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  • Laila Datoo

5 ways mindfulness transformed my life

Many of you know my journey into wellness - in some ways it was a gradual transition. From doing yoga for the past 15 years and being introduced to mindfulness about 10 years ago by a friend, I have always had wellness in my life. It didn't inform my life though or play a large part in influencing my daily life.

Between 2013 - 2016 I met my now husband, started a new job, ran a flagship event in my new role, got engaged, planned a wedding abroad, got married, moved into a new home, travelled a lot, and took on some huge work projects. Not enough? I then took the company through a full rebrand and a launch party for 500 guests and dealt with some big emotional issues in my team and HR challenges across the business.

At every pressure point, I recognised I was stressed and often felt overwhelmed and cried. The most I did to deal with it was to talk to friends & family (more like complain), feel sorry for myself, do some yoga and throw myself into it more, thinking I just had to carry on. Once this thing (event, wedding, move, project) is done it'll get easier. And it did for a while until the next thing came along.

I definitely wasn't thriving in my new life, I was just about surviving.

My life only really changed when I formally learnt mindfulness through a coaching programme I did at work. It came after I took a 3-month career break where I travelled round the world. On my travels I saw how wellness is most powerful when it's integrated into your life, not just a 1 hour yoga class at the start of your day. I experienced healthy eating as a norm, where fast food wasn't even an option (Bali), where cycling and kayaking to work is the regular commute (New Zealand), where a morning walk is a hike in the jungle (Costa Rica) and where the outdoors, nature and activity are so woven into daily life it's like us Londoners taking a fitness class or going to gym.

When I got back to London I had my first revelation.

Nothing had changed.

Everything had changed with me but nothing had change with my life in London - same problems, same bosses, same challenges, same mindset. The same things bothered me in my personal life too - leaving me feeling hugely frustrated that I had done all this travel and come back expecting the world to be different but everything was exactly the same!

And so the real work began. Not long after I returned to London I embarked on a mindfulness coaching course through my meditation mentor in Costa Rica. We worked as a triad (not the gang kind- the 3 kind) and a facilitator and over 4 months we spoke every week to explore the principles and practices of mindfulness and how we could build it into our lives. I expected it to apply more to my professional situation but we all very quickly saw opportunities to integrate into our personal lives. Alongside this I also did a personal mindfulness course with The Bloody Good Life - together I saw the transformations in my world I had wanted on my return.

The transformations were within me.

I had some big realisations that changed the way I thought and lived.

1. The only person you can change is yourself.

I expected everyone else to change when I came home. It took me a long time (and most of my adult life) to understand that you can work on yourself and change the traits in yourself you want to improve- you can't change anyone else. They will change when they want to and are ready.

Interestingly though - when you start changing your behaviour (listening better, communicating more calmly), the response you get will be different and I am certain you will see a shift in the attitude of the people around you as they respond differently to the new you.

I learnt to accept my bosses for who they were, and change the way I approached them (less frustrated, more direct and firm, less problem - more solution focused) and while they are still who they are - they responded to me better in the last year I worked with them and we had a more open communication than ever before.

I also accepted that certain people and situations in the business wouldn't change and that acceptance was the big push to me leaving - as for the previous 3 years I had fought it, willing it and fighting for a change that wasn't within me.

2. Even in the middle of stress, you don't always recognise it

When I was going through pinch points, I knew it was a stressful time but I wasn't aware enough of my body and my emotions to recognise it and know what to do about it. In the months leading up to my trip I used to say to my husband daily that my glands felt sore. I knew on some level that the stress was affecting me adversely - knowing it and dealing it are two different things.

Mindfulness taught me present moment awareness - how to create space to listen to your body and understand on a deeper level what is going on. With this understanding and tools I was taught, I was then able to catch the feelings of stress early on and deal with the situation before it got serious.

One of the biggest signs for me that I am managing stress better is my recurring cough. For the past 8 years every winter I get a cough that lasts 4-5 months - I've been in hospital, had scans, asthma tests, seen consultants and in the end they put it down to seasonal asthma. This winter is the first year I haven't has it. At all. Gone. Maybe it's not commuting or being in an office - I truly believe it's related to the stress build up (or lack of) in my body.

I still get stressed and overwhelmed don't get me wrong. Starting a business is a huge challenge. I'm much better able to recognise the signs in me now and I deal with them straight away. I take a walk when I feel overwhelmed, I talk to people, I have different tactics for managing my emotions.

Which takes me on to close friends and family. They can often see things you may not be able to so talking regularly to them and leaning on them for support is a positive way to manage stress. They can point out you're not singing as much as you used to, or seeing them as often and can help shine their awareness on your challenges.

3. Keep up the things in your life that make you happy

These are the happy triggers that will lift you when you feel stressed and if you have a regular routine of attending yoga or the gym, then it is easier to maintain during busy times than if you go randomly.

Yoga in particular is a great way to be mindful in motion. You focus on different parts of the body and learn to be in the body more, taking you away from worries and thoughts.

That said, a one hour yoga class can’t fix all the problems of the world, though it can provide relief!

What small, daily things can you introduce into your routine to provide relief from difficult situations? It might be a walk in the park at lunch, or having a strict cut off to leave work to get home for an activity or your kids, or doing something relaxing in the evening like reading or drawing. 10 minutes every day is far more useful and effective than one hour once a week as it spreads out the rest & relaxation triggers and allows the body to feel rested more often in short bursts.

4. Know your triggers

We all know the situations that aren’t helpful to our stress or anxiety levels and yet often we aren’t the best at vocalising what we need to manage them. My triggers were being asked to take on more work (I used to be terrible at saying no) and feeling responsible for other people's problems. Instead of raising concerns of workload to my boss, I continually chose to take on more and more projects. Now I practise mindfulness, I am much more aware of my trigger situations and can recognise when I’m feeling overloaded and I’m better at asking for help too.

What do you think your triggers are and what is one thing you can do to help yourself here?

5. Keep practising - we are what we repeatedly do

Mindfulness has definitely transformed my life - both in the way I work and in my personal interactions. It isn’t a quick fix though - it takes practice though and often when you start, it brings up all kinds of feelings and emotions that are hard to face and it puts you off continuing! Just persevere- having a regular practice is easy in the good times. Which can make you think you don't need to keep doing it- everything is fine!!

But on the stressful days that mindfulness practice - that is now a habit - will be the most powerful thing to support you. You will instinctively respond differently to challenges because you have trained your brain to think in a certain way. So it's well worth starting now to get those new habits forming.

I’ll be sharing soon specifically how mindfulness can change the way you see situations and yourself for the better.

In the meantime is there one area of your life you can be more aware of your feelings - maybe during your commute to work in the morning or before you go to sleep at night?

Is there a space in your day you can allow yourself 5 minutes to stop, take a few deep breaths and observe what’s going on with you and around you?

Email me to share your observations or even if you have no idea where to start and want some help!

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