Day 21: Food – nourishing you mindfully

Integrating mindfulness into daily life doesn’t always mean long hours of meditative practice – or even sitting still. Of course, you can always choose to increase quiet mindfulness, not least because like in the case of stress reduction, the actual time spend might easily be compensated for by the potential for having to undo things done ‘in the heat of the moment’. Similarly, many people find that a small morning meditation or body scan can increase their productivity during the day – and they often find it easier to focus on what really matters. But, you can also build mindfulness moments into activities you do every day. Today is one of these: eating.

Food is something very important to us as human beings, after all, without enough ‘fuel’ we can’t exist. Nevertheless, often, food becomes subordinate to schedules and stress. Eating quickly while trying to do something else, eating a quick snack rather than a healthy and nourishing meal, grabbing things that are convenient, rather than food that we want. All these are just too common. The result: many health problems related to bad food choices, from obesity to cancer, heart disease and bad sleep. The list of terrible consequences of putting the wrong things into our body is just as long and terrifying as the list of potential consequences from too much stress. In fact, both are, of course, very related – and often increase the effect of each other. A possible solution? Mindful eating.

Mindful eating, simply put, means being present in the moment of eating. Don’t have your mind wander off and think about what you do after your lunch break. Don’t think about how you could have handled the meeting in the morning better. Instead be present in the moment: and specifically focus on the moment and the food you are eating.

The easiest practice in the beginning is to do this if you have lunch (or other food) alone. While people around are often very relaxing and nice, and their effect can indeed be calming and relaxing, for mindful food practice, especially in the beginning, many people find that other people tend to occupy their mind and take away from the eating experience. However, once you have you have established and trained your mind to be more present during eating, I’d suggest that you can easily extend your mindful presence to other people around you. This can add even more enjoyment to the moment. But please, for the moment, try and perform the activity on your own.

For today, take one meal or snack and eat it mindfully. This could be a packed or bought lunch or just an afternoon snack, a dinner or breakfast. Either will work. Just make sure you are alone, in a quiet environment and without the radio or TV on (or any other disturbance).

1. To start, take three deep breaths once you have the food ready. Focus on your breath and bring your mind to the present.

2. Once you are in the present, start eating the food: Do this with much attention to the sensations the food is causing. Pay attention to the smell, the taste, and feel of the food.

3. Once you have finished the food, take another three deep breaths.

How does it feel to eat in this way? Most people notice how different food tastes and smells when eaten mindfully. The truth though is, that it isn’t just the taste and smell that is different: the longer term benefits of eating more mindfully are immense: often people feel more satisfied with their food, leading to them eating less. They choose foods more wisely, eating healthier and, of course, the simple mindfulness moment of eating, is often found to reduce stress and anxiety after finishing the food.

Please share below, in the comment section, how you are feeling after eating mindfully – or your experiences related to mindful eating!

Day 20: Stress Reduction

Stress remains one of the main causes of health problems in our society today: from heart disease, depression, cancer to erectile disfunction… many health problems are either caused by stress or are made significantly worse by stress. But not just health suffers: decision making under stress is notoriously bad and flawed. Over the nearly three weeks of the bootcamp, you probably have noticed how quieting the mind can actually lead to much better outcomes. You may also have noticed how your mind has started to quiet down as a result of the practice and training to focus.

The success of mindfulness to reduce stress and the potentially terrible consequences of ongoing stress are so impressive, mindfulness-based stress reduction programs are increasingly common, financed by major health systems as well as more and more employers using mindfulness training to increase productivity.

Of course, this bootcamp isn’t about the potential financial and health consequences of adopting a mindful lifestyle: but it is about creating a more healthy, happy and “present” you. And one of the most important things you can do to achieve this, is to reduce the amount of stress in your life.

Stress can have many reasons, and what causes stress can be very different from person to person. Discussing this goes well beyond the scope of this blog. However, with increasing mindful practice, you maybe starting to become increasingly aware of stressor or situations that are creating stress in your life.

For many people the immediate response is to respond quickly to the stress-creating situation, for example, by doing something to counter-balance the stress that has been caused (note: this could be by doing nothing at all!). This can, sometimes, be a good response, of course. But often it is not.

Unfortunately, stress is pretty much unavoidable. However, with a little practice mindfulness cannot just help to reduce general stress levels, but also take away some of the stress-creating issues (or at least lessen their impact!). The trick to successful stress management day by day is often to recognise a stress-creating situation early – and respond with a stress-lessening counter-action: so don’t respond to the situation, but first reduce the level of stress. This is, of course, easier said then done.

