🌬A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 16🌬

Creating a Space

By taking a Breathing Space we pause and take a moment to acknowledge what is happening in that moment.


 This exercise helps bring us into the present moment by noticing and acknowledging how things really are. Being honest with ourselves and not thinking about how we would like them to be. Following this we decide what to do next- if anything at all.

 It recommended becoming familiar with The Breathing Space exercise that I have attached below. Try schedule this into your daily routine. Set an alarm or write it into your diary. I usually set my alarm titled what my intentions are for that day. For example: ‘Breath’, ‘Thoughts become things’, ‘Gratitude’, ‘Forgiveness’. The book recommends attaching this breathing practice to meal times. We always have to eat so by making it part of this daily activity we are more likely to remember it. Over time it will become part of your regular day. They say it takes 30 days to break a habit. I also believe it takes 30 days to pick up a new habit. I gave myself the challenge of setting my alarm with the word ‘Breath’ during breakfast, dinner and tea time. Obviously my meal breaks vary from day to day so sometimes my alarm was too early and I completely forgot to do it when meal time came around. You will also forget and that’s o.k but don’t beat yourself up over it. The more you realise you have forgotten the more you will remember the next time. Each time you remember that you have forgot to do it, DO IT THEN. Do it as soon as you remember!

 When doing ‘The Breathing Space’ exercise it is important to be self aware that if you have negative feelings or thoughts or whatever come about, your automatic response will be to try and fix them to make yourself feel better. Sometimes this happens when I meditate. I notice my t shirt is a little bit uncomfortable around my neck and I try to fix it. It has taken me months to be able to sit with these discomforts or negative emotions and not react to them. Practice makes perfect and all that jazz! I have learned to acknowledge these feelings etc. and let them go. Literally with an out breath, let them go.

 

 Once you have experience watching the breath, you can expand this to mindfulness of the entire body. Personally I find it difficult to do this on my own and prefer guided meditations or sometimes I attend a mindfulness yoga and meditation class. It all depends on how I am feeling. The more anxious or stressed I am I usually prefer to book into a class as I tend to think “I don’t have the time to be mindful”. By booking into a class and paying in advance it means you kind of have to go. That’s how my brain works anyway. The following exercise requires a dedicated 10 minutes or longer to complete. I think setting your alarm 10 minutes earlier in the morning is the best time to do it. Start your day as you mean to go on! Usually as the day progresses you are more tired and not a***d.

 Mindfulness of the body allows us to change our relationship with discomforts or pain. As I have spoke about in previous posts, we notice narratives we create around pain and discomforts, we can feed into these feelings and we can learn to let it go. By doing this the discomfort is reduced. We learn how to live with things that are not how we would like them to be. As I was saying up above usually when I meditate I find it hard to not react to a tight fitting t shirt or an itchy nose. By pausing before reacting to these feelings and sensations we allow ourselves time to react differently. My yoga teacher always tells us to breath into the discomfort or pain. Literally visualise your breath inhaling and exhaling through the area of discomfort. It took me a long time to be able to do this. Our automatic responses are built into us. As children our parents ran straight to us when we fell and rubbed the area that was painful to relieve the discomfort. It takes time to change these automatic responses. Practice pausing before reacting every time you remember. Set a reminder on your phone titled ‘Pause’. Eventually it will become a habit like everything else and you will naturally react this way. Give yourself 30 days!

 Through this practice we learn to be with physical sensations. We practice tuning into our bodies and noticing what is arising within them. Those who experience periods of great sadness (depression) due to chronic pain will use things such as avoidance to cope and deal with their discomforts. This approach is the complete opposite. Through using this mindfulness technique we are zoning in on the pain and being with it as opposed to avoiding it.

 J x

📝A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 15📝

Noticing the Narrative

Meditation teaches us how to observe our thoughts from a different angle. During meditation practice we also start to notice the same old stories that come up time and time again. These may be things like “I am not good enough”, “I need to get a new job”, “Why am I still single?”- the list goes on. 

