Tag Archives: clarity of thought

Practice makes… practising more fun!

Practice won’t ever make your T’ai Chi perfect. Unfortunately. It’s not something you can “achieve” as such, because we’re always learning. But regular T’ai Chi practice is something which can bring huge benefits to us, if we focus instead on simply letting go and relaxing into the experience.

So let’s agree to give up on any dreams of “Perfection.”

Just let them go.

Let go of your drive for Perfection Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

Let go of your drive for Perfection
Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

Now, we can look to tap into all those wonderful benefits of T’ai Chi – which presumably are the reason we were drawn to T’ai Chi in the first place!

How does T’ai Chi improve wellbeing?

It’s great to remind ourselves what these benefits are. Here’s a few which students mentioned in class this week:

  • improved balance in the body
  • getting to “that place” of complete relaxation of mind
  • increased mobility & flexibility
  • improved posture, and awareness of posture
  • an opening of the senses
  • confidence to “let go” and just “be” in the movement
T'ai Chi gets you to "that place" of relaxation Photo by Luisa Rusche on Unsplash

T’ai Chi gets you to “that place” of relaxation
Photo by Luisa Rusche on Unsplash

Track your sense of wellbeing

Notice I’ve not called it “progress”! Consider running a T’ai Chi diary. Even if it’s 3 sentences – just something to capture how the T’ai Chi felt both during the exercise and then the benefits you felt afterwards. You can then build a picture of how you are building on that experience week by week.

Capture how you feel at the end of T'ai Chi Photo by Lesly B. Juarez on Unsplash

Capture how you feel at the end of T’ai Chi
Photo by Lesly B. Juarez on Unsplash

Your practice this week

Consider practising in smaller chunks. Break it down – in between classes we shouldn’t let pressures on our time, and the size of our coffee table stop us from tapping into all the loveliness which is T’ai Chi. Consider setting your sights a little lower, and practice just Cloud Arms for five minutes!

Or just do the Monkey Steps for one minute!

Don’t rush – do it mindfully, and enjoy it : )

Top tips for stress busting your life… the T’ai Chi way: Tip #1

Here’s how the conversation goes –

“So, how was your summer break? Did you get away anywhere nice?”

“Yes, thanks – we spent two glorious weeks doing X,Y & Z and enjoying the break from A, B & C… seems like a LIFETIME ago now, though. Everything has overwhelmed me now we’re back at the daily grind. It’s like we’ve never been away!”

Recognise this? Well, read on and I’ll arm you with the first in my series of top tips for stress busting your life the T’ai Chi way.

Allow yourself to let it go

Allow yourself to let it go

#1 Just “let it go!”

We all hold onto stresses which we can quite easily do without. I’ve in fact had this discussion with a number of good friends over the summer. It’s easy I guess to tell people not to worry about something – but what I’m encouraging, is to really weigh up whether the worrying and associated stress are in fact helpful. Isn’t it better that you find an appropriate time and method for working through your problems (mindfully, constructively etc.) – and then to allow yourself to let go of those worries. By doing this, we are separating the source of the problem from the stresses and anxieties which they create. This stress-busting tip won’t make the problem go away; but it will equip you with the resilience, strength, energy, clarity of thinking and fresh perspectives which will allow you to reduce and manage the stress. It’s also helpful to give your subconscious mind a chance to work things through “offline” for a bit.

In T’ai Chi everything is in a state of constant flux; nothing stays the same. Your energy needs to flow. We embrace this. It’s healthy to move on and not to dwell so much on things which may not be possible to change.

In my T’ai Chi classes, I encourage students to bring their mind into what they are doing in the present moment; to acknowledge any thoughts which come to them in class – and then to dismiss those for another time. The very act of practising T’ai Chi for that hour or so means that you give your mind a “holiday” from its constant re-running of what I call “same-loop thinking.”

That’s how T’ai Chi is so relaxing, and refreshing.

