Awareness of Breathing. The antidote to living in our heads.

This is a guided awareness of breathing practice. The intention is to become aware of the tactile sensations of breathing from moment to moment: Paying attention and noticing the breath in movement and in stillness. This formal sitting practice can be done sitting on the floor, a mat, a cushion, a meditation bench or a chair.

The meditation provides an internal focus for attention. The breath and the body – as well as other foci – can be developed as an anchor to the present in the ocean of moving attention. Bringing back attention on purpose and moment-to-moment – gently and without judging. Perhaps noticing where attention has been pulled.

The breath as a symbol and direct experience of the arising and passing of all. The antidote to living in our heads. Helping to develop a skillset to detect the movement of attention – often triggered by obstacles and situations – as well as seeing reality as a construct and lastly to train the attentional muscle in holding a focus and bringing it back to the focus.

Fact is, you are getting the job done. Are we accepting the upsides of the corona vibe?

In the midst of increasing numbers of infections and decreasing numbers of surgical masks I am witnessing empty shelves in supermarkets. The second time I remember since Eastern Germany collapsed. People crossed the border into our small town in the West during an icy November, 30 years ago. They bought everything they could transport in their tiny Trabant cars. Not out of anxiety tho.

Two times in a row within a few months we are facing massive disruptions to public life, tremendous emotional rifts in established communities and the challenge to somehow keeping life as we knew it together. Everyone of us muddling through – some significantly more cheerful than others. I discern question marks, wrinkles of worry and gazes of perplexity above the mask lines.

And yet, business continues. Certainly not as usual, but seemingly far from disaster. More of my clients are dressed casual, quite some book appointments as business trips have been cancelled, work arrangements allow for flexibility and BCP’s are now effective. Many report to be able to slow down, re-think priorities and core contributions, work more efficiently, finding time for family, hobbies and self-care.

Slowing down

World economy as well as ourselves seem to be taking a break from acceleration. Quite some of my clients experience a slow-down – partially forced upon them. Not a single one of them has yet complained about it. Maybe worried, but not complained. As of now there is a newness to the experience. Pleasant, unpleasant and neutral in many ways. Realising that we actually don’t need all of what we have, nor what we want. This being a phase of self-suffice. Not missing the commute – actually gaining time in a day. Cooking our own food – slow food, slow good. Deadlines being postponed – what was soooo important to get done on that particular date?

Photo by Emma Bauso on Pexels.com

Priorities in life

Having the kids at home for such a long and yet uncertain period of time is taxing and requires planning and discipline. And yet, I am happy to see so many families embracing what is already there – with kindness and acceptance. I sense that many of you are now reconnecting with your life values, with what truly matters to you. Positively surprised to see so many families hiking last weekend at Shing Mun Reservoir. After all, research says that you will likely not look back onto this time wishing that you have spent more time at work or on a plane. The deathbed-test does not lie.

Priorities at work

This being a phase in which many of us experience in a very practical way – through online communication, video conferencing and remote work arrangements – where and how they actually add value. The contrast between the familiar work environment and alternative arrangements is based on necessity, and yet teaches us productivity. Doing the right things vs. doing things right.

Becoming clear about your core contributions is a gift that frees you from unnecessary tasks and boosts your confidence by knowing what you are actually needed for. During the last few weeks I saw so many of you being equally productive with less hours of work.

Fact is, you are getting the job done – including going to the playground in Happy Valley or Cyberport. Stepping out of autopilot is not convenient – but rewarding.

Guided Bodyscan Meditation

Going into a guided body scan meditation. Holding the intention to explore sensations in the body as they arise. Doing so by placing and moving attention throughout the body.

Guided Bodyscan Meditation MBCT

“… Taking a few moments to settle in. Lying down on your back on the floor, on a mat or on a bed. Or allowing yourself to sit up on a chair or a cushion if that is more available to you.

Bringing attention to the body where it makes contact. Perhaps noticing sensations of pressure, heaviness, lightness or no sensation.

