Being Mindful: courses in 2011

How can we teach ourselves to appreciate our life instead of rushing through it? ‘Mindfulness’ training has been gaining wide approval for reducing stress and anxiety and learning how to be present. The course teaches simple techniques like meditation and gentle movement to help us become more focused, relaxed and aware.

Mindfulness describes a way of paying attention. It’s about being aware of whatever is happening in the present moment, and noticing rather than judging or reacting to that experience. Participants learn to bring mindfulness into daily life, whether walking to work, eating lunch or taking a shower.

Mindfulness courses are popular with people who simply want to increase their general wellbeing, or who are interested in meditation and would like a structured framework to help get going on a regular meditation practice. They are also recognised by the medical community as a means of reducing anxiety and depression. In January the Mental Health Foundation published a report showing widespread support for mindfulness training amongst GPs in the UK.

The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course was first developed by Dr.Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the USA.,and has been used over thirty years to help with anxiety, chronic health problems, and general well-being. More recently in the UK, the Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) course was developed specifically for people with a history of depression. MBCT is recommended by NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) for those who have had several episodes of clinical depression in order to reduce significantly the likelihood of future relapse. The two approaches are very closely related and share all the same core techniques and practices.

Slow Down London director Tessa Watt has practiced daily meditation for many years, but still found the Mindfulness approach brought something fresh and powerful. ‘There’s a big emphasis on getting into the body –learning to notice and feel how the body reacts to difficult situations, and to relax with those sensations instead of responding in knee-jerk ways. There’s also a wonderfully practical approach to bringing mindfulness into daily life by training ourselves to be more aware of the little things that bring us joy, and cultivating those moments of openness.’

Slow Club: Stop. Breathe.

As the keen-eyed among you might have noticed, I’ve not been blogging about Slow Club as much as I’d hoped to. But my reasons for this are very fitting: I’ve been going too fast to stop. So over the past week, I’ve taken this fact and used it as my starting point.

I figured that if I’m really too busy to get along to a farmer’s market or discover new parts of the city – which happens to us all now and again – then slowing down is going to have to come from within my daily situation. There must be something I can do to tap the breaks when deadlines are looming and lunch is being inelegantly wolfed down in front of a computer screen, right?

Thankfully, one Slow Club tip has really been helping out here: breathing. Or rather, watching oneself breathe. It’s a truly marvelous tool for restoring some calm and sanity when everything is going a hundred miles an hour. When you’re stressing out, you’re taking quick, shallow breaths and your heart rate is rocketing. But the moment you take some deeper, slower breaths, your pulse rate drops and you restore your stability. And noticing this transition puts your mind back inside your body, where you can start feeling in control again.

I’ve been trying this different moments throughout the day – on the way to work, between phone calls, while I’m cooking a meal. And the liberating thing is: you’re always breathing, so you can always check in – you have a built-in mechanism for slowing down and connecting with yourself.

I’ve also managed some longer sessions of mindful breathing. When I fit these in before leaving the house, they really help me to start the day with a sense of calm. And it’s worth sticking with too: breathing practices and meditation are increasingly recognised by scientists as helping people reduce stress, regulate their emotions and be more attentive. All that, just from paying attention to something as simple as your breath going in and out. Who said slowing down had to be hard work?

The London Loaf: Slow Food – Grit your Teeth

Annalie Wilson helps you slim down after all those Summer cocktails…

I cooked a horrible meal last night. It had grit in it. I must have failed to wash the spinach.

Or perhaps it was that crafty little pak choi. But no, I can’t blame the vegetables – it was all me, and my lack of attention to detail in the rush to satisfy my rabid hunger.

However, all is not lost, for the experience has inspired me to launch a new diet plan. It’s called The Grit Diet, and it’s for people who love food but tend to eat more than they need. The basic premise is simple: cook your favourite meal and then put some grit in it. You’ll never over-eat again!

Grit is so versatile; you can sprinkle it on anything, and your appetite will be completely curbed! I went to bed hungry and this morning the memory of all that grit put me off my breakfast! Fantastic. As Britain battles with obesity, I may have just found the antidote.

