You’ve probably heard a lot about ‘mindfulness’ of late. It's become the favourite new buzzword for health fanatics and anyone who’s generally interested in wellbeing.
Celebrity advocates such as Oprah (who else?) have championed the meditative practice and it’s even been touted as one of the trends for 2014.
So, what is it exactly? We spoke to Breathworks Mindfulness Teacher, Dr Elaine Weatherley-Jones on the roots of the practice and what it’s all about.
“The purpose of mindfulness, which takes its roots in Buddhist practice, is to address your own stresses and difficulties in life, whether that’s mental health problems, an eating disorder or if you suffer from chronic pain.”
“Not only that, it can also help us relate to other people better, not just ourselves, and make us become more compassionate and kinder people.”
Essentially, “Mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment without judgement”. There’s even great evidence-based medical research to back up the fact that it can reduce stress levels, boost memory and help with your relationships.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a sort of beginner’s guide on how to fit mindfulness into your daily life.
1. When you wake up
OK, so we don’t all have that much time during the morning. While checking yesterday’s pair of jeans are still clean enough to wear again, frantically trying to find a bra that won’t show under your new white top, and eating breakfast, you somehow need to find time to actually breathe. But do it. Wake up a little earlier, don’t check your phone, don’t check your emails, don’t turn on the computer or TV. Just sit down and breathe for around 5-10 minutes. This will give you the chance to get clear in your mind the day ahead and what your intentions are.
2. In the shower
What do you notice about the shower? Do you notice the sight, sound and feel of the water? Do you take time to recognise all your senses as you’re in the shower? While it might seem strange to do this, it will give you a much clearer head for the day than belting out yet another rendition of Let It Go. Not only do you win, so do your neighbours. Again, this gives you the chance to set up your day ahead, without stress and anxiety.
3. On your commute
This is probably one of the hardest moments to be mindful - when you’re crammed on the 8.16am Victoria Line, especially when there are delays. But in these moments, instead of getting angry and frustrated at why the train has stopped, or annoyed at the coffee-breath chap stood next to you, take a moment to calm yourself. The best way to do this is to be aware of how you’re feeling. Observe your emotions but don’t judge them or analyse them, just let them be there but don't let them overwhelm you.
4. At work: in meetings or at your desk
During your working day, you’re probably constantly busy and feeling like you a lot to tick off on your to-do list. So, how can you be mindful when you’ve got a job to do? In a working environment, make sure you’re aware of all the things around you, but also, when interacting with colleagues for example, ensure you really listen to them. Instead of half listening over a computer screen, take the time to understand what they’re saying to you.
Another way is to check the language you’re using. You might always use the word ‘slammed’ but that has negative connotations, which you will, albeit subconsciously, recognise in your mind and body. Try to avoid using negative words and thinking more carefully and be aware of what you’re saying.
Also, you can be more aware of what you can do for your colleagues. Understand that they have a lot of work on too, so find ways to offer them support with their accomplishments or help them with their difficulties. Overall this will breed better communication between you and your colleagues and also give you the chance to enjoy work in a more peaceful but efficient environment.
5. On the way home
When heading back home, it’s easy to let you mind wander and consider all the things that have happen during the day. But try not to let that thing your colleague said to you play heavily on your mind, instead try looking out the window, if you can, and being aware of the motion of the train. Also trying focussing on your breathing as a technique to relieve stress – especially if it’s a packed bus or train. If you drive, you can also try these exercises in a traffic jam.
6. Preparing food
Cooking your evening meal is probably an inevitable part of your day. But there are ways of being mindful while you’re chopping up those carrots. According to Edward Espe Brown, Soto Zen Buddhist priest, teacher and chef, you can be more aware of your surroundings by checking that you’re doing what you should be doing.
“When people do not pick up after themselves, they are not being mindful. When they are gossiping while cooking, that’s not mindful. In other words, when someone is not doing what they should, they are not being mindful. So be mindful becomes do it right, the way you are supposed to.”
7. Eating your dinner
It’s easy to gobble down your food when you’re starving and want to watch the latest episode of The Mindy Project, but when eating, really taste your food. Not only will it give you the chance to enjoy your food and think about where it came from, you’re probably less likely to overeat.
8. At bedtime
Unsurprisingly, this is a good time for a spot of mindfulness. When settled, take five deep breaths - breathing in through the nose, and out through the mouth. While you're doing that imagine all the thoughts of the day melting away. Take a look at a few more steps here to help you practice mindfulness, which will also allow you to sleep much better.
Listening to Beyonce's Crazy In Love during a workout is probably one of life’s greatest pleasures, but perhaps if you’re too distracted, you can lose a connection to what you’re doing. If you pay attention to the movement of your body, instead of tuning out with your headphones on, you might find that you’re able to focus on your body more, and therefore you might be able to get better results.
10. In a queue
Despite the British’s strange fetish for queuing, there is a bubbling resentment that lies in every Brit who has to spend a long time waiting, even if our upper lips appear stiff. But don’t let the anger get to you. Use this as a time to reflect and concentrate on your breathing, your surroundings and the emotional reactions you're having. Once you've done this, the 'suffering' you feel will feel will still be there but it's observed rather than experienced.
(Images: Rex Features)