Tag Archives | body awareness

DON’T RELY ON YOUR MIND TO MAKE DECISIONS

Early this morning, my mind was telling me to cancel my Pilates lesson, because I have a cold and I was feeling a bit groggy. Then I remembered a message I had received which said, ‘Don’t rely on your mind to make decisions. It’s not that reliable!’

What this means to me is that our minds are well-trained in logical argument, but most good decisions are not based purely on logic. To make a good decision we also need to take account of emotions and our intuition.

When I considered my emotions, I remembered that I always feel more energised and positive after a Pilates lesson, and that during the lesson, I don’t think about anything else. I then considered the alternative: I would sit here feeling a bit sorry for myself, and eventually push myself into doing something. At this point it was a ‘no-brainer’ – isn’t that an accurate description for what I am talking about!!

How is this different from thinking through the pro’s and con’s in your head? It is the move from thinking to feeling which will work best for you. By imagining myself in the two alternative scenarios, I had a better sense of the experience of each. My imagination gave me the physical, mental and emotional effects of the alternatives, so that I could choose the one which felt most useful in its effect.

My mind could only work from how I was feeling at that moment, and we all know that our minds will reflect a negative mood in the way they think about things. They can give us reasons to believe that everything’s awful if we’re feeling a bit shitty in the first place. So our mind colours our thoughts according to our mood at that moment. (By the way, that is also why we are often more creative and constructive in our thinking when we’re in a good buoyant mood).

By shifting to imagining the outcome of the alternatives, I gave a chance for my body, heart and guts to play their part, so the mind was no longer prevalent.

So next time you’re trying to decide something that isn’t obvious, imagine your alternative outcomes and ask yourself:

  • How do I feel if I get this outcome?
  • What effect does it have on me physically?
  • What effect does it have on me mentally?
  • What effect does it have on me emotionally?
  • Now, which one feels most useful/right?

By the way, I feel so much better now, post-pilates, than I did first thing this morning!

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CAN YOU LET YOURSELF HAVE A DAY OFF?

I’ve just spent ten days pushing myself to keep going and finally realised that I knew better – I needed to let myself have a day off. That made me reconsider what a day off really means.

In this case, I was feeling somewhat under the weather – just not well. I made some allowance for it, cutting down on my expectations of myself, but I wasn’t willing to ‘give in’ to it. The consequence was that I didn’t even meet the expectations I did have of myself, so got cross with myself, or did and felt unreasonably exhausted. And of course, my health didn’t improve at all.

So eventually I remembered that the answer is to remove all the expectations, even those we aren’t usually conscious of, like getting washed and dressed or answering the phone. I spent two days doing what I felt like when I felt like it, with no list of must do’s at all, and I feel so much better for it!

It’s the removal of expectations that makes it a real day off, because that frees you up to genuinely follow your own body and heart preferences. It doesn’t mean doing nothing – unless that is what you feel like – nor taking some of the tasks off the list. It means giving yourself free rein for a day.

Usually we fill our days with expectations of ourselves, which come from us, from our culture and from others, so can be quite a collection! We assess how successful our day was by measuring ourselves against these expectations – and frequently fail to come up to the mark!

If we do allow ourselves a bit of space, because we’re feeling a bit ‘off’ in some way, or sometimes because we think we’ve earned it, that usually means that we take a few of the expectations off the list for the day. ‘I’ll leave the washing till tomorrow, or make that phone call later in the week, or finish that task another day.’ So we load our next few days a bit more, and still have the rest of our expectations of ourselves in the day we have alleviated.

I have known for a long time that a day without any expectations of myself at all, except to do just what I feel like doing, is as good as a holiday. It allows my mind and body to reset and refresh themselves. And yet I realise that, although I am kinder to myself than many, I rarely give myself permission to really take time out from the demands of everyday life.

So I won’t be waiting next time till I’m desperate for that relief. I’m going to write some days off into my diary, and teat them as a priority for my mental and physical health.

So what about you? Do you let yourself have real days off? And if you don’t, can you plan one in and experiment with it?

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WHAT HAVE WE LOST?

I’ve just been staying in France, and noticed, amongst other things, how it is normal there to have a local market on a regular basis, where people go to buy their fruit, veg, cheese, meat etc.

