NOTES FROM MY JOURNAL – APRIL 2020 – On COVID-19, Fear setting, practising Compassion, Gratitude, cultivating Mindfulness and more…

Hello fine readers and welcome to my monthly newsletter – a series of my thoughts and feelings from my journal.

Included is a round up of what I’ve been reading and writing, plus a collection of my favourite bits and pieces from around the web, and finally a collection of thoughts and ideas from yours truly. I hope you enjoy!


WHAT I’VE BEEN WRITING:

12 Personal Commandments for a Happier Life

As inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s wonderful Happiness Project, I decided to put together a list of my own 12 commandments for living a happier, healthier and more purposeful life.

5 Mindfulness Hacks to Help Bring You Back to the Present Moment

5 Mindfulness Hacks that I like to use informally throughout the day to help bring me back to and fully engage with the present moment.

How to Gain Enlightenment While Taking a Dump. – Favourite Books for Moments of Profound Pooing

A fun post about creating the habit of reading books while on the loo!

Am I doing this because of Fear or Love? – a question for motivation and guidance

A post based on the question; “Am I doing this because of love of fear?” that I heard from the following Tim Ferris podcast: Dr. Vivek Murthy — Former Surgeon General on Combatting COVID-19, Loneliness, and More  

Now is the time – What will you do with yours?

A piece to inspire action from isolation as inspired by the following Kitty O’Meara poem:

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

The Nature of my Child

A short post inspired by my son/this quote:

“Every child has a god in him. Our attempts to mould the child will turn the god into a devil – A. S. Neill


WHAT I’VE BEEN READING

BOOKS:

2 books have dominated my reading and re-reading for the past two months – both of which I can highly highly recommend reading, especially during this time of great uncertainty.

The first is RADICAL ACCEPTANCE by Tara Brach

From Amazon: “Writing with great warmth and clarity, Tara Brach brings her teachings alive through personal stories and case histories, fresh interpretations of Buddhist tales, and guided meditations. Step by step, she leads us to trust our innate goodness, showing how we can develop the balance of clear-sightedness and compassion that is the essence of Radical Acceptance.” 

The second is AWARENESS by SJ Anthony de Mello

Although written some time ago now – this book is the best I’ve read that translated to me what spirituality means and why cultivating greater awareness is something we all need.

Another book I can highly highly recommend is the beautifully illustrated ‘THE BOY, THE MOLE, THE FOX AND THE HORSE’  by Charlie Mackesy. 

It’s not only deeply moving and thought provoking, it’s a beautiful piece of art in its own right. I could pick any quote and it would be worth sharing, but I’ll leave you with just one that hit home for me on a personal level.

“What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” asked the boy… 

“Help”, said the horse.


OTHER BITS AND PIECES FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Fear setting – who Tim Ferris described as the most valuable exercise he does every month – is an exercise in defining some of your fears about a difficult decision you are considering making, versus the longer term costs of doing nothing. I used it this month to consider what might happen if I lost my job and found it a very reassuring exercise.

This inspirational video of a speech by Orator Jonathan Roberts addressing graduating seniors at Harvard’s Senior Class Day ceremony on May 24, 2017 at Tercentenary Theatre.

THOUGHTS & IDEAS FROM MY JOURNAL:

ON COVID-19, DEALING WITH FEAR, PRACTISING COMPASSION AND BEING GRATEFUL:

Gratitude, with rare exception, gives you a more accurate interpretation of reality.

Do not try to change people, that’s the wrong approach. Instead try only to help people.

The inability to forgive each other and people’s unwillingness to admit they’re wrong go hand in hand.

The Chinese character for crisis translates as danger + opportunity. I think this is brilliant. Danger meaning a need to be careful and vigilant – a need to act. But as with any crisis there is also opportunity for growth and to learn – to profit from setback.

Make your mission about helping others, not validating the ego. Make your mission about inspiring hope, not criticising others for acting out of fear. After all, are we not all irrational when acting from fear? Have compassion for those who are scared and forgive those who acted rashly and misled the public based on limited, information. We are all fools in this together. Don’t attack. Be kind.

