Stilling the mind

What are you thinking of right now? That you are hungry, sleepy, should be supervising your children’s homework, working on a report for tomorrow’s meeting or that your boss is unhappy with your work?

We think a lot, often without even being aware of it. Psychologists estimate that we have more than 60,000 thoughts a day, 95 per cent of which are repetitive and useless.

In the Western world thinking is viewed as good and not thinking is seen as laziness or dullness, says Patrick McKeown, the Galway based author of Anxiety Free: Stop Worrying and Quieten your Mind who teaches the Buteyko breathing method. He claims both it and mindfulness provide people with the tools to deal with anxiety, worry and excessive thinking.

“We often hear about the ‘brilliant thinkers’ who make profound discoveries or realisations,” he says. “Truth be told eureka moments are made not during thought but during a cessation of thought. Thinking is seen as a solution to any of life’s situations. If you think it is good to think a lot take a look at the stress of people in the constant grip and torture of their minds.”

He believes many of us have “internal mental chatter”. We think about the same thing every day with little resolve or reduction in thinking.

“Thinking for practical purposes is fine as it serves a function,” he says. “However, most of our thinking is not for practical purposes, it is spent on repetitive worry and anxiety. You will realise this as you observe the activity of your mind. If you could eliminate your repetitive thought activity by 50 per cent you would be very happy indeed. If you could eliminate all repetitive and useless thinking you would live a life of bliss.”

Mental noise

Regardless of the extent to which thoughts have taken over our minds we have the capacity to take back control, he maintains.

“A still mind is just covered up with mental noise, therefore anything that helps to de-clutter your mind will allow stillness to surface. Your choice is to keep running the thoughts through your head and experience the consequences or become a good gardener of your mind, root out the weeds and allow the flowers to grow. A sleeping gardener is not attentive and will soon have a jungle of weeds. A good gardener is awake.”

He urges people to be “good gardeners” of their minds. “A mind that is being observed is an unsuitable environment for anxiety and depression to take root. Both require a lack of awareness as a suitable breeding ground.”

He says a still mind enables us to relate far better to life and to live it instead of paying attention to useless thinking. No longer is so much of our energy wasted on harmful escapades and we can instead focus with better concentration on what we truly choose. Although learning to take back control of our mind is very simple, just like the good gardener, attention is required.

“Keep an eye on repetitive thoughts. What thoughts do you repeat over and over again? How long have you been running these thoughts through your head? What affect do these thoughts have on your body? How do you feel when you think them? Do you reach a conclusion? Do they help you in any way?

“Through thought your mind creates emotions in your body. In turn, these emotions feed your mind. The more you think about that ass of a boss or that idiot of a neighbour or that lousy wife or that clown of a husband, the more anger builds up in you. This increased anger feeds your mind. Your mind feeds your emotions.”

He advises people to stay present and connect directly with life instead of doing so through a collection of thoughts.

“Drop the thoughts. Set them aside not through force but through the realisation that they are not who we are.”

Patrick McKeown offers the following tips:-

How to quieten your mind

* Nasal breathe at all times, including at night

* Watch your thoughts, know what is going through your mind and determine how your thoughts create your mood and how your mood creates your thoughts.

* Keep your breathing calm at all times and reduce it by relaxing your tummy and chest

* Avoid excessive talking or other activities that increase breathing

* Eat food in small quantities

* Never push yourself during physical exercise beyond the point where you lose control of your breathing

* Try gentle walking each day with your mouth closed

* Relax your inner self. If your tummy is tense encourage it to relax through mental commentary

* When faced with confrontation bring attention immediately to your inner body. Start off first with small situations. In time, you will be calmer regardless of what is taking place around you.

* If you need to challenge somebody wait until your anger has passed and approach the individual while keeping most of your attention on your inner body.

What is the Buteyko breathing method?

Named after the Russian professor Konstantin Buteyko, the Buteyko method is a series of breathing exercises and guidelines specifically designed to reduce over-breathing.

Patrick McKeown who teaches the system, says he had extensive health problems until he began using it. He is one of just a few people in the Western world accredited by the late professor.

“The simple fact is that many people breathe too much (clinically known as chronic hyperventilation ), altering the natural levels of gases in the blood and contributing to numerous health problems, including asthma,” he says.

“Habitual over-breathing is primarily due to the elements of our modern lifestyles such as processed foods, lack of exercise, pollution, smoking, and excessive talking.”

Developing a habit of breathing too much can have significant negative consequences for long-term health as it reduces oxygen delivery to tissues and organs and leads to the constriction of the smooth muscles surrounding blood vessels and airways, he maintains.

“Most people will have experienced constriction of blood flow to the brain resulting from a period spent over-breathing. It doesn’t take very long to feel the onset of dizziness and light-headedness from taking a few big breaths in and out through the mouth. Similarly, many individuals who sleep with their mouths open may find it difficult to get going in the morning. Regardless of the amount of time spent sleeping, they are still tired and groggy for the first few hours after waking. It is well-documented that habitual mouth breathing during waking and sleeping hours results in fatigue, poor concentration, reduced productivity and a bad mood.”

The Buteyko method involves:

1. Learning how to unblock the nose using breath hold exercises

2. Switching from mouth breathing to nasal breathing

3. Relaxation of the diaphragm and creating a mild air shortage

4. Making small and easy lifestyle changes to assist with better long-term breathing methods

5. Measuring your breathing volume and tracking your progress using a special breath hold test called the Control Pause

* Patrick McKeown’s book, which includes a free CD and is entitled Anxiety Free: Stop Worrying and Quieten your Mind, is available from Easons and costs €12.99. For further information on the buteyko method telephone (091 ) 756229 or email or log on toe


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