HEADSPACE + HEARTSPACE Page 1 of 21

Lessons from the forest. Or how to do forest bathing (森林浴 shinrin-yoku )

It’s not often I find myself lying face-up on a snow-covered forest floor, tracking bird flight while listening for the distant sound of water. Above me, the trees are silhouetted against a sky the colour of stonewashed jeans, the tips of the smaller branches silvered by the late-winter sun.

I am in Takashima, a small town on the edge of Lake Biwa, treating myself to the grounding experience of shinrin-yoku (森林浴 forest bathing) – a term coined in 1982 by the Director General of Japan’s Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Agency, Tomohide Akiyama. A relatively new therapy, originating in Japan, it has now been scientifically proven to confirm something we have always known in our bones: trees can make us well.

As our lives become increasingly fast-paced and sanitised, many of us are feeling disconnected from nature and from ourselves, as if something important is missing. People have long understood that spending time in nature, and specifically among trees in a forest, has a calming effect, but is only in the past decade or so that consistent peer-reviewed scientific results have added weight to the idea of it as a preventative medicine. This has subsequently led to use of the term ‘forest therapy’. Results point to increased mental wellness, boosted immune systems and reduced stress levels, heart rate and blood pressure.1

These effects are not only due to the calm atmosphere and gentle exercise, but also to actual interactions with the trees. One piece of research found that after a forest-bathing trip, subjects had significantly higher numbers of so-called natural killer (NK) cells, a type of lymphocyte that boosts the immune system’s defences against viruses and cancers – an effect that lasted for seven days after the experience. Further studies have suggested that the immune boost was, at least in part, a result of exposure to phytoncides, a substance emitted by plants and trees.2

Back in the forest, home to deer, monkeys, wild boar and bears, March has arrived but the cold season lingers; the trees are still dark and bare. Birds’ nests are easier to see when there is no leaf coverage. I watch a couple of feathered friends, nuthatches perhaps, hop from branch to branch in playful chase, and delight in having nowhere else to be.

Our guide, Mr Shimizu, is an energetic retiree with fantastic knowledge of the local flora and fauna. Head to toe in red, with a bottle of green tea hanging from his belt, he carries a stethoscope around his neck, for listening to water, of course. He is one of hundreds of certified Forest Therapy Guides working at official sites across Japan.

Shimizu-san has seen this particular trail in every season, and knows its secrets intimately. ‘Come and look at this moss,’ he calls, offering a magnifying glass. ‘And here, see how the snow has melted around the trunks of these beech trees? That’s their energy at work.’ He invites us to go slowly, use all our senses and notice the details of the world alive all around us.

Our therapy session had begun a couple of hours earlier. First, we washed our hands in a small stream, feeling the coolness of the water and listening to the gurgle as it fell over a low waterfall. A gentle hike took us to the base of a gulley, from where a 180-degree turn offered a view of distant fields and mountains. There, we stopped for water and roasted almonds, before our first silent exercise. We each had to pick a direction, and look first to the far distance, then the middle distance, then up close, to see how the same view changed, depending on what we focused on.

In other forest-therapy sessions, you might hear flute music, spend time in a hammock to soak in the healing power of the trees, meditate or go barefoot to sense different surfaces beneath your feet. It depends on the location, the guide and the season. 

‘It is clear that our bodies still recognise nature as our home, which is important to consider as increasing numbers of people are living in cities and urban environments,’ says Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki, Deputy Director of the Centre for Environment Health and Field Sciences at Chiba University, who proposed the term ‘forest therapy’ to describe shinrin-yoku supported by scientific evidence.3

His research has measured the direct benefits of forest therapy, which include an increase in those NK cells, known to fight tumours and infection, increased relaxation and reduced stress, reduction in blood pressure after just fifteen minutes and a general sense of wellbeing.

‘It is not just forests that can have a beneficial effect on our wellbeing,’ Professor Miyazaki says. ‘Other natural stimuli, such as parks, flowers, bonsai and even pieces of wood have been shown to reduce stress, making these effects attainable for all of us, even city-dwellers.’4

In the end, I was glad I had forced myself out from my cosy futon when the moon was still high in the sky, to catch an early train out to the forest. I left relaxed and rejuvenated, and slept like a baby that night.

