Friday, 29 August 2014

Give Your Brain a Break!

Could 'Mindfulness' be the key to your serenity?

Does our modern, technology rich, and often stress-filled world leave you with an over-stimulated mind and an inability to switch off?  Then read on…

This time of year’s perhaps not so bad, many of us have had summer holidays and time to relax in the company of our family and friends, leaving us feeling refreshed and our batteries re-charged.  However, we all know those lazy hazy summer months don’t last forever, and before we know it, it’s back on the treadmill! 

So, once the tan starts to fade and the sound of the sea gently breaking on the shore feels like a dim and distant memory, when the cold, dark winter months start to set in, and the stresses and strains of everyday life begin to take their toll , you may want to consider practising a little ‘mindfulness’.

I, for one, am a born worrier!  Add that to the fact that (like most people) I have an extremely busy life, working full time,  looking after a family and home, trying to fit in exercise and hobbies, (not to mention everything else in between), and it becomes virtually impossible to ever fully unwind.

We’re also now contactable right around the clock, every single day of the week (home or away), thanks to explosive developments in technology and social media over recent years. Don’t get me wrong, I rely on my mobile as much as the next person, but every now and again when I’m in need of a little peace and solitude, I would gladly go back to the times when we didn’t even have a landline to the house!

So, how can we escape the constant mental chatter, switch off and tune out all those stresfull distractions?  Well, instead of turning to that post-work Pinot (which I’m the first to admit, does seem to do the trick), I’ve been trying to train my brain to focus on living in the moment , not worrying about the past or fretting about what might happen in the future, just concentrating on the here and now… in other words ‘mindfulness’.

Now I know the idea of Meditation is nothing new, but it’s often associated with sitting in the Lotus Position, breathing in incense and humming ‘omm’ to some weird and wonderful music.  Well, there’s nothing wrong with that if it works for you, but it’s not for everyone (believe me I’ve tried it!)

According to an article I read a few months ago, there is no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness.  It’s simply about making regular time for yourself (5-10 minutes a day) to do nothing, to think about nothing but the moment, in fact time to just simply be!  Easier said than done?.. yes, very much so, but it’s worth persevering.

For you, mindfulness might mean simply sitting down, closing your eyes and turning your attention to your breathing, nothing else.  Concentrating on where you feel it the most, in your nostrils, your chest or the rise and fall of your upper body?

It might be that your mindfulness works best in the shower.  Focus on the sensation of the water against your skin, breath in and enjoy the scent of your shower gel, enjoy how your scalp feels when you massage in your shampoo.

Even just a good old coffee break can turn into mindfulness. Concentrate on nothing but the wonderful aroma of the coffee and the warm soothing feeling in your mouth and in your throat, really focus on each and every sip.

Bedtime might be the time for you, as you lay there, focus in turn on every inch of your body from toes to head.  Notice any feelings of discomfort or tension and try to imagine them easing away with each breath you take.

If your thoughts start turning to ‘I wonder what’ll happen in Corrie tonight’ or ‘damn I forgot to take the meat out of the freezer for dinner’, stop, and bring your attention right back to your breathing / showering / coffee sipping (I can do this for almost 10 minutes now without my mind drifting off – quite an achievement for me!)

It really doesn’t matter how or when you practice your mindfulness, all that really matters is that you’re taking time to focus your brain on tuning out distractions.  The trick is not to try and stop thinking all together (I for one would find that impossible), but to think only about the moment and the sensations your body is experiencing.

Apparently, practised regularly, mindfulness can reduce stress (in turn sharpening memory and concentration), and lead to an all-round happier brain.  Research also shows that mindfulness may support the immune system, improve sleep, lift energy levels and help with pain management.

Why not give it a go?

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