5 steps to a more mindful life
This is a guest post written by Hannah Barrett (@yogagirllondon)
Mindfulness is about purposefully paying attention in the present moment without judgement. It is a powerful practice which can transform our lives. The only time we truly have is right now. When we lose presence, we run the risk of missing the moments that matter and not appreciating the value in our life. Mindfulness can change how we react to stress, how we deal with anxiety, how we interact with our friends and family and how we think, feel and behave.
Bringing mindfulness into my life has been a game-changer. It’s enabled me to address the challenges I used to face and flip my perspective on life. Below are five of my top tips which will help you to bring more mindfulness into your everyday life, and at the same time, bring more happiness.
“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Take a deep breath
Most people who teach mindfulness will start with the breath. After you read this paragraph, close your eyes. Bring to mind something that, however big, however small, you are finding difficult at the moment. Notice the sensations that come up when you think of this. Maybe you feel it in your stomach, or perhaps your chest tightens.
Now I want you to take five deep breaths. Inhale through the nose breathing into the belly, filling the chest and sending the breath all the way to your collar bones. Exhale slowly and mindfully through the nose. Don’t try and cover the feelings, instead, breath into them. Let them be there and use your breath to help you.
Before you blink your eyes open, notice how those five slow breaths made you feel. Even if they helped the smallest amount, how amazing is that? That we have this incredibly powerful tool built in us that so often we take for granted. Deep breathing triggers your body’s parasympathetic nervous system (your rest and digest system) and it will also give you a greater sense of self-awareness.
In your day-to-day life, pay attention to the way breathing feels. Watch your belly and chest rise and fall and feel your heartbeat. Notice how each breath looks different. This will immediately help you to feel more connected to your body and more grounded. You don’t need to change anything about the way you breathe, just being aware of your body will deepen your connection to the present.
And this ties in with meditation. There’s a good reason why many of the world’s most successful people practice meditation every day. We live in this society, particularly in cities where everything is constantly moving, surrounded by technology and rarely switching off. It seems counter intuitive to prioritise time to be still when there are so many things to do. In fact, research shows that just 10 minutes of meditation is enough to overcome stress and anxiety, will help you block out the internal thoughts of restlessness and allow you to concentrate better.
Start small. Start with five minutes after you wake or before bed, where you simply sit and focus on your breath. Your mind will wander and that’s fine, gently bring yourself back to the breath. That simple act is mindfulness. There are loads of incredible apps out there which can help you too – my personal favourites are Headspace, Calm and Expectful.
“It can still be a good day if the only thing you did was breathe.” – Johnny Lung
Happy habits are a simple way to add more mindfulness and positivity into our lives. For me, my happy habits are in my morning and evening routine. Every morning I aim for ten minutes of meditation before I get out of bed. This doesn’t happen every day as life gets in the way, what I will say though, is that when it doesn’t happen for days in a row I feel it. I notice that I get more stressed and challenges impact me more.
After I get my kids up I then include them in the rest of the morning routine. We are thinking of how we are going to make the day great and three things we are grateful for. Maybe we sound like the Brady Bunch but try it next week and notice how starting your day with gratitude makes a difference.
Starting the day with a positive outlook can make a huge difference. And doing it with the children can be really eye-opening (and hilarious). The other day my four-year-old was grateful for his body because (in his words) he loves jumping, his warm house and his chocolate croissant. My two-year-old was grateful for daddy (it always starts with daddy!), mummy, Bernie the dog and after a bit of coaxing, her big brother. Quite the variety, but I love that we have these precious moments together.
My evening habits involve ending the day with a book (even if just for five minutes) and thinking back over the day and thinking of three good things that happened. This has the biggest impact on the bad days. The days which force you to rethink and again flip your perspective. Something might not have gone to plan but acknowledge the coffee you had with a friend, the delicious dinner you shared with your family.
See daily tasks as an opportunity to practice mindfulness
Using mindfulness in daily tasks can help life feel less of a constant race and more meaningful. Folding laundry is a great example. How often do you fold laundry, letting your mind race away with your to-do list, or alternatively, maybe your mind fills with negative feelings of the relentlessness of laundry and how you have better things to do. Next time you’re in this situation, pay attention. Pay attention to your hands. How do they move, how do different clothes feel under your skin? Notice the different textures and temperatures of the materials. Notice how each hand moves differently to the other.
We overlook so much in life. Try and switch off the autopilot and pretend you’re folding for the first time. Bring gratitude into it. Be grateful for the clothes in front of you, the washing machine, the tumble dryer, the roof over your head. The clothes you are folding. Find gratitude that they are present in your life. It’s this simple act of being there, being present and flipping your perspective to see the beauty surrounding you rather than focusing on the negative.
To avoid going through life on autopilot, consciously focus on the sensory experiences that make life worth living. Next time you are out for a walk, take note of your five senses. Take your headphones out and listen to the sounds around you, look for things you haven’t noticed before. Stop and smell the roses.
Listen. Really listen.
When someone else is talking, do you often find yourself focused on your own thoughts? Thinking, has this happened to me before? What can I say next? Did I turn the oven off? And, how many times have you felt frustrated when trying to speak to someone who isn’t fully present. If someone is talking to us, focusing all attention on them is an act of kindness and love. You will immediately be able to think of friends you have who are brilliant at really listening and being present in the conversation. Start being fully present in the moments together and you’ll be surprised at how many people notice and appreciate this simple act.
This also relates to putting your phone away. Again, how many times have you been with a friend who spends half the time glancing at their phone? Put it away and give them your full attention.
Immerse yourself in a meaningful hobby
What do you love doing so much that being fully present isn’t an issue and time seems to fly when you’re doing it? Adding a mindful hobby into your life can add fulfilment, richness and most importantly, fun.
My guilty pleasure is reading. When I was little, I would stay up at night reading the night away. In my twenties when I had a stressful job in finance, my love of reading became a distant memory and only on a holiday would I return to books.
When I was reassessing my morning and evening routine, I realised that reading gives me time to unwind, let go of worries and simply be present. Now I read every night before bed and it brings me so much joy and fulfilment. On nights that I notice my mind has started to wander and I’ve skipped five pages without reading a word, I’ll reset and go back with a more present mind.
So whatever your vice is, whether it’s reading a good book, cooking, going dancing or colouring, find something you love and add it into your life. You won’t regret it!
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