Writing in The Anatomy of Self, a classic book looking into the Japanese character, psychiatrist Takeo Doi made the fascinating observation that Japanese people likely feel so fond of nature because when they are in it, they don’t have to subscribe to any of society’s rules: ‘They become one with nature so to speak . . . From their viewpoint therefore they feel more human with nature than with humans.’5 I am pretty sure many non-Japanese people feel this way too.

Natural wellness

There is great value in the scientific evidence which reassures skeptics of the benefits of spending time in forests, and official shinrin-yoku has encouraged large numbers of people into the woods, which is to be celebrated.

However, we should not be mistaken in thinking that you have to be on an official trail, with an official guide, to enjoy the healing power of the trees. I think we have a huge opportunity to take the principles of evidence-based forest therapy and let them loose in wilder areas. Walking. Hiking. Doing yoga among the trees. Climbing the trees. Embracing them. Talking to them. Sitting with our backs to the trees writing in our journals.

There is a lovely phrase in Japanese, kachō fūgetsu (花鳥風月). It literally means flower-bird-wind-moon. It refers to contemplating the beauty of nature. This kind of contemplation can prompt reflection on our own inner nature and remind us of our role as part of a magnificent whole, which puts everything in perspective.

My hope for forest bathing is that it becomes like yoga – a practice that is worth learning from a trained teacher, but can also be done alone or in a small group, away from too much structure and equipment and rules. Just you and the trees – or maybe you, the trees and your yoga mat – finding your own rhythm and deepening your connection with nature.

The forest invites us to open our hearts and listen.

The medicine of the forest is far more than a contemporary wellness trend. People have lived in forests since ancient times. Nature is in our blood. It’s in our bones. It’s in our very human spirit. It is the haunting call of the mountains and the swirling pull of the sea; the whispering of the wind and the secrets in the trees.

To me, forest bathing is not about doing something new; it’s about something we know deep down, but that many of us have forgotten. When you spend time in a gentle forest and experience moments of mindfulness among the trees, you feel held, supported, transported. It’s like coming back to an old friend, who will pull you in close and whisper secrets in your ear if only you’ll show up at their door.

In the modern world, we spend so much of our time shut up in sanitised boxes – in our homes, our cars, our offices. Taking time to step out of those boxes and get close to the wild outdoors sharpens our senses and reminds us of the preciousness of life. We sometimes need everything to be stripped away to reveal the true beauty. We need the simplicity to remind us that life isn’t all about accumulating stuff. And we need the birdsong and big skies to remind us that we are part of nature. Wildness is a part of who we are.

Top tips for forest bathing

Here are some tips for forest bathing among trees near you. Why not take a copy of this list with you next time you go for a woodland adventure:

  • Walk slowly. Now slow your pace by half. And by half again.
  • Be present. Keep your phone in your pocket.
  • Use all your senses to explore your environment. Notice the feel of the ground under your feet, the taste of the air, the wind in the trees, the light and the shadows. Look up, down and all around.
  • Cup your hands behind your ears to capture more sounds of the forest. What can you hear? Where is the sound coming from? Is it low down or high up? Is it near or far?
  • Touch things. Notice how different bark, branches and leaves feel.
  • Notice where things are in their life cycle. What is emerging? What is growing? What is fading?
  • Breathe deeply. What can you smell?
  • Watch the sky. Look for movement. Count colours. How many shades of one colour can you see? Stay watching long enough to notice changes.
  • If you can identify what is safe to eat, taste a berry or a leaf slowly, and with gratitude.
  • Pick up a fallen gift of the forest and look at it closely. What can you see?
  • Spend some time in silence, even if you are in a group. In fact, especially if you are in a group. Try meditating, stretching or just sitting with your back against a tree.
  • Lie in a hammock between two trees. Ask the trees’ permission before you set up camp.
  • Take off your shoes and feel the earth beneath your feet or dip your toes in a stream.
  • Notice how you feel when you are held by the forest. Don’t rush. Linger as long as you can.
  • Find a particular spot you are drawn to and spend time there. Name it. Make up a story about it. Come back on another day, in another season, and see what has changed.

While taking a moment in nature, ask yourself these questions:

  • How do you feel when you are being held by the forest?
  • What stories of the land rise up to greet you as you stretch your arms wide and open your heart?
  • What secrets might you want to share with the running river or the wise old tree?
  • What wishes will you scatter in the woods like fallen leaves, to be carried on the wind to a place you cannot know?
  • What promise do you make to yourself, on this day, in this place?

