Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Increasing Empathy

I'll let you into a secret. I don't like New Year's Resolutions - I've written about it before, and that's not the secret by the way! The secret is I actually made one this year! It is to improve my skills around empathy. 

There was a lot of emphasis on empathy in the counselling course I completed last year, it got me thinking that I have sometimes spent a lot of time contemplating my own naval, rather than looking outwardly and putting myself fully in other peoples' situations. Yoga and other mindfulness practices do encourage this inward gazing quality, which can be great for personal growth, but I feel we can end up too far into the realm of self-study if it means we are forgetting to engage with all the things going on around us.


So I came up with a loosely structured plan. Here is a summary of what I came up with.

1. Using visualisations to completely take myself into someone else's situation. This has been a difficult one, as over the past year most of us have been living in survival mode to some degree and there feels like less space in our brain to be imagining someone else's situation. But I stuck at it and I have got better at putting myself into someone else's shoes. Some situations have arisen where it has been a perfect (but incredibly challenging) opportunity to do this. I've really had to dig deep to try to understand why some people have the views they have and behave in the ways they do. To leave judgement to one side and put my energy into reflecting on why they feel/behave the way they do.

2. Understanding that empathy is the core of human nature. I did some reading around the subject of empathy, from neuroscientists, psychologists, life coaches and other yoga teachers and what I gleaned from them (who are infinitely more wise than me) is that empathy is the core of human nature. I really do believe this - yes lots of things get in the way of this and it can remain hidden but there is evidence and there have been some decent studies out there that prove this is the case. I have reminded myself of this often.

3. Much of the counselling course focused on listening skills. So I have been practicing these - I sometimes have an annoying tendency to interupt people with some insight or something I have learned relating to what they are talking about. But I realise that when I do this - I am not fully present, as I'm thinking about what to say next, instead of fully attending to the person in front of me (or the person at the other end of the phone line) This past year has helped, in that many interactions have been by email and this has been surprisingly useful for me. I am reading and re-reading emails in order to fully understand what people are conveying. Then I can respond with more thought and consideration, but yes, there is still room for improvement here too!

4. Learning about people. I've also been deliberately reading more blogs written by people with very different backgrounds, lives and views to myself, this can be challenging, as often there is an instant reaction to disagree. But stepping back and reflecting on why that person has those views can give us more insight into their lives and what they have experienced. (Of course it is easier to empathise with people who are very much like ourselves)

5. Maintaining curiosity about other peoples' lives is another approach which links into the previous point. I know someone who is naturally like this - always asking questions with a genuine interest and curiosity about other people. This person has been an inspiration for me to look outwardly a little bit more. Being a natural introvert, plus practicing yoga for many years has to some extent exacerbated this inward gazing tendency, but with this plan for increased empathy, I feel this will improve how I operate in the world. 

Many of you reading this will naturally be much more empathic than I am, but I do think it is something we can all practise and improve on, with a bit of awareness and a capacity to place ourselves in someone else's situation.

So there is my confession - I made a New Year's resolution - but I do think it is a worthwhile one especially for 2021.


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Saturday, 5 December 2020

The Year Compass - Looking Back & Looking Forward

 

It will soon be time to complete my Year Compass book.



If you’ve never heard of this, it’s a wonderful, free, online resource to help you evaluate the year that has passed and plan for the year ahead. It asks questions so you can reflect on what happened throughout the past year and what you hope for in the next. I usually complete mine on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, it has become a ritual for me now.

It’s going to be a markedly different one for 2020, merely getting through the year to this point seems to be an achievement! I, like many other yoga teachers, have not taught many live classes this year at all. I already had an online stream to my work, and this has now taken over as my main work and source of income.

The Year Compass looks at all aspects of life though, not just our work life. In that respect it can help you to see if life has been in balance or not. For the record I don’t think we ever get perfect balance; well maybe for a nanosecond, I think it’s more that we are constantly “balancing.”  Our lives are like very sensitive scales – easily tipped in one direction or the other.

There is something special about the contemplation of the questions in the Life Compass, but also the physical writing down of thoughts and feelings in response to the questions. But the real fascination for me is reading the previous year’s book. I’ve been doing this for about 4 or 5 years now and even from one year to the next I’m intrigued by what I’d written down 12 months prior. Some things I don’t even remember writing! On occasion I’ve felt some things I’d written were penned by someone else…we can change and evolve so much during a year.

What is clear, though, is that there are some predictable things that happen in any one year; but also, there are always unexpected events – this year being the absolute epitome of the unexpected!

One of my favourite quotes is by Joan Didion, “I write entirely to find out what I am thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear” – this is very true for me, sometimes my mind is a tangled jumble of thoughts, but spilling it all out on paper helps me to process, organise and integrate it all. Whether this is my weekly email to my subscribers, my blog or simply a scribble of thoughts in an old notebook. Free writing has also brought me some incredible insights, but I only started doing that after using more structured techniques like the Year Compass.

I would encourage everyone to check out the Year Compass website and print the booklet, get a brew and go through it, but remember to put it somewhere safe, so you can find it next year! I have a feeling 2021 is going to be another remarkable year, hopefully for better reasons than 2020!

To print out The Year Compass, visit: www.yearcompass.com

For more info about my classes visit:  www.yogiclaire.com


Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Fragrances and Memories...


You know that feeling when you get a whiff of something familiar from a long time ago? I think most of us, who are lucky enough to have a keen sense of smell, know that feeling.  It takes you right back there - to a specific place and time or brings thoughts of a certain someone to mind. For me, it's like a fragrance transports me back. If I close my eyes - I'm there.

