3 Mindfulness Activities for the Hyperkinetic
How to smell the roses without stopping - when sitting still isn’t your thing
Most of the people who know me and know me well would not be surprised to hear me described as “hyperkinetic.” Around a year ago, my boss and mentor at the time finished teaching a group of students, demonstrating the curriculum I would ultimately be expected to teach while I sat, then stood, then sat in the back of the room to observe. At the end of her instruction, she off handedly made the comment that our current observation plan wasn’t working because I was “hyperkinetic and frankly a little distracting.” Now I will admit, I was initially taken aback by her frankness, but ultimately came to realize she was not entirely wrong in her characterization of me. I have, on many occasions, readily admitted to being someone who ‘doesn’t sit still well,’ and I will not soon forget the family trip to the busy trampoline park, packed with kids, when my husband turned to me and said (with completely innocent observational intent) “this is what I picture the inside of your brain to look like.” I have learned to embrace this aspect of my personality for the advantage that it can often be, and to find humor in each of these stories. But, like any trait, my resistance to sitting still and preference for a fast-moving pace can also have its challenges. In recent years, I have come to understand just how valuable mindfulness, or present awareness without judgement, can be as a skill and a lifestyle for our mental and physical health. And while I enjoy a good yoga class and have even challenged myself to engage in a variety of types of meditation to grow these skills, I definitely have days when neither of these activities are appealing to me for their noted frameworks of prescribed movement and stillness. For lack of a better way of putting it, some days my mind is just too deep in the bounce house to sit in a quiet room or focus solely on my breath. But another aspect of my personality I have come to love and embrace, is my dogged commitment to finding improvement over perfection. I refuse to accept that, on those days when my mind and body are just not finding stillness, I have to totally abandon mindfulness as a strategy for maintaining my own holistic health. So, this month I have assembled some activities that I personally have used on days when I need to keep moving, but also want to slow down the hamster wheel in my mind and to let go of yesterday and tomorrow, should, could and would have. If you, too, identify as ‘hyperkinetic,’ I hope one of these ideas resonates with you and brings you the ability to stop and smell the roses this spring, and to find a little calm in the midst of life’s storms.
I would be remiss if I didn’t start this list of activities with a brief explanation of what mindfulness actually is. More than just a buzz word associated with Buddhist philosophy, mindfulness is a broad-spectrum term for actions or activities that let us observe the present moment in a way that does not include judgement, appraisal, or utilization for another purpose. While the concept is simple, the practice isn’t always easy or natural to begin so I hope some of the activities below help wet your feet in the experience and keep you coming back for more!
Take a Color Walk
One of my favorite ways to keep active and reap the health benefits of movement is by walking. As an avid dog lover, one of my favorite ways to vent my need for movement is to leash up my dog and hit the sidewalks, trails or least busy streets in my area to step it out. Now on some days, I enjoy just letting my mind wander and it can be a great time for me to brainstorm, process my thoughts or listen to a podcast or audiobook to invest in my own knowledge base, but on days when I’m feeling particularly in the storm and like I need a dose of mindfulness, I have settled on a very simple strategy that helps me remain present while I walk instead of being taken hostage by my own racing thoughts. When I set out on my walk, I choose a color and I actively look for and take note of any object on my walk that is that color. If I choose red for that day, then I take note of the red cars, the stop signs, the red tulips beginning to emerge in my neighbor’s garden. But I have come to find that as I walk, I begin to tune in more and more to the point of searching for smaller and smaller dashes of that color. I begin to notice the red writing in a yard sign, the red taillights of the car driving by, or the reddish tinge to the berries on a particular tree up the street. I start to appreciate all of the subtle differences in reds, both natural and man-made that I encounter as I walk. And in the event that my mind is pulled away, grabbed by a thought from my to do list or from a conversation I had the day before, I am easily able to come back to that color just as soon as I realize I’ve wandered. And the really beautiful thing is that, because I am walking, my scenery is constantly changing, offering me new opportunities to find that anchoring color around me. It has been a simple strategy for me to encourage my mind to stay curious about the present moment and all its richness. I hope it will serve you too.
Take a Tour of Your Body
Another mindfulness strategy you can employ while moving and grooving is a body scan. While most body scan scripts and activities begin with closing the eyes to tune in to sensations within the body, I have come to enjoy using body scanning during workouts, hikes, or even plane rides when I’m not able to move as much as I would prefer. Let me back up slightly here and explain that a body scan is just taking your attention and focusing it as completely as you can on a single area of your body, then another and another until you feel you have made a complete trip around your body. This can feel challenging at first, but I have come to use a few strategies to dial in to different body areas that really help me to tap into the present moment curiosity that roots us into that mindful state. For example, have you ever focused on the temperature of the air on the skin at the crease of your elbow? Or when is the last time you noticed the feeling of your socks against the soles of your feet? I have found that by asking myself “what do I feel against my skin here?” I can tune in to a specific body area with curiosity and not judgement. This tactic was one of my favorites to use during elliptical or running workouts when the monotony of the workout was leaving me with less than a pleasurable impression of the experience. I could stop focusing on the sound of my own exhaustion and focus in with curiosity on my right palm for example. It really helped me to pass the time in pace rather than panic or agitation. Give it a try and maybe it can help you dial in too.
*There is no right or wrong way to move through your body as you do this, but if it helps to have a guide as a jumping off point, here is the tour I usually take: Scalp, Right ear, Left ear, Upper lip (just below my nose), Space between my collar bones, Right shoulder, Crease of Right elbow, Right palm, Left shoulder, Crease of Left elbow, Left palm, Right hip, Back of Right knee, Sole of Right foot, Left Hip, Back of Left knee, Sole of Left foot, Area above my belly button. Hope it helps!
Take a Mental Picture
About a year ago, I started learning some very basic photography skills and techniques. What I came to realize is that photography can be an amazingly mindful craft. Composing a beautiful photo requires us to attend to the details of the world in front of us. the interplay of light, objects, proportions, and ratios. One simple way to break into this is to find a “photo everyday” list. These are lists of subjects for you to go out each day and find to photograph as you are growing your photography skills. The really cool thing about using this as a mindfulness strategy is that you don’t actually need the camera. The list essentially just gives you an object to spend each day noticing. Maybe day 1 is a soda bottle. For that day, all you need to do is to keep that prompt somewhere in your mind so that throughout your day, you are noticing the soda bottles in your environment. Then maybe take a minute to notice the characteristics of that specific soda bottle in the way that a photographer would take note of how the color interacts with the light, how the bottle stands out or blends into what’s around it, or even what it looks like from different angles. Then go back to your day until the next soda bottle makes itself known to you!
While research has shown us that mindfulness practices can have tremendous benefits for our mental and physical health, they can be difficult to implement in our daily lives, especially on days when sitting still just feels like a bridge too far. Speaking as someone who knows and feels that struggle on a regular basis, I hope that one or more of these activities sparks a habit that you can grow and enjoy in your life. With a little creativity, I hope even the most hyperkinetic among us gets their chance to smell the roses, even if they aren’t ready to fully stop while doing it!
As always, if you need or want support in your journey, reach out to Tailored Brain Health by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call 336-542-1800. We would love to smell the roses with you this spring!