20th January 2020


A mindful eating exercise to discover the wisdom of “Eat Less, Enjoy More”

by: Joy Chen

Christmas and New Year is just over, Chinese New Year is around the corner. What first comes to your mind when you think about CNY? Besides visiting relatives and receiving (or giving) Ang Pao, what you can’t miss is the food. With all the sinful snacks…Bak Kua, pineapple tarts, mini spring rolls, and now comes popular salted egg fish skin and chips…how can you resist temptation to eat more? How to enjoy your favourite snacks without guilt? The secret is mindful eating.

Here are some tips for mindful eating:

1. Pause

If you are watching TV or talking to relatives, and realise your hand has automatically reached out to the food, or the food has almost reached your mouth, remember to pause and take a moment (a few seconds) to turn attention towards the snack, look at it mindfully, asking yourself: “is this what I really want to eat?”

Once you interrupt your automatic tendency to eat mindlessly, expand your awareness to glance at the whole range of snacks in front of you (I am sure there will be many), and see what options are available.

2. Exercise your power of choice

Exercise your power of choice by taking a slow breath, tuning into your body, and asking yourself: “which food is calling you right now?”, “what does my body feel like eating now?”, “sweet or savory?”. Pick the snack that is most appealing to you.

3. Eat mindfully

Even you’re busy watching TV or talking to relatives, you can still choose to spend a few moments with the food you’ve chosen and eat it mindfully with your five senses. You can choose to pay attention to all senses, or just some of the senses (if you got to quickly divert your attention to others during CNY gatherings):

  • See the food, investigating its shape, size, and color with curiosity, as if you are seeing it for the first time
  • Touch the food, feeling its texture (with hands and tongue)
  • Smell the food, fully enjoying the fragrance of the snack
  • Taste the food, taking small bits and chewing it slowly, and swallowing the food only when you’ve extracted every single flavor from the food, obvious or subtle.
  • Hear the food, paying attention to the sound when you eat or slowly chew the snack, e.g., crispy sound when you eat chips, and chewy sound when you eat Bah Kua.

4. Savour the experience

After you finish eating the first piece, take some time to savor the whole experience of eating that one piece of snack. Notice the aftertaste in the mouth, how satisfied your stomach and the whole body feels after taking in this small piece of your favorite snack. Also take some time to appreciate and express gratitude to whoever made the snack available to you.

5. Repeat steps 1-4 for your next bite (second piece of snack).

You may choose the same snack, or a different snack, and notice how it is same or different from your first bite (first piece of snack). Soon you may realise you reach peak satisfaction much faster than you expected, with much smaller amount of snacks. Your wisdom will also tell you when to stop, as with conscious awareness and power of choice, you are no longer munching food mindlessly.

Try this mindful eating exercise, discover the wisdom of “Eat Less, Enjoy More”.

Book recommendation:

<The Joy of Half a Cookie – using mindfulness to lose weight and end the struggle with food> by Jean Kristeller, PhD with Alisa Bowman

13th January 2020


Tips for those who dread this occasion!

by: Dr Jean Cheng

Chinese New Year (CNY) is one of the biggest cultural celebrations in our country. Some people view it as a precious occasion to get together with people they care about. They consider it a time to bless the young and elderly with monetary blessing (“red packets”). They love the CNY decorations and communal festive atmosphere shared by most people in the country.

At the same time, there are also many who dread CNY. They feel forced to meet relatives that they do not have a personal relationship with. They find it meaningless to sit in front of a television and consume a wide range of CNY snacks, just so that they are present. They do not find the family motto of “showing face” personally inspiring. Underneath their dread, they desire deeper connection and meaningful conversations, which these annual meet-ups do not often provide. It is especially difficult when they also feel that they need to hide parts of themselves that may be less acceptable to their family culture. These include hiding their irritation when asked about their relationship status, children’s grades, etc. Donning a “smiling mask”, they censor their emotional responses. They are physically present, but feel incredibly disconnected with others and themselves.

If this describes your experience of CNY, Dr. Jean offers 4 suggestions that may help below:

Tip 1: Show up for visits in whatever way you wish to, while keeping your inner child/inner self in mind.
This means that you may wear a mask because that make you feel safe at the moment, or remove that mask because being authentic is your way of feeling even safer with yourself (even if not with the other). Either way, tell your inner child (i.e., the part of you that desires authenticity and connection) that you see him/her and they are important to you. Tell them that you value who they are and that YOU see them. Keep him/her in mind and speak to them privately to reassure them of their worth.

Tip 2: Excuse yourself from conversations that you do not wish to engage in.

