Posted in compassion, lifestyle, meditation, mental health, Mindfulness, self care, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Wheel Of Wellness – Spiritual

This week, in my series on The Wheel Of Wellness, I’ll be looking at the Spiritual segment. This section, which is the last to be covered, is all about finding life’s meaning and purpose whilst developing understanding of your personal values, beliefs and morals and using these to guide your actions and inform your way of living. Spiritual wellness does not necessarily involve being a deeply religious person or believing in the supernatural, rather, it is related to the human spirit or soul, as opposed to material or physical things.

A focus on spirituality involves learning to be more self-aware and recognising our existence in time and space. It’s also about becoming more familiar with our personal beliefs and values and how they affect the way we live and what we see as our purpose in life.

We all have a spirit within us which is constantly guiding us, looking after us and showing us the way to go. When we start to tune in to and listen to our inner voice, we’re using our spirit, and this is what can help us to lead a life in keeping with our wants, desires and passions. Connecting with our spiritual side can also help us to feel happier and healthier which I’m sure is something we all want.

Ways in which you can connect to your spiritual self

There are a number of ways in which you can really tune in to your spirit and think about what you really want for yourself and your life.

Quieten the mind – meditation is a great practice to develop but other mindful practices include writing in a daily journal, doing relaxing breathing exercises, taking a walk in nature, doing a meditative activity such as drawing, painting or colouring in, stretching exercises such as yoga, Pilates or mindful movements and praying.

Practise gratitude – identify a number of positives in your life each day, expressing and reflecting on them

Take a Mindful approach – focusing your awareness on the present moment, whilst calmly acknowledging and accepting your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations is at the core of mindfulness as is a great way of becoming more in tune with your spiritual side.

Consider your personal values – values identify what is important to you in your life and how you wish to interact with the world. When your actions align with your core values you will immediately start to feel more content, fulfilled and satisfied. To help you do this, I’ve created a Pinterest board full of links to core values lists and related activities – try scanning the pages to see what resonates with you. You’ll see so many different ideas and the ones which you choose to add to your personal list will influence your decisions and life choices in many ways including:

  • your job or career path
  • your hobbies and pastimes
  • where you live
  • how you manage your money
  • your friendships, romantic partners and relationships
  • where you shop
  • compromises we are willing to make
  • how we parent our children
  • the ways in which we treat ourselves (both good and bad)

Whilst I was researching this blog post, I came across lots of worksheets, workbooks and exercises to try which focused on your values. One of these invited you to split your values into ‘Valuing myself’, ‘Valuing my relationships’ and ‘Valuing my work’. I had a quick go at this below but added ‘my life’ to the first category:

Valuing myself and my life

compassion, creativity, enthusiasm, open-mindedness, acceptance (self and others), creativity, happiness, health (emotional, physical and mental), learning, intelligence resilience, fun, wellbeing, respect for animals

Valuing my relationships

loyalty, thoughtfulness, love, playfulness, understanding, usefulness and humour

Valuing my work

contribution, commitment, professionalism, achievement, work/life balance

Spend time reflecting on your beliefs – these may have a religious focus or might be related to your core values. Examples of non-religious beliefs could be:

  • family comes first
  • we must take care of our planet
  • honesty is the best policy
  • everything happens for a reason
  • work/life balance is a priority
  • I should always try my best
  • community service is a central part of life
  • the different phases of the moon have particular influences on my life
  • breaking a mirror gives you seven years bad luck

Think about your dreams – not the ones you had in bed over the past few weeks, but your deepest desires and wishes. As part of this, you could do some journalling or have a go at creating a vision board. Afterwards, you might spend time reflecting on small but positive life changes that you could make right now to help you work towards these dreams.

Final thoughts…

Cultivating spirituality has many benefits for your physical and mental health and wellbeing. Getting to know your true self can help you begin to live in alignment with your core values and beliefs which is fundamental for a long and happy life. Psychologically, spiritual practices can develop your understanding of your inner self, leading to a greater sense of purpose. They can help you to think positively and clearly, lower your risk of stress, anxiety and depression and generally give you a better outlook on life. Physically, being more connected to your spiritual side can improve your immune system, help you to fight off illnesses, lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. It can also help you to make better choices in terms of diet and find other ways of looking after your body and your mind, for example by exercising regularly and finding time to relax. The peace and calmness we invite into our lives can also help us to get a restful night’s sleep.