In previous posts I have explained that T’ai Chi doesn’t meet force with force. Instead, we build energy/ confidence from within and simply deflect any aggression without engaging with it. We can tell ourselves that an aggression doesn’t need to be our reality. We don’t need to accept it. We can smile and let that aggression go :)

Let any aggression pass you by: you don't need to own that

Let any aggression pass you by: you don’t need to own that

Exercise

Choose a quiet moment (it need only be one minute, and can even be at your desk). Say to yourself that you “give up” some of your thoughts for a while. Label those; be specific. Allow yourself to operate completely free from the thoughts which have been particularly bothering you. You can set the timeframe – but make it a longer timeframe than you’re used to in terms of that same-loop thinking coming back to you for its next repetition. Having labelled the thoughts you are about to give up, also make a committment to plan in a short time to run through your worries in a mindful, engaged fashion (e.g. plan a call with a friend, or designate a section of your dog walk in which you can “thrash it out.”)

Find the serenity you deserve

Find the serenity you deserve

I’m aware that this is much easier said than done. It’s only talking to friends on this, that I have come to realise quite how much I bring T’ai Chi principles into my own life every day – and how beneficial these are in managing my stresses. It has taken years of practice – but the baby steps have been very worthwhile.

Mindful notion for a mindful nation

Pssst! Have you heard of the new mindfulness agenda gathering pace? I’m excited to see how the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mindfulness will develop its thoughts & actions around “mindfulness” – and the wider remit of improved “wellbeing” for all. It’s quite a task, that’s for sure! But very much a worthy one…

Towards a mindful nation

The APPG is looking to create a “mindful nation,” by including mindfulness in future policy-making. Policy areas could include –

  • mindfulness in schools to improve classroom behaviour, attention and focus, as a strategy to raise educational standards and supporting social mobility, and to develop young people’s tools for lifelong well-being
  • expanding the provision of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy within the NHS as a treatment for depression and other mental and physical health problems
  • mindfulness as a way to reduce stress and improve care, attentiveness and compassion amongst healthcare workers
  • mindfulness as a way to improve resilience, reduce stress and anxiety, and develop creativity in the workplace
  • mindfulness as a way to tackle depression, anxiety and stress in the criminal justice system (both staff and those in custody)
  • mindfulness as a way to cultivate overall health and well-being

(These from the aims of the The Mindfulness Initiative, a collaboration of the Mindfulness Centres at Oxford, Exeter and Bangor Universities, which supports the APPG.)
Source: http://oxfordmindfulness.org/all-party-parliamentary-launch

So there’s a move towards using mindfulness to boost mental wellbeing, reduce stress, anxieties and depression; and increase an overall sense of improved health & wellbeing – in everyone. The notion of including mindfulness and wellbeing in policy-making – what’s not to like?!

And I’d like to go one step further – and say that as individuals, we should be:

  • applying mindfulness techniques
  • looking after our wellbeing (and the wellbeing of those around us)

in everything we do!

T’ai Chi as a mindful exercise

My interest obviously stems from the fact that I teach T’ai Chi, which is a mindful exercise, often described as an “internal exercise.” This is because in T’ai Chi practice, we generate the internal energy of the body, know as “chi” – or life force. It’s this internal/meditative element to the exercise which can bring students some incredibly uplifting benefits.

I talk a lot to students about the fact that T’ai Chi is more than just a dance. I’m aware that students are drawn to T’ai Chi for different reasons; but to ignore the meditative/mindfulness elements seems to me to be completely missing the point. Practising T’ai Chi encourages students to really examine for themselves their own connection between body, mind and spirit. And insodoing, the end result can be powerfully uplifting.

T’ai Chi’s contribution to the mindfulness agenda

Here are a few of my thoughts around how T’ai Chi contributes to this new and growing “mindfulness” agenda:

