Make time to slow down
Mindfulness continues to grow in popularity and is undoubtedly a hot topic where wellbeing is concerned. It’s endorsed by successful people from all walks of life from athletes to celebrities and has also been adopted by schools, colleges, big businesses like Google, Nike and Apple and even the military. They have all discovered that mindfulness delivers a sense of calm, connection with ourselves and others, resilience, gratitude, alertness, awareness and much more.
In the West, we tend to live our lives with more than an eye on the future. This starts young, from when parent’s start charting their offspring’s development in anticipation of the next stage and carries on with exams, promotion, saving for a house, looking forward to a holiday etc. While it’s important to have goals, dreams and aspirations, it’s important that this future-focused approach isn’t at the cost of enjoying the moment. If we don’t make the most of the moment, the present can be just a transient space between past and future, rather than the now we truly inhabit, cherish and pay attention to. But things are changing.
Simply put, mindfulness is the art of being in the present moment, in the here and now. This can be applied to anything from paying specific attention to our breathing, eating, posture, sounds, sensations or whatever we are doing in the present moment. It’s an active, engaged, conscious state where we are wholly aware, rather than doing something ‘mindlessly’. In therapeutic terms, this awareness or focus on the present goes hand in hand with calmly accepting one’s thoughts, feelings and sensations. Accepting and acknowledging them, without judgement – merely becoming an observer of our thoughts. The practice allows us to experience life and savour each moment, rather than letting life go by unchecked. Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated the health benefits and found mindfulness to be a key element in happiness.
Mindfulness and meditation overlap and intertwine - mindfulness can be practiced informally as a general awareness during the day to day as well as more formally by setting specific time aside for a mindfulness meditation. Meditation can be practiced in many different ways, while relaxation can also be achieved through a range of different techniques. All these practices are extremely beneficial for our state of mind and general wellbeing. But even though many of us know this, we can find it hard to incorporate them into our daily lives. Sometimes it’s lack of time or having a quiet place to practice or it could be difficulty around confronting emotional issues or trauma.
For many of us with hectic lives, we seem to have forgotten how to be quiet and calm. Meditation can be quite emotional when it takes us back to a natural place of peace that we haven’t experienced for a long time. And sometimes we might have crazy, busy minds, which are camouflaging real feelings, which we don’t want to face. But it’s healthy and liberating to confront these things so we can free ourselves up to move forward. Other times, thoughts and fears that we want to detach ourselves from can come up. If there is trauma, it can be useful to work through this with a practitioner/therapist.
Mindfulness, meditation and relaxation all involve slowing us down. In this state we are more able to encounter thoughts that may lie buried or dormant and experience a range of sensations we can’t get when we’re going full throttle. As we progress and develop the practices, they can open us up to discovering more about ourselves, which is always a good thing.
Some people prefer working alone, while others prefer working in a group setting, with supportive dynamics, mutual experiences and shared energy.
While on the surface it may not always be easy to build these practices into your life, once you know how, the techniques are simple, and you can start with as little as five minutes per day and/or work with a practitioner/therapist for additional support.
Here are three easy mindfulness techniques to get you started:
Start your day in a positive way
Think about how you begin your day because this can set the tone for the rest of it. Do you wake up to the abrupt sound of an alarm clock or natural daylight and the sound of birds? How do you greet others? Do you quickly grab something before flying out the door or mindfully eat breakfast and communicate attentively to those around you? Being more present and paying attention will slow you down (in a good way) and help you become more aware of what’s going on for you. You’ll get so much more out of your mornings and most likely the rest of the day too.
Take time to shower or bath rather than just a quick splash to get clean. Really experience the feel, temperature, pressure and sounds of the water. Pay attention to the colours, textures and fragrance of any creams or gels you use. Notice the feeling, and whatever thoughts arise. The simple act of focusing your attention on a seemingly routine experience can change the way you feel about it and turn it into something special.
Every breath you take
We all take it for granted but simply 'being with your breath' (paying attention to your breathing) helps to bring you into the moment. Taking time each day to just sit and be with your breath can be very calming and powerful. Notice how shallow or deeply you breathe and follow your breath with your mind as it moves through your body. As you get more used to it, you may find your breathing gets slower and deeper.
Once you get into the swing and begin to see results, you can build in more time and explore ways to learn new techniques. There are lots of classes and programmes around the country, oodles of information online including online courses and apps as well as many books on the subject. Mindful moments for stressful days, Tzivia Gover, is an excellent choice, full of great examples and ways to bring mindfulness into your daily life.