How do we start being mindful?
Hello! The image below is me Emma, with my Golden Retriever Roly on one of our favourites beaches - Sandbanks in Dorset. I’m a creative producer and a recently qualified life coach working across the arts, community and the fields of health & wellbeing. I moved from Shoreditch, East London to Poole, Dorset almost 4 years ago to take up a dream job and change the pace of my life.
Pre-March 2020 my diary was packed to the rafters with work related travel, theatre trips, pub sessions, more travel, sleepovers at friends, date nights, mini breaks...but as was the same for all of us, everything had to stop and it seemed that Roly and pets around the country, nay - the world - were pretty happy with the change in events. Having to reduce my Roly walks to one a day was a shock to his system and I had to find alternative ways to keep him from destroying every trainer, boot and slipper I own. In a bid to protect my footwear I found myself having my morning brew in the garden with him. I’d be wrapped up in my dressing gown, bobble hat and crocs and I’d perch on the edge of our raised deck, sipping my tea, sometimes chucking a ball for him or just watching him roll around on the dewy astro turf. Unwittingly, we started to create our own little tradition that saw us through from winter, to spring, summer and early autumn. It was during these daily moments that I started to realise how mindful it was. Rather than jumping out of bed on the very last snooze button before my phone picked me up out of my bed and threw me out itself, I was taking 20 mins to hangout with my best pal, reflecting on my night’s sleep, observing the weather and thinking about the day ahead. All of a sudden I’d started the habit that I’d read about in countless magazines - I had started to take Me Time, and that’s when I realised (no joke) how I could Be More Roly.
Roly was teaching me mindfulness and here’s how:
Connect - connecting socially is vital to our wellbeing and we’ve so badly missed our pub trips, our netball games and that weekly coffee with the other mums. Next time you reach for your mobile to leave an oh so convenient voice note, make a call and make time to listen. Remind yourself of the value you have in someone’s life, share the day's challenges and laughs or - if you’re Roly, pick up a towel off of the radiator and drop it at my feet for some tug of war time…
Be active - you might well have nailed this during lockdown - Joe Wicks PE lessons with the kids anyone? Or maybe you’ve been running Couch to 5K with Michael Johnson and that banging Idris Elba running spotify playlist? Or, like me - your routine collapsed when the gyms closed and you haven’t quite got round to returning? Well, take a leaf out of Roly’s book and stretch… Slow, mindful and so good for your posture, stamina and circulation stretching is underrated, not least for the endorphins I promise it will release. My nana swore by her daily stretches, a few mins in the morning to touch her toes, reach to the ceiling and stretch the sides. For some inspiration though my personal fave is Yoga with Adriene who also happens to have a friendly pooch that makes regular appearances!
Take notice - Spring 2020 was all about the birdsong as our reduced traffic, plane-less skies and wfh allowed us the opportunity to just listen through our open windows, balconies or gardens. This simple act of finding stillness and tuning in does wonders for our wellbeing. Do you remember that time? Do you remember how it made you feel? This form of mindfulness can create long term habits of practising reflection, gratitude and reconnecting with you. For now, and to keep my analogy going, think of Roly who has such perception and observation skills that he can pick out the peanut butter spoon in the cutlery tray of the dishwasher and gleefully lick it clean, savouring the saltiness and no doubt, the naughtiness.
Learn - the penultimate of the 5 Ways to Wellbeing and one we’ve probably given a good go with the onslaught of homemade banana breads, sourdoughs and perhaps some chemistry and maths with the kids. Learning through work, with the family or during play provides goals and improves self-esteem. What did you learn recently that made you feel proud? Sadly, I can’t bring Roly in on this one because, much to my annoyance and despite having Retriever in his breed name he still hasn’t learnt to/refuses to fetch!
Give - research shows that wellbeing can be vastly improved by weekly acts of kindness and generosity. Sadly this doesn’t count the & Other Stories jumper you’ve bought yourself in the sales (although we could debate this in another blog), but it does count the shopping you picked up for your neighbour during lockdown 2.0, or the flowers you sent your friend for submitting her MA dissertation whilst homeschooling the kids & working from home, or the time you spent proof reading your partner's pitch for a new job. Give your time, drop a card around the neighbour you haven’t seen in ages or like Roly, give a smile to a stranger - it’ll set them up for the day - and how good does that feel knowing you’ve made that happen?
All these things are the basics of practising good mental health & wellbeing and are based on the New Economics Foundation’s 5 Ways to Wellbeing - which you can find more about here.
We’ve all been through a lot this year, and as one of my fave memes of the year has said - we’re not all in the same boat but we’re all in the same storm. Christmas has come and gone and I’d like to give you permission to take some time for yourself. Schedule the kids with some ipad time, grab a cuppa and a notepad and jot down some of the things that you’ve done this year that fall under the 5 Ways to Wellbeing categories above. I’m going to hazard a guess you’ve done a lot more than you thought you might have. Where can you build on these habits? Or shimmy a bit more time? Some of them might have gone as soon as lockdown was over for you and that’s ok. But with a few more months of disruption on the cards pick one or two that you can easily achieve.
After all, you have been looking after everyone during a global pandemic, you’ve kept the kids fed & (mostly) educated, you’ve stressfully worked from home and your holidays were cancelled - even that one spa day with the girls.
Pat yourself on the back for getting through it.
Take a big deep breath and thank yourself.
And maybe, just maybe take another look at your pet and see what mindful lessons you might learn from them, and if all else fails take a leaf out of Roly’s book, add a day nap to your routine and Be More Roly.