It is said that mindfulness gives us the ability to sustain happiness. So what exactly is it?
Mindfulness is about learning to direct our attention to our experience as it unfolds with an open mind, curiosity and kindness. The benefits of mindfulness are numerous and have been scientifically proven and include the following:
- Help you achieve peak performance in whatever it is you do
- Improve physical health
- Improve sleep
- Improve focus and concentration
- Lower stress
- Optimize creativity
It is thought that our minds spend up to 50% of the time rehashing the past or projecting the future, paying little attention to the present. In developing mindfulness, we need to learn how to shift our minds from the dominant thinking mode to the sensory mode and then develop the capacity to keep the volume turned up on our senses to focus on the here and now. As the saying goes:
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift we call the present”
In short, we need to FEEL the DOING and encourage our children to do this, to focus on their senses and take the time to appreciate the effects of them; really hear the sounds, see the sights, smell the air, feel life as they live it and taste what they eat. Asking them questions about what they are sensing, how they are feeling and encouraging them to express this is a good way to start.
A powerful and quick exercise to help us become more mindful is a simple breathing one. Shut your eyes and take a deep breath in for as long as it takes you to count to 7 and breath out for as long as it takes you, at your natural pace, counting to about 11. Repeat this for a few minutes. This is known as the 7/11 mindfulness exercise. Many schools are now incorporating mindful awareness programs into their curriculums with great success.
My daughter recently took part in a ski competition. In past competitions her nerves have sometimes got the better of her so prior to this one I spent a bit of time helping her find ways to calm herself and “clear her mind”. This was especially relevant for the couple of minutes prior to being in the start gate in the heat of the moment when the adrenaline was pumping and her mind was racing everywhere. I encouraged her to take a couple of minutes prior to her race to shut her eyes, focus on her feet to ground her and then switch her attention to her breath and focus on the breath for a minute or so to help her remain present in the here and now. Then it was quite literally off to the races………
The “Etch a Sketch” analogy
Our thoughts are akin to the little grey line running all over an Etch a Sketch screen, changing direction here, there and everywhere but rather than creating pictures on a screen, creating stories in our minds. Once the Etch a Sketch screen is full, we are able to simply shake the screen to erase the image. Practicing mindfulness is a way of wiping our minds clean of all thoughts to regain our focus to the present; an infinitely more peaceful way of doing so than shaking that little red framed screen but with the same effect.
Incidentally, my daughter had her best competition yet and said that the breathing exercise helped her a lot!
In today’s busy world, many of us have lost the capacity to be mindful compared to generations past where there were perhaps less distractions, especially digital ones and being mindful was just a way of being.
As parents today, we need to remember to teach our children this vital life skill so that it becomes a part of who they are and take the time in our day to practice this skill ourselves. I invite you to try it; it could be before an important meeting, or after a stressful situation, before a run you might have signed up for, or when your mind just feels over loaded and before you go to sleep at night. There are many times when it could be beneficial to you.
If you have had any experience of this, I would love to hear from you. I also encourage you to watch the movie “Kung Fu Panda” with your children as it highlights the concept of mindfulness and living in the present moment beautifully. For more details on mindfulness, please visit www.mindwellcanada.com
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PPS. I am starting a new 6 week block of Parenting Classes in West Vancouver in April. For more details, please visit www.yourparentingpartner.com under EVENTS.