‘Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment’ – Buddha
Mindfulness is something I’ve read about a lot over the last few years but until about a year ago, I’d never really tried it. I wasn’t sure it was for me. Looking back now I can’t believe that I thought that! It’s perhaps an exaggeration to say it has changed my life but I definitely feel better for it.
So what is mindfulness?
‘Mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what’s happening and the stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening’ – Sharon Salzberg
Mindfulness is something you do intentionally which calms you, whether its a physical thing like stretching or yoga, or a mental exercise such as deep breathing, journalling or writing a gratitude list. It’s also about being in the moment and concentrating on the thing you are doing; paying attention. It’s being aware of what is happening right now and accepting it without wishing it was different. It’s about enjoying the good things and sitting with the bad things without fear, anger, criticism or judgement.
But my head is always full of thoughts!
Most of us spend our days rushing from one thing to another, constantly thinking about what we need to do. We don’t stop to enjoy the present moment or take time to calm our busy minds. However, spending ten minutes every day on a mindful activity not only calms you and clears your mind but it also improves stress levels, brings down blood pressure and improves your mood. Long term or chronic stress is bad for health, and is associated with weight gain, heart issues, diabetes and gastrointestinal problems amongst others.
It’s sensible to plan for the future though!
Yes, planning in a sensible, strategic way makes sense but worrying about the future and what might or might not happen is not only a waste of time but can also destroy your inner peace and stop you enjoying the present moment. In fact worrying is an incredibly destructive habit. Recently when I was worrying about a medical issue, my youngest son reminded me that worrying over what might be is crazy – either the thing I was worrying about wouldn’t happen in which case it was pointless and I was suffering needlessly from my worrying, or if it did happen then I could worry then, rather than worry twice. Sensible advice from my own child!! These two quotes sum up the pointlessness of worrying quite well too:
‘Worrying is stupid, it is like walking around with an umbrella, waiting for it to rain’ – unknown
‘Worrying is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere’ – English proverb
But I can’t stop the negative thoughts
‘Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think’ – Buddha
It’s important to remember that our minds are powerful things. We can convince ourselves of almost anything if we tell ourselves often enough. What we think directly influences how we feel and how we behave. For example, if you think you’re a failure, you’ll feel like a failure, then you’ll act like a failure which reinforces your original thought. Alternatively, believing you are successful and capable has the opposite effect.
‘We can’t control everything that happens, but we can change our experience of those things’ – Headspace app
Sometimes we worry about something that might happen. In my case, the fact that I need medical tests to me in that moment clearly meant there was something seriously wrong. My sons words really made me think. Logically I know that medical tests are just as likely to rule out something as they are to diagnose and, even if the results are positive, it might not be that serious, and if it is, well I’ll deal with it at the time. Worrying about it in advance is crazy (I’d love to say I’m no longer worrying at all but that’s not strictly true, but I am definitely coping much better!).
‘If it’s out of your hands, it deserves freedom from your mind too’ – Ivan Nuru
So how does mindfulness help?
Mindfulness brings us into the present moment. There is nothing to worry about, nothing to think about. All that there is, is right now. The past has gone, the future hasn’t arrived yet, all we have is the present. Mindfulness decreases our stress levels, helping us to accept and cope with the things which cause anxiety. It helps us focus and concentrate, stops our brains from jumping constantly from one thing to another, brings mental clarity and allows us to accept ourselves for who we are.
‘Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it’ – Eckhart Tolle
OK so how do I know what to do?
There are plenty of apps such as Headspace and Calm which provide free basic meditations and deep breathing exercises. I use the ones on my Fitbit watch. You can also find lots on YouTube as well as free stretching and yoga routines. Once you have tried a few deep breathing ones, you will be able to do it anytime, anywhere, without guidance.
You could also try simply being mindful, focusing on one thing, whether it’s the meal you are eating, the person you are speaking to or the thing you are looking at. If other thoughts come into your mind, gently push them away and go straight back to your focus.
‘It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see’ – Henry David Thoreau
The Tiny Tweak!
So this week, our tiny tweak is to have a go at a mindfulness practice. Whether it’s spending 5 minutes doing some deep breathing, joining a yoga class or tying a sleep meditation, try something which enables you to be fully in the present moment and which brings some calm into your life. I already do a sleep meditation and spend 5 minutes every morning doing deep breathing before I get out of bed as well as in moments of anxiety, so for me I am going to make my stretching routine mindful, really focus on each movement and push away any intruding thoughts. I’m also going to try hard not to stress about things I can’t change. What will you do?
If you’re still not convinced then consider this: ‘Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you’ – Ann Lamott
Until next time xx
If you enjoyed this post, please give it a like and let me know in the comments. Do you practice mindfulness? What works for you?