Mindfulness? Why can’t we all “just be”?
There’s something about the term “mindfulness” that I’m not a fan of. It sounds far too soft and woolly for some people to take seriously, which is a real shame when mindfulness has the potential to do everybody so much practical good. I’m thinking of the amazing Ruby Wax in particular here (if you don’t think she’s amazing now, just read her books!) After suffering several mental health-related ups and downs, she took herself off to Oxford University to study for a degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
She had paid counsellor after counsellor, only to end up on the couch once again. So she decided it was time to fix herself. Her inspirational message in ‘Sane New World’ is this: you CAN change your mind and how you think! This is the power of mindfulness.
It’s widely known that we take stock of our lives in our 40s, are more aware of where we are heading, and make conscious decisions to ditch the unnecessary or useless factors in our lives. We start to understand that we have to say “no” more often, to make room for that “yes” we really want. Mindfulness helps, by changing your state of awareness from doing, to just being. For me, this is a practical meditation.
It’s all about self-regulating your mind, becoming the master instead of the slave, as you notice and sense those early warnings. Put simply, our brains are wired to survive and procreate. This is our natural purpose, and even though we’re socially conditioned and educated these days, once we’re under pressure our brains will revert to this hard-wired state of survival.
Hormones send ‘fight or flight’ messages to other parts of the body, to help deal with problems (even if this is just getting the children into the car, or defending a decision at work!) We are on high alert, making immediate decisions to survive in that moment – which sometimes means snarling at everybody in sight, just to help us fix the short term. We do this without sparing a single thought for potential repercussions – until it’s too late.
Stress piles up slowly as our lives become busier. Children-related pressures gradually layer up (remember those simple younger years of going to the swings at the park?) along with more dependency from ageing parents. Add a few extra responsibilities at work, and before you know it, you’re close to total burnout. With so much on your plate all the time, it’s easy to feel constantly agitated, no longer enjoying the things you used to do, or the people around you.
This way of thinking is the fault of our “monkey brain”; the demanding voice in our heads that’s forever ordering us to do things that are vital to our survival and procreation: to build a nest, to provide security for our fledglings (a bigger house, a shiny car…the very best of the best!)
But is all this really what you want? Will it make you happy? When we really stop and think about it, many of our actions are related to our ancient hormonal ‘reward’ system:
- Shopping rewards our ‘hunt’ for something new
- Eating is vital for storing food; in ancient times we didn’t know when or where our next meal would come from
- Watching the news reassures us that we are better off than others
However, the hit of happiness we get from these hormones last mere minutes. That’s what keeps us on the constant search for our next ‘fix’ – whether it’s a biscuit or a new handbag. The stakes raise higher and higher. When we’re not busy catching or gathering our food to survive, we worry about the trivia that causes even more junk in our heads – so we decorate our houses, or paint our nails, just to distract ourselves. By using mindfulness to become the master of your own mind, not the slave, you can switch all of this temporarily off, to reconfigure and reboot. To reconnect with your real self, and feel better than ever.
I would suggest that on our death beds, we won’t be reflecting back on our lives and wishing we’d replaced the kitchen more often. Instead, I think we’d simply love the fact that we laughed, and that we were healthy enough to enjoy the things that really fulfilled us. For instance, if your friend was low and stressed out, what would you wish for them? Maybe you’d choose a bubble bath, a walk in the countryside, a big cuddle, or a meal out with even more friends (lots of laughter and wine included!)
All of these nurturing ideas would be effective, because they involve our senses. To do them, you have to be present in the moment, positively connecting with those sensuous, real-time events.
The essence of mindfulness
The simple, everyday practice of mindfulness shows you how to focus on what’s happening around you. What can you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste (let’s face it, you can’t do these things at any other time than in the present moment!)
Remember: this is simply about focusing positively on the here and now. Allowing your brain active rest time, so it can naturally compartmentalise all that’s in your head.
To help you on your own journey, here are some mindfulness anchors you can enjoy at any time. The idea is to try to focus on the anchor for a specific amount of time (your mind will wander, but when it does, just gently return it back to the anchor).
Exercises in mindfulness
First, get yourself comfortable. Focus on your head placement, as this will ensure you are physically and emotionally balanced (for tips, take a look at our article on good posture).
- Reconnect with your body
Notice your breath, without altering it. Just focus, or watch, your breath as it comes and goes. Enjoy that focus. Check in with all your muscles, working from the bottom to the top of the body. Notice any tightness, then softly relax each muscle, allowing it to spread.
Now, work your way up, as you go stretching then releasing your feet, calves, knees, thighs, bottom, stomach, chest, shoulders, tops of arms, forearms, hands and fingers.
- Notice your surroundings
Again, get comfortable with good head placement. Watch your breath, then focus your eyes upon the things around you. Choose a colour to look for. Notice the shape of things, the light and dark, the textures smooth and rough. After some time visually exploring, you can start to notice the individual sounds and smells. How your senses start to changes the depth of the picture you are looking at. Enjoy the moment, and try to stay with it for as long as comfortable. Staying focused without force strengthens the part of the brain that allows you to switch focus when you want to move from the “doing mind” to the “being mind”.
Over time, you will develop a natural ability to tune into your mind whenever you need to create, make decisions, problem solve, or compare. This will allow you some much-needed time and space to think about and really listen to your choice, instead of that instinctive, reactive “monkey brain”. Notably, physical exercises that focus on technique are considered to be far better stress busters than exercises that do not. These include tai chi, yoga, and Pilates…
…or a Stride session!
During one of our friendly group sessions, you will be encouraged to sense and focus on the muscles you are moving, stretching, and strengthening. You will also be taking some calm time out, to escape from everyday life. In essence, it’s all about finding you again. Doesn’t everybody deserve that?
To arrange your free Stride session, or ask any questions, simply get in touch.