Throbbing feet, pulsing head, flushed cheeks, shortness of breath, sweaty brow - does any of that sound familiar? I am relaying how I have been feeling on tube journeys in the hot weather. But I could equally be describing any of the body sensations that can come with stress, anger, or a range of other emotions.
In mindfulness sessions I've been running recently, the hot weather has been a focus. I've tried to cool the temperature down, but sometimes if there isn't any air-con, the windows don't open very far, and the fan blows a steady and pathetic stream of hot air over everybody, we sit and practice in an uncomfortable sauna-like climate - hot mindfulness...
But with that discomfort comes important opportunities for learning and practice.
So I thought I'd set out some thoughts on how to potentially relate the hot weather to practice over the coming days, as well as some things to try out to stay cool and fresh with mindfulness practice this summer. If they don't resonate with you that's totally fine, but if you do try any, see them as an opportunity to try something new, and to be curious and kind to yourself when you're exploring.
1. Just like the hot weather, mindfulness isn't always 'comfortable'
The temptation or trap with mindfulness practice can sometimes be to see it as a fix, or as a 'go to' in order to create a calm and peaceful existence. Whilst practising mindfulness might bring that, a paradox lies in the fact that as soon as we start striving for a particular 'state' with our practice, we are potentially moving away from what the present moment is bringing. Mindfulness involves bringing awareness to the present, deliberately and non-judgmentally. When that present is either physically hot and sweaty, or emotionally so, can we gently explore that, noticing any story-lines that we might be adding on, and being curious about our experience?
2. Find your own shade in practice and in life
This connects to the point above – with mindfulness, self-care is important. Just as we need to explore the uncomfortable (recognising that life doesn’t only ever throw up comfortable things in every moment), we also need to do so gently, within our own limits, and doing what is best for ourselves in any given moment.
I’m a redhead – I last in the sun for about 5 minutes before needing to find a shady spot. Others can sit in the sun for longer, and that’s OK.
So with practice start to explore again what works for you – don’t have an eye on some goal that you think you should be attaining. There is no such thing as a mindfulness sun-tan.
3. Be curious about whether things are different in the heat
Last week I did a body scan practice and was struck by how different some of the sensations were in the heat – I noticed how hot and throbbing my feet were (probably too much information – sorry!). We can use the weather to experience our mindfulness practice differently and bring a new and curious attitude towards noticing more widely. So next time you do a formal practice, be curious about the different body sensations that might result from the heat. Or next time you walk out of your house or into work, notice if it looks different in the sun.
4. Notice the climate externally and internally
Mindfulness involves noticing the patterns in our mind and being curious about them. For some, the weather can offer useful terminology for describing this - is the mind hot, sticky, or stormy? Sometimes the weather externally can also directly start to impact our mood - we start to feel hot and frazzled, almost mirroring the weather outside.
Whatever you are noticing, see if you can observe it with an attitude of curiosity and non-judgement. Just as we can’t control or pin down the external weather, we can’t always control the weather of the mind – sometimes noticing and accepting what the weather is like in a particular moment can bring a parting of the clouds and a cooling down.
5. ‘Eat more ice-cream and less beans’
This is a line from a passage by a lady called Nadine Stair, who at 85, was commenting on what she would do if she had to live her life over again – she said she would have more moments, one after the other, again and again.
So next time you are having an ice-cream have that in mind and rather than multi-tasking with your ice-cream cone and rushing through it to get to the next thing, really take the time to savour it - notice the flavour, the temperature, the texture and the whole experience of eating it (and hopefully cooling down!). Good excuse for a mindfulness-based ice-cream practice anyway…
6. Apply your sun-cream mindfully
One of the things I love about mindfulness is that we can be mindful with everyday activities. So next time you’re applying your sun-cream, how about really bringing attention to the activity that you’re doing while you are doing it? Notice the smell, the temperature, the sensations of the cream touching the skin, what it looks like – and every time you notice your mind wandering away (to the beach you’ve just been on, or to the walk to work you’re about to do) notice and acknowledge where your mind is, and then gently guide it back to what you’re focussing on right now – which is applying that all important sun-cream:)