I hear people say this a lot and the temptation is to nod thoughtfully and agree. Is it really hard though?
Usually, people will add that it’s difficult to take the time or to remember to be mindful, or impossible stop thinking about other things. These things are hard, but as I understand it, they are not mindfulness. Such statements create the impression that if you do remember to be mindful and succeed in shutting off all distracting thoughts about school pick-ups and shopping lists then you have achieved something and deserve a mental pat on the back. By that very process, you have created another goal, another item on your to-do list. As a serial achiever and “good girl”, this defeats the object. For me, mindfulness is an opportunity not to achieve, or do well at something. The absence of a goal and an endpoint is the whole point.
The other problem is our impression of what constitutes mindfulness. If you are following a directed exercise either in a class or from an app such as ‘headspace’ or ‘calm’ (both of which I am a fan) you are usually instructed to begin by sitting in an upright, unsupported position. I get that this is to make you aware of the sensations in your body and to retain an element of activity in your posture. As a physio though, I am aware that for some people those body sensations are the problem. If you are spending 5-10 minutes sitting in a posture which feels even mildly uncomfortable then that will be the overriding message received by your brain. It might be better to find a posture that is not completely inactive but comfortable enough to ensure it is not a distraction in itself. The same might go for the temperature and relative comfort of your surroundings. A conscious sense of pleasure and appreciation of your environment are in are an important part of being mindful.
Downy oak at Casa RosaDowny oak at Casa Rosa
One of my favourite spots for relaxing the brain
Some people may not find pleasure in sitting absolutely still and might prefer the reassuring rhythm of walking for example. Our brains enjoy these familiar patterns of motion. Add in a beautiful view, the sun on your back, some pleasant sounds in the background and you start to build up a heady cocktail which can be entirely absorbing, leaving no space for shopping lists.
Over the years clients have pointed out that Pilates and Mindfulness make great bedfellows. Anyone who remembers their first 1:1 or group Pilates session will agree that there seems a lot to take on. What with trying to engage all the elements of your centre, maintaining a neutral pelvis, getting the arm and leg movements right and then trying to master the breathing there is little head-space left. It certainly isn’t emptying your mind but it does allow your brain a rest from ruminating on perhaps less helpful thoughts.
This for me is the point of mindfulness, allowing your brain some time out using whatever means suits you best. I truly believe that in those perfect moments of calm you can actually feel your brain relaxing. We talk about abusing our bodies, what about the strife we give our brains with constant planning, worrying and achieving? Maybe we should stop telling ourselves mindfulness is difficult and something else for us to master and see it instead at it as a gift to our overworked minds. Not hard at all but pleasurable and easy.
I’d be really interested to know your thoughts on mindfulness and any ideas on how we might further demystify the process which we all seem to agree is good for us.
If you like the sound of the Pilates and mindfulness combination I can assure you that the green Umbrian hills around Casa Rosa provide an excellent backdrop. Do get in touch if you’d like more information about one of our retreats which combine all the elements I’ve described above in one gorgeous package.