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What it takes to be a more mindful leader

Natalie Snooke - Wednesday, July 12, 2017

I am always on the lookout for inspiring, real-life examples of corporate leaders who embody mindfulness.

This morning while enjoying my ritual morning chai at a local West Perth cafe, I couldn't help but eavesdrop on a conversation between three people at the next table.

To use HR speak, it was an 'on-boarding' meeting between two business owners and a new employee they were orientating to their business.

And as I listened-in with interest on their dialogue, it soon became apparent that these were two very mindful leaders.

The focus of their exchange over a coffee wasn't about policy and process, or performance expectations, reporting relationships or even the expected hours of the job. The focus was about getting to know the new employee and finding out what they needed from the organisation to work at their best. Sure, they shared an inspiring business vision and described their workplace culture, but the exchange was more about connecting and understanding than telling.

The tone of the conversation was calm and spacious. There were several relaxed pauses after each person spoke that showed deep listening. Even though one of the business owners had to leave shortly after the meeting began to attend another meeting, there was no hint of rush or urgency to cover a heap of material or to get across a particular viewpoint.

The two business owners eached talked about their families and the challenges around balancing work and family life. One shared about their morning meditation practice which helped them to manage stress and to be kinder to their partner. The other said they loved cycling and invited the new employee to join their local group.

A positive, yet gentle rapport had soon developed to the point where the new employee took the time to reveal some quite personal health information that needed extra care to manage whilst at work. Without hesitation, the business owner gave a clear commitment of support and offered to create a work-station that better met the new employees' needs.

A mindful leader embodies leadership presence through their focus, clarity, creativity and compassion in the service of others. I could clearly sense all four of these mindful leadership qualities.

But what I found most striking (and delightful) about this encounter was that none of these three people meeting were women - they were all men.

Professional men, dressed in charcoal suits who each bore a strong physical presence and air of success, as well as a quirky, relaxed and compassionate warmth.

I'm not suggesting that men are not mindful leaders. I am fortunate to personally know many inspirational male leaders who are very self-aware! But often it's been my experience that the 'softer skills' essential for successful and mindful corporate leadership like creativity and compassion are given lesser importance and are therefore less developed in the average male leader.

We can all learn to lead with excellence by cultivating our inherent capabilities to focus on what's important, to see more clearly what is presenting itself, to foster greater creativity and to embody compassion.

Mindfulness for both male and female leaders alike involves making more conscious choices about how we manage at work, how we manage ourselves and how we live our lives.

This mindful leadership that I was privileged to witness first-hand just made my day.

Natalie Snooke is an experienced Mindful Leadership Coach, Meditation Teacher and the founder of Momentum. She specialises in guiding leaders to develop focus, presence, creativity and compassion in their personal and professional lives. She has a background in human resource management and takes a pragmatic yet light-hearted approach to her work. 

How yoga and gardening get you back to your true nature

Alison Hilton - Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Most days my garden is my yoga. Its a joy and an ongoing reminder of impermanence and the cycle of birth, growth, flourishing and decay.

As a self-confessed gardening nerd, as well as a yogi, I love sharing tips and tricks with other more experienced gardeners and, most of all, just being 'in it' - outside with nature's green, the air and the earth.

Maybe it’s the oxygen and the beauty of nature or maybe it is just the thrill of watching something growing and transforming day by day.  Just like us, anyone with an observant eye will notice that a garden is forever changing. Not only from the seasons and weather patterns but also the animals that inhabit the space and our skills and impacts as gardeners - and as yoga practitioners.

The more I think about it, the cycle in a garden mirrors the yoga journey throughout our lives.

Sowing a seed in yoga practice first requires a healthy foundation, just as a gardener needs to tend the soil before planting. There needs to be just enough sunlight and the right combination of healthy soil and water for seedlings to burst through the soil.  In yoga practice, there needs to be just the right amount of focused yet relaxed attention, control of the breath and placement of the body for the energy to flow. 

In a garden, it’s all about the soil. It needs to be well-fed with just the right amount of nutrients for plants and flowers to grow well - and so too for us.

For yoga practice to work its wonders, our body needs the best nourishment we can give it – fresh, high-quality food in the right proportions, adequate water, plenty of rest and tender loving care. Over time through consistent self care, we begin to notice positive shifts in our physical, mental and emotional health, just as a plant begins to thicken its stalk and produce branches. 

In plants and in our yoga journey, the small changes that happen day by day are almost imperceivable but after a while, we notice just how much growth there's been.

We might notice how we have become calmer, how our tight hips have loosened or our self-esteem has improved after a few months of regular practice. Just as we might realise how tall a plant has become and delight as tiny blossums appear.

An experienced gardener expects results from their garden instantly. They might think that just planting a shrub will result in it growing! Whereas the seasoned gardener, just like the seasoned yogi, knows there is a little more to it. The key to that shrub really flourishing is the careful planning, soil cultivation and patience - just as the seasoned yogi knows the importance of having the right mindset and lifestyle to support yoga practice so we flourish in the long term. 

 Gardeners also know that there are times when we need to prune, to cut right back to the base of a plant in order for it to survive and thrive. It can look stark, bold and be quite scary to do. But after a few weeks its amazing how thickly and beautifully a plant will respond with new shoots and growth.

In a yoga practice, time and time again we need to come back to the basics. Back to the moment, back to the breath and the simplicity of it all, rather than trying to add another technique or try another yoga style or another yoga teacher. Although it can be confronting to come back to the basics rather than to entertain the whims of the mind, in yoga, less is more.  Simplicity leads to a depth of growth and inner stability, often in surprising ways.

