For those who may be unfamiliar with mindfulness, a good definition from mindfulness guru Jon Kabat Zinn is “paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally”.
In our mindfulness training course, we are cultivating the skill of noticing and observing our experiences and responses from moment to moment, mostly using our breath as an anchor, which helps us to manage stress, stay calm, centred and present…rather than reacting automatically, doing the same old thing or things we later regret, potentially getting stuck.
Remaining non-judgemental is a challenge for most of us. Not only are our brains wired to constantly observe, analyse, prioritise and make judgements in order to survive, work and function but many of us also have a pretty active “inner critic” to contend with, constantly commentating in the background. Mindfulness training helps us to notice these judgements as an “observing witness” – rather than switching the mind off (which is impossible) these exercises help us to consciously notice the noise and choose to turn down the volume.
1. Mindful Breathing
Don’t worry, I’m not talking about breathing for long hours sitting at the top of a mountain or on retreat (although if you have time to do this, that’s great). This is about being aware of your breath as much as possible wherever you are, throughout your day.
So…when you notice that your mind has wandered off, or that you’re getting fused to thoughts that aren’t helpful, or anytime at all, try taking 5 x 6 Second Mindful Breaths as a circuit breaker.
So that’s six lovely big breaths, simply breathing IN-2-3 and then OUT-2-3.
With each breath, noticing the rise and fall of your belly….the expansion and falling away of your chest…the coolness of the air as you’re breathing into your nostrils and the warmth of the air as you breathing out. Try it now! It’s free!!
And if you take 5 Mindful breaths in this way now and again – you’ve successfully completed a 30 second meditation practice. Hey Presto. Who says you’re too busy to meditate?
2. Five Things You Can See, Hear & Feel Right Now
This mindfulness exercise helps to ground us by observing what is present in the current moment. If we’re getting too tied up in knots this can introduce a sense of “what else” is in the picture which is a helpful to “unhook” or defuse from the challenging thoughts.
We can do this one any time, whether you are sitting calmly and quietly on your own, in a meeting with other people, in a busy environment – even driving your car. Obviously keeping our eyes open!
So to start – look around your environment and take extra special notice of 5 different things you can see right now. You can name the objects by speaking out loud or just internally but it’s important to notice each object individually.
Then, taking extra special notice of 5 different things you can hear right now. This may be challenging if you’re inside but see if you can notice even very subtle sounds…so it might be something like…1. the humming of the air conditioning 2. The sound of muffled voices 3. The buzzing of the computer 4. The tapping sounds of the keyboard and 5. The sound of your own breath, breathing in and out.
Finally, now noticing 5 different things you can feel right now. Whether they are internal feelings (fluttering tummy, tightness in chest) or external sensations (clothes on your skin, bottom in the chair, feet on the ground, pen in my hand), whatever you are feeling is OK….we are simply noticing and observing what’s present, then moving on to the next thing. Don’t stay too long with each one to the point of analysing it. Notice, observe, move on.
If you want to, you could then return to the beginning of the exercise and then notice 4 Things You can See, Hear and Feel right now….then 3 Things…then 2 Things and finally then just 1 Thing you can See, Hear and Feel.
Chances are you will feel a lot calmer and more centred after doing this exercise. I’ve done it myself in meetings or during stressful events (like when I accidentally backed into someone’s car last year and the driver was screaming at me…my instinct was fight or flight…I felt quite anxious and scared, but still managed to stay calm by noticing 5 things like…she was wearing a green cardigan, she had red shoes, she has a tight lipped expression, she had curly hair and was shaking her fist).
3. Three C’s of Mindfulness – Curiosity, Concentration, Compassion
Let’s take something we all have to do from time to time – like washing up - and consider how it might be a different and potentially even more pleasant experience, if we adopt the 3 C’s….of Curiosity, Concentration and Compassion (or bring to mind another example)
So, as you are next washing up, see if you can bring some Curiosity to the task, which means washing up as though you have never done it before. Notice the warmth of the water, the smell of the detergent, the bubbles and suds, the tinkling sounds of the crockery and swishing of the water etc.
Try to stay with this exercise for a few minutes by Concentrating on just the washing up. One thing at a time. So often we are multi-tasking and not totally taking in our experience of just one thing. So concentrate, and keep focused. While you are doing the washing up…you are ONLY doing the washing up. It can be more challenging than we think!
Finally, whatever we are doing, try bringing a sense of Compassion into your experience also. Sending some loving kindness to your hands, softening your heart and being open to the experience rather than just “getting it done”.
Consider how adopting the 3 C’s could bring a more mindful and calming perspective to a whole range of daily activities and experience in your day. Here’s some that the current participants in Managing the Madness have found the Three C’s to be helpful in staying present and mindful in their lives:
Eating breakfast without reading the paper and checking emails all at once
Driving to work without the radio on and giving myself some quiet time
Conversing with café staff while waiting for my coffee instead of checking Facebook
Playing with the kids at the park and not taking the phone
Turning off the TV during dinner time, focusing on my family and their conversations. You might find similar opportunities present themselves to you and I hope these simple exercises may be helpful for you in the weeks ahead. Practice is the key. I’d love to hear your feedback, so feel free to let us know what worked well for you and how.