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The Mindfulness Project Blog by Tmp Admin - 1M ago

Take a moment to look around you. The furniture you are resting on, the paper on your desk, the tea in your cup, the food on your plate -- all of this and most everything that sustains us, is thanks to nature and its resources. The earth is our home, but these days the majority of us live deeply disconnected from it, forgetful of the profound continuity between nature and our self. Today, on Earth Day, it is nice to connect with a sense of gratitude for the gifts of nature that surround and sustain us, which day-to-day we take for granted -- water to drink, sunlight to brighten and warm our days, trees to clean the air, earth rich in nutrients to grow our food. When we look with awareness, we see that we are a part of nature and not apart from it.

Today is also a time to remember that our earth is as risk and we are edging towards an environmental disaster of epic proportions. The time is also now for us each to consider how we can play our part individually in caring for its future. As we do, it becomes clear that something deeper must change within us all — at the level of our mind and our consciousness. In the words of Albert Einstein: “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Without an urgent shift in the state of our awareness, the repercussions of this crisis will begin to play out in all areas of life.

At this critical point, mindfulness has an important role to play. The simple act of cultivating awareness is one of the first steps we can take to help us to begin to rebuild the relationship with have with the earth. When we become awake to the interconnection of life on earth, and aware of our dependence on it as a source of physical and psychic nourishment, we naturally deepen our respect and intention to care for it. These small shifts in attention and intention allow us to begin to make choices that are better for the planet and have a common humanity at their heart -- and although they may not feel much on an individual level, when they gain pace collectively, we may begin to see seismic shifts taking place.

To honour both the hope and despair these reflections can evoke, here is one of our favourite Wendell Berry poems:

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

For ways on how you can use mindfulness to cultivate a greater connection to nature, check out our book Into Nature: mindful ways to unplug and reconnect.

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New Year, new leaf! After a busy season of celebrating and socialising, it’s important that we find time to reconnect with ourselves and re-establish our inner space. January is the perfect time to hit the reset button, so that we can enter the new year feeling recharged and refreshed.

In order to reconnect with ourselves, we must first disconnect. That means making time and creating space to be with ourselves. In an age where our inner and outer space are encroached upon as never before, by technology, media and advertising, it can seem quite a radical act to disconnect -- but the benefits it offers us are manifold. Here are a few ideas to guide you this month:

Schedule solitude. Solitude has a crucial role to play in helping us to recharge. Prioritise some time spent in your own company, and plan something nourishing for yourself -- it could be as simple as a cup of tea in your local café, or a solo stroll through the park. Use the time to reflect on your intentions for the new year.

Take a digital detox. For as many days as you can manage, unplug from technology. Put down your phone. Disconnect from the internet. Bring your focus back to the people and places around you. Give your brain a holiday from the constant stream of information it is inundated with.

Create space for silence. Silence restores the senses and recharges the mind and body. Stepping away from the distractions and stimulations of life every now and again can do us the world of good. A silent mindfulness retreat can offer refuge and space to turn inwards. We may also find it rejuvenates the relationship we have with ourselves.

Relax and release. Slow down, and take time to be, rather than to do. Give yourself permission to be idle, and to experience periods of openness that you aren’t trying to shape with expectations or fill with thoughts and actions. Relaxation slows down brain waves, which refreshes and renews the brain's chemistry.

Establish a daily practice. We can extend the benefits of a new year reset by carving out the time to dedicate ourselves to a daily mindfulness practice. The more we practice, we are better connected to ourselves and our intentions, which guide the direction of our lives.

COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

Sunday Sit

Weekend Mindfulness Retreat

Evening Workshop: Maintaining Practice

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“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence.” - Thich Nhat Hanh

Make a pledge to put down your phone this Christmas and be fully present with those you love. Look at them in the eyes; listen with intent; abandon your expectations; stay curious and give conversations your unwavering awareness as they unfold.

Observe what this approach does to your experience moment-by-moment -- you may find that it expands and deepens your connections, as well as your sense of the memory after the moment passes. You’ll likely discover that presence is one of the most precious gifts we can give at this (and every) point in the year, and adds far more value to our lives than any material object can.

