Two simple tricks to be more present
It’s an especially fraught December this year. The silly season looks and feels very different to how it usually DOES.
Except for the stress bit. The stress bit remains…
Today, a couple of my favourite tricks to be more present at the pointy end of this weird year we’re all experiencing.
“Few of us ever live in the present. We are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone.” Louis L’Amour
I wrote the first version of this post as Two Simple Tricks to Be Present (Without Resorting to Yoga) way back in July 2014. The two tricks remain a regular part of my mindfulness and stress management toolbox, but I’ve come a long way in my personal AIP caper since then. Some things have evolved and some have changed.
Since the first iteration of this post, I’m dipping my toe back in the moving meditation-thing. I’ve found a new Qi Gong/yoga teacher and I’m looking forward to learning more.
Sadly, Bells no longer comes on my weekend walks in the park with me. At nearly 16, deaf and mostly blind – it’s a smidge too much for her, but she is still as smoochy and stubborn as ever.
What hasn’t changed is my love of quotes! I’m a little less liberal in my use of quotes, now – but I’ve kept the originals here – for old times’ sake.
So then, this is the ever-so-slightly updated version.
We hear a lot of talk about ‘mindfulness’ floating around the mainstream media these days. We in the Autoimmune Protocol community understand just how important this mindfulness (read: stress management) component of the AIP framework can be when it comes to our health.
BUT, WHAT EXACTLY IS MINDFULNESS?
Let’s say we all agree that mindfulness is the mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment, while at the same time acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. That means it’s all about enjoying the moment you’re in right now without worrying about the past. Or, the future. Or, what you’re going to cook for dinner tonight. Or, if what’s-her-name is offended by that thing you said. Or… or… Just, or.
And, if that is so, I (still) have to admit that it is the one BIG area of this health caper that I particularly struggle with. While I no longer worry about EVERYTHING, I’m still very much a work in progress when it comes to this thing called mindfulness.
But, just like seven years ago, people who know me well are surprised to learn this about me.
Not only do I continue to worry more than is healthy, I still hide it, too. Granted, I’m better than I used to be, but I remain a W.I.P.
When it comes to AIP, I’m very good at the practical stuff – eat this, don’t eat that; drink more water; get enough sleep; get enough sun; move; play. Let’s face it, and I’m a pretty pragmatic kind of girl (hardly surprising when you consider my Dad is an accountant and my Mum is German!). It’s the slightly more esoteric concepts that I find more challenging. Things like: manage stress.
SURE. Let ME know HOW TO DO IT, AND I WILL…
I’m on a bit of a permanent personal mission to quieten my mind.
And, if you’re like me and you worry about all manner of stuff, you’ll understand just how difficult this can be.
I continue to Work at MEDITATION.
At the very beginning of my health caper, I took a series of personal meditation sessions. They were great (if somewhat expensive). I would float home.
And, as it is for so many, my chatty mind wouldn’t shut up. It doesn’t help that I can think of a million things I’d rather do than sit and be still. Of course, I know now that I am not alone in this. It is widespread.
I can honestly say I would rather iron than try to meditate (and I wouldn’t say I like ironing), though. How sad is that?
Since that first foray into meditation, I have persevered. I’m now a qualified meditation facilitator (if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!). I have found Metta, or Loving Kindness, meditation to be a great tool to add to my health toolbox. I generally practice a form of this most days.
My mind remains chatty. Just less chatty than it used to be.
I TRIED YOGA
I used to think I just wasn’t a yoga kind of girl. I had tried to be. On more than a few occasions, in fact. But, I just hadn’t found my ‘yoga groove’.
Back then, I even felt quite jealous of those who loved their yoga. These tribes of lithe and lycra-clad, super flexible peeps who could comfortably walk the high street in their exercise gear with their yoga mats rolled and slung over their shoulders, who were part of a ‘cool crowd’ that just wasn’t me. Too self-conscious. Too round. Just ‘too’, really.
“Why they always look so serious in Yoga? You make serious face like this, you scare away good energy. To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver. Practice tonight at hotel. Not to hurry, not to try too hard. Too serious, you make you sick. You calling the good energy with a smile.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
Then I found the wonderful Nicola at Adore Yoga. Nic’ taught me a lot. About the foundational aspects of yoga; about the many different ways to practice yoga; about not worrying about those other lycra-clad yoginis.
As it happens, Nic’ taught me how to meditate, too.