Note: please be sure to take the usual safety precautions when going into the forest. And if you cannot get to a cluster of trees near you right now, try putting cypress or cedar oil in your diffuser, or bring some plants into your home. (See Chapter 2 for other ideas on how to bring nature indoors.)

***

References:

1 Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4997467/ Retrieved 20 March 2018.

2 Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20074458 Retrieved 20 March 2018.

3 Miyazaki Yoshifumi, Shinrin-yoku: The Japanese Way of Forest Bathing for Health and Relaxation (London: Aster, 2018) p.11.

4 ibid. p.23.

5 Doi Takeo, The Anatomy of Self: Individual Versus Society (Tōkyō: Kōdansha, 1985) p.159.

***

Post by Beth Kempton. The above essay is is an extract from my book Wabi Sabi: Japanese wisdom for a perfectly imperfect life (Piatkus)

Lessons from the forest. Or how to do forest bathing (森林浴 shinrin-yoku ) WS BANNER1

Metamorphosis, in front of my eyes.

A month ago the postman knocked at the door. “You’d better open this one soon,” he winked, handing a brown box to our six-year old birthday girl. “Are they dead, mummy?” she asked wide-eyed, carefully lifting the clear pot out of the box and staring at the five motionless hairy caterpillars inside, sprawled across some pale brown gunk. “Erm, I think they are sleeping,” I hoped, quietly wondering whether it was legal to send living things in the post.

A week later those caterpillars had eaten all the gunk at the bottom of the jar, quadrupled in size and crawled up to the underside of the lid, to dangle like a showoff doing one-handed tricks on monkey bars. Over the next couple of days they seemed to grow a cocoon, as if it was their own body thickening up, rather than spinning a web around themselves as I had always imagined. When those chrysalides hardened, we carefully lifted the lid off the pot, creatures still attached, and transferred it to the pop-up net habitat that had arrived with our unusual package. Over the next few days the chrysalides darkened and texturized into charcoal grey beads flecked with gold.

I became obsessed with them, watching for the slightest changes in their outer layer, imagining I could see the imprint of folded wings pushing against the hard casing. One sunny morning we went to the beach for a couple of hours, and piled back into the house all noisy and sandy before someone cried, “Look!” Three butterflies had emerged, and were clinging to the wall of their net home. Their shed skins remained attached to the lid at one end, the other end burst through in that moment of emergence.

Metamorphosis, in front of my eyes. BUTTERFLY BANNER 2540 x 600 4

They began as caterpillars and emerged as butterflies. I knew it was likely to happen. Of course I did. I had learnt about it in primary school forty years ago. But still I’m not sure I believed it would actually work. It seemed unfathomable. How did the caterpillars know what to do? How was that brown gunk enough to create something so beautiful? Where were their wings hidden? Surely they didn’t just spin them like fairy fabric in a matter of days? And how on earth did three of them emerge within an hour or so of each other, after all that time? (The other two had been disturbed when we moved them to their habitat and had fidgeted for a while. That must have taken some of their energy reserves, and they were the last to emerge a couple of days later)

Perhaps what amazed me the most was the realization that the caterpillar doesn’t actually turn into the butterfly, changing its whole body and so on. Rather it simply grows wings. I don’t think I knew that before, but having studied them so closely before they became chrysalides, I recognized their caterpillar faces as butterflies. Close up they were the essentially the same. From a distance they were completely new. When we released them, they instinctively knew what to do.

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Their period of retreat had been an intense period of growth, away from the world, still and silent yet intensely fertile as they spun potential from their own bodies. What emerged was not another creature, but the same one, changed. The same face, but with the courage and confidence that wings can bring – wings they didn’t have to think to grow, but rather wings that grew on them, when they surrendered to the process, and trusted. Metamorphosis, just like that.

I am sending this to you from a short writing retreat where I too am surrendering to the process. It isn’t easy, or comfortable, but my winged friends reminded me that I don’t have to work so hard at it. Instead I just need to get quiet and wait. Then I’ll know what to write, or I perhaps will be written.

Have a good week friends,
Beth Xx

Metamorphosis, in front of my eyes. EYL 2540 BANNER 4 ZOLTAN TASI 1

PS Did you know I have a brand new course starting on Monday? It’s called Excavate Your Life: writing towards clarity and direction. This extraordinarily rich five week life-exploration/personal development/writing course is a unique opportunity to discover what you really want from life. And as a special treat to celebrate its launch you can get 30% off with the code DIGDEEP if you register here by Monday.