Whatever story we tell ourselves will be influenced by our frame of mind. If we feel a bit down in ourselves the story will be negative, whereas if we feel happy then the story will have a more positive story line. This fact alone tells us we can’t take our thoughts as facts. This weeks exercise asked for us to pay attention to the stories we tell ourselves by using the following guidelines:

  1. Notice how your mood influences your interpretation of an experience.

  2. Become aware of your posture, paying particular attention to your jaw (is it relaxed or clenched?) and your hands. How are your shoulders? Notice expressions: are you frowning?

  3. Tune into your body and become aware of any sensations that are arising in response to the story (and then notice if new thoughts arise about those sensations). Of course, there may be none.

  4. When you become aware of a recurring thought, it can be helpful to bring some lighthearted humour to naming it: For example, thinking “ANXIOUS ANNIE IS HERE AGAIN!” will help you to distance yourself from your anxiety.

  5. Are you feeding a particular story, maybe playing sad songs when the story is negative and encouraging feelings of sadness to manifest? We may not be able to control our thoughts but we can control how we respond to them.

  6. Notice the feeling tone of your thoughts as these can be helpful indications of your current state of mind.

Exploring the body and physical manifestations of the thought and/or emotion can be a helpful  to disengage from the “doing” mind. We can also use the breath as a way of shifting our attention away from a particular focus. We do this all the time when we meditate, but we can do it when we are doing about our daily life, as well.

Personal Reflection:

  1. I felt a bit stressed out and my mood was a bit all over the place. I was texting my friend and they replied to a message with a very short response. I interpreted that as “maybe they’re angry with me?”, “why are they being so short?”.  I started to jump to conclusions and make up a scenario in my head.
  2. My posture at the time: I was frowning.
  3. I started to feel anxious and my breath got a little faster.
  4. “JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS IS HERE AGAIN”
  5. By not asking my friend if anything was wrong I was feeding into my story and giving myself more time to make the story even bigger. I responded by sending even more messages as I was starting to become even more anxious. With every message sent and no reply received, I was feeding into my story. If I had changed my response and asked if anything was wrong then waited for a reply, I would not have become as anxious.
  6. The next time this scenario arose I waited for a response from my friend and focused on my breath until they responded. There was nothing wrong with them in the end. They were busy driving and could not reply in big essays.
  7. The feeling tone of my thoughts were anxious. This reflected how I was feeling all day. I was a bit stressed out with college work and it definitely showed in the story i developed inside my head.

What story is headlining within your head this week?

 

J x

⭕️A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 14⭕️

MOVING OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE

As we get older and morph into old grannies we develop habits and routines. We can tend to do the same thing day in day out. We’ve conquered our own particular way of doing something and continue to do it that way because “we’ve always done it like that”. It is easier to stick to what we know, what we are used to. Change can petrify people. The unknown can petrify people. The brain uses less energy when it sticks to a routine. It becomes lazy. By staying within its comfort zone it means few less unpleasant surprises. However, when things do not go according to plan we can experience great amounts of unhappiness.

How do we prepare for the unexpected?

Building up resilience! Deliberately get out of your comfort zone and prepare yourself for the unexpected. Allow yourself to become more adaptable to change. Build up your tolerance levels by practising small inconsequential things.

This exercise asked me to make a list of things I always do the same way:

  1. I always have a coffee first thing in the morning.
  2. I always check the train and bus times a million times before it is due.
  3. I always check all social media apps before I go to sleep and when I wake up.
  4. I always sleep on my stomach.

Then I had to choose one thing to do differently each day. I chose not to have my morning coffee first thing when I woke up. I approached it with a ‘beginners mind’ and allowed myself to be ‘curious’ throughout the experiment. These are two very important attitudes to attain to improve your mindfulness practice. We spoke about these in more detail in ‘Week 3: Cultivating the Attitudes’.

Personal reflection

What did you notice that arising before?

Thoughts: I am going to fall asleep on the train to work. I will not be able to function. I can just imagine how irritable I am going to be.

Emotions: I feel tired already. Irritable.

Felt sensations in the body: Heaviness in my chest.

What did you notice arising during?

Thoughts: Ok, I’m still awake. I can make it to work. Its not the end of the world.

Emotions: I feel tired. I feel anxious. I feel asleep (is that even an emotion?).

Felt sensations in the body: Headache

What did you notice arising after?

Thoughts: I didn’t fall asleep. It wasn’t actually that bad. I completely over-rely on coffee. I need to change my morning habit to something less addictive. Maybe I can get my caffeine buzz from a healthier green tea? I think I still need coffee though? I am an addict.

