Monday, 28 December 2015

Eat, Enjoy, Live

How often do you hear your children asking for a mobile phone/tablet/new trainers or other highly-desired items? 

How do you respond? Do you ever ask them to consider why they feel they "need" it, or to consider the difference between a want and a need? It could stem from a need to fit in with their peers, to be liked, and to be accepted by others, which are all vital to our sense of self. So if you are feeling the pressure but feel that they are too young or not yet able to take responsibility for these status symbols, how do you teach them to understand?

Each time I feel that my children are asking for something they don't need but want, in order to fulfil their sense of self, I remind them of an analogy I developed with them: see your life as being like a big, best quality chocolate bar, wrapped in shiny paper. 
You carefully take off the layer and look at the beautiful, complete bar of chocolate. Then you decide how you would like to eat it. 
Which would be better: to pick up the chocolate, bite into it and eat the whole lot, and then feel full, sick, and sad that it is all gone? 
Or enjoy a small square at a time, savouring each mouthful, experiencing it piece by piece and happily admiring the taste, smell, feel and sight? 

So do you want everything right now - to consume what you have - and then get to a point where you are left wanting more? 
Or would you like to enjoy your life piece by piece, moment by moment, taking in the scenery, sights, emotions, experiences and the beauty of life, savouring each moment and evolving into the person you are?

Live in the moment, and enjoy each and every day!

Photo:Nikki Harman - Chocolate from Chococo, Swanage

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Mind Your NHS

The NHS is getting rather a lot of press, recently, what with the planned (and called-off) doctor's strikes;  student nurses and other healthcare professional students' bursaries being scrapped; a £630 million funding deficit in provider trustsA&E waiting times  as usual under close scrutiny; proposals for seven-day working (as if the NHS is a Mon-Fri 9-5 service); Mental health services cuts...I could go on...and on...but it's so depressing and demoralising, isn't it?
I have been nursing for 24 years, give or take a couple of maternity leave and career break moments. I love my job. I love being a nurse. I love working with different people every day, connecting with patients, with the aim of making their life a bit easier. Easing pain, learning to live with a condition, or finding peace and comfort at the end of life. I have worked with hundreds of others who work in the same way each day, coming in to work and leaving our own dramas and difficulties at home. I, like millions of others, listen to and contribute to conversations before our shifts start, talking about a difficult work situation, a hard conversation, conflict or more besides, mixed in with the ironic, slightly lopsided sense of humour or sardonic observations staff develop over the years.
During our shifts we are often privy to seeing the full spectrum of human nature intertwined with biology; social situations dappling the human experience; agony, pain, grief, sadness, confusion. Staff carry on regardless, putting everything down to experience, but are often affected in some way.
To me, the NHS is like a huge mirror, reflecting the health, wealth and breadth of our society. When we look at it, we see ourselves, we are reminded of our connections with it, and we replay our experiences in our minds and in our hearts.
When I look at the NHS, I see my lifeline. It helps pays my mortgage, it helps me clothe and feed my children. I see the patients and experiences which have shaped my practice and craft of nursing, the art of care and compassion which defines millions of other nurses as well as other healthcare professionals. I also see how myself or my mother may never have survived and how I may never have made it into the world without the NHS; nor would my daughter. My son would have had some significant health issues were it not for the free surgery he has had several times to correct them; my dad would not be here today if the paramedics, A&E and ITU staff had not saved him; my grandparents would not be here today if the NHS had not treated them. When I care for my patients I am grateful for everything, from the paramedics to the pharmacists, the nurses, the doctors, the OT's and the porters, the housekeeping staff, the IT department and the Estates workers. The training days which teach me and refresh me; the staff who make the meals for the patients and who give me sustenance to continue my shift. The patients, even those who are rude to me (I got called a bitch today, for example), who teach me patience, compassion, tolerance and confidence.
So it is heartbreaking to read about these proposed cuts and changes to our services, which are such a huge part of my life, which touches me and with whom I reach out to every time I go to  work. I am sure that any NHS member of staff reading this will be able to relate on some level, just as any patient will be able to, as well. The NHS is the heart of our country, it is the fabric of our land. We need to care for it, protect it, repair it and show it off proudly. We need to do everything we can to respect it, honour it and celebrate it. We need to reinforce it against the tears, rips, heartache and damage.
So if you have an appointment tomorrow, treat the NHS as your best friend. Your best friend who is doing their best to carry on despite having a lot going on in its life, and is trying to carry on regardless. Your best friend who needs some support, respect and love. If you are working tomorrow, cherish every person around you, even those you don't get on with, because they are teaching you something about you, about your skills and about your ability to carry on regardless. Let's show Jeremy Hunt that the NHS is our friend, our family, our colleague, our skill, our knowledge, our fear, our pain, and our success.

