Let's face it - we are all a bit stressed at the moment. Every time I hear a the COVID-19 update for the day I tense up. It's hard to remain claim cooped up in our houses unable to get back to work.
So I've started doing some mindfulness exercises to help reduce stress. And they really work! I've been seeing a mindfulness coach for a few years so these are some of her teachings:
1. Swimming or Floating in the Water
Swimming uses the entire body without putting pressure on the joints.
Bringing movement into stiff and tense areas can release a lot of physical stress. This increases mobility and allows more oxygen to flow into muscles we use less often.
Swimming can naturally draw you into a rhythm with your breath as you find your stroke.
Now if you're like me it's too cold for swimming just yet - so how about a soak in the bath, eliminating distractions and allowing yourself to pay attention to the water and how it feels on your skin.
2. Meditative Walking
The breath, body and mind are all connected. When we can slow down movement and breath, the mind naturally will follow.
Moving can make it easier to be present with what we are trying to be mindful of.
When we walk, there is a lot of forward momentum involved to drive the body forward. By slowing down and removing the forward drive, we start to use our stabilizing muscles to keep us upright.
Strengthening these smaller muscles in the abdomen, or core, can ease body pain in the long run and help with balance.
Pay attention to your muscles as you walk, notice how your feet work. Take deeper, fuller breaths from your abdomen, rather than shallow breaths into the chest. And take notice of where you are, be present. Even take your shoes off and fell the ground under your feet.
If you're walking in nature, connect with where you are without digital disturbances. Listen, feel, smell.
3. Drink a Cup of Tea
Any activity can become a mindfulness exercise if you take the time to experience it.
Take some time to experience the preparation of the tea, the way it smells, the way your arms lift to bring it to your lips and the way the warmth feels in your body.
Slowing down the process of drinking a cup of tea or another warm beverage not only can invite you to become more present but also quiets the mental conversation.
4. Gazing Meditation
Choose an external object such as a candle flame, the horizon line or a fire. Allow your focus to rest softly on your point and settle in.
This can be a great way to start practicing mindfulness with your eyes open. (It’s OK to blink.)
When the urge to look away is resisted, the ability to meditate and be mindful becomes stronger and can provide a very tangible transition into a more balanced, calm state of mind.
Take a more mindful approach to moving your body through gentle stretches.
Instead of trying to force the muscles to bend and move, try creating space in the body for the breath to flow in and create the expansion from within.
For example, with the spine straight, drop the head to one side and allow the breath to move into any tight areas in the neck one breath at a time.
Try evening out the breath during this exercise. If you are inhaling for 4 counts, exhale for 4 as well.
6. Breathing Techniques
One of the easiest and most effective ways to practice mindfulness and calm the nervous system is to focus on the breath. Try evening out the breath. Breath in though your nose for 4 counts and blow out through your mouth for 4 counts.
This triggers the breath to move fuller and deeper stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, the system that signals our body to relax.
A breathing technique helps us become more conscious of where the breath is going and enhances the experience.
Try breaking the breath down into three parts, filling first the lower abdomen, followed by the ribs, then the chest. And it can be helpful to really push your breath out - you can even make a huffing sound. If you have some thoughts or feelings that you want to dispel, feel them being pushed out with your exhale.
Adding imagery to this technique can be helpful to make the breath more fluid and smooth. Try imagining a wave rolling through your body in rhythm with your breathing.
When you find yourself distracted, kindly bring awareness back to the practice and notice yourself breathing gently to yourself.
7. Brush your hair
Brushing your hair can itself be a meditative practise. A tip would be to brush out any tangles before you start. You want the experience to be restful!
To bring an extra mindful connection try brushing your hair with your non-dominant hand. If you're right handed, use your left. By using your other hand you are forcing your brain to be present and to concentrate on the mechanics of brushing.
As you brush concentrate on how your head feels. Breathe slowly in time with your brushing.