Emotions: I feel tired and sleepy. I miss coffee. I feel sad.

Felt sensations in the body: My body is a bit drained.

The book recommends using your breath to keep you anchored during this exercise. I thought I would be a bit of a drama queen if I started to do deep breathing exercises because I missed my coffee. BUT I DID. I ❤ COFFEE. OK, so my experiment was not extremely ‘out of my comfort zone’ but it did bring up some nasty feelings and made me become more aware of my over reliance on coffee. Am I addicted to coffee or am I addicted to the routine? I was certainly out of my comfort zone sitting on that train, day dreaming about coffee beans. I felt anxious and uneasy. Usually I am quite content on the train to work. My poor brain is usually slowly sipping my coffee mug day dreaming about nothing. But there it was on overdrive having unnecessary nightmares about coffee. Maybe next time I’ll do something a bit more spontaneous like walk to work instead of getting the train? Confuse my little brain up completely.

 

 

J x

 

A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 12

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Appreciating the Good

They say we can ‘redress’ our natural bias towards negativity by focusing on the pleasant and positive experiences. Because there is no survival benefit to enjoying pleasant experiences, they usually happen momentarily and are gone. 

Mindfulness is all about being able to bring that small experience into awareness for as little as 60 seconds in order to save it in our long term memory. (Have we all seen ‘Inside Out’ the children’s movie?). These small pleasant experiences are usually appreciated and made more aware of by the young. In the movie ‘Inside Out’ they explain how aware children are of small happy moments and how such small things can impact on a child’s development. These happy moments are stored in their long term memory until bigger emotions take their place. This could be as simplistic as when the first time their Mother made them laugh or the first time they tried to eat jelly. The feeling of happiness children experience usually sits with them a lot longer than in adults.  As we grow older these experiences go unnoticed because adults are usually  preoccupied with more ‘important’ things in life like how they are going to pay the bills or who’s turn it is to take the bins out. The minute happiness occurs in an adult they have already jumped onto a new feeling or a new thought. Children are the most mindful of us all.

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BANKING THE GOOD

Sometimes people are surprised at they way a seemingly insignificant experience creates a strong sense of pleasure, which they experience again when they reflect on it- an added bonus. Our natural negative bias means we usually forget a transitory pleasant experience- the warm sun on our face, the scent of a flower, the smile that lights up a child’s face when they see us- but if we pay attention to the experience, noticing its different elements, we “bank” it in our long-term memory and life starts to feel richer and more fulfilling. 

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This weeks exercise wanted us to make an intention to be more aware of those fleeting moments of pleasure. Do it every day for a week (or more). At the end of the week reflect on any new discoveries or insights.

What was the experience?

What thoughts occurred to you?

What felt sensations did you notice in the body?

What emotions were you aware of?

What are you experiencing now as you answer these questions?

This week I reflected on several positive experiences, one of which was particularly positive. Now its not every day or week I do this but as its coming close to Christmas I felt a bit emotional and giving. During the week I was shopping in Marks and Spencer’s and when you spend over 75 euro you get a free gift (a box with wine, Christmas pudding, biscuits, sweets etc.). I was delighted and immediately imagined myself and my best friend sitting on the couch having a nibble and a glass of wine. I was bombarded with shopping bags that day. I walked by sooooo many homeless people sat on the cold ground looking miserable. I decided F**k this I have enough treats at home, I’ll give this gift box to the next homeless person I see. So that’s what I done. And Wow. I have never seen someones eyes light up as much as this man’s did. “Thank you so much, you don’t realize how much I appreciate this. Seriously, Thank you”. My god I certainly would not have appreciated it as much as he did. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude (I had a little cry, as usual. I am an emotional being). I felt so happy that I had made someone look and feel the way he did. His happiness with the gift lasted a lot longer than mine would have. He sat there staring at it with joy, whereas I would have had the whole thing eaten at that stage. I reflected on how much I take for granted in life and how I need to start appreciating the little things more. It was a positive experience that will certainly be entering my long-term memory. Even reflecting back again writing this, all the same emotions I felt that day come flowing back. I received great happiness and pleasure from this small act of kindness. I also reflected on other small moments of pleasure throughout the week but this was one that stuck out for me.

