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Nurture peace inside and out with this loving kindness practice

Earlier this week, I closed another rewarding 8-week MBSR journey with a beautiful group of people. It was my last mindfulness session for the year and the last meditation practice I guided was a loving kindness practice. I recorded it during our session and wanted to share it with you. (please note that as this is a live recording with a large group in the room, the sound quality isn’t perfect, there is some background noise but I am ok with imperfect, hope you are too?).

With the holiday season approaching, often connected to peace, joy and shared moments with loved ones, don’t you agree it is the perfect opportunity to nurture and spread some love and kindness?

Why practice Loving-Kindness? 

If you are unfamiliar with this practice,  below is a bit more context:

Loving-Kindness is originally a Buddhist practice (sometimes referred to as metta-meditation). It involves mentally sending kindness and warmth towards others by silently repeating traditional phrases (or mantras).

Loving Kindness is one of the most direct routes to happiness. It is a powerful practice in dispelling negative emotions such as anxiety and depression. It encourages us to be less self-absorbed. Furthermore, it actually makes us more inclined to react positively to others (there is plenty of research to support this).

How do you practice Loving-Kindness?

In this practice, we begin by sending compassion to ourselves. Developing self-compassion is an essential first step to allow us in turn to become a more compassionate person. After that, we can express this compassion increasingly outwardly.

If we feel inadequate or insecure, we harm ourselves by beating ourselves up. Furthermore, we also tend to harm others around us, either by taking out our anger, irritation or frustrations on them. Sometimes by needing or expecting them to love us in ways that we are not able to love ourselves. On the other hand, if we suppress our feelings, we keep ourselves from really, truly connecting with others in a meaningful way as we are too absorbed with our own ill-being.

Mindfulness and self-compassion can free us from past painful and self-limiting beliefs. Learning to open our heart to the loving-kindness within us and in the world around us will eventually help us live more freely and fearlessly.

 We cannot achieve world peace without first achieving peace within ourselves … inner peace. In an atmosphere of hatred, anger, competition and violence no lasting peace can be achieved. These negative and destructive forces must be overcome by compassion, love and altruism which are the essential teachings of the Buddha.” – Dalia Lama

Reduce stress during the festive season

Here’s a special blog post I put together for Lorna from Wilson’s Workouts about reducing stress during the festive season

Is the end of year stress getting to you? Well you are certainly not alone.

On one hand, December is a very busy time of year with all the festivities and family reunions involving plenty of preparation, extra planning and shopping in what is for many of us an already pretty busy schedule.

On the other, the lower amount of natural sunlight can significantly impact our mood, sleep and energy levels. Many of us can find ourselves experiencing winter blues, feeling more lethargic and down overall.

This combination can leave us feeling run down and stressed. The good news is that there is a lot we can do to nurture ourselves and preserve our well-being in the midst of Winter.

Firstly, some acceptance of the reality that our environment affects us profoundly and we don’t have quite the same energy in winter than we may do the rest of the year is key. Winter is a season to slow down so getting more rest and adjusting your schedule to your energy level where possible may be wise and leave you feeling healthier and happier. Not overdoing it, letting go of whatever isn’t crucial or serving our well-being can help in any time of year but especially now, giving yourself the gift of imperfection ?

Starting your day without rushing or checking your phone but instead taking time for some gentle stretching and/or a few minutes of mindful breathing can support you to start the day with clarity and vitality

To preserve your energy and clarity throughout the day, try to insert restorative breaks every now and then whether it be breathing, stretching, walking. Make sure you plan these in as it so easy to get caught up in being busy, neglect our basic needs and go over our boundaries.  

Going for a brisk or mindful walk (ideally in nature) is guaranteed to recharge your batteries and combat the winter blues by maximizing your natural light intake. Spending time outdoors and walking increases serotonin production, reduces anxiety and supports better sleep.

Whenever you feel you are getting wound up or overthinking, this 3-step breathing space practice is only 3 minutes and it is a powerful way to give yourself a vitality boost and step away from stress. 