I hope you have found today’s post useful and have enjoyed learning about The Wheel Of Wellness over the last few months. I would love to hear about your hopes, dreams and ambitions for the future and the ways in which you think you can bring these into fruition. In keeping with having an open mind, I’m currently learning about the magic of using the phases of the moon as a tool to develop self-awareness, self-care, nourishment and empowerment to live with purpose and to manifest my deepest wants and desires for life. You’ll see in my next blog post, in which I share my October bullet journal spreads, that this has inspired my theme for next month and provided me with lots of ideas.

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Posted in lifestyle, mental health, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Wheel of Wellness – Emotional

This week, as part of my series on the Wheel of Wellness, I’ll be covering the emotional segment. This section of the wheel is all about your feelings and includes how well you are able to identify, manage and engage with your emotions and how successfully you can deal with any emotional challenges which arise from time to time.

In the Oxford Dictionary online, emotion is defined in two ways:

  1. a strong feeling derived from one’s circumstances, mood or relationships with others.
  2. instinctive or intuitive feeling as distinguished from reasoning or knowledge.

Assessing your emotional wellness

The following are some signs of good emotional wellbeing that you can use to assess your current health in the area.

  • you feel good about yourself and who you are
  • you have feelings of contentment most of the time
  • you treat others well, showing them compassion and understanding (if you do this, you are most likely to treat yourself well, if you are critical of others, you will likely have a tendency to be harsh and critical towards yourself)
  • you feel you have a good support network e.g. you have friends / family or colleagues that you are able to open up to and a sense that there are people in your life who care about you
  • you are able to rest and relax (including being able to wind down for good sleep)
  • you are able to assert yourself, recognising that your opinions are valid and being able to say no when you need to without feeling guilty
  • you consider yourself to be someone who manage stress well
  • awareness of the main signs of poor emotional health – anger (which presents itself in various ways, including irritability, short temper, being argumentative), feeling hopeless (feeling low / depressed, helpless, worthless, seeing small things as ‘the end of the World’, not being able to see things are capable of change etc), losing interest in activities you used to enjoy, becoming socially distant, poor levels of productivity, blaming others for your mistakes and failings and repeatedly having trouble in relationships (friends, family and romantic partners)
  • flexibility – you are able to change and adapt well to different circumstances
  • you are able to name and embrace all of your emotions (such as sadness, anger, joy, fear, excitement etc) as a natural part of who you are (rather than suppressing or ignoring them
  • you lead a purposeful life (do you feel that you use your strengths to your advantage to make a difference?) (see my post on Occupational wellness for more on this)
  • you are grateful for many things in your life (particularly for people and situations in your life rather than just your possessions)
  • you value your experiences more than you value your possessions
  • you regularly engage in self-care activities such as doing activities which make you happy, using breathing techniques to help you stay calm or calm yourself when anxious, practising mindfulness, journalling about how you are feeling, showing yourself plenty of compassion, developing a regular meditation practice, scheduling ‘me time’ into your day, do something altruistic and explore how you feel as a result.