(Butterfly images: Holly Bobbins Photography. Lotus image: Unsplash/Zoltan Tasi)

Excavate Your Life (brand new personal development + writing course!)

For months now I have been working on a brand new course which combines personal development and writing, as a way to navigate life. Excavate Your Life is a rich online course which offers a unique opportunity to explore what you really want from life, while honing your writing skills. Join me, bestselling self-help author Beth Kempton as I guide you on a wild and beautiful journey towards clarity and direction. Each weekday for five weeks you will get a juicy lesson (audio, video, journaling worksheet and writing challenge) to help you go deep and stretch your writing. By the end of the course, the alchemical nature of it all will ensure you have a stronger sense of what really matters to you, and a clearer idea of where to focus your time, energy and attention. Not to mention having much more confidence in your writing after all that practice…

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This is a very special hybrid writing and personal growth course which I have designed to help you find clarity and direction, both in your writing and in your life. I have spent more than a decade helping people to navigate change and reconfigure their lives to do what they love. I have also written a series of self-help books, all connected by a thread of making the most of this precious life.

It’s so easy in the rush of the modern world to go through the motions of each day without stopping to think what it’s all about, whether we are actually awake to our experience, and how we want to make the most of whatever is left, without knowing how long that will be. Personally I find journaling and writing incredibly powerful tools to help me tune in to the world, to my life, to other people, and to myself. I have brought all of this together in this course, with the aim that by the end of it you will be inspired, motivated and ready for whatever might be next.

To celebrate the launch of this brand new course you are invited to join with a 30% discount – just use the coupon code DIGDEEP when you register here by Monday August 23 (when class begins). Sign up now and start excavating your life. You never know what goodness you might find.

Beth Xx

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Who’s it for?

This is for you if any of the following are true:

  • You want to make a major change in life
  • You are wondering ‘What should I do with my life?’
  • You need help figuring out what you really want
  • You want to shake things up and get out of a rut
  • You want to mine your life for its most valuable lessons
  • You are looking for a sense of meaning and purpose OR
  • You want to write a memoir or a book that explores the human experience

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What’s included?

The course has been designed as a five-week intensive class, and includes:

  • Daily Spark audios to get your creative juices flowing
  • Daily video lessons, each guiding you to excavate your life from a different perspective
  • Daily journaling worksheets to guide you gently through the excavation process, seeking out clues and patterns to help you envision what kind of life you want to create
  • Daily writing challenges to push you out of your writing comfort zone and explore what you are really capable of
  • PLUS Along the way I include a host of insights into my experience helping thousands of people to navigate change, and writing five self-help books

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About your tutor

Beth Kempton has spent the last decade helping tens of thousands of people find creative ways to live well doing what they love, through powerful online courses and workshops as founder of Do What You Love. Beth writes self-help books which have been translated into 24 languages.

Her bestselling book ‘Wabi Sabi: Japanese wisdom for a perfectly imperfect lifehas been recommended by TIME Magazine, British Vogue, The Telegraph, and Psychologies Magazine, described as ‘a truly transformational read’ by Sunday Times Style. She is also the author of Freedom Seeker: Live more. Worry less. Do what you love., Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year and most recently, We Are in This Together: Finding hope and opportunity in the depths of adversity’ (Piatkus) which she wrote in sixteen days in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. Mother of two adorable girls, she lives a slow-ish life in Devon, UK.

Important note

Please be aware that this is not a replacement for clinical therapy. Please seek professional clinical advice if you need it. Please also note that this class does not include specific advice on writing technique or any feedback on individual writing samples. It is a self-paced course so there is no direct interaction with Beth. It is also designed as a very personal experience so there is no private community with this course.

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FAQ

Do I have to be online at a certain time to join in?

The classroom will open on August 23, 2021, and content will be released from that date. You do not have to log on at a certain time – you can follow the course at whatever pace suits you. You will have classroom access until January 31 2023 and most of the content is downloadable anyway.

Can I join if I live outside of the UK?

Yes you can join from anywhere.

Any other questions?

Drop the team a line at [email protected] and we’ll be happy to help.

