Body Scan at the Check Out

“Daily life is better when it involves interactions with real people who have a personal investment in their labour, like shopkeepers, than it is with someone ‘just doing my job’ or the infernal self-checkout machine. Julian Baggini

“Get out of the way, you  “A-hole”, was the expression shouted across the supermarket.

I was out shopping; picking up some much-needed bread, milk and some lunch. The supermarket was busy and on a Saturday, full of people doing their weekly shop. There was a real hustle and bustle across the shop as people wheeled their trollies, or carried baskets full of groceries. All logic was lost in terms of people going from one end of the supermarket to the other in some sort of order, there was none. It felt like chaos.

All you could do was be patient and go about your shop calmly and slowly. Stepping out of the way of those in a rush. Negotiating the ramming of the trollies; the barging of the baskets and the poor staff trying to restock the shelves at the same time.

Eventually; having collected the groceries I needed; I proceeded to the checkout and that is where even more fun was going on.

There were large queues at the checkout points and someone had obviously got frustrated either with someone not standing clearly in a queue or possibly queue jumping. Hence, the shouted expression that starts this blog post.

It was at this point, that I started a mini body scan meditation.

What on earth is a body scan meditation? How do you practice one; and why did I do it then?

So, let’s start with, what is a body scan meditation?

The body scan as a way to get in touch with the body; let go of feelings of needing to get stuff done, and release pent-up emotions. Just like other forms of meditation, the body scan also trains attention to the present moment. The body scan alternates between a wide and a narrow focus of attention; from focusing on your little toe; along with your leg; up your torso and all the way through the entire body. The body scan trains your mind to be able to move from a detailed focused attention; to a wider and more spacious awareness from one moment to the next.

The body scan can be performed while lying down, sitting, or in other positions. For instance, I can do a mini version, standing up in a supermarket queue!

How do you practice a body scan?

You can begin the practice by lying on the floor, or on a mat, on a sofa, or even on your bed. Basically, you can begin by focusing your attention at the top of your head and then move down the body, or vice versa. It’s a good idea to use a guided practice to help you get a sense of how to move your attention up or down the body. I enclose a link at the end of the post that I follow.

The steps below are an example of a 5 to 10 minute guided meditation designed to be done while lying on a mat or sofa. There are many examples you can follow, all of differing times. You can do a 3 minute exercise, right the way through to one that lasts for up to 45 minutes.

Firstly, find a comfortable position to lie down on. Don’t worry if you have a tendency to start to fall asleep. That is normal and is something not to worry about.

Start by bringing your attention into your body. The whole of your body.

You can close your eyes if that’s comfortable for you.

Notice your body lying down, feeling the weight of your body on the sofa or on the floor.

Take a few deep breaths. And as you take those breaths, notice your breath as is enters and leaves your lungs. The rising and falling of your chest. And as you take a deep breath, bring in more oxygen enlivening the body. And as you exhale, have a sense of relaxing more deeply. For every step below you need to breathe slowly in and out. Taking your time to breathe easily and deeply..

Notice your feet on the floor, notice the sensations of the heels or the soles of your feet touching the floor. The weight and pressure. Vibration. Heat. Coolness.

Notice your legs against the floor. The pressure, pulsing, heaviness, lightness of your legs.

Notice your back against the floor and the weight of you lying against the floor..

Bring your attention into your stomach area. If your stomach is tense or tight, let it soften.  

Notice your hands. Are your hands tense or tight. See if you can allow them to soften.

Notice your arms. Feel any sensation in your arms. Let your shoulders be soft.

Notice your neck and throat. Let them be soft. Relax.

Soften your jaw. Let your face and facial muscles be soft as if you are melting slowly.
Then notice your whole body. Here. Present. In the moment. Take one more breath.

Be aware of your whole body as best you can. Take a breath. And then when you’re ready, you can open your eyes.

That is a full body scan. What I did at the checkout was a mini-scan. Why did I do a body scan in a queue?

