There's no escaping what is taking place around the world at this time. It’s on TV, on our social media feeds, it’s on our mind every time we have to leave the house or come in contact with someone else, and the first thing spoken about when catching up and checking in with others. As the number of cases continues to rise; stress, anxiety and fear rises right alongside.
Mindfulness helps us slow down and stay present, which is something many of us need right now. Mindfulness practices also enhance our connection between the body, the mind, and everything else.
The mind and the body are like parallel universes.
Anything that happens in the mental universe
must leave tracks in the physical one.
There are countless ways we can apply mindfulness to our everyday lives and just as many benefits. Through becoming presently aware in each moment and by paying attention to the things we would normally do automatically we become mindful. Mindfulness helps us deal with stress, and enhances our ability to manage everyday life.
Being fully present can be a struggle.
Take for example the simple task of brushing your teeth.
How much attention do you actually focus on brushing your teeth?
Are you present in this moment or is your mind wandering
through what happened yesterday, or what may happen tomorrow?
Do you ever have those moments where you space out and find yourself somewhere else,
lost in your thoughts, trapped in another world, day dreaming, and struggling to stay focused?
Through mindfulness we train our brain to pay attention, by choosing where we direct our focus and by learning ways to bring it back when it wanders.
Our attention creates our experience, it’s like the driver of our very own train and our thoughts and emotions are the carriages that follow. When we feel overwhelmed, disconnected, or stuck in our head, mindfulness can quickly bring us back to our body and anchor us in the present moment. When we start to run off course, it gets us back on track.
Imagine for a moment that we are sitting at a train station watching the trains come and go. The trains are our thoughts. Becoming distracted by a train means we have inadvertently gotten on the train. When we realise we are onboard, we can consciously choose to hop off and head back to the station.
With practice, mindfulness becomes more than a skill,
it develops into a way of being.
With everything going on in the world at present, it can be easy for us to become overwhelmed and consumed by fear. Some of us might want to escape what is happening around us by finding ways to feel busy and begin packing our days full of all the things we need to do.
But when everything’s done, when we have 10 minutes free time, when we are finally alone, or there’s nothing left fo us to do - what do we end up doing? We start looking for something else to distract us. And if there’s nothing to do, we create something to do or find something to entertain ourselves.
There's a reason we do this. When we are doing something, our focus is directed towards our outer experience, to what we are doing. But, when we slow down and pause, our attention moves inward. Sometimes this can be uncomfortable so we find ways to stay busy, we try to find an escape from our inner thoughts and feelings. But what if busyness wasn’t the answer, what if slowing down was.
Our human minds continually witness thoughts, images and sounds. Even when we close our eyes, we can find them streaming through our awareness. They’re there whenever our minds aren’t occupied by something external or when we find ourselves doing something that doesn’t require our full attention. Maybe you notice it when you are lying in bed at night trying to go to sleep, or maybe while you’re doing the dishes or waiting for the jug to boil. You might even find your mind has a habit of taking you somewhere else, when you do the things you don’t enjoy.
When these thoughts catch our attention, we drift away from the present moment - towards the future or back into the past.
Anchoring our attention in the present
returns us back to ourselves;
we come home to our bodies.
In order to direct our attention towards where it needs to be, we must first be able to recognise where our attention has drifted to and be able to bring it back. It sounds easy enough but how often do you find your mind wandering?
There are many ways to anchor ourselves in the present moment. Some of these include mindful breathing, grounding, noticing the feelings and sensations in our bodies and tuning into our senses.
With mindful breathing we bring our awareness to our breath.
Start to notice the breath as it enters your body through your nose and travels down to your lungs. Follow the sensations with curiosity as it flows inward and then outward. Don't try to do or change it - simply notice it, pay attention to it and be aware of it. It doesn't matter if you are breathing slow of fast, deep or shallow. Allow you body to do what it does naturally.
Tuning into the senses:
To feel in the present and more grounded, look around you, observe and identify 5 things you see, 4 things you feel, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell and 1 thing you can taste. Notice how your breathing begins to get deeper and calmer.
Tuning into the body:
Allow yourself to turn inward and notice what you are experiencing within your body.
Pay attention to your heart beat, energy level, temperature, emotions, and any tension you may be holding.
Where are these sensations located – in your head, throat, chest, shoulders, stomach?
See if you can identify them… if you can’t just be aware of them.
Does the physical sensation move or shift?
Notice how it makes you feel – nauseous, calm, relaxed, tense, heavy or light, pushed or pulled?
Are there any thoughts with the emotions – try to be aware of them curiously, without judgment.
Grounding exercises help us anchor ourselves in the present moment and they can be intentionally scattered throughout the day. They can be very helpful when we find ourselves becoming overwhelmed and distracted by our circling thoughts.
Here are a few examples:
- Sip a cool drink of water or a hot cup of tea. Follow the sensation past your lips and down into your stomach.
- Have a shower or splash your face with some water. Notice how it feels.
- Go for a walk and take the time to really notice your surroundings. Bring your awareness to each step you take.
- Clap and rub your hands together. Hear the noise and feel the sensation in your hands.
- Stretch your body and tune in to each muscle.
- Run your hands over something that has an interesting texture.
- Admire something beautiful.
- Listen to music with full attention.
- Create something original.
- As you eat pay attention to each bite, concentrate as you chew and follow it down into your stomach.
- Stand barefoot on the earth and notice the sensations through the bottoms of your feet.
When practiced daily mindfulness helps us overcome stress, anxiety and fear. While helping us to develop kindness, compassion, curiosity, openness, patience, focus, acceptance and love, for ourselves, others and the world around us.