Apr 302015
 

MOM 2015

I was recently interviewed for behappytips.com about the mindfulness quest I ran on this blog. When I was doing the interview and thinking about how valuable doing a month of mindfulness was I decided to set up another 31 day mindfulness challenge.

In May I am running another month of mindfulness challenge where, starting at some point in May, you focus on being more mindful for 31 days (#MOM31). The idea is to concentrate on living more mindfully for a month (at least :-)). I run this in May as for students and their families it is a perfect time to practice mindfulness as the exams approach. However, mindfulness has benefits for everyone and anyone is welcome to join in. Don’t worry if you can’t start this month because you can start a month of mindfulness at any time. Just read this post, prepare and sign up to receive the emails every day for 31 days.

Why do a month of mindfulness.

There are many benefits of mindfulness which I wrote about in this article and added to it here. The reason I recommend it to students, particularly in the run up to exams, is because  it helps you to stay calm, stay focused and sustain your concentration (among other benefits).

What is mindfulness practice?

Mindfulness is paying attention to what is happening in the moment without judging it. Generally we spend much of our time mulling over things that have happened or that will happen and pay little attention to what is happening.

Try a month of mindfulness

When we mindfully focus our minds on the present moment, we are aware and accepting of our thoughts, feelings and actions.
Although it’s called practice it is not something you are aiming to get better at or to perfect. If anything you may find that the more you practise mindfulness the more you notice the mind wandering. This is because you are aiming to notice that your mind is wandering so that you can bring it back to the moment.

 

You can probably remember a time when you were going to school or work and you suddenly realised with a start that you can’t remember a large chunk of the journey because you went into autopilot. This is an example of your mind wandering and being brought back to the present. The wandering, distracted mind is sometimes called monkey mind as your thoughts are like a monkey roaming around your brain.
Developing mindful awareness is a bit like developing physical fitness. Physical fitness is strength, stamina and flexibility. To develop these things we can use practices such as walking, cycling or swimming. Mindfulness is being aware of your present experience and accepting it and this is also developed by practices.

If you want to get fit but are really busy or don’t have many resources you might start by incorporating simple adjustments to your everyday routine such as taking the stairs instead of the lift or walking to the station instead of getting the bus.

To improve further you would need to dedicate more time to regular activities such as walking, going to the gym or going to fitness classes.

If you wanted to take things even further you might dedicate more time to an intensive training regimen such as training for a marathon or doing a hiking holiday.

The three type of mindfulness practice are like developing fitness.

  • Informal practice is about making small changes to your everyday routines.
  • Formal practice is about setting aside small regular times to practice
  • A retreat is about spending an intensive period focusing on mindfulness.

Going on a retreat is outside of the scope of my Month of Mindfulness and you are unlikely to consider it until after exams!

How to do formal practice

Formal practice is taking a specific amount of time out of your day for a mindfulness meditation.

Although it is called meditation it does not have to be religious nor do you have to sit in lotus position (see my article on myths about mindfulness).

Most research on the benefits of mindfulness have examined people who practice formally. To get the most out of your month of mindfulness it would be ideal to have a formal practice of 20 minutes a day but if this is a new thing for you just 5 or 10 minutes would be fine.

I wrote an article about the best way to establish a habit such as mindfulness here.

Ideally you want to find a comfortable, quiet place with no distractions to do this. Most people try to sit in an upright position but you can stand or lie down (although you might fall asleep!).

When they start most people find it easiest to close their eyes and to use a guided meditation to listen to. There are many available for free on the internet and as apps. I have a post on some of the resources here but there are many more. The apps I recommend to students are buddhify, smiling mind and stop breathe and think.

Mindfulness of breath is the usual starting place as all you do is focus on the sensations associated with breathing or count breaths. Try a mindfulness of breath meditation of the length you want and if you are happy with it you can keep using it every day for the month. Here are some that you can try

5 minute breathing meditation

10 minute mindfulness of breathing

15 minute awareness of breath meditation

20 minute breath meditation

For some people focusing on the breath can make them feel anxious or uncomfortable. If this is the case for you then try a body scan meditation, a mindfulness of sound meditation or a walking meditation (daily exercise is a great idea as exams approach).

