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Amanda James

One Step at a Time

We are now 6 weeks into the new year, and I'm thinking about the new small habits I wished to introduce into my life, in this coming year, mostly I'm doing ok, occasionally forgetting when Im not being totally present in the moment, sometimes its not easy when life is crazy busy, but its always doable if I keep reminding myself, post it notes stuck all over the house is my way forward.

So how is it for you? wether you call them new year resolutions or new life habits, its all about changing the way we do things,

The hardest thing for most of us, when it comes to wanting to build new habits is to stick to it long enough for us to see, feel and like the changes that we've made,  think small changes at first, most of us underestimate how much focus it takes to stick to a new regime, so choose just one thing at a time and just start, if you want to meditate sit in a quiet space, if you want to diet fill the fridge with healthy snacks, if you want to jog 5km then put your trainers on and walk. Find ways of enjoying the new task, focus on the positive points, share doing it with a family member or friends, join a group for mutual support. Having a schedule will help you stay motivated, a daily, weekly or monthly plan, a white board to write messages on or a phone to set yourself reminders, good old fashioned post it notes stuck on the fridge work for me, making small achievable changes to our normal routines will help us keep to our new life choices on track, walking a new way home from work away from the temptations of the  bakery window, or moving away from your desk to go and sit on the park bench at lunchtime and take a few mindful breaths.

When you feel like quitting.........pay attention to these thoughts, are you being self critical and giving yourself some negative self talk, its to difficult, i don't like it, there are to many other things going on in my life right now, not motivated etc etc, truth is it's difficult to change and most of us don't like change, but anything that's worth doing takes some effort so try asking yourself WHY it happens to you, since we know that many of our thoughts are just that, thoughts. With some self compassion and understanding of yourself, maybe you could change  those thoughts around, if I try I might like it, if I plan my schedule right I will have more time, if I set my mind to it, I can achieve what I want to.

Forgive yourself for the odd down fall, learn from your obstacles and mistakes, tomorrow is a new day to begin again, I wish you sucess. 

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Amanda James

Grey Days

Some of us love nothing more than the cosy feelings of grey winter days, snugly in hats and scarfs, closing the curtains early shutting the rest of the world out, log fires burning brightly, comforting lunches of home made soup and fresh crusty bread and butter.

But.........

What if your one of the many people who find these days difficult to live with, those grey winter days can leave us feeling low in mood, lethargic, having loss of concentration, mood swings and cheering ourselves up by comfort eating. These feelings are most likely triggered by the lack of sunlight in winter months, with shorter days and the winter weather causing darker cloud cover, contributing to the disruption of our natural body clock rhythms.  Research suggests that the lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalmus from functioning properly, affecting our production levels of the hormones melatonin and serotonin.

Maybe if we change the way that we feel about the colour grey it can help us to overcome the struggle of those winter days. Is grey a colour of compromise, being neither black or white? The darker grey becomes the more dramatic and mysterious it becomes, whilst the lighter it goes towards being silver and white, the more illuminating, lively and sparkly it can be. We can think of grey as being timeless and practical, it can also be conservative, boring, drab and depressing or maybe it's sophisticated, elegant, smart and cool. Grey is the perfect neutral and allows it to be flexiable, it can moderate brighter hues and expertly pull a colour scheme together.  When too much grey starts to create feelings of sadness, loneliness or even depression for us, maybe its time to add some colour to change these feelings. To add energy and warmth try reds, oranges and yellows for a calm cooler mood add blues, purples and greens. Enjoy experimenting and see what works for you.  

Remember if we always colour the picture of our world grey, the picture will constantly be GREY, use the crayons of your imagination to colour the pictures that you want to see in your world.

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Amanda James

Why do we need Mindfulness?

Just because we are hearing about Mindfulness everywhere, does it mean we should jump on the band wagon of the lastest stress busting trend? "YES" is the answer.

So what are you doing right now and what are you thinking right now, are both of these things focusing on the same topic? If your thinking about something completly different than what your actually doing, your mind is somewhere else, rather than being on the present moment. We have become very adapt in our busy lives to multitasking and living our lives on auto pilot, rushing from one thing to the next or doing two or three things at the same, all this without paying full attention to our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Mindfulness in essence is being in the present moment with awareness of whats going on for us internally and externally without judgement or attatchment to that moment.

Mindfulness practices can help us to focus our attention and observe our thoughts, feelings and emotions, helping us to make clearer decisions, undertstand our emotions and to be more engaged in our lives.

