MINDFUL HEALTH BLOG
3 ways to create a HAPPY GUT
The most recent research into gut health shows that the brain can have a powerful impact on our gut health (and indeed, vice versa).
Creating a healthy environment in the gut (called our micro biome) is vital for physical and mental health in the following ways:
Gene expression: growing evidence shows gut bacteria can switch on genes that lead to poor health such as the gene for obesity or anxiety, but can also have the power (when in the right numbers) to switch on healthy genes.
Digestion e.g. the right amount of probiotics (good bacteria) reduce inflammation, improve IBS, they produce B vitamins vital for energy production, create essential fatty acids, aid in protein digestion and much more.
Immune system e.g. probiotics prevent infection by producing antibiotic and anti fungal substances, they have anti tumour and anti cancer affects, prevent thrush, protect and modulate autoimmune diseases and more.
Heart health e.g. normalise serum cholesterol and triglycerides and support healthy blood pressure.
Metabolism e.g. help to break down and rebuild hormones and promote healthy metabolism and weight.
How we can help create a happier micro-biome?
1. Reduce stress. Chronic and high levels of stress has been shown to significantly lower the number of probiotics available in the gut. When stressed, the body down regulates non-essential functions so systems such as the digestive and hormonal systems can be powerfully impacted. Take up regular yoga and learn a meditative practice.
I find Mind Self-Compassion to be incredibly powerful because it disarms one of the biggest sources of stress - the inner-critic. The self-critical voices trigger the brain to produce powerful stress hormones, just as it would if you were being attacked by an external attacker. Our minds and bodies are acting as though we are being attacked, over and over again throughout the day.
2. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (especially vegetables). Good bacteria thrive on fibre found in plant-based foods.
3. Choose polyphenol-rich foods which act as rocket fuel to good bacteria - berries, coffee (hooray!), dark chocolate (double hooray!), onions/leeks/garlic, broccoli, cabbage, beans of all types, parsley, millet, the skin of citrus fruit (orange peel in a cacao smoothie is like a Jaffa Cake in a glass) and cooked tomatoes and cooked squash/sweet potatoes are all great sources.
Do join the Mindful Self-Compassion course at the Light Centre Belgravia starting 12th Nov. If you are unable to attend the course, I teach MSC and Compassionate Mind Training one to one as part of my naturopathic clinic - more information and booking link here.
Many factors can contribute to poor gut health from infections, intolerance and stress to hormones, sleep and exercise. Do book in with me to get to the root cause of your individual gut issues and enjoy better physical and mental health in just a few weeks!
Core values + self-compassion = the recipe for a satisfying life
Take the test "How self-compassionate are you?"
Many of us go through life on autopilot. Following social norms takes us through school, college, maybe university. Perhaps you have tried to get a decent job, possibly saved for a deposit, looked for a partner, and so on. But to what extent have your personal , core values guided you through life?
Our core values are the positive personal qualities that feel congruent with our true selves.
Core values might be how we relate to other people, such as with generosity, kindness or patience, or they might be more personal values such as freedom, growth, adventure, joy or being in nature. Identifying those which are strongest for us can help to guide us through life and give us a sense of true life satisfaction.
We know we might be living separately from our core values because we experience emotional dissonance such as frustration, anger, dissatisfaction, disappointment, guilt, shame, hopelessness or emptiness…
To become self-compassionate is to learn to be kind to yourself and one of the key ways of being kinder to yourself is to live in a way that serves and nourishes your true self. This does not mean you have to give up your partner or your day job, but it does mean it can be powerful to stop, take stock and reflect on what your values are and how they might show up more in your every day life, no matter what your life circumstances are.
We can have external and internal blocks to living more congruently with what nourishes us most. For example, if a core value is kindness, our external blocks might be not having enough time to stop and be as kind to others as we would like. An internal block might be we spend so much of our time beating ourselves up, we are exhausted, stressed and hyper-judgemental and therefore might find it harder to be kind to others.
Without thinking too much about it, write down some core values that are most important to you and resonate deeply with you, then ask yourself what, if any, your blocks are.
We explore this deeply on the Mindful Self-Compassion course (next starting date May 21st) at the Light Centre Belgravia. We will discover that developing more self-compassion is in fact one of the best ways to help break down these blocks, or at least can support us emotionally should the blocks be insurmountable…such as, just as all humans are, we are in fact imperfect.
Please read the rest of the article in the blog below to explore Mindful Self-Compassion in more depth and please enjoy the below poem which deepens our sense of the powerful impact core values can have.
If you would like to find out how self-compassionate you are, please try out the test 'How self-compassionate are you?'.
The Way It Is by William Stafford
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
Take the test! How self-compassionate are you?
How nice to yourself are you really? Do you support yourself, soothe yourself effectively and healthily when times get tough, appreciate yourself and talk to yourself with respect, kindness and care? Or perhaps when things are not going so well in life, you beat yourself up somewhat, judge yourself and your life harshly and get caught up in compensatory behaviours such as avoidance, overeating/spending/drinking, not looking after yourself or repeating patterns in your relationships?
