Your Body Is Your Temple: Why You Should Move Your Body

Your body is your temple. Moving your body is the ultimate form of self-love and mindfulness

Moving your body is the ultimate form of self-love and mindfulness.

I have always loved to move my body. As a child I loved to swim and a dance (ballet and jazz), but over the past 5 years I have mostly moved my body through Zumba, yoga or walking. I started running about 6 months ago, and I can honestly say that it has changed my life. I have never been more present and aware of my body than when I am running. Running makes me feel alive in a way that no other form of movement ever has. It allows me to be in tune with my body; I can feel my muscles burning; I can feel the breath moving in and out of my body at an even pace; I can feel the momentum of my stride; I can feel the rhythm of my heartbeat and the rush of endorphins. For me, running is a form of moving meditation.

Running is a form of moving meditation

Running allows you to honour the process of change and transformation.

As I commit myself to moving my body, I am amazed by the gradual, but measureable, change that is happening to my body. There’s nothing more incredible than watching your body slowly transform. Every time I move my body, I feel stronger, leaner and more perseverant than the last time. I can run faster and longer but I’ve also learned to listen to my body. I’ve learned to trust myself and to push past the fear that was previously holding me back, but I’ve also learned to be aware of what my body is capable of in that moment or on that particular day. Thanks to running, I totally “get” the mind and body connection.

Moving your body helps you to honour the process of change and transformation

Unite with your higher self.

The word “yoga” makes reference to this. The root, “yuj” means “unity” or “yoke”. Yoga is one of my favourite forms of movement. Whilst running connects my body to my mind, I feel that yoga connects my body to my spirit. Yoga is special. It’s mindfulness in motion. I love it because it’s so grounding. With openness, curiosity and willingness, yoga can take your body to a whole new realm of experience. I feel so uplifted and in tune with myself after practicing yoga. One day soon I will write a blog post all about yoga.

P.S. I’m currently completing 30 days of Yoga with Adriene, which is really amazing by the way! You should try it!

How do you like to move your body? What helps you to feel in tune with your body? Tell me.

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Dealing with People: Resolving Conflict and Fostering Connection.

I’m a fairly idealistic person at the best of times, but let’s face it: conflict is an inevitable part of life. We are all unique individuals with a unique set of needs, goals, desires, dreams and wishes in life. Whether it’s with your friends, family, spouses, bosses or colleagues, in any situation or context, there are going to be times when your needs and the other person’s needs are in conflict. It’s great when you can see eye to eye with the people who are around you, but what do you do when you want to eat Chinese for dinner but your partner wants burgers? Or when you want to design your website this way, but your colleague wants to design it that way? Or when you have strong opinions about how you want to live your life, but your parents have opposing views? Some conflict may be for BIG things, and some conflict may be for small things. Regardless of whether it’s big or small, there is great benefit in gaining skills in interpersonal effectiveness so that you have a way of communicating and asserting your needs to those around you effectively, but without damaging your relationship with them. I thought it would be worthwhile to share some of my thoughts on this topic and shed some light on how I have learned to resolve conflict effectively in my own life.

What is the importance of human relationships? Why do we need people anyway?

I guess the first thing I wanted to talk about is why maintaining a good relationship with others is so important.

%22We all need somebody to lean on%22Bill Withers

For our survival

As human beings, we are social creatures. It’s pretty simple, really. Humans need each other. We are highly dependent on others for our survival. Nearly everything we have in our life is made possible with the help of others – even life itself! There is no such thing as life without connection. Cooperation therefore gives us greater survivability. When people effectively cooperate with each other, great things can happen – we can go to the moon, advance science and medicine and be successful in our business ventures.

For our creativity

All of our current ideas, knowledge, tools and skills come from billions of years of interactions, relationships, exchanges, conversations, art and books. Our creativity would be stifled without other people. Other people can inspire us to achieve things that we may not have ever aspired to on our own! True learning doesn’t just come from reading textbooks and applying our knowledge – it also comes from learning the art of interacting effectively with people. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve learned more about human beings through the experience of interacting with them than what I ever did in my 6+ years of reading about them in academic journals and textbooks at university.

To meet our emotional needs

People play a crucial role in our lives – they make us smile, cry, laugh and think. Our interactions with others grow us. Having people around you that care about you can be a great source of strength and resilience. We also know that when people lack meaningful close relationships with others, they suffer. Being lonely therefore also creates a risk for developing mental health issues. We have a basic psychological need to feel connected to others. The research in this area suggests that people who have close relationships are healthier, less stressed and have a higher life expectancy than those who don’t. Close relationships also boost our immune systems! So, your family, friends, partners and community can all help you to live a richer, fuller and more satisfying life.

