Yes to becoming one chemical less

Gardeners are ecologically conscious – we are met with ethical choices in a more up front way on a weekly basis – home compost versus peat, no dig or manual methods versus chemical weed control, beneficial insects and biological control verses chemical pest control, the GM debate, air quality, etc.

We inhabit a natural world even if we attempt to manicure it and bend it to the constraints of garden design and personal preference – we are still in sympatico or at least in participation with nature. Many of us would reach for a comfrey feed or a garlic spray quicker than a store bought chemical. We do it for the benefit of the garden and the health of the planet.

Yet do we so readily think of our own personal health and the health of the planet when we pick up toiletries and cosmetics that we apply to our own bodies – containing chemicals that are released into the water course down the shower drain.

I have written a book ( ) all about how you can make natural beauty products and personal hygiene options from the plants you grow in your garden and some items from your fridge or kitchen cupboard. The aim is to make one chemical less choices when it comes to daily life. But the research under taken for that book really shocked me – as what I learned was how bad those nasties really are.

Below is a list of just some of the chemicals that find their way into your grooming regime. Read the labels on your proprietary brands and if you recognised any of the following, you might want to think twice about sticking with the product. You don’t have to buy my book or make your own you can make healthier choices by picking eco brands and alternatives.

Acetone naturally occurs in plants and trees, in volcanic gases and even within the human body as a by-product of the breakdown of fat but industrially manufactured acetone found in cosmetics is a solvent also utilized to dissolve plastics, thin printing ink, as paint remover. It is a contact irritant upon skin, harmful to eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Long-term or persistent exposure can shorten the menstrual cycle in women and cause damage to kidneys.

Alcohol is utilized in some natural beauty products to extract phytochemicals or store them in tincture form while in commercial beauty products it is used to thin ‘thick product’ and also to help other ingredients transition the skin barrier. The natural remedy alcohol is generally a natural grain alcohol (vodka etc.) while commercial alcohols tend to be esters and/or chemically enhanced – often derivatives of propane and petrochemicals; note those listed as isopropyl alcohol and ethyl alcohol. In general commercial chemical alcohols are drying on skin and thinning/eroding of skins natural barrier and regeneration mechanisms.

Artificial colours often listed as e-numbers, feature in soaps, shampoos, bath products, styling gels, shave gels, toothpastes, body lotions, face creams, skin toners, face masks and so on. Some colours are derivatives of coal tar and can contain heavy metal salts (including trace arsenic and lead), others are synthesized by chemicals that can thin skin and block pores.

Benzyl-dimethylstearyl-ammonium-chloride features in lipstick, hair colorants, body lotions, shampoos and conditioners – as well as some contraceptive formulations. Its industrial application is to boost the efficacy of detergents and industrial cleaners. A skin and eye irritant associated with occupational dermatitis.

BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) is a toluene-based cosmetic preservative populating shaving gels and many male products. Toluene is a toxic chemical linked to eye and lung irritation, hormone disruption and carcinogenic implications.

Butylene glycol is utilized as a solvent and viscosity-decreasing agent to thin product for easier application. Found in concealer, foundation, moisturizers, sunscreens, eye creams and mascaras. When absorbed through skin or ingested it metabolizes into “gamma-hydroxybutryic acid,” a depressant that slows down the activity of brain and central nervous system.

Carbamic acid- see Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate.

Carbomer is a chemical or class of chemicals made from acrylic acid or petroleum oil – found in sunscreen, moistures, shampoos and styling gel – it’s a plastic with all the endocrine altering implications of plastics.

Coal tar a by-product of bituminous coal, it features in make-up and hair care products (dyes and anti-dandruff) but also as a treatment for seborrhoea and psoriasis. Within the beauty industry it is considered a ‘safe and effective’ cosmetic biocide. Coal tar is linked on the lower end of the ill-health spectrum to phototoxicity, dermatitis and folliculitis but as a ‘product’ of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – a set of persistent organic pollutants – there are associated fears and potential risks of its mutagenic potential and the carcinogenic implications upon liver, skin and lungs.