Find out how self-compassionate you are with the Self-Compassion test, developed by Professor Kristen Neff at the University of Texas, co-developer of the Mindful Self-Compassion Course. (To learn the transformative skills of Mindful Self-Compassion, the next course, run by Alex Newte Hardie at the Light Centre Belgravia starts Tuesday 6th November http://www.lightcentrebelgravia.co.uk/mindfulness/)
What is Self-Compassion?
Having compassion for oneself is not hugely different from having compassion for others (we all just have a block or two to self-compassion, which we help to break remove during the course). When you walk down the street and see a homeless person sitting on a sleeping bag looking tired, unwashed and cold, you feel compassion for them. When you see an animal that has injured it’s paw, your heart is moved with compassion for them also.
Compassion feels warm, caring, and there is often a desire to reach out and help in some way. “Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Finally, when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realise that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience.”, says Neff.
“Instead of mercilessly judging and criticising yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, whoever said you were supposed to be perfect?, continues, Neff.
Through a variety of exercises, mindfulness meditations/brain training and discussion, you will experience greater self-compassion, better stress levels, improved physical and mental health and more motivation, energy and have the tools to make positive changes in your life.
To learn the transformative skills of Mindful Self-Compassion, the next course, run by Alex Newte Hardie at the Light Centre Belgravia, starts Tuesday 6th November http://www.lightcentrebelgravia.co.uk/mindfulness/
Please do email Alex if you have any questions about the course.
Self-compassion vs. self-esteem
2 reasons to opt for better self-compassion over raising your self-esteem for longer-lasting mental & emotional wellbeing
Self-esteem was a lovely idea - in fact, it was a movement that began in the 1960’s and then popularised in the 1980’s
by the U.S government at the time as a way of improving social problems from crime, to drug misuse to
teenage pregnancies. The view was, if people felt great about themselves, they were more likely to succeed and
have a healthy respect for themselves.
Students across the county were taught to find themselves beautiful, clever and having the potential to achieve anything. But the reality is, you just can’t feel good about yourself all the time. When we fail, make a mistake, suffer a misfortune (as all humans do frequently), we naturally get caught up in the inner-critic and self-esteem very quickly deserts us. The mind clamps on to what it perceives to be our shortcomings and from that can take us on journeys of confirmation bias, i.e. it will come up with a whole list of additional examples of what is wrong with us. We move from ‘I made a mistake - what an idiot’ to ‘I always do this!’, ‘What is wrong with me?’ and onto jealous thoughts of other people’s successes or into further unfavourable self-evaluations.
Some people confuse self-compassion as a means to improving our sense of self-esteem, but the creators of the Mindful Self-Compassion course, psychologists Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer want to challenge the idea that self-esteem is a useful way to support our feeling of self-worth.
They argue that self-esteem (as defined as ‘the evaluation of self-worth’) implies judging yourself to be a good or bad person, with the subtle undertone of judging oneself against other people in some way. Therefore to obtain self-esteem becomes contingent on success, i.e. achieving aspects of being a good person - looks, confidence, intellectual ability, humour, kindness etc.
This makes good self-esteem necessarily a fragile state - there will always be someone ‘better than us’ and it is contingent on the natural fluctuations of our abilities, attitudes, emotions, and circumstances (which are often outside of our control). Self-esteem has the flavour of: “I AM beautiful, I AM clever, I AM kind’. But if your sense of self-worth is reliant on always feeling beautiful, what happens the day we get the big spot on our nose? If your sense of self-worth is contingent on being the best lawyer in the department, what happens when a new recruit swoops in and steals the show at the board meeting?
Two ways self-compassion wins over self-esteem
1. Self-compassion does not contain judgments or evaluations of whether you are good or bad, but simply involves us learning to relate to ourselves with kindness whatever is going on in our lives (internally or externally) and especially when we fail or notice our notice personal shortcomings. It helps us to have a wider view of ourselves as complex, fluid beings who have endless good qualities (which was elevated through self-appreciation exercises) and, occasional less helpful qualities. This means that self-compassion is always available to us no matter what - it doesn’t let us down when we fail or suffer.
2. Additionally, it helps us to enhance feelings of social connectedness (in truth, we have far more in common than what divides us), rather than social comparison, which creates a feeling of separateness. This allows to us to care about ourselves and be happy for the new recruit at the same time.
Learning to be self-compassionate isn’t always easy and it can helpful to have some support - especially if you recognise that you regularly experience the harsh inner critic.
I am running a 1-Day Reboot Retreat: Spring Clean (for body and mind) with the wonderful yoga teacher and naturopath, Sybille Gebhardt on May 12th at the Light Centre Monument. We will learn more about self-compassion, experience some self-compassion practices, spend a beautiful hour or so enjoying Sybille’s hatha yoga and we will end with a fun, information nutrition class and food tasting session. Book soon as spaces are going fast - would be lovely to have you there! https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/edit?eid=45428448713
I also run Mindful Self-Compassion courses at the Light Centre Belgravia (the next one will run from July) and there are a couple of spaces left on the current course. Please book with reception 0207 881 0728.
