Mindfulness: It’s Not What You Think
By Nat Howard, BA Dip Edu
Mindfulness is all the rage. Mindful eating, mindful moving, mindful sleeping. There’s so much “mindful everything” that it becomes “mindful nothing.”
So let’s get clear on a few things.
Mindfulness has nothing to do with having either a “full” or an “empty” mind. Some minds are naturally wired to be highly internally active. Other minds become active in response to external stimuli. It is not a competition about whose mind is more or less “full” or “empty.”
It’s about awareness. It is not about how much, or even what you think. It’s about noticing what you think, then choosing to do things that enhance your mental, emotional and physical health.
The objective is to step away from the mind, rather than go further into it. To distance yourself from the chatter, self-doubt, stories and criticisms of yourself and others…and all the other hundreds of thoughts that take up our attention and energy every day.
Our mind is not supposed to make us stressed – but it can do that if we are not aware of what it is doing. The purpose of our mind is to solve problems, plan, create, interact and connect. If we don’t take time to separate from our minds, it can go into overdrive trying to create and solve problems that it can’t – trying to change the past, the future, other people, or conditions beyond our control.
So what do we actually want to achieve when we say we want to be “mindful”?
We want to feel calm. Relaxed. Clear. We want to be able to “think straight” so we can use our minds for their intended purpose.
In order to get our minds back on track, we usually have to “get out of them” for a bit. If we keep pushing ourselves to “stick at it” when we’re getting foggy, irritable, stressed or negative, we’re not getting any closer to achieving whatever it is we’re trying to do. We’re really just making it harder.
It is usually our body that signals to us that we’ve been in our mind too long. We feel tired. Sluggish. Stiff. Hungry. Restless. Cranky. Anxious. Defensive. Overwhelmed.
So what do we do when we get the signs?
There’s really just three basic steps to follow…
- Notice how you are feeling.
Are you getting cranky and irritable? Overwhelmed and confused? Anxious and upset? All of our negative and uncomfortable emotions come when we start feeling pressured – and our bodies are telling us it’s getting to be too much. (Pressure doesn’t have to always make us feel bad – If you’re feeling good, it means you’re handling the pressure well, so keep on doing what you’re doing!)
- Notice your thoughts.
What have you been thinking about? While there could be a real circumstance that’s tough, feeling the pressure of it comes from our mind worrying about it, telling us to hurry up, wondering what people think of us, replaying things that happened… When we notice our thoughts we can more easily realise that they are what have made us feel bad. We don’t need to beat ourselves, or anyone else, up over this. We just need to notice. Then keep moving.
- Do something that gets you back in your body.
This can be as simple as taking some deep breaths. It works, even if only for a time, because it shifts your focus away from your thoughts, onto your breath, and back in your body. Breathing doesn’t get your admin finished, the chores done or the disagreement resolved. But that is not the purpose. You’re not trying to solve the problems right now. You’re shifting your focus away from the problems and onto recharging yourself. Then when you return to the issue your mind is better able to navigate and solve it.
If that’s all a bit too philosophical for you, don’t worry. Really, just do something. Do something that’s not the thing you’re stressed about.
What is best for you to do, and when to do it, will depend on your unique biology. This is where personalisation and precision comes into play.
Smashing out some burpees is precisely what will work for certain bodies and minds because it allows for a rapid release of energy. The dynamic movement generates an immediate shift into the central and temporal zones of the brain, which makes the person feel free. For others, this will actively increase their stress due to the rapid plane of movement changes, decreasing their oxygenation and increasing cortisol.
In contrast, sitting in quiet stillness will trigger safety and calm in certain people’s nervous systems. It releases the pressure to manage movement, allowing a shift into the frontal zone of the brain, which creates focus. In other people, this scenario will actually trigger alarm because it means isolation from others and restriction of movement.
This is why even a mindfulness practice must be personalised to a person’s unique biology. Otherwise, what may be intended as “stress reduction” could actually be stress enhancement. Personalised mindfulness tips and techniques, right down to notifications in your optimal timing, are precisely what the Shae™ Suite provides.
To discover how biology influences the mind, and to become a precision health provider, sign up for our industry leading course today.