So I've been practising mindfulness for a good few years now and although I'm not able to use it to calm me down in every given situation (yet!) it certainly helps me cope with being overwhelmed most of the time. I even incorporate it into my Reiki sessions and many people tell me that was the most significant element to help them to relax and find a moments peace.
Mindfulness practise is so easy and it can take just a few minutes at a time. It really is enabling yourself to be in the moment, but as most of us are either thinking about what's already happened or what's going to happen we're stuck in a loop of not really being in the here and now. Many people describe this state as the 'monkey mind' or the Ego chattering away, if we can find a way to focus on the present it creates a breather for your mind, similar to a nap or workout for your mind. It quietens all the chatter and brings you back to yourself.
For quite a while I thought that mindfulness was a state of enlightenment achieved by so few during a life time of meditation, something that I would struggle to achieve and never reach. I was very wrong.
I first discovered the benefits of mindfulness whilst designing courses to promote well being. Learning the science behind mindfulness helped sway my beliefs, but the actual practise grounded my realisation that this was something everyone could certainly have a go at and benefit from.
Modern life can be so full to the brim that we often find ourselves bailing out water just to stay afloat. Mindfulness helps you sit calmly for a while, soaking up the moment and more able to manage.
It's all to do with quietening down a primal region of the brain that controls our 'fight or flight' response called the amygdala. With practise mindfulness can shrink this area and increase the pre-frontal cortex, the area associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, decision-making and concentration. If you find yourself looping round the same old problems whilst trying to get off to sleep it is the amygdala that is chattering away.
There are several techniques to try and many online meditations to guide you. There are even apps for your phone that can help you develop a daily mindfulness practise. www.headspace.com or www.calm.com are a good place to start. I've been watching 'The Mind, Explained' on Netflix and the Mindfulness episode is far more succinct at explaining the science than I am.
If you're keen to try something right now or when you're getting off to sleep then maybe this will help:
1. Position yourself somewhere warm and comfortable. Put some cosy socks on if it helps.
2. Play some soothing instrumental music (you can find mediation music on You Tube).
3. Light a candle if you find it difficult to focus or close your eyes if preferred.
4. Once you are comfortable, take a deep breath in through your nose, hold it for a short while and then release. Different people like different count rhythms, I use 5, 7, 5. Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 7 seconds and release for 5 seconds. Repeat the breathing exercise three times.
5. Now breathing naturally, calmly, on the next intake of breath imagine following the breath from your nose (or mouth) as it passes down along your trachea, into your lungs, into the bronchi, along to the tiny root-like systems of bronchioles. Follow the breath in, and out a few times. If you have other thoughts don't judge them, acknowledge them and let them go, come back to the breath.
6. As you continue to breath naturally you can introduce the senses, what does the breath feel like as it enters and when it exits. Give your breath a colour, if you are cold choose a warming colour, imagine the breath warming you as breath in. Can you smell any scent? If you are worried about something and it keeps popping back into your thoughts allow your breath to surround it and carry it away. Visualise your breath as a blanket surrounding the thought and gently release it as you breathe out.
7. I like to end a short practise with gratitude. If you can think of something that you are grateful for in that moment, acknowledge it and return to the everyday.
I concentrated simply on breathing above but you can work through areas of your body or mind, there are techniques to help ground you, to recall happier memories and triggers to take you back to those emotions when you need them. Mindfulness can be as simple as a five minute breathing exercise and called upon as often or as little as you want. Next time you are doing the washing up or taking the dog for a walk try and place yourself in the moment. Practise step 4 of the breathing exercise above and immerse yourself, notice and work through the senses and really be in that place. You'll be surprised how much you might have missed.