Nikki Harman, RGN, is a nurse working in the NHS. Nikki also teaches mindfulness and meditation with adults and children running her own private business as The Mindful Nurse and is the founder of The Inner Space Project.  Contact

Friday, 18 December 2015

We've Got To Go Through It!

There are times in our lives when there is pain and suffering. There are days when the world news seems to be filled with nothing but darkness. There is a culture of fear that we are subjected to on so many levels, it feels like we are being stifled in our quest for a life of joy and peace. The events which have taken place around the world over the past few days, weeks and months are harrowing, tragic, and painful beyond words. There seem to be mixed reactions of hatred and retaliation, or a cry for peace and compassion. One is based on fear; the other is on love.
I was reading Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury’s We’re Going On A Bear Hunt to my son, recently. The story, in case you are not familiar with it, follows an excited family walk, as they go On A Bear Hunt. On each page, they exclaim,  “we’re going to catch a big one. What A Beautiful Day! We’re not scared.” However, as they trundle on their way, they face a variety of challenging obstacles, which the family try to work out how to overcome. As they consider the best way of trying to avoid meeting them, they realise the only way to get past the obstruction is to go through it. Eventually, they get to a dark cave, come face to face with a bear, then run all the way back home to the sanctuary of a duvet in which to hide from the bear, who has chased them all the way. The bear then walks – I perceive as rather forlornly – back to his cave.
Now personally, I have always felt sorry for the bear; and as I read the story for the several hundredth time in my parenting career (not counting the number of times I enthusiastically pored over the pages with small children when on my work experience placements as a teenager in a primary school), I realised that to me, the story represents the way in which we (by which I mean humanity in general) deal with our challenges and obstacles in life. Generally, we may go through our life – perhaps excitedly optimistic about the day ahead – but as we meet the inevitable twists and turns, we have to make some decisions about whether to avoid the obstacles, or face them head-on. So if we do “go through it” to overcome the challenges we face, we may meet our intended goal, only to find it isn’t how we expect it to be. Sometimes we have no choice but to go through these obstacles, to weather the storms, in order to conquer the fears we have. Sometimes, to meet our greatest fear is too much to “bear”, so we run away and hide from it, leaving the fear unchallenged and unconquered, yet potentially missing so much. What if the bear, despite his grizzly (frightening) appearances, turns out to be friendly, unconditionally giving and possesses a depth of understanding with an unmet desire to share with us that we were previously unaware of? What if the bear was chasing after the family not to hurt them, but to help heal them from their fear? What if the bear, as it walked slowly back to its cave, felt like it had not met its challenge in life to overcome the reactions of fear and hate, and so felt somehow bereft and misunderstood? There is a part of me that worries about the bear, because I know I have to make friends with my fears and turn down the volume on the voice of doubt I have. I have to learn to love the bear.
This is how I feel about what’s happening in the world, right now. There is so much fear, hatred and running away to barricade us from the “terror” that dwells outside, but it is additionally internal. Whilst there are various sections of society who say they want to do Something to Make It Better, when they are afforded that luxury of actually being able to, they hide away; or worse still, they abuse the luxury or instead retaliate with fear and hate. I ask that we all look at the bear we may be running away from, and instead greet it with love and compassion. Don’t walk through life trying to avoid the obstacles on the path ahead, but go through them, feeling grateful for the experience, no matter how horrific and terrifying it might be. Because this is a gift for us, albeit painful, tragic or heartbreaking. I believe that something good HAS to come from something bad, and that starts with facing our darkest fears and holding up the light to see it in its entirety. We cannot go on hiding away from the painfully obvious, any longer.

Trust or Trussed?

Tru(th)    st(ep)
Trust – the ability to see the truth above perceptions, whilst walking a step at a time, knowing that all is well in that moment, accepting that it is safe to be your authentic self.
Trust gives us the ability to see the truth above the perceptions and take steps to bring our dreams to fruition.
Trust gives us the courage to believe in ourselves and walk our true path, one step at a time…
Trussed means that we are being restricted by our own self-limiting thoughts, or the perceived beliefs of others, which, prevent our growth (moving forward) and change.
“Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway” ~ Mary Kay Ash
This is one of my favourite, inspiring quotes, and one I use regularly to help me keep my trust in myself. Trust is like a belief: If you believe something will happen, you put your trust in it. If you trust in something, you have faith that it will happen.

When it comes to making decisions – any decisions which have the potential to cause ripples in life – it often feels easier to ignore it: in other words, to sit back in the sofa, to remain in “the groove”. But this is where we create more problems for ourselves. If we lean back and try to pretend something is perfectly fine as it is, we are at risk of becoming a prisoner of our own choice. We are “trussed up” in apathy, fear, or indecisiveness, which are the ties that bind us from the freedom of leaning forward, standing up and then taking the steps ahead.
Trust in the process of our individual lives arises when we are prepared to lean into the discomfort we feel and experience along the way. If we are being true to our selves, if we are being authentic in our decisions, then we can take the steps forward.
So, where are you, right now? Are you experiencing trust, or are you feeling trussed?

Releasing Anger, Sadness or Fears With Children

Sometimes I find myself telling my children to “calm down” when they’re upset or crying. When I do, I remind myself that they might not want to be calm. They might be feeling so totally overwhelmed by their worries, anger, fear, sadness, that calming down is the last thing they want to do.
Sometimes, it’s easier to let them release everything by having a really good cry. Crying releases a stress hormone called 
cortisol, which is contained in tears, so this can be a great stress-reliever.
Mindful activities which aim to release emotions are a healthy way of allowing a child to express themselves, especially if they can’t articulate these feelings to others.
This evening I took my restless children for a walk along the beach. We all collected sand to form into a ball, whilst focusing our emotions into the shape forming in our hands.

Then we stood at the edge of the water, and told all of our worries, sadness and any anger to the ball of sand. As we threw the sand as hard and as far as we could into the sea, we shouted into the cool sea air, releasing and letting go of everything we had been holding inside. Then we asked the sea to dissolve the sand balls and anger, washing away the feelings we didn’t want to hold on to, anymore. We all felt better for doing so…I recommend this activity for the whole family, not just children, as I felt the benefits, too! Don’t worry if you’re not by the sea – you could do something similar with a pebble into a river or a lake, or even throw a pair of socks against the bedroom door! Safely channelling anger and difficult emotions can be far healthier than holding it all in, when trying to be “calm” is the opposite of how a child may want to feel.

Back To The Present

A couple of months ago was “Back To The Future Day” after the film’s character Marty McFly time-travelled from 1989 to the 21 October, 2015. In the 26 years since the film was made, the world is very much a different place, and yet some of the “predictions” in the film have been almost accurate.
I describe mindfulness to clients as the non-judgemental awareness of the present moment, allowing thoughts, sensations and feelings to come up but to accept them as they are without the mind interpreting these into something else. So it struck me how it seemed the entire internet was simultaneously jumping between a 26 year old film, to present, and looking forward from the perspective of the past, warm with nostalgia, yet hot to judge how well 2015 was portrayed, back in 1989. It seemed that everything about the film was being judged – the clothing, cars, foods, hoverboards…
…To me, yesterday’s feast of Back To The Future Day was a global media-led illustration of how we can sometimes tend to process our thoughts about the past: We look back at an event, analyse it, then try to overlay it with the present, to fit our perception of what we would like (or not like) to see. In this sense, we do not allow ourselves to accept the thoughts of the past as they were (are), because as time passes by, so we change in the way we look, act, and feel, which may not reflect our thoughts accurately; sometimes we attempt to compartmentalise these perceptions into a structure we “approve” of – the structure that we think makes us feel most comfortable at the time. We make “predictions” about our future based on our past, using our past perceptions, experience and knowledge to shape our desires for what we want to experience at that time, but for a later point in time. Which is OK, except if you’re not really keen on the idea of re-hydrated pizza, for example!
I loved the Back To The Future films, just accepting them as they were at the time. I had no clue about what I would be doing in 2015, back in 1989 when I watched the film. Just like I have only a little idea about what I was doing back in 1989 – I was fourteen, so probably wearing dungarees and listening to the Happy Mondays!
My point is that if you are going to look back at the past, do so without judgement. Be a time-traveller yourself – place yourself in that moment and observe it. Do the same for the present: be experiencing it fully and accept whatever comes your way, process it and release it. Prepare for the future but don’t over-plan – you don’t know what will be, yet.

As the paraphrased quote from Bill Keane goes: “Yesterday is the past, tomorrow’s the future, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present”.

Beyond The Gate: To Freedom

Whilst out for a fresh morning run in Dorset, I paused to take this picture. The gate is in the foreground, with the sea, the emerald and sapphire jewels and the dazzling white chalk of the Jurassic Coast and the beautiful blue sky in the background. I never tire of this incredible view. I consider myself to be so lucky to live here, and I am so grateful to be amongst one of the most incredibly picturesque, natural, preserved parts of the country.
As I gazed around, I found myself mindfully working through the sight before me. I became curious about why the gate instantly stood out for me. Initially, it looked like it was an obstruction to the view beyond – why bother with the gate, when there is so much wonderful nature and breathtaking scenery beyond it?
I then began to consider how it is possible to view the gate as an obstruction to the freedom beyond; how as individuals we all have the gates in front of our vision to the beauty we can see but not quite reach. Imagine that an aspect of our self is the gate – one’s own obstruction to what we want to achieve – is our own self-limiting thought or doubt, which stops us from moving forwards and prevents us from enjoying the beautiful environment and circumstances which lie ahead. Seeing the gate itself as a thing of beauty: that the self-limiting belief can also be a thing of beauty, because as we recognise our can’ts/won’ts/it’s impossible/self-imposed limits, we are acknowledging our integrity, or authentic selves (being aware of the fears and doubts which hold us back as well as our hearts desires) because therein lies the opportunity to change something for the better – to create our own freedom.
The ability to see our inabilities, gives us the choice to question ourselves: what if I can? What if I do? Once these thoughts are truly experienced, we have the power to choose to maintain the obstruction, or open the gate and allow us to fully embrace the views and the beauty around us, in truly unimaginable, unpredictable ways we never thought possible: making the impossible a reality.
So today I invite you to open the gate – but before you do, find and experience your own gate in your heart and your mind – what is it that is stopping the gate from opening into the reality you wish to create for yourself? Perhaps your mind is the gate, whereas your heart longs to dance joyfully, wholly, and lovingly into that freedom.
Bon Voyage!

Breathe your way to feeling better

In this video I describe a mindfulness breathing technique and explain how it affects body and mind to feel calmer

Many Hands Make Light Work

I visited the Science Museum with my children, a few months ago. Whilst there, we spent a long time in The Launchpad zone, where they joined in with with lots of other children playing on the Big Machine .
Out of all the interactive exhibits in the Launchpad, the Big Machine was the equivalent of bees around a honey-pot: children of all ages crowded around in a hands-on display using the pulley, lever, screw, wheel and axle and wedge to move the plastic lentil shapes (or seeds, as the children were calling them) from one part of the machine to the other.
It was as fascinating for me to watch, as it was for the children to be playing. I watched as the older children gravitated towards the pulley, where they were tall enough to use it; whilst the younger children gathered up the seeds to put into the “plughole” for the next child to turn the corkscrew to drive the seeds up to the wheel.
Sometimes they worked together; at other times there was conflict over who got to operate the most popular parts of the machine.
These are my mindful, bigger-picture observations of the children at work:
* There was no exclusivity over who could join in. All were accepted into the game without hesitation
* When faced with conflict, there was no adult intervention to resolve – the older children delegated roles to the younger children and they in turn accepted the direction
* Each child knew what their role was
* All of the children could understand what their role was in the bigger picture
* The children knew that their role was as important as the others in creating the bigger picture
* The children took turns; there was also an unspoken, non-negotiated swapping of tasks throughout, as their interest piqued in each part of the machine and moved on to the next part of the task
* The children were connected with each other and knew that they could not work the whole of the machine by themselves
As I pondered on these observations, I was able to see a comparison between how children work together, and the roles communities bring for one another; to compare how communities work together and the roles the natural world around us have in order to maintain balance and flow as well as structure. We know that communities working together bring benefits for everyone involved; we know that the insect and plant world work closely together and have an effect on the environment around it; we know how the sun – our greatest energy source – provides everything for us in one way or another and that we rely on every aspect of its energy supply to maintain life on earth.
So Connection is the key. We are all connected with each other and with the environment around us. If one system isn’t working properly, it has an effect on those around it.
The children in the Launchpad who were lost in their own world of imagination and discovery demonstrated this beautifully. I felt humbled to witness the perfection of that moment, as a mindful observer.

Time (back in the summer!)

