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Tag Archives: 2015
  • Posted on December 12, 2016

    Sherlock Returns!

    I don't know about you, but we're very excited to greet the new year with the return of our favourite detective and the long awaited series 4 of Sherlock Holmes! Thank you BBC and Mr. Cumberbatch, you have saved us from the January blues! So to get ready for the big day we wanted to share with you an extract from our book, Sherlock Holmes’s London by Rose Shepherd, in which she introduces the city Sherlock would have known. Over to Rose...

    The London of Sherlock Holmes is a city of the imagination. Arthur Conan Doyle did not extend himself in describing it. With a few deft pen strokes he gave us fog and gas lamps, hansom cabs, gentlemen’s clubs and opera, pawnbrokers and gin palaces, wily street urchins and dull-witted “Scotland Yarders”—which, for us, the avid readers, is enough. We know that London of the 1890s, capital of Great Britain, of Empire and Commonwealth, in the last gasp of the Victorian era. We can see the teeming thoroughfares, the horses drawing carts, landaus, roughams, the diffused glow from shop windows, the swirling “pea-soupers.” We can hear the ring of iron horseshoes, the clatter of wheels on cobbles, the music of an organ-grinder, the cries of hawkers selling nostrums, matches, posies, whelks. It’s a little bit edgy, dirty, smelly, but always exciting.

    Nor has it all vanished. On the contrary, it is astonishing how much of today’s London would be recognizable to Holmes and Watson. Here and there are survivors from the Middle Ages—remnants even of Roman times. Tudor black-and-white abuts Jacobean grace and Georgian elegance, alongside 1960s Brutalism.

    In the shadow of great towers of glass and steel are important public buildings of bygone ages, ancient churches, impressive monuments, venerable hotels, restaurants, and stores. If we raise our eyes above plate glass and fluorescence, above nail bar and tanning salon, burger joint and mobile phone emporium, we see how handsomely historic London has accommodated the 21st century. The very lack of unity makes for endless fascination.

    In this book we set out upon a tour of the London of the world’s first consulting detective. We visit his haunts and walk the streets in his footsteps, admire stupendous edifices, poke into nooks and corners and back alleys. We can shop, as he would have done, for snuff, shooting sticks, game birds for the table, fine wine, top hats, swords, and country tweeds. We can venture into his favorite restaurant and onto his crime scenes, and find out where justice was dispensed and where the villains whom Holmes brought to book would have languished.

    But a city is more than just a built environment, it is a milieu, it is its people—or, rather, its people are its lifeblood. London in the late 1800s was home to four and a quarter million souls. It was a city of extremes of rich and poor: carriage folk in their Regency mansions, the poor in workhouses and slums, the destitute in rags, under arches, and an emerging middle class colonizing the Victorian pattern-book redbrick terrace homes (row houses) that are such a large part of current housing stock. Masters, servants, wharfingers and wherrymen, shopkeepers, laundresses, flower girls, pen-pushers, publicans, costermongers, cabbies, stable boys, actors, loafers, beggars, harlots, hucksters… All human life was here, giving voice to what Tennyson called “the central roar,” and Robert Louis Stevenson “the low growl” of London.

    Here too, of course, were the criminals whose vile pursuits furnished Doyle with such rich material. Most infamous of all was “Jack the Ripper,” the fiend who stalked the squalid streets of Whitechapel. While he still exercises the minds of investigators who speculate as to his true identity, he remains a faceless figure, almost a figment.

    By contrast, Sherlock Holmes, a character of fiction, is entirely real and present. Let us now get on his case.

    This is extracted from Sherlock Holmes's London by Rose Shepherd which is available here. AND don't forget to tune into BBC One at 9pm on January 1st to see Sherlock's next adventure!


    This post was posted in Featured, News, News, UK, What's new and was tagged with New Year, christmas, 2015, Rose Shepherd

  • Posted on June 3, 2016

    Recipe for the Weekend

    Yesterday was the Festa della Repubblica in Italy and we don’t know about you, but after the dreary week we’ve had here in London, we’re just about ready for some Italian comfort food. So we turned to Laura Santtini’s At Home with Umami and her take on a classic Carbonara. Just how good does this look?!

