In the early 1990s, I travelled to San Francisco to begin my training. I’ve been a faithful practitioner ever since. For many years now, I’ve been teaching a Mindfulness for Stress-Less Living intensive and it’s a great joy to introduce people to this life-enriching practice.
While mindfulness has become a corporate best-seller in training programmes, I can assure you, there’s no great mystery to mindfulness. It’s primarily paying attention. It’s moment to moment awareness. It’s simple, but very hard. Simple and easy are not the same thing. The mind is like a helium balloon that will fly off when it isn’t anchored.
But what’s the purpose of mindfulness? There are many benefits that come with daily practice. The greatest reward is that it gives life more value and meaning. A great many folks live in automatic pilot – even while living exciting lives, they tend to miss so much of it because the mind is absorbed in a plethora of life situations – problems, disagreements, financial or health concerns – the list is endless. As one of my clients told me: “Joanne, I walk from my home in St Aubin to St Helier quite often. Recently, it struck me that I arrive at my destination having missed the entire thing…” Yes, this is exactly the kind of scenario that leaves people feeling that life is just whizzing by. I would describe mindfulness as the difference between reading a book about pears and actually eating, tasting, savouring a pear!
Mindfulness is a highly effective stress-management tool that when practised daily, lowers cortisol, one of the main stress hormones. Chronically elevated cortisol weakens our immune system. Stress originates in the mind. Like every emotion, stress arises within us, in response to what’s happening around us. Simply put, it’s not the challenges, difficult people, happenings or events that cause our stress; it’s how we respond to all of the aforementioned. Mindfulness teaches us to choose our response rather than reacting or overreacting and overthinking situations. Overthinking causes stress; and catastrophising can cause distress. Regardless of how tough this year has been, or how much pressure we’re under, we always maintain our freedom to choose our attitude, and our response.
Many of us get a little stressed over The Festive Season. Mainly it’s positive stress, but it can also be a worrying time for many reasons – finances, emotional triggers of missing loved ones or reuniting with family members with whom there’s been friction in the past. And paradoxically, the relaxed behaviour of perhaps having a few late nights, eating more sugary snacks and sweets (the ubiquitous tins of Roses and Quality Street on desks and counters, for instance); maybe drinking more alcohol, all have the effects of lowering our vitality, mood, and energy. With such a lot to fit into a few weeks, nerves can get a bit frayed. The pleasures that promise to delight us, can often be the very things that hurt us.
This year, due to circumstances, there will likely be fewer parties than usual. It’s an opportunity to be more mindful. So, here are 5 fundamentals for maintaining inner balance and vitality this Festive Season:
Pace yourself. In the few weeks leading up to Christmas, it seems that everyone wants us to have lunch, or a glass of mulled wine. If we scatter our energies, we might feel a little wired and tired. If we can’t fit it in this week, or if we don’t feel like it this week, it will be exactly the same in a few weeks’ time. It’s okay to decline invitations – a year has fifty-two weeks – we don’t need to see everyone in just a few weeks. Schedule time to enjoy your home, decorated for Christmas – relax.
Most businesses were hit hard this year. Many people’s finances are tight. When it comes to gifts, there’s nothing more precious we can give a child or an elderly relative than our time and attention. Actually, the same applies to all our loved ones and friends. In years to come, children won’t remember all the expensive toys they had, but they will always remember the warm, cosy times they had with their parents and siblings – everyone together watching a family-friendly movie or playing games. The gift of a pleasant disposition is enriching for all concerned. We can kindle the spirit of Christmas, instead of materiality, by giving the gifts of kindness and connection
Fill bowls with satsumas, apples and pears – in the office as well as at home. These fruits are delicious and they provide nutrients that enhance our health. Eating more fruits and fewer mince pies and sweets will help us enjoy higher energy levels.
Mindful gratitude lifts our mood. It’s not what we have that makes us happy – it’s what we appreciate having. Appreciation is the key to happiness. Letting others know they’re appreciated nourishes relationships – when giving a gift, attach a note telling the recipient how much you appreciate them. Thoughtful words of appreciation often mean more than expensive gifts.
The physical body is a reflection of its inhabitant. Our immune system functions better when we are joyful than when we are worried and stressed. Anonymous giving brings us great joy. So do it, but don’t tell!
When eventually 2020 expires, we might even reflect on some things that went extremely well this year. Those of us who didn’t get sick or suffer the pain of losing a loved one have much to appreciate. When 2021 comes, go full speed ahead. Don’t look back. We have eyes in the front of our head for a reason. Wishing you and your loved ones peace and health.
Joanne Reid Rodrigues is the founder of Slimming Together and the creator of the Authentic Confidence training programme. Joanne is an author and therapist in nutrition and cognitive behavioural therapy and frequently appears on broadcast media. She is available for classes, intensives, and private coaching. Joanne can be contacted at www.JoanneRR.com