Sometimes things get overwhelming. I have had a very busy weekend, as a single parent juggling work, life, fun, chaos and challenges. We all face these moments in life: my offering here is to encourage you to stop for a few minutes.
By the way, what I didn’t really cover in the video, is that some people tend to believe that mindfulness and meditation means we should be clear of thought. This is not the case: it means being able to acknowledge the thoughts that are going on in our minds without attaching ourselves to them and being caught up in that whirling swirling process of one thought to the next, but stepping back and observing the thoughts. Often this can bring about a sense of peace and clarity, which is what I needed to do, today. Although I have been practising living mindfully for a long while, I still find myself being snared up in thoughts and the subsequent emotions – at this point being able to acknowledge them without placing any judgement on the self is important – rather than allowing the mental chatter and feelings to dominate my reactions and subsequent actions.

Five Mindful Activities To Do With Your Child

It was a Sunday afternoon. My children were feeling out of sorts for a number of reasons. My son, age 6, was upset and angry. My daughter, age 10, was feeling tired and emotional. I spent time with each of them, comforting them and hugging them, listening to them explaining their feelings, and helping them make sense of themselves. This went on for some time, with my son being particularly upset. After a while, I decided it would be a good idea to change the pitch, a little. So I suggested they make some tray cake, which they love doing. My son, who still felt upset and frustrated, got to work on demolishing a packet of digestive biscuits – first of all bashing them with a rolling pin (the big heavy one, not the smaller pastry one!), then breaking the broken biscuits down into smaller pieces with his hands. My daughter enjoyed melting the chocolate, with the added bonus of being able to lick the bowl clean afterwards.
This activity was more than just a distraction for my tired, upset and emotional children. It was a mindful process for both of them. They were each able to quietly think about what was upsetting them, releasing their feelings and frustrations in a way that wasn’t destructive for them or anyone around them, without overtly paying attention to them – being self-judgemental – enjoying the process and sensations, with the end result of something tasty to eat. Exploring feelings in this way removes an expectation from the adult, that the child will communicate their feelings, or “calm down” – something I find myself saying a lot to my children, but try to avoid – why should they inhibit their own feelings because it isn’t convenient for the adult? Children can learn to self-regulate in other ways, and should be encouraged to find soothing methods in a safe, supervised way.
By the time the tray cake had been placed into the fridge to chill, my son felt calm and happier. He expressed his upset, saying that he still felt some sadness about the original reason, but instead of internalising it, he had expressed it verbally, then worked his way through his feelings by banging the rolling pin, squashing biscuits, stirring up and laying the mix out in front of him to see. He actually gave a big, ragged sigh as he finished adding the mix to the tray, showing he was releasing his frustrations. A mindful activity for an active mind.
Here are five activities to try with your child when they are feeling emotional, frustrated, or finding something difficult to express. You should be with your child to support them in a non-judgemental, loving way. Most importantly, you know your child better than anyone, so choose an activity with them that you know will be enjoyable and rewarding for both of you.
1. Making Bread

As I described above, baking and cooking is great for releasing tensions and emotions. Bread-making can be so rewarding, as it is such a physically demanding, frustrating (sticky, messy) activity to do when kneading and rolling out the dough; then an act of patience whilst waiting for the dough to rise and prove; but the reward of the aroma of freshly-baked bread, the sight of the golden crust, followed by the wonderful taste of warm bread to share proudly with friends and family is a powerful visual evaluation for the child or teen – look what can be done when you concentrate on something, using the essential skills of persistence, patience and physical strength. A very symbolic, enjoyable activity.
2. Drawing

This picture was drawn by my son when he was feeling really upset (I should explain here that he did give me consent to use this photo here). I asked him to draw how he was feeling, because he was having trouble expressing his feelings and thoughts verbally. I left him at the kitchen table whilst I “pottered around” (i.e. keeping an eye from a respectable distance, to give him some space without feeling like he was being watched or judged). Initially, he drew the sad child, which was of himself. I then explained that I loved him and wanted to help him. Together we drew hearts around him, to show that the sad child was surrounded by lots of love, including, crucially, his own love, too. This might sound like new-age hippy stuff, but it is a powerful visual for a child. He was visibly reassured by this picture when we had finished. I have worked with children and their parents in this way, too – drawing out feelings, fears, even what their pain looks like – is a great way to communicate to the outside world their internal feelings, which can be very difficult for children and teens to articulate. Drawing after practising the body-scan technique, used in mindfulness to tap into and be aware of how the body feels in a non-judgemental way, can be used, too. Adults can also do this.
3. Mindful Eating

