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?

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

“Mindfulness isn’t about goals or ticking a box – mindfulness is a way of life – something to cultivate over time.”

Below I’ve written out 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.

1. WHEN YOU NOTICE YOUR MIND WANDERING – SMILE. 

“A tiny bud of a smile on your lips nourishes awareness and calms you miraculously … your smile will bring happiness to you and to those around you.”Thich Nhat Hanh

“The power of a smile to open and relax us is confirmed by modern science. The muscles used to make a smile actually send a biochemical message to our nervous system that it is safe to relax the flight, fight or freeze response.”Tara Brach 

Smile to yourself as you gently redirect your attention and return to the task at hand – whatever that may be. Smile as a way of congratulating yourself. You’ve just experienced a moment of mindfulness and that’s a great thing. This is not a moment to beat yourself up for having drifted off or getting caught up in your thoughts. That’s like beating yourself up for having flatulence. It’s a perfectly normal thing for the mind to do (and the body in the case of farting). Its important you remain kind to yourself. (PS – I hope that made you smile 😃!)

2. USE S.T.O.P. AS A WAY TO PRACTICE PAUSING INFORMALLY THROUGHOUT THE DAY. 

“The sacred pause helps us reconnect with the present moment. Especially when we are caught up in striving and obsessing and leaning into the future, pausing enables us to reenter the mystery and vitality only found here and now.”Tara Brach

STOP is an easy to remember acronym you can use at any time to help bring you back to the present moment. Its stands for:

S.top to pause for a moment – discontinuing what you are doing. Make yourself comfortable and close your eyes if it helps.

T.ake a breath. – Next take a few deep breaths. Let go as you exhale. Let go of any worries or thoughts, of any tightness in the body.

O.bserve – Now pay attention to what you are feeling as you fully inhabit the moment. What do you feel? Do you feel anxious – some resistance to stopping whatever it is you told yourself you have to do? Do you accept this moment exactly as it is?

P.roceed with whatever it is you were doing mindfully, taking that awareness with you

(There are plenty of other mantras or acronyms you could use. The important thing is to find one that you like and works for you – to help bring you back to the present moment. As another example, I also like to use the mantra, ’Smile, Breathe… Focus, Believe…’ whenever I catch myself getting caught up with my emotions or a negative train of thought.)

3. TALKING TO YOURSELF IN THE THIRD PERSON AS A WAY TO UNIDENTIFY WITH THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS. 

David is feeling stressed. David is thinking lots. David is looking at his phone. Talking in this manner is a great way to help unidentify with your thoughts, feelings and emotions. To really become the observer. To see your thoughts and feelings for what they are -just thoughts and feelings – without falling into the trap of thinking you are your thoughts or feelings. 

I am depressed is very different to saying I am feeling depressed or having feelings of depression. Replacing ‘I’ with your name takes this a step further. eg. David is having feelings of depression. Its a subtle but powerful shift in terminology that fundamentally changes how you relate to your feelings and thoughts. 

Mark Reinecke, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine says, “When we put something in first person there’s a heavier [emotional] load that makes it more difficult to reason about a problem clearly. If you put the problem into the third person, it allows you to keep perspective on it and have a calmer response.”

https://www.today.com/series/one-small-thing/talking-yourself-third-person-can-calm-emotions-t114420

4. Practise the engagement of flow

Give 100% attention to whatever you are doing, whenever you remember.

How do you do that?

To give you an example: Try for a few seconds, closing your eyes and imagine you have been blind your whole life – that you’ve never seen a single object in its flesh – don’t know what colour is, etc. Once you’ve spent a minute of two imaging this, open your eyes again and really look as if you’re seeing everything for the very first time.

Did you have any thoughts or was everything you looked at, if only for a second or two, completely and utterly amazing? Thats what I imagine, at least, how an enlightened person sees the world. Bringing that level of attention and awareness to absolutely everything, as if for the very first. 

5. Use R.A.I.N. to deal with difficult emotions.

The acronym RAIN is an easy-to-remember tool for practicing mindfulness and compassion during difficult moments using the following four steps:

R.ecognise what is happening and label it.

A.ccept the emotion or feeling to be there as it is.

I.nvestigate it – become curious and really observe it. Ask yourself why/what triggered it? Be compassionate as you do so.

N.urture with self compassion – Remember you are not your thoughts, you are not your feelings. They are simply things you are experiencing. They will pass! Remember too that every person in the world suffers. That is part of the living experience. You are not alone. 

https://www.tarabrach.com/rain/

“The business of a wise man is to be happy in whatever condition life happens to offer”

The Power of Routine in Cementing Habits, Lifting Mood and Increasing Productivity.

“Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.”

― W. H. Auden

I’ve worked hard on perfecting my day to day routines over the last half year – in the process cementing a number of positive habits that has had a profound effect on my general mood, motivation and productivity.

Not only have I been far more consistent in going through my morning routine, the implementation of an evening routine (as recommended by my therapist) has, among a number of other benefits, helped improve my relationship to sleep tremendously.

