Open your heart to love every day of the year with this gentle heart-opening yoga and meditation practice.
Tell me, what do you know about meditation?
Does it sound 'new age-y'? Or has it come into the main stream well enough for you to know meditation doesn't have to mean robe-donning, chanting, and so on...?
Have you tried it?
Tell me, did you close your eyes and 'nothing much happened'? ...Did you fall asleep? ...Did you find it hard to stay still?
In fairness, if you have tried to meditate and basically felt like you must be 'doing it wrong' or 'missing something', I'd wager a bet that you're not alone.
People quite often tell me that their first few meditation sessions didn't go how they thought they would. Some might have even sat there wondering what all the fuss is about! In fact, some may argue, why bother meditating at all if you end up feeling more confused about it all than when you started?!
What that tells me, is that this person has bought into the somewhat hyped-up idea that to meditate for the first time is to be instantly enlightened, and that if you do not discover the hidden truths or reach a higher plane, then you must be missing something. So maybe you put it into the 'too hard' basket and give up.
In reality, the sooner you let go of 'guru-level enlightenment' as a goal, the better. This idea has come from media sensationalism, envy-inducing and unrealistic social media posts, or, of course, celebrity hype. There is truth somewhere in those bold claims, which can be traced back to the original Hindus and Tibetan monks practicing yoga and meditation for many centuries, but in our Western, capitalist society, deeper spiritual meaning is quite often obscured by the shininess of the glitter that is the modern health craze. Don't get me wrong, the modern health craze is good, if somewhat skewed and confusing. Green smoothies and yoga have become mainstream. But that means that there are literally thousands of newbie yoga teachers around the world who walk and talk as though they've reached some state of nirvana from all the yoga and meditation they do, and that it is their job to impart its wisdom. This imparting of wisdom is generally nice and benign, but I believe it can mislead you, the modern public, about what meditation is, what it can do for you, and how to access it.
But I'm not here today to rabbit on about all of that, so I'll stop!
I simply want to point out what I see as misconceptions about meditation commonly held by the general public, perhaps including you, Ms or Mr Average Joe. My hope is that you see it for the amazing practice that it truly is, but that you see it with an ounce of realism and logic. If you have been put off in the past from trying it, I am hoping to clear away some of those myths so you might also see yourself giving it a try.
I teach meditation and yoga. I have skills to share, and an incredible amount of enthusiasm for yoga and meditation, because it can truly be life-changing.
As part of my offering in stress management, I want to share with as many people as possible, just how health-giving and stress-reducing these practices can be.
However, I do not intend to let others think I have become enlightened. I will not be a charlatan about it. I will not get woo-woo on you and try to convince you that I have some higher powers that you are missing out on. Because I think it will put you off making it a regular practice, and because I think it would unethical of me to do that.
My gut feeling is that the more you see it as something within your reach, the more chances there are that you'll try it. And because I know what an incredible difference it can make to your life, health and relationships, I would love to see more people bringing it into their daily lives!
So what has meditation done for me?
Regular, long term practice has definitely made me more grounded, more emotionally aware, more balanced, and more empathetic, among other things. It has improved my health, made me more alert and focussed, given me increased self-awareness and self-compassion, and helped me build and nurture my special relationships, and I absolutely love it.
I wish my daily meditation practice looked like this. But it doesn't.
This was taken in Bali on my yoga teacher training. It was posed and I was actually exhausted from the intensive (and enjoyable!) program we undertook. It was a beautiful setting, but I haven't made it back there, and I'm not sure when I will. Wish I could say my life looked like this every day, but I would be misleading you.
I live in a cramped 1 bedroom flat in a basement in a very expensive city. Usually, I do yoga and meditate in one of the only spaces we have available - the square metre or so at the foot of the bed, next to the wall and the hole in the floor that smells like musty earth. I don't mind though.
Usually, I meditate for 20-30 minutes every morning. But some mornings I don't sit down in time and I have to cut it short. Some mornings I have an early meeting or some other appointment, and I can only squeeze in 5 or 10 minutes. On those days I make a promise to myself to make up for it in the afternoon, but I don't always get there. Sometimes I have all the freedom in the world and I don't use a time limit, then time truly does disappear. But I don't mind either way.
I have dreams of running my own stress management retreats. I have dreams of living somewhere tropical and spacious with my husband. Who knows, we might even get there one day. But as it is right now, I don't mind one bit.
The photo you see above, this is not my meditation reality. And I truly don't mind.
Because, for me, meditation is never something that is visible on the outside. You could be in a dank and dusty cell. You could be run off your feet with chores. You could be all alone, or you could be surrounded by people. All of these things won't matter the minute you choose to close your eyes and connect with your breath, whether it is for 5 or 50 minutes. As soon as you do that, you are opening the door to a new, expansive world, and this is where the magic happens. Not surrounded by green smoothie gulping yogis, not in a world-class health facility, not on a long holiday away from work, but in your daily life, where you are right now, with the time you have right now. That's where it happens.
This brings me to the whole point of this article, misconceptions. We tend to create a set of beliefs around something, and these beliefs are not always true. Sometimes, these beliefs can put people off doing something, or trying something for the first time, even when this thing could be of immense benefit to them. I would hate to imagine that you have avoided trying meditation because you believe any of the 3 common misconceptions about meditation below.
(Bear in mind that I am not a meditation purist, and so, my thoughts on meditation are more liberal and flexible than some. What I'm giving is my take on reality, no one else's).
You close your eyes and something woo-woo (for want of a better word) should happen from the very first time.
'Fraid not dude! Unlikely, I should say. For most people, they close their eyes and nothing magic happens. In fact, most people, for the first time, realise just how congested with thoughts their mind is, and just how uncomfortable it is to sit completely still for a spell. To be fair, I had a pretty awesome first time meditation experience, and that definitely provided me with the hook to keep practicing. I was taught to meditate at 15 years of age, by a monk, with a small group of people, some completely new, and some very, very experienced. I can remember everything about that first session, especially the moment I was hit by wave after wave of what I can only call a 'deeply meditative state'. I'm convinced to this day that those waves were somehow passed to me from one of those ridiculously experienced meditators, though I'll never know for sure.
