Most of us live and work in busy environments where multi-tasking, analytical problem solving and producing results are highly valued. But what if these “highly effective” traits are keeping you on a never-ending treadmill that’s stopping you from simply sitting still and being present with the people, opportunities and enjoyable experiences of your life …?
While a certain amount of stress can be an enlivening and motivating force in our lives, like all things taken in the extreme, it can result in severe disruption to our wellbeing and ability to function effectively.When we find ourselves in that stressed state it’s difficult to concentrate and solve problems without feeling overwhelmed.
If this feels like you – don’t give yourself a hard time. We all need reminding now and again to take stock, enjoy the moment and smell the roses. But wouldn’t it be great if we could do more of this all the time, in small and achievable ways, rather than waiting until we’re feeling overloaded and disconnected.
For the past 20 years, significant psychological studies on positive psychology and wellbeing has told us that living our lives with greater “moment to moment” awareness or mindfulness is a highly important factor to achieving greater happiness and wellbeing. Today, mindfulness is universally recognized approach to staying present and vast amounts of research confirms that by training the mind through mindfulness of the breath and meditation, we give the body time to relax and recuperate, and clear away stress hormones that may have accumulated in the system.
Dr Herbert Benson of Harvard University first established that meditation techniques had a very real effect of reducing the fight-or-flight response, in his ground-breaking research in 1968.Since then, many more studies have reinforced and enlarged upon Dr Benson’s findings and today meditation is widely accepted as a valid complement to advances in medical science.
Practicing mindfulness is about being curious and aware of all the facets of our experiences, observing the smells, sounds, tastes, feel and sights, noticing our thoughts, feelings and body sensations – and allowing them all to be present as part of our experience, just as they are. So, without getting “fused” or “hooked” on one or other because that’s when we may start to worry about the future or ruminate about the past. Staying totally present in the “here and now” can be challenging but the more you try it – perhaps even when having your next cup of tea or coffee – the more you’ll reap the rewards of truly being present, rather than on automatic pilot and missing out.
As you’re drinking that tea or coffee, take a moment to smell the aroma, look at the glassy surface or froth, feel the warmth of the cup in your hand, listen closely to the sounds around you and try to taste all the varying flavours as you drink. Be curious – does the taste stay the same, or change over time? Reflect how you’re feeling emotionally in this moment, notice the thoughts that are passing through your mind (try to watch them like clouds passing through the sky so you don’t get “hooked”) and lastly notice how you’re feeling in your body right now. How’s your posture? Notice any tightness or tension. How’s your breath? Shallow or deep? Fast or slow? Be curious.
A key component of mindfulness involves training our mind to come back to the focus of our breath, again and again and again. This gives us the opportunity to slow down, reduce our stress levels and to practice responding to our thoughts patterns and stressful situations more consciously and calmly.
A very simple mindfulness breathing exercise that I teach in “Managing the Madness” (Live Well’s 6 week mindfulness meditation program) is to simply breathe in for 3 counts and out for 3 counts. In–2-3 and Out–2-3. Keep this going for 5 breaths at a time. Then try extending it to 10 breaths, twice a day and see how you feel after each round. This total of 6 second breathing cycle means that we’re consciously bringing our breaths per minute down to 10, rather than up near 20 or more which is common when feeling flighty and stressed. Bringing our breaths per minute down to a slower pace gives our automatic nervous system a chance to come down from that “fight of flight” state to a calmer, more manageable state of “rest and digest” which can have significant positive effects across our entire bodies and sense of being able to cope. The more you practice this exercise the less you’ll need to focus on counting as your own rhythm and pace of focused, slower breathing will kick in and hey presto – you’re meditating!
The positive effect of this all this increased clarity and resilience is productivity and also a greater connection with others. So if you want more intimacy in your relationships or to achieve more within your day, try the opposite of all the usual “doing” and “just sit there” (mindfully of course!) so that whatever you are doing, you are totally present and “tuned in” – not zoned out.
Try it today! You might be surprised to discover how much more you see, hear, feel and notice. Your conversations may feel more connected and meaningful, your experiences of tasks and chores could be more vivid and enjoyable. Let us know what you tried and your observations. We’d love to hear from you.
And if you’re interested to join our next “Managing the Madness” group mindfulness program, the next group will be commencing on Wedneday 21st May from 7.30-9.30pm at Live Well. Contact Tegan on 6295 0400 with your enquiries. Cost of the program is $480 which includes the 6 x weekly sessions, 2 x CD’s, an 80 page workbook and a half hour one-on-one coaching consultation with Katrina Howard.