ON DEVELOPING THE MIND AND MINDFULLNESS:

As a rule: Clarity first. Action second.

The great thing about momentum: eventually is becomes easy.

It matters less what you choose to do, but that you give that thing your undivided attention.

Everybody’s mind is filled with bullshit. Wisdom comes from shifting through that bullshit and picking out what you know to be true in your heart. 

The egos need for validation will never be satisfied! When you feed it, its appetite over time only grows. You have to let it go!

Your insecurities prevent you from showing your true self.

The desire for others to say something positive about me is a reflection of my own insecurities. 

Your resistance to other people only serves to strengthen their position in your mind.

The mind is a tool – something to be used. If you fail to remain aware, the mind will take over and use you.

Learning to continuously question your beliefs, to unlearn everything you’ve been taught, to treat what you know with a very large amount of skepticism, is one of the most important skills one can cultivate.

ON PURSING YOUR DREAMS/DOING THE THINGS YOU LOVE:

Doing the things you love gives you the energy to the do the things you need but don’t. 

Better to be happy in failure than unhappy in success.

Ask yourself whether you are making this decision because of fear or love. A perceived need for more money is often driven by a fear of losing out, a fear of not having, or losing the things you already have. Of course thats not always the case. If you’re doing it for your family, for a better education for your children, a better neighbourhood for them to grow up, for certain their security, then those decisions clearly stem from a place of love. However that’s often not the case. What I want to stress is to the need be clear of the reasons for choosing to pursue a certain career or path. If the decision is about finding purpose – follow your heart.

ON PARENTING

I think in our efforts to make something of our children, we often do a disservice to that which is already there. I don’t need to make him into anything. I simply need to encourage what is already there, for him to flourish and realise his full potential. 

There is no need to force parenting, just be present and you’ll understand what you should do.

ON HONESTY, EXPECTATIONS & FORGIVENESS

Being honest with someone is important, but unless you do it compassionately you’re probably wasting your time. People aren’t willing to receive rocks if you hurl them – they’re either going to duck and hide, or throw them back. 

The truth hurts because we are breaking down that persons reality – pointing something out they didn’t want to hear. That’s why it’s important to be kind, but to be kind while being courageous enough to tell them the truth.

People often expect an apology before they’re willing to forgive. Forgiveness should come first without any expectations. Ones apology will often be returned with far more sincerity if you do. 

Now is the time – What will you do with yours?

Now is the time.

Now is the time to pause and slow down. To revaluate your priorities. To consider what is working and what hasn’t been. 

Now is time to practise gratitude for everything you have, such a roof over your head, access to food and clean running water, for living in a remarkable age technologically speaking, that helps keep us entertained, informed and, crucially, connected to all those we love despite our physical isolation. If nothing else to be grateful for life itself, despite all its hardships and heartache.

Now is the time to practise compassion for each other and ourselves. To be kind. To send that energy inwards and from there, outwards to the wider universe of which we are all part. 

Now is the time to heal. To use our shared pain as a gateway to shared compassion. 

Now is the time to contemplate time. Time is an illusion isn’t it? A trap that makes us think we have to keep on-top of things. To always do things. To strive for some perfect version of ourselves. A compete fantasy. Look at our reality now. Completely turned on its head. No time but to sit. Nothing to do but look inward, if we dare.

I strongly encourage you to do so. Sit with those emotions. Let them surface. The fear, the anxiety, the depression. Accept them as they are. Allow them into your heart. If you do you might learn something that will fundamentally change you. Something that no amount of striving, or trying to get, will ever be able to take away from you. Genuine peace. Peace with yourself and with the world as it is, at this moment.

Now is the time to practise acceptance. Learning to accept – to be at peace with yourself, gives you the clarity of mind to know how you should act – from the heart. Acceptance isn’t resignation. Acceptance is life’s biggest lesson.