Any of the previous mindfulness exercises can be really useful if you feel a situation is arising a feeling of stress (or anxiety) in you. Today, I’ll give you one more quick activity you can easily use in those situations.

1) As soon as you realise something is causing you stress, focus on your breath for at least 3 breaths. Take deep and long breaths. You should feel a little more calm as a result of this.

2) Visualise the situation or emotion that is causing you stress. Visualise the situation as being in a box, on a river, coming slowly towards you.

3) When it reaches you, extend your hands and take the box out of the river. Look at the box for a few moments. Turn it around. Examine how it feels.

4) Once you are finished examining the box, place it back in the river. See how the river carries it away. Visualise how it moves in the water, moving away from you: first slowly, then more rapidly.

5) Take a few more deep breaths as you see the box disappearing far away on the river, and come back to the present.

Try and use this quick activity (it shouldn’t really last more than two or three minutes) two or three times today when you feel something potentially stressful might be about to happen or has just happened – instead of either avoiding the activity or reacting in a particular way.

How does it feel to take a look at the situation? Do you feel it makes any difference in how you react or feel? Share your thoughts below!

Day 19: Empathy and Gratitude

Two concepts repeatedly turn up when you try and find out the secret of “happy” people: empathy and gratitude. They are also essential to the practice of mindfulness. Why specifically these two? Today I invite you to try them out for yourself – ad see how practicing empathy and gratitude can change your mental “position”, and help you become a more happy person.

Empathy is trying to see, feel and experience the world through the eyes of someone else. As so many concepts in the bootcamp, this seems a really easy thing to do – but is very hard when you put it into practice.
On the other hand, once mastered, it allows you to be more sensitive and open to the feelings of other people, which in turn will make it much easier for you to communicate with them. As you develop empathy, you’ll notice how people increasingly change from being aggressive to open with you, because you learn to treat them the way they want to be treated. This can be a truly powerful motivator for people, and is fundamental to building strong relationships. At the same time, it will help to deal with negativity from people: simply by understanding “where they are coming from”, and trying to help them, many negative situations will become much less stressful – and can even turn out to be an opportunity to grow for everyone.

Think of how often it is easy to just be annoyed at someone who is unfriendly, taking the last seat on the train or complaining. But while it is easy to simply react annoyed, it is often better to stop, think and … practice empathy. You’ll be surprised at the reactions you are getting!

The first activity today is to try and react to three unpleasant or annoying situations with empathy.
To do this, when you experience a situation where you feel annoyed today, try to take a deep breath. Resist the temptation to react to whatever it is annoys you – or judge the person who is annoying you.
Simply switch into mindfulness mode – but instead of focusing o your ow mind, try and focus on the other person: experience how they are experiencing the situation. Imagine actively that you are that person in this moment. Maintain their point of view for as long as you can, especially when you are talking to them or are close to them.
Once you are back to “yourself”, ask yourself how the experience was different for you and them. See how experiencing the same situation from “the other” side has changed your view of the situation.

The second activity for today focuses on gratitude. As a popular saying says: “It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy”. Being grateful is, luckily, a lot easier than training empathy. However, we simply often lack the time or motivation to do this important task. So, as a second activity for today, I’ll ask you to write down three things you are particularly grateful for about today – just before you go to bed. This can be things related to anything that happened today. Even if it was a really bad day, I’m sure you’ll find at least three things to be grateful for (and probably many, many more once you start thinking about it!).

By simply stoping and asking yourself “what am I grateful for today”, many people notice how their mind immediately switches from the stress they may be experiencing during the day to a much more positive frame. This is a very powerful little tool: you can use it anytime you feel stressed or annoyed – or even just a bit unhappy: simply stop for a second. Take a deep breath and list three things you are grateful for in this moment or today. Try this out over the next few days – and see how your mind will slowly change and more readily focuses on the positive. You can even have certain “check-ins” during the day: for example, try having a gratefulness moment during your lunch break tomorrow.

Two little tricks today, but both are potentially life changing. I know they are not very easy – especially in the heat of the moment when you are annoyed or feeling stressed. But sometimes this little stop and think can really make a big difference.

If this makes a difference for you, why not share this with everyone? Or do you have other tips of how to stop yourself from stressing out in a situation? Please use the comments function below… it is always great to hear from you!

Day 18: Using Mindfulness to develop your life vision and mission

After yesterday’s activity, today we use blue sky thinking to create a vision and mission statement for yourself. Today has two activities to create the vision and mission: one “rational” one, one based on meditation. Depending on what type of person you are and if you are more emotional or thought driven, you can do either of them first. If you consider yourself more thought-driven and rational, then start with the first exercise. If you are more emotional, or indeed find the thought of rationally developing in a vision for yourself too challenging, you may find it easier to start with the meditation.

