Slow down time 

                   
How many times do you say to a friend or colleague “this year seems to be speeding by so quickly” or “every year seems to pass by faster”? I was talking to a man who is in 70’s just this week about this, and he glumly told me that “as you get older the years flyby faster and faster!”  So I got to thinking about this, because we know for sure that time isn’t passing any faster. There are still 24 hours in each day and 60 minutes in each hour. So the problem just might be that we all are becoming increasingly mindless,  spending most of my days on autopilot and missing most of each day. 

Mark Williams and Danny Penman talk about this in their book Mindfulness, A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. They say…

 

If you are 30 years old, then with a life expectancy of 80 you have 50 years left. But if you are only truly conscious and aware of every moment perhaps 2 out of 16 hours ( which is not unreasonable), your life expectancy is only another 6 years and 3 months.

Put  in these terms, it seems essential to start increasing the amount of time we spend being mindful and wake up to our life’s.

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Meditation myths 

Many are missing out on the benefits of meditation practice due to their beliefs about what it is, and what it isn’t. So here is a little meditation myth busting. 1. It is a religious practice Although mindfulness is rooted in Buddhism it is not affiliated to any religion. You can practice mindful meditation no matter what religion you are (and even if you have no religion). 2. You have to sit cross legged for hours You can practice meditation in any position you like! An upright and alert position is best but this can be on the floor or a chair. If you prefer you can lie down but this often leads to falling asleep. 3. Meditation is complicated and I’m no good at it You cannot get mindful meditation wrong. If you are being still that’s great, if you are able to watch the breath and explore the breath, that’s even better. It is not about having an empty mind. It is about paying attention, and developing awareness of thoughts and emotions as the arise. The more thoughts that arise, the more opportunity you have to flex your mindful muscles. 4. It will make me too placid and complacent You will not lose your drive to strive through meditation, but you will have space to look at what you’re striving for and why. You will gain clarity and focus. 5. Meditation practice requires too much time The more meditation practice you can do the better it is but any amount of stillness is beneficial. If you don’t have time for a seated practice, try introducing mindfulness into you daily routine. See my previous posts entitled 5 easy ways to turn frustrating situations into calming mindful pauses and savour the simple things 6. I don’t have time to meditate  Just 5 minutes of stillness in your day would benefit you. The more busy you feel the more you will benefit from finding stillness. There is an old zen saying that you should sit in meditation for 20 minutes per day, unless you are too busy, then you should sit for an hour.

The side effects of meditation

If you are contemplating starting a mindful meditation practice, or you are struggling to keep up with your practice, here are some important reasons to keep going. Don’t forget you cannot get this wrong. Even a moment of stillness is worthwhile.

You may forget where your doctor’s surgery is

Research has shown that regular meditators visit their doctor less often. They have reduced levels of stress and stress associated illness such as high blood pressure. It also boost immune function.

You might live longer

There is evidence to show that meditators are more content and suffer less anxiety and depression, and these happy emotions are linked to longevity.

There is no excuse for forgetting your anniversary

Meditators have improved memory function and enjoy more fulfilling relationships. Is this because they remember the important dates like anniversaries and birthdays?

Increased resilience in the face of chronic disease

Meditators reduce the negative impact of chronic conditions such as pain and fatigue.

These side effects are much more pleasant that many drug side effects used to treat anxiety, depression, hypertension and pain. So let’s start using meditation as preventative medicine and improve our quality of life in the process.

Wellbeing Toolkit

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Over christmas I was closing down my old journal which spanned two years. Reading through it was enlightening to say the least. I have a relatively peaceful life with good friends and family, a job which I would describe as my vocation and enough money to live comfortably. Like most people however, I encounter difficulties which sometimes wipe me out and make me sad and fearful. I was pleased to find an entry in my journal which I had written as a letter to myself after I had recovered well from a particularly heart breaking situation.

The letter to myself reminded me that, whilst in the middle of the crisis I felt that I would surely never recover, I did recover. I then listed all the things that I did to aid the recovery to be referred to in the future should the need arise. It is good to make this list while you are clear-headed and feeling positive because when you are feeling despair you might not be able to motivate yourself to come up with solutions, but you can easily refer to your list, pick a helpful activity and do you best to take part. I would call this list your “wellbeing tool kit”.

Take some time to think back through any challenging events in your life that might have taken you to your knees for a while. Now in your journal, on your iPhone or just on a pice of paper make a list of the activities, people and things which brought a smile to your face and lightened your heart just enough to see you through. What helped you to gain perspective? What gave you the boost to push through to a better place?