Either way, it hooked me right in as it was an incredible experience. But I think it was an exception. Most of the time, the feedback I hear from people who meditate for the first time is that 'nothing happened', as though they were expecting something like the rush from a drug, or the doorway to another universe to suddenly open when they close their eyes.
Your own experience could be anywhere along that spectrum, from 'nothing happened' to 'waves of awesomeness'.
What I suggest is that you be ok with that and, regardless of which it is, make a promise to yourself to just keep practicing. Eventually shifts will occur, and you'll start to see what is actually possible. Every single human being is capable of doing this, if they choose. Until the shifts happen, you can at least enjoy some time out from whatever you are doing. If you can slow your breathing down and elicit the relaxation response, you are doing your body a great favour, even if you don't meditate deeply for many, many months.
There's only 1 way to meditate.
Like, OMG, like, No Way Jose! There are a gazillion ways to meditate! Ok, maybe not a gazillion. But there are many.
The trick is to shop around to find that one that works for you. You can meditate with a candle, with your eyes closed, sitting in lotus, sitting on a chair, walking, saying a mantra, using mala beads, focussing on your breath, chanting, using a podcast, through Youtube, in a class, via an app, and more. These are just the variations I've been exposed to.
Perhaps you decided to learn to meditate a few years ago and took yourself off to a community class where everyone sat on the floor and chanted for 45 minutes, leaving you with a stiff back, bung knees, and, you've forgotten the words, but there's weird tune whirring through your mind from the incessant chanting. You don't go back and you've written meditation off as loony.
Please don't. Please don't give up on it. Shop around. Perhaps that wasn't the right one for you. Seek out some different meditation groups. Perhaps you can make it a goal to try a different meditation style per week for 6 weeks and see what works best for you.
Do you prefer to go it alone with an app or a podcast? Or is joining a group going to keep you more accountable?
Are you comfortable sitting on the floor for a long time, or can you chat to the teacher and see whether they have an option for chair meditation?
Do you doubt your own ability to sit still at this stage of the game? Maybe take the pressure out of it and explore walking meditation to start with.
Absolutely, there is not only 1 way to meditate. If you've tried before and didn't like it, give it another go. Open your mind and try a few methods. You might be surprised to find one that really works for you!
You have to meditate an hour a day every day in order to do it right
This is a tough one. It's true, the more you meditate, the easier it becomes. And it is also true that the longer you meditate, the deeper you can get into a meditative state. Buuuut that is quite an off-putting truism for most. There is no doubt that when you first start, finding even 5 minutes to spare is difficult, let alone 30 minutes!
So what I recommend is to start with just factoring in 5 minutes every day to get quiet and find a relaxed state. Once you have built that quiet time into your routine, you can start to extend it by 5 minute increments. You might stop and make yourself still for 5 minutes for the first two weeks, then up it to 10 minutes, and so on.
Over time you may build up to a regular, one hour practice. Or maybe not. If you're like me, you might have a regular 20-30 minutes per day, but sometimes you'll cut it short, or just be grabbing 5 minutes to centre yourself on the train on the way in to work.
Be flexible. You live in the modern world, as do I. Do what you can, when you can. But do it!
So those are 3 big misconceptions that I see popping up in my clients and people I talk to about meditation. Have a think about whether you have had any thoughts like this yourself, and whether you have considered 5 minutes of meditation as being somehow out of your reach.
What can you do to bring it into your world a little more often, and a little longer each time?
I'd love to hear from you! Do you meditate? Have you tried it and given up? Did you find it hard to make the time, or were you disappointed with the results?
Let me know in the comments box below!
Lately, I've had a lot going on.... I mean, a lot of changes work wise.
And I decided I need to ask you something.
---> Have you ever taken a risk, be it personal, financial, career-based, without any clue as to how it is going to work out? It's pretty hard to focus on being present and calm when you have a lot riding on a future outcome, isn't it?
Well, I recently signed an agreement to start practising my wares out of a health centre in the Sydney CBD. Maybe it doesn't sound like much to you, but it involved quite a bit of upfront money, and a massive dose of courage to put myself into a new space and share my passions with new people. For me, this was BIG!
You might be surprised by this. You might even think I'm Queen of Calm and 'have it all together', but, like anyone else, doubts and fears can rise in times of uncertainty and risk. I'm not immune.
Truthfully, I'm super excited but I'm pretty damn nervous too! I mean, a whole day to offer all kinds of stress relief treatments to stressed out people in the cbd?! I can't wait to start!! But it is a big change too.
I wasn't always a business owner and I am still not used to risks like this, so it is easy for that voice of panic and anxiety to jump in and have a say in what's happening!
"No one will come! You'll lose all that you invest! Who are you to be offering that?!"...I mean, it's just incredible what these anxieties say!
Can you relate to this?
Do you find yourself catastrophising the outcome of some future events?
Do you find it hard to sleep or stay calm, thinking of all the different ways it can go wrong?
Well you're not alone. Many people tend to spend more time focussed on the past or the future, without really being present in the present! And it seems to increase in times of uncertainty or change.
Now, I'm not saying anxiety is a bad thing altogether. Anxiety and fear are equals to happiness and anger in the broad range of human emotions. All human emotions are valid. There can be a positive twist to anxiety, which is motivation. Imagine being extremely anxious about an upcoming exam, versus laissex-faire and super relaxed? Which one might help you be more prepared to take action and study?
Clearly there are benefits to recognising potential threats, be they social, physical, mental, or environmental and taking action to avoid them. The question is, are you taking action (physical response) on threats which are not real or cannot be changed?
Take a look at the timeline below.
Where do you spend most of your thinking time? If you close your eyes right now for a minute and let the thoughts flood in, where are they focussed? Past? Future? Right this moment?
When you're about to take a risk, or there's some type of uncertain event playing out, you might be spending a lot of time hanging out in the future. Playing out different scenarios, possibly getting yourself into a state of anxiety over what 'might' happen. Maybe you have a doctor's appointment you're dreading, maybe you're about to invest in a new business or a new home and you're wondering if it will all fall down around you ---future focusser.
On the other hand, if you've just done something with a strong emotional investment, possibly with a poor outcome, chances are you are currently dwelling in the past. Maybe that first date didn't go so well, or your boss had a go at you in a staff meeting, or you said something you regret to someone you love. Now, you're going over what went wrong, replaying the scene in some kind of torturous replay again, and again, your mind can't let it go. You are ruminating on it --- past dweller.
