Restore your calm with Mindfulness Meditation

 

 

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If you thought meditation was just about shaven headed monks sitting cross legged with incense wafting about, you would be wrong. Sure, you can sit cross legged and burn incense if you wish, (I often do) but mindfulness meditation is more than this.

Mindfulness meditation was developed by Jon Kabut-Zinn in the late 1970’s. With its roots in the ancient art of meditation (as practised by shaven headed monks), he took it a step further, teaching people how to access their own internal resources for balance and healing through the cultivation of moment by moment awareness.

Being mindful is about being present in the moment, without judgement, in the here and now. You might think this is easy, but you would be wrong. To illustrate, try this. Sit with your eyes closed just focusing on the present moment. Just allow the thoughts to be there and just be aware of them. What do you notice? Well most probably you will find that your mind leaps continuously from thought to thought, from the comment somebody said earlier today, to what you need to buy at the shops. A constant mix of past and future thoughts, worries and concerns…it is no wonder most of us feel stressed.

Learning to let go of the past and not get caught up in the future can really help.

The key to mindfulness is to learn to simply watch the thoughts that drift in to your mind. Like clouds in the sky, acknowledge them without getting caught up or entering a dialogue with them, then let them pass away as you would clouds in the sky. Another way of looking at this is to imagine the thoughts were adverts on a radio between songs or on television between programmes. Just leave them to play without buying into them.

Mindfulness meditation does take regular practice to really master. But it is a whole lot easier than learning a musical instrument or learning how to dance.No chords to learn or partners needed. Just incense and the ability to sit cross legged, no seriously. Just a few minutes each day or when you have time and you will soon notice the benefits.

Mindfulness practice is really worthwhile and has many health benefits including: Lasting decreases in both physiological and psychological arousal. increased ability to relax, greater energy and enthusiasm for life, improved self esteem, improved relationships, more creative capacity to cope with stress and improved concentration.

Here is a good mindfulness technique to get you started. It is known as mindfulness breathing. Remember the aim of this exercise is to cultivate a state of calm, non-judgemental awareness. Simply allow thoughts and feelings to come and go, bringing your awareness back to the rise and fall of your tummy as breath comes in and out. Initially you may have to consciously bring your awareness back to the breath many times. This is fine, even those who very experienced at meditation might have days when they find letting go a struggle. Being aware of getting caught up in your thoughts and then letting them go, is absolutely fine and shows that you are doing it just right.

Letting go with mindful breathing.

Find yourself somewhere quiet to sit, where you will not be disturbed. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breathing.

Focus your mind on your tummy and imagine that you have a balloon in your tummy. Become aware of the gentle in and out as you inhale and exhale. You might find that placing a hand on your tummy helps if you have difficulty feeling the movement.

Notice the sensations as your tummy inflates and deflates. Your tummy getting larger as the imaginary balloon inflates and smaller as it deflates.

Allow thoughts to come into your mind, that is fine, because that is perfectly normal. Simply notice them with a sort of mildly interested curiousness. Say to yourself, “they are not important” then simply let them drift away as other thoughts take their place.

Now just bring your attention back to your breathing.

Likewise, you may notice feelings, emotions, images or hear sounds near or far. Just notice them, then let them go. Notice how your body relaxes. Then bring your attention gently back to your breathing.

With all thoughts, feelings or whatever, don’t judge them, try not to get caught up with them. It’s OK for them to come and go. Just notice them and let them drift away.

Whenever you notice yourself and your attention getting caught up with them, just gently bring your attention back to your breathing. No matter how many times it happens, just bring your attention back to your breathing.

Try this for two minutes at first, then five minutes and then gradually increase the time as you become more proficient. This is the art of mindfulness meditation. If you do no more than master this technique you will notice huge benefits to your life.

If you would like to learn more about mindfulness meditation contact us at www.stevecliffordcbt.com or for more on mindfulness look at bemindful.co.uk or mindfulnet.org

A good book on mindfulness meditation is: “Full catastrophe living; How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation” by Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

Until next time, Steve

You may wish to know that Steve is now offering therapy sessions via Skype Please contact us through our website @ www.stevecliffordcbt.com

Visit our facebook sites:

www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters

www.facebook.com/bexhillmindfulnesscentre

Steve Clifford Senior Accredited Integrative Psychotherapist.                                           Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.                                                               Registered Mental Nurse.                                                                                                     Registered Nurse for Learning Disabilities.

image: By Cornelia Kopp (Flickr: meditation) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Food and Mood

 

Most people reading this will recognise that our state of mind and food are inextricably linked. Just as devouring a whole packet of biscuits or demolishing a chocolate bar is something many people crave when feeling tired or fed up, so too, using food to express their mental anguish is a common phenomenon.

