Mindfulness: Narrow & Broad Anchors

This piece is part of Mental Health Week, hosted by The Political Revolution. Check it out over on reddit.

Source: HealthCentral

There are many preconceptions of how mindfulness works as a coping mechanism for alleviating cluttered thinking, such as in the cases of mental spiraling in anxiety and depression.

  • Narrow Anchors
    The common focus to latch upon is something people commonly conceive as a notion for mindful meditation. When you think of someone practicing mindfulness, you might think of the typical eyes-closed, cross-legged pose with no perturbance. Well, this is a trying to hone in on a singular anchor. A narrowly chosen mental engagement seeks to be in control, filtering all input and output in one’s mind. During this pursuit, thoughts flow into a box that one can close off to bring back focus to the meditative experience. These exercises can be aided by having concrete focal points like square breathing, or counting exercises. These techniques are proven to help the mind ride emotional energies, or “surf the emotion” as psychologists say. Try some of these techniques to help ease the mind of repetitive thoughts, rumination, and/or psychosomatic symptoms —
Source: CFJCounseling

Visualizing the “square” in square-breathing can act to further strengthen the anchor. Check out this guide.

Narrow anchors can be used even while engaging in activities! One aspect remains the same, the focus on counting and bringing oneself back to the focused activity. Case example: Walking Meditation

In order to have peace and joy, you must succeed in having peace within each of your steps. Your steps are the most important thing.

- Thich Nhat Hanh


  • Broad Anchors
    This is the usually less apparent form of mindful meditation that not many have tried. Broad anchors require observation, description, and participation. This last part may seem to be distracting from the mental relaxation part, but these kinds of anchors help even while you remain in mentally-engaged tasks. These kinds of anchors help one become more observant and thinking outside-the-mind. Instead of using a filter like in the ‘closed-box’ example above, one can picture themselves observing from above, seeing stimuli and their place in the environment with you included. In a lot of ways, broad anchors help ground you to your surroundings, as one can take steps to share energy where they see fit. There is still an aspect of being able to control the flow of one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in this outside perspective, just like in narrow anchors.
    Picture someone now entering a state of intentional mindful activity, but this time they leave their eyes open. In this case, there is the potential to latch on to every stimuli in the immediate space–the blinds moving with the airflow in the room, the buzzing and beeping of tech machinery, the tick-tock on a clock. However, the key is to follow three stages when engaging in broad anchor exercises:
  1. Observe- Let yourself freely experience your environment. Do not try to focus on simply eliminating distractions and going numb, but accept thoughts and feelings as they arise, without judgment, and allow them to pass freely without attaching oneself. Notice that your mind can and will probably try to associate a reaction to whatever stimuli passes through your perception, but don’t let these materialize into any weight, or further, meta-reaction.
  2. Describe- Once you’ve conquered observation and it’s offer of some mental space to work with away from other ego processes, it’s important to begin engaging in simple, descriptive processes. This is when you can commence, still without judgment, upon ascribing words in concrete fashion to what you are observing. “That cloud is white.” “These drapes are moving in the wind.” This is when you are in tune with what your environment is externally presenting at all times, and actively pairing your mind with this reality. It reminds us where we are in this flowing energy, internal and external.
  3. Participate- Here’s the hard part. Whether you are sitting in a chair in a room full of quiet, meditating participants in an exercise, or in the midst of your day-job doing menial mental math, how do we then experience the same mindful release of unadulterated concentration and building mental reserves in stead of mental drains? Engaging with the things in your environment can act as an anchor in itself. One can latch on to any particular stimuli in their environment and observe the situation using a honed-in eye or ear. In this case, there is no second-guessing or over-thinking beyond the stimulus you are engaging with. Fully describe it, or let it interact and incept an emotional response or thought in you. It’s much like the feeling of being in flow psychology with an activity you do with almost no mental expenditure–think eating your favorite grub, or taking on a leisurely, routine task at work/in school.

Narrow and broad anchors serve to engage many biologically-ingrained processes in our brains that can serve to help one achieve a better cognitive and emotional baseline, and is all in one’s powerful grasp!

Serotonin and dopamine levels are shown to regulate according to each his/her own humor, and mindfulness serves as an effective malady to an overloaded imbalance in chemistry.

So it’s a great tool to have in the mental health toolkit. It’s right there in your head–so tuning your brain to these techniques is good practice in the long-run. If at first it is difficult at first, some guided-meditation techniques help in framing these very processes, so check those out if it doesn’t work out for you initially.

Practicing mindfulness can help make one more in tune, feel grounded in their body & mind, more observant, and most importantly, better than many of the negative-energy mental processes that can sometimes overwhelm our brains. It’s important to recognize when feeling these imbalances in chemistry, and even if something ever just seems off. It can help you find your center.

Food for thought, or your next mindful session: