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International Children’s Day: Teaching Children How to Be Happy

Teaching Children How to Be Happy

 

Today is International Children’s Day, proclaimed by The World Conference for the Well-being of Children in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1925. There’s also another Children’s Day on 20 November 2018, but we suppose we can’t resent the little monkeys for getting more than their fair share – they are rather delightful, after all. But despite our collective care, love and concern for these miniature wonders, there’s been worrying rise in childhood mental health issues – which raises the question, should we be teaching children how to be happy?

The idea that childhood should be a time of breezy carelessness has been present in our culture from about the time we stopped using them as chimney sweeps. Human beings are hugely invested in cultivating the happiness of their children, and adults become very disconcerted if they feel children are distressed – as this quote Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents illuminates:

“The well-being of children is more important to adults than just about anything elseMore than two-thirds of adults say they are “extremely concerned” about the well-being of children, and this concern cuts across gender, income, ethnicity, age, and political affiliation.”

Even the famously fraught experience of puberty is looked at fondly, and (usually) with a certain amount of indulgence. It makes sense that teenagers are going to be stomping around, trying to go to parties they’re too young for and writing furious diary entries about the injustice of having such unreasonable parents – because that’s what they are supposed to do.

Childhood is there for endless summers, falling out of trees and giggling at sleepovers, while teenagers are free to be clueless, creative and full of heightened emotion; revelling in every discovery, disappointment, heartbreak and triumph that life throws their way.

Which is why it’s so worrying to hear a recent report by the Children’s Commissioner describing an “epidemic of anxiety” among children, with the number of young children seeing psychiatrists rising by a third. A study published in October in the BMJ that found self-harm among young teenage girls had risen by nearly 70 per cent between 2011 and 2014, and there are warnings that children are resorting to illegally acquired Xanax to help them cope.

Childhood Sadness – Whats Normal?

Crashing lows tend to come with the territory for adolescents – it isn’t easy becoming more self-aware and experiencing those first knocks to your self-esteem – but this is meant to be temporary; a learning experience and something easily remedied with a bit of adult guidance.

It’s also true that even very young children have always had to face difficulties, and we can’t completely shield them from emotional distress. Whether it’s divorce, bereavement, or even not getting on well with their siblings, children often have to confront unpleasant emotions, and allowing them the space to be unhappy and express their feelings is important.

However, these moments are simply a regrettable part of life, and if a child is generally happy, well loved and emotionally resilient, they can weather these storms – not moving on unaffected necessarily, but also not being so impacted as to find it difficult to function throughout life either.

It seems both concerning and extremely unfair that more and more children are being denied the cheerful, unselfconscious years that should be their right. The number of children referred by their schools for specialist mental health treatment has spiked by a third in the past three years, and it’s impossible not to ask, what on earth is fuelling this childhood unhappiness?

Of course, there’s many theories. Perhaps it’s smartphones, the competitive and testing-based nature of schools, the lack of community in our society. Maybe there is something inherent in the way we organise our modern world that is hostile to the developing brain and its ongoing wellbeing.

Whatever the cause, it seems more important than ever to give children all the tools they need in order to be happy.

Teaching Children How to Be Happy

To a large extent, we need to change the world in which children live to truly ensure we are giving them the best possible start in life. There are obviously factors in our society which are incompatible with human happiness – such as aggressive individualism, lack of community and inadequate mental health support. However, we are aware that this is not something that will happen overnight. On a more immediately achievable level, teaching children how to be happy will also do a great amount to help.

Part of this is lifestyle. Researchers in Finland of the Finnish Forest Research Institute found that people began to feel psychologically restored after just 15 minutes of sitting outside in both the park and forest. Allowing children to spend time in nature not only gives them an amazing playground to explore, it could also boost their mental wellbeing. And while there’s little formal evidence to say that smartphones and tablets are making children unhappy, intuitively it feels important to cut down on children’s screen time – where they are most susceptible to advertising and addictive social media platforms.

Cultivating a sense of optimism is also vital. Life doesn’t go smoothly all of the time, so a natural propensity to think about things in a positive light will be a big asset to young people. In this, we feel that meditation and meditative practices can help in a significant way.

Here at Will Williams Meditation, we wouldn’t necessarily prescribe a formal meditation practice for very young children. Generally, 10 – 15 year olds can meditate as adults do, but they only need to practise a minute for every year of their age – so a 12-year-old can do 12 minutes, for instance. In our opinion, however, the most helpful thing would be to introduce the spirit of meditation into schools, allowing more time outside of learning and the pressure to achieve where children can simply be themselves.

Our society’s focus on success and achievement can make it difficult for those who don’t feel that they measure up – whether socially, in their appearance, or academically – and even those young people who are “succeeding” can feel a huge amount of anxiety, as if any day it could all go wrong. By letting childhood be the mostly carefree time it’s meant to be, and giving children the space to live their lives without too much pressure to perform, we should hopefully help them grow into healthy and happy adults.

 

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Why Are We Still Failing in UK Mental Health Support?

failing uk mental health support

 

In recent months, the news about mental health support in the UK has been, with few exceptions, overwhelmingly negative. Whether it’s NHS shortfalls and a lack of beds, which impacted patients who later died1; children with mental health issues facing “unacceptable”2 waiting times to get help; or women who find it difficult to access mental health services during the particularly vulnerable time of pregnancy3, the overarching picture looks bleak.

We are arguably far more enlightened on the subject of mental illness than we were 15 years ago, and politicians have been trumpeting their commitment to spend more money on services, and bring about parity in treatment with physical health. Yet it seems we are still failing, far too often, to help those who need it most.