How to do informal practice

Informal practice is any time you bring your awareness to the present moment. There are lots of ways to do this and if you sign up for the Month of Mindfulness email I will send an email every day for 31 days with an idea for informal practice for that day.

You do not need to follow them rigidly unless you want to. Sometimes people find one practice particularly helpful and use it for several days or weeks. Remember any time you want you can reread the emails or sign up again and receive them again.

If you want to join in a Month of Mindfulness
1. Decide how long you will practice for every day. If you want you can download and fill out this chart to keep track.

Month of mindfulness checklist colour

Month of mindfulness checklist bw
2. If you are going to listen to a guided meditation as your formal practice then decide which you will use.
3. When you are ready sign up below to get emails suggesting ideas for informal practice every day for 31 days.






Sign up for the

Month of Mindfulness.

We respect your email privacy


If you want support with the 31 day month of mindfulness challenge please do leave a comment or give me a shout on email or twitter(#MOM31). If you want to find out more about mindfulness then there is a summary of my posts here.

It is great to have other bloggers joining the challenge and writing about it. Jennifer over at thesavingsopportunity.com has written an excellent post about it here.

Thanks to @EP_pturner for sharing and feedback, @patweber for spotting a broken link on a related post and @emartin1974 for her support. Thanks to @TheSavingsOpp for her wonderful article and to @muminsearch who has given me some great ideas to incorporate into my Month of Mindfulness challenge next year.

Jun 022013
 

Mindfulness to help you study and revise more effectively

Mindfulness

Mindfulness has lots of benefits for everyone. I encourage students to try regular mindful practices as it improves focus, increases concentrations and reduces stress. I have a 31 day mindfulness challenge that you can start at any time. You can read about it and sign up here.

I started this challenge in 2013 when I did a month of mindfulness (MOM) before exam season to encourage my students to give it a go. I wrote various blog posts about mindfulness and giving updates to how my challenge was going so there are various MOM update posts you can read on my mindfulness page. I was also interviewed here for Be Happy Tips about doing the challenge. Another blogger to join the challenge and write about it is Jennifer at thesavingsopportunity.com. You might like to read some of the following posts if you want to work more effectively.

Start a month of mindfulness challenge #mom31

My Quest for Mindfulness interview at behappytips.com

What is mindfulness?

7 myths about mindfulness….. busted!

20 benefits of mindfulness & more benefits of mindfulness

Establishing a new habit

5 books on mindfulness

30 free guided meditations

5 mindfulness courses on iTunes U

5 mindfulness blogs

10 mindfulness podcasts

Worry casts shadows

Mindful activity e.g. walking

STOP and practice mindfulness

May 162013
 
How to STOP and practice mindfulness in your day.

Find out how to use reminders to STOP and focus on mindfulness in your daily routine. Part of a series of posts on dealing with exam stress and revising.

STOP and practice mindfulness in your day

As I finish my month of mindfulness I am using reminders during the day to prompt me to be mindful. I find I can easily slip into automatic pilot during the day or that I am slipping into multi-tasking. I am trying to get back into the habit of using reminders to STOP.

  • Stop
  • Take a breath
  • Observe your thoughts, feelings and emotions
  • Proceed

 

Reminders for mindfulness

There are several ways to remind yourself to STOP in the day.

  1. Put up physical post it notes to remind you to focus on mindfulness when you see them.
  2. Use an app on your phone to sound a reminder either at random times or specific times (there are various meditation apps that feature this or you can just program alarms with a specific sound so you know it is your reminder not a text!).You might want to check out this post from the Huffington Post on Meditation Apps for Inner Peace (on the go)
  3. Choose specific activities you do regularly to act as a reminder. Something like boiling the kettle is good as you tend to do it several times a day and you then have a couple of minutes when you can focus on the moment. This is one I like to use as I tend to associate having a hot drink with having a break. It is quite ritualistic….in Britain a nice cuppa tea can signal comfort or a chance to chat. It is a great time to savour the moment – the sights, smells and tastes. There are lots of other routines you do during the day you can use as reminders to STOP. If the phone rings you can STOP as you go to pick up the handset. When a text arrives you can STOP before you read it. You can also try to STOP when you open your email of when you open a computer program. In the classroom I like to have a quiet start to the lesson when we write down the title date and aims to enable students to STOP and then focus as we start the lesson.