Bringing awareness to the entire body: front, back, to the sides and everything between. Maybe feeling calmness, tension, ease or restlessness. The task is simply to notice and pay attention to the body as it is – right now, in this moment.

Now bringing attention to Breathing. Wherever the breath presents itself most dominantly, most vividly. Making this the focus of your attention.

On an out breath, now letting the breath reside in the background and on an in breath moving attention to the back, the sides and the top of the head. Noticing any body sensations as they present themselves here. Sensations can be warmth, dryness, tingling, heaviness or pressure. You may notice to register a blank, no sensation or numbness. Then simply noticing that.

Whenever attention is being pulled, the mind wanders – noticing where it went and then gently escorting it back to the focus. Here, the back, the sides and the top of your head.

How to find the right online coach, video counsellor or virtual therapist for e-consultations.

Individualised online services for well-being, real-time life coaching and mental health are gaining in popularity. Increased disruptions in public life such as social movement and outbreaks of infectious diseases impel the demand. How can you find the best fit for your needs? What are the edges an online practitioner must have?

People reduce their commutes and value the safety and convenience of home and the workplace over physical activity and face-to-face socialising. Video conferencing, live chat and phone conversations are being increasingly used to address personal challenges as well as matters of performance and success.

Video conferencing makes it easy and accessible to keep a healthy routine of self-care. Online counselling offers advantages in flexibility, efficiency and mobility. It demonstrates a broad range of suitability, but also carries limitations. Many people can benefit from online consultation services via video call, phone sessions, text messaging and chat.

Some of my online clients appreciate in particular the virtual nature of online therapy, because it also offers an additional sense of safety, built-in boundaries (time, distance and intimacy) and optional anonymity. 

Personality and Experience

The most important criteria for the success of remote therapy and coaching is the working alliance with your virtual coach and online therapist. A relationship of mutual trust and respect contributes 50% to successfully working together. I recommend to invest the first appointment in order for you to get a feel for your rapport. Ask yourself if your therapist or coach is listening, resonating and empathising with you. Do you feel unconditional support and respect? From my personal experience in therapy I want my therapist to be kind, but not too soft or fluffy. It is key that he/she is honest about their feelings and thoughts and enquires into your interpersonal connection with her/him.

“Working online’ is used in this guidance to include all methods of communication using digital and information technology regardless of whether equipment used is a desktop computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone or any other device. ‘Working online’ is also sometimes referred to as ‘working at a distance’ to establish a distinction from working in the physical presence of the other person.”

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Factsheet 047, March 2019)

Background and Training

You can usually check the background and education of your counselor, coach and therapist on their website and social media such as LinkedIn. A simple google research will also provide you with some appearances in their professional capacity – you might find publications, videos and programs of their involvements. Regarding further development, professional registers, specialty education and memberships it might be worthwhile to look into the online listings and registers of certifying institutions where you can search by name or location. In addition to these formal checks, I recommend for you to also get an understanding of your practitioner’s personal and professional journey through life. Does this person embody an open mind, a wholesome approach to life and possess values that serve you well?

Technology and Infrastructure

Although most social media provides channels and means to converse online, WhatsApp, FaceTime, HangOuts, Skype et al might not provide the best technical stability, privacy and confidentiality. Does your therapist, coach and counsellor use a renown video conferencing software that enables audio, video and screen as well as file sharing features? Which timezone is he/she based in and how does that align with your schedule? And even more importantly: Does the virtual connection work? Is the quality of sound and vision high and stable? After all, if the line is bad, your session will be a waste of time and money.

Cost and Efficiency

Apropos money: Cost depends on duration, practitioner experience, specialisations and clientele. Much like seeking out a personal trainer, it is essential that you become clear of your

  1. ambition
  2. budget
  3. priorities

Beware of someone who makes unrealistic promises or seems to want to make a sale rather than seriously offering services with integrity and decency. Online coaching is not a one-off. Therapy and counselling benefits from regular and steady commitment to depth and experience. Most decent practitioners value timeline over quick-wins and hence are willing to reward your engagement into a process and a series of sessions over time. Expect to pay in a range of 50 to 450USD (40 to 400EUR, 70 to 660AUD, 400 to 3500HKD) with rates being typically higher for business coaching.

