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AUGUST TIPS: Self-Care For Strong People

If you’re used to being the ‘strong one’ in life – the person who’s there for others, who gives help rather than needing it – it can be easy to convince yourself that you don’t need looking after too.

This can be due to a role we adopt to deal with life circumstances, or a way of avoiding feeling vulnerable. But to stay strong, we do need self-care.

Indeed, for those of us who see ourselves as strong, it can be challenging to allow ourselves to be vulnerable – and also very valuable to acknowledge these buried feelings.

This month I’m exploring a few ways to discover your own needs, and begin to meet them.

1. Awareness

Stress isn’t in the external circumstances of life, it’s a physiological response to those events that happens in the body. If we’re not tuned into the physical ‘early warning signs’ of the stress response, it can escalate so that we only pay attention when it gets serious (such as burnout or physical illness).

Body awareness practice helps us become more sensitive, so that we can spot the signs and do something to support ourselves. There are specific meditations to develop body awareness, but I also find it equally impactful to check in with my body throughout the day.

Learning to pause and notice what sensations are present in the body can help to let go of – or ‘discharge’ – some of the energy of tension before it builds up too much. This takes practice and patience, but the good news is it’s most effective when developed gradually.

2. Permission

Do you allow yourself to have needs? I’ll be honest, my skills in this area were extremely limited before I came to self-kindness practice. Giving ourselves permission – to have needs, to not feel ok, or even to feel ok – can be a significant step towards self-kindness.

Perhaps you can notice if anything conflicts with acknowledging your own needs, such as a caretaking role or a hectic busy life. A certain belief might be a stumbling block, eg that you’re not deserving, or that needs are about weakness.

What if you gave yourself permission to have your own needs? It’s worth exploring, especially if you always tend to put others first.

3. Attunement

Once you’ve opened up to the possibility that you have your own needs too, it can be an entirely different step to to discover what those needs actually are, and how to meet them. Regular self-kindness meditation encourages this quality of self-attunement to grow over time.

Whether you meditate or not, this is a powerful question to begin asking yourself: What do I need?

Sometimes the answer might be quite practical, like a sleep, a sit-down or some food. Or it may be less tangible: we might need a quality such as safety, acceptance or kindness. We might realise we need to let in the support and help offered to us by others. If we know what’s needed, we have a better chance of finding a way to providing it.

Self-kindness is sometimes described as a practice of offering ourselves care, but it’s also a case of learning to receive that care. I’ve included a poem below that really spoke to me of this dual aspect of self-compassion when I was first learning.

Further resources

My next mindfulness session in Heaton Moor (South Manchester / Stockport area) will explore some of this material in more depth – see the workshops page for info.

I also run 1-to-1 coaching sessions (by Skype) that include options to work on this type of self-kindness practice.

Rick Hanson’s book Hardwiring Happiness includes some exercises that help develop self-attunement.

Short meditations to help you pause and check in can be found at the meditations page – along with longer ones focusing on body awareness.

For me, this poem by Meister Eckhart about a donkey has always evoked the power of self-attunement, and the need to let go of being unecessarily ‘strong’:

All day long a little burro labors,
sometimes with heavy loads on her back
and sometimes just with worries about things that bother only burros.
And worries, as we know, can be more exhausting than physical labor.
Once in a while a kind monk comes to her stable and brings a pear,
but more than that, he looks into the burro’s eyes and touches her ears,
and for a few seconds the burro is free
and even seems to laugh.
Because love does that.
Love frees.

Which Meditation Should I Do?

Choice is great when it opens up our world and brings us a sense of agency and freedom.

And… at times it can feel paralysing when we’re unsure which option – of the many – to choose. In meditation, I’ve certainly had the experience of dithering for so long about which recording to listen to that I lose the motivation completely (or the time slot), and end up not practising at all.

With time as our practice develops, we gain more confidence in knowing which practice will best meet our needs on any given day. And we might not always need to listen to a recording.

But then there are those times we just don’t feel sure what would be most supportive. Here’s a menu of meditations for those moments.

These are the same meditations I’ve shared on my main page, but organised by how you’re feeling, instead of by meditation type.

It’s not an absolute ‘prescription’ to be rigidly followed, but a few ideas to help get you unstuck.

This list includes some very short meditations of only a few minutes long – for those days when you’re especially busy, or just feeling resistant to meditating.

GUIDANCE NOTE:  These practices are devised to support stress reduction, but are not intended to address debilitating mental health conditions or severe emotional distress.  Do not listen to these recordings when driving, or when concentration on another task is important for safety.

