Mindfulness is a godsend for the stressed, rushed, and under pressure. It’s a quick way to calm down, improve focus, and soothe away stress. It’s also pretty good for your health. Reported benefits of mindfulness include:
- Decreased stress
- Improved concentration
- Improved higher brain function
- Better focus
- Improved sleep quality
- Decreased anxiety
- Enhanced immune system
- Lower blood pressure
It can also reduce the symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome– great news for those of us who spend our nights kicking the duvet about!
So, what is mindfulness? And how can you get into it?
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is, at heart, a meditational technique. However, unlike traditional meditation, mindfulness is pretty all-purpose. You can take it down a deep and transcendental route if you want, but you can also practice it in a spare five seconds at your desk.
Mindfulness is all about bringing your focus fully into the present. For example, if you’re cooking a meal, mindfulness would ask you to devote your full attention to that process. If you’re sitting in a park, mindfulness would ask you to really experience your surroundings – the sights, sounds, smells and so on. It sounds simple, but it’s amazingly effective at pulling people out of their worries and defeating stress.
How can I practice mindfulness?
Like everything, it will take a few goes before you start to click with mindfulness. Initially, you’ll probably find your mind wandering and anxieties creeping in quite quickly. Don’t worry. The more you practice mindfulness, the easier it gets. Here are some quick mindfulness exercises you can do anywhere, at any time:
Yawn and stretch
A big, wide yawn and a good stretch is a natural body hack which will interrupt your thoughts and boot your attention into the present. It’s a great starting point if you’re struggling to get out of your head. Do a fake yawn if you need to, it works just as well.
STOP is an acronym to be used when you’re feeling overwhelmed: Stand up. Breathe deeply. Tune in to your body. Scan yourself, noting your breathing, your heart rate, sensations in your muscles. Observe. Turn your attention outwards. Focus on your surroundings. Possibility. How do you feel now? What is possible? How can you move forward from the problem which was bothering you?
Stroke the back of your hand
Physical sensations are often the most effective way of improving mindfulness focus at first. Stroke the back of your hand, and concentrate as much as you can on the feeling and the movement.
Really notice the movement, sound, and sensation of your breath. Feel and hear the air going in and out of your body. Notice the way your chest and stomach rise and fall with each breath. Don’t deliberately alter your breathing pattern – just notice what happens as you start to focus in on your breath.
It can take a little while before you start to see any results from mindfulness. Like anything to do with the brain, it takes time for established patterns to adjust and for new pathways to grow. But the benefits of mindfulness are undeniable, so stick with it!