Mindfulness

Exercising being in all of your five senses.

Maria has been in charge of our Instagram this month, where the theme has been "Our five senses". Concluding this lovely journey through touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing she offers an exercise that anyone can try next time it's time for food: 

Our five senses

This is a very good exercise, both because it includes all of our five senses and because eating so easily becomes habitual and stressful for us, which is not a very good thing for neither our digestive system nor the mindfulness perspective. You can start by just reading it through and then trying it with something to eat. Enjoy!

 Begin by connecting to your breath and body, feel your feet on the ground and notice your experience in this moment. With your awareness in this moment, notice any thoughts, sensations or emotions you are experiencing. (Pause) 

Tune into the awareness or sensation that you have in your body of feeling hungry, thirsty or maybe even feeling full. If you were going to eat or drink something right now, what is your body hungry for? What is it thirsty for? Just pay attention and notice with awareness the sensations that give you this information. (Pause) 

Now, bring your attention to the item in your hand and imagine that you are seeing it for the first time. Observe with curiosity as you pay attention and notice the color, shape, texture, and size. Is there anything else that you notice, sense or feel? (Pause) 

Imagine what it took for this item to get to your hands: sunshine, water, time, processing, and shipping. You may choose to be aware of gratitude for everyone involved in the cultivation and preparation of this item of food. You may choose to bring in your own gratitude or spiritual blessing. (Pause) 

Now place the item between your fingers and feel the texture, temperature and ridges. You may notice smoothness or stickiness. Again, notice if you have any thoughts, sensations or emotions at this time. Continue to breathe and be fully present in this moment. (Pause) 

Take the piece of food and bring it toward your nose and smell with your full awareness. Notice if you have any memories, sensations or reactions in your body. Even before you eat it, you may notice that you begin to have a digestive response in your body just by noticing and smelling. (Pause) 

With full awareness of your hand moving toward your mouth, place the object (fruit or chocolate) into your mouth without chewing or swallowing it. Just allow it to be in your mouth, roll it around to different parts of your mouth and tongue. Notice the flavor and texture. Notice the physical sensations within your body, especially your mouth and your gut. Continue to breathe as you explore the sensation of having this item in your mouth. (Pause) 

Next take just one bite and notice the flavor, notice the change of texture. Then very slowly begin to chew this piece of food, and notice the parts of your mouth that are involved in chewing. Notice the sound and movement of chewing, as you continue to notice the sensations and flavor. (Pause) 

When you are ready, swallow this item and notice the path that it follows from your mouth and throat into your stomach. Notice the sensation and taste that may linger in your mouth. Connect again to your body and your breath and notice your experience in this moment. (Pause) 

Next, I invite you to pick up another food item, and choose to eat it however you wish. Noticing your choice and your experience. Notice how it is similar or different. (Pause for 30-60 seconds, and then return to large group discussion about the experience).

Feminism from a mindful perspective

We haven't figured out how to change the author of the blog posts yet, so suffice to say that this post is written by Maria, not Frida as it says above. Enjoy!

My interest for feminism started early in life and I have never had a problem with calling myself a feminist or to fight for equality. But as for many of us, the teenage version of me saw everything from a more black or white perspective than I do nowadays. Life makes you humble and wise. Unfortunately, it also tends to make us more lazy, less engaged and more hopeless with time. Going through my university education, trying out partner relationships and having children made me for years feel ashamed of not being as hardcore in my everyday life as I in my values had stated to be. It made my question if I could really call myself a feminist at all. I have never lost my interest for feminism, but one might say that the problems seemed so big I partly lost my hope.

Having my son 5 years ago made me relate to this issue in a new way. After his birth I soon realized that what I had been told was true. The expectations on a little boy was different from those on a little girl, and many mistook my son for a girl when I chose to dress him in pink and keep his long, dark beautiful hair. I didn’t mind that people mistook him for a girl, but I did mind that they didn’t question their own prejudices. 10 months ago I had a daughter and experienced the same thing, but the other way around. It was starting to make me more irritated than anything else. My fighting spirit was given fire again and I started reading more inspiring literature and listening to feminist podcasts. I started being more hardcore again in my everyday life; being bolder with my statements, being less humble and more demanding. Once again, as in my teenage years, it seemed to make me frustrated and tired, which reduced my motivation once again.

