Get yourself on the list (Get it Magazine, July column)

 

Excited to be contributing the Last Word in my Get it Magazine column again. Here’s a few honest lessons in gratitude. –Sarah

Read the issue 

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Another morning, another effort to get up. The sunshine wasn’t helping my mood and I knew before I touched it, that I should refrain from reaching for my mobile the second I woke. Inevitably the first thing that appeared would be bad news.

There was a period of time that was like this last year when quite simply, I was unhappy. It’s nothing you haven’t experienced, I’m sure. If we’re lucky, we know that actually – soon, hopefully – things will be brighter, bit at a time.

During my particularly stressful period, I was simultaneously dealing with illness in the family, a confidence crisis, finance worries, challenging business associates and a hopeless feeling of helplessness. Making matters worse, I was being particularly tough on myself for how I was reacting on the phone, over email and with friends. I kept apologising for being ‘that person’ who didn’t want to bring the lunchtime conversations down, and I was aware of carrying around a negative attitude. I wasn’t feeling, behaving or showing up as the me I wanted to be.

I am all about taking charge though, and knew the only person who could change what was being reflected in my world was me. I invested time into shifting my view on areas of my life that were getting me down. Included in this effort was a dedicated daily gratitude practice, because if there’s one ‘secret’ I’ve seen work wonders in a multitude of difficult scenarios, it is the act of specifically identifying what has been good each day.

When I was a child, I was encouraged to recognise that there is always someone worse off, so to be grateful for my lot. That sentiment is largely true, although now I get that the real power in being grateful is that like attracts like.

What I – what you – focus on expands.

Some say it works like this: like attracts like, and if we focus on the bad bits like hours of miserable news broadcasts, difficult colleagues or those who have cheated us, that’s exactly what is going to show up more in our own experience.

If, however, we practice the shift to an attitude of gratitude such as, ‘I’m grateful to have the cash to pay my rent’, or ‘I’m grateful to be catching up with Leanne today because she is an awesome friend’ (among thousands of other examples), more of the positives manifest in your world.

A little bit of magic. Quite cool!

None of this is revelatory though, so what was the big learning for me out of recent challenges?

I realised there was something I constantly omitted from my own gratitude list. Me!

Your list may include similar items to mine like ‘loving partner’, ‘friends and family’, ‘cool boss’, ‘dog’ (dogs plural, for that matter), ‘good health’, ‘upcoming travel adventure just paid off’… but do you include yourself?

I have given myself such a hard time in the past for feeling miserable and worried about a whole host of things. I didn’t consider that my resilience was carrying me through and that my nous was leading me to rewarding points of realisation.

You rock. We rock! I’m remembering to be grateful for that. I am grateful for my mistakes and the times I’ve spoken without thinking. I am grateful for the falls and how I picked myself up. I am grateful for the lessons learnt the hard way that I now share to help others. I am grateful for the words I can use to communicate, share and resolve.

These days I add ‘me’ to my list, up the top with a smiley face. My intention is that this serves as a reminder for you to do the same on yours (smiley face optional).

Regardless of what kind of day or week you’re having, take five to compose your top five things you’re grateful for now. Make it bright, bold, and uniquely you.

 

 

Diary of a mindful commute

I tweet, write, talk about and certainly practise mindfulness and meditation, but in my current state of busyness, time easily escapes me. Consequently I’ve wondered about ways to enjoy a more mindful commute to work because that’s when I have time.

It makes a huge difference to my day taking time out to breathe and let myself enjoy a peaceful space free of the pressures of the world or worries of my to-do list. This daily activity keeps me calmer and less reactive, particularly if I’m in the middle of a stressful situation or I’m tired and in need of a rejuvenating break away.

I really notice when I’m not in this flow and sometimes – lately often – I run out of time in the morning to get into this sacred and important space (twenty minutes is my preferred time frame for meditation, although if I can spare it on a day off, thirty or forty is bliss).

As much as I intend to take the time out, something always comes up, and before I know it I need to run to the bus to make it to work on time.