The reasons behind this are (perhaps unsurprisingly) many and complicated. It’s generally accepted that the NHS is underfunded, with a fall in the proportion of GDP spent on health services and cuts to social care placing huge pressure on the service. Add to this an ageing population and the burden of treating long-term illnesses, and there’s even more strain. So the NHS in general is struggling, and mental health services are facing their own particular challenges.

Firstly, with raised awareness has come an uptick in the demand for services, as more people seek help. Secondly, mental health issues are on the rise, especially amongst young people. Finally, there’s been a worrying fall in the number of mental health nurses around to look after people4.  

We also have to consider the fact that no matter how far we’ve come in understanding mental illnesses – not looking at it as attention seeking, laziness, or something to be feared and locked away – there’s still an awful lot of misunderstanding and prejudice that can hinder treatment. People still tell hair-raising stories (even if they are very rare) of professionals making disparaging remarks or not taking them seriously.

Mental health problems can benefit hugely from early intervention. Take the example of someone who has started having panic attacks for the first time. They may well ring a ambulance or turn up at A&E, because the nature of panic attacks means that a large proportion of people who experience them will be certain there’s something physically wrong with them – such as a heart attack, or stroke. However, even if that person is absolutely certain they are going to die, they will probably be sent home without any treatment, because they aren’t in any ‘real’ danger.

This, of course, makes a certain amount of sense. Doctors have to prioritise the people who are actually facing a physical threat to their life. Yet it doesn’t help the person who is still convinced, each time they have a panic attack, that they are facing imminent death. This is a terrible state in which to have to wait for a GP appointment, and to potentially wait months more for therapy. Things become even harder if the usual medication prescribed in these cases doesn’t work for an individual, leaving them to battle the feeling of mortal danger all on their own.

The kind of delays which are highlighted often in the news could make the difference between this person experiencing panic attacks and then quickly recovering with the right support, or the anxiety becoming entrenched. Regularly experiencing panic attacks is mentally exhausting and upsetting, and leaves the body in a similar state to someone who’s been fleeing from a predator for days on end.

Without fast intervention, people can begin to self-medicate to relieve their symptoms. Some young people facing anxiety have started to abuse Internet-acquired Xanax5 and alcohol, complicating their illness and putting them in danger of addiction. The result is a vicious cycle, in which people are de-prioritised and face delays as health practitioners deal with the most difficult cases, and as a result become more difficult to treat themselves.

The commitment and hard work of the vast majority of those who work in UK mental health support is unquestionable, with many working huge amounts of overtime and facing stress and burnout themselves. There are simply too many people who need help, and not enough funds or resources to provide it. As Peter Kinderman, a clinical psychologist at the University of Liverpool, puts it: “The entire NHS is suffering and the mental health system is a large part of the NHS – and it’s suffering too. I think there’s been quite a profound change in the last 25 years, that people are now more willing to talk about their mental health, but we just don’t have the systems to respond to it.”

So what’s the solution? While we wouldn’t presume to have a panacea for this serious and complex issue, we do think there are ways to support mental health outside of simply allocating more money (which, ideally, would be the initial step). Firstly, although the demand for services has increased, we must continue to foster an open and honest atmosphere around mental health, so people feel able to discuss and seek help for their problems before they hit crisis point.

Secondly, we need to ensure that children – through schools and other societal programs, as well as reaching out to parents – get the best start possible, learning about self-care and being given the emotional tools they need to face the inevitable difficulties of life. Increased equality would help hugely in this, as poverty is a leading cause of chronic stress6, and discrimination is linked to stress and poor health7. Creating a more holistic education system, which values emotional wellbeing as well as academic achievement, and allows children the room to express themselves and follow their interests, could also help to protect their mental health.

Finally, people need to be aware of – and not made to feel ashamed of pursuing – the non-medical actions which can help them maintain their mental health. Self-care can feel like an ‘airy-fairy’ term, but small everyday actions can make all the difference to a vast amount of individuals. Like our physical health, small daily choices have a huge cumulative impact, and our physical and mental health are intimately connected. Empowering people to take actions which improve their own wellbeing could reduce costs to our overstrained healthcare system, and make our whole community healthier and happier.

 

1 https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/06/lack-of-beds-and-staff-for-mental-health-patients-crucial-failings

2 https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/health/children-mental-health-issues-face-14563856

3 https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/apr/19/women-across-uk-denied-mental-healthcare-around-childbirth-say-doctors

4 https://fullfact.org/health/are-mental-health-nurse-numbers-down/

5 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-43431453

6 https://www.stand-together.org/toxic-stress-poverty-effects/

7 http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2016/03/impact-of-discrimination.aspx

 

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A Big Night Out With a Difference: World Meditation Day at Fabric 2018

World Meditation Day at Fabric

There’s only a few days to go until World Meditation Day 2018, on Tuesday 15th May, and we can barely contain our excitement! We are celebrating with a unique wellness event that combines meditation, music, sound bathing and amazing food and drink to create an evening of the most amazing natural highs. Here you can revel in an evening of fun that leaves you glowing, refreshed and walking on air – a wonderful opportunity for experienced meditators and curious newbies alike to experience a different kind of hedonism.

Located at the iconic nightclub Fabric in London, the event is in support of the mental health charity CALM, and we hope by introducing people to meditation we’ll be helping them to improve their own health and happiness.

“I was always a massive party boy and had many a debauched night in Fabric, but having realised there is a more balanced way to achieve my highs, and stay feeling good all week long, my team and I are spreading the meditation love with events and courses that are accessible and relevant for everyday folks. This is Manumission for the 21st Century”. Will Williams.

