“If we could encapsulate Mindfulness into a pill, and take one every day for instant clarity and calmness, wouldn’t that be blissful? Unfortunately, Mindfulness is actually a lot of hard work.”
Mindfulness programs are all the rage these days, as we are in desperate need for a quick-fix remedy to relieve overwhelming anxieties in our increasingly fast-paced and high-stress city.
If we could encapsulate Mindfulness into a pill, and take one every day for instant clarity and calmness, wouldn’t that be blissful? Unfortunately, Mindfulness is actually a lot of hard work.
We break down Mindfulness for you:
What it is – The Basics
Mindfulness is simply about knowing what’s on your mind at this very moment. It means to be in the here and now, living the moment, instead of drifting off into thoughts about the past or future.
First Step – Create Awareness
So if you’re eating a muffin, you are aware you’re eating it. If you’re at a work meeting, you’re focused on participating and actively listening. If you feel frustrated that your kids are yelling at each other, you’re aware that you feel frustrated. If you’re excited over the new iPhone X, you’re aware that you’re excited. Ok, but how does this help us with our stress levels?
Second Step – Be Present
Our mind is often described as the “monkey mind”. Just like how we can browse different websites and switch from app to app in minutes, our mind is capable of jumping from thought to thought in a split second. This is the problem: it’s far too easy for the mind to be hijacked by distractions in everyday life – a jumble of thoughts of past events that you repeatedly run through in your mind, perhaps of regret that you could have done things better, and constant worrying about future things that have yet to come.
A simple analogy: Pulling out a loose tooth. When you take the string, there is no pain. When you tie the string around the doorknob, there is no pain. When you tie the other end of the string to your loose tooth, there is no pain. When you tug to pull the tooth out, there are just a few seconds of pain. After that, the pain subsides. But our mind dreads the prospect of pain so much, that from the moment we realise our tooth is loose, we start to worry. As we take the string and tie it, we continue to worry. This creates mental pain that lasts far longer than the physical pain. Just like how stress overwhelms us nowadays.
Breath Awareness Technique
This is a simple way to help us be present. Sit or lay down comfortably, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. When you feel at ease, bring your gentle focus to the breath going in, and then going out. Continue this focus. Whenever you realise your mind has wandered off, gently direct it back to the breath awareness. Gradually, your mind settles down within a few minutes and you feel more grounded.
Third Step – Accept Yourself
When we worry or fret excessively, we judge ourselves or others, and these give rise to negative emotions such as guilt, anger, anxiety and more. We beat ourselves up with high expectations and feelings of inadequacy. Of course, we can try to be more positive, but in stressful situations, it’s beyond tough to change negative thoughts into positive ones! Try telling your irate colleague to keep calm and think happy thoughts – she’ll probably snap at you instead.
Mindfulness is about accepting our thoughts and emotions as they are, hence accepting ourselves as we are. Remember the animated film “Inside Out”? The character of Joy inside the mind of teenage Riley didn’t want Sadness to occupy any part of Riley’s life. Yet, it is in accepting sad events that we learn about our own vulnerabilities, and how they make us imperfectly and genuinely human. And the same goes for difficult emotions such as jealousy, fear, and more. This is how we develop mental resilience to last us for a lifetime.
Body Scan Technique
This Mindfulness technique goes deeper to cultivate awareness of your body sensations and emotions. Sit or lay down comfortably, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths. When you feel at ease, take your time to observe each part of your body, starting from the top of the head. At each part, observe any physical sensation that may exist. Don’t dwell on it, and move on. Along the way, observe any feelings that crop up, and how they change along the way. Gradually the whole body relaxes, and this helps to dissipate difficult emotions.
Lastly – Practise Regularly
If you’re new to this, it’s best to attend a Mindfulness program. Most courses in Singapore are closely guided by teachers, and their instructions keep you focused and engaged. When you first try to be mindful, you would realise how wild our thoughts are! Distracted by what we ate for lunch earlier, worrying about work emails, feeling discomfort from sitting in one position for a while, or that irritating fly buzzing around… Roughly 90% of our thoughts are repetitive ones, and we fall back into the habit of having past or future thoughts and need to continually direct our awareness back into the present moment. Sometimes the mind wouldn’t even stay focused for more than a few seconds before being distracted again. Frustrating, isn’t it? We learn each time to gently accept it and redirect our awareness back once again. Applying this to our everyday life context, it helps us to better manage stressful situations, let go of tension and negativity more easily, and cultivate a greater quality of life.
You may like to check out our upcoming Mindfulness Workshop in Singapore on 17th December 2017.