Mindfulness is becoming popular. It’s something we think we’d like to do, if only we had time. We’re busy. Rush seems to govern many aspects of our lives these days.
We are playing more roles than ever, our ‘to do’ lists are longer, our distractions are endless, and our pace is fast and forward moving. And somewhere amidst our busy-ness is the suggestion that we need to slow down and live more mindfully. It feels almost counterproductive when we have so much to do, how can we make time just to be? How can being mindful possibly help us get things done?
When our minds are already full, the notion of incorporating something new can feel overwhelming. But research shows carving out a regular mindfulness practice might actually improve our productivity, cognition, focus, create a buffer against burnout and reduce depression, stress and anxiety. It can decrease binge eating and substance abuse, and recent research shows it is also effective against reducing procrastination. Sounds good, right? On top of this, correlations have been made between positive emotions and mindfulness, with one appearing to enhance the other in a positive feedback loop. It seems mindfulness can even fend off neural degeneration typically associated with ageing, and consistent practice can even instigate positive change in the regions of the brain involved in executive function (i.e. planning, decision making, self-regulation and goal-related behaviours).
So how do we actually do it?
Mindfulness is anchored in Eastern Buddhist tradition. It explains the practice of bringing our focused attention to the present moment and accepting what we find there. Being mindful invites us to consider our thoughts and sensations as they arise without labelling them as good, or bad, or wrong – but instead just accepting them as they are.
There are many ways we can practice mindfulness, but a nice place to start is by simply bringing our awareness into the moment when we do our daily activities. These are the things we do on autopilot.
So next time you’re making a cup of tea, try practising some mindfulness. Try bringing yourself into the moment. Bring your awareness to your environment. Is it hot? Cold? Noisy? Quiet?
Feel your breath skim your nostrils as you breathe in, and as you breathe out. Feel the cool of the cup in your hand and hear the tumbling of water as it boils. Observe the tea infuse – the way the colour turns from translucent to darker and darker shades. Feel your feet firmly on the ground. Feel into your body. Savour that moment, even if it’s only a few minutes. Lean into it and feel your breath start to slow, and your shoulders start to drop…
There you are, being mindful.
It might feel uncomfortable at first. You might catch your thoughts wandering, running away from you, and if you do – gently steer them back to the moment.
In time this practice deepens our connection ourselves. We can start to recognise when we feel more stressed and start to become aware of the tension in our shoulders. In time, it feels almost like coming home to ourselves: a sense of peace amidst the chaos.
You might start practising mindfulness each time you make a cup of tea. When you are ready, you may look for other times during your day where you can introduce some practice. When you eat, walk, drive, wait in traffic, brush your teeth, or take a shower. You may like to go outside for a couple of minutes if you are feeling particularly stressed or anxious, and just practice being mindful of your environment, focusing on your breath and bringing awareness to how you feel (without judgement) in the moment. Find ways to incorporate mindfulness in your day that work for you. Start small and be consistent.
In many ways, the practice of mindfulness is available to us in every moment. So whether your mind feels full, or you simply wish to experience the benefits, mindfulness may just be the magic you need to become more productive, have more clarity of thought, reduce stress, anxiety and depression, or to simply enhance positivity in your day.
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t)” – James Baraz
Brown, K., & Ryan, R. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822-848. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.112
Cheung, R., & Melody, C. (2019). Being in the moment later? Testing the inverse relation between mindfulness and procrastination. Personality and Individual Differences, 141(2019), 125-129. https://doi.org.10/1016/j.paid.2018.12.015
Du, J., An, Y., Ding, X., Zhang, Q., & Xu, W. (2019). State mindfulness and positive emotions in daily life: An upward spiral process. Personality and Individual Differences, 141(2019), 57-61. https://doi.org.10.1016/j.paid.2018.11.037
Gallant, S. (2016). Mindfulness meditation practice and executive functioning: Breaking down the benefit, 40(2016), 116-130. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2016.01.005
Sass, S., Early, L., Long, L., Burke, A., Gwinn, D., & Miller, P. (2019). A brief mindfulness intervention reduces depression, increases nonjudgement, and speeds processing of emotional and neural stimuli. Mental Health & Preventions, 13(2019), 58-67. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mhp.2018.12.002
Taylor, N. Z., & Millear, P. (2016). The contribution of mindfulness to predicting burnout in the workplace. Personality and Individual Differences, 89(2016), 123-128. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2015.10.005
Winkens, L., van Strien, T., Brouwer, I. A., Penninx, B., & Visser, M. (2019). Mindful eating and change in depressive symptoms: Mediation by psychological eating styles. Appetite, 133(2019), 204-211. https://doi.og/10.1016/j.appet.2018.11.009
Amy is entering her final semester of Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy) in Brisbane. She has a deep passion for holistic living and healing, and spends much of her time in nature, practising yoga, or exploring creative outlets. Her passion for naturopathy stems back to a childhood spent in beautiful Tasmania where she grew an appreciation for the wonders of nature, and a strong connection to plants and herbs. Amy completed a Bachelor of Journalism in 2007 and is a passionate writer. You can follow her Instagram @wildlikethesea.
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