Neurobiological studies have demonstrated that mindfulness training strengthens the parts of the brain involved with attention and emotional regulation. Therefore, science now tells us that mindfulness can support us in managing stress, anxiety and depression – helping to make us calmer, happier humans.
So what exactly is mindfulness? It's about being fully present 'in the now', aware of where you are and what you're doing. Well, that's the simple answer, but we know it's easier said than done.
In our busy world, our minds can easily become distracted, and we can find ourselves dwelling on the past or fretting about the future. Often we lose touch with the present moment – with the task that we're doing, with what's actually happening right now.
Mindfulness allows us to disengage from this mental 'clutter' and to have a clear mind. It makes it possible for us to respond rather than react to situations. As a result, our decision-making improves, along with our potential for physical and mental relaxation.
The good news is that mindfulness is something anyone can learn, and there are many ways to become more mindful in life. However, just like any new skill, it takes regular practice to have positive effects. Think of it as training for your brain.
A few things to know before we get started…
You're ready to go. You don't need any special equipment or exotic location to practise mindfulness. You have all the tools already (your mind!) and can begin in your own home, at your own pace, in your own time.
Based on facts, not a fad. Researchers analysed more than 200 studies on mindfulness and found it to be an effective strategy for treating anxiety and depression. Not only does it decrease stress, worry and anger, but can also increase optimism, compassion and your quality of life.
Workplace winners all round. Many workplaces across Australia are beginning to embrace mindfulness, running staff workshops so their employees – and in turn their businesses – can reap the rewards.
Easy come, easy go. No doubt when you start to practise mindfulness, your head will be filled with lots of distracting thoughts. It's important to try and not judge these thoughts, or allow them to hang around. Just gently let the thoughts go and turn your focus back to the present moment.
Find the time. Although mindfulness sounds quite simple, it can take time and practice – remember, your brain is in training. You may well find it challenging or unrewarding at first, but the important thing is to keep going and not get disheartened.
Let's do it!
To get you started, here are two podcasts made especially for you! In the first podcast, we interviewed mindfulness expert Peter Muizulis, to get an introduction to mindfulness – how it works and how it can benefit you. In the second podcast, Peter guides you through a mindfulness meditation that you can practise right now, and return to time and again. So pop your headphones in, put up the 'do not disturb' sign and get some more zen into your life.
An introduction to mindfulness with expert Peter Muizulis.
A guided mindfulness meditation for you to try.
How to bring mindfulness into your everyday life
There are many ways to practise mindfulness. You can follow a guided mindfulness meditation, such as the one in the podcast.
You can also bring mindfulness to your daily tasks. This can help to train your brain and improve your daily practice. These tips can also be a good starting point for those wanting to learn more.
These days, so many of us are eating on the run or eating so fast that we barely get a chance to taste our food. When you're eating mindfully, you're not also watching TV or sitting at your work-desk, or scrolling through Instagram with a sandwich in your other hand. You're just eating – and enjoying every mouthful of it.
Bring more mindfulness to your meals by:
- taking proper time-out for mealtimes, away from screens or other distractions
- chewing thoughtfully (tasting each and every bite and noticing all the colours, textures and flavours)
- putting your cutlery down between mouthfuls
- simply enjoying the feelings and satisfaction that good food brings.
The research is still in its early days, but other than simply getting to properly enjoy food, growing evidence suggests that mindful eating can help in the treatment of eating disorders, food cravings and weight loss. It appears to help with appetite control. In one study, participants who ate their lunch mindfully snacked on significantly less cookies later in the day than participants in other non-mindful groups.
Remember to download the poster of mindful eating tips and pop it on your fridge, pantry door or display it by your kitchen table.
Daily mindfulness activity
Throughout the day, there are many moments when you can practise mindfulness. Choose an activity that you do most days – such as catching the bus to work, washing the dishes or having a shower – and use this activity as a way to practise. When you start the activity, gently bring your awareness to the present moment – to the sights, sounds and sensations you're experiencing in the now. If your focus strays and you start planning what to have for dinner, gently bring your mind back to the present moment.
Next time you have to get from A to B, why not use the time to walk mindfully? The rhythm and repetition of your footsteps can set a calming pace and also gives you something to focus on. With every step, bring your awareness back to your breath and back to the present moment, feel the movement of your body and legs until you reach a steady flow – and your destination.
This content originally appeared as a part of Women's Health Week 2017. Sign up for Women's Health Week to receive five days of content like this in September 2018 and don't miss the action.