In England ‘locally sourced’ is the boast of a few restaurants and cafes, who can thereby hoist their prices, and farmers markets are very much a middle class domain where they exist. Most of us don’t have easy access to local produce – and most places don’t have much local produce any more anyway!

Does it matter? I think so! We have lost so much in our gradual move to convenience and choice, and the takeover of small producers by the biggies..

In the French market, the fruit and veg have come from local farms. It’s as fresh as it can be, and tastes delicious. Local farms provide cheese, meat – again, fresh and tasty, following years of traditional production. If there are condiments – oils, flavours – they are from nearby. The wine is the wine of the region. You are literally getting a regional flavour of France.

What’s more, you are buying from the grower, the producer. They know their products and are proud of them. I find they are delighted to tell you about them: how to use them keep them etc. It’s a direct line from grower or producer to consumer that feels healthy and guarantees a quality that is lost when it all becomes anonymous, packaged, preserved.

Now I know that once upon a time this would have been normal in England too. If you watched ‘Poldark’ on TV, they bought from local markets, or produced their own, and when I was a child, it was still certainly more possible to buy local.

Why did we let it disappear while France kept the tradition? Maybe it is as the French would say: we don’t care enough about what we eat and drink to care when local produce gets lost in the conglomerates who produce for profit rather than taste. We may have more choice – strawberries all year round! – and it may be quicker to buy everything in one place, but we have lost the soul of the food we eat, and with it some of our own soul.

I am not someone who normally delights in food, but in France, I feel as if I’m being fed properly, and enjoy every mouthful. There’s an added extra in the tomato, that cheese, that bread, that wine, which feeds my soul as well as my body – thank you France!!

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YOUR ENERGY BANK

We all have bank accounts for our finances, and most of us manage them with some care, because we know that being overdrawn is not good – in fact it costs us even more than we owe.

It is the perfect metaphor for our energy levels, because our energy is equally vital for our survival, yet most of us take very little care of our energy banks.

Our energy banks fluctuate more, but at the same time, they are easier to top up – we are not reliant on an external input once a month, and can have more control over both inputs and outgoings.

What do I mean? Well, the inputs to your energy bank are simply all those things that energise you, many of which you can actively bring into your life. And the outgoings are all those things that drain your energy, many of which you can exert some control over.

For example, you may find physical activity energising, or the company of good friends, or just having a rest. You may find certain aspects of your work draining, or certain relationships, or housework.

By the way, it is a little more complex than this: sometimes the same activity can be both draining and energising at the same time, so we need to assess whether the overall ‘balance’ is in the black or the red. And some activities may be draining one day, yet energising the next: for example, you may feel good doing some gardening one weekend, and exhausted by doing it the next weekend.

Our energy bank matters because it is what fuels us to live our lives well. When it’s well topped up, we achieve more, we are happier, and we are lovely to be around! When it’s in the red, everything becomes more difficult, and we damage our health by over stretching ourselves.

Obviously we can’t control everything that happens in our lives. There will always be the unexpected or unavoidable that lands in our laps and drains our energy bank – or tops it up!

However, we can learn to notice what’s going on with our energy bank, and deliberately choose to do something to top it up if it is running a bit low. By becoming consciously aware of it, we can ensure that we keep it as well-filled as possible.

So start by making a list of some of those things that usually give you an energy boost, and those that usually drain you – you know what they are, and you know which ones are within your control, because your physical and emotional reactions tell you. Then list those that can come into both categories, so you are aware of them.

And now find a couple of extra things you could put on the energy-giving list. They don’t have to be complicated: reading a chapter of an enjoyable book; phoning a friend; dancing to a favourite music track.

With this awareness, you can now take more care of your energy bank balance. You can plan in some energy-givers, particularly when you have to do something that drains you, and when you have time to do some extra topping up.

If you have a healthy energy bank account, the world is your oyster, life automatically gets better.

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IS IT UNCOMFORTABLE OR JUST UNFAMILIAR?

I was talking to someone the other day about changes in their life, and they said that they were feeling pulled out of their comfort zone. It made me think about the distinction between uncomfortable and unfamiliar. I was given this distinction many years ago, and have found it to be a really useful guide to where change could be positive for me and where it isn’t.

