Saturday, September 2, 2017

Mindfulness



My morning walks are something like a meditation time. When I first starting walking regularly I would bring along an audio book or my French lessons and I found that I hated it — I couldn’t focus on the walk or the book. Instead I focus on the walk itself, and it’s much more pleasurable and relaxing that way.

First I focus on my feet, how I’m placing them. This will sound silly but it’s actually necessary for me. A couple of years ago the pain in my right foot became so bad that I finally went to a doctor and he put me in physical therapy for a few months. Turns out that the weeks I spent walking in a cast after breaking my foot when I was five years old caused me to develop bad habits, and the years of that gait caused damage to my foot, my ankle, my knees, hips, back, and neck! So the first thing I do is make sure that I’m planting that foot the way I should be and pushing off correctly.

Then I spend a bit of time noticing my hips and lower back, checking for correct posture and muscle usage. Then I move up to my upper back, neck, and shoulders, making sure they’re correct and relaxed, so that my chest is open and relaxed and I’m breathing properly. Then I cycle through again to make sure I haven’t lost anything along the way.

CS Lewis said, “When you put the feet right, everything else comes right.” 😀

This sounds time-consuming, and it was at first, but while I’m concentrating on my gait, posture, and breathing, I’m also taking in the look of the ground and noticing whether it shows signs of recent rain or wind. I’m smelling the air and feeling the temperatures. I’m listening to the birds and other animals and to the sound of the wind in the trees. I’m looking up at the sky and noticing the color and whether there are any clouds and what they’re like.

Nowadays focusing on my own body has become easy enough that it doesn’t take much attention or energy, so I have more of that for simply noticing the creation and letting my thoughts wander to whatever I want to think about.

There’s a specific technique that I had learned before all of this came up, and I think it’s why focusing on all those things came fairly easily for me. It’s counting your breaths. This sounds dumb, but it’s actually pretty hard.

Go sit or lie someplace quiet with no distractions. Then breathe in to a slow 3-count and out the same way. Count in your head, if possible, so you can keep your body as quiet and relaxed as possible. At the end of each cycle, count that as 1 breath (keeping count on my fingers works best for me). Try to get all the way to 10 without thinking of anything else. If any other thought intrudes itself, push it out and start over counting.

The goal is to be able to count to 100 (ten 10s) while maintaining that level of focus. It took me weeks and weeks to get there, but it’s worth it! Especially if you have an annoying dental procedure coming up and don’t like using the laughing gas. 😉

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(This post was originally a comment at Joy’s blog.)

8 comments :

  1. Mindfulness for the win! I've been pursuing this approach aggressively for the past few years, and the improvements in my life have been dramatic (and sometimes unexpected), even though I am still taking baby steps.

    I think folks would be less wary of mindfulness if they viewed it as a practice for engaging with the world as it actually is, not as we wish it was.

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    1. You're the one who taught me to think of it that way. I spend so much time inside my head -- reading books, thinking about books, talking about books, writing about books -- that I NEED to get outside of my head. It's kind of funny that "mindfulness" is a way of getting outside of yourself and into physical reality.

      But it reminds me of Jim Elliot's famous words: "Wherever you are, be all there."

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  2. I'm going to try this out this week while I have some extra down time.

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    1. It's a skill that carries over to lots of different areas.

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  3. It sounds like this approach has been really beneficial for you both physically and mentally/spiritually, and it's one I've also seen advocated by others whom I respect and admire. I do listen to podcasts, audiobooks, and music while walking, but it's more restful and restorative to let my mind wander—as long as it's doing so creatively, and not spinning around like a hamster on a wheel, which often happens when I'm anxious. Mindfully focusing on the world around me can be challenging, but also very rewarding. Like you, recently I've found that I need to work at being more aware, and more constantly aware, of my physical body—my posture and alignment—in order to stand and move in healthy ways.

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    1. Oh, man, being anxious -- I hate it when I can't get my brain to shut up! The breathing exercises really help with that a lot, when I remember to do them.

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  4. Excellent advice!
    It really does take mental focus for me to execute a jog/walk, including some phrases like *keep going* and *you can do it* lol

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  5. This is the method I use when I have to have an MRI. It is the only way to get through without panicking!

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