Six weeks to wellness
Week 2 - Just being, in the shower
Mindfulness meditation practice in everyday life
Practising mindfulness meditation can help when demands upon us are high and our personal resources to meet those demands are low. The essence of mindfulness is a compassionate acceptance of things, as they are at this very moment. This is not easy - things may not be as we want them to be and it can be scary when we become aware of the multitude of thoughts, emotions and physical sensations that form part of our experience. This is why many of us keep going, driven to keep occupied and avoid turning towards the painful thoughts, feelings and physical discomforts that lie just under the surface. This can lead to exhaustion, so how can we slow down, just for a few moments, and make wise choices about looking after ourselves? How do we top up our reserves?
Mindfulness meditation is a practice which encourages us to pause throughout the day, understanding more about what is going on and learning how to look after our own needs, along with the needs of others. There is no wrong way to meditate. There is no outcome or goal. You do not have to feel more relaxed, or better - just taking the time to tune into your current experience is all that is required.
So, what is mindfulness meditation and how can we weave mindful practices into our everyday life?
Here is a quick guide to mindfulness meditation and a ‘being in the shower’ meditation for you to practice.
It is in our nature for our minds to wander. This is what minds do. Many of us find we are living more in our heads, thinking about the past and future and not fully aware of what is happening here and now in our lives. We can become disconnected from our bodies, from the natural world, even from our relationship to those around us, because we are not fully present. We lose the vividness of the present moment by being somewhere else.
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally” Jon Kabat-Zinn
When we are able to be in the present moment, we become more awake in our lives, more aware of each moment and with more choices open to us.
Mindfulness leads us to pay attention to our experiences as they are. In the practice of mindfulness we may choose to focus our attention narrowly or widely – on the breath, on bodily sensations, sounds, sights, tastes, thoughts, emotions, movement and daily activities.
Like learning any new skill, the more you do it the more your brain acquires a new habitual pattern of behaviour. This is important because a lot of the time we function in a familiar or habitual way. We may not realise how much of our life is lived on auto-pilot, as we feel compelled to act in a certain way. Often we do not make conscious choices but revert back to old patterns of behaviour because that is what we have always done.
When we do tune into our experiences, we can feel overwhelmed. We may retreat back into avoiding the thoughts, or maybe we turn them over and over in our minds, trying to find solutions, or times in the past we have felt the same way. The more we think about how to fix things, the more stuck we can get in stories about how we got this way, how unfair things are, how we or others behaved. This can be when we start to criticise ourselves or others, in an unhelpful and judgemental process.
Mindfulness meditation helps us to turn gently towards our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations, with less judgement, allowing us to be curious about these important bits of information. The aim is not to change any of these but to acknowledge they are there and, with kindness, compassion and gentleness, to allow them to be there. In other words, to allow us to be exactly who, what and as we are.
On an aeroplane, during the routine safety briefing, we are told that we should put on our own oxygen mask first and then help others. For many this goes against a natural instinct to rush in and help others, especially if they are our children and loved ones. But if we were to do so, in a few seconds the lack of oxygen could leave us unconscious and no longer able to help anyone. At a time like that we might have to override our instincts and make the wise choice to put on our own oxygen mask first and then help those next to us.
In just the same way, sometimes we need to spend time attending to our own needs before we can fully be there for those around us. Mindfulness is not just about us as individuals – it also encourages us to relate fully to the world around us. As a result we may become more conscious of the choices that affect how we treat other people, or how we tread gently on this earth.
Weaving mindfulness into our day’s routine can help us to practice focusing attention in the present moment. To try and adopt a mindful approach, choose an activity and, for the whole time you undertake that activity, just be fully present, noticing all the sensations. Adopt a playful and curious attitude about the experience, as though it is the first time you have ever done it.
Being in the shower mindfulness meditation
Having a shower can be a great mindful activity to choose, as this may offer you a bit of uninterrupted privacy in a busy household. Decide on your intention and say to yourself: “Just for these few minutes there is nowhere for me to go, nothing else I need to do. This is exactly where I need to be right now. Whatever thoughts arise about things I need to sort out, I can come back to them later, just not right now. Right now I will pay attention to the experience of being in the shower for the next few minutes”. All that is required is to pay attention to the experience of being in the shower as it unfolds. The aim is not to feel any different – just create the space to accept and allow yourself to be exactly as you are, with gentleness, kindness and compassion.