I use those moments when standing in a queue to recentre myself. To bring attention to myself in that moment. Why? It stops you getting agitated about the queue. I find that by the time I get to the checkout, I am clam, smiling and when I greet the person who is serving me with a smile, it makes them feel better about the day as well.

If you would like to perform a full body scan meditation, give the following a try:

I leave you with the following quote.

About eighty percent of the food on shelves of supermarkets today didn’t exist 100 years ago.” ― Larry McCleary,

Tips for dealing with anxiety

“Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.” ― Charles Haddon Spurgeon

A chance comment at the weekend sparked a long conversation on the causes of anxiety and how to cope with it. It is not often that you find yourself in the depths of a conversation about anxiety when you are getting your haircut, but that’s what happened to me. The person felt that they were anxious and had been feeling so for about a month. This had also affected their sleep pattern, work and home life.

So what is anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal response to stress or danger and is often called the ‘flight or fight’ response. This is the expression that is often used when animals are presented with a danger – do they fight or do they run away? The ‘flight or fight’ process involves adrenalin being quickly pumped through the body enabling it to cope with whatever catastrophe may come your way. There are problems that arise when this response is out of proportion to the actual danger of the situation, or indeed is generated when there is no actual danger present.

Physical symptoms can include:                         Psychological symptoms can include:
Butterflies in the stomach                                           Wanting to escape or run away
Racing heartbeat                                                            Inner tension and relaxation
Shortness of breath                                                         Feeling agitated most of the time
Chest tightness                                                                 A fear of losing control
Dry mouth                                                                          A feeling of detachment or loss

Is feeling anxious common?

Anxiety disorders are very common. In a Office for National Statistics survey 1 in 6 adults had experienced some form of ‘neurotic health problem’ in the previous week. More than 1 in 10 people are likely to have a ‘disabling anxiety disorder’ at some stage in their life. The most recent Psychiatric Morbidity Survey indicates that there are some 3 million with an anxiety disorder. So it is common and more common than you think.

What causes anxiety?

My friend that I was speaking to, said that it seemed to come on after they had given up smoking. Within a couple of days, they had started to feel tremors all the time; a feeling of a racing heartbeat; fear of going to sleep and wanting to be outside. We did not discuss the details of what was the cause as there are many factors that can trigger an anxiety disorder – stress; physical factors; something that triggers a historical memory or even a biochemical imbalance. Knowing the origins of an anxiety disorder doesn’t help in dealing with the day to day problems that arise as a result of the disorder. My friend was not interested in what had caused it, as they could not identify the cause themselves, rather they wanted to know how to deal with it.

As we chatted, I shared that I, too, had felt anxious in the past and I had used the practice of mindfulness to help reduce my levels of anxiousness. A doctor had mentioned to my friend that mindfulness is recognised as an effective treatment method and they wanted to know more.

I shared some of the practices and approaches that I have used. A couple of really useful practices I describe below:

Breath counting

This technique is very easy and you can do it almost anywhere. It is generally better to do this with your eyes closed. On your next in-breath, count up to 6 as you breathe all the way in, and then on the out-breath, count up to 10 as you breathe all the way out. This technique has the effect of lengthening both the in-breath and the out-breath, slowing down your breathing. It also lengthens the out-breath more than the in-breath, forcing you to release more carbon dioxide, slowing your heart rate, calming you down and restoring emotional equilibrium.

Make sure you fit the numbers to your breath and not the other way around. If 6 and 10 don’t work for you, find another ratio that does, as long as the out-breath is at least two counts longer than the in-breath. If it’s too hard to continue breathing while counting, count for one full breath, then take one normal breath and count the next one.

Finger breathing

Finger breathing is another version of breath counting and does not rely on you closing your eyes. Hold one hand in front of you, palm facing towards you. With the index finger of your other hand, trace up the outside length of your thumb while you breath in, pausing at the top of your thumb and then trace it down the other side while you breathe out. That’s one breath. Trace up the side of the next finger while you breathe in, pause at the top, and then trace down the other side of that finger while you breathe out. That’s two breaths. Keep going, tracing along each finger as you count each breath. When you get the end of the last finger, come back up that finger and do it in reverse.

