Simple tips to refresh, refocus your mind before returning to school
Wednesday, July 03, 2019
Whether summer break for you includes travel or just a change in routine, you can increase your enjoyment of it with these simple mindfulness practices. Beyond a multitude of health benefits associated with mindfulness, it is basically an attitudinal shift that promotes greater satisfaction with life.
"Being mindful makes it easier to savor the pleasures in life as they occur, helps you become fully engaged in activities, and creates a greater capacity to deal with adverse events," explain writers of a Harvard Health article.
The objective of any mindfulness technique is to maintain a state of alert, focused relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment. This allows the mind to refocus on the present moment.
Fortunately, this practice can be taken practically anywhere. Additionally, there are a variety of techniques, so finding one or two that resonate with you shouldn’t be too difficult.
Acquainted yourself with your breath
The breath as a focal point is common to several ancient meditation practices — for good reason, it’s always with us. Additionally, the breath is universal; regardless of beliefs, religion or nationality, we all breathe.
To practice, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. With your attention fixed on in the entrance of your nostrils feel the breath move in and out naturally. While best practiced comfortable seated with an upright spine, if having to sit up impedes you from trying it, take a reclined position.
Alternatively, you can fix your attention on the movement of the rib cage as you breathe. Either way, remain in simple observation of the movement caused by the breath. When you notice that thoughts or other sensations take your focus away, simply return to observing the breath without berating yourself.
Once familiar with this practice, you can turn to it when you notice your mind getting agitated. For example, I’ve done this technique with my eyes open when I’m stuck in a traffic jam to de-stress.
Tune into your body sensations
Similar to breath, physical sensations are always present in our bodies, so tuning into them is an excellent tool for shifting our attention from the constant brain chatter that we often experience.
This practice is the basis for vipassana meditation, which has been taught and practiced for 2,500 years. In my personal experience, taking a course with a teacher has made practicing this technique much easier.
To begin, sit with closed eyes and practice observing the breath for a couple of minutes. Then, move your attention to the top of your head and notice whatever sensation you feel there. Observe for a short time without judging or trying to change it, then move to an adjacent part of the body in a process of passing through each part of the body in succession from head to toe.
The body sensations can be subtle like heat, an itch, pulsing or tingling.
Once you are able to notice body sensations easily, it’s fun to practice on the go. While you are moving, feel your body from within. Notice the pressure in the soles of feet pushing into the ground or the caress of your clothes against your skin as you walk or run.
Engage all your senses
Engaging all the senses is one simple way to heighten your awareness and get your mind back to the present. You can do this while setting the table or walking in the park. On vacation it can help you deepen your enjoyment of your time away.
Here’s an example. While walking on the beach, feel the sensation of sand and water on your feet. After some time notice the sensation of the air on your skin to sound of waves tiny sea foam bubbles popping as the waves wash out. Noticing small details with eyes, breath in smell through nose, taste through mouth.
Notice how long you remain in this state of pure focus on the senses without thinking or planning. Suddenly you might notice a train of thought something like this…"Wow, this feels so good I have to do this more often, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a home here on the beach, if I get that promotion or…"
When you realize that you have gone off into thought regardless of the content, start again with feeling the sand and water with your feet. Breathe deeply of the salty air, etc.
Experience the power of nature
If you’re having trouble being mindful, get outside. Getting into nature is perhaps the easiest way to give yourself an automatic jump-start into better mental health.
The great outdoors has been proven to be a boost to the human organism, with studies over the past 25 years uncovering a plethora of body-mind benefits. Among the 12 science-backed reasons for spending time in nature, per a 2018 Business Insider article, are reduced levels of mental fatigue, anxiety and inflammation; and lower blood pressure and heart rates. Add to the list improved memory, mood, self-esteem, cognitive functioning, immune system and ability to focus.
If the wilderness isn’t accessible this summer, green spaces in cities have been shown to give many of the benefits of being nature.
With both mindfulness and being in nature being so beneficial to your well-being, if you can do both this summer, just imagine how reenergized you’ll be when school starts this fall.
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