Just as you'd think about your garden, consider where you are at in your life and in your yoga practice:

  • How might you better tend to yourself and your yoga practice?
  • Are you allowing enough time for your yoga practice (and your self growth) to really flourish?
  • What nutrients are missing from your self-care? 
  • Does anything need to be pruned back for you to rediscover simplicity?

Both gardening and yoga are about connecting us with nature and noticing things just as they are. And they are the perfect fit when it comes to reconnecting us with our true, inner nature - that's calm, content and blissful.

Happy gardening and happy yoga!
Alison

Alison Hilton has been teaching yoga at Momentum for six years and specialises in pre and postnatal yoga classes. When not refining her tree pose she is most likely to be found pruning one or smiling joyfully in her garden!  

 

Yoga and love

Natalie Snooke - Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Love – many would say is life’s greatest mystery.

Yet many also come to find that through the paths of yoga, meditation and other forms of spiritual practice, love becomes something more knowable than they ever thought possible. Myself included.

When we think about love, it’s usually the romantic or emotional form.

When we ‘love’ somebody it creates a myriad of feelings such as joy, tenderness, care, affection, appreciation, wonder and lust, towards them. Love has an emotional attachment to it – and we cannot help that. It is our human instinct to want to be bonded to another and to be ‘loved’.

Yet there is also another kind of ‘love’.

A love that transcends emotional attachment. It has to do with presence. It has to do with a deeper, inner, pure form of love. And it is this form of deeper love that, if we are open, we can learn to experience through yoga.

The poet Rumi says: “Love is the bridge between you and everything.”

When we are relaxed and present, and not identified with our egoic mind, thinking and emotions, we experience a deeper state of consciousness that we call presence - or awareness, higher Self or spirit. To experience ourselves as presence, whilst on one hand is simple, is not always easy because of our conditioned habit to identify with our mind and emotions.

When we are truly present with another person, it means that we are not trapped in the judgements of the egoic mind. Our presence is clear. And we can also see and sense the other's clear presence. We feel connected. And if we stay gently yet intentionally attuned, we realise that this shared presence is energetically very real.

When we are truly present, we come to ‘love’ the other person because we recognise the same presence of who we are, in another.

Regardless of someone’s personality (which is just the conditioned mind and its patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving) we recognise that we are all the same – this sameness, this energy, this connection is love at its deepest level.

When yogis say they ‘feel the love’, which may be taken jokingly, chances are they genuinely mean it! We don’t need to be in a relationship with someone to sense this presence and love.

Feeling this deeper love is always available to us (whenever we are present, that is) and it is deeply satisfying. The Ancient Greeks referred to this kind of love as agape meaning the divine, highest form of love or the unconditional, selfless love of one person for another.

“Love ultimately, is true love beyond emotion, it is the recognition of yourself in the other.” Eckhart Tolle

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the emotional form of love – it’s just that we need to understand its limitations.

We need to be aware that emotional love changes form and can easily turn into many other emotions such as frustration, guilt, sadness or its opposite: hate. If we therefore rely on emotional love from someone else to feel happy and good about ourselves, then we are ultimately setting ourselves up for disappointment and dissatisfaction.

However, if we commit to seeking a deeper love, then we have the chance to potentially enjoy lifelong fulfilment. The first step is to experience and trust the presence or awareness in ourselves.

Whilst all authentic forms of yoga cultivate presence, there is one yogic path that also cultivates love. Bhakti Yoga is the path of union through devotion. Bhakti is characterised by the yogic practices of mantra repetition and chanting to cultivate a direct experience of deeper love. These practices work because they bypass the judgmental, egoic mind and connect us straight to the heart.

One final note. Even if you happen to have a sense of deeper love, you cannot force another to find it. One must undertake the inner journey and discover it for oneself. We might plant the seed, but it is up to the other person to want to water it!

And if you are lucky enough to be in an intimate relationship where emotional love is present as well as deeper love, then that is cause for gratitude and great celebration, over and over again.

I leave you with these words of love, again by Rumi:

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

With love,
Natalie

Natalie Snooke is the founder of Momentum and an experienced coach, mindfulness and yoga teacher. Natalie guides others to live with greater courage, compassion, purpose and authenticity. Apart from her regular classes held at Momentum, she runs inspiring and engaging workshops, retreats in Perth, Bali and India, as well as individual coaching programs. 

 

Why can't your pregnancy be a little more blissful?

Alison Hilton - Tuesday, March 14, 2017

I haven’t met a single pregnant woman who wants an uncomfortable and stressful time during their pregnancy, birth and transition to motherhood.

In fact, if ever you meet a pregnant woman who beams at you and says “my pregnancy is amazing and blissful” you might think she was completely crazy. Or probably lying. And underneath it all, you'd probably be feeling totally envious and wondering what was her secret.

Pregnancy is an incredible time in the journey of a woman's life. It's a time to celebrate and shine in all your feminine glory.

Yet I’m not suggesting that pregnancy, birth and motherhood will transport you to a fluffy, ethereal world with cherubs playing harps for the rest of eternity. But surely you deserve a little of the bliss? This bliss I’m talking about, is not something we find on the outside, it is not handed-out alongside the pee-cup to confirm our pregnancy at the doctor's surgery. It's something that we must create for ourselves.

It saddens me that for many pregnant women, pregnancy and birth is not blissful. Rather, it's just something to be endured or 'pushed through.'

Yes there are plenty of unwelcome and uncomfortable aspects to pregnancy. You may be quite familiar with your old friend ‘morning sickness’ (which never just greets you in the morning right?). There's the sore boobs, achy back or those restless and sleepless nights. You might've even experienced some of the less common side effects like random, dizzy spells in shopping centres, swollen ankles and hair loss!

Whilst pregnant we tend to focus a lot on the physical side – how the body feels and looks - and it’s not always a positive focus. What can really help us to enjoy the experience more, and even enjoy a bit of bliss, is our mindset. How we think and react is something we can control and nurture. And sadly, it is often completely ignored by both ourselves and those around us.