For those interested readers I have listed a breakdown of my current morning and evening routines in detail below. Hopefully it will serve as inspiration should you be looking to build upon your own morning and evening routines.

My Morning routine:

#1 Wake up – Drink a glass of water and make my bed first thing! (This sets the tone). 

#2 Go to the bathroom – brush my teeth and weigh myself. 

#3 Change into workout clothes – then meditate for 10 – 20 mins without fail!

#4 Exercise for 5mins (if nothing else) to 1 hour (usually 30-40mins of HIT or Weights/Strength trainingFor those interested in doing similar I can highly recommend checking out fitness blender online or via YouTube. They have hundreds of brilliant at-home workouts for all levels, that require nothing more than a yoga mat).

#5 Shower and get changed into my best clothes for the day! 

#6 Make Brunch – low carb/high protein – and take my vitamins (I usually skip breakfast as part of my fasting window in which I only eat during a block of 8 hours a day) with coffee or tea. 

#7 Go to Office –review my day plan/goals and write in my journal. (I keep my journalling very simple – tip hat to Tim Ferris for the inspiration – by asking myself a few questions. Those are: What am I grateful for? What is worrying you most today (and what can i do about it)? What would make today great (how would you spend it if it were your last)?)

#8 Write or work for 1 hour. (Sometimes in the chaos of playing with my boy or doing other things I’ll ear-mark a period in the afternoon- usually when my son has his nap – for work and/or writing ✍️). 

My Evening routine:

#1 Have dinner as a family at the table – mention one thing you’re grateful for today and one thing you could have done better (works well as a conversation starter).

#2 After dinner – run through Liam’s bed time routine and put him to bed. 

#3 Go to the office immediately after and write tomorrow’s plan/goals and also in my journal. (Again I ask myself a few simple questions. Those are: 3 amazing things that happened today? What did you do well? How could i have made today better? What did i learn?)

#4 Shower and change into pyjamas. 

#5 Make a cup of tea to enjoy on the couch – watch some TV/play games (Limit to 1 hour or 1 movie) and/or read. 

#6 Stretch – 30 mins of gentle Yoga (I usually do this while watching TV)

#7 Brush teeth/get ready for bed then TALK TO HOLLY EVERY NIGHT WITHOUT FAIL! (How have you been doing today? Are you OK? What are some things you have been thinking about or are bothering you?)

#8 Reading

#9 Evening meditation (visualisation) then sleep. 

Routine is massively underrated and something I now believe to be so so important.

Some key takeaways… 

Start small and do what you can. On a near perfect day I’ll tick every item off the list but I rarely do. Thats ok. I don’t imagine many would ever be able to run through their routines perfectly, so if you can’t do, for example, 20 mins Meditation then do 10. If you can’t do 10, do 5. If you can’t do 5 (really?) do 1. If all you have time for is 1 push up then just do that. Tick it off and improve the next day. The important thing is to show up. 

Change it to suit your needs on the day. I often have to change the order if I don’t have the time for something like getting in a proper session of exercise. In this case I’ll try reschedule it for the afternoon or count it as my weekly rest day. If it doesn’t get done don’t beat yourself up – simply get on the horse the next day. 

That said I have found that if I do just 3 or 4 out of 8/9 on each list, I’ll have a much better day than having done nothing. For that reason I have a few NON NEGOTIABLE ITEMS.

In the morning these are making the bed and meditating first thing. I also make sure to write in my journal (I’ll do it over breakfast if I’m really pushed for time as it only takes 5 minutes. This is about the same amount of time it takes to brush my teeth, so I feel there are no excuses).

In the evening my non negotiable items are making my plan for the following day and again writing in my journal. Also talking to my wife at the end of the day, if only for 5 minutes. I like to think of these non-negotiable items as my abbreviated MRs and ERs.

If all else about my day fails and turns to complete dog shite, I can at least to go to bed knowing that I’ve done these simple things. I showed up even on a bad day.

With the world in isolation because of the COVID-19 I might add that now is the perfect time to start implementing your own morning and evening routines. Ones that help to build healthier long-term habits to hopefully last far longer than this crisis does.

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 – Core Strength & Flexibility

“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 particularly useful for managing my back pain day to day, including some important what-not-to-dos!

Following on from my previous post – Sitting, Standing, Swimming – this post will explore core strengthening and flexibility. The following post will look at lifestyle tips and how to sleep properly. A final post will look at the use of drugs/other treatments plus some final thoughts.

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. 


CORE STRENGTH AND FLEXIBILITY ARE KEY

CORE STRENGTHENING aND FLEXIBILITY EXERCISES NEED TO be a top priority, not only to aid in recovery, but crucially prevent further injury down the line!

YOGA is an obvious go-to that COMBINES BOTH FLEXIBILITY AND STRENGTH well. It’s also easy to modify, as needed, depending on your pain/condition.

PILATES ALSO COMES HIGHLY RECOMMENDED by many health care professionals in aiding lower back pain.

Before you jump down to do 100 sit-ups there are a few things worth knowing.

