Cultivating mindfulness for emotional health (and a quick exercise)
Caring for your emotional health is just as important as looking after yourself physically.
Think about it.. you can feed yourself the most nourishing diet and exercise your physical body every day, but if you are stressed out to the max, ignoring niggling relationship issues or entering each work day with a sense of dread – your well-being isn’t that ‘well’!
If you aren’t feeling well emotionally, those physical self-care tasks tend to fall off the band-wagon too. Would you feel like eating healthy meals eat if your stomach is tied up in knots with anxiety? Or feel like going out for a walk in the sunshine when feeling down and wanting to hide from the world?
Step one for looking after our emotional health is awareness of our emotional health.
I distinctly remember sitting in a yoga class once, after a very long week of assignment writing for my naturopathy degree. “Tune in to your physical body”, the yoga teacher said. Aah that felt good after being cramped up on my desk all week in stressed student posture. I started noticing all the areas that were tight, I could then release them. I started lengthening my spine, which had spent too much time curved down.
“Acknowledge the emotions that you have been experiencing”. Um, emotions? Hmm. I had totally been tuned out to them all week. I had been in work mode and totally ignoring that part of me. Life was an assignment-production line and not much else. Yes, I was getting my essential uni work done but in the mean time there wasn’t much else going on in terms of day to day fulfilment.
How was that affecting me? By feeling disconnected with my own emotions I was feeling disconnected the world and people around me.. not being able to relate to light conversations with friends or workmates, not being amused by my husband’s jokes, getting easily getting frustrated with anything that was not going my way.
I see this often with clients. When I ask them how they deal with their emotions, or what emotions they commonly experience, they look blank.
This common phenomenon is something I like to call, emotional constipation. When you can’t even recognize your emotions, let along process them.
So how do you treat emotional constipation? By taking the effort to tune in to yourself. Cultivating mindfulness.
To some, mindfulness seems like too much effort as they think it needs significant time or structured activity The idea seems nice, but it is associated with the belief that you must meditate for so many minutes per day..
This is not the case. Here is a guide to a quick and simple mindfulness exercise that you can do anywhere, anytime.
Stop what you are doing. Turn your attention first to your physical body. Notice if are you showing any signs of stress such as tightness in the jaw, shoulders, neck, brow, back of head, fists, buttocks.. With practice you will become more aware of your own physical habits. Now take 5 deep breaths. As you exhale, let go of any excess tension you are holding. You have now switched your nervous system over into a less stressed, more contemplative state. Take a moment to acknowledge how you are feeling. This can be ‘positive’, such as, I feel satisfied, I feel full of love, I feel excited; or ‘negative’, such as I feel down, I feel disconnected, I feel flighty and worried. Don’t judge your feelings, but take a moment to acknowledge them and feel them.
There, that’s not hard or time consuming is it. Do it in the shower, in between tasks or even on a loo-break!
I really help this little exercise helps YOU.
Do you get emotionally constipated? What helps you tune in to your emotions? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!