Welcome to my mini two-part series on Mindfulness.
If you read my blogs or my books you know that mindfulness is a very important thing to me.
I believe it is so important that I teach it to my students. I wish someone had taught it to me when I was young!
Mindfulness is not new. People might think of the word ‘mindfulness’ as new, or at least new age, but it was actually put into use in around 1910. The idea is a part of many religions and philosophies, from Buddhism to martial arts.
I teach mindfulness to my students (and practise it myself) because there are a myriad of benefits to it. In this time of chronic stress, whether it be at work, school or home, practising techniques that allow your nervous system to calm down is essential. Techniques that resolve the autonomic ‘fight or flight’ response is necessary to prevent damage to our health and relationships, not to mention our quality of life.
One of the easiest and most direct ways to practise mindfulness is by doing something that we all do anyway, throughout our lives; breathing. Breathing is the key, but breathing must be done with awareness. Being aware of one’s breathing might sound simple, but anyone who has ever tried it will know how difficult it is.
Mindful breathing brings us back to the present. This is useful because many of the things that stress us out are caused by our mind not being in the here and now. Dwelling on the past or worrying about the future is not helpful, and it just pushes us into a mind space where we spend several hours a day replaying or imagining scenarios uselessly.
The key to this is slowing our mind down breath by breath. We can do this by shutting down our awareness to anything else besides that slow stream of cool air entering our nostrils or hot flow of warm air exiting them. Anytime our mind tries to take back the reins and send us on another mindless adventure, we just come back to our breath. Every new breath is an opportunity to begin again. Isn’t it wonderful when we realise that every minute can be a clean slate?
Of course, when we most need to practise mindfulness, and breathing with awareness, is when we probably never do it. In the middle of an argument, on a deadline at work, worrying about our kids or dealing with the umpteenth mess the pet creates. However, we can train ourselves and practise mindfulness at other times, so that we can access the practice more easily when we really need it.
One of the best times to practise mindful breathing is before we go to sleep or when we wake up. Taking a few deep, deliberate breaths is a gift to ourselves, giving us the time to be grateful for the day that has gone by or the one yet to come.
Another good time to practise it is while waiting on the phone, when stuck in traffic and before or after a meeting. Refocusing our minds and bodies is an excellent way to begin and end any difficult or challenging time – like the moments before you know a fight with your spouse or teenager is waiting in the wings. You will be surprised by how much better that dreaded interaction will go when you start the inevitable with awareness.
Just choosing to breathe mindfully any moment you think about it – while sitting at your desk or while watching a football match – will build the habit of using a few deep breaths to reconnect to the present moment.
This is a gift you give yourself, and by extension your loved ones. For the few moments when your only task is to focus on your breathing (and perhaps refocus as needed!) you have nothing else to do but be – and breathe.
You will be amazed by how it will change you, and it will transform your well-being from the inside out. Which is always the best way…