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What is your intention?

In the last couple of months I have been reminded of one big question on almost a daily basis: “What is you intention?”…What do you want? What is your goal? What do you wish for?

January has been the perfect time of year to be asking and reflecting on these kinds of questions. I full-on believe in New Years resolutions, if they are thought-through, with real depth and truthful ‘umph’. The first month of the year is like a blank slate, a fresh canvas upon which colourful dreams and bold ambitions can manifest. I, like so many people, started this year with a resolution- a firm decision to do something….something good, for myself and for others. And at the threshold of the second month of 2016, with spring dawning on the horizon, this desire behind my resolution still burns bright.

My problem in the past has often been that I have wanted to do so many, many different things ALL AT ONCE. Alex affectionately calls this tendency of mine ‘dog brain’ – I’m like an excited puppy running around frantically trying to pick up a stick, a bigger stick, a ball, treat, SQUIRREL!! I want to do it all. But the danger is that I spread myself too thin, and I end up not being able to do any of the things I wanted to do. This year I can feel that this is changing. I have focus this time, and I can actually see my resolution coming true!

This is how:

newpos9I have set a clear intention:

Three books I read recently have asked me to set a new goal for myself. The Yoga Master Max Strom, in A Life Worth Breathing, urges you to reasses your health goals and make wellness your priority, whilst in Ayurvedic Welness Dr. Suhas Kshirsagar asks “What are your three main health goals?”. In Integrative Nutrition by Joshua Rosenthal the first chapter is called ‘Set an Intention’. I get it, Universe: Health should be my priority. In November I decided to enroll with Joshua’s course at The Institute of Integrative Nutrition, the New York Health Coach program that has exploded in popularity, gone purely online and is now the biggest Nutrition school in the world, teaching thousands of people every year in over 100 different countries how to inspire health and vitality in others. Since starting the course last week I have again been reminded that setting a CLEAR intention is the first step to success. So..time to share. My intention is:

To become the happiest, healthiest version of me, and to inspire others do do the same. 

It’s a big goal but not unachievable. And it is CLEAR! I totally know what I want! I 100% recommend being brave and sharing your goals with others by the way – be clear about what you want and true to your dreams, and your friends and family are more likely to respect and support your goal!

I am visualising:

First of all I have written my intention down. This is a simple step, but a powerful one! I have something I call The Dream Book, in which I like to write down all my aspirations and aims. The key is to write them as if they have already happened – and only after you have sat for a few quiet moments visualising what it will be like to achieve your dream – what does it look like and feel like? Are you grateful, relieved, blissful, proud, bouncing off the walls?! Really imagine it. Then scribble it down as IF IT HAS ALREADY HAPPENED: “I am so happy/grateful/at peace now that….”. In The Awakening Course  Joe Vitale says that it’s a little bit like going internet shopping from the Universe – ask for WHATEVER you want, it doesn’t matter how big. Just imagine you can have YOU want! This has already worked for me. Over a year ago three big things I wrote down were that I was thankful (although none of them had happened yet!) to have cleared my massive overdraft, to be studying something that could help other people and to be in a loving and supportive relationship…and a year later they have all come true. I feel truly blessed!
I also recommend writing down your intention, along with a few feelings (be picky, these are important!) and a little visual (however small and scrappy) on a piece of paper and sticking it somewhere you will see it EVERY DAY! It will remind you of your desire, evoke your passion and keep you on track.

I am creating a plan:

Deepak Chopra says in a MindBodyGreen article about how to harness the power of intention (read here) that once you established your goal in a “state of restful awareness” you should relinquish your rigid attachment to a specific outcome, live in the “wisdom of uncertainty” and let the infinite organising power of the Universe decide the details. While I’m totally down with that and am loving the thought that things will fall into place just as they should, I have also been noting down a couple of rough plans when inspiration has struck. That is not to say these plans will always remain the same – I’m leaving room for it to evolve along the way. My intention is to help and inspire people to become happy and healthy (through my own discovery of wellbeing), and there are many different ways for me to do that. Last week an IIN lecture on intentions recommended setting no more than three main goals this year – a magic number apparently, Dr Kshirsagar recommended the same amount of health goals in his book! Choosing three clear goals to achieve in a year allows you to be selective and narrow in on your intention on a more manageable timescale.


I am taking action:

So I know what I want – now it’s time to start DOING, or my intentions will forever stay as dreams! Every time I make a decision I am checking in with my three main goals for this year, which are as follows:
1. To create and maintain a healthy, strong body and a balanced, compassionate mind
2. To become a Institute of Integrative Nutrition Certified holistic Health Coach
3. To save up enough money to do a Yoga Teacher Training course with Triyoga and Personal Trainer course with EIF.

As well as sharing my aspirations I am also working towards my goal by creating balance in my life, mentally and physically, and making sure I am surrounded by a loving and encouraging support network of family, friends and colleagues.

I am prioritising:

As “Queen of FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) it takes a lot of effort to turn down invites and opportunities that come along. But the effort is worth it! I have really noticed the amazing power of saying “Sorry, I can’t, I have to study” or “no, I can’t afford that right now”. It’s an instant stress reliever and can feel very empowering – you are being clear with yourself and people around you that your goals are important and you’re sticking to them!
It’s all about placing those big marbles into the jar first , and then all the small day-to-day bits fall neatly in place around them!

