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Alphabet of the Heart

For those meditators amongst you, you’ll be interested to hear about the Alphabet of the Heart – a mnemonic meditation exercise created by Dr James R. Doty, M.D, founder and director of the Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University.

The exercise was created by Dr. Doty as a reminder of the 10 steps towards the journey of compassion and mindfulness. Attributes that need to be cultivated to live a happy, meaningful and altruistic life. These include Compassion, Dignity, Equanimity, Forgiveness, Gratitude, Humility, Integrity, Justice, Kindness and Love. 

The exercise involves running through each letter during our daily meditation practise. With reflect for a time on each attribute, manifest the intention, and as a result, cultivate more of it in our everyday lives.

You can hear Dr. Doty explaining the creation of the exercise here and there’s also a full podcast series including personal reflections, research on each attribute and practical tips to cultivate that specific attribute found here.



How the Body Scan Gives us the Power of Choice

Technotox was asked to write an article for Everyday Mindfulness about the power of the body scan…

I used to suffer from severe pain in my left shoulder. I would walk for 50 minutes into work each morning with a strappy bag casually hooked over my left arm. It was a beautiful vintage mulberry, so what did it matter that it was causing shooting pains deep into my muscle tissue? For weeks and weeks I ignored it, mindlessly going about my business, caught up in the busy cycle of day-to-day life, oblivious to the long term damage this pain might be causing.

Three months later, I joined a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course with the aim to make mindfulness a part of my daily routine. I had heard a lot about its benefits and read plenty of books on the subject, but now it was time to put it into action and to be held accountable for my daily practice.

During the first week we carried out a 20-minute body scan. Something I had grappled with before but never really had much patience for. The body scan encourages us to bring moment-by-moment awareness into our bodies, moving slowly from one part to the next with full attention and observation. It requires discipline and patience. Feeling into each and every different part of our body, noticing any sensations, vibrations or throbbing and really getting curious around what these feel like. Observing the quality of the sensations rather than the labelling of them.

When we reached the shoulders and neck, I was reminded of the pain I so often felt in my shoulder blade but had all too easily grown to ignore. It was stronger than ever and I specifically remember thinking to myself, “why have I not done anything about this?

The body scan is an integral part of the 8 week MBSR course and for that very reason taught early on in the syllabus. One of the theories behind it is that if we can change our relationship to our body, i.e. what we notice, how we listen, what we find, we can start to make wise choices around how we choose to react to it. Through learning to tune into its wisdom, we gain knowledge, and with knowledge comes power. The power of choice. i.e. we can make mindful choices around how we treat, feed and love our bodies. Beneficial choices that will help us to thrive and flourish as best as we possibly can.

During and after the body scan, we feel a heightened sense of awareness of our body, something we rarely allow ourselves the time and space to do in every day life. Room to reconnect to its wisdom.

It was working for me already as I was questioning this all too familiar pain and feeling it in a way that I could no longer ignore. The following week as I practised the body scan day after day, the pain sensation seemed to be growing with each sitting. Or was it just that I was becoming more aware of it? I eventually decided to make an appointment to see the doctor and as a result, was forced to ditch my ‘fashionable’ mulberry and invest in a double strapped ‘sensible’ backpack to walk to work with everyday. In a matter of weeks, the pain had subsided altogether. Relieved and grateful for the awareness the body scan had given me, I was in awe of yet another benefit of mindfulness.

In this information age, our worlds are built around planning, analysing, creating, working, striving – the list goes on and on. All activities of the mind, so it’s not a coincidence that as a society we’ve become increasingly divorced from our bodies, unable to tap into their wisdom and deaf to the signals they send us. In essence, most of us walk around like digital clouds on sticks, rather than fully embodied human beings, so one of the many benefits of a regular body scan is becoming more in-tune with our bodies. Through doing this we can learn to spot our stress signals early on and choose how we respond to them. We can try to counterbalance stress before it causes us any longer term issues, like high blood pressure, heart disease, depression or anxiety.

Some of my favourite body scans are offered by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Mark Williams. Kabat-Zinn is a pioneer in mindfulness research and focusing specifically on mind and body interactions, while Mark Williams co-developed MBCT for the prevention of depression.

Kabat-Zinn explains that very slight changes in our bodies can have a significant impact on our thoughts and feelings. Highlighting a famous study carried out where two groups of participants were given a pencil to hold in their mouths while watching cartoons and rating the degree of humour. The first group held the pencil between their teeth which encouraged a smile and the other just with their lips which produced a frown. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, the group with the pencil between their teeth thought the cartoons were far funnier than the group who mimicked the frown.

This is something I personally came to realise as I watched my body during times of stress, through body scans I was able to become aware of the impact my solid shoulders and tension headaches (my personal stress signals) were having on my mood. I would become grouchy with others and snap at them, which would then lead to feelings of guilt and self-sabotage. Feeding the stress.
Nowadays I’m far quicker to spot my stress signals, I’ve learnt to tune into them and make a habit of allowing myself a wide-berth when they’re present. I try to delay time with close friends and family while I address my stress with a massage or gentle swim.

Another benefit I’ve experienced from continuing the body scan long after my shoulder pain disappeared, is knowing the impact of external stimuli on my internal landscape.

I now have a magnified awareness of the impact of scary situations (like talking in front of a room of people) on my internal world. For example, I had never noticed the tight knot in my tummy and weight on my chest, like I do now. I have started spotting patterns, like having an upset tummy the morning of a big presentation (something I wouldn’t have associated with fear before). And as a result of this knowledge and observation, I’m now able to make tiny adjustments to ensure this impact isn’t any worse than it needs to be. Like not drinking any coffee that morning, or having rich food the night before. I’m also able to treat myself with greater kindness and compassion, and often stop and take the time to really feel into the anxiety, which ironically, helps to loosen it.

Body scans make me feel much more connected to my body. More grounded, centred and accepting of who I am and what I’m made up of. The state of the current media is one that pressures us to look a certain way. For women in particular we are made to feel inadequate; over weight and under par compared to the beauties that rein over the fashion and gossip pages. It’s a very unhealthy perception to have and as a result, most young women learn to dislike their bodies in comparison. Through the body scan I’ve learnt to connect and respect my body on a much deeper level, one that I hadn’t previously realised was possible. Once you’ve made that connection, it becomes impossible to judge or berate yourself, because it’s almost like a skin of respect and love that grows, and with continued practise it only gets stronger.


Want to Feel More Fulfilled? Go Find your Flow!

Time stands still, oblivious to your surroundings, the world is set to pause, fully absorbed on your task at hand, focused and concentrating, time disappears and you become completely lost.

Psychologists call these fully absorbent times, ‘flow states’ or a ‘heightened state of consciousness’. Times when our skills and competency are tested and our ability is just about sufficient to meet the challenge. Stretching us to our maximum limits. If the challenge is too easy, we become bored and lose interest. Too hard and we become anxious and want to give up. So flow can only be found under very specific conditions.

Perhaps you find yours completing a difficult crossword or playing a musical instrument. You might find it writing up a new project at work or giving a public speech. Learning a new skill like tiling your bathroom!

Regularly finding flow is incredibly important to achieving inner happiness because it leaves us feeling worthy, satisfied and pushes our personal growth by testing our limits. We ultimately feel fulfilled and proud of ourselves, which does wonders for our self-esteem.

Unfortunately, time spent scrolling social media sites, watching netflix and answering whataapps doesn’t count (as much as time disappears when you’re doing them!). In fact, too much time online starring at screens, diminishes our creativity levels which has a negative impact on both flow and happiness.

Where do you find your flow? What could you do to connect with it this weekend?