This is where our anxieties get the better of us.
Now, let me be clear here before we go any further. I'm not talking about the medically-diagnosed psychological disorder of Generalised Anxiety Disorder or all the other classifications of Anxiety in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V of Mental Disorder of the American Psychiatric Society. If you feel that you are suffering from a level of anxiety that is beyond the 'normally expected' levels, and is persisting for months please go straight to your GP for a referral to a specialist.
If, however, your anxiety is not ongoing and is specifically related to an event or series of unusual life events, you may benefit by thinking about where you focus your thoughts.
It is possible to train your mind to bring awareness to the present, despite your mind's desire to dwell in the past or future.
Really. It is possible!
Why is this important?
One of the main answers is: the body can't tell the difference between what is real and what your mind is saying. Your body will react to your fears in the same way as if it was really happening. If you imagine a terrible scenario, like your manager ripping you apart in a meeting, your body believes that you are actually being threatened, even though it is only in your thoughts.
What happens? You prepare for 'flight or fight' of course!
Your adrenals start pumping out stress response hormones to engage your body. Your muscles tense. Your heart rate increases. Your breathing shortens and quickens and you are ready to roll. All to prepare you for a 'flight or fight' response to something which probably won't even happen, or if it has happened, can't be changed, and is probably not the catastrophe you think it is.
What a waste of energy!
It is your thoughts which are creating a scenario which your body is reacting to. It just isn't real!
So how do you get yourself out of this and back into the present moment?
In short ---> mindfulness and focussed awareness is a great way to get your wild imagination back to NOW.
German-born Eckhard Tolle, a famous author and speaker who resides in Canada, has spent many years studying and researching spiritual philosophy and psychology. He has worked as a counsellor, a teacher, and an author. One of his most famous books is called, 'The Power of Now', which extols the transforming virtue of living in the present moment. Because the present moment is all we really have.
In this short video, Tolle outlines some steps you can take if you find yourself being overwhelmed by anxiety:
- Firstly, recognise what is happening with your thoughts and the impact it is having on your body. How is your body currently reacting to your thoughts? This takes quiet awareness.
- Then, choose (actively make a decision) to step out of the situation. This is difficult sometimes because the thoughts are very powerful, especially at the beginning.
- If you can't manage to get yourself out of the anxious thought process, it is enough to just recognise that you are in it. Notice what is happening in your body and mind. Later, as you progress, you can start trying to step out of the anxious thoughts. Just knowing the anxious thought has control over your body and mind is already a step forward.
- Next, take a conscious breath --- long, slow belly breaths, not chest breaths.
- Lastly, remove the tension from your body. Shake your body, hands, arms, clap your hands, move your jaw to release tension. Or just notice where you are sitting, look around, notice where you feet are, where your hands are resting, the position of your body.
He describes it as a kind of awakening and returning to your body and returning to the present moment.
This type of thing takes time. If you are used to getting caught up in 'what ifs' and creating panic in your body, it will take some time just to become aware of the thoughts themselves. Let it happen slowly, and as you become more used to noticing the anxious thoughts for what they are, you can begin to start making an active choice to step out of the process.
Creating your own alternative thought pattern can also help you. So consider this:
A. You notice yourself in the throes of anxious and unrealistic thinking.
B. After practising, you are able to choose not to stay in that anxious thought.
C. You take a long, slow belly breath.
D. You shake your hands, shrug your shoulders and move your body to release tension.
E. You choose an alternative pattern of thoughts to focus on. You might choose something more mundane, like planning your shopping list. Or you might choose to look around you and find something positive to focus on in the present moment, like your children happily sitting in front of you, or the delicious taste of your early morning tea as you sip it.
What do I do?
Well, thankfully, I noticed pretty quickly that I was getting a little anxious and overwhelmed with my changes because over time I've become used to noticing subtle changes in my body. So firstly I added a few extra personal yoga classes to my schedule as I had let them slide recently. I also increased my morning meditation time and decreased my morning cardio time.
Yoga is my go-to when I am anxious. It is an incredibly meditative way to get into the present moment as you use your breath to switch on your parasympathetic nervous system (aka the 'rest digest' response), the opposite of the 'flight or fight' response. Through yoga you become mindfully present in your practice and in your meditation, allowing more time to notice damaging thoughts and bring the mind back to the present moment.
I'll finish with this.
When in the grips of anxiety, it can seem as though it has complete control over your life. It can seem as though all the worst things are going to happen and they are all targeting you. There is a window though, for you to recognise those anxieties and, with practice, choose to step out of them and into the beautiful present moment.
Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness allow us to be more present. I feel absolutely thrilled that I can offer these gifts to others, and call on them when I need them myself. Just send me a message right here if you'd like me to share them with you. xo
Links and resources:
Wisdom Talks, 2015, Get Rid of Fear and Anxiety Today, videorecording, Youtube, viewed 28 February 2016, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ze0-vGa-MQ8>
beyondblue depression and anxiety organisation Australia : https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
Note: As stated above, if you feel that you are suffering from a level of anxiety that is beyond the 'normally expected' levels, and is persisting for months please go straight to your GP for a referral to a specialist. In fact, while I'm at it, if you are in Australia, you can also contact Beyond Blue, a fantastic organisation which can give you advice and point you in the right direction to receive good care. If you are not in Australia, please speak to your GP for a referral to a mental health professional, and try Googling for a similar organisation in your own country so you can talk to someone straight away. I need to say this because if you are mentally ill, reading a blog is not going to be enough to remove chronic anxiety. It is in your best interests to seek the care you need from appropriate qualified health professionals.
Sydney CBD watch out - here I come!
Whether you need to relax and escape a hectic world through massage, find some balance and release with yoga, centre yourself with meditation, or reach for a better you with stress management and wellness coaching, you and your colleagues can find a way to Sunrise Well.
Stress management coaching (all weekdays) face-to-face, phone, Skype - by appointment only
Yin yoga and meditation (all weekdays) private, corporate or group - by appointment only
Massage on Fridays - by appointment only
Group meditation and mindfulness sessions (all weekdays) private, corporate or group - by appointment only
Stress management and health workshops and talks at your workplace - by appointment only
Ph: 0421 487 406 Email email@example.com Or book here!