I have about half an hour on the bus to work, and it’s been on my mind for a while to test ways I can prepare for the day ahead during this commute.

I’ve been really trying to stay reflective, intentional and positive this year, and in this spirit I decided last week to not only test mindful options on the commute, but to document them too.

In London, the commute is many things – 99 per cent of them are not peaceful!

There’s a vast range of annoying noise, gross smells, agitated people, and stress … lots of it. Fortunately I found a way to avoid the Victoria line on my morning commute, but the bus can be slow and feature some ‘interesting’ characters.

Here’s what I discovered about the pursuit of a mindful commute, and they are tips you can take with you, whether you’re on a busy bus or train; possibly in the car, but be mindful of paying attention to road rules!

 

How to have a mindful commute – my week’s diary

Monday I was off to a good start with a seat all to myself on the bus!

I felt like a little inspiration was in order so I opened Soundcloud and found some playlists other users had compiled with audio by Hayhouse authors like Dr. Wayne Dyer. I chose a piece that would take me about 18 minutes along into my journey, and despite background noise and chatter, I was mostly able to focus on his workshop.

In this snippet of audio he discussed the concept of simply ‘being aware’, so after the clip ended, I practised sitting in my chair and observing my surroundings – the trees, cars and passing foot traffic; sounds and smells.

I found ‘simply observing’ was a really interesting, if not calming experience that kept me entirely present without worry or judgement.

During that day at work, for the first time in a long time, I caught myself in the act of not breathing properly.

I’ve been extremely busy lately and I realised – possibly because of my mindful commute activity – that half the time I’m sitting at my desk not breathing properly! I bet I’m not the only one.

Now, I’m conscious to stop what I’m doing and take some deep breaths – even now as I type. I’m sure this is a step in the right direction and it helps with everything from concentration to digestion and a reduction in stress levels.

On Tuesday for some reason I felt like I wanted to listen to music – the kind that gets a little party going in my head!

Now I don’t know what yogis think of dance music, but I love it. There’s nothing like a melodic dance track to get me in good spirits. I decided to go with this but instead of thinking about things while streaming my favourite tracks, I just listened.

Fortunate enough to have a seat on the bus again, I gently closed my eyes and spent the best parts of the music focusing only on the intricate production and cool melodies that some very clever producers had published.

This might very well be the most outrageous and certainly nontraditional way of meditating, but I was focused on my breath and only the sound, and I felt happier for the experience.

Day two was off to a bright start.

Doom and gloom Wednesday hit – it’s been so dull and grey here lately.

Oh, cold. I forgot to mention that! Cold, even for me who quite likes winter (it’s so much better than sweating)!

I wasn’t sure what to try this morning and on auto-pilot turned back to something I’ve tried to avoid as much as possible, that is, spending my entire commute on social media.

Although I am inspired by Instagram and engage with interest groups on Facebook and Twitter, I work in front of a screen all day and know for the good of my sanity that I need to break from it when I can.

On this day I didn’t get a seat.

Drat.

It was a little bit crowded too, but I managed to find a spot in a corner and a hand rail to keep me steady.

Something a yoga teacher taught me a couple of years ago sprung to mind; she said we often hold too much tension in the tops of our legs and into our hips. She taught us to stand steadily on two feet, about hip width distance apart, shoulders straight but relaxed, slight tone to the belly; and to soften the legs and thighs just a bit to reduce the tension. So, I found my posture and breathed through it.

Again I brought into the activity my awareness consciousness from Monday; that is, simply being aware of what was going on around me – observing without judgement or concern.

It worked in bouts – with people getting on and off and noisy school kids evidently enthusiastic about the day ahead, I found this a bit tougher to get into. However, the focus on breathing did help to centre me and I felt like I was making up a little for not sitting down properly to meditate in the morning prior to the commute.

By Thursday I’m usually tired.

I’m naughty and forget to wrap up work on time most days which means I have less hours to unwind at home (yes, I like my work, and am grateful for it).

Feeling relatively unenthusiastic I decided to do something really simple on my mindful commute – experiment with ‘silence’.

