One of the other elements of My Stroke of Insight that I connected to was the concept of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a well-established tool that psychologists have been using with patients for decades, mostly to combat anxiety or trauma symptoms.
As Dr Taylor puts it:
“Step one to experiencing inner peace is the willingness to be present in the right here, right now.” p.159
She then goes on to lead the reader through a series of mindfulness exercises. Interestingly, she used the same techniques I use when I practice mindfulness and so I thought I would share these with you today.
Copy and Paste this next section and you can use this at home:
Make sure you are seated comfortably with your eyes closed. I recommend that you sit with you sitting bone/coccyx pushed right at the back of the chair, up against the backrest. Have your feet placed firmly on the floor so that the entire surface of your sole is connected to the ground. Try to have all your limbs resting in a comfortable, open position (no crossed legs or arms). Try and relax into your back, feeling that your vertebrae are resting gently on top of each other, without pressure or tension. Mentally check your body. Notice if there is any tension or stiffness and just try and release that with your mind. Try and relax your shoulders by letting your arms drop loosely at your side or have your hands laying flat on your knees.
First of all, start by focusing on your breathing. At first, don’t do anything. Just notice. Watch inside your mind as you inhale and exhale. Try and visualise the air as it enters through your nose and how it goes down to your lungs and belly, and again as it exits through your nose/mouth. In order to come into the present moment, you have to slow your mind down. Watching your breath is a really good way of doing this. Once you’ve watched a few breaths, and your mind is slowed down enough that you can feel you are more present, then you can proceed.
With your eyes closed, I want you to start feeling your body. Start to notice the way your body – both inside and outside – feels. Notice your feet resting on the floor. Can you take your mind to where your feet make contact with your socks, shoes and then the hard ground underneath? Feel the pressure, the flatness, the softness, the hardness. Now pay extra special attention to the way your clothes feel on your body. Can you feel where your clothes make contact with your skin on your legs, your arms, your back, etc.? Now take your awareness to your internal organs. Can you feel your stomach – does it feel settled or is it a bit queasy? Are you perhaps busy digesting something? Can you feel it working? Now take your mind to your lungs, can you feel your lungs moving on each inhalation and exhalation? Can you feel how your breathing brings your skin in contact with your clothes? Now take your mind to the skin of your hands, neck, face and any other skin that is exposed. Experience your skin as it comes into contact with the air. Can you feel a gentle breeze? Is the air cool or warm? Is your hair resting on your shoulders? Feel the weight of it at the points where it comes into contact with your skin. If you’re wearing spectacles, bring your awareness to the parts of your nose and face that are being touched by the plastic or metal. Take your mind to all these individual parts of your body and letting only your sense of touch into your awareness and then magnifying these experiences so that it becomes the only thing in your mind.
Now that you have become fully mindful of your sense of touch, you are going to move on to the next four senses. I want you to make a conscious effort to bring your awareness to your hearing. With your eyes still closed, I want you to focus on the sounds that your ears are picking up. Start with the sounds in your immediate surroundings. Can you hear the sound of your breathing or the noise of your stomach gurgling? Perhaps you can hear the sounds of people in the next-door room or even in the building next door? If you are able to, can you hear the sounds of birds outside, of insects, of crickets? Take your mind to the sounds of traffic, of the wind in the trees, to the hum of the city. Now beyond that until you are aware of the sounds of silence that lies beyond all sounds yet can still be heard.
Now become aware of your sense of smell. Take a deep breath in through your nose but as you do, focus on the specific smells that you can detect. Can you smell your own breath, the smell of the perfume or body wash you used this morning, or the smell of the washing powder on your clothes? Focus on the smells in the room. Can you detect individual smells? Allow your mind to become hyper-aware of smell for a few seconds. Just breathe in and focus. Breathe in and focus.
After that, I want you to focus on your sense of taste. You can move your tongue around in your mouth and even lick your lips. Notice the taste of your saliva and the residue of taste on your lips from the last thing you ate. Do not worry if you cannot taste specific flavours, the idea is that you are choosing to focus in on this sense.
Now, after you have been on the journey of your these four senses you should be feeling much more in touch with your body and its incredible ability to be in touch with the present moment via the sensory organs. The last sense is sight. For this I want you to focus in on the right brain sensory input while trying to ignore the left brain as much as possible. To do this, I want you to open your eyes and look out at your surroundings. Notice colours, textures, shapes, shadow and light but DO NOT NAME THE OBJECTS YOU SEE. Try and avoid using language to make sense of your surroundings. Just see. Allow the visual stimuli to wash over you like a wave, as you drink in the sights. To aid this, you can try and use a soft focus by lowering your top eyelids slightly. If your left brain starts interfering by naming objects, just take your attention away from that and back onto the experience of sight.
Right, so this is a really great mindfulness exercise but it doesn’t have to take long. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you can tailor it to suit your needs. At its longest, you can practice this for 15 minutes to half an hour. But it could also be a 30 second exercise. The most important thing is that you are taking time out to PAUSE and reflect on the present moment. Try doing this when you are feeling stressed, before a big meeting or even before you go to sleep at night. It WILL improve your concentration, help you work better and go to sleep easier. If you struggle to remember to do these kinds of things then I suggest you right the word PAUSE on your hand, on post-its around your house and office, in your car, etc. Go on, it’s worth a try!