So if you or someone you know needs to unwind, you want to treat your friend to a secret Friday escape, give me a buzz and we'll set up an appointment.
So... I popped out earlier today to pick up an avo for tonight's salad....and I ended up with this mound of fresh fruit and veg! I just couldn't resist the specials, and we had visitors over the weekend, so I guess my planning was a bit wonky this week. Woops...
You know, I love fruit and veg but, to be honest, this sort of thing rarely happens!
...Why? ...Because most days of the week, I have already planned and bought most of what we will be eating for the next 5 or 6 days. The weekdays are usually just for picking up the odd thing we've forgotten or run out of, that's it!
Does that sound boring??! Seriously, I know it can look that way, and actually, those who know me will agree that...
I am NOT a planner and I tend to love my creative and spontaneous time every day. But, truth be told, there are SO MANY reasons to make a basic meal and shopping plan for the week.
Here are just a few reasons below. Can you add any to the list??
1. Doing one big shop a week on whichever day is the easiest for you will save you time over the rest of the week, as you will have less need to pop in to the supermarket (unless you have forgotten something, and if so, it can be a quick and painless trip in and out without pondering and second-guessing).
2. Sitting down and planning your meals and then making a shopping list means you will be less distracted by unhealthy snacks and products that are not on your list, and you can actually plan simple and healthy meals into your weekly diet.
3. Having a list in your hand means you can choose healthy options based on your meal plan BEFORE you get anywhere near the food. If it's not on the list, you probably DON'T need it!
---> This sounds a lot like #2 above, but they are different in that #2 is all about healthy planning before you get to the shops, and #3 is what happens at the shops when you have a healthy plan in your hot little hand! Just want to make sure that's clear.
4. Knowing what you are eating saves sooooo much time and energy. If you are like me and flat out with work and projects for the week, the last thing you need to be thinking about is what you're going to eat when you get home, or whether you have enough ingredients for it, or whether it is healthy enough. Knowing ahead of time will save you time in planning, time in buying, and time in thinking it over. My hubby and I have a rotation of a few simple, healthy meals we make on the weekdays. Something we can whip up in less than 30 minutes, knowing we are meeting our dietary needs.
(We save our more adventurous and relaxed cooking for the end of the week and weekends when we have more time to experiment and savour the meal!)
You'll notice that the big thing I emphasise here is the idea of saving time and energy. Ultimately, saving yourself time and energy through some simple routine planning will save you a great deal of stress in the long run. Make it simple for yourself and there is less to stress about.
---> Less stress about time constraints in a busy week, less stress about what to eat, less stress of regretting your meal choice or shopping choice, and less stress in trying to coordinate with your partner or friends about what you are eating (as it's already been planned).
Ok, so I'm not saying you should follow my plan exactly, but I do suggest you think about how you can structure your shopping days a little more so that you can save time and money and make it easier for yourself to choose healthier options. There's a lot of talk about 'will power' in avoiding certain kinds of foods. Why not make it easier for yourself and just not have it in your cupboards at all??
The easiest way to do that is to head to the shops with a list in your hand, based on a healthy meal plan you've made at home, away from all the distractions!
So...what about you?
Do you have a regular shopping day? Do you find it easy to follow a bit of a routine when shopping and eating? Let me know in the comments below!
Sometimes, 'being positive' has been getting a bit of a bad rap...unfortunately the concepts of gratitude and positive thinking tend to conjure up the cringe-worthy image of a smarmy smiley Eastern suburbs green smoothie gurgling yoga fanatic with 'no sense of the real world'. In fact... if you look on the surface, you might even see that in me! Youtube parodies and TV shows mock the stereotype that yoga and healthy living has become, but does that mean some people are missing out on something that might change their lives?
The truth is, positive thinking runs much deeper than that, and the thread can be followed to the increasing presence of Eastern philosophical practices in our Western society. As many of you know, the standard Western lifestyle has left many dissatisfied and disillusioned. The drive to --> work --> earn --> build --> and buy - has left many feeling unfulfilled, off-track, and sometimes flat out depressed.
While more and more of us have sought insight and inspiration in Eastern philosophies on the individual level, many scientists and researchers have also sought to glean new knowledge from ancient practices. In fact, such has the line separating Eastern from Western practices blurred through modern global living, that practices like yoga, meditation and Buddhist philosophies have become a common part of the every day life of many. Also, the anecdotal quips of the benefits of these practices are often being backed up by thorough scientific research.
So why is it that makes some of us recoil when we hear about positive thinking - yet again!?
What is it that gets us all worked up about it?
The truth is, we all have our own inner demons to battle, and sometimes being told to 'just smile' or 'think positive to get positive' when in the midst of our darkest moments can leave us feeling alienated, strange, and misunderstood. If only it were that easy! For those going through real, 's*@! is hitting the fan' life events, hearing this can be the ultimate slap in the face. Yet, while well-intentioned do-gooders can sometimes be annoying, there is something to be said about giving it a go.
---> Confession! You may class me as one of those well-intentioned, do-gooders - it's true! In fact, I am passionate about finding ways to improve health through body and mind, including living with authenticity and positivity. But anyone who knows me will agree that I am not your run-of-the-mill, smiley, 'bless thee' yogi sterotypes, and you don't have to be either if you want to live with more optimism. You can improve your mindset and, as a result, improve your health, without floating away into blissville.
What I'd like to do today, is to urge you to look a little deeper than the modern, superficial presentation of 'positive thinking' and:
- Consider how practicing positive thinking can benefit your physical health;
- Consider how it can benefit your emotional health; and
- Consider how it can help build and sustain emotional relationships around you.
I'm asking you to consider how, on a day to day basis you might start to just appreciate 'being', the mere fact that you are alive in this very moment, and that is all.
Barbara Fredrickson is a social psychologist who has been researching human emotions and psychology for over 25 years. She points out that optimism is a mindset that produces many positive emotions, such as, amusement, joy, happiness, gratitude, serenity, inspiration, and peace. Her research has found that an increase in positive feelings leads to an improvement in levels of happiness, and an enhancement of physical and psychological health, even to the point of seeing healthier gene expression (Positivity: All in the Mind, 2015). Other researchers support Fredrickson's work. Harvard School of Public Health researcher, Laura Kubzansky, found that engaging in meaningful positive emotion and engagement can improve mood, reduce the risk of heart disease, reduce systemic inflammation, and increase antioxidants and good blood cholesterol (The Observer, 2013).
