Anyone who knows me knows I’m not into sport, I exercise to try and lose weight, but if I woke up a size 10 tomorrow, I reckon I wouldn’t bother so much with all that sweating and unpleasant bending. I do enjoy walking though, and last week on a trip to the Lake District I had a bit of a lightbulb moment
As I trudged and puffed up a mountain, I realised that for a while I hadn’t thought about anything much except putting one foot in front of the other. My mind was blank. Now, this is rare for me. Unusually, I was completely focused on the task in hand, and because I was working so hard, I wasn’t able to think about anything.
Thinking = bad
Thinking is something that gets us into trouble. We think ourselves into a right state, instead of being in the right state. How many times have you made something worse by thinking about it? How much time do you spend inside your head, either living in the past or in the future?
If you have been to any of our antenatal classes you will recognise the importance of not thinking during labour – disengaging your conscious brain is really useful in reducing stress. From studying the effects of meditation on the brain, it has been proven that people who spend more time in a meditative state (i.e. not thinking) are calmer, more resilient, and respond better to difficult times than those who don’t spend time switching off their thoughts. Having a mind that is frequently in a state of worry and over thinking is tiring!
I have a suspicion that this is one reason why many of us find parenting so exhausting. We’re knackered from a constant low-level worry. We are on high alert much of the time, day and night, and it’s relentless. We are thinking constantly about our child, or work, or jobs that need doing around the house. Bring thoughts about friends and family into the mix and that’s pretty full-on thinking!
Thinking about Meditation
Meditating is great. You just sit there, do nothing and think nothing for a while. There’s no great secret to it, though there are different techniques. I do practice meditation (not as often as I’d like), and it’s wonderful, but the ability to take the time to just sit and focus on my breathing is not something I seem to be able to find the time to do. As a person who doesn’t get to sit and meditate on a regular basis, when can I get that sense of “switching off”?
Let’s just accept that there are never going to be any more hours in the day. Your only downtime might be watching Love Island and I’m certainly not going to come between you and that! Let’s be realistic. Finding that time to switch off has got to be something you can do within your normal routine.
Finding other ways to “be”
As you are probably already aware, the practise of Mindfulness is often described as being “in the moment” – in noticing what is happening, but not making judgement or internal comment upon it. I’m sure you already know that it’s a good thing to be more mindful, to live in the moment. But this is a tricky thing to just do. As someone who spends an awful lot of time thinking, it’s unnatural to me to turn those thoughts off. A way I have found to switch them off, as I mentioned above, is to do some decent exercise. I believe this has to be fitted into my normal life, so for me that might be a brisk walk into town – if you have a small person in tow, maybe you could do a brisk walk with the buggy or sling sometime during the day. Focus on your “form”: how are you breathing and how are your feet hitting the ground? What does the surface feel like that you are walking on? Take your attention away from your inner monologue and notice your body and the world around you.
Or how about mindful eating? If you have a minute, really study the thing you are about to eat, how does it look, how does it smell? How does it feel in your hand? When you put it in your mouth, allow it to rest on your tongue, before really noticing the texture and flavour as you chew. Eat slowly, with no distractions. This could be a single square of chocolate, or a whole meal.
Are you breathing?
Are you though? Where are you breathing from? Take a good big breath through your nose and fill your whole lungs to the sides, the back and the bottom. Pause. Then breathe out allllllll the way. Listen to the sound the air makes going in and out. Feel the temperature of the air in your nose. If you make the out-breath longer than the in-breath, it becomes really calming.
Do you have a hobby? Something you do and the time just goes? This is called being in a state of flow, which is something we can achieve in a number of ways. If you have anything at all you enjoy doing and you don’t notice the time go as you do it, you are in this state. You’re not worrying about other stuff, you’re not mentally writing your to-do list, or checking your watch. This could definitely be watching Love Island, if you can sit down undistracted for the whole programme. If you’re providing a running commentary on a Whatsapp group at the same time, it’s not flow. You’re not fully absorbed in it. I like doing jigsaw puzzles, sad I know, but I can get totally focussed on the puzzle for ages, given half a chance.
Someone else banging on about self-care yet again
Yeah, I know, but this is probably one of the most fantastically easy and effective things you can do for yourself, giving yourself these mental minibreaks. Please don’t ask me for a prescription of how long you should do this for, how many times a day, in what exact way – is that just you over-thinking again? The effects are cumulative, so the more you do, the more zen-like and calm you will become. Don’t spend even a single second fretting about how you should be doing this stuff, just do it.
Oh, and keep doing that breathing thing.
About Mindfulness and Meditation:
The term “Mindfulness” came from a translation of the Buddhist word for Meditation, so any form of meditation you like to practice is Mindful Meditation really. I don’t see the point in getting too hung up on terminology for everyday use. If I am going to sit and meditate I find it much easier with some audio. I like finding different meditations on YouTube, as I can choose the length to fit with the time I have available. Some are a bit crap though, like everything on YouTube!