The min aim for today is to write two little sentences about you: a mission and a vision. Both should express similar aims, but are different. Let me quickly explain the difference: your mission is the ultimate end-state you would like to achieve. For example “urbangay’s mission is to enrich gay men’s lives through mindfulness” – ok, this may sound a bit lofty, but it captures the main aim.  The vision statement focuses more explicitly on how you are trying to achieve this lofty aim expressed in the mission. For example:
urbangay’s vision is to be the go-to resource to create powerful, personal change through mindfulness for gay men.
urbangay wants to build a safe space where gay men can learn about, develop, apply and put into practice mindfulness-based techniques for personal development in all aspects of their daily lives.
urbangay does this by educating, coaching and creating a community of connected individuals who learn and support each other in the process.

Some people find this activity challenging, as they relate often to very lofty visions – or try emulate too much a long-term business vision/mission. Remember, when you are completing this activity, that you are not fixed, and far more flexible than a large corporation.
On the other hand, don’t dismiss this activity as simply something big companies do: rather look at it as a tool that is used to (often) successfully focus large and complex organisations. So why not use it on you?
Importantly, don’t aim to create a very aspirational vision just because you think you have to. Your happiness is what counts, and you should think entirely what is right for you. There is no right or wrong vision: a vision of yourself living in a mountain retreat is just as valid as trying to make the world a better place. What’s right for you, is right for you. Nobody else can tell you that.

The first part I now describe is the rational activity to create the vision and mission.

Firstly, glance at the wall and lists created yesterday. Identify core values that drive your activities. These could be anything from charitable activities to a happier life through learning all there is to know about healthy vegan living. Basically, aim to take a helicopter perspective of the helicopter perspective from yesterday.
Aim to write a list of core values that guide your activities: these are the main emotional drivers. Simply put, the basic question you’re trying to answer is: “in an ideal world, what would make you jump out of bed full of energy every morning”.

In the second activity, go to . Use the guided meditation as a way to refine the ideas you generated in the first activity (careful, set an alarm at the end of the meditation, as it is a sleep meditation!). If you start with this activity, then mediate first, and use the first activity to refine your list.

In the next step, combine the list of values to a coherent vision: a few examples would be

The final step for today is to write a mission statement, e.g. how are you aiming to get there. Examples of this are

I hope these two exercises have been useful to you. I know they can be challenging for many people: taking a step back and looking at your life is never particularly easy. This is probably especially true when you feel actually relatively content with your life. In this case, it might be that these activities have clearly reinforced the life trajectory and the life plans you are on at the moment, which is brilliant news.
They may have, similarly, brought up a limited or a large number of areas where your future life needs a change of direction. In either case, you should have a pretty much clearer life vision now.

Again, try to keep the vision and mission statement clearly visible somewhere to remind you daily what it is that you wish to achieve. It can be particularly useful to keep it with the SWIPES lists, as you can then keep checking which activities should be prioritised from the nourishing activities contained in the lists. Of course, the vision/mission can also be a helpful reminder and source of motivation for completing depleting activities and recognising the greater purpose of these.

If you found these exercises helpful, or challenging, why don’t you share your thoughts below? It would be great to hear from you!

Day 17: Using meditation and mindfulness as guides: life choices

Yesterday you created lists of activities based on if you perceive them as either nourishing or depleting. That exercise should have helped you to delve into more detail of the here and now in your life, giving you a inventory of where you stand at this moment. Importantly, you should have been able to identify themes in your life: groups and types of activities that enrich you. Today, it is time to take a helicopter perspective: the aim for today is to try and look forward, taking some the nourishing themes with you going forward – and minimising the depleting activities. It may help you to write down the themes on post-it/self-adhesive notes for this exercise.

The guiding framework for this activity is the framework I wrote about a few months back, the SWIPES framework. The framework divides life in six different “areas”, all of which are important aspects to a happy and well-balanced life.

To complete today’s activity choose a blank wall if you are working with self-adhesive notes (if you don’t have notes, use a blank sheet of paper).
Imagine the wall to be a giant spreadsheet. To start label the columns by placing notes horizontally across the wall labelled

Now write each of the themes and major activities that you feel are nourishing for you on a note. Try and allocate these in the rows underneath the topic you find they fit best. For example, if running is a major activity for you, you should locate this under physical. Going to theatres or other arts events under intellectual, meditation under spiritual etc.
You may find some activities and themes fit in more than one category: no problem, simply put two notes – but mark these with a large X.
Take a look at the result: how balanced are you and your life?