Doctors and medical professionals are intensely focused on your physical body and your baby’s growth and development. And we want that – that’s why we hire them.

But who attends to and nurtures your mental and emotional state during this period of change and growth? That's up to you.

You can choose to take time-out for yourself by joining a supportive Pregnancy Yoga group. This is where you'll get the time and space to be honest with yourself and consider and share important things that can really make a difference to your mental and emotional state. Things like: your attitude; your worries; how to manage work stress; dealing with your feelings about pregnancy and how it might be to be a mother. Doing this helps you to make conscious choices and thrive in pregnancy! It's invaluable to your overall health and wellbeing.

Too much time is spent obsessing over the best model pram or deciding on colour schemes and themes of nurseries, instead of reducing stress and increasing ‘down time’.

Why shouldn’t you feel great when you are pregnant?! Pregnancy is an exciting and even euphoric time. Don't let society pressures leave you feeling inadequate, scared or just unsure about what's going on. 

Pregnancy Yoga is a great way to spend time nurturing yourself, not just feeling good in your body or alleviating the aches and pains, but also giving you space in your mind to leave all the demands, expectations and responsibilities aside.

With a clearer head-space, pregnant and birthing women are able to:

  • Make better choices about their own health and wellbeing (and ultimately the health and wellbeing of their unborn baby);
  • More positively influence their attitudes towards their changing body and emerging role as mother and carer of a new life and;
  • Remain calm and enjoy their pregnancy and birth experience more.

A totally uncomfortable and stressed out pregnancy experience doesn’t have to be your default position. Why not take the opportunity now to shift it?

Can you stop, right now, just for one minute. Close your eyes and in this moment focus on one thing that is great about being pregnant. Notice how that makes you feel.

For more than one minute of bliss and contentment, book into our next 6 week Pregnancy Yoga Course where you'll meet a group of like-minded women who are also keen to have a positive, relaxed mindset.

Alison Hilton is Momentum’s Pregnancy and Postnatal yoga specialist. She has been teaching yoga for 5 years and also works in adult education in the university sector. As a mum herself she realises that bliss during motherhood some days can be when your darlings are peacefully asleep and you can sink back into the couch and have a moment to yourself!

The true healing power of community celebration.

Natalie Snooke - Monday, January 30, 2017

The-healing-power-of-community-connection

Community celebrations are not just good fun - our soul yearns for this healing connection.  

On the weekend I was honoured to participate in One Day in Fremantle and Silence Speaks - two very special community events that each created a profound sense of celebration, connection and empowerment like I have never before experienced. 

On Saturday 28 January, One Day in Fremantle was the City of Fremantle's alternative to the traditional Australia Day. 

Celebrations held on this day meant that Noongar people, the local Aboriginal custodians of the land, could share their culture and celebrate being Australian, just like the rest of us. 

In the 15,000 crowd it was tremendous to see a proud cohort of Aboriginal people fully-engaged and abundantly sharing their culture through song, dance, conversation and ceremony - their sincerity was palpable, drawing a tear or a smile from everyone around them. Celebrating alongside each other as Australians there was a natural cameraderie, a sense of understanding, of love and indeed, oneness.  

It's times like this when we realise that our human heart yearns to simply connect person-to-person. And when we do, it brings us deep happiness, understanding and healing.

On Sunday 29 January, Silence Speaks was the Save the Beeliar Wetlands silent gathering in Forrest Place, Perth. Over 1000 people came together, standing in silence and stillness for one hour against the destruction of native wetlands. Standing together as a group of passionate, caring citizens, choosing to rise above government adversity, was incredibly powerful. The aftermath of joy was unbelievable, giving us a renewed sense of energy, hope and purpose.

We want a safe world. We want world peace. We want our community to thrive. We want our children to be happy. We want our environment to remain in tact.

Yet when we focus on staying at home, fixated 'in our own world' or behind the safety of a screen without making a real-life community contribution, not only do we increase our risk of mental illness such as anxiety and depression, we rob ourselves and each other of the chance to learn, grow and become better people, in the way that nature intended us to - through human connection.   

Numerous studies throughout the world have proven the link between social interaction, well-being and a decreased risk of mental health disease, such as anxiety and depression. (Source: Western Australian Department of Sport and Recreation).

Next time you gather in community - for your yoga or meditation class, for your children's sporting event, at your local community centre, for a volunteer meeting, busy-bee or for a larger-scale community celebration - embrace the chance to learn from and connect with those around you. Celebrate your common-purpose. Trust in the natural healing that can come when our minds and hearts unite.  

And if you aren't already actively involved in your community, find out the opportunities in your local area and commit to becoming more involved in 2017.

Immense gratitude goes to the volunteer teams who put both events together - thank you for your tireless work and energy! May we each relish the great healing and joy that comes from making a meaningful contribution to our community - irrespective of outcomes - but simply for the greater good of all.

With joy,
Natalie

5 ways to overcome fear and anxiety

Natalie Snooke - Thursday, July 07, 2016

There isn't a person alive who doesn't experience fear.

As a coach and teacher who has had the privilege of working fairly intimately with hundreds of people over the years, I get to witness the positive and negative effects of fear first-hand. 

Being able to experience and move past fear, nervousness, self-doubt and worry is a skill most of us could become much better at. 

When we successfully manage our fears we live courageously, make good decisions, participate fully in relationships and enjoy a fulfilling life. And we feel good about ourselves!

Yet if our fear isn't addressed and well-managed, especially with the pace and complexity of modern life, it can easily become chronic anxiety with debilitating health, wellbeing and social impacts. 

