I was first introduced to mindfulness by a therapist friend of mine who suggested it might be a good way to cope with my fear of flying. A simple breathing technique that served to focus my mind on my breath and away from the stressful situation at hand, namely, take-off, turbulence and landing. It helped to some extent, and while I am still not the world’s happiest flyer, I quickly worked out that the flight, and the mindfulness I used to cope with it, was a great metaphor for modern life.
That was back in 2012 and since then, the explosive rise of Mindfulness has seen it turn from a quick stress buster to an all-out lifestyle for some people. I have since relied on mindfulness to get through pregnancy, using Andy Puddicombe’s Head Space App and Book, and I now see a mindful moment in the day, be that on the tube or in the bath, as one of life’s little luxuries.
So it has become a way of life for me, but to the uninitiated it can seem a bit airy fairy. So just what is mindfulness and why and how should we practice it.
Mindfullness in its simplest form is focusing the mind on the present. By taking time to be mindful of the moment you are removing yourself from an unquiet mind and allowing yourself time to process thoughts in a more calm and ordered way.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. is a scientist, writer, and Professor of Medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he founded its Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic in 1979. His programme of guided mindfulness is world renowned and focuses on ‘mindfulness meditation in everyday living to optimize one’s capacity to face stress, pain, and illness across the lifespan.’
While the foundations of such stress focused mindfulness is no doubt helpful for those with a genuine issue to tackle, mindful meditation has now spread into the mainstream and is used by people who are not in any distress as such, but would like to better plug in to their own lives, and manage the competing challenges of modern living.
In fact, mindful is a tag attached to almost all areas of lifestyle these days. From eating and exercise to planning and leadership. There are seemingly no limits to the benefits to mindfulness.
And with this increase in interest has come a huge mindful industry, offering you mindful opportunities at every turn. If you want to really step off the world and float in a tank of mindful bliss, you can, at London’s hugely successful Floatworks, or if you choose to practice mindfulness in a more active way then Calm By Candle Light at Virgin Active Gyms will allow you to stretch your mind and your body, while your breath focuses on the moment. And of course our eating habits lend themselves to mindfulness. Mindless eating often leads to thoughtless binging on all the wrong things. The mindful eating movement asks you to focus on each meal, from sourcing the ingredients to cooking and enjoying them. A sentiment that food delivery company Mindful Chef would advocate. ‘Eating is the perfect time to be fully present and pay attention to the food you are eating. If you can do this not only will you improve digestion but you’ll also help regulate your appetite.’ Says their founder Miles Hopper.
So clearly, mindfulness isn’t about self-indulgent navel gazing, it’s an important moment of self-care and reflection, and often can be the difference between reacting and responding.
Here are a few ways that we at OE try to work mindfulness in to our days – and trust us when we tell you they are busy days – so bear with us and see if any of these mini mindful ways could have an impact for you.
Morning Mindful Moment
I have a 15 month old daughter, so how and when my day begins is not always up to me. But on the rare occasions I wake before her, or my alarm, I take a few moments in bed to think of the day ahead, focusing on what I need to do and more importantly how I want to feel.
A Mindful Ritual To start the day
Focusing on small tasks that awaken your mind can be a great way to start your day off mindfully. Perhaps you enjoy making a ritual out of breakfast, or take a moment of meditation over your morning cuppa. Focusing on the small things is a good way to get your busy mind back on track.
Zone Out the World
Most of us have to navigate some form of crowded or hectic space on a daily basis. The tube, the bus, the school run. This is a great time to use one of the many mindful apps or downloads. I love Quility, the mindfulness app designed by Tessa Watt, who teaches mindfulness at the House of Commons. Quility is aimed at busy parents which speaks to my current state of mind, but whatever your particular interest, you can be sure there is a mindfulness app for that.
Never before has it been so easy to keep track of your day to day thoughts. The market is full of happiness and goal planners that prompt you to consider your thoughts every time you open your diary. I am a big fan of the Hello Day planner. This hardworking diary come notebook has a dedicated tick box section for gratitude and meditation every day. It’s hard not to take a mindful moment when its down there in black and white.
A personal totem
Life is busy and our days are full, so it’s no wonder our minds wander in unhelpful ways sometimes. That is why it can help to have a personal totem, a small object that the site of which each day brings you back to the task at hand. This is an approach favoured by Marathon Runner and Author of Running the Smoke, Michael McEwan and it’s a simple mind trick for busy days. My totem is bracelet given to me by my husband – I am never without it.
We all end each day as it began, in bed with our thoughts. Use this time productively and mindfully by jotting down one thing that happened that day that you feel grateful for. I have a five year diary on my nightstand that I use, but any old notebook will do. It’s a great way to download the day once and for all, and where possible end on a positive note.
Your mind if by far your greatest tool, but it can also present our biggest challenges. Mindfulness won’t suddenly make your smarter, funnier or more successful, but it could be the first step to a more focused, content and effective you.