If you are curious about mindfulness, if you want to understand a little bit more about how it can help you or if you are "living in your head" and would like take the first step to reconnecting with the moment then... join the effin club!
This article is about my mindfulness journey and how I have broken a self imposed stigma to embrace what I now believe to be one of most significant tools in my life coaching and personal development tool kit.
You see, for a long time I was too scared to pursue mindfulness seriously because, if I’m honest, I didn’t want to be known as a "hippy" or "spiritual" either in my personal life or professional practice (but especially my coaching practice). I took great pride in the areas of science that have positively impacted my coaching practice – positive psychology, neuro science and experiential learning.
As a result of the above mentioned pride (stubbornness) I was incredibly slow to open my mind to the growing field of research supporting mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. But the benefits of mindfulness kept popping up in my daily browsing and reading.
Then one day an unsuspecting client told me that he practices mindfulness and it has helped him, A LOT. This guy was a managing director of an incredibly successful company. It was time that I took notice.
I judged mindfulness before I even gave it a chance.
My first step was downloading Headspace, which was not what I was expecting. Andy Puddicombe's voice was not what I was expecting. Mindfulness 1, Sarah 0.
I learned could be mindful without sitting cross legged or staring in to a crystal ball.
My mind was blown!
For the 18 months after my client told me about his mindfulness practice I began to informally use it as a tool to manage my own stress and anxiety. Even just a little bit was a massive help and I found the idea of focusing on my breath extremely rewarding and very therapeutic.
I really liked breathing! I discovered that it was also a great way to relax and stay alive all at the same time.
But I knew I was only scratching the surface. I felt that it was time I learned more, not just for my clients and business but for myself too. I completed a course in the in the professional use of mindfulness. If I thought my mind was blown after listening to Headspace for the first time then this course was an explosion of science, insights, inspiration and empowerment. Mindfulness 2, Sarah 0.
A leading author in the field of mindfulness, Jon Kabat Zin, defined mindfulness as "paying attention in a particular way, in the present moment, and non judgmentally".
In other words mindfulness is being aware of whatever arises in your mind and body, sensations, feelings and thoughts. It's not about trying to change anything but non-judgmentally and gently accepting it as it is.
But for those of you just starting your journey I would encourage you to keep things simple - mindfulness is about learning to manage your attention, usually with a focus on keeping it in the present moment.
You might not have realised it but in actual fact you are mindful for about 45% of your day as you focus intently on certain tasks. Have you ever wondered why for so many of us the gym is our sanctuary?
There are two type of mindfulness: formal and informal. Formal practice can take up to 30 minutes a day and involves taking time to do some form of meditation. Informal practice involves brining mindfulness into your daily life.
Since setting up The BLP my life got pretty hectic and most of the time I didn't even have time for my usual stress busters like the gym or hanging out with friends.
Is it any wonder wonder that so many of us suffer from increasing levels of stress and anxiety! Our business, our family and our life can demand so much of our time, effort and energy.
Mindfulness taught me how to effectively manage my emotional state in much shorter periods of time.
In todays world we are compelled to remain switched on because any other way is perceived by us as a waste of time and inefficient. We have to always be doing something, even if that something is digging us deeper and deeper into a rut.
We can rarely (and I mean rarely) control what happens to us but there are things that we can control and that is how we react and respond to negative events - negative events that usually lead to negative feelings like stress or anxiety. We can let these stressors break us or we can seek relief in knowing that we have a trusty coping mechanism.
All events that occur in our life are neutral until we place a value on them. We decide how something will make us feel, whether we will get angry, stressed, upset or anxious. But we need mindfulness in order to help us place a value on it that is in line with the life that we want to lead.
During my course the facilitator helped us understand that "we are the thinker of our thoughts, we are not our thoughts." Sometimes when we become stressed, anxious or overly contemplative/analytical we think irrationally about some things and allow those thoughts to become intrinsically linked to our identity.
We believe we become our thoughts and when this happens our head and our body are no longer in the same place. We have lost our connection with the present.
Remembering that "we are the thinker of our thoughts, we are not our thoughts", combined with the understanding that all events in life are neutral has been one of the most transformative learning of my both my personal and professional life so far. In other words, mindfulness was kicking my ass and I was loving it!
Bring your head back to where your body is at.
Research sugests that we think anywhere from 60,000 - 350,000 thoughts a day. We become consumed with events that anchor us to our past and we obsess and worry over events in the future that may never happen. Our bodies and heads are constantly in two different places. It is mindfulness that can help bring your head back to where our body is at.
Imagine that you are standing in the middle of Times Square - mindfulness is NOT about trying to stop the traffic, it's about stepping back and letting the cars pass, acknowledging that they are there and not trying to control them.
When I first practiced mindfulness (informally) I assumed that thinking meant I was doing it wrong. I believed that I had to control my breath and the flittering of thoughts passing through my mind. I didn't know how to go from mind FULL to MINDFUL.
I treated the voices in my mind as something that needed to be fixed.
But mindfulness actually involves treating these voices with kindness and acceptance (this is the non judemental piece). We should not try change or manipulate these thoughts.
I learned that our thoughts are like trains and without realising it we jump from train to train because that’s what we are use to. We get lost in and consumed by these “trains of thought”. Our full and cluttered mind - the millions of trains of thoughts - results in stress, anxiety and confusions.
Mindfulness will empower you to notice the train without getting on the train.
The aim of mindfulness is to enrich and enlighten our emotional response and cultivate thoughts that are more insightful
The aim of mindfulness is to not only quieten the chattering monkeys in our mind but also to enrich and enlighten our emotional response and cultivate thoughts that are more insightful.
The evidence is now overwhelming that mindfulness is effective in treating depression, anxiety and stress related conditions. The fact that millions of people use it in every day life without really knowing they are attests to its overwhelming value.
Anyone first coming to meditation can be met with a crazy amount of advice. I still am but I always try to keep it simple.
My first recommendation is to always start your mindfulness journey by downloading either the the Head Space or My Calm Beat App for your smart phone. If you are unable to do this then head out for a 10 minute walk with no phone, music or distraction and concentrate on your 5 senses - sight, smell, taste, touch and sound.
We are different so what work for me might not work for you! This is OK!
The best way is to try a few different things out and use what works for you!
My second recommendation is to be patient.
It's alright if you are crap at the beginning, mindfulness is a practice and it will take time - years - to fully connect with it. But you wouldn't give up on the gym because you cant squat 100kg in the first session so why would you give up on mindfulness because because you don't get it the first time round.