Three easy ways to incorporate mindfulness and meditation into your life
For years I avoided meditation practice as I knew that I had a busy and distracted mind, plus tight hips meant that I found sitting in ‘easy cross’ pose uncomfortable, it just didn’t seem right for me.
I preferred to move my body; a more dynamic yoga practice seemed to release all of the physical tension that I was carrying and by the end of the practice my mind had settled and calmed enough to enjoy the relaxation.
Similarly, I found that the repetitive movements of walking, swimming or cycling seemed to unravel my overly active thinking, resulting in the same peaceful state that I found in Savasana at the end of yoga.
The benefits of mindfulness and meditation are well documented and widely recognised:
Improved mental health: reduced anxiety and depression
Decreased stress levels
Increased focus and attention
Improved general health, positivity and well-being
Lower blood pressure
Increased feelings of patience, happiness, acceptance and compassion
Experience of feeling calm and internally still
Increased clarity in thinking and perception
Experience of feeling connected
Headspace – online mindfulness and meditation training – describe mindfulness as; “The quality of being present, fully engaged with what we’re doing in the present moment, free from distraction or judgement and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them.”
So, how can we go about incorporating the benefits of mindfulness into our everyday lives?
A practice of focused attention on the breath is a great place to start. This can be done sitting, lying down or standing. As you inhale, mentally repeat “I breathe in.” As you exhale, “I breathe out.” You might like to place your hands on your belly to feel the breath as it rises with the inhale and falls with the exhale. If you become distracted, patiently return your focus to the sensation of the breath and continue the repetitions in sync with the breath.
If you prefer the idea of movement, try a simple mindful walking practice, where you count the number of steps, in rhythm with the length of the breath: Inhaling for one step, two steps, three steps, four. Exhaling, one step, two steps, three steps, four. The count focuses the mind on both the breath and the movement and brings you fully into the present moment. The repetitive movements can help soothe and assist self-regulation. The practice is portable, you can do it anywhere, from the supermarket, to your favourite beach.
Focused attention on the five senses is another great mindfulness technique which can be particularly beneficial in times of overwhelm. Pause, take a breath and focus on something you can see, something you can hear, smell, touch and taste. Mentally acknowledge and take time to explore each sensation as they arise. Pause again at the end of the practice and notice how the mind has settled as a result of the exercise.
These techniques offer brief changes in environment, activity and awareness which brings our focus into the present moment, providing respite for the mind, easing the way from being ‘mind full’, to mindful.
Try to make time for a few minutes of mindfulness each day – it won’t take long before you start to reap the rewards and it becomes a treasured, invaluable part of everyday life.
When teaching yoga, I always incorporate mindfulness practices, often in conjunction with the breath. This brings the focus into the present moment, preventing overthinking which can lead to anxiety, or dwelling on past events. Mindfulness assists with a positive outlook and a sense of connection to the body, breath and mind-space. I look forward to sharing these techniques with you in class.
By Bek Lord
( Part 1 of "Moving Towards mindfulness and meditation" )