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Cultivating gratitude is one area of mindfulness, that some people, including myself, can find difficult. The formal practice that helps us to develop our sense of gratitude is often called “metta bhavana” or “loving kindness”. In the beginning, I used the practice very rarely. It’s now one of my favourites and I want to share it with you so you can try it too. Let me know what you think.
As I progressed with my practice, I began to realise that Loving Kindness very quickly complimented my other formal meditations. I became more aware of my self-judgements and just how strong my emotions could be when faced with situations that required a little more self-love or love for others.
With further reading and practice, I can now recommend the loving-kindness meditation as a fantastic way to cultivate gratitude and positivity.
It has helped me consider more challenging thoughts in a different light and also appreciate external challenges more.
In essence, practising loving-kindness and cultivating gratitude teaches us something about ourselves. As we become more aware of our responses to stress and challenge, we can learn to mentally distance ourselves, developing more clarity and positivism.
Why cultivate gratitude?
I’m going to explain more about how gratitude can help you in your daily practice and how you can trigger gratitude with some pretty simple and enjoyable techniques.
First, here are three reasons why you should introduce Metta Bhavana to your life.
#1 It increases positive emotions
If you’re looking to boost your happiness and well-being, loving-kindness meditation could be just the practice for you.
Practising Loving Kindness Meditation regularly can increase multiple positive emotions including love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe.
These positive emotions can have a ripple effect on those practising the meditation. This also extends to those we bring to mind during the meditation. I found, that by simply seeing all of our connections as human beings, I began to make even the most challenging of people less problematic. This greatly reduced my stress response towards them.
#2 It quiets your inner critic
We all have our internal critic and near-constant chatter that goes on inside our minds. This is such a common behaviour and one we can manage. For many of us, this voice inside our heads can be very highly charged and influential upon our actions and emotions. By taking time to bring positive affirmation and loving kindness to ourselves often, this inner voice eventually looses power and no longer becomes our focus.
Beyond reducing self-criticism we can experience improvements in self-compassion and positive emotions. We can learn to be more empathetic to others and less judgemental of ourselves.
#3 It can increase your capacity for empathy
Regularly practising Loving Kindness Meditation has been shown to activate and strengthen areas of the brain responsible for empathy. One of the most important benefits of empathy is that it improves relationships. Increased empathy can also lead to more compassionate action and a greater sense of altruism.
My loving-kindness practice
Here are the steps I recommend to anyone who wants to cultivate gratitude in their lives through mindfulness meditation. I have been working with my amazing group of mindful practitioners on loving-kindness this month. You will find my guided Metta Bhavana at the bottom of this page and I’ll be posting about the shared experiences of the group in time.
Step 1 Acknowledge Your Worthiness
One of the reasons we tend to lean away from positivity, instead of leaning into it, is that we struggle with our worthiness. Do we deserve joy? The answer is yes.
You are a human being and you are worthy of feeling joy.
Find space in your day or week to remind yourself that you are enough. That you are unique and special. Put a reminder on your phone, leave yourself a note on the fridge or make it part of your morning or evening routines. But tell yourself daily that you are enough and you are worthy of happiness.
Step 2 Stop the comparison game
We can be happy for the successes of others without belittling our own. It’s important to realize that we only see the best of other people’s daily lives, we know our own daily struggles much more intimately. So it’s never a fair comparison.
Step 3 Diarise your gratitude
Writing down what you are grateful for can help to remind you of all the blessings in your life that you may take for granted. Including awareness of everyday successes or blessings in your daily journal will naturally change how you start to value these experiences.
My wife started the “thankful” jar a couple of years ago. We fill it as the year goes on. Taking a piece of paper and just writing down what we are thankful for in that moment.
At the end of each year, we open it and begin making our way through these amazing moments, deepening our connection and gratitude for each other.
Step 4 Write a thank you note
Birthdays and weddings aside, when was the last time you took time out to say thank you. It doesn’t need to be a card. A text, a note on a colleague’s desk, telling people that we appreciate them makes the person receiving the note feel good – and we get to experience those feelings of gratitude too.
Step 5 Practice Metta Bhavana
When you cultivate gratitude, you’re able to feel true happiness and contentment. Through practising the Metta Bhavana or Loving Kindness meditation, we touch the sense of shared humanity in all living beings. We’re tapping into a fundamental shared desire. We all want to be happy.
May you be well, may you be happy, and may you free from suffering
Anxiety: Friend or Foe
I have suffered, tried and tested a lot of techniques in my life to manage my anxiety. Initially CBT, helped me notice my negative thinking and it also really opened my mind, showing me that my thoughts and perception of my world around me, was a very negative one with or without stress.
I spent 7 years managing my bouts of anxiety, specifically nausea. Weirdly for me this was the worst! I had no issues with heart rate increase, sweating or that all encompassing rush of adrenalin. As much as it felt like an internal nuclear explosion, I surfed it. But the nausea, in meetings, on transport or in shops was hellish. I know that if you are in this place right now, it seems like that annoying thing that just wont stop. Yet, us anxiety sufferers keep going, we are the strongest you know?
So what did I do, what helped for me. In the end mindfulness, breathing and becoming more aware of me. Yes, I have heightened anxiety, but that’s who I am and who I am supposed to be. I thinking finally reaching the point of acceptance is the most important. Stopping that fight and that resistance and just letting go gave me the energy and life force to let it be and focus my attention on what matters. Initially meditation helped me find that focus. I can’t go an hour without just checking in mindfully. The busy mind, or the quiet one. The tension and then the release. Thanks to mindfulness and regular practice I am at piece with this mental friend and no longer fighting with the enemy. It is ok to be anxious and it is also ok to just be for 5 mins each hour, every hour. Noticing the pitch of my sons young voice, that slight itch on my left arm, or that worry about the next job. They are just moments that I want to be aware off and moments that are impermanent as the next moment unfolds.
Anxiety changed me and developed me and it continues to each day. Please try mindfulness, it will change you. With practice.
When anxiety hovers above your light and shadows and all your actions, please do not fear them too much. I would like to remind you that life has not forgotten you. It is holding you by your hand and will not let you fail. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness or depression? For after all, even though you do not know where all of this will lead, these experiences may lead to the change that you were always hoping for.
From Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke adapted by Patrizia Collard
Start here if you are new to mindfulness or looking for some quick meditation ideas. Know that your focus on self-care and mental wellbeing is just as important as looking after your physical well-being. Next time you are counting steps or logging meals, take a minute to breathe in. And breathe out. And ease down into relaxation.
Becoming aware of
I found that relaxation was something I had to learn. And for me, that started with noticing when tension would first appear. The following quick meditations are designed around the points in the day when a 60-second grounding technique can go unnoticed. Once you start to feel the benefits of relaxation you become aware of when you need it most. These quick stress management exercises can fit into your day and there is no equipment needed.
Busy mums and dads. Back to back meetings. Wrong side of the bed. Don’t let a bad day get the better of you. A common technique I have adopted from the practice of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT is to break your day up into thirds. This can help you gain control after an awful morning, restart your evening and find lots of little opportunities for quick mediations.
These are two different meditations both perfect for busy mornings. Both can be practiced in the shower or simply while washing your face. The idea is to observe your mega morning thoughts; the ones that make you feel like you have lived an entire day before even leaving the house, sometimes before leaving the bed. By listening to your thoughts you become an observer. The aim is not to control them; just to listen and let go.
In the shower, or standing at the wash hand basin, let the water start to flow and try to tune into the sound it makes as it rushes from the faucet or showerhead. Notice the change in pitch as the water hits your skin and the ceramic bath or sink. Let your morning brain activate; we are natural thinkers so it’s perfectly normal for your mind to present all of the day’s potential problems to you as you listen to the water’s changing pitch and speed.
Be kind to yourself; acknowledge your thoughts and notice when this happens. Take care to inhale and on the exhale, bring your mind back to the sound of the water; rushing from the shower head; changing tone and pace as it completes it short journey down the plughole. Take three slow cleansing breaths and turn the water off.
Well done; have a great day!
This is a really simple but effective practice. It takes no longer than the time it takes to dry yourself after a shower or in the few minutes sitting on the bed before you start to get dressed. It incorporates some self-massage techniques into your routine that I promise you will continue to use because this is a fantastically easy way to practice self-care.
As well as providing a great start to your day, this type of mindful practice is also perfect post-workout or post-workday when your body might be carrying tension and stress.
Using your own hand, begin by massaging your neck from the center to your ear and from center to your shoulder switching hands to cover both sides of your neck and both shoulders.
Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Inhale and exhale. Now move to the arm, working down one arm from the shoulder to the elbow, wrist, palm of your hand and fingers. Now massage the second arm, acknowledging the thoughts that enter and leave and using the out breath to come back to the body and the sensations you feel.
Feel any tension leave that part of your body as you exhale and notice any feelings of satisfaction or gratitude as you ease down into relaxation.
It is only natural that your thoughts return to the activities and challenges that today brought. Be mindful of these thoughts; notice and listen, but each time you move to another part of the body try to refocus on that massaging sensation and what is feels like. Feel any tension in the arms and hands, legs and feet and of course shoulders. Gently massage, one hand at a time, feeling the warmth the movement brings.
When you’re ready to open your eyes, take three deep breaths. Breath slowly and fill your stomach. Hold the breath and exhale slowly.
Well done. You listened to your thoughts but didn’t let them control you. This time was all yours and you gave yourself some self-care in the form of a mindful massage.
This has to be one of my favourites. But first let us cast the image of the raisin and our first experience of this practice out of our minds. There is so much to explore with this practice.
As you sit down, notice the sensation of smell and how the food conjures thoughts of the taste and the hunger. Using cereal as an example, pick up the table spoon, feel its temperature in your hand, its smoothness or texture. Notice how the spoon slides effortlessly into the cereal bowl and the noise this makes. Bring the spoon to your mouth and take that first mouthful.
If your mind wanders, notice this and return to the texture and taste of the cereal in your mouth. How your tongue activates those senses of taste and the thoughts associated. Now bring your attention to how that cereal got here, from the packet or box, from the store you bought it from. As you chew, think about how it got delivered to the store, how it was made in the factory, all the way back to the beginning of the wheat or rice being grown. Perhaps even the plants being planted or seeds sown. I find that I get lost in this imagination while eating and it helps ground and calm my mind. Fantastic!
Mindfulness of Touch
Find a comfortable seat at home and remove your shoes/slippers. Just sit in the seat as you would and begin scanning your sense of touch. Perhaps the sensations of your feet touching the floor. Maybe you begin with the back of your head or neck touching the sofa. See where your brain wants to go next, the back touching the sofa, your clothes resting against your shoulders or knees. Perhaps even your socks on your feet. When you notice your thoughts wandering, with kindness and without judgement, bring your focus back to the last sensation of touch. dont try and control the order of the sensing, just let it come automatically. Repeat this for 10 mins. Another self care start to ease the mind and promote awareness of a moment between body and mind.
Awakening the Breathe
Begin this exercise first thing in the morning or perhaps for at lunch. Start by taking in 5 long deep breathes. Controlling the breathing and bring focus to that control. Keep the breathing long and deep, into the chest. Observing the expansion and contraction. Repeat this for 2 minutes. On the emergence of the next out breathe, bring the focus of the breathing down to the stomach, noticing the sensations of the rising and falling stomach. Repeat this for 2 minutes. As the next out breath comes round, place the imagnation on the whole body breathing. As you breathe in the air comes in through the lungs, down into the stomach, legs and feet. As you breathe out, imagine all that air coming out of the feet, back up the legs, up through the stomach and lungs. Repeat for 2 minutes. Now return the focus back to the breathing down to the stomach, repeat for two minutes. Now return to the breathing at the chest for 2 minutes. Taking your time and bring yourself back to where you are, sitting, lying down at home, on the train or even in the office. Enjoy.
As the Alarm awakes you, reset it today for just 10 minutes later. Just today. Take your time. While you lie in bed, notice the warmth and comfort and how it makes you feel. Really take your time. Listen to the birds outside. The kids in the other room. The cars passing in the street. Now bring something positive to the front of you mind. Something positive you will do today. For yourself. Help others? Maybe its that favourite song. Favourite walk. That hot bath. Calling a friend or family member. Helping a colleague.
When you have decided, cast your mind forward to that positive moment. What will it feel like? How will you feel? Smile ( even fake ones work you know). Now let alarm go off and start your day….ahhh…..ready?
To start this exercise, find a quiet room at home. Begin by standing feet, hip width apart. Bend the knees slightly, no locked joints please. Pull in your pelvic floor and core. Notice how this strenghts the back and posture. Place both arms by your side palms resting against the side of each leg. Now start by taking in a nice slow deep breathe and at the same time, Raise the arms, allowing the breathe to control the speed, up above the head until the palms meet each other. No breathe out slowly, lowering the arms back down to the legs. See if you can notice the slight pause between the end and beginning of each breathe. Repeat this process for 15 breathes. Enjoy
During the season of goodwill we will notice thoughts, feelings or memories interrupting us and that’s ok. These thoughts may be subtle and fleeting but some maybe of lost loved ones or work stress that very easily takes the edge off your Christmas cheer. When you notice what is happening in your mind, acknowledge it, don’t criticise yourself. Please bring kindness and return your attention to cooking that turkey, wrapping your gifts or standing in line to buy that bargain. Soak up the sounds, the smells, the feelings and let yourself be part of that moment. Its yours after all.
Pay more attention to where you are and what you are doing, even if your mind tries to offer distractions and alternative realities that appear to be more pleasant than your real experience. You’ll soon be in the company of the family, maybe friends or just your own.
So from the time you wake up on this Christmas morning, take time to fully notice the little things, the smells, textures and tastes that really make your Christmas. Each cuddle, each kiss and each gift. Take time to savour it. How do the sweets look in your hand? How does that new jumper feel on? How does the happiness of others make you feel? Notice the effort others have made to give you gifts. Look at the way they are wrapped. How it feels to pull off the paper. Consider that many other people you do not know have made effort to grow, make or transport parts of your present too.
Bring gratitude, kindness and warmth to everyone you have contact with – including yourself. And if things don’t quite go as planned or you are feeling overwhelmed by the celebrations, just take your seat out in the garden and spend a few moments focusing your attention on your breath, for this impermanent feeling will soon be over and you’ll be in another moment, that belongs to you.
Merry Mindful Christmas.
This exercise is designed to cultivate a heightened awareness and appreciation of simple things we do in our day that we go unnoticed and experienced.
Think of something that happens every day more than once; something you take for granted, like making a cup of tea.
At the very moment you touch the kettle to start the boil, stop for a moment and be mindful of where you are, how you feel in that moment and how the tea could make you feel.
Similarly, the moment you open your computer to start work, take a moment to appreciate the hands that enable this process and the brain that awakens your understanding of how to use the computer.
These cues don’t have to be physical ones either.
Each time you think a negative thought, you might choose to take a moment to stop, label the thought as unhelpful and release the negativity.
Or, perhaps each time you smell food, you take a moment to stop and appreciate how lucky you are to have good food available to you in that moment.
Choose a touch point that resonates with you today and, instead of going through your daily motions on autopilot, take occasional moments to stop and cultivate purposeful awareness of what you are doing and the blessings these actions bring to your life.
I find I do this with breakfast, travel, sitting or walking. The great thing about this exercise is that you can do it at any point and you can get so much more from these small experiences than you knew.
Explore and enjoy
We have looked at some of the easier of the mindful practices. Lets ramp it up a little bit today.
Now we can start Being mindful of emotions to help us stand back from the emotion, understand it, not to fear it or
struggle against it, and it can have the added benefit of reducing the distress (although the aim is to learn to accept the experience, rather than lessen the distress).
Bring your attention to the breath. Notice your breathing as you slowly breathe in and out, noticing the sensations as the stomach inflates on
the in-breath, and deflates on the out-breath. Notice the feelings, and what it feels like.
