Health experts frequently advocate mindfulness as the key to good physical, mental and emotional health. But what is mindfulness and how can we tap into its benefits?
Mindfulness means paying attention to what is presently occurring, with kindness and curiosity, according to the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand website.
“Research suggests that when we intentionally practice being mindful, we feel less stressed, anxious and depressed, and more balanced and in tune with what is happening inside and outside of our bodies. The resulting calm and clarity boosts wellbeing, broadens perspective and provides an important foundation for learning.”
It can also help you manage illness better and recover more quickly and has even been shown to help kids perform better academically or deal better with bullies.
Apparently, we all have the capacity to be mindful, although it will come more naturally to some than others. And the more you practice and spend time on activities that promote mindfulness, the easier it will become.
Here are a few suggestions to kick-start your mindfulness practice.
Even a few minutes a day spent meditating will help you feel calmer and more connected with the world around you. There are lots of guided meditations available online which are perfect for beginners. Mindful.org has easy-to-understand information on how to meditate, the key to making it a habit, and one-minute, 10-minute and 15-minute guided meditation recordings. It even has a meditation you can do while you are walking.
Disciplines such as yoga and tai chi are often described as active meditation and are great to increase mindfulness. They work to quiet the mind, in order to cultivate a deeper connection to yourself and teach you to tune into your breath, pay attention to bodily sensations, and be in the moment.
Try focusing on doing one thing at a time and do it slowly, whether it’s drinking a cup of coffee, cleaning out a cupboard or baking delicious treats with your yummy Te Atatu Toasted cereals. When we are rushing around trying to get three things done at once, we end up running in circles and our brain goes onto autopilot rather than being present in the activity at hand.
Spend time in nature
Being outdoors makes you feel more alive and vital, connects you with the elements and increases happiness. An experiment in Japan showed that people who walked in forests had significantly lower heart rates than those who walked in an urban area. Researchers in Finland found that urban dwellers who strolled for 20 minutes through an urban park or woodland reported significantly more stress relief than those who strolled in a city centre. So take time to walk in the bush, sit on the beach and listen to the waves or lie in the sun at your local park and savour those feelings of peace and contentment.
Practice paying attention to everyday activities
Whether it’s wiping the bench, cleaning your teeth or reading a book to your kids, get in the habit of really paying attention to what you are doing. If your mind wanders to something else, simply take a breath and bring your thoughts back to your teeth or the story.
Limit screen time
We live in a digital world but that can result in information overload that leaves us feeling anxious or stressed. Start setting some boundaries around how much time you spend on screen and when and where you use your devices. Keep them out of reach at bedtime or mealtimes. Designate periods of time where you won’t use your devices and stop answering emails at all hours of the day. For more tips, check out our blog Six simple steps to a digital detox coming soon.
A great way to be mindful is to really taste and enjoy your food. Turn off the TV, sit at the table and chew each mouthful properly, savouring the texture and flavour of your food. There is scientific evidence that we should chew each mouthful 32 times to properly break down our food and improve our digestion! Make mealtimes an occasion - talk about your day or plan fun activities, rather than rushing through dinner as fast as you can.
Learn to listen
Often, when others are speaking, we are waiting for our turn to talk rather than really taking in what the person is saying. Try training your brain to stop thinking about your response and start focusing 100 per cent on what you are listening to. It will help your brain slow down and you will be more mindful of the situation you are in.
Experiment with breathing exercises
Breathing exercises are when we control how we breathe to experience a sense of relaxation and calm in the mind and body. They have been shown as one of the best ways to reduce stress and can be done anywhere, anytime. A quick search online will reveal loads of different options you can try to find one that is comfortable for you. But here is a suggestion for beginners from the gurus at Headspace, an online meditation app. It uses counting to five to focus the mind. Start by counting 1 on a slow inhale through the nose, 2 on a long exhale through the mouth, 3 on the inhale, 4 on the exhale, 5 on the inhale and release. Repeat four or five times or until you feel calm.
You might want to recruit a mindfulness buddy this month – share this blog with a like-minded friend to see if they are interested in trying a few of these tips, then help each other stay on track. Or make it a family goal to be more mindful. You are never too young – or too old – to get started.