Escape the Hamsterwheel
Easy Mindfulness Techniques To Stop the Chatter
By Solveig Walkling
Welcome to my hometown of Sydney, a giant, spinning hamster wheel where being busy is a status symbol. Sydneysiders wake up, grab coffee, dash out into rush hour, race through work to a quick lunch run, check-of-phone, banking-and-chores-tick, back to the full desk to meet deadlines before a frantic rush hour traffic journey home to fix up/ grab/ order dinner, fly through downtime at yoga with friends/on the couch to crash into bed. Are you exhausted yet? Hit repeat.
For the few of us who make the jump from that bandwagon to adrenal fatigue to leisurely pace land, it’s a constant struggle against the wheel. As a former champion of keeping-myself-busy, I feel very well-suited to writing a column on how to obtain zen and – perhaps more importantly – keep it.
My epiphany came when I woke up one day, downed my two coffees while simultaneously reading and listening to the news on the radio – and navigating my car through pre dawn Sydney streets. I’d knocked myself into a fitful night with sleeping pills to rise for my morning shift at Sky News’ online desk. A state from which would best steer clear of life altering decisions, you’d think. But as I struggling to keep my car on the straight and narrow, I saw my future flash before my eyes: cynical, caffeine-fuelled, self-medicating with alcohol and burnt out by a life as a journo in news. (I was doing the graveyard shift and police rounds at the Sunday Telegraph at the time – my life felt headed for the Lane Cove Tunnel wall as much as my physical body if I kept up the maddening pace.)
I decided to find a job that would fill me up. Looking after my own physical body and that of others was the logical choice. Of course, I didn’t just hang up my personality with the journo badge. Yes, I shifted into wellbeing, rekindled my love affair with yoga and – baffling everyone around me – started meditation. In my time off, I’d train for a half ironman, 10km ocean swim and the like. I kept packing my days full within an inch of life as I started creating my ideal life. Buying back into the pressure to perform, I went full throttle down the path to spiritual enlightenment.
What I have learned is that, as much as we would like it, there are absolutely no shortcuts. To have more zen in your life in Sydney can be as tricky as starting a marathon in quicksand. But before you throw in the towel and surrender to the spinning hamster wheel of “the fluctuations of the mind” as it is called in yogic terms, let me enlighten you. Zen is always within reach.
Even when you have just spilled your coffee all over your cafe table while writing this column – excuse me while I dry off my mobile, laptop and swimming omelette. I just had to take a breath, realise the silliness of my old mindset creep in and simply feel my body. When you feel the rush of Sydney life run through you, take a minute of looking at your watch and counting your breaths. Feel your body on minute two. Minute three, become aware of your surroundings. If you feel rushed or rotten – great stuff. You are alive and aware. Would you rather have your days pass you by?
So here are a few simple mindfulness techniques that will help you weather the storm and stand right inside the eye of it. The world may be a hamsterwheel of colours, sounds and smells around you… And you will be right inside of it, practicing your calm. becoming the person who stays sane and functional when shit hits the fan. (And it will!) From your zen place, you will have more space to choose freely.
Cultivating calm is a daily habit. Practicing awareness is a lot like brushing your teeth, really. It’s your insurance against cavities down the track. If you don’t brush your teeth, your stress will seep into other people’s noses and put them off their game. Nicely maintained pearly white smiles will spread laughter around you.
Evening: Clear Away the Day
You may be overtired by the time you hit the sack but… only 5 to 15 minutes of clearing the day’s shite away will help you sleep better. You’ll also be able to set a fresh new intention for tomorrow and start driving your life more deliberately. And who wouldn’t want that? Practice one of these techniques:
Have you got too much stuff on your mind at night? Release it by writing it down. Unprocessed murky thoughts from the day will carry over into the next day, unnecessarily.
– Progressive Muscle Relaxation Technique
This works well if you are tense and finding it hard to go to sleep. Starting at your feet: “My feet are relaxed. I am relaxing my feet,” go from area to area feeling it relax and soften. You may be surprised how simply this technique works. Your mind is occupied with a task and your body is relaxing – sleep is awaiting you.
– Practice Gratitude
If you feel low and unhappy, start writing down three things you are grateful for. This draws your mind to a positive focus and will remind you to put things in perspective. If you are overwhelmed by negative emotions, it can create a counterpoint.
Morning: Wake Up and Freely Choose
When your alarm wakes you, do you hit snooze (wishing you could stay in bed today)? Or do you jump out of bed hardly even awake, pull your shoes on and hit the coffee/ gym/ office before you can even think clearly?
Stop! Create a – short – gap. Right here, in the morning.
This largely determines how you will experience the rest of a day. Imagine a sprinter hurtling of the starting block without a thought, Donald Trump bumbling into a meeting room mindlessly. It’s a ludicrous notion we could get away with running our lives on autopilot. Waking up fully to your day and choosing from a space of awareness is the first step.
– Awaken Your Senses
Imagine it was the weekend and you could stay in bed. Stretch into every part of your body to wake up your senses. Feeling into your toes, moving your spine, cracking a yawn or smile and fully waking to the sunrise or the possibilities of the day will help you realise your full potential today.
Before you reach for the coffee, painkillers or whatever else you use to self medicate, drink up. Carrying a dehydrated state through you day is often a cause for fatigue, headaches and a need for caffeine to fuel you up. Make drinking more water – or better drinks (like lemon/ ginger/ cayenne or green juices) a conscious choice.
If your physical body is fine but you’re feeling low, dull, disconnected or unhappy, compassion and kindness technique could be for you. Sit comfortably (so you don’t fall asleep again), relax your body and think of a person you love. Practice sending them loving kindness and compassion. After a few minutes, move to a person you only briefly met and repeat the practice. Then think of someone who has hurt or wronged you. Repeat.
Especially if you are often feeling overwhelmed, anxious or out-of-control, visualising your day unfold smoothly will help. Imagine in get detail how you clearly, easily, successfully and happily go through your day: close those deals, hit your marks and connect with those around you.
Good luck with your day! Remember, it’s a daily practice. Not brushing your teeth once is hardly a reason to not brush later. The proof will be in the pudding… I look forward to hearing your stories.