Most of us would like to think that we are present in our daily lives, but the truth is that so many of us live a far distance from ourselves and from our experiences. We often operate on autopilot patterns of feeling and behaviour not just in the midst of our daily lives, but in the face of those who matter most to us, our loved ones.

As a season of unity and connection, Christmas lays the ground for interaction and gives us an opportunity to put our mindfulness in motion. With the simple and repeated practice of awareness, we can give presence to everything the season brings -- from warmth and joy, to difficulty and tension -- without needing to change or fix anything. We may find that being better connected to the moment in this way, a better connection to our self and to our family and friends begins to grow and flourish.

Mindfulness is not just a gift for us individually, but collectively too. In these turbulent times of division and discord, mindfulness has the power to reinforce the shared humanity that holds us all together. The individual is reflected in the collective, and when we bring awareness to the way that we relate to ourselves individually -- that is, when we develop a deeper understanding of and more compassionate connection with our self -- this is mirrored in our interactions with those around us in the collective.

Mindfulness begins individually, on our own terms, but if you like the idea of giving it as a present, you can browse our shop here for a selection of electronic gift cards for training -- workshops and courses, as well as books. Whether you want to help a friend or family member cope better with stress and anxiety, introduce them to ideas of self-care and compassion, or more broadly, live a life that is fuller and freer -- mindfulness gives us skills that last a lifetime.

For more mindfulness tips and ideas to inspire calm and presence over the festive season, head over to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels!

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Written by Amy Jane Wood

As this week is national self-care awareness week, now might be a good time to ask yourself the question -- how do I care for myself?  

Self-care in its simplest terms is our ability to care for our own well-being. In the media, the term is often presented with an emphasis on the outer self and the health of the body – including exercise, diet, personal hygiene and grooming. While this is true to a certain extent, a more whole definition of self-care is one that encompasses both mind and body.

Self-care, then, is as much nourishing and nurturing the relationship we have with our mind as the one we have with our body. The power of this practice is not to be underestimated – when we take actions to protect, maintain and improve our mental, emotional and physical well-being, we can expect to see a reduction in the negative effects of stress, a boost to our mood and improved resilience.

Mindfulness is so crucial to the act of self-care. With the awareness that the practice gives us, we gain greater clarity of the relationship we have with ourselves. We notice habits and addictions that don’t serve our well-being, or unkind judgemental thoughts about ourselves that have a negative impact on our actions and experiences. Often, this new awareness can precipitate a shift in mindset, and a desire to start treating ourselves with more care.It’s worth noting that mindfulness is especially important in the context of self-care because it allows us to ensure that we use it for the right reasons. Without a mindful attitude, we may use self-care as a form of distraction to avoid our feelings and edge around the reality of our experience.

At the heart of self-care is self-compassion – an understanding, acceptance and kindness towards the self, and we can use this as a sign-post for developing a daily self-care habit. Building self-care into our lives needn’t be overwhelming – it’s as simple as making time for a few small acts of care and kindness towards ourselves each day, whether that’s yoga, meditation, getting more sleep or cooking a tasty meal. Over time, this will build long-term feelings of well-being and resilience – and self-care will no longer be something that we come to when we need it, but something that we have already embedded within our lives.

Self-care goes a long way in helping us to better cope with everyday stresses, and far from being narcissistic or selfish, it is in fact the key to a fuller life -- because the more we look after ourselves, the more we have to give to our family and friends, and to the life that we lead.

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Written by Amy Jane Wood

Pregnancy and childbirth can be some of the most special, significant and singular experiences in a woman’s life. But for so many, they also bring a lot of fear, pain and uncertainty. Happily, research from the University of Oxford has shown that mindful birthing may hold the power to transform and ease the experience of pregnancy, labour and delivery, as well as the relationship with the new baby after birth.