Now is the time to practise awareness. To observe quietly. Meditation isn’t an act of doing nothing. It’s an act of curiosity. It’s a profoundly beautiful act of self compassion. Of being aware. Awakened. It is perhaps the most underrated act one can undertake. The act of being. Of dropping our attachment to our thinking minds. Of letting go. 

Now is the time to create. It’s often from constraint that creativity springs. Some of histories greatest minds understood and achieved true freedom in isolation. Others created some of their best work. Nelson Mandela and William Shakespeare readily spring to mind.

Now is the time to play. Now is the time to laugh. Now is the time to grieve. Now is the time to feel. To drop your guard. Now is the time to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to be courageous. 

Now is the time to look those who you love in the eye and tell them so. Death is never far away. Death is life. Death is a continuation. Part of the journey. That journey continues. It continues in your children and your grandchildren. In all the people you have touched. In all things. Death is beautiful. Death is necessary. It gives way.

Now is the time to meet your shadows in the darkness and understand they were made from light.

Now, is the time. The time to be. If you do, you might just realise that what you‘ve been looking for, has been with you the entire time. 

Now, is always the time.

The only question to ask is,

What will you do with yours?

Am I Doing This Because Of Fear Or Love? – A Question For Motivation And Guidance

It was late the other night, before my wife and I went to bed, as we were sharing our thoughts and feelings about the day to one another, that she began by telling me about her sometimes feeling overwhelmed by the amount of things she sets herself to do – of always feeling pushed to do things – of feeling the need to do things – thats she sometimes feels driven by an underlying sense of ‘not good enough’. 

I paused to take in what she was saying, before climbing into bed next to her. 

She’s certainly not alone, I thought. I knew those feelings well. I suspect those feelings are probably shared by the vast majority of young professionals driven by certain expectations of society, of their parents, of their conditioning to be the best version of themselves.

As I responded, in one of my rare moments of clarity, I remembered a question that I wrote down from a podcast I heard a few weeks ago. It’s something I’ve asked myself repeatedly since, as a way to guide my actions , especially when I’ve felt a strong resistance to them – like my perceived need to keep up with my own work. 

The question was this:

“Am I making this decision because of love or fear?” – Dr Vivek Murthy

I felt it was such an insightful way of asking yourself why or why not you should do something – whatever that may be – as you go about your day. The more I contemplated it over the following weeks, the more I realised how powerful it was as a guiding force in keeping the values I hold close to my heart, clear in my mind. After all, I believe all our feelings and actions are driven, on a basis level, by one of these two underlying emotions. This question is a great way of bringing to light, exactly which one of these two emotions is driving your actions at any particular moment.

Is this decision because of fear or love?

As I climbed into bed I asked my wife what her motives are for doing (she’s a yoga teacher FYI) what she’s been doing? Is it because she believes strongly in the cause, to help others, or does she feel pushed to perform, to be better because of some perceived need to prove something to others or, indeed, herself? Is it from, on some level, a feeling of inadequacy, of not being good enough as she is right now?

I went on to explain something that dawned on me about why my own motivation towards work had stalled so many times in the past. 

I never felt good enough. I was scared what others thought. I was scared that I would underperform and not be seen as good enough in the eyes of my coworkers. I was so scared of ‘being found out’ for who I thought I was. Of confirming a long help belief – a false one – that I wasn’t good enough. The same has been true of my writing.

Thinking back it’s no wonder my motivation died. It’s no wonder when I sat down to do the work I needed that it was such an enormous struggle. It felt like walking through quick sand as I ploughed ahead while fighting the stress, anxiety and sometimes, full blown depression, that had consumed my heart. 

If only someone had shouted, “you are good enough you fool – you know this – you’re just doing it for the wrong reasons.”

Alas, I know that wouldn’t have helped. True insight and understanding has to come from within and that takes time. It has taken years to grow in my heart. It still is.


