I’m currently on the Autoimmune Protocol, a nutrient-rich elimination diet that removes foods that irritate the gut, cause gut imbalance and activate the immune system. You can read more about the protocol and why I’m doing this here. And, if you want to know why I’m on the sugar-free version of the Autoimmune Protocol, you can read about that here.
Few of us ever live in the present. We are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone. (Louis L’Amour)
There’s a lot of talk about ‘mindfulness’ floating around the mainstream media these days.
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. Or… or… Just, or.
And, if that is so, I have to admit that it is the one BIG area of this health caper that I particularly struggle with. I worry about EVERYTHING. And, people who know me well are surprised to learn this about me.
So, not only do I worry, I hide it.
I can handle the practical stuff – eat this, don’t eat that; drink more water; get enough sleep; get enough sun; move; play. Let’s face it, I’m a pretty pragmatic kind of girl. Hardly surprising really – my Dad is an accountant and my Mum is German. It’s the slightly more esoteric concepts that I find more difficult. Things like: manage stress.
Sure. Tell me how to do it, and I will…
So, I’ve been on a bit of a 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 tried meditation.
I took a series of personal sessions. And it was great (if somewhat expensive). I would float home.
But, when I tried it by myself, my mind wouldn’t shut up. It doesn’t help that I can think of a million things I’d rather do that just sit and be still. I can honestly say I would rather iron than try to meditate. How sad is that?
I tried yoga.
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 can calling the good energy with a smile.
(Elizabeth Gilbert – From Ketut Liyer, the Balinese healer)
I’m just not a yoga kinda girl. I’ve tried to be. On several occasions, in fact. But, I just haven’t found my ‘yoga groove’.
And, I’m quite jealous of those who have. These tribes of lithe and lycra clad, super flexible peeps who comfortably walk the high street in their exercise gear with their yoga mats rolled and slung over their shoulders are part of a ‘cool crowd’ that just isn’t me. Too self-conscious.
I tried Tai Chi.
Since meditation isn’t my thing and yoga doesn’t seem to be either, I thought perhaps the moving meditation that is tai chi might be more my thing?
Earlier this year, 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 are on hold. I have been investigating an alternative over on this side of the bridge, but I haven’t started anything yet. I miss Alison.
Which brings me to the two tricks 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.
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. That’s 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 to far. Don’t panic if it takes some practice. Just come back to it.
Here in Sydney, we have a number of 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. LM 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.
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. 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 tranquilizer 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, do not be concerned; it will pass.
Once you develop this technique by practicing it every day, it becomes a very useful 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. And, everyone can benefit from it.
If you’d like to see a video of Dr Weil demonstration the 4-7-8 Breath Exercise, just click here.
For me, this 4-7-8 breathing practice is one of the best techniques I have come across for being present and getting mindful. And, when you’re present, you just can’t be worrying about anything. Give it a 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… It seems a little illogical to me that I should need to schedule reminders to be mindful. But, apparently I do. I was doing well with my nose breathing and my 4-7-8 exercises. And then it fell by the wayside. Life got in the way. It has a habit of doing that.
It all came to a bit of a head last week. Here’s an example of how that manifested: I sent a shopping list to my dentist via text message. It wasn’t a particularly long list and fortunately, it was fairly innocuous. Obviously, I didn’t mean to send the shopping list to the lovely peeps at Sydney Holistic Dentists. (They don’t offer to shop for their patients as an extra benefit). The text was meant to go to LM.
Don’t believe me? Here’s the evidence.
It was quite an un-TSL thing to do. And it wasn’t my only brain-addled action last week, either. This whole gut health palaver had clearly been weighing a little more heavily on my mind that I thought.
So now I’m onto ‘Operation Mindfulness’. That means 4-7-8 breathing twice a day, minimum. And, trick #1 when I go walking with Bella.
Let’s see what happens!