Mindfulness: becoming aware

One way to achieve greater resilience to life’s challenges and to live more fully is to be mindful: bringing greater awareness to what you think, feel and do.

 “Mindfulness is sometimes seen as a form of ‘meta awareness’, which means awareness of awareness,” Kristin Neff. 

It can be a powerful antidote to stress, anxiety, unhappiness and exhaustion, but it is not a quick fix and needs to be practised daily over several weeks before the benefit can be felt. Ultimately, it is a lifetime’s work.

In this post I will focus on becoming aware of daily activities that we tend to do automatically without giving them much attention, such as eating, drinking, showering, dressing, driving – you get the picture. The habit of concentrating on doing the mundane things in life well and deriving pleasure from those activities can set us up for success in bigger, more important things if we apply the same care and attention. In the same way that a musician practices by playing scales or an athlete trains with drills to enhance overall performance.

The chocolate meditation is a good introduction to this idea. It also works well with a raisin if you prefer that, or it could be adapted for use with any other food that you enjoy.

The chocolate meditation:

  • Put a small piece of the chocolate on a plate and really look at it: the colour, any pattern, its shape, the textures or anything else that you notice about it.

  • Then smell the chocolate and take in all the aromas.

  • Now put it in your mouth and let it just sit on your tongue, don’t chew or swallow it.

  • Notice all the different tastes from that one piece of chocolate.

  • Notice how it feels sitting on your tongue.

  • Notice the automatic actions that you may be having to suppress to keep it there.

  • You will no doubt be salivating and will need to swallow, but keep the chocolate in your mouth for as long as possible, noticing how the tastes and sensations change.

  • Really listen as you swallow.

  • Once the chocolate has dissolved away, reflect on how that experience differed from how you usually eat chocolate.

  • Try it again with another piece…

How much richer would your life be if you approached more of it with that amount of attention? And how many unhelpful habits have you developed without realising it? Becoming aware of our thinking and doing can be liberating.

It can be helpful to choose a different activity to pay attention to each day or week, whether that is drinking your tea or coffee, cleaning your teeth, getting dressed, walking or whatever you like. 

If you would like to explore mindfulness further, I can highly recommend Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. Also, the Art of Mindful Living page of the Plum Village website provides plenty of mindfulness practices.

The External Environment: A Harmonious Home for Health & Wellbeing

Just as we need to work on our internal energy through healthy lifestyle choices, our external environment and the energy that surrounds us is also important to our health and wellbeing. And if you have a chronic health problem, such as a chronic exhaustive condition, you can get so wrapped up in how your body feels that you can forget how important your surroundings are to feeling better. It is that outward look that I am going to focus on here.

By surroundings I mean the area where you live as well as your home, but it is the latter that we have most control over, so that is a good place to start.Three key aspects to a harmonious home environment are having a tidy space, addressing any tensions with the people who share it with you and appreciating what you have.

Tidy Space

This year I have been taking part in a quarterly decluttering exercise with the view to creating space for the new to manifest, whether that is a personal goal or a material object. It has been a really interesting exercise.

I have found that the trick is to declutter little and often. So start small, picking one area of your home that bugs you, say a drawer or a shelf, and set a time limit to work on it - that could be 10 minutes or up to an hour. The trick is not to over face yourself so that you don’t do it at all or that you can’t face doing it again. You can always come back to it to complete the task another time.

Enjoy the glow of satisfaction at having decluttered that space - even better if you donated some items to charity or made some money by selling your unwanted stuff! Then schedule a time to do some more, whether that is finishing that area or moving on to a different one. Weekly is probably a bit optimistic (as I have found out!) but monthly or quarterly is a more realistic goal.

Even if you consider yourself to be neat and tidy, you will be surprised at how much potential there is for a sort out. You could even do some digital decluttering, clearing out old emails or electronic files.

Healthy Relationships

Healthy relationships play a significant role in wellbeing and healthy aging and none more so than those in the home environment. If there is a person in your home that makes you angry or upset, what impact is that having on your health? Is there a conversation that you are avoiding with that person? If so what? How can you address it?

I can recommend Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg for guidance on healthy ways to relate. And you may find some helpful coping strategies in my recent blog post How to Experience Anger in a Healthy Way.

Appreciating What You Have

The little things really do matter, so it is important not to overlook what you already have in your home that enhances your sense of wellbeing. What do you have in your home that you love? Is it where you can really appreciate it?

Equally, is there anything in your environment that you don't like and can get rid of to make space for something that you would enjoy?