What to Expect

Guided Meditation

https://www.willwilliamsmeditation.co.uk/what-is-meditation/

World Meditation Day at Fabric 2018

Our founder (and the creator of World Meditation Day) Will Williams is committed to passing on the ancient knowledge of Vedic meditation in a way that is practical, enjoyable and relevant to people from all walks of life. It doesn’t matter if you meditate every day, or have never meditated before, under the guidance of Will Williams you’ll gently and effortlessly float into a state of pure relaxation.

 

This is made even more powerful by the fact you will be sharing this experience with a room of other people, a phenomenon that has to be felt to be believed – and World Meditation Day promises to be the largest group meditation that London has ever seen!

Akala

 

 

Gracing the stage this World Meditation Day is none other than BAFTA and MOBO award-winning hip-hop artist, writer and social entrepreneur, as well as the co-founder of The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company Akala. We’re absolutely delighted that this amazing musician and thinker will be treating Fabric goers to a special performance of acoustic versions of his greatest hits, as well as spoken word poetry from his upcoming book ‘Natives’.*

We found this quote from Akala and it really resonated with us:

If I could solve something as complicated as conflict in the world, I would change the education system. Full stop. Not just along the lines of race, but along the lines of how people are taught to view the whole of human history, and on what education provides. It doesn’t provide any spiritual, emotional wellbeing.”

*(Hodder & Stoughton), out 17th May 2018 and available to pre-order here.

 

Jordan Rakei

https://www.jordanrakei.com/

A producer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, 25 year-old Jordan Rakei is a unique talent. Born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, Jordan moved to the UK when his EP Groove Curse found fans and acclaim in Europe and America.

“Really glad to be a part of this. Meditation changed my life five years ago. This is such a great cause, so I hope to see you there!”

 

B.Traits 

https://soundcloud.com/btraits/essentialmix

B.Traits made a name for herself in her home country of Canada at clubs such as Automactic, before going on to play venues across Europe and the US. Since 2012, shes held various slots at BBC Radio 1 and she expresses her considerable musical talent in her work as a DJ, record producer, remixer and radio presenter.

You can hear a preview of the super-chilled out DJ set B.Traits has in store for our Fabric attendees over on her Facebook page.

 

 

Sound Sebastien

https://www.soundsebastien.com/

Using the “harmonics of gemstone, mineral and crystal alchemy”, Jasmine Hemsley’s and Toni Dick’s Sound Sebastien allows you to sink into a nourishing and blissful cocoon of sound; an experience that grounds and revitalises you. All you need is to lie back, close your eyes and become immersed in the perfect sensory space created by Jasmine and Toni’s therapeutic music.

 

 

 

About CALM

The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is leading a movement against male suicide. For men under the age of 45, suicide is the biggest killer. Mental health is an issue we take extremely seriously here at Will Williams Meditation.

The combination of our own personal experiences here in the team, and the experiences of those who’ve reached out to us for help, have made it clear to us how widespread and under-discussed problems with mental health can be. We hope through our work teaching people the self-care tool of  meditation, and by supporting the charities who work tirelessly to highlight and alleviate these issues, we can do our bit to help.

ORDER YOUR TICKETS HERE.

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Excerpt From The Effortless Mind: Will William’s Extraordinary First Book

excerpt from the effortless mind

 

Will Williams This is an excerpt from Will Williams first book, on a subject he struggled with for several years: insomnia. You can order your copy here, and explore the inspiring stories of Will himself, and the people he has taught, learning how Vedic meditation helped them face their personal demons to become healthier and happier people. 

I had a vast amount of sympathy for David when he came to me suffering from insomnia. I know from my own experience how awful it can be not to be able to sleep, and how it seems to drag down every other part of your life.

David and I weren’t unusual. Sleep deprivation is a huge issue these days. A hundred years ago we used to get around nine hours a night; now we’re down to seven and a half. That simply isn’t enough. Even more concerning, however, is the major decline in sleep quality, which is actually far more detrimental to our overall wellbeing. I’ll talk about why in a moment, but first let’s hear from David about what his lack of sleep meant for him.

DAVID

‘Being able to sleep felt like a miracle.’

‘I’m married, with two kids, and my business is in Russia. The past few years have been very stressful. There was a point when I could have lost everything, and I went to a very dark place. I felt a lot of stress, a lot of anxiety, and I panicked. Maybe when I was younger I’d have thrived off all this, but as you get older, your body and mind aren’t geared for it. Physically, the messages were crystal-clear – I had a horrific sleep disorder, and it had been going on for a year and a half.

I could fall asleep, no problem, because I was knackered and living mostly on adrenaline, but then I’d wake up and be bouncing off the walls. I’d be in a semi-sleep, sort of half- awake, half asleep, with my mind just churning meaningless nonsense. On and on it would go, whirring all night long. If I did fall asleep, I’d be met with anxiety dreams, which were about being chased or busting for a leak and not being able to find a loo. Stupid things – like being constantly late; or missing something. Sleep should be when you rest, but I found it so stressful that I actually began to dread going to bed.

I felt powerless, and that was just soul-destroying. Sometimes I’d get up, go downstairs, sit in a chair and read, or I’d wake up and take a sleeping pill. Every so often I’d take one before I went to bed, because I was just too tired to deal with it. But sleeping pills aren’t really a solution, not for the long term. You don’t wake up after you’ve taken them feeling in any way refreshed. And then at 6 o’clock in the morning the kids would come in and I’d have to get up and function again. It was so horrible to have to strain to interact with my children; I felt like my humanity was slipping away and I was becoming a zombie.

Every time I travelled for business, it was worse, because moving across time zones would totally finish me off. Sometimes I’d wake up in the morning in some random hotel and I’d just say: ‘Sod this,’ and stay in bed.

