The Mirror

Imagine that deep inside of ourselves exists a mirror. The mirror lives inside of a room, in the deepest recesses of our mind. A mirror that only we are able to see.

Imagine that there was nothing else in this room except a door, and the mirror.

Now imagine that the mirror was able to see yourself for who you really were. Show you your life's purpose. Show your innate gifts you have to offer the world. Show you your path to your true happiness and fulfillment.

All you have to do is walk through the door and look.

When you are young and starting out your life, you hear the call from inside the room. As soon as you start, you hear a voice saying that you’re not good enough to get there. You hear another voice that tells you that it's more important to focus on your career, to get that promotion. Another voice tells you that you won't get there unless you drop that weight that you said you would in January. Yet another voice tells you that you need to find the right person first and start a family before you start - it's selfish otherwise. The next voice tells you that you really need to upgrade your car, to go on that holiday.. Once you get there, you will be able to start your journey.


You start listening to these voices, they become louder and louder, all wrestling with each other for their turn with the microphone inside your mind.

You decide its most important at this time to get that promotion, but at the sacrifice of your health. The pounds have gone on more rather than down. You also sacrificed that potential relationship to put the hours in the office. You did get that nice new car, perhaps that would attract someone that appreciates the finer things in life. You did get a holiday (a little shorter than you would have liked due to your new responsibilities), but didn't get a chance to go on that journey because since you work so hard, you deserved to really let your hair down.  

Time passes. You’ve got nice things now but you’re tired, often unhappy, stressed. Your partner left you. They found someone who had a great deal more wealth than you. Your days are long and stressful at work but you have a number of good friends that are always available for drinks after work to destress and wind down. More often than not, you call on them.

Something breaks. You can’t go on like this anymore. Anything but this will do. You’re tired of being tired. You’re tired of having no energy and you are drinking far too much.

From the depths of despair, the mirror flashes back into your view. An old memory… a promise perhaps.

You quit your job and decide to chase it. You are 58 years old.

The voices are still here on the journey. This time, they are deafening. You’ve spent so much time on the current path that you feel there is no point going back… you’ve still got that option to make partner and buy that second house.

Yet this time you have help. You’ve found a community and a teacher that tell you that it is normal for the voices to draw you away. They’ve given you tools to help stay on the path, to keep the room with the mirror in your view. To remember how and why you got to where you are today, and to remind yourself of what happens if you continue.

Days, weeks pass. You don’t seem like you are any closer to the room with the mirror, but something has changed. The voices remain but they don’t seem to be quite so loud or important as they were not long ago. You have been more active and have been eating better, and you feel happier and more energized. You decided that it would be good to lay off drinking for a while, and you notice how much you used this as a crutch when things got tough. You have found that moving your body and having a cup of tea was a good way to let these tough times a little easier. You’ve found a few people that can relate, and talking to them has really helped.

A few years have passed. You’ve dropped a lot of weight and feel good about yourself. You never did have to go back to drinking.

You’ve been meditating every day for a couple of years now. The voices are still there but they aren’t saying so many things that leave you feeling less. You’ve even had a few experiences where you were in the room, looking directly at the mirror. Although fleeting, the feeling will never leave you.


A feeling of self worth, connectedness and love. A place where you found yourself.




Objectivity and the Power of Meditation

It’s pretty weird being a student of something and then making the move to being a teacher. Firstly, I think its so important to state that pretty much ANY teacher that you deal with in this kind of work whether it be yoga, meditation or some healing modality is STILL going to be working through their own stuff. Its easy to put these people on a pedestal and forget that they are by no means perfect and still have their own work to do.

 

Personally, I have met two people in my life that have attained an advanced level of self-mastery. If you aren’t sure if you have, you probably haven’t… Meeting them is something that will leave an indelible mark on your life experience.

 

In some situations, you might find yourself in the right place to provide some support or guidance to help people through a certain problem or issue that they themselves can’t for whatever reason move forward on. When you provide this assistance and it helps, someone might look upon you from a position of wisdom - when in real terms most of the time its going to come from a place of objectivity.

 

When you are emotionally detached from a situation you tend to be able to make a ‘big picture’ assessment of what is going on and pretty quickly its evident on the best course of action or at least you can see some positive ways to move forward. In other words, if you are not personally invested in the energy already used up in whatever situation or don’t have a 'horse in the race', you’ll tend to make a clear, concise and positive suggestion to move forward.

