I'm super passionate about mindfulness because it's REALLY helped me manage my anxiety, especially when it comes to worrying about the future and thinking about that time 10 years ago when I didn't say thank you to someone and now they hate me... But seriously, it helps me maintain a sense of balance in daily life and keep things in perspective! Mindfulness has definitely become a major buzzword over the last few years and for good reason - it's a brilliant self-help and personal development tool that works!
In spite of this though, there is still a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what it really is so I'm going to clarify all that in this post. By the end of reading this, you will understand exactly what mindfulness is (and isn't) and why it's so beneficial to supporting your mental and emotional health, PLUS you'll have 2 easy exercises you can do almost anywhere!
What Mindfulness is
- being aware of or bringing attention to the present moment, without judgement
- a skill that can be practised
- heavily researched as to its effectiveness (yay! we love a bit of research!)
- a hugely beneficial practise
- an accessible and affordable intervention for stress reduction
- a different perspective on living with and accepting discomfort
What Mindfulness is NOT
- hours of being sat in uncomfortable positions
- silencing the mind
- difficult or torturous
- just for yoga teachers, Buddhist monks or the woo-woo community (although I gladly count myself as part of this!)
- a magic wand that will heal all pain and discomfort
Ask Yourself This...
- what are your current thoughts about mindfulness? What are your preconceptions?
- do your current thoughts about it support you in or prevent you from practising it?
- where do these thoughts come from? Past experience? Opinions of others?
Mindfulness is for you IF:
- you want to be empowered to take care of your emotional and mental health
- you want to stop only relying on external influences to make you feel better
- you want to commit to a regular self care practice
- you find yourself dwelling on the past or worrying about the future and want to be more present in the here and now
What Mindfulness can do for YOU!
- increased calm and relaxation
- higher levels of energy and enthusiasm for life
- increased self confidence and acceptance
- reduced stress, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, addiction
- increased compassion for the self, others and the planet
When we are anxious, it can feel like a tug of war. We employ defence mechanisms like avoidance or denial so we don't have to think about what's bothering us. In the short term, this can be helpful but over time, this can 'feed' the worry - it gives it more power and the tug becomes stronger. It might sound counter-intuitive, but the best way of diffusing the worry and dropping the rope is to accept the discomfort we're feeling. Mindfulness can help us not only drop the rope but get comfortable holding it.
Increased Curiosity = Increased Compassion
Mindfulness encourages us to notice the small details of our experience; the smell of our coffee, the feel of the sandwich in our mouth, the colour of the leaves and with regular practise we become more curious. We begin noticing things we've never seen before even though we've walked that same route or eaten the same sandwich a million times before. As we become more curious, we come more aware and with this awareness, we begin to appreciate the small joys in life more. This enhanced awareness has been proven (by FMRI studies) to increase gratitude and compassion. Our brains are wired to scan for the negative which is a left over survival mechanism, helping us avoid threats and whilst it is still helpful in keeping us safe in the 21st century, it's not always entirely accurate - especially considering how much we're bombarded with information. Practising mindfulness helps to train our brains to scan for the positive which leads to many of the proven benefits including decreased stress and increased calm.
The Keys to Mindfulness
This is really quite simple and when you understand this simple concept, you'll be able to practise mindfulness where ever you are and whatever you're doing.
The first key is...the 5 senses.
Physical Feeling (Touch)
The second major key to successful mindfulness is breath (which satisfies physical feeling and sound) and is what is most often referred to and thought of when talking about mindfulness because it's completely accessible - it's free and we all have it, all the time.
Make Mindfulness a Part of Your Daily Life
The great thing about mindfulness is that you don't need to carve out extra time to practise it - you can incorporate it into daily activities you ALREADY do by using the keys above.
Exercise 1 - Mindful Eating
Think back to the last time you ate something. Were you fully present at the time or were you reading an article, watching TV or listening to a podcast? Even if you weren't doing any of those things, were you thinking about something else? Were you thinking about your shopping list for the week or thinking about an email you were sent earlier?
Next time you have something to eat, try and engage as many sense as you can - ON YOUR FOOD.
Take note of the smell of your food
- can you pick out any individual smells?
Take note of the look of your food - I mean really look.
- Are there different textures? What do these texture look like? Describe them.
- What is the colour of your food?
Take note of the feel of your food
- What do the different texture feel like? Are they crunchy, smooth, soft?
- Do different foods feel different to cut or fork?
- Is it hot or is it cold?
- Does it feel different compared to your tongue or your cheek?
Take note of the sound of your food
- Does it make a sound on the plate? Is it bubbling away?
- Does your cutlery make a sound on the plate? Does it sound different depending on what you're cutting through?
How does it taste?
- Can you taste different flavours? Can you pick them out and describe them?
Once you understand how to incorporate your senses like this, you can do it with something your drinking or even brushing your teeth!
Exercise 2 - Mindful Walking
When you walk somewhere, where is your mind? Do you find that sometimes you don't even remember how you got to your destination or at the very least don't remember anything about it?
Next time you're walking somewhere, try and engage your five senses.
Take note of any smells?
- can you smell your own perfume or deodorant?
- can you smell the grass or cooking from nearby houses?
Take note of what you see
- Challenge yourself to notice something you've never seen before
- What do you see that's close to you and what can you see that's far away?
Take note of what you physically feel
- You may wish to just focus on your feet and become aware of how you place your foot on the ground
- How does your clothing feel? Is it warm, heavy, light, restrictive?
- Is the sun warm on your face or is there a cool breeze?
Take note of the sounds
- What do you hear?
- Perhaps it's very quiet and all you can hear is the sound of your feet on the ground
- Or maybe it's REALLY quiet and all you can hear is your breathing and your heartbeat?
How does it taste?
- Can you taste anything?
- Can you still taste what you've previously eaten or the taste of mouthwash?
Be Gentle with Yourself!
Mindfulness is a skill that takes practise so don't expect yourself to be an expert right off the bat! To start with, you might prefer to start with just ONE sense and notice everything you can about that OR you might like to start by focusing on ONE sense and ONE thing you can notice about that. Treat it like a game - challenge yourself to notice more next time or to do it for longer. Even just being mindful for a minute is beneficial to your health and wellbeing.
Hopefully you now feel more able and empowered to use this simple tool to support your own mental and emotional health. There really isn't a lot to it but I hope I've cleared up any confusion or misunderstanding you might have had previously and that you'll start using these exercises TODAY so can feel more calm in your life.
If you'd like to know more about mindfulness, come follow me on Instagram where I'll be sharing helpful videos and recorded exercises that you can return back to whenever you need! You can find me on Instagram at: @the.tarot.counsellor
I look forward to seeing you there! Wishing you a mindful day,
'The Little Book of Mindfulness' - Dr Patrizia Collard