Eliminate What is Holding You Back

The more we get caught up in negative patterns of behaviour and mental states, the more they become engrained. This means they become stored in our subconscious, and we act in certain ways without consciously thinking and we become overwhelmed by our mental states, such as anger, jealousy, pride, without noticing it.

It is said that most people spend 70% of their lives living in the survival mode, the fight or flight mode, which means they are living in stress. They are always anticipating the worst-case scenario, based on a past experience, selecting the worst possible outcome and beginning to emotionally embrace it with fear and conditioning their mind into a state of fear.

This conditioning becomes a pattern of behaviour, a habit, which is a set of automatic unconscious thoughts, behaviours and emotions that’s acquired through repetition. A habit is when you’ve done something so many times your mind now knows how to do it unconsciously.

If these habits, behaviours, and mental states are positive and helpful, there’s no problem. But if they are negative and counterproductive, they can cause us untold problems. We need to be aware of our actions and mental states, so we can make changes, and become the best version of ourselves. It will also ensure we have a peaceful state of mind and find true inner happiness.  

We can start to change by following the process I have called ‘Eliminate what is holding you back.’ This consists of seven steps, which are realisation, study, conviction, determination, action, effort, and time.

Realisation: we first need to realise our actions and mental states are causing us, and others, to suffer. This is a key point because if we don’t know we are sick, we won’t go to the doctor. So, if we are unaware of negative behaviours and mental states, we will not try to find a solution.

Buddha’s very first teaching was the four noble truths, and the first truth is life brings about suffering. He then talked about the causes and the path out of suffering. So, to be able to make changes in our life we need to first understand that things do not have to be like they are. There is a better way to live our lives. That is the realisation we are looking for here.

We have to become aware if we are living in the survival mode or the creation mode. The survival mode is the fight or flight mode, and the creation mode is the rest and digest mode.

Living in stress is living in survival. Now, all of us can tolerate short term stress but when we turn on the stress response and we can’t turn it off, we are headed for disease because no organism in nature can live in emergency mode for an extended period of time.

living in creation is when we are conscious of our actions, behaviours, and mental states. It is when we can make changes and become the best possible version of ourselves. We begin to utilise our huge frontal lobe, which is 40% of our entire brain and it’s where we plan, organise, become productive and creative. So, living in creation means using our frontal lobe to make conscious choices to change. 

Firstly, we need to understand when we are in survival and when we are in creation mode. Once we understand the damage we are doing to ourselves and people around us by following old patterns of behaviour, we can start the process of change.

To bring awareness to our lives it is important we remain with a calm mind. Here are 10 ways we can easily do that.

Study: now we need to learn about how we can change, such as learning about impermanence to stop our attachment to people and things or learn antidotes to our anger. Studying is going to show us that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It is going to help us move on to the next stage of this process. It will also help us to keep our goals and aspirations realistic. So, I would suggest you study Buddha’s foundation teachings, especially the four noble truths.

Do not over study, as that will make the process of change an intellectual one, which it certainly is not. We need to study so we can practice and not just to make ourselves more intelligent. So, we need to strike the right balance between study and practice.

Conviction: we then need to be convinced that what we have studied will work. This will give us hope that the change will help us become the best possible version of ourselves. If we have doubt, it will stop our conviction. So, doubt needs to be cleared up during the study stage. There is nothing wrong with doubt but left unattended it will sit in our minds like a poison. It will hold us back. So, clearing up any doubts will give us the conviction to move on.

It is at this stage we have some type of expectations. We need to be careful here. If our expectations are too high, we are going to set ourselves up to fail, and none of us like failure. If our expectations are too low, we will not be challenged and will not work hard to achieve our true potential.  

Determination: we need to be determined to carry on no matter what obstacles appear.  We will probably come up against these five at sometime during our journey on the path.

  1. Sensory desire: seeking pleasures through our five senses. This

means we would become distracted, and our focus will be disturbed.

  • Resentment: feelings of hatred and bitterness.
  • Laziness: our actions will be half-hearted and lack focus.
  • Worry: our energy will not be focused, and our minds will not be calm.
  • Doubt: if we didn’t clear up our doubts at an earlier stage or new doubts appear, we will lack conviction.