At this point you might be wondering if mindful birthing has a connection to hypnobirthing. Although there is some common ground between the two practices – both place emphasis on breathing exercises, for example – they are essentially quite different. Hypnobirthing focuses on self-hypnosis – using affirmations, visualisations and relaxation techniques that help to prepare for a positive labour and birth. Mindful birthing, however, follows the principles of mindfulness to support both pregnancy and birth. It teaches how to skillfully work with pain, fear and uncertainty, and to shift perspectives by optimising the mind/body connection. Pioneered by Nancy Bardacke, an experienced midwife and mindfulness teacher, it is also known as the MBCP (Mindfulness-based Childbirth and Parenting) course -- an adaptation of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

Mindfulness is uniquely positioned to help with the birthing process because in its modern form it was initially devised to help with pain management. Jon Kabat-Zinn was the first to study the connection between mindfulness meditation and pain when he set up his MBSR program in 1979 to treat chronic pain patients at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. His landmark study years later showed that patients who were trained in the program and took a mindful approach to their physical pain, experienced significant reductions in intensity.

In this way, mindfulness strategies can give mothers-to-be the tools to change the way they manage pain during labour and delivery. Fear and resistance can sustain and inflame physical pain, so by learning to relate differently to the discomfort that may surround intense physical sensations – to welcome it and work with it – women can reduce the likelihood of being overwhelmed and losing control.

Beyond pain management, expectant mothers will benefit from the core principles of mindfulness – acceptance, letting go and trusting – which can help them to prepare for the unexpected during labour and delivery: a change to birth plans, sudden interventions or unforeseen outcomes. Cultivating the skill of awareness during pregnancy – which is the ability to notice thoughts and feelings as they arise – also allows expectant mothers to observe any fearful stories that the mind may be creating about birth from a more objective standpoint, and therefore identify with them less, which can help to reduce overall stress and anxiety.

Recent research by BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth also shows that mindfulness may offer important maternal mental health benefits following childbirth. In 2017, pregnant women who undertook in an intensive course based on the Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting (MBCP) education reported benefits including improved psychological adjustment and reduced postpartum depression symptoms. Well beyond pregnancy and childbirth, mindfulness skills keep giving, because they are skills for life. With regular practice, they have the power to transform future experiences of parenting, as well as all other areas of life. 

COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

Mindful Pregnancy & Birthing Workshop

Mindful Parenting Workshop

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Written by Amy Jane Wood

‘Mental health’ is defined by the World Health Organisation as ‘a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’(1). Today, on World Mental Health Day 2018, we know that this is not the case for millions of people worldwide. In the UK alone, approximately one in four people will experience a mental health problem this year. According to mental health charity Mind, how people cope with mental health problems is also getting worse – with the number of people who self-harm or have suicidal thoughts on the increase.

While mindfulness is no magical cure-all elixir, there is emerging evidence to show that it could support a state of mental wellbeing. In instances of mild to moderate depression and anxiety, for example, mindfulness-based interventions hold great promise to ease symptoms. With regular practice and the support and guidance of a teacher during an MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) or MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy) course, studies have shown that the benefits include stress reduction, emotion and attention regulation and reduced rumination. It also has as much power to prevent depressive relapse as antidepressants, shown by to a large-scale study published by the Oxford Mindfulness Centre in 2015.

Essentially, mindfulness works because it gives us better access to resources that may help us deal positively with our experience of anxiety and/or depression. Firstly, we are introduced to the skill of awareness – which is the ability to notice our thoughts and feelings as they arise. Awareness creates space and allows us to observe our mental processes more objectively so we identify with them less. Secondly, we cultivate an open and accepting attitude, which allows us to welcome whatever arises, rather than trying to suppress it, avoid it or become overwhelmed by it. In this way, there is less internal conflict – which can make things a little lighter. Beyond the power of attention training, practicing mindfulness in a community may also play an important role in easing symptoms. Anxiety and depression can heighten feelings of isolation and self-judgement -- which may further feed our suffering. Learning mindfulness and sharing our experiences in a group setting such as an MBCT, helps us realise there is a common humanity to these conditions and that we are not so alone.

