Want to learn more about mindfulness and explore the benefits it can bring you? This article demystifies the practice of mindfulness and brings you helpful ways you can incorporate it into your everyday life.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your current surroundings and keeping your mind rooted in the present moment. You may choose to focus on your breathing, not changing it or breathing deeply, just noticing it. Or you may focus on the food or drink you are tasting. There are lots of ways to be mindful, but it’s surprising how foreign it feels to us. The fact is we just don’t tend to live our life in the present moment, so it feels like quite an effort to do so. Because of this, whilst it is a simple thing, it can be tricky to master. However, like most things, habit and practice go a long way towards making it easier and more automatic. We have loads of helpful tips you can try to get yourself living life in the present moment.
How mindfulness can help anxiety
Our brains have the capacity to think about a huge number of things in a very short space of time. Indeed, we can have around 65,000 thoughts a day! Many of these thoughts induce some kind of emotional reaction. These thoughts can make us feel stressed, sad or even make us feel anxious or depressed. This is because our brains pattern match to past experiences and our thoughts put us in touch with those experiences.
Try this experiment. Just let your mind wander for about 30 seconds. Then notice where your thoughts went. The likelihood is that they either went to the past or the future. Generally left to our own devices our thoughts will do that. This means that we are in danger of thinking ahead to that interview we’re feeling anxious about. Or we might go back over an argument that we had, meaning that we feel angry all over again. These are emotions that we can do without experiencing over and over! Mindfulness gives your mind a break from those emotive thoughts by keeping you here in the present, and the less time you think about things that make you anxious, the less anxious you’ll feel.
Ask yourself something… in this present moment, what problems do you have? If you indeed have a problem right now, you are probably attending to it rather than reading this. Don’t forget, thinking about potential problems doesn’t count…
Little and often
So let’s get started. At first it might seem a bit daunting. Mindfulness often gets lumped in with meditation and that sounds difficult and off putting. But you don’t have to sit cross legged in meditation for hours on end to feel the benefit of mindfulness. It is better to spend regular small amounts of time every day rather than one longer session at the weekend. So don’t feel that you have to set aside great chunks of time to do this.
You can bring tiny little habits into your day that simply bring your awareness into the present. However, the chances are that you might have every intention of spending some time being mindful and then find at the end of the day that you simply forgot all about it. This is where using the power of habit comes in. Our brains naturally associate different activities together. Therefore by piggy-backing a new habit onto something you do every day, you can use it to remind yourself.
Say, for example, you always have a cup of tea or coffee in the morning and you barely notice you’re drinking it. Instead of just drinking it down, wrap your hands around the cup and really notice what it’s like to drink it. You are aware of the warmth of the cup on your hands. Notice the warmth of the cup against your lips. Be aware of the smell, the colour, the taste. Feel it going down your throat as you swallow. Notice the way your muscles move in order to repeat the process, perhaps putting the cup down and picking it back up again.
You will only have to do this a couple of times, and then habit recognition takes over. As you pick up the cup and wrap your hands around it, your brain remembers the mindfulness process and reminds you to do your mindfulness exercise. It’s by using our brain’s ability to group habits together that helps you to make it a daily routine.
There are loads of daily habits you can piggy-back onto, such as teeth cleaning, showering, even cleaning the toilet! The basics are the same; engage the senses, notice everything about what it is you’re doing.
Mindfulness at work
Obviously work tends to take up a large proportion of our day, and often each day is very similar. This give you a great opportunity to piggy-back habits onto your daily work habits, and bring some mindfulness in.
Try starting off each day with a small routine to get you off to a good start. Get into a habit of spending just a couple of minutes checking in with your surroundings. This may be checking your posture, by moving your attention through your body noticing any discomfort. Check that you’re sitting properly, that you feel relaxed and ready to start your day.
Set yourself a reminder to get up at least every 90 minutes and take a short walk. If you are able to walk outside then that would be great. Whether outside or not, engage your senses to keep you in the present moment. Even just noticing the way your muscles move as you take each step. Notice the colours around you, the sounds, smells, etc.
Too busy to be productive?
‘But I’m so busy! I haven’t got time to stop every 90 minutes and go for a walk!’, I hear you say. But did you know that our brain capacity starts to fade after 90 minutes. The Best Brain possible.com explains that our brains cycle from high attention spans down to a low attention span in 90 minutes, in what’s called an ultradian rhythm. By working with this natural rhythm you can be more productive, creative, and innovative.
So it’s better to stop for a moment in order to make more progress. It’s a perfect opportunity to use that break to bring yourself into the present moment and truly rest your brain.
As I said before, many people associate mindfulness with meditation and whilst it isn’t necessary to meditate in order to be mindful, it is a great way to practice it. There is a vast amount of information online about meditation and lots of free guided meditations out there. Here are a few of our favourite types:
Try this breathing meditation for 15 minutes daily.
Follow a guided mediation. There are lots of free ones online, such as those offered by Jason Stephenson on his You Tube channel. Guided meditations take you on a journey, keeping your attention and help to stop your mind wandering. Perfect for beginners. Some of these focus on answering a question you may have, some help you sleep, while others are simply to calm and relax.
Listening to nature sounds. Many people find listening to rainfall or ocean sounds very calming. Really immerse yourself in it and focus only on the sounds.
Watch the flame of a candle through a soft gaze. This means allowing your vision to blur slightly as you look at it and only blinking very slowly from time to time. Don’t judge or commentate in your mind about what you are seeing, simply observe.
Simply take your imagination on a walk through a favourite place, perhaps a beach or a wood. Picture all the sights, colours, sounds and textures and really lose yourself in your journey.
Don’t be scared by meditation – there is something out there for everyone. Try lots of different types till you find ones that suit you and mix it up so you don’t get bored.
I hope you are able to use this information to become more mindful and reap the many benefits it offers. As always, please share if you know someone who would benefit from reading it. For more information and useful downloads, head over to our website.
With very best wishes