Additional reading –
Flow: The Psychology of Happiness by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Are you Surviving or Thriving?

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme is Surviving or Thriving? 

A surprising 1 in 6 people interviewed in the 2016 Mental Health Foundation report, showed symptoms associated with ill mental health – sleep troubles, worry, irritability and fatigue – yet they didn’t believe they had a mental health problem. So this year, instead of looking at why 1 in 4 adults in the UK now suffers from ill mental health, the focus is on why so few people with seemingly good mental health are merely surviving  not thriving. Perhaps the spectrum of good and bad mental health is much narrower than we initially thought. If so, where do you sit on the scale?

Find out more about the state of the UK’s mental health here and get involved in Mental Health Awareness Week here.







How Green are your Fingers? Our Top 5 Gardening Health Benefits

Not only has the weather been glorious of late, but it’s officially National Gardening Week so what better excuse to don your wellies and head outside to get those fingers green?!

Gardening has endless benefits for your health and wellbeing. For instance, a recent study published in the Journal of Public Health found that just 30 minutes of allotment gardening each week significantly reduces stress and fatigue and boosts self-esteem. And another study conducted by Bakker Scalding found that 88% of people find that mental wellbeing is a key benefit for spending time in the garden. So it’s not just good for your body, but your mind and soul too.

Here are our top 5 gardening health benefits –

  1. Gardening burns fat and tones you up
    Digging, squatting, trimming and mowing are all great forms of exercise that will help to get the heart rate going and tone up those muscles. So you can get fit and lean without being cooped up in a soulless gym! Spend half an hour doing any of the following activities and you can expect to burn -Digging and shovelling: 250 calories
    Lawn mowing: 195 calories
    Weeding: 105 calories
    Raking: 100 calories
  1. Gardening protects your heart
    Any activity that leaves you slightly out of breath and raises the heartbeat can help protect you against heart disease. The leading cause of death worldwide.
  2. Gardening tops up your vitamin D levels
    Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in your body. These nutrients are needed to keep your teeth, bones and muscles healthy and luckily, the body starts to form vitamin D naturally after exposure to sunlight. Is there really any better excuse to spend time in the garden?
  3. Gardening boosts your mental health
    The psychological benefits of being outdoors, working in nature and the fresh air, are also clear. Studies have shown just looking at trees and plants can reduce stress and relieve anxiety. Gardening can also provide a good outlet for anger, and allows us to feel like we are gaining a sense of control when things might be falling apart around us. It can also keep the brain stimulated as we learn new methods and techniques to keep our little patch prime and plentiful! 
  4. Gardening boosts your self-worth and confidence
    Gardening  connects us to other living things, making us responsible for them. Nurturing seeds and watching them grow, gives us a sense of purpose and achievement, which in turn boosts our self-esteem and confidence.

Poetry Friday

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

It’s Time to Talk!

Today is Time to Talk Day. A day to break the silence around mental health and get people talking about their struggles.

Starting a small conversation with someone today, even opening up about your own battles with mental health, could help to change a life. The more we share and show our vulnerabilities, the quicker we can erase the stigma and help those in need.

In words of Gandhi ‘be the change you wish to see in the world‘.


What Makes you Happy?

Last night my co-leader Andy and I hosted week one of the Action for Happiness course Exploring What Matters.  An eight week course designed to bring communities together to explore the things that really matter for a happy and meaningful life. The course involves  watching videos, carrying out positive psychology interventions (things proven to make us happier!) along with lots of group discussion and sharing.

Backed by the Dalai Lama it aims to spread happiness and joy, starting with individuals within our communities, who commit to doing as much as they can to help others and reduce misery.

