As we prepare for the most wonderful time of the year, the to-do lists can start to grow rather long. Between organising gifts, wrapping up work projects, getting the decorations out of the attic, and keeping an eye on the budget, things can get a little overwhelming. However, the festive season should be all about sharing magical moments and smiles with friends and family… it shouldn’t leave you feeling stressed out. That’s where practicing mindfulness comes in.
Mindfulness meditation is the ability to be fully present in the moment. That means enjoying the process of present buying, decorating the tree, and spending time with loved ones! Here, we’re going to talk about the benefits of mindfulness, the different types of this meditation practice, and some helpful techniques to get you started.
What Is Mindfulness?
First things first, what is mindfulness? Mindfulness can be defined as the basic ability to be present and aware of what you are doing, where you are, and what you are experiencing. Sounds easy, right? It might be a little trickier than it seems though!
Mindfulness teaches us to direct our attention to what is happening right here and now but with an attitude of kindness towards ourselves. It means enjoying the present moment and not focusing on the past or worrying about the future. Ultimately, it’s a form of clear-mind meditation.
What it is not
You may have heard the terms ‘mindfulness’ and ‘meditation’ used a lot lately, as conversations around self-care become more popular but there are some common misconceptions about the practice.
For instance, mindfulness is not the same as positive thinking. While trying to look on the bright side is a good practice, toxic positivity can mean that we push away or ignore negative feelings and thoughts. Life is full of ups and downs – it’s completely natural to not feel happy all of the time. Of course, it’s normal to feel uncomfortable when faced with negative or distressing feelings but repressing them or ignoring them, unfortunately, does not get rid of them!
With mindfulness, you learn how to turn towards difficult situations and to look at them with an attitude of kindness and compassion. You learn how to feel those feelings and then how to move on from them and learn from them. Mindfulness meditation is a gentle process and it helps to build resilience and emotional strength. In addition, as we develop our ability to be mindful, we begin to see our behaviours, lives, and relationships more clearly.
What Are The Benefits Of Meditation And Mindfulness?
There are many benefits to practicing mindfulness. As we mentioned above, mindfulness can bring clarity and mental resilience. Mindfulness meditation can also help improve overall well-being. This practice can help you savour the smaller things in life by becoming fully engaged in activities. As you cultivate mindfulness in your life, you are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over past experiences. You will have an improved capacity to deal with adverse events and so, you will become less stressed and anxious. You might also find that you are better able to form deep connections with others.
As we know, stress and anxiety can have detrimental effects on our physical health. Therefore, by helping us to manage our stress levels better, mindfulness can help us improve our physical health too. For instance, high stress levels over a long period of time can cause gastrointestinal issues, muscle tension, sleep problems, weight gain, headaches, and high blood pressure, amongst others. This form of meditation is just one of many stress management techniques and it can be used in conjunction with others!
Practicing mindfulness meditation can also help improve our mental health. It acts as a tool to gain insight and self-awareness, and so, can help support and maintain mental wellness. It provides us with a space where we can suspend judgement, allowing our natural curiosity to flourish. Mindfulness allows us to experience life with warmth and kindness not just towards ourselves, but towards others too.
If you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, you could try mindfulness as a form of sleep meditation. Sleep meditation can help you clear the mind and prepare for sleep. Creating a relaxing nighttime routine that includes a couple of minutes for sleep meditation can really help you unwind and drift off. It’s also a helpful tool if you find yourself waking up during the night. Sleep meditation refocuses and clears the mind, helping to reset and prepare for sleep once again!
How Do I Bring This Practice Into My Daily Life?
There are different types of mindfulness and you can try them all to see what works best for you!
- Seated, standing or lying down: This is the most well-known form of mediation. In this type of meditation, you remain still, focusing on your natural breathing, and clearing the mind. It can be beneficial to focus on a word or mantra that you can silently repeat to yourself. You can do this by sitting in a comfortable position, standing up, or by laying down (just try not to fall asleep!).
- Moving meditation: This type of meditation incorporates movement. This can be slow and gentle movements in tune with your breath, such as yoga, or it can be done when walking, running or even participating in sports.
- Ritual or short pauses: Mindfulness can be a ritual where you prepare a relaxing space and sit down to meditate or you can integrate short pauses into your daily life. For instance, if you’re on the bus to work – you can close your eyes or focus on one unmoving point, and concentrate on your breathing. Likewise, you can take a couple of minutes on your coffee breath or whilst at your desk. This is a good way of refocusing and centring your mind throughout the day.
Some Mindfulness Techniques And Tips You Might Find Helpful
The goal of mindfulness is to be present in the moment, to pay attention to thoughts and sensations without judgement to achieve a state of alert, focused relaxation.
If you are new to mindfulness meditation, it might be easier for you to practice in a space without distraction. Find a comfortable spot on your floor or couch and set a timer on your phone (this will help you resist the urge to check the time – it might feel like you have been there for 10 minutes but it has probably only been 2 or 3!). Close your eyes and focus on your natural breathing. Try to take deep breaths into the belly, pause….and breathe out.
During meditation, notice subtle sensations, like an itchy toe or a gurgling stomach, and let them go. Notice how each part of our body feels in succession from head to toe, relaxing each muscle as you go. Then, notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches around you. Then, let them go.
Completely clearing the mind can be difficult, thoughts will inevitably wander along and that’s okay! Allow them to come, acknowledge them without judgement, and then let them go. Recentre the mind on your breathing or your chosen mantra.
As you become more used to this practice, it will become easier to integrate into your daily life. After all, life is not without distractions! When taking the kids out to see Santa, try not to worry about what’s left on the to-do list. Instead, enjoy their excited laughter, the tinkling lights, the warmth of knitted jumpers, the smell of pine needles, and the taste of hot chocolate. If you find your mind wandering off, take note of where it has gone and jot it down in the notes app on your phone. Then, it’s out of your head and on paper so to speak, so you don’t have to worry about forgetting it. Then, return to the present moment.
The Mind Can Be A Busy Place
The mind can be a busy place, so if you’re struggling to focus and quieten it, there are so many resources that can help. Guided meditations can be a great place to start. There are many free guided meditation podcasts available on Spotify and Youtube. Likewise, there are specific apps, like Insight Timer and Headspace, that offer guided meditations. You might also find listening to meditation music can help!
If you are hoping to adopt mindfulness practice as a way to manage stress, please don’t hesitate to speak to our GPs via online video consultation. Stress, anxiety and low moods can affect all aspects of our lives and our health and we can help by sharing practical tips and resources with you.