A Guide to Mindfulness


The Dedication:

This little story all started a couple of weeks ago when in the garage of my own home. I decided I needed a spray tan for my sister’s wedding coming up and reached out to someone I knew on Instagram to see if she could come out and beautify me. Fast-forward 48 hours and there I stood naked, stiff nipped and nervous that the neighbours might accidentally peer through their bathroom window and catch a sight no one wants to see. Now you’re probably all looking at your screens sideways a little puzzled at where this is going but I promise you this has meaning. You see the woman who was tanning me was someone I had been admiring on social media for a little while now. She is an individual who, this year, is in the process of sharing to the world of social media what she is going through and how she is managing. She speaks of trauma, anxiety, autism, alcoholism and her journey through it all. I was and continuously am in awe of her bravery.  She has demonstrated such a strength in her ability to expose her battles, her vulnerabilities, her weaknesses, her fears, for the world to engage in.   

So there I was, in nothing but a paper shower cap, butt naked and everything out on show. I don’t know if it was the fact that I was completely vulnerable myself in the state I was in or if I was high off the tanning fumes but I sparked up the ‘conversation’. You know those tricky ones that we usually avoid. I told her how much I loved what she was doing and asked her question after question about her journey. Without hesitation, she spoke to me, me, someone she didn’t know all that well. With a power I cannot explain. So today’s post is dedicated to her and her and courage. You know who you are.
Are You Okay?
We are funny as human beings. We need connection with others, it is the way we are wired, without it we do become angry and bitter, we hurt, and yet when we need it the most we hide behind our fake and broken smiles and pretend that we are fine. We have this warped perception that in life you have to be brave and strong and that vulnerability means we are weak and weakness is not good. Success is measured by your job and how much money you earn or by your followers on Instagram. We forget that it is ok not to feel ok and we withdraw from sharing with those around us when we need them the most. When those not so great emotions overwhelm us we supress them because well, we struggle to show that we may need help.
I was in one of those places not that long ago. That place where bed was comfort and people were too difficult to be around. I was exhausted with life and withdrew from the people I loved the most. I hid behind the smiles and fake laughs, I told people I was fine and made up lies when people checked in on me.
{FINE, We all know what it really means- Fucked up, Insecure, Needy and Emotional}
Even my beautiful friends, the group of ladies in my life that I’ve always been able to talk were hidden from I was going through. At the time I didn’t really know why this was happening to me. It was a shock to me because I was always that person that was positive and happy and saw a glass half full. I knew how to fix my day through meditation, fresh air and time sent with loved ones but all those things just weren’t cutting it.  Reflecting on it now I believe it was a culmination of things that I kept to myself and supressed and pretended weren’t happening. It wasn’t a black cloud like they describe but there was definitely a grey one lingering around. It wasn’t until one day, whilst at work one of my closest colleagues asked the question, “Are you okay?” This was when the flood gates opened and for days and days I cried and talked, yelled a little, cried some more and talked…and talked… and talked. The grey cloud was  still there to an extent because, hey they don’t just disappear without some kind of resolution, but the heaviness was lifted and I was able to think rationally and start to be proactive about the next few steps I needed to take.
Which leads me to today. R U OK day. I thought this day would be the perfect opportunity for me to post about how important it is to speak up and check in on people around you. The simple question that when asked can change a person’s life. As I wrote earlier we tend to hide our grey cloud from everyone, embarrassed and afraid of what it might bring when we open up. Funnily enough though we also feel that it is our duty that when someone does open up we have do everything in our power to make sure we help them in these moments of crisis. Often we go too far and our actions actually deter our loved ones from sharing again. When you’re in those dark moments you don’t want the platitudes or the, ‘you need to…’ or ‘you should…’ What we need is someone to simply listen without passing judgement.
The R U OK campaign have released four great tips to help us manage conversations we are uncomfortable. They say:
  1. Ask, Are you OK?
    The simple question can shape and change our everyday conversations and help remove the awful stigma we feel in regards to vulnerability and weakness.
  2. Listen without judgement
    So much peace can be brought to a person when they just have an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on.
  3. Encourage action
    This isn’t always seeking out professional advice or counselling but a simple walk on the beach or something of that nature.
  4. Check in
    Always follow up. You never know one simple question could save a person’s life.

