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Posts from the ‘Monthly Tips’ Category

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.

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

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.

 

MAY TIPS: Slow, Simple, Local

These three words have become something of a personal mantra recently.  You may have heard of the Slow Living movement, and it has much in common with mindful living.  Every so often, I find myself called to slow down some more, to create time and space for what’s most important in life.  Here are three ideas for slower living, if you feel inspired to join me.

Slow

In the Aboriginal culture, there is a practice known as dadirri, or ‘deep listening’.  Hank Wesselman (drawing on Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann’s well-known reflection) describes it as ‘a special quality which allows each of us to make contact with a deep spring that lies within us.  To connect with that spring requires that we achieve a state of quiet, still awareness.’

Fast living just doesn’t seem to allow enough room for this natural inner wisdom and wellbeing to emerge.  However, when we pay full attention to our embodied experience, we get a taste of this quality of deep listening.  And living more slowly really supports that.

When I notice I’ve become disconnected – from myself, from loved ones, or from my environment – I know I’m not leaving enough room for deep listening to happen.  But re-connecting doesn’t have to mean spending hours in meditation – it can be as simple as leaving something out of my schedule for the day or week, to create the needed space.

Simple

In modern culture, there is so much on offer that it’s easy to get drawn into craving ‘bigger, better, more’.  Recently I’ve been re-evaluating the simpler experiences in life.  I noticed that I wasn’t fully appreciating things that happen frequently, simply because I was chasing after novelty.

I found that it’s possible to re-engage with these familiar occurrences – like hanging out with friends, cooking, family downtime – and discover just how rich these experiences are.  Choosing the simple life, far from being boring, can actually create a wonderful feeling of ‘enough’.

Local

I was very inspired by Melanie Warnick’s book This Is Where You Belong – in which she explores the theory of place attachment and how it can boost wellbeing.  She outlines a plan to help you learn to ‘love where you live’.  It really reminded me of the mindfulness practice of taking in your local environment as if you were visiting on holiday.

Practicing ‘loving where I live’ has encouraged me to see my local area through this illuminating lens of unfamiliarity.  Making an effort to spend my time (and my money) in my local community has brought an unexpected sense of joy and connection.  It’s become a habit to ask myself ‘where can I buy this locally?‘, or ‘what can we do for fun nearby?‘, and I feel a lot more content and rooted for it.

Sometimes, I just return to those 3 words – slow, simple, local – as a kind of anchor, to catch myself from coming adrift.

Additional resources

Meditations that complement this month’s theme are ‘Breathing With The Body’, ‘Support Your Self’, or ‘5 Minute Breathing Space’ – which can all be found on the Meditations page.

Blogs that relate to slow living:

Committing To Self-Kindness

Hurry Up, Get More Done and Die by Mark Morford

Podcast on slow living from Brook McAlary & Tsh Oxenreider – On Ignoring What Slow Should Look Like

If you would like to be notified when I post new tips and blogs, you can ‘follow’ the blog to receive emails (using the button at the bottom right corner of the footer). I also post updates to Twitter – see Contact page for the link.

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 sessions via Skype – see the Coaching Programme for more info.