July 03, 2018

Mindfulness decoded

“I wish I could be in two places at one time,”my friend sighed.

“Wished every woman ever,” I laughed, and we both rolled our eyes.

She was desperately trying to squeeze her hair spa appointment in between her work hour break. The voucher she had won for an Instagram giveaway had been pending since the past five months now and was nearing expiration, and Ria (name changed) was, in no way, one to give up on a freebie without a fight.

“Just imagine!” she sighed, “I could be at the spa enjoying my aroma oil hair massage therapy, and completing my project with my team at the same damned time. It would make time management so much simpler.”

And that got me thinking.  There have been so many times I have actually been in two places at the same time. Physically present in one, and mentally somewhere else altogether. We drift off in between conversations.  doze during seminars, are constantly distracted by our phones during dinner with friends or on a movie date.
In today’s day and age, mindfulness is a diminishing art, known and practiced only by a select few.
We talk more than we listen. We listen to only half of what we hear. And we hear the cacophony of a million tongues wagging at the same time.

So what exactly do we mean by mindfulness? To put it simply, mindfulness is the art of giving your whole self to the moment you are in, and accepting it without prejudice or judgmental any sort.
Studies have shown that this kind of interaction (with the self and with others) has a lot of positive effects on our physical and mental well-being.
  • It helps to alleviate stress and prevent stress related ailments like hypertension, heart disease, diabetes etc.
  • Improves concentration and allows one to focus better.
  • Increases creative potential.
  • Has a soothing effect on the nerves, thus helping to calm the mind.
  • Sharpens cognitive abilities.
  • Improves memory.
  • Contributes in building healthy, happy relationships.
  • Betters social skills and interactions.
  • Makes one feel content and satisfied with oneself.
  • Allays anxiety, palpitation, nervousness and helps elevate a depressed mood.
How do we then practice mindfulness in our day to day life? Here are some tried and tested tips that I have been practicing for a while now.
  • Maintain a gratitude journal. Write about the things you are grateful for. It could be a lottery won, a vacation with a loved one, a promotion at work, or a flower blooming in your garden, count your blessings. Jotting them down in your journal will only remind you how lucky you are.
  • Follow a simple meditation routine every morning. Mindful meditation sessions can range from 1 of 2 mins to as long as fifteen minutes or more. I’d suggest a fifteen minutes session every morning. And brief sessions as and when you feel stressed out during the day.
  • When you are eating your meals, keep your phone away and focus completely on what you are eating. Be mindful of every bite. Appreciate the sight, smell, and taste of every morsel you eat. This will not just keep a check on how much you’re eating, but will also ensure you relish the food on your plate—something we often tend to take for granted. 
  • Keep your eyes and ears open only for the one you are conversing with. Giving your hundred percent attention shows that you care. Exercising mindfulness during conversations will automatically improve your quality of interaction and strengthen your interpersonal relationships.
  • I recently read about known as ‘Thin slicing of mindset training’ which is a fascinating mind exercise that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadela follows. It includes four easy steps spread over a period of 90 seconds. Every morning when you wake up, take in a deep breath for around 12 seconds while still in bed. This will reset the sympathetic nervous system that activates the ‘flight or fight’ mode. Next, mentally name something that you are grateful for. This step triggers in you a cheerfulness and optimistic approach. Then decide on one intention for the day and visualise it in your minds eye. This will help you visualise yourself performing better and more efficiently. Lastly, put your feet on the ground and just feel them. This makes you aware of the thoughts, emotions or body sensations you are experiencing in that moment. Practice this exercise on a daily basis to combat stress, improve concentration and make every day into a productive one.

In short, focus on one thing at a time. Do not worry about the past or future. They are not in your control. Just throw in your entire self in the present...in the now.
It is never too late to start this journey of mindfulness.  All you need to do is begin.
I started noticing positive effects within a week of practicing mindfulness. I was feeling less stressed and more at peace with myself.

Below is an easy guide to initiate the journey:

Select a spot in your house. A spot with a window view is preferable since this tends to be more comforting and relaxing. This will be your go-to spot for mindful meditation.
Slowly but surely, your mind will be conditioned to accept that spot to be a meditation zone.
Sit up straight with your legs folded (but stay relaxed), hands on your lap, eyes closed, focus on your breath for the inhale-exhale rhythm. Then slowly drive your attention to the sounds around you. Try to concentrate on the most distant sound you hear. Maybe a car honking from across the street, or a cycle bell, or a bird chirping. Notice the quality of that sound, the duration, the nature, the fine details you normally overlook. Now slowly move your focus to the other noises, until you come nearer and nearer and back to the source of your own breathing.
While doing this, try to drive away all stray thoughts that tend to interrupt. It’s going to be difficult in the beginning. Forgive yourself if your mind tends to wander. With practice you will soon be able to focus on your thoughts and improve on your concentration power.

In the wise words of Henry Miller,
“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
Start paying attention to the world around you...
Start exploring the universe within yourself! 

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