I was interviewed by Kirsty Maynor, Author and Leadership Coach about how I use mindfulness in the madness of life, and how I find calm amongst chaos. This conversation happened in the midst of the festive build up and there are lots of tips for Christmas time and beyond.
Watch it below: (I've also included a transcript below if you prefer to read :)
Read it below:
Kirsty - Hi. Nice to see you. How are you?
Lisa - I'm good thanks Kirsty. How are you?
Kirsty - so we wanted to talk about mindfulness today because when Lisa and I were talking recently, we were having a chat about myths about mindfulness and what people think it is. I know I personally struggle with it. It's not something that I find natural or easy in any way, shape or form. So I know Lisa, you've been practising mindfulness meditation in different ways for quite a while, but what got you started?
Lisa - the first time I experienced mindfulness and meditation was through yoga. I started yoga when I was at college, so quite a few years ago now, and anyone that's practiced yoga will know at the end and you lie down and relax. And I just loved that part of it. It was my favourite bit of the session and I would go through class thinking, when's it gonna end so I can do the relaxation bit. so that was my first experience of it. I didn’t quite realise at the time that it was meditation.
Then a few years later someone at work bought me a book about mindfulness which I really got into and then started to do more mindfulness practice and meditation. I've dipped in and out of it over the years. I wouldn't say I've kept my practice up the whole time. I sort of dip in and out of it. But last year during the pandemic, it really came into its own for me, (tying in with the topic of this conversation: mindfulness in the madness!) it really helped me get through and stay grounded in what was quite a challenging time.
Kirsty - I think that's so true, it's a survival point for a lot of people, which is why we thought we would do a session today because it is a busy time of the year and it's also been a very challenging year for a lot of people. And, you know, like you said it can be lots of different things for different people in practice, which I'm sure we're going to talk about in a little while.
So, for somebody who has not come across mindfulness before or meditation before, how would you describe it? Is it just lying under a blanket at the end of yoga class, trying not to fall asleep?
Lisa - it can be that, but it's lots of other things as well. And I think it's probably important to say that there's so much information out there that it can seem quite complicated, but it's really not. So mindfulness for me is just being really present in the moment, and focusing in on what I’m doing. And that's it really. If you wanted to take it a step further, it's really being aware of your feelings, thoughts and emotions and just sort of observing them and letting them go without judgement.
Kirsty - Yeah, I think when I first started, you know, trying to meditate or trying to be mindful, I kept thinking I was getting it wrong, because I thought the aim was to stop my thinking. And I'm like, well, my brain is busy all the time. And I know when we were talking about it recently, I was sharing that I really thought I couldn't meditate, because I couldn't sit and stop my thinking.
Well, of course, like you said, it's not about stopping the thoughts, it’s about becoming aware of them. And then not getting hooked on them and fixed on them. Like, I think we've talked about it as the thoughts are like little boats. And are you going to jump into the boat and go off for a sailing trip, or are you just gonna go oh, there's a boat going past and just notice it.
Lisa - Yeah, exactly. And if you are doing a proper meditation practice where you are trying to be present and focus the mind, there’s lots of different ways that you can do that. So there's ones where you focus on the breath. There's ones where you focus on different parts of your body. There's visualisation exercises. There's so many different ones. So what I would say is, if anyone's looking to get into meditation, there'll be some that are not for you, and there'll be some that really work for you. So experiment with it. But yeah, with meditation, it's not about switching off your mind. No one can do that. You know, even Buddhist monks will still get thoughts coming. They will be much better at it because they've been practising it for a long time. But I would say that if you notice that your mind has wandered, you’re doing it exactly right! It’s noticing, oh, my mind has wandered, I'm going to come back to focusing on my breath or focusing on a part of my body, and not judging yourself for your mind, going wandering. You’re just noticing kindly and compassionately that your mind's wandered, and then you you bring yourself back. That's exactly what it's about. And the more you practice it the less your mind will wander.
Kirsty - I think that's a really great point because I was writing a blog post last month about the difference between self care and self compassion. And I think mindfulness is a core part of self compassion. The work of Kristin Neff has mindfulness as a core element of self compassion and that ability to not judge yourself, for your mind wandering off to the Christmas shopping or the fact that you haven't ordered the turkey or whatever else it might be.
Kirsty - how do you think mindfulness helps you with your parenting?
Lisa - it definitely does. I don't think I could survive without it. Actually it's really nice, the kids do get involved a little bit with mindfulness and meditation with me. They do kids yoga with me and we do little breathing exercises.
