Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Power of Self-Compassion

As I have shown an interest in books on mental and physical health and well-being in amazon's Kindle store, I one day found Kristin Neff's book on self-compassion among the books that were recommended to me there. It piqued my interest, and I went onto her website to learn more about this concept and see if reading about it might help me on my quest for a healthier, happier life. Reading through the info and checking out the free exercises provided on the site, I realised that, even though the term "self-compassion" was a new one for me, I had already incorporated the concept into my life, I just didn't have a name for it until now. This was confirmed by the results of the test I took on the site: it gave me an over-all self-compassion score of 4,44/5, with both self-kindness and mindfulness at 5/5. Still, I think it's a great resource for anyone wanting to lead a happier life, and thoroughly recommend checking it out. So here are some links: the main page - self-compassion test - guided meditations for increased self-compassion - exercises for increased self-compassion.

Even if you don't want to take the test, I recommend reading through all the statements and considering how you would answer each of them if you were to take the test and answer truthfully. This will make you more conscious of what self-compassion is and how you exercise it in your everyday life. The guided meditations are useful as they help you to slow down for a moment, to stop and be conscious of your body and your emotions, and give yourself the attention, love and kindness you need. I did find myself wishing for some meditative background music, though, but for an otherwise well-thought-out set of guided meditations that is available to everyone for free, this is a very small complaint. And it could just be me - I find that for me, everything tends to be better with music. Someone else might be perfectly fine meditating without any. The exercises are great as well, as they give you a good set of tools to practice self-compassion in your life. All in all, this site is amazing in that it offers so much of such great value completely for free. A huge thumbs-up for that!

I attribute a lot of my healthy self-compassion score to my parents and to the way I was raised. Dr. Neff says that a big part of our attitude problem is that we always have to be better than or at least as good as other people in order to feel good about ourselves. I, though, don't remember ever being very competitive or comparing myself to others in that way. I was raised to believe that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, everyone is unique, and no-one is any better than anyone else, just different. I wasn't raised to compete and try to be better than other people, I was raised to care for myself and look after myself, and to be sensitive both to my own feelings and to the feelings of others.

I never lacked for loving attention from my parents. They always supported me with my hobbies: built me a doll house (yes, actually built it, from scratch, and grandma upholstered the furniture for it), made sure I had enough books to read (I was a ravenous reader!), encouraged my creative writing (my grandpa did, too, but he died while I was still in primary school - grandma has often said that if he had lived to see what I've become, he would be very pleased and proud of me), took me to my piano lessons... I didn't need to be the best at anything, they didn't pressure me to compete, being myself and doing my best was enough. My parents are some of the greatest, kindest, most principled, encouraging, loving, down-to-earth wholesome imperfect ordinary people I know, and I recognise in both of them a lot of the qualities I want to nurture and develop in myself. I couldn't imagine myself a better set of parents even if I tried, and I am very, very grateful and proud to be their daughter.

 I did go through a period of very low self-esteem and almost no sense of self-worth as a teenager - I guess most introverted, introspective teens who have been bullied at school do. My boyfriend was the key to getting me out of it. Through his patience, love and kindness I learned to see myself as worthy again. It took years, but I was healed. And, finally, again over many years, I learned how to take care of my own heart, feel whole by myself, without relying on other people to heal the hurts life tends to inflict on all of us every now and then.

Now I can enjoy the company of others, love them and appreciate them as they are, without being too dependent on them, without holding onto them too tight, allowing them their own space and their own lives, their own independence. They are a part of me, a part of my world and my life, in my thoughts, yet they are separate from me, I don't own them and I don't control them - and that's okay, as I know that even if someone breaks my heart in some way, I will eventually be able to get it back together again. I love myself, care for myself, and that will be enough to get me by if I ever find myself in a situation where I am not loved by anyone else. It is this knowledge that enables me to be myself and live with an open heart, be approachable and let people in. No matter what happens, no matter how life and the people I let into my heart treat me, I will always have myself - I don't fear heartbreak or rejection as I know that, given time, I can heal myself.

When it comes to taking care of you, comforting you, motivating you, cheering you up, understanding you, giving you what you need, saying the right words, no-one knows how to do those things better than you yourself. Accept yourself for the unique, flawed and wonderful creature you are. You don't need to be perfect or better than someone else, just do your best to be the best person you can be. Don't beat yourself up when you fail. Instead, encourage yourself to learn what you can from it, move on and do better next time. Everyone, even the most perfect, most successful person you know, fails and makes mistakes sometimes - it's a part of life and doesn't make you a worse person. Your heart is precious, and it is in your hands. Take good care of it. Be your own best friend - for like it or not, you yourself are the only person you can count on to stick with you for the rest of your life, so making that relationship a good one should be one of your top priorities.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Body Book by Cameron Diaz

Cameron Diaz has been one of my favourite celebrities for a while now. There's just something about her - she's so cute, witty, funny, warm, charming and deep at the same time - that I can't help but love her. When I came upon this book in amazon's Kindle store, I didn't have to think twice: of course I wanted to read what she had to say about nutrition, fitness and a generally healthy lifestyle! I'm on that quest myself, too, and thought that some tips and encouragement from a favourite celebrity would be a fantastic thing to get.

