Experiment with your Mind!

Posted on April 18, 2014

Hello to all of Matt’s Mumblings followers!  Matt is training four days in a row this week, so I’ve been called into service.  I’m Bettina Harmon, President and Chief Quality Officer of Coldspring Center, and Matt’s colleague for about 8 years.

As most of you know, it doesn’t really matter what trainings you take from Coldspring, somewhere along the way, you will hear us talk about Mindfulness.  But this word often brings blank stares, or dread to the faces in the room.  Even Matt will tell you that he can’t meditate worth beans.  Mindfulness can mean meditation, but it can also mean many different kinds of practice that help us learn to focus our minds, stay present in the here and now, and reflect on our thoughts and feelings so that we can make intentional choices. 

Mindfulness doesn’t come easy for many of us.  Our minds feel like popcorn in the microwave.  Many ancient Chinese and Buddhist traditions call this the monkey mind.  After a long day at work, with or without clients, my mind is often racing with all of the things I didn’t get done, or the unfortunate interaction I had with a client, or my frustration with a co-worker.  I’m exhausted and the thought of anything that requires focus feels completely out of my reach.  The problem is, if I don’t do something to change my energy and my focus, I bring all of that same energy home with me to my partner and dogs. 

I’ve tried a wide variety of contemplative practices over my 20 years in the helping professions: breathing exercises, prayer, meditation, yoga, walking meditations, labyrinth walking.  There are so many different practices available to us to try, that sometimes it seems difficult to know where to start.  I suggest approaching this as a grand experiment.  Try one of these practices, see if it is helpful, and if not, try something else.  Just start where you are, be gentle with yourself, without judgment or expectations.  Enlist a colleague or your team in this undertaking!  See what happens if you start your day or end your day with a mindfulness exercise.  Maybe see what happens if you practice one of the breathing techniques after a difficult client.   I’m certainly not an expert in mindfulness techniques, but here are a few simple places you might choose to begin.  Note, these practices can be done independently at home or in your office.  I’ve also included links to some free guided practices.

First Step for doubters:
If you doubt your ability to try any of these exercises, you are certainly not alone!  Try simply extending your exhale.  Sit in a comfortable place if you can.  Watch your breath for a bit, just to notice if it feels comfortable or not, steady or not, constricted or not.  Just notice.  Then slowly see if you can exhale for longer than you inhale.  Do this for a few minutes, then return to normal breathing.
Four Square Breathing:
If you are able, sit with your feet flat on the flour.  Take a minute just to feel your body.  Next, bring awareness to your breath.  Breath in slowly for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4, exhale your breath for a count of 4, pause for a count of 4, then inhale and start over.  Do this four times, or for as long as it feels relaxing.
Breath awareness practice:
If you are able, sit with your feet flat on the flour.  Take a minute just to feel your body.  Next, bring awareness to your breath.  As you breathe in and out, focus on where you most clearly feel the sensation of breathing:  In your abdomen, chest, nose?  You might also try to follow your breath.  Feel the sensation of the breath as it enters your nose, flows down your windpipe in your neck.  Feel it in your upper chest, mid chest, side body, back body, abdomen.  If your mind wonders, be gentle and non-judging with yourself, let the thoughts or feelings go and simply return your focus to your breath.
DanielSiegel-11 minutes
Body Scan Meditation(sometimes a focus on the breath is difficult, here is another way to focus attention using the sensations of the body):
Bring attention into your body.  Close your eyes if that is comfortable.  Feel the weight of your body on the chair.  Take a few breaths.  Notice your feet.  Notice the sensations of your feet touching the floor:  heaviness, lightness, pressure, weight, vibration, movement, warmth, coolness? Shift your focus to your legs.  Again observe any sensations.  Notice your back against the chair.  Bring your attention to your stomach.  If any area of your body is tight, take a breath, let it soften.  Continue to move your focus to each area of your body.  Notice your hands, arms, shoulders, neck, throat, jaw, face.  Let them relax and be soft.  Then notice your whole body.  Take a few breaths staying aware of the sensations of your whole body.  Slowly open your eyes. 
UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center-3 minutes
Loving Kindness Meditation
This is a practice to cultivate compassion for self and others.
Begin in a relaxed and comfortable position.  Check into your body and notice what you feel.  Let whatever you notice just be.  It is, what it is.  Bring to mind someone who makes you happy, this could even be a pet, dog or cat.  Imagine them and notice how you feel inside. Maybe warmth, heat to face, a smile, a sense of expansiveness, this is loving kindness.  It is a natural feeling that we can cultivate so that it is accessible to us at any moment, even in difficult situations. 

Use this feeling and focus first on yourself.  You can use the following phrases, or any other thoughts and phrases that are meaningful to you:

May I be filled with Loving Kindness.
May I be well.
May I be at peace and at ease.
May I be happy.

Simply say these phrases to yourself, slowly, with the rhythm of your breath.  Repeat as many times as you wish.  Practice this just on yourself, or if that is difficult, on someone close to you who makes you happy.  Do this for a week or more.  Then, over time, slowly expand your focus to your family and friends; your neighbors and coworkers; your clients; people who you have difficulties with; people across the nation; people in other countries; all animals and living beings in the world.

Sometimes it is difficult to feel loving kindness for a person or even for oneself.  Simply acknowledge this, let it go, and focus again on your wishes for the person. Practice for just a few minutes or for as long as you wish.  Regular practice will bring a sense of ease and peace to this exercise.

All of these practices share the commonality of breath, relaxation, and focusing the mind.  Remember, these practices might feel foreign and difficult at first, but that’s normal.  They may get easier with repetition or you may want to try a different method.  There are so many great options to practice mindfulness that we certainly can’t share them all here.  We look forward to hearing from you-all about your experience.  Please respond in the comments section of the blog if you try any of these or if you have other mindfulness practices that you would like to share with the community!  

3 responses to “Experiment with your Mind!”

  1. Jhoei says:

    Nice article! I agree with you. Breathing and meditation really helps in relaxing our mind and body.

  2. I enjoyed this article! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thanks so much for reading!

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