Up until a few years ago, I had no Idea what true mindfulness was.
Of course I knew what the word ‘mindful’ meant in the traditional sense. Be mindful of the neighbours and keep the noise down. Be mindful about swearing in front of your grandparents. I knew it basically meant being aware. Easy peasy.
When I first heard the term ‘mindfulness’ I did what I do with all new words. I broke it down. ‘Mind-full-ness’ – surely that means the state of your mind being full? My brain is constantly full. I’m ALL about the mindfulness. I’m walking fullness of the mind.
That’s not quite what it is either, though. Mindfulness is all about concentrating on the thing you are currently doing. Whether it be a yoga class, a conversation with a friend, a work project or play time with your kids. Mindfulness is about being purely present in that moment, and not allowing your mind to wander away to other places. It’s also about controlling your responses and not being too reactive to the events going on around you.
For a slightly hyperactive, generally over excited person, mindfulness didn’t seem like it was going to be my bag at all. I distract very easily and I’m very interested in what other people are doing. Not because I’m nosy, but because I’m interested and I like to be involved in everything all the time. The opposite of mindful wouldn’t you say? Also I’m a little bit nosy. I’ll admit it.
I’ve been trying to be more mindful this year, in my own way. Meditation doesn’t work for me (I fall asleep immediately every time) but I’ve introduced a few habits that I’m really enjoying. For example when I walk to get my coffee in the morning, I don’t take my phone. I’ll just walk quietly or chat to my partner if he happens to come with me. While I’m waiting for my coffee I don’t reach for the paper or start looking for a flyer or pamphlet to read. I just sit there. Waiting. It’s an easy way to bring some stillness and quiet brain time into your day, particularly if you have zero meditation stamina like I do.
If you’ve ever wondered about mindfulness, here are some things you should know…
1. Mindfulness is not meditation
It can be, but it’s not always the same thing. Mindfulness is not about your mind being clear or empty, it’s all about your mind being focussed on the thing you’re doing. Making eye contact with the person you’re talking to. Really looking around and absorbing your surroundings. Sitting quietly and reading a book without grabbing your phone every 5 seconds. Playing a board game with a friend, leaving your phone in the other room. Obviously you can be mindful while meditating but you don’t need to be sitting cross legged and chanting in order to be mindful in the moment.
2. Minfulness can help people cope with stress, depression and anxiety
There’s no flat out cure for stress, depression and anxiety but mindfulness can sometimes help to take the edge off. There’s a practice in mindfulness called ‘anchoring’ that I find extremely helpful on anxious days. If I’m feeling a bit panicked and overwhelmed, I focus on the lower half of my body and how it meets with the ground. I feel my feet inside my shoes and pay attention to how my legs are feeling. Sore from the gym this morning, tingling from walking around, numb from sitting down. It’s such a simple thing but it just reminds me to breathe and recompose.
3. Mindfulness can help to increase your focus
Your mind is a muscle and the more you exercise it, the stronger it will be. Concentrating on being mindful strengthens your ability to stay focussed. An increase in focus is something we could all benefit from (I’ve checked Facebook at least three times while writing this paragraph) and one of the best ways to do this is to work up incrementally. No one just jumps up and runs a full marathon without training first, you have to work up to it. I find timers are the best for this. If I need to complete a task, I’ll set a timer for 10 minutes and just focus on working for those full ten minutes. The next time I set a timer, it will be for 15 minutes. If you want to really test yourself grab the Flowstate App. You set a timer for ten minutes and you have to keep typing without stopping for longer than six seconds, otherwise the app will delete everything you’ve written. It’s terrifying and invigorating. It’s also a great way to stay mindful and focussed because there’s severe consequences if you don’t.
4. Activities that require you to remember things are fabulous at working your mindful muscle
Things like sudoku, cross word puzzles, board games and crochet can exercise the muscles in your brain need you need to stay focussed. The act of remembering important information (like which cards your opponent has in their hand or a stitch pattern you’re working on) trains your brain to retain information. You can even memorise poems, movie dialogue or song lyrics. Anything that takes your fancy, the act of memorising almost anything (including all your friends phone numbers or birthdays) will help your ability to focus overall.
5. Mindfulness is not compulsory
There are some excellent benefits of practicing mindfulness but if you can focus on a conversation for a decent chunk of time without resorting to looking at Facebook, you’re fine. If your phone runs out of battery and you don’t start having heart palpitations, you’re fine. If you can sit quietly and watch a TV show or read a book without jumping up every 5 mins to find something else to do, you’re fine. Mindfulness is about slowing down and being in the moment. If you’re already there, don’t stress. You’re doing good.
Bottom line? If you’re a bit scattered, stressed and emotional, mindfulness might just be the thing you need. Start slow, and if it’s helping, keep doing it.