When our mood is low and we experience stress, we have a tendency to engage more easily in negative thinking and self-criticism, often variations of feeling insecure or inadequate in some way. While this is pretty common it certainly isn’t helpful and actually makes it harder for us to deal with what is stressing us in the first place. Countering this natural tendency with some self-compassion can work wonders. When you notice you are stressed, pause, acknowledge how you feel and ask yourself “how can I be kind to myself in this situation?”. It is not easy at first and requires a conscious commitment but if you can practice this for a few weeks you could actually transform stressful situations into a self-care moment and in doing so boost your performance, confidence and resilience.

Finally closing the day with a gratitude practice can reframe your thinking, give you a mood boost and facilitate a peaceful, restorative sleep. Most of us have a natural tendency to focus more on what doesn’t go right and focusing on that actually makes it grow so doing the opposite can bring radical transformation. Just writing down 5 things you feel grateful for every night and leaving space for feelings of gratitude to emerge is one of the healthiest habits for well-being. You’re actually inviting more of what you feel grateful for in your life to emerge! 

And as this is a celebratory time, you may want to take some time to also celebrate yourself. It is easy to get caught up in all the things we don’t do right or haven’t yet achieved but how about shifting that and taking time to acknowledge all the little things that have gone right and in particular what you feel proud of or have achieved, no matter how small. In this end of year also taking time to reflect on all this has its own significance as we transition into a bright new year. Celebrating actually rewires our brain.

All the warmest wishes for this festive season, may it be mindful, peaceful, bright and restorative!

 

 

 

 

Do you trust in yourself and in life?

As, I was guiding the second session of an MBSR training yesterday and sharing the 8 mindful attitudes, someone became really curious about TRUST. I love it when that happens as it invites all of us to be curious and ponder on something we may have overlooked. This person shared that trust is probably the toughest inclination of mind to cultivate, at least for her. I invited her to work with it and explore it this coming week and it also made me reflect.

Interestingly enough, trust is something that has always been there for me but pretty dormant. It has been a force slowly but surely awakening in me and am amazed at what an immense power comes from TRUST. I’ve always enjoyed adventure and exploring the unknown and I certainly wouldn’t have ventured there without a healthy amount of trust. Trust in myself to figure out things and trust in life. I would have never moved to Italy without speaking the language and without a job or home if I didn’t trust that I could fall back on my feet. I certainly wouldn’t have gone travelling around Asia for 6 months on my own. I wouldn’t have chosen for a home birth (that ended up being in the hospital…). And I definitely never would have become a mindfulness teacher, a total leap of faith, if I hadn’t trusted somehow that it would work out (if curious, you can read more about my journey here). My most precious and defining life experiences came from getting out of my comfort zone and TRUSTING that it would all be ok eventually… And the more I trust, the more I grow and the more I trust so it is a virtuous cycle:)

I slept on my trust reflections and awoke this morning with this beautiful quote from Rumi in mind.

What if trust was just about allowing ourselves to pursue what we enjoy, what we are curious about, what we love? It can start small, little rain drops of joy until we allow that to grow and become our path, the river of our lives.  

What is it you feel drawn to? Can you allow yourself space to explore that and let it grow? We can become so absorbed into endless doing that we can easily forget to make space to what is calling us, to tune into our intuition. This is the place where we belong, where we become aligned, where joy flows and beauty is created.
It all starts with TRUST so please do:)

If you have a story or some reflections around trust of your own, please share them, I would love to hear them and they empower others. 

8 foundational attitudes of mindfulness …and life really:)

Mindfulness is not just about paying attention but how we pay attention, with what qualities of mind.

Cultivating certain attitudes of mind is helpful in training mindfulness and can help you get the most out of your practice, giving some touch-points to refer to when obstacles arise. Each of these attitudes relies on the others, so working on one enhances them all. These attitudes provide a kind of compass with which to approach mindfulness, holding them in mind, reflecting upon them, and cultivating them will nourish, support and strengthen your practice and gradually change your life.

  1. Non-judging

We are constantly generating judgments about our experiences, labeling them as good, bad or neutral dependent on the way they make us feel. Non-judging invites us to become aware of the constant stream of judging in our minds, and not get caught up in it, learning to take a step back to become an impartial witness to our experience.

 

  1. Patience

Not rushing the present, being open and accepting of each moment, allowing oneself room to have the experience that is unfolding at any given moment, understanding that sometimes things cannot be forced and will happen in their own time. We don’t have to fill up our moments with activity and more thinking to make them richer.