You can need people without being needy

Just because we need people, it doesn’t mean we have to be needy.

Needing others doesn’t make you needy. Western culture and society bombards us with this idea that we can be “self-made” individuals, that we can solve our own problems, remain emotionally detached and live completely independently without any help or support from others. It’s the classic “dream” and it’s used as justification to push people away. You know what? I call BULLSHIT on this. Maintaining a façade of complete control and independence isn’t strength of character; it’s avoidance – pure and simple. Anyone can shut other people out and pretend to be ok on their own, but it takes much more strength and courage to be vulnerable and transparent with others. No one is self-made! We live our stories together, and our stories become more meaningful and purposeful when they are shared with each other.

We live our stories together

It’s also true that some people need closeness, intimacy, attachment and love more than others, but in general we all need close and caring relationships. Personally, I’m an introvert by nature, so I get my energy from being alone or in smaller groups. Being in large crowds of people or spending too much time around others can be energetically depleting for me, whereas extroverts tend to want to spend more time around others, as they get their energy from being around other people.

Being needy, on the other hand, is when you don’t take responsibility for your own self-worth and wellbeing. It’s when you see yourself as the victim and blame others or your life circumstances. It’s self-judgment that creates the emptiness that leads to the neediness. So stop judging yourself! When you’re empty of self-love you expect others to “fill” you with their attention, love and approval. When your intent is to learn to love yourself and others and to learn to fill your own cup then you are better able to pour into others’ cups. This comes from an authentic need to share love and connect with others rather than a need to feel wanted. We need to connect with others, but we can’t do so when we are disconnected from ourselves. So forgive yourself first; show yourself compassion and kindness first. You will be way more likely to find the courage to ask for forgiveness from others when you can forgive yourself first.

To understand and connect with others we have to be open to learning about loving ourselves and others. To open up a genuine connection and sharing of love with others, we also have to open our hearts to taking responsibility for ourselves.

The importance of Empathy

We are able to successfully interact with and connect with others when are able to understand their feelings. To empathise with someone means to imagine being in their shoes and to try to understand how they might be feeling and perceiving the situation. Our ability to empathise with others falls on a spectrum. Some people are better able to empathise than others, but sometimes emotions can get in the way. Fleeting emotions, such as anger or fear, reduce our ability to empathise with others.

I would strongly argue that a lack of empathy is usually the root cause of most conflicts. Empathy erosion occurs when people fail to attend to the feelings, interests, thoughts, opinions and ideas of others. Narcissists, for example, are only able to see the world in relation to their own needs and desires. Narcissists do not see the intrinsic value of other people.

Fear and trauma can sometimes also create barriers in interpersonal effectiveness. When you have been repeatedly hurt, bullied or invalidated in your life, your defences are naturally going to be a lot more sensitive and reactive. When you’ve experienced trauma or abuse, you are conditioned to protect yourself against any further danger or threat – so things that are perhaps not such a big deal to others, may be perceived as a great big deal and major threat to you.

You can be a lover and a fighter

Learn how to be a Lover and a Fighter.

Some people think that in order to get along with others we have to always put their needs before our own. This is not true! You don’t have to subjugate your needs, be a passive people-pleaser or a doormat so that people will like you. In fact, people will probably like and respect you more if you are not always agreeing with everything they say, want and do. The good news is that it’s possible to be a lover and a fighter. It’s possible to assert yourself and your needs without damaging relationships. It’s all about the approach.

Get to know yourself and your needs first.

Understanding yourself is the first step. The more you can understand yourself and your own needs, the better able you will be to communicate them effectively with others. What is it that you want or need from this interaction? Can you meet this need for yourself, or is it something you need from someone else? Why do you need it? What do you have to do to get this thing that you want? Where does the need come from? Observe and describe your thoughts. Be curious about what you feel and need.

Notice and manage your judgment

Try to observe, but don’t evaluate. Take a non-judgmental stance with yourself, but also with others. Try to detach your opinions from the facts of the situation. Try to see the situation for what it is. And when you find yourself judging, don’t judge your judging! Let go of any vengeance, anger and righteousness that hurts you, and most importantly doesn’t even work! Stay away from thoughts of “right”, “wrong”, “should”, “should not”, “fair” and “unfair”

Preserve the relationship with the other person

 Act in such a way so that the other person will still like and respect you. Balance your immediate goals with the good of the long-term relationship. Remind yourself of why maintaining this relationship is important to you, both now and into the future. Ask yourself, how do you want the other person to feel about you after this interaction is over? What do you have to do to keep this relationship intact?

