When did you stop noticing the wonderful things around you, within you, and beside you? When did you stop dancing?
If you’re life is mainly rushing by at a 100 miles an hour, and you’re somehow just not content or happy with you lot, my friend, you need to explore the wonderful world of mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness has rapidly grown in popularity in the Western world over the past 10 years, yet there are still too many of us that are struggling to relax, find balance, and heal our busy minds. Maybe it’s because people know the word ‘mindfulness’, but don’t understand how to apply it practically?, or perhaps the old habit of not being mindful is hard to break? It’s interesting, to me at least, that you hear people using the term but should you ask them what it is, the response is often vague at best. So here it is: Mindfulness, in it’s most simplest form, is the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. It is also defined as a mental state of achieving focus in the present moment, whilst peacefully acknowledging and accepting our feelings, thoughts, and sensations. Being aware of one’s surroundings, thoughts, and feelings can help to bring more joy and gratitude for things that could be taken for granted (NHS Choices, 2016).
Every morning we are born again. What we do with today is what matters most.
Does it Work?
Mindfulness is recognised for its effectiveness to such a degree that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend this technique (or way of life), as a way to prevent or recover from depression. Indeed, many mental health issue can be controlled and eased with mindfulness including stress, anxiety, fear and anger.
A study, which included reviews of empirical and theoretical work, was undertaken in 2009 to review the effectiveness of mindfulness on the mind, body, and brain activity, and found that regular practice improved both physical and mental health, including; sleeping, stress, immune system, and positivity (Greeson, 2009).
Mindfulness meditation, tai chi, and yoga are all popular mindfulness ways of increasing your wellbeing. There are lots of techniques you can use to embed mindful practice should you wish to, and there’s a lots of little things you can do to invite a bit of mindfulness back into your life, without it feeling like yet another thing on your ‘to do’ list. I’ll share a few of these in this blog.
Human beings make life so interesting, do you know that in a Universe so full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom.
Terry Pratchett: Death Trilogy
First Things, First
Mindfulness, as I shared at the beginning, is not about just one thing, rather it’s a whole mix of things that you choose to do (a way of living, if you like), that create a ‘mindful existence’.
Let me ask you this, when you were a small child did the world feel full of wonder? Did you happily dance, sing, and play without a care in the world? Were you fascinated by new things and people? Were you happier back then, when life seemed more ‘simple’?
If you’re answering yes, that was your young self practicing mindfulness.
Firstly it’s about living in the now. Using all of our senses to fully experience ourselves, and the world around us. The wonderfully talented Terry Pratchett put this beautifully in his ‘Wee Free Men’ & ‘Tiffany Aching’ books; the witches in his book would term it ‘first sight’, ‘second sight’ and ‘third sight’, and you can apply that across your senses. This is how I interpret it, first level sensing is passive. Second level sensing happens without full awareness, third level sensing is when we fully engage. Think of it like this, first level seeing would be where you see something but don’t take any notice, it’s a passive look, the way you look at things without any engagement of feelings or thought. Second level sensing is seeing something and acknowledging it, but without depth of feeling or thought. Third level seeing would be like looking at something under a microscope, for example, you might note not just the colour but the layers of colours, the texture you think it might have, how the colour differs from other colours, how it’s positioned, how the light reflects off it, how beautiful it looks, how that beauty is making you feel, how grateful you are that you can see it and experience it…. and so on.
Secondly, it’s about focus. If you’re eating, just eat. If you’re having a conversation with a friend, be present and not distracted by your phone. If you’re out for a walk, don’t have your head down thinking about all of the things you need to do.
Remember, you get what you focus on. So make it something wonderful.
Thirdly, it’s about acceptance. Accept you can’t change the past, and you can’t predict the future (notwithstanding a crystal ball), find peace with that and get on with living your best life, with what you have.
Accept that you can’t control or influence everything, work with what you can do.
Accept that you can’t change everything, work with what you have.
Accept that you are good enough, just the way you are.
Accept that we are all wonderfully imperfect. The sum of who you are, makes you unique.
Accept that we all make mistakes, it doesn’t necessarily make us failures or bad people, it is by those mistakes that we learn.
Fourthly, it’s about gratitude. Be grateful, everyday, for what you do have, rather than focusing on what you want, don’t have, or can’t have.
Fifthly, it’s embracing the wonders in life. It is everywhere if we only open ourselves up to it. So I invite you to be curious, be playful, seek wonder out, let your imagination run wild.
Mindfulness Fun – Bringing Back the Joy in your Life
Here are 10 quick things that you can try, to invite a little bit of mindfulness into your day:
- On your morning travels, notice how much colour nature is giving you. Note what it is, how it looks, and the depth of colour.
- When you sit down, notice how the seat feels, is it soft or hard, warm or cold? Notice everything about how it feels. When you’ve finished with how the seat feels, do the same for yourself. Do you feel comfy, are you slouched or upright, how do you feel? Do a body scan from head to toe and consciously relax any tense muscles.