This practice gives you something visual to focus on and something kinaesthetic to do with your hands as well as focusing on counting and your breathing. It is very useful when there is a lot going around you and it is hard to just close your eyes and focus inwards. It’s also a very easy technique to teach teenagers and kids.

Why not give them a go and notice what happens.

I leave you with the following quote that made me smile.

“It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.”  ― Stephen Fry, Moab Is My Washpot

The monkey mind

“I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the ‘monkey mind’ — the thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

I don’t know about you, but my mind can be a jumble of disconnected thoughts on a daily; hourly or even minute by minute. If you consider that per day, we can have between 50,000-70,000 thoughts per day, this means between 35 and 48 thoughts per minute, your mind is a constant jumble of thoughts.

What is a thought?

A definition that I came across suggests that a “thought” is a “sporadic single-idea cognitive concept resulting from the act of thinking, or produced by spontaneous systems-level cognitive brain activations.”

What I tend to believe is that a thought is those individual images; movies or silent conversations that we have. I have a mixture of these. Not sure if this is normal or not, so I would be interested to hear what your thought process is.

However, one thing I do know is that apart from the normal random thoughts that occur during the day including – “Why is that driver pulling out on me”; “what’s for lunch?”; “what is next to do?”; there are those reoccurring self-doubt thoughts.

“Why did I do that?”; “Why did I say that?”; “Will anyone notice I made a mistake?”; “Why do I continue to make the same mistake”; “Is so-and-so happy? Have I upset them?”; “Will I lose my job?”; “What about my health?”  – those types of thoughts.

These are associated with an expression called “Monkey Mind”. I love the idea of your mind as a tree and that each thought is a branch, and you, or at least the attention of your mind, is like a monkey, swinging from thought-branch to thought-branch all day long.

These self doubt thoughts drive irrational fears, made real by our own constant attention. Left unchecked you can literally come to believe that these thoughts are real!

The result of the monkey mind of self doubt, results in mental as well as physical fatigue. We’ve all had days where it feels like we’ve achieved nothing and there’s a mountain to climb tomorrow. You feel exhausted and completely worn out.

So what is the answer?

The first step is awareness. Are you aware that you actually have self doubt thoughts and all they are is thoughts. Not real, but purely your own self consciousness? As an experiment, set aside a notepad and for a while, every time you have a self doubt thought either write it down, or even make a mark on the paper. You will be amazed how many you can get in a short period of time.

Secondly, find a way to quieten those thoughts. You will never get rid of them, but you can find ways to reduce their intensity. You can try meditation; mindfulness (which is what I practice); yoga; or some other form of contemplative pursuit. You can try exercise, as it is very difficult to have many thoughts when you are pounding the treadmill, cycling, swimming or doing something physically taxing.

You could try event try a technique called the A-B-C Technique. A lot of the time, the monkey mind is caused by your thoughts disagreeing with what’s going on around you. When the present moment situation doesn’t align with what your personal beliefs are, your monkey mind begins to spit and howl. The A-B-C technique can help you deal with the disparity between what your monkey mind thinks should be happening, and what is actually happening. Here’s how it works:

  • A is for “activating event”. That is, something happens.
  • B is for “beliefs”. Your monkey mind starts interpreting what’s happening based on your beliefs.
  • C is for “consequences”. As a consequence of the thoughts that you’re having about what just happened, you feel certain emotions.

The key to taming the monkey mind by applying the A-B-C technique is to question the beliefs that the your mind is relying on in order to reach the conclusions that you are having.

I leave you with the following quote.

“We have the choice of two identities: the external mask which seems to be real, and the hidden, inner person who seems to us to be nothing, but who can give himself eternally to the truth in whom he subsists.” ― Thomas Merton

The dark mind of fear

“The mind of man is capable of anything.” ― Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

The time after the Christmas break always seems to bring with it the darkest part of the winter season and also the darkest time for many people.