    Carbonara

    There is nothing more mellow and comforting than a bowl of creamy, umami-packed pasta, served with a glass of chilled white wine. It makes having a bad day almost worthwhile… Carbonara’s dreamy, creamy combination of Parmesan and pancetta is a worldwide favourite. This recipe serves 4 and makes enough to coat 400 g/14 oz. spaghetti.

    3 tablespoons olive oil

    150 g/5½ oz. pancetta or bacon, cut into strips

    4 fresh egg yolks (use only very fresh eggs)

    splash of double/heavy cream (optional)

    4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

    freshly ground black pepper

    1 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

    Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan/skillet. Add the pancetta or bacon and fry until it is browned but not too crisp. Set aside.

    Place the egg yolks, cream (if using) and cheese in a large serving bowl and a generous grinding of black pepper.

    Mix well with a fork.

    Drain your pasta and add immediately to the cheese and egg mixture. Add the pancetta or bacon and parsley, and toss well until all is well mixed and creamy.

    At Home With Umami by Laura Santtini is available here. If you’re after some Italian sunshine food, make sure you check out this delicious crab salad from Ursula Ferrigno’s Flavours of Sicily.


    This post was posted in Featured, News, Recipes, UK and was tagged with savoury, italian, recipe for the weekend, cheese, quick, pasta, 2015, umami

  • Posted on May 16, 2016

    Mental Health Awareness Week: Mindfulness and Relationships

    Today is the first day of Mental Health Awareness Week, supported by the Mental Health Foundation. This year the theme is relationships, and how positive relationships are fundamental to a person’s mental wellbeing. The short activity below is taken from our book, A Year of Living Mindfully by Anna Black and encourages us all to apply the practice of mindfulness to all our relationships; whether these are close friends and family, or someone we may only meet once.

    No Man is an Island

    The sixteenth-century poet John Donne’s words are true for all of us. We are all part of a wider group, and often unhappiness is caused when, for whatever reason, we feel isolated from that group. Deliberately connecting with others can help to reduce this sense of disconnection, and we can do that by reaching out to strangers as well as people we already know.

    We can connect with others through very simple gestures, such as looking them directly in the eye, smiling, shaking hands positively, holding a door open, offering a seat, giving directions to someone who is lost, and in many other ways. When we connect with someone—particularly a stranger, whom we could easily ignore as we drift along on autopilot—we bring ourselves into the present. At that moment of exchange there is a connection: we have noticed them, and they have noticed us.

    When we do something positive for someone else we make ourselves feel good as well as them. They will feel that someone has noticed them, which means they matter, they are seen. In that moment they are not alone.

    We can begin with people with whom we interact throughout our day: the barista handing us a drink, the bus driver taking our fare, the store assistant handing us our goods.

    Experiment with this and reflect on what you notice.

    A Year of Living Mindfully by Anna Black is available here.


    This post was posted in Featured, News, UK and was tagged with wellbeing, mindfulness, quick, mind body spirit, 2015, mindful week, mental health

  • Posted on March 25, 2016

    Classic Roast Lamb for Easter

    We’re sure many of you will be having roast lamb this weekend and with Miranda Ballard’s recipe at hand, you cannot go wrong – lamb, garlic and rosemary really is a match made in heaven. Taken from her most recent book, Modern Meat Kitchen this recipe will definitely help you make the most of your roast. If you’ve gone for a different roast this Easter, why not take a look at Miranda’s cooktchery tutorials on The Pantry YouTube channel for more tips and ideas. We shared this recipe with subscribers to The Pantry as part of our Perfect Easter Roast - you can find all the recipes here.

    CLASSIC ROAST LEG OF LAMB

    A rich and juicy roast lamb is often such a popular option, and you can’t go too wrong with the cooking of it either, because the shape and ratio of meat to bone makes it the perfect cut for a well-balanced roasting. I like the classic combination of mint sauce with roast lamb, so I’ve included an easy recipe here.

    bone-in, trimmed leg of lamb (usually around 2 kg/4 lbs.)

