Mindfulness is a mental state credited by many as the key to curbing anxiety and staying mentally happy and healthy. The aim of the game is to attain a relaxed awareness of your own thoughts.
Don't be fooled, mindfulness this is no trendy fad. In fact, Buddhist monks have been practicing the technique for over 2000 years and the therapy is also recommended by the NHS.
Clinical trials have proven that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy is an effective technique for reducing depression as it helps us deal with our issues productively.
But what IS mindfulness? And how do we do it?
Here are some ways you can bring mindfulness into your life.
1. Pay attention and become more aware of the world around you
Put simply, the technique urges us to pay attention to our experiences within the moments they happen, rather than "living in our heads" and thinking about the past and future unnecessarily. So pay attention to what is happening now instead of worrying about the future, or dwelling in the past.
2. Focus on the present
Through really focusing on the present moment and not dwelling in the past or worrying about the future, you will become less susceptible to the negative wanderings of your own mind. This includes absorbing and engaging all senses, including the sounds, smells, tastes, emotions, company and temperature.
3. Observe your thoughts and feelings
It seems a little odd doesn't it? Actually taking the time to think about your own thoughts. But through quietly observing the processes going on inside your head, you'll realise that thoughts are no more than 'mental events' which cannot hurt or control us. Do this often enough and you'll be better able to manage your own mind and filter out the negative thoughts you don't need.
4. Switch off autopilot and concentrate
Do you ever realise you've driven several miles without knowing how you got to where you were? This means you have been on autopilot, and have not been truly focused on the current task at hand. It's very dangerous when driving – but is also bad for our mental health. Through actively engaging with each activity we are doing at each moment, our minds become more receptive and easy to control. So, next time you drive, absorb your entire experience - take notice of the town you're driving through, the way the car works, how you feel about where you're going.
5. Set time aside each day for more formal mindfulness practice
In the stress of modern life, it can be difficult to even set aside 15 minutes a day, but if you do, it will make a world of difference. Perhaps you could squeeze in 15 minutes before breakfast each morning? Or even 15 minutes during your lunch break? Eventually this daily meditation will become as ingrained within your daily schedule as brushing your teeth.
By meditation, we need time to sit, relax and mentally scan your thoughts and feelings, both physical and emotional.
6. Find a quiet spot
The stresses of modern life mean we are often entangled within our own noisy negative thoughts. Just taking yourself away somewhere peaceful, quiet and comfortable for a few minutes can soothe your nerves in seconds.
7. Create a sacred space
To remind yourself to be mindful, create a space which makes you feel at peace: Use cushions, your favourite house plants or paintings to create a space you'd like to spend time in.
8. Breath deeply
Breathing is so natural to us that it's rare that we actually think about it. Through focusing your attention on your breath, you will feel more grounded and in control. Through truly focusing on your breath and letting all other thoughts slip away, your mental discourse will stop – enabling you to focus more. Try sitting or lying comfortably, closing your eyes and slowing your breath, inhaling deep into the belly.
9. Pay attention to your body
Mindfulness is about connecting your mind with your body – so that, wherever you are, you are truly there and not thinking about other things. So, to be truly mindful you must pay attention to your body and how it feels - aching, relaxed, warm, cold, tired etc.
10. Stop the mind from wandering
The mind is like a muscle that you can train to be stronger. Every time it wanders, bring it back to its centre and to the present moment and focus on your breathing. This can be difficult at first – our minds are devious and like to run away from us (rather like a new puppy!), but through practicing the discipline of bringing your thoughts back to the present, you will be able to control those naughty negative thoughts.
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