Being mindful can be done in a variety of ways:
Mindful describing –
This is great for anyone who is feeling completely overwhelmed, maybe on the way to work or an interview, stressing about what is going to happen next.
- Pick an object. Any object.
- Describe it.
- No, don’t just repeat what it is (coin, paper, window).
- Describe the shape, the colour, the texture, the size.
- As if you were describing to an alien that couldn’t make sense of what you are saying.
The aim of describing mindfully means that you really are concentrating on something other than your thoughts.
When I describe mindfully, I find that what ever I was thinking about, particularly if I’m having a moment of ‘shit what am I doing’, either those thoughts diminish or I even forget what the worry was in the first place.
Mindful Action –
Anything can be done mindfully. Walking, running, lifting a weight in the gym, yoga, brushing your teeth.
Moving mindfully can be weird, particularly if you are so used to not thinking about your body and how it moves.
Walking mindfully actually takes some practice. If you have never done it before, if you walk down Oxford Street in Central London, you are going to have a challenge not bumping into someone or feeling as thought it is impossible. Instead, you would want to try this on a quiet walk, even just for a few steps to see how you get on. Rather than filling your walk to work or home with ‘to do list’ or ‘phone noise’, try this.
Every step you take, notice the sensation in your toes. What toe do you feel the most when you walk? Do you feel all your toes? Think about the ball of your foot and the connection to your toes. Do you really press your ball into the ground or do you do it very quickly? The arch of your foot, does it touch the soul of your shoe? Have you got an arch in your foot? The heel of your foot, where do you feel the step the most? Inside or outside? Do you feel all the connection between your heel to your toes? Every part of your foot? The top of your foot?
I mean, that is an extensive amount to think about when just taking one step right? So you have to take quite a few steps to even process some of the questions above, let alone actually feel the feelings and feel completely mindful about your foot step.
If you nail this and really focus on your foot, you are unlikely to be able to concentrate on your surroundings, hence, don’t do this in a busy place or when crossing a road!
If you nail the basics in your foot and can be tolerant of all the sensations, do the same for your calf muscle, your knee, your thigh, your glute. You can think about any part of your body and connect to how it is feeling while you are walking.
It can be a really powerful experience.
My personal favourite was when I tried mindfully running (no music) one morning before doing DBT training, where we practised mindfulness at length so I could teach it. I ran a route that I always run and I got lost.
I was so ‘connected’ to the feelings in my body when running and ‘experiencing’ my run, rather than singing along to songs or thinking about my day, not only did I get lost, I went down a road I knew and I couldn’t recognise it when I realised it was not on my normal run.
Note to me – be mindfully safe when running, particularly if in an area I don’t know!
Mindful observation –
This may seem the same as describing, but this is more about your internal observation. Doing a ‘body scan’ while sitting quietly. Focussing on the sensations from your head to your toes. Feeling the here and now and almost observing yourself from the outside in.
I find this sometimes the most difficult. When someone is guiding a mindfulness exercise in observing yourself, you may feel particularly good or bad an may just not want to do it.
I had an experience of sitting pregnant participating in a mindfulness observation body scan. Not even a tiny part of my body wanted to engage in the process. I tried but I ultimately just gave up and kept myself occupied by thinking about the activities of my day.
Why did this happen? Well, I had a lot of illness and pain during my pregnancy and the thought of focussing my attention on my pain was utterly horrid. I couldn’t face it. I didn’t want to focus on it. So I didnt. I guess this was connected to my own worries about the safety of my pregnancy but also, who wants to feel pain?
Does that mean that because I didn’t want to mindfully observe myself then that I should never do this again? No. Instead I saw this as a learning curve. That I personally struggle with being in touch with my body when I’m in pain. IS there anything wrong with that? No.
What did this experience teach me? When I’m in physical pain, mindfully observing myself is absolutely not the task for me.
Mindful participation –
If not dairy/chocolate intolerant/allergic, get a chocolate that has texture in it. Put it in your mouth. Don’t eat it. Let it sit in your mouth and feel the texture, taste the flavour, push it around your mouth to find contrasting feelings.
Do you have an urge to swallow the chocolate? Chew the chocolate? Do you enjoy the chocolate more? Less? Do you have memories attached to this chocolate?
Bingo – So many things to think about just around one piece of chocolate. Are there memories attached to a piece of chocolate? I’m sure! But is that the task of mindfulness? No.
The challenge of mindfulness.
All of the types of mindfulness that you could engage in come with the same challenge. Your thoughts, separate to that of what you are actively trying to do in that moment will come in. Your thoughts of ‘what the fuck am I doing this for?’ ‘How is this supposed to make any difference to my life?’ ‘Oh chocolate, I last ate chocolate and cried’, ‘Oh my big toe hurts when I walk, what id I do to my toe? I don’t remember’
The challenge isn’t to ‘forget’ or ‘get rid’ of the thoughts, it is to notice them and to let them disappear. They are not part of the task in hand and therefore do not need your attention.
A bit like a well rehearsed person sitting an exam. If you know you don’t have to remember your science information in GCSE English exam, you won’t revise that information before hand, nor will you try and bring up those memories at that time. This way you can make space in your brain for the ‘right’ information in the exam.
Your brain unfortunately does not have the ‘right time’ for information most of the time, therefore trying to be mindful is a skill that can recenter and refocus you at a time of difficulty.
If you are in the middle of a stressful situation or feeling overwhelmed, this is not the time to first try out mindfulness. You can. It won’t ‘harm’ you. But unless you have practice, you may just think it’s a load of shit and not try again.
Practicing mindfulness every day is a great way to rehearse how you best use mindfulness. Then, when there is a time that you feel you need it, you have a ‘go to’ toolkit to use that may help you out of the stressful situation.