  1. Practising T’ai Chi and applying its principles to everyday life (and work) enables us to become more open-hearted and compassionate humanbeings.
  2. In T’ai Chi we are encouraged to feel “grounded.” This sense of “just being” in the present moment means that we have a better ability to see what’s here and now, and to appreciate what we already have
  3. Being grounded helps alleviate the incessant “drive;” yearning for the “next” thing / striving all the time for something better
  4. In a sense, being in the present moment takes away the focus of great expectations of the future: being mindful and present means you can assess and manage your expectations. That’s what Happiness is made from 
  5. Over the years, I have seen the big difference T’ai Chi has made to my students who are caring for partners/elderly relatives. Practising this mindful exercise affords carers a break from their everyday “loops” of thinking: this is a very welcome break, and a nurturing experience
  6. I’d like to refer to “like-mindedness” – connecting with like-minded people who come to T’ai Chi classes creates its own energy; this is difficult to describe, not least because in class we’re not talking to each other – but there is a definite sense of accepting others for who they are and how they are. And feeling accepted brings a warmth to the soul.
  7. In T’ai Chi we “yield” and flow with our weight, with our slow graceful movements. This yielding brings a certain sense of letting go… of altered perspective. We’re not pressing back; instead we are quite passive, but at the same time strong and rooted. Confident. Resilient. My students often share with me that this element helps them to cope with workplace stresses (or other situations of conflict). It’s a new developed mindset.
  8. T’ai Chi movements are deliberately slow. For beginners this is one of the major challenges – to fully believe it’s ok to slow down. Yet once in that mindset of “accepting” (in class) – the experience of accepting is “one to bottle!” When we are accepting, we feel less stressed and more fulfilled.
  9. Given that T’ai Chi practice leaves me feeling relaxed yet alert, agile and with a certain clarity of thought, its benefits definitely include better access to The Creative Me. That’s come through lots of practice – but it’s the meditative, mindful element which brings that creativity to fruition.
  10. “Easing off” at the edges and “going with the flow” are principles I often refer to in class; but which also have a place in managing everyday Life. I talk about “taking the scenic route” and not pressing with 100% effort. This then encourages a wider awareness, and it’s this wider awareness which provides both creativity and a sense of opportunity.

This latter point brings me neatly onto a quote from Lord Richard Layard, Member of Legatum Commission, who said:

Treating the goal of education as being to ‘get ahead’ is an inherently zero sum game: a society can make no progress this way.”

So over the coming summer hols, I’ll be practising some mindfulness techniques/activities with my children. We’re going to “do” less, and spend more of our time “just being.”

I’m looking forward to developing in them a notion of mindfulness and wellbeing in all that we do.

For an update on how we’re getting on, watch this space…

Wise old owl, T’ai Chi sage

I’m not claiming to be wise, old or a T’ai Chi sage – but something in me yesterday changed… and I felt strangely wiser than I did the day before. I have put this down to consciously reaching out to my T’ai Chi principles in a period of general overwhelm. I quite simply took a proper step back from what I was doing.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve heard people advise that taking a step back helps you to see the fuller picture; it gives you fresh a perspective… but what’s been different for me this time is that I have done this from a T’ai Chi perspective. I’ll explain.

Taking a step back in T’ai Chi

Taking a step back in T’ai Chi (and indeed in other martial arts) is a great technique for throwing your opponent off-balance. By “opponent” I mean any kind of “aggressive force” – either from the people around me, or from Life’s little knocks. In T’ai Chi we don’t meet force with force – instead, we keep momentum, moving in a continuous circular motion, which helps to deflect the opponent’s strikes.

I have mentioned before in this blog the Monkey Steps movement. Low into the legs, the T’ai Chi practitioner makes small, wide backwards steps very slowly, whilst pressing one palm away in front of the chest, and simultaneously drawing the other upward-facing palm back in towards the body. There is a feeling of complete balance and total co-ordination as the body moves in symmetry. The main point to make about the Monkey Steps, is that – as you retreat from the opponent, you are remaining strong in yourself – true to your self, and confident from within. It’s like saying to the world – ok, you’re throwing all this at me; but I’m still strong in myself and can deflect these strikes with calm, smooth movement. Importantly, I’m not suggesting I fight back with force.

The monkey in Chinese philosophy

In Chinese philosophy, the monkey represents human nature. They talk of “monkey thoughts” cropping up which distract you from your focus. In T’ai Chi, we learn to calm the mind and to bring the mind into the present moment. As a thought comes into the mind, we learn to just acknowledge it – and then dismiss it for another time. It’s quite liberating to meditate this way.

Taking a step back from overwhelm and issues beyond your control

So, in taking a step back from my overwhelm (and a few tricky bits to boot!), I felt reconnected with the confident Me. I felt strong; I felt a real sense of clarity. I was able to simplify issues and readdress them with a remarkable calmness and steely inner-confidence. I felt a weight had been lifted and that made me feel happy. I was grounded. My afternoon ran particularly smoothly. I was in control of the things I was doing; I’d let go of the areas I had no control over. In those instances, worrying about it wasn’t going to change anything, so I might as well not worry about it.

