As it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d share some quick steps to clear the brain-fog and find some instant calm.
Just a refresher in what we mean when we talk about developing ‘Mindfulness Practice’: it’s about consciously paying attention to something; or as John Kabat-Zinn (the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) puts it, Mindfulness is:
“The awareness that comes from paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
As simple as it sounds, it’s easy to be put off by over-complicated explanations or misconceptions that you have to do yoga, eat vegan and have an hour spare each day in order to get anything out of Mindfulness.
Of course, none of this is true! Like anything, peace of mind is a simple or hard as you choose to make it. And you certainly don’t need an hour. It’s perfectly possible to fit Mindfulness into your daily, busy routine.
Follow these basic steps, and you can start practising Mindfulness right now:
- Set an intention (decide what you’ll bring your attention to). For example, this could be your breath, surrounding, sensations in your body, thoughts, an unpleasant feeling in your belly, the food you’re eating etc.
- Notice everything you can about the thing you’re looking at/listening to/watching in your mind with ‘the beginners’ mind,’ as if you’ve never seen, heard, smelt anything like it before.
- Congratulate yourself if you notice that you’re becoming distracted and ‘drifting off’
- Acknowledge this without judgement and let it go.
- Return to your intention, exploring it with a curious mind.
Your concentration muscles grow stronger by noticing when you’ve ‘drifted off’ and by repeatedly pulling attention back to your intention. So don’t beat yourself up when you inevitably lose focus. When I teach this to children, we talk about how this action is like a weight lifting rep for your brain; this is the stuff that really counts. Knowing this helps us to be a little kinder to ourselves than we might be, had we tried to control this.
You can use these steps anywhere – any time!
Facing a moment of overwhelming stress at work or home? Set an intention to focus on your breath for a few minutes. Currently being shouted at by a horrible boss? Why not really pay attention to the tone of their voice, the expression, the volume? Take the focus away from how this is making you feel and instead really pay attention to them. Out for a morning run and listening to your brain scream at you to quit? Send your attention to the physical sensation of your feet on the floor.
Just play around and experiment with your attention. See what works and what doesn’t; how you feel before and after. Then do more of things that make you feel good!
These steps are also incredibly effective for children, who need shorter spans of concentration (especially younger children and/or children who are completely new to this.) Just by asking them to pay attention to their food when they eat; encouraging them to use their senses and describe tastes and smells and textures afterwards, you can develop some really beneficial habits at the dinner table. And this is just for starters!
In an increasingly busy and ‘stressful’ world, it’s good to know that we each carry with us the ability to be mindful.
At any point in time, we can choose.
Choose to breathe. Choose to watch. Choose to listen.
Choose to be.