I first heard of mindfulness a few years ago – back when it was something only hippies and tree-huggers did. I wrote it off as another craze not worthy of a second thought. They could spend all their time chanting, meditating with crystals or doing whatever the heck this mindfulness thing was but I had better thing to do with my time. It’s not like this stuff really helped you relax, did it? That was crazy, surely.
Well, fast forward a few years and not only I’ve eaten my words but I’ve happily joined the tree-huggers in their mindfulness endeavours. Turns out, they were onto something. In the 3+ years I’ve been exploring and experimenting with different mindfulness practices, I’ve beaten depression and greatly reduced both my anxiety and stress.
Of course, I still get a little nervous when I’m going to a networking event and sometimes life throws me curve balls that make my stress levels go through the roof, but thanks to my mindfulness toolkit, I’m better prepared to deal with them.
If you’re on the fence about this mindfulness thing too because you’re not quite sure what you’re getting into, I’ve put together this quick guide to help. It covers what mindfulness really is and is not and why you may want to start practicising it too (I honestly can’t recommend it enough):
What Minfdulness Is NOT
- Mindfulness isn’t religious: while mindfulness is a key element of Buddhism, it isn’t inherently religious. It’s a secular practice anyone can use, whether they’re religious or not.
- Meditation isn’t mindfulness: meditation is a practice that helps you be more mindful. If it’s not your cup of tea, don’t worry. There are many more things you can do to become more mindful.
Good news: if you’re not religious or hate meditation, mindfulness can still work for you.
What Minfdulness Is
The practice of maintaining a nonjudgemental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.
Mindfulness simply means being present in the moment. Your mind and your body are at the same place at the same time. You’re focused on what you’re doing right now, without worrying about the past or the future.
Most of us live our lives on autopilot. We prepare the same breakfast every morning while watching the telly and thinking about what stupid thing you said to your date the night before. Somehow breakfast gets done but you don’t even remember cooking the eggs or spread the butter on the bread. You just did it without thinking. You did it so many times before, it comes natural to you.
You drive to work listening to the radio. You don’t remember steering the wheel left or right or stopping at traffic lights but you know you did. On autopilot. You say hi to your coworkers on autopilot. You do your grocery shopping on autopilot. You live at least half of your day on autopilot.
Mindfulness is the act of taking the autopilot off and start driving manually. You’re completely aware you’re in your kitchen, spreading the jam on your toast. You taste the sweet taste of the jam, feel its bouncy, gel texture on your tongue, inhale its fruity aroma. All thoughts about yesterday’s day disappeared from your mind.
You’re aware of every movement you make while driving the car to work, how you feel when you’re sitting at the traffic light, of everything that moves on the road. You see your colleagues when you greet them. Jane’s reply was half-hearted. Maybe something’s wrong with her. You pay attention to how people respond to you instead of worrying about what your boss thinks of you or what he’ll ask you do today.
You’re grounded in the present moment, full aware of what you’re doing and what’s going on around you.
You’re not judging what’s happening. You’re not rushing to make it happen faster. You’re just noticing what’s happening and accepting it as is.
This is mindfulness.
What Are The Benefits Of Mindfulness?
In a society where busyness is the norm and burnout a badge of honour, mindfulness helps you relax, reduce stress and focus on what really matters to you.
It’s not just my opinion. In the past few years, research on mindfulness has flourished. The results clearly show that mindfulness helps:
- Alleviate chronic pain
- Boost the activity of your immune system
- Decrease anxiety and depression
- Make you more compassionate
- Reduce stress
- Relax and unwind
- Regulate emotions
HOW MINDFULNESS IMPROVED MY LIFE
That’s what the science says. But how can you expect mindfulness to improve your life? It will be slightly different for everyone but I can tell you what mindfulness did for me.
Before I started practicing mindfulness, my Inner Mean Girl was running the show. It doesn’t matter what I was doing, she was constantly reminding me of past mistakes and warning me I’d be making even worse ones in the future. I was ugly, stupid and good for nothing. Better keep my head low and never try anything new.
Mindfulness made me realise how fleeting thoughts are. Thoughts come and go. If my Inner Mean Girl tells me I’m a crappy cook, all I have to do is bring the focus back on stirring the pasta, chopping the meat or sprinkling salt on the salad. I don’t judge myself for having that thought. I just acknowledge it and go back to what I was doing.
This simple trick is a lifesaver. Every time I’m feeling stressed – like when I’m walking in a room full of people I don’t know or have a meeting with a new potential client and wonder if they’ll like me – all I have to do is bring the focus back on the present moment. Just say hi to this person. Ask them how they’re doing. Listen – really listen – to their response. My anxiety slowly melts away and I start enjoying myself and maybe even make a new friend.
Mindfulness helps me cope with anxiety and stress. It makes me calmer and better able to deal with whatever life throws at me. It makes me more compassionate both towards me and others. Now I can see situations for what they are instead than jumping to conclusions. My relationships have improved too.
Now I enjoy my life a lot more.
A few Mindfulness Practices To Try
If you’re gonna make this mindfulness thing work for you, you need to find a practice you enjoy doing. Look forward to it even. Otherwise, there’s no way you’ll stick to it long enough to reap its benefits.
It’d be too long to list all the mindfulness practices you can try so here are my faves:
- Body Scan Meditation: you’re scanning every part of your body to be aware of bodily sensations
- Mindful eating: eat slowly, paying attention to the texture, flavour and smell of each bite
- Vipassana meditation: focusing your mind on one object at a time without letting it wonder
- Yin Yoga: yoga but slower-paced so you held each position for longer periods of time (haven’t tried it yet but it’s next on my list)
Whatever you choose, pay attention to what you’re doing and the feelings and sensations that arouse in your body. Don’t judge or act on them. Just feel them and let them go. If your mind strays (it will!), gently pull it back to the present moment.
Most of all, be patient.
You’ve got this.
Over to you, now. Do you practice mindfulness? Share your thoughts in the comments below.