Wise old owl: tapping into T'ai Chi principles is powerful!

Wise old owl: tapping into T’ai Chi principles is powerful!

I shared all of this with my T’ai Chi students last night. We had a really interesting discussion and I’m hopeful I’ve helped others set about trying this out on their work issues too. I asked them “After feeling so wise about all of this today – do you think I’ll still feel like this tomorrow?” I really wanted to bottle that feeling of being champion and yet so calm, confident and clear about what I was doing. It’s not quite 9am as I’m writing this, and I really think I’ve cracked it! On the surface, I guess we’ve heard a lot of this before – but for me (and in the words of one of my students last night) – knowing something and believing it are two different things. So my tip for this week is – Take a step back…take a big step back and really assess the essence of what you’re doing. And do this away from your daily task list. Reconnect to your “why” and it will give you greater clarity. Getting such fresh perspective is really powerful!

I would love to hear what results you achieve!

Retreat Days: permission to start doing things a bit differently

 

The Retreat Day (which the T’ai Chi Room is organising with a host of partners) is a perfect opportunity to shake things up a little and make a break from the norm. As a full day in which to focus on yourself, Retreat Day Goers benefit from switching off, getting away from the hubbub that is daily life – and perhaps best of all, having the “head space” to reassess life. “Sometimes people need permission to go off and do something,” Annette Rainbow explains. Annette is one of the therapists at the Retreat Days.

“I have found that people need to be told what to do. It’s always helpful to have a routemap or some ideas to work with at home.”

Annette has been a part of the Retreat Days ever since its early ideas stages. Using this retreat to assess and make changes lends itself brilliantly to a softly softly approach. Retreat Day Goers spend a relaxed day with T’ai Chi, Yoga & Pilates classes all laid on, as well as a relaxation or beauty treatment. Integral to the “retreat” element is also the health & wellbeing talks, which clients can really benefit from once they have had a chance to really unwind and “de-clutter” their busy minds. Clients also take away with them a resource pack, which is brimming with ideas on organic skincare routines, massage techniques, gentle exercises, tips on good posture and breathing, meditation and healthy living recipes to reinforce the healthy lifestyle messages when clients are back in the real world.

I caught up with Annette, giving me the best excuse to book myself in for my own relaxation treatment!!

Annette Rainbow: Retreat days give clients a chance to re-assess life and permission to make a few changes

Annette Rainbow: Retreat days give clients a chance to re-assess life and permission to make a few changes

Annette, what brought you to aromatherapy massage & reflexology?

In the first 10 minutes of an introductory course I was hooked! I very quickly planned how much the full course, couch, oils etc. would cost me and how I was going to afford it.

I am a great believer in the body healing naturally. I think that there are other ways than simply prescribing drugs – new avenues of health.

On the massage course I was fascinated by the human mind and body. I wanted to use massage to help people – so I set up my aromatherapy massage business.

Helen:

It’s obvious, Annette, that you really believe in what you do. And it doesn’t stop there does it? There are so many other strings to your professional bow…

Annette:

That’s right, Helen.

What are the more diverse treatments you offer now that your business has grown?

I like to treat people as they present themselves to me “as a whole.” This can be massage, aromatherapy massage, deep tissue, Indian Head, Japanese face massage, reflexology, hormonal reflexology. I do quite a bit of work with fertility and am pleased to be able to report a really good success rate for this side of my work. It’s so rewarding.

I also offer counselling sessions – Neurolinguistic Programming, Time Line Therapy,® Hypnotherapy. I have helped people with phobias (the phobia can be gone in days), addictive behaviours, sadness, fear, guilt issues and bereavement.

Then on the more physical side – Abdominal & Colonic Massage; and Walker Technique, helping people with discomfort and pain.

Helen:

For the Retreat Days, you are happy to offer a bit of a bespoke treatment for clients who come to you, which is great because it means you can provide a massage which is relaxing, but which might concentrate on a frozen shoulder for instance…

Annette:

I’m a “fixer” – I like to work on problem areas so that clients leave feeling some relief from niggling pains. I use deep tissue massage for anything which is stuck and for lower back problems.

I can get to work quite quickly – I’m quite resilient myself, so there will still be lots of scope for some relaxing or uplifting massage techniques.

