Category Archives: mindfulness

What makes you WANT to smile?  

 

What makes you want to smile

Sometimes, I catch myself feeling really contented or even joyful. And I realise I’m not smiling and this compounds my happiness.

Like so many people, especially women, I was raised to smile even when I was raging inside. When I was having therapy as a trainee counsellor, my therapist often commented on my propensity to smile or laugh as I recounted something that wasn’t a smiling or laughing matter.

And I remember visiting other parts of the world, especially in my 20s, and seeing unsmiling women and thinking, obviously, I had no idea about their inner experience but it appeared to be freer in some ways.

Faces just expressing whatever they wanted to express rather than the forced ‘women laughing eating salad’ smile that beams out from so many magazines and adverts.

I feel triumphant when I allow my face to do whatever my face wants to do. Even so, I smile a lot (I cry a fair bit, too).

To celebrate today being World Smile Day, you might want to ponder, when can’t you HELP smiling? When are you most likely to grin from ear to ear? To beam at the world?

And when are you faking it? When might it behove you to pause and check in with how you’re actually feeling rather than arranging your face into a pleasing countenance for the alleged benefit of others?

Feel free to comment below.

love,

Eve

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Book signing and yoga and meditation workshop at the Tree Room, Colchester

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Am delighted to not only be doing a book signing (free) with yoga and meditation workshop (£5) at Colchester’s beautiful Tree Room (click HERE for more information), but to be offering some sessions from Colchester (initially Monday evenings) alongside my Witham practice.

 If you’d like to join us for the book signing, I look forward to seeing you then.

Spaces are limited for the yoga and meditation workshop so please get in touch (click HERE) to check availability and book your space today.

It’s for all levels and beginners are especially welcome.

And if you’d like to find out about booking a session with me, for integrative clinical supervision, counselling, therapeutic coaching, EFT, NLP, yoga, meditation, working with crystals and more, click HERE.

I hope to see you there!

love,

Eve

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My yoga feature in Happiful magazine (published June 2017)

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I still have quite the backlog re features I’m meaning to upload to my blog… Here’s one from a few weeks ago (available online this week).

You can click HERE to read it.

If you were to do just one yoga pose each day (not forever but for now), what would it be?

What benefits does it offer you?

Feel free to comment below.

love,

Eve

 

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Meditating with the MagnifiCat

MeditatingwiththeMagnifiCat

Clients and students often ask me about creating and sustaining a meditative practice when their children are demanding their time, energy and attention.

I recommend making them a part of their practice (being fully present with whatever’s going on). Sometimes, I tell them about how I use Rainbow MagnifiCat’s interruptions during the day to enhance my mindfulness practice. As she looks expectantly for attention, I make my lap available for her, pausing work or whatever (unless I’m with a telephone or online client, obviously) and relax into the Rainbow Appreciation Time, hearing her purr, feeling her fur (and claws and weight) and generally feeling pleasantly present and grounded.

This morning, I realised that this is not (of course) the full story. Most days, I let her out while I do my morning meditation and a little yoga. My eyes frequently open and glance towards the door, checking in case she wants to come in.

This morning, with a lot of pent up energy from her snow avoiding time indoors yesterday, she didn’t want to go out while I meditated. I told her (and her angel) that I’d be meditating and focusing on my experience yet still noticed myself getting very distracted. Lots of opportunities this morning for noticing this (with as much self-compassion and curiosity as I could muster) and gently bringing my mind back to the meditation.

And Rainbow’s a cat. Babies and children (and puppies and goats etc) are far more demanding.

What can you do to make them part of your practice in a way that’s practical for them and you?

As with everything, some days, it’s much easier to be present than others. Many mornings, Rainbow’s so peaceful and quiet on the bed, I do my meditation next to her there before I even brush my teeth.

This morning, I could have easily locked Rainbow out of the room but I wanted to challenge myself to stay focused. (I can almost hear her howl, ‘Mwah hahahaha’ from the other room where she’s been peaceful and still since I finished and put my yoga mat away.)

