Thu, 2011-12-08 14:12
Have you ever realised you were just racing through your daily activities, rushing from one thing to the next, multitasking, cramming in the tasks of everyday life? Perhaps you were only able to realise when you stopped moving for a moment to take a break, or finished a deadline and breathed a sigh of relief. Day to day pressures and constant stimulation from electronic media can mean that our senses are occupied almost every minute of the day. If we are able to manage that pressure, it can enable us to accomplish a huge amount, both at work and in our spare time.
But that pressure and productivity comes at a price, and I don’t just mean the effects of stress. I’m referring to the inability to spot the small details of each moment as we live through it, and – perhaps more importantly – to take pleasure in those moments. Mindfulness is a way of experiencing the world by paying attention in the moment, and simply ‘being’. It is rooted in the doctrines of Buddhist meditation, but now has a sufficiently established evidence-base for its effectiveness at dealing with stress, anxiety and depression that courses in it are available on the NHS today.
Mindfulness implies a non-judgemental acceptance of what one is experiencing in the present moment – whatever that emotion, thought or feeling may be. Instead of ruminating on things that happened in the past, which we can’t change, or worrying about things which might happen in the future over which we have no control, we can learn to accept the present. Neurologist James Austin has shown that this kind of training through meditation can actually change the way your brain works, and Jon Kabat-Zinn extended this to introduce mindfulness to health care.
How do we do something ‘mindfully’ then? A good first step would be to approach a common, everyday activity as if it was the first time you were doing it. This might be eating or drinking something, maybe brushing your teeth, or even doing a household chore. If eating a piece of fruit, for example (as part of a healthy parkour diet, obviously) then imagine you have never seen the fruit before. Examine it carefully: how does it look, how does it smell, what does it feel like? When the time feels right to start eating it, notice how your body knows exactly what actions to perform in what sequence in order to actually consume the fruit. Chew it slowly, noticing the taste and the feel of the fruit, before swallowing it and even perhaps feeling it move down inside you (this is easier with a cold drink!), as your body begins to absorb the fruit and its energy and nutrients.
You might notice when you’ve done this that you weren’t even aware that the time was passing – you were just in the moment. On the other hand, you might have been frustrated and wanted to finish eating it quickly. That’s how we act most of the time, with most activities moment to moment. But if you do manage to just focus on that one activity – and each facet of its experience – then the focus and flow of it can be not only enjoyable but quite liberating too.
To me, parkour could and should be an inherently mindful activity. Not in the sense of always moving slowly and deliberately, or you’d never make that wall run with enough momentum. Rather, I mean that as an activity it demands focus and concentration, and we can easily lose ourselves in that moment. But that’s not all. Because parkour is a sensation-rich activity, full of movement, touch, texture, sound, emotion and thought, bringing a mindful approach to parkour might allow us to experience those sensations even more fully, and to immerse ourselves in the activity even more than we already do. If you’re finding that you sometimes struggle to concentrate in your training, try making a few movements mindfully. Try to notice what the textures of the surfaces you’re in contact with are like. Try to notice what you’re feeling inside as you move – apprehension, pleasure, adrenaline? What sensations are you aware of in your joints and muscles? How fast and deeply are you breathing? What thoughts do you notice going through your mind? Look at the obstacle you’ve just moved over as if you never saw it before, and move over it again.
It’s probably not realistic to do everything mindfully – sometimes we need to act quickly and automatically to get stuff done depending on what’s happening around us. But taking time from the day to approach one or two tasks mindfully can be a really good way to give your brain a break from its usual cycle of stress and anxiety. Try giving it a go with your parkour, and see what happens.