In our busy lives we constantly have our head full or thoughts about the future or about the past – what are we going to do next or what are we going to become or how well or badly we just did.
This means we’re often not that aware of what is around us, and what happening in the here and now. So there’s likely to be a lot good stuff that we miss (or not so good stuff that we really need to be aware of). It also means that we often do things more out of unconscious habit rather than fully conscious choice.
Mindfulness isn’t difficult. We just need to remember to do it. Sharon Salzberg
Being mindful means being more fully aware of what is around us – what we can see, hear, touch and taste. And what is happening inside – our thoughts and feelings. It’s about learning to observe all this but not getting caught up in thinking or worrying about it, so being able to choose what we then attend to.
Mindfulness has been shown to help us be healthier, less affected by stress, more relaxed, more creative, more open to learning, sleep better, improve our relationships with others and feel happier and more satisfied with our lives.
What’s great is it’s a skill that anyone can learn and benefit from. It is very simple, and need take only a few minutes a day. But it does take a bit of practice and it may be hard at first. Keep at it and you’ll feel the benefits in many areas of your life.
There are lots of different ways to practice mindfulness. If you can, a good place to learn and experience it is to join a class or use a CD or online tool (see Resources below). And there is also a separate action on this website if you’d like to learn how to meditate, which is a great way to be more mindful. However, we can all start by trying a few simple exercises during our daily routine. Try one of these for a week or two and notice what you notice!
1. Observing mindfully
This is about simply trying to increase what we’re aware of and our consciousness of what is around us. It only takes a few extra minutes. Here are some ideas to try:
- As you enter your house or workplace, be aware of your sensations and feelings as you enter. How does the floor feel beneath your feet? What noises can you hear? What smells do you notice? What colours?
- Each time you step outside look up at the sky and see the sky and the clouds or the stars, notice the feeling of the air on your body or the warmth of the sun or sensation of the wind.
- Look up at some trees and notice how they are, their different shapes and colours. Look at the texture of their bark, branches and leaves. Notice how these move and the sound of the leaves. Are there any birds sitting in them or singing? Can you see sunlight through the foliage or drops of rain in the leaves? What insects are buzzing nearby? What else can you notice?
- When you are going somewhere in the car, by foot or on your bike notice how you are as you travel. Are you rushing to reach your destination? How does it feel? Where are the muscles in your body tight or relaxed? Which are working and which are not? How does your breathing feel – fast, slow, deep or shallow? Does it feel different when you slow down and take your time?
- Each day notice an object of wonder or beauty. Take a moment to appreciate the skill and effort that went into an object such as a car, building, sculpture or work of art or the beauty in nature.
- When you are doing something pleasurable such as taking a warm shower or bath, petting you dog or cat, stroking your child’s hair or sitting down for a moment of peace, be really present. Really notice what it is you find pleasurable about the experience and how it makes you feel.
2. Walking mindfully
- Why not try this on a walk that you often take, for example to work, school or college. Or you can choose to go for a walk specifically to practice mindfulness.
- Set yourself a time – say 10 or 15 minutes (sometimes setting the alarm on your phone is good so you don’t need to keep looking at your watch).
- As you walk, focus your attention on the soles of your feet and how they feel as each in turn touches the ground. From your heel as it lands and through to your toes as you move to the other foot. Notice where your weight is, the texture of the ground on your feet and how this changes as you walk, how warm or cold your feet are, the noise your feet make as you walk…
- Don’t judge or worry about what you are experiencing or change the way you are walking as a result. The aim is simply to focus and notice.
- If your mind wanders or gets caught up in thought, bring it back to your feet and noticing the sensations of walking. (It is very normal at first for our mind to wander – eventually we learn to keep it focused.)
- Keep going until your alarm rings.
3. Eating mindfully
Eating is a great opportunity to practice mindfulness. Have a go…may be try it with a piece of you favourite fruit or even some chocolate…
- Start by really looking at what you are about to eat. What colours can you see in it? What does the texture look like? What is the shape like?
- Then pick it up. How does it feel in your hands? What does the shape and texture feel like? Is it the same all over? Can you smell it?
- If it is wrapped or needs peeling, open the wrapper or peel it slowly. Notice the sound, smell and feel as you do. What colours and texture do you now see?
- Take a small bite – but don’t chew! Notice how it feels in your mouth. What is the texture? What can you already taste? If you move it around your mouth does this change?
- Then start to eat. Feel the texture and notice all the flavours as you chew the food slowly and as you swallow.
- Do not think about the next mouthful until you have swallowed the one before. You may find it helpful to put your piece of fruit down or your bar of chocolate (or your cutlery if using) down between each mouthful.