Anxiety disorders have become the most common illnesses in Australia and the western world. According to Beyond Blue in Australia now one in every three women and one in every five men will experience anxiety - as will one in every six young people aged 16-24. That's pretty staggering when you think about it.

So what exactly is fear?

We know about the 'genuine form' of fear. It's one of the four primary human emotional states along with happiness/pleasure, sadness and anger. Fear's job is to let us know when things aren't 'quite right', to guide us to be safe and to look after ourselves. Like making us wait on the kerb so we don't cross the road in front of traffic. Healthy fear enables us to make good practical choices for how to live. 

Fear also has what I'll call a 'lesser form' that causes us the most problems. These subtler, more common fears come in the form of niggling worries, self-doubt, negativity, criticism and even procrastination. They are fears that we 'perceive' to be true, yet aren't. Things like: 

  • fear of speaking-up
  • worrying about what other people think 
  • fear of being rejected or not liked
  • fear of failing
  • fear of not being good enough
  • fear of not being able to cope. 
Which ones do you relate most to?

The impact of these lesser fears accumulates and puts us in a state of stagnation, confusion, defensiveness or makes us feel like we're just surviving - none of which are helpful in the long-run. They keep us stuck from taking healthy risks and meaningful steps forward in our personal or professional lives - and prevent us from being the person we'd really like to be or from living the life we'd rather be living. 

When we take a closer look at our lesser fears we find they're actually not that accurate, big or scary, its just that we've believed them and built-them-up to be that way. More on that later.

Mindfulness and breaking down fear.

If we break-down each fear experience it actually has two components: a thinking or story component; as well as an energetic component of felt sensations in the body. Most often we pay too much attention to (and get lost in) our 'story' and not enough attention to simply 'feeling' the raw bodily sensations of our fear. By developing mindfulness or self-awareness we get much better at being with our fears as a way of releasing them. Again, more on that later.

Fear also also tends to be a rather slippery emotion. Sometimes it hides beneath sadness or anger or even beneath the surface of our conscious awareness. We might strategically bypass or deny our fear but nonetheless it goes about sabotaging us and prevents us from being happy, without us even being aware of it. 

We all have the capacity to see through and overcome our fears. It's about putting fear into a healthy perspective, learning to be brave, putting into place helpful skills and practices and believing in your 'best' self. How?

These five approaches will get you on your way.

1. Understand that the root-cause of fear is your mind.

At its fundamental level, the root-cause of fear is over-identification with the egoic mind (as well as the limbic system that controls our emotions). We believe that we ARE our thoughts or emotions. We believe (and give unnecessary power to) the negative stories and self-beliefs that we tell ourselves. We lose the ability to see ourselves beyond our thoughts. 

Know that there is an aspect of you that is not fearful, an aspect that is beyond fear and doubt. Although it might be awkward or challenging at first, learn to get in touch with and experience this part of yourself. 

Take three deep breaths to relax and begin to notice yourself as the 'aware presence' that just witnesses your fearful thoughts and emotions - that part of you that is free and beyond the fear itself. (If you're having trouble relating to what I'm saying, don't worry, just keep reading because one of the other approaches will probably resonate more for you!)

2. RAIN - recognise and accept yourself as you are.

The RAIN approach, developed by psychologist and teacher Tara Brach, is a simple way of befriending and overcoming all sorts of emotional states including fear. It reminds us that all emotional states are temporary, they come and they go if we give them the chance to do so. The power of this step-by-step approach is in accepting yourself just as you are and showing self-compassion. 

Recognize what is going on. You might say to yourself: 'right now I am scared' or 'right now I am feeling anxious'.
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is. There's no need to change anything.
Investigate with interest and care. Become curious about what's going on inside you. Observe your thoughts and the sensations in your body.
Nourish with self-compassion. Go gently with yourself in the process. Treat yourself kindly. Let go of expectations and judgments. 

3. Adopt a life-long mindfulness practice - how yoga and meditation helps overcome fear.

Begin a regular yoga and/or meditation practice and stick with it over a number of years to experience its full fear-busting benefits. 

Yoga involves working mindfully with the body and the breath to enhance and balance our flow of energy. When we practice authentic yoga regularly over a period of time our energy flow increases and we become more and more attuned to noticing and accepting all of the various sensations, thoughts and emotions that dwell within us in any given moment. For example, we might notice when we become scared before attempting a new yoga posture. Our yoga teacher is there to gently encourage us to safely 'feel and meet' this fear rather than running from it, denying it or indulging in it. Despite the fear, we give the posture our best and be happy with our efforts. 

A similar process happens in meditation. We train ourselves to be mindful, to focus and notice things that arise in us moment by moment. If fear or self-doubt arises we learn to gently 'be' with it and to give it time to dissolve. Over time as we become more skilled we become better able to experience fear and its impacts on us tend to lessen. 

By applying these skills we learn in yoga and meditation we become skillful in overcoming fears in our daily life. And when we stop resisting feeling fear, we give ourselves the opportunity to open to the deeper peace and joy that's naturally within us. This is the ultimate goal of yoga and meditation.

According to Yoga Australia the peak professional body for yoga in Australia, there is a growing number of scientific studies that confirm the evidence of yoga and meditation's positive health and wellbeing benefits on anxiety.

4. Get support with therapy or coaching.

When we are facing our fears we are really confronting ourselves. Getting the support and confidence of someone else is crucial if you are really serious about overcoming your fears - I know that I would not be who or where I am today if it wasn't for the valuable support of both professions at different stages of my personal growth. I truly believe that it takes the support of someone else to allow us to grow into our fullest potential.

A good psychologist or therapist will support you to understand and be with your fear and anxiety. A good life coach or executive coach specialising in mindfulness will also help you to deepen your self-awareness, identify your unique vision, values and goals and take meaningful steps to move you forwards. Both professions will teach you invaluable skills that you can adopt and master for happier everyday living.

