Five things I learned from running a mindfulness and communication retreat in Bali

 

I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.

– Brene Brown

bali_retreatPhoto by McKay Savage

I recently co-facilitated a mindful communciation and movement retreat in Ubud, Bali, along with my Mum (Marg Pontin) who is a certified trainer in NVC (Non-Violent Communication). We delved into mindfulness practices, including sitting, moving and walking; mindful listening, to others and ourselves; and mindful communication, expressing ourselves to others and asking requests of others and of ourselves. We discussed shame, vulnerability, and self-compassion, and practiced prioritising self-care the whole time. All in all, it was a mind-blowing week of learning, growth and connection. Here’s a few gems that I took away from the retreat…

1) It really is “all about connection”

That was the name of our retreat: ‘it’s all about connection’ and wow, did it turn out to be true. Of all the learning exercises we did, all the group discussions, so many just came back to that single point. How important it is for us humans to be social, to have a tribe that we belong to – to be connected to others. It’s such a powerful thing.

2) Allowing yourself to be vulnerable can be excruciating – and can also lead to incredibly deep connection with others

Once you’ve agreed with number one, it begs the question – how to get connected? And wow, the connections that were forged in our 7 days together were incredible. It never ceases to amaze me that the sense of connection with others always comes after the tears, the talking about deep pain, or fear, or anxieties, all the uncomfortable places to go. There’s just something about someone seeing those tender parts of you and saying (not always in so many words) ‘I see you, I hear you, I’m with you’ – which is what we were practicing doing throughout the retreat (otherwise called ’empathy’).

mindfulness_retreat_baliPhoto by Hadi Zaher

3) You can still have crappy days and/or moments – even when you’re in a tropical paradise

It’s so easy to leave home for a holiday, leaving behind all your literal and metaphorical baggage, and then fall into that trap of ‘oh, life would be so much easier/happier/relaxing if I just upped and moved to Bali/Prague/Iceland…’ and I actually find it somewhat comforting to remember that life happens, wherever you are. Going on a holiday (even a working holiday!) can be a great break and a breather, but putting your ‘stuff’ on hold doesn’t get rid of it – and if you were to stay in your paradise, eventually you’d still have to deal with it. (And I did).

4) Dancing is the best

I rediscovered my love for salsa (LA style, in case you’re wondering!) and somehow found the time to go to three group lessons and three social dancing nights…and yes, an amazing 2:1 semi private salsa lesson held in the meditation bale of my accommodation – total bliss, it has to be said.

I also noted how many of our group lit up when we did the private lesson for our group of eight – I so love the beautiful way that moving our bodies, especially to music, can bring us joy. And the best part? When our salsa teacher explained to the group at the end of the lesson that in salsa, ‘it’s all about the connection’. It was like we paid him to say it! (We didn’t!)

bali_retreat_mindfulnessPhoto by Trent Strohm

5) How deep the sense of contentment and fulfillment is when you do what is really meaningful for you

All I have here is wow. The overwhelmingly positive feedback from the retreat just blew me away. I amazed myself with the energy I had for other people during the sessions – even on a busy day, when I sat down one-on-one with participants, I was so focused and in a state of ‘flow’ that the time flew by. To finish the day tired, but with a sense of ‘yep, I did something that is authentically me’ – and added a bit of value to someone else’s life in the process – is so immensely satisfying. I want more.

 

Ever thought about going on retreat to Bali? Or learning more about mindfulness, communication and connection? Sign up to my email list at the top of the page to be in the loop for the next live event!

 

How I stop my negative thoughts

The short answer?

I don’t.

Let me explain…

negative-thoughts

Image by Craig Sunter

What do I mean by negative thoughts?

I don’t like the term negative. To me that’s suggesting that it is a bad thing, that should be avoided or fixed, or something along those lines. Rather, I prefer to think of thoughts and emotions in terms of enjoyable, and not enjoyable. I enjoy thinking about how much I love my friends and family, I enjoy feeling peaceful and grateful and (belly)full. I don’t really enjoy feeling sad or irritated or stressed, or thinking about what would happen if that car pulled out in front of me or where I would go if I ran out of money and couldn’t pay my rent…you get the picture.

 

We all have them.

I’m actually bummed that there’s so many articles and books about stopping ‘negative thoughts’, because I don’t believe it would ever be possible. Every single human has un-enjoyable thoughts and/or emotions at some point. Every one feels things like anger, guilt, sadness, frustration, tiredness…so why do we have this big story going around that it’s somehow wrong to feel these things, and it should be stopped? The nature of human life is to experience both highs and lows.

we-all-have-negative-thoughts Image by Meg Wills

Why do we have un-enjoyable thoughts?

From an evolutionary perspective, we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have negative thoughts. We needed to be cautious and suspicious about other people stealing our territory away from us, from predators, from food that would make us sick. Our brain is still just trying to protect us, by warning us about every old thing. Sometimes our brain does its job perfectly, warning us about a legitimate danger like an approaching car, or letting us know that there’s something that we need to do in order to live a more enjoyable life (like leave our crappy job).

 

Sometimes though, our brain sends us unnecessary warnings.

You know those really big, loud, scary-looking but somewhat-dense dogs? You might be sitting at home with your faithful canine standing guard, and your friend comes to visit, and the dog goes berserk. Barking and jumping around, warning you (its beloved owner) about this threat that has presented itself. Of course you, as a rational human being, check out the situation and see who’s at the door. You quickly notice that in fact it is your friend, and really, poses no threat at all. But try convincing old pal puppy of that.

how-to-stop-negative-thoughts

Image by Mark Robinson

That’s what your brain is like sometimes. A big, stupid, loveable dog.

A dog that is inclined to go berserk about many and varied situations that could be interpreted as threats, but you in your rational mind can step back and see that in fact, it’s not a threat at all. Then you can choose to approach your thoughts the same way you can approach a barking dog. By acknowledging it, checking out the situation for yourself, and then calmly telling it that you don’t need it to protect you, because you are running the show here. Oh brain, I see we’re bringing up the story about ‘I-can’t-ever-trust-another-man-again’, are we? Thanks for bringing that up. I’ll take it from here though. And then, carry on as you see rationally fit, letting your brain make it’s harmless barking (un-enjoyable thoughts) in the background.

 

And know that it’s doing all that barking from a deep, deep desire to protect you and care for you. Which is a beautiful thing.

How about you? Does your brain go crazy sometimes with warnings that you could really do without? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

How to motivate yourself to exercise first thing in the morning

These days, most people have heard the message that they ‘should’ be exercising everyday.

Yet so many of us don’t – according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2007/2008 a whopping 72% of Australian adults did little to no exercise. This comes at a time when diseases like diabetes and heart disease (closely linked with diet and lifestyle) are at an all time high.

So, if we have the evidence that exercise is good for our health, we have the knowledge of what we need to do (at the very least 30 minutes a day) why aren’t we doing it?

A lot of people tell me they ‘just don’t feel motivated’ to get out of bed and exercise. Your brain will come up with a hundred and one reasons about why you should stay in bed. You’ve probably told yourself things like “It’s so warm in bed and it’s so cold outside.” Or, “I’ll exercise tonight instead.” Or, “I went to bed later than usual last night so I should probably keep sleeping.” But the (hard to hear) truth? These are all just excuses. Whether they’re true or not, they are a story your brain is telling you that stops you from achieving what you set out to do. The simple fact is that if you have decided to exercise in the morning, then it’s likely you’ll feel better if you stand by that decision.

Luckily, I have some small easy steps you can take that will have you jumping out of bed as soon as you wake up!

Picture it: you’ve set your alarm for the early hours of the morning so you can get up and do a quick walk before going to work. But it’s warm and cozy in bed, and it would be so easy to snooze the alarm and go back to sleep…

 

  • Focus on the first step. When you’re lying in bed, don’t think about how cold it will be when you are outside, or how much effort it’s going to take to walk all the way around the block – just think about right now. Focus on the task at hand – getting out of bed. Then, once you’ve gotten out of bed, focus on the next task – getting dressed. Focusing on a task that is many steps ahead of where you are currently (ie walking along the river, when you are currently in bed) can be overwhelming and make the task seem impossible.
  • Notice the difference between your thoughts and your actions: you have a choice. Notice what you’re thinking in bed, along the lines of ‘it’s so warm and cozy here’ ‘I could just snooze the alarm’. Then, acknowledge those thoughts, and make a choice to get up anyway. An example of how this might sound in your head: ‘Hmm, I’m noticing that I’m thinking that I could just press snooze on my alarm instead of getting up. I value my health though, so I’m going to do it anyway.’
  • Make it easy for yourself. Who wants to get up and root around in the dark for their runners? Putting out your exercise clothes the night before makes it easy to step straight into them. And once you’re in them, it’s that much easier to make it out the door. Lay out clothes, runners, water bottle, music player, keys – whatever you need to take with you.
  • Give it ten minutes. Consider making an agreement with yourself that when you really don’t feel like exercising, you don’t have to – as long as you do ten minutes of it. Often the hardest part of exercising is just getting to the starting point – whether that’s the gym or out on the road on your bike – and once you get there, you feel better and start enjoying yourself. Agreeing to give it at least ten minutes before you give up gives you a much higher chance of then finishing off whatever session you had planned – as well as the option to make the choice to stop if you really are feeling unwell or unable to exercise.

Have you tried any of these tips and tricks? What stories does your brain tell you to keep you from your exercise routine?