This blog post is dedicated to Durham University Triathlon team, and to anyone who has let a piece of clothing change the way they felt.
I own a £2 pink and yellow tie-dye baseball cap that I am fond of wearing backwards, with my hair in pigtails, supplemented with a wide cheeky grin. I have worn this cap many times in my life--it has been to the airport and has served to hide many a bad hair day. But the first few times I wore it were during a special time that I will never forget.
I bought it when I signed up to do my first triathlon, when I decided that I was bored of being an injured and frankly, obsessive (yep I was one of those!) runner, who was a slave to a training schedule that no longer served me. I remember sitting at my laptop, and emailing the university triathlon captain, telling him I would like to train and race with his group, shaking a tiny bit with fear and anticipation as I pressed the “send” button. I then remember leaning back in my chair, and touching the cap lightly, thinking to myself:
“Well that was a bit badass.”
I wore the exact same cap when I was the only one on the team who was old enough to drive an automatic vehicle down to one of the most important sporting events that I would complete that year, the University Standard Distance Championships. Much to the bemusement of the rest of the team, I managed to get lost on the way down to the hotel the night before, despite having a sat-nav. It became hilariously clear later on that I really should not be allowed to drive team cars, because I had no idea how to use the lights or windscreen wipers when the weather turned dark and rainy.
The race was hard, crazy and exhilarating. My open water swimming skills were terrible, my biking somewhat reasonable and there was a slight redemption on the run (which would have been more enjoyable had I not been desperate for the toilet). But none of that really mattered in the end, because the part of the whole event that I remember most fondly, was when a group of us all sat down together when we got back home (in just about one piece!) and had a beer. We laughed, and joked, passing round the trucker cap, taking the piss out of each other.
It was then that I realized that by breaking out of my old boundaries and choosing to do something different and scary, I had brought to myself immense happiness and fulfillment. I cleared my room out a couple of years later, and found the cap--muddy, folded, and looking a bit worse for wear. I went to throw it away, knowing that at 26, it was about time I started wearing headgear that made me at least resemble a female adult. But I couldn't do it.
And I realize now why I could just not bring myself to do so; because the cap means so much more to me than just a piece of headwear. It represents choosing not to follow habits that no longer serve me, demanding bravery from myself; and the intense reward of meeting some amazing people on the way.
The cap also reminds me that I am extremely fortunate to have both the time and financial circumstances to do a sport like triathlon. And so my dear reader, I invite you to think to yourself: “What have I worn that been with me whilst I have changed the way I think and feel for the better?”.
Thanks for reading!
Katherine is finishing up her studies for a PhD in cell biology. When she isn't culturing skin cells, you will find her on a bicycle, scouting out the biggest, most ridiculous hills she can find and then tackling them.
The author would like to thank Mariama Dryak for the invitation to write for her blog.
“I change myself, I change my world”
- M. K. Ghandi.
These words by Ghandi embody the theme of my article. I want to argue that looking after yourself should come before looking after our beautiful world. When I say 'looking after the world’, I mean helping the environment through our lifestyle choices, although the point I want to make can be applied to other world issues too.
At face value, looking after yourself sounds like common knowledge, right? However, I think we easily forget this--as we are “too busy” trying to solve monumental world issues to focus on our own happiness. Therefore, I want to remind you of a crucial concept: we need to look after ourselves in order to help anyone, or anything, else to the best of our ability. And a great way to 'look after yourself’, from my own recent experience, is to say hello to mindfulness! You may sigh and think ‘oh gosh, not another one talking about mindfulness!’, but hear me out. I think the current craze for practicing mindfulness is partly the result of it being so simple, but also effective and genius. So don’t give up on me just yet.
I have the most amazing opportunity right now to dedicate time to really thinking about how I perceive myself and the outside world. I am very lucky to have this valuable time. That being said, a lack of time is no excuse not to consider the following ideas. Even if you take just 5-10minutes a day to incorporate mindfulness into your hectic life, you will reap many benefits of the practice. Plus, as I was told by a friend, 'if you don’t think you have 10 minutes to set aside for yourself in the day, then you need to set aside an HOUR for it'.