Take a moment to sit and observe, this can be externally (the scenery) or internally (how you are feeling) this is just noticing, using your sesnses, seeing, hearing etc or what you are feeling, happy, sad etc. Now see if you can describe this observation to yourself, what is the experience without making a judgement of it, For examlple if I was sat watching ducks swimming and feeding on a pond, I would try to notice what I was actually seeing and feeling rather than saying whether I liked or disliked the scene I would just sit and observe with the whole of my being, and finally ,fully throw yourself into the experience of appreciating the present moment, remember their is no right or wrong, no good or bad just observation of the moment, staying with this type practice for as little as 5 minutes could be of benefit to you. As you get more experienced in doing this type of practice it could increase in the length time for up to 30 minutes or even longer.

Studies have shown that doing regular Mindfulness practices we can reduce our stress levels, improve our sleep patterns, lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, strengthen the body's immune system, improve irritability and help our concentration skills. It helps us let go of the "what if's" in the future and accept the things that we cannot change in the past, realising the present moment is the only moment we truly have. 

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Amanda James

Being and Seeing Differently

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music" Nietzsche

We are alll different, in all sorts interesting ways, and thats what makes life fascinating and intriguing, We all have a wide range of like's, dislikes and opinions on almost every subject you can imagine.

Appreciating these differences is one thing, trying to be within our personal and professional relationships will sometimes have its challenges, as will our chance meetings with others going about our daily chores and recreational pass times.

Maybe the key is to accept and respect our differences, if we can embrace our differences with tolerence then we could build better relationships, no one would ever want to enter into a brainstorming meeting with everyone having the same ideas and all going in the same direction.

"Everyone has two eyes but no one see's the same view"

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Amanda James

Mindfulness and the 5 Senses

Mindfulness, our ability to pay attention to the present moment, with curiosity and without judgment,

There are various ways to practice mindfulness, one example of a mindfulness practice is called the Five Senses Practice, the aim is to focus on the environment that you are in, using your five senses, it's simple and easy to do and it can be as long or short as you wish the practice to be.

Start the practice as you normally would, being in a comfortable position, maybe even walking, bringing your focus to your breath, the phyisical sensations of the breath as you inhale and exhale, the eyes softly closed if your not walking.

Seeing - Open your eyes and look around you, observe what you can see, the colours, shapes and textures, really look at all the variations, shades of colour,  bright or muted, angles and curves, rugged or smooth surfaces, maybe noticing something you've never seen before, take your time.

Hearing - Start by listening to the sounds close to you, try not to label the sounds as pleasant or unpleasant just notice, allow your attenion to drift outwards to hearing the softer more subtle sounds that are in the distance, sounds that may have previously gone unnoticed.

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Amanda James

Appreciation for what you have

Take a moment now and scan through your life, notice which memories or parts of your life that you feel appreciation for, I'm guessing that its something that happened rather than something that you purchased.

We are not usually focused on what we have, more often than not we are focused on what we don't have, If only I had a better job or that promotion I went for, if I only had a bigger house, If only I had a better car, a state of most of the time, wanting more, but some of the people who have all of the things, that we think we need are not less stressed or have higher self esteem levels and cope with life better than we do.

People who can appreciate what they have are more satisfied in their relationships with their family and friends, they have lower levels of stress hormones helping to improve their general health, lower blood pressure, stronger immune systems and are generally happier within themselves.

Appreciation can be learnt, look around you, find the silver linning, instead of looking at what you haven't got, look at what you do have, you may not always be able to control what happens in your life, but you do have the choice in how you handle the situation when it arrives,

Recently I came across by accident a video on YouTube called Brightside, be grateful for what you have, by Igor Kalashnikov,  It starts with a helicoptor flying above a yellow sports car, the man in the car is looking up wishing he had the helicoptor, as the clip focuses to the left of the screen, there's another man sitting in a red 4 wheel drive vehicle looking at the yellow sports car, wishing he had the sports car in his life. The video moves to a man in a blue saloon car and a man in a small 2 door car both wishing they had bigger and better vehicles. Eventually you see a man riding a bicycle wishing he just had a car to drive and then a man waiting at the bus stop for his bus, he to wishing that he just had a bike to ride. The last shot in the clip is of a man sitting on a balcony, looking down on the street below wishing he had the mobility to walk that street, He was in a wheelchair. The freedom to walk whenever and wherever we wish, is something that most of us forget to really appreciate.

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Amanda James

Are you Listening?