  1. Beginner’s mind.

The quality of a beginner’s mind, meaning a mind willing to see everything as if for the very first time, is very important to bring to the practice. Regardless of how many times we have experienced something or someone or a meditation, we need to free ourselves of our past experiences and understand that no moment is the same, every moment is unique and filled with unique possibilities.

  1. Trust

Learning to trust one’s feelings and intuition rather than looking to outside world for guidance is another key pillar of mindfulness practice.

  1. Non-Striving

Non-striving is about embracing ‘non-doing’ and not being focused on achieving specific goals through meditation. This is difficult as human nature is to do things for a purpose, to get somewhere but during meditation this can be an obstacle. It is common to think that by letting go of striving, we may be losing our “edge”, yet when we can relax into things as they are this change in attitude actually enhances openness, creativity and happiness. There is no goal other than to be fully oneself.

  1. Letting go or ‘’non-attachment’’

As we meditate, we learn to avoid our impulse to grasp pleasant thoughts and push away unpleasant thoughts, just by watching them and letting them be without getting caught up in them.

  1. Acceptance

Acceptance is a willingness to see things as they actually are in the present moment. In meditation practice this means being with each moment fully, trying not to impose our ideas about what we should be feeling or thinking on our experience but just being open and accepting to what is rather than wanting things to be different. We sometimes tune out from negative feelings as a way to defend ourselves (“experiential avoidance”) which may be helpful in short term but over time these bounce back at us. We should not ignore, resist or fight negative. Our experiences are here to teach us something. We are cultivating trying to observe all experiences, whether negative or positive.

  1. Kindness

Mindfulness practice is ultimately about kindness, towards ourselves and others. The quality of kindness is cultivated as an antidote to the difficult mind-states such as anger, fear, envy, greed, judgment, etc. Kindness allows to dissolve fears, guilty feelings, anxieties and stresses that lead to exhaustion and chronic discontent. We cultivate kindness over and over moving in the direction of greater compassion and acceptance. Kindness is not only a good quality in itself that leads to more peace and well-being for ourselves and others, it also leads us to clearer thinking and a better, more productive way of living and working.,

In addition to these attitudes, a strong commitment to work on oneself and enough self-discipline to persevere in the process are essential to developing a strong meditation practice and a high degree of mindfulness.

A personal vision

Finally, practicing alone isn’t sufficient, one needs to have a personal vision of what they want for themselves. Many people meditate to attain peace of mind, happiness. This is probably what most reasonable human beings desire for themselves. However we probably all have different visions of what that means, how that translates, what one believes is most important to be their best self, at peace with oneself.

My journey to mindfulness

I thought it was about time I share my personal mindfulness journey so here we go.

I discovered mindfulness in 2013 and I’ve been dedicated to supporting people towards greater well-being with the practice of mindfulness for almost 5 years now. As any major life transition, it has been quite a journey to become a mindfulness trainer, one that started with a big leap of faith and surrendering to the unknown with plenty of ups and downs along the way.

Before walking the mindful path, I worked in the corporate world for 15 years, in media agencies, in a rather fast-paced, deadline-driven environment _which I suppose is pretty standard nowadays in any corporate jobs especially in a senior role, as we take on more responsibility. My last client was Heineken so I was involved in the process of selling beer to people. It was fun, the parties were great and I worked with a lot of nice, smart people, many who felt really ok and sometimes very passionate about selling beer. However, I was really missing connection with what I was doing and found it difficult to just ignore that and go on as if it didn’t matter all that much. I never really fit in that world and was always fantasizing about doing something else with my life, something different than selling the latest range of shampoo or beer, something that actually made a difference and added value in people’s lives. This wasn’t new, for as long as I can remember I had always been searching for meaning and thinking there must be more to life. Becoming a mom propelled my journey into mindfulness. I began to feel the lack of purpose in my work more intensely, becoming a mother made me even more conscious about my contribution to the world was and how I was shaping the future. And of course, becoming a mom was such a transformation and a radical lifestyle change in itself. I found myself wanting to spend more time with my daughter, stressed with juggling the demands of work and parenthood. My old work rhythm didn’t fit my new mama life. I was frustrated that work was so often in the background in the moments I had with my girl. I left the office early to make it to day care at a decent time but work was never finished and I resented turning my laptop on again as soon as my daughter was asleep. Everything was ok on the surface but I wasn’t happy. I felt I was always running trying to keep up with my life rather than living it, enjoying it.

