The Wandering Mind

If you have a mind, then your mind will wander. It is what minds do. It is not the case that we can ‘empty our mind’ because our brains are always active, even at rest. Meditation enables us to notice the tendency of the mind to wander. By sitting in a state of ‘non-doing’, focusing on the body or the breath, our mind will inevitably wander, and our job is to return our attention back to our focal point without judgement or criticism. It is a way of training our minds to focus. 

Brain scanning technology has enabled neuroscientists to understand more about what happens in our brains when we are meditating. When at rest, in other words when we are not engaged in a mental activity, the is a part of our brain that becomes active, which scientists have named the Default Mode Network (DMN). The thoughts that occur when in this mind wandering tend to be in the relation to the self. For example planning what you have to do, remembering or simply daydreaming. 

The benefits of meditation practice in relation to the DMN are two-fold. 

Firstly, high activity in this region of the brain has been associated with difficulties such as anxiety, depression and schizophrenia. Meditation practice reduces activity in this area, therefore an improvement in these conditions naturally occur. There is a clear ‘quieting down’ of the DMN and our sense of wellbeing is improved. 

Secondly, meditation practice, where we are focusing our attention on one thing and are bringing back the wandering mind over and over again, strengthens our ability to focus for longer. Our concentration improves as does our memory. 

There is a growing body of scientific evidence that supports just how beneficial meditation is for our wellbeing and in the difficult times we are facing in the world, it is more important than ever that we look after our minds. For more information on how to get started, please take a look at my other blogs or head over to my facebook page at @cesmindfulness

Why Should I Practice Mindfulness

So, what is Mindfulness and why has it become so popular in recent years? Mindfulness Meditation has been around for thousands of years and it comes from traditional buddist practices. It was brought into the Western World by Jon Kabat-Zinn who was the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.  Jon Kabat-Zinn developed an eight week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme where participants learned the skill in a structured way which included practicing meditation every day.

The programme was hugely successful and the advancement in technology over the years has enabled scientist to measure changes in the brain that occur after practicing meditation in this way. The benefits are huge. Here is just some of the benefits practicing mindfulness has been shown to give, which during the difficult times we are currently facing are even more essential to our well-being. 

  • Reduction in Stress
  • Reduction in Anxiety
  • Reduction in Depression
  • Improved Sleep
  • Improved cognitive function and memory
  • Improved physical health 
  • Greater compassion and self-compassion
  • Improved relationships with others
  • Improved Emotion Regulation
  • Greater Appreciation of Life
  • Longer Life

Mindfulness is about learning to be more present in our moment by moment experience. Meditation is the practice that enables us to be more present in our daily lives and we can learn how to be mindful by tuning into our senses rather than being stuck in our heads, thinking and worrying all of the time. Meditation is the foundation of the practice and studies show that regular, daily practice, is better for us than practicing for one long session a week for example.

So, what is there to lose? Why not give it a try? 

If you aren’t sure how to start practicing, or are nervous about giving it a go, why not join me in some on-line, live mindfulness sessions. Drop me a message to let me know that you are interested and I will give you details of the dates and times I will hold the sessions.

Just like with any new skill, it takes time, perseverance and above all else, some self-kindness. 

Stepping out of Autopilot

“Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive,” Thich That Hanh.

We spend a lot of our time going through life on autopilot – being lost in thoughts, rushing around ‘doing’ without seeing, feeling, smelling, hearing or tasting. Think of a typical shower you take in the morning. Do you actually remember any of it once you have got dressed? Can you remember what the soap smelled like, what the water felt like on your skin? Were you even aware of it? My guess is probably not. What tends to happen is that during these routine activities we get stuck in our heads; thinking. We might be remembering, planning, worrying, thinking of what is next to do after our shower so we aren’t really there for our shower at all; we are somewhere else. 

Now imagine what it might be like to take your first ever shower – how extraordinary it might be to see, hear and feel the water, the sensations on the skin and how rich the experience would be. 

When we practice mindfulness, we are cultivating a beginner’s mind; approaching each moment by experiencing and sensing it, rather than being on autopilot. What happens when we start to approach each moment in this way is that the experience is totally transformed. We start to notice, we start to pay attention. We start to appreciate things in ways we never have before. 