A number of leading universities have taken great interest in researching this fascinating subject. The University of Pennsylvania's 'Authentic Happiness' website of the Positive Psychology Centre is dedicated to researching, reporting, and providing resources on the influence positive psychology has on health and well-being. Centre Director, Dr Martin Seligman, an influencer of Fredrickson, has also spent decades researching positive psychology, focussing on how character strengths and optimism can serve to enhance the well-being of people and communities. If you'd like to discover more about your own character strengths, virtues and approach to happiness, head on over to the website and register to take some of their free questionnaires.
Choosing a different mindset
Some of Fredrickson's work focussed on what happens to people when they consciously change their input and output of positive emotions each day, i.e. when they 'choose to be happy'.
In her trial, participants were randomly assigned to be taught certain techniques to self-generate positivity each day for more than 6 weeks. The techniques were derived from ancient Buddhist and meditation practices. At baseline, the participants were measured physiologically, and completed an extensive survey on their emotional habits. Participants were tracked via a daily log for 3 months. At the end of the study they were assessed again, with monitoring of the heart and blood samples taken, and they also completed the same extensive survey that they completed at the start of the study.
What the researchers found was that those who learned to consciously 'chose' positive emotions had improved heart rate variability and alterations in the gene expression of their immune system (Positivity: All in the Mind, 2015).
What does that mean for us?
So, I bet you're wondering, what are these techniques? What are these positive practices that researchers are proving to be so health-giving?
Does all this mean you have to run around with a smile on your dial all the time, like some kind of Stepford wife?
> I'm happy!
> I'm happy!
> Yay I'm happy!
Firstly, let's be clear. All emotions are useful and should be listened to for what they are communicating. One of the beautiful aspects of yoga is the way it makes you slow down and pay attention to the physical presentation of the body in connection with the mind.
Emotions are not only contained in the mind. You know it yourself. What happens when you feel hurt or overwhelmed or angry? You get a physiological response don't you?
Anger increases the pulse rate, switches on many muscles, clenches your jaw, and prepares your sympathetic nervous system for 'fight or flight'.
Sadness closes in on you. Your world becomes smaller. You become smaller, your eyes are downcast, your shoulders are rounded. These are universal presentations of different emotional states. No one is telling you to just pretend they aren't happening! But what you can do is take a moment to...
Close your eyes. Put one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. Focus in on your breath and ask yourself,
What emotions am I feeling now? How is this showing up in my body?
Begin to recognise your emotions. See them and accept them.
Often what happens is, we tend to stay in negative emotional states longer than we need. The situation has passed or changed but we are still hanging onto the emotion.
Like ruminating on a past event, going over and over in your mind what someone said to upset you.
Building a positive mindset is about having strategies to move from a negative state up the emotional scale to a more positive state, and as the research shows, doing this on a daily basis builds resistance and makes you more likely to stay in a positive state.
So, step number one is to recognise the state you are in, and step number two is to employ some effective techniques to improve your mindset.
This is the key when those negative emotions are no longer serving you and are only causing you distress and physical strain.
Even more so, this is the key to moving from a flat, humdrum existence, to living with more vitality, greater health, and a daily sense of joy...
...simply for being alive.
There are many techniques to help you improve your mindset.
Try some different techniques to see what works for you.
Or, if you'd like to go a little deeper, contact me to set up a free 15 minute Discovery Session via phone or Skype and we can talk through your next steps to a better mindset and good health.
Wishing you great happiness ;-) xo
'New Frontiers in the Science of Positive Emotions', 2013, Observer, Vol 26. No.6, July/August, accessed 10 February 2016, <http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2013/july-august-13/new-research-on-positive-emotions.html>
Positivity: All in the mind, 2015, Radio Program, Radio National, ABC, 14 June 2015
University of Pennsylvania, 2016, Authentic Happiness, accessed 10 February 2016, <https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/home>
So, I didn't tell you before, but my husband disappeared before Christmas.
Well, ok. It was a totally above board, tickets booked, travel plans arranged type of deal. He went on a long-awaited trip home to see his family in Spain. But it still felt like he had literally disappeared. You may as well have chopped off my right arm and kept it somewhere for a few weeks, showing it off to me on Skype and in Whatsapp photos, to 'keep me connected' or taunt me... that's how it felt...
And along with my darling husband, what also disappeared was our super Sunday night ritual....paella, his style! His mum's secret recipe with his Aussie twist! Aargh! Alone without him or our tradition!
Words cannot describe the flavours that man can create with his precious recipe, and I don't dare to emulate it.
He heard from a friend once that paella literally comes from 'para ella'... paraella... paella! I like it! It was traditionally cooked by the husband for the wife on Sundays, as a way of thanking her and giving her a chance to put her feet up! While we aren't quite so traditional in terms of breaking down the household chores - are you kidding?! - my hubby and I have definitely made a tradition with him cooking me this beautiful meal every Sunday evening, and I love it. He also enjoys a glass of red wine and a loud yarn with his family while he does it, so he infuses it with full Spanish vitality!
I managed to fill my paella gap for a little while during his absence, with Christmas feasts and family dinners to satisfy me. On my return to Sydney and approaching my first Sunday night alone though....the tension got to me. How can I survive a Sunday night without his delicious, authentic Spanish feast? Read: I was missing him terribly.
So, resolute, I decided to create my own. I didn't want to even attempt his recipe, so I decided to do a little background research into the general way paellas are put together. I also reflected on the process I saw my husband follow. I then thought about the ingredients I would like in a paella, and I came up with my own 'Ruth's authentic vegetarian Paella' recipe! It combines some delicious foods and flavours, and I used brown rice so it is super wholesome too.
It turned out....really well! I was surprised at how good it was actually! The only issue was that I didn't consider the measurements at all. I almost made enough to feed 15 yogis about to break their fast....not so great if you're chilling at home, husband-less.
Here's a peak of my creation:
Anyway, look, try it for yourself! Here is the recipe below. Give it a whirl and chop and change it how you like to add your own twist! I'd love to hear what you think of it.
* These ingredients will end up feeding 3-4 people very well. It's up to you how much rice you add, and it will also depend on the size of your pan.
