Checking in (part two)

The 3-minute breathing space is one of the formal meditation in Penman and Williams’ course. It is recommended that you carry it out twice a day. I did it first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I felt it would be good to check in how I am at the start of the day, and then how I am at the end of it.

It starts with determining the “weather pattern” of your mind. For me, I make a list of everything that’s bothering me, because unfortunately my depression and anxiety doesn’t allow for anything else. Then you have to see how your body is feeling. Is it tense? Relaxed? Do you have a headache? etc.

The next step involves simply focusing on your breathing. You can count if you want, e.g. in-breath one, out-breath one.

The last step involves breathing into your whole body. Imagining your breath is moving into every limb, from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. If you have a particular sensation in your body, an ache, tension, then it’s recommended you aim your breathing at that area.

This is my favourite meditation because it helps me get my thoughts in order, and I find I’m not as tense as I usually am when I start my day. If you can’t commit to any other formal meditation, I recommend this one highly. It’s great for putting things in perspective. It can last longer than 3 minutes also, you simply take how long as you need.


Checking in (part one)

One of my main goals of using mindfulness is to help prevent an overwhelming build-up of stress throughout my working day. For me, stress comes a little too easily. I get myself worked up over simple tasks and beat myself up over easy mistakes. I’ve only recently started working full time and now suddenly I am getting migraines regularly when I never used to get them at all.

When I first started exploring mindfulness, I figured it was just a thirty-minute meditation per day and then that was it. I actually began to worry I would never find the time to do it. Thankfully, my course taught me to “check in”. This involves stopping for a minute, or two, or three, during your working day and grounding yourself in the present moment. This can be done through focusing on your breath, but it is also encouraged that you check in with your thoughts. As Penman and Williams put it, checking the “weather pattern” of your mind. Are you panicking? Day-dreaming? Planning? Once you’ve established where your mind is, gently bring your attention back to your breathing.

I’m still working on this. Unfortunately, I find it difficult to remind myself to check in when I’m busy. When it’s quiet, however, it’s easier. Don’t worry, it’s not essential that you close your eyes, you can simply lower your gaze. If you work in an open plan office, like I do, that’s quite a relief!

Earlier this week I was forced to call in sick due to my newfound migraines. When I went into work the next day I had tonnes of work waiting for me. I was determined not to let it get the better of me and made a point of checking in whenever I could. It helped, that I can say for certain. I kept a headache/potential migraine from building as I continuously focused on my breathing. I took one task at a time depending on priority and I left that evening feeling content.

It’s the little things

Mindfulness is not just about finding 20-30 minutes a day to meditate. It is encouraged that you incorporate it into as much of your daily life as possible. To do this, you have to choose certain daily tasks in which you can become present. I chose brushing my teeth and showering to start with.

I’d be lying if I said I thought it would be a challenge. I just assumed becoming present would be easy, but carrying out this task made me realise just how easily distracted I was. When I brushed my teeth, I was thinking about everything but brushing my teeth. When I was showering, I was planning my day and/or daydreaming. How did I let the simple things pass me by like this?

What challenges me the most is that there is no right way to feel. I’m a person who likes to carry out a task and do it correctly. Now here I am doing something that isn’t graded, or mastered by practice. The methods and results are unique to the person, which, for me, makes it a little harder to master.

So I started with brushing my teeth. In the beginning, once my mind wandered, I simply gave up. I ignored the ‘don’t beat yourself up’ part and did just that. It took me a time to realise that I’m always going to have good teeth brushing sessions and bad teeth brushing sessions, but it’s how I respond to them that counts.

The most important thing you can do on both of these occasions is to gently bring your attention back to the task at hand when you become distracted. And the same goes for showering, or any other task you choose.

While practicing in mindfulness doesn’t make perfect, it does create positive mindful habits.

Other potential mindful tasks include:

  • Washing dishes
  • Sweeping/mopping the floor
  • Hoovering/vacuuming
  • Driving
  • Cutting the grass
  • Making the bed
  • Cooking

If you have anything to add to the list, please do so in the comments below.