How to prepare as a client

From many years of experience as an online counsellor I have learned to check with my clients if they are ready to work with me. Here is what I am asking for in order to ensure best results. I basically want you to show up for an online session in exactly the same way you would show up face-to-face in my office – my recommended online way is per video call.

  • Environment – be in a quiet space, with good light and sound and a steady camera
  • Attitude – be dressed in smart casual and ready to stay focused while our meeting lasts
  • Discipline – be on time, but prepared to wait a few minutes – my online sessions have a waiting room function
  • Privacy – be present (no cats, colleagues or other communications)

Being well prepared is great gift of respect from both sides. It always yields better results for your online therapy. Wishing you an insightful and healing online experience!!

Resource of Quote

Good Practice in Action 047 – Fact Sheet: Working Online in the Counselling Professions is published by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, BACP House, 15 St John’s Business Park, Lutterworth, Leicestershire LE17 4HB. (Updated March 2019)

12 thoughts for food and how to implement scientific facts into everyday life

Well-being is a reflection of the harmony of Body and Mind. Food is essential for our mental and physical fitness. My approach to coaching and counselling aims to improve quality of life and therefore takes into account how and what we eat. Continuous lifestyle development is key to an open and sustainable experience.

“Dietary needs are similar to attachment needs – there are universal fundamentals, but each individual has unique characteristics and requirements. Just like we flourish with love and safety, we need the right energy for growth and to age well.”

Let me share with you my take aways from recent food science and how I adapt the finding in everyday life. Source of these guidelines is a German bestselling book about nutrition which is a conclusion of all scientific research studies about food since the 1950s* (Kast 2018).

Protein first, then carbs and fat

Harvard Health* says that we need 0.8grams of protein per kg of body weight. Protein saturates, we stop eating when we had enough. That’s why I chose protein as my starting point. I aim to reduce meat and fish to 3 meals per week (total of 450grams) and to cut out red meats as best I can for chicken and salmon instead. In addition I substantially ramped up plant-based protein: tofu, tempeh & edamame, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts (not good for kidney stones), almonds, spirulina, quinoa (as a “complete” protein contains all 9 essential amino acids), mycoprotein, chia seeds (2g per tbsp), hemp seeds (5g per tbsp or 14g), beans, broccoli stalk 4g / kale 200g = 2g, seitan (wheat gluten, 21g in 80g).

Coffee – filtered only

Can consume 4 cups daily, Contains several healthy substances. The few unhealthy oily substances need to be filtered out. Hence no french press 😦 and no espresso machine 😦

Dairy when it’s fermented. No Milk. No Butter

It’s a Yes from me for Yoghurt and Kefir: several health effects related to microbiom and digestion. And a Yes for Cheese: naturally high in calcium, good source for Vitamin K and Spermidine with various important metabolic functions.

Sugar and other Carbs

The common sugar consists of glucose and fructose. In particular fructose drives weight gain and increased intestinal fat. Attention: Fructose does not show in glycemic index tables, as the GI only measures glucose.

Avoid white rice, potatoes and white bread. Avoid french fries, chips and cookies and pastries that you have not made yourself (to avoid trans fats and sugar). Eat whole-grain bread and sometimes sourdough due to healthier digestion.

Fat – polyunsaturated good, trans fats never

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids from fish (like salmon) and from plants (only ALA, not EPA nor DHA – taking fish oil supplements): Chia Seeds (10g cover RDA 1600mg), Brussel Sprouts, Algal Oil from algae, Hemp Seeds (even more than Chia), Walnuts (20g for RDA), flaxseeds (very high in ALA) and Perilla Oil (super-high in ALA).

