This little dance called life can get real wild, so you need to take the time to check in with yourself. If you’ve ever been super stressed and someone has brazenly suggested to ‘just try meditation’ then you might’ve felt a very deep rage bubbling inside of you. Yes Susan, I’ve tried sitting in a dark room in total silence and stillness and it just doesn’t do anything for me.
But listen, there’s light at the end of this restless tunnel. Turns out there’s actually an alternative to meditation and it’s this lil thing called mindfulness. (Can you hear the hallelujah chorus?) It’s great for your mental wellbeing and anyone can do it. Yep, even you.
See, mindfulness is one of those things you can do at any time – you don’t have to pull out all the crystals and oils (unless that’s your jam, in which case power to you). To put it simply, mindfulness is a practice that involves focusing your mind on the present moment and calmly acknowledging your thoughts, feelings and sensations. It’s a state of being consciously aware, and it’s beyond therapeutic.
Because we’re constantly on a quest of self-development, we decided to turn to the big guns and consulted the wisdom of Dr Tim Sharp (AKA Dr Happy). We asked him why mindfulness is so damn good for us, and boy did he have some answers.
“Regular mindfulness practice has been shown to provide numerous, significant benefits including more positive emotions like happiness, fewer negative emotions like stress, better health and wellbeing and even better cognitive performance including things like concentration, attention and decision making” he explained.
Knowing just how beneficial mindfulness can be (and that it doesn’t involve sitting and chanting to ourselves, alone in the dark) we decided to round-up some of our fave mindfulness activities. The next time your life seems to be going up in flames or if you’re just looking to refocus your mind, try whipping out some of these calming mindfulness techniques and see how you feel.
Breathe in, baby
Turning oxygen into CO2 is one of those things we do without thinking (yay us) but basic breath is a major key to keeping calm. Mindful breathing techniques can help keep your mind from wandering, especially when you’re having stressful or, uncontrollable thoughts.
This is a great exercise because you can usually feel the calming benefits within just a few minutes (and we love instant gratification more than anything). A popular technique is to inhale for three seconds, hold for two and exhale for four. Counting out your breath forces your mind to focus which is great at silencing the noise in your head. It’s fine to feel your mind wandering but it’s important to refocus and bring your attention back to the breath.
It’s recommended to practice this for at least five minutes a day but the great thing is you can whip it out at any moment when you feel the need to. If you’re at your laptop, there’s a great visual tool here that’ll get you in the practice of deep breathing – go on, take it for a whirl.
The five senses have been hammered into your long-term memory since kindy but more often than not, we forget they exist. Just to recap, the senses are taste, touch, hearing, smell and sight.
As Dr Sharp explains, “There are many ways to practice mindfulness, but one of the more common is to practice being more mindful of all your senses. That is, once you’ve set aside time and decided to consciously be mindful, focus your attention on all you can see, hear, feel as well as what you’re thinking. Do so without judgement, but with curiosity.”
There’s a really simple activity you can do to be mindful and anchor yourself in the moment. Think about 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. This is a goodie, as it forces you to use and pay attention to all of your senses. Plus, you can do it anywhere, anytime.
For all the fellow foodies out there, taste can also be used in another practice called mindful eating. What’s that? Glad you asked. Read on and I’ll tell you all about it.
Hop aboard the chew chew train
If you’re anything like me, you tend to eat as though you haven’t seen food in weeks (even if your last meal was 10 minutes ago). As good as it feels in the moment, when we scoff down our food we actually rob ourselves of the joy of eating, and it truly is a joy – especially if you’re eating cake.
Mindful eating encourages you to ask questions like ‘what does my body need?’ and ‘how satisfied do I feel while eating this meal?’ There are so many different ways you can incorporate mindful eating into your life and they all revolve around being present in the moment. Start by carving out at least 15 minutes for each meal. Don’t make a date with your phone at lunch cause it’s hella distracting – just sit with your food and really take the time to enjoy it. Use all five senses, savour each bite and ask yourself how you’re feeling as you’re eating.
By practicing mindful eating, we’ll take more notice of what our body actually needs and get better at reading its cues. So when you’re standing eating nutella out the jar at midnight again, you might ask yourself why this keeps happening and get to the root of the actual problem. Every food choice you make becomes conscious and considered – so less Homer and more healthy.
Pound the pavement
If the whole stillness aspect of meditation is really tricky for you, then mindful walking could be right up your alley. This is about taking the time to become aware of what’s around you and move your body in a meaningful way.
Instead of blasting death-metal and going for an angsty speed walk – slow it right down, listen to nature and pay attention to your breath. Start by walking at a relaxed pace and notice how your body feels as it’s moving, then take notice of what’s going on around you and the physical sensations in your body. Even if you have a hectic schedule, it’s not something you need to carve out dedicated time for either. You can make your morning commute to work a mindful one by leaving a few minutes earlier and going at a more relaxed pace or taking a different route and noticing what’s different and new.
Incorporating mindfulness into our exercise is an easy way to utilise our time and prioritise our health (both physical and our mental wellbeing). Try incorporating a 10-minute mindful walk into your day for a few weeks and see how you feel.
Go from crappy to appy
Part of the joy of living in the 21st century is that more often than not, there’s an app that can do everything for you.
If you hit up the old app store, you’ll be inundated with apps that can help you sleep, journal, learn yoga or anything else in the mindfulness realm that your heart so desires. Bonus points if they’re free because we love some frugal living.
As with anything in life, practice makes perfect. Focus on chipping away at your mindfulness journey a little bit each day – it’ll all be worth it.
“Be gentle and kind with yourself. You’ll almost certainly have days when being mindful comes easier than on other days. Just accept it as part of the experience and … keep trying” Dr. Tim Sharp advised.
Also for the record, just getting up and making your bed makes the world of difference if you’re looking to start small. Seriously. Maybe even throw a decorative pillow on there if you’re feeling wild. Now – go forth and be mindful!Image: The Hangover