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presence practices

presence practices

Finding Rest

I find water restful. Baths, showers, beaches, swimming pools. I love the expanse of an ocean, the feel of water holding me up, the smell of salt water in the air and the sound of waves crashing. I love the smell of rain hitting the ground after a dry spell. Love misty rain, pouring rain, spotty rain.

My being resonates with water. And being in it, near it, even drinking it, recharges me.

But I’m not everyone. Maybe you resonate most with the earth, with lying on the ground and feeling that solidity holding you up, infusing you with energy.

Maybe space and air are the tonics that nourish you the most. Or being around animals.

For you, it might be fresh food and being in the kitchen. Getting creative with your hands and crafting beautiful dishes: smelling, tasting, touching food as you go. Cutting and arranging beautiful morsles of food for yourself or others.

Maybe music is what touches you, or deep silence, or the smell of old books. Art! all kinds of art. There are so many ways that we can be nourished by the world we live in.

And we all have a few different ways of being, different places we go to to feel rejuvenated.

And it’s probably not just one thing, either. All of the elements I just listed came to mind because they give me some sense of rest and ease. They fill me up in their own way.

What Fills You Up?

People are able to come up with their own list with just a few moments to think about it.

You probably have a few activities or environments that you rely on when you’re feeling overwhelmed and need to just settle into your beingness and rest a little. To recharge.

And sometimes it’s easy to forget those places, those ways of being. So it’s good to take a few moments every now and then to remind yourself.

The things we love can be so restful because they invite us in. If painting is your thing then you ‘re probably aware of  that sense of absorption that can come when you’re creating. Same with cooking, surfing, kitting, meditation.

The things we love invite us to listen closely. They call us to be present. They invite us to release our tight grip on our sense of self and expand a little. They allow us to let something new come in and fill us up.

When you do something restful that allows you to let go in this way you are touching some deep part of yourself that is often forgotten in the busyness of living.

I’m wondering if just soaking in this idea of resting helps you to see some possible changes you could make to nurture yourself more. Changes that might give you even more space and time to unwind a little.

And even if that needs to take place in a busy environment, just know that small opporunities can open up, or be opened by you. How do you know otherwise unless you try?

How To Be Mindful When It Feels Impossible
presence practices

How To Be Mindful When It Feels Impossible

You’ve heard about the benefits of being mindful, and you’re in! You want to be present and available to life. You want more clarity and calmness. You’re done with being dragged around by wasted moments, and now it’s time to feel more present, more grounded, more able to really take in and appreciate life.

Let’s do this! you say. But when you get to the doing, something happens to bounce you out.

Because there’s always something waiting to bounce you out, if you’ll let it.

Once we commit to being more present we are presented with a variety of challenges.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is simply the practice of being intentionally present and aware of what you are experiencing in this moment. That includes an awareness of physical sensations, thoughts, feelings, and what is happening around you. And we try to hold all these perceptions without a sense of judgement, just allowing what is present to be here. And if it’s hard to stay present, we try not to judge that either. Self kindness really helps.

Whether you are new to mindfulness or an old hand, there are always difficulties to navigate. Problems that make it difficult to remain present may also provide opportunities to deepen your mindfulness practice as you solve them.

Here are three common problems and some ways to move beyond them.

All The Thoughts

It’s time to be mindful. You might be sitting down to meditate, or standing at the bus stop with a few minutes to spare, maybe you want a moment to get quiet before a meal.

Then all the thoughts come flooding in.

When the mind becomes a Pandora’s box of swirling thoughts, mindfulness can feel impossible.

This is such a common state to find yourself in, and it’s important to remind yourself that this is the most natural thing in the world.

The function of the mind is to think.

This problem will often sort itself out with a bit of patience. With a little time the activity of your mind will often settle all on its own. Sometimes it won’t, but there are things that you can do to make it easier on yourself.

One way you can help this settling down process is to gently guide your awareness away from the head.

Get curious about your the place where your feet meet the ground. What are you experiencing in the soles of your feet? your toes? Do you sense anything there?

Your feet are a great place to focus on as they are the furthest point from your head, but don’t feel restricted to your feet. Your whole body is your ally.

You can try a full body scan, slowly move awareness all through your body. Track the air as it fills your lungs, your belly. Feel those places where the air meets your skin.

Not only does this take the focus away from an over-active mind, it’s like entering a new world, like trying scuba diving for the first time: here everything is new and has it’s own way of being.

Too Busy

Maybe you’ve worked with mindfulness before. Maybe you’ve felt like you were making progress, but life got too busy. It’s hard to maintain a practice when you have so many demands being placed on you. That is a difficult position, and everyone finds themselves here at some point.

That sense of busy-ness, when you are scheduled to the hilt and running from crisis to crisis can feel like standing in front of an impenetrable brick wall. It seems like there’s no way through.

But like any brick wall when you get up close it’s full of cracks. Once you start looking for them you start seeing them everywhere.

Everything contains space. Even the densest, most compacted objects contain space. Your task when feeling overwhelmed like this is to find the space.

Find the gaps between activities. Then find the gaps inside the activities.

Insert small moments of mindfulness in the gaps. Choose one simple cue that reminds you to come back to being present: a mindful sip of water between meetings, taking a moment to feel your feet on the floor between phone calls, move your attention to just below the belly and feel it rise and fall with your breath.

Keep it simple and repeat your cue whenever you remember, you’ll be surprised at how quickly becoming present for small moments at a time becomes a habit for you.

Be Here Now (And In The Future)

Richard Strozzier Heckler says “You are what you practice.”

If mindfulness is your practice, eventually your natural response to even impossible situations will be mindfulness. and even if those impossible situations knock you off course, with practice your natural instinct is to return, again and again.

Practice when things are not not feeling impossible. Enjoy that feeling. Know that you’re creating fresh neural grooves that will enhance your ability to be mindful later on.

Practice when it does feel impossible. Just making the effort is a win. And that’s not just a pretend win either, I’ve sat through so many awful meditation periods where my body felt tied up in knots and my head felt on fire, only to feel a delicious sense of clarity and calmness an hour or two later.

Trust that something is happening for you. Have faith and play the long game.

Practice in short bursts. Find your own style, own it, have fun: make a game of it. Rack up flying hours and soon enough, being more present and mindful will become second nature to you.

Every moment of awareness is a victory. Every moment of awareness helps to create a habit of being more and more aware in the future.

And hey, if you need some help–I offer bite-size, half hour coaching sessions that help you get into a mindful, grounded state as preparation for working on a challenge you face right now. They’re very effective and great fun as well!


create your ritual
presence practices

Create Everyday Rituals That Will Lift Your Day

Your morning schedule for getting the kids off to school, lunch-breaks at your regular spot, an afternoon walk, journaling at night.

Activities like these are the bread and butter of being alive. We all have routines and schedules that help us move through our days, they give us a sense of grounded-ness and provide a rhythm that helps us keep track of where we are.

As helpful as these routines are to us, there is a way we can make them even more powerful and supportive. That way is to create rituals out of routines.

Rituals are one of the oldest and most powerful tools we have for creating meaning. There are two defining components of a ritual: there is an action that is being ‘ritualized’ and there is a sense of presence, or awareness, built into that activity.

For example, if you have a cup of coffee each morning, making a ritual of that routine would serve to direct your awareness more fully into that act. (More on how to do that later).

How Rituals Can Help You

Rituals can help you feel more connected to yourself, and others.

Because there is usually some sort of action involved, rituals encourage you to be physically present and aware, which helps you to be even more receptive to the meaning behind our ritual.

Rituals inspire you to appreciate what’s important in your life.

Rituals induce a sense of wonder, even through the smallest, most ordinary acts.

Before We Start

A few things:

Rituals don’t have to make sense to anybody but you

They can be playful, celebratory, small, bouncy, silent, wild, simple, flamboyant.

It’s your ritual, so it’s up to you how you run it.

Rituals are alive

They shift and develop, just like you, and over time your relationship to them will change. If you find that your ritual has become stale and less meaningful over time, it’s a sign that you need to re-enliven it and make it relevant to your daily life again.

Repetition, Repetition, Repeatedly

It can be useful to perform your ritual at regular intervals. Repetition creates rhythm. Rhythm creates a sense of comfort and safety. Once that rhythm is built up, your ritual can become a vibrant container for power and meaning.

Did you Get That Down?

As you go, record what happens to you as a result of doing your rituals. Over time you will notice some amazing things. It can be the small things that really make a big difference.

How To Create A Ritual

Set out below are a few simple ideas to help you to come up with your own rituals. You can think about them and get a feel for how they might work for you when you are designing your own rituals.

When you are ready to put together your own customized ritual, pick the ones that resonate for you and use them as building blocks.

Setting An Intention:

Rituals can help you to focus on a particular qualities you would like to bring into your life, or changes you would like to make.

What is something that you would like to focus on right now?

It could be a habit that you would like to begin, a quality (like courage or kindness) that you would like to bring into your life, maybe something you’d like to celebrate or remember. Once you have that thing you want to focus on, the next step is to write your intention.

What you would like to see change in your relation to that aspect of your life.

Once you have the thing you would like to focus on, the next step is to choose the change that you intend to bring about.

For example, if you picked kindness as something you would like to develop in yourself, the change could be broad: I want to become kinder. Or more specific: I want to be kinder to myself.

Setting an intention like this infuses it into our ritual and helps us to remember the bigger picture. It also encourages us to be more present and aware as we do the activity.


We’ve looked at the importance of rhythm, and choosing an appropriate time for your ritual is one way you can build that sense of rhythm in.

It’s useful to think about how often you want to do this ritual. Is it a daily thing? More than daily? Maybe it’s a ritual that wants to take place on a weekly basis, like a Sunday meal. Weekly, daily, hourly, however you space your rituals out, it’s going to build that sense of rhythm and repetition, like a pulse moving through your days.

It’s important that the timing of a ritual is suited to your own needs, and to your own mood or energy as well.

For example, early morning is a wonderful time to set up a meditation practice, but I’ve always had trouble maintaining that as a practice. I do my meditation in the evenings, and I find I’m more alert and dropped in then I am when I meditate in the mornings.


Paying attention to the space you will be performing your ritual in can make them even more powerful.

A useful first step is to select a quiet and private space to conduct your ritual in peace.

You can include and honor your physical self by selecting beautiful and meaningful objects that wake your senses up, like: candles, scented oils, flower arrangements, foods, water, tea, inspirational photos/figures, tactile objects stones/beads sounds-music, nature space with sounds.

You could think of this space as an altar, or simply a private sanctuary just for your use.

Having a dedicated space to return to can add a sense of power to your ritual.

Dedicating a space is a form of intention setting in itself, it’s a declaration that you’ll perform your rituals over time and that you’ll honor our rituals by giving them a home.

