Mindfulness. It’s a term that we’re all getting pretty used to hearing these days with everyone’s obsession with all things simple living, meditation and Marie Kondo.
Although mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, most religions include some form of prayer or meditation technique that helps you guide your thoughts away from your day-to-day actions towards a greater perspective and appreciation of the moment and life on the whole.
All sounds a bit New Age, right? So what does mindfulness actually mean? And how easy is it to incorporate within our busy modern-day lives? Here’s our beginner’s guide to the calming state of mind: what it is, why it’s important and how to practise it – even if you feel you’ve barely got time to eat.
What is mindfulness?
At its core, mindfulness is the act of being fully present. As in, right here, right now. It’s when your mind is completely in tune with what is happening around you, with what you’re doing and the environment that surrounds you.
Simple, huh? Well, in most cases, it’s actually not. Whenever we actually pause and attempt to remain in the present moment, our minds have a habit of drifting off either into the future or the past. We start worrying about things that haven’t happened yet and dwelling on things that have happened that we can’t change.
This is when our dear old friend anxiety rears its ugly head.
Mindfulness, when properly mastered (just like a Jedi Knight), is the best way of avoiding living in the past or future. The blissful state of mind can be achieved through many proven techniques such as meditation, yoga, jogging or simply standing, sitting or lying down. Usually, people find it best to have eyes closed, but they can also be open.
The tricky part (aside from the fact you’ve actually got to keep your mind still!), is that when you’re practising mindfulness, you can’t be thinking about the fact you’re practising it. You can’t obsess over the benefits, you just need to… be. Easy, no?
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
There are many benefits of mindfulness meditation that will improve both your physical and mental wellbeing. From decreasing stress and depression to helping you remain focussed and motivated, here are some of our favourite mindfulness meditation benefits.
1. It reduces stress and anxiety
Many of us spend our lives feeling anxious, irritable, easily agitated and restless. We develop headaches, skin rashes, clench our jaws and grind our teeth during the night. All of this can be alleviated once you begin to cultivate mindfulness in your everyday life. Having an acute awareness of your thoughts and emotions but also the ability to be fully present will help you calm your busy mind.
2. It improves your sleep
Those who have trouble sleeping will know the impact it has on their physical and mental health. Meditation, yoga and other techniques that help you remain in the present will help you get to sleep and better still – remain asleep through the night. This will lead to a far better quality of life. And… relax.
3. It can help you lose excess weight
Forget the fad diets and crazes – learning to pause and live in the moment is perhaps all you need to kick your weight-loss goals. A clinical study involving overweight and obese women found that mindfulness used to manage stress eating stabilised those with issues relating to weight. Ok, when can we get started?
4. It increases your focus
Do you find it hard to stay focused on something? Trouble concentrating? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In today’s fast-paced world it’s getting harder to stay focused on what’s important, whether that’s at work or home.
Based on scientific research, mindfulness can help strengthen our attentional muscle, therefore helping you stay focused on the subject at hand. Hang on… are you still reading?
5. It can lower your blood pressure
It’s a well-known fact that high blood pressure increases the risk of having a stroke and cardiovascular disease – two of the world’s biggest killers. And although there are many medications that help manage high blood pressure, recent research shows how the practice of mindfulness meditation can lower blood pressure. Much better than popping nasty pills every day!
How to practise mindfulness
It’s clear there are countless benefits to practising mindfulness, but how do you actually go about doing it? Whether you head to your nearest meditation practice or go about your daily life focusing on moment-by-moment awareness, mindfulness is something you can practise anywhere once you know how. The trick? You’ve got to be committed.
1. Make a space for it
Don’t underestimate the power of your surrounding environment. Wherever you decide to practise mindfulness, ensure it’s a space that’s quiet and calm. Perhaps a room or space in your house you can dedicate solely to meditation – this way your mind and body will associate the area with practising mindfulness whenever you enter it.
2. Make time for it
It’s one thing to talk about practising mindfulness, it’s another thing entirely to actually make the time to do it. Just like the need to keep returning to the gym to notice any physical results, the same can be said for practising mindfulness. The key is consistency.
As well all know, factoring mindfulness into our busy daily lives is hard. It’s all well and good creating a sacred space to switch off and focus on your breathing, but that’s not going to cut it when your baby is teething or your boss is chasing you up on something!
3. Focus on the present moment
The key to practising mindfulness is being able to focus on the present moment. Don’t stress about the future, forget about the past – all you have is now. Easy, right? If only!
The best way to remain present is by focusing on your breathing. Whenever your mind starts to wander, pull it back to exactly what’s happening in the moment. Concentrate on your breathing as well as any sounds or scents around you. Anything that keeps you in the present moment.
Remember, the key here is not to do anything other than be. You’re maintaining a moment – no thoughts and feelings. Just pay attention to your breathing.
When it comes down to it, all you can really do is your best. Even if it’s just five minutes every day, on the train or when you get home from work and it’s your partner’s turn to cook. Before you know it, you’ll be a master in the art of mindfulness! Good luck.