I’ll admit I was a mindfulness cynic. It’s this buzz word in mental health that everyone pushes on you. When I first heard of mindfulness I thought it sounded ridiculous. I wondered how on earth sitting quietly and focusing all my senses of a cup of tea would ever help me.
I had to find a more practical way to get mindfulness into my daily life. That meant discovering a few easy ways to apply it, and learning that for me it would be less about sitting silently and meditating and more about noticing my surroundings and really being present. After reading a bit about mindfulness, I found a few techniques that really helped me with this.
- Develop and deploy the ‘felt sense’
For many anxious people and sufferers of PTSD, whatever worries or triggers them feels very real. Flashbacks in particular take you back in time, you’re not here and now, you’re back in the experience that terrified you. Using my ‘ ‘felt sense’ enabled me to get a handle on this.
Most people find that developing their felt sense takes a bit of practice. This technique is about being aware of your body, really feeling what is going on for you physically. By using this mindful gauge, you can gain awareness of anxiety in physical sensations before it becomes uncontrollable. This means it can be intercepted before you’re fully immersed in the flashback or panic attack.
I learned that often the physical feelings of anxiety preceded the thoughts and the panic. I developed the ability to notice when my nervous system was becoming aroused, for instance, in changes to my breathing or when my palms start to sweat. That meant I could remove myself from a potentially triggering situation and calm myself before being overcome by panic.
- Be a mindful animal
Since I was little, I’ve felt a connection with nature. I loved getting muddy, splashing in puddles, swimming in the sea and playing out in the snow until my extremities burned with cold. The elements didn’t scare me. This carried through into adulthood, my favourite time to go running is when it’s pouring with rain and I’m going to get filthy. I still charge headfirst into the freezing English Channel every summer.
In mindfulness, I can regain this joy of living in nature. Animals are the perfect example of living mindfully. By observing them, I find inspiration for my mindfulness practice. They are constantly present and sensing; they focus on the moment they are living in and are always alert and aware of their place in their environment.
I carry this image into my mindfulness practice. I use it to think about each one of my senses and tune into the sights, sounds and smells around me.
- 5 minutes of mindfulness that anyone can do anywhere
When I’m out and about, I can find it difficult to fit in being mindful. That’s where this 54321 exercise is perfect. You can sit almost anywhere and do it, and it only takes a few minutes. It doesn’t matter where I am; in a peaceful garden or a busy train station, this exercise always gets me grounded. Here’s how I do it.
Find somewhere comfortable to sit and take a few mindful breaths.
- Notice 5 things you see. Focus on them closely, each in turn.
- Pick out 4 sounds. Again, hone in on each one individually. Listen closely to them, isolating them from the other noise around you.
- Choose 3 things to feel. These could be anything from the denim of your jeans to the smooth varnish on the wood of your seat. Focus on what each feels like, one at a time.
- For 2, I either choose smells or tastes. These can be ones you’re experiencing currently, or those you have a strong memory of. So you could smell and sip your coffee, or remember the taste of something delicious you had for lunch. It doesn’t matter which, just choose two and zone in on them.
- 1 is my favourite. This is how I finish the exercise. After doing the four parts above, I come back to thinking of all my senses together, my body as a whole, and take one big, deep, mindful breath. It always feels fantastic!
There’s this great quote from the mystic poet, Rumi, that says, ‘Keep knocking and the joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who’s there’. This is pertinent to mindfulness, because it is a practice that has helped me reconnect with that joy that lives within every single one of us. It is so comforting to know that it is always there, it’s just sometimes we need help to access it.
Mindfulness has been a powerful tool in my recovery, because it has equipped me to rediscover a calming sense of control over my experience. When surrounded by a chaos of tumultuous emotions, I can use mindfulness to become grounded. Through this practice I can bring myself back to basics; knowing that all I need to do is breathe, be present, and recognise that eventually everything passes.
This is part of a longer piece that was published by Everyday Mindfulness.