The seasonal celebrations are over. The presents have been put away or exchanged. The decorations are down and put away for another year. The striving for the winter sales is on in the high street and people are out trying to get bargains. The return to work after the festive break always seems to bring with it a sense of dread. The office festive fun is over and there are no holidays or breaks in the near future.

Then there is the annual bout of flu, influenza and other bugs that seem to strike the populus at this time of year. Reports this year of the Auzzie flu and the Japanese Flu viruses, were widely reported, with people being struck down; waiting times at hospitals getting worse and all of the scare stories.

For me personally, this year, there was a moment in all of this where I truly felt the dark mind of fear. Let me explain.

We had a wonderful christmas period as a family, but between Christmas and the New Year, I came down with a serious case of “man flu”. I did not go to the doctors, but felt so bad, that I dosed myself up with paracetamol and went to bed. I am not sure if it was flu, but I have not felt so bad for many years. Headaches; sweats; aching legs and joints; uncontrolled shivering; coughing and spluttering; runny nose and no appetite at all.  I found light hurt my eyes and noise hurt my ears. All I wanted to do was to drink water and rest. I was a complete mess.

The Friday after Christmas was the worse day.

As I lay in bed, I felt the struggle as the breath came and went. I could hear the sound of my breath as it went in and out. The raw rasping. I could actually feel the movement of my chest. So unusual. It felt frightening that I was reliant on the mechanical movement of my chest and the struggle that I was having, even breathing. My mind wandered and I felt as if I was in the bottom of a dark place and the weight of the darkness was pressing down on me. Every breath felt a struggle. A dark and fearful struggle.

Then I realised that at it’s very centre, was my thoughts around the practice of mindful breathing. Allowing the thoughts to come and go. The simplicity of just being with the breath. I concentrated on the practice of the breadth and it helped. The moment to moment breath. I became less frightened and fearful. I lay there are truly rested.

Since that Friday, I have slowly recovered. I returned to work after the New Year and then promptly had another “man flu” episode and ended up in bed again. I am not asking for sympathy, after all it was just “man flu”.

The hacking cough has been with me for the past three weeks and physically it has been a slow process to get back to normal. Did I have the flu? I have no idea. Did I feel terrible that Friday – yes – absolutely. But I can say, that even in that darkest of moments, the practice of focusing on the breath and just the breath, really helped.

I hope that you are well and at this time of year, darkness of the mind does not descend upon you, physically or mentally. I hope that you have time to think and to practice whatever techniques help you to be grounded and feel alive. For some people it is sport; for some it is exercise; for some it is mindfulness; and for others it is being with those they care for. Remember, every day is a great day, even if you don’t feel it at the time.

I leave you with the following quote which really struck a chord with me,

“The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.” ― Thomas Paine, A Letter Addressed to the Abbe Raynal on the Affairs of North America

In 2018, it is time for better conversations

How-demographic-changes-will-impact-organizations-and-managers“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”  ― Plato, as mentioned by, Richard Lingard, A Letter of Advice to a Young Gentleman Leaving the University Concerning His Behaviour and Conversation in the World

Are you a good listener? Are you a good conversationalist? Are you recognised as someone that is really engaged in the dialogue between people?

Do you think that people truly listened, engaged and were positively involved in the dialogues in 2017?

We all make New Year resolutions – lose weight; give up smoking; stop drinking so much; start an exercise regime; whatever. Take a moment if you will, to write down what is yours? Your partners? Your friends?

Nearly every single resolution written down is a physical one. Go on, go check. And like most physical activities, they are very easy to pick up and then drop.

I’d like to suggest one small change for 2018. How would you like to have better, more engaged conversations with people?

We’ve all had really great conversations. We’ve had them before. We know what it’s like. The kind of conversation where you walk away feeling engaged and inspired, or where you feel like you’ve made a real connection or you’ve been perfectly understood. There is no reason why most of your interactions can’t be like that this year.