I tried everything, from hypnotherapy to a sleep doctor, who referred me to a clinic, where they tried to force anti- depressants on me. I thought: No, I’m not depressed. This isn’t right.

I wasn’t depressed; I was high-functioning, but short- tempered. I was getting through the days, but without sleep, you don’t repair. And it had a very big knock-on effect on my confidence and on my ability to cope with stress. Suddenly I wasn’t able to speak in public, which I have to do a lot, so I was really at my wits’ end.

After about a year of this, I was on an evening out and met a friend of a friend. I began to tell him about my sleep problem and he said: ‘Let me stop you there. This is what you’ve been through. This is how it started. This is what’s happened. You’ve been here. You’ve tried that. That didn’t work. And now you’re taking sleeping pills every night.’

He was a Vedic meditation teacher, based in Paris, and he told me he dealt with this sort of stuff all the time and that I should definitely go try it. When I went to see Will, he seemed remarkably confident that it would work. After all I’d been through, I really couldn’t believe it would be that easy.

Within forty-eight hours of learning to meditate, my sleep problem had vanished. It was that quick; it was that powerful. I was suddenly feeling relaxed and calm. Meditation seemed like a very natural thing to do, and I loved it.

Being able to sleep felt like a miracle. I felt so grateful. If I had to rate it, I’d say my sleep pattern had been a two out of ten; meditation moved me to an eight. It had been agony before, and now I felt wonderful when I woke up in the morning.

I really feel as if I now have a tool for dealing with insomnia. There have been times since I started meditating when I’ve had the odd night of sleeplessness, but then I’m able to say: ‘You know what? I’ve got the solution to this.’ So I sit up, meditate, and then go straight back to sleep.

I haven’t had to do that now for months. I feel so relieved. I also know that even if I don’t get enough sleep, I can get the rest and repair I need because I c

an meditate there and then, and once more in the morning to get myself refreshed. And that, of course, takes away the anxiety of not being able to sleep in the first place, so you go to bed more relaxed knowing you’ve got all the solutions in your back pocket.

Dealing with the sleep issue was the main positive effect of the meditation, but I use it as a tool for many other things now, especially for coping with stress and anxiety. I’m a guy that’s quite impatient, moving a hundred miles an hour the whole time, and so I struggle to stay in the moment. I’m very aware of my limitations, and I’m always wanting to improve as a father, a husband and as a businessman.

As a father, I can say that I’m much more present. I feel those special moments with my kids a lot more, when you have a surge of overwhelming joy and it just hits you. Those moments of awareness have increased dramatically for me. I work from home, and if I’ve had a hard day, sometimes I’ll hear the kids come back from school and I want to run downstairs and see them. Now I stop myself and think: You know what, you can feel you’re anxious; you can feel you’re stressed – just go and meditate. Then, afterwards, I can go and see them and be really present and full of love for them.

If they come upstairs anyway and interrupt, you can easily get back into it, because it doesn’t require any focus. The kids come in and I’ll say: ‘Dad’s meditating. Just give me a minute,’ and they’ll go. It’s very easy to roll back into.

My wife says I’m a lot calmer, which is really nice to hear, and I’m so glad she’s getting to benefit from it too. One of our kids has just been diagnosed with ADHD, and that’s a whole other ballgame of parental challenges, yet I feel like this is giving me the tools to help me deal with that. I very rarely get to boiling point now, which is a huge relief for everyone.

As for business – well, I’m far more in tune with other people. I can read others a lot better, and that helps with business as well as my relationships with colleagues. I think it’s about stepping back and not constantly looking about. That’s the key: taking it down a notch. It’s about connection; it’s about presence. It’s about being with

someone when you’re with them. And when you feel yourself drifting, you’re able to go: ‘Now hang on a minute . . .’ Meditating gives you a lot in terms of the enhancement of your connection with that person, and your emotional intelligence develops as well.

There’s so many of us suffering from all sorts of mental health problems in this crazy world we’re living in. My sister’s been suffering from depression for years, and going to see Will to learn the meditation has been the only thing that’s helped her. She’s now completely over it. I wish I could say the same for my contemporaries, gu

ys who are nearing their fifties. So many of them could use it. It’s a very competitive world, and we’re all suffering from these lifestyles that we’ve created for ourselves.

It ebbs and flows, of course. It’s not as if every meditation is amazing, but certainly after every meditation I can say: ‘I needed that,’ and be truly grateful I found it.

 

The Effortless Mind is available on Amazon. 

Shavasana Disco: Where Music and Meditation Meet

music and meditation event

 

When people think about meditation, the music of pop maestro Prince may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Whale song? Sure, that seems pretty meditation-y. Pan pipes and softly twinkling chimes, that can work too. But the get-up-and-dance, falsetto-laden, downright sexy melodies that defined one of music’s most iconic stars don’t quite gel with our ideas of what meditation is about. However! Our latest Shavasana Disco, which cameto Los Angeles for the very first time just last week, changed all that.

We launched Shavasana Disco as a way to combine our two great loves – music and meditation – and when we came to the realisation that people in today’s extremely busy world rarely get the chance to truly listen to music, even if they are great fans. Music is often the soundtrack to our lives, rather than the focus of any particular moment; even when we sit down to listen to our favourite tracks, our minds are often so busy with worries, to-do lists and self-talk that it’s difficult to let ourselves relax.

Listening to music after meditation, we noticed that it became an amazingly sublime experience, and decided we needed to share it. We organised Sunday get-togethers in our apartment for the people we’d taught, leading a group meditation before appreciating the musical journey that was a full album experience. But once Liam Hart, a former colleague, hit upon the idea of listening to these seminal albums in the extraordinary spaces where they were recorded, Shavasana Disco as we know it today was born.