Some ideas for improving your emotional health

  1. Make sure you’ve got the basics right – eat healthily with occasional treats, get enough quality sleep, move your body on a daily basis and use vices in moderation (e.g. alcohol, social media, junk food etc). If you think you need to make changes in one or more of these areas, try setting yourself small, achievable targets and celebrate all of your achievements.
  2. Try CBT. If you think you need to learn more about your emotions and how they affect you, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) is really beneficial for many people. There are plenty of books on the subject but it’s best if you work through your particular issues with a trained therapist.
  3. Make use of self help resources. A book that I’m currently reading which I’m finding super useful is ‘Why has Nobody Told Me This Before’ by Dr Julie Smith. I spend around half an hour reading each morning after breakfast and I always have a Mildliner highlighter pen at hand to mark up anything which especially resonates with me. The website https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/ has lots of resources which might prove to be useful too.
  4. Develop a daily reflective journalling habit – spending 5 or 10 minutes each evening recording how you feel your day went is a great way to record events and interactions with others and explore how they affected you emotionally. When you’ve finished writing, spend a few minutes considering what you wrote thinking about the decisions you made, whether the experience was positive or negative, what you can learn from what happened and what you might do differently next time.
  5. Become familiar with ‘Unhelpful thinking styles’ and use them to identify and rationalise particular thoughts you have. Type the above phrase into Google or YouTube to learn about them and consider which particularly resonate with you. Once you know about them, you’ll start to recognise them cropping up in your day-to-day life. You can then begin to challenge them and create more helpful alternatives (a trusted friend or therapist can help with this too).
  6. Be realistic when you’re not feeling 100% – There will be certain times of the year when you’re not feeling quite yourself, maybe you’re feeling under the weather, perhaps you’re stressed out at work or you’re planning an event or holiday which is taking up lots of your time and making you feel super busy. Or, like me, you might have a mood disorder which causes you periods of difficulty. Whatever the cause, it’s important to look after yourself during these times (ramp up the self care and self compassion) and definitely lower the expectations you place on yourself. Also, don’t be afraid to say no if you feel like something will be too much for you right now.
  7. Start a self-care routine for your emotions – this could include meditation, mindful movements or stillness, yoga, Pilates, stretches or different breathing exercises to calm your body and your mind. If you keep a bullet journal like me, a great idea is to create a page of self-care ideas (with pictures/doodles if you want) as a reminder of all of the things you can try.
  8. Remember some things are outside of your control – there are many things in life that happen to you which you can’t change e.g. the loss of a loved one, a global pandemic, a health diagnosis etc, but we can choose how we respond to those circumstances, e.g. by being kind, self-compassionate, hopeful and accepting.
  9. Reach out – if you’re feeling lonely, down or isolated, seek out supportive family members, friends, colleagues, online or in person support groups to let people know that you are struggling. Also, try to find out what is going on in your local community so you can seek out social connections. If the thought of social interactions makes you feel anxious right now, try to choose one of the options that feels easiest such as inviting a friend over for coffee or chatting to someone via text message or on the phone.
  10. Set clear boundaries and learn to say no. If you say yes to things that you really don’t feel like doing or you don’t have time for, it can lead to feelings of anger, resentment or overwhelm. In her book which I mentioned above, she explains about ‘people pleasing’ “We say yes when actually what we want and need is to say no. We feel resentful of being taken advantage of but unable to change it by asking for anything different. On the other hand, having clear boundaries makes you feel in control and is a way of showing yourself respect. Being assertive can be difficult for some of us, especially during periods of mental illness, so it’s a good idea to develop your skills when your mood is stable. Only say yes to what matters to you the most such as a get together with close family and friends, learning opportunities or new challenges at work which will further develop your skills or increase your knowledge (but not too far from your comfort zone!). There’s a wealth of information online about assertiveness (some better than others) so if you need help in this area or want to know more about what it means to be assertive, try checking out NHS resources such as this one which includes a very useful download, worksheets and information on www.getselfhelp.co.uk and this article from lifehack.org. Again, qualified CBT therapists can help with assertiveness too.
  11. Read up on emotional resilience – emotional resilience is the ability to adapt to stressful situations and cope with life’s ups and downs. You can learn about it and develop the associated skills in books, online, with a therapist or through doing a course at a local recovery college like I did.
  12. Go outside – studies have shown that being in nature has powerful effects on our mind, body and soul. There’s lots of ways to fit in some time outdoors including taking a walk in your lunchbreak, enjoying your morning coffee in the garden or wandering through your local park or woodland at the end of a busy day.

Final words…

Thank you for taking the time to read today’s blog post. I hope you have found it useful and are thinking about trying some of the ideas I mentioned. Let me know in the comments if you think your emotional health is quite strong or if you feel it’s an area you need to work on. As always, if you have any questions or anything to add, please do get in touch.

Posted in Bipolar disorder, creativity, depression management, lifestyle, mental health, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Wheel Of Wellness – Intellectual

In today’s Monday Matters I’ll be considering the intellectual element of the Wheel Of Wellness. This segment is all about keeping your brain active, exploring creativity and finding different ways to expand your knowledge and skills in various areas. It also includes finding ways to challenge yourself and ensuring you do activities which stimulate each area of the brain e.g. speaking and listening, problem solving, fine motor tasks and using and developing your skills of observation etc.

What do we mean by intellectual?

Sometimes when we use the term intellectual, we’re referring to individuals who come across as ‘brainy’, clever or highly educated as demonstrated by their thought processes, reflections, use of vocabulary, problem solving and factual knowledge etc. However, the term can also refer to ways in which you can stimulate your mind.

Today’s blog post is not about trying to develop a superior intellect or the knowledge of a Mastermind contestant, but more about keeping the different areas of your brain active and becoming a lifelong learner. Good mental fitness is very beneficial for your general health and wellbeing, and, as you get older, it can help to prevent signs of dementia or, at the very least, slow down cognitive decline.

Great ways to keep your brain active and expand your mind

Puzzles The term puzzle might make you think of a box of pieces that you join together to make a picture but a jigsaw is just one type of puzzle. In fact, the term is used to defined any activity that requires mental effort and has a definite ending. This can include paper puzzles such as crosswords, wordsearches, spot the difference and sudoku, board games such as Cluedo and Scrabble, guessing games such as I spy and charades and online games such as Candy Crush, Word Cookies and my favourite Angry Birds 2! Puzzling takes lots of concentration and mental effort which is great for improving both your physical and mental health. Here’s 5 benefits for you:

  • improves your problem solving skills which can then be applied at home or work
  • a wonderful stress reliever
  • reduces your risk of mental diseases such as Alzheimer’s
  • slows mental aging
  • a good form of entertainment and can be great fun!