Each session has a theme based on big questions and last night along with our 20 attendees, we explored What really matters in life? Is it money or success? A thriving family home full of love and support? Or simply safety, warmth and food on the table? One of the first surprising facts we learnt is less than 1% of our happiness is affected by our income (our group guessed 10-25%). This is measured by government polls. So even though the US economy has experienced decades of strong economic growth, there has been no increase in the average levels of happiness over the past 50 years. Pretty shocking don’t you think? Clearly our current culture which values success and wealth over all else, is fundamentally flawed. Why aren’t we prioritising the stuff that actually does impact our happiness?

As a group we imagined ourselves towards the very end of our lives, looking back on all the things we’ve done with our time on earth – the things we were most proud of and grateful for. Then we asked what advice our future selves would give us now about what really matters in life and made some notes. (What advice would your future self give you about what really matters? Any surprises?) This powerful exercise reminded me of a great article by Susie Steiner in the Guardian a few years back titled Top five regrets of the dying.

Richard Layard, co-founder of Action for Happiness and Head of the Wellbeing Programme at London School of Economics, believes happiness is the ultimate good and caring about the happiness of others is the starting point for a better society. We watched his thought-provoking Tedtalk found here and then shared our own opinions and ideas about what really matters and what actions we can take to be a bit happier!  Our group, a warm and open bunch from all walks of life, was full of creative and interesting ideas some of which I would love to share with you –

  • Reduce our desires, lower our expectations and  therefore, simplify our lives
  • Be kind – it goes a long way!
  • Accept sadness and negative emotions – i.e. accepting that negative emotions are a natural part of being human and everyone experiences them so they shouldn’t be avoided or pushed aside
  • Stop trying so hard and cultivate contentment
  • Trust others
  • Increase the focus on emotional intelligence in both our culture and education system
  • Realise the negative impact of social media and how much we compare ourselves to others

What might you add to this list? What’s one small action you’ll take this week? 

Next week’s topic is What actually makes us happy? More information can be found here.

Reflect, Recharge & Redefine for 2017

On Saturday 7th January 2017, Technotox is delighted to be hosting a one day urban retreat to get your mind, body and soul recharged and focused on the year ahead.

Together with expert nutritionist and pilates instructor Ruth Tongue, we’ve created a day of nourishing, energising activities combined with personal development and style workshops, so you can treat yourself at the same time as growing yourself.

What’s Included?

Energising Pilates Class
Personal Goal Setting Workshop
Raw Vegan Cookery Class 
Mindfulness Meditation
Style, Personal Branding & Confidence Workshop
Healthy Lunch, Snacks & Refreshments
Stretch and Unwind Finish 

We’ll kick-start the morning with an energising pilates class followed by a raw vegan cookery class from our expert Nutritionist and Sport Stylist ambassador, Ruth Tongue.

Lucy Faulks, CPCC life coach and founder of Technotox, will then host a reflection and goal setting workshop. Using tools and techniques to assess where you are at the start of the year, and encourage you to look forward to where you want to go in 2017. You’ll then create a set of achievable, measurable goals to get you there. She’ll also look at energy levels and identify activities that nourish and drain us.

We’ll then take a break for a healthy lunch provided by our sponsors. And after lunch, Lucy will lead a guided mindfulness meditation to help clear the mind, reduce stress and promote positive emotions.

In the afternoon we have a style, personal branding and confidence workshop from Tanja Mrnjaus – a qualified international stylist, fashion consultant and author. And to round the day off we’ll finish with a stretch.

Eventbrite - Reflect, Recharge & Redefine for 2017

Early bird tickets £85 (limited)
General tickets £95
Includes drinks, snacks, lunch and a goody bag.


Mindfulness + Kindness = Kindfulness

After yesterday’s result, we felt a big dose of Kindfulness was needed today. So we’re delighted to share with you details of a FREE 7 day online Kindfulness course run by the Awake Academy.

Ajahn Brahm created the term “Kindfulness” which is the result of adding kindness to our mindfulness practise and opening our hearts to others as well as ourselves. Kindfulness encourages relaxation, is an antidote to stress and allows healing to happen.

Register for the free course here.

Mindfulness Course