Children and animals are wonderful at bringing us into the present moment.

This isn’t to say it’s always easy. Just as it’s often easier to be aware of our bodies and what they need when we feel strong, fit and healthy, it’s when we’re in pain that the biggest benefits of being present and really paying attention to what we need can pay off.

Do you include your children and/or animals in your meditative practices?

When is it easiest?

When is it most challenging?

What helps you most?

Feel free to share below.

love,

Eve

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What to dooooooo? Working with our shadows

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What can we do to avoid historian’s predictions of Holocaust-like-history repeating itself? As individuals? How can we tap into the loving, expansive, inclusive, generous parts of ourselves and humanity instead of giving into fear and loathing?

Yes, there are petitions and demonstrations.

But what about the rest of our lives? The gazillions of thoughts and beliefs we rarely even notice but which contribute to our experience and the way we relate to others?

Apart from sending Metta to places we feel helpless around, we can take a look at our own shadow stuff.

I read an interesting piece by Deepak Chopra today on Donald Trump being a manifestation of America’s shadow.

We all have our shadow aspects and they’re not easy to recognise when we’re caught up in them.

Just as we all have the potential to do amazing things with our one, precious life, we could find ourselves in unimaginable circumstances and be capable of the worst, least imaginable acts.

When we notice them, we can integrate them by owning what we’ve been repressing in ourselves and projecting onto the other.

Something we can all do is pause before posting or speaking or lashing out in any way.

Notice where our shadow might be in that moment.

Who are we most angry with right now?

What does he or she represent to us?

What hidden aspects of ourselves resonates with what they’re doing?

How does it feel to own that feeling? To acknowledge that at some point, we’ve all felt homicidal?

Again, I’m not at all advocating acting on such feelings. Oddly, making this more conscious means we’re less likely to act out aggressively. 

It can be scary.

I’m a pacifist by nature. I wish we could all just get along. We’re all the same. Where we were born had nothing to do with us. Hippie, peace, love, blah…

Years ago, I learned that trying to send peace and love to people who were annoying me was, frankly, beyond me. I think Metta’s wonderful but even that varies day to day. This was years ago and I eventually realised that owning the fury, the rage, the anger and the despair was freeing.

Obviously, I’m not talking about acting on any of this. But recognising however we’re feeling and letting that be OK actually enables the feelings to move through us more quickly than when we try to deny them.

So writing this, thinking about certain politicians and their seemingly bullyish ways, I can either judge them and pretend it’s all about them or be open to acknowledging that bully part of myself.

The part that I don’t want to acknowledge I have yet that I realise of course I do, otherwise it wouldn’t upset me so much to see it in others.

Once I’ve done this, I can better see how I am connected to, for example, a politician. Or someone who votes differently to me. Or a terrorist. Or a serial killer. Or someone who puts his or her feet on the seats on public transport. Or child or animal abuser. Or any number of people I don’t want to think I have anything in common with.

As with everything, it’s a practice. But the more I do this, the less likely I am to add fuel to the emotional fires of the world right now with mean, small minded, unpleasant posts (I’m deleting A Lot).

Embracing our shadows not only helps us integrate and be more whole ourselves but we’re better able to reach out to others with compassion and kindness.

And this depends on us embracing our shadows (rather than beating ourselves up for not being saints, having said shadows).

Who are you most angry with right now? Who do you hate?

How does it feel to own that hatred and fury in yourself? (If a lot is coming up, you might want to work with a therapist – use all available support.)

Personally speaking, just through drafting this post, I’m feeling something closer to empathy for certain politicians than I’ve previously been able to feel.

How about you?

Feel free to comment below.

love,

Eve x

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If I talked to myself the way I talked to my cat, I’d probably be invincible

 

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Some have suggested I adore Rainbow MagnifiCat too much (impossible).

