Do you see?

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Maybe as busy adults, with heads often full of our own agenda, we miss seeing when our children are mindful.

Today I was delighted when my 8yr old daughter showed me what had totally absorbed her attention for a whole hour (!). Whilst I’d been preparing for a job she had quietly been setting these crayons out one by one. ‘I’ve been very resilient Mummy!’ (they kept falling over…a lot!) – well done school for getting that message across 😉

I fed off her joy and exclaimed happily that she had also been very mindful as she had totally focused her attention on her self given task for so long. It interested me to note my response to how she had chosen to spend her precious time; I recognised that the ‘old’ me would have got a bit cross and agitated at the thought that the floor might get messy (my agenda), which would have completely deflated my daughter’s enthusiasm I’m sure! That didn’t even occur to me in the moment. Instead it was lovely to be able to share in her triumph, to help her understand mindfulness in a meaningful way and to give validation to her activity.

Btw, the work I was preparing for was focusing on mindful listening in relationships funnily enough! I can really recommend the following videos (especially the 2nd one – ‘The Sacred Art of Listening’ by Tara Brach) if you wish to understand the art and improve the quality of attention you give to your child/ren. I think one of the things humans most desire is simply to be seen and heard…

dropping anchor

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In yoga and mindfulness meditation a core teaching is the practice of ‘grounding’. Bringing our awareness, consciousness or spirit, what ever you wish to call it, fully into conscious connection with our whole body and the Earth beneath us is vital to our feeling safe and functioning effectively and constructively with our bodies, minds and our community. I feel so passionately that so many children are not given the time and space they need to ground themselves effectively in modern life. I believe this lack of connection to body and Earth causes a sickness of spirit which can affect their physical and mental workings, resulting in behaviours that often earn children the diagnostic labels that seem to be handed out more and more frequently. During my recent training with Special Yoga for children with ADHD and Autism the emphasis was largely on bringing the child’s energy down into the body with grounding postures, anchoring them in the here and now in a safe and non overwhelming space, connecting their awareness with their body, breath and the Earth. When this takes place children literally feel more at home, safer, more peaceful and better able to deal with the challenges life will inevitably throw at them.

In 2012 the US Journal Of Environmental and Public Health published an article about the importance of ‘earthing’ as they call it; ‘…emerging scientific research has revealed a surprisingly positive and overlooked environmental factor on health: direct physical contact with the vast supply of electrons on the surface of the Earth. Modern lifestyle separates humans from such contact. The research suggests that this disconnect may be a major contributor to physiological dysfunction and unwellness. Reconnection with the Earth’s electrons has been found to promote intriguing physiological changes and subjective reports of well-being.’

Whilst science is bringing welcome new understanding to the knowledge of the ancient wisdom traditions, how we feel in our own experience can not be denied, and when we trust these feelings, we come into right relationship with ourselves and creation as a whole ….which feels good, natural and healthy ….which reflects in our physical and mental health.

When I take my daughters into the woods (sometimes despite their protests which you might relate to if you are a parent or work with children 😉 ), I see them relax; I see them feeling at home, exactly where they need to be, revelling in the moment’s freedom. We don’t go with a plan other than to explore with our senses and play. We give our thinking selves over to our deeper parts, to curiosity, instinct and intuition. We follow our hearts in the woods, rather than our minds. We are always delighted; literally feeling lighter and more ‘right’ within ourselves. We arrive ‘home’ with smiles on our faces.

 

 

Concentration and Self-esteem

 

Shine article 2018

So hopefully, if you follow the link below, what you read may be helpful in understanding how mindfulness can help children develop their concentration skills, and also how we, as carers, can use our own awareness to help them along the way too.

Happily, being invited to write this article also provides me with material with which to talk about another benefit of mindful practice – that it can do wonders for self-esteem and confidence.