5. Choose LOVE over fear.

The opposite of fear is love. Fear cannot exist where there is love. By this I mean seeing the goodness in life and adopting the attitude, confidence and trust that life is 'for us' instead of 'against us'. 

Choosing to live from a place of love means that you are ruthlessly committed to creating and finding goodness, hope, peace and harmony in yourself, in others and in the world - as opposed to competition, blaming, one-up-manship and the need to prove oneself - which are all fear-based. Love opens and expands. Love is courageous. Love is strength. Choosing love evokes our greatest human and spiritual potential.

Choosing love is however not for the faint hearted, but it is powerful beyond words! I recommend books and talks by empowering spiritual teachers/leaders such as Michael Beckwith, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Tara Brach and Marianne Williamson - and I'm sure there are others. 

Embracing life and overcoming fear are one and the same. At Momentum Coaching & Yoga we stand for, honour and support the best, most courageous and most loving version of you - always.

With love,
Natalie

What is mindfulness?

Natalie Snooke - Friday, April 29, 2016

Mindfulness. I well remember the time in my early 20's when I first made the discovery. When I realised I could 'observe' my own mind without getting involved in its story. 

I was at a communications skills workshop with well-known facilitator Rachel Green, who had us in pairs talking and listening. One person had to talk while the other person had to listen and at the same time, watch their own internal dialogue and reactions. As I was listening to my partner, I realised that I could also see what was going-on with my thoughts and reactions without getting caught up in them or in the other person's story. It was one of those light-bulb moments. 

Up until that point in my life, it hadn't really dawned on me that I could actually 'watch' my own mind. 

It was like I had discovered a new way of being with myself - not that I had any idea of the significance of this discovery at the time, I just thought it was pretty cool! And later as an adult, this realisation would deepen, become the cornerstone of my life and lead to tremendous growth and joy, as well as my fair-share of frustrations along the way.

I had discovered the art of mindfulness - the capacity of human beings to be mindful or self-aware. 

We all have an inner-observer. A part of us that is simply aware or conscious of what is going on around us and, that can also be aware of whatever is going on within us. It is widely accepted amongst scientists that the capacity to be self-aware is what distinguishes humans from other animals, yet its significance and importance is often misunderstood and under-valued, especially when it comes to our happiness and sense of fulfillment in life.

In fact, mindfulness is the essential ingredient of creativity, wisdom, authentic happiness and living to our highest potential. 

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness has several aspects to it. As we make our way through life it means to:

  • be aware of our thoughts, feelings, senses and physical experiences, moment to moment;
  • pay attention to our immediate surroundings;
  • be at ease and allow whatever is happening and;
  • be kind and intentional in our thoughts, words and actions.
The concept of mindfulness originates from the ancient Buddhist tradition and the Pali word sati meaning to remember. It is understood that without having some foundations of mindfulness, something to anchor our attention to, we simply 'forget' to be present. And this leads us to suffer and be unhappy.

Although mindfulness is a simple approach, and most people can understand it, it isn't easy and takes effort to put into practice. 

Unfortunately our conditioning and our habits, the things that we do mindlessly, get in the way. We've trained ourselves in unhealthy ways - with the help of things like Facebook, Thermomixes and a materialistic, complex and technologically-driven world - to have a fairly scattered quality of attention. Somehow, we've convinced ourselves that we feel good when we multi-task and get as many things done as quickly as we can, whilst often paying little attention to the details and to what we are thinking or how we are feeling in the moment. 

Because we tend to be two-steps ahead and focussing on the future (or 'shoulding' about the past) rather than in 'the now' we therefore 'miss out' on a lot of what's actually going on inside us. This means that we can't access our creativity, we aren't able to be in our hearts and fully connect with others, we miss the warning signs that our body isn't coping or all too often, we feel like we don't know who we are anymore. I witness many people who suffer from one or more of these symptoms - also known as a mid-life crisis.

Is this making sense?

Consider how mindful you are in a typical day. If you:
  • spend most of your time remembering or regretting about what you 'should' have had, said or felt and/or;
  • spend most of your time thinking, planning, hoping or worrying about what you're going to have, do, say or feel like 'next' and/or;
  • drive somewhere but once you arrive you cannot remember anything about the journey you've just taken and/or;
  • find yourself forgetting someone's name after you've just been introduced to them only moments before, then this would indicate that you are normal! But that you're not paying full attention in the present moment - you're not being as mindful as you could.
Mindfulness is not about perfection.

Sure, being mindful one hundered percent of the time is a challenging task and we are not seeking some impossible perfection! Part of the paradox of mindfulness is that it's about accepting and allowing ourselves and life to be just as it is, warts and all.

With mindfulness, there's a middle-path to explore, a way for us to create balance between accepting things as they are and putting in meaningful effort to create greater ease and harmony. Most of us would find we'd feel more naturally happy and satisfied with ourselves, others, our work and our life if we were more self-aware, more allowing and more mindful. 

The benefits of mindfulness.

Plenty of research compiled at the American Mindfulness Research Association shows that mindfulness reduces stress at work, improves heart health, enables us to better manage our food intake and improves the quality of our relationships. Being mindful or not can be the difference between: being stressed or being comfortable; feeling anxious or feeling at ease and; suffering in life or embracing life as it is.

When we become more mindful, we gain clarity about what's really important to us and we're able to peel away some of the unnecessary complexities of life. 

One of the best ways to cultivate mindfulness is through a regular meditation or yoga practice. These kinds of body-centred practice trains us to remain present and anchored to our body and our breath, as well as to be allowing and kind to ourselves, moment by moment. And anyone can learn these skills.