So that’s my story. I hope that it reaches someone just like my dedication touched me. I hope it gives someone the strength to speak out when I ask you, R U OK?

Top 5 Essential Oils

I don’t know about you guys but the last week has been a whirlwind of a ride for me. This Moon was intense. Six planets in retrograde, a total Full Moon Eclipse, Mars making a big appearance and large Geomagnetic storms taking place left our energy levels at an all new high, and boy did I feel it.  Not only did I notice it within myself but I was well aware of how it was affecting others around me without them even realising it. I was incredibly mindful of how to conduct myself throughout this Super Moon period and required many moments sitting solo to ensure I centered myself and attempted to level my own energy as it began to heighten.

As a primary school teacher there are a few things that we must prepare ourselves for, these include; Wind, Rain and the Moon, (Fellow educators ya’ll know exactly what I’m talking about). You see any one of these three things can set that school community off like a house on fire. Things get real wild. Of the three, a Full Moon tends to be the predominant cause of anything out of the ordinary. “Is it a full moon because Johnny’s eating dirt again…” There is no denying it the Full moon super-charges our energy and we tend to feel askew.  I was once told that even the police force recognises the pull it has on society and in fact roster more officers on over a full moon period. To be fair that may be one of those stories that start with ‘it happened to a friend of a friend of mine’, but hey, I ain’t questioning it.

So how did I survive this more powerful Super Moon event? Well after smudging the place, bathing in Epson salts, lighting every candle in the house, meditating and ensuring my salt lamp was on at all times I ultimately turned to my essential oils. Oils are my saviour. I’m pretty new to the whole essential oil scene but there is definitely no going back. I can’t get enough of them and the benefits they have on me are incredible. I use oils for a variety of reasons depending on what I need. I even use them in my classroom to which the kids love and always ask for. I have my best friend to thank for introducing me to the world of oils. In fact, she helped create this article on our pick of top essential oils. So here it is. The oils I turn to daily and how they helped me through this crazy period.

1. The anxiety set from Courtney and the babes- @courtneyandthebabes

This is a new brand of oils I have recently stumbled across and my number one pick. I absolutely love these oils. The ladies at Courtney and the babes have developed a beautiful range of roll on essential oils. The three I have tried, (so far) are meditation, chill pill and sleep. I purchased chill pill and sleep as an anxiety pack and they by far are the best investment I’ve ever made. I have never been a great sleeper. I’m a REM sleep kinda girl and wake to the sound of a pin dropping on the carpet. I began using these two only 2 weeks ago and my sleeping patterns have changed immensely. Every night I roll my sleep oil on as directed on the soles of my feet and base of my neck. I also roll it onto my wrists as I sleep with my hands around my face and just love the smell. I have not slept this soundly in such a long time. If you haven’t already check them out.

Chill Pill Ingredients-
Frankincense- Relieves chronic stress and anxiety, reduces pain and inflammation and boost immunity.

Blue chamomile- Supports healthy joint function, promotes relaxation and restful sleep.

Clary sage- Fights depression, prevents infection, rich in antioxidants, stimulates sexual desires, regulated menstruation, lowers blood pressure and an anti-inflammatory.

Bergamot- Cleansing, an antidepressant and digestive support.

Marjoram- Rectifies hormonal imbalances, reduces blood pressure, promotes restful sleep and sound mind, relieves pain.

Lavender- Reduce anxiety and emotional stress, improve brain function, improve sleep, powerful antioxidants and relieves pain.

Eucalyptus- Anti-inflammatory and antibacterial support

Deep Sleep Ingredients-
Lavender- See above

Cedar wood- Reduces inflammation, prevents infections, relieves spasms, supports menstruation, excellent for eczema.