    2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

    2 garlic cloves, chopped (optional)

    salt and black pepper, to season

    gravy and your choice of accompaniments, to serve

    MINT SAUCE

    10–12 fresh mint leaves, chopped finely

    2 tablespoons soft brown sugar

    2 tablespoons boiling water

    2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

    EASY ROAST GRAVY

    2 tablespoons plain/all-purpose flour

    100 g/3¾ oz. Brown Chicken Stock or 200 ml/scant 1 cup chicken stock from a stock/bouillon cube

    2 teaspoons redcurrant or cranberry jelly

    salt and black pepper, to season

    SERVES 6–8

    Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

    Place the leg of lamb in a roasting pan and sprinkle the rosemary, garlic (if using), and some salt and pepper on top.

    If you like, put your vegetables to roast around the edge (I recommend parboiling for a couple minutes first, if you’re doing potatoes or root vegetables, so that they don’t dry out too much).

    Cook in the preheated oven for about 90 minutes, but check it a couple of times before the end of that time, as cooking times depend on the shape of the leg – they can be short and plump or long and thin, depending on the breed. For rare/pink meat, it may only need 60 minutes.

    I find the easiest way to carve is to start in the middle and slice towards the ankle end first. Then you can hold that and turn it to slice in the opposite direction. There’s lots of meat on the hind leg, so don’t worry too much about technique; you’ll be able to get all the meat off one way or another.

    Serve with the mint sauce, easy roast gravy and vegetables of your choice.

    Mint Sauce

    Put the chopped mint leaves and brown sugar in a cold frying pan/ skillet and pour over the boiling water (or just enough to soak up and dissolve the sugar).

    Put the pan over a high heat and bring to the boil. Add the white wine vinegar and boil for another couple of minutes.

    Leave to cool; ideally cool it to room temperature then let it chill in the fridge overnight. Alternatively, submerge the bottom of the pan in a sink of cold water and stir so that the mint sauce cools and thickens a bit. Serve cold with the roast lamb.

    Easy Roast Gravy

    Once your meat is fully roasted, move it to a board to rest (don’t put kitchen foil over the top; you’ll only be a few minutes, so just let it breathe).

    Drain nearly all of the meat juices from the roasting pan into a jar, but leave the last 3–4 tablespoons in there – this is usually the fattier portion, which is what we want.

    Put the roasting pan over a medium heat on the stovetop and let the reserved fatty meat juices start to bubble.

    Stir in the flour and then add the stock and stir well until smooth. Add the redcurrant or cranberry jelly and keep cooking until thickened and glossy.

    Season to taste.

    Transfer to a gravy boat or spoon over the carved meat.

    Modern Meat Kitchen by Miranda Ballard is available here. Don't miss an email from The Pantry - join here.


    This post was posted in Recipes, UK, What's new and was tagged with savoury, Miranda Ballard, recipe for the weekend, 2015, lamb, meat, Modern Meat Kitchen

  • Posted on March 14, 2016

    Mindful Movement

    Remember our #MotivationMonday posts earlier this year? We know that a lot of you are taking on some big challenges as spring creeps ever closer and the weather becomes a little warmer so we decided to bring them back! Whether you’re training for one of the many marathons on the horizon, doing something exciting for Sport Relief or looking to reach your next fitness goal, these posts are here to support and inspire you.

    Today’s post on Mindful Movement comes from our recent book, A Year of Living Mindfully by Anna Black. A perfect introduction to mindfulness and a great way of being in the moment whilst you exercise, this simple practice can improve your breathing, help you recover from a poor workout or better your workout routine.

    Mindful Movement

    Movement practice is a great opportunity to inhabit the body and explore what we are capable of (or not) in this very moment. Usually we move with a particular purpose in mind—to get from A to B, to become more flexible or burn calories, or perhaps to swim or run a particular distance. Mindful movement practice provides the chance to let go of striving and instead settle into where we are in the moment. When we practice “beginner’s mind” we become open to the possibilities of this moment, regardless of how we “performed” previously.

    The instructions are for a walking practice, but the same principles can be applied to any other activity, such as running, swimming, or more traditional meditative practices such as yoga, tai chi, and qi qong.

    When doing an activity as a mindfulness practice, experiment with the breath. Notice your relationship to it: are you holding it? Does it feel quick and panicky? Explore the “edge” (that place that feels as if you have reached your limit) with your breath. Pay particular attention to the out-breath and noticing how the body softens as you breathe out. Remember always to take care of yourself, never push through pain, and respect the limits of your body.