Here are a few of the things on my list:

1. Dancing with my niece.

Children are free of burdens and are so disinhibited that being around them, and engaging in childlike play never fails to lift my spirits.

2. Walking in nature with friends.

We call it “walking therapy”. Just half an hour out in the fresh air, exercising whilst we moan, gossip, laugh and cry always leaves us feeling like at least a tiny part of the problem has been solved.

3. Yoga

To me yoga is a cure-all. If your tired it revitalises you, if your wired it calms you down. If you are fragile you can take it easy or even just sit on your mat and breath. It will always leave you feeling better than when you started.

4. Mindfulness

I used to be lost in my stressfull thoughts most of the time before I discovered mindfulness. Now I’m still lost in thought but not as much. Mindfulness practice provides me with a balcony view over my thoughts. This allows me the space to recognise that they are “just thoughts” not facts!

5. Retreat

The picture above is me on a beach at sunset. During time away on holidays and short breaks I can clear my mind and be peaceful. If you can’t afford a holiday then plan a small at home retreat. A day of “nothingness” to just relax and unwind. Eat some nourishing food and read a good book.

6. Books

Motivational reads are perfect for challenging times. See the “on my bookshelf” page for some ideas.

7. Friends

When times are hard surround yourself with your support team. Those friends that listen, make you laugh, give you the home truths and leave you alone when you need it. I look to people who inspire me and people who have been through difficult times and recovered to be stronger than ever. These are the friends from who we can learn and grow.

8. Nourishing the body

Taking care of the body is so important during stressful and upsetting times. adequate sleep and a good nutritious diet will push you through to a better place much more quickly than self neglect. Even if you’re feeling low and de-motivated try to care for your body as you would take care of a little child, with lots of love and kindness.

 

A taste of mindfulness

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One of my favourite speakers, authors and thought leaders about mindfulness is John Kabat-Zinn.  He is the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts and he has written many books on mindfulness.

He wrote this poem which to me, totally embodies what mindfulness is, and how mindfulness feels. It is impossible not be moved by the possibility of feeling the essence of what is captured in his words. I hope you enjoy these words as much as I do.

‘Poem’, by Jon Kabat-Zinn,
A Taste of Mindfulness
“Have you ever had the experience of stopping so completely,
of being in your body so completely,
of being in your life so completely,
that what you knew and what you didn’t know,
that what had been and what was yet to come,
and the way things are right now,
no longer held even the slightest hint of anxiety or discord,
a moment of complete presence beyond striving,
beyond mere acceptance,
beyond the desire to escape or fix anything or plunge ahead,
a moment of pure being,
no longer in time,
a moment of pure seeing,
pure feeling,
a moment in which life simply is,
and that is-ness grabs you by all your senses,
all your memories, by your very genes,
by your loves,
and welcomes you home,
that is a taste of mindfulness.”

 

5 easy ways to turn frustrating situations into calming mindful pauses

How often are you kept waiting for things and find yourself frustrated? Waiting at the school gates when you need to be home and starting the tea, stuck in traffic and late for a meeting or, waiting to find out if you got the job that you just interviewed for. Life moves so quickly and we all feel that when we already need more hours in the day, anything that holds us up is just another stress. Well for those of you who just don’t have time for a regular meditation practice, follow these five tips to turn those frustrating events in your day into calming mindful pauses and soon you will be wishing for more traffic jams.

1. Stuck in traffic

Being stuck in traffic can be frustrating and stressful particularly when you have to be somewhere. The fact of the matter is, that unless you have a hover board that you can hop onto, you are stuck. So get comfortable in the seat, put your favourite CD in the CD player, and listen mindfully to the songs you love. Use the music as your focusing anchor. Listen to the words, the melody and the sounds. If your attention drifts and you catch yourself wondering if you’re going to be late, don’t judge yourself just gently bring your attention back to the music. If you don’t have any music in the car, use your visual senses. Look around and take in your surroundings. Try not to attach any description to them just observe. Again if your attention drift just acknowledge this and come back to what you can see. Do this for as long as it feels effortless (or until the traffic moves)!

2. You’ve been put on hold

I wonder how much of lives we spend on hold, calling the gas supplier or our mobile phone provider? And just when you manage to get through to a real human, they kindly inform you that you have the wrong department and put you back on hold whilst they transfer you!
I now try to use these times as my meditation time. I get comfortable either in a chair or on the floor, I put the phone onto loud-speaker and put it close by and I do a short mindfulness practice. I take a few moments to settle and then I bring my hands to belly and focus on the rise and fall of my belly as I breath in and out. When my attention drifts which it always does, I notice it and guide it back to the feeling of my hands rising and falling against my belly.
You will become so peaceful during these times that you may wish that you could go on hold a little longer! And, when the call handler does answer the call, you will have a much clearer and calmer mind to deal with the situation at hand.

