A term that you may have heard bouncing around lately is Mindfulness. So what is mindfulness, how does it benefit us, and how do we begin to incorporate it into our day-to-day lives?
The definition of mindfulness on dictionary.com is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”
So to put it simply, mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment, what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how it makes us feel.
We all lead busy lives these days, and managing our time can often become more than a bit overwhelming. Between work, family commitments, social activities, prior engagements, kids sports, study, cleaning, cooking, the list seems to go on and on. Like many others, you may find it difficult to fit in the time for exercise or to plan and prepare your meals as you know you should. However, we are usually ‘aware’ of these downfalls, and often make a conscious effort to try and get healthier by moving more, or making better food choices when we can.
One area which tends to get pushed to the wayside however is time for ourselves! When was the last time that you prioritised a moment in your busy day just to check-in on yourself? A specific period of time, where you invest your energy into nothing but you; your state of mind, your mental health, how you feel in that moment, whether you have done something good for yourself that day, that week, that month. Without a clear sense or understanding of our current state of mind, it is very difficult to approach our lives in a ‘mindful’ way.
We often spend the majority of our time paying minimal attention to the current task at hand. Think of how often your mind strays to thinking about the future. Stressing about the long list of things you need to do that day, what you are going to cook for dinner, the deadline you need to make tomorrow, how many days are left until the weekend, what outfit you’ll wear to that special occasion next month….. Or how often we find our mind drifting to the past, thinking about how those jeans ‘used’ to fit you, the love that you let get away, regretting a conversation you had with your partner that morning, trying to remember if you turned the iron off before you left the house, feeling guilty about the cake you mindlessly just consumed without stopping to enjoy a single bite.
As my yoga guru in India once said to me, “when we live in the past we are filled with regret, when we live in the future we are controlled by worry, yet when we live in the present our mind is at rest.”
He was referring of course, to the act of mindfulness. If we consciously draw our thoughts back to nothing but the current task at hand, you will find a great sense of peace and calm in that present moment. By acknowledging how you feel, right now, without any context, you are checking-in on your state of mind, and allowing it a reprieve from the stress and pace of a busy lifestyle. This applies to every single aspect of your day. Though that may seem like an impossible task right now, (you probably really DO need to worry about what you’ll be feeding the kids for dinner or whether you turned the iron off before leaving the house) it is all about taking small steps towards reaching a balance of mindfulness.
Benefits of Mindfulness
As per The Smiling mind (a mindfulness app) the benefits of Mindfulness are boundless. Some of these include:
- Reduce worries, anxiety and distress
- Enjoy more energy
- Create a sense of calm
- Learn how to relax and regulate emotions
- Enhance awareness and creativity
- Improve concentration and increase productivity
- Develop a sense of empathy and connectedness
- Enjoy better health and sleep
On top of this, the act of being mindful in certain actions such as eating and exercising, can heighten the experience, and work to keep us more accountable on how much we consume, and how hard we push ourselves.
How to seamlessly incorporate mindfulness into your life today
In order to become more mindful, you will need to ‘train’ your brain to do so. Like any form of learning, this will only come with time and practice. Be patient with yourself, enjoy the journey, and if you’re struggling with a particular strategy, try a different one. The aim is not to have a completely blank mind, but instead to learn how to gently draw your thoughts back to the present moment when they wander.
- Focus only on the present moment
The first place to start with mindfulness is to become more aware of your focus during regular, daily activities. Try starting by practicing whilst you brush your teeth. That is 3 minutes you have set aside every single day to concentrate on developing control over your thoughts. The key is to try and focus only on the present moment and not pay too much attention to your thoughts about the past or the future. Ask yourself what is happening for you right now. Is your breathing slow or fast? How do you feel in that moment? The first time you try this, you will find that your mond continually starts to wander or becomes distracted. Whether it be by thoughts of the day to come, your response to your reflection in the mirror, thinking about what you are going to eat if you feel hungry etc. Allow the thoughts to come, but gently push them away, weach time bringing your focus back to the task at hand.
Once you have mastered short, simple tasks like brushing your teeth, try practicing mindfulness in acts such as eating or walking. Concentrate on the movement, the tastes, the sensations, unrelated to memory, how your body feels, what sensations arise. When we eat ‘mindfully’ and truly appreciate every single mouthful, not only is our meal a lot more enjoyable but we very seldom overeat as our mind is open to the bodies signals of fullness and satiety.
- Practise mindful breathing
Every day, set aside a few minutes of your time to concentrate on your breathing. Sometimes it is easiest to do this when you first wake up in the morning, or right before you go to bed, however it can often be incorporated into breaks at work, during exercise outdoors, or whilst waiting for an appointment. You can do this exercise with your eyes open, focusing on a single spot, or with your eyes closed. Try remaining in a comfortable seated position to prevent you from falling asleep. Begin to slow down your inhalation, and exhalation. Think about what your breath feels like. What does it sound like? Where do you first feel the breath in your body? Picture your breath travelling in through your nose, down to your belly, up into your chest. Feel them expand with each inhalation, and fall with each exhalation. Imagine your tensions easing from your body with each exhalation of breath. If you find your mind beginning to stray, It can help to count out each breath, 4 slow counts to inhale, and 4 slow counts to exhale. You can build this up to counts of 6 as you begin to relax, and expand upon the sensations you experience.
- Try meditation
If you’re ready to go a little deeper into developing your mindfulness, you may like to try meditation. To do this, sit quietly in a comfortable and supported seated position with your eyes closed. Begin by focusing on your breath as above. You may wish to continue into a deeper state of meditation through focusing on your breath alone, or you can focus on a word or a phrase that you repeat quietly throughout the duration. Allow your thoughts to come and go, and try not to follow them, instead gently guiding your mind back to your breathing or your choice of focus.
You can practise meditation by yourself, or you can use an app (such as Smiling Mind) if you would like to begin with guided meditation. There are also various guided meditation clips on YouTube.
Remember, like any skill, meditation only comes with time and practice. If you find that your mind is continually wandering, embrace the fact that you are human, and try again with a fresh perspective.
Mindfulness is a skill we can use to become more ‘present’ in our lives, allowing us to truly experience each moment in an open, curious and non-judgmental way. In our busy fast-paced lives, the need to address our mental health, and to check-in with ourselves daily is something we need to prioritise. Like any skill, the more that we practice mindfulness, the better we will become at it. So for the sake of your health, your happiness, and your enjoyment of life, try to set aside a few minutes every single day to practice the act of Mindfulness.
“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
― Lao Tzu
About The Author
Lauren is a qualified nutritionist with a passion for holistic living and mindfulness. She believes that health starts from what‘s on your plate, and the way that we ’think’ about food. “Our state of mind is the biggest enemy when it comes to changing our bodies” says Lauren. “There is no quick fix. We need to look at the body as a whole, and try to regulate any imbalances whilst targeting negative thought patterns.”
Lauren’s passionate about educating clients on how to nourish their bodies back to health and create a balanced relationship with food. She specialises in women’s health, weight loss, sports nutrition, and food intolerances.
Reach Out Australia, (2019), How to practice mindfulness, retrieved from url: https://au.reachout.com/articles/how-to-practise-mindfulness
Smiling Mind, (2019), Mindfulness – Smiling Mind, retrieved from url: https://www.smilingmind.com.au/mindfulness/