Having a place to regularly perform your rituals means the space will eventually start to change: churches, meditation halls, yoga studios all absorb the energy of the rituals and practices that take place in them, and you can often feel a power in these places that helps you  settle in and prepare.

Embodying An Action

A key element in most rituals is that they incorporate some sort of physical action.

The action of a ritual often serves as a metaphor and provides some sort of support as you move towards your intention. Performing the ritual helps to anchor the meaning as you act out the process of being transformed through the ritual. You get to include your whole self through this process.

What actions can you include in your ritual to ground it in your body, in your own life?

A nice place to start is by choosing actions you already do each day: making a cup of coffee in the morning; bathing; regular tasks; unwinding activities.

I love this post by Dana at Alchemist Eating (it inspired me to work on this post) where she talks about a brief ritual she and her partner share at their evening meal. It’s beautiful, simple, and tailored to them and their relationship. It’s a great example of using an everyday action as the starting point for a meaningful ritual.


It’s important to have a sense of closing the ritual. You’ve created a space where you get in touch with the intuitive and soulful aspects of your being, and it’s important to build a sense of completion before you return to your everyday activities.

Some ways you could do this:

Perform a simple, closing activity while noting that the ritual is over and you are moving onto the next thing.

Being attentive as you extinguish the candle, leave the room, stand up, close your journal–whatever your closing activity is, be in a mindful state and note to yourself:

“This ritual is complete, I am now heading into the next part of my day.”

Over To You

Do you have any important rituals in your life? Something that you’ve put together yourself, or rituals from a group you’re a part of? What makes them special and meaningful for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Working with Guided Meditation is a deep and powerful practice. Let's look at some ways you can get the most out of doing guided meditations.
presence practices

Guided Meditation Made Easy

My introduction to meditation came through doing a recorded guided meditation. At the time, I wasn’t really interested in meditation at all. I was interested in controlling the thick, sticky webs of anxiety that were hemming me in.

I was in my mid twenties and in early recovery from alcohol / drug addiction. The guided meditation helped. I soon started collecting recordings that had ‘stress relief’ in the title and listened to them almost daily for a few years, until I walked into a meditation group and began a more formal sitting meditation practice.

After a long break I’ve rediscovered guided meditations over the last four years or so. Last year I began training as an I-Rest Yoga Nidra teacher. Guided meditations are again a daily part of my life, and they work beautifully as a component of my meditation practice.

Guided meditations can provide a deep and powerful practice. This means it’s worth taking the time to set up your experience so you get the most possible benefit. So let’s look at some ways you can get the most out of doing guided meditations.

What is a guided meditation?

A guided meditation is a meditation you do with the help of a guide. The guide may be in the room with you giving verbal directions, or you might listen to instructions through an audio recording.

In this post we’ll be focusing on how to get the most out of a guided meditation recording.

The role of the guide is to support you in moving through a meditation process from start to finish in a safe and helpful way. Even in a regular meditation practice there is usually some form of guidance going on—meetings with a teacher, classes and discussions, readings.

The main difference is that on a guided meditation, the guidance is an in-the-moment affair. The guide is right there with you, in a sense, as you go through the experience.

Having a practice that combines guided and non-guided meditation sessions is like a form of spiritual cross-training. Both sides of the equation are enhanced.

Set an intention for your practice

As you are getting ready to do your guided meditation take some time to reflect on what you are hoping to get from your practice. Imagine that you have been using guided meditations for a while, what are some of the changes you imagine might happening for you as a result? Go over your answers and choose any that appeal to you. These can serve as seeds your starting intention.

Briefly imagine what it would be like if these desired results come through. What would it feel like? What subtle changes would you notice? Is there something different the people closest to you might notice if you these things started happening for you?

Once you know what you would like to get from your guided meditations, then your intention becomes clearer. Perhaps your intention is to create some kind of lasting change, to ‘feel calmer’ or ‘have more energy’. You might simply want an enjoyable experience.

Having an intention for your guided meditation practice can be helpful when it comes to choosing your meditation, and can help you keep motivated to do the guided meditation regularly.

If you journal, write your intention down. A line or two is plenty. What you are wanting is to bring that intention into the world and affirm it.

Writing down your intention is also useful as you can come back later and reflect on how it’s going. You can determine if anything has changed, or been clarified, about your intention. This allows you to refine your practice as you go.

Find a guided meditation recording that suits you.

I learned the importance of this the hard way after purchasing a few ‘unlistenable’ guided meditations.

Listening to a guided meditation is an act of trust. You are relaxing some of your defenses and agreeing to be led through a process,. To do this it’s important that you feel comfortable with both the process and the person leading it.

Always try to access a preview of any meditation you are interested in buying or downloading. That way you can listen to a few minutes of the audio and decide if it’s suitable for you.

What to listen for:

Is the guide’s voice soothing or comfortable? Is it annoying in some way? Is there any background music / background sounds? How do you feel when you hear them? Soothed? Inspired? Annoyed?

This is important, because you don’t want to be lying there rolling your eyes and arguing with the guide as you meditate. You want to be able to let go and be fully with the meditation. If a preview annoys you then it’s going to be difficult to give all your attention to the meditation.

Also check for periods of silence between the instructions. A skillful guide allows you some space to feel the meditation process. There should be a nice rhythm between verbal guidance and silent spaces for you to experience, and get the fruits of, that guidance.
What imagery or themes are covered? Imagery is often a key part of guided meditations. You can usually get a sense of what imagery might be in the meditation by reading the description, or from the cover art.

And finally, does it fit with the intention you set in the first step?

If you are wanting to feel less anxious, does this seem like the kind of meditation that will help you with that? If you wanted an enjoyable experience, does it seem like a meditation that will give you this experience?

Create A Safe and Nurturing Container For Yourself

You’ve thought about what you want from your guided meditation, you’ve chosen your recording, now it’s time to create a container for your experience.

Can you find a time and place where you won’t be disturbed. You might think of it as your own personal oasis tucked away in the middle of your day.

You want to dive into this experience fully.

Make your meditation space beautiful and nourishing for you. Eventually you will develop associations with the place you do your guided meditations. Over time, as you lie or sit down to do the meditation you are rewiring your neural networks and soon enough just the act of preparing for your session will shift you into a relaxed and receptive state.

Make yourself Comfortable

Now that you have your space set up, it’s time to get your body taken care of and ready to go.

Make yourself comfortable. Not too comfortable though, unless you want to go to sleep. Find a middle balance between too squishy and too hard. I like to lie on the floor in a darkened room with a yoga mat and a blanket over me.

Some other options might include: a comfortable chair,  eye pillow, bolsters, cushions, a folded up towel or thin pillow under head.

During The Meditation

The most important thing you can do during the meditation is to relax and enjoy the meditation as much as you can. This is not meant to be hard work, and you can’t really get it wrong.

Occasionally you will drift off during a meditation, that’s perfectly okay. It’s also okay to make it easier for you to stay focused and aware during the meditation process.

A Simple Trick To Avoid Drifting Off

Remember earlier, when I suggested you listen to a preview to see if the guide’s voice is a fit for you? If you did that then this tip will be much easier to follow.

As you listen to the voice, imagine it is an internal voice in your head. This helps to minimise thinking and distractions as you follow the meditation. It requires trust in the person doing the meditation, and that you are comfortable with the person’s voice/mannerisms etc.

Adopting the guide’s voice like this takes a layer of thinking out of the process. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, then definitely don’t. But if you do, it can really deepen your experience.

Ease Back Into Your Day

We’ve looked at the preparation process before the meditation and how that helps. Just as important is the process of transitioning back into your day after the meditation.

Allow yourself some time to come out of the meditation. Guided mediations can be very powerful, you need to integrate the practice and feel fully prepared to move back into your day.

What helps:

Specific actions like having a few moments to stretch your body, or wash your face, maybe have a sip of water. Even packing away your things can serve as a useful transition ritual. Any kind of movement works.

I like to walk around a little, to ground myself by putting my awareness down into the feet and walking a little. Physical actions are great because they ground you back into the physical world.

I also find it helpful to say something out loud like: “I am now stepping back into my day.” Or “This meditation is now complete.”

It doesn’t take much to get you ready, but it is important to take one or two clear actions that say “I am moving onto the next thing.”

A Final Guided Meditation Tip

Just a final point if you are thinking of doing guided meditations as a regular thing.

It’s good to try a few different options and develop a feel for what you like, but once you have a couple of guided meditations that really work for you stick with them for a while.

A good guided meditation can be useful over a period of time, I like to spend a t least a month or so regularly doing a guided meditation before moving onto a new one.

If you jump around too much you miss out on this deepening aspect of the practice.  And remember, if you’re interested in meditation you probably have a desire to settle, to ground deeply, and investigate. Bring that sense of grounded-ness to your guided meditation practice and you will see the benefits over time.

I hope this is helpful to you. Do you do guided meditations? If so, maybe you could share some things that have helped you get the most out of your practice. Let us know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!


presence practices

One Simple Doorway Into Presence

It makes sense that we would all want to be as present as possible. After all, who wants to fritter their life away in constant distraction?

When thinking about meaningful moments in our lives it’s easy to run off a list of the big moments-birthdays, weddings, births, promotions, achievements, retirement. We all make a special effort to be present for these moments and in many cases there are special rituals and traditions that helps us.

But what about all the small moments between the seemingly big ones. Are they any less important? A child hugging you tightly after they’ve fallen and hurt themselves, seeing the small wisp of steam rising from a cup of tea, a stranger smiling at you at the grocery store.

We dream of the big moments and expect that we will be present for them because they’re big. But if we’re unable to be there for the small moments, why do we think we’re going to do a better job of being there for the bigger ones?

Being Present Is A Practice

Somatic Coach and trainer, Richard Strozzi Heckler, says “You are what you practice.”

If you spend time being distracted, you cultivate the practice of distraction. If you spend time being present, you cultivate the practice of presence.

It’s as simple as that.

It’s a difficult truth because we are saturated in convenient and enjoyable options for being distracted. To turn away from all of this we need to make an intention to be more present.

And this ‘being more present’ becomes a new practice.

That starts with making presence something that is focused and engaging for you.

Because a practice is something that you are going to want to come back to again and again. The best way to make the door slam shut on a good intention is to make it seem like a chore.

A Simple Doorway Into Presence

There is a doorway into presence that, by its nature, wishes to stay open.

It’s the door of Curiosity.

The door of curiosity is a doorway that invites you to leave judgements behind. It encourages a sense of playfulness. There is a lightness to curiosity, and when you are deeply curious everything becomes fresh and gives you a sense of nourishment.

There’s an energy to curiosity that keeps pulling you lovingly forward. Well, it my also invite you sideways at times, which is why it helps to have a clearly focused goal to work with that will keep your curiosity on course.

We will talk about how to build that in in a little while.