I go to lots of festivals in the summer so I can boast great stamina!

For the Retreat Days, I will be offering clients a treatment to suit their needs on the day. I would describe this as a combination treatment of – Indian head massage, reflexology, possibly some Walker Technique (if appropriate) and some abdominal massage.

Helen:

That’s fabulous – we’re thrilled to have your breadth of expertise! And all to suit the client! You will also be giving a short talk first thing about self-massage techniques, so all Retreat Day goers can benefit from your tips…

You spoke about Walker Technique – what are the benefits of this treatment?

Walker technique works on the fascia tissues. It can be used to relieve frozen shoulder, migraines, labyrinthitis and sinus problems.

What do your clients say about you?

First, that I am professional and this is an important driver for me. This isn’t a hobby. I get referrals from GPs and other therapists, so my reputation and word-of-mouth recommendations work well for me.

Helen:

I have been a client of yours for some years now – I would add that what I always appreciate is your aura of calm. And I love your cosy log-cabin treatment room!

What would you say are the main benefits of attending a Retreat Day in 2013?

I think that the Retreat Days provide a unique opportunity to just stop, relax and to learn a few new tricks about keeping yourself healthy, happy and long-term relaxed!

More about Annette

Annette Rainbow has a strong desire to help people through a varied menu of treatments. Annette also likes to teach and delivers tailor-made talks and will be delivering a short demonstration of self-massage techniques at the Retreat Day on 22 June 2013.

Annette’s contacts

t: 07790 813986 / e : annette@rainbow-touch.co.uk / w: www.rainbow-touch.co.uk/ t:@AnnetteRainbow

Retreat Days, featuring T’ai Chi, Yoga & Pilates

To book your place on this wonderfully relaxing, uplifting, rejuvenating day, please visit www.thetaichiroom.co.uk/Retreat_Days and download the Booking Form. For telephone/email enquiries please call 01993 822725 / email helen@thetaichiroom.co.uk.

Still availability for: Saturday 22 June 2013 (8.30am – 5.30pm)

Venue: Middle Aston House, Oxfordshire.

We look forward to giving you a warm welcome.

Emptiness: reconnecting with the inner you

Fabulous discussion at last night’s class around the impact of “emptiness” on T’ai Chi practice. I’m touched that students shared so much of themselves on this – so a warm “thank you” to all.

Emptiness is uplifting: reaching the inner you

Emptiness is uplifting: reaching the inner you

 

I wanted to distil a few key points – there are some quite profound lessons in life to be drawn from looking at emptiness and T’ai Chi practice. (I’m always drawing lessons from T’ai Chi!)

The concept of emptiness and inner stillness has its roots in Chinese philosophy. I’d like to refer to Buddhism and Taoism, which both have close links with T’ai Chi. Lau Tzu (possibly an older contemporary of Confucius) also talked about emptying your mind of all things in the old T’ai Chi classic The Tao te Ching. I need just to say that there are many idiosyncracies of the Buddhist and Taoist views of emptiness, which go way beyond this post(!) – but I have pulled out a few points which resonate with T’ai Chi practice.

 

Meditative aspects of T'ai Chi encourage a state of "emptiness"

Meditative aspects of T’ai Chi encourage a state of “emptiness”

T’ai Chi, meditation & emptiness

T’ai Chi is a meditative exercise and it’s the meditative state of mind which “emptiness” brings. Emptiness is a state of mind in T’ai Chi. Last night we each shared some examples of how we can use this relaxed state of mind in our everyday lives – when tricky situations arise which we find stressful, it is possible to condition ourselves to respond to a trigger – and tap into this “empty” state of mind – even without the movements. It’s like finding from within a cosy, safe place where there are no worries. We are protected from outside negative forces.

Enjoying the absence of wanting etc.

Within this space we’re calling emptiness, we feel without attachment, without desire, without dissatisfaction, greed, stress, anxiety or frustration… even if this is just for a short period.  T’ai Chi practice is a great opportunity just to let go.  With some time away from this collection of “wants” – through “emptiness” in T’ai Chi practice, we can gain a certain clarity of thought.

 

T'ai Chi symbol

T’ai Chi symbol

T’ai Chi symbol: what’s it telling us about our practice?