One night, I chose to sit down with my partner and talk to him. I talked about the two perspectives in me and how they made me feel fragmented. One side of me wants to be this tough, sharp and fearless woman. One side of me wants to be this mindful, humble and compassionate person. Slowly, during our discussion, I started to see a vision where these two sides could meet. I could make certain demands of my environment, but still be humble and patient about the fact that change takes time. I could bring the discussion up, make feminism an interesting and important subject in my home, at my workplace and in my relationships, but do it from an inspiring, strengthening perspective.

I know this might be debated. Men should do this, we shouldn’t have to motivate them and so on. I think so too. But to rage on every man in my life will not make me feel more equal, will not make me happier and will not make them see the benefits of walking in the direction of creating a better world for my children to live in - so I really think we have to be smarter than that.

Of course this is still something that I think about every single day of my life and I am nowhere near satisfied but I have a plan that I follow where I both have a path that I am motivated to walk on, but still an acceptance that every piece is not in it’s right place quite yet.
So, may the compassionate fight continue!

 

Exposing yourself to your emotions – how we do it in YOMI  

Unpleasant things are, as the word indicates, mainly unpleasant and unpleasantness is usually something we like to avoid. Which is fine enough, except when we can’t. For example when it comes to our emotions.

There are things in life we have much control over and then there are things we’d like to think that we control, but that we in all honesty don’t. Our emotions fall into the latter category. Or to be more specific; our emotions are something we can regulate and approach in different way, but that they’re hard to avoid altogether.

One of the basis in YOMI is the assumption that we can’t avoid suffering, but we can find ways of dealing with emotional as well as physical pain, and we can gird ourselves with tools to approach the unpleasantness that life offers – potentially reducing the length of our suffering. In behavioral therapy the concept of exposure is one of the most powerful methods we use to help people deal with things they are afraid of. If you're scared of spiders, we expose you to spiders, it you're scared of riding in an elevator we expose you to riding in an elevator. And in the YOMI practice we use the same principle of exposure, but apply it primarily on our inner states, practicing to stay with whatever inner sensations, may it be thoughts, emotions or physical reactions, arise during our practice.

Say for example that I’m in a YOMI class, in a challenging yoga posture (perhaps “Saddle”, which you can see below) and I know that I will be in this posture for at least a few minutes. My first impulses might be to get out, to change the posture or to give up. Thoughts that arise might be “this is so uncomfortable”, “how long will we stay here for?” and “I hate this, I hate myself”. Emotions that show up might be fear (of what’s going on in the body in the position) and anger (at being in the class at all, or at myself for not being as advanced in my practice as I would’ve liked to be).

In our everyday life we often act on our initial impulses in order to avoid the unpleasant emotions and thoughts. “If I get out of the position I won’t have to feel scared or upset”. This will give us a temporary relief, but in the long run it might make us more afraid of feeling unpleasant feelings. Which might make us avoid even more situations where unpleasantness might arise. Which might make our lives more limited. And so on and so on.

And since emotions arise within us they’re hard to avoid, no matter how much we may try.

Life sometimes offer unpleasantness, pain and sadness, we may as well prepare ourselves the best we can. One way of doing this is by practicing exposure to our own emotions. Staying with them, breathing through them and observing them without reacting to them. In this example staying put in the position, letting whatever arises arise, allowing for it to be there, giving it space, reminding ourselves that all emotional states are temporary, that they all change eventually even without our meddling. On the contrary, they usually change quicker if we don’t meddle in too much. This non-meddling, non-reactive, non-judging approach to our emotions is something that intellectually might make sense, but that practically requires continuous practice and courage. And that is exactly why we’re here - to help you practice through it.  

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Why we will never tell you to “just be positive”.