LOVE AS MOTIVATION FOR WORK & LIFE


The last three months – since the world of aviation has been brought to its knees because of the coronavirus pandemic – have given me, like countless others, plenty of time to reflect.

With regards to work I have come to realise that framing my motivations, to be clear that they are coming from a genuine place of love, is what I need to do. Whipping myself into shape doesn’t work in the longer term. It’s too hard.

As I explained to my wife, when I sit down to prepare for work, for a flight or simulator check, whatever it may be, the question I have started asking is, am I preparing from a place of fear or love? And, if I am feeling fearful, what is it that I’m really afraid of? Why am I doing what I am? If it’s because I feel the need to prove something, then I know I’m coming from the wrong place in my heart.

Of course preparing so you don’t fuck up in such a way that the flight ends in catastrophe is one way to think about things. Ultimately that’s our goal – Safety absolutely, rightly, comes first. However there’s a big difference between preparing or working from a place of all consuming fear, versus love. Even if you still feel fearful, if you’re coming from a place of genuine love, that will give you strength to carry on. To stare down the eyes of the beast. 

I relayed some of those loving motives, as they applied to me in my work, to my wife.

To honour and protect my fellow crew members who I owe it to, to perform at my best, as I know they are. To do my best for every single passenger we transport – to make sure they arrive at their destinations –  that they make it home safely to their loved ones. To remember I am providing for my own family through this job – that gives us everything we need to live a happy, healthy and secure life. To remember I love myself – self preservation because I want to be alive – so I can be around for my family and friends. So my wife has a husband to love her. So my son has a father to lead him.

There’s something else at this moment in time too. 

Although there isn’t a huge amount of flying to go around at the moment – I realised the small amount there is, is an opportunity to be part of something, to help in a way most others around the world can’t. To help bring the few people who need to travel for very urgent reasons. To help bring critical supplies, medical or otherwise, to areas of the world who desperately need it. To help the world keep turning to some degree at a time when it has all but ground to a halt!  It’s a gift to be able to do something more than simply stay at home during this pandemic. I know millions of others would give a lot for the opportunity to do the same. It’s something to be extremely grateful for.

While these might seem like obvious motivations, I can tell you they are easily lost, or have been for me at least, in a profession so heavily driven by perfectionism – to prove your competency, and that you know everything there is to know. The pressure to prove yourself isn’t part of the the job I relish. 

Yet, when I allowed myself to think in these terms, I found myself itching to get back into the righthand seat for the first time in a long time. To be a larger part of this fight against the coronavirus pandemic – even if that means I only get to fly a single sector. I want to help in any way I can. Through my wiring and my profession. 

I now realise just how important it is to remind myself of my real motives when I feel anxious, especially when plagued by self-doubt, to help refocus the mind and bring me back to the present.

Am I doing this because of love or fear?

As I relayed these thoughts to my wife that night, it was interesting to hear that for the charity classes she had been organising, from which she earned not a penny, she had felt none of this resistance. She believed in the cause strongly, for a number of reasons including bringing people together from their homes at this difficult time globally. So they too could do something more than just sit at home – to contribute to charities in need, while showing love to themselves. A beautiful act of self-compassion extending outwards.

It’s obvious isn’t it? She had been acting from a place of love and the motivation for doing so was effortless.


FEAR AS A GATEWAY TO COMPASSION


Fear is part of what all of us should be feeling at the moment. It’s a good thing. If fear didn’t play its part – we’d have become extinct a long time ago. Self preservation is paramount to keeping all of us safe. However if thats the only reason, if all your thinking about is the I, it’ll wear you thin quickly. Fear on this level isn’t designed to keep you running for months or years at a time. It certainly won’t be what sustains you during this pandemic. It can’t. 

To find motivation for long term action, for maintaining integrity, for anything, you have to consider love.  

Why are you doing it? 

For the elderly and the sick, the most vulnerable in society, your loved ones and your friends, your grandparents and your parents, your brother and your sisters, your children and your grandchildren…  

Why are you doing it? 

Is it because of love or fear?