Another way of putting it can be found in a book called 'Follow Your Heart' by Andrew Mathews. He explains that not looking after your mind is like being lost and not bothering to look at a map you have, whilst continuing to run in the same direction. See my point?
What is mindfulness?
If you are unaware of the current craze I spoke of, here is a quick definition to get you up to speed: mindfulness is learning to live in the present. It really is just being more mindful.
Simple, right? But think about how often in your day you multi-task to save time: texting whilst walking, being on social media in lectures, or eating whilst reading an academic paper--I could go on. Our society encourages saving time in any way possible. I want to show you that by taking a few minutes out of your day to slow down and focus on your breathing, you will enhance your ability to multitask when necessary (at work, for example). And I hope it will show you that life is so much better when you are being mindful and "in the moment" rather than doing two things half heartedly.
What mindfulness has also taught me is that there is no reality, only the reality that we create for ourselves. Mindfulness has made me realise how much power we have of our own minds and thoughts. You control how you perceive things--and that is such a powerful piece of knowledge. When I realised I have the power to alter my thoughts and think positively about the myself and my choices, my whole perspective on life changed - and the victim mentality was flushed down the toilet. I wouldn't class myself as someone who blamed circumstance for negative outcomes; however, I would say I have shied away from some opportunities because of certain barriers that kept my rooted in my routine--like my training, money, and other 'ties'. However I have realised that if you want to do something, anything, there is always a way to make it happen. Learning to be adaptable is an amazing life skill.
With this being said, I didn't alter my perspective with the wave of a magic wand, and I realise that altering your perception of yourself and the world is not a quick-fix. Think of it always as a work-in-progress; in a similar way to if you don't exercise your muscles for a while they will become weak, the same applies to our brains and our thoughts. But, if introducing mindfulness daily to your life is going to make you happier in the long run, then isn't it worth it?
What isn’t mindfulness?
I want to quickly diffuse some myths about mindfulness:
Why am I talking to you about mindfulness?
No, I am not a qualified mindfulness teacher - and this I openly admit - but I want to share with you the positive experience I have gone through in hopes that others can benefit from it too. I have read a fair few books on mindfulness, have recently been on a day course on how to introduce mindfulness into your life, and have been speaking to a close friend who has also discovered the benefits of mindfulness. And thus would like to share my findings with you.
So, how do you practise mindfulness?
A mindfulness teacher told me that you need to work your brain like you work your body with exercise and these breathing exercises are like the bicep curls in the gym, but for your brain. View mindfulness as a fun gym-brain-workout! An added plus is that mindfulness is accessible to everyone, because all we need to exercise it is the power of our minds!!
I was taught a number of different techniques including breathing exercises, meditation, and attention exercises. I am going to outline two breathing exercises here. They are both simple and easy to incorporate into your day:
Mindfulness can be be incorporated into daily life too. For example, you can practise mindful walking: focus on the steps you take, your feet hitting the ground, your posture as you walk, and have your head up whilst taking in the surroundings (rather then having your head in your phone, which many of us are guilty of).
You can even include mindfulness into sport! I was taught how to be mindful in swimming, doing so by focusing your attention to the feel of your water on your head, or on your fingers entering the water.
I will admit, initially I struggled to figure out ‘how to do mindfulness right’ before I went on the day mindfulness course, but I then learned that there is no ‘right' way to do it. It is literally just you breathing-- you can’t fail! Try it and see the benefits. I have done at least 10 minutes of mindfulness every day since I went on the course, and it has had such a positive impact on my life so far! There are great apps like 'headspace' which can help talk you through some exercises, if you want some more guidance on where to start.
So how, again, does mindfulness help the environment?
How can I argue this, you may ask? Here is my experience of it…
I have been on and off vegetarian for a few years, because I felt that being a vegetarian could be one way to reduce my carbon footprint on the world. But each time I cut out meat, I became more miserable and tired and felt drained of energy. For some reason being veggie didn't fit with me - even when I tried combatting certain deficiencies that came with it as best I could (taking liquid iron, for example). I had created an internal dilemma in my head that I either have to help the environment and be miserable, or not help the environment but then still be miserable because I wasn't living according to my values!