One Friday some years ago, I had finished teaching my last yoga class of the week, the one with a brilliant group of wise women in it, who all love to pay cash ('You know where you are with cash' - they would often say to me) So as was the usual routine, I was counting the takings and making sure everything added up correctly and I kept getting a flowery, soapy, perfume smell - very specific. I closed my eyes and I was transported back to a time when I was getting a hanky out of my Nanna's handbag.  Slight minty scent too (mint imperials no doubt) So distinctive a smell and such an old memory, but there I was, sticky little 6 year old fingers, finding a perfectly folded, flowery hanky in my Nanna's handbag. Even the image of her raspberry red purse - oh I loved that purse, so bright and cheery, slightly worn but beautiful to my little eyes. (Not just because every time she opened that purse, she was treating us to sweeties!!)

Anyhow - the source of this scent was a five pound note that one of the ladies in my class had paid with. Perhaps she had a penchant for mints and perfume. Perhaps her yoga money had been stashed in her handbag for the week with a perfumed hanky and mint imperials too!  I had no idea who it was, as there were many five pound notes in my little cash box...

The following week, the same happened again, and happened for years. Same familiar smell, old memories linked to that smell flooding my consciouness again. So cashing up became a very sensory experience, but I still didn't know who it was, who paid with the fragrant fiver?! Until one Friday, the smell wasn't there. One of my regular class members had moved away to be with her family in another area of the country - so I finally identified who it was. Mystery solved, but I was rather sad, as not only would I miss the lady in question, but also the experience of time travel back to when my Nanna was around.

You may well know the science behind this system but if you don't, here it is. Scents bypass the thalamus and go straight to the brain's smell center, known as the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb is directly connected to the amygdala and hippocampus, which might explain why the smell of something can so immediately trigger a detailed memory or even intense emotion as these structures are the main centres for memories.

What are the scents that transport you back to happy times?

 

*It has struck me that as we move more towards things like contactless payment due to the current situation, perhaps these sensory experiences like this might not crop up as often. Quite sad really....


Sunday, 19 July 2020

Irritation and Gossip!


I am often intrigued by what annoys people, especially on Twitter. A subject which I saw recently, which was causing a heated debate was a discussion about whether there should be a double space after a full stop in a sentence. When I did a word processing qualification about 30 years ago – that is exactly what we were taught, but it seems that is not the modern way. But folk on Twitter were getting very irate about it! Fascinating! (god knows what they would think about the overuse of exclamation marks!!) 

This is not really about punctuation, it’s my fascination with how people can get so annoyed and upset about something like this.

Another interesting spat was triggered by a famous singer tweeting about hating the word ‘hubby’. Again, I was surprised that the use of a certain (albeit slang) word could cause so much annoyance. My second thought was – well if that’s all they’ve got to worry and complain about, they are doing ok. But then I considered it a bit more and came to the conclusion that it is about connecting with other people, about finding others who think and feel the same way as we do. After all we are social creatures, even us introverts like to have connections with fellow humans sometimes.


I often think gossip works in a similar way. I really try not to engage in gossip, but I can feel that tempting pull when someone says ‘oooh did you hear about so and so….?’ It’s about that slightly conspiratorial connection with someone, a bond and a link with another human. Often gossip can lead to people getting hurt but I think, most of the time that is not the intention when we gossip.


When we feel a bit lonely or isolated, or perhaps need to feel a connection or validation from another – we air what or who annoys us and see if others feel the same way. Or we’ll indulge in a little bit of gossip.


I think the recent fear and uncertainty has heightened this response in people too. I’ve certainly found myself getting irritated by some things, that pre-Covid – I wouldn’t have given a second thought to……

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Self-Care or Self-Sabotage??

Self-care or Self-Sabotage??

I thought I’d share an observation with you this week. I was having one of those internal conversations with myself - you know the ones where there is the ‘you’ who knows what's good for you and then there's the ‘you’ who likes to spoil stuff for the fun of it!  (self-sabotage anyone?) I noticed how incredibly crafty that 'self-sabotaging' part of me is. I was weighing up whether to go for a run - not an hour long trek, just a modest 3.5km plod. I hadn't run for a few days and I knew it was what I needed. But Mrs. Self-Sabotage started to argue that I needed some 'self-care' in the form of sitting around on the sofa instead......hmmm very crafty, because I know the importance of self-care and taking a rest...BUT very often, my self-care IS to actually get out and go for a run. It improves my mood, it helps me to focus and become more creative and pro-active in my work, amongst a ton of other physical and mental health benefits I get from it. 

I know I've done this before, used the 'self-care' approach to be a bit lazy. Of course it is so important to rest and take time out to be still and conserve energy sometimes, but I have to be careful not to use it as an excuse. I do find that excuses are really, really easy for me to find!  

Anyway, I reflected on all this – and it is only through my yoga and self-awareness work I have done, that I was in a position to do this. So I went for my run - it took less than half an hour and I didn’t beat myself up about nearly chickening out of it. I then cracked on and recorded a new relaxation for subscribers, got on top of my admin and did a 15 minute meditation - which was also self-care. Needless to say I felt really good and rather smug that I had got one over on Mrs. Self-Sabotage. It can be a challenge to balance our lives out in the ways we really need.

Have a think about how sometimes you end up not doing the things you know are good for you, you might find it a little challenging to think about this. Humans are so very complex and often contrary, I certainly am. I'm frequently amazed at how illogical I can be sometimes! 😊

Below is the link to the free relaxation – I hope it brings you peace.

 Link to Anchoring Relaxation   


For details of my classes and online work, see www.yogiclaire.com