I wasn't wrong. While there are, of course, a lot of facts about nutrition, fitness and general health in the book, it is also riddled with personal anecdotes and written in a style that, like Cameron Diaz herself, is warm, witty and a little goofy but also deep and serious. Reading this book is like listening to her speak to me - the writing in it is so delightfully, upliftingly her - and she has a lot of interesting things to say.

Even though almost all the health and fitness facts presented in this book are things I already knew, it still managed to change my everyday life for the better in a few small but very significant ways. This is due to the surprising but brilliant ways Cameron Diaz presents of applying these facts to your daily life - the kinds of things that, once you've read them, you wonder why you didn't think of them yourself as they are so ingenious in their simplicity and efficacy. I don't want to spoil the whole book for you as I sincerely and wholeheartedly want everyone to read it for themselves, but I will give you two examples to show you what I mean:

1) I've known for a while now that I drink too little water during the day. It just seems to completely slip my mind, I can go for hours and hours without even a little sip before it comes to my attention that I'm thirsty. In the nutrition part of this book, Cameron Diaz suggests making the drinking of some water part of your morning ritual: get up, brush your teeth, drink some water and only then go on to have breakfast. Leave the jug or bottle of water someplace where you will spot it during your morning routine so you won't forget.

I have made this a part of my daily life and now start my mornings with a glass or two of water before breakfast to help my body rehydrate after the night. As I always do it in the same place, between tooth-brushing and breakfast, it's pretty unlikely for me to forget it. And voilĂ , my body is a little better hydrated than before I read this book!

2) In the fitness part of this book, Cameron Diaz talks about how the body wants to move. Not only during a workout at the gym, but throughout the day, any where, any time and any way it can. She talks about how good even a few minutes of heart-rate stimulating physical activity can be both for the body and for the mind. She uses TV's commercial breaks as an example - during one, you could do a few jumping jacks, some squats, a little light stretching, and then return to the couch when the commercials are over and the series or movie you were watching continues.

I don't watch all that much TV, but after reading this, it came to my mind that I always listen to music while I cook - I start up Spotify and put on the playlist I'm in the mood for at that moment - and the music is, pretty much without exception, danceable. When making a veggie soup or stir-fry, both of which are staples in my diet, there is some waiting around included. A recipe can read, for instance, something like this: bring water to boil, add ingredient a), let it cook for x minutes, add ingredients b) and c), etc. Now, I can use these short wait times - waiting for the water to come to a boil, waiting for that slower-cooking ingredient to cook for x minutes before adding the other ingredients, etc. - to give my body a few mini dance workouts! I love moving to music and my body seems to be able to find the beat completely on its own, without any help from the conscious part of my brain (people have always told me I have a good sense of rhythm), so it's very easy and natural for me to just let loose and enjoy the music with both my mind and my body. Like Cameron Diaz says, "Let your body move you" - don't think, just move! Let your body do what it wants! During "slow" songs I might do some light stretching, using what I've learned from yoga standing poses, and during faster tracks I just let my body, arms, legs and head move to the beat and do what ever they want to. It feels pretty amazing, both in my body and in my mind! I'm the dancing chef, and I love it!

In addition to being a life changer, this book is also a pretty potent mood booster. Cameron Diaz's honest warmth of personality and healthy can-do attitude are contagious, and I found that, after a session with this book, no matter how short, my mood was lifted and my energy levels boosted, and I was itching to move! I recommend this book to anyone who wants a healthier life, as it is full of encouragement, motivation,  information and great tips on applying that information to your everyday life.

I'll end this post with the parting words from this book, as I think they sum its message up quite nicely: "Wake up. Love yourself. Care for yourself. Your body is the most precious thing that you have."

Monday, 8 September 2014

Poll Results

What would you like to read about in this blog?

Many thanks to the six people who voted! As to the people who didn't, I'm assuming they're at least mildly interested in all the subjects listed above and that's the reason they didn't vote.

I was especially pleased to see that all the people who voted liked my contemplative posts - I tend to think about things rather deeply and from many different angles, and it's great to know that reading about these contemplations of mine isn't boring for you. Because I enjoy writing them and finding the images to accompany my words and enhance the overall mood and message of the post. There will definitely be more of that kind of posting here in the future.

It was also great to see that none of the subjects was left with no support whatsoever. From time to time, I will get inspired to write about a book, movie, TV show, video game, food, drink, or whatever, and it's nice to know that those posts, too, have their audience here. The weight loss and fitness progress logging is mostly for my own benefit, but it does give me a good feeling to know that some of my readers are actually interested in following this journey of mine. I already feel stronger, healthier, and in many ways more capable than I have ever felt before, and feeling accountable to my readers is one of the many small things that help keep me on this healthy path.

So, thanks for being there, thanks for reading, and see you around!