Every January I tell myself - in fact, as my 10 year old would say, I "swear down" to myself that I will be one of those super-organised people next winter with Christmas all wrapped up by the end of November, the house as clean as a new pin and basking in twinkling perfection by December 7th, cards posted and long-life festive foods and drinks already purchased and carefully stored. Only then, I tell myself will I feel relaxed and really enjoy the lead-up to Christmas in a chilled-out, appreciative frame of mind.....ha!! Somehow, life's plan always unfolds somewhat differently and so, like most people out there I find myself instead in a state of "organised" chaos (at least most of the presents are bought!) with just over 2 weeks to go, juggling work commitments with present wrapping (actually I've only managed time to wrap one yet- wince) card writing, house cleaning, the trimmings only half up and the food and drink shopping not even planned, let alone started. It can be so easy to get stuck in my thoughts - a zillion thoughts competing for space of all the things I mustn't forget to do before Christmas and work I must complete this side of Christmas in preparation for the New Year. I have my husband's birthday, two Christmas concerts and a party to attend next week, all of which I am very much looking forward to and grateful for because I really do love Christmas ...but, crikey, whenever my thoughts shift to the fact that the days between now and the Big Man and Rudolph dropping by are getting less and less and I wonder on a daily basis why does it feel so tempting to wait until tomorrow as soon as day turns suddenly to night at 4pm in the afternoon - well, whenever I dwell on such thoughts, I can instantly feel the tension begin to creep in.
So, what is keeping me sane throughout all the apparent chaos and mayhem of it all? Well, if I had been a bit more organised, I'm sure that would have helped. As it is, I'm finding that interrupting my "doing" frenzy with frequent short pauses to just notice my breathing at the expense of allowing my mind to focus on what I have to do next, actually feels like nectar for my frazzled mind. I don't have time to pause for too long to indulge in these interruptions from my mental chatter but just 2 or 3 minutes (sometimes 4 or 5) doing something like I suggest below is not only proving to be incredibly calming but also grounding as it pulls me out of my over-active thinking mind into the present moment where I don't have to do anything except notice and just "be" with my breath. I'm finding that, when I get back into "doing" mode I'm far more energised and, interestingly , far better at focussing all my attention on the task at hand, rather than catching my mind drifting to what I have to do next all the time. I'm actually finding that I am enjoying doing the doing, immersing myself in each activity efficiently but relatively calmly, rather than allowing my thoughts to run rampant while I wilt under my self-created pressure and hanker constantly after my earlier ideal of what perfect bliss should be, namely,everything ticked off the list so I can just kick back and unwind. With 2 kids under the age of 11, a cat, a busy job and homelife? Who was I kidding!
Now, I've been teaching mindfulness to my clients for a long time and practising it myself for even longer. But, to get the benefits, it really doesn't matter if this is the first time you've ever heard about it and/or practised it. Mindfulness of the breath is such a forgiving process because whenever you find your mind wandering away from paying attention to your breath, you can simply bring it back, patiently and without judging yourself for it having wandered away in the first place....
So, for frequent sprinkilings of a little peace of mind this December and beyond, try the following whenever you catch yourself getting caught up in your thinking and feeling like you need to hit the pause button and briefly recharge your batteries:
If you are physically on the move when you decide to do some calm, mindful breathing, if you are able to stop and stand still for afew moments, this can be helpful in focussing all of your awareness on the breath.
So wherever you are and whatever position you are in- sitting, standing, laying or reclining - adjust your position to be straightbacked and upright. Then complete the exhale of your current breath, before following the feeling of your breath as you inhale - notice the feeling of inhaling the air up through the nose, down the back if the throat and into the chest and abdomen then notice the point where you naturally start to exhale and then simply pay attention to your breathe on the exhale. Keep repeating your breathing - you're not trying to change your breathing pattern from your natural rhythm in any way, you're simply placing your awareness on the sensations in your body as you breath in and out. Try to adopt a sense of curiosity as though you're really noticing your breath for the first time just as it is without striving to change anything about it....just being with the sensations of the breath, the feelings of the breath just as they are. You may notice where in your body you most naturally rest your awareness during each breath - it might be on the air in the nostrils or in the throat, or maybe on the broadening and contraction of your chest or your diaphragm as you inhale and exhale.... there is no right or wrong, just simply observing the breath with your full awareness and a sense of being curious and patient and just accepting of whatever your experience is in each moment. Anytime your mind wanders away from your breathing - that's just what minds do so there is no need to be frustrated with yourself - just notice where it has gone and gently bring your awareness back to the breath
After a minute or three of simply being mindful of your breath, you can return to your thinking and resume whatever you have left off from, hopefully noticing feeling more calm, composed and refreshed.
It is worth remembering, during this busy time of year that calmness is our natural state whenever our thoughts are given the opportunity to settle and it can be easier than we realise to find peace of mind whenever we need it to recharge our batteries, even if just for a few minutes...
BBC 2's recent episode of Trust Me I'm a Doctor was a Mental Health Special. The practise of Mindfulness was studied and compared to other activities traditionally associated with stress reduction including yoga and gardening. It was found that the group practising daily mindfulness for just 10 minutes a day over several weeks, experienced the greatest reduction in stress levels of all participants and a greater improvement in their cortisol levels in the morning responsible for how "up" for the day ahead we actually feel.
If this blog post is of interest to you and you'd like to find out more about the long-term benefits of learning and practising Mindfulness, please get in touch - see below- to find out about the private and group Mindfulness courses and taster sessions that I teach. I also teach Mindfulness-based resiliance-building programmes and workshops within organisations aimed at reducing stress and overwhelm to improve performance and mental health in the workplace. I'm always happy to answer your questions and you're welcome to book a 100% FREE consultation without obligation so we can meet to discuss yhow Mindfulness may benefit you in more detail