    • Begin by making an intention to walk mindfully, that is, intentionally become aware of your experience as it arises, without judging.
    • If you can, take a moment to stand still and connect with the sensations of your feet in contact with the ground. Then form the intention to begin peeling your left heel off the ground, noticing how you feel as the foot lifts, shifts, and then is placed on the ground as you take a step.
    • Then, taking your attention to the opposite foot, begin peeling the heel off the ground, lifting, shifting, placing …
    • Continue in this way, at first keeping your attention focused on the feet on the floor.
    • Experiment with walking at different speeds. If you are walking very slowly you might prefer to do this in the privacy of your home to avoid raising comment with friends or neighbors!
    • From time to time, widen your beam of awareness to include the whole  body, becoming aware of sensations within the body and perhaps the environment around you: sights, sounds, and smells.
    • You may also like to stop and stand still occasionally and notice what that feels like in the body.
    • Be curious about the experience of walking.
    • Let go of any agenda, goal, or seeking a particular outcome. Simply be with the experience as it is.

    A Year of Living Mindfully by Anna Black is available here. You can read all our #MotivationMonday posts here.


    This post was posted in Featured, News, UK, What's new and was tagged with mindfulness, mind body spirit, 2015, healthy, Motivation Monday, mindful exercise, exercise, fitness

  • Posted on January 22, 2016

    Great chieftain o' the puddin'-race

    Happy Friday! Burns’ Night is literally just around the corner (25th January for those not in the know…that’s Monday) and we're quite excited. So, you could just buy a Macsweens Haggis, followed by Cranachan and a wee dram of something delicious. OR you could do it the Muddy Boots way and make your own haggis this weekend. Go on, be Brave(heart)!

    Homemade Haggis

    This is such a delicious, good-value and nutritious meal. I love the full tradition with the offal and stomach casing, but they’re not always easy to source, so this has an alternative version to achieve an equally delicious flavour and texture.

    75 g/2½ oz. lamb’s liver

    100 g/3½ oz. each of lamb’s heart and lamb’s lungs or 200 g/7 oz. lamb mince/ground lamb

    100 g/3½ oz. beef suet or vegetable shortening

    A big pinch of allspice

    A pinch of cayenne pepper

    1 small red onion, finely chopped

    1 garlic clove, finely chopped

    A big pinch of freshly chopped parsley, plus extra to garnish

    1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

    30 g/2 tablespoons tomato purée/paste

    120 g/¾ cup old-fashioned rolled oats

    salt, to season

    1 sheep’s stomach (alternatively, use baking parchment)

    ‘NEEPS AND TATTIES’

    1 swede/rutabaga

    2 baking potatoes

    A large knob/pat of butter

    Black pepper, to taste

    Butcher’s string/twine

    SERVES 2

    Pre-heat the oven to 160°C (325°F) Gas 3.

    Finely chop the liver, heart and lights/lungs, if using, or chop the liver and mix it into the lamb mince/ground lamb. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add the chopped suet/vegetable shortening, allspice, salt, cayenne pepper, onion, garlic, parsley, white wine vinegar, tomato purée/paste and oats.

    Then either stuff into the stomach and seal the end with butcher’s string/twine or squeeze into a tight ball. Place into the centre of a square of baking parchment and twist or tie the ends to lock it in.

    Wrap in a layer of foil and place into 1 cm/ inch of water in the bottom of an ovenproof pan. Set a lid on top and cook in the preheated oven for 2 hours. Remove the haggis from the casing, season with salt and slice it to serve.

    ‘Neeps and Tatties’

    While your haggis is cooking, you can make your ‘neeps and tatties’, the accompaniments for this famous Scottish meal. Peel and chop the swede/rutabaga and potatoes into small dice. Boil separately (or together, if you prefer), drain and mash with the butter and freshly ground black pepper.

    This recipe is taken from Modern Meat Kitchen by Miranda Ballard. For more cooktchery tips and tutorials, why not check out our videos with Miranda on The Pantry YouTube channel.