Preserve the relationship with yourself

Respect your own values and beliefs. Act in a way that is in line with your values and that makes you feel moral. Ask yourself how you want to feel about yourself after this interaction is over? What do you have to do to ensure you will feel this way? What will work?

Be dialectical

When you are using dialectical thinking, you are embracing the idea that there is always more than one true way to see a situation and more than one true opinion, idea, thought or dream. Two things that seem like (or are) opposites can both be true! Dialectics teaches us that all people have something unique, different, and worthy to teach that and all points of view have both true and false within them. You may be right, but the other person may be right also. Look for what is left out of your understanding of the situation. Open up to expanding your way of seeing things. Avoid assumptions and blaming. Get unstuck from conflicts and stand-offs. Find a way to validate the other person’s point of view. Let go of “black and white” thinking – bring a greater sense of flexibility to the way you see things.

In a conflict situation, it can be helpful to remember the DEARMAN GIVE FAST acronym from Dialectical and Behaviour Therapy (DBT)

Describe: Describe the current situation and what you are reacting to. Just stick to the facts.

Express: Express how you are feeling about the situation.

Assert: Assert yourself, asking clearly for what you want or saying no clearly. Assume that others cannot read your mind. Assume that others will not figure it out themselves unless you ask and don’t expect others to understand how hard it is for you to ask.

Reinforce: Reinforce or reward the person ahead of time by explaining the consequences. Tell them the positive effects of getting what you want or need and tell them the negative effects of not getting it. Show gratitude to that person ahead of time for doing or accepting what you want.

Stay Mindful: Keep your focus on the objective. Maintain your position and don’t be distracted.

Appear confident: Appear effective and competent. Use a confident voice, make eye contact, speak clearly and don’t whisper.

Negotiate: Be willing to give to get. Be willing to compromise and ask for alternative solutions.

Be Gentle: Be gentle, courteous and temperate in your approach. No attacks, no threats, no judging.

Act Interested: Listen to the other person’s point of view, opinions, reasons for saying no, or reasons for making a request of you. Don’t interrupt or talk over them. Be sensitive to the other person’s desire to have the discussion at a later time. Be patient!

Validate: Validate or acknowledge the other person’s feelings, wants, difficulties, and opinions about the situation.

Use an Easy Manner: Use a little humour. Smile. Ease the person along. Be light-hearted. Remember that you will catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Be Fair: To yourself and the other person.

No Apologies: No overly apologetic behaviour. No apologising for being alive or for making a request at all. No apologising for having an opinion or for disagreeing.

Stick to Values: Stick to your own values!

Be Truthful: Don’t lie, act helpless when you are not, or exaggerate. Don’t make up excuses.

Forgive yourself first

How I deal with conflict: My own journey in forgiveness

In my own life, I don’t always deal with conflict perfectly. I’ve found that using some of the principles from DBT in my own interactions with others has improved my life tenfold. We don’t realise how much negative energy we carry around with us when we are actively engaging in regular conflicts with others. Holding grudges against others is also pointless. Sometimes it means having to be the bigger person to apologise. Apologising doesn’t mean the other person is right, it just means I have more room in my heart for forgiveness, compassion and kindness. And regardless of what someone else has “done” to me, forgiving them creates more space in my life for peace and contentment. No one else is responsible for my life or how I feel. Only I own my own feelings so nobody can “make” me feel a certain way.

I’ve always believed in forgiveness. I was raised that way. I’ve always forgiven people for the hurt they have caused me to feel, no matter how major. The reason for this is because I recognise that other people are not actually responsible for what I feel. Nobody causes another person to hurt. Even if you had killed my entire family, you would still not be responsible for my feelings. The only person responsible for how I feel is me, and in order to be able to move forward after a conflict, I need to claim responsibility for my own feelings and actions. Likewise, I am not responsible for any anger or resentment that other people feel toward me. I am also not responsible for their actions, only they are, and vice versa.