When I stand up to open the door for her, I say, ‘Just opening the door for you. No pressure. You can go out or stay in. If you go out, stay safe, have fun, come when I call you and back before ___*’

Sometimes, the above scenario plays out several times within a few minutes. Cats change their minds. And I have all the time in the world for her even though patience isn’t one of my biggest strengths.

Catching myself talking patiently and sensitively to her several times recently, I wondered how much easier challenging** tasks might be for me if my own default self-talk was as soothing.

Sometimes, I think Rainbow assumes her name is really ‘Divine wondercat’, ‘Most magnificent creature to have ever walked the planet’ or similar.

I wouldn’t want to go overboard with myself (I’m only human) and yet, on days I smile at my reflection (after years of therapy) rather than think, ‘Urgh, I look like Jack Nicholson***’ I realise that my self-talk has improved.

These days, if I break something or similar, I often hear myself calling myself ‘Kitten’. I’m dealing with the breakage (or whatever flaw) but in a much gentler way than I used to where I’d have been mentally bludgeoning myself over being clumsy.

I feel a little embarrassed writing this. Not because of the cat worship but because after 15+ years of this kind of work and so many improvements in my own self-care, it’s taken the last few years of cat care to embed this particular shift.

How might your self-talk improve if you spoke to yourself as you would to a beloved dog / dragon / child etc?

Notice how you feel when you express patience and compassion for yourself rather than criticism and judgment.

As with everything, it’s a practice. But the kinder and more accepting we can be to ourselves, the easier it becomes to make any change and improvement.

Cultivating a more caring voice for our self-talk is worth doing.

Feel free to share below.

love,

Eve

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* curfew works 95% of the time but she IS a cat

** not that coming in and going out is challenging for her

*** no offence to Jack Nicholson intended. He is a beautiful man but I don’t want to look like him

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My DIY silent retreat

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I saw a few clients last week but mostly, have been off since before Crimble.

So naturally, I set myself a ridiculous amount to accomplish today, raring to go, hoping to start the new year as I mean to go on.

Lots of deadlines, lots of clients. An extra yoga nidra class to teach each week. Other exciting projects. I love my work and it’s great to be busy.

But, I know it’s not sustainable to work crazy hours. I really loved all the extra downtime over Christmas. Catching up with loved ones.

And even though my Christmases are tame by comparison to many (not a huge family), my inner introvert was very relieved to be alone again, after a gorgeous day with loved ones.

I’m also conscious that Yule / Winter Solstice, the Pagan holiday Christmas took inspiration from, is about recharging, quiet and stillness. This can feel at odds with modern extravagances.

Because I was feeling spoiled with all the time off I was allowing myself (I’ve been my own boss for more than 11 years but, even though much of my work is about encouraging self-care, it’s taken a long time to do so for myself), I decided to experiment with a 24 hour silent retreat.

I warned loved ones I’d be doing this and said to ring the landline twice in case of an emergency as my mobile would be switched off and I’d be ignoring other landline calls. I also had no music, no computer, no telly.

And I told Rainbow MagnifiCat that I’d be communicating silently with her for the next 24 hours.

Apparently, I’m an extraverted introvert and my need for space and company is a tightrope walk sometimes.

Yule / Crimble felt like a perfect time to play with this as I knew that, in this part of the world, most others had too so I wouldn’t be missing out on anything.

I felt like I was jumping into a deep end (I’m not a naturally silent person. I can’t help chattering away to strangers a lot of the time) but I was also reminding myself that this was purely for my benefit. An experiment.

I got a lot of benefits from a semi-silent retreat I had to do as part of my yoga therapy training but where my yoga friends were looking forward to repeating the experience voluntarily, I felt like the pre dawn yoga and meditation sessions and bulk of silence along with a schedule of different types of meditation and yoga…. beneficial but more ‘Woo hooooooo! Survived! Can talk again!’ than, ‘Can’t wait to do that again!’