 

Imagine the ability to do this for yourself at all times! Self-reliance is the most powerful way to work through your issues. I remember way back when I was younger volunteering for youthline in NZ – the key takeaway for me in the training was regardless on whether the answer to the problem was obvious to the outsider, the real growth and ability to move on is when you find the answers inside. We were constantly encouraged to steer the caller in the right direction if we could - because you create a reliance that isn't healthy for the person in need if you just give them the answer. I know, its pretty simple stuff but we can lose sight of this when we get really caught up in our own moments. 

 

The real power in transformation comes from within.

 

This is one of meditations greatest powers. As you practice removing your awareness from your thoughts over and over again throughout your sitting, you begin to offer some space between your self and your endless stream of thoughts. To have the opportunity to allow your thoughts to lessen the grip of your energy and awareness allows us to make decisions based on what is actually best for us, rather than what our thoughts decide for us.

 

So regardless if you have frustration in your own practice, just know that each time you consciously move your awareness to the present, you are exercising a mental muscle that benefits you in so many ways.

 

Never stop the work! Never stop being your own student.

 

 

Considering a practice


“It is better to conquer yourself than win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you” - Buddha

Our lives contain a great deal of complexity. We often are given tasks which involve a lot of considerations and actions to achieve a set goal. In fitness, perhaps, we are given a list of different exercises, routines, diets and programmes to achieve a goal of physical wellbeing. If you are just starting out in meditation in an extremely basic practice, this may feel foreign to the way we normally attempt to achieve our goals. Perhaps the simplicity of doing just one thing at a time will make you feel that you are not on the road to achievement, but as you continue on your journey, you may find a previously unencountered sense of joy, peace and serenity from undertaking such a simple practice. 


Simple may it be, there are many reasons why your practice may drop off. The very nature of sitting still and concentrating on one thing when we could be doing any other manner of more stimulating exercises brings a strong obstacle when starting out. Once stillness is achieved however, the results can be quite powerful. Lifechanging, even. 


Thousands of years’ worth of practitioners would agree; meditation is a wonderful practice that can only truly be experienced and rewarded through self-effort and discovery.  
 

Getting Started with meditation - the why and how

I would say that by now, most of you would have heard about meditation and mindfulness. Did you know that this practice has been around since our recorded history began? In terms of Western thinking, mediation was once reserved for the hippies or perhaps the ‘airy fairy’ type. Now, meditation has endorsements from the likes of Steve Jobs, Oprah, and so many other industry heavy hitters.

I think we are seeing a renewed interest because our modern lifestyles are forcing us to find a way to alleviate the symptoms of living our lives at full-speed, all the time. We wake up, get on our phone and don’t really stop until we plug it into the charger next to our bed at the end of our long day. We’re stimulating our senses at an unprecedented rate, and its causing us to feel imbalanced, burnt out and not our best selves. 

Meditation and the practice of being mindful are a direct antidote to this over-stimulation. By actively moving our awareness and attention into the present moment, we find solace from our endless mind chatter, thoughts in present-and-past and allow our bodies to reset and refresh. Not convinced yet? Just google ‘scientifically proven benefits of meditation’ and be prepared to wade through a mountain of info pointing to the positive of this practice.

And remember, this is no fad. We’re only catching up to what’s been done for millennia.

 

One question I get asked a lot as a meditation teacher is ‘what is the end goal?’, or ‘what is the point of practice?’ This is a hugely important question to ask.

There is no set answer to this as the benefits of a practice are wide ranging, so it’s up to you to find your reason for sitting. One of the first objectives I would say you should set yourself is to understand that you are not your thoughts.

In Buddhism, they use the term ‘monkey mind’ to describe the first step of the journey of meditation. When we stop and observe, you notice how completely random and nonsensical our thoughts behave. Once this is observed, we can consider the practice of mastery over this domain as the end goal in itself. In modern terms, think of it as the ability to focus on one task for as long as we need to. Imagine the possibilities! Side effects of this practice will include an improved sense of self, increased happiness, empathy, healthier nervous system, better sleep, calmer and much more!

 

OK so let’s get down to the practice. There are two key areas I would recommend focussing on when you first start out, but please only take my writing as a suggestion. What works for me won’t necessarily be the best option for you. That’s why it’s called a practice. Firstly, we must have a stable, still base to work from. This is your posture. Here are some basic tips for preparing to sit:

- Overall, the goal with your posture is to be able to sit perfectly still and free from tension for an extended period. 

- If you can, sit in a comfortable cross-legged position on a cushion on the floor. If this doesn't work for whatever reason, sit up in a chair with your back away from the support. Practicing lying in bed will likely have you ending up back asleep!

- Your posture should be tall yet relaxed. Spine naturally curved, shoulders down and fully relaxed.  

- Like the practice itself, the body will slowly soften and open as you gradually build your practice up over time. 

- Think stillness, stillness and more stillness. Alongside being free from tension, this is the physical goal.  

 

Once you have a solid base to work from, we move into the practice of meditation itself. Think of this as an exercise of moving awareness from the thought space to the present moment. There are many different techniques to stay present (again google is a great tool to find different practice methods), and I offer my favourite one below:

 

- Start with your breath. Feel the breath come in from outside the body, and follow it all the way into the body. Pay close attention to the sensation of this moving through all the parts of the body, notice the subtle change in temperature as the breath moves in and out of the body. The more you can immerse yourself in this action, the more of a hold you have on the present moment.

- We also add a mantra to stay present. We use this to engage our imagination and provide a sound as another ‘anchor’ in the present alongside the breath.

- To add the mantra - simply say the word HONG internally with the inhale breath and SAW on the out breath.

- The key here is to make this really 'loud' inside your body. It should attach with the inhale and exhale and you should ‘imagine’ this sound vibrating through the body with the breath.

- Any sound will work and you are welcome to try something that has more meaning to you if you feel like it.

 

As you sit and practice, your awareness will move back into your thoughts. The practice is to ‘catch’ your awareness in your thoughts, and immediately and gently move back into the breath and sound.

The gentleness in which we move our awareness from thought back into present moment translates into our everyday interactions. This is where we begin to cultivate a less reactive, calmer mindset.

 

For an effective practice, you simply must go in with the intention to do your best. Take three, deep breaths before you begin your practice. Set an intention with yourself that for the period of time you have set aside to practice, you will be in it fully. If you don’t do this consciously, its very hard to stop the mind from wandering ceaselessly.

 

Start with 5 minutes. Do this for weeks and months if necessary before moving on in time. Don’t sit for longer periods if you are not enjoying it – you will likely quit before you can make this a habit. Use a timer or stopwatch and stick to the length of time, and only move on when you know you can commit to the next step up in time. Move up like this – 5, 10, 15, 20 and so on. If possible, practice first thing in the morning when you don’t have too much on your mind and not as much noise and distraction. Practicing sporadically will not give great results, so if possible, make this a part of your daily routine. I can’t stress this point enough!

 

There is a lot more to talk about with meditation but in reality, it’s a simple practice. The best thing is to dive in head first, and commit to forming a habit that you can keep up with. If you spend 3 times in the gym a week at an hour a time – can you give 35 minutes a week total to keep your mind in shape?

 

There are plenty of great teachers and resources around to find out more, but mostly it’s about your own commitment and intention to the practice. Most of all, be gentle with yourself, and have fun! 

 

 

 

 

 

The Subject of Stillness

SITTING IN FRONT of 40+ people in a meditation class is an amazing experience. From my unique vantage point, I get to see almost every single physical and mental reaction, as well as emotion, playing out in front of my very eyes.

 

This constantly takes me back to my first practice at meditation at a cosy and often cold little hall in Clapham, London. Memories of intense physical pain with my first attempts at sitting cross legged with a straight back. The feeling of heat rising throughout my body as I attempted to sit still for 20 minutes at a time. The sensation of noticing my eyes darting back and forth with seeming complete separateness from myself or any intention I may have set myself.

 

The thing is, sitting still and doing almost absolutely nothing during our waking hours is really hard when we first attempt it. Not only is getting to the point where we are actually doing it (‘I really should be checking the expiry on the warranty of my phone’, I think to myself as my mind finds any reason not to meditate), but once we get there our natural habit is to move and fidget as we spend our days in a constant state of motion.

 

Think about the times when you might be waiting for a coffee, or the bus. Can you sit or stand doing essentially nothing, or is your need for that of stimulus and entertainment? Now, there’s nothing wrong with this in isolation, but when this becomes your constant state, you are going to find yourself in a position of scattered and depleted energy. Not only does it become hard to concentrate on one thing at a time, we can also start to find ourselves in that feeling of never quite being at our 100% in terms of energy levels.

 

So, we go back to the students meditating and my own first experiences. The thing is, after a while (just as my teachers and many masters would say) an amazing thing happens. You begin to stop fidgeting and find a wonderful stillness in your body and mind. This is where the magic happens. Your body has a chance to move out of ‘fight or flight’ mode and begin to relax and repair. Your mind finds a break from the constant stream of thoughts and you begin to find the ability to concentrate on one thing for a longer time.