There are instances, however, in which mindfulness should be approached with caution where mental health is concerned. As we turn towards ourselves to face our thoughts and feelings, mindfulness can often heighten our experience and perhaps even intensify symptoms for a short period. In this way, it can be incredibly difficult to maintain motivation. For those with a history of certain mental health conditions, such as psychosis, borderline personality disorder, bipolar or PTSD, mindfulness needs to be approached with care and often a tailored one-on-one approach with the specialist knowledge of a mental health professional is advised.

While mental health awareness has improved dramatically over the past decade, we still have a way to go to change the conversation we have around it – to break social stigmas, encourage education and strengthen our response. Mindfulness may not be a short-term fix, but with continued practice it could provide a long-term solution for mild to moderate disorders, by giving us the power to respond to unpleasant emotions and distressing situations more reflectively rather than reflexively. We know from emerging neuroscientific research that mindfulness also facilitates plasticity, and herein lies the hope -- that each time we respond differently, we create new, more positive connections and pathways in the brain.

(1) WHO: Mental health: a state of well-being http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/mental_health/en/

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Written by Amy Jane Wood

According to the mental health charity Mind, anxiety and depression affect nearly one in four of us in the UK. So if that includes you too, you are not alone. Though their root causes are varied and complex, we do know that anxiety and depression are exacerbated by our fast-paced, plugged-in world, which leaves us little time to connect with ourselves. Mindfulness may not be an overnight fix, but it does offer us an arsenal of tools and techniques to ease the weight of anxiety and depression. And its effects are cumulative – which means that what we practice only grows stronger. Find out just a few of the ways it can help…

Mindfulness soothes the nervous system

On a simple level, mindfulness meditation soothes the nervous system and promotes a sense of calm which reduces anxiety. Being attentive to physical sensations and breathing mindfully activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which induces a state of peace and relaxation in the body. This is backed by recent scientific studies, which have revealed that levels of cortisol – the hormone that’s triggered in response to stress – are dramatically reduced in those who practice mindful awareness.

Mindfulness teaches us to accept difficulty

When the blues strike, it’s common to want to hide what we feel and detach from our emotions. Sweeping pain under the metaphorical rug stops us from connecting with it, which can simply make it worse. As the old adage goes: ‘what you resist, persists’. The idea of turning towards emotional pain may seem counterintuitive, but when we gently open the door and invite it in, our relationship with it can be truly transformed. By cultivating an acceptance of our painful thoughts and feelings in the present moment, and holding space to simply ‘be’ with them, we may find that they loosen their grip on our lives quite dramatically. This can bring a clarity that helps to heal old wounds and break unhealthy patterns.

Mindfulness opens us to self-compassion

We all have an inner critic – it’s a voice that often comes from the past: a parent, teacher or boss. When we find ourselves stuck in a rut, feeling anxious or depressed, that judgmental voice can make things ten times harder. If we’re not careful, we can live by the stories it tells us about ourselves and let it shape the direction of our lives. Becoming aware of our inner critic is the first step towards disengaging with it, and mindfulness empowers us to do this. By training the brain to spot its negative internal commentaries, we can choose to respond to life’s difficulties with self-compassion instead of self-criticism. In this way, we chart new neural pathways that support and nurture us when we’re feeling low.

Mindfulness helps us to break negative thinking

Negative and ruminative loops of thinking are characteristic of depressive and anxious moods. They can throw us into a black hole of self-doubt that colours our response to everything. Happily, mindfulness can help us to break this cycle. With mindful awareness, we train the mind to recognise negative thought patterns and learn the skills to interrupt and respond to them in a way that makes us more resilient. Science has also shown that mindfulness works to disarm the mind’s ‘stress centre’ – the amygdala – which is the seat of our fearful and anxious emotions, and boosts activity in the more thoughtful area of the brain – the pre-frontal cortex. As a result, we are less overwhelmed by negative and ruminative thoughts, and more able to access practical thinking and positive emotions.

.....

MEDITATION:

Body Scan

TIPS:

Why Meditate?