I registered to a mindfulness course in my desperation and this was a huge wake up call for me. Practicing mindfulness made me look at my life with new eyes and experience things differently. I realized I wasn’t really present for a lot of my life, very caught up in my head, as if almost sleepwalking through life. Nothing in my life had changed except my presence & perspective, but simply by practicing and applying mindfulness I could enjoy the day more and make small steps to improve my daily routine. My focus and efficiency at work improved, even my relationship with my boss was better. I started setting boundaries, really disconnecting from work when I got home, being fully there for my girl, enjoying the moment and not checking my emails in the evening or in the morning. I could actually enjoy the cycle to work and the scenery. All these little things and the fact that I was present for them made a big difference in the quality of my day.

I was so inspired by mindfulness that I decided that I wanted to find a way to share these amazing tools. The concept of mindfulness wasn’t completely new to me: I had already been practicing yoga for quite some years and was somewhat familiar with Buddhist meditation, I had read many books and attended many workshops around personal development.  More importantly I had lived, known all sorts of joys as well as challenges. I had also experienced mental health challenges in my early 20s, lived in 5 different countries, adjusted to different cultures, etc. I knew what a gem mindfulness was to hold everything, all the beauty as well as curve balls that life can throw at you.  The mindfulness practices I had finally discovered were so profound and at the same time simple and applicable in modern life.

Mindfulness gave me a huge amount of perspective, it put me in touch with what it was that really mattered to me, what made me happy and I started honouring that and making it a priority. I discovered my intuition and started listening, slowly but surely mindfulness has allowed me to create a life more in accordance with my values rather than one driven by external pressures or what I felt I should be doing.

What mattered to me was clear:

–          Being a mom: I realized I didn’t want to outsource childcare half as much as I was doing, I wanted to see my kids grow up

–          Being of service: contributing positively to the world

–          The freedom to live my life my own particular way

–          My well-being and happiness was a priority and also what was going to enable me to actually be a good mom and contribute positively to world.

It dawned on me that deep inside we all feel this way, that our well-being is the foundation for everything we do. Happiness is something we all seek and need and are sometimes equally confused about how to find it. Mindfulness, creating the conditions in your mind for contentment, is certainly a very powerful practice for greater well-being.

Because mindfulness was transformative in my life it gave me the inspiration to share these tools with others knowing that it would benefit them too. Now my hugest source of motivation comes from simply witnessing people transform right before my eyes. It is amazing what loving attention can do and it warms my heart to see the magic happen time and time again! Through facilitating mindfulness courses and workshops, I have touched more lives positively than ever before and it feels extremely rewarding to get to do this beautiful work.

In a “nutshell”, that’s the story of what brought me here. Of course there are a lot more layers and depth to it that I can write here. Since I have begun, I’ve expanded my experience and skill set to increasingly support people towards thriving.

I continue to support open groups with mindfulness and have recently extending my offering to include self-compassion practices and tools in workshop formats. The relationship we have with ourselves, our sense of self, is the source of everything. Self-compassion is a super highway into healing and transformation.

On top of open groups, I have specialized in supporting expecting and new  parents. My path to supporting expecting parents was born through my own experience of falling pregnant a second time and witnessing how immensely supportive mindfulness was in the transformative process of pregnancy, birth and parenting. Since 2018, I teach the Mindful Birthing & Parenting program and have become a doula. I also host plenty of workshops for new and not so new parents.

I feel passionate about women empowerment and sustainability (which are very much related) so I am increasingly involved in those areas as well in the form of workshops, nature walks and speaking or attending events.

Finally, I have recently started my journey as a coach to support people increasingly on an individual level. My aim is to support people experiencing high levels of stress, burn-out or personal difficulties as well as those in life transitions looking for support and direction (whether it be becoming a parent and/or adjusting to parenthood, looking for more alignment in professional life or creating a heart-centred business).