I can get quite overwhelmed when my kids are really distressed, or they're having a major tantrum and I can’t settle them. I find myself feeling quite stressed and lead to some quite tricky feelings in me. In the past I've judged myself really harshly about it. With a lot of practice, I am able to apply mindfulness techniques. So whatever's happening, if it's something quite stressful I’m dealing with, I try and visualise myself from above and just observe what's going on below and be kind and compassionate to myself. It could be something really simple, like saying to myself, this feels hard, because it is really hard, and this moment won't last forever, it might feel like it will right now, but you've had these moments before and they do always pass. So I Accept it for what it is. And let it pass. It’s not always easy, I don’t do it every time, but I am trying my best and that’s ok.
Kirsty -Yeah, I love that because we all have those moments with kids where we're like…in fact I’m having it with the animals at the moment actually!
Lisa - I mean, you know kids, pets, partners, family members, people at work, you have these moments. you go through life having ups and downs. And part of mindfulness is about noticing the emotions that you're feeling and just accepting them for what they are and observing them, letting them be there, not fighting them and just, you know, waiting for them to pass because they always do. That’s the same with nice and not so nice feelings and emotions.
Kirsty - I think it's a good reminder that things don't last. You know, it's not like forever even the most intense emotions will pass if you don't get caught up. And so at this time of the year in particular, we touched on some of them, but what are three ways we can use mindfulness can help us?
Lisa - I think really, this year in particular, actually, I feel that people are doing even more than they normally would probably because we had such an odd Christmas last year. So there's, you know, lots of social events. People might feel depressed, spend more money than they might have, and it can be quite a stressful time you know, people have family dynamics they worry about. So I think really, three things I would recommend is:
1) to find little moments in the day to take a pause and really be fully present. So that could be you making a cup of tea and really noticing each step as you make it and try not to be on autopilot. It might be drinking a cup of tea and really noticing how it feels and how it tastes. So yeah, little moments of joy, I think throughout the day, that's what I try and do.
2) another thing you can do is use your five senses to notice what you can see smell, taste, hear and feel. And I think a really nice way to do that is to go on a walk in nature and really observe what you can see around you. I've got a blog post about that.
3) the other thing is finding time to do something that brings you joy. That's just for you. You know, it's not for anybody else. It's just for you and trying to protect that time and set boundaries if you need to. To make sure that you get that time for yourself. I think they really are my three top tips for for the Christmas madness.
Kirsty - Yeah, definitely. I think that's why I do crochet and make crochet blankets is because it has the five senses or at least some of the senses and it is that protected time. For me. And also what you just said about mini meditations are a kind of mini mindfulness. I remember a tip from Eckhart Tolle, which was when you get into your car before you switch the ignition on, just breathe in and out and one of the tips that I like is to make the outbreath longer than the in breath, then that helps to reset your nervous system calm you down a bit without ever feeling a little bit emotionally wrung out or fraught. in lots of different ways. Then breathing in and then slowing that out breath. It makes a big difference.
Lisa - Yeah, breath breath work can be so powerful. And again, there's lots of different kinds of breath work you can do. You might have heard of circle breathing, triangle breathing, square breathing, there's all sorts you can do, but the ones where you breathe out for longer than in breath. It has an effect on your heart rate and your parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. So if you are feeling particularly stressed or anxious, it can help calm your nervous system and bring it back out of that fight or flight stress response. So yeah, breathing is a huge, huge part of mindfulness.
Kirsty - As a reminder for people who have just joined us, I'm joined today by Lisa from Solis Wellbeing and we're talking about mindfulness in the madness because it's that time of the year! Lisa has just mentioned things that I didn't even know about. So triangle breathing, square breathing I know what they are. But circle breathing?
Lisa - Yeah, circle breathing is where you breathe and then don't take a pause. So you’re kind of just breathing in and breathing out whilst you’re counting. You tend to do circle breathing if you're doing Holotropic breathwork, some of you will have heard of it through Wim Hof when he does ice and cold water therapy, you'll do Holotropic breathwork before it, which includes circle breathing and some breath holds which prepares your body for the cold. I do cold water therapy and again, it's another form of mindfulness for me. You can't concentrate on anything else but being in that freezing cold water.
Kirsty - Lisa has clearly just gone even higher in my estimation! And also in my scale of you're a little bit crazy because for those of you who are watching either live or later on, if you haven't come across Wim Hof. He believes in like doing crazy things in ice cold water. I know someone who's a Wim Hof practitioner that I did my shiatsu training with and Yeah, he does kind of crazy swimming in the river kind of stuff. Absolutely mental but it's supposed to be really good for you. But not for me. I like the cosy warm
Lisa - Well, the cosy warm is even nicer once you've put yourself through the freezing cold!
