Mindfulness and home-working support for employers – Coronavirus:
Coronavirus has driven many employees into a home-working situation. The current Coronavirus outbreak is set to last for many months and during this time we encourage employers to help their staff, who can then enable others to manage the stresses and strains that will occur over time in the household. Skills Focus are responding to this situation with additional resources for employers to help their Mental Health First Aiders and other key workers within their staff to help people manage their situation and any anxieties that may develop.
We will be introducing more bite-sized techniques to support Mental Health First Aiders in your business or help train some key staff to be the central point others can turn to in these difficult times. Mindfulness is such an effective tool to use to maintain our positive thought patterns and optimistic outlook when life seems very uncertain. We will look at routines, organisation, managing stress and maintaining team performance during this time. To begin with, we have 5 simple ways that we can all introduce some mindfulness to our work day.
Mindful Grounding Exercise
This exercise helps you to connect with the moment and natural energies around you when you find yourselves stressed, preoccupied and out of touch.
Take off your shoes and stand with your bare feet firmly on the ground, slightly apart. Allow your feet to really feel the support of the ground and the earth underneath you Take a few moments to settle and find a relaxed posture.
Allow your head to sit upright, facing straight ahead, but relaxed. Allow your back to relax. Next, as you breathe in, allow your in-breath to fill your chest and abdominal area and notice the air as it leaves on the out-breath Now place your attention firstly on your feet, and then on the earth beneath your feet. Just feel the earth.Imagine that your feet have invisible roots pushing down into the earth. Push these roots as far as you can go. Imagine now that your roots are contacting the fresh green energy of the earth. Allow this fresh energy to rise up through the roots into your feet. Now allow the earth energy up through your feet into your legs, up into your pelvis, belly and abdomen. And then allow the earth energy to course through your chest, heart and neck and shoulder area. Now imagine this energy entering through the top of your head into your face, neck and shoulders, then flowing down into your chest and meeting up with the earth energy at the place of the heart. Just spend a few minutes being aware of the connection between the energies as they resonate in your body.
How did you find this exercise? What did you notice?
Mindful movement allows us to tune into the body, learning and becoming aware of sensations within the body as it moves; exploring its limits and paying attention to the information the body gives us. Another way of practicing mindful movement is to pay attention to the activity of walking, and to turn this into a mindfulness practice or meditation. When we practice walking meditation, we do not need to be going anywhere, and it can be helpful to let go of any sense of a destination or a purpose to the walking.
Walking meditation is a key mindfulness practice which helps us to engage fully with our lives. It is a practice which connects us to ourselves, to nature, to each other and to all of life. When we practice walking meditation we practice bringing awareness to the whole experience of walking: the lifting and placing of the feet, the sensations of the soles of the feet touching the ground, with shifting sensations of pressure and touch; the shift in balance of the body from one side to the next; the movements throughout the whole body as we move; the flowing of the breath. There will also be awareness of the space in which we move, the varying surfaces upon which we step, the touch of the air on our skin, the changing views and sounds and smells coming through our senses: moment to moment experiences, constantly flowing and changing.
There will be moments throughout the day when we will notice that our mind has wandered into thinking, perhaps distracted by some other sensory experiences, or by some inner thought activities. Just as we would in the other mindfulness practices, we bring awareness to the fact that we are distracted, and gently bring our awareness back to the walking:….lifting and placing; lifting and placing; breathing in and breathing out. We can let our body do the walking, trusting that the body knows what to do – we do not need to guide it with the mind. We can just allow the mind to observe and the gently notice the changing flow of experience. We can simply enjoy our walking.
Walking meditation can be practiced slowly and purposefully, and can involve choosing a path where we may walk back and forth or in a circle. We can bring awareness to the most subtle movements involved in walking. It can also be practiced at a natural pace where we can bring more awareness to a sense of movement in space and the energy of the body as we move. There may be other times when we can choose to bring awareness to walking when we are simply going about our lives: walking down the corridors in our place of work; walking in the front room, the garden, through safe open spaces. When life gets back to normal, we can do this in the car park on the way into the office; walking to our terminal at the airport; walking though a busy high street or down the aisles in the supermarket. We can help ourselves to stay present in the mundane aspects of our lives which we may otherwise regard as uninteresting or frustrating.
Mindful eating is purposefully eating with attention. Mindful eating involves paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking, both inside and outside the body. Eating is a natural, healthy, and pleasurable activity for satisfying hunger. However, in our food-abundant culture, eating is often mindless, consuming, and guilt-inducing instead.
Mindful eating is eating with purpose, because we are hungry and to give our body what it needs for fuel. Eating with the attention is noticing and enjoying your food and its effects on your body. Therefore to eat mindfully gives us a greater awareness of our physical and emotional cues for eating and helps us recognise triggers that are not related to hunger; thus allowing us to meet our actual needs in more effective ways than by using food.
To eat mindfully, we pay attention to the colours, smells, textures, flavours, temperatures, and the sounds of our food. We pay attention to the experience of the body as we eat and notice where in the body we feel hunger and satisfaction. We also pay attention to the mind, whilst avoiding judgement or criticism, by noticing when the mind gets distracted and pulls away from full attention to what we are eating or drinking. We watch the impulses that arise after we have taken a few sips or bites (to do something else e.g. to turn on the TV etc) and notice the impulse and return to just eating.
We notice how eating affects our mood and how our emotions like anxiety influence our eating. Lasting change takes time, and is built on many small changes, however mindful eating is a powerful tool for developing a healthier, happier relationship with food.