Juniper berry- Cleanses and purifies air and produce a calming and grounding effect

Vetiver- Uplifting, soothing, healing and protective properties, boosts energy levels, soothes feelings of anxiety and nervousness, increases libido and treats insomnia. Has been used to treat symptoms of ADHD and ADD.   

Marjoram- See above

Roman chamomile- Fights Anxiety and Depression, Serves as a Natural Allergy Reliever, Helps Alleviate PMS Symptoms, Reduces Symptoms of Insomnia, Boosts Skin Health, Supports Digestive Health and Promotes Heart Health.

2. Believe from the Young living range- @younglivingeo

This brand is one of our favourite brands of oils and the pre-blend ‘believe’ is our number 2 essential oil must have.  This blend encourages feelings of strength and brings emotional balance to you. When you need grounding this oil is the one to turn to as it releases and alleviates one of negative feelings. Feelings of despair and inadequacy are removed and a higher level of awareness is enabled. I recently held an adult mindfulness session and had this burning in my diffuser. The space immediately calmed and everyone who had participated asked at the end what the oil was as they couldn’t get enough of it. Get around this blend people.

Believe Ingredients-
Idaho Balsam Fir- Prevents infection, relieves pain, detoxifies the body, improves respiratory functions and increases the metabolisim.

Coriander- Stimulates Hormone Secretion, purifies the blood, improves digestion and treats spasms

Bergamot- One of the best essential oils for depression and helps to alleviate stress and anxiety, prevents and fights infections, helps lower blood pressure, helps to lower cholesterol, fights respiratory conditions and alleviates pain

Frankincense- See above

Idaho Blue Spruce- Reduce muscle pain, reduce nerve pain, high in d-limonene which is anti-cancerous, natural antiviral and antibacterial properties, releasing emotional blocks and healing pineal glands.

Ylang Ylang- Has antiseptic, antispasmodic, sedative and antidepressant properties. Promotes positive effect on immune health, blood flow and emotions.

Geranium- Balances hormones, relieves stress, reduces depression, minimizes inflammation, improves circulation, alleviates the effects of menopause, improves dental health and reduces blood pressure.

3. Heart and Soul from the Springfield range

This blend has been made to soothe and balance your heart and soul and is an ideal combination for meditation. In fact, I am burning this blend as we speak. It is a fantastic blend of oils that is not only great for burning but can also be added to creams to moisturise skin as it possess great skin benefits.

Heart and Soul Ingredients-
Ho leaf- Helps lift emotions, calms the mind and is deeply nourishing for skin.

Cedarwood- See above.

Rose Geranium- Overall skin benefits.

Frankincense- See above

Orange- An antidepressant

4. Peace and Calming, again from the Young Living range

I told you this range was one of our favourites! This is one of the besties picks she puts this one on when she’s wanting to calm her environment. It also enables focus and a positive mental outlook.

Peace and Calming Ingredients-
Tangerine- Improves mental fortitude, relieves pain, purifies the blood, improves digestion, relieves spasms and provides energy.

Orange- See above

Ylang Ylang- See above

Patchouli- Relieves depression, soothes inflammation, used as an aphrodisiac, stimulates blood circulation, sedates hypersensitivity, acts as tonic

Blue tansy- Creates a positive atmosphere
5. Frankincense from Young Living range

Although this has made number 5 on the list it is still one of my favourite scents ever. I love the benefits it provides, particularly for children. Again, being a teacher, I live and breathe the overly-anxious world children are experiencing. The world that everyone hears all over the media. It’s a very difficult position to be in because all you want to do is take their worries from them and just let them live their young little lives. I burn this scent in my diffuser in the classroom and my kids absolutely love it. I call it our focus scent. It makes a big difference in the classroom as it supports positive emotional regulation by reducing anxiety and stress. Burning it provides triggers for the brain that aids in the overall brain health and increasing the memory. It also relieves pains such as headaches and nausea, something I am constantly hearing from 8 year olds. It’s last benefit, great for getting to sleep.  