Bringing to mind each day three things that you are grateful for in your home and life can engender a greater sense of contentment. First thing in the morning or bedtime can be a good time for that. To make it a regular practice, try hooking it onto another daily habit like when you have your morning cup of tea or coffee (or other hot drink of choice) or when you get into bed at night.

Your Local Environment

You can also have some influence over your local environment if there are elements of it that bug you or you think could be improved in some way.

If litter annoys you, is there a litter picking group that you can join or can you go out on your own? Where I live we have the Reading Adopt Your Street (RAYS) initiative through which the council provides litter picking equipment if you commit to tidying a street or footpath local to you on a monthly basis. Your local council may have something similar.

You can also report littering and fly tipping through the Love Clean Streets portal for your local area.

Or maybe, like me, you would like to see more wild flowers in your local area. Through the Rewilding Reading project run by the council, I have been able to ask for some verges near me to be mown just once a year so that the wild plants can flower and set seed to the benefit of residents and wildlife alike. There may be an initiative like that near you. Or you could join in with Plantlife's No Mow May and Let It Bloom June campaigns by allowing your lawn, if you have one, to flower in those months instead of cutting it. You could also grow wild flowers in pots or borders in whatever outdoor space you have.

Or if it is more street trees that you would like, you could contact your local tree wardens or become one yourself. See the Tree Council website for more details about that.

So whether it is tidying up a space in your home to improve the vibe, working on how you relate to those you may be living with, appreciating the good things in your home or improving your local environment, your health and wellbeing is set to benefit from your efforts. For more ideas for improving your home environment, have a look at my blog post How to Create a Healthy Home.

Reflexology for Menopause

In the past, most women would not have lived long enough to go through the menopause, but now most women survive to the age when the menopause occurs. In the intervening centuries, attitudes towards the menopause have changed enormously, from it being associated with witchcraft in ancient civilisations and treated as a disease in more recent centuries, to it now being recognised as a natural part of the ageing process and a new phase in life. As reflexology tutor, Sally Earlam says “Menopause can be a new beginning: a time when our sense of purpose as women can change enormously.” Hear hear to that! Rather than seeing menopause as something to be feared, we can see it as an opportunity for transformation and growth.

To clarify, menopause is complete when menstruation is absent for 12 consecutive months, the median age of which is 51, but it can be anywhere between the ages of 45 and 55, and can develop before or after this age range. About 1% of women reach menopause before the age of 40, which is referred to as Premature Menopause. About 5% of women reach menopause between the ages of 40 and 45, which is referred to as Early Menopause. Perimenopause is the lead up to the menopause when symptoms may begin, but it is not medically an official condition and there are no 'clinical' ways to diagnose it. This can be the most challenging time when hormone levels are fluctuating most - like puberty in reverse!

Some women sail through the perimenopause and menopause with very few or no adverse effects, while others struggle with debilitating symptoms that can negatively impact relationships and careers. The most common symptoms are hot flushes and night sweats, other common ones include anxiety, fatigue, low mood, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, memory problems and low libido.

A healthy lifestyle and managing stress well can help protect against these symptoms, so if you want to prepare for a positive menopause, it pays to start early in adulthood. But it is never too late to make lifestyle changes, as they can help alleviate existing menopausal symptoms and support healthy ageing. The five areas to look at are: nutrition, exercise, relaxation, sleep and purpose, which I will explore in another post.

So how can reflexology play a role in a positive menopause? While reflexology itself may not directly treat or cure menopause, it can potentially help alleviate some of its symptoms and improve overall wellbeing during this transitional phase in a woman's life. By intentionally working with reflexes, acupressure and pleasurable touch, reflexology can help calm the nervous system with the aim of supporting key organs and balancing hormones to aid sleep, improve mood and enhance wellbeing.

Hormonal Balance

As the name suggests, reflexology uses reflex points. A reflex is when stimulation of one point on the body brings about a response in another point or area. Reflexology uses thumb, finger and knuckle pressure to stimulate specific points on the feet, hands or face and the corresponding part of the body. Certain reflex points correspond to the glands involved in hormonal regulation. The most relevant to the menopause are the hypothalamus, pituitary, pineal, thyroid and the ovaries. The aim of stimulating these reflex points is to promote hormonal balance, potentially easing menopausal symptoms.

Reflexology for the menopause also incorporates the application of pressure to specific points (known as acupressure) on the foot and leg that are linked to hormonal balance - the same ones used in acupuncture.

In a study into ‘The effect of foot reflexology applied to women aged between 40 and 60 on vasomotor complaints and quality of life,’ Gozuyesil and Baser concluded: “the results showed that reflexology might be effective in decreasing vasomotor problems and increasing quality of life in women in the menopausal period.”