For me the most important first step is making sure that I am making choices that optimise my wellbeing. When you are in balance you are in alignment with your true self and more open to receive from the Universe – read past the hippy-dippyness of that sentence and try prioritising getting enough rest, doing regular excercise, practising a bit of mindfullness to stay centered (try a yoga class, or download the Headspace app), eating your greens, being on good terms with people around you and staying away from processed food-products – I promise you that you’ll find it easier to notice opportunities and make choices that align with your goals!

I cannot tell you how powerful these steps have been in the last few weeks. By following them I have greatly reduced my anxiety and SAD. I hope they help you too!

So…what are your intentions for 2016?!

x

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Compassion & Christmas

christmasIt’s Christmas and YET AGAIN I’m in a rush. I don’t know if I’m creating a self-fulfilling prophecy for myself but I always do this. Every year I swear I’m going to be organised. I promise myself that this year I will methodically do my christmas shopping, write thoughtful messages in all my cards and deliver them on time, calmly arrange travel between family engagements and not arrive at Christmas a stressy, exhausted mess dripping with cold sweat. It’s now three days before christmas and I have managed to do exactly none of the above.

At this years work do, and then at a Christmas dinner with friends the next day, I was dishing out Christmas cuddles rather than cards. Cards that I had bought from WHSmith, but had not written in yet and totally forgotten about, because I was more concerned with finishing an elaborately decorated Raffy toy for a competition in my studio than wishing my colleagues and friends a merry Christmas through a scribbled note on printed paper.

Maybe it’s just me trying to justify my distinct lack of organisation, but it felt like the giving of a warm hug and telling someone face to face that they’re important to me and that I wish them a very happy, peaceful holiday, could be equal to – or perhaps more meaningful than – giving a card that says ‘Merry Christmas’. Which got me thinking about the spirit of generosity at Christmas, the sacrifice of giving to another, and about the conflicting worlds of competition, commerciality and capitalism and that of kindness, compassion and love.
After the first blog post I did this year after a long silence, where I decided to be unashamedly frank about the fact that my wellbeing was totally out of balance, I received so much loving feedback and helpful advice. A particularly kind family friend advised me to read a book called The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert, and a few days later it arrived in the post with a lovely, encouraging note attached.
I have since found this book immensely helpful. It talks about how human beings have evolved to naturally respond to kindness and compassion, and how modern psychology and science is placing pro-social behaviour, caring and compassion at the centre stage in the development of well being. It also talks about how learning to accept and love yourself is important but can also be immensely difficult, especially in a competitive world where we are constantly rushed and easily feel disconnected from the ‘flow of life’. The dark catch to having an innate ability to understand the mind and thoughts of others in this environment is that it can perpetuate anxiety, depression, paranoia and violence.
Paul Gilbert writes “Although we’ve learned that we can build efficient systems, cut our costs and do things increasingly cheaply, this is not a very pleasant way to live. We can end up in an efficient world that is uninhabitable – except for the relatively few wealthy…Sadly, the Western world is riddled with people who don’t feel happy with themselves, who are critical and self-blaming. Treating yourself unkindly and critically is not good for your brain; it stimulates all kinds of stress…Although we in the West now live in a world with advancing medical science, material comforts and pleasures, we still yearn to find deeper meaning and sources of inner peace and joy”.
He looks in quite a bit of detail at the evolution of our behaviour, and especially emphasises how learning to develop a powerful awareness of our thoughts, desires, fears and drives – mindfulness – is intrinsic to creating a life filled with kindness, love and compassion – and he argues, with strong backing from new studies within psychology and brain science, that this is the source for meaning and happiness.

Throughout the West now there is a gradual movement towards seeking a more compassionate way of living. But in the East this has been a central philosophy in the guidance towards happier living for many thousands of years. Ancient wisdom traditions have developed exercises and practises that train the mind in compassion – particularly Mahayana Buddhism, the school of The Dalai Lama. But although you can practise and train your mind to be kind, almost like a musical instrument, it doesn’t need to complicated, or religious. As His Holiness says:

“There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” 

This time of year does inspire and encourage generosity and kindness, but it can often also generate feelings tension, competition and stress along with a chaotic sense of grasping and commerciality. We spend so much money and effort on Christmas, in a sort of attempt to create physical displays of our kind hearts and generous spirits. But in the process do we distract away from true compassion to ourselves, others and the world?
Thoughtful presents are a wonderful way to communicate your willingness to help make another’s life easier and better, but in the rush to buy do we forget that the most powerful gift of all is love and compassion? And what about kindness to our environment? Is that buried underneath a mountain of shiny products that we are told we need, wrapped in so much paper that it must surely be significantly adding to the destruction of the earth’s lungs. What about the approximately 10 million turkeys killed before Christmas, the majority of whom are crammed in their thousands into tiny sheds without sunlight or fresh air. These birds experience pain, discomfort, fear and distress just like any animal. Or if you want to reign your compassion in to just encompass our own species – what about all the hungry, cold and desperately poor in the UK? Luckily my buddy Matt has now got housing (until the Tories decide they’d rather spend more money on bombs than sheltering the homeless), or I’d be inviting him home to stay over the holidays!
And what about the kindness we show ourselves? The pressure of “avoiding gift face”, cooking the ‘perfect’ Christmas lunch and cramming the calendar with social commitments, not to mention the financial burden of Christmas, can all be incredibly draining. I know I haven’t been very kind to myself recently…Apart from the bashing my wallet has taken this December, I’ve been constantly on the go with deadlines, spending far too much time in front of a screen and averaging about 4 hours sleep per night – which is terrible considering my last blog post was about creating a bit of healthy detoxifying balance before the season of festive indulgence…today, as I am writing this, I am remembering to give some loving kindness to myself, to take the time breathe consciously, go outside in nature for a walk, eat well and to smile at myself in the mirror. And although I have plenty to learn and am sure choosing recycled wrapping paper or a nut roast over Turkey is only a drop in the ocean of environmentalism, I am trying to keep in mind the consequences of Christmas on the environment. The main thing I am determined to focus on in the lead up to Christmas (and throughout the holiday…and even beyond!) is making sure COMPASSION and KINDNESS is at the forefront of every action I take. This year I am giving my love as my main presents (but don’t worry mum, I’ve still taken note of your wish-list) and handing out reminders to my friends (old and new), family, and my wonderful boyfriend, who is far too patient with me, what crazy fantastic people they are.
 And here is my Christmas Wish to you….that you will find the peace of mind to spread your Christmas Compassion…because in the end this can only flow out of a calm, centred, loving, empowered, creative and positive mind.
HAPPY CHRISTMAS!
x
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The Christmas Pretox