Comfort + joy in winter

Nourishing your mind at this time of year can look as simple as turning away from overstimulation—to-do lists, screens, loud music, bright lights, toxic conversations—and making your way into nature, open spaces, fresh air, peace and quiet. Try counting the shades of evergreens, inhaling the aroma of wild herbs, listening for signs of life. On cold, sunny days, look for berries, or different leaf shapes, or visiting birds. Seek out hardy plants emerging from cracks in the pavement. Make bark rubbings with a little person. Fill up a feeder for the birds. I find the ever-changing sky a powerful tonic for the soul. For you, it might be the nearness of water, or the bare bones of trees, stripped of their leaves. Seek whatever you need. Document your finds. Photograph them. Sketch them. Forage a few samples for your bedside table. Or nourish your mind with words—write about your day, take time out with an inspiring podcast or a good book, or settle in for a long conversation.

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With England heading back into national lockdown today, and tensions high for so many people, it seems like a good time to look for ways to find comfort and joy in winter. This week’s episode of The Calm Christmas Podcast is all about that, and it’s out now on iTunes, on Spotify or here on my website.

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I also invite you to join my Winter Writing Sanctuary, a two-week online class starting on November 23. Given all that is going on in the world right now I have decided to make this completely FREE. Book your place here and join me and hundreds of other writers from all around the world as we escape into a cosy world of words this winter. All levels welcome. Hope to see you there!

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Take good care
Beth Xx

 

Observing the seasonal metronome

I am writing this at the desk in my attic, raindrops splashing against the tiny window, blurring the yellows, reds and turning greens on the tall trees outside. We are in the microsesason of 霎時施 Kosame tokidoki furu, which roughly translates as ‘Light rain showers from time to time’. Japan has 72 of these microseasons, or , each lasting about five days.  

I love the idea of the calendar being used as prompt for noticing such small shifts around us. The names of these microseasons track changes in nature, and offer a gentle beat behind the rhythm of the year. 東風解凍 Harukaze kōri o toku ‘East wind melts the ice’ in February, and 桃始笑 Momo hajimete saku ‘First peach blossoms’ in March through 蒙霧升降 Fukaki kiri matō ‘Thick fog descends’ in August and 閉塞成冬 Sora samuku fuyu to naru ‘Cold sets in, winter begins’ in December.

These names originally came from China but did not align with the local seasonal changes in Japan, particularly around Kyoto, so in the late seventeenth century court astronomer Shibukawa Shunkai renamed them. Even with the impact of climate change and the shifts in seasonal timings I have noticed in my own lifetime, there is still a poetic resonance to their passage through the year.

It seems that in nature five days is short enough for a single observation to hold true, yet long enough for things to change, so the next five day season is distinct from the previous one. These microseasons seem to roll from one to the next, and yet they are separate, a little like the days of our lives.

The seasons are a kind of wabi sabi metronome, a steady call back to the present, to noticing, savouring and treasuring.

What have you noticed has emerged with the changing seasons lately? I’d love to know. Come and share over on Instagram @bethkempton.

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Join me for a restorative wellness retreat at River Cottage!

 

It is with real delight that I can reveal I will be hosting the first ever wellness retreat at the famous River Cottage HQ, deep in the English countryside here in Devon from 17-21 June 2019, and I would love for you to join me.

Your home for the week will be the 17th century farmhouse and 100-acre smallholding made famous by the long-running TV programme featuring chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

This very special intimate residential retreat will be an opportunity to step away from the rush and chaos of daily life and reconnect – with nature, with food and with yourself. Spending five days in this utterly gorgeous part of the world, you’ll have the opportunity to relax, recharge and explore what you really need in your life right now. I would love to spend this precious time helping you get a fresh perspective and practice self-care.

Through expert nutrition advice from gut health specialist Naomi Devlin, yoga with Barbara Mella, guided reflection, mindful outdoor activities, fireside conversations and more, you will get clarity on how to create more space, and make choices that support your own physical and emotional wellbeing. All this while being nourished with delicious organic food prepared by the River Cottage chefs, and hosted by… me!

If you are feeling stressed and exhausted, overstretched and overwhelmed, or lacking focus and direction, you will find this retreat to be a healing tonic. You will be pampered with attention, food, friendship and time, and leave rested, centred and inspired, with new wellbeing tools and renewed intention.

