‘Mindfulness’ has gained popularity over the last few years as the new ‘Zen’ state of mind to seek out.
Activities such as meditation, yoga and Tai-chi, once low-key for many years, today people are flocking to get their slice of mindfulness – from mobile apps to exclusive mindfulness excursions.
I realised a couple of nights ago that I might need a reminder of how to practice mindfulness. It had been a tough few days work-wise. I was working longer and harder and still seemed to be getting nowhere. It was early evening when my daughter saw me in my chair crouched over my laptop and thought she would try cheer me up.
“Can I run you a nice hot bubble-bath Dad?” she asked me with a song in her voice. I immediately shot back, “No, thanks my BabyGirl, I have to work.” I sat for a while and thought how quickly I had dismissed such a thoughtful gesture. I slapped my laptop closed, and said to my daughter, “Actually, I’ll have that bubble bath!” She spun around and went to work making (or is it, ‘drawing?’) her Dad the best hot and foaming bubble-bath. She lit some scented candles and placed a rolled-up a towel at the top of the bath to rest my head. As I sank into the hot water, I could feel my troubles fading away. (As a side note: I know some men (and some women!) might be thinking to themselves, “Bubble bath, really?” In one of the series of Friends, Matthew Perry’s character, Chandler, finds out from his girlfriend, Monica what all the fuss is about! Watch it here.)
Our lizard-brain, the amygdala, the most primitive part of our brain, is where the ‘fight or flight’ alert comes from. When it detects the emotion of fear, which long-ago would have been triggered by a Sabre-toothed tiger, but now it could be something as trivial as a distressing email, our body reacts by increasing the flow of hormones such as adrenaline. Physiological changes such as increased muscle tension and rapid breathing also take place. The body’s reaction to the ‘threat’ is so real, it further activates the amygdala, which perpetuates the reaction.
Thankfully, there are many ways to practice mindfulness and incorporate it into your daily routine. In A Simple Way to Stay Grounded in Stressful Moments, Leah Weiss suggests using various anchors to bring yourself back to mindfulness if you feel stressed.
- Take a single intentional breath. This act is enough to help you to stop thinking of what were thinking of, and to focus on that one breath.
- Magnify simple pleasures. Being ‘in the moment’ can bring you to a mindful state. Taking off your shoes under your table and concentrating on the feeling of freedom your feet feel after the constrains of your shoes, feel how good it feels.
Studies have shown that hobbies are a good means of escaping the daily grind and making us more mindful. A hobby like learning to play guitar or taking up watercolours, can trigger your creative juices. This in turn allows your mind to wander and see things from a different point of view. Allowing your mind to wander is an important aspect of mindfulness. What is strange is that we sometimes feel guilty for allowing our minds to wander or for sitting doing nothing. But, scientists have discovered that our brains are just as engaged when we are thinking of nothing, as when we are actively engaged in a task. Studies have found that creative activities outside of work such as cooking, painting, writing, woodwork etc. can improve your performance at work. The findings shared in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology showed that people engaged in activities out of the office were better at problem solving and even cared more for others.
Nicole Yi has a simple way you can practice mindfulness in an instant. She suggests placing your hand over your stomach and breathing slowly. Pay attention to your hands and feel them rise and fall on your belly. By focussing on your inhalations and your hands on your belly, you are shutting out everything else.
Making time for mindfulness needs to become a habit. In our ‘always-on’ lives, setting time aside each day to practice mindfulness in any of its forms, is imperative for our well-being.
Take time to bathe in the bubbles.