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Why mindfulness is a reset button for your brain

JENNIFER SMALLRIDGE

Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Yoga Therapist, Jennifer Smallridge, shows us how to bring mindfulness into any moment to reset your brain and regain your balance.

You’ve probably heard that word lately: mindfulness. Perhaps you’ve coloured in a mandala, or downloaded some apps, but don’t feel zen level 100 just yet. Maybe you’re not sure if you’re doing it ‘right’… Is there even a right way? Should we be levitating above our cushion by now?

Mindfulness is certainly having a moment, from workouts to the workplace, but it’s refreshing to know that you can do it in any moment. Including this one right… now.

Where’s your puppy right now?

Let’s start by learning the three words that are going to guide any mindfulness practice - present moment awareness. It’s that simple, and that difficult at times! A great analogy from Dr Richard Chambers, a psychologist and mindfulness consultant from Monash University, encourages us to think of our human mind as a puppy. So adorable! So fluffy! But also… so distractible. Wants to run around and explore. Likes to chase its own tail. And just like that, as we try to rest our attention on the present moment, the mind wanders off, enticed by a thought of the future or perhaps a reflection on the past. A worry, a conversation, a memory… and just like that, the ‘now’ is gone.

Strengthen your mind muscle

The good news? Each and every time you become AWARE that the mind has wandered, and bring it back to the present (hint: observing your breath is an easy way to do this), you strengthen your ability to be mindful. You do push ups for your arm muscles, you do squats for your leg muscles, and you do mindfulness for your mind – including the attention, memory and social connection parts of our brain.

And just like the curious puppy, we don’t need to scorn our mind for becoming distracted. All there is to do is ease our attention back to the present moment, with some patience and some love. The next time it wanders off (and it will wander off), we simply notice, and bring it back to the now.

Warning: mindfulness may cause joy

How might this help you? New research into mindfulness is popping up each and every day, but the real life application is all about your experience, and that’s too valuable to be ignored. To be mindful is to buy yourself some time, all the time. It’s the deep breath before accidentally snapping at someone you love. It’s the surge of appreciation when you are really present with someone (and your presence is the best gift you can ever give). It’s the ability to notice the delicate folds of a flower petal that you might normally walk straight past.

A mindful moment you can try anywhere, any time

There is good reason that many mindfulness practices involve the breath – we take it everywhere we go! Yoga, Pilates, meditation and tai chi are all breath-based activities you might be familiar with. But did you know that you can tune into any of your senses in a mindful way? Try this simple practice next time you’re feeling a little frazzled, or just need to check in to the present moment.

Start with a long, deep breath. Just notice how it feels to expand the lungs, the rush of air in and out of the airways. Already, this tells the nervous system that we’re safe, and starts to relax the mind.

Next, we are going to observe our environment. Observation is different to thinking, because our thoughts can become noisy and influenced by previous experience. To truly observe something is to bring an attitude of curiosity, as if you were in this body for the very first time. Now, in your head or out loud, start to list to yourself:

  • Five things you can see with your eyes
  • Four things you can feel with your touch receptors in your skin
  • Three things you can hear with your ears
  • Two things you can smell with your nose
  • One thing you can taste with your tongue

Remember, there are no right or wrongs here. It’s your observation, and it just is. Perhaps you can set a daily reminder to do the 5-4-3-2-1, or before you walk into a meeting, or at the end of a busy day. Regardless of your chosen mindfulness habit, it ensures that wherever you go, there you are, and that’s the best place to be!

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