Embracing Hesitation, Repetition and Deviation!

This is my third blog post on self-care and follows on from For The Best Self-Care, Get Self-Aware! and Get To Know Yourself In Just A Minute!

For this next step, you will want to find somewhere that gives you space and some privacy. If you’ve been doing the Just A Minute!  exercise for some time now, it is likely that you will have become more focused on how your body feels, e.g. the way you breathe and any discomfort, pain or ‘energy spots’ you hold in your body, and be paying less attention to your thoughts. You may even have started pre-empting the next part of the exercise, which is simply to let the body move, led by its own impulses. If you have been doing this already, congratulations. If not, here’s how to do it…

Begin with the usual minute of stillness to get in touch with the ‘felt sense‘ of your body. And then let your attention move to a part of the body that may be calling for attention – perhaps it is particularly tense, heavy or agitated. Now give it permission to move in any way it likes. Try not to proscribe how to move it, as in “I’m now going to swing my arm.” Take the thinking out of it and just allow that part of your body and then your body more generally to explore and experiment.

The movements may be small to start with, particularly if free movement like this is unfamiliar to you and you are feeling quite self-conscious. Just stay with your felt sense of the body and what it wants and needs to do. This is where hesitation, repetition and deviation come in. Allow your body to be playful; if you need to pause, do; if your body wants to repeat an action, let it; if you find your body is moving in ways it’s never moved before, great! Take the time to ‘listen’ and respond to your body’s needs. Your movements may include stretching, wiggling and scrunching, and the energy of those movements may be slow and sweeping or jagged and impulsive or anything in between. You may remain on your feet or find your body sinking to the floor and enjoying being on the ground. Notice how the felt senses in your body respond to the movements and how, given the opportunity, your body will do what it needs to in order to reach a place of greater comfort and balance. After the exercise, your body may feel ‘freed up’ and nurtured. And having switched off your mind for a while you may notice a greater sense of inner calm.

As suggested in the previous blog, you may wish to write down your observations after the exercise as a way to actively reflect on what you experience. When you repeat this exercise over the course of a day or days, notice how your body’s needs are different each time you do it – or are they sometimes the same? What does that suggest about your body’s patterns of being? Is there anything you can do to support its well-being further? And that’s it: your own personalised and unique self-care regime in just a few minutes a day.

I am planning just one more blog post in this self-care series in which you will be encouraged to deepen this practice. I’d love to hear whether the blogs so far have been helpful to you and what you have discovered about yourself. Please do leave a comment.

Get to Know Yourself in Just A Minute!

In my last blog post: For The Best Self-Care, Get Self-Aware! I talked about how important it is to find self-care activities that feed the needs of your body, mind and spirit. Here, I want to show you a simple way to become firstly more self-aware. And all it takes is a minute.

Find a moment when you can stop what you are doing and there is nothing that is likely to distract you. Come to a standstill (standing is better than sitting, although if this is too problematic, you can also do this sitting) and close your eyes. You are going to spend the next minute getting a feel for what is happening in your body and your mind; closing your eyes will help you shut out visual stimulation and focus on what is happening internally. You can set a 1 minute timer, if it is important for you that you’ll neither undershoot nor overshoot the minute.

Once you’ve stopped moving, don’t change anything – the way you are breathing, how you are standing or sitting or what’s going through your head; just notice each of these things. Is your breathing regular or irregular, shallow or deep, fast or slow? Do you feel tension, pain or any other sensations in your body? How are you holding your body? Is it balanced, wonky or slumped? How fast are your thoughts racing? What are they concerned with? If this is an unusual practice for you, you may spend most of your time being aware of your thoughts. Try to focus on what is happening within your body as well. And what about your emotions? Are you pleased to pause for a while in your busy life or are you impatient because you’ve got so many things on your to-do list? Are you holding onto feelings of anger or joy from something that happened earlier in the day? Where do you feel these emotions in your body?

Once the minute is over, you can get on with life. But repeat the exercise later in the day. What do you notice this time when you stop? Is the experience similar or different, and if it’s different, in what ways?

Do the Just A Minute! practice 2-3 times daily for several days; you may start to notice patterns in how you hold your body, breathe, think or feel. (You might want to record your responses in a notebook so you can easily track what is happening for you). Try to become more aware of the sensations and emotions in your body. Many of us spend too much time in our heads, thinking about the things that have to be done today or what went wrong yesterday. If you are able to spend time connecting with your body, you are not only being ‘present in the moment’ and learning about yourself in a new way, you will also be giving your mind a well-earned rest.