Listening = "To give one's attention to a sound"

Steven Covey said "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply"

Listening in any language requires focus and attention, we use our ears to receive individual sounds, our brains then convert these sounds into messages that mean something to us. Its a skill that some of us need to work a little harder than others to achieve, hearing is the act of taking in sound by the ear, LISTENING however is what we consciously choose to do.

45% to 50% of a typical day is spent listening and immediately after we listen to someone, we only recall about 50% of what is said. We listen at 125 - 250 words per minute, but think at 1000 - 3000 words per minute.  

Effective listening helps to resolve conflicts, builds trust, inspires people and strengthens relationships, spending time being in the present moment and really listening you will truly absorb the information that is being given to you, good listeners are perceived as being more intelligent.  

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Amanda James

What is MBSR

What is MBSR? It is an evidence based 8 week course, generally the weekly session are 2 hours long with a committed daily practice time of 30/45 minutes per day, 5 or 6 days per week, It offers training in Mindfulness practices, these practices (include: mindful breathing, mindful movement, body scan and other simple mindful techniques) when learnt, can help people to cope with stress, anxiety, depression and pain.

The course is designed on the original MBSR programme that was developed in the 1970's by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, it was then used to treat adults suffering from both mental and physical chronic pain that was a side effect of illness.

Today it is a practical and experiental course, giving its participants the opportunity to build committed regular mindfulness practices, learning both formal and informal types of practice.  The different practice skills can then be used long after the 8 week programme has been completed. It helps to form new patterns of thinking and build new healthy lifestyle habits,  assisting in changing the way that we react to our real everyday life pressures and ultimately lowering the health risks that are associated with high levels of stress. 

It seem that some of us are forever living life in the fast lane that we somtimes forget to check in with how we actually are, how we feel phyisically, emotionally and mentally. Mindfulness helps us to focus our attention on the "right here, right now" and live in the present moment.

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Amanda James

Do you know when it's time to S.T.O.P

Sometimes, even after having a good formal morning mindfullness practice, our day can turn out to be just, ONE OF THOSE DAY'S when it's all to easy to get caught up in all the stresses and activities of what we consider to be our normal everyday daily lives, when we are rushing around on atuopilot, not really sure of how we are feeling and what we are thinking, "sounds very familier does'nt it" By introducing the STOP practice it can help you positively change the way your day is shaping up.

S.T.O.P is an acronym

S = Stop what you are currently doing, just pause for a moment.

T = Take one or more abdominal breaths, Re-connect with your breath, your breath is your anchor to the present moment.

O = Observe your thoughts, feelings and sensations in this moment, noticing what IS happening.

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Amanda James

Kindness

"Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see" Mark Twain

Kindness - The quality of being, friendly, generous and considerate

Psychologists believe that we are wired to detect anything that threatens our survival, always on the look out for the next incoming danger, our attention has been raised to continuing acts of unkindness and cruelty in our every day life, shown to us through television, social media, newspapers and magazines.  Has this made us fearful of having interactions with others, leading us to be less likey, in offering acts of kindness to people we don't know? Maybe in this fast paced world we live in kindness and compasson have taken a back seat to our self interest of getting ahead, being more successful, wanting to earn more, continually working longer hours to achieve and be happier. Is that being kind or compassionate to oursleves?.

When we do something kind for someone else we feel good within ourselves, many people feel that this is because its the right thing to do, so reaching deeply into our sense of whats good about human nature. Kindness improves our relationships by reducing the emotional distance between people, allowing us to feel connected giving us closer bonds with our partners, families, working colleagues, neighbours, local groups even strangers. Kindness is contagious when we are kind ourselves it inspires others to be kind, creating ripples that fan outwards reaching into other peoples lives.

When we are observant and really listen, we will notice the chances that arise in our day to day lives, to be kind and ease the paths of others who we share our world with, it can be as simple as having eye contact with someone and saying hello, a smile, a thank you, making a cup of tea, a thoughtful note in a loved one's lunch box, giving a lttle of your time to help an other person, checking on an elderly neighbour, I could type an endless list of things here, I'm sure you all having plenty of way's you can be kind.

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Amanda James

Should you be writing a Journal?

A cathartic release for some, a permanent record for posterity with other's.

Journal writing is good for you, it assists in helping us to clear our mental clutter, the stuff that justs keeps going around and around in our heads.  Transfering those problems we have from inside our heads onto a piece of paper, the mind becomes clearer, we can then switch our attention from problem storing to problem solving. To relive experiences and events safely on paper without charged emotions. giving us a dialogue with ourselves, breaking down complex experiences into smaller pieces that are easier for us to cope with, reducing stress levels, fear and anxiety.

