Sometimes I can spend an entire 90 minute yoga class thinking about tattoos, menu planning, blog posts and tanning. Sometimes I sit down to eat my lunch and I spend 20 minutes reading a book whilst mindlessly inhaling a salad. Sometimes I’m in the shower and I spend the whole time planning my day or thinking about the day that has just been.
Some research suggests that people are significantly less happy when their mind is focused on something other than the task at hand. In other words, people are happier when they’re present.
It’s an easy thing to say, and it seems like a very easy thing to do, but I find it unbelievably difficult at times to be entirely present. A few months ago I started putting aside 5 minutes a day to ‘practice’ being present. It’s much easier (in my opinion) to be present when you’re doing something (ie. focus on your actions, notice your surroundings) than to be present when you are just sitting.
You could call it meditation I suppose. I call it a practice and I use it to calm my mind. It feels difficult – as though my mind is actually working out. It can feel frustrating and tiring. But this is usually when I know that I need it the most.
Here’s what I do:
- Sometimes I set a timer on my phone so that I can know when 5 minutes is up. This way I can allow myself to completely relax rather than always wondering what the time is.
- I put a notebook and pen next to me. Sometimes if there is a thought or an idea that just cannot go away, writing it down can help get it out of my brain (safely knowing that I won’t forget it) and then I just start again.
- I start by noticing my breath. I notice the way the air feels against my top lip and the way my tummy and chest rise and fall.
- I imagine ‘sending’ my breath to different parts of my body, really noticing each part of my body as I do this. I might try to relax a part of my body, or just simply acknowledge it and feel it.
- When I notice my mind wandering (and it can wander faster than I thought possible), I have a few different techniques that I use:
- I imagine that the thought is a cloud and that it’s floating across the blue sky in my mind. I try to imagine a clear blue sky with no clouds, so if one comes in, I watch it drift away again.
- I quickly try and bring myself ‘out’ of my body. I imagine that I have just walked in the room and I can see myself sitting in the room. And I just watch myself. This is one of my favourite techniques and can make me feel extremely present.
- I focus on my breath again. I think about my tummy rising and falling with each breath.
- Sometimes my mind can get so crazy it feels like a crowded mall at christmas time. (And I hate crowded malls at christmas time). I have no idea why I find it so hard to stop thinking about things, but sometimes I give myself a pep talk like ‘you can think about this again in 5 minutes. Just stop right now. There will always be time to think about things, but for now, just be present. Listen for something. Focus on the breath.’ Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
And that’s it. If I manage to do this a couple times each day, I feel noticeably more relaxed, calm, collected and present. Do you meditate? Or practice being present?