You’ve probably heard about mindfulness – it’s become a Thing in recent years, and it’s talked about A LOT. But do you really know what it is, how to do it - and how it might help you in day-to-day life?
So what IS mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a sort of everyday meditation technique that’s a mix of modern psychology and ancient spirituality. It helps you to root yourself in the here and now, be present in the moment, connect with your body, and become aware of your thoughts and feelings.
The thing is, our lives are very full. We can find ourselves rushing through our endless To Do lists on auto-pilot, without really stopping to think, notice, feel or assess. Our minds are full and active all of the time - and that can contribute to our stress levels.
Mindfulness is about stilling your mind and your body and reconnecting them to find a new perspective on your life, and new ways to tackle problems. The idea is to help you focus on what’s actually happening, rather than worry about what has happened or what could happen in the future, and getting caught up in negative thoughts.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Mindfulness is recommended by the National Institute for health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression.
Studies have shown it can help people feel less stressed at work and more satisfied with their jobs, relieve anxiety in times of crisis, and improve mood, tiredness, sleep and even pain.
So it might just be worth giving it a go…
How do you start with mindfulness?
The good news is that to practice mindfulness you don’t need any special equipment, or training. You don’t even have to sit cross-legged in the floor, burn incense sticks or listen to whale song! You can practice mindfulness somewhere comfortable, or while you’re folding washing, walking, or sitting on a train.
Here’s some tips to get started.
1. Become aware of your surroundings
Think about what you can smell, taste, and hear around you. Look at colours and shapes. Concentrate on where you are and what your body is telling you.
2. Become aware of your body
Start thinking about where your body is, what you can feel under your hands, under your feet, and all around you. Feel the air on your skin. Focus on textures and sensations.
You can conduct a body scan, going from the top of your head down your body focusing your attention on each body part as you go down, being aware of any tension and trying to relax it. Some people imagine a warm wave slowly sweeping through them to their feet.
3. Bring your attention to your breathing
Notice your breath going in and out, and focus on it. Breath in filling your lungs to the very top, and let the air go out slowly. Pause at the bottom of the breath before expanding your rib cage to breathe in again. It can help to shut your eyes.
4. Ground yourself in the moment
Be fully present in the moment, trying not to think about the past, the future, what’s needs doing next, what’s for tea, or anything else that creeps in to take over the present.
5. Stand back from your thoughts and feelings
When your mind starts to wander and thoughts inevitably come into your consciousness, try not to react to them, or let them inside. Disconnect, and distance yourself from how they make you feel. You can notice your thoughts and feelings as they appear, but try and be an observer looking at them from the outside. That space can help you reflect on them differently.
6. Give them names
It’s really important to give your thoughts and feelings a name when you’ve recognised them - and to be honest with yourself. Here’s the thought I’m going to look silly doing Y, or fail at X. This is the feeling of anxiety, or frustration.
7. Accept them
None of your thoughts and feelings are wrong. They just are. Try to accept them without judgement, and with a bit of kindness. They don’t have to define you or direct you.
8. Look for patterns
If you can start to understand what your thoughts and feelings are, when you have them, and how you’re reacting to them, you can start to deal with them more productively - and choose how to respond.
Look for patterns, like brooding over the past, or worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. Identify which thoughts and feelings are helpful, and which are unhelpful.
9. Start to push unhelpful thoughts away
With practice, you can learn to push away the unhelpful thoughts and feelings. Some people imagine them in cloud bubbles, floating across their mind, and blowing them gently on over the horizon. Others think about a thought bus coming into a station, picking up the bad thoughts and taking them away.
10. Choose when to come back
When you decide you’ve spent enough time practising mindfulness, bring yourself back slowly. Begin to turn your mind’s eye outwards again, start paying more attention to your surroundings, and letting them bring you back to your normal day.
11. Pick a time
Plan-in mindfulness by picking a time of day to practise it, and being consistent. Build up bit by bit. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.
12. Remember there’s no right and wrong
You can’t really do mindfulness wrong. It’s a skill you have to learn, and it can take a while to feel comfortable with it.
There’s lot of different ways to practise mindfulness in everyday life, when you exercise, when you eat, when you go for a walk. Some people find a repetitive or gentle task like colouring helps them.
Is mindfulness right for me?
Mindfulness isn’t the answer to everything, and it isn’t for everyone. Some people, particularly those who’ve been through trauma, can find focussing on some thoughts and feelings distressing. The key is to be in touch with your body and your emotions, and do it the way that feels right for you.
How can I find out more about mindfulness?
There’s lots of information you can read about, and mindfulness exercises and tips to follow.
Some great resources include: