Achieve a mindful of mindfulness

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When my own mindfulness practises moved from simple breathing exercises to feeling the deeper benefits of mindfulness, I asked myself how I’d made the transition.  If you’ve ever successfully tried mindfulness or breathing for relaxation, then you’ll know – the effects are much greater than the sum of the parts.  Yes – breathing relaxes you, it also helps rebalance hormones and counter the ‘bad’ hormones like cortisol – but it also leaves the mind and body refreshed.

This extra benefit is because if we’ve being truly mindful, we’ve plugged into the real world.  We’ve reconnected, and shed our minds perceptions and automatic dismissals (for a short time).

To get this added extra benefit during a breathing or mindfulness exercise, we need to open our minds more.  One thing that I’d realised: to open our minds – we need to turn off our minds natural filters.

What do I mean by filters?  Our minds develop automatic ‘filters’ over time to shortcut decisions and make life easy for us.  The mind then ignores mundane and usual activities, as a natural way to preserve thinking energy.  But at what cost?

Let’s have an example –  take your daily commute (although not many of us do that anymore!). 

The first time we commuted to a new job we noticed every detail.  The route, the drive, or the bus / train station – the people, the smells, the sights.  The journey felt like it took a long time and our mind took in a lot of information.  But once we’ve done that same journey every day for a year, we get home one night from work and can’t even remember how we got there!  Our mind hasn’t noticed a single detail.  It’s seen it all before.

Opening the mind and bypassing these filters isn’t easy.  When we were a kid our minds were open all the time and every small or everyday item and activity could be fascinating and joyful, but our minds’ filters soon put pay to these childish adorations.  Tapping into this childhood sense of fascination and wonder can be useful to opening our minds up again.  Being open, curious and inquisitive helps us to bypass these filters we’ve built up.

Focusing on the mundane is also a very useful part of mindfulness.  

Many mindfulness practitioners focus on their breathing; the rise and fall of the chest, the cold and warm air going in and out of the nostrils.  But we can focus on anything that helps us open our minds up.  Trying to listen for 3 things you can hear, open the eyes and look inquisitively at 3 things, notice 3 ways your body is contacting with your surroundings and the sensations this brings (your bum on the chair, your hands in your lap). 

Or to keep it really simple just pick one thing (object, sound, smell, taste, sensation) – label it simply and clearly (just say what it is in your mind without any judgement) and then examine it with your mind; 
For example – I might pick a tree, look at it, label it as a ‘tree’ in my mind simply and clearly, make no judgement on the tree (i.e. don’t judge it on looks, size, age, colour), and then simply take in the tree, examine it, be curious about it and let the tree be absorbed into my mind.

Opening your mind to the world around you (that you subconsciously filter out) can be really rewarding.  If this all sounds a bit ‘far out’ and maybe for other people, remember this isn’t about hugging trees – this is about exercising the mind and bringing it out of its narrow world view that it’s developed over the years, and allowing the chemical influences in the brain and body rebalance.

Here’s my quick and easy mindfulness “1,2,3” routine I try practise regularly:

  1. Get in touch (with my body and the world) – I relax, check my posture, let my shoulders drop, get comfy, notice where my hands are, what my body is touching.
  2. Breath.  Breath all way out as far as you can, and then in.  Then focus on repetitively doing 4 breaths out, followed by 3 breaths in (this imbalance forces deeper breaths in, and also keeps the mind more focused).
  3. Thoughts – try and swap the chatter that you wish your mind could filter out (e.g. “did I do that thing i was meant to do”, “should I do that thing later”, “did I mess up during that thing earlier”…..) for the things your mind does filter out that can be quite relaxing and interesting (e.g. bird song, wind, rain, your breath, anything that connects you to the world around you).
    Let your nagging thoughts wash over you, or chatter away like a radio in the background – your thoughts will probably try and stick with you, but keep letting them go and focus back to your breathing (if it helps, you can also focus on your nostrils, chest, tummy, shoulders – any part involved in breathing).

The more you practise, the more you’ll be able to connect and let your thoughts drift away.  Doing this every day (or as often as you can) will reset your mind, rebalance your hormones, help clear your worries and doubts away, and keep you both relaxed and focused.

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