Eleven weeks and counting into lockdown, it’s more important than ever to look after our mental health. I’m aware that work is still thin on the ground for many colleagues and others are still battling with childcare, homeschooling and having a full house all of the time, not easy when you’re used to working from home in splendid isolation. Taking even a little time for ourselves is oh so important… Some of you may have read my article on mindfulness in the latest edition of the ITI Bulletin. ITI members can now view it online by logging into My ITI and clicking on ITI Bulletin. For those who aren’t members, I thought I’d share the original article here:
Mindfulness is a very “in” word these days, much hyped and vaunted, yet how many of us truly understand what it entails? Or dismiss it as yet another gimmick, only for trendy celebrities or bohemian yoga-espousing, tree-hugging types? But is it just another “latest thing”? Something you’ll pick up and drop again just as soon, or is it a genuine state of mind, once adopted, never forgotten? If the latter, now could certainly be a very good time to give it a go. According to Headspace, “Mindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment — free from distraction or judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them”.
Admittedly, my first conscious forays into mindfulness came as part of my weekly yoga classes, where the slow pace of the postures (or asanas, as they’re known), the gentle, mellifluous tones of my venerable yoga instructor (85 and counting – what an example for the benefits of yoga practice!) and the deeply relaxing meditation sessions at the end contributed to a real sense of the here and now, especially after going through a harrowing divorce. When you’re concentrating deeply on rhythmic breathing, or holding a challenging pose, there’s little headspace for anxiety or worry to creep in – and that’s just the point. By living fully in the moment, you are able to just be, without juggling the 1,001 things that run through our heads in the course of a standard day.
It can be hard to recreate the zen-like atmosphere of a yoga class at home, however, without the guidance of a teacher. I have been doing my own practice, but not quite getting into the zone – and it’s very easy to slip into a rut and not stretch your body or mind properly. Thanks then to US colleague Judy Jenner who tweeted about a 30-day yoga challenge for 10 minutes a day (https://www.youtube.com/user/yogawithkassandra ): a perfect way to reinvigorate your practice or even to start you off if you’ve never done yoga before. Yoga with Adriene (https://www.youtube.com/user/yogawithadriene ) is another programme I’ve heard good things about: it really helps to do a guided practice, especially if you are a beginner or need help (don’t we all?) setting the time aside to do something good for yourself.
Yoga certainly can be the perfect escape from the challenging times we’re currently living through, but it isn’t the only way we can achieve this desirable state of mind. Gardening is another of my favourite ways of achieving mindfulness – in fact, I’ve been communing with nature this way for years and years, without ever knowing that it had a name! Not only the physical act of being grounded in the earth, but also the need to concentrate fully on whatever menial task you’re doing, be it weeding, sowing seeds or planting out new seedlings. These simple activities give your brain free rein to switch off and just be, while still focusing on the task at hand. No wonder I go down to my allotment and wonder where that 3 to 4 hours have gone! Even gardening in a tiny courtyard, balcony or window box can give you the same opportunities, though. Chance to appreciate the wonders of nature and the seasonal cycles, to say nothing of the intricate beauty of individual flowers or insects. It’s also the perfect antidote to working days spent at the computer coalface; much as I love my job, the physical release of gardening and the exercise it provides are balm to the sedentary worker’s body and soul.
Simply walking, with or without a dog, is another brilliant route to mindfulness. Instead of just marching out, not looking right or left, take the time to stop and smell the roses. Look over the garden hedge, really appreciate what’s going on in your neighbourhood and focus on the minutiae for a change – you might be pleasantly surprised. As a colleague who specialises not only in translation, but also in alternative therapies, once said to me, it’s very hard to be depressed if you look up – and that’s so true. If you think of the classic drooped stance of someone who’s down or depressed, and then contrast that with taking a deep breath and looking up to the sky, you’ll appreciate what a difference it makes. All the better if you’re walking with children: make each walk a game by spotting new things: my childhood journeys were punctuated by Count the Christmas tree competitions, or how many of a certain colour car we could see, or watching out for local landmarks en route (even better if they’re little ones like the gaudy miniature windmill next to someone’s pond, the house with three doorbells (before I was aware of multiple occupancy!) or the field with the ‘Jim-en-a-hanka” sign (as gymkhanas are forever known in my family since my younger sister misread the sign). All prime examples of living in the moment and enjoying life for what it is.
Baking and cooking are prime examples too: hardly surprising that the Foodie Translators Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/FoodieTranslators/ ) is brimming with ideas and shared recipes at the moment from colleagues in Syria or Italy and Spain. They might have endured weeks of lockdown, with little end in sight, but by focusing on what they can do to express their creativity and distract themselves from the anguish all around, they turn to baking wonderful creations and sharing them with others. Sourdough bread is a particularly popular topic: the process of feeding and nurturing it on a regular basis appeals to the carer and homemaker in us all, that almost primeval urge to create new life – and what could be more comforting or satisfying than the aroma of a freshly-baked loaf at the end of all your efforts? Nor is it any wonder that store cupboard cookery also features highly: how to make the most of what you have available when panic buying or simply not being able to go out has depleted your shelves. Comfort food like warming casseroles and stews, or delicious cakes and cookies to warm us from inside out, and satisfy the home baker in us all. Not for nothing is ‘The Great British Bake Off’ so popular, even in the best of times.
Crafting is yet another case in point: I’ve lost track of how many of my friends or colleagues have taken up their knitting needles, unearthed their crochet hooks or dug out their long-forgotten sewing machines, if only to fabricate their own masks in these darkest of days. I first learned to knit at university, in a bid to do something different from the constant reading/writing of an arts degree (in pre-computer days, of course). Again, the rhythmic click of the needles and satisfying repetition of the stitches growing and making something beautiful are entirely mindful – although you can equally well do simple craftwork while watching TV if you feel so inclined. In this age of Facebook and Instagram, we can share our creations on social media, another way of bonding virtually despite our physical isolation. Learning a new skill can be wonderfully rewarding and totally all-encompassing: there are so many YouTube videos out there to teach you to knit or crochet, or even fine-tune your skills if you’re past the beginner stage. I’d love to be able to crochet, but an in-person workshop I tried last December was absolutely hopeless – which only goes to show that just because you can do one, you can’t necessarily pick up the other straightaway! A few concerted YouTube sessions in quiet times may be just what I need to master this art…
Of course, work can be the ultimate act of mindfulness: we get so involved in what we’re doing that time flies and before we know it, the day has gone. It’s when we suddenly haven’t got work at times of crisis that we really miss it and struggle to fill our days with something equally all-enveloping. I know a lot of colleagues will be experiencing unprecedented difficulties at the moment, and I can’t claim to offer a solution, but I do believe that taking one day, even one hour, at a time and trying to live in, and enjoy, the moment is one way to cope. Try it and see. Namaste 😊.
*Beautiful yoga photo courtesy of sports photographer Karen Yeomans http://www.karenyeomans.com/ with grateful thanks to yoga teacher Carrie http://www.carrie-yoga.co.uk/ for allowing me to print it. If only my “boat” was anywhere near as elegant…