Call off the search! We share simple exercises that’ll help you to unwind, with the help of Stephanie Brooks
First you tried exercising, then you dedicated an hour of your evenings to warm baths, before turning to camomile tea, yet nothing seemed to still the chatter of your mind. You’re not alone. The world has adopted a ‘harder, bigger, stronger’ approach to life that conditions us to work at a super-fast pace.
Our minds are constantly being stimulated; even when we think we’re relaxing, more often than not, we aren’t. After a busy day focusing on getting our daily duties done as quickly as possible, we slump onto the sofa for a little relaxation, switching on the TV and instinctively tapping into our smart phones or tablets. This is our view of ‘down time’. But there’s one niggling problem – the presence of electrical devices that tease your mind to continue whirring. True relaxation can be found by taking time to practice mindfulness.
And, the simplest way of doing that is to meditate. The best thing is it can be quick, easy and it’s free – hurrah! Author of Meditation Made Easy, Stephanie Brookes shares super easy meditations to help get you started…
Counting the breaths is a classic exercise to add to your repertoire, as it’s simple and enables you to establish a sense of calm by narrowing your attention
1 Allow yourself to settle down into a comfortable seated position. Close your eyes so you can focus and concentrate on your breathing. As soon as you start to feel calm and settled, progress to the counting step.
2 Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, say the number ‘one’ in your head – or audibly if you so choose. If you do decide to speak aloud, allow the words to be soft, calm and spoken in time and rhythm with your exhalation. As soon as you have said the first number, continue all the way through to 10. Once you have reached this number, simply go back to the beginning and continue the process.
3 The repetitive nature of this meditation is key. Once you focus on the count you narrow your attention even further. Remember that, when it comes to meditation, it’s not all about quantity but quality, so allow it to be as long or as short as is required; be guided by what you feel is right.
Mindful listening is an effective way of giving our complete attention to people and can strengthen those relationships most important to us, by improving the quality and depth of the interactions we have with others
● Before meeting up with someone, enjoy a few moments alone to bring your attention to your breathing. You can start the mindful listening process by posing a few questions to yourself. When did you first get to know each other? What are the qualities that drew you to this person? Why are they special to you? This will help you glean a better understanding of the relationship you have built up over time.
● As soon as you meet, let the conversation flow as it normally would, allowing your mindful approach to come to the fore. Notice the mood and body language of the person you are talking to. Are they talking quickly or slowly? Are they happy and engaged, or perhaps quieter and more reflective than usual? Giving your full attention allows you to adapt to the conversation as it unfolds, and also creates a space of understanding, because you are fully aware of the other person’s needs at this time.
● As you converse, briefly pause before forming your response or answer – this isn’t for dramatic effect, it simply allows you to think about your choice of words rather than letting sentences spill from your mouth. It’s easy to become blasé in conversation with people we know. So if we can be present in what we are saying, our responses will likely be more thoughtful and considered.
● If during the conversation you feel a strong urge to interject with your opinion, just allow the impulse to pass and let whoever is speaking finish their train of thought. Respond when you have taken the time to really hear what they have said.
This meditation is simple and can be carried out easily wherever you happen to be. It’s all about a willingness to be in the moment and experience whatever comes your way
1 In a comfortable seated position, with your hands nestled in your lap or resting on your knees, bring your attention to your breathing and follow its gentle rhythm. Place a hand on your chest and notice how it rises and falls as you inhale and exhale. Gently close your eyes and think about how your skin feels under the palm of your hand.
2 Focus now on how your clothes feel against your skin: are they soft and loose, allowing greater freedom in the meditation, or do they feel more restrictive? Are you wearing jewellery? Think about its weight and how it falls on your body.
3 Narrow your awareness to focus on how your body is feeling in this very moment. Where are you sitting? Are you warm or have you noticed a draft? Begin to expand your awareness to the room around you and your presence within the space.
4 Consider what is happening outside the room. Can you detect the footsteps and chatter from passers by? If something enters your mind, acknowledge it by saying: ‘I am aware that you are there’. This can be more useful than simply shutting down the thought, because it dissolves any internal struggle.
5 Become aware of your emotions as you continue through the meditation, paying attention to whatever feelings occur. Resist the temptation to analyse your thoughts, instead allow yourself to just be in the moment.
6 Focus your attention back to the rise and fall of your chest and the rhythm of your breathing. Once you feel ready to finish your meditation, gently open your eyes.
These meditations were adapted from Stephanie Brooke’s book, Meditation Made Easy (£12.99, CICO Books).