I met Aleks when I first started out on my health journey, even before VitaSoul was an idea. She was one of those clients I could engage with often, always helping me search for more effective and cleaner supplements. She is very well versed on a multitude of health topics and understands the importance of ensuring clean ingredients in all my products. When I eventually did start VitaSoul, Aleks was a huge supporter and was instrumental in assisting me to make my online website a reality! I will be forever grateful for all her support and kindness. She is a wonderful empathic and kind natured human being. Her clients and friends will attest to the fact that she has a huge warm heart and a very caring soul. I could not have been more pleased when she approached me with the idea of a Mindfulness blog. She is in my opinion, someone who epitomises the very word.
My name is Aleks for short or Aleksandra Djordjevic-Domagala (if you like it a little longer). I was born in Serbia and raised in Germany, where I first obtained my degree in Social Work. I worked as a registered Social Worker before focusing on trauma therapy, and then on alternative approaches to conventional talking therapies. I am also a certified Mindfulness Practitioner and an accredited Thought Field Therapy (TFT) and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) Tapping Practitioner.
A dream came true when I opened the doors to RoseHeart Female Life Consultancy in Cape Town. My private practice is a space for Womxn and their families who wish to take charge in improving the experience of both their internal and relational life. I assist with counseling and guidance for depression, anxiety and trauma-related experiences. Supporting families with non-harmful ways of parenting is a matter that is close to my heart. As complementary therapies, I offer TFT and EFT Tapping modalities and Mindfulness Practice.
Everybody talks about Mindfulness, but what does it actually mean?
I first stumbled across the term Mindfulness while doing my Social Work practical in 2010. My co-worker, a Norwegian psychologist was in the process of writing her master’s thesis on Mindfulness in psychology. Although it sounded enticing, it also seemed like something that was really hard to do. How would Mindfulness work for me? I certainly got it wrong, envisioning myself as some zen guru, breathing calmly, peacefully meditating on a mountain top somewhere far away. It felt very foreign, this wasn’t me. I was the strong-willed pushing-through-type, multi-tasking master. I could do it all. At once. Alone.
Then life’s tragedies hit, with disease and chronic pain half-heartedly managed, I realised that something had to shift, so I started to look at the term again. And when parenthood knocked on my door, yet another shift was impatiently waiting in line. After an initial parenting teething episode, I noticed the great opportunity for personal growth that parenthood has to offer and I took an even closer look at Mindfulness. Since then we became simply inseparable and I started formal training to expand my Mindfulness toolkit.
So, if I was to break it down for you, I would say that Mindfulness firstly means a thoroughly switched-on, fully attending mind. A fully attending mind is an ability that we all carry naturally within us but tend to unlearn as we grow into the worldly ways of life.
I see Mindfulness as having three major components, namely Presence, Awareness and Kindness, which are interconnected with our mental, emotional and physical body. Even a small change on the one side, can have a big impact on the other. Yet, becoming more mindful doesn’t have to be a big task or a huge commitment. You don’t have to meditate on an isolated mountain top (although I believe this to be beneficial), you can simply invite a subtle and gentle mindful influence into your daily life slowly, adding on what you can, growing with the process.
Many of the clients that I see for mindful life consultations feel stressed, under time pressure and over-committed; the last thing they want is an addition to their to-do lists, understandably so. That is why I like to start with helping them clean up those to-do lists and identify overstepped boundaries. Then we both pay close attention to what can actually work for them in order to weave the concept of Mindfulness into their everyday life. Everything that takes a lot of extra time and asks for big changes in routine is often rejected as it feels like yet another burden, which I thoroughly understand and acknowledge. For this reason I like to point out ways of incorporating mindfulness to fit into my clients’ current lifestyle. In other words, Mindfulness can look just like you, going about your daily business, only with a little more focus and intention. This can be reached quite effortlessly and the following 7 steps are an invitation for you to reflect on how you can re-access your fully attending mind every day without having to add time-consuming tasks onto your to-do list.