6 ways learning to be kind to ourselves makes you stronger and happier
In most cultures, to be a compassionate person is seen as a strength, a virtue and a sign of a generous, selfless and emotionally intelligent person.
However, those who claim to be kind and compassionate to themselves are perceived as weak, self-indulgent, ’soft' or navel-gazing.
Contrary to perception, learning to be kinder to ourselves actually makes us more likely to be: emotionally resilient; self-motivated; willing to take positive risks in our lives (growth mindset); and more emotionally available to others. See below for a myth-busting article, destroying the misconceptions around self-compassion that hold people back from trying out this transformative practice.
A little about the course first:
The Mindful Self-Compassion course will help you learn to turn the natural compassion and kindness we can generate for others towards ourselves whenever we start to struggle and find life difficult or find our relationship with ourselves difficult (i.e. endlessly being at the mercy of the inner-critic). Learning the skills of self-compassion will help you to develop:
More self-confidence, the ability to overcome the harsh inner critic and strategies to cope with stress, anxiety, and prevention of depression).
More satisfying relationships with yourself and others.
Resources that will help you to meet your full potential.
Better resilience in the face of life’s difficulties.
The courage to face your own blind spots, creating space for self-development.
An increased sense of connection to others.
A better sense of living more in alignment of what is important to you in life.
More natural engagement in healthier behaviours e.g. exercise and drinking less.
Being less afraid of failure – helping you to live life more fully.
And much more…
The course is based on the research of Kristin Neff (University of Texas) and the clinical expertise of Christopher Germer (University of Harvard). MSC is not a therapy group, but a transformative, skills-based training programme.
This article will bust the myths that create the misconceptions about self-compassion and demonstrate that to be kind to yourself can be your greatest strength:
Self-compassion is a way to be navel-gazing and self-pitying
Quite the opposite - self-compassion (SC) helps us to not exaggerate the extent of suffering, so we don’t get caught up in a 'woe is me’ attitude. MSC helps us to engage in perspective taking rather than getting caught up in unnecessary and unhelpful rumination (circling thoughts and brooding).
Self-compassion is weak
When we can support ourselves when the going gets tough, SC is a true strength - research shows that self-compassionate people are much more likely to be able to cope with tough life situations, such as divorce, illness and career problems.
Self-compassion is selfish
In the emergency landing demonstration on airplanes, passengers are advised to put on the oxygen mask first before they go to help anyone else with their masks. This is because we are not of any good to others if we are not okay. Research shows self-compassionate people tend to be more caring in romantic relationships, are able to compromise in conflicts and are more compassionate to others when they are struggling. In essence, paradoxically, the more we can look after ourselves, the more selfless we become (with appropriate boundaries and without losing ourselves in the process).
Self-compassion could lead to self-indulgance and stagnation
There is a perception that if we started to be kind to ourselves, we might end up lying in bed eating ice-cream for the rest of our lives or generally 'letting ourselves go'. This is not the tone of self-compassion. The tone is self-compassion is that of a caring parent, imbued with wholesome care for ones own health and happiness. This inner voice or attitude has the tone of ‘darling, eat your vegetables’. Research shows self-compassionate people engage in healthier behaviours such as exercising, eating well, drinking less and going for check-ups at the doctor.
Self-compassion is a form of making excuses
Self-compassion helps us to ‘own’ our mistakes when we make them (which we all inevitably will do), without needing to blame others or circumstances. Self-compassionate people are better able to take responsibility for their own actions and are able to apologise when they have wronged someone. With this is mind, this is one of the mechanisms of SC that means we are more likely to live more authentically and indeed more fully. We are more likely to try new things because we know we have the safety of self-compassion to hold us if things go wrong.
Self-critiscm is an effective motivator and self-compassion will undermine that voice
Many of us believe that it is helpful to beat ourselves up harshly when things don’t go well. We feel it will spur us to keep going. You will find however, once you start to understand what it is like to be on the 'receiving end' of the harsh, critical inner-voice, that self-critism tends to be debilitating rather than motivating.
Leading with self-compassion (that ‘darling, eat your vegetables’ voice and attitude) participants find they can still maintain high standards for themselves, but don’t feat themselves up when they fail. This makes them less afraid of failure and again, helps them to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and persist in the their efforts.
Other misgivings can be: it will open me up to too much pain in life, I will feel pathetic and needy, it could cause old hurts to resurface, it’s hard to practice and I feel I don’t deserve self-compassion. All of these and more will be addressed in the 8-Week Mindful Self-Compassion Course, starting Jan 16th at the Light Centre Belgravia.
“Your course is brilliant”, P. London.
“It was a wonderful course, teaching me things that have improved my life already”, L. London.
“I have learned some fantastic techniques, which I have really connected with. Self-compassion has helped me to see the glass half full’, S, London.