Stepping out of automatic pilot enables us to become more present; more in touch with ourselves and the world around us. When we live with more presence, we are able to be less reactive and more responsive and enjoy the true wonder of our lives. 

Try bringing awareness in this way to your routine activities and watch your experience be transformed.

Practice Set-Compassion

Practicing self-compassion is crucial to our well-being and by developing self-compassion it gives us the resources we need to give compassion to others. Developing compassion has been heavily researched and been shown to result in a multitude of health benefits. By developing self-compassion, we can give ourselves the support we need to help us through our suffering; our difficulties and perceived failures, rather than being self-critical and harsh on ourselves which can actually lead to giving up and losing confidence. 

To practice self-compassion we firstly need to bring some mindfulness, some awareness, to our suffering. We need to acknowledge it and even say to ourselves “this is really difficult for you right now.” Being aware of our suffering and validating our feelings is the first step to developing self-compassion.

We can then bring some understanding to the fact that we are human and making mistakes and suffering the way we are, is normal and understandable. Humans suffer and make mistakes and we are all in this together. We call this having an understanding of common humanity.

Lastly and a really important step is to provide comfort to yourself, the way you would a close friend of member of your family. You might reassure yourself that you will be ok, give yourself a hug. Do something that will comfort you and help you to feel better. Talk to yourself in a tone that you would to a dear friend. 

Practice developing self-compassion and it will help you through the difficulties ahead.

Sleep Well During the Coronvirus

Sleep is crucial for our well-being. Lack of sleep and bad quality sleep can make us irritable and can make us prone to a whole range of health problems including cardiovascular disease, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

When we have high levels of stress and anxiety, which are likely during these difficult times, this is likely to impact on our sleep and it is important to do what we can to improve this.

Practicing mindfulness improves sleep as well as having other benefits such as reducing stress and anxiety so is an essential tool we can all use to help. 

By practicing mindfulness, through daily meditation and other exercises you can incorporate into your day, we are training our mind to focus. We bring our attention back to our point of focus over and over again. This brain training helps us to step out of our thoughts, which is particularly helping if our minds a busy thinking when we are trying to get to sleep. 

As well as practicing meditation there are other practical things you can do to help get a good night’s rest. Here are my tips for good sleep hygiene:

  1. Put down your phone / device away a couple of hours before you go to bed. The light from devices tells your brain it is daytime and that you should stay awake, which will contribute to sleep difficulties. During these difficult times you tempted to check the news and look at social media, but it will all be there in the morning. Make the decision to put your device away a couple of hours before you go to bed. Encourage your children to do the same.
  2. Avoid caffeine late in the day as this is known to keep you awake.
  3. Have a sleep routine. This may be taking a bath, getting ready for bed, reading a book, doing some meditation. This will help your body to know it is time to sleep.
  4. Try and go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day. It isn’t helpful to try and ‘make up’ for lost sleep. 
  5. Avoid relying on things like alcohol to help you to sleep. Whilst it may seem to help you to get to sleep, the quality of your sleep will be compromised. 
  6. Lastly, if you are struggling to get to sleep for 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something (avoid your phone or device) before returning to bed. This could be reading a book, sitting quietly in another room, listen to some calming music or some meditation.

Sleep well.

Mindful Walking – Get the Most Out of Your Daily Walk

During this unsettling period, it is crucial get some physical exercise. Not only is it good for physical health it is also important for our mental well-being. 

If at all possible, getting outside for a daily walk will be hugely beneficial and bringing some mindfulness to your walk will enable you to benefit fully.

Mindfulness is essentially being in the present moment, experiencing each moment as it is. We spend a lot of time in our heads, thinking and planning and during these uncertain times, we are likely to spend a lot of our time in our heads worrying. Stepping out of these thoughts and practicing being in the moment can give us a much needed break. 

To practice mindful walking, tap into your senses. Have a look around you, what can you see? The trees, flowers, birds; perhaps things you haven’t noticed before. Listen to the sounds around you. The sounds of nature, the wind blowing through the trees, rain as it falls on and around you. You can tap in the sense of touch – feeling the sensations of movement in your body. Your feet as they move through the air and step onto the ground, how your body feels as it moves. You might feel the wind against your skin, the coolness of the air or warmth of the sun. You might notice certain smells. As Spring approaches in the UK there will be noticeable changes in the plants and trees and an opportunity for you to really notice these. You may even like to take some photographs of the trees and plants from time to time, so you can look back at them and see the changes unfold. Time lapse nature.