They’ve given me an advance on the book already – it’s going to be called “Grit Your Teeth: A Journey Towards Food Intolerance.” I used to wish I was intolerant to cheesecake, but now I just carry a handful of grit with me and the temptation disappears! Magic.

You can reserve your copy of “The Grit Diet” (£12.99 inc. P&P) here. One to one coaching is also available.

The Slow Revolution – join us for lunch

In our bid to encourage people to take a lunch break, we’re going to be part of the lunchtime talk series at the RSA on Thursday 4th October at 1pm. The panel discussion is called Slow Revolution and brings together three old friends, Carl Honoré (author of In Praise of Slow), Kate Fletcher (Slow Fashion), Gervais Williams (Slow Finance) and one of our co-directors Deepa Patel.

The last ten years has seen a burgeoning of the Slow Movement in all aspects of life from management, travel and education to science and work.

The RSA discussion brings together a group of thinkers and practitioners who have each been exploring ways to bring the principles of ‘slow’ to their life and work – whether in finance, culture or fashion. As well as sharing lessons from their own fields, they will discuss how more of us can deal with the addictive nature of speed, apply the brakes and improve our quality of life, creativity and well-being.

Speakers:

Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slow;
Kate Fletcher,reader in sustainable fashion, London College of Fashion;
Deepa Patel,co-director, Slow Down London;
Gervais Williams, award-winning fund manager and author of Slow Finance.

The event is free but you have to book a ticket.

We hope you can make it.

Slow Down London team

Slow Sunday: 10 June 2012

Slow Down London has joined forces with the Open Garden Squares Weekend to create ‘Slow Sunday’: an opportunity to step back from the hubbub of London Life and explore the pleasures of slowing down. At 2pm on Sunday 10 June, Slow London volunteers will be in selected gardens and squares for a session on slowing down and developing mindfulness.

Try out simple exercises using daily activities like breathing and walking. Explore your senses by listening, looking and smelling the world around you. The slow down sessions will last for about 30 minutes, and are free of charge, although you need an Open Garden Squares ticket to enter the gardens. (£9 in advance/ £12 on the weekend)

The following gardens will be taking part:

Arundel and Ladbroke Gardens
Charlton Manor Primary School
Fenton House and Garden
Hereford Square Garden
Lincolns Inn Gardens
Rosmead Garden
St Joseph’s Hospice Garden
Winterton House Organic Garden

Come and smell the roses with us on Slow Sunday 10 June.

West Norwood Slow Food Festival

In keeping with Slow Down London, we are proud to announce that yet another pocket of London has caught the Slow bug. West Norwood will be hosting a Slow Food Festival on Saturday, March 31st.

It’s a free festival with an exciting line-up that includes Jason White from the BBC Great British Bake-off serving up a Big Slow Food Breakfast and judging a Family Bake-off, live music all day long, theatre performances from the fabulously entertaining Honey Theatre in their ‘giant hive’, Jamaican food storytelling, pheasant plucking, delicious food stalls, pop-up restaurants, and much more!

Beamish & McGlue presents The West Norwood Slow Food Festival, a celebration of the very best food traditions, from our very own corner of South London to the great British countryside. The community of West Norwood is teeming with producers, allotments, cooks, bakers, picklers, coffee roasters, chocolatiers … and our Festival aims to bring the excitement of this cornucopia of food to Londoners on one fabulous, fun-filled Saturday in March (31st, save the date). Expect great things!

We will have top chefs on hand to demonstrate their versions of Slow Food, unmasking the myth that it takes gobs of time and exotic ingredients to make good, clean, delicious food. We are busy lining up activities for the entire family, in a celebration of all things gastronomic in this pocket of South London.

Antonia Beamish and Sarah Coursey, festival organisers, are thankful to the Mayor of London’s Outer London Fund for funding the project, to Lambeth Council, Slow Food London and Beamish & McGlue for their undying support, and the entire community of West Norwood for pitching in to make what is sure to be an epic event for food-lovers.

London Strolling

If you like slowing down and enjoying the city we live in, a new Ramblers group could be for you – the London Strollers. In true Slow Down tradition the new group organises short strolls (around 5 miles long) across London.