Do you have ideas of reminders I can feature? Please leave a comment. Don’t forget to look at my other popular posts on dealing with exam stress, mindfulness and revising more effectively.

Dealing with exam stress- exercise

Dealing with exam stress- diet

Making a revision timetable

You can also subscribe to my blog by clicking the top right subscription button- you’ll get an email every time I post.

 

May 112013
 

Exam stress tips- exercise

Exam stress tips

This post is one in a series I’m writing for you on exam stress tips. Exercise and sleep are both really important to study effectively. Building exercise into your daily routine will also help you to sleep and counteract time spent sitting down revising. It will also help you to stay healthy as you need to function at your best during the exams and the last thing you want is to feel run down and ill.

Dealing with exam stress tips- make exercise fun!

I find the best type of exercise is something you enjoy. If you are trying to force yourself to do a type of exercise you don’t enjoy then you are more likely to skip sessions. Here are just some ideas

  • Group sports
  • Active games on consoles e.g. Wii fit
  • Dancing
  • Zumba
  • Frisbee
  • Yoga
  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Horse riding
  • Cycling
  • Running
  • Skipping
  • Boxercise

If none of these is your idea of fun I’m sure you can find something. Maybe leave me a comment and let me know what exercise you enjoy. Remember to vary your routines so you don’t get bored. You shouldn’t be doing an intense workout every day as your muscles need rest periods.

Dealing with exam stress tips- fit in an intense workout

If you want to do some resistance work or don’t have time for your usual workout then try this 7 minutes full body workout routine. The latest academic research was used to create the workout and the New York Times featured it.

Dealing with exam stress tips- walking mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness is an excellent tool for dealing with exam stress and for revising effectively. (see my post what is mindfulness for an introduction) Walking mindfulness meditation is about focusing on the experience of walking. There are a few differences with sitting meditation- you don’t close your eyes! You are also more aware of your surroundings so don’t worry that you’ll be walking into things.  You’ll also be aware of differences compared to practicing inside- the weather and different sounds. I find it easier than seated practice because when I’m seated the main sensations I feel are where my body is in contact with something (the floor, some clothes). When I am walking I will notice sensations from contact with objects, movement in my muscles and from the sun and air on my skin.

There are good introductions to walking practice at Wildmind and the Yoga Journal. These are both written from a Buddhist perspective. I found the most useful explanations from Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) resources like the explanation at The Mindful World.

There are several versions of mindful walking so it is worth trying out a few to see which resonates with you. This YouTube video from www.NeuroSoup.com explains walking meditation. I find it a good clear explanation of the approach I take to mindful walking, although the end section doesn’t really fit in with the way I practice personally. There are two types of mindful walking I use.

Breaking Mindful Walking into Phases

1. Starting by setting my intention to walk mindfully

2. Spending time focusing on the physical sensations of walking

3. Spending time focusing on the sights and scents

4. Spending time focusing on the sounds

5. Spending time acknowledging thoughts and feelings I am having

 

Interval training while mindful walking

You can time the interval (1 minute each) and as you walk you focus on the physical sensations in your body or you can set a number of steps for each stage and can focus on counting steps and physical sensations.

1. Walk with longest strides you can

2. Walk with shorter strides and as fast as you can

3. Walk at relaxed pace for a break

Repeat.

 

Guided mindful walking

A good introduction to mindful walking is to use a guided walking meditation. You just download it to your phone/iPod and listen as you walk. There is a 13 minute podcast from The Guardian you can download and use for free. There is also a free audio file from the University of Auckland and provided as part of their student support services. You can also try the MBSR workbook audio track.