Mindfulness allowed me to diffuse this internal dilemma that I had created. It taught me that I can change my perception on the situation, still contribute to helping the environment and be happy at the same time!
So, with more research and discussion with close friends on he topic, I am currently not labelling myself as a vegetarian. Instead, I limit the meat I do eat to locally produced organic meats. This means I don't have the tiredness effects, but I am still doing my part to limit my carbon footprint on the environment. So I can be happy AND do my bit for the environment.
Mindfulness allowed me to have a much healthier approach to myself and my choices in life. It made me realise I couldn't go and solve world issues if my head wasn't in the right place, first. Positivity and happiness comes first. Although this may sound obvious to you, it took me 21 years and a mindfulness course to figure it out!
You can’t help the world until you have helped yourself. Being kinder to yourself comes first and focusing on being mindful in life will make you a happier person. From there you have the power to take baby steps to help the environment and save the beautiful world we live in from thoughtless consumerism. Neglecting one's self to put more time into solving world issues may work okay in the short term, but in the long run by approaching lifestyle with a mindful attitude you will create a happiness that is sustainable in more than one way. At the end of the day, we are here to be happy - not to punish ourselves! Most importantly, it is not selfish to set aside time for working on yourself, because it helps you, helps the world and helps others.
So, why not see what this mindfulness malarky is all about?
A positive and bubbly gal from the Lake District, UK, with a love for running in the mountains and doing triathlons. Lauren is currently traveling along the east coast of Australia whilst helping out on farms participating in the WWOOF program.
When I first started to practice yoga I went because I needed to get in shape. I was studying abroad in Galway, Ireland during the coldest and wettest spring in 70 years, according the locals. I saw that there was a hot yoga studio a couple blocks from my house and decided to give it a try. Although, I have to admit that when I saw the sign that said 105 degrees, I was intimidated! I was a college student on a budget, and I knew I should probably be using that money for chiropractic, but I decided to sign up for the 30 days of yoga for $30.
Little did I know how much that those 30 days would change my life.
It didn't immediately; at first I hated it. It was hard to breathe in the heat, I was really wobbly, and embarrassed at my experience-level. But I stuck at it and got stronger every day. It wasn't just my body that got stronger, it was my mind and my soul. When I left yoga each day I was so happy walking home, it warmed me up (difficult to do in the wet Irish cold) and made my soul entirely happy.
It's one of the most challenging things I've done, and I still struggle every time I put into practice keeping my mind in the present. I try to carry what I have learned in yoga into everyday life and staying present, which has made me a better person inside and out. I have also found that with yoga I don't need to see a chiropractor nearly as much as I used to, as I align my body through my daily practice.
It is never ever too late to start yoga and it will change your life, if you give it the opportunity.
Genevieve currently lives in the driftless region of Minnesota, but since university has lived everywhere from Alaska to Ireland. In her spare time she loves practicing yoga, going for hikes with her dogs and exploring in the great outdoors.
With a new year comes new goals, renewed enthusiasm for fulfilling these goals and possibly some apprehension towards making these things happen. Because, like it or not, change is difficult. Challenging norms, either in society or those set by ourselves, is difficult. But, these things are entirely achievable if you remind yourself why you set those goals in the first place and do not let yourself slip back into old routines.
If there is anything I have learned from my competition in university cross country and orienteering, it is that consistency is key to success. So, if we know what we want to do, and we also know what we have done in the past that has inhibited us from fulfilling such goals, we know what we need to change. So let's change it. It really is that simple, yet I understand so entirely not simple in our brains.
Let's be honest with ourselves this year, and hold ourselves accountable for the goals that we set. Because you know what? The feeling at the end of the year after having accomplished these things will make us happier human beings.
Let's make a change. Let's hold ourselves accountable. Let's be consistent. Let's do something BIG.
Mariama lives in the UK whilst studying ice and other earthy things. She enjoys running through wild places, going on adventures and learning stuff.