1. Focus on the breath.
Whether it’s a demanding boss, a difficult relationship or an unexpected bill, life gets to all of us from time to time. Something happens and before we know it, we’re exploding in anger or retreating into a sulk, or worse, turning to food, shopping, alcohol or drugs to help us cope.
There’s a simple remedy for all this: focusing on the breath. Rather than thinking of all the things we can’t control, if we focus our attention on something we can control (our breathing) we gain stability and composure. This is actually a form of meditation and it has some amazing, but often overlooked, rejuvenating powers. Just a few minutes of focusing on the breath every day has been shown to reduce blood pressure, increase energy levels, reduce stress, improve relaxation and sleep, enhance the immune system, improve decision making, restore a sense of peace and calm, increase happiness etc.
Try this: When you’re standing in a queue, or stopped in traffic, close your eyes and take three mindful breaths, inhale through your nostrils and exhale through your mouth. Make the exhale last longer than the inhale and relax various parts of the body as you do it; the shoulders, the neck, the muscles of the face etc. Notice the sensation of air entering and exiting your body, feel your chest rising and falling with each breath. We need to do this often and make it into a habit so why not do this every time you check Facebook, every time you wash your hands, every time you start a meeting etc.
2. Be still
Our society regards high activity and multi-tasking as virtues and we admire people who manage to “do it all.” After all, the more we do, the more we get, the more worthwhile we are. Right?
Not exactly. Science has recently confirmed what most of us discovered during the recent lockdown, that there is tremendous value in allowing ourselves to step away from the busyness of daily life and simply be. It is in stillness, not in continual activity, that we discover our own personal truths that give meaning and purpose to our life.
Mindfulness reminds us that in stillness we find the wisdom to become a human being instead of a human doing. Stillness opens our hearts and minds to the vast potential within us and helps us to grow and develop.
Try this: The breathing exercise described in practice 1 will create a sense of inner stillness. But so can gazing at the night sky, watching the ocean’s waves, or immersing yourself in activities like exercise, gardening, woodworking, painting, or playing an instrument. The important thing is to find what works for you. Find that quiet place in which you connect with yourself and renew your spirit.
3. Recognise your thoughts as just thoughts
Most of us give little attention to the thoughts that fill our head, they’re like background noise which we’ve learned to tune out. But whether we notice them or not, our thoughts are the driving force behind our feelings and our actions. What we think about ourselves and others determines how we interact with those around us, and how we manage our life.
It’s easy to confuse our thoughts with reality, to believe that what we think is ‘the truth’. We’re all prone to false assumptions, misconceptions, and unfounded beliefs. Mindfulness teaches us to become more aware of those thoughts and let go of the harmful ones that could work against us.
Thoughts like “I’m no good” or “Everyone’s against me” drain the hope and energy needed to sustain positive growth. Becoming more aware of these thoughts, and then challenging them, allows us to see ourselves in a more hopeful, more accurate light.
Try this: Check in with your thoughts when you sense yourself becoming anxious or depressed. Ask yourself what thoughts triggered those feelings? Remind yourself that your thoughts are not necessarily true or false, they’re just thoughts – nothing more, nothing less.
4. Be present.
When we’re feeling stressed it’s always about something that has already happened or something that may happen in the future. We constantly get distracted by our computers and our phones which take our mind away from what is actually happening right now.When our attention is somewhere other than the present moment, we revert to auto-pilot, never really seeing the richness of life or fully realising our own potential. It’s like living with a blindfold over our eyes, we don’t see our lives at all, we live inside our thoughts. Being mindful is about being present, increasing our awareness, and opening our eyes to the reality of what’s happening right now. We’re all extremely good at not being in the here and now but being present helps us learn to cope with reality as it actually is, rather than how we perceive it to be.
Try this: Being present starts with paying attention to ordinary things; the sensation of your feet touching the ground as you walk, the feel of the water on your hands as you wash them, the taste and texture of the coffee as you drink it. Remembering to do this regularly and automatically takes practice, but ultimately it is one of the easiest mindfulness exercises we can do and leads to the benefits discussed above in practice 1.
Adapted from an article by Beverly Conyers, best selling author of Addict in the Family.