Cocamidopropylbetaine features in body washes, liquid soaps, bath products, shampoos, toothpastes, contact lens solutions, makeup removers and skin care products – it is a synthetic detergent that can lead to sensitization and hypersensitisation. It was named allergen of the year in 2004 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society.

Diazolidinyl urea is a cosmetics and toiletries preservative. It releases formaldehyde within product and can increase skin sensitivity. Allergies and contact dermatitis are potential outcomes of exposure.

Diethanolamine (DEA) is often part of the processing if not a direct additive to commercial soaps and shampoos. It is also a feature of industrial cleaners, pesticide sprays and other and agricultural chemicals and also in the rubber processing industry. There is currently no scientific study available on human long-term exposure to diethanolamine but there is some certainty about prenatal exposure having a detrimental effect on brain development in lab mice and other animal testing suggests reproductive (notably testicular degeneration and reduced sperm motility), developmental and blood abnormalities upon ingestion and exposure.

Esters are compounds formed from an alcohol and an organic acid. In terms of the really scary ones, see parabens.

Ethyl alcohol naturally occurs in wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages but commercial/industrial grade is first denatured then combined with toxic additives such as methanol (formulated form the combination of carbon monoxide and hydrogen), benzene (a known carcinogen) and paraffin (a petrochemical by-product). It can also be metabolized to acetone in the human body.

Ethylene glycol is used to make antifreeze, hydraulic brake fluids, solvents, plastics. Derived from ethylene oxide a prime ingredient used in pesticides and insecticides.

Formaldehyde features in some cosmetics (particularly nail polish and polish remover) and hair straightening products as well as in plastics, building materials, carpet manufacturing, paints, industrial adhesives and pesticides. It is utilized as an embalming fluid in mortuaries and a disinfectant and preservative in medical laboratories. Prolonged exposure can stimulate asthmatic like symptoms and increase cancer risks.

Fragrance is not always floral or fruit based in extraction whatever about floral or fruity in perception and in the case of beauty products (shampoo, face washes, moisturizers etc) it tends to be a chemical composition often featuring hydroxyisohexyl-3-cyclohexene, carboxaldehydeorisoeugenol etc. The issues with artificial fragrances include skin irritation, headaches, and respiratory agitation to long-term implications of lung problems, hypersensitivity and dermatitis.

Glycol, glycol alcohol and Glycol ethers prominent in perfume and aftershave also feature in a whole array of beauty, grooming and cosmetic products and in industrial solvents and household cleaning products especially oven cleaners were it is valued as one of the most powerful grease-cutting chemicals. Acute or short-term exposure to glycol ethers can results in fatigue, stupor, headache, shortness of breath to pulmonary oedema, skin irritations and irritation of eyes, nose, and throat. Prolonged or chronic exposure can result in neurological changes and physical tremor as well as blood effects such as anaemia.

Hydroquinone is used in hair products and concealer as a colouring agent and fragrance, it is potentially carcinogenic with long term exposure and skin sensitizing in the shorter term.

Imidazolidinyl is a cosmetics and body care products preservative. It releases formaldehyde within product and can increase skin sensitivity and lead to allergic reactions including contact dermatitis.

Iodopropynyl-butylcarbamate(IPBC) is a water-soluble preservative utilized in some face creams and body lotions, shampoos, conditioners, shaving creams and also in foundations, concealers, bronzers, eye shadows, mascaras, makeup removers, hair dyes and lip balms. IPBC is a suspected teratogen, which means that it can increase the risk of birth defects and lower fertility. In large doses and over prolonged exposure it is considered a gastrointestinal and liver toxin. In smaller does it can be a dermal allergen. Sometimes listed as carbamic acid

Isopentane is a beauty product solvent linked to dry skin and contact dermatitis as well as nose and throat irritation.