This mindful path is not a destination but a continuous journey of exploring and discovering, learning and deep diving, integrating and applying, sharing and spreading where creating more harmony in and around me is the heart of the matter. It is not always an easy path and I’ve had some bumps and falls but it is an adventure that is empowering and liberating and makes life much more enchanting and interesting. Hope to meet you soon along the way!

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels – that´s creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place – that´s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one. The often surprising results of that hunt – that´s what I call Big Magic” – Elizabeth Gilbert

 

 

 

Self-Compassion is the source of healing and thriving!

“Learning to embrace yourself and your imperfections gives you the resilience needed to thrive”

In my work of guiding people in their mindfulness journey over the last years, I’ve noticed just how much harsh self-talk, judgment and self-doubt many people can engage in. And I can totally relate to this, in the past, I didn’t treat myself kind for so many years. We can undermine ourselves in so many ways. Especially when things get tough, instead of treating ourselves nice we often add a layer of suffering by shame, self-blame and feelings of inadequacy. There are many reasons for this and I won’t delve into the causes here. But the good news and most relevant right now is that with awareness and compassion practices we can shift things around. Self-compassion is so powerful and transformative. Self-compassion significantly helps reduce anxiety and depression and enhance overall well-being and confidence.

I believe self-compassion, the ability to treat yourself the way you would a good friend who is having a hard time, is a key to healing old and present wounds (which are connected) and breaking away from unhelpful patterns, usually variations of those that involve turning against ourselves be it generally or when things go wrong. When we heal the relationship with ourselves, we can heal our relationship with others, our environment, the world. Self-compassion is NOT selfish but the foundation to being more compassionate to others without depleting ourselves in the process. It actually starts with ourselves and when our own cup is full we can gradually extend our compassion from inside out.

Please join me for one of my upcoming self-compassion workshop series and learn tools to increase your self-compassion.

For more information (including guided practices ) about self-compassion, check out www.self-compassion.org

For inspiration about self-compassion please have a look at this TedTalk from Kristin Neff, co-founder of the Mindful Self-Compassion Program together with Chris Germer.

 

Love, Vulnerability & Strength are at the heart of our humanity!

Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of hosting a meditation evening at the Amsterdam Mindfulness Centre. I guided a number of self-compassion practices which seemed to be exactly what was needed. We ended the evening with a guided reflection around values and uncovering meaning. Participants shared what qualities or attributes they valued in someone they admired. Interestingly the person they admired was either their mother or best friend and had been through very significant hardship. Read for yourself the list below (apologies for the sloppy handwriting…) : it is all about LOVE, VULNERABILITY and STRENGTH. They come together and at the end of the day are really what matters most!

 

Mindfulness for Life Podcast : Basics, Benifits and Getting Started

You may be somewhat familiar with mindfulness and know it has something to do with calming the mind and stress relief however that may still feel slightly vague. To find out more and demystify mindfulness, tune in to this podcast where I explain what it really is about, mention some of the key benefits it can bring and give some tips on getting started. Hope you enjoy and it sparks your curiosity enough to begin wherever you are 🙂

 

Keep an open mind and a fresh perspective – Cultivate a Beginner’s Mind

Beginner’s Mind is a very important aspect of mindfulness, a mind free of expectations and judgments. Beginner’s mind invites us to look at things as if we were seeing them for the first time, as a small child, full of curiosity and wonder and amazement. Recall the Socratic conception of wisdom: knowing that one doesn’t know. If we have the answer already, then there is no need for us to look; we stay stuck in the same mind-set, reacting to things as always, nothing ever changes. Living as if we always “know” keeps us out of the present, and living in the past. It doesn’t allow us anything new, no surprises, no insights, no discoveries, it keeps us frozen in the judgments of the past. Beginner’s mind can help us to see things in a new light and open us to the unique potential of every moment of our life.

 

How 8 week mindfulness meditation changes the brain

A Harvard research finds that participation in an 8 week MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) program with less than half an hour daily meditation resulted in significant differences in participant’s brain structure. A thickening of a number of different regions of the brain associated with learning and memory, emotional regulation, sense of self and perspective taking was observed whilst the amygdala, known to play an important role in anxiety and stress, showed decreased grey-matter density.

Click here for the full article in the Harvard Gazette.