We were already living in an age of stress juggling work by being on call almost 24 hours a day with internet connectivity. There is also the social obligations and the endless chatter on social media. But the impact of social media has never been felt like before with many slipping into depression due to social media addiction. Our attention is a precious commodity. With massive distractions from many channels, added with the pandemic and job uncertainties, the need to take back control is imperative. Here, we share mindfulness exercises you can do to regain a stable attention.
There are several mindfulness practices out there. Breath meditation has been linked to the increase of grey matter in the brain. Grey matter decreases as we age. Grey matter functions include muscle control, sensory perception, speech, decision-making and self-control. However, breath meditation does not equip mindfulness practitioners with de-escalating tensions in stressful situations like friendliness meditation and being present to your thoughts and feelings, also known as Presence.
Effects of Being Present
The practice of mindfulness leads to your mind being present. For those who practice whole-heartedly in Christian to Buddhist monasteries, they can enter a state of presence so deeply it cannot be described. There is a deep sense of relaxation that follows everything these monastics do. Even when they look like they are angry, their inner being is actually relaxed. The most powerful would be at the moment of death, they can remain relaxed and at peace without fear.
For the most of us who practice mindfulness juggling with daily lives’ obligations, there are also effects. Effects such as the relaxation experienced amidst stressful situations (though not as deep as those who practice it full-time). Friendliness meditation allows you to be still and not react to someone else’s anger, because you realise it is harmful to yourself to react. When you understand the effects of friendliness versus critical feelings of others’ and toward yourself, you can differentiate how these two types of feelings affect your mind and especially body. There comes a time when you become wise enough to want to stop harming yourself by having stressful (being angry, critical and restless) feelings. Having a friendly feeling most times is why most practitioners can stay relaxed amidst stress. You begin to feel bad for others who are constantly harming themselves and those around them and wish in your heart you can somehow help them.
Having presence is something you would never want to exchange for money. At least it’s what I would say for myself. Being present is having the wisdom to see how your thoughts arise, causing feelings of tension. This is a deep practice. But the benefit of constant practice is that your presence will grow. Once it has grown, you cannot reverse it – much like learning to swim. This presence helps us realise our thoughts are not in line with reality. When we stop being so attached to our thoughts and concepts, there is that open friendly feeling as well. But I would like to stress it does not mean you allow yourself to be a doormat to be stepped on.
If you have never meditated before. It would be helpful to start with something simple such as the gratitude exercise. Before you go to bed every night, write down the small or even big things you are grateful for in a notebook. Try to think of at least 3 things to be grateful for. Think of who you can thank in your heart for the good things that happened to you. It could be as small as having an ice-cream in a hot day and you are grateful to yourself for treating yourself to something to stave off the heat. It could be a colleague who bought you coffee, or even your spouse who helped you wash the dishes or gave you space to do your work.
Gratitude exercises is a great precursor or accompaniment to the mindfulness exercise of friendliness meditation. To practice friendliness meditation, you can find a quiet space in your home and prepare a cushion on the floor. Sit on the cushion with your legs crossed or in a full lotus. Support this posture with your spine straight, like a seated pyramid. You can sit on the chair too with your spine supported by the chair and feet flat on the floor, hands on your thighs.
Bring to mind the good things you have done for yourself and smile. Feel the self-care you have given to yourself in everyday life. Be grateful to yourself. Feel the feelings of gratitude generating in your heart. Feel this warmth expanding from your heart to feel your entire body.
If you can, sense the tingling sensations of this loving warmth on your skin. Feel the friendliness feeling spreading outside of you and bring to mind those who have been kind to you. Followed by the everyday people you meet but are not close to. To those who may have made things difficult for you. Think about what links all of these people – those you like, feel neutral towards and those you dislike. Those whom we dislike have people who loves them. They too have families. We are probably someone they dislike and we also have others who love us. Do this exercise by bringing to your mind people in these three categories one person at a time. Do not bring too many different people into your mind.
At the end of the meditation, just bring gratitude to the diversity of personalities we meet in our lives. We have all made our choices to choose to be who we are and mostly it has been shaped by circumstances. This exercise also brings up empathy.
The Exercise of Presence
Presence as a mindfulness exercise is the hardest. The moment we let go of our inner attention to enjoy ourselves in chattering, socialising and watching TV dramas, reading or submerged in anger, there is no presence.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, building a state of presence requires us to be quiet most of the time if possible (outside of work if you can). It also requires practising mindful daily activities.
Here’s how to find a sense of quietude to practice mindfulness in daily living. If you are working from home, practice eating with mindfulness. You may have to eat with your family. But you can also let them know you would like to practice mindful eating for the first 10 minutes of each meal. During the 10 minutes, bring attention to the sensation of touch each time you put food in your mouth. From the touch of the spoon to the sensation you feel in your arm when you move your hand to the touch of having food in your mouth.
Then, place your attention to the munching of food in your mouth. Feel how the food changes in texture – from hard, soft and even watery, before you swallow.
You can choose 2 to 3 mindful exercises to practice. The next easiest activity to practice mindfully is when you are taking a shower. It’s because you will be on your own. While showering, pay attention to the touch of the water running on your skin. You can also pay attention to how the scrub feels on your skin when you brush it against yourself.
One more mindful exercise is walking. When you walk to the supermarket, or to the train station, pay attention to the constant contact between your feet and the floor. Feel the sensations of your entire leg muscles working to help you move along.
To start your mindfulness journey, you can enrol in an 8-week mindfulness course with us.