Seeing my words in print is a wonderful thing for me. I was a shy child and the thought of ‘being seen’ in the world turned my insides upside down! This continued into adulthood as a lack of faith in my abilities, a shying away from attention and a limiting feeling that I was never really fulfilling my potential.

With continued mindful practice over the last 8 years however, much has changed!

This can be explained neurologically as research is showing that mindful meditation activates and strengthens the areas of the brain responsible for self image and personality (a function of the prefrontal cortex) coupled with the revelation that the thoughts we experience need not be listened to.

Sitting in stillness and watching the experience of thinking shows us the range and volume of attention grabbing thought our brains constantly create…it’s just what they do! Meditation does not stop thought but it can train us to pay less attention to it, so that we are in charge rather than the thoughts themselves leading us through life. Mindfulness has helped me recognise that I am not my thoughts, they are something I experience but don’t need to cling too or believe if they make me feel bad or worthless.

So these days if I notice myself going into an old ‘I can’t do that’ thought, I simply choose to notice the effect it has on me, breathe and then reaffirm that ‘I can’. When our patterns are very set it can be a challenge to untangle ourselves from what we have believed is true for so long in order to forge new pathways AND it is absolutely possible none the less. The result of my endeavour to change my relationship to my thoughts is a flourishing of self belief. It still takes courage to say ‘yes’ to new opportunities (like writing an article!) but understanding that I don’t need to listen to fearful thoughts that would have  discouraged me in the past has opened me up to embracing my limitless potential, enhanced my contentment and helped me feel at home in the world…. this is what I endeavour to pass on to the children I work with.

https://www.perform.org.uk/shine/2018/03/hocus-pocus-everybody-focus/?utm_content=Marketing&utm_campaign=Sendgrid%20Marketing%20emails&utm_source=Sendgrid&utm_term=Marketing%20emails&utm_medium=Email

PS – For parents this video of Tara Brach talking about thought and meditation is very insightful; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kNXhJf6jOM

 

Meeting a fellow passenger

 

 

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I had an opportunity recently, whilst on a train journey into London, to observe a deeper kind of journey occurring within myself; one that took me to an unexpected inner destination, one which illustrated to me how mindfulness is helping me become less reactive and more compassionate.

If the physical journey is one we make every day, the novelty of it diminishes as our body and brain integrate the pattern; the usual sights and sounds cease to engage our attention as they become more familiar and we become less and less present with the journey itself and our experience of it. Our mind takes the opportunity to snatch our now wandering attention and we might spend the entire journey in our heads, concerned with the tense conversation we had with our partner before we left or leaping ahead to speculate on, and plan, the day’s work. In this way so much of our actual lives pass us by and we miss countless opportunities to engage in meaningful relationship with others and our environment.

Whilst participating in Special Yoga’s training course to teach yoga and mindfulness to children with Autism and ADHD, we were invited by our wonderful teacher, Jyoti Jo Manuel, to undertake a piece of homework at the end of the 2nd day; to simply notice our reactions to any situations that presented themselves as we travelled between then and the next day’s training, in essence to be fully present in our journey.

Oh boy, did I get a chance to do just that!

That last day of training held the possibility of heavy snow fall and right from the start I was aware of the fearful though ‘Will I be able to get home if it snows today?’, lots of deep breathing, feeling my feet on the ground and affirming positively, ‘All is well, I am safe and all is well’, helped ease my jangle of nerves and quickening heart rate…

As the train I was due to get into London was cancelled I noticed the doom laden internal mutterings of ‘Oh no, I’m going to be late’ the tension this bought to my shoulders and a sort of plummeting of my emotional state. This time I reassured myself that it really didn’t matter if I was late, as others would be too and the day would continue non the less…

Accepting my now inevitable lateness with another deep breath I boarded the very slow train and, feeling lighter of heart, found gratitude for the fact that I had a seat and marvelled at the beauty of the snow flakes as they glistened in the intermittent rays of the low morning sun (contented sigh).

