Mind Full or Mindful?

Mind Full or Mindful?

Imagine that you have been blindfolded and lead into in an art gallery.

You are positioned very close to a painting, so close in fact that the only thing getting in the way of you being physically merged with it are a few particles of nitrogen and oxygen.

Your blindfold is removed and after a few seconds you realise that in such close proximity, your vision is a little blurred so you edge a few centimetres back. Now you can see the definition of brush strokes that allow for the separation of one colour to the next.

A further step back reveals more detail, but you are still left guessing – is that part of an arm or a leg? Are they in a field or is it green carpet? What are you actually looking at?

It takes for a good few more steps back to see not only the subject and form of the painting, but also the enormity of it.

Now, with more distance between you and the painting, you can begin to understand what the artist was trying to portray and have clarity on the picture as a whole. You also notice the colour of the wall behind it, it’s placement on that wall among others on display, the presence of other visitors to the gallery and the size of the room itself.

You have found yourself to have a truer and more complete awareness of the painting in not only its own context, but that in which it sits.

All of this can be said for our own painting: our mind.

It is full of colour, complexities, thoughts, emotions, tasks and responsibilities and when we stand too close to it, we find it far too challenging to try and understand it and see it for what it really is.

When we experience overwhelmingly strong emotions such as stress and anxiety, we are standing too close to them.  When we can’t prioritise our to-do list, we are standing too close it. When we feel we cannot cope with our day, we are standing too close to it.

With practice, we can learn to take a step back and observe our own painting without controlling it or judging it. Just accepting it for what it is.

Mindfulness March: What Kind of Practice?

As with dinner parties, mindfulness can be practised formally and informally:

  • Formal practice comes as mindful meditation, where we take a set amount of time out of our day to selectively tune into our mind (or painting, if you will) and observe what we find there. This can help us to gain a clearer perspective on our thoughts and feelings and set clear intentions for the day ahead.
  • Informal practice is applying a mindful approach to any of our daily tasks so that we have a greater awareness of our experience of that task whilst doing it; really observing the taste and texture of a meal we are eating for example, really focusing on a conversation we are having, really focusing on the email we are writing.
    When we do this, we not only find ourselves having a more enjoyable experience but a more productive one too.

We will come on to productivity, and the necessity for it in our day and age, but first let’s look at the main anchor for mindfulness – the breath.

Mindfulness March: Mindful Breathing

Both formal and informal practice is initiated by getting in touch with a single act – the movement of our breath. By becoming aware of our in-breath and out-breath, we actively slow down our heart rate and subdue reactions from our central nervous system. 

This allows us to take a ‘step’ back from our mind and the intensity of the thoughts or feelings that may exist in it.

Whether you do this for ten minutes each morning, or in a series of short ‘awareness breaks’ throughout your day, it will help you gain greater clarity and control over your day as it unfolds.

You will be able to pace your workload better and increase your productivity as you will reduce the amount of distractions that may attempt to draw your focus away from a task in hand.

Mindfulness March: How Will This Help?

By improving your focus, clarity of thought and reducing reactivity, mindfulness will help create better internal conditions for performance. By having a truer awareness of your own painting, you will find that stress will not get so much in the way of this performance.

Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up. By cultivating a greater bandwidth for paying attention, not only will your clients and colleagues benefit, but also yourself. It’s a win-win.

Mindfulness March: Homework

To truly believe in something, we have to experience it. So how about setting yourself a mini challenge and try connecting with your breath in any moment over the next week when you feel overwhelmed?  See if you feel more grounded and more able to prioritise your workload, and lifeload, afterwards. Three minutes will do the job, who hasn’t got three minutes to spend on themselves? Think more mindful, less mind full.

“Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it,” Sharon Saltzberg.

So what IS Mindfulness? Mindful March continues...

So what IS Mindfulness? Mindful March continues...

Welcome to week two of Mindful March, where we look at definitions of mindfulness, some science behind it and how it can help you.

Hands up now, who could relate to the morning as described last week? From the second we open our eyes in the morning, we invite an overload of information in.

First thing, you have exposure to social media, news headlines, emails, filling yourself with quick a breakfast fix as opposed to really fueling yourself for the day ahead… When are you able to take a moment to connect with how you are really feeling and thinking in the present moment? And if you did, what difference would it make?

