Years ago, I learned to make figure eights on a sheet of ice. As a competitive skater, I was required to learn a variety of old-school figure eights, drawn by my ice skates’ edges and turns. The movements were repetitive and required hours of practice in a mostly quiet arena, filled with the sounds of blades on the ice as each skater created their masterpieces on their own section of ice. I strove to draw clean, perfectly shaped circles with my blades as I circled around each pattern hundreds of times. A particular crunching sound told me the blade was placed correctly as I pushed off from a standing position. A sensation in the foot and throughout the placement of the body told me if I was placing my edge in the correct place. While I complained about figures (who wants to do that, when you can jump and spin!), I finished each session more centered and freed from stresses outside of the rink.
Mindfulness is touted as a cure for stress and mental health problems. In fact, we have a wonderful base of scientific evidence forming about how mindfulness helps humans. As a therapist, I teach clients about how to incorporate mindfulness as part of their wellness plans and I continue to learn about ways we can find activities which achieve the benefits.
When we are engaged in the present moment and sensing our body in connection with our mind, troubling thoughts shift: they lift themselves from places where they have settled to fester and they become less invasive. Most of us can relate to the anguish created by certain thoughts which lead to distraction or eventually to stress, anxiety and depression. With music, dance or rhythmic drumming as examples, our mind can let go and center itself as we are fully engaged with the activity. If something is troubling me, I’ve learned that I benefit from an activity that I have to think about. For me, an hour-long music lesson does the trick. I can’t let my mind wander and play or sing the right notes or chords. When I finish the session and put my instrument away, I notice the troubling thoughts are gone or shifted to a place where I can choose when and if I want to attend to them. Setting aside the need for these activities to be “good” or trying to meet an external standard is incredibly helpful. I’ve discovered that working toward learning something new can be enjoyable. Almost any activity gets easier with practice. After all, if I keep at it, I’m bound to get better. And if I’m not good, at least I’ve enjoyed countless hours of mindfulness.
A recent article by the LA Times (A retired teacher found some seahorses off of long beach. Then he built a secret home for them) illustrated the point of how beneficial mindful activities are.
Rog Hanson spends his time nurturing these amazing sea creatures. While some view him as an environmental hero (I agree), I also saw it as a mental health success story. “I swear, it has made me a better human being,” he says. “On land I’m very C-minus, but underwater, I’m Mensa.”
After a while, another volunteer joined him in caring for his safe haven of seahorses. The woman, a veteran, has PTSD from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. She found that with diving, “All the irritation on the surface disappears when you go under the water,” she says. “It’s like, ‘What was I concerned about?’ You forget about everything else. Nothing else matters.”
In therapy, I’ve coached and supported ways for my clients to incorporate mindfulness in their daily lives to great success.
One 16 year old client of mine said, “now that I’m meditating every day, my emotions don’t seem so out of control.”
One long term client, enjoys using a Tibetan singing bowl I keep within arms reach in my sessions. As she makes it sing by moving a felt covered stick around its edge, she sighs and repeats a lesson as a mantra, she feels more relaxed and self-confident.
A client experiencing traumatic stress symptoms found her nightmares alleviated by starting a trauma sensitive yoga class.
A client in pain felt it go away the instant she tapped the singing bowl and felt its vibrations deep within herself.
One client colored in an intricate design in a coloring book during our sessions. As she explored complex emotions and life situations, her coloring kept her calm and centered.
If you are struggling with too much stress, racing thoughts, or just want to feel more present in your life, consider ways you can incorporate mindfulness too. I’d love to hear your ideas!