You can COUNT on Mindfulness

When we are asked to introduce new things into the classroom there is often an assumption that it is going to mean lots of preparation, lots of work and generally big stress! 

This really doesn’t have to be the case with wellbeing and in particular mindfulness. There are so many very simple techniques and minor adjustments you can make that will have a huge impact on your wellbeing and that of your students. 

One of the simplest techniques you can use is counting. This is particularly brilliant if you teach young children who are newly confident when counting because it reinforces their maths learning too. You can also differentiate the activity so that you count in 2s, 5s, 10s etc to make it more complicated for older children.  

How do we count for mindfulness?

It’s really very simple.

Simply explain to the children that you are going to start counting (it can be in 1s, 2s, 5s, 10s, forwards, backwards, etc whatever is relevant to your class) but tell them you are going to continue to count quietly in your heads after the first 3 numbers. They can close their eyes, use their fingers, whatever they need. You give them a target number to get to and once they reach that number ask them to silently raise their hand. Tell them you want to see if you can all get to the number at the same time. 

You can practise this many time with different target numbers, using times tables etc.

You can even use the alphabet, songs or nursery rhymes. The important thing is that they are focused solely on the one task in hand. They can’t be thinking about other things, messing with their friend or their shoe, because if they do they won’t be able to reach the target at the right time.  

I told you it was simple didn’t I?

 

If you want to discover many other simple wellbeing strategies why not check out my FREE Resources page.

Meditation – It’s not what you think!

Meditation is a word that wasn’t used much when I was growing up but over the last few years it has grown in popularity to an extraordinary degree. 

For years if anyone mentioned meditation we pictured someone sitting in the lotus position with their hands in a mudra, while chanting “Ommmmm”. This stereotype is I’m sure what many people imagine when someone suggests that they meditate.  

Fortunately for me you don’t have to conform to this image, although you can if you wish to of course. My legs are long and my feet are big and my joints are damaged by my acromegaly so twisting myself into the lotus position is impossible, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t meditate every single day. I meditate while I’m waiting to collect my son from school, while I do the housework and as I go to sleep most nights.

So what is meditation?

What does meditation mean?

Well, it isn’t quite as limited as many believe. Here is the definition according to the online Oxford dictionary:
verb
  1. focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.
    “I set aside time every day to write and meditate”
    • think deeply about (something).
      “he went off to meditate on the new idea”
    • plan mentally; consider.
      “they had suffered severely, and they began to meditate retreat”
      (Oxford Online Dictionary)

Personally I use two types of meditation:

  • focusing my mind on an issue or subject and either studying or letting my mind find a solution
  • trying to empty my mind as much as possible and just relax

I find both incredibly useful one for finding answers and both for calming my mind. I’m sure others would say that either there is only one form of meditation or there are countless, and both are probably right. Whichever method I am using the result is my brain is calm and my body feels restored. 

I don’t tend to chant or make any noise at all while I am meditating. However, I do use singing as meditation, and always have since I was very young. It is one of my favourite ways of calming my body and clearing my mind. Does that count as a different method? For me it is focusing on one thing and letting my mind find a solution. It is very different to sitting in silence with a problem I need resolving though so maybe it is?   

I also use work and manual tasks such as gardening, baking, decorating, cleaning the car as meditation. Whether it is creating something like a worksheet, digging up weeds, stirring a batter or kneading a dough, painting a wall or polishing the car it is possible to focus so completely on the task in hand that you lose yourself in the moment… meditation.   

I focus on the task in hand and I forget everything else for a few minutes, or even hours. This is meditation.   

Often when I am writing I find the solutions to problems I have been having the same way I would when I sit in silent meditation, so writing works for me as meditation too.  

Reading a book can be meditative. You focus whole heartedly on the task in hand and escape into another world. It is incredibly calming and relaxing too. 

Painting or creating of any form can be meditation. Whether you create using clay or wool or wood you can turn it into a meditative practice. 

Walking is a very popular form of meditation. Many people walk labyrinths or just walk mindfully in nature as a form a meditation.  

Dance and yoga can be meditative, going for a run can be meditative.  

Meditation is so often about how you do something rather than what you are doing.  