These days, thanks to global media coverage, the awareness of conditions like obesity and eating disorders such as anorexia and binge eating are much better understood. Having said that, neither condition is more accepted in our society; however, with the diet and food industry seemingly bombarding us with subliminal messages telling us to eat this, or cut out that, it is no wonder many opt simply for denial.

The food and diet industry have a lot to answer for. Many will remember the advice to avoid butter, eggs and animal protein in meat and dairy, with spreads and low fat alternatives on every supermarket shelf. Yet today, “going to work on an egg” is once again acceptable and many shun spreads and the harmful trans fats they contain in favour of butter once again. Saturated fats are no longer seen as enemy number one. The years of confusing messages have literally turned us all off. Perhaps, Granny was right all along…”a little of what you fancy does you good.”

Diets too have come to be seen as fads that do not work. Remember these: the grapefruit diet, the cabbage diet, the Beverley Hills diet, the Atkins diet, the F-plan? I could go on.  There are the substitutes, too, where liquid meal replacements, biscuits, bars and all manner of alternatives take the place of food.

No wonder we are all confused. Look at the way the supplements industry pedal vitamins, minerals, capsules and powders of every description. All being heralded for their great health benefits. Elixir of life or youth capsules, take your pick, hand over your money and the choice is yours. Who said that snake oil remedies do not exist!

Whichever way we look at it, one thing is certain and that is, eating problems are psychological. With the very rare exception of a metabolic disorder, perhaps;  obesity, anorexia and many other food related conditions have nothing to do with hunger and everything to do with meeting an emotional need. Food is used as a “medicine” to dull down emotional pain, to soothe or to mask an emotional discomfort. Food is a comfort and we all seek to push away discomfort. Food is used to fill up, cover up, and build up a protective barrier.

Quite literally, food (and alcohol) is to the adult, the surrogate breast or bottle. Smoking too, while technically more of an obvious drug than food per se,often serves the same purpose. Yes, food can become addictive as can the hormones released when starving, or the soothing pain felt by an anorexic when they seek to feel “in control.”

To get to the bottom of our emotional discomfort and the role food plays in this really is the domain of the psychological health professional. We need someone to hold up the mirror and tell us what is really going on. We need to understand why it is that our search for the “magic potion” and a “quick fix” will bring us nothing but more suffering. Furthermore, changing eating habits is not easy, after all, making changes means altering our comfort level and most people naturally balk at that.

If you have a food issue seek out a health professional with expertise on eating disorders who has no emotional ties to you. Someone who will hold the mirror up and help you see the real picture and help you to make changes to the way you eat and your relationship to food.

Until next time, best wishes Steve.

You may wish to know that Steve is now offering therapy sessions via Skype                   Please contact us through our website @  www.stevecliffordcbt.com

Visit our facebook site @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters

Steve Clifford                                                                                                                       Senior Accredited Integrative  Psychotherapist.                                                                 Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

Primary Ref: Sullivan, R (2009) “Reclaim your youth, growing younger after 40.” Montgomery Ewing Publishers.

Image: “Supreme pizza” by Scott Bauer – http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/graphics/photos/mar01/k7633-3.htm. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Supreme_pizza.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Supreme_pizza.jpg

Five tips for a more content life.

The restless demands of life, career, family and home often turn day to day living into a treadmill. By just making a few small changes to our outlook, this treadmill can be slowed down. You never know, you might just choose to hop off for a while and savour the moment.

Here they are:

1. Be aware of the snowball effect of your thinking.
Don’t blow things out of proportion. Dwell on an unimportant event and it quickly turns to a great big deal so fast that you don’t realise it’s happening.

2. Let go of the idea that relaxed people can’t be super achievers.
There is a myth that unless you are mean, jumping on people, criticising everything, you won’t get on. When you are relaxed, you have a calmer wisdom, access to common sense and see solutions more easily.

3.Choose being kind over being right.
People are obsessed with being right and proving it. Therefore, everyone else has to be wrong. If you want to be peaceful and happier, you have to allow other people to be right some of the time.

4.Every day, tell at least one person something you like or appreciate about them.
You have to make it a habit. Turn your attention to what’s right in life not what’s wrong. Don’t expect a compliment back.

5.Live this day as if it were your last.
….. and treat others as if it’s their last day too. By relating to people with openness and savouring the moment, we bring a freshness to the relationship. People really feel seen and recognised and met in a way they might otherwise not experience. Stopping to smell the scent of flowers, looking at the clouds and generally taking time to take in the world around you, leads to a greater contentment and sense of peace and well-being.