1. Nourish yourself
Nourishing yourself in every aspect of your being is important. The basics are nutrition and hydration. Eat nutritious, whole foods and make your food shopping and preparation an act of self-care. Carefully choose what nourishes your body and what makes you feel good and healthy. If you choose to supplement in order to reach your nutritional input, make sure to use whole food supplements rather than poorly manufactured synthetics. Powdered wholefood supplements are an easy take-along solution, you can prepare them alone, as a shake or add them to a smoothie.
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Although our physical body roughly consists of 60% of water, the importance of staying hydrated throughout the day and the access to sufficient healthy, clean, ph-balanced water is something we often underestimate. Yet, it is so easy to keep a bottle of water on hand. Choose a healthy material like stainless steel or glass and filter your tap water if you cannot access clean natural spring water. Portable natural filters made from activated charcoal are a great option for the home and on the go.
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Then start with choosing just one mindful eating time a day, without being exposed to screen distraction. Find a comfortable spot, eat without haste, focus on the taste, texture, temperature, chew your food thoroughly before swallowing, trace its way through your digestive system (which starts with proper chewing), imagine the good this food brings into your body. as you drink your water, focus on how the water flows down your throat, hydrating every single cell, imagine the expansion of your liquid body and the energizing and detoxifying effect on your physical being.
2. Move daily
I generally suggest conscious movement rather than exercising. Exercising is great if this is what you enjoy. However, it can be a challenging concept for some people, surrounding a negative body image or shame for lack of commitment. Every movement counts. The walk around the block, the stretches on the floor, the dancing in your kitchen. As long as you do it with an attending mind, connecting with your physical body and enjoying being in the moment, it’s already helpful.
3. Activate your senses
We multitask. All the time. Even when brushing teeth, we’re already thinking about the next step or reflecting on the last. We often walk around, forgetting halfway through what we were about to do because our mind wondered off to the next task and then to the next, leaving us confused and easily exhausted from an overactive monkey-mind. A simple exercise is to only stay with the task at hand.
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When brushing your teeth, brush your teeth only; notice how it feels, how your toothpaste tastes, what sensations you feel in your mouth. When showering, pay attention and hear the water running, feel it on your skin, notice the change to touch when gently massaging the soap into your skin. How does your soap smell? Is it fruity, is it earthy? Does the scent feel uplifting or calming to you? These are very easy ways of activating your senses, to exercise presence and to intentionally get in touch with your body-mind connection. It can be helpful to try this by choosing a safe, fragrant soap for your next splash. There are many human- and environmental-friendly options out there these days, like a natural, essential oil scented soap, which offers less harmful chemicals, doesn’t need plastic packaging and can still smell divine, not to mention the health benefits of using specific essential oils rather than synthetic perfumes.
4. Don’t forget to breathe
Are you conscious of your breathing? Chances are that once you become conscious of your breathing, you will notice that you’re breathing fairly shallow, short breaths, shoulders up, hands and feet tense, tight jaw, teeth together and your tongue stiffly pressed against your palate. We spend a lot of time in an operative mode, just doing one thing after the other or even many things at once and thereby putting ourselves in a continuous, steady level of stress that can have a tremendous impact on our overall health.
Intentionally relaxing your tense body parts and using breathing as your anchor gets you out of this unconscious default. As soon as you focus on your breath, you are in the present moment, in the now. It is impossible to breathe in the past, nor is it possible to breathe in the future, you can only take this breath right now.
In the following audio clip, I’d like to show you how to do a complete breath in order to correct your default breathing. I also added a very short breathing exercise called Heart-Activation Meditation that will calm your nervous system but will take you less than five minutes to perform on your own.
