Explore mindfulness - practice makes perfect

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If you've been keeping up with my recent posts you'll know that this year I'm determined to become more present. And if you haven't been keeping up (or you simply need a quick recap) then catch up now! Just click here for part 1 on exploring mindfulness.

Right, now we're all up to speed, I'm desperate to share my recent learnings. Learnings all thanks to a fantastic (and free!) online course I've signed up to. Recommended by my dear friend Ali who stumbled across it and dutifully sent it on. The course, by Future Learn, is guiding me through mindfulness from theory to practice, providing multiple "Aha!" moments along the way. A few of which, I'm more than happy to share...

We all find ourselves in 'default mode'
When we’re enjoying what we’re doing it’s easy to be fully engaged and present in the moment. You know that feeling - when you get lost in the activity at hand, time flies and you’re left feeling really quite satisfied afterwards.

But what about at other times? During my daily slog; enduring the packed London commute, keeping up with the high-speed pace at work, trying to fit in what’s often too many self-set demands (yes, mostly blog related) - I’m accompanied by a constant dialogue inside my head... A chatter agonising about my performance, catastrophising events which are coming up and planning unnecessary fine details. A chatter which I’ve recently come to learn as ‘default mode’.

Default mode makes us more prone to stress
When we’re in this default mode, a mode which I’m sure most of us spend most of our time in, we’re prone to stress. That’s because when we get caught up in default mode we end up problem solving and in a constant fight or flight state - that inherent response mechanism which 12,000 years ago would’ve protected us from physical threats. But without a physical threat to escape from these days, this response turns into stress. And too much of that has a knock-on effect on our performance, our ability to pay attention, handle unpleasant experiences and communicate effectively (like truly listening to your partner’s tales of their day. And when your partner works from home, like Chris does, there’s quite a lot of pressure on this skill - as he recently declared, he “rarely gets the opportunity to interact with other people”!).

So how can mindfulness help?
Mindfulness can help us become aware of stress before it escalates. And even better, if practiced often enough can help us avoid default mode in the first place. That’s the thing though, it takes practice. But thanks to neuroplasticity, the more we do practice, the more automatic mindfulness will become.

Practice really does make perfect then
An easy way to get going is the 5 minute body scan - a bit of simple mindfulness meditation:

  • Spend 5 minutes twice a day engaging your attention in the present moment by focusing on your own skin and bones
  • Becoming aware of each body part one at a time, from toes to head
  • Paying attention to every sensation - the feeling of the floor against your feet, the temperature of your skin, any tension or pressure, how your arms are resting against your body and so on…
  • Finish by becoming aware of your whole body and it's presence in the room
  • You can use this handy app to help you get to grips with the 5 minute body scan and other short mindfulness practices - Smiling Mind. Because as excited as I am about my new learnings, I still struggle (painfully) trying to meditate on my own - much easier with a bit of guidance!

If you have any tips on minfulness meditation please share!

Right, better go practice...

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