WHEN FEELING SCATTERED OR STUCK IN ‘BUSY MIND’

Relaxing Into Body Awareness (22 mins) – a body scan meditation with a focus on meeting experience as it is, softening resistance and relaxing into ‘being with’ what’s happening, with greater confidence.

5-Minute Breathing Space – slightly longer than a standard breathing space, a short meditation to help re-establish mindful awareness.

Breathing With The Body (16 mins, Recorded Live) – finding a grounded presence through embodied awareness of the breath.

IF YOU’RE FEELING OVERWHELMED OR FRAZZLED

Basic Breathing Meditation (16 mins) – a short practice for bringing mindful awareness to the breath.

Basic Body Scan (22 mins) – a meditation inviting awareness to inhabit each area of the body.

Support Your Self (6 mins) – a short meditation to bring self-kindness into your day.

FOR DEVELOPING GREATER AWARENESS

Opening To All Of Your Experience (Recorded Live, 19 mins) – a gentle practice of ‘befriending’ – opening more fully to all the various aspects of our experience: the pleasant, the neutral and the unpleasant. Welcoming these in on our own terms can be empowering and help develop a broad, calm and stable awareness.

Mindfulness With Breathing (20 mins, Recorded Live)* – Establishing and maintaining contact with the breath, as felt in the body. Led on a practice afternoon for those with some meditation experience, less guidance than some of my other recordings.

Mindfulness With Feelings (22 mins, Recorded Live)* – A mindfulness with breathing practice, opening to a range of feelings, including energy and pleasant feelings. Allowing all experience to arise and pass, held in the container of the breath.

*These 2 meditations can be done ‘back-to-back’ if you would like an extended practice of 40 minutes.

IF YOU’RE FEELING TENSE

Calming Body, Heart & Mind (Recorded Live, 14mins) – a practice to bring kindness to difficult experience, drawn from the approach developed by Kristin Neff and Chris Germer – see their websites for more meditations.

Supported By The Earth (Recorded Live, 20 mins) – A grounding practice to encourage mindful relaxation. Guidance is given for lying down, so please adapt as necessary if you are seated. (Excuse the audio quality, I think I was lying a bit close to the mic!)

Imagining Compassion (7 mins) – connect with an image of a person, being or place that helps you feel supported, soothed and cared for.

WHEN YOU’RE SHORT ON TIME

Body Check-In (5 mins) – reconnect with embodied awareness.

5-Sense Check-In (5 mins) – drop into Being in the body.

Finding The Positive (5 mins) – taking in what feels good about the present moment.

You can find additional recordings on the Meditations page, organised in the following categories: Self-Kindness, Mindfulness With Breathing, Body Awareness and Short Meditations.

For personalised support with your meditation practice, I run mindfulness workshops and classes in Heaton Moor (South Manchester), and a Coaching Programme via Skype.

 

 

 

 

JULY TIPS: Self-Kindness And The Power Of Less

When you hear the term ‘self-kindness’, perhaps it conjures up an image of taking yourself off for a spa break or a holiday. Self-care is definitely an important part of the practice*, but there are also other ways to support yourself with kindness, which may be more accessible when you can’t get away from it all.

Like many things, self-kindness can lose its appeal if it feels like an extra duty you need to add into an already-busy life. I like to approach it as a practice of doing less, not more: less self-criticism, less pressure on myself, less trying to pretend I feel ok if actually things feel hard.

Here are three things I can do without when I’m having a difficult day, and what I’ve learned to do instead. They are all examples of ‘self-kindness in action’ – the kind of support that can come to your rescue right when you need it.

*I’ll be looking at self-care in next month’s tips.

Less Criticism

Putting ourselves down for being imperfect is a habit that many of us fall into. It can feel deceptively productive to find what’s ‘wrong’ with us, so we can fix it. But in my experience, it usually only keeps me trapped in a cycle of toxic shame.

It can be more helpful to cultivate a habit of self-appreciation. This won’t necessarily replace self-criticism to begin with, but it provides a gentler counter-balance that moves you in the direction of self-kindness.

When I’m caught in the trap of self-criticism, I look for some way that I can also appreciate myself. Perhaps I screwed up one task, but felt good about something else I did. Maybe I think I offended someone, but my intention was a genuine attempt to help them.

Sometimes, it boils down to appreciating myself for just coping, or bringing some awareness to my challenges. It’s enough.

Less Pressure

I spent many years pushing myself to be an impossibly perfect version of myself.

I still feel that pull sometimes, and it can show up as a long list of stuff I want to get done, so that I can feel good about myself. That list hanging over me can feel pretty overwhelming.

