I don't know about you, but I love this time of year.
I must have been a bear in a previous life. Hibernation time! I have fewer demands on myself and others seem to have little demands of me too. Everything slows down. It's a perfect time to practice being a human being rather than a human doing.
If you know me well, you'll know that I love everything soft. Soft sheets, soft clothes, soft light. Even my hot water bottle is dressed in winter softness. I know there are a lot of you out there that love soft too.
And in this vein I want to talk about softening from the inside. We know now that every thought or emotion has a physiological response in the body. Check it out for yourself. If you are feeling joy, there may be a lightness in the breath, an expansion in the chest, an upturn at the corners of the mouth, a smoothness at the brow. In anger, you may notice a tightness around the diaphragm, a clenching of the fist or jaw, a rapid deep breath or no breath at all. A sad thought may bring up wetness in the eyes, a slumping of the shoulders, slowness in the breath or a deep sigh.
This is a wonderful thing. An immediate feedback loop that you can begin to play with. And it all starts with AWARENESS. Practicing mindfulness helps us become more in tune with ourselves and offers us choice. So instead of being swept away with our thoughts, feelings and body sensations we can work towards acceptance and skilful paths to a calmer, more resilient and, dare I say, happier state.
Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. If you have an honest intention to create more ease in your life, you can take up your challenge on promiseorpay. This week I challenge you to put the following into operation a few times a day, and night, and see what happens.
PAUSE | RELAX | OPEN
Pause: Take a moment to pause and check in on yourself.
Choose what is calling for your attention: your thoughts, feelings or body sensations.
This interrupts the autopilot stress cycle.
If your thoughts are taking over, notice them and, if you can, label them: worry, stress, guilt, confusion...
It’s amazing how repetitive our thoughts can be when we pay attention. Over and over. Labelling helps us interrupt the repetitiveness.
If it's a strong feeling or emotion, notice them and, if you can, label them: grief, anger, sadness. See is any of these feelings pair with thoughts. Write them down. Categorise them into pleasant and unpleasant.
Note that our thoughts, feelings and body sensations are difficult to distinguish at first. The important thing is to immediately drop the story. Ahhhhh, we are so attached to our stories! It’s the story that often trips us up and keeps us in the past or future.
And now the important bit:
Relax. Scan your body and notice any areas of sensation.
Wherever you may feel tension or tightness, sense the possibility of softening, of letting go a little. Relax your body. When we’re stressed, our muscles tighten, which sends signals back to the brain to fight, flee or freeze, making thoughts more distracted and chaotic. Scanning the body and finding the tension and deliberately relaxing the tightness does the opposite. You can do this step many times over.
When you locate the tension, imagine it is possible to breathe into this part- to fill it with air. Then, relax on a slow out breath. Matching inner and outer breaths to 4 counts works well.
Open as the body relaxes. Open to the bigger space around you, around the holding or the tension. When we relax, we have a greater opportunity to clear our minds and sense the comfort or warmth around us. And if we are doing this process throughout the day, it allows us to focus on the job at hand and become more creative.
Through trial and error, I have found this an incredibly effective way to go to sleep at night. I notice when I go to bed, there is sometimes a thought like “I hope I can get to sleep" or "wow, big day tomorrow!". When I check into the body at that point there is tension in the wanting to sleep. Relaxing that part or parts of the body over and over takes me out of the sympathetic part of the nervous system (fight, flight) and drops me into the Para sympathetic part (rest and revive). Doing this over and over relaxes my body and tricks my mind into believing everything is okay, and usually it is anyway. Often I’m too caught up in the early hours catastrophising to notice!
So PAUSE, RELAX and OPEN (over and over and over……..)
I have recorded and uploaded a Relax and Open meditation to play with - check it out here alongside the others I have uploaded and let me know how you go.
But really, these three steps can be practiced in 20 seconds wherever you are. Bed is a perfect time. The benefit comes in the practice.
Wishing you all ease and joy,
P.S. Have you booked your spot in the next Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program? I’d love to see you there! Click here for more details.