You might be interested on more of my tips on dealing with exam stress and mindfulness

Symptoms of exam stress

Dealing with exam stress tips-diet

What is mindfulness?

Myths about Mindfulness- busted

Dealing with exam stress tip. Try mindful walking.

Dealing with exam stress tips. Try mindful walking.

May 112013
 

Month of Mindfulness

Mindfulness in a busy week

Although I haven’t had a chance to update much this week my morning mindfulness practice has been really helpful. I am still using the 8 minute mindfulness practice at the moment and although it has been tempting not to fit it in I am sure taking the time out to practice has made me far more effective in a a busy week. This week my year 11s and 12s have started their exam leave and I have done everything I can to send them off with everything they need for their revision at this stage. This blog is now my main method of supporting them.

On Thursday I had a bit of a blip with work. I wanted to get my year 12 mock marked and back to the pupils for Friday so we could go through it in class and they could take it home with them as they started study leave. I suddenly realised that I hadn’t brought the mark scheme home and since I can’t access it on the internet as it is in a secure area I was in a bit of a pickle!! These are the situations where I think mindfulness is really helping me. There was nothing I could do until the next morning so I got on with building my compost bin. As usual I did a 30 minute mindfulness practice before I went to sleep early. Yesterday I woke up at 5 and resisted the temptation to skip my mindfulness practice to rush straight to school and start on the marking! After my practice, breakfast etc I headed calmly off for an early start at school (considering I often start at about 7 starting any earlier really feels a bit wrong!) It didn’t seem realistic that I would get the papers marked before the lesson as each paper is 100 marks and it is quite a complicated mark scheme. I decided on a back up plan and photocopied the pupils papers so that they could go through them in class and then I could scan and email them the versions I marked if I couldn’t get them marked in time. This then allowed me to focus on the marking and know that there was a plan in place. Miraculously I finished the marking 5 minutes before the lesson. It turned out to be a really useful exercise for the pupils as they went through and marked their papers and then we compared the marks I had awarded with those they had awarded. We also had a couple of exam bloopers people had made which were quite amusing.

Over the last week I have started to incorporate mindful activity into my daily routine. This has mainly been spending some time gardening and trying to focus on mindfulness as I do so. Now life is calming down a bit I hope to get back to a daily walk too. I thoroughly recommend this at exam time as it means you get some exercise and all the benefits of mindfulness- both things that can really help exam performance. My next post will focus on mindful walking.

Don’t forget you can subscribe to my blog by email using the subscribe button on the top right. You will receive an email every time I post. If you use outlook or an RSS reader such as Feedly you can also add my RSS feed to these so that you can see new posts. I’ve been using Feedly for a while now and it rocks!!

If you are interested in finding out more on mindfulness check out my other blog posts on mindfulness including a summary of research into the benefits of mindfulness.

May 052013
 

Benefits of mindfulness

You may have read my post on 20 benefits of mindfulness. A few days ago a new study was published in the open access journal PLOS ONE and was also reported on in New Scientist. I thought the results were really interesting for several reasons so I thought I’d offer a brief summary here. I’d recommend reading the articles.

The study is the first to show changes in gene activity related to the relaxation response. The relaxation response is the opposite to the fight or flight response which we exhibit when stressed. The relaxation response can be induced by meditation (including mindfulness meditation), yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, breathing or relaxation techniques. They showed that daily guided practice of 20 minutes (using an audio CD) in subjects new to using the relaxation response enhanced expression of genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance, and reduced expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways. They also studied long-term practitioners and found greater changes in expression of the same genes. The response is seen after 15-20minutes of the relaxation response for both new and experienced practitioners.

  • The main effects of the changes in gene expression are
  • Better mitochondrial efficiency in the release of energy
  • Increased insulin production, improving the control of blood sugar
  • Prevention of telomerase depletion (see my post on immortal organisms) which helps to keep DNA stable and is therefore anti-aging
  • Decrease in the activity of NF-kappaB and the genes it regulates which triggers chronic inflammation leading to diseases including high blood pressure, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease and some cancers. Further research is being done on this.

