What is Mindfulness.
For many, the idea of mindfulness conjures images of sitting in a quiet room, legs folded, incense burning, and chanting ‘ommm’. In fact, mindfulness is much simpler than meditating like a yogi. Mindfulness means being present in the moment, just as it is. By focusing on the present, without judgement and without expectation, we can feel more peaceful.
Studies have found that mindfulness meditation has many benefits – both physical and mental. These include: reducing tension and pain, minimising acute moments of anxiety, accelerating cognition, increasing creativity, debasing the mind and much more. You do not even need to be particularly good at it, for mindfulness to have a positive effect on you. Simply taking a few moments to practice mindfulness each day can be of huge benefit.
Perhaps the best thing about practicing mindfulness is that the techniques can be used when going about your everyday business. You don’t need a teacher to instruct you. You don’t even need to find a dark, quiet room all to yourself. After all, most anxiety occurs when we are going about our day-to-day routine.
Here are some simple mindfulness techniques which you can use at any time of the day:
1. Just one breath
At any time during the day, take a moment to focus on just one breath.
Breathe in, then breathe out.
Focus your attention on the sensations of your lungs, your nostrils or your abdomen as you inhale and exhale. You can count breaths in sets of ten, if you like. Repeat this process for as many breaths as you like. If you lose focus, and your mind starts to wander or feel anxious, don’t worry. Simply gently pull your attention back to your breathing.
2. The walking meditation
If you can do any amount of undisturbed walking during your day – at least 10 or 15 minutes – you can do a little walking mindfulness meditation.
It is easiest if done somewhere with fewer distractions, but you can try it anywhere that’s convenient for you.
Walking meditation is about focusing your attention, just like the breathing meditation.
Often, people will focus on their feet, and the feel of their soles on the ground was they walk.
Then, if you find that you need to move your thoughts in order to not become distracted, you can move to each part of your body in turn, and focus on how that part feels as you walk.
They key to this exercise is to create a sense of relaxed attention: aware of the world around you, but focused lightly on the sensations of your body, and the act of walking.
Once again, if you become distracted and your mind wanders, just gently pull it back again. Don’t judge yourself, as this is normal.
3. The eating meditation
You can even practice mindfulness while you eat!
When you take your first bite of a meal, just take a moment to pay attention to the taste. Really pay attention.
Look at the food carefully before you eat it, then feel the texture of the food in your mouth. Smell the aromas, and then notice how your body reacts to it.
You don’t need to keep this up the whole way through your meal, but use this technique every now and again to focus your attention.
4. Mindful mini-break
Checking email or social media has become, for many, something to fill in time between other tasks. We often use it as a distraction, to take our minds away from a stressful situation, or from boredom.
Instead of picking up the phone or jumping on to the computer, you can use this time to practice mindfulness exercises.
Leaving aside your phone, tablet or computer, sit for a moment and notice the sensations in your mind and your body, and try to be as present as possible. Scan your body, or your emotions and take note of how you are feeling.
If your mind wanders to other things, such as tasks that you have yet to do, or troubles that you have, just gently pull it back again and be in the present.
Give yourself this time to simply ‘be’, here and now. Allow yourself a few moments which are entirely yours – you do not need to be anywhere. You do not need to do anything. Not for now. This time is yours, to simply be present.
Remember: Mindfulness is not about trying to make sense of things, or judge yourself. It is simply about being present in the moment.
5. Listen mindfully
Any time that it’s convenient, try a little mindful listening.
We get so used to lots of sounds around us that we begin to tune them out. If you live in a busy area, this might be traffic noises, police sirens, train announcements or people sneezing around you. Outside of the city, you might hear the trees rustling, the birds calling or the gate creaking.
What can you hear right now? Just take a few moments to listen to the sounds around you.
You can even put on some music, and try to really listen to it for a short while: try to hear the music, feel the music, without thinking too hard about it. You’re not listening to the lyrics, you’re simply hearing the song.
Allow the music to flow through you.
6. Mindful brushing
Some things, we are so used to doing, that we barely notice them anymore.
Daily habits, like brushing our teeth, are usually performed automatically, while the mind skips off to other things like worries, or regrets, or what we’re going to have for dinner that night.
Next time you brush your teeth, try to focus on the task at hand and really experience it.
Notice how the brush moves over your teeth, how the toothpaste tastes, and how your hand moves as you brush.
You can apply this mindfulness technique to any of the other chores you’re used to doing, such as showering or bathing, or even making the bed.
Simply notice how you perform the task, and pay attention to the way you perform it. When your mind wanders (as it undoubtedly will), bring it gently back, once again.
7. Experience nature
If your walking mindfulness exercises happen to take you to a park, or a green space of some kind, this is the perfect opportunity for a little more mindfulness meditation.
As you stand, sit or walk, try to become more aware of nature around you.
Notice the different types of leaves and hear the birds’ call. Listen to the wind blow, or hear the sound of distant traffic. Sense the air moving over your skin, and the sun on your face.
Again, your mind may (and probably will) start to wander. Be kind to yourself! And gently, as always, bring your attention back to the moment.
Many people actually perform this exercise naturally, when they are out and about in a beautiful environment, and do not even realise that they are being mindful!
Mindfulness: It doesn’t matter what you call it, or when you find time for it – all that matters is focusing your energy on the present moment. You will find that it becomes easier, and that your mind wanders less, the more you practice mindfulness exercises.