What small moments of pleasure can you remember from the week past? 

J x

A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 11

What Attitudes are you Feeding?

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 Usually when we feel a particular emotion it leads us to having thoughts about the feeling and sometimes finding evidence to support it. We may also describe it with language like ‘what a nightmare’. It can be hard to figure out which came first. Did the thought come first? The emotion? The feeling? 

 When we catastrophe an experience, we allow the emotion to build up like an angry fire. The emotion then becomes out of control and we experience an unconscious mind/body chain reaction leading to us to feel even worse.

 This exercise speaks about how we have the potential to control our emotions. Now obviously we can only control our emotions to an extent. But as I always say, self awareness is key! By bringing thoughts or emotions into our awareness, we can watch our thoughts span out, become aware of the physical effects they have on our body and how overwhelming they can be. The first step is becoming self aware. We cannot change or do anything differently without becoming aware of it. Makes sense really. By acknowledging that a particular emotion is present, it allows us to react differently and puts a halt on the negative reaction  you would usually take. This whole exercise reminded me of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. We become aware of how our thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviours are interlinked. By changing one part of the chain, we cause a domino effect thus changing the automated response. For example, when I am feeling sad I listen to sad music thus making me feel even sadder. I then start to think negative thoughts and might even have a good cry. This negative cycle has become a built in automated response. I am basically feeding into my feeling of ‘sadness’. To break this negative cycle, I might listen to happier music when I feel sad in order to help lift my mood.

 Mindfulness teaches us how to tune into our experiences on a regular basis, enabling us to tune into negative behaviours as they arise. We become aware of thoughts, emotions, feelings or behaviours and explore them. The book recommended using a gentle breathing exercise to bring ourselves back into the present moment. Again refer back to my post on Breathing or simply use my ‘Breathing through the feet on the floor’ (my fav). Obviously when you are feeling a bit angry, the last thing you are thinking of is doing a quick breathing exercise. But if we refer back to my post on changing automated responses, you will see how we easy it is to start a negative response but just as easy to start a positive response. Practice makes perfect. For something to become an automated response, it must be practiced. It must become part of your routine. It will take time and it will not happen over night.

 How about thinking of what you like to do when you are feeling sad? Now have a think about those actions. Do they make you feel better or worse? For example, I might have a glass of wine if I feel a bit down or stressed. The wine will usually make me feel even shittier and the next day I am even worse with a hangover. What was so positive about that? That is most defiantly a feeder behaviour. What could I do differently that might help me more? I could watch a comedy. I could go visit a friend. Things that could actually lift my mood as opposed to bringing it further down? Makes sense doesn’t it?

Practicing Patience

Be patient and remind yourself that to begin with you may notice only after the event and wish you could have responded differently. This is perfectly normal; just continue practicing and noticing the emotions that you feed. 

J x

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Tai Chi: An early morning I spent pretending I was a bird🐥

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 Recently I attended a free introduction to Tai Chi session in The Dublin Holistic Centre . I was recommended by a friend to try it out as it was “calming” and “right up my street”.I YouTubed it and instantly I was attracted to it. Like minded people, standing in a small group, slow moving, in a deep relaxed state. I HAD TO TRY IT!

So what is Tai Chi? 

 Tai Chi is known as a mind art which combats stress, tiredness, sadness, anxiety and addictions. It focuses on posture, breathing, awareness and powerful whole body movements. It’s basically an internal Chinese martial art that is practiced for both defense training and its health benefits. You may have seen it in movies such as Jackie Chan or the Karate Kid. It is comprised of 37-postures, or movement patterns, which are repeated to the left or right to create the 108-movement sequence.

 Supposedly, it came about when a crane (a type of bird) and a snake came into contact with each other. The snake 🐍 attempted to attack the crane. The crane remained still and gently moved away from each attack the snake made. Eventually the crane wore the snake out and he was able to kill the snake. The aim of Tai Chi is to become the crane. 

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 So off I went at the crack of dawn, one cold Wednesday morning, to see how I could become a Crane. Beforehand I had pictured myself in slow-mo dancing around a room with old men in white clothing and long white beards becoming at Awe with the universe. When I arrived, I was greeted by a very pleasant man man dressed in navy and no beard. He explained the benefits of Tai Chi and what exactly the introductory class would entail. There were four people in attendance. The room was smallish but cozy and appropriate for its use.

