“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.”
Mindfulness is such a buzz word in todays culture and it seems like everybody is talking about it (but not actually practicing it). But what springs to mind when you think of mindfulness? A dark room filled with Buddha’s and candles with a cushion in the middle in which a person with a bald head and robes sits on it for hours on end without flinching? That was my first thought. Maybe. But it doesn’t have to be. All mindfulness means is having an awareness of the present moment i.e. training yourself to stop living in autopilot. And it works. Mindfulness has been found to exert psychological, emotional and physical benefits, such as improved attention/concentration, less stress and anxiety, increased awareness, better emotional regulation, decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease, decreased blood pressure, better relationships, and increased happiness.
So why do we still find it so hard? Because our brains are hardwired to strive for stimulation. Our brains LOVE being active, and when we try to quiet them, they fight against us. If we are not actively stimulated from the outside world (television, social media etc) we turn to day dreaming – how many times have you been reading a book and have had to read the same page over and over? Or been sitting in a lecture and realised that half an hour had gone by and you hadn’t paid any attention whatsoever? Or having a conversation with a friend and realised you hadn’t heard a word they said because you were thinking what you were going to have for tea? We’ve grown up in an overstimulated world, which is why it is very hard for our overstimulated brains to just CHILL OUT.
So start small. The following ten ideas to incorporate a little more mindfulness into your life are all simple, every day things you can do without the need for a lot of time and effort (which a lot of us just don’t have to spare). It’s not a one size fits all – different things work for different people so have a go and see what is best for you!
- Count to ten.
You know when your mum always told you to count to ten in a tense situation? Well although you may have felt silly at the time, there is actually merit in this method! By counting to ten before we act, we are training ourselves to carry out actions from a place of calmness and rationality rather than emotion. How many times have you done something or said something in the heat of the moment that you regret? A component of mindfulness is learning to separate our emotions from our actions, and counting to ten is one simple way to do so.
2. Brush your teeth (or another daily routine) with intention.
I always leave things until the last minute, so when I’m brushing my teeth often I’m also tying my shoes/packing my lunch/thinking about love island etc. And then ten minutes later I’ll ask myself if I even brushed them, as I was completely in my head. If you don’t have time to sit for ten minutes in the morning to clear your head, instead do it while you’re brushing your teeth – for those two minutes think about nothing else, and see how much clearer your head is after it. For beginners who find it hard to sit in silence for a period of time, turning your daily activities into little spurts of mindfulness is such an effective way to start practicing and seeing the benefits it can bring.
3. Eat an item of food and really taste it.
Mindful eating has literally changed my life. Before, when I ate every single meal in front of the TV without even looking at it, I was hungry ALL THE TIME. That’s because when we shovel food into our mouths without really tasting it or acknowledging it, our brains don’t even realise we have eaten. A famous mindfulness teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, used the example of an orange. Hold the orange in your hand, feel the weight, see its vibrance, its colour. Take a piece off and put it into your mouth and really taste it. Is it pleasant? Sweet? Tangy? Often we don’t even really know what foods taste like, causing us to overeat and be hungry again 1 hour later. Mindful eating really increases the pleasure of eating, and improves our awareness on what foods we really enjoy, and which foods we are eating for the sake of it.
4. The Body Scan
The Body Scan is a simple but extremely effective mindfulness technique aimed to increase your awareness of your body and mind. Follow the link to listen to my fave.
5. The Rule of 5.
This is a common technique used for people who suffer with anxiety attacks, as it helps to anchor us in the present moment, and not let our thoughts run away with us. All you have to do is think/write down 5 things you hear, 5 things you can see, 5 things you can touch, smell and taste.
6. Count your breaths.
This is another helpful technique to keep you anchored in the here and now. Count your breaths as they happen, and if your mind wanders just pick back up from where you left off. When you get to ten start again at the beginning.
7. Learn a word or phrase to bring you back into the moment.
This is something that a wonderful mindfulness teacher taught me about a year ago, and I’ve used it ever since. If she was ever stressed/angry/overcome with emotion/had negative thoughts playing on overdrive, she would say to herself “it is what it is” and her mind would immediately calm. I repeat to myself the phrases “non-judgment, non-resistance and full acceptance” as, for me, these three concepts are the key to living mindfully.
This app has exploded recently and it’s easy to see why. The free ten day version teaches you the life changing skills of mindfulness in the simplest way possible.
Remember, your brain is like a muscle – to get stronger it needs work and practice, and only through regular practice (whether that’s two minutes a day or 2 hours) will it eventually get easier, and you will begin to reap the benefits! Mindfulness literally changes the structure of our brains, leading to life changing outcomes such as better memory and attention, less anxiety and more empathy and compassion. Who’s in?
Facebook: Kirsty Baines