The season of festive indulgence is around the corner, and if you’re anything like me you’re dying to don your brushed cotton jammies, stuff your face with mince pies and watch Polar Express for the 100th time. But we all know that Christmas isn’t just about lazing in front of the fire, consuming large quantities of festive foods and mulled wine. For most of us it involves a hellova lot of planning, late nights, rushing around and hanging out with flu-ridden relatives. The combination is stressful for both mind and body, and can impair our immune system. After several days in a row of pigging out, not getting enough beauty zzz’s and attempting to stick to a hectic holiday schedule, I start to feel lethargic, bloated and, to be quite honest, guilty because KNOW that despite Christmas being the season of indulgence I’m not actually treating myself very nicely. But because there is so much going on it’s easy to just go ‘I’ll start being healthy again in the new year’, but that puts so much pressure on poor January to get back on track with being healthy. And we all know how that story goes…a few weeks into dark, dark January you’ve caught a minging cold and entirely lost the motivation you had at the start.

So in the name of prevention I am proposing a different tactic this year. The key to ward off christmas flu and January guilt is BALANCE. In order to start on the right foot, I have set up a super simple little pre-christmas detox.

In fact, a better title for it would be a PRETOX (a pre-christmas prevention-detox): making sure that your internal organs are as clean and efficient as possible for handling all those the extra toxins, that your mind is rested enough to tackle the constant stream of activites and that your immune system is strong enough to keep the sniffles well away. These simple steps can be carried on through christmas to keep you healthy and balanced

A few things that are important to know about “detoxing” before we start:
  • ‘Toxins’ aren’t just an urban myth made up by health fanatics to justify living soley on organic celery. We are surrounded by toxic substances: environmental pollutants, food waste, chemicals, harmful bacteria, parasites, substances like alcohol and medications. These affect our metabolism, immune system and behaviour. When our nervous system is stressed with the overload of toxins they can make their way into fat cells and brain tissues – and stay there, sometimes for years…yikes! Long term exposure can lead to all sorts of nasty diseases.
  • A detox is a way to support your body’s existing detox system through putting nourishing nutrients into your system that aid the process of neutralising and removing harmful substances. Our body – nervous, digestive and hormonal system – is designed to work together, but when we’re stressed out or totally overload it these systems just can’t do their job properly.
  • It may make you feel tiny bit tired in the beginning, because eating clean will release a lot of these stored chemicals back into your system and your body will be busy trying to eliminate them. However you WILL feel lighter with more energy and stamina after the first day or so.
  • You don’t have to give up solids on a detox. As much as juices and smoothies can be a fast and effective way to introduce more nutrients to your diet, having an entirely liquid diet can mess with hormones and blood sugar levels if not done properly. It’s all about being kind to your body, nourishing it  and de-stressing.
  • You’re not going to constantly be hungry. The main thing is to eat plenty of the right stuff -fresh, natural, wholesome food instead of processed, toxic foods that stress your system, like sugar and alcohol.
  • Just because you’re on a detox doesn’t mean you should give up excercise. Moving is what our bodies were meant to do….listen to it and do what feels right for you.Walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, strength training, HIIT, yoga, pilates – it’s all good! You’ll be eliminating a lot of toxins through your sweat!
  • Just because you’re detoxing doesn’t mean that you have to give up your social life either. Ideally you’ll be able to fit a few days in a row without the booze, to give your liver a rest and get the full effect of the detox – but if not, at least you’re already giving your body a massive helping hand by following the other steps.
Right, so here it is….follow these simple steps for a day, two days, three days, a whole week…or (if you are brave and can face having a social life without cake and alcohol) the full two weeks before christmas!

THE CHRISTMAS PRETOX!
(the pre-christmas prevention detox)

 

  1. DRINK ENOUGH WATER!

foxywaterThis is a big one…Ah water, you bloody hero. We are made up of around 60% of it and losing it constantly through sweat, breath and urine – so it’s super important to replace it throughout the day. Water lubricates all of the functions in our body! We need it to carry all of the waste and toxins out of our system. It is essential for kidney function, which cleans our bloods and regulates our body fluids. Even slight dehydration will comprise the kidneys ability to get rid of excess hormones, minerals, vitamins and foreign toxins such as drugs and chemicals.
Drinking enough water will naturally suppress your appetite and stop you over-eating. Drinking enough water will aid the livers function of metabolising fat. Drinking enough water will stop the cells in our body holding on to water in response to dehydration, and thus stop bloating. It will help you flush out all of the baddies and help your body with all of it’s natural processes. Drink at least 2 Litres / about 8-10 glasses a day. 