Being mindful of mindfulness

My first introduction to mindfulness was in my final year of college. As soon as I heard the word ‘meditation’ I was excited. We had done meditation in school and I loved listening to soothing music and have our teacher describe a meadow in which we were to picture ourselves. It was so relaxing. However, I soon came to realise that mindfulness meditation was a bit different.

In mindfulness meditation, rather than picturing yourself in a calming meadow, AKA, your ‘happy place’, the focus of attention is on your breathing. Rather than letting your mind wander to that meadow, mindfulness aims to bring your attention to the here and now. Why? Because now is all we have.

Admit it, you’ve spent at least some of your time worrying about the future and/or grieving about the past. Have you ever stopped and listened to what’s around you right at this very moment? Have you looked at what is around you at this very moment? Can you smell it? Can you taste it? Can you feel it? Mindfulness is about using our senses to stay grounded in the present moment. Sometimes, or perhaps most of the time, we walk around on ‘autopilot’. A good example of this is driving to work. You drive the same way every day that it becomes second nature. You arrive at work and don’t remember a good portion of your journey. Did you feel the hum of your engine as you moved away from a red light? Did you hear the beep of a car horn when one driver took a dangerous manoeuvre against another? Did you even see the other cars around you?thD54RFD7U

Once I realised that I had a habit of switching on autopilot almost 24/7, it made me sad. I don’t want to look back on my life later on and realised I let it pass me by. However, this wasn’t the only reason for wanting to incorporate mindfulness into my everyday life. For as long as I can remember, I have battled depression and anxiety. While I feel medication is a good treatment for both, I want it to be a short-term option. But what happens when I give up my medication? I’ve done it before and believe me it wasn’t pretty. My doctor was positive when I told him I was giving mindfulness a try, but agreed that going back on my medication was a good idea while I explored it.

The mindfulness course I chose was Mark Williams and Danny Penman’s Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, a book recommended to me by a psychotherapist, whose mindfulness workshop I attended back in September.

I have completed this course, and now my challenge is to incorporate it into my daily life. You would think after 8+ weeks this would be simple. Not for me. Therefore the purpose of this blog series is to document my efforts to become more mindful and ease my depression and anxiety so that someday I may come off my medication, this time for good. I hope you will join me!


Going Cruelty-Free: Facial Moisturiser – Skindrink by Lush

I’m still searching for the perfect cruelty-free facial moisturiser that doesn’t make me want to tear my skin off. As I mentioned in my Cruelty-Free series, my first choice (and recommendation) was Celestial by Lush. For the first few weeks, I didn’t have a problem with it, though it didn’t achieve the softness I was hoping for for my extremely dry skin. After around two months, I found Celestial started to make me itch terribly. It got so bad that I was forced to give the remainder of the moisturiser to my sister-in-law who has less sensitive skin than I do, and is a Lush fan!

Back to the drawing board

I returned to Lush and spoke with one of the sales staff. When I told her of my dry skin and my previous recommendation of Celestial, she quickly informed me that Celestial was not great for dry skin. Conflicting reports! She recommended three moisturisers to me, each one increasing in price as high as €50. I decided to give myself time to think about it, though what I should’ve done was request samples of each. I couldn’t tell there and then that the creams wouldn’t irritate my face.Lush Skindrink

Trial and error

Upon my return to Lush the following week, I tried a sample of the cheapest recommendation given to me: Skindrink. Knowing I was taking a risk, I simply wandered the store until I could tell if the cream might irritate me. I couldn’t believe how soft my skin felt after using it. Of course I was going to buy it! Perhaps I would get away with not paying a fortune for the right moisturiser.

Three weeks later, I’m sad to say that Skindrink does not suit my skin. It makes me itchy every time I use it. I still have a tonne left and I’m a bit reluctant to simply give this one away also so I keep using. A masochist, I seem to be. Or perhaps I’m hopeful that the itching will stop and it will miraculously be the moisturiser I’ve been searching for my whole life!