Place a few bowls containing a range of different foods (preferably foods your child likes, but also place something they may have never tried, in a bowl, too) on the table and spend some time trying them with your child. You could try tasting the food using all the senses to start with. If my children are trying something for the first time, I guide them to experience it in this order:
1. Look at it. What does it look like? (be prepared for them to say “yucky” or something similar, but don’t dwell on that, just accept their judgement without judging them)
2. Touch it. What does it feel like? Be prepared for a similar answer as above, but also ask them to come up with some descriptive analysis!
3. Smell it. Ask the child to hold it to their nose and take in a big breath to smell. Ask them if it smells different when they close their eyes
4. Lick it. Ask the child to lick the food as if it were an ice lolly – can they taste any differences on the different parts of the tongue?
5. Bite it. Watch their reactions, and then ask them what they can taste.
6. Eat it! If they don’t like it, let them spit it out again, and praise them for following the steps above – it’s a big achievement for some children, so avoid drawing attention to the spitting out part if they didn’t like it – it can take anumber of attempts at trying a new food before a child realises they like it.
For older children and teens, exploring the ideas of how a fruit was grown, harvested and then arrived at the kitchen table is another form of mindful eating
4. Create an intention box

In our house we created this box, and filled it with our own intentions. We thought about what we’d like to achieve in any given day, and wrote them down. We thought of the kinds of things we know well and love to do, as well as things we don’t always enjoy so much but know are important for us. We also thought about things we’d like to do if we felt brave enough. The intentions are just that: the important thing to remember is that it is something the child “intends” to do, but is not obligated or forced to do it. It is designed to motivate a child to do something if they feel they want to/feel brave to try something new, or wants a focus for their day.
Examples include:
Today I will have an extra glass of water
Today at school I will offer play with someone I don’t know very well (to make a new friend)
Today I will try my best
Today I will be brave
At the end of the day, we sit down together and talk about how we got on. I pick out a card, too. It’s not always easy! But the idea is that it sets some focus on the day, places an intention – not an expectation – and it is then up to the individual to explore how or if they meet their intention, knowing that there is no judgement of the self or from others, regardless of how they got on.
5. Relax

Spending time doing nothing can be difficult as an adult, as well as for a child. But it is a great mindful activity to be able to lie down, and observe thoughts as they come and go. Learning to detach an expectation (judgement) of ourselves once the thought has entered our minds is a skill known as open monitoring meditation. If you were to lie on a warm patch of grass on a sunny day and watch the clouds go by, after a while you are likely to find your mind drifting, with different thoughts entering your head. With open monitoring, your thoughts are like the clouds, whereby you observe them, then watch them passing over you. We are so used to having our minds full of things we need to/should be doing, with the judgement and expectations of ourselves to fulfill these thoughts. In open monitoring, the expectation and judgement is suspended. Allowing children to have the free space and time to do this is vital, especially when it comes to exams or school pressures. If you do this with your child, don’t expect them to lie perfectly still! Let them fidget, move around the floor, sit up/lie down – this is a way of expending extra pent-up energy. If they are particularly fidgety, you could try doing some star-jumps or push-ups before lying down, even create a designated “den” or “quiet space” for them to go to when they have finished jumping around. Make it a technology-free space though – for you and your child.
Nikki Harman is a Connected Kids tutor who works with children and adults, teaching mindfulness and meditation. Contact Nikki at for more information or to book a session.

Muuum, I Can't Sleep!

“Muuum, I can’t sleep!”
I’m sure every parent in the land hears that at some point. It’s easy to get frustrated when repeated efforts to get your child to stay in bed and go to sleep fail. But how do you feel if you have a hard time getting to sleep? The chances are that your child is feeling the same way.
If all attempts to get your child to doze off fail, ask your child if there’s something on their mind they’d like to talk about. Sometimes it might be a repetitive thought, word, song or an event that had occurred during the day, which your child might, for whatever reason, be struggling to let go of. At night, we are most receptive to our thoughts (positive and negative) because things are generally calmer and quieter. Writing stuff down in the form of to “to-do” lists, journaling or even sketching can help adults, so if your older child is really struggling, why not ask them to write all their “inside words” on a piece of paper or draw what’s on their mind, then place it in a box, or fold it and put away to read another time?
Once this has been done, deliberately soften your voice and talk slowly, to help your child hear the relaxed tone in your voice (as frustrating as you might find it that you want to get on and do your own thing when your child is in bed, shouting at them will be counter-productive and you will be in your child’s room for longer, or they will become more unsettled). Asking them to lie in the bed and get cosy and snuggle conjures up images that the child is likely to respond to. Then ask them to breathe in and out slowly, have a big yawn to let any excess energy go, and ask them to count their breaths back from 5 to 0, relaxing different parts of their body as they go (you will need to adjust this depending how old your child is).
It’s also important to tap in to how you are feeling, being present in your mind and acknowledging your own feelings to release. Sometimes we have to forgo our own needs to help our children, as hard to accept as that might be. Having spent years of “shh-pat-ting” my babies and toddlers (and tweenager!) to sleep, I know how hard it can be to stay calm and not allow frustration to get the better of me when I haven’t stopped all day and want to relax. But as the saying goes: “this too shall pass!” Here is some useful information about helping children 
What are your mindful, gentle tips for helping your child get to sleep?
I teach children mindfulness and meditation. Please contact me to book a session or to find out more.