3. Waiting in a queue

Queueing can be very frustrating. I have the wonderful skill of judging queues very badly and after lots of deliberation I always end up joining the one that moves the slowest.
When this happens, stand with your feet hip distance apart, rock back and forth slightly to ensure your weight is even throughout the whole foot. Soften your knees a little. Now just bring your focus to the feeling of your feet on the floor. Taking your focus to the feet takes you out of your head and your thoughts. Notice where your feet make contact with the ground, which parts of your feet press more firmly onto the ground? Notice which parts of the feet don’t make contact with the ground. Practice moving your weight slightly from one foot to the other. When needed gently bring your attention back to your whole body and the matter at hand.

4. Waiting for the kettle to boil

How often do you impatiently flick the kettle off before it has boiled? The next time you are making a drink, take your time. Pay attention to all the actions involved in the process. Filling the kettle, flicking the switch, putting the tea or coffee into the cup. Think about the tea or coffee, where it came from, what processes it may have been through to get to your kitchen. Listen to the sound of the kettle boiling, watch the steam rising. If you thoughts wander just notice it and bring your attention back to the kettle boiling. Don’t flick the switch too soon, just enjoy the process and then maybe sit quietly and mindfully enjoy the drink.

5.  Waiting for the friend who is always late

We all have at least one friend who always turns up late. The one you tell a little fib to and give them an earlier meeting time than everyone else just so that they might turn up at the proper time 15 minutes later. If you are alone in a bar or  waiting restaurant for someone you can sometimes feel self-conscious and find yourself, pretending to be on the phone or scanning your twitter feed. Next time this happens, try to avoid feeling the need to distract yourself. Get comfortable in your seat, feet flat on the floor and take a few mindful moments. Nobody in the restaurant will notice what you are doing. You could choose to focus your attention on the noises around you or the smells. Or just focus on you in breath and out breath. When your friend arrives they will wonder what your secret to looking so serene is.

 

Mindfulness should be easy and effortless. It is simply the practice focusing our attention onto a neutral anchor such as the breath, a sound or a sensation. When our attention drifts (which it always will) this is just a welcome opportunity to notice where our attention has gone to, and bring it back to our focusing anchor. It just takes us one step back from the often continuous dialogue in our minds, and gives us some welcome peace. It also keeps us in the present moment. So welcome the mundane and frustrating moments as blessings and never miss the opportunity to give yourself a mini mindful meditation.

Meditation for a flatter stomach

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Many of you will have heard of the ‘fight of flight’ response. It is the physiological response to feelings of fear. It enables us to avoid danger by either, running away or fighting. So when you are faced by a dangerous situation, circulation to your brain increases for faster reactions, blood pressure rises, your heart beats faster and your muscles tense ready for action. Adrenalin and cortisol levels increase to sustain this state for a short time. This response is life saving when we are in danger however, many of us are living under constant stress and our bodies are remaining in this fight or flight state for prolonged lengths of time.

Over time, raised cortisol levels brought on by chronic stress can lead to impaired cognitive function, blood sugar imbalance, decreased bone density, high blood pressure, lowered immune system and increased abdominal fat. In fact one of the main causes of increased abdominal fat is raised cortisol levels. Our body stores fat expecting to need it for energy for the high stress situation that we are facing.

So by finding ways to initiate the relaxation response in our bodies we can lower cortisol levels, thereby stabilising our blood sugar and reducing food cravings. Lowered cortisol levels should also help reduce belly fat. Studies have shown that mindful meditation may significantly reduce cortisol levels leading to the reduction in the risks associated with raised levels.

So take a few moments each day to consider how your body feels. What thoughts are running through you mind? If you don’t have the time for a regular meditation practice, try taking 5 minutes on your commute to work or take a mindful walk outside on your lunch break.

If you have the time, try this short mindful meditation practice for a few minutes and if you are able too, build up the time you allow for this each day.

Sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor. Notice what is going on around you and within you. What can you hear, smell or sense? What are your bodily sensations, body weight, temperature, contact points with the chair? What is happening in your mind? What emotional feelings are present? Allow whatever is there to be there without judgement. Now Narrow your attention down to your breath. Notice the rise and fall of your abdomen, the depth and length of the breath. When your attention drifts, acknowledge that it has drifted and gently bring the attention back to the breath. After a few minutes, broaden out you attention again to the thoughts, emotions, body and surrounding area. After a few more moments you can go back to your day and enjoy the benefits of reducing your stress hormones.