What is mindfulness? And how can it help you?

Mindfulness. You’ve heard about it. What is it and how do you practise it? 

Mindfulness is a great practice for anyone looking to manage stress, anxiety, or simply improve their overall mindset and wellbeing. It’s especially useful if you’re living with a disability or caring for someone who is. It aims to give you “time off” from everyday worries and concerns. 

Mindfulness can take the form of meditation by sitting silently and paying attention to thoughts, sounds, sensations of breathing or parts of the body, bringing your attention back whenever your mind starts to wander. 

Eve Menezes Cunningham is a self-care coach who teaches mindfulness. “Mindfulness comes from ancient practices. It encourages us to focus on the present moment, deliberately and with self-compassion,” she says.

Eve suggests people who want to give mindfulness a go begin with the mindfulness of their breathing as we tend to be less judgmental of our breath than our bodies. 

“There are huge benefits of mindfulness. With practice, it becomes much easier to do. And mindfulness is very much about practice”, she says. “Some days it’s easier than others, same as everything else. But if you keep reminding yourself that you have to practice it and you’ll have good days and bad, it’ll be easier to stick with the programme.”

Mindfulness doesn’t make us immune to life’s stresses but it helps us connect to our inner resourcefulness and resilience. Even a few minutes a day helps our brains in the long term as well as in the moment as mindfulness gradually changes the way our brains respond to stress and anxiety. 

How to stay in the moment in the midst of a global pandemic

Currently, with the rise in stress and anxiety triggered by the coronavirus outbreak, it is even harder for many people to focus and take time for themselves. This makes the practice of mindfulness even more important.

Staying in the moment rather than worrying about what’s ahead is key to coping at this incredibly difficult and unusual time. So simply by concentrating on how we breathe we can try to bring ourselves back to the present and push away intrusive thoughts.

If you want to give mindfulness a go and find it hard to shake out the outside world don’t be too hard on yourself. It takes time. A few minutes a day – preferably at the beginning of the day – can yield great results quite quickly. Concentrate on your breathing and nothing else. Push intrusive thoughts about what you’re going to eat that day or the bills that need paying away from your consciousness and stay with your breath. 

For more tips on things to do to keep yourself busy and reduce stress in these times, check out our list of five proven methods to help keep your worries at bay.

You can go to lessons or groups for mindfulness, or access training online during lockdown. But this isn’t essential to practising mindfulness. 

Yoga and tai-chi can help you develop awareness of your breathing, while painting, using adult colouring books or spending time gardening are also good ways to practice mindfulness. The most important thing is choosing an activity that suits you and enables you to focus and take time away from distractions and stresses. 

“The group element may be helpful but if you prefer to do it on your own that’s fine too. You know yourself best but you can access a lot of information and guidance online and there are also apps such as Headspace and Calm,” says Eve.

She adds: “Experiment and find what feels good for you. Some mornings, I’m focused and able to concentrate on my yoga and meditation. Other mornings, it takes me longer to focus but I’ve learned to sit quietly until I’ve done it because it makes the day ahead easier.”

Think of mindfulness practice as a gift to yourself that you can access anytime and which needn’t cost you any money, no outlay for special clothes or equipment. Just you, your mind and nothing else for a few minutes a day. Try it.

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