What key tips have I tried that help? I am not going to say I am an expert, and my colleagues, friends and family will all agree I have my “non-conversational” moments, but what have you got to lose? I’ve listed five of the most important tips I’ve come across. Go on, add a couple of these to your resolution list.

Number one: Don’t multitask. And I don’t mean just set down your mobile phone or your tablet or your laptop or whatever is in your hands at the time. I mean, be present. Be in that moment. Don’t think about your argument you had with your boss. Don’t think about what you’re going to have for dinner. Be focused on the face; the person’s posture; the non-verbal queues, as well as the actual dialogue. Don’t be half in and half out of the conversation, as you will actually be indicating you are out of it and not interested.

Number two: Use open-ended questions. Start your questions with who, what, when, where, why or how. If you put in a complicated question, you’re going to get a simple, possibly one-word answer out. If I ask you, “Were you worried?” you’re going to respond to the powerful word in that sentence, which is “worried,” and the answer is “Yes, I was” or “No, I wasn’t.” “Were you angry?” “Yes, I was very angry.” Try asking them things like, “What was that like?” “How did that feel?” Because then they might have to stop for a moment and think about it, and you’re going to get a much more interesting response. There is a whole concept; training courses; therapeutic approach called “Clean Language”. Check out the following link for more information:

Number three: Go with the flow. That means thoughts will come into your mind and you need to let them go out of your mind. We’ve all been in group conversations in which a person is talking for several minutes and then the someone in the group comes back in and asks a question which seems like it comes out of nowhere, or it’s already been answered. That means the person asking the question probably stopped listening a few minutes ago because he thought of this really important question, and he stopped listening to focus on asking the question. And we do the exact same thing time after time, after time. Remember, go with the flow and really try to listen.

Number four: Don’t equate your experience with theirs. If they’re talking about the trouble they’re having at work or the troubles at home, don’t tell them about how much you hate your job or how fed up you are with the state of the house. It’s not the same. It never is going to be the same. All of life’s experiences are individual to that individual. And, more importantly, it is not about you. At the simplest level, the person telling you these things is looking for you to listen. Even more, to be empathetic with them.

Number Five: Learning mindset. You need to enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn. Set aside your own opinion and beliefs. The speaker, sensing this acceptance, will become less and less vulnerable/defensive and more and more likely to open up the inner recesses of his or her mind to the listener. This is probably the one key idea that we should foster more widely across society.

Go on, add one of these to your 2018 resolution list. What have you got to loose.

I leave you with the following quote:

“Life would be a lot easier if conversations were rewindable and erasable, like videos. Or if you could instruct people to disregard what you just said, like in a courtroom.” ― Sophie Kinsella, Confessions of a Shopaholic

Stepping back at Christmas

“In the name of the best within you, do not sacrifice this world to those who are at its worst. In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of people be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless of those who have never achieved integrity. Do not lose your knowledge that our proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads.  Ayn Rand

Christmas has been traditionally in our household, a time of roast turkey dinner; Christmas tree and a houseful of decorations; presents opened on both Christmas day as well as Boxing Day (* see note at the end as to its meaning) and the girls working at the horse yard on Christmas morning.

This year was slightly different; for the first time ever, we were not going to be celebrating at home as a family, but we were invited to our neighbours for the traditional Christmas meal.

It felt strange not having to prepare the basics of the meal. Cooking the turkey the night before and allowing it to cool before separating all of the meat into different parcels and placing the remaining carcass into the soup pan. Yes, one of the extra chores over the period is the making of the turkey soup to be consumed leading up to New Year. Preparing the various veggies, chopping, dicing and peeling, before placing into the myriad of pans on the top of the cooker.  Finally, the laying out the dinner table ready for the big day with all of the table decorations. Most of these tasks I have done over many years on my own, as everyone gets ready for Christmas.

Additionally, for the past three years, I have not eaten meat, so it is a challenge to be involved with the traditional turkey dinner. I still help, as I do not wish to impose my beliefs on the rest of the family. This year, it was even more strange as we did not have to prepare anything for the main meal; rather we had to prepare and bring along a selection of deserts, which we duly did, to our neighbours.