- 2 tbs good olive oil
- 1 brown onion - diced
- 6 cloves of garlic - finely chopped can't have too much garlic in this!
- 1 red capsicum - diced
- A few florets of broccoli - just shave the tops in and finely chop a little of the stalk
- 1 tomato - chopped roughly
- A small can of green peas
- A can of chopped tomatoes
- A few sticks of celery to your liking - sliced or diced, your choice
- 1 heaped tsp of paprika
- 5 to 10 saffron threads or a dash of saffron powder
- A twist of ground black pepper
- A litre of vegetable stock
- 1 cup of long grain brown rice - add more depending on how many people you're feeding.
- A Paellera!! - I'm afraid if you want to be truly authentic, you really do need a paellera - paella pan. They are not too expensive, and they are worth it for the way it cooks the paella. I've seen recipes with non-stick frying pans. Your call, but consider it like eating pasta without good Italian cheese on it, just not quite the same ;-)
Ok, so getting the flavour going early is very important. Trust me, I see the intensity on my hubby's face at this stage of the process!
It starts with the onion and garlic in the beginning and builds up. It's important you give the vegetables some time to absorb the flavours, without burning.
Step 1: Heat the oil and add the onions and garlic, cooking until soft.
Step 2: Add the paprika, stirring through quickly, then add the chopped capsicum and celery. Allow time for the flavours to mix in and absorb.
Step 3: Make a well in the centre of the pan and add the chopped tomatoes. Mix through for a few minutes.
Step 4: Add about half of the stock to 1 cm from the top of the pan and add the saffron. Allow some time to simmer.
Step 4: Start to sprinkle in some of the rice, without letting the pan overflow. If you don't use all the rice, don't worry. Just make sure it's evenly distributed and covered by liquid. You can give a gentle nudge to the vegetables to allow the rice to distribute through the pan a little, but there's no need to really mix it.
Step 5: Allow the rice to simmer gently and keep adding stock as necessary - you should see bubbles and simmering (like the photo above) for most of the time, until it fully absorbs towards the end.
Step 6: Lastly, sprinkle the peas over the top and allow some time, 5 mins or so, for them to absorb the flavours. No need to stir! Grind a little black pepper over it all at the very end.
Note: If your cooking plate does not distribute heat evenly (electric for example), you may need to turn the pan occasionally to ensure even cooking.
With brown rice you will need to wait a bit longer for the rice to cook. With gentle simmering it could take up to 30 minutes. It is important that you DON'T stir the dish at all. This is the beauty of the paella, getting the balance between having the absorbed, unstirred rice, without over-cooking or burning. Test the rice as you go to see when it is ready.
* Tip! You might end up with a kind of dark, golden crust on the bottom of your pan - yay, good for you! It's not burnt, or at least it shouldn't be burnt. It's called soccarat (sometimes spelled socarrat), and is from the rice on the bottom. It has a beautiful caramelised flavour, and is considered the pinnacle of a good paella. Doesn't always happen though, so good luck with it!
Whether you get the soccarat or not, you should end up with a seriously delish wholesome meal to share with your family. Here's mine below:
I'd love to see how your paella turns out - let me know! And remember, cooking is just for fun. Don't take it too seriously, and try experimenting with ingredients and methods to find what suits you!
What do you do at the end of a long week...perhaps unwind with a beer or wine? Kick back, relax with friends, have 'one more' and 'just one more' after that to release the stress of the week?
We're back into the swing of things at work and it is very tempting to throw back a few drinks at the end of the week, isn't it? I mean, after all, if you're like me, you've been really good all week! You didn't drink much during the week, you ate well, you went to the gym...there's nothing wrong with a wine or two....right?
I'm the same. I also enjoy a glass or two of wine with my husband on the weekend now and then...but after seeing this, I might be re-thinking exactly how full my glass is (the one with alcohol in it, anyway!), or how many glasses I have.
It is interesting to watch this little experiment (Is Binge Drinking That Bad, 2016) with identical twins. For one month, they each drink the U.K.'s recommended intake of alcohol per week, one at a moderate pace over the week, and the other all at once, binge-drinking style. The results are admittedly funny, and also a little terrifying. Most interesting of all, *spoiler!* is that they both had major changes in their blood work from baseline after 4 weeks, in areas such as liver inflammation and systemic inflammation, and more - with systemic inflammation, the body behaves as if it is fighting a virus - perhaps the cause of that fuzzy headed feeling. So, clearly it's not the greatest news. More changes were noted in their blood tests, but you'll have to watch to see for yourself.
Also very interesting is that they were both only drinking the U.K.'s recommended intake! They were not drinking any more than what was recommended as safe.
1. The U.K. recently reviewed those guidelines and changes were made to the recommendations. It is important to note that in this show, they were drinking the recommended intake before (Arnett, 2016) the changes recently made, i.e. they made the show before the changes came out, following the older guidelines. Still, their findings are very interesting and it is worth considering your own intake compared to theirs, and also how it changes from country to country.
2, Also, to be fair, it should be stated that this is not a scientifically valid experiment, especially with only 2 subjects! The conclusion that can be drawn from it is that, for their particular body composition, the U.K.'s formerly recommended alcohol intake is actually not sufficient for them to avoid long-term liver damage. Quite a sobering thing to discover, isn't it? - yes, pun intended! Their results also beg the question, if this is true for these two people, how many others is it also true for? And, will the new changes to the U.K. guidelines be enough for the majority of people?
Ok, so what are the recommended guidelines and how are they shown?
Well, as you probably know, women are generally recommended to drink less than men, because we metabolise alcohol in a different way to men due to our higher body fat composition.
The recommendations are presented as units, where one unit = 10 grams of alcohol, however I have read here (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015) that the U.S. guidelines take a standard unit to be 14 grams of alcohol so...not sure what to say about that, except that it is best to research the advice for your particular country to be sure.
The number of units recommended varies from country to country actually, and those variations are really surprising! As a guide of what a standard drink actually equates to, a small (125 ml) glass of wine is 1.6 units, a bottle of wine is about 10 units, a 25 ml shot of spirits is 1 unit, and a pint of beer is 2.3 units (Change for Life, 2016).
Here's the breakdown for Australia, the U.K., and the U.S.A.
Women = 14
Men = 14
* and no more than 4 standard drinks at any one time.