Filtered is best! But if that doesn’t do it for you (a few of my friends have noted that they find plain water super boring) then add a slice of lime or lemon, or try sparkling water or detoxing herbal teas (Pukka’s Detox tea is my favourite). Avoid squash which can be full of either sugar or artificial sweeteners. Drink up, baby – Flush out festive booze.
 2.GET ENOUGH SLEEP

Getting enough rest allows your body to get on with important night-time tasks like repairing and detoxing, which means you can function optimally during the busy days of Christmas. According the the National Sleep Foundation healthy adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep. Getting to bed not too long after the sun has gone down and waking up with the rest of the natural world is waking up is also another way to support our system, according to Ayurveda. This 5000 year old Indian science of natural health tells us that getting up when the sun is rising is the best way to realign our bodies with its natural cycle. Yogis believe that between 4-6am is the time of brahmamuharta, when the world is waking up and the ‘sattva’ qualities of balance, harmony, purity and happiness are dominant in the universe, and that getting up at this time is the way to bring peace of mind and vibrancy to the senses. Yeah, ok, total hippy speak…but seriously – try it! For one, waking up at dawn gives you a lot more time to get ready before work. If you are struggling to fit in exercise into your routine, or time to make a proper breakfast, or to get yourself or the family ready…ta-da, here it is. It might be hard at first but you WILL feel energised and productive as a result.

 3.START THE DAY WITH HOT WATER AND LEMON
…AND THEN A GREEN SMOOTHIE
Starting the day with hot lemon water is one of the best ways to wake up your day. It hydrates, aids digestion and boosts your immune system, amongst other awesome detoxing effects like aiding the liver by maximising enzyme function and balancing ph-levels in the body to reduce inflammation. Starting your day with a smoothie means that you’re not giving your digestive system a lot of hard work to do while your body’s still waking up. Instead all of the wholesome, natural nutrients can be readily absorbed into your blood and carried to all the tissues where they can do their building and reparative work. These antioxidants won’t stress your liver or kidneys, they’ll just cruise through and do their lovely job of balancing out free radicals, reducing inflammation and making sure your cells are functioning properly. The chlorophyll in green smoothies encourages the release of toxins that have been lying stagnant for a while too. I find that when I start the day with a nutrient dense, clean and green nutrition could mean that I’m far more likely to make healthier choices throughout the day. I make sure there’s at least 10g of protein (adding cashew butter, chia seeds and hemp protein will do the trick) and about 350 calories in my smoothie so that I stave off hunger until lunch and make a decision based on nourishment rather than instantaneous satisfaction of hunger pangs and  cravings. They are fun and easy to make – experiment with different green leafy veg like spinach and kale and fruits like avocado, mango, banana and apple. Aim for 60% fruit and 40% veg to start with, as this balances out flavour very nicely. I highly recommend adding a green powder like Bioglan Supergreens which contains some of the most nutrient dense foods in the world like chlorella and spirulina.
   4.EAT THE RAINBOW.
Fresh fruit and veg are high in antioxidants, which counterbalance the free radicals that occur in the body when atoms ‘break’ with exposure to oxygen. This is a natural process in the body, and these free radicals normally live in harmony with the body’s own antioxidant. It’s when this balance is disturbed with the overload of toxins that the damage is done. Left to roam these unstable compounds will rob cells, enzymes and DNA of their electrons, unless the antioxidants we take in through our diet come to the rescue by kindly lending them theirs instead. To ensure that you maximise your body’s ability to eliminate a wide range of free radicals, fill your plate up with a wide spectrum of colours containing many different kinds of antioxidants. In other words, eat the rainbow. Yay! And it doesn’t necessarily have to be each meal, although that would be ideal.  Instead ask yourself when you look back on your day of food: “did I eat a natural source of purple, pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue etc…”.
Gently cook or steam the veg, or ideally enjoy them mainly raw, to make sure the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes stay alive and can do their best work in your body – don’t nuke your food or all the goodness will disappear!! Include whole foods like grains (avoid white rice and bread, instead choose quinoa, frekeh and brown rice), nuts, seeds, beans and legumes too, they’re all full of vitamins, minerals, fibre, healthy fats, protein and slow-release carbs! The closer to nature the food is the better.

    5.   CUT THE CRAP

 

Avoid anything that will add toxins back into your system. An easy way to remember this is to “cut the C.R.A.P – Caffeine, Alcohol, Refined Sugar and Processed Food” – something I totally nicked from Bodyism. These substances stress the body, and that’s the last thing you want to do whilst allowing it time to clean itself. At least try to do so in-between office parties and pre-christmas socials…Instead feed your body stuff that will nourish and help balance you, as well as boost your immune system!
     6.  MOVE!
foxyexcercise

Your body loves to move. Exercise keeps the muscles strong and releases endorphins that make us feel great. By making the body stretch, sweat, breathe and circulate you speed up the elimination of unwanted toxins! Listen to your body, and have fun with it! Try something new and different, try a brisk walk outside (on your way to work for example) or a short run in the morning. Try a Yoga or Pilates class, a refreshing swim or if you’re up for a real sweat try circuits. If you’re not a member at a gym then try out Darebee for a really great resource of free, simple body-weight-only exercises that I’ve been relying on for many years now.