Name the emotion:
1 What is it?
2 What word best describes what you are feeling?
3 Angry, sad, anxious, irritated, scared, frustrated…
Accept the emotion. It’s a normal body reaction. It can be helpful to understand how
it came about – what it was, the set of circumstances that contributed to you feeling
this way. Don’t condone or judge the emotion. Simply let it move through you without resisting it, struggling against it, or encouraging it.
Investigate the emotion.
1 How intensely do you feel it?
2 How is you breathing?
3 What are you feeling in your body? Where do you feel it?
4 What’s your posture like when you feel this emotion?
5 Where do you notice muscle tension?
6 What’s your facial expression? What does your face feel like?
7 Is anything changing? (nature, position, intensity)
What thoughts or judgements do you notice? Just notice those thoughts. Allow them
to come into your mind, and allow them to pass. Any time you find that you’re
engaging with the thoughts – judging them or yourself for having them, believing
them, struggling against them, just notice, and bring your attention back to your
breathing, and to the physical sensations of the emotion.
If any other emotions come up, if anything changes, simply notice and repeat the steps
above. Just notice that the feelings change over time.
Explore and Enjoy
This exercise is a simple coordination of breath and movement. It will bring back some energy to.
1. Lie on your back and, with you legs stretched out, allow yourself to be completely calm.
2. On the in breath spread open your toes like a flower opening. On the out breath scrunch your toes as if the flower was closing. If you cramp a little, just slow the movement. Its also a sign of dehydration, so drink plenty water.
3.Now when inhaling, point the toes gently away from your body and on the exhale flex your feet up towards you body.
4. Now slowly curl your ankles in each directions, clockwise, then anti-clockwise
5. Next, bring one leg to 90 degrees. On the in breath open the knee and extend the leg towards the ceiling. On the out breath fold it back to 90 degrees. repeat 5 to 10 times on eahc leg.
6. Next bring your heels up to your bum and rest them level on the floor or bed. On the in breath open the knees to the side and bring them back on the out breath.
7.Now bring both knees up so they are tightly touching. Your feet should be on the bed. next form a T shape with your arms. on the in breath allow both knees to fall slowly to the right. strecthing the lower back, hips. On the out breath bring the knees back to the starting position. repeat with the left side. Do this as long as you wish.
Explore and enjoy.
Bring Mindfulness to the Gym
Mindfulness does have multiple benefits on our frame of mind and everyday routines so why dont we include it in exercise. Our mental health goes hand in hand with the physical.
Think about all the times you’ve focused on how others look through a workout or how you just wanted the work out by with and done. You’ll find you’re actually too distracted and do not really pay attention to your technique, resulting in a less effective workout or risk of injury.
The mind will naturally drift in and out of thoughts whilst you’re working out. The key to mindfulness is to recognise when this happens and bring yourself back to the body and the moment.
Here’s a few tips to use during workouts.
1. Warm Up
Instead of mindlessly getting through the same routine in no particular set time, start to stretch, noticing the bodily sensations and thoughts that appear. When the mind is given time to wander, return to the area of the body being stretched or warmed up. perhaps think about what you will do in this work out or hope to improve on. Take your time. Your out of the working environment for your company. Your now working for you.
2. Focus on your purpose
If you find yourself thinking about everything you need to do instead of working out, remind yourself that you deserve to take care of yourself, and it’s going to make you feel calmer and relaxed.
3. Enjoy this time, take your foot of the pedal.
You’ve set aside this time to work out so make the most of it. Take the time to appreciate every moment and bodily sensation. You can then work the hardest you possibly can whilst there.
4. Breathe Deeply
It sounds simple, but if you find your mind wandering, take a minute to close your eyes and take a few deep breaths – it’s the quickest way to alleviate stress and set your mind back on the task at hand. When your mind wanders, always return to the breathe and centre yourself. In time you will automatically do this with practice. This increases your focus and the enjoyment and experience of working out
5. Wind Down
Take 10 minutes to stretch, do some belly breathing and do a five minute meditation. Just sit quietly, focus on the in breath for 10 counts and then switch to the out breath for 10, cultivate gratitude to yourself for all the hard work your body’s just done and what you have experienced.
Bring mindfulness with kindness and non-judgement to your work out. After all it’s your downtime.
Explore and enjoy.