The Mental Muscle Marathon - Challenge #4: BE MINDFUL.

Challenge #4 – Be Mindful.

Hello Marathoners and welcome to Mindfulness day!

The concept of mindfulness has reached well beyond the world of psychology (and well beyond its roots of Buddhism) and now seems well planted into popular culture. But to be truly mindful, we do need to do a little more than just colour in.

Mindfulness is the art of paying attention. It may sound simple, yet it is one of the hardest skills to learn. Consider this – how well can you sit for one minute and completely quiet your mind? Can you do this without feeling like you’re coming out of your skin?

Being mindful means switching from ‘doing’ mode to ‘being’ mode and having the courage to monotask rather than struggling to complete multiple jobs. It means being aware of each stage of the journey rather than racing at full pelt towards the finish line. It means adopting a beginners mind and appreciating each moment as it comes. Being mindful means accepting and observing any thoughts or emotions that arise, rather than labelling them as good or bad. It means living in the present rather than dwelling on the past, or ruminating on the future.

Mindfulness is nothing new. The technique comes from traditional Buddhist teachings and Eastern philosophies and came to the field of psychology in the 1970s. Since then extensive research has been carried out between the mind and body and if we can learn to pay attention to the present moment with intention, whilst letting go of judgment, as if our life depends on it, then our life can reap the rewards. Rewards like:

  • Increasing telomerase, the ‘caps’ at the end of our genes, which, in tern can reduce cell damage and lengthen our lives
  • Bolstering our immune system making us better able to fight off diseases, from the flu to cancer
  • Helping to relieve stress and reduce chronic pain
  • Improving sleep
  • Reducing ruminative thinking that can contribute to stress, depression and anxiety
  • Helping us understand, tolerate and cope with our emotions
  • Increasing our capacity to savour the pleasures in life as they occur, help us become fully engaged in activities and create a greater capacity to deal with adverse effects.

Mindfulness meditation is an important element in the treatment of a number of mental illnesses as well including depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety disorders and OCD. It is believed that mindfulness works by assisting people to accept their experiences – including painful emotions – rather than react to them with aversion and avoidance.

There are numerous ways that you can practice mindfulness, but the goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of alert and focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment. This allows the mind to refocus on the present moment. All mindfulness techniques are a form of meditation.

The challenge today my friends is to cultivate mindfulness. To pay attention and observe and focus your attention on the here and now. You may choose to do this on your own, or by following the instructions from a book or an app. Or you may choose to utilise either of the two exercise I’ve listed below.

Remember though that above all, mindfulness practice involves accepting whatever arises in your awareness at each moment. It involves being kind and forgiving toward yourself. If you mind wanders into planning, daydream, or criticism, notice where it has gone and gently redirect it to sensations in the present.

Have an intentionally mindful day Mental Marathoners!

Basic Mindfulness Meditation.

  1. Sit on a straight-backed chair or cross legged on the floor.
  2. Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensations of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth, or your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.
  3. Once you’ve narrowed your concentration in this way, begin to widen your focus. Become aware of sounds, sensations, smells and your thoughts.
  4. Embrace and consider each thought or sensation without judging it good or bad. If your mind starts to race, return your focus to your breathing. Then expand your awareness again.

Learning to Stay in the Present.

A less formal approach to mindfulness can also help you to stay in the present and fully participate in your life. For this exercise you can choose any task or moment to practice informal mindfulness whether you’re eating, showering, walking, washing the dishes, making a cup of tea. I like to practice mindful brushing of my teeth. Attending to these points will help:

  1. Start by bringing your attention to the sensations in your body
  2. Breathe in through our nose, allowing the air downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully
  3. Now breathe out through your mouth
  4. Notice the sensations of each inhalation and exhalation
  5. Proceed with the task at hand slowly and with full deliberation
  6. Engage your senses fully. Notice each sight, touch and sound so that you savour every sensation.
  7. When you notice that your mind has wandered from the task at hand, gently bring your attention back to the sensations at the moment.

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