Should Doctors and Nurses Be Compassionate?

This was the question on Radio 4’s programme Beyond Belief, earlier this year. Anna Smajdor, a medical ethics lecturer at the University of East Anglia, put the point across that it is not necessary within the role of the health care professional to provide compassion for their patients. Anna says,
“we find it very difficult to know or control what people are feeling”, explaining that it “would be nice if every time I went to the hospital, the doctor or nurse would love me as much as my mother does, but do I have the right to expect or demand that? I don’t think I do. Compassion is about what people feel for you, and you cannot demand that people provide you with an emotion as part of your due…in the health service I think that’s going too far”
I couldn’t imagine providing care for my patients without giving compassion. It’s not in my personality to shut off my human side, and I believe that is the case for most people.
Many years ago I looked after a young man who sadly died. He was from another country. His parents, who were acrimoniously separated, were informed just as they boarded the plane to see their son in our hospital, that their only child had died. They had to endure a several-hours flight in the worst of circumstances, to arrive in a country where they could not speak the language, to confirm the identity of their child to the police. To say that this was an horrific experience for anyone was an understatement.
His mother broke down when she saw her son. Her wailing, grief-stricken cries cut deeply into everyone who heard her. Unable to communicate with her, all we could do was offer her our arms and our shoulders to share her anguish, the crevices of our necks warm and wet with grief. This mother and her estranged husband, consumed with grief and the horror of their situation, did the only thing they could in that moment: they lashed out at each other. Even in another language, we could feel the conveyance of hatred, anger, shock and bitterness in their voices. But there was little any of us could do. We didn’t understand what they were saying. As a 23 year-old new-ish nurse, I  lacked the experience to deal with this as a professional, but I felt every ounce of their pain.
Later, as I sat with the mother and father in the relatives room of the mortuary, a police officer asked them a few identifying questions. They were able to answer through an interpreter who we had managed to find, although at the time we could only find an inexperienced nurse on another ward, who was clearly traumatised by the details, because she was getting the full impact of the parents’ grief.
The officer handed the mother a clear plastic bag, containing her son’s large, leather-strapped watch, his wallet with a few foreign notes mingled in with the British £10 notes, and his passport. I felt this to be so impersonal that the property was handed to her in this way. She broke down again as she took the bag from the officer. I saw her son’s passport photo, and I too began to cry. He looked so different in his photograph, so handsome and the same age as my younger brother. It was the most intense, sad and loneliest place I have ever visited as a nurse. Grief following death is an all-consuming, exhaustive and potentially destructive place to be. To professionally help a patient or relative in any situation without the connection of humanity, compassion and care is impossible, in my eyes.
Here is where mindfulness can assist the professional in dealing with these kinds of situations. As nurses, we see the most vulnerable people deal with the most challenging of situations in the strongest ways they know how. We support them through these experiences in the most sensitive, compassionate manner and with fortitude, in the ways we are taught, the ways we are shown, and in the ways we would want to be treated if we were ever to find ourselves in the similar circumstances we are exposed to in our work. This is the key to being able to do our job. I know that on days when I have been rushed off my feet, when help is thin on the ground and I haven’t been able to give my best care to my patients, I go home feeling that I have failed to do my job effectively, and I know many friends and colleagues who feel the same. But mindfully working through these situations, by making that meaningful connection with patients and their relatives can make a big difference both in the delivery of care and the way the healthcare professional feels when they leave work.
It is okay to empathise with the relative about how difficult they are finding their grief.  “I know how hard you are finding this, and I feel how overwhelmed you are, this is tough but I am here to help you.”  Sometimes it’s not about finding the most effective way to provide care, but it is about making the emotional connection in a mindful way.