Practice Activity – Mindful Eating
Choose an item of food. Take a moment just to notice and observe it. Explore it with your senses, like an observer from another planet would. First, take time to visually explore it with your full attention. Let your eyes explore every part of it, examining the detail of each aspect of it, noticing perhaps what you have not noticed before.
Then, pick up a piece of food with your fingers. Feel it between your fingers, explore its texture, (perhaps with your eyes closed if that enhances your sense of touch). Take in the detail of it. Then, hold the piece of food beneath your nose and take in the smell of it with each inhalation. Notice the quality of the scents that arise from it. Notice also how the smell affects your body, what sensations or experiences do you have in your mouth or stomach as you smell the food?
Now slowly bring the the food to your lips, noticing how your hand and arm know exactly how and where to position it. Gently place the piece of food in your mouth. Without chewing, spend a few moments exploring the sensations of having it in your mouth, exploring it with your tongue. When you are ready, prepare to chew the piece of food, notice what you do with your tongue as you prepare to chew. Then, take one or two bites into it and notice what happens. Experience the taste of it as you chew and how this changes or differs as you continue to chew. Take a few more moments to notice this and any other changes that occur, before swallowing.
See if you can notice when you feel the urge to swallow, before swallowing. Then swallow. See if you can feel what is left of the food as it moves down into your stomach. Notice how your body as a whole feels after you swallow the food. If at any point during this exercise, your mind wanders, simply notice this has occurred and bring your attention back to the food without judgement.
Homework Activity – Eat a mindful meal. What did you notice? Record you experiences in your journal.
Mindfulness of Urges & Cravings – Practice Exercise
Sit with back unsupported in a chair or on a cushion on the floor. Centre your attention by bringing it to focus on your breathing. Notice the rise and fall of your chest or abdomen. Don’t try to change it in any way, just observe it. Notice the passage of air through your nose, notice how it feels, the coolness and its passage down into your lungs. Notice your lungs expanding and falling. Just sit with that for a few moments, observing. If your mind wanders, just notice it has wandered and bring your attention back to your breathing. Now imagine you are scanning your body from the top of your head right down to your toes, this might be in the form of a beam of light.
Slowly observe as you scan, becoming aware of how each part of your body feels, notice any urges or sensations as you scan. Wait for any sense of discomfort.
How does your stomach feel – is it gurgling?
Notice perhaps any itches that you feel the urge to scratch. Just notice and observe these. Note the desire to move and resist it. Sit with the urge and observe what it does. Notice thoughts that arise (e.g. “I wish this itch would go”…………..”It is driving me crazy”…………..””Argh! It is not bloody well passing!”………….”I would love to scratch right now” etc etc)
These thoughts are just thoughts. So gently bring your attention back to your breath and bodily sensations Note the changing position, shape and quality of the discomfort over time. Be interested in feeling it as precisely as you can. Notice how the shape and intensity changes with the cycle of the breath. Is it stronger during the in breath or during the out breath? You might find your thoughts spontaneously going to other matters, If your mind wanders, just notice it has wandered and bring your attention back to what you were observing.
You have just observed the changing nature and impermanence of urges. When you notice the physical sensations with interest, you are directly facing the urges rather than feeding them through fighting them. How did you find this exercise? It can be an effective activity to note your reflections and observations in a notebook or mindfulness journal.
You will find that from time to time your mind will wander off into thoughts, fantasies, anticipations of the future or the past, worrying, memories, whatever. When you notice that your attention is no longer here and no longer with your breathing, and without judging yourself, bring your attention back to your breathing and ride the waves of your breathing, fully conscious of the duration of each breath from moment to moment. Every time you find your mind wandering off the breath, gently bringing it back to the present, back to the moment-to-moment observing of the flow of your breathing. Using your breath to help you tune into a state of relaxed awareness and stillness.
Now as you observe your breathing, you may find from time to time that you are becoming aware of sensations in your body. As you maintain awareness of your breathing, see if it is possible to expand the field of your awareness so that it includes a sense of your body as a whole as you sit here. Feeling your body, from head to toe, and becoming aware of all the sensations in your body.
Being here with whatever feelings and sensations come up in any moment without judging them, without reacting to them, just being fully aware of whatever you’re experiencing. And again whenever you notice that your mind wandered off, just bringing it back to your breathing and your body as you sit here not going anywhere, not doing anything just simply being, simply sitting. Moment to moment, being fully present, fully with yourself.
Now as you sit here once again allowing the field of your awareness to expand. This time, expanding your awareness to include thoughts as they move through your mind. So letting your breathing and sense of your body be in the background and allowing the thinking process itself to be the focus of your awareness. And rather than following individual thoughts and getting involved in the content and going from one thought to the next, simply seeing each thought as it comes up in your mind as a thought and letting the thoughts just come and go as you sit and dwell in stillness, witnessing them and observing them. Whatever they are… just observing them as events in the field of your consciousness… as they come into your awareness and they linger and as they dissolve.
If you find yourself at any point drawn into this stream of thinking and you notice that you are no longer observing them, just coming back to observing them as events and using your breathing and the sense of your body to anchor you and stabilise you in the present.
The thoughts can take any form, they can have any content and they can be either neutral or very highly charged. If thoughts come up that have fear in them, then just be aware of fear being here and letting these thoughts come and go. The same for worries, preoccupations, and so on. Regardless of the feeling that a thought might create for you, just observing it as simply a thought and letting it be here without pursuing it or without rejecting it. Noticing that from moment to moment, new thoughts will come and go.
As the meditation ends, you might give yourself credit for having spent this time nourishing yourself in a deep way by dwelling in this state of non-doing, in this state of being. For having intentionally made time for yourself to simply be who you are. And as you move back into the world, allow the benefits of this practice to expand into every aspect of your life.
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