Try this - concentrate on your breath, and only your breath, for one full breath – from the moment you begin your inhale, to the moment before your next inhale begins. Notice how other thoughts try to crowd in, even in that short space of time, but instead of getting caught up in those thoughts, stay with the breath. Don’t try to empty the mind (good luck with that!), don’t get frustrated about the other thoughts that keep popping up, but instead gently turn your attention back to the breath each time you notice that you’ve wandered off. That, in a nutshell, is mindfulness. If you managed one breath, try two. Then three. If you can keep your attention on your breath for three full breaths, without allowing yourself to be distracted by the busy-ness that bubbles around in your mind, see if you can keep your attention on your breath for ten full breaths. It’s not easy! As a meditation teacher I know once observed – we’re really great at having busy minds, because we practice it a lot! Most of us haven’t been taught that we CAN take back control over our busy minds, rather than letting them control us, so at times we experience anxiety, stress, sleeplessness, headaches, and general feelings of being unable to cope with all that’s going on in our lives (and therefore, in our minds).
Mindfulness is being present, in the moment, as it happens, rather than mentally being somewhere else. Think of mindfulness in this way – it’s not simply being aware of what we’re doing, or thinking, in the present moment, but literally letting our minds be FULL of the present experience. In the example I’ve used, that could include observing the sensation of the breath in the nostrils, the chest, the belly – the subtle feeling of the air moving into, and then out of, the body. You might become aware that your exhale is longer than your inhale, or vice versa, or that the breath feels easy and rhythmic, or that it feels restricted and uneven in some way. Being fully immersed in the experience of simply being here, in your body, breathing, right now. We’re not analysing the experience, we’re not judging it, we’re simply experiencing it wholly and completely. In this way, we can begin to manage our stress levels, and the associated issues that we may be experiencing.
So how does mantra fit into all this? “Mantra” comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “a sacred message or text, charm, spell, counsel”, and mantra were traditionally used to aid concentration in meditation. In some religions and spiritual traditions it’s believe that the sounds themselves have power, and act on the energies in the body in certain ways. In modern terms, a mantra has come to mean a repeated word or phrase, so anything that inspires you, motivates you, calms you, or helps you cultivate a desired attitude or state of mind can be a mantra. The act of repetition itself is calming and centering, and that, along with the words chosen, can be a powerful tool to help us channel our attention and energy, or to overcome challenging situations.
5 Steps to bring mantra mindfully into your day, every day:
Sit quietly with a pen and paper,and reflect on what it is that you would like to change in, or invite into, your life. Write down ideas as they come to you, without overthinking them.
Choose one (or more), and work it into a fairly short statement (you want it to be easy to remember!), using positive language, and words that give you the feeling you’re trying to promote - for instance, if you feel that you lose your cool more often than you’d like, perhaps your mantra might be “I am calm and relaxed, and handle all of life’s challenges with ease and grace”.
Take three deep, centering breaths, focussing on being fully in the moment, and then repeat your mantra to yourself (out loud is great, but in your head is fine too) several times, with feeling, noticing what effect the words have on you.
Write your mantra on several post-it notes, and place them where you are likely to see them frequently during your day, e.g on your bathroom mirror, on the corner of your computer screen, even on your steering wheel (especially if you’re prone to road rage!).
Repeat step 3 every time you see one of your reminder notes during the day.