3 Simple Mindfulness Exercises

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“The thing about meditation is: You become more and more you.”
– David Lynch

Mindfulness

Noun:
  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Modern life is saturated with stress for many, even in economically privilidged parts of the world. Screens skew our sleep pattern, the hours most people are required to work are all-consuming, leaving little time to pursue interests and enjoy time with loved ones.

We exist in our own little algrothithm tailored bubbles, trying to get to appointments, run errands, do laundry, pacify employers and extended family, whilst attempting to meet our own economic, physical, emotional,  and spiritual needs. In short, trying to act like functional adults and live our best lives. It’s bloody hard work!

The human body is not designed to remain stressed. The result of prolongued stress can be chronic illness, including mental health problems.

Being chronically unwell comes with a bunch of other stresses and further skewed circadian rhythm due to pain, fatigue, worry and lack of natural light/melatonin, to name a few issues.

If I said I got into mindfulness out of anything other than desparation due to chronic pain, I’d be lying.

I had major reservations about it’s effeciacy, and frankly, found it an insulting suggestion from my healthcare providers – my condition that affects my body’s structrual integrity in a very real, physiological way… like, my joints pop out-of-place all the time… how is some airy fairy thinking going to change that?

I attended the first 2 weeks of an 11 week “mindfulness for chronic pain” group, which was my idea of hell. The building was inaccessible, the people were irritating, I came away in more pain than when I arrived, having tensed to get through it. So I took away the resources and taught myself how to be mindful.

Mindfulness doesn’t change my pain levels, but it allows me to separate emotional pain from physical pain, my mental health is better managed, I have the power to stop a panic attack in mid-flow, I can differentiate between acute injuries and the niggling background chronic pain instead of just experiencing a solid wall of unmanageable pain.

Most importantly for me, I have a greater appreciation of the wealth of complex beauty to be noticed in day-to-day life. I wish I had learnt how to meditate mindfully many years ago.

It makes a lot of sense that the act of taking time to “defrag” the overloaded brain results in increased wellbeing and better functioning.

What is the science like in relation to Mindfulness?

Meditation has been a huge part of cultural and religious practices around the world for millennia, primareily in the East. The first written records came from India in 1500BC.

The origin of mindfulness meditation is generally considered to be Vipassana, one of three tecniques taught by the Buddha about 2500 years ago. Vipassana translates as  “insight” or “clear seeing”.

Medical Science is now very much interested in studying the benefits of mindfulness and many clinical psychiatrists now recommend it in the management of anxiety and depression.

The scientific issues with the studies that have been conducted are the small sample sizes and a lack of longitudinal studies following long-term outcomes. However, the results do indicate improvement for patients with anxiety, depression and chronic pain shortly after the studies were conducted.

There is definitely room for further study in this area.

What are the benefits people who live mindfully can experience?

  1. Improved focus
  2. More congnitive flexibility (i.e. awareness that you’re finding something stressful).
  3. Less emotional reactivity (less deeply affected by upsetting things and are able to better control emotional responses).

Whether you’re well, unwell, young, old, able-bodied, disabled, stressed or calm, living mindfully allows you to make the most of your life by experiencing the here and now, instead of ruminating in distressing places of your past or worrying about your future.

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Whilst meditation is more effective if it can be worked into a consistent routine – which does require some commitment – I want to share these 3 simple exercises that anyone can do, even first time meditators…

(For Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Colour Breathing, find a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed for the duration).

Progressive Muscle Relaxation/Jacobson Method (10-20 minutes)

This exercise involves tensing muscles individually (not the maximum you can tense them, but about 60-75%) for about 15-20 seconds per body part, feeling the difference between tension and relaxation.

If you have any injuries, ensure you adapt the method to suit your specific needs, i.e. skip particular parts or exercise caution.

  • Get yourself in a comfortable position (sat up or laying on your back), in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for 10-20 minutes
  • Start with your right arm and hand, making a fist and tensing the arm muscles then move to your left.
  • Push the back of your head against a pillow,
  • Now lift head so your chin is towards your chest and hold.
  • Scrunch up your face pushing your lips out and furrowing your brow, squeezing your eyes shut and hold, raise your brows, frown.
  • Push your tongue against the roof of your mouth.
  • Tense your jaw.
  • Push shoulders back against the floor and hold. Then scrunch them up towards the head and hold.
  • Breathe deeply, filling your lungs, feeling them expand. Then breathe out very slowly, feeling your lungs contract.
  • Pull your stomach muscles in.
  • Clench your bum cheeks
  • Arch your back, imagining your belly button is being pulled towards the ceiling, feeling the muscles in your back tense.
  • Point toes and tense whole leg.
  • Pull toes towards face feeling the calf muscle stretch.

Colour breathing into limbs (10-20 minutes):

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  • Get yourself in a comfortable position (sat up or laying on your back), in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for 10-20 minutes
  • Before you start, consider what colour do you consider the most calming… Green? Blue? White?
  • Follow the same methodical pattern of focussing on each body part used in the Progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Instead of tensing individual parts, envisage your deep breaths in your chosen colour (not unsimilar to the brilliant bright light Vulcans use in meditation), reaching each area of focus purifying and enriching them with oxygen.
  • Within a few minutes, you may find your extremities tingling and by the time you’re done, you may find your relaxed brain and body make you feel like you’re floating back into the day.

Sense check (A few minutes)

This is a really useful tecnique because it takes very little time and can be done anywhere, any time, even around people, noises and unpleasant sensations.

I have used it to stop panic attack progressing any further on several occasions.

  • Stop what you’re doing and thoroughly take a mental note of everything you can hear (airplane over head, traffic noise, music, people, dogs, the wind, doors slamming, drills in the distance).
  • Then everything you can smell (grass, petrol fumes, lipstick, balmy summer air, your fabric conditioner).
  • Then taste (the last thing you ate or drank perhaps? chewing gum? tobacco?)
  • Then feel (If your hands are resting on your lap, perhaps you can feel the texture of the clothing).
  • Finally, note everything you see (Trees, buildings, traffic lights, clouds, grass, people, etc… even focus on the smaller details… an insect, a discarded bottle on the floor, cigarette ends, people’s expressions)
  • Not all the sensations will be pleasant… in a perfect world, freshly cut grass, baked bread, brewed coffee would be the prevailing odours, but if dog fart and bleach are the smells local to you at that time, in noting them, you are still anchoring yourself to the present moment.

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