As I said goodbye to the mother and father of the chap I had cared for, all I could do to convey my empathy to them was to place one hand on my heart, and hold the mother’s hand, with the other. I know we couldn’t verbally communicate, but I know that she felt what I meant, and I felt the understanding between us. I hope that my compassion was felt and understood. The health service is made whole by compassion, and to deny anybody that in their time of need would be to deny their humanity.


In the past year I have gone through a marriage break-up; launched my work as The Mindful Nurse; got into the knack of being a single parent; and continued my part time work as a nurse. I am taking on other responsibilities as well, and I am doing up bits of the house that needed attention, in between cooking; reading stories, going for walks, climbing trees, counselling and having loving cuddles with my children, taking them here, there, and everywhere for after school activities and taken them for various hospital appointments; writing the book I have been trying to get out of my head for a year; going through the process of divorce; unblocking my outside sewage drain in the pouring rain (several times) as well as self-taught a few other plumbing techniques to see me through the winter; started to collect tools for my own toolbox and can use confidently; and of course, very crucially, meditating.  I have pushed myself as far out of my comfort zone as I dare. I have tried to be as calm, compassionate, kind and as good a person that I could want to be during what has been a tremendous wrench out of where my life was a year ago, whilst still acknowledging my own sadness and confusion at the trauma which has unfolded.
It took me two years to build up the courage and the strength to be where I am, now. If I had been allowed a peak at myself now, back in 2013,  I could never have believed where my path has led to. Two years ago I was frightened, weak, dis-empowered and had some vision of what I wanted to do/be, but was too under-confident to pursue it. Although I was practising mindfulness and meditation, events in my life had somehow caused me to lose my way, like being in the deep, dark wood, unsure of which way to turn for the best. I knew I had to move in the right direction, but I had no idea of what it looked like.
I had to summon up the courage and strength to take brave steps forward. Things got really tough – heartbreakingly so -for all sorts of reasons. However, one baby step at a time, I gradually found a patch of brightness in these woods, which gave me some energy and power to take bigger, firmer steps which became strides.
Looking back at how things were one year ago, and who I am as a result, I can only put it down to the fact that, through using my mindfulness techniques, meditation, the odd glass of wine and a few amazing friends and family who have supported me through this whole process, I am nearly out of the woods and onto a clearer path. With flowers, birds, butterflies, fluffy rabbits and a merry tune that I can skip along to…
OK, that might be a bit far-fetched – but why not aim for that? One of my regular meditation techniques has involved powerful visualisations of what I want my life to look and feel like. I am therefore striding in that direction, in contrast to the deep, dark world that I am walking away from. Along the way I have encountered various and numerous events to trip me up; I have had traps I have walked into; I have walked into thick mud to pull myself out of. But I’m still walking towards the clearer path.
For me, being able to see that I am doing so much and trying so hard to get things right for myself and for everyone around me, shows me my strength. Two years ago I couldn’t see that, because I was simply too busy trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. What I thought was going on didn’t fit the bigger picture. Now I know that, so I  have given up trying to fit into the bigger picture. Instead I am creating my own.

When life gets tough, you may feel that you are not strong enough to handle it. But when you gather all the little bits of who you are, then fit these pieces together, you might be able to see that you are stronger than you thought you were. Strength brings structure; structure provides resilience.

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

Which way round do you fold your arms? Which foot or leg goes over the other? If you carry a bag over your shoulder, which side do you favour?

There are two reasons for asking this. The first is about habit. We develop our own little preferences about how we carry ourselves, which then become habitual.
The second reason is that these habits become comfortable. If something is of comfort, why change it?
Some habits, though, can be altered by re-training your own perceptions.
I’d like to suggest a mindfulness exercise for you to practice, to help you realise the potential of how you can be in control of your habits. Next time you go to fold your arms or cross your leg, tell yourself to go the opposite way. Whilst doing so, notice any thoughts or feelings, even an awareness of thinking “I don’t like this” but not holding any self-judgement of this. Try this for a couple of weeks and see if you notice any differences in how comfortable you feel, and how you feel about changing a habit.
Once you’ve done this, you could try applying these mindful techniques to other areas of your life where you have fallen into a habit that maybe you’d like to change.
I’d love to know your thoughts on this, and your experiences, so please post your comments!