That is, I didn’t pull my phone out to listen to music or watch YouTube.

I didn’t read or even write notes or my intentions for the day.

Actually, I intentionally sought out silence.

Of course, I’m on a busy commuter bus with people, announcements, traffic and more surrounding me, but upon starting with a focus on my breath and relaxing the area in the middle of my brow (where your third eye is imagined), I sat and actually relished in silence created by, surprisingly, me.

On Friday I began as I would any other day – I’d actually chosen one of my favourite Gabby Bernstein lectures on developing intentions to listen to.

But, about five minutes into my mindful commute, my dad called.

He’s in Australia, so I take every chance I can to talk to both he and my mum, and as we chatted (albeit I was quieter than normal, so as not to be one of those noisy commuters) I realised that the simple practise of focusing solely on my conversation with him was a mindful act in itself and a positive experience for both of us.

Enjoying a mindful commute when the time calls for it, means an otherwise challenging part of the day has the potential to become a personal and helpful journey in itself!

What are your thoughts and tips though? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Further reading

A couple of articles I found on how to have a mindful commute that you might find interesting too:

How to have a mindful commute (London Evening Standard), includes a definition of mindfulness, why it’s helpful and who else is adopting it.

Wanderlust‘s 50 ways to make a commute mindful

 

Happy and healthy holiday ideas

 

11 of the best healthy holiday ideas you’ll read this year…

One of the downsides of enjoying your work is that you tend to forget to take breaks – I’m very guilty of this, and in 2017 I intend to consciously seek healthy holiday ideas for real rest and relaxation.

Towards the end of last year I burnt myself out, became run-down and rather miserable.

The trips I took in 2016 weren’t actually holidays. While they were amazing (Stockholm for a conference and a super quick trip to Malta in the summer), I was pushed for time, over-indulged (because it seemed like a really fun option at the time), and ended up more tired than before I’d stepped on the plane in the first place.

Increasingly the pressures of modern-day life mean we’re always ‘on’, and Cooper and I are arguably becoming wiser with age, because our new world view incorporates happy, healthy holiday ideas where we want to have energy to explore, the chance to rest and the capacity to express our discoveries creatively but without overdoing our time spent online.

 

Healthy holiday ideas we now seek, mean that we’ll come back home feeling refreshed in mind, body and spirit.

 

11 of the very best happy and healthy holiday ideas

Worry-free ways on how to rejuvenate in mind, body and spirit in 2017…

Plan ahead

Whether you’re heading off on a road trip, coach tour or spending a week in a Tuscan villa, we’ve discovered the easiest healthy holiday ideas to implement include planning your meals and excursions ahead of time.

Lack of planning (or even boredom) often leads to impulse buying that spirals into unnecessary spending (and subsequent financial stress), plus food or alcohol intake that’s well beyond what was intended.

Then you feel sluggish for the duration of your holiday. Not fun.

Scheduling your time also means making the best use of it, so you can mix up hours spent exploring and being active, with time for simply chilling out and ‘being’.

In our experience, it’s easy to get tired when you’re travelling; your routine is different, you’re often on the go and that impromptu pint of beer is always an excellent idea … not!

For our recent trip to Ibiza in Spain though, I’d spent just a little bit of time planning where we could explore on foot from our accommodation, and I used the weather as a guide to determine which would be good days to be out and about (when it was sunny) and when would be better to just laze about (cloudy or rain forecast). It worked a treat!

Tip: Sign up for the local version of a deals site like Living Social or Groupon in advance of your holiday, and gather discounts on tours, dining, spa packages and local experiences before you go.

 

Shop at a supermarket

This is one of our best healthy holiday ideas that we share with everyone, and for good reason. It seems so simple, but a lot of holiday-makers fail to act on taking that quick trip into Lidl or Aldi.

By buying your own beverages, food and planning meals ahead, you’re taking control of budget as well as what you are putting into your body.

