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Wellbeing

4 Simple Ways to Feel Calmer Today

04 Jul 2022 | Written by By Catherine Nasskau

Does it ever seem that the same sorts of things always happen to you?
Or that you always seem to react in the same way?
By the time we’re adults, most of us have developed deep-rooted beliefs about ourselves and the world, which cause us to respond in particular ways to situations throughout our lives.
The good news is that it is possible to change the way our brains work. Just as we can do physical exercises to strengthen our bodies and develop new physical skills, we can also exercise our brains and develop new ways of thinking, which can help us lead happier and more fulfilling lives.
We can improve things like memory and attention, and also our ability to calm ourselves down when feeling strong emotions like anxiety or anger.

Neuroplasticity

It was in 1948 that the word ‘neuroplasticity’ was used by a Polish scientist to describe how we can alter the structure of our brains. 
Put simply, neuroplasticity is the ability of your brain to change its physical form and the way it functions.
Although our brains are more flexible in childhood and plasticity declines with age, science has confirmed that we can still access neuroplasticity for positive change at any age.
Doing so as an adult requires intentional effort, but it can definitely be accomplished. This is helpful for people who want to improve how they respond to situations and experience life.

Training our Puppy Minds

When doing mindfulness meditations, and focusing on something like the breath or sensations in the body, it’s easy to feel we’re doing it wrong or not very well when our minds wander. However, it is precisely when we notice our mind has wandered off, and we choose to let those thoughts or feelings go, returning our focus to whatever we had planned to focus on, that we strengthen our ‘mindfulness muscle’.
Every time the mind wanders and we bring it back, we’re developing our ability to stay steady and grounded in difficult times. Moments of mind wandering can be welcomed as opportunities to strengthen our ability to stay calm and to enjoy things more. 

Our minds are like puppies – wandering off on their own, bringing back things we don’t want and making messes! Mind-wandering is completely natural and beneficial; it promotes creativity and problem-solving. But it can be a problem when we’re trying to concentrate, make a rational decision or sleep.
Just like training a puppy, with patience, repetition and kindness, we can train our minds. As part of The Joy Club’s theme this month on exercise, I thought I’d share some simple mindfulness exercises you can do to give your brain a workout! 

Brain Workouts – with Kindness, Curiosity and Patience

Early morning breaths

  • Before you get out of bed, take five deep breaths, feeling the sensations in your body; then let your breath return to normal, and focus on five more.
  • When your mind wanders away, simply bring it back to feeling the breath, with kindness and patience.
  • You could count the breaths, perhaps thinking ‘Breathing in’ as you do so, and ‘One’ as you breathe out; followed by ‘Breathing in’ and ‘Two’ on the out-breath; and so on up to ten.
  • You might imagine you can follow the air coming in through the nose down to the lungs and then out again. Or imagine the lungs as a balloon inflating and deflating, or as if the breaths are waves on a beach.

 

Brushing Your Teeth

  • We don’t usually focus on the experience of brushing our teeth. But this regular activity is a perfect chance to practise mindfulness. It can be a meditation in itself!
  • Maybe notice what the toothbrush feels like in your hand. What does the toothpaste look and smell like? What does it taste like? How does the brush feel on your teeth and tongue? What sounds can you hear? And when your mind wanders off, simply come back to the sensations in your mouth.

 

Walking

  • When you walk, even if it is just in your home, see if you can bring awareness down to your feet. Notice sensations in the soles of your feet as you move. Can you feel your heels or toes? Any sounds? Notice what your legs are doing to help you move.
  • You could extend this to notice what you can see, touch, smell and hear? Research shows that moving (specifically walking) and mindfulness together help alleviate stress and anxiety.

 

Hot drink

  • Another good way to practise coming to the present moment, and allowing our thoughts and feelings to be in the background, is when we’re having a hot drink.
  • Hear the sounds of the kettle, perhaps look at the tea or coffee in your cup, explore any steam. What does the cup feel like if you close your eyes?
  • See if you can do it without distractions, using it as a ‘push-up’ exercise for the mind, without the radio, or reading or looking at an electronic device. Just sit. Know that you are sitting, know that you are drinking.
  • Curiosity is a great quality to help us rest in the present moment. What do you taste and smell? Can you drink each cup as if you have never had it before?!
  • Every time you have other thoughts – as you will – you can either come straight back to your drink or take a moment to acknowledge the thought. Perhaps saying ‘Hello thought’. Or labelling what type of thought it was, such as ‘Planning’, ‘Worrying’, ‘Ruminating’ or ‘Judging’, and then bring your attention back to your actual experience.

 

Routine activities – cheaper than a gym membership!

Virtually any activity can be an opportunity to have a quick mindfulness practice – although I don’t recommend you do this when driving. But you can bring a mindful awareness and a friendly curiosity to activities like eating, washing up, taking the rubbish bin out, brushing your hair, ironing, having a bath or shower, cooking or cleaning. Bring awareness to your senses and make the most of these chances to train your mind and feel more relaxed. You might find pleasure and interest in surprising places!

 

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently,

 as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves –

 slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”


Thich Nhat Hanh


Do share your reflections in the comments below. Have you tried any of the techniques Catherine has shared?  Let us know how you got on.

Catherine regularly runs live mindfulness classes at The Joy Club, find out more about joining her next session here. 

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