Mindfulness is the collective term used to describe those moments where we slow down enough to notice what is going on. It is switching from autopilot to awareness, from stress to calm, from passively being swept along to actively creating our lives.
As a society we are increasingly busy and more and more health professionals are recognising the negative effects of this stress on our bodies. When we are busy, stressed and on the go, we are constantly flooding our systems with stress hormones. These hormones change the way our bodies operate long-term and can cause many health conditions, such as IBS, chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety. The increase of many of these conditions are putting a strain on the national health service. The evidence is stacking up and there is a clear message here: we were not meant to live like this.
If stress and “busy-ness” are the ailments of our time – mindfulness is the cure. There are many myths and misconceptions about mindfulness that might put people off, but the truth is that it can be practised by anyone, anywhere. It doesn’t require any kind of equipment, beliefs or skills. All you need to learn is how to slow down your thoughts and pay attention to the present moment.
There are two kinds of practice: active and passive. Active practice is when you deliberately sit down, switch your phone off and decide to do nothing for a number of minutes. It could be for as little as 5 minutes, or maybe 20 minutes or an hour if you have more time. You could focus on your breath, watch the steam rising from your cup of tea or listen to a guided mediation, whatever you like.
Passive practice is when you become mindful in everyday life. Everyone has had moments like this, when you suddenly feel alive, aware of your surroundings and inner feelings. This can often be triggered by being in a beautiful place in nature, or in a heightened emotional state, for example when falling in love or even during extreme distress. These moments can be accidental at first, but the more we practice mindfulness actively, the more we have the ability to choose to be mindful in our every day lives.
If you have tried mindfulness and feel like it’s just too difficult, you’re probably doing it right! When you start to become aware of your mind and its activity it can be discouraging, as it seems impossible to switch off even for a moment. This is mindfulness. It is not about switching off, it is about noticing. Noticing the (often pointless) activity of the mind, as well as our attitudes towards it. That’s all there is to it.
For something so simple, it can be very difficult to do. If you are keen to try mindfulness, here are some tips to support you as you get you started:
- Build a routine. Decide when and where you are going to practice, put it in your diary and set an alarm on your phone. The busy mind will resist your efforts at first and might come up with all kinds of reasons why you can’t do it, or why you should do it later. In the beginning it might help to attend a class and practice with other people. Having a structured session to go to makes it easier to commit and stick to it.
- Find a practice that suits you. Because we’re all different, we all have a natural suitability for different practices. In my classes I introduce different styles and techniques, to help you find the one(s) that work for you. If you are a visual person, you might prefer a visualisation mediation. If you are more auditory or musical, you might like to listen to natural sounds or music. If you are a “doer” you might prefer something physical, like a walking meditation. When you find a practice that you like, stick to it. Don’t try to force yourself to do a practice that doesn’t suit your personality, it is difficult enough as it is.
- Don’t be hard on yourself. Remember that it is a practice. Just do what you can, stick with it and be patient. Start small and gradually build up. It can help to keep a journal to record your progress. Making a note of which practices you’ve tried and how it made you feel can motivate you to keep going, even when you feel like you can’t be bothered.
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