How to practise mindfulness daily
Another key ingredient for improving concentration, combatting stress and burnout, and making meaningful and consistent life changes, is mindfulness.
I am not talking about trying to achieve a completely blank or serene mind, or sitting cross-legged like a Buddhist monk, or spending thousands of pounds learning how to ‘do it’ on a silent retreat. I am talking about practical meditations and exercises that you can use every day – in your home, at work, or even on the bus (and no, you do not have to sit cross-legged to do them).
For me, it means slowing down, taking some long and slow deep breaths and connecting more fully with my body and surroundings. I first started practising mindfulness and then incorporating it in my coaching about four years ago and now it is an integral part of my work.
Over the past sixty years, extensive scientific research and numerous studies have shown that mindfulness can play an important role in improving mental performance, regulating emotions, and reducing stress levels.
It boosts mental performance by increasing the grey matter in the brain – the most notable area involved in learning and memory. It also creates changes in the white matter, which regulates how you behave and act on emotions and impulses. It has been shown to reduce the levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline in the body, thereby reducing overall anxiety levels.
The benefits of practising mindfulness include reducing the symptoms of depression, as well as increasing performance and improving self-esteem. In the workplace, particularly in challenging work environments, it has also been found to reduce stress levels and cases of burnout, leading to reduced staff turnover levels. In children, it’s been shown to increase resilience and even to help them deal with bullies. Mindfulness has been shown to be particularly helpful if you:
- have anxiety and worries
- have low energy levels
- have poor concentration levels
- feel irritable
- are easily annoyed and argumentative
- feel joyless and unmotivated.
Practising mindfulness on a regular basis has been shown to:
- improve concentration and memory
- control anger and negative emotions
- lower blood pressure and heart rate
- improve immune function
- increase self-awareness
- provide clarity of thought and perspective
- provide a sense of calm and connectedness
There are two ways you can practise mindfulness in everyday life:
Mindful meditation is an inward-looking practice that usually has a particular focus. For this I typically recommend starting with an app, and there are plenty on the market for beginners. Find one that has short meditations of ten minutes to make it easy for you to include it in your daily life.
Mindful living is an outward practice and often an easier one to start with. It’s a way of including mindfulness in everyday actions. It means slowing down and paying full attention, being in the moment and focusing on the action itself, your body movements and emotions, as well as the sights, sounds, sensations, smells and even tastes involved. You will reap the benefits of mindfulness if you practise it regularly for about eight weeks or more. Studies have shown that just ten minutes of mindfulness daily can lead to better self-regulation and better brain function – especially in the areas of attention and memory. To include mindfulness in your daily routine, I recommend considering the following:
- Routine – I highly recommend meditating as a daily practice (preferably incorporated into a morning routine as detailed in the next section). Do it in the same place at the same time, and follow a set routine of preparation – this will make it easier to stick to.
- Location – The place and environment in which you meditate is hugely important. Wherever you choose, make sure you won’t be interrupted and make sure it is clear of clutter, has minimal noise and is comfortable. I started off sitting on my bed but have since moved outside into my garden (even during the winter), where I meditate under a blanket and with the light of a rechargeable camping light for those dark mornings.
- Posture – Make sure your back is upright with your chin slightly lowered. Relax your shoulders, open your chest, but don’t slouch or curve your spine. This is important to allow energy to flow up and down your body. Ideally, you should sit without back support and cross-legged, but if you have lower back problems, use support and sit with your legs stretched out in front of you.
Mindful living exercises
You can increase your daily mindfulness whatever your schedule by simply doing what you were already doing but in a mindful way. The ways in which you can incorporate mindfulness into your daily life are pretty endless. I suggest you start small, by trying one regular activity per day, and seeing which one works best for you. Here are a few examples to get you going:
- Brushing your teeth
- Showering or washing your hair
- Making a cup of tea or coffee
- Walking to work
- Noticing your body posture
- Working out
- Drawing or any creative activity
- Having a conversation
- Washing up
- Preparing for sleep
‘Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on
purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.’
Close your eyes and take some long, slow, deep breaths, breathing in through your nose, holding it, then breathing out through your mouth. Inhale the breath right down into your stomach. You may notice your mind wandering off. If you do, gently, without judgement, bring your attention back to your breath.
Take this time to fully focus on your body. Notice if there’s one place in your body that is calling for your attention. Go there and really get curious. Take a couple of long, slow breaths right down into this place. Notice if anything happens to it as you do. No judgement, just noticing. Now take a couple more deep breaths and shift your attention, seeking out a place in your body that’s ‘silent’ right now – a place you really have to go looking for.
Again, when you find it, go there and get curious. Breathe right down into it, filling it up with new fresh air. Notice what happens to it as you do so. Taking your attention back out to your whole body, notice the overriding emotion. Take a moment to stretch your body. Bring your focus behind your eyelids and pause for a moment. Open your eyes and adjust to the light when you are ready.
- What did you notice?
- What was the overriding emotion in your body?
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