Kristy - No, I don't know. I was at the beach this morning actually and I saw a guy having photos or a video done of something for some reason in the water. In Edinburgh. And it was about two degrees outside so the water would be pretty cold and he wasn't wearing a wet suit. He was just wearing shorts and I thought Yeah, rather you that me. I can understand that it would stop all other thoughts!
Lisa - Yeah, it's a surefire way to switch the mind off. I was just thinking Kirsty as well. You mentioned crochet before. And so doing things like crochet and things like arts and crafts, things that occupy your hands, cooking anything like that is another form of mindfulness. You have your attention just on that thing. So I think we've probably talked about a few different ways you can do mindfulness and maybe people didn't realise that some of these things are mindfulness because it can seem quite complicated, but it's really anything that you can focus on so your mind is less likely to be on overdrive.
Kirsty - Yeah, I'm glad you mentioned that because I think for me, that is partly how I do mindfulness practice. I used to think it was sitting cross legged on a cushion or whatever. Earlier this year I did a silver jewellery workshop and made this necklace and the act of just making something with my hands is a very good way to be present and fully immerse myself in something. And actually this necklace was also to remind me to be balanced because it looks like piled up rocks at the beach. So there are lots of different ways of not stopping you're thinking but being aware of your thinking which we talked about.
Lisa - Yeah, and actually, that necklace is a really good reminder that you might use something to anchor yourself so that when you see it or you feel it, it reminds you to stop and breathe and you know stop running around on autopilot. So some people might use a little pebble in their pocket or you know, anything like that can just remind you to stop and take a little moment
Kirsty - most people that have seen my workspace know that I'm surrounded by things like that. I definitely need a visual reminders and tangible reminders. And we've covered a lot about how to get started, are there any extra resources you would signpost particularly?
Lisa - there's an app called Insight Timer, which is a free app. And I think it's the best one out there for mindfulness and meditation. There's even yoga on there you can join live circles where people are all doing mindfulness activities together. There's tonnes of different teachers on there. And you'll go on there and you'll find ones that you really like there'll be others that annoy the hell out of you and you can’t listen to and then there'll be ones that really work for you. I love a lady called Sarah Blondin. She does heart minded meditations that are really nice. There's a Scottish guy called Andrew Johnson, and I love any any of his stuff. In fact, if anybody wants to go away and try a meditation, Andrew Johnson on Insight Timer, has got one called relaxed lite, and I think it's 12 or 13 minutes of breathing. And it's really nice.
Kirsty - That sounds great. I remember a psychologist I worked with once who said you know, just go on to Google and find somebody you like and it really doesn't matter. I use the calm app, because they have even one minute or three minute meditations. And that for me is sometimes long enough it's sometimes all I can squeezing right?
Lisa - you know, anything is good. I think little tiny things all add up to make a massive impact. So if you have only got one minute a day, still do it because it will make a difference.
Kirsty - My other latest sneaky tip that I actually put on a meditation as soon as my alarm clock goes off for 10 minutes while I'm still laying in bed before I can get up. And that seems to make a difference. I just need to make sure I do actually get up.
Lisa - Yeah that’s great. I'd have to do mine the other way around at bedtime because my kids are my alarm clock!
Kirsty - Yeah, that's true. My daughter's older so that makes a difference.
Lisa - If it's ok before we finish, I have a little thing that I wrote down that I wanted to read out. So suppose you read about a pill that you could take once a day to reduce anxiety and increase your contentment. You read it has a great variety of side effects all of them could increase self esteem, empathy and trust. It even improves memory. And suppose finally that the pill is all natural and cost nothing. Would you take it?
Kirsty - I need this. I would need to set a reminder but I would take it Yeah.
Lisa - the pill does exist and it's meditation. That’s a quote from a guy called Jonathan Haidt, who's a social psychologist based in America and he's done loads of research. And I guess for anyone who thinks mindfulness and meditation is not for them, or they might think it's a bit woowoo or a bit out there. It really is backed by science. There's lots of research about it by psychologists, neuroscientists, and it does have such an impact on your physiology on your mind. So I guess for any sceptics out there, it's scientifically backed and it really does work!
Kirsty - thank you Lisa! And thanks for coming on to chat with me today.
Lisa - my pleasure, thanks Kirsty!