If you are currently struggling with anxiety or depression, puzzles are a great way to distract yourself from negative thoughts, rumination and general worry about your problems. During my last period of depression, I used to dedicate a lot of time to doing jigsaws, wordsearches, arrow words and online games as it provided respite from thoughts that I wasn’t going to get better and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

Learn to play a musical instrument There are so many benefits of learning to play a musical instrument that I could write a full blog post on it. According to my research, playing music uses both sides of the brain so you’re giving it a really good workout. Attentiveness, fine motor movements, memory and creativity are all required and as you get better at playing, you’ll become more confident, not just with regard to your instrument of choice, but also in general too. Setting and working towards goals and celebrating your achievements is bound to make you more positive and after a while, you will probably want to share you learning with others and impress them with your new skills – presenting a great opportunity to socialise with friends, family and even work colleagues.

In this month’s Happiful magazine, I also read that new research has found that learning a musical instrument (in the study they looked at the impact of piano practice) can protect against dementia in those over 60 as it strengthens white matter in the brain.

Read plenty of books, magazines and newspaper articles Being a regular reader is great exercise for the brain and both fiction and non-fiction have many benefits.

Fiction books can help improve your memory, vocabulary, empathy and emotional intelligence, analytical skills and tolerance of others. They can also be a huge source of pleasure and relaxation, alleviating stress and helping us to get a good night’s sleep.

Reading non-fiction books and articles (including blog posts) is a great way to improve your knowledge on a variety of topics which interest you. Whether you want to find out more about gardening, read about an interesting bird you spotted on a woodland walk, improve your understanding of a historical event or explore self help strategies for good mental health there are books and articles on every subject imaginable. And, if you join your local library, you can have access to a range of learning materials for free.

Many people also like to read a daily or weekly newspaper to keep themselves informed. Both the paper and online versions provide a source of global, national and local news, weather updates, the latest health and wellbeing advice, technological advances, entertainment and sports. You can even personalise the homepage on your computer so that news articles on particular topics appear first.

Learn a new skill Learning a new skill is a great way to fire up your brain. There are endless opportunities available for free online or you could try taking a class at your local college or doing a distance learning course. Here’s some examples which you might like to try:

  • flower arranging
  • photography
  • a foreign language
  • drawing
  • ceramics
  • watercolour painting
  • basic car repairs
  • Tai Chi
  • embroidery
  • good sleep hygiene
  • knitting
  • basic first aid
  • mindfulness
  • cooking on a budget
  • swimming
  • yoga
  • aromatherapy
  • Microsoft Office for beginners

As part of our course homework for last week, we were asked to have a go at learning something new. I chose something which I’ve been meaning to give a go for a long time which is developing the skills involved in creating wavy hair using a curling wand (which I purchased nearly a year ago and have barely tried out). My hairdresser showed me some of the basic techniques but it’s not so easy when you’re trying to do it on your own hair as you can’t see the back and you need to swap hands for each side meaning that for half of the styling process, you’re using your non-dominant hand for the wrapping. I found a few super helpful YouTube videos which used the same or a similar wand and have watched them a few times to get some tips. For next week’s session, I’m going to go to college with wavy hair to show off my new skill!

Try new things Trying something new is a great way to grow as a person. You might go to a restaurant you’ve never visited before, find a new recipe to have a go at, take a different fitness class, put on a different radio station, try listening to a different genre of music or go on a day trip to a place which a friend has recommended to you. You never know, you might discover a new favourite or create an amazing memory.

I took the opportunity to try out a new kind of exercise whilst I had access to all of the fitness classes for free. I’ve now discovered that I really enjoy doing pilates and although it’s a relatively gentle form of exercise, it’s great for toning your core muscles.

Ask questions This is something my husband and I do regularly as part of our thirst for new knowledge and greater understanding. For example, there are some swifts that come back every year and nest in one of the roofs we can see from our back bedroom. They’re fascinating birds and, being nature lovers, we always want to find out more about them. Some of the questions we’ve searched on Google this year include: When do swifts arrive in the UK? How many eggs do swifts have in a clutch? What do swift eggs look like? Do swifts pair for life?

You can also learn a lot from asking questions of friends, family, work colleagues and various acquaintances. You might want to get a different opinion or perspective or you might want to find out about something they seem to be somewhat of an expert in or at least know more about than you.

Try out a new hobby New hobbies are great for enhancing your skill set. Also, they present new challenges which can be wonderful for boosting your confidence and self esteem. Here’s a few hobbies that might appeal:

  • birdwatching
  • geocaching
  • upcycling
  • origami
  • gardening
  • calligraphy
  • scrapbooking
  • martial arts
  • astronomy
  • archery
  • camping

Keep a ‘things I want to learn’ list in your bullet journal or notebook Every time you think of something you’d like to know more about, write it down so you don’t forget. It might not be top of your to do list right now, but making a note can be a good reference for the future. When you’re ready, you can then pick something out to focus on and set some learning goals.

Watch documentaries If you’re a visual or auditory learner, documentaries are a great source of education. You can find out about anything you’re interested in, including wildlife, nature, different cultures, living with particular health conditions, environmental issues, technology, crime, history, arts and media, science, religion and current affairs. In the UK, Panorama and Dispatches are popular documentary programmes which tackle the latest issues, whilst Horizon focuses on a variety of subjects related to science and philosophy. I also find anything that Sir David Attenborough narrates to be both fascinating to listen to and incredibly informative.

Get creative Every one of us has the potential to be creative as long as regularly find the time to develop our skills. You might think that creativity is all about making a piece of art work or writing a story or poem, but you can be creative in many different ways. Here’s some examples:

  • developing a new storage system for all of your cleaning supplies and tools at home
  • finding an alternative solution to a problem at work
  • create a capsule wardrobe for your holiday abroad
  • choose a colour scheme for your living room and have fun choosing complementary soft furnishings
  • learn how to make bread dough and then have fun turning pieces into different animals
  • try styling your hair in a different way
  • create a costume for a fancy dress party
  • take a landscape photo and then recreate the scene as a watercolour painting
  • choose a new theme for your bullet journal spreads and have a go at designing different pages for the month

Final words…

Although as adults there are things that we feel we must learn to get by in life and to progress in our jobs or career, we should also make time to learn about things that particularly interest us. I love trying out different art techniques and a few years ago (before COVID struck), I joined a beginner’s ceramics course. I had so much fun and met some lovely people there and, even though we were given specific assignments, e.g. to make a pinch pot, our creations were all completely different and unique to us. Quite a few of us signed up for the intermediate class too to develop our skills further and try out different techniques. It was so exciting to see our finished projects when they’d been glazed and fired and we all felt a huge sense of achievement by the end of the course.

I would be really interested to know if you consider yourself a lifelong learner and, if you do, what you’d like to find out about next, which kind of hobby appeals the most, or which skills you particularly want to develop in the future.

Posted in compassion, meditation, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: 5 Easy ways to Practice Mindfulness every day

When practiced regularly, mindfulness can have a really positive impact on our mental health, reducing feelings of depression, anxiety and stress. In today’s post, I’m going to share five simple ways to incorporate mindful activities into your day so you can enjoy the many benefits mindfulness brings.

What exactly is mindfulness?

There are lots of explanations and definitions available online but I particularly like this one from the Oxford dictionary:

a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Oxford online dictionary

Basically, mindfulness is about paying attention to the here and now, showing curiosity about what’s going on in a non-judgmental way. That’s not to say that as soon as you start practicing the various techniques that your mind won’t wander, it will, and that’s completely okay. But as you get used to paying attention in a range of simple ways, you’ll likely find it becomes easier.

So here are five ideas for practicing mindfulness every day that anyone can try.

Choose an activity you do each day and really pay attention

A great way to get started with mindfulness is to choose one activity that you do every day and bring moment to moment awareness each time you do it. Examples of suitable activities could be: drinking your cup of coffee or tea first thing in the morning, brushing your teeth, taking a shower, washing your face, getting dressed, driving to work. Whichever activity you choose, focus on knowing what you’re doing as you’re actually doing it, and what you are thinking and feeling from moment to moment too. At first, you’ll likely find that your mind wanders quite frequently, but if it does, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. With time, you’ll find it gets easier to remain mindful.

Connect with each of your five senses

Using your senses – touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing is a great way to focus on what’s happening right now. You can either spend time exploring each one in turn or pick a particular sense to focus on in a given moment. So, for example, you might sit quietly at home curled up in your chair with a coffee, smelling the aroma, being warmed by the heat of the mug. You might then close your eyes and tune in to sounds within the room such as the clock ticking, and far away sounds such as a dog barking. As you open your eyes, you might change your focus to the colour of your drink or the patterns on your mug, before taking a sip and savouring the flavour. At another time during your day, you might focus in on just one of your senses. So, during your daily shower, you might choose to focus on smell, inhaling the scent of your shampoo, shower gel or soap and your conditioner and really appreciating each one. By doing this you will be immersed in your current experiences rather than dwelling on past events or getting stressed about all of the things you have to get done before bedtime.