I see my own parents, who’ve been married for 30 years, and the most important lesson I have learned from them is that people make mistakes, and sometimes, those mistakes lead to people hurting as a consequence. Yet, despite all the mistakes in the world, one thing has remained constant, and that is the fact that they care about each other and are able to appreciate each other for their positive and negative attributes. There are probably times when they don’t love each other. In fact, there are probably times when they hate each other too! But, they never stop caring. It’s not about giving people chances… it’s about recognising that everyone is on their own journey in life, and that during that journey, there will be many lessons to learn. Friendships and relationships are about attempting to walk down that journey together. The problem, however, is that in attempting to walk that journey there will still be individual lessons to be learned. Ideally you would want be able to learn from others’ lessons and therefore continue down that journey together… but often the individual lessons become a priority and the path splits into two. However, even when that path splits, there is still opportunity for it to meet at a crossroads again in the future and continue where it left off, but that can only happen if people choose to continue walking down the same path together. Unfortunately, not everyone chooses to do that.

In my life, I have walked down paths with many people, and there have been times when those paths have split and then met at a crossroads again. I have learned a lot about others and myself in going down those paths, and I still have much to learn on my own path in life. I have learned to heal from hurt by finding meaning and making sense of the things that have happened on my journey. It helps me to understand why things have happened the way they have, to learn from it and to forgive myself.

I hope this post has shed some light on your interactions with people and helped you understand that it’s possible to be a lover and a fighter. Feel free to share your thoughts with me!

The Key To Unlocking and Accepting Change

The Key To Accepting Change

From the moment we are born, until the moment we die, our life is a series of highs and lows, gains and losses, beginnings and endings. It’s true that the only constant in life is change. Not to sound morbid, but one day we are all going to die – it’s actually one of the few things we can be completely certain of! Yet, we are actually programmed to deny our own mortality on a daily basis in order to maintain our existential stability. Can you imagine what it would be like if you walked around every day constantly fearing your own death? You’d be an anxious mess, and you probably wouldn’t be able to thrive or function. So, we become attached to things, people, environments, the past, thoughts and ideas to keep ourselves sane. It’s actually quite optimistic of us, when you think about it like that, and for the most part, it works…. except when it doesn’t, and that’s when things gets a bit messy and shit. So, today, I’m going to talk a little bit about change.

Change is happening constantly. It is happening within your body every single second of every single day. Your cells are constantly working, communicating with each other, multiplying, evolving and dying. Change is also happening outside of our bodies too, and our bodies are constantly adapting to these changes, however subtle. In fact, we’ve evolved to become so good at doing this, that most of the time we don’t even notice that we’re doing it. Our bodies adjust to light, temperature and atmospheric changes. Our bodies actually even have to rely on some changes in order to function. Biological rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a cycle. In fact, we all have a master clock inside of us that keeps track of all these rhythms and it is ticking away in your hypothalamus right now as we speak. Our sleep-wake cycle is dependent upon a circadian cycle and light changes; the reproduction of our species relies on a menstrual cycle and hormone changes; our ability to maintain our attention even runs on a cycle, the ultradian rhythm, which is 90 minutes in duration… I think you get the gist.

change2

So, you can already see how change is essential for life, and adapting to change is also essential for life. Not just for human life, but for all life. Think seasonal changes, think weather changes, think climate changes. Everything is interconnected, and yet somehow, it just magically works and flows. Things change at just the right time for the right process to occur. Just thinking about all that makes me feel in awe of the existence of life and its ability to evolve and thrive on this planet. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was the ultimate story of change, and I remember being so excited to learn all about it in Human Physiology 101. It also helped that I had a lecturer who was discernibly excited about teaching it.

The good news is that a lot of good stuff happens because of change. For example, if nothing ever changed, we wouldn’t have butterflies! When people think of change, they often think about the metamorphosis of the butterfly. The butterfly must struggle to come out of the cocoon, but did you know that if there were no struggle the butterfly wouldn’t be able to fly? This is because during the struggle, the blood flows into its wings, which allows it to fly. It gives purpose and meaning to the suffering when you think about it like that. We can sometimes find meaning and purpose in our own suffering, too. I did a lot of research on Post-Traumatic Growth when I was writing my thesis (which was on vicarious resilience in therapists and therapists in training working with clients who have experienced trauma or difficult life events, in case you were wondering). I know that I’ve talked a lot about stories on this blog, but the other cool thing about stories is that the more meaning we are able to attribute to the story of our suffering, the more likely we are to be able to cope with it. That’s what Narrative and Schema therapies are all about – changing stories. The experience of pain is inevitable, but our interpretation of the pain is what causes the suffering. In some ways, this can be empowering to know, because it means we have options in the face of change, suffering, loss and pain. Changing the way we think about it can sometimes change our perception of it. In psychology, when a story is helpful, it’s said to be adaptive, and when a story is not so helpful, it’s maladaptive. My job is to work collaboratively with people to help them change their maladaptive stories into more adaptive ones.

