By Joan Marlow —
Well, the calendar keeps moving along and even though ‘things’ are different, they are still very much the same. It’s still 2020, COVID is still part of our lives, we’re continuing to practice ‘social distancing’ and we’re still wearing our masks. You might be doing online school, you might be physically attending school part of the week, members of your family might still be working from home, you might have the opportunity to physically see your friends, you might be involved with a sport, you might be working…what other observations of your life can you make? The thing we know for sure is that it’s not like the ‘good old days.’ The thing you need to remind yourself is that you get to choose to consider these observations positively or negatively…the desire is to keep things as positive as possible…sometimes we need to reset the brain to get to positive.
In the world of Mindfulness, the concept is to treat each moment as ‘this present moment is the only moment.’ It’s the conscious acknowledgement of this exact moment. By simply reading these words, you’re ‘checking in’ with yourself. What are you thinking, feeling and where in your body are you feeling it and what are you calling it? Even though you feel that one hour rolls into the next; one day rolls into the next, if you stop a couple of times a day and ‘check in,’ you’ll find that the same experiences might be influencing different feelings/sensations in different parts of your body and your reaction/response to that feeling might be different. With that knowledge, you can find things that you can control related to making the best of any situation. That’s pretty powerful.
Most of us continue to experience sensations of stress, depression, anxiety, frustration, sadness, loneliness…for each of us the root of these sensations can be very individualized. With tuning into Mindfulness, you’re creating for yourself a means to identify the thoughts or experiences that cause you to go down the road of acting out stress, depression, anxiety, frustration, etc., and stop yourself before you possibly hurt others with words or hurt yourself physically and emotionally by acting out.
Mindfulness improves concentration, opens the way to better communication, diffuses stress and anxiety, boosts mood. All it takes is a desire to give it a try and then to practice. There are many ways to ‘practice.’
One of the most common ways to ‘practice’ is through ‘meditation,’ which can be any action that provides an opportunity to quiet your mind. Quieting your mind is to not deal with ‘what ifs’ or thinking about the future or the past…it’s truly filling your mind with ‘no thoughts except your focus in this moment.’ It can be as simple as making yourself still and focusing on your breath, the in breath and the out breath…feeling your belly rise and fall, feeling the air going in and out your nostrils…for 30 seconds, a minute or 3 minutes. If your mind wanders, which it will, simply start over…this is ‘practice,’ remember? It resets your nervous system to the relaxation mode which implements all the Mindfulness benefits listed above. There are movement meditations like tai chi, qigong, yoga or even walking, running, cooking, brushing your dog…anything you choose to quiet your brain and focus on the moment. Google ‘mindfulness apps’ …there are dozens…my faves are ‘Calm’ and ‘10percenthappier.’ Check out previous blogs on this site for tips on different meditation practices or check out Mindful – Healthy Mind, Healthy Life.
Since this blog started talking about ‘sensations,’ here’s a great exercise to get in touch with your ‘sensations.’ It’s called ‘Sensory note-taking.’ In this activity you engage your five senses, taking note of what you experience.
Taste: Place a small piece of chocolate on your tongue. Let it melt slowly, instead of chewing it. Observe the taste and texture. Do you notice more of a sweet sensation in certain areas of your mouth? How does your body react to sugar? When I teach Mindfulness eating, I ask students to close their eyes and hold out their hands. Without telling them what I’m sharing, I give them one green grape (right hand) and one red grape (left hand). I ask them to put the item in the right hand into their mouth and roll it around for texture and shape and then to slowly bite into it…is it sweet, sour, cold, warm, solid, mushy. Then the same exercise with the item in the left hand. When done, they open their eyes and we discuss what they experienced. Many have said they’ve never really ‘tasted’ a grape nor truly realized that green and red grapes can be so different because they throw a handful into their mouths and even swallow them whole. At the next class, they report that whatever meal followed the ‘grape’ exercise to experience mindful eating was the most delicious meal they’ve ever had because they ate slowly and savored the experience.
Smell: Choose something with a high degree of natural aromas, such as an orange or a flower. Inhale deeply. Can you ‘sense’ your brain reacting to the scent? Was there a physical sensation or emotional reaction? Scents can trigger memories and the feelings you associate with them. Think about how you might react when you smell the turkey roasting Thanksgiving morning? Or a burger on the grill? Or burnt toast? You might just find yourself smiling or making a funny face.
Sight: Pick a random object in the room to focus on for 20 to 30 seconds. Observe the color and texture. Are there any tiny unique aspects you’ve never noticed before? I’ve done this exercise by asking students to look outside and pick an object to focus on for up to 2 minutes…could be a rock, a tree, a flower…again, they come back and share 8 or 10 things they saw in that object that they’ve never seen before. Focusing on a lit candle can also be an excellent meditation practice…you find yourself mesmerized by the flicker.
Sound: Put on a favorite song and pick out different instruments and voices, focus on the variation of range and tonality of them. Can you physically feel sensation or vibration in your body? If you find a song or music that makes you ‘feel’ happy, that might be good to remember when you’re feeling sad, depressed or stressed. You aren’t ignoring the sensations and pushing them away, you’re simply resetting your brain and nervous system so you can think more clearly and accept the fact that you have the feeling and you’re choosing to replace it vs wallow in it.
Touch: You might want to ask someone to place objects with a variety of textures into brown or plastic bags. Let them have fun with this. It could be pieces of fabric, paper, or even food items…sliced fruit, cooked noodles. Close your eyes or use a blindfold. Reach into the bags and ‘observe’ by feeling alone. How does the material feel under your fingertips? Alternatively, place objects with a variety of textures into brown paper bags. Observe by feeling only. How does the material feel under your fingertips? Notice how your body reacts to the sensation.
What you learn about yourself in these exercises is powerful. You can then take those lessons and bring them into the real world as a reminder to STOP, take a breath, observe what’s really going on, let your nervous system reset and then proceed.
Joan is a ‘life-long learner and a forever teacher.’ Starting her career as a high school teacher, she continued to learn and grow in corporate America as a corporate trainer, mentor and manager. She’s living her passion in her current role as a life & wellness coach, educator and alternative health practitioner in her business, Peaceful Easy Healing.