I want to stress that listening to and acknowledging your fear is important. It’s telling us something. ie there’s a snake over there – I better walk the other way. Or, there’s a deadly and highly infectious disease, maybe I should stay indoors for a while.

However our fears are often based on clinging and attachment – a fear of losing something – whether that’s something you have, control of a situation, other people’s behaviour, how society and governments should function, etc. 

Fear is telling us something about reality we wish were different. It’s telling us to act and to make it so! However, what’s often lost on people is what exactly needs to change. I can tell you, far more often than not, it isn’t reality that needs to change. Reality is perfectly fine as it is, because it can’t be any other way. It’s your expectations of reality. If you’re feeling angry that’s coming from you. It’s your emotion to deal with and take responsibility for. The same applies to anxiety and depression. Emotions I know well. They are my responsibility to deal with. Whether that means I need to take time to meditate or seek therapy – I need to work out why. I need to understand before I can change. Before I can accept what I cannot change.

Ultimately fear is asking for us to change something or accept something.

With regards to situations we have little or no control over, acceptance is key. You will never find peace in the moment, if you don’t accept it as it is. If it happens to be a situation like the coronavirus pandemic, as much as we might wish it to be different, if we cannot act, if we cannot change it, we must learn to accept it. That means to accept your fear of the situation. This isn’t easy of course. But I do believe, by acknowledging your fear, understanding it as a shared feeling that millions of others are also experiencing, you are actually coming from a place of love and compassion. It is this, that will lead to acceptance.

Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance, said it beautifully: 

When we understand our pain as an intrinsic gateway to compassion, we begin to awaken from the imprisoning story of a suffering self. In the moments when we tenderly hold our anger, for instance, we cut through our identity as an angry self. The anger no longer feels like a personal flaw or an oppressive burden. We begin to see its universal nature—it’s not our anger, it is not our pain. Everyone lives with anger, with fear, with grief.”

She goes on, “Understanding that the pain in our life is an expression of universal suffering opens us to the fullness of Radical Acceptance. Rather than being a problem, our depression, fear and anger are “entrusted to us,” and can be dedicated to our awakening. When we carry our pain with the kindness of acceptance instead of the bitterness of resistance, our hearts become an edgeless sea of compassion.”

Even in the grip of fear, pain or depression, we can act from love. In fact it’s possible fear can stir in us far greater compassion and love, than we otherwise knew we had.

Here’s a definition of courage for you.

Courage is acting from a place of love, doing what you know to be right, not in the absence of fear, but because of it. 

Let me ask you a question. If you see a child, let’s say its your child, step out onto the road into oncoming traffic and you take the courageous decision to run out to save his or her life. Was that decision to save your child’s life based on love or fear? Have a long think about it. Most will answer without thinking. Love. But was it? Consider the crucial part fear had to play in this scenario. Fear of losing something you love. Fear of your child getting badly hurt or worse. I believe it was fear that sprung you into action. Don’t forget that fear can come from a place of love too. Fear when really acknowledged and listened to, can be a powerful gateway to compassion. When you understand the love behind your fear, you will know how you should act. 

Back to the present – our only true reality – and the situation of the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re feeling fearful for yourself or your loved ones, if acting out of fear, fear that seems too much to bear, sit with it and be kind. Don’t resist it – you’ll only give it strength. Instead, remind yourself of the love behind that fear. Remember the loving reasons behind what you’re doing. Remember what we all are. It’s such a beautiful thing. It really is. To be part of something bigger than ourselves. To see the world unite behind a common cause like it has. It gives me so much hope for the future. Don’t forget the love. It’s the love that will sustain you. It’s love that will sustain us all. So I ask you, and I ask myself, again and again,

“Am I doing this because of love or fear?” 


SOURCES:

Notes from my journal – March 2020

Hello fine readers and welcome to my Monthly review! Every day I ask myself the question – What did I learn? – and write some thoughts in response. The following is a collection of my favourites.

