Before you think I am throwing some fluffy new age stuff your way as if I were this disoriented hermit who’s decided to shun everything materialistic, let me draw your attention to what mindfulness really is. The concept isn’t new. In fact you’ve heard of it a million times. I bring it up because most people are entirely unaware of how it works and think of it as some surreal intangible philosophy. On the contrary, I have come to observe it as a rather powerful and organic approach to life itself. I put this concept to practise recently and I thought its important to share its merits with you, despite being a newbie at this myself. Quiet simply, ‘mindfulness’ is a method of observing the present without judgement. It is a way of being fully in the moment, a state of active attention on the current. This is where it stands out for me and differs from other conventional meditation techniques, where disconnection from your surroundings is very central to the idea. Mindfulness on the other hand is about inviting it all in. But before we jump into the finer details, let me explain the relevance of ‘mindfulness’ today more than ever. It is way less complicated and overwhelming an exercise than you may have thought it to be.
The strong foothold of the internet in our lives isn’t something I take lightly. I admit to enjoy it yes, but an increased dependency on it actively threatens to be a holistically-healthy-life deterrent . Heck, it’s becoming so difficult to do just one thing at a time. Granted, life is busy in the 21st century. We increasingly take technology’s help to get more done and be more efficient. But with technology and ready accessibility comes noise. A lot of it is rather unuseful. Clearly, technology doesn’t necessarily equate efficiency. I am not going to play devil’s advocate here but I’m sure we didn’t desire to build a concrete jungle where speed and the race to stay relevant was everything. While I appreciate the ever increasing accessibility to practically everything with the help of technology, I also want an optional ‘pause’ button a.k.a a mind space void of deliverables where I can step back and really look into my life objectively or even do nothing. Practicing mindfulness gives you a taste of that silence that can be a liberating mind booster you deserve daily. Let me break it down to you.
A soft focus
time- 10 mins
We breathe every second of our lives. But you would be surprised to realize how 90 percent of it is unhelpfully shallow in terms of reaping real health benefits. Think of why athletes take a deep breath before their performances. More oxygen for the brain means a more functional body. So the first step is to sit somewhere comfortable and begin with a nice soft focus your breath. Take in some nice deep breaths. It doesn’t matter how irregular your breath is or if you breathe in through your nose or mouth. Just pay attention to two things- your breathing in and your breathing out. Pay attention to the ebb and flow. If you are like me, your mind would immediately try to pull you into a dozen different directions. You may also discover that you have an attention span of a goldfish. Fret not. Initiating is everything. Its all about just letting your body do what its built to do most involuntarily. Just as you notice that your mind has wandered off again, gently haul it back to your breath and its highs and lows. At this point, feel free to let your ears gather in any sounds in your environment. Just keep your eyes open or closed with a soft focus on no particular object or thought. Its entirely up to you. Just be welcoming. Let the seconds tick you by. Hear the windows rattle. Let the traffic do the swooshing. Let the playground swings clatter. No judgements. No reactions. No controlling. Just a peaceful acceptance of things as they are.
The body scan
This is one of my favourites. Just take a moment to get comfortable. Or just lie down on a soft mat or a carpet if you are home. Or sit in an empty meeting room in your workplace, perhaps after lunch. Close your eyes and concentrate on your body, starting from the feet and gradually moving up to the top of your head. When I say think about it, I mean pay attention to how your feet feel at the moment. Are they tired? Are they scratchy? Are they loose ? Next up, do your feel ankles stiff? How do your knees feel? Do you feel a pulse there? Just take note. Like the previous exercise, do nothing. Ok, go ahead and scratch it out if you wish to. You don’t have to waste energy fighting the temptation. But return to just paying attention to how you feel in those individual body locations. I am aware that this step works best for some people if an external source of voice guides them through this, spelling out one body part at a time and working your way up. Yoga instructors commonly use this technique to orient students to their environment before starting to stretch out. But if you are practicing on your own, try asking a friend whose voice calms you in general, to record an instructional sequence for you on your cellphone. Awkward? Do it yourself! Play it to yourself through your earphones when you are commuting to home or work. Or, just ‘think it’ in sequence like I do. There are plenty of well made youtube videos you have access to for guidance as well. Its all about training the mind without letting it notice it, in the long run. Increase awareness of all the physical sensations. I have only just begun experiencing the calming effect and overall positives of this method. These days I try to just sit back and appreciate how great it feels after practicing 10 minutes of mindfulness. I end it with my favourite tea.
Technology time out
This one isn’t easy. I struggle with it daily. My cell phone is nothing less than an extended limb of my body. Hooked by a string of apps, world events and the ever increasing accessibility to carpools with James Corden and Choupette, the frosty cat of Karl Lagerfeld, how’s one to just disconnect? Well the good news is that distractions are welcome; that is until a certain time of the day. Yes, us adults need some self-disciplining too! Set some ground rules for the time you are in your bedroom, like allowing no laptops and tablets in the bedroom post 10 pm. Turn off notifications from your favourite apps through the click of the required settings in your cellphone ( yes everyone has them!) from 11 pm-7am. No taking your cellphone along on your trip to the washroom (got something to hide eh? ). When you are home, try doing one thing at a time. Talk to your person across the table rather than staring down your phone. And do it mindfully.
Sometimes letting our minds wander off isn’t such a bad thing as some institutions and teachers have us believe. Of course most classrooms and workplaces aren’t built to accommodate ‘such behaviour’ ; But I am alarmed at the fact that many young children are shamed into giving up their naturally creative mindsets and abilities of daydreaming, very early on in school. Yes, I believe that if honed properly, ‘conscious daydreaming’ can be a curious kind of mindfulness, which is a major key in the process of creativity itself. I have had some of the most constructive ideas when I wasn’t pushing myself to get to anything in particular. I was probably doing something for fun in those moments or just cutting loose. Now how many of us have had our own little eureka moments in the shower? I’m sure many have. What does this mean? First off, it means that creativity is more common than common sense. It’s an innate strength all of us are born with. It’s not exclusive to the ‘creatives’. Secondly, relaxing showers are one of a million ways to experience the magic of our mysterious minds. When you free the part of your brain which is accustomed to thinking only about bills, goals, deadlines, structures and agendas, it finds itself wanting to go explore something else. It doesn’t like being idle.
Sometimes you find yourself thinking long and hard all day or even weeks about a problem. You see that you can’t seem to put a finger on its root cause or a solution. You find yourself thinking, sleeping, breathing and accounting for the whole gamut of associated events around it. And then one day you catch yourself unaware of it and say step into the shower, soak it in tub or just sit back and drink your favourite drink. How many of us have often seen a solution surface out of nowhere in such situations? I have had plenty of such experiences and I am sure I am not alone. Turns out, my subconscious mind was working very hard, behind the scenes, to work it all out for me and I didn’t even notice. It is our mind’s way to telling us “ You’ve kept me tied up for a while now. Thanks for giving me a break and if you let me run now, I’ll show you things, ideas you never thought you had. I will conjure up a possibility based upon all the knowledge that you keep forgetting you have on the subject. I will give you a taste of your power of brewing up these possibilities. You humans call it creativity.”
Wow! Lets consciously trigger more such creative wanderings!