 We started off by doing some meditation exercises to relax our minds and bodies. This included slow hand movements and breathing exercises with our eyes closed. Once we had all become grounded and calm, we began the Tai Chi exercises.The more relaxed your body and mind are, the more abundantly your energy can circulate. This is the first stage, known as Regulating the Body. Eventually, if you are interested in following the traditional path, you can progress through the stages of Regulating the Breath, the Mind, the Qi (the energy), and the Spirit. It can take up to three years to achieve full energy enhancements and full health benefits (a very long time).

 I was informed that it would take around 6 weeks to learn one movement but today he would explain a few different movements to give me a taster. SIX WEEKS TO LEARN ONE MOVEMENT. The thoughts of this was off putting. We started off with slow arm movements and different movements to shift our energies. He played relaxation music in the background which is fav! Eventually after 1 hour and 30 minutes, we had completed one complete move. One move contained several different movements. Each of these movements would take up to 6 weeks to conquer. Good posture is the main component of Tai Chi. If you are aware of the 7 Chakras (the wheels of energies in our bodies), you will know how important it is to have your spine straight and in line with your pelvis and head. Energies are transferred (Qigong – energy work) from the Crown Chakra (crown of your head) to the Root Chakra (base of your spine).

I will dedicate a future post to Chakra’s alone but in the meantime here is a brief overview of what each Chakra represents, its location and the emotional issues they bring about:

1. Root Chakra — Represents our foundation and feeling of being grounded.

  • Location: Base of spine in tailbone area.
  • Emotional issues: Survival issues such as financial independence, money and food.

2. Sacral Chakra — Our connection and ability to accept others and new experiences.

  • Location: Lower abdomen, about two inches below the navel and two inches in.
  • Emotional issues: Sense of abundance, well-being, pleasure and sexuality.

3. Solar Plexus Chakra — Our ability to be confident and in control of our lives.

  • Location: Upper abdomen in the stomach area.
  • Emotional issues: Self-worth, self-confidence and self-esteem.

4. Heart Chakra — Our ability to love.

  • Location: Center of chest just above the heart.
  • Emotional issues: Love, joy and inner peace.

5. Throat Chakra — Our ability to communicate.

  • Location: Throat.
  • Emotional issues: Communication, self-expression of feelings and the truth.

6. Third Eye Chakra — Our ability to focus on and see the big picture.

  • Location: Forehead between the eyes (also called the Brow Chakra).
  • Emotional issues: Intuition, imagination, wisdom and the ability to think and make decisions.

7. Crown Chakra — The highest chakra represents our ability to be fully connected spiritually.

  • Location: The very top of the head.
  • Emotional issues: Inner and outer beauty, our connection to spirituality and pure bliss

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 Tai Chi is all about the movement of energies in order to remove negative energy and increase positive energies. This energy in our bodies is derived from the food we eat and the fat we burn, combined with the air we breathe through the metabolic process. In addition, with every breath you are inhaling air, which is a gas, which is made of molecules, which are made of atoms, which are made of energy. You inhale positive or negative ions all day long. We also receive some percentage of our body’s energy from the sun and moon, and our body’s energy is influenced by the radiation of our surroundings, both natural and manmade. In fact, the human body is a living bioelectromagnetic field.

The next bit I have just copied and pasted off a website that explained how energies move within our bodies. I tried to rewrite it in my own words but I found it very difficult to explain.

When you want to move your body, your mind generates an electrical impulse through the spine to the muscles, and suddenly you are Grasping the Sparrow’s Tail. Your intention to move first creates a brainwave – this is an electrical frequency usually between 1 – 20Hz.  The impulse then transmits instantaneously throughout the body in a complex process that utilizes your body’s energy to facilitate movement. A typical modern way of measuring your energy is with an EEG (Electroencephalogram), which distinguishes brainwaves by measuring the speed with which neurons (nerve cells) fire in cycles per second. Alpha brain waves range between 7 – 12 Hz, which relates to deep relaxation. The Alpha range is also the base frequency of the Schumann Resonance, which is the vibrational frequency of the earth’s electromagnetic field. When you are deeply relaxed, your Alpha brainwaves resonate in sympathy with the earth’s EMF, producing “constructive interference” which amplifies the vibration.