 
         5.  TAKE TIME TO BREATHE CONSCIOUSLY 

Throughout the day give yourself a break and just notice your breath. Inhale deep through your nostrils and exhale through your mouth. Listen to the sound of the air going in and out of your lungs. Centre yourself in the senses of your body. Recognise the moment you are in right now. This is a really good excercise to do just before you have a meal…it calms you, and takes away any stress that could upset your digestion. Take a few moments to think about the things you are grateful for in your life. Be kind to yourself, and remind yourself of the things you are proud of about you. Listen to what your body is telling you – before you grab a snack ask yourself if you’re really hungry, or if you are stressed, or bored, or sad? Perhaps you’re just thirsty, or need to get up from your desk and take a quick walk outside to clear your head instead of heading to the biscuit tin. Be extra mindful of the taste of the food while you eat, and chew each mouthful for longer than normal – it will really aid your digestion and help you feel full! Christmas, as well as being tons of fun, can be a very stressful and hectic time – especially in the lead up – so make sure you take time out to unwind. I would highly recommend downloading the Headspace App and give yourself a ten minute break from your busy mind. This is great thing to do in the morning to prepare you for the day ahead. And (of course) try a yoga class! Go on…it’s so, so good for you!

That’s it…simples!! GOOD LUCK!!

x

*Although this is a super gentle healthy eating regime rather than a hard detox (like a juice fast) it is important to remind you that detoxing is not for ladies who are pregnant or breastfeeding*


 

 

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Mental Wellbeing, Uncategorized

Feel the fear…

…and do it anyway. That’s how the saying goes, but if we apply it to fear that comes to you without purpose or application it’s difficult to know what to actually do. This post is about how I worked through my feelings when, a couple of weeks ago, for seemingly no reason at all I felt the panic rising.

It’s Thursday and I’ve left work an hour early to catch a train, and whilst ambling at a leisurely pace down towards Exeter St Davids I suddenly become aware that although I have an overwhelming urge to yawn, I just am not able to. Oh no…this is normally one of the first signs of a panic attack for me. The reason I feel like yawning is because subconsciously I’ve tightened up and haven’t been breathing properly, only to the very top part of my lungs. The feeling of being unable to take in enough air is intensely frustrating, so I try again…yawwwww…argh, it just doesn’t hit that lovely, stretchy pinacle-of-the-yawn bit. So I keep walking, feeling the tension in my shoulders build up, a thundering sting in my chest as my heart speeds up and a familiar dull ache thud under the shoulder blade on the right hand side of my back – these places are where my anxiety physically manifest themselves.

I start to rationally think through why. What was I doing or thinking before I became consciously aware that my breathing had gone funny? I’m honestly not really sure why I’m feeling stressed – I’ve had a perfectly fine day, I’ve eaten healthily, I’ve done some writing, I’ve hung out with two of my best friends at lunch and I’m on my way to Leicester to see my favourite person. It’s a perfectly good day and normal situation. I left the studio with an adequate feeling of organisation and I’m pretty sure I’ve packed everything I need. I’m not rushing. Still, I notice that my pace is quick, hurried. So I slow. Down. I remind myself I’ve got time. I stop for a couple of seconds, readjust my bags, close my eyes, breathe in deep and out, releasing the tension. I open my eyes and I walk on with steady purpose, feeling the ground under my feet. My heart is still racing but I tell myself that it’s ok…It’s only a panic attack, worse things have happened and I’m not going to feel like this forever…I’m going to calm down soon.

I get to the platform with plenty of time to go, so I sit down on a bench and liberate my shoulder from the burden of my satchel. There is still a twinging beat from within my ribcage and a relentless tension that longs to be eased with heavy sighs. The adrenaline pumping stress response is on full alert, but without any reason to fight or, despite being about to board a train, take flight. The frustration bubbles up again -WHY am I feeling so fucking stressed out? Ok, so I might be juggling four different deadlines, and perhaps leaving work early therefore wasn’t the most productive choice, but my boyfriend lives a million miles away which, yes, is a pain in the arse (or head, or chest) because we don’t get to see each other as often as we’d like and it’s costing us both a small fortune each time we do, and yes, my credit card is constantly yelling at me from the depths of my repressed memories, which reminds me, I can’t afford to pay my gym membership anymore, but I’ve got shin splints and can’t run so I need to figure out how to keep fit as it would certainly help me sleep because I’m just SO TIRED OF FEELING TIRED!

The domino effect of negative associations cascades through my brain…with a mix of anxious adrenaline and hot anger I stamp my foot and rip out my earphones…and a multitude of sound flows back into my nervous system and synchs with the world around me. Its intensity surprises me, and I decide to take a moment to listen to it’s layers, suddenly remembering a kundalini yoga meditation technique I learned years ago to help me fall asleep. I decide it’s worth a shot so I take a deep breath, close my eyes and lean back – avoiding the feeling of looking a bit silly, telling myself that no-one else is interested in wether or not I have my eyes open. First, I notice sensations in my body, from the temperature in my palms, to the sensation in my toes, to the pressure of the seat underneath me. I tune into the sound of my own physiology, my breathing, the rustling of my coat as I shift position. I listen to the conversation of my fellow bench-perchers and the sound of footsteps up and down the stairs to the platform bridge; then to the noise of a train rumbling away from the station, an announcement about a delay to a Penzance train; and to the far away hum of traffic and the screech of a couple of seagulls above. I tune back to the rhythm of my breathing and notice that the flow of air in and out has eased

mindful

I then remember something I’ve just learnt in the NLP course I’ve been doing recently, about the calming, focused mindset you get into when you use your peripheral vision. So I look ahead and find a point slightly higher than eye-level, and whilst keeping my focus on this spot I also draw my awareness toward the things that are to either side of me, just inside my vision. Sometimes it can actually help if you waggle your fingers and pull them back until you can almost not see them…but I’m not about to start doing that in the middle of the station.