Olive Oil

Good olive oil scratches in the throat when swallowing a teaspoon of it – it has to taste bitter and peppery. Buy pure extra virgin native cold pressed. Can be used for frying – can help keep fried meat healthier. Associated with anti-aging and significant reduction of breast cancer risk.

Fasting – continuous lifestyle vs. intensive time-outs

Although I am a big fan of detox fasting following the Buchinger method (once or twice yearly), I do want to feel fit, healthy and comfortable all year round. That’s why I am gravitating in most weeks towards time-restricted fasting with 8hrs of food intake and 16hrs of fasting. I am not religiously adhering to these times on a daily basis, but find them easy to calculate and to live. A typical day then looks like breakfast around 10am and last meal before 6pm.

Conclusions for a healthy diet

1. Eat food with more whole carbs in the morning: whole-grain cereals with fruit and yoghurt

2. Eat some fatty food in the afternoon or evening: cheese, avocado, olive oil, nuts

3. Find a time-restricted cycle that suits your needs while helping your discipline and can be integrated into your work-week.

4. Enjoy your food! Familiarise with a few foundations and give yourself a chance to make it through a short phase of adjustment – you will gain back health and fitness over time.

Sources

Bas Kast (2018): The Nutrition Compass / Der Ernaehrungskompass, 28th, Munich: Random House.

https://www.health.harvard.edu

Sebastian’s Events in Q1 2020

Skilfully riding the last waves of the pig year

I wish we could transition into a brand new year as if waving a magic wand – letting the inconvenient and disruptive things disappear.

However, we will face challenges in 2020. So, shall we question our priorities? Yes. Reallocating time to health and resilience.

Inner strength always precedes noticeable balance. Now is the time to look ahead with stillness – not inertia.

I am inviting you to take mindful action and to focus on what matters most: How you reach into the world.

The following offers are my way of reaching your world, Sebastian

Growing inner strength, finding your niche

Join the free intro and Q&A to my Mindfulness-based Cognitive Training program. Get to know the benefits, scientific research and program structure. Familiarise with the venue and fellow travellers.

RSVP here

Mindfulness Challenge January 2020

Free online group practice wherever you are
Can you commit to nine guided sitting meditations over 3 weeks?
By attending a series of 9 silent group meditations online you can …
# Connect in a virtual practice group based in Hong Kong
# Use your phone as an anchor to the present moment
# Have full control over convenience and mobility
# Make Sebastian give 200%

practice online with others in silence

Mind over Money

Gaining insight into how you are socially perceived is a powerful and transformative effort. What do people around you say about your conduct, energy, balance and presence? And how do you want to be seen and perceived in your interactions with others going forward?

Investing in your Self
Read article about better living

Mindfulness-based Cognitive Training Program

The gold standard of mindfulness-based non-medication approaches with the largest and most profound scientific research worldwide is available to everyone.

Benefit from building mental capacity, expanding awareness and cultivating presence. Participants learn to increase resilience to stress and negative thinking spirals.

Dates & Details

Investing in yourself is the biggest gift to your loved ones

In this article I explain easy to adapt alternatives for making a difference with your close ones and how you can yield surprising returns on your personal investments.

The end of year is the time to reflect on your SELF. Questions like “Was I successful in achieving what I wanted?” And “How content am I with the way I have lived?” can be a good starting point. However, gaining insight into how you are socially perceived is a much more powerful and transformative effort. What do people around you say about your conduct, energy, balance and presence? And how do you want to be seen and perceived in your interactions with others going forward?

People in our proximity are affected by the different states we are operating in. And often not in a good way. Clinical psychologist Paul Gilbert* differentiates three emotional regulation systems: DRIVE, SOOTHE, THREAT. Each system is associated with the activation of different regions of the brain and a signature brain chemistry. These operating systems can be seen and felt by others around us. The chronic and exaggerated activation of a system often strains individuals and relationships in families, marriages, friendships and at work.