It was our neighbours who prepared the turkey dinner, with all of the veggies and traditional extras (bread sauce, stuffing and the like). For my dinner, they had kindly cooked some fresh salmon, with lemon and dill.

I don’t know whether it was the level of stress at work, leading up the the festive holidays; or whether it was the change of routine; but this year felt really different.


Strangely, more relaxed and tempered on my part.

I felt as if I had stepped back and allowed things to “flow”. Even with the normal angst on Christmas morning of the mountain of presents or the girls having to go to the yard, it all felt less important. Maybe, it was a series of guided mindfulness exercises I was helped with leading up to the day.

Or, maybe, just maybe, stepping back and allowing the moments to arrive; as they did over the festive days, and just enjoying each moment as it happened, was a new approach to Christmas.

I truly hope your festive season was one of joy, happiness, time with family, friends and loved ones. That you were able to take some time out for yourself; to reflect and to renew.

The next big event will soon be upon us, New Years eve. I have no idea what this year will bring, but will let it flow, whatever it is.

I leave you with the following quote.

Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it’s yours.” ― Ayn Rand


P.S. What is Boxing Day?

The origins of Boxing Day lie not in sport, but in small acts of kindness. I thought it was from a Victorian tradition of giving small presents in boxes out to servants and the poor on the day after Christmas. The following article from the Guardian newspaper gives some fascinating insight into some of its meaning.


Do you have just 3 minutes spare today?

“I don’t suffer from my insanity — I enjoy every minute of it.” ― Sherrilyn KenyonDance with the Devil

It has been a little while since I posted something. Work has been absolutely manic with a major change programme in full spate. Add to that the week’s holiday at the end of October, and it feels as if I have skipped the end of the summer and have landed with both feet in the middle of winter; looking around thinking where did that month go?

Anyway, I have been continuing to practice mindfulness, even in the midst of the pressure and work. With everyone rushing about, trying to deliver against deadlines, it has been difficult and at times; I have had to take only a few minutes during the day to be present.

Even 3 minutes, yes, 3 minutes are enough to bring yourself back to the present moment.  And this is where the three-minute meditation came into its own. I have practised this in the office and even first thing in the morning or at the end of the day, whilst in the car driving – through stopped in a traffic jam I might add.

So what is the exercise?

The Three-minute Breathing Space meditation

Step 1: Becoming aware

  • Deliberately adopt an erect and dignified posture, whether sitting or standing. If possible, close your eyes. Then, bring your awareness to your inner experience and acknowledge it, asking: what is my experience right now?
  • What thoughts are going through the mind? As best you can, acknowledge thoughts as mental events. Don’t judge them. Just see them as thoughts.
  • What feelings are here? Turn towards any sense of discomfort or unpleasant feelings, acknowledging them without trying to make them different from how you find them.
  • What body sensations are here right now? Perhaps quickly scan the body to pick up any sensations of tightness or stiffness, acknowledging the sensations, but, once again, not trying to change them in any way.

Step 2: Gathering and focusing attention

  • Now, redirect the attention to a narrow ‘spotlight’ on the physical sensations of the breath, move in close to the physical sensations of the breath in the abdomen . . . expanding as the breath comes in . . . and falling back as the breath goes out.
  • Follow the breath all the way in and all the way out. Use each breath as an opportunity to anchor yourself into the present. And if the mind wanders, gently escort the attention back to the breath.

Step 3: Expanding attention

  • Now, expand the field of awareness around the breathing so that it includes a sense of the body as a whole, your posture, maybe even your facial expression or how you are sitting as if the whole body was breathing.
  • Aware of the whole body, moment by moment.

And that is that as they say.



So go on. Give it a  try. What have you got to lose in that busy; hectic; full on the day ahead of you. 3 minutes is all it takes.

I leave you with the following quote:

“If you are depressed you are living in the past.

If you are anxious you are living in the future.

If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

Lao Tzu