This is why we require determination, as that will motivate us.

Psychologists talk about three types of motivation, namely biological needs that must be met for survival; stimulation and information; need for success, power, and status. But I am talking about a spiritual motivation, which is not based on worldly pursuits but in pursuit of higher goals, such as compassion, inner happiness, peace of mind, kindness, and spiritual development.

Action: Before we can learn new patterns of behaviour, we must unlearn the old patterns, which means, before we relearn, we have to break the habit of the old self, so we can reinvent the new self.

The best way to start this process is during meditation. We need to sit down, close our eyes, focus on the breath, and disconnect from our outer environment. This means we will be having less sensory information going to the brain, so there’s less stimulation. We have to inform the brain that we will answer the emails, post on social media, eat lunch, watch Netflix after the meditation, but for now, we are just sitting.

During this time our mind will want to go back to its emotional past, it’s old way of thinking, and we will become aware that our attention is on those emotions and thoughts. Our minds are taking us out of the present moment and back into the past. Every time we become aware that we’re doing that, and our minds are craving those thoughts and emotions, we bring our awareness back to the breath and settle it back down into the present moment.

If we keep doing this repeatedly, just like we are training a dog to sit, the mind will eventually surrender and just sit.  

We can then mentally isolate different aspects of our negative behaviour or mental states and engage in a dialogue between the person you are and the person you wish to be. The negative behaviour is rooted in our subconscious mind, so actually the dialogue is between our conscience and subconscious mind. The more we bring our subconscious into the conscious, the more we will change.

For example, we may be a person that becomes angry very easily. So, during meditation, we look at what triggers our anger, what it feels like when we are angry, imagine what others feel like when we are angry towards them and so on. That is our old pattern of behaviour. Now, look at the person we want to become. A person that does not react to the triggers, that feels good because they are not constantly angry and a person that does not harm others with their anger. This will, after some time, become our new way of acting and feeling.

Our lives are not going to change very much if we keep having the same thought process, as that just leads to the same choice, the same choice leads to the same behaviour, the same behaviour creates the same experience, and the same experience produces the same results. So, the act of becoming more aware of how we think, how we act, and how we feel is called metacognition. That is important because the more conscious we become of those unconscious states of mind, the less likely we’re going to go unconscious during the day and those old thought patterns are not going to slip by our awareness unchecked.

So, the more we become familiar with the thoughts, the behaviours, and the emotions of the old self we’re retiring, the more we wire new thoughts and condition the mind into a new emotional state.

Effort: we need effort and commitment to keep moving forward, no matter how difficult or frustrating the process becomes. We all know change is not easy.

Once we start to make a different choice, we don’t feel the same way. Our mind is telling us we have been doing this for so many years and it’s going into the unknown, and that’s scary. It will try it’s hardest to return to familiar territory. It starts to try and influence us by telling us we can start tomorrow. If we give in and listen to the mind we will never change, as the same thought will lead to the same choice, and we slip back into old patterns of behaviour.

This is why we need to put in great effort, so we can override the old way of being and build a new, more beneficial way of being.

Time: this is an extremely slow process, and we shouldn’t expect quick results. Change is never going to come easy, so we need to constantly remind ourselves that we are in this for the long-haul.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and our patterns of behaviour and mental states will not miraculously change overnight.

So, in a nutshell, if we want to change, we first need to realise there is a better way to live our lives. This will then encourage us to study and find out what that change looks like and how we can make that change a realisation. We then need to have conviction and determination, so we do not get side-tracked. After that, we need to put what we have learned into action, and we do this through meditation. Finally, we need to put in an enormous amount of effort and time, so we get the results we desire.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations by visiting my website.

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The Power of the Breath

During the pandemic, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had something that will improve our sleep, digestion, immune and respiratory functions, while reducing our blood pressure and anxiety? The good news is there is something and it is called ‘breathworks.’

These days people seem to be in a constant state of stress and anxiety, and this is caused by an over-activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which puts us into the fight or flight mode. This can be caused by not breathing properly, especially breathing too fast.

