Mindfulness For Skeptics

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About 8 years ago I came across a wonderful gentleman who waxed lyrical about Mindfulness and the wonderful benefits of daily practice.  It seemed at the time to be what everyone was doing and doing with such ease.  Excited to try this new relaxation technique I purchased a Mindfulness guided meditation CD and started to practice.  I failed miserably.  I just couldn’t get my head around this Mindfulness concept and was more stressed trying to figure it out, my mind would wander everywhere but where it was supposed to be.  While I was supposed to be focusing on my breathing and just being I would start thinking about my shopping lists, work I needed to get done, deadlines I had to meet, children I had to shuttle around the place, the list goes on and on.  Try as hard as I did I didn’t ‘get it’.  I decided the only way to achieve this much-acclaimed Mindfulness lark was to sell my home and live on the top of a mountain with some Buddhist monks and as that wasn’t an option for me (then or now) I gave in and admitted defeat.  You see I am a single mum of 2 wonderful boys who are sport mad, whom I raise on my own and boy do they keep me busy, I am a self-employed Resilience Life Coach & Psychotherapist, author of best-selling ‘The Burnout Solution’, and work my sometimes-hectic schedule around said sports mad boys so I struggled to find the time to give to the practice of Mindfulness.  In my mind, I was just far too busy to find the time to be Mindful!  A few years later I decided to tackle this Mindfulness concept again and rather than trying to learn on my own I enrolled in a course where I met like-minded people who were all interested in learning about and how to do Mindfulness.  To be honest even after doing the course I still struggled with the finding the extra time each day to add Mindfulness into my already hectic schedule.

Roll on a few years and what I have learn is the Mindfulness does not have to be conventional.  Mindfulness does not require you to sit still for an hour in total peace while someone else does your work for you.  I have learnt how to incorporate Mindfulness into my life in ways that I don’t even know I’m doing it.  I have learnt that some of my clients, like me, don’t have the spare time to dedicate to sitting still.

Benefits to daily practice of Mindfulness can included but are not limited to helping boost focus, lowering stress and can make us more compassionate.

  1. What is Mindfulness

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”  Jon Kabat-Zinn is the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre

  1. You can meditate anywhere

It’s a common misconception that you must meditate with your eyes closed, sitting still in a dark room and while this is perfectly acceptable (for sitting meditation at least…), I prefer to incorporate the practice of Mindfulness into my daily routine.

  1. Start simple – breath, be in the present moment

There are many ways to incorporate Mindfulness meditation into our lives such as walking meditation or mindful eating but I suggest starting with breathing meditations.  Our breath is incredible, it’s also something we really take for granted.  I describe our breath as the only thing we are truly in control of.  Focusing on our breathing is something we can do anywhere, at our desks, in our cars, the commute to work, doing the shopping.  Start by breathing in for 4 counts and out for 4 counts, do this for one minute or however long you’re stuck at the red traffic light, while on call waiting, standing in the shopping que.  Do it anywhere, you don’t need to stop what you’re doing to practice this!  Benefits to this is not only does it bring you back to being in the present moment rather than having your mind racing away it also increases the oxygen flow to your body which in turn will create an immediate injection of calm for the mind. On a chemical level, this reduces activation of the sympathetic nervous system. It also decreases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.

  1. Walk it off

Now that you’re incorporating mindful breathing into your day work at focusing on the way you walk.  A technique I get clients to practice is to become aware of their surroundings as they walk.  If you take a daily walk to work, with the dog, kids, to the shops take the time to actually see what is around.  How many cars have you walked by? What colours are the doors of the houses? Are there buds or leaves on the trees?  For someone starting out with this practice I get them to imagine their mind is connected to someone in another country who can’t see what they can.  Use your mind to mentally describe everything you see on your walk.  It’s a wonderful way to be fully present in your journey!

  1. Mindful eating – the chocolate meditation (or Ice-cream!)

Choose a chocolate or ice-cream if that’s your preference, either way choose something you’ve never tried before or haven’t eaten recently.  Rather than eating it all at once and not even remembering an hour later you ate it take the time to look at what you’re eating, look at the texture of it, what it smells like and what it feels like.  Once you’ve taken a bite see if it’s possible to keep it in your mouth and let it melt.  Notice how it tastes.  Repeat this with the next mouthful.  See how you have felt having eaten Mindfully.  Did it taste better?

  1. Gratitude

It’s easy to take what we have and love in life for granted.   Gratitude is part of Mindfulness and has many scientifically proven benefits such as improved psychologic health, enhanced empathy and reduced aggression, improved sleep, improved self-esteem, increased mental strength.   Recognising all that you have to be thankful for, even during the worst of times, fosters resilience.  Take 2mins every night to be grateful for 3 things in your day.  It can be as simple as having dinner with family to getting to pay a bill that’s been weighing you down.

  1. Intentional awareness

According to Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, co-founder of The Chopra Centre for Wellbeing setting your Intention is the starting point of every dream. It is the creative power that fulfils all of our needs, whether for money, relationships, spiritual awakening, or love.

Everything that happens in the universe begins with intention. Whatever I decide to do in my day it all starts with intention.  Start each morning with setting your intention for the day.  How do you want to feel for the day? Focus on that thought and feeling and how it will make you feel.  During the day when things might not be going so well check in with yourself and see if you’re being true to your Intention for yourself.  If you’re not take a moment to breath and focus back on your morning intention.

  1. Stop trying to win at meditation!

This is really important.  There is no right or wrong way to practice mediation or mindfulness.

  1. Be in Nature!

Simply sitting or walking in nature and being mindful of the many sights or sounds within your field of awareness is highly nourishing and helps to improve your mindfulness practice. With the high number of stimuli, you can’t help but be fully present for what’s going on around you (like walking) and this helps you develop your mindfulness and gives you a reference point for when you practice during your everyday life.

  1. Put insomnia to rest.

Meditation contributes to a good night’s sleep, which does wonders to improve mood, creativity and overall well-being. Tonight, avoid looking at digital screens and technology for at least 30 minutes before bed.  If you can’t leave phones outside the bedroom then at least leave them at the far side of the room.  Lie down and check in by using your mind to examine and relax your body.   Then do your daily gratitude.

 

  1. Focus on sustainers … not drainers

This one’s easy and well worth it, too. All you need to do is focus on the good things in life (your sustainers) and reduce the ones you don’t enjoy (your drainers).

So, focussing on a trip to the park with the kids instead of clearing up the kitchen or a full days meeting, a night out to the movies instead of household admin.

  1. Try something new

Trying new things, such as sitting in a different seat in meetings or going somewhere new for lunch, can also help you notice the world in a new way.

  1. Autopilot – Notice the everyday

“Even as we go about our daily lives, we can notice the sensations of things, the food we eat, the air moving past the body as we walk,” says Professor Williams. “All this may sound very small, but it has huge power to interrupt the ‘autopilot’ mode we often engage day to day, and to give us new perspectives on life.”  We spend more time on autopilot than we realise, from our commute to work to our grocery shopping in our regular supermarket.  Take a different route to work, get off a stop earlier, go down the aisles in the supermarket randomly, sit in a different chair at home.  Switch off the autopilot and become more and aware and present.

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