Mindfulness is a unique and fabulous therapeutic technique that anyone can learn in order to manage their emotions more effectively. Mindfulness practice leads to an increase in your conscious awareness of your environment and self, including body, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. By increasing your awareness, you also afford yourself the opportunity to learn to be and feel more in control of your thoughts, feelings, and responses to stressful situations.
The best way, as with learning anything new, is to practice exercises to develop your skill set. These exercises allow you to practice increasing your awareness as well as your sense of control over your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. One of the most popular starter Mindfulness exercises is called a Body Scan exercise. It involves going through your body from your toes to the top of your head, noticing how your body feels. If during the exercise thoughts come into your head about noises you hear outside, your to-do list for today, or how boring this exercise is, that is all normal. It is normal and OK for our brains to be buzzing with thoughts. The important part is not that you do not have any thoughts. The important part is that you notice when this happens and you gently re-direct your attention back to the exercise, no matter how many times you have to do this.
You should also note that the purpose of any mindfulness exercise, including this body scan exercise, is not necessarily to relax you, although that may be a side effect. In fact, if you notice yourself getting sleepy you should treat this as a distracting thought that you become aware of and gently re-direct you attention away from and back to the exercise.
Typically, our response to discomfort or pain when we are stressed or upset is to distract, avoid, or numb it. In this exercise you will just be aware of pain in your body or discomfort from feeling overwhelmed and stress and not do anything to distract, avoid, or numb it. You may ask yourself why would you want to stay with pain? The answer is simple. Avoiding or numbing the pain does nothing to reduce or remove the pain. As soon as your numbing medication or distracting activity is over, the pain is still there. Mindfulness is about helping us learn to tolerate discomfort or pain in a way that reduces our experience of suffering in the long term as a result.
Read to try it out? Let’s go!
The exercise is as follows:
Sit up straight as is comfortable for you with your palms open faced on your knees or thighs and your feet flat on the floor. If you are comfortable close your eyes. If not, pick a point straight ahead of you and stare at it during the exercise.
Start by bringing your awareness and attention to your feet. Notice things about your feet such as how they feel in your shoes and socks and any areas of tightness or tension. Slowly allow your awareness to drift up from your feet to your lower legs, again simply paying attention to any physical sensations in that part of your body, including any tightness, pain or discomfort. Next, slowly allow your awareness to shift to your knees and thighs, noticing how the texture of your jeans feels and how your knees connect your upper and lower legs. Next slowly move your awareness up through the different parts of your body, doing the same gentle noticing for all of the parts of your body, such as lower stomach and back, chest and upper back, shoulders, upper arms, lower arms, hands and fingers, neck, your head, face, scalp. Once you have made it from bottom to top, let your awareness do a final scan of your body from top back down to the bottom, noticing any other places where there is pain, discomfort or tension and simply noticing this, until you awareness settles back at your feet.
Take as long as you need to do the exercise. If, while doing the body scan exercise, you notice yourself drifting into other thoughts, just notice the thoughts and gently re-direct your awareness back to your body and the exercise. This is normal and part of the exercise is actually about learning to notice when we are distracted and practicing re-direction.
Interested in learning more about Mindfulness and how it can help you gain more control of your emotions and thoughts? Call (212) 335-0511 or email info@DrChristineNYC.com.