2010, Magazine: Longevity

Declutter your Mind

It’s only the third month of the year, but it feels like you never had a break away from it all – just when did life get so busy anyway? Modern life is moving you away from being the superwoman you know you are and instead, making you forgetful, flustered and stressed out. Here are nine easy steps to help you clear out the clutter clouding your mind, and navigate your way through the chaos. 


1. Achieve harmony through yoga
The entire system of Hatha Yoga, comprising breath-work and postures, is designed to bring balance and harmony to the body on all levels – including the intellect, says qualified yoga instructor, Deevya Vasson. “When you’re stressed, you start thinking of a million different things on your to-do list,” she says. “It’s at those times when you’ll find it most difficult to be still and quieten your mind.” Vasson recommends doing yoga and practising various breathing techniques as a way to relax the body. “Once the body has released tension through physical exertion, stored toxins are freed from the body – and the mind becomes silent,” she says. Independent Marketing and Communications strategist and author, Clive Simpkins, agrees. “We can’t become entirely stress-free and escape the clutter, but what we can do is develop strategies for managing it,” he says. “Because I start my day in a place of calm and peacefulness, I’m able to go back ‘inside’ to that quiet place and re-group, consolidate and remind myself that this is all a game played on the stage of life.”


2. Connect with horses to live in the now
At the Mizpah Farm Retreat, it’s the horses that bring life back into equilibrium. Nestled between two rivers, the retreat in the Kwa-Zulu Natal Midlands has been running since 2007 as a sanctuary for anyone feeling fragmented, stressed-out, tired, traumatised or just looking to get away.  Visitors are given the opportunity to experience a guided interaction with one or more of the six horses, where the focus is on personal development, emotional healing and becoming more aware of the present moment. “Horses partner with us in this journey of exploration to help us become more aware and more connected with ourselves, each other and the environment,” says social worker, Equine Facilitated Psychotherapist and Certified Horsemanship trainer, Liesl Jewitt, who runs the retreat. “We spend so much of our energy reliving past moments and worrying about future ones that we lose the only opportunity to really live in the here and now – and these majestic animals help bring us back to the centre, stripped away of what’s superfluous.” 


3. Karate stills the waters of the mind
In martial arts literature, there is a phrase; Mizu No Kokuro, which literally means, ‘mind like water’. According to the founder of Black Sword Aikido, Joseph Caulfield, the phrase implies making the mind calm when facing an emergency or an adversary. He writes; “The calm mind, like still water, accurately reflects all that comes before it.” Chief instructor of the Karate Academy of South Africa, Soon Pretorius agrees; “The hard, physical training in karate demands the mind to focus, which not only improves brain capacity, but also helps to increase concentration and memory,” he says. “I believe that a healthy, peaceful mind requires a healthy body – and karate can help with all this, as well as learning about self-defence.” Pretorius points out that we often underestimate the capabilities of our minds. “We wrongly think that the mind is disorderly and has limited space – but through regular, focused training in martial arts, the mind’s capacity increases,” he adds. 

4. A few minutes for meditation
Gillian Barton, who coordinated the January level 1 Shambhala meditation course, takes time everyday out of her busy schedule to meditate, even if it’s just for ten minutes a day. “Meditation is incredibly simple, but it is not easy. Once you get a taste of the benefits though, you’ll want to explore this practice further,” she says. “The Shambhala vision is a fresh expression of the spiritual journey for our time and since the 1970s, over 200 centres have been set up all over the world.” Developed by Tibetan lama Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, these techniques help to bring clarity, discipline and a sense of spaciousness, helping to free the restless, troubled and crowded mind. “If you find it difficult to meditate by yourself, join a meditation group in your area,” she says. “Importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself if the methods come to you slowly. Don’t get caught up in perfection or the ideal way to meditate – just keep practising everyday – and things can only get better from there.”


5. Eliminate the extras
Make the space you live in more habitable by keeping it clear of clutter, which will have an effect on your mind, explains Simpkins. “Leading edge neuro-science indicates that ‘mirror neurons’ in our brain reflect what we see outside and it has an impact on how we think and feel on the inside,” he says. “For example, when you see someone in pain, you empathise and ‘experience’ some of their pain or discomfort. In the same way, cluttered, messy external surroundings will have a reciprocal effect on the mind. It’s not accidental that in Zen gardens, pottery, sculpture and philosophy are minimalist, concise, pristine and uncluttered.” Surrounding yourself with a lot of stuff only serves to further clutter your mind, without your fully realising it. By letting go of the objects which no longer serve a purpose to your life, he says, you make space for new and more useful things.


