9:30 PM March 21, 2022
“So what do you do? Nursing?” I’m asked the question whilst queuing to pay for petrol - a most stressful recent experience for my purse.
The questioner has noticed I’m wearing a uniform and nurse's fob watch.
“I’m a mindful wellbeing practitioner” I reply. I smile. I know what’s coming.
“Aah!…Right … Good”. (Long pause) “All that breathing in, breathing out Zen stuff then”.
“Kind of,” I say. But actually it’s not all about sitting cross-legged chanting Om. With my arthritis? You’ll be lucky!
No, my work incorporates a personal mission to ensure mindfulness is part of everybody's everyday; as easy as… well, breathing in and breathing out without the slightest hint of an Om.
Over the past two years, our mental resilience has been tested.
Mental health clinics have been inundated with people needing help and with the system under pressure from the volume of this influx, we’re turning to self-help.
Whether it’s downloading the latest relaxation app or posting a positive mantra to social media, the majority of us are making a universal decision to tap into our slower, calmer selves and ease ‘mind chatter’.
But during turbulent times of heightened stress and anxiety, how do we begin to appreciate and enjoy living in the moment?
To answer this, I need to explain what mindfulness is and how its techniques can help you through the everyday.
Mindfulness is a form of mind training from the Buddhist practice of Sati.
Mindfulness is not to be confused with Zen, although Zen is also a Buddhist practice, but differs by teaching a certain postural position whilst meditating to facilitate correct breathing.
Mindfulness does not require you to do this. You can be mindful whilst sitting on a train, standing waiting for the bus or walking to the shops.
It is the act of being aware of the present moment and when this is achieved, it can have significant positive benefits to the way in which we see ourselves and our lives.
Mindfulness has four branches.
Mindfulness of the body is the observation of the physical sensations which includes the breath.
Next comes mindfulness of feeling: observing positive, negative or neutral emotions.
Mindfulness of consciousness involves noting the direction of our attention and lastly mindfulness of mental objects is the acceptance of these objects as they are.
In my ‘mindful mardle’ sessions, people often share the fact they don’t know where to start with becoming mindful.
If you are also wondering, you’ve already begun by taking five to sit and read all about mindfulness (hopefully accompanied by a cuppa in hand).
You may be reading this in the warm comfort of your living room or on a train with the relaxing hypnotic ‘clickety-clack’ of wheels along rail joints or whilst tucking in to your favourite sandwich - tuna and sweetcorn, right?
Wherever you are, you are appreciating taking time out and at this time and place, your breathing is slower and more even.
Congratulations! This is the first step towards a calmer, more mindful you.
By remembering the four branches of mindfulness you can now move forward with your mobile mindful toolkit.
Mind and body wellbeing are interconnected so at the first sign of excessive stress (perhaps a feeling of your chest tightening or that you feel abnormally tired), try this mindful meditation.
1. Just where you are, take a deep breath in for four seconds and out for four seconds. As you continue to breathe in this way, notice where your stress is prominently held. Is it head, jaw, shoulders, chest, hands? You can close your eyes if it helps to visualise the area.
2. Now focus your attention to that area of the body and imagine with each exhalation the area beginning to soften and the stress shrinking.
3. You may or may not become distracted by external noise going on around you. Your mind may also start to wander, but rest assured this is all part of mindfulness practice. Acknowledge the presence of any distraction and then bring your attention back to your breathing and the softening of the body.
4. When you feel the stress has shrunk to an acceptable level, open your eyes, gently roll your shoulders back and you are ready to continue with the rest of your day.
You can tap into mindfulness at any time and for any length of time to restore your inner calm.
Kate Smith is founder of Slow You Down Wellbeing.
Combining over 20 years of stress busting and bodywork experience in occupational health and private practice, Kate has designed a series of wellbeing packages including meditation, coping strategies and mindful massage to help Norfolk relax and breathe.