Qi circulation
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Whether you view the body’s energetic activity from a chemical, spiritual, or purely mechanical viewpoint, understand that this energy within the body is the Qi we are referring to; Qi is not some special “other” kind of energy. This subject has been widely misunderstood, sometimes because of the limited understanding by students of these concepts since Tai Chi came to the West, and largely due to cultural and language barriers.

Don’t keep searching for your energy when you practice. Realize that you are energy.

You are not a human body experiencing a spirit. You are a spirit experiencing a human body.

Thus, when you understand a Tai Chi posture clearly, your will mind generate the correct intention, and you will energize your body all the way to the fingers and toes more efficiently. This will gradually improve your circulation to the extremities, and help to permeate your body with healthy circulation of blood, energy, and nutrients.

 The class ended with a guided meditation exercise following with a closing of our energies. We basically inhaled positive energy and moved it into our bodies with arm movements then we closed ourselves up again.

Tai Chi Tips

  • Practice out in nature and get some fresh air, preferably near mountains, forests, or water for an increase of negative ions.
  • Close your mouth loosely, and touch the tongue to the roof of the mouth gently.
  • Breathe naturally. Don’t worry about your breathing until later in your practice.
  • Tai Chi is whole body exercise. Movement is initiated in the legs, directed by the waist, and manifested in the hands.
  • Upper body is light, the middle body is flexible, and the lower body is solid and heavy.
  • Energy follows consciousness, or as its put in qigong study, “The Yi Leads the Qi.”
  • Stay relaxed and don’t frown from concentrating too hard. Tai Chi is fun!

Overall thoughts:

 I found Tai Chi was not for me. It was waaaaay too slow. I love meditation and yoga but this was completely different all together. Maybe I need to slow myself down a bit more? Maybe I should not have went before college as I had a lot on my mind that day? Small groups do sometimes make me a bit anxious. I had to repeat some postures a few times as I was not doing them correctly so this also put me off. Another thing may have been that I attended with my friend. BIG MISTAKE. Awkward silences led to me and him looking at each other and giggling. He would stand in front of me and we would have to move at the same pace with our eyes closed by bonding our energies together without looking. I opened my eyes a few times and seen him doing the postures and found it hilarious. We would glance at each other the odd time both thinking ‘WTF are we doing here?’. Overall I don’t think I will be going back. Yoga and light meditation is as far as my inner ZEN will be going.

J x

👂🏼A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 10👂🏼


LISTENING MINDFULLY 

We listen to respond rather than listen to understand.

When we communicate with others, a large part of our time is spent in our heads, rehearsing what we want to say, rather than paying attention to what is actually being said. We often miss important information and only concentrate on what we are going to reply. A big part of good communication is listening. Sometimes when someone is telling a story, they just want to be listened to. Personally, I can feel under pressure sometimes to reply or respond when someone is speaking. Over the years I have learned that being comfortable in silence and just listening can be just as effective. Our minds often drift away when we are listening to long stories. This weeks exercise gave pointers of how to be present whilst listening. 

  • Stay present. When you find your mind wandering off, bring it back to the present, just like in meditation. 
  • Let the speaker finish before you speak. Don’t interrupt. 
  • Listening is much more than just hearing words with your ears. Be mindful of the speakers body language and facial cues, their tone of voice.
  • If you become aware of yourself rehearsing what to say next. Acknowledge this and stop it. Let it go. 
  • You may get an urge to fix or make things better when listening to someone’s problems or stories. You don’t have to give the person advice. Most of the time they just simply want a listening ear. 
  • Notice if there is a ‘me too’. I always do this. I used to think it was kind to emphasise and let the other person know they weren’t alone because it had happened me too. Sometimes it can be helpful. But sometimes you are just waiting to jump into the conversation instead of listening. 

Listening VS Hearing 

Listening is intentional and active. As opposed to hearing, which is the passive receiving of sound vibrations passing through the ear. We can choose to listen- or not. 

