A patient arrived at the clinic the other evening. She looked exhausted.
“I can’t even remember how I got here”, she said. “I must just be on auto-pilot”.
I showed her into the treatment room at once, sensing it was time for her to relax.
Many patients talk about being so busy that often they run their entire day on autopilot – whether it’s being a busy parent or working in an office.
For me, when I hear someone talk about “being on autopilot”, it means they’re not able to cope with a dozen balls in the air or multi-task. It means they might not be focused, present, or fully ‘there’ in the moment.
When you’re in a state of mindlessness, it means that you’ve completely stopped listening to your body; you’re simply going through the motions of everyday life; you’re checking the boxes to get things done; and you’re becoming more susceptible to stress and anxiety.
For many years I have followed the writings of Jon Kabat-Zinn – a world-renowned teacher of mindfulness and stress reduction. He defines mindfulness as “paying attention; on purpose; in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”.
When I tell my patients to breathe and listen to their bodies, it’s much about being conscious and in the moment – it’s a practice of mindfulness.
We spend so much time thinking about things that have already happened, or worrying about things that might happen in the future, that often we actually forget to appreciate or enjoy the moment.
Mindfulness is a way of bringing us back to experience life as it happens, in the moment. It helps clear your head and make you more aware of yourself and your body; it helps slow down your thoughts and your nervous system; and it helps you to concentrate, relax and manage stress.
When practicing mindfulness we’re not aiming to control or suppress or stop our thoughts. We simply aim to pay attention to our experiences as they arise without judging or labelling them in any way.
With its roots in Buddhist meditation, some people practice the technique through yoga. However you can clean your kitchen mindfully, brush your teeth mindfully, stand in the train mindfully, or go for your morning walk mindfully.
Any routine activity can be made into a mindfulness practice when you bring your full attention to it.
Mindfulness simply means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.
Remember there is no “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or worrying about the future.
To experience the true power of mindfulness, take a deep breath and focus on the present moment. Try not to think about anything that went on earlier today or that might be coming up tomorrow. Concentrate on what’s happening around you.
Remember not to be judgmental about anything you notice, or label things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The Heart and the Belly don’t make these distinctions, only the mind does. Have fun with it!