All Souls Day: Day of the Dead

Despite growing up in a Catholic country, I have different beliefs when it comes to Catholic teachings. For a while, I considered myself a “Selective Catholic”, in other words, believing certain aspects but not others. Now I consider myself more of a spiritualist, in the sense that I believe in an afterlife (perhaps not in the way Catholics are taught to), I always have. And it is this belief that has made me fascinated by All Souls Day.

Catholicism teaches us that All Souls Day is a day to remember the dead, especially loved ones, by praying for their souls to be cleansed or purified so that they can enter heaven. Purgatory, it is essentially called, but which differs from the purgatory that leads to hell. Unless it falls on a Sunday, Catholics are not expected to go to mass, but instead they visit the graves of those they have lost, leaving flowers and perhaps sprinkling holy water. The souls must be purged of their sins and be in God’s good grace in order to enter heaven, and this is where the living come in. They pray for the souls.

My own theory of All Souls Day came from my mother, and which is also a pagan belief. I believe, or at least I like to believe, that All Souls Day is a day when the veil between the living and the dead is thinner. It sounds eerie, but I look at it as something special, the idea of seeing your deceased loved ones on one day of the year. The pagans believe that candles should be placed in the windows of houses in order to lead the dead to them so that they can share a meal together.

I have wondered why I believe so much in All Souls Day, perhaps it is to lessen my fear of death, or perhaps I live in hope of seeing my loved ones so I can say the things I wanted to say to them when it was too late. Will I be leaving a lit candle in my window? Probably not (fire hazard!). Who is it I hope to see? This may be against any belief system in All Souls Day, but I hope to see my pets that I have lost over the years.

We may never know for certain if the dead return to us, even just for a moment, but I choose to believe because, in simple terms, you have to believe in something. Don’t you?


Going Cruelty-Free: Don’t Be Fooled!

When I decided to go cruelty-free, I had to acknowledge that there are products who claim to be cruelty-free that in fact are not. My first step was consult PETA’s cruelty-free list but, as I stated at the beginning of this blog series, most of the products on that list are not available in Ireland. I also explored the Leaping Bunny list and downloaded the app onto my phone, but again, many of the products I would have to order online and pay delivery charges. Lush was my safe option in the beginning because I could be certain that their products are indeed cruelty-free. Unfortunately they’re also quite expensive, which is why I explored.

A Google search on what products were trying to fool their consumers didn’t turn up much. I was advised that there are only THREE labels to trust when it comes to buying cruelty-free products:

  1. Leaping Bunny
  2. Caring ConsumerLabels
  3. CCF Rabbit

How could I believe that, though? I had seen other labels that were genuine too, such as Batiste. Even Lush don’t sport any of the three labels. Some approved cruelty-free brands sport labels such as ‘Approved by the Vegan Society’ or ‘Fight Animal Testing’. This makes my situation a little more difficult, as it came be frustrating to come across a cruelty-free label and then having to research it before you purchase.

One such product I was nearly fooled by was Original Source. They claimed to be cruelty-free on the back of their products, but when I did my research, I discovered that this was not the case at all. It’s absolutely sickening that companies would try to fool their consumers like that. Perhaps I have to believe it due to the new EU regulations prohibiting products to be sold containing animal tested ingredients, but I know that they are in the minority who test their products on animals outside the EU, and so I refuse to purchase it.

From what I’ve seen, The Body Shop does not bear any cruelty-free labels, yet I have found them on several cruelty-free lists. It could be due to the fact that their parent company, L’Oreal, promotes animal testing, though this is not always the case, e.g. Burt’s Bees.

I encourage anyone going cruelty-free to research the label on the products they wish to buy. While it is important not to trust every label that claims to be cruelty-free, don’t assume that it isn’t cruelty-free just because it’s not one of the three labels listed above.

Thank you for reading this series, I hope you enjoyed it! Happy shopping!