I prefer deciding on my own schedule. And while I did a predawn yoga practice for Yule, dawn was just before 8am so not too bad. Generally, predawn anything other than sleep does not appeal.

My DIY silent retreat was going to be about tuning into what I needed and wanted.

After the first hour, I was loving it. Before two hours was up, I’d had almost an hour of spontaneous mindfulness meditation, aka Rainbow Appreciation time (she leaped onto my lap for strokes for 25 minutes, jumped down and then back up again. Without the telly or other distractions, she had my full attention and I was mindful of her purrs, her furr, the feel of her claws (gently), the other sounds in the room and my breath.

Since adopting Rainbow, I’ve had lots of unexpected Rainbow Appreciation Time mindfulness but I’d not had such a long stretch before (or since). Obviously (being human), my mind wandered but it was a pleasure to bring my focus back to the MagnifiCat and my breath.

I began to feel smug thinking that normally, practically the only time she goes to bite (nip, but still) is when I’m meditating but this must have been extra special meditation as she had been good as gold and then… nip…

I was also conscious of how loud my thoughts felt, especially in the silence. Time seemed to stretch. After a couple of hours, I felt like it had been 4 hours. Everything seemed to slow down.

Again, being human, I thought ‘Ooooh’ and made copious notes in order to write about it later. Some anxieties crept in, too. There were some people I’d forgotten to tell and an arrangement for a couple of days later hadn’t yet been confirmed. I didn’t want to miss out but told myself I’d only be responding 24 hours later. I resisted the urge to log on.

After 4 hours, I decided to take a book to bed and curl up to read or maybe even get an early night. I did sleep but woke up a few hours later after a pretty nightmarish dream in which we were all part of the primordial ooze. Still, I went back to sleep and woke up refreshed the next morning.

I’d accidentally broken my silence a few times whispering to Rainbow as I often do before remembering, Silence and so sending her these thoughts telepathically. I also ‘sang’ her little songs in my head rather than aloud. I think she preferred it.

Waking up in the morning with her sleeping soundly next to me, I did my morning meditation in bed so as not to disturb her and it felt different to my usual, ‘Right, brush teeth, meditate, yoga, start day…’ As I wasn’t switching my phone on for several hours, there was no rush.

I wanted to go for a walk but decided to postpone it as I knew I’d struggle to remain silent if I bumped into a neighbour or friend (or, after several hours’ silence, a stranger or even pigeon).

Although I’d promised myself that if it got too much at any point, I could quit, I was enjoying it all more than I’d imagined. The fact that I was allowing myself to read whatever I felt like reading and I even wrote a few thank you cards (so, technically, not especially retreaty) made it easier to stick to. I wanted the experience to be a treat not punitive.

I also felt extra appreciative of all my Christmas presents as I found new homes for them, putting them away in silence rather than with music on in the background.

Apart from my own thoughts sounding very loud at points, the clock, fridge and other sounds I usually barely notice felt loud. And Rainbow’s purr was like the motorcar purrs she did as a kitten.

While I rarely put music on for my yoga practice (I went through a phase of doing it to Metallica a few years ago), both days’ felt especially peaceful. I chose to break the silence to do a little chanting at the end.

With just three hours to go, I ate some leftovers. Without the telly being on, I understood what all the research around people eating less when we eat mindfully meant. I stopped only 1/3 in as I just wasn’t hungry. So I popped it away to eat later on (yay microwaves) when I’d appreciate it more rather than just going through the motions.

As the last hour passed, I became impatient to go for a walk and mentally thought about who I’d phone ON said walk. But all in all, it was a luxurious treat.

I’m definitely not the type to crave joining a convent / monastery etc but I realised that I definitely want to bring more silence into my 2016 and beyond.