Notice the movement of your body as you turn on the shower. Feel the temperature of the water, the decision when it is just right to step in. You may already have a cascade of thoughts about wanting a different, more powerful shower, or appreciating the flow of clean water. Whatever your thoughts, notice them, acknowledge them and, without judging yourself, bring your attention back to the feel of the water. Use all of your senses, looking at the pattern the water makes, hearing the sound of the water and feeling the sensation of the water falling on your skin. Notice the smell and consistency of the products you use. Maybe you are drawn to a particular body wash – notice the smell, the feel of it in your hand.
Notice where you start your washing routine. Tune into the physical sensations within your body as you wash. How does your skin feel – soft, rough, smooth? Can you feel the muscles beneath the skin? You may choose to massage the skin as you wash. What do you notice? Just check in with each area and gently turn towards each experience with curiosity, turning your full attention to being present, in this moment.
Whenever thoughts arise and your mind wanders, be gentle and kind with yourself. This is what minds do. Notice the thoughts and, without following where they were taking you, gently bring your attention back to being in the shower, the water and where you were in your washing routine. You may need to do this again and again. This is the practice. Acknowledge important thoughts, or calls to action, saying: “I will come back to you later, just not right now”. Then draw your mind back to being in the shower. You may find you are impatient, or wonder why you are doing this exercise, or feel frustrated that your mind is so busy. Whatever your experience, just reassure yourself that this is natural and there is no need to be good at this, or for you to feel a certain way. Just doing the practice for these few minutes is enough.
Notice if you have any judgements about yourself, liking, disliking or criticising. As best as you can, acknowledge all of these and let them be there, without following the train of thought. Hold them gently, with kindness and compassion. Each time bring the focus of your attention back to where you are, back to each movement, each physical sensation, back to just ‘being’ in the shower. Come back to the feeling in your body right now at this moment. Maybe there is an ache, stiffness, or pain somewhere.
Gently turn towards and acknowledge it with compassion. Check that your posture is not adding to the discomfort, softening your knees, letting your shoulders relax, lifting up through the spine, releasing tension in your jaw. Feel the heat of the water and all of the sensations along with the pain that is there. If you wish, your focus can move to the sensations of your breath flowing into and out of your body. Notice the rise and fall of each breath, without changing it, let the breath breathe itself.
Notice where in your body you feel the breath. If your mind wanders, congratulate yourself on noticing and just bring your attention back to the next breath, this breath, as though it was the first time you have explored the sensation of breath flowing in and out of your body. Letting the attention on the breath dissolve, your focus can widen to the whole of your body, or narrow to the part of the body you were washing, paying close attention to the sensations there.
Let yourself notice the feeling of your scalp moving as you shampoo your hair. As you move to rinsing your hair, notice each movement, your posture. Be mindful of each transition in your routine, and of how you are taking care of yourself. When you wash your face, you may want to let your fingers circle gently over your skin, fast or slow, or perhaps pressing gently on points in your face – at the temples, between your eyebrows, in the centre of your forehead, above your eyebrows, press gently and then release the pressure. Press at either side of the bridge of the nose, down and out to the cheeks, at the bottom of the cheekbones, at the back of the head – wherever feels right as you tune into the pressure and the sensations.
As you reach the end of the shower meditation, take a moment to extend gratitude towards yourself for giving yourself this time and attention. As you dry yourself and move into the rest of your day, set your intention to be fully present in whatever you do next.
Whatever activity you choose during the day, whether you are walking, washing the car, or standing in a queue, spending a few moments being fully present can create space and time to look after yourself. Any part of your hair, body or facial care routine can become part of your mindful daily practice. Listening to your body and choosing products that meet your needs at that time can add to the sensory, nurturing experience. Whether you ease your mind and body with relaxing lavender, or revitalise yourself with Sicilian lemons, warm aches and pains with arnica, or detoxify with birch – make time for yourself and step out of ‘doing’ into ‘being’ for a few minutes each day.
Dr Nina Watson is a clinical psychologist, massage therapist, mindfulness meditation teacher and Weleda wellbeing advisor. She discovered mindfulness meditation was helpful working with staff and patients in the NHS cancer services and very useful personally. She has practiced a lot, especially during the early hours when waking through the night with small children.