I try to continue this awareness whilst also taking in the details of the platform. I notice the way the iron beams in the roof are so beautifully detailed and symmetrical and the way the cold November air makes people’s breath steam up in front of their faces as they chat. I suddenly feel a sense of compassion and belonging from being surrounded by people who, like me, all have an inner dialogue and their own conflicts and their own beautiful light-bulb moments of awakened realisation.

I breathe deeply again, and try to notice where the residues of tension are located in my body. And I stop resisting the anxiety, I stop trying to change it…I just feel. And because I’m now trying to pin-point it’s exact physical positioning, like a map-maker trying to judge the placement a peak in the distance, I’m welcoming the emotion with curiosity and feel a wave of acceptance wash over me. It’s ok to feel like this. It’s only fear. I’m actually not doing too badly at all. And anything that isn’t going so well isn’t stuck and will change. I can change.

And to be honest, “well” or “badly” are just conceptualised reference points, that sometimes become warped, unrealistic and unhelpful. I am not good nor bad. I’m perfect, just the way I am right now. The fact that I am breathing, and that I’m aware that I am breathing, makes me a miracle. A stunning example of the intelligence of nature. And with that awareness comes the realisation that my experience is my own responsibility, and in my own control. And that is empowering beyond belief. A simple exercise has reminded me of my creative power to make choices in the now that propels me towards a future where my current worries aren’t worries anymore. A little bit of stillness of mind, reflection and grounding myself in the only thing that really exists – this moment, right now -has given me newfound respect and compassion for myself.

The ache in my chest has gone. I board the train with a spring in my step, marvelling at how lucky I am to live in an age where decent public transport and mini-bottles of red wine are available to me. As I sit down at an empty table seat I also remind myself that I’ve packed homemade hummus  and carrot sticks, and that I’ve got two and a half hours ahead of me just to sketch and listen to my audiobook on Integrative Nutrition. At the end of my journey I’m going to get the biggest bear hug from someone who really loves me. Life really isn’t so bad.

I’ve heard several people say they don’t believe in mindfulness. That it’s made up, new-age hippy bullshit that doesn’t have any basis in sense or application in reality. I’m here to tell you that it does. At least it does for me. And if I’m the only person in the word I’ll eat my blog.

Ps: As an addition, I would just like to say that if the panic keeps rising, and deep breathing, calming the mind through focused concentration and being kind to yourself by thinking positively (which, granted, IS HARD when you’re having an anxiety attack!), then I would advise to call a trusted friend or even a helpline like Mind (0300 123 3393). It can really help to feel like you’re not alone, to vocalise your emotions and to have someone understand, empathetically listen to you and reassure you…If you’re walking then sit down, If you’re driving then pull over, stay put in a safe place until the shaking has stopped!! You will be ok, it might just take a little while…

Hope this has helped!! All my love

foxy

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Mental Wellbeing

Being Enough

Feeling aimless and lost is something I know I’m not alone in. It’s not a small task to figure out what you were put here to do. For a very long time now I have felt confused and frustrated, searching desperately for something to ‘stick’. Over the years I seem to have developed a habit of getting super excited about one life changing idea or another – something that’s going to improve everything, change the world, even if it’s just my own, make me happy, and important, and of value….and then…I give up.

During the summer a nagging voice at the back of my mind escalated to an ear-splittting scream that despite having a great job, awesome friends, a loving family, the best boyfriend, and living in a lush house with wicked housemates, I’m not successful, important or valuable. For years prior to this, my primary technique for attempting to achieve a feeling of being ‘good enough’ has been to create an overly complicated list of ‘shoulds’, aims and goals for myself. Trying to prioritise and organise this painfully long checklist, a colourful concoction of traditional (buy a house, travel the world) and unconventional (become a yoga teacher, create a comic) benchmarks, has been hectic and exhausting, especially as I’ve been looking sideways and feeling like everybody else has a much simpler and more eloquent answer to “What does success mean to you?”. The thought that I might fail has kept me up at night and made my chest feel like it’s constantly on fire. A big part of me has felt like I don’t really have it in me to ever achieve any of that stuff, even the basic stuff like getting 8 hours of sleep a night or remembering to pick up my bag before leaving a restaurant, and so even though I have the ability to come up with creative ideas and occasionally even make them work I’m still left with the feeling of being stuck, and unable to change…

One big excuse I have been giving myself for not achieving the things I want is “not having enough money”. To be honest I think I’d say it’s near impossible for most people in our society to not have finances popping into mind when ‘success’ is mentioned. We all rely on money to survive, it’s vital ingredient in our capitalist, profit-driven culture. Even Ayurveda talks about financial health as being a component of complete healing. Money is certainly an enabler and financial freedom is not a bad thing. But GREED is. The kind of greed that sometimes comes over me when I masochistically compare myself to all the successful people around me. I start wishing and scheming up ways to earn more, so I can ‘solve my problems’ and do all the things on my list…the worst thing is that this accelerates my anxiety and feelings of worthlessness and even guilt – I mean, for goodness sake, It’s not like I’m sleeping rough or having to escape my country because of war!!

