Don’t worry I’m not turning all hippie on you guys. Ok maybe just a little. In a world of distractions and new apps we can’t get enough of (snapchat…) it’s now harder than ever to do nothing, or even just one thing at a time. I think we’ve all established that. Meditation and mindfulness aren’t new (obviously), but the more entrenched in the online world I become the more I think I need them. Although meditation might seem a little new age to the uninitiated, there’s scientific evidence it’s effective in helping with stress, anxiety and focus and helping us to be more creative. We can all use some of that can’t we? As part of this year’s goal to be more present and give my brain a break (remember this?) I completed a meditation course in Thailand a little while ago, but for a while was too busy to put what I learned into practice.
Ok so what is mindfulness? In a nutshell it’s about ‘Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgement.’ Or even more simply (for us beginners) being fully in the moment. The simplicity of the idea as opposed to other meditation practices was the big attraction for me. Recently I’ve tried to put into practice what I learnt on my course, and thought I would put a bit of it on paper for you to (perhaps) get some use out of. Here’s to less brain drain!
So the usual suggestion is to ‘just sit observing your breath for 30 minutes’ Say what??? I don’t know about you but my breathing definitely isn’t that interesting! Instead, I start with 10 mins. Find a comfortable place to sit, close your eyes, and start paying attention to your breathing. In-breath verses out-breath. How long are they? 3, 4 or 5 seconds? Do you breathe mostly with your chest or more with your stomach? In and out your nose or in through your nose and out through your mouth? It doesn’t matter. Don’t force it. Just breathe and simply recognize the in-breathing and out-breathing. It has a surprisingly calming effect. I use this a lot when I can’t fall asleep, counting to five for each breath, and find it works a treat!
2. Take note of all your senses
Once you feel comfortable with the breathing exercise, and can focus for the full 10mins without too much ‘mind wandering’, start taking note of your other senses and try 15mins. What can you hear? Noisy neighbours, traffic, construction, a bird, a dog? Again it doesn’t matter, it is just about observing. Think about the feeling of the floor under your feet, the seat beneath you and your arms resting across your body or by your side. This one was really hard for me. Living in Hong Kong there is constant noise. I kept thinking I can only hear bad noises like traffic and construction and yelling! No birds or waves or children laughing! But try not to judge. There are no good or bad noises. Just be aware of them all.
3. Body scan
Once you’ve mastered the first 2 steps add this in. Think about each body part individually and how it feels. I like to start with my feet and work up. Take note of its position, any tingling, can you feel a pulse? Where this gets tricky is if you feel uncomfortable or have an itch that needs scratching, or any aches or pains. Just like the noises, try to be aware without judgement. This is also helpful when you find yourself in stressful situations in real life.
4. Implement into daily life
Too busy to set aside 10-20mins a day? Try implementing mindfulness into other aspects of your daily life. Focus on breathing, your senses and what is happening around you at that very moment. Not a work deadline or bill you need to pay. Stay in the moment. I try my best to do this when waiting to meet someone or on the bus/train. Must-resist-urge-to-look-at-phone! And if you think your life is just too frantic, remember this little quote: “You should sit in meditation for 20 mins every day – unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” Ermagherd that so me! 🙂
5. It’s ok to get distracted sometimes.
It happens. You are focusing on your breathing and suddenly you think about what you want for dinner… Don’t worry this is inevitable and it will get easier with practice. At least this is what my meditation teacher told me! Just try to gently let go of that distracting thought and pull your attention back to your breathing and your body. Sometimes I find I get my best ideas when I day dream and let my mind wander so it’s not always such a bad thing…
If only life was a series of meditation appropriate jetties…. Most of the time it’s me staring at the walls of my tiny apartment! 😉
Photos by Nicola Lemmon