To learn more about mindfulness and how to practise it in daily life, we recommend starting with our Beginner's Meditation Courseand Beginner's Yoga Courses, run throughout the year at our centre in Melville.

Over time, mindfulness allows us to suffer less and to love more. It leads us inwards, back to our heart, to the greatest ease and joy that's available to any human being. Are you open to it?

Wishing you well in the moment!
Natalie

How to be calm and content even when you're not on holidays

Natalie Snooke - Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Returning from India, after several weeks on retreat and holidays - exploring temples, meditating and practicing yoga for extended periods, laughing with local village men and women, walks along the beach, shopping for colourful fabrics and gifts, savouring spices and zesty foods - having amazing experiences without having to worry about cooking, cleaning or other daily chores, it would be easy to feel sad and regret being back home.

But that's not the case.

Like many clients and students I work with, I used to think that being truly content and calm was only possible when I was on holidays. During those times when I wasn't working, when I didn't have bills to pay and when I didn't have to do things I didn't want to do. Then after one holiday I had to plan the next holiday to get me through.

Contentment and calm in daily life is closer to us than we might think. At our core, in our heart we are peacefully happy. It's our nature. It's the very foundation of our being, yet somehow along the pathway of life, we've managed to 'unlearn' and forget this.

Contentment and calm is about creating - and recreating - daily balance so that we can know this within. It's about being clear about our real priorities and putting them into practice everyday. 

Holidays and taking regular time-off from work are essential for our wellbeing. But if we realise that we don't have to be on holidays in order to feel peaceful or happy with ourselves, then we can save ourselves a lot of extra energy, effort and frustration. Not to mention money.  

Being home and back working at Momentum, despite the fact that I had business emails and projects to catch up on, bills to pay, a garden to tend and meals to prepare, I found that I could really enjoy these responsibilities and duties. I could commit to simply doing each task fully - living in the moment without wishing I was back on retreat. I could also relish moments of joy like gazing up at the golden full-moon. And I've come to realise that its because of a few simple, fundamental things that have become my way-of-life over the years, things that I do everyday that don't take a lot of time, that has allowed a deep, positive impact to accummulate. 

Sure, my life is no bed of roses, I still have my moments! But generally I'm able to be calm and content most days, no matter what I'm doing or what life demands of me. 

The secret is simple and often. So here they are. 

Meditate in the early-morning. Getting up around sunrise and spending (at least) the first 10 minutes of every day sitting in silent meditation or contemplation is profoundly powerful. Relax as you focus on the natural breath. Doing this connects you within and creates a calm focus for the day ahead.

Practice gratitude. Writing in a journal about five things, people, opportunities or your character-traits that you are grateful for, big or small cultivates genuine gratitude and compassion. Try and make your five different everyday. This practice is heart-opening and expands your presence. The vibration of gratitude makes us more receptive to the good in life. 

Know your purpose. Knowing what you're doing and why you're doing it is personally empowering. Find out the bigger purpose to you and your life, that underpins everything that you do. And if you aren't sure about this, then start to question yourself or seek some life coaching support to clarify it. It makes all the difference! 

It's this type of approach that we all need to adopt if we are sincere about wanting to be calm and content in our everyday lives. Then our holidays can truly add to our wellbeing and to the rich tapestry of our life-experience, rather than become a desperate escape from the very life that beckons us to realise who we are and embrace this, each and every day.

How will you start your day tomorrow?

Natalie

The 9 healthy habits for living to be 100

Natalie Snooke - Monday, November 30, 2015

We all want to live a long, happy and healthy life. But you might not believe that its possible to be 100 and still be active and enjoying every minute. Here's how.

Global research reveals that living to be healthy, disease-free and 100+ is not as rare or as complicated as we might think. 

Making simple lifestlye choices are the key to slowing down the aging process and positively influencing how long and how well we will live. No matter how old you are and where you live, you can learn how to, starting today.

Debunking Myths

With so much information available around on healthy living, it can be confusing to know what to believe so this research was designed to identify the key factors for longevity. What things really made a difference?  

Do health supplements make a difference? Do we need passion, purpose or spirituality? Does organic verses non-organic matter? Should we practice yoga or should we run marathons? Should we be vegan, vegetarian, eat fish or eat meat? And what about our genes? 

For over five years National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner and a team from the US National Institute of Aging examined cultures around the world. They identified the areas with the highest demographic proportion of people aged 100 years or more - areas where life expectancy is up to 12 years greater than it is in Australia - and identified the common lifestyle characteristics that made them live longer. They called these areas 'blue zones'. 

The four blue zones are found in Sardinia Italy, Okinawa Japan, Nicoya Costa Rica and surprisingly, in California USA. 

What was discovered in these blue zones, not only do people live to be ripe-old-ages of 100+ they are also mostly free of chronic disease. They live vigorous, engaged lives and it's rare that they die in hospital beds or nursing homes. That's good news for everyone. 

The Truth Revealled

Nine common relatively simple factors, making up the optimal formula for longevity, were found.

1. Move naturally every day. None of the blue zones 'exercised' per se. They incorporated natural movement in the tasks of their day, like walking as a mode of transport and tending to their garden. In Sardinia, men of 102 years of age still ride bikes to work.

  • Although it might mean a little inconvenience, create space for daily physical activity. 
  • Choose to work or go to schools closer to home that you can walk or ride a bike to instead of driving a car. Or ride or walk a part of the way. 
  • Do active household chores like raking and sweeping as often as you can, rather than getting others or machines to do the work. Most of us would do well to take a leaf out of our grandparents' book!
2. Practice mindful eating and reduce food intake by 20%. Those in Okinawa have a saying ''Hara hachi bi' which reminds them to not over-eat and to stop eating when they are 80% full. They also make eating a ritual and conscious activity. In Nicoya they also ate a light dinner early in the evening.
  • Practice eating less and stopping before you are completely full to leave enough room for digestion (this is also an ancient yogic practice called mityahara). 
  • Use smaller plates and bowls.
  • Try making your evening meal lighter than your lunch, and eating early in the evening,
  • Serve food first, put the rest away and then sit to eat mindfully. All-you-can-eat buffets with second and third helpings were not a part of the blue-zone cultures.