The T’ai chi symbol represents the constant flux of change. From this you can infer that everything is impermanent, and the argument, when played out in full, goes that problems come and go; feelings come and go; perceptions come and go. It becomes futile to worry about something which will change. One example from a student last night was that often she will be worrying about something – and without action (i.e. emptiness) – it somehow rights itself on its own. Inaction isn’t always a good idea – but it does have its place in our toolbox of “alternative perspectives.”

So the T’ai Chi symbol with its continuous curved lines, shows constant change. For T’ai Chi practitioners, we should note that the T’ai Chi Form (sequence of slow, graceful movements which lasts around 20 minutes from start to finish) needs to be practised as one continuous movement. We should think about there being no beginning and no end to the moves; one posture flows directly into the next, just like the curved lines in the symbol. More advanced students will start to “remember” the sequence by their continual flow of weight – something of a “Eureka” moment when you can predict what comes next just by the fact that, for instance, you have your weight fully in the right leg.

Enjoying emptiness in practice

Emptiness in T’ai Chi provides a quiet stillness. For me, I’m not taking this as an exercise to fully “check in” with how I’m feeling – I don’t converse in that way – it’s more of an awareness. In T’ai Chi we are encouraged to empty our minds of all thoughts; if a thought does crop up, we are to acknowledge it, and dismiss it… for the present moment at least.

After the end of the walking exercise in class, I will always invite students to “rest into the stillness” – that’s your stillness, whatever it means to you.

Last night students kindly shared with the group what they felt stillness meant to them in practice.  Here are the many benefits it brings:

  • A general awareness of our bodies & breathing
  • A calming influence (both in practice and as a “space” we can learn to tap into without even requiring the movements)
  • A state of mind where nothing matters (for that moment; we are in constant flux, remember)
  • A place to reconnect with yourself
  • Tuning into a general sense of who we are, and our interface with the world
  • An awareness of our inner strength & resources
  • A place in which to build confidence
  • An understanding of what we offer to the world

For me, the idea of connecting not only with myself; but also viewing my T’ai Chi practice as my interface with the world was an important one.  Not everyone felt the same about this, although one student came up with exactly the same example of this as me: there is a movement in which we collect energy in our palms and then turn the palms to release the energy. At this precise point, we both have the feeling of sharing what we have to offer with the room (in my student’s case) – and with the world in my case.

I use T’ai Chi’s principles to help tackle life’s little obstacles. Understanding this place we’re calling “emptiness” somehow strengthens those skills.

Ironically for me, it’s through this meditative movement that I am able finally to learn how to stop!

 

Retreat Day: Let your inner self blossom

Retreat Day: Let your inner self blossom

Retreat Days: reconnect to the inner you & feel nourished with time just to “be”

Retreat Days cater well for those just wanting to “stop” for a while – to empty your mind and tap into the inner you. It’s a great opportunity to have a proper break away from whatever is keeping you on the move all the time – away from your busyness.

Kind to body, mind & spirit – the Retreat Day allows you to “zone out” for a while; breathe deeply; stretch; relax & rejuvenate.

Places still available for the Retreat Day, featuring T’ai Chi, Yoga & Pilates:

  • Saturday 22 June 2013
  • Full day of relaxation & gentle exercises
  • Including meditation, breathing, stretching
  • Health & wellbeing talks
  • Nutritious two-course light lunch
  • Relaxing holistic massage/ beauty treatment
  • www.thetaichiroom.co.uk/Retreat_Days.aspx
  • Or call me on 01993 822725
  • Works well with a few close friends (the day is programmed so you will see each other!)
  • Takes place at Middle Aston House, Bicester, Oxfordshire (accommodation available)

Now I have some questions for you. Please share:

1. What’s keeping you busy just now?

2. How do you nurture your inner self?

3. What are your techniques for achieving some stillness in your daily/weekly routine?

4. How do you find clarity of mind – when you really need to take a step back and “see the wood for the trees”…?

Looking forward to hearing your strategies…

Warm wishes,

Helen, T’ai Chi Instructor and Organiser of Retreat Days, featuring T’ai Chi, Yoga & Pilates.

www.thetaichiroom.co.uk/Retreat_Days.aspx

 

Simplicity, a spring clean & a shredder!

