One of the key things that has genuinely significantly improved my mental health over the past few months has been mindfulness. I was skeptical at first, I’d give meditating a go, get frustrated, and write it off. After going on a 5 week course learning about mindfulness and practising with a group, I can honestly say it has changed my life.
I think something which a lot of people don’t initially realise, is that mindfulness is not just about meditating. It is definitely part of it, and will greatly help your involvement with mindfulness, but there is so much more. Really, mindfulness is just about being present and paying attention to what is going on – in terms of your emotions, physical sensations, thoughts and your surroundings.
One easy way to practise mindfulness is simply noticing how the chair you are sitting on feels against your bum, legs and back and how the floor feels underneath your feet. Or breathe a couple of times, really focusing on the breath. It’s often taught that mindfulness is simple, but not easy. This couldn’t be more true. It sounds easy and is simple to understand, but it takes a lot of practise!
Other ways to practise mindfulness in your life that don’t involve meditation include:
- Walking – This is my favourite thing to do and I don’t do it enough! If you are walking somewhere, take the time to really notice where you are: what you see, what you can feel, how the ground feels against your feet. You will feel a lot present and probably a bit calmer! Give it a go next time you are walking somewhere.
- Eating – I am very guilty of not doing this! Do you eat your food really quickly, on the go, or whilst doing something else? Try to sometimes focus completely on your meal, or your snack. Notice how it feels in your mouth, the different tastes and textures you notice. You can even spend some time appreciating the smell and look of your food.
- Feelings! The more you practise mindfulness, the more aware you will be of your emotions. The aim is not to avoid ‘negative’ emotions, but to simply notice and accept how you are feeling. I find this one particularly helpful. Next time you feel caught up in emotion, just stop for a moment, place your hand on your chest if this feels comfortable, and notice any emotions you are feeling and tell yourself. For example, in my head I will say ‘I am feeling anxious’. It doesn’t sound like much but it can make a huge difference to how you react to things.
Part of the practise of mindfulness is mediation. A scary, hippy word for many people. And it was for me, for a long time. I just couldn’t get into it and wrote it off as something that didn’t work for me.
Eventually I kept at it, with the help of my mindfulness course and now I swear by it! The point is not to clear your mind or have no thoughts, as is often thought. One easy way to meditate is simply sit on a chair or bed and focus on your breath. When thoughts come, as they will, simply acknowledge they are there and return to your breath.
This is just one of many examples of mindful meditation. I recommend trying both guided meditations and try doing it yourself – personally I like to do a combination, but when I was starting out I found it much easier to follow a guided meditation. There are hundreds of sources, including YouTube and apps such as Headspace and Insight Timer.
The most important part of mindfulness is self compassion. The point is to be kind to ourselves if we are struggling, be mindful of how we are feeling and how we should take care of ourselves. Think of yourself as a friend and always talk to yourself as you would a friend. It’s really hard at first and can feel uncomfortable but once you practise self compassion more and more it will really change how you feel about yourself and your life will feel far less stressful!
This has been a very brief guide to mindfulness. There are many more resources to research further – books, websites, youtube videos etc.
Mindfulness can really transform your life. For me, I feel more present, more relaxed, more focused on what I am doing and I am much, much kinder to myself.