If you have a dog you know about bone chews. They are made of some tasty, chewy material so the dog focuses his or her attention on something other than whatever undesired behavior you want to avoid. Well, these Bone Chews do the same for your brain. They are based on basic mindfulness concepts that have been well-proven to help us tame a runaway brain. Chances are you know what I mean by a “runaway brain” – when your brain is racing with many thoughts, stuck on a particular thought you can’t turn off or flying around endlessly from one random thing to another, giving you and it not a moment’s peace.
The goal of the Bone Chews is to divert your brain away from such thoughts by giving it something else to chew on that brings your attention out of your head and its inner musings into your body so you can refocus on the world around you. Sometimes this shift can happen at once. Other times with a determined Runaway Brain you may have to spend some effort enticing your brain back to a Bone Chew for a while or trying several different ones before you can successfully distract your attention away from yourself into your life. But either way you can get the extended moments of peace you are seeking.
Of course if your brain is chewing on thoughts about something that is crucial for you to work out right now, you need to take care of that issue right away by taking whatever action is called for. Even if there is some action you need to take if you cannot take it now, there is no point in gnawing on it endlessly until you can. Here are some questions you can ask to be sure a distracting Bone Chew is appropriate:
- Can you do something to address the matters that are playing endlessly on my mind?
- Are these thoughts productively helping to prepare me to handle these matters? i.e. G/G?
- Can you do something now to address the matter or do they need to be set aside until a time when you can take the needed action?
- Are you in the best state to handle the matters effectively or would it be better to take
them up later when you are on top of your game in Wise Mind and Well Body?If the answer is “NO” to any of these questions, it’s time for a Bone Chew or two. Unproductive obsessive thoughts just exhaust you. They are not getting you anywhere. So toss your brain a Bone Chew like one of these. If you notice your brain wandering away from the Bone Chew, just notice that and gently bring your attention back to the Bone you’ve been chewing on without judgment or concern. Don’t give up after one try. Try out several if need be to find your favorites. Or create one of you own. With a truly stubborn brain you may need to repeat them lots of time to get your brain’s attention on something else.
- Begin a slow gentle belly breath. Usually if our brain is racing madly we are feeling anxious or uptight and as a result we are breathing shallowly so pause to take an inbreath from your abdomen. Put your hand there to feel your abdomen expand. Then allow the inbreath to gently rise up to your chest. Notice your chest expanding too. The gently exhale and notice how your chest and abdomen contract. Do this several times or until you have “reset” your brain to be able to redirect you attention to selecting some activity to do such as working in the garden, watching a movie, reading a book, pursuing a hobby, falling asleep, working on a household or job-related project, calling a friend to “chew the fat off the bone,” so to speak, hear their good news or listen empathetically to their problems. Take notes if your brain is having trouble engaging.
- Take a belly breath and feel your feet. Where are they? What are they doing? Wiggle your toes. Feel the surface beneath them. Is it hard, soft, firm, crooked? Are you wearing something on them? What do your shoes or socks feel like to your feet? Hot, cool, snug, comphy? Adjust your feet if they are uncomfortable. When that has sufficiently “reset” your brain, shift you attention away from yourself to some appealing activity that will engage your brain – and feet – in some physical action.
- Immerse your brain in the sensory world. Since your brain has run away with thoughts that are not productive and there is nothing you can do now to address them, put your brain to work on carefully noticing the environment around you. Focus on finding things you may never have noticed before.What do you see? Describe in detail the various aspects of what you see around you. What colors do you see? What shapes? Do the surroundings or objects it look old or new? Are they part of the natural environment or manmade? Etc.What do you hear? Where is the sound coming from? Describe the sound. Is it subtle? Harsh? Grating? Soothing? See if you can hear it without giving it a name.What textures are around you? If you are sitting, what is the material of the chair? Is it soft? Hard? Smooth? What color is it? Are there different shades or shadows in it? What about the walls? The furniture? Again, what color are they? Are they smooth? Rough?Is there any odor, fragrance or smell where you are? Does it smell fresh? Familiar? Stale? Sweet? Maybe there is something cooking or a potpourri in the room? Maybe you can smell a lingering wisp of cologne, perspiration, cigarette smoke or food.
What can you notice about the atmosphere? Is it warm, cool, is there a breeze or stirring in the air? Is it pleasant here? How do you feel here? Is it pleasant (G/G) here or not so pleasant (G/O)? Is there anything you’d like to change about where you are? Do you want change positions or move elsewhere? If you can, make the desire changes and allow yourself to enjoy them. Or would you rather be somewhere else? Where else could you go? Another room? Outdoors?
4. Take your brain outdoors. Speaking of the outdoors, being in an natural environment attunes our the brain to the rhythms of nature. Research has shown this to be especially calming for the brain. You don’t need to go to a park, the river or ocean for this to help, (though of course those locales are especially pleasing to the brain.) Simply go outside to an nearby environment – your yard, patio, court yard or porch. Do the above sensory experience in this natural environment.
5. Guide your brain to check on the state of your body.
Sit or lie in a comfortable position, making sure that you do not have any constriction. Loosen any tight clothing. Then begin by taking a few calming belly breaths, noticing the sensations of your breath filling your abdomen and moving up to fill your chest and letting go on the outbreath. Notice any places where your breath catches, is tight or strained. Feel the sensations of the air flowing in and out of your nostrils.
You don’t need to change or judge your breath it, just notice. You may find that noticing your breath causes it adjust itself in some way – or not. Or you may also find that your body wishes to adjust your position. If so, just notice these changes and allow your body to make any adjustments it wishes without judgment or evaluation.Then sift your attention away from your breath to your feet. Pay attention to the physical feelings in first you left and then your right food: any pain, discomfort, coolness, warmth, tension, tingling, pulsing, tightness, etc. Check in with your toes, the balls of your feet, your arch, heels and ankles. Simply pay attention to the physical feelings and sensations. Don’t judge them as good or bad, don’t try to change them, just be aware of them.
Slowly allow your awareness to drift up from your feet to your lower legs, again simply paying attention to any physical sensations in that part of your body, including any tightness, pain or discomfort. Then slowly let your awareness drift further up your body, doing the same gentle noticing for all of the parts of your body – your upper legs, hips, buttocks, pelvic region, stomach, chest, your lower back, upper back, fingers and hands, lower arms, upper arms, shoulders, neck, your head, forehead, temples, face – eyes, cheeks, nose, mouth, jaw line.
Then let your awareness drift gently and slowly back down your body, noticing any other places where there is pain, discomfort or tension and simply noticing this, until you awareness settles back at your feet.Commence doing this exercise just for 5 minutes. Don’t worry about how long it takes – just allow yourself to pay attention to the sensations in your body. If, thoughts intrude while doing this exercise, that’s okay – just notice the thoughts, notice yourself noticing the thoughts and gently guide your awareness back to your body.
6. Start Digging for a Big Bone.
Once your awareness is present in your body again by doing one or more of the above, your brain is ready to start chewing on something that will keep it fully focused. Choose something engaging you would enjoy doing. It could be a reading a book, playing a video game, watching a TV show, starting a work project, surfing the web, doing a crossword puzzle, etc. Be sure to avoid doing something mindless that leaves the brain free to wander around again like doing the dishes. Get your brain really fully involved in what you are doing.