What are some mindfulness strategies I can practice?

I am sure you have heard of the term ‘mindfulness’ being thrown around in books, podcasts, blogs and the media. ‘You need to be more mindful’ and ‘I want to be more present’ are phrases which are thrown around a lot, but what do they really mean and why should we practice mindfulness?

What is mindfulness in a nutshell?

Mindfulness is a way of calming the mind of the busy-ness and focusing your attention on ONE thing. Here are what the elements of mindfulness are:

  • Being aware and fully present: you are focusing your thoughts and attention to the present moment and not thinking about the past or future.
  • Centring your thoughts: pay attention to what’s going on inside (thoughts, emotions, physical sensations) you or around you by using your senses (surroundings)
  • Deliberate awareness: choose where to focus your attention instead of letting your mind wander
  • Simply noticing what you are experiencing without judging it: acknowledge and accept what you are feeling

Why practice mindfulness?

There’s plenty of evidence that mindfulness has a variety of benefits! Including:

  • Decreased depressive symptoms
  • Improved attention and memory function
  • Decreased stress and anxiety
  • Increased relaxation
  • Increased positive feelings
  • Better immune function, and
  • Improved sleep.

These days, mindfulness is being used in schools, sporting teams, and organisations, as well as in therapy, to help people be their best.

What are some strategies?

Here are the basics for practicing mindfulness:

  • Focus your attention (e.g. your breath, music, view)
  • If you mind wanders, gently bring it back to what you are paying attention to
  • Repeat! Mindfulness can be as long or as short as you like

There are several simple ways we can begin to live our life more mindfully by engaging in any of the following practices:

A mindful walk

When you go for a walk, bring your attention to your surroundings using all of your senses.

  • Notice what you can see… the clouds, birds, trees.
  • Notice what you can hear…traffic, people talking, the ocean.
  • Notice what you can smell…grass, salt air, coffee?
  • Notice what you can feel…temperature, your feet hitting the ground, a breeze.

If you mind wanders into thoughts of the day, just gently bring it back to your sensory experience around you.

Mindful eating

Choose a small piece of a favourite food (like a piece of chocolate). Start by:

  • Noticing how it looks – the colour and texture.
  • Notice the feel of it in your hand – is it hard or soft, hot or cold?
  • Hold it up to your nose and take in the smell.
  • Put it in your mouth and just hold it there for a moment – notice as your mouth responds. Begin to chew as slowly as possible.
  • Notice the flavour as it moves around your mouth. Notice the texture as you chew. Once you’ve finished chewing, swallow. Then close your eyes and notice as the taste slowly fades from your mouth.
  • Each time your mind wanders, gently let go of the thought and bring your attention back to the food.

Guided mindfulness

Some people find it easier to be guided through a mindfulness exercise. There are lots of mindfulness resources around including books, apps, websites, podcasts, CDs and DVDs to help learn and develop mindfulness practice.  Try out a few to see which ones you prefer.

The verdict

Practicing mindfulness twice a day (morning and evening for around 15-20 minutes is recommended) and can be undertaken in a quiet location, focusing on a simple body scanning exercise. However the challenge is to work on practicing mindfulness in our daily lives such as during the working day, when meeting a tight deadline, when at a meeting, when present with our family and friends or even when eating!

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