I should say most of these thoughts and/or ideas are heavily influenced by what I’ve been reading and the people I’ve been talking to. In some cases they are simply quotes by others. I hope you enjoy.


Setting your intention matters a great deal. An intention to be mindful in all that you do. ‘Unitasking’ is key. Concentrate on the one thing you are doing and give it your undivided attention! You will derive much more pleasure in life when acting like this.

Mindfulness is only one part of the puzzle. Compassion is the other. Being compassionate has to start with yourself. Forgiving yourself for feeling tired and disconnected – Recovery from depression and anxiety takes time. You’re doing really well. Look what you managed to achieve today.  Be proud of yourself. 

Scrolling is the new smoking. You need to significantly reduce it. Otherwise it leads to cognitive fatigue. Idea – should aim to have a phone free day every week and keep my phone in another room to the one I’m in while at home (That way I’ll be going to it for a very deliberate reason – not just to mindlessly scroll)!

A good nights sleep starts the minute you wake up. Starting your day is just as important as how you finish it. Don’t look at you phone until out of the bathroom – ie Don’t make it the first thing you look at in the morning! Use it only to log your weight and write in your journal before meditation. Otherwise leave it in the bedroom till you’ve finished exercising and had something to eat.  

It matters that you care. It really matters. Pay attention. Small acts with great love everyday. 

The essence of bravery is refusing to give up on anyone or anything

Forgiveness in this world is really lacking. For me forgiving myself and also other people in this world I believe to be doing very bad things is something to pay more attention to. Every act I make has a positive ripple effect. No matter how small, if done with love and compassion, it will effect the world in a positive way. Keep going. Keep smiling. Remain hopeful. Love yourself and by extension the whole world and everything in it. 

Forgiveness is a natural process. It does not matter if you are able to forgive someone or yourself yet, what matters is the intention to forgive that other person or yourself. That way the door is open for the process – however long – to take place. 

Everything I need and want, I already have. The most important thing for me is to learn how to enjoy it. 

The path of awakening is simply a process of wakeful, profound relaxing. We see what is here right now and we let go into life exactly as it is” – Tara Brach 

Reaching out to friends and family and checking in on them is so important. Especially now during this difficult time. It’s important to let them know we are here and also that we are safe. Family and friends are everything. We are nothing without each other. 

I was wrong about the coronavirus. It’s not been an overreaction – people are dying and medical staff are stretched thin. We must all do our part to help protect the most vulnerable in society. COVID 19 is an opportunity to spend time at home with our family and practise mindfulness. It’s an opportunity to send love out to all our friends and family. To really connect from isolation. We live in an extraordinary time in which we are incredibly lucky to be able to do so. To know so much. To prepare and mobilise behind a common cause so quickly as a result. There is still so much to be grateful for. 

Life is one big lesson in acceptance. Now is the perfect time to practise that. There is so much out of our control but what we can control has the ability to empower us. 

If you see through yourself you will see through everyone. Then you will love them. – Anthony De Mello 

What we react to is self generated and has nothing to do with the outside world. A negative feeling comes from YOU – nothing else. It’s all part of our conditioning – illusions created by our minds – from attachments that we have been conditioned to believe are important despite reality. By remaining truly aware and questioning the tricks of our conditioned mind with both compassion and curiosity, we can began to see the illusions for what they truly are and break down the false identities we all cling to. This will bring you back to life. To the here and now which is, of course, the only reality. 

My emotions are a direct result of my thinking mind – nothing else. To stop negative emotions it’s me who has to change. Not the world. Not anyone else.

Think in terms of others. Helping your self is not selfish. It’s the opposite of selfish. Helping yourself helps others. Fixing your back means you’re no longer distracted by it – which means you can focus your attention on more important matters. Looking after your finances helps build security for your family. 

Good parenting starts with being compassionate towards yourself!

Show up to your children’s emotions with compassion. It’s ok to feel sadness or anger. Ask them what it is that they need?