When we breathe properly, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest mode, which promotes inner calm and physical relaxation. Proper breathing provides a healthy means of reducing anxiety, restlessness, and stress, and this can be achieved by breathing from the diaphragm.

By breathing properly, you increase the oxygen in your bloodstream, making more oxygen available to your brain. The brain uses up to three times as much oxygen as your other muscles do, and this translates to more physical energy, mental clarity, and greater productivity and creativity.

By learning to direct your attention to your breath, you can condition yourself to shift out of the fight or flight mode and into the rest and digest mode. So, from stress and anxiety and into calm and relaxation.

Do this test a moment, put your left hand on your chest and your right hand on your stomach. Now, breathe normally and notice which hand rises higher when you breath in. If it is your lefthand on the chest that rises more, you are breathing incorrectly or you are stressed.

Now, do this test. Take some slow, deep breathes in through the nose and notice if your shoulders rise up. If they do, then again, you are breathing incorrectly.

You may be thinking that your breath is involuntarily, and you have no control, but breathing is both a voluntary and involuntary function.

Involuntary breathing is an automatic bodily process. Voluntary breathing occurs when you bring your awareness to the process of breathing. Here are a few breathing exercises you can do.

Diaphragm Breathing

The proper way for us to breath is with the diaphragm. There are several diaphragm breathing exercises and techniques that you can do that will help you to use your diaphragm correctly.

The following diaphragm exercise can be a little tiring at first but the more you do it, the more natural it becomes.

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your feet flat on the ground.
  2. Relax your shoulders, head, and neck.
  3. Put your left hand on your upper chest and the right hand on your stomach, so you can feel the movement of your diaphragm.
  4. Inhale slowly through your nose for the count of 3 and notice your stomach rise.
  5. Keep the hand on your chest as still as possible.
  6. Hold your breath for the count of 2
  7. Exhale through pursed lips – like you’re blowing a candle out – for the count of 6, keeping your left hand on your chest still.
  8. Continue breathing like this for 5 to 10 minutes and repeat 3 times a day.

Breathing for Relaxation

Alternate Nostril Breathing has been shown to enhance cardiovascular function and to lower heart rate. It’s a simple yet powerful technique that settles the mind and relaxes the body. It is especially helpful to slowdown your racing thoughts if you are experiencing anxiety, stress, or having trouble sleeping.

  1. Choose a comfortable seated position with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Gently close your left nostril and breath in slowly and fully through your right nostril.
  3. Hold the breath for a moment.
  4. Close your right nostril and open the left nostril. Exhale slowly and gently through the left nostril.
  5. Keeping your right nostril closed, breathe in through your left nostril.
  6. Pause for a moment.
  7. Release your fingers to open your right nostril and close your left nostril. Exhale through right nostril.
  8. This is one cycle.
  9. Continue this breathing pattern for 3 minutes to begin with and then slowly build it up to 5 minutes.
  10. Finish your session with an exhale on the right side.

Breathing to Increase Energy

The Three Part Breathing focuses first on the diaphragm, then the abdomen, and lastly the chest to increase oxygen in the blood and stimulate the body. Sit up straight and place your feet flat on the ground.

  1. Relax your shoulders, neck, and head.
  2. Place one hand over your stomach and inhale deeply, feeling your stomach rise as it inflates.
  3. Exhale and feel your stomach deflate.
  4. Repeat five times.
  5. Now move your hand higher to your rib cage.
  6. Inhale and feel your rib cage expand. Then exhale, and feel it deflate.
  7. Repeat five times.
  8. Finally place your hand on your chest and inhale feeling it rise.
  9. Exhale and feel your chest lowering.
  10. Repeat five times.

Breathing to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

This four-square breathing exercise is an effective way to reduce stress or anxiety and increase feelings of calm and peacefulness. When you become anxious, your breathing becomes fast and shallow because you start to chest breathe. This can cause you to inhale too much oxygen and may cause you to become light-headed. Instead, you need to breathe slowly and deeply, which turns off your ‘fight or flight response’ and switches on your ‘rest and digest response.’