The Present Moment

COURSES/WORKSHOPS:

Mindfulness for Anxiety and Depression

8-Week Mindfulness Course for Depression

8-Week Mindfulness Course

Mindfulness One-Day Workshop

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Written by Amy Jane Wood

‘Mental health’ is defined by the World Health Organisation as ‘a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’(1). Today, on World Mental Health Day 2018, we know that this is not the case for millions of people worldwide. In the UK alone, approximately one in four people will experience a mental health problem this year. According to mental health charity Mind, how people cope with mental health problems is also getting worse – with the number of people who self-harm or have suicidal thoughts on the increase.

While mindfulness is no magical cure-all elixir, there is emerging evidence to show that it could support a state of mental wellbeing. In instances of mild to moderate depression and anxiety, for example, mindfulness-based interventions hold great promise to ease symptoms. With regular practice and the support and guidance of a teacher during an MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) or MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy) course, studies have shown that the benefits include stress reduction, emotion and attention regulation and reduced rumination. It also has as much power to prevent depressive relapse as antidepressants, shown by to a large-scale study published by the Oxford Mindfulness Centre in 2015.

Essentially, mindfulness works because it gives us better access to resources that may help us deal positively with our experience of anxiety and/or depression. Firstly, we are introduced to the skill of awareness – which is the ability to notice our thoughts and feelings as they arise. Awareness creates space and allows us to observe our mental processes more objectively so we identify with them less. Secondly, we cultivate an open and accepting attitude, which allows us to welcome whatever arises, rather than trying to suppress it, avoid it or become overwhelmed by it. In this way, there is less internal conflict – which can make things a little lighter. Beyond the power of attention training, practicing mindfulness in a community may also play an important role in easing symptoms. Anxiety and depression can heighten feelings of isolation and self-judgement -- which may further feed our suffering. Learning mindfulness and sharing our experiences in a group setting such as an MBCT, helps us realise there is a common humanity to these conditions, which may help to lift the weight of our experience.

There are instances, however, in which mindfulness should be approached with caution where mental health is concerned. As we turn towards ourselves to face our thoughts and feelings, mindfulness can often heighten our experience and perhaps even intensify symptoms for a short period. In this way, it can be incredibly difficult to maintain motivation. For those with a history of certain mental health conditions, such as psychosis, borderline personality disorder, bipolar or PTSD, mindfulness needs to be approached with care and often a tailored one-on-one approach with the specialist knowledge of a mental health professional is advised.

While mental health awareness has improved dramatically over the past decade, we still have a way to go to change the conversation we have around it – to break social stigmas, encourage education and strengthen our response. Mindfulness may not be a short-term fix, but with continued practice it could provide a long-term solution for mild to moderate disorders, by giving us the power to respond to unpleasant emotions and distressing situations more reflectively rather than reflexively. We know from emerging neuroscientific research that mindfulness also facilitates plasticity, and herein lies the hope -- that each time we respond differently, we create new, more positive connections and pathways in the brain.

(1) WHO: Mental health: a state of well-being http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/mental_health/en/

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With the turn of the seasons and the change in the air, September is a month when we might naturally assess where we are at and what we’d like to renew in our lives. Some of us might be thinking of what we can do to regain balance after the break and set ourselves up for the final half of the year. It may also be a time when we think about our mindfulness practice, and how we can pull it back into focus.

Different flavours of distraction and discouragement may have drawn us away us from our practice. We may struggle with challenging emotions that come into our awareness, and the alive, felt-sense of our body. Our enthusiasm may wax and wane. But we can rest assured that it's all a part of the learning process. The practice of meditation is a journey of turning towards ourselves, of cultivating self-knowledge. Naturally, we are going to run into challenges and obstacles that can knock us off our intended path. The human experience is, after all, highly complex -- as is the relationship we have with our self.

We know from nature that to grow anything, we must nurture it -- give it attention, patience and importantly care. There are many small, simple steps we can take to support our practice in its tentative stages or to get it off the ground again. A lovely motto to remember is Sharon Salzberg’s “Just start over”. Instead of getting caught up in the stories and judgements we have about our practice, we can use the core values of mindfulness -- acceptance, non-judgement and compassion -- and simply begin again, over and over, until we have integrated the practice into our being.

