Mindfulness is the new black. It is an effective mental training, originating from the 2,000-year-old Buddhist practices and adapted to suit non-religious contexts, including the work place, parenting, healthcare and schools.
I came to mindfulness meditation as a stressed out doctor and it took a while before I was sold on it. For someone who thrived on being active, it was almost intolerable to sit still. I remember falling asleep from boredom and experiencing the most profound agitation as though an unstoppable army of ants was crawling under my skin.
Many years later, meditation has become an integral part of my life. It supports me in remembering to pause, catch my breath and re-focus, and it brings clarity when there are important decisions to make. It also gives me mental space for new ideas to emerge.
Three years ago, whilst I was meditating, I had an idea to harness the power of technology and create a global online meditation campaign to teach people how to meditate and raise money to build clean water wells in developing countries. Since then, it has inspired thousands of people from around the world to learn how to master their minds and make a huge difference through getting sponsored to raise funds to help the one in nine people on the planet gain access to one of life’s most basic needs – clean water.
Mindfulness is a simple, yet challenging, discipline of noticing what you are doing as you are doing it with an open, curious and non-judgmental stance. It’s about developing more self-awareness and presence, appreciating your moments more and developing more capacity to respond consciously rather than react compulsively in everyday life.
Here are four ways you can start to bring more mindfulness into your day.
1. Tune in to the breath
It may sound like an irritating cliche, but there is scientific rationale for this advice. The breath is not only a powerful indicator of your state of mind but it also powerfully impacts your emotions.
During a busy day, take a few moments to consciously tune in to the breath. Feel three breaths move in and out of the body. Then slow down the exhalation, which helps to trigger the relaxation response. Extending the breath in this way sends a message to the parasympathetic nervous system (the system that opposes the stress response) to calm down the body.
2. Use your surroundings as a circuit breaker
Take moments in the day to unhook from the flurry of to-do lists and take a pause to tune into your senses. Listen to the sounds in the room, feel your body in space, see the space you are in, notice the temperature and smells. By tuning in to your senses, just for a few moments, you give your mind a micro break from the stress of thinking and have a chance to re-centre and continue along your day with more calm.
3. Use technology with awareness
Sitting at a computer all day? Bring awareness to your posture and breath. It has been noted that email apnea, the temporary suspension of breathing while doing email, means we are inadvertently creating stress in the body. When we breathe irregularly, the body becomes acidic through retention of excess carbon dioxide. This acidity may contribute to stress-related diseases. Be mindful of your posture whilst working at the computer and notice if you are breath-holding during the day.
4. Use your lunch as a mindful practice
Rather than eating whilst working on the computer, or missing out on lunch altogether, use your lunch as a way of practicing mindfulness. This means, noticing you are eating as you are eating, intentionally tasting your food, chewing properly and tuning in to the feeling of being satisfied, rather than overeating. Mindful eating will allow you to appreciate your food more and has also been demonstrated to be an effective way to maintain a healthy weight.
Elise Bialylew is a doctor, coach and mindfulness meditation teacher with a background in Psychiatry. She is the founder of Mindful in May, a global online mindfulness campaign that has inspired thousands of people around the world to learn how to meditate, whilst raising money to build clean water wells in the developing world. When she’s not teaching mindfulness, she’s often losing herself in salsa dancing or african drumming. Learn mindfulness skills this May by registering for Mindful in May (www.mindfulinmay.org) starts May 1.