This is when I remind myself that I don’t need an excuse to take my foot off the pedal, and that being human is enough reason in itself.

A self-kindness pause helps me to see that I don’t have to be a superwoman to feel good about myself. The way I apply this pause is usually to ask myself ‘how can I go easy on myself today?’

This might mean physically doing less, eg letting something wait a day, rather than pushing myself to get on top of everything. Or it might mean choosing to shoot for ‘good enough’ instead of perfect.

Less Rejection

When we’re being hard on ourselves, we may be invalidating our own experience. Think about it. If a small child told us they were scared, or sad, or angry, and we ignored them, told them they were being silly, or that they didn’t feel any of those things – we’d be invalidating what they are actually feeling. How often do we do this to ourselves?

It was one of the first things I noticed when I began doing self-kindness meditation. Sometimes I’d realise that I’d spent the whole day trying to pretend I was ‘ok’, when in fact I felt vulnerable, afraid, or sad.

I learned to practice Supportive Self-Talk. This is a way to validate my own experience by first listening to what I’m feeling (in meditation, or in life). Once I’ve heard what needs to be felt, instead of rejecting or abandoning the hurting part of me, I can let myself have my own experience as it really is – whether it feels nice, or a bit painful. This can be quite a relief compared to trying to pretend I feel something different.

When I see myself through the eyes of my ‘Supportive Self’ in this way, I can respond by saying to myself what I really need to hear, instead of being dismissive or invalidating.

With a bit of practice, Supportive Self-Talk can be available whenever you need, again without ‘making time’ for it.

Further Resources

Self-Kindness Meditations can be found on my meditations page – done regularly over a period of time, they help to re-programme old habits and cultivate supportive self-talk.

Enoughness As True Happiness – this blog touches on ways to find self-appreciation in everyday life.

Committing To Self-Kindness – this blog is about easing into self-kindness practice, slowly and gradually, because it often doesn’t come naturally at first.

If you would like to work with me, I run mindfulness workshops and classes in Heaton Moor (South Manchester).  I also offer 1-to-1 Skype sessions that cover some of the self-kindness approaches mentioned above – see the Coaching Programme page for info.

If you would like to be notified when I add new monthly tips – you can ‘follow’ this blog and you’ll receive an email whenever I post tips and blogs (use the button at the bottom right of the website footer). I also post updates to Twitter

‘Enoughness’ as True Happiness

I’ve always felt a little bit of resistance to the word ‘happiness’. It can feel like a concept that is defined by someone else’s idea of what I should achieve, and then sold to me via magazines and social media.

It’s easy to forget there’s a powerful consumer industry that needs us to feel a sense of ‘not enough’ so that we’ll attempt to buy our way to happiness (some statistics estimate that the modern person sees about 5000 ads per day).

But true happiness, for me, comes from a feeling of ‘enoughness’. Admittedly, this isn’t actually a proper word, but I feel like it conveys a quality of appreciation which isn’t quite there when I hear the word ‘enough’.

This quality, a kind of quiet and steady wellbeing, is actually not all that elusive if I stay open to it. I’ve been reflecting on how it shows up in everyday life, and this is what I noticed…

Enoughness means I don’t always have to get what I want to be happy.

Enoughness means I can let go of trying to prove myself or get somewhere, and actually just be content right now.

Enoughness means that nothing I do has to be perfect.

Enoughness means I don’t have to fill my diary to feel fulfilled.

Enoughness means I can appreciate what I already do have that I’m grateful for, instead of chasing something more, or something else.

Enoughness means I can open to the wonder of just being alive (as trite as that may sound), every day, without waiting for something ‘big’ or impressive to happen.

Enoughness means that the way I live reflects my own values, even if they don’t match those of contemporary culture.

Enoughness means I can connect deeply with the people I care about, because I haven’t got half my attention on the mental pursuit of goals.

Enoughness means I’m more immune to the marketing strategies that want me to believe I need to buy happiness, or chase an unrealistic lifestyle (which also often seems to mean buying what someone is selling).

Enoughness means I can step back from Doing mode, and feel confident that it’s ok to leave those minutes unfilled by busyness. And realising that just Being can sometimes create more positive change than Doing.

Enoughness means that even when life feels uncomfortable, I know I’ll cope because I’m ok at a very basic level: my needs for oxygen, nutrients, physical support and shelter are rarely not met. As Rick Hanson puts it, I’m ‘alright, right now’.

A feeling of enoughness can also be the most reliable clue that I’m engaged in mindful living. So when I feel like I’m losing my way, if I look for a sense of enoughness, however ‘small’, it can make a big impact.

I’ll leave you with an Albert Camus quote that pretty neatly sums up what I mean by enoughess.