Getting Curious About Curiosity

One of the root meanings of curiosity comes from the word curiosa meaning ‘full of care’. I like that the quality of ‘care’ is inherent in the concept of curiosity. It makes sense too, that care wold be a necessary ingredient that allows curiosity to remain engaged with it’s subject.

The act of remaining engaged through curiosity also deepens the sense of care. When we are with something in a curious way, care seems to naturally come up. There is this self generating quality of aliveness that also builds up over time.

Curiosity is in all of us. It pretty much ran the show when we were small children and is lying there inside you always ready to be reactivated.

The How Of Curiosity

Curiosity begins in the body.

It’s awakened by our senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. The flood of information from the outside world is met at the door by curiosity, which then proceeds to hang out with them, relish, mingle and learn from then.

Our mind is awakened in this meeting, and thoughts and questions rise up as we try to process new information.

This wonderful and natural process can also get a little overwhelming if our goal is to not get carried away.

It’s important that we take some time to think about how we want to be present. This will help us find ways to harness our curiosity, to allow us to remain present  and not be pulled away.


Questions are a simple tool we can use to create a sense of focus and direction. A question gives our curiosity an agenda, a purpose. Unchecked curiosity can lead us in an infinite amount of directions, and that’s not a bad thing if that’s what you are wanting to so. But if you have a specific goal, like being present for ourselves, then direction and focus are going to be helpful.

In his book, ‘The Big Leap’ Gay Hendricks introduces the idea of wonder questions. These are questions designed to inspire a  sense of wonder in the questioner. They are open ended and yet focused at the same time. And start with the phrase “I wonder …”

A useful wonder question might be “I wonder what it would be like if I could feel my breathing whenever I wanted?”

This kind of question allows our curiosity to wake up a little, and gives it a sense of focus. Our curiosity is being given the sole task of feeling the breath.

Another benefit of the Wonder Question is the aspect of embodiment it offers. Hendricks suggests that when you ask the question to yourself, you ask the question out loud and at the end you add a humming sound.

As in, ““I wonder what it would be like if I could feel my breathing whenever I wanted? Hmmmmmm.”

This humming is something that we’ve all done when asking a question, but in this case it has a distinct effect that helps the process.

When you hum in this way after the question it sends a vibration through the body, as if you are infusing the question through your whole being.

Try it. There is something magical about humming, and it certainly gives a sense that you are bringing your whole self to the question.

And this is important, because sometimes questions can exile us from the body. Holding a question in this embodied way helps keep it engaged with the body and infused with aliveness.


Reflection is something that generally happens after the event, but this is a really helpful step and will help you to direct and get the most benefit from your rides into curiosity.

After you’ve spent some time with this question that’s designed to help you explore the present moment, it’s really helpful to scribble a few notes about your experience.

Was it interesting? Dull? Did anything new reveal itself? Did anything shift in your thinking, in your body, when you were present to your breath in this way?

Even if you don’t keep these notes there is value just from taking a moment or two to process and integrate what happened.

It also helps to build habit, ritual, and a sense of history into your presence practice.

A Presence Practice For You

Softening Into Curiosity:

Pick an activity that gives you pleasure-eating chocolate, drinking tea, sitting in front of a fire, stepping into the garden.

Think of a simple question you can ask yourself that focuses on your present moment experience of this activity.

Eg: “As I drink this cup of tea, I’m wondering if I can be aware of these sensations I’m feeling?” or “As I walk through the garden, I’m wondering if I can be aware of the smells that come to me?”

Oh, and remember to hum at the end … Hmmmm? Now that you have your activity, and a question to help you focus:


Let go of everything you know about this activity.

Let go of your previous experiences, and any thoughts about how it might be this time. Just soften so that you can be receptive for the activity.

Do this by allowing your awareness to drop down through your body. Imagine your awareness as the slowest, gentlest waterfall—the water is perfectly warm and comfortable as it moves down through your body. Allow this awareness to move all the way from the top of your head down to your feet.

Once you feel present and receptive, begin your chosen activity.

Pretend it’s the first time ever.

Allow your question to guide you, and if other sensations/feelings come up, notice them too.

Once you’ve spent a few minutes doing your activity, exploring your experience make sure to jot down a few notes.

It could be in a journal, on a scrap of paper. It doesn’t matter much, the important thing is to capture it somewhere. Doing this helps you to integrate the experience. If you do this exercise regularly your reflection notes will become valuable as you will begin to see your experience shifting over time.

You might start to notice different sensations and feelings that come up, and your relationship to this activity may deepen, or change over time.

photo by Amy Treasure via Unsplash
presence practices

Can I Meditate Lying Down?

Everybody settled onto the floor. We were swaddled by the sounds of shuffling limbs, the sighs of tired people arranging themselves, the rubbery sweat-smell of the yoga studio.

It was my first live yoga class and we’d finally arrived at the snoozy part.



शवासन !

Then came the instructor’s voice.

He started giving quiet instructions. Specific guidance on how to align our bodies, bit by bit, so that we were laid out on our mats as if we were resting. But really, we were doing a lot. He was directing us to hold our bodies in this precisely aligned way. He was asking us to hold our awareness in this precisely aligned way. And to not snooze.

It was way more work than I had expected it to be. I thought this was the resting bit, the bit where we got to blow off all the effort, and the attention, and just drift away a little. But, no.

This happened in my first live yoga class and I was being very obedient. I have since done Shavasana many times and have often occasionally drifted away. I’m much kinder to myself about that these days.

But I have never forgotten that slight sense of shock at learning that you could lie down on the floor like that and not let go into dreaminess, but have it be a very rigorous practice of paying attention.