Isopropyl is a chemically manufactured alcohol produced by a process of combining water and propene by-products of oil refining via hydration reactions or alternately by hydrogenating acetone. Utilized industrially as a solvent, windscreen de-icer and fuel additive. It is also utilized in the production of explosives and herbicides. Considered a skin irritant and poison – Isopropyl alcohol is a known central nervous system depressant. Isopropyl alcohol is oxidized in the body and eventually forms acetone in the liver. See also Alcohol & Acetone

Lanolin found in lipsticks, hair product and many skin creams it often features in so called natural beauty recipes – It is obtained from sheep’s wool but can cause contact dermatitis and skin sensitizing. Poisonous if swallowed.

Lead acetate in hair products and some cosmetics. It is lead – do I need to say more – in case I do – lead is toxic, carcinogenic, and damaging to the nervous system.

MEA (monoethanolamine) features in shaving products and bathroom items that foam. Linked with hormone disruption and the formation of cancer-causing nitrates and nitrosamines

Mineral oil is obtained from petroleum by-products and thus can cause allergies and skin irritations in some sensitive people but even with non-sensitive people there is propensity to block pores and thus inhibit the natural elimination of skin and body toxins. The term ‘mineral oil’ may mean the presence of butylene glycol, propylene glycol, paraffin or even Isopropyl alcohol.

Nitrogens as Nitrosamines are the carcinogenic compounds created by the reaction of two or more nitrogen containing substances. If there is more than one ‘–amine’ suffix on the list – then its likely reaction has taken place.

Palmitic acid is utilized in many beauty products as an emulsifier— it has been linked with contact dermatitis.

Parabens (notably Isobutylparaben, Butylparaben, Methylparaben, Propylparaben and parahydroxybenzoate) feature in an array of cosmetic and toiletry products as a shelf life extender, from moisturizers, lipstick, foundation, and concealer to makeup removers, deodorants, shaving foam, toothpaste and shampoo. The problem with parabens is their xenoestrogenic effect – meaning that they are shaped quite like estrogen and once absorbed into the body they end up filling up receptors located in your cells normally reserved for real estrogen – the consequence being that other neurotransmitters and glands mistakenly start relaying messages and making adjustments based on the presence of what they assume is real estrogen. I admit I am not a clinician but I would say that all of that is not a great thing to happen in terms of male fertility and sperm count and not ideal at all for female hormonal disruptions and the implication to breast and ovarian cancer. Many modern foodstuffs also utilize parabens to extend shelf life. So in terms of limiting the ubiquitous – a homemade shaving oil or natural moisturizer may be a good start.

Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) is present in many commercial hair dyes; linked to allergic reactions and over prolonged exposure to sustained skin irritation including dermatitis and hypersensitivity. PPD sensitizing can impact upon the effect of some diabetic and blood pressure medications (particularly sulfonamides and hydrochlorothiazides).

Paraffin or paraffin oil is a coal oil – as petroleum based product it is used as fuel or fuel component, as a solvent for greases and also in insecticides.

Phthalates are considered “obesogens” – they disrupt the normal hormonal activities of the body, disrupt the endocrine system and trick the body into fat storage. Any chemical that disrupts the endocrine system will impair immune function and many are on the radar for birth deformities and cancer formation. Phthalates feature in perfumes, nail polish and hair spray but also in body washes, soaps, shampoo and even moisturizers.

Polyvinyl-pyrrolidone Copolymer (PVP) features in the production of cosmetics such as foundation, lipsticks etc. Allergies and dermatitis are potential side effects.

Propylene glycol an emulsifying agent in skin creams and body lotions, is a petrochemicals – often utilized to smoothen the skin but smoothening can be actually be thinning of skin and thus speed up the process and visible side effects of skin ageing. It can cause contact dermatitis long term and short-term surface irritations.

Polytetrafluoroethylene can be found in some shave gels – often simply as “PTFE”. It is the chemical agent used to make Teflon and other non-stick cookware – which have been linked with osteoarthritis, early-onset menopause and breast cancer.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is quite pervasive across the range of beauty products and toiletries on the shelf today. A foaming agent most prominent in soaps, shampoos and body washes but also moisturizers, face cleansers, shaving creams and commercial post-shave balms. It can cause allergic reactions, eye irritation and over longer term exposure it can produce a drying effect on skin and pathway other skin irritations – I worry because it increases the permeability of the skin and thus our susceptibility to other harmful agents in the same product or the one to follow it.