So the next time someone recommends that you try meditation to help you with your stress, anxiety or depression, don’t dismiss it because you can’t sit still and chant.   

Whatever works for you, the important thing is to take time to really concentrate on the task in hand. Switch off from your planning, step away from your worries, turn off technology and just be present doing whatever you are doing. 

The reason, I believe, that meditation has become so popular over the last few years is because our lives have become so busy. we see it as a badge of honour if we are juggling more than someone else. The busier we are the more important we must be. We never stop and just pay attention to what is happening here and now.  As a result we are exhausting our brains and we never give our minds time to rest and recharge so our mental health struggles. 

Taking just 5 minutes a day to meditate in some form is life changing. Obviously the longer you can manage the better.  

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” – Zen Proverb 

Other blogs that may interest you: 

Saana Meditation Cushions

“Colouring in” as meditation

 

 

 

 

Saana Meditation Cushions

I love to meditate. 

I have meditated all my life. Admittedly I didn’t always know that that was what I was doing. With hindsight it has always been a huge part of my mental self care. 

Imagine my joy when an amazing new company, Saana Cushions, contacted me and asked if I would like to try their new meditation cushions.  

I am fortunate that I often get products sent for me to review, but I am very selective about what I actually share with you. 

Saana Cushions tick every box for me!

First things first, these cushions are comfy to use. Let’s be honest that is the most important thing, if you aren’t comfortable you are not going to be able to really settle to meditate.

 

The cushions come in 3 different sizes so you can order according to your needs.

I love that Saana Cushions are ethically made with recycled and natural materials. Sarah sources all her fabrics in charity shops and uses things like upcycled theatre curtains to create her beautiful cushions. They are filled with organic buckwheat hulls which are sourced in the UK. 

More importantly for you though, they are easily washed. Let’s be honest if you are going to have cushions in your classroom they need to be easy to clean. The buckwheat hulls are contained in an inner bag so that the cover can be washed easily.  

Quality product and friendly service

Having used my cushion for a couple of weeks now I cannot recommend them enough. Not only are they beautiful but they are so tactile and because they come in a cotton storage bag they are easy to stow away when you aren’t using them. 

Whether you are wanting to introduce a regular meditation practice to your class or you meditate occasionally but you are looking for flexible seating options or new seating for your reading corner, these cushions are perfect. 

I am a big believer in supporting start ups and helping small businesses as much as I can. There are thousands of people at the moment trying to support themselves and their families by creating a business built around their passion and this is a wonderful example of just that. Sarah is a talented seamstress and a genuine and compassionate person. She is just one person creating a really bespoke, beautiful product and for an incredible price too.

If you want to know more about Saana Cushions or order some for your school or family please check out their website and let Sarah know that you discovered her beautiful products via my website. It’s always good to know where recommendations have come from.

I should add that I am not getting any commission for referrals, I was sent a cushion to try but don’t benefit from sharing this review nor will I get any financial reward for promoting this wonderful new business. I never promise anyone that I will write a review of their product when they send it to me. If I don’t like something, or I feel it doesn’t fit with my beliefs I won’t write a negative review, I will simply not review the item at all. So you know that when I do review something it is because I genuinely love it.

 

Relevant blogs:

“Colouring in” as Meditation

Why is being present so important anyway?

 

Autumn Wellbeing

The clocks are changing this weekend here in the UK.

For a few days at least the mornings will be slightly lighter but the evenings will draw in quicker too. Your Autumn wellbeing becomes a focus.

Autumn is a challenging time of year. The shorter, greyer, damp days, drain us of joy and leave us missing the sunshine of a few weeks ago. We tend to spend more time indoors and even our diet changes dramatically during the colder months. 

All of these factors can create a lethal cocktail of mental ill health if we’re not careful. This can spiral if we then fall into the self medicating trap of trying to cheer ourselves up with comfort food, sweet treats and alcohol.  

What can we do to maintain our Autumn Wellbeing?

In no particular order, why not try these easy wellbeing tips to help you beat the Autumn blues:

Drink hot drinks

We naturally drink more warm drinks in colder weather but scientists have now proven that drinking a warm drink has the same effect on the body as a hug. It calms your nervous system and reduces anxiety. Maybe the old British stereotype of putting the kettle on in an emergency isn’t as daft as we thought!