All the walks are at an easy pace and are suitable for people who are just starting out in walking, and as well as those who just want to slow down and enjoy what is good about our varied city.

The walks are led by experienced volunteers, and all ages walk with them. The London Strollers have a Saturday Stroll every week and organise weekday strolls too. Examples of recent walks include a Wimbledon circular, a city of London tour, a stroll around Brixton. as well as the popular Wednesday evening waterway walks along canals and the Thames. The London Strollers are looking to increase their membership and expand the number of walks they offer every week.

The London Strollers are part of the national Ramblers, who campaign to protect footpaths in the UK. The London Strollers would welcome fellow Slow Down Londoners on their walks. If you would like to join them please see their website at where you can see details of their next few walks and how to join.

If you want more information please e-mail londonstrollers@gmail.com to join their mailing list.

The London Loaf: Slow Sight

Beauty is in the eye…

A friend of mine warned me recently of the dangers of spending all day staring at a computer screen; apparently the muscles of the eye involved in switching between distance and close-up vision become weak and lazy after a long period of inactivity.

He suggested I do exercises every now and again – looking out of the window at something far away, and then back into the office around me. Ha, I do plenty of this anyway, I thought. But how much of my distant gazing was actually zoning out rather than focusing in, I wondered?

So I tried it, and I discovered something so painfully obvious, that it made me write this article. The world is 3-dimensional. It is infinitely deep. And the eye is the speediest tool we have – one moment I’m at the end of my nose, the next I’m a mile away on a rooftop. And in between, the space – for the first time giving this attention to my focus I am aware of the space between as an area in itself – magical and full of potential.

I am revelling in my sense of sight. Seeing us fun and surprising. How did I forget about this?

One possibility is the mind’s view that “I’ve seen it before so I don’t need to look.” Oh, a tree. Big deal. Grey sky. Yawn. Wish it was blue. Wish I was looking out over a vineyard in Sicily….Which is one reason why travelling appears so enlightening to us. Suddenly all our senses are forced to wake up and it feels good. But walking down Balham High Road this evening it didn’t seem like I had seen it all before. Have you ever had that startling experience of walking into your living room and seeing an object that’s been there for years, as if for the first time?

Another explanation might be the dominance of screens in our culture, work and entertainment. Watching sports is more often done on the TV where the work of picking out what to watch is done for us. But is some of the joy taken out of it too? Is there another game in simply allowing the eye to roam around and chase whatever takes its fancy?

I realise that on a deeper level the backdrop (or rather frontdrop as my eyes tend to look forward) of my life appears more often to me like a picture than a sculpture – moving, yes, but not so shapely as it turns out to be. Even a film is flat; 3D provides an illusion of depth but we know this to be false; we are intelligent animals. Somewhere inside us a disappointing bargain is being struck: the age of convenience denies us our sensual workout, and the reward is a comfortable blindness.

The Slow Coffee Drinker

On the art of making a latte last two hours…

There are few things I like better in life than the indulgence of very slowly sipping a cappuccino in a coffee shop, and watching the world go by…While some people like to go bungee jumping or water skiing on their holidays, my idea of bliss generally revolves around sitting in a leafy European square somewhere with a cup of something hot and frothy, a cake and a good novel.

I’ve never been to Vienna, but I’ve often fantasised about the quality of the coffee houses, the precise flakiness of the strudel. It’s no surprise that Paris is one of my favourite cities, a place where the café culture (rightly) dictates that chairs face outwards to encourage blatant people watching.

London is getting better and better at doing decent coffee, but it’s still not quite as good at providing the places that allow you to really linger (perhaps it’s to do with our distinct lack of squares and leafy boulevards). There’s a fine art to making a tall latte and a cinnamon bun last two hours (still a rare affordable luxury, even in a recession). But in many establishments before you know it, an over-eager waitress will have whisked your tepid, half-drunk coffee away.

Chains, and their special brand of faceless anonymity – same furniture, same wall colour, same cake selection, same piped music and pictures – are sometimes better at allowing you stay as long as you want. But that’s mainly because the staff just don’t care. Better by far to choose a local independent café, to support someone’s family business, and become a familiar, welcome face. They won’t mind if you’re the kind of customer who spends two hours consuming one Americano and an apricot Danish, because they know you will be back tomorrow, and that you not only know their wifi password off by heart, you’ve also only got two stamps to go on your loyalty card before you get a free mochaccino.

