After practicing yoga for over 18 years, I truly know the benefit of asanas (yoga poses) and meditation. I didn’t realize how natural it was to bring my yoga practice with me everywhere. For example, I hate going to the dentist, primarily because I personally do not like teeth. But I find myself relaxing my body and steadying my breath during a time where I feel the most uncomfortable. I find myself using mindfulness.
I know many people feel that mindfulness can be difficult, as they expect to sit still and have their mind go blank, but that is not the point of it all. Mindfulness is about being in the now. To give our mind and body the break it needs to recharge and reset.
Often, people in therapy session begin to shorten or even hold their breath when talking about the difficulties they are having. When I catch this in my sessions, I guide them into a mindfulness practice without them even realizing it until afterwards.
1. Breath awareness
First and foremost, breathing at a calm and steady rate can help your mind pair calmness with the stressful story that is being told. Learning to be aware of how you breathe can help a situation feel less anxiety ridden. When my clients breathe from their chest, they start to breathe faster. Having them to place one hand on their belly and the other on their chest and pay attention to how they breath helps with breath awareness. Then having them focus on the hand on their belly moving in and out while the hand on their chest remaining still allows a sense of calm.
2. Chest opener
Based on our everyday activities, we tend to lean forward, head looking down and shoulders forward. Taking time to sit upright, top of the head toward the ceiling, spine as straight as can be allows the breath to move freely in and out without any obstruction. Then rolling your shoulders back so your shoulder blades move toward one another, slightly opens the chest for a stretch that counters the everyday position we find ourselves in. You can even bring you hands together behind you. Taking steady breaths in the position can help reset the mind and body like you would reset your phone or computer.
3. Guided relaxation
A colleague once said “sometimes our every day life gets in the way of our preferred reality.” This phrase resonated with me because our preferred reality usually is one of beautiful bliss, a peaceful place where things are going exactly the way we would like them to go. Daydreaming has a purpose, we tend to do it as an unconscious way of distraction from our current situation and we travel to a preferred reality. We can be more intentional with this action by using guided meditation exercises available on many of the easily accessible mindfulness apps. Even a 3 min exercise can help relax the body and be ready to resume what life has next on the agenda. Of course there are longer exercises for those who may need a more extended break.
4. Sensory walk
This is an exercise that has been used many ways in trauma therapy, so I cannot take credit for it. The way I like to take a sensory walk is by sitting outside, closing my eyes and listing for things I can hear. Cars, birds, people, etc. Then noticing things I can feel. The sun on my face, the wind blowing, the surface I’m sitting on, the object in my hand, etc. Then what I can smell, and taste. If you are eating or chewing something you can take time to taste the flavors and smell the ingredients. I believe that we don’t take time to do that often enough. Lastly, when I open my eyes, I name the things I can see. This exercise is truly being mindful, because you are focused on the present.
In a time where we are all overwhelmed and overextended with work, finances, health and family, a little daily mindfulness can go a long way. At almost anytime of day and at any age, we all can practice self care. Hopefully these four steps are a start to get you on your way.