In London, these sessions involved the much-beloved work of musicians from The Beatles to Massive Attack, and have given people (from experienced meditators to complete newbies) the opportunity to listen in a profoundly calm and focused way – which in some cases has proved transformative. Jumping across the pond gave us the opportunity to bring this concept to the USA, and dedicate a session to Prince’s peerless Purple Rain at Sunset Sound Studio. Which, to be frank, was awesome.


And how many of us would say we aren’t a fan of Prince? Near-universally popular, Prince pulled off the rare feat of being a consummate pop star – and one utterly intent on entertaining during his mind-bogglingly energetic live shows – while also being vastly respected for his originality, musicianship and song-writing prowess. His flamboyant stage presence, talent for creating iconic tunes and astonishing vocal range sets him apart from his peers, and places him firmly in the pantheon of Music Gods – sharing a space with The Beatles, Bob Marley and David Bowie in stratospheric stardom.

Our collective reverence for Prince isn’t only borne from his musical ability and extraordinary performances, but also his career-long support of traditionally underrepresented female musicians, including percussionist Sheila E and keyboardist Gayle Chapman. Putting women onstage and showcasing their musicianship elevated them from the traditional role of “muse” to artists in their own right. This is an especially important move considering that women are rarely afforded the same respect as their male counterparts in the music industry, and are usually perceived as “singers” rather than instrumentalists or writers.

Prince recorded 39 studio albums over his lifetime, as well as touring extensively, compiling near-legendary vaults of unreleased material and writing for other artists under various pseudonyms. In this career of quite astonishing productivity, Purple Rain is widely regarded as his magnum opus. Every song is a classic, and the eponymous Purple Rain is probably one of the most famous songs of all time – with When Doves Cry hot on its heels.

It was extremely special to meditate in the place where such a world-changing piece of art was created, and to experience the full album with the most clarity and perception possible. But while we could ramble on, we think that Instagram user volube.me explained the experience of Sunset Sound’s Shavasana Disco absolutely beautifully:

 

“Last night I was blessed to go to the iconic Sunset Sound Studio where Prince recorded some of the Purple Rain album. We got to be in the studio and meditate, and when our minds had opened, we listened to the whole album from cover to cover. Lying on the floor. In the actual studio.

I have difficulty finding words for how special that was to me.

Not only did it take me back more than 30 years to when I would do the same to fall asleep at night. I would move my mattress close to my stereo, put on headphones and turn off the lights and then be in the music – only interrupted by having to get up after Darling Nikki to turn the record over. I didn’t know back then that “being in the music” was meditating. Letting go of all thoughts and my physical body to be free floating in the sound picture. I know every note, every beat, every sound of that album, and it was amazing to experience it again.

That is what Prince was to me; diversity, inclusion, limitless creativity and courage and love and wit and gratitude and an unparalleled drive to follow your bliss. That permeated everything he did and that spirit was palatable in the studio. I sometimes forget which way to go, but I was reminded last night.”volube.me, via Instagram.

Shavasana Disco is one of our proudest creations. Perfect for those who a rather curious about meditation, but put off by the idea that it’s all pastel-shaded zen with no room for any of the usual pleasures in life, it’s a wonderful way to enjoy this practice . While no one will wake up with a hangover after a Shavasana Disco, it’s a fun yet relaxing experience which leaves attendees feeling invigorated rather than drained.

With more events coming to London and the USA soon, check our Shavasana Disco page for updates –  we’d love to see you attend!

 

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Why Meditation is For Everyone

why meditation is for everyone

 

Recently, we read about the introduction of meditation to an Alaskan shipyard – workers in this most masculine of professions had started to meditate and stretch each morning to promote wellbeing. This got us thinking: if the benefits found in meditation are universal, and meditation is for everyone, why does it feel so newsworthy when it turns up in the “manly” setting of a shipyard? Do we, as a society, believe that awareness around wellbeing and mental health only really fit in certain professions, and for certain individuals?

There certainly is a cultural idea about the type of person who meditates. While we may have moved on from the general view that meditation is the sole preserve of spiritualists and hippies (who have always been rather unfairly maligned), a new image has manifested itself. Now meditation and self-care are for the most part perceived as feminine, pastel-shaded, and maybe even a little wishy-washy. Perhaps most disturbingly, it’s also seen as a hobby for the fairly well off – as something only successful members of new and forward-thinking industries have access to, especially within the workplace.

The crux of this is that meditation is not widely considered to be something that everyone gets to make part of their lives. Society seems to believe that sensible women, with their feet on the ground and little time for “indulging” themselves, aren’t going to pop along to their local class. And it’s especially not likely to be something that masculine blokes, the type who do blokey things like enact feats of strength and make ambient growling sounds, are interested in.

But then again, our founder Will is a bloke. Thinking about self-care is actually very important for men, and meditation is a great way to handle the stress and upset that some feel they can’t otherwise express. The biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK is suicide, and while for many these emotional and mental health issues will never become that stark, a hangover of our traditional ideas about masculinity means that men can feel stymied in their attempts to look after themselves.

When men do take up meditation (and are lauded for doing so), it’s usually in the context of sharpening their business or creative prowess – such as CEOs of multi-million pound companies Ray Dalio, Bob Shapiro and Steve Rubin. This is awesome of course – meditation does give laser-like focus, improve our leadership skills, and make us more creative. But it also helps us deal with stress, unresolved trauma, and anxiety. Seeing the practice as a way to improve the mental health of men throughout society, from the boardroom to the warehouse, is arguably more important than pure performance.