Begin today and start to really make the few small changes you need.

Good luck.

Until next time, very best wishes, Steve.

 

You may wish to know that Steve is now offering therapy sessions via Skype                   Please contact us through our website @  www.stevecliffordcbt.com

Visit our facebook site @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters

Steve Clifford                                                                                                                       Senior Accredited Integrative  Psychotherapist.                                                                 Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

Image ref: “Ja roweromaniak 093-12”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ja_roweromaniak_093-12.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Ja_roweromaniak_093-12.jpg

Managing really upsetting thoughts and feelings

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As a CBT practitioner I would be the first to point out that avoidance of upsetting thoughts and feelings only serves to perpetuate and strengthen the power they have over you. There are times however, when the sometimes overwhelming nature of these thoughts and feelings can simply be too much. Having intrusive and upsetting thoughts while your taking your child to school, or when faces around you become distorted, due to a painful flashbacks, is not to be recommended. I hope to give you a few tips to help you manage, so that you can go about your life with relative ease, until such time as you can address the causes of these upsetting thoughts and feelings safely in therapy.

The first technique I would like to share is adapted from the “Drop Anchor” exercise by Russ Harris (Harris, 2009).

This exercise will help you centre yourself and connect with the world around you.

1. Place your feet firmly on the ground.                                                                                   2. Now push them down firmly.                                                                                                 3. Become consciously aware of the floor beneath you, feel it supporting you.                       4.Notice the muscle tension in your legs as you push your feet down.                                 5. Become aware of your whole body, as if your whole body now is engaged in pushing.     6. NOw look around you, notice what you can see and hear.                                                  7. Notice where you are and what you are doing.                                                                     8. Breathe!

Grounding techniques

These are very helpful techniques to learn, particularly if you are prone to upsetting intrusive thoughts, memories and images. THey are also good to employ if you are feeling detached and unreal.  Rather like mindfulness, focusing all of your attention on sounds in the environment e.g. birds in the trees, waves on the beach or even the sound of your breathing can be very helpful.

There are many different grounding techniques and I have listed some of my favourite “sensory” grounding techniques below:

Visual: Select an object or perhaps a photo, picture or landscape to focus on.  Study it intently; describe what you see out loud or in your head.  You may choose to focus on something around you, like the wallpaper or even a spot on the carpet or ceiling. Really focus on the detail, shape, colour and pattern.  Counting the grain in wood or fabric will really heighten your “in the moment” awareness.  Use flashcards, with a message to yourself such as, “these dark days will pass” or “I can tolerate this.”

Touch: Carrying round a stone or crystal that you can get out of your pocket when you need to ground yourself is an easy way to bring yourself back to the present. Find yourself a special object to use at such times.Look at the colour, the shape, how solid it is, the temperature of the object and its texture, and whether it is rough or smooth.  You can even use foodstuff like a sultana, banana or mushroom.

Look to your environment, for example by feeling the grass under your feet or the bark of a tree. Take a shower and become aware of the stimulation of the water on your skin, or perhaps slap your hand on the surface of bathwater.  Pinging an elastic band on your wrist, rubbing a comb over your arm or an ice cube over your face can be helpful.  The latter are particularly helpful as an alternative to acts of self-harm.

Sound:  Use your voice, making different sounds and shapes with your mouth.  Select a piece of music, preferably something up-beat, and listen to the sound, in particular, paying attention to the beat, rhythm, the different instruments and vocal harmonies and become aware of any feelings evoked.  Listen to the sounds of birds, the ticking of a clock, or simply listen to the sounds around you, noticing how loud or soft they are.  Notice those in the foreground, mid-ground and distance – now categorise these into groups.

Scent: Scented candles, oil burners and incense are all good for grounding.  I burn incense before I see my first clients each day to help me to focus and put me in the “zone”, ready to attend to the issues they bring me.  It can be helpful to carry round a small bottle of perfume, or putting a dab on your wrist to smell.  A particular favourite of mine is the scent of patchouli, however, my Granny used to carry round a bottle of smelling salts to ward off the “vapours.”  I can only think that this latter, rather pungent scent would be good for managing panic attacks!

Taste: Take a glass of water (with or without ice cubes) and drink it very slowly, savouring the taste, imagining it cleansing and washing away your tension or distress.  A selection of herbal teas with different flavours can stimulate the taste buds.  Be aware, however, that herbal teas have certain therapeutic properties and so should be taken with this in mind.  If you want to find out about the beneficial effects of herbal teas consult your local health food store.

I hope you find these helpful.