Mindful March: Autopilot

Our main default mode in this day and age is autopilot – we are not focusing on our current experience of life, we are not truly in touch with the here and now. This lack of connection leads to a multitude of side effects which we later get frustrated about: “Why can’t I remember where I put my keys?”, “Did I send that email draft off?” or “ I wish I hadn’t said that to them…”

Mindfulness is the opposite of autopilot mode: it is about experiencing the world firmly in the here and now. It puts us in a ‘being’ mode, rather than a ‘doing’ mode and offers a way of freeing us from automatic and unhelpful ways of thinking and responding. The word ‘respond’ is key here as it replaces an autopilot ‘reaction’. The latter is the one that leads to regret on many an occasion!

Mindfulness is a state of ‘being’ achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment or activity, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. I like to think of it as putting some space and silence in between those thoughts and feelings, a pause that allows us to take a step back from the intensity of them and see them for what they are – simply a ‘thought’, or a ‘feeling’.

It also encourages us to not define ourselves, or others, by emotions that we experience. Have you ever found yourself saying “Oh he is just an angry man” or “I am just an anxious person”? We unfairly label people or ourselves by habitual traits.

This does not give room or space to be anything much different from which we have been categorised. Mindful practice opens us up to accepting that thoughts and feelings come and go, and that in between them we have space to breathe, to simply be.

Mindful March: Can it really help?

It’s not a complicated answer, it’s ‘yes’. For those of you that need evidence, mindfulness is backed by science. The most interesting and dramatic research has come from the field of neuroscience.

A recently published study investigated the concentration of brain grey-matter in participants over an eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programme (that’s MBSR to you and me). The study showed that after the eight weeks, there were significant increases in grey-matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing and perspective taking. Now, who doesn’t like the sound of that?

So how do we do it? You will have to wait until next week for that bit. We will look at formal and informal practice of mindfulness and how to integrate it into your life. If you need some convincing that it is possible, then bear with, the proof will be in the mindful pudding.

Mindful March

Mindful March

For many, November has become the month to release the hairy beast that is the moustache. Queue ‘Movember’.

Following in short succession is ‘Decembeard’ where, you guessed it, the participant men folk can reenact Mr Twit and delightfully extract a cornflake (or should that now be a Kale flake?) from his newly unleashed beard. Great for the charities who often benefit from money raised, but much to the chagrin of many a partner and, of course, Gillette.

The pun on a month’s name then evolved onto ‘Veganuary’ and of course ‘Dry January’. The latter of the two saw a shift from participants signing up for a charitable cause or to raise awareness, to one that consciously invests in oneself for the month. By abstaining from alcohol in January after the indulgence of Christmas, we not only allow our bank balance to replenish, but also our liver to reset and rejuvenate.

Continuing along the theme of dedicating a month to ‘oneself’, we bring to you Mindfulness March.

Once a week, we will publish mindful tips with the aim of unveiling the many benefits that come from mindful practice. In this busy world with escalating levels of stress, anxiety and lack of equilibrium in work/life balance, there needs to be a shift in a broad level consciousness that reconnects us with our innate ability to self soothe and weather all storms.

Mindfulness March: What’s it All About?

So what IS mindfulness? It has become a bit of a buzzword of late and is perhaps dangerously teetering on the edge of falling into the same fad box as quinoa (don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against quinoa aside from it’s base line complete lack of flavour) but, as with quinoa, do people really know it’s value? Do people REALLY know the cerebral nutritional value of mindfulness?

It’s Monday morning and your alarm is going off. Without even being physically aware, you reach for the snooze button whilst attempting to focus your eyes on the digitally displayed time. UURGH. You immediately slip back into sleep until seven minutes later when the alarm once again snaps you out of the unfinished dream. Press snooze for second time. Third time round you register that you do in fact have to wake up so you reach for your phone.

#checkinstagram, #checkemail, #checkfacebook, #alreadyfeellessworthythanfriendwhohascompletedmarathoninaustralia, #decidetoputphonedownandwonderwhennextmarathonis

You get out of bed, unaware of an already reduced opinion of self, and put the kettle on before heading to the bathroom. Finish in bathroom then go to put kettle on and realise that kettle is already on and “Oooh, don’t remember doing that….”.

