our own.  If we stopped believing that our way is the right way or the only way.  If we valued feelings and values as much as ‘facts‘. If we started accepting others, no matter what.

And starting in a small way, in our homes, we can truly change the world, as well as our own little world.

Lists – help or hindrance?

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I like writing lists. They give me a feeling of control, and of optimism – if something has made it on to a list, then I will achieve it. It’s just a question of time. I make lists for all kinds of things and on all kinds of timescales. Generally I find lists help me to juggle all the different things that make up my day-to-day life, from work to family and home and back again.
I forget less – although I’m far from perfect and sometimes forget to even add something really important to my to-do list in the first place.

However, at times my lists can be a bit over-enthusiastic. A couple of weeks ago I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the things I needed – or wanted – to get done. So I wrote a list with all the things I felt I could be getting on with, and the changes I wanted to make. This list was very ambitious, and addressed all the things which tend to get forgotten and put off each week. I broke it down into weekly lists up to Christmas, and was full of hope for the super-organised image of myself I had created (despite all previous evidence that this really isn’t me at all!).

And even though I acknowledged to myself that this list was nigh-on impossible, I still felt that hope that comes with a brand new list. I promised myself I would just do my best and not get too caught up in it. But in the first week I achieved pretty much everything for that week – including getting preparations and shopping underway ready for Christmas, tackling my business accounts and planning, developing new course materials, and all the household jobs I had planned (in addition to those which I do day in, day out every week of the year, without even making it on to a list).

So I started to believe – foolishly –  that this list (which I had started out knowing was unlikely to be possible) was going to be totally achievable. And of course, it wasn’t. After two weeks of pushing myself every day, I have done a lot of things I’m pleased with, over and above those I would have done in any case. But – in the second week – there have also been some which are only partially finished, and others which haven’t been started at all. I had a very busy weekend and couldn’t catch up with all those extra jobs. So now I have to accept that the original list was ambitious; I didn’t initially expect to manage everything on it. And the fatal flaw of all my lists is that the small but time-consuming daily jobs are not included; however, with the list, I have still done more than I realistically thought I could in addition to these.

So perhaps my lesson is to continually revise my lists in the light of my other commitments, my energy levels, and what I feel I can achieve. My lists are meant to be a help, not something which puts me under too much self-induced pressure. I need to be mindful of this, so that working through a list and towards my goals can be enjoyable, with time for all the things that matter to me. I need to accept that at times I won’t be able to do everything on my agenda; and I need to remember to take pleasure in each small thing that I do achieve, and, more than that, in each task, or part-task, whilst I am engaged in it.

Putting meditation to the test

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about a small spider joining me during my meditation (A calm clear mind). I speculated that there may have been some difference in my composure if it had been a larger creature.  Well, this morning the test came! I had just settled down in my conservatory at 5.40am, having completed Surya Namaskara and had just started working through Pawanmuktasana 1 when I noticed three long, thick legs sticking out of the gap beneath the cladded wall. I continued my practice but kept looking out of the corner of my eye to see if the legs had moved. They didn’t, for the longest time.  They were just there, every time I looked. So, whilst continuing calmly, I decided this needn’t interrupt my practice.  Live and let live, he wasn’t bothering me, so why should I try to remove him?  Plus, taking a spider outside at that time of day would mean going all the way back through the house – risking waking my family – to get something to catch him with, unlocking the front door, getting some shoes and then trailing out into the garden to find somewhere nice to put him.  Plus potential running and even more commotion if he started scurrying out of the container with those long legs on my way through the house!

So, there I was, and there he was. He came out of his little home and had a walk.  Not far, just enough to make me move over a bit! As the long legs would have suggested, he was BIG!  Really big.  But not fast.  He walked a few inches  – not even in my direction, to be fair – and then stopped.  I continued my practice, on to my arms and shoulders by this point, risked closing my eyes, and then peeked again.  He was walking back.  Back to his original spot, until I could just see his legs again!

At which point, I finished pawanmuktasana and settled in for meditation. I turned my back on the spider so I couldn’t be tempted to check on him, and had a lovely practice, letting go of all the anxieties – it really wasn’t strong enough to call fear, let’s say disquiet.  And yes, he was still resting in the exact same spot when I finished at 7am. I hope he had as peaceful a time as me!

Then I rushed on to my day, breakfast, school run, classes, shopping, and now writing before the ironing, school run, swimming lessons – oops, have I missed out lunch again??  I haven’t had time to see if my long-legged friend is still there.  I guess he might be joining me again tomorrow!

And the thing about meditation is – there is room for all these distractions and unscheduled things.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Yes, my mind could have taken over – but it didn’t.  I was fully aware of how I was feeling – a little wary, assessing how fast /far he was likely to move. I reminded myself that, however big he looked, he was still tiny in comparison to me, and that he certainly wasn’t going to hurt me, even if he did come and sit on me like the other spider did. I experienced how it made me feel to share my space with him, but didn’t let myself spin off and ruin my own practice. Not something that would have been possible in my pre-meditation days. Mindfulness, being present with whatever comes up – that is the heart of meditation. Today might not have been utter bliss from start to finish, but it was fine.