3. Eat a mainly plant-based diet. Across all of the blue zones there was a prevalence of plant-based foods including vegetables, grains, nuts and tofu (that wasn't necessarily organic). 

  • Increase the amount of fresh vegetables and plant-based protein foods in your daily diet.
  • Consider having set meat-free meals or days.
  • Notice how you feel after eating less meat after a period of time.

4. Drink red wine...in moderation! A daily intake of no more than two serves of red wine per day was found to be common amongst those living the longest in the blue zones.

5. Determine your life purpose. In Okinawa, they have a life-purpose called an ekigai or a 'reason to get up in the morning' with them throughout their life and there is no word for retirement. It gave their life value. 

  • Why do you get up in the morning and do what you do?
  • Develop a heartfelt personal vision or mission statement. 
  • Write down a list of things that naturally draw your interest and curiosity, looking for the common threads and finding ways to make that basis of your life. 

6. Simplify to relieve stress. Each of the blue zones communities practised the habit of taking rest. For those in California, it was an established seventh-day ritual.

  • Reduce your daily to-do list to just the most important to allow time for rest.
  • Practice giving yourself more time to arrive somewhere early, rather than rushing to be late. 
  • Spend quiet time without television or computers to help to soothe your nervous system. 
  • Learn life-skills such as yoga and meditation for relaxation.
  • These may seem like a small things, but they can have a big, cumulative impact on your overall sense of wellbeing. 

7. Belonging to a faith-based community. In California the men and women living in a Seventh Day Adventist community live up to 11 years older than average Americans. They follow a small set of common values and lifestyle habits throughout their lives. For one day per week, they have a 'sabath' a strict rest day and often take a nature walk. Prayer was also found to be a part of the Sardinian blue zone group.

  • Get to know yourself on a deeper level by exploring your spirituality.  
  • No longer just for church-goers, spiritual communities and groups, such as reflective peer support groups, some yoga centres or meditation groups bring people together in ways that foster connection, practice and conversation based on a spiritual or deeper meaning of life. 

8. Put loved ones first and make family a priority. In Sardinia, where they have an extra six years of longevity, the older they get, the more wisdom they are celebrated for.  They show great respect for their elders and this also has a positive influence on their youth.

  • What does family connection look like to you? 
  • Create family rituals like walks, games nights or Sunday dinners to unite your loved ones. 
  • Consider how you might spend more regular time with your family to promote togetherness. 

9. Choose the right tribe. In Okinawa, it was found that people belonged to a small circles of life-long friends called a moai where the challenges and joys of life were all shared freely. 

  • The people that you surround yourself with influence your health more so than almost any other factor. 
  • Choose to be around people who share similar values as you, who prioritise their physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing in ways that inspire you rather than turn you off. 
  • Maybe its time to reconnect with or refresh your tribe!

"The calculus of aging offers us two options: We can live a shorter life with more years of disability or we can live the longest possible life with fewest bad years. As my centenarian friends showed me, the choice is largely up to us." Dan Buettner. Watch his TED talk here.

At Momentum Coaching and Yoga all of our coaching, yoga and meditation services support the findings of the Blue Zone research. We encourage you to try (and try us again) for yourself.

May you live a happy, healthy and long life,

Natalie


Why people give up on yoga and how to stay on track

Natalie Snooke - Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Why_do_people_give_up_on_yoga_momentum_coaching_yoga_perthWhy do people give-up or struggle to get back to their yoga, even when they know it's what they really need? 

Helping yourself and finding the answers might be simpler than you think.

Yoga - when we apply ourselves to its practices, its positive values and approach to life - brings great health, happiness, wisdom and love. Yoga (including the practice of meditation) can cure disease, reverse the effects of ageing, balance the nervous system, connect us to our loving heart and bring us vitality and emotional resilience to live life to the full.

The benefits of yoga and meditation are there for everyone - ask anyone who's been practicing for a few years and they'll tell you how it sustains their life. 

Yet paradoxically, it's often the case that many people start yoga, with the best of intentions, enjoy it's benefits for a short time, even grow to love it and then let it go. Often without ever really stopping to question how or why. Sound familiar?

Everyone has Problems with Yoga

The truth is that everyone encounters problems with their yoga! Yoga's systematic, inside-out process is cleverly designed to test us out. To coax each of us to reach our best potential by rising above whatever challenges us, both on and off the yoga mat. 

We can expect that there will be negative circumstances that have the potential to get in the way of our yoga - if we let it. Usually within the first three months of starting yoga, and regularly thereafter, most people will run into something that challenges them to keep up their regular practice. Momentum_Coaching_Yoga_Melville

When we find ourselves challenged in continuing our yoga classes or doing our home practice, we need to take a moment to stop, be honest and notice how our thinking and behaviour patterns are contributing to the challenge. This is part of yoga.

Challenges can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Sometimes they're obvious - we might get sick - and sometimes they're more subtle and show up in our thinking or attitude. More about these challenges later in the blog.

By just being aware whenever we're finding yoga a challenge is a fantastic first-step - in doing so, we can consciously overcome it. Then rather than giving-up, we summons our wisdom, strength and courage to meet the challenge. We gently persevere, find a way around it, minimise it's impact, get some support or modify our approach. 

The secret to happiness and freedom through yoga (like life) is found in how we overcome our challenges. Those who benefit the most from yoga are those who find a way around their obstacles and continue to practice. Take this example.

