Mindfulness is the new buzzword in healthy living. The problem is that we are all overwhelmed by work, smartphones and the non-stop stress of modern life. Taking the time to practise mindfulness every day is a great way to reconnect with the self, relax and switch off – if only for five minutes.
Being the hippy that I secretly am, I am constantly working on creating a life filled with meaning and moments of joy. I regularly practise yoga and am currently taking a course in meditation techniques. That might be a bit too spiritual or ‘out there’ for some of you. Yet there are still many ways to practise mindfulness in your life which don’t involve downward dogs or accessing your third eye. Being mindful essentially means focusing on the present moment and the here-and-now, not last week or the unknowable future. Here are a few tips I’ve learnt to bring peace, calm and self-awareness in to everyday life – my favourite ways to be mindful:
Do you ever wake up in the morning or finish work for the day and feel tense or uncomfortable in your body? A few simple stretches can change that feeling within five minutes, leaving you feeling energised or more ‘zen’. I’ve put this at the top of the list because I believe it to be the easiest way to be mindful. While you stretch, pay attention to how your muscles feel – is one side tighter than the other? Never push your body into pain; slight discomfort is OK but you don’t want to injure yourself. My favourite stretches for the morning or after work are as follows:
– Lie on your back on the floor, lift your arms above your head as you inhale. Bring them back down on the exhale. Great for the spine and deepening the breath.
– In seated pose, tilt your head from left to right slowly to stretch out the neck. If it feels OK, roll the head all around in a circle.
– Staying seated, put your hands on your shoulders and rotate your arms in a circle, breathing in for the first half and out for the second. Reverse the rotation and repeat.
– Sitting in seated and facing forward, bring your right arm behind you touching the floor and your left hand onto your right thigh. Turn the head and look over the right shoulder. Twist around allowing the spine to stretch; remember to breathe. Repeat on the other side.
– Standing upright, slowly fold forwards from the hips until your belly is as close to your thighs as you can get it. Keep breathing deeply. Head and arms should be hanging loosely, knees are soft. This is the standing forward fold pose in yoga and it is my favourite of all the asanas as I love the hamstring and back stretch it gives.
Awareness of Posture.
If you are a person that has to sit at a desk all day for work you probably experience some discomfort in the back or neck from being less mobile. It’s unrealistic to expect perfect posture all the time, but try several times a day to be mindful of your posture and try to sit up tall with shoulders back. This allows the chest more space, helps deepen breathing and will make you feel instantly more awake.
Breathing is the one thing we do all day that we almost never consciously think about. Yet it’s the one thing we have full control over and how we exercise that control can make a huge difference in our lives and general well-being. Lie down and focus on deepening your breath. Put one hand on your stomach and one on your chest. Now try breathing only into the stomach, so that the hand on your chest doesn’t move. How does that feel? Abdominal breathing massages the digestive organs and relaxes the nervous system, making it a great way to combat anxiety or stress. If you want you can try the full yogic breath or Pranayama. Breath into the lower diaphragm first filling about two-thirds of the lungs. Then allow the chest to fill the remaining third. Breathe out like a wave, with the chest exhaling first and the lower diaphragm emptying last.
Set an intention for the day.
When you wake up in the morning think to yourself: “what do I want to achieve today?” Whether it’s to get started on a project at work, go to the gym or simple be happy, focusing on your daily goals helps you remain mindful throughout the day and gives the added bonus of feeling smug when you meet the expectation you set yourself.
Maybe it’s just me, but when I’m exercising my mind is usually on nothing except the arduous task in hand. Whether it’s slow-moving yoga or running up Wellington’s many hills, I find it a great way to focus the mind, appreciate my outdoor surroundings and relax.
Turn your phone off.
Smartphones are one of the biggest time-wasters of the modern age. I should know – I’m up to level 300 on Candy Crush… I find it very therapeutic to stick my phone onto flight mode at night, when I’m exercising or at work. A break from constant beeping, reminders of loved ones near and far and status updates from people you haven’t seen in 10 years helps to switch off mentally, relax and focus on the now.
This is a great way to start the day. Go outside for a few minutes and simply listen to the noises you hear around you (whether it’s traffic or birdsong). Be present in this moment. I find it much easier to feel mindful and aware when I am amongst nature.
Notice your thoughts.
Our brains like to be busy. They enjoy distractions and it can often feel impossible to quiet them. Throughout your day, notice when your thoughts are preoccupied with something that happened in the past or if you are fantasising about the future. Don’t chastise yourself for this; it’s what we all do every day. Simply become aware of your thought, let it go and bring yourself back to the present moment. This is what meditation is all about – and it does take practice.
Listen to music.
Music is distracting, joyous, energising and even emotional. It can be an excellent mood-booster. Music can also help you connect to the present moment. Pop on some of your favourite tunes, have a dance or just sit and listen to the melody. You can use it as an easy-access form of meditation.
It’s easy to wake up every (week)day and think: “same sh*t, different day”. Sometimes it takes something bad to happen for us to realise the good things we had before things took a turn. Being grateful for what you have every day is a small ask, really. Had a terrible day? You’re still healthy, right? Sick and feeling like crap? Go outside and take a moment to appreciate the beauty of nature – actually smell the roses. Whether it’s the stars in the night sky, access to hot water and teabags or a text off a good friend, I bet you can find at least something to feel truly grateful for every day. And positively breeds positivity; you’ll end up creating a never-ending circle of happiness for yourself – hurrah!