The following mindful activity is also a good one to do when you’re feeling anxious to help distract from negative thoughts, judgements and physical sensations associated with a tense body.

  • Close your eyes or lower your head and soften your gaze. Take some slow and deep breaths in and out.
  • Open your eyes and take your focus outside of your body. Find the following:

5 things you can see.

4 things you can hear.

3 things you can touch.

2 things you can smell.

1 thing you can taste.

Focus on your breathing

Breathing is a key part of mindfulness practice as it’s something we do naturally out of necessity. There are many online exercises which focus on the breath such as alternate nostril breathing, square or box breathing and equal breathing where you focus on making the inhalation the same length as the exhalation, but the technique which I find easiest and most comforting is soothing rhythm breathing, which I was taught as part of my compassion group sessions a few years ago.

  • Sit comfortably in your chair with both feet on the ground and your hands resting in your lap.
  • Close your eyes or direct your gaze downwards – whichever feels most comfortable.
  • Gently bring your focus to your breathing feeling the ribcage expanding as the air coming in to your lungs and leaving your body as you exhale.
  • Try breathing a little faster or slower until you find a breathing pattern that feelings soothing and comforting.
  • Focus on the breath as it comes in and leaves your body. You might like to notice the sensation of cool air entering your nose and warm air leaving.
  • Turn your attention to your body. Sensing the weight of your body resting in the chair feeling relaxed and supported. Feel your feet touching the floor beneath you.
  • If your mind wanders, notice what has happened and gently bring the focus back to your breath. Even if your mind is bobbing about all over the place, just accept what is happening without judgement and come back to the breath.
  • As you bring the exercise to a close, gently wiggle your fingers and toes and bring the focus back to the room around you.

To ensure you commit to this short meditative practice each day, you might find it helpful to make an appointment with yourself in your bullet journal or diary e.g. 5 minutes after you’ve eaten your breakfast or as an end of the day thing to encourage restful sleep. Again, this breathing exercise is also helpful to calm yourself down in moments of anxiety.

Engage in mindful walking

Whatever the weather, cold, warm, rainy, bright sunshine, cloudy, try to find 10 or 15 minutes each day to go for a mindful walk outside. Take time to pay attention to the different aspects of your experience. Start by exploring how your body feels when you’re walking – your feet as they make each step, your legs as they move you forwards, your arms as the swing by your sides. Next, tune in to what’s going on around you using all of your senses – perhaps you can hear traffic in the distance or a bird singing, maybe you can see the sun shining through the trees, perhaps you can smell the damp earth. Be open to whatever you notice, wherever you are and whatever happens. Try to fully immerse yourself in the here and now. As you end your walk, bring your attention back to how you feel as a result of your practice.

If you want to read about mindful walking in more depth, I wrote a whole blog post on it last year which can be found here.

Be totally present during conversations

All too often during conversations, we’re either multi-tasking or our mind wanders so we’re not paying full attention. However, being fully present has so many benefits for the speaker and the listener. Not only will you both feel valued, you’ll have a better understanding of the other person’s needs and any information that you impart is likely to be comprehended more easily. You’ll also likely improve both your communication skills and your relationship with the other person whether you’re talking to a friend, colleague or family member.

If you want to be more mindful in conversations, the first step is to notice when your mind wanders and, without judgement (no berating yourself for being a terrible listener!), bring your attention back. Try to resist the temptation to make excuses for being distracted such as “I was bored by what they were saying”, “I’ve got so much to do I couldn’t wait for them to finish” or “they were just repeating themselves”. Just remember that mindfulness takes practice and you are just learning but it will get easier with time.

In today’s busy world, multitasking is very tempting and often encouraged, but studies have shown that humans aren’t really capable of focusing on more that one task at a time, and in actual fact, what happens is our brain constantly switches between the different demands on our attention. If you want to be full focused on a conversation, try to put distractions aside. Put your mobile phone away in your bag, close your emails, avoid looking at what others are up to or what’s happening elsewhere by facing and looking at the participants. Really listen with interest to what the other person or people are saying using gestures such as a nod of the head, a smile or an “I understand” as appropriate. Think about the words they are using, their tone of voice, body language and emotions to really comprehend what they’re saying. Let the other person finish before you contemplate what they have said and offer a response.

Being a mindful communicator takes practice and isn’t always easy, but it’s a great skill to have and can be really useful in social settings as well as work situations.

Final words…

Although in today’s post I’ve presented a number of simple ways in which you can start to be more mindful every day, mindfulness in itself is not always easy to master. It might be helpful to remember that it’s not all about being perfectly present at all times – it’s a way of slowing down and making a conscious decision to notice our thoughts, emotions and the world around us, intentionally accepting things as they are right now without judgement. Being mindful can help us to enjoy life, understand ourselves better and reduce stress. It’s something that everyone can try and, when practiced consistently, has been shown to have positive effects on our physical and mental health, happiness, work and relationships.

Feel free to let me know in the comments how you get on and if you have any questions, I’ll be more than happy to answer them if I can, or direct you to further resources which you may find useful.

Until next time,

Posted in lifestyle, meditation, mental health, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: A mini guide to walking mindfully

Photo credit: Stanislav Vlasov for Unsplash

Walking has to be my favourite form of exercise and it’s something I do each day. Sometimes my walk is for a particular purpose, for example, heading to the post office with shop orders or running another errand, but mostly, my trips out are simply for the pleasure of getting outdoors and appreciating what’s there. Both are good exercise, but the later is best for body and mind.

For me, there are two types of mindful walking – one, which I was introduced to in my mindfulness classes, is a kind of meditation where the primary focus is on observing the bodily sensations of walking, the other is where you connect with your environment, paying attention to what is going on around you, using all of your senses to fully immerse yourself. Both forms of mindful walking have their benefits and I will consider each of them here as you might like to try them both.

A mindful walking meditation

Many people think that meditation is all about sitting still and trying to empty the mind. This is not the case. Rather, meditation is a set of techniques that involve focusing the attention on a particular object, thought or activity with a view to achieving heightened awareness and a sense of clarity, peace and stability. Examples include seated practices such as breathing exercises, visualisations, body scans and sound baths where instruments are used to focus the mind. Others involve movement, for example yoga, tai chi and mindful walking.

A mindful walking meditation is typically done in a small space and is taken at a slow, careful pace. You might choose to walk up and down your back garden (or in square shapes depending on the layout of your plot) or back and forth along your hallway. Anywhere where you can fit in around 10-15 paces and which is relatively peaceful so you won’t be easily disturbed. You can walk barefoot or wearing light shoes. Once you’ve decided upon your walking space, you bring your complete attention and awareness to the process of walking:

  • Start by bringing your attention to your feet. Notice any sensations there before you begin.
  • Take slow, small and intentional steps.
  • Have your hands clasped behind your back, by your sides or swinging gently – do whatever feels most comfortable for you.
  • Focus on each and every part of your step – the lifting of your foot, moving the foot forward, the placing of the heel on the ground followed my the rest of the sole and then placing your weight on it ready to move your other foot.
  • At the end of your path, pause briefly before intentionally making a 90˚ or 180˚ turn.
  • As you walk, you can focus your attention on one particular aspect of your walking e.g. your breath as it comes in and out of your body, the movement of your feet or legs, the contact of your feet on the ground, the balance of your body as it moves.
  • If your mind starts to wander, notice what has happened and then kindly and gently bring you focus back to your walking.
  • You can also incorporate a mental mantra to help you maintain focus. I like this one: Breathing in: ‘In the here’. Breathing out: ‘In the now’.
  • There isn’t a set length of time you should do your walking meditation for but around 10 minutes should be enough time to reap the benefits.

If practised consistently, walking meditations are excellent for your wellbeing. They can help to reduce anxiety and depression, improve sleep, increase blood circulation, aid digestion, improve balance and even boost creativity.

Walking mindfully

If you’re off out for a longer walk somewhere, maybe around your local park, through woodland or forest, or even just for a wander around your local neighbourhood, you can still practise mindfulness techniques but in a slightly more relaxed way than the above meditation.

Defined as ‘a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations…’ (Oxford Dictionaries), the practice of mindfulness has so many benefits including:

  • improved awareness of the world around us
  • an ability to find joy in the present moment
  • better appreciation of what we have
  • feeling calmer and happier
  • more compassionate towards ourselves
  • developing a more positive mindset
  • better able to deal with difficult and unhelpful thoughts
  • a higher level of self awareness

The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Here are some wonderful ways of combining mindfulness and walking:

Checking in with your body As you embark on your walk, try spending some time exploring what’s going on for your body right now. Is it feeling stiff? Do you have any tightness or tense areas in your muscles? Are you standing upright with an open chest or are you a little slouched? Are your feet ready for a little exercise or are they already aching from a previous walk? Try to approach this in a non-judgemental way, for example if your back feels a little sore, just accept that this is the case rather than labelling it as bad and berating yourself for slouching whilst you were working at your desk.