I find the metaphor of clothing useful to clarify the distinction: there is a big difference between the feel and look of a suit which fits properly and one that doesn’t. We may not be used to wearing a suit, so both may feel a little odd to us, but we know if that’s because it’s just unfamiliar, or if it’s because it doesn’t fit us properly.

So when we are facing some change in our lives, we need to ‘try it on for size’. Imagine yourself being in that new circumstance, and see how it feels. Your body will tell you if it fits or not. If you find that you want to immediately get out of it, the likelihood is that it is uncomfortable, a poor fit for who you are – our gut reaction tends to be accurate.

If you are tempted to give it a twirl, view it from another angle, or you smile as you try it on, the chances are it’s just unfamiliar. If you take notice of your body’s reaction, rather than letting your mind over-ride that information, you will begin to get the distinction.

And even if your mind does over-ride, just notice what language it uses to do so. If there are should’s and ought’s involved, you know it’s uncomfortable. ‘This should be fine’, or ‘I ought to be able to handle this’. On the other hand, if your mind is saying, ‘I don’t know how this will work’, or ‘I’m not sure how I will handle this’, it’s just unfamiliar, and you are identifying that you haven’t got a ready made formula for dealing with it.

What if it’s going to happen anyway?

If we realise that it doesn’t fit for us, but it is not something we can just avoid, then we have the opportunity to ask ourselves, ‘What would make it more comfortable for us, a better fit?’ It may be that we need to declare our discomfort beforehand, saying that it doesn’t feel right for us. Or we may realise that we would find it more confortable if we had some overt support while we were experiencing it. Or perhaps we can make some small change to the circumstance that would make it feel a better fit.

And if we’ve established that it is unfamiliar, we may still feel we would find it easier if we have some form of support/encouragement, or suggestions for first steps into it. We also need to allow ourselves a bit of time to get used to it.

As a small child, you encountered the unfamiliar all the time – that’s how you developed, by gradually assimilating new things. But you needed reassurance, help, encouragement, and time to do the assimilation.

You also knew instinctively if something was uncomfortable for you, spitting out the food you didn’t like, yelling when you were being left for a while with someone you didn’t like being with.

You do know the distinction – use it to make life easier for yourself.

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YOUR ‘ENERGY BANK’

We all know how personal finance banking works, even if we don’t always stick to what we know! Being in debt is not a good idea, especially since the debt gets bigger the longer we leave it, as they charge interest. It’s best to keep in credit, and preferably to have a bit extra in case we have something unexpected to pay for.

Your personal energy bank works in the same way. If you use more energy than you have stored, you pay a price for it, in health and mental fitness. It is more advisable to ensure that you have enough energy for what you have to do, and preferably a little extra there for the unexpected calls on you.

The major difference between these two types of banking is that we are not reliant on external circumstances helping us to top up our energy bank. We can be in control of how much energy we take out and put in.

We all know the things that drain our energy resources and the things that top the account up, and many of those things are within our control. This is not necessarily logical or even shared with others. For example, some people feel energised by tidying up the garden ad for others it is a draining activity driven by necessity not pleasure. And time spent with some people energises you, whilst other people you find draining. We’re not even consistent: sometimes the same activity that can energise you may be draining.

However, we all know whether we feel energised or drained by any given activity – it is simple to assess by how we feel at the end of it – so we can keep our energy bank account healthy by doing that assessment on a regular basis and re-balancing the account when it’s been drained.

If you don’t do this re-balancing on a regular basis, that energy bank becomes more and more overdrawn, and when that happens, almost everything becomes an effort. Even those things we enjoy require a little energy to get started, and if there’s nothing to draw on, we end up finding everything draining – and that’s miserable!

So let’s consciously identify some simple things that will give us some energy, and use them to re-balance. For example, I know that pilates or a bit of a walk will work for me. If they’re not possible, certain music is instant energy, or a phone call to one of my friends, and sometimes just taking ten minutes out with a cup of coffee – or a glass of wine! – works. When you know some of the things that give you a boost you can use them to top up that energy, and even plan in advance, so that the draining activities you know you have to do are followed by a top-up activity.

Your energy bank is the driving force that determines how you approach things. Keep that account healthily in credit and you will enjoy life so much more – and that’s what it’s about, isn’t it!

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WHAT’S YOUR DRUG OF CHOICE?