When it comes to finding your yoga groove, it really helps to find the right teacher.
I TRIED TAI CHI
Back in 2014, when meditation wasn’t my thing, and yoga didn’t seem to be either, I thought perhaps the moving meditation that is Tai Chi might be something to try? My research into the health benefits of Tai Chi and Qi Gong had me intrigued at the possibility of combining focused movement with meditation as a way of calming my chatty mind.
The fates delivered me to the wonderfully warm and deliciously quirky Alison of Empower Tai Chi. I started attending her classes of a Monday evening and – because of her, I suspect – was enjoying myself. Tai Chi with Alison was fun. It made me feel good. And, I was getting into it.
But then we moved. And, navigating two Sydney bridges in rush hour traffic seemed counterintuitive to me, given I was trying to manage my stress and all that. So, Alison and her terrific Tai chi classes remained on hold…
…Until very recently when I happened upon the lovely Fiona! At the time of writing, I’ve just had my first combo yoga/Qi Gong session with her. Things are looking up!
WHICH BRINGS ME TO THE TWO TRICKS to be more present that I PROMISED YOU
Mindfulness classes are all very well and good. But what if a girl can’t wait? What if she needs something immediate; Something she can do on the fly? Every day, even?
These two little tricks are mindfulness techniques that anyone can do. Trust me. If I can do them, anyone can.
They’re free and you can do them anywhere, anytime. Best of all, they work.
The only catch is you have to remember to actually do them. I find scheduling time in your diary helps. As does anchoring them to an activity.
TRICK #1 – BREATHE THROUGH YOUR NOSE
The next time you take a walk, commit to breathing through your nose for the duration. In AND out. Don’t even open your mouth. Just give it a go.
THAT’S ALL THERE IS TO IT. THAT’S TRICK #1.
It’s actually harder than it sounds. But, because you have a focus – on your breath – it’s not so easy for your mind to wander too far. Don’t panic if it takes some practice. Just come back to it.
Here in Sydney, we have several fabulous walks around the city. One of my favourites is the Centennial Park circuit. It’s 4 kilometres of parkland and water in the middle of the city. We try and do this every week. David cycles while Bella and I walk. No talking. No iPod. Just me, Bella and my breath. It’s a great way to start the day on a Sunday.
TRICK #2 – DR ANDREW WEIL’S 4-7-8 BREATHING EXERCISE
I have long been a fan of Dr Andrew Weil and his functional approach to health. Pre-AIP, even! The way he marries Eastern and Western attitudes to health appeals to me and I have a number of his books on my shelf.
Dr Weil’s 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) exercise is also simple, free and can be done anywhere (although it is recommended you sit with your back straight when you are learning the exercise.)
Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
You always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is what is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases.
According to Dr Weil, this exercise is a natural tranquilliser for the nervous system. It certainly feels like one. He advises to do it at least twice a day. More if you want (or feel the need). He also advises not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little light-headed when you first breathe this way, don’t be concerned; it will pass.
Once you develop this technique by practising it every day, it becomes a handy tool that you will always have with you.
Use it whenever anything upsetting happens – before you react.
Use it whenever you are aware of internal tension.
Use it to help you fall asleep.
If you’d like to see a video of Dr Weil demonstration the 4-7-8 Breath Exercise, click here.
For me, this 4-7-8 breathing practice, along with legs up the wall, is one of the best techniques I have come across for getting present FAST.
When YOU’RE PRESENT, YOU JUST CAN’T BE WORRYING ABOUT ANYTHING. GIVE THESE TWO SIMPLE TRICKS TO BE PRESENT GO. WHAT HAVE YOU GOT TO LOSE?
THE FIRST RULE ABOUT BEING MINDFUL IS TO BE MINDFUL ABOUT BEING MINDFUL!
A wee piece of advice (that remains relevant!)… It seems a little illogical to me that I should need to schedule reminders to be mindful. But, apparently, I (still) do.
Back in 2014, I was doing well with my nose breathing and my 4-7-8 exercises. And then it all fell by the wayside. Life got in the way.
SPOILER ALERT: LIFE HAS A HABIT OF DOING THAT; GETTING IN THE WAY OF YOUR MINDFULNESS PRACTICE.
It still happens to me after all this time. (It’s one of the reasons I continue to do my own AIP Resets with such frequency.)
When it comes to prioritising mindfulness – and the benefits to your health indicate that we should all be doing this – the best way to make it happen is to schedule it.