 

You find happiness and the time to enjoy life’s little gifts.

3 Easy Ways to Bring Meditation into your Everyday Life

The following are some tips and tricks from meditation to bring calm to all situations in daily life – even if it hasn’t worked for you before or you’re just beginning

 

1)      Practice when you don’t need it

Meditation is a great tool to manage stress. It doesn’t guarantee that you will not get caught up in the moment however.  Often when you try to be mindful when you have reached your boiling point, it’s too late to cool down! Incorporate a practice wherever and whenever you have a few uninterrupted minutes. A regular, daily practice will give you space in your interactions to be more objective and will help to diffuse potential stressful situations before they get to a point where it starts to bring on stress and anxiety. 

 

2)      Use a trigger symbol

This can be anything, a photo, a symbol, a sticker up on a wall… something small but still noticeable (I use a blue sticker).  When you glance at it, it’s your reminder to be in the moment. Put it in a place you are likely to see at least several times during the day. Take a few deep, mindful breaths whenever you see it. What’s a mindful breath? Simply put your awareness on the sensation from the beginning of the inhale to the last moment of your exhale. Imagine your breath moving inside your body, and pay close notice to the entire sensation as the air moves through your body. Immerse your awareness in the temperature of the air, the movement on the body as it expands and contracts. 

 

3)      From mundane to mindfulness

What tasks do you find yourself doing mindlessly during your day? A large part of many traditional practices encourages mindfulness training specifically for these mundane tasks. Whether it be folding washing, eating your breakfast, brushing your teeth… Be in the moment, feel the sensations, tastes, movements, temperatures as you move through each moment. Cultivating mindfulness when your mind is most likely to wander is a great way to feel more centered and relaxed throughout your whole day.

 

For those that have never tried meditation before, here is an easy to follow instruction that you can use anywhere:

·         Sit comfortably with your back in a tall, relaxed posture. If you can sit on a cushion on a floor without moving for 10 minutes or so, a chair is a perfectly fine substitute. You can lie down if needed, but you are likely to fall asleep in this position. 

·         ‘Scan’ your entire body and let go of any tension. You will find it particularly builds in the face, jaw, neck, shoulders and waist.

·         Close your eyes and bring your attention to the sensation of your breath. Follow the breath from the moment it enters your body, ‘imagining’ the breath moving all the way through to your lungs then out again.

·         Count each inhale and exhale as 1. Count to 10, then just start at one again. Fully immerse yourself in the mindful breathing as instructed above as you move through the meditation. 

·         When you catch yourself thinking, gently place your awareness back on your breath and start again at the count of 1.

·         If you can, time your practice. Start at five minutes and move up in increments of 5 minutes as you feel comfortable.

·         Cultivate stillness in your practice. The magic happens when you can still the mind through concentrating on breath, and your body relaxes and remains still.

The Science of Breath

From the very first moment we come into existence on this earth until our last, our breath is with us the whole way. The quality of those breaths however can determine our physical and mental wellbeing plays out in all those moments in between. The following article will provide you easy to follow and simple exercises to make sure you enjoy the amazing health benefits that correct, deep breathing gives you.

 

Breath plays a pivotal role in your overall health and wellbeing inside your body. It performs many basic functions for your system to survive and thrive. When we suffer from issues such a stress, anxiety or poor posture, our breathing suffers. Without a deep, steady flow of oxygen into the body, our basic functions began to perform at sub-par levels and invite imbalance in your physical and mental wellbeing.

 

Ancient Eastern breathing techniques have been passed down through the centuries, and slowly made their way to the Western world through various yoga teachings. Entire books have been written on the benefits of correct breathing and the techniques to make sure that you are ‘breathing in’ optimal health. The following is a few short exercises that I teach and use due to their calming effects and most importantly, their simplicity.

 

The Complete Breath

To begin with the complete breath, we break the technique into parts (you may like to try this exercise lying down for the first few practices). The first is to breathe just into the upper part of your chest. Feel what muscles you use and the amount of oxygen you can bring in with just the top part of the chest engaging. Second, breathe only into the middle section of the chest, focusing on expanding the ribs up and out to draw oxygen into the body. The final section is the stomach. Draw a long deep breath just using your stomach, feeling the muscles drawing down and out. Picture your stomach as a balloon slowly and steadily filling with oxygen as your muscles expand out and down.

