One of the quickest and easiest ways to reduce stress
It’s aim is to bring you into the present, reduce your mind chatter and minimize tension caused from the past or imagined events in the future.
Simply you bring yourself into the present. You can also use this technique during your massage to calm your mind and make the most out of your massage.
A simple way to do this is to pick a task that you do every day. A good one is washing your hands.
Then, every time during the day you wash your hands you practice it mindfully. That means that your feel the soap in your hands, the touch and smell of it, it’s texture, it’s shape and colour, it’s size, how it fits and feels in your hands.
Then be mindful of turning on the tap, how the tap feels under your hands, the touch of your hand on the metal, whether it is cold, the point where your hand is in contact with the tap, how your hand feels when it turns.
Then be mindful of the water over your hands, if its warm, how it feels, how it makes the soap feel, how your skin feels under the water, the way the soap changes and becomes slippery, the smell of the soap under the water, the movement of your fingers and hands, the sound of the water running in the sink.
Then be conscious of putting down the soap and the clean water running over your hands, how you move your hands to rinse of the soap. And then be mindful of
picking up the towel, how it feels on your skin, how it soaks up the water.
If you practice this every time you wash your hands you find after a little while that it is easy to bring yourself in the present any time during the day you need to.
It is great way to reduce your tension in stressful situations. So if you are running late or feel your shoulders start to seize up, try putting yourself back in the present.
For more information on living in the now Ekhardt Tolle has a great book The Power of Now and A New Awakening.
Browsing through our blog, you’ve probably seen us mention mindfulness at least once or twice; you’ve more than likely also heard the term used in the media and health magazines… but what is mindfulness, and what are some mindfulness techniues?
Mindfulness is a special way of paying attention on purpose; it is a gentle effort to be continuously present in a moment or experience. Mindfulness is a wonderful method that can help with how we cope with everyday life or deal with tough times, and there are great benefits for our physical and mental wellbeing.
Here at Ripple we are firm believers in mindfulness and the multiple effects on how we experience life and handle stress. So what are these benefits, and what are some mindfulness techniques you can incorporate into your busy, hectic schedules?
What is Mindfulness?
Firstly, mindfulness is about training yourself to pay attention on purpose. Mindfulness involves a conscious direction of our awareness. A lot of us (yes, me included) talk about “mindfulness” and “awareness” as if they were interchangeable terms, but they are actually different concepts. I may be aware I’m irritable, but that wouldn’t mean I was being mindful of my irritability. In order to be mindful I have to be purposefully aware of myself, not just vaguely and habitually aware.
For instance, being aware that you are eating is not the same thing as eating mindfully. I will be the first to admit that during mealtimes, I’m usually thinking about a million other things at the same time – what are the kids up to? Did I put the laundry out? Did I bring the laundry in?
What’s happening in town this weekend? You may also be watching TV, talking, or reading… or even all three. So only a very small part of our awareness is absorbed with eating, and we may only be barely aware of the physical sensations and even less aware of our thoughts and emotions.
Mindful eating, on the other hand, is consciously noticing the sensations, and our responses to those sensations. This deliberate awareness will allow us to notice when the mind starts to wander, so that we can purposefully bring our attention back to the moment and experience.
This purposefulness is a very important aspect of mindfulness. Having the purpose of staying with our experience, whether it’s simply breathing, or a particular emotion, or something as commonplace as eating, means that we are actively shaping the mind.
Simply put, when a person is mindful, they:
- focus on the present moment;
- actively try not to think about anything in the past or future;
- purposefully concentrate on that particular moment or experience; and
- try not to be judgemental about anything they notice (eg. labelling something as good or bad).
Benefits of Mindfulness
We spend so much time thinking over things that have happened in the past, or worrying about things that may happen in the future, that often we actually forget to appreciate or enjoy the moment. Mindfulness is a way of bringing us back to experience life as it happens, while it happens. Mindfulness can help you:
- Clear your head
- Be more aware of yourself, your body and your environment
- Slow down your thoughts
- Slow down your nervous system
- Enjoy better sleep
- Cope with stress
- Manage anxiety or depression
- Manage your moods
- Improve memory
- Become more emotionally stable
- Improve your circulation
- Reduce your heart rate
- Be happier and more content with life.
When I first learnt about mindfulness, I immediately remembered something a friend once said to me: “Try not to think of a purple polar bear wearing a hula skirt.” (I can probably guess that’s exactly what you’re thinking about right now!)
It’s all well and good to talk about what mindfulness is, but how does one actually rid the mind of distracting thoughts and achieve this state of purposeful awareness? For those of us who haven’t spent years practicing meditation, you’ll be happy to find out that mindfulness does not require immense skill or large chunks of dedicated time from your busy lives. Try these simple techniques:
- Pay attention to the present moment
Left to itself the mind wanders through all kinds of thoughts — including thoughts expressing anger, craving, depression, revenge, self-pity, etc. As we indulge in these kinds of thoughts we reinforce those emotions in our hearts and cause ourselves to suffer. By purposefully directing our awareness away from such thoughts and instead focusing on our present experience, we create a space where calmness and contentment can grow.
- Develop a non-judgemental attitude
All too often we find it difficult to accept what we’re feeling. A common pattern is to experience some initial unpleasant experience, and then to feel bad because of feeling bad, and then to feel bad about feeling bad about feeling bad, and so on. It’s a vicious cycle of feeling bad about feeling bad. The key is to accept what you’re feeling, and stand back from it so that although you experience the unpleasant emotion, you don’t define or punish yourself by it.
- Daily mindfulness techniques
Even simple everyday activities can be done in a mindful way. When you start becoming aware of each activity, you will experience them in a different light:
- Showering – When you shower mindfully, you can be aware of the physical actions, such as rubbing soap onto your body. You can be aware of the water hitting your skin. Try to get into the habit of bringing your awareness back to your physical experience, and not letting your mind wander to thoughts of what you’re going to do next.
- Teeth brushing – Experience the sensations of the toothbrush bristles on your gums; be aware of the taste of toothpaste; let go of the “been there, done that” attitude.
- Eating – Try eating breakfast without reading the paper. Experience what it’s like when you pay attention to every bite you take.
- Walking – Be aware of each step you take, every move you make, every breath you take… Are you singing a particular song right now like I am? If you are, be aware that your mind has wandered to an eighties song and try to bring your mind back to the present, to the physical experience of reading this blog.
- Yoga and meditation
Yoga is a personal favourite of mine when it comes to practicing mindfulness. I find there is nothing more calming and purposeful than focusing on my breathing as I go through my sun salutations every morning. Meditation is another wonderful way to bring about a greater degree of mindfulness. Try the following:
- Ground your mind by focusing on the hara – the physical centre of the body, a point two finger-widths below the navel and the same distance into the body – and keeping our awareness focused on that point when you find yourself starting to become distracted.
- Pay attention to the physical sensations of the breath. Simply bringing the mind patiently back to the breath over and over again will have the effect of calming the mind and resolving stress. There is no need to control the breath in any way, just allow the breath to find its own pace. Breathe in, breathe out.
Mindfulness techniques are something that everyone can try. You can increase your mindfulness in everyday life, through activities like meditation and yoga, or even by simply paying more attention while walking, driving, eating or brushing your teeth. Any time you have a pause in your activities, such as between tasks or when sitting at traffic lights, or when you realise that you’re becoming stressed, bring your awareness back to the present. Through practice, you will find your way to a calmer, happier self.