So there’s a lot of talk about Mindfulness at the moment but what does it actually mean? Why is it so popular? Why is it so on trend?
Is it just for yoga-pants-wearing mums, woke millennials and guys who like to smoke too much weed while talking about conspiracy theories and sticking it to the man? (School of Rock reference, if you haven’t please watch it)
In short, No. It is for everyone!
There are many great reasons for understanding and practicing mindfulness and no you don’t have to be a hippie to make it part of your daily routine!
You may even learn that you already have a mindful practice as part of your existing lifestyle and if not this blog will give you tips on how to start one.
So what is Mindfulness?
So Mindfulness is very simple really. It’s the art of being present in the moment. That means not thinking about the past and not thinking about the future. Just being in the here and now.
There are no classes you need to take, no groups you have to join, no complicated guide to follow. We all have the ability to be mindful (Although classes and groups can be both good fun and very useful!).
Mindfulness can include a wide range of activities such as walking or running, gardening, painting or drawing. In addition, any activity that draws you right into them and stops you thinking of the past or future can be considered a Mindful practice. (For me, Martial Arts is often a Mindful practice as it’s very hard to think of anything else when you are busy fighting another person!)
Mindfulness is a practice because we have so much going on in our lives, so much to think about and so many distractions. We often have to consciously make time to focus on being present because our society and the way we live is often not conducive to just being present in the moment.
“People don’t realise that now is all there ever is; there is no past or future except as memory or anticipation in your mind.”
“Realise deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”
These quotes are from Eckhart Tolle who wrote the best selling book “The Power of Now”.
I believe they help describe the importance of a Mindfulness practice and taking steps towards trying to live more in the present. I would highly recommend buying the book as it is very powerful and has many great wisdoms in it. (I listened to it while on a cramped minibus hurtling down the roads in northern Thailand! Which was surprisingly calming)
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Practicing Mindfulness has been proven to help manage our Mental Health. Helping relief from issues such as stress, anxiety, depression and even alcohol and substance abuse and addiction.
As it has been shown to help with these conditions it has been integrated into various psychological therapies and stress reduction programmes such as Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR).
Mindfulness helps by changing the way that you view situations. A regular practice can help you understand the true nature of things and thus not get dragged into a cycle of fear and anxiety that your mind likes to create.
By being grounded in the present moment and detaching from our emotions we are able to evaluate and observe our thoughts and emotions more clearly. With practice this allows us to manage our emotions creating a better understanding of how things are likely to affect us and also prevent us from reacting without consideration.
The big lesson that really helped me is understanding that all things are impermanent and will not last (the good and the bad). The cause for suffering is us wanting things to be different from how they are.
Once I had this revelation and truly understood it’s important I realised that I am both the creator for my own suffering as well as the saviour. I try and remember this when clouds begin to gather. This combined with a mindful practice, exercise and good nutrition go a long way to managing my own Mental Health.
How I discovered Mindfulness
I first encountered the idea of Mindfulness when my Therapist and Mindset coach suggested that I try Meditation. On many occasions he suggested that I try it and even go down to the local Buddhist centre to sit with them and learn more about the practice.
I dismissed it. It sounded too hippie for me and I certainly couldn’t imagine sitting still quietly for long! I thought “nope that’s not for me, it probably won’t make much of a difference anyway!”.
Now a few years later I have experienced diving deeply into the practice by attending a few retreats. I now have continued to learn about the teachings of Buddha and various spiritual leaders and have worked on developing my own Meditation practice at home! (Who’d have thought that? Not me!)
I began my Mindfulness practice with at home Yoga videos. I needed to stretch and get more flexible so that was a big incentive for me. I didn’t realise that Yoga also doubles as a really good Mindfulness practice as it combines breath-work and Meditation. As Yoga is moving and stretching it certainly was less daunting for me than Meditation, so it made a great starting point.
I then first trialled Meditation by downloading an app called Buddhify. Which has a variety of guided Meditations of varying lengths. This helped me to take time out in the day to focus on clearing my mind. I still use this on occasion when I just want to be guided if my brain is particularly distracted.
My first deep dive experience into Meditation was at the barn retreat at the Sharpham trust estate. Here we had three 40 minute Meditation sessions each day with additional Mindful practices such as movement, walking and gardening. This was a big shock to the system, however after a few days I became very relaxed.
On leaving the retreat I was incredibly chilled and felt a lot lighter, and that everything was in slow motion! (When I spoke to my Dad post retreat, he said I sounded high! I guess I was in a way)
It certainly showed me the power of living in the present moment and how it can really change your perspective on life.
That retreat was pivotal for me and thrust me deeply into developing Mindful and Meditation practices and increased my desire to learn more and reach out to others on a similar journey.
Meditation vs Mindfulness
Mindfulness and Meditation are similar but slightly different. Meditation is a focused effort to clear the mind of thoughts. It can be done in a variety of ways and positions from seated to walking Meditation focusing on the breath or the movement of the body, legs and feet.