Of course the train was packed as we pulled into Paddington. I had been aware of the smartly dressed chap in the seat next to me as he boarded but had not paid him any further attention through the journey, until the automated female voice punctuated the thick and loaded silence of the crowded carriage. I smiled with a mixture of disbelief, sadness and amusement at the company’s attempt to make the voice sound jolly and bright; it sat so desperately at odds with the commuter’s annoyance at yet another disrupted trek to work, sounding disingenuous and ridiculous.

For my neighbour, however, this was the straw that broke the camels back. As he started to agitatedly verbalise his obviously deep seated anger to no one in particular I watched as the fight-or-flight fireworks instantly started to explode inside me.

I forget his words apart from the last part of his rant; ‘It makes you want to hit someone, I want to hit someone.’

My nervous system believed him and prepared me to RUN! I could feel the blood racing to my heart and muscles, a feeling of lightheadedness, shaking limbs injected with adrenaline, loosing awareness of my feet and the ground beneath me, utterly ungrounded, utterly panicked…

…and yet…

…some other part of me, my awareness, remained fully present with that beautiful fellow human being who was feeling so lost, so broken and so hurt beneath his anger.

In the past I would not have engaged with him. I would have cowered in my reactionary state praying for the doors to open, for the man to move, for someone else to save the day.

But in this moment, I turned gently to face him. He met my eyes and I held his gaze, my acknowledgment of his pain as mine being communicated from the depths of my heart to his and said softly ‘Please don’t’. And he didn’t retaliate because I wasn’t afraid. My words didn’t come from the reactive, fear based part of me, but from the compassion that mindfulness is helping me cultivate and the knowledge that we are not separate entities, but that we are all connected and sharing this human experience together.

He seemed to deflate, sighing heavily and smiling sadly. I asked him what he did for work and we had a brief exchange during which he revealed his hurt at being treated unfairly by an old boss, part of the root of his anger at least.

He asked what I did for work and upon hearing I taught yoga to children remembered  how he had loved doing Hot Yoga and how he wanted to take it up again. Whilst his journey and how he travels are up to him, I did notice that I hoped he does return to a physical practice, for himself and for all of us, as a way of letting go of emotional tension whilst relieving the physical, for how much lighter he, and we, will be!

The value of being fully present within this recent journey of mine helped me notice not just how mindfulness is helping me become less reactive, but also how deep the inner journey can be within the physical one; and that if we are sensing a deep and undefinable unsettlement within, a knowing that something isn’t quite right, it’s this inner journey we need to navigate if we wish to find our peace.

 

 

 

Woodland Treasures

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I’ve created a nice, regular slot in my Tuesdays during which I choose to ‘walk my talk’ (both literally and figuratively!). It’s time and space in the stillness under the wood’s branches to drop beneath the waves of thought into the deep undercurrents of feeling and sensing that exist in ‘now’, and to behold the treasures of wisdom and self-healing that are available to us when we access that way of being. This fuels my own energy, meaning I can give to others at home and work coming from a place of heart rather than of head.

Some days I notice resistance to going, some days not. Today was a resistance day….’It’s toooo cold!’….’I won’t be able to sit still!’ (again with the ‘it’s toooo cold!!’)….’I need to do some writing and make a phone call’….’My mind is toooo busy, I’ll never be a able to detach from my thoughts!’….

Of course I can – and I did!

I walked fast in the hope of warming my ice-pop toes (‘doing’) and was surprised to find my attention, after only 15 minuets, drifting firstly to what I could see, then gently to what I could feel in response to what I could see (‘being’).

It was the Pine trees that really got me. Seen at first from afar, the cluster appeared so dense and dark, triggering a little fear, images of Red-Riding Hood flitting into my mind (where is the Wolf hiding?!)…as I got nearer the space under the needles opened out to reveal that quite the opposite of the initial impression was true!

What a difference a change of perspective can make to our experience. The space there felt so peaceful and still it moved me to a few heart-full, grateful tears…I felt so ‘held’, as if I was surrounded by all the benevolent help and company I could wish for (which may well have been the case if you care to believe in Angels!).

