We’re surrounded by stimulus and many of us live in a go-go world where we’re balancing multiple commitments, demands and stresses. It can be exhausting. With this in mind, increasingly there has been a growth in the interest of “being mindful”. While many of our children are learning about this in schools, there are plenty of practical steps anyone can do to improve their spirits, lower their stress and focus their mind to be a better decision-maker, stronger leader and a happier person. Generally, being more mindful can make you feel better.
According to Jon Kabatt-Zinn, the doctor credited with bringing mindfulness into the North American secular world, mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and without judgement” which means, focussing on what you’re doing right now with an open, curious attitude.
Doesn’t seem too tough, but why should you do it? It turns out that it’s really good for us to practice (and it does take practice) mindfulness. When we slow down and take a moment to be present, we calm the emotional alarm bell of our brain (the amygdala) and allow our thinking brain (pre-frontal cortex) to become clear and fully engaged. Seratonin and dopamine, the hormones that relax and calm us, are released. The more we practice, the easier it becomes. Ultimately, our brains become wired to be mindful.
So how can you re-engineer your brain to be more mindful? Here’s some easy ways to get started:
Pause. Take a deep breath.
Pay attention to your breath as it comes in and out or your body. You can put your hand on your belly to feel your breath go in and out. Do this a few times a day especially when you’re feeling stressed.
Pause. Stop and use your senses to bring your attention to the present.
Use your eyes to take in the beauty around you, listen to the sounds or the silence of a particular moment, enjoy the smell of dinner cooking, feel the texture of your freshly ironed shirt, savour the taste of your lunch. Use your senses to enjoy the small details of daily life.
Pause. Do a body check.
Are your shoulders tense, how is your back feeling? Do a conscious check in from toes to head on how your body is feeling. By doing this, you are focusing your attention and you are becoming more self-aware. Let your body give you feedback. Many people go through the days and don’t realize till they get home that they’re sore, their muscles are tense or they’re exhausted. Taking a moment to be aware of your body and make adjustments (standing up, having a quick walk, doing some stretches) can make a huge difference in how you feel.
Pause. Consider your emotional state.
How are you feeling? Are you mad, frustrated, cheerful? Taking a pause allows you the space to recognize and acknowledge the emotion that’s currently coursing through your body before you act on it. Practice this, and you’ll find that you are responding (rather than reacting) to situations.
Pause. Listen carefully to whoever is talking to you.
Focus your attention on them, give full attention to what they are saying, how they are saying it. What do they want you to understand? Let go of how you will respond and listen.
Pause. Be thankful.
That could be being thankful for the dog that greets you in the morning or your health. The aim is to focus on things around you which aren’t bought, but are important to you and for which you feel grateful. Doing this will release those “happy” hormones in your body, which make you feel relaxed and calm.
There are plenty other mindful tricks, but start practicing a few of these and you may find your ability to manage the challenges of your life becomes easier.
This article was co-written by Kurt Heinrich and Andy Powell-Williams, a long-time educator, district principal and mindfulness trainer.
Creative Commons photo courtesy of Paul Downey