Mindful living is something that you may hear described differently, depending who you’re speaking to. I find that it’s interpreted or applied in a variety of ways. Wellbeing practices have become so widespread in our daily lives, there are many different ‘flavours’!
I’ll start by explaining what I mean by different aspects:
This a term I use to describe a way of living your life, which is conscious, aware, and present. It’s accessible and follows simple principles. These include tuning in to your senses, practicing gratitude, spending time in nature, and being thoughtful and compassionate with yourself and with other people.
Mindfulness is a state of awareness, with quality attention placed on something in an intentional way, without judgement. Contrary to popular belief, it is not ‘clearing the mind’ or emptying your thoughts. It’s simply observing what arises with curiosity, and knowing that thoughts come and go like weather patterns.
Meditation is a mind and body practice, and has a spiritual focus for many. Its purpose is to bring about a state of mindfulness, which could be by sitting in silence, following a guided meditation, or a simple activity in a mindful way.
All of these have featured in different cultures and civilisations since the beginning of time. That’s because they work! Human beings are complex and we can train our mind just as we train our bodies.
Why are these important for mental health?
The more you invest time and attention in mindful living, mindfulness, or meditation, the more benefits you will notice. Even in 8 weeks, with consistent practice, the structure and function of the brain begins to make positive changes. Neurons fire differently, and reactions follow different pathways in the brain, known as neuroplasticity.
We live in a world where our attention span, mental health, and wellbeing are challenged by a variety of factors. These include:
- Our natural fight-or-flight reaction – you know that feeling when a stressful moment hits, or you get a fright? Your heart begins to pound, maybe you’re short of breath, sweating, and so on? Your nervous system is doing what it was designed to do in ancient times. It’s for survival against predators or other threats to life. And research has shown that emotional threats have a very similar response to physical ones, which happens automatically. No wonder life can feel stressful at times!
- Vast volumes, types, and variety of information are constantly coming our way via the technology we carry with us pretty much all the time. We get a dopamine hit with each notification, for example from social media. And hey presto, it can develop into a habit of mindlessly scrolling.
- We have a tendency for mind-wandering, which is linked with both of the above. Did you know that a US study revealed that, on average, our minds are wandering 47% of the time? An example of this is when you’re doing a simple daily task and your mind is on something in the past or future, like ‘did I lock the front door?’ or ‘what will I have for dinner?’. The effects of this are even more pronounced when our minds are occupied by more major life events, which could also be creating stress hormones.
The good news is, we can address the adverse effects of these things with tangible benefits for physical and mental health.
However, there are some exceptions such as certain mental health conditions. If this applies to you, speak to your health professional before trying out meditation.
And whether you have a diagnosis or not, please do reach out for help if you need to (which I did). It could be the day you change your life forever.
What mindful living means to me
When I first began to learn about NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), I discovered a level of self-awareness and awareness of others which was far beyond anything I’d encountered before. I found that I was imagining or remembering situations or outcomes vividly through the senses as if it was happening ‘live’ in that moment. From training in NLP, I discovered valuable perspectives which opened doors and built my resilience, and then I found the courage to change my life.
This took a big leap of faith because I’d increasingly found it difficult to balance work and home. My husband’s illness was progressing in devastating ways. Frankly, it challenged my mental health so much I wasn’t sure I would ever be the same again. My husband has been medically retired since 1997, so I felt the weight of the decision heavily and was anxious about the risk to our finances.
After much soul-searching, and a big, deep breath, I took a different path. And what a difference it made.
After working with NLP for a couple of years, I became aware of various parallels with mindfulness. I began to develop meditations and visualisations through reading articles and books on the subject and practicing regular meditation from a variety of sources. I gained a qualification as a meditation teacher. During this time, I also committed to continuing to learn and apply NLP as a way of life, which naturally began to develop positive patterns of thinking and behaviour. Soon afterwards, I also studied Jikiden Reiki, which is a gentle healing modality working with energy.
Some quick tips you can try for yourself
Here are some of the things I do, which are simple day-to-day adjustments.
- Practice being in the present moment. Simply focus on exactly what is happening, and be aware whether you’re focusing on what you intended (or not!). Start with a few times a day for a minute or two, and then do it more often and for longer. If you notice your mind wandering, gently guide yourself back. Be kind – it does not help if you tell yourself off!
- Tune in to your senses – Whether you’re out in the woods or standing at a bus stop, notice what you’re seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and even tasting. This cultivates a quality of awareness which gently trains the mind to be more focused. It’s also a great technique for reducing anxiety as it gives the brain and the mind something else to do.
- Leave your phone in another room in the evening, on silent (if you can). Allow yourself a quick check once an hour or every two hours. Put it somewhere other than the bedroom overnight. Some people tell me they need it for an alarm: I use a sunrise alarm clock which feels far more natural. It can also be used as a light box over the darker months.
You can even jot down some notes or use a journal, if you like. This can be helpful to notice and appreciate your practice developing over time.
In my book ‘Roots for Growth’ I expand on nine principles for mindful living. I may run a few posts about these on my Facebook page or Instagram if you would like to follow me there. I also write about personal experiences which have significantly shaped my life, and share professional insights on a variety of subjects around how we think, beliefs we hold, and how to follow our own wisdom to navigate through life.
And if you would like to experience a meditation, visit my resources page for some examples. Do remember that it may not be easy right away. If you notice your mind wandering or struggle to sit still, simply notice, and gently guide your attention back. Noticing in itself is a sign of success, and will ultimately support your mental health and wellbeing by investing in a consistent practice. Mindfulness practice has even been linked to improved memory, less likelihood or severity of chronic health conditions, and youthfulness… I’m still waiting for the benefits of that one :-)!
If you would like to chat about how all of this can help you, feel free to book a discovery call. My coaching sessions often include tailored meditations to settle into the space, or to close off at the end. I bring meditations and mindful practices into development programmes and workshops as well. I’d love for you to get the benefit of this!