    This post was posted in Featured, News, Recipes, UK, What's new and was tagged with New Year, savoury, Miranda Ballard, recipe for the weekend, tomato, Burns Night, Scotland, 2015, meat, Modern Meat Kitchen

  • Posted on January 18, 2016

    Motivation Monday: Stretching with Ease

    Did you decide to take up running in 2016? Perhaps you’ve got a specific goal distance in mind? Maybe you’re starting from the absolute beginning with a Couch to 5k running programme? (We know a good one…) Or even just want to get running for 20 minutes a couple of times a week? Whatever your ultimate goal, you need to make sure you’re stretching properly before and after your run, which is where today’s #MotivationMonday comes in. Taken from our new book, Stretching With Ease by Linda Minarik, these stretches are designed to help ensure that “your gait becomes fluid and easy; you move with efficiency and confidence”.

    1. Back: Spiral

    The Setup: Lie on your back on the floor, using a carpet or mat for comfort. Place your arms by your side, palms down, forming an “A” shape (fingers reaching away from you at 45 degrees to your torso).

    The Stretch: Bring both your knees as far in to your chest as you can. Drop both knees over to the left side and let them rest where they fall. Keep your right shoulder down on the floor. The stretch here is produced by your knees pulling away from your shoulder, causing your spine to form its characteristic spiral shape. Repeat the stretch on the other side.

    2. Side hip: lying on side

    The Setup: Lie on your right side with your legs stretched out, one on top of the other. Place a rolled-up towel under your right hip. The placement of the towel is important: it goes between your pelvic bone (iliac crest) and your thigh bone (greater trochanter). Get familiar with both these bony landmarks on your side before you place the towel. You don’t need to know anatomy: just feel the bones that come to the surface at your hip and thigh.

    The Stretch: The stretch appears in the side of your hip facing the ceiling. In other words, the towel lifts your bottom hip so you can experience greater range in the top hip. Gently brace yourself with the open palm of your left hand. You can rest your head either in your hand (elbow bent) or on your straight right arm. Repeat the stretch on the other side.

    3. Hip Flexors: kneeling lunge

    The Setup: Kneel with your right leg forward and left leg behind you. Adjust the width of your stance for balance: for more stability, move your forward leg a little farther to the right. Your right toes should line up in front of your heel—make sure they are not rotated outside your heel. Your front knee can be a little behind the ankle—just not in front of it. This protects your knee from strain. For more support, kneel between two chairs, and place your hands on them if needed. Otherwise, place your hands lightly on your front thigh. Hold your neck in a comfortable position—neither too lifted at the chin nor too bowed toward your chest. Just comfortable, without strain. Looking straight ahead helps to accomplish this.

    The Stretch: Gently tuck your pelvis. The stretch will appear in the left leg—the back leg—at the hip-flexor level in front. When you experience the stretch in the right spot, you can intensify it by moving your front leg a little more forward. Ultimately, and with practice, your back hip will be much lower to the ground. On your way there, you will have moved your front foot forward in many small increments. Now comes an important point, which cannot be stressed enough. The hip-flexor stretch contains the beginning of a lovely back extension—also called an arch. Whenever we practice developing the back extension, we always encourage length: spine goes up as well as forward, to avoid scrunching the lower spinal vertebrae together. Repeat the stretch on the other side.

    4. Thighs: hamstrings

    The Setup: Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart and shoulders relaxed. With your knees bent, roll your spine slowly downward, beginning at the top of your head, tucking your chin, and slowly rolling down through all your spinal vertebrae. When you pass your waist with your head, pull in your belly button to support your lower back as you continue to descend toward the floor. Stop when you are at the full extent of your present hip flexion range. Your head and neck remain relaxed. Your view is of your own legs. You may already be feeling a stretch. Note how far your fingers are from the floor, so that you can compare their distance after you execute the stretch.

    The Stretch: Slowly straighten your legs. Take all the time you need. If you can straighten your legs without lifting your back up at the same time, you will achieve a deeper stretch. Here we emphasize stretch in the hamstrings. But keep in mind that, if your back is more in need of stretching, that is what you will feel. Any stretch that addresses the hamstrings will also lengthen the back. What you feel is determined by the area you most need to stretch.

    5. Calves: floor, leg straight

    The Setup: Stand facing a wall with your left foot forward and right foot back.