Here's some further information (Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council, 2015) on the alcohol guidelines from the Australian Government. I also found this super cool organisation (Hello Sunday Morning, 2016) through www.alcohol.gov.au. They've created an app that is designed to help you change your relationship with alcohol, join like-minded people, and share your hangover-free Sundays. Loving this as it totally aligns with my concept of Sunrise-ing Well through making better lifestyle choices. Here is the app for iPhone, not sure if there is an Android version. You can also find their Facebook page here.
U.K.: ---> NEWS! The Guidelines were changed since the doco was made! So they were right when they predicted in the show that the amount of alcohol per week would be reduced. The changes were made in early January and now stand as:
Women = 14 units or less per week
Men = 14 units or less per week
Here's a nice little graphic display (Change For Life, 2016) of how much that actually translates to based on alcohol type in the U.K.
Notice how there is no difference in the recommendations for men or women?
Women = 7 units or less per week (in Australian/U.K. terms that works out to almost 10 standard drinks)
Men = 14 units or less per week (almost 20 standard drinks in the Australian/U.K. equivalent)
*Note that the U.S. measurement of a unit is higher than that of the U.K. or Australia so I've given the rough equivalent above. Here's a link (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015) to more on this.
So what does this mean for you and me? Well, look, I'll be honest...I don't drink more than a standard glass every now and then these days, and after looking into it, I'd say I'll be cutting back even more!
What about you? Can you see yourself cutting your intake back a little? A lot? For many it is not as easy as just saying you will stop or cut back and hey presto it's done. There are many factors that need to be considered before making a commitment to cut back. In my one-on-one coaching sessions, I help you to identify the areas you need to address in your life in order to make the changes you want to make. For example, it may be that you need to work on improving or changing your habits in the area of relationships, or how you deal with stress, before you can tackle the goal of reducing alcohol. Together we can identify the areas where you are stuck and build a strategy towards change. Making huge commitments in short periods of time runs the risk of rebound and bingeing even more, so I encourage you to start slow and build up as your confidence grows.
Plus - big news! - I haven't made any official announcement yet, but I am planning to run a group coaching program to help you 'Stress Less and Live More'! This could be the perfect opportunity to start reducing your alcohol intake with a group of people supporting and sharing the journey. Keep your eye out for my posts and contact me if you are interested in finding out more...exciting!!
If you'd like to chat with me about your goals around alcohol or any other health habit, I offer a free 15 minute Discovery Call where we can discuss the areas you want to change. The call is totally risk-free and can give you a chance to hone in on what's important for you. Use my contact form here to get in touch and set up your call.
Arnett, G. 2016 'How do the UK's new alcohol guidelines compare with the rest of the world's?', The Guardian, 8 January 2016, viewed 29 January 2016, <http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2016/jan/08/how-do-the-uks-new-alcohol-guidelines-compare-with-the-rest-of-the-worlds>
Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council, 2015 Alcohol Guidelines: Reducing the Health Risks, NHMRC, viewed 29 January 2016, <https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/health-topics/alcohol-guidelines>
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015, Alcohol and Public Health: Frequently Asked Questions, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, viewed 29 January 2016, <http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm>
Change For Life, 2016, Alcohol Units and Guidelines, Change for Life, viewed 29 January 2016, <http://www.nhs.uk/change4life/Pages/alcohol-lower-risk-guidelines-units.aspx>
Hello Sunday Morning, 2016, Hello Sunday Morning, viewed 29 January 2016, <https://www.hellosundaymorning.org/>
Disclaimer: This blog post is intended to share publicly available information and assist you in making informed choices for improved health. It in no way replaces the guidance of your GP or health provider. If you feel your alcohol intake is unsafe or dangerous, or that you are suffering from alcohol addiction, please see your GP for medical assistance right away.
I joined the gym last year and only went twice! ; I swore I'd stop drinking so much and yet, there I was last week with a killer hangover ; Why do I keep eating that fast food??? Why?!... and it goes on.
Many of us hit the new year with bold ambitions to lose weight or quit smoking, while others are a little more cynical about the true effect of creating new year's resolutions. For many, it can be a time of personal torment, rather than satisfaction and excitement about your plans. As a health coach, I help you create a strong vision and strategy around you health aims and coach you through the process of change. I will be sending out some articles on goal-setting in the next few weeks to help you along with your aims for 2016 ---> so stay tuned!!
For some, their main goal for 2016, is simply to be happier. Sounds pretty straight forward doesn't it ---> Be. Happy.
Then why is it such a struggle?!
What I want to do today is share with you some key information on happiness and well-being and show you 5 free simple apps you can use to increase your happiness and well-being pronto!
We all know that rush you get when someone gives you a little gift. It's definitely a feel-good moment, a part of what Dr Martin Seligman (see below) would call, The Pleasant Life. Like most things pleasant, my way of looking at The Pleasant Life is that it is nice enough, there is appreciation and joy in this life and all your important needs are met, but it's just a little bit bland...perhaps there is a sense that there can be more some how. Going a little bit further with this idea, we meet The Good Life where we use our own unique strengths and gifts to live a better and more fulfilling life. Finally, along this path, we meet The Meaningful Life in which we can use our unique strengths and talents to improve the lives of others and through that gain a greater sense of meaning and fulfillment.
The Meaningful Life: one of the greatest ways to increase personal happiness is to contribute to the welfare of others - volunteering, donation, charity, unpaid work, and, to make this super easy, there are apps you can download to help you!
Study after study demonstrates the positive effects volunteering and social contribution have on health and well-being. Here are just a few articles to read up on:
1. The Journal of Social Science and Medicine, 2008 - Their study suggests that volunteering can increase levels of happiness regardless of socio-economic status.
2. WebMD.com 2015 - cites a study conducted by the University of Exeter Medical School in England which suggests that there is a link between volunteering and better health and well-being, though more research is needed.
3. The Pursuit of Happiness 2016 - (my favourite research into happiness and a great contributor to my coaching programs!) Dr Martin Seligman states that happiness can be gained through altruism, and there is a chance for great gratification in giving and kindness.
So, there are many ways to donate your time and energy to a good cause. If you don't have a lot of time, you may prefer to give a regular donation to a charity of your choice. What I'd like to share with you today though are 5 easy ways you can contribute to a good cause, all from the comfort of your own phone! Technology today, it's just incredible, isn't it?!