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

Visit us @  www.steveclifford.com

Ask us your mental health questions anytime @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters

 

Image ref: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGl%C3%BChwendel_brennt_durch.jpg

Sources:

Russ Harris – “Simple Ways to Get Present” – 2009. www.actmadesimple.com 

Steve Clifford – “50 Tips to Beat Depression” – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tips-Beat-Depression-Steve-Clifford-ebook/dp/B00ILV965A

Informal mindfulness Practice

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While many of you reading this will be happy practicing mindful meditation in a formal setting, others may want to expand their daily practice. Incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine at home really is the start point to embracing mindfulness as a way of life.

Start by picking an activity that do on a regular basis such as brushing your teeth or having a shower or bath. These activities are good because they encourage you to focus on your senses. Engaging in either activity with full awareness will help you to learn how to temporarily step aside from the constant chitter-chatter of the thinking mind.

Totally focusing your attention on what you are doing, with an attitude of curiosity and non-judgemental openness will help you to develop a more intimate relationship with yourself. Try to tune in to the senses: notice the movement of your body, the taste, the touch, the smell, the sight, the sound, and so on.

For example, being mindful when taking a shower, notice the sound the water makes as it leaves the nozzle, perhaps the sound of the spray. Notice the way the sound is different as it hits the hard surface of the bath or shower tray. Notice the way it sounds as it touches the skin. Now feel the water itself, the temperature, the force of the water against your body, the way it feels in your hair, on your shoulders. Now notice how it feels with the water running over your body, does it feel different on your shoulders compared to your chest, or down your back.

Now shift your senses to the smell of the shampoo or soap you are using, experience the lather and the way it feels as you rub it into your hair or your body. With the soap on your body, try to notice the subtle plane of contact between the soap and your skin. Imagine that contact as it is happening, really feel it. Notice how it feels as you rub harder or softer.

Now shift your attention to the water again, this time becoming aware of the way the water droplets cascade down the hard surfaces of the walls, shower curtain or screen. Notice the way the droplets form and drip. Notice the way steam and condensation create a vapour, an atmosphere around you.

Notice the movements of your arms and the way you wash your body. Connect to your experience. Does the act of showering have a sensuous quality? Are you rushing or are you savouring and really enjoying the experience? Or is showering merely a chore you want to get out of the way? How do appreciate the water itself? Can you see the way nature provided rain and how this gas been transformed into the water you are now using? Can you appreciate this great gift, the luxury of a shower when many in the world are devoid of precious water? Can you give thank for the water, or indeed being able to shower yourself without assistance?

What of your thoughts? You will find that many thoughts arise and particularly if you are just learning to be mindful, staying focused is hard. When you catch yourself getting caught up in your thoughts , simply acknowledge them and gently let go of them, bringing your attention back to what you’re doing. As you will soon realise, again and again your thoughts will wander, this is completely normal. Simply, acknowledge, shift focus and attend mindfully once again to what you are doing.

So here we are, a practical exercise to help introduce mindfulness practise in everyday life. Reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations as you go about your daily tasks is a first step to bringing mindfulness into the centre stage of your life.

Until next time,

Steve

Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation

Weekly Group

Wednesdays      6 -7pm

Free Admission 

Venue:

The Bexhill Mindfulness Centre

Meeting at: Parkhurst Hall, Parkhurst Road, Bexhill, TN39 3JA

This weekly gathering is an opportunity to engage in simple mindfulness meditations with others. There is no commitment to attending each week. As well as meditations there will also be a talk or discussion on aspects of mindfulness in daily living or the philosophy of mindfulness. The groups are suitable for all ages irrespective of background and no experience of mindfulness meditation is necessary. Meditation takes place on chairs, you do not need to wear special clothing or bring anything with you.

Love to see you if you can make it

 

Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Visit us @  www.steveclifford.com                                                                                      Like our page @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters                                              Also @ www.facebook.com/bexhillmindfulnesscentre

 

Get yourself a few rays of Sunshine – Beat #Depression

 50Tips

Tip 29 – Extract from “50 Tips to Beat Depression” available on Amazon

It is not just Morecombe and Wise who extol the benefits of sunshine.  Boosting the supply of vitamin D in the body serves to maintain optimum levels of serotonin to assist the activity of cells throughout the body, regulating mood, sleep and our ability to process information.  In the summer months go out for a few minutes every day, soak up the sun and ensure supplies of vitamin D are topped up.  Meet friends for a picnic, take a stroll before nightfall and watch the sunset.  In the winter, consider hiring or purchasing a light box, (see tip 40), as serotonin levels change with the seasons and are at their lowest in the winter months.

Until next time.

With best wishes, Steve.