Sodium polyacrylate is a synthetic polymer from the crude oil industry, found in face masks, moisturizer, hand cream and sunscreen as well as eye shadow and other cosmetics. The issue beyond petroleum product is that it can become contaminated with toxins during its processing and interact with other chemicals within conventional beauty regimes.

Sulphates/ Sulfates are potential triggers of dry skin and other irritations including dermatitis. Product sulphates may also impair hair growth. They often appear in product and ingredient list in the form of sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, or ammonium lauryl sulfate.

Synthetic colours are chemical in nature and as such may cause skin allergies and irritation.

Tetrasodium EDTA (ethylenediaminetetra acetic acid) is a product preservative made from formaldehyde, ethylenediamine and sodium cyanide. Face creams, body moisturizers, shaving products, bath products, soaps, shampoos, hair conditioners and hair dyes, etc. It thins the skins barrier, can dry skin and is an eye irritant. Also listed as or a compound of Edetate sodium, Tetrasodium edetate, tetrasodium salt and TEA-EDTA

Triethanolamine (TEA) is a feature of products that foam – from shaving gels to hair products. It also features in some cosmetics to balance chemical pH of the product. It can strip natural oils from skin and hair and trigger allergic reactions in some. A recognized eye irritant, it is considered a chemical with potential in hormone disruption. It can interact with other chemical ingredients with product or subsequent products boosting their harmful potential – it is associated with the formation of cancer-causing nitrates and nitrosamines.

Urea is sourced from ‘mammalian urine’ – yes that’s wee that’s not your own. Used as a penetration enhancer for product it can cause reaction in sensitive skin and sensitize other types

Vinyl acetate in mascara and eyeliner and also nail varnish is like all plastic – potential trouble with estrogen receptors and disrupting too of DNA.

Xylene is a central nervous system depressant available in nail varnish and nail varnish remover.

You know the joke – it’s one thing to be drop dead gorgeous it’s another thing to drop dead gorgeous – dont be it!

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The power of mindfulness – Dealing with thoughts and strengthening concentration

Today more and more people are practicing mindfulness. The practice is to simply notice your breathing, follow or be consciously aware of the inhale and the exhale and when random thoughts come into your mind you chose to not get involved or distracted and simply return to awareness- to the awareness of your inhale and exhale. It’s that simple … or that difficult.

Dropping thoughts is not easy – if it were then poor mental health, anxiety and unhappiness would not exist. I come from a Cognitive behavioural therapy stance where we see how thinking triggers behaviours that reinforce thinking that generate feelings that fuel more thinking and more problematic behaviour – the original vicious cycle. The guilt of addiction can make you want to obliterate it by drinking or using more. The profound sadness of depression can make you hide away from friends and positive life experiences and so only remain in the gloom.

It can be so difficult to reset your thinking and strengthen the positive view. Your whole life has been programming you towards your world view and your judgement of yourself. You will benefit from a talk therapy or a few CBT sessions to help clarify why you think the way you do and more importantly how to rethink how you do – how you act out these thoughts, making them real palpable feelings. You can reframe your shame to hurt and you can learn to lessen the hurt. Eradicating the shame will open your life up – will give you your life back.

While we are trying to rethink ourselves there is nothing better than mindfulness to advance the process; to bring cognitive strength and clarity to the situation. Mindfulness is not positive psychology (happy thoughts) but it is a way to strengthen the neural pathways to your tranquil or non-distressed self. The more you practice mindfulness, being in the now of what’s going on in real time rather than in the reacting mode of pandering to the perpetual pop up thoughts – then the more control you have over choosing to drop or run with thoughts that do arise.

