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When life gets on top of you, do you find yourself feeling mentally crowded, physically tense or emotionally unstable? Often this comes with a sense that we are lacking the space to just ‘be.’
It is at such times that we most commonly switch into auto-pilot behaviours such as snapping at people, eating a poor diet, not exercising or developing chronic physical tension.
The irony is that whilst we may think we are too busy for change, now is the time to press pause before exhaustion sets in and we become less productive or worse still, have to take time out due to illness.
In this two part post, I am going to offer some ideas as to how you can manage your well-being when life is frantic by cultivating a sense of spaciousness.
This month I recommend the 3 Step Breathing Space as a first port of call. This practice invites curiosity into habitual tendencies of mind, helps reduce auto-pilot behaviours and connects us to the body as a way of informing us about our state of mind. This cyclical or hourglass practice opens us up to present moment experiences; the more frequently it is called upon as a resource, the sooner we learn to recognise and switch off auto-pilot.
Read through the instructions and then try it out:
STEP 1 Check in with your thoughts, emotions and sensations in the moment. See yourself through a wide-angled lens to take in how each is a response to the other.
For example, you might be generally feeling pressured and wishing you had more time. You probably find yourself less patient than usual. It is likely that your thoughts go hand in hand with emotions such as anger or frustration. These emotions might manifest as physical sensations like tightening in the throat because we do not feel heard or knotting in the stomach.
Pay close attention to each in turn and to the patterns that weave through.
STEP 2 Your anchor. The term anchor is used to narrow your focus of attention to one thing that holds you in the present moment. Most commonly and easily is the breath. Choose one aspect of breathing to begin with, such as the air entering your nostrils or the rise and fall of your chest or belly.
It may take some time before the thoughts subside. Perhaps you drift from one thought to another with barely a moments space between. What is important is when you do notice that you are thinking, to simply acknowledge the fact and gently guide the attention back to the breath. Try not to judge yourself when you notice the mind thinking; this is a very natural human behaviour.
STEP 3 Once you feel more settled in the present, widen your focus again to take in the thoughts, emotions, sensations and include the sounds around you. Notice how you can focus on your breathing but equally be aware of the comings and goings of the mind. Thoughts, emotions, sensations, sounds are transient unless we choose to cling to them.
By dropping in to the 3 Step Breathing Space frequently throughout your day, you can step away from the clinging and perhaps find yourself some mental space to continue with better focus, concentration and clarity. It isn’t easy when you are new to this, but with practice you can find yourself pressing pause more easily and resetting your current mental state to one that is more spacious.
Next month I will write about ways in which we can address the physical tension and emotional instability.
If you would like to work with me in support of finding more space in your life, please email directly.
Ever since completing my training in Yoga Therapy for the Mind with The Minded Institute, I have considered myself to be cured of mental illness. But lately I have had to accept that I will never be fully cured of my particular mental illness. It is triggered by stress and even though I advocate that yoga and mindfulness practices are life-long when managing mental illness, stress has a way of blocking them out for me and like every human, I get overwhelmed by the stress and put those practices at the back of the list of jobs to be done. Because in my head, if I tick off all the other jobs that I believe to be causing the stress, I will cope better. But this is rarely the case.
Taking a week off afforded me the time to rest, recuperate and regroup; to prioritise my practices again and therefore my well-being. Consequently I found the space I required to set up strategies that should keep me on the straight and narrow.
I found wisdom from the young that week. The coordinator of the Sussex Oakleaf Youth Mental Health group that I volunteer for 'BeOk', constructed a list of 5 ways to well-being. These are:
Connecting. Learning. Being Active. Noticing. Giving.
Connecting with family, friends, colleagues and community satisfies a human need of feeling valued and close to others. Connection can also be felt for some through religion, spirituality and nature. In the group we drew mind-maps of things that cultivated connection for us. Other than those mentioned above, examples were communication, reliance, sharing, trust, honesty, love, safety, grounding etc...
This was only the first step on our journey to exploring the 5 ways of well-being together. I find the intelligence, honesty and wisdom of these young men and women incredibly humbling.
Next on the list is Learning. During the BeOk sessions, we have discussed in the past how exams put too much pressure on those of us whose memories have been affected by mental health. But there is always something to learn that can be done just for the fun or fascination of it such as a new skill. Continued learning enhances self esteem and encourages social interaction. Setting goals can be a great way to achieve a sense of well-being.
Being Active is vital for health in general. Regular activity is associated with lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression and is essential for slowing age-related cognitive decline.
Noticing the things around you comes under the umbrella of mindfulness; simply being more present and attentive to whatever you are doing or whoever you are speaking to. Savoring the moment; eating lunch without looking at your phone for example, hearing the words another is saying are ways to help you appreciate the important things in life and in turn, to make positive choices based on your own values.
Giving time to others is incredibly rewarding and helps to create connections. Acts of kindness to a friend, neighbor, community group or charity are more likely to make you feel happy!
I have found that the best strategy for me to cultivate well-being is to be organised. I used to be more organic in the way my days evolved but I found it was too easy to be lazy. So I set myself daily goals, ticking off at least two of five ways to well-being. And it feels good!