This week I’ve watched a fascinating tv programme called ‘The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs’. It was about a doctor who worked with patients to find alternatives to the pharmaceutical drugs they were taking, because he believes that too many people are taking drugs on a long-term basis and that it isn’t the answer.

It made me think about how much we just mask our physical and emotional reactions, without ever getting to the cause of that reaction and doing something about it.

There is a purpose to aches and pains – to alert us to something being out of balance. It may be a temporary state: I’ve sat still for too long, or I’ve eaten something that’s upset my digestive system. And sometimes it is chronic: I’ve weakened my knees, or I’ve frequent headaches. Similarly our emotional aches and pains are symptoms of something not right and out of balance in our lives. We may be depressed or fearful or angry, either temporarily or frequently.

Pills may give us temporary relief, enough time to deal with the underlying story, when it’s a physical pain, but they are unlikely to cure us – and if we take them on a regular basis they may well do us more harm than good – virtually no drug is without side effects. And watching tv or eating comfort food, or drinking alcohol may distract us from our emotional stuff, but again, they won’t cure it.

So what can we do differently?

There is plenty of research to suggest that our lifestyle is a major factor in our lack of well-being: too much stress, busyness, fast food; not enough physical movement and activity, sleep, and time in natural surroundings. And we do get lots of messages to ‘change our lifestyle choices’ – but that sounds so hard! How do we do this when there’s so much else we have to think about and do?

The answer is one step at a time!!

  • A specialist on the tv programme said that walking was the best miracle cure he knew – so walk a little! Go round the block once or twice a week, or go to the park and walk around for 20 minutes.
  • Being in natural surroundings helps our spirits, so the park works in 2 ways – or go to a National Trust garden once a month.
  • Have a sleep-in once a week. Don’t set the alarm and let yourself catch up a bit – our bodies can heal themselves while we’re asleep.
  • Do something physical that you enjoy once a fortnight. Go swimming, do some gardening, join a yoga or dance class.
  • Once a week, make a meal from scratch, full of fresh vegetables – use lots of different colours, get the family involved in preparing it.
  • And talk with people you love, face to face. Our connections with others help to keep us healthy and it’s always good to talk..

So what’s your drug of choice? I’ll still take the occasional ibuprofen if I have a headache, but I think I’ll look after myself most of the time with the ‘drugs’ of walking, gardening and my lovely friends!

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THE RIGHT TIME

We all know that time doesn’t exactly work like its supposed to. Our chronological description of time, carefully measured in seconds, minutes, hours, doesn’t match with our actual experience of it. Sometimes a minute seems like ages, and sometimes an hour flies by and we wonder where the time went. This makes our lives more complex because we have to balance our experience of time with the expectation that we will work to the clock, so we can coincide with others in meetings, mealtimes, train timetables etc.

And there is another version of time as well, that most of us ignore, because there’s enough to handle already! Yet it is related to our real experience of time and can be very useful to us, should we choose to rediscover it.

The ancient Greeks had two words for time. There was ‘chronos’, the measurement of time passing – where we get chronological from. And there was also ‘kairos’, which means the right time – we have no real equivalent in modern language.

This version of time is the one that astrology is related to. It is where everything is aligned to give us the opportunity to do something easily, effortlessly, in the right way.

When we happen to hit the right time, we generally see it as a coincidence or happy accident. For example, we decide to call someone who is never available and they answer the phone with time to talk, or we put our house up for sale and it is snapped up straight away.

Yet we do not have to hope for the happy accident – we have an innate sense of kairos. We can learn to listen to ourselves and follow our feelings to help us to use kairos to make our lives easier. Our sense of kairos doesn’t come from our reasoning heads. They tend to work to chronos, and give themselves away by saying things like: ‘I should do xxx this morning’ or ‘I need to tackle that issue with the kids this evening’. If there’s a should, ought, got to, must, need to in there, it’s not likely to be kairos – those words refer to the logical version of time, not the perfect opportunity.

The sense of kairos comes from our guts, and bypasses our reasoning, our logic. Science has now proved that we have what they call the enteric brain: neurotransmitters in our guts that are exactly like those in our brains. And it seems that we receive initial information about the world around us here first – gut instinct is alive and well, and a proven fact!

