Not that long ago, mindfulness was seen as a suspicious, new age fad. Perhaps something just for hippies or those who had too much spare time on their hands to twiddle their thumbs and contemplate their navels.
Today, mindfulness has turned a massive corner and now has a strong presence in bookstores, newspaper articles, magazines, live talk shows and there are even dedicated apps for it. All in all, it has become as popular and is now seen ‘as normal’ as going for a jog in the park! And no, this isn’t because people have stopped working so hard and are kicking back. In fact, quite the opposite. All kinds of people are practicing it these days. From school children as young as 3 years old, businessmen, academics, politicians and educationalists, just to name a few. All of whom are clocking onto what is it is actually about and how life changing it really can be!
Mindfulness is a tradition that is thousands of years old and is often regarded as ‘the heart of Buddhist meditation’. However, the essence of it, which is awareness and attention, is universal and is taught independently of religion. It is simply a way of being.
As we lead increasingly information–enriched lives, our minds are on constant overdrive. We have a tendency to be absent for much of our physical and present experiences, and instead spend much of our time lost in worry, fear, regret, over analysis and self-judgment. Mindfulness teaches us to bring the mind back to the most simple and vital part of living – the breath, and in turn the present moment.
Through regular practice of mindfulness, we can start to understand how much of our experience is shaped by the chaotic and often negative and detrimental voices in our own heads. The results are truly transformational. Mindfulness allows you to become more patient, compassionate, empathetic and less reactive. Most importantly, it teaches you to be kinder and less critical of yourself. So much of our energy is consumed anxious about what happened or what might happen. By letting go of all of those stories, and remaining in the present moment, it is quite incredible how much lighter you instantly feel.
Although mindfulness can be practiced at dedicated intervals, which is more commonly referred to as meditation, mindfulness can be incorporated into every part of your life. You can speak mindfully, walk mindfully, wash mindfully, work mindfully, eat mindfully and so on. Being mindful is simply having the ability to stay present and to enjoy and savour each moment as it comes and for what it is (and not always thinking about what it isn’t!).
Being mindful can have physical and psychological benefits, improving your general health and wellbeing as a whole:
Physical health benefits:
– Relieves stress
– Treats heart disease
– Lowers blood pressure
– Reduces chronic pain
– Improves sleep
– Alleviates stomach related diseases
Mental health issues that can benefit:
– Eating disorders
Benefits to your general wellbeing:
– Enjoy each moment as it comes
– Worry less
– Be more positive about life in general
– Improve relationships
Mindfulness can be practiced in varying ways. You can learn by yourself, using guided tapes, online methods or in a group environment. Personally, as soon as I wake up in the morning, I sit up in bed and meditate for at least 10 minutes. (At the beginning, 10 minutes may seem like a really long time, so start by just doing a couple of minutes and gradually build it up each day or each week to a time that works for you.)
Here’s a basic guide to the method I use:
- Sit up straight in a cross-legged position, supported by a cushion under your tailbone (use a chair if this is too uncomfortable)
- Close your eyes and draw your focus to your breathing. Notice the sensation of the air coming in and out of your nostrils and your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.
- Then bring your awareness to sounds, sensations and any thoughts that arise in your head. Imagine your thoughts are like passing clouds in the sky, you can acknowledge that they are there, but not judge them.
- If your mind has a tendency to wander, just keep bringing it back to the breath without getting frustrated.
Remember, although it seems so simple, merely sitting down and listening to your breath, the art of meditation is one of the hardest things to accomplish. Look at it like learning how to ski or learning how to play a musical instrument. It will take time, so be patient and NEVER GIVE UP!
“If it doesn’t challenge you, then it doesn’t change you!”
Recommended Reading / App
Mindfulness – a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world – By Mark Williams and Danny Penman. This is a wonderful introduction to mindfulness (and also comes with a CD).
Headspace – www.headspace.com founded by Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk with a degree in Circus Acts. This app is an award-winning digital health programme that provides guided meditation to its users. This is what I recommend to all of my clients to kick-start their mediation practice. It is really straightforward to use and the first 10 days are free.
For a daily dose of mindfulness follow me on Instagram @shantiliving
Good luck and happy meditating!