Sit Upright, Cross Legs, Face Forward

When I took that first yoga class, I had been meditating for a while in the Zen tradition. And even though my earliest experience of meditation practice was through using guided meditation recordings, I had decided that real meditation involved sitting on a cushion in a formal posture.

I didn’t think about it much, but if you’d asked me I wouldn’t have thought of lying down to meditate as being very useful. The only time I’d seen it happen recently was on a retreat when someone had some kind of injury and couldn’t sit up straight. Otherwise, it seemed like an invitation for a nap.

The idea that meditation involved sitting upright, crosslegged, facing forward was very ingrained with me.

It’s not like my practice was going that well. Whenever I sat, my body became a battleground of stiff limbs, knots of unresolved traumas, and grinding jaws trying to clamp down on all of this as well as an unrelenting wave of useless, critical thinking.

Pushing hard made sense at the time. I thought that if I meditated hard enough, correctly enough, that some kind of awakening would wash away all my difficulties.

That experience of meditation as a fight did ease, and as my relationship with the practice softened I got a lot of benefit from it.

Then I came across yoga nidra, a guided meditation practice that you generally do while lying down.


When I began this daily practice of lying down to meditate I learned a whole lot.

The Gift Of Yoga Nidra

The reason I’ve been thinking so much about lying down to meditate is that my main daily practice for the last two years has been Yoga Nidra. In fact, a few months ago I became an I-Rest Yoga Nidra teacher in training.

Yoga Nidra is a form of awareness meditation you do (mostly) lying down, and after practicing for a while now, I’ve found that instead of lying down being a signal to my body to automatically fall asleep, it has now become a signal to wake up more.

That sounds weird, but it’s true. Hundreds of hours of Yoga Nidra has changed some set of neural pathways in my brain and now, whenever I lie down, my awareness starts scanning the body and noticing what’s going on in there automatically.

After laying down to sleep I nearly always launch into an informal body scan and often fall asleep that way. I often wake up that way too, my eyes open, I look around a little and then start noticing and following sensations in my body as the muscles wake up and I start moving around.

Yoga Nidra is about self kindness, and restoration. It’s also a very physical practice, and has completely changed my relationship to meditation. My meditation practice (sitting or lying) has become much gentler and kinder. That, alone, has been a great gift. There will definitely be plenty of Yoga Nidra inspired posts on this blog in the future, but for today let’s hang out with this idea of lying down to meditate, and what that can offer.

Some Things I learned While Lying Down To Meditate:

If you are exhausted at the end of a busy day and your mind is racing, lying down can be a great way to get grounded in the body and give your mind a chance to settle.


A great way to increase your chances of staying awake is lie down on the floor or on a yoga mat. Lying on the bed makes it more difficult to stay alert and awake.


Guided meditation is a great practice to do while lying down, and especially helpful if you are new to meditation. They were my first experience of meditation, way before I ever visited a meditation group. Think of the instructions as scaffolding for your practice. They help save mental energy that can then used to on simply maintain awareness, rather than worrying if you’re doing it right or if you should change your breathing, or your posture.


You can sense through your back! We spend so much time facing forward, concentrating all of our attention and life energy into the three feet of space in front of us, it’s as if our backs don’t even exist sometimes.


When you meditate lying down on the floor you get to feel how your back relates to the support underneath you. You can feel where your back has tensed up and lifts off the floor for no apparent reason, and the soft parts where it naturally sinks into the floor. And you notice after a while that all of this information is in flux. It’s a whole living system of tensing, and softening, and movement between. Through a regular practice of lying down meditation there is much more awareness of how you can sense things through your back, how this is a living, sensing part of you.


It doesn’t have to make you sleepy. Sometimes it will, but is that really a bad thing. Sometimes you just need to rest, and if you’re not rested enough your mediation is going to be a pretty difficult exercise in staying awake and focused. If your body needs to sleep, let it sleep a little. When it’s more refreshed, let it meditate.

Walking, Standing, Sitting, Lying Down

In Buddhism they talk about the four meditation postures as being walking, standing, sitting and lying down. So there doesn’t seem to be any problem there with lying down to meditate. Any opposition to lying down meditation has mostly been a thing in my own mind, and it’s been a great experience to get past that limiting idea.

The practice of meditation, of cultivating awareness, is more than an exercise in moulding yourself into any particular form. It’s about finding awareness wherever you can, in whatever state, posture, or circumstance you happen to find yourself.

bell mindful
presence practices

Morning Bell

“We have long forgotten that activities can be simple and precise. Every act of our lives can contain simplicity and precision and can thus have tremendous beauty and dignity.”

― Chögyam Trungpa, ‘Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism’


Wandering a local spiritual bookstore a few days ago, looking at beautiful and expensive Tibetan bells and their accessories–cushions, strikers, mallets–I could feel the ‘want’ rising through my body. The desire to have just the right things to supplement my mindfulness practices—to make them more ‘special’ and ‘holy’.

While Buddhist principles are still a strong guiding influence on my life, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve been connected to an actual Buddhist community. My meditation practices have largely fallen into the earth, into my body, into the daily interactions of my life.

These are the places where I choose to carve out space and time for my meditation / mindfulness practices. While I still participate in more formal practices, mostly yoga nidra which has come to the forefront these days, but also sitting meditation,  and a smattering of regular yoga, my focus is on finding ways to integrate presence into my daily routine.

