11Wed

Mental hibernation?

lilly's imageThe longer days and cooler temperatures may serve as a welcome change to some. Others may feel like hibernating inside, dreading the quickly approaching holiday season. Whether you are more inviting of fall or fighting against it, each of us is impacted in our own individual ways. What better time than during this seasonal shift to treat ourselves to a very simple gift that requires no financial output?

You’ve likely heard about all of the benefits of meditation, ranging from improved physical and emotional health to better concentration. However, it is possible to reap some of the benefits of this practice just by pausing for a couple of minutes each day.

Mindfulness involves concentration and receptiveness to our complete experience (internal and external). In order to practice, we can begin by observing our experiences, then move on to describing them, and finally throw ourselves completely into participating in the activities of daily living. The key elements to mindfulness are adopting a curious, nonjudgmental approach to all of our experiences.

Whether you already have a mindfulness practice, have always aspired to cultivate one, or never thought this could be for you, I invite you to put these suggestions to the test. Choose 3-4 of these mindfulness-related techniques, and see if you can approach each with a curious, nonjudgmental stance. Notice how you feel before and after practicing. Are there any changes in your breathing and or heart rate? How about your anxiety level?

As a tribute to November, the eleventh month of the year, here are eleven suggestions for giving yourself the gift of mindfulness:

  1. Listening to music one-mindfully while driving: As you are driving, turn on some music that you find soothing. Start by taking a few deep, full breaths, and allow your focus to turn towards the sense of sound. As you notice your mind wandering to tasks that need to be completed or to trying to problem solve sticky situations, see if you can tell yourself that those things will be there for you as soon as you are done giving yourself this gift.
  1. Take a vacation from Facebook: Do you find yourself spending more time on social media than you like? Do you log on to Facebook, Instagram, and or Twitter, as if you are on autopilot? If so, taking a 2-4 day break may help you to cultivate more awareness about your relationship to social media. Maybe you’ll find that you have the urge to log in to social media when you are feeling a certain way, or as a result of a certain thought. What might you find when you unplug and tune inward? How else might you spend that newfound time?
  1. Take a vacation from your Smartphone: Are you hooked into your Smartphone all day every day, except for during important meetings? If you find yourself texting while walking, or checking your email while driving, consciously putting your phone on “sleep” may help you to become more aware of the situations in front of you. Instead of texting and walking, try attending to the scenery surrounding you or the feel of your feet hitting the ground
  2. Take three deep breaths: As you are breathing, ask yourself, how am I doing right now? Where is my mind and body at this moment?
  1. Try out an art project: Maybe you enjoying knitting, water coloring, or making banners for holiday events. Choose an enjoyable project, and throw yourself into it completely. Minimize distractions by closing your laptop and turning your phone off.
  1. Describe your experience: Rather than becoming your anxiety, anger, or the thought that you cannot get out of your head, see if you can describe it by saying “now it’s like this…” Notice and label your experience without allowing it to be you.
  1. Try sipping on a cup of tea: If you are generally a coffee drinker, see if you are able to switch up your routine. Add in an evening or morning cup of tea, sip on it slowly, taking in the aromas and temperature. Attend to your breath as you are doing this.
  1. Describe a difficult interaction non-judgmentally: When we are recounting a difficult situation to our friends and family, we often use language that aligns with our emotions about the situation. Unfortunately, at times, using language such as “bad,” “crazy” or “horrible” can cause negative emotions to linger past the actual event itself. See if you can take note of the difference that comes with using neutral language. For example, rather than saying “I had the worst day ever,” try describing the series of events and the way that they impacted you. You might say something like “on my way to work, I got caught in unexpected traffic. Then, my boss called me into his office to tell me about a deadline I had missed. At this point, I was feeling overwhelmed.”
  1. Take a mindful shower or bath: Focus your attention on the temperature of the water, scrubbing your hair, lathering up soap. Observe your mind as it tries to take you into the past or future.
  1. Take a few moments while sitting: Take a few grounding breaths. Attend to the sensations of your body on a chair or sofa. Notice what it feels like to have your feet planted on the ground. Draw your attention for several moments to each of the places where your legs, arms, and other body parts make contact with a surface.
  1. Commit to sitting for 3-5 minutes each day: If you’re feeling like you’re up for a challenge, see what it’s like to sit for several minutes each day. You’ll want to find a comfortable position you will be able to commit to, and focus on your breath while allowing yourself to notice thoughts, feelings, and sensations without evaluating or processing them. It can be helpful to have a mantra. For example, you could say to yourself “in” on the in breath and “out” on the out breath. Alternatively, you could count each exhalation from 1-10, returning to 1 each time your mind wanders.

The most important piece in all of this is to adopt a curious, receptive perspective. See if you can approach each exercise with few expectations. When you find your mind wandering, recognize this as part of the practice, and resist the urge to judge or reprimand yourself. Happy Mindful November!