Mindfulness in its simplest form is really about paying attention, being present and focusing on the moment, action or experience. Most people have become aware of Mindfulness and the general benefits in easing stress and anxiety, improving sleep quality, increasing happiness and contentment, the list goes on. Mindfulness is a powerful tool for helping us to get the most out of life rather than just the buzz word of the moment. Through Positive Psychology research we are learning more and more about the brain and the positive impact that mindfulness has on our neural pathways and brain development.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is the pioneer of scientific research into the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. He describes mindfulness as a way of 'paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non- judgmentally'. Usually what comes to mind first when we think about mindfulness practice is formal meditation. We imagine someone seated quietly (in either silence or while listening to a guided meditation), blocking out from the world around them. While this is in fact one picture of mindfulness practice, it is not the only way to practice mindfulness, and to be honest extremely difficult. There are many ways to practice mindfulness beyond the stereotypes.
As previously mentioned Mindfulness strengthens the neural pathways in the brain, building a greater capacity to cope with difficult emotions and stressful times. Mindfulness is a mental discipline that involves training, focus and attention. It teaches us how to use the mind in a different way and to focus on the things that are most useful and helpful in our lives, thus helping us to live more consciously and fully.
Dr Craig Hassed explains in the article “The health benefits of meditation and being mindful” that:
“The practice of mindfulness in our daily lives helps to reduce stress, be less reactive, decrease anxiety and tackle life's inevitable difficulties with resilience and renewed energy.”
He notes that meditation can teach us may have tremendously useful effects on our physical and psychological wellbeing because it:
1. Improves how effectively we function
2. Has direct benefits by changing the body physiologically and metabolically
3. Has indirect benefits by improving our lifestyle
4. Enhances relationships and compassion
5. Improves the way we cope with life challenges
6. Enriches our enjoyment of life
Managing stress and having a work-life balance are important aspects of most adult lives. Through my teaching I was introduced to mindfulness and the benefits it could have on stress management and my mental wellbeing. Over time I have incorporated mindfulness strategies into my daily routines to support the management of my workload and stresses as a teacher. I strongly believe that utilising these strategies enabled me to complete my Masters Degree, plan a wedding, teach Prep and act as my school's Wellbeing Leader all at once. Sounds hectic but because of the right tools I was able to relax and focus on the tasks I needed to achieve.
Meditation is the formal practise of mindfulness, but it isn’t the only way to begin a mindfulness practice. Formal meditation also isn’t about stopping your thoughts and becoming the ultimate zen master! It is about tuning into your body and mind, bringing your attention back to when you have lost focus.
The wellbeing benefits are obvious to start a mindfulness practice. But making the time for a formal meditation or mindfulness practice can be difficult. Research shows that by setting aside 20 minutes a day for 8 weeks to formally practice mindfulness leads to significant changes in the brain, increasing parts of the grey matter related to memory, empathy and stress control. Twenty minutes can seem extremely overwhelming and stressful to fit it into the busy modern schedule, which would then be defeating the purpose of the practice!
Mindfulness isn’t just meditation. It happens each time we take a conscious breath. It is all about bringing moment-to-moment awareness of what is happening around you and tuning into the body's emotions and physical state. If you can find time for a glass of wine at the end of the day, you can find time to begin a practice, that will bring a deeper sense of awareness in the informal mindfulness you can experience in the day-to-day.
Starting with small steps to gradually build your practice is the aim. It could be listening to a 5 minute meditation in the morning, it could be journaling thoughts at the end of the day, it could be as simple as taking 3 deep breaths before beginning a new task or starting your day. It can be that simple. It is finding the time and creating the habit that needs to be the focus. Starting simple is the key.
To begin a mindfulness practice it takes 5 minutes. In this crazy busy world, full of the unknown, you owe your body that time! Here are 3 simple ways that you can begin a mindfulness practice.
Tuning into your breath. Before waking, sitting in the car after the drive to work or before beginning a new task, simply tune into your breath. While doing that, take 3 really deep breaths, if you get distracted, just come back to your breath.
Start a gratitude practice. This could be on your own or with your family, it could be around a meal or you might begin a journal, choose what is easy and comfortable for you to do.
Tuning into your body. Just trying to find moments when you feel tension or stress in your body. Might be tension in your jaw, shoulders tight, just tune into the sensation, take a deep breath and relax that area.
To discover 5 more simple ways you can get started with my MKM's Top 5 tips for beginning a mindfulness practice.