5. Get physical
It can be what you think but it doesn’t have to. Connecting with your loved ones on a physical level daily is vital. Studies argue that one needs at least eight or ten hugs a day to significantly reduce cortisol levels and to calm the heart rate . However, experts seem to agree that a hug needs to last at least 20 seconds in order to release the happy hormone oxytocin into the body, which makes us feel safe, connected and loved. While many of us don’t reach the suggested number of hugs a day, even slightly increasing connection time with your family or significant other(s) can have a positive effect on your overall well-being. Plus, it is a mindful tool to activate your senses, connect with your own body and stay present.
Bedtime routine, ideally the time to unwind and relax, could be a great space to start this. Physical connection can be reached through a simple massage, gentle stroking or a cuddle. You could combine this with applying a body lotion or a soothing body oil with calming essential oil blends like combinations of chamomile, vetiver, cedarwood and lavender.
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6. Disconnect from constant information
Although we are social beings, real life connection with other humans is something we often don’t make enough time for and may even replace through keeping up friendships online. While this can make you feel connected to friends and family that live far away, comparing yourself with others and social snacking (scrolling through your newsfeed and following other people’s profiles without intended interaction) can be a threat for your mental and emotional well being and leave you feeling lonely – a great breeding ground for anxiety and depression to start creeping up.
Some experts even speak of a “loneliness epidemic” in young people. While keeping in touch online makes you feel that you’re saving precious time, different studies have shown that most adults spend an average of three to four hours on their mobile device daily. The younger the adult, the more time is spent on social media platforms. And if you think that’s not the case with you, you can install an app to monitor your social media consumption.
I must admit that I was negatively surprised in my case. I’m wearing a wristwatch ever since I noticed that a quick look at my phone to find out the time, can leave me with 20 minutes less of the day, because I ended up quickly checking my instant messenger apps. As a result, I often forgot why I wanted to know the time and what I was about to do! I now set times in the day that are reserved for social media only, apart from those times, I am offline. This leaves me with fewer interruptions, being present with what I do, the feeling of more time and therefore feeling less stressed.
7. Be kind to yourself and your surroundings
Practicing self-care and being kind to yourself and your surroundings can look different for everyone. There are plenty of ways to show this compassion for oneself, others and the environment and I’d like to encourage you to reflect what this kindness would look like for you.
Since I mostly work with women of child-bearing age or other menstruating individuals, conditions like PMS and destructive narratives around the female physiology come up frequently as a personal and broader social issue. Being kinder to oneself in this regard can mean choosing healthier menstrual hygiene options that don’t use harsh chemicals which can be absorbed by your mucous membranes, interrupt your natural PH levels, leave you more prone to infections and add to hormonal imbalances.
There are many alternative options available today like menstrual cups in various shapes and sizes, arty cloth pads or natural sea sponges. If you like to keep it as close as to what you’re used to, I can highly recommend switching to tampons and sanitary pads made of organic cotton and that also use 100% biodegradable materials for packaging. These are not only healthier for you but also tremendously healthier for our environment. It can take 500-800 years for conventional, disposable sanitary products (tampons and pads) to decompose, five months to five years for the greener alternative. If you calculate the years of menstruation for yourself and how many conventional disposable products you use on every single day of menstruation, you will come up with very high numbers of chemically loaded waste that will stay in landfills for hundreds of years, affecting at least 25 generations after you. Switching to healthier sanitary products seems like a no-brainer and a win-win situation on all sides, right?
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In addition, an open dialogue about menstruation and options of menstrual hygiene will bring normalization and more awareness to the health and waste concerns, which will hopefully eliminate the feeling of shame and self-destructive practices around menstruation.
Make it an act of love
There are many ways of making small daily adjustments towards a more mindful life by focusing on the threefold of presence, awareness and kindness. In this blog, I have pointed out the ones that have contributed to the biggest transformations in the lives of the people I engage with in my practice, while needing nearly no effort.
I’m inviting you to make it an act of love for yourself, the beings you share this planet with and our planet itself to reflect and investigate where in your life you can create space for a more mindful way of living.
With purest love
Aleks (RoseHeart Female Life Consultancy)