At a time where everything is constantly changing and we can’t help but constantly be thinking 100 miles an hour, it can be hard to just stop… We’re constantly stuck in a rut of either obsessing over the past or wondering about the future, with little attention to give to the present. Mindfulness aims to address this, helping you to appreciate the now, and not get carried away by intrusive thoughts about what could have been or what will be, your focus is on what is.
So what is mindfulness? In short, mindfulness is a concentration exercise. It involves focusing your attention on the present, ignoring the future and past. We are constantly bombarded with distractions, making it near impossible to ever fully relax, with no concern for anything or anyone else. Mindfulness allows you to experience peace any time you like, whether it’s to help clear your head before going to sleep, or to take a well-deserved break from your mind-numbing work for five minutes. Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere, anytime, and for as long as you wish. There are no rules with mindfulness, just do whatever works for you!
Despite the techniques used for mindfulness originating more than 2,500 years ago from a Buddhist tradition, you don’t need any spiritual reason for practicing it. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) draws on the key concepts of mindfulness, involving an eight-week program teaching mindfulness from a non-religious perspective. The program has been widely taught in many settings in order to help individuals, such as therapy, prisons, schools and the workplace.
Mindfulness aims to develop three key characteristics:
- Intention to grow awareness of the practice (and return to it repeatedly).
- Attention to the present (observing thoughts, emotions and sensations as they surface).
- Attitude that is non-judgmental, curious and accepting.
There have also been proven health benefits associated with practicing mindfulness. By focusing on the present and blocking out any distractions, it can help reduce anxiety, depression and chronic pain, whilst also improving sleep and reducing stress. Practicing mindfulness regularly can also improve emotional alertness, communication skills and self-awareness. Overall, mindfulness is key to helping us lead happy and meaningful lives.
Although this may all sound very daunting, there are easy ways you can practice mindfulness in the comfort of your own home. Four ways you can do this are:
- Mindful breathing. This is a great way to introduce yourself to mindfulness as you can do it whenever, wherever. Take slow breaths in and out, focusing on your own weight, feeling the air moving in and out of your lungs. Try to keep your head clear and if any thoughts enter your head, let them do so, without giving them any real attention. This will help both clear your head and body of any negative emotions and stress.
- Mindful eating. We may not always appreciate the food we eat, and this is a simple way to appreciate the sensations we take for granted. Take your time and focus on the flavours and textures of your food. This way you aren’t rushing your meal just to move onto whatever’s next, and can really appreciate your food. Mealtimes will become a valuable time to escape the busyness of life.
- Mindful observation. Take time to focus on one natural object within your immediate environment, such as a cloud, a tree or a flower. By focusing solely on the object, as if you are seeing it for the first time, you are not distracted by any other thoughts or objects. By simply observing, we can open ourselves up more to our present thoughts and needs, instead of ignoring what our body and mind want.
- Mindful exercise. Instead of working out just to burn calories, you can also use it as a form of mindfulness. By paying attention to your movements and listening to your body you can help keep your body and mind synchronised. It will enable you to strengthen your ability to bring all your energy to the task at hand. After your exercise, focus on what you feel and sense, you’ll find you feel awake and alive from head to toe.
So, next time you feel that life is getting a little too much, or you can’t stop the thoughts constantly racing in your head; why not give mindfulness a try? After all, what’s the worst that could happen?