Of course, some people wonder why a cup of coffee costs over £2, and feel that they are somehow being ripped off. ‘But I can make a cup of coffee at home for virtually nothing,’ they protest. That’s missing the point entirely. When you go to a café alone, you are not just paying £2 for the cup of coffee. You are paying to have a few moments of peace in a busy day, to have a space to ponder and be alone with your thoughts. You are paying to escape the familiar grottiness of your own home or workplace. If you like, you are effectively renting a table on a very short-term lease in a calm place where tasks and errands and unpaid bills and dirty dishes aren’t calling you. (How many novels and great ideas have started in coffee shops? How many writers still sit hunched over their netbooks, waiting for inspiration?) You are paying for the overheads of the shop, the rent, the staff, the lighting, as well as the coffee grounds. All that for £2 suddenly seems like a bargain.

So where are the best slow coffee spots in London? My favourites change from month to month, year to year. In central London, I have a perennial soft spot for the café at the top of Foyles, mainly for the free wifi, the jazz soundtrack and the eclectic mix of ‘starving-in-a-garret’-type individuals who appear to be writing screenplays on Mac books, while spinning out a cold espresso and a glass of tap water.

Out east, Counter Café, is a not-so-hidden urban secret – an Aussie-inspired joint tucked in a corner of Hackney Wick, with battered chairs and brick walls, that does seriously good flat whites and food. There are other cafés I love even more for the aesthetics, the buzzy atmosphere, the delicious cakes. But you can’t necessarily hang around in them, or guarantee you won’t be hurried along. And that is the key to slow coffee happiness.

Slow Progress – Slow Club blog

One of our Slow Club online participants reflects on the process: Well hasn’t time flown! I personally have found that having to create more time for Slow in my life has been a bit of a squeeze…however that squeeze has been totally worth it.

The task for week one was to notice my speed. I can’t say I honestly managed to do this daily, however I did make a concerted effort to reflect on my speed and to be appropriate in the time I took to do tasks. One of the things I noticed was that I think and feel calm when in motion under my own steam. So when I was on my bike or walking I felt very much at the appropriate pace to my activity. However when I attempted to walk slowly I found myself speeding up to my normal pace – as if my feet had a mind of their own! During my quick-slow-quick-slow walk I did make sure to look up and around me more as I walked, and thoroughly enjoyed this connection with my urban environment.

Week two asked me to ‘switch off’ some technology for an hour a day. Hmm, I thought dubiously, what if someone calls, texts, tweets, emails or facebooks me – I won’t be able to answer straight away, panic! Then I thought about the time before mobile phones, before constant social connections existed – I managed to live without tweets and texts then; maybe it was time to give it a go again…

I kept my weekend technology to a minimum, then from Monday I put my phone away during work hours. I left it in my locker at work – only checking it at lunch and after work. Usually I would have it in my pocket to check my emails frequently, and answer any calls and texts as soon as I received them. I actually felt better able to concentrate on my work with out my phone ‘nagging’ me from my pocket. This week I was working in a creative workshop, so I was completely isolated from technology in that sense, and… I totally enjoyed it!

The weekly task was to take a lunch break, something that I nearly always do already. My job is, for the most part, manual so I find having a lunch break is an important part of my day – the opportunity to sit down and rest is vital to my ability to work. This week however I took a walk on one of my lunches to the canal and had a little sit down there, watching the water. I also made sure to go outside for a part of my breaks on the other days, just for a spot of reflection and daylight. I found it very relaxing to step away from the noise and conversation of the lunchroom, it gave me a pleasant energetic feeling when I came back that I don’t usually have after lunch.

Week three’s task is to watch my breath and eat mindfully, both outside of my normal habits. I breath (as most of us do) without thinking, and my meals tend to be social – catching up with my partner, chatting to colleagues etc – so I will have to think strongly about my actions for this task. I will blog about it next week, fingers crossed I manage to do it!

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