Get outside

I am as guilty as anyone of looking out at the drizzly, grey weather and talking myself out of going for a walk, but when I make myself I know I always feel better. My daughter and I have been going for a walk a couple of nights a week, only for about an hour, but we have both noticed how much better we feel, physically and mentally.

Get moving

If you don’t want to go outside at least get moving. Go to the gym or just dance round the kitchen. Anything to get your body moving, the blood pumping and release all those happy chemicals! 

Embrace the Hygge Life

There is a lot of talk about hygge at the moment. In short it is that cosy feeling you get when you are snuggled under warm blankets with a cuppa and the fire on. Embrace this beautiful feeling by lighting candles, snuggle under big soft blankets, grab a good book and a cuppa and spend a few indulgent minutes in this comforting state.

Eat well 

It is easy to slip into comfort eating at this time of year. That’s fine as long as you choose healthy comfort food. Choose casseroles, curries, stews and lots of green vegetables over take aways, fatty and sugary foods.We are what we eat and this is particularly true in the colder months because our body stores more energy.

Read more  

Screen time is known to affect our wellbeing. Switch your screens for a good book and watch how much better you feel. There is nothing better than snuggling under a blanket with a good book either is there.   

Have a long soak   

A warm bath is a great way to relax your muscles and calm yourself down too. Why not add some sea salt and lavender to really cleanse and calm your body and mind?  

Laugh  

Laughing is proven to improve your mental wellbeing so find a good comedy on Netflix and enjoy a really good giggle. 

Spend time with friends and loved ones

There is nothing quite like spending time with people who make you feel calm, happy and loved. So much the better if they also make you laugh or encourage your to dance!

What changes can you make to ensure this Autumn is sparkly and happy? 

Other relevant blogs: 

Life is better when you live in the moment

Mindful Planning

 

Anxiety in Teenagers

Imagine a girl. She could be younger than you, she could be older than you. But it needs to be someone you know. You may not know them well, but you know them.

Imagine the perfect student. A social outsider. She has friends, but doesn’t exactly conform to teenage stereotypes. She reads. She doesn’t go to parties. But that’s okay. People don’t like her any less for it. She’s clever. Passes every exam. She gets her head down, and she works. She puts in the effort she needs to in order to succeed. She smiles. She laughs. As far as the world is concerned, she’s happy.

Imagine you saw her today. Maybe you spotted her in the corridor. Maybe she came to see you, or perhaps you came to see her. She smiled at you. She helped you solve that problem you’ve been having. Maybe she calmed you down; stopped you from crying. All she did was help you, and you feel nothing but gratitude towards her today. She didn’t just appear happy, she made others happy too.

She’s just a happy person. Radiating positivity. Or so it seems.

Imagine the same girl, only behind closed doors. She sits in her room every night and cries. Yes, she’s clever, but sometimes the amount of stress she puts herself under can crush her. A weight on her shoulders. Yes, she’s got friends, but sometimes the amount of people around her can be so overwhelming, she breaks. Another weight on her shoulders. She solves your problems, but she has her own too. The weight of all of this builds and builds until she can’t take it anymore. It pins her to her bed every morning, and she can’t move. The sheer thought of moving outside of her bedroom makes her shake, and cry, and her hope deteriorates. Everything slows to a halt. She stops going to school. She stops eating. She stops moving. She sees no one, and does nothing but cry. It’s hard for her. She says nothing. 

It doesn’t take long for people to notice. Her parents. Her parents, who do nothing but help her, and have all of the resources to do so, notice. They try their best to calm her down, but nothing works. Her friends. They know that she’s not herself anymore. They want to help. Her friends who were far away, they talked her off the ledge. Her friends close to her came to her house, they made sure she was okay. They cared.

But nothing helped. It was as if she was trapped in a box. She knew how to leave. She could get out. But she didn’t want to. The box made her sick. But she couldn’t leave. She hated it. Every second. But she couldn’t leave.