In the next step, make a list of activities or themes you’d like to do. Try to strike a balance between realistic and reasonable: avoid unobtainable or unrealistic activities (something like life a life under a palm tree), rather focus on things you could, realistically achieve (more time at the beach).
Again, write them down on notes, marking them with a big G (for goals) and allocate these  to the categories.

In the next step, look at your categories: how balanced are your current activities? How your goals and your combined and current activities and goals?

You may find your placing great emphasis on one particular aspect of your life, e.g. work or emotional. This isn’t necessarily a problem if this is your intention, however, you should ask yourself if this is really what you want. Similarly, if you have parts of your life that are completely empty, ask yourself if this is a choice of yours. If you find imbalances address them by either including potential activities in that area, or alternatively by removing one or two notes/activities and placing them on a different part of the wall, where they form a “future” list.

After you have concluded this activity, if you can leave the notes on the wall for a few days, leave them there. You may find that you want to come back to them later and make some changes. Finally copy them down on a piece of paper: keep this piece of paper somewhere handy and visible, so that it reminds you of your ideas and choices.

I hope you found this activity useful to see a “helicopter” perspective of your life at present – and goals. Remember, this isn’t a fixed life plan, but simply a planning tool to help you take stock, balance and express goals. Let me know how you get on with this activity. I hope you find it nourishing to focus on your life and how to get more out of life. If you completed the activity, why don’t you use the comment function below to share how you’re getting on.

Day 16: Checking in on life: nourishing and deleting activities

Well done on completing the first part of the bootcamp!
This means you now have the main skills for the second part, where we are going to put them all into action, for love, sex – and firstly your life.

So, today we start with looking at your life: more specifically things you do. Often, people feel unhappy or stressed if they are caught in a rut: with many depleting activities and not enough time for nourishing activities, or even performing nourishing activities in a non-mindful way.

It is, of course, impossible to escape depleting activities fully. therefore it is especially important to identify nourishing activities – and to perform those with the mind fully present.

To complete the activity today, I therefore ask you to make two lists: the first one of typical activities you do regularly on a day where you work (e.g. week). The second one of activities on a typical day where you don’t work (e.g. weekend).
Try and be as comprehensive as possible: from simple things like getting up to big things like going for a dinner. Include all of it on your lists.

Once you have the lists, try and label the activities: Firstly identify all the activities that give you joy, the activities that are nourishing and refreshing for you. Mark them on the lists with a big +
Now label all the activities on the list that are clearly depleting: all the activities that lower your mood, are stressful or drain away your energy.
You’ll probably have some activities which are neither nourishing nor depleting, which is fine.

Now take a look at the balance on your list: how much time, how much energy do you dedicate to positive, nourishing actions vs time dedicated to depleting activities. Try to think of ways to address the balance: are there ways you can reduce the time spend on these? Take a look at them with mindfulness compassion: maybe some of them can change their meaning if you see them in a different light?

Now look at your nourishing activities: Are there ways you can perform these activities more mindfully? Is there scope to increase the nourishing activities?

Finally, look at the unclassified activities: Can you change these to become nourishing?

Often people find that performing some activities in a mindful manner can actually enhance them a lot: For example, when you walk to work, try being mindful on the way. Maybe look for a slightly longer, but more pretty way to work? Subtle shifts can often make a big difference to the activities.

The other main aim of the exercise is to give you an overview of all the nourishing activities you engage in. Check them for themes. What are the things you really enjoy doing?
Maybe you find that some things you are not doing at all, but would like to do: for example learning something new, volunteering or getting to know new people. With the help of the lists, you can identify shifts in activities you want to consider.
Tomorrow we will return to these themes and establish a “forward plan”.

Hopefully this activity will help you get a pretty good inventory of your life. Tomorrow, we will build on this inventory and think about ways to make life more enjoyable through taking appropriate life choices.

Remember to let me know how you are getting on. Please use the comment functions below to share your views, questions and especially your success stories! See you tomorrow!

Day 15: Erotic Meditation – Meditation for Sex

Now that you have the power to bring your mind to where you want it to be, either in the present or in a place or space of your choosing, it is time to try and have a fun day before we move on and apply all of the learned techniques for different aspects of (urban gay) life.

For today I have two different types of meditation/hypnosis for you. If you have the time, maybe experiment with both, or do one today and then comeback to this later. One is meditation/hypnosis session to achieve orgasm (or a feeling of it, see below), the other to increase your sex drive.

The first one is a session which will gently guide you to orgasm. Some people manage to actually, physically cum during the meditation. However, the majority does not, however, their feelings closely resemble orgasm and they are often very excited.  Try it out for yourself and see how you feel after this short activity.