“Four Conditions Of Happiness:

Life in the open air

Love for another being

Freedom from ambition

Creation”*

Sheila runs mindfulness workshops in Heaton Moor, South Manchester, and also provides Mindful Living coaching by Skype.

*I believe the correct description is ‘Poe’s 4 Conditions For Happiness’.

JUNE TIPS: Foundations For Mindful Living

For many people, learning mindfulness is life-changing. But how do we consistently bring the benefits of this practice into our lives?

In a very basic way, I might define mindful living as balancing Doing with enough time just Being. This balance tends to lead to greater connection with ourselves, other people and our environment, a feeling of being more fully present in our lives. (For more detail see the Mindful Living page).

This month I’m taking a look at laying down a foundation for mindful living, on an ongoing basis.

Perhaps you’re at the start of your mindfulness journey, or looking to refresh your commitment to living more mindfully. In either case, it’s likely you’ll meet a few challenges along the way. Here are a few supports I fall back on when I need to feel more grounded in mindful living.

You could use some of these as journaling prompts, or just give yourself some space to reflect on what mindful living looks like for you.

Awareness of Intention

Everyone’s reasons for wanting to develop mindfulness may be different. Why is important to you personally? What made you want to learn about it in the first place?

If this is brand new, maybe there’s a change you’d like to see happen in your life. If you already practice mindfulness, perhaps you’ve already experienced some benefits, or cultivated some positive habits that you don’t want to ‘forget’.

Mindful living isn’t always an easy path to stay on – remind yourself often why it matters to you.

Remove ‘Doing Triggers’

Even if you’re not sure what mindful living really is, you might already have some awareness of how the opposite feels: rushed, distracted, overly busy, scattered and in constant Doing mode.

Think about what sort of things trigger these states and therefore undermine mindful living. Again, this is personal. In my case, it’s the devices that lure me into online time, books that I feel driven to ‘get through’, and excessive input from TV, podcasts and articles.

(My starting point with this approach was years ago when I began switching off notifications, one of the best ways I’ve ever discovered to protect my own mindfulness).

Once identified, we can think about how to reduce these triggers. Using my examples above, this means leaving my phone switched off and out of sight whenever I can; reducing how many books are left lying around; and designating times and spaces in my day as ‘input-free zones’, such as a meal at the table or some quiet time cooking.

Your examples may be different. And you don’t have to stop at ‘Doing’ triggers: there may be other conditions in your life that undermine mindfulness. What could you do to reverse that impact?

Maximise Support

When we think about what could help us to be more mindful in daily life, meditation practice might be the obvious thing that comes to mind.

But we can also consider other conditions that support mindful living, and maximise those where possible.

Perhaps that means seeking out like-minded people, being outside more, or even getting more sleep.

Think about what conditions would help you to bring more mindfulness into your life. Which one would make the biggest difference right now?

Mindful Corners

Something that I find really supportive is to incorporate ‘mindful corners’ into my life.

Writer Pico Iyer talks about the “adventure of going nowhere” – I love how this phrase speaks to both the benefit and the challenge of spending more time just Being. He goes on to say that “Nowhere has to become somewhere we visit in the corners of our lives, by taking a daily run or going fishing or just sitting quietly”.

I’ve created literal corners of my everyday life that give me a nudge to drop into just Being. When I get caught up in busyness, or feel like my head is getting too full, these are the places that invite me to pause and connect to more stillness.

Some of mine include:

– my garden bench which has become a regular ‘sit spot’

– the family photo I use for a screensaver on my phone

– the pot-plant I put next to the armchair with the good view

– the mini nature painting that sits above the washing-up sink

They function as a frequent reminder of my intention to live mindfully.

Additional resources

If you would like to be notified when I add new monthly tips – you can ‘follow’ this blog and you’ll receive an email whenever I post tips and blogs – to follow, use the button at the bottom right of the footer. I also post updates to Twitter (I am no longer sending the tips out by monthly mailing list).

On the Mindful Living page of my site, I explore in more depth what this might actually look like in practice.

Pico Iyer’s 15-min talk The Art of Stillness has a great take on how finding pauses in our life can support intentional living.

Short meditations are one way to build pauses into your day, to help grow the awareness needed for mindful living – find mini-meditations (of 5 minutes or less) at the bottom of my Meditations page.

If you would like to work with me to support your own mindful living journey, I run mindfulness workshops and classes in Heaton Moor (South Manchester).  I’m also opening up some slots in the autumn for ‘Intentional Living’ sessions – these are 1-to-1 by Skype.  You can find out more on the Coaching Programme page.