Mindfulness is a technique of becoming fully aware of yourself in the present moment. Studies show that people who practice this technique experience positive changes in their lives, including better focus, reduced stress and improved self-esteem.
In mindfulness we learn to stop making judgements about what is ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. We simply learn to accept our thoughts as thoughts. Although the technique stems from Eastern thought and Zen Buddhism, medical professionals are only now beginning to recognise the health benefits of applying these practices to everyday life. Studies show it has a measurable effect on brain processes, and can be used to help people with depression.
Here’s a seven step guide to a basic mindfulness exercise:
1. Make time
Mindfulness only needs to take 10 minutes out of your day. Commit to this 10 minutes – make it a part of your routine, just as breakfast is, or walking the dog is. Ideally you will practice mindfulness at the same time everyday (to get your body used to the routine) but this is not imperative. Simply choose a time when you’re least likely to be disturbed.
2. Find space
Whether it’s your spare room, your garden shed, or the living room before the rest of the family are up – make sure you set out a space of your own where you can practice mindfulness without being interrupted. Make sure you turn your phone off, close the door and turn off all TVs, radios and any other distractions.
3. Get comfy
Mindfulness isn’t about punishment – you’re allowed to be comfy! Sit on the sofa if you like, or put a cushion on the floor. Make sure your back is straight and let your hands fall in your lap.
4. Breathe slowly
Take five, slow breaths breathing in as deeply as possible. On the fifth breath, shut your eyes.
5. Focus on now
Now think about how your body feels, how the cushion or floor feels against your legs, how the room smells and any other sensations. Let these thoughts drift through your mind but don’t think about the implications, just the facts.
Staying still for 10 minutes is more difficult than you think. As your mind focuses on the present moment, it’s likely it will try to wander to other things, like what you’re going to do after the 10 minutes is up, or all the other things that are normally on your mind. Don’t panic – you’re not doing it wrong. Every time your mind wanders, simply bring it back by focusing on the position of your body and the sensation of oxygen filling your lungs.
7. Ease yourself into the day
When the 10 minutes is up, make a goal for the day – even if it seems small and insignificant. It could be to go and make a cup tea, or it could be to go and make a start on your work. As you get on with your daily tasks, think back to your 10 minutes of mindfulness, and how it felt to focus entirely on the present moment.
In later posts, we'll be looking into this technique further at introducing new mindfulness exercises for you to try at home!