Mindfulness is something we hear mentioned a lot, especially with regards to looking after our mental health. However despite all the talk, many of us are still not clear about what mindfulness actually is.
Practised regularly, mindfulness can be really beneficial – so it is worth getting to grips with the basics. In this post we share a simple overview of what mindfulness is, how it helps and ways we can get started with it.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is essentially being more aware of ourselves and our surroundings. It’s about switching off our auto-pilot and actively noticing our thoughts and feelings, and what’s going on in the world around us. Essentially, mindfulness is about being ‘present’. We focus our attention on the here and now, rather than worrying about the past or what might happen in the future.
How does Mindfulness help?
Mindfulness helps us become more aware of our negative thoughts. Being aware of our thoughts doesn’t change them, or make them go away – but it can reduce the impact they have on us, or the way we react to them. This reduces stress, and boosts our overall wellbeing.
Being mindful of the present moment can also help us feel more positive. Without the worries of yesterday and fears about tomorrow plaguing our minds we have more space to appreciate what’s around us. Being present doesn’t magically cure our problems, but feelings like gratitude can benefit our mood over the long term.
A Taste of Mindfulness
Sucking a jelly baby (yes really!) can be a good introduction to mindfulness. The key is to consume the sweet (it doesn’t have to be a jelly baby – and we could use something like a raisin if we don’t eat sweets) in a mindful way. Before we eat it, we would pick it up and take time to notice how it feels and smells. We would then suck it, and again, notice the textures in our mouth, as well as focusing on the taste. As we continue to eat it, we would focus on how the texture and shape changes. This would all happen quite slowly.
Doing this can feel a little weird, but this sweet-sucking exercise is a simple and effective mindfulness taster. And we don’t need to leave the house to try it.
How to get started
There isn’t really a one-size-fits-all method to being mindful. Different people will find different activities to be most helpful. If we try one way of being mindful and hate it, then that’s okay! We can just try something else.
We could start by listening to guided mindfulness recordings. On these recordings, someone will talk us through a mindfulness exercise. Guided mindfulness can be particularly good when we are first learning to be mindful, because someone will take us through it step by step. This can allow us to relax into it, rather than worrying about whether we’re doing it right or not.
We might like to have something to look at, or focus on, while practicing mindfulness. If we prefer videos to recordings, YouTube have a whole range of guided mindfulness exercises. We could pop one of those on and see how we find it.
There are mindfulness books available (like this one) which carefully guide us through different mindfulness exercises. These can be great because they allow us to take it at our own pace.
If we prefer things to be a little more official, there are now several mindfulness courses we can access – both online and in person.
Some of us might prefer to download a mindfulness app. There are quite a lot of different mindfulness apps out there, and each one of them offers something different, so will suit different people. If we try one app and don’t like it, there’s no harm in deleting it and trying a different one until we find one that works for us.
If we enjoy creative things, we could try taking our camera for a walk and using it to help us focus on the world around us. Or pick our paints up and studying the flowers in our garden. There are a number of mindfulness colouring books out there if that’s something we like doing. Arty endeavours can be a great way to focus on things we might otherwise have missed.
Mindfulness takes practice
Mindfulness probably isn’t something we can just do automatically. It can take practice to learn what works for us and how to do it. Mindfulness can feel quite strange and uncomfortable to begin with because stopping the busyness means that all of the thoughts and feelings that we’ve been avoiding can bubble to the surface. As we do it more, it can often become easier. It can be helpful to set aside a little bit of time every day to practice being mindful or to do a mindfulness exercise.
Incorporating mindfulness into everyday life
Once we feel more confident in our ability to be mindful, we can begin to incorporate it into our daily lives. It can be really fun and we might begin to notice things we’ve never really seen before.
For example, when doing the washing up – rather than scrubbing bowls whilst thinking about the packed lunches we have to make and the tax return we have to fill in, we could focus on the bubbles and the way they make rainbows in the light. While mowing the lawn, rather than worrying about the school bake sale or whether or not we should apply for a promotion at work, we could enjoy the smell of the cut grass, and hear the kids playing in next door’s garden.
If we find mindfulness helpful, then over time we can start building it into our daily lives more and more.