As you breathe slowly, deeply, and evenly, in and out through your nose, you should naturally feel your stomach rising on the in-breath and falling on the out-breath.

  1. Take a deep breath through your nose and slowly count to four.
  2. Pause and slowly count to four.
  3. Exhale through your nose to a slow count of four.
  4. Pause and again slowly count to four.
  5. Inhale – one, two, three, four
  6. Pause – one, two, three, four
  7. Exhale – one, two, three, four
  8. Pause – one, two, three, four
  9. Repeat this cycle for 3 to 5 minutes.

There are so many different breathing exercises these days, so test them out and find the ones that work for you. But remember, there is only one correct way to breath and that is diaphragm breathing. This needs to be practiced daily, so it becomes your involuntary way of breathing.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Appreciating What We Have

We human beings tend to focus on what we want or what we don’t want, but very rarely take time to appreciate what we have. Conscious gratitude is a simple way for us to count our blessings, build relationships and help strengthen our mental and physical wellbeing.

Gratitude is an attitude. Gratitude is a choice. And gratitude is a habit. When we consciously practice being grateful for what we have we begin to strengthen our mental wellbeing.

Stopping from time to time and thinking of what we are grateful for rewires our brain to recognise positive aspects of life more easily and frequently and feel positive emotions more often. Daily feelings of gratitude are associated with life satisfaction, optimism, subjective well-being, positive affect, and happiness. Essentially, grateful people are happier.

Gratitude is about cultivating a sense of being thankful for the little and large things in our lives. We can be thankful for people, situations and even our possessions. It’s also about a willingness to show this appreciation. It is a habit, a skill, and it takes practice.

Gratitude is a great first step towards reframing unhelpful thoughts, particularly if you have a tendency towards negativity. But don’t think it will stop you feeling any negative emotions or experiencing negative thoughts, it won’t, because these are an important part of being human.

Gratitude helps with stress management and overall mental wellbeing. It can help build emotional resilience, so can even be an extra support during challenging times. There’s even evidence that gratitude behaviours can change areas of the brain and fire up reward pathways, releasing serotonin and dopamine, which are our feel-good drugs. It can also help build a connection with other people, through showing and telling people that you are grateful for them.

Here are some ways that gratitude helps us:

Protects Against Depression and Boosts Happiness

Studies show that practicing gratitude curbs the use of words expressing negative emotions and shifts inner attention away from such negative emotions such as resentment and envy, minimising the possibility of ruminating.

Reduces Stress and Anxiety

People who make an effort to be more appreciative seem to do better at dealing with adversity and facing tough decisions or situations because they focus on the positives and see challenges as useful lessons and even gifts, rather than as curses.

Research suggests a gratitude practice can increase psychological resilience against chronic stress, anxiety, , post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and unhappiness. When reflecting on the positive elements of the past and present, people are more prone to being hopeful and optimistic.

Improves Relationships

Expressing gratitude often makes people feel more connected to something bigger than themselves. Being thankful for your life also makes it less likely that you’ll experience envy, cynicism and narcissism, which can all damage relationships and decrease happiness.

Helps Encourage Healthier Choices/Self-Care

There’s evidence suggesting that gratitude can have long-lasting positive effects when it comes to promoting healthy choices — such as eating a well-balanced diet, exercising, getting enough sleep, staying on top of work-related tasks, and so on. When you feel grateful for your life and the relationships in it, you’re more likely to take better care of yourself.

Can Help Improve Sleep and Physical Health

In studies, gratitude has been shown to foster both physical and psychological health, meaning it may help decrease chronic pain, tension, fatigue, sleep issues like insomnia and other symptoms tied to stress and anxiety.

Overall, research suggests that grateful people are less prone to experiencing sleep troubles tied to stress and may also benefit from having stronger immune systems.

I think it is clear, gratitude is good for us in so many ways. So, how can we go about practicing them? You could use a gratitude journal, think of one thing you are grateful for when you wake up in the morning or the last thing at night, stop several times during the day to reflect on what you are grateful for right at that moment or you could do a gratitude meditation, such as the one below.