In my next blog post, I will suggest how you can build on this exercise to take care of yourself in a way that is totally personal and right for you.

For the Best Self-Care, Get Self-Aware!

We currently live in a society dominated by economic pressures, political uncertainties, the easy availability of cheap junk food, an intrusive digital world, and plenty of other things that have the capacity to impinge on our mental and physical well-being. So it is not surprising that the topic of self-care is trending everywhere – across social media, in conversations with friends and family, and even in the work environment.

There are plenty of ideas for self-care out there – treating yourself to a massage or reflexology, indulging in a spa day, attending regular yoga or Pilates classes, going to the gym, engaging in sports, eating well, getting enough sleep, contributing to the community, spending quality time with family and friends, and the list goes on….. The physical benefits of eating a healthy balanced diet, having a good sleep routine and doing regular exercise are indisputable and applicable to everyone. However, honouring our mental, emotional and spiritual needs is much more nuanced as we are all different in our temperaments, our likes and dislikes and the effects and connotations of past experiences in our lives.

For me, the starting point for self-care is being self-aware. Otherwise how do you know what your body, mind and spirit need? And whether those needs have been met by the activities you’ve chosen to take up in the name of self-care? There is no point in signing up to a yoga course if you know that yoga simply does not meet your needs for relaxation, connection with your body, a spiritual practice, etc. Which, for me, it doesn’t. I used to wonder why I struggled to sustain my commitment to yoga classes. As I became, through my Dramatherapy training and life experiences, more self-aware and self-reflective, the truth became clear. The best way for me to enjoy the harmony of body, mind and spirit is to spend regular time rowing by myself in a single sculling boat (i.e. one rower, two oars). It’s my Zen time. Once I step into that boat and push off from the raft at Ardingly Rowing Club, my busy and persistent thoughts instantly subside. And I am able to indulge in something that not only meets my need for hard physical exercise, but connects me to nature, all parts of my body and my senses, and my gratitude and optimism.

Becoming self-aware is a skill. It is about taking the time to develop a relationship with yourself and reflect on who you are and what you need. And to some people that can seem boring and self-indulgent. But with that knowledge you can choose which self-care practices you need to include in your life to ensure that all aspects of your being are acknowledged and honoured. And that is true self-care.

In my next blog, I will suggest a simple, quick and easy practice to help you connect with yourself. If you believe you don’t have the time or the patience, my Just A Minute! exercise, may be just the thing to get you started.

Who Is The Person You Know Best In The World?

Is it your partner? Your best friend? Your sister? Or someone else in your family? Your child perhaps?

Or is your answer “myself”? If not, why not? Would that seem narcissistic and self-obsessed? Are you scared to consider it might be you because there is so much you don’t like about yourself? Or do you simply not spend enough time with yourself to really know yourself?

We owe it to ourselves and to those around us to know ourselves well. Knowing yourself includes having an understanding of what your values are, what motivates you, what upsets you, what draws you to people, how you like to spend your time and what your strengths and weaknesses are. By understanding these things, you can speak and behave in a way that is well regulated and self-directed; that is congruent and authentic. Which in turn is likely to bring you greater happiness, fulfillment and inner calm. And the people around you – your family, friends and colleagues – also benefit.

So what can you do to improve your self-knowledge? Well you could take some time to consider and even write down your values, interests, and weaknesses and strengths. But these proactive and well-intentioned actions using the conscious mind can only go so far in teaching you about yourself. Much of your truth and authenticity is held within the unconscious mind, in memories and experiences many of which you have been storing since you were an infant and even in utero. And the unconscious mind does not simply give up its treasure because the conscious mind wills it to.

One of the easiest and most direct ways that you can employ to access your unconscious mind is through creative expression and play, e.g. drawing, dance, sculpting clay, writing poetry, crafting, etc. As well as being satisfying and having a calming effect, expressing yourself creatively gives you a chance to discover lost and neglected resources, strengths and impulses in yourself. If you can acknowledge and accept these parts of yourself, they become integrated into your personal repertoire of thoughts, feelings and behaviours and can lead you to have a more positive sense of yourself and the external world.

Who wouldn’t want to feel better about themselves? So give yourself permission to indulge in some creative time today! I’m off to spend some time planning my “5 Elements Garden”. What about you?  

