Why mindfulness isn’t a life hack

I’ve been working with a client who’s trying to eat more mindfully, but shared with me that she’d come to a stunning realisation – she’s not only mindless around the way she eats. When it comes to her body, she ignores its needs completely!

When she slowed down and really paid attention, she said, she noticed a few things. First, her body was physically exhausted and in pain. Second, she only goes to the bathroom when she literally can’t hold it any more. She sits huddled at her desk for far too long, which in winter means she gets up frozen to her core. She pushes herself physically through the day, through pain and discomfort of various kinds. She says she only notices she has to drink something because she has a headache. And then she overeats either because she’s allowed herself to get too hungry, or because she’s eating mindlessly to swallow her emotions of anxiety, or anger, or fear.

It sounds extreme, but given the busy culture we live in, where tiredness is a badge of honour, or working late and over weekends is seen as being the desirable norm, we’ve all learnt to push ourselves past the point of hunger, thirst or exhaustion at various times, and for many of us, this has become the norm. And it doesn’t do us any good to focus solely on mindfulness in one area – like eating – and ignoring our bodies completely the rest of the time.

My client’s insight came after she tried a simple embodiment pose – one of self-care. It’s not particularly physically taxing or difficult, but she found it deeply uncomfortable and noticed how much pain she was holding in her body. She’s not alone – many of us are disconnected from our bodies – disembodied. To become embodied starts with awareness, and then it’s about finding practical, useful ways to connect our minds and bodies.

Because we’re all so busy, we’ve become ‘life hack’ junkies, trying to shortcut all kinds of things. But mindfulness isn’t a life hack, it’s a way of showing up in the world. It’s about being present all the time; it’s a whole life practice.

With that in mind, I suggested to this client that she take the time at least five or six times a day, to do the HearthMath coherence breathing technique for just a minute or so. It’s a simple exercise: focus your attention on the area of the heart. Imagine your breath is flowing in and out of your heart or chest area, breathing a little slower and deeper than usual. At the same time, visualise a positive experience, such as gratitude or affection for someone or something in your life, and try to re-experience it in your mind.

This reminds you to stay in the moment, and I’m happy to report that this tiny practice is making a big difference to my client’s life. She also made a conscious decision to pay better attention to her body – instead of constantly ignoring its needs – and found that she ate better, slept better, felt better, and still got everything done that she needed to do. And all she did was stop, slow down, and pay attention.

As Eckhart Tolle has said, “Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now.”

And that means slowing down, giving up multi-tasking – in all spheres of your life – and being fully present wherever you might be, and whatever you’re doing, so that you don’t miss even one fleeting moment.

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