Mindful meditation can help you hang up on your hang-ups. It can help you enjoy more of the good moments in life by being fully present in them. The idea is not to stop your mind from wandering – You don’t have to become thoughtless – the idea is to become aware that you are wandering and return to the breathe, or to any sort of meditation mantra and in time to return your attention to where ever you want it – back to the now of whatever you are doing. Over time this skill gets easier – practice makes perfect – a few minutes a day will greatly benefit your brain and your willpower.

There have been quite a few scientific studies* on how meditation and mindfulness affects the physical brain. What the findings suggest is that the process of focusing on a single thing – your breath, a mantra or a mindful practice – that is returned to whenever the mind wanders off builds connections in neural pathways. The more you do it, the more the circuit is reinforced. You can literally rewire your ability to focus and enhance your concentration capacity.

Ultimately mindfulness is more than a relaxation technique – it is self-control. Taking it up will provide the power over those thoughts that make you feel bad, sad or mad. When I chose to study psychotherapy as an extension of my horticultural therapy, I chose CBT because it is evidence based – just as I had chosen to explore mindfulness as a therapy through its validated science too. I do have faith in faith but not everybody does – so bringing some validated proof to the table I find helpful in helping switch people on to a new way to get well. Below is some of the current research that informs this piece and also informed sections of my book on mindfulness practice – By time is everything revealed

The book is a health mix of mindfulness and cbt-like homework to help you attain a more controlled and healthy outlook self. It is a lifetime of experience and many years of deep research – but then so is this blog so please don’t think I’m just promoting a book – there is plenty of free advice here. The books I write are not about bank balance they are about harmony – if I can express my inner hippie for a second. The books just have so much more than I can cover in short posts – as in, it’s the extra content that I’m plugging- buy it or borrow it but engage with it if you can.

1. Berkovich-Ohana A., Glicksohn J., Goldstein A. (2011). Mindfulness-induced changes in gamma band activity – implications for the default mode network, self-reference and attention. Clin. Neurophysiol.
2. Brefczynski-Lewis J. A., Lutz A., Schaefer H. S., Levinson D. B., Davidson R. J. (2007). Neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditation practitioners. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 104, 11483–1148810.1073/pnas.0606552104
3. Chiesa A., Serretti A. (2010). A systematic review of neurobiological and clinical features of mindfulness meditations. Psychol. Med. 40, 1239–125210.1017/S0033291709991747
4. Corbetta M., Patel G., Shulman G. L. (2008). The reorienting system of the human brain: from environment to theory of mind. Neuron 58, 306–32410.1016/j.neuron.2008.04.017
5. Farb N. A. S., Segal Z. V., Mayberg H., Bean J., McKeon D., Fatima Z., Anderson A. K. (2007). Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference. Soc. Cogn. Affect. Neurosci. 2, 313–32210.1093/scan/nsm030
6. Green R., Turner G. (2010). Growing evidence for the influence of meditation on brain and behaviour. Neuropsychol. Rehabil. 20, 306–31110.1080/09602010903172239
7. Hasenkamp, W., & Barsalou, L. W. (2012). Effects of Meditation Experience on Functional Connectivity of Distributed Brain Networks. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 38. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2012.00038
8. Jha A. P., Krompinger J., Baime M. J. (2007). Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention. Cogn. Affect. Behav. Neurosci. 7, 109–11910.3758/CABN.7.2.109
9. Kilpatrick L. A., Suyenobu B. Y., Smith S. R., Bueller J. A., Goodman T., Creswell J. D., Tillisch K., Mayer E. A., Naliboff B. D. (2011). Impact of mindfulness-based stress reduction training on intrinsic brain connectivity. Neuroimage 56, 290–29810.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.02.034
10. Kozasa E. H., Sato J. R., Lacerda S. S., Barreiros M. A., Radvany J., Russell T. A., Sanches L. G., Mello L. E., Amaro E., Jr. (2012). Meditation training increases brain efficiency in an attention task. Neuroimage 59, 745–74910.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.06.088
11. Lippelt, D. P., Hommel, B., & Colzato, L. S. (2014). Focused attention, open monitoring and loving kindness meditation: effects on attention, conflict monitoring, and creativity – A review. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1083. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01083
12. Lutz A., Slagter H. A., Dunne J. D., Davidson R. J. (2008). Attention regulation and monitoring in meditation. Trends Cogn. Sci. (Regul. Ed.) 12, 163–16910.1016/j.tics.2008.01.005
13. Lutz A., Slagter H. A., Rawlings N. B., Francis A. D., Greischar L. L., Davidson R. J. (2009). Mental training enhances attentional stability: neural and behavioral evidence. J. Neurosci. 29, 13418–1342710.1523/JNEUROSCI.1614-09.2009
14. Manna A., Raffone A., Perrucci M., Nardo D., Ferretti A., Tartaro A., Londei A., Del Gratta C., Belardinelli M. O., Romani G. L. (2010). Neural correlates of focused attention and cognitive monitoring in meditation. Brain Res. Bull. 82, 46–5610.1016/j.brainresbull.2010.03.001
15. Rubia K. (2009). The neurobiology of meditation and its clinical effectiveness in psychiatric disorders. Biol. Psychol. 82, 1–1110.1016/j.biopsycho.2009.04.003
16. Xue S., Tang Y. Y., Posner M. I. (2011). Short-term meditation increases network efficiency of the anterior cingulate cortex. Neuroreport 22, 570–574
17. Yu X., Fumoto M., Nakatani Y., Sekiyama T., Kikuchi H., Seki Y., Sato-Suzuki I., Arita H. (2011). Activation of the anterior prefrontal cortex and serotonergic system is associated with improvements in mood and EEG changes induced by Zen meditation practice in novices. Int. J. Psychophysiol. 80, 103–11110.1016/j.ijpsycho.2011.02.004
18. Zeidan F., Johnson S. K., Diamond B. J., David Z., Goolkasian P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: evidence of brief mental training. Conscious. Cogn. 19, 597–60510.1016/j.concog.2010.03.014

