In today’s fast-paced world, taking time out to practise this vital life skill may seem like a difficult task, but mindfulness exercises can improve your wellbeing and keep it on track.
Today, 12 September, is World Mindfulness Day, a day to step back from your busy life and take some time to be alone with your thoughts.
What is mindfulness?
A form of meditation, mindfulness refers to an intense focus or awareness of where you are, what you are doing and what you are feeling in order to minimise automatic reactions to those stimuli.
It means analysing your feeling uncritically and non-judgementally. The techniques are intended to calm stress and deal with difficult emotions.
If that explanation seems a bit wishy-washy, it’s because it is. There is no specific ‘one-size-fits-all’ definition of mindfulness, and how it works will differ in each person.
At its core, all mindfulness techniques involve stopping what you’re doing and focusing your thoughts on one task or event at a time.
Professor Craig Hassed, deputy director of the Centre for Consciousness and Contemplative Studies at Monash University, says mindfulness is often overlooked as tool for coping with the demands of today’s world.
“The modern world is becoming increasingly fast paced, stressed and distracted,” he says.
“Mindfulness can therefore be looked on as a much-needed antidote to modern life.”
Prof. Hassed says practising mindfulness techniques can prevent people from becoming overwhelmed when trying to do too many tasks in quick succession.
“Mindfulness is, in a manner of speaking, our number one life skill. Why? Because all the other abilities and skills we rely on in daily life, like communication, learning, decision-making and being safe and efficient, depend on our ability to focus and be present.
“With mindfulness, everything gets a little easier. Without it, everything gets a little harder.”
How do you practise mindfulness?
The more you practise, the better you can get and the easier it will be. You can practise little periods of mindfulness throughout the day.
Any time you find yourself ruminating about the past, or the future, it can be helpful to try to break the pattern by practising some mindfulness, to bring your focus into the present and create some mental space.
Try some of these mindfulness techniques recommended by the federal government:
One-minute breathing exercise: Sit with your back straight but relaxed. For the next minute, focus your entire attention on breathing in and out, feel how air passes in and out of your nostrils, and how your abdomen rises and falls with each breath. If thoughts start crowding in, gently let them go and refocus on your breathing.
Check in with yourself: Bring yourself into the present moment by asking yourself, “What is going on with me at the moment?” Don’t judge the feelings as good or bad, just list them in your head.
You can label your thoughts and feelings — for example, ‘that’s an anxious feeling’ — and let them go. If you’re doing it right, you may start to feel like more of an observer outside yourself instead of someone reacting to thoughts and feelings.
Mindful eating: At mealtime, focus on your eating. Don’t read or watch TV at the same time. Pay attention to how the food looks, smells and tastes.
You may find you enjoy your food more, and stop eating when you’re full instead of automatically finishing what’s on your plate.
Tips for mindfulness
Prof. Hassed urges everyone to try to carve out five to 20 minutes twice a day to practise mindfulness meditation.
“As often as you remember, between the completion of one activity and the commencement of another, have mini meditations of five, 10, 20, 30 or 60 seconds,” he says.
“Practise being present as you go about your daily life taking it one step, one moment at a time. Listen, feel, see, taste and smell.”
Do you practise any mindfulness techniques? Do you notice the benefits? Let us know in the comments section below.
Also read: Even short walks can reduce depression symptoms