The inner treasures received in the woods today were peace of heart and mind, which I still feel now hours later; the material treasures you see in my hand above, such beautiful, miniature perfection right under our noses when we take time to see it….and warm toes at last after all.

(Oh, and I still managed to fit in that writing and phone call when I got home, of course I did!).

 

 

Celebration!

 

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I was so happy for my daughter at sunrise today!

We had one of those breakthrough moments this morning that you feel like singing from the chimney tops. So here I am, singing in all my Mary Poppins glory 🙂

Distraction whilst getting ready for school has always been our archnemesis and I know we are not alone here! Getting sick of the sound of our own voices when we hear ourselves grumble ‘Have you brushed your teeth yet and why are you still in your pyjamas??’ for the 50th time, is a common complaint in the playground chat room of parentdom.

Well, this morning, things were a little different chez Salmon… I was not the one to drag my eldest (now 11) back from the Distraction Zone because SHE was the one to recognise that she had got distracted and was therefore able to bring herself back into the present moment (to her tooth brushing to be exact 😉 ).

It may not sound like a giant leap, but in terms of mindfulness it is huge!

The aim of the mindfulness practitioner is simply to notice where their attention lies at any given moment. Once we are aware of this we then have the power to choose to re-direct it if we feel it is beneficial to do so. For instance; if we notice that whist doing the washing up we have become distracted by thoughts of how much we have to get done the next day, which may make us feel agitated and anxious, we can then choose to turn our attention to our breath, helping it slow down, and to our senses, feeling the warm water and bubbles on our skin, which may be infinity more pleasant than worrying about something out of our control at that particular moment of washing up.

For my part (because we do always play a part wether we wish to acknowledge it or not), I noticed that instead of the usual frustration in reaction to her being distracted, I was conversely filled with delight that she had experienced such a moment of self awareness. Had I followed my old pattern I would most likely have reacted with an anger fuelled  cutting comment, which may have sent the message that her self observation was not important. As it was, I applauded her and enjoyed her own sense of accomplishment, and the rest of the pre-school routine was decidedly more upbeat, and definitely a lot smoother sailing, than usual!

Please don’t think, by the way, that we sit in mindful meditation each day together, or even talk about mindfulness much. Whilst it would be lovely if we did, my daughters definitely benefit from the more subtle approach of being in my presence as I simply attempt to live as mindfully as I can. This can be pointing out what I am noticing as we drive along or talking about how I feel emotionally and what sensations I feel in my body…it’s a gentle process of modelling that is occurring naturally in each and every moment…not always easy, I’ll grant you…but so worth it for the peace of mind, body and heart it brings :).

Thoughts – know your place!

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Autumn and I have had a rocky start to our relationship this year!

I recognised that I was stuck in a place of non-acceptance of this season in late August. I judged myself a little harshly for clinging on to lazy days and warmth, feeling a deep resistance to the beautiful, natural and inevitable change afoot. ‘What right do I have to teach mindfulness if I can’t accept ‘now’ and go with the flow?!’ I chastised myself….until I remembered that the point to mindfulness is simply to notice what is, what ever that is, ie, in this case, my non-acceptance and feelings of resistance!

Ahhhh, ok, I’m doing that….well, that takes the pressure off then 😉

Today, during a brief and mindful walk back to my car after dropping the girls at school, I found myself absorbed in the colours and shapes of the rain laminated leaves…I made a little collection and really looked at them for a moment. In this state I became aware that I was no longer experiencing the resistance…I realised how caught up I had been in the thought of ‘I can’t accept Autumn this year’, remembering how many times I’d repeated that thought internally and out loud during conversations, giving it power, affirming it again and again, keeping the loop playing!