    Your left knee is bent; your back leg is straight. Place your hands on the wall for support at about shoulder height. Make sure your hip bones are even, that is, our pelvis is not rotated sideways in either direction. Place the heel of your right foot directly behind the toes: make sure the toes are not “winging” outside the heel.

    The Stretch: Move your right foot gradually back, until it is as far back as you can move it without lifting your heel from the floor. You will feel this stretch in the “fat” part of your calf, below your knee. Repeat the stretch on the other side.

    5b. Calves: support, knee bent

    The Setup: Stand on a step with your hand on a support, e.g. a stair railing. Your feet are about shoulder width apart. Your left heel hangs off the step, with your weight on your right foot. Find a secure spot on the ball of your left foot where your foot feels stable as you hang your heel comfortably off the step. At this point your left leg is straight.

    The Stretch: Slowly sink your left heel down off the step. Now gently bend your left knee, while still sinking your left heel down as far as you can. The stretch is still in your calf, but it now shifts to the lower part, nearer to the ankle and Achilles tendon. Repeat the stretch on the other side.

    Stretching With Ease by Linda Minarik is available here, and don't forget to check out our other #MotivationMonday posts. Happy stretching!


    This post was posted in Featured, UK, What's new and was tagged with january, New Year, mind body spirit, 2015, healthy, Motivation Monday, exercise, Stretching With Ease

  • Posted on January 6, 2016

    Wordless Wednesday: Cosy Corners

    Picture Credits: 1. Debi Treloar 2. Katya de Grunwald 3. Pia Ulin 4. Ben Robertson 5. Katya de Grunwald

    6. Christopher Drake 7. Christopher Drake 8. Debi Treloar

    The images for this post are taken from:

    Selina Lake Winter Living by Selina Lake, available here.

    Monochrome Home by Hilary Robertson, available here.

    Bohemian Modern by Emily Henson, available here.

    Annie Sloan's Room Recipes for Style and Colour by Annie and Felix Sloan, available here.

    Creative Children's Spaces by Ashlyn Gibson, available here.


    This post was posted in Featured, News, News, UK, What's new and was tagged with New Year, interiors, Selina Lake, annie sloan, Emily Henson, photos, 2015, home, Wordless Wednesday, winter living, winter

  • Posted on January 2, 2016

    Winter Warming Porridge

    Have you over-indulged this holiday but still need that warming winter comfort? This healthy, superfood-packed porridge recipe from Sarah Wilkinson's The Chakra Kitchen will not only help you cleanse and detox but will also keep you comforted and full all the way through 'til lunch. No need to open another sugar-packed selection box!

    Wake Me Up Porridge

    Wake-me-up Porridge

    This porridge is a favorite, with warming, stimulating ginger and nutrient-packed superfoods maca and chia. It really does feed and balance the solar plexus chakra, with the slow-release carbohydrates from the oats keeping you satisfied throughout the morning. I have included a cooked and a raw version of this recipe.

    SERVES 2

    90g/1 cup gluten-free oats (sprouted if possible)

    600ml/2½ cups unsweetened plant-based milk

    2 tablespoons chia seeds

    2 teaspoons ground ginger

    2 teaspoons maca powder

    2 tablespoons desiccated coconut

    2 tablespoons shelled hemp seeds

    2 tablespoons raw cacao nibs

    Place the oats and the milk into a small saucepan and heat gently for 3–4 minutes, stirring until you have a loose, milky porridge—do not allow it to reach boiling point.

    Turn off the heat and add the chia seeds, stir well, then leave swell and cool for 2 minutes. Add the ginger and maca and half the coconut, hemp, and cacao nibs and mix well. It is important not to add the maca at a high temperature as it would lose some of its nutrients.

    Spoon into two bowls and sprinkle the remaining coconut, hemp seeds, and cacao nibs on top before serving.

    Note: For a raw version of this porridge, soak 170g/1 cup raw gluten-free oat groats overnight in 500ml/2 cups of water. The following morning, blend the groats and water with the chia, ginger, maca, and coconut. Leave to stand for 5 minutes, then serve with the hemp and cacao nibs scattered on top.

