I talk a lot about mindfulness in my posts here and on Instagram. At face value, 'mindfulness' might sound complicated, exotic, or, maybe, even contrived. But mindfulness is actually a natural phenomenon. We 'do' mindfulness a lot of the time without needing to recognise it. Put simply, to be mindful is to be fully aware of your surroundings, what is happening around you and being present with your state of mind. When mindful, we do not feel particularly threatened by a certain situation. By practising mindfulness, you can help your mind to feel steady in your surroundings, instead of feeling completely overwhelmed. And while it all sounds easier said than done, know this: it definitely isn't easy, but it is by no means a specialist ideal out of our reach. Everybody can practice mindfulness. Here is how you can, and why you will feel better for it.
How do I do it?
There is no right or wrong way to go about being mindful. It is about finding peace with yourself in a world that can be fast-paced and overpowering. Therefore it can be quite an individual activity, or it can be practised in groups. It can be something as small as pausing for a moment to take a deep breath in, or it can be a full meditation session. As long as you allocate some time to yourself to be present, in the moment, as much as possible, you will be engaging in, and practising, the act of being mindful. As a frequent user of Headspace, I learned right away that it is completely fine if your mind automatically starts to wander off. We are programmed to think, and our mind will do this from time to time even when we sit down to have a quiet moment. So what is the point, if our thoughts don't seem to shut off anyway? The beauty of mindfulness is learning to recognise when this happens so that we can steadily bring ourselves back to the present, and it can be highly beneficial for us.
How can mindfulness benefit me?
Mindfulness can help you to understand your physical being
One of the biggest things I noticed once I began meditating regularly, was that I am now far more in tune with what my body is feeling like. While engaging in a guided meditation with Headspace, you are encouraged to complete a full body scan, whereby you travel down your body, acknowledging the way each function feels: are your shoulders feeling heavy or light? Are there any particular areas where you feel some tension? This can be difficult to determine at first, but in my experience, it seemed to develop naturally over time, and I got better at determining where I was uncomfortable, or where I was feeling light and at ease. Recognising when a certain area of my body is overworked or beginning to ache, has become a lot easier since starting to meditate regularly, allowing me to know when I need to take a step back and rest.
Mindfulness lowers stress
Mindfulness involves focusing on your breath, feeling the movement of your chest and noticing the contact between you and the surface you are sat on. Doing this can help you to feel grounded and at one with your body. When we take deep breaths, right from the diaphragm, we are decreasing levels of cortisol in our body, which is a signal for the brain to relax. We're also increasing the amount of oxygen that goes to our brain, so we are able to think more rationally, or clearly, therefore helping us to reduce feelings of stress.
Mindfulness allows us to focus
I often get to around two or three o'clock in the afternoon when I start to feel a slump in my energy. Any task I'm doing at that point is then hindered by my sudden lack of concentration and I find I'm losing the motivation to continue. It is often suggested, when you are working on a piece of writing or creating a piece of music, that you should put it away when you have exhausted any creative drive and come back to it later when your mind is refreshed and able to look at things differently. In my experience, it's the same with taking a few moments to do a guided meditation session, or simply just sitting quietly by myself. When I've taken my time I open my eyes back to the task at hand and feel recharged and ready to continue. This could also be a result of increased oxygen levels flowing to the brain.
Mindfulness helps your brain to 'shut up!'
Ever go to bed absolutely buzzing from a project that is going exceptionally well but unable to switch off once you've finally turned off the light? Maybe you are worried sick about something the following day and it creeps incessantly into any thoughts you try to smother the worry with. Mindfulness can help to clear the fog in your mind and stop the irritating chatter when we just need to sleep. I'll be the first to admit that it's easier said than done but, by training the mind and doing this regularly, we can get better at being able to leave our worries for later (when they actually matter) and get a good nights' sleep. As for the creative jolts, you may get at bedtime, you might find it beneficial to jot down your ideas in a notepad beside your bed, just in case you can't remember them the next morning...we've all done it, haven't we?
Mindfulness helps you pay attention
When things play on our minds, we can feel distracted and often lose concentration. In fact not being able to focus on one task, even if it is just watching television or reading a newspaper, is one of the main symptoms of depression. Because mindfulness is about training our mind to turn inwards, to pay attention to our bodies and our mental state, we can gradually begin to recognise when we are not paying attention to people talking, or to words in a book. Furthermore, we can conclude that mindfulness is able to help us connect with people and construct relationships with more ease.
Each of these benefits has the support of science and, since we are naturally able to do it, it seems as though there is no reason at all why we shouldn't take some time each day to simply be present in the moment.