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 Not to ruin the mood for anyone, but we have to be honest about one thing when it comes to YOMI: we’re not preachers of a happy-go-lucky attitude, and certainly not of a ”just think positive” one. To be honest, there is an abundance of various life coaches, mindfulness entrepreneurs and health profiles that try to sell the message that it’s up to you to change your thoughts, and that your life will be amazing once you do.

Here’s why that won’t be the recipe for a large number of people, and why saying that we can control our own thoughts can be both guilt-inducing and counterproductive:

  • Ignoring thoughts don’t make them go away
  • People have spent centuries trying to get rid of unwanted thoughts and emotions, usually with the result of more suffering in the long run.
  • Worrying does in certain cases serve a purpose for us: experienced security, even if this security is imagined more than anything
  • If you’re a worrier thinking positive probably won’t make you feel good, it will probably make you feel terrified

So, do we think that everyone should just let the negativity, catastrophic thoughts flow freely? Not quite, but we do think that we should make space for whatever arises in us, both good and bad stuff – and practice how to take care of ourselves even in hard times.

Shortly here’s what we propose:

  • Accept that your brain will continue to produce thoughts for as long as you live. This is what our brain does and likes doing the most.
  • Just because thoughts are produced doesn’t mean that we need to place any value or emphasis on them.
  • There’s a difference between avoiding thoughts and acknowledging that they are there, but without reacting to them. Doing the latter is usually more beneficial for us.  
  • Sometimes life sucks, a lot of the times life is hard. It would be stranger if this didn’t affect us than if it does. This is perfectly fine – hurtful, but in order. When we allow ourselves to be with what is, even pain, it usually subsides after a while. All emotional states eventually pass and shift.  

When we in hard times intentionally shift our gaze to what’s still working, beautiful, desired, lovely in our lives we help our brains detect the small stuff that usually get hidden when disaster strikes. By helping our brains do just that we also help our minds widen their perspective by allowing positive and negative thoughts and emotions exist side by side. We help our minds become more flexible in seeing that things seldom are black and white, but that there’s always at least a ray of light in the darkest of times, as well as a streak of darkness in the lightest of times. And that this is perfectly well.

 

Acknowledging what you have, even if you’re lacking - on the practice of gratefulness

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That gratefulness is a skill that can be learnt, rather than an inhabitant personality trait, is by now fairly well established in the research literature. More so,

When things get tough, when we’re feeling depressed or highly anxious we have a tendency to view the world more in black and white, than we usually do. This is simply how our brains work when we’re under stress or pressure; it temporarily loses the ability to be flexible. Adding on to this is the tendency our brains are pre wired with to be more susceptible for negative stimuli than neutral or positive.

With that reduced ability to stay flexible we tend to err on the negative side of things, getting so caught up in what’s not working or what we’re doing or have done wrong that we no longer see that there might also be things that are working for us.

Keyword here is also. If things are rough they are rough, and sometimes there’s not much we can do about that. Sometimes sad things happen, sometimes life sucks, as do several aspects of this world. But that doesn’t mean that all is black, lost and meaningless. It does however mean that we need to help ourselves and our brains out a little bit.

Widening our perspectives
By practicing gratefulness; intentionally acknowledging and focus on things, however small, that we are grateful for, we help our brains out. Even if we still have that tendency to automatically detect negative thoughts, emotions or situations, with practice we can help strengthen the parts of our brains that notices what we still have, what we still love, what we still are grateful for. Allowing for glimpses of light and warmth into even the toughest of moments.

How to start practicing gratefulness
Each day set aside 5-10 minutes – preferably at a time when you have time to sit down without interruptions – to remind yourself of three things that you are grateful for. Things that are working for you, things that you have done well, kind things someone has said to you, or that you have said to someone else. May it be that it switched to green just as you came to the intersection or that you got to drink an especially nice cup of coffee this morning. That a friend asked you how you were or that your children gave you a hug.

When you have reminded yourself of these three things allow yourself a moment to sit with the feelings that arise while reengaging with these small memories, breathing in gratefulness, breathing out tension. Slowly strengthening your own gratefulness practice.

