This is an exclusive extract from Rescu Me: The makeover guide for a life more fabulous by Bahar Etminan.
Life has never been so hectic. Day in day out we’re bombarded with the pressures and stresses that come with our daily duties. While technology has made our lives more efficient, it’s also made us its slaves; and as we’ve become more connected to the world around us, we’ve lost the ability to connect with ourselves.
Whether you’re raising a family, studying, climbing the corporate ladder, juggling a busy social calendar or all of the above, having to look for that moment, that little break in your crazy schedule, to finally exhale, relax or breathe is an indication of disconnectedness. What we’ve come to accept as normality is that we have gone from living to surviving on auto-pilot.
So how can understanding mindfulness and meditation help us reconnect? Life strategist Simonne Lee explains how.
Feelings of disjointedness or disconnection are the most common issues for many.
Meditation offers a practical approach to life’s challenges, providing tools to guide us into physical, emotional, mental and spiritual states of wellbeing.
When we begin to explore, problems often relates directly back to our primary sense modality. For example: a visual person loses sight of direction, a kinaesthetic (feeling) person feels stuck or an auditory (hearing) person is lost for words.
Identifying and explaining the cause of the disconnection and finding the right tool set, such as a quick breathing exercise and a meditation technique is often enough to help begin the shift from an auto-pilot lifestyle to a more mindful wellbeing lifestyle.
Mindfulness and meditation are both part of Buddhist philosophy, dating back over 2500 years. Today, meditation is a familiar concept, with scientific research proving it has beneficial results. Meditators are known to be masters of introspection and awareness as well as emotional control and self-regulation. Through MRIs (brain scanning) researchers have been able to observe brain functioning, in and out of meditation, and find evidence that regular meditators have increased folds and larger amounts of gyrification (aka grey matter) in the brain. That extra grey stuff comes with extra benefits, like quicker thinking and clearer memory.
Neuroscientists have also discovered that meditation stimulates activity in other parts of the brain, in the left prefrontal cortex. This is the part associated with positive emotions like happiness, joy, motivation and self-control. Meditation has also been found to create a calming effect in the amygdala part of the brain, the trigger for anger and fear.
Mindfulness and meditation techniques are now regularly used in psychology and medicine, supporting conventional treatment, aiding with ailments from panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive behavior and depression to pain management. Even corporations now are adopting these methods into wellbeing programs for their employees.
Mindfulness is simply a focused state of awareness. Being able to stop, breathe and observe sensations inside and outside your body without judgment is the key. You can do it anywhere, anytime, while washing the dishes, running, shopping or working. When you move into that focused awareness, it helps to align, better understand and process your current thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
When I’m introducing mindfulness to a client, one of my most successful techniques is to get them to press the thumb and forefinger of one hand together. They take a deep breath and close their eyes. I then ask them to describe the sensations between their fingers. The result? An instant state of focused awareness.
I also use this method with hypnosis. While my clients are in their trance state, I draw their attention to different parts of their bodies. During certain meditations, I will use a mindfulness technique to lead in, helping my client to establish focus and direction. Think of mindfulness as a way of flicking off the auto-pilot switch and regaining control of where you are.
Like mindfulness, meditation can have immediate effects, including inducing a sense of lightness in the body, the release of tension and the slowing down of thoughts in the mind. As tension leaves the body it gives us more flexibility to adapt to each physical situation.
Being mindful while meditating isn’t about switching off, it’s about tuning in. And each time we tune in, we release calming hormones into the mind and body.
Meditation and mindfulness also supports our emotions (energy in motion), allowing communication to flow. What that means practically is that you’re able to acknowledge your feelings way before they hit boiling point. Addressing our feelings as they occur helps to promote trust in self and judgment.
Mindfulness is a wonderful entry point for anyone wanting more fulfilment in their life, and different methods suit different personalities. So don’t be afraid to experiment. Use this guide to find one of the many meditation styles that’s right for you.
Always thinking about work, meeting deadlines, checking emails 24/7, never really being able to shut off completely? Try stomping your feet, then take a couple of deep breaths and notice the sensations in and around you. This is also a very grounding technique and can be used as many times as you like throughout the day. Being the work-a-holic, your body is used to adrenaline and cortisol (the fight or flight response) running at high levels. This can cause fatigue physically and cloud judgement. A physical stomp with intention disrupts this pattern, giving you the opportunity to stop pre-empting what’s to be.
Are you the creative type, prefer to have your head in the clouds and love to daydream? For you, I’d suggest mindful walking or running. This method helps bring you back into your body, as you become aware of the sensations in and around you as you exercise. We always assume that meditation is a still practice, and that is its origin, yet we can take those methods and apply it to exercising. There is a rhythm when you find your stride walking — a feeling of flow and connectedness using movement. You can use this method to connect the thoughts you have up in the clouds to your reality.
Do you find yourself doing ten things at once, switching from one task to another? You’re so used to being busy that slowing down is a challenge. My suggestion: sit in a chair, lean back and exhale. Observe how your body rests against the chair, its texture, what it feels like, how your spine moulds to its shape. Your mind is in the habit of working, looking for the next task. By giving it a task using this technique, it still has a job — to observe. This gives you the opportunity to slow down your heart rate and reset the mind’s brainwaves.
The desk jockey
Find yourself glued to the screen and losing time? There are now mindful apps for you to download. These apps send you messages throughout the day (you schedule when and how often) to remind you to be mindful for a minute. They also send a short exercise for you to do so you can ‘drop in’ on yourself. Being in front of a computer screen on auto-pilot disconnects you from yourself, so it’s a reminder to come back and reset, creating a habit that builds better wellbeing in your life.
How often we meditate does affect the outcome of living on auto-pilot. I encourage my clients to do as little as five minutes a day. If you want a simple, quick, mindful meditation to start you off, try this;
- Sit or lay down somewhere quiet. Make sure you’re comfortable
- Close your eyes or focus on a spot in the distance.
- Bring your awareness to your breath and observe your breath as you inhale and exhale. Now you’re noticing your breathing!
- You may drift off or feel other sensations and that’s fine, just remember to focus on your breath. Eight cycles of this exercise is two minutes of mindfulness!
- Breathe in the count of 5
- Hold for the count of 5
- Exhale for the count of 5
- If you find yourself distracted, that’s normal, reset your awareness back to your breath and observe again.
- After 3-5 minutes of mindful breathing, slowly come back into the present.
- Give yourself a few minutes to reflect on any thoughts or sensations.
A few minutes of mindfulness and/or meditation daily can make an enormous difference when it comes to dealing with the demands of daily life. It can take us from distraction to direction, feeling overwhelmed to feeling in control, and from frantic to refreshed. No more living life on auto-pilot — in a few moments a day you can take charge of where you’re going and how you want to get there.