Sleep

3, 4, 5 z z z

Drifting off to sleep sometimes happens almost without us even specifically noticing it. Other times it doesn’t happen as we expect.

Getting to sleep can become a challenge – and we may find ourselves going into battle preparing a battle chest of sleep aids, from natural remedies to prescribed medications.

Our breath is always with us. It is second nature. Sometimes so much so that we fail to notice it!

It pays to notice our breath – and failing to drift off to sleep it one of those time it pays.

Next time this happens to you – or just to practice it for those times it might! – here’s a useful exercise:

  1. You’re already in bed where you hope to pass a restful night. Get yourself comfortable.
  2. Inhale (breathe in) as you tense muscles in your body (focusing on squeezing your hands into fists will help you to identify how to do this) and then exhale (breathe out) to relax all your muscles.
  3. Repeat inhaling – tense muscles; exhaling – relax muscles a few times.
  4. Ensure your teeth are not clenched by making space between your top and bottom teeth and putting the tip of your tongue on the hard palate at the top of your mouth.
  5. Now focus on your breathing:
    3: breathe in through your nose for a count of 3
    4: hold the breath for a count of 4
    5: breathe out through youth mouth for a count of 5
  6. Repeat until you drift off.

There are plenty of variants on a bedtime breathing practice. This one is attributed to Dr Ben Marshall who is a respiratory consultant at the University Hospital Southampton.

If you don’t drift off, don’t panic. Being stressed about not sleeping is truly a road to nowhere. Notice your breathe. Know that when you absolutely need it, sleep will happen. Breath.

Sleep well – and if you don’t, be well even in the midst – you are still breathing!

This is Mindful Monday on 8 June 2020.

Join a free mindfulness session next Monday at 10.30 am on zoom. Email hello@cheltenhamessence.org for further details.

Frazzled?

Like a frazzle

Many of us love a frazzle (bacon-flavoured crisp). None of us would volunteer to feel frazzled.

I like this 3-minute portable technique from Ruby Wax for those moments when we do feel frazzled and need to step back. It’s good to start with a minute welcoming all thoughts rather than trying to push them away (and getting nowhere!).

1 Widen your focus by tuning into every thought in your mind, inviting them all in and letting them rip: the good, the bad and the ugly. The joys and the worries. After a minute, let them go…

2 Narrow your focus to just your breathing. Zoom in on a full breath, from nose to throat to chest, feeling your lungs expand and contract. After about a minute, let it go…

3 Widen your focus to your breath filling your whole body, from the top of your head right down to your toes. Inhale and exhale, feeling the breath empty out like a giant bellows.

Try it now – it’s only 3-minutes of your day.

If you came on the last virtual mindfulness session this is the meditation we used towards the end of our session.

This is Thoughtful Thursday on 4 June 2020.

Join me for a virtual mindfulness session on zoom at 10.30 am on 15 June 2020. Email hello@essencecheltenham.org for more details or to let me know you are coming.

 

Empowered?

Breathe

I recently spoke to a woman who had and is facing many challenges. She gave me a glimpse of the support she had received to move forward despite these challenges and explained how she is now in a place where she can appreciate living life. As I listened, I knew that this person had courage. Yes, the willing help of others had been vital on her journey. But her courage had also been vital.

In the conversation, I used the word ‘vulnerable’. Immediately she came back – politely but firmly – saying she disliked the word ‘vulnerable’. She explained that rather than labelling ourselves or others as ‘vulnerable’ we would be better placed to focus on our need for being empowered.

Along with other Christians I have just celebrated Pentecost. Pentecost is a celebration of God’s Spirit coming to earth to empower Jesus’ followers to live life more fully, including by loving others as ourselves.

For me, God is the creator who made us, breathing life into us. Pentecost reminds me that God wants to continue to breathe life into each of us still today, through his Spirit. I often pause to notice my breath coming in and going out. As I do this, I remember that it is God’s Spirit that breathed life into me on my conception and still does today, a natural relationship.

It takes courage to allow others to help us; we have to be willing. It takes courage to seek God’s Spirit; again we have to be willing. When we ask others for help, the answer may vary. When we ask God to empower us, his Spirit – a Spirit of Love and Life – will enter us.

Pentecost is a festival worth celebrating – it isn’t a consumer-fest like Christmas and to an extent Easter – and may be that allows us to celebrate it more simply and more deeply. Breathe. Breathe in the Spirit of God if you choose. Be empowered.

This is Mindful Monday on 1 June 2020.

I will make known the day and time of next virtual mindfulness session on Zoom next week asap!

 

 

 

Worry woes or acts of joy?

Worry woes or acts of joy

So many possibilities for our worries. The big picture of the world. Our own insecurities. Our own ineptitude. Our future and the futures of those we love.

We may know that worrying in itself is a road to nowhere. But this knowledge in itself may not stem the ‘worry woes’ that we have become accustomed to court. We continue to walk in the well-worn thought paths of our minds. We are frazzled, drained, joyless.