By literally coming to my senses with these leaves this morning, I have stopped the thought in its tracks, it no longer holds power over my experience and I am unstuck, now fully present in this moment of Autumn 🙂

(A witty article about our relationship to thought and how we often let it rule the roost over and above our equally important sensing self; https://palousemindfulness.com/docs/nisker-thoughts.pdf , balance in all things is the key to health and contentment.)

 

 

Animal Magic

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Animals can help us and our children access the present moment and relieve our stresses and worries beautifully as they live totally in the moment and are easy to give our full attention to; they don’t judge us and they give love freely without condition.

When spending valuable time engaging with animals we can help our children (and ourselves) become more mindful by getting in touch with our emotions and inner sensations and sharing our experiences;

‘The rhythm of stroking the silky, soft fur makes me feel calm and peaceful inside… there is a warm, open feeling in my heart and I’m smiling.’

If our attention is split we tend not to experience this deeper level of being, the recognition of which is so beneficial to our health in all respects.

 

upside down

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This was my inverted view this morning as I stretched out my tiredness after a broken nights sleep with some triangle postures. Whilst we do, thank goodness, have a lot less of these now the girlies are over 5, rising to the challenge of existing on less than a full tank the next day takes no less effort than in the ‘old days’.

When the girls were small I experienced a LOT of resistance to taking even a few minuets to practice yoga, meditation and mindfulness. It was as if I was slave to the negative thought patterns and beliefs that cycled through me, caught in a loop of ‘there’s no point’, seeing every interruption of ‘Mummmeee…’ and the inevitable clutter of childhood play around the house as thwarting any attempt to re-enter the state of stillness I’d felt the benefit of pre children. There was a definite belief that that state was unattainable in this new chapter of life; a hopelessness had set in.

Thank goodness for the subtle pull of my soul, never giving up it’s gentle whispering ‘come home’. It’s been a steady, tough climb over the last seven or so years to shake off and re-programme that negativity, and it’s taken a LOT of determination and will power to let the innate, positive aspect of myself take over the driver’s seat. It’s been my Everest!

Now I have no resistance to doing what I know will benefit us all; I can get down on the mat with the cars and laugh at the fact they have a great view of my bum whilst I forward bend… and it doesn’t matter if someone shouts ‘Mummeeee…’ because if I need to move away from the mat, it’s not going anywhere and I can return… and it doesn’t matter if I can only practice for 5 minuets because that is enough… and breathe 🙂

Soothing Sensory Sunday

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I’ve always been a sensory kind of gal. I mean, we are all sensory beings obviously, but how many of us pay regular and full attention to what we’re hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and feeling (physically, emotionally, intuitively) in any given moment? And how many of us recognise the gifts of doing just that?

Our Sunday just past was full of everyday sensory pleasures, easy to miss if you’re not in the habit of mindfulness. Given that my eldest was tussling with some pretty ‘strange feelings’ as she put it, which were manifesting as defensive and sometimes aggressive behaviour, being able to encourage her to – see the pleasing reflections of her dress in the spinning cup at the park; listen to the sound of the water filling the bucket and watch the light playing on the bubbles within; feel the weight and motion of the mop swinging in her hands as she positively expended some of the emotional energy; feel and smell the jelly making process – really helped us all navigate the storms and find the calm waters beneath the waves as they passed 🙂

The more attention we pay to what our senses are telling us about our present moment, the more grounded in it we become (able to function more effectively on every level of our being). We can be aware of emotions and therefore let them flow through us, rather than suppress them, only to have them fester and erupt at a later date and/or cause mental and/or physical illness. We can also become less embroiled in the seemingly relentless, fearful and distracting thought cycles that cause our muscles to tense and our hearts to race, again potentially causing illness. Present moment awareness results in a calmer and healthier mind, body and spirit.

Our children are excellent at sensory living if we give them the time and space to engage in it. When we, as adults, are able to enjoy it with them, they see that it is a valuable way of being and will not ‘grow out of it’, hopefully meaning that their adult lives will be smoother sailing!