Experiencing Gratitude

Sit quietly with your back straight and body relaxed.

Do the following breathing exercise Breath in as deeply as you can – hold the breath – and now push all the air out – breath in deeply – hold – push the air out – breath in deeply – hold – push all the air out.

Now breath normally.

Gently place your awareness on your breath entering and leaving your body. Don’t force it – just relax into it. Become aware of your breath becoming slower, smoother, and more comfortable.

(30 seconds)

 Now I want you to think of a person you are grateful for. Whoever it is, bring them into the forefront of your mind.

(30 seconds)

How does this gratitude make you feel?

(30 seconds)

What body sensations are you experiencing?

 (30 seconds)

Sit with this experience for a moment. Let yourself be engulfed by your feelings, emotions and body sensations. Don’t just think about it, fully experience it.

(30 seconds)

Now I want you to think of a situation you are grateful for. Whatever it is, bring the situation into your mind.

(30 seconds)

How does this gratitude make you feel?

(30 seconds)

What body sensations are you experiencing?

(30 seconds)

Sit with this experience for a moment. Let yourself be engulfed by your feelings, emotions and body sensations. Don’t just think about it, fully experience it.

(30 seconds)

Now I want you to think of a possession you are grateful for. Whatever it is, bring that possession into the forefront of your mind.

(30 seconds)

How does this gratitude make you feel?

 (30 seconds)

What body sensations are you experiencing?

(30 seconds)

Sit with this experience for a moment. Let yourself be engulfed by your feelings, emotions and body sensations. Don’t just think about it, fully experience it.

(30 seconds)

Now, slowly open your eyes and gently introduce yourself back into the world.

As you can see there are many ways to express and practise gratitude, so pick the one that resonates the most with you.

Before we finish, I want to ask you, ‘What one thing are you grateful for today?’

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

A Lust for Life

Recently, I have been asked on several occasions to do a blog on lust. When I delve a bit further, it seems people have three ideas of what lust is. Firstly, lust is about wanting sex with another person, secondly, it is bad, and thirdly, it is the opposite of love. All these assumptions, I feel, are incorrect. So, let’s start by looking at these three points.

Lust is the strong, passionate desire for something, and not only sex, but also, food, drink, money, fame, power, knowledge and so on. It is a biological impulse without which you would not have been born in the first place. Our purpose in life is to survive, that is how our brains are wired. So, seeing lust as something bad is not helpful. I believe what is important is how you act upon your lust. You can act in an appropriate or inappropriate way – of course this is a judgement call, but if you are about to harm someone because of lust, that for me is inappropriate.

I believe lust is not the opposite to love, but how to tell them apart? I see lust as hasty and secretive whereas love is patient and restrained. Lust is all about taking and love is all about sharing.

Now, there is nothing wrong with sexual desire as such. The problems start when it turns from servant into master, and it starts to consume our every thought.

Lust is a natural emotion most people will eventually experience, however it’s important to be careful of how you act on it. If lust is not expressed healthily or respectfully, it could lead to abuse or other issues.

Remember, you can love your pets and that is love with no lust. You can see a beautiful person and want to have sex with them – that is lust, but no love. You can love your partner and want to have sex with him or her – that is love and lust together. So, we cannot say that lust is the opposite of love.

So, what to do if we are becoming overpowered by lust? Buddha stated this:

Just as rain comes through the roof of a badly thatched house. So, sensual desire invades an undeveloped mind

So, lust, says the Buddha, can be controlled or eliminated by attaining a higher level of consciousness. How do we achieve that? I would say one of the best ways is through meditation.

By trying to control your lust, you are putting it outside of yourself. You are seeing lust and yourself as two separate entities. That way of looking at things is going to sets up a duality. On one side is lust, which you are labelling in your mind as bad, and on the other side is you, which you want to think of as good. That dualistic way of thinking is going to lead to you getting attached to both these concepts, lust is bad, and you are good. However, if you choose to acknowledge and accept the sensations you are describing as lust, the duality will disappear.

