What is mindfulness?
When we are busy, or under a lot of pressure from different areas of our lives, it is easy to spend our time rushing around and focusing on what’s coming next, rather than what currently is. This can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness is a technique that can help you bring your full attention to what is happening in the present moment – namely, what you’re thinking and feeling and what is happening in your immediate environment. It aims to help you take control of your emotions and improve your focus.
What are the benefits?
Mindfulness has a number of benefits, but in general, practising it is thought to help us understand ourselves better, enjoy our lives more, and improve our day-to-day wellbeing.
- It does this by helping you to:
- focus on the present
- combat stress and keep calm
- become more self-aware
- be kinder to yourself
- cope with difficult or upsetting thoughts
- feel more in control
- feel better able to choose how you respond to your thoughts and feelings
There is plenty of scientific research out there which suggests that mindfulness can have a positive impact on both physical and mental health. In addition, many top-performing athletes and high powered career professionals are turning to mindfulness as a tool to improve their focus and enhance their performance.
How does it work?
Mindfulness works by helping you to notice more about yourself and what’s going on around you (e.g. sights, smells, sounds) at any given moment. It can help to silence unhelpful and debilitating thoughts that may be stopping you from enjoying your daily life. The thoughts that we have can have an impact on our behaviour, so if you can have calmer thoughts and feel more in control, then the chances are you will perform more positive actions and live a happier life.
Notice the little things
Paying attention to the smaller things in life can have a positive impact on the way we think because it can wake us up to a lot of sensations that can be really pleasing, but that we often ignore.
For example, if you usually eat your lunch whilst working on your computer or watching TV, then perhaps you aren’t really paying much attention to the taste of what you’re eating. To be more mindful in this instance, you could try switching off your electronic devices and focus on tasting each and every mouthful of your lunch – and chances are, you’ll enjoy it so much more!
Try new things
It’s easy to get stuck in ‘autopilot’ mode; doing the same routine every day without a second thought. And while there’s nothing wrong with this, it makes it a lot easier for us to rush through life with our eyes closed. To shake things up a bit, why not try taking a different route to the supermarket, or sitting somewhere different when you’re out in the garden? Changing up your habits can help you to see the world through fresh eyes and notice new things about your surroundings, and, again, bring your mind back to the present moment.
Put some distance between you and your thoughts
When you first start practising mindfulness, you may overwhelmed by lots of different thoughts rushing in – this is completely normal, so try not to let this put you off. Instead, try putting some distance between you and your thoughts by imagining them as cars driving past you, but not stopping. By acknowledging your thoughts and how you are feeling, without judging why you feel this way, you allow your mind to move on without losing your awareness of the present. It can also help to label your thoughts as you watch them drive by. For instance, ‘that’s my anxious thought about finding a new job’ or ‘that’s my anxious thought about all the things I have to get done by tomorrow.’
Some people find that practising mindfulness while doing some gentle exercise like walking or yoga can really help to quiet a busy mind.
Let go of the past and stop worrying about the future
The reason that many of us have issues with staying in the present moment is because we are too busy thinking about the past and/or worrying about the future. Mindfulness can help us to reconnect with our bodies and the present which prevents us from becoming too wrapped up in our thoughts. Once we do this, we can often see how these thoughts may be driving our emotions and our behaviours.
When should I do it?
You can practise mindfulness at any moment you wish. However, when starting out, many people find it easier to build it into their routine by committing to regular times (e.g. first thing in the morning or last thing before bed). As you become more familiar with mindfulness and how it works, you should be able to use it more readily.
Is it for everyone?
Mindfulness isn’t a magic solution to all your problems, but it can be a useful tool with coping with the stresses and strains of daily life. And as with anything, the more you practise it, the better at it you will be.
How do I get started?
You can practise being in the present moment on your own, whenever is convenient for you. It usually helps to start by focusing on small things, for example, shutting your eyes for ten minutes and focusing only on your breathing, or thinking about how the sun feels on your skin as you walk to work. As you become more comfortable with mindfulness, you can begin to do it as and when you need to (e.g. when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed).
For those new to mindfulness, joining a local class can be a good way to learn the skills needed to get started, or for those who would prefer to do it in the comfort of your own home, you can read more about mindfulness on the NHS website here.
Palouse Mindfulness also offer a free eight-week mindfulness course, which is inspired by the program founded by John Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The course will give you access to free articles, videos and guided meditations for you to work through in your own time.
There are also a number of popular paid for services that you can download on your mobile phone. There are plenty of these services out there, but Calm and Headspace are a couple of popular ones that both offer a free trial period. We also have a mixture of free and paid for mindfulness courses available on site, which you can browse here.
Do you have any experience practising mindfulness? Are you a passionate advocate? We’d love to hear from you! Join the conversation on the community forum, or leave a comment below.