This girl is me. I’m fifteen years old, and I struggle with anxiety. Living in a household where every person is able to help, but nothing works is unbearable. I try so hard. It’s horrible. But things look up. Talking to someone helps. No one is as perfect as they appear to be. Everyone suffers. So check up on that person. Make sure they’re okay. Sometimes that’s all they need.

The author of this incredibly articulate and self aware piece is my daughter, Laura.

 I wasn’t sure whether to post this blog. There are many voices in my head today as I type, all with conflicting opinions. One voice says I need to protect my daughter. One says it’s professional suicide. Another voice says that it’s important to be authentic and share my experiences. Yet another tells me this post will really help many people. I have always been honest about my mental health journey, and it is an ongoing journey, it is not possible for anyone to have sustained and infinite good mental health. 

I have also been honest about my struggles whether that is confidence, anxiety, physical pain… but this is different. This feels like the worst pain I can imagine. I am having to stop myself from feeling like I have let one of my children down in the worst possible way. Remind myself that I can’t make anyone do anything against their will.

I have watched from the sidelines over recent years as my kind, caring, talented, witty, intelligent daughter has slowly descended into an ever increasing state of anxiety.  I have loved, and supported her every way I know how but she’s a teenager and as we all know, teenagers have to learn their own lessons sometimes.   

Laura has always been fiercely independent. She didn’t want help with anything as a toddler and that has never changed. She is capable and works things out for herself you can’t tell her anything, she has to work it out.

She is an incredible young woman. I know I am biased but: 

  • She has amazing friends
  • We have never been called into school
  • She makes her teachers smile when they see her
  • Her teachers have fought over her throughout school every time she has had to make decisions about which subjects to focus on
  • I have never had to ask her to do her spellings, reading, homework of any kind
  • If anyone is ever upset or needs support she is there
  • When she had her first residential at 7 years old she was a little bit worried, but once we arrived at the coach another little girl was crying and Laura immediately began comforting her and completely forgot about her own worries 
  • She uses social media to support other young people and help them with revision techniques 
  • She sings like an angel! 

She is a teacher’s dream, a parent’s dream. Don’t get me wrong she has her moments just like anyone but I couldn’t be more proud of her. 

She cares, deeply, maybe too much.     

Anxiety isn’t a sign of weakness it is a sign of caring too much.  

Unfortunately I have seen it all my life. People who are caring and compassionate and feel a responsibility to make sure everyone else is happy, who then give too much and forget to care for their own needs.  

I spend my life trying to prevent anyone from feeling the way my own daughter is at the moment. 

I teach techniques and strategies and show people the signs to look out for. I know what you should eat, how you should live and exactly what to do to prevent anxiety getting too severe. Thank goodness I do because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to support Laura the last few weeks. Now that she has acknowledged that things have got too much, we have talked about it, and we have talked a lot. School have been amazing and we are slowly coming through of the worst of it. 

No child should ever have to suffer like this. No-one should. Yes school is important but it is never more important than your wellbeing.

 

We have started going for long walks together. We talk about anything and nothing and the idea of her writing this came up last night while we were walking. I thought it might help her to get her thoughts down on paper. She has now decided that she would like to start a blog. Even while she was off school she was posting on her social media accounts being completely honest about how she was feeling and offering to talk to anyone feeling the same way. She has always been a book worm and loved writing so I think it will really help her to have a place to write and empty her thoughts. 

As parents we are only responsible for our children to a point.

 We are responsible for providing for their basic needs; food, shelter and love. But we are also responsible for making sure they are independent, free thinking creatures who can survive without us. So if you are a teacher who’s child won’t read or do their homework, a police officer who’s child has been in trouble with the law, a dietician who’s child won’t eat anything healthy, or an expert in wellbeing who’s child is struggling with anxiety be kind to yourself. Know that we are not in charge of our children. We can only hope that we have taught them enough for them to make good choices but ultimately those choices are theirs and theirs alone.

Top tips for helping an anxious child

Lots of hugs – just being with your child and allowing them to sit, cry, talk.

Keep talking – they may not want to talk but keep communication open. It may mean texting or sending little notes at first but they will open up and feel comfortable talking eventually.

Don’t judge – it is easy with an adult’s perspective and all the stresses that come with adulthood to see whatever they are worrying about as unimportant. It isn’t to them. 