    The Chakra Kitchen

    For more healthy New Year recipes and more information about working with your Chakras, see The Chakra Kitchen by Sarah Wilkinson, available here.


    This post was posted in Featured, News, Recipes, UK, What's new and was tagged with january, New Year, vegan, vegetarian, mind body spirit, 2015, healthy, chakra, recipe

  • Posted on January 1, 2016

    A Year of Living Mindfully

    How are the heads this morning? A little fragile…? Our first New Year’s Resolution was to Always Always Drink Water Before Bed, but as the hangovers dissipate, our thoughts turn to other resolutions for the year ahead. Eating healthier, being more mindful, being more adventurous? Whatever your focus, we’ve got some great books to help you on your way. All through January we’ll be running a series of #MotivationMonday blog posts so keep your eye out for those. One of our main resolutions is to live more mindfully, and consider our mental health and wellbeing, after a few weeks of indulgence and excess. So, we turn to the beginning of A Year of Living Mindfully by Anna Black to kick start our mindful year. Here Anna introduces the subject of mindfulness and we share an activity from the book to get you started.

    WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?

    Children are inherently mindful, but as we get older it’s a quality that many of us lose. We spend much of our time drifting through our days on automatic pilot, thinking about the past or daydreaming about the future.

    When we think about the past there may be an element of regret—wishing we had done something differently or feeling that something positive is over. When we think about the future there may be anxiety, or a sense of dissatisfaction with where we are now. Such unease is the opposite of feeling calm.

    We forget that the past has happened and cannot be changed, and that the future will be determined by what we do now—in this moment.

    We can do something consciously in the present moment only if we are aware of what is actually happening in that moment. To bring that moment into our awareness we must deliberately pay attention to our experience as it is unfolding and—crucially—do so without judging it. This is mindfulness.

    By regularly paying attention to our inner and outer experiences we begin to notice our habitual patterns of thinking and behavior. We notice the stories we tell ourselves about our experience, and how those stories make us feel physically and emotionally. We notice that our interpretation of events—the story we spin ourselves—is influenced by the mood we are in.

    We begin to pay attention to what is going on in the body, and we can unpack “the experience” into separate strands of thoughts, emotions, and felt sensations. The experience is still present, but our awareness of each element introduces some space, and the curiosity we bring to the “unpacking” creates a sense of perspective; we relate to our experience differently, and that changes how we feel about it.

    We can cultivate the quality of mindfulness through regular meditation. That might take the form of Watching the Breath for a short period or it might be done more informally, such as by drinking a cup of tea or washing the car with mindful awareness.

    By regularly practicing mindfulness we learn that we have a choice about how we respond to our experience, and that when we exercise that choice mindfully our experience changes.

    It is important to acknowledge that when we pay attention to our experience we may not like what we find, and it may feel the complete opposite of being relaxed. This is okay.

    We are not expecting to feel a particular way, but rather learning to respond to all states of mind—not just the positive ones. Paradoxically, by letting go of the attempt to control our experience and keep the bad stuff at bay, and instead allowing it all in, we learn that we can be with the difficult things that come up in life. That makes us feel more relaxed, calm, and happy.

    Mindfulness Activity: Exploring Intention

    Silently ask yourself “Why do I want to practice mindfulness?” Let the question drop into your subconscious without any expectation of a particular answer. Every so often, repeat the question. Then bring your attention back to the breath, pick up your pen and notebook, and begin writing practice.

    Set a timer (use your phone, or your kitchen timer) for 3 minutes. There are just three rules:

    1 Don’t stop. Any time you hesitate or don’t know what to write, just repeat the words “I want to practice mindfulness because ...”.

    2 Don’t edit your words or cross anything out. There is no need to worry about handwriting, spelling, or grammar—anything goes! This is for your eyes only.

    3 Don’t read what you are writing until the timer has sounded.

    When you have finished, read what you have written. Don’t judge it, but simply read it as a practice. You may like to highlight particular words or phrases that stand out for you, or write a sentence or two in reflection.

    Continue your mindful practice with A Year of Living Mindfully by Anna Black, available here.


    This post was posted in Featured, News, UK, What's new and was tagged with New Year, resolutions, mindfulness, mind body spirit, Anna Black, 2015, healthy, mindful exercise

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