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Breath awareness / How to breathe for mindfulness

If you make the decision to be mindful or switch on your conscious awareness, the next job in hand is to master breath control. It will take a little time, you may have to work at it a bit but you will get there. It wont take a lifetime just some practice. Conscious awareness of breathing is to follow it – to be aware of the in and out. It is not a chore, it is a skill. a skill you can pick up and strengthen. You will improve your life with it. Here is how to do it.

Becoming consciously aware of your breathing pattern/rhythm – you don’t have to slow it or alter it – just noticing the inhale, and then being with the exhale brings your focus to the process of breathing and not off on a journey of white water rafting your thoughts and emotions. It is the instant switch, the instant control mechanism, the uncomplicated now. You may get a few breathes followed before your mind starts to drift , that’s ok, when you realise you are not breathing in but thinking about household insurance or what’s for dinner or that twist in last night’s soap opera, then you can just come back to the breaths and take a time out from those meandering thoughts. As time moves on and you practice more conscious breathing you will be able to train your brain to focus better when you call on it to do so.

Breath awareness is also part of meditation but it can be done standing, walking, waiting for a bus, sitting on a train, cycling, hanging out washing, etc. It is not a dangerous process, it does not hypnotise you, you won’t steer the bicycle of the cycle track, or miss the bus, or drop the baby. It is just breathing, but mindfully – That’s aware, not drowsy.

In meditation we can use breath control to bring about calm, to lower blood pressure and stress, to slow the pace – relaxations is relaxation, and sleep is sleep but breath control is both tranquillity and dynamic life experience. Because some people only know on as active and off as unconscious, they find for a time that slowing down makes them sleepy – if you worry that conscious breathing will make you drop the baby then practice when your arms are free. You can skip it when you’re not preparing fugu for family and friends. You use it when you want it.

