Mindfulness meditation has been around for thousands of years, with roots in Buddhist tradition and practice, but it is the past few decades that has seen a growth in western popularity with mindfulness and an increased understand of the benefits mindfulness meditation has on both mental and physical health. Mindfulness is now actively encouraged as not only as a tool to help improve one’s wellbeing but as a way of life. However, for many, mindful meditation is a difficult skill to master and a focus on this as the only method of practicing mindfulness can result in many giving up very quickly.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a mode of attention which involves being present in the moment and allowing ourselves to understand it more clearly. This entails an understanding of ourselves (our emotions and sensations) and our surroundings (sights, sounds and smells) without trying to change or improve on them. For many, practicing this involves sitting, or lying, still and quiet with eyes closed, focusing on the rhythm of the breath or the sensations in the body, quieting the mind. For many, with practice, this skill comes easily, but for others, the mind can be a frantic, noisy and at times frightening place which can prove exceedingly difficult to calm. For these people, turning attention away from the body to the surrounding sounds and smells can be enough to help them focus and become mindfully aware in the moment, turning the mind away from the chatter in our heads to the world outside of it, and for a moment being at peace. But what if the surrounding world itself is too noisy? What if there isn’t the time, or the space to sit or lie still for long enough to find this peace? How then, can you practice living mindfully?
Whilst the act of meditating, controlling the breath and steadying the body and mind, has numerous benefits, for those who find this difficult, the benefits of mindfulness can be sought in other activities which may be more easily accessible.
For those who are particularly daunted by the sitting still aspect of mindfulness meditation, mindful walking can be a good way of introducing mindfulness into everyday life. This involves becoming aware of your body as you walk, your stride, posture, speed and the effort of walking and being more deliberate in the action. It also involves becoming aware of your surroundings, noticing the sensations of walking, how the ground feels beneath your feet, the sensation of the wind on your face or the warmth of the sun, taking note of the sounds you can hear, nearby and in the distance. The key to mindful walking is noticing what is happening in the moment and bringing a deliberate and conscious intention to the experience.
Savouring is another way in which to practice mindfulness. Taking a moment to appreciate a beautiful scene, or fully immersing ourselves in a piece of music can serve as a distraction from a busy mind. Savouring food is a common mindfulness practice. Focusing on the texture, smell, shape and taste of the food we eat and taking our time over meals is not only a simple way of practicing mindfulness but has even been known to help weight loss.
Savouring can also be practiced through the act of noticing and appreciating. Often this means being always mindfully aware so as to capture these moments worth appreciating. Whether this is a bird singing in a tree or laughter among friends, savouring often results in a feeling of gratitude which in turn can have its own benefits for wellbeing.
Other mindful tasks
Incorporating mindfulness into everyday tasks is another easy and beneficial way of living more mindfully.
Like mindful walking, mindful driving involves becoming aware of the act of driving and being more deliberate in the act. It means becoming aware not only of the sensation of driving, how the body feels, the thought processes involved, the hum of the vehicle itself, but also what is going on outside of the car, the shapes and colours of the surroundings and the action and motion of other cars.
Similarly, mindfulness can be incorporated into tasks around the home. Folding laundry or washing dishes are popular choices of activity for those looking to bring a mindful awareness to these tasks. Focusing on the act of folding or the feel of a plate or cup in our hands can be an effective way of taking a moment to appreciate our surroundings and bring us out of our minds and into the world around us.
Bringing an awareness to the everyday activities we engage in enables us to live mindfully, rather than mindlessly, acting with awareness rather than automatically. It can also bring us closer to the world in which we live in and ultimately help us to cultivate a healthier relationship with our surroundings and with our minds, and not a ‘om’ in sight.
About the author: Katherine Halliday lives in Dundee in Scotland and works in student support at the University of St Andrews. Katherine is currently undertaking the MAPP course at Bucks New University and is loving every minute of it.