Tag Archives: walking

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

What is happiness?

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jumpforjoyI’ve  been pondering this question a lot over the past few weeks.  We all wish each other a happy new year, we all wish happiness for our friends, our family and ourselves. So, what do we mean by that?

Do we want ourselves, and others, to be jumping for joy?  Is that really what we want, all the time?  Is joy a sustainable emotion? Or is it followed soon enough, for most of us, by the inevitable not-so-wonderful experiences of our lives?  If moments of pure joy are really to be fully appreciated, they need to be just that – moments.  High points of happiness, in which we are bubbling over with pleasure, excitement, exuberance.  Which are all the better for the humdrum nature of much of our lives. And which are unsustainable in the long-term.

So, what is happiness?  Is it merely the absence of sadness? Can we define it only by what is missing?

For me, happiness is a calmer emotion than joy.  There’s a bit less excitement, a bit less disruption to my equilibrium!  It can be quiet and still, calm and peaceful, brought on by the simplest things – spending time with loved ones, cooking, reading, walking by the sea or in the countryside. By laughter. By yoga and meditation.  By being alone, and by being with others. It’s less fleeting than pleasure, which is ‘only the shadow of happiness’, according to a Hindu proverb.

Happiness, it is true, can be lost.  But happiness can also be found. It can be cultivated quite deliberately. Happiness takes practice, but can become a habit. It’s a skill that can be learnt, and relearnt. Even when you think it’s gone forever, it can creep up on you and surprise you.

As Matthieu Ricard says in his book Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill:

‘..achieving durable happiness as a way of being is a skill.  It requires sustained effort in training the mind and developing a set of human qualities, such as inner peace, mindfulness and altruistic love’

So whilst some of us have a more naturally sunny disposition than others, happiness can be created, fostered, tended to. It can grow. In his book, ‘Buddha’s Brain’, Rick  Hanson talks about ‘taking in the good’, really noticing and savouring the good times we experience.  If things aren’t great right now, we can recall a time we felt truly happy and bask in the memory. And don’t let the good moments pass by without noticing. Notice what being happy feels like, right in the moment. Pause for a moment, and truly experience the sensations of happiness. Truly, madly, deeply feel that moment. And at the end of the day, recall those sensations, those feelings of wellbeing before going to sleep. Write about them if you keep a journal, express gratitude for all the good in your life. Deliberately, patiently and tenderly foster good feelings.  So that when things aren’t so great, your basic sense of wellbeing, your basic ground of happiness, isn’t rocked so violently as it might otherwise have been. So that you have resilience when things – inevitably – don’t go all your own way.

There will be days when nothing goes right.  There may be weeks, months or even years that are more difficult than others.  That’s life.  As Jon Kabat-Zinn says in Full Catastrophe Living, Revised Edition: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation, life is the:

‘…full catastrophe….the poignant enormity of our life experience. It includes crisis and disaster, the unthinkable and the unacceptable, but is also includes all the little things that go wrong and that add up….life is always in flux’.

And we won’t always feel happy.  Not by any stretch of the imagination. Unless we have reached enlightenment! But with mental health such a huge concern, we can work to improve our underlying happiness.  We can build our happiness muscle as if we’re working out at the gym, being grateful for all the good in our lives. We can make time for things we enjoy, we can look after ourselves emotionally as well as physically. We can make sure we get enough rest, sufficient exercise and good nutrition. We can practise being happy.

Our own little world

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Are 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.