Care for them – imagine how you would behave if they had flu, treat them with the same level of kindness; let them rest, wrap up in warm blankets, eat what they feel like eating, watch TV all day. 

Be patient – they will get through this but it won’t happen over night. Give them time to find strategies that work for them.

Breathe – breathing is the quickest way to calm down your nervous system so take a few deep breaths together, when you hold them concentrate on keeping your breathing slow and calm and they will mirror that eventually.

 

 

I have a dream…

The 25th September is World Dream Day.

This is a new one on me. Every day seems to be some international day now everything from cheese to children is celebrated on a special day of the year.

If I’m honest I can get a little jaded with it all, but when I saw dreams it immediately pricked my interest. When I looked into it more it total inspired me.

I am a big believer in dreaming.

I love my sleep and can never seem to get enough, but that isn’t the sort of dreaming we’re talking about here.

World Dream Day is about Martin Luther King type dreams. The aspirational kind. The kind that inspires action. The type of dreams that can change the world.  

I have always believed that if you want something enough you can almost always make it happen. The most difficult thing is often working out what you want enough to manifest it in your life.

I always wanted to make a difference to children and teachers, I am only at the start of my journey in the scheme of things but I never stop dreaming of what I can do next to make my dreams a reality. Whether it is thinking of new ways to support you or what resources I can create. The thing I struggle with is recognition and as a result if I’m not careful I get so far and then pull back a little so that I’m not too visible. That’s something I’m working on because I know I can’t help more people until I can be brave enough to be seen.

Teaching children the importance of dreaming big is something I am very, very passionate about. Children are capable of totally immersing themselves in the most incredible dreams. 

They have no concept of the hard work and statistical probabilities of their choices and often disregard reality completely. It is so powerful!

If a child wants to be an astronaut that’s what they are going to be. They don’t know how many hours of rigorous training and testing they will have to go through or how statistically improbable it is. Thank goodness! If they did, we would never have any astronauts! 

By believing whole heartedly that they will be an astronaut they start a magical chain of events which might just lead them to fulfil their dream, as long as no-one puts up a barrier to that dream along the way.

When we are told we can’t do something, or something is hard, we start to build a wall between us and our dreams.

We need an incredibly supportive network of friends and family to believe in our dreams and help us to make them a reality. Alternatively, we need to be very stubborn and have lots of self esteem. (One of the many reasons we should always build a child’s self esteem!).

Inevitably at some point in our lives a well meaning family member or teacher will inadvertently say “That’s never going to happen” or “Do you know how few people make it?” when a child says that they want to be a footballer, popstar, actor, brain surgeon… whatever it is. There will always be someone who tries to be “realistic” and “prepare them for real life” by deflating a child’s dreams a little. It is rarely done out of malice and often done in a protective way. It may be that that person had big dreams and someone squashed theirs and they never made them a reality. 

Realistically, most children who want to be astronauts, footballers or popstars don’t end up doing that. More often than not it is because they change their mind along the way though, not because it isn’t possible. The same way most children who want to be nurses, teachers and train drivers don’t end up doing those jobs either. It isn’t our job to squash their dreams though. As adults it is our job to help them believe that they can achieve anything they want to. To encourage them to dream big. The bigger the better!

There have been so many inspirational young people over recent years; Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai and Jack Andraka to name just a few.

These teenagers have changed the world for millions of people. If they hadn’t dreamed big and been brave we would never have heard of them and nothing would have changed. 

We all change the world, just by existing, but we can choose to make a bigger difference. Whether it is in our own little life, our own community, or for the whole world. Dreams don’t have to be big and bold. Your dream might be to create a litter free environment for the children at your local park. It might be that you want to do a half marathon or climb a mountain. You might want to learn to paint, or dance or play golf. Whatever your dream is, why not take some time this week to work a little towards your dream and support a loved one in their dream too.

Working together on shared dreams and goals is a wonderful way to strengthen relationships and support another on their journey.

Dream big and be bold in your dreams. You will never regret the things you tried to achieve, only the things you weren’t brave enough to attempt.

 

Want to read more about dreams, check out these blogs:

Following your dreams

The importance of following your passion

Goal Mapping for Kids

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