 As you become more aware of mindful listening, try widening your awareness to include experiences happening within the body. Notice any felt sensations happening when you are hearing. You may feel a sense of calmness and relaxation when listening to someone speak. Or you may feel your face frown and your belly contract. What emotions come about when you are hearing. A story someone tells you might make you angry or sad. Notice these emotions. The book advises to view these emotions as a passing state: “anger is here” rather than “i am angry”. 

 When we listen mindfully we are able to view the person speaking as a whole. Delve deeper into the history underlying the words that are being spoken. You might notice pain in the persons story and can response empathically. 

 This isn’t an easy practice. I’m known for jumping into conversations and being uneasy until I can jump in again. I find it hard to remain silent and can easily drift off into a day dream if a story is long and boring. The main thing to remember was is, it may sound long and boring to you but it is important to the speaker and they are you telling you it for a reason. Listen to the reason behind the story. Be gentle with yourself when you forget this practice and interrupt the person speaking. It takes time. Be aware of yourself doing this. The more you acknowledge it, the more chance of it becoming a reactive response. 

How do you feel when someone actively listens to you? 

How do you feel when someone interrupts you? 

🐥🎸A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 9 🎻🐝

SOUNDS 

Sounds are like thoughts: we can’t control them, they come and go, some are stronger than others, and some can have a strong physical and emotional impact on us. 

Certain sounds can create negative or positive reactions within us, particularly if we are stressed or feeling a bit down. When I’m studying or trying to plan out something at last minute, loud noises or crowds of people speaking can really stress me when out and cause me to become anxious. To avoid this I usually put earphones in with relaxation music on really low to block out any negative noises. 

This weeks exercise teaches us how to be with sounds and thus provides training for being with our thoughts. It asked for us to pay attention to all sounds. How our body reacts to sounds. How our bodies pick up sounds like a radar. How the sound can manifest throughout the body in physical sensations. (Heart beats faster, your body jumps). How we judge a sound. The story we create when we hear a sound. (Oh that sounds like the neighbours are arguing nextdoor). Pay attention to your mood following each sound and how this affects your interpretation and thus your thoughts. A good example of this is when you are lying in bed before you fall asleep. You hear a noise and your thoughts jump to a conclusion that someone may be coming up the stairs. You begin to panick. Your heart beats faster. You feel frightened. This exercise asks to acknowledge the story brought about by the sound and let it go by bringing your attention back to receiving the sound as a collection of notes at a particular pitch. 

We can also use music or sounds to lift our moods and bring about happy or sad memories. I have certain playlists on my phone that I listen to depending on what mood I want to be in or what mood I am in already. I’m the worst for playing sad songs  when I’m in a depressed mood. Bring on tears and make myself even more depressed. This exercise asks you to nip that in the bud the second you notice it and change the tune!!

Pay attention to the small sounds that are easily missed like the birds or the neighbours cutting their grass. This is all part of being mindful. Building our awareness to everything in the world, step by step. 

WHAT DO WE DO WITH NOISE THAT IS DRIVING US MAD?

When the sounds you hear are unbearable and you find it hard to tune in to them, what do you do then? The instruction remains the same. Acknowledge the story the sound creates, the emotions it brings about, the thoughts that arise, how it manifests throughout the body. Use your breath here to anchor yourself when your thoughts and story tries to bring you away. The ‘breathing through your feet on the floor’ exercise works perfectly here! Always bring yourself back to your breath and any felt sensations throughout the body. The noise you are hearing is not personal. It is just a collection of notes and vibrations passing through the ear. 

By resisting the negative noise we create negative reactions which become automated responses. With this exercise we want to simply explore a different way of relating to a noise. Build awareness. Let go of resisting the noise and instead embrace it and move towards it. 

Self awareness is key! 
J X 

🏃🏼🚶🏻A Year of Living Mindfully: Week 8 🏃🏼🚶🏻

So its been two weeks since my last blog post. I was away in Rome for a few days and just had some general life stuff going on. I kind of felt under pressure to post something or schedule something to be posted whilst I was away but then I thought NO. Feeling under pressure and having tight time frames is the complete opposite of what mindfulness is all about. I decided to read the introduction of the book ‘A Year of Living Mindfully’ again, which states:

There will be times you forget to do your mindfulness practice, or perhaps you won’t follow the week-by-week format rigidly. Both these are okay. You are here to explore for yourself how mindfulness might become a part of your life, and so the best attitude you can take is one of health skepticism. If you view the process as an experiment, you will have no expectation of a particular outcome but will remain open to whatever arises.  Most importantly, cultivate an attitude of kindness and flexibility toward yourself. You can only do your best within the constraints of your daily life, so be gently on yourself when things go awry.

