Take time to smell the flowers
25 ways to make the most of now, and live more mindfully in the moment. By Michelle Hather
Women are plate spinners. There’s a little voice inside our head repeating a never-ending list of things to do. It’s how we function and how we juggle a trillion jobs. But doing too many things at once saps energy and forces the brain to refocus constantly. Spin too many plates and you’ll find yourself ankle-deep in broken crockery.
Perhaps that voice is chewing over past events or worrying about something that hasn’t yet happened? A constant habit of looking backwards or forwards isn’t healthy, either. It puts the emotional part of the brain on high alert, stimulates adrenaline and results in stress – and too much stress raises blood pressure, attacks our immune system and causes depression.
You may have heard of ‘mindfulness’. It has its roots in Buddhism but, put simply, it’s a way of savouring the moment and stopping the mental chatter. The good news is that you don’t need to be a monk, a child of the Sixties or even a yoga guru for it to work for you. You can practise most of these 25 tricks whenever you feel the need to quieten your mind and break the worry cycle...
1 Pay attention
Notice the feel of the clothes you're wearing, the pressure of your feet on the floor, the pull of gravity as it connects you to the world. Think ‘I am alive’ and remember life is not a rehearsal. This is it, so enjoy it.
2 Do nothing
‘We spend too much time thinking ahead to what needs to be done,’ says clinical hypnotherapist Joanna Knight. ‘Spend that time on yourself instead. Just allow yourself 10 minutes to do nothing.’
3 Say thank you
Each morning, before leaping out of bed, count your blessings. Begin with the big stuff – family, health, chocolate – and keep going until you reach the little things.
4 Savour the moment
‘Simply making tea can be mindful,’ says yoga teacher Nisha Gera. ‘Think about which mug to select, the sound of the water running, and the smell of the tea. Notice the taste of the first sip as it reaches your lips. Approach it as if it’s the first cup of tea you ever had, and enjoy the sensation.’
5 Sit still
Scientists have proved that meditation can actually reshape the brain and boost the area that helps us feel happy and content, and to do that you have to sit still. ‘Just sitting quietly may sound ordinary, but it’s actually quite extraordinary because we spend so little time in the here and now,’ says Andy Puddicombe of Headspace, which promotes meditation. Find free online mental exercises at www.getsomeheadspace.com.
6 Are you really listening?
‘Sometimes when we’re talking, the conversation triggers reminders of what we need to do next,’ says Joanna Knight. ‘Instead of losing focus, look the other person in the eye, not over their shoulder. Imagine the words you are being given are precious, they are a treat to your ears and there is something to learn or gain from this experience.’
7 Reach out to friends
Find that unused set of notelets. Focus on the beautiful stationery, the blue ink on the white paper, and take time to reconnect with a loved one. Email is faster, but putting pen to paper is more mindful.
8 Bring yourself back to the present
If you find yourself reading without absorbing the words or drifting off in the middle of a job, press the ‘reset’ button. Click your fingers, snap an elastic band around your wrist or just say, ‘Now! Now! Now!’
9 Sit and relax
‘The yoga posture Child’s Pose puts gentle pressure on the forehead, which calms the front part of the brain and balances emotions,’ says yoga guru Danielle Collins. Kneel with your buttocks on your heels, then lean forward so your forehead is on the floor, with your arms tucked in by your sides. Hold for one minute.
10 Enjoy the view
In her memoir, 'Eat Pray Love', Elizabeth Gilbert describes a friend who, whenever she sees a lovely place, says: ‘It’s so beautiful! I want to come back here some day!’ ‘It takes all my persuasive powers to try to convince her that she is already here,’ says Gilbert.
11 Really see the world around you
Look for something fresh in your daily routine. Notice the buildings, the scenery, the people you pass… Don’t make the journey on auto pilot.
12 Pull the plug
‘As we become more connected in the virtual world, we’re more disconnected in the real one,’ says life coach Jennie Bayliss. She suggests switching off all electronic devices for 10 minutes each day.
‘Close your eyes and imagine a large volume control knob,’ says Jennie Bayliss. ‘Slowly turn it until there is a tiny click and then a moment of silence. When your inner voice chimes up again, turn the volume knob down once more.’
14 Have an ongoing project
Write a diary or start a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle and return to it each time you seek calm.
15 Take a vow of silence
‘Make a commitment to maintain silence for a certain period each day – even for a single hour,’ says Deepak Chopra, author of 'The Seven Spiritual Laws Of Success'. ‘Initially your internal dialogue becomes even more turbulent. After a while the mind gives up; it realises there’s no point in going around and around if you – the Self, the spirit, the choice-maker – are not going to speak.’
16 Turn on, tune in
Be mindful, even when watching TV. How do you feel about the stories in the news? Have you learnt anything new from that documentary? Surfing channels and zoning out lets in mental chatter.
17 Taste every mouthful
Eating more mindfully is the subject of Andy Puddicombe’s latest book, 'The Headspace Diet'. ‘Before you pick up your food, allow a couple of breaths to pass and the body and mind to settle. Notice how it feels in the mouth – the temperature, texture, flavour of the food. Appreciate it, savour it and enjoy!’
18 Slow down at meal times
Chew your food 20 times, use your left hand if you are right-handed, put your cutlery down between mouthfuls. Don’t allow any outside noise – no television, no radio and no PC.
19 Write your own slogan
‘Have a positive affirmation ready for when that to-do list crops up,’ says Nisha Gera. ‘Repeat a phrase like “I am calm” to yourself.’
20 Think positive
‘Picture what you want, rather than what you don’t want. It will serve you much more productively,’ says Joanna Knight. ‘Worry over something that hasn’t happened yet can leave us feeling down or tired.’
21 Be eccentric
Put yourself in charge of chores by dressing up and enjoying the task, says life coach Danielle Henderson. ‘It may sound mad, but I often stick on a ball gown and tiara to do the cleaning. It lightens my mood and stops that yapping little voice in my mind.’
22 Cut the chatter
‘When you’re trying to relax and the inevitable “Better check my BlackBerry first...” prattle starts, imagine putting those worries into a box, locking it and putting it in a cupboard to collect later,’ says Paul Tizzard, who runs Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Without Fear course. ‘Do this enough times and you’ll start to gain control over your thoughts.’
23 Laughter is the best medicine
Anyone who has ever got the giggles in yoga would fit in at one of Nisha Gera’s yoga classes – she always includes a few moments of laughter, to boost oxygen levels, improve circulation and give the tummy a workout. ‘A couple of minutes of silly laughing will definitely get you in the moment,’ she says. ‘Try a forced laugh and eventually you’ll be able to laugh properly for no reason.’
24 Distract yourself
Press the mind’s off-switch by focusing on something else, such as the sensation of your breathing, says Danielle Collins. ‘Don’t worry if your mind wanders, just gently bring it back rather than fighting it.’
25 Today is special
Imagine you have lived to the ripe old age of 90 and are looking back on your life. Would you regret having spent most of it worrying instead of enjoying the moment? ‘While we are so engrossed in the future, we often miss the journey that has taken us to where we want to be,’ says Joanna Knight. ‘Choose today to be a special day and enjoy each precious moment.’
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