But I’m feeling less need to fit myself into these forms and am finding myself excited to adapt practices I know and let them find their own form in my everyday life.

I’m doing another round of Yoga Nidra training next month, and afterwards, will be offering individualized yoga-nidra meditations as part of my presence coaching. While I’ve been doing my pre-course preparations and readings I’ve been giving thought to how I want to be bringing people out of our meditations so they feel grounded and ready to re-engage with their day. I’m thinking about incorporating the use of meditation bells as a way of moving people out of Yoga Nidra and into a more everyday state of consciousness that will leave them feeling alert and aware of their surroundings while remaining grounded in their bodies.

And this is where that feeling of ‘want’ comes in–taking this simple and useful idea and complicating it with thoughts about needing some kind of ‘special’ bell with all the right accessories. Even as these ideas come up I see them as unhelpful–it’s such a reflexive response. But having that response got me thinking about ways to be more appreciative of the tools that I do have, and how to practice using them more consciously.

So my new, mini presence-practice involves taking a few minutes each day to set up my not-expensive bell and a few garden variety accessories and simply ring the bell with awareness.

It feels important to bring a spirit of play and creativity to this, so I’m moving the bell around in different settings and encouraging myself to treat it as a way of appreciating all the little details of my daily life. That will include lots of bell ringing in the garden. And also in forgotten, and not forgotten, corners of our house, favorite places in my neighborhood—I want this bell and this practice to touch as many areas of my life as possible. The goal is to find my own way into using these bells, to develop rituals and ways of working with them that honor ordinary life, and the beauty embedded within it that we can so easily miss.

When I see the bell sitting on a tuft of mossy ground-cover it seems as at home there as it would on a bell cushion. The birch stick used to strike the bell fits nicely in my hand, and there are so many things to notice as I hold it; the feel of the papery bark, the smooth fleshy section where the bark has worn away, a small patch of lichen clinging to one end. There is a slight curve to the stick in the middle which means I have to be even more attentive as I strike the bell if I want it to ring cleanly.

When the bell rings I hear it in the world of birds and breezes, the world of neighbors pottering in their garages and gardens. I hear the tone of the bell, unbounded by the walls of my house, free to ring out slowly, steadily, making its way through the world.

presence practices

Your Body Of Belonging


“Our bodies know they belong; it is our minds that make our lives so homeless.”

John O’Donohue

Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong?

I’d be surprised if your answer was no. Human beings are social animals, finely tuned to seek belonging. We notice when we feel that sense of belonging, and notice the lack of it even more acutely.

At times in my life I’ve ached from not feeling I belonged: to places, to people, even in my own body. I’m sure we all have our own versions of these stories.

One of the most distressing cases of this ‘not belonging’ came when I began a meditation practice and found, almost every time I sat on my cushion, the experience of feeling sensations in my body was so intense I would jump straight up and walk away.

Years of diligently not paying attention to my body had created a sense of discomfort when I finally tried to be present to it. It was the worst feeling of not belonging–far worse than a sense of not belonging socially.

If you can’t belong in your body, where can you belong?

Luckily, the act that triggered these feelings–noticing that sense of alienation–was also the act that eventually allowed me to get in touch with the reality that I do belong in my body.

I belong.

Learning to sit and be comfortable in my own skin took some time, but now it is one of the greatest joys I have in life.

I love being in my body, I enjoy paying attention to the nuances of energy and sensation that continually flow through me and remind me of my aliveness.

Looking back on times where I have difficulty being present in my body, I can see that trying to avoid unpleasant or unfamiliar or strong sensations is often the heart of the problem.

Coming back to the body after being habitually immersed in thought for so long, makes us unprepared for the occasional intensity of feeling the energy in my body. This is the point where we habit kicks in and we find way to distract ourselves. In other words, we leave our bodies.

Eventually I realized these sensations were simply energy moving around, information flowing through my body, and it was going on whether I paid attention to it or not.

Welcome, welcome.

Welcoming the sensations helps you to let go of the resistance and judgement that can often attach to ordinary feelings.

When you do this the signals become clearer. You can listen to your body and better understand what it needs.

You learn to discriminate between a sensation that is just there doing its thing, and a sensation that is asking for something to change, telling you to shift your legs a bit, or breathe a little more deeply.

Whenever you have visitors in your home, it’s second nature to greet people as they arrive and welcome them. So they feel at home, so they feel they belong.

The same principle can help you to feel at home in your body.

Simple Cues To Invite Presence

A key principle I try to follow in my presence coaching is the use of gentle persistence to help change habits.

Small shifts, introduced slowly and mindfully, help to make change easier and also allow you to integrate these changes at the same time.

The mind is a very persuasive part of us. It makes a very loud and aggressive case as to why we should hang out with it. Exclusively.

And while there is a lot going on in the mind that is useful for us to pay attention to, bringing attention back down to the body is also very helpful.

Presence cues can really help as we learn to be more present in our bodies.

A presence cue is simply a reminder that you set to encourage yourself to be present in your body.

In the spirit of gentle persistence I like to pick everyday activities as my presence cues. The best activities are those you repeat often, and that are simple and non-threatening.

Sample presence cues might include–washing the dishes, walking to the bus, brushing your teeth.

Each of these activities can serve as a reminder to be present to your body and notice what is going on. Setting a presence cue also serves as a small commitment to yourself that you will follow through on a regular basis.

The regularity is important as it allows these small acts of presence to accumulate over time and become habits.

Each presence cue can be assigned a simple act of awareness.

