Self-regulation can help you become more mindful.
Posted Jan 19, 2019
Buddhist monk and philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh defines mindfulness as the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. Referring to mindfulness this way can help generate a solid base you can go back to for understanding what mindfulness is, how it effects you, as well as how to regulate it. Self-regulation can help you become more attentive - to well, just about anything. And its practice can snowball, more richly engaging us with daily experiences. This post looks at a few tools that can be used to strengthen the energy of mindfulness.
I favor using one of several good breathing techniques as well as an energy condensing technique and sound when necessary. Here is how if you’d like to give them a try.
Measured Breathing. Using measured breathing is easy. It can give you a bit of a lift almost right away, although when you combine it with an energy condensing activity, it can give you more. But I don’t want to get ahead of things here as condensing will come up later in the post. So to measure your breath:
- Start by taking a few relaxed breaths—whatever feels natural and good for you. Slowly breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
- Then, measure your breaths. You do this by mentally counting with your in-breath: 1-2-3-4 as you breathe—still relaxed and slow. Then hold your breath for the same count (or less, whatever is most comfortable), and finally release your breath to the same measured count. This is called measured breathing. Not only can it give you a sense of calm alertness but it can also help establish a pattern your mind will associate with the mindset and facilitate your getting into it in the future.
- Imagine using the bottom of your lungs to pull in the air. This will help you to breathe abdominally.
- Sound plays in. Put your focus on the sound of your breath; as though you are listening to white noise or the flow of water. Whenever your mind starts jumping around, put your focus back on the sound. You can practice this as a form of soft attention training. It can even be done when you are out-and-about and not just when you meditate—e.g. you may like to give it a try while walking. With a little practice, just making the measured rhythmic sound and listening will begin to send your mind the message to call up this calm yet alert and balanced mindset. This simple activity helps you bring peaceful energy into your mind and body anywhere, any time.
- When you are just starting out, begin with just a few breaths (2 or 3) or, again, whatever is comfortable; remember it is not an endurance test. It takes some getting used to in order to get everything in synch, but with practice you can make it feel pretty natural and soothing. Measured breathing helps put mind and body together, gives you a slight lift and relaxes you at the same time.
You may need to adjust your energy further, engendering greater calm or feeling more activated to get yourself more present. The following activities are intended to help boost these energies.
Natural Sound and Music. Which exact sound or piece of music you pick will depend on which way you need to go—“up,” because your energy is too low, or “down” because your energy is too jumpy. In general, start with a sound or song that you already have a sense will take you in the needed direction. For example, someone I know favors the natural sound of a forceful waterfall to spike his energy, while Reflection Eternal, by Nujabes works to calm. I’ve personally used Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D major, K. 448 to boost my energy when my mindful lamp is low and I like Mia Jang’s collection, Sweet Dreams to calm. But you don’t have to narrow your selections down to just two pieces. Make a whole file/playlist. Label one your “Activating Energy File” and the other your “Calming Energy File.” Keep them on your cell phone or other devices so you have them when you need. Using natural sound and music are fun and easy ways to balance your energy into higher definition mindfulness. You may wonder how long to listen. As a rule of thumb, it takes longer to calm yourself down than to activate yourself. So again in general, about 7 minutes if you’re looking for a lift and 12 if you’d like to calm. Tip: Songs with a BPM (beats per minute) over 100 will help lift you and those under 100 can relax. You can find your favorite tune’s BPM on Google or by using one of the BPM search engines you can find on Google. Using these is a cinch; you just type in the name of your song and the BPM immediately appears.
If sound doesn’t do it for you, here is another tool that can work.
Condensing Your Energy. This activity is one we have used in martial arts training over many years. It is intended to give you a larger lift when your energy dipstick feels low. But you don’t have to be a martial artist or in a dojo to use this tool. There are a few steps. Once you practice the activity a couple of times, however, you can go through its parts relatively quickly. It can at times even work in mid-action when you need a burst of energy on-the-spot. At other times, you may like to take a tiny bit of a break and work it there.
- Again, you start by taking a slow, deep breath, inhaling naturally through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Try to relax different places in your body where you feel tense. Next, we are going to activate this tool by using a form of guided imagery. Here’s how it works: Visualize yourself pulling energy from your limbs and the earth below you. Visualize yourself streaming this energy—using your breaths—and streaming it into your core. Then picture condensing that (in your core) with each breath into a smaller and smaller space, until you visualize it compressed into a tight bundle the size of a sugar cube.
- Breathe from your belly, then exhale and picture the energy going outward "like beams of light" through your entire body and feel your energy surge. You can get creative and use your own imagery. The examples I have given are simply to give you the idea.
You can use any combination of these activities or all of them to help build higher definition mindfulness and stream your mindset from a “sweet spot” between calm and alert.