Observing the act of walking Just like in the walking meditation, you might spend a few minutes getting curious about how you’re moving and what happens with your feet as you take those first steps. This could include thinking about which part of your foot makes contact with the ground first, how you distribute your body weight as you walk, what you do with your arms as you walk e.g. are they stuffed in your pockets or swinging gently by your sides. Do any tense areas of your body seem to ease as you walk? etc. Again, try to avoid judging your walking technique or labelling any sensations in your body as bad.

Adopting the beginner’s mind A key element of mindfulness is having what is known as a beginner’s mind. With this approach, you let go of any previously held ideas or preconceptions about what you might experience and become open to whatever happens, seeing things with a fresh pair of eyes. So, for example, on my walk in the park this morning, I could have thought about it being the same old park, with the same old water and the same old trees and bushes. Instead, I really engaged with the experience, noticing a cute baby rabbit munching on the grass, a squirrel leaping onto a tree with fright as I approached, the freshly painted benches, pairs of mallards hanging out together near the pond and a tree covered in pretty white blossom. In this way, the same walk can be very different each time and bring new joys and experiences.

Acceptance Another aspect of mindfulness is acceptance and seeing things as they really are, rather than trying to change things. This too can be applied to our walks. If, for example, you are out for a walk and the weather changes and it starts to rain, the temptation might be to grumble, hunch your shoulders, speed up your pace and try to get to somewhere warm and dry. Alternatively, you could accept the weather for what it is, observing the change of the light, the colours of the sky, the sounds of the rain on the ground or on your umbrella or coat, and maybe even enjoy the experience of the cool water on your skin or the droplets as they form of the end of your nose.

Use your senses As you walk, really tune in to the experience using your sense of touch, sound, sight, smell and even taste. So, for example, during a walk along the beach you might explore how the sand feels beneath your bare feet or what happens when your shoe takes a step. You might really listen to the sound of the waves crashing or watch the sun glinting on the water. You could savour the flavour of a cool ice cream or recognise how you can also taste the salty seaweed strewn all around. The alarming cries of gulls might take you by surprise but then fade into the background as you hear a couple of children giggling as they create a giant sandcastle. You might roll up your trousers ready for a dip in the freezing cold sea and let out a little squeal as the tide washes over your feet. Wherever you go on your walk, there are so many different experiences to be had and if you take the time to appreciate them all, I can almost guarantee that there’s lots of fun to be had as you explore. A great way to ensure you make the most of your time is to tap into a child-like sense of curiosity and wonder – explore and appreciate all of the little things no matter now many times you’ve seen or experienced them before – pick up a shell or a feather and look at all of the intricate patterns on it, watch the babbling brook, focusing in on how it travels over the pebbles and rocks and trying to spot any birds visiting the water.

Appreciating the different seasons It’s Spring at the moment in the UK and the perfect time to look out for signs of the season. From March, you might see snowdrops, catkins dangling from the trees, leaf buds forming, toads making their journey to the pond, pretty scented blossom and newborn lambs. You might hear pattering rain, the wind gusting through the trees, birds singing, sheep bleating, buzzing bees or the quiet tinkling of a stream. In Summer, you can look out for trees in full leaf creating a canopy over the woodland floor, the bright sunshine peeping through the gaps, meadow flowers such as buttercups, yarrow, cornflowers and poppies laced with pretty butterflies and ladybirds. Even on a walk around your local area, there’s so much to experience – the faint sound of a lawn mower or the smell of freshly cut grass, the cooing of wood pigeons, fledglings learning to fly a robin singing in a tree, the high pitched screech of swifts soaring in the sky or something rustling in a neighbourhood front garden. There are yet more experiences to be had in Autumn and Winter, and as long as you dress appropriately for the weather, any time is a good time for a nice, refreshing walk. At different times of year, consider the position of The Sun at different times of day, the effect the weather has on rivers and streams – sometimes almost flooding the banks, bursting and gushing with water, yet at other times almost dry and how the earth changes from being dried and cracked in the Summertime to soggy, leaf filled and musty smelling in the Autumn.

Reflection At the end of your walk, either pausing on a bench, in the car or when you get back home, try taking the time to reflect on the experience, bringing to mind everything that you noticed and all of the different experiences you had. You might also want to think about how you feel – perhaps more relaxed, energised or ready for a nice sit down to rest your weary feet.

Final words…

During the lockdown period, many of us have found ourselves going for walks more often, developing a love of the great outdoors and appreciating the benefits it brings to the mind, body and soul. We’re now seeing other leisure opportunities opening back up such as non-essential retail, cafes, bars and restaurants, and although it’s nice to have access to these, nothing beats some time out in the fresh air connecting with nature. Any brisk walk is good for your physical health but add mindfulness into the mix and your mental health can benefit in so many ways too.