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Mindful activities let you get into a meditative state, and that helps you lower your stress. They don’t have to be exotic or hard to do. Rhythm helps you settle down into an activity, but it could be anything you can do on semi-automatic. You just let your muscles do the work and let your mind go. Mindfulness and activities can feel natural paired together and benefit you mentally and physically.
Mindfulness and activities
What brings you fully into the moment? Mindfulness. Your usual thoughts about everything but what you’re doing hush, and you are fully engaged in your activity. Mindfulness is pretty much the opposite of multitasking, where you’re cooking dinner while talking on the phone with the TV going, for example.
So mindful activities are sought after to help you just be, as you do one thing and quit thinking about what to wear Saturday, when to pick up your dry cleaning and why the dog is puking again. All those little worries get shoved to the side for a while. Don’t worry; they won’t go far. You’ll hear from them again later.
To get mindful, your main job is to notice what you are doing and get into it. Say you are peeling an orange. Do you bite into the skin or cut it with a knife? Smell it, watch any mist coming from it as you first try to pull the skin off. Feel the difference between the outside and the inside of the skin. After the skin is off, separate the sections. Savor each one as you eat them. (This mindful activity was used to calm concert goers who didn’t handle LSD well and got scared.)
If getting into peeling and eating oranges isn’t a big attraction, try something with rhythm. Dance to a good tune, really move with the rhythm, feel your body do the motions of the dance and think about the dance while it’s going on.
People who do rhythmic activities say they fall into mindfulness while doing various things like knitting, spinning yarn, or weaving. The repetitive actions in these activities have a rhythm of their own. If you’re knitting something with a pattern, the pattern changes periodically so you have to be awake and aware or it turns into a mess. Mindful knitting puts you into a state where keeping track is what you do to make it beautiful.
TV knitting isn’t really mindful knitting. If you’re doing something while watching television, you’re really not doing anything well, let’s face it. Knitters make the distinction between TV knitting, which is the easy, repetitive kind; and knitting you have to pay exclusive attention to. Mindful knitting helps you do a good job on the more challenging jobs.
What other activities can be mindful?
You can do lots of things mindfully. An adept can probably do anything mindfully, but we’re just starting here.
Going with the rhythm thing, we can start out with walking. It has a rhythm and people do it all the time, mostly not mindfully once they have the hang of it. It’s just how to get around.
But mindful walking includes so much more than just putting one foot in front of the other. Smell the air as you move through it. Feel it as you go, whether there’s a breeze or not. Notice how humid it is or isn’t. Feel the sun on you if it’s out. Feel the surface you walk on, and your body in motion. What’s around you? Are you among trees or people? Gather impressions as you go, paying attention to traffic if you cross the street.
With all that going on, how can you be nagged by other concerns?
You can try being mindful while riding bicycle or horseback as well. You can even be mindful on a plane or train. Trains are very nice for it with their rhythmic clacking down the track.
For those of us who are bedeviled by intrusive thoughts at bedtime, let me mention mindful bedtime practices such as breathing and relaxation.
Mindful breathing is just being aware of your breath. You can, once you’re settled, do things to slow it down a bit. This gives you a task and gets your body ready for sleep. Imagine that you’re at the seashore and when you breathe in, the water is rushing off the beach into the ocean. When you breathe out, the wave breaks and runs up the beach. Imagine the waves as you breathe them up and down the beach.
Those who like the numbers might prefer the 4-7- 8 breathing sequence. You breathe in to the count of 4, hold your breath for the count of 7, and exhale for the count of 8. It’s supposed to cue your body to calm down and get ready to rest.
Progressive relaxation helps you shed the tensions built up in your body so you can sleep. Starting with your face, tense your muscles, hold, and relax. Then go on to the next set, going from head to feet tensing, holding and relaxing. Just pay attention to doing it and how it feels after.
Mindfulness and activities for your nerves
Mindful breathing can help you with nervousness any time. Have to do public speaking? Prepare the best you can and then, before going to the podium, work on slowing your breath so your body won’t be freaked out, and then do your speech.
Crowds not your cup of tea? If you find yourself in a grocery store on the night before Thanksgiving, breathe slowly and deeply as you get what you need and make your way out again. The idea is to center on your breath so you don’t think stuff like “Oh God, what am I doing here? I’m going to have a panic attack!” Then you can stay in control, paying attention to keeping your body quietened down, so you can get out without having a panic attack.
Practice makes perfect
Mindful activities are a gateway to very useful skills. If you can walk mindfully, or knit mindfully, you can also breathe mindfully and cope with anxiety better. You can help yourself get to sleep before a stressful day.
Like any new skill, you’ll have to practice to get the feel of mindfulness in different activities. Pay attention to what you’re doing and keep at it. Start with one activity and branch out gradually. Even if you don’t need to hone your skills to fight off panic, you will notice the difference in how it feels to take a walk. Who knows? You might like doing without the random noise in your head.
Have you any experience with mindful activities? Please share!