A blog from our Wellbeing Advice and Information Officer Lenny on how to put kindness towards yourself and others into your mindfulness meditation.
This year, over Mental Health Awareness Week, we are celebrating kindness. Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate not only to others, but in the spirit of our mental health, being kind to ourselves is also an important factor.
The recent Covid-19 pandemic has caused us all to pause and think about what is most important to us and what we feel most gratitude for, individually and in our lives. It has also caused us to look around and notice who in our lives is having a difficult time and could benefit from us reaching out to them in both an emotional and practical way.
It does not matter how big or small our gesture, as it can be as small as picking up shopping for someone, collecting their prescription, talking to them on the phone or sending them an email, and even in the spirit of the current pandemic waving to your neighbour or holding a socially distant chat.
It can also be as magnanimous as Captain Tom raising in excess of £30 million for the NHS which has set in motion a Mexican wave of kindness from many celebrities. It is collectively bringing great joy and kindness to us all and is also benefiting our mental health, even if it is just momentarily when we feel that nice warm glow both of giving kindness and receiving it too!
A way of making ourselves feel more connected to the thought of being kind to others and also being kind to ourselves and caring for our mental health, is through a mindfulness practice called “Loving-Kindness”. This helps us create inner thoughts of open, unconditional friendliness, kindness and generosity towards ourselves. It involves sending kind, generous and friendly messages to ourselves, our friends, our family and the whole of society.
A Loving-Kindness message is a wish for something that is universally desirable. Examples of meditative messages include “May I (or may you) be safe,” “May I (you) be healthy,” and “May I (you) be happy” but these messages can be adapted to include whatever it is that you want to develop kind and generous thoughts towards.
A Loving-Kindness meditation is about making a connection to the kind or generous thought and feelings that you want to get in touch with and which can create a feeling of relaxation, even when we are having a difficult day. Even if we can only find a few minutes throughout our day and even if, each time, something does not feel quite right, the more we think kind thoughts, the more we can create a lovely place for ourselves where we can feel more relaxed and able to connect with everyone else and experience a warm glow.
Known mental wellbeing benefits are reduced stress, being less self-critical, greater empathy and kindness towards others, feeling more positive and connected to others and to ourselves, and less likely to develop pain in response to stressful situations.
There is not a right way to practice this and it does not have to be formal. It might just be that at some point in your day, or part of your life is stressful and you would like to reframe things in a more positive, feel-good way. It may just even be about pausing for a moment, taking a few deep breaths and giving yourself some space to think and notice how you feel and that, in itself, is an act of kindness to yourself.
To conclude, I would like to introduce you to a technique and then end with a short 3-minute meditation on pausing and reflecting, which will hopefully introduce the feeling of greater kindness in your life.
There is a breathing technique in yoga called Ujjayi (pronounced Oo-ja-ee) which is a deep breathing technique meant to calm the mind, relax the body, make you more connected with your inner self and allows you to choose rather than just react.
Traditionally in the morning to make you feel calm and centred and ready to start your day positively, take 10 deep breaths, observe how this feels and notice the benefit to your emotional wellbeing.
And then you might like to Pause and Reflect for 5 minutes. You can either read the meditation below first and practise on your own, or use the audio recording to guide you.
Find yourself a comfortable position, it does not matter where, it only matters that you are comfortable and can relax fully into the space without being disturbed.
Take a long, deep and slow breath and as you inhale, notice any tension you feel and notice your thoughts about the recent changes to our world that have caused us to pause and reflect about our lives and our connections with others, as well as reflect on the meaning and purpose in our lives.
Notice what feels positive and nurturing and what seems no longer of consequence and somehow no longer challenging to our resolve and resilience.
And as you continue to breathe, notice yourself pausing and reflecting. Do this several times and as you do so as you inhale, infuse positive energy and let it flow through your body and as you exhale breathe out those thoughts and feelings which no longer serve you well and as you continue to inhale and exhale notice how you are becoming steadily more energised, invigorated and fully present.
Continue to notice your breathing and the positive sensations and energy you are feeling. Stay with this feeling and enjoy the sense of inner strength and the breathing in of a sense of self caring, purpose and intention to move forward mindfully, with kindness and fully present.
When you are ready, came back into the room, feeling relaxed, cared for, refreshed and with a sense of presence and deep connection with yourself.