It is not surprising mindfulness is increasingly being used in conventional medicine.

May 042013
 

Worry gives small thing big shadow

In the last few days I have found that a benefit of my additional morning practice is that I start the day with the space to assess how I'm feeling. This allows me to put things in perspective as I start the day. In the last few days work has been hectic as my exam groups are getting close to study leave. The logistics of making sure all the pupils have all the resources they need for their last week of revision can be challenging as some pupils are not in lessons due to art/ drama/ language exams. This means I tend to start my day mentally going through a to do list and feeling a little anxious about getting things done. During my morning practice I have been able to

1. Recognise my thoughts and feelings

2. Accept these- they are normal

3. Realise that these things pass

4. Refocus on the moment.

I am sure many of my students are starting to feel exam anxiety so over the next few days I will be writing some posts to give them advice on dealing effectively with this.

When I was a child we used to go on holiday to a chalet that had orange/ brown curtains with strange flowers on them. When we were there I would have a recurrent nightmare that this slightly strange flower was a triffid (I must have seen The Day of the Triffids on television) that would be chasing me around trying to eat me! This inspired my slightly fantastical image for today. Most children at some point see a shadow in their room and are convinced it is a monster. In the same way when we worry we often focus on the big shadow- all our fears about what might or might not happen. We need to learn to look at the object of our fears and put things into perspective.

 

Apr 302013
 

Discipline

Hi!

Looks like the format of my blog has gone haywire and since I’m busy at work it might take me a while to sort out so please bear with me in the meantime.

I’ll make this a short post so I can try and work out what has gone wrong!

This morning was the first time since I started the MOM that I thought ‘I haven’t got time to practice this morning’. I practiced anyway….how can I really justify not being able to sit down for 8 minutes!! What would I have done or achieved in that 8 minutes that was so important or useful? I’m glad I ignored the thought. Does anyone else struggle with thinking they are too busy to do things like exercise despite the fact you know it is important and beneficial?

Apr 292013
 

Mindfulness podcasts

10 podcasts on mindfulness

I would like to start with my usual proviso that these mindfulness podcasts are provided free of charge by various people. Some teach MBSR/MCBT, some are aimed at students and some are Buddhist practitioners. I love listening to podcasts about things I am interested in like mindfulness. I thought it might be useful to link to some of them here. Do leave a comment if you can recommend any other resources or if you want to review any of these.

1. Mindfulness of breath meditation for beginners by Lisa Dale Miller which is 23 minutes long

2. Advanced mindfulness of breath meditation by Lisa Dale Miller which is 35 minutes long

3. 8 month mindfulness series by Lama Willa Miller. The practices are each about 20 minutes long

4. 3 sessions from Altrincham Grammar school including beditation for before bed! This is based on the .B course from Mindfulness in schools.

5. Wellbeing podcasts from the mental health foundation. They include podcasts on how to overcome fear and anxiety, what mindfulness is and quick fix breathing and relaxation exercises.

6. The Sleep School podcast has a 30 minute Mindfulness for Insomnia session.

7. The Meditation for Health Podcast with Dr Puff. Guided meditations, research on the benefits of mindfulness and tips on beginning and deepening your practice. Podcast 87is a guided meditation on how to reduce test taking anxiety and succeed at school

8. The Wellness Workbook guided  meditations  were developed for people suffering with lower back pain.

9. Mindfulness for dummies podcast is part of the for dummies series and is by a London teacher.

10. For parents the Mindful Parent Podcast might be of interest

 

Month of Mindfulness update

During week 1 I established a mindfulness routine in the morning of 3 minutes. This week I want to try and increase this slightly. I am planning to use this 8 minute practice every day.

However, if I can only do 3 minutes that will be fine as it is better to practice than not! I did my first 8 minutes practice this morning. I thought the extra 5 minutes might drag but it didn’t really seem any longer than the 3 minutes.

Apr 282013
 

Stone reflection

“When all else fails you … be glad you can still draw breath into your being!”

Carlos J Diaz