Practicing breathe control in meditation is great to train it too for use in non-meditation circumstances. Breath control is really mind control. We are not always looking to dismiss thoughts, but watch them arise and pass by without having to latch on and follow them all day. So breathing helps the mind stay focused and not follow the emotions and thoughts arising – follow your breathe not your thoughts.

a guided mindful meditation – Sit still or stand tall. Become aware of your breath, keep breathing as normal – just notice it – you may notice it in your nose, throat, chest or mouth. Just notice and pay attention to the reality that you are breathing in and out. Now focus on the inhale, feel it going in, notice the exhale, feel it going out. Stick with your natural rhythm don’t try to slow it, plenty of time for those exercises later. Now just experience your inhales and your exhales, you can become aware of the rising of your chest, or the flaring of your nostrils but keep following the in and out. If a thought crops up, let it just happen, don’t react, come back to the in and out. Feel the inhale, the drawing in of air to your lungs, experience the exhale as you release the breath. In, out, in, out. That old thought is long gone you are consciously breathing. This is how to control thoughts. The more you do this the better it gets. You can do it for a few seconds anytime you want to find the moment or escape the negative or disarm repetitive thoughts and you can do dedicated timed sessions. Five minutes before breakfast, five minutes at lunch. You may even do 20mins in a meditation. You will evolve and hone your practices into what suits you.

If you want to explore more meditations and pick up some simple tricks and tips to become more mindful in your daily life there is plenty of help in my new book – By time is everything revealed

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Mental health can be a tough mountain to climb but it can be climbed

Persistent sadness, depression and anxiety can be huge obstacles in the way of you living a full life –they can stop you in your tacks and are hard to get over. Mental health can indeed be a tough mountain to climb and from my own personal perspective I have availed of cognitive behavioural therapies and other techniques of neuroplasticity including mindfulness to help me conquer the obstacles in my way.

I have in recent years gone back to train in CBT, positive psychology and mindfulness facilitation to help equip others with skills to climb their mountain. I do believe that the best way to assent is through the wisdom of words and how you can retrain your brain and thinking processes out of negative thoughts and that chain reaction to self-defeating behaviours. This is not simply positive affirmations, this is more than a vision statement, and the words inspire the spirit but also sink into the mind and help alter its perception and recognition functions.

We are the stories we tell ourselves, that’s how we are wired – our brain believes all the negative input, every doubt and resignation increases its hold. We can break that hold by imputing more positive and changing the narrative. If depression and anxiety is a movie we play over and over then let’s make a different movie: the one where we climb the mountain – succeed. Plant the flag of our unobstructed future at the summit. Goodbye to a stunted life. Good bye to holding ourselves back. Hello blue sky.

Here are some quotes that I hung around the house when I was battling my own demons. They gave the inspiration to persevere. You can pick one as a personal mantra to keep you motivated or use them all to flood the brain with the belief that any mountain can be conquered.

“To rule the mountains is to rule the river”

– French proverb

“When there’s love, mountains seem like plains”

– Sicilian proverb

“Even the loftiest of mountains begins on the ground”

– Moroccan proverb

The blue mountains are of themselves blue mountains, the white clouds are of themselves white clouds.”

– Zen saying .

“There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same”

– Chinese proverb

“The mountain is good mustard”

– Irish proverb

If you would like to know about mindfulness and methods of rewiring your brain then my new book – By time is everything revealed is available here and in all good bookstores #EverythingRevealed.

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Even a tree was once a seed

Learning to become more mindful is a journey and we know not all journeys are smooth sailing. It does take time to get from 30 seconds of attempting to be non-thinking to a perfected 30 minutes of mindful meditation. Some never get there but that’s ok too – if you can get to three minutes, you will get to five and five will change the course of your day. I am not saying five is the destination – keep journeying – but 3-5 is a good switch flicked towards pointing yourself in the right direction.

I am primarily interested in mindfulness as a therapy; as a way to control your pain – be that crippled with arthritis or raw nerved from your dysfunctional family or self-harmed by your own thinking patterns. Mindfulness will give you a sense of control. Mindfulness will set you apart from the pain, move you out of cognitive dissonance and attachment to pain. Mindfulness gifts you some distance – something every journey requires.