This includes gossips, unkind discriminatory talk, complaints, etc. You are not obliged to listen to anything that you do not wish to. Give yourself permission to excuse yourself from anything that is not aligned with your values.

Tip 3: Decide which gatherings are important to attend and which you can practice saying no to.

Some people manage their parents’ expectations by going overseas. Another way of managing parental expectations is having a chat beforehand on who is a priority to visit (for your parents and yourself). Then, personally make your own decision on who you will visit and not visit this year. Communicate this clearly, calmly, and non-apologetically. For example, you could say, “I will only visit so and so this year. I know that this is not our usual family visiting schedule. This year, this will be my schedule to balance both the family values and my personal needs”. Remind yourself (i.e., your inner child) that you are worth protecting and bearing others’ possible displeasure for. Others are free to have an emotional reaction – you are not responsible for orchestrating the most comfortable emotional experience for them.

Tip 4: Create a new CNY tradition you find meaningful or enjoy for yourself.
This may include factoring in time for rest (e.g., a nap), for a hobby (e.g., recreational activity), and for meaningful connection (e.g., meeting someone you feel safe to be yourself with for a coffee).

As children we were powerless in needing to follow our parents to every relative’s home. But as adults, we don’t have to live with the same default powerlessness regarding CNY. If you’re finding it difficult to set some boundaries in order to protect your emotional health, consider seeking a professional clinical psychologist’s help to do so. Your wellbeing matters.

Finally, here are some books that Dr. Jean recommends as helpful for learning to speak to your inner child and setting boundaries:

  • Homecoming: Reclaiming and healing your inner child. (by John Bradshaw)
  • Affirmations for the Inner Child (by Rokelle Lerner)
  • Boundaries: When to say yes, how to say no to take control of your life (by Henry Cloud)

6th January 2020


Push Pause on the "React" to get to the "Respond"

by: Dr Kavitha Dorairaj

You feel your neck and ears get hot, you notice a change in your breathing and feel an urge to attack (verbally or physically). You are experiencing anger, frustration, indignation, annoyance, fury or even vengefulness. You or someone you are about may have been threatened or attacked or disrespected. An important goal may gave been blocked. Something may not have gone your way.

There are many reasons why we may frustrated or angry, however, we may not always be in a context to express it effectively. For example, at a work meeting or at a family gathering. The challenge in these contexts is that you may feel a rise in anger that is valid but your urge to react not be appropriate for the setting. Verbally attacking your boss or insensitive family member or spouse will feel good in the moment but will not be effective in the long-run. So, how do we Pause the React to get to the Respond? 

Here are three ways:

  1. Willing Hands

Willing Hands is a deceptively simple way to bring down feelings of anger. It is a Dialectical Behaviour Therapy skill with Eastern philosophical roots. The technique’s premise is simple: change your body to change your emotions.


  • Face your palms up
  • Relax your fingers
  • Place your open hands on your lap or facing forwards by your side
  • Hold the position until you begin to notice a change in your emotions

The open position of your hands signals your mind to bring the anger down. It is simple yet works extremely effectively.

Dr Kavitha’s tip: Practice this skill with minor irritations when out and about so you are primed to use it when bigger feelings of anger arise.

  1. Dragon Breathing

Breathing techniques are very useful in managing emotions and distress. This particular technique can be helpful to quell the rage and “fire” within us when we feel like we might explode.


  • Sit up straight
  • Breathe in through your nose (feel your chest expand)
  • Breathe out very slowly through your mouth while imagining fire or smoke being released (if appropriate, whisper a roar)
  • repeat 3-5 times

Dr Kavitha’s tip: Commit to a long exhale. This will activate the parasympathetic nervous system to trigger relaxation.

  1. Distract Yourself

You have probably used this skill many times when feeling distressed. For example, turning on some music, scrolling through social media or calling a friend. When we engage in a distraction, we disengage from the emotion. However, in a world where with many distractions, it is a skill to harness it effectively.


  • Pick something appropriately distracting for the context you are in. For example, consciously doodling on a notepad when you are in a meeting; turning to a cousin to ask about their weekend plans when at a family gathering; flicking through social media if you are a passenger in a car.
  • Engage in the activity completely and mindfully.
  • Continue until you notice the physical feelings of anger begin to subside.

Dr Kavitha’s tip: Keep bringing your mind back to the activity if you notice it wandering back to the incident that made you angry. Full and complete engagement in the activity is the most effective.

The three skills listed above are effective in Pausing the React to help you Respond effectively. Remember, these skills are not designed to cease the anger. They are used to bring down the feelings of anger and manage the urges to do something you may later regret. Once you have hit Pause on the React, use your problem-solving and effective communication skills to Respond appropriately and effectively.