6. Eat food for thought
For nutritional chef and owner of the acclaimed Fresh Earth Food Store in Johannesburg, Matthew Ballenden, it’s simple: supply your body with good food and your brain will function optimally. “Our bodies are designed to maintain homeostasis at all times, providing that we look after it properly. A foggy mind or the inability to concentrate can easily be rectified by a well-balanced holistic eating plan,” he says. “Foods like steamed fish, raw nuts and seeds, freshly squeezed juices with ginger, Gingko Biloba and Ginseng, loads of raw salads and whole grains, will all help to achieve a sharper mind.” Ballenden recommends that refined foods high in carbohydrates and fat, as well as caffeine, sugar and alcohol, be avoided as far as possible. “Sometimes these types of foods offer a temporary solution, but will almost always leave you feeling exhausted, non-productive and somewhat scattered. They also use up valuable resources in the body that otherwise could have gone elsewhere to help you cope with daily challenges,” he adds. 


7. Paint the town red!
“Sometimes we think we’re robots, forgetting that we can only do so much in one day. If it’s not grocery shopping, then it’s car-pooling the kids, burning the midnight oil at work, or walking the dogs,” says sexologist and president of the Sub-Saharan Africa Society for Sexual Health Advisors, Educators, Researchers and Therapists, Professor Elna McIntosh. “It’s important to take part in at least one activity every week where you do nothing but enjoy yourself.” McIntosh suggests different activities such as a book club with the girls, a pedicure and lunch with a friend — anything, as long as you take advantage of some chore-free time, while also fostering friendships, which are indispensable to one’s mental health. Says McIntosh; “Remember what made you you before the to-do list took over!”


8. Think positive to achieve results!
To live a less harried lifestyle, uncluttered by the unnecessary, Simpkins talks about a solution offered in his book, Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life; “Bad habits consume valuable time, filling your life up with something that does not add value – but instead only adds to the clutter. Habits are nothing more than old thought-pathways we’ve trodden many times, so they’ve just become automated,” he says. “We don’t have to destroy or uproot them. We just need to start walking different neural pathways more frequently. In time, these new thinking patterns of the brain will become the default.” Quantum Neuro-Linguistic Programming Master Practitioner, Warren Munitz, also believes that the mind can easily be changed and that the thoughts we think create our experiences. “Many of us focus on what we don’t want, filling our minds with pointless worry and negativity, and yet, we are surprised when our lives go pear-shaped,” says Munitz. “The secret is about increasing your awareness of the filters you use to gauge incoming information – and these can be anything from core human needs, language, memories and even attitude. Once you’ve realised that these perceptions are only a filter, you can start by changing them to suit your goals.” 

9. Escape the media once in a while
In addition to all the responsibilities of your daily life, you end each day watching the television, checking emails or interacting online on a social network. According to Simpkins, choosing to unwind in this way only serves to do the opposite and stress you out even more. “Sensory overload is one of the biggest challenges we face as a society. Feeling strung out has become the norm for many people who don’t know how to take time out for themselves,” he says. “My motto is to reduce or eliminate activities and relationships which are not adding value to my life. So, instead of lying awake in bed thinking about an email you should’ve sent or wondering about the afternoon’s soapies, examine yourself and ask: is the world a better place because I was in it today? Your answer will help you to focus and direct you towards the right things.”


Bonus tips for your peace of mind

  • Get that niggling thought out and onto paper for dealing with later, instead of letting it cloud your mind.
  • Let go of the idea of multi-tasking; you are a human being, not an automaton. 
  • Get more sleep and regulate your sleeping patterns, as it might be affecting you adversely.
  • Remember, when it comes to finding stillness and calm in your life, less is more – so let go of things you no longer need, whether its emotional, physical or mental. 
  • Get some physical exertion as it helps to relax the body and release stress from the mind.
  • Talk to a friend about what’s on your mind, letting them know all you need is an ear to listen to your ramblings to help clear your head.
  • Find out what your passions are and make an effort to pursue them, whether it’s an art workshop or mountain-climbing. 
  • The best things in life are free – so instead of spending the day shopping for useless things, have a picnic in nature’s great outdoors with someone special.

Useful Contacts

Click here to see another version of this story at the Longevity Magazine online portal. 

Author: Charlene Yared-West. Published in Longevity Magazine, March 2010, p.12. 

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