Sit in meditation and focus on your breath until you are calm and relaxed. Then recall the last time you had lustful thoughts. Sit with those thoughts a moment without trying to judge or change them. Now, slowly scan down your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. When you feel sensations that you describe as lust, acknowledge and accept them. This can be challenging but is achievable with practice. Acknowledge the feeling by labelling it lust and accept that at the moment there is lust. Do not identify with the lust by saying, ‘I am feeling lust.’ This will make it difficult to let the feeling go. Just say to yourself, ‘At the moment there is lust.’ This will help you accept the feeling, without judging it or yourself. Once you have done this, watch what happens to the thought or feeling. They will slowly disappear and relinquish its power.

When you have finished, gently turn your focus back to your breath for a few minutes before you go back to your regular activities.

When you acknowledge and accept the aspect of yourself that you conceive of as lust, you will integrate you and the lust into one and dissolve the duality. You will start to see lust as a fruitless desire that only leads to mental and emotional suffering.

 Other things you can try are:

Being more mindful of your thoughts can help you stop getting carried away by sexual desires. The more we spend in the present moment, being aware of our thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the immediate environment, the more likely we are to catch our lustful thoughts. It is when our minds are being driven by the subconscious mind that we tend to miss lust arising within us. So, the more you are in your conscious mind, the more you are aware of what is happening, the easier it is to catch the thoughts as they arise. So, use mindfulness practices to keep bring yourself back to the here and now.

Avoiding temptations can help you manage your lustful desires. For instance, if you’re tempted to look at porn whenever you’re on your computer, you can download an app or browser extension to block the porn websites. If you’re struggling with sexual feelings for a particular person, limit how much time you spend with them, if possible.

If you understand your desires, it will make it easier to control them. Whenever you experience feelings of lust, reflect on the circumstances. Do you get more unwanted sexual thoughts when you’re stressed or bored? What about when you’re around certain people or in specific places, such as bars or nightclubs? Write down a list of things that seem to trigger those unwanted thoughts and feelings and think of some ideas of how to deal with those triggers. Set an intention to find new coping methods and form healthier habits.

Don’t try to push down unwanted thoughts and feelings because this doesn’t work. This can be really frustrating, but you’ll feel so much better if you acknowledge your thoughts instead of fighting them. Don’t try to ignore them or try to force them out of your mind, just notice them and let them sit there without judgment. Your mind will eventually wander to something else.

This doesn’t mean that your unwanted sexual thoughts and feelings will go away forever. Just practice being more accepting of the thoughts when they come. Remember, nobody can completely control their thoughts and feelings. Remind yourself that what’s going on in your brain and body isn’t your fault and doesn’t make you a bad person, even if it feels unhelpful and inappropriate. The important thing is how you act on those thoughts.

We have to realise that lust is a powerful force and there are repercussions to pushing it down or inhibiting yourself. Don’t use any method that involves self-criticism, self-judgment, self-harm, hatred and so on. This is only going to make the problem worse.

It’s completely normal to experience lust, or sexual desire. It is all part and parcel of being a human. However, if you just can’t shake those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, don’t worry, try the suggestions I have made here.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Finding Your True Self in Nature

The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness – John Muir

There is no doubt we have all being going through some challenging times recently due to the pandemic. This has taken a toll on our mental wellbeing. But it cannot all be blamed on the pandemic. There are many other facts at play, such as where we live, how much time we spend on our devices and if we venture outside or not. Here are some facts that may surprise you.

  • 50% of the world’s population live in urban areas – the largest percentage in human history. That’s not all, it is due to increase to 70% by 2050. In Japan it is already 80%.
  • It has been estimated the average American, over their lifetime, will spend the equivalent of 44 years looking at their devices.
  • The average American now spends more than 90% of their time indoors.
  • 792 million people are affected by mental health issues worldwide.

Mental health is a complex topic and not one I am qualified to delve into. But I do have a suggestion about how we can increase our mental wellbeing, and that is to spend more time in nature.

Nature gives our brains time to reset from the hectic pace of modern life and gives our mental health a well-deserved boost. Being outdoors can reduce your stress levels, help fight anxiety and depression, boost your mood, improve your immune function, provide relaxation and rehabilitation, and of course, give us the exercise we all need.