I came across a great antidote to worry in a poem recently. That antidote is joy; it’s choosing to turn from the ‘worry woes’ and instead choosing an act of joy.

Here’s the closing part of ‘I worried’ by Mary Oliver (2010, published by Beacon Press in Swan: Poems and Prose Poems):

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.

And I gave it up. And took my old body

And went out into the morning

and sang.

Is this just a temporary dismissal of our worries that will only once more come to haunt us? No. When we focus on what is good (or joyful), it gives us the energy to deal with things that are of concern to us. It puts us in a better place for dealing with life, including the difficult.

Let us acknowledge our worries. But let us also identify what gives us joy and be joyful.

This is Mindful Monday on 25 May 2020.

 Join Sara Shailer for a zoom mindfulness session at 10.30 am today. Simply email hello@essencecheltenham.org for details (before 10 am).

Be kind

be kind

In lockdown (or lockdown plus slight uplift in the UK) we might be concerned to be kind to others. According to your situation, you might be courteous to give others space when you are out and about, or shop for others, or keep in touch particularly with those in solo households, or put your all into providing for others as a keyworker. Valuable stuff. Well done.

It’s mental health awareness week. I like the emphasis on kindness. I have learned from experience that there is a relationship between kindness and happiness.

It is one of those strange words, kindness. We don’t use it every day. We know what it means and yet it is hard to define. I looked it up in the Oxford English Dictionary (as you do). It reveals it is the quality of being kind. (This made me chuckle so the search was in fact entirely worthwhile!)

There’s a place in an ancient book where it reads, ‘Let your kindness be evident to all’. The ancient book wasn’t written in English so some translations have instead ‘Let your gentleness be evident to all.’ That seems a fair definition. Gentleness.

Be kind. Be gentle. Learn to be kind to yourself. Be gentle towards yourself.

We are all living in unusual circumstances. We will have different pressures according to our situations but we haven’t experienced them before. We are learning how to cope. We are learning how to survive. Could we even learn how to thrive?

It is impossible to love others until we (hesitantly) love ourselves. I wonder if it is hard to be kind to others until we (hesitantly) practice kindness to ourselves.

What would being kind to you look like today?

Here’s a range of things, one of which may resonate with you: take time to listen to yourself perhaps writing down what you hear to reflect further; turn off the ‘other voices’ in social media and broadcast media to give yourself space, even a time of rest; do something you enjoy – dancing in the kitchen to your favourite track could be just the thing; immerse yourself in the natural world even for just five minutes.

Be kind to yourself. Then be kind to others. Don’t just survive, thrive.

This is Thoughtful Thursday on 21 May 2020.

Join Sara Shailer for a virtual session of mindfulness on zoom at 10.30 am on Monday 25 May (bank holiday in the UK). Email hello@essencecheltenham.org for details.

 

 

Taste the difference

savour each mouthful

Meals can be focal points for our day – and this may be even more the case than usual in lockdown.

We can eat our food without noticing. Our plate is cleared or the packet empty before we know it! We can make it a richer experience by savouring each mouthful. This might mean switching off the TV or turning our attention away from other distractions. If we are sharing the meal with others in our household it might mean getting everyone involved in the ‘noticing’.

Look at and smell the food. As you bring it to your mouth, notice how your mouth salivates in readiness to receive it. As you put the food in your mouth notice the texture as well as the taste. Chew each mouthful before you swallow.

As we notice our food, we may also find we grow in appreciation of all those who were involved in getting it to us: farmers, pickers, factory workers, drivers, market traders, and retail workers. Well done if you grow at least some of your own food: appreciate those who developed the best of seeds and agricultural best practice. Expertise and hours of work went into providing us with each meal.

Let’s be thankful: for each mouthful we eat and for the people who brought it to us. Bon appetit!

This is Mindful Monday on 17 May 2020.

Join Sara Shailer for a virtual mindfulness session on zoom at 10.30 am on Monday 25 May. Simply use Facebook (essencecheltenham) or email hello@essencecheltenham.org.

 

 

Happy?

happy

Considering everything, how happy are you today?

Don’t despair if you rated yourself as not happy. All things change and there will be a day when you will rate yourself otherwise.

There are things we can do to move towards becoming happier. We are all individuals so one size doesn’t fit all. But understanding ourselves is part of the journey and a good place to start. Wherever you put yourself on the happiness scale today, ask ‘What makes me truly happy?’

Skip the glib answers about winning the lottery or marrying royalty.

You might want to mull your answers to that question over a few days.

And then what? “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” (Dalai Lama) Over to you.

This is Thoughtful Thursday on 14 May 2020.

Join on zoom for a virtual mindfulness session at 10.30 am on Monday 25 May (bank holiday in the UK). Email hello@essencecheltenham.org for details.