An Unwelcome Winter Visitor

Well, I certainly experienced one of the less pleasant aspects of winter last week when I was struck down by a nasty flu bug. I spent 5 days in bed, and so did the three other members of my family; it was as if our house was in hibernation. We slept – and slept some more, occasionally getting up for a drink or something to eat or letting the dog out into the garden. And then the flu passed and over the past couple of days we have all managed to get up from our beds and start going about our daily business of school and work.

I don’t know what a hibernating bear feels as it emerges from the depths of its winter sleep to rejoin the world. But it probably does not panic because it has been unable to get a birthday present for a family member sorted in the time it was asleep, or deliver a client report by the agreed deadline or keep promoting a creative workshop it is organising in the very near future. Which was my experience.

As human being we are very much a part of nature and yet we have cultivated a lifestyle that by and large distances us from the natural world. The demands on our time, our energy and our performance have become unceasing and in the Age of the Internet the speed at which we are expected to function is way beyond anything our ancestors ever knew, even just a generation ago. There is rarely any space built into our lives which allows for the natural ebb and flow of existence. So we can’t even be ill without feeling guilty for letting other people and ourselves down.

I’m well again now and planning and refining (and, of course, promoting) my Winter Dreaming workshop on Saturday 9 February. And as I do, I continue to wonder how best we can find the right balance between functioning as part of the modern economic world that keeps us family fed, clothed and with a roof over our heads and just ‘being’, ready to go with the flow of nature.

For more information on Winter Dreaming and to book your place, go to my facebook events page: https://bit.ly/2AURbB2, where you will also find the details of three further seasonal workshops I am running this year.

Hearing Nature’s Wisdom

I am not a writer. I’ve hated writing since school and all the way through university. I was always getting told off for scruffy writing and untidy presentation (this was pre-computers); and I found it took a huge amount of energy to get my ideas down in a logical and coherent way. And yet here I am writing my first blog post. So what on earth has driven me to put pen to paper – or in truth, but less romantically, hit the keyboard?

I’m about to run a series of seasonal workshops using creativity and nature for inspiration and I think I feel compelled to say something about my own relationship with nature. Maybe it’s because I want to demonstrate my credentials, apart from being a dramatherapist, to run these workshops. And that need has overruled my deepest need to not write!

As you can imagine, I am not a journal writer. However, I am very often a journal drawer, which is my own inelegant way of expressing that I draw regularly as way of recording what is going on for me in my life and trying to make sense of it. And please don’t think that I am a talented artist. My talent in drawing is just as bad as my ability to write. The difference is that I don’t care, because nobody else sees my journals and the act of drawing as a way of reflecting is a deeply satisfying and meaningful process for me.

I often turn to nature when I am journaling. When I’m out walking the dog, I allow myself to switch off my thinking brain and just enjoy being in the moment. It is my way of meditating. If I have my journal with me and the weather is conducive to sitting awhile on a tree stump or even on the ground, I will stop and sketch. At this point the dog stops foraging around and sits contentedly by my side so I can fully concentrate on the task in hand. I take the time to just ‘be’ for the moment and then I look around me to see what catches my eye. It might be a flower, buds on a tree, a muddy puddle, the bark of a tree, a tangle of brambles or some animal tracks. I can be attracted by any aspect of an object – its location, texture, shape, colour, movement, etc and this is what I will initially focus on as I transfer what I see in front of me onto paper (after a fashion!). And often I will add words (but not sentences) which add to the quality of what I am seeing.

I usually find myself asking what is important for me about this object and why was I drawn to it. What aspect of me or my life does it represent? And what does it say about that aspect of me or my life? Usually, the answer comes quite clearly to me. And generally it is not in the least bit profound. Or complicated. Nature has simply given me a nudge to think about and reflect on something specific and relevant to my life at that time. By allowing my unconscious, creative mind to engage intensely with the object and ‘recreate’ and make sense of it in its own way, I am able to give focus to aspects of my psyche that are in need of attention.

It is exactly this same process that my clients in my dramatherapy practice use to explore their pain and difficulties, and find their own solutions. And that is why I love dramatherapy – it is powerful, positive and empowering for the client.

So next time you plan to walk in nature, you might consider taking a notepad and a pencil and drawing – or writing, if writing is your thing – and seeing what personal wisdom nature offers up to you.

PS. That’s my first blog done! On to number 2!