After getting dressed, you have five minutes left before leaving for work to scoff down some cereal or toast and when you’ve finished it, you realise that you have absolutely no idea what that breakfast tasted like – how cold it was, how warm it was or even if the milk was slightly off.

You make it to the train station and then wonder if you locked the back door, or even the front door for that matter. The train pulls into the platform and out comes your phone again – queue Google search of ‘next UK Marathon’.

Does any of that sounds familiar to you? I would be surprised if it didn’t, because in modern society, our brain has evolved to predominantly work in autopilot mode. We have such increased responsibilities and commitments in comparison to our flint-slinging, significantly more hairy cave dwelling ancestors (prehistoric Movember?), and our long evolving grey matter has learnt how to multitask to cope accordingly.

Whilst this can make us have a broader overview of the multiple ‘to do’ lists in our life, does it actually help us to enjoy each of those moments? Do we truly experience our world around us? Is our mind capable of finding calm and clarity in situations and provocations that can at present, incite in us behaviours and words that we later regret?

The answer is yes. Give it some time and lots of practice, and you will find that without question, mindfulness will help you experience your life to its fullest. Accepting life with all of it’s complexity, experiencing it without judgement, and embracing all learnings that come from its hardships – after all, I have never met a strong person who has had an easy past.


January - Was it really the time for resolutions?

Cast your mind back, it's New Year’s Eve. For some, this is going to be the last night of alcohol indulgence before we attempt 'dry January'. Perhaps we have allowed ourselves some time during the Chrimbo Limbo (27th-31st Dec) to think about, and even discuss with friends and loved ones, our new year’s resolutions. Tomorrow these WILL begin. In the meantime, tonight WILL be a good night - it has to be, right? It is New Year’s Eve, after all.

But then reality bites; The cab is late. The rain flattens your freshly balayaged blow dry.  You queue outside your new year's venue for two hours in -1 degrees. Midnight strikes as you finally reach the club cloakroom. Your espresso martini costs £18.00 so it ends up being the first of only two for the night. You wake up on 1st January with the hint of the flu and by 6pm it has taken full hold of your body. A week passes and now that you are finally back at work, the external darkness at 7am is so uninspiring that you find yourself longing for the emergence of springtime.

The end of January comes and you get frustrated that those resolutions, those good intentions, just simply haven't come into play. We look for reasons why - ' I had the flu', 'I was too tired', 'the detox exhausted me'....we might find ourselves feeling disillusioned, unmotivated and annoyed that we hadn't yet started that great new big idea or health kick. Fundamentally, we feel pressure. You are not alone; according to a study by The University of Bristol, 88% of people who set New Year's resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of those questioned were confident of success at the beginning. So why is this?

Why do we set ourselves the bigger goals and aspirations at a time when, quite frankly, we'd rather stay in bed with a good movie and our inevitable fluffy Christmas socks? Essentially, why January?

The whys and where-fore's have strong religious roots. Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named. In the Medieval era, the knights took the "Peacock Vow" at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry. These do all tie in with the turning of the new calendar year and in this way creates a natural opening for new beginnings. However, I don't feel there is the recognition that, most certainly in the Northern hemisphere, it just does not work with our climate or our body's connection to it. 

The problem, in my opinion, is timing. How many seeds grow in the UK in January? How many of our wild creatures choose January as the month to hunt and gather? The answer is very few, and I think the plants and animals have it right - January is the time to hibernate and reflect. It is not conducive to form great plans and initiate new projects in the month that sees the least daylight, the most illness and is, quite frankly, the least inspiring.

So how about we start a movement – ‘Spring Resolutions’. Let’s work with nature, and our inherent connection to it, by planting the seeds of our new ideas and resolutions at the same time we see bulbs emerging from the soil and new leaves growing on those tree’s. Greater motivation and productivity will surely ensue if we do.

But let’s keep it real. Through the evolution and popularisation of ‘new year’s resolutions’, the true essence of it has been lost. It has been supersized into setting goals that might be unrealistic even in the peak of summer, let alone the darkness of winter or emergence of spring. It started more simply and accessibly. The true resolutions start within, by connecting with our gratitude for what we already have and for those with whom we share love.

I think this lists it perfectly:

blog photo re january.jpg