The Dalai Lama, speaking at the O2 arena in London a month ago, hit the nail on the head when he said that the problem that can arise when wanting money is that when you get it you might realise it’s not enough. You need more, and then you need more again. If you need money, the hunger is never satisfied. Well, Buddhists say that about quite a lot of things actually…desire, grasping, needing things, apparently it doesn’t lead to lasting satisfaction.
Listening to him talk with passion, clarity and wisdom (giggling knowingly, the way he does) about developing understanding, respect and love for all people and aspects of life made me realise with sudden, immutable urgency that I hadn’t been very compassionate or kind to myself recently…at all! In fact, I’d been really fucking mean to myself! And not just recently…for a very long time.

And then I realised something else: I’d been relying on external events to be the litmus test for my feeling of personal success. I’d been going about it all wrong!! The thing is, If you don’t feel completely fulfilled and happy just being you as you are right now, if you don’t love yourself in other words, then it won’t matter how much you have or gain or achieve – it won’t be enough for you to FEEL successful . So…my final answer to my therapist’s question about what ‘success’ meant to me was:

“To feel that who I am and what I have right now is ENOUGH…just to be content, happy and at peace in each moment, no matter what is going on around me.”

OK great…so that’s a nice conclusion, right? But there’s one thing…where the duck do I start?

I have decided to give meditation a go. Seems like a small step, but after dragging a very obedient Alex along to a meditation class at Wilderness Festival three months ago, and feeling really great (I did, at least…Al was fast asleep throughout) I vowed to start and then never bothered to follow it up with the usual excuse of ‘I don’t have enough time’. But now I’ve downloaded an app called Headspace, which supposedly makes it all very simple. 10 minutes is all it takes, according to the app, so tomorrow morning a pillow on the floor at the end of my bed is dutifully waiting to be occupied by my meditating bottom.

Talking IS good. I’ve already acknowledged it as one of the first steps to healing. Voclaising your hectic, random, confused inner dialogue to an empathetic and non-judgemental listener can be incredibly powerful and a wonderful catalyst for positive change. Sharing your experience with friends is a great way to create trust and break stigma about mental health. But If you can sit with yourself in complete silence, and just let things be…if you can be aware of your pain, without having to fix it, numb it or run away….well, I’ve heard that can do wonders too. Maybe 10 minutes a day is enough to give myself a break from thinking that never-ending list of goals and will help me recognise that even if I don’t achieve all of those things I’m not failing because I what I am right now is still ENOUGH.

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“What does success mean to you?”

I’ve recently started therapy. It wasn’t an easy decision, but when you’ve come to the conclusion “I don’t want to be me anymore”, something’s gotta change. Fast. Change unfortunately has decided it’s got other plans and has turned out to be a bit of a slow mover. I’m a creature of routine, even if that routine is destructive. It’s proving pretty tough to rip myself out of a chaotic cycle of anxiety, insomnia, depression, trying to distract from the pain, or numb it, and a constant urge to plan, plan, PLAN. But I’m getting there. Even though there’s the initial fear of judgement, of appearing to be weak, talking about it is the key first step to finding balance again. Admitting that you’re NOT OK is actually the opposite of weakness. I’d even be as bold as to call it brave. Because facing yourself, truthfully, and trying to understand what it’s really like to just be you – without any pretences, or ego, or desires, or comparisons – can be fucking scary.

The first therapy session was…pretty weird. The only reason the woman sat in front of me wasn’t a complete stranger is because I’d scouted her out on an online counselling directory a couple of weeks earlier, decided she looked friendly enough to get in contact and then spent 30 minutes face-to-face summarising my ‘issues’ before agreeing to divulge my innermost thoughts to her on a weekly basis in exchange for £35. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect but, knowing me, I predicted I’d be bawling my eyes out as soon as I’d entered the little rented room with comforting decor in Exeter Chiropractic Centre…Nope! Nada. I was too disconcerted by the whole situation to tear up. I sat, almost disembodied, listening to the sound of my own voice echoing around that unfamiliar room whilst talking on automatic pilot to the stranger sitting patiently in front of me trying to help me understand why my emotions were all in a pickle. Why I feel like a failure. Why, daily, the confusion, the hectic thoughts and the sense of worthlessness mounts up to the point where I can’t breathe, I sweat, my mind races and my heart feels like it’s trying to carve it’s way through my sternum with a very blunt knife and make a run for it.

It was a curious feeling, to explain and be listened to without bias or judgement, encouraged with empathetic nods and kindness. (Reflecting on that, I really want to become a better listener!) However, my eyes stayed as dry as space food (this comparison is vivid in my mind only because I recently found out about freeze-dried ice cream…WTF?!..I know you just found liquid water on Mars, NASA, but you should be ashamed of yourselves!!)

….that is up until near the end of the hour, when I ramblingly stumbled upon the topic of success.

“I just don’t feel successful at life”

I could have re-hydrated several sachets of dessert for some pretty desperate spacemen. And so, at the end of our session, my new councillor and trustee of broken emotions and confused cognition left me with something to ponder on for next time:

portrett2

Bloody difficult question.

At the end of that first hour I left feeling confused and fragmented, and a little disappointed. I thought therapy was supposed to make you feel better about yourself, not be an exhausting outpour and a load of tricky reflection!