I’m slowly progressing to a simpler way of life. A life with less complexity… at least I have a drive for a less complex existence. It makes me feel free! It makes me happier. It lets me see the wood for the trees.  In a work sense it undoubtedly makes me more efficient – when you simplify projects, tasks & process, you identify proper purpose and you can then get back on track pretty quickly.  What’s not to like?

Here are a few examples of how striving for a simpler existence has cropped up in my life within the last month:

  1. I have recently finished a large chunk of work – I called it a “sustained peak” (it lasted a while!) When I surfaced the other side I was overwhelmed by all the tasks I had dropped (quite rightly I had prioritised and these seemingly lowly tasks simply didn’t make the “cut”!) Too conscientious for my own good, I had planned to just “dig a little bit deeper” and trawl through it all; but the task was so immense I simply couldn’t tackle it that way. Without giving it too much thought at the time, I simply created a 2013 archive folder in email and moved entire inboxes into their new home.  I have visited a couple of times – but how liberating to just start again!  I also unsubscribed to all emails relating to shopping (did you know most sites actually email you daily? Exactly how often did I think I would need to be buying snow outfits?!!)
  2. I felt so good simplifying my Outlook on life, if you’ll excuse the pun – that I gave my documents the same treatment. Wow, on a roll…!
  3. Next – old (paper) work projects – ALL of them – had to warrant their very existence. That’s where the shredder came in. Actually this is still an ongoing process – the more I do, the more I realise – I just don’t need all the clutter!
  4. Taking “simplicity” in its wider sense – I was planning a day out with grandparents today - we had a couple of ideas and then found ourselves adding to it – “while we’re in the area” – in fact “over-designing” our trip. My children are fortunate enough to get lots of days out – for them it would be much more beneficial to slow down, do less rushing around and spend time just chatting to their grandparents – much simpler! And a much more enriching experience!
  5. I have recently joined Lucy Eckley (marketing extrordinaire) in her Marketing MeetUps. It’s a small group of local sole owners who choose a marketing project they have been meaning to get around to implementing but for whatever reason haven’t yet started.  It’s amazing what some external accountability and a monthly deadline can do for you, ha ha! I’m so grateful to Lucy and fellow punter, Jo – for both giving me the prompt to get on and start this blog (“Thank you”!) I want to relate that to my thoughts on simplicity – there have only been a couple of MeetUps so far and I thought I knew the exact steps I wanted to deliver; however, when I pared back – simplified & clarified – I drew some quite surprising conclusions!

So, here’s my challenge to you this week -

Try and simplify everything for a week – see how much time and effort it saves you.  Also see what you missed in terms of your “old ways” (I’ll bet it’s not much!)

 1392434_99783354 water drop

Here’s what I’ve found since making moves to simplify:

  • I ate better
  • Some tasks didn’t actually need doing (result!)
  • A colleague complimented my clear approach to an email she had been struggling to draft to clients – she actually recognised that her “overload” at the time was clouding her ability to communicate in simple terms (“I’d like to be more like you” was her response – what a compliment!)
  • I started again on some tasks – and did a much better job
  • I have recognised that under (immense) pressure I default to relying on process – quite natural and definitely adviseable to use a “checklist” approach when under pressure – but sometimes a step back, simplifying the task – can get you there quicker.
  • Some things don’t need doing straight away (my priorities may differ from those around me)
  • Saying “no” really isn’t that bad
  • Simplifying things somehow makes me more confident; my capacity for doing “just the right things” has grown

…And just like T’ai Chi’s principles around perspective, confidence & living life in the moment - life’s little concerns just got smaller… and the detail of the simple things just got more important. Simplifying things has left me feeling re-aligned. I have more time for people; I am more connected.  Life’s a whole heap more fulfilling!

What do you think? I would love to hear from you

Warm wishes,

Helen

How would you define wellbeing?

What does “wellbeing” mean to you?

What exactly are we looking to achieve when we say we’d like to feel an improved sense of wellbeing?

The new economics foundation (nef) has developed “five key ways to wellbeing” at
http://www.neweconomics.org/projects/five-ways-well-being

The question of how to define wellbeing has really sparked me. In answering this seemingly superficial question, I have unearthed something of a “window” into all the things which are important to me and my values; what my real drivers are; and from all of this I can map a clearer direction. (Note how I have left actions out at this stage – there’s a reason for that, which I’ll come to later.)

