5 Steps Towards Mindfulness

Mindfulness as I understand is paying attention to and having a non-judgemental awareness of the present. For me, mindfulness is slowly but surely becoming a set of daily non- negotiable practices/routines as well as a way of being and engaging with the world. With our culture and pace of life becoming increasingly fast paced, full of distracting and emotionally demanding stimuli, pressing the pause button and being mindful becomes increasing difficult yet a key ingredient for our peace of mind and sense of wellness. As Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the research-backed stress-reduction program Mindfulness- Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) puts it “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally… And then I sometimes add, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom.”. Mindfulness practices like meditation, journaling and occasionally yoga have helped me work through my thoughts and feelings, creating more space within for rest and restoration. These practices of re-centring have also helped cultivate gratitude (either directly or indirectly), compassion and provide a much-needed refuge from the harsh inner critic, negative mental chatter or persistent rumination (even if it’s just for 10 minutes, the ripple effects are hugely felt). These practices can be a great way to look after your mental health and cultivate calm, as well as create room for more focus, clarity and energy. A key reason for this is because when we are present in our minds, we can’t be worried about the future or regret a past event as we can only be in one-time frame. Focusing our attention on the now, slows down our brain waves causing neurons to fire that make us feel calmer and if we practice this way of being consistently, we can potentially rewire our brains, and we have neuroplasticity to thank for that. As Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre adds: "It’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives." Here are the 5 steps I have taken towards being more Mindful: 1. Morning Routine: Being more of a night person developing and sticking with a morning routine has probably been the hardest yet most rewarding mindfulness practice that I have put in place recently. It’s a great way to give yourself the time and space you need to reach a mindful state and hopefully touch base with that calm and centred state throughout your day. My morning routine starts with a glass of water, and then a 5-10-minute meditation and prayer (more on this later). I then make a cup of coffee, which gives me the opportunity to practice mindfulness by noticing the smell of the coffee beans, how the cup feels and finally slowly savour its taste. I then practice writing 3 or more morning pages, a wonderful practice that Julia Cameron introduced in The Artist’s Way. This was simply her idea of daily journaling where you have to write three pages first thing, every day. You can either do this as a stream of consciousness, brain dump or work with a prompt if you like. Using these pages to brain dump makes me feel clearer, lighter and provides a very energising start to the day!

I end with a bit of play, which varies depending on the day. Sometimes I listen to music or read, whatever I feel like doing on the day! Having a morning routine that works for you is key, so consider what you would like and what will make you start your day mindfully (with a non-judgemental presence and awareness of your inner and outer space). 2. Meditation Another difficult habit to create, but it pays off! Again, taking some time out of your day and setting the intention to just be present even if it’s just for 5 minutes works really well. The aim is not to quiet the mind or stop any and all thoughts from entering your mind. Rather it is to pay attention to the moment, your thoughts, experiences, feelings without any judgement. My practice consists of gently observing my breathing (not changing it just being aware) or more often practicing noting which just consists of being still and aware of the thoughts and feelings that pass my mind and simply naming them without judgement, or any meaning assigned. Meditation can be really difficult especially for those of us with overthinking and anxious minds, but part of being mindful is all about being kind to yourself and not judging if your mind wanders off – it will happen and it’s all good, just return gently to the purpose of the meditation. 3. Move A key component of mindfulness as Professor Mark Williams puts it: “…is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience.” Therefore, movement and exercise are a great way to reach a more mindful and calm state. The benefits of exercise to your mental health are widely acknowledged, so it’s definitely worth integrating into your routine. You can add a bit of mindfulness to any exercise, whether it be walking on the street connecting to your environment and the small movements and sensations you feel (maybe practicing a walking meditation) or through yoga connecting to your breathing. Mindfulness while exercising, whether at the gym or at a dance class, helps you focus more. The awareness of how your body is feeling and your form (non-judgementally!) will lead to better results and also a less stressful experience. 4. Play Play is one of the more immediately rewarding ways to being more mindful which I have been enjoying exploring! Play is something we almost forget after we reach a certain age, yet it remains so vital and can help lead us to creativity, balance and a refreshed mindset and outlook. Although this may seem indulgent at first, creating some space for play in your weeks can help you take yourself less seriously and hopefully feel lighter. One way to do this is simply creating some time each day for a bit of play (any activity you find fun). This may seem hard to do, but you can use this opportunity to look for new experiences and maybe do so with people whose company you enjoy. Watch a comedy or go to a cat café, whatever helps you tap into play. 5. Gratitude Another daily mindfulness practice that I find useful is making a gratitude list. I do this in the evening, and it helps me shift my attention to the positive aspects of my day and feel into gratitude.

Making some time for mindfulness during the day has been shown to have a positive impact on your mental as well as physical health. I hope you create some time and space for mindfulness in your day or week in whatever way works for you! For a practical and scientific look at mindfulness check out The Mindful Day by Laurie J. Cameron and A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled by Ruby Wax. Both are enjoyable and insightful reads.