If nothing changed

Accordingly, you can see that we can create or unlock change within ourselves to help us deal with pain, suffering and loss. We don’t necessarily always have to change the story to cope, either. Sometimes it’s a more practical approach that creates meaningful change. In Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, for example, clients learn that when they are faced with a problem they have four options:

  1. They can either identify what needs to change and solve the problem,
  2. If they can’t solve it then they have the option to change the way they feel about it,
  3. If they can’t change the way they feel then they have the option to accept it (which, once again, doesn’t mean liking or approving of it) or,
  4. They can choose to stay miserable.

Marsha Linehan is pretty blunt at the best of times! Thinking of problems in this way can sometimes help you to move into a problem-focused coping mode. It basically helps you to shift the focus away from the stuff you don’t have control over, and back onto what you do have control over. It’s directing your focus to what’s going to be most helpful and adaptive in that moment. It also allows you to take some responsibility and ownership over your life and whatever has happened or changed. When we have an external locus of control we are always focused on attributing responsibility to external factors and events (blaming others, for example), whereas when we have an internal locus of control we are able to focus on our own role within the system. Given we don’t really have much control over anything outside of ourselves, it’s obviously going to be more helpful to focus on what we do have control over rather than what we don’t. It allows us to be the change we wish to see in the world, as the famous saying goes.

changes4

As a helper, I have learned that human beings can go through some really awful shit in life, and yet most of the time they can still manage to come out of it and not only survive, but thrive! This is because resilience is born out of struggle and we are a pretty resilient bunch. This is good news! The other good news about change is  that it means that the bad times don’t last forever. Of course, the flip side of this is that good times won’t last forever either, but being aware of this only makes you appreciate them more when they do happen, right?

Some people not only fear changes that are outside of their control, but also fear initiating positive changes that are within their control, and this keeps them stuck in a “comfort zone”. They don’t want to step outside of their comfort zone because they are scared of what might happen. But by not stepping out, they also miss out on the magic of life. Besides, the comfort zone is an illusion anyway. Bad stuff can happen even when you’ve created an imaginary comfort zone, no matter how high you build those walls. The comfort zone serves no other purpose besides convincing you that you are safe within it… it creates a false sense of security in a world where there simply is no certainty. Remember, taking well informed and calculated risks is a wise move, and increases your chances of finding success and happiness, too. You can’t control what happens, but you can believe in yourself and have faith in your ability to cope with whatever does happen. Everything you’ve ever wanted is usually on the other side of fear. It takes courage to take that leap, but what other choice do you have? To stay stuck? How boring!

 

“Sometimes your only available form of transportation is a leap of faith” – Margaret Shepard.

 

After a loss or change, you can beg and beg for it to go back to how it was before. You may feel that you need whatever it was that you lost in order to survive. You don’t. Whenever I have felt this way, it’s been because I was scared of letting go. It takes bravery to finally let go and say good-bye… but you do need to let go in order to welcome new beginnings. Every ending leads to a new beginning… it really does! You never would have believed me if you told you where I was this time last year and what I was going through… but here I am. It was hard…. really hard, but now I am in a better place. It’s powerful to realise that you are the only person who can save you. Other people can be there for you and support you, or even give you some ideas on how you might get through the change. But, I’ll tell you a secret, the only person who has ever been there for me through thick and thin, who has comforted me when I have been down, who has provided me with the strength I needed and who I have been able to rely on is me… It takes courage to love and nurture yourself through the process of change, but you are the one who is coping with whatever it is, so you need to be caring for yourself through that process.

Change3

I have learned so much about myself and the world just by paying attention to the things I previously used to ignore. Of course, I had to learn all this the hard way. I stayed in a job I hated until I got sick. I stayed in a relationship that wasn’t making me happy until I had a break down. We all have life traps. We all fall down holes. It takes courage and strength to recognise when you’ve fallen into a hole and to be able to find the way back out…. but we always do, and when we do, we grow stronger and more resilient. My favourite social researcher, Brené Brown, talks about this in greater detail in her latest book, Rising Strong. Each time we fall, we learn something new about ourselves and the world. Knowledge is power. We can’t change what we don’t notice. So pay attention to what your body and heart are telling you…. and put it into action. You won’t regret it.