To me, wellbeing is…
1. being “at peace” with myself
2. being “in harmony” with all those around me – family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, community
3. feeling free from overload & clutter
4. being in good health & pain free
5. feeling physically fit, active, exhilarated & loving life
6. feeling close to nature
7. feeling properly connected to those closest to me
8. engaging my “community spirit”
9. feeling able to be “me”
10. feeling able to stop and just “be”
11. feeling equipped and confident so that I can cope with life’s little knocks
12. feeling a wide sense of justice

As someone who has worked from home for the past seven years, it’s no surprise then that getting up at 6.30am on the bank holiday to help out at the Scout Group car boot sale actually gave me such a boost! It was the social interaction/ community spirit “tick” which gave me such a buzz. I already know that when I’m feeling overloaded at work and taking too much time away from the family, one of the simplest “fixes” for me to feel that reconnection, is to have a game of badminton in the garden with my nine-year old boy. Sometimes it’s the simplest things…

T'ai Chi: boosts your wellbeing

T’ai Chi: boosts your wellbeing

Practising T’ai Chi pretty much covers all of my twelve points above. I don’t know how much impact it has on the 12th; but T’ai Chi at least gives me an incredible clarity of thought and a balanced perspective as a darned good starting point for tackling the big things like issues of injustice!

I wanted to share with you how T’ai Chi boosts my wellbeing:
1. At the end of my T’ai Chi practice, I am at my happiest; I feel relaxed and peaceful (I always have the best sleep at the end of my day of teaching)
2. If anything has riled me earlier in the day, after practice it no longer seems important; I can readily shrug it off
3. After practice, I feel strong in myself; I have reconnected within and feel confident in myself
4. I have had a very welcome break from all matters concerning overload & clutter and it feels amazing!
5. I believe that the exercise; breathing and energy flow help to keep my body healthy – the stress-busting, meditative elements undoubtedly help sustain good mental health and practising throughout my three pregnancies helped me to retain a good residual fitness
6. I feel calm, yet very alert after practice; upbeat but relaxed
7. T’ai Chi’s wider principles very much incorporate nature (As Legend would have it – Chinese Taoist priest Chang San-feng witnessed a fight between a crane and a snake and was struck by their movements; how the snake avoided the crane by its flowing, yielding, adapting movements; the crane used too much energy with its linear, aggressive attacks. This is the reason Chang San-feng developed movements to mimic nature and many of the T’ai Chi postures reflect the attributes of different animals.)
8. Some of T’ai Chi’s specific movements build confidence, increase self esteem, deflect inbound negative experiences (“Monkey Steps” are a favourite amongst those of my students who going through particularly difficult /aggressive situations at work. In this movement, students move backwards very slowly and in a controlled fashion “ward off” any external aggressions. Powerful stuff!)
9. Practising T’ai Chi helps to “open your heart” to those around you – forgiveness & compassion are both so beneficial to your inner wellbeing.
10. T’ai Chi’s principles teach the ability to slow down – and to believe that it’s ok not to always put in 120%… not to always run around at a hundred miles an hour
11. On a physical level – T’ai Chi builds strength, flexibility, mobility & balance; and improves posture, breathing, digestion & circulation
12. T’ai Chi is teaching me balance in all things

For this post you might notice that I haven’t provided my list of things you could do to improve your wellbeing – I have perhaps alluded to my T’ai Chi practice, and larking around in the garden with my children – but there’s a good reason for my not providing a lengthy list at this stage. For now, I really wanted to CHALLENGE you to open up to what YOU see is important for your wellbeing. I’ve got so much out of writing this post today, I would love for you to share with me -

What defines wellbeing for you?

And how do you go about nurturing your wellbeing?

Do you:
a) Not give this much attention really (you’re too busy)?
b) Know what you really like to do – but aren’t quite getting around to it?
c) Have a list (either consciously or unconsciously) of things you do to give your wellbeing a boost (shopping trip, night out, weekend away, buy some flowers, book a retreat?)
d) Ever look at those things you might do for a “lift” – and evaluate them?
e) Find that you reach for the “right” fix, or sometimes for an “empty fix”?

I would love to hear from you…

Warm wishes,

Helen