NOT ALL CORE STRENGTHENING OR STRETCHING EXERCISES ARE GOOD FOR YOUR BACK. Sit ups, for example, put a lot of pressure on the discs in your spine and are best avoided. Other stretches such as forward bends can be equally bad for those who suffer from lower back issues.

I’ve found the following TO BE problematic TO SOME DEGREE:

SIT UPS – BICYCLE CRUNCHES – RUSSIAN TWISTS – BOAT POSE – DOUBLE LEG LIFTS – TOE TOUCHES/FORWARD BENDS – DOWNWARD DOG – HAMSTRING STRETCHES

This list is not exhaustive – just off the top of my head. That said, I have been able to modify a few of these exercises/stretches to work for me – Hamstring stretches on my back for example – as opposed to bending from sitting or standing – doesn’t cause me pain unless I over do it!

It goes without saying but EXPERIMENT TO FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU and as always use pain as your guide. IF IT HURTS BACK OFF (more on this below!).

With that in mind here are a few tips I’ve found useful.

A key aspect for most core exercises is KEEPING YOUR TAILBONE TUCKED AND ENGAGING YOUR CORE AND GLUTES.

Similarly when performing ab exercises from your back you want to KEEP YOUR LOWER BACK GLUED TO THE FLOOR (imagine drawing your navel towards your spine).

Strengthening and improving flexibility both upstream and downstream of the problem area is also important. For your LOWER back this means your glutes, quads, hip flexors, HAMSTRINGS, upper back and chest, as well AS your core.

Below are a list of exercises & stretcheS that I’ve found work well without aggravating my pain. As always these are exercises I’ve found work for me. That might not be the case for you. Be cautions and let pain be your guide.

Rather than bore you with a description I’ll leave it up to you to look them up and choose which ones you would prefer to incorporate into your daily routine.

FYI there are a million and one great workout videos you can follow on YouTube or other such media platforms. Simply Google exercise videos for lower back pain and away you go. I often follow fitness blender workouts when on a layover in my hotel room.

On your front:

PLANK

BIRD DOG

PIGEON POSE

CAT 🐈 COW 🐄 

CHILD POSE

SPHINX/COBRA POSE

SUPERMAN 

On your back/side:

SIDE PLANK

BRIDGE

PELVIC TILT

PARTIAL CRUNCH 

WINDSHIELD WIPERS

GLUTE STRETCH 

HAMSTRING STRETCH

HAPPY BABY

From standing:

WALL SIT

FORWARD/REVERSE LUNGE

QUAD STRETCH

SQUATS

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/multimedia/back-pain/sls-20076265?s=3

https://www.everydayhealth.com/back-pain-pictures/the-best-and-worst-exercises-for-back-pain.aspx

https://www.webmd.com/back-pain/ss/slideshow-exercises

https://www.self.com/gallery/core-exercises-for-lower-back-pain-relief/amp

https://www.self.com/story/the-abs-exercises-you-should-skip-if-you-have-lower-back-pain

https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/anterior-pelvic-tilt-exercises


LISTEN TO YOUR BODY BUT DON’T STOP MOVING

For the vast majority of injuries there is almost always a healthy and safe way to modify your exercise routines. Sure it might mean you have to stop running for a while or playing tennis (or whatever that sport you love may be) but it certainly doesn’t mean you should stop altogether. It’s not a death sentence.

I would argue NOT MOVING MIGHT BE THE WORST THING YOU CAN DO. I’ve certainly found this to be the case with regards to back pain. Remaining sedentary or trying to do nothing certainly hasn’t worked for me.

You need to move, stretch and strengthen everyday. You do, however, need to be smart about it. By this what I really mean is, LEAVE YOUR EGO AT THE DOOR!

It was leading up to a weight training session that I felt a small twinge in the back of my lower back. The alarm bells were there. It didn’t feel like much so I pressed ahead determined to ‘get ripped’ like a jackass. The result? I put my back out doing deadlifts…

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. ONE MISSED WORKOUT IS ALWAYS WORTH IT TO AVOID INJURY. I’ll say again, if your body is trying to tell you something, listen. The same applies post injury too (something I’m also well versed in).

It might seem obvious but YOU SHOULD NEVER BE STRETCHING OR TRAINING TO OR BEYOND THE POINT WHERE YOU FEEL PAIN. .

When lifting weights you have to BE VERY CAREFUL NOT TO OVER DO IT. Once again leaving your ego at home is highly recommended! Start small and build slowly. Never ever sacrifice your form for amount of weight.

Equally important to consider is the type of lifting exercises – which matter greatly depending on the particular condition and severity of your back injury/pain. IF YOUR COMING BACK FROM INJURY GO SLOW!!

When testing the waters with weights last week, despite lifting only a small amount, my back decided to complain considerably the next day. It was too soon. Until you’re back to full strength, AVOIDING IMPACT FROM BELOW AND WEIGHTS FROM ABOVE ARE GOOD RULES OF THUMB to follow! My weights remain firmly in the closet for now. I’ve already done a fine job prolonging injuries over the years. This time my ego will have to wait. 


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