Dr Sophie's Blog
Dr Sophie Henshaw is a work stress strategist, author and doctor of psychology with a particular interest in dysfunctional workplace relationships. For the latest articles, please refer to her latest blog site: www.freespiritedme.com
Mindfulness Without The "Om"
Do you have the kind of mind that never gives you any rest because it constantly nags, criticises and hammers you with its incessant demands? If so, it's likely that you experience quite a lot of anxiety and self-doubt as well, which is very common when you're stuck in an emotionally toxic workplace. That's why I wanted to share this simple method of enjoying the benefits of mindfulness, even if you've not had any success with sitting meditation.
There's a good chance you've done a lot to help yourself already, including reading about mindfulness and meditating to help quiet your mind, but when you try it as suggested, you squirm, get distracted and just can't sit still! It’s worse when mindfulness meditation just seems to make you feel even more anxious and you wonder whether you’re going backwards.
It's true that if you have a very busy mind and experience a lot of self-destructive thoughts, it can be downright dangerous to be left alone in your own mind with no escape! Meditation, though it works very well for many people, could even be counterproductive for you.
However, all is not lost because there is a way to experience all the benefits of mindfulness without having to sit cross-legged, saying "Om." Practicing mindfulness in action is a slightly different path but can equally lead to:
- A calm, silent, peaceful mind
- Freedom from emotional turmoil
- Greater clarity and self-awareness
- Enhanced creativity
- More focused activity
- A deeper connectedness with your higher self and others
- Sharpened intuition
- Accelerated personal growth
Mindfulness in action is a lot simpler, gentler and more effective when you’re habitually anxious than trying to do sitting-type meditation. It works with the flow of where you are right now, even if you’re in a highly agitated mood. Anxiety demands movement, not sitting still and being stuck with all that pent-up emotion, which is why traditional mindfulness meditation might not have worked for you until now.
This method works by using physical exercise where you get your body moving forward across terrain, such as walking, swimming or cycling or anything that raises your heart rate, deepens your breathing and works up at least a little perspiration. You can start at any level of fitness and just go at a pace that suits you – there’s no competition here! I like walking my dogs in nature, which I highly recommend as being such a joy.
Over the course of this practice, there are four stages to pass through:
1. The “Grump” Stage: Lasting 5 to 10 minutes, this is your starting point where you allow yourself to express all the grumpy, negative thoughts you have, without trying to block, suppress, manage or judge them. Just let yourself be as you are!
2. The “How?” Stage: Lasting 10 to 20 minutes, this is where you ask yourself “how am I feeling right now?” and just listen to the response: again, without judging. Going through this stage allows you to process your feelings, no matter how intense. Don’t be afraid if deep sadness or grief comes up for you, it’s a very common emotion that underlies anxiety but it may surprise you. Just keep going, no matter how long it takes and be kind to your mind. Done correctly, emotion will simply arise and pass away until your mind is relatively clear and calm.
3. The “Now” Stage: Lasting 5 to 10 minutes, this is where you invite your attention back into the present moment and just notice your current environment - the birds singing, sounds of distant traffic, the breeze in the trees and the sound of your breathing as you feel the steady, regular movements of your limbs moving forwards. Please note that if the “How?” stage is not complete, don’t try to get here prematurely. Even if it takes you several days of practice to get to this point, it’s OK.
4. The “What?” Stage: Lasting 20 to 30 minutes, This is the creative stage where your mind is now calm and clear enough to come up with new and innovative ideas for whatever you happen to be working on: be it a work project, a difficult relationship or a tricky financial situation.
In this stage, the most important question you ask yourself is “What?” As in “What do I want… to create? to do next? to have happen?" etc...” It’s like having someone else asking you that question and then there’s a pause where you tell yourself, “Hang on a moment, let me think about that…” And you daydream the possibilities: “What about this, what about that?"
Right at the end of this practice, it’s very common to get a sudden flash of clarity where the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fall together and you tell yourself: “AHA! Now I get it!” The new idea is always surprising and pleasing.
I recommend you undertake this practice for between 40 to 80 minutes every day at the same time each day for at least seven days in a row. If you’re a morning person, do this practice first thing when you wake up and if you’re a night owl, do it later on in the day, whenever you have the most energy.
When you become really good at this process, you can then easily do a rapid short-hand version during the day, known as the “check-in” whenever you need answers from a source higher than your own over-thinking, over-crowded mind. But that’s an advanced skill! Regular, consistent practice over time is required in order to get to that level.