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Stress busting

The value of mindfulness

Many of us live very high energy lives, we rush around, barely catching other people’s eyes, irritated if we are kept waiting, always in a hurry.

And then, at the end of the day we flop in front of the television and snooze the evening through. We might catch a bit of the news or a programme we particularly like. But how often, I wonder, do we shout at the screen rather than talk to one another?

And then we wonder why we don’t feel very well. Why we suffer from headaches, or stiff shoulders, why we get angry for no good reason. Why life no longer seems as colourful and mysterious as it did when we were children.

Certainly it is important to eat good food, to go to bed at a reasonable time, to take enough exercise and breathe clean air.

But it is also really useful to know when to stop. And what to do to lower our stress levels.

Mindfulness has been used for hundreds of years in communities and by individuals to bring oneself into a calm, centred place. And more recently it has been found to be very beneficial, not just as a spiritual practice, but also to improve physical and psychological health and well-being.

Mindfulness does require self-discipline, but it is also really enjoyable. Even if you only have ten or fifteen minutes to spare each day, even if you can’t commit to a daily practice, it is still worth having a go and treating yourself to a regular period of mindfulness.

You don’t need any special equipment. Just turn off the phone and find somewhere comfortable to sit where you won’t be disturbed.

There are many mindfulness techniques, but I find the easiest is just to focus on my breath. I don’t attempt to change my breathing, I just notice the air going in and out of my body. Sometimes I focus on my nose or mouth, sometimes on my ribs, it doesn’t really matter which.

Gradually, I find that my breathing gets deeper and it feels so wonderful to be conscious of something I have been doing all my life, from the moment I was born, and which I will continue doing until the moment of my death. In and out, whether it is with awareness or not.

Of course my mind does wander. Sometimes I get caught up in a train of thought that takes me far from my breath.

And as soon as I realise what has happened, I just bring my attention back to the breath. Again and again, as often as required. Without any judgement.

And when I have finished, I can feel my shoulders are no longer up round my ears, that my stomach has relaxed, that all the muscles in my face have softened. I feel really calm, but my mind is sharp, much sharper and clearer than before.