People I am working with report to be most satisfied with life due to motivation and achievement …

  • when they perform using their strengths and feeling in their element
  • when they feel excited, focused and curious
  • when they pursue activities together with likeminded others

My clients also emphasise the contentment that arises …

  • when they get out of their heads and connect with their senses
  • when they are slowing down, taking care of their minds and bodies
  • when they bond emotionally and physically with partners, friends and people

Most people show an under-development of the soothe system and an over-reliance on the drive system which often leads to an imbalance that goes hand in hand with the activation of the threat system.

Although the threat system aims at protecting us from physical danger, it also gets activated in less helpful ways …

  • when we worry, procrastinate or experience anger and frustration
  • when we try too hard to succeed or get into a frenzy
  • when external events and adversities trigger fear, anxiety and unrest

Each individual’s emotion regulation map is unique. The first step to reach noticeable results is to map and understand in detail what your individual system-triangle looks like. The next and most important step is to implement sustainable improvements. It is recommended to address both steps with professional and emotionally safe support.

Although the following measures are commitments to self-care and self-development, the benefits go beyond individual well-being and performance.

Coaching for performance

With Coaching you will carve out what drives you and how rewards can help you to achieve. A Life Coach supports a healthy relationship with your motivation, values and strengths. Coaching is a relationship based on respect and challenge with an eye on realistic and organic growth that enables to stay open and with clear intentions.

Mindfulness for insight and attention

Becoming aware of the different experience in each of the three systems is essential for a more visible balance. Certified mindfulness teachers are able to instruct and guide formal and informal practices to train the attentional ‘muscle’ and foster self-awareness and insight through skilful enquiry.

Counselling for stability

The activation of threat is often a focus for counselling. A Counsellor helps to explore threats can be be triggered. For example by unhelpful personality patterns and maladaptive beliefs, by older or more recent trauma, by adversities in the environment (economical downturn, political crises, …) and through adjustment that comes with biological and psychological changes of the living situation (i.e. meaning, empty nest, …)

Groups for blank spots

Joining a group of likeminded people outside your usual circles is a great way to get familiar with how you are perceived by others. Participants of encounter groups seldom regret the challenge and almost always testify personal growth and gratitude for their peers.

*Paul R. Gilbert (2009) The Compassionate Mind: A new approach to life’s challenges. London: Constable and Robins

Is a “healing separation” the same as a “relationship detox”?

In this article I will draw parallels between variations of fasting and this exceptional approach to healing relationships. How can strict attachment fasting safe your marriage? Much like with food, when things seem too complicated, painful and hopelessly constipated there is the radical option of stopping everything you have tried so far -entirely.

Many couples are facing challenges in their long-term committed relationships. For some partners issues grow bigger over time, hibernated for years of marriage or vegetated under a blanket of complacency and the distractions of life. Others find themselves having to deal with crises, infidelity or unprecedented emotional episodes of their other halves, which manifest suddenly as outbursts or realisations of something broken.

In my practice I typically witness three pathways: A few couples sadly default back into their familiar and suboptimal patterns soon after having started the work. Then there are couples who come to the mutual or one-sided conclusion to end their relationship. This often turns out to be a deeply transformative and insightful process for both if properly supported by an experienced marriage counsellor.

And then there is a majority of suffering partners who want to work on staying together. In my opinion this can only mean to leave a good part of the relationship as we knew it behind and to start writing a new book – not just a chapter.

I do sometimes come across couples who are genuinely invested in their love-attachment and long-term commitment, but find themselves pulled into mutual suffocation, disappointment and poisonous energy that often also bleeds into family and friends. Like a nuclear power plant without regulating control rods, their reacting comes dangerously close to overheating and disaster.

A relationship detox can help to (re-)install emotional control rods for a safe and loving attachment. In order to rebuild their power plant of love some couples decide for a healing separation. Much as in any detox fasting, the primary goal here is to decouple the feed – of food or love – and internal processes of body and mind. Giving the individual time to adjust and to awaken self-healing forces that each living being carries.