Please feel free to email your blog posts for “Your Mental Health Matters” to stevecliffordcbt@gmail.com

Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

Visit us @  www.steveclifford.com                                                                                      Ask us your mental health questions anytime @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters                                                                  Tweet us @ cbt4you

 

7 ways that mindfulness will enrich your life.

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1. Mindfulness is not about salvation, becoming saintly or developing a holier than thou personality. Our true nature is basically good and mindfulness enables us to develop greater awareness of the self, the world around us and people we come into contact with. By accepting that the knowledge we presently possess is not the absolute changeless truth, we learn to avoid being narrow minded and bound to particular views or doctrine. The path to reality (not salvation) is living mindfully, cultivating greater peace, compassion and understanding. Non attachment from views allows us to be open to others’ viewpoints, open to continual learning and stops us becoming bigoted know-alls. All systems of thoughts are guiding means only, not absolute truth.

2. Mindfulness offers us choice, and choice is freedom from worldly (or other worldly) constraints. Mindfulness is about seeing with our own eyes and making choices every moment, choices that have a direct impact on our world, that world in which we inhabit. It does not lay before us a set of rules we must slavishly follow, nothing we must accept purely on the basis of somebody else’s spiritual authority. Mindfulness is about direct life experience, in the now, from the thoughts we think, to the words we utter and the deeds we do.

3. Like a benign and loving gardener caring for the seeds and plants, yet also nurturing the environment and creating a haven for frogs, birds and wildlife, the more acts of kindness, caring concern and tender loving care we offer to those around us and our world, the more they will blossom and produce seeds, fruit and beautiful flowers. By creating the conditions that nurture others, we are creating the conditions that let our inner self flourish. Nurturing our own positive qualities and choosing positive over negative, allows us to find positive meaning in our lives. Mindfulness allows us to see things and discern with greater accuracy and less distortion. We begin to listen to a peaceful inner voice, rather than a fragile ego.  The result is a greater inner confidence and personal security.

4.
Mindfulness can help nurture and develop greater emotional resilience and freedom from stress and emotional disharmony. By cultivating inner calmness we can learn to develop the ability to bend with the winds of emotional turbulence. Like a pebble on a beach we can allow the negative waves of emotional disharmony to pass over us. Responding to stress around us with a non reactive awareness we can develop a more balanced perspective. What might have been responded to in a negative, attacking, judging or defensive manner can be as a neutral part of life’s passing show.

5. It can help to promote a greater sense of connection with others. Just as the act of physically hugging another can flood the body with oxytocin, a hormone that enhances closeness, warmth and nurturing in early parenthood. Mindfulness can help us to develop a deeper sense of personal security which can bring about a soothing influence on those around us. As we become less prone to receiving whatever negativity may be emanating from those around us, we develop a more stable sense of self.

Developing a more intimate relationship with ourselves can lead us to become less reliant on others. When we do not “need” others to feel accepted, supported and loved, we are not dependent on others to make us feel secure and accepted. Just as when another is overwhelmed by anxiety, hooked into being upset and overreacting, we can help by simply offering a mindful presence, offering ourselves as a safe container by paying full attention with heartfelt empathy and emotional attunement. Adopting a sense of calm spaciousness along with a calm and caring warmth can help them feel the safe haven, if only at a subliminal level of neural resonance.

6.
Mindfulness promotes greater honesty and genuineness. When we stop saying untruthful things in order to impress people or for our own personal aims and interest, we learn that we do not need to play this game. When we step back from gossiping or spreading rumour we do not know to be certain, we become less judgemental, less critical. Over time people will begin to recognise we are truthful and courageous and will gravitate towards us; they too are likely to want to learn to speak truthfully and constructively like us, and in so doing, begin to develop a greater sense of personal security.

7. Tuning into the self through mindfulness allows us to be fully present and available. It will help us to learn how to manage physical and emotional pain and stress and to fully experience thinking, feeling and being. It allows us to be fully present in whatever we are doing, accepting without judgement and savouring the pleasures in life as we experience them. It allows us to detach from worries and become less concerned with success and self-esteem. It can help cultivate a greater sense of personal well-being, and research has shown that it can help improve physical and psychological health.

Until next time,

Love and Peace, Steve

Visit us @  www.steveclifford.com                                                                                      Like us @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters                                                        Tweet us @ cbt4you

References:

Bennett-Goleman, T (2013) “Try a Little Tenderness” Shambhala Sun, July. 69-74.

Hanh, Thich Nhat (1991) Peace is every step; the path of mindfulness in every step. Rider.

McLeod, M (2013) “Are You Spiritual But Not Religious?” Shambhala Sun, Nov. 43-49.