I’m gonna shake it off – my experience of a mindful self-compassion workshop

If you had three minutes to talk about how you were going to look after yourself for the next few weeks, what would you say? Would you run over the three minutes or would you run out of things to say after 30 seconds – as I did? When it comes to showing kindness, we rarely offer it to ourselves. We should talk to ourselves like a best friend, because, you are your best friend.

There are three steps to self-compassion. The first is to acknowledge your suffering – it’s what unites us the most. The second is to know that you are not alone, it’s known as our ‘common humanity’. There are 8 billion people in the world and just 15 emotions – an incredible statistic, isn’t it? The third is to give kindness. It is, as enthusiastic teacher Bridgeen Rea-Kaya of Immeasurable Minds, Belfast says, “always the appropriate response”.

Self-compassion is the first step toward compassion for others.

Dalai Lama

As well as a range of yoga classes for all ages and levels, Namaste Yoga Centre offers mindfulness meditation and workshops like the one I attended. I wasn’t dressed for yoga, I had been stuffing my face at a bloggers buffet beforehand so was bursting out of my skinny jeans. I slipped off my ankle boots, picked up a yoga mat and sat cross-legged on the floor. This wasn’t the most comfortable position, and we were invited to get chairs by Bridgeen Rea-Kaya, who is the perfect advertisement for mindfulness. She glows and has a warm, bright smile that puts you at instant ease. To begin, everyone had to introduce themselves and give a reason for why they were attending. Many of the answers were similar to mine, with some quite new to meditation and others wanting to deepen their practice.

Kindness is always the appropriate response.

Bridgeen Rea-Kaya

Next, we lay on our mats for a body scan. We were invited to use pillows or blankets – which I made a beeline for. The point of a body scan is for you to focus on different parts of your body and develop a mindful awareness of your bodily sensations and thus relieve tension. She told us to watch out for sensations such as tingling and tightness. I know I carry all of my tension around my neck and shoulders. A body scan trains you to ‘just be’ with pleasant and unpleasant sensations. I didn’t feel anything too out of the ordinary but it was really nice to lie back, listen to a soothing voice and not be disturbed by a screeching one-year-old who is having a face-off with the cat.

In between mindful breathing and a few activities, Bridgeen read poems, one by Mary Oliver called Grasshopper was particularly special. I love poetry and studied English at university. I wrote a poem when I was 15 which won an award. I’ve always been a thinker, not the academic type, but someone consumed by thoughts, largely negative. That is changing.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver

The best thing for tension is moving about. You know the Taylor Swift song ‘Shake it Off’, well, it’s the perfect example of a mindfulness song. So, we all started, quite literally, shaking it off, although sadly not to the pop princess. Usually, I’d need a few glasses of wine before considering dancing, so I went for it, secretly hoping not to bump into anyone in the class ever again. The next thing I knew, we were running around the room giving each other high fives. It was a bit awkward and strange, I’ll admit, but it certainly got us all giggling, albeit nervous ones.

The final exercise was picking a partner and sitting on the floor shoulder to shoulder. We were instructed to tell the stranger next to us things we were going to do to look after ourselves for the next month. Three minutes is a long time. I rattled on about stuff like going for walks, meditating, having lunch with friends, doing yoga (a white lie), but I ran out of things to say. My female partner sat and listened, as she was instructed to. I felt my cheeks burn, I didn’t know what else to say. Still, she remained silent which unnerved me all the more. Eventually, sensing my awkwardness, she said that she wanted to give me as much time as possible to just talk about how I was going to look after myself. How little time we spend thinking about ourselves. When it was her turn, she spoke at ease about all the wonderful things she was going to do. My job was just to listen but I found myself biting my tongue when I felt compelled to interject with “oh, that sounds nice”, or “I’d love to do that”. The exercise taught me about the magic of listening, of making a person feel important, and of being, truly in the moment.

To be happy, we must practice gratitude. The brain has a built-in negativity bias that causes us to focus on bad things. This may have helped our ancestors avoid being eaten by a mammoth, but in this modern age, it isn’t helpful. We need to rewire our brains to focus on the positive. Yes, life is busy and stressful but, with mindful practice, you can change it. Of course you will feel fed up from time to time but the important thing is to respond with kindness. I’d absolutely recommend this workshop, it’s so important to love yourself – and shake it off.

For more information: https://www.namasteyogacentre.co.uk/ and https://www.immeasurableminds.co.uk/

Is your body a house or a home mama?

Are you done? Are you done building your house? It’s been around for a while, it may have a little structural damage, some rooms a little shabby, perhaps some furniture that’s no longer used, but it’s still standing. You live in it, it’s home but you feel sometimes you need to shake things up, rewire, redecorate, renovate, make it a place that makes you happy and fulfilled. I’m talking about houses in a metaphorical sense of course. I’m talking about the house that takes us through life – our skeleton, skin, and bones. Mine is probably more than halfway through its lifetime. I’ve not been kind to it. It’s been filled with mental litter, some spaces are in desperate need of a makeover, others are dark and dusty with no natural light. I’ve welcomed in strangers but didn’t have the strength to make them leave. Others have left their footprint, and I’m happy to call them life long friends. But, I’ve certainly not used my house to its fullest potential, it has weathered a lot of storms, dramatically affecting its worth. I’ve spent too long feeling sorry for it, its value never recognised.

So, in the interests of increasing its value, I’ve started meditating. I have over the years tried it and gave up, not able to quiet my busy, hamster on a wheel mind. A very good friend has suggested more than once that I should try it. I’ve found a meditation I like and it’s having quite a profound effect. I’m less anxious, less irritable, more relaxed, more in the moment. A family member has said that since having Sonny, I’m more present. I’m done living in the past, I’ve made peace with it. I’m so excited about the future, I feel like a new day is dawning. It’s all down to my son, everything I do is because of him, and for him. The world owes me nothing, I owe the world.

As I continue to work on my house, make it a calm, happy place, make it a place I want to live in, I have begun building another. I want that house to be structurally sound, to be wired correctly, to be a place of sanctuary. I want my darling son to know that even when there are storms, he can weather them because he is resilient, like his mum. Building a house is not easy, it’s stressful, it’s expensive, it’s frustrating and sometimes you want to give up. But, you know that eventually, you can look at your house in admiration, proud of what you have achieved and content that you’ve done everything in your power to make it a happy home. I will learn from the mistakes I’ve made in my own house. We are architects of our own fate.

They say life begins at 40. Now I know the true meaning of that. Am I done? I’m just getting started.

My latest tenant…