Life is a long beautiful melody. You have to let it play out. Don’t cling. There will be long low sad bits and high happy ecstatic peaks. Don’t cling to them. Don’t think those parts of the melody define you. If you replay one part of it over and over it’s no longer a melody. It’s ruined. Let it play out. 

Taking to yourself in the third person is an awesome mindfulness hack.eg David is feeling stressed. David is thinking lots. David is looking at his phone. It helps to unidentify with your thoughts, feelings and emotions. You become the observer of your thoughts without falling into the trap of thinking you are your thoughts. It’s another reminder to wake up!

Everything is a process. All I have to do is observe. Observe with curiosity and compassion. Look at yourself with curiosity and compassion. Remain present and your natural wisdom will guide you. Have faith.

Everything is always now. It can’t be any other way. The past and the future come from the mind only. They are illusions that distract awareness of the present moment. Everything you need is available to you in the present. Stay there. 

Showing up on the bad days matters more so than on the good days. Remember your’e saying something to yourself every time you show up about who you are and who you want to become. The same is true when you don’t.

Am I making this decision because of love or fear? – Dr Vivek Murthy  – Such an insightful way of asking yourself why or why not you should do something.

A Pilot’s Guide to Self-Managing Back Pain – Sitting, Standing, Swimming

“It’s not the job of sports medicine professionals to look after your tissues and joints, whether you hydrate or whether you actively work toward improving and maintaining healthy positions and range of movement throughout the day. It’s up to you. Spend 10 minutes minimum per day. No days off. No excuses.”

– Dr. Kelly Starrett, READY TO RUN

In my attempts to nurse my back to full strength, I have spent a great deal of time researching how to manage my pain, while also looking at the best home remedies/exercises to help fix my injury and prevent similar ones from happening again in the future.

As a result I have decided to compile my research into this comprehensive guide regarding all the things I’ve found useful for managing my back pain day to day, including some important what-not-to-dos!

This post will explore my best tips with regards to sitting, standing and swimming. Follow on posts will explore other exercises, lifestyle tips, how to sleep and the use of drugs/other treatments.

It goes without saying I’m not a medical professional in any way, shape or form, so please, please, don’t take what I’m saying as gospel. I’m simply relaying what has helped me in managing my pain. 

Back pain is a complex issue that I believe requires a complex approach from a number of different angles. Trial and error is necessary in figuring out what works best for you and your condition. 

Hopefully this guide will help you as well in some way, shape or form. As always seek advice from a professional (added advice – seek more than one opinion) and do your own research.

I’ve left links to a number of articles throughout that I found useful/helped support my own findings. I should add I am in no way affiliated with any of the organisations mentioned or products that I recommend. 

SITTING IS BAD

I like to think of sitting like drinking – something to be done in strict moderation! Of course I realise that’s not possible for all who have normal 9 to 5s (or non normal random pilot like jobs as the case may be), but you get my drift. A little bit of sitting ain’t a bad thing, but too much most certainly is. I’m guessing for the vast majority of us, we could all do with finding ways to sit (drink?) less.

While at home I like to CREATE A LYING DESK by laying a yoga mat on the living room floor (or hotel room if on a layover), instead of slouching on the couch should I decide to Netflix binge or work on my laptop. This way I can keep myself mobile, taking a break to perform stretches or core exercises while watching TV!

IF YOU HAVE TO SIT for long periods of time at work, or during a long haul flight for example, STAND UP AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE (at least 10 mins for every hour). It always surprises me that more people don’t get up to have a walk and stretch in flight. Even a couple of minutes can make a big difference. A little and often is best.

Should you find yourself wedged in a middle row seat or unable to move for some other reason during your commute, CONSIDER DOING SOME IN-THE-SEAT STRETCHING (granted not all will be suitable in an aeroplane seat 💺). See examples below.

HOW TO SIT PROPERLY

Correct posture while sitting is very important – not just for managing back pain, but preventing further problems in the long run. My basic rule of thumb is three fold.

