In photo: Kim Rego
Devotees of mindfulness and meditation swear by it but what exactly is it? How do you start and what benefit does it bring to your life?
When we are distracted, agitated, stressed or have ‘a lot on our mind’ not only can this create unhappiness, but these feelings are also bad for our overall health and wellbeing. The mind, like our bodies however, can be trained and when it is trained the right way, we become more focused, aware and alive.
“While the greats master the body, the greatest master the mind,” said professional basketball player, LeBron James who is among some of the world’s most successful athletes, businesspeople and media personalities who credit mindfulness for their achievements.
Mindfulness, also described as ‘mental fitness’, is a practice that guides your mind, but how exactly do we master our own minds?
Kim Rego of Mindful Bermuda is a certified mindfulness teacher who coaches “anyone who is curious” no matter their age.
“The foundation is training the mind,” she explained. “Whatever you do, whatever you are experiencing, you’re training the mind for something. Knowingly or unknowingly.”
But what does this mean and why do our minds need to be ‘trained’?
A 2010 study conducted by Harvard psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert found that people spent almost 47 percent of their waking hours thinking about something not related to what they were currently doing. “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” they wrote. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”
The problem for a lot of people is that the natural course of our lives trains us for distraction. Technology, a massive to do list, multi-tasking, for example. “Many of us are walking around with agitated or activated nervous systems, perhaps caused by the speed of life, or incessant thinking about the future or past,” explained Ms Rego.
When our minds race around, we react to situations in a more negative way than if our minds are calm and focused on the present.
“Imagine rolling around your ‘to do’ list in your head and then someone asks you a question or you get stuck in traffic,” continued Ms Rego. “The reaction is going to be very different than if your mind and body are calm and grounded. There’s something about when we’re present that is relaxing, when we’re focused.”
She advised those new to mindfulness to start small and find a focus.
“Start with one minute,” she said. “Use anchors to pay attention. I like to use the body because I want us to become more body aware. I feel as a species, in our culture, we’re very heavy minded. We rely so much on the mind. By bringing in the body, we are bringing our body to more awareness. We use our senses more.”
To demonstrate, Ms Rego started with the feet.
“You start by noticing where your body is touching something else. Notice what it feels like to have your feet on floor. It’s ‘how do I know I have feet without wiggling my toes, without looking at my feet? Can I feel my feet? The warmth, the cool, the pressure, the space, the heaviness, the lightness, the tingling, the numbness’. Curiosity keeps you there when you say, ‘how do I know I have feet?’
Then it’s time to close your eyes and for one whole minute, just focus your mind on that one part of your body.
“You start by doing that one minute a day and, in time, your body starts to say, actually I think I’m going to stay for two; I think I’m going to stay a little bit longer and so you build up capacity.
“In the beginning, one minute is hard. Commit to one minute a day and at the end of ten days, see what you think,” she suggested. “It is called a mindfulness practice. It’s the actual practice that starts to change the neurons in your brain.
“As you become more aware, you become more aware of feelings and more aware of subtle feelings. It can make you feel more alive.
She warned however that as you become more aware, you become aware of the negatives as well as the positives.
“A lot of people stop because they’re like, ‘oh my gosh, my mind is insane in there,’ which is what I felt when I first started because I’m sitting still and quiet. I’m noticing what’s going on in my mind. I’m trying to pay attention to something and my mind is bouncing around or it’s being negative or it’s being repetitive and I have no control.”
When this happens, you must “just stay”, she said because as you become more aware, particularly of negative feelings such as annoyance or frustration, a “space” will open up allowing you to respond more positively.
“You’re doing something, a child comes up to you and says, ‘Mum!’ You’re quick response could be ‘I can’t do this right now’, but if you’ve been practicing mindfulness there’ll be a space. You’ll be ‘I can really feel the impact of that interruption on me, and that space gives you the wisdom to choose your response.
This could be the difference between snapping at your child or giving them a more considered, loving response. For children, it could even prevent them reacting physically, for example hitting another child who is mean to them.
“This is powerful in board meetings, powerful in classrooms, powerful in families and relationships,” she said.
While Ms Rego believes finding a trained mindfulness practitioner is the “best way to start”, she also recommended the Insight, Calm and Headspace apps.
“It’s all about attention,” she said. “Where we place our attention matters and the quality of attention. Attention is the greatest form of love. It’s a gift.”
For more information about Mindfulness, visit mindfulbermuda.com