Couples counselling helps to buffer the imbalance between a driving partner and a typically more reluctant one. The safety of a long-term relationship is fragile when emotions are faced with honesty. Individual counselling and therapy are crucial for both partners to maximise personal growth during the time apart.

In the same way detox fasting is an extreme and temporary way of cleansing, a healing separation is limited in time and targets to activate transformative processes of personal growth and development in each partner. For some couples it is the last resort and can be promising if mutually understood, agreed upon and with professional support.

Relationships that can benefit from an attachment detox typically experience several of the following symptoms:

  • The relationship dynamic feels like wearing a heavy cloak denying you the air to breath
  • Feeling emotionally constrained, often sensing a connection with childhood trauma
  • Not having been alone or lived in a way of self-reliance and independence
  • You actually want to divorce the old relationship but not your partner

Again, in the same way it is important to prepare for a detox fasting – mentally, physically and practically – it is essential to be clear of the what, when and how of the temporary decoupling. Expect the beginning to be difficult and even painful – you need to make it through a first phase of adjustment with “hunger-pangs”, cravings and emotional lows. After that, it gradually becomes easier, but with no certainty about how body, heart and mind will react.

The more you focus on what you want to detox from, the harder it will become. Or: The less you obsess with change, the better you enable it. One pitfall of each fasting diet is for the mind to find substitutes – “if I can’t eat, I now binge-watch Netflix”. In the same way the relationship detox can be misunderstood as a free zone for sexual and dating experiments. However understandable some motivations here might be, replacing one partner with another is defeating the purpose.

One Mind, Two Systems

Gaining insight in troubled times with Paul Loomans’ Time Surfing

Paul Loomans’ Zen approach to keeping time on your side is a refreshing and reassuring read with an unconventional perspective on time management. Unfortunately the unhandy landscape format, which might have been chosen to underline the unconventionality of the book, does not contribute to keep itself on your side.

This easy to read guidebook written addresses modern life time pressures and how to better deal with them. Loomans unfolds his own seven steps method that anchors in intuition and empowers readers to drop lists and other structured approaches.

The author differentiates between two systematically different approaches to managing your time. The first one is the accelerated, fast paced DOING that manages life with our heads. The second one is the slower paced, reflecting SENSING that comes from within us.

The last part of the book is dedicated to very practical applications in everyday life: understanding procrastination and deadlines; handling email mindfully, being master or servant of your smartphone and others.

I like a lot that his approach really is an alternative to the “getting things done” (GTD) and time management paradigms, which all proclaim more of the same. Namely that you can get things done by gathering tasks, detailing tasks and by then organizing them using tools and apps.

Contrary to this, the zen monk lays out how your experiencing self is able to manage your day, your personal as well as your work matters by cultivating intuition. Wait! Before your inner voice now goes off and says things like “oh well, intuition – that’s just an umbrella term for wishy-washy”, try to take this in:

“It is about using feelings and the awareness of how you relate to tasks in order to get them done. That is entirely different from letting lists determine your life!”

Remember the title “Time SURFING”? so don’t forget that it is all about the ride. There is no ride without a sense of ease and confidence. Without those whatever you do, soon becomes a bad trip. Use lists not to determine what you have to do, but as checklists to help you not to forget things. Your sense of ease will increase over time.

The house of love (Loomans calls it The four storey house) has a basement where our emotions live. Emotions are our bodies ancient, yet extraordinarily relevant communication system permanently transmitting signals from underneath. They can guide us to come to terms with whatever arises.

Background programs are rumination and worry we carry and accumulate in a day, a week or for months on end. Much like too many apps open on your phone or computer these programs eat into your capacity to function and hence bring your performance down. Address the emotional message of each background program. Not the content.

With regard to Deadlines he describes the unhealthy pattern of the procrastination monster: chronicle stress due to relying on your body’s survival system might in the short run help you to get things done and to deliver, but it does so in CLOSED state of mind and body.

Paying attention to transitions from project to project and to how to start a new project with an OPEN attitude allows us to surf time smoothly rather than paddle it gruffly.