Gaining mental flexibility

Have you ever heard the expression, “Don’t let your mind run away with you”? This is a common phrase, but what does it mean exactly? Before we can answer that, I think it is important to define the word "mind."

The dictionary tells us the mind is "the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought." As you can see, the mind is complex, which can make it tricky when it comes to “not letting it run away with us.”

Being a mother of three, working and going to school, my to-do list can be endless. I have often found myself waking up at 1, 2, or 3 o’clock in the morning and not being able to go back to sleep. Maybe you can relate.

Perhaps you’ve heard the word "ruminating." Ruminating is just another way of saying “letting our minds run away with us.” And this can happen to us all day or night. It is worth pointing out that emotions and thoughts are directly connected. Therefore, controlling your thoughts can, in effect, help with controlling your emotions.

So, how do we get ourselves un-stuck when we find we’re ruminating? One thing we can do is to train our minds to be flexible and to do so we must create a calm space within ourselves. Training our minds is much like becoming physically fit. It takes dedication and repetition over time.

In my experience, mindfulness and meditation are often viewed as daunting, and perhaps carry some mystical connotation. Maybe as you think about meditating, images of Tibetan monks are coming to mind. But, it is not necessary to spend hours a day in silence to reap the benefits of meditation.

So where do we begin? It all starts with our breath.

It may sound cliché or overly simplistic. Nonetheless, utilizing deep, belly breathing, on a regular basis, is the place to start. The reason is in our biology. There are two parts to our autonomic nervous system: the parasympathetic and the sympathetic. To keep it simple, the parasympathetic nervous system calms us down and relaxes the body and the sympathetic nervous system prepares us to face danger.

Each time we take a deep breath in and release it, we activate both parts of the autonomic nervous system. This practice is thought to reset our nervous system and create equilibrium and balance within us, on a biological level.  

Give it a try:

1. Place your hands, fingers intertwined, palms on your belly, just below your belly button.

2. Breathe in through your nose (if this is not possible it is OK to breathe through your mouth).

3. Breathe out through your mouth, focusing on the sound of your breath.

4. Repeat this process for a couple of minutes, going at your own pace, but slowing down as you go. 

You have just done your first meditation exercise!

After some time, you may notice that your mind clears. This is the goal. When thoughts do come in, just watch them like clouds just passing by, and re-focus on the sound of your breath. 

Ruminating from time to time is natural, but it is comforting to know we do not have to stay stuck on our thoughts. With deep breathing practice we can take our minds to our calm center, refocus and gain control of our thoughts. 

Best wishes on your journey to having more inner peace and taking control of your mind.

Julie Reed

I received my undergraduate degree from Bowling Green State University and my master's from Wake Forest Univeristy.  I am a licensed professional and nationally certified counselor, working at a private practice in Westlake. I was an elementary school teacher for nearly 20 years before pursuing my master's degree in clinical mental health counseling. I live with my husband and three wonderful boys. In my rare moments of cherished free time, I enjoy running, cooking, painting, and reading.

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Volume 11, Issue 2, Posted 10:09 AM, 01.22.2019