Sometimes pain can make us long for quick results. Sometimes change can be a daunting task. Do not get disheartened – you have survived this far and now you are arming yourself with skills to defeat your pain and unease. Things take time – that is just how it is. A journey is not just movement towards or away from – but a progression over time. We get there in the end. Even a tree was once a seed.

Go hug a tree If you haven’t a mature tree in your garden go visit the local park or the botanic gardens and give a tree a hug. Worst case scenario – I will testify on your behalf in court if needs be. Get over your fear of embarrassment – break your rigidity. So what if passers-by sneer. The hug you give is not just to the tree but to yourself and your journey.

As you hug, extend from you heart gratitude to the tree for being the lungs of the world, it gifts us oxygen and it absorbs carbon dioxide and other atmospheric gasses. Inhale the goodness it exhales – exhale that gratitude that it will feed upon. Feel its solidity – its stature and strength. It was once a seed. What an accomplishment. Inhale its inspiration, exhale your appreciation.

What did it do to get there- it simply germinated and grew from moment to moment to moment. Nothing else. Nature becomes. Your nature is to become too. Mindfulness will germinate your seed. Mindfulness will let you grow moment to moment to moment. In the last moments of your hug – cherish the moment.

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Empty your mind – become whole.

In mindful practice – the stillness meditations, the ‘in the flow’ active meditations, the breath control and the non-thinking is all asking you to empty your mind and become whole. If that sounds a little bit Zen well that’s just because it is.

Remember that mindfulness comes from the Buddhist tradition even though we may also recognise it in aspects of other faiths – For example the Christian ‘consider the lilies’. In emptying our mind we neither toil nor spin – we simply are.

In this uncomplicated state of being, we fret not, we are devoid of anguish and desires, we are not fractured and scattered by thoughts, feelings or behaviours – we are our whole self – unburdened. Becoming empty is not devaluing – it not lessening your self – it is finding yourself and true value.

I have been engaged with Zen Buddhism and Taoism since a teenager and collecting the collective wisdom in my dog-eared notebooks between how to prune a rose and how to make burdock and dandelion root beer. Quite a few entries were from the writings of Lao Tzu – the founder of philosophical Taoism born 604 BC. I would like to share one here (which I noted down as ‘thirty spokes’) as it beautifully states the value of emptiness – and offers a contemplation on how existence renders actual but non-existence renders useful.

Thirty spokes. Thirty spokes unite in one nave; but the effectiveness of the cart depends on the hollow centre in which the axle turns. Clay is moulded into pots and vessels but because of the space where there is nothing you can carry water. A room is made by cutting windows and doors through the walls, but the space that the walls contain is what measures the room’s value. Therefore while there is profit from what is there; the ultimate usefulness is from what is not there.

三十輻共一轂,當其無,有車之用。埏埴以為器,當其無,有器之用。鑿 戶牖以為室,當其無,有室之用。故有之以為利,無之以為用。(original version from the Tao Te Ching)

Oh how we fill our days. Many peoples greatest fear is to be non-existent, they strive to be seen – to be valued or recognised (as they perceive it). Some put all their energy into it. Some are so noisy about it. Some their desperation to be valued is almost felt before they even turn the corner.

In the modern world – especially with social media, consumer marketing and reality television it seems that proof of existence is not just a 24hr pursuit but that you are nothing without it. Maybe you are more without it, perhaps you are the less for it. This frenetic uploading of every thought, every meal, every moment – leaves no time to be in the moment. All this virtual leaves no space to be real. All this me me ME! – where is the ‘be’.

So put down your devices and your vices (the old French etymology of ‘vice’ originally denoting a failing) and step out into the garden. Breathe there, be active there, be there. Breathe in acceptance of your self, breathe out (and away) the negative need to self-rate. There is no judgment here – by you or by others – just a loving compassion for your self. There is nothing to think, nothing to feel, nothing to act out. In this nothingness is the fullness of your true potential – Your liberated self.

Go empty your mind and become whole.

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