If for the time being you aren’t able to get outside to walk, you can do the same thing anywhere in an outdoor space. If you have a garden you can sit and be mindful, or you can simply enjoy looking outside through an open window or a door.

By tapping into your senses you will give your mind a break from the constant thoughts that are whirling around in your and it will become a wonderful, enriching experience.

Bring mindfulness to your daily walk.

Tips for Staying Well During Home Isolation

My top tips for staying well when you are working at home/self isolating:

  1. Get up, get washed and get dressed every morning.
  2. Get daily exercise if you can
  3. Practice meditation every day
  4. Stay connected
    I will be bringing you meditation practices you can follow so please stay tuned!

meditation #mindfulness #coronavirus #anxiety #staywell #staysafe

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Exercise for Anxiety

Uncertain and unprecedented times are certainly upon us and if you are experiencing unsettling feelings and emotions, anxiety and unease, there are things you can do to help. 

Anxiety can present itself in many different ways. Restlessness, sleep difficulties and irritability are common as well as other noticeable symptoms like heart rate increase, breathing rate increases, feeling nauseous and having constant thoughts running around in your mind. Thinking about what might happen and worrying about the future.

If you find yourself in the midst of an anxiety attack here is an exercise you can do to help you in the moment. It will help to ground you back into the present moment, so you can feel safe. 

The 5,4,3,2,1 exercise

Stop, and take notice of the following:

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can touch
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste

There is no hard and fast rule on the numbers and what order you do them in, but by taking notice of these things can help you ground yourself.

Examples

5 things you can see could be things like the table, the computer, your phone, your spouse, a plant.

4 things you can touch could be the floor you are standing on, the chair you are sitting on, your phone in your hand, a cup on the table.

3 things you can hear could be sounds in nature, machines in the room, somebody’s voice, music or the television.

2 things you can smell – this can be anything in the room you are in or from outside. 

The thing you can taste could be the last thing you ate, or a sip of your tea.

This is a guide and are simply suggestions. There is no hard and fast rule. The 5,4,3,2,1 numbers help you to remember them easily. It doesn’t matter if you can’t see 5 things, just note what you can and move to the next.

It can be helpful to tell your partner or close friend about this so that when you are having an anxiety attack they can help you to stop, and work through the 5,4,3,2,1.

Practice these exercise as much as you can, so that you have the skills there ready for when you need it the most.

How To Stay Mentally Well During The Coronavirus

The current outbreak of Coronvirus is, without doubt, going to affect each and every one of us at some point in the not too distant future. Either we, or someone we know, will contract the virus and we do not know how severely we will react. In addition to the physical affects this will have, there will be a global impact on the economy. 

The uncertainty this is creating is bound to cause us some unease, worry and anxiety. So how can we look after our mental well-being during this time?

It is normal for us to think about the future, to worry, to plan, to avoid dangers and anticipate what might happen. We are hard wired to think this way and it is how we have survived as a species. However, spending too much time thinking of the future, mentally time travelling, can easily tip us into anxiety.

When we are anxious, we feel it in the body as well as having consuming thoughts in our minds. We might feel butterflies in our tummy, a lump in our throat, nausea, a tight chest, rapid breathing and a quickened heart rate. We may feel on edge, fearful, and be very restless.

The following exercise will help to bring you back to the present moment, alleviate these symptoms and also bring you a sense of calm.  And it only takes a few minutes. Practicing this exercise can ensure you are prepared to use it when you need it the most. 

  1. Take a moment to stop what you are doing.
  2. Bring some awareness to the thoughts in your mind and any emotions and feelings that accompany them.
  3. Now, closing your eyes if that is comfortable, bring awareness to the sensations of your breathing. Notice the sensations in your chest, or in your nose and down in your belly. Continue to follow the sensations of your breathing for a couple of minutes, bringing your attention back to the breath if you notice your mind has wandered. 
  4. Lastly, broaden your awareness to your whole body, having a sense of your body wherever you are. Perhaps feeling your feet on the floor, or where your body makes contact with where your chair. Have a sense of your body and the space it takes where you are.
  5. When you are ready open your eyes and continue with your day. 

You can practice this as many times in your day as you need to bring and sense of calmness and presence. 

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