24 hours, while not the several days of the semi-silent retreat, is still a big chunk of time. I think I’ll aim to do that at least 3 or 4 times a year. But each week or so, I’d like to aim for maybe 6 hours (I’m aware writing this that I completely forgot to do this the weekend just gone!)…

I’m also aware that I have it easy – no kids or other dependents.

But if more silence sounds good to you, what might your own DIY silent retreat look like?

Have you done something similar yourself in the past?

What did you learn?

What would you do differently next time?

Feel free to comment below.

love,

Eve x

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‘Mindfulness meditation significantly reduces pain’ – more research on the benefits

Image courtesy of Alan Cunningham 2015
Image courtesy of Alan Cunningham 2015

Thanks to robust research over the years (click here to read a feature I wrote for Healthy last year on the benefits of mindfulness), mindfulness has become a bit of a buzzword.

Recent research by Zeidan et al (November 2015), published in the Journal of Neuroscience and American Mindfulness Research Monthly show how ‘mindfulness meditation-induced pain relief activated higher-order brain regions’ meaning it has unique mechanisms for not just accepting pain but reducing it.

Zeidan et al write: ‘Recent findings have demonstrated that mindfulness meditation significantly reduces pain. Given that the “gold standard” for evaluating the efficacy of behavioral interventions is based on appropriate placebo comparisons, it is imperative that we establish whether there is an effect supporting meditation-related pain relief above and beyond the effects of placebo. Here, we provide novel evidence demonstrating that mindfulness meditation produces greater pain relief and employs distinct neural mechanisms than placebo cream and sham mindfulness meditation. Specifically, mindfulness meditation-induced pain relief activated higher-order brain regions, including the orbitofrontal and cingulate cortices. In contrast, placebo analgesia was associated with decreased pain-related brain activation. These findings demonstrate that mindfulness meditation reduces pain through unique mechanisms and may foster greater acceptance of meditation as an adjunct pain therapy.’

You can read more about the study here.

Would you like to reap some of these benefits yourself?

  • Make yourself as comfortable as possible – if you are able to sit with both feet planted comfortably on the floor and your back as straight as feels good, great. If this isn’t comfortable for you, experiment with standing, lying down or sitting in a different way. Be kind to yourself
  • Bring your awareness to your breath – You may already be familiar with yogic pranayama techniques (breathwork) which can be used for different effects but even if you’ve never given your breath any conscious thought at all, you can start noticing each inhalation and exhalation. You may want to notice which part of the lungs you’re breathing from (top, middle, lower) and if your inhalation is longer or shorter than your exhalation or if they’re even. You may notice that it changes as you bring more and more of your awareness to your breath, relaxing into it.
  • Notice each breath with compassion and kindness – You’re not ‘Doing it wrong’. You’ve been breathing perfectly your whole life – you’re still alive. So do your best to notice each breath in a neutral and compassionate, non-judgmental way rather than stressing yourself out with imaginings about how you ‘should’ be breathing
  • Your mind will wander – you’re a human being. Simply noticing when this happens and choosing (if you want to) to bring your awareness and attention back to each breath, each inhalation and exhalation, will help you cultivate your mind. It’s a practice. Some days it’s easier than others. When we’re in pain, it’s naturally more challenging to stay focused on anything but the pain and yet, as above, the benefits make it worth experimenting with, if you want to

I often encourage students and clients to count their breaths for 30 seconds then double it to notice your ‘mindful minute’ number. You may want to time a minute of your naturally relaxed breathing (counting one inhalation and exhalation as a complete breath) so you know how many breaths is about a minute for you and so you can fit the odd minute of mindfulness meditation throughout the day.

You may want to build up to 20 minute blocks or a minute at a time (or 3 or 5 or whatever) may be enough for you right now.

You know yourself best. Anything (especially when you may be finding it challenging to remain embodied due to chronic pain) is better than nothing. Again, be kind to yourself.

Did you try this?

What helped you?

What did you struggle with?

How did you find it?

What might you do differently next time?

Feel free to comment below.

Love,

Eve x

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