The world is not okay. 2020 has been a year like no other. Never before have we seen entire continents on lock down and air travel banned. The fear of an infectious virus and citizens being arrested by their own government simply for being outside after curfew. The heinous acts committed on black people for the last 400 years are finally being caught on camera. The sheer amount of news and sensationalized media can be overwhelming and have us in a perturbed, apprehensive state without even realizing. Living in a mild fight or flight state as many have for the last few months have caused much undue stress on both our physical & mental health.
I wanted to share a solution half billion people around the world (myself included) use to reset their mind from time to time.
The word meditation comes with a lot of baggage, trust me, I get it. Images of bald head skinny guys up in the hills or hippies doing drugs while wasting away their days come to mind. So you’ll be relieved to hear I’m not pedaling any sitting in silence stuff. We aren’t monks with 18 free hours a day to meditate, so we shouldn’t try to imitate them.
Mindfulness means to be present, undistracted, and free from bias or judgement.
It can transform our lives substantially being done over a period of time.
Think of your mind as a wild horse on a rope you’re trying to hold, it would be impossible to manage. The horse is accustomed to running free, as your mind aimlessly runs free from anxious thoughts to emotional baggage to overthinking. You need to let out the rope a generous amount then just very slowly put one hand in front the other, shortening the rope while keeping the horse comfortable the whole time. This is how we can teach ourselves to live in the present.
Here are my three favorite mindfulness practices for everyday life. I’ll refer to the item keeping us present in the exercises as the anchor.
There’s always something special about food. You can take in all 5 senses during the experience. People tend to ruin the ritual by turning on the tv, talking on the phone or attempting to multitask in some way. Seeing the food’s presentation, smelling the distinct aroma, feeling the texture in your mouth, tasting the tantalizing flavor, hearing the inner dialog of how euphoric the whole experience is. Before starting your meal/snack make sure all distractions are gone for at least the 2-3 minutes you plan to mindfully eat.
For your first attempt I recommend using a fruit or small portion as the mind is new to focusing for extended periods. Prior to digging in, notice how the breath feels, notice how the body reacts to the anticipation of eating. As you prepare to eat you can feel all of the senses tingling in anticipation.
Start with a small piece. How does it taste?. How does it smell and what’s the texture of it and notice how it changes as you chew. Really go into detail. Notice how your mind starts thinking about the next piece or forkful, don’t let it, use your senses, especially taste as your anchor to the present moment. Anytime your mind wanders onto random thoughts, bring it back gently using your anchor. With this level of awareness it is far easier to monitor how much you consume and easier to avoid bingeing or just eating out of boredom. It’s a great tool to eat more wisely, healthier and avoid overeating while aiding in weight loss.
Congrats! You just practiced mindfulness while enjoying some great food.
This one is super easy, it can be done anywhere any time, from the bed to the fridge, through the city or a Sunday stroll on the beach. Place your attention on the sole of the foot, be conscious from the moment the heel hits the ground all the way to the moment the toe leaves it, this is your anchor of awareness to come back to whenever your mind wanders. It’s not thinking about the feeling, it’s being aware of the feeling. Walk naturally at your regular pace just using your anchor to avoid any unnecessary thoughts creeping into your mindfulness practice. Naturally, you’ll get distracted if a fly passes your face or you forgot you left the oven on, forget it for now. Whenever you notice the mind wanders off just gently bring it back (remember the wild horse) to your anchor, the awareness of the soles of our feet hitting the ground. It can be useful to break the walk up into sections, pick an end point whether that be the fridge, the next stoplight on the street or the next seashell on the beach. Naturally, you’ll find yourself walking a bit slower as you’re completely in the present. Experiment walking faster or slower. How does your body feel? What’s different? There’s no reason your mind can’t stay sharp and focused while increasing/decreasing speed.
Isn’t it annoying that your mind seems to be most active as you desire to fall asleep? Make sure you’ve completed all your daily chores. Brushed teeth, set alarm for the next morning, and told your cat goodnight. Feel your head sink into the pillow and for 10 seconds feel how amazing it is that you’ve conquered everything you had to do for the day.
For the next minute recap your day. Start with the very first activity and slowly review. ‘I woke up, scratched my butt, showered, dressed, went to work, had lunch, went for after-work drinks, got home, talked to mum, watched netflix and now back in bed. Pause on the top 3 highlights of the day and express gratitude for those moments. Relive the emotions you felt in those moments and how significant they were. I don’t care what you say, EVERYDAY has at least 3 moments worth being grateful for. Some days I’m simply grateful for having enough to eat or having a hearty laugh at a group chat message. The gratitude practice allows you to sleep with positive things in mind giving you a much more restful sleep. The leading cause of insomnia is stress & anxious thoughts which are dramatically reduced by the thankful energy you are producing in practising gratitude right before bed. After showing our gratitude, let’s shut down the body. Place your attention on the small toe of your left foot and give it permission to fall asleep. Now the other 4 toes, the ankle, the knee, up to the hip. Feel yourself sink deeper into the bed with every calm breath. Work your way up through the torso to the neck, relaxing everything and shutting it down. Shut down both arms, elbows, and finger by finger. Feel how relaxed the whole body is now that it’s fully at peace. If you haven’t fallen asleep by now, let’s finish off by visualizing yourself in your happy place relaxing. Hear your favorite relaxing chune playing off in the distance and keep yourself in this relaxed content state as long as you need.
It really may not seem like much but these mindfulness practices compounded over time can really improve your quality of life and help you live life in the now instead of all the worrying and fear about the future the media constantly pushes at us everyday. Studies show the average school-aged person today has higher anxiety levels than the psychiatric patient in an institution did in the 1980s.
I challenge everyone to do at least one of these exercises daily. You may not notice a difference immediately, but after a couple of weeks you will begin to notice how differently you’re looking at the world.
If anyone wants to learn more about these techniques or the advantages of staying in the present, these are my two favorite reads on the topic:
‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle
‘The Headspace Guide To Meditation & Mindfulness’ by Andy Puddicombe
Also feel free to reach out on social media and let’s continue the conversation.