 So there you have it. Our top 5 essential oils. Try them out and let me know what you think. You won’t regret it. X

Mind full or Mindful? What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness, the new buzz on the streets. We are seeing it everywhere. It’s the new black, the new man bun, the new smashed avo. This new trend is sweeping the nation.  

So what exactly is Mindfulness? Well if you googled it you would get:

  1. 1.
    the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
    "their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition"
  2. 2.
    a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

But what does that even mean?

My understanding:

Focussing our direct attention on what is happening now.

Ways in which we can do this:
- breathe mindfully
- use mindful observation
- even think mindfully.

It’s waking up in the morning and noticing the smell of a freshly ground coffee. It’s walking down the street and observing the cute little dandelions lining the path. It’s allowing particular thoughts and feelings to occur and acknowledging them without judgement.

Basically, we see life through the eyes of curiosity. We let our inner child break free, no inhibitions. Think about it. Kids notice and question everything with innocence. They are inquisitive and aren't afraid of this. Our attention is often so focused elsewhere; like old memories, fantasies, plans or worries. We rarely live right now in the moment and have a tendency to be on autopilot. How many times have you driven somewhere and arrived at your destination without realising how you even got there. Once? Twice? Multiple times? That, unfortunately, is how we drive our lives. We are missing out on actually living.

So mindfulness. The old practice that yogi’s all over the world have been trying to get us to embark on for many years. Deriving from the historical teachings of Buddha and his journey to Nirvana.

noun: nirvana
  1. (in Buddhism) a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth. It represents the final goal of Buddhism.

The end of suffering. When I first read that I could not believe how much that resonated with me. I never thought of how much I caused myself to suffer without even realising that it was me doing it to myself.  I don’t know about you but I was the antonym of nirvana. You know those memes that pop up in the Instagram feed talking about your anxieties in the middle of the night, the ones that say things like-

Those memes were literally me and I'm gonna guess that those memes are also you.

So with that lets get to the science of mindfulness. Side note: how funny are we as creatures that we need science to prove to us that something is good for us. We couldn't just listen to the yogi's and trust in what they were saying.

The science behind mindfulness is incredible. The evidence has proven that it has the ability to enhance our overall psychological well-being. It has the ability to:

  • Decrease of stress
  • Decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Strengthen the immune system
  • Improve sleep
  • Enhance concentration and memory
  • Increase self-awareness
  • Develop confidence
  • Develop resilience
  • Support emotional regulation

You see when we build skills of mindfulness we enable ourselves to access avenues of creativity, flexibility and lateral thinking which allow us to manage challenging situations more rationally. Mindfulness mediation actually reduces the size of the Amygdala, (remember the Smoke Alarm part of our brain I discussed in my earlier article), enabling us to use our frontal lobes more readily and essentially meaning we bounce back from situations easier and possess a more positive and holistic outlook on life. When we are mindful we allow our thoughts and feelings not to be labelled as good or bad and we don’t seek out or avoid those particular emotions. We accept them and act almost as a witness to them as we observe in a nonjudgmental manner.

Now don’t get me wrong being mindful is not as easy as you think. If you’re like me and have spent many years building up those networks within the brain of worrying then your busy brain will be challenged. Our thoughts, feelings, values don't automatically make a switch. For me it is a practise, leading to a practice. Meditating is a beginning step for me on my journey of mindfulness. I find it difficult to meditate solo. I can't just lay in the silence of my bedroom and start focusing on my breathing. I still, after a couple of years, need the candles and diffusers, the calming music and the gentle guidance of someone talking me through it. I attend guided meditations, listen to them on YouTube or on particular mindfulness apps. If you’ve never meditated before than do me a favour. Find somewhere nearby that you can attend for a ‘relaxation session’. They are around. Put yourself first. Schedule some much needed 'me' time' into your busy life. That, I feel, is the first step to making a change from mind full to mindful.