Aaaaaand breath. Now, here’s Week 8 with absolutely no regrets or guilty feelings for being two weeks late…….

SEVEN……..ELEVEN 

This simple practice is a breathing exercise usually used with children. Basically it asks you to breath in a certain way. You inhale for the count of seven and exhale for the count of eleven. Give it a go!

I found this a bit difficult at first as I felt under pressure to reach the final number. The book also says it can be difficult for those who usually breath quite shallow. I didn’t think this was very mindful struggling to reach a number. But the book also says you can build it up over time. Again, practice makes perfect and practice makes it a routine or automated response.

After a while of practicing this while on the train to work, on my lunch break, waiting for something to download on my laptop, I found it quite calming. Everyday life can be very fast and all GO GO GO. Rushing to get to work. Constantly checking your watch. Meeting deadlines. This practice takes up exactly 18 seconds of your day. There is ALWAYS time to calm yourself!

MINDFUL MOVEMENT

Usually we move from A to B with a particular purpose in mind. It may be to lose weight through exercise, to run for the bus. Mindful movement allows us to let go of striving towards something and to just settle in the moment. Now this doesn’t mean its promoting endless wandering with no end point. It simply means having a ‘beginners mind’ allowing us to become open to more opportunities and experiences.  Basically this means ‘I know you’ve walked to the shop this exact same way a million times over but lets do it in a more mindful way’. Become more aware, acknowledge knew experiences, feelings, senses, thoughts, you know all the mindful buzz words I’v been bragging on about in my past posts. This week gave us a simple exercise to use whilst walking. It can also be applied to other things like exercising, running, yoga, Thai Chi (I’m actually joining Thai Chi next week).

Like every mindful practice, it experiments with the breath. The breath is always the main focus. How is your relationship with your breath? Are you holding it? Is it strained? Does it feel calm or panicky? Does it have an edge to it? I know from experience that when I am anxious and I zone in on my breath whilst I walk, I can become over aware of it and start to hyperventilate or think others can hear me breathing heavily (paranoid anxious times). This exercise wants you to focus in on how tense your inhale can be and how soothing your exhale can be. It encourages doing it barefoot if preferred, inside or outside your house. All you need is a short distance. So it can easily be done in your living room or bedroom. The book recommends waking around in a circle but I dunno how others would perceive that? (not very mindful I know, Wheres my non-judgmental approach?).

 

Sooooo here’s the exercise:


J X
 

🙏🏼Year of Living Mindfully: Week 7🙏🏼

EXPLORING FELT SENSATIONS

Being aware of sensations in our body is a major part of mindfulness yet we all seem to be very disconnected from our bodies. This exercise taught me how to simply be curious of any felt sensations without any intention or consequence.

When we feel different emotions we feel different sensations throughout out body. Sensations we feel when we are angry are different to those we feel when we are content and happy. Often we don’t have words to describe these sensations. The book provided some suggestions of sensations in a word cloud which I have attached below.When we experience these feelings and sensations we may have a sense of judgement associated with them. For example when feeling sad you may experience sensations of numbness, confinement, heaviness. This experience may be associated with a judgement of ‘You are weak for feeling sad’. Be aware of the judgement or thought associated with these feelings and sensations.

The main aim of this exercise is to recognise sensations in the body but to also be aware that these sensations are linked to our thoughts and emotions too. This will help build your self awareness. We may be aware of our thoughts, emotions or sensations at first. Whatever triggers your awareness, zone in on that. Remain curious but do not analyse the  experience. Take a step back and observe. Unpack the experience and break it down. Be aware and acknowledge that each experience is made up of many different sensations, thoughts and emotions. This will help you from getting caught up in what is going on.

This is quite hard to do especially in feelings of great pain and anger but the main aim of mindfulness practice is to not analyse the experience but just be aware of it and live in that moment and experience. Practice will enable you to bring this into an automated response.

The book also provided a simple exercise to help guide you:

J X