Have you every come to the end of a busy and stressful day and realised you were living on autopilot? You did not breathe properly (or focus on breathing at all) and were not aware of yourself? You aren’t alone. This happens to a lot of us. We get so deeply connected to our daily routines, so fixated on what’s next on our to-do list that we disconnect from ourselves. We forget to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. There’s a way we can hit the pause button and take control of ourselves and our surroundings and it’s called mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a topic that receives mixed reactions. Some people dismiss it entirely, others are curious and some mistake it for something it’s not (“Oh, I’m not a spiritual or religious person so this isn’t for me”). Mindfulness is a very practical way to regain control of your thoughts, feel calmer and more present. It’s a practice that can benefit people from all walks of life and it can take on many forms.
Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment or, in other words, “the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment”. That means living in the now, not worrying about the future or fixating on the past. It’s the art of being present, right here, right now, focusing on your immediate surroundings and state of mind.
The practice of mindfulness has been around for thousands of years with roots in Buddhist meditation. It entered the Western mainstream in 1970s when professor Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre. It used a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness and yoga to help people become more mindful. Since then, several recent research studies have linked mindfulness practices to a staggering collection of health benefits.
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Improves our concentration and memory capacity
- Reduces pain
- Makes us more compassionate
- Improves our physical and mental health
- Reduces depression risk
- Helps us to sleep better
Sounds good but still impossible? Our minds are not used to slowing down and it seems to be hard to just “switch off” and be aware. Right?
The good news is that mindfulness is not about stopping your thoughts, it’s about watching them.
When practicing mindfulness, the aim is to watch your thoughts without being attached to them. It sounds strange but the truth is we are not our thoughts. There is another part of our mind that can turn in and observe itself. When you watch your thoughts you give yourself a more objective standpoint and can more easily deal with negative or stressful feelings.
The not-so-good news it that mindfulness requires patience and practice! There are many ways one can practice mindfulness and as you get started on your journey toward better self-awareness (or perhaps you are already well along the path) you will find what works best for you.
Here are some of our tips for getting started on your mindfulness journey:
- Bring awareness to your daily life. Be aware of the smells, sounds and senses around you, and enjoy them.
- Pay attention to your breath. Breathe in deeply and breathe out slowly, being aware of your body and your feelings.
- Practice! Start with meditation apps like Calm and HeadSpace apps and try some guided body-scan meditations . They are really helpful and easy for beginners and there are plenty on the Internet for you to try.
- Know that you can do mindfulness exercises anywhere, anytime! You can practice mindfulness for one or two minutes on your commute home, or if you work in an office, at your desk at work. Even the smallest commitment can help you decompress. Micro-commitments are also an easy way to build a new habit into your routine. The Calm app we mentioned has commuting and walking meditations. Give them a try!
Our tip is to take your time! Don’t rush yourself and enjoy each step of your mindfulness journey. Try what you are comfortable with and keep an open mind. You never know what you can learn and discover.