1. SIT UP STRAIGHT – head and torso stacked – with your head facing forward (imagine your ears in line with your shoulders in line with your hips)

2. FEET FLAT ON THE FLOOR or foot rest with knees at the same height or slightly lower than the hips (avoid crossing legs or ankles).

3. BACK FULLY SUPPORTED against the chair including your lower back.

Most chairs are, sadly, poorly designed in this respect, which is why I always TRAVEL WITH A LUMBAR SUPPORT PILLOW. I use a Travel Pal Auto-Inflating Mini Lumbar Pillow. You can, of course, improvise with any pillow you find or by rolling up a towel or piece of clothing to place at the curve of your back.

See the picture below for a good idea of what correct sitting posture looks like. 

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321863.php

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/how-to-sit-correctly/


WALKING IS GOOD

Walk yes, run no. You want to avoid impact from below for obvious reasons (especially if you have a dodgy back like mine).

Going up and down steps or hills has, on occasion, caused my pain to flair up, however, LONG GENTLE WALKS ON FLAT TERRAIN HAS PROVEN TO BE VERY HELPFUL.

A few notes.

DON’T WEAR HEELS. You’d think this might just apply to the ladies, but you’d be wrong. Heels are the devil with regards to back health. Even a small incline (ie the kind of elevation most shoes provide) ain’t great in the long run.

Your best solution is to WALK BARE FOOT WHENEVER POSSIBLE, otherwise finding shoes that have little to no difference in sole thickness from heel to toe (aka WEAR FLATS). I can highly recommend VIVO BAREFOOT for gym/outdoor wear.

Toss your flip flops in the bin 🗑 – they are also the devil for your back!

HOW TO STAND PROPERLY

Posture while standing or walking is also very important.

My best tips from the top down!

1. Hold your head up high and LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD.

2.. PUFF YOUR CHEST OUT by squeezing your shoulder blades together slightly.

3. LET YOUR ARMS RELAX NATURALLY either side. Your ears, shoulders, hips and ankles should be aligned (have a look at other people walking while staring down at their phones – their ears are not even close to being in line with their shoulders and hips).

4. SQUEEZE YOUR BUT AND TIGHTEN YOUR ABS SLIGHTLY. If you look at yourself side-on in the mirror, if you have a little pot belly like me, it should look like its gone or significantly reduced (all the more motivation). The same with your but – it shouldn’t stick out like a horse’s arse (so much).

5. Keep practicing and practicing UNtill it Is automatic. I found the below article on anterior pelvic tilt (a common condition caused by sitting too much) and tips to correct it enormously helpful. 

https://acatoday.org/content/posture-power-how-to-correct-your-body-alignment

https://www.swolept.com/posts/fixing-anterior-pelvic-tilt-posture-tricks-to-make-your-butt-and-gut-smaller#.XkT4lSWlaEd


SWIMMING IS AWESOME

Following my recent back injury last month SWIMMING has proved to be an awesome LOW IMPACT WAY TO MODIFY. Not only did it help enormously with my back pain, it meant I could keep exercising to a level I was happy with. It also proved to do wonders for my cardiovascular system.

After months of regular exercise my resting heartbeat had settled in the very respectable low fifties. Following a few weeks of replacing that with swimming, however, my resting heart rate dropped into the mid to high forties for the first time in a long, long while!

A few things to note.

Although I found swimming massively beneficial on the whole, when I went at it too hard it did occasionally aggravate my pain. As always LET PAIN BE YOUR GUIDE. IF IT HURTS, BACK OFF!

Depending on the nature of your condition, THE TYPE OF SWIMMING STROKE YOU USE CAN MATTER GREATLY.  FRONT AND BACK STROKE WORKED WELL for me but BUTTERFLY AND BREASTSTROKE DID NOT.

Should all types prove painful, consider doing some gentle movements instead. Simply DAMPING THE AFFECTS OF GRAVITY BY GETTING IN THE POOL CAN MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE. I found the following article useful.

https://www.spine-health.com/blog/3-essential-tips-swimming-back-pain