- When you eat your lunch, first notice how it smells and then try to work out all of the different flavours in your food.
- If you take a walk out or go to a public place, take notice of everything that’s going on, with all of your senses.
- Look up to the clouds and wonder how the shapes have been created (unless you’re a cloud expert, then you’ll know already).
- Put on a tune that you love, and dance.
- Go and explore a rock pool on the beach, look at the colours, textures. What’s living in there?
- Have a bath or a shower and just breath in the different smells, how does the water feel on your body? How do you feel?
- Go out into the garden, what can you hear? How many different bird noises? Perhaps there’s children playing? What smells are there from the flora and fauna in your garden?
- At the end of your day, write down what you feel grateful for today.
Here are three mindfulness activities to weave into your week:
When we rush about, we can miss the beautiful things going on around us. We forget to use all of our senses and as such we miss out on so much, not to mention our own wellbeing. I’ve often wondered how many people see the wild orchids growing on verges, the butterflies dancing together in the summer or the buds on the trees that have already started to grow, ready for spring. How many people smell the freshly cut grass or the peppery smell of rotting fern and leaves? How many of us hear the buzz of bees whilst they’re gathering honey, or the wind blowing through the leaves high in the canopy?
Mindful walking is about using all of your senses, blocking out the noise and clutter from our usually busy minds, and peacefully taking in the moment, just as it is.
Find somewhere you love to walk, or that you think you’ll enjoy. If you like peace and tranquility that might be a woodland or riverside walk, if you like the hustle and bustle you might choose a city. Aim to walk for at least 30 minutes, if you want to go for longer, bring it on.
Whilst your walking, mindfully push any other thoughts out of your mind. If you catch yourself lost in thought, just bring yourself gently back to the present moment.
Now I invite you to bring out your inner child, be curious and see the real wonder in things.
What can you see?
What can you smell?
What can you hear?
Are there any tastes in the air?
How do the things you can see feel to you?
If you don’t have all of the 5 senses available to you, simply use those you do have and focus there.
When clients start working with me on a Live Well programme, it’s amazing how many people don’t really think about what they’re eating; how much they eat at a sitting and throughout the day, the nutritional value and the balance of foods for good health and wellbeing.
Try these five things to start your journey on ‘Mindful Eating’
- Read the label of any foods you’re thinking about buying. This will naturally increase your awareness of the nutritional value and the calories you’re consuming. It will also let you know what ingredient, additives or preservatives are in there. You can then make a mindful choice about whether you want to eat it.
- Take time out to eat rather than eating whilst you’re doing something else, for example working or watching TV. Make it an occasion, a celebration of nourishing your mind and body.
- Mindfully taste your food, smell your food, notice the textures and sensations as you eat.
- Be conscious about when you’re full. Hara hachi bu is practiced in the Japanese culture and relates to eating until you are 80% full. To do this you need to be mindful of how you feel as you’re eating your meal. It’s not as difficult as it may sound and with practice you’ll get to know what 80% feels like. Also be aware that your stomach to brain ‘I’m full’ communication can take around 20 minutes after you stop eating, so when you eat to 100%, this is when you feel bloated, uncomfortable and probably a bit sick.
- The next time you open the cupboard or fridge to find something to eat, ask yourself these three questions:
‘am I hungry or bored?’
‘am I hungry or thirsty?’
‘I’m hungry, so what will nourish me the most?’
Mindful Breathing – takes under 2 minutes
We are often unaware of our breath, taking the action for granted as we go about our business. As a result, many of us take shallow breaths that don’t fill our lungs. If you’ve ever observed a newborn baby, they have practice deep, or diaphragmatic, breathing naturally. Diaphragmatic means using the diaphragm, a muscle under the lungs, to pull air deep into them. Shallow breathing is unhelpful for our mental and physical health, and can cause us to shift to states of stress and anxiety much more easily. In comparison, diaphragmatic breathing will help your body and brain regain and maintain calmness.
Try this exercise to improve your diaphragmatic breathing:
You can do this exercise standing up, sitting up or lying down, whatever is your preference.
If you’re sitting or standing place your feel flat on the ground about hip-width apart, your hands by your sides and your posture in neutral (good posture without over extension anywhere).
Take a long, deep breath into your stomach through your nose. Mindfully feel your chest open up as the air fills your lungs. Don’t force it, just breath in until you’ve reached your limit. Over time this limit will increase, if you want to track your progress count whilst breathing in.
Hold the breath for the count of 2 then release the air back out of your lungs slowly through your mouth, again counting as you go.
Do this for 10 breath rounds (in and out is one round)
I hope you’ve learnt something useful from this wellbeing blog, I’d love to hear your mindful techniques and practices, so feel free to share.
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