Journal writing can help us when we need to make decisions that will affect our future life situations, by having a record of the past choices we have made, allow's us to make informed future choices, avoiding past mistakes.  Recording our major accomplishments and moments that we are proud of boosts our self confidence and self esteem.

Wanting to watch your weight? keep a food diary it's a great way to pay more attention to what and when you eat, allowing you to see if there are particular times when you are hungery or whether emotional factors increase your intake of food.

At work, school or university keeping a record of the good projects, pieces of work you've completed on time and had great feedback from or maybe  some other area may come to light that you need to pay a little more attention to.

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Amanda James

Mindfulness with your Children

Sadly at an increasingly younger age our children seem to be facing higher levels of stress in their young lives.  Mindfulness practices can be benifical for children for exactly the same reasons they are helpful to us adults.

It may seem like a huge daunting task to ask your children to meditate, when you can't even get them to eat breakfast before going to school or get them to concentrate on their homework.  Mindfulness can help children to have a happier school/social experience, to focus during exams and reduce stress and anxiety.

Being Mindful is the ability to sustain a focused awareness on the present moment whilst acknowleding and accepting your feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations, maybe a little challenging for children to fully understand, although parents can gently begin to help their children discover their awareness.  Parents could start by introducing short quiet times, bringing awareness to breathing maybe in the morning or evening, a few moments can be really helpful at reducing the physical symtoms of hightened excitement or anxiety.  Breathing is also benifical for the youngest of children games like pretending to lay still like vegtables.  Learning to focus on thier breathing will take a little practice at first so a game is always a great place to start, placing thier favourite teddy on their tummy and rocking it to sleep with the motion of the rise and fall of their belly whilst breathing, pretending that their bellies are balloons making them bigger and smaller.  Focusing on our senses is a really helpful tool, a listening or seeing walk, paying attention to what you can hear or see whilst standing still for a few moments during the walk, maybe stopping at a favourite spot to do this, if its a walk that you take regularly.  Asking your children at the end of their day to remember something happy, nice or glad that had happened to them or someone else they know, can help them to keep themselves in a positive frame of mind.

As adults we fully understand that the vast ocean that is our lives, has small ripples to major storms that we need to endure from time to time, generally if we pay attention to our feelings during these times they don't say around to long, shutting them away is just asking them to hang around and possibly build up into a mountain rather than a mole hill, this is exactly the same for our children no matter how old they are.

Enjoy your family breathing sessions

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Amanda James

Take a Break from your Daily Stress

How can you escape from the harmful effects of stress in your normal daily life?

Feeling stressed can feel perfectly normal to most of us, especially when we have a busy lifestyle and in small doses stress can even help you accomplish some tasks more efficiently, at other times we can feel overwhelmed and unable to concentrate on the smallest tasks.

The good stress keeps us feeling alive and excited about life, feeling our pulses quicken when riding a rollercoaster, butterflies in our stomach when we are going on a first date, result in helping us to feel pleasure and be happy with life.   When bad stressful situations occur and it feels inescapable our bodies are being exposed to chronic stress, we are then prone to having a weakened immune system, fatigue and anxiety related conditions.

Mindfulness breathing helps us to interrupt the stress cycle, letting us get some space away from the stressful situation.  Using our breath as an anchor (our breath being ready available to us whenever we need it) bring your awareness to the physical sensations in your body whilst breathing, the rise and fall of your chest and abdomen, the warmth or coolness of the breath in and around your nostrils.  Your mind will inevitably wander off, thinking, planning or just day dreaming.  When this happens, gently with kindness bring your awareness back to the sensations of your breathing, this may happen a few times or many times, just keep bringing your focus back to the breath and the present moment.

Often when we are stressed we take shallow more rapid breaths, by bringing our attention to the rise and fall in our abdomen, it relaxes us by encouraging a slower more rhythmic breathing pattern, this will massage our internal organs improving blood supply supporting a healthy heart and brain.  You can choose to be lying on your back, sitting up tall on a chair, crossed legged on the floor or even out walking when doing your practice. Start by doing a few minutes several times a day increasing it up to a complete 30 minute practice once a day, your practice will allow you to take the control back into your life and help to balance your emotions and thoughts, making choices and decisions with clear awareness. 

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