Regretting the past, fearing the future and finding life stressful? Then why not take a holiday from it all by becoming mindful and focusing on the present moment, as Stephen Spinks explains...
As we all know only too well, life has become increasingly frenetic. There’s not a moment’s pause in the grind of the daily commute, while the countless emails sitting in our inbox seem to be demanding our undivided attention 24 hours a day. Much without realising it, we’ve become slaves to our daily rituals; passive observers of the world marching by beside us. It’s easy to lose perspective.
It’s no coincidence that, as life becomes busier, more and more of us are realising that we need to take a moment to pause. Our bodies are finely tuned machines that often know better than our heads exactly how we feel. But we don’t always know how to read them, especially with regard to how we’re really feeling and when we ought to slow down.
Stop and think for a moment. When was the last time you felt down - or even worse, depressed? When was the last time you had little interest in doing anything, preferring instead to sit on the sofa and watch TV, flicking from channel to channel and not really settling on anything? How many times this week have you woken up tired and wanted to stay in bed, but the buzz of the alarm and the demands of the day have dragged you out of it, no matter how many times you’ve hit snooze? How many of us haven’t been able to sleep, waking up after only a few hours despite feeling knackered before bed. A lot of us, most likely.
As the pace of life quickens, we find ourselves ploughing on regardless, because that’s what we believe we need to do to get on in life. Yet our bodies are telling us to slow down; to stop, to sleep, to just ‘be’ for a while...
So why don’t we listen?
Some of the most common signs that our wellbeing is compromised include skipping meals, loss of appetite, over-eating for comfort, feeling sluggish or without energy, becoming restless, irritable, quiet or distracted. There are other signs, too: anxiety, nervousness, a feeling of being ‘on edge’, worrying about the smallest things and feeling that you can’t let go of them, or that you have to be in control. All these signs, to varying degrees, point to being overworked, overrun and not able to find enough headspace to take care of ourselves.
Many of us feel guilty about pausing for a moment. There is, after all, so much to get done! And we worry about other people’s perception of us. What if I’m not seen to be pulling my weight at work? What will my mates say if I don’t join them on that night out? The fear of being judged, or of letting someone down, is often why we carry on charging ahead. Yet pausing doesn’t need to be as hard as we may think it is.
Mindfulness has become something of a buzz word these last few years. It sounds a little too hippie for many people. Yet the technique is hugely popular because the benefits derived from it are so profound.
Mindfulness is simply a means by which to live in the present; to access ‘the Now’. Take some time - an hour, a day, or simply just a minute - to stop, pause and become grounded. An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment - something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs, for example, or the experience of standing in a garden or outdoor space and listening to the sounds around us: the wind in the trees, the noise of passing traffic, the footsteps of people walking by, the smell of fresh air, the feeling of raindrops falling on our face. It’s a quick focus; nothing more.
Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment. It's about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can change for the better the way we see ourselves and our lives.
So why bother? Well, because the more we do it, the more we suddenly reconnect with the present through our own self-awareness. The more we become self-aware, the more we can see the immediate environment we are in and regain control of it. The more we practise mindfulness, the more we begin to understand our bodies, including its aches and pains, meaning that we can begin to identify patterns in our life and put in place strategies to deal with the pressures. In short, it allows us to take back a bit of control.
You can practise mindfulness anywhere. The simplest method is to sit on a straight-backed chair or sit cross-legged on the floor or on a cushion, close your eyes and slowly breathe in and out a few times. Take the time to notice your body. Ask yourself, where are your aches and pains. Listen to what your body is telling you. Are your shoulders, legs, arms feeling sore? Relax your shoulders. Let them just hang low. Breathe in and out again. Listen carefully to the sounds around you. What can you hear? Just listen for a few minutes. Really listen. Take the time to understand what you have felt and heard, then stop, end on a smile and carry on with life.
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But it really works. Try it.
The first few times people have a go, they often notice that the mind wanders, running off to other thoughts and associations, like what to cook for dinner or whether they switched the gas off; but if this happens, it’s okay. Just start again, with a few deep, slow breaths. The more you practise it, the easier it gets.
The amazing benefit of mindfulness is ultimately that it can make you feel grounded and in control. Suddenly, all the pressures of the day seem more manageable, and you feel that you can deal with them on your own terms. You’ve taken back control, re-energised yourself and increased your chances of overcoming whatever challenges your day may bring you.
There’s plenty of advice on the internet about mindfulness, and a number of videos to watch on YouTube.
Why not give it a try? You might just be amazed.
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