Our mind, Our worries and Where they come from.- Normalising anxiety

The mind is such a powerful thing. One moment we are sitting there minding our own business, enjoying the simple things in life and the next we’re short of breath, sweating profusely and on the verge of passing out from hyperventilation. Anxiety; when it hits, it hits hard. Sometimes it creeps up on us and we can feel it slowly getting closer and other times it punches us straight in the face, no warning. Heck, just reading about anxiety may  trigger an attack. As I’ve said before, it tends to disguise itself in many different ways. We may experience  shortness of breath, sudden rage, nausea, tightness in the chest; there list of ‘symptoms’ goes on and each individual has a different experience. The one thing we do need to understand is that we all get it: you, me, your partner - even the man walking his dog down the street! For too long now anxiety has been seen as something that is un-normal and uncommon and if it happens to you then you are suffering from poor mental health.  The reality is that anxiety is normal and needs to be accepted by society in order for us to win this battle in an ever-growing, quietly anxious world. We’d be kidding ourselves if we pretended that we don’t all experience it at some point in time. In order to normalise anxiety we need to understand it and know that it is a normal chemical reaction within the brain. It happens to everyone. Everyone experiences these feelings and no, you aren’t dying, you don’t need to be rushed to hospital and you are not having a heart attack.

Now this is where I get to use the big words and make myself sound a lot smarter than I really am! Neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity means that our brain continues to be shaped by our experiences, thoughts and feelings. We create networks within the brain as a result of what we focus on. These thoughts and feelings toward particular networks either strengthens or weakens them. For example the more you worry or get caught in a cycle of worry the stronger the networks become and the better at worrying you become. On the contrary, the more you practice feeling calm the better you become at remaining calm in testing situations.

Now that we have covered that the brain is continually being shaped by everyday thoughts and feelings , let’s look at how other parts of the brain are affected by anxiety. I won’t go into too much detail but at the front of the brain we have what is called the pre-frontal cortex, or as I like to refer to it as our ‘thinking brain’. Our thinking brain is in charge of making our decisions. It is concerned with our emotions and how we respond to situations so it is something that we really need to know how to harness. Unfortunately in some situations we can lose control and our thinking brain can take over our actions. You see, we also have this part of our brain called the Amygdala. I refer to this as our ‘smoke alarm’ (you’ll understand why in a minute). The Amygdala switches into gear when it feels it is in a stressful situation. This is an instinctive reaction that causes the body to go into ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode. This part of our brain hasn’t really evolved since our prehistoric ancestors (cavemen) roamed the earth. Our brain can’t really tell the difference between running away from a Saber Tooth Tiger or being stuck at a red light whilst running late for work. The smoke alarm can get it wrong sometimes and release the same stress response, which includes a hormonal release of cortisol and adrenaline. Are you starting to get why I call it the Smoke Alarm? It’s a similar response to my Smoke Alarm (the one we all know) which goes off loud and clear in my little suburban home at all hours of the day. Burnt toast: must be a fire! Hot, steamy shower: must be a fire! When this response occurs our internal Smoke Alarm goes off and takes control, we risk losing the usually rational thought processes of our Thinking Brain. .

It is in these moments where we could potentially lose our ‘rational mind’ that mindfulness and meditation come in handy. Bringing our awareness and focus away from the many negatives we face and strengthening the networks of calm and peacefulness can harness the reaction of our internal Smoke Alarm and thus maintain control of our Thinking Brain. I’m not going to focus on these strategies just yet as I want you to first sit with what I have discussed today. I want to focus this particular space purely on normalising anxiety and understanding that it is simply a chemical reaction within our minds. Next time you find yourself faced with a situation where your Smoke Alarm has gone off, I want you to remember what you have read and process the emotions and feelings you are experiencing in that moment.