Several weeks later and I’m still wondering. But the thinking has gone from frantic query to calm curiosity. It has helped, all this thinking I’ve been doing…I think. I at least recognise now that I have been successful at one thing:

I became aware that I wasn’t OK and decided I didn’t want to feel that way anymore. I took an important step in moving towards wellbeing. Knowing myself, accepting myself and loving myself – I’m fairly certain these things will take a long time. But like everybody else on this planet, I am doing my best and I am able to change. I feel like I’m getting closer, albeit with tentative baby steps, to understanding my reality. I’m determined to seek and willing to accept with an open heart what I find. Because being right at the bottom does that to you. Being in the darkest place you never knew existed in your mind makes you notice with keenness the light when it comes back to you

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Mental Wellbeing

The Time Jar and The Marbles of Priority

FoxyblogDo you ever feel like there just ISN’T ENOUGH TIME?  There is too much stuff to do, and never the right amount of time to get it done. For me this can spark anxiety and an overwhelming fear of failure. Time is running out! As well as dealing with daily deadlines, I feel like I need to experience life efficiently – maximise my precious, dwindling hours on earth. Which is a ridiculous notion really, because in reality I have buckets of time…I’m in my 20’s, still a spring chicken with youth on my side.

Sometimes I’m very aware of this and I forget about the pressure of fitting everything in. I feel inspired, my mind is clear and the world is a happy place filled with opportunities. I feel empowered and enthusiastically create well thought-out plans to achieve my dreams.

Then I start gathering obstacles for myself. I see limitations. I recognise that it’s going to be hard, too hard, to fit it all in, to afford the time and energy required. And because it’s way easier than staying focused, I get distracted. I prioritise little things. I waste time by procrastinating and often forget almost entirely about the big, fantastic picture of achievement and success I created for myself. My positive future becomes clouded by a hazy doubt that festers and stings, and eventually makes me back off and admit defeat.

And all of this is entirely in my mind! I worry about stuff that hasn’t even happened yet! These FUTURE hindrances are just projections, illusions in my head. But because of the limiting beliefs I have about lack of ability, resources, talent, guts or whatever, I am making choices and prioritising things in the NOW that swallow up time and definitely DO NOT help me reach my goals!

When I told my therapist about this tendency to self-sabotage and my worry about lack of time, she presented me with a jar and some marbles of various sizes…

“O…Kay..?”…At first I thought her own marbles had gone walkies, and frankly this wouldn’t have surprised me after having spent a fair bit of time wading through my brain clutter, valiantly trying to unspool my disjointed and unorganised imaginings.

But what she showed me, using these simple props, made sense. Sort of.

So, firstly you have to imagine your time as a jar. I found this analogy to be a safe, comforting way of viewing time, especially because I don’t have the Stephen Hawking know-how or patience to understand how it works properly. Apparently my idea of events happening along a linear time line is a faulty construct of my limited, human brain while in actuality everything that has ever existed and ever will exist flows outwardly from this very moment so that all events happen all at once. WHAT?! Yeah…Rather than solve this mind-melt of a mystery I’m going to stick with the nice, simple metaphor of a jar. Here it is:

 

jar

Then you have to imagine the things you do, your choices, how you wish to spend your time etc., as little marbles. To be more concise, marbles of variable size according to how important they are to you.

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So now now you’ve got to try and fit these marbles into your jar, and you pop them in the order of priority. Say I prioritise the less important things in life, like…Reading my Facebook feed, watching Jeremy Kyle (to be fair I DO NOT watch Jeremy Kyle…I watch My Little Pony and Grand Designs, sue me) or trawling through the internet trying to find a slight variation on a cake recipe that doesn’t include eggs. I pop those in first:8

Then I place my medium-importance time-takers, like doing my laundry, tidying my room, doing my grocery shopping,  going through my emails and reading books or blogs about nutrition and mindfulness:

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Then I put in my most valuable BIG BALLS of importance, for example: The people I love. My work. My health. My personal projects.

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Oh crap…they don’t fit!

But you see, it’s because I put the marbles into the jar in the wrong order! If you prioritise the big, most important ones in first, the medium ones fall into the gaps and then the little ones slot into place easily too:

7Tada! Time management! That’s nice…

But it’s not that simple, is it? I love a good metaphor as much as any girl, but the reality is that choices are way, way, WAY more complex than placing a few marbles into a jar!! There are sub categories to consider – “People I love” = boyfriend, family, friends and colleagues. “Health” = Nutrition, Exercise, yoga, therapy…So then how do you choose between those big marbles? What if work clashes with family commitments, or family commitments clash with being there for a friend. What if fitting in exercise clashes with the need to get enough sleep, or sleeping clashes with trying to fit in deadlines. Sometimes personal projects like painting or blogging go from being big marbles to medium marbles to completely taking over. Sometimes finances or general life-admin needs to come first. And I didn’t even include trying to help make the world a more peaceful, sustainable place, because that’s pretty darn important too!

I guess the main thing to keep in mind is that although the Jar of Time is a simplified metaphor, it helps to identify what the most important things are to you and realise that if you put these things first then the other stuff will naturally slot in around them.  It’s okay to procrastinate from time to time, to snuggle up with a glass of wine in front of the TV or to occasionally Facebook stalk people you used to know years ago…but remember to fit the important stuff in first, they’re the key to real, lasting happiness, achieving your dreams and…well…not loosing your marbles😉

    Foxyblog2

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