For washing the dishes you might notice the temperature of the water on your hands, or how you hold your body as you stand at the sink.

For walking to the bus stop you might give attention to the smells from the gardens, or the traffic, as you walk by. Or feel the ground beneath your feet as you walk.

Below are three simple activities you can use to remind yourself to be aware of your body. at the top of each one I have included a simple presence cue.

Three simple ways to welcome yourself into your body

1. Follow the flow

Presence cue: Every time you drink a glass of water

Whenever you drink a glass of water make a point to slow down and follow the sensation of the water going down your throat.

Notice the changing sensations as the water goes down, I like to try to determine the point where I don’t feel it anymore.

This is a wonderful exercise in directing your attention, which is a necessary skill in learning to be more present in your body.

It’s also very time limited, and if you do this every time you drink water you are effortlessly building up the habit of returning to the body at least a few times a day.

2. Feel your feet

Presence cue: Every time you sit at the computer

This is a great and simple exercise to try whenever you remember.

Sit down at the computer is a time you’re likely to abandon your body for the world of thought.

Feeling your feet on the ground is very grounding, and it’s helpful to remember to make that connection when you’re doing this–”I feel my feet on the ground, I feel the support of the ground/floor beneath me.”

One thing I like about this activity is that our feet are the furthest physical point from the mind.

This creates a natural tension between awareness of your lower body and awareness of your mind at the top of your body.

It gives a nice sense of back and forth, of simultaneously being grounded in the body and reaching up through the mind in the quest for new ideas and thinking.

Holding both of these aspects in awareness engages your body and mind together in an inclusive and welcoming way.

3. Follow the flow II

Presence cue: Every time you enter the shower or bath

Having a shower, or bath, is a great opportunity to practice being present to your body. The flowing water is comforting and provides pleasant sensations to follow, this can make it easier to remain present and really notice what’s going on.

Bathing is naturally a very body centered activity, and so bringing our awareness in creates a great starting point for the practice of coming home to the body.

It’s also a regular activity (I hope!) and will help you build a little repetition to the practice.

These are some simple practices that help to create a sense of belonging in your own body, I hope one or two of them resonate with you.

If you try any of these practices, please leave a comment and let me know how it went. I’d love to hear about your experience.

Maybe you have your own ways of welcoming yourself into presence with your body, if you have any tips that have worked for you I’d love to hear from you as well.


welcome home to your body
presence practices

Welcome Yourself Home


Sometimes the world around us can feel jarring. Full of busyness, and obstacles. We are bombarded with messages urging us to strive, maneuver, and push ceaselessly forward on our way to … something.

I say something, because we are rarely presented with a clear picture of what we’re supposed to be striving for. The something is usually packaged in very generic terms like ‘success’, ‘respect’, ‘wealth’, ‘having it all’.

I believe we are all trying to find some sense of meaning in our lives, to make some sense of all this. That we are good people trying to have a good life. Which is a really difficult task given the distractions all around us.


A Different Story

It’s a really unwelcome environment that we have collectively built for ourselves. But there is something within us that whispers a different story. Some part of us that knows we are welcome, that we are connected to something larger, that the possibilities for our lives are boundless.

Learning to become more present is the best way I know to get in touch with that different story. The one that’s being whispered to you underneath all the noise.

When I say become more present I mean something like mindful, but I prefer the word presence. Sometimes, the word mindful comes across as a little clinical and detached. The term presence seems to invite more of us into awareness than just our minds: our bodies, our emotions, our thoughts, even our surroundings.

I actually think all of those things are supposed to be included in the idea of mindfulness, but something got lost in translation.

Working with presence can:

  • Encourage you to access your own inner wisdom.
  • Create a sense of spaciousness around the issue you are working on.
  • Help you disentangle from other peopleʼs, or your own, misplaced expectations.
  • Make it easier to recognize your own habitual responses.
  • Make new and more skilful responses possible.
  • Give you a sense of belonging.

What excites me most about presence is that once you get a taste of being with yourself in this way, it creates curiosity, and a desire to be even more present to your life. Thatʼs what makes this such a beautiful practice.

A Simple Presence Practice

Your hands are highly sensitive. They are a great tool in helping you to be present. A simple starting point when you wish to be more present is to place one hand over the center of your chest and direct your attention there.

Through that simple act you can feel so many things: bone, skin, your breath moving through you, the warmth of your chest, you might even get a sense of your emotional state.

By giving your attention to your hand as it makes contact with the center of your chest, you drop into a state of deeper presence.

You might only stay there for a moment before you drift away again, but this experience of presence is always available. You can access it whenever you choose.

I do this practice countless times each day. It’s my small ritual for coming back to myself when all the distractions of daily life have dragged me away.

It’s a simple and easy way to welcome yourself back home. And it’s kind of addictive. The more you do it, the more you want to do it. Each time you do it, your experience is a little different. You might have  a feeling of being soothed, you might feel more energized, you might become aware of tensions dropping away.

When you make this a regular practice you begin to notice subtler things going on underneath the surface–tight spots in your body, relaxed and pleasant sensations, a quiet feeling, an old memory, a thought that has been looping over and over in your mind without your knowing.

Just noticing these things can make a big difference to how you experience your day. Coming back to yourself in this way helps you to feel grounded and makes it easier for you to resist being bounced around on a hectic day. When something throws you off course, doing this practice can make you feel soothed and energized and ready to get back into your routine.

So next time you are feeling overwhelmed (or when you simply remember) try this exercise out. Welcome yourself home, even if only for a moment or two. See how it goes.