Every detail of this retreat has been designed to support and nourish you. You will laugh, you will probably cry, you will learn, you will connect, and you will go away feeling like a freshly revealed version of your true self.
Over the course of the five days of the retreat (running 17-21 June 2019) you will be treated with:
• Delicious organic food: all of your nutritionally balanced meals and snacks are included
• Daily yoga
• Mindfulness
• Daily inner wellness sessions with me
• Two full days of hands on cookery classes covering topics such as gut health, fermentation, healthy breakfasts and lunches, mindful eating and flavour bombs.
• Coastal walk along the stunning Jurassic Coast
• Kitchen garden foraging
• Lunch cooked on the beach
• Herbal workshop
• Nutritional advice and discussions
• Reading, relaxing, reflecting by a roaring log fire or under a starry sky
• All rooms and bell tents have comfortable beds with luxury mattresses and bedding

I very much hope to see you there. It’s a small retreat so places are very limited, and there are only a handful left so if you want to be part of this magical experience, hop on over to the River Cottage website and book your spot now. Then be sure to let me know you are attending!

Beth Xx

 

The link between exercise, mindfulness, wellness and healing

I am curious, what are you like when it comes to exercising? I have been going to the gym three times a week for the past three months, in the biggest concerted exercise effort to get fitter since my children were born. (I walk a ton, but I am not a big fan of gyms.) I had my first assessment a couple of weeks ago and discovered I have lost a staggering six years off my metabolic age.
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I am 41 but my body was working at the rate of an average 50 year old two months ago. That shocked me more than any weigh-in. Now it’s down to 44 and I still have a way to go but I have so much more energy, feel fitter and stronger. The time I notice it most is when I’m running around with my girls, or getting up after playing on the floor with them. ?The older I get the more I want to be fit and strong so this is fresh motivation to keep on going. And the clearer skin is just a bonus. It also reminded me that the gym is about so much more than weight or what you look like.

I have also been super inspired by Mr K who is doing an amazing job training for three back-to-back marathons in October!? What staggers me most is that he runs for hours without music. He says it’s the best time for him to think.
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The lakes where I have been cycling alongside Mr K as he does his marathon training

I usually go for the 7.30am session. In fact, I just got back, and love that I am starting my day with some exercise already done and a fresh head. I’ve noticed that my favourite fitness trainers are the ones who don’t talk too much, because I love the headspace you can find when doing the same exercises over and over.

This brought to mind a conversation I had with my friend and sports journalist Tina Chantrey, Editor of Women’s Running magazine, who I interviewed for the latest instalment of my podcast. She went through a difficult divorce, and told me how running had been her sanctuary, and ultimately helped her heal. She went on to write a fascinating book about it, called The Divorce Survival Guide – if you are interested in the mindfulness and stress-relieving benefits of running, as well as wanting some tips for getting started, make sure you check out this week’s episode.

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Talking about headspace and mindfulness, we had a lovely guest post here on the blog last week, all about meditation for parents. Here it is, if you missed it.

This week I challenge you to up your exercise game, whether that means running a little further, fitting in a dance class or simply taking a walk in your lunch break, and allow your mind to wander as you move.

Beth Xx

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Why Every Parent Needs More Headspace

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by guest writer Alison Qualter-Berna

The mother of a 6-month-old baby rushes to the kitchen as soon as her daughter falls asleep so she can mash organic avocado into the BPA free glass bowl she just bought. You know the kind; the one promising to seal in nutrients. As her breastmilk seems to be dwindling with each passing day, making her feel insecure and insufficient, she feels she has to provide supplemental nutrition where she can. She stops briefly to read 4 lines of an article about what she’s “supposed” to do when, alas, naptime is over and it’s back to parenthood. As she picks up her bundle of magic, she realizes she’s yet to brush her teeth.

The father of a 6-year-old child rushes home from the office to do “homework” with his first grader wondering if all little boys swing from the headboard while they are reading. The human brain can absorb vocabulary while upside down, can’t it? Is he the only one who doesn’t read chapter books yet? Is the dad the only father trying to squeeze the love of an entire afternoon into a few precious, tired hours before bed?