This awareness of the perfect opportunity for something is, I believe, an amalgam of information that we don’t realise consciously that we receive, a wisdom that we often don’t recognise in ourselves. It is an instantaneous assessment of both our state and information from the world around us that gives us an accurate conclusion – either this is the right time or it isn’t.

So next time you feel that gut response that says to avoid the motorway route, follow it. Next time you suddenly think of an old friend, give them a call. Get in the habit of listening to your gut responses and follow them whenever you can, and you will find that kairos is available to you, and can make your life easier.

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YOU’RE INFECTIOUS!

We talk sometimes about someone’s laugh being infectious – did you know that it really is? I love this bit of science, because it says so much about what we’re really like as humans.

So, in our brains, we all have something called mirror neurons. Thye detect the facial expression of others and switch on our facial muscles to mirror their expression. We may not exactly reproduce their smile or frown, but the micro-muscles that create that expression are switched on and begin to move. And the micro-muscular movement in our faces is directly driven by our emotions at the time – it can’t be disguised. We all know that we can tell the difference between a false smile and a real one, and our mirror neurons are what detect the difference for us – we mirror it and then feel the difference in ourselves.

This is a level of biological empathy that we may not be aware of, but it is built into us. Scientists believe that it is part of our survival mechanism: we need to relate to and understand others in order to thrive, and by re-creating their facial expressions in ourselves, we get a sense of what they’re feeling and therefore how to respond to them.

This is one of the reasons why communication is so much more effective when it’s face-to-face – we are much more aware of what is going on with the other person, because we are replicating it in our bodies. It also explains why moods are ‘catching’, and whole groups of people can be affected by someone’s mood at the time.

So since we are so powerful, let’s use it for the good! If I know that others will pick up on my facial expression and therefore my mood, I can consciously choose to shift my state to a good one. If I am feeling frustrated standing in a queue, I can choose instead to use the time to spread some friendliness to those around me. If I am feeling fed up today, I can look for someone who looks happy, and let them infect me! And when I’m feeling good, then I can catch the eye of others and give them a dose of my good mood!

Come on, let’s infect the world with our good moods, and lighten our life!

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ARE YOU CAUGHT UP IN THE STORY?

Do you ever find yourself repeating a familiar and not so useful pattern? Beating yourself up, getting worked up about something relatively trivial, feeling anxious for no good reason, having the same old argument with yourself! Sometimes we just suddenly notice that we’re doing it, and wonder how we managed to get ourselves in such a state. And sometimes we manage to stay there for hours, or even days!

I think of it as being caught up in a story, like when you read or watch something gripping and feel as if you are one of the characters being portrayed. It is a narrowing of perspective, focussing in on something as if it is your whole world and nature. Yet a part of us knows that it is not real, that it is not who we really are, nor the whole story. So we need to know how to ‘un-catch’ ourselves, regain a fuller perspective, and find a more useful way forward.

First of all, we need to recognise that we are caught up in a story and not just sit there. That part is easy: just notice how your body is. When we’re caught up, it literally feels tight, restricted. Our breathing is faster, our shoulders are tense, and our bellies are uncomfortable. We feel like we would if we had been trapped in something unexpectedly. And our minds are out of control, whizzing through all the stupid things we’ve done, or all the possible reasons for being anxious now and in the future, or all the ways in which we’re hard done by.

Once we get better at identifying the signs of being caught up, we can begin to release ourselves more quickly. We need a trigger to start the process – or, more accurately, to begin to stop it! I tend to say something to myself, like: ‘Hang on a minute!’ or ‘This isn’t me’.

Just by breaking into it for a moment, we interrupt the story enough to reduce its stranglehold on us. Sometimes I can then bring myself out: a couple of deep breaths, a step or two back from the narrative in my head, and I can begin to regain some perspective. At that point, I can start to see how I can deal with it differently.

And sometimes I know that I need help. I may have recognised that I’m caught up in the story, but it’s still running. That’s when we need a friend, someone who will play witness to our story and help us to remember that we’re more than that, that we have it out of proportion. Thank God for friends!

Being caught up in the story is neither comfortable nor useful to us. It restricts us in our thinking, our behaviours and our souls. Let’s break out of those nets as quickly as we can, and be the wonderful human beings we really are!

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