I have four questions for you. 1. Do you breathe? 2.Do you drive? 3.Do you eat? 4. Do you get stressed? If you have answered 'yes' to at least three of these questions then you are a candidate for everyday mindfulness and today's big tips. Please read on.
This morning I drove the school run mindfully. I have been walking mindfully, catching public transport mindfully and gardening mindfully. I have fed the chickens mindfully and I have stood still in the middle of my back lawn doing essentially nothing, mindfully.
I've been doing this because last week I had the very good fortune to listen to Dr Craig Hassed, an internationally recognised expert in mindfulness and senior lecturer from Monash University in Melbourne. He was here in Ballarat, it was a sunny afternoon and I was one of about fifteen people gathered in the beautiful glass annexe of the Art Gallery of Ballarat to listen to Craig talk about the benefits and practice of everyday mindfulness and how to use it to reduce stress.
I have already written about my month of mindfulness for Mindful in May this year. It was my first real introduction to mindfulness and I loved it. I learnt a lot. Last week I learnt more and I want to share that with you.
Craig Hassed spoke about the science of mindfulness and how it effects out bodies and brains. He made the point that we can now measure how the stress response (the fight or flight reaction of our body to a threatening situation - whether real or perceived) impacts our very DNA, increasing our risk of disease and potentially shortening our lives. That blew my mind (pardon the pun).
One key message of Craig's presentation, and mindfulness, is that just by paying attention to each of our senses in the present moment and practising that in everything we do, we can switch off this stress response and let our whole system - our body and mind - calm down a little. That makes you feel a whole lot better and it could lengthen your life.
When we let our minds wander (the opposite of mindfulness) they often find worries and distracting unhelpful thoughts. 'Am I a good parent? Do we have enough money? How will I get everything done today? I should be doing my tax return. This won't work. I can't do this.' You know the kind of thing.
These negative thoughts and worries buzz about our brain all day and cause us stress. We can't stop our brain from thinking. Thinking is what the brain does. What we can do is pay attention to something else, something in the present moment, and this allows those negative thoughts to fade off into the background, giving your brain and your body a rest.
In the next few weeks I'm going to write more about mindfulness and how it can improve our wellbeing and mental health but right now I'd like you to practice these three things and let me know what you noticed.
1. Drive mindfully. Next time you get into the car, don't drive on autopilot. Notice the feel of the seat beneath you and your hands on the steering wheel. Feel the temperature and listen to sounds, both inside and outside the car. Watch what's around you. Notice every movement you make. After a couple of minutes of this, check in with your body and brain. How do you feel? If it feels good, do it some more.
2. Eat mindfully. Is it time to grab something to eat? If so, stop and notice how your body feels. Are you hungry? If so, what does it feel like? How does your stomach feel? How do you know you're hungry? You may decide that you're not hungry and skip that snack. The urge to snack may have been habit or procrastination or boredom. If you are hungry, eat mindfully. Don't eat on autopilot while you do something else. Look closely at your food, examine the colour, shape and size. Consider the taste and texture in your mouth. See how slowly you can eat it. When you've finished, think about how you feel. Are you still hungry? Did you enjoy your food more? Have you relaxed?
3. Breathe mindfully.
We all breathe, all of the time, but we don't usually pay it much attention. Paying attention to your breathing is one of the quickest and easiest ways to practice being mindful. You can do it anywhere, at anytime, for a few seconds or for an hour. As Shawn Achor says, just pay attention to your breath going in and out. As you do it, notice what your body does. Do it for a couple of minutes and notice whether you feel less stressed.
Everyday mindfulness is about paying attention to your senses - what you see, hear, taste, smell and feel - as you go about your day, allowing your mind to wander and worry less and to rest and reinvigorate.
Try it and let me know how you go.
(I Blog on Tuesdays #IBOT with Essentially Jess)