These January days can be tough going, so how do we sustain our mental and physical health and restore our vitality? Sustainability seems to be the word on everyone’s lips lately, meaning ‘the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level’. So, perhaps, before plunging into a potentially short-lived list of resolutions or goals, which many of us habitually do at this time of year, it might serve us better to take time and explore how we manage and maintain existing wellbeing habits before launching into something new. If time is scarce, we need to make wise choices, and either introduce, maintain or strengthen habits that sustain us, which we can then draw on at times when we might need extra sustenance. By choosing long haul, sustaining habits rather than opting for quick-fix solutions we learn to rely on and trust ourselves rather than continually looking for solutions outside of ourselves.
It can be hard sometimes to decide on, never mind implement or stick to a health and wellness schedule, especially if we’re facing into January already tired and depleted, so perhaps a good place to begin would be to review any existing wellbeing habits and routines, regimes or rituals. What’s working well and nourishing you? Because it has been such a challenging and uncertain time for so long, we may have allowed some good habits to fall to the wayside. Are there any habits that worked well for us in the past that we can re-instate before taking on something new? We might start with checking in with the basics. Everything counts, for example, drinking water, getting enough sleep, eating well, taking regular physical exercise, connecting with others every day as well as connecting with nature. That list probably sounds exhausting and enough to be getting on with, because we all know, it takes quite a bit of effort, energy and discipline to stick at the core habits or practices that keep us well.
But consistency pays off, slow and steady wins the race, and I would encourage you, even if daunted, to maintain hope and to add one more daily habit to that list, mindfulness meditation. Because so many of us are tired and perhaps teetering on the edge of burn out, it is more important than ever to find little ways to replenish ourselves regularly. It is my firm belief that practising mindfulness meditation every day provides the underpinning source of many good habits, for me all else flows from this gentle cultivation and repetition of habits of mind and body. We need both physical and mental exercise for physical and mental strength and agility.
There are many ways into mindfulness, such as connecting with nature, which is so vital, or through movement, but we also need a more ‘formal’ meditation practice to build a strong foundation. You can start right this minute; I started re-reading a book this holiday that I always recommend to anyone wishing to begin practising mindfulness and it’s called ‘Mindfulness: a practical guide to FINDING PEACE IN A FRANTIC WORLD’ by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. Could any book be more aptly named just now? The first practice it offers is a one-minute meditation, which I will summarise here now.
See if you can sit with a straight back and have your feet firmly planted on floor. Feel all the parts of your body that are in contact with the chair. Feel the touch of your hands against this paper as you set it aside for a minute and either gently close your eyes or lower your gaze. Now bring your attention to your breath and where you can feel your breath, as it flows in and out of your body. There’s no need to change your breath in any way, simply tune in to the feelings and sensations of your breath, wherever you’re feeling the movement of your breath in your body. Soon you will notice that your mind has drifted away from the breath, back to thinking. That’s normal, that’s ok, simply notice this and gently bring your attention back to the breath. You may feel relaxed, you may not, it’s about being curious and noticing what’s happening, as it’s happening. This noticing that your mind has wandered and gently returning to the breath in your body is the essence of mindfulness meditation.
It sounds simple but it is not easy. I personally struggled with mindfulness meditation at the beginning and in those early days would not for one second have believed that I would end up teaching it! It is not easy for anyone at first so please don’t think you cannot do it or that it’s not for you. Stay with it. Habits need time to take root, so don’t give up, even if you don’t particularly like it. Give it a chance to see if it is working or not. This January might very much be a case of one small step at a time, I feel we all need a period of restoration after the experience of the last two years. So go easy on yourself, try not to fixate on goals, take your time. Please get in touch if you need some support starting or sustaining the habit of practising mindfulness meditation.
Drop-in sessions are beginning again at Myross Wood, Leap on Tuesday mornings from January 18, 10 -11am: €10.
‘Reconnect and Re-engage’ is a three-week wellbeing programme on Fridays in collaboration with Green Skibbereen and Cecas at Myross Wood. It is free of charge thanks to funding provided by CETB via the 2021 Mitigating against Educational Disadvantage Fund.
Sustainable Wellness is a four-week programme involving mindfulness, movement and self-massage that Emma Fitzpatrick and I run regularly, beginning January 13, 10-12pm. €25 per session or €85 for the entire programme.
Online guided meditation sessions continue via Zoom on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8pm, please do consider joining in, whether you have tried mindfulness meditation before or are new to it. These small group sessions are personal, down-to-earth, informal and donation based. Individual or group sessions are also available.
For more information on these or upcoming workshops and courses please like my Facebook page (Mindhaven) or feel free to get in touch by phone: 087 2700572 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org