We asked around for other useful ideas on nurturing practice, and here’s what we found:

Seek community. The role of community and groups in sustaining mindfulness practice is so valuable and can be easily underestimated. For anyone who is struggling with their practice, joining a group or getting together with like-minded friends is a good place to start in order to establish a rhythm.

Enrol on further practice. The 8-week course is just the beginning of our journey with mindfulness. We can also look to enrol on further practice -- such as a retreat or other courses. Retreats help to cement our learning and bring new insights, which in turn, can support our motivation for practice. Attending other graduate courses, such as the Mindful Self-Compassion Course, can also add a new dimension to our practice.

Explore online resources. If you haven’t already, check out online resources, which can provide support in the form of free talks and guided meditations. There are many experienced teachers, from different backgrounds -- be it neuroscientific or Buddhist -- all sharing their offerings online. Find the ones whose meditations you really love to practice with.

Start with small commitments. If all of these ideas seem overwhelming, we can simply start small. Mindfulness is a tool that works to the extent we use it, and knowing that what we practice grows stronger can be really encouraging to keep our personal practice going. We can remind ourselves when things get difficult that even small amounts of practice -- 5 minute bursts, for example -- are better than no practice at all.

We may find that we understand mindfulness conceptually, but are under-prepared for the experiential challenges. However, we can rest assured that obstacles are to be expected and are actually essential to our practice -- serving to strengthen it and make us better equipped to deal with future challenges.

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With the turn of the seasons and the change in the air, September is a month when we might naturally assess where we are at and what we’d like to renew in our lives. Some of us might be thinking of what we can do to regain balance after the break and set ourselves up for the final half of the year. It may also be a time when we think about our mindfulness practice, and how we can pull it back into focus.

Different flavours of distraction and discouragement may have drawn us away us from our practice. We may struggle with challenging emotions that come into our awareness, and the alive, felt-sense of our body. Our enthusiasm may wax and wane. But we can rest assured that it's all a part of the learning process. The practice of meditation is a journey of turning towards ourselves, of cultivating self-knowledge. Naturally, we are going to run into challenges and obstacles that can knock us off our intended path. The human experience is, after all, highly complex -- as is the relationship we have with our self.

We know from nature that to grow anything, we must nurture it -- give it attention, patience and importantly care. There are many small, simple steps we can take to support our practice in its tentative stages or to get it off the ground again. A lovely motto to remember is Sharon Salzberg’s “Just start over”. Instead of getting caught up in the stories and judgements we have about our practice, we can use the core values of mindfulness -- acceptance, non-judgement and compassion -- and simply begin again, over and over, until we have integrated the practice into our being.

We asked around for other useful ideas on nurturing practice, and here’s what we found:

Seek community. The role of community and groups in sustaining mindfulness practice is so valuable and can be easily underestimated. For anyone who is struggling with their practice, joining a group or getting together with like-minded friends is a good place to start in order to establish a rhythm.

Enrol on further practice. The 8-week course is just the beginning of our journey with mindfulness. We can also look to enrol on further practice -- such as a retreat or other courses. Retreats help to cement our learning and bring new insights, which in turn, can support our motivation for practice. Attending other graduate courses, such as the Mindful Self-Compassion Course, can also add a new dimension to our practice.

Explore online resources. If you haven’t already, check out online resources, which can provide support in the form of free talks and guided meditations. There are many experienced teachers, from different backgrounds -- be it neuroscientific or Buddhist -- all sharing their offerings online. Find the ones whose meditations you really love to practice with.

Start with small commitments. If all of these ideas seem overwhelming, we can simply start small. Mindfulness is a tool that works to the extent we use it, and knowing that what we practice grows stronger can be really encouraging to keep our personal practice going. We can remind ourselves when things get difficult that even small amounts of practice -- 5 minute bursts, for example -- are better than no practice at all.

We may find that we understand mindfulness conceptually, but are under-prepared for the experiential challenges. However, we can rest assured that obstacles are to be expected and are actually essential to our practice -- serving to strengthen it and make us better equipped to deal with future challenges.

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