There isn’t anyone who should be excluded from meditation, or feel that they aren’t the “right” kind of person to pursue the practice. Yes, western culture may be full of intimidating images of meditation-based perfection, where beautifully-dressed people lead unbelievably serene and healthy lives. But in reality, meditation isn’t about separating yourself off from the world in a sublime vision of calm. It can be part of a noisy, normal, earthy life, one where you can throw yourself into the pleasures of the world, and still benefit from sitting quietly each day.

You don’t need to be particularly spiritual either. While we’re totally on board with connecting to the universe if that’s the sort of thing that speaks to you, being interested in the less tangible things in life isn’t a prerequisite for meditation.

If you’re the sort of person who loves nothing more than a Netflix binge and a takeaway pizza, and are about as likely to go to an aura reading as to tell a sweet old lady that her hair looks rubbish, we can’t stress enough that meditation is for you too. There’s room for everyone in the world of meditation, from the deeply spiritual to the people who think chakras are a eighties dance band – and all the lovely benefits apply to all.

If you would like to find out more about meditation, then you can read our introductory pages here.

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Spring Cleaning the Mind: How to Have an Emotional Clear-Out

spring clean your life

 

Maybe it’s the longer days and brighter sunshine, but as we stumble out of the fog of winter, the clutter of our lives can become very apparent. We look around our homes, eyeing up boxes of junk and brandishing a duster threateningly over neglected corners, all ready to throw ourselves into a thorough spring clean. But while giving the kitchen floor a good scrub is all well and good, sometimes it can be helpful to look beyond our surroundings and into our inner world, and clear out a little of the clutter in there.

 

Spring Clean Your Mind, Spring Clean Your Life.

 

In the hustle of life, with memories, worries and to-do lists crowding our minds and shouting for attention, it can be extremely difficult to think with any clarity. If we don’t give ourselves time to take stock, looking back over the past years and assessing where we are in the moment, we can become completely overwhelmed by “mind clutter”. So how do we stop ourselves from getting buried under all this detritus? Here’s a few tips.

 

Devote some time to yourself

 

It can be quite hard – between a busy job, kids, social life, hobbies and family members – just to let yourself be, and devote time to nothing but yourself. Taking half a day to give yourself some breathing space, slow down your mind and actually look about you can be extremely helpful if you can afford it. Then you can ask yourself some questions, like:

  • How do you feel about your job, circumstances, relationships and general place in life?
  • Are you where you wanted to be when you thought about the future as a younger person?
  • Have your priorities changed since then, or do you carry any regrets?
  • What bothers you most on a daily basis?
  • Is there anything your hanging onto from the past?
  • Where would you like to be, and what would you like to have achieved, this time next year?

The content and focus of these questions might be slightly different for you, but they are a great jumping-off point to start thinking about things you may want to change, rather than being swept through life with a whole load of flotsam and jetsam you’d rather be without.

 

Journaling

 

The act of writing down our thoughts can reveal a lot to us. If you spend a week detailing each day and your feelings throughout it, you may gain an insight that would otherwise have passed you by. For instance, you might pinpoint a worry that usually plays at the back of your mind, or notice that a particular event or person makes you happier, sadder or anything in between.

This kind of insight shines a light on all the dusty and overlooked corners of our life. In a normal spring clean, you have to actually go through the cupboards to identify what you need to throw away, and journaling is a way to do this for your non-physical life.

It’s easy to find ourselves carrying worries, troublesome memories, guilt and a host of other negative emotions and experiences; we think this is perfectly normal, simply because we’ve got used to it. Realising the true content of all those vague memories and worries is the first step in feeling lighter, happier and ready for a new start.

 

Forgive yourself

 

Whether you’ve been beating yourself up over an opportunity you missed, the New Year’s Resolutions you’ve already broken, or past mistakes that echo through your life, part of moving forward is letting yourself off the hook. You may have done something that hurt somebody else, or hugely regret not going down a certain path. However, regret is pretty useless unless you channel it correctly, and can safely be put in the “throwaway” box in an emotional spring clean.

You can use your negative emotions for motivation, and to give you the impetus to behave differently in future, while also divesting them of the power they have over you. For example, if you notice yourself brooding over something that upsets you or makes you feel guilty – from giving up on an exercise regime to feeling like you let somebody down – write down three practical ways to help others, help yourself, or avoid the same thing happening in future. Before long, the emotional weights which have been holding you back will become the force that moves you forwards.

 

Take up a new habit

 

It may go without saying, but we would highly recommend taking up meditation if you feel in need of an emotional spring clean. On a deeply held, unconscious level, Vedic meditation effortlessly untangles all the emotional pain and trauma which has stored itself up inside our nervous system, and allows us to become free of life’s debris. But while meditation is something we would always suggest, lots of new habits can help in an emotional spring clean alongside this practice.

For example, you may commit to going for a walk everyday, or painting a new picture each week. New habits focus our minds, and give us the feeling of a fresh start. And while we make our resolutions in the New Year, it’s always been spring that most strongly represents rebirth and renewal in our culture. So as sun begins to shine that little bit brighter, we can throw ourselves into change with new enthusiasm, and adopt the new habits which may just transform our lives.

 

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Dealing With Mental Health in the City

mental health in the city

 

2 million Londoners will experience mental health problems this year; and only 25% of these people will actively deal with their difficulties, according to the London Health Board. Living in the city can be much more stressful and mentally draining than living outside urban areas. City-specific stressors such as noise, lack of natural spaces and increased social interaction make us much more susceptible to mental health issues. Living in the city provides excitement, freedom, and opportunities; however, we have to remember to slow down, become aware of its effects on our mind, and care for our mental well-being.

