Mindfulness For Dummies
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Mindfulness is a practice that encourages you to modify your perspective and focus on positive thinking. In doing so, you gain the ability to focus on self improvement, but in doing so, to be of greater service to those around you.

Have you ever heard the safety announcements on a plane? In the event of an emergency, cabin crew advise you to put your own oxygen mask on first, before you help put one on anyone else, even your own child. The reason is obvious. If you can’t breathe yourself, how can you possibly help anyone else?

Looking after yourself isn’t just necessary in emergencies. In normal everyday life, you need to look after your own needs. If you don’t, not only do you suffer, but so do all the people who interact or depend on you.

Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish: it’s the best way to be of optimal service to others. Eating, sleeping, exercising, and meditating regularly are all ways of looking after yourself and hence others.

Exercise mindfully

You can practice mindfulness and do physical exercise at the same time. In fact, Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the key founders of mindfulness in the West, trained the USA men’s Olympic rowing team in 1984. A couple of the men won gold – not bad for a bunch of meditators! And in the more recent Olympics, several athletes claimed that mindfulness helped them to reach peak performance and achieve their gold medals.

Regular exercise is beneficial for both body and mind, as confirmed by thousands of research studies. If you already exercise on a regular basis, you know the advantages. If not, and your doctor is happy with you exercising, you can begin by simply walking.

Walking is an aerobic exercise and a great way to practice mindfulness. Then, if you want to, you can build up to whatever type of more strenuous exercise you fancy. Approach each new exercise with a mindful attitude: be curious of what will happen, stay with uncomfortable sensations for a while, explore the edge between comfort and discomfort, and look around you.

Whatever exercise you choose, allow yourself to enjoy the experience. Find simple physical activities that make you smile rather than frown, and you’re much more likely to stick with the mindful practices.

And if you find the word ‘exercise’ a turn off, called it ‘physical activity’ or simply ‘moving your body’ everyday. Use words that are appealing to you.

To start you off, here are a few typical physical exercises and ideas for how to suffuse them with mindfulness.

Mindful running

Leave your music and phone at home. Try running outside rather than at the gym – your senses have more to connect with outside. Begin by taking ten mindful breaths as you walk along. Become aware of your body as a whole. Build up from normal walking to walking fast to running.

Notice how quickly your breathing rate changes, and focus on your breathing whenever your mind wanders away from the present moment. Feel your heart beating and the rhythm of your feet bouncing on the ground. Notice whether you’re tensing up any parts of your body unnecessarily. Enjoy the wind against your face and the warmth of your body. Observe what sort of thoughts pop up when you’re running, without being judgmental of them.

If running begins to be painful, explore whether you need to keep going or slow down. If you’re a regular runner, you may want to stay on the edge a little bit longer; if you’re new to it, slow down and build up more gradually. At the end of your run, notice how you feel. Try doing a mini meditation and notice its effect. Keep observing the effects of your run over the next few hours.

Mindful swimming

Mindful swimming can be very meditative. Begin with some mindful breathing as you approach the pool. Notice the effect of the water on your body as you enter. What sort of thoughts arise? As you begin to swim, feel the contact between your arms and legs and the water. What does the water feel like? Be grateful that you can swim and have access to the water.

Allow yourself to get into the rhythm of swimming. Become aware of your heartbeat, breath rate, and the muscles in your body. At times, you may even feel at one with the water – enjoy that experience. When you’ve finished, observe how your body and mind feel.

Mindful cycling

Begin with some mindful breathing as you sit on your bike. Feel the weight of your body, the contact between your hands and the handlebars, and your foot on the pedal.

As you begin cycling, listen to the sound of the wind. Notice how your leg muscles work together rapidly as you move. Switch between focusing on a specific part of your body like the hands or face to a wide and spacious awareness of your body as a whole. Let go of wherever you’re heading and come back to the here and now.

As you get off your bike, perceive the sensations in your body. Scan through your body and detect how you feel after that exercise.

Prepare for sleep with mindfulness

Sleep, essential to your wellbeing, is one of the first things to improve when people do a course in mindfulness. People sleep better, and their sleep is deeper. Studies found similar results from people who suffered from insomnia who did an eight-week course in MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction).

Sleep is about completely letting go of the world. Falling asleep isn’t something you do – it’s about non-doing. In that sense sleep is similar to mindfulness. If you’re trying to sleep, you’re putting in a certain effort, which is the opposite of letting go.

Here are some tips for preparing to sleep using mindfulness:

  • Stick to a regular time to go to bed and to wake up. Waking up very early one day and very late the next confuses your body clock and may cause difficulties in sleeping.
  • Avoid over-stimulating yourself by watching television or being on the computer before bed. The light from the screen tricks your brain into believing it’s still daytime, and then it takes longer for you to fall asleep.
  • Try doing some formal mindfulness practice like a sitting meditation or the body scan before going to bed.
  • Try doing some yoga or gentle stretching before going to bed. I’ve noticed cats naturally stretch before curling up on the sofa for a snooze. This may help you to relax and your muscles unwind. Try purring while you’re stretching, too – maybe that’s the secret to their relaxed way of life!
  • Do some mindful walking indoors before bed. Take five or ten minutes to walk a few steps and feel all the sensations in your body as you do so. The slower, the better.
  • When you lie in bed, feel your in-breath and out-breath. Rather than trying to sleep, just be with your breathing. Count your out-breaths from one to ten. Each time you breathe out, say the number to yourself. Every time your mind wanders off, begin again at one.
  • If you’re lying in bed worrying, perhaps even about getting to sleep, accept your worries. Challenging or fighting thoughts just makes them more powerful. Note them, and gently come back to the feeling of the breath.

If you seem to be sleeping less than usual, try not to worry about it too much. In fact, worrying about how little sleep you’re getting becomes a vicious circle. Many people sleep far less than eight hours a day, and most people have bad nights once in a while. Not being able to sleep doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. A regular mindfulness practice will probably help you in the long run.

Look at a mindful work–life balance

Work–life balance means balancing work and career ambitions on the one side, and home, family, leisure and spiritual pursuits on the other. Working too much can have a negative impact on other important areas. By keeping things in balance, you’re able to get your work done quicker and your relationship quality tends to improve.

With the advent of mobile technology, or a demanding career, work may be taking over your free time. And sometimes you may struggle to see how you can re-dress this imbalance. The mindful reflection below may help.

Try this little reflection to help reflect on and improve your work–life balance:

  1. Sit in a comfortable upright posture, with a sense of dignity and stability.
  2. Become aware of your body as a whole, with all its various changing sensations.
  3. Guide your attention to the ebb and flow of your breath. Allow your mind to settle on the feeling of the breath.
  4. Observe the balance of the breath. Notice how your in-breath naturally stops when it needs to, as does the out-breath. You don’t need to do anything – it just happens. Enjoy the flow of the breath.
  5. When you’re ready, reflect on this question for a few minutes:What can I do to find a wiser and healthier balance in my life?
  1. Go back to the sensations of the breathing. See what ideas arise. No need to force any ideas. Just reflect on the question gently, and see what happens. You may get a new thought, image or perhaps a feeling.
  2. When you’re ready, bring the meditation to a close and jot down any ideas that may have arisen.

Regardless of how you apply mindfulness in your own life, focusing on self-improvement can help you reach your personal growth goals to embrace a better you.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Shamash Alidina is a professional mindfulness trainer, teacher, and lecturer. He has over 10 years' experience teaching mindfulness in schools and university courses. Juliet Adams designs and delivers professional mindfulness at work training, and co-delivers WorkplaceMT trainer development in the UK and Netherlands.

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