That is, you know exactly what’s going into each meal in terms of ingredients and calories; you have the choice to balance healthy snacks (e.g. fruit and nuts) with cheeky holiday indulgences (bring me corn chips, cheese and Prosecco!), and it’s much cheaper than getting to the point where you’re hungry so you pop down to the corner store for something over-priced and under-nourishing.

Local engagement

You don’t need a gym on hand to be active.

Of course, you could travel to a destination specifically to take part in a well-being retreat like yoga in Italy or Turkey. But if not, take advantage of modern technology and services like meetup.com to find running clubs, yoga classes, cycling groups or hobbyists who enjoy things you do (for example, bird watching, meditation, hiking).

Signing-up for meet-ups happening during your visit has two advantages – you can enjoy physical and mental activity while meeting locals and finding out more about the destination you’re visiting.

 

Explore on foot

City breaks, island adventures and regional escapes all have something wonderful in common – the best way to explore is on foot.

Certainly, you’ll possibly need to intersperse this activity with a local bus ride, hop-on-hop-off city sightseeing coach tour and even a bike or a boat ride, but to really see and feel a new place you’ve got to get on the ground and wander.

The other obvious benefit of this is the incidental exercise you get!

When we visited my brother and his wife in Japan we couldn’t have eaten any more food if we tried (so yummy, try a Watami restaurant for a large Izakaya menu, and Sukiya for delicious curries), but we walked so much that we went home lighter than when we arrived!

Additionally, when we visited Ibiza, nothing much was open as it was low season (winter) but that didn’t bother us because there were plenty of places to explore on foot, and even hiking was an option for those who are so inclined.

As mentioned, plan ahead to see what your options are; bring maps with you or take some from a tourist information centre or airport (be prepared in case you cannot access data on your phone when you’re out and about).

If you suffer knee or foot pain, ensure you pack appropriate footwear, support or even strapping if required, so that your adventure is safe and comfortable.

 

Walking tours

Many cities in the world offer walking tours that showcase the famous, quirky and interesting highlights of the place.

A lot of these options are either free or very inexpensive, run by locals who know their backyard and are keen to share their insider-secrets with enthusiastic travellers.

Once again, you’re enjoying incidental exercise by getting active; you have the chance to learn about a place and ask questions, thus putting the curious mind to work, and you’re saving on financial worries through this cheap tour option while also contributing to the local economy.

Win. win. win!

Before you leave for your destination, simply Google ‘walking tours in…’; research and contact your preferred operators and plan the excursion into your itinerary.

Remember to also search for niche options that interest you, which might be ‘walking ghost tours’, ‘walking history tours’, ‘quirky walking tours’, ‘insider secret walking tours’ and so on.

 

Pencil in ‘me time’

What is the one thing that you have discovered brings more light into your day?

Is it morning meditation, twenty minutes free-writing, drawing, reading or sparing some time to watch or listen to a motivating broadcast (e.g. on YouTube)?

Make time for this activity during your time away, in fact if you can, prioritise it.

Journaling is a pastime that I feel always brings benefit to my life, but I often lack the time to do it around my day job.

On our recent trip away, I made sure I took some time out each afternoon for this activity.

All you need is ten or twenty minutes a day, but making time for something that lights you up will help to invigorate your spirit in time for a return to the home and work routine.

Unleash your inner creative

A rising trend in the travel industry is that of ‘creative tourism’ which caters for the ‘creative traveller’.

This means that many of us are using holidays and travel adventures as opportunities to express ourselves creatively.

Maybe it means that you use some of your time away to work on writing your book or blogging?

I get just as much enjoyment these days out of writing and photography (and Cooper is really into producing vlogs) as I do taking the actual vacation. It’s one and the same, and we’ve both had conversations about how invigorating it is to indulge in our creative side while being inspired by different landscapes and experiences.

You don’t need to have a website or YouTube channel to delve into this though; creative art, cooking, writing, language and even fashion courses are on offer in many parts of the world now – simply research online whatever takes your fancy.

You could search by destination, or, many travellers are actually selecting destinations based on the creative experiences available to them there.

European regions including Tuscany, Costa Brava, Ibiza, Barcelona and the French Riviera are particularly leading the way on this front. Take a look at the Creative Tourism Network for more information, or contact the local tourism authority in an area you’re keen to visit to enquire about options. Elena Paschinger has also written a lovely book on the subject, The Creative Traveler’s Handbook. 

 

Switch off tech

The ultimate in healthy holiday ideas is to take a break from technology. While Cooper and I obviously need and like technology for blogging and vlogging, we schedule time for it now.

We’re aware it’s important to step away from online engagement so we actually have time to engage with each other, our friends and family!

Our big tip here is to set boundaries for when computers, phones and tablets should be put away, for example, within two hours of bedtime and/or not switched on first thing in the morning.

Mindful dining

While we are aiming for happy and healthy holiday options now, we also don’t believe in worrying about what we’re consuming. It’s all about planning ahead (as mentioned above), being sensible and mindful.

I freely admit – when I’m excited about a platter of cheese and a large glass of red being placed in front of me, I tend to guzzle without thinking about it!

I’ve recognised this pattern, so now I write myself little calendar reminders on my phone that pop up to say, ‘slow down’,  and I also ask a trusted travel companion like Cooper to remind me to mindfully enjoy my food and to savour the wine. It’s not a race, after all.

Being mindful during meal or snack times means you’ll slow down on consumption and are likely to get much more enjoyment out of the experience.

 

Make your intentions clear

If you feel in need of a healthy break away and want to make the most of your next holiday in ways I’ve discussed here, it’s important to let your travel buddies know of your intentions, or carefully choose who you travel with.

That is, try to spend time with people who have a similar mindset and who also want to take time out to reinvigorate mind, body and spirit while enjoying all the perks of a holiday.

You can all support each other in achieving this if the group’s intentions are similar and/or clear.

 

Give to receive

There’s no better way to replenish the soul than by giving, and in our case rarely are we happier than when we’re surrounded by animals (particularly dogs, though I would seek elephants and monkeys too)!

This idea might not be viable everywhere, but it’s worth looking into ethical animal experiences or volunteering options that will give you an authentic experience and one to ultimately be proud of.

Our friend Amy offers an excellent example in her blog where she tells of how she volunteered in an animal welfare centre in Thailand.

We also know that if you’re visiting Whistler village in Canada, you can offer to walk the dogs who are being taken care of in a shelter not too far away. I’d suggest there are opportunities to help in many destinations because all charitable organisations need a hand (but especially smaller ones).

If you have time, ask around where you’re staying and see if there’s a chance you can give your time (or money, if/where relevant) to support what locals are doing to make the destination you’re visiting a better place.

By giving, you will inevitably receive a beautiful experience, positive feelings associated with the helping of others, and if you believe in this as I do, good karma too.

 

Expert advice

We got so excited about this topic we decided to check-in with a couple of inspiring friends who are also wellness experts. Happy and healthy holiday ideas, they say:

You are on holiday so the most important thing is to relax. Listen to your natural breath wherever you are to calm a busy mind – this can also ease an upset tummy. Busy day sightseeing or long flight? Then lie on a bed and put your feet up the wall – this relieves tired legs and stimulates the restful part of the nervous system. And laugh – it’s good for the soul!”
Flavia Munn, health journalist and yoga teacher (and guest blogger here with a story about attending a yoga retreat in Turkey).

 

Particularly if you’re on a long holiday, it can be beneficial to try and keep up some of your home routines, though, without being too rigid and not allowing time to enjoy some decent rest and relaxation of course! I like taking a travel yoga mat with me for holidays like this. Having my mat around encourages me to make some time for my practise. It’s light and folds up small, so it’s easy to travel with. Even if I just do a couple of sun salutations or a few simple poses it helps me hold onto those positive habits or regular practise and more easily settle back into my usual rhythm when I return home again.”
Sarah McFadden, yoga teacher.

 

We’d love to hear from you with your advice, suggestions or questions about happy and healthy holiday ideas. Please drop us a line in the comments below.