The Stress of Life

Say you've had a particularly stressful day at work, where nothing seemed to go your way and just before you're ready to leave, your boss gives you another project to add on to your already-over-loaded workload.

You normally go to a yoga class after work but today you feel totally over it. Your mind is numb and you don't feel like doing anything else apart from crashing on your couch with your favourite glass of cab sav. Somehow, you know that yoga would really help you out but today you feel like you've had enough. What do you do? 

How_to_Stay_on_Track_with_Yoga_Momentum_Caoching_Yoga_PerthFirst of all, you acknowledge and accept that you're being challenged! 

Rather than react and give-in to frustration, you take a moment to pause, take a deep breath and decide to make a start on your new project in the morning, when you're fresh. 

You listen to your wisdom (that you'll feel better by doing your yoga) knowing that it will uplift you and shift your gloomy mood. You gently acknowledge and put-aside the tempting thoughts to bail-out and you take the next step towards leaving work on-time to get to your yoga class. 

When you get to your class, you find that your teacher gives you just the right words of encouragement you needed to hear to help you put things into perspective. You feel happy again and you feel good about yourself having made the effort. And the next time it happens, having gained some inner strength from last time, it's that much easier not to give-up your yoga for the sake of a challenge.

Ok. I realise that this might sound idealistic and that sometimes things might not be that straightforward. But you get the gist. There are ALWAYS thoughts, feelings and attitudes that you can work through and wise, helpful choices that you can make, to help yourself when it comes to yoga. Or anything else for that matter.

More About the Most Common Obstacles

The good news is that you don't need to spend too much time problem-solving your yoga challenges. Yoga philosophy takes care of that. 

The recognised authority on yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali written around 2500 years ago describes the obstacles and mental distractions (as well as solutions) that are likely to arise on the yoga journey. They are common to everyone. They are a natural, predicable part of the yoga process so we can take some comfort just by knowing this. 

Here are the six main obstacles to be aware of and ways to overcome them.

1. Sickness
Any sickness or disease means there is energetic instability in the body/mind and yoga is about recalibrating and balancing this. If you are unwell, it can be easy to assume that you shouldn't start or continue yoga. On the contrary, some yoga will generally benefit. Yoga can take many forms and with a skilled teacher, can be effectively targeted and safely modified to suit a range of illnesses and ailments. As a guide, if you have a headcold/flu, continue to practice gently, unless the symptoms are in the chest. 

Before you decide to give-up your practice, speak to your teacher about what they can recommend. At Momentum, we are used to accommodating students and are happy to have a chat to your treating doctor, specialist or physio about your needs, knowing that sometimes medical professionals have a limited understanding of the full range of potential yoga practices that can safely help you.   

2. Sensory Overload
The colours, sights, sounds and responsibilities of modern life draws our attention continuously outward, external to our body. Living this was takes up a lot of energy. We become mentally distracted, our nervous system remains on hyper-alert, our focus of attention weakens as we try to take too many things on-board and we tend to feel disconnected and 'lose' ourselves. 

Yoga and meditation is supported by moderation. Too much of anything becomes an obstacle to practice. Moderation in eating, drinking, talking, working and exercise, as well as sleeping and rest is important. Notice the areas of your life where you tend to over-do things and start to bring it into better balance. When we're in balance, it's easy to be kind to ourself and to do only what is important or needed, rather than everything we tell ourselves we 'should'. The energy you save is invaluable and can then be put to good use in your yoga or meditation.

3. Lethargy 
A lack of energy or feeling of inertia happens to us all from time to time. When you notice this, first of all it's important that you adjust your routine and make conscious choices to manage your energy inputs and outputs - eat regular, nutritious meals, get a good night's sleep, have a good balance of work-rest-play and reduce your social interactions. 

Yoga postures, movement, breathwork and relaxation is designed to replenish rather than reduce your energy, so bear this in mind. The sooner you can start or return to yoga, the better you'll feel. Don't be tempted to wait for life to be perfect for yoga, as it often isn't! 


4. Doubt
Thinking things like "Yoga won't work for me or or I'm not flexible enough for yoga" or "I don't need to do yoga today" are very common mental misconceptions.

Doubt arises when we don't have faith in ourselves or trust in the potential of yoga. Most doubt is not true and is just a veil of the mind that can be proven otherwise.

To address your doubts, talk to a trusted friend or yoga teacher to allay your fears. Draw on your courage to try, practice and keep practicing, until you see through your doubts.

5.  Haste
Being impatient, careless or hasty with your approach to yoga can also be an obstacle. Doing so may mean that you injure yourself or because of high expectations, feel disappointed and don't continue. Remember that yoga is a journey, with many gems along the way, so consider having a realistic long-term approach. 

Be prepared to go carefully and to take things step-by-step. Remember the race between the hare and the tortoise? The tortoise always wins the race in yoga too.

6.  Apathy
Having a defeatest attitude towards yoga can be one of the more subtle obstacles to yoga that lurks away underneath the surface. Check your attitude on a regular basis. Remind yourself of the things you have to be positive about! Remember how far you've already come in your yoga (and in your life) and call on the support of your family, friends, fellow students and yoga teacher. 

If you choose to be positive, then positive benefits will flow to you.

Freedom from suffering is one of the basic tenets of yoga. And it is often our suffering and lack of well-being that first brings us to yoga. By gently persevering through our challenges we can and will experience greater freedom in the body, mind and heart through yoga - but we have to trust and give the process of yoga a real chance.

After 10+ years of practice myself and having stepped through many challenges, I can honestly say that the rewards are totally worth it! But more about that another time...

Best wishes as you meet and overcome your yoga challenges.
Namaste.
Natalie



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