Stress Reduction

Under chronic stress, the adrenal glands produce cortisol and adrenaline at the expense of oestrogen and progesterone, so chronically elevated cortisol levels can increase the likelihood of severe menopausal symptoms.

Reflexology has a calming effect on the nervous system through the soothing effect of touch and the stimulation of reflex points associated with the brain, spinal cord and nerve bundles, which all helps to counter the stress response, promoting a sense of calm and balance. Personally, I find reflexology to be the most profoundly relaxing of treatments! It gets me into that alpha brain wave state between sleep and wakefulness associated with meditation. 

As well as regular reflexology sessions, a daily relaxation practice can help counter chronic stress, whether that is meditation, a hot bath, being in nature or whatever soothes you. Guidance on such self care forms an important part of a treatment.


Many women experience disrupted sleep patterns during menopause, which can have detrimental effects on mental and physical health. By promoting a state of relaxation conducive to restful sleep, reflexology can help with insomnia.

Indeed, in their research study, ‘The effects of Reflexology on sleep disorder in menopausal women,’ Maryam Asltoghiri and Zahra Ghodsi concluded that “reflexology is beneficial for improving sleep disorder in menopausal women.”

Enhanced Wellbeing

Menopause is a significant life transition that can impact a woman's physical and psychological wellbeing. Reflexology sessions provide an important opportunity for self care and a sense of agency at what can be a challenging time. I certainly always feel better in myself after a reflexology treatment - lighter, revitalised.

Reflexology has been shown to help with anxiety, fatigue and low mood associated with the menopause. For example, in a study into ‘The effects of foot reflexology on depression during menopause,’ Mahdavipour et al. concluded that “The findings indicated that the foot reflexology technique can be effective for reducing women's depression during menopause.”

To conclude, reflexology in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle can support a positive menopause by working on the key areas of: hormonal balance, stress reduction, improved sleep and an enhanced sense of wellbeing.

If you would like to explore reflexology for the menopause further, do get in touch for a chat about it or to schedule an appointment by emailing wendy@rookeholistic.co.uk or calling me on 07528 708650.


‘The effects of Reflexology on sleep disorder in menopausal women,’ Maryam Asltoghiri, Zahra Ghodsi, Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2012, 31, 242-6.


‘The effect of foot reflexology applied to women aged between 40 and 60 on vasomotor complaints and quality of life,’ Ebru Gozuyesil, Muruvvet Baser. Complement Ther Clin Pract, 2016, 24, 78-85.


‘The effects of foot reflexology on depression during menopause: A randomized controlled clinical trial,’ Fatemeh Mahdavipour, Zahra Rahemi, Zohreh Sadat, Neda Mirbagher Ajorpaz. Complement Ther Med, 2019, 47,102195. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31780002/

The Power of Community: Finding Connection Through Qigong Classes

A common misconception of qigong is that it is a solitary practice, not least because a lot of the qigong videos online show just one person. And while practising on your own has the advantage of time and convenience, have you considered the benefits of group sessions?

Practising qigong with others can add a whole other dimension to it. In fact, there are many potential benefits: community and connection; motivation; a supportive environment for personal growth, health and wellbeing; enhancement of your qigong practice and the positive experience of synchronous movement. I cover those advantages in more detail below, so read on to find out more.

Community and Connection

You may think that there is limited opportunity for social interaction at a qigong class and that everyone is quietly focused on what they are doing the whole time, but that is not the case. Training with others involves interacting with the instructor, interacting with other students and more broadly feeling a sense of community.

Interacting with others in a class can involve catching up with each other before and after, sharing how we experience the movements during the class and laughing together. As one of my students says in her testimonial on my website:

“The small groups are lovely. We have a laugh, chats and generally try to help each other.”

As well as serving as a regular opportunity to meet up with existing friends and share a positive experience, a qigong class can also be a great way to make new friends and acquaintances by building connections with like-minded individuals.

I have certainly found qigong practitioners to be gentle, kind and supportive people, which really drew me to the practice. I have made some good new friends through it and a mutually supportive network, which is priceless. For example, through my own qigong teacher, I have found a meditation group to join, and through a student of mine, I have found a lovely yoga class within a short walk from home. What a wonderful ripple effect!

And of course, the camaraderie between individuals can enhance the perception of friendliness of the group as a whole. The overall sense of community and connection in a qigong class can help to foster positive feelings, such as empathy, acceptance, warmth, regard and genuineness. If you are shy by nature, the supportive atmosphere may encourage you out of your shell and help you to develop your social skills in a way that feels safe for you.

