MIND YOUR STRESS….says Alice Smellie
Perhaps you start the day in a zen like state, joyfully Pollyanna-ing your way through the interminable reminders to brush teeth and the interminable rounds of hunt the school shoe. Fine. Stay with it. For the rest of us, and especially those in the middle of exam season, there’s Dr Danny Penman and mindfulness. The raft of clinical studies behind mindfulness as a means of reducing stress is growing almost daily. Dr Penman is a leading voice in the field, and also a voice of reason.
His first book, Mindfulness, Finding Peace In A Frantic World, sold over 300,000 copies, my personal favourite is Mindfulness For Creativity, and although his latest publication, The Art of Breathing, may sound a bit grandmother and eggs, it’s actually a rather fantastic mindfulness quick fix. ‘The people who need mindfulness the most won’t dedicate the time to it,’ Danny says. ‘This book is for those who don’t have the time or inclination to do 20 – 30 minutes a day.’
‘breathing is the most straightforward meditation of all’
I first spoke to him a few years ago when researching a feature for Marie Claire, and the words he said then have stayed with me. Mindfulness is a form of meditation whereby you are aware of what is happening in the present moment – including emotions and surroundings. I loathe flaky trends (I binned the weight loss coffee I was sent), but have found that taking a few deep breaths during my morning shower, enjoying the smell of the soap and the heat of the rising steam, is an excellent way of lowering school run tension.
And Danny says that breathing is the most straightforward meditation of all. ’Depending where you are, and how much time you have, if you feel the world is going mad around you, in a queue, on a bus or in the office (not if you’re driving, obviously) the best thing you can do is sit or stand still, close your eyes and and focus on your breathing.’‘Focus on all the sensations; how your lungs rise and fall, your stomach and back move and your neck expands.’
He says that within a few seconds your mind will start to wander. ‘There’s no right or wrong here, just gently bring it back to the breathing.’ If you want something a little more structured, try breathing in slowly whilst counting to five and breathing out on the count of seven. Again, it sounds simple but it does work. You may not be a nicer person (it’s not a personality transplant). But you may well be less stressed.