The second activity is an hour long hypnosis session to increase sexual arousal. It is recorded by Steve G Jones, who has many fantastic videos on YouTube – so do check his meditation/hypnosis sessions out. This session doesn’t try to lead to orgasm or an increase in feelings, but focuses your mind on increasing your libido. Take the time and go for a journey, maybe a little before meeting a partner or loved one.

If you want to explore other forms of sexual meditation and hypnosis, there is more available on YouTube if you feel like experimenting. This included “master and slave” sessions and tantric partner meditation, which we will come back to later in the bootcamp.

But for now… let me know how you are finding the experience. Please use the comment function below – or tweet using the hashtag #ug30bc. See you tomorrow… when we are moving into applying all the skills from the previous days to daily life.

Day 14: Meditation as a tool for change – Affirmations

Today’s activity is around affirmations. It’s not strictly speaking meditation nor hypnosis, but something that can “switch” your mind to a different mood. If you are skeptical at this moment, you are probably not alone. But give it a try and see if you feel any effect.

The good thing about affirmations is that they tend to be quick and easy ways to stop negative thoughts or even a negative mindset and focus on something positive. You can therefore use them as a tool in everyday life – or use them more long-term as a way to train your mind to think more positively.

For a short-term thinking change, you can use the affirmation technique simply by repeating something in your head (or out loud if you are alone). Then act the way as if that would be true. So, for example, if you feel like being in a bad mood, take your mind off it, by saying to yourself “Wow! I’m really lucky. I live in the most amazing city in the world.” (or something else that you are grateful for, or that is positive). Repeat this affirmation a few times in your head, and believe it to be true until your mood changes. Note: Of course, please don’t use a clearly untrue affirmation. So, on a cold winters day, don’t attempt to “talk” the day into a hot summers day 😉

If you want to try a more general approach to affirmations, with more long-term effects, try guided affirmations. This short collection of affirmations (10mins approx) for example. Produced by the Honest Guys, it is a set of general positive affirmations. I very much like their voice and music (so do explore the rest of their videos if you like!). With general affirmations, remember though, that while they may be shifting your mood temporarily, too, they generally take a bit longer to become perceived reality. While you are doing them, however, please visualise that they are true right now for them to be effective.

I hope you are enjoying the affirmations, and that you are starting to feel the effects of the mindfulness and meditation exercises we have made so far. Let me know how you feel things are going. Please use the comment function below – or #ug30bc on Twitter. Tomorrow will be the last of the “first section” of the bootcamp: We will be heading for erotic and sexy meditation practice… see you then!

Day 13: Meditating for relaxation

Today’s activity is a relaxation meditation/hypnosis. The actual track is from Michael Sealey. I really like the way he conducts his guided meditations/self-hypnosis sessions – and he has a really calming and soothing voice (IMHO).

For today, try and ease yourself into a relaxing state with this session.

If you like his works, you can find many of his recordings not just on his extremely popular YouTube channel, but his recordings are also available on Google Play, iTunes, Spotify and many more platforms. He also has some sleep meditation sessions, if you want to go to sleep immediately after finishing the session. Check them out.

See you tomorrow for a different type of mediation/hypnosis session. And don’t forget to let me know how you found the Michael Sealey experience!

Day 12: The basics of Meditation

Today we are moving on from mindfulness, that is to say bringing our mind to the here and now and to observe the present, to more actively engaging the mind in the way we want the mind to do. This is a subtle difference.

Previously I said: Meditation is a silent, stationary activity with a purpose (often focusing on training the mind to do something). This means to actively engage the mind to examine a chosen object (feeling, emotion, sensation…), or the “meditation object”. This can be something very similar to mindfulness, for example when focusing the mind on the breath (then we have mindfulness meditation!), but can also be something very different, for example, focusing the mind to visualise a situation in order to calm and relax (then we have a purposeful mind away from the present).

While practicing mindfulness is relatively easy to do without guidance, simply by focusing on yourself and your presence, this can be a bit more tricky with meditation. Today and the next three days I will therefore include links to guided meditations as part of the exercises. I’ll include different styles and topics: relaxation, motivation and sexual meditation.

Today’s activity is a simple guided meditation of just over 10 minutes, designed to increase your general motivation. To access it, click the link here.

Meditation is very much like mindfulness practice: it gets better with time and the more you do it. The effect takes a little until it unfolds, so don’t expect immediate effects, but you will notice changes slowly over time. If you want to do more meditations, just take a look around YouTube or SoundCloud for some more examples.

See you again tomorrow for an example of deeply relaxing meditation!