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? Practising mindfulness meditation can help when demands are high and our reserves are low. The essence of mindfulness is a compassionate acceptance of things being 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 quite scary to feel the emotions and physical sensations that are there when we slow down. This is why many of us keep going, driven to keep occupied and avoid turning towards painful thoughts, feelings and physical discomfort under the surface. The trouble is, this can lead to exhaustion.
Mindfulness meditation encourages us to pause throughout the day. This allows us to understand more about what is going on for us and decide how to look after our own needs, along with the needs of others. So, how do we weave mindful practices into our every day life?
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. 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. What ever 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 and move into the rest of your day, set your intention to be fully present in whatever you do next.
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 very 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!