Practising mindfulness can help you be happier, more focused and help to reduce stress. And meditation isn’t the only way.
You’ve probably heard of mindfulness. It’s become the buzzword that’s bandied around as the solution to just about anything whether you’re stuck in traffic, burnt out at work, or trying to raise a well-adjusted kid. Those who practice mindfulness call it the perfect antidote to a busy life that can sometimes seem like one long to-do list, while cynics dismiss it as new-age mumbo-jumbo. So let’s get things straight – what exactly is mindfulness?
Erin Lee, a mindfulness coach who runs her own practice, Mindful Moments, explains it as having a moment-to-moment awareness of what’s going on around you, and how it makes you feel. It started out as a spiritual practice but has become part of everyday life. The practice of mindfulness teaches that dwelling in the past or worrying about the future can be emotionally damaging and unproductive. “Mindfulness trains the mind and attention, in order to ground you in the present moment as and when needed,” she says, adding that it helps you focus, feel less stressed out, and have greater clarity about what triggers certain feelings.
The best part? You can be mindful anytime, anywhere. You just need to know how, and then you practise, practise, practise.
Do it on your own: Breathe “intentionally”
Make it a habit by deliberately setting a few minutes aside every day to do this. It means doing a mental scan of your body to reflect on how you’re feeling that day and notice your breathing patterns. Give yourself space to observe your thoughts, emotions, and body sensations. The point is to be at peace with these feelings rather than suppress them. Being aware of what triggers certain emotions can mean that you’ll avoid repeat episodes in future. If your mind strays, (and it will if you’re new to the mindfulness game), use an audio meditation guide (try Centre For Mindfulness) to help you stay on track.
Do it on your own: Try monotasking
Multitasking doesn’t make you more effective. In fact, you might be stressing yourself out more than necessary. The frontal part of the brain is built to pay attention to one thing at a time, explains Kathirasan K, director of the Centre for Mindfulness. Monotask instead.
The easiest way to start is when you’re grabbing a bite. Eat alone, skip the Netflix, and give your meal your full attention. Don’t just swallow your food. Chew slowly and savour it, noticing its texture and taste. Once you’re used to the idea of doing this, you’ll find it easier to inject this same level of attentiveness into other aspects of your life. Then, create what experts call “mindfulness triggers” throughout your day on the commute to work, while climbing the stairs, or when taking a shower. Be mindful during those activities. It’ll improve your ability to focus, and that means you’ll feel less stressed.
Use it in your social life: Consciously hit pause on an argument
During an argument, your mind is flooded with thoughts you’re probably chomping at the bit to get out. Ask for a three-minute time-out. That way, you won’t lash out, and you’ll stop being defensive, says Kathirasan. Pay attention to your breath to calm down, he adds.
After that, check in with how you feel. Whether it’s the temperature of your skin, or emotions like sadness, frustration or anger, notice them. When you’re mindful of these, you won’t react in a way you might regret, plus you’re more deliberate about what you say. The point: to make sure the conflict isn’t unnecessarily escalated.
Use it in your social life: Ask yourself if you’re overreacting
It’s not unusual for colleagues and friends to vent about horrible bosses or terrible boyfriends. But in trying to support them, your judgment sometimes gets clouded and you may feel compelled to give advice on impulse.
Being mindful can make you a better friend. Take a step back and be aware of how your friends’ problems are making you feel. Creating that space helps you respond and make decisions rationally rather than add to the negative emotions.
A version of this article first appeared in the April issue of Her World.