I’m starting to learn to listen to myself and my body more, and you should too. I used to be someone who would push myself and have unrelenting standards for myself… and I still sort of do. I am ambitious. I am a dreamer. I am idealistic. However, I listen to myself now. If I am tired, I rest. If I am feeling overworked, I delegate out. If I feel overwhelmed, I take a break. If I’m not enjoying something, I stop. I follow my heart now and I listen to my intuition. I listen to my body and my feelings and I respond appropriately. I no longer ignore the feelings. I respond to them and validate them. Our feelings are messengers and they are telling us something. If we ignore physical pain then we get sick. In the same way, if we ignore our emotions, we get mentally unwell. Therefore, I bring a greater sense of kindness and compassion to myself when I’m going through a difficult time or coping with some change, and this helps a lot.

In a world where everything is constantly changing all around us, we can maintain some consistency in how we cope. Look to your core values to guide and direct you toward the best way to cope. Everyone copes differently. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. You have to figure out what helps you, and put it into action. I believe in you and I know you can get through it, whatever it is that you’re faced with. You’re programed to, after all 🙂

How do you normally cope with change? Do you like it or loathe it? What are your thoughts on change? What helps? You can share them with me and each other, if you want 🙂

Mindfulness: How to Be Here Right Now.

Be Here Now

Mindfulness is the latest sliced-bread of psychology. It’s all over the media. There are countless books, courses, journals, videos, apps and even colouring books on it! However, I thought it would be worthwhile to give you a summary of what the underlying principles of Mindfulness are, and how you might go about incorporating it into your own life and self-care practice.

Mindfulness has its roots in eastern and Buddhist philosophy. Jon Kabat-Zinn was the founder of the modern form of Mindfulness and he was also the founder of the Mindfulness-based stress reduction clinic. Weirdly enough, Kabat-Zinn is a Professor of Medicine and a Molecular Biologist. Although he has been trained in Buddhist principles, he doesn’t actually follow the Buddhist religion and prefers instead to think of himself as a scientist. He published this big fat bible-like book about Mindfulness in 1991 called Full Catatrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness.  If you want a really deep understanding of Mindfulness and the mind-body connection, I’d highly recommend getting your hands on this book. However, there are some other books around now which are more concise and perhaps easier and quicker to read. I’ll suggest a few of my favourites at the end of this article.

What is Mindfulness?

So, you’re probably wondering, what is Mindfulness about anyway?

Kabat-Zinn reckons it means, “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”. Well, that’s the bite-size version!

The purpose of mindfulness is basically to bring a greater sense of awareness to the present moment. When life gets busy, we get so caught up in thinking, planning, remembering and worrying that we often get stuck in autopilot mode and we forget to check in with the present moment. Mindfulness gives us the tools and skills to be able to do this effectively and to gently pull ourselves out of the vortex that is our mind.

It’s important for me to clarify a few points:

The goal of Mindfulness is not relaxation. Although relaxation can be a bonus benefit of engaging in a regular mindfulness practice, it’s not the goal. The thoughts that Mindfulness brings into our awareness are not necessarily always pleasant, however, Mindfulness does help to give us some distance from them, and it also brings a greater sense of acceptance to them.

Acceptance does not mean “liking” or “approving” of what comes into your awareness, it simply means, “sitting with” the thoughts, without a struggle. The struggle with your thoughts is what creates the suffering. Thoughts are just thoughts. It’s getting caught up in them, becoming preoccupied with them and consumed by them that causes problems. You see, as the saying goes, “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”. You don’t necessarily have a choice about what comes up, but if you notice it, you do then have a choice about whether you engage with it, struggle with it or simply allow it. You don’t have to control it or change it. If it changes by itself, that’s ok, if it doesn’t change, that’s ok too.

The goal of Mindfulness is not to stop your thoughts or to stop your mind from thinking. That is impossible. Not even Zen masters can do this. The goal is to simply notice your thoughts and to bring a greater sense of kindness and compassion to those thoughts. It’s about being open to, and curious to, whatever comes up.

You can't stopthe waves,But you canlearn to surf

Why should I practice Mindfuless?

 Well, why not? Struggling with painful or unpleasant thoughts is not fun! Besides this obvious point, stress is actually quite damaging on the human body. It stops your body from functioning normally. When we are stressed, our sympathetic nervous system is activated in what’s sometimes referred to as the “fight or flight” response. This is an evolutionary response to a perceived danger or threat. Our body cleverly channels all of our energy into fighting or fleeing a danger or threat, and while it does this, the parts of our body that are not needed are simply shut down. This means that our digestive, immune, growth and reproductive systems are all hindered during stressful times. This is a pretty handy thing for our body to do, especially if a tiger is chasing us. It’s a system which is in place to protect us, except that, in our modern lives, this system is being activated by things such as deadlines, running late, fighting with your partner, being cut off in traffic, overworking and other such things. It’s basically turned into a sensitive car alarm, which is going off when it shouldn’t. We all need a little bit of stress to get things done, but when it’s happening too much and too often, that’s when it can be damaging to our mental health and general wellbeing. It can cause stomach ulcers, heart problems, lowered libido and other illnesses.

While stress triggers a fight-or-flight response, Mindfulness activates the parasympathetic nervous system, or the “rest and digest” system. Our heart rate slows, our breathing slows and our blood pressure drops. Mindfulness is therefore restorative and benefits our wellbeing.

The benefits of Mindfulness are also well researched and empirically supported. In fact, a scholarly search on Mindfulness brings up a wealth of empirical evidence to support its benefits, effectiveness and usefulness.

BePresent

How can Mindfulness help me?

Reduces Stress. People who practice mindfulness meditation regularly have reported feeling less stressed and more emotionally balanced, and, according to research by neuroscientists, as you continue to meditate, your brain physically changes! How amazing! The part of the brain that reacts to stress was found to be less reactive in those who practiced mindfulness regularly.

Increases creativity. Aside from helping you to feel less stressed, Mindfulness has also been shown to promote creative thinking and to help you to generate more ideas!

Enhances focus and concentration. Mindfulness helps you to focus and concentrate. Being able to focus and defy distraction is linked to our ability to control our impulses, emotions and achieve our long-term goals. Remember, being able to focus on your goals is one of the keys to finding success.

Improves your relationships. Finally, it also improves your relationships. Not just with those close to you, but also with everyone else you meet. As you become more comfortable with yourself, it makes it easier for you to get along with others, and you may find it easier to accept them as they are too. Mindfulness is therefore not only beneficial for you, but also for those around you!

Now that you know about all the benefits of Mindfulness, let’s get on to the practical side of it all…

 How do I practice Mindfulness?

Mindfulness can be practiced formally and informally. The formal practice is usually called Mindfulness Meditation, which I’ll get on to in a sec. Informal practice can be doing things like having a shower mindfully, brushing your teeth mindfully, eating mindfully, going for a mindful walk, or using tools such as the “5,5,5” or the “Stop Practice”, which I’ll also explain in a sec. The important thing to remember is that most of the research on the benefits of Mindfulness is based on the formal practice of Mindfulness Meditation; so scheduling in some time every day to do a formal practice is what’s going to be most beneficial for you. Setting a reminder on your phone may help you with this.

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Mindfulness Meditation

 There are 3 basic components to most Mindfulness Meditations: your body, your breath and your thoughts. First, let’s talk about the body – which also involves our environment and how we set it up for our Mindfulness Meditation. You should be in a comfortable and safe environment. With practice, you should be able to practice Meditation anywhere, but to begin with, pick a relatively quiet space, which is a comfortable temperature for you and where you are not likely to be distracted by others. This may be your bedroom, for example.

Some people like to create a meditation space or “altar” and decorate it with pictures, photos, objects that mean something to you or your meditation practice. Sometimes people like to light a candle or burn incense while they meditate, too. All of this stuff is optional and not essential to engaging in the practice, but it may enhance it.

Before you begin, you may wish to set a timer or alarm. If this is your first time meditating, set it for 5 minutes to begin with. As you continue practicing, you may wish to extend this time to be 10 or 20 minutes.

Now that you have the space and time, you will need somewhere to sit. Some people like to sit in chair; others like to sit on a cushion. The main thing here is that your posture is upright but not too rigid. Your posture should be one that is conducive to alertness and awareness. Remember, it’s not about relaxation, so sit naturally and comfortably but ensure that your back is straight and that there is a natural curve in your back. If you’re in a chair, make sure your feet are flat on the floor. If you’re on a cushion, you can sit with them crossed underneath you. You can place your hands on your knees with your palms facing down, or if you’re trying to cultivate a greater sense of openness, you may like to have your palms facing up. Eyes can be open or closed. If you’re just starting out, sometimes having them partially open and focused on a spot can help to increase your focus and limit distraction from thoughts.

Begin by just sitting in this posture for a bit. Just be aware of your body and any sensations you are experiencing right now in this moment. Notice what you can see and hear. Notice what you are thinking right now in this moment. Notice what you are feeling. Just notice. Remember, your mind will wander. This is ok. When you notice that your mind has wandered, gently bring your awareness back to your body, without judgment.