For those of us who are on the receiving end of anxiety here are just a few things we need to take into consideration. Be aware of the behaviours others present and recognise where it comes from and if it comes from a place of anxiousness. Remember what I said in the beginning; anxiety takes on many shapes and forms. It is important that we are not reactive in moments like these even though sometimes we too really want to yell and scream or act out as a result of what is unfolding in front of us. We need to remain in control as they are faced with a loss of control. Some may say to walk away, and of course, in some circumstances if you are put in danger it is important to walk away, however; we all know that when we are in that state the last thing we want is to be left alone. The amount of times that I have been sitting in a full-blown panic attack and the person I have needed the very most has not understood what I was going through and walked away is incredible. The anxiety only heightens in those moments and self-soothing becomes very difficult, especially if you are unaware of how or what to do. It places a sense of judgement and fear on the person who feels lonely in a time chaos. It is important to know that being there for your person and ensuring they know you are there for them is the greatest step you can take to supporting them through. They need to know that you will not abandon them in a time where their brain literally fears the worst. Stay calm and present with them. Remind them to breathe and ground themselves. If the anxiety becomes too overwhelming, ask them to tell you things they can hear, see, smell. Once they calm and you see the Thinking Brain coming back to light then discuss with them what was happening and ask them to give you ways in which they feel they can solve the issue. Reality is they can solve the problem; they just need and ear to listen.

How I Ended Up Here

Growing up I was what you would typically recognise these days as an anxious child. I worried and became very good at it. No one ever knew about my worry. I was an internal worrier and over the years, my anxiety took many shapes and forms. It disguised itself as nervousness, bitchiness, panic attacks, migraines, asthma, over confidence, shyness, hanger, aches, pains you name it. With this worry came a sensitivity…to life. The type of sensitivity that led to even more worry which led to more sensitivity. It was a vicious cycle. I fell victim of the common expression of, ‘you’re just so sensitive’. A negative statement closely followed by a negative stigma. I became so concerned with this that I grew to become, ‘hard’. I didn’t open up about anything and pretended like nothing affected me. I stopped wearing my heart on my sleeve and shut down when situations became emotionally overwhelming. Affection was something not in my characteristics and telling those I love things that I love about them was too difficult a task that I removed myself from situations that required it.

It wasn’t until one day when I was into my fourth day of crying myself to sleep, scrolling through Pinterest searching depressing quotes, feeling sorry for myself and going through the typical motions of putting myself down that I stumbled across these powerful words. They said, ‘I used to dislike being sensitive. I thought it made me weak. But take away that single trait, and you take away the very essence of who I am. You take away my conscience, my ability to empathise, my intuition, my creativity, my deep appreciation of the little things, my vivid inner life, my keen awareness to others pain and my passion for it all’- (anonymous). I was 24 at the time. This was where everything changed, my whole outlook on life did a 360 as I gave myself a slap in the face, literally, I slapped my face. I am sensitive; in fact, I would even go as far as saying I am hypersensitive. My senses are incredibly heightened and yes this can cause worry at times but I began to realise that sensitivity was one of the most beautiful characteristics an individual could posses. Yes, I feel the lowest of lows but I too feel the highest of highs. I recognise the beauty in all my surroundings and am lucky enough to experience the warm fuzzies that come with it. So thank you Pinterest, you changed my life.

Here began my journey. I became confident in myself and my abilities. I began to change and could physically feel the change happening. I stepped into a career that I haven’t looked back on. I became a behaviour intervention teacher for young children, which meant I was able to help children like myself embrace their emotions and the beauty that comes with it. I began a journey to better educate myself in the area and started my Masters of Cognitive Psychology and Educational Practice. It was here that I discovered mindfulness. A practice that originated from eastern meditation traditions and unfortunately until recently was given the side eye from society as it was deemed a little odd and too spiritual. I educated myself around the concept and even went as far as becoming a facilitator of child developed mindfulness programs.  As my curiosity and education of it grew so did my own practice of it. I began to hear of it more and more in the media, the education system and everyday lives. There was a buzz (there still is) and I was excited. I incorporated it into my classroom and watched as amazing things developed from it. Which brings me here. My passion for the practice is at an all-time high. There is very little stopping me from standing on top of a building and yelling to all, “mindfulness, the saviour and answer to everything”. Ok. Well maybe not everything but jeez, it helps. So here we are. I still have my bad days, trust me but this practice certainly helps. Enjoy, let’s grow and discover ourselves through a mindful mind together.  

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