In our fast-paced, technology driven lives it can feel like we are living on auto-pilot. So many of us are preoccupied with the future or thinking about the past that we miss what’s actually going on around us.
This is where mindfulness comes in. You’ve probably heard of mindfulness before and read about its benefits, but what does it actually mean?
Mindfulness is defined as a ‘mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment’. When feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations occur it’s about gently acknowledging and accepting them without getting caught up in it.
Whilst it may be an antidote to the stresses of modern life, mindfulness is not a new concept. It’s been around for centuries, with origins from early Eastern religions.
It doesn’t mean you have to stop your life and devote all your time yoga or meditation. Mindfulness is a practical way of living. By paying more attention to your everyday activities, you can reap the physical and mental benefits of this practice. Not only has mindfulness been shown to reduce stress, but it can also improve your happiness, increase focus and energy levels and give you more compassion for others.
Why not use the month of May to add some mindfulness to your life? Here are some simple ideas that you can try at home.
Connect with your breath by practising meditation
Mindfulness meditation is one of the best ways to bring a sense of calm and connect with the here and now. In fact, studies have shown that regular meditation practice can rewire your brain and improve its regulation of thoughts and emotions.
If you’re new to meditation, you might want to follow a guided meditation. There are several apps such as Headspace that can be easily downloaded. Otherwise, try this simple exercise of sitting comfortably and breathing in to the count of 4 and then letting go of your breath whilst counting to four.
In the past I was sceptical about meditation and could never seem to switch off my ‘monkey mind’. About 6 months ago, some difficult life circumstances made me try it again. All it takes is 10-20 minutes from my day; I now look forward to this time out. Meditation has given me a greater awareness and acceptance of my thoughts and emotions. Plus those around me are benefiting as I’m more patient and calm, especially with my young daughter. The only downside is that I wish I started meditating years ago!
Being in nature
Next time you find yourself in your garden or local park, see if you can incorporate mindfulness into your experience. By tuning into your different senses, you can experience your surroundings in a completely different way. Can you feel the warmth of the sun touching your skin? What about the breeze of the wind? Perhaps there are some flowers and trees that you might not have noticed before or try listening to the sound of birds.
There are many ways you can connect with nature in your everyday life. For example, I started parking further away from work to begin my day with some fresh air and exercise. It’s almost as rejuvenating as my morning cup of coffee.
Dinner time with a young family would often feel like a race against the clock. By making the conscious decision to slow down, we now eat outside in the garden connecting with each other and our environment.
It’s amazing how much better you will feel when you stop rushing and take note of your surroundings. Sometimes it’s going back to the simple things that can have a profound impact on our well-being and happiness.
Practising daily gratitude
I started this practice several years ago and it’s had a profound impact on my mental health. When we choose to focus on the positives around us rather than what’s missing from our lives, we can have a greater sense of lasting contentment. It can be as simple as finding the good from your day and recounting 3 things that you are grateful for before you go to sleep. You can even start a gratitude journal to practice this helpful habit.
Being grateful has given me a greater awareness of the little moments throughout the day that bring happiness, including a deeper appreciation for the people around me.
We all have different ways of unplugging from the pressures of daily life. For some, self-care might look like lighting a candle and running a hot bath whilst for others it’s baking or art and craft. These activities can be done mindfully whilst tuning into your senses and focusing on the present moment.
For example, the next time you have a shower try doing it in a more mindful way. Instead of your mind racing through your to-do list, take a breath and focus on the heat and sensation of water touching your skin. Tune into the sound of flowing water and the smell of your soap and shampoo. Showers will never feel the same again.
These are just a few of the many ways you can practice mindfulness in your daily life. Remember it’s about experimenting with different ideas to find what works for you. What activities will you be trying this May?