As Peter Wayne says in his book The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi “A strong body of research suggests that these forms of social support and sense of connection have huge, positive impacts on health, in terms of disease prevention, recovery rates, and remission following events such as heart attacks and cancer diagnosis. Simply stated, being and feeling connected to others makes you healthier and happier, and fosters a longer life.” I will explore the benefits to health and wellbeing next, along with the potential for personal development.

A Supportive Environment for Personal Growth, Health and Wellbeing

If you're anything like me, you like to know why, not just what. So, when I'm leading a qigong class, I like to weave the theory behind the movements into it. Understanding the purpose of each practice can enhance its effects because it keeps your mind focused and intentional, which is a key part of qigong.

I also share my knowledge of health and wellbeing in class where appropriate. A classic example is why good posture is so important and why we work on it in qigong. I have had more than one student tell that they have used the qigong meditation techniques from class to help them relax in the dentist’s chair!

And of course there are the other potential benefits of a regular qigong practice in everyday life: body awareness, efficiency of movement, injury prevention, good posture, better balance and co-ordination, strengthening muscles and bones, increased vital energy, improved concentration and relaxation. You can find out more about those in my previous blog post 10 Potential Health Benefits of Qigong.

It is a two-way process, and I learn from students too, for example how qigong benefits them or what else they might have found helpful in managing a particular health condition. And of course, students support each other through sharing their own experiences of qigong and particular practices.


You may have the best of intentions to do qigong regularly, but it is easy to fall off the wagon when it comes to keeping ourselves accountable. Life gets in the way and you can end up putting yourself last, dropping self-care in place of the needs of others and the demands of life.

The beauty of practising with a group is the additional motivation you get - your qigong buddies can help keep you accountable, motivating you to turn up on a regular basis. It can also be an opportunity to support friends and acquaintances in improving their health and wellbeing by encouraging them to come along and join in, which is empowering for both parties.

In his research paper ‘The Sociology of Qi Gong’, Paul Posadzki explains that “the better the interpersonal relationships, the more engaged individuals are in enhancing their health and the better their prospects for future wellness and psychological health.”

How Social Connection Can Enhance Your Qigong Practice

In his research paper cited above, Paul Posadzki says that “beneficial, positive social experiences may in turn strengthen the physiological effects of Qi Gong exercises.” What a wonderful synergy that we can tap into!

For example, those physiological effects might include a calming effect on the nervous system, so a lower heart rate and blood pressure, and reduced anxiety, as reported by Chun-Yi Lin et al. in their research paper ‘Acute Physiological and Psychological Effects of Qigong Exercise in Older Practitioners.’ Also “a physiologic impact on immune system functioning and inflammatory responses,” as described by Byeongsang Oh et al. in ‘The Effects of Tai Chi and Qigong on Immune Responses: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.’

Paul Posadzki also explains that “Qi Gong exercises are complicated sequences of sometimes hundreds of movements that may be more easily memorised thanks to others’ presence or help.” We can clearly see the opposite of that when we are trying to balance and start to wobble if we see someone else wobbling. The positive influences are perhaps less obvious, but are undoubtedly there, helping us to move slowly, smoothly and with grace in a qigong class. Synchronicity of movement comes into play here, so I cover that next.

The Benefits of Synchronous Movement

A qigong class involves moving together, often in time with each other. That synchronised movement is like dance: instinctive, natural and deeply nurturing. It can engender a sense of unity and common purpose. In his blog post ‘Social Benefits of Synchronization’ in Psychology Today, Shahram Heshmat explains in more depth how interpersonal synchrony can benefit interactions and wellbeing.

To summarise, practising qigong with others is holistic in that it benefits both mind and body through community, connection, motivation and support. Not only do you stand to benefit from the qigong itself, but also from the social connection of working in synchrony with a group, potentially enhancing the effect of the qigong, especially in terms of increased psychological wellbeing and immune function, and reduced stress and disease.

If you would like to experience the benefits of joining a qigong class and you are local to Reading in the UK, do get in touch by emailing wendy@rookeholistic.co.uk or call me on 07528 708650.


The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi, Peter Wayne.

‘The Sociology of Qi Gong: A qualitative study,’ Paul Posadzki, Complementary Therapies in Medicine (2010) 18.


‘Acute Physiological and Psychological Effects of Qigong Exercise in Older Practitioners,’ Chun-Yi Lin, Tze-Taur Wei, Chen-Chen Wang, Wan-Chen Chen, Yu-Min Wang and Song-Yen Tsai, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018: 4960978.


‘The Effects of Tai Chi and Qigong on Immune Responses: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,’ Byeongsang Oh,Kyeore Bae, Gillian Lamoury, Thomas Eade, Frances Boyle, Brian Corless, Stephen Clarke, Albert Yeung, David Rosenthal, Lidia Schapira, and Michael Back.

Medicines (Basel). 2020 Jul; 7(7): 39. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7400467/

‘Social Benefits of Synchronization,’ Shahram Heshmat, Psychology Today, Dec 2021:


How to Experience Anger in a Healthy Way

I am writing this post at the start of spring, when energy is rising, like the sap in the trees. In traditional Chinese medicine, the internal organs associated with this season are the liver and the gallbladder. If the liver is out of balance, it can manifest as the emotion anger, so I am going to explore anger in this post. It is certainly an emotion that I have experienced strongly throughout my life, but over the years I have learned (and am still learning) to use it in a positive way instead of being consumed by the negative aspects of it. And of course, anger can manifest at the personal level, for example being cut up in traffic, and at the global level, for example with military aggression, lack of action on climate change or countless societal injustices.

Being Aware of Anger

In his book A Monk’s Guide to Happiness, Gelong Thubten explains that “Anger and fear can make us deeply unhappy: we become consumed by negativity, which even undermines our immune system. Carrying that resentment is like carrying a hot coal; the more we hold onto it, the more it burns us. Wouldn’t we rather put it down?” To let go of the hot coal of anger we first need to become aware of it. Many people are disconnected from their true feelings, so it is important to be able to recognise the emotion anger and all the forms that it can take. It can be helpful to know that irritation and frustration are forms of anger, as is hate. Scepticism and sarcasm are also indicators of underlying anger.

Anger as a Messenger

“Like all our feelings, anger is a form of communication, it brings us a message,” (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler in Life Lessons). That message could be that we are being hurt, psychologically or physically, or that our needs are not being met or heard. Or it could be that something is not in alignment with our values and beliefs. Anger is a natural response to certain situations, it is only problematic if:

  • we are not even aware of it
  • we try to suppress it
  • it is out of proportion to the stimulus
  • or we get stuck in the emotion.

Forgiveness as an Antidote to Anger

Very often our response to a situation hurts us more and for longer than the initial insult. Our reaction is the real enemy, not the person who offended us. We can control our own actions, but not theirs. We can use forgiveness as an antidote to anger, by realising that the insult was most likely not intentional or, if it was, that it came from a place of deep negativity and a lack of self control. Very often we do not really know what someone else is going through or what place their negative actions have come from, but we do know that we all struggle to control our emotions at times and so we can forgive that. Forgiveness does not condone the anger-inducing behaviour, instead it frees us from further suffering.

Breaking the Cycle of Anger

Meditation and mindfulness practices are one way that we can gain more control over our own emotions and so avoid inducing anger in others, helping to break the cycle. As Eckhart Tolle observes in The Power of Now “people who carry a lot of anger inside without being aware of it and without expressing it are more likely to be attacked, verbally or or even physically, by other angry people, and often for no apparent reason. They have a strong emanation of anger that certain people pick up subliminally and that triggers their own latent anger.”

Anger as a Motivating Force

Eckhart Tolle’s explanation of emotions and anger struck me when I first read it “Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body’s reaction to your mind - or you might say, a reflection of your mind in the body. For example, an attack thought or hostile thought will create a build-up of energy in the body that we call anger.” That is how I try to look at anger now, as a form of energy, which I can transmute into something positive, into healthy action. If I feel anger, I look for the most appropriate, considered action to take in response. Instead of reacting, I respond. A recent article in Positive News resonated with me recently Chris Packham on why he’s angry, yet hopeful in which he explains “I was a very angry young man and I’m a very angry old man. But I’ve always done everything within my power to turn that anger into something positive.” And in her book How to End Injustice Everywhere, I was interested to see Melanie Joy describe anger as a motivating emotion. She also says that “Anger is an appropriate and legitimate emotional reaction to injustice.” Anger very much is a rising energy.

Exploring Anger through Journalling

Journalling can be a healthy way to explore any feelings of anger that you may have, starting with acknowledging the emotion. My recent post on journalling may help you with that. You could ask yourself these questions:

  • What effect is this anger having on me?

  • What message is this anger sending me?

  • Where is the other person coming from?

  • What is or was driving their behaviour?

  • Why should I forgive?

  • How can I forgive?

  • What positive, considered action can I take to help me move forward using the motivating energy of my anger?

I hope that you have found something here to help you use anger in a healthy way, as a force for good, both within and without, personally and in the wider world.