The complete breath is the combination of all three in sequence from stomach to the middle section and finally into the upper chest. Over-emphasise the three stages in the beginning to make sure each is being exercised correctly. As your practice improves over time and your muscles familiarise with the motion, you will find this becomes more easier and more fluid. While the aim is to fill the lungs completely, don’t burst a blood vessel doing so! It’s designed to be relaxing, so take each motion slow and steady. Normally I would do 8-12 cycles in bed as I wake up or before I am about to go to sleep. It’s a great way to relax before sleep or feel energised and focussed for the day ahead.

 

 Rhythmic Breathing

Taking the complete breath a step further, rhythmic breathing is the ultimate tool to bring a sense of calm and wellbeing into your day to day life. This practice combines the complete breath as instructed above along with the natural rhythm of your own body using your heartbeat as a tool. Sitting or lying in a quiet, relaxed environment, obtain your heartbeat through the wrist or neck. Once you have your rhythm, inhale a complete breath and count the number of beats it takes to complete one inhale (make sure it’s an even number). If your count is 6 for example, inhale for 6 beats, and hold your breath for half the amount (3), then exhale for 6 beats. Hold your breath again for 3 beats then begin the round again through an inhale of 6 beats.  Like the complete breathing exercise before, be gentle in the exercise and start on around 5 or 6 rounds to begin and work your way up. The same rule applies for the number of beats you take on the inhale and exhale. Just take it to a limit you are comfortable with and work your way up over time.

 

Confucius said that “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated”. Health and wellbeing sometimes feels a lot like that, allowing us to overlook practices that appear too simple to be effective. This is a great practice and so easy to do. I hope that you give it a go and enjoy the many benefits it can bring.

 

Going to the Gym (for your mind)

Originally published in Elite Agent Magazine (Oct 2016)

We all know by now that to have a healthy body there are a few key things to give attention to keep in tip-top shape. Exercise regularly, get enough rest and make sure that you eat the right food in the right amounts. Can we say the same thing for keeping your mind in shape – or do we know that there are ways to actually improve our wellbeing by sitting and essentially doing nothing?

The earliest records of meditation came at around 1500BC in Ancient India. Today we find it hard to go far without some of our most successful people in business, sports, politics and entertainment singing the praises of a daily meditation practice. In fact, meditation has now been scientifically proven to improve many aspects in life, such as:
•    Boosting health in your immune system and decreasing pain and inflammation in the body
•    Increases positive emotions and decreases stress and anxiety
•    Increases your ability to connect socially and your emotional intelligence
•    It improves your ability to be introspective and control your thoughts and emotions
•    It even increases your grey matter!

If you are reading this and thinking you could do with some of maybe even all of the above, you may also ask yourself if sitting and doing nothing gives this – why don’t we all just do it? The easy way to answer that is to try it for yourself, it’s actually a bit harder than it sounds. 

In a world where everyone is ‘turned on’ through technology and especially in an industry such as ours, we pride ourselves on always being contactable and the ‘24/7’ agent. With this in mind, our habits have begun to move ourselves further away from a less cluttered, simple life to an email, text messaging, tweeting and ‘facebooking’ culture. That’s why a lot of us can’t even sit and wait for a coffee and not be on our phone, let alone consciously sit and do nothing for 10-20 minutes (or more). 

The good news is that just like when you first hit the gym after a long winter break and struggle through the first few sessions, it does get easier. Through a regular meditation practise starting at just 5 minutes a day, you can begin to enjoy the benefits listed above. Through right practise, you might even begin to enjoy the space that a practice can bring. For my own experience, the thing I enjoy the most is having space from the constant barrage of thoughts that I experience from when I wake up to when I go to sleep again. 

Here’s a starting point to get going with your own practice:
•    Sit comfortably with a straight spine and relaxed body. Your bed is not for meditating, you will just fall asleep. Find a place where you won’t be disturbed for the duration, and put your phone off or on airplane mode. 
•    After a few deep breaths, begin to follow your breath from the sensation outside of your nose all the way to your lungs, and out again. Repeat this and count each round of breath (in and out) as 1. Count to 10, then just start over again. 
•    When you lose count and get lost in thought, don’t stress, just go back to 1 and start again. 
•    Set a timer for 5 minutes first week, then 10 next and so on. Don’t go on to a higher length of time if you aren’t getting some level of relaxation.
•    Think of this like brushing your teeth. It’s something you just do automatically every morning and night (hopefully), so make your practice at the same time each day. The mind makes it easier when it knows what it’s doing and when its doing it. 

That’s a really quick idea of the practice, I would encourage you to try some group meditation at the beginning to get your enthusiasm up, but most of all, just sit! It won’t take long to start to enjoy the many benefits this practice can bring.