Forest therapy is one way of getting our mental health hit. It has been scientifically proven trees have many healing properties. The healingforest.com state:

Certain trees like conifers emit oils and compounds to protect themselves from microbes and pathogens. These are called Phytoncides, and they are good for our immunity. So, spending time with these trees is a special form of Forest Therapy.

Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience – Ralph Waldo Emerson

While we are in the forest, we can do some forest meditation, which is a way of finding calm and balance with the help of nature. In traditional meditation, we withdraw our senses and focus inward to reach a state of inner peace. While in forest meditation we open our senses to experience the peace that exists in nature and deepen our realization.

The mind gets blown around like a leaf in the wind. That makes it hard to control and even harder to predict. Especially during challenging times. Our thought process becomes confused and negative. Therefore, forest meditation is essential for our mental wellbeing.

Here are some suggestions for forest meditation:

Gratitude Stroll

Go into a forest and walk at a medium to slow pace for about 20 minutes. While walking, focus your attention on nature and your breath. You may like to alternate between slow and slightly faster walking.

Slow walking fosters a heightened state of awareness, calm, and connection with the natural world. Medium to fast walking relieves stress and energizes the body. No matter how you walk, make sure you pause along the way to notice the small wonders of nature, such as birds, insects, wildflowers, and of course, the trees.

As you marvel at the wonders of nature create a feeling of gratitude. Feel grateful to be in nature, for all the plants, trees, and animals, and above all, to be alive. By focusing your attention on things that fill you with gratitude, you can shift your mind from any negativity or pessimistic thoughts.

Circle of Awareness

A wonderful practice to do in the forest is to sit down and create a circle in your imagination. Now become aware of everything in the circle; plants, flowers, leaves, twigs, insects, and anything else you can see.

Then slowly make your circle bigger and bigger. If your mind starts to wander, simply bring it back to the circle.

This practice will help you to fully engage with the forest, and maybe even learn a thing or two.

Using Your Senses

Find a quiet place in the forest and sit on the ground. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and begin to feel grounded.

Become aware of your environment by focusing on one sense at a time. Notice the forest sounds, and also notice the silence in-between the sounds. Touch the ground with both of your hands. What can you feel? Smell the different forest aromas. Tune into your body. Put your hands over your heart and feel your heartbeat. Now just sit there with a sense of gratitude, peace, and calm. When you’re ready to open your eyes, open them slowly and take a good look around you. Sit there for as long as you wish, just soaking up the beauty of the forest.

Forest Breathing

Find a quiet place in the forest, take off your shoes and stand barefoot on the forest floor. Focus on your breath without changing it. Just allowing it to find its own natural rhythm. Keep your spine straight but not too rigid. Become aware of any sensations in your legs, ankles, and feet. Stand for a few minutes until you feel stable.

Then, move your awareness slowly up from the feet to the top of your head. Notice if there’s tension, stress, or stiffness in any part of your upper body. Take a deep breath, pause for a few seconds, and then exhale. Repeat this for around 3 minutes or for as long as you wish. Imagine the forest air relaxing your body with every in-breath and your mind calming down with every outbreath.

When you have finished, sit on the forest floor, and ground yourself. Check-in with how you are feeling and be grateful for being in nature.

The Wind on Your Face

Stand still and lift your face upwards slightly. Notice the feeling of the wind on your skin. Then lift your arms in the air and notice the wind on your hands and fingers. Then pick other parts of your body and become aware of the wind gently blowing over your skin. Try not to judge or change anything, simply observe.

Spend about one minute on each area feeling a deep connection with the motion of the air.

I used to do this practice when I lived by the sea. On windy days you would find me on the cliff edge feeling the wind on my face.

You’ll never really see the sunset until you throw open the curtains, swing open the door, step outside, and experience it – Jessica Marie Collins

We humans are animals and as such our true home is in nature. We were never meant to live in houses, drive cars or fly in planes. So, do yourself a favour and go back to your roots.  

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