So here are 5 apps that you can download onto your phone right now (I believe they are all free downloads) to start making a positive contribution to the lives of others (are you getting the feel-goods yet??).
Note: I'm giving Android apps - because I heart Android over Apple, sorry, haha - but if you take the name and google it, you'll find the iPhone version easily, and I won't hold it against you ;-).
Share the Meal - with US$ 0.50 cents you can feed a hungry child for a whole day through the United Nations World Food Program.
Dream Lab - The Garvan Institute of Medical Research can harness the power of your phone to speed up cancer research, while you sleep!
Tree Planet 2 - One for the gamers! This app donates one real tree for every game tree planted.
Donate a Photo (main site) - For those who love snapping pics! Snap a pic, upload it on the app, share it on social media - basically what anyone with Instagram usually does, except every time you do it, $1 is donated to a charity you have chosen from their list.
Pay it Forward app - This app looks fun! You are given daily suggestions of 'random acts of kindness' to do, can keep track of your 'kindness progress', and view where the most acts of kindness are being performed in the world through the app.
So, time to get downloading! Which of these apps interests you the most? I want to download them all! I currently have the Dream Lab on my phone and I will definitely get the Pay it Forward app. I might switch it up a bit to save space on my phone.
I'd love to hear what you think of them, maybe you can suggest other contribution apps, or even tell us about other volunteering experiences you've had.
Would love to hear from you!
1. Borgonovi, F. 'Doing well by doing good. The relationship between formal volunteering and self-reported health and happiness', Social Science and Medicine, vol. 66; iss. 11, p.p.2321–2334
2. Preidt, R. 2015, 'Volunteering may make people happier, study finds', WebMD Health Day Reporter, 23 August 2015, viewed 4 January 2016, <http://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20130823/volunteering-may-make-people-happier-study-finds>
3. Pursuit of Happiness, 2016, Martin Seligman, The Pursuit of Happiness: Bringing the Science of Happiness to Life, viewed 4 January 2016, <http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/martin-seligman-positive-psychology/>
Let's be honest with each other. You know as well as I do that stress is not our friend. Activating the sympathetic nervous system for a 'flight or fight' response is pretty darn handy when fleeing rampant tigers a la thousands of years ago. But it is not so useful today when we activate it daily, over long periods of time at work, opening emails, dealing with difficult customers, and so on. Sure, it can be handy to help us meet that deadline and remain alert in a busy environment but, long term, activating the sympathetic nervous system can lead to a whole gamut of physical damage, a lot of which can have you ending up in hospital (or worse) down the track.
These days, to state that chronic stress damages the health is stating the obvious. But if you need more convincing, watch this simple video here which explains it well. In short, long term stress is an uninvited friend and you need to develop strategies to deal with it when it shows up in your life.
*hint*...while we can make some changes in order to minimise stressful situations, it is near impossible to eradicate stress completely! The best thing to do is have a tool belt full of strategies you can whip out when that 'friend' knocks on the door.
Here are 3 simple and effective strategies to try out over the next few weeks. The best way to do this is to interweave all three of them into your week. Find what works for you and try to practice it daily for at least a few weeks to start building it into your routine. At first you will probably try it and forget it later on. It's like remembering someone's name at a party. If you hear it once you will probably forget it. If you repeat it several times, it concretes itself in there a little more. So, if you are really serious about tackling stress and reducing it's presence in your life, why not put a timer on your phone and select designated times to perform your chosen activity. Over time, it will become routine and you won't need to set up a timer for it. It will be part of your every day life.
An oldy but a goody, we are starting with this one. Long, slow, diaphragmatic breathing immediately triggers the 'relaxation response' via the vagus nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system. In times of stress, we tend to constrict the chest, taking short, shallow chest breaths - preparing ourselves for our tiger run. This activates adrenaline and cortisol throughout the body which, as explained in the video above, are not particularly helpful for our long-term health (though they are great energy boosters when used at the right time!).
Try this method: Either lie down, or sit upright in your chair, in a relaxed but open posture. Begin by relaxing your belly muscles - give them a poke to check! Holding the belly in will force the air into the upper chest which is the opposite of what you want to achieve here. So, with buddha bellies ready...take a long slow inhale through the nose. Try to inhale for the count of 5 slow beats. Hold the breath in for another 5 beats. Release the air slowly for 5 to 7 beats. Pause a moment. Then begin the process again. You should notice your belly doing most of the moving, but don't force it. Just let it fall in and out naturally. Repeat the process five to ten times and you'll notice a lighter and warmer feel to your body and mind, and your thought become more clear - this is the Relaxation Response!
Keep a diary of your stress levels. Use a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 = absolutely no stress, and 10 = extreme stress. Set an alarm and record your stress levels at certain points throughout the day. Do this over a period of one to two weeks for a complete picture of your life stressors. Doing this is a good way to check in and become more aware of your stress. It is also a useful strategy to see any patterns or triggers that may be bringing on or increasing the stress in your daily life. Once you know what the triggers are, you can start to develop some plans to work around and overcome them.
If you record a stress level of 5 or higher at any time during the day, give Tip #1 a go.
If you do notice you are being driven by that unfriendly sympathetic nervous system response, get moving! Typical signs: shallow breathing, tense shoulders, tight jaw, clenched butt. Use that energy that is flooding your system right now. Release it, and move on.
If you're at work, try and find a quiet place to jump down on the floor and do ten situps or pushups. Or stretch your body up and out, and swing your arms in a gentle fashion. Or go for a short walk. It doesn't have to be for long. A brisk five-minute walk around the office or up and down the stair-well will use up the energy you've been releasing.
After that short release, place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Step into the centre of your awareness, slow down your breathing and activate the parasympathetic response with ten slow belly breaths.
As I said, stress sometimes shows up uninvited. Becoming aware of when you want it to hang around and when you'd rather chill out alone is important for your long term health and wellness. Give the tips above a good go and see if you can bring these changes into your routine. Let me know how you go!
* Remember! Long term changes are best made through ongoing coaching and behaviour change. Call or email Ruth today to schedule a free 15 minute discovery session to see how she can help you deal with your long term stress*
Note: Please see your GP if you are concerned about stress and anxiety or any of it's related symptoms and diseases.