 

The City’s Effect On Our Mental Well-Being

 

In urban areas, the main issue is over-stimulus. Excess noise, the lack of open and green spaces, constant interactions with people either directly at work or passively on the tube; they all keep our senses on edge. According to a study conducted by King’s College, London, the heightened biological response to stressors causes an excess in dopamine; which is one of the main causes of mental illnesses like schizophrenia or depression. Too much dopamine makes us more susceptible to many negative and dissonant feelings such as anxiety, stress, and paranoia. To compensate for all the over-excitement that city living provides, we must find the time to unwind and meditate; and allow these dopamine levels to return to their normal levels.

 

How We Can Care For Our Minds Through Meditation

 

Being subject to all these additional stressors, it is necessary for our minds to have down-time in the midst of urban life. We must allow our minds to enter their natural, meditative states on a much more regular basis; and the practice of meditation offers a holistic and accessible solution. Whether it’s through beginner’s classes, drop-in sessions or one-off retreats, there are many different methods of incorporating meditation into our daily practices – even for busy city-dwellers.

Meditation not only gives our senses a break, returning us to our core state of relaxationit also teaches us how to reduce the dissonance when experiencing city life through breathing techniques and mindfulness. Meditation repairs the parts of our mind that have become desensitised to direct and visceral experience, whilst simultaneously helping with symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, stress and anxiety.

City life can have an unavoidable, negative affect on our mental health. The over-stimulus of urban living and working can unconsciously take its toll on our minds, resulting in feelings of anxiety, and can even lead to much deeper set mental illness. However, by incorporating meditation into our regular routines – be it a morning exercise or a way to unwind after work – we can care for our minds whilst still functioning in the bustling city.

 

This post was kindly written for us by Lucy Lucas. 

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Learning From Plastic-Free February

going plastic-free

 

It turns out that going plastic-free is far from easy. In fact, as Will mentioned in his last post, it’s nigh-on impossible. The use of disposable plastics has become so pervasive that it’s only possible to appreciate it once you are trying to cut down, and the problem goes far beyond taking our own bags to the supermarket (although this is a great start). If we all want to make a change in our consumer habits, which as Will explained here is the best way to convince corporations to change their behaviour, then we may need a little extra help. This post will give you a few pointers on where to start. 

 

Consumer activism on plastic.

 

We can feel as if we have very little control over what goes on in the world. From the use of child labour in cobalt mining (which keeps our smartphones running), heavy metals in the air, to the fact that some corporations pollute on such a vast scale that individual action apparently dwarfs in comparison, it can all feel pretty helpless. However, if enough consumers changed their behaviour, it could make a real difference – especially if it threatens the bottom line.

By committing to reduce our plastic consumption by 50%, the shops who cater to us will naturally change their practices in order to gain our custom. Think of each pound you spend as a vote of endorsement. By choosing items that aren’t covered in plastic as much as possible, you are indicating your approval of less plastic packaging – and shops will quickly adapt to meet consumer demand.

 

Letting retailers and manufacturers know when they can do better.

 

You and like-minded friends can send letters or emails of complaint to organisations* when you believe their use of plastic is excessive, and even suggest alternatives. Mention that you will take your custom to competitors who use less plastic, and use specific examples of what they can change.

For example, we recently saw a pack of two avocados (which one may observe are already covered in their own natural packaging) wrapped in a plastic container, which was then placed in a plastic bag. Then there are pears, apples and other fruits, placed to no real benefit on a plastic tray, or the choice to bag bananas even though there’s no conceivable reason for doing so. You may point out that supermarket bakery bags for fresh bread often include a plastic window – even though you’ve had a very good view of the bread as you’ve picked it up to place it in said bag – and this feature is quite wasteful.

When we examine these packaging decisions, they soon appear completely senseless. Plastic may be cheap and available, but considering the damage it’s causing to our bodies and the environment (and the fact it’s made from a finite resource), the nonchalant use of this product is clearly irresponsible. But we all use plastic irresponsibly until we are educated about its impact. Much of the inclusion of plastic in packaging is so casual – often incorporated as a design feature or to make products more appealing – that it may only take pointing out how silly it is to retailers and manufacturers for the situation to change. And as soon as plastic-covered products no longer sell, they will slowly disappear.

 

Other ways to spread the message.

While focusing first on reducing your own use of plastic is a huge step, there are small things you can do to help others make the change. For example, you might:

  • Mention to your favourite coffee shop that encouraging customers to bring their own reusable cup for takeaways is a great idea. 2.5 billion coffee cups are thrown away every year in the UK – and less than 1 in 400 are recycled. Perhaps they could offer a 10% discount to those who bring their own cup, or give them their 7th coffee free. Even just putting a sign in the window may be enough to jog people’s memory.
  • If you have school-age children, you could suggest to the headteacher that an assembly or perhaps some lessons based around the use of plastic and plastic pollution could be really helpful, and encourage the school canteen to cut down on its plastic use.
  • Write to your local MP to communicate how important this issue is to you, so it gets more representation on a government level.
  • Suggest initiatives at work to reduce the use of plastics in the workplace. For instance, your employers may be willing to provide everyone with a reusable water bottle and put a filtered-water pitcher in every break room, to stop people heading to the vending machine for bottled water. Or they might put up posters encouraging staff to bring in their own fountain pens to cut down on the use of throwaway biros. Even small steps like this, across a company, can make a big difference.

It’s in small, everyday steps that we’ll reduce our use of plastics, and empower ourselves to change the world around us.

* When dealing with large chains, try to get in touch with the dedicated customer service team (who can refer the complaint to the relevant staff member) through contacts on brand websites, rather than bringing it up in-store. Alternatively, reach out to higher management, or product manufacturers. Those “on the ground” in shops often do a busy job and have next to no say in how their organisation is run, so won’t be too pleased to deal with complaints that are well above their pay grade!

