‘The quieter you become, the more you can hear’ – Ram Dass
I’ve just got back from a blissful weekend on the west coast of Wales teaching on my Spring Retreat. No matter what brings people on a retreat, it’s beautiful to see what release spending a few days in a retreat bubble can bring. I’ve experienced the effects myself. Switching off from the outside world, letting go of responsibilities and forgetting all of the things on your to do list can be truly liberating.
One of the practices that can enhance this sense of liberation is observing silence. On my retreats I encourage my yogis to be in silence when they get up in the morning and then we go on a silent walk before the yoga practice. The silent walk allows you to observe and connect with your senses, be in the present moment, and bring a greater sense of clarity to the mind. This weekend in Wales we were blessed with glorious sunny mornings walking along the stunning coastal path. It was the perfect way to start each day.
And this, plus the combination of twice-daily yoga, an abundance of nourishing food, uninterrupted sleep and invigorating coastal walks restores and reenergises you in a way that makes going back to reality a little more manageable than you thought it was when you first arrived.
But what happens when you return home? How do you prevent yourself from dropping back into the speedy patterns of everyday life where your mind is full of endless chatter and you forget to stop and notice the beauty of the simple things?
Here are a few tips to introduce a little bit of mindfulness into your day to day life.
1. Start the day with clarity. Before the momentum of the day takes hold of you, allow yourself some quiet time when you first wake up. This could be sitting or lying. You could start by focusing the mind by observing sensations in the body or your breath, or practicing your own meditation techniques. It doesn't have to be for long; just five minutes can be enough to free the mind of unnecessary clutter.
2. Don't forget to breathe. At any point in the day when things get a little too hectic, simple breathing exercises can help to calm and refocus the mind. Observing and lengthening the breath by counting the length of your inhalations and exhalations is one example.
3. Eat with awareness. We often rush through meals in our haste to get on with our day. When you're eating try to observe the quality of the food you are eating, using all of your senses. Consider the textures, the taste and the smell and with that can come a greater sense of satisfaction and appreciation for your food.
4. Do one thing at a time. If you're eating, eat. If you're walking, walk. If you're talking on the phone, talk on the phone. Often we try to multi-task to the extent that we are never fully engaged in the whole experience of what we are doing. Our minds become busier than they need to be and we miss things. By slowing down and concentrating on one thing at time in its entirety we become more present and effective in the way we approach things.
5. Switch off and power down. Often we're so absorbed by email, social media and the TV that our minds never stop. As often as you can, try to take time out. This could be switching off an hour before bedtime every day, or going away for a weekend without looking at your phone. In whatever way you can, make space for the mind to be quiet and try to learn how to exist without needing regular stimulation from the outside world.