How often do you find your mind racing away, thinking about a million different things? You can’t concentrate and you end up confused and drained. Or maybe your mind is brimming full of ideas, fizzing with creativity … with the same result. You’re unfocused and exhausted.
Thinking is really tiring! And it can feel like you can’t do anything to stop your mind racing.
But you can.
Having noticed that it’s occurring is the first step.
Become an observer
You can spend your life with your mind racing and not really be aware of it because it’s just the way it is to you. My mind used to be constantly jumping around from one thing to another and back again, and it wasn’t until I started yoga that I realized that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Consciously observe what’s going on in your mind – note the thoughts and emotions that are coming up.
Are you remembering something such as a conversation or scenario, planning for the future, going over something you think you should have done differently, wondering what to do tomorrow, dreading something that’s coming up or berating yourself for something you did or said in the past?
The simple act of noticing your state of mind is powerful in itself. It brings you into the present moment and helps you to cultivate awareness of what’s going on now. Not thinking about tomorrow, not remembering yesterday, but what’s happening for you here and now.
So simply noting – without judgement – that your mind is racing can help you to create that little bit of distance from the thoughts racing around in your head. That distance gives you some space.
Space to notice how you’re feeling. Space to breathe. A space to smile at yourself and your busy mind.
And yes, that space might just be a second or two, but that second or two might is a valuable break from the incessant chatter of your thoughts.
It enables you to experience a gap. And in that gap awareness enters and with awareness, compassion.
It’s easy to judge yourself when you find your mind racing away. There’s many a time when I’ve been on my mat, practising a sequence I’ve done many times before and have found myself half way through, on autopilot, thinking about something else and having no recollection how I got to that point in the sequence! (The yoga equivalent of having got in your car and driven halfway to work when you suddenly realize you’ve not been paying attention at all to the journey so far…)
It’s easy to get irritated with yourself or feel powerless to do anything about it.
But I no longer judge myself – I smile and note my current state: “busy mind”, “planning what to do at the weekend”, or, my current favourite, “worrying about how I’ll get the word out about my forthcoming new yoga classes, will anybody turn up?!?!?!”. I note the thought and then bring my attention back to what I’m doing and try to carry on with mindfulness.
As meditation writer and teacher Jack Kornfield writes, it’s like training a puppy; you wouldn’t beat the puppy when it strays, you just pick up the puppy gently and bring it back. So be gentle with yourself and bring your attention back to the present moment.
Take a moment
Be gentle. And when you notice you’re mentally multi-tasking, try and stop and take a deep breath. Count in to three and out to three.
If you can, take some time out. If you’re physically rushing around too, stop and sit for just one minute. (…Yes, you do have time to stop for just one minute!)
Get into the habit of giving yourself space. Whether it’s the space to notice your state of mind, the space to take a few deep breaths, the space to stop and sit for a moment, the space to go for a walk, or the space to practise some yoga, whether on your own or at a class.
Retrain your brain
Dealing with mental clutter and busyness is a process of retraining your mind.
Starting with the breath is a great place to begin: you don’t have to buy any special equipment, it doesn’t cost anything and it’s always with you!
Sit for a few moments and notice your breath – how fast you’re breathing, how deeply or shallowly you’re breathing, feel it enter your body through your nose, notice your chest rise and fall, notice your abdomen moving. A few moments concentrating on this will help to calm a busy mind.
Remember, you are not your mind. It doesn’t control you, even if it feels like it does. It is in your power to create a sense of tranquillity in your mind and in your life.
One breath at a time.