Sunday, 12 December 2021

Mindfulness in everyday life

Mindfulness is about bringing our attention to the immediate present and focusing on something specific, such as breathing, sounds, the way something looks, or tastes. While there are many mindfulness exercises that we can practise, we can also become more mindful in our everyday lives. Here are some ways:

Shower mindfully

Take notice of the texture of your clothes as you remove them. Consider the cleansing process. Feel the water on your skin and note the sensations that this brings you. Note the temperature of the water, the smells around you, the sensations of your hands on your body, and the sounds of the shower. Be grateful for the cleansing process, the hot water and the time to yourself. Indulge in every bit of the process.

Eat mindfully

Take a small piece of a food that you enjoy. Look at it, notice it's colour and texture. Take a sniff. How does it smell? Put it in your mouth. What does it feel like on your tongue? What flavours can you taste? 

Start to chew and notice what this feels like. As you swallow, imagine the food nourishing your body and give thanks for being able to enjoy it.

Mindful waiting

This is a good exercise to use when you're waiting in line at the shops. Connect with your breathing and take in your surroundings. How does your body feel right this minute? Try not to think about your frustration. Be at peace with the waiting process and if your mind wanders, gently guide it back to focus on your breathing and your surroundings. Be grateful for the time with yourself. 

There are many other ways to practise mindfulness every day. Try mindful washing up, mindful learning or mindful dressing. Follow the same principles as above and notice how you feel after your mindful moment. 

Friday, 10 December 2021

Mindful listening

We're all different and that's why it's important to find the methods of mindful practice that work best for us. 

Yesterday we looked at Mindful Observation. Today we're exploring mindful listening. 

The exercises below will help you notice the sounds around you and help you develop the skills to listen more mindfully and without judgement or preconception. As you practise more, you will find it easier to listen without your mind wandering off and you will find it easier to gently guide your wandering focus back to listening. 

A wandering mind creates thoughts. These thoughts are not reality, but we often treat them as such and they affect our emotions. Negative feelings result from negative thoughts. Learning to let your thoughts come and go, gives your mind a rest from its wanderings and it is these rests that can help reset the stress mechanism.

Exercise 1 - Mindful listening - Open your ears

Try this exercise, developed by Alfred James at Pocket Mindfulness

  • Select a piece of music you have never heard before. You may have something in your own collection that you have never listened to, or you might choose to turn the radio dial until something catches your ear.
  • Close your eyes and put on your headphones. Try not to get drawn into judging the music by its genre, title, or artist name before it has begun playing. Instead, ignore any labels and neutrally allow yourself to get lost in the journey of sound for the duration of the song.
  • Allow yourself to explore every aspect of the track. Even if the music isn't to your liking at first, let go of your dislike and give your awareness full permission to climb inside the track and dance among the sound waves.
  • The idea is to just listen, to become fully entwined with the composition without preconception or judgement of the genre, artist, lyrics, or instrumentation.

Exercise 2 - Listening and thoughts

Listen to this mindfulness meditation by Professor Mark Williams of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. It's a great introduction to listening mindfully.

Thursday, 9 December 2021

Mindful observation

Yesterday we started a week of posts on Twitter #fourweeksofwellbeing about mindfulness. Mindfulness is an ancient practice that is all about focusing the mind on the immediate present. If practised regularly, mindfulness is a great tool for calming your mind and reducing feelings of stress. 

There are many different ways to practise mindfulness and the method you choose really depends on what works best for you. It's good to try a few different things to see which ones you like best. 

Today we're looking at mindful observation and we have included a few options to try. 

Mindful observation enables you to really observe the world around you and to connect with it in a way that you perhaps have never done before. We often rush through life with our minds preoccupied with our thoughts and actually miss a lot as a result. Mindful meditations are great because they are simple, short, and require no equipment. It's best to find somewhere comfortable where you won't be disturbed and get practising. 

Exercise 1 - Mindful observation - Observe an object

Try this exercise, developed by Alfred James at Pocket Mindfulness.

  • Choose a natural object from within your immediate environment and focus on watching it for a minute or two. This could be a flower, a plant, or an insect, or even the clouds or the moon.
  • Don't do anything except notice the thing that you are looking at. Simply relax into a harmony for as long as your concentration allows.
  • Look at it as if you are seeing it for the first time. Visually explore every aspect of its formation. Allow yourself to be consumed by its presence. Allow yourself to connect with its energy and its role and purposes in the natural world.
TIP The good news is that while it is best to do these exercises from real life, if you can't get outside, images of nature have been shown to be effective for relaxation too. Why not take some photos when you're out and use them when your access to outdoors is limited. 

Exercise 2 - Observe your thoughts

This practice is from Fablefly, Mindfulness for teens and adults. The purpose of it is to show you that your mind is able to be still. It's a simple meditation in which you allow your thoughts to come and go and observe them in a passive way without judgement. 

With practice, you will find that you are able to immerse yourself in the experience and will be able to gently observe your thoughts coming and going but bring your mind back to your focus. It's not easy at first, but if you persevere, you will notice that these short breaks for your mind will really help you reset and manage stress.

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

What causes stress?

Stress is something that most of us are familiar with but while we may know how it feels to be stressed, we may not know why we get stressed.

When we talk about stress we are really referring to the emotional and physical reactions that take place in our body when we feel under pressure or threatened in some way. 

There are a whole host of reasons why somebody may feel stressed. We may feel threatened physically or we may experience stress as a result of anxious thoughts and worries. The first step to managing stress is understanding what is causing it. 

There are two main kinds of stress: internal and external stress 

Internal stress

Internal stress comes about due to our own internal thought processes. We may worry about things that we can't control, impose unrealistic expectations on ourselves, or have low self-esteem and treat ourselves unkindly. All of these things create unhelpful thoughts that can lead to internal stress.

External stress

External stress comes from the world around us rather than our own minds and can be caused by things like noise, relationship issues, money problems, life transitions, pressure from work or family, problems with neighbours, etc. 

The stress mechanism

Of course, not all stress is bad and although stress gets a bad press, we actually sometimes need a bit of stress to protect us from harm. Stress brings about rapid physical changes, which help us to deal with an imminent threat:

  • Our vision sharpens
  • Our body fluids are diverted to our bloodstream
  • Our airways widen to allow more oxygen into our lungs
  • Our heart pumps harder to send oxygen and energy to our muscles
  • Our liver releases glucose into our body to energise our muscles
  • Our digestion slows down or stops to enable more blood to be diverted to our muscles
  • We sweat to help cool our working muscles and blood from our skin is diverted to our muscles.
  • Our muscles tense to enable us to react faster and we release calcium into tense muscles.

This process, known as the 'fight or flight' response, was really helpful for protecting our ancestors from wild animals but it is not quite so helpful in modern day life as it can trigger due to perceived threats. If this happens often, our bodies don't have time to flush out the stress hormones that allow all of the above amazing changes to take place. This can lead to longer term physical and mental health problems, so it's important to find ways to take a break from stress. 

Join us on Twitter tomorrow when we'll be looking at common symptoms of stress. #fourweeksofwellbeing