Next, you will bring your awareness to your breath. Notice your breath flowing in and out. Notice it as it enters through your nose or mouth, fills your lungs with air, and then makes its way back out of the body. Notice your tummy rising and falling. Imagine that you have a balloon in your tummy and every time you breathe in, the balloon inflates and every time you breathe out the balloon deflates.

Just keep your focus on your breath for the next few minutes. Use the breath as your anchor to this moment. Once again, it’s normal and natural for your mind to wander. Simply notice the thoughts, acknowledge them and gently bring your awareness back to the breath. Your mind will wander repeatedly. Every time it wanders, notice it and gently bring it back. You can sit and meditate for as long as you like, or until your alarm goes off to signal the end of the practice. Come out of your meditation slowly and gently.

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When should I meditate?

You can meditate any time you like, but some people prefer to do it first thing in the morning to prepare them for the day, or just before bed to aid with sleep. It’s really up to you when you choose to meditate, how often and for how long.

Informal practice

As I said, you can also practice mindfulness informally…

Try eating a piece of chocolate mindfully. Pick it up. Look at it. Notice the texture in your hand. Bring it up to your mouth. Smell it. Place it in your mouth on your tongue for a few seconds. Taste it. Feel the texture. Bite into it slowly. Feel it melt in your mouth. Savour the taste.

Try going for a Mindful Walk. Take note of everything you see, hear, smell, taste, think and touch on your walk. Notice your stride. Notice the breeze against your cheek. Notice the birds singing. Notice your thoughts. Feel the ground beneath your feet.

Try taking a shower mindfully. Feel the water soaking your skin. Feel the temperature. Feel the texture of your hair as you shampoo it. Every time a thought enters your awareness, imagine it being washed away.

Try the 5, 5, 5. You can do this anywhere, anytime. It’s a grounding practice. Notice 5 things you can see, 5 things you can hear, and 5 things you can touch. So, right now I can see my desk, drink bottle, notebook, candle, pen. I can hear birds outside, the TV on in the living room, my sister’s laughter, my fingers typing on my keyboard, the clanging of cutlery in the kitchen. I can feel my laptop keyboard, the clothes against my skin, my feet on the ground, my hair touching the back of my neck, and the chair beneath me. This practice is really good for pulling your mind out of quicksand, that is, when you are ruminating or getting caught up in your thoughts about something.

Try the STOP practice. The STOP practice is really good for stopping you when you’re about to react to something – i.e. you’ve just been cut off in traffic. Instead of reacting, you can:

Stop: Literally stop whatever you’re doing.

Take: A few deep breaths.

Observe: Your thoughts, feelings and surroundings

Proceed: In the most effective way.

Try colouring in mindfully. This is the latest craze and it really is a great alternative to the formal mindfulness practice. Just make sure you choose a colouring book with repetitive and simple patterns, so you don’t get distracted easily by the pictures/design and can simply focus on colouring in.

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Some other tools.

My favourite apps on Mindfulness

Headspace is a UK-based Mindfulness Meditation App with guided Mindfulness Meditations.

Smiling Mind is an Australian Mindfulness Meditation App targeted to young people, but it is helpful for all ages.

My favourite books on Mindfulness

Mindfulness for Life by Dr. Craig Hassed and Dr. Stephen McKenzie is a helpful overview of Mindfulness.

The Mindfulness Journal by Corrinne Sweet is handy if you’re wanting to incorporate writing into your mindfulness practice.

The Happiness Trap by Dr. Russ Harris is the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy bible.

The Reality Slap by Dr. Russ Harris is helpful for when there’s a gap between what you want and what you’ve got.

The Little Book of Mindfulness by Dr. Patrizia Collard is small enough to carry in a handbag.

The Mindfulness Colouring Book by Emma Farrarons is handy if you don’t like formal mindfulness practice. Colouring in can be a helpful alternative.

A final note….

Mindfulness practice is not intended to treat acute stress in the moment, but rather, to be practiced daily over time to reduce your overall level of stress, which in turn will result in fewer acute episodes of stress. It is recommended that you practice these exercises daily even when you are not feeling stressed. If you only practice when you are stressed or anxious, you will not get the full benefit of it. Like any new skill, it takes practice to get the best results. Find a suitable time in your day to schedule in your mindfulness practice and commit to it as a daily part of your routine. Setting an alarm or reminder on your phone may be helpful for this. As you start to see the benefits of your daily practice, you are likely to want to continue with this.

Good luck and enjoy the moment.

Please let me know how you go with it and what you notice.

For bonus points: Go for a mindfulness walk and share what you noticed on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #mindfulnesswithkerry or #thekerryfiles