 

YOMI research published – on the art of perseverance

 

2017 started off not only with the birth of a child, but also with the news that our article on the first study on the effects of YOMI Yin got accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed journal Anxiety, Stress and Coping and is now available online: Yin yoga and mindfulness: a five week randomized controlled study evaluating the effects of the YOMI program on stress and worry. Not only is this the first article on YOMI, it is also the first scientific study that has evaluated effects of Yin Yoga, which we're both surprised by and proud of.  

It has been a long process pulling this all together over several years, with plenty of little bumps in the road on our way. Many times it has forced us to remind us about our valued direction; what is important to us when it comes to our work with YOMI and why. To keep putting one foot in front of the other, or rather one reference after the other to slowly reach acknowledgment in a peer-reviewed journal. To persevere in order to reach a goal that has importance. To remind ourselves that the satisfaction after a thorough work process is blissful.

Without getting into a rant about how the scientific publishing world works, sufficient to say that the article won’t be available open access (we are very pro open access, firm believers that the results of research should be available for everyone), simply because we don’t have thousands of dollars to pay the fee. For anyone with access through a university or other academic institution, the article is available here.

We also have a few copies available for those who are very interested in our research, in YOMI and in future studies. If so, please contact us on kontakt@yomi.nu

Our mission for YOMI has always been to have it be a method that has some scientific ground, not relying merely on our own personal experiences of the practice, but also on the more objective evaluation of western science. With that in mind, this article is surely something to celebrate!

Practicing acceptance – life with a newborn

One of the pillars of mindfulness is ”beginner’s mind”; looking at things as if it were the first time we saw or experienced them. Not seldom is the comparison to how a child views the world made. We’re encouraged to learn from children and how they take on each day with a blissful beginner’s mind, simply because they are beginners at life.

Now, I do believe that we have a lot to learn from children and their ways about life, but I’ve more recently learned how being with a child is a full on acceptance boot camp.

Seven weeks ago I gave birth to my first child. Already when my water broke, three weeks early, I once again came face to face with the reality of not being able to plan life’s course of actions. I still had almost two weeks left at work, we hadn’t bought all the necessary stuff, hadn’t packed the hospital bag. And I was four days short of carrying the pregnancy to a full term, something I really had wished for and had my mind set on. But, for some reason that my brain failed to acknowledge, but my body – and baby! – seemed to understand, it was time to give birth and have life change tremendously. Lesson to be learned: don’t always trust your brain to know it all. There are so many things we cannot control, there are so many things that happen that we wish were different or that we wish we could plan for, but simply can’t.   

So this little person decided to come out, healthy and incredibly cute. Taking the acceptance boot camp to new levels in terms of not being able to control one’s every day life. Even writing this post has had to be postponed several times, due to him suddenly deciding not to sleep for that extra half hour after we’ve been on our daily walk. Or vomiting for the fourth time after a feeding, having me spend the afternoon wiping up sour milk and changing his (however adorable) clothes. Becoming a parent seems to be the grandest exposure exercise of letting go of control there is.   

Now, I could spend these first months of my newborn’s life fighting against the clock and my own arbitrary ideas on what I should accomplish, getting disappointed every time my daily plan fails since my baby’s needs still are so unpredictable. Well, not so much could spend, rather have spent. But after enough outbursts of irritation on my part I fortunately remembered to return to the pillars of mindfulness, especially those concerning acceptance and letting go.

Acceptance, as we often describe it within the field of psychology, is to be present with and endure one’s internal and external situation, without judgment or valuation. In short: to be with what is, whether you like it or not. And make your decisions based on what reality really looks like, rather than what you wish it would look like. Which in my case right now means that my days are and will continue to be somewhat unpredictable, filled with body fluids of various kinds, interrupted sleep and merely shorter periods of time to sit down by the computer to write. I can try to fight this, or I can practice acceptance, letting go of the idea that this will be something other than it is. And with that hopefully get a chance to also go into my beginner’s mind as I watch my baby exploring the world with what is nothing short of a true beginner’s mind.