When you bring your focus into the present moment, you can really check in with yourself, acknowledging your feelings and finding acceptance. Mindfulness can be deeply therapeutic and rewarding, some may even say life-changing! Although developing a regular seated practice of mindfulness meditation is a wonderful way to connect with yourself, there are plenty of other ways in which you can live more mindfully.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
decreased symptoms of anxiety and depression
improved mood, memory and attention span
decreased addictive and self-destructive behaviour
improved brain function
reduced blood pressure (lowering the risk of hypertension and improving circulatory health)
The key elements of mindfulness involve really connecting with your senses and listening to the state of your body and your emotional climate. By sitting in a chair with your feet flat on the ground, your hands softly folded in your lap and your eyes gently closed you can start this deep listening process. Mindfulness practice is about noticing your body rather than changing anything. Connect with your feet on the floor, feel their weight, acknowledge the sensation. Note how your legs feel against the chair. Breathe slowly and pay close attention to how the air feels as it moves in and out of your nostrils. Softly scan through your body, like a wave caressing the beach, note any areas of discomfort. As you breathe your body will naturally soften and adjust.
To start with you may find that your mind wanders and you start to worry about work commitments, what to have for dinner and your to do list. You may only find a few moments of pure calmness before you start thinking about things. That’s ok. Give this practice time and patience. You might like to start off doing it in a quiet home, with few distractions, unplugging the phone and finding a quiet space. In time you’ll be able to do it for longer periods, regardless of distractions. Waiting rooms, queues, train and tube journeys can all be ideal settings for practising mindfulness, taking you away from the chaos around you and connecting you with your own inner stillness.
The mindfulness walk
If you are walking somewhere familiar where you don’t need to worry about directions, then practising mindfulness as you go is a wonderful activity. This gives you a real chance to connect with your senses. What can you see? What can you smell? How does the feeling of the path change as you walk through different areas? Walking through an ever changing environment really allows you to get lost in your senses which is a fantastic way to acknowledge yourself and check in with how you are feeling. You might like to schedule in a short walk each day as part of your mindfulness practise, or use mindfulness as a way to instil a feeling of calm and confidence before certain engagements.
Baths and showers are a wonderful way to get in touch with your senses. The calming sound of running water, the potential to use beautiful fragrances, the opportunity to explore sensations: trickles of water pouring soothingly over your scalp, gently scrubbing your skin, rubbing away any tight areas in your neck muscles. Your daily bath or shower can become a powerful mindfulness ritual if you allow yourself the time to truly connect with your body, rather than rushing to get clean as quickly as possible so you can get on with your day. Mindfulness is all about slowing down and simply being. You might like to create your own aromatherapy blend to enhance the experience. Combine 2 drops each of rose, lavender and bergamot essential oil with 2 tablespoons of your choice of milk (dairy, soya or nut milks are all fine). Rose brings comfort, lavender is calming and bergamot is wonderful for mental clarity. Swirl the oils around your bath, or place the container on the floor of your shower to create a beautiful aromatic steam. Breathe deeply and connect with yourself.
There is no denying that exercise is a brilliant way to stay mentally healthy as well as physically healthy. Mood-busting endorphins can help us through the most stressful of times. Yet, how often do you occupy your mind with other things while you are working out? You may listen to audio books or podcasts, watch TV or zone in on music videos in the gym or even use the time to problem solve issues related to work, home or your children. Ideally, whether you indulge in yoga, swimming or aerobics, you’ll use this time mindfully. Creating a calm mind while your body is so actively engaged can result in a much more fulfilling workout. Feeling each movement and connecting it will not only help you to be aware of your body and reduce the chance of injury but it is also a beautiful way to stay mindful.
We all need to eat and really enjoying your food and savouring it is a wonderful way to practise mindfulness. Think of the colours, tastes, textures and smells you get with a good meal. Celebrate each mouthful. Grabbing food as you dash out the door can easily become a habit when you are balancing a lot of responsibility, but that simply means you need to slow down more than ever. Stop eating at your desk. You’ll find that connecting with each meal in this way will also mean you may eventually be more drawn to nutritious wholesome food and may make better food choices.
Even a simple tea break can become an expression of mindfulness. Fragrant fruit teas, delicate green tea and herbal infusions are ideal for this practice. Choose a mug that feels wonderful in your hands, something that looks lovely too, or choose to enjoy your tea beside a vase of freshly cut flowers or a beautiful view. Taste every sip, explore how it feels as it warms your lips and tongue. Be aware of its journey down your throat. Even water can be drunk mindfully, you might like to add ice to increase the sensation or add a slice of lemon for additional sensory benefits. A mindful tea break is a wonderful way to recharge and refresh without taking up too much of your time.
So next time you feel like your day is too busy to find time for mindfulness ask yourself this… Will I sit today? Will I leave the house today? Will I bathe today? Will I exercise today? Will I eat today? Will I drink today? These little windows are the perfect opportunity to allow mindfulness into your life.
References (for benefits of mindfulness)
Davidson, R. J., Kabat-Zinn, J. Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S.F., Urbanowski, F., Harrington, A., Bonus, K. & Sheridan, J. F. (2003) ‘Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation’, Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, pp. 564–70; Tang, Y., Ma, Y., Wang, J., Fan, Y., Feg, S., Lu, Q., Yu, Q., Sui, D., Rothbart, M., Fan, M. & Posner, M. (2007), ‘Short-term med- itation training improves attention and self-regulation’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104, pp. 17152–6.
Brown, Kirk Warren, Ryan, Richard, M. (2003), ‘The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), pp. 822–48; Lykins, Emily L. B. & Baer, Ruth A. (2009), ‘Psychological Functioning in a Sample of Long-Term Practitioners of Mindfulness Meditation’, Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 23(3), pp. 226–41.
Bowen, S., et al. (2006), ‘Mindfulness Meditation and Substance Use in an Incarcerated Population’, Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 20, pp. 343–7.
Tang, Y., Ma, Y., Wang, J., Fan, Y., Feg, S., Lu, Q., Yu, Q., Sui, D., Rothbart, M., Fan, M. & Posner, M. (2007), ‘Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104, pp. 17152–6.