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Plastic Waste and The Tragedy Of The Commons

plastic waste

 

When I studied Economics at Uni I found myself largely turned off by much of the theorising that took place, it seemed so far removed from what was actually going on in day to day life. However, there were a few principles which struck me as being absolutely bang on. One of them, was ‘the tragedy of the commons’, which helps to explain a lot of the destruction that goes on in our world, and which I’ve been reminded of as I embark on a plastic free month.

The concept pertains to any situation whereby there is a shared resource, such as common land, a river, a forest, the sea, the earth’s atmosphere etc, and the users of the resource behave like self-interested actors, steadily depleting it as time goes on, instead of pulling together to protect and optimise the resource.

Each individual is wrapped up in their own life story, attempting to get by, and extract as much joy and comfort from life as possible. If there is a resource which they consider benefits them in some way, and they have lots of access to that resource, then they will keep on extracting well above the sustainable limit. Now if the other users of the resource don’t maximise their usage, then it’s ok. But the problem often arises that many of the actors involved in the use of the resource also seek to maximise their own personal benefit and the aggregate effect is an unsustainable depletion of the resource so that there is less and less left for people to gain utility from.

Now very evidently, there are many corporates who engage in an unsustainable depletion of resources, and its having such a destructive impact – its like the tragedy of the commons on steroids.

However, before we get on our high horses about the corporate impact, shouldn’t we perhaps look closer to home and examine our own behaviours? Because are we not all responsible for using up an unsustainable amount of energy to power of our homes, our gadgets, and the construction of our consumer products? How many of us chuck on the air conditioning when we go to a hot country? And who amongst us is eating more than a sustainable level of fish from our seas? And how many of us use plastics? On this latter point it would seem it is all of us. And this is a huge problem, because 12.7 million tonnes of plastic are being dumped in our seas every year and it is being swallowed by every part of the aquatic food chain.

I was always vaguely aware that I was using a lot of plastic, but its only since I’ve tried going plastic free that I’ve realised JUST how much I am using, its actually really scary. Its not just plastic bags from the supermarket, which can be easily substituted, it’s the packaging on almost all of our fruits and vegetables from the supermarkets. In fact, it appears that 90% of all goods from the supermarket involve plastic packaging, its hard to escape it! And if you wish to buy food on the run, often times that’s in plastic packaging too. Humans have been living on the earth for at least 2.5 million years, and plastics only really came on the scene in the 50s. Since that time, we have produced 6.5 billion tonnes of plastics, and in the next 32 years, we are set to double that number (each year we use an average 8.4% more plastics than the year before). Unless of course, we the people say enough. We’ve lived without plastics before, we can do so again.

Governments have proven inept at protecting our common resources, precisely because they’re interested in winning votes, and we the electorate have demonstrated so much apathy towards our common resources that it has provided little in the way of motive political force. Corporates continue to be mainly driven by profit motives, so the only way that they are going to change their profit driven use of cheap plastics is if we the people show them that we favour more organic produce, that can be more easily broken down, and which won’t fill our land and our seas with hardcore pollutants.

You see, as Herschel once said, the opposite of good is not evil, its indifference. And for as long as we all remain indifferent to the hundreds of millions of tonnes of plastic being produced each year, we will be a party to a tragedy of our common lands and our seas, and leave our children a plastic soup of an ocean and an environment whereby the landfill plastics leech into our soils, harming the soil fertility, and into our water supply, adding to the health burden we are already facing from all sorts of commons tragedies like the air we breathe and the denuded and de-nutrified food we eat from industrial agriculture sources.

In recent years, tests have been carried out on our water supplies, and it was found that billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic particles, with 83% of samples found to be polluted. Now would any of us choose to consume plastic of our own volition? I highly doubt it. It seems like an inherently poor idea, and yet, hidden within so much of our water now are plastic particles that will slowly clog up our cells and tissues, mirroring the fish in our seas, which are slowly choking on the by-product of our rampant consumption patterns.

So let us all take individual action, and see if that aggregates. Its when people start demanding gluten free, or dairy free, or vegetarian options, or carbon neutral products that the early adopters and then later the corporates listen, and the government are more likely to take action if they can see a real and meaningful movement by the populace. Politicians are populists by nature, and if they think they can gain an advantage by announcing a popular policy first, they will. So let’s give them the cue.

I will admit that from my research thus far that it’s almost impossible to live a regular life without using plastics. But I bet we can all reduce our plastics consumption by 50%. That is a game changing shift, and the more we show a preference for plastic free goods, the more the corporates will provide more options, and then 3 years from now, we can reduce by another 50%, adding further weight to the movement. The momentum would be extraordinary and we could keep iteratively using less and less until eventually, we can all be using perhaps only 5% of our present consumption. Maybe even one day we can get back to where we at 60 years ago, with minimal plastics production, and we can turn the tragedy of our commons into a triumph.

It starts with us.

 

Will’s tips for reduced plastic consumption

*Put a £1 coin in the charity box of your supermarket every time you use a plastic bag, that will soon help you remember to take a bag!

*Order fruits and vegetables via a veg box scheme such as Abel and Cole and insist on no plastic. Shop at farmers markets (both initiatives are healthier and better for the environment)

*Buy your toiletries from places like lush, using natural products without the packaging.

*Install a water filter such as Berkey to drink purer water without using plastics – and purchase a reusable bottle to take water with you each day.

*Take a reusable coffee cup with you.

*Avoid using straws to drink liquids with.

*Use a food flask for carrying food, instead of buying food on the run – its far healthier if you cook it at home and take with you, and the beauty is you only have to half cook it while getting ready in the morning because the food continues to cook in its own heat once inside the flask.

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