Mindfulness – slow down to speed up

Sometimes life is chaotic. When time is short and the to do-list is never-ending you might think the solution is to work in top speed until everything is under control again. In fact, to pause and meditate in the middle of the chaos is more likely to help.

When I am stressed I tend think “stick and carrot”, meaning to fear an approaching threat and desire the reward lying ahead. For me failing to finish an essay or being late to work are present threats while payday and vacation lies far away. My carrot is somewhere behind a mountaintop and what keeps me going is mostly the fear of being hit with the stick.

Negative thoughts are more inhibitory than speeding. Compare my essay with a battle. Fear is not likely to improve my combat skills. Fear is good in flight, not fight, and running away won’t make me queen of Westeros. To be victorious, I must believe in myself and assume I have a chance to win.

So, why in the middle of it all, is it important to stop and take a break? Because relaxation is something positive, something that enables you to feel calmer when the final goal is so far away it seems unreachable. You need one or a few smaller rewards on the way.

There are many ways of rewarding yourself. To eat candy while working is one way, to take a break and watch a YouTube clip is another. Meditation, or mindfulness, is a good type of reward since it helps you to be more efficient when you return to work, and there are no bad side affects.

What is it about then? In short, mindfulness is a way of attention management, and a way of cleaning up in a messy brain. I like to think of my mind as a whiteboard were everything I think and feel is written down, and mindfulness as a way of wiping the board empty when there are too many scribblings to tell one apart from the other.

At first I did not get it at all. The thought of actively not thinking was disturbing. Would it not be better to think through everything on your mind thoroughly? After a while I felt the benefits and understood why trying to think nothing is good. My idea of sitting down and think everything through would be like trying to write down a plan in the middle of my white board full of unstructured notes.

In addition to the fact that it makes you calm and focused for the moment, mindfulness affects your brain in the long term. Mindfulness strengthens the parts of your brain that deals with attention management and logic thinking, or the lateral prefrontal cortex. This will also make you less prone to daydream and things too personal. Read more about how it affects your brain here.

Now, I hope you feel convinced that meditation is a good thing. Time to explain how to do it. There are countless ways to be meditate and be mindful in. Below you find a few exercises that are easy to learn and fit into your daily routine. Start with 10 minutes, or five if you find it difficult to concentrate. Then make the sets longer, one minute at a time. Try to do at least 15 minutes a day!


Find a peaceful place where you can sit or lie down comfortably. It does not have to be all-quiet, but try to avoid places with loud or “unpredictable” noises. Close your eyes to minimize outer impressions. Whenever you notice that your mind is somewhere else, praise yourself for noticing and get back to the exercise.


Breathing

Breath in and out through your nose and register how an inhale or exhale feels. Do not force your breathing, but follow and observe as the air on its way through the nose, throat, into the lungs and back out again. Maybe you notice that the air is colder when you inhale, and warmer when you exhale. Or how your breathing sounds.

If you find it difficult to focus only on the breathing, count inhales and exhales. One inhale, two exhales, three inhales and so on. When you get to ten, count back down to zero, then up to ten again and so on. If you loose count, start again at one.


Body- scan

Start by feeling if any particular part of your body is hurting or straining, take notice of the sensation and then let it be. Go through your body from top to toe. Go through head, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, chest, back, pelvis, thighs, knees, calfs, heels and toes. For every body part there are many smaller part. Your hand for example consists of your palm, back and fingers and within those there are many joints and muscles. Try to go through every body part as thorough as possible.

Focusing on a specific body part increases the blood supply to it, which is helpful if it is strained or hurting. This does not mean to focus on the pain, but to focus on the area where you have pain. Examine muscles and joints without judging the sensations as positive or negative, just register and let be.


Active listening

Our brain tends to muffle background noise, especially consistent ones. This exercise is about distinguishing the different noises in the spectrum. First, focus on the most distinct noise. Try to stay focused and listen to it until you feel that you have heard all the nuances of that particular sound. Then change to another sound and do the same thing.

At first you might just hear obvious things, like the refrigerator or the cars outside. After a while you should be able to distinguish more subtle sounds. Maybe you hear the bulb in the lamp is buzzing slightly, a distant church bell ringing or wind through tree leaves. Once when I did this exercise I heard bird song near the end of the session that I had not noticed at all until then.


Change and combine the exercises if you like to. And if you want to there are many websites and mobile applications to explore. These are only a few examples of how you can practice mindfulness!

1 Comment

  • Franklin June 3, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    I was waiting for this kind of matter. Thank you very much for the post.

    Reply

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