Mindfulness however can take the form of many different activities. What makes the activity Mindful is if you are drawn in and focused on what you are doing. This therefore means you are in the present moment and acting Mindfully.
Mindfulness activities can be a softer entry into being present when compared to Meditation.
Developing a Mindful practice where you focus on a specific task for a few minutes can help you begin to embrace the present moment, clear your thoughts and create some important space from your thoughts.
When it comes to Meditation, The misconception I hear a lot is that “I can’t sit still” or “I tried meditation, I’m not good at it so it’s not for me”. We call it a Meditation practice for a reason. That reason is because it takes a huge amount of practice to get better at emptying your mind.
People don’t just sit down and are straight away good at emptying their minds, especially not in our western lifestyles!
It takes consistent practice, perseverance and allowing yourself to sit (or walk) and take time to yourself to clear your mind. It’s not about beating yourself up when you realise you have been daydreaming for the last few minutes.
It’s about recognising that and bringing your attention back to the here and now. With all things that are practiced you will eventually get better at clearing your mind not thinking about what you are having for dinner!
Tips for getting started with Mindfulness and Meditation
Introducing Mindful activities (washing up, jigsaws, gardening, drawing)
Any activity can become a mindful practice once you focus in on what you are doing. Take the washing up for instance;
Try and focus on each individual item.
See it, feel it, study it as you wash it.
Feel the sensation of the water and soap suds as you clean it.
Focus on the movement of drying it.
Using something like this, that you need to do every day, as a mindful practice will allow you some space from any stress and pressure you may have as well as optimising your time.
Alternatively, you can make time for something that you specifically choose to be mindful such as a puzzle, drawing or reading. Even riding a motorbike is a mindful practice as you have to be very focused on your surroundings.
Find something that you can get into that will focus your attention on the present. As I mentioned I started with at home yoga sessions on you tube which I highly recommend.
Now I also use exercise such as running and cycling to not only clear my head and be mindful but to fill my body with feel good hormones (Check this blog for the benefits of Moving outdoors). I now unplug and just run focusing on my breathing and cadence of my legs, enjoying the feelings of being outside and moving.
Use an app for guided meditation
Meditation apps are a great start to get into meditation. They guide you so you can just sit and follow the instructions and you can also choose a length suits you. I have personally used Buddhify which is pretty good however there are many out there and I am sure there are plenty of guided meditations on Youtube.
I resort to these when my mind is all over the place and want to just be guided.
For those of you who feel that sitting meditation is too daunting then maybe walking meditation is the one for you. I learnt this method on my Vipassana retreat in Thailand and was very grateful to start with this as I found it very hard to sit at first!
You walk very very slowly focusing on lifting, moving and placing each step. Focus on the sensation of movement and the touch of your feet on each step. Not your surroundings just the walking and the movement.
Here is a little tutorial video that may help;
Seated Breathing Meditation
Focusing on your breath is kind of the go to place for Mindfulness and Meditation. There are many types of “Breathwork” which have a huge amount of health benefits from the Yogic Pranayama breathing methods to the more modern creations such as the Wim Hof method and the Oxygen advantage.
However not to get bogged down in the finer details which are more suited to another blog post just focusing on the sensation of your normal breathing is a great starting point.
This is where this simple Meditation practice is rooted;
Take a sitting position of your choice.
Draw attention to your breathing.
Feel the air flowing in and out of your nostrils or follow the rising and falling of your stomach as you breathe.
Bring your attention to this natural process and try and push any other thoughts that enter your mind while doing this away.
Focusing attention to:
Breathing In (Rising)
Breathing Out (Falling)
If you realise your mind is wandering then repeat thinking, thinking, thinking then drop back to focusing on your breath. Repeating this helps cut off your trial of though and brings awareness back to your mind.
Watch the below video to my guide to meditation following your breath;
I believe that there is a place for Mindfulness in all our lives. Many of us probably already participate in some form of Mindful task. Making time for more mindful activities will have huge benefits on our Mental Health.
Our modern society and way of living is designed to keep us distracted, addicted and in need of more. A Mindful and Meditation practice allows us to detach from this and understand that we have all we need in who we already are.
Mindfulness helps us develop a greater sense of connection with ourselves, each other and nature. All of these things will help increase a sense of contentment and compassion for ourselves and our surroundings. Which lets face it, we could all do with!
You don’t have to become a hippie, You don’t have to hug trees, greet people with “Namaste” and grow your hair. Mindfulness and Meditation is for everyone and will help improve everyone’s quality of life.
I encourage you all to explore Mindfulness and Meditation and try and start developing your own practice.
If you would like any help and support please join my community group on Facebook and you can ask me any questions or advice there.
Enjoy! Love and Peace!
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it." - Thich Nhat Hanh