The mother of a 16-year-old teenager watches her daughter walk out of the house to go to a birthday party wearing a half shirt. Is it okay or if she suggests something with more coverage or does it means she’s sexualizing what is simply a fashion trend?  She swallows her inner disapproval with a smile that says ‘I love you no matter what,’ only to receive a comment about how much homework is on deck for the next day…that of course after the ride to soccer and then the drive to lacrosse in another state. Her overscheduled brain will still figure out how her daughter will fit piano and cello practice in before the big recital. “Oh, and I forgot…Mom, can you set your alarm for 6am? I need you to quiz me in science”

Every phase of parenthood is both blissfully fulfilling and (if you’re all in) utterly exhausting. You love and you love, and you give and you give, but some days you wonder where did I go?  Is there a pause button I can press in the struggle to find myself?

Enter meditation.

Meditation carries the answers to so many issues facing parents and yet many of us are too busy to slow down, let alone sit in silence for 10 or 15 minutes. There are lots of ways to get started and workshops to explore but the simplest way is right in your back pocket on your smartphone. My absolutely favorite app is called Headspace. Headspace is ideal for new meditators or for busy parents because it’s an app that makes it all accessible. You don’t have to sit cross-legged. You don’t have to practice yoga. You don’t have to be versed in Buddhist philosophy.  You just have to commit to taking 10 minutes for yourself, every single day.

Headspace’s incredibly varied theme packs range from managing anxiety or stress, to finding productivity or happiness. Whether you are looking to be more productive in your days or heal childhood wounds, meditation has a (different) answer for each one of us. I have many friends who seem to crave meditation but ask me how I can possibly fit it into my hour-to-hour, frenetic work days. I invite them to simply try Andy’s soothing and knowledgeable voice on Headspace for just 10 minutes a day for 10 days and then check back with me. Every single time I hear about the positive change it makes…and in such a short window of time.

Meditation offers a safe space for each of us to start a conversation with ourselves, however afraid we might be to have it.  What parent doesn’t long for the time to explore the musings in the mind and simply observe them, without judgement? Meditation can be exactly that “pause button” we crave as busy parents.

In that pause, we can learn many lessons that support not only our parenting journey but all of our relationships.

  • Meditation teaches us about letting go. Meditation helps us internalize letting go which may be the most difficult task of a loving parent: letting your infant sleep on their own, letting your toddler explore their boundaries, letting your young child lose or fail, letting your teenager individuate, letting your young adult enter the great big world. Meditation is a practice that supports our efforts to relinquish control and simply celebrate the various roads our children will travel.
  • Meditation teaches us to be comfortable in uncertainty. After 12 years of working with families I have not met a parent who isn’t racked with uncertainty.  How do I potty train my strong-willed child?  How come my kid won’t eat anything that’s green? Can I get my child into the best preschool? What should I do if my child doesn’t make the soccer team? What should I say when my teenager admits she’s been drinking? What do I do if my child is moving in a direction I didn’t expect? We long for answers but the truth is that life simply unfolds. Meditation teaches us to sit with the uncertainty until we get to the moment when we need to act. And when we do, we respond in a calmer and more centered way.
  • Meditation teaches us to be fully present. In these incredible tech-heavy times, I see too many parents on their phones while their child is talking to them, and too many kids with their face in their devices when they should be having face to face conversations. Meditation encourages us to step out of what we are doing and get into the present moment. There is no guilt in being swallowed by your inbox (I am) or working all day only to miss your child’s dinner and bath. But in those 30 rushed minutes before bed, meditation teaches us how to make those fleeting minutes the most present time you can spend with your child. I always tell parents it’s the quality of time you spend with your child, not the quantity. Meditation supports that line of thinking and the benefits are endless.
  • Meditation teaches us to be more empathetic and really see through the lens of our child. My babies are now teenagers and I have a deep well of empathy for their experiences.  But when I’m stretched thin or overly exhausted, I can easily forget that my way isn’t the only way. Meditation teaches us to be more sensitive to their needs, even if they aren’t meeting ours. The best part of this gift is its translation into every other relationship in life.
  • Meditation actually makes us less tired and more patient. If I could capture the number one thing parents have told me over the last decade at apple seeds, it very often comes back to, “I need more sleep.” Babies keep us up all night because they need us and teenagers keep us up all night because they don’t need us. It seems counterintuitive but taking just 10 or 20 minutes out of your day to meditate actually adds to how much you get done in that day. Your level of patience goes up and you complete more tasks in a less frenetic way. Meditation can improve your sleep which makes us less agitated. I used to pop a pill to fall back to sleep and now I just reach for Headspace. Headspace is the healthiest (and cheapest) cure for insomnia on the market.
  • Meditation is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children. We spend so much time and money on our kids and I often wonder if they greatest gift we could ever give to them is actually free. In this crazy world, as more and more screens dominate our children’s minds, teaching them to meditate and be present or mindful is a gift they will carry throughout their lives. Not many other things we give our kids can compare. Meditation can teach a child to step out of their mind and observe their thoughts, helping them manage natural anxieties, increase their level of empathy, and help them navigate the throes of life.

Someone once told me that I should take note of how I feel immediately after doing something. If it doesn’t feel positive, then I should stop. If it does, then I should seek more. I keep seeking meditation because it always shows up. It’s like a daily morning date with my mind, and a safe space to explore questions where I’m still longing for answers. It’s a way for me to find separation from issues that can overtake me and allow new ideas to flow in. It’s a way to for me to start my day more centered and grounded, ready to parent with calmer energy, and ready to walk into my office and face anything that comes.

Perhaps most importantly, meditation is way for me to let go of things I hold on to and internalize the deep appreciation for every single ounce of what I’ve got.  What busy parent doesn’t need that reminder?

Editor’s note: We also love Insight Timer (especially Yoga Nidra for Sleep with Jennifer Piercy) and Buddhify, created by our friend Rohan Gunatillake.

About Alison Qualter-Berna: Alison lives in NYC with her husband and three children. She spent five years in production at NBC News and six years at UNICEF where she created and managed a global program in Sports for Development. After her twin girls were born, she created apple seeds, an all-in-one play space for children 0-5 years, with three NYC locations and 20 songs for seeds music franchises. Alison is obsessed with yoga and endurance challenges. With her friends, she formed the nonprofit Team See Possibilities, making history three times.

Feeling rushed and exhausted? Try our on-demand course ‘How to be Happy (and Calm, Organized + Focused)

Read more about finding headspace and heartspace in ‘Freedom Seeker: Live more. Worry less. Do what you love.” by DWYL Founder Beth Kempton:

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Feeling stuck? This could help you figure out what to do next!

Feeling stuck? This could help you figure out what to do next! FREEDOM SEEKER WORKBOOK V1 0111

I am writing this on a train, whizzing north through the English countryside to a beautiful hidden place, for a week-long writing retreat to work on my next book. The fields outside my window are veiled in frost and mist, and I just found myself doing a long and slow exhale. You know the kind that you do at that moment when you realise all your holiday preparations are finally done, your bags are packed, your out-of-office is on and your adventure has actually begun? That kind of breath.

To me the idea of having a whole week stretching ahead of me to write (which means to wander and ponder, walk in the hills and think deeply about one particular thing, chew my pencil, eat chocolate and drink copious amounts of tea) is dreamy. It’s one of the times that I really feel free, and my life is better for it.

I’m sharing this with you because I want that for you too, whatever your version of feeling free might look like. Which brings me to our newest tool to help you figure it out!

Since Freedom Seeker was published a year ago (Is that all? It feels like several lifetimes!) I have been humbled and delighted to hear how it has helped so many of you discover so much more about yourself, and inspired you to move in a new direction. One of the things I have heard over and over is what a difference it made to have practical exercises in every chapter of the book, so it goes beyond inspiration to real and immediate action.

In order to make it even easier for you to take that action, we have designed this elegantly beautiful new Freedom Seeker Workbook to accompany the book. It’s an action plan for living more, worrying less and doing what you love. And it’s in digital format so you can either type straight into it, or print it out and use it like a personal journal.

The Workbook contains versions of all the exercises from the original book, with space to scribble your thoughts and responses, and ready-made templates where they are helpful. 78 pages of goodness to help you make an action plan for moving towards your dreams!

Get your Workbook here, and dive in!

And if you haven’t read Freedom Seeker go and get your copy now to read alongside the workbook, or get it on Audible and let me read the book to you, while you sit somewhere cosy with a cup of tea and let the Workbook work its magic!

Right, it’s time for me to switch off and get writing. I’ll see you on the other